Summary: Is great worship spontaneous or not. The answer may surprise you.

Monday of 4th Week of Easter

The Spirit of the Liturgy

When someone wants to insult a group of people because of their slavish following of some ideology or ideologue, he can hardly do worse than to call them a “herd of sheep.” Sheep are stupid animals who need to be guided all the time, or they will get into lethal trouble. In Palestine, in Biblical times, all the sheep of a pasture were herded into an enclosure each night to protect them from predators. One of the shepherds would literally sleep in the entrance and become the door of the sheepfold. Then, at dawn, each shepherd would use his distinctive voice to call his sheep, and thus they would separate into little flocks for the day’s feeding and grooming. We, the sheep claimed by Jesus by His sacrifice, are to follow only His voice, His Word, because He is the Word of God.

In part IV of The Spirit of the Liturgy, our Holy Father, writing before his papal election, tells about the rites of the Church. Many of us are only familiar with the Latin rite, the primary Western rite. There are, however, many rites, in both the East and West. He says “for many people today, the word ‘rite’ does not have a very good ring to it. ‘Rite’ suggests rigidity, a restriction to prescribed forms. It is set in opposition to that creativity and dynamism of inculturation by which, so people say, we get a really living liturgy, in which each community can express itself.” Many of us have been at Masses in which the priest appears to have made it up as he went along. In general, such efforts have been less than prayerful, and sometimes even sacrilegious.

We need to remember the precise meaning of the word “orthodoxy.” Its original meaning is not correct teaching, but “right honor” to God. It’s the right way to glorify and praise God. We sense that there is a right way and a wrong way to encounter God. A bit like wearing flip-flops to the White House, coming to Church chewing gum in clothing fit for the beach, and singing “Don’t Worry, Be happy” just doesn’t ring as right worship. “We know how we should truly glorify God–by praying and living in communion with the Paschal journey of Jesus Christ, by accomplishing with him his Eucharistia, in which Incarnation leads to Resurrection–along the way of the Cross.” Worship “always includes the whole conduct of one’s life. Thus rite has its primary place in the liturgy, but not only in the liturgy.” (160)

The Pope notes that the rites of the Church, in a way, grew out of the soil of individual churches, like Antioch, Alexandria, Rome and France. We are an extension of the Incarnation, and our rites are of human influence and divine origin. Our rites have their roots in the apostolic age and the cities of the Holy Land. We lose that connection at our peril.

Moreover, the rites have communicated with and cross-fertilized each other. As an example, the 2nd Eucharistic prayer, so popular because of its brevity, originated in Rome. Much of our chant came from the monasteries of France and Spain. Some of what we do came from the Byzantine tradition. All of these cross-currents, however, were subject to proper Church authority, and only ritualized when it was clear that they added a dimension to our prayer and did not contradict the fundamental doctrines of our faith. There is no general “freedom” of manufacture in creating ritual. The Pope goes so far as to say that “the greatness of the liturgy depends on its unbeliebigkeit, its unspontaneity. That means that everything is subject to the Logos, and everything is examined, sometimes for decades, before it is generally used.

Is this surprising? The Divine Liturgy–as it is called in the East–is a love song between the Bridegroom, the Church, and the Bride. Look at long-married couples for an analogy. They have ritualized their love–the pet names they have for each other, much of which would be unintelligible to an outsider. The way they look at each other, touch each other, greet each other is very unspontaneous. That means it is predictable, and it is consoling. The ways of love are predictable without being boring.

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