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Liturgy & Sacraments


Odo Casel: prophet and mystagogue

by Hugh Gilbert OSB (copied from here)



Who was Odo Casel?

Odo Casel's is hardly a household name, nor is it ever likely to be. He was, after all, a monk and spent the greater part of his monastic life as chaplain to a community of Benedictine nuns - not usually a high-road to celebrity. And yet from this obscure monk issued what Cardinal Ratzinger called "perhaps the most fruitful theological idea of our century" (ie the 20th), while for the eminent French Dominican liturgist, Pierre-Marie Gy, it was Casel who gave the strongest impulse of anyone to the sacramental theology of the 20th century, and in the view of the English Dominican, Aidan Nichols, Casel should be accounted "a giant among theologians of the Liturgy and a figure raised up by Providence to salvage from perils the worship of the Church…one of the great fathers, I would say the great father of the 20th century liturgical movement". The following article is a small attempt to salvage Dom Odo Casel from his (relative) obscurity. Three questions naturally present themselves: Who was he? What did he say? Is it true?

Johannes Casel was born at Koblenz, in the German Rhineland, on the 27 September 1886. His father was a train-driver. His religion - this was the Catholic Rhineland - was Catholic through and through. After a local primary and secondary education, he went up to Bonn in 1905 to read classics. Among the students there was a young Benedictine, Ildefons Herwegen, who persuaded Johannes to put aside his studies and enter his own Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, St Mary of the Lake. This was originally an 11th century Benedictine monastery, suppressed in 1802 and restored by Benedictines of the Beuronese Congregation as recently as 1892.

A Benedictine vocation

In 1913 the same Ildefons Herwegen was to become abbot of Laach, to remain such until his death in 1946, and to make of the abbey one of the intellectual and liturgical centers of German Catholicism between the two world wars. Entering the monastery in the autumn of 1905, Casel himself went through the usual stages of monastic initiation, receiving the name Odo, making profession in 1907 and being ordained in 1911. A little less usually (but this is Germany!) he gained, first, a theological doctorate from the Benedictine Athenaeum of Sant' Anselmo in Rome (with a thesis on the eucharistic theology of Justin Martyr, an early sign of his passion for the Fathers of the Church) and then, returning to Bonn, a second philosophical doctorate (with a thesis that revealed his parallel interest in Classical Antiquity, and especially its Mystery Religions).

In 1921, Abbot Herwegen asked Casel to become the editor of the projected Jahrbuch fur Liturgiewissenschaft (Yearbook for Liturgical Science), which task he acquitted through 15 imposing volumes until wartime shortage of paper precluded further publication in 1941. The editorship was an immense labour in itself. The Jahrbuch is, in fact, one of the great monuments to the intellectual revival of German Catholicism between the two world wars, and it was principally in its pages that Casel - through articles and reviews - was able to articulate, defend and consolidate his own vision of Christian worship. Casel was himself a quiet man, happiest working in his cell or singing in the monastic choir. His output was to be prodigious: one bibliography counts 309 major and minor works.

The obscure life of a convent chaplain

And it is doubtful if this would have been possible had not Abbot Herwegen, again discerningly, sent Dom Odo in 1922 as chaplain to what was then a small convent of nuns devoted to Perpetual Adoration at Herstelle, Westphalia. There he had the leisure to study and write. There, too, he had the spiritual and intellectual stimulus of a receptive community of women, which by the time of his death was a flourishing Benedictine house of the Beuronese Congregation, living a full liturgical life, as still today.

Here Casel was to remain, praying, celebrating, preaching, editing, writing, never going to conferences, even those devoted to his own thought. And here, in an astonishingly appropriate way, he was to die. On Holy Saturday 1948, he suffered a stroke after singing the Lumen Christi. He died in the early hours of Easter Sunday, 28 March. He was 61. It is a custom among monasteries to exchange notices of brethren who have died, including usually brief biographical details. That devoted to the passing of Odo Casel was a lyrical classic of the genre:

"Having just greeted the light of Christ in a clear voice and while preparing to celebrate the paschal praeconium, our beloved Father in Christ, liturgist of the sacred mystery and mystagogue, Odo Casel, monk of Maria Laach, having accomplished his holocaust and passing over with the Lord during the holy night, entered upon the beatific vision, being himself consummated in perfection by the mysteries of Easter which he had given to initiates. Thanks be to God."

