We lift them up

January 25, 2012

When I was in college I attended mass pretty often at the Newman Hall affiliated with UC Berkeley. Newman Hall was named for Cardinal John Henry Newman, a well-regarded British Catholic intellectual from the 19th century. Cardinal Newman continues to be known for his liberal,thoughtful, almost humanist approach to God, religion, and Catholicism. As one might assume, the Catholic church in Berkeley was quite a bit more radical than your average church.

One of the curious aspects of a Catholic mass is the rote call and response between priest and congregation. There is a formula for a mass. To one unfamiliar with the schedule, it may seem unpredictable, when all that kneeling, standing, and sitting happens. But the Catholics know what’s going on. There are ways to know which song to sing from the book at any given time. There are names for the different parts of the mass. The Catholics also know exactly what to say, when. One of my favorite parts of the mass is called the Sursum Corda, and it goes like this:

Priest: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Except in the Catholic church in Berkeley, Newman Hall, I learned how to say the last line like this:

People: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

You wouldn’t think it, but that one little change from a masculine pronoun “him” to the word “God” was quite unusual. For years after, when I attended other churches, I took special delight in saying the Sursum Corda like we did in Berkeley, while the parishioners around me said it the way they did. My sturdy word, “God” sounded so loud compared to their amassed “him.”

I don’t go to church anymore, and I’m not a Catholic anymore. That’s a different story. But tonight, I found myself breathing the words of the Sursum Corda as my eyes stared onto the clear, starry sky. In shock and sadness, slumped over, I sat on the bench at the edge of my front yard in the darkness. My lungs are moving more slowly than usual tonight, but my heart beats fast. It hurts. It should not hurt tomorrow. That is why I lifted up my head, and my heart, to the night sky and repeated these old words that cause comfort.

I am not a religious person, but I believe in beauty, and I believe in the world. There is a lot of pain in religion. But the joyful moments captivate me. To me, the Sursum Corda is a joyous conversation.

“Lift up your hearts.”