Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thalored bwethu

Say you were this guy:

Yep, you've finally stopped by that big blue planet you've always marveled at on the trip back to Betelguese from the outer rifts. You strap on the inviso and wander amidst the "hue-mans", as they call themselves. And when your toes or tentacles or whatever you're sporting start to hurt, you stop in at one of the constructs with the cross on it, because hey, everybody seems to be going there, so it must be interesting.

And say you get there just in time for a Mass. Now, you don't know the language and your uni-trans is way out of date, so you really don't know what's going on.

Even so, if you were paying attention, you might get the sense that this ritual has four parts. Because four times, a series of events is repeated: there's a procession of some kind; the group stands (or is standing), and the guy in the shiny dress extends his hands and says "Thalored bwethu," to which the group responds "Anawlso wethu". (Actually, he says "The Lord Be With You", and we say "And also with you", but give a guy a break, it's hard to understand us when you're an outer space alien.)

Do we even notice that repeated sequence? I can't say that I do, other than somewhere in the back of my mind I realize we sure do say "The Lord Be With You"/"And also with you" a lot. And that note is itself interesting -- our ritual form of greeting/welcome is a selfless wish that God would be with present to those we meet. Maybe that sounds sort of obvious. But try just saying it aloud in the privacy of your home a couple times. Or say it to someone who won't immediately laugh at you. I think you'll discover, it's a quite a thing to say to someone.

But no matter whether we notice any of this, that repetition is there as a signpost that we've entered new territory, that something significant is happening. By and large it marks beginnings: we do it at the actual beginning of the liturgy; at the high point of the liturgy of the Word (the Gospel); at the midpoint of the Mass, which is really the beginning of the liturgy of the eucharist; and at the end -- which is actually not for us "the end" but our re-entrance into the larger world. It's the beginning of the rest of our lives. As we processed in, so now we all process out, sent forth to continue what has happened to us here...

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