Church’s worship should teach us to speak ‘from God’ and not ‘from ourselves’
January 26, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Our Lord called the devil a “liar” because “he speaks from himself” (Jn 8:44). He tries to pull out of his own finite mind a word that is sufficient—or, we could say, self-sufficient—and he always fails.
In contrast, the Son of God says: “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak” (Jn 8:28). Our Lord emphasizes this point in patiently varied language: “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father who sent me, he gave me commandment what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting. The things therefore that I speak, even as the Father said unto me, so do I speak” (Jn 12:49–50). “The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works” (Jn 14:10). Our Lord goes so far as to say, in the fifth chapter of John: “I cannot do anything of myself,” or, as another translation has it, “I am able to do nothing from myself” (Jn 5:30).
The exact instructions given under the old covenant for the priests and their worship, occupying a large part of the Pentateuch, are given for a permanent reason. They are not superseded in the New Covenant but fulfilled perfectly in Christ, in whom the infinite and eternal Word of God, sovereignly free, is bound permanently and singularly to this human flesh, this face, hands, heart, and voice, and who communicates His singularity to us in the form of liturgical traditions developed under the guidance of His Holy Spirit. This is why Our Lord tells us: “He that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19). The Church’s liturgy applies this verse to her saints, who are still doing and teaching the least of the commandments in their Christian transposition and meaning.
The Son of God prayed the psalms of David as He grew up in the home of Mary and Joseph. What a spectacle! The New Adam, father of the world to come, prayed the old psalms of a child of Adam. The Word who enlightens all men and inspirits the prophets is the very author of these psalms; no less than the heavens and the earth and all the host of them (Gen 2:1), the psalms are His own creation. Yet the Word-made-flesh submits to these words as prayers already there, which He planted in history for the formation of His own sacred Heart, for giving His lips and lungs and vocal chords their best exercise, for joining Him as fully as possible with the people of Israel and the human condition He assumed. Since we are little images of the Image of the Father, the psalms are given to us, too, as the vehicle of our innermost thoughts and feelings, so that shaped by them we may express what is deepest and truest in us, in our divinized human nature.
One of the great antiphons for Pentecost cries out: Repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto, et coeperunt loqui, alleluia, alleluia: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak, alleluia, alleluia.” We must first be filled with the Spirit of God before we have anything worthwhile to say—and our first word as newborn infants will be Alleluia, that is, “praise the Lord.” This will be the newborn Church’s first word: a word of pure praise offered to God like sweet incense.
The Psalmist exclaims: Ex ore infantium et lactentium perfecisti laudem… “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thy enemies, that Thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger” (Ps 8:3). Etymologically, the word infans means “the one who cannot speak,” who must learn how to speak by constantly listening to his mother, receiving language from her mouth as he receives milk from her breast. This life of dependency thwarts the advance of the enemy, Lucifer, who, unlike the child, grasps at an impossible independence and will not praise the Lord (cf. Is 14:12–17).
As for the Christian, so for the Church: wherever she wishes to live in the prime of her youth (cf. Ps 42:4 Vul.), she will give first place to offering up the sacrifice of praise. When we are animated by the Spirit, we speak the sacrifice of praise, we become a sacrifice. Conversely, when we speak “of ourselves”—this means, both from ourselves and about ourselves—we speak nothing but a lie.
There is a direct line connecting Babel to Canaan to Babylon to Gehenna.
First, there is Babel: when we abandon sacred tradition, which unifies us to one another, to the host of saints, and to the transcendent God, our penalty is a babble of vernacular tongues, a smorgasbord of options, an incoherent pluralism in the ars celebrandi or style of celebrating. Second, there is Canaan: our bad liturgical mentality and habits are a breeding ground for open and hidden forms of adultery, idolatry, atheism, and apostasy. Third, there is Babylon: we enter into captivity to our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil; we enter into exile, far from the fatherland, far from our own identity. We are dwelling in the furthest regio dissimilitudinis, in a condition of existential alienation accompanied by an utter lack of will-power to regain our home, to live up to sacrificial demands, or to bring our fellow men to the good. Fourth and lastly, there is Gehenna, the valley of burning garbage, image of hell.
This entire downward spiral is a spiral of increasing self-indulgence and decreasing discipline. One is dispersed, wasted, spread out, thinned out, until one is a caricature of one’s former substantial self. Such is what we have seen not only with the liturgy, but also with the priesthood, religious life, the missions, catechesis, the fine arts. When one gives up the supersubstantial bread of tradition with the Most Holy Eucharist at its heart, one makes a descent from gourmet food to fast food to starvation.
The path of ascent must therefore take the form of positive self-denial, in imitation of Christ, and for the sake of transformation in Him. This is why any movement away from asceticism, any lessening of customary Church-wide burdens of penance, is also ultimately from the Evil One. This would include the gradual reduction of the Eucharistic fast in the twentieth century, and the abolition of Septuagesima (pre-Lent) and the Lenten fast by Paul VI. If the smoke of Satan has emerged out of some fissure in the temple of God, as the same pope admitted, who permitted that fissure to open up in the first place? Whence came the weakness of the structure? More generally, who thought it could ever be a good idea to open the windows of the Church to let in the outside air? The devil normally stays away from holy places. He must have been given an invitation he couldn’t refuse. The laxity of the contemporary Church and the rise in Satanic phenomena are by no means unrelated.
Given that liturgy is hierarchical, otherworldly, ecstatic, and absolute in its demands over us, it is entirely in keeping with the devil’s strategy to destabilize, democratize, secularize, and relativize the liturgy here on earth. He seeks to loosen our bond with a fixed and efficacious tradition. Distinctions between sacred and profane, formal and informal, fitting and unfitting—these the devil tries to smudge and, eventually, obliterate. He seeks to darken or blot out the manifestation of the heavenly hierarchy in the earthly distinctions of sacred ministers and their complementary but non-interchangeable roles. He seeks to persuade us—particularly the clergy—that the liturgy is not the font and apex of the Christian life, but only one means among many for advancing a “Christian agenda.”
The devil knows he cannot prevent some advancement of the Christian faith, but he is well aware that nothing comes close to the liturgy’s power for hallowing the Name of God and establishing His kingdom in our midst, giving us our daily nourishment, and moving us to the forgiveness of sins and the avoidance of sins. In truth, liturgy is an end in itself because it is God’s peculiar possession and makes us His peculiar possession. If the devil can convince us that liturgy is not an end in itself, but rather, that it is a helpful tool we should manipulate for ulterior ends, then he has already won half the battle for souls. He has shaken our fundamental orientation to the heavenly Jerusalem and the kingdom that will have no end.