In order to teach an exceedingly important lesson, God allowed His priests, kings and the whole population, to suffer the pain consequent of error... By so acting God is rescuing us from the power of Satan: from "hateful sorceries and wicked sacrifices... from those merciless murderers of their own children, and eaters of men's bowels, and devourer's of blood in the midst of my consecration [i.e the Holy Land], and those parents sacrificing with their own hands helpless souls" [Wisdom 12:4-6].
Is it scary to serve Mass? In a sense, yes. This Saturday 26 August, from 11:30am - 4pm, we have an Altar Server Training Day. Part of the programme will be a short reflection on the punishments suffered by individuals and groups in the Old Testament who were irreverent or disobedient to God's ceremonial precepts. The paragraphs below give a lot of data for this theme. Meanwhile, we are very grateful for all the servers we have at St Mary's, whose reverence in serving helps many in the pews to pray. The programme for Saturday is as follows:
- 11:30am Eucharistic adoration (though anyone may come earlier for adoration from 10am)
- 11:45am Benediction
- 12:10pm Holy Mass
- 1:15pm lunch (provided by St Mary’s)
- 2pm spirituality and theory of serving at 2pm, then videos (perhaps showing how not to serve!), followed by practical training
- 4pm (approx) Finish
Please contact Fr Mawdsley for a place on the training day (normally limited to those already attending St Mary's).
Liturgy & Fear of the Lord:
What Reverence We Should Learn from the Old Testament
In order to guide the children of Israel along the right path, God not only bestowed blessings as reward for obedience, but He permitted them to suffer the terrible consequences of disobedience. Despite the frequent calumny that the 'God of the Old Testament' is vicious and cruel, in reality He is always merciful: His dramatic punishments serve to save us from evils we can barely begin to imagine. We can observe this through the entire history of (liturgical) worship from the sacrifices of Cain and Abel through to the tearing of the veil in the Temple when Christ was crucified.
Abel's sacrificial offering of the firstlings of his flock was pleasing to God, but Cains offering was offensive to God. God rejected Cain's offering and in his rage and jealousy Cain then slew his brother [Gen 4:1-8]. What sparked this? The grain which Cain offered may have been an inferior part of his harvest rather than the finest. In The City of God St Augustine describes it as 'indiscreet', explaining further that a sacrifice can be offensive to God if, for example, it is offered in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or by the wrong person, in the wrong way, or if it is of the wrong substance, inferior or blemished. This theme of 'liturgical order', a stumbling block to those suspicious of God, has continued ever since.
Before God descended on Mt Sinai the people were ordered to spend three days sanctifying themselves. Limits were set around the mountain and the people informed that if anyone but Moses so much as touched the mountain they should be stoned to death or shot through with arrows. The same went for any beast that strayed over the appointed limits [Ex 19:12-13]. Subsequently God gave permission for Aaron to ascend the mountain with Moses but not yet the priests. God threatened to kill the priests if they approached Him [Ex 19:24]. Only later were selected elders allowed to approach and see God [Ex 24:9].
Likewise with the tent of meeting, only Aaron and his sons were permitted to minister in the tabernacle of testimony. The other Levites were given their various tasks [Ex 28:1; Dt 10:8; Num 4; 17; 18], but if they so much as approached the vessels of the sanctuary or the altar then they would be struck down dead and Aaron with them [Num 18:1-3]. Any non-priest or stranger who sought to pass beyond the veil in the Tent would be slain [Num 18:7]. If the Levites reserved for themselves the choicest parts of the tithes, then the punishment for this profanation was death [Num 18:32]. When Aaron's sons Nadab and Abiu mis-used censers in the sanctuary (of the Tent), offering profane fire to God such as He had not authorised, fire blazed forth from the LORD and consumed them [Lev 10:1-2]. Aaron knew his place and despite his grief, his agony, he held his peace.
Next the Lord said to Aaron, "When you are to go to the Tent of Meeting, you and your sons are forbidden under pain of death, by perpetual ordinance through all your generations, to drink wine or any strong drink. You must be able to distinguish between what is sacred and what is profane, between what is clean and what is unclean" [Lev 10:9-10]. A thousand years later, during the first phase of the Babylonian exile, God said through Ezekiel that He would consume like dross in a furnace the inhabitants of Jerusalem for their corruption for "the prophets... have devoured souls... Her priests have despised My law, and have defiled my sanctuary: they have put no difference between holy and profane: nor have they distinguished between the polluted and the clean" [Ezek 22:19-26].
Back in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, 250 Levites rebelled, desirous that they might assume the role of the Aaronical priesthood. They were leading men, themselves headed by Core, Dathan and Abiron. After warning everyone else to stand back, Moses challenged them to offer incense to God. Upon their doing so, God opened up the ground beneath them and they were swallowed down alive to hell [see image below], wherewith "the children of Israel [were] admonished that no stranger or anyone that is not of the seed of Aaron should come near to offer incense to the Lord, lest he should suffer as Core suffered, and all his congregation, as the Lord spoke to Moses" [Num 16:40]. When the people murmurred against Moses and Aaron for this, God sent a plague, killing 14,700 until Aaron's incensing and prayers saved all the rest.
