In two different posts for a different thread, Ann Olivier raised the question of the relationship between ideas of God and experiences of liturgy, and vice-versa. She wrote to me privately: "It would be interesting, I think, to have a thread sometime about how the bloggers think of God."Well, Ann first. Responding to a comment that the former Church/Mass lacked "bigness," catholicity, Ann replied: "There was no lack of "bigness"--those people privately praying were directing their attention to an infinite God, whom we viewed as infinitely great and good, and ourselves as poor imitations. We worshipped Him in a way that, I think, the current form of the Mass does not lead us to do."No, I dont want to return to the old Mass, but I do want to incorporate an awareness of the Infinite God of Love and Mercy as present to us in the Eucharist, and I want to worship Him even as I am grateful to my brother Jesus for saving me and for establishing a communion with my neighbors. True, the last was lacking in the old Mass. But a lot has been lost too."In her second post, Ann wrote: "My point was not that the people were wonderful. My point was that their experience of the Mass was quite different from the experience of the new Mass.. It seems to me that Cathy Kevenys point about different cultures resulting in different liturgies has a parallel in the experience of the people who attend those different Masses. And I would add that it isnt just the liturgy that causes those experiences. It is our understandings of what the Mass is that produces our experiences, and I dont think you understand what the old Mass meant to many of us, both conservative and liberal.."For the young people today, God does not seem to be experienced as someone who is essentially our infinite Creator to whom we owe worship and love because He is the Absolute Love who sent His son to redeem us. In other words, he is not understood as both immanent in the person of Christ in the Eucharist and as transcendent--a reality so immensely great that we can never comprehend Him entirely. And yet--miracle?--He loves us and is present to us in the Mass."Yes, you younger people are perhaps more aware of God in the poor, and thats as it should be. And, yes, you are more aware that the Mass is a communal event that strengthens the ties among us. But I dont see you worshiping the Transcendent Who is so intimately present to us in both the Word and in the Eucharist. And that is a tremendous loss."Can a mere liturgy bring us to understand and appreciate both dimensions? I doubt it. The liturgy isnt that good a teacher, I think. I think that the experience of the Mass is dependent on what we bring to it our understanding of what is going on, and that is dependent of our understanding, limited as it is, of God."
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.