Pope Benedict/Francis’ new encyclical, Lumen fidei (download PDF HERE), has some rich paragraphs.
One in particular rang a deep bell for me.
I think Benedict wove in an argument in favor of a particular style of liturgical worship. See what you think. We need the previous paragraph to help with context.
(My emphases and comments):
12. The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith. Faith once again is born of a primordial gift: Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery. Faith becomes a summons to a lengthy journey leading to worship of the Lord on Sinai and the inheritance of a promised land. [NB: one of the goals of the journey is worship of the Lord. Openness to light, faith, as openness to a journey is a theme that runs through the whole encyclical.] God’s love is seen to be like that of a father who carries his child along the way (cf. Dt 1:31). Israel’s confession of faith takes shape as an account of God’s deeds in setting his people free and acting as their guide (cf. Dt 26:5-11), an account passed down from one generation to the next. God’s light shines for Israel through the remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deeds, recalled and celebrated in worship, and passed down from parents to children. [remembrance… worship… tradition… ] Here we see how the light of faith is linked to concrete life-stories, to the grateful remembrance of God’s mighty deeds and the progressive fulfilment of his promises. Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God’s light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation, and thus becomes capable of illuminating our passage through time by recalling his gifts and demonstrating how he fulfils his promises.
13. The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. [Like our own times.] Here the opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry. While Moses is speaking to God on Sinai, [NB] the people cannot bear the mystery of God’s hiddenness, they cannot endure the time of waiting to see his face. [God does not make it too easy. Moreover, we must learn to seek an encounter with God in that which is hidden from us as well.] Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; [Not all “seeing is believing”! Sometimes “seeing is distraction” and “seeing is not believing”.] it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, [“turn”] while respecting the mystery of a countenance [a “face”] which will unveil itself personally in its own good time. Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face“. [Think of Joseph Ratzinger’s explanation of congregations and priests who form self-enclosed circles when they peer at each other across altars. They look at faces which aren’t The Face.] In place of faith in God, it seems better to worship an idol, into whose face we can look directly and whose origin we know, because it is the work of our own hands. [“work of human hands”, in fact…] Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols “have mouths, but they cannot speak” (Ps 115:5). Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. [Self-enclosed circles, rather than the outward gaze which seeks mystery.] Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. [In a sense, once our fundamental orientation was lost in liturgical worship, our worship also broke into myriad difficult to connect ceremonies of inward looking communities.] Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. Those who choose not to put their trust in God must hear the din of countless idols crying out: “Put your trust in me!” Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history. Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call. Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, [This phrase is super-charged in the last few years, a fact well know to Benedict, who wrote undoubtedly this section.] we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols.
[By itself, this is enough. Let’s see if Benedict gives us more in this line of thought… which I think is a carefully crafted reference to a certain kind of liturgical worship…]
14. In the faith of Israel we also encounter the figure of Moses, the mediator. The people may not see the face of God; it is Moses who speaks to YHWH on the mountain and then tells the others of the Lord’s will. With this presence of a mediator in its midst, Israel learns to journey together in unity. The individual’s act of faith finds its place within a community, within the common “we” of the people who, in faith, are like a single person — “my first-born son”, as God would describe all of Israel (cf. Ex 4:22). Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening: [Instead of a closing.]
Read the rest on your own.
This is clearly a passage written by Benedict. It touches on themes Ratzinger explored in, for example, The Spirit of the Liturgy. He has drilled into the golden calf before.
In any event, that is what I think is going on in this section. Benedict and oddly, through Benedict, Francis, has given us a beautiful argument for a certain orientation for Holy Mass.
This time we are: