Called to be Extraordinary

Last August, our family received an unexpected, extraordinary blessing–my husband, Peter, was invested as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) at Christ the King Parish.

lay minister

My husband, the youngest in the group (also the one with the least amount of hair, go figure).

The invitation came subtlely enough–after noticing Peter in line for Confession before Sunday Mass, one of the existing ministers approached him to ask if he would like to serve as a Lay Minister. A thought he never really entertained before, Peter politely thanked him for the invitation and said he would have to check his schedule, or “try” to make it to the monthly formation sessions, or some other vague answer to mask his decline. Luckily, Brother/Kuya Robert was gently persistent, regularly texting and emailing my husband, inviting, encouraging, reminding.

As the weeks, months, wore on, Peter found himself having a change of mind (and heart) on the matter. A clincher was when Kuya Robert happened to mention in one email that one of the things that prompted him to approach Peter in the first place was the impression that he was a good father (as he would see how Peter was with the kids during Sunday Mass). This comment came just a few days after we had learned that I was again expecting, meaning that we (I more than he) were in the middle of all the emotional struggle that went along with the news of yet another pregnancy.

It was a confirmation in more ways than one.

And Peter, to his surprise, found himself blessed beyond expectations. The monthly formation sessions were more than enlightening (touching on such topics as confession, Mary, and angels, among others), and the brotherhood he found with these (mostly more senior) Catholic men is heartwarming. Just the other day, I was introduced to Kuya Jerry, and was touched when this complete stranger told me that he has been offering his daily rosary for the healthy and safe delivery of my baby.

A Holy Fraternity.

A Holy Fraternity.

As a single woman who had discerned if marriage was the vocation for me, I remember having prayed for a man after God’s own heart, one who would love Him and serve Him, one who would really lead our family closer to Christ and His Church. After 8 years of marriage, I see how God continues to stay true to His promise. And what I said to Peter all those years before still holds true today–that falling in love with him (everyday) just makes me fall in love with God even more.

I honor you, Peter, for always being grateful for the gifts God has given you; for honoring Him with your time, talent and treasure; for keeping Him at the center not just of our family but also of your career; for allowing His Spirit to move in your life, molding you into the Christian servant you are; for answering His call to give more, do more, be more; for inspiring our kids, and myself, to do the same.

What a wonderfully fitting way to celebrate the Year of the Laity!

The Year of the Laity, as declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, for the Liturgical Year 2013-2014

I’m sure the kids all agree with me–you are our hero 🙂

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So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 3

(Finally, 3 months later. If you need to hit the refresh button, revisit related posts here, here and here.)

Around a decade ago, our community conducted a Life in the Spirit Seminar at a retreat house run by the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation. During the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a communal prayer in which we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit–which we received at our Sacramental Baptism–to be stirred up in us in a real and renewing way), the very hospitable sisters obliged when we requested for the Blessed Sacrament to be present for this activity.

Now, if you know what communal prayer means for charismatics, you’ll know that it is anything but silent. There is singing, raising of hands, spontaneous praising, speaking in tongues…people kneeling, standing, prostrate on the floor. Even back then, I understood that not everyone was comfortable with this kind of prayer, and no doubt some would raise eyebrows over the fact that this was how we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. Not wanting to offend the sisters who were our hosts for the weekend, I asked a fellow servant at that retreat to call the sister to come and bring the Eucharist out of the room at my signal. I wanted to make sure that when she arrived, we would more or less have settled down after the climax of praise.

But for some reason, things didn’t go as planned, and Sister entered the room right in the middle of high praise. There was laughing, crying, praising, singing–everyone was just drunk with the Spirit, with the Eucharist right at the center of it all. As the one leading the worship that time, I couldn’t help but glance sideways at Sister by the door: oh no, oh no, oh no, what could she be thinking? Finally, the praising slowly faded into silence, I led them in prayer, then in song, then we all bowed down before our Lord.

We waited for Sister to make her way to the center of the room, but she remained frozen where she was. I thought, Oh no, was she that bothered, that scandalized by what she witnessed? After a few more minutes (which seemed like eternity), she carefully walked over and reverently retrieved the Blessed Sacrament.

