Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Book Review: "Liturgical Mysticism" by David Fagerberg

The Tenth Annual Eighth Day Institute Symposium was held this past weekend: I saw many friends, volunteered to pick up bagels for breakfast and help at registration on Friday and to introduce David W. Fagerberg at his Saturday break-out session. I also drove him to Mass Saturday evening after attending Great Vespers at St. George's Orthodox Cathedral, and then on to Eighth Day Books for that evening's reception. But I came home after that to our dogs Joey and Brandy and congratulated myself that I only bought one new book (David Lyle Jeffrey's Scripture and the English Poetic Imagination): I'd picked it up off one of the Eighth Day Books displays; Jessica Hooten Wilson, one of the speakers, was standing next to me and said, "Yes: get that" so I bought it. She reviewed it here.

But here's my review of David W. Fagerberg's Liturgical Mysticism, his latest book on Liturgy, Theology, Spirituality, Sacramentality, and Mysticism. He began his break-out session with the comment that he wrote this book with Mrs. Murphy, the late Father Aidan Kavanaugh's image of a Catholic attending Mass and becoming a liturgical theologian, in mind. As I read the book, I thought of myself, Mrs. Mann, a Catholic attending Mass and becoming a liturgical theologian and how this book could help me grow as a liturgical theologian, a liturgical ascetic, and a liturgical mystic. Jesus has given us the Sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as the primary means to receive Sanctifying Grace. I experience this sanctification--being made holy--in the midst of "the vastly complex vocabulary of experiences had, prayers said, sights seen, smells smelled, words said and heard and responded to, emotions controlled and released, sins committed and repented, children born and loved ones buried, and in many other ways no one can count or always account for", as Father Kavanaugh, OSB wrote.

As Kavanaugh's student, Professor Fagerberg explores the meaning of his teacher's statement: "All who are engaged in liturgy are theologians precisely because the liturgy is the Church’s faith." Fagerberg goes further to state that if Mrs. Murphy or Mrs. Mann is engaged in the liturgy--if she even begins to comprehend what happens at Mass every day--she is not just a theologian, she is a mystic and an ascetic. The Holy Mass represents such a great mystery that if I participate in it and know that what I'm participating is the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery, I must become a mystic. Since the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is making present on earth, in a particular church at a particular time, the saving sacrifice of Jesus dying on the Cross, descending to the dead, and rising from the dead, I am a mystic, breaking the bonds of earth, my own limitations, and time and space. Since it is through the suffering of Jesus on the cross that I receive communion with God, I must become an ascetic as I imitate Jesus, being conformed to Him more and more through the liturgy. Receiving and cooperating with the Graces of the liturgy are a path to holiness and sanctification.

Fagerberg illuminates these truths much more gracefully than I do. On her Facebook page, Kris McGregor posted "Kindle Quotes" (I read a real book so had to write out quotations on paper and type them out on my laptop!) that offer examples of his scintillating prose. From the Prologue:

Also from the Prologue:

Fagerberg also notes that "Liturgical mysticism is when liturgy takes up residence in our lives." (p. xxi) And later, in an excellent example of polysyndeton, he writes, "Liturgical theology is written with incense and icon and temple and feast and sacrament and relic"! (p. 14)

At the end of the Prologue, he offers a summation of the themes he will explore in the book: "Liturgical mysticism is the Trinitarian mystery, mediate by sacramental liturgy and hypostasized as personal liturgy, to anchor the substance of our lives." (p. xxi)

The Table of Contents of the book:

Chapter 1. An Enthralling Liturgy
Chapter 2. Ordinary Liturgical Mysticism
Chapter 3. Quickening the Liturgical Person
Chapter 4. The Narrow Gate
Chapter 5. The Path through Cross to Resurrection
Chapter 6. The Pathway Home
Chapter 7. Coming Home

In Chapter 1, he establishes that for the liturgy to make this development of graces possible, we have to stop thinking of liturgy as something we attend for our own satisfaction and enjoyment, such that we determine whether or not we get something out of it: "Liturgy must not conform to us but we to it." (p. 6) That's why liturgy is formal, repetitive, directed to God, worshipful (dulia) and pious (latria): year after year we "keep the liturgical year and its feasts", we "exercise the sacramentals in every nook of our lives", and we "let the prayer of the Church pass through our lips in the Divine Office" (p. 20)

In Chapter 2, Fagerberg cites Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in support of his assertion that the ordinary Catholic Christian should be both a "secular ascetic" and a "mundane mystic": finding that this "infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith [celebrated in the liturgy] to be 'the normal way of sanctity and to be necessary to the full perfection of Christian life.'" (p. 26) Since Heaven will be mystical, adoring and loving God, we need to prepare for that meditative and peaceful mystical everlasting life. While there is an extraordinary mysticism experienced by a few, all Christians should prepare themselves for this ordinary mysticism by participating in the Church's liturgy.

In Chapter 3, he focuses on the "quickening of our baptism" in and with the Church: "Liturgical mysticism is ecclesial in form and sacramental in nature. It does not leave the Church behind . . . [it] is a liturgical life that sprouts from baptism and seeks union with God through his mysteries, on a mystical level." (p. 42)

Fagerberg offered a Saturday breakout session at the Symposium, based upon a section in Chapter 4, that highlighted one of the ways liturgical asceticism develops the graces we receive through the Sacraments as we deal with temptations along the purgative way. He explores Evagrius of Pontus's descriptions of the eight evil tempting thoughts or logismoi: gluttony, impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (the noonday demon), vainglory, and pride. They stand in the way of us participating in the Mystery of he liturgy, but the Mystery of the  liturgy and the sacraments help us avoid giving into those temptations. That Mystery orients us away from ourselves, to whom each of these temptations point us, and instead toward God and the opposite virtues of Faith in God, Hope in Heaven, and Love of God and neighbor.

In his plenary session on Friday, Fagerberg highlighted one of the Western spiritual writers he's been reading lately, Venerable Francis Libermann (more about him on Sunday, February 2 on this blog). He drew Libermann's spiritual advice, shared in letters with his family and with members of the missionary order he led, the Spiritans, from Chapter 5. Venerable Libermann urged his correspondents, in imitation of Jesus, to take up their crosses, bear them willingly, rejoice in their burdens for the sake of sanctification, the love of God and the love of neighbor.

In Chapters 6 and 7, Fagerberg continues this exploration of how liturgical mysticism guides us on our way in this life and how it points us to the eschaton, the end of this life and the beginning of the next. In the Epilogue, he concludes:
The liturgy that occurs within the hidden spaces of the heart is the liturgy hypostasized in the soul. Liturgical asceticism kneads both body and soul with that Resurrection power; liturgical mysticism looks fixedly at the mystery, who is Christ risen; and liturgical theology illuminates our world and our place in it. Liturgical mysticism is the Trinitarian mystery, mediated by sacramental liturgy and hypostasized as personal liturgy, to anchor the substance of our lives. (p. 149)
The bibliography is extensive, featuring titles by Louis Bouyer, Jean Danielou, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, C.S. Lewis, Joseph Ratzinger, and Alexander Schmemann, among others. Reading this book was a transcendent experience and I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet and hear the author speak. Recommended without reservation.

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