Summary: Our profession of faith in Christ is guided not only by Scripture, but by the Fathers of the Church, the historic creeds, and our liturgical tradition.
Monday of the 5th Week of Easter
Spirit of the Liturgy
Mistaken identity. It’s an embarrassment, and occasionally a lethal inconvenience. Consider poor Jude here. No wonder he appears to have preferred the name “Thaddeus,” and became patron saint of hopeless causes. Even the Scriptures refer to him as “Judas, not the Iscariot.” Imagine going through life called “Adolph, not the Hitler.” And then there are Paul and Barnabas, who by the heroic act of healing a crippled man ended up as incarnations of Hermes and Zeus in the eyes of the pagans, and later were almost stoned to death by the Jews as apostates.
We, on the other hand, must not be taken for anything other than disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we must always follow the Word, Jesus, and keep His word, His commandments. Everyone must know that we are Catholics, and we must know that if we do not act like Catholic followers of Jesus, we will scandalize the world–in the worst possible way–and by keeping others from the truth we may condemn them to eternal separation from the Father. That is why our orthodoxy–our right worship–is so critical. By this worship we draw closer to Jesus and to each other, and provide a worthy receptacle for the graces of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and make us attractive, make our worship attractive, to those whom the Father wishes to save.
Right worship, “r-i-g-h-t” worship, is rite worship, “r-i-t-e” worship. “Rite makes concrete the liturgy’s bond with that living subject which is the Church, who for her part is characterized by adherence to the form of faith that has developed in the apostolic tradition.” (166) The liturgy is nothing if it does not approach God in ways that He approves, and it is nothing if it does not connect to the Church and Her 2,000 year old tradition of worship and doctrine. “This bond. . .allows for different patterns of liturgy and includes living development, but it equally excludes spontaneous improvisation. This applies to the individual and the community, to the hierarchy and the laity.” Everything is subject to the discernment of the universal Church. We may not make it up as we go along, and nobody, not even an ordained cleric, may change even a word on his own authority. That’s what the Vatican Council directed.
Here the Holy Father, prior to his election, considers the tragedy of Martin Luther’s “efforts at reform.” Luther came along in a period of theological drought, the early sixteenth century. The Black Death had ravaged Europe for over a hundred years, and had left both philosophy and theology in tatters because of the huge number of scholars who had died. “The essential form of the liturgy was not understood and had to a large extent been obscured.” We see that in his experience of Roman priests saying Mass in private and in haste so they could get the money paid by the faithful for Mass intentions–usually the repose of some relative that had been killed by the plague or war. Luther brought the principle of sola Scriptura–the Bible alone as the arbiter of belief and practice. But he also “did not contest the validity of the ancient Christian creeds and thereby left behind an inner tension that became the fundamental problem in the history of” the Protestant Revolution. That “would surely have run a different course if Luther had been able to see the analogous binding force of the great liturgical tradition and its understanding of sacrificial presence and of man’s participation in the vicarious action of the” Word of God. “Scripture is Scripture only when it lives within the living subject that is the Church.”
That means the tradition embedded as Liturgy must be respected as one of the primary sources of the Church’s self-understanding. We have Scripture, the primary source, as a guide, but it cannot be the only guide. We also have the Fathers of the Church, the historic professions of faith of Athanasius, Nicaea and Constantinople, and the various liturgies of the East and West. “Only respect for the liturgy’s fundamental unspontaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for: the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture but receive as gift.”
“This means that ‘creativity’ cannot be an authentic category for matters liturgical.” This word developed within a Marxist, Hegelian world-view. “Creativity means that in a universe that in itself is meaningless and came into existence through blind evolution, man can creatively fashion a new and better world.” Liturgical art, in this view, is not a re-presentation of anything. Man is free to do anything he wants, unbound by norms, goals, tradition. That is the very opposite of liturgy–right worship according to God’s desire and the Church’s tradition.