The Divine Work
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The Divine Work

W.H. van Vledder

Editorial note: This article was originally published in two parts in the magazine The Liberal Catholic (December 1997 and April 1998).

Introduction
To the best of my knowledge, little has been written about the exquisite structure of the Holy Eucharist as it is presently celebrated in our Liberal Catholic Church. Since a careful study of this structure could enlighten us about the beauty and functionality of the construction of our Holy Eucharist, I will endeavour to analyse this structure. Just as analysing a poem may often bring to light the hidden beauty of its metric arrangement, so an analysis of the structure of the Holy Eucharist may bring to light its marvellous build-up and intensity. My main objective is to establish how the present form of the Holy Eucharist, as we celebrate it in our Church, is eminently suitable for what I would like to call 'the Divine Work'. Before setting out to unravel the Holy Eucharist as to its structure and effect, however, we should have a closer look at one of the main participants in this Divine Work: Man. Our first question should therefore be: "What is man’s constitution?" and the second one: "How does this complicated being we call man actually function?"

Man's constitution
We often say that man consists of a body, a soul and a spirit. This is a well-known distinction, also found in Bishop C.W. Leadbeater's standard work The Science of Sacraments (1), but nevertheless a rather meaningless one. Fortunately, there is a much more definite division to be found in the same schedule, to which we shall adhere during our study of the Holy Eucharist. In the column 'Principles' we find the division of man's totality in its composite parts. Here Bishop Leadbeater makes the well-known distinction of seven principles corresponding with seven 'worlds' or 'planes'. It is important for our study to divide these seven planes into three groups, thus enabling us to produce a clear-cut schedule that is frequently used in esoteric literature. Although minor differences are found in theosophical literature regarding this division, we can say that man consists of his personality, his individuality and his divine nature. (2) The personality is also called the lower self, the individuality is then the higher Self. Above these dwells the divine SELF, the divine vehicle, the Monad. The lower self, the personality, consists of the physical body, the ethereal body, the astral vehicle and the lower mental vehicle. The higher Self, the individuality, consists of the higher mental vehicle, buddhi and atma. The divine SELF, the Monad, cannot be subjected to any further analysis, as it is beyond human comprehension.

It is therefore not practicable to try and penetrate this plane of the divine SELF with our minds. It only behoves us to show quiet wonder and deep reverence. What is very important, though, is to probe deeper into the vehicles that enable us to leave the lower self and enter the plane of the higher Self, eventually leading us to the plane of the divine SELF. To this purpose, we shall now take a closer look at the mental and atmic planes.

The mental plane and the plane of the spirit, the atmic plane, are indeed of importance to us, because these planes in fact form a link to the next higher plane. In some schedules we find a dotted line running straight through the mental plane and the spiritual plane, dividing these into lower and higher mental planes and lower and higher spiritual planes. Mental plane and spiritual plane give us access to higher planes of awareness. When man manages to reach the gateway to the higher planes and he can let the higher Light pervade his consciousness, he is enveloped by the light of the higher Self and by the unimaginable splendour and brilliancy of the divine SELF. The practice of yoga is actually always directed towards opening up the planes of higher consciousness via these links.

In our Holy Eucharist, as we shall see, the same links are being used. Our Holy Eucharist is an excellent vehicle via which we are allowed a glimpse of the divine Light. It would be right and sensible to keep studying our Holy Eucharist, again and again, and with increasing intensity. This will lead us to a more and more profound experience of the wondrous mystery, which comes within our reach when we consciously take part in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Sanskrit terms - yes or no?
Because the English terminology is often confusing, I prefer to use the Sanskrit words as they are mentioned in theosophical literature, including some of Bishop Leadbeater's works. Their use may have been criticised in the past; on the other hand there is a distinct lack of terms in European languages to describe exactly those in the Sanskrit language. By using some of the Sanskrit terminology in our schedule, we can then make the following distinction:

The personality, the lower self, consists of the physical body, the astral aura and the aura formed by the lower manas;

The individuality, the higher Self, consists of higher manas, buddhi and lower atma.

