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Musical Musings: Liturgy

The Holy Circle

by Kathleen Pluth

The ancient philosophers used to say that God is the perfect fulfillment of motion, beyond all imaginable motion, living eternally in perfect repose. Lower beings — the stars and planets, human beings — can never bring themselves to this perfect rest. But each imitates the divine repose by its own manner of repeated motion. The stars and planets, they said, proceed with circular motion, which is the most nearly perfect of all, because it always returns to the place from which it began. Animals and plants imitate the eternal rest by reproducing themselves throughout the ages. And human beings, they said, imitate the divine repose by the meditations of their minds.

In the Church, our minds meditate in a great circle, the cycle of the Liturgy. The circle of the Ages, from our going forth from the Father at the first moment of creation to our returning to the Father at the end of time, imitates and is affected by the circle of eternity. In this greater circle beyond time, the Son of God, born in time as our Lord Jesus Christ, came forth in eternal birth from the Father and ever returns to Him in a steadfast and glorious love. The mutual love of Father and Son is so perfect that it is also God: God the Holy Spirit.

The love of these three Persons rings throughout the heavens and earth, filling them with glory. We see this glory and are drawn into it, and are filled ourselves with awe and wonder and praise. In heaven, this intensity of prayer will have the character of an eternal moment. There, finally, we will experience ourselves within the eternal repose of the Triune God. Until then, we immerse ourselves in rest's most perfect imitation, the great circle of the Liturgy, which draws human beings into orbit around the Divine. We are in motion now, but the motion is so orderly, a progression through the mysteries of the Lord Jesus, that we rest, through the Liturgy, in Him.

Even in daily life, we have the experience of a moment's inspiration playing itself out through time. It is a moment's love that expresses itself in a love song or lullaby: time's music presenting the briefest impulse of love.

A love song keeps returning to a refrain, a motif, a center, that expresses the moment itself. In the Christian Liturgy, the center and repeated motif is Jesus Christ. It takes only a moment for the heart to murmur, "Jesus." Yet it takes a year — and a lifetime of years — for the heart to learn the ever-new mystery of the Word made flesh. How many Christmases, for example, go by with only a fleeting hint of joy, before God expands the heart, making enough room for joy to take lasting root?

Thus the Liturgy is a school during whose hours the Church learns the Lord's life and ways. The whole of a year is a circle, and each day is its own circle. Within each day, the Church sings psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours, praising God at appointed times and reminding itself of its central moment: life forever with Godin heaven. At the center of each days praise, the precious jewel in the golden crown of the day, is the Mass.

The Mass is the central moment of the day's Liturgy because it most closely promises, prepares the way for, and resembles the Wedding Feast of heaven. Already at the Mass, we eat the Bread of Angels, the Bread of Life, the Eucharistic Bread, the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. We belong to Him through the Mass; we belong in Him and in the Church; we belong in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Mass has duration: it lasts for a time, and thus is evidently not heaven, but in the passage of time in the Mass, the ternal moment of heaven is in some mysteriouis manner unfolded for us — effected in us. Like the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, the Mass's center and only lamp is God and the Lamb.


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