...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:51 PM [+]
I had intended initially to post this little note in Facadebook, but I quickly realized that I had many more thoughts about it than really befits the "drive-by" environment of Facadebook. And it has been months since I added anything to Paradosis - I find my two new jobs (one involving a lab coat and the other a cassock) have been keeping me too busy to post much of anything beyond an occasional drive-by on Facadebook.
On September 23rd of last year I was ordained to the Holy Diaconate. Much I could say about that and probably should, if for no other reason than to help me solidify my own marveling and wonderment at this privilege and responsibility. I see my duties as an answer to the call to live out the meaning of the title which is to serve Christ and His community especially around His Holy Table. There is a great deal written about the role of a Deacon, but, I will leave those thoughts to another time.
Since my ordination, I have found myself especially enamored with the Divine Liturgy. I don't know how else to describe it. Suddenly, it seems to have new and rich layers of meaning to me - despite the stark raving terror of worrying about screwing something up or doing something wrong. Becoming a Deacon, of course, doesn't magically (or gnostically?)make one aware of anything special with regards to the Divine and so, it is, no doubt, to my great discredit that it required my ordination to wake me up to some of these things. No matter, I will receive God's grace in any way in which I am able.
If you are like me, the Litanies offered by the Deacon (or priest, if serving alone) are heard, but not really heard. I suspect that I am not alone in having largely assumed they basically offer the same prayers over and over again. To some degree this is true: there is a great deal of repetition in each of them. However, by paying close attention one can hear the uniqueness of each, especially by taking time to consider their particular placement within the Divine Liturgy because that provides important contextual meaning to them.
One example that really struck me is found in the Litany of Preparation which should not be confused as having anything to do with the Liturgy of Preparation or Proskomedia/Prothesis. This Litany takes place after the Epiklesis in which the Gifts are consecrated. Much of this litany is a reaffirmation of all the previous litanies, but with special emphasis in the context of the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Gifts and upon us! It is also intended for us the faithful to offer them coupled closely with our inner preparation to receive the Mysteries. I want to specifically look at the first two petitions as they set the stage for the Litany as a whole (I should mention that this is almost always the case for all the Litanies in the Divine Liturgy, so one can often pay close attention to them for some contextual reminders.)
For the precious Gifts offered and consecrated, let us pray to the Lord....That our God, the Lover of man, having accepted them upon His holy and most heavenly and ideal altar as an odor of spiritual sweetness, will send down upon us Divine Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray.
So the first petition reminds us of progress amidst the work of the people: the Gifts have been offered(the previous Litany began by asking God to receive the Gifts we just brought and set upon His Altar via the Great Entrance) and now consecrated. We then affirm in faith that God has accepted the Gifts, because He is the "Lover of mankind." It is His nature as affirmed in the aforementioned title that gives us the boldness of our assumption, the same boldness that will allow us to "dare to call upon Thee, the Heavenly God, as Father."
I often like to think of these Gifts that we offer as being not unlike a gift offered by a very young child to his/her mother or father such as a painted rock or something else that really fills any need. The gift, being of such a heartfelt nature, is graciously accepted and the Mom or Dad will take the child up into their arms and inundate the child with words and kisses of love and adoration, filling him or her with joy. And so we also look to our Heavenly Father to "send down upon us Divine Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit." We all know of the astonishing miracle that takes place here and the extent of the LIFE God offers to us through His Gifts now returned to us.
The prayer states that God accepts our Gifts upon His altar, which is described as being "holy, and most heavenly, and ideal." The word "ideal" intrigued me and in doing a bit of research found that this word is translated from the Greek in a lot of different ways in other copies of the Divine Liturgy. For example, one can find these terms being used instead: invisible, spiritual, mystical, supersensual, or even supersenduous (huh?!?). And of course, there is one more of note: "noetic."
I was intent on diving into the use of this term and what I think it means to us in the context of this Litany, but after doing a little research I found that someone has already done it and without question with more knowledge and skill than I could have mustered. Thus I will simply recommend Fr. Gabriel's podcast (or transcript).