Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Can’t live forever without Liturgical Temporal Cosmology

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 13, 2021 | In Reviews

With the permission of Ignatius Press, I am reprinting here the brilliant seventh chapter of David Fagerberg’s new book, Liturgical Dogmatics (which I also reviewed last week). Every chapter of this book is both powerful and brief, only about twice the length of the usual commentaries I write in this space. In this reprint of the seventh chapter, I’ve included a few editorial notes to help with unfamiliar words or concepts; otherwise it is all Fagerberg. Read this to learn what it really means for each member of the Church to live liturgically, here and now, in time.


by David Fagerberg

Time is also an element of liturgical cosmology. Besides matter and space, the cosmos involves time, because space and time came into existence simultaneously. As soon as there was a point A and a point B, it took time to go from one to the other. And if matter glorifies God, then we will not be surprised to find that time does, too. There is a temporal component to the adoration of God in the cosmic liturgy. Even if creation had only existed for one brief flash, like a lightning strike in the darkness, sandwiched between a nothingness on both sides, that momentary blaze of being would have honored God. But to our astonishment, creation continues, from one moment to the next, and time unfolds in an undying glow of glory. And when it comes to human rational creatures with memory, we begin dealing with history in addition to brute time—both the sense of history grasped by persons and their own personal history. The loom on which we weave our lives has both a spatial warp and a temporal woof, and for us the created world involves both objects and histories.

The fact that the Church is sacramental means that God reaches out through material things like water, bread, wine, oil, and hand-laying when material things are spiritualized by the Holy Spirit. But man also lives in time, spiritualized by the Holy Spirit resulting in a Church of sanctified time. God reaches out through history as well as through matter. Liturgical cosmology deals not only with things, it also deals with moments. By daily experience we know that any material thing is only properly understood if taken in the context of the events in which it plays a part. Similarly, the real meaning of the material world is only understood properly when it is placed in the context of divine providence. When time makes contact with eternity, time is filled to overflowing.

Cultic liturgy is an expression of the cosmos’ liturgy, a kind of symbolic microcosm of what is going on below our feet and above our heads, and insofar as that liturgy of the world includes a temporal reality, we may think of cultic liturgy as being a time-lapse image of the cosmic liturgy. In time-lapse photography, exposures are taken at intervals so that, on playback, a naturally slow process may be viewed at an accelerated pace. The natural liturgical rhythm of the spheres is given an accelerated view in the cultic liturgy so that we can see it unfolding. This was better understood by medieval man, who expected the music of the spheres to praise God with the harmonies that sounded from their revolution. After all, the heavens rejoice (Ps 96:11).

Cultic liturgy is also an expression of internal liturgy, a manifestation and symbol of what is going on within our hearts. A noetic [i.e., intellectual, mental, our experience of inner knowing—ed.] liturgy occurs in symbiotic conjunction with the external liturgy. Thus does a personal leitourgia extend across the various units of time that we occupy. The eighth day, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the liturgical year are a manifest organization of the Paschal Mystery as it permeates our lives to its smallest moments. [Note: The “eighth day” is a term used both in the Old Testament and in early Christian writers to indicate the new “day” in which we come into the presence of God and are consecrated to Him. For example, in the OT, circumcision was on the “eighth” day. Christ’s Resurrection day (Sunday, the Christian sabbath) was very early referred to as the “eighth” day, the day that opens out into eternity.—ed.] Time does not need “redemption”, since it is a creation by God and is good. But time is consecrated when it is presented before the Kingdom of God to be blessed, as all creatures are. No part of our day or week or year is excluded from receiving this blessing. We liturgically confess that we are totally dependent upon God when our temporal rhythm of prayer acknowledges the dominion of God over us. There is no part of our work or play that he does not govern. The Divine Office makes a liturgy out of our hours—makes an actual Liturgy of the Hours—like an architect makes the Church out of stones. The Divine Office breaks the Paschal Mystery into bite-sized pieces that we can chew on over the year. The whole life of the faithful is a leitourgia in which we are identified with the action of Christ. The hymn that Christ introduced into his world is sung as one long, sustained note.

