Tradition, Liturgy, and Worship: An Ecumenical Dialogue

[This blog is in response to my friend Tony’s post (The Art and Act). An additional response can be read in our friend Chad’s post (The Divine Dance: Liturgy and Worship Through the lens of history)]

* Tony’s final remarks on Chad’s and my response: The Art and Act II

To quote my friend Tony, “The goal is to begin fostering an active dialogue between the two of us [Tony and Chad] as we engage theology from our respective traditions [Tony: Protestant / Chad: Eastern Orthodox]. Grace and Peace.” In a playful jab with Tony and Chad about not being invited into the conversation, as a Catholic, Tony said, “Sorry, it only takes two to tango. You’d throw off our groove.” I hope to be the transcendent third, and to quote Chad, make this a Trinitarian engagement. Hahaha! Love you brothers!

Liturgy

As a Catholic convert, I sympathize with Chad’s Protestant experience of worship, and similarly, I found Protestantism… wanting. Please don’t interpret this statement to mean that Protestantism fails as a valid form of Christianity. As I told one of my professors while in Protestant Seminary, “Just because God is calling me to become Catholic, doesn’t mean that He is calling you to become Catholic. Maybe God can use me more effectively for the kingdom as a Catholic than as a Protestant, and you vice versa.”* Additionally, my Protestant community, especially former professors and colleagues, were/are confused that I went through five years of Protestant Biblical education, only to convert to a tradition of Christianity that Protestants believed to be “heretical.” I agree that my conversion was completely unexpected, but not unreasonable.

When non-Catholics experience the Catholic Mass, and the Eastern Orthodox Sacred Liturgy, the immediate things that stand out are the tradition, liturgy, worship, vestments (cassock, surplice, chasuble, alb, amice, cincture, maniple, stole, etc.)Vestments, Latin (Catholic only), incense, chanting, genuflecting (kneeling), Eucharist, etc. The Traditional Latin Mass (TLC) implements these liturgical movements to a much more pronounced degree than the Novus Ordo, but these elements are standard in Catholic Church.1 The Catholic Church has various dicasteries (i.e. Laity, Family, and LIfe / Promoting Integral Human Development.), congregations (i.e. Doctrine of the Faith / Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments / Causes of Saints / Clergy / Evangelization of People, etc.), tribunals (i.e. Apostolic Penitentiary / Rota Romana / Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura), Pontifical councils (Promoting Christian Unity / Legislative Texts / Culture, etc.), offices, Pontifical commissions (Cultural Heritage of the Church / Ecclesia Dei / Sacred Archaeology / Theology / Protection of Minors, etc.), etc., which govern the organization of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church takes great care to ensure that it, to the best of its ability, loves God and love people well. It’s important to note that the Catholic Church is governed by fallen people, and is not without scandal… which is unfortunate.

When some of my Protestant brothers and sisters experience the Mass, they respond with, “How can you expect to worship God, when you perform these standardized rote responses?” This kind of question typically demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of what the Mass is, to no fault of their own, and is the trademark response of someone who worships God the way that they think that He wants to be worshiped. To quote Martin Luther, “Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?”2 Effectively, Christianity has been worshiping God in the form of the Mass for the last 2,000 years, and who am I, or anyone else, to assume that I know more about how God wants to be worship than two millennia of Church tradition? EO LitAfter the Great Schism (a.k.a. East-West Schism) in 1054 C.E., the Eastern Orthodox cemented their liturgical practices and theology, which gives us a picture of what Christianity looked like 1,000 years ago. The reason that the Eastern Orthodox church hasn’t developed their liturgy and theology is that they believe that the Christian Church shouldn’t reform since the Church is no longer unified.3 Thus, while the Catholic Church continues to have councils, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not.4

I’d like to spend a moment responding to a couple of Tony’s statements. First, “He condescends to our plane of knowing and understanding so that we may have a relationship with him.” With Chad, I commend the heart behind your reckless devotional abandonment, but from one Christian brother to another, I’d like to encourage you to be less reckless in your adoration. Reckless abandonment to God can be a beautiful thing, but if done unwisely and out of ignorance, then it becomes like fragrant wax fruit; it has the appearance of true fruit. Rather, reciprocate God’s act of condescension, not by remaining at the foot of the mountain, by ascending the mountain to meet Him. As created beings, we are not gods, but we have been created in His image to emulate Him.

Second, “Call me reckless, but I much rather prefer the company of an honest heretic over a dishonest theologian. And I think God does too.” Please show me an example of Jesus preferring the company of Pharisees (honest heretics) to, as an example, Peter (dishonest theologian)? Our Lord repeatedly corrected the Pharisees for their heretical teachings, yet they remained obstinate, while Peter, after denying our Lord three times, repented at the mere glance of our Lord (Luke 22:61). Furthermore, preferring the company of a heretic verse a dishonest theologian is a false dichotomy. The honest heretic has been judged and condemned a heretic (i.e. one who has been corrected but refuses to exchange his false ideas for truth), and the dishonest theologian is, knowingly or unknowingly, waiting for his fellow theologians to correct him. Both have the capacity to repent of their erroneous ideologies, but the “honest” heretic rejects 2,000 years of church teaching in favor of his “new” theological truths. I think Chad said it well, “How do we know whether one is a heretic or an honest or dishonest theologian? There must be some measure or guide. Historically that measure has always been the Church, evident in the seven ecumenical councils. This tradition is faithfully handed down by the Apostles and expressed in the Orthodox [and Catholic] Church.”

Why are we settling for mediocre, ego-centric, truth-lacking forms of worship, when our God is deserving of so much more? Yes, I concede that God lovingly receives ignorant forms of worship when we are young in the faith. Like children who accidentally wet themselves when being potty trained, we don’t fault them in their endeavor of learning continence, but nobody thinks that it’s cute when a mature and capable adult soils themselves. Yes, God evaluates the heart, but He notes that a mature Christian should not be offering Him the same sacrifices as a child. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Therefore, as a Catholic Christian, I recognize that 2,000 years of Christian tradition is more capable of teaching me how to worship God.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Church Unity (PCPCU) published the Unitatis Redintegratio in 1964, which is the Catholic Church’s decree on ecumenism, and my hope is to live out its heart of, “restoration of unity among all Christians…”  Therefore, my brother, let the art and act of your adoration of our Lord bring you to your knees, but let it lead you away from theological inconsistencies. Our God is worthy of so much more, and as a man created in the Imago Dei, you are capable of offering Him so much more.

Ubi Caritas Est Vera, Deus Ibi Est.                                                                                            (Where true charity is, God is there.)

 

1 As a note, I do make the distinction between the TLC and the Novus Ordo, but that is a conversation for a different post.

2 Note: Martin Luther would not have been referencing the Protestant churches of today. To him, his only frame of reference of “Church” would have been the Catholic Church.

3 Further discussion on this topic should be reserved for a different post, too.

4 This too is a topic for a different post.

* As Catholics, we believe that God is calling everyone to the Catholic Church, but for those who don’t hear His calling, we believe that God can use Protestantism for His purpose.

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