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As we worship.

The parish where I presume to call myself a member is somewhat Dickensian--not insofar as it is frequented by ragged unfortunates, although many of these do put in an appearance, but because to assist at Mass there, in the traditional meaning of the phrase, is "the best of times and the worst of times."

The church is, from the exterior, unobtrusive. The front doors open right onto the sidewalk, and lead into a foyer no bigger than a cloakroom, while the interior of this tiny A-frame is similar to many mission churches scattered across the prairies: homey yet austere, warm with wooden walls, bannered beams, a few statues, a gilt Tabernacle, air redolent of damp wool, sweat, incense, and candle-wax, a commingling fragrance peculiar to those weathered holy places.

Most Saturdays a lone woman leads the singing, a cappella. Her voice is rich, sweet, and golden, like syrup pouring over pancakes. On occasion, she keeps time her own way (as I have done myself). Then we progress like an erratic horse on a steeplechase: a note held just a shade longer than warranted, a pause, a leap to the next phrase. There's a certain verve to it, not to mention the potential for calamity.

It's only the odd lapse of one person, but I prefer to see it as symptomatic of a deeper disorder, that being the idiosyncratic approach to objective criteria, itself the fruit of individualism, where one is compelled to leave one's imprint on the drama at hand, and by some action make the thing peculiarly one's own. Liturgy is not concerned with that political construct, the "individual", but with the person, whose mystery and dignity are revealed and reach fulfillment only in union with the Person of Christ. In participating in that uniformity of action integral to liturgy, the person is in no way denigrated; in fact, quite the opposite. Moreover, uniformity permits self-forgetfulness, the essence of worship.

It is to be regretted that some disarray in liturgical practices has encouraged idiosyncratic responses. At our parish, we kneel for the Consecration, but when we will get up is an open question. Most of us rise after the memorial acclamation. Some remain kneeling until after the Great Amen. Then there are a happy few who kneel until it is time to receive the Holy Mysteries. Whatever their motivation for doing so, they are thus spared holding hands during the Our Father, which our parish priest encourages. I claim an exemption from this emotive, Mediterranean-type behaviour on the grounds of enculturation: British background, you know, and displays of affection are to be avoided at all costs (some of us have more difficulty with self-forgetfulness than others). Nevertheless, it's entirely uplifting to witness the teenaged Filipino boys, who saunter in, too cool for words, sporting earrings, gelled hair, black leather jackets. But they are there. And they bow their heads, hold hands, and sing the Our Father.

On Sunday afternoon, the youth choristers crowd into the loft at the back of the church. They sing joyfully, zestfully, exuberantly. There are guitars, and someone has a tambourine, the exotic jangle of which gives the music a Semitic flavour; one imagines King David dancing and singing praises before the Ark of the Covenant.

One Sunday, a commotion ahead briefly held up the communicants as we returned to our places. I pieced the events together afterwards: this man apparently strolled down the aisle still holding the Host in his hands, until a woman leapt out of her pew to accost him and command that he consume the Sacred Species without delay. He was an Evangelical Protestant, it turned out--and a very presumptuous one, at that.

I have seen (many years ago) my mother go from casual conversation into a dead run when she spied, or was alerted to by these mysterious maternal antennae, one of my toddler siblings teetering at the top of the stairs. She usually spontaneously prayed a Hail Mary as she ran. Similarly, I have seen grown men instinctively, unthinkingly, break into a run when they perceived a danger to the Blessed Sacrament. Faith in the Real Presence is always and ever under attack, no doubt, but we have all witnessed instances where that core belief is revealed in instantaneous, self-forgetful action to protect Him who gave Himself to us. And that does make one's heart sing more than can any tambourine.

Lianne Laurence writes from Calgary, AB. Her biography of the late Joe Borowski will be published this spring.
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Title Annotation:Columnist
Author:Laurence, Lianne
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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