I was at Mass the other day at a church where the Liturgy is celebrated with majestic solemnity, bleeding in its precision with a peerless rubric red. Beeswax candles and Bethlehem incense, plain chant and silken chasuble, along with the whole ritual sway that makes our Eucharist into David’s dance brought into temperate submission by the exigencies of suburban decency and sacred decor.
As I found myself caught up in the other-worldliness of this Liturgy, my imagination, beguiled by the sacramental realism of our worship, strayed back into the Gospels to those places and spaces where this Liturgy was first celebrated by the dusty and dirty Incarnate Word. I saw an Infinite God surrounded by lepers, prostitutes, and the demon-possessed; sought out by the deformed and deranged, the estranged and condemned. I saw him bloodied by whips and bruised by blows, hailed by curses and jeers, robed in glory-stripped shame, abandoned, betrayed, mocked and left to die naked; fastened by hammering violence to a dead and splintered tree. Unpinned and dropped, buried hastily in wicked earth to revere with utmost care the Sabbath of the Lord.
All this mass of festering humanity, of fallen souls dead and despairing in their loveless ways, He loved with an immortal, everlasting love.
He whom we felled rose, Wounded for us. He whom we suffocated breathed out mercy on us. He whom we thrust through entered freely into us.
And suddenly I awakened again to this Mass, this common, sober veil that modestly shrouds the living Fire enwrapping the cosmos about; a Fire that flames up from the fragile, broken Heart of Man.
I stumbled toward that Furnace ever-baking Bread that never dies. I trembled toward that Chalice fermenting a blood-red Drink, leaving God, even God, inebriated.
And as I stumbled and trembled, I could not help but think of the Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy, that I first witnessed 12 years ago, where sobriety gives way to a more unmanageable expression of joy. Take a glimpse: