The Latin Mass and its Sibling, Evangelical Worship

Latin MassMy friend Tony sent me this article from the the San Francisco Chronicle about a Roman church in Oakland, California which has gone back to the traditional counter-Reformation’s Latin Mass, a rite rich in visible symbolism, imagery, gestures and song. Since the 1960s Vatican II, this traditional Mass has been replaced by a more contemporary ritual, but last year, Pope Benedict XVI has given local parishes more leeway to resurrect the Latin Mass. It has become so well-known that some people drive from all over the Bay Area and beyond to worship at St. Mary’s Margaret Church.

“It has been said that the traditional Latin Mass is the most beautiful thing this side of heaven… The service “draws you in bodily by appealing to the physical senses, but it also provokes and draws in the soul.” says one worshiper. And he “feels closer to God when he smells the burning incense, hears the bells intone, and sees the symphony of symbolic gestures and movements among the congregants.”

Artistic creativity – whether it’s the Old Testament baalism, the medieval pomp, or the 21st century mindless mishmash – is the byword of idolatrous worship. God’s people, called to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), always want something spectacular to the five senses.

While the Canaanites had their Baals and Ashteroths, and the medieval church their incense, bells, priestly vestments, relics, crucifixes, and statues of “saints,” today’s evangelicals have their holding hands, waving hands, swaying hips, love songs to Jesus, puppet shows, dramatic presentations, tearful testimonies, girls dancing and waving flowing banners, liturgical dance, and big screens glowing with images of flowers and sunsets. That is how another article, “Manliness is Next to Godliness,” this time from the Los Angeles Times, characterizes today’s “effeminate” evangelical worship. With all these artistry, creativity, and leading by the Spirit, who wouldn’t “feel closer to God” and be “blessed” by the “praise and worship”?

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