Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worship, the Life or Death of Culture

"Cult, liturgy in the proper sense, is part of this worship, but so too is life according to the will of God; such a life is an indispensable part of true worship ... Ultimately, it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God.  Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God."

Here I quote Joseph Ratzinger from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy.  I was struck, first of all, by the paragraph's likeness to the beginning of Pieper's essay "Leisure: the Basis of Culture."  Cult, worship, is an inalienable part of culture.  It shapes, forms, and helps define culture.  A culture without worship is not a culture at all, and a culture whose worship is misdirected is a culture that is misdirected.  Take for instance the Old Testament pagans, the Babylonians.  In history's eyes, the Babylonians were a great culture and civilization in the ancient Middle East.  They advanced in technology, in social construction, in legal construction, in physical construction of one of the eight wonders of the world.  Who did they worship, many gods, false gods, gods of small power and deceptively small influence.  We no longer have Babylonians today.  Their worship, which indeed was central to their culture, was their downfall.

The history of Israel gives the same picture.  When the Israelites began worshipping idols, their culture, built around the tabernacle, and later the temple, began to crumble.  Idol worship eventually led to exile and the destruction of the central place of worship, the temple in Jerusalem.  Culture was restored although irreparably damaged by previous idol worship.  The temple was rebuilt, but the ark of the covenant, the seat of God, was not present.  In the time of Jesus, a new form of worship had emerged.  No longer were people in the area worshipping false gods; they were worshipping men as gods.  Worship began to turn inwards on oneself.  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector seems to illustrate this.  In the Pharisee's "worship" of God he really is proclaiming himself, worshipping his own works and his moral distance from the tax collector.  One could say this turning inward started with Descartes and indeed, he did nothing but advance humanism, but worship of man reared its ugly head way before the misguided mathematician.

Worship, then, is of the utmost importance.  It is the hinges of culture.  Proper worship to He who alone deserves worship will transform any culture.  This is why liturgy is so important.  This is why Fr. Z's statement, "Save the liturgy, save the world," finally makes sense to me.  It is through authentic divine worship that culture is transformed.  The culture of life stems from the "Way, the Truth, and the Life" who is sacrificed, in an unbloody manner, on the altar and whom receive at each mass.  When we actively participate in this sacrifice, our hearts are transformed.  They take on new looks and have new things written on them.  They become more and more like the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded, burning with love, pouring forth in self-sacrifice.  Culture is transformed from the inside out by the vessels of the living God.

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