Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heaven on Earth!

"It was heaven on earth!"  This and similar phrases are often used in colloquial discourse to reference things that one finds exceptional in some way or another.  Perhaps you've uttered it after eating a tasty desert, or seeing a really good movie, or even after completing a state of the art videogame.  For the Christian, however, "heaven on earth" has a very particular spiritual meaning.

At this point, many of my more liturgically-minded friends will likely have called to mind Dr. Arthur A. Just, Jr.'s wonderful book, Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service.  It is a rather comprehensive work, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the Liturgy and why we do what we do during the Divine Service (you can also begin with my earlier post, "Liturgy is Anything but Indifferent").  As the title of Dr. Just's work suggests, in a very real sense the Divine Service gives us "Heaven on Earth."  How so?  In simplest terms, the Divine Service gives us Christ.  The Holy Spirit working in the Holy Gospel - the Means of Grace - gives us the merits and promises of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  More specifically, in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord Jesus deigns to dwell with us in a physical, literally tangible sense.   St. John Chyrsostom, one of the great Doctors of the Church, captured this well when he wrote:

"Here in this place this Mystery turns earth into heaven for you. Open, therefore, the gates of heaven and look within. You will see what I have said. For That which is most precious and most honored above all things in heaven, I will show you now set on the earth. In a king's palace what is most magnificent is not the walls or the golden roof, but the body of the king sitting on his throne. So in heaven the Body of the King is the most magnificent; and it is this same thing that you now behold on the earth. For I am not showing you angels or archangels, nor heavens nor the heaven of heavens, but the Lord of all these! Do you now see how you are looking on earth at Him who is of more worth than everything else? And you are not only looking at Him, but also touching Him! And not only are you touching Him but also eating Him and, having received Him, you then return home" (Homily 24 on First Corinthians, Paragraph 8).

For all the beauty of our sanctuaries and the very glory of Heaven itself, none of it compares to the Gift we receive in the Divine Service:  we receive Christ, the very King of Kings and Lord of Lords Who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  He condescends to us.  He doesn't merely allow us to touch and see Him in the way He lovingly dealt with St. Thomas' doubts; rather, He allows us to "taste and see that the Lord is good."  We eat the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  The beauty of this truth cannot be overstated.

My good friend and kantor, Dagan Siepert, came across an obscure melody harmonized by Blessed J. S. Bach entitled "Liebster Immanuel" (see picture), which is not found in most contemporary hymnals.  He asked me to write a hymn text fitting this melody on the topic of the Blessed Sacrament. My inspiration was the excerpt from St. John Chyrsostom cited above.   Comments and criticisms are welcome:

Heaven on earth! Mystery beyond measure:
Creator unites with created things!
Penitent hearts receive wealth from this Treasure:
Pardon and life and salvation He brings!

In a magnificent palace what renders
Praise is not golden-clad walls and decor;
No, ‘tis the king on his throne with his splendors
Who is the object his subjects adore.

Angels or archangels we do not view now,
Nor is the heaven of heav’ns what we see;
Rather, we see Him, the Lord to Whom these bow;
Whose worth exceeds all that ever shall be.

And, not just seeing, but touching, receiving,
His Blood we drink and His Body we eat.
And in so doing are truly returning
Home to our God, with His fullness replete.

Your Body, Savior, is splendor supernal;
Your Blood New Testament pardon procures.
Your merits, Lord, won by suff’rings infernal,
Peace and life for all Your faithful secures.

Here with all saints we are communing truly
For, where the Head is, His members are, too.
Time and place - even death - cannot unduly
Separate us from those who trust in You.

For Your Blessed Sacrament, Heaven on Earth, Lord
Jesus, to You be all praise, as is right
Who with the Father and Spirit is adored;
One God, co-equal in glory and might. Amen.

Additional verse:
Of the Lamb’s marriage feast we now have foretaste:
In bread and wine joined with Body and Blood.
So, like wise virgins, to It we now make haste;
we who are washed in the Baptismal Flood.


  1. Lovin' it, but I think this sounds a little limited atonement-ish:"Peace and life for all Your faithful secures."

    I could be misreading the context, what say you? Were you still talking about the atonement?

  2. Does the atonement "secure peace and life" for the unfaithful? If you mean it in the sense that Christ acquired righteousness for all people, then of course, but I am mainly talking about the benefits of the Holy Sacrament here, which are certainly not secured for the unfaithful. But honestly, in writing this section I thought there might be some confusion. I'll have to think on it.

  3. The benefits of Holy Communion are there for all. It was intended for all men, Daniel. Objectively, all the MoG is secured for all. But not all possess it, for the unfaithful reject it. I am sure this is what you mean.