The Liturgy is More Than a Text

One of the greatest liturgical shifts in the last sixty years has been in the area of language and the spoken word. Although the almost complete disappearance of Latin is lamentable, the use of the vernacular has arguably had some positive effects. To my mind, the augmentation of the Scriptures used has been notable and helpful. In addition, greater emphasis has been placed on preaching and preparing the clergy to be able to preach well.

The most recent debates concern a thirty-year struggle in English-speaking areas to get authentic translations of the Latin texts promulgated. The emphasis on and debate about the texts of the liturgy is necessary and has had good effects.

However, this focus on the texts has tended to reduce the liturgy to its texts alone, as if the intelligibility of the vernacular text ensures that the Mass is understood. Supposedly, people can now “understand” what is going on and what is being said. Other areas such as architectural and aesthetic beauty, music, the ars celebrandi (the manner in which the clergy and ministers conduct themselves during the liturgy), and deeper theological understanding and appreciation of the liturgy have all suffered as a result. It does matter whether the church building is awe-inspiring or ugly, whether the music is inspiring and teaches sound doctrine or is mundane and devoid of doctrine (or even contains faulty doctrine). There is more to focus on that just making sure that liturgical texts are intelligible and the Homily “meaningful.” God is worthy of our best and His people respond to more than just words.

Perhaps a quote from Rev. Uwe Michael Lang would be helpful:

The sacred liturgy speaks through a variety of “languages” other than language in the strict sense. [These are] non-verbal symbols which are capable of creating a structure of meanings in which individuals can relate one to another. … It is my conviction that these non-linguistic or symbolic expressions of the liturgy are, in fact, more important than language itself.

This would seem especially pertinent in today’s world where images are omnipresent: on TV, video and computer screens …. We live in a culture of images …. Today the image tends to make a more lasting impression on people’s minds than the spoken word.

The power of image has long been known in the Church’s liturgical tradition, which has used sacred art and architecture as a medium of expression and communication.

But, in more recent times [there is] observed a tendency to see liturgy only as text. And to limit participation to speaking roles …. It certainly applies to a broad stream of liturgical scholarship that has largely focused on liturgical texts that are contained in written sources from late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. … This approach is legitimate, at least to a large extent, because the Church’s public worship is ordered to the official texts she uses for it.

However, … it is sometimes forgotten that the liturgy is not simply a series of texts to be read, but rather a series of sacred actions to be done … words, music, and movement, together with other visual, even olfactory elements (Sacred Liturgy: The Proceedings of the International Conference on the Sacred Liturgy 2013, Ignatius Press, pp. 187-189).

Rev. Lang does not assert that the sacred texts are to be neglected but that things have gotten a bit out of balance and it is time to put more focus on other aspects of the liturgy for a while. Even a text translated authentically and well-delivered can fall flat in an atmosphere of sloppy liturgy, ugly and uninspiring architecture, and insipid music. Thus, we do well to spend some time now on visual and other non-verbal aspects.

However, we must be careful not to go too far and reduce the liturgy to merely an aesthetically pleasing action rather than an act of worship.

For example, almost no one asks at the end of a Mass, “Was God worshiped?” Instead, many other questions and concerns occur to clergy. Were the lectors good? Did the Homily go well? Were the servers well-trained? The laity will often rate the liturgy on such things as the perceived quality of the Homily, the use of their favorite songs, the style of worship, and the hospitality level. But almost no one asks the key question: Was God fittingly worshiped? (or more personally, “Did I worship God?”)

Sometimes the honest answer is no. People largely went through motions and focused more on themselves and what they were doing, or on others and what they were doing, or on whether they “liked it” or not. God was barely considered at all. He may have been spoken to and referenced, but he was not really worshiped.

Yes, the liturgy is more than a text. Those texts are to be cherished and proclaimed accurately, but other sacred actions and dispositions are important as well. Beauty, reverence, and a manifest joy and humility before God are also to be cultivated. Above all else we must be able to say that we worshiped God fittingly.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Liturgy is More Than a Text

The Call to Integrity in Worship

The first reading for Monday of the 15th week of the year is provocative, especially for those of us who hold the Liturgy in high esteem, as well we should. However, it is possible for us to distort even great things like the Mass and the sacraments.

