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An Open Letter to the Liturgy Police

June 29th, 2011 · No Comments

First, let me say that I am inspired. I am inspired by your passionate commitment to your faith and to the liturgy. So many take their faith for granted, or treat the church as simply a social club that meets for the purpose of occasionally doing something nice for the community they live in. However, I would like to take just a moment of your time before you call in the Vatican SWAT team for the latest transgression of your favorite liturgical rule, and ask you to take a moment to meditate on the action of the liturgy and not just the act.

So many of the most important Truths of our Faith are often made of ideas held in tension with each other. Consider that we believe in one God who is also three persons. Jesus, our savior, is fully human and fully divine. A little closer to the topic at hand, the Church is both a divine mystery and a human institution. These truths remain true only when both parts of the idea remain in the proper tension with one another. ‘Liturgy’ comes from Greek roots and contains that idea that it is the public work of the people which expresses their relationship with God. That is true but it is also true what Pope Benedict XVI says “The real “action” in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential.” And both of these ideas must be held in the proper tension for them to express the fullness of truth with respect to the liturgy. Liturgy is the public work of the people but it is God who acts in the liturgy. Furthermore our relationship to God is both expressed and formed the action of God as He comes to us and as we reach out to Him. It is a divine mystery that calls for respect and humility and awe as we enter more deeply into it. That awe and that respect should properly call us to respect the rituals of the liturgy in which the God of Creation moves and acts. But it is also a human institution that calls us to image the love that God has for us as He enters into our very lives with us. Jesus, our fully divine savior, took on human flesh and entered into our very messy, chaotic human lives. God does shrink from our humanity and establish rules to protect Himself from our flawed finiteness. Instead, He took on human flesh and declared that He would be with us always. The liturgy is a graced meeting of this God who loves us, and lived with us, and comes to us, calls us into a relationship with Him, and forms us into a community. We must be careful then, to never allow the liturgy to be only a strict adherence to the rules of the ritual and risk missing an encounter with the God who loves us and calls us to Himself.

To put it into different words. There is a Latin phrase that expresses the relationship between worship and prayer. “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” It means, literally, “the law of praying is the law of believing.” What it expresses is that there is an integral relationship between how we worship or pray and what we believe. Each informs and forms that other. Sometimes, the phrase is expanded to include “Lex vivendi” which means, literally, the “law of living” which further expands the idea that how we worship, and what we believe will then form how we live. And rightly so. What good is a faith that doesn’t change anything? How we worship is vitally important because it will change us and form us, our lives, and our communities. We must be careful then to make sure that our participation in the liturgy which is supposed to call us into a relationship with the Living God does not end up becoming a relationship with a rule book. We must never make a pretense of religion and deny its power. Of course, we must honor the rules and instructions concerning the liturgy but this respect must be held in the proper tension with the action of God in the liturgy. The liturgy is a graced encounter in which the Living God that calls us to into a deeper relationship with Him and the holy people of God…not a rule book.

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