Heli was Israel's leading priest at Silo where the Ark of the Covenant was reserved. His sons, the priests Ophni and Phinees, were slain for profaning the priesthood and their father Heli struck dead [see image above] for failing to chastise them for their wickedness [1 Kings 2:22-34; 3:12-14; 4:17-18]. The Ark was stolen by the Philistines but they suffered grievous plagues for handling what was holy. Returning the Ark of the LORD to the Israelites they left it in the field of Josue the Bethsamite. Seventy Bethsamite men were curious and peered into the Ark. For this God slew them all, and punished a further 50,000 in the locality [1 Kings 6].
King Saul, in his impatience, usurped Samuel's place in offering a holocaust to God. In response Samuel informed Saul, "Thou hast done foolishly, and hast not kept the commandments of the Lord thy God, which He commanded thee. And if thou hadst not done thus, the Lord would now have established thy kingdom over Israel forever. But thy kingdom shall not continue" [1 Kings 13:8-13].
A generation later King David led a procession transporting the Ark of the LORD from Cariathiarim to Jerusalem. One of the oxen drawing the cart upon which the Ark rested stumbled and Oza put forth his hand to steady the Ark lest it fall. God's anger was kindled by Oza's rashness and immediately He struck Oza dead [2 Kings 6:7].
Two generations after this King Jeroboam of Israel appointed 'priests' who were not of the tribe of Levi, devising a feast "after his own heart", and an altar for them to burn incense. For this the King was struck with a withered hand and, as he did not repent, the house of Jeroboam "was cut off and destroyed from the face of the earth" [3 Kings 12:31-33; 13:33-34]. More than two centuries later King Achaz's profane offerings and incensing was the ruin of him and all Israel [2 Chron 28:22-23].
Around a century later, in 657 B.C, Achior, the captain of the Ammonites, who knew Israel's whole history with extraordinary insight, summed up the reality to Holofernes: "And there was no one that triumphed over this people [Israel], but when they departed from the worship of the Lord their God. But as often as beside their own God they worshipped any other, they were given to spoil, and to the sword, and to reproach. And as often as they were penitent for having revolted from the worship of their God, the God of heaven gave them power to resist" [Jud 5:17-19].
So in the time of Jeremiah, worship of false gods leads to the fall and destruction of the Judah, to the desolation of exile [Jer 44:2-3, 23]. In the time of Ezekiel the LORD charged his priests saying "You have not kept the ordinances of My sanctuary" and declared that the uncircumcised shall not enter the santuary; nor the Levites who served idols; but the sons of Sadoc shall do the priestly functions, who stood firm in the worst of times [Ezek 44:8-9].
Why this life and death exactitude over the liturgy, over altars, sacrifices, incense and worship? Because, as we learn from the language of the prophets, adulteration of worship is worse than the destructive sin of matrimonial adultery. It is a spurning of God. Moreover if true worship is not preserved then it is infected and overcome by false worship, idolatory, even demon-worship and child sacrifice [Lev 18:20-23; Dt 12:31; 4 Kings 17:31; Wis 12:4-6; Jer 7:12, 23:6, 9]. Inter-marriage between Jews and their neighbours was prohibited because it almost invariably led to the infection of strange religions into Israel. Thus the Israelites were ordered to "kill them with the edge of the sword, to wit, the Hethite, and the Amorrhite, and the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, and the Hevite, and the Jebusite, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: lest they teach you to do all the abominations which they have done to their gods" [Dt 20:17-18; cf. Dt 12:2-3, 29-30].
In order to teach an exceedingly important lesson God allowed His people--priests and kings and the whole population--to suffer the pain consequent of error. This has given rise to the dreadful calumny that the 'God of the Old Testament' is vicious and cruel. But on the contrary, by so acting God is rescuing us from the power of Satan: from "hateful sorceries and wicked sacrifices... from those merciless murderers of their own children, and eaters of men's bowels, and devourer's of blood in the midst of my consecration [i.e the Holy Land], and those parents sacrificing with their own hands helpless souls" [Wis 12:4-6].
Those who find this picture somewhat extreme, Christians who think they can depart in some deliberate degree from God's ordinances without yet degenerating to child-killing and Satanism, miss the point and their vocation. For God has called His people to be a light to the nations [cf. Is 2:2-3; 62:1; 66:20], that is to draw others to God by the purity and intensity of our relationship with Him. We might think we can slacken off without danger to ourselves, but in so doing we betray the salvation of others.
Certainly it is true that in all liturgical matters God is master and can mercifully allow departures from law in cases of necessity [cf. 2 Chron 30:17-20]. And it is true that since Christ suffered Himself, the true Temple, to be scourged and spat upon and nailed to the Cross, since this moment God has not visited instant retribution on profanation. But this does not mean abuses do not matter. It means that abuses are swallowed up in the pain of Christ's Passion. In the New Covenant we are not to obey God's law simply because we fear punishment, rather out of love for our Blessed Saviour and horror at the notion of adding to His wounds we strain to avoid all disobedience. So those Christians are wrong who think we can worship as we please [Dt 12:8]. We must follow God's ordinances.