Question: Our pastor says that the Mass is about God and not about us. But I always thought that worship since the Second Vatican Council was meant to build community. What is your comment?
— Name withheld, Baltimore, Md.
Answer: Is worship about God? Obviously. Is it, therefore, not about us? Hardly. Worship is about both God and the worshipping community. The truth here is both/and, not either/or.
What would worship about God only and not about the worshipping assembly look or feel like? Perhaps a Mass in which no congregation is present? But even there, the Mass is never a purely private affair; it is always the act of the whole Church. And saints and angels are present in a “private” Mass.
Similarly, one may ask: What would a Mass that is not about God, but only about the worshipping assembly, look like? Perhaps a Mass in which the focus is on the priest’s personality, or where the hymns focus unduly on the moods of the congregation, or where the homily fails to mention the transcendent adequately and focuses instead on the therapeutic needs of the community. But can God ever be forgotten in worship? I do not see how this could be so, except in theory.
God and community are essential elements of the liturgy. They are never properly set in opposition. The God whom we worship in the liturgy is not a remote, self-absorbed deity. He is a God whose greatest joy is the humanity he has created. He is glorified not by the ritual flattery of human beings, but by their flourishing in his sight, by their being made in the image of his Son. God’s Word became flesh in the Incarnation, and Christ died and rose again that we might become citizens of the kingdom of heaven. God’s life is always directed toward humanity, and his presence in worship always redeems and sanctifies those who gather in worship. St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated, “The glory of God is the person who is fully alive.” Worship is about God and us; that is what the plan of salvation is all about.
By the same token, there is no worship that is not about God (except in the Unitarian tradition). Every moment of Catholic liturgy — from beginning to end — has reference to the Trinitarian God. The fundamental shape of the liturgy is prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. All the things that liturgy does — redeems, forgives, reconciles, edifies, sanctifies — have no meaning except by reference to God. Without God at the heart, liturgy has no meaning. And I doubt that such a liturgy really exists anywhere in Catholicism.
Modern false worship
Question: Do you think Catholics today are guilty of the worship of false gods?
— John, Anchorage, Alaska
Answer: The worship of false gods has been a perennial danger since the creation of the human race. Today people are not likely to worship the deities of ancient religions, but are more inclined to pay worshiplike attention to material things, social status and power. Catholics are not more likely to be attracted by false allurements than any other group. (Indeed, if we take our faith seriously, we should be doing better.)
The more basic danger for all Christians is false worship of the true God. This occurs when we fail to put our hearts and minds into our worship and when our rites and prayers fail to have the proper effect in our everyday lives.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.