Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Liturgy vs. Liturgical Symbolism

As I was having breakfast in the seminary Refectory today, the conversation with my peers turned to some of the rituals and traditions of certain churches for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, I was absolutely dumbfounded, amazed, and perplexed at some of the rituals I heard about it.

For instance, some priests like to stab incense into the Paschal Candle to represent Christ's five wounds. Others wash out crosses etched into stone altars with vinegar to represent cleaning Christ's wounds from crucifixion. And then, last but not least, comes the stupid altar candle controversy. According to some, each candle in the church represents something (I don't know what they are). But there is one which stands for the Gospel, and there is an old adage that one must never let the Gospel candle be burning by itself: "The Gospel never stands alone!"

What! This is absolute silliness. First of all, who decided which candle represents which portion of the Bible? Second, why can't the Gospel stand alone? In fact, if there is anything that can stand alone, it is the Good News (that's the meaning of gospel) of Jesus Christ!

So my recommendation to all you Episcopalians out there: don't worry about that silly stuff. The real stuff of liturgy is what we do in the service. We read, hear, and respond to the Holy Scriptures. We pray with one another and for one another. We participate in the most holy meal, the Eucharist, whereby we are brought into communion with God. It doesn't matter how many times you genuflect on the way to the altar, but it does matters how much your heart is humbled in the presence of the Almighty.

These are the important things in liturgy, not candles. The Holy Spirit doesn't need landing lights. He knows exactly where to go.

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