Thursday, May 14, 2009
The wholeness of the liturgy
In discussing the historic liturgy online (as I used to do much more often than I do today) I have noticed by reactions to posts various emphases or positions toward the liturgy and/or its parts that are seemingly missing in my posts on this topic. This tells me two things. First, I do not discuss every aspect of the liturgy in any one post for obvious reasons. Second, I do not approach the liturgy as a specialist although I have learned much about specific liturgical aspects over the years. Usually my posts are simply "thought of the day" type of remarks or quotes from others in support of the historic liturgy. These past ten years have been an eye-opening experience and I have learned first, a greater appreciation for the liturgy and its relation to God in Christ Jesus. Second, I appreciate more the liturgy's wholeness or catholicity in terms of both its historic nature and in its ability to draw together people of all nations.
This is not an apology for specialization. Rather, I find, that it is specialization that has been and is most responsible for furthering the distance between people and the liturgy or between people and God in Christ Jesus in the Mass. One notices, for example, that the altar vanishes when a screen or rock band is placed in front. The liturgy is turned into entertainment as a form of Sunday escape from heavier themes or is turned into a springboard for various political and social agendas. These are but some examples of many changes in recent years that are really symptoms of a more broad departure from the center and reason for the existence of the liturgy. Many are noticing that the liturgy has been or is being engineered or left out altogether and that those things that are missed reflect a break in the continuity of the faith. Much has been written on this phenomena already. Basically, such changes reflect more focus on the horizontal rather than on the vertical dimension of the liturgy. This raises questions about the faith itself, which is beyond the scope of this one post.
The faith is upheld rather by the continuity of the historic liturgy or by its restoration to its rightful place. The liturgy is not in competition with theology, biblical studies nor dogmatics nor is it opposed to academic pursuits. All inform the faith or explain further the faith that seeks understanding. Nor is the spirit of the liturgy diminished by the learning of rubrics. Rubrics are important for many reasons, some of which are the development of discipline, continuity in the greater tradition and the cultivation of a sense of reverence among both priests and people.
Words cannot adequately express or teach the sense of holiness and reverence that are included in liturgical worship. The liturgy leads people through God's Word toward the altar and to the Holy Eucharist, which is the crucified and risen Lord Himself. The wholeness of the liturgy is dependent on the one Lord who comes to us and gives Himself to us. Efforts to uphold that unity between God and people in Christ in the liturgy are not fruitless. On the contrary, once worship is bound by horizontal concerns the wholeness can no longer be appreciated and passed on and the overall unity, both vertically and horizontally becomes questionable.
The wholeness of the liturgy bases its existence on and is most fruitfully and centrally located on the altar in the Holy Eucharist.