All we can say about the divine vehicle of man is, that it is higher atma, called the monad. Here I call it the divine SELF.

So what is the meaning of these terms adopted from Sanskrit? In general, without representing finality, we could explain them thus: Manas is the vehicle for thought processes. Lower manas belongs to the personality, higher manas is the lowest aspect of the individuality. Lower manas is concrete thought, thinking analytically in time and space, the thought process which works linearly, step by step. Higher manas is lightning insight, holistic thinking, the thought process that enables man to suddenly and inexplicably "know" something. This higher intelligence then, is as one with buddhi. Buddhi is the notion that man is connected with all forms of life. It indicates the One Life as it manifests itself in all living things.

Finally, atma is too enormous a concept to define in a few words: It is Life itself, the vehicle for the manifestation of divine Life, divine Light, divine Consciousness. It is through atma that the divine Spirit descends to man. It is much more than that, it is a vehicle of indescribable beauty, impossible to be put into words.

So we have arrived at a division into three aspects: The personality, the individuality and the divinity. Perhaps it would be more precise and inspiring to speak of the lower self, the higher Self and the divine SELF.

At this stage, however, we must make the observation that making such a division is in a way rather artificial. Our lower manas is probably quite satisfied with this kind of diagram, but the higher manas will know in a flash that things are much more beautiful, much greater and much more powerful. Yet I think it is useful to make this distinction. Once the lower mind has grasped the principle, the higher mind will be able to let us glimpse some of the beauty of it all.

Man's acts
It is a well-known fact that man can reach the highest plane via his acts. I remind you of a meditation given by Prof. J. van der Stok long ago, in which he said that the Divine Plan is put into effect by man's actions. But we also know, for instance, that the physical plane in which man acts out his life, is merely a reflection of the function of the atma, the divine spark in man. This reflection forms part of what is sometimes called the mirror function in man: The higher man, the higher Self, is reflected in the lower self in such a way, that the highest aspect of the higher Self is expressed in the lowest aspect of the lower self; atma, the spirit, is reflected in the lower self like the moon is reflected in the motionless surface of a lake.

Three phases
I will now endeavour to demonstrate that we can find a similar structure in the Holy Mass to the threefold composition of man, based on this very composition, which enables the threefold ascent of consciousness to take place by means of the various vehicles in which man's consciousness is moving. First, consciousness dwells in the plane of the personality; then follows an expansion of consciousness by which the level of the individuality is reached and finally consciousness exceeds the individual level and merges with the Divine Consciousness. This theory is as ancient as mankind. Still, I was gladly surprised to find it described with great clarity in a book by 17th-century author Cyrano de Bergerac. It was with much delight that I made a thorough study of his work when writing the thesis for my degree. (3) It was very enjoyable to find out how literature and esoteric study goes hand in hand in a fantastic adventure story! (4)

Although there may be a temporary expansion of consciousness during the first phase, we ought to realise that man will always be tied to the earth as it were. At the time, I demonstrated in my thesis that the hero -often called the divine hero in literature- makes an attempt to rise above the earth, but with limited success; after a brief flight in his machine he falls back to earth. His second attempt to reach the Sun is not totally successful either: Our hero comes back to earth after his second flight as well. Only at the third attempt -perseverance galore- he succeeds. The hero lands on the Sun's wondrous surface, where his guide and guru initiates him in the principles of esoteric philosophy, as for example: "...we die more than once, and because we are mere particles of the universe, we change form to live again in another place; which is not a bad thing, since it ultimately leads to perfection and infinite knowledge." (5)

When we know that man can achieve this ascent by himself, consciously and through his own efforts, in what form can we recognise this in our Holy Eucharist? The key word is 'sacrifice'. Sacrifice always proceeds in stages, during which process lower matter offers itself to the next higher matter, always resulting in a response from this next higher matter.

