Why We Worship
In the Gloria at Mass, we sing: We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory. This declaration to God is equally an affirmation to ourselves of how much we need to worship God.
Dostoyevsky once remarked that the whole law of human existence consists merely of making it possible for every human being to bow down before what is infinitely great. If a person were to be deprived of the infinitely great, they would refuse to go on living, and die of despair.
Why do we need to worship? A few reasons.
Worship saves us from ourselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that“worship sets the human being free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world…. Worship integrates us and saves us from endless disintegration” (2097, 2114). How often and easily do we turn in on ourselves…to the point that we become discouraged about our circumstances. How often the disintegration we experience with others and within ourselves causes us to despair of ever getting our act together. Worship integrates us in and with God’s wisdom. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explains that “worship means emerging from the state of separation, or apparent autonomy, of existing only for oneself and in oneself. It means losing oneself as the only possible way of finding oneself. That is the purpose of the world. That is the essence of sacrifice and worship.”
Worship gives us the best way to face reality. “Worship means accepting that nothing finite can be my goal or determine the direction of my life, but that I myself must pass beyond all possible goals” (J. Ratzinger). We know from our own experience how true this is—just how much happiness, truth, beauty, justice, goodness, joy do you want in life? The answer: an infinite amount. When we worship Christ we learn to know him, we come to understand his nature, and we want to follow him. “Worship, which is the right kind of relationship with God, is essential for the right kind of existence in the world. It is so precisely because it reaches beyond everyday life. Worship gives us a share in heaven’s mode of existence, in the world of God, and allows light to fall from that divine world into ours” (J. Ratzinger).
Worship is a gift. Cardinal Ratzinger points out that “the essential form of Christian worship is rightly called ‘Eucharistia’, thanksgiving. It consists in our letting ourselves be endowed with gifts. We worship God by dropping the fiction of facing God as independent business partners in favor of the truth that we can only exist at all in him and from him.” If we don’t worship God we will worship something else—an idol. Without worship, we lapse into laxity. We settle for an unsatisfying life. Worship effects in us the conformity to truth and love that remains the very meaning of our life. Worship quickens us, cultivates us, increases, and completes us.
We worship in order to live humility. The Catechism instructs us that “to adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God” (2097). And “only in the awareness of the infinite superiority of God,” notes Bishop Massimo Camisasca, “can we be familiar with him. Adoration is the acknowledgment that he is greater than any human measure, wiser than our greatest wisdom, truer than our greatest truth, more beautiful than our greatest beauty, holier than our greatest holiness.” No wonder then that, as the papal preacher Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa has noted, the basic sin is asebeia—the refusal to glorify and thank God.
We worship because we were made to worship. “Creation was fashioned…for the worship and adoration of God. Worship is inscribed in the order of creation” (347). The antidote to the disorder that infects our life is worship. “Worship is the context in which we can discover joy, the liberating, victorious Yes to life…. In worship, death is overcome and love is made possible. Worship is truth” (J. Ratzinger).
– Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.