Monday, April 09, 2007

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

After the Triduum, while speaking to various people about their Holy Week experiences, there were comments here and there about Holy Thursday mass, and whether or not the current guidelines set out for the foot washing were followed in various parishes. (Ed Peters has a good article about that here.) At times, people get a bit put off by what they perceive as "legalism" or nit picking. "Well isn't the important thing," they say, "that we learned a lesson about serving each other? Isn't that what Christ's message is all about?" And certainly, this is a lesson worth teaching. The problem is, in setting aside what is prescribed in the rubrics, we're often missing out on a deeper meaning. The thing that I LOVE about the liturgy is that it is SO full of meaning, every tiny little thing is there for a REASON! When we start to stray from the rubrics, we're actually losing the deep and meaningful aspects of liturgical worship that so many people are longing for.

I'm quite sad to say that I've been a Catholic for 5 years now, and this is the first year I realized that the whole foot washing has something to do with the institution of the priesthood. Why is that? Primarily because I've yet to hear it mentioned at Holy Thursday mass. Most of the Holy Thursday masses I have been to have thrown out that important distinction in favor of being PC and inclusive, presumably out of fear of offending women, etc, and sticking to the easy to preach and PC message that we all need to serve one another (again, not that there's anything wrong with that message, per se, except that it's pretty much the only message we ever hear nowadays, because it's acceptable and inoffensive.)

Even in my own usually very orthodox parish, women were among the foot washees, and no mention was made of the institution of the priesthood. I was attempting to explain why this was bothersome at all to one of the above mentioned standard inquirers, when I came across an excellent description in this article, which revealed the meaning behind the phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi, and its significance.

There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the Church; “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”. The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer ("the way we worship"), and the law of belief ("what we believe"). It is sometimes written as, "lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi", further deepening the implications of this truth - how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live. The law of prayer or worship is the law of life. Or, even more popularly rendered, as we worship, so will we live…and as we worship, so will we become!

And isn't this true! This is the heart of the small change in liturgy can literally end up as a change in belief down the road! So, while there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with some of the liturgical changes that are made illicitly, and while they may even be things that lots of people like and enjoy and feel lifts them up spiritually, the problem is not that they are bad or wrong in and of's just that they are usually replacing a much more meaningful form of worship that has so much historical depth behind it, and what's worse is that people are totally unaware of what they're missing! And THAT is why it is so bothersome...not because we want to be nit picky, but because we want (for ourselves and for ALL Catholics) to be able to experience the full depth and meaning of the mass as it was meant to be, and a lot of us are being denied that because of the whims and fancies (and might I add, arrogance) of modernism. What is prescribed for the liturgy was not decided in a day, everything is there for a reason, and when we decide that we know better than the Church what will "uplift us" spiritually, we will inevitably lose what it is the Church is trying to hand down to us through our worship.

I, for one, don't want to lose that...I want so desperately to cling to it! And that is why it is frustrating to have to deal with liturgical abuse, because if I'm not being taught the proper way to worship, if I don't even know what I'm missing or that I'm even missing anything at all, how can I be sure I'm receiving and living the complete and unadulterated faith? It's not out of fear of Hell that I worry about this, but out of a strong desire to embrace the fullness of my faith, to know it thoroughly and to live it! Sometimes, it just makes me a bit sad that I, and others, should have to fight so hard to even know what the fullness of the faith is. I often wish I could attend mass and completely trust that there are no abuses, completely trust that the resident priest would never allow such a thing, to believe that his personal motto was lex orandi, lex credendi.


Kris said...

Hello I just read your conversion story and wanted to post here. I just came home the past Saturday. My parents have no idea. I'm praying for the courage to tell them. I feel my story is a lot like yours. It's nice to know other people have experienced the same thing!

God Bless

Stephanie said...

Wow Kris, congrats!!! Is your family CoC? If you need any support in telling them, feel free to stop by my forum here.

Thanks for stopping by, God bless!

Cheryl said...

The hubby did a lesson on communion in which he stressed a similar thing - "it's the thought that counts" just doesn't work in all circumstances. The (female) minister I remember being our college chaplain liked using bread with fruit in it around Christmastime for communion, because she felt it symbolized the sweetness of the season. Nevermind that it ignores "***THIS*** do in rememberance of me"...

(I likely misspelled rememberance. Sorry!)

Peter said...

A dear teacher once paraphrased this saying as "Ritual defines us - if we change our ritual we are changing the definition of who we are and what we stand for."

Thanks for sharing this, it's spun me off to a whole new meditation on the Easter ceremonies. :)

Ma Beck said...

We didn't have the foot washing on Holy Thursday.
Come to think of it, we've never had it.

Ma Beck said...

And Kris,
:) :) :) :) :)

Eileen said...

Stephanie: Just came across your blog. Outstanding. Thank you for writing about Holy Thursday and foot washing. I was having this discussion with my sister (have since linked your blog to her) regarding seeing our new Bishop in the local paper washing the foot of a woman and feeling disappointed. I was hoping for a more *traditional* bishop. As others have said though, give him time to show himself. My prayers are certainly with/for him. But, again, so glad to see your blog.

La Mama Loca said...

Excellent post, Stephanie! I obviously need to be reading your blog regularly. :)