Man himself cannot simply “make” worship. If God does not reveal Himself, man is clutching empty space. If you remember a few weeks ago…Moses says to Pharaoh: “We do not know with what we must serve the Lord” (cf. Ex 10:26). These words display a fundamental law of all liturgy. When God does not reveal Himself, man can, of course, from the sense of God within him, build altars “to the unknown god” (cf. Acts 17:23). He can reach out toward God in his thinking and try to feel his way toward Him. But real liturgy (the liturgy God wants…in other words… perfect liturgy) implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship Him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of “institution”. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity—then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation. Liturgy implies a real (perfect) relationship with Another, Who reveals Himself to us and gives our existence a new direction.
In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of “what you please”. Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (by the way…for the farmers and ranchers out there that know the significant difference…strictly speaking, a “bull calf”). The misdirected worship conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods.
Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God Who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God…to idolatry. This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes.
First, there is a violation of the prohibition of images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote and mysterious God. They want to bring Him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one’s own world. He must be there when He is needed…and He must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.
This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated worship. When Moses stays away for too long…and God himself becomes inaccessible…the people just fetch Him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation.
Instead of being worship of God…it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God…but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around.
Or, still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in pious disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.
Do you remember taking Algebra (or Calculus)…a kind of dreading…going to class (or doing the homework from the book)? This was the case I had in the seminary when it came to the Liturgy class we all have to take.
One of the first books I read after starting was Romano Guardini’s first little book (printed 1918): The Spirit of the Liturgy (and from then until 1957 it was constantly reprinted). This slim volume may rightly be said to have started the Liturgical Movement in Germany (and the Vatican II changes). Yes, its contribution was significant. It helped us to rediscover the Liturgy in all its beauty…hidden wealth and time transcending grandeur…to see it as the animating center of the Church, the very center of Christian life. It led to a striving for a celebration of the Liturgy that would be “more substantial” (one of Guardini’s favorite words). We were now willing to see the Liturgy – in its inner demands and form – as the prayer of the Church, a prayer moved and guided by the Holy Spirit Himself, a prayer in which Christ unceasingly becomes contemporary with us, enters into our lives. (And…like my calculus class…I dreaded it when I had to study it.)
I should like to suggest a comparison. Like all comparisons, it is in many ways inadequate…and yet it may aid in understanding. We might say that in 1918 (the year that Guardini published his book) the Liturgy was rather like a fresco painting in a building somewhere. It had been preserved from damage…but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations.
In the Missal from which the priest celebrated the Mass, the form of the Liturgy that had grown from its earliest beginnings was still present; but…as far as the faithful were concerned…it was largely concealed beneath instructions and forms of private prayer. The Liturgical Movement (and in a definitive way…Vatican II) cleaned and cleared the fresco. For a moment its colors and figures fascinated us. But since then the fresco has been endangered by climatic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions. In fact, it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences. Of course, there must be no question of its being covered with whitewash again, but what is imperative is: a new reverence in the way we treat it…a new understanding of its message and its reality…so that rediscovery does not become the first stage of irreversible loss.
My purpose in writing these reflections for a while is to assist this renewal of understanding. Its basic intentions coincide with what Guardini wanted to achieve in his own time with The Spirit of the Liturgy. The only difference is that I have had to translate what Guardini did at the end of World War I (in a totally different historical situation) into the context of our present day questions, hopes and dangers. I am not attempting (any more than Guardini was) to involve myself with scholarly discussion and research (… I am not a dreaded Calculus professor). I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and to the right way to give the faith its central form of expression in the Liturgy. My hope is to encourage, in a new way, something like a “liturgical movement”, a movement toward the Liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the Liturgy (inwardly and outwardly)…then the intention that inspires the coming reflections would be richly fulfilled.
All too often, we (as Catholics) will come to Mass or in a common prayer without understanding why. (How often do you hear from a non-Catholic: “Why do you, as Catholics do (blank)?” (Make the sign of the cross, say memorized prayers, use incense, stand, sit…you can fill in the “(blank)”. And our response is something like: “I don’t know…it’s just what we do.”
The “great prayer of the Church” the Mass (or the Liturgy of the Hours), I want to give the parish unique insights on many areas of the Liturgy to help everyone to rediscover the hidden spiritual wealth (and transcendent grandeur) of the Liturgy as the very center of our Christian life (our Catholic life). While other denominations express prayer in their own method, the Liturgy is distinctively ours (given to us over 2000 years). It is not to be seen as a museum piece that is viewed from a distance…or just walked by as painting on a wall done by a famous artist. Our Liturgy is something we touch, see, smell, hear…taste. It is ours to take and experience.
Among the many liturgical areas we are going to look at in the next few reflections, I hope we can discuss fundamental misunderstandings of the Second Vatican Council’s intentions for liturgical reforms (renewal), especially the focus of prayer at the Mass, the placement of the tabernacle, the posture of kneeling, etc.