The beauty of it is that we can precisely recognise the threefold schedule, which we established earlier, in the Holy Eucharist. We note three phases, during each of which the sequence of sacrifice and response will recur.

Phase 1. Man, on the level of the personality, offers his sacrifice to the level of the individuality, in other words the physical, astromental man offers himself and receives a response from the level of atma-buddhi-manas.

Phase 2. Man as individuality offers his sacrifice to the level of the monad, in other words the entity atma-buddhi-manas offers itself and receives a response from the divine monad.

Phase 3. Man as monad offers his sacrifice to the Most High and receives a response from the level of the Most High, the Absolute.

During all this we must not forget that the Most High is always omnipresent in His creation as the immanent Deity, as divine Light and Life. Our physical brain, however, cannot grasp this. With our analytical brain, belonging to the level of the personality, we can only think structurally. Reality is beyond all human comprehension. Our analytical mind needs structures to function according to its capability. The miracle lies in the fact that we, through our actions, i.e. by offering up ourselves, are able to break through these restrictions. Through our actions we can exceed analytical thinking and come into contact with a Reality beyond all understanding.

As we shall see, the above described structure enables us to achieve during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist a work that transcends man's normal possibilities; this work can rightly be called a 'Divine Work'.

In the first part of this article a study was made concerning man's composition and the threefold sacrifice that takes place during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is a well-known fact that action always leads to reaction. In other words, our sacrificial action will most certainly have reactions on the spiritual planes. The question now is: "Is it possible to study in some detail the spiritual reactions to our ceremonial activities?" I would like to analyse this in three phases.

Phase 1:
The first phase takes us from personality to individuality. What are our actions, what do we say and what is the response? The officiating priest is the one who offers the sacrifice during the ceremony. It is crucial to realise what the sacrifice actually is. What are we offering? In this part of the Holy Eucharist our visible offertory consists of the unconsecrated bread and the equally unconsecrated wine and water as an offering of praise and thanksgiving. At the same time there is also an invisible offer, namely our personality. We should take careful note of the fact that the paten, the golden disc that initially covers the chalice, does not yet enter into the equation. We precisely describe these acts in the liturgical text when the officiating priest says: "We lay before Thee, O Lord, these Thy creatures of bread and wine, in token of our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; for here we offer and present unto Thee ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a holy and continual sacrifice unto Thee".

What we are therefore saying here is, that we are offering our personalities, our souls and our bodies, to Him whom directs and governs our lives: the Lord. The purpose of our sacrifice is to be a symbol and a channel of our love and devotion to the Lord. We also add our aspirations for this sacrifice, we say: "May our strength be spent in Thy service and our love poured forth upon Thy people".

What exactly is being achieved during the first phase? In brief, the following: We are giving up our own restricted personality, surrendering it for the benefit of an impersonal, higher purpose, thereby forging a bond of unity with all participants. We are prepared, as human beings, to offer our strength and our love to the work of the Lord. We pronounce ourselves ready to become His servants. As we know from The Science of Sacraments, this is also how the Temple, wherein the Divine Power will be poured forth at a later stage, is being erected. This phase then ends with Preface and Sanctus, thereby evoking the mighty hosts of Angels, who will assist us in our work as His servants.

Phase 2:
With the evocation and the arrival of Angels and Archangels comes a complete change of atmosphere in the church. The arrival of these great and powerful Beings, standing there in all their glory, is an awe-inspiring moment for the celebrant. It is difficult to describe what it means to a celebrant to be allowed to evoke these magnificent, radiant Beings. The celebrant feels and perhaps even 'sees' the descent of the hosts of Angels when they place Themselves behind and around the altar. The church is filled with Their radiant light and Their glorious presence. Of course this experience is not just confined to the celebrant; everyone present may sense the arrival of these Creatures of Light, who will accompany our renewed sacrifice. We should always remember that all participants fully experience the mysteries of the Holy Eucharist and that the celebrant is only the person performing the sacred acts on behalf of the congregation.

