My post about the the Romance of Religion and the need to be liturgical Lancelots and ceremonial Cyrano de Bergeracs attracted attention at Fr Z’s beautifully bombastic blog. One reader was not sure whether I was mocking or not. Was it mockery? Was it a masquerade? Am I puncturing pomposity with intentionally boorish buffoonery?
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Not at all. I am recognizing the divine comedy of Catholicism. ‘comedy’ in the divine comedy is not a comedy like a situation comedy. The liturgy is not I Love Lucy (except on 13 December when it is indeed ‘I Love Lucy’)
The ‘divine comedy’ of the liturgy uses the word ‘comedy’ in the older sense of being a drama, of being a solemn re-enactment, remembrance, anamnesis of that most solemn drama of all–in which the demonic jester in the high king’s court was thrown down once and for all and trampled on by that twist in the plot we call the resurrection.
And for all this, the solemn pomp and ceremonial with which we celebrate the Mass is indeed most serious. The most serious enterprise that mankind can undertake. It is the one serious solemnity about which I would never be satirical. However, while the Mass is the most seriously solemn ceremony we can imagine, there is also a playful aspect to the Mass.
Just as a drama is a ‘play’ so the liturgy has a dramatic play acting dimension to it. Yes, we dress up. We play a part. We speak the noble words assigned in a lofty and transcendent way. We take a part. We become more than we are and more than we ever deserve to be. It is a solemn masque. It is a solemn ceremonial, and for all this there is another dimension to the ‘play’.
In this dimension there is indeed also a certain child-like play acting to it. As a child dresses up and plays a part and pretends to be a great hero or to mimic his elders, so he plays a part that is greater than he is, and as he does he learns to fill the boots, and looks forward to the adult hero he may one day be. Likewise, though we cannot hope to be worthy of the part we play, still we may hope one day to be transformed into his likeness for we shall see him as he is and we shall be like Him.
Finally, there is a part in this Divine Comedy that is playful and child like in another way. When you observe the child at play do you not see a soul absorbed in something other than himself? When you see a child at play has he or she not transcended himself and entered into another dimension of reality–one in which the self has been forgotten? One in which the soul has approached the Great Soul, and one in which the child of Time has entered the Timeless?
Was I being serious in my longing for the Romance of Religion? Oh yes, as serious as the grave, but also as playful and joyous as the Empty Tomb.