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).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Snippets of Catholic Life: the Gift of Good Liturgy

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not an ordinary meal. In fact, there is nothing ordinary about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass other than the Lord entering into our everyday world and making it extraordinary.

The Mass is a communal sacrificial meal and Christ is the principal actor in that meal of sacrifice. Through the priest, the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine, symbols of our offering of self and gifts to God, into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes really present under the appearances of bread and wine. But, let there be no doubt, the substance of the bread and wine has been changed and only the accidents remain. With the words this is my body... and this is my blood..., the Lord is truly present. The Word is made flesh and dwells among us.

We often hear talk of an ideal that is typically presented as a question: Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? We Catholics are responding to Christ's invitation to intimate communion every time we pray the Mass and accept Him on His terms. We welcome His Holy Spirit every Mass, the same Spirit Who transforms the bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. That intimate relationship with Christ in the Holy Spirit leads us to the Father. As much as we consume the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are consumed by Jesus... if we let Him.

We Catholics are a total immersion people. Immersed totally, that is, in the Most Holy Trinity. We are baptized into the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ Whose death on a cross saves us from sin. We acknowledge that reality by making the Sign of the Cross as a sign renewing our 'yes' to God's covenant with the Church, the People of God.

In light of the profound reality that the Mass is, dare we offer anything less than our best effort to announce and welcome the Lord of hosts? Good liturgy is liturgy that locates us within the temple of God. Good liturgy locates within us the temple of God. If man truly possesses a sublime dignity found only in Christ, should not our outward works of love, beauty, truth and goodness mirror the love, beauty, truth, mercy and goodness of Jesus Christ? When liturgy is banal, we are really saying something about how little we value our dignity in Christ. Simply put, banality breeds banality. Banal worship is a sign of complacency, of surrendering to cheap music and cheap art. Beautiful art, by contrast, requires a substantial investment. That investment may take generations to pay for. A great cathedral comes to mind. But—and here's the dividend—that investment gives to future generations a sense that the people who built that beautiful church really loved the Lord and His Holy Eucharist and practiced their faith with real conviction. Their gift of beauty uplifts the souls of countless pilgrims over the centuries.

Good liturgy forms us in true worship. To put it another way, good liturgy forms in us true worship. Half-hearted liturgy says a parish is lazy, unwilling to offer the Mass with conviction, a sense of beauty and decorum. Wherever the interior of a church has been ignored, or the songs are something closer to saccharine lounge music than sacred chant, priests and people will ultimately turn in on themselves. Good liturgy, by contrast, gets us out of narrow preoccupations with self. Bad liturgy has us singing trite ditties which imprison us in language that is typically unworthy of Catholic worship. Bad liturgy is confirmed as a quest to entertain the congregation when priests improvise to the point of losing the text, or when priests fumble the homily and indulge their personal foibles in an attempt to confirm that they are a sinner just like everybody else. If the priest-abuse scandals have taught us anything, then we should know full well by now that priests are quite capable of acting as badly as anyone else. Priests need our prayers.

Good liturgy puts to death any attempt to warp the focus of worship. Good liturgy is focussed on Christ acting in the Liturgy. Good liturgy is not a weekly reinvention of the Mass. Good liturgy is faithful to the rubrics. In other words, good liturgy does not seek to manipulate the gift which God has entrusted to His Catholic Church. Priests who engage in unsanctioned acts such as routinely dropping lines of text or adding to the consecratory prayers or injecting peculiar mannerisms into the celebration of the Mass should take a step back, buy a good book such as the Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and start conforming themselves to the Mass rather than conforming the Mass to misguided sentiments which ultimately have the sin of pride as their origin.

The gift of good liturgy is a gift to servers as well. Good liturgy does not subject servers to the whim of an overbearing and ignorant liturgy committee nor to a pretentious choir director or a priest who acts more like a talk show host than a humble steward of the sacred mysteries (sacraments) and a self effacing shepherd of souls. Servers have a role to perform; that role is scripted in the GIRM and elsewhere. Liturgy that is faithful to the rubrics makes the role of server so much easier than when servers are distracted or confused by priests who could care less about celebrating the Mass with the integrity and consistency it deserves.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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