When the retreat ended later that afternoon, I made it a point to go and thank Sister personally for having us, and wanted to explain (although I didn’t know how I was going to do it) what happened during the Baptism. As soon as she saw me approaching her, she gave me the warmest smile and, to my surprise, gave me a big hug. “You pray so well! I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to stay there and listen to your songs. It was like there were angels singing!”

And I just hugged her right back with all my might.

One of the stumbling blocks to a harmonious Church, at least when it comes to liturgy, is the notion that one has to choose sides–those that champion a more vertical orientation (traditionalists, orthodoxy) and those that fight for a more horizontal one (let’s call them progressives). One reader, after expressing his opinion that widening the horizontal reach should be considered more important, in the same breath admitted that the Church would cease to be relevant if it neglected to point us to a higher standard. After vacillating to and fro, his conclusion was no conclusion–that this tug-of-war will ultimately hit a deadlock every time, and that the only solution was compromise (which he argues, isn’t really a solution as it entails some degree of giving in from one or both sides).

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. –G.K. Chesterton

I agree, compromise isn’t the solution. But perhaps another “middle-ground” word better fits the bill: BALANCE. To realize that both orientations are able to teach us something, to have that openness to the possibility that we may not have all the answers. To ensure that in every celebration and in every occasion for worship, careful attention is given to BOTH the vertical and the horizontal. No, not a vertical that alienates nor a horizontal that tolerates, but one that challenges and embraces, respectively.

To be so open to the Holy Spirit that we are able to see and recognize worship that is pleasing to our Lord. Whether it be this–

Or this–

A Church that is both vertical and horizontal, teaching each other, and learning from each other. Giving the Father always what is best, what is true, what is sacred.

So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 2

(Related posts here and here.)

I am a Catholic Charismatic. I serve in the Praise and Worship Ministry of my community.

This means that I am very much used to leading a congregation in spontaneous prayer, even spontaneous singing (i.e. singing with words and music made up on the spot). The Charismatic Renewal is mainly about being aware (sensitive might be a better word) of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life and in the world, and consequently seeking to be led by the Spirit in one’s daily living. This surrender to the Spirit naturally translates to how a Charismatic prays, which may involve the raising of hands, expressive singing, spoken prayer, as well as praying in tongues. This is why you will rarely see a Charismatic leading prayer by reading from a pre-written speech. We trust that we will be given the words to say as led by the Spirit (see Romans 8:26).

From Catholic Center for Charismatic Renewal, Archdiocese of San Antonio

This description may seem to completely go against the idea of using “formula” prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and basically the Mass as a whole. But allow me to share with you what the culture of the Charismatic Renewal did for me, and how it changed the way I celebrated Mass.

I think the shortest way to tell this story is to quote the past 3 popes on what they thought of the movement.

The Catholic charismatic movement is one of the many fruits of the Second Vatican Council, which, like a new Pentecost, led to an extraordinary flourishing in the Church’s life of groups and movements particularly sensitive to the action of the Spirit. How can we not give thanks for the precious spirituals fruits that the Renewal has produced in the life of the Church and in the lives of so many people? How many lay faithful—men, women, young people, adults and elderly—have been able to experience in their own lives the amazing power of the Spirit and his gifts! How many people have rediscovered faith, the joy of prayer, the power and beauty of the Word of God, translating all this into generous service in the Church’s mission! How many lives have been profoundly changed! For all this today, together with you, I wish to praise and thank the Holy Spirit. —Blessed Pope John Paul II, to the National Service Committee of the Italian “Renewal in the Spirit,” Rome, Italy, 4 April 1998

The Movements and New Communities are like an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in contemporary society. We can, therefore, rightly say that one of the positive elements and aspects of the Community of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is precisely their emphasis on the charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit and their merit lies in having recalled their topicality in the Church. —Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, at the meeting of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities, Rome, Italy, 31 October 2008

I don’t think that the charismatic renewal movement merely prevents people from passing over to Pentecostal denominations…No! It is also a service to the church herself! It renews us.–Pope Francis, en route to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, 28 July 2013

(Quotes taken from ICCRS and CNS.)

Hope, Faith, Love.

