Monday 11 July 2011

A sense of the Sacred

One of the important truths about Christianity that many seem to lose sight of is that it is a fulfilment of the Old Testament. For this reason, we should see the formation of the Jewish people over the centuries as part of our formation.

One of the features of Jewish religion is a strong sense of the sacred. Consider the temple: as you entered, you knew you were entering a space set apart: it was walled with gates through which you had to pass. That led you into the court of the gentiles: anyone was allowed in. Within that was a more restricted space, where only Jews were allowed; within that, steps up to a space more more restricted still: only male Jews; within that, more steps and more restrictions: only the priests; and finally, the Holy of Holies, into which only one priest might go.

What a great way to symbolise the fact that we are dealing with something of importance - something sacred.

In the same way, as with most religions, they used a formalised hieratic language for prayer; substantially different from the Aramaic of everyday speech.

And of course the significance of the sacrifices was that things were set aside from human use, and dedicated to the sacred rituals.

In Catholicism, we had all of this: a sacred space, the sanctuary, into which only male ministers might enter; a sacred language, Latin, that signified the formal prayer of the Church; sacred vessels which only the ordained might touch...

And then in a fit of enlightenment, we jettisoned all of that. Everything is so much more friendly and inclusive nowadays - but what happened to the sense of the sacred?

That is why even the little things (girl altar servers, women readers) matter: they undermine a tradition founded on centuries of divine education of a holy people.

Of course, one can get too obsessed with the minutiae of ritual, and we are constantly reminded how Our Lord upbraided those who did so. But to veer to the other extreme and jettison the sense of the sacred almost entirely - and practically all the symbolic reminders of it (treating the altar - the stone of sacrifice - as an ordinary table, for example...) - has been disastrous.

1 comment:

Richard Collins said...

Well put Ben and thank you.