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).

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Follow The Signs

Why must there be precision in the making of ritual signs or gestures in the Mass?

Clarity. In order for there to be effective communication of theological meaning to approach mystery which engages people in worship of the living God, ritual gestures must be made with deliberate intent and pace, clarity of form and progression. Those signs and gestures nurtured into existence by the life giving grace of the Holy Spirit working in men, received in the heart of Holy Mother Church, will then be like air to the lungs by which we live and breathe immersed in the poetry of the Lord's saving Gospel.
The Holy Spirit speaks a language of the heart through symbolism and ritual. Every language has a grammar for the communication of meaning. The language of the Holy Spirit is best understood by those who, in humility and docility to the Spirit's inspiration and movement, listen for and observe the movement of love and truth in the lives of others and in their own life. The Church exists to help us move closer to Christ in the Spirit. The Spirit speaks to the heart of every man, but not everyone listens and responds. Many do not know how to listen or what to listen for.
What do we listen for? Truth, beauty and goodness.
Formation in the transcendentals: Beauty, Goodness and Truth. Signs and ritual gestures convey the transcendentals in a way complementary to the words used in the Mass. Men with little sense of art, however, cannot fathom the intrinsic value of ritual to dispose hearts and minds to God's grace, so they marginalize ritual. Such behaviour creates obstacles to grace.

Liturgy without the transcendentals will not lead people into the transcendent. Liturgy that focusses man's gaze on doing more than being and doing will blind man to the movement of the Spirit. Seeing only the surface of things, man does not perceive the Presence of God. So often, the celebration of Mass in the Ordinary Form is stunted, truncated and shallow because one is subjected to a barrage of activities that interfere with the perception of the movement of grace in our lives
  • Flakey songs leave out mention of Jesus by name and leave the starved worshipper with an anonymous object of devotion.
  • Those same songs frequently exclude authentic worship by appealing to the emotions which enamour the worshipper and crowd out the truth and voice of God.
  • Silence is in short supply. There is little opportunity to ponder the word and pray in the depth of one's heart because one is constantly incited to "participate".
Sadly, the calls for Catholics to worship in a busy manner are grossly misinformed by a corrupt understanding of participatio actuosa, a phrase frequently translated as active participation. The participation encouraged by the Council and called for in documents leading up to the Council is a renewed interior orientation or disposition to God in spirit and in truth.
Logos and Ritual. We tend to think the word of God can only be communicated through words. We forget, however, that God makes use of multiple modes of communication in the economy of the Incarnate Word: iconography; statuary; fresco; mosaic; stained glass; ritual signs and gestures (incensation; sprinkling of holy water; anointing with holy oils); vestments. It is precisely because of the Incarnation that the Word of God, the divine Logos, speaks in and through many avenue of approach to reach man to entice him into relationship.
Every intimate relationship has a language of love, a language to foster deeper communion between lovers. The various approved art-vehicles (poetry, incense, sacred chant and polyphony, beautiful vestments, etc.) are part of the language of relationship. We love our Lord, and so we represent our love by embodying it beautiful gestures and in beautiful things that also communicate something of God's beauty and goodness to those who witness love and devotion. The verbal articulation of God's goodness is, for a Catholic, part of a larger and rich vocabulary for fostering intimacy between humans and the beautiful Incarnate Word.
The art of making ritual gestures. When the Sign of the Cross is made by a priest in a haphazard or casual manner, what does this communicate to the congregation? Crucifixion was a barbaric form of execution. The Sign of the Cross should be made reverently so as to properly convey the seriousness of the sacrifice Christ made of His life for us.
On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross He sanctifies man to the last shred and fibre of his being. We make the Sign of the Cross before we pray to collect and compose ourselves and to fix our minds and hearts and wills upon God. We make it when we finish praying in order that we may hold fast the gift we have received from God. In temptations we sign ourselves to be strengthened; in dangers, to be protected. The cross is signed upon us in blessings in order that the fullness of God’s life may flow into the soul and fructify and sanctify us wholly. 
Think of these things when you make the Sign of the Cross. It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being — body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing — and by signing it with the cross strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God.—from Sacred Signs by Romano Guardini.
A conductor of a symphony or choir who employs vague chironomy will confuse his ensemble and distort a performance.

Precise transmission of the Faith requires the artful execution of gesture. The language of the heart is something learned and refined in the worshipper by heartfelt celebration. Impoverished liturgy impoverishes the heart and dulls the senses, both the spiritual and physical senses. A steady diet of lack lustre images and trite "music" has produced a generation of art-starved souls and deprived the world of countless gifts of mercy that God has given to His Church to share.

Where have all the statues gone? Where is that glorious treasure (art, architecture, music, literature) hidden in a field (the Church)? Have we hidden our talents? Have we failed to invest in the gifts God has given us?

If your church building looks more like a shopping mall or funeral home than a home for the heavenly banquet of the Lord, then it's likely that more will be taken from your parish.
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says:
‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,and their ears are heavy of hearing,and their eyes they have closed,lest they should perceive with their eyes,and hear with their ears,and understand with their heart,and turn for me to heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.—St. Matthew 13:10-17.
We live in the midst of an artistically challenged generation that simply cannot or will not appreciate art, especially artful liturgy and beautiful sanctuaries of hope built to the glory of God. The new evangelization will remain impotent as long as people are denied (or deny themselves) the truth, beauty and goodness of the Gospel embodied in truly beautiful art.

Footnote

Pastors might take a hint from other pastors who have created oases of beauty and truth in their parishes. It is no coincidence that parishes and diocese that are enjoying a steady harvest of vocations are those that foster true liturgy, i.e., the Mass celebrated with reverence and authenticity in every respect. True liturgy is a sign of true doctrine. Men discerning a call to the priesthood will find their way when God is given room in the Mass to reach into the hearts of men who perceive the holiness and truth of God present in their midst, present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Masses which are celebrated haphazardly and are abuse-ridden send only one message—'there is nothing for me here. Move on.'

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