The Horizontal and the Vertical

A post here got me thinking about the ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives’ in the Catholic Church. Thulcandra opines that the progressives are all about the ‘horizontal’ aspect of the church. For them it’s all about people. Remember the 1970s ‘up up with people!’ campaign? That’s them. For them the church is about us. Its about hugs. Its about peace and justice and making the world a better place.

For the conservatives the Church is about the worship of God. It’s about us kneeling in his presence. It’s about adoration and meditation and sanctity and looking for that other country whose builder and maker is God. In other words, it’s all about the vertical.
Now the beautiful fact of the matter is that, at the core of Christianity, is the cross. It stands as a balance between earth and sky. It demands both a vertical and a horizontal. It demands both the love of God and the love of Man. It demands both worship and action. It demands both fine liturgy and fine fellowship.
The horizontals need to be reminded of the need for reverence in worship, the need for contemplation and study and adoration and tradition. However, being more conservative/vertically minded myself, I (and others like me) need to be reminded that service of others, love of others, fellowship, peace and justice, and all that horizontal stuff is also true and necessary and good.
One of the main problems is that we have tried to cram everything the church does into the Mass. The vertical and horizontal should be expressed within the whole life of the Church, but the cross shows us that the vertical and horizontal need to be clearly delineated and identified, otherwise confusion sets in. How can there be a cross if the vertical and horizontal are not clearly vertical and horizontal? 
In other words, there is a place and time for the vertical and a place and time for the horizontal, and it doesn’t do to mix them up. The place and time for the vertical is the liturgy. That’s where we meet God. That’s where we face Him together. That’s where the action is up and down. Therefore the liturgy should not be messed up with too much hugging and fellowship songs and focus on me, myself and my friends.
Likewise, the time and place for the horizontal is in all the other activities of the Church: Knights of Columbus, the parish Bible study, the women’s prayer group, the soup kitchen, the parish school, the youth group, the parish outings, the parish pilgrimage, the parish retreat, etc etc. etc.
When you look at it that way there is far more of the horizontal going on in most parishes than the vertical. That’s another reason why the liturgy should be reserved for the vertical.
Finally, remember that it is the nature of the cross for the vertical and the horizontal to be in opposition. It’s actually a healthy and creative tension. Do the ‘horizontals’ and the ‘verticals’ get on each other’s nerves? Sure. That’s part of the fun. Should they listen more to each other? Sure, that’s part of the challenge. Should they expect everyone to be like themselves? No. That wouldn’t be Catholic.
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  • carolina catholic

    Father, with fine posts like that, you’re sure to talk yourself into offering the Tridentine Mass soon! The traditional Mass, by its very nature, focuses on the vertical nature of our relationship with God. This is one of the primary lackings of the Novus Ordo. The liturgy is about God, not us.Well said!

  • Anonymous

    Great post Father.I choked on my coffee when I saw up-up-with people! I remember being forced to learn, and sing, that song in my youth group in church. And, yes, of course; kum-by-yah, my Lord, kum-by-yah. Someone’s Crying, Lord, kum-by-yah. — Need your Dramamine yet?Your Horizontal vs. Vertical also struck a chord. Sometimes I like to go to the Eastern Catholic churches, as in their liturgies (Byzantine at least), you REALLY get a sense of the vertical at worship. The altar is actually gated, the Priest spends most of the time behind the gate with their back towards you (or facing God, more like), their liturgy is the same as it was when it was composed by John Chrysostom circa 400 AD.However, I don’t know if I could handle a steady diet of the extreme horizontal (I’m not saying that Eastern Christians are, please don’t misunderstand). I have heard tell that in the Pre-Vatican 2 days people would recite the Rosary during the mass, as they were so non-participatory in the worship, and only got involved when the bells were rung (I was not Catholic at this time, and am relying on anecdotal evidence).This has come up before, but as a Convert from a Protestant denomination, sometimes, even in this more vertical Post Vatican 2 (as opposed to Pre Vatican 2), environment I sometimes miss the “fellowship” that was so central to my previous denomination. Especially the fellowship after the service. I’m sure it’s parish specific, but after Mass, it’s like somebody pulled a fire alarm the way people leave and get in their cars and go. That vertical nature was an attribute, but was a determent in liturgy. There was no sense of the sacred. No sense of awe and wonder when you entered the church. Just white walls, felt banners (exactly WHO was the person that started this trend?), and a pastor with a rah-rah speech. I think it’s a matter of balance, like you say; “a healthy and creative tension.”Bravo!

