The Cross is both Horizontal and Vertical

Since early this year, I have been mulling over a particular issue like a piece of corn stuck in between your teeth–refusing to be ignored, demanding your full attention to pick at it until it finally comes out and you get to see just how big it is. These past few months, I think I’ve finally plucked it out, and am beginning to see that it was a much bigger piece of corn (lodged in an even bigger gap between my teeth) than I had originally thought.

vatican daily

It all began during the coverage of the papal conclave last March. During one of the many episodes of Vatican Daily shown over EWTN, I chanced upon an interview with prominent blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (or Fr. Z). One of the topics covered included the implementation of the Roman Missal’s new English translation, and it was during this exchange that I first heard the phrase that eventually snowballed into months of searching, praying and contemplating for me: bad liturgy.

I was curious from the get-go, but quite unsure where to look or whom to ask about it. Months later however, the persistent little piece of corn wouldn’t go away. As if serendipitously, I found myself coming across articles and blog posts talking, again, about bad liturgy. More than one writer has defined such as trite homilies, empty hymns, even hand-holding during the singing of The Lord’s Prayer (something I thought was done only here in the Philippines)–basically anything that, they feel, falls short of the reverence and careful attention that is due the Mass.

Shallow sermons, singing that distracts rather than delivers? Oh yeah, I know about those. But to add hand-holding to the list made me think back to the charismatic masses I’ve attended over the years, masses that involved clapping, spontaneous praising (even during consecration), and hand-raising…have we been guilty of making the liturgy *gulp* bad?

No words.

Bad liturgy in its most obvious, haphazard form is easy to identify–a priest who takes too many inappropriate liberties, a commentator (again, not sure if this is an exclusively Filipino function) who, bless her heart, insists on leading the singing, even if it’s in a key only she can sing, a lector who brings drama and suspense to the reading of the Word, and a choir who thinks they’re singing at a concert and not at mass. When a servant draws more attention to himself than to God, in the everyday but more so at Mass, then the heart is far away from God (or at the very least, not as close as it should be).

But during those rare occasions (I’d say I could count them all with one hand) that I attended a truly charismatic liturgy, with a priest leading the congregation in Spirit-filled and Spirit-led worship that was joyful, heartfelt, moving and still reverent all at the same time, with a choir singing in unison with the whole congregation, each one with hearts and hands lifted up, every single person worshiping, loving, belonging–there was no one but Jesus at the center of these gatherings. Heart, mind and body all engaged in magnifying the Lord, in awe of His glorious Presence, ecstatic over His gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

Were those occasions, by any definition, bad liturgy?

I then did some reading: on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s actions to make the Traditional Latin Mass more accessible to those who might seek it, on Pope Paul VI’s post-Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass (the only mass I’ve every known, really). Eventually, I was also reading articles and documents on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal as a whole (like I said, that piece of corn turned out to be bigger than expected).

I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the mass. The radical changes brought about by Vatican II understandably and certainly made the Church’s horizontal reach wider and more accessible–people are more involved in the serving and the celebrating than they would have been in a Traditional Latin Mass. But what if these changes, in an effort to reach out more, brought down more than what they bargained for?

In the Church’s efforts to become more horizontal, has it messed with our orientation towards the vertical? Should the Mass, in the first place, primarily be horizontal, or vertical in its direction?

Having been a Catholic all my life, a part of me wanted to stand and fight for Tradition, for universality, for carefully prescribed order. But having been renewed and enriched within the Charismatic movement, I couldn’t just dismiss the importance of charismatic worship.

This is how I pray. Am I doing it wrong?

There is so much to be said about this topic, many things I’ve read about, and even more that I believe God has allowed me to see with eyes both informed and renewed. But let me end this post with a key moment where I felt the Lord reveal a truth to me.

One time during mass, at the height of all my questions about liturgy, I found myself praying to the Father to guide me on how He rightly should be worshipped, on what was most pleasing to Him. I prayed, and as my husband took my left hand and my son held my right to sing the Lord’s Prayer, I prayed even more. Was this appropriate? Was this bad?

At that precise moment, my eyes glanced upon an elderly couple seated at the front pew to our left. The lady was in a wheelchair parked in front of the kneeler, right at the edge of the pew. While everyone else was standing, her husband was down on his knees–the best position to be able to hold the hand of his wife while praying the Our Father.

Our Father…give us…forgive us…as we forgive…

Cannot, should not, Liturgy be both?–horizontal, reaching out and going out of our way to include those who might find it hard to pray, but still ultimately directing all hearts vertically up to the Father, Son and Spirit? On one hand, ensuring the sacredness and solemnity of the Mass while also being aware of where the congregation is coming from, and on the other, bringing one’s own cultural and personal background to the table but also educating oneself on what is acceptable conduct for Sacred Liturgy.

Does this not make us universal, catholic? Teaching and helping each other to pray, to the best of each one’s ability?

I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you were called. With all humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love. Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all. —Ephesians 4:1-6

Like I said, there is still so much to be said, to be shared. I do not even claim to have it all figured out, so please pray with me–to be redirected if I’ve got it all wrong, and to be anointed if what I have written is a voice that needs to be heard.


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