Friday, Week Thirty-Three
The Responsorial (1Chronicles 29:13) leads us in praise: “We praise your glorious name, O mighty God.”
In 1Maccabees 4:36-59 the Jews celebrated their victory by rebuilding and “purifying” the temple. They even replaced the stones of the altar that had been desecrated by the Gentiles. They “made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand... burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps... and hung up curtains” (verses 44-51). Then they “offered sacrifice on the new altar... All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.”
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (no. 288) directs that the buildings and everything needed for worship should be “truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.”
For example, the book of the Word God “ought to look like it.” “While a styrofoam chalice would horrify us, we don’t gasp when the lector reads the word of the Lord from a throwaway pamphlet.” The Scriptures “should be handled like chalices of the Word... carried in the entrance procession and placed on the lectern [ambo] in a way that suggests their importance” (Ralph A. Keifer, To Give Thanks and Praise, Pastoral Press, 1980, pp. 119-120).
There is need for caution here. How do we celebrate triumph without falling into the “triumphalism” rejected by the bishops at the start of the Second Vatican Council? (see Father (later Cardinal) Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of the Church—Expanded Edition, Image Doubleday, 1987, chapter two, “The Church as Institution,” pp. 39-46). It is not easy.
“Triumphalism” is defined in the New Catholic Encyclopedia as:
a tendency to think of the Church as irresistibly conquering throughout the centuries, always receiving universal admiration for the words and deeds of its heads, and seemingly more interested in upholding its own rights and privileges than in promoting the salvation of all.
Triumphalism stresses the triumph of the Church’s ministers, policies, and government rather than God’s. We need to keep asking the question: “When does magnificence in church buildings and ceremonies glorify us as humans instead of glorifying God?”
In Luke 19:45-48 Jesus, like the Maccabees, reacted against the desecration of the temple. He began ejecting the traders, saying, “Scripture has it, ‘My house is meant for a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Everything in our churches should focus us prayerfully on God and his glory—not on how successful the Church has been in “keeping up with the Protestants” or making Catholics look prosperous and part of the establishment. Church buildings and ornamentation should say in symbolic expression what Mary said in words in her Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Luke 1:46-55).
Action: Be Christ’s steward: take responsibility for his Father’s house.