We have been in our beautiful new church at Our Lady of the Rosary for almost a year now, and the other weekend after Mass I was sitting still and thinking about the liturgy and it came to me why the liturgy is the loveliest thing on earth.
Think about it.
When you are in a beautiful building and the liturgy is celebrated in a formal manner with good music everything comes together, and here are the ten things that come together to make it the loveliest experience on earth.
- Architecture – A beautiful building creates beautiful feelings. An inspiring building inspires. There’s no question about it. The liturgy in a beautiful building is more beautiful. The liturgy in a fan shaped auditorium is, of course, still a valid and beautiful liturgy, but a beautiful building lifts it.
- Art – Our new church has 48 wonderful stained glass windows salvaged from a church in Massachusetts. It has original carvings over the doors, re-furbished antique stations of the cross, original paintings in the baldacchino and statues around the church. The beautiful art lifts melds with the architecture to lift and inspire the worship.
- Music Our music isn’t grand, but we sing the best we can and we invested in a good pipe organ. The good music transports the soul and when we sing we pray twice. The organ communicates a majestic and grandeur that no other instrument can.
- Literature the Bible and the liturgy is fine literature. The poetry, parables, stories and letters and psalms take us beyond ourselves. For an hour each week we are lifted from the dull routine of TV and movies to words that are great and good.
- Proclamation A good sermon is also an art form. It mixes inspiration, eloquence, philosophy, theology and spirituality and makes it relevant and real to ordinary people.
- Dance OK, I’m not really in favor of liturgical dance, but that’s because we don’t need it. When the liturgy is celebrated with care and devotion and formality the altar servers and clergy move together as a kind of dance. The process, the ritual, the little bows and movements should be restrained and measured and almost like a dance.
- Reverence any really appreciation of beauty sparks a sense of awe and reverence. The Catholic liturgy celebrated properly allows space for silence, prayer and connection with God
- Relevance all of this and it is participatory. The congregation are not just an audience. They are not just there to sing a hymn and listen to a spiritual pep talk. They are to join in and offer their own worship and prayer.
- Antiquity When the liturgy is celebrated well we come away from our modern, crass and commercialized world to share in something far older, far more beautiful and mysterious than our everyday world.
- Simplicity there is a simplicity and naturalness about it that it has in common with every great art form. It is real. It connects with real people. It has a purpose it is not just a performance.
When all these things come together we enter one of the most sublime and loveliest experiences of being a human being. There is nothing quite like it in all the world.
How sad then, that so much of the Catholic world seems to miss the point completely. The brutalist architecture and bland hymns are a slap in the face to this beauty and transcendence. The puerile homilies, sloppy liturgies and cheap vestments are a sign of disrespect. The happy clap services, game show type homilies and sad priests desperately trying to entertain and keep everyone happy are lamentable.
But instead of complaining we can all do something about it. We can get involved and try to bring reverence, beauty and power back into the liturgy. One step at a time….one priest at a time…one parish at a time.
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