In traditional Catholic theology, the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (the “law of praying is the law of believing”) holds that theological doctrines enshrined in the ancient liturgical prayers of the Church testify to the truth of those doctrines because in the sacred liturgy “the Holy Spirit is the teacher of the People of God” (CCC, 1091). This article will examine some of the ways that the liturgical prayers of all of the authentic traditions of the Church uphold the truth of the sacred history of Genesis.
The Sacred Liturgy Teaches the True Meaning of “Day” in Genesis One
One of the most powerful arguments for a literal interpretation of “day” in Genesis 1 is the testimony of the sacred liturgy. The Catholic Church contains some 22 Churches with at least eight different liturgical traditions, and all of them incorporate a rhythm of worship based on a literal interpretation of “day” in Genesis One. Fundamental to the liturgical rhythm of the whole Church is the principle that the liturgical day begins in the evening and lasts until the following evening. This rhythm can be traced back to Jewish liturgical practice, but it is firmly rooted in God’s revelation to Moses in Genesis One: “There was evening and there was morning, one day.” This is explicitly stated in Byzantine Daily Worship, the official prayer book of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which explains that “Ecclesiastical day begins at sunset in accord with Genesis: ‘. . . and there was an evening and morning, the first day.’ Therefore Vespers, or the Order of the Evening, is the first hour of the Holy Office.”
The tradition of beginning the new day with evening prayer or Vespers is a continual, daily memorial of the primordial division of time into 24 hour days, beginning in the evening, and a reminder that God established the rhythm of day and night and of the week, primarily for our spiritual benefit. In the Maronite Liturgy, the day-night cycle is explicitly traced back to the first day of Creation when God created the light:
Lord God, our Creator, all living things adore You, and every creature exalts Your only Son. Through You all things came into being. On the first day, by Your command, you separated light from darkness; the resplendent day appeared in the world, which You had made out of love for Adam, image of Your majesty and sign of Your eternal love (from First Sunday after Epiphany, Ramsho (Evening), Sedro (part of the Hoosoyo).
This memorial of the creation of light on the first day—the first Sunday—of the world went hand in hand with the cyclical commemoration of creation week. Both the structure of the liturgical week and of the liturgical year linked specific acts of creation during creation week to their fulfillment on the same day in post-creation historical time.
The writings of the Fathers express their conviction that it was appropriate to gather for solemn worship on Sunday not only because it was the day of the Resurrection, but also because it was “the first day of creation.” Indeed, the Gospel of John calls Sunday “the first day of the week” for this very reason (John 20:19). Writing in the second century, St. Justin Martyr described the Sunday observance of the early Church:
The day of the sun is the day on which we all gather in a common meeting, because it is the first day, the day on which God, changing darkness and matter, created the world; and it is the day on which Jesus Christ our savior rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Kronos [Saturn]; and on the day after that of Kronos, which is the day of the Sun, He appeared to His Apostles and disciples, and taught them these things which we have also submitted to you for your consideration (emphasis added).
According to St. Gregory the Theologian, fourth century Patriarch of Constantinople:
Just as the creation begins with Sunday (and this is evident from the fact that the seventh day after it is Saturday, because it is the day of repose from works) so also the second creation begins again with the same day [i.e. the day of the Resurrection] (emphasis added).
The strong link between the original creation and the “new creation in Christ” also stands revealed in the ancient Liturgy of Antioch. According to the 1994 Catechism, the Syriac Office of Antioch includes the following prayer:
When we ponder, O Christ, the marvels accomplished on this day, the Sunday of your holy Resurrection, we say: “Blessed is Sunday, for on it began creation” (emphasis added) (Fanquith, The Syriac Office of Antioch, Vol. VI, first part of Summer, 193 B. (CCC, 1167).
In his Commentary on Genesis, St. Lawrence of Brindisi cites the prayers of Vespers for Wednesday (i.e., for Tuesday evening) to support his argument that the sun was literally created on the fourth day of creation week, and not merely fashioned into its present form on Day Four from the light that God had created on Day One:
Some think that it is the Sun itself that ought to be understood here, to the extent that St. Dionysius seems to so affirm. However, Holy Writ indeed denies this assertion, [for the Bible] says that the Sun itself was created on the fourth day. The Church also confesses such, saying in the Vespers hymn for Wednesdays:
Thou, on the fourth day establishing
The fiery wheel of the Sun…
Again and again, the Fathers and ancient liturgical traditions of the Church link the creation of Adam and Eve on the first Friday of the world with the birth of the Church from Our Lord’s side on the Cross on Good Friday. Hence, the Maronite Liturgy acclaims:
O Lord, how marvelous are Your works; You made them all with power and wisdom! On the first Friday of time, You created man in Your image. You allowed him to enjoy Your creation and took pride in the fact that he was Your friend. You walked with him in the paths of paradise, in the breeze of the evening. On another Friday You were nailed to a cross between two thieves, redeeming us by Your blood. (Hoosoyo Qolo)
On this Friday, the Church celebrates Your resurrection, for You shook off the dust of the grave, adorned Yourself with the light of glory, and became the First-born of those who rest in peace. Glory to You, O Word, by whom all things were made. On the first Friday You created man in paradise, on the second You made of him a new creature by Your death and resurrection. We glorify and praise You, O Creator and Redeemer, for what You have done, now and forever. Amen (Prayer of the Faithful, Common of the Week, Season of Resurrection, Friday, Safro (Morning).
