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Melto D’Moronoyo: Affirming our faith in worship

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The gifts await consecration in the Divine Liturgy. PHOTO: PHOTO: JP PAU, UNSPLASH

The Divine Liturgy is a mystical sacrifice

Reading non- and anti-Catholic books can often be stimulating – and instructive.
In this case, the book, For the Glory of God, was written by Daniel I. Block, an evangelical writer who is critical of what he calls “Roman Catholic abuses.”

His impressive insight is that “salvation is offered to sinners without preconditions” but that to be able to join in the liturgy and worship with Christians has always had some clear conditions.

The truth of this is quite straightforward once you see it: everyone is urged to accept the Gospel, but that acceptance is only the first precondition for being able to join in Christian liturgical worship. That is, one has to be a baptised Christian to be able to participate in the highest and most solemn form of Christian worship. But by itself that is not enough: one needs to be a practicing member of the Church at the time of attendance.

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Last week in this column I wrote that, in the Maronite tradition, to worship with the Church in the Divine Liturgy and receive the Eucharist, was viewed as a great privilege, made possible only by God in His mercy, to those who share the faith, practice it, and are in a state of (relative) grace.

Block demonstrates that, the Eucharist aside, this is the position in both the Old and the New Testaments. He notes that, today, the attitude seems to be: “Come as you are – to worship,” a line posted by a church in England. In showing that this is not the biblical view, he commences with the creation account in Genesis, and the covenant God made with creation (Genesis 9:1-17).

He concludes: “… the world was not created for humans, but humans were created to serve the interests of the world … humans as images of God have been charged with the sacred task of aiding all creation in its symphony of praise for God. This is spiritual worship at its finest, and persons whose worship is pleasing to God are those who delight in his creation and take care of it in its own interests and for God’s glory.”

I am not at all impressed by his treatment of Cain and Abel, but the story shows that not all worship is acceptable to God. Block is doubtless correct to conclude that God favoured Abel because he was righteous whereas Cain was not.

For Maronites, especially, this is programmatic, as our Divine Liturgy is written as an ascent of God’s holy mountain, to reach His altar.”
– Fr Yuhanna Azize

He contends that there were two prerequisites for acceptable worship in the Old Testament: “ceremonial purity and prerequisite moral and spiritual integrity.” The place where sacrifice was offered had to be consecrated, as did the priests, and the congregation. Purification rituals allowed the Israelites to return to worship.

Psalm 24 asks: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place?”

The answer is: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

For Maronites, especially, this is programmatic, as our Divine Liturgy is written as an ascent of God’s holy mountain, to reach His altar.

Critically, Block observes: “The Scriptures refuse to divorce persons from their actions or their hearts from their deeds. Verbal confessions do not prove genuine piety, nor are they the main evidence of what is in the heart. Rather, actions that seek the honour of God and the well-being of others are proof of a transformed heart” (69). He cites in support Matthew 7:15-23 and John 5:1-17.

The prophet Malachi says that the Lord so hates the sacrifices of those who do not keep His commandments that it would be better for the doors of the Temple to be locked so that they could not use the altars (Malachi 1, especially v.10).

Finally, St Paul said: “… whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
In the ancient Christian liturgy, catechumens – those being instructed in the faith – could attend the Liturgy of the Word, but once the Scripture had been read and the sermon delivered, they had to leave the church and the doors were locked (Andrew McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship, 61). If you were not even a catechumen, you were not allowed in at all.

So, the ancient liturgical tradition of the Church reflects its teaching, and that is in line with Scripture: all are called to salvation, but liturgical worship, and especially participation in the Eucharist is not, and cannot be, “all-inclusive.”

Hence, the salutary rule that those who publicly promote abortion cannot receive Communion unless and until they change their stance. This is a medicinal prohibition: if they repent, they will be joyfully welcomed back.

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