Monday, April 17, 2006
Is this Heaven?  

Still basking in the glow of Sunday's Easter celebration, I came across Daniel Nichols' recent post on the beauty of the liturgy of Eastern Rite Catholics. I think it is a wonderful post which captures an important aspect of our worship, namely that it should be child-like. As the parent of a young child, I am very familiar with my daughter taking such joy in some activity that she desires to do the activity over and over without stopping. (There are several of my daughter's books which I now have well committed to memory.)

One of the reasons that people gripe so much about the liturgical abuses found throughout the Catholic Church is because people know how very important the liturgy is. It is our "work" of worship that we give to God. It grounds our relationship with God. That is why I appreciate Daniel Nichols' reflection that our worship should be child-like. God is our Father, and we are able to approach Him most fittingly as children who recognize our utter dependence on Him. Naturally, as profound an observation about worship must have been initiated by a child.
On Palm Sunday, in the middle of the Divine Liturgy, dazzling in its beauty, my three year old daughter, Maria, turned to me and asked "Is this Heaven?"

Yes, I told her, on Sundays we get to visit Heaven.

A lot has been written about the beauty of the Byzantine Liturgy, but Maria's wonder sums it up better than any scholarly tome.


The East, on the other hand, has a liturgy that seems to be made up by children. Is something worth doing? Then do it over and over again. I think of Chesterton's comment that God is like a child in this regard. If an adult is performing some act that delights a child, like tossing the child up into the air, the adult's arms will ache before the child becomes bored. "Do it again!" is the child's tireless refrain. And so, Chesterton says, God makes the sun rise day after day, saying "Do it again!" in His delight.


There is a childlike sensibility, too, in the Byzantine approach to the senses. Do we have incense burning? Yes, of course: incense is used at every Divine Liturgy, not just on feast days, and the sweet smell delights our senses even in Lent.

But this evidently wasn't enough. What else can we do? "I know," someone said, deep in our history, "Let's add some bells to the censer!" And so they did, and the sound of jingle bells accompanies the act of censing to this day.
Unfortunately, I cannot say that I have been to an Eastern Rite liturgy. Although, after reading this piece, I believe I would be quite remiss to never participate in such a liturgy. The closest I have come is to visit several Orthodox parishes, and once, I attended a Russian Orthodox liturgy in the suburbs of Chicago. Although at the time, I was not a Catholic, and I knew virtually nothing about liturgy, I did appreciate the other-worldly nature of the mass. In particular, I fond that the chanting of the priest and the choir was extremely moving. Also, I have also always appreciated icons, and the iconography in the particular church I attended was very beautiful. All of this added up to a beautiful experience which I do not think I had been fully able to appreciate until I read Daniel Nichols' post.

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