Wednesday, February 28, 2007

on serving at the altar


Having served hundreds and hundreds of low Masses, sung Masses, Solemn High Masses, etc., I can say that they have changed me as a human being. And I only learned to serve when I was twenty-one. When you serve in the old rite, you have to take on another persona. It is the most self-emptying and transformative experience you can go through, at least if you take it seriously. The way I was taught, you always have your hands folded, you always look down, each step is subtle and measured, and all movements are supposed to be slow and elegant. When you are before the throne of God, you should act like it. This act grafts you into the continuous worship of God that has gone on since before time began, as it goes on in heaven continuously, and as our ancestors prayed before us. This is the ultimate democracy of the dead (to quote Chesterton): that we should continue to worship as they did, emptying ourselves of our own modern ideas of how worship and religion should be.

Liturgy is gravely serious business, but the paradox is that this is what makes it so fun. Children will often behave like angels for their parents because they know that their parents like it that way. They may be little devils most of the time, but when they know they should behave, they can do it on cue and earn even more appreciation from their parents for their efforts. This is how I feel when I serve Mass. Yes, I am a dissipated, foul-mouthed, hypocritical, uncouth runaway ex-monk. But at least I can be angelic in front of God for twenty five minutes on a Wednesday evening. It is my way of trying to show God that I might not be such a terrible scoundrel after all. It is my poor attempt at the widow’s mite.

And when it is done right, when it is true rational service mixed with humility and bodily motion, a low Mass can be even more beautiful than a starry sky, a craggy sea shore, or a snow covered mountain that shoots up into the clouds. This is what we are here for, it is our eternal vocation: to serve, to dance, and to be joyful before the throne of the Lamb. Ecce Agnus Dei…..

Read it all here.

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