The Paschal Preface in the Roman Rite is only used from Easter to Ascension (or is it Pentecost? I don’t know). It’s present in the Novus Ordo nearly verbatim from the older order. Borrowing from Rome, the same text is also present in the 79 BCP for Episcopalians and in the People’s Anglican Missal for Anglo-Catholics of an older school. It’s a solid part of the Western Liturgical Tradition, both Roman and elsewhere.
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. …Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory,as they acclaim:
Sitting at home earlier this week, livestreaming Mass, I heard that phrase again. And it struck me: …in this time above all… the phrase is there even in the Latin, …in hac potissimum… Even in this Covidtide above all. What does it mean to praise God in a time of plague?
Church history is filled with answers to this question. From the earliest Church that knew persecution in Rome, Africa, and Asia Minor, to the missionaries who brought the gospel and their own death to the farthest corners of the world. Through the Middle Ages where the Black Death rained on the church so hard that she changed the prayer called the Hail Mary, adding from then on the second half, “pray for us now and in the hour of our death” to the prayer. To the 80s where she ministered to those with AIDS the sick and the dying even when we didn’t know that touching people could not give you the disease. The church knows plague and the church knows how to praise God in these times.
Yet, to be honest, the church’s knowledge and her experience is not mine. I do not know how to do this. Do any of us know how to do this? How do we praise God in this time yet more gloriously? Looking back at blog posts before mid-March of this year is not a trip down memory lane, but rather trip in the TARDIS to some other part of the space-time continuum. Then something happened in the middle of that month and the tone changes. I confess I forgot how to praise God. Fear is a human emotion and it’s ok: even Jesus was afraid. But letting fear run your life is not: acting on fear is proof of a lack of trust in God. You cannot make prudent decisions if the only thing or the strongest thing is fear. Prudence requires faith. You can wear masks, socially distance, avoid public gatherings – even Mass, and stay safe out of fear. But it is better for you to do all of that out of prudence. You can also demand your freedom, breath on everyone, and march into state houses with guns. But that’s bravado: which is also fear. You would do none of those things out of prudence.
To be blunt: acting on even economic fear is evidence of a lack of trust in God. Acting on political fear is even greater proof of the same lack of faith. God and his Church have been victorious over several dictators, not by political action, but by grace, miracles, and prayer.
So. How to praise God in this time yet more gloriously? Can we be overcome with paschal joy and exult in God’s praise?
The clue is in that next line: overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise. The true joy of the Resurrection means that this life is not all, this world is not the end, or, as the preface for a requiem says, life is not ended, only changed. Paschal joy is unstoppable: not because it goes on after death but because death is no more.
In mid-March, death became very real. Not that anyone was dying around me – although I have no way of knowing until all the random phone calls and checkins stop, probably next year. But death was real: literally any one of us could have been dead in 14-21 days. It has taken most of April to weed out of my life the things that were fear-based instead of prudent. Washing hands is not fear based. Washing hands and wearing gloves and using sanitizer (maybe both before and after putting on the gloves, as one store made me do) is fear-based. That store now offers the choice (gloves or sanitizer): but for a week after shopping there I was terrified I was not doing enough. Even in normal times, some friends make folks take their shoes off before entering the apartment. Since there is no vestibule in this apartment, this is not a shared affectation. Until now. That started as fear-based, but it actually is prudent: I’ve noticed what tracks in on my shoes from The Streets of San Francisco and ewwwww.
So, how laud him yet more gloriously? How to praise him with great praise as Tolkien paraphrased on the Field of Cormallen, even – or especially – in this time?
He has shown us, people, what is good and what is required of us: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micha 6:8). I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Love one another as I have loved you: no one loves more than to lay his life down for his friends (John 15:12-13). This is how we might become even like Angels while on earth, who “excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word” and are commanded to “praise the Lord” (Psalm 103:20).
This is our duty. No saint has ever signed a petition to “demand her rights” even to Sacraments. But almost all the saints have freely given up even their lives and their freedom to save others. No saint has ever unlawfully taken up arms to force others to change… in the name political Terrorism even cryptically named “Economic Liberty” whatever that is. But many a saint has laid down their lives to protect others from such terror. No saint has ever given up his trust in God out of fear of local gov’t’s or nameless, faceless, enemies to “take matters into his own hands.” These are the steps of those who are not praising God, but are only acting out of fear: not prudence.
Praise is an act of faith. An act of trust. And an act of humility. There is a reason the stereotypical image of “praise and worship” involves the exact same posture of those caught by the law. “Hands up” is an act of surrender. The surrender is required of those engaged in praise. It’s the definition, the physical and emotional reality, the sacrament of “walking humbly”. For Jesus it meant giving freely, being arrested in silence, bearing injustice, and death. That was his most-glorious praise of his Father. He did that not out of fear (even though he was afraid) but out of prudence and out of love.
What does our most-glorious praise look like?