I was given a link to a video about Holy Mass in the traditional Roman Rite made at the oratory of the Institute of Christ the King in San Jose, CA.
It is interesting to view this video immediately after posting about Pope Francis’ remark about “punctilious (sic … “ostentatious”) concern for the Church’s liturgy” in GEE 57.
When I look at the architecture of the church in this video, the vestments, the attentive care to the ritual, I don’t see ostentation or punctiliousness. I see love.
When you love, you pour your care out on the one whom you love. You are relentless and punctilious in your concern for your beloved. You lavish your best upon those whom you love. You break yourself in self-sacrifice and bleed out when needed.
When you love God, you love His Church. When you love God and His Church, you love the sacred liturgical worship God gives us through His Church so that we foster the essential virtue of religion.
When you love you give your best. Enough is not enough. Enough is just the beginning.
If the liturgy of heaven before the throne of God will be forever increasingly alluring and glorious, then so too our earthly foreshadowing of the heavenly liturgy should be increasingly triumphant. We can start small, with the best we can provide now, humble as it might be. If clay is all we have, we’ll use clay beautifully until we have gold. Then we’ll use gold, until we can add diamonds.
People who do not understand why grand and triumphal liturgy is entirely appropriate, do not understand what it is to love.
This is not to say that small and simple liturgy is entirely inappropriate.
The core problem that critics of triumphal and lavish liturgical worship have is a stony heart and inflexibility.
It is possible to have both simple and grand, each in the right place and moment. The one doesn’t exclude the other.
That said, there is a hierarchy to these modes of worship and it is obvious which has priority.
In his Summa Theologiae II-IIae, q. 30, a. 4, St. Thomas Aquinas explores whether mercy is the greatest virtue. Answer, it is and it isn’t. That is to say, he makes distinctions.
Objection 1. [Remember that when Thomas gives an “objection”, he is giving a false claim which he will later refute.] It would seem that mercy is the greatest of the virtues. For the worship of God seems a most virtuous act. But mercy is preferred before the worship of God, according to Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 12:7: “I have desired mercy and not sacrifice.” Therefore mercy is the greatest virtue.
I answer that, A virtue may take precedence of others in two ways: first, in itself; secondly, in comparison with its subject. On itself, mercy takes precedence of other virtues, for it belongs to mercy to be bountiful to others, and, what is more, to succor others in their wants, [NB] which pertains chiefly to one who stands above. Hence mercy is accounted as being proper to God: and therein His omnipotence is declared to be chiefly manifested [Collect, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost].
On the other hand, with regard to its subject, mercy is not the greatest virtue, unless that subject be greater than all others, surpassed by none and excelling all: [chiefly, God!] since for him that has anyone above him it is better to be united to that which is above than to supply the defect of that which is beneath. Hence, as regards man, who has God above him, charity which unites him to God, is greater than mercy, whereby he supplies the defects of his neighbor. But of all the virtues which relate to our neighbor, mercy is the greatest, even as its act surpasses all others, since it belongs to one who is higher and better to supply the defect of another, in so far as the latter is deficient. [See? Mercy is and isn’t the greatest. It depends on your point of view, God or neighbor. Yet, they are connected, for charity directs us to mercy.]
[Watch this!] Reply to Objection 1. We worship God by external sacrifices and gifts, not for His own profit, but for that of ourselves and our neighbor. For He needs not our sacrifices, but wishes them to be offered to Him, in order to arouse our devotion and to profit our neighbor. Hence mercy, whereby we supply others’ defects is a sacrifice more acceptable to Him, as conducing more directly to our neighbor’s well-being, according to Hebrews 13:16: “Do not forget to do good and to impart, for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.”
In this question Thomas is tackling the question of mercy being greater than charity. Hence, even the issue of worship is brought back to mercy.
Worship is not done merely for its own sake. It is not done merely for God’s sake, who has no need of it, for He is already perfect. Worship is for our sake, but not for our sake merely, as if we were closed in our ourselves. Worship is for uniting more closely with God in devotion so that we can in turn be more closely united toward our neighbor who is in need.
It is interesting that the Roman and Catholic concept of piety, pietas, duty, devotion, concerns that which we owe, which we are bound to give, that which is our duty. When we use pietas in reference to us, we refer to the devotion we owe to God. Pietas can also describe our relationship with others, such as Aeneas for his father and fatherland. However, when pietas is used in reference to God, as in liturgical prayer, it refers to His mercy towards us. We owe God everything in duty and He owes us nothing. Hence, words such as piety and devotion have a bi-directional force, which is in harmony when, out of devotion to God we come also to show mercy and charity to neighbor. By religion (related to justice) we give what is owed to God: worship. By mercy (related to justice) we give what is due to our neighbor: providing what they lack and truly need.
Our sacred liturgical worship of God brings great harmony in our lives as individuals and as communities small and large when it produces corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
However, it is charity that has the logical priority over mercy, because true mercy flows from charity. We love is God and worship Him in devotion and love, with the result that we love God’s images, ourselves and others, properly.
Otherwise, it is self-referential.
Those who are locked in only on liturgical worship and its details, without consideration for works of mercy, probably don’t get why we have liturgical worship in the first place. They are probably defective in love.
Those who are locked on to minimalism in worship and are scornful towards its details and it’s possibilities of grandeur and beauty, and instead want constantly to sell that jar of precious ointment, the nard, for alms for the poor, probably don’t get the deeper why of why we help the poor. They are probably defective in love.
The woman with the jar of nard didn’t spend all that money just to keep it for herself and admire its elegant lines and lovely fragrance. She had a greater use for it and its contents and that purpose involved her own hair and the Lord’s feet in a magnificent work of “mercy” towards Mercy Himself. In her humble action, she obtained Mercy’s mercy. Judas, on the other hand, disdained the beauty of her purpose for the jar and its contents, seeing only its immediate utility, and wanted to sell it for a good that was a lesser good, not seeing that greater ultimately leads to multiplication of the lesser. He also wanted to steal some of the profit from the sale, which is certainly self-referential. Don’t be that guy.
By the way, I used the Summa reference here because I just recently reviewed it on account of it’s being referenced in a footnote in Pope Francis’ recent Gaudete et exsultate 106. What’s puzzling is that, once again, whoever did his homework for the Pope in that paragraph seems to have misused Aquinas, as also occurs in Amoris laetitia. The use in GEE 116 simply picks out part of St. Thomas’ response. In respect to our neighbor, mercy is more important than external acts of worship. However, just as charity is greater than mercy, so too worship is greater than external acts of mercy because worship moves us to external acts of mercy. Somehow that last part was ignored.
Let’s wrap up this rant.
The Eucharist – itself and its celebration – is the source and summit, the origin and goal, of our Catholic life. There is no disconnect between proper and even magnificent liturgical worship and works of mercy. Authentic leitourgia, “work of the people”, is simultaneously work for the people.