The traditional way of beginning prayers - "Almighty and eternal God" - is to be restored in new translations of the Lectionary. By addressing God as "Almighty and eternal", we recognise the infinite greatness of God and attempt to honour and pay homage to our Creator. In our human way we try to express what cannot be expressed - the ineffable.
Because our knowledge of God is limited to our human understanding, human language can never adequately represent our grasp of God. So we use words which are negative: "uncreated", "infinite"; or we say that God is eternal, that is, without beginning and without end; and we use similes or metaphors such as "Sun of Justice", "Fountain of Mercy".
Words are important because they are used to represent concepts. When words fall into disuse, the concepts they represent may come to be forgotten. When such words are part of our everyday vocabulary, we may be more readily moved to ponder on their meaning, to use them fittingly .
Conversely, words can diminish the value of a concept sometimes to the extent of eliminating its original meaning. The word "awesome", appropriate to the sacred, has been devalued to describe any experience. A traditional Christian feast such as All Hallows or All Saints has now become an occasion to celebrate witches and warlocks at Halloween. The genius of Christian culture was to adapt elements of pagan culture giving them a Christian meaning as in the Easter symbols. Now the reverse occurs.
Ironically, in what is called "inclusive language", the concept "man", understood generically to include all human beings, is narrowed down to exclude women. Those who refuse to admit any essential distinctions between men and women, calling it "gender differences", are the very ones who demand that a distinction be made and that the word "women" be explicitly introduced. The necessity to use "their", the plural pronoun, to avoid "his" or "her" where a singular is grammatically appropriate, highlights the illogicality of such thinking.
We adore not only with words but also with our body. The Church has always recognised that our body is integral to our human nature and also plays a part in our worship. One of the earliest documents of the Church, the Didache, mentions the sign of the cross. When the Gospel is read we sign our foreheads, lips and heart to indicate that we believe with our minds, respond with our lips and love with our hearts. These are not meaningless gestures but an affirmation of an interior attitude of faith, hope and love.
The US Bishops Committee on the Liturgy decided last November to make kneeling mandatory during the Eucharistic prayer. Such a decision is aimed at ensuring that there is unity among the faithful "so that this central action of the entire Mass would not be a moment when division was manifested, but unity in Christ".
Kneeling at the consecration indicates our reverence in this most solemn, holy moment in the Mass. In churches where kneeling is virtually impossible, sitting or even standing do not adequately reflect our interior worship
The Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament requires adoration and an attitude of quiet reverence, neither compatible with the disrespect evidenced before or after Mass when the Church is treated as a meeting hall.
Genuflecting before the tabernacle is a sign of adoration in silent recognition of the real presence. In the "Hail, Queen of Heaven", we clearly state that it is to God alone, "the source of life, of grace, of love", we pay homage "on bended knee" - a refutation of any accusation that Catholics hold Mary in equality to God.
The highest form of adoration is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Our attitude during Mass must be one of reverence and awe. Though it is indeed the drama of the cross which is re-enacted, the Mass does not require exaggerated "performance" but solemnity. Our response has to be from the heart, from an interior disposition, whereby we offer ourselves in union with Christ on the altar.
Love and confidence
Wonder and awe at the infinite distance between creator and creature should not, however, make us fearful of approaching God. When Jesus teaches us to pray, he begins with "Our Father", a name indicative of tender love, which inspires us with love and confidence. Christ has revealed to us the overwhelming love of God who endows us with his intimate presence through the divine indwelling. A soul with sanctifying grace is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we can adore the living God and contact him in silent prayer at any time, in the inmost depth of our being.
St Thomas shows us how to praise God with a heart full of love when he contemplates the Blessed Eucharist. In the opening words of the Adoro Te Devote, the word "devoutly" expresses the depth and intensity of the act of adoration together with the intimate love and passionate fervour of the loving soul.
Our relationship with God is transcendent, going beyond the horizontal dimension, elevating us to contemplate the Most High and to give Him the glory which is His due as our Creator, the thanksgiving which we owe our most holy Father in heaven.
We adore God in the presence of the angels, in union with the angels and the saints. Saying "Holy, holy, holy" reminds us of the infinite greatness of the Trinity, the one God who possesses all perfections. Jesus taught us to say "Hallowed be Thy name". By repeating the Divine praises, praying the psalms, saying the "Glory be ..." we can explicitly honour the God who loves us and allows us to call Him Father.
Audrey English is a former Catholic school teacher who presently works at the Holy Family Education Centre and the Centre for Thomistic Studies in Sydney.