Turbulent times for the pen and the sword

Casel's claim on our attention lies in his thoughts and writings, and above all in his vision of the "Christian thing" and, more specifically, of Christian worship. But before we turn to this, a word must be said about the wider context of his life and thought. This - to repeat - was Germany, the Germany that had lost a world war, an emperor and an empire, was passing through the humiliations of the Weimar Republic and then was to be swept up into the ultimately destructive fantasy-world of National Socialism.

In one sense, Casel lived apart from all this. He was certainly not a political animal; he kept "the even tenor" of his scholarly, monastic ways. Yet he was profoundly aware of the contemporary problematic. He was also aware of so much that was deficient in contemporary Catholicism: the inadequacies of neo-scholasticism, the excessively juridical view of Church and liturgy, and the individualism of so much piety. And his own work may be regarded as parallel to many of the attempts of the time to find a way forward in the world and in the Church.

One thinks of phenomenology and its "turn to the object", of the dialectical theology of Karl Barth reaffirming divine transcendence, of the desire for community and communion with nature in the Youth Movement, and more particularly of the tenderly bourgeoning patristic and liturgical movements within Catholicism and the concomitantly growing sense of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ. In 1922, Romano Guardini wrote his famous words: "A religious process of incalculable importance has begun - the Church is coming to life in souls."

Casel - like his own monastery of Maria Laach - has a distinctive place within this spectrum, one founded on Scripture, the Fathers and the Liturgy, on a deep appreciation for the ancient world and man's natural religiosity, for the objective and traditional and transcendent. For him, as he outlined in the arresting first chapter of his Das Christliche Kultmysterium [The Mystery of Christian Worship, 1st ed. 1932], it was the "Mystery" that needed to come to life in souls. Now was the providential moment, after the collapse of rationalist individualism, for a "turning to the Mystery". We can now turn ourselves to explore what he meant by this.

What did he say?

Mystery theology or the "doctrine/teaching of the Mystery" (Mysterientheologie, Mysterienlehre) are the names given to Casel's thought in German circles. "My first insight into the doctrine of the Mystery came to me in the course of a conventual Mass", Casel himself wrote. In sources and style, it may be categorized as "neo-patristic", a Catholic cousin to much of the theologizing of Orthodox émigrés of the same period, not to mention some equally adventurous Catholic contemporaries engaged in a similar ressourcement. Casel was decidedly not in the Scholastic tradition.

Rather he was a Benedictine monk, steeped body, mind and soul, in the Roman-Benedictine liturgy. It was out of this that his vision came. The "kernel" or content of this "theology" or "doctrine" was "the new appreciation (or restoration of the traditional appreciation) of the liturgical celebration as the concrete reality in which Christ's saving action in death and resurrection becomes present to us" (B. Neunheuser). More simply, one might call it a liturgy-centered vision of Christianity. ‘Ganzheitschau’ was one of Casel's favorite words: a view of the whole. And this is certainly what he bequeathed. What follows attempts to outline his thought under seven headings

Mystery: the core idea of Christianity

What is Christianity? What is its essence? This is the first question. Dom Odo, who was ever a philologist, began by turning to the word mystery (mysterion in Greek, mysterium in Latin). Hidden here, he saw, was the heart of Christianity. For the 18th century, Christianity might appear to be no more than a system of beliefs and a code of conduct; for the 19th century (as for many at the beginning of the 21st!) it might appear above all as a spirituality, as a way of relating to the Beyond.

For St Paul, however, and for the whole New Testament as well as for the authentic tradition of the Church, Christianity is the revelation of the Mystery. And the Mystery, in the predominantly Pauline sense, "means, first of all, a deed of God's, the working-out of an eternal divine plan through an act which proceeds from His eternity, is realized in time and the world, and returns once more to Him, its goal in eternity."

This Mystery can be expressed by the one word "Christ", meaning by it the Savior's person, together with His mystical body, "the Church". It is - initially - the Incarnation; it is - centrally - the sacred Pasch, the death and resurrection of the Lord; it is - consequently - the entry of the Church, the community of the redeemed, in the wake of the sacrificed and glorified Christ and by the power of His Spirit, into the presence of the Father.

"For Paul, Peter and John, the heart of faith is not the teachings of Christ, not the deeds of his ministry, but the acts by which he saves us". And our salvation, our liberation from sin and union with God, is brought about by participation in the saving acts of Christ. This, then, is Christianity "in its full and original meaning", the "gospel of God". Not a world-view with a religious backdrop, not a theological system or a moral law, "but the mysterium in the Pauline sense, that is God's revelation to mankind through theandric acts, full of life and power" and our saving participation in these.

