So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Liturgical Gravitas

A few posts ago a meditation on the topic of kneeling explored the power of the gesture to bring us closer to God. Kneeling brings us down to "the ground". The act of kneeling cultivates in us the humility which grounds us in our true identity both as physical beings who draw our sustenance from the earth and spiritual beings created in the image and likeness of God. What draws us to our "ground"? The question should read 'Who draws us to our ground?' The Mass is Jesus Christ drawing us up into His sacrifice, the one Sacrifice of Calvary. He draws us into His institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room on that first Holy Thursday. By His Holy Spirit He draws us to the very ground of our being in the Word, for He is the Word of God, the One through Whom all things come into being.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.—St. John 1:1-5

Jesus Christ is the "gravity" Who attracts, entices and draws all people to Himself. He is no mere force or cosmic principle, however. He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the Incarnate Son of God. The Word who became flesh.
Gravity (n.) c.1500, "weight, dignity, seriousness," from Middle French gravité "seriousness, thoughtfulness," and directly from Latin gravitatem (nominative gravitas) "weight, heaviness, pressure," from gravis "heavy".
The centre of gravity in the Mass is Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos around Whom gathers the People of God, the Communion of the Saints and the holy angels in each and every Mass. The Ordinary Form of the Mass, like the Extraordinary Form, has specific orientations through which the worshipper is called to the love and mercy of God, to the truth of God and to communion with God, moments that echo the three spiritual stages or ways through which God tugs at us to come meet Him: the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive. These orientations or ways are not arbitrary, they are Apostolic and should therefore be received and honoured with due respect. Just as the pitches and rhythms of a symphony may not be compromised by improvisation, the form and content of the Divine Liturgy may not be manipulated by any layman or priest.

1. Purgation
  • Gravity—Christ, priest and sacrificial lamb, refines us by His love and mercy so that in freedom we are attracted to Him.
The Penitential Act
The Act is the moment in the Mass where we lay bare the condition of our souls. We seek the help of God to purge from our hearts obstacles that prevent us from receiving Him. God already knows our weaknesses. He loves us too much to leave us stuck in sin. Would love be true if there was no justice and mercy? We acknowledge our utter dependence on God for our very being. We acknowledge that we are creatures in need of the sustaining grace of God to save us from sin, the sin that wounds our relationship with God and neighbour.

The Penitential Act of the Mass does not replace the Sacrament of Penance (confession and reconciliation), the forum wherein serious sins, especially, should be confessed prior to receiving the Holy Eucharist.

Lord Jesus Christ, our High Priest, You are the Lamb and Priest of sacrifice.
In You is found true freedom, the freedom to love that comes from a heart freed from sin by You.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

2. Illumination by the Word Who is God
  • Gravity—Christ, Son of God and final prophet in Whom is found the fullness of divine revelation, refines and illuminates us by His Truth and Goodness. We are attracted to Him, for He rescues man from death and restores man to friendship with God. Jesus is our hope and salvation. Jesus speaks and our souls resonate with gladness at the sound of His Truth.
The Gloria
We move from the purgative rite immediately into the Gloria, the great hymn of praise wherein we encounter the first glimpse of God's illuminating glory, the same glory that shone all around as the shepherds encountered the angels singing their hymn announcing the birth of the Saviour. This "preview" of God's glory is a testament to God's mercy which flows to man, purifies and prepares him to receive further illumination.

The Liturgy of the Word
The two commandments, the summary of the Law, are held up before us, a mirror into which we look and view the true condition of our souls.
For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.—Letter of St. James 1:23-25
God's holy word is a consuming fire that burns away pettiness and arrogance, a fire that refines us like gold which, purged of impurities, radiates the glory of God much as sister moon reflects the light of brother sun. In the Liturgy of the Word, our hearts and minds are given the opportunity to be purified by the readings, also called lessons, lessons that guide us through our ears to the Way of Truth and Life, the Way Who is Jesus Christ. These readings are not merely quaint stories or ancient myths. The word of God is like a sword, light, fire and a hammer.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.—Letter to the Hebrews 4:12
Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.—Psalm 119:105
Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?—Jeremiah 23:29
Like fire and light, God's word illuminates the soul in the darkness of the world. The light of God's word drives out darkness from the heart of man. The hammer of God's word breaks open our hearts hardened by sin and ignorance.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”—Revelation 3:15-22
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Lord Jesus Christ Who illuminates the Church and the world,
Son of God and Seal of the prophets,
give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf
so that we who are spiritually blind and deaf
may grow in holiness, in mercy and love,
that we may serve You and our neighbours with unceasing joy.

Holy Spirit, illuminate my soul so that, walking by Your light,
I may find and serve Christ in all people.

