Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: As changes in worship style come, many will find the changes difficult to accept, but it will be easier if we see Liturgy as primarily a divine gift.

May 4, 2009

Sacramentum Caritatis

when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"

When the RSV translation talks about “the circumcision party,” we get an unintended pun in English. Literally, it refers to a faction of Jewish Christians who believed that to enter into the Way, the Way of Christ, you first have to become a Jew. After all, they argued, Jesus Himself said that not one little marking of the Law would pass away until the fulfillment. But Jesus is the Way, the Fulfillment, the True Shepherd. At His death, the veil of the Temple was ripped, top to bottom. He is the new Moses, the new Torah. Within forty years of His death, the Jewish Temple had been burned to the ground, the sacrificial fires turned to ash. So circumcision as a rite of passage into God’s family was no longer needed; baptism in water and Spirit is our initiation–the only one we need.

I said there is a pun here, and it is that the bris, the rite of circumcision of a Jewish boy, is an occasion for a great party in Jewish culture. It must have been excruciatingly hard for the early Jews to realize that the next generations would give up the old customs that were meaningless in light of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was painful for many Catholics to experience the radical changes that were imposed by liturgical innovators back in the sixties and seventies, changes not mandated by Vatican Council II. It will be difficult for many who have accustomed themselves to innovations in art and style to handle the changes that have come to us and will continue to come as we begin to authentically implement what the Council actually intended. For instance, when the Vatican demanded that priests stop breaking the host at the consecration, most–realizing that there is another rite of breaking of bread at communion–complied, but some continued to do it.

The Holy Father tells us that if we recognize how important the art of celebrating is, we will appreciate the value of the liturgical norms. (40) The art of celebrating should foster a sense of the sacred–of setting aside for God’s service–and it should improve our use of outward signs which cultivate the sense of the sacred. This means that clergy and people have a right and duty to study the texts and norms, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Order of Readings. It is equally important, he says, to be attentive “to the various kinds of language that the liturgy employs: words and music, gestures and silence, movement, liturgical colors. By its very nature the liturgy operates on different levels of communication.” These levels enable it “to engage the whole human person. The simplicity of its gestures and the sobriety of its orderly sequence of signs communicate and inspire more than any contrived and inappropriate additions.” If the ministers recognize that the Eucharist is gift first of all, then they will be open to treating the gift with respect. If we take the Mass and immediately look for ways to make it more “relevant,” it would be like one’s dad and mom giving him a new house and then, after making appropriate thanks, immediately gutting, remodeling and repainting it.

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