Let’s look at the reading and then draw a few teachings from it:

Hear the word of the Lord, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the Lord. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; in the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow (Is 1:10-19).

Our worship can lack integrity. That which is supposed to glorify God and bring forth in us a holy obedience can become lip service. God seeks hearts that are humble, docile, loving, and repentant. We cannot satisfy Him just by singing a few hymns, saying some prayers, or attending Mass. These things, good though they are, are meant to bring about a conversion in us that makes us more loving of both God and neighbor, less violent, more just, more merciful, more generous, and more holy. Our worship should effect change in us such that we cease doing evil, learn to do good, strive for justice, address injustice, and defend and help the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the dying, and the helpless.

An additional problem with our worship today is that God has become almost an afterthought. Much of our liturgy is self-centered, self-congratulatory, and anthropocentric (rather than theocentric). We are “the aware, gathered community celebrating itself.” While the Mass should focus on God and summon us to humility and joy before Him, too often it seems more an exercise in self-congratulation. We are very narcissistic, even in a communal setting.

God cannot be pleased with all of this. Even if our worship is rightly ordered, we are not going to buy Him off that easily. God wants an obedient heart more than sacrifice. Sacrifice without obedience is a sham.

We need God to restore our integrity and give us a new heart. We are “dis-integrated,” in the sense that pieces of our life that should be together (e.g., worship and obedience, liturgy and healing) are not. Too often our worship does just the opposite of what it should. Instead of drawing us more deeply into the love and obedience of God, it becomes the very occasion of keeping Him at a distance and seeking to placate Him with superficial gestures. This makes our worship a lie and an insult to Him. God doesn’t mince words in the passage above when He says how displeased He is.

We need God to give us a new heart, one that loves Him as well as the people and things that He loves. Only then will our worship will truly reflect the heart that God seeks: a loving, humble, and generous one.

May our worship give us a new heart and deepen our commitment to God and neighbor!

The Gift of the African-American Catholic Tradition

February is African-American History Month.  Most of you who read here regularly know that I’ve spent most of my 28 years of priesthood ministering in African-American parishes here in Washington, D.C. (At right is a picture of our choir.)

In recent years, my own parish has become more racially and ethnically diverse, but we are still deeply rooted in the long African-American heritage here and we celebrate that in particular at our 11:00 AM Sunday Mass.  It is a heritage that retains deep roots in the sacred and draws richly upon the biblical norms of trust, liberation from sin, justice, and the lively experience of God’s immanent presence.

I would like to share a few of the things I have learned and experienced over the years, focusing primarily on the liturgical experience. Despite the inadequacy of my words in describing it, I hope that you will grasp the rich wisdom and sacred tradition that I have been privileged to experience. I do not claim that what I write here is true of every African-American Catholic nor that the values I describe below are wholly lacking elsewhere, but just that they are widely held in the community.

Expectation – Great expectations are brought to the liturgical moment. Most of my parishioners come to Mass expecting to be moved, changed, and transformed. It is expected that God, the Holy Spirit, will show up and that He will do great things. Prior to Mass there is an air of anticipation as the parishioners gather. Some call this “The Hum.” The expectation is palpable and parishioners both want and expect a deep experience of God. They look forward to the songs of praise that are about to be sung and are prayerfully expectant of a good sermon through which they will “get a word” from the Lord. There is little anxiety about time and there is no need to rush. This is God’s time and He is about to go to work.

