Saturday, 6 June 2015

Is Our Liturgy Focused on God or Man?

On Corpus Christi (the Holy Father's version, not ++Nichols') there was the second of the Faith on Tap series of meetings in Carlisle.

This one featured the Dominican, Fr Lawrence Lew, talking on Is Our Liturgy Focused on God or Man?

I was unavoidably late (due to attending the Corpus Christi Mass down the road), and missed the first 15 minutes or so of his address.  Nonetheless, what I did hear was excellent.

Some of the snippets I remember are his talking about a Marian approach to liturgy: contemplative, pondering in our heart, humility to accept what the Church gives us; and recognising the power of liturgy to overcome the poisoned air of the world, like the nard, which was almost a type of Our Lord: filling the atmosphere with sweetness.

He also quoted Cardinal Sarah, on the fact that it is not up to us to change the liturgy to suit ourselves. And then he asked why Cardinal Sarah even had to say that, given that Vatican 2 says it, and every subsequent pope (with the exception of John Paul I for the obvious reason) had repeated the same idea. 

He also discussed the place of beauty in the liturgy: not mere decoration, but essential as communicative of the truth that God is beauty. He cited St Francis of Assisi, who told his friars to dress themselves in rags, but never Christ; and the Oxford movement, who recognised that the poor need beauty too.  He went on to distinguish that from the kind of aestheticism that Dietrich von Hildebrand warned against - which might be typified by the person who looks at the music list at various Churches every week, before deciding which one to favour with his presence...

In fact, he pointed out, the liturgy requires not aestheticism, but asceticism: we must die to ourselves.

He also cited Pope Francis, who sees Idolatry as the opposite of Faith, and reminds us that we must conform ourselves to Christ, not vice versa. Fr Lew even said that in choosing hymns, rather than singing the proper Introit, Offertory and Communion texts given us by the Church is somewhat self-indulgent. A Marian dimension, he suggested, means that we must ponder in our hearts the given text (and music) not impose our own preferences. To celebrate the liturgy properly is to make ourselves open to what God wants to teach us, not to select what we want to sing...

He also touched on Orientation, and reminded us that the current Missal assumes that the priest faces East - which, of course, is not because God is 'over there' but for our benefit: to remind us that we all face East in the expectation of Christ's Second Coming.

He recalled his childhood: raised in the Plymouth Brethren, and later attending Pentecostal services: where spontaneity (at least on the part of those in charge) was the order of the day. And he highlighted how foreign that was to Christ's experience and the formation of the Jewish people - and the early Christians, as we can see from the writings of St Justin Martyr, and, of course, St Paul.

So all in all, an excellent evening, and kudos to Fr Michael Docherty for organinsing it.

The next in this excellent series is on 2nd July, when Dr Caroline Hull, of Aid to the Church in Need, will talk on: Christianity in the Middle East: How long will it last?

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