Worship in Spirit and Truth or Place

On Sunday, with English-speaking Protestant churches in short supply in The Eternal City, I took advantage of streaming audio but also decided to observe the 10:00 Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. When in Rome do as some of the Romans do (I say some because the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday, Romans turned out loudly and brightly for a gay pride parade). While observing the proceedings, which included a Cardinal and about 25 assistants with the liturgy (how do they pay them all?), a choir that sang better than the liturgical music I’ve heard in U.S. Roman Catholic parishes but that did not hold a candle to the evensong performances in Christ’s Church Cathedral (Dublin) or St. Mary’s Cathedral (Edinburgh), and a surfeit of images (statues, paintings, tile work in the ceiling, I couldn’t help but think that U.S. Roman Catholics who worship in Rome must feel a tad underwhelmed when they return to their home parish. Rome simply has more stuff than Lansing, Michigan. In fact, place seems to matter for Roman Catholicism in ways that rival Judaism and Islam — certain locales are holy and function as the spiritual capital for the faith.

In comparison, I can return to the States (in a week or so) after worshiping with Presbyterians in Dublin and Edinburgh and not think twice about missing the liturgical bling — and I can say that even while admitting Presbyterianism’s debt to the Scots, and to the charms of what might qualify as Presbyterianism’s capital city — Edinburgh. For Presbyterians, worship doesn’t depend on the tie between the minister and another church official, nor does it include relics or objects that point to holy persons who inhabited that space. The services in Dublin and Edinburgh were not any more special or meaningful because they were closer to Presbyterianism’s original space.

That would seem to confirm Jesus’ point to the Samaritan woman at the well that Christian worship depends not on place or space but on word and Spirit. Sure, that’s a root-for-the-home-team point. But it does account for the lack of liturgical envy among New World Presbyterians. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Spirit and the word are just as much a part of worship as in the Presbyterian heartland.

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19 thoughts on “Worship in Spirit and Truth or Place

  1. Indeed! Even if the home team can seem a tad too underwhelmed by the communion of saints and the centuries long activity of the Spirit in the body of Christ in which they do all hold a place. Wasn’t it a couple three years into his career that Ken Griffey Jr (remember him?) said ballplayers shouldn’t be responsible for tipping their caps in the direction of Orlando Cepeda or Brooks Robinson?

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  2. Is this not one of the great themes of the NT, of how the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant? The Temple is now over all the earth, wherever Christians gather, cf. I Cor 3, every congregation filled with Royal Priests, cf. I Peter 2, Revelation 1. The Gospel is not tied to any one culture (Acts 15), so that the Gentiles can come streaming in, just as they are, their ethics transformed, but not needing to change their earthly loyalties or stations of life (ordinarily), much less their diet or dress.

    And so tying Christianity to Rome or Constantinople or Edinburgh or NYC as somehow special is a retreat to Old Covenant types and shadows. As is requiring ceremonial worship beyond that of simple Word, Prayer and Sacrament. But NT worship can be replicated anywhere a Bible, bread and wine can be found. No costumes, powerpoint or prayer book needed.

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  3. Chris, but I think a test should be to identify the gospel with Hillsdale, Michigan. Then we’ll know the true believers. Heck, who couldn’t believe in God if you got Rome!

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  4. What does Griffey Jr. have to do with Cepeda and Brooks Robinson? Did they even play for the same teams? Griffey Jr. was primarily a Mariner & a Red if I remember right. Cepeda was Giants and Robinson was Orioles, I think.

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  5. I remember working at Young Life camp. The beautiful people from Wheaton and Notre Dame sunned themselves on the Waterfront while I toiled away in the kitchen. Sigh…

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  6. “To create solid and stable conviction there must be something that appeals to the eye. A faith sustained only by doctrine will never be anything but feeble and vacillating…. If the authority of the Holy See were visibly displayed in majestic buildings… all the world would accept and revere it. Noble edifices combining taste and beauty with imposing proportions would immensely exalt the chair of St. Peter.” ~ Nicolas V, p. 61 of Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly”

    “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” ~ Paul, The Bible

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  7. Eric, A perfect score: you correctly matched all three players to their teams!

    My point being Ken Griffey Jr disdained to acknowledge the history of baseball as some few Protestants might fail to acknowledge God’s work in the church’s history…

    And then his game, which had looked so promising, went south, and his potential, as they say, went “unfulfilled.”

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  8. Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the most dominant players in the American League in the 90’s. He had three seasons cut short by injury after he was traded to the Reds, before he suffered a detached hamstring that required what was then radically experimental surgery. He then won the comeback player of the year award. He hit 630 home runs and was a 17 time All Star. His lack of appreciation for the game’s heritage might have been offensive to those who invest the game with religious significance, but he had a wonderful career. He was one of those rare players (Clemente was another) who on a given day could display every one of the five tools, plus pop the popcorn and drive the team bus. That his physical skills were at their best for “only” a decade is really something to be lamented, but how many great players can we truly say had a 10 year peak? And as far as I know he never has been suspected of using PED’s

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  9. Dan, seem to have touched a nerve. Are you taking a shot at those who invest baseball with religious significance (all the while venerating KG Jr.)?

    630 HRs is truly impressive.

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  10. Clemente could not hit for power to a level of greatness taken for granted in his contemporaries. Pit him against Mays and Mantle, Killer and other real power hitters, many who hit for astounding average as well. Great player though. And he was seen as a malingerer and head case through his career, probably not totally justified.

    Griffey Jr could have had a Ruthian legacy in the game, but injuries took him down. And the era will be totally vilified for steroid use, give it another 30 years and see how inflated it looks and how the next generation of currently unborn fans mock these numbers.

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  11. DGH- I am not a particular fan of Griffey, Jr., but I do think his record is under appreciated particularly given the steroid era he played in. I have been a passionate Braves fan since 1957, and even had season tickets when I was exiled to Atlanta for most of the 80’s. They were truly a bad team for most of that era. But I’ve never confused going to a baseball game with going to church. It does have some life metaphors– principally that it is an exceedingly hard game to play well, the little things mean everything and the season is long.

    Kent, my favorite player of all time was Henry Aaron, whose best baseball was played in Milwaukee. But Roberto Clemente was the most exciting player I have ever seen, even though he played for the wrong team. He had enough power.

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  12. Fair enough Dan, surprisingly few fans step up for Hank though…

    Billy Williams is basically forgotten as well.

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  13. Kent, by the time he started to get national attention, Aaron was a one dimensional player, though his plate discipline was unequaled by any power hitter I’ve seen.

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