All about God – Gospel music (traditional and modern) is a central facet of most African-American parishes, but a wide variety of music is sung, including spirituals, traditional hymns, and classical music. One of the glories of the musical repertoire in African-American parishes is that it is almost exclusively focused on God and what He is doing. I have remarked in the past that much modern music is far too focused on us, who we are, and what we are doing. Not so in the gospel music tradition, in which God is invariably the theme. In an anthropocentric time, this is a refreshing stream from which to draw. Regardless of your feelings about the style of gospel music, it is about God. One song says, “God is a good God, He is great God, He can do anything but fail.” Another song says, “God and God alone!” Yet another says, “God never fails!” Even when we mention ourselves it is only to remember God: “We’ve come this far by faith; Leaning on the Lord, trusting in his holy word, He’s never failed me yet!”

Primacy of Joy – A serene and joyful spirit is at the heart of African-American worship. The Church is a bride—not a widow—and God is good! Even in difficult times we ought to praise the Lord. Psalm 34 says, I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth. An old African-American spiritual says, “Praise the Lord anyhow!”

Joy is manifested in many ways in African-American worship: clapping, stepping, and swaying during the singing, uplifted hands, spontaneous acclamations—even an occasional stamping of the foot!

It is a strange thing if a Catholic Mass looks less like a wedding than a funeral: sour faces and boredom. To be sure, people manifest piety in different ways. Even in African-American parishes not everyone is on his feet as the choir sings powerfully. However, it is right to manifest some glimmer of joy rather looking like we just sucked a lemon!

Joy is a great gift and it is present in abundance in African-American worship. St. Paul says, Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it, rejoice! Your graciousness should be known to all (Phil 4:4-5). A gospel song says, “Joy, Joy, God’s great joy. Joy, joy, down in my soul. Sweet, beautiful, soul saving joy, oh, joy, joy in my soul!”

Time – This is God’s time. Earthly time is largely suspended in the African-American experience of the Mass. Masses are often substantially longer than those at most Catholic parishes. At the African-American parishes where I have served, the “High Mass” lasts up to two hours.

In most Catholic parishes there is an unwritten rule that Mass should be between 45 minutes and an hour long, and sermons should be less than 10 minutes long. Some of the Masses here are an hour or less, but not the Gospel Mass, where time is more relaxed. It may be that the Holy Spirit inspires a soloist to take up the refrain of a song yet one more time. There’s often an expression that comes from the congregation: “Take your time,” or “Sing on!” This is God’s time and He will do what He will do.

Most African-American congregations are also famous for lingering after the service. Another expression comes to mind: “Take your time leaving.” Mass is one of the highlights of the week; why rush through it? Savor the moment. A song says, “We’re standing on holy ground.”

Creativity and Freedom in the Spirit – African-American Catholic worship is careful to follow the norms for Mass but exhibits an appreciation for creativity and for docility to the Holy Spirit. This is especially evident in music. It is rare that a soloist sings the notes of a song exactly as written. (The exception to this would be when classical music is sung). Rather, liberty is taken as the choir, soloists, organist, and director are all open to what and where the Spirit leads.

There is deep appreciation for this spontaneity; it is seen as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit interacting with the gifts in the community. A gospel song says, “Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere!”  There is also a history to this that stretches back to slave times. Those who were enslaved enjoyed very little freedom, but on Sundays they would gather in secluded locations. They would often take up the hymns they had heard from the European tradition but adapt them. In so doing they expressed their freedom in the Lord. The spirituals, too, are remarkably creative, manifesting a genius of both word and song. They also admit of a wide variety of interpretations; different verses are swapped in and out at the will of the singers.

All of this creativity leads to a great expectation in the liturgy. Who knows what God will do? There are moments of great delight and a sense that this is all in God’s hands.

It also gives a different understanding to the presence of applause in the liturgy. Many rightly lament that in certain settings applause creates the notion of performance rather than worship, but in the African-American setting applause is an act of praise to God, thanking Him for this manifestation of the Spirit. This is made evident by the fact that the congregation most often applauds even after the songs that it sings together. This is not self-congratulation; it is an act of praise to God. The psalms say, Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy (e.g., Ps 47).