Liturgy gives us the only accurate perception of the world because liturgy keeps our eye trained on an eschatological horizon that admonishes us about this world’s passing. To admonish means “to reprove gently but earnestly, and counsel against something to be avoided”. Liturgy counsels us, gently but earnestly, not to place our hope in the wrong source, not to put our faith in the wrong wellspring, not to give our love to the wrong author. The world will never redeem us, no matter how far along its history we journey. It is not just that the world has not redeemed us yet, it is that it will never redeem us because it does not wield such power. Eternity must irrupt into temporality. The world will feel this irruption as forcible and uninvited because a consequence of sin is the world’s resistance to the eternal Kingdom. It comes from an exaggerated and unhealthy valuation of earthly, material life. It comes from preferring to imagine, fancifully, that the world is the center of meaning, and its history will go on perpetually. The world would prefer to consider itself in autonomous control of the passage of time. It will resist being told that it is impermanent and was created to lay itself down for the glory of its Creator. As a result, the world will never come to a correct reckoning of time.

Therefore, the Christian liturgist must practice at dying in order to remember that we do not have our true homeland here. Taking time liturgically reveals the world as a pathway, and our liturgy begins by dying at Baptism, then continuing to practice at it daily until our sacramental death is consummated in our biological death. Liturgical time recognizes and proclaims the world’s temporal character, by which we mean the world’s temporary character. This does not mean time and matter are denigrated, as was done by most Gnostics, but neither does it mean being satisfied with less than fully consecrated time and matter, as most worldly people are. Liturgy habituates us to our true home, and that makes us tread gently in this halfway house, which, in turn, conditions the way we use all material things: they do not belong to us; they are not permanent; we do not find our meaning or satisfaction in them. Liturgy and eschatology impact time and matter. The world is a pathway, not a home, and a pathway is exactly what its name says: a route to walk. The liturgy reveals this fact about the world by providing a foretaste of our real home. Earthly wealth and property and honor change hands constantly, proving that they are only ours to watch over temporarily—i.e., while in our temporal state. Once we leave this state, temporal riches and properties and esteems fall limply from our hands. A cadaver cannot clasp anything. This we are taught by liturgical time when it takes death into account. When the moment arrives for our true identity to appear, we will drop everything and obey the summons—either voluntarily, as believers should have been practicing since Baptism, or involuntarily, as happens to people unprepared for the stripping that death does.

We have time to unite with God. We have time in order to unite with God. The reason there is time is so we can unite with God. At death time will run out—like a child might run out of the yard and there will be no time left to unite with God. If we do not begin the process now, we cannot finish it later. If it is not initiated during this life, it will not occur at all.

This should give us a new and sober recognition of what happens in the Sacraments of Initiation. Baptism does not pickle us in holy water until Judgment Day; it inaugurates something that, if not started now, will be stillborn at our death. It is a Sacrament of “Initiation” precisely in the sense that it initiates a spiritual dimension that should occupy each moment. Confirmation bestows gifts of the Holy Spirit, not with the intention that they remain idle, but rather with the purpose of conforming us to Christ’s apostolic ministry in mature participation in bringing the visible Church’s mission ever closer to fruition. And the third Sacrament of Initiation, the Eucharist, is not a nibble of mercy; rather, its sustenance builds up a spiritual body that one day can digest the consummating messianic feast, the beatific banquet. These sacraments do what their name declares: they initiate. The Sacraments of Initiation place our feet upon a liturgical causeway: a road raised above swampland by stone and timber (altar and cross). On it, we tread across time with purpose and design. On it, we tread over history’s temporal arc to everlasting life.

Even more astonishing than our traffic across the temporal to enter the everlasting Kingdom of God is God himself trafficking along the temporal to bring us eternal life. Eternal is different from everlasting. We have to wait for what is everlasting until time ends, but we are met by the eternal already, now, even before we leave time. The world does not last forever, so we cannot find the everlasting in it. But even in this passing world we can find the eternal, because the Eternal One has made history his manger.

