A running commentary by a former Anglican priest who was baptized Catholic,

kidnapped from the Church in his youth,

and found his way back through the blessings of Anglican spirituality.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reverence and Awe

I once watched a man down an entire glass of some of the most foul smelling home-made liquor I can imagine. His taste buds were so fried from years of drinking this fluid (somewhat akin to battery acid--but probably a bit more dangerous) that he barely even noticed what it tasted like anymore. Over time, we can acclimate ourselves to something in such a way that we become desensitized to its effects. This is just like what happens when someone is addicted to a drug, and then continually needs a stronger dose in order to receive the same "high".

Liturgy is quite similar. When we steadily accustom ourselves to modernism, we find that traditional modes of language and practice are less and less appealing. I recall someone once telling me that even listening to traditional language (especially as it is found in our Anglican Use liturgy) made him extremely "uncomfortable". He went on to say that much of the language in the new Roman Missal third edition was too "stuffy" for him, and he wishes it was never changed. Yes, serving God should give us comfort, when we need to be comforted; that is not the same thing as a liturgy making us "comfortable". If we are "uncomfortable" with reverence and awe, we have lost any sense of what honor means. The more he exposed himself to modernism, and the "laid-back" culture of today, the more he acquired a distaste for the more historic manner of the liturgy.

It may appear to some that people got sick of hearing the traditional liturgy forms, and then longed for the modernist ideas (like "liturgical" dancing during Mass!). In reality, they longed for modernism (as they were taught to do by the media), and then incorporated it into their liturgical practices. I know of a Catholic parish that was exposed to a great deal of modernist ideas and practices over a number of years. Then, when a new priest was assigned to them (one with some traditional influences) they started asking for more and more traditional practices to be revived in the Mass.

There is a longing among many Catholics today for a return to the reverence and beauty of the ancient Church. This does not mean, necessarily, a return to the traditional Latin Mass, but rather a return to what lies at the heart of the Latin Mass--deep respect and honor for God; and many of the modern practices of the Church do not help to foster this. This desire is found in many of the new Catholic seminarians as well as in the laity. The sentiment that I have heard from some is that they are tired of "playing" Church for the past few decades and are ready to rediscover what it means to worship in the faith of our fathers.

For those who recoil at the idea of bringing back the traditional reverence and awe of the historic Church, I believe there is an element of "pendulum swing" going on in their thinking. They have taught themselves to reject anything that resembles the deep veneration and devotion of the historic Church. It would be like someone who cannot chew steak because he has been eating Twinkies so long his teeth have weakened. The pendulum moved to the far left in an overreaction against tradition, and so anything that seems to resemble a pendulum swing towards the right seems to be "too far right".

I can understand if someone says that they are uncomfortable in the presence of a high dignitary; those in powerful positions usually intimidate others. Yet, none of us imagines that it is best to say "hey dude" to the king of a powerful foreign nation when we first meet him. Nor do we think it a good idea to dress in torn jeans, flip flops, and a t-shirt. Why do some of us, then, imagine that it is acceptable to behave this way toward the Divine Creator when we go to Mass?

If you discover that you have desensitized yourself to reverence and awe, and if you want to return to an appreciation of the Most High God, then it is time to start making yourself sensitive to the manner of tradition once again. It is time to start thinking about how you behave toward God, especially in Mass. You will get out of it what you put into it. If all you want to put into Mass is casual clothes and a distracted heart, then all you will get out of it is casualness and distraction. If you put reverence and awe into Mass, you will get reverence and awe out of it.

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