Beyond Us and Beside Us

high massIn the Book of Isaiah the prophet recounts his vision: He saw God, sitting before him on a “high and lofty throne”while the Seraphim stationed above cried out: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts. All the earth is full of his glory.” Then at the sound of that cry “the frame of the door shook and the house filled with smoke.”

Bishop Robert Barron writes in the February 2016 edition of Magnificat that the vision of the Lord on a high and lofty throne “signals the transcendence and awful majesty of God. Idols and simulacra of God can be manipulated, but the true God always mocks any attempt of ours to control him. Rather he controls us; he overwhelms us. The truth is confirmed in the cry of the Seraphim.”

Similarly, Uwe Michael Lang explains in his book Signs of the Holy One that the proclamation of the angels of the holiness of God has great import. “Holiness is a quality that belongs above all to God and describes his being divine; in its mature form, it expresses God’s otherness or transcendence.”

However, as Fr. Lang suggests, there is more.“There is, however, an important difference herein that the enormous distance between God and man, which is implied in Isaiah’s proclamation of God’s all surpassing holiness, is mediated by sending his Son into the world. Thus God comes close to his people and calls them to communion with himself. God’s holiness is not simply made manifest in Christ, but also communicated to the world.”

Indeed our human lives are encompassed and influenced simultaneously by the two great mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. The omnipotent and omnipresent creator of the cosmos, a wholly spiritual and non-material divinity, is present in everyone and in everything in the cosmos. This same God is revealed to us as one, but with a oneness of three separate divine persons existing in a union of infinite love. Yet one of the three divine persons of that oneness is also flesh and blood, born of a woman as an individual, embodied human being. A baby boy who matured to manhood, and then died a human death. This incarnated divinity was and is indeed God, but also truly man. One person, two natures: divine and human.

In short, the God who is totally other and completely transcendent is also an immanent God: God our adoptive Father whom we are allowed to address personally in prayer in the manner taught to us by his own Son; God the Christ, our savior and our brother in Baptism; and God the Holy Spirit of eternal and unbounded love, our Advocate who, as Jesus promised, is with us always.

It is within the living power of these deep mysteries that the sacred liturgy must be understood and celebrated. Indeed, without contemplating these mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation we cannot hope to properly enter into the depths and power of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist. If the liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed,” and “is also the fount from which all her power flows,” as the council fathers wrote in Sacrosanctum Concilium, then one reason this is so is because the sacred liturgy is precisely where those mysteries are encountered in an intensity offered in no other mode or venue in our earthly existence.

We may not be afforded the visions of a mystic or of an Old Testament prophet, but we, with our ordinary lives, are not left without. As Catholics we have the power of the sacraments by which we are able to move between the earthly and the heavenly. Most importantly, we have the Eucharistic Presence.

When we come to Mass we immediately encounter in the church the Divine Presence in the tabernacle (and no doubt with the Seraphim stationed somewhere above!). We find ourselves in a place of holiness. No mere common room for socializing. This is sacred space for sacred encounter with the Holy One. The most ordinary Catholic church is no less a proper venue to encounter the divine than Mt. Tabor, the banks of the Jordan River, the synagogue at Capernaum, or the upper room. It is here that we prostrate ourselves before the Creator of all. Before the same God who sat before Isaiah on the high and lofty throne, and who was proclaimed as holy and divine.

But we too often take great things for granted, including the Mass. We forget that the Mass is that unsurpassed physical and spiritual gift to human beings that allows us who still live in the confinement of time and space to be brought to an intimacy with the living and all powerful Trinitarian divinity that is more than we can understand on this side of death. It is in our worship and praise in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we are embraced by the Father who created us and who has adopted us as his sons and daughters; by the Son, both God and man, who has accepted us as his brothers and sisters, and died for us that we could be favored with adoption by his Father; and by the Spirit who enflames each of us personally with the same binding and renewing love that pours forth from the Holy Trinity.

In sum, the great confluence of divine transcendence and divine immanence is at the heart of the reality of the sacred liturgy, and of the essence of the Eucharistic mystery. It is precisely in the depth of our willful submission in our worship and praise of the Lord God Almighty, he who is the Lord of hosts, that we are permitted by grace to enter into true holy communion with that same mighty and holy Trinitarian divinity. It is in the Mass that we are able to join ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit to the eternal sacrifice of Jesus to his Father, we who are now the adopted children of that same Father. Then we see, even if now only through the glass so darkly: The all powerful God on the lofty throne in Isaiah’s vision is also the brother in communion with us at the table of the Eucharistic banquet.

Robert J. Gieb has practiced probate law in Ft. Worth, Texas for forty years. He is local counsel for Catholics United For Life of North Texas.