Friday, August 31, 2007

'Sub-prime' lending: who knew Mr. Potter was right?

Today, the President offered a "package" of things aimed at helping folks caught up in this "sub prime lending" problem. He wants to do some things to help the borrowers who are in danger of losing their homes, to take steps against "predatory lending," to change tax laws, and to have government agencies involved in home-buying and related borrowing to have more "flexibility."

Help me understand this.

Folks borrowed money to buy a home. The whole reason these loans are "sub prime" is that they would not have qualified, in the past, or don't qualify, in usual situations, for loans, or loans on these terms -- for lack of a good enough credit history, or they are a "bad risk."

But, for various reasons--feel free to fill in this part via the comments--someone lent them money, perhaps with no money down, or so forth.

And, now, the chickens are coming home to roost, as it were--it turns out, some loans are "bad risks" for good reason.

Now, as to the idea of "predatory lending." Sounds bad; and given the reality of Original Sin, I am confident there are predators out there. Still, this seems a mite too easy an explanation.

I recall an editorial cartoon by the talented-but-tiresome Pat Oliphant, depicting the borrowers as helpless, lost-at-sea waifs with dazed looks in their eyes. Just as an aside, it is remarkable to me when someone, offering a "compassionate" view of humanity, unconsciously reveals how low an opinion he or she actually has of real human beings. In this case, borrowers are childlike figures, whom we must patronize and protect. There are such people, no doubt, but this whole problem is about preying on grownups who really should have others as custodians to manage their financial affairs?

So beyond the lost-at-sea innocents being devoured by ravenous wolves (this happens, I don't deny it), are borrowers and lenders who, with eyes wide open, came together to try to get a good deal. If you are "high risk," and you want a mortgage, and some bank will give you one, you are not thereby a "victim" when you turn out unable to pay the bill. Nor, for that matter, is the lender who goes crying about the pain of so much default.

Now we hear about what the government must do now to help, but what I'd like to hear more is questions about what the government might have done to help create this problem?

After all, wasn't President Bush saying, a few years back, how he wanted to help get more and more people to be homeowners? Every politician endorses that, and of course, it's a good goal.

But there are tedious ways of getting there, and there are shortcuts. We all like shortcuts. I'd be very interested to know what the last round of legislation, regulation, tax-policy and so forth was on this, and I have a hunch at least some of it was giving lenders "incentives" to do these things.

By the way, in case someone thinks a priest doesn't know about these things: I bought a home before I entered the seminary; I went through what is normal in these situations, including seeking a loan on a home that was just out of my reach--the builder said, don't worry, we can make the loan happen. Well, it didn't happen, and it was disappointing to me. But I did buy something less ambitious, and I made it work.

Still, like many folks, I got a bit of help from my dad on the down payment, and I had to buy a mortgage insurance, "PMI" if memory serves, precisely because I was a bit riskier than others, given what I put down--10%, as I recall. I sold that house, when I entered the seminary, despite the fact that it almost certainly was going to appreciate in value, and it really did, being in the D.C. metro market, because I did not want the headaches and there was a risk that I'd have to cover payments out of my pocket if it wasn't rented 12 months a year, or a bad renter caused me headaches.

And, I suppose someone may suspect me of a lack of sympathy.

No, I have great sympathy for folks who had great hopes they could make it work, and they saw it all run through their fingers. I can't imagine the pain of losing ones home; but it happens too often to people who were never high-risk, but bad things happen like divorce or abandonment, medical crises, loss of a job, and so forth.

But when lenders say no to a loan, they are also accused of a lack of sympathy. I love the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," but who was the villain in the movie? The cold-hearted banker, Mr. Potter, while the heroic George Bailey gives out what sort of loans? Why, sub-prime! Somehow, it all works in Bedford Falls, but reality has a way of reasserting itself. And perhaps some of the folks who have faced foreclosure would have been treated more compassionately if the lender had said "no"?

But when's the last time you heard anyone get cheers for advocating lenders do that? By the way, I don't recall the president sounding the alarm, say two years ago, that we were heading for trouble. Nice job that: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you (ahem, at least in part from what we did to help you the last time, but nevermind about that...)."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mass in Latin begins next Wednesday

For all who are interested, next Wednesday morning at 8 am, we will begin having Mass (mostly) in Latin once a month at St. Mary Parish in Piqua.

As I explained to the folks at Mass this morning, this is an experiment--people have requested it, so now we will see if folks come. We'll do it for a while, to give folks that opportunity.

Important to note: this is the current, ordinary usage of the Mass in Latin, not the former, extraordinary usage of the Mass (so-called Tridentine Mass).

Also, you may note I said "mostly" in Latin. The readings and the orations of the day will be in English, but all else in Latin.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A(nother) Day in the Life of a Parish Priest

I haven't done a "day in the life" post in awhile; been too busy actually living them! So I'm overdue...

I had Mass this morning at the south parish; on Tuesdays, during the school year, this Mass would be at 8:45 am, as the schoolchildren -- grades K to 3 -- would be coming over for Mass. During the summer, or a break, the Mass is at 8 am. But the wrinkle is, the principal called me a about 10 days ago, and said the teachers wanted to have the school Mass on Friday instead. I said okay; so the plan was, today's Mass would be at 8 am. And, it would be in the chapel, instead of the church. (The chapel stays open 24 hours with Eucharistic Exposition.)

Ah, but unfortunately, the pastor forgot to get it right in the bulletin -- so everyone was expecting Mass at 8:45, and in the church, not the chapel. So, we had Mass at 8:45 am, but in the chapel. (Why didn't I just have Mass in the church? Because it costs money to turn on the air conditioning in the church!) As it was, it was pretty warm in the chapel, probably because in the middle of the night, someone turned down the window unit that cools the chapel. We keep telling people not to do that, but...

After Mass, a quick run to Tim Horton's for coffee and a couple of donuts. I don't particularly want to have breakfast before Mass, so breakfast is on the run. Lunch is usually whatever snacks or such is around the office kitchen. I just don't care, most days, to go out for lunch, and my making lunch ahead of time isn't going to happen. I should get some sort of frozen things and bring them of these days.

When I come in on Tuesdays, I usually have a big pile of mail to go through, and phone messages, and a boatload of emails, mostly spam. As many of them take some action, all that takes a couple of hours, interrupted by phone calls in and out, and some conversations with staff members.

Somewhere in the rest of the day, I dealt with: the budgets for both parishes, the school enrollment, a conversation with the principal, another conversation with the school accountant, and -- oh, a few more.

It may not sound very interesting, but it is what it is. I also had a couple of meetings; one with a parent, who had some ideas and questions about the school; a conversation with an employee who's got a family member in the hospital; a few more things not appropriate to discuss online. "The Pile" on the desk didn't change much, either way. I had a meeting with a couple preparing for marriage, that wrapped up around 7:15 pm, and then after a chat with the business manager about some matters, I got home about 8 pm. I had some calls to make, which I did from home, since it's hard to get folks during the day. Dinner was some pizza ordered from Papa John's, and I've been catching up on the news online since. And writing this post.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Living the Mystery (Final Talk on Sacramentum Caritatis)

Picking up the last part of the previous talk on Part II, "Celebrating the Mystery"...

The pope agrees with the bishops’ recommendation of something called "mystagogical catechesis"—what is that?

Mystagogy means teaching about the mystery. An example would be when we point to the elements used in baptism—the water, anointings, prayers, gestures, candle, etc. He highlights three elements of such catechesis:

a) Interpreting ritual in view of salvation history.
b) Explaining the meaning of signs and rituals
c) Significance for ongoing Christian life.

People who participate in the RCIA are generally more familiar with this—because it plays a significant role there. But since most of us haven’t had that experience, perhaps we could do better at this?

Any suggestions?

The pope specifies a concrete measure for how effective our instruction about the meaning of the Eucharist is: how reverent we are toward the Eucharist present among us. And here he highlights the importance of gesture and posture. He mentions kneeling, but there are many other gestures included in the Mass that have meaning as well.

This section concludes with some good words about Eucharistic adoration—obviously something our two parishes have taken to heart, and which I believe, as do so many of us, has strengthened our parishes and community.

It is encouraging to have the pope give this endorsement, and to note these words: "The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself" (66).

VI: Living the Mystery (beyond Mass)

That the last third of the pope’s exhortation will all be covered in one talk should not suggest there isn’t just as much meaty material here. Rather, my judgment was that the issues raised by Part II—having to do with the Mass itself—would raise so many questions, we needed to spend more time there.

At this point, it’s almost as if the pope himself has intoned the end of Mass: Ite Missa Est—"Go, you are sent" as he begins this part; because this is all about how we take the mystery into the world.

Let’s begin with the first two sentences of paragraph 70—would someone like to read it?

