Arthur Middleton on the priest as a man of liturgy
Our present distressing situation need not be a time of despair but rather an opportunity for renewed faith. To speak of the priest as a man of liturgy is to speak of his immersion in an experience which has profound implications for his life as a man of prayer, theology and pastoral concern.
His immersion is not primarily in an idea or a doctrine, but in an experience in which with his people he finds himself living.
This experience is not in terms of individual religious experience, but is an immersion in the sui generis experience of the Church; the Church as experience of new reality, new experience, new life. Such experience is not in terms of some ‘other world’, but rather of this world, creation and life, renewed and transformed in Christ, transposed into the knowledge of and communion with God and his Kingdom.
This is what constitutes life in Christ and is to be ‘hidden with Christ in God’, implying that the Church by her very nature belongs to the reality of the world to come. Our knowledge and constant partaking of the eschaton, the end, is what relates us as the Church to the world, providing us with the only source of the ‘victory that overcomes the world’.
As a man of liturgy the priest immerses himself in this ‘life of the world to come’ experience, which means opening himself to a present experience of the Kingdom. For too long such eschatological experience has been relegated to a static doctrine of the four last things, to be preached in Advent or to occupy the last four chapters of a theological textbook.
Essential for today’s Church is a recovery of the primitive and much more dynamic understanding of’the life of the world to come’ as a dimension of present experience. To recover it in this way is to make it a partner in life and ministry, allowing it to shape and permeate the whole of Christian Faith and life as its dynamic inspiration and motivation.
For the man of theology it becomes a way of looking at the world and experiencing it, but with the kingdom of God as the ultimate term of reference and not the world.
This eschatological dimension of experience has already been given to us in Christ, not as something yet to come, but as something which has already come and will come in all its fullness at the end of time.
The Kingdom has come in Jesus Christ, Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, Ascended, and in the fruit of Pentecost. Therefore it is present in the Church, the ecclesia of those who have been baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection, and in whom they live in newness of life because they eat and drink at his table in his Kingdom and so partake of His Spirit.
This ‘life of the world to come’ experience of faith is primarily given and received in the Church’s rule of prayer and worship. The liturgy becomes the epiphany and manifestation of new life, as the Eucharist becomes the sacrament of Christ’s coming and presence. In its essential meaning it is eschatological and ecclesiological, and thereby central and unique to the Church’s life. It makes the faith of the Church our very source and datum.