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ISSN: 0458-063X (Print) 1557-3001 (Online) Journal homepage:

The Future Present: The Liturgy, Time, and


John F. Baldovin S.J.

To cite this article: John F. Baldovin S.J. (2016) The Future Present: The Liturgy, Time, and
Revelation, Liturgy, 31:1, 19-25, DOI: 10.1080/0458063X.2015.1083789

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Published online: 08 Dec 2015.

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John F. Baldovin, S.J.
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O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.

I begin with St. Thomas Aquinas’ beautiful antiphon for the Gospel
canticle, Magnificat, sung at Vespers on the Feast of the Body and Blood of
Christ because it so succinctly encapsulates the triple dimension of liturgical
time. In a poetic mode, the antiphon expresses what Aquinas wrote in his
Summa Theologiae about the multiple meanings of the sacraments:

[T]he sign of a sacrament has a threefold function. It is at once commemor-

ative of that which has gone before, namely the Passion of Christ, and
demonstrative of what which is brought about in us through the Passion
of Christ, namely grace, and prognostic; i.e., foretelling of future glory.1

So, time in all of its dimensions is always an aspect of our liturgical

celebrations. They are never merely a recall of the past events of salvation
(for Aquinas, particularly the Passion). Rather, in these liturgical celebrations,
the past, present, and future are experienced simultaneously.

Liturgy, 31 (1): 19–25, 2016 Copyright # The Liturgical Conference ISSN: 0458-063X
DOI: 10.1080/0458063X.2015.1083789
While it is easy to speak of a multidimensional experience of time, we
must admit that time itself is a conundrum, because defining it is so elusive.
Augustine famously struggled with this question in his Confessions:

It is therefore true to say that when you had not made anything, there was no
time, because time itself was of your making. And no time is co-eternal with
you, because you never change; whereas, if time never changed it would not
be time. What then is time? There can be no quick and easy answer. … What,
then, is time? I know well enough what it is provided that nobody asks me;
but if I am asked what it is and try to explain it, I am baffled. All the same I
can confidently say that if nothing passed, there would be no past time; if
nothing were going to happen, there would be no future time; and if nothing
were, there would be no present time.2
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Augustine here is puzzling about the relation between time and eternity.
God cannot be God if God is within time; God created it. And part and parcel
of creation is Augustine’s (and, in general, the Christian tradition’s) conviction
that time has a meaning and purpose.3 History has a goal, an end toward
which it is directed. When we apply this theology of history to the liturgy
as a major source of Christian belief (lex orandi, lex credendi—the rule of pray-
ing and the rule of believing are intimately related), we must be dissatisfied
with a view of liturgy that merely tries to relate the present to the past. This
is to say that Christian liturgy is always eschatological; it is constituted as
much by the goal and purpose of God’s saving work as it is by the present
and the past. This eschatological dimension of the liturgy has been revived
in recent decades, for example, in the work of Geoffrey Wainwright and in
the landmark ecumenical convergence document, Baptism, Eucharist and
Ministry, which discerns five basic meanings of the Eucharist, one of which
is “meal of the Kingdom.”4
What we so often fail to appreciate is that the liturgy is a sacramental
realization of the kingdom, what God wants the world to be. The remainder
of this essay will fall into three sections. First, we need to consider the kind of
time that our liturgy celebrates. Second, in light of that, we shall discuss the bib-
lical meaning of memorial or anamnesis. Finally, we shall see how liturgical time
as revelation plays out in the Christian articulation of time: week, day, and year.
Please note that I am understanding “revelation” here not as information about
the world but as a divine activity that opens up a way of looking at the world.

What is the Nature of Liturgical Time?

In his very influential book, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, the late
Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann deals with the relation
between past and future in the celebration of the Eucharist in particular. He
has this to say: “The event which is ‘actualized’ in the Eucharist is an event
of the past when viewed within the categories of time, but by virtue of
its eschatological, determining, completing, significance it is also an event
which is taking place eternally.”5 Schmemann is highlighting here the
traditional theme of the heavenly liturgy initiated in the Old Testament Book

of Daniel and then employed in the Letter to the Hebrews and especially the
Book of Revelation in the New Testament. The real liturgy is in a sense being
celebrated in heaven and what we do on earth is brought into it.
In his posthumously published book, The Eucharist, Schmemann employs
the same idea of the eschatological heavenly liturgy to counter what he
considers the Western preoccupation and obsession with the exact moment
of consecration at the Eucharist. For him the fact that the liturgy transcends
our normal experience of time obviates the necessity of pinpointing such
moments.6 This idea is mirrored in the traditional Canon of the Roman Mass
by the words: “[C]ommand that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy
Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us,
who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and
Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.”7
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To confine this notion to the premodern three-story universe would be a

mistake. The heaven to which Schmemann is referring is not a place but a
dimension of reality. Perhaps it could be compared to the parallel worlds
constructed by writers like C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia or Philip
Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, in which, as if through a veil, we get
a glimpse of an alternative world. The use of the icon screen with its openings
and multiple appearances (epiphanies) in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy lends
itself to this idea.
Thus the opposition between an eschatological and historical understand-
ing of time divided by the “Constantinian Revolution” of the fourth century
and supported by Gregory Dix in his classic Shape of the Liturgy needs to be
discarded. Christian liturgy has always also been concerned with the “time
of this world,” to use Schmemann’s vocabulary. The earliest celebration of a
yearly Pascha—the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—was celebrated
on a specific calendar day, the fourteenth of Nisan according to Jewish reck-
oning. The annual anniversaries of the deaths of martyrs were kept carefully
and observed with the celebration of the Eucharist at their graves.8 On the
other hand, even the addition to the liturgical calendar of a number of feasts
like Christmas, Epiphany, and the Ascension never completely eclipsed the
eschatological dimension of the liturgy—well evidenced in Eastern Christian
worship, as we shall see in section three.

What Do We Mean by Memorial or Anamnesis?

During the past five or six decades, the biblical idea of memorial (zikkaron
in Hebrew or anamnesis in Greek) has been employed especially in sacramental
theology to help overcome Protestant-Catholic debates in the sixteenth century
with regard to the relation between the once-for-all events of salvation history
in relation to the contemporary liturgical celebrations of the Christian com-
munity. The biblical idea of memorial is a dynamic concept. It is not so much
time travel or historical recreation as it is the realization of crucial events like
the Exodus or the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord in the church’s
worship.9 On one hand communal memory serves an important function since
a society without a past is a society without a present identity and also a
society without a future. That is why so many cultural groups, such as

immigrants, work so hard to retain their customs even in an alien
environment. But even more than this, the biblical idea of memorial connotes
a real participation in the salvific events. An excellent example can be found in

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as
an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take
some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the
land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket
and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for
his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say
to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land
that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ 4When the priest takes the
basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your
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God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering
Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an
alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and
populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us,
by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our
ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and
our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand
and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs
and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land
flowing with milk and honey. (Deut. 26:1–9 NRSV)

Notice the switch in pronouns between verses 6 and 7. There is a seem-

ingly effortless change from the third person (he) to the first person (we).
Through this liturgical memorial we are identified with these events of the
past. They are realized here and now.10 But given the idea of liturgical time
as revelation, it is important to note that memorial implicitly involves the
future. In other words, memorial is purposeful and also includes an ethical
dimension, as is nicely noted in the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry:

The Eucharist opens up the vision of the divine rule which has been promised
as the final renewal of creation, and is a foretaste of it. Signs of this renewal are
present in the world wherever the grace of God is manifest and which
the Church gives thanks to God for these signs and joyfully celebrates and
anticipates the coming of the Kingdom in Christ (1 Cor. 11:26; Matt.
26:29). … The eucharistic community is nourished and strengthened for
confessing by word and action the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life for
the salvation of the world. As it becomes one people, sharing the meal of
the one Lord, the eucharistic assembly must be concerned for gathering also
those who are at present beyond its visible limits, because Christ invited to his
feast all for whom he died.11

And so we can say that memorial (anamnesis) opens up both the past and
the future as God’s revealing activity. This is why what we technically call
“the anamnesis” in the Eucharistic Prayer can include the death, resurrection,
and ascension of the Lord as well as our expectation of his future coming.

