Sunday, June 13, 2010

Good Liturgy Matters

It has come more and more to my attention lately just how much good liturgy matters. The other day a man brought to me a question. He was worried about his 13 year-old son who was being invited by his friends to their non-denominational community service. He was worried that his son would be allured by the excitement of their services. He wondered what we can do to keep people like his son in the Church.

Let me begin by stating that this is a good concern. Not all communities are the same. Only at Mass in the Catholic Church (and Orthodox Churches) do we offer the form of worship that God Himself gave us. In them, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present and re-offered to the Father. Only in these liturgies do the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Only in these liturgies are we following Jesus' command to "do this" (that is, consecrate bread and wine into His Body and Blood) "in memory of Him." Every community that calls itself "Christian" has elements of the Church, but the fullness of the Church only subsists in the Catholic Church. This man is seriously concerned about his son. He fears that his son might be falling away from this fullness because of the exciting services of the other denominations.

I assured him that what is needed is a firm grounding in the truth. His son may be attracted by flashing lights, fast-beated music, people-centered gatherings, etc., but these things are fleeting. People are drawn to them because these things can be entertaining. They are what our society holds up as important and interesting, but they are empty. People may be attracted to them at first, but they do not last because they don't draw us into something that is an infinitely deep well: eternal Truth. We don't go to Church in order to be entertained, we go to worship God in the way He, Himself, gave us. We do this because God is worthy of worship and this is the only form of worship that is really adequate. By participating in the sacrifice of the Mass and receiving Holy Communion, we are literally united to God and each other through the bond of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is what makes us the Church, the Body of Christ. We become His Body by re-offering and consuming His Body. The Church has, over the centuries, cultivated that which is best in the human element of Her liturgy to highlight and draw us deeper into this divine part of Her liturgy. The Church passes down this patrimony of liturgy and it is not to be disregarded in favor of a more "entertaining" liturgy.

Today, there are many people who think that the Church must change Her liturgy to be more like the non-denominational communities. I can't count the number of times I've heard ideas that we should be more "up-beat," "contemporary," or something of the like. This makes me sad because I know that this mentality has pervaded much of the Church and many people who call themselves "liturgists" have been taken by this type of thought. Just recently, I have been waking up to realize why it is that I knew so little about my faith while I was growing up. There were many factors, that is true, but the more I have been experiencing lost elements of the Church's liturgical patrimony (Gregorian chant, incense, the Ad Orientem posture, good Church architecture, etc.), the more I see that I wasn't being drawn into eternal truth as well as I could have been. These elements of good liturgy are all much more effective (than many contemporary rejections of our patrimony) in teaching the faithful about God and conforming us to Him (and all of reality) through our worship.

If you want people to take the Church seriously, I think that is has to start with good liturgy. We must celebrate it in the most reverent fashion we can. The most reverent way to worship is by obedience to the Church and Her official liturgical documents, all of which encourage the use of those things which make us distinctively Catholic. Architecturally, this means (among many things) having the tabernacle, altar and crucifix as the focal point of the Church--we should be concentrating on them, not on ourselves, nor on the priest. Musically, this means chanting the Mass parts and chanting the antiphons instead of replacing them with hymns.
"All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy."
- GIRM 41

There are many other elements of the Catholic Mass that are particularly Catholic (incense, bells, kneeling, etc.). We need to not compromise on these things. The Mass is something other than secular life. The elements that people often try to bring into the Mass from other communities are secular things. We should be trying to keep the Mass from being watered-down by such elements.

Too often, in many of our parishes, the Mass has been considerably watered down. People are not being drawn in to contemplate eternal truths. Often they're not even being fed deep truths from the pulpit. The whole liturgy should be drawing us in with these time-tested elements contained within Catholic patrimony.

When the man approached me with his concern, it was in the context of catechesis, so my first thought was to talk to him about the necessity of teaching the uncompromising truth in our catechetics classes and throughout the whole of our lives with everything we do--particularly in going to Eucharistic adoration and reverencing Jesus in the Eucharist by genuflecting when we come into His presence and crossing ourselves when we pass His houses. I didn't think much about it at the time, but it has been more and more on my mind since we talked that I should have really said more about stressing good liturgy. I also should have mentioned that he should be careful in his home life of that on which he places importance. If he places importance on flashy entertainment in the home, his son will be even more susceptible to be drawn into a "worship" that includes such entertainment pieces, but that is a post for another time.

Striving for ever greater fidelity to God through His Church and Her worship,
- Casey

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