The Preaching Moment – Sermons are typically longer in African-American Parishes. At the High Mass, the sermon is usually half an hour. The congregation has great expectations for the homily and there is a great interest in spending time with the Word of God. It is expected that the preacher will not only seek to inform the congregation but to celebrate the liberating reality of the Word that is proclaimed. The Word of God does not just inform, it performs and transforms. The preacher is invited and expected not just to preach the “what,” but also the “so what” and the “now what.”  

These expectations have challenged me over the years to be aware of the majesty of God’s Word, to look deeper into its meaning, and to experience its truth and reality in my life. Only then can I really preach with the power and authority that God’s Word deserves.

With more time, there is the luxury of really digging into a passage and analyzing all the lines. Many of you who read this blog have read my Sunday Sermon outlines and note that I usually break open the whole text rather than just draw out one thought or idea and preach that. The longer format permits the preacher to examine the steps often set forth by a gospel passage and to follow the passage line by line. This is a great luxury for me.

I am not alone in the preaching moment. One of the glories of the African-American preaching tradition is that the congregation has a central role in the preaching moment. It begins with their expectation. I know that they are praying for me and are supporting me as I begin. They really want to hear a word and spend some time with it. This is a moment to be savored. 

The priest or deacon will often engage the congregation by taking up the tradition of “call-response,” wherein he elicits a familiar response from the congregation and invites acclamations: “Somebody say, Amen.” “Amen” “Is there a witness in this house?” In this way he builds on the theme and involves the congregation.

The congregation also takes a role in crafting the homily moment through spontaneous acclamations: “Amen!” “Go on, preacher!” Help him, Lord.” “Make it plain, preacher!” There can be spontaneous applause and shouts as well as laughter and even some oohs and aahs.

Jesus is Here Right Now – In African-American Catholic worship there is a profound sense of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in every liturgy. Most traditional Anglo-Saxon Catholics prefer to express their faith in the true presence through silent adoration, bowed heads, and folded hands. The African-American tradition, though not excluding such forms, expresses this faith through exuberant joy in the Lord’s presence and cultivates a celebratory experience that this is holy ground, that this is the Lord’s house and He is here. Songs during Communion include texts that acknowledge this in more experiential and immanent than theological and transcendent ways. There are songs with words such as these: Jesus is here right now, I received the Living God and my heart is filled with joy, Now behold the Lamb, Taste and see the goodness of the Lord! Come now and feed our weary souls.

Permission – To think that every African-American likes only gospel music, wants to shout out during homilies, and gets excited at Mass, is to stereotype. There is a whole range of personalities expressed and experienced at Mass. Some people are exuberant and expressive, others quiet and reserved. A wide variety of preferences and liturgical expressions exist.

What makes African-American worship diverse and expressive is the concept of permission. Not everyone is required to clap rhythmically at songs, but there is the permission to do so. Not everyone responds during homilies but one may. Not everyone gets to his feet as the choir sings powerfully, but there is permission to do so. There is a wonderful combination of permission without pressure.

Trust – A key theme of African-American culture is trust in God. This has come not only from a long history of oppression but also from the experience that “God can make a way out of no way” and “do anything but fail.” Gospel music and the spirituals are replete with calls to a trusting and confident faith. Here are some examples from various songs: “God never fails.” “Blessed Assurance!” “Victory is mine.” “Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say It is well with my soul, it is well.” “Joy comes in the morning; troubles don’t last always.” “He may not come when you want him, but he’s always on time.”

These songs of trust and assurance were very important for me in my 35th year of life when I suffered a nervous breakdown and slipped into a major depression, complete with anxiety attacks. This parish literally helped to sing me back to health.

Sober about Sin and Confident of Grace to Overcome – Good, solid, biblical preaching is appreciated in the African-American tradition. It is understood that the Lord has a lot to say about sin that is plain and unambiguous.

