Not to us, O Lord, not to us . . .

When a priest is counseling a parishioner, he will often work to discover the root of the problem in question. In doing so, he is trying to find out the cause, so as better to engage a proper solution. In dealing with problems, it is often helpful to examine what “got us to this point” in order to figure out how to “get past this point”. As an Ordinariate priest, I am, of course, committed to the principle of the Mass being the foundation of our spirituality, and therefore the degree of reverence we have in the Mass is proportionate to the degree of our devotion to God. Or, as someone else once said, “save the liturgy, save the world”.

Therefore, I ask the question, how did we get here to this point? I am referring to “the point” where the self is more important than God; the point where people (even many Catholics) view the Mass as being “all about them” and for their personal entertainment. A visitor to one of my parishes recently encouraged me to change something about the way that I celebrate the Mass. In our lengthy discussion, I found that the reason that he wanted this was because it was “what he liked”; nothing more, nothing less. Even if we are choosing something that is genuinely holy and good (like, for instance, a particular chant to sing in the Mass), if we are choosing it firstly because we “like it” then we must examine our motivations. For, none of the Mass is supposed to be for the sake of entertainment (even “holy” entertainment).

This problem with liturgical decision-making was made most clear to me many years ago as a protestant when I was speaking with a few other protestant pastors. Each one was explaining the way he likes to “do” worship. One liked this kind of music, another that kind. They all had a rationale for what they did (and a couple of them had split from each other over differences in what they “liked” in their worship service). None of them, however, said they made their choices based on what was pleasing to God. This is not to say that they were unconcerned with this issue, just that it was not mentioned. Although each would answer the question of what is pleasing to God in a somewhat different way, none expressed using that factor as a criterion at all.

It is my practice to critique my behavior by asking, am I doing this merely because I enjoy it, or because God enjoys it? And if the answer is because I enjoy it, then I have to ask, does it displease God (because not everything that is done for personal enjoyment will necessarily displease God). That is a great divide that exists in this world: things done for our own sake, and things done for God’s sake. So, when we think about the beauty of the Divine Worship Mass, we have to ask that scary question: why am I doing this? I will be honest and say that “I like it” is one of the answers for me.

Now, let me be clear: it is not wrong to enjoy the Mass. In fact, the Lord wants us to take delight in the liturgy; not merely for our own pleasure, but rather for the sake of ultimately enjoying God Himself more. You see, we do not have to be in a modernist or contemporary liturgy in order to focus on self and our own pleasure (we in Ordinariate parishes are not immune from this!). We are talented and sneaky people who can accomplish self-aggrandizement in any setting — even in front of Almighty God. Yet, what God calls us to is to enjoy Him. He points this out in many ways, but one of my favorite passages of Scripture that speaks to this issue is:

Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:3-4).

The way many people behave today, you would think that there is a maxim somewhere which says “take delight in yourself, and you will get the desires of your heart”, which is the exact opposite of what is being said in the Psalm quoted above. Seek self, and you lose all you want; seek God and you gain what you want (largely because what you will want will be influenced and informed by seeking God first). Nothing new here, and most of us have heard this many times. Yet, how often do we apply it to the beauty of the Divine Worship liturgy? If we do apply this rightly, then we will rarely think of our great patrimony in terms of superiority and pride. We will say instead, “Lord, help me to be humble and engage in the Mass in such a way as to grow closer to You, and to give You all the glory for it.”

I do not have to explain that although the Mass is for our good, it is not actually for us. We are not supposed to be coming to the Mass for what we get out of it, but for what God gets out of it. We are the “performers” (to use a crude word) who present ourselves and our actions to God; He is the observer, receiving our praise, honor and glory. If we are told “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31), then certainly this would apply to the greatest thing that we do in this life: eating and drinking the very body and blood of Christ. So, then, yes, enjoy the Mass. Enjoy it with your whole heart, mind, soul, and body, but enjoy it for the right reason: as a tremendous blessing that helps us to love God. The Mass is not, after all, an end in itself; it is the temporal “wedding banquet” until that day when we partake of the “eternal wedding banquet”.

When we have a liturgy that is as beautiful and reverent as the Divine Worship Mass, we may take it for granted and easily get the focus off center. The very idea of “we do it right” is a serious temptation to glorify self (and many of us have entertained that thought at times). Think, rather, of the cry of the Psalmist when he pleads with the Lord,

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

He is not saying “don’t let us get any glory”, he is saying “don’t give us any glory”. Walking into the Church before the Mass begins, let us each have this prayer in our hearts — especially if we expect that the Mass will be something we delight in. “Lord, let this all be for Your glory, and not ours; in any way at all”. For me, I pray silently before each Mass “hide me, and show them Jesus”. Each of us needs to do some “re-wiring” in order to overcome this temptation. We need to change how we think, and that means that we go back to what I said at the beginning: “how did we start thinking this way?” Where did we learn the mistaken notion that the Mass is “all about us”?

Just as I have already encouraged (without fully endorsing) people to readthe book “The Benedict Option” (which I still think is the right direction for our future), so I am now encouraging (without actually fully endorsing) people to read a book called “The Unintended Reformation” by Brad Gregory. As “The Benedict Option” says how to deal with what is going on today, so “The Unintended Reformation” says how we got here. In fact, if you read The Unintended Reformation” first, then it is easier to see what the Benedict Option is saying. Gregory does a wonderful job of laying out for us the radical shift in virtually every area of life from a medieval mind to a modern mind. It is this shift that has torn many from the moorings of humble submission to God, and deposited them on the pedestal of personal deification.

As we move forward in our desire to be an “enrichment” to the rest of our Catholic brethren, we need to make sure that we are not coming across as pompous “know-it-alls” who are more Catholic than anyone out in those “non-Ordinariate” parishes. If you want to find a way to turn the Ordinariates into elite and isolationist communities, that will be the way to do it. Let us each look deeply to ensure that we do not allow such pride to taint any area of our service to our Lord Jesus Christ; and let us be sure that the Divine Worship Mass really is “all about Jesus” and nothing else.

3 thoughts on “Not to us, O Lord, not to us . . .

  1. The best liturgy is the result of prayerfully listening to God’s direction rather than doing what we want.

    While studying theology at a Benedictine seminary some years ago, I was tasked to coordinate the arrangements of a mass for the School of Theology. Numerous attempts to contact the monk who was to be the principal celebrant failed. All I could do was pray, seeking God’s guidance, and hope that I was hearing God clearly. What happened, however, was amazing: he obviously had done likewise! Just as I was about to remark to him how well his homily fit into everything else (music, mass texts, etc.), he remarked to me how astounded he was that everything else coordinated so well with his homily. But that’s exactly what happens when we seek God’s direction follow God’s plan instead of our own. “I like this hymn!” or “I like this reading!” is NOT a good reason to choose it for liturgical use!

    Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory! (Psalm 115:1)

    Yes, indeed!

    As to asking how we got to this point, I concur completely. One does not solve a problem by attempting to change the effects caused by the problem. Rather, one must remove or repair the cause of the problem. If the roof leaks, a bucket to catch the drips may contain further damage — but one still needs to repair the roof.



  2. Alongside Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation these three most interesting new books (all published this year) on Luther – all by practicing Catholics, by the way – are well worth reading (I rank them according to my own predilections, in descending order):

    The Making of Martin Luther by Richard Rex (Princeton University Press; ISBN: 9780691155159)

    1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation by Peter Marshall (Oxford University Press; ISBN: 9780199682010)

    Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape our World by Brad Gregory (HarperOne; ISBN: 9780062471178).


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