The Lord Jesus, who became for us the food of truth and love, speaks of the gift of his life and assures us that "if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever" (Jn 6:51). This "eternal life" begins in us even now, thanks to the transformation effected in us by the gift of the Eucharist: "He who eats me will live because of me" (Jn 6:57). These words of Jesus make us realize how the mystery "believed" and "celebrated" contains an innate power making it the principle of new life within us and the form of our Christian existence.

A new life within us—that is where we are headed; that is why we participate in the Eucharist! What might that look like?

He goes on to share St. Augustine’s astonishing answer—would anyone care to continue reading?

By receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ we become sharers in the divine life in an ever more adult and conscious way. Here too, we can apply Saint Augustine's words, in his Confessions, about the eternal Logos as the food of our souls. Stressing the mysterious nature of this food, Augustine imagines the Lord saying to him: "I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into me." It is not the eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it. Christ nourishes us by uniting us to himself; "he draws us into himself."

We become the Eucharist! We become Jesus! If nothing else, we would do well to reflect constantly on that statement!

But here the pope is letting us know where this final section is going. How do we live the mystery? This is how—both in how we try to live, and what the ultimate shape of our life will be, as we follow Christ. It is, in a sense, the journey from Mass—a foretaste of heaven on earth—to heaven itself.

Here he recalls what Vatican II said: the Mass is "source and summit" of our lives as the Church; and it is also the "origin and fulfillment."

So we see, first—we’ve been, in a sense, "dismissed" from Mass, but not finally; we shall return again and again. Why? Because this life on earth is our school for heaven! One of the things we must learn how to do is to be one Body, truly united, truly purified. That is a lifetime of learning!

But it’s clear, here, why Sunday Mass is critical. The Church makes it a commandment. To miss Sunday Mass without a good reason is a mortal sin. Note I said, "without a good reason"! Some feel guilty if they miss Mass because they are sick, or very tired from work, and so forth. It’s ironic but true—the wrong people feel guilty about missing Mass! My point is, don’t misunderstand this commandment.

The pope here raises a great question: how shall the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist shape the rest of our lives? What might that look like?

Ø Worship at the center
Ø Rest
Ø Freedom to serve others
Ø Work is neither too high or low a priority

The pope uses a curious phrase, did you notice it? "A eucharistic form of the Christian life"—what do you make of that?

Ø We live in communion—relationship with God, and other people.
Ø it is "clearly" ecclesial and communitarian—not individualistic, as secular culture is.

Again, this provokes thought—how does this apply to our society today?

Notice he calls for "evangelization of culture"—that applies to us. Any ideas?

In the next section, notice he talks about different segments of the Body of Christ—including its hierarchy. He talks about the spirituality of the lay faithful; that of consecrated religious; and of clergy, particularly the priest. It’s worth noting here that the oneness of the Body of Christ does not mean sameness. The different aspects of the Body, seen in different ministries or vocations, in addition to being practical for how the Church is ordered, also serve to highlight different realities about Christ and his Church.

We might note the pope’s emphasis here as follows:

Laity: you are sent "to the world";
Priests: your focus is the Mass.
Religious: your contemplation and personal witness, particularly poverty and virginity, are powerful signs of the world to come.

If we were all the same, these special foci might be lost.

But—back to the starting point of this section—what we all have in common is the task: become Christ.

Eucharistic Consistency

This phrase, and a related passage earlier, actually got some media attention.

Here, the pope is speaking to yet another vocation—of the lay faithful—in society: those involved in politics. If they aren’t about changing the world to make it more Christ-like—meaning, both more human and more divine—they lack "eucharistic consistency."

Isn’t that an interesting way to put it?

A Mystery to be proclaimed

Each of us has a task to bear witness—and to spread the Gospel. That is exactly what "evangelize" means. Our "eucharistic consistency" also means we seek to draw others into the One Bread and One Body. It’s worth flipping this around: what does it say if we don’t see Jesus, his death-and-resurrection—as absolutely essential to the well being of all our fellow human beings? Doesn’t that make our talk about the importance of the Eucharist, of Mass as the "source and summit," all pretty empty?

Again, the pope quotes what the bishops said to him, in their propositions: "an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church" (84).

The pope reminds us of a sometimes inconvenient truth: Jesus Christ is the world’s one and only savior. We don’t have to figure out just how God saves those who aren’t baptized Christians, although we believe he wants to save them, and seeks to do so. But our mission remains: proclaim Christ to the world:

The more ardent the love for the Eucharist in the hearts of the Christian people, the more clearly will they recognize the goal of all mission: to bring Christ to others. Not just a theory or a way of life inspired by Christ, but the gift of his very person. Anyone who has not shared the truth of love with his brothers and sisters has not yet given enough (86).

A little later, the pope presents this in a little different light: the importance of offering the Eucharist to the world. He means the social implications of the Gospel.

So, for example, in our country—we have a rising number of Spanish-speaking migrants, almost all of whom are Catholic. We are all aware of the political questions, but here we’re concerned about our obligations of charity and of sharing the Faith: how could we make the Mass more open to those who do not speak English? Shouldn’t we do something?

More broadly, talking about social justice, the pope highlights all the concerns we know about: food, nutrition, basic needs, health care, housing, education. But he also talks about "transforming unjust structures"—recall we began this talk about how we are transformed into Christ—and that transformation is not merely individual, but communitarian. Society needs transformation on the way to salvation.

He talks about peacemaking; fighting "sexual exploitation"; and in paragraph 89, he uses the term "liberation."

Here again, we see why those active in politics cannot be let "off the hook"—they choose to take up the task of political action; these tasks particularly pertain to them.

It’s worth noting here that the term "liberation" first showed up at the beginning of this exhortation, paragraph 10, when Benedict talked about the hope of Israel for liberation; then, again, in paragraph 37, talking about the Resurrection, the day of our true liberation; then, again, in paragraph 72, talking about the Lord’s Day, a day of rest—again, liberation; and finally, here, in the context of liberating all people, as we journey toward complete redemption.

The Eucharist and the Cosmos

The last part touches on how the redemption of Christ touches Creation itself—and a bit on how Creation already teaches us about Christ and helps us know him. The pope reminds us "eucharistic consistency" treats Creation with respect; and it’s also worth noting that this is nothing like the emphasis on liberating humanity—even here: "The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:4-12)" (92). I.e., properly understood, respect for Creation is part-and-parcel of our social concern for the entirety of humanity.

One of the things Pope Benedict touched upon in Spirit of the Liturgy might bear some inclusion here—how elements of our world already serve to highlight, and point us to, Christ; and how we "baptize" elements of the world around us, to that end.

For example, the "sanctification of time."

Benedict talks about time as a particular feature of this Creation; and how it provides rhythm to life. And how these have left their mark on our imagination:

Ø The rhythm of day to night, caused by earth’s rotation
Ø The rhythm of the year, from season to season, caused by the revolution of the earth around the sun;
Ø The rhythm of the moon’s monthly cycles.

We can easily see how these figure in our religious imagination and practice:

Ø Sabbath
Ø Resurrection (1st day of the week)
Ø Sunday is "8th Day, 1st day of new creation."
Ø Sun-day is also day of Christ—Christ-Sun
Ø Facing East in liturgical prayer—toward the rising sun: "ad orientem."
Ø Seasons of the year
Ø Rhythm of the years, marked as anno domini—every year is a "year of the Lord"—i.e., from his incarnation and until his return in glory.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jesus Christ is the 'Narrow Gate'

The big question in the Gospel was,
“can only a few be saved?”

Notice the Lord’s response:
He doesn’t say how many can, or even will be, saved.
Rather, he focuses on how to be saved:
“strive to enter by the narrow gate!”

After all, the Lord describes people
from “east and west.”
Does that sound like “only a few” will be saved?

You see, the Lord’s answer is, however many are saved—
and it may be a huge number—
they will only be saved through “the narrow gate.”

So what is the “narrow gate”?
The narrow gate is Christ himself.

We might wonder, what does this mean
for people who aren’t Catholic, or aren’t Christian?

The answer is,
Jesus Christ acts in the world to save people;
his primary way of acting is through the Catholic Church.
He founded it, he guides it with the Holy Spirit—
which is not easy; yet Christ is the head of his Church.

So, what about other Christians?
Some are closer to the fullness of the Gospel,
some are farther away.
The same for other religions: they have some light,
but not the fullness of what Christ has given.

Now, can we be saved even with a tiny bit of light?
Yes, it’s possible—but it’s not a method I’d recommend.
Personally, I need all the light I can get.

Realize also, just because you have more light,
doesn’t mean you have it any easier.
On the contrary—we’ll have more to answer for.

Some get a morsel—and respond gratefully;
Others get a banquet—and take it for granted.

Jesus Christ is the “narrow” gate.
That means that while he’s wide enough for all to enter—
but to enter, we must give up everything else.

For some, it may be possessions and wealth.
But for others, it may be a way of life;
it can be alcohol or drugs; pleasure or ambition.

