"Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." James 5:12
Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you... was not 'Yes
and No'; but was always 'Yes.'"
word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No;' anything more than this comes from the
not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the
very thing I hate... For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do
not want is what I do..."
"Denial functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news, allows the patient to collect himself and, with time, mobilize other, less radical defenses..." Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 52
Wherever the patient looks at this time, he will find grievances... He
will raise his voice, he will make demands, he will complain and ask to
be given attention... 'I am a live, don't forget that...'"
"Bargaining: We are all familiar with this reaction when we observe our children first demanding, then asking for a favor. They may not accept our 'No'... They may be angry and stamp their foot... But they will have second thoughts... and will tell us, 'If I am very good all week and wash the dishes every evening, then will you let me go?" Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 52
"When the depression is a tool to prepare for impending loss of all the love objects, the patient should not be encouraged to look at the sunny side of things, as this would mean he should not contemplate his impending death." Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 99
will have been able to express his previous feelings, his envy for the
living and the healthy, his anger at those who do not have to face their
end so soon. He will have mourned the impending loss of so many meaningful
people and places, and he will contemplate his coming end with a certain
degree of quiet expectation..."
"I think there are many reasons for this flight away from facing death calmly One of the morst important facts is that dying nowadays is more gruesome in many ways, namely, more lonely, mechanical, and dehumanized... Dying becomes lonely and impersonal because the patient is taken out of his familiar environment and rushed to an emergency room... When a person is severely ill, he is often treated like a person with no right to an opinion..." Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 21-23.
An Existential Approach to Liturgy
The Way of the Paschal Mystery -
A. Towards a Contemplative Liturgical Spirituality II:
1. Summary: Human nature and Liturgical
In this way, the congregational stance in prayer conforms more and more to that of Christ, who continually pours himself out toward the Father and on our behalf. Therefore, liturgical prayer and worship call the members of a congregation to a profound "dying to self."
- b. Human nature:
Whether we understand human nature's resistance to "life and death matters" in terms of the psychological analysis of Ernest Becker - the denial of death - or in terms of the spiritual approach of Thomas Keating - the rule of the false self - we discover an image of the Body of Christ involved in a "life and death" kind of tug-of-war. We all are called to "lose one's life in order to gain one's life" in the very prayer of the liturgy, yet often enough we avoid and resist such a death, such a letting go.
- c. Conscious participation:
Inasmuch as our description of the person and community at worship is accurate, a most basic question must be addressed: How? How do we move along this path of resistance to conformity to Christ?
- d. Two forms of prayer:
- - ii. Cataphatic prayer:
- - iii. A "Cataphatic Way: "So,
since cataphatic prayer relies upon the mediating power of created
things, one might wonder whether there is an analogous way of dealing
with images and feelings. So, instead of "letting them go,"
one "goes through them."
- e. A Digression - Talking with the
From the many interviews she and her students made, a number of patterns began to appear. They are rather well known today and will be reviewed in just a moment. First, however, it is important to note that one of the questions which surfaced often among doctors was, "Should we tell ...." Kubler-Ross recommended revising it to, "How do I share this with my patient?" (p. 41)
This is as much an interesting question for liturgists, presiders, preachers, and the Body of Christ as it is for doctors. "How do we share this one aspect of the Sacrifice of Praise or the Paschal Mystery with our local congregations? How, in fact, do we ourselves receive the news? If Dr. Kubler-Ross and her students learned about life and death from their patients, one wonders what we in the Church can learn from us and our people who are invited, even called, to "lose our lives" by the Gospel. The question addressed here is, what is the role of grief in facing the Paschal Mystery?
B. On Death and Dying:
"I emphasize this strongly since I regard it as a healthy way of dealing with the uncomfortable and painful situation with which some of these patients have to live for a long time. Denial functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news, allows the patient to collect himself and, with time, mobilize other, less radical defenses...
"Denial is usually a temporary defense and will soon be replaced by partial acceptance." (p. 52-53)
Denial, then, can be of service to a person's acceptance of his / her impending death. Isolation - distancing from others and from the threatening knowledge - also offers a respite from dread. It also can be a part of a person's path to acceptance.
2. A Second Stage -Anger:
Anger is one reaction to the realization that life as one has known it is coming to an end. It signals a deeper comprehension that those things one relied upon for identity - work, fame, looks, "things" - will be taken away. People get angry at God, at family, at friends, or at a hospital staff. Again, it is one more possible response to the announcement of death. It is a stage, or a "state," that one may leave and re-enter repeatedly.
3. A Third Stage -Bargaining:
"The bargaining is really an attempt to postpone; it has to include a prize offered 'for good behavior,' it also sets a self-imposed 'deadline'... and it includes an implicit promise that the patient will not ask for more if this one postponement is granted... Most bargains are made with God..." (p. 95)
4. A Fourth Stage -Depression / Deep
a. Reactive depression carries with it unrealistic shame or guilt that may be easily alleviated by addressing personal concerns or even organizational issues in a person's life. This kind deals with a past loss.
b. Preparatory depression takes into account impending losses. It is a mode the dying person employs to prepare for the impending loss of so many people and things. Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote,
"Our initial reaction to sad people is usually to try to cheer them up... We encourage them to look on the bright side of life... This is often an expression of our own needs, our own inability to tolerate a long face over any extended period of time. This can be a useful approach when dealing with the first type of depression in terminally ill patients.
"[But in the second kind of depression] The patient is in the process of losing everything and everybody he loves. If he is allowed to express his sorrow he will find a final acceptance much easier..." (p. 99, emphasis added.)
This time of deep sadness, then, indicates that the person is in the throes of encountering the depth of the loss that looms on the horizon. If the grief is not blocked by the person or others, a deeper acceptance of one's death seems possible.
5. A Fifth Stage -Acceptance:
Inasmuch as it is a goal, what is interesting
for this discussion of a liturgical spirituality is that one gains it
most often through the path of denial, anger, bargaining, and
"Acceptance should not be mistaken for a happy stage. It is almost void of feelings. It is as if the pain had gone, the struggle is over, and there comes a time for 'the final rest before the long journey' as one patient phrased it." (p. 124)
C. Some Final Thoughts:
Yet, our question does differ somewhat from the one the doctor noted above. Instead of, "What do I tell my patient?" ours seems to be, "What do I do when I hear Christ's call to 'lose my life?'" For unless we preachers, presiders, liturgists, musicians, and pastors deal with our reactions to this call of Christ, our prayer, preaching, and singing will ring hollow to the people.
These reflections are offered, finally, as another diagnosis and prescription for contemporary liturgical prayer. Our diagnosis states our worship finds itself at an impasse, in one sense, due to the very nature of the Christian encounter with God!
The prayer, ritual gestures, and ritual
symbols of the liturgy draw us into the Sacrifice of Praise and
the Paschal Mystery - those mysteries that describe the essential
meaning of our lives - and we humans resist dying. Doesn't that seem
like a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object?
Many questions remain to be answered; many more need to be asked.
What is the role of grief and grieving in our personal spiritual lives, in our communal lives, and in our liturgical rites?
Copyright © Robert F. O'Connor, S.J., 2000. All Rights Reserved.