Other areas of interest: the essence of worship • Jewish roots and (2000 years old) new elements of the Christian Liturgy • sacred times and places • the historic and cosmic dimensions of the Liturgy • the relationship of the Liturgy to time and space • art and music…and the Liturgy • (the often misunderstood concept even among religious and clergy) – “active participation” of all the faithful • gestures, posture, and vestments. I hope…in the reflections to come…when you are asked to fill in the “(blank)”, each of us will be so excited to explain the “(blank)” – others will want to learn the steps of the Dance with us and join the music and the excitement. And, even more important, when you are tempted to think (or worse … say out loud): “Does God really care? Does what we do at Mass only get in the way of worshipping God?” …you will have the knowledge to expel that demon.
This week, the Church…Universal…takes a moment in celebration and contemplation of the Mystery found in the Most Holy Sacrament…The Body and Blood of Christ. Again…celebration…fellowship…appreciation of us being called not only to be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; but, being made one with Him (Mysteriously) in His Body and Blood…if we allow the Miracle to engulf us.
This week, too, begins the Fortnight of Freedom 2017. We recognize as the Bride of Christ, our need to bring about God’s love and His kingdom on earth…as it is in Heaven.
The people of Jesus’ time were restless and fearful because their nation was occupied by the Romans (who were very brutal at times…just look at a crucifix we have hanging in our homes and work places). They lived with the tension of being faithful to who they were as the people of God and how the Roman governors treated them. In the case of Jesus’ crucifixion some of the religious leaders used the hated Roman law to remove Jesus, a fellow citizen, from the face of the earth. They were blind to the Author and Presence of all truth, God’s Truth. The truth is that we need God and His loving presence, mercy, and Spirit in Jesus. If we take Jesus and the power of His love seriously we have more inner strength to be loving, forgiving, humble and grateful for the blessing of someone as close as a spouse in marriage. Jesus wants what we want – a happy, joyful, life-long relationship of life giving love. As much as we are self sufficient and self-giving, we will find no greater inner peace and purpose than we do in Jesus and His truth that sets us free. His is the freedom that enables us to give without counting the cost…to look beyond petty differences to deepen love…to forgive from the heart so as not to remind the one who hurt us over and over again about how wrong he or she was.
It is the peace of His truth that gives us the desire to apologize for the pain and hurt we have caused. How important it is to live what we pray in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is extremely difficult without our daily bread, especially the Bread of Life in the Eucharist every week.
It is the truth of Jesus that gives us the wisdom to see where we need to speak out against injustice and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Truth not acknowledged…unleashes evil. Truth ignored…expands evil’s reach. Evil unchallenged…contradicts the peace, hope and unity only the truth can make a reality. The Fortnight of Freedom reminds us: once one life is expendable…more freedoms and lives become expendable. Comfort, pleasure and irresponsibility replace sacrifice, generosity and justice. Those who speak truth against the evils of the world are portrayed as the ones who unjustly deprive others of their freedom to choose. Freedom to do evil has divided us and seeks to silence the voice of Truth. There are many Pilates in our nation who echo his question: Truth, what is that? That is followed by the blasé attitude of: Who really cares anyway?
The voice of Jesus calls us to care. Why us? We are the ones He loves and trusts. We are the ones He speaks the truth from His Heart to. How good it is when we have the courage to live it not only for ourselves, but for the good of our nation. And, before I forget: Thanks to all our fathers…those who naturally (often in silence) witness the love of the Father.
Next week, we as a society honor the fathers who do so much (and like St. Joseph, himself) are given little fanfare. This year, in your celebrations, remember the new fathers that are not so well known to many: Father Joseph Scholten, Father Brian Eckrich, Father Andrew Thuringer, Father Tyler Mattson, Father Timothy Smith and Father Thomas Hartman (and Father … to be…God willing…Rev. Mr. Patrick Grode). Let us take a moment this week to prepare for next Sunday’s celebrations! Let’s not just think about our fathers for just one moment for one day this year.
Yes…we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity this week. But, often, we are overwhelmed by the the Three in One Godhead. So…something to reflect –
At the Masses this weekend we will offer a special blessing to our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, and all who offer us paternal love and care. They protect us, provide for us and support us often in many unappreciated ways. It is sad that all too often their holy vocation is depicted so disparagingly in sit-coms, movies, etc. Far from being bumbling dolts…our fathers are so often a great source of thoughtful advice, lived experience and compassionate encouragement. They are often faithful, quiet examples of hard work and loving dedication. We are deeply grateful for them and we ask our Heavenly Father to bless them this day.
There is a hymn in the missalette that always makes me pause on the greatness of the vocation of father’s as we think of the father of Jesus – St. Joseph (often thought of as the “forgotten” saint): “… And Joesph’s love make ‘father’, To be, for Christ, God’s Name”. (ref: By All Your Saints Still Striving) May, God our Heavenly Father, keep all our fathers close and blessed as they reflect His (often unspoken) Love.
