Tag Archives: reverence

The Church is a Monarchy — so start acting accordingly

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Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (painting by Laurits Tuxen, 1898)

In the United States of American we live in (more or less) a democracy. Our country’s founding began with casting off the “shackles” of monarchy. We also outlawed the aristocracy.  That set in motion many positive things, but also some very bad things. I’m not saying if they could do it all over again they should rather have sought a compromise with King George (though I hold out that might have been the thing to do). But I will say we did lose something by doing away with a king.

We lost a powerful context within which to learn how to act before royalty.

Without a king, and the repeated experiences of seeing how a king functions, and how a king is supposed to be treated and, perhaps most importantly, how a people ought to act out obeisance and reverence to the king, then we lose a deep understanding of the language of kingship in the Bible. That language will be foreign to our ears, and if not foreign, non-visceral, non-intuitive. We will have some head-knowledge about kings, but not much more. And if we don’t have that deep understanding, then we will struggle knowing how to behave and, perhaps worse, being nearly completely clueless about our behavior.

By why does that matter now, in this life? Because we are royalty too, and Christ is our king, and we come before Him corporately every time we go to Mass.

Many have said that a huge problem in the Catholic Church today is a lack of understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I agree. I would argue that a second, and closely related, problem is that Catholics don’t know what to do with that knowledge even if they do understand it. At best, it often seems, Catholics believe the proper response to the knowledge of the Real Presence is an entirely internal emotional stance: As long as one feels strongly in some way about the Real Presence then one has done one’s part. Emotions are good, but a human person is body and soul together. What we do with our bodies does something to us at the spiritual level. This is a profound fact.

When we enter a Catholic Church we are coming before our king. Christ is really and truly present. The glowing red candle next to the tabernacle tells us that Christ is there before us. When we receive the Eucharist we are receiving the body of Christ, truly. A Catholic Church, then, is like a king’s great hall, a throne room. Jesus is our friend at some level, of course, but far more important is that He is our savior, our high priest, and our king.

The Mass is also a wedding feast. We, the Church, are His bride. He is our bridegroom. At Mass we are reaffirming our vows. The bride is married to the King of all creation. It is a royal wedding.

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Wedding of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna (painting by Laurits Tuxen, 1895)

So, how ought we to act at Mass? How ought we to dress? What should the attitude of our heart be? Well.. how ought we to act before our King? How ought we to dress at our wedding? What should our attitude be?

These are hotly debated questions. I’ve seen a mix of responses. But I would argue that, in general, we can do a much better job. But here’s the real deal: Acting, dressing, and thinking rightly at Mass is not about rules, or looking good, or “being a good Catholic.” Doing what one ought to do in the presence of the King, before Whom every knee shall bow and tongue confess, is medicine for our souls. Because this is true, and because God loves us, He has given us the Mass as a gift. It is good for us to act according to our nature. It is good to accept what God has given.

Remember that the humble Mass you attend on Sunday morning, or the even more humble daily Mass, is participating in the great Heavenly Mass. The images of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra above provide a small glimpse into the kind of grandeur, unabashed pomp, and incredible beauty of a proper coronation and royal wedding. Is this the image we have in mind when we attend Mass? Is this a glimpse of what the Heavenly Mass might be like, even just a little?

If so, then let’s start acting like the Mass is actually what it is. Let’s start behaving like who we are, sons and daughters of God, heirs of the kingdom, royal subjects, the bride of Christ. Let’s come before our King as we ought.

This sounds great, but let’s not forget that we may not know how to do this. Our cultural and governmental examples are mostly democracies, and poor ones at that. Kings are gone or irrelevant. Royalty is banished or laughed at or merely entertainment. And I, being like you, am no more knowledgeable. Therefore, what I suggest is that we all begin with the admission that we have a problem. Then I suggest we begin helping each other to learn and then alter our behaviors accordingly.

Finally, something I think we all can agree upon, and one place where we can all easily start, is to dress as best we can for Mass — not letting the standards set by those around us determine our choices, but the fact and reality of the Mass itself inform our choices.

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Filed under Authority, Beauty, Catholic Church, Christian Life, Curious, Kingdom of God, Liturgy, Marriage, Sacraments, Tradition, World View

The Symptom of Irreverence: Declining Dress Codes and the Modern Worldview

“Irreverence at Mass is not the problem. It’s the symptom of the problem.” – Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Reverence = Deep respect for someone or something.

Every Sunday at Mass I see a mix of parishioners worshiping. I say “mix” because we come from all walks of life. Some are rich and some poor, some are more educated and some less so, some are there alone and some are with their families, and a variety of ethnicities are represented too. I also see a mix of clothing choices. A few are dressed up in their Sunday best, most are dressed in rather drab everyday clothing, and some come in clothing more suited to playing video games with one’s friends or watching a game on television. I often see team jerseys, untucked shirts, yoga pants, bedhead hair, etc. And some regulars even look like tourists off the bus.

