Some may wonder why I seem to obsess about liturgy so much. People have called me an extremist and a Pharisee for expressing my sentiment that there is a right and wrong way to celebrate this most-sacred mystery. Why do I insist on those “externals”? Why do I want rubrics to be obeyed? Perhaps it is because my faith is weak, sinner that I am, and bound to my senses. In the spiritual life, I am but a child who needs constant reminders of my Lord. Perhaps it’s because I’m a convert and my understanding of the Church’s liturgical history is quite lacking?
Maybe it’s because beauty drew me into the Catholic Church. The rich vestments, the candles, the dressings of the altar, the golden patens held by the altar servers, the incense and chant. I was agnostic at the time (raised Evangelical Protestant). I didn’t believe any religion was true and I didn’t believe in truth. But I knew from what I was seeing, these people sincerely believed God was in that little white host. I knew these people were worshiping something and I wanted to worship too. I gazed upon the Eucharist, raised high as God is raised above men, and was astonished that God willed himself to be consumed. Only the Lord could demand such beauty and such love. My gaze became the gaze of first-love.
I loved liturgy before I even knew what the word meant. Something in the prayers and gestures spoke to me, stirred an emotion I never felt before. I longed for a place seen long ago, unfamiliar yet all too familiar. It was not my home and yet my home.
My story is the story of many. If it weren’t for a beautiful liturgy possessing the sense of the sacred I would not be Catholic today. Yes, I am a sinful woman in need of my Savior. I am a weakling who needs sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. I am empty and in need of a higher order. I am prideful and squeamish, therefore the rubrics put me back in my place. This insistence on what seems to be conformity is rather an insistence on liberty, liberty from self. We are free and equal before God; no one is so special and important as to make up their own thing.
A sense of the sacred reminds me of my hunger for something unseen, of a deep cry in the soul of humanity. A hunger and crying that is only answered by the Sacrifice of Divine Love. These customs and externals, which some see as trifling, are anything but. They are the facade and doorway by which we become infatuated with Christ. They are the myrrh and aloe in the garments of the Bridegroom that cause us to run after him.
We don’t evangelize simply by being nice, although this is important in Christian life. We don’t evangelize by a set of rules. We don’t evangelize by being popular. We evangelize initially by the liturgy. When Catholics first arrived to the New World they celebrated the Holy Mass. Why? Because this is our primary vehicle for bringing God to the world and the world to God. It is the battle-plan of the People Of God. It is the wedding feast of His Bride. The creeds and chants we sing are our anthem. The crucifix is our standard. If we should strip the Holy Mass bare and hand it to the world as watered-down fare, we will lose searching souls. We will lose the bold voice which calls out to them. Many works are important but none more important that this, for in the liturgy, love is not just spoken of, it is made material on the altar.
“The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.”
– Pope Francis, Evengelii Gaudium