Lauren Pristas, writing about the collects contained in the Old and New Roman Missals, reminds us that “we are shaped by our worship” (Collects of the Roman Missals, location 186 Kindle edition). This is well-known it seems since I have heard it said and confirmed many times over by many different people. What I do not often hear is what Pristas writes a few passages on: “The formation 0f which we speak is not the purpose of worship but its effect …” This is a helpful and very necessary reminder that even though worship catechizes that is not the purpose of worship. Again Pristas: “… it is unfitting to ascribe any utilitarian purpose to worship, for in true worship the human person adores and honors God for his own sake.” In other words: worship is not primarily for us but it is primarily for God. Worship is not the place for biblical, catechetical, or other studies.
This is, of course, not to deny that worship does indeed form and shape us. It most certainly does. The point is that worship was not designed to be catechesis or Bible study. Nor should it be. The opus Dei or “work of God” has two components. The first is the worship and adoration of God for his own sake. The second is, as Pristas wrote, the effect of the first we are shaped and formed by the kind of worship we perform. In other words the work of God is a work we perform to God for his sake, and it is also a work performed on us. For as we worship we are formed and shaped. Our habitual actions will – over time – become character and part of how we think and perceive. Worship is how we are re-created in the Image of God.
This is the point of traditional worship. The times, places and people that have been part of its creation have been “means” by which the Holy Spirit has created this worship or liturgy. The same process is to be recognized behind what we call “tradition” or perhaps even “holy tradition.” In fact, I would argue that it is the process which lies behind the Christian Bible(s). Anyone feeling any unease with changing, re-editing, or correcting a presumably outdated Scripture ought to have equal scruples concerning doing such violence to tradition and our worship. Even if such changes are deemed “necessary” for pastoral, theological, simplification, or any other such reasons (excuses? ).
It has been argued that there is – for example – great didactic value in the new liturgies designed under the direction of Annibale Bugnini. This may very well be so. The same could be said of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer it has great didactic value and no doubt great pastoral sensitivity, theological focus, and simplicity can be claimed for it. It is specifically designed to be so. Chiefly by Dr. Cranmer. In various manuals and introductions to the Book of Common Prayer one can find these claims made by middle of the road, Anglo Catholic, and even Protestant lovers of the Prayer Book. Talking to the various sorts of Anglicans, be they clergy or lay, will provide a very similar result.
And yet …
Is this pastoral sensitivity, theological (namely biblical) focus, and oversee able simplicity really a benefit? Has our worship since the Reformation not been (and for Rome since the Liturgical Revolution) been re-oriented from worship for (toward) God to the interests (no matter how carefully couched) of man? Iow has our liturgy become anthropocentric rather than theocentric? To put it more bluntly and simply: has our worship of God become too much the worship of self? It seems to me that a good case could be made that the Reformation and the Revolution mentioned above had done more damage than good. If such a case convinces us that it is indeed so, than a return to tradition, a return to traditional worship, may very well restore not just the didactic benefits of the (Anglican) Breviary and the (Anglican) Missal but it first and foremost reorients our worship toward God. As worship of God, for God’s sake, it will once again have its “side effect” of recreating us in the Image of God.
Gregory Wassen +