Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Editor, Oblation: Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization
Like many of those involved in liturgical scholarship, my own interest in the liturgy began at any early age. I remember being highly aware as a seven year old that worship of God in the Eucharist was the sort of activity that might change what it meant to be alive in the first place. I was the strange second grader who longed each Sunday for Mass. In high school, my desire for worship turned to the contemporary praise songs that played over and over again on the local Christian radio station in Knoxville. This music, and the accompanying affections, were essential to my life of faith. As I grew older, slowly turning away from this praise music, I discovered the rich hymnody and poetry of the Anglo-Catholic world–once again coming to know the reality of God through a new, poetic form of praise. Worship, the act of praise and adoration, was integral to my life as a believer–until the fall semester of my junior year when I was studying in London. In the midst of loneliness, as well as a parish choir that was less than spectacular, I noticed that my feelings in worship dried up. The disappearance of these affections during Mass slowly led me to doubt whether God existed at all. I attended Mass but felt nothing. In the spring semester on campus, I found myself in a joint theology/philosophy seminar on Augustine taught by John Cavadini (my current boss) and Fr. John Jenkins (the now president of Notre Dame). Early in the semester, we turned our attention to that magisterial work of Augustine–De civitate dei (a text that I find quickly becoming my favorite work by Augustine in my middle years). As we reached Book X, that book which treats the theme of worship and sacrifice, I found myself face-to-face with the following passage:
Our heart is his altar when it is lifted up to him [sursum est]; we plead to him by his Only-begotten priest; we offer bleeding victims to him, when we strive for his truth even to shedding blood [ad sanguinem]; we burn the sweetest incense to him when we are aflame with holy and pious love in his sight; we consecrate and we return his gifts in us and our own person; by solemn feasts and dedicated days, we render sacred and proclaim the memory [dicamus sacramusque memoriam] of his benefits, lest, by the passing of time ingrate forgetfulness might creep upon us; we sacrifice to him a victim of humility and of praise on the altar of our heart kindled by the fire of love.
This account of worship did not emphasize how Augustine felt in the act of worship. Rather, it treated authentic worship as nothing less than the gift of ourselves to God. True worship was not about generating the right emotions so that we can “feel” God’s presence in our lives. Rather, true worship, formative worship changes what it means for us to be human in the first place. Our memory, our understanding, and our will are to become sacrifices of divine praise to God–gifts offered to the God who first loved us. Worship was not about what I felt. Instead, it was about who I was to become: one who praises God in all that I do. Elsewhere in this same work, Augustine writes: “God will be the end of all our desires, he who will be seen without end, loved without weariness, praised without fatigue. This work, this desire, this motion, will be truly common to all, like eternal life itself.”
The destiny of the human vocation is nothing less than total praise, a common gift of our humanity to God in love without any effort except the duty of delight. This treatment of sacrifice forever changed how I would think about worship. Liturgy is not dependent upon the kind of feelings that are generated in the act of worship. Divine praise is an objective action, one in which we practice giving our wills over to God. We practice that vocation of total praise, which is the destiny for those of us who desire eternal membership in the city of God. This task is never easy. It is not without a formation of our desires, a form of practice that requires the Christian to learn not only to feel but to love. As Augustine comments in his Enarrationes in Psalmos:
What about you? Do you too want to sing and play psalms? Then not only must your voice sing God’s praises but your actions must keep in tune with your voice. After you have been singing with your voice you will have to be quiet for a while, but sing with your life in such a way that you never fall silent. Suppose you are engaged in business and you are contemplating some dishonest deal: you have allowed your praise of God to be silenced and, worse still, you have not only smothered your praise but have committed blasphemy; for since God is praised by your good works you are praising him simply by performing them, whereas your evil deeds are a blasphemy, and so you blaspheme as you commit them.
The vocation of humanity is this kind of praise, a perfect praise in which every form of worship finds its end not in better, more sophisticated (and novel) worship that generates more and more emotion. But in that gift of self, which Christians call love. Worship is not about us, it is not about our affections. Instead, it is about becoming who God intended us to be: members of a symphony of perfect praise of the voice and the will alike. On this feast of St. Augustine, I’m grateful to this member of the choir of the saints, who taught me to praise aright.
 Augustine, ciu. 10.3 (CCL 47A: 275.14-23; Dyson 394-95): Cum ad illum sursum est, eius est altare cor nostrum; eius Vnigenito eum sacerdote placamus; ei cruentas uictimas caedimus, quando usque ad sanguinem pro eius ueritate certamus; eum suauissimo adolemus incenso, cum in eius conspectu pio sanctoque amore flagramus; ei dona eius in nobis nosque ipsos uouemus et reddimus; ei beneficiorum eius sollemnitatibus festis et diebus statutis dicamus sacramusque memoriam, ne uolumine temporum ingrata subrepat obliuio; ei sacrificamus hostiam humilitatis et laudis in ara cordis igne feruidam caritatis.
 Augustine, ciu. 22.30 (47B: 863.33-36; Dyson, 1179): Ipse finis erit desideriorum nostrorum, qui sine fine uidebitur, sine fastidio amabitur, sine fatigatione laudaitur. Hoc munus, hic affectus, hic actus profecto erit omnibus, sicut ipsa uita aeterna, communis.
 Augustine, en. Ps. 146.2 (CCL 40: 2122.6-14; Boulding, 421).