Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Splendour of Worship

People, no doubt, wonder why such fuss is made over extravagant vestments and claim that it's all pomp and circumstance feeding the ego of the ministers. Then there's the usual rant about the poor, how the excessive show of triumphalism is contrary to the heart of Jesus who loved the poor and dispossessed.

This is all true, that Jesus has particular care of the poor and the dispossesed. But really, it is all of us who are poor and dispossessed. We are poor because without God, we are nothing, we have nothing. We do not bring ourselves into existence and neither can we exist without God, however much atheists protest and try to prove this point. We become less human when God is pushed out of the picture. So, yes, all of us are poor. Jesus' Incarnation, His emptying Himself of glory to take on our human nature teaches us this very point. For our sakes, He became poor. We are the poor.

And we are dispossessed. Our sin deprived us of our heritage, that of beholding God face to face. And it is only through Christ that we are able, by adoption through Him in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, that we are restored to that heritage, that we are sons and daughters of the Most High.

What does this have to do with worship, and vestments, and "pomp".

The Pontifical Solemn High Mass last Saturday reminded me once more that God is utterly Other. However much I want to bring Him down to my level, yet He is God, truly adorable and worthy of all the best that I can offer Him through worship. The vestments, the rituals, the gestures bear within them the symbol that God is beyond me. And yet, through the Sacrifice of the Mass, I am drawn into the heart of the Divine.

What was so stunning about the cappa magna that Bishop Slattery was dressed in as he entered the temple, evoked Isaiah: "In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and elevated; and His train filled the temple."

Isaiah was given this vision of the splendour and the glory of God.And now, through Christ's Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, we--foolish and weak that we are, unfaithful and forever wandering away--can know, can glimpse, can be pierced, too, by the glory of God. It is splendid. It is glorious. It is not like us. And we fall down to our faces and say, "Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips and I have seen with my eyes the King, the Lord of Hosts."

And just like the priest prays before the declaration of the Gospel, "Munda cor meum ac labia mea,omnipotens Dei..." Cleanse my heart and lips. We are once more drawn into that temple where we come to face Truth, Holy, Transcendent, Merciful and Glorious.

Unlike the modern manifestations of the liturgy which pull our attention away from God to fall upon ourselves and our actions and our relevance, this most solemn of rites makes us lift our eyes heavenward, the destiny of our journey. Not by anything that we do, but only through the Offering of Christ in Himself. For our part, it is the offering we give of our heart, our prayer, our whole attention that are required of us. It isn't whether we verbally say things out loud: words are meaningless if we do not have recollection, remembering who we are and who God is, that is, pardon the pun, at the heart of worship.

The infernal and maddening battles over liturgy and whether modern man can rightly understand the words of worship detract from what it is that is being done, who it is that is acting at Mass. We are spectators, you and I, in this grand drama of salvation. It is Mystery that our minds can hardly penetrate. This leaves little room for silly dancing, hand-holding, comedic actions that have nothing to do with the sacred actions happening at Mass. It is Mystery and we are left in awe.

I can understand why liturgical wars are so intense. It is a matter of who is at the heart of the Mass. We feel useless when we aren't "doing anything". Why is it only the priest that gets to do things? Aren't we, all of us, priests in that royal priesthood of believers?

But it is Christ who is the Priest, the only one who can offer a worthy offering to God the Father. And so when the cappa magna passes by, when that sacred minister, with his face set in a solemn way, passes by and his shimmering long train follows, our hearts are lifted because, here, in this person, in this temple, in this hour, Christ enters. This is our Catholic Faith. Through sensible signs, the Divine enters. How blessed are we to witness it and at the end, when we are dismissed, it is our turn to walk in this world bearing this light, this Divine Truth, God is in His temple, let the earth worship.

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