So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 1

Last week, I wrote a post about the dilemma of Liturgy being either too vertical or too horizontal. I must admit, I was a bit nervous over how some of my readers from the West–mostly Catholic bloggers themselves and mostly (if we’re naming them) veering towards the right side of the liturgical spectrum–would react. I’ve read enough from their blogs to gather that there is much disdain towards radical changes in Liturgy, and though some won’t say it, over a lot of the changes brought about by Vatican II. I deeply respect these readers and writers (and not just because *cough, cough* they follow my blog), which is why what they’ve written had me struggling with my own faith expressed through Liturgy. It was an honest searching I was led to, and am still on. And while I cannot say I already have the complete picture (there should never be an end to learning), I feel the instance I shared immediately prior to this post was a milestone for me, as far as knowing where I stand is concerned.

So with a deep breath (and a Hail Mary), I clicked on the publish button. And waited if anyone would unfollow me.

To my surprise, no one did (as far as I know…do those show up in notifications?). What’s more, I saw a number of those bloggers actually like my post (I don’t get a lot of those). Well, well, pat on the back, well done, Pauline!

Until some FB contacts messaged me to say that they liked it, too. And, since we’ve already named them, suffice to say they most probably belong to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Hmm, a post that managed to please everybody. Can only mean one of either 2 things: that I’m a really, really good writer…or a really, really spineless one.

So, for the record, here is where I stand.

I love Liturgy. I love that what we do every Sunday has ties to rituals that date as far back as the early Christian communities. I love how it is so rich in symbols and poetry, and that it is the beautiful marriage of Scripture and Tradition. I love that, no matter where you are in the world, even if the mass is celebrated in a language you do not speak, a Catholic can still follow what’s going on, know when to kneel, sit or stand, and receive the same extraordinary grace being offered at every mass across all nations. And not to forget, that apart from all these, the mass is the Mass–Christ’s Sacramental giving of Himself to all those who hunger and thirst for something bigger and beyond anything this world can offer. If only for this, I love the Mass.

And because it is Sacrament–a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace–it is but fitting that we give our utmost in ensuring that the Liturgy we follow is appropriate, is commensurate to the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated. And this is how we must see efforts to elevate the celebration in its vertical orientation: while we can never truly give God the kind of heavenly worship He deserves, it won’t stop us from trying to get as close to that level of worship as possible.

And that is how, even though I was born pre-Vatican II, I feel I can appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, and Sacred (Latin) music. It is called sacred for a reason–it is a language, music and way of doing things specifically set apart for this purpose. And when done reverently, deliberately, devotedly? Wow. Chills down my spine.

And this is how I choose to think of these staunch defenders of the “traditional way”–they are pushing us, not letting us give anything less than the best, the highest we can give (thank God for that…and for them).

Now, here’s where the “however” comes in.

We must not forget why we set these rules, these standards in the first place. We do so because we want to leave little room for halfhearted, empty worship. But we must also realize that we do not have the same vantage point as God’s, who “does not see as human beings see…but looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Who are we to say that this worshiper singing the Our Father with her hands lifted up is not singing from the heart, or that this penitent touching the feet of Christ’s image on the cross is not desperately seeking His pardon and healing? Our eyes can only see what the body does, and our ears can only hear what the mouth speaks. Perhaps for most of the time, this perception is sufficient to spot those who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far away from Him (Isaiah 29:13), but for a certain remainder of worshipers, we cannot see what the Lord sees, and therefore cannot tell them that their worship is not fitting, not pleasing to the King.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up. –Luke 18:10-14

Don’t. Be. A. Pharisee.

There is a place for rules in Liturgy. But when it comes down to choosing between the rules and the person–the heart that is worshiping–choose the person. Consider the heart.

I really didn’t expect this to be as long as this. But, to reiterate, there really is so much to be said. Hope to see you soon for Part 2. But till then, here’s something you might want to read. I actually found myself echoing the sentiments I’ve already written about here.

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6 thoughts on “So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 1

  1. Ooh, you’re brave, Pauline! What bothers me is when we Catholics quarrel over Liturgy because one group vehemently defends and doesn’t accept the other group’s opinion and Mass preference. You know that I stand on the “traditional” side but I know many faithful Catholics who don’t share my preference. That’s OK. What we need to agree on is Liturgy done well, Christ-centered and not people-centered. So if I like incense and ad orientum and you like guitars and versus populum,then so be it.

    • “What we need to agree on is Liturgy done well, Christ-centered and not people-centered.”
      Amen, Terry. And the sooner we realize that both sides (and everyone in between) have a responsibility towards that end, the sooner we can move on from these issues and build up the Church together.

  2. Excellent. Reminds me of what CS Lewis wrote about prayer when his friend criticized those who used prepared prayers instead of speaking to God more spontaneously. CS Lewis pointed out that we pray differently (and that some may need memorized prayers and the like to get in touch with God) just like we worship in church differently (I recall he mentioned those who bowed down, those who raised hands, and even those who would almost writhe on the floor). We aren’t supposed to criticize how they do it. In fact, he said, we shouldn’t even have noticed the way others worship. Because it is between us and Him to whom we belong.

    • I think it is important to remember that there really is a need to reach a balance between these things (and really, “balance” has been an important word the Lord has been reiterating to me these past months). While worship, ultimately, is personal communion with God, there is a reason why we come together as a community, worshiping together. If everyone just did whatever they wanted and however they wanted to, imagine how chaotic Sunday mass would be! There is a time and place for everything, and not all personal expressions of worship belong in a communal celebration of the Eucharist.
      Hope to expound more on these in the coming posts. 🙂

    • Ultimately, I believe the Charismatic Renewal is instrumental in, as you put it, rescuing lukewarm Catholics. But efforts need to be made to ensure that after the rescuing, deepening of faith follows, just as it did for you. Thanks, Anabelle!

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