This makes liturgical time the most surprising mix of all—more surprising even than the sacramental mix of spiritual with material. There is a certain connaturality between the human person and a sacrament: it befits our nature because we are a hybrid of spirit and matter ourselves. To find spiritualized matter in the sacrament is miraculous, but not astonishing. But it is both miraculous and astonishing to find the presence of the eternal already, in time, ahead of the parousia. The eighth day does not wait for the end of the sixth day (the age of the Church) or the end of the seventh day (the Sabbath rest, the end of ages) before it appears. It is one thing to rest in the Lord everlastingly, as signified by the seventh day; it is another thing to go beyond all time already and rest in the Artisan of time himself, while time is still extending its web. Sunday is the eighth day, and the eighth day is the hodie [ i.e., today—ed.] of liturgy. The Sunday on the calendar is bigger on its inside than it is on its outside, because the eighth day can be found in it. Sunday is a unit of time in each week of the year, but the one who holds the expansive history in which Sundays occur is the one who kenotically [from “kenosis”, or Christ’s self-emptying in our redemption—ed.] enters each week on every eighth day. Sunday is an antinomy because what time cannot contain is contained in liturgical time, just as what heaven and earth could not contain was once contained in the womb of the Theotokos.

We are temporal creatures. Temporally is the way we are. Things come to us in spasms, modulated flux, oscillation, and undulating rhythm. Sharing in such temporality belongs to our nature as microcosms. Not only does the microcosm, man, share citizenship in both the intelligible world and the sensible world, but the microcosm, man, shares citizenship in both the eternal world and the temporal world. Our priesthood extends not only over matter; it extends over time as well. Only by participating in materiality could we be lord of it, and only by participating in temporality could we be lord of it. Our lordship over time should have consisted of gathering in our intellect the whole as it came into being. In time, realities are not entire; they become, and the human intellect should have known the whole entity even as it came into being part by part. But the loss of our cosmic and temporal priesthood in the Fall has damaged this ability. In order to raise up man and woman and restore their cosmic priesthood, Christ was (to say it by temporal metaphor) and came (to say it by spatial metaphor). This God is beyond the measure of either time or space, and he can neither start nor arrive, yet the mission of the Logos was to come, take up residence in time, and begin life in the womb of the Theotokos. To participate in time, then, belonged to man’s nature originally, and redemption involves returning man to a proper rule over time. This temporal view of creation supports liturgical time the way a material view of creation supports liturgical sacraments.

Do not be discouraged if God is not constantly present to you; in this life it is a sign of progress that God is frequently present to you. He comes with regularity on each Sunday. Adam and Eve saw God frequently in paradise, though not constantly. Heavenly beatitude is a condition of constant presence; for now, temporal creatures both before and after the Fall should be glad that God comes frequently.

But now that the new age has overlapped the old age—felix culpa—throwing time into havoc, the monks, those forward-living vanguards, want to dwell in this new age already, so they desire to remember Jesus constantly. To pray without ceasing is a quality of the new age. Paul gives this commandment, not Moses; it could not be done before the Logos entered time or if our destiny were not eternity. May we make a move from frequent to constant communion with God even before we reach the end of our lives. Liturgy falls upon the eighth day every week, and we step into the eternal and unending day that was the telos [end, goal, reason for being—ed.] of Adam and Eve. The Incarnation is the miracle of bringing eternality into temporality, the new eon into the old, the infinite into the finite, the divine state into the created state, God’s mode of life into ours, which equals deification. Liturgical time is not lived under the countdown of chronos. Liturgical time is lived under the power of Kairos.

Liturgy: the Son’s Christic energy possessing those baptized into his body, enabling them to do before the Father, by Divine Breath, the very work that the Son does. Liturgy, then, is to enter into the Trinity. Theology is knowledge of the Trinity: therefore liturgical theology. This divine knowledge can be had even now: therefore liturgical temporal cosmology.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: jgmiller - Aug. 15, 2021 5:51 PM ET USA

    This is the best unfolding I've read in understanding temporal with eternal. This is truly brilliant, yet completely approachable. Thanks, Jeff. I think I need to add the whole book to my reading my pile.