How does the Melkite Liturgy stress the four ways in which Christ is present in the liturgy in order of their importance.
We were taught that Jesus is present in the presbyter, the assembly, the Eucharist, and in Scriptures.”
Bishop John’s Answer
The question asks four ways in which Christ is present in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Melkite Liturgy). Eastern Catholics do not categorize into parts what is a living experience. Furthermore, to attempt to categorize in order of importance is to single out a “moment” in isolation from its liturgical context. This should be avoided as it can only result in a narrowness and one-sidedness in liturgical piety that falls prey to all manner of symbolic and allegorical interpretations and possible liturgical folklore.
The Liturgy is the “Sacrament of the Assembly.” Christ came to “gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (Jn 11:52), and from the very beginning the Eucharist was a manifestation of the unity of the new people of God, gathered by Christ and in Christ. WE come together not for individual prayer but to assemble together as the Church. This reality is the foundation of the entire liturgy. When we say that we are going to church, it means that we are going into the assembly of the faithful in order, together with them, to constitute the church, in order to be what we became on the day of our baptism – a member, in the fullest, absolute meaning, of the body of Christ. We go to manifest the mystery of the Kingdom of God, which already “has come in power.” We are the church, we make it up. Christ abides in his members and the church does not exist outside us or above us, but we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Christianity consists not in bestowing on each the possibility of “personal perfection” but in calling Christians to be the Church The Eucharistic Liturgy is the sacrament of the Kingdom.
In the Divine Liturgy we meet the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Sacrament and in the forgiving, elevating, and fulfilling presence of Christ in our lives. The Divine Liturgy is also the place where the Church itself affirms its existence as the “people of God” where it proclaims the fact that their response to the saving work of Christ has made them members of the Kingdom. The Assembly experience a foretaste of that Eternal Kingdom through the Liturgical Experience.
The Divine Liturgy begins with the words, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy spirit, now and always, and forever and ever.” The Divine Liturgy is the Church being itself; that is , being the Kingdom of God. We are in the presence of the triune God from beginning to end. It is a living transcendent experience which cannot be fulfilled without our being conscious of God’s presence transforming us.
The Divine Liturgy becomes the location where we are at the most intense level united with Christ and growing in the image and likeness of God. It is the place of not only “remembering” but of actually sharing in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross as well as His whole incarnate life. It is that action which most of all characterizes us as the Church, emphasizing our real existence as members of God’s Kingdom, beginning in this life and extending into eternity. It is the location where time past, time present and time future are gathered for us in ultimate meaning and significance. The Divine Liturgy is a real, practical experienced event which gathers together the meaning of life. In the Liturgy we find the reality of our union with Christ and one another as the Church of God.
All genuine faith is ultimately founded upon direct transcendental experience. The dogma of the Church represents not the expression of an individual mind, but the expression of the mind of the Church as a whole. Eastern Catholics have kept and guarded this vision, this consciousness of the Church, this knowledge that “where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit and fullness of grace” (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3:34:1)
Thus, in explaining the liturgical tradition of the church, the first principle of liturgical theology is that one must not proceed from purely intellectual schemata cast randomly over the services, but from the services themselves – and this means from their ordo – the mutual dependence of the celebrant of the service and the people. The Church is Christ in us.