A Short Consideration of a Central Liturgical Principle

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:

  1. Did I worship God or just enjoy the splendor?
  2. How and when in this liturgy did I encounter the Lord and experience his presence?
  3. How am I different from this encounter?
  4. Am I grateful?


14 Replies to “A Short Consideration of a Central Liturgical Principle”

  1. Msgr. Pope…many thanks for this and I will put it on my phone in my “Notes” app to be sure and see it after every Mass I serve or attend. These questions are perfect for a little self-reflection and ask the most important questions.

    I, too, sometimes get caught up in the patting myself on the back when a liturgy goes really well, especially complicated ones, and the same goes for preaching.

    I don’t think I have ever asked myself any of these four questions with the possible exception of number two, periodically.

  2. Can you clarify from which part of the Gospel “…When the festivities were over and it was late…” is implied?

    It strikes me the Author, in his zeal to make a point, has appended to Scripture.

    1. And it seems to me that the questioner in their lack of zeal to discover the truth (a very quick search of scripture would have revealed the truth easily) has accused the very honorable Monsignor of fabricating a lie.

      I too could not recall the fact that Jesus went back to Bethany but then again how many times have I read scripture and “discovered” new insights.

      Finally, a good Catholic is taught to give people the benefit of the doubt. A simple question would have sufficed. Also, I am reminded how Martin Luther in his zeal to promote his new ideas which had never been taught by any Christian for 1500 years had decided to remove books from the Old Testament (Maccabees, Tobit, etc.) as well several books from the New Testament (Inc. James, Hebrews, Revelation) that did not support the new ideas (now traditions in the Protestant community). Imagine a pope trying to add or remove from the Bible a book which he disagreed with. Could you imagine the uproar and cries of Anti-Christ that would follow.

      1. My objection is that Scripture does not say WHY Jesus left Jerusalem. It is SPECULATIVE to say it was for lack of hospitality.

        There are specific references to Jesus meeting with hostile, disinterested, or incredulous audiences, but this ain’t one of them.

        Therefore, assuming or inferring something unstated is a little disingenuous…even if in the pursuit of a “greater good” (trying to make a tangential point).

  3. You hit on what I believe to be a major issue within the Mass, and most especially with what really draws some (or, perhaps, many) to desire the EF of the Mass (they speak of the sound of the Latin, the special vestments and hats, the special choirs, the ability just to watch other people doing things without having to be involved much – as an observer, the facing of the priest simulating an idea that God is out there in magnetic east and looking at us from some distant spatial location, the requirement to kneel in front of rails, and so on. NONE of these, with whom I have debated, have ever mentioned the True Presence of Christ – but only speak of the “accidents” occurring without reference to Who should be the center of our discussion about the Mass. it’s a huge insult to God and perhaps a chastisement on the recalcitrant and on the truly vain who have as their God the accidents, the Fom, but not the Substance.

    We really need to get on with improving the NO form, and true worship of God.

    1. Thank you, Taylor, for saying exactly what I’ve been saying for many months now! I love Msgr. Pope’s article for this has been one of my major points of contention with people. The Holy Mass is for us to worship & honor God! It’s not about building community, etc. That’s what coffee & donuts is for! And, God couldn’t care less what language is used to offer Mass or how many dozens of servers are crammed into the sanctuary. It’s how much awe & wonder & love & honor for Him that fills our hearts & minds & souls that counts for Him! He couldn’t care less if we have a mantilla on our head if that head isn’t praying & honoring Him, but instead, is harshly judging the woman ahead of her who isn’t wearing a mantilla! Yes, dress appropriately for Mass! But, worship God during Mass!

    2. While this may be true of some, most of the people I know that attend the Extraordinary form of the Mass would say that all of those things help draw them into the worship of our Lord and help them to see and feel his presence. They also speak very clearly of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    3. The Mass doesn’t need improving, it needs to be reverently said, mindful of worshiping God, humbly and gratefully standing before Him in awe. It doesn’t matter if it is the NO or Traditional.

