Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Place for Worship That’s as Spiritual as It Is Religious

As we get ready for St. Rafe’s first Mass on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to say a bit about why we have chosen the form of worship we will be using. A reasonable person might well ask what purpose Latin chant, spoken thees and thous, and medieval vestments serve on the edge of a university campus. It’s an eminently reasonable question. 

Those of us who have been involved in getting this experiment off the ground would say that we are trying to do something so contemporary that it is positively post-modern.  We embrace these forms because we feel that they offer something valuable in the present, that they help recover a sensibility that is too often lacking in contemporary religion.

People increasingly describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”  We would say that, rather than being a sign of a decline in faith, people are often expressing a hunger for a different sort of religious experience, that they have a sense that something is missing. We believe that being spiritual is at the heart of the religious enterprise and that we are trying to make a space for the spiritual life built on the wisdom of preceding centuries even as we are mindful of contemporary needs and conditions.

Traditional worship engaged the senses, whether in beauty for the eye, music for the ear, or even the smell of incense.  These elements worked together to take the worshipper outside of space and time to encounter the Eternal.  Rather than focusing most of our effort on sermons and didactic learning, St. Rafe’s is trying to create a space where the worshipper meets God through the words of scripture, the music of the psalms, and prayers that have stood the test of time for their ability to speak to the human condition.  We focus on worship and contemplation as the place where we encounter a personal God.  We believe these forms of worship open a space where Jesus Christ reveals himself in love and asks us to walk with him.

Each week, the changing readings and chants of the Mass focus on some aspect of our journey into relationship with the One who is, was, and will be while the set texts recapitulate the story of God’s relationship with humanity, culminating in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are offered new opportunities for encounter and at the same time given familiar images to contemplate more deeply.  The set texts and ritual action of the service give continuity from week to week that allow us to move more easily from our everyday lives into worship and contemplation, but the varying texts and readings continually offer new opportunities to encounter the Holy Trinity and gain insight into our own struggles and growth.

Is all of this something that might speak to you?  My advice is the same that Philip gave to Nathaniel when he invited him to meet Jesus:  “Come and see.”  At first our worship may seem a bit exotic, but, once you get used to the forms, you may find that it speaks to you in ways that other forms of worship have not.  Our focus is on worship, mystery, and joy—on helping people see that maybe spiritual and religious aren’t so different after all.

Read more about what we're trying to do at the St. Rafe's web site.