The how and why

'You first have to know why you are in the world; when you know the why, you have to learn how to be there'

Like so many long-standing proverbs and sayings this translation of an Italian aphorism holds a deep truth that is worth exploring. In so many aspects of life it is easy to find oneself caught up in the how of doing, without having considered the why which underpins the endeavour. In Christian terms it invites the hearer to reflect that the human person is created out of love personally and uniquely by God. Creation is simply gratuitous on the part of the creator and the sole purpose of creation is love and human flourishing. The human person is created out of love and in order to love. That truth of faith, once grasped, should underpin everything that follows - the task of learning how to live. The purpose of so much Christian prayer, meditation and contemplation is, surely, to learn how to apply this knowledge to daily living. This is important, because otherwise the Christian faith can be reduced to a series of rituals, regulations and a moral code prescribed by others - that would be to suggest that Christian faith is just about the how of human living rather than about the ultimate purpose of human life.

As has been frequently stated by many, the so-called clash between science and religion is not real confrontation because the two disciplines offer ways of finding answers to different questions. At heart the sciences seek to discover the how and what of the universe. The disciplines associated with religion - theology and philosophy - seek to explore the why of the universe. It is certainly true that at times proponents of all the disciplines can veer into the realms of others - one has only to recall the Galileo case - nonetheless the basic insistence can be made: how and why are different matters. It is essential to recognise this important distinction in all aspects of living.

The introduction of the recent new translation of the Roman rite of the Mass was accompanied by a certain amount of controversy, as seems inevitable in all matters liturgical. Nonetheless, the exercise of introducing parishes and congregations to the new translation has been used effectively in many places to invite the faithful to reflect on the deeper reality of the celebration of the Eucharist. When the Second Vatican Council invited the faithful to 'full, active participation' in the liturgy (SC14), and when the use of the vernacular became usual, this, together with a whole range of adaptations - some envisaged by the Council, and others not so - meant that the celebration of Mass in parishes and churches was transformed. There is no doubt but that enormous care and attention can be seen in many places where the liturgy is celebrated with profound reverence and true joy, and where there is a great attention given to how the liturgy is celebrated.

With the current emphasis on the change of form and language in the liturgy, many may focus on how the new translation needs to be used. This can have the consequence of people and ministers adopting a primary pre-occupation with the 'how' of the celebration, but the 'how' must first be rooted in the 'why' of the celebration. In many places good catechesis and study have enabled people and presiders to look anew at the 'why' of celebrating the Eucharist, and in so doing the 'how' may naturally follow. When we ponder the why of the Eucharist we are offered so profound an answer that learning the how will take the rest of our lives:

'At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us'
Sacrosanctum Concilium 47. n