Sunday, August 02, 2015

About Scripture and music as part of Mass (Sunday homily)

As mentioned last week, in my homily for the next several weeks, 
I’m looking closely at the Holy Mass. 
This week I want to focus on the way we use Scripture at Mass, 
which goes beyond the readings.

The Mass obviously has many parts; 
and yet it is one, sustained prayer, from beginning to end.
Because this can be hard to appreciate, 
one of the principal ways we cultivate this sense of unity is with music.

And yet, I need to warn you:
what I’m going to say about music and the Mass 
may be different from what expect. 
It may even surprise you. 

I suspect a lot of us think of music at Mass 
as something that’s added to Mass.

Well, it’s true that this is often what we do—
at funerals and weddings, or on special occasions, 
folks will want to “add” this or that bit of music to the Mass—
but it’s not what we’re supposed to do!

Rather, the approach the Church intends is not to “add” music;
But rather simply to pray the Mass, sometimes in a musical form. 
In other words, singing the prayers of the Mass.

This the Roman Missal; 
it’s the book with all the prayers needed for Mass. 
This is the lectionary, which has the Scripture readings.  
The “missallettes” in the pews are abbreviated combination 
of both these books, for your convenience.

If we went through the Missal page by page, 
you’d see that every part of the Mass is intended to be sung, 
if not every time, then at least on special occasions. 
That even includes the Creed, the Eucharistic Prayer, 
and even the readings! 
By the way, in the older form of the Mass, 
this would happen at a “high” Mass: 
the readings would be chanted, not simply read.

While I will occasionally chant the Gospel, 
I doubt our readers will be doing any chanting! 
But stop and think the effect that would create, 
if everything were chanted, until you sat down for the homily.

Two things would be much clearer: first, this is one, sustained prayer. 
Second, we’re doing something really important. 
Because, after all, all that chanting is really hard – 
which is why we don’t do it all the time. 
So if we did do it, it says, “this is a big deal.”

So to repeat, we don’t so much add music to Mass; 
but rather, we simply sing the Mass. 
So where do the hymns we use at Mass fit in?

Again, this will surprise you, but it’s true: 
the guidance the Church gives us 
does not envision us singing hymns at Mass!

Let me refer to what’s called 
the General Instruction of the Roman Missal – that is, the “rulebook”:

When the people are gathered,
and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers,
the Entrance Chant begins....

In the Dioceses of the United States…
there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal
or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, 
as set to music…

Let me pause and explain two terms here: first, what’s an “antiphon”? 
That’s another word for a refrain, 
just like when we do the responsorial psalm: 
the part you sing is an antiphon.

And what is the Graduale Romanum? 
That’s just a name for a book 
of such psalms with their antiphons, set to music.

To continue:

 In the Dioceses of the United States…
there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal
or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum… 
(2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex…—

That’s another such collection—

(3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons,
approved by the…Bishops…
including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
(4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action….

Did you notice? The first three options 
all speak of an “antiphon with its psalm”—
only the fourth option speaks of some other “chant.” 
When we use hymns, we’re choosing option 4. 

But isn’t it clear that the strong preference of the Church 
is to use psalm texts—that is, from Scripture—
as the opening chant or song?

By the way, the same guidance is provided 
when it comes to the offertory chant, 
and then the communion chant. 
Three times we have a procession to the altar, 
and all three times, the Mass envisions the people—
or perhaps just the choir—chanting a psalm; not a hymn.

Why does the Church want us to do this?

Well, what’s the difference between, say, Psalm 42, 
and “Amazing Grace”? 
The difference, of course, is that one is the Word of God. 

So why did we ever get to using hymns all the time? 
The answer involves some history.

The custom of singing hymns at Mass goes back 
at least to the late 1800s, in Germany, 
when people would sing hymns in German, 
rather than sing the chant which was in Latin. 

That was probably true elsewhere; 
and in any case, that same custom found its way to this country. 
Some of you may be old enough to remember, 
from the 1960s and before, when Mass was in Latin, 
you would still sing hymns in English.

