Sunday, February 10, 2013

Introibo ad altare Dei...who gives joy to my youth

St. Padre Pio offers prayers at the foot of the altar to be cleansed in humility before ascending the mountain.  
The Approach
You're about to go on your first date.  This person has brought such joy to your youth, and really makes you feel alive.  It's almost a blind date.  You know who you're being set up with. The other person knows who you are, but based on what the other person has seen, you're not really worth it.  And yet, they know something about you that makes them desire to be with you.  The idea of you, if you were the perfect person, simply enamors them.  It's quite a conundrum, but the idea of you makes them want to sell everything, even their finest pearls.  But that's just the idea of you.  What they see isn't great.

You're going to pick the person up at their house.  You've put on your finest clothing, but that's about it.  You haven't brushed your teeth, your feet are caked with mud, and to top it all off, you walk in without knocking at the door!  You just barge right in and begin talking to the pets without acknowledging your date.  And that is supposed to impress your date's Father?  Good luck with that.

I Go to the Altar of God
The prayers at the foot of the altar are those of such sublime humility that it takes my breath away every time I witness it--not that truth is based in our feelings, mind you.  But I think it's safe to say that the prayers at the foot of the altar pretty much fly in the face of everything we understand today.  "Why can't I do what I want?  Why can't I see who I want?  Why can't I talk to who I want?"  The prayers at the foot of the altar show not only humility, but also patience by properly ordering things.  Not only that, they speak of sin--personal sin!  We're not sinners anymore, are we?  Even if not explicitly said, there is implication when sin is omitted or deflected.  No sin, no Gospel, after all.

Catholicism is not a religion that speaks like this.  We know we can't just do anything we want.  We know that words are precious; indeed, the Word Himself is He who was enfleshed; and although the temple curtain is torn in twain, allowing God to come to us and us to God, that does not mean that there aren't certain ways things are done.  We have a Church, we have the Son who intercedes for us to the Father, without whom we do not have access to the Father ("...this we pray through Christ Our Lord"), we have the Blessed Virgin and the Saints who intercede for us with Our Lord.

I bind myself today...the strong name of the Trinity.
The priest and the main server begin at the foot of the steps.  The server kneels while priest stands.  Although technically a priest can offer Mass alone for validity--it's not ideal.  Although God, the angels, and the saints are present, another person really helps represent the corporate nature of the Church and climbing the mountain of salvation.  We must do it together.

The priest invokes the name of God with the sign of the cross--"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  I have seen people cross themselves and just say "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  But we must understand the great difference.  The true formula says so many things.

  • In the Name (singular) emphasizes the indivisible Trinitarian Nature of God.
  • In the Name of shows a strong invocation of God in something we are about to undertake.  It calls Him not only as a witness, but a backer, a patron--our foundation.
  • The idea that God has a Name is something that is both so personal and so transcendent.  We are all named--and yet God's name is Holy, unspeakable, and even directly indicative of Who He is.  I'm not a tailor, yet my name is Taylor.  How many of us have names that have an ancient meaning to which none of us ascribe?  Yet knowing God is an I AM yet also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is mysterious.
  • Personally, I have always found names and naming to be powerful
He immediately says, "I will go unto the Altar of God."  The Server replies, "To God, who gives joy to my youth."  The psalmist is immediately quoted.  It is God who makes us truly joyful and makes us feel young.

Found Worthy through Humility
They continue with Psalm 42.

Priest: "Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy; deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man."
Server: "For Thou art God, my strength; why hast Thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?"

Completely scriptural but also completely un-politically correct.  There are nations that are not holy?  That's not very nice.  Don't they get a pass for ignorance or something like that?  

Some people and nations are simply not holy.  In fact, they do not have the same "cause" or desire that we do--quite the opposite.  Lord, please realize what I hope for through faith and distinguish it from those who hate you; give me an increase in grace.

We also ask that we may be delivered from the unjust and deceitful man.  Being tied into "nations" in the previous sentence, we could say that we are speaking of the world, and the people therein who are both unjust (literally; see the HHS mandate) or deceitful (literally; see the HHS "compromise").  

Although not a man, we could also view this in reference to the devil.  The original unjust one and deceiver, the father of lies, we ask that we may be spared from him, as though from a jailer, one who chains and shackles people in their sin: the enslaver.  

