I have been blessed to experience in the Mass in a variety of circumstances. I have seen everything from the incredible beauty of Monastic liturgies, with their reverence and deep sense of silence, to the intense devotion of Mexican campesinos who seem to sing from a place of intense suffering and profound longing.
Whether it be Gregorian chant or praise and worship, the key to good liturgy is not about a standardized aesthetic, but rather participation. Participation is at the heart of renewing the liturgy, but we must understand what participation means.
Participation is not about sentimental details that resemble a clever hallmark card, but rather ecstasy and communion. By ecstasy, I mean that element of being drawn out of one’s self and towards God with complete abandonment which leads us to perfect self-forgetting. Strong sentiments and powerful experiences foster such self-forgetting, but are not necessarily its defining characteristics.
That being said, external details are important. The Church gives us set rubrics as a means of creating flow and predictability. Where liturgy is chaotic and unwieldy, we tend to focus on superficial elements which do not communicate the sense of wonder and awe which are proper to the Eucharistic experience.
Thus, as both priests and faithful internalize this principle of spiritual ecstasy, or self-forgetting, all other elements of the Eucharistic encounter flow outward with a sense of perspective. Rubrics provide a foundation for shared expectations, but are always tempered by the desire for a kind of communal flow, a gentle actualization shared by the priest and the faithful.
As the priest is drawn into this ecstasy, communing with the Lord with fervor and devotion, likewise the faithful are led to this encounter with the divine. This is the chief characteristic of renewal, the transformation of the priest and laity through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Renewal is not simply about superficial details, but is only actualized through mystical union.
That is why we must pray the liturgy and let the liturgy pray in us. We are not the rulers over the Eucharistic encounter, but its servants, seeking always a goal that lies beyond the grasp of our limited perspectives. Today, let us enter in the ecstasy of the Mass; let us embrace Jesus Christ with complete surrender so as to experience renewal in our life and in the life of the Church.