Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
The liturgy and the individual

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Dec. 6, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson There is a fact about our American culture that our values and our needs tend to be articulated and expressed in terms of individualism, and accordingly our religious needs and values are often regarded as a personal and private spiritual quest. We so easily and automatically ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Of course, this rugged individualism is not evil, for such a spirit of independence has contributed so greatly to what our nation is all about, and we know from our understanding of philosophy and psychology that the personalism of this century and the need to take responsibility for one’s own life are crucial to healthy human development.

At the same time, this kind of individualism can wreak havoc with those of us who grew out of a Biblical and liturgical tradition. It creates great tension, for the Biblical tradition understands faith in one God as a gift through a community of believers, not as either a private gift or a private acquisition. At the same time, the liturgy that expresses and shapes our Biblical faith is a community prayer, not private prayer. How difficult it sometimes is to walk into our churches on Sunday and leave aside the Me, along with its highly developed ego, its needs, habits, personal preferences and idiosyncrasies, and assume our other identity as a member of the many, a citizen of the Body of Christ, a person of the church.

It is likely that many who find liturgical change so difficult, whether change in a rite or even change in the appearance of a church building, are persons who have difficulty seeing themselves as members of a community, who do not yet understand that the liturgy is not a random meeting of individuals, but rather a community effort, with personal wants set aside in favor of the corporate. This community is one whose bonds are stronger and more real than any bonds of family, tribe, color, nation, or other human social category.

Certainly such an understanding, challenging as it may be, does not imply that I must agree with everyone else or even that I must like everyone I meet, or that we must all interpret our common tradition in precisely the same way. The different gifts and different interpretations which different members bring to the community are essential to its life.

But the first goal of our worship is not to meet the needs of the Me. Our first goal is to acknowledge our absolute dependence on the Holy One. Transformed by that experience, we then bear witness to the reign of God now present in Christ, and the justice, peace, liberation and reconciliation for the world that the presence of God’s kingdom demands.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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