Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Ways God Is Present at Mass



Another boring theological post which allows Maureen to go all mystical. Disclaimer: Maureen is not a theologian, nor does she play one on the Net. She plays a banshee.

1. The normal way. God is around always and everywhere, within us and within everything, inside the universe and outside it in eternity. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent. (Choosing one is for amateurs, not for God.)

2. The "Whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name" way, the Holy Spirit is keeping the Church company.

3. The 'we are Christ's Body parts' way. Which of course means that God is keeping God company, but love and company is sort of the point of being a Trinity.

4. The Word of God way. Jesus is the Word of God, the Bible is the Word of God, and so...Jesus is incarnate, in a way, in the Bible. This is something that Eastern Orthodoxy is very concerned with; this is also why a Catholic priest kisses the lectionary of Bible readings.

The Eastern Orthodox also regard all illustrations of Bible scenes and personages, or of those who followed God's word, as part of the Word of God; that's why icons are said to be "written", and were written using the same sorts of methods one used to predispose oneself for Bible copying. Thanks to the Iconoclasts, the Orthodox love their statues and paintings far more than Catholics do. Not to have statues and paintings is to deprive oneself of a sort of physical, material incarnation of the Word; not to have material depictions intrinsically denigrates Jesus' coming to Earth in both matter and spirit.

5. The tradition way. Jesus did far more than he ever said, and said far more than what is in the Bible. Jesus formed the culture of the Church just as God the Father formed the culture of the Jews. Many of the doctrines of the Church are not stated word-for-word anywhere in the Bible; they had to be deduced with God-given reason,
inspired and revealed by God, given to His Church through His Church. So God speaks to us through tradition, and the voice of the people really is the voice of God.

6. The priestly way. Jesus is our High Priest, and priests only perform the sacraments as instruments of God. They have no powers of their own; God works through them. The gifts God gives them are given for others, not for themselves. That's a pretty humbling office.

7. The Real Presence way. We recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread and the blessing cup: no longer bread and wine, but the true flesh and blood of Jesus -- His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

(I like that old phrase so much. I wish it'd been in our religion books when I was growing up.)

So basically, God is all over the place at Mass -- practically bouncing off Himself. When you add in all the symbols that are supposed to remind you of various aspects of God, you can see why the mystics could be dizzied by the Mass' holiness and God's nearness.

Sometimes, when I'm worrying about cantoring or thinking about the problems with the liturgy, I too often forget that church is not about us. It's for us, yes, but it's about God. It's God's house, not ours. It's God's show; we're there to worship Him. We benefit from it, yes, but that's a kindness of God's.

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