Expression vs. Impression in Liturgy and Worship

Mass

This is my 100th post here, apparently. Time flies, and the counter runs up quickly, when I post every day like I have been this month!

Brad posted this video, and I’ve seen it floating around the Twittersphere — and it’s excellent: a short but very powerful piece on liturgical reform by the Catholic News Service (CNS), the official news agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It underscores and makes vivid everything I’ve been writing recently: the Mass of Paul VI (the new form of the Mass since Vatican II) is meant to be every bit as reverent as the Tridentine Mass (the pre-Vatican II Latin form), and every bit as centered on God; that it is the people, and their insistence on expression of self in worship, that have led churches into bad liturgical practices. This is worth six minutes for any one of my readers, even you Protestants, to get a brief taste of the reverence of the Mass.

The highlight — the “money quote,” as Brad called it, and I agree — on the loss of reverence in the Mass (at 1:00):

The missal of Paul VI does not presume any less reverence at all than the Tridentine missal. We Americans . . . have come naturally to think that in the liturgy we want to express ourselves, and if it doesn’t feel like us then we don’t want to say it. But the whole tradition of liturgy is not primarily expressive of where people are and what they want to say to God. Instead it is impressive; it forms us and it is always bigger than any given community that celebrates.

And this is precisely one of the many aspects of Catholic liturgy that I love over evangelical worship. As much as the Mass shapes us as a Church and as a people, it also defines our entire mode of approaching God in worship. I have written before about emotion in worship: how dependent on emotion evangelical worship and the evangelical experience of God always seemed to be. Evangelical worship is even more about expression — the expression of outward joy, outward worship, the expression of ourselves — and it’s probably this tendency that’s led some to demand the same from Catholicism. In evangelical churches, I was so often made to feel, when I was feeling down, that my worship wasn’t reaching God, that it was invalid, if I wasn’t singing, dancing, shouting, expressing. In the Catholic Church, it doesn’t have to be expressive of myself to be “real.” It is more impressive — I decrease, I recede, so that God can increase in me. I raise my worship to God through my participation in the liturgy, through being a part of the Body of Christ and its Sacraments — through laying down myself before God, and taking up my Cross.

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