Then, when the Second Vatican Council called for changes in the Mass, 
and the Mass was translated into English, 
guess what wasn’t translated right away?
Those collections of psalm texts I mentioned. 

It just took a while—many years—before they were translated, 
and then also set to music. 
It is just in the last ten years or so 
that these collections are easily available, in English, set to music.
It’s easy to see why something familiar simply continued.

So, what do we do with this?

Well, as I mentioned, the use of hymns isn’t “bad”—
but it’s the option of last resort. 
Carla and I have talked about this a few times, 
and I think it would be good if, over time, 
we made the attempt to move toward using the psalm texts 
that the Church encourages us to use.

If you look in your missallettes on page 215, 
you’ll see what’s called the “Entrance Antiphon”—
there it is, ready for us to sing, 
while the choir or the cantor would sing the rest. 
On page 217, it gives the “Communion Antiphon.” 
This book doesn’t provide the one for the offertory procession, 
but other resources do. 

Look, I’m not proposing a sudden or drastic change. 
But I would like to ask us to consider, in the years ahead, 
how we can move toward using psalms as the Church envisions.
That doesn’t mean we’d never use hymns, but use them less.

Let’s talk about the Scripture we just heard. 
They might seem to be about food, 
but I think they’re about something else: about trust. 

The people who grumbled in the first reading 
had witnessed so many wonders, 
and yet it didn’t take long for them to turn ugly: not much trust. 
In the Gospel, after Jesus, with a miracle, provided food for them, 
notice what they asked him: 
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” 
Again, not much trust.

As I said last week: Mass isn’t necessarily about what we like, 
but what we need. 
It’s what Christ does to save us. 
Part of that is asking us to stop, sit down, and listen. 
But to really listen is to be truly open. 
Will we let the Word of God challenge us, and change us? 

I don’t necessarily ask you to trust me; 
but I do think that for us as a part of the Body of Christ, 
the Holy Mass won’t be truly fruitful in us 
if we aren’t open and yielding. 

Recall Jesus’ parable of the farmer sowing seed. 
Some ground was rocky, some was thick with weeds; 
only a part of the field accepted the word, and it sprouted. 
What will you and I allow to sprout in our lives?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

'But Jesus never said...'

In the post from the other day about the Church's teaching on homosexual behavior, a couple of commenters raise questions about a perennial argument that comes up in various discussions about Catholic teachings that aren't universally acclaimed.

Here's one:

Younger family members like to say "the Bible says nothing about homosexuality. The word isn't even in the Bible. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality or gays."

The other is similar:

I can hear some of my more liberal Catholic friends saying that Jesus was only speaking in the context for that time in History and if He were with us today He would speak differently.

(If you go to the comments thread, you can see my answers to these questions.)

These are pretty common arguments; I imagine a lot of us have heard them. People make them sincerely; and a lot of people seem to think they're pretty good arguments.

They are very poor arguments. Here's why.

The first one is basically an argument from silence. Namely, that Jesus' silence means he either didn't care about that issue, or else...what exactly?

That's the problem with an argument from silence. What, exactly, does it really prove?

And, as stated, the first argument isn't even accurate in a meaningful sense. To be precise? Well, yes; the word homosexuality doesn't appear, because it's both an English word, and it reflects a modern way of thinking -- in terms of a homosexual identity or orientation. So, yes, there's no exact Hebrew or Greek corresponding word in the Bible. But it's totally nonsense to suppose that homosexual acts aren't talked about in the Bible.

So, to be plain, it's not a serious argument. And, if the person making that argument is a serious person, it would be fair to say that, in a charitable way. "My friend, you're smarter than that. Let's try for a more substantial argument than that..." And then, explain why the argument isn't serious.

And both arguments have another problem: the unstated premise, which needs to be brought to the surface: why does it matter what Jesus thought/said/taught about this? 

It matters to me, as a Catholic, because I believe Jesus is God incarnate. Everything stands or falls on that act of faith on my part. Does the person asking the question believe Jesus is God incarnate?

Because if Jesus is God incarnate, then...

It makes no sense to care only what the Gospels say, and set aside the rest of the Bible. If Jesus is God, then did he not -- as the second Person of the Trinity -- answer the question about homosexual behavior in what was said elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible?

And then there are those who like to say the Gospels are one thing, but Paul's writings are another. But again, this is silly. What makes you think the Gospels are reliable? Where did they come from? Jesus never wrote a word of them. You know who did? The Apostles, or those closely associated with them. So if you think the Apostle Paul is unreliable, why do you consider the Gospels reliable?

And if you say, no, Jesus is not God incarnate, then I ask:

Who cares what he thought? Why should anyone care?

The people who tend to ask these questions, don't tend to ask me; why ask a company man? But I'd invite those of you who do get asked these questions to try asking a couple in return:

> Why should I bear the burden of proof about what Jesus believed. You think he didn't object to homosexual acts? Prove it. What basis, exactly, do you have to such an extravagant supposition?

> Suppose -- for the sake of argument -- that I pointed to indisputable evidence that Jesus, did, indeed, believe X (whatever is in dispute). Will that new data change what you believe?

See, my guess is that the question is a dodge. The one asking it isn't really going to say, "wow, Jesus did say that--so I will now agree with the Catholic Church!" Instead, I think it's far more likely that the person will say, "Bummer. I don't like Jesus as much, then."

Now, I don't mean to assume everyone who asks these questions is insincere. Mostly, they aren't. But often people are not asking the right question. So why waste time and energy on the wrong one?

So my suggestion is to cut to the chase and ask: What difference will it make to you to know that Jesus did, indeed, teach ____?

In the end, the only question that matters is what Jesus asked Peter: "But who do you say that I am?"

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday fish fry

OK, I have pictures this time!

The seminarian is with his family, so I'm cooking dinner for myself. I had some catfish fillets in the freezer, and this time, I remembered to get them out in time (barely -- I had to set them on the counter for about an hour, and they were still icy when I started cooking).

I started with a beaten egg, with a generous amount of Frank's Red Hot added. (Not enough, it turns out; not nearly enough!) And beside it? You can't make it out, but that's white corn meal, with some black pepper added. (The coffee is there for tomorrow.)


I dredged the fillets in the egg mixture; then doused them with garlic powder, before dredging them in the corn meal.


Meanwhile, I put some bacon fat in the skillet and got it bubbling. When I had the fish ready, they went into the hot fat -- but not before I sprinkled them with some paprika, just for color.



I cooked them till a light brown. At one point, I added some more fat. (That dark blotch on one fillet is a bit of the bacon that was still in the fat. It should taste great!)



Here are the finished fillets. I think I could have cooked them a bit more, but I can't stand overcooked fish. Fish is one item I tend not to get just right; either over- or undercooked.


Here's the complete meal, with some leftover noodles, and some broccoli salad the seminarian's dad made; he heard I liked it! Plus a bit of white wine, also leftover.


Verdict?

Pretty good! Indeed, I think the catfish could have taken a slight more time in the fat; but when reheated, it will be just right. The noodles -- which turned out to have some chicken and mushroom in them -- were good, and the salad -- with bacon and egg! -- very good!

"But Father! But Father!"(TM) I can imagine you saying: "After properly having fish, you ruin the penitential purpose of the meal with all that meat!"

Well, first, I think bacon fat doesn't count, although I will accept correction on this point. Yet I concede the meat in the other items does. So what's my defense?

In my experience, leftovers need to be eaten up fairly quickly. Those noodles have been in the fridge for...a few days. The salad, not so much, but it's what I had. Also, I had a brief window in which to fix dinner, and this was quick. I just finished a wedding rehearsal at 6:30 pm; and I am visiting a prayer group in the parish at 7:30 pm (hence the modest amount of wine).

Current discipline calls for us to elect our own penances. Not that there's anything wrong with these leftovers, but -- leftovers are a kind of penance. Perhaps I am rationalizing?

Belated dinner reports...

Remember a couple of weeks ago, I posted about teaching the seminarian how to make meatloaf?Well, part two came on Monday: it was his turn to fix dinner. He got the recipe from me, and using what he'd learned from me, he prepared meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob.

