By Paul Krause
Paul Krause a humanities teacher, classicist, and essayist. He is also a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and Associate Editor at VoegelinView.
It is no secret that it is hard for a reverent Catholic to find a beautiful Mass. The desire for reverence is not the desire for a valid Mass, for the Mass—however obnoxious or orderly—is valid thanks to the Grace of God. However, the spirit of reverence adds to the power and majesty of the Mass; moreover, the spirit of reverence is the most fervent manifestation of faith in an age not of unbelief, but of crudity and crassness.
St. John Chrysostom warned us never to be indifferent to God: “In approaching God, by contrast, we yawn, scratch ourselves, look this way and that, pay little attention, loll on the ground…If on the contrary, we were to approach him with due reverence and prepare ourselves to converse with him as God, then we would know, even before receiving what we asked, how much benefit we gain.” Reverence is at the heart of worship. In fact, reverence’s highest manifestation is through worship. For in total awareness, understanding of the good things God has bestowed, we are moved to worship the God of creation, grace, and salvation. Reverence is the way we give back an appreciation and understanding of God’s love for us.
Part of the fundamental truth of the Catholic religion is not merely the recognition that Christ is present in the Eucharist, but the awareness that we ourselves are temples of the Lord and part of the Body of Christ. Every Catholic is an instantiated extension of the Body of Christ in this world. This is why Catholic ethics are “tough.” The heart of Catholic ethics centers not on forbiddance or restrictions but on dignity, on virtue. This body of mine, as St. Paul says, is not really mine but the Lord’s. We do well to heed this truth and not defile, therefore, the Body of Christ. St. Augustine, to my mind, offered up the greatest expression of the full appreciation of this reality: “Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us?”
It equally does us well to remember that when we enter church we also enter into the presence of Christ. For Christ is also present in the Tabernacle located in every church. To enter any Catholic church is to enter into another instantiated extension of the Body of Christ. How beautiful it is that the Body of Christ is assembled together in such a unity.
But since we have become Christ and Christ dwells in the church, why, then, is it too much to ask for the recognition of this through the very church itself and the liturgy which is meant to express that appreciated worship? Just as we ought not to defile the Body of Christ through all the myriad means by which one can defile the Body, this principle should naturally be extended to the church in which Christ is present.
Our only home is the Body of Christ. And every home that is loved is lovely—that is, beautiful. Beauty, now, is truly at the heart of the Catholic understanding of everything. The beauty of the creation. The beauty of grace. The beauty of the incarnation, death, and resurrection. The beauty of the Body of Christ. The beauty of the Trinity, which is the fullest beauty we seek to commune with.
Since the Catholic proclaims, de fide, that we are the Body of Christ and that Christ’s body dwells in the Tabernacle, in the church, the Catholic desires beauty and dignity for all things Christ. It is not for selfish reasons that Catholics seek to wash up and make this Body beautiful for the Light of Truth to shine forth in an incredibly dark world. In reality, those who seek to tear down, destroy, and muddy that Body do so for selfish reasons—they proclaim “me” and “mine” over Christ. I do not find it coincidental that throughout Christian history the most violent of iconoclasts were the ones who also denied the real presence of Christ.
Dr. Samuel Johnson, that famous and colorful English writer, may not have been a Catholic, but his devout Anglicanism still imparts an important truth for all of us today. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.” Our home, as we have previously said, is in the Body of Christ. To love that Body, to be happy in that Body is to ensure the beauty and dignity of that Body. To cover that Body in mud, to tarnish it with mundane things, and to strip that Body like the greedy and wicked Romans, is to show no awareness of the reality of the Home which we find ourselves in.
“To be happy at home” is an important maxim because it also allows us to realize what lies in the vacuous center of a spirit of destruction. Those who destroy are not happy. They seek to change precisely because they are not appreciative. As such, they have nothing to revere and nothing to worship. Rebellion is the manifestation of this discontent. And, as we all know, rebellion makes everyone’s life more miserable, not just that of the revolutionary.
Reverence, then, is what accompanies appreciative worship. Reverence is directed to Christ out of the awareness of who we are and what we are in the presence of the Body of Christ. Reverence is the fruit of love. All things born of love are lovely and, as such, beautiful. And in that lovely and loving beauty, we find the only true happiness that calms the restless heart: Christ, to whom every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess is Lord.