We now live in a slob culture. The way most Americans dress, whether it’s for school, work, or church is fundamentally slobbish. [Full disclosure: I too am a slob.] Look at old pictures and you will see men everywhere dressed in nice shirts, ties, shiny shoes, sport coats and slacks, or suits. Consider the radical 1960’s. That was the time of throwing off convention. Right? Even then you see students so much better dressed than they are today.

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Students protesting during the 1964–65 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Women in dresses and skirts, men in suits and ties.

Even in the mid-1960’s, not all that long ago, and even at a secular university doing secular things, students still believed they had to uphold their dignity as humanbeings in how they dressed.

Or consider this image below from the Apollo Mission Control Center in 1972. Even as recent as this picture was taken I don’t see a single man without a tie. That was routine then.

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I know I don’t need to show any pictures of how people today dress. Untucked t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops are considered acceptable for many office jobs today, especially in the tech industry. Hawaiian shirts and baggy jeans are even considered appropriate for Evangelical pastors on Sunday morning. Tight and ripped pants, untied tennis shoes, and offensive t-shirt graphics are typical in many schools. I know you’ve seen it all many times.

We take all this in stride. Most people would think it strange to make anything of it. In fact many would defend their slobbishness as not slobbishness at all. We have trouble making wise judgements. We just can’t see it. The dignity of human beings is like the frog slowly dying in the pot of water that has very slowly come to a boil.

Enlightenment Modernism is our worldview. It is the religion of the West. I posit that the gradually increasing and pervasive slobishness of our culture has resulted from the modernist changes to our anthropology. What we believe about what a human being is has everything to do with how what we do with ourselves and others, and with the kinds of cultures we create. As we have devalued man, emerging since the “loss” of human transcendence brought about by the Enlightenment (and probably earlier), and thus the loss of his God-imageness, man has become nothing more than an intelligent animal or a collection of atoms. Therefore, we have nothing to celebrate or uphold when we dress ourselves. We expect royalty to dress like royalty. We are child of the king. But we dress ourselves as slobs.

That this is often expressed at Mass is all the more troubling.

We are not only made in God’s image, we are also sons and daughters of the King. At Mass the King, our Lord and Savior, is truly before us, truly present. We come to worship our God and King. We are subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are Christ’s body. How should we behave? How should we dress?

The real problem is, of course, not how we dress. To riff on the quote from Fr. Longenecker at the beginning of this post, our slobbishness is merely a symptom of the problem. If we Catholics dress like slobs at Mass, and if that is a symptom of a deeper problem, then what is that problem?

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Some Catholics ready for Mass in a different time.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we really believe “this stuff.” Are we really fully Catholic if we say in our actions that we don’t believe some of the Church’s most fundamental, most basic beliefs? Do we believe we are made in God’s image? Do we believe we are God’s children? Do we believe we are now royalty through the saving work of Christ? Do we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

Do we?

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Beauty and Reverence and Discipleship

fishermen Recently I wondered about what might a parish do to grow its numbers of active members and to increase monetary giving. We tend to gravitate towards what we find valuable. That wondering was prompted by a previous post on Beauty and the Mass. In both posts I suggested that a re-focusing on beauty and reverence at the Mass, particularly in light of the fact of the Real Presence (Christ, who as our King and Lord and Savior, is really there, present, with us) and all that means, or should mean, to us. But I want to take a step back. Though I thoroughly believe what I wrote, I am realizing more and more that what I am suggesting, though good, may be also be too much about the surface of things. At least I don’t want to convey it’s about external actions and the “prettiness” of things. This is not to say “let’s not have beauty or reverence until we deal with deeper things,” but I do want to call out that we must also (let’s say firstly) deal with the deeper things, namely our personal relationship with Christ. In order to truly (and properly) love the Mass, we must first love Christ. We must be His disciples. [Note: It is arguable that Beauty is not a lesser thing, in that it is one of the transcendentals, and thus an aspect of God. And reverence does seem to go hand-in-hand with a right understand of God.] Perhaps we should see beauty and reverence as flowing naturally from authentic discipleship, and then those things will be powerful calls to discipleship in others. Seek discipleship first, then beauty will beckon beauty, and reverence will beckon reverence, and both will beckon more disciples. I suppose it’s all of a piece. This was brought home to me via this talk given by Sherry Weddell at one of the recent Steubenville Conferences. (What the video below and the image at the top will make more sense.) Weddell is the author of the excellent book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus”. She does not talk about beauty and reverence, but her thoughts on discipleship made me realize that a parish without enthusiastic discipleship in its DNA will shrivel and perhaps die. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYWXvlfwJMw And yet, and yet… the presence of beauty and reverence just may first call forth seekers to become disciples – those seekers who have ears to hear and eyes to see if only there is beauty and reverence before them. Thus, seek fervently to be true disciples, but do not wait for beauty and reverence.

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