Verdict?

He did a good job! He made the meatloaf somewhat differently, but it was good. Fewer seasonings, less onion, but more tomato flavor. The potatoes were the way I make them--somewhat lumpy.

Then on Wednesday, I came up with something rather tasty. Here's what I did:

I started with a bunch of chicken thighs--a pack of ten. I rinsed them off, and then dredged them in a mixture of:

White flour, black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder and paprika. (I know what you're thinking: how much of each? I think it was about 2/3 cup of flour, and I was liberal with the black pepper and garlic, less so with the red pepper. Do it to your taste.)

Then I heated up some olive oil in the fry pan; and when it it was hot, I browned the thighs on both sides. I didn't intend to cook them through.

Meanwhile, I chopped up a medium onion and mixed that in with two or so cups of Arborio rice -- although I think any rice would do; that's what I had on hand, and it's what I use for risotto. I had some chicken stock in the freezer (at least, I think it was chicken stock; whatever it was, I saved it because it was delicious); so I got that out, thawed it in the microwave, and dumped that on the rice-and-onion mixture.

About this point, I realized all ten chicken thighs weren't going to fit in the one pan I was working with. No problem; I got out another pan, chopped up another onion, and added that to some rice in the second pan. But I'd used all the saved chicken stock; so I had some vegetable broth in the cupboard, and used that. I confess I don't know how much I added; I'd say, add at least a cup of liquid to the rice, or even more; it'll all soak up. (In retrospect, I think more would have worked.) Then, I arranged the chicken thighs on the rice, and salted the whole thing, as well as adding even more garlic. (I think garlic goes really well with chicken, what do you think?)  I also poured some of the oil from the pan over it all, so as not to lose the flavors in the pan.

I used a couple of large, Corning Ware casserole dishes, and covered them; then into the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. A failure on my part to time things exactly led me to realize I couldn't eat the chicken when I intended; so after an hour or so, I turned down the oven to 200 degrees, to keep everything hot.

Verdict?

It was good! For whatever reason, I liked it even better when I had the leftovers last night.

Some things I would do differently:

> Add more liquid; chicken stock would be best; the rice was good, but a little crunchy.
> Use more red pepper and salt;
> Add parsley and chopped celery to the rice (I intended to use parsley and just forgot). Carrots could be good too, but chopped small.
> Maybe add butter, or, if I had it, some schmaltz, but who has that?

With this, we had some fresh green beans, which the seminarian cooked with boiling water, and with some butter and salt. They were delicious!

Oh, and some dry white wine. I don't remember what it was--not Chardonny. I have a wine club membership; it was something I pulled out of the fridge.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

P.S. Sorry I didn't post these reports as they happened. I'll try to do better! (And include photos!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What does our Faith say about homosexuality?

(This is two recent articles from the parish bulletin)

To be honest, this isn’t something we talk about a lot. I’ve seldom addressed this in a homily, for several reasons. It’s a big subject, sometimes too big to be handled well in a Sunday sermon. And it’s a delicate issue and some parents may be uncomfortable.

Well, now we have to talk about it; and I did to some degree on Sunday. Let me say some more here. To reiterate: we believe the gift of sexual intimacy is for marriage only; and by marriage, I mean a man and a woman.

But to amplify my point, let me turn that around: we believe the gift of marriage is man+woman, because sex, by its nature, is man+woman. That is to say, God created sex for marriage as much as he created marriage for sex. This is key, because failing to get this helps explain our present mess. Our society redefined sex first, then marriage. It redefined sex by changing it from being about self-gift, commitment for life, because it’s also about children. The whole point of the “Sexual Revolution” in the last century was to toss all that aside and turn sex into an expression of self, with children a separate thought.

Let’s drill into this question of what sex really is (as opposed to what our society claims it is).

Scripture says we are made in God’s image and likeness. Think about that: just what does that mean? How are we God’s “image”? Well, consider that God is the Creator. We humans are distinct from all creation in our imitation of his creativity. We write, we make music, we build things. A builder can erect whole cities—but he must use pre-existing materials, while God creates ex nihilo—out of nothing. A writer or filmmaker can spin whole worlds in her head or on paper, or on film, but that’s as real as they can ever be. Only God can truly create.