For every one of us, there is something we grasp tightly,
that will not pass through the narrow gate.
Notice what those outside say:
“We ate and drank in your company
and you taught in our streets.”
But they did not say that they listened and obeyed.
This warning is aimed at us, his followers.

How many are present when the Lord teaches—
but don’t listen, don’t really change?

How many “eat and drink” the holy Eucharist
without being all that interested in the Lord himself?

Receiving the Eucharist is the moment of approaching,
and entering, the narrow gate!

Imagine the sacred host,
the Body of Christ, is the “gate”: how big is that host?
There is just room enough
for our will to surrender, and pass through.

I know some hear a message like this, and are fearful.
As if Jesus didn’t want to save us!

The answer is not fear, but trust.
The fearful person focuses on oneself: “Can I be saved?”
The trusting person focuses on Christ:
“Lord, you love me, and you will help me change.
I put my trust in you.”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Some political thoughts...

It's been awhile since I offered any political observations here. There are a couple of reasons: first, I've been too busy to blog as much as I used to, which is why mainly I post texts of talks and homilies; some things require time to think out and develop. The second reason is that while I don't apologize for my political interests, I figure as a priest, I should keep that low profile. As my heading says, I should be about preaching Christ crucified.

That said, I think we can chance these political observations...

The National Intelligence Estimate. This is the report from the various U.S. spy agencies about the situation in Iraq. Opponents of the war waved it around. Funny, that--weren't these the "experts" who got us into this war: the WMD threat was imminent?

Someone observed that the report describes the situation from several months back--i.e., it's out of date. Makes sense--if you want a bunch of bureaucrats to write a committee report, how long will that take?

Gambling in Ohio. Governor Ted Strickland and Attorney General Mark Dann are going after some machines, in taverns and clubs I assume, that pay out prizes, and they claim are gambling; the machine company says they are "skill based" and that's legal.

"We expect the interest controlling illegal gambling in Ohio to do anything to protect their profits," Dann said in a press release.

Ah, but of course, the state of Ohio is preserved free from any such base motive!

Don't you love how, when private parties do it, it's "vice"--but when the state does it (the lottery), it's somehow transformed into virtue?

Meanwhile, Governor Strickland is being talked about as a possible veep candidate for Hilary Clinton (according to Bob Novak this morning). Makes a lot of sense, and that would let the Governor off the hook from explaining what he's ever going to do to draw jobs and development to our state. As the national economic expansion continues--and tremors in the markets raise fears it may end (these things go in cycles)--many parts of this state never experienced any recovery--the are still in "recession."

Governor, we need jobs!

Politics is...'complicated.' There's a video circulating on the Internet, and hold on while I describe it, you're going to be confused.

It purports to be a pro-Giuliani video, supposedly by "Gays for Guiliani"; except it's produced by a Democratic activist who never supported Giuliani, and doesn't now. It happens to be true that Giuliani was favorable to "gay rights" as mayor of New York City, and the ad calls attention to that. But it does so by depicting gay men in very stereotypical fashion. In a word, it's derogatory to gays in the way it depicts them. The fellow who made the ad is, himself, gay.

The idea apparently is to incense GOPers against Giuliani by connecting him with gays. (As a side note, Fox News chose this story as an opportunity to run one of many pictures of Giuliani in drag. Make of that what you will.) As the excellent Instapundit says, "Because sometimes it's necessary to save the homophobia in order to destroy it."

Meanwhile, Fred Thompson is poised to dive in...poised, mind you...I'm really thinking about it...

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is threatening to run...

Meanwhile, more of the Democratic candidates for president want you to know they were for the surge, before they were against it; or something like that...

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Should Mass be Like? (Talk V on Sacramentum Caritatis)

(The first part of my notes finish up the material I intended to cover last week, then begins Talk V. Also, to save time, I did skip some portions, which will be in brackets.)

The liturgy is far more than words

Another example of minimalism that sometimes cramps the liturgy can be seen in what people think of as the "essentials" and "important" elements of the liturgy, and what are seen as, for lack of a better term, "parsley on the plate." Anyone care to offer their view of what are "essentials" and what are "important"—and what inclusions aren’t?

Notice what Benedict says in paragraph 40. He highlights the importance of "liturgical norms"—no surprise; also, the "harmony of the rite"—I think he means, since there are options, to be thoughtful in how the parts are brought together; "vestments, furnishings, and the sacred space." All these items need great care. And he talks about the texts, proper readings and prayers—again, no surprise. But then, note this:

Equally important for a correct ars celebrandi is an attentiveness to the various kinds of language that the liturgy employs: words and music, gestures and silence, movement, the liturgical colours of the vestments. By its very nature the liturgy operates on different levels of communication which enable it to engage the whole human person (40).

Note he said these (highlighted) items are "equally important"! I think a lot of Catholics are accustomed not to considering the music, or the silence, or the gestures, as "equally important."

The mention of gestures is important, because many of them pertain not to the priest, but to the people—bowing, genuflecting, signs of the cross, and so forth.

[(Here, we could look at Spirit of the Liturgy sections on postures.)

(Now, someone might observe he doesn’t specify anything about incense—for that matter, he doesn’t specify things like candles, or altar linens etc. I’d also point out he refers to the "great riches" of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, which expresses the norms for Mass—and these things are spelled out there. While incense is not "essential" for liturgy, the norms for Mass simply take it for granted that it is used to some extent throughout the year, as a normal feature. While incense is not mandatory, except for a few occasions, it is also not treated as something exceptional. Finally, these things fall under the broad category of beauty—what do we do to make the entire liturgy beautiful?)]

The simplicity of its gestures and the sobriety of its orderly sequence of signs communicate and inspire more than any contrived and inappropriate additions. Attentiveness and fidelity to the specific structure of the rite express both a recognition of the nature of Eucharist as a gift and, on the part of the minister, a docile openness to receiving this ineffable gift (40).

I realize this won’t be so popular, but this is where little add-ons like: the sign of peace going on for awhile, hand-holding during the Our Father, or the "blessing" in the communion line, become an issue. The pope is reminding us about the importance of the overall simplicity and sobriety of the Roman Rite.

This is a good time to cite Vatican II: "The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 34).

[We might wonder what all this means for us?

Some of what we’ve talked about are questions of "right and wrong" but also, "better and worse." Not everything is on the same level of importance. But what happens is, again, a certain minimalism: if it’s not "wrong" then that means its indifferent or even good. Example: I’m not going to "abolish" the practice of the "blessing" during communion, for a variety of practical considerations; but honestly, I do believe it would be better if we didn’t do it. It would be better if it were more occasional, and not a big expectation.]

Sing or say?

The role of music in the liturgy is not always well understood.

Here’s what Sacrosanctum Concilium, the principal document on the liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, said about that:

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy (112).

Note well: the treasury of music is greater than the treasury of painting or sculpture. Also note: music is a "necessary or integral part" of Mass.

Holy Scripture, indeed, has bestowed praise upon sacred song, and the same may be said of the fathers of the Church and of the Roman pontiffs who in recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function supplied by sacred music in the service of the Lord.

Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship (Ibid.).

So the Council here is talking about particular music in Mass, music "united to the words"—i.e., the prayers of the Mass themselves.

Many don’t realize that the Mass actually provides complete music, for the entire liturgy. It is not necessary to add any hymns! Last Advent and Lent, you may recall we tried something "new"—instead of an opening hymn, we used a kind of psalm with an antiphon-response. Why did we do that?

Here’s what the General Instruction on the Roman Missal says are the choices to be made for the "entrance chant":

After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.

The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting;
(2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;
(3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
(4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop (47-48).

What has been routine, here and in most parishes, is to use option 4; what we did is to attempt option 3, or in some cases to use an English translation of option 1.

Someone might say, all are legitimate options; and that’s correct. But put this section together with what we saw earlier, from Vatican II: the importance of the music being "united to the words" of the Mass itself—meaning the antiphons "from the Roman Missal" itself, or the Gradual. The same is called for at the Offertory and at communion.

This also relates to what the pope—again, following the Council—said about the importance of Scripture in the liturgy; because with the use of the first three options, we are using actual Scripture as song, where hymns, at their best, are only based on Scritpure. And, to be honest, a lot of hymnody only has thin Scriptural content.

Here’s something else from Sacrosanctum Concilium: "The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care" (114). The Council has twice referred to a "treasure" or "treasury" of music.

What do you think that includes? Here’s what the holy father wrote:

The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost (SC 42).

Here again is the Council:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30 (Sac Con 116, emphasis added).

And here is the pope:

Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (SC 42, emphasis added).

Now, does that mean only Gregorian chant? Of course not. But clearly it means some Gregorian chant! During the past year or so, we’ve used Gregorian chant for exactly one prayer at Sunday Mass—we used the Agnus Dei for awhile, then the Sanctus.

Talk V begins here...except this first section, on Latin, I had to skip due to time. The folks at the talk did not have an issue with Latin in any case...

[What’s with the Latin?