Three-fold nature of Mystery

More amply, he explained, "mystery" denotes three things at once. It has a theological, a Christological and a sacramental-liturgical meaning, and these three can hardly be separated. First of all, the Mystery is God Himself, the thrice-holy, dwelling in inaccessible light and simultaneously mysteriously revealing Himself to the pure and humble. We can see ancient man's sense of this primal Mystery in his temples and pyramids, in his wisdom and worship, in the natural longing for union with the divine. To Israel, of course, God revealed Himself more fully, but this proved to be by way of preparation. And so we come to the second sense of Mystery, the Pauline and Christological. "Christ is the mysterium in person. He reveals the invisible God in the flesh". And His deeds are "mysteries" too.

"The deeds of His self-abasement, and above all His sacrificial death on the cross, are mysteries, because in them God reveals Himself in a way that goes beyond all human standards of measurement. Above all, though, His resurrection and exaltation are mysteries, because in them divine glory was revealed in the man Jesus, and this in a form that is hidden from the world and only open to believers".

This last is a point Casel insists on: mystery is by definition hidden as well as revealed; only faith can "see" it and only gnosis, Spirit-given knowledge, penetrate it; it is beyond the grasp of the "world"; it is given to the Church.

"The Apostles proclaimed the mysterium Christi to the Church, and the Church in turn hands it on to all generations. But just as the plan of salvation does not involve simply teaching but, above all, the salvific deed of Christ, so the Church leads mankind to salvation not merely through the word but also through holy actions or deeds".

And so we arrive at the third sense of mysterium, closely connected with the first two. "We find the person of Christ, His saving deeds and the working of His grace in the mysteries of worship". Mystery in this sense denotes "a sacred ritual action, in which a past redemptive deed is made present in the form of a specific rite; the worshipping community, by accomplishing this sacred rite, participates in the redemptive act and thus obtains salvation".

The Mystery and the mysteries

Two patristic quotations enter here. The first is from a sermon of St Leo's on the Ascension (Sermon 74:2): "what was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into the mysteries"; the second from St Ambrose (Apology for the Prophet David 58): "I find You in Your mysteries". In both cases, Casel understands "mysteries" not simply as those of the faith publicly proclaimed (though that too, of course, can be a liturgical event) but as the sacramental celebrations of the Church.

It is in these above all that the mystery of God in Christ is present. Therefore the liturgy itself deserves the appellation mystery, the mystery of worship (Kultmysterium) as Casel calls it. It is a mystery because in it "the divine saving act is present under the veil of symbols". It is the mystery of Christ present in a sacramental form, as Christ is the mystery of God present in the form of "flesh".

The essence of liturgy

Here we approach the heart of Casel's vision, his understanding of liturgy, his sense of its essence, his view of its place in the scheme of things. Liturgy is not ritual or pageantry nor, as some of Casel's contemporaries believed, merely a collection of rubrics governing the public worship of the Church. Nor, he might have said today, is it something we construct to express our group-psychology or something in the service of the "feel-good factor". It is the place and presence and power of the mystery of Christ. It is "the carrying out and realization of the new covenant's mystery of Christ in the whole Church through all the centuries, for her sanctification and glorification".

"God who revealed himself in the humanity of Jesus, continues to act after His glorification. Indeed, it is above all after this glorification that He acts through Christ the High Priest", and He acts "through the ordinary way of the economy of salvation", that is, the sacraments of the Church, thereby endowing liturgy with the force of the Mystery. This "mystery of worship" is "nothing other than the God-man continuing to act on earth. Hence this mystery, like that of Christ Himself, bears a twofold character: that of the divine majesty which is at work, and that of the veil of material and earthly symbols which simultaneously hide and disclose… The presence of the Lord in the divine mysteries occupies an intermediate position - a middle stage - between the earthly, historical life of Christ and his glorious life in heaven", between the Ascension and the Parousia.

The Church, the spouse and helpmate of Christ

None of this touches us simply as separate individuals. It is all for the Church and with the Church. The Church is at once the beneficiary of Christ's sacramental presence, and His helpmate. The presence of Christ in the sacramental mysteries is a "bridal gift" for the Church, and the sacraments, in turn, are a means for her to express her love for her Husband. Liturgy is nuptial. In the liturgy, the Church becomes the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. She receives from Him, is conformed to her crucified, glorified, Spirit-filled Lord, and at the same time is enabled to collaborate with Him in the furtherance of man's salvation, con-celebrating the mystery of worship with Him.

