Have we become so egocentric in our worship that we’ve lost ourselves? When did the tides turn so that when we come for worship, we instead of turning to God in his glory and majesty we instead started turning to ourselves as the center and focus of everything?
This particular thought process was invoked inside me this week as I read a few different thoughts on matters regarding Liturgical music. In my own parish we have recently changed over to a new hymnal, it has sparked quite the outrage, as so many bemoan the loss of favorite songs. It seems many parishioners feel hurt and even lost because of the lack of certain ‘favorite” hymns that are not included in this new book. Again, have we become so egocentric in our worship that we have lost the true meaning of why we come to worship in the first place?
I took a very non-scientific poll on social media, I was interested to witness just how egocentric we may have become in this particular effect of our worship media, just how egocentric have our favorite music selections become? It is interesting to notice the lyric and focus of so many of these songs. It seems that as the “Spirit of Vatican 2” emerged, so does the focus away from words and sentiments focusing on God, to words and sentiments focusing on ourselves.
One of our favorites is “Here I Am Lord” by Dan Shutte. Don’t get me wrong, this is also a favorite hymn of mine. I never really appreciated though or noticed before just how self-centered the whole theme of this song is. "Here I AM, I come to do your will, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night, I will go Lord, if you lead ME. I will hold your people in MY heart." In that one refrain alone we reference ourselves eight times. Sure, we can sugar-coat it, since of course we are proclaiming our desire to do God’s will and heed his direction, but wow, we sure our elevating our own place in this story aren’t we, instead of focusing on the Glory and Majesty of the one True and Almighty God.
Compare this with the hymn, “Holy God We Praise Thy Name”. Where do we see the focus here? There really is a striking difference, isn’t there? In this song we bow before God, and we praise his name, because all on Earth and in Heaven above adore Him, because everlasting is HIS name, not ours. This hymn is about God’s supremacy, not ours. God is the focus, not us. God’s plan is first, not our role in that plan. When I really started to evaluate the words and the mission of so many of these hymns, it hit me like a freight train. We are losing ourselves in the egocentrism of our worship. It isn’t so much God that we come to worship, but it’s ourselves. Sure we want to do God’s will and that is holy and true, but how can we do that if we aren’t focused on what and who God is in the first place? We can’t place are own importance in God’s plan above God himself, sure he needs to be the center of our lives, we put him there by honoring and offering him the worship and glory, not our desires and need for him to be that center of our life. We come to worship God’s supremacy, the fact is that there would be no plan or will for us at all without the Creator in the first place.
This egocentrism then moves to so many other directions during the Mass that have also become hotbeds of outrage, and opportunities for more self-worship at the expense of what we should come together for at Mass essentially and most basically. The holding hands or improper orans position during the Our Father for example. So many of us express our feelings of community that such a practice elicits, even though the entire reason we come together to celebrate the entire Mass is community worship. We should be directing the community worship to God in this particular prayer and every other during the Mass, not be focused on the feelings that are elicited in us by the superficial posture of hand holding. Another interesting occurrence is noticed oftentimes during the offering of peace, when some of us literally climb over pews and cross aisles to shake hands or hug people that we favor, which again negates the spirit and sentiment of this particular gesture at Mass. We are united at Mass as a whole community of God’s people when we extend our offering to the ones next to us, and in close proximity, and they in turn do the same. By singling out those that we feel especially close to, again adds a level of superficiality and negates the true meaning and significance of this ritual.
The MASS is not a superficial act. It is highest worship to God in the universe as we offer the most extreme of all sacrifices, the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ himself. We lose all of that, when we focus on our place in that sacrifice in lieu of the one who actually bore that sacrifice for us. He died on that Cross, we did not. He created the universe, we did not. He is the center of everything visible and invisible, we are not, although many of us seem to think we are.
So, before we balk at the more traditional hymns that bring reverence and honor to God, instead of our own roles in the plans of salvation, let’s reflect on who we truly serve and give glory to at the Divine Liturgy. We become what we worship. Once we evaluate the direction we are heading in that worship by the songs we sing and the gestures we assume, we might get back on track, and become less egocentric and make God that center and purpose of Liturgy and life, instead of ourselves.