(these are my reading notes for my Christian Liturgy Class)
In his essay, Kevin Irwin notes two types of liturgical theology: first, reflection on the meaning/significance of the liturgy, particularly the sacraments; second, using liturgy as a principle source for systematic theology. This dialogue is noted in the reciprocal relationship between lex orandi and lex credendi, where the prayers of the church are the material for theology, and theology can be a corrective to deficient prayer. To these two, current liturgical theology has added lex agendi, which is the performative experience of liturgy. These three must always work in critical relation.
Kilmartin, Christian Liturgy: I Theology and Practice, sets the stage with the scholastic definition: a sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ to confer the grace with it signifies. But this definition only makes sense in the context of salvation history, addressing humanity’s problem. Therefore a theology of the sacraments must address God’s activity in the world, human sinfulness, and most of all, be linked to the incarnation and life of Christ and his Church (6). This leads to the questions of divine initiative and faithful response of the Church. Against the neo-scholastic separation of created and uncreated grace, recent theology affirms the original grace of God as always orienting humanity toward God, through the sacraments and elsewhere. Also, against the neo-scholastic orientation of a passive reception of the liturgy, there has been a turn to active participation in the sacraments. Also, from the scholastic understanding that the sacraments happen within the church by qualified minister, a turn to sacraments as acts of the Church itself. Conclusding, in the liturgy, God addresses his people through Christ, who is still proclaiming his gospel to all people. In the liturgy, the assembly hears, receives, and responds in faith to the call of God.
The article, “How to Receive a Sacrament and Mean It,” Karl Rahner deepens this perspective by initiating a Copernican revolution in sacramental understanding as being not a movement from the world to God and then a return to the world, but rather as the movement of the world to God. He begins by moving beyond old understading of grace, as Kilmartin explained it, and also by outline the liturgy of the world as salvation history, which always situates the narrower conception of liturgy. From here Rahner unfold that the efficacy of the sacraments is not added to the sign-character, but rather is found within themselves. Or rather, the causality is internal to the sacrament itself. This return to ancient tradition of the ‘real symbol’ allow Rahner to then speak of the Church as the ‘sacrament of salvation’ of the world (via Vatican 2), linked with his articulation of anonymous Christians. In this way, as the Church celebrates the sacraments, it is as a sign to the world, even without their participation, of the redemption of Christ.
Rahner returns to patristic source of sacraments as unity of sign and reality, but then applies the latter shifts of the corpus mysticum to this recovery (i.e. anonymous redeemed). It is only a half-turn to patristic source because it doesn’t identify church with Christ as his body as an ‘ontological symbolism’ but only a ‘real symbol’ linking Christ and world through the church as a sign.
- Is ‘real symbol’ related to performative action, the perlocutionary aspect of language?
-How does Rahner’s view relate to the secularization thesis of Christianity, or an understanding of the ‘kenotic’ emptying of the Church into Culture?
-If the ancient tradition affirmed the combination of sign and reality, sign and cause, in the sacraments, they also affirmed there was no salvation outside of the Church. How is it that by recovering the formed, Rahner still denies the latter?