Thursday, September 01, 2011


I have an American friend - a friend from Brazil will now write to me and say: no, you mean a friend from the USA - my US friend has a dreadful habit of calling everything "awesome", especially things dripping with fat, such hamburgers, and Reuben’s women, and on rare occasions, even me. I once had a girlfriend whose clipped and critical English mother referred to everything as "awful", including me and then my friend, who is now her husband.

"Awe" is a word that is rather difficult to define here are some dictionary definitions: "mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder inspired by authority, genius, great beauty, sublimity, or might:" or "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc.,"

Properly, it strikes me; "Awe" is something that belongs to our relationship with God. Peter kneels before the Lord after the miraculous draft of fishes, Peter and the others at the Transfiguration, Seraphim and Cherubim seem consumed with awe in the Apocalyptic literature, especially the Book of the Apocalypse.
It is very tempting to have a go at Archbishop Conti but let us leave it at "awe" and kneeling or prostrating or covering one's face seem to be closely associated in the scriptures. Kneeling or prostrating or bowing to the ground is something which goes with communion with Christ.

There are lots of things that inspire "awe" in me, some confessions and deathbeds but mainly the Church's Rites. Saying Mass should inspire awe in me, I regret to say it doesn't happen often, not in the way it used to when I was first ordained, when at the consecration it was almost difficult to breathe, or when I first learnt to pray and felt and I felt I might die in the dreadful velvet darkness of the light of God. Sometimes that still happens, normally when saying the ancient Mass in some ancient Church whilst on holiday.

It is an emotional thing, not some mystical experience, though it does help to build a sense of the proper relationship with God, little ole finite us encountering the Infinite, Omnipotent, Impassible, Transcendant One. It strikes me the Orthodox deliberately set out to create an awe filled liturgy: glittering gold, colour, icons, flickering candles, incense, ancient chant, prayerful people all help. Turn on a fluorescent tube and it can all disappear. Our own rites I find even more moving, the silence of Low Mass, the low bowing during the Tantum at Benediction, High Mass with a half competent choir, it is all full of awe.

Yes, it is the ancient rites that inspire me; partly I admit because I celebrate them only occasionally, therefore they retain specialness. I think they rarely do, but the question is, can the new rites create the same sense. Again, one of the problems with them is they are invariably they are carried out in perfunctory minimalistic way. One of the reason for this but also a reason in its own right is that there was a deliberate dumbing down in the 70's, a fear of manufactured awe, hence the stripping away of gestures that were designed to express awe, getting rid of all those painful genuflections, after 60 they apparently begin to hurt, and the ridding of pernickety rules about where hands and fingers should be. The over lit and barren architecture of the time didn't help, neither did the starkness of vestments and other liturgical accoutrements. "Noble simplicity" is of its time, it is not de fide, the Church speaks on faith and morals inerrantly not the arts, even liturgical arts but for some seems to have become de fide.

The Novus Ordo celebration of Holy Week I find is awe inspiring. Concelebrated Mass, sung by a monastic community, with the correct chants is, or at least can, be awesome. Time stands still singing the endless psalms of Matins in choir in an ice cold church in either Rite, even in the vernacular.
The new texts of the Mass, the rethinking of the Liturgy, give us an opportunity to begin to make our Rites awe filled again. I think one area we should examine is the whole question of singing the Mass, and silence and stillness and timelessness.


Brasileiro said...

I'm Brazilian and we use "americano" for Americans the WHOLE TIME. Even the press stopped using other names for the citizens of the United States in recent decades, as the people themselves had been doing informally for over a century. So don't worry about us.

On the other hand, if you have a friend from anywhere in Hispanic America, from Mexico to Chile, then you will be bothered to death about this and their unbelievable "Unitedstatesian" (Estadounidense)...

Cara Serrano said...

Thank you, Father, for your post on the awe-insired moments of your priestly life. As a Benedictine Oblate, I've had a few moments when God has "wowed" me in prayer, but I can't imagine how truly awesome it must be to pray the words of consecration. I also know what you mean about the moments being less frequent and I think it's because God doesn't feel that He has to do a fireworks display for people who are already following Him. Or maybe it's because He knew we'd never get any work done if we were constantly dazzled by His awesomeness.

nickbris said...

SHOCK and AWE is what you get for defying American orders to Democratize

Anita Moore said...

Cara Serrano: I also know what you mean about the moments being less frequent and I think it's because God doesn't feel that He has to do a fireworks display for people who are already following Him. Or maybe it's because He knew we'd never get any work done if we were constantly dazzled by His awesomeness.

Even more than that: I think God wants us to love Him for Himself and not just for the candy He gives us.

The minimalism and starkness are, I think, the footprint of modernism -- the "synthesis of all heresies" -- which denies the supernatural. If there is no supernatural or transcendent reality, then there is nothing to be awed at.

B flat said...

Regarding "minimalism, and starkness," or the noble simplicity you mention, Father, I draw attention to the deliberate elimination of decoration and glitter by the early Cistercians in both architecture and liturgy. Even their chant was simplified, so that nothing detract from seeking the beauty of God.
But what was done in the 1960's and later was not a search for noble simplicity; it was, as you write, dumbing down, and the result of barbarian hatred for beauty in any form, for quality expressed in any thought or construction. If you disbelieve me, look at any church built or renovated "in the spirit of VaticanII", or at the ICEL translation of the Gloria which eliminated phrases because they were judged repetitious.
There is a very long way to go, to regain a general appreciation of beauty and truth in the Church, and each of is has to do it on their own or within an exceptional family or other community. General education, and the Church itself since the 1960's, have not helped at all but worked to intensify and spread the destruction. So much good seed was sown in these lands, raising so many hundreds of saints, and yet the results visible in society and Christian Communities in Britain today show that an Enemy has done this. The signs in Britain are that neither the Church itself, nor public or religious education is yet willing to cease working with the enemy of mankind and to resume their task of bringing us out of the darkness of brutalism into building the City of God.

Anonymous said...


Be not afraid (nor politically correct). It's AMERICAN.

Your fan,

Yankee Doodle

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