Theology of the Cosmic Mass
Dance takes us out of our heads and connects us to the earth again. The lower chakras get engaged. Joy results. Celebration happens.... Dance demands breathing, and so it fulfills ancient teachings that connect breath with spirit. This connection is found not only in the biblical story of the Creator breathing the divine breath into the clay to make it a living human, but also in the ancient languages of Africa where the word for “dance” is the same as the word for “breath” which is also the word for “spirit.” (“Breath” and “Spirit” are the same word (ruah) in Hebrew as well).
~~ Matthew Fox
The Cosmic Mass offers an easy, intuitive entry for those new to spirituality, while tapping into the deep resonance of ancient religious, mystical, and shamanistic teachings as well. Christian in its base, the Cosmic Mass integrates the teachings of Creation Spirituality, and has attracted Buddhists and Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Hindus, and non-believers.
The Creation Spirituality movement draws inspiration from the mystical philosophies of such medieval Christian visionaries as Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart, and Nicholas of Cusa, as well as the wisdom traditions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Creation Spirituality is also strongly aligned with ecological and environmental movements of our time and embraces numerous spiritual traditions in the spirit of interfaith or "deep ecumenism."
New Liturgy, ancient interfaith roots
Matthew Fox first laid out the principles for the Cosmic Mass in his book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: principles for a new cosmology and a new Christology based on the ancient teaching of the Cosmic Christ, which puts whole new life into liturgy if we allow it. He followed that up with the last section of his book The Reinvention of Work in 1994, called “Ritual: Where the Great Work of the Universe and the Work of the People Come Together.”
Inspired by rave celebrations, the Cosmic Mass has its roots deep in traditions of both the East and West. As Fox writes in his autobiography, Confessions:
The Cosmic Mass, while Christian in its origin, is all about interfaith, and Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh has an excellent understanding of its foundation. When he speaks about the mass, he puts the Eucharist very much within a context of a Cosmic Christ theology: “Not many people want to become priests in our day, but everyone is hungry. So many people are hungry for spiritual food, there are so many hungry souls.” He speaks of Jesus’s words at the Last Supper reenacted in Catholic worship:
“Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood”—Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake you up? What could Jesus have said that is better than that? … This piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos. If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread? The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you come alive, truly alive.1
Thich Naht Hanh is pointing out that a Cosmic Christ understanding applies very much to our worship practices and that reverence follows when one recognizes the holiness of all bread, all that goes into bread, all being.
Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, scientist and mystic, composed his “Mass on the World” in 1923 on the Feast of the Transfiguration—one of the most explicit feasts featuring the Cosmic Christ in the church’s calendar and among all the Cosmic Christ stories in the Gospels—when he was on a scientific expedition in China and away from the usual accoutrements for saying mass, such as wine, bread, the chalice, and so on. He writes,
“When Christ comes to one of his faithful it is not simply in order to commune with him as an individual;… The effect of the priestly act extends beyond the consecrated host to the cosmos itself … ; the entire realm of matter is slowly but irresistibly affected by this great consecration.”2
Teilhard goes further, relating the act of the eucharist to the “divinizing of the entire universe”:
When Christ, extending the process of his incarnation, descends into the bread in order to replace it, his action is not limited to the material morsel which his presence will, for a brief moment, volatilize: this transubstantiation is aureoled with a real though attenuated divinizing of the entire universe. From the particular cosmic element into which he has entered the activity of the Word goes forth to subdue and to draw into himself all the rest.”3
Later on in his Confessions, Fox addresses the principles that inspired the Cosmic Mass as a dance ceremony:
I took the subject of reinventing ritual up anew in the last chapter of my book The Reinvention of Work, where I lay out principles for renewing worship, principles such as bringing the body back through dance, entering into grief at the Via Negativa, putting participation first, and involving all the chakras.
Is the Cosmic Mass Truly A mass?
Of course it is. If you deconstruct the Mass, taking it apart and looking for its constituent parts, you will find that the Mass follows the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality:
- The Via Positiva, celebration of existence: this is our first 15-minute dance in awe and wonder
- The Via Negativa, communal grieving for the suffering of the planet and all beings
- The Via Creativa, blessing of wine and bread as the food of the Cosmic Christ;
- The Via Transformativa, sending the people off to serve: this is our final 15-minute Warrior Dance
Themes for the Mass are of universal attraction just as dancing is and worship is. Dancing of course takes us into our lower charkas where we literally connect with the earth and so this kind of worship truly serves an ecological era. By moving away from dogma into an experience of divine communion, the Cosmic Mass attracts not only many kinds of Christians but also Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, Jews, pagans and goddess people.
Click here to learn more about the history and themes of past Cosmic Masses.