17 September 2008

Humility in Worship does not Irreverence Make

I am sick to death of people trying to tell me that humility and simplicity in Christian Worship is the equivalent of irreverence.

In some recent comments, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking about the traditional Latin Mass, said, "Everyone, without exception, must be able to feel at home, and never (must he feel) rejected."  I find this to be a very interesting thing for him to have said.  In context, he is trying to preserve the unity of the Latin Rite of the Roman Church, but his words show a problem in the Church (Roman and others) today that it seems fundamentally impossible to resolve...

Let me give you an example.  Lets say, as a priest, that I gather a group of fifteen or twenty people together in a large circle around an altar.  I sit to preach.  We all hold hands for the Lord's Prayer.  I use a pottery chalice and paten (properly glazed!), and I administer the Eucharist in the hands of the individuals gathered together at the Altar.  Many will say that these carachterisics show me to be a liberal... or just utterly irreverent.

Another example.  I gather the same fifteen or twenty people.  They kneel through most of the service on the other side of an Altar rail.  I face east with them for almost all of the Liturgy.  I use a sterling silver chalice and paten that have been plated in gold, and I administer the Eucharist on the tongue of the communicants with a chin paten.  Many will say that these carachteristics show me to be a conservative... or deeply reverent.

I think it's time to challenge such notions.  I think it is perfectly possible to be reverent with a group assembled around a table in a home celebrating the Eucharist with guitar music and the work of a potter's hands holding the Body and Blood of Christ.  I believe it is equally possible to be absolutely irreverent, no matter how much you attempt to dress up the Liturgy.

Sadly, far too many people think that the only way to ensure reverence is to mandate a specific interpretation of the historic worship of the Church.  The Tridentine Mass, 1928 Book of Common Prayer, 1941 Lutheran Hymnal... none of them will ensure reverence or instruction in the truth on their own.  They are living liturgical rites, and the reverence and content is as much determined by those who participate in the worship as it is by those who clamor for their restoration (at times to the exclusion of other forms).

Scripture and the Church Fathers give us a pretty strong outline of the weekly worship of the Church, centered on Word and Sacrament.  How we execute it in heart and how it manifests itself in our lives is far more telling of the validity of the celebration and its content than if we use a gold or pottery chalice to celebrate.


Gregory Pilcher September 18, 2008 at 1:37 PM  

I've seen Extraordinary Form liturgies that were pathetic, and I've seen Ordinary Form liturgies that were absolutely splendid. And vice versa, too. Most of the time it is the stamp of the presiding priest that gives the liturgy its reverence or lack thereof, and/or the community and its distinct character. There are many variables.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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