29 May 2012

liturgy and life

In his excellent study on (Roman Catholic) liturgy, church theologian Joseph Ratzinger - now Pope Benedict XVI - has an introductory discussion on what the liturgy is to life, a manner of living which ought not be confined to one aspect of our existence.

(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).)

Two particular points that I wish to draw out here speak of what worship means to the life of the believer.  In essence, how the church is defined is first through its mode and means of worship.  Whether we are inclusive or exclusive, inwardly focused or upwardly drawn, assertive or accepting.

The first point to consider: "Worship, that is, the right kind of cult, of relationship with God, is essential for the right kind of human existence in the world" (21).  There is a life-giving aspect to our worship, if we allow worship to become something that is beyond ourselves.  But we cannot see beyond ourselves, and therefore have a need to be directed - dare we say conformed - to the rhythms and life and worship of that life-giving presence.

The second point, flowing out of the first: "Man himself cannot simply 'make' worship" (21).  Though we often approach worship as something that we ourselves are doing, this is not the way creation was intended to be.  Worship is a response to God, and he has given to us the right and wrong ways of offering sacrifices of praise.  I believe that these are not constrained and confined categories, but are directions through which every part of our lives can be rightly offered as worship of God.  However, this can only happen when we receive from heaven that Spirit which enables us to cry, "Abba, Father!"

These two points are slices of the whole; they are not far apart from the other.  Human existence needs the life which comes from outside of itself - the life which, by its very nature (and ours), is unattainable for humanity.  Within a liturgical context we enter into a relationship that requires our conforming to the image of Christ rather than happily reinforcing the disfiguring of the imago Dei by living as we so desire.

When we do not listen to the second point, accepting the notion that worship is something of ourselves, then we begin to talk about the congregation as the audience, the churchgoer as the consumer, and worship as an event (even worse still, worship as nothing more than the music at said event).  "Liturgy implies a real relationship with Another, who reveals himself to us and gives our existence a new direction" (22).  Indeed, a new direction and a new life is necessary - not simply for our blessing, but for our very survival as humanity.  I grow increasingly concerned with the amount of churches who claim to be the people of God, summoned to "Come out and be pure," who try everything in their power to be as similar to their culture as everything else.  We miss out on the inspiration and life of the Holy Spirit, and we do not have the presence which stands "above the circle of the earth" that can radically transform our lives and our world.

Discovering liturgy is something that is quite important.  From this point, one could enter into a number of arguments and debates over which liturgy is correct - obviously Ratzinger has his own take on this as well.  But that is not the primary focus of this chapter (or of much of his book, for that matter).  Here it is simply a summons to find something which is greater and more dynamic than the realm of human existence itself.  And that is found in the presence of our Creator.

As for me, I have been opening up to liturgical practices increasingly throughout my life.  I was raised in the "low church" tradition and, though I have worshipped with Lutherans and Methodists along the way, have primarily been in congregationalist situations.  But what I have discovered is that, within most church traditions (currently I am among the Brethren tradition), there are ample opportunities to set liturgies into place without violating the tradition itself.  And, I have discovered that by far most people resonate with the depth and rhythm of such a life.  Why?  Because we need it.  Over the past few years we have developed a liturgical approach to Sunday worship that is rooted in Scripture - very similar to what The Divine Hours seeks to accomplish - that seems to strike the right balance.  So, the opportunities are there, though it might take some creativity and trial-and-error to see what happens.  I am convinced that the church has a responsibility to edify the body of faith in this manner, all for the life God intended to create.

No comments: