Monday, November 13, 2006

On Not Getting Anything Out of the Liturgy

Kyle Potter posted these important words about the Liturgy at his blog. They are originally from here:

Liturgical prayer inserts us into a chorus singing the ever-ancient, ever-new song of God-with-us. When we bring ourselves as we are - bitter, joyful, sad, nervous, angry, unsure - and surrender ourselves over to prayer, then we claim our role in this choral work. I think it is very possible to go to Mass and "not get anything out of it" because Mass is not a Pez dispenser of grace. If you have any sense, you just don't walk in expecting to "get some God" and have some splendid vision of the Holy One. Instead, the Eucharist is like a good investment: you put in your blood, your sweat, and your tears. You invest yourself totally, offering all that you have and call your own, and you place it before the Lord on the altar. The beauty of this investment is that the Lord accepts whatever you have to offer...even what you think of little value, the Lord wants you to offer. Over time, and it takes a very long time, you'll notice that your weekly commitment, your daily offering, is slowly being transformed. Bringing yourself to the Lord leads to your own transubstantiation, a change of your own substance, leading you out of "going to" mass and into "a being for" the Eucharist.

This lines up nicely with the literal meaning of the word liturgy -- a work of or for the people. It carries both connotations. The weekly liturgy of Holy Eucharist is work. It is work where we come together corporately to surrender to God. The older Books of Common Prayer puts it this way:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, andliving sacrifice unto thee; (BCP 1928)

The offering we make of ourselves is not only for ourselves, it is, to use the words of the venerable Alexander Schmemann, "For the life of the world." We offer ourselves to God in union with the self offering of Christ for the sanctification of ourselves and for the ultimate sanctification of all of creation. It is work. It is our central work. It is not something we do to help us live the real Christian life out in the world. The moments of the weekly liturgy are the most real moments of our whole week.

The liturgy is also Trinitarian. The life of the Trinity is perichoresis -- literally a dance of self-giving love. Each of the persons of the Trinity offer themselves to each other. We are swept into this dance by the liturgy. We unite ourselves with the offering of Christ. Though our offering is imperfect and inadequate in and of itself, it is made perfect by Christ. Thus we are able to enter into the life that is the ground of all life by offering ourselves in the liturgy.

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