Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Random Thoughts on the Liturgy

Saint Ignatius suggests that when we pray, if a thought strikes us or we catch on a word or idea, we should not hurry on, but should linger over that idea. We should savor it, and allow ourselves to be embraced by it. The liturgy, being so familiar to most of us, is something experienced as much reflexively as reflectively; that power of ritual which affords so much of the wonder and mystery also encourages inattentiveness. One can so easily tune out of Mass, and tune back in just as quickly.

One such moment in the Liturgy, worth the savoring, is at the start of the Eucharistic Prayer:
“We do well always and everywhere to give You thanks.”

Start at the beginning: We do. First person, plural, present tense, indicative mood. We do. Not “we will do,” or “we did.” Not “we would do” if some unspecified conditions are met. We do, right now.

Then look at the time and place adverbs: always and everywhere. Think about that for moment. The only thing I know of that is “always and everywhere” is God Himself. And so, whatever “we do…always and everywhere” must be an imitation of God. In a finite, corporeal way, we become a little bit of God, if we succeed.

The other adverb is actually a bit more ambiguous: well. We do well. Not, “we do good.” When someone asks me how I am doing, and I reply “I am doing well” it generally means I am meeting expectations, and perhaps slightly exceeding minimum expectations. That I think is the case here: to do well is not to excel, nor to fail, but merely to succeed against an achievable if somewhat challenging standard.

Now, pull it all together for a moment: “We do well always and everywhere…” Right now, at this as at every other moment, in this as in every other place, we meet or slightly exceed our minimum obligations if we become like God. The manner in which we do so? To give God thanks. Speaking only for myself, I feel pretty good if I can remember to be thankful for one thing in a hundred in the course of a day. And yet, our obligation to God, to do well, is to give thanks always and everywhere. To be grateful to God at all times and in all places is just a little over His minimum expectation for us; and to succeed at it is to become like God Himself.

The system would be rigged against us, in our finite weaknesses, if not for God’s secret, told by the placement of this prayer in the service. The prayer concludes with the secret: “Through Jesus Christ Our Lord,” and it is the start of the Eucharistic prayer. In the communion of the faithful, and in the Communion host itself, we receive the nourishment to allow us to do well always and everywhere to give God thanks. As the Mass concludes, and we are told to go forth to love and serve the Lord, we should start here, at the beginning of the Eucharist, and use the strength of it to give our thanks.

Ponder on it on Sunday.


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