Summary: Worship must be cosmic and rooted in history, more than an act of socialization and focused on the act of becoming images and likenesses of God
Monday of 28th Week in Course
Spirit of the Liturgy
There are two kinds of spiritual slavery–that horrible condition St. Paul warns against in today’s reading. The first is a slavish obedience to law, the kind of nit-picky legalism that the Pharisees specialized in, and that brought the rather furious condemnation by Jesus in today’s Gospel. In Jesus’s eyes, it allowed the Pharisees to neglect their duty to support their parents if they just swear that anything they might give their parents would be given to the Temple. That’s the kind of self-affirming thought that gave us some wonder villains in Dickens and Jane Austen, but it is a perfectly horrible life to live or observe. Remember that Jesus condemned that attitude and action because it was bad for the Pharisees, not just those around them.
But the second kind of spiritual slavery is just as bad–slavery to our passions, slavery to “what I like.” Pope Benedict says that it is a particular temptation to the worshiper when he writes “worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes . . . a kind of banal self-gratification.” (23) Over the past forty years, we have succumbed to that temptation too often. Instead of listening to the Church, speaking through the many documents on Liturgy, we have, for instance, heard some new syncopated praise song at a convention or other large gathering, said “I like it; let’s have more of it,” and then brought it into worship without sufficient vetting or community discussion. Or we like the comfort of soft cushions and carpet and cover our sanctuaries with it to such an extent that the musical acoustics are non-existent, and we have to plug everything and everybody into a sound system.
True worship must have two properties. Worship must be cosmic, but it also must be rooted in history. First worship has always been about the community relating to the divine. Worship has always been more than an “act of socialization on the part of the community.” Worship is a concrete realization of the fact that the human is dependent on the divine. Pagan religion thought that worship was in some way a sustaining of the gods–we need the gods and the gods somehow get their support from us. True religion, relating to the true God who has no need of us, is our act of becoming who we are created to be–images and likenesses of God. Reread if you will the first chapter of Genesis. Everything leads up to the Sabbath rest. The “Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant. . .the goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man.” (26)
“Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free.” “The freedom and equality of men, which the Sabbath is meant to bring about. . .can only be understood theo-logically.” This covenant is a relationship–God freely gives Himself to man. It is a truly free act, because God didn’t need to do it. It was neither a matter of “bound to” or “kent hep it.” In response to God’s free act, God builds inside us a desire to respond freely, to make a total gift of self to God. Creation, then, is primarily meant to be “a space for the covenant, the place where God and man meet one another. . .a space for worship.”
The Pope goes on to remind us that when Moses constructed the tabernacle for God, there is a seven-fold repetition of the text “Moses did as the Lord had commanded him.” This suggests that the seven-day work on the tabernacle replicates the seven-day work of creation. In the end, as Moses completed the task, “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:33f). “The completion of the tent anticipates the completion of creation. God makes his dwelling in the world. Heaven and earth are united. . . .Creation looks toward the covenant, but the covenant completes creation and does not simply exist along with it. . .if worship, rightly understood, is the soul of the covenant, then it not only saves mankind but is also meant to draw the whole of reality into communion with God.” (27)
Thus this historical work of building a people of God, worshiping Him as He commands, also draws the entire cosmos into God’s saving plan. What we do here, the Church Fathers always told us, is a cosmic event, a cosmic reconciliation. We must never, never treat this Eucharist as anything less than that.