So let us look closer at what the celebrant does on behalf of the congregation. During the first phase, the gifts are offered as un-purified and unconsecrated vehicles for our love and devotion. But now, during the second phase, we approach Him with the intention that His Power may be poured forth into them. Consulting The Science of Sacraments once again, we find how Christ is mentioned as being 'in the Father's bosom. (6) We turn here to our Lord Jesus Christ, always realising that He is as one with the Universal Divine Unity.

Clearly, we are now addressing a level that lies beyond the level of the individuality; we are reaching out to the higher Atma. Initially, during phase one, we ask for animation and inspiration to enable us to give our own fortitude to the world and to humanity. But now we are going much further: in all humility we ask for the Lord's Own Power. It is His Presence, His Power and His Love we are asking for in response to our sacrifice. We are in fact, through our sacrifice, trying to rise above the limits of our individuality. We are escaping the limitations of atma-buddhi and reaching for the higher level: the level of the Monad. The descent of Divine Power into Host and Wine is now realised by the Christ in His individualised existence as Monad on the level of the magnificent plane, incomprehensible to mortals, of the Absolute, the indivisible Unity. Our refined, purified and chastened sacrifice is now becoming a channel and vehicle for a Power so great and mighty, that we can only admire this Power and Might in pure and rarefied silence by reciting the Adoro Te, followed by a recognition of His Presence when we jubilantly worship Him with the Adeste Fideles. Our offering has become the vehicle for His Power, His Presence.

Phase 3:
It is a common misunderstanding that the absolute pinnacle of our Holy Eucharist has been reached at the point where the Power of Christ has descended. It seems that the highest and ultimate goal of the Holy Eucharist has been achieved by the mystery of the consecration. The Power and Love of the Son of God has become tangible to us mortals in the Blessed Sacrament. What more can be achieved now? What other mystery could await us? Let us scrutinise the text and we will indeed discover that there remains yet another most exalted Mystery. Something so exalted that it far exceeds all reasoning, all understanding and all human comprehension.

Again, let us pose the questions: What are we doing, what are we saying and what reaction will we induce? The celebrant is now offering the Ultimate Sacrifice, i.e. the consecrated Host and Wine. That which is to us the Most High, most wonderful and most precious gift, we are now offering to the Ultimate Deity. We form a bond with the ancient mystery of the revelation with the words: "...we Thy humble servants, bearing in mind the ineffable sacrifice of Thy Son, do offer unto Thee this, the most precious gift which Thou hast bestowed upon us, in token of our love and of the perfect devotion and sacrifice of our minds and hearts to Thee; ...to be offered by Him Who, as the eternal High Priest, forever offers Himself as the eternal Sacrifice".

These words refer to the hidden mystery of existence. In the Hymns from the Rig Veda we can read about this: "This offer was the navel of the universe" (7).

In H.P. Blavatsky's work we often find described this ultimate mystery of the "eternal High Priest, forever offering Himself as the eternal Sacrifice". She wrote for example: "In the Rig Veda and its hymns, Vishvakarman, a Mystery-God, is the Logos, one of the greatest Gods, and spoken of in two of the hymns as the highest. He is the Omnificent (Vishvakarman), called the 'Great Architect of the Universe', the 'All-seeing God, the father, the generator, who is ... beyond the comprehension of mortals', as is every Mystery-God. He is the personification of the creative manifested Power, and mystically He is the seventh principle in man, in its collectivity. ... In the Rig-Vedaic Hymns, Vishvakarman performs 'the great sacrifice', i.e. sacrifices Himself for the world. Vishvakarman, the all-seeing Father-God, who is beyond the comprehension of mortals, ends, as son of Bhuvana, the Holy Spirit, by sacrificing himself to himself, to save the worlds." (8)

