We had a diocesan speaker on Sunday, a Greek Orthodox priest who celebrated Orthodox vespers in our parish before giving a talk on St. Paul and Christian unity in the monthly speaker series we have going on. Just before his event, the parish had had the extraordinary form of the Mass – the Traditional Latin Mass – and it was so beautiful.
I’ll be writing about the Orthodox priest’s talk and vespers for the paper, but there’s one detail which really struck me and will probably be at best tangential to the story, so I thought I’d write a bit on it here.
He was telling the story of a fellow Orthodox priest who had a parishioner come up to him and give him grief after the Divine Liturgy for what he had said about love. The parishioner said something like: “That’s all well and fine in here, but out there in the real world it doesn’t cut it.”
And the priest had responded: “Ah, but this is the real world. Out there, that’s the lie.”
That’s exactly right.
The speaker modified the statement a bit. He said he wouldn’t call it “the lie,” but the broken world.
I remember having this same … intuition, I guess, when I saw The Passion of the Christ, shortly after I was received into the Church, that what I had just seen was the center of history, the real ground I was walking on, against which everything else is pale and not quite trustworthy.
In the celebration of the Mass, that’s where we are, at the foot of the Cross. Simultaneously, the Risen Christ is truly present with us in the sacrament. His body, blood, soul and divinity come to us in this most humble form to infuse our own little lives, bringing us literally in touch with the God who so utterly transcends the universe that the very heavens and every earthly thing are mere trivia. We are being brought into the all-sufficing glory of His own interior life.
Here we are saved and being redeemed for the world that will last. Out there the world is fallen and passing away.
I couldn’t help but think of the two liturgies I had just experienced, the beauty of the TLM even in the low Mass and the stunning Greek Orthodox evening prayer with its chant and incense and icons. It is easy to remember that you are in the real world in the midst of those liturgies.
Obviously with some celebrations of the liturgy that is less easy, even though it’s still true.
And we tend to think it goes in only one direction, that banal music and limp liturgical language make us forget where we are at Mass. But it also works the other direction, that forgetting where we are is what makes us settle for the banal, the irreverent and the distracting.
Either way, the first step, I think, is to remember where we are.