Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: We must worship God as he wishes, not as we wish.

Monday of 25th week in Course

20 Sept 2010

The Spirit of the Liturgy

Try as we might, we cannot ever find Jesus “cutting a deal,” or negotiating the Truth. He seemed always to be spoiling for a confrontation with Sadducees–the crooks who ran worship–or Pharisees, or scribes, or somebody. He especially would not bargain with his disciples. When He taught that the Bread of Eucharist is really His Body and Blood, many could not accept the teaching. He didn’t dance around the Truth. He even challenged the closest disciples–will you, too, leave me?

The Holy Father (at 15) takes up the theme of our worship being the spiritual offshoot of the first Hebrew Passover. Recall that the prophecy of Moses to Pharaoh was : let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness. Pharaoh, of course, refuses. Aren’t the gods of Egypt enough. But after his economic advisors tell him of the effects of a couple of plagues, he says, “Go, sacrifice to your God within this land.” (Ex 8:25) “But Moses insists–in obedience to God’s command–that they must go out in order to worship. The proper place of worship is the wilderness,” far from the corrupt Egyptian society. There will be no bargaining on God’s part. After more plagues, Pharaoh makes further concessions–the men may go, but the women, children and livestock, must stay. “He is assuming the current religious practice, according to which only men are active participants in worship. But Moses cannot negotiate about the liturgy with a foreign potentate, nor...subject worship to any form of political compromise. The manner in which God is to be worshiped is not a question of political feasibility. . .it can only be ordered by the measure of revelation, in dependency upon God.” So even when Pharaoh says they can all go, but must leave their cattle, Moses responds “all the livestock must go, too, for ‘we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.’” The only goal of the Exodus is worship, worship according to God’s measure, worship that “eludes the rules of the game of political compromise,” and, I should add, of liturgy committees.

The goal of the Exodus, of the departure, is divine service. The people of Israel will not be a nation like all others. They will be a nation that serves God on His own terms. “In its wanderings, Israel discovers the kind of sacrifice God wants.” It took three months, on the day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. There God makes known his will “to them in the Ten Commandments, and. . .makes a covenant with them. . .concretized in a minutely regulated form of worship. . . .Cult, liturgy in the proper sense, is part of this worship, but so too is life according to the will of God.” Righteous living goes hand in hand with worship as the way we respond to the call of God. “Ultimately, it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God.”

I submit that we Catholics recite the Lord’s Prayer in every worship service because of the juxtaposition of two statements: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done. God’s kingdom will only come to the extent that we do His will. And that, for us today, means listening to the voice of God speaking through the Church.

Once we have understood the compelling logic that the Pope has shared, we can then understand the following passage in the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, paragraph 22: “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.” This includes the translations. I will be the first to admit removing something. I was for a short time an English major, so for about twenty years I have been omitting the “also” from “and also with you,” as an unnecessary redundancy. (I do sing it when the priest sings the invitation.) Fortunately, in the new translation we will go back to the true Semitic phrase: and with your spirit. I don’t think anyone has been confused by my swallowing the “also.” But changing the prayers we are given, except in those cases where the rubrics allow variations, is confusing, and does not build up the people of God. It is a kind of institutionalized disobedience which contradicts both the letter and spirit of the Church’s following of Christ. As we move forward in the reform of the reform, let’s pray that we all can swallow our pride and accept the judgement of the Church. We are here serving God, not ourselves.

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