Friday, November 28, 2008

Chesterton Reflection #3 - Liturgy

Ok, so actually Chesterton was not writing an apology for litrugical practice in this section, but I believe that his comments are appropriately applied to this topic. Why? Simply because one of the modern assumptions about liturgical practice is that it is a dead ritual. It's just a bunch of programmatic crossing, bowing, mumbling and genuflecting that has no "spirit" to it. For now I will ignore the little asides about the "movement of the holy spirit" in worship and focus solely on the idea of repetitive worship unto itself, and how it is that such things can have meaning. Before Chesterton speaks though, I feel moved to say something on this topic.

Truthfully, most Christian churches have bastardized the entire concept of worship. They might be right in saying that liturgical worship does not "move" the person in the pews the same way that contemporary styles, with their constant plays on emotionality and sentimentality, are capable of doing. However, liturgical worship is also not trying to do such a thing. Ney, litrugical worship contends that worship is something different than these "seeker-sensitive" churches understand it to be. Namely, worship is 1. A duty and obligation of the believer to offer their sacrifice of thanks and praise, and 2. God-centered, not me-centered, worship.
Liturgy is in the style of the old Temple sacrifices. The people of Israel had a duty to offer the sacrifices in a set and orderly manner. The priest led the sacrifice and the people said "amen", which simply means "let it be", thus making it affective for them as well. Worship is a command of God, not simply an exercise in feel-good sentimentality meant for the exhaltation of the believer.
In order for liturgical worship not to become stale, the person must internalize a sense of awe at the ritual itself. The ritual must become an awe-inspiring act of worship, constantly guarded against vain approaches and the contempt of familiarity. I will now turn it over to Chesterton.

"All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumptions that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. a man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. [...] The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, no absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it agian until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."


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