by David Fleischacker
The Liturgy as the Divine Atrium
Maria Montessori learned much about the nature of education from the liturgy of the Church. Saint John Paul II called the liturgy a school of life and salvation. For Catholics, we can have a deep and abiding trust in this reality because the liturgy itself is founded upon divine Revelation and the Incarnation of God’s Son. The liturgy at its height is found in the sacraments, and the sacraments are emanations of God’s love which was most fully realized on the Cross. This divine action springing from a love that dies even for enemies reveals to us the most profound way that human beings come to flourish. When we turn to the inner nature of the child, we begin to glimpse the magnitude of this truth.
The liturgy reaches into heaven itself through the sacraments and the relationship of the sacraments to each other. These relationships are called the sacramental economy. And this sacramental economy is the apex of the economy of salvation that began on the very day that Adam and Eve fell, when God went after them, and called for them, and received their confession and gave their penance. The old testament tells us about the unfolding of God’s love and wisdom as He moves to save each one of us, and the whole of the human race. When it begins to culminate in the immaculate conception of Mary and the conception of John the Baptist, the perfect and everlasting kingdom of God’s mercy is about to be born. This economy of salvation is all about God’s entrance into the growth and development and redemption of each man, woman, and child throughout history. God created us and he knit us in our mother’s wombs. He knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. He knows what we need, how we grow, and how to transform us through contrition, conversion, and confession so that we will become His beloved sons and daughters. He set up the perfect school of life. All of this is simply to point out to authentic educators that the perfect well-spring from which to drink in order to be an educator is to become an instrument of the divine magister in the school of His economy of salvation. The gift of this economy is God’s Divine Atrium for us.
Sacred Time and the Liturgical Calendar
I hope to begin developing over the next year some reflections on how each of the elements of the Liturgy constitute the Divine Atrium of humanity. Today, I want to point out something that has become very clear to me over the last 15 years. The Liturgical Calendar, as incarnated in the liturgy of the hours and the divine office, as well as the celebrations of the saints and the liturgical seasons, all centered on the Eucharist, is a home of divine formation of every soul that participates in it.
The Liturgical Calendar as the sacramentalizing of time is embodied in all of the rituals and sacraments celebrated spatially in that temporal stream. That embodiment is the liturgy of the hours, the divine office, and the daily mass. If you attend carefully to the psalms of each day, to the saints who are remembered, to the new testament readings, especially the gospels, to the selections found in the divine office from the old testament, the new, and from sermons or writings of great figures and ecumenical councils, you will find a link between all of these that mediates the life of grace in the seasons of one’s own soul and the communal life in which you reside. Think of what happens to you when you live advent and lent seriously, and how it opens you up to the mysteries of the incarnation and the mysteries of the passion and resurrection. Think of how the mystery of the family emerges from the incarnation, as does the mystery of the fall in the slaughtering of the innocents and the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.
As a teacher, I would recommend that you download the app for ibreviary.org or buy the four volume series of the Divine Office and Liturgy of the Hours, then each day, take some time to pray and mediate upon the readings. Remember how you will be praying those prayers not only in the quiet of your own heart, but in communion with all of those currently alive who are praying these prayers everyday, and even moreso with all of the dead who prayed these prayers during their lives and who now pray these with you from the beauty and glory of their home in heaven. You join them. If you do this, you have entered into the divine atrium. It will change you for ever.
Building an Atrium that Dwells in the Divine Atrium
When your heart begins to live and thrive from within the spatial-temporal city of the Divine Liturgy, then you will begin to see how to manifest it within the atriums and schools in which you teach. You will then be able to become an authentic instrument of the magisterial reality of the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. You will begin to see how to order each day so that it manifests the day of the Lord as you find it in the liturgical calendar, the divine office, and the daily mass. You will see how to expand the stories of the old testament so that children are preparing more and more for the coming of the Lord in their hearts and minds and souls. You will see how to bring alive not only the good shepherd, but the death and resurrection of this good shepherd. You will see how and when to introduce not only the building of the temple in Jerusalem, but the the sacrifice of Isaac, the flight from Egypt of the people God has chosen, their distrust and their reconciliation throughout the generations, their formation into a kingdom of priests, their turning against the covenant and their resultant exiles, and the growing hope for a messiah. You will be able to introduced more effectively the sacred reality of man and woman as one of the key locations for divine Revelation both in the old and new testaments, you will find a place to mourn the killing of the innocents and the betrayal of Jesus and the death of Judas. Children will show you how to build such an atrium in its fullness so that it comes to live and breath and have its being in the divine liturgy both temporally and spatially. Follow the child as you begin to build this kind of an atrium, and the Holy Spirit will speak to you through them so that you can find the incarnate Word who will bring you to your loving Father who loves each of them far more than you could ever do so.