  • I’d say that there are the “corporal works of mercy” people and “spiritual works of mercy” people. So-called progressives and conservatives are usually more interested in changing the Church to their liking, rather than the other way around.As I understand the terms “progressive” and “conservative”, most progressives are more interested in turning the Catholic Church into the Episcopal church and most conservatives are more interested in turning the Church back to what they think it once was.Both gravitate towards heresy, be it ordination of women and contraception, be it the See is vacant and only the Tridentine Mass is valid.But, like I think John Allen said, there are the social-teachings faithful and the pious faithful, the operating word being “faithful”, to the Pope and to the Magisterium.

  • Dear Anonymous,I think you got your verticals and horizontals wrong way around.But I totally agree, in that after mass, it’s just a mad rush to leave – at least for most it seems. But you know, the problem with the lack of real fellowship in many parishes has to do, I am postively convinced, with the politically imposed “Fellowship” in the post-vatican II liturgy. Doesn’t the shaking of hands make you queasy? I don’t know how many times during a homily a priest has asked everyone to turn to his neighbour and ask something or other, as some kind of example of something or other. All these means of trying to get people to jive with one another only creates an opposite situation. But everyone is there already. Community is self-evident and implied. It’s when they concentrate on the vertical that these things get straightened out. As Father says, both horizontal and vertical, but leave them as clearly defined beams!

  • I heartily second the “bravo” of Mr./Ms. Anonymous (and nearly choked on my water at the mention of felt banners – I was transported back to the 70’s and my visiting aunt, Sister Alice, who put us to work with the felt, scissors, and glue!).I couple this post with your recent comments on why people leave the Church and can say nothing more than “Amen, Father!” If you’re preaching to the choir, I’m darn happy I’m in the loft!

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  • Anonymous

    Not so sure. I think the vertical feeds the horizontal. There cannot be tension between them. Could the tension that we experience with the “horizontal” to which you refer be caused by a fake horizontal, a man made horizontal that is not the fruit of the vertical. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, then all things will be added on to you. For evidence I would point to the horizontals delivered by our Saints who where first and foremost planted in the vertical. There is very little to compare by way of fruit to the false horizontals we have today.Benfan

  • carolina catholic

    Benfan: There’s not one thing wrong with the horizontal element of our faith, but the issue here is whether it belongs in the Mass or not, or whether the Mass should focus on the vertical. My argument is that the Novus Ordo focuses, by its very nature, on the horizontal and not the vertical. The Traditional Mass, on the other hand, does the opposite.There is a well-known saying that the Holy Father referenced in his motu proprio last July: “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” One was of rendering the translation is, “So as we pray do we believe.” But there is a third part to that saying that is sometimes used: “Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.” So as we pray do we believe, and as we believe do we live. This is where the vertical and the horizonal meet one another. Our liturgical (prayer) life is focused on the vertical (lex orandi). Our relationship with God is then internalized (lex credendi). Finally, we have no choice but to, out of a love for God, turn to our fellow man in charity. This last part is the horizontal component, and it is the lex vivendi of the saying.

  • Anonymous

    Carolina,I take your point that what we are talking about is the vertical dimension of the Mass. I would agree with you that it’s dimension ought to be vertical. “Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi” is an excellent way of summing up the issue as you pointed out in your post. “There’s not one thing wrong with the horizontal element of our faith, but the issue here is whether it belongs in the Mass or not, or whether the Mass should focus on the vertical.”Is this really true? The fact of the matter is that any horizontal action that is not fed by the vertical is problematic. If the Mass is in the main horizontal then very little / no grace flows. Would not this absence of grace corrupt any horizontal activity whether within the Mass or without? Do we not have sufficient evidence for this?Benfan

