Some years ago, I was praying with a group of servers and other liturgical ministers just prior to going forth from the sacristy to celebrate a rather complex liturgy. I remember asking God in the prayer, “Please Lord, help us to serve you well, but above all, help us not forget to worship you.” For indeed, it is possible to be so focused on details that we forget the very Lord to whom the details are directed. A priest, server, lector, or musician can feel very good about how a liturgy has gone technically. I sang well. I preached or presided well. I remembered this detail or that one. Yet, the most critical factor of all often goes unconsidered: Did I worship God? In other words, did I make room for him in my heart and mind? Even more radically, did I really even think that much of God at all during the Liturgy?
Cardinal Robert Sarah’s wonderful new book, The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise, contains a wonderful meditation on this subject. He uses as an example the magnificent praise the Lord Jesus receives on that first Palm Sunday and then makes an observation I had never considered:
When Jesus went down from Bethany to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was given a grand, solemn reception. The people spread coats and branches beneath his feet and acclaimed him as a Son of David. They all cried: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel!” (John 12:13).
…When the festivities were over and it was late, oddly enough, seeing no one to offer him hospitality or give him something to eat, Jesus left the city and went back to spend the night in Bethany with his disciples.
The Son of God was welcomed triumphantly but found no one to open his door to him. Similarly, in our age, how often our welcome, our love, and our praises are superficial, without substance, really a coat of religious varnish….
Nowadays, in a similar way, when we acclaim Christ during the major liturgical feasts, we must insistently make sure that our joy is not merely artificial. Often we do not give the son of God the opportunity to do well in our hearts.
(The Power of Silence, pp. 60-61)
Like many of you, I love liturgical beauty; there is nothing wrong with such beauty. The problem is in our heart; we have so little room there. Perhaps asking ourselves a few simple questions after each Mass will help us to better discipline our thoughts and attention:
- Did I worship God or just enjoy the splendor?
- How and when in this liturgy did I encounter the Lord and experience his presence?
- How am I different from this encounter?
- Am I grateful?