Friday, May 6, 2011

Why the Incarnation Matters: The Point of Worship

I am sure we have all heard this a million times. Perhaps we have even said it to ourselves. “I am just not getting enough out of Mass.” The fallen away Catholic says this, and goes to look for a Protestant Church that “gives” them something. The abomination of desolation parish liturgical councils engage in elaborate planning to maximize what people “get” out of Mass.

Whenever this happens, we need to tell them in a not so polite manner “you are doing it wrong.” I would daresay that when we approach Mass like this, we are betraying not just the faith, but the very person of Our Lord Himself. Not only are we betraying Him, we are saying that His Incarnation is pointless.

Yes, I just said that. To all of you who are devising the latest way to make your liturgy creative, you deny the importance of the Incarnation. To those who feel that Mass is primarily about what they get out of it, we need to send you to a re-education facility.

The first lesson of that facility will be a question. Why did the Incarnation occur? We could say “so the Son of God could become man.” That is true, but that simply describes what occurred, not why it did. We could say “so He could die on the cross for our sins.” This again is true, but merely a description of events, not why they were necessary. In order to get to the truth, one must venture to the Psalms, as interpreted by the writer of the Hebrews:

For when he came into the world he said: Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, but a body thou hast fitted me. Then I said, behold I come. In the head of the book it is written of me, that I should do your will.
This was the reason for the Incarnation. First and foremost, the Incarnation was an act of worship to the Father. Christ became man so He could offer Himself on the Cross to glorify the Father.

Furthermore, the Incarnation allowed true worship to take place. The law had plenty of sacrifices and oblations to offer. Yet the New Covenant had to be something better. Christ shows what that “better” is. He offers Himself, holding absolutely nothing back. Not only did He not do this for His own sake, He expects us to do likewise. He demands of us that we take up our own cross and follow Him.

As an aside, this is one of the most powerful reasons for celebrating Mass ad orientam. The priest stands in the person of Christ, and with the authority of Christ in offering the sacrifice. The priest leads to the altar, we follow him.  Let that sink in. We follow Christ in taking our own crosses to Mass.

Those own crosses are no doubt our sins. As such, we can never offer ourselves perfectly to the Father. There is always something within us holding us back, fallen humans that we are. Yet at the Mass, that perfect offering is offered. We “add” our own sufferings and flawed offering of ourselves alongside Jesus, asking Him to cleanse it through His blood. Not because we are “adding to the finished work of Christ.” Such is impossible. Yet we should still desire to do the will of the Lord, and the will of the Lord is that we hold nothing back of ourselves.

With this in mind, we can ask the question: Did Christ “get” anything out of the Incarnation? Did He feel “fed” by the Church of His day? The “food” He received was the food of blows to the face. He “got” betrayed by a member of His inner circle. The man He stated was a rock solid foundation upon which His Church would be built denied Him. The very people He tried to save ended up having Him executed.

Was the Incarnation then a failure? Was there something lacking from Calvary? On the contrary, this made the worship offered to the Father all the more efficacious. Anyone can say “Blessed be the Lord” in times of greatness. Yet to truly do the will of the Father is to say “Blessed be the Lord” in every moment, and to follow that up with your actions.

Perhaps that is why our worship is so abysmal today. In so many Churches, we demand these abominations pastoral committees be tailored around us. We suddenly think that everything should revolve around us. Even the supreme act of worship to the Father should be centered on us!

Yet what of the idea that worship is also a source of great instruction to the faithful? Do we not “get” something out of that? Here we come to the idea so thoroughly Western and so thoroughly wrong. This idea holds that only that which is in intellectual abstractions can be called “knowledge.” This has absolutely no basis in the Gospel.

Through reflection on our sins, do we not “learn” our unworthiness before God? In uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ, do we not “learn” that Christ’s sacrifice must purify our very unworthy offering to the Father of ourselves? Do we not “learn” the requirement of humility when we passively receive Holy Communion, as opposed to the grasping by force of the tree by Adam? I would say these things offer greater instruction than a thousand excellent homilies, or better yet, a thousand things we could “do” to make people “understand” Mass more.  Before you complain about what you "get" out of Mass, perhaps you should question what you put into it.

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