My blogging is a bit off-set this week, as I’m about to disappear for a couple of days, off doing a parish mission in the local area. So Wednesday’s blog was yesterday, and Thursday’s is today. Friday’s blog will be Saturday, and then we’re back to normal…
In our commentary on the Mass we have finally reached the Eucharistic Prayer beginning with the preface. The preface is not a part of the Mass that catches many people’s attention especially. If you have a priest who is a decent singer, it may stand out as one of the first longer sung prayers of the Mass, but I have noticed that most priests most of the time opt to recite it, at least in my experience.
The preface, though, along with the Sanctus that follows it, brings out an important dimension of liturgy, one that is important indeed for our living it out in our daily lives. It is a prayer of the Mass that is intensely concerned with where we are in liturgical time, with where we are situated on this wonderful grand wheel of the year that revolves around. Now it is Advent, soon it will be Christmas.
There are prefaces for each season of the year, along with prefaces for some of the ‘mini-seasons’ – the week after Epiphany, the time between Ascension and Pentecost, the last two weeks of Lent. There are prefaces for the various ‘types’ of saints’ days—apostles, martyrs, pastors, virgins. There are specific prefaces for all the major feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady of the year and for solemnities of saints—John the Baptist, Joseph, Peter and Paul. And so on and so forth—I have no doubt missed a couple.
Some of the richest liturgical catechesis we have is found in these prefaces, some of the best explanations of the meaning of the seasons and feasts. Parents raising children would do well to remember them as a resource for religious education.
But beyond that basic catechetical function which is secondary in the liturgy, the preface functions to ground us in the here and the now, that this liturgy which is the eternal action of the Son towards the Father, the eternal act of love and oblation, the very worship of heaven going on perpetually outside of time, is nonetheless happening to us, right now, on December 1, 2015, and we have the preface (Advent I) to prove it!
There is this weaving together of heaven and earth (the Sanctus which concludes the preface and about which I will write next week is the heaven side of the equation), that is so important for our whole Christian consciousness and praxis. Our whole Christian life is to be lived intensely in the now, in the immediate, in the where and the who and the what of our incarnate lives. But this who, what, and where is always opened at the top, so to speak, to the eternal reality of God and heaven and love and worship.
This is why the liturgical calendar has to spill out from the liturgy into our daily lives. This is why in Catholic culture the rhythm of the year is not determined strictly by the secular patterns (September is back to school time! April is tax season! Summer is beach time!) but by the sacred rhythm of time, time redeemed, time ‘open at the top’ to eternity.
And so… Advent wreaths. Christmas trees. Lenten fasts and austerity. Easter breads and eggs. Special meals on the special days, and more ordinary fare on the ordinary days. A candle lit, a bouquet of flowers placed before Our Lady’s image in our homes on her feasts. And other ways of honoring or remembering or sanctifying the home on the other feasts of the year (Nicholas cookies, Lucy bread). Time has been transformed, and we cannot just leave that reality in the sanctuary of the Church; it has to be lived in the domestic Church, somehow. Big ways or small, depending on how we are able.
The preface of the Mass recalls all this to us. We live in time; the liturgy occurs in time; God comes to us in time. But always in time, in liturgy, and in life, there is this upward pull to heaven and eternity. So the preface always starts with where we are right now but ends by mentioning the angels and saints in glory and how, as we contemplate the reality of life lived now, we are called to join with them in singing the great hymn of praise… and that will be next week’s post.