Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Regarding Proper Worship

February 28th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

What is proper worship? We talk about this frequently, and we always have the same arguments, the same pieces of insight, the same Church documents, the same Scriptural references.

Well, I want to go deeper. I want to talk about what edifies your soul, not just your mind or your “entertainment” needs. Right worship hinges on one thing: timelessness. And why is this? Worship’s primary purpose is to render glory to God, and to mirror (to the best of our ability) His infinite and time-transcending majesty. We don’t worship to make us feel better about ourselves, to trick our kids into behaving correctly, or even to do something beautiful for beauty’s sake. Worship must be the pinnacle of our life, the summit and consummation of all we are. It’s a dialogue with God, not an exercise in community building.

Achieving timelessness in worship is something which we ought to strive for, and which should be the golden standard of liturgical achievement. The Mass and, indeed, any liturgical service, is our opportunity to enter the Heavenly throne-room and kneel for an hour before Our Lord and God. When we unworthily approach our Creator through our prayers, we must have the appropriate demeanor, and not have the focus on ourselves. When we pray, we must not find ourselves reciting the Litany of the Self, with all of its “I”‘s, “me”‘s, and “I want”‘s. God is the focus, not us. When we focus solely on our needs (and I say solely because Our Lord did instruct us to pray for what we truly need) we restrict our worship to the now. If you’re the most loyal attendee of the Latin Mass, but place your own desires ahead of pure worship, you yourself are going before God with tambourine in hand and singing “Gather Us In.” In reciprocal fashion, if you’re the most hippie-addled liturgist in existence, yet approach God with humility with a mind for His majesty, you do something wholly desired by Him who gave you breath. (Of course, if you’re a humble hippie-addled liturgist, you’re a rare breed indeed. I’d call David Attenborough if I were you so he can chronicle your lifestyle in his next nature series.)

All this theoretical “stuff” is fine and good, but we need to grasp it’s practicality. We come back to the question of how to achieve timelessness. The answer is simple: give God your all, and hold nothing back. Below are two videos of what people consider “right worship,” but they are entirely different. Which seems worthy of God and His timelessness, and which one seems worthy only of our own entertainment?

Proper worship holds nothing back. Nothing, that is, except our own arrogance and selfish demands as to what appeases our aesthetic desires. Bach held nothing back in his Magnificat. It is worthy of God. The same cannot be said (at least to the same degree) of “Glory and Praise to Our God.” They are both sacred music. They are both reflecting back at God His own majesty. But the former transcends human fancies, and appeals to the Divine, whereas the latter focuses only on what we may or may not find appealing on a purely musical, not liturgical level.

Of course, not many churches can pull off Bach’s Magnificat. It’s complex and requires months of constant work. Hymns like “Glory and Praise to Our God” are simple, and can be thrown together last minute by pretty much anyone. For this reason, this style of worship predominates whereas music like the Magnificat are considered too highbrow and labor-intensive to attempt in a liturgical setting. But wait? What is prayer but our own sacrifice to God? The Mass, too, is the Supreme Sacrifice. Reciting the Divine Office is a sacrifice. Where, then, is the “sacrifice” in using the music of Haugen, Haas, Schutte, and other folk-minded composers? It just doesn’t exist. It praises, sure. It (attempts) to render glory and thanks. But it fails for this reason. It’s shallow, hollow, and efficacious only in turning the faithful pew-dwellers’ minds to mush. Even if we can experience timeless worship once in a while, that’s enough to remind us that God is the King of our lives, and not we ourselves.

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