Christian Articulation of Time: Week, Day, Year
A number of features of the Christian articulation of time are revelatory
of God’s saving activity. In my opinion, the most important of these (and
perhaps the least appreciated) is the nature of the Christian day of assembly,
Sunday. The first day of the week, Sunday, does for Christians what the
Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day, does for Jews. It grounds the weekly cycle
in religious meaning. For Christians, this meaning has many facets. Pope John
Paul II laid all of this out wonderfully in his 1998 Apostolic Letter, Dies
Domini, which was part of his program of preparation for the Jubilee Year
2000. Chapter by chapter he describes Sunday as the Day of the Lord, of
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Christ, of the Church, and of the Human. The Pope rightly emphasizes
Sunday as the day of remembering the Paschal Mystery, whose celebration
reaches a kind of peak in the weekly Eucharist. He goes on to employ the
Patristic notion of the Eighth Day:

By contrast, the Sabbath’s position as the seventh day of the week suggests for
the Lord’s Day a complementary symbolism, much loved by the Fathers.
Sunday is not only the first day, it is also “the eighth day”, set within the sev-
enfold succession of days in a unique and transcendent position which evokes
not only the beginning of time but also its end in “the age to come”. Saint Basil
explains that Sunday symbolizes that truly singular day which will follow the
present time, the day without end which will know neither evening nor morn-
ing, the imperishable age which will never grow old; Sunday is the ceaseless
foretelling of life without end which renews the hope of Christians and
encourages them on their way. Looking towards the last day, which fulfils com-
pletely the eschatological symbolism of the Sabbath, Saint Augustine concludes
the Confessions describing the Eschaton as “the peace of quietness, the peace of
the Sabbath, a peace with no evening”. In celebrating Sunday, both the “first”
and the “eighth” day, the Christian is led towards the goal of eternal life.12

Thus Sunday as the crown of the Christian week reveals the meaning of all
time, a day of hope.13 In addition (and in a way similar to Baptism, Eucharist
and Ministry), John Paul connects the eschatological theme to that of mission
(#45) and to our ethical responsibility of justice and service (#69–73).
Many scholars believe that, as the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy puts it: “The Lord’s Day is the original feast day.”14 In other words,
until the middle of the second century, Sunday was the only day that Chris-
tians marked in a special way, if one excepts the ongoing observance of the
Sabbath by Jewish Christians.15 This is why the Sunday Eucharistic assembly
is the focal point of the week for Christians, a factor that has been increasingly
appreciated by those Christian churches for whom the weekly Eucharist had
fallen into abeyance for centuries.
Since the early centuries of Christianity, we know that Christians have
also been careful to mark the hours of the day and night with prayer. We
have very little formal evidence of how these prayers were structured until
the fourth century, but we do know, for example, that prayer during the night

signaled eschatological expectation. This is clear in the early church order
known as the Apostolic Tradition:

Therefore those who believe ought to take care to pray at this hour. Also
bearing witness to this thing, the Lord says thus: “Behold, a shout was made
about midnight of those saying, ‘Behold the bridegroom comes; rise to meet
him.’” And he goes on. Saying. “Therefore watch; for you do not know at
what hour he comes.”16

For the Liturgy of the Hours, just as for the Eucharist, it seems safe to say
that the Christian understands that God’s activities past, present, and future
are always intertwined.
Christians widely acknowledge that the liturgical cycle as it unfolds
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through the calendar year is no mere dramatic commemoration of the life

