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quod pro nobis traditum est

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Liturgy's negative effects on the culture in which we live

Generally speaking, the main role and focus of the liturgy is man's relationship with God. The liturgy is the place where God and man meet. In a specific time and place man is uniquely connected to the supernatural or spiritual side of life and communicates with God (ie, prayer). God addresses man's need or inability to maintain his relationship with God because of sin through His presence in which man receives God's grace and blessing. Man responds faithfully to God's remembrance of him with the recounting of His great and marvelous deeds and acts of thanksgiving that bring praise and glory to God. In Christianity the nexus between God and man is Jesus. He is the perfect representative of man to God, the atonement for sin and the Man through whom God bestows His grace and blessing to man, that is, the forgiveness of sins.

Ongoing discussion of the liturgy among those from within my own Christian tradition reveals various levels of understanding, appreciation of and adherence to the historic liturgy that has been handed down in the Church through the centuries. Such discussion also reveals two distinct paths of opposition or hostility to the liturgy or to the discussion of it among us. First, there seems to be an "antinomian" approach to the liturgy. This approach is often suspicious of and, occasionally, hostile to things liturgical and even to the discussion of such things. The understanding appears to be that the liturgy is something to be tolerated at best, dissected or even totally changed. There are a number of reasons behind such thinking but, in short, the approach appears to be that liturgy is not the most important thing in life, nor is it very exciting and I have many more fun things to do with my time. Do not trample on my "freedom" or bother me with ritual (hence the often used defense-mechanism of "adiaphora"). Another path of opposition toward the liturgy and its discussion is the "pietistic" approach. The liturgy is placed in opposition to my personal "faith". I can choose what approach my personal faith life will take. The liturgy is just another way the Church gets in the way of my personal relationship with God. The "antinomian" approach tends toward the secular or "this world" while the "pietistic" approach tends toward an inner spirituality which cannot be burdened with external things. What ties both approaches together is the appreciation of the priority of the individual in relationship to the community around him or her. One approach may guard against the liturgy as an infringement on one's "freedom" while the other may guard against the liturgy as an infringement on one's "faith." Yet both approaches defend the individual over and against things external or greater and so potentially that which is more beneficial.

Undoubtedly, either of these approaches may not be, in essence, opposed to the idea of man having a relationship with God. But, having discussed in brief a rationale for the liturgy and then general opposition to the liturgy more is revealed to us about the liturgy itself. The liturgy is seen to have negative effects on the culture in which we live. Or the liturgy is seen as "counter-cultural." If opposition to the liturgy is described in individualistic terms then the liturgy might be seen as being opposed to the individual ("I" or "me") as just discussed. Another way the liturgy may be understood as "counter-cultural" is it places priority on man's relationship with God. The liturgy deals with matters spiritual thus placing more emphasis on God who is external to man and greater than him or her. Finally, the liturgy involves the community (ie, "people of God", "children of God", "family of God", "Church") and that community's communion with God which takes place in the liturgy.

Obviously, the liturgy does not operate using the same rules that we use to order our lives together (ie, school, business, athletics, arts and entertainment, government). The distinction of the liturgy from our everyday lives may be described in many ways. In fact, one might argue that the liturgy has a negative effect on the culture in which we live. Ultimately, if the liturgy is seen as being against "me" then it could also be seen, by extension, to be against "my" culture. In a spiritual sense this is true. The liturgy does have negative effects on me and my culture. The liturgy reminds me of my sin in relationship to God and others. It reminds me that God is above me and greater than me and my sin. It takes me outside of my individualism and away from my culture to focus on God who is external and greater than me and my culture and beyond the heights of all cultures. Finally, Christian liturgy is "counter-cultural" in that through it we receive the forgiveness of sins, grace and blessing that does not begin with us or our neighbor but which purports to come from God Himself who reveals Himself to us and gives Himself to us in the Spirit through the man Jesus Christ. If then, the liturgy does have negative effects on the culture in which we live it is therefore for a greater good. This goodness is given to us in the liturgy and takes away that sin which not only tangibly does more harm to our culture but which also keeps us from having and being maintained and even strengthened in an eternal relationship with God.

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