Last week we looked at the role of sacred music. We saw that Gregorian chant has "pride of place." This obviously raises the issue of using Latin in Mass, because Gregorian chant is in Latin. But Vatican II had even more to say about maintaining Latin as part of our prayer, and we’ll see that in a moment. After we look at that, we’ll see what the pope has to say about specific parts of Mass, and then what he says about "active participation."

From the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, December 4, 1963:

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language (36, emphasis added).

In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them (54, emphasis added).

Here’s what Pope Paul VI said in Jubilate Deo, a booklet of chant issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, April 14, 1974:

This minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant has been prepared with that purpose in mind: to make it easier for Christians to achieve unity and spiritual harmony with their brothers and with the living traditions of the past.

Hence it is that those who are trying to improve the quality of congregational singing cannot refuse to Gregorian chant the place which is due to it….

In presenting the Holy Father's gift to you, may I at the same time remind you of the desire which he has often expressed that the Conciliar constitution on the liturgy be increasingly better implemented. Would you therefore…decide on the best ways of teaching the faithful the Latin chants of "Jubilate Deo" and of having them sing them…

For some, the use of Latin is wonderful; for many, it is a curiosity, something new (!); for a few, it generates strong reactions. I think it is important to get rid of this notion that using Latin is somehow contrary to Vatican II, and I think we saw that. It’s ironic that the General Instruction says the following: "Since no Catholic would now deny the lawfulness and efficacy of a sacred rite celebrated in Latin, the Council was also able to grant that ‘the use of the vernacular language may frequently be of great advantage to the people’ and gave the faculty for its use" (12). In fact, there are Catholics who are specifically denying the "lawfulness and efficacy" of using even some Latin in Mass.

But the question remains—other than that Church says so, why use it?

1. It connects us to our own tradition, and not just a small part of it, but the vast bulk of it.

While Latin is not an original language of the Bible, it does date from Bible times—that is, the New Testament. The Bible already existed in Greek; the next stage, around 300 to 400 – was to translate it into the "vulgar" or common tongue: Latin. And so it remained for over 1,000 years!

The Bible was, in fact, translated into other languages along the way, but Latin remained the norm, down to the very present! That’s correct: the Church still uses the Nova Vulgata—New Vulgate—as the benchmark translation of the Bible, a linear successor to the first Vulgate, translated by St. Jerome.

What is true of Scripture is true of the Mass, of the vast bulk of the Church’s theology, spiritual writings, and music. Of what wasn’t written in Greek, the vast majority was composed in Latin.

Now, of course, we can translate all that, and we do. But anyone familiar with foreign languages knows things don’t always translate well. Ask anyone who speaks Spanish: manana means a lot more than "tomorrow," and to a Hawaiian, "Aloha" means a lot more than "hello."

2. It does, indeed, challenge us to go beyond ourselves, beyond the familiar and ordinary—this is something that the liturgy is supposed to do.

Let me share something from a book called Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread by Father Francis Randolph:

Father Randolph raises the subject of

what worship is and how prayer works….Worship that remains purely at the level of the human intellect is not really prayer; it is simply an exercise in mutual admiration and exhortation. Worship, to be genuine, must lift us out of ourselves and direct us toward God, who is incomprehensible and indescribable. Forms of words and actions are only symbols that we human beings can use to help us raise our hearts and minds to the transcendent. Briefly, prayer is a matter of the heart, not merely the head (195-6).

He goes on to talk about contemplation, "a purely wordless prayer," in which the

surface of the mind is idle: everything is going on at a deeper level, in the "heart" or at the "apex of the soul." Words mean very little, they glance lightly off the surface. For the contemplative soul, it is actually impossible to keep the attention on the intellectual surface of the mind and still be able to pray…This is what happens when contemplatives are faced with the new Mass in their own language…. When they do find a Latin Mass, particularly if a great part of it is silent, they feel much more relaxed and will remark that "they really felt like going to Mass again" (198).

3. It is beautiful.

Now, some will say, "no it isn’t, I hate it."

But notice: many, many people request the Ave Maria sung at a wedding or funeral; I’ve never had anyone say, "oh, but it would be better in English."

Why in Latin? I doubt those who request it understand the words of the prayer. They want it for one reason: it’s beautiful. What’s more, I have never had anyone ask for a solo of the Ave Maria in English—i.e., the Hail Mary. Why not?

The same is true of the chant recordings that continue to be very popular—they buy Gregorian chant, or Russian chant—how many buy English chant? Do all these people understand the Latin? Of course not. So how is it that it speaks to them, that it seems to have such power? What they are experiencing is called…beauty.

I know the response: "But I can’t understand it!" On some level, that’s true: if the priest prayed the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin, almost no one would understand the prayer, no question.

But when we talk about a short prayer, which almost everyone knows by heart because it’s prayed at every single Mass, that doesn’t wash:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi; miserere nobis.
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world grant us peace.

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might

Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua Hosanna in excelsis
Heaven and earth are full of your glory Hosanna in the highest

Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini Hosanna in excelsis
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord Hosanna in the highest.

A number of the words sound familiar: pacem—peace; gloria—glory; hosanna—hosanna. Others sound like words we use: benedictus—benediction, beneficial; sanctus—sanctify, sacred; nomine—nominate, nominal; dominus—dominate, Dominic; excelsis—excellent; pleni—plenty; terra—terrestrial, "terra firma."

If you say, I don’t understand each word, that is true; but to say, "I can’t understand" the prayer? That’s not really correct, is it?]

Specific Parts of the Mass

The pope comments on the various parts of the Mass; we might look at these as a series of "bullet points," and talk about them:

· It’s important that the liturgy of the word always be "carefully prepared and celebrated." This applies to the readers and the cantors who proclaim the psalm. The pope recommends steps to foster appreciation for Scripture, including celebrating the liturgy of the hours—as we do—and "vigils," meaning a Mass with extended readings, such as for Easter, which can be celebrated on other major feasts (45).
· The pope recommends homilies include catechesis, and thematic homilies can be useful to this end (46).
· The preparation of the gifts is not merely an "interval" between other parts of Mass, it has its own importance; otherwise the fundamental unity of Mass can be misunderstood. That said, it is a relatively simple rite that shouldn’t include "undo emphasis or complexity" (47).
· Quoting the GIRM, he calls the Eucharistic Prayer is "‘the center and summit of the entire celebration.’ It’s importance deserves to be adequately emphasized" (48).
We might just ask the question: how might we do this? What are some things we already do to emphasize it?
· The Sign of Peace is another rite that should not be over-emphasized, although it often is. Again, he cites the GIRM, which calls for restricting it to those immediately around oneself. He also raises the question about whether its well placed (49).
Perhaps the most famous phrase from the Second Vatican Council—in relation to the liturgy—is from Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, paragraph 14:

"Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy."

This is the section of Vatican II that is most often brought up in all the debates and tugs-of-war over the celebration of the liturgy: questions of style of music; Latin v. local language; how much the choir sings, what prayers are sung, text translations, and whether or not things not actually part of the liturgy should be added into it.

So we are going to see what Pope Benedict has to say about actuosa participatio; then we’ll look at what he has to say about Eucharistic adoration.

Let’s look at paragraph 52. Do you notice anything that contrasts somewhat with the quote I just read to you, from Vatican II? Note the pope slightly rephrases it, to include the term "fruitful." What do you make of that?

I think the pope is trying to draw attention to something that the rest of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the Council as a whole, emphasized—everything we’re talking about must be fruitful.

And it is possible he’s raising a concern: has everything that has happened, in the name of the Council, in relation to the liturgy, been "fruitful"? Much earlier in the exhortation, and again shortly after that, the pope refers to "abuses." He doesn’t emphasize the point, but certainly the matter has been emphasized many other places, not only his own writings, but also several actions of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. I think in this letter, Pope Benedict is "accentuating the positive"—he’s trying to point in a direction that will be "fruitful."

Note: he refers to the "entire People of God." This can be taken two ways:

Ø Each and every member of the People of God, of any age or condition, engaged in "full and active" participation; or:
Ø "active, full and fruitful" participation for the Church…as a whole.

Which do you think is meant? (I.e., is it not true that many members of the Body are not, in fact, going to participate in the fashion of the first meaning—so must it not mean the second?)

The pope seems to be emphasizing the Body of Christ as a whole; this makes sense insofar as the liturgy is an action of the whole Christ, head-and-members, and is for the sake of the Body as a whole—which, of course, benefits each individually. But this is not an "individualistic" thing.
So the first thing we see is that an "individualistic" approach to these questions isn’t going to work. "We shouldn’t sing the Our Father because I don’t like to sing." That actually is an argument some make—that because some folks don’t sing, then prayers to be prayed by "all the faithful" should never be sung. Likewise, the argument is applied to having choral settings of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

Do you see another flaw in this approach? The pope points it out: "‘participation’ does not refer to mere external activity"! This would seem obvious, but again, so much tug-of-war on these issues stands or falls on this very misunderstanding.

