Tonight my husband and I went to the first talk of four on the Liturgy. Through these four talks we’ll get a good history of the Liturgy in Christian worship that will lead up to a discussion on why the texts will be changing starting in Advent 2011. Next week the speaker will be discussing the changes that took place with the Council of Trent in the 16th century followed by a discussion the following week on Vatican II, and ending the final week with a discussion on some of the upcoming changes.
But to start things off, the Bishop gave an overview tonight of Liturgy from Judaic times to today. As always, he gave a great talk with a ton of information!! His vast knowledge is always so evident on any given topic. I always learn something.
He broke the talk down into seven parts, but I won’t reiterate all of those here. There were plenty of interesting points I could share (aren’t you glad I wasn’t taking notes!), but one really struck me. It had to do with why we participate in Liturgy and who the Liturgy is for. Are we there to “get something out of it?” Are we there to just rejoice and give praise? Or is there more to it?
So often when you talk to someone who is unhappy with the Catholic Church, one of the familiar lines you get is that they don’t feel they “get anything” out of Mass. But that’s totally missing the point.
In Exodus chapter 32 the Hebrew people are worshipping the golden calf while dancing and feasting and being merry. This section is often used to teach against idolatry. However, the Bishop pointed out tonight that it is much more than that. The Hebrew people had forgotten what God had asked of them and were trying to create a more tangible god, something visible and concrete. But they were only thinking of themselves and what they needed, or actually, wanted, out of that relationship with God.
They had also forgotten that what God asks of His people is non-negotiable. Go back to where Moses is asking Pharaoh to let God’s people go out of the land to worship Him. Pharaoh tries to negotiate, but Moses won’t. God gave specific instructions and it wasn’t up to Moses to negotiate, those instructions had to be followed.
The passage about the golden calf is a good example of what happens when we forget that God wants to be worshipped in a certain way. When we start making it about how we feel and try to turn Sunday worship services into entertainment, we forget what God has asked of us.
So what has he asked of us? He wants us to come together as community to worship Him in how He has instructed us. And those instructions aren’t up for debate. It is why the Catholic Church has celebrated the Mass in basically the same way for almost 2000 years. The Holy Spirit led the Apostles in the right form of worship and we continue that tradition today. Even with the changes that have occurred over the centuries, the basics of the mass have always been the same. (Check out St. Justin Martyr's description of how the Christian people worshipped: it’s the Mass!! And he wrote that in ca. 155 A.D.!)
Are we at Mass to “get something” out of it? Well, hopefully, yes. But ultimately it’s not about us. It’s about God and God alone.
Another quick point: the Bishop also talked about how our earthly liturgy may be imperfect, but it is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy which we hope to participate in one day. He said that we are rehearsing here for what awaits us there. As a musician, that makes perfect sense! You can’t go to the performance without first doing the rehearsal!