In the prayers for the beginning of Lent in the Byzantine Tradition, the faithful are reminded that:
Adam was fashioned by the hand of God on the sixth day. He was honored with the Divine Image through God’s breathing life into him. He at once received the commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit but transgressed it . . . It is believed that it was the sixth hour of the day when Adam stretched out his hand and touched the fruit. It was also at the sixth hour on the sixth day that the new Adam, Christ, stretched out His hands on the Cross, in order to remedy the first Adam’s ruin.
Similarly, the Good Friday prayers of the Coptic Church recall that:
In the beginning, God created Man on the sixth day of creation. It was also on the sixth day that Adam and Eve sinned, and fell from the presence of the Lord. Humanity was condemned to death and eternal separation from God. For this reason, mankind became in need of a redemptive death to purify all people of sin. God the Logos accepted this upon Himself, and took the body of Man; and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit.
Christ redeemed us on the wood of the Cross, on the sixth hour of the sixth day of the week. The first Adam sinned on the sixth day of Creation, and Christ, the second Adam, redeemed him and died on his behalf also on the sixth day of the week. The sixth day is Friday, the day on which we celebrate our salvation and freedom from the bondage of Satan and Sin.
Writing at the end of the third century, St. Victorinus of Pettau explains that even the fast days of the Church originated from their connection with the work of the six days of creation, as well as from their connection with the saving work of redemption.
Now is manifested the reason of the truth why the fourth day is called the Tetras, why we fast even to the ninth hour, or even to the evening, or why there should be a passing over even to the next day. Therefore this world of ours is composed of four elements— fire, water, heaven, earth. These four elements, therefore, form the quaternion of times or seasons. The sun, also, and the moon constitute throughout the space of the year four seasons— of spring, summer, autumn, winter; and these seasons make a quaternion . . .The man Christ Jesus, the originator of these things whereof we have above spoken, was taken prisoner by wicked hands, by a quaternion of soldiers . Therefore on account of His captivity by a quaternion, on account of the majesty of His works—that the seasons also, wholesome to humanity, joyful for the harvests, tranquil for the tempests, may roll on—therefore we make the fourth day a station or a supernumerary fast.
On the fifth day the land and water brought forth their progenies. On the sixth day the things that were wanting were created; and thus God raised up man from the soil, as lord of all the things which He created upon the earth and the water. Yet He created angels and archangels before He created man, placing spiritual beings before earthly ones. For light was made before sky and the earth. This sixth day is called parasceve, that is to say, the preparation of the kingdom. For He perfected Adam, whom He made after His image and likeness. But for this reason He completed His works before He created angels and fashioned man, lest perchance they should falsely assert that they had been His helpers. On this day also, on account of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make either a station to God, or a fast. On the seventh day He rested from all His works, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the former day we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord's day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks.
The Sabbath Rest of the Lord
In the Jewish liturgical calendar, Saturday commemorated the Sabbath Rest of the Lord, and this commemoration constituted the axis around which the entire spiritual, social and economic life of the Jewish people revolved. In Hebrews Chapter 4, St. Paul set forth the constant teaching of the Church that with the Sabbath God’s “works were finished from the foundation of the world.” In the Church age, Saturday continued to be set aside as a commemoration of the finished work of creation in most of the Churches of the Empire marked by the offering of the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, in the first millennium most of the Eastern Christian world and much of the West observed the Saturday Sabbath as a day of reflection and Eucharistic worship. According to the fifth century Greek historian Socrates:
The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath [Saturday], as well as on the first day of the week [Sunday], which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.
In the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, a widely-respected document of the 3rd and 4th centuries, bishops were directed to:
observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from His work of creation, but ceased not from His work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands.
Except for St. Augustine, who in some of his works preferred an instantaneous creation of all things, virtually all of the Church Fathers held that God created the heavens and the earth and all that they contain in six solar days. All of the Fathers taught that God created Adam as the King of creation and Eve from his side as the Queen of the first created world. In this way, the seventh day became associated with the rest of the Lord in the perfection of the first created world, and with the creation of Eve—two types that were fulfilled on Holy, or “Great,” Saturday, when the Body of Jesus the New Adam rested in the tomb having brought forth His Bride the Church from His side while He slept on the Cross. For her part, Mary, the New Eve, exemplified the Church, holy and immaculate in God’s new creation.
