Time in the Liturgy

January 11, 2013

augustine-of-hippoSt. Augustine of Hippo meditated on the meaning of time in his great Confessions, exploring the mystery of time as God lives in its eternal present in contrast to Augustine living in the past, the present and the future (Book Eleven). We may be more inclined to talk about time management, trying to control time, maximize its use and our productivity—scheduling our lives and activities, squeezing more items in, multitasking (we think) and bemoaning our ultimate lack of control over time. Liturgical time as we celebrate the mysteries of Christ and His Paschal Mystery might offer us a better insight into St. Augustine’s great meditations.

For example, we have just experienced the beginning of the liturgical year with the great season of Advent. Time was a major theme in Advent as we looked forward to the coming of Christ: His Second Coming at the end of time; His coming as an infant, born to the Blessed Virgin Mary at a particular time, in a particular place (as St. Luke’s Gospel tells us and as Pope Benedict XVI brilliantly elucidates in his study of the Infancy Narratives); and His coming to each of us at the end of our time on earth, when we face our particular judgment and enter eternity. At every Mass, in every Sacrament, Jesus is present to us in the present; thus we meditate on all the times Jesus comes during the Season of Advent.

through the Paschal Mystery and the Liturgical Year, as we pray the Mass, we gain an inkling of the eternity of time as God lives it

In the Season of Christmas, as the secular world has taken down the tree and removed all the decorations that have been up since Thanksgiving (or Halloween!), time stands still in the Church. The liturgy of the Octave of Christmas continually celebrates the event of Christmas: every day in the Octave is the Christmas Feast. Time is out of time: the mystery of the Incarnation should make us stop and wonder.

Even the Feast of Epiphany celebrates the mystery of eternal time as St. Augustine sought it: three manifestations of Jesus Christ are present in that feast. We focus in the liturgy on the visit of the Magi to Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, but in fact, Epiphany also celebrates the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and His first miracle at the marriage feast of Cana (and the last two epiphanies are included for meditation in the Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, promulgated by Blessed John Paul II).

Liturgically, the Church has separated these manifestations: the Sunday after Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord and the Sunday after the Baptism celebrates the Eucharistic miracle of water made into wine. Nevertheless, the prayers of the Divine Office for the Feast of Epiphany maintain the triune mystery of the epiphany of Our God. The nineteenth century hymn, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise” describes it well:

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar;
Branch of royal David’s stem
In Thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;
And at Cana, wedding guest,
In Thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine;
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.

The author of that hymn was Christopher Wordsworth, Anglican minister and nephew of the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth.

Lent and Easter come early in the year in 2013: Ash Wednesday is on February 13 and Easter Sunday on March 31. The great Holy Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, even though we experience it sequentially, is one celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Mass on Holy Thursday does not really end while the service of the Lord’s Passion and Communion on Good Friday does not really begin; Holy Saturday is one long day of vigil culminating in the Vigil of the Resurrection that night. Then the celebration of Easter is repeated in the Octave as each day, like every Sunday, is the Eighth Day, the eternal day of Resurrection.

We are bound by time on this earth, as St. Augustine lamented and as we might complain that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for us to accomplish all our tasks. But through the Paschal Mystery and the Liturgical Year, as we pray the Mass, we gain an inkling of the eternity of time as God lives it—and as we will too, hopefully in Heaven!

About Stephanie Mann

Stephanie Mann has written 14 post in this blog.

Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com. Stephanie is working on a book about the English Catholic Martyrs from 1534 to 1681. Podcasts of her radio program, “The English Reformation Today” are available at Radio Maria US.

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