I found this old reflection of mine hidden away in the never ending land of essays I never actually wrote. It certainly reflects the thoughts of a much more excited me, when I had finally come into the Catholic Church and began to fall in love with the Liturgy. I almost hesitate, wondering about the wisdom of it, to publish it to the world, but what the heck – I’ll just add the caveat that this unwritten essay is offered here more as a reflection than a challenge, which is what I had intended it to be.
~Man – a rite to life
In becoming a Roman Catholic and more thoroughly allowing the Orthodoxy of the Christian religion to permeate my being in all manner such that I come better and closer, struggling everyday onwards towards the same goal, to fulfill the divine Commandment to Love the Lord my God with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my strength, and all of my mind, I find myself stumbling always upon deeper and deeper mysteries worth meditating upon. These ever so illustrious mysteries energize, indeed animate and keep alive my faith, and give me a framework to have a deeper appreciation of the Christian Liturgy and life.
Recently I was reading a translated work from a French Roman Catholic Scholar named Louis Bouyer of the Oratory. His work was called “Eucharistie: Theologie et spiritualite de la priere eucharistique” (In English – Eucharist: Theology and spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer). In his first chapters, where he sets the foundation for his later more in depth and comparative examination of the various forms the Christian Eucharistic liturgy has taken both across the span of time and also across a variety of Christian Traditions not excluded to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox world, he establishes first, and impressively, the fundamental Jewishness of the Christian Liturgy. He points to the Jewish liturgy as the seed from which the Christian liturgy flowers. This impressive thesis on it’s own I think is a breath of fresh air and a wake up call to those who Louis Bouyer cleverly but derogatorily calls nothing more than “Liturgical Archaeologists” who manage not to connect the Jewish liturgy with the Christian one.
In reflecting on how God’s word has penetrated the life of his people, both in the Jewish Covenant, and in the fuller covenant lived and celebrated in and to it’s fullness in the Roman Catholic Church, I have come to think of man as having been not only generally designed for communion with God, but more specifically and mysteriously for a celebration of the mystery of enjoying God which demands expression of itself through a life rich in ritual liturgy. I believe that man is fundamentally religious, and fundamentally liturgically oriented. Something in us demands Liturgical celebration as deeply and greatly as we demand Truth or Love – and in fact, then, demands that these all come to us together, each complimenting the richness of the other in the life of the celebrant who receives these gifts.
Observing the way Torah, which is not for the Catholic or the Orthodox Jew what it has often become for the Protestant (as simply an organized morally binding constitution consisting of God’s righteous and perfect commandments, but rather at it’s deepest level an expression of God’s living Word in the covenantal life of his people), puts forward at every turn liturgical constitution, it is difficult not to see the continuity with a liturgical Kahal!
The accoutrements of this liturgical rite in modern Judaism may have undergone particularly iconoclastic tendencies to avoid association with the Christian religion, but it has lost nothing of it’s substantive import, nor has it or can it loose it’s implication for the way God see’s man. God does not require Liturgy of man simply as a redemptive medicine, but rather Liturgy itself properly apprehended is the art of living religion.
Not only are the Sacraments themselves along with the whole Sacramental system in the context of covenant prefigured in the life of Israel in communion with the one God, but also the Church’s liturgy! To stumble upon this for me was something like finding a priceless gem, better yet a delectable treasure of the richest value. As I meditated on this situation of man and on the heart of God for liturgy I found myself better understanding not only Christianity and Judaism, but mankind and myself, to say nothing of my deeper apprehension of God.
I am not suggesting that this adjustment involves any sort of abandonment, but only an enriching. I am not suggesting that approaching God in the simplicity of verbal and heartfelt prayer, or approaching his word in private study, is without merit, only that Liturgy opens up vistas by which the believer has access to another avenue to approach God. Thus, the diving into Liturgy means not substituting heartfelt and simple faith with something steeped in vain ritual, but rather adding to that the framework of Liturgy for the expression of Love in communion.
Obviously vain Ritual is as abhorrent as vain religion.. In fact, it IS vain religion. The Scriptures witness to God’s mind on the matter in the prophets.
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
However it is clear that none of these things are bad in and of themselves. Obviously Sabbaths and new moon festivals in the Jewish Liturgical calendar of the Old Testament, and songs of praise and prayers – these are not bad things. On the contrary, they are of extreme value in the sight of God. However, they are of value only when they are not vain. Our Lord also, when speaking about vain ritual, condemns it outright, but then continues to give us Liturgy, worship informed by form – and this is precisely where we get the “Our Father…” from.
Obviously for one to pray as Christ taught us to pray by reciting the “Our Father…” isn’t indulging in vain ritual, at least not necessarily. To earnestly seek to approach God by way of formulated prayers is not to disappoint him, but rather it is to Pray from within a body of living tradition. To approach God by this avenue is not less focused on him, but often more! It does not take away anything of the Majesty of Christ or of the mysteries of the Gospel, but rather raises in the hearts of men Christ, the Morning Star (Rev 22:16). This form of prayer is one which invites us to re-consider how man is to relate to God in the context of Covenant. Obviously our faith is personal, but it is not personal first of all, and then communal second. It’s exactly the other way round – we are related to God by being in covenant with him as his covenant people, and only by reason of that do any of us have a vibrant personal relationship with God. Even the ‘Our Father’ witnesses to this fundamentally communal flavour of Christian prayer, for, although Christ told his disciples to pray in the solace of their rooms rather than on the streets, so he told them to pray not “my father” but “OUR Father”.
Furthermore, I am going to be daring enough to suggest at this point that Liturgy is not only a rich option which a Christian, should they wish it, could be of some value to them, like a good Christian book, movie, or other media. Liturgy is fundamentally necessary. The Liturgy is recognized in the Catholic tradition to be the highest form of Christian prayer, for, of course, lex orandi lex credendi. Moreover, Catholics recognize that in the Mass we pray, not only employing all the senses of taste, touch, hearing and so on, and thus involving the whole human person (Body and Soul) in the worship of God, but we are also worshipping God together. Not only is everyone else in the same building praying the same way, like a choreographed dance – but all Catholics everywhere in the world are praying with us, all at once joining in step. More than that, we are joining in step with the early Church Fathers, in step with the earliest liturgies, in step with the Apostles, and ultimately in step with Christ himself at the Last Supper!
Having Liturgy then is something like having a philosophy; everyone has one. Even if the philosophy is that we ought not to have a philosophy, that remains a philosophy – though it is a very bad one. Likewise if our sense of Liturgy is informed by a modernistic trend away from anything which might even look like the ancient Christian or Jewish Liturgy, it remains manifestly evident that we have Liturgy – we simply have a bad one. Malformed, without structure, recognizing nothing of the Jewish antecedents in the Jewish Liturgy, without beauty, bereft of any sense of art form or choreography, where people cannot pray with their bodies as well as their minds and hearts – such an empty liturgy can only keep the faithful who wish to dive deeper into the mystery of Christianity entertained for so long before they start to wonder what more there is, and instinct informs us if nothing else does; there is more!
I would guess that were it not for the insane Rome-o-phobia that directs so many in the protestant world to flee from anything “Catholic”, evangelical protestants of all stripes would naturally tend to appropriate Liturgy and incorporate it into their own personal lives, as well as the lives of their ecclesial communities.
Thus my challenge is levelled; I challenge Evangelicals to take a peek into the Catholic “attic”, so to speak. Go back and just examine the early Christian liturgy, the root of us all at least to some degree.