3. Unity with Christ the King and His Church
  • Gravity—Christ, king, offers Himself by the Holy Spirit to attract us to Him, to attract us into His Real Presence.
The Offertory.
The priest unites our sacrifices (offerings) to his, and through the same priest our one High Priest, Jesus Christ, unites those offerings and sufferings to His and transforms the gifts of bread and wine into His Body and Blood.

The Consecration
God so desires our union with Him that He entered into the world, took on flesh, lived and died and rose from the dead. His flesh and blood becomes our food and drink. The bread and wine becomes His very Body and Blood at the hands of His priest. The Lord of the universe, once again, becomes seemingly insignificant. He, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, entered the world as an infant completely dependent on His human mother and foster father. He enters the world in an equally prone manner at every Mass. Do we see Him with the eyes of faith and recognized Him as God Who comes to meet us in the most humble of ways, or do we find the teaching too hard and dismiss His Body and Blood as mere symbols?
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.—St. John 6:52-66
Do we abandon our Lord at the altar because we lack the faith to trust His word that He truly is present? Do we enter into the light of the Real Presence or do we remain in the darkness of our own lack of faith and see only bread and wine? Just as Christ was transfigured in the presence of the Apostles, the bread and wine are "transfigured" by the Holy Spirit. Christ gives Himself to us. Are we in a state of grace so that He, encountering our complete openness to His Presence, may enter into the tabernacle of our hearts, there to dwell as we hope to dwell in His presence for all eternity?
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.—St. Matthew 17:1-8
The Amen
Following the Per Ipsum, we give full consent to the profound Mystery of Christ's Real Presence in our midst. We acknowledge our Lord is present. His Eucharistic Presence reminds of His other "presences": in His word; in the person of His priest; in His Word (Holy Scripture); and in the congregation gathered in His name.

The Sign of Peace
We lay aside our offering at the altar and reconcile with our brothers and sisters in the peace that only Christ can give. The Holy See, by calling for a more sober expression of the Sign of Peace, points us toward Christ and away from trite sentimental expressions. Imagine celebrating the Sign of Peace in a Mass in Iraq just before all the parishioners are driven out at gunpoint by islamists. Imagine hearing the phrase "Peace be with you" knowing that men with guns await you outside the church. Any peace other than the peace of Christ is a mere platitude in the face of such a real threat, a sentimental  quote in a Hallmark card. Christ, the prince of peace Who suffered, died and rose again for us, reminds us:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.—St. Matthew 10:28
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Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.—1 John 4:7-21
Holy Communion
We are united to Christ as we receive His Body and Blood. That longed-for unity cannot occur if we remain in sin. However, God has not abandoned us to our sins. He mercifully provides us the Sacrament of Penance to reconcile us to Himself.

Father, I receive Your Son.
Look now and see only Your Son dwelling within me.
May His precious Body and Blood fill every recess of my being
that I may be purified by Him, illuminated by Him and,
 by the grace of the Holy Spirit, united with Him and His Church now and for eternity.
All praise and honour be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Unity with God is, of course, a gift of God. We can do nothing to earn this gift. We can freely respond to God's gift. That response, too, is possible by a gift of God. God earnestly desires our free gift of love.

3. Why did God make us?
God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.—The Baltimore Catechism
Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.—1 Corinthians 2:9

Let us not forget that the Mass begins and ends with an act requesting solidarity with God, an act that imparts and receives God's blessing. We make the Sign of the Cross for many reasons, not the least of which is to affirm that the God we pray to is the living and true God, the Most Holy Trinity. When the priest, who is himself configured to the Crucified and Risen Lord by virtue of his ordination, makes the Sign of the Cross over the congregation, the Sign is reminiscent of when Moses held up the bronze serpent in the desert (a type or foreshadowing symbol of Christ) and all who looked upon it (received it) were healed.
So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.—Numbers 21:9
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And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.—St. John 3:14-21
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Lord Jesus Christ, our King, in You we long for unity of Your entire Church.
Send out Your Holy Spirit to unite the faithful and bring home to the one Church You founded
all people who desire salvation.

The various "parts" of the Mass and the various rituals or gestures are moments when we encounter the Risen Lord Who entices us through the light of His Gospel, the light of mercy and love. We are drawn toward the centre of the Mass then, having received the very Presence of Christ, Jesus Who draws all people to Himself, we are flung out into the world to become the gravity that attracts others to Jesus. We possess no gravity of our own. We possess only that which Christ gives to us by His Holy Spirit. We cannot do what Jesus has commanded unless we are configured to Him, for it is through Him, with Him and in Him that the world is saved, that all of creation is redeemed and returned to friendship with God.

If Christ—priest, prophet, king—is the centre of gravity, then should not the Mass in which we are prepared to receive the Lord reflect the seriousness (gravité) and weight (gravitas—dignity, solemnity) of the Lord and His Kingdom into which we seek entry?

Graphic by W. Clanton, 2014.

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