Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All!

St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 85, found in the 2nd Reading for the Office of this Wednesday of the 5th Week of Lent, caught me off guard and specifically this paragraph:

“We hesitate to attribute these words to him because our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity. It is as though we were doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God. We are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning. Yet our minds find nothing in Scripture that does not go back to him, nothing that will allow us to stray from him.”

Jesus, Truly God and Truly Man: our world is more apt to have the opposite problem with Him from that of St. Augustine’s world. We are more apt to be “at a loss” at the juxtaposition of our notion of Jesus and seeing Him as He is, as God. Why is that so, as I think it is? I think a lot of contemporary Catholics are shook when constrained to say "Jesus" and "God" in the same breath. Why is that? Why are we so different from St. Augustine's people? Please note that I am speaking about a propensity, even though I could for some be discussing an error, a heresy, a denial of the fullness of the truth about the God Who made us and saved us in Christ.

It is not the case, you say? Maybe it is not your case? I don't know. My suspicion is that St. Augustine's people were thoroughly evangelized, rightly catechized; Jesus was indeed God for them, God the Son, and their struggle was to see Him as One like us in all things but sin, to see Him as Truly Man. My thesis would be that we on the other hand are less than rightly catechized. There are lots of components that go into that thesis and most of them take their point of departure from how we behave in church. I think that our sense of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in our Tabernacles has been eroded. Some of it is attributable to contemporary church design and decoration, artwork if you will, or the poverty thereof. Some of it stems from the lack of rigor or total failure to teach proper decorum for our behavior in church. Most people would have no idea of my reference if I were to recall how "three point landings" were anathematized when I was a child: "Standing, sitting or kneeling up straight, but no three point landings, please!" Sister or Father would say. Church was serious business and any child will tell you that serious business is not oppressive; there is a distinction.

Apart from St. Augustine, what got me started on this line of thinking were two things: the genuflection prescribed for the Et Verbum Caro Factum Est in the Creed on the Solemnity of the Annunciation and a few frightful YouTube video moments of oriental drumming from Los Angeles, which were supposed to be tied to prayer or liturgy? What can I say? Water and oil only mix for as long as you keep agitating them.

Appeals for liturgical decorum, for silence in church, for beauty and good order are more than matters of taste or style. Is it any wonder that many people today are "at a loss" when it comes to confessing Jesus as Truly God?

Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All,
How can I love Thee as I ought?
Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore!
O make us love Thee more and more!

1 comment:

  1. About three-point landings - they seem to be an ooooold habit, judging by the ancient pews in baroque churches that don't allow one to do anything else!

    Pews are an interesting subject. There is that description by Newman (I think) of going into a Catholic church in (London? Oxford?) and people taking chairs to where they were going to pray. The nave is basically empty. I've seen this in a church in Brussels - light, unfixed chairs, with very low seats, that one carries around to wherever. You turn the chair round and kneel on it.

    I think concerts in churches are a disaster (speaking as a musician). If the Blessed Sacrament were removed, and the musicians kept off the sanctuary - well, ok. Or concerts of sacred music held with the musicians playing not with their backs to the Blessed Sacrament, and no applause, as a sort of meditation. But for the last couple of years the cathedral in Warsaw is used for jazz concerts. Even my beloved pious parish priest left the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle when concerts were held in our parish church (and that despite there being an enormous "underchurch".


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