There are 3 words in “Catholic Charismatic Renewal.” And while some catholics might question the “Catholic” and squirm uncomfortably at the external signs of “Charismatic,” very few can deny that there is a true “Renewal” taking place (go here to read some true-to-life stories of renewal). And that was what the movement did for me: it opened my eyes, ears and heart to the spirit behind the prayers, removing the veil of familiarity and allowing me to discover the movement of the Spirit in the composition of these prayers that I had been hearing (but probably not listening to) since I was a child. Sure, I can pray with my own words “as led by the Spirit,” but I believe it is the same Spirit directing my heart towards Heaven as I fervently recite a centuries-old prayer that was written by someone also led by the Spirit.

The Renewal is not just a way for the Spirit to teach us a new way to pray/worship, it teaches us how we are supposed to pray in the first place–led by the Spirit, and filled with the Spirit.

I firmly believe that any Catholic Charismatic who is called to deeper faith will appreciate and embrace the magnificent beauty of the Liturgy (with all its rules), and of the Church as a whole. And any community that does not lead its members Rome-ward must ask themselves what still makes them Catholic.

Love for the Church and submission to her Magisterium, in the process of maturing in the Church supported by a solid permanent formation are relevant signs of your intention to avoid the risk of favoring, unwittingly, a purely emotional experience of the divine, an excessive pursuit of the “extraordinary” and a private withdrawal that may shrink from apostolic outreach. —Blessed Pope John Paul II, during the National Congress of the Italian “Renewal In the Spirit,” Rimini, Italy, 14 March 2002

Pray, worship–with all the life and zeal and joy of the charismatic renewal. But take on the responsibility of attaining a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Church–Her Creed, Cult (Liturgy) and Code. It is well and good that the heart behind our worship is evident–why not engage the mind as well? It can only lead us closer to worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24).

You must love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. –Mark 12:30

Let those who know, love. And let those who love, know–that they might love even better.

Two sides, with two different temptations. What is the answer, then? Not one, nor the other, but BALANCE. More on this in Part 3!

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.

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.

A Heart Full of Love

In the parish I grew up in, a gigantic image of Christ the King looks on lovingly from behind the altar. A design which I presume is more modern than older churches, there is only Christ: no other images of saints in retablos, no ornately gilded beams or frames (at least back in the early ’80’s; they’ve added a few things since then), just clean lines showing off the magnificent, majestic King of all kings.

the altar at Christ the King Parish, Greenmeadows

I used to love singing from the choir loft because the elevation allowed me to just gaze lovingly at His face. And standing above everyone else made me feel separate from the crowd below, as if it was just the two of us talking, loving, beholding each other.

Something I loved even more than staring at Him from the loft was walking down the center aisle to receive communion. I would usually stare up at the huge image, reverently walk on the red, sometimes green, carpeted floor, and feel giddy at the thought of receiving Him into my body. The perfect anthem for this procession was Manoling Francisco’s “Sa ‘Yo Lamang,” (Yours Alone)–

Sa ‘Yo lamang ang puso ko,
Sa ‘Yo lamang ang buhay ko.

My heart is Yours alone,
My life is Yours alone.

Each step, a prayer: I’m coming, my Love! I’m coming to receive You!

But it was during my college years when I discovered something that I loved even more. This time, I found it in the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, U.P. Diliman

I can still remember the first time I ever heard mass there. I had heard a lot about this church, boasting of having had 5 national artists collaborate on its construction and design. I was quite excited to see the Stations of the Cross encircling it, each panel a genuine Manansala. But once there, I found so much more to admire: the “open” round design, the dome constructed to facilitate ventilation (quite an important feature after walking around campus under the sun), and Abueva’s double-sided crucifix (Christ crucified and resurrected) suspended from the ceiling. All magnificent spectacles to behold.

But none as memorable as the experience of receiving communion there. A circular building, there was no center or main aisle leading to the altar. Pews emanate out from the central altar like spokes on a wheel (thus the double-sided crucifix makes sense because one can see either one of the images, or the profile of both, depending on where you’re seated). I began to wonder, where do people fall in line to receive communion? I was seated facing the crucified Christ, meaning I would have to walk a considerable distance to the “front” side of the church.

The altar at the center and the communion rail encircling it.