It is marvellous to think that, at this stage in our Holy Eucharist, we actually come into contact with the Divine Originator of all that exists. Our sacrifice indicates the moment in which the indivisible Arch-unity turns into duality and plurality. It is the moment in which the white wheel, symbolising the Absolute, shatters; the moment in which all living power is created. This is why we mention the mystery of the contemporaneous occurrence of transcendence and immanence:

"All these things do we ask, O Father, in the Name and through the mediation of Thy most blessed Son, for we acknowledge and confess with our hearts and lips that by Him were all things made, yea, all things both in heaven and earth; that with Him as the indwelling life do all things exist and in Him, as the transcendent glory, all things live and move and have their being".

In the Rig Veda we read about this: "With the Offer the Gods offered the Offer. This was the first cosmic norm" (9). With this act and with these words we offer the highest offer. We actually admit that we ourselves are unable to bring this Highest Offer. For that reason we ask that it should be done by the eternal High Priest.

What will be the response to this act, which is the highest possible act on this revelatory plane? When the officiating priest lifts the offerings up to eye level, enabling everyone present to identify themselves with the offerings, there is a moment of deepest silence. The celebrant kneels down and prepares himself for the making of the highest sacrifice. For the celebrant who is allowed to execute this act it is a moment for which no words can be found. There is total and absolute silence in the church, in our hearts, in everyone present. In this silence the celebrant prepares himself for an act of incredible, unimaginable symbolic significance. Within this deep silence and profound adoration, the celebrant reaches for the paten, until then hidden under the corporal. Why is this such a momentous act? The paten is here a symbol for our Lady Mary. At this moment we turn to our Lady Mary in her wondrous aspect of veiled matter, origin of all Life, bearer of the Sacred Host. It is remarkable that we cannot find this most profound symbolic meaning in The Science of Sacraments, but only in a book which was written later, The Hidden Side of Christian Festivals. (10) In The Science of Sacraments Bishop Leadbeater does announce his intention to write this book. (11) It is of the utmost importance for us to read what has actually been written on this topic. We can understand from his writings that the paten is in fact a symbol of that which in ancient India used to be called 'Mulaprakriti', the origin of creation, the veiled matter which makes all creation possible. This means that, by lifting the paten during the third phase, we enter into what is sometimes called 'the mystery of Parabrahman and Mulaprakriti'. We should not feel alienated by the use of these Sanskrit terms. On the contrary, when we are prepared to direct our attention towards the inner meaning of these words, we will gradually acquire a greater affinity with them. Through reading, studying and meditation we get into contact in a most profound way with the Reality behind this mystery: timeless, spaceless, incomprehensible, here we discover THAT, the One Origin of all existence. In a way we could have known that something quite extraodinary is taking place here. Is it not here that we give "most high praise" to our Lady Mary? No ordinary praise, no, really the most high praise possible. It is only a brief moment, they are only a few words, but it is an astonishingly beautiful moment. Here we touch upon a mystery for which, as we can read in The Secret Doctrine, even the Archangels, the Dhyani-Chohan, will bow their heads. (12) For those who want to participate fully, heart, mind and soul in our Holy Mass, it is extremely inspiring to read about this in The Secret Doctrine. (13)

We find here an explanation of the principles of our Holy Eucharist. How inspiring it would be to our churchgoers if we were to immerse ourselves in the study of these phenomena. A plethora of original wisdom would be revealed to us, if only we would dedicate ourselves to delving deeper into the mystery of creation, as it is revealed not only in The Secret Doctrine, but also in world literature like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita! Now it should be clear to us why we, subsequent to the most high praise to our Lady Mary, also offer our praise and thanksgiving to "...all Thy glorious Saints from the beginning of the world, who have been the choice vessels of Thy grace and a shining light unto many generations". These Saints are the Dhyani-Chohan, the Archangels, who are the vessels of his revelatory Power. Rising above the solar system, united with the cosmos, we are then standing in adoration for the Most High, indivisible Unity, in utter adoration for His Love, Light and Blessing. We perform the ancient acts, which have been described so eloquently in the Prologue to the Secret Doctrine: The white wheel of the Absolute is shattered, the totally indivisible Deity becomes plurality. We experience the ancient mystery of the revelation: the One becomes Many and yet remains immutably the One. Are we not involuntarily reminded here of the powerful stanza from the Bhagavad Gita: "Having pervaded this whole universe with a fragment of Myself, I remain." (14)

