Liturgy, Sex, Economics 3 March, 2008

I wonder how frequently these three words are put together. Yet Lent and Easter are about all of them. LITURGY because this is the sacred season at the heart of the Church’s year (more so even than Christmas), in which we prepare for and then celebrate the overcoming of death by our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and in the Tomb. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper, the first Mass, and on Good Friday the sacrifice which that Mass anticipated. The Easter mysteries are cosmic mysteries, as the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck based on the Book of Revelation hints. The whole of creation is involved, implicated, and transformed by what happens here. Heaven and earth are brought into a new relation.

SEX is involved because Christ’s Passion on the Cross is a ‘nuptial’ act, the act of the cosmic Bridegroom giving his body to and for the Bride, so that she might be made fruitful and bear many children. The male gender of the priest is surely something to do with this, because God is nothing if not sensitive to symbolism.  The mystery of the Mass has the same root as marriage, a mystery of complementarity which is written into the essence of human nature. As I argued in an article called ‘Liturgy and Trinity’, the crisis over sexuality in the Church, brought into the open by the reaction to Humanae Vitae in 1968, ‘stems from the mentality that fails to understand the true nature of the “asymmetric” relationship between man and woman. This is the same mentality that fails to understand the relationship between priest and people in the liturgy. This failure may express itself either in a clerical domination of the laity, or in a reversal of that relationship that eliminates all sense of the transcendent. On the one side, we find a poisonous cocktail of clericalism, aestheticism and misogyny. On the other, we observe “politically correct” liturgies devoted to the themes of justice and peace: everyone sitting in a circle, praying for the homeless and passing the consecrated chalice from hand to hand, with the priest improvising parts of the eucharistic prayer in order to make it more relevant and friendly.’

ECONOMICS is involved because the Church’s social teaching has the same root. It is all about love and gift, about our dependence upon each other to cultivate the common goods of the earth. As Pope Benedict stressed in Deus Caritas Est, and willl again in the forthcoming Social Encyclical, it is the task of the lay faithful, animated by charity, to shape a society and social structures that serve the good of the human person. The person is intrinsically related to others and to the natural environment, to past and future generations, and cannot be understood in isolation. Therefore an ecological perspective as well as an economic and political one flows from the Easter liturgy, which ‘fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling’ (Gaudium et Spes, 22).