This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless (Mark 7:6-7)
What is worship really all about?
It is a sad fact that while worship can often inspire us, it at just as much infuriate us.
Pope Francis, in his letter “The Joy of the Gospel” made it very clear that worship can sometimes become an obstacle to faith as much a window into it.
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” he says. Lives, and worship which may be earnest, but is also dour, bland and uninspiring.
The long and dreary sermons. The awkwardness of the priest. Familiar hymns with unfamiliar tunes. And familiar tunes with unfamiliar words. The new translation. Latin. The lack of Latin. Modern music and clapping. Traditional music and starchiness. Talking in Church. And people who tut when you greet a friend.
I could easily go on.
And there are those, of course, who are very concerned that things must be done correctly. According to the Churches rules. Without variation.
It can lead to the accusation that the Catholic Church is just like the Pharisees who Jesus attacks in the Gospel.
And of course the accusers might be right. The faith is not at all about how many candles you have on the altar, how much incense you use, whether mass is celebrated in Latin or not, how colourful and valuable the vestments are and so on. The beauty of the liturgy, the splendour of the music, and even the language used can become gods in themselves. If they do, then we fall into Jesus’ condemnation - lip service, worthless worship.
But of course, it is not just the old mass or the high mass which can go this way. The number of choruses sung, the quality of the sound system or video projector, the number of guitars or flutes, the height of the hands raised in worship - all these can become over-important too.
The person who claims that elaborate and beautiful worship falls under the condemnation of this Gospel is missing the point. The question about what is the right way of worship is just not the same question as whether that worship is lip-service or not.
The test of our worship is the meaningfulness of the words.
Will we forgive those who trespass against us? Are we truly sorry for our sins? Will we leave Church to glorify the Lord with our lives?
Worship becomes worthless, Jesus tells us, when the heart is not in it - or rather, when the heart is not in God himself. Our words become empty when the focus is on human desires, not divine purposes.
And the measure of true worship is not the quality of the ceremony, impressive and inspiring though that may be, but the song sung by the charity, the mercy and the love of those whose worship is their lives.