Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A New Gaba Link

It's always good to get more Gaba. I am referring, of course, to the important neurotransmitter. (And, incidentally, GABA is now available as a supplement in the new Jones soda line.) I cannot, however, give the same unqualified praise for the Deacon/hotel night manager variety of Gaba. Nevertheless, I must say it is humbling to note that one of my blog writings was picked up and linked over at the Gottesdienst Online blog. Thanks to Father Beane for the compliment.

More importantly, thank you, Father Beane, for continuing to draw attention in worthy forums like Gottesdienst Online to the issues of reverence in worship, and for doing so, in this instance, in large part by aiming a spotlight on Father John Stephenson, and his writing. I cannot recommend Dr. Stephenson's work highly enough, whether his articles, or his dogmatics texts (particularly the one on the Lord's Supper), or his sermons.

While on the general topic of the rubrics of the Mass, let me share something I read recently. Periodically I read and meditate upon the rubrics and good rubrical studies. I used to do so out of what I would call an almost pure love of theology, which God for some reason placed in my heart and soul early in life. (I know that many fail to see the relationship between theology and the rubrics, and I can only say that we must catechize them on this point some other time.) Now, however, I do so also out of a sense of diaconal duty. In the area of rubrical commentaries, there are few modern texts more worthy of such study than J. B. O'Connell's The Celebration of Mass, published by Bruce Publishing, Milwaukee, in 1959.

In general, I find Lutherans who ridicule the traditional rubrics and yet call themselves Confessional Lutheran to be an amusing species. In particular, though, I am reminded lately of the way in which prominent churchmen, by means of what I would call cognitive contortions, characterize certain traditional postures at the altar as "contortions." O'Connell in this regard offers a corrective to such thinking. On page 373, for example, he writes that one of the faults in the celebration of Low Mass is to pronounce the consecration "with contortions of the mouth or body." There is such thing, in other words, as contortions, worthy of blame and critique, in the celebration of the Mass. And it has nothing to do with the practice of keeping the thumb and forefinger together from the consecration to the ablutions (a truly simply and logical rubric, though foreign to many today, and no doubt requiring some getting used to). In this regard, it is worth directing our attention also to what O'Connell writes on page 241 of the same book, where he holds forth on the liturgical posture of standing. He writes:

"When standing at the altar the rubrics describe the Celebrant as stans erectus. He stands erect, not merely because it is becoming in appearance, but also because of his official dignity as another Christ standing before the altar of sacrifice. The priest should stand well balanced, feet placed close together, with his weight on the ball of the foot. He should not bend forward, nor lean against the altar, much less rest his elbows on it, except when this is prescribed. He should stand still, not swaying about. Above all he should hold his head erect, not bowing it, nor cocking it on one side, nor craning his neck towards the Missal."

What we have here is not legalistic minutiae, but pointed reminders against irreverent or worldly behavior at the altar. The dignity of the Eucharist, and of the Christic priestly office, call for dignity of posture, not the exhibition of one's personality, as charmed as everyone may be by the priest's personal quirks outside of the Mass. Such commentary as O'Connell's is as relevant now as it was in the 1950s. We see the need for it in all churches. I know of one campus pastor, for example, who likes to stand behind the altar, and lean against it, as he gives the prayers, reminding me of some bartender, about to ask me, "Now, what'll you have?" There are pastors who sway; some tap their feet. We needn't even speak of those who dance, perform the marshal arts, and any number of other inane secularity.

When you don your alb, and the eucharistic vestments, you are stepping out of your personal tastes, so that you may step out of the way, so to speak. The liturgy does not need your help. You do not contribute to it. However, it can be harmed, and sullied. Let us remember that in the Mass we step, with spiritually bare feet, as it were, into heaven itself, and let us behave accordingly.


Scott said...

A common bad habit that drives me crazy is bouncing up and down on the balls of one's feet.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I've noticed that too, Scott. Thanks for bringing it up.

I'd like to point out here, though, just to be clear, that I do not condemn any and all movements outside of a rigid stance at the altar. Priests are men of flesh and blood, who get spasms, twitches, pain, et cetera. For the most part, however, a man can train himself to stand in a disciplined and reverent manner. And communicants, likewise, should bear these things in mind as well.

And speaking of other examples we could name of bad behavior at the altar, I am also reminded of the youth conference in New Orleans recently, in which the Lutheran bishop had everyone do "the wave." Tales of the Missourian youth gatherings lead me to a confidence that this New Orleans affair cannot be dismissed as merely an ELCA curiosity. Perhaps St. Louis should come out with a "What About" pamphlet on doing the wave in church.