Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Idle Reflections on the Liturgy --

"We might have expected some stripping away of the eccentricities and repetitions, the lovely formalities that had accumulated to Catholic worship over the centuries; a more expansive use of the vernacular languages, especially in the readings; and a greater participation by laity newly trained in singing the exquisite Chant and other Church music created over two millennia by the monks and Monteverdi, by Mozart and by Messiaen. The difference between the old liturgy and the new ought to have been as subtle as that dividing Art Nouveau from Art Deco: The same elements, rendered more clearly and more starkly, with a masculine force and focus that attends to the essentials.

And that is what you will see in Rome, if you attend the pope's Mass today - since the Holy Father faithfully follows the rubrics and directions given in Pope Paul's original Novus Ordo Missae, which was, essentially, a faithful balance between tradition and modernity. As the pope says Mass, sometimes facing the altar, with a generous use of Latin, chant, incense and carefully orchestrated ritual, the essential meaning of the rite is preserved: The priest acts in the person of Christ. Christ acts as high priest, and offers himself as victim to God the Father, in expiation for the sins of man. In the person of the priest, Christ weds himself to the congregation, which stands for the Church, Christ's mystical Bride. Just as the priest's sacrificial role in the New Testament theology is a direct outgrowth - down to many of the rituals and prayers used - of the High Priest's Temple ritual in Judaism, so this matrimonial theology grows directly out of the Old Testament understanding of the Jewish people as wedded to Yahweh. (See the Song of Songs and Hosea for lovely, poetic meditations on this theme in the Hebrew Bible.)...
We believe that God marries the Church as a whole, and each soul in particular. The priest stands in for Christ, does his work on the altar, enacting this mystical union each time he says the Mass. This marriage between the priest and the congregation, between Christ and the Church, is at the very heart of Catholic theology. It connects to the sacredness of the sexual act, and expresses the very reason why (as we believe) God became a man - in order to unite the mass of fallen, weak humanity to himself, in a mystical sacrament of love." -- Dr. Zmirak from his more involved article And Judas Went and Hanged Himself

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