Friday, 31 October 2008

Window Dressing.

A sanded cloth of gold chasuble waiting to be laid out for Sunday's High Mass of All Saints. Although not financially well off at Saint Hilda's, we pull all the stops out day by day to make sure that the church looks as good as it can and the worship as fitting as possible. Alas, everything of this world taints after a while (this is the crux of the problem of new liturgies and new Churches which attempt to harness the zeitgeist, they are popular and then they die) and sanded cloth of gold chasubles are no exception. They stain and seem to dirty themselves of their own accord, marks appear when they lie in a drawer for six months and are impossible to eradicate. What can be done? Does anyone know?

This dalmatic and tunicle (and the related stoles, maniples, burse etc) complete the set. They are in better condition than the chasuble, but still have odd green spots here and there, pointing, I suppose, to the copper threads tarnishing. For those who have never handled this sort of material, it weighs a tonne and you are never sure if it will crack or stain first. Sometimes both. The High Mass is the centre of the religious life at Saint Hilda's and we try to make the other non-eucharistic events relate to it in some way. We are glad that the daily Masses are well attended and having new people coming recently has kicked me into producing a laminated double-sided card with the order of Low Mass with some suggested prayers for before and after Mass and after receiving Holy Communion. The order is, of course, almost identical to Sunday High Mass, just a lot simpler and said, rather than sung. This sometimes surprises people who assume that we exist in a world of loud organs, swishing vestments and incense. Not so, we live in a world of obedience to God, which is expressed in the liturgy of the Church and Her teachings. Therefore, we reverence the Blessed Sacrament because we believe it to be the fulfilment of the covenant and the Body of Christ. From that flows grace and the ability to produce liturgy, from the infinite comes humanity and beauty, from the Fall came sin and depravity. The connection of these four points is in the liturgy, which allows us to give all we may, which is our love, our praise and our contrition, to God and to receive His love, forgiveness and grace.

It is said by some that God has no need of prayer, it is we who have need to pray to Him, although would Christ have instructed us to pray to the Father if there were no need for this other than our own? Yes, possibly, if it were beneficial to us so to do and if it opens a conduit of grace, which is ultimately closeness to God and the fulfillment of His covenant. It is as necessary for God to hear our prayer as it is for us to pray to Him, but the summit of the covenant, the climax of the journey made by Moses and he asked Yahweh if he would be their God and they His people, wayward though they were, is in the sacraments of the Church (or of God, dependent on your semantic preference) and in particular in the Eucharist. It is for this reason that liturgy must always be very carefully produced, to the formula known since the beginning, of repentance, listening to Him, offering and receiving the one true sacrifice.

We bog ourselves down with window dressing. The vestments pictured above are beautiful, I think, but people will leap on them and say that they are ridiculous, over the top, or wrong because the ones they favour are, obviously, right. We obsess over style when the substance is divine, the heart of liturgy comes from our Jewish patrimony and the journey of the chosen people to the moment of Truth on the cross, the sacrifice of Christ, as promised to our Fathers in faith and given once for all time. Liturgy is de facto appealing to each new age for the summit of liturgy is the Father of Ages, all times belong to Him and all the generations to come. I believe that once we come to see our place in the world and understand the movement of history and the presence of God within and without it, liturgy becomes clear in it's order and becomes as much a part of us as our own bodies.

These black dalmatics will be making a visit to Darwen next week for the High Mass of All Souls and will be used the Sunday after at Saint Hilda's for Remembrance Sunday. I cannot possibly kid you into thinking that they are essential, by any means, but they reflect the solemnity of the incarnation of Christ on our altars, that comforting I AM, which comes to us even in the midst of our grief, even when we mourn, the morningstar shines on our altar as He has in all times and all ages.

We obedient children of God see the beauty of holiness in the liturgy of the Church. This is what has long been missing and what we, in the Church of England, may lose completely. Evangelicals put their personal conversion at the centre of life, rather than the salvation of humanity by the love of God as shown in the Bible from earliest time. They seek to find a personal God (and a 'heart for' something, rather than a heart which belongs, like everything else, to God), these vestments depersonalise and help provide a liturgy where there is only God and His servants, a corporate body of sinning, redeemed sons and daughters, united in love and hope. The crucifix is indeed at the centre of our lives, altars and churches because it shows the ability of God to overcome even torture and death and turn that symbol into the tree of life. As water gushed from the side of Christ as he died and we sprinkle ourselves with water before the Mass to remind ourselves of this, we rejoice that all those to whom the waters of life came were saved as part of the one body of Christ.

And always there is the human element, ever here, printed inside the chasuble above, is a memoria, for a friend and companion who we commend to the mercy of God. Pray that all may be one as all are one in Heaven. Pray for the souls in purgatory, where we could hope to be, making reparation for our sinfulness before entering into the presence of the Father of all time who instituted the Eucharist and fulfils His promise of being with us, in the sacrament of the altar, the sacrament of unity. Pray for those who, from pride or misunderstanding will not accept the supremacy of God over our own ever changing fads, moods and priorities.