Sunday, October 24, 2010

To whom do you pray during Mass?

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
October 24th, 2010
Luke 18: 9-14, The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself…

Of the many themes that the parable of today’s Gospel brings up, I would like to focus specifically on the prayer of the Pharisee and, in fact, on one small aspect of that prayer. Notice that our Savior tells us that the Pharisee spoke the prayer to himself. He does not speak to God or pray to God, he speaks and prays to himself. And, if we look at the words of his prayer, we see that the Pharisee is really worshiping not God, but himself.
This is an example of bad prayer and bad worship – this is how we ought not to pray. But what is bad worship? Bad worship and bad prayer is self-serving and self-satisfied. Bad worship is dictated by our likes and dislikes rather than by the teaching of the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church. Bad worship is very sentimental. Moreover, bad worships is a lot of fun – notice that the Pharisee enjoyed his time in the Temple area much more than the tax collector. Bad worship is socially acceptable and very popular.

Here is a little story to illustrate bad worship: After Sunday Mass a family – a husband and wife and a young boy – are all driving home. Scarcely do they pull away from the Church and the father begins to complain about the music. Then the wife says, “If the music was bad, that homily was even worse!” And on and on, they went back and forth. Eventually, the parents stopped talking and, after a brief moment of silence, the little boy in the back piped up and said, “Well, I don’t think it was too bad, for a buck!” J
Obviously, this is a silly little joke; but I think there is something more profound here as well. Do we think of worship as entertainment? Do we come to the Mass the same way we would go to a movie – giving our money and expecting a good show? There is, for all of us, room for growth and for purification.

Bad worship is, in fact, a great problem among the Protestants and, especially, among the Evangelical so-called “Bible” churches. Sure, these churches are packed (with a lot of ex-Catholics, I might add!) and the music is great. The sermons are exciting and the service is a lot of fun – their youth group is huge. You can even get your cup of coffee on the way in…
But, I ask, does anyone go home justified? Certainly not by that style of worship…it is bad worship, it is dictated by the trends of the day.
This can be a problem in the Catholic Church as well. There is a real tendency in the modern Church to become “fashionable” and focused on the momentary tastes of the time, rather than on the Church’s venerable Tradition.

I look at many churches and I wonder – the priest is looking at the people and the people are looking at the priest, but is anyone looking to God? The priest speaks to the people and the people speak to the priest, but is anyone speaking to God? True worship is a disposition of the heart that must be fostered.
For 2000 years, and even in our own day, the Church honors the Liturgical practice called ad orientem – this is the posture of prayer where the priest and the people all face in the same direction, toward the East and toward the Crucifix. The priest and the people, looking together and praying together, worship God. Some people, rather foolishly, will say that the priest “has his back to the people.” That is just ridiculous! It’s not so much that the priest is facing away from the people, as with the people – they aren’t worshiping him, after all, they are worshiping God; and he should be worshiping together with them, as a member of the same Body!

What is important here is not so much the particular externals of this Liturgical practice, the real point is the fundamental attitude which we must adopt during worship. We are not simply speaking back and forth, we are not meant to be turned in on ourselves or our community; we must look to the Lord, worship the Lord, and speak our prayer to the Lord.
May the grace and the love of Christ Jesus, form us interiorly and lead us to a deeper participation in the true spirit of the Liturgy.