Today I want to discuss something which has been on my mind for a couple days, and which is the product of comments from both protestants and Catholics, as well as my experience of a Passover Meal. Basically the question is, to what extent is the Spirit present in the Catholic Liturgy?
I have heard some protestants say that one of the problems with the Catholic Mass is that it’s not open to the call of the Spirit–that is, its “always the same” and so one cannot respond what the Spirit may be calling the minister or congregation to do.
On the flip side, I know that one of the problems many Catholics have with Protestant services is that “there is no order”. The beautiful thing about the Liturgy which we Catholics have come to hold dear is the Ritual.
I’m going to just lay down the basics (otherwise this will be a very lengthy post). Any in-depth reading can be done through the links embedded throughout.
First let us define our terms: Liturgy can be defined as “Public Worship of God”.
Ritual can be defined as “the prescribed procedure for conducting religious ceremonies “.
While Liturgy in the general sense does not require ritual, in the Catholic Church they are nearly synonymous. Basically, Liturgy could be thought as “Ritual done in communion for the worship of God.”
Ritual Liturgy is not a Catholic invention… anyone who claims that is blind and ignorant of scripture. It has been around for over 3000, since the time of Moses and God’s rules for Passover, Sacrifice, Worship, etc. The Pentateuch could be considered a Crash Course on Ritual. In fact, it is safe to say that at least 75% of what Catholics do at Mass alone, is from Jewish tradition.
Are we to presume that God’s Spirit wasn’t at work whenever the Jews sacrificed two doves? Or during Passover? Or when they read Midrash and TaNaK in the Temple?
Of course not! Perhaps the problem arises from thinking that “being open” to the Spirit of God means being completely flexible and unplanned in concerns to worship. This, perhaps, is a true difference in protestant vs. Catholic culture. However, I believe the purpose of God’s Spirit is to draw into greater worship and Unity with Him. Thus, anything that can accomplish such things must be open to the Spirit, since it only through him that we can truly praise God.
How is the Spirit Present?
The Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium (On Sacred Liturgy) states that God is present in four ways during the celebration of Mass. 1) Most importantly God is physically present in the Eucharist and through it we receive Christ into us. What better way is there to be unified to our God than this? 2) God is also present in the ordained minister, who acts “en persona Christi” or, In the Person of Christ and thus it is as though we celebrate the Mass with Jesus himself. 3) God is also present in the Word of God, especially the Gospel. This hearkens to the idea prevalent in God that the “Logos” is not only the Words spoken by God, but Christ himself as well (a rather complex theology that I have never quite fully understood). 4) Finally, in accordance with Matthew 18:20, the Spirit of God is present in the Assembly of the Faithful, especially in their song and prayer.
While there is so much more to be said, I will leave it at this for now. The Holy Spirit is abundantly present in the all Catholic Liturgy (the Mass and otherwise), because the purpose of Liturgy is the same as the purpose of the Spirit–to unite us in worship with God. This practice is millenia old and is manifest by God-given rituals!