08 January 2009

"And they worshipped him..."

The Feast of Our Lord's Epiphany is always, in my mind, an occasion for reflection on worship generally and the Holy Liturgy in particular. After all, the Gospel for Epiphany, both in word and ceremony, highlights the worship of the Christ Child ("...and falling down they adored him [the rubrics direct that, at these words, the celebrant and servers genuflect]...")

My personal reflection this year is aided by this excerpt from a longer essay by one of my brother priests, Fr Stephen Freeman. I share it here with the hope that it will be of benefit to you.

Worship is not:

- a service of outreach by which we seek the lost…
- a hymn-sing in which we lift our voices with our favorite hymns…
- primarily for the benefit of those who attend…
- designed to make me feel closer to God…

I could make this list much longer, but to little good effect. The point, I think, is sufficiently made. But if worship is none of these things, then what is it? A small quote from Archimandrite Zacharias’ Hidden Man of the Heart:

The Divine Liturgy is worship; there is prayer and a whole life there, the life of Christ. In the Holy Eucharist, we accomplish the exchange of our limited and temporal life for the unlimited and infinite life of God. We offer to God a piece of bread and a little wine, but in that bread and wine, we place all our faith, love, humility, expectation of Him, all our life. And we say to God, ‘Thine own of thine own, we offer unto Thee in all and for all.’ We offer to God all our life, having prepared ourselves to come and stand before Him and do this act. And God does the same: He accepts man’s offering and He puts His life - the Holy Spirit - in the gifts, transmaking them into His Body and Blood, in which all the fullness of Divinity is present, and He says to man, ‘The Holy things unto the holy.’ God accepts our gifts and fills them with His life, and He renders them back to us.

His small definition of worship as exchange says far more about what is essential in worship than any possible outward description. The exchange which takes place within worship is a communion, a participation, the engrafting within us of the life of God and the engrafting of our life within Him.

It is perhaps possible to give an objective description of the service of worship - but to do so will have missed the point. To reduce the liturgy purely to the act of the consecration of bread and wine, the transmaking of bread and wine into the Divine Body and Blood - is an impossibility. Nothing can be reduced into the Body and Blood of Christ. The reduction of worship to a thirty minute collection of certain “necessary” elements, towards the end of which believers are given the sacrament not only misses the point of liturgy but threatens to misrepresent worship in the extreme. “Worship” that has no intention of exchange may be many things - but it fails to rise to the level of true worship.

Prayers for Fr Richard John Neuhaus

UPDATE: Fr Richard John Neuhaus passed away this morning (8 Jan) shortly before 10:00 a.m.
Requiescat in pace. + May his memory be eternal.
(Rdr) Christopher Orr alerts us that last rites have been administered to Fr Richard John Neuhaus.

The writings of Fr Neuhaus have informed and strengthened a good deal of my thinking on moral philosophy and theology, and he has made several shorter comments on ecclesiology which have been quite helpful. When he spoke at a symposium at Concordia Theological Semianry in Forty Wayne, I had the pleasure of meeting Fr Neuhaus and speaking with him briefly, reminding him of his days at Zion Lutheran in Detroit.

His passing, coupled with the recent repose of Avery Cardinal Dulles, would extinguish two of the leading lights for American Catholics.

May the Lord grant him a peaceful repose.