Before November ends and our consideration of the four last things (death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell) gives way to Advent preparations for the the great Second Coming that ushers in those things definitively, let us turn our attention to a short, often-overlooked summons to Heaven that takes place in every Mass. It takes place in a short dialogue just after the prayer over the gifts and before the singing of the Sanctus. It is called the “preface dialogue” and it is really quite remarkable in its sweeping vision and heavenly call.
- The Lord be with you.
- And with your spirit.
- Lift up your hearts.
- We lift them up to the Lord.
- Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
- It is right and just.
A fairly familiar dialogue to be sure. But to some extent, it fails to take wing because of the rather earthbound notion most moderns have of the Mass. Very few attending Mass today think much of the heavenly liturgy. Rather, most are focused on their parish Church, the priest in front of them, and the people around them. But this is NOT an adequate vision for the Mass. In the end, there is only one liturgy: the one in Heaven. There is only one altar: the one in Heaven. There is only one High Priest: Jesus in Heaven. In the Mass, we are swept up into the heavenly liturgy. There, with myriad angels and saints beyond number, we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus. In the Mass, we are swept up into Heaven!
More so than “Lift up your hearts,” a better translation of Sursum corda is “Hearts aloft!”
What is the celebrant really inviting us to do? After greeting us in the Lord, he invites us to go to Heaven! But remember, the priest is in persona Christi. Hence, when he speaks it is really the Lord Jesus speaking, making use of the priest’s voice. And what does the Lord really say to us in the magnificent dialogue and preface that follows? Allow me to elaborate on the fuller meaning of this text:
“Let your hearts be taken up! Come and go with me to the altar that is in heaven where I, Jesus the great High Priest, with all the members of my body render perfect thanks to God the Father! You are no longer on earth, your hearts have been swept aloft into the great liturgy of heaven! Come up higher. By the power of my words you are able to come up higher! Since you have been raised to new life in Christ, seek the things that are above where I am at my Father’s right hand. Come up now and enter the heavenly liturgy. Hearts aloft!”
Consider this writing of Cardinal Jean Danielou, reflecting on some teachings from the Fathers about this critical moment of the Mass.
The liturgy of earth is a visible reflection, and efficacious symbol, of the heavenly liturgy of angels. This unity of the two worships is expressed by the liturgy itself in the Preface, where it invites the community of the Church (on earth) to unite with the Thrones and Dominations, the Cherubim and Seraphim, to sing the angelic hymn of praise, the Thrice-Holy. [St. John Chrysostom] says “Reflect upon whom it is that you are near and with whom you are about to invoke God–the Cherubim. Think of the ranks you are about to enter. Let no one have any thought of earth (sursum corda!) but let him lose himself of every earthly thing and transport himself whole and entire into heaven … ” (Chrysostom Adv, Anon., 4)
Elsewhere, Chrysostom remarks that the Gloria in excelsis is the chant of the lower angels. Even the catechumens are permitted to join in it. But the Sanctus is the chant of the Seraphim; it leads into the very sanctuary of the Trinity, and thus “it is reserved for the initiated, the baptized” (cf Chrysostom, Homily on Colossians 3:8).
The Chant of the Seraphim expresses holy fear. It expresses the awe felt by even the highest creatures in the presence of the Infinite, Divine Excellence. And this enables us to better understand the holiness of the Eucharist … (Jean Cardinal Danielou, The Angels and Their Mission, pp. 64-65).
Hence the Mass is never just the “10:00 am Mass at St. Joe’s.” It is the heavenly liturgy.
Until recently, Churches were designed to remind us that we were entering Heaven. As we walk into older churches we are surrounded by windows and paintings that depict the angels and saints. Christ is at the center in the tabernacle. And all the elements that Scripture speaks of as being in the heavenly liturgy are on display, not only in the building, but in the celebration of the liturgy: candles, incense, an altar, the hymns that are sung, the Holy, Holy, Holy, the scroll that is brought forward in the Book of Gospels, the lamb on the throne-like altar, the prostrations and kneeling of the saints before the Lord. All these things are described in the Book of Revelation’s depictions of the heavenly liturgy. None of these things are in our churches or the liturgy for arbitrary reasons.
Yes! We are in the heavenly realms and the heavenly liturgy and so we see and experience heavenly things. Hearts aloft!
This video I made some time ago shows forth traditional Church Architecture as a glimpse of Heaven. The Latin text of the music by Bruckner describes how the form of the Liturgy and even Church architecture is set forth by God, who first gave it in elaborate instructions to Moses on Sinai. Here is the text, with my translation:
Locus iste a Deo factus est (This place was made by God)
inaestimabile sacramentum; (a priceless mystery)
irreprehensibilis est. (It is beyond reproach)