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Musical Musings: Liturgy

Liturgical Growth

by Gary D. Penkala

I was reading an article a few weeks ago and came across an interesting explanation. I'd like to share it now because it summarizes the points presented later in this article. The author was explaining the significance of the symbols for the four evangelists: a man for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke, and an eagle for John. My own knowledge here was rather limited and my curiosity was aroused. It seems that the symbols for the evangelists have specific references to the opening of each of the four Gospels. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ, stressing his human nature, and thus Matthew's symbol is a man. Mark begins with the story of John the Baptist, a lone voice in the desert, announcing the Messiah with the dynamic strength of the lion. Luke's Gospel begins with Zechariah, a priest of the Temple, whose duty it was to offer sacrifices to God. The ox, traditionally associated with these sacrifices, became the symbol for Luke. The opening of John's Gospel, veiled in mystery, emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, and John is symbolized by the eagle, soaring high.

In reading the article I had been motivated by my own curiosity, led to an intellectual understanding of the subject and, through this knowledge, brought to a deeper spirituality in the Gospel message. I believe these same three stages are necessary in our liturgical growth: curiosity, knowledge, and spirituality.

By curiosity I don't mean to imply triviality in matters of sacred liturgy. I simply mean a healthy interest in what is happening at Mass, the stage at which our own personal liturgical awareness must begin. There are, unfortunately, many Catholics who are not even at this basic level of liturgical growth, showing little or no interest in the mysteries which the Church celebrates. It is this first foundation stage which benefits from the abundant use of symbols. Symbols are such an integral part of ritual that when we ignore them we undermine the foundation of our growth. Children, just beginning this process, are captivated by symbols - candles, incense, statues, gestures, good music, processions, vestments. There is nothing superficial about these elements if they lead us to a deeper appreciation of liturgy, though many have disappeared from our "sterile" celebrations.

From curiosity we must proceed to an intellectual understanding of the Mass. In this stage, as we become liturgically more mature, we must know and appreciate the plan of the Mass. Why sing an Opening Song? Why stand for the Gospel? Why include the Lord's Prayer? Why break the Bread? The people rely on the clergy for such information. Are they getting it?

Our ultimate goal is more than just a knowledge of the liturgy. Just as through knowledge of God we come to love him, so through knowledge of liturgy we come to a higher form of worship, a worship in spirit and in truth. Liturgy must communicate to the soul, not just to the mind. It is frighteningly easy for modern liturgy to become verbose and intellectual, and we must guard against this by using symbols, which to a mature worshiper pass beyond curiosity and intellectual satisfaction to speak more directly to the heart.

If we are to allow for liturgical growth within our parishes we must renew our use of ritual symbols. We must provide catechesis in the liturgy, especially to the generations who have grown up without the benefit of major educational efforts during the liturgical changes of the sixties. We must allow for a deepening of our liturgical spirituality through effective choices of music, silence, text, environment, and art. As our parishes grow, we will come closer to that one perfect worship, the song of the saints and angels in Paradise.

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