Summary: As C.S. Lewis said, while we are wondering where our feet go next, we are not dancing; thus we need rubrics and familiar prayers in our worship.
Sixth Sunday in Course
February 13, 2011
Spirit of the Liturgy
Today we are challenged to consider the place of law in our lives. In the psalm we prayed for divine understanding, so that we may keep God’s law and observe it wholeheartedly. The Offertory verse pleads “Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your ordinances. Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your ordinances. I have with my lips proclaimed all the judgements of your mouth.”
This age is no friend of law. We might be so bold as to call the generations born after 1935 “antinomian”–anti-law generations. Small wonder. We matured, so to speak, during the revolution that had the motto, “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” In an era of Jim Crow legislation, we were rightly taught that there are just laws and unjust laws, but somehow got the idea that any law that interfered with our particular favorite activity, or got in the way of our pleasure, was unjust. The Supreme Court played enabler for this twisted thinking in 1973 when they overturned every law that protected children in the first nine months of their lives. The result has been a widespread disrespect for law among the citizenry.
This antinomian thinking has infected the Churches and ecclesial communities of our country as well. I believe the bishops unwittingly contributed to this infection when, in November, 1966, they released American Catholics from the strict obligation under pain of sin to refrain from eating flesh meat on Fridays. They did encourage us to freely make “of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.” But the general opinion was, as one person expressed it, “Joe could die and go to hell for eating a hamburger on the first Friday of November, 1966, but his twin brother could die and go to heaven having eaten a hamburger on the first Friday of December.” At the same time, of course, so-called Catholic theologians were telling young marrieds that the use of the Pill was permissible, despite the two-thousand year old teaching of the Church of the evil of contraception.
What is the good of Law? Law, in particular the natural moral law expressed in the Ten Commandments, is like the operating system for our human person. It’s a fact that if you fiddle with the operating system of your computer, it won’t boot up properly. Likewise, when we violate the operating rules God has established for our spirits, souls and bodies, we damage ourselves. Injure another person and there is a complementary injury to our own soul. We call it mortal sin. Lie to another, or to yourself, and you enter a world in which Truth is relative to your feelings and self-interest. Ultimately you lose track of what is true and what is false.
Law gives a power to our common life. Consider the recent disorders in Egypt, for instance. When thousands gathered in one place with the intention of bringing down the government, police were pulled from all over Cairo to control and keep order. This left neighborhoods bare of protection, and massive looting and violence and vigilantism resulted. A society of persons who obey just laws is a calm and well-functioning society, whose tax moneys can be used for purposes other than catching bad guys.
This brings us to consider our liturgical laws, the documents that order our worship. Why do we worship? Does our common prayer, our coming together, our song and praise and hearing God’s word, our Eucharistic sacrifice, do anything for God? God is perfect in Himself. He does not need our praise, our money, our bread and wine. He revealed that even in the Old Testament, where in Psalm 50 he asks “do you think I eat the meat of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” No, we worship for two reasons: first, praising God together improves our lives, does good for us individually and as a community. The Maronite liturgy says it best: “our praises improve our mouths.” When we hear the Word of God, we hear God’s love song for us, we understand better how to live our lives and how to help others. When we take the Body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ into ourselves at communion, we are changed into His image and empowered to say with Jesus and Mary, “thy will be done, be it done to me according to thy will.”
Second, and of equal importance, we worship together for a reason beyond self-improvement. We are not a closed community of belief. We open our arms to the world because God’s love is for all. We must be a community of evangelists–preachers of God’s good news by our word and deed. Our orthodoxy–our right praise–should attract others and inspire them to become practicing Catholics themselves.