Without the mystery of Christ's liturgical presence, especially in the Eucharist, "the Church would be a priest without a sacrifice, an altar without an offering, a wife separated from her husband, unconsecrated, unable to come to the Father". She would not be the Church, in other words. But at the same time, it is through the same mystery of worship that Christ is fully Christ, the One who saves and glorifies His people. No wonder, then, that Casel - who never reduced the life of the Church to liturgy - should call it, nonetheless, "the central and essentially necessary activity of the Christian religion".

The real presence of Christ

At this point, it becomes vital to look more deeply at what it is that gives liturgy its salvific authority and its place in the history of salvation. It is, said Casel, the presence in the liturgical celebration, in the sacramental form, of the saving deed of Christ. This might seem unexceptional, even platitudinous. It is nothing of the sort, and in the theological context of his times it was revolutionary. Here we touch on Casel's dearest and deepest insight. In liturgy, he believed, the saving deed of Christ was objectively re-presented as an efficacious reality, thus enabling believers to enter into salvific contact with it. For him, as the German theologian Theodore Filthaut explained over 50 years ago:

"The saving acts which belong to the historical past are objectively and really re-presented in the liturgical mysteries. It is not a question of a merely "intentional" re-actualization being produced by a celebration; the saving acts are truly posited anew in the present. And these saving acts - the incarnation, death and resurrection, to restrict ourselves to the most important - are the proper content and object of the sacraments; they form the interior reality of the mysteries of worship".

In the Mass, for example, it is not simply the Christ who once suffered and is now in glory (Christus passus) who is sacramentally present, but the actual passion of Christ (passio Christi). It was precisely with such "ontology", such "realism", Casel believed, that the Church had always celebrated the liturgy. Wholly inadequate, therefore, and spiritually impoverishing, was the then current theory of a merely "effective re-presentation". Christ's "mysteries", in this view, belong to the historical past. It is metaphysically impossible for them to be present in liturgical celebrations. What is brought us by the liturgy is their effects.

Here St Thomas' well known Collect for Corpus Christi comes to mind: "May we so venerate the mysteries of your Body and Blood, that we may constantly experience in us the fruit of your redemption". It is this - the fruit, the grace(s), and the saving effects of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice - that, in a variety of ways, the sacraments bring us. Casel, naturally, did not deny what was being positively asserted here. The sacraments do indeed bring us grace! What he denied was the negation, the refusal to allow the presence, not just of the graces, but also of the source of those graces. "By liturgical worship", wrote his disciple Dom Jean Hild, "and especially by the sacraments, Christ becomes present with his saving acts, and not simply by means of the graces that He once merited for us on Calvary", or in Aidan Nichol's words, "the sacramental sign…is the ritual face of the redemptive act of Christ in its plenary reality, and not simply a communication of grace", and therefore, as Sr Theresa F. Koernke has expressed it, "the Christian ... really encounters Christ in his saving activity in and through the liturgical activity of the Church".

The sacramental economy

In Casel's own words, the "main intention" of the Mystery-teaching was "to set out clearly once again the Church's mysteries, above all the Eucharist, but the other sacraments as well, each according to its measure and place, as the "sacrament of the redemption"; that is to say, to show them as the presence of the economy (oikonomia) in the Church; not to reduce the sacraments to mere "means of grace". As a witness to what he regarded as the deeper and more ancient view, Casel invoked the then Prayer over the Gifts of the 9th Sunday after Pentecost:

"Grant us, we beg You Lord, that we may frequent these mysteries in a worthy way, for every time we celebrate the commemoration of this sacrifice, the work of our redemption is accomplished (opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur)".

What this prayer calls "the work of our redemption", Casel called "the saving Act (or Deed)", and the wave of controversy that this view aroused only led him to repeat and refine his conviction, never to renounce it. At the base of it lay an argument not unlike that by which the Fathers had defended the divinity of the Son and the Spirit: if we are deified by these Persons, these Persons must be divine.

So wrote Casel, "this real representation of the saving deed cannot not be, because the saving acts of Christ are so necessary to the Christian that he cannot be a true Christian if he doesn't live them after Him and with Him. It is not the teaching of Christ which makes the Christian. It is not even the simple application of his grace. It is total identification with the person of Christ obtained by re-living His life".

And it is precisely this "total identification", this communion with the life, death and resurrection of the Lord that the liturgy makes possible.