Those who are an intimate part of our lives dwell in our minds and hearts. They color the way we live our lives every day. When they are sick and suffering they are in the forefront of our thoughts and concerns. Their burdens become our burden. When they are celebrating achievements or special events, we are joyful with them and for them. When they are confused we look to help work out their problems and concerns and at the same time assure them of our love. It is exactly this kind of presence that Jesus promises to us in today’s Gospel when He promises to bring the Father and dwell within us. Are we aware of this presence? Do we want this presence?
During the Easter Season almost every day the first reading at Mass has been from the Acts of the Apostles. This book of the Bible is the account of the first generation of the Church after Jesus rose and ascended into heaven. They faced many challenges among themselves and from outside forces. What is very clear as we read from the Acts of the Apostles is that all who came to believe in Jesus knew that He was dwelling within them and they were dwelling within Him. One very clear example is from Acts 5:17-29:
“Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, ‘Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.’ When they heard this, they went to the temple early in the morning and taught. When the high priest and his companions arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin, the full senate of the Israelites, and sent to the jail to have them brought in. But the court officers who went did not find them in the prison, so they came back and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked and the guards stationed outside the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ When they heard this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss about them, as to what this would come to. Then someone came in and reported to them, ‘The men whom you put in prison are in the temple area and are teaching the people.’ Then the captain and the court officers went and brought them in, but without force, because they were afraid of being stoned by the people. When they had brought them in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, ‘We gave you strict orders [did we not?] to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’
With a little time, the Apostles (and us) can finally figured it out…the need for God in our lives. And, not a god we make up out of our own minds…but…God, Who wants us to have a real…intimate…actual relationship with us (but on His terms…not ours). Our challenge as American Catholics is not to be so influenced by the media, political candidates, and political parties…but to allow the vision of Jesus who dwells within us to illumine the way to the truth for ourselves and for our nation. Our society over and over again dismisses God and sound moral doctrine in the name of convenience and freedom. To be part of that mind set is to walk down the path with your head looking straight up and not where your feet are going. Of course any path like this leads to confusion and destruction (and misleads our young people about what it means to dwell in: Jesus…the Father…or to recognize Jesus and the Father dwelling in us). Take a hint from the Gospel and the angel in Acts this week: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Get busy as Jesus told you: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
At the beginning of Lent, I was switching between radio stations and hit the song “Love Without End, Amen” by Aaron Gale Barker…made popular by the country singer George Strait. If you haven’t heard it recently, do a search and find it. Baker (and Strait) gets the Season we now have and will celebrate (and he has a great melody stream too).
Love is the most powerful force in the world and in our lives. In spite of the violence, injustice and pain we inflict upon each other as human beings and in spite of the devastating power of weapons we have developed to protect and defend ourselves, no power other than love will bring peace and unity. Once Jesus was arrested, He was no longer the one doing things for other people, people were doing things to Him. The Scripture passages that recount His Passion do not focus so much on the physical brutality He experienced with the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, or the extremely painful act of crucifixion. The Scriptures speak about the betrayal, denial, abandonment, and injustice. Through it all Jesus remains silent and passive. There are no words of rebuke, no threats from His mouth, no expressions of disappointment, and no words that would in any way say He was giving up on us. Jesus suffered in silence, but the love in His heart was not extinguished, compromised, or denied. As we saw on Good Friday, His words on the cross expressed only love: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” “This day you will be with me in paradise.” “Son, there is your mother, mother, there is your son.” Jesus not only died for us and our sins, He rose to give us a share in the new life of Easter.
The older we get, the harder it is to trust and the easier it is to become skeptical and cynical. Yet none of us wants to be this way. Something inside us wants to trust, to hope, to believe in the goodness of things, to again feel that trustful enthusiasm we once had as children, when we were innocent (and innocent means “unwounded”), and we could still take another’s hand in trust. No one wants to be outside the circle of trust. The Resurrection makes real this desire we all have in the depths of our hearts.
When Jesus rose, He told his disciples to go back to Galilee. Galilee was a geographical place, but even more it was the place where His disciples first came to believe in Him. Jesus was calling them back to their initial innocence, joy, and trust in His love for them. To return to the idealisms that first drew themselves to Jesus. The Resurrection was far more than the body of Jesus coming back from the dead. It was the final, emphatic proclamation and reality of the powerful depth of His love. It was that love that renewed His first followers as they laid the foundation of Church, the Body of Christ in the world. We are now the living members of the Body of Christ in the world today. Easter is our time to be renewed by the powerful hope that love is more powerful than evil. Hope is more powerful than apathy or despair, and faith is more powerful than distrust. As you come to Church this Easter Sunday, welcome to Galilee! Welcome home, where once again we are told by God…I love you! May that love permeate our minds and hearts in all we do each day! There is no greater love and it is God’s gift to us – without end … Amen.