MEMORIAL OF SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT
POPE AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
Today, the Church celebrates the life of Pope Gregory the Great, perhaps the second most influential Pope of the first 600 years of the Church (after Saint Peter himself). A quick bio.
- Gregory was born in Rome in 540.
- At the age of 35 he became a monk, leaving behind him great wealth and political notoriety.
- While Gregory relished the gift of monastic contemplation, the needs of the Church called him back into world he though he left behind: he was elected Pope in 590.
- For the final 14 years of his life he labored tirelessly for the renewal of the Liturgy.
- He wrote extensively and is revered as a Doctor of the Church.
- He died in 604.
1,409 years after his death Gregory is remembered for many things; however, few things influence us today more than his commitment to renewing the Liturgy (which most of us would refer to as "Mass on Sunday"). Why so? Why is that a big deal?
There is a horizontal and vertical dimension to life, and a horizontal and vertical dimension to the Mass. The horizontal dimension = earth; the vertical dimension = heaven. Your life, the Church, or Mass itself are always healthiest when there is a balance of horizontal and vertical dimensions. When the pendulum swings too far to the horizontal or the vertical then our life, the Church, or the Mass can be out of balance.
The Church is often critiqued as "outdated" or "behind the times" or "stuck in the past". When comparing the Catholic Mass to other Christian Sunday worship services, many critique the Catholic Church (especially the Mass) as being "old school" or "irrelevant" or "not as engaging" as other modern forms of worship. Why? Why does the Catholic Church, and specifically the Mass, resist "modernizing" its worship. Why don't we "change with the times?"
The Church, and all of humanity, are healthiest when there is a balance of the horizontal and vertical dimensions. As a priest who understands the mindset of many of those searching for God, I understand "how" someone would say that much of the Mass doesn't connect with their ordinary life. I understand "how" someone would say that much of the Mass is foreign to "real life". Here's the point ... stay with me here ... it's supposed to feel like that ... it's on purpose. It's not supposed to feel like the secular world that so many of us live in. It feels "different" to many Americans because so many of us live in only the horizontal dimension in life.
If your experience of Sunday worship is only of the horizontal then something's missing. In other words, your worship of God on Sunday should include the horizontal: good community, connecting with other people, feeling like you have direction in your life on earth. However, your experience on Sunday must include the vertical: God Himself, an experience of Heaven while you're on earth, an experience of the sacred to remind us that there is more to life than the secular. There should always ― always ― be a balance of horizontal and vertical dimensions. Thus, Mass is not an experience of good community, connecting with other people, feeling like you have direction in life. It never was and never will be. To reduce Mass to the horizontal dimension will never ultimately work. A healthy experience of a Catholic Mass on Sunday must include the vertical dimension. Therefore, some of the words, some of actions, some of the flow will always feel a "little different" from ordinary life because the words, actions, and flow are not of "ordinary life" ― they are of heaven, the vertical dimension, and give the ultimate meaning to our ordinary life.
Wisdom is not dismissing the Mass because it feels "outdated" or "behind the times" or "stuck in the past". Instead, we should ask why that is: Is it actually intentional? Did God Himself design it that way?
When we embrace the vertical dimension of the Mass we allow God to form us in His image rather than attempting to form God in our image. The ultimate question is: who's forming who?
What's your experience of Mass? What "feeds" you? Why does that "feed" you? What is your experience of the horizontal and vertical dimensions at Mass?
FR. ROBERT BARRON AND A FEW THOUGHTS ON MASS