Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Spirit of the Liturgy, Part I, Ch. 1

Today we look at chapter 1 of Pope Benedict XVI's, The Spirit of the Liturgy. It is entitled "Life and Liturgy." [Note: the book has four parts and 12 chapters, but the chapters are not numbered consecutively. So this is ch. 1 of part I.]

Here Benedict XVI begins by grounding the definition of worship in the OT and in the Exodus in particular. He points out that the goal of the Exodus was not merely to get Israel to the Promised Land. Four times Moses says to Pharaoh: "Let my people go, that they may serve me." The issue is religious liberty: Moses must lead the people to Sinai where they are taught by God how to worship Him. When they get to Sinai, God comes down onto the top of the mountain, gives the Ten Commandments and then enters into a covenant with them. Cult (or worship or liturgy) is part of this covenant, but so is "life according to the will of God." (17) Benedict XVI links ethics with worship and quotes St. Irenaeus: "The glory of God is the living man, but the life of man is the vision of God." (18) Here is the link between worship and life:

"Ultimately, it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God." (18)

Israel, Benedict XVI points out, becomes a people at Sinai. They receive instructions about worship and an all-embracing law for life. He writes "When human affairs are so ordered that there is no recognition of God, there is a belittling of man." (19) Sinai provides Israel with its "interior land" without which the exterior land is meaningless. When Israel flaunts the covenant, she eventually loses the land and goes into exile.

Benedict XVI stresses: "Worship, that is, the right kind of cult, of relationship with God, is essential for the right kind of human existence in the world. . . Even the decidedly atheistic, materialistic systems create their own forms of cult, though, of course, they can only be an illusion and strive in vain, by bombastic trumpeting to conceal their nothingness." (21) Man cannot make worship. Worship apart from revelation is empty, as the Golden Calf incident illustrates. The people grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain with the revelation of how worship should be done and tried to invent thier own cult. This was apostasy - a self-generated cult. Benedicts XVI calls it: "a circle closed in upon itself: eating, drinking and making merry." (23) He also says:

"The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning against any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship." (23)

The stakes could hardly be much higher. There is such a thing as false worship and false worship is religious apostasy. How can we avoid making our worship today a self-generated cult that is closed in upon itself? Only by ensuring that our worship arises up out of, and faithfully reflects, Divine revelation through Scripture. Chapter 2 will continue on this theme.

No comments: