That great modern representative of the Gnosis, C.G. Jung, had a great interest in the Christian sacraments, particularly in the Mass. He repeatedly stated that he considered Catholicism a far more complete religion than its Protestant counterparts. The mystery of the sacraments, said Jung, had great value, and produced a degree of psychological health among Catholics that was not found among Protestants and atheists. (One wonders whether he would have made the same statement about the post-Vatican II church, with its folk Masses and burlap vestments.)
Jung contended that the Eucharistic sacrifice contained a vital mystery that was not entirely negated by the dogmatic structure in which it was veiled:
The ritual act [of the Mass] consecrates both the gift and the givers. It commemorates and represents the Last Supper which our Lord took with His disciples, the whole Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. But from the point of view of the divine, this anthropomorphic action is only the outer shell of husk in which what is really happening is not a human action at all but a divine event.
Jung emphasizes that those involved in the celebration of the Mass are ministering causes of the divine event. The priest does not cause the mystery; he is merely a minister of grace and power. The same is true of the congregation and of the seemingly inert substances of bread and wine. The Mass is not an action executed by humans, but by divinity.
To revert to magical terminology once again, there are two main categories of magic. Low magic is personalistic and egotistical: It envisions its operators as the causes of magical acts. But when humans become the ministering agents of divinity, having mystically sensed that divinity wants to manifest itself through humanity, then we are dealing with high magic.
According to Jung, the Mass, when properly understood, is best treated as an act of high magic. In this regard he wrote:
Wherever the [low] magical aspect of a rite tends to prevail, it brings the rite nearer to satisfying the individual ego’s blind greed for power, and thus breaks up the mystical body of the Church into separate units. Where on the other hand, the rite is conceived as the action of God himself, the human participants have only an incidental or “ministering” significance.
Jung does go on to state that the lesser, human consciousness, symbolized by the priest and the congregation, is confronted with a situation that is independent of human action. Divinity and its sacrificial mystery exist on a plane that is timeless and transcends consciousness as humans know it. It impels the human being to act as a minister of grace by making him an exponent, in time and among humanity, of an event that is timeless and divine.
Jung’s attitude differs, commendably, I believe, from the prosaic, humdrum interpretation offered by rationalizing theologians, who reduce this sublime mystery to the trivial proportions of their own thinking. It also differs from the arrogance of some New Age teachers, who insist upon humans “creating their own reality.”
Humility in the face of transcendence; this is Jung’s great characteristic as a man, and it is also his advice to us. “The hammer cannot discover within itself the power which makes it strike,” as he remarked in the essay quoted above. What seizes the human being in the mystery of the Mass or in any other mystery is something outside humanity: a sovereign power, as free from limitation as light is from darkness. Ordinary human consciousness cannot find anything within itself that would cause humans to perform a mystery. It can only do so when it is seized by the mystery.
The human soul is at once near and far from the divine. On the one hand we are all suffering from the great alienation, the great estrangement; yet there also dwells within is a portion of the free and eternal one who is forever united with all that is holy, great, and good throughout the aeons of aeons. The dazzling spark of the divine lives in the outermost darkness. When viewed from without, it appears clothed in darkness, having assumed some of the likeness of this darkness. The Gnostic myth declares that the sparks of our indwelling divinity have come forth from a central flame, and that they partake of two aspects: They have the quality of “sparks” (separateness) and of “flames” (union) at the same time. (This recognition is in fact the central idea behind the much-discussed Gnostic “dualism.”)
In addition to the views of the mass discussed above, there is also the notion that this mystery is of the nature of a sacrifice. The sacrifice, in its Gnostic sense, involves the return of the alienated spark to its original flame. Neither philosophy, metaphysics, nor dogma can accomplish this longed-for union, for it is not a matter of concept but of experience. If we wish to join our shining twin in heaven by removing the dichotomy, we must do a work, an opus, as the alchemists of old would have called it. We must offer the bread and wine of our lesser nature to a power from above, so that this human self may be transformed into the likeness and indeed the substance of the wholly other, the alien God, the One beyond and above all the aeons, who in some utterly mysterious way is still our own, true, inmost Self. God in man returns to himself in the sacrificial mystery. As Jung expressed it:
The dichotomy of God into divinity and humanity and his return to himself in the sacrificial act hold out the comforting doctrine that in man’s own darkness there is hidden a light that shall once again return to its source, and that this light actually wanted to descend into the darkness in order to deliver the Enchained One who languishes there, and lead him to light everlasting.
This return is not an act that can ever be performed by the lesser human consciousness. This lesser self can only offer itself as an instrument, an offering on the eucharistic altar of Gnosis. Words cannot describe, thoughts cannot penetrate, senses cannot perceive the true character of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (awesome and bewitching mystery) enacted on the altar. Only the still mind, the reverent emotion, and the pure will directed toward the goal of divine union can bring us closer to the secret that blazes forth at the center of the mystery. Myths may bring us nearer, magic may illuminate, philosophy may elucidate, but the mystery remains, as it must, for it is in us and we are in it.