31 August 2003

Lift up your hearts

The historic liturgies of the church have a number of common features, including the sursum corda, or the bidding of worshippers to lift up their hearts to the Lord. We see this as early as the 3rd century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper:

Bishop: Lift up your hearts.
People: We have them with the Lord.
B: Let us give thanks unto the Lord.
P: It is meet and right.

The Latin Mass continues in this vein:

Celebrant: Dominus vobiscum.
Response: Et cum spiritu tuo.
C: Sursum corda.
R: Habemus ad Dominum.
C: Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
R: Dignum et justum est.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom expands on the opening benediction:

Celebrant: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Response: And with your spirit.
C: Up with our hearts.
R: We have them with the Lord.
C: Let us thank the Lord.
R: It is worthy and right.

Characteristically, Calvin's liturgy is wordy and didactic, aimed at combatting any superstitions attached by worshippers to the presence of Christ in the eucharist. Moreover, the antiphonal character is gone:

Let us lift our spirits and hearts on high where Jesus Christ is in the glory of his Father, whence we expect him at our redemption. Let us not be fascinated by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with our eyes and touch with our hands, seeking him there as though he were enclosed in the bread and wine. Then only shall our souls be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance when they are lifted up above all earthly things, attaining even to heaven, and entering the Kingdom of God where he dwells. Therefore let us be content to have the bread and wine as signs and witnesses, seeking the truth spiritually where the Word of God promises that we shall find it.

The Book of Common Prayer is basically a straight translation from the Latin:

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
Answer: We lift them up unto the Lord.
Priest: Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
Answer: It is meet and right so to do.

Here is the comparable section from the Christian Reformed Church's 1964 form, which draws on Calvin's approach by way of the Netherlands and the Palatinate. The warnings against adoration of the sacrament are evidently deemed unnecessary at this late date:

That we may be nourished with Christ, the true bread from heaven, let us lift up our hearts to Christ Jesus, our advocate, at the right hand of his heavenly Father. Let us firmly believe all his promises, not doubting that as surely as we receive the bread and wine in remembrance of him we shall be nourished and refreshed with his body and blood through the working of the Holy Spirit (PH, p. 986).

In the Christian Reformed Church's 1981 form ("Service of Word and Sacrament") the antiphonal character of the liturgy is restored:

Minister: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
M: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P: It is right for us to give thanks (PH, p. 973).

In recent decades there has been an extraordinary convergence of the churches on a number of elements in the liturgy, including the sursum corda. The restoration of this part of the liturgy in those traditions where it had been lost has served to demonstrate our common roots in the early church of nearly two millennia ago.

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