Fashionable?

I have seen and been part of many discussions in the past 20 years about how we go about celebrating liturgy.  Great points have been raised and discussed but mostly leading to no definitive answer.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Holy Mother Church is always trying to come to terms with bringing to the people the eternal message in ways that they can understand. The way people think and comprehend ideas morphs as experiences influence society – we need to take that into account.  However, there are deep seated feelings within mankind that some things/events are eternal, have a transcendent paradigm, and when these types of things are changed there is a dissonance within each of us. Certain things are meant to be a certain way, otherwise their ontology becomes hidden and their value diminishes.

In an article on sacred architecture[1] I was struck by something the author wrote; the nature of fashion is that it does not last.  He goes on to say that ‘succession of fashions is in itself a succession of failures.[2] Fashions are meant to intrigue, to create intense reactions and then fade away – it is the reason that the word ‘contemporary’ is frequently used with it.  The etymology of the word ‘contemporary’ is telling, it comes from two Latin words: ‘con’ which means ‘with’ and ‘tempus’ which means ‘time’ and together, in our language, means: ‘characteristic of the present[3]. Therefore, contemporary fashion by its definition is fleeting, changing, ephemeral.  Contemporary secular artwork, secular music, and clothing for examples are fashionable since people feel something that arouses appreciation and desire but after a while the feeling fades away; they are never meant to mean something in the long run – in a way fashion is a diversion until another comes along.

I also hear the word ‘contemporary’ used quite often when it comes to various aspects of the Church. It worries me that many followers desire the ‘contemporary’; I fear that their desire for the fashion of the time will obscure the transcendent reasons for what the fashion is trying relate.  But, as I said at the beginning, this is a tension that takes place when we try to bring people the eternal message in ways that they can understand.

Holy Mother Church has given us eternal ways to come to understand and live within the eternal.  Paramount in these is, of course, the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass where we participate in the eternal sacrifice of the Son to His Father with the heavenly hosts. Another is right now and here; our participation in the Liturgy of Hours. Coming together and praying Vespers is a participation in the eternal Church’s prayer to the Father through His Son.  By participating in the Divine Office we are imitating our Lord’s daily life of prayer. We are obeying His command to do as He did; as He told us in the Gospel of St. John:  ‘he who believes in me will also do the works that I do[4] By participating in the Divine Office we are continuing Christ’s prayer and we are consecrating ‘to God the whole cycle of the day and night.[5] And by praying the Divine Office we are extending throughout the day and night ‘the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the Eucharistic mystery[6]

It is important for each of us to realize the eternal and transcendent importance of what we are doing (especially in Mass and here at Vespers) because we are doing it for not only ourselves but for Holy Mother Church and her members.  Too often we are assaulted by ephemeral banal affectations and accretions on our most transcendent moments and we run the risk of losing their eternal import.  Let’s ask Christ to intercede for us in our desire to fend off these moments of confusion and to be able to participate in the eternal celebrations as we should regardless of whether they seem in fashion or out.

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[1] The Alphabet of Giants, Dale Ahlquist, Sacred Architecture Issue 27
[2] ibid
[3] Online Etymology Dictionary
[4] Jn 14:12 (RSV)
[5] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours paragraph 10
[6] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours paragraph 12

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