There is also a legacy of gospel music and spirituals that speaks frankly but creatively about sin and its relation to redemption. Here are some excerpts from songs: “I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in.” “I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry and from the water lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, love lifted me.” “I would not be a sinner; I’ll tell you the reason why. I’m afraid my Lord might call my name and I wouldn’t be ready to die.” “Satan wears a hypocrite’s shoe. If you don’t watch he’ll slip it on you.” “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all tuned out.” “Where shall I be when the last trumpet sounds?” “Sign me up for the Christian jubilee, write my name on the roll. I want to be ready when Jesus comes.” “I’ve got to fast and pray, stay in his narrow way, keep my life clean each and every day. I want to go with him when he comes back, I come too far and I’ll never turn back!”

So sin is real but so is grace to liberate us. One song says, “I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be, a wonderful change has come over me.”

These are just a few of the many lessons I have learned from my parishioners over the years. As you can see, African-American Catholics have important gifts to share with the wider Church. I want to be sure to express my gratitude for this gift of culture and tradition and for the gift that every parishioner has been to me. I have learned far more than I have ever preached. I have come to know by experience that encountering Christ does not just happen from the priest to the faithful, but also from the faithful to the priest. We observed the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last month. Birthdays celebrate the gift of human life and the gift of each human person. I have much to celebrate.

I realize that not everyone prefers the relaxed exuberance described here; some are more partial to quieter and more traditional forms. I have celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass for almost 30 years and appreciate its beauty as well. Today the Church allows greater diversity; what I set forth here, at the beginning of African-American History month, is that I have been blessed and enriched in this tradition, as I have in others. May God be praised.


On Reverence and Reserve in the Holy Liturgy – A Meditation on an Instruction by St. Cyprian

Heiliger_CyprianusIn the Office of Readings we are currently sampling from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by St. Cyprian. One of those readings earlier this week offered some cautionary notes on what might be termed “reverential reserve” when celebrating the Sacred Liturgy.

Before quoting St. Cyprian, I’d like to make some observations regarding the role of culture and history. Of course, dear reader, you are free to skip my poor musings and jump right to the teaching of St. Cyprian, who outranks me substantially by being a bishop, a martyr, a Father of the Church, and a Saint!

St. Cyprian surely calls for some reserve in prayer, both private and public. But I wonder how to quantify reserve? And how is it related to respect? I have certainly seen and participated in worship experiences that were “over the top.” In such instances the music was too loud, the musicians were more in the role of performers, and the “house was “rocking” more so than praying. In gospel music there is a distinction between Church gospel and “performance gospel.” The first inspires prayer and praise while the second is designed more to please and excite the audience. Christian contemporary music has similar distinctions. Some pieces can be deeply prayerful or stirring works of praise, while others have more of a “listen to me!” quality or even a “pep rally” feel.

Even in more traditional forms like chant, polyphony, and orchestral Masses there have been excesses that the Church eventually weighed in on. Chant, though seemingly the least capable of excess, did have times and schools in which the use of proportional rhythm or overly extended melismata sometimes obscured the text. Gallican Chant was more florid than Roman, and during the late Middle Ages the people of Paris flocked to places like Saint Denis and Notre Dame to hear the increasingly musical chants now sung in organum. It was quite the rage.

During the Polyphonic Age the rich harmonies and often-complex intertwining of parts sometimes overshadowed the text. The borrowing of secular tunes was also problematic. The Church Palestrina helped lead the way back to a simpler form that emphasized the sacred text over the rich harmonies.

Orchestral Masses increasingly grew to resemble operas. The settings, quite musical and elaborate, wowed the worshippers. They were also quite lengthy: some Glorias and Creeds lasted more than twenty minutes. But here, too, some popes (e.g., Pius X) sought to set limits.

As you can see, excess is not just a modern phenomenon.

Searching even further back, we see that even in  biblical times worship was an often noisy affair. Nehemiah 8 describes a kind of Liturgy of the Word that featured the people shouting “Amen” during the preaching, falling to the ground, weeping, and so forth. Many of the Psalms directed the people to clap their hands and raise their voices with shouts of joy. Psalm 150 speaks of trumpets, lutes, cymbals, and many other loud instruments that were often used in worship.

