Sunday, February 13, 2011

Liturgy as Festival

  Throughout the history of Metaphysics and Liturgical Theology there have been discussions of the “sacred” as presented by Josef Pieper in his article, “In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity”. These discussions involve such issues as leisure and an understanding of the role of liturgy in the “sacred”. Both of these issues will be discussed in this article.
   Josef Pieper states that, “The phenomenon of genuine celebration…is really present only in religious acts in which man as creature can grasp the truly ‘other’ and absolutely ‘new’ world of the glory of God” (p. 6). This statement is in contrast to the idea that a festival is simply “something different, for a change.” A festival, if truly understood as a religious act is something that is set apart from the ordinary and puts one in touch with the sacred, or, as Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) would say, “the center of all that is.”
   Since we live in the Humanized World, such a setting apart could be seen as the Alquis’ entering into the Primal Invitingness and encountering the Inviter. The perspective afforded by his temporal distancing of himself from the Humanized World allows the Aliqus to appreciate such opportunities as sacred.1
   Pieper states, “To celebrate a festival means to do something which is in no way tied to other goals, which has been removed from all ‘so that’ and ‘in order to’. True festivity cannot be imagined as residing anywhere but in the realm of activity that is meaningful in itself” (p.7). The liturgy is an end in itself since it does not point us to God, but through the celebration those present are existentially engaged with the Sacred. Whenever anyone succeeds in bringing before the mind’s eye the hidden ground of everything that is, he succeeds to the same degree in performing an act that is meaningful in itself, and has a ‘good time’ (p.9).
   The author refers to the idea that festivals involve an element of leisure. This concept is present in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book I, where he makes the point that Theoria (knowing for the sake of knowing) or “contemplation” involves an element of leisure.
   Leisure is defined, not as a break with work, but a break from work. This is an important distinction since it involves the idea of a festival as something “set apart” rather than as “something different, for a change.” Contemplation is the work of the gods for Aristotle (and other Greek philosophers) and being able to contemplate puts one in direct contact with the gods. We engage in busyness in order to enter into contemplation. Leisure must be an end in itself. Pieper then states that the counterpart to servile work is not inactivity, but free activity, work that has no purpose outside of itself, that is meaningful in itself, and for that very reason is neither useful, in the strict sense, nor servile or serviceable (p.7). Dedication to leisure is the only justification for not working that will be acceptable even to one’s conscience (p.8).
   The idea of contemplation can be equated with the experience of the Aliquis begin drawn to the Inviter in the Primal Invitedness. This experience is a break from the work of the Humanized World which gives the Aliquis an opportunity to pivot and view the Humanized World in a new way which would not have been possible without such a break from work. Since the Aliquis exists in the Humanized World, he is incapable of breaking with work. Aristotle may accept the idea is dunamis (power) which allows one to go from the domain of the Person to the Cosmos since his understanding of the “Coordinator” would be of a being that we have no direct contact with.
   Plato maintained that the ‘recreation’ of festivals was established divinely (p.26). Early Christians called exclusion from communion “banishment to unfestivity” (p. 28). The Christian liturgy can be seen as a festive experience when examined from the standpoint of its telos. This goal is the offering of praise and thanksgiving to God. Such a celebration is not possible for someone who believes that life has no value. “Whatever the specific content of this thanksgiving may be, the ‘occasion’ for which it is performed and which it comports with is nothing other than the salvation of the world and of life as a whole” (p. 29).
   Liturgy, by existentially engaging us with the “center of all that is” can be described as a kyrotic moment. This involves the idea of a pregnant and unrepeatable moment which can be expressed as an apex, beneath which, other events in one’s life can be judged. The kyrotic dimension of the liturgy is related to its transforming ability. As a break from work, this ‘festival’ allows one to contemplate as an end in itself and experience the Humanized World in a new way.

End Note

1. The idea of the Aliquis, Humanized World, and Primal Invitedness were made reference to by Robert J. McTeigue, S.J. as part of his understanding of the philosophy of Paul Weiss (1901-2002). For McTeigue, the human person is referred to as the Aliquis, the world in which we lived is the Humanized World, and the invitation of God to enter into His Divine Presence is the Primal Invitedness. 

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