December 7, 2018
Psalm 27; Matthew 9:27-34
Today on the memorial of St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, I think of his reputation for flexibility when it came to the liturgy.
You know the old joke. “What’s the difference between a terrorist and liturgist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.”
But St. Ambrose wasn’t that way. He refused to give in to the demand that the liturgy be made the same in every parish and every church. As he told his protégé, St. Augustine, “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are.”
In fact, a version of this advice has come down to us in English in the famous saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
The fundamentals of the mass must remain the same, of course: the structure of the Eucharistic Prayer, the words of consecration, the overall logic and sequence of the celebration. But as for styles of music, St. Ambrose taught, or vestments, or certain liturgical gestures: it doesn’t matter. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. The mass must be reverent. The mass must be in keeping with the tradition. But there are lots of ways of doing that.
“One thing I ask of the LORD,” as the Psalmist says today. “This I seek: to dwell in the house of the LORD / all the days of my life, / That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD / and contemplate his temple.” And we cangaze on his loveliness. We are, right now, as we reflect on the scriptures–and we will be again in a few minutes, when Father elevates the host.
We dothe dwell in the house of the Lord. This is it.
Today let us pray for the intercession of St. Ambrose to help rescue us from our petty concerns—all of us, whatever our preferred styles and ways of going about things. Let us not be blind to what really matters, and not just with the liturgy but with the way our neighbors do things or our kids or our coworkers, however much it might irritate or offend us. The Lord is present in the scriptures, the Lord is present in the Eucharist, the Lord is present in the faith and the actions of the people. He is here, in this place, and he is here in our lives, and nothing any of us can ever do can change that or diminish that or dilute that even one degree. His grace is pouring down on us, and it always will be. He will be with us always, even unto the end of time.