  4. It is good to be worried about how Mass is celebrated, but it is better to silently spend time with Jesus and listen to Him, do not let the better part be taken away from you.

  5. Taylor wrote about the TLM (Trad Latin Mass), in part, “…the ability just to watch other people doing things without having to be involved much.” Now, forgive me for asking the most obvious question, a question immediately begging to be asked: just who infused YOU with “infused wisdom” to know what is in other people’s hearts? How do YOU know they aren’t “involved much”? See, (no, you clearly DON’T see, but) your statement is self-righteous. You’re the judgmental one here. Your statement also smacks of someone who thinks “involvement” at Mass means singing lustily, shaking hands vigorously, belting out the responses on cue and with passion. C’mon. Grotesque. A caricature of real worship, that sacrificial encounter with the Divine Who becomes present amongst us.

    Folks, if I may rain on this parade of comments, honestly, I stand amazed (well, “sit” at the moment) at all this self-righteousness! “Oh, look at me! I’m SO much better than those EF Catholics! They don’t know about the Real Presence!” This is all a bunch of cheap shots. And it is backward to every poll and study done that shows it is the N.O. Catholics who are the ones who tend not to know about the Real Presence.

    And even Msgr Pope! He writes, “Did I worship God or just enjoy the splendor?” Great Heaven above, holy priest! Think of what you just wrote! What else IS worship BUT to be “in the spendor”?!? To be in the Presence of God! Holy. Sacred. Set apart from the profane. Timeless. “Enjoy” isn’t the word, though for a soul on the threshold, it might bring one further in; “Awe”, that’s the word. To experience awe. To be as spiritually prostrate before God as was Job. If you can get THAT from an N.O. Mass, congrats. But in 50 years I’ve never seen or heard tell of it.

    All of you: have you never read Screwtape when he said Heaven was where all that wasn’t music is silence? ONLY the TLM has that silence! The N.O. Mass is one effort to “get people to do something” after another — it was designed by people who thought interior prayer, humble silence, and bowed heads meant idiots who “worshipped” not at all but were “going through the motions”. (Notice the common thread? Judging the interior life of others by your own conceits. Dangerous spiritually, foolish on a merely human level.)

    It’s simple: I’ve been in the N.O. all my life and now attend a High TLM every Sunday without a backward glance at the N.O. because for once in my life I have access to awe. Every single act of that TLM is to emphasize the Real Presence. “Enjoy” it? It’s a form a rapture. The only rapture we mortals are ever like to see. If I sound Triumphalist, tough. If I sound self-righteous, too bad. I’m sure 9/10 of N.O. Mass goers wouldn’t dream of telling the Orthodox that their liturgies are shallow, gaudy, and pointless. I wouldn’t tell you yours was banal, meretricious, and, well, Protestant. So why cast these stones you throw, hmm?

    We all need to pray for some humility. Some more that others, obviously. When we meet God, we’ll see ourselves as in a Perfect Mirror — who we truly are. Think about that before you write or speak about others.


  6. I agree with most all the above, but DO find the EF a greater chance, and with less interruption for busyness/audience participation, to simply kneel in awe and adoration that my God is right THERE, loving me THAT much to offer himself for ME….

    of course, he is always there in the Blessed Sacrament, and will point out a much higher incidence of parishoners acting as such where the EF is practiced, whereas many places where the NO is the only way, Jesus ignored as photo on the wall at a coffee and donut social. Not a causal link except what is in the heart.

    It is hard to find a parish where one can pray without interruption before Jesus,… gab gab gab by parishoners, and often the very worst by both lay and consecrated who act as if they own the place, and only reverence due when THEY are putting on their show.

    1. Also wanted to point out that those who wish to pray in their beautiful church are frequently run out by those same gabbers, who near snidely say, “that is what the adoration chapel is for,” (if one available at all).

      My attitude being, well, if all you need is a tithe to support this little chapel, it will be a great relief to everyone when they find out.

      1. Both Mass types and parishes ruined by those who only put on a show at the altar rather than leading in reverent worship, the show-time crowd wrecking either with equal opportunity.

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