The Blessings of Genesis
From the time of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit has inspired the Church to pronounce blessings on every kind of human activity and on every kind of creature that God created for our benefit in the beginning. Even a cursory look at the traditional blessings approved by the Church suffices to show that they presuppose a fervent faith in the truth of the sacred history of Genesis. Consider the prayers in the 1964 Roman Ritual for the Blessing of Candles on the Feast of St. Blaise:
God, almighty and all-mild, by your Word alone you created the manifold things in the world, and willed that the same Word by whom all things were made take flesh in order to redeem mankind; you are great and immeasurable, awesome and praiseworthy, a worker of marvels. Hence, in professing his faith in you the glorious martyr and bishop, Blaise, did not fear any manner of torment but gladly accepted the palm of martyrdom. (Blessing of Candles on the Feast of St. Blaise, The Roman Ritual, Philip T. Weller, S.T.D., (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1964), p. 412).
The same Ritual goes on to explain the origin of the blessing of throats on St. Blaise’s feast day in a way which beautifully recalls the original harmony that existed between mankind and the animals, a harmony that is restored in the lives of the saints:
One day—so goes the legend—Blaise met a poor woman whose only pig had been snatched up in the fangs of a wolf; but at the command of the bishop the wolf restored the pig alive to its owner. The woman did not forget the favor, for later, when the bishop was languishing in prison, she brought him tapers to dispel the darkness and gloom. To this story may be attributed the practice of using lighted candles in bestowing the blessing of St. Blaise. While in prison he performed a wonderful cure on a boy who had a fishbone lodged in his throat and who was in danger of choking to death. From this account we have the longtime custom of invoking the Saint for all kinds of throat trouble.
The blessing of the faithful with ashes on Ash Wednesday asks them to recall that the body of the father of all mankind did not originate in the womb of a sub-human primate but in the dust of the earth:
Remember, man, that you are dust, and into dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).
On the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Blessing of Herbs recalls not the evolution of plants but the special creation of all of the different kinds of plants for man’s benefit:
Almighty and everlasting God, who by your word alone brought into being the heavens, earth, sea, things seen and things unseen, and garnished the earth with plants and trees for the use of man and beast; who appointed each species to bring forth fruit in its kind, not only for the food of living creatures, but for the healing of sick bodies as well; with mind and word we urgently call on You in your great kindness to bless these various herbs and fruits, thus increasing their natural powers with the newly given grace of your blessing. May they keep away disease and adversity from men and beasts who use them in your name; through Christ our Lord.
Similarly, in the traditional “Blessing of Fowl or any Kind of Bird,” priest and faithful recall Noah and the Ark, the Exodus, and the revelation of the Law to Moses:
God, author of all nature, who, among the many created species, also brought forth winged creatures from the primeval waters for the use of mankind; from which Noe, on coming out of the Ark, offered You a pleasing holocaust; who commanded your people, delivered from Egypt through Moses, your servant, to eat these winged creatures, separating the clean from the unclean; we humbly entreat You to bless and to sanctify this flesh of clean birds, so that all who eat thereof may be filled with your bounteous blessing, and may deserve to come to the feast of everlasting life; through Christ our Lord.
In blessings to be delivered from storms and other natural disasters, the traditional prayers also recognize the link between the sins of mankind and disorders in nature, as in the traditional prayers for a “Procession in Time of Famine”:
Lord, kindly help your people, now suffering this famine in punishment for their sins, to turn back as loyal subjects to You. For You promised that those who seek first your kingdom shall have all other things besides.
And in all of her blessings, Holy Mother Church continually reminds the faithful that all things were created for man’s benefit, as in this beautiful Blessing of Water for the Sick:
I bless this water in the name of God the Father almighty, who created this pleasing element for man’s use, ennobling it by His wondrous power to wash away the stains of both body and soul; to be drink for the thirsty; cool refreshment for those suffering from the heat; a means of travel for seafarers; and who in water and by the water in the universal deluge—when the cataracts of heaven poured down rain for forty days and forty nights, yet sparing the lives of eight people in the Ark—prefigured the sacrament of the New Covenant.
Fittingly, the final pages of the Roman Ritual of 1964 contain a Profession of Faith which includes these words:
I admit the Sacred Scriptures in the sense which has been held and is still held by holy Mother Church, whose duty it is to judge the true sense and interpretation of Sacred Scripture, and I shall never accept or interpret them in a sense contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers.
Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may the Holy Spirit restore the faith of His People in His Word as it has been understood in His Church from the beginning—most especially in the sacred history of Genesis!