Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
University of Dallas
November 16, 2006
(NB. This is the text for a presentation I gave at the University of Dallas commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. )
One way to approach to this topic is to talk about the liturgy of the Church as instructive for the moral life of the Christian, that is, to explore how Roman Catholic liturgy, particularly the liturgy of the Eucharist, is an engine for prayer, a source of and guide to holiness, and a push outward toward the evangelization of the world. Though all of this true, it doesn’t go far enough.
The Church's moral reflection…has also developed in the specific form of the theological science called “moral theology,” a science which accepts and examines Divine Revelation while at the same time responding to the demands of human reason. Moral theology is a reflection concerned with “morality,” with the good and the evil of human acts and of the person who performs them...But it is also ``theology,'' inasmuch as it acknowledges that the origin and end of moral action are found in the One who “alone is good” and who, by giving himself to man in Christ, offers him the happiness of divine life. (29)
It seems to me that the Holy Father’s exhortation to us in Ecclesia de eucharistia is precisely right, that is, he is directing us to move from the liturgical celebration of the sacrifice of Calvary into the world as living Christs, transfigured persons set ablaze with the love of Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. Taking everything I’ve said so far about what we mean by “moral,” “theology,” and “liturgy,” a moral theology of the liturgy then has to tell us something about the person who is moved to be Christ in the world and how the liturgy of the Church makes this transformation possible. I said earlier that if we take the prayer of the Mass seriously we should be awed beyond rational description by what we commit ourselves to in sharing communion and driven by a desire to take that filial bond of communion out into the world as living sacraments of God’s presence. This is not simply a matter of allowing the prayers of the Mass to teach us a lesson, or finding spiritual refreshment in taking communion, or even being exhorted by the priest in his homily to go out and do good works. Surely, all of these happen in the Mass. But if what we’re talking about here is a moral theology of the liturgy in light of Ecclesia de eucharistia, then we have to move to a more radical concept of who becomes Christ and how the liturgy makes this possible. This radical concept is theosis.
2. If we take “grace” to be both God’s invitation to theosis and the mechanism by which we are divinized, then what does it mean for us to say that we “receive grace” in the liturgy of the Eucharist (or in any liturgical celebration of a sacrament)?
3. We said that moral theology is the science of rationally reflecting on the good/evil actions of the human person in light of his/her final end as a creature of God. How does human evil, sin, corrupt or thwart the process of theosis in the liturgy?
Corbon, Jean. The Wellspring of Worship, 2nd ed. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2005.
Torrell, Jean-Pierre. Saint Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master. CUA Press, 2003.