  • Anonymous

    Overall you make some very good points but I am slightly concerned at some of the things you put in the ‘horizontal’ group. Why is the women’s prayer group there? Do women not pray ‘vertically’?Angela

  • carolina catholic

    Benfan: That is my point exactly!! Any sacramental action necessarily must focus on the vertical relationship (me and God). Grace comes from God, and if the vertical aspect of a sacramental action is not there, the amount or effect or receptivity of that grace is diminished or eliminated. And when the grace is diminished, it hinders the establishment of the horizontal relationship (the community).What happens in the Novus Ordo Mass is the establishment of this, as you put it, fake horizontal. We try so hard to put the emphasis on the community. Shaking hands, dialoging between the priest and the congregation, laity waltzing through the sanctuary and distributing Communion, etc. The horizontal CANNOT be fed without the vertical, and since the vertical has been lost in the NO Mass, we are left with a horizontal that is inadequate and, as you intimated, merely smoke and mirrors. In the traditional Mass, where the vertical is clearly the dominant relationship, the graces can flow freely, thus feeding the horizontal relationship that happens when Mass is over.

  • Carolina Catholic, while I share your enthusiasm for the ‘vertical’ in worship, I should be careful about claiming to know the quantity of grace that flows through any particular sacrament.What are your criteria for making such a judgement? Are there any objective criteria? If not, then you may be in a situation where you are making this judgement based on your own perceptions and emotional responses.If this is the case, then isn’t this essentially the same subjective attitude that many Protestants have about worship? “That was a really great sermon Pastor. I was really blessed!”If what you mean in your expression about the quantity of graces in this Mass or that Mass is simply an indication of your feelings for or against a particular style of worship, then you are guided by no more than your own feelings in this matter.I happen to agree with the essence of your feelings in this matter, but I would be far more cautious than you in ascribing ‘more grace’ to a particular form of Mass.By all means admit that one Mass makes you feel more ‘blessed’ or more ‘graced’ but I don’t think you should mistake your feelings for the facts.

  • carolina catholic

    Father: Sorry if I didn’t make my meaning clearer earlier. It’s really pretty simple. Grace flows from God to the recipient. Such a “transaction” is the result of a vertical relationship. When the vertical is set aside for the horizontal, the grace cannot flow as freely, because the recipient is not readily available to receive. This doesn’t mean that grace CANNOT flow, it just means that the flow becomes much harder to attain.By way of a bad analogy, imagine a group of people standing around in a rainstorm. The rain represents the graces coming from God in the clouds. It sounds pretty lame, I know. Sorry. Now imagine the people looking up towards God with their mouths open. Their vertical orientation will enable them to catch the grace and internalize it. Now imagine them instead looking at each other with their mouths open. They are now horizontally oriented, not vertically. Will they catch any of those grace-filled raindrops? Perhaps, but the odds are much less.

  • I pray that we are not too busy looking up, filling our mouths with grace filled raindrops when Jesus the Christ, who once walked this earth in a fully human form, and will be returning from the Horizontal East – not the Vertical North or South, returns in Glory. In other words, should we be equating “looking at each other” to a distraction from the worship of Jesus the Christ who was fully human? It is quite a mysterious and frightening assumption, if you ask me. I think Our Faith is deeper. Jesus the Christ was both Human and Divine – this is the mystery and challenge for Catholics to grapple with.A prayer for balance in Liturgy…is a prayer to Jesus the Christ!

  • “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” –Matthew 24:37,38,39There’s also other stuff Jesus says about how many will come saying I am he, and other remarks how people will say look, he is in the “inner rooms” or “in the desert”…but, Jesus happens to say, do not listen to them.How does the cross stand up in the air in the first place? Because of the vertical beam.The cross balances with the horizontal, but there is everlasting tension there, at its center. Those who would do away with the tension in favour of “balance” more than likely do away with the cross.

