Thursday, 26 February 2009

Ritual Notes.

Mass was well attended last night, the Redemptorists did not send sheets for Ash Wednesday so I ran off what I considered to be a sensible number, happily I underestimated the numbers by a handful. One interesting thing was the change in readings from the Jerusalem Bible online and the ones printed in the Lectionary, which also uses the Jerusalem Bible. I should, of course, have reached for the lectionary a full two yards from my desk and typed from there, but having been in the boiler house for two hours coaxing the boiler into life, saying my evening office early and being covered in soot so that our friends may be warm tonight I was after a quick solution. Never mind, they were reasonably similar and better than nothing. The congregation soon remembered the different Gospel acclamation and mysterium fidei and all, on a dark, meditative evening, with an excellent sermon from Canon Denby (seen acting as Deacon in the picture above) was well.

There has been some talk recently on the blog of ceremonial and liturgy, mainly supportive but with some carping. Does it matter, when our real Christian duty is, it is argued, elsewhere. I speak for myself, when I say that yes, it does matter and it maters immensely. God has been worshipped by our forebears since Moses ascended the holy mountain and asked God if we could be His children. The ark of the covenant accompanied the people to the Temple era, the veil of which was rent in two at the death of Christ, the continuity of the dignified worship of God and the hallowing of the place of His presence is a mandatory part of authentic worship of and belief in Him. I am not suggesting that the way we do it, our ritual, is the best or only way, but it attracts people to this house of God, where, much like the nub of yesterdays post, they encounter God and are in some way changed enough to live His life and show His presence outside of the Church building.

We mark the Christian year in a very definite way here at Saint Hilda's. We have the full panolpy of worship, with processions on greater days, para-liturgical devotions, prayer groups, solemn evensong and Benediction and at this time of year, the Church is stripped of much of its finery and flowers as we begin what is visibly a solemn season. The stations of the cross are integral to this season, a journey with Christ which the Parish Priest and myself share out over the five weeks, giving different perspectives on the walk with our Lord up the scaffold of Calvary. This matters because repentance matters as much as the joy of Easter matters, the one cannot be had without the other and our sometimes flamboyant, sometimes harshly simple worship brings a sizable and growing congregation to an understanding of the expectations incumbent on every Christian soul, which the Church's year makes so plain, in Saint Hilda's as in any other catholic Church. Criticising me for this is like shooting water to stop it flowing.

This is not it, however. There is ritual in the house of God, because God is not your mate. He is the lord of time and space and the king of the universe and we exist to serve Him. We serve Him in the ritual of the temple, a depersonalised, timeless, calm ritual. Some people find it impossible to allow themselves to be taken by the ritual, imposing their own characters onto an ancient rite. 'I am not censing so and so, I am not doing that' and so on, but letting yourself be supported by the calm ritualistic worship of God is a feeling of great connectivity with our past, with the early Christian martyrs, even to the last supper itself. We are part of an organic movement which will, I pray, stretch as far forward as it does back, if that be the will of God. Thus it is that I spend a couple of hours in Church every day, praying and making the ritual right, as well as glaring at the boiler, doing my studies, undertaking pastoral duties and holding down a job. I am not a masochist, I just believe wholeheartedly in what we do and am willing to work tirelessly for it.

In the place of encounter, we are anointed by the Spirit of God and sent out to bear witness to Him. This is the second part, the going out and bearing witness that lasts and of living a life of integrity characterised by Christian action. To lose (or to have never seen) the connection between worship in the temple and the reception of His indelible marks and even His body and blood and the urgent call to social action and integrity outside the temple is to ignore the reason for the worship of God. We believe He can make all things new beginning with and using His people, who must lead a life of integrity, trusting fully in the Lord to provide, not obsessed with money or status, not refusing to engage when people challenge our beliefs. The Church is a place of encounter with the risen Lord, not of ego and obsession with self.

And it would seem difficult to balance those two things, the worship of God in the Church and the witness to Him outside it and I used to find it so, but I do not anymore, it seems natural and I cannot contemplate one without the other. Surrender yourself to God and His dignified worship and everything else falls into place. Am I saying that gathering in the palms from the last year and burning them so to use the ash to mark the foreheads of the faithful with the mark of repentance and the hope of the year of the Lord's favour is as important as visiting the sick? Yes, I am, the one goes hand in hand with the other and indeed the former empowers others to do the same and to spread the word of God further than one person alone can take it.