Yet there is another aspect, which you probably have realized by now.  There's the world, the devil, and...the flesh.  Yes, deliver us from ourselves!  We struggle against ourselves and are not only unjust to others and deceive them, but to ourselves and God as well.  How often do we examine our conscience and try to give ourselves passes for certain things?  Do we lie to ourself on what we have done?  Or better yet, lie to ourselves and God about the degree of faith and trust we have in God, and actually do not render to God what we should?  Yes, above all, we need to be delivered from ourselves!

These three things way us down heavily.  God, you are my strength, why have you not let me cling to you?  My enemies laugh and spit and scourge me!  I should rejoice for your sake, but it's've abandoned me!

And yet, has God really cast us off?  O Lord, deliver me from my unjust and deceitful self!  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not within us (1 John 1:8)!  It is not you, Lord, who has cast me off, but it is me in my sin and obstinacy therein.  I only lament that my enemies afflict me because I care too much about the world and the comfort of my flesh, and because my faith is weak.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

P: "Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, and into Thy tabernacles."
S: "And I will go in to the altar of God, to God who giveth joy to my youth."
Lord, your light scatters the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome the light: it reveals all things in truth.  Send me your light and your truth, your Son himself, and I'll be free from my slavery and made into an heir of life.

"They have conducted me" is a phrase I find interesting.  Who is this they (I'm sure there are commentaries IDing them).  Is it the light and truth?  Is it the angels?  Is it the Apostles, and the Church, and Her bishops and priests?  Whoever they are, they all have brought me to Thy holy hill--and in the context of the Mass, I think we could reasonably say that this holy hill is Golgatha!  After all, we are about to ascend the mountain of sacrifice, aren't we?  And what lies atop, but none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is with us in all the tabernacles of the world.

Furthermore, the Church is the "city on the hill."  So the light and truth also bring one to the Church.  And Church and the Mass are inseparable.  

And then we make our circle: at Golgotha and in the Church, during the Mass, we approach the altar of God, approach His very home--humble and tabernacular.  We then realize that out of this suffering, with faith, we find He who gives joy to us, a joy that rejuvenates our soul no matter how old or weary.

P: "To Thee, O God, my God, I will give praise upon the harp; why are thou sad, O my soul, and why dost though disquiet me?
S: "Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him, the salvation of my countenance and my God.
P: "Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit."
S: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen."

Having humbled ourselves and realizing that we are sinful, we have called upon God to really help us.  Only be acknowledging our lowliness will God will we be able to rejoice--just as with Our Lady (read the Magnificat).  His love and mercy filling us, we are able and desire greatly to praise him in a high manner as possible--with the cords of a harp rather than strings of a guitar.

And yet, in this world, we won't be free completely from the sin that plagues us, that troubles us, that afflicts us.  Even when praising, even when trusting, there is some unease in our very soul.  We haven't finished the race yet--we aren't yet truly saved.  But with that confidence we have by being brought before the tabernacle, we will continue to hope and "still" give praise to God--whether we emotionally feel joy or not.  We will praise the Lord, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has saved our countenance, our face--who in fact, by His resurrection and glorious ascension, has restored humanity's likeness in Heaven.  We will reap this when too are resurrected in glory, personally--your countenance and mine.

Glory to God, then, who has done these great things, who has restored us!  Glory forever!  Isn't it beautiful that these prayers at the foot of the altar already encapsulate the kernel of the Gospel?  We have sinned and cast God off, but God restores us and draws us to himself once we realize what we have done.  And once restored, we praise him now, and "still"--forever!  Glory to God indeed!  What a complete teaching moment of salvation history does the Extraordinary Form have from the very opening prayers itself.

P: I will go in to the altar of God.
S: To God, who giveth joy to my youth.
P: Our help + is in the name of the Lord.
S: Who made Heaven and Earth.

A personal note, but if I were to get a tattoo, it would say "adjutorium nostrum + in nomine Domini qui fecit caelum et terram."

Another circle has been closed here: we began in the Name of God and we also close this part with His name.  Our help is in Him and His Holy name--not ourselves.  He made Heaven and Earth, and His name is bound up in the prayers of the Church, at the altar in the Mass--where we find help for our souls and joy--we go to Him who relieves the burden of us who are weary (Matt 11:28).

Next: The Confiteor Onwards
This post is getting long, so I'll end this part here.  Next, we'll examine in the confiteor in the Extraordinary Form and onward.  

In completely poor form, I will probably post my mind-vomit and clean it up later.  I think it is presentable enough--no red squiggly underlines on my words at the moment!

A blessed Quinquagessima to you.  St. Issac of Syria, pray for us.

in nomine Patri et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, amen

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