Faith & Thought

A Nostalgic Look at The Paschal Mystery of Christ

There are several reasons why I greatly enjoyed an essay in the October 2023 issue of Commonweal, “From Glory to Glory: Louis Bouyer’s Cosmic Vision” by Robert P. Imbelli. One reason is that it brought back some wonderful memories. 

A priest of the New York Archdiocese, Father Imbelli mentions at the start of his essay how as a seminarian he was introduced to the writings of Father Louis Bouyer by Phil Murnion who was a few years ahead of Imbelli when they were students at St. Joseph’s Dunwoodie, the New York archdiocesan seminary. 

Reading how Phil was such a formative influence in Imbelli’s life, I was reminded of a similar experience I had at the major seminary for the diocese of Brooklyn in Huntington. A role similar to the one Murnion played in Imbelli’s life was played in my life by Bryan Karvelis, who later as a priest became something of a legend in the diocese because of his total commitment to the poor. 

An exceptionally bright student, Bryan revitalized what was called The Liturgy Club. Because of Bryan’s intelligence, a large classroom was filled every week with students eager to learn more about the liturgy. 

Reading about Murnion’s influence on Imbelli, I recall the powerful, inspiring influence Karvelis had on me and many others. How excited I was when I first came to have some understanding of the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. 

The doctrine that when we engage in liturgical prayer we are participating in the risen Lord’s prayer seemed too good to be true. Liturgical prayer is primarily Christ praying, and we are joining in Christ’s prayer. Even as I type these words, I experience again some of the excitement that I experienced more than 65 years ago as a seminarian. 

Now I wonder what faculty members made of the enthusiasm that was spreading among the students, an excitement not directly related to the curriculum. Looking back on that enthusiasm, I have to suspect that it was due to the Holy Spirit. 

Father Imbelli quotes from Bouyer’s book “The Paschal Mystery”: 

“The Christian religion is not simply a doctrine: It is a fact, an action, and an action not of the past, but of the present, where the past is recovered, and the future draws near. Thus, it embodies ‘the mystery of faith,’ for it declares to us that each day makes our own the action of Another accomplished long ago, the fruits of which we shall see only later in ourselves.” 

Imbelli continues: 

“ ‘The action of Another’ was, of course, the action of Jesus Christ fully revealed in his paschal mystery. And the entirety of the Christian life is progressively to make our own — to realize in ourselves — the fruit of that mystery. In the phrase of St. Paul that became almost the leitmotif of Bouyer’s writings on the spiritual life: ‘The mystery is this: Christ in you the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:27).’ 

“All of Bouyer’s theology is an exploration of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, whom we encounter in a privileged way in liturgical celebration. Bouyer’s theology is therefore inseparably liturgical-spiritual-pastoral in the tradition of the Fathers of the Church. The French philosopher of religion Jean-Luc Marion has even claimed that ‘the theology of Bouyer has a breadth, spaciousness, and a breath that few others have had since the patristic period.’ ” 

Commenting on Bouyer’s view that living the Christian faith seriously and deeply should logically lead to mysticism, Imbelli writes the following: 

“If this view of mysticism seems extravagant, recall the famous (if little heeded) prophecy of Karl Rahner: ‘The devout Christian of the future will be a “mystic,” one who has experienced “something,” or he will cease to be anything at all.’ 

“I think Bouyer provides a fuller sense of the shape, content, and implications of such mysticism than Rahner does, not least because Bouyer insists from the beginning that the ‘experience’ is not of ‘something’ but of ‘Someone’ — the paschal Christ encountered in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist.” 

Reading Imbelli’s essay and recalling my enthusiasm many years ago when I first gained some insight into the meaning of liturgy, I realized that I had not read a serious book about the liturgy in years. I suspect the guilt feelings I experienced were probably authentic rather than unhealthy. 

I am going to check tomorrow how many books by Bouyer the St. John’s University library has. If the library has Bouyer’s “The Paschal Mystery,” I am going to take it out on loan and read it. Also, the next time I come in contact with Bob Imbelli I am going to thank him for his essay and tell him that it made a very strong impact on at least one reader. 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.