Pickstock on Developing a Liturgical Worldview (IV)

Catherine Pickstock gives the word “liturgy” a wide resonance. But she also devotes many pages of her book AW to analyzing a specific liturgy: the celebration of the Christian Eucharist, in which the elements of bread and wine are said to become the body and blood of Christ. Drawing particularly on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, she asks how Christ is made present in the Mass.

I found that the understanding of presence that you get in Aquinas’ understanding of the Eucharist is not the kind of fetishized presence of modernity. It is not one that is somehow “enthronable” or “stockpileable.” It is a presence which is mysterious, and one which seems to bring the meanings of words together. One thing that stuck Aquinas about the Eucharist is that although it is perhaps the highest instance of God’s action through human action on earth, nevertheless it seems to use the most ordinary objects, it seems to use the most banal objects: bread and wine, grape and grain. Nothing could be more local and more summoning or ordinary labor – transport, commerce – all the things which ordinarily seem to take us away from “high piety” – and one of the things that A says about the choice of elements is precisely their ordinariness and their association with human conviviality – eating and drinking and the good smell of the bread and wine. Plus it was significant for him that bread and wine involve human trade and travel and commerce and so forth, and so the lowest and most basic elements of human survival and human operation are brought into the moment of heightened realization of divine presence. And so for all these different reasons you can see the ways in which we are being reminded in the Eucharist that there really isn’t an area of human operation which isn’t somehow preincluded in God’s gift. And we’re are reminded also that liturgy is something which all of human action and human operation leads toward and presupposes. If, even, in the manufacturing of bread we are being led toward the Eucharistic celebration, it helps us to reposition our understanding of all human labor as praise of the divine. And again this brings us back to the idea that liturgy isn’t something that we should think about only on Sundays or high feast days but its something that all our human labors might become, that human labor itself might be liturgy. And so there isn’t necessarily a separation between life and liturgy. Even washing up could be offered up as a sort of divine praise. All human actions could be.

And so, equally, if we think of the tree which I referred to earlier as fulfilling its “tree-ness” by worshipping God – and this is the way in which Aquinas saw the world around us, where everything is worshipping God in its own way – and so when the tree fulfills its telos as a tree, that moment of fulfillment is the tree’s worshipping God, or copying God in its own manner. And so a Eucharistic sensibility is one in which one sees everything as participating in praise of the divine.” — Catherine Pickstock in an interview which one can listen to here.

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