Saturday, April 12, 2014

"A piece of bread, a simple gesture, a few well-chosen words"

     "From the ethological point of view, 'ritual' actions (in J. Huxley's sense of the word) are adaptive formalizations of behavior favoring an economy of energy.  One finds this trait also in anthropology:  rituality functions in an economical manner.  Of course, there is often a profusion of means (multiple objects, formulas endlessly repeated), but it is a profusion of small means [(petits moyens)]:  through metaphor the victims' blood sprinkled upon the people and the altar becomes the pledge of the covenant with God; through metonymy the entire earth is represented by a few of its fruits.
     "In the same way, it is the small amount of [(le peu de)] bread or water that is the condition for the operation of the Eucharistic or baptismal symbolism.  On the condition, of course, that this 'small amount' be not 'too small,' that is, that it constitute a support sufficient for the symbolism to function.  The drift of the symbol toward insignificance has played a bad joke on us in the liturgy.  However, it is not through a plentiful feast that one will most successfully symbolize the paschal banquet to which Christ invites his people or by mad gambols in a large swimming pool that one will live sacramentally death and resurrection with him.  A piece of bread, a simple gesture, a few well-chosen words [(d'un peu de pain, d'un geste sobre, d'parole d'une parole dûment réglée)] are all that are necessary.  In this way rite protects itself by its spareness [(sobriété)] against the invasion of a romantic subjectivity desperate for 'spontaneous-and-total-expression.'  In some way it restores 'availability' to the self.  Kept in check by ritual ascesis, the self can be made available for the welcome of the Other, and indeed of what the Other wishes to bestow upon it.
     "This economy of means is theologically a powerful symbolic representation of the eschatological not yet of the reign, nevertheless already inaugurated in the Church.  Against every species of eschatological impatience, the rite serves to defend us against the ever-recurring dream of a reign without the Church.  Its modest discretion protects us from believing we have reached it.  Rather, it directs us towards this sense of humor that is the cardinal virtue through which believers adjust themselves to the patience of God."

     Louis Marie Chauvet, Symbol and sacrament:  a sacramental reinterpretation of Christian existence III.9.ii.3 ("A symbolic economy of spareness [(sobriété)]"), trans. Patrick Madigan, S.J., and Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, MN:  A Pueblo Book, The Liturgical Press, 1995 [1987]), 346-347; Symbole et sacrement:  une relecture sacramentelle de l'existence chrétienne (Paris:  Les Éditions du Cerf, 1987), 354-355.
     On pp. 31-32 of his article "La théologie sacramentaire est-elle an-esthésique?" (La Maison-Dieu no. 188 (1991):  7-39), Chauvet, following J. Y. Hameline, adds to sobriété, tarditas, the insistence of the liturgy on "hastening slowly".

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