Instead, the pope suggests we focus on "a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relation to daily life" (52).

We might here look at something Benedict wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy: participation means "a principal action in which everyone has a part" (171): i.e., "part-icipatio." (Here refer to handout, pages 171-177.)

On that definition, what is the "principal action" we’re talking about? Benedict (i.e., Ratzinger) says, the Eucharistic Prayer—this is the living heart of the Mass.

At this point, we recall what we quoted last time from the Vatican II constitution on the sacred liturgy about the Mass being essentially Christ’s own action. Ratzinger wrote, "in this oratio, the priest speaks with the I of the Lord" (Ibid., 172).

Also, note on page 173: "The real ‘action’ in the liturgy in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself." This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy—"God himself acts and does what is essential."

So, for example, this isn’t about exercising a particular ministry or function at Mass. Many make this link: if their role as a reader, or extraordinary minister of holy communion, is modified, they complain that their "participation" is diminished.

The problem, as Benedict notes, is this confuses the importance and essential quality of the ministry of the priest; related to this is failing to appreciate the Mass is, at its center, a sacrifice—and a sacrifice requires a priest. Again, if "participation" is taken to mean external activity, then the lay faithful are likely to see their participation at Mass as rather less than the priest. See how that makes a kind of competition, dividing up parts?

Instead, as he said, we participate as a whole Body, all together. No need for a tug of war.

So: what are the "ingredients" for genuine participation?

Over several paragraphs, I think you can find the following highlighted:

Ø Citing the Council, he says they are "instructed by God’s Word" and "nourished by his Body"—i.e., they frequently receive the Eucharist; "they give thanks," referring to the Mass itself; they "offer the immaculate victim" not only through the hands of the priest, but with him, "learning to make an offering of themselves" which seems to make sense only if their whole lives are offered, in union with the Mass; and finally, being drawn "day by day into ever more perfect union with God and each other"—clearly beyond the Mass. (52)
Ø Then he cited "personal conditions" as follows:
1. Spirit of constant conversion
2. Recollection and silence
3. Fasting (i.e., before Mass)
4. Confession.
5. Participation in the life of the Church as a whole, particularly mission activity.

Note: while the pope agrees with the Council about coming to communion, he wants to be careful about a misunderstanding: participation in Mass does not equal coming to communion. Sometimes we cannot and should not approach "the table of the Eucharist."

"Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life" (55).

This raises the delicate issue of non-Catholics coming to communion. He explains here why, unlike many Protestants, we don’t consider merely being baptized sufficient basis for sharing the Eucharist: "We hold that eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion are so linked as to make it generally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive the former without enjoying the latter" (56).

To say it even more briefly: receiving communion means you are a full member of the Catholic Church (and not in a state of mortal sin). If you aren’t actually a member of the Catholic Church, then don’t receive the Eucharist until you are ready to do that.

He notes there are special circumstances where a non-Catholic can go to confession, be anointed and receive the Eucharist. These arise where someone (a) believes the same thing as Catholics about these sacraments (b) has no access to his own clergy, (c) is in danger of death and (d) is properly disposed. Archbishop Pilarczyk has said each case must be submitted to him individually.

The pope makes some good points about "active participation" that sort of "radiate outward" from the Mass itself:

Ø Participation via the media: TV, radio, Internet
Ø Participation for the sick who cannot come to Mass—we come to them.
This is why I think it important to have a dismissal of those taking the Eucharist to the sick, rather than have folks come up in the communion line.
Ø Participation for those in prison
Ø Migrants and openness to different traditions
We may need to think about use of Spanish in the Mass some day soon.
We’ve already looked at the use of Latin—but note well, he included this in his discussion of "active participation"—clearly he doesn’t see this as a barrier to authentic participation!

The pope concludes his discussion of actuosa participatio by turning to interior participation—and here, he focuses on two things: inviting the faithful to have their exterior gestures connect to interior disposition; and two—related to this—greater catechesis on the meaning of what happens in the liturgy itself.

Possible discussion of various gestures and movements in the Mass here…

This will come as no surprise, but here the pope makes an important point—consistent with everything we’ve looked at so far: "In particular, given the close relationship between the ars celebrandi and an actuosa participatio, it must first be said that ‘the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well’" (64, citing proposition 19 produced by the Synod).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sorry, no homily...

...because we had a missionary priest with us who preached at all Masses.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Latin Mass in Piqua

In response to the requests of a number of parishioners, I have decided to begin having one weekday Mass each month in Latin. This will be in the bulletins at both parishes this weekend.

For those who may be alarmed, or may spread alarm, relax: it's one Mass a month, on a weekday, on Wednesday, when there are two Masses that day, so there is a choice.

We will do it once a month, first Wednesday, 8 am, at St. Mary. This will be the current, ordinary usage of the Roman Rite, not the older, extraordinary usage. We’ll start September 5, and booklets will be available. (Although I just noticed, after all 50 were run, that "semper" was misspelled as "simper." It's that *%#@ Microsoft Word Nanny program that re-spells things because it's knows better than you.)

With the exception of the readings, prayers of the day, and the homily, Mass will be in Latin, and we will have suitable music throughout.

This is an experiment, a response to those who said they wanted it. I will try it for a year, and we will see how well it is supported.

Now, I have this word for those who are holding out for Mass in the extraordinary usage (the old-style Latin Mass). I don't quarrel with you about your devotion to the classic Mass, I admire it. But consider this a step toward what you want. If a Latin Mass on a weekday is well received, it can only make for a more positive environment for a Mass in the old form. As it is, I'm not in a position to offer the classic Mass, and I don't know how soon I will be; and I have yet to receive a request for the extraordinary form, other than for a funeral--and that was "someday."

Meanwhile, I reiterate what I said a couple of weeks ago, in a homily at all Masses: if there are requests for the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, I will, as the pope says, "willingly accede." In the meantime, will you be supportive of this?

The other thing is, there will be a few who will object, and do so very forcefully to anyone who will listen. They will be heard from, count on it.

But: will those who want it, also be heard from--i.e., will they show up? Time will tell.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Assumption homily

The first reading from Revelation presents vivid images—
it helps if we try to see what it’s describing:
A sign in heaven: the ark of the covenant—a woman, with child!

But the scene does not stay peaceful: a huge, red dragon.
Note the dragon wears not one, but seven crowns.
This is a symbol of all that tries to rule us,
to displace Christ as the true king.

But this pretend king has power—don’t kid yourself:
he sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven—a third!
And it is poised to devour the Child.

Does it not often seem that evil is winning?
Do we not often fear that our hope will be devoured?
We wonder why God doesn’t win the way we think he should.

But God acts—and saves the Child,

and the Woman flees to the desert.

Of course this woman is Mary, the mother of the Messiah.
But Mary is always and in every way the perfect image
of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
So she is also an image of the Church—and so here:
it is us, the Church, that has to flee into the desert,
to wait for the Lord’s redemption.

So what does all this have to do with the Feast of the Assumption?

Today, we celebrate the completion

of Mary’s victorious journey in following Christ.
On this day, at the end of her natural life,

she was taken up to heaven.

How fitting this is—since she had united herself perfectly to her Son.
How fitting that the Son would reward his Mother,
who had given so much, suffered so much, in saying Yes to his plan.

It is a sign of hope that where she has gone, we may be sure to follow,

if we follow her example in following Christ.

We believe, as St. John Damascene said,
“It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity

inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free
from all corruption after death;
“It was necessary that she who had carried the Creator as a child
on her breast should dwell in the tabernacles of God.

“It was necessary that the bride espoused by the Father
should make her home in the bridal chambers of heaven.
“It was necessary that she who had gazed on her crucified Son
and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow
which she had escaped in giving him birth,
should contemplate him seated with the Father.
“It was necessary that the Mother of God should share
the possessions of her Son, and be venerated by every creature
as the Mother and handmaid of God.”

Finally, today, the words of Scripture are fulfilled, by us:
“All generations will call me blessed.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

What should Mass be? Talk IV on Sacramentum Caritatis

Pope Benedict has already made the point about the Holy Spirit being at work, in the Church, in the development of the liturgy. See paragraph 3, and then in paragraph 12 where he said, "This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries."

We will take our time getting into this section of Sacramentum Caritatis, because I think it’s important to understand all that underpins the pope’s thought. In fact, this talk is going to look only briefly at the exhortation, because we need to look at other things that underlie the pope’s work—such as the Council, and also what he wrote, before his election, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. (Many don’t know that not only was Cardinal Ratzinger a top-flight theologian before becoming pope, they also don’t know that liturgy was and is a subject of special concern.)

This is all about ecclesiology

This second section of the pope’s work, because it’s about the liturgy, therefore raises a lot of issues of ecclesiology, that is, the theology of who and what the Church is.