And yet…there is but one breathtaking moment, and only one, when we ascend the divine heights and very nearly approximate what, otherwise, only God can do: create something out of nothing: and that moment is when a man and a woman, in their act of love, create a new life. The couple does it with God’s help, of course—that’s why we are called pro-creators.

Can you see how everything the Church teaches on sex and reproduction follows from this insight? This is why contraception is wrong, and in vitro fertilization, as well as any sexual expression apart from man+woman, in marriage. In these and other ways, we are another Prometheus: God gave us the privilege of participating in his divine work; we take the privilege as if it were our property, and show God the door.

Recall how people claim we hate sex or think it’s dirty or sinful. See how absurd that is? We treat sex the way we treat Mass and the sacraments; it’s because of how holy and awesome they are, that we have rules and boundaries. Like Holy Mass, sex is an encounter with the divine. We approach with reverence.

Last week, I explained the core understanding we have about sex: by its nature it’s man+woman; and the clearest indication of that by its nature, it gives life. Sexual intimacy is where our vocation as “image of God” is truly realized in a concrete and powerful way.

Let’s notice something here: the power God gave us in the gift of sexuality is tremendous. One proof of that is to see how much harm is caused when we misuse it. So many terrible problems in our society—poverty, personal problems, anger, crime and social distress—are a direct consequence of sex without love, and adults conceiving children they don’t stay to raise.

So, yes, we have a lot of rules; we have good reason to. But only one says “no” to same-sex behavior. We aren’t “picking on” gays. What Jesus asks of gay people is what he asks of everyone: chastity, which means the right use of sex in marriage, and abstinence from sex outside of marriage.

Now, in our materialistic setting, that sounds absurd: no sex? That’s impossible! It’s too much to ask. It’s certainly difficult. But Jesus often asks very difficult things of us. Remember, he said: “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you can be my disciple.”

Let’s come at this another way. Look at all the heterosexual couples in our society. They aren’t told, no sex. So they have it so much easier, right? I talk to lots of people, and they share their trials. The pain of unhappy marriages they can’t seem to fix; the sufferings of seeing a spouse or a child in deep pain or trouble; the high demands of raising children, both emotionally and financially.

Someone might say, yes, but there are so many joys in these things too; and that’s true. And there are great joys in living chastely and purely. We don’t need to have sex to be happy.

I’ve asked myself a question you may ask: why didn’t God just say what contemporary society wants him to say: have sex all you want, just don’t hurt people? After much thought, my answer is two-fold. First, sex isn’t about self; it’s about gift. And second, it only has meaning if it is understood to be about giving life (even if that doesn’t happen every time). To say it another way: sex is such a powerful thing that it has to be self-emptying and sacrificial, or else it would destroy us. That’s why it has to be about father plus mother, bringing a child. That keeps it from becoming just what our society is turning it into: selfish, hedonistic, egotistical and a power trip.

Let me say something very hard, but true.

Two men or two women can try to achieve what male-female intimacy aims for, but it’s impossible: because there can never be the fruitfulness of a child. And let’s be candid: many get this; so they rush to adopt, or else to use technology to approximate this fruitfulness. But a same-sex couple needs an outsider to do it. Their “union” can never be “one flesh”; it can never bear a child. And that really does change everything – which is why, when heterosexuals exclude the gift of life, they commit a grave sin against God’s plan.

The Church cannot give approval to sex outside male-female intimacy because she cannot consent to deception; even if our entire culture is happy to lie all day long. And our culture is lying about the meaning of sex. The Church is being damned because we refuse to join the chorus.

What about injustice to gays?

At some point we have to acknowledge: people too often are treated badly—by Christians—because they are different. It’s better than it was when I was a boy, but it still happens. Some of that was embodied in law and other aspects of society. Without defending cruelty or bigotry, I want to encourage younger folks to realize that law and social structures of the past were aiming at reinforcing the centrality of family life, headed by a mother and father. That’s still a valid purpose, but in our times we want to find ways to do it, without unfairness. It’s easy to fault generations past; but I think we will soon find out that it’s a hard balance.

