Celebrating Mass today at La Divina Providencia evoked an incredibly intense and intricate knot of emotions and thoughts. Here, in this very spot one of God’s saints (though officially titled “servant of God”) offered a most full imitation of Christ when he was martyred for his identification with “the least of these,” God’s beloved children the poor. Three weeks out from my own commissioning (for higher church folks, that’s roughly akin to a transitional diaconate- we call it commissioned elder) I couldn’t help but think of Romero, himself a young priest once, coming home to El Salvador without any thought of what might be asked of him as he shepherded God’s people. He knew only the “little way” of Love and yet offered so great a gift not only to El Savadorians but all God’s people with his self sacrifice of poverty and life itself.

In such a holy place, full and running over with memories of pain and joy, love and fear, the most profound sense of the mass was for me its very ordinariness opening a door through which the most extra-ordinary events of Romero’s death, and ultimately the mystery of our Lord Christ’s death and resurrection, could be encountered, engaged, and emulated. Daily Mass follows its own almost unchanging rhythm, day in and day out, from one season to another. It makes the alleluias disappearance at Lent and reappearance at Easter really pop. When we say some parts in latin we are reminded of the solemnity of the season. The celebration of the Lord’s Word, spoken and poured out needs no added gravitas, but speaks with its own voice through out time, steady and constant. Indeed, the very constancy of the liturgy provides the solid ground to stand upon while each experience of worship offers us new insights in the few changes made to the rhythm or the changing cycle of scripture read.

I thanked God for that consistency today, some solid ground upon which to stand in God’s grace. The sacredness of the place, so overwhelming, could only be encountered, at least for me, through the steady rhythm of the ordinary worship of God, the same daily pattern followed by the Archbishop, God’s grace manifested itself in an encounter with the truly extraordinary love of God. Each movement and word could take on new life not because an insatiable human need to pour words into a holy silence by “saying something” or making the moment solemn. The very ordinariness of the liturgy opened human eyes and ears, tongues and hands to receive the blinding, deafening, dumbfounding grace of God.

A malleable worship certainly offers strengths for engaging an ever changing world. But we must be mindful of our quick changes, lest we loose the ground upon which we must stand if we genuinely desire to offer the constancy of God’s love to a people always facing new moments. I fear that if we forget to train our tongues, hands, and spirits in a search for malleability, we may find ourself dumbstruck, pitifully unable to receive the wild holiness with which God sometimes speaks.

Above: The altar at which Monseignor Romero was celebrating Mass when he was martyred.

Chrysostom Christmas Liturgy

November 15, 2009

St. John Chrysostom’s golden mouth should not be relinquished to the history of the church. Part of the continued witness of saints is that we keep speaking their words as the ages roll on. The following is a litany I created by swaddling John 1:1-17 (adapted from NRSV) in portions of St. John Chrysostom’s Christmas Sermon.

The whole sermon is beautiful, and could honestly be preached if cited. However, I wonder if people might be more likely to comprehend the complexities by speaking at least some of them with their own lips alongside scripture. By intertwining those mysteries with the Prologue to John’s Gospel, I hope to facilitate a more mysterious encounter with this anything-but-cute baby. This baby isn’t adorably cute; this Child is God, who is worthy of adoration, come for the salvation of the world.

After all, in the liturgy we encounter Christ the Savior, swaddled.

Chrysostom Christmas Liturgy
Anna Adams, November 2009Mosaic, John Chrysostom

All: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

L: BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery! All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised. Ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. God willed, God had the power,

P: God descended, God redeemed; everything yielded in obedience to God.

L: This day He Who Is, is Born; and God Who Is, becomes what God was not. For when The Lord was God, God became human; yet not departing from the Godhead that is the Lord’s.

P: He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

L: For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

P: What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

L: What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

P: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.

L: For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that we cannot see. For since people believe their eyes and not their ears,  He has decided to present Himself as a body, and remove all doubt.

P: The Word became flesh and lived among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

L: It is to God no debasement to put on What God made. Let this creation be forever glorified, because it wrapped around its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

P: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

L:What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who is enthroned in Heaven lies in a manger. He Who cannot be touched, Who is God plain and true, without complexity, greater than creation, now lies subject to the hands of humanity.

P: From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

L: He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands.

P: He has decreed that lowliness become honor, humanity be clothed with glory, and set the servant as the measure of His Goodness.

L: For this the Lord assumed our bodies: that we may become capable of His Word; taking our flesh, God gives us His spirit; and so He bestowing and we receiving, the Lord prepares for us the treasure of Life.

P: God takes our flesh, to sanctify us; He gives us His Spirit, that He may save us.

L: Come, then, let us observe the Feast.

P: Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity.

All: For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

L: Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle.

P: God became Flesh. The Lord did not become God. The Lord was God.

A:  The Father of all ages, as an infant nursing, nestles in a mother’s arms, and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever.