The beauty of holiness

A few days ago the Owl put up a squib entitled “In their own lands,” which brought interesting comments from two readers, -N- and Katherine. The Owl has grappled with the questions involved for years, and didn’t get around to a good reply in time. Hence this separate post, addressed to them and to all our readers, and which is still not final.

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Thank you for your comments, Katherine and -N-. I think when you, Katherine, describe worship being both emotional and intellectual, you are reaching toward something close to what -N- means by understanding the human spirit on a nonverbal, symbolic level. Both of you know we are multi-layered creatures. I think you both know that inward gnawing St. Augustine described in his Confessions, which is never quiet until we find rest in God. Faith is neither one thing nor the other; neither an intellectual understanding nor an emotional state, though it is certainly something to know about, and have feelings about. Once that blessed dispensation has taken place, the beauty of holiness will take care of itself.

High Anglican worship sometimes partakes of that beauty—not always where I live. I’d contend that the most abject penitential monk, avoiding Mass and lying face down in the dust of Mr. Athos, is just as beautiful. We need his prayers and he needs ours.

A Palm Sunday procession in dirt streets in India; what a glorious picture! You may recall the Owl’s description of Domenica delle Palme in Borgo Sansepolcro, Toscana.

I have written to my rector to suggest something of the kind. Imagine a group of local churches forming a circuit around town, with stops at each in turn for a liturgical step: here the Kyrie, next the Collect, then the Lectionary, Psalter, and Gospel for the day. Down the road the Methodist or Presbyterian could make the homily (eight minutes max!), and we could end at our founding Catholic mission church. The Mass as a movable feast. Ecumenical? In spades! Open commensiality? I don’t know whether a Catholic prelate could get his bishop’s consent to serve the elements to non-Catholic people, but there is a service called The Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament that might be used. What a chance to teach each other something, to celebrate the wholeness of the community—but more importantly, that of the capital-C Church, whose wholeness, despite our divisions, was never in doubt. There God’s hospitality prevails, and cannot be owned by any mere congregation.

My affluent Episcopal congregation participates in a local program called Family to Family. Anyone, not just homeless or poor people, can go get a free hot meal. Anyone can go to help serve the food. We announce the occasions in our Sunday services, always including the phrase, “out on the Avenue,” which denotes the second main street here; the one where more Mexicans live. lt’s telling: the Avenue is Out There. I’d venture to guess none of the usual denizens of Family to Family ever travel the three miles to our worship. We might imagine a good Palm Sunday the did travel the distance.

One thought on “The beauty of holiness”

  1. What a wonderful idea (the ecumenical Palm Sunday procession)! Let us know if it comes to pass. I don’t think the Catholic Mission could offer holy communion to all, but surely prayers together are okay.

    I think you, Owl, and St. Augustine are right about the inward longing for God. That longing is not satisfied fully by intellectual investigation of Scripture and theology, since we, being human, cannot fully understand God; nor is it satisfied fully by the ecstatic experiences of the charismatic and pentecostal denominations. Sometimes those things, when they become a focus in and of themselves, become a stumbling block rather than a path to God. Even the elaborate ceremonial of very, very high worship can become a stumbling block.

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