Is liturgy really a big deal?

It is obviously no surprise that liberal Catholics have traditionally placed a low value on the quality of liturgical celebrations; I say not on liturgy itself, because progressive Catholics think liturgy is extremely important - that is, so long as it is an anthropocentric, horizontal affair. It is not liturgy per se they disparage, but liturgy done well - that is, liturgy that is transcendent and centered on the dignified worship of God. "Why be so finicky about the liturgy?" they say. "There are more important issues to get upset about! Issues like poverty, war, abortion and social justice! Why get all worked up about liturgical reform? It is just a matter of aesthetics anyhow!" Unfortunately, it is also common for more conservative Catholics to hold a dismissive attitude towards the liturgy as well, adopting a minimalist approach that the externals of liturgical action are "mere" externals, that they can be discarded or changed without consequence, that all that matters is having a valid Eucharist, etc. Similarly, the charismatic movement tends to foster an attitude of undue familiarity and casualness in the presence of the Lord. All of these are deficient approaches to the Sacred Liturgy which do not fully respect the importance of this holy action.

Care of the poor is certainly important. Economic and social justice are important. But while the aforementioned topics are certainly worthy of attention, liturgy takes a special place because in the Divine Liturgy we worship God Himself. Remember when Judas was indignant with Mary of Bethany for anointing the feet of Jesus? "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" Jesus said, "Let her alone...the poor you have with you always, but you do not always have me" (John 12:5,7). When we adore and worship Jesus, we are performing a supremely important action; in fact, it is the action we were created to do.

How important is liturgy in the larger scheme of things? One way of telling how important something is to God is seeing how many people He has struck dead over it. We don't mean to be facetious; consider the following facts: God did not strike Adam dead when he committed the first sin, nor did He smite Cain for murder. He did not smite Noah for drunkenness, nor did He kill Joseph's brothers for selling him into slavery. Aaron was not even smitten for making the golden calf and David was not struck down for his adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba. Even wicked Manasseh of Judah was not killed by God when he sacrificed babies to Moloch in the Valley of Hinnom. 

Yet, Scripture is replete with examples of persons who were struck dead in wrath for violating the dignity surrounding the Hebrew liturgy and the ceremonial worship of God. The Bible furnishes us with the following examples of people who were smitten by God in divine anger:

  • Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, are consumed by divine flame for offering unholy fire before the Lord, fire "such as the Lord had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1-3).
     
  • A man is put to death under God's Law for not honoring the day of rest by picking up sticks (Num. 15:32-36). The day of rest was supposed to be the day on which God was worshipped.
     
  • Korah, Dathan Abiram and their party are consumed by fire and swallowed up into the earth because they sought to usurp the priestly role of Aaron. Their heresy was that they asserted that "all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them" (Num. 16:1-40).
     
  • Hophni and Phineas, the two wicked sons of Eli the High Priest are marked out for death by God because they partook of consecrated meat from the offerings made to the Lord at the Tent of Meeting (1 Sam. 2:12-4:11).
     
  • King Saul offers a sacrifice because the priest Samuel is late in arriving for the ceremony. As a result, God rejects him from being King, he becomes tormented by evil spirits and is slain on Mount Gilboa (1 Sam. 13:8-14).
     
  • Uzzah is struck dead because he touched the Ark, the supreme object of Israelite liturgical worship (2 Sam. 6:7).
     
  • Seventy men of Beth-Shemesh were struck dead by God for looking into the Ark (1 Sam. 6:12). As lay people and non-Levites, the touching of the sacred object of the Hebrew liturgy and sign of God's presence was a profanation.
     
  • King Uzziah of Judah is smitten with leprosy "to the day of his death" for trying to offer incense in the Holy Temple in violation of the law permitting only priests and levites from doing so (2 Chr. 26:16-21).
     
  • King Belshazzar of Babylon arouses the wrath of God by using Israelite liturgical vessels for profane uses (Dan. 5). He is slain and his kingdom is lost.
     
  • St. Paul warns the Corinthians that improper reception of the Holy Eucharist is a profanation of Christ's Body and can lead to death (I Cor. 11:27-33).


Judging by all of these examples, it would seem that God's wrath was more provoked by Korah and Dathan usurping the priestly role of Moses than by Manasseh slaughtering infants. We know from Scripture that Manasseh was taken into captivity, had time to repent, and indeed did repent of his wickedness. But we know that Uzzah, Dathan, Korah, Nadab and all the rest on this list were slain immediately without time for afterthought or repentance. All of the people on this list died because they violated Old Testament prescriptions regarding the proper worship of God in one way or another. In all of our good deeds, we serve God in our brothers and sisters, but in the liturgy we come into contact with God Himself, which gives opportunity for greater blessing, but also increases the condemnation of those who participate in it unworthily or profane it.

Therefore, let anybody who is tempted to think that the proper worship of God is not important (supremely important!), that it does not matter whether we use Gregorian Chant or guitars and bongos in Mass, that accurate liturgical translations are not vital, that God is not outraged by Clown Masses, Guitar Masses and all the rest of the abominations we hear about, that there is no difference between the Traditional Latin Mass and the nonsense at your typical liberal parish, let them remember St. Paul's admonition in the epistle to the Hebrews: "A man who has violated the Law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of Grace. For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:28-31).

CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW ON FACEBOOK!

Related articles:

Liturgy, Decorum and the Bible
Are Traditionalists Guilty of Pharisaism?
Liturgical Minimalism Hurts the Poor
It's All About God