In theology, there is something called "high" Christology—meaning, emphasizing Jesus’ divinity—and "low" Christology, emphasizing his humanity. Both are essential; it’s a matter of emphasis. Likewise, we can have both a "high" ecclesiology that emphasizes the divinity of the Church, where a "low" ecclesiology would emphasize the Church’s humanity. Again, we need both: we talk about the Church as a "pilgrim people"; but we also say the Church is the Corpus Verum, the True Body of Christ. Both are part of our faith.

What I’m saying is, what follows won’t make much sense if we have a problem maintaining, at once, both a "high" and "low" ecclesiology. I.e., it’s much easier to swing to the "low" side, and that’s where many people are especially when it comes to the liturgy: to the point that they often see liturgy, as in my opening illustration, as something we make up ourselves.

But that’s far from what Pope Benedict is saying. His opening paragraph pounds this point:

· "The Synod of Bishops reflected at length on the intrinsic relationship between eucharistic faith and eucharistic celebration, pointing out the connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, and stressing the primacy of the liturgical action."
· "Theological reflection in this area can never prescind from the sacramental order instituted by Christ himself."
· "On the other hand, the liturgical action can never be considered generically, prescinding from the mystery of faith. Our faith and the eucharistic liturgy both have their source in the same event: Christ's gift of himself in the Paschal Mystery."

Consider this question. We all know that, as Catholics, we place a lot of authority on Sacred Tradition, equal to Sacred Scripture. But we can point to the Bible and say, there’s Scripture, it’s clear-cut. But where do we find Sacred Tradition?

The answer—and this deserves a great deal of reflection—is the liturgy. Just as we say, "if you want to find the written Word of God, look at the Bible," we can also say, "if you want to find the "handed down" (traditio) Word of God…look at the liturgy.

Let me quote Dei Verbum, one of major documents of Vatican II: "The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church" (DV 8, emphasis added). Note well—it speaks of the life of the believing and praying Church—if you ask where we find this Sacred Tradition, one very important source is, in the liturgy. So, right at the beginning of this section, the pope refers to the relationship between lex credendi and lex orandi—the "law" or rule of believing, and of praying (SC 34).

There’s something else from Dei Verbum, relevant here: "…God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16)" (Ibid., emphasis added).

So I ask you: do you think we, as a parish, should re-arrange the Bible? Should we make additions and deletions that suit us? Of course not. Then, may I submit, we should be very cautious about a similar approach to the sacred liturgy.

Now, you will respond that the liturgy is not fully parallel to the Bible, and you are correct. The Bible is fixed in a way the liturgy is not.

But there is a dimension of the liturgy that is, exactly like the Bible, utterly untouchable—it cannot be modified, or else it will cease to be what it is. The difficulty is that while we can rather easily distinguish between the Bible, and it’s truth, that cannot be modified, from the expression of it, which might be, a similar distinction in the liturgy is far harder. Hence we must proceed very cautiously.

"Can we?" is the wrong question

It helps to think of the liturgy, like the Church, like our Faith, as an "organic" thing—a living being. And with any living being, you have parts that are absolutely essential to life. Heart, lungs, etc. Then you have other parts that, while important, are not utterly essential—the being can live without them: fingers, toes, arms, legs. Then you have other elements that are much more peripheral: hair comes to mind.

But, with this living being, the loss of parts in the second category is still crippling, and parts in the third category is potentially disfiguring. And when you have a living body, while it is true some parts can be lost, you can’t just "lop them off"; you can’t take the body apart and put it back together as you please. It can only function according to a certain inner logic. And, finally, even if you "can" do such things—i.e., you can do it, and the "patient" will still live, this is entirely beside the point, isn’t it?

Someone walking into the hospital and seeing a doctor performing such operations, would react with…horror! You would hardly be satisfied if the doctor explained, "Oh, don’t worry, the patient is still alive, no worries"!

Even with the Bible, we make careful distinctions about its very content, when we say the Bible is without error: we refer to the truths it was intended to convey—truths concerning who God is, and how we are saved—vs. those that really don’t, such as content pertaining to geology.

There’s a reason it’s called the Divine Liturgy

If you think this is making the point rather strongly, I might here cite what the Second Vatican Council said—which makes the point far stronger. Almost at the beginning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council has this to say about what the liturgy is—it’s essential character:

Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which .s the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7).

…Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows (Ibid., 10).

Eastern Christians call the Mass "the Divine Liturgy." What we’ve looked at makes clear how profound that description is.

So: bottom line, we tread very lightly. We don’t do any of this on our own authority!

Why am I pounding this point? Because of the really painful issues that comes up, right here—having to do with the celebration of the Eucharist, of the Mass is, "why are the norms of the Church so important?" Are they just rules of men in Rome? Is the form of the liturgy something arbitrary? Or, rather, is there something much more at work that needs to be respected?

The sad truth is, the form of the Divine Liturgy—I mean, principally, the Mass—has taken a lot of body blows in recent decades. It’s ironic, I’ve just stressed the "high" ecclesiology, the role of Divine Providence in the Church—yet here would be an excellent example of "low" ecclesiology—the human frailty of the Church.

Getting Vatican II right

Without going into the whole history, it’s fair to say that the implementation of Vatican II’s reforms of the liturgy have been a wild and bumpy and messy business.

A lot of things were done in haste: for example, the translations of the prayers, and so they are now being retranslated. The differences in the new translation, from the old, will reveal the flaws in the first one, we still use.

There was a lot of wild experimentation. We went through a period of very strange things: "clown Masses," home-baked communion bread, with or without honey and raisins, "costume Masses," trying to have Mass as casual as possible, priests ad-libbing the prayers, and so it went. Most of the silliness seems to have gone away, but its still there to some extent. Nowadays, with cell phones having cameras, and the Internet, its no longer just rumor, you can see video of a Mass with an extraordinary minister, distributing communion, dressed as the devil, and the priest dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur.

A lot of things were done without consideration for the faithful; a lot of things were done "in the name of" and in "the spirit of" Vatican II, that the Council never authorized or even imagined.

Now, are you willing to be guinea pigs for this point? I mean, how about I take a little poll here, and have you name things you were told or you believe were mandated by Vatican II.

(If not brought up already) Example: did you know Vatican II said nothing about removing altar rails? Nothing about the priest turning around and facing the people at the Eucharistic Prayer? And—as many folks here have been shocked to learn—the Council never "got rid of Latin." Things like vestments, whether you kneel or stand, what music you sing, how church is decorated, and so forth—all these things people think are about what Vatican II said. In fact, they are more about what people thought Vatican II said. a lot of things were done the wrong way; several things have been re-done, since—and more than once!

The abuses of the liturgy, in the name of Vatican II, were a significant enough problem that in 1980, Pope John Paul II made this comment, in his annual, Holy Thursday letter to priests: "I would like to ask forgiveness-in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate-for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament" (Dominicae Cenae 12).

Concern about these abuses prompted several actions by Pope John Paul II in his pontificate, including issuing a new Missal, with a new General Instruction, with some tightening up. These concerns prompted then-Cardinal Ratzinger to write The Spirit of the Liturgy in 2000. At the opening, he acknowledged he was using the title of a well known, earlier book by Romano Guardini, whose book was "decisive" in inaugurating the "Liturgical Movement" earlier in the 20th Century, that led to the reforms called for by Vatican II. Ratzinger described these stages of liturgical reform as follows:

We might say that in 1918, the year that Guardini published his book, the liturgy was rather like a fresco. It had been preserved from damage, but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations…. The fresco was laid bare by the Liturgical Movement and, in a definitive way, by the Second Vatican Council. For a moment, its colors and figures fascinated us. But since then the fresco has been endangered by climactic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions. In fact, it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences. Of course, there must be no question of its being covered up with whitewash again [i.e., no going back to before the Council’s reforms], but what is imperative is a new reverence in the way we treat it, a new understanding of its message and its reality, so that rediscovery does not become the first stage of irreparable loss.

I’d like to suggest that this concern—getting Vatican II’s true intentions regarding the liturgy right—also animates this exhortation we’re studying. And this discussion raises a very significant question: have we got Vatican II right? If not, what would a proper celebration of the liturgy, in view of Vatican II, look like?

This really is the question facing us. This is why we’ve had so much activity, in recent years, focused on the Mass: revision in the Missal, revision of the translation, stricter norms from Rome and the bishops, a lot of re-evaluation of music and particular components of the liturgy, a greater emphasis in the seminaries on liturgy, the exhortation we’re studying, and a revival of questions about the old rite, the Mass of Pius V.

And if I haven’t piqued your interest enough already, let me do so with some more surprises, concerning what Mass according to Vatican II might look like:

Ø The Mass does not envision use of hymns as we know them. None.
Ø The Mass can be celebrated legitimately in Latin or the local language (i.e., English for us), but even where the vernacular is used, some Latin is expected.
Ø While communion under both species is encouraged, it is not required, and has some practical difficulties that may make not doing it all the time more appropriate. One of those concerns has to do with over-using "extraordinary ministers of holy communion." I.e., how "extraordinary" is a ministry if it is routine?
Ø There is nothing wrong with the "old" architecture.
Ø While the priest facing the people is a well known change since Vatican II, the Council did not require it nor even mention it! In fact, what happened was that 1964 document, from Rome, proposing implementation steps, merely said the following: "It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people" (Inter Oecumenici, 91).