  • There would be NO cross (horizontal OR vertical) if we never believed and worship in a fully human and divine Jesus the Christ that died and rose from the dead. The whole Christian project depends on this fact, no? Balance does not necessarily need to equate to relativism, nor “doing away with the cross” – though that is a very tempting road to travel. Matt 13:52 “And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the NEW and the OLD.”The tension between tradition and progress is part of the cross that all Catholics carry – and is a necessary burden in Our journeys. We would be a “healthier” Church if both sides of any such debates could accept the reality that we are mere mortals trying to understand something that is beyond our grasps. The debates within the Magisterium (and Liturgy for that matter) are a sign of this reality. Thank the Almighty for the Magisterium – but pray for the Magisterium. Pray for balance.

  • Pray for balance? Balderdash. Pray for holiness. Courage. Truth. Father, I love the picture on this post– my childhood playing grounds. I grew up 8 kms away from the immense, beautiful statue, and we used to hike up there quite often. Ah, what a view.

  • Um… “Catholic” means not only “universal”, but also “complete”. So if you pray for truth, or holiness, or courage, you’re opening yourself up to get the whoooooole thing, horizontal as well as vertical. And we do have to look for Christ suffering next to us and do something about it — even if it’s just “a stranger and you welcomed me” — unless we want to be in the wrong side of the sheep/goat divide.I say this as someone who recently expressed to the Lord a wish that He would get me on the stick to give alms during Lent, because I stink worse at that than anything. I ended up with a project considerably larger and more grace-filled than I anticipated, so look out!

  • I don’t think the Mass should be exclusively vertical. I don’t think it’s right to leave the horizontal dimension exclusively to small groups outside of Mass.Jesus said the Two Greatest Commandments were Love God and Love Your Neighbor. You were made in the image and likeness of God; and because the natural Son of God reconciled you, you are the adopted Son or Daughter of God. There is great dignity in that and it’s a miracle! Now take it a step further: the people around you at Mass are also made in the image and likeness of God and are adopted sons and daughters of God. Be in awe of the miracle in them, too!In the last few centuries, especially the last one, a great danger has grown in solipsism, in radical individualism. We feel utterly cut off from one another.The same Holy Spirit that is the soul of the Church, the same Holy Spirit that implants grace into our souls and gives us the very life of the Trinity indwelling, the same Holy Spirit that is the bond of mutual love between the Father and the Son, so infinite and eternal and powerful and abundant that this love is a Person, this is the same Holy Spirit we call down at Mass that makes the confection of the Eucharist possible. But that fire of love is stoked in our hearts, and should be directed towards one another. 1 John: God is love. How can you say you love God who you cannot see, when you don’t love the brother and the sister that you do see?I don’t believe in sloppy agape. And perhaps it’s easy for me to live this out in my tiny mission parish–we all know and like each other. Our bond of love is strong and we have an agape feast after Mass in the parish hall EVERY Sunday! I cannot say, no, Mass must be strictly vertical, quit trying to hug me in the Kiss of Peace and quit holding my hand at the Our Father! I cannot say this because we truly do love each other. This whole parish gathered round me and supported me through my cancer treatment this last year. They were praying with me and loving me while I tiptoed through the valley of the shadow of death. Their love was a warm blanket! I CANNOT reject their love in a strict vertical formality.I grew up in a huge warehouse of a parish that had the vertical trappings but no fire of mutual, horizontal love–I never knew a soul there and as soon as I was off to college, I quit totally. I couldn’t run away fast enough. Dead! Dead! Dead!If the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, and the Uncreated Grace Who delivers sanctifying grace to us (the soul of the soul), who cleanses us from our sin, who inspires and enlivens us with His gifts and fruits, who is the Spirit of Love planting Love in us, and this Holy Spirit is being called down in Mass, well, watch out and don’t be surprised when the agape breaks out.If anyone loathes their fellow parishioners, I suspect a baptism in pickle juice.Of course our vertical worship makes the horizontal possible, because otherwise we wouldn’t have the Holy Spirit making the party possible. I am a trained counselor and can discern what goes on with people and groups. You can tell the difference between a merely human group effort and the Spirit-enlivened group.He is the Lord and Giver of Life! May he be praised with the Father and the Son now and forever!

  • Great post Fr. Longenecker. As today was our Holy Cross Sunday, I took the opportunity to quote you.