The pastors assembled in the 2005 Synod of Bishops stated that "the Christian faithful need a fuller understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and their daily lives. Eucharistic spirituality is not just participation in Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It embraces the whole of life." If we extend the scope of this statement, and put liturgy in the place of the Eucharist, we have a working definition of liturgcal spirituality.
In this interview, David Fagerberg explains liturgical spirituality and his pick of the five best books on the subject.
David Fagerberg is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His area of study is liturgical theology – its definition and methodology – and how the Church’s lex orandi (law of prayer) is the foundation for her lex credendi (law of belief). He is the author of Liturgical Dogmatics and Liturgical Mysticism.
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Can you start by defining liturgical spirituality? Good question, and one I continue to ask myself. My background is in liturgical studies – liturgical theology, to be precise – and this field constantly asks “What happens in liturgy?” I think liturgical spirituality reframes and refocuses the question as “What happens to us in liturgy?”
The spiritual tradition has always treated the Church and the soul as two operational theatres of grace. For example, the bride in the Canticle of Canticles is sometimes understood to represent the Church, and sometimes to represent the individual soul. Well, similarly, it seems to me, the liturgy has two operational theatres. We usually talk about the liturgy that happens in the visible, sacramental, hierarchical body of Christ, but there must also be liturgical impact upon the invisible, spiritual, personal soul. Liturgical spirituality is spirituality that swims in the ocean of liturgy. It is liturgy that “gets inside” a person, if I can put it that way. The river of liturgy flows from the heavenly throne (an image in the book of Revelation); it first pools up in the Church (I’m picturing a baptismal font now); then it overflows its lip to flood our personal lives. Christians are living stones being built into God’s spiritual temple (1 Peter 2:5); the temple is for liturgical adoration.
“What happens in liturgy?” I think liturgical spirituality reframes and refocuses the question as “What happens to us in liturgy?”
My objective is to connect liturgy to life. Imagine four altars for liturgy: the wood altar of Calvary, the stone altar of the Church, the spiritual altar of our hearts, and the celestial altar in heaven. Christ is at work on all of them; the cross is connected to all of them; the paschal mystery is present in all of them, even though one is bloody, one is sacramental, one is interior, and one is supernal.
You have written several books on liturgical spirituality. Could you give us an overview of your work in this area? “Overview” suggests a view from above, and I didn’t have any plan overseeing (super-vising) my writing. But I can answer it with a “retrospection” – a look backward.
Thirty years ago I titled my dissertation “What is Liturgical Theology?” and ever since then, I have been adding clay to the bust I began sculpting. Theologia Prima (2003) was a rework of my dissertation, minus all the stuff a grad student puts in to impress the reading committee. It tried to thicken the idea of liturgy, and say that while it is an activity of man, it is the work of God.
But it seemed people were still missing the point, so the idea of theology had to be thickened, too. Eastern Orthodox asceticism came to my aid (On Liturgical Asceticism, 2013). The goal of the ascetical life is union with God, and asceticism called that theologia. Apparently, theology doesn’t begin in the card catalogue, it begins with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Asceticism capacitates a person for liturgy.
Does this make any impact on living life? We would hope so. Consecrating the World (2016) tried to apply liturgy to daily spirituality. And Liturgical Mysticism (2020) looked deeper into the spiritual state of the liturgical person. Since liturgy is everywhere, I thought to look at 36 dogmas through a liturgical keyhole (Liturgical Dogmatics, 2022). For example, liturgical anthropology understands Adam and Eve as cosmic priests, and the Fall was the forfeiture of their liturgical career.
Providence is always seen more easily in the rear view mirror, as I discovered while rummaging through articles to choose for publication in a collection this fall (The Liturgical Cosmos: The World through the Lens of the Liturgy
The first book that you have selected is Blessed Columba Marmion’s Christ Life of the Soul. St. John Paul II said that “he left us an authentic treasure of spiritual teaching for the Church of our time.” Why have you chosen this book in particular? I can’t remember who introduced me to the writings of Marmion. You do one kind of reading in graduate school, where a professor assigns a text. You do a different kind of reading when a friend introduces you to another friend in his footnotes. That was how I found Marmion.
There is a prejudiced view of the East-West split in Christendom that divvies up the tradition into camps, the way neighbourhood kids divide into teams. According to this convention, deification (theosis) is supposed to be the property of the Eastern Church, the West having given up its lease on the idea sometime in the dark ages. The Latins are thought to celebrate Good Friday, while the Orthodox celebrate the Transfiguration; Westerners are redeemed from culpable guilt, while Easterners are transfigured by the light of Mount Tabor; the Orthodox follow the lead of monastic ascetics while Latin Christians are under the spell of scholasticism.
I found Marmion fascinating because here was a western, Irish, pre-Vatican II, Thomistically trained Benedictine who made comments that sounded characteristic of what the above scheme says was abandoned by the West. Marmion is a teacher for our time because he is a master chef mixing ingredients of deification, sacrament, asceticism, eternal life, trinitarian mystery, and imitation of Christ. “What in fact is a Christian?” he asks, and replies with the patristic answer “Christianus, alter Christus.” The Christian life is more than a list of observances and a compilation of doctrines, he says. The Christian life is “the life of Christ within us, and all that Christ has appointed to maintain this life in us; it is the Divine life overflowing from the bosom of the Father into Christ Jesus and, through Him, into our soul.”
Such a spirituality inevitably leads Marmion to the liturgy (or, perhaps, such a view of liturgy inevitably leads to spirituality). The mysteries which Jesus lived during his earthly sojourn have become our liturgical mysteries, to be reproduced in our hearts. Christ did not come so we could have rubrics, and have them abundantly, but so we could have life! And since he is the way, the truth, and the life, he came so that we could have him, himself, in abundance.
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