This is what I have described in my book on Cyrano de Bergerac as reaching the land of the Sun. This is what can be found in world literature (15). The Divine Light pervades our hearts as an Infinite Source of Presence most high. In all our human weakness, we realise we are only then worthy to receive His Presence in us, when we really have become his true disciples. What, normally speaking, man is unable to achieve, is offered to us in the Holy Eucharist in the form of a divine ritual, the Divine Work. By the indescribable miracle of the divine act, man is lifted outside and beyond the restrictions of his individuality and pervaded with the Power and the Blessing from the One Reality. The mystery of the Absolute is revealed in the mystery of man. What else is left to us other than, with the Dhyani-Chohan, to bow for this miracle and to resolve upon becoming true servants in his Service, collaborators in His Divine Work?

Notes:

  1. C.W. Leadbeater, The Science of Sacraments, Adyar, T.P.H, 1929, p. 660

  2. C. Jinarajadasa, First Principles of Theosophy, Adyar, T.P.H., 1921, p. 108

  3. W.H. van Vledder, Cyrano de Bergerac, 1619-1655, Philosophe esoterique, Amsterdam, Holl.Univ.Press, 1976

  4. Cyrano de Bergerac, L'Autre Monde, Paris, Club des Libraires de France, 1962

  5. o.c., p. 260
  6. p. 250

  7. Hymns of the Rig Veda, Vision in deep darkness.

  8. Quoted from H.J. Spierenburg, The Veda Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky, San Diego, Point Loma Publications, 1996, pp. 52, 53

  9. o.c., "Vision in deep darkness"

  10. C.W. Leadbeater, The Hidden Side of Christian Festivals, St. Alban Press, 1920, pp. 242-244

  11. p. 287

  12. "When Christ, alone-born of the Father, springs forth from His bosom, and looks back upon that which remains, He sees as it were a veil thrown over it -a veil to which the philosophers of ancient India gave the name of Mulaprakriti, the root of matter; not matter as we know it, but the potential essence of matter; not space, but the within of space; that from which all proceeds, the containing element of Deity, of which space is a manifestation. ... For that in speech the philosophers used always the feminine pronoun; they speak of that Great Deep -of the eternal wisdom- as 'she'." The Hidden Side of Christian Festivals, pp. 242-243

  13. H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine I, in H.P.B., Collected Writings 1888, Adyar, T.P.H. 1979, p. 330: "That Ego, progressing in an arc of ascending subjectivity, must exhaust the experience of every plane. But not till the Unit is merged in the All, whether on this or any other plane, and Subject and Object alike vanish in the absolute negation of the Nirvanic State, is scaled that peak of Omniscience, the Knowledge of things-in-themselves; and the solution of the yet more awful riddle approached, before which even the highest Dhyani-Chohan must bow in silence and ignorance - the unspeakable mystery of that which is called by the Vedantins, the Parabrahman."

  14. S.D. pp. 325-346 Primordial Substance and divine Thought.

  15. BG. X. 42

  16. See Prashna Upanishad: "Sun is life, moon, matter; He, all-prevalent life, first shows Himself as Light. The wise know Him, the all-pervading, all-illuminating, all-knowing, the One. ... those who seek the SELF through austerity, continence, faith, knowledge, go by the northern Path, attain the solar world."

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