This all helps explain, I think, a lot of the anger and hurt that comes into these discussions.

And I think many people who were so eager to back a redefinition of marriage did so out of a recognition of (and maybe bad conscience about) past injustices. Without agreeing with their wrong solution—redefining marriage—let’s acknowledge those injustices, and reiterate what the Church teaches, that contempt, hatred and violence against gay people is gravely sinful.

So what’s my place in God’s Plan?

The only real happiness anyone can have in life is to find the vocation God has for you. Many times we find the road we aimed for is blocked to us, closed forever; and we are heart-broken. People seek marriage, and their marriage shipwrecks. They long for children and can’t have them. They wish they could marry, but for various reasons (not just same-sex feelings), they can’t. They aim for a career, and an accident or war injury wrecks those plans. Why, Jesus, why? Sometimes, only in the sacred precincts of our heart, where Jesus speaks, do we find the answer. He gives us a cross; we take it, and as hard as it is, we discover we are walking by his side.

The long arm of the EU...

Today, I noticed this on the "dashboard" of my blog -- i.e., what I see when I am writing a post:

European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent. 

As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies.

You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. Learn more about this notice and your responsibilities.

Isn't that interesting? The European Union is telling me how to run my blog, eh?

What happens if I don't obey?

Not that I object to you knowing about the "cookies" that Google and Blogger use. But I don't know that I like being bossed around by the EU.

What is the Mass? (Sunday homily)

As I promised, over the next five Sundays, 
I’m going to be looking closely at the Holy Mass. 
Each week, we’ll look at part of the Mass; 
so this week, we start at the very beginning.

In fact, let’s start before the beginning, and ask: 
what, exactly, is the Mass?
Well, let’s be clear what the Holy Mass is not…

The Mass is not the same as 
what most of our fellow Christians do on Sunday. 
I’m not in any way diminishing their devotion to Jesus. 
We Catholics can learn a thing or two 
from our Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters 
about their love for Scripture, their zeal, 
and how deeply converted many of them are. 

Nevertheless, what happens in the Holy Mass is unique. 
When the Protestant movement began, 
with Martin Luther and John Calvin, 
there was a decisive rejection of the Mass 
as Catholics and Orthodox Christians understand it – 
along with the priesthood. 

Now, with some Protestant churches, this is obvious; 
but if you go to an Episcopal, Lutheran or Methodist church, 
it can seem very similar. 
And someone who belongs to that church may even say, 
see, it’s all the same. 
As I go through the Mass the next few weeks, 
it’ll be clear that there is a fundamental difference. 


Also, the Mass is not something we do for God. 
Yes, it’s true that we come out of love and gratitude, 
and this is a duty we owe to God. 

But my point is, the Mass is far more about what God does for us, 
than what we do for God. 
God does not benefit from the Mass in any way. 
On the contrary, the Mass is costly to God! 
God gives himself in the most total, sacrificial way, in the Holy Mass.

Nor is the Mass something we do for each other. 
You will find, when you visit many parishes, 
the idea that Mass should be about making us feel better. 
It should be about “community.”
The music should be what we like; 
the priest should be engaging; it should be fun.

Sorry, but no. 
If those things happen, that’s a bonus. 
My goal is Jesus’ goal—to get you to heaven. 
At any moment, what helps get you there may feel good; 
or it may feel bad. 

This may surprise you, but Holy Mass is work. 
When I’ve offered three Masses on Sunday, I’m tired. 
Not that I’m complaining. It’s the most wonderful work. 
But Mass demands a lot from me, 
and I don’t just mean in a physical way. It demands my all. 

And if there’s one thing Vatican II tried to emphasize, 
it was that every baptized Catholic 
should approach Mass the exact same way. 


So you are not a spectator. I came to work; I hope you did too! 
Our work is to join in this prayer; not just with our words, 
but with our all. 
Jesus puts everything of himself into the Holy Mass, 
and he asks the same of us.

