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Hallo again to all.

Coughs, sneezes, and sniffles abounded as we sat through mass this morning. We also joined in the aforementioned cold-related cacophony, so common in our part of the world during this time of year. As a consequence, we sat not in our usual place with a serviceable amateur parish choir, but rather with those in the pews.A box of Kleenex tissues

This produced the rare Sunday when, not only were we sitting in the congregation, but our typical pewmate was serving on the altar, further changing the experience. The service was, of course, quite familiar. The liturgy played out as it usually does in ordinary time. We listened to the homily from a different angle. We pondered what good could come out of Nazareth.* And the choir sounded perfectly fine. In all this, we were struck by a simple grace of our faith. We are not in it alone, nor is the liturgy some sort of performance for the congregation. (We have had occasion to grimace when we heard church bulletins referred to by fellow musicians as 'programs'.)

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, had this to say about the liturgy in his The Gospel and the Catholic Church:

Firstly, the center of worship, in practice, will not be the needs and feelings of men but the redeeming acts of God and the eternal truths which these acts reveal. The language and structure of worship will point away from the changing and topical to the divine action in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to the same action now present in heaven and in the whole Church. Hence the regular and ordered movement of Liturgy is not a cumbrous addition to Christian prayer; rather does it express the New Testament fact of worship as the divine action into which all spontaneous and congregational prayer is ever merged. Such spontaneous prayer is needed, but it is never the center. The center is the High Priestly act of Jesus Christ in heaven and in history.†

While we do not find ourselves wholly in agreement with the extent to which the archbishop argues that worship must eschew the topical, we find his observation that the ordered aspects of worship are not 'cumbrous' because they point to worship as divine action very relatable after today's services.

We were struck that, by its rhythms, it did not entirely matter whether we were in the choir stalls, the pews, with the altar party, or standing in the rear as an usher. Whatever the role we might have, the central act must be that of worship—the action of Christ in heaven and on earth, an action which we have all celebrated with much joy over the past several weeks during Christmas. This insight was not foreign to Ramsey, nor for that matter to Kierkegaard, in his famous description of worship:

There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor's repetition of it is the main concern—is the solemn charm of the art.‡

Today was a refreshing reminder that, no matter what we may think or feel walking into church, the church above and below is continuing to live in God's love. There have been worse outcomes of a cold, to be sure.

See you next week.

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14 January 2018

* Or Haiti, Africa, Norway or the United States.
† From Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (2011 Kindle ed.), chapter 7.
‡ Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart, trans. Douglas Steere (1948), 180.

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