Appendix 3-Uncarnated Worship

Overcompensation is a huge problem for us.  As creatures in time and space we tend to overcorrect like a swaying ship, a swinging pendulum, or a husband in trouble.  This has happened with Protestantism’s view of worship.  In an attempt to avoid empty religiosity and outward false piety, some of Protestantism has taken an almost Gnostic approach to worship. There are those in Protestantism that reject most corporal, physical, or material means of worship.  This is an obstacle facing Catholics and Orthodox worshipping with Protestants because the two great historic Churches are so grounded in incarnational theology that the reduction of worship to merely songs and hand raising feels impoverished.  We want to worship like humans, not angels, for we are body and soul and profess the Incarnate Lord.  I believe this is also a source of the uneasiness Protestants feel regarding relics and Sacraments, especially the Mass.

Certainly we are called to worship God in Spirit and Truth (cf. John 4:20-24) and the interior disposition is essential for worship, “For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, cf. Matt. 9:13).  For without love of God and repentant hearts we are like the Pharisees, “like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth… on the outside [appearing] righteous, but inside … filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Matt. 23:27-28).

However, a spiritual interior disposition and vibrant material, sensory, corporal worship through ritual are not mutually exclusive.  We must not be like the Son who says he will go to the vineyard but does not (cf. Matt. 21:28-31).  Our worship needs to take form.  Throughout the Gospel’s Christ commends fasting as a physical accompaniment to prayer, almost a prayer of the body.   He also engages in very physical healings (cf. John 9:6), and we are told to anoint our sick (cf. James 5:14).  The laying on of hands is not only a ritual, but one that Paul tells Timothy to not do lightly (cf. 1 Tim. 5:22).  Jesus participated in Jewish ritual worship in the Gospels.  He “fell prostrate in prayer” (Matt. 26:39).

For the Catholic and Orthodox all of this finds its apex in the Eucharistic Liturgy.  It is in that communal prayer of the gathered church that we pray with our bodies through posture and lift our voices in song.  We find again the celebration of the Last Supper — the first Passover meal of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-32).  We hear, echoed through eternity, Christ’s words of utmost bodily worship, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  It is in the liturgy that we find the altar we seek reconciliation before approaching (cf. Matt. 5:23-24).  It is where we find the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy that from East to West a [Todah] sacrifice will be offered (cf. 1:11).  And, yes, it is where my greatest contribution is a sincere and repentant heart (Psalm 51:17).  In the liturgy we find ourselves devoted to what the early church was devoted to, “the teaching of the apostles, communal life, breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  This is not something supplemental for us, it is the source and summit of our worship (CCC 1324).

See, invisibility does not grant immunity from emptiness.  Just as I can go through hollow motions at Mass someone can sing praise based off of self-serving fleeting emotions or raise their hands to fit in or draw attention.  Simultaneously, just as someone can let their guard down by singing “Amazing Grace” I can truly open my heart by feeling the corpus (body) on the crucifix. Our salvation came from the union of Creator with creation. We would do well to not confuse that with being saved from creation.


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