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).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Mass is or should be dangerous... .

... to those who attempt to render the Mass safe, humdrum, timid, sentimental, saccharine, etc.

The battle for the Liturgy (Holy Mass) in many respects resembles the battle for culture and civilization. Contemporary man, inheritor of a culture unhinged by a century of conflict on a global scale, has largely forgotten how to risk himself in true relationships with God, neighbour and nature. In a vain attempt to assert control over his life, man has once again inverted his approach to reality: man first; God last. Many in the Church suffer the same insecurities as those held hostage in the world. The insecurities veil a loss of Christian identity. Insecure Christians push away the True, the Good and the Beautiful as a threat to their well constructed but nearly impotent efforts to preserve peace in their lives, a peace that is more a vain effort to control something beyond control. Unless placed in the hands of Jesus Christ, human life is prone to being dismantled by suffering.

Man against God and himself.

We see the degree to which man's life is disabled by anxiety, suffering and starved of beauty, truth and goodness played out in his rejection of the sacredness of life, the destruction of the natural world, the abandonment of reason, the rejection of authority and ignorance of looming threats to inalienable rights. All this is somewhat understandable given the disabling scar left on man's heart and soul by the evil of world wars, cold wars, sex wars and economic wars, wars instigated and exploited by the devil to further alienate man from God. The devil is given room in this world by men who desire power above all else. Why would anyone willing to be dominated in order to dominate? The promise of an accumulation of power, that's why. Of course, that demon-fuelled power is an illusion. That is not to say real damage has not been done. There is real harm caused to the innocent during the reign of a despot. The demon driven soul may think himself in control. After massive damage is done, however, there is a high risk that the devil will claim his prize of souls who have allied themselves with the agenda of evil.

Bereft of God, what has man achieved?

Modern man has allowed his heart to be petrified by fear of re-engaging reality, a fear of being rejected and unable to cope with the demands of authentic intimacy. That is, selfless love. So, he has turned to false gods to cope with his fear: drugs; false religions (including atheism, liberal religion); and shallow relationships that provide an illusory relief to the soreness festering in his hollow chest. Illusory, because the relief comes at a price: sin. The relief from loneliness, for example, bought through a sinful act is no relief. It is another act of enslavement.

Man turns against the source and summit of the Christian life.

The Mass has been misappropriated in recent decades, misappropriated by people who have allowed themselves to be co-opted by the spirit of the times. What are the signs of an unjust appropriation of and dumbing down of the Holy Liturgy?
Fear of Tradition.
Fear of beauty and art.
Fear of holiness.
Fear of obedience to truth.
One of the greatest "fears" of the modern age is a fear of authentic intimacy. The aforementioned fears are really signs of a fundamental fear of authentic intimacy with God and one's fellow human being. The modern form of the Liturgy, i.e., the Ordinary Form, is celebrated in a way most Sundays that reflects a fear of deep intimacy with God. Sure, there are meagre attempts to create a sense of intimacy. A distended and touchy-feely Sign of Peace is a curious attempt to foster authentic communion. Far too frequently, the Sign is more an awkward distraction from the glorious reality of Christ Present on the altar. The "sign" most people share hardly seems like a graced sign. The experience one typically encounters during what can be a boisterous and trite display of glad-handing one's neighbour is a caricature of reconciliation and communion marred by idle chatter, not a profound invitation to offer together adoration of the Lord and encounter Jesus and acknowledge Him as the Prince of Peace.

By contrast, one witnesses in the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form a stillness in the Presence of the Lord. There in that repose the peace of God reaches into the hearts of those eager to accept His peace. That same repose should be present in the Ordinary Form, given the simplification of the rites that should provide an obvious space for God. The Lord moves into the congregation as people receive Him in Holy Communion: the Body of Christ (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) "moves" into His Church, the Body of Christ. Amazing! God becomes very small and vulnerable so that we may receive Him, the Lord of hosts, the King of Kings, the Almighty! Shouldn't that event command us to be still, to fall upon our kneels and avoid every distraction so that we may be present to God's lavish act of supreme generosity?

Beauty helps create authentic intimacy. Beautiful liturgy overcomes modern man's fear of the divine. Beautiful liturgy is the personality of Christ writ large in the senses which dimly perceive the glory of God. By God's grace, the heart and mind ascend to God to be transformed in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Banal liturgy, by contrast, not only fogs up the windscreen, it tends to reflect back an image of God fashioned purely in the image of man. In that sense, it is not God one worships in such a liturgy but a god, a tribal god that is comfortable and as dreary as our preoccupation with safe liturgy.

Beautiful liturgy is not safe; it is dangerous. The reason beautiful liturgy is dangerous is because we are confronted by the beauty of the Lover, the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a love is a threat to those who want to make Jesus in their own image.

The new English translation of the Missal did much to restore something of a dangerous poetry to the Liturgy, a poetry that seizes the imagination and suspends self reservation. In other words, a dangerous liturgy is dangerous to those who attempt to substitute a safe and human-centred rite for an awe inspiring God-oriented rite. Unfortunately, many still contracept their hearts and senses by depriving the Mass of its sublime character resulting in arid worship and an equally arid spiritual life. Instead of being ravished by the Holy Spirit, modern man hesitates and settles for an experience of a polite social club.

Woe, woe, whoa... listen to the music.

Our brothers and sisters who participate as "leaders of song", well intentioned they may be, too often present musical offerings that discourage or obstruct a fuller giving of self to the Lord. Recently produced songs or modified hymn texts frequently fall far short of the mark set by the Propers (proper chants indicated in the official books; chants intended for specific liturgical celebrations) that identify the character or personality of a given Mass and reflect different aspects of the Person of Christ, the Holy Trinity and the Church. Most "liturgical music", or what purports to be liturgical music, is to the sacred music of the Liturgy as cheap romance novels are to great literature. Contemporary liturgical music is frequently far from authentic liturgical (sacred) music since it focusses solely on the worshipper and not the One worshipped. Because the text is typically (and brutally) nondescript, most contemporary "worship music" could just as easily be repurposed to facilitate one's honouring the Buddha, Lao Tzu or some figure other than Jesus Christ.

Liturgical Music: sacramental or sentimental?

The Ordinary Form is highly prone to being reduced to a caricature of divine worship. Holy Mass is meant to be a rapturous celebration of the marriage between the Lord and His Bride, the Church. The soul, encountering the sublime truth and goodness of God embodied in sublime music, becomes rapt in the adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ. The soul, enveloped in crudely sentimental music, merely becomes rapt in itself and in the frivolous displays produced by bands producing bad pop music in the sanctuary.

The Mass is heaven on earth and should be filled with convincing (artful) hints or signs pointing to paradise, signs that are also reminders of the glory of God and the beauty of His creation. Sacred music "incarnates" the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ.

The current situation is not helped by interior designers who construct "liturgical spaces" that have all the warmth of a gymnasium. Where are the vivacious sanctuaries of the saints, the God-intoxicated servants of the Lord who are passionate to the point of being ready to be martyred for the Faith and for their service to the Lord and their fellow man?

Gaudium et Spes!

There are, thankfully, some noble edifices to be found that have been constructed in recent years which resonate with sacred music and, as icons of the heavenly Jerusalem, radiate the glory of God. Furthermore, some churches have been beautifully restored.

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