Now, I offer these items to provoke thought, in preparation for our next talk: What should Mass be like?

Beauty and the Liturgy

At this point, let’s continue to let the pope speak for himself. Let’s look at paragraph 35:

This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor. The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. As Saint Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendour at their source. This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love (emphasis added).

This is important. Some can be rather minimalistic or, in their own mind, "functional," about the liturgy. But here, the pope is saying part of the function of the liturgy is to communicate the beauty-truth of who Jesus—the full revelation of God for us—is.

God allows himself to be glimpsed first in creation, in the beauty and harmony of the cosmos (cf. Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19- 20). In the Old Testament we see many signs of the grandeur of God's power as he manifests his glory in his wondrous deeds among the Chosen People (cf. Ex 14; 16:10; 24:12-18; Num 14:20- 23). In the New Testament this epiphany of beauty reaches definitive fulfillment in God's revelation in Jesus Christ: Christ is the full manifestation of the glory of God.

Now we skip to the end of the paragraph: "The truest beauty is the love of God, who definitively revealed himself to us in the paschal mystery" (SC 35).

You might think the pope is merely making the point that the liturgy ought to be beautiful. That’s true, but he’s saying more: the fundamental beauty of the liturgy is "Christ himself, risen and glorified in the Holy Spirit" (SC 36)—and thus, don’t mess around with it! "Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendor" (Ibid. 35).

The primary actor in the liturgy is God

So, back to our first question: who creates the liturgy? The Church, or God? The pope’s answer is, both. His title in this section says it: "The Eucharistic Celebration, the work of ‘Christus Totus’"—meaning the total Christ, the Head and the Body.

"Since the eucharistic liturgy is essentially an actio Dei which draws us into Christ through the Holy Spirit, its basic structure is not something within our power to change, nor can it be held hostage by the latest trends" (37).

This sure sounds a lot like this section from Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the sacred liturgy:

Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority (22, emphasis added).

Now, this is a good place to pause, and ask a direct question: Do you agree with this?

Because you need to know how frequently pastors and pretty much every priest is expected to "add, remove or change" things in the liturgy—if not on "his own authority," then on the "authority" of the people asking for the change:

Ø To omit, or alter, terms in the prayers that are deemed "sexist" or "non-inclusive."
Ø To include music or rituals in the liturgy that is not authorized. Examples: the "Unity Candle" at a wedding; inappropriate remarks at funerals, hand-holding during the Our Father, the "blessing" in the communion line, and secular music at weddings and funerals.
Ø To skip or rush readings or prayers because Mass is "too long."
Ø To insert events or celebrations into the Mass, such as recognitions, graduations, or other rituals.
Ø To insert rituals or gestures not part of the liturgy: hand-holding, bringing trophies into the sanctuary.
Ø To do routinely what is supposed to be exceptional, such as the use of extraordinary ministers, and Masses outside a sacred place.

We might ask, why is this happening? Was it always so? Where is it coming from?

One answer would be that the period after the Council led many to think that the norms were pretty malleable. And, in fairness, the norms are more flexible than they used to be. Priests do have more discretion, more choices, and more falls on their judgment, rather than very precise "dos" and "donts."

Another answer is, a lot of folks have seen things done, and they figure, if it was okay there, then why not here?

But a third reason might be what Pope Benedict said in The Spirit of the Liturgy: "renovations and reconstructions" that, however well intentioned, proceed out of a failure to appreciate the "fresco" of the liturgy, and threaten to be a "first stage of irreparable loss."

A wedding like you've never seen: the way it is supposed to be!

On Saturday, Piqua witnessed a rare event: a Catholic wedding conducted (very nearly) "by the book."

The couple whose marriage I witnessed are both Catholic, with family and friends who are active Catholics. They were very interested in the Mass being celebrated properly, and they were delighted when I told them we could use Latin--as much as they wanted.

Meanwhile, they were happy to have the procession to the altar take place as the ritual calls for -- as opposed to the "traditional" way everyone has seen. What do I mean? I mean, in a Catholic wedding, the ritual says "if there is to be a procession" (i.e., the wedding can begin with the couple in the front pew), the ministers (i.e., servers, readers, deacon) precede the priest, followed by the witnesses (best man, maid of honor), and then the couple walking together.

Yes, you read that right: nothing about the father escorting the princess--er, I mean, the bride--down the aisle. It is, possible, however, for the parents to escort the couple -- but that is only optional.

So, here's what we did: four servers preceded the priest (I honestly didn't think to rehearse it with the readers, but I think that would have made them even more nervous), and then the wedding party, then the groom and bride.

The couple loved the idea of incense, so we did that. The musician played "All Creatures of Our God and King" (my music director is looking for, and learning, proper entrance chants for a wedding), and that worked well, as I incensed the altar and crucifix. Then I stood in front of the altar as the couples came down.

The couple chose to have me intone the Sign of the Cross in Latin, and the Per Ipsum ("Through him, with him..." after the Eucharistic Prayer), and we used the Latin Sanctus and Agnus Dei. I threw in a bit more Latin here and there. I sung quite a bit of the Mass, including the Roman Canon. The servers (all male) wore cassocks and surplices, and the bell-ringer did it perfectly; plus they had a lot of work to do with the incense, which was used at the Gospel, the offertory and the elevations.

The church was full, and with so many practicing Catholics, there were a lot of communions, which is wonderful. Many of these folks, I learned, frequent the classic form of the Mass, so this was perhaps their first experience of a solemn Missa Cantata in the new form. This is what one of the servers said: he was very familiar with the old-style Mass, but had never seen Mass celebrated as we did it--which was the proper, "high" form of the current rite.

One disappointment--not many people sang the Latin prayers. But then I realized: if you go the older, "extraordinary" form of the Mass, yes they use the Latin texts of the prayers, but they seldom sing them. Again, something that the current, ordinary form actually emphasizes (when you do what Vatican II said, which is to use Latin texts at least some of the time).

It was a joy having a wedding Mass in which the focus was on the Lord, not on anyone at the Mass, which unfortunately is what happens too often with weddings. I offer this for the benefit of those who may be planning a wedding, and don't realize what a wedding Mass is supposed to be like.

Also, for anyone planning a wedding: all those "add ons" you hear about invariably cost you money, and they can create problems: I've seen aisle runners that don't cooperate, they rip and trip; and I've seen a Unity Candle* not light when the big moment came. On the other hand, doing the Mass the proper way costs you very little--only what the musician gets paid, and that's a small price compared with everything else.

* By the way, you know who really pushes for the Unity Candle (which doesn't belong in the wedding -- at all!)? The mothers! It is their big moment.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Matthew: Gospel of the Kingdom

Some of you asked for notes on my Bible study of Matthew. I don't really have any notes, but I did dig out a paper I did in the seminary. I'm sure someone can find flaws; I don't have the graded paper I got back, so I don't recall what the instructor said! But I think it's at least good enough to provide some discussion points.

Be aware, a Word document doesn't always "translate" well to blogger; in particular, the Greek words may not have transliterated properly. Alas, I can't go through and re-edit it all here, so it's "caveat emptor."

In what follows, I propose to illustrate how central the theme of “kingdom” is to Matthew’s Gospel.

The Navarre Bible names Matthew the “Gospel of the Kingdom.” Donald Senior casts this as a “theology of history”: Jesus is the “inaugurator of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ (4:14-17)”—and because “Jesus was the Messiah and the authoritative Son of God, he becomes the fulcrum of history and the one who would lead the community to the end of the age.” “[T]his Gospel…stresses especially the theme of the kingdom of Heaven, mak[ing] it a dramatic account in seven acts of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Gospel can be outlined as follows:
1. The preparation of the king (1-4);
2. The charter of the kingdom: the Sermon on the Mount (5-7);
3. Missionary character of the kingdom, credentialed by ‘signs’ (8-10);
4. Obstacles to the transcendent kingdom (11:1-13:52);
5. The embryonic kingdom: the disciples led by Peter, (13:53-18:35);
6. The crisis of confrontation, which will usher in the kingdom (19-25);
7. The kingdom comes in the Passion and Resurrection (26-28).

James Montgomery Boice observes, “in Matthew’s case, the emphasis is on Jesus being the Messiah or King of Israel. Jesus is introduced this way at the beginning of the book: “Jesus Christ [Messiah] the son of David (1:1), and the theme is evident throughout.”

This emphasis on kingship explains the inclusion of the genealogy, which emphasizes the royal lineage, particularly after the Babylonian exile (1:12ff); the repetition in the genealogy of the number 14, symbolic of the name, “David.”

