Unfolding the Mystery of Christ: Exploring Liturgical Time

We are creatures who occupy both space and time. Maximus said they were created simultaneously: as soon as there was space, it took time to move from point A to point B. With space came time.

Material things exist in space and as sacrament can be made transparent to God. But what about time? Can time be made transparent to God? Water can be joined to Word, and a bath becomes regeneration. Can we join time to the Word?

C. S. Lewis liked to use an image for the transcendental dimension. He would say the inside of a thing is bigger than its outside. In The Last Battle the heroes are thrown into a stable to be eaten by a monster, but they find themselves standing before Aslan in an open field.

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

I would suggest we could say something similar about time. Here is a moment, and on the surface it doesn’t last any longer than any other moment. But the same length of time can sometimes be filled with a content that is bigger than the moment that contains it. It takes the same amount of time to watch a television re-run as to meet a long-lost friend for lunch, but the content of the latter is fuller than the content of the former. Its inside is bigger than its outside.

When it comes to liturgy, we can say that time can be filled with eternity. The twenty-four hour day can become the eighth day, the eternal day, the new day. The earth’s 365 day pilgrimage around the sun can  become the liturgical year. It’s the same amount of time, in one way; but in every important way, the liturgical year is bigger than the annum that contains it.

This was the motivation for this year’s Notre Dame Center for Liturgy June conference: to explore the ways in which we are invited to enter into Christ’s life more deeply every year through the liturgical celebrations of the Church calendar. Sacrosanctum Concilium expresses it perfectly in paragraph 102:

“Within the cycle of a year, moreover, she unfolds the whole mystery  of Christ,  from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of  Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming  of the Lord. Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful  are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving  grace.”

The mystery of Christ is so profound that it must be unfolded over the course of an entire year – and more than one! Year after year we revisit Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and a lifetime will not be enough to grasp the consequence of this economy. And there is furthermore daily Hours, and Feast days of  Mary and the saints.

Each year is an opportunity to lay hold on the mysteries contained within Christ’s life, and so be conformed to them and be filled with saving grace. It seems an important topic. We hope you have time (!) to join us in June.  Liturgy.nd.edu


  1. This is music’s role in the Liturgy. All music, but especially unmetered chant, drastically changes our perception of time: seconds feel like they have lengthened into minutes, hours collapse into moments.
    This mirrors and evokes the collapse of time that takes place in the consecration, as we create in the present time both the offering of the Last Supper and the Offering on the Cross, collapsing them both, along with the countless other Eucharists of the last 200o years into a present moment which is offered to us by God, and back to God by us.

    (Musicology note: The “minimalist” school of composing in the mid 20th cent. was attempting to accomplish artificially what Chant had already achieved naturally- a slowing down of our perception of time to allow a single moment to linger and expand before us, replacing one sense of time (chronos) with a deeper one (Chiros in Chant / Rhythm in minimalism).

    O! I love that you brought this up- I could go on and on on time in liturgy et…

  2. ‘Musicology note: The “minimalist” school of composing in the mid 20th cent. was attempting to accomplish artificially what Chant had already achieved naturally- a slowing down of our perception of time to allow a single moment to linger and expand before us, replacing one sense of time (chronos) with a deeper one (Chiros in Chant / Rhythm in minimalism).”

    So, Adam, that was what Terry Riley and Phil Glass were trying to do…..and here I thought they, unlike Cage and Crumb, had simply thrown up a C major chord on a wall and some idiot critic saluted it, thus giving “minimalism” credence. Which, of course, has deteriated into the last refuge of all composers, film scores. Wherein even a hack like Newton Howard, not to mention a real composer like Corigliano, kicks Glass’ gluts into particle physics. Give me Morricone (or pretty much any modern Italian film score guy) or give me death!

  3. Glass has some good stuff! Although that wasn’t my point…

    My point in bringing it up is that I find it fascinating that so many 20th cent. artists and philosophers tried so hard to accomplish things in a secular/atheist manner that are easily and naturally accomplished within the context of Christian tradition. Once you decide that God is dead, it takes a lot of work to accomplish even simple acts of creation or beauty.

  4. As I keep telling my kids, my chronos keeps affecting my kairos…too bad it isn’t my kairos effecting my chronos!

  5. Tolkien uses the term “Euchatastrophe”. That moment when you experience the “inside being larger than the outside”. The moment when prayer shifts to the mystical, when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. You mention the function of music as being a vehicle for this moment, I presume that everything about liturgy and prayer leads us into that moment, into the experience of the sacred, the entrance into the mystery, the paschal mystery. I have found the prayer “Glory be to the Father, the son and the holy spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.” expresses that mystery well.

  6. With Lewis and Tolkien quoted, how could one add to this fine discussion? How many readers are thinking of the magnificent hymn, Now the Silence, by Jaroslav Vajda, set by Carl Schalk? http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/n/o/nowthsil.htm

    Now the silence, now the peace,
    Now the empty hands uplifted;
    Now the kneeling, now the plea,
    Now the Father’s arms in welcome;
    Now the hearing, now the power,
    Now the vessel brimmed for pouring;
    Now the body, now the blood,
    Now the joyful celebration;
    Now the wedding, now the songs,
    Now the heart forgiven, leaping;
    Now the Spirit’s visitation,
    Now the Son’s epiphany;
    Now the Father’s blessing,
    Now, now, now.

  7. Excellent! Thank you, David.
    Add to C. S. Lewis and Tolkien – Dr. Who – he traverses both time and space in the Tardis, which is bigger on the inside than on the outside! So watching TV re-runs or DVDs CAN be a chronos/kairos experience.
    @ the minimalism thread: composers like Michael Torke and John Adams have taken the time-suspending aspect of rhythm in minimalism and used it (if you want to draw the comparison with chant) as but one aspect of their compositional technique. Probably why they both get referred to as post-minimalist. I don’t know that it’s fair to lump people like them in with Terry Riley, whose time suspension was an intentional way to get us to listen differently, much in the same way that minimalist painting intended us to stop and look at individual brush strokes. You may not think either one is really “art” but they do have their own contributions to make in the way we perceive.

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