Thus we see in all eras a tendency to a certain “excess,” if a respectful reserve is the norm. Indeed, there are some cultures in which sitting quietly to pray seems almost disrespectful. In the African-American congregations in which I have served, it is often said that “God is worthy of our praise!” or, “Hallelujah is the highest Praise,” or “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord … give Him the highest praise.” Charismatic worship has similar features and declarations.

But in every age some limits have had to be found. Even in the earliest days St. Paul had to caution the Corinthians and others to maintain decorum and to set limits on speaking in tongues, prophesying, and so forth. He says to them regarding the Liturgy, Let all things be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40).

And all of this background finally leads us to St. Cyprian, who in the passage quoted below summons us to a kind of sober reserve as the norm for liturgy. In some ways Cyprian, though living in North Africa, displays a kind of Roman temperament and reserve. Latin was his native tongue. And there is, to be sure, a kind of sober reserve evident in the Roman Rite and the Roman prayers, especially the Collects, which are often terse, brief, and quite to-the-point. The whole shape of the Roman Rite is sober and brief. Other forms of this Rite, especially the Gallican and Mozarabic, were far more elaborate and elongated.

And thus St. Cyprian writes from this sort of experience—or so it would seem. But for all of us, his call for reserve can be salutary, even if there are cultural differences that might permit a more demonstrative worship. Consider the words of St. Cyprian as a good reminder that some boundaries are necessary:

Let our speech and our petition be kept under discipline when we pray, and let us preserve quietness and modesty–for, remember, we are standing in God’s sight. We must please God’s eyes both with the movements of our body and with the way we use our voices. For just as a shameless man will be noisy with his cries, so it is fitting for the modest to pray in a moderate way. …

When we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we should remember our modesty and discipline, not to broadcast our prayers at the tops of our voices, nor to throw before God, with undisciplined long-windedness, a petition that would be better made with more modesty: for after all God does not listen to the voice but to the heart, and he who sees our thoughts should not be pestered by our voices … And we read in the Psalms: Speak in your hearts and in your beds, and be pierced. Again, the Holy Spirit teaches the same things through Jeremiah, saying: But it is in the heart that you should be worshipped, O Lord.
Beloved brethren, let the worshipper not forget how the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple–not with his eyes boldly raised up to heaven, nor with hands held up in pride; but beating his breast and confessing the sins within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. … and he who pardons the humble heard his prayer.

(from the Commentary on the Our Father by St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr (Nn. 8-9: CSEL 3, 271-272))

To be sure, Cyprian wrote this as a true Roman. But it is a corrective, or at least a good reminder, for us all. Exuberance has its place, especially in certain cultures, but proper order is also essential. Again, as St. Paul says, Let all things be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40). Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria – To God Alone be the Glory

The Video below has the very brief remarks by Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, titular Archbishop of Oregon City, following his ordination to the episcopate at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., July 11, 2009.

I must say his approach is very refreshing by being very God-centered. He sets the tone in his opening sentence by brushing aside the tendency to talk too much about ourselves and he focuses his gratitude and remarks on God. I am sure this will also set the tone for his Tenure at the Congregation for Divine Worship. Modern Liturgy has indeed tended to become too focused on its human dimension, what WE are doing. There is a need to set the focus back on God what HE is doing.

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal

Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal– A few years ago I acted in a play. I spent many weeks learning my lines and many hours rehearsing sections of the play with the other actors. Then came the dress rehearsal when it all came together. The purpose of the dress rehearsal is for the actors to experience the final product. The dress rehearsal is as close to the actual play as possible. There is no goofing off, no retakes, this is as close to opening night as possible.


