God at work

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In the uproar that followed this month’s attacks on France by the so-called Islamic State, and with reports of more Trinbagonians associating themselves with the terrorist organisation, one Priest has said that it will be defeated with “the power of love”. What comes to my mind, apart from Celine Dion, is that if it were the French President who said this – and this alone – there would be concern about him, but not about Father, of whom this is (sadly, all that is) expected.

The purpose of a State, whatever its type or consequent name, is that this group of people could assert its correspondent values in the open forum that is the world. The Islamic State is qualified, with Islamism (not Islam) as this group’s sole binding agent. France is both natural—another word being Nation, since birth rooted and expanded this people where they had settled—and democratic; and being democratic, it matters that they are specifically a Republic.

Democracy, of course, is not limited to Republics, as the United Kingdom is an example of a Monarchy, as another type of State, where the system of government is employed. But this type is focused on one leader, the meaning of the Latin-based title of Monarch, whereas a Republic amasses public works. It also matters, as such, that the head of this State is a President, one who is presiding (i.e. always) over these works.

This is why the French President or any of his counterparts, if his office is to be respected (for a second look lends itself to scrutiny), if ever he invokes “the power of love”—in fact, any abstract—, it must be as the source and/or summit of the public works over which he is presiding. If this is familiar phrasing, consider that the Greek from which liturgy comes can be translated as…public works…and that the Eucharist, in the Mass, is chief among them.

Father was not wrong—it is “the power of love” that will defeat the Islamic State—but here is the difficulty with leaving it at that: in recent decades Christianity has largely been pulverised, even from within (i.e. a dry rot); but if in some parts it has returned to positive consideration, yet it lacks breath. As such, any talk about abstracts is like pretending to baptise the dust: it has the mushy effect of mud. Love is not understood enough as the God who is love.

Two things may be concluded thus far: [1] The concepts of liturgy and republic, uniquely united in meaning, are related in such a way that the first inspires the second and, if this is done well, the second appropriately inspires the first—legitimate variation as in the construct lex orandi lex credendi. [2] The Church must not (let herself) be taken for the teacher who couldn’t do, in the one sense: her public works outrank those of any State because she is Universal.

All of this leads to a simultaneous refusal and affirmation of the idiomatic notion that “the devil is in the details”. On the one hand (certain) rubrics in the liturgy are seen as doing more harm than good. Whatever its basis, here is raised the question of how worship is conceived, despite the fact that, lacking stated rationales, rubrics are in fact not as detailed as one may think. This point is itself rudimentary, to be later developed, and to say this is important.

For, on the other hand, it posits the need for minutiae. The devil is a negative force and, if he is in the details, he is removing them, chipping away at the inside walls of a house. However, if realty has failed to inform the owner of this pest, it has exaggerated to his paranoia concern for the foundation—something like “rain came down, floods rose, gales blew”. The consequence of this whole situation may be viewed from two perspectives.

Firstly, no sensible owner foreseeing infestation would say there’s always extermination. Prevention is better than cure; and one who recognises God, who is positive, must do the same for the devil only because he is negative. (His person is created by, and thus not equal to, God.) Secondly, any “sensible man” would not settle for (i.e. on) a foundation. The need for shelter may be just as basic, but, acting on the Lord’s words, he “builds his house”.

At the end of this analogical apology for rubrics, the manual for the Church’s public works, here is the instruction to start the aforementioned development of thought on worship: “[The Lord] is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house.”

By now it is obvious that details matter, to the point that mankind is material to the house of God; but, to press said matter, can one be a living stone and not do rubrics? The key is the spiritual sacrifices, by which offering one draws nearer to the Lord: lacking breath, they are merely sacrifices—how are they inspired anew? God himself must enter into the sacrifice, and this he has done in Christ, in all the three possible ways.

As Victim God has shown that even he can be reduced to nothing, though that is impossible for him, but, since nothing is impossible to him, he annihilates himself firstly, in a sense, by living humanly rather than divinely and then, entirely, by dying humanly; but, since divinity cannot die, death loses. In God alone could death and life have actively co-existed and his death both manifested and ended it, but again: nothing is impossible to God.

All of this shows God as Priest: only he can offer himself, just as all sacrifice is offered to him (positively or negatively) comprising the victim who is won over (and so offered) by the victor. This is the message (not the enquiry) of Michael, archangel and warrior—so the battle cry—, and the very meaning of his name: who is like God? The source of strength cannot be outdone by its beneficiaries; “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

This makes God the Altar of the sacrifice, the stone around which a church is built—such is the homage it deserves. Though Christ lived humanly, he did not abandon divinity, but made it his cross which, bare (and so baring the one it bore), has undone the shameful consequence of Adam’s abuse in Eden. There, at last, the easterly flaming sword gives way to the Tree of life, the Fruit of which gives tongues of fire.

Now not only for the number of roles, but also since it is God who has acted, can a parallel be drawn with the Trinity: the Priest with the Father, the Victim with the Son and the Altar with the Spirit. And yet, with sacrifice a human practice, Christ is Altar, is Priest and is Victim. For it is the Son’s place / to offer / himself to the Father: this is the Spirit of the liturgy. (If the last phrase evokes the two works, Guardini’s or Ratzinger’s, go read them after.)

To elaborate on this in two ways: [1] If, as received—lex credendi—, a son presents himself inappropriately to his father (‘hierarchy’ observed, not vice versa), it is a matter of (mutual?) disrespect. Something is overlooked rather than scrutinised. [2] The liturgy is the proper milieu for the source and summit—lex orandi—of this Eucharistic life. It is in the little things that God is glorified, though (just proven) never to be unable to see the forest for the trees.

So the answer to the previous question—can one be a living stone and not do rubrics?—is no. This quality does not appear in one who simply appears at Mass: rather, especially in the conciliar form of the Roman Rite, one must carry out one’s assigned role, even if it is only to reply “And with your spirit” and the like. It means that one must pay attention to the celebration with the senses, especially the communicative ones of sight and hearing.

With a bit of correction, even Cookie Monster knows this!

One who is thus receptive, when frequently so, is also educated in the celebration on various levels—their spirituality is heightened—provided that the celebration is consistent. It is sinful on the part of a (sacred) minister to deny this opportunity to the faithful by illegitimately varying (and I bet this word is similar to veering) from the rubrics of a celebration, especially when this is unprepared, whether out of indifference or transcendentalism.

In other words, the celebration will reflect on the people; and, with the latter problem, it is already visible: people believe spirituality is how one connects to God when in fact it is how one lets God connect to oneself. “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour.” Or again: “Are you the man build me a house to dwell in? The Lord will make you a House.” If God is the architect, his people are the builders, following his design.

But they are also his suppliers, using their own material for the house of God: this is the true meaning of spiritual sacrifice. Practices like the morning offering, blessing one’s children as they leave, adding to the collection basket—even when they seem like relinquishment, it is never so, for the donor is part of the one Body that benefits from them like a breath of fresh air. Love is restored and all can live with themselves. (I think the place Christ went to prepare is the heart.)

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fires of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you will renew the face of the earth.” Confirm in your people, o Lord, the action of faith so that, inspired by what is right and just in the celebration of your Mysteries, they may grow to care in turn for what you will continue to provide. Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

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