Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the need for proper liturgy

According to Shawn Tribe at NLM, those of us who love liturgy enough to want to see it done correctly are not, in fact, completely nuts as has been suggested to me before. In his The Nature and Social Implications of the Liturgical Act he lays out a well-reasoned explication of the importance of proper liturgy to the application of Christian teaching in all its phases. Even if you know all the arguments, it would be good to read his post if for no other reason than to refresh yourself again. Some selected highlights:

What must be first noted about this way of thinking is that found within it is a fundamental misperception of the substantial nature of the Mass. The Mass is not first and foremost a tool for Eucharistic piety or adoration. Eucharistic piety is a noble thing of course, and one of the most solemn moments of the Mass finds us adoring the Body and Blood of Christ, but that is not the primary end of the liturgical act. Neither is the Mass primarily a vehicle for the reception of the Eucharist -- though frequent and worthy reception of the Eucharist brings with it many important graces of course. The Mass is not even primarily about our own sanctification. To comprehend the essential nature of the Christian liturgy bears minding the nature of the Jewish Temple liturgies and their sacrificial offerings and how that imperfectly foreshadowed the Christian liturgy and Sacrifice of Christ. The Christian liturgy is first and foremost an act of rendering due worship to God the Father through the perpetuated sacrifice and offering of God the Son. It is this sacrificial nature of the liturgy and the worship of God the Father that particularly drives the liturgical act. It is important that we have this proper understanding of the primary end of the Mass for all else flows from this. This is also why we should not make Eucharistic piety to be the be-all and end-all of the liturgy. In point of fact, worship and sacrifice are the be-all and end-all of the liturgy.
It is not legalistic to be concerned with such matters. Legalism is ultimately narcissistic in nature because it is concerned with rules or traditions for their own sake. But the sort of concern we are speaking of is precisely rooted in a consideration and awareness of the relationship of liturgical form to spiritual and theological realities. It is therefore precisely the opposite of legalism.
If we wish, for example, to address attitudes that are contrary to the Gospel of Life, we need to consider our parishes and particularly the liturgy that occurs within them. How are they forming people? Are they affecting deep personal relationships with God? Those liturgies are the primary contact of most of the faithful with both God and the Church and they both dispose people and form them in particular ways. If there is a lack there, this will certainly have a domino effect that will extend to other areas, including social matters. By contrast, right worship -- being tied with right belief -- is a fount from which right Christian action flows. Ultimately we are speaking about personal conversion to God's will and conversion lends itself to proper Christian action. (It is worth considering that the saints of the Church were amongst the greatest of those who worked to address social problems and they were also people of profound prayer who adored God through the liturgy and the sacraments. The latter nourished the former.)