Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Liturgy, prayers and the Divine

Traditional prayers, especially memorized prayers, and the liturgy have a lot of value. For one, they bring us together and unites our minds in the same moment, speaking, declaring, thinking, the same things. I had a glimpse of what this means for us today in a Communion service. A communion service is much like a Mass, in that there are readings, petitions and Communion, but a priest isn’t present and many elements are missing (such as the Liturgy of the Eucharist). One thing, among others, that remains is the response right before Communion, “Lord I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Today, as I was saying this, I heard everyone else say it too, and it hit me: we are uniting our minds and attitudes before the Lord. We are acting as one body.

I have read why the liturgy is important, but the idea of liturgy has always seemed vague and intangible. But now I see that it is the means to unite the Church. That is why the liturgy is so important. Every element in it has the purpose of this end. We come to Mass to worship together, and through the liturgy we are together but we also worship. I think the liturgy, as one reason, remains hard to change (and many are very passionate about never changing it) is that it leads us to worship in a more perfect way. The movements, gestures, symbols, words, they all guide us to somewhere we can’t take ourselves. Even the phrase, I’m not worthy, can put us in a more proper mindset for Communion, the mindset we are supposed to be in. In a way, I think the liturgy sloughs off the world from us. We say, along with everyone else, all the responses whether we believe them or not, and whether we understand them or not, and either way, that does something to us. We aren’t the same. We submit, even if just a little, and truly begin to praise God. We no longer have to try to impress others by our prayer, for it is the same one everyone else is praying. We can concentrate on the words and the meaning and on God Himself, instead of what “sounds right” and making sure we didn’t leave something out. Memorized and unified prayers eases the mind of worldly concerns.

I also thought about how we can know (and surely that it has to be) that the liturgy is from God and not man. If the liturgy is something that man, prayerfully or not, wrote or constructed or developed, then it would be limited. Limited in Truth and in worship and in what we gain from it. If man wrote it, any other man, theoretically, can reach the summit of it, and be left unfulfilled, because they have received all that can be received from it. However, this has never been the case. With every Mass, and memorized prayer, there is always something else to discover, something else to learn. As in Scripture (which is also inspired by God), one can never reach its depth of wisdom and insight. This would be impossible for a man-written text or screenplay. The liturgy however, always has something more to tell us, in whatever stage of life we may be in. This can only be attributed to the divine. This is only another benefit of the liturgy and traditional prayers.

The last point on this follows from the second. Since these prayers and liturgy is given to us instead of created, it is then more perfect than something humans could ever produce. This is how God wishes to be praised. This is how He wants to be thought of. This is how He wants us to pray. When we participate in this, our minds, hearts and souls are raised to this new level, which is unachievable by human efforts. Our very selves are offered to God. We are united to Christ, and not Christ uniting to us. This is not to say God doesn’t offer Himself to us, for He surly does (through the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist) but that He has come to us to bring us to Him. We cannot stay here; we must go to the Magnificent One. The liturgy allows us to do this.

I am still amazed that years and even decades of going to the same Mass and listening to the same prayers, that it doesn’t grow old. It is these very things instead, that are a fountain of newness. No other thing I’ve ever experienced claims this and no other has ever come close to what I’ve described here.

Check out Fr. Longenecker’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer.

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