Praise! Praise! Praise!
Part I – The Liturgy as a Celebration
Praise God for always being with us, praise God for always guiding us, praise God for our families, and for our country, and praise God for His mercy and love for us! – All right already father, we get the message, but what does that have to do with us? What is the ‘point’ of all this praise? Can’t we just pray in peace?
I guess that I should answer the last question first, the one praying in peace. The answer is no. You are being invited to a party, a celebration. We are called together to celebrate God’s salvation given to us (remember the definition of the word ‘Liturgy’). This is our common work together. Imaging hosting a birthday party for someone in your home and half of the guests simply wanted to read some book they brought from home ‘peacefully’ in a corner, and wanted to participate only by watching and listening what others were doing.
Wouldn’t you wonder why they came, wouldn’t you wonder why they are not interested in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ with everyone else? Wouldn’t you want all your guests to celebrate with you as much as they could? Would you care if when everyone sang, someone might be a little off-key? And what would the person for which this celebration was in honor wonder? I can’t help but think that God, as both the host and the honored person wonders the same!
As for what all this praise has to do with us is simple. We praise for a myriad of reasons. We praise as a way of showing our deep gratitude for everything some one may have done for us, especially when they did not have to. We praise because we want the recipient of that praise to be continually open to listening to us. Hey, a little praise goes a long way! We praise to show our degree of dependence on, and love for that person.
But perhaps the most important reason for us to praise is because it opens us in a very profound way to listen ever more intently to the person we are praising. For example, if I were to go for a celebration, or rally, honoring the president of the United States – I would suspect that, first of all, there would be a joyous atmosphere. Second, I would expect to hear mostly praise for his leadership. Lastly, I believe that in joining in the praise of the president, I would almost automatically be more open to hear and take to heart anything that he would have to say.
Obviously, the importance of anything said by God can’t even be compared with something said by the president or any other mere mortal. Hopefully, without getting caught up in the example – I have made my point. We praise God so insistently because we are dependent on Him! Also, we need to do everything possible to be more open to listen to Him! We praise God because His Word and His guidance only helps us. We praise God for the things we know already and understand to be His gifts, we hopefully them become more open to accepting those parts of His message that we may find harder to accept, such as loving our enemies. Just as we might tell our children, “have I ever wished you harm or asked you to do something that was bad for you – then why should you doubt me now?” All the more we should listen to God’s guidance and His Laws, even when it might be difficult for us to understand at this moment. Praising God is what opens us to this great reality.
To further explain the purpose of praise, let us examine one the responses of the Liturgy: “The mercy of peace, the sacrifice of praise” (милість миру, жертву хваління). By the way, the English liturgy texts we use in our Church have an imprecise translation of this phrase (Mercy and peace, a sacrifice of praise). This phrase beautifully summarizes one of the aspects of our dynamic relationship with God. We offer up to Him our praise (for what else can we offer up to him in sacrifice other than our very lives) and He in turn gives us the mercy of peace so that we can lead peaceful lives so that “we may be able to lead calm and quiet lives in all piety and dignity!”
As we praise we “set aside all earthly cares” (відложім печаль). During the Liturgy we stop worrying about our mortgages, taxes, sump pumps, not because they will go away, but because we need to allow God into them. We need to step away from these ‘small’ worries of life for a time, allow for time on the ‘Day of rest’ to rejoice for all that we have, and thereby allow God into our lives in a profound way, re-adjust our priorities, and renewed allow God into our daily lives, with all of its cares and worries. The problem is that we get so caught up in our own problems that we seem to forget about God’s (real) presence in our daily lives.
The strength we get from praising and celebrating God in the Divine Liturgy is exactly what gives us the strength we need in our daily struggles and worries. God doesn’t need this praise, we do! We need it in order to make the right choices during the week! So let us not be grumpy and smile, praise God, and sing Alleluia!
Part II – The Liturgy as a Communal Feast
Since the Divine Liturgy is a communal celebration and feast it can actually be compared to our thanksgiving day feast. It would be very strange if we invite someone to join us in our thanksgiving dinner and they brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with them and proceeded to eat it by themselves quietly in some corner, or just sat there and watched you eat. Now if they were vegetarians we could almost understand. This might sound strange, but it is something similar to this that is happening during the Liturgy. What I am referring to is the practice of praying the rosary, or some other private devotion, during the Liturgy. Now please understand that I am not saying anything against the rosary, only when it is being prayed. This also includes those who want to read the parish bulletin, as wonderful and informative as it is, during the Liturgy.
How this practice of praying the rosary during the Liturgy started is very understandable. It began in the Latin Church when the Mass was often recited quietly between the priest and the altar boy. It was being recited quietly because almost no one understood the words of the Latin Mass. When we remember this, it is easy to understand why many pious individuals, instead of sitting quietly waiting for the bell to announce the time of the consecration or for the reception of the Eucharist, to use this time to privately pray. This was the only way they could participate, at least in some way.
What I have a hard time understanding is why this practice came into use in our Church. Since the 9th century, our Church has had a strong tradition that the prayers, the gospels and the Liturgy, must be in a language that the people understand. Even when the Liturgy was in Slavonic, almost all the people understood the Liturgy, except perhaps if they did not speak Ukrainian anymore. But we have had the English Liturgy for many years now! There no longer is any reason for someone to attend a Liturgy that they do not understand.
Yes, coming to the Liturgy and praying some private devotion is just like going to a special banquet or feast with your own sandwich. Now if you literally can’t eat what is offered – then I’m sure any gracious host would understand. But this is not what we should be doing during the Divine Liturgy, we should be fully participating – as much as we possibly can, in every way we can! We participate fully because we are not only there to passively listen to the thankfulness of others but to express our thankfulness. We are thankful not because we have no problems – but despite our problems. We are thankful for all the other wonderful people and gifts we have in our lives. If we don’t take a break from our problems and pains and rejoice, we can easily become bitter. To overcome this possibility of becoming bitter people we celebrate, we praise and we give thanks.
To understand any aspect of the Divine Liturgy and its symbols we must understand that it is foremost a celebration. Everything else flows out from this fact. At this celebration we praise God for everything He has done for us and given us, and we ask Him to continue to pour forth Him grace upon us. Now some of you might think that celebration and rejoicing implies silliness. No. This is not the type of celebration that I am referring to. This is serious rejoicing, or to use a more traditional term, it is solemn rejoicing. Contrary to popular belief, solemn does not mean sad – it means serious, formal and sober! The celebration therefore is not giddy and silly like a joke, as much as true happiness that comes from God. It come from knowing that whatever happens, God still loves us and will always be with us. For this we joyfully sing Alleluia!