In a way, this is what the Mass is. Mass is like getting ready for heaven. But “How is this so?”  you might ask. Well, start with the biblical descriptions of heaven. There are many, but the most consistent image of heaven in the scriptures is that of a liturgy or Mass. In the Book of Revelation (cf 4,5,8, 21) for example the heavenly experience is described in terms that many Catholics should find very familiar. There are candles, incense, hymns of praise, elders (priests) in long white robes (albs), there is first a focus on a scroll (or book) in which are contained all the answers, then the focus shifts to the Lamb on a throne like altar. There are saints and angels all around and songs such as Holy, Holy, and Worthy is the Lamb being sung by the multitude. Does all this sound familiar? If you go to Mass it does! So, in an important way the Mass gets us ready for what we will do in heaven. I always have concerns when some one tells me they find Mass boring because heaven is like a Mass. Granted, not all our Masses are as well celebrated as they could be. But in the end we ought to find joy and peace in the Liturgy, the Mass, since by so doing we start to get used to heaven. Over the years I have started to like Mass more and more. And I am glad, because it means I am starting to like what heaven is, a glorious liturgy of prayer, praise, and communal celebration around the wonderful throne of God.

There is another way that the Mass is like a dress rehearsal. Heaven, you see, is not just some made up place of our design. It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Here too we need to learn our lines and get adjusted and the Mass helps us to do this. Over the years as you attend Mass you are`instructed in the Word of God and thus in the values of the Kingdom of God. At Mass we learn our lines and parts. We learn things such as forgiveness, mercy, love for the truth, chastity, generosity, love for the poor, love for life from conception to natural death, love for God more than for the things of the world, and so forth. All this helps us to get adjusted to the kingdom. And if you like these things you’ll like heaven, if you do not like them you will not want to enter heaven. Here too I have grown used to the Kingdom through my faithful attendance at Mass. Over the years I have come to understand more what the Kingdom of God is really about and I have learned to love these kingdom values. You see, if I don’t know my lines and don’t attend the dress rehearsal to get used to the play when it opens, I won’t be ready. The Mass gets us used to what heaven is really like and to its values; the REAL heaven, not some made up heaven that doesn’t really exist.

So, here’s a good reason to come home – the dress rehearsal. You gotta get used to the REAL  heaven. It takes time to embrace the kingdom of heaven when all we know is the world and its ways. Come! Join the dress rehearsal for heaven, learn its songs, its praise, its values come to learn of and know God. Then when the curtain of this life falls you’ll be ready for opening night: the great feast of heaven. But be careful, if the dress rehearsal is missed, there are often casting changes! You gotta be ready, you gotta come to the dress rehearsal to make the final cut and be ready for opening night.

Here is a video which descibes details of heaven as described in the Book of the Revelation and how they relate to our Mass



40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 22 – You were made to praise God.

Reason # 22 You were made to praise God!  Sometimes the Scriptures just say it plain. Ephesians 1:12-13 says In Christ Jesus we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory. Notice that the text says we exist for the praise of God’s glory. You and I were made to praise the Lord. The old catechechism says that God made us to know him, love him, and serve him in the life, and to be happy with him forever.

It is simple but profound. You and I were made for these fundamental reasons. We were not made for all the reasons that the world says such as: to be popular, rich, famous, sexy, powerful. Most who have tried these things feel unsatisfied and in the end if we live for this we eventually die…end of story! But the truth is we were made for God and exist for the praise of his glory. Our peace and contentment are wrapped up in God and God alone.

One thing I’ve noticed in my life is that it is just plain refreshing to praise God. It resonates within my very being to sing a stirring hymn of praise or meditate upon a refelective song.  There is just no doubt in my mind, I was made to praise to the Lord because when I do there is a wondrous sense of fulfillment within me.

Here then is another reason to come home to God’s house: we were made to praise God. And I promise you, whatever your personality, when you praise the Lord, you will find joy and serene peace because this is why we were made. Below are a few songs of praise in different styles: contemporary, traditional Latin, and Gospel. Pick a video and spend a few moments praising God. But remember, it is best done in Church every Sunday. We’ve saved you a pew.


TRADITIONAL LATIN – Exsultate Justi in Domino – Translation: Exsult you just in the Lord. Praise befits the upright! Give praise to the Lord on the harp and with ten stringed lyre sing to him. Sing to him a new song, sing well to him with strong voice! For the word of the Lord is upright and all his works are faithful! The Lord loves mercy and justice and of his mercy the earth is full.