Liturgy gives what eternity promises

The Second Vatican Council did Christians a great service by reviving a term that had been forgotten in the evangelical vocabulary: eschatology. This obscure yet precious word requires some explanation. The liturgy provides it for us.

Some vocabulary…

The French Larousse defines eschatology as ” the set of doctrines and beliefs concerning man’s ultimate fate after death “. The root of this Greek word (eschaton) means “last”. Eschatology therefore speaks to us of our ” last ends “, of the series of eternal events introduced at the prologue of our earthly life.

However, if we dig a little deeper, we learn that the probable root of this word, the verb “echo”, means “to possess something that is close”, and also “to attach oneself to someone, to whom one is united by blood ties or by a service rendered in common”.

What if this “something close” was eternal life, and this “someone” was God Himself? Then eschatology would be the astounding statement that we already possess eternal life, which is “near” because we are “attached” to God by the bonds of the Blood of Christ and the common worship we render.

But is it possible to already possess what we can only know after a holy death?

Entering the world of God

To enter God’s world, you have to leave this world! And this is what the liturgy does: it enables us to “pass over” into the eternal mystery of God, through faith. Faith unites us so closely to Christ that, through him, with him and in him, we can “pass from this world to his Father”, from the world of death to the world of glory. Like the Hebrews walking behind the Ark of the Covenant, we cross the Jordan to “pass over” from the earthly Exodus to the Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey” (cf. Jos 3-4).

The Second Vatican Council can thus affirm that “in the earthly liturgy we participate in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem”, where Christ reigns, living, in the glory of his Father. Through the worship celebrated in church, we are transported to Heaven, before the throne of the Lamb !

Two symbols help us to understand this, and they are also at the heart of the liturgy of Christian funerals, which represent the great passage into eternity: incense, which symbolises the presence of God in the cloud and the prayer of adoration of the angels and saints that rises before the throne of divine majesty, and the light of the candles, which are like the seven golden candlesticks of Revelation, behind which the Son of Man appears alive (cf. Rev 1:12).

Entering the time of God

Furthermore, by reliving the mysteries of Christ rendered present and active throughout the liturgical year, we enter into God’s time. We experience eternity, symbolised by the circular return, without beginning or end, of the same feasts, year after year. So whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, we step out of human timeline to relive this unique and definitive Day, which in itself constitutes the “new times”. These new times began at the very moment of the Resurrection, at the dawn of the new creation “on the first day of the week”, and they will never end.

These ” times which are the last ” are taking place in peace, because they are entirely in God’s hands. They are the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God. And since “the time of the liturgy aims to bring time back into God’s hands “, each liturgical celebration gives us a taste today, through the vicissitudes of history, of the eternal goods of the Kingdom: peace and joy in the presence of God.

In this way, the liturgy already fulfils our eschatological expectations: through it, we possess what we hope for.