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Breathing extravagantly with both lungs
Posted By Eric Sammons On April 12, 2010 @ 11:16 am In Liturgy | Comments Disabled
Yesterday my wife and kids were out of town, so I decided to attend Divine Liturgy at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church  in the morning, and then the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at my parish in the evening (while watching the Reds beat the Cubs 3-1 in-between!). It was a beautiful way to spend a Sunday (although I would have preferred my family to be around) as I was able to first-hand experience the traditions of the Catholic Church in their fullness.
I’ve said this before, but I’m struck by the similarities between the Eastern liturgy and the Western liturgy, especially in the extraordinary form. One of the things that struck me yesterday was the extravagance of both liturgies. In America, we are very extravagant when it comes to sports (just look at the Super Bowl half-time show), politics (watch a Presidential inauguration sometime), and showbiz (see an Oscar red-carpet show). But when it comes to religion, we are very reticent about being too extravagant. Our puritan origins suggest that we keep our religious ceremonies simple. And there is a certain beauty to a simple liturgy; I know that I love attending a daily Mass with no music and a short homily. Simple liturgies can be very spiritually uplifting.
But traditionally Catholic liturgies are anything but simple, especially in the East. Since this is where we directly interact with God as a community, what can be too extravagant for the Almighty Lord? Thus, traditional prayers tend to be long, filled with a lot of theological language and highly poetic. Take, for example, the Confiteor in the Latin Mass. We don’t just confess our sins to God. We confess them to “almighty God, to blessed Mary every Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, brethren”. Do we need to include all those other people along with God? No, but by including them we forcibly remind ourselves of being surrounded by saints and angels during the liturgy.
The Eastern liturgy is even more extravagant. They cannot say in 5 words what can be said in 100 words, nor do they say once what can be said three times. For example, instead of just having a generic prayer at the beginning of their liturgy for travelers or the country, they pray “For our country, the president, and all those in public service”, “For this parish and city, for every city and country, and for the faithful who live in them”, “For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and temperate seasons”, and “or travelers by land, sea, and air, for the sick, the suffering, the captives, and for their salvation”.By including every possible situation, they make the prayers real and focus the spirit on truly praying for these intentions.
This extravagance is not due to accretions that have built up over the centuries; there is an important theological point to which they direct us. As the most sublime type of interaction we can have with God while on earth, the liturgy should place us in the presence of God and remind us that He is the Almighty, the Eternal One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nothing is too extravagant for Him! All of this extravagance puts us in our proper place in the universe: He is God, we are not.
If we spend millions of dollars celebrating a football game in the middle of the winter, why not spend a few extra words worshiping God?
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 Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church: http://www.holytransfiguration.org/
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