Heaven and earth

Question: Where in Church documents do you find the best quotations emphasizing the connection between the liturgy of earth and the liturgy of heaven? I think this connection is not emphasized enough in catechesis and homilies. How could this theme be restored in the liturgy today? 

Name withheld, Fresno, Calif.

Answer: I very much agree with your judgment that the relationship between the worship of heaven and earth (the eschatological nature of the liturgy) is not adequately emphasized either in the liturgy or catechesis today. The best quotes are, in my view, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says: “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the holy of holies and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he our life shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory” (No. 8).

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, this affirmation is set out: “It is especially in the sacred liturgy that our union with the heavenly Church is best realized: in the liturgy, through the sacramental signs, the power of the Holy Spirit acts on us, and with community rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine majesty, where all those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (see Apoc. 6:9) who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church glorify, in one common song of praise, the one and triune God. When, then, we celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice we are most closely united to the worship of the heavenly Church; when in the fellowship of communion we honor and remember the glorious Mary ever virgin, St. Joseph, the holy apostles and martyrs and all the saints” (No. 50).

This theme finds strong reflection in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To the question, “Who celebrates the liturgy?” the answer is given (with reference to the Book of Revelation): “‘Recapitulated in Christ,’ these are the ones who take part in the service of the praise of God and the fulfillment of his plan: the heavenly powers, all creation (the four living beings), the servants of the Old and New Covenants (the 24 elders), the new people of God (the 144,000), especially the martyrs, ‘slain for the word of God,’ and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman), the Bride of the Lamb, and finally [quoting the previous paragraph] ‘a great multitude which no one could number, from every nations, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues’” (No. 1138).

How could this theme be restored? I would argue that among the principal expressions of this theme in the liturgy are music, art and architecture. I don’t use such words lightly and often: But I am impelled to say that these areas have been mostly disastrous since Vatican II (and not, I hasten to add, because of the council). Music is the easiest to fix, but I see few signs of this occurring; inspiring art has practically vanished from churches; and hundreds of millions have been spent on new buildings upon which liturgical and architectural history will not look kindly.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.