Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drying Off

I would now like to move on briefly to the second aspect: the sacred nature of the Eucharist. Here too so we have heard in the recent past of a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The Christian newness with regard to worship has been influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 1960s and 70s. It is true, and this is still the case, that the centre of worship is now no longer in the ancient rites and sacrifices, but in Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his Paschal Mystery. However it must not be concluded from this fundamental innovation that the sacred no longer exists, but rather that it has found fulfilment in Jesus Christ, divine Love incarnate.

The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the Second Reading, speaks to us precisely of the newness of the priesthood of Christ, “high priest of the good things that have come” (Heb 9:11), but does not say that the priesthood is finished. Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 9:15), established in his blood which purifies our “conscience from dead works” (Heb 9:14).

He did not abolish the sacred but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new form of worship, which is indeed fully spiritual but which, however, as long as we are journeying in time, still makes use of signs and rites, which will exist no longer only at the end, in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will no longer be any temple (cf. Rev 21:22). Thanks to Christ, the sacred is truer, more intense and, as happens with the Commandments, also more demanding! Ritual observance does not suffice but purification of the heart and the involvement of life is required.

Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – I grew up in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, and so I can directly relate and reflect on this loss of the sense of the sacred in the Church in those years. Fortunately I grew up in a small town that could charitably be described as a backwater (Hello, Alexandria!), where we were spared all the latest innovations dreamed up in liturgy laboratories in the big cities. No clown Masses, basketball Masses, puppet Masses, or frozen yogurt Masses for us! (I made that last one up.)

Nonetheless, the tide of irreverence was rising throughout North America, and even if Glengarry County was on ‘high ground’ relatively speaking, we still got a bit damp from it. Personally, I'm still drying off. And it seems to me that this tide, far from receding with the years, has only continued to mount.

It seems to me that in broad popular culture ‘the sacred’ has become devoid of meaning. Or rather, something being identified as ‘sacred’ means that it is a target of special mockery and denigration. The idea that one should not make fun of someone else’s sacred realities has fallen by the wayside, to the great coarsening and weakening of social discourse.

Meanwhile even within the Church it seems that ‘the sacred’ remains elusive. How are we to act in church? How are we to dress, talk, carry ourselves? What is a genuflection and what do we genuflect towards? These have become unknowns for many Catholics in North America.

And underlying that can be a misguided sense that, ‘Well, God doesn’t care about any of that! He sees our hearts – He doesn’t care how we act or dress or talk!’ But as the Pope points out, the coming of Christ only heightens the sense of sacredness; it does not take it away.

In a sense, yes, God does not care how we dress or look. It is for our own sake that we take care. God loves us all, and does indeed see our hearts. But the way we dress and talk and behave in regard to our sacred realities shapes our heart’s attitude towards them. It is for our own sake, and for the sake of others, that we dress up for church, do not talk in church unless necessary, genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament and bow to the altar, and generally carry ourselves with attention and respect while in the sacred precincts.

The sense of the sacred – making the sign of the Cross with care, watching how we speak of Jesus and Mary and the saints, being properly respectful of the Pope, the bishops, the clergy—not because these men are necessarily holy themselves, but because their office is.

All of this is to keep ourselves in reality—who this God we worship is, who we are in his presence, and what He is doing for us. Reverence and respect keep us open to the mystery of faith and its awesome action in our lives today.


  1. Father Denis,

    Well... I think we are about the same age...I might even be a bit older...as I remember you from your first summer at MH ... All those years ago.

    But, our childhood and adolescent church experiences are different. I see those experiences as painful...lost opportunity for healing and fit knowing Jesus. Those early church experiences were for me... A kind of rejecting of the sacred. Not because of what my family wore...not because we never had the Sunday clothes...but. A deep rejection of who we were...excluded because of our broken-ness.. Which is the worst kind of rejection.

    In my mind, and experience we are still not thru that in the church...those ideas which lead us to reject each other. I see Vatican 2 as at least a attempt for healing. I my experience... We are all sti trying...still needing to get wet.

    1. Well, you have my curiosity piqued, 'first summer of MH fellow guest' - but I respect your anonymity...
      I'm sorry your experience was bad growing up. Certainly I would never pretend that simply having the right forms of reverence is sufficient for the Church. All virtues, reverence included, have to be ordered to charity, and of course this is always and everywhere a struggle.
      But... surely an abuse (of reverence) does not nullify a right use, does it? And when you say we need to 'get wet', given that my wet/dry metaphor (which was a bit lame, I admit) is strictly a metaphor for reverence/lack of reverence, surely you cannot be suggesting that we need to become more irreverent still? How could that be possible, even, this side of sacrilege? And surely there is a right and proper place and expression of reverence in church and in general, isn't there? What would it be, if not the (very minimal)things I mention in this post: genuflecting and bowing, appropriate dress and speech?
      Peace to you - I would love to hear your further thoughts.


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