So what is the Mass? It is what God does to save us. 
It is Jesus offering himself for us. 
The Mass is Jesus; we not only meet him at the Cross 
and in the Resurrection, 
but we hear him foreshadowed in the readings; 
we hear him speak in the Gospel. 

The Mass is where Jesus invites us to join his saving work. 
Jesus pleads for sinners here; 
and he expects us to plead for each other. 

The whole drama of human salvation is played out here! 
Every soul, past, present and future, is on the line. 
What will become of the world? Of our nation? 
What about the harvest? My health? My family, my friends? 
So many people in the world are suffering, what about them? 
Can the world be saved? 

It’s all on the altar at Holy Mass.

Last week there was a fire across the street. 
I hope we’re all praying for, and reaching out to,
the folks at the Russia Inn. 
Fire departments from all around came to put out that fire, 
and they prevented it from spreading. 
But that wasn’t a foregone conclusion. 
What if they hadn’t shown up?

The world is on fire. Souls are on the line. 
Yes, Jesus can handle it himself. But he has chosen to involve us. 
He tells us: Join me in saving the world. 
Take up your cross and come with me.

You and I are God’s fire brigade, to care for the world.

In the sacristy, there is a motto on the wall: 
Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass, 
your last Mass, and your only Mass. 
I charge you to have the exact same mindset as you take part in Mass.

So now, let’s at least look at the beginning of Mass. 
And let me use the older form of the Mass 
to explain the opening prayers. 

In the Traditional Latin Mass, 
the priest begins at the foot of the altar. 
He and the server will pray about going “up to the altar.” 
Notice there are seven steps. Four there, three here. 
There was always the understanding that we go up to the altar, 
just as Jesus went up to Mount Calvary. 
But first the priest and the server pray the Confiteor—
“I confess to almighty God.”

In the new form of Mass, we still do this. 
This is not a substitute for going to confession. 
It actually presupposes that we do go to confession. 
The Mass is for sinners. 

Then we pray the Gloria. 
This is the prayer of sinners who have been redeemed. 
When God’s People made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, 
they would sing psalms that told of God’s victory and his salvation. 
That’s what the Gloria is. 

I could do a whole homily just on the Gloria—
but let me note a few things. 
It summarizes who Jesus is. 

It starts with the prayer of the Christmas angels. 
But then we are speaking to Jesus: 
“You take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us…receive our prayer.” 
Where did Jesus do that? On the Cross. 
Then it says, “You are seated at the right hand of the Father”—
that’s where he is now: “have mercy on us”—
we’re still asking him to plead for us. 

Remember my opening question, what’s the Mass?
That’s what the Mass is.

“You alone are the Holy One,” we say: 
there is no other who can save the world. 

When we do these things at the beginning of Mass, 
all this is preparation. We’re climbing up to the altar of God. 
Next week, we’ll look at the next part, 
where we sit down, like Jesus had the people sit on the grass, 
to be fed. 
We hear the Word of God, 
before we climb further, to Calvary. 

* I dropped this line after the 5 pm Mass. It's not false to say the Mass is "about community"; the problem lies in how we understand the Mass forming community. It is Jesus Christ who forms the community. The erroneous mindset I've encountered is that we form the community.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Serious Scripture Work at Franciscan

My third day at Franciscan University of Steubenville is winding down, and I can give an enthusiastic endorsement to the Applied Biblical Studies Conference. Most of the attendees are laity, but many clergy are here. Of the laity, I sense that a lot are not "church professionals," but fired-up faithful. So this mix presents a challenge for the organizers; if it is too scholarly, a lot of the laity might stay away; if, however, it's pitched too much to non-professional laity, the clergy might not come. I'd say they strike a good balance.

So what scholars are here? Well, as I write, Scott Hahn is introducing Edward Sri; earlier, we heard from Lawrence Feingold, Michael Barber, Matt Leonard, Brant Pitri, Taylor Marshall,and Jeffrey Morrow. These folks are associated with the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theolgy and the Sacred Page website. This is good stuff.

Well, here is Dr. Sri, so I'll post this...