If you are looking for good preaching and good music and a beautiful liturgy, go somewhere else. If you are looking for Jesus Christ, you’re at the right place.
– Deacon Leroy Behnke
He said it over and over, but I didn’t really get it until recently. You see, Leroy is part of a small town parish where they have consistently passable preaching, middl’in music, and lovely liturgy, and where any fool can see that Jesus Christ is present in the liturgy and in the assembly. That parish was my home from the time we we were received into the church until we moved last year, and it largely formed my expectations. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was quite nice. It was comfortable. It felt like home, and surely Jesus Christ must feel right at home too.
I had the opportunity to visit a few other parishes over the years. A few were beautiful, whether the Mass was Traditional or traditional. Several of them were quite nice, and the homilist quite decent, and many were comfortably mediocre. The others? The ones that were… horrid? It wasn’t difficult, as a visitor, to detach myself from the liturgical mess or receive the poor excuse for a homily charitiably. Even the priest who stopped the communion line on Christmas Eve to berate my daughter for attempting to receive on the tongue wasn’t too difficult to forgive. He is just the result of poor formation and a child of the 60’s, after all.
It is one thing to visit, observe, analyze, vent, then continue on your merry way.
It is another thing entirely to find it at home.
There are two parishes here in town. One is precisely as close to our home as the other, and yet they are a thousand miles apart. When we moved to town, we established ourselves at my grandfather’s parish without giving it much thought. As the year wore on, we became more and more frustrated and uncomfortable, and eventually visited the other parish. We found it very comfortable, and a step above mediocre. As a result, my family spent the last month discerning where we should assist at Mass. I had very nearly decided to have our cake and eat it too. We would participate in one liturgy on Saturday evening, and the other on Sunday morning, and commit ourselves to being active participants in each parish. One would be a place where we could work slowly to encourage growth and discourage liturgical abuses, and the other the place where we could be refreshed and strengthened. Problem solved!
And then, of course, the Lord spoke.
As is often the case, God had to beat me about the head thrice before I could hear what I’ve been hearing and see what I’ve been looking at:
First, some woman I’ve never heard of rambled a bit on her blog about how she went to mass on Christmas Eve and found Jesus in the midst of the mess. She was easy to dismiss, really. After all, I’m not a closet Donatist and wasn’t denying that Jesus is present, just frustrated because he deserves better.
Then, of course, God spoke a bit louder, because I’m hard of hearing. It wasn’t anything new, but suddenly it was so very present.
For thus he was able to empty and humiliate his Divinity in the humanity, then, both humanity and Divinity, in the womb of the most holy Mary, afterwards, in the small quantity and species of the bread and wine, and finally, in the narrow space of sinful, mortal hearts.
– María de Ágreda (The Conception, Chapter V.65)
Finally, since I am a dumb ox who has to be led from one set of furrows to the next, I was forced to read a the message of the day from the previous week when it refused to delete from my inbox after repeated attempts:
The humility of Jesus: in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, on Calvary. But more humiliation and more self-abasement still in the Sacred Host: more than in the stable, more than in Nazareth, more than on the Cross. That is why I must love the Mass so much (‘Our’ Mass, Jesus…)
The distance, though it may seem like a thousand miles with a carsick puppy, between the most sincerely reverent and beautiful worship, and the most distracting mess is incomprehensibly small when compared to the distance between our very best and what God deserves. His humiliation is already infinite. He has emptied himself of every non-essential quality of the Godhead, retaining only the most essential in its fullness: love.
Yes, we should be offering pleasing and acceptable worship. The liturgical form is there so we can focus upon the Lord, and not upon all the mess around us. Liturgy should be beautiful because God is beautiful. Liturgy discourages narcissism, unites us as Church Militant with the Church Triumphant, and guides the heart while discouraging distraction. It is wonderful when the entire celebration points us to God.
But the best liturgy, the best worship, is infinitely less than God deserves.
And that isn’t even the point.
What am I looking for? Why do I go to Mass? Who is this God that I worship, and why couldn’t the manger be somewhere less… smelly? What am I going to do about it?
Simcha Fisher has the right answer. I only wish I’d found it before I spent a month anguishing about this whole mess, although I expect I’d have dismissed the answer without having been properly prepared.
You can recoil from clumisiness and ugliness, and protect yourself with scathing insults and withering scorn. You can say, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like one of these!”
Or you can say, “Thank you, Lord, for sending me here to this ugly Church. It helps me remember that I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof.”
God doesn’t come to you because you deserve it, or because you’ve done everything right. He doesn’t come because the house you’ve made for him is beautiful enough. He isn’t conjured up by the proper combinations of tones and attitudes. He comes to you because he loves you — because you need him. We all need him.
Fancy that… an epiphany at Epiphany… whodathunkit? I’m thankful that:
Mortal man, enshrouded in darkness, must not be left in ignorance, and so be deprived of what he can understand and retain only by grace. In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us. He therefore reveals himself in this way, in order that this great sacrament of his love may not be an occasion for us of great misunderstanding.
– Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop
Sermo 160: PL 52, 620-622
Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Monday after Epiphany
What am I going to do about it?
I’m going to worship.
- Thought on The Speaker for The Dead
- Something I’d never noticed about Herod’s evil intent