Monday, June 09, 2008

Vertical & Horizontal Liturgy

Speaking about the difference between horizontal and vertical liturgy can be hard enough among Catholics but on Friday, I will be discussing this topic amongst mixed company - that is, Catholics & Protestants.

First of all, the orientation described here is the orientation of the heart (obviously not of physical orientation as if it were a mere question of celebrating ad orientem versus ad um err.. the other way). But as with everything else, the matter and form should not be separated (and if they are, it usually indicates a serious problem). If your heart is oriented towards liturgical East, I know of no good reason why your body shouldn't be.

Just look at the very orientation of the two images above. On the left, everyone faces together towards the altar (liturgical East) whereas on the right, they are facing each other in self enclosed circle. The focal point is the praise band at center stage. Yet their hearts are supposedly vertical towards God?

Why does it matter what we do with our bodies or our material things if it's truly only the heart that matters? Anyone who does not already plainly recognize why is probably already guilty of neo-Platonism.

Vertical is that worship in which the heart is properly oriented towards God. Horizontal is that worship in which the heart is oriented anywhere else (usually the community or even worse, our own self). Is vertical worship possible in a horizontal environment? Sure, just as horizontal worship is possible in a vertical environment. Yet one environment is conducive to one orientation and obstructive to the other. Peaceful thoughts are also possible in a station wagon full of adolescents traveling cross-country but the environment, as I needn't tell you, isn't conducive.

Can you imagine the farmer that insists on growing his crop in poor soil because good fruit has also been known to grow there? Can you imagine the man who wants to sleep on an airport runway noting that it is somehow possible to block out the noise of the aircraft engines? How about the young man who wants to become a monk who insists on living at a nudist colony? If none of these seem quite right, then why would we think it any less strange the one who wishes to celebrate a vertical worship in a horizontal environment?

The spirit of the law always wishes to follow the letter of the law where possible and or practical. The liberal spirit wants to break the letter of the law as often as possible while still holding on to some resemblance of the "spirit of the law". The liberal wishes to divorce form from matter and follow the Gnostic errors of his fathers, the heretics. He devises no new mistakes. He says he wants to worship in the way that seems best to him. In fact, this error is much older than the Gnostics, it dates back to Cain.

But the Catholic needs to know what positive effects the reformations following Vatican II had and which were unintended. Jeff Pinyan has an excellent post today on the modern liturgical reform which I highly recommend you take the time to read.

Aside from that, I have argued in various places on the importance of liturgy within the very cosmos itself and more recently on Latin as a Veil . Both of these argue from different angles that God has never called us to be His "buddy" or to communicate with Him irreverently or even nonchalantly. Interaction with God is serious business that's why we have liturgy. Liturgy protects our interaction with God from being vulgar.

It also protects us from pride. Liturgy and high, heraldic pomp forces one to lose himself. Modernists think that those who participate in such ritualistic worship are being full of themselves. The reality is precisely the opposite. Those who abandon the ritual and refuse to lose themselves in the rite are the ones who think their self is too important to be lost. Slavish adherence to a rite, especially a religious one, is an act of humility. It shows that there is something bigger than me at work here.

This is why worship should never be enclosed in on itself. We do not gather to "celebrate our diversity" as a community we gather (as a community) to orient our hearts towards God in a vertical, liturgical worship. If we say this is our form, let our matter reflect it. If we say our hearts are oriented towards God, then lets orient our bodies and our words in the same direction.


StBasil said...

All I have to say is that the body expresses the heart and the spirit. That is the way people express their interior disposition. We can't disconnect the body from the spirit.

Hence ad orientam is as much about the heart as the body, and we can't disconnect the one from the other.

Pax Christi tecum.

Carolina Cannonball said...

tag, suck-ah.

Gretchen said...

Thanks for always giving this infant Catholic a lot to ponder.