Then, as the priest made his way down the elevated platform, mass-goers started kneeling around the periphery of the altar. The railing wasn’t just a fence bordering the altar, it was a communion rail (the church was built in the 1950’s, therefore, pre-Vatican II). The priest then made his way around the platform, giving communion to parishioners waiting patiently on their knees.

As the communicant in front of me stood up, I knelt down and took my place. Just as I usually did, I stared up at the cross, praying and preparing to receive Jesus. But as the priest’s outline entered my peripheral vision, I once again started getting giddy with anticipation. But this time, He was coming to me. He’s coming! My Lord, my Love is coming to me!!

A giving love, a sacrificial love. Sometimes, I marvel at the way it is so easy to draw near to Him, being so full of His love. Indeed, the most logical response to experiencing such overwhelming love is to love Him completely and with abandon. Other times, when I feel that my sin has taken me so far from His grace, and I cannot bring myself to take that walk towards Him, He is the one who comes forward, meeting me where I am, loving me there, holding me there.

O Sacred Heart, O Love Divine.

What a giving love this Sacred Heart has for us! It will never be outdone in love, in sacrifice, in giving of itself. Even if I were to give my whole heart, my whole life, His Heart would still have given miles beyond what I have to offer.

To the Sacred Heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I give myself and I consecrate my person and my life, my actions, pains and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being other than to honor, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart. (from the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

Sa ‘Yo lamang. Yours alone. Always, forever.

Worship: Our Heavenly Occupation, Part 2

(Read Part 1 of Worship: Our Heavenly Occupation here.)

Weeks ago, while getting ready to sing for mass, a sister from community and I were chatting about the guidelines for liturgical music of the Archdiocese of Manila, particularly at this time of transition into the new English translation of the Mass. As we were discussing rules that would affect us music ministers most of all (just like that, more than half of our regular roster has been deemed unacceptable), someone in the group commented in frustration how such rules were overly rigorous, missing the point of heartfelt worship. Scrap the “ooh-ing” of this song, don’t let the tune go up higher on this word or that–as long as you’re singing from the heart, therefore in essence praying twice (to quote St. Augustine), what does it matter if you sing “sins” or “trespasses,” “test” or “temptation?”

Beautiful!! But…we can’t sing that anymore.

Yesterday, I caught the finale of the first ever Asian version of the Next Top Model franchise (and just in case some are curious, no, I don’t faithfully watch the series…although I won’t deny that when I chance upon the show while channel surfing, I, er, linger). Tyra Banks flew in to be present for the final episode, and as part of her critique of one of the finalists, she lectured that she had to model H2T–from head to toe. Whether she was walking down the runway, or posing for the camera, every inch of her body had to know, feel, that she was modeling. The arch of each toe deliberate, every step and sway packed with meaning.

Since I’ve started using the Daily Roman Missal last year, I’ve come to appreciate even more how the celebration of the Eucharist is worshiping H2T–standing to take part in community prayer and professing our faith, kneeling down to show reverence for the Holy Presence that comes and gives Himself to us, bowing our heads as we acknowledge our sinfulness, striking our breasts as we own our sin (through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!). Every pregnant pause, hands raised and hands clasped, hands making the sign of the cross. Jesus desires that we worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24), and as our spirit resides in a body, so must the physical engage fully and completely in worship. Each gesture and “Amen” deliberate, every note of every song bursting with meaning. Head. To. Toe.

Liturgical guidelines such as those set for music are meant to involve every element of the mass in our offering. Our bodies, our songs, even our attention to details are brought to the altar, that as we pray for God to accept the gifts that we bring, we may know in our hearts that we bring nothing less than everything, nothing less than our best.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.

Not to justify getting lost in the details (where the devil is, after all). Sacrificing passion for protocol is the temptation we must guard ourselves against, the very same trap Christ warned the Pharisees about millennia ago. Is getting rid of or outright ignoring these rules the answer to avoid falling and failing in this regard? If something’s got to give, what must change: the rules, or our hearts?

Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. –Matthew 5:17

We involve our body in worship. And we do it together because we are One Body–coming before our God who deserves so much more than we can ever give, even the best we have to offer.

Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy Church.

Accept our sacrifice, our efforts, our hearts, and in so doing, may we be ready to receive You–Body and Blood, in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.

This is my Body, which will be given up for you.