"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Receiving the Word of God for Salvation

There is a classic formulation which says the Liturgy should revolve around the Word and Sacrament. The truth this conveys is important, but I believe obscures a reality I would like to make a bit more transparent. By joining the Word and Sacrament with a conjunction, it makes it sound like they are two different things. To that I would voice strong dissension.

When we participate in the Liturgy, we are being saved by the Word of the Father, Jesus Christ. He is the Word, as St. John clearly teaches. But this salvation is wrought through different means in the course of the service. After our opening hymns and prayers, we proceed immediately to the Word of the Father written. Three lessons of varying lengths are read in our hearing. Why? Therefore, get rid of all filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you that is able to save your soul." (James 1:21) Simply hearing the Word of God has a converting power to it. We need as we journey in this process of conversion, to regularly hear the word.

We must also hear it preached. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believed." (I Cor. 1:21) Yes, the Apostle confesses that preaching the divine mysteries can only come out as utter foolishness. But it has pleased God to use this method, this madness, to save people. In our daily walks with Christ, we cannot get away from regularly hearing sermons. Contrary to some opinion, it really doesn't make a difference how long the sermon is. Short and long sermons have their virtues. As long as it is Jesus Christ, and him crucified, that is preached, there the power of conversion exists.

To these points, I don't believe many will object. The Scriptures written and preached are necessary to salvation. Some readers may take exception with the next point. Further, I will depart from the classical formulation given earlier and give a version of it that I think makes clearer the point of the liturgy.

We must not only receive the Word of God written and preached, but the Word of God Incarnate. We need the flesh of Jesus also. Yet, it is not the Word plus his Flesh. Rather, they are different means of receiving the Word. As St. John teaches, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1) This Word becomes flesh in every liturgy. For as Christ himself said "This is my Body." Further, in John 6 Christ proclaims, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life within you." The Sacrament completes our access to the Word that saves us. When we come to church-we are coming to be saved. Some may say, "I'm already saved." Fair enough-you've begun well. But salvation is something in which me must continue-until the end. Attending mass at least once a week is quite necessary to continue. Because it is only there that we can encounter the Word of the Father in all the fulness which has been ordained.

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