A Horticulturist Goes to Mass

I offer for thought a passage from Christopher Carstens, Principles of Sacred Liturgy: Forming a Sacramental Vision (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications / Hillenbrand Books, 2020), 160:

We could look at the liturgy [we attend] with the eyes of an historian, a mathematician, a football fan, a farmer, or any other point of view, and gain some insights.  But seeing sacramentally and mystagogically bears the most liturgical fruit because it engages the liturgy directly, on its own ground, according to its own nature.  Imagine, by way of comparison, watching a baseball game only through the eyes of a horticulturist: even if the lush green grass of the outfield, mowed beautifully in a houndstooth pattern, gave some satisfaction to the green thumbs in the crowd, all other aspects—the beauty of the left-handed pitcher’s curveball, the masterful double play in the fourth inning, and the squeeze play that scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth—would be immaterial to the interests of horticulture.

Sometimes I look at liturgy through the eyes of a rubricist: what the minister just said in the greeting has no place in the rite or what someone just put in THAT spot should be in that OTHER spot.  Sometimes I look / hear as a musician: that tempo is too fast (or, more often, too slow).  Sometimes I am a theologian: did someone just skip a line in the Creed?

I suppose I am in good company.  One of Jesus’ disciples viewed the Temple through the eyes of an architect: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” (Mark 13:1) only to be told that not one stone would be left on another.

The large stones were important.  The Creed is important.  Good execution in music ministry is important.  Where things go and what gets said in liturgy is important.  No part of liturgy is unimportant.  Yet, like the animals on Orwell’s farm, some elements are more equal than others.  Among those elements is the sacramental imagination I (should) bring with me to worship.  I do not want to be a horticulturist who admires (or detests) the flowers near the altar to the detriment of the paschal sacrifice there renewed for my life and the life of the world.

Now, if only the presbyter would not raise the host quite that high during the Eucharistic Prayer . . .


  1. It’s human to form and utter thoughts about the effable with much greater facility than about the ineffable. Another reason we need redeeming, perhaps?

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