Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will… It is Thursday and so time again for my running commentary on the Mass and our living it out in daily life. There is a marvellous sacred logic in the entrance rites of the liturgy—we begin in the sign that encapsulates our whole faith, the sign of the Cross, then are brought together into a communion by the ritual form of greeting. Then we, as a group, acknowledge our failure to live this communion of love with God and neighbour.
Now, having received the assurance of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the conclusion of the penitential rite, we break forth in a hymn of jubilant ecstatic praise—the Gloria. It all makes perfect sense and sheds light on how we are to conduct our whole spiritual life—living in the mystery of the Trinity and the Redemption, ordering our whole action towards communion and love, deeply humble in light of our failures, but in that knowing his mercy and so continually praising Him.
While the Mass will of course go on and all of this will just get deeper and more beautiful, the whole of our Christian life is found within the first few minutes of a normal Sunday liturgy. Isn’t that great? While there is a great need for catechesis and evangelization throughout the Church, isn’t it wonderful that an attentive and thoughtful presence at any old Sunday Mass anywhere in the world can potentially give a person adequate instruction on how to live their lives, at least in the basic pattern?
So, praise and thanksgiving. The Gloria is all of this on overdrive, an outpouring of repetitive euphoric delight in God for His goodness, His mercy, His awesome might and majesty and beauty and power and love and goodness and, well, glory.
What is this about? Why is it so vital to praise and thank God? It is my firm conviction, to be quite honest borne out by long experience, that when we are praising and thanking God continually, there is a peace and order in our lives even if we are in trial and anguish. And when praise and thanksgiving grow weak and faint, there is a heaviness, a hardness, a shallowness or a deadness, a loss of vitality or a rising of anger in us that is inevitable.
The reason for this is as simple as simple can be: to praise God and thank Him is to live in reality. To fail to praise Him, or worse yet to refuse to praise Him, is to step out of reality. Because the reality is that, even when life is full of troubles and sorrows and pain, we have a God who loves us, who gives us being, and who has poured out Himself not only to sustain us in our own being, but to communicate to us His Being, to give us His Life.
And there are natural goods all around us, too. If you are reading this blog post, you are probably not starving to death. You probably have adequate shelter and clothing. You have clean water to drink. I personally live in a place that has so much natural beauty of water, earth, flora and fauna that I am quite honestly dazzled by it every day of my life.
And the people who do lack these things—well, our experience in MH has been that the poorest of the earth among whom we have been privileged to live and work actually are the most inclined to thank God for everything and praise Him in all things. So they don’t need to be told; they need to tell us.
So the most basic response of honesty, of personal integrity, of strict justice for crying out loud, is to thank God for all of the above and for so much more—for all the decent good people we know, and those we don’t know but who keep the world afloat just by showing up each day and doing their jobs. And I could go on, and on, and on. There is literally no end to all of what we really should, really must give thanks for.
And thanking God for His gifts, we come to know that God is the Giver, that God is truly the source of all that is, that God is truly great, that there is something There that is beyond our capacity to even give thanks for. And so thanksgiving yields to praise, to rapturous exultant praise that the Reality which is at the center of all reality is ‘all that’ – all good, all love, all beauty. Simply, all in all.
It is this spirit of praise and gratitude that then places us so deeply in reality that we are rightly positioned to really understand and tackle the real problems, the real evils, the real work that we need to do to make the world the beautiful place, the place of communion and love that it is meant to be.
We cannot do that if we are fuming and fulminating, bitching and complaining and stewing and sulking. Internet culture fosters that, unfortunately. But liturgical culture, understood and lived out, heals that, and out of that empowers us to be people of action and mission, in a spirit of love and genuine care for the world and all who dwell therein.