(death and resurrection) of Jesus. What is unfolded through the year is
the significance for Christians of the central event of history: the Paschal
Mystery or passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Christian liturgy
is a memorial, not a dramatic reenactment of these events, as I argued in
the second section of this essay. That the resurrection is celebrated means
that we “remember” not just an historical event but also the future of which
the resurrection is the proleptic sign. All of the feasts and celebrations of the
annual cycle derive their significance from the paschal mystery and there-
fore all of them demonstrate that what is realized in Christ implicates us
in his own fate through our eschatological destiny. Consider, for example,
the Solemnity of the Assumption, a celebration of the glorious fate of Mary,
the Mother of Christ. The second reading of the liturgy of the day (1 Cor.
15:20–26) as well as the second reading for the Vigil Mass (1 Cor. 15:54–
57) both imply that this feast is not only about Mary but also about the ulti-
mate destiny faithful Christians share with her and with Christ. I would
add that the feasts of the martyrs and other saints also implicate us in this
eschatological fate.

We have surveyed several ways in which the liturgy is related to revel-
ation. In the first place, the liturgy is revelation in the sense that it actualizes
God’s saving acts for us and is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It is the
kingdom of God realized in ritual form. In the second place, liturgy, by
means of anamnesis as well as the various elements in the cycle of celebration
(week, day, year), enables us to appreciate and appropriate God’s saving acts
for us and impels us toward responding to those acts by the way we live our
lives, all this in expectation of God’s eschatological victory.

John F. Baldovin, S.J. is Professor of Historical &

Liturgical Theology at the Boston College School of
Theology & Ministry. His latest book is Reforming the
Liturgy: A Response to the Critics (2008).

1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, vol. 56, The Sacraments (London: Blackfriars, 1973), 3:60:3. See
also 3:73:4 with regard to the Eucharist: “This sacrament signifies three things. It looks back to the past:
in this sense it commemorates the Passion of our Lord, which was the true sacrifice. … In regard to the
present, there is another thing to which it points. This is the unity of the Church … . It has a third
significance with regard to the future. It prefigures that enjoyment of God which will be ours in
2. St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,
1977), 11:14. See J. T. Fraser, Time: The Familiar Stranger (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1987).
3. See Augustine, City of God, especially Bks. 19–22.
4. Geoffrey Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981); Baptism,
Eucharist and Ministry, Faith & Order Paper no. 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982).
See also, John F. Baldovin, “Pignus Futurae Gloriae: Liturgy, Eschatology and Hope,” in Hope:
Possibility, Promise and Fulfillment, ed. Richard Lennan and Nancy Pineda-Madrid (New York:
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Paulist Press, 2013), 142–54.

5. Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, trans. A. E. Moorhouse, 2nd ed.
(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975), 57.
6. Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, trans. P. Kachur (Crestwood, NY:
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988), 128–31.
7. The Roman Missal, International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 2010. On this part of the
prayer as consecratory, see Edward Kilmartin, The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology, ed.
Robert Daly (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998), 67–78.
8. See Thomas Talley, “History and Eschatology in the Primitive Pascha,” Worship 47 (1973): 212–21.
9. Particularly helpful on this subject is Kevin Irwin, “Making Memory Together,” in What We have
Done, What We have Failed to Do: Assessing the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II (New York: Paulist Press,
2013), 64–67.
10. For more on this concept of memorial see Max Thurian, The Eucharistic Memorial, vol. 2
(Richmond: John Knox Press, 1960–61); Brevard Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel (London:
SCM Press, 1962); Michael Signer, ed., Memory and History in Christianity and Judaism (Notre Dame:
Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2001).
11. “Eucharist,” in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, #22 and #26 (see n. 4), http://www.oikoumene.
12. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dies Domini: On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy, #26, https://
13. Ibid., #38.
14. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium, #106,
15. See Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early
Christianity (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011), 3–13.
16. Paul F. Bradshaw, Maxwell E. Johnson, and L. Edward Philips, The Apostolic Tradition: A
Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), #41, p. 200. This is echoed in the fourth-century
Egyptian Canons of Hippolytus. See Robert Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins
of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today, 2nd rev. ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993), 357.