We just finished a long series on the various parts of the Mass where dialogue occurs in some form between the congregation and the priest. There was one phrase that I did not talk about much. "It is right and just." The congregation says this in response to the priest's invitation to give thanks to God. That phrase is a good intro to the topic for today.
It is an important phrase because it points at a very significant and often under-appreciated concept: Justice for God. Justice has classically been defined as giving another person that which is due to them. We, as human beings, tend to be very sensitive to the concept of the demands of justice...well, at least with regards to ourselves. Tell any child that you will give them a dollar if they take out the trash and then subsequently refuse them the dollar and you will find just how sensitive we are to the demands of justice. Now, we can often be misguided as to what actually constitutes true justice. But at the very least we are sensitive to the concept that what is due ought to be given. If some payment or honor or appreciation is really due someone, we know that there is an obligation to act accordingly.
We live our lives in a sea of just demands on our time, energy, resources, etc. But each of us is blind in some way, shape, or form to some of our just obligations. With respect to God himself, we 'get' some of what is due to God, but we often don't get it all. Justice regarding God, what is owed to God because of who He is and our relationship to Him, is called 'Piety,' which is a word that often carries a lot of false connotations. Its true meaning lies in what we have related here: giving to God what is His due because he deserves it.
One of the things we often don't 'get' completely is the relationship between the liturgy and Justice for God (piety). What is it that we often don't get? Well, in our day and age, it is all to easy to do most things only insofar as we see a benefit for ourselves. It is certainly not wrong for a thing to benefit us (every true act of Justice we do for another also benefits ourselves). However, we should do acts of justice BECAUSE they are just, rather than act because it benefits us and only coincidentally happens to be just.
What is the point of that whole explanation? It is this: when it comes to various 'acts of piety' in the liturgy, we often decide to do them or not do them based upon a perceived benefit or lack thereof. Hence, we tend to compose our bodies, open our mouths to sing (or say) various things, or make various motions based upon whether it feels good at the time, what we think others will think of us, whether we feel happy or sad, or a variety of other self-referential reasons rather than because we asked, answered, and acted upon the question: what is due to God?
Hopefully, we can all recall the righteous anger of the child who remains dollar-less after taking out the trash and can agree that we ought to TRY to give God His due simply because He deserves it.
What is proper piety? What does God concretely deserve from us at Mass? What are the best things to do? Does it make a difference what we do with our hands? When is it right to sing and when is it more prudent and pious to just speak the words instead of singing them? What is the right way to compose yourself when you receive the Eucharist? These are just a few of many questions we could ask about proper piety at Mass, and we are not going to answer them today. And there is often a lot of freedom to the expression of piety. But the guidelines should not, cannot be, defined by what we happen to feel like doing. It should not even be based upon our subjective opinion of what is most pious. Rather, we look to God's word, His Church (who enjoys the special guidance of the Holy Spirit promised by Christ), and the wisdom of the Saints to help us grow in the knowledge and practice of true piety. We seek to be informed by true justice and let it guide our actions rather than be islands of opinion.
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