Nutt on Casel

As a teenager I was much taken by Casel’s theory the presence of the events of Christ’s life in the liturgy, which I heard at second hand, not knowing that it was Casel’s. But later, as a young monk in theological formation, I got into a lot of arguments with a Casel-enthusiast, who drew the most absurd consequences from the theory. At that point I rejected the theory, but wasn’t able to give a full account of why it was wrong.

I recently read Roger W. Nutt’ Excellent General Principles of Sacramental Theology, and I think he puts his finger on the problem:

An important variation of moral theory of sacramental causality is the influential “mystery-presence” (mysteriengegenwart) theory of twentieth-century Benedictine Dom Odo Casel. Casel was a monk of the famed Monastery of Maria Laach, which was an influential center of the liturgical movement. His most original contribution is his presentation of the Church’s liturgy and sacraments in light of his careful study of the ancient notion of “mystery” in biblical, patristic, and pagan sources. “The mystery,” according to Casel, “is a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, take part in the saving act, and thereby win salvation.” The name “mystery-presence” is derived from Casel’s unification of the rite or “ritual action” with the presence of the “saving deed” in the mystery.

Casel’s work contains many insights, but his theory of the efficacious presence of Christ’s saving deeds in the sacraments creates, perhaps, even more ambiguities about the nature of the sacraments and their mode of causation than the insights that it contains. In particular, Casel never clarifies how a completed historical event, a saving action, is made present to a recipient who is separated from the event in time and space. For Casel, it is not the power of Christ’s saving acts, or a mediation or participation in them through the signification of the signs, but the presence of the events themselves that constitutes the mystery of the sacraments.

Furthermore, as Edward Schillebeeckx points out, Casel’s view of Christ’s saving deeds in history fails to account for their “perennial character.” Given that “time itself is irreversible,” Schillebeeckx observes, “a contradiction is inherent” in Casel’s thesis. “As the realization in human form of the redeeming Trinity,” Schillebeeckx argues against Casel, “the historical mysteries of Christ’s life, which were the personal acts of the God-man, are a permanent, enduring reality in the mode of the Lord’s existence in glory. The mystery of saving worship, or Christ’s act of redemption is, in the mode of glory, an eternally actual reality, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly stresses.”

Leeming points out that Casel’s presentation constitutes, fundamentally, a redefinition of mystery as an event. “What is present is not some mysterious efficacy in the symbols, nor the life of God, nor the person of Christ, nor the effect produced,” Leeming notes, “but there is present the saving act itself as it existed in Christ’s human life and it is present to produce conformity to the ‘mystery’ of Christ in us.” This means, Leeming continues, that “it is not Christus passus who is present, but ipsa passio, as advocates of the opinion so often assert and insist. The presence is said to transcend space and time, and sometimes the ‘saving acts’ are said to be present per modum substantiae …”

Furthermore, the subject of Casel’s mystery-presence theory is the experience that the worshipping community has of the salvific deed. “Some scholars,” Reginald Lynch explains, “see the emphasis on mystery that appears during the modern period as an extension of the nominalist emphasis on the radical omnipotence and freedom of God and its accompanying reticence regarding causal connections.” As a result of this trend, “the rhetoric of mystery can appear as a supplement for metaphysical explanation.” Lynch observes that under the influence of Casel’s “methodological choices,” therefore, “there was a decided shift [in the twentieth century] toward liturgy-as-event using the category of symbol or sign.”

It is the sacraments, precisely as causes in the order of instrumental efficiency, which make the power of Christ’s saving action and his risen life present throughout time by their signification. There is no need to conflate sacrament and historical event—or to insinuate that the sacrament becomes the historical event in mystery. Christ instituted the signs precisely for the sake of actively using their signification as the causal (instrumental) means of applying the power of his Passion and risen life.

pp. 132-134

Divine Office Live-Streamed From Stift Heiligenkreuz

For a while now my monastery, Stift Heiligenkreuz, has been live streaming the divine office, so that elderly and sick monks can pray along with the community from their cells. Until now the livestream was only available to members of the community. But now the stream has been made publicly available, so that people who are stuck at home on account of the corona virus can pray the office with us. The link to the stream from our winter chapel is here.

Here’s the horarium (Austrian Time):

5.15 Vigils (Latin)
6.00 Laudes (Latin)
6.25 Conventual Mass (Latin on most days, but twice a week in German)
On Sundays the Conventual Mass is at 9.30 (Latin)

11.00 Special Mass added on account of the Corona pandemic (German)

12.00 Terce and Sext (Latin)
12.55 None (Latin)

17.00 Special Mass added on account of the Corona pandemic (German)

18.00 Vespers (Latin)

19.50 Reading from the Rule of St Benedict (German) and Compline (Latin)
20.10 Rosary (German)

An Introduction to the Extraordinary Form from a Wedding Program

The following is an introduction to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for a wedding at which many of the guests had never previously experienced the older form.


Dear guest, with gratitude and joy I welcome you to the wedding of Andreas and Blaise. The Marriage Rite and the Nuptial Mass will be celebrated in the so-called ‘Extraordinary Form’ of the Roman Rite. This older form of the ceremonies is not familiar to everyone, and some explanation is therefore in order.

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Ordinations in Heiligenkreuz

The Prefect of the Papal Household, His Excellency Archbishop Georg Gänswein, was here in Heiligenkreuz today. He ordained three of my confrères and one Augustinian Canon Regular. Archbishop Gänswein brought us greetings from Pope Francis. He said that when he told Pope Francis where he was going, the Holy Father remarked “Ah, Heiligenkreuz. I have heard of it.”

His Excellency Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B., Bishop of Aberdeen, was here as well. He used to be the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey, where my confrère Pater Ælred, ordained today, was one of his novices many years ago.

The Feast of the Crown of Thorns

Today is the Feast of the Crown of Thorns in Heiligenkreuz. The Feast commemorates the solemn translation of the Crown of Thorns to Paris under St. Louis IX. St. Louis gave one thorn to the Babenberg Duke  Frederick the Quarrelsome of Austria, who gave it to Heiligenkreuz. Today it is exposed on the altar. There’s a medieval painting of the Sacred Head, crowned with thorns, in a niche our Church that was probably where the reliquary used to be kept. (Now it is kept in the neo-Gothic Sacrament altar).