Presence-in-Mystery

At this point many, like Mary at the Annunciation, were inclined to ask, "how can this be?" or more brutally, "this sounds lovely, but what does it mean?" There was a fear that Casel was maintaining a literal reproduction in the liturgy of historical events, such as the birth and epiphany, baptism and transfiguration, death and resurrection, which, however much they might be an enduring part of the glorified Christ, did belong, as events, to the irretrievable past. Casel and his disciples, however, insisted they were not proposing any such reproduction or repetition of past events. Nor, on the other hand, did they think adequate the view that in the liturgy the heavenly Christ merely distributes the graces of his past meritorious acts. Rather, there is in every one of the saving deeds of the Lord a substantial element transcending time and space and capable of commemoration and re-presentation in a sacramental way (in sacramento, in mysterio). It is a question of a presence in mystery (Mysterien-gegenwart).

What happened in the past under the veil of historical events happens now under the veil of sacramental signs. Celebrations are indeed time-and-space bound, but they bring into time and space something that essentially transcends them. Once again Casel would have asked, if this is not the case, how can we have that necessary contact with the deeds of Christ, how can we - the Church - contact the "mysteries of his flesh", "be brought by his passion and death to the glory of his resurrection"?

The unity in Liturgy

Granting all this - the what and the how - we are brought back to the practical question of where? Or, in other words, does all liturgy involve this sacramental presence of the saving deeds? Are there not distinctions to be drawn between the Eucharist and the other sacraments, between sacraments and sacramentals? Here too Casel, without cavalierly ignoring the necessary differentiations, saw things as a whole.

The mystery of worship is found in the Eucharist supremely, in the other six sacraments, and also in such sacramentals as Christian burial, monastic profession and the consecration of churches, the Divine Office, the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, especially Easter, and liturgies of the word. All of these, in their different ways, bring us the presence of the Mystery and enable us to enter into it. Casel did some lastingly valuable soundings in several specific liturgical areas.

Here we can only summarize his teaching on the sacraments of initiation. As regards baptism, we have the clear statement of St Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united to the likeness of his death, we shall be also to that of his resurrection" (Rom 6:3-5).

Baptism is the bridal bath in which the Church is washed and there, for the first time, "the Christian meets the mystery of worship". As he enters the water, he meets the dynamic presence of the Paschal Mystery in its sacramental "likeness" and is transformed by it. It is not enough to talk here of the forgiveness of sins and filial adoption; these effects arise from a prior assimilation to Christ.

In confirmation the Bride receives her anointing, and participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord is perfected. Just as the Lord became a life-giving Spirit through his Pasch, so believers are conformed, through the chrism, to the Spirit-filled Christ. "Peter, Paul and John regard the possession of the Spirit as the sign of the Christian".

The one baptized and confirmed, then, "is no longer a mere man, but is transformed into a deified man, newly generated by God into a child of God…Because he is a member of Christ, the High Priest, he is himself a Christ, that is an anointed man and a priest, who is allowed to offer God the Father a sacrifice which is uniquely acceptable and accepted through Christ".

The mystical meaning of ‘participation’

The sacrifice of Christ is made sacramentally present in the Mass, through the ministry of the ordained, and so it is possible for the "initiated" to offer this one true sacrifice and themselves with it. The Church "shares Christ's sacrifice, in a feminine, receptive way, though not less actively for that. She stands under the cross, offers her Bridegroom and herself with Him", and in Holy Communion becomes, ever more, what she receives, is ever more identified with the Lord. "These three mysteries, Casel says, are therefore the most important and the most necessary for the life of the Church and for each individual Christian".

Always it is a matter of participation in the mystery of Christ made sacramentally present for the life of the world. When contemporary liturgists speak, for example, of the Liturgy of the Hours as the Church's participation in the salvific praise and intercession of Christ, or of the liturgical year as a mystagogical induction into the one mystery of Christ annually unfolded, they are, wittingly or not, echoing Odo Casel.

The goal of liturgy

Finally, then, we are reminded again and again of the goal of liturgy. Through the liturgical "whole", through the celebration of its sacraments and sacramentals, the Church becomes what she is, the Body and Bride of Christ, and the individual Christian is conformed, by the Holy Spirit, to the crucified and risen One whom he meets in the liturgy. Out of this objective conformation flows a most demanding subjective imperative. "If the soul wishes to assimilate the content of worship, she must, by her subjective action, co-operate as closely as possible with the objective grace of the liturgy" (A. Gozier), conscious all the time that it is God's sanctifying action which is paramount. Dom Odo understood "participation" as a summons to holiness. In his homilies and conferences, he repeatedly presents the high ideal of a simultaneously crucified, risen and pneumatic life - something he saw the monk and nun called to in an ex professo way.