Next we have visitors from the east come seeking a newborn king (2:2)—naturally enough, they come to the capital, Jerusalem. This causes a stir—the sitting king and the whole capital are “greatly troubled” (2:3); and King Herod acts immediately against the threat (2:16-18). This story about the magi and Herod sets up another feature of Matthew’s kingdom theme: Jesus’s kingdom is very different from any earthly kingdom—and yet earthly powers rightly recognize they face a showdown with it. Herod seeks to destroy the king in his infancy; and even after Herod’s death, when the Holy Family returns from Egypt, the sense of danger remains as they avoid the territory of Archelaus, Herod’s son (2:22). John, the herald of the kingdom, sees a fiery, wrathful conflict with existing powers (3:7-12)—and again, Jerusalem is stirred up (3:5).

The kingdom of the evil one quickly takes interest (4:1-11). Jesus prepares his apostles for persecution at his first sending of them (10), warning that he brings “not peace but the sword”—i.e., division between his kingdom and the kingdoms of the world (10:34-35). From Chapter 10 on, the sense of tension builds, until the Passion narrative—which finds us back in Jerusalem, the city of David.

We also see the kingdom emphasis in Matthew’s choice of words.

“Kingdom”—i.e., referring to God’s kingdom, occurs 52 times. Jesus is called “kurios” over 40 times—far more than Mark or John, though not as many as Luke. Distinctive to Matthew is the term proskuneo—meaning “profound homage.” He uses it 13 times, compared with two times for Mark, three times for Luke, and seven times for John. Fittingly, it appears most often in Revelation.

One place we see all this come together is in chapter 8. Immediately after Jesus reveals the law of the new kingdom (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount), he begins receiving petitions for assistance from subjects. “And then a leper approached, did him homage [proskuneo] and said, ‘Lord [kurios], if you will, you can make me clean” (8:2). Then the centurion approaches, likewise calling him kyrios, calling himself “a man under authority”—in Greek, exousia. This response Jesus hails as the ideal response to his kingdom (8:10-12).

One interesting feature of Matthew’s use of proskyneo: except where Satan requests this homage (4:9) and Jesus uses it in a parable about divine judgment (18:26), it is never used in reference to anyone but Jesus.

Matthew also makes much of the authority of Jesus.

The Lord’s unique authority dazzles the people (7:29). The scribes murmur when Jesus claims the authority to forgive sins (9:6), which Jesus proceeds to prove he has. Then Jesus grants the twelve authority over unclean spirits—emphasizing Jesus’s authority more so, in that he can impart it to others (10:1). He does this again with Peter in Chapter 16 and the Apostles in 18 (though exousia is not used in these two places). The Gospel ends with Jesus having total authority, and on that basis initiating the spread of the kingdom (28:18-20).

One natural question is exactly what is meant by the kingdom being “at hand” (3:2, 4:17, 10:7) or “upon you” (12:28)? What exactly brings the kingdom?

The event toward which Matthew’s entire narrative leads is the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. These events bring the kingdom into reality.

Not only is this the climax of the Gospel, they are most immediately “at hand.” This explains the sequence of events in Jerusalem, beginning with entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11) and galloping to the death and resurrection. The king’s entry recalls Zephaniah’s prophecy (Zeph. 9:9) about how Israel’s king will come, “just” and “meek,” two key attributes of Jesus revealed about his kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount (5:5, 6, 20, 6:33). Thus, in the trial before Pilate, the question is asked at last: “are you the king of the Jews?” (27:11). Jesus’s enigmatic answer confirms the identification, “but in a manner not comprehended” by worldly minds. Pilate makes this title Jesus’s epitaph (27:37).

If the passion, death and resurrection of Christ begin the kingdom, how odd it is that this forms the “end” of Matthew’s Gospel! What that suggests is that Matthew’s Gospel really has no end. The whole work is, instead, a “birth narrative”—that is, of the Kingdom.

Works Cited

Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2001.
Gavigan, James, McCarthy, Brian and McGovern, Thomas, eds.The Navarre Bible: The Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, Reader’s Edition. Dublin: Four Courts Press/Princeton, N.J: Scepter Publishers, 2000.
Hopkins, Martin. God’s Kingdom in the New Testament . Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1964.
Senior, Donald. Matthew , Abingdon New Testament Commentaries, ed. Victor Paul Furnish. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Wansbrough, Henry, ed. The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

You know what to do (Sunday homily)

How strong is your faith?

If you were past child-bearing age,
would you believe you could have a child?
Would you—like Sarah—be willing to face the challenge?

If you were a slave in Egypt, would you believe a fellow slave could lead you out?
Would you leave the big city, and set off into the desert?

If you think your faith isn’t that strong…do you want that to change?

We might wonder how we increase our faith.
You do it by accepting the baby, when she comes.
Many times we worry, will we see the journey through?
Instead of focusing on that, work on merely taking the first step into the unknown.

Sometimes people ask, how do I know
I’m doing what God wants? How do I discover his will?

The answer lies in what the Lord said in the Gospel:
Focus on what you already know,
on the task the Lord has given you to do.
God has already told us plenty about his will for us:
He’s given us the commandments;
We know we have to honor our commitments;
We know plenty that God has revealed to us.

“Be like servants who await their master’s return…
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

Monday, August 06, 2007

Where does worship come from? (3rd Talk on Sacramentum Caritatis)

I'm afraid I'm really falling behind...because I had some from the last talk to cover tonight, I only got a little bit into tonight's...

(Reading assignment: SC 34-41, as well as Scriptures cited. Handouts.)

What if we were to start from scratch, and we were asked to come up with how we ought to worship each Sunday. What might we come up with? Anyone have ideas or suggestions?

After this came a discussion, with various suggestions for what a "roll your own" liturgy might be like...

Of course, the point is, we don’t "start from scratch," and on our own come up with how to worship each Sunday. My question, other than being intended to illustrate the point, is a silly question.

But my question also serves to illustrate another point—there is something in us that feels a need to worship. Even atheists would agree with that, because after all, if you claim there’s no God, you still have to explain why religion is so important to so many cultures and people.

Just as an atheist has to explain why, if God doesn’t exist, people still worship, so we as Christians have to explain why, if the Christian Faith is the full and final revelation of God, then what’s up with all these other religions?

And our explanation might focus on two points:

1. Yes, we do believe that God has definitively and finally revealed himself in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean God hasn’t, to some degree, in some fashion, revealed himself outside of what we have in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. So, we believe Judaism is true, as far as goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. We believe there are elements of truth in a lot of religions, that correspond to what God has revealed to us.

2. But we would also say that, to some degree, other religions are, indeed, "man made," and that means the worship of such religions is "man made." As Christians, we do not believe there is any revelation after Jesus—so we don’t believe Mohammed is God’s prophet, and his revelations, in the Koran, are not considered divine, by Christians. Same with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

Now, someone might say, but isn’t all religion, aren’t all forms of worship, man-made?

And the answer is no.

We believe that God formed a covenant with his chosen people, the people of Israel, and at the center of the covenant was worship. God showed his people how they were to worship.
And when Jesus came, he revealed, to his twelve apostles, "a new and everlasting covenant" and of course, he also showed them the worship that would be central to it: the celebration of the Eucharist.

No one is claiming that every detail of how we celebrate the Eucharist is divinely inspired. But some of it is! Go back to the events of that first Holy Thursday: the Lord not only showed the Apostles what to do—"Do this in memory of me"—he also empowered them to act in his name and to make him present to the world: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" and "I will send you another Comforter/Paraclete, who will guide you to all truth."

Liturgy is first the work of the Holy Spirit

You might be wondering what all this has to do with Sacramentum Caritatis.

In the Gospel of John, Our Lord meets a Samaritan woman at a well. (Read an exerpt.) The central section of the holy father’s exhortation is all about this crucial question: what is worship? How do we know we are worshipping—as Jesus said—"in spirit and in truth"?

A few lines into the second part of his exhortation, Pope Benedict says this: The Eucharist should be experienced as a mystery of faith, celebrated authentically and with a clear awareness that "the intellectus fidei has a primordial relationship to the Church's liturgical action" (SC, 34). And my question is, what does the pope mean by "celebrated authentically"? What’s "authentic"? What makes a celebration "authentic"? And I submit that we are either talking about something that is a human thing, could be this, could be that; or we’re talking about something that is guided by, and to some degree inspired by, God.

Pope Benedict has already made the point about the Holy Spirit being at work, in the Church, in the development of the liturgy. See paragraph 3, and then in paragraph 12 where he said, "This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries."

We will take our time getting into this section of Sacramentum Caritatis, because I think it’s important to understand all that underpins the pope’s thought. In fact, this talk is going to look only briefly at the exhortation, because we need to look at other things that underlie the pope’s work—such as the Council, and also what he wrote, before his election, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. (Many don’t know that not only was Cardinal Ratzinger a top-flight theologian before becoming pope, they also don’t know that liturgy was and is a subject of special concern.)