Saint Thomas Aquinas

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dare We Compare The Masses? Part 3: What is Worship?



Thus far we have identified the question of comparing the Masses, and we have defined what The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is in its essence. Now we will define the meaning worship. As we continue to define terms and ideas concerning The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it will ultimately lead us to a place where we can objectively compare the two Masses side by side to see which better serves the Church. This is important because if we can identify which of the two Masses better serves the worship of almighty God, than it would be an obligation to try and educate others so that this form of worship is made more widely available to the faithful.

If we first look at worship from a natural law perspective, we can define what worship is in general. The word worship comes from worth-ship, and is defined as "worthiness." Similar words have been used to address Kings, Queens and other royalty, such as 'Your Honor', or 'Your Excellency', etc. Its truest form is when used in a religious context. It refers to formally acknowledging a divine being or deity. Divine worship is traditionally understood to made up of three components. Fr. Augustine Fagothey defines them as follows.

1. Adoration- Defined as being an explicit and formal acknowledgement of God's infinite greatness.
2. Prayer- Defined as the raising of the mind and heart to God, as well as a petitioning of or asking of something of God.
3. Sacrifice- Defined as the offering of some precious object or thing to God, and its immolation or destruction to signify that we give back to God. It is usually accompanied by prayer.

There are two secondary acts which compose worship which are a vow, which is a promise made to God to do something pleasing, and an oath which calls God to witness the truth of what we say.

Man is obligated to worship God since man by his intellect is capable of knowing that God exists. Since man is able to understand his dependence on God for his existence it would be an act of injustice to God for man to neglect this worship. If he is bound to worship he is also obligated to perform the three components of worship as perfect as he can according to his knowledge.

Man is composed of body and spirit, and is obliged to worship interiorly and exteriorly. We can all pray from the heart, and yet we must also worship in an external form and structure that is pleasing to God. It is important that we must first be concerned with what is pleasing to God, and not our own concerns and ideas. We must give to God what is most just in reference to our worship of Him. Although man can himself never be perfect in his worship, man must be sure to take every care to do what is most perfect. This is important when it comes to Catholic worship. Although we have the perfect Sacrifice being offered in the Mass, Christ Himself, the prayers and other components of the liturgy must also be as perfect as possible to reflect the reality of this perfect Sacrifice.

When we examine all of these components we begin to see an image or a tapestry appear which can give us an idea of where our focus needs to be when it comes to The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It surely must first be focused on God, not man. It must be focused on what is owed to God in justice, because of His infinite greatness. It must acknowledge and promote the realities of the Catholic faith when it comes to worship. For this reason we have defined what worship is in the context of what the Mass is in its essence, as defined by the Catholic faith. By doing so we can use our intellect to examine what a virtuous ritual would be in relation to these realities. Unfortunately those who adopted new philosophical ideas, which were openly condemned for more than 100 years by a succession of Roman Pontiffs, radically opposed this traditional understanding of "worship."

Traditionally man's intellect comes into conformity with the reality of the existence of God and his duty to worship God. Furthermore, man through his intellect acknowledged the truth God had revealed about Himself through the Church by Divine Revelation. Man then rightfully acted in accordance to this reality. Liturgy was developed in accordance with these principles of worship and Divine Revelation. However, many in recent history have adopted the polluted philosophical ideas of Hegal, Kierkegaard, Blondel, and Kant, who stood reality on its head. They integrated this thinking into their theology. For example, Kierkegaard denied man's rational ability to understand true worship, essentially separating faith from reason. Maurice Blondel was concerned with the human mind as being the central axis of which everything revolved, rather than the mind conforming to reality. Kant was the foundation for the errors of the many brands of Personalism, which over emphasized communitarianism, subjectivism, and ultimately upset the applecart when it came to epistemology, or how human beings come to know things. Kant could be said to be an anti-Thomist philosopher. For Kant, man is the center of everything, while for Aquinas, man's center is serving God.

We thus have two different views of man and man's relation to God. These two opposing views, one where God is the prime focus of worship, the other which puts the focus towards man, allow us to begin comparing different models of worship. Should The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass exhibit more characteristics which can be identified with these new philosophies, where community, emotion, subjectivism and personal judgement begin to hold sway over worship? Is it better for worship to move away from being more focused on Christ and His Sacrifice to being more focused on human concerns, wants and desires? Should the prayers be more focused on community than on God? It seems that if the structure of The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass were to move in a direction away from being focused on God, to being more focused on man, it would be objectively less virtuous in its nature as true worship.

To be more specific. If one ritual better teaches or demonstrates these realities of how we relate to God, then that ritual would be objectively superior to the other. This could entail prayer composition, external gestures, music, or posture. A removal or change of wording in prayers or a removal of important gestures for example, could constitute a decline in worship, since certain critical realities identified with worship and the essence of the Mass could be made more obscure by doing so. If prayers, gestures, postures, etc, were to move in a direction where Christ's Sacrifice, His Real Presence, and the right worship of God were less exalted, this ritual would then be objectively less congruent with the Catholic faith, thus making it objectively less pleasing to God, and thus an inferior ritual of worship.

On the other hand, if a ritual were to organically develop and gradually add or change prayers or gestures to better convey these realities, we could say that the ritual becomes more rich, or objectively more virtuous over time. Take for example the prayers at the foot of the altar which were at one time prayed by the priest in the sacristy, then later said optionally on the way to the altar, then later made obligatory as part of the ritual itself. This organic development objectively made the ritual more virtuous since that prayer being said at the foot of the altar, makes the reality of the Mass more readily understood by the faithful. It makes the ritual richer in its focus on the realities of a perfect God and the fallen nature of man. It tells the faithful where they are and where they are going in the worship of almighty God, being led to the foot of the cross for a true and perfect Sacrifice. So far we have not begun our formal comparison of the two rituals at this point. Let us not be hasty in making our comparison. There is still more groundwork to be laid out before we can begin.

No comments: