Thursday, September 01, 2011
"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.
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