To the outsider I know this seems arcane, irrelevant and difficult to understand. To many Catholics it seems the same. They wonder why worship cannot be more ‘relevant’ and more easy to understand. Perhaps they wonder why the worship cannot be more joyful, more upbeat and more ‘with it’. I cannot explain.
I cannot explain in the way I cannot explain a Mozart aria, a Beethoven quartet or a Raphael Madonna. I cannot explain the lift and surge of liturgy as I cannot explain the heft of a poem or the fullness of the silence in the rest of music. I cannot explain the transcendence of beauty,the knowledge of eternity electric in the frail physical things. I cannot explain the connection with the infinite in the interstices of the psalms, the intimacy of goodness in the rapt face of a child in worship, the contact with reality in the smoke of incense, the deep rumble of the organ, the delicate dance of light or the poignant harmony of plainsong. I cannot explain the certainty of sanctity known in the wrinkled hands of an old woman in prayer, or the certainty of grace in a teenaged boy kneeling in silence–a smile of joy impressed upon his face as if by an unseen power.
I cannot explain any of these things, but I can invite you to the feast.