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The Intense
Beauty of “Yes”

I recall a few times when I’ve ended pre-Mass choir-room rehearsals saying, “Ready, folks? Let’s go down there and commit Liturgy!”

A few smiles, a few chortles, at least one “Huh?”

After all, “good” things (helping, giving, reading esoteric essays) are “done” and it’s “bad” things (like adultery, extortion, crimes of passion) that are “committed.”

No reference (I trust!), to the crime of poorly prepared or amateurly-executed ritual which robs us all of the food we hunger and come to church for.

Rather, a reference to the inherently invasive, dangerous, powerful, sensual, gutsy, and passionate thing we, with everyone in that church, are about to do.

Liturgy is Invasive?

Well, perhaps for the enlightened who can, at a moment’s notice or by default, just naturally, experience the Transcendent as a matter of course, there is no invasion. For them, accessing the divine is second nature (or perhaps more accurately, first nature.) God bless ‘em (well I guess that’s already taken care of)!

But for the rest of us, Liturgy is the crucible in which we, as a species, as a people, as a family, as individuals integrate the worlds of flesh and spirit.

Are we estranged from the divine when we are at work? Is the theatre or symphony hall any less likely a place to encounter the Transcendent? Is the love-letter sent from miles away any less sincere than the kiss offered at the breakfast table? No. Not at all.

But there is a difference between the “…Thinking of you and missing you…” love note, and the passionate embrace of the marriage bed.

Liturgy is the marriage bed.

It’s precisely the invasion factor, the physical intersection of the two worlds that makes the difference.

But we should remember that, when we kiss, although we do nourish and sustain relationship, we don’t create it there. The connection between the lovers is already planted and established. Similarly, the relationship between God and Creation is an established given, a reality beyond all time. So the invasive aspect of liturgy is not the creating of a connection with God, but our self-exposed, vulnerable surrendering to it, just as God, with the invitation of a spendthrift lover, has surrendered the Divine to us. In liturgy we don’t make ourselves more spiritual. We allow the omnipresent spirit to embrace us, envelop us, yes, penetrate us, remind us of our inherent Godliness, and call us to our fullest humanness.

Liturgy is Dangerous?

Not as in “You could poke your eye out with that thing,” dangerous but as in “you get me started and you just might not be able to stop me” dangerous.

There was a time when, and there are still places where, the intersection of flesh and spirit is the natural state. Our modern world is not as comfortable with that intersection. In Western philosophy, there’s been a 3000-year favoring of the dualistic platform of spirit vs. flesh. Catholic imagination has always held the primacy of the Incarnation, the joyful enfleshment of God in the human experience, the familial connection between God and all creation, the vine and the branches, the Bride and the bridegroom (talk about enfleshment!) But our culture’s Hellenistic roots, especially as nurtured by Augustine, Jerome and Aquinas, are planted in clearly duality-prone soil. They’ve held that we need prayer and the intervention¬ of the church to restore unity with God.

Liturgy is dangerous because it assumes an inherent, not earned, divine familiarity, a resonance that need
not be restored, but, rather, merely reawakened and accessed.

On second thought, I guess we could poke our eyes out with that thing!

Liturgy is Powerful?

This comes with the “invasive” and “dangerous” territory.

Think upsetting the apple cart of our secular culture material-world living. Think having the courage and strength to live the Gospel. Think riding a Harley 850, wind in your hair, fully aware of the 500 lbs. of engine between your legs and responsive to your fingertips. Exciting? Oh, yeah. Powerful? You'd better believe it.

Liturgy is Sensual?

For an institution pegged as repressed and anti-flesh, could there be a more sensual experience than good Catholic liturgy? Between the saturated colors and textures of the environment, the seasonal intricacies of the Liturgical Calendar, the music, the art, the sounds, smells, tastes, not to mention the inherent, beyond-symbolism-into-actual-communion-experience of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, where else could such a flesh-satisfying feast be had?

It is in liturgy that, through the simple vehicle of the senses, we are called to reconciliation, integration of our fully human, fully divine natures.

The awareness of this power of the sensual experience is the catalyst for our untiring insistence on quality in the art, music, architecture, all the sensory input which catalyzes and facilitates the connection with the Transcendent. It is precisely the groundedness, authenticity and integrity of our senses that affords the stability and balance from which we can reach to the Transcendent. If we are not grounded, at peace (that means a lot more than quiet and still), we cannot meet ourselves, our brothers and sisters, our God who calls us to communion.

Liturgy is Passionate?

Could there be a more passionate declaration of love than John’s recounting in the third chapter: “God so loved the world, that He gave his only son.” Or Christ’s own reminder, from Matthew’s telling, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”?

In the liturgies of the Sacraments, perhaps most powerfully in the Eucharist, we see love at it’s self-expending extreme. “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.” We partake of the flesh of that Friend, and are called by that sustenance to follow in the footsteps of self-giving.

The origin of our word Passion is the Latin “Patire,” to suffer. Far beyond the recollection of Jesus’ last days, scourged and hung, the passion of Christ is the essence of his connection to all Creation, to the outcast, the downtrodden. For Christ, and for us as believers, it’s not just about the bloodthough, for those who are put to the ultimate test, whether in the Coliseum of Rome or the streets of San Salvador, blood is the quintessential gift of communion with another. More likely it’s about the sweat and the tearsthe daily sacrifices, difficult decisions, courageous stands we make on behalf of the Gospel we read, hear and pray as a family at liturgy.

Living passionately, sensually, dangerously, invasively.
Would the God of Creation have it any other way?

But we creatures do have the choice. At it’s best, good Liturgy reminds us of what excitement, what integrity, what true humanness, what true divinity we are called to.

At its best, Liturgy calls us to God’s elemental invitation.
The all-incompassing “Yes!”

And in the marriage bed, in the liturgy, is there anything more wonderful than “Yes?”