The Mystery naturally tends to mysticism. The mystery of Christian worship is the surest source and location of life lived in the mystery. By means of it, the mysteries of Christ's humanity become the mysteries of our own. By means of it, the Holy Spirit imparts to believers the true gnosis, an experiential knowledge of the mystery of Christ, taking them beyond the merely rational and into a life of God-like agape. The "end" of Casel's Mystery Theology points in the same direction as the end of the Rule of St Benedict by which he lived: to "the heights of wisdom [ie. gnosis] and virtue [ie. agape]".

How right was Casel?

And so to the final questions, how right was Casel? How have theologians and the Church responded to him? From as early as 1926, in fact, Casel's writings provoked controversy. In November 1947, a few months before his death, Pius XII's great liturgical encyclical Mediator Dei was published. Casel saw in it essentially a corroboration of his life's work. He was, at the deepest level, surely right. Others were quick to point out that one passage at least (n.176, on the Church's year) seemed to be an explicit critique of his and Maria Laach's approach. What did become clear was that clarifications were needed.

Casel was neither a philosopher nor a systematic thinker. His biblical and patristic exegesis was far from commanding universal assent, nor his appeal to the Mystery Religions. And yet the quotations with which this article began (Ratzinger, Gy, Nichols) are statements of sober fact, and the truth is that his central insights, after much sifting by theologians and liturgists throughout the 1950s and 1960s, have prevailed, even mightily - even when his authorship of them has been forgotten. Among theologians, for example, Edward Schillebeeckx in his classic Christ the Sacrament (1963) convincingly incorporated into sacramental theology Casel's understanding of the mysterious presence of the redemptive act (ch.2, s2), while the growing understanding of liturgy as the sacramental celebration of the Paschal Mystery has become the common teaching. Here I can only briefly point to the judgment of the Magisterium.

The legacy of Casel and Vatican II

In 1964, shortly after the promulgation of Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Louis Bouyer could write that "the heart of the teaching on the liturgy in the conciliar Constitution is also the heart of Dom Casel's teaching". This would hold particularly for articles 5 to 13, for the focus on the Paschal Mystery (art 5 and frequently elsewhere), the understanding of the apostolic mission in art.6, the teaching on the various modes of Christ's presence in the liturgy in art.7, the resounding affirmation in art.10 that the "liturgy is simultaneously the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and the source from which all her power flows".

Most symbolic perhaps is the five-fold use by the Council of the Prayer over the Gifts mentioned above and its vital phrase, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur. Significantly, too, this prayer now features twice in the post-conciliar Missal. Thus has the teaching authority of the Church, without descending to controversies, incorporated the inner truth of Casel's vision.

The legacy of Casel and the new Catechism

A further step, in this writer's view, has been taken by the theology of the liturgy opening Part II of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Even the titles suggest this: "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery", "The Sacramental Economy", "The Paschal Mystery in the Age of the Church", or a sentence such as:

"the gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the 'dispensation of the mystery' - the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, until he comes” (n.1076).

Or, most remarkably, the profound and beautiful reflections of n.1085: "In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present…His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is - all that he did and suffered for all men - participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything towards life". Such a vision is owed to no one so much as Odo Casel.

A vision for the future

As has been well said, Casel's essential bequest is an ontology of the liturgy. In many ways, his death in 1948 marked a turning-point in the history of the 20th century liturgical movement. Practical 'pastoral' concerns came to dominate: questions of language, of active participation, of the re-drafting of rites, and though Casel's prophetic (and patristic) vision of liturgy has found a place in theology and doctrine, its full potential as mystagogy, as guide to celebration, surely remains to be realized.

As the American Benedictine Aidan Kavanagh has well expressed it, "In true celebration of the Mystery there is nothing that is anthropocentric, rationalistic, subjective, or sentimental; rather, it finds expression in a rigorous theocentrism, objective contemplation, and a splendid transcendentalism".

For all that, now, may sound a little dated in his writings, for all the imperfections, for a certain "impracticality" even, a "turning" or returning to Odo Casel can aid in the ever-necessary and certainly liturgically necessary "turn" to the Mystery. No doubt, he never will be a household name, but he was one of the humble glories of 20th century Catholicism and remains a prophet and mystagogue as the new millennium begins, novo milliennio ineunte.


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