Friday, 9 September 2011

Teilhard’s Litany: (8) The 'altar' of God

One of the ideas we find in the litany which has been rolling around my head over the years is the Sacred Heart as the 'altar of God'.   Once again, when you start to explore the various invocations in his litany you begin a fascinating journey. Here are some initial thoughts.

If we are to understand this idea of the Sacred Heart as 'the altar of God' we have to begin at the beginning.   He begins his litany with the words of the Latin mass said on the steps leading up to the altar.

Celebrant: Introibo ad altatre Dei.
I will go to the altar of God.
People: Ad Deum qui laetificat juentutem meam. 
The God  of my Gladness and joy.
Celebrant: Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Dominini
Our help is in the name of the Lord
People. Qui fecit coelum et terram.
Who made heaven and earth.

This line, ' Introibo ad altatre Dei.' of course, comes from Psalm 42, which was traditionally sung (HERE) prior to the Confiteor.  It is a Psalm that Teilhard would have known by heart.

Psalm 42 Judica me, Deus.   Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man. For thou art God my strength: why hast thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?Send forth thy light and thy truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles. And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.To thee, O God my God, I will give praise upon the harp: why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou disquiet me?Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God.

We only have to reflect for a moment about how Teilhard must have felt about his exile and rejection because of his ideas - or cause - to appreciate how this Psalm would have resonated with him.  He has been judged by the Church authorities, but ultimately it was the judgment of God in his cause which was the focus of his hope and trust. 
So as we begin the litany he is asking us approach the Sacred Heart as literally the altar of God.  When he says he will go to altar of God , he means that he will go to the Sacred Heart.   The next line is ' penetrate the presence'.   That is to say,  his prayer is to penetrate the presence of the Sacred Heart - 'the altar of God' and  'The heart of the world's heart.'  Teilhard is explicitly referencing the Mass, at the outset, and it seems to me that this makes us turn naturally to his 'Mass on the World.'  In this Mass he begins by saying that he does not have an altar - because he in a desert. And so, he cannot begin with the prayers on the steps of the altar - as he in the steppes of Asia!  He thus makes the 'whole earth' his altar  - 'autel de la Terre entière - and on this altar he will offer all the labour and sufferings of the world.  (Puisque, une fois encore Seigneur, non plus dans les forêts de l'Aisne, mais dans les steppes d'Asie, je n'ai ni pain, ni vin, ni autel, je m'élèverai par-dessus les symboles jusqu'à la pure majesté du Réel, et je vous offrirai, moi votre prêtre, sur l'autel de la Terre entière, le travail et la peine du Monde. ) 

Thus when we reflect on the Sacred Heart as 'the altar of God' we are contemplating Christ in all things. Christ in matter. Christ as the corner stone, the rock from whom living waters flow.  The altar of God: Christ whose cosmic body extends through the entire universe.  On this altar - the 'Heart of the World's Heart' - he will say his mass for the world.  The 'altar of God' for whom the universe was created and whose love fills and consumes the cosmos as the fire of the ancient altars would have consumed the sacrificial offerings of the priests of the old testament.  The Sacred Heart  - as altar - will consume and unify  in the fire of its love all creation  just as the altars of the old testament consumed by fire the flesh of animals. 

The description of the Sacred Heart as the altar of God  in many ways evokes some of the invocations we find in the standard litany:

Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven.

To which might now add perhaps,
Heart of Jesus, altar of God. 

If you would like to hear the Introibo sung beautifully, go HERE. 

No comments:

Post a Comment