Thursday, June 28, 2007

About the Old Mass Motu Proprio

This is especially for parishioners.

I had planned on having something in the bulletin ahead of time about the motu proprio* on the old rite of the Mass; but I have held off as the story was so sketchy for so long, mostly hopes and fears and predictions, but very little substance. I wanted to wait until we had something really substantive.

Well, only after this week's bulletin went to press did I see something concrete: namely, that the expected decree is very likely to be published next week, on Saturday of all days! So now it won't be possible to have something in the bulletin ahead of time.

So for those who do read this site, please share this item with others who don't.

Most parishioners aren't going to be familiar with this story, and they are going to wonder what this is all about.

Here's my quick summary, for what it's worth; plenty of other sites online can provide exhaustive information and commentary.

What is the pope doing?

It appears, from all reports, that he's making it much easier for priests, and the lay faithful, to have Mass according to the old rite -- i.e., the form of the Mass as it existed in 1962. (After that, there were changes that preceded the more substantive changes in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.) Many reports say that a minimum number will have to request it, something like 30, but otherwise exactly how this will work I don't know. We have to wait and see.

What he is almost certainly not doing is directly affecting the celebration of the current, normative rite of the Mass and sacraments.

Why is he doing this?

I see three reasons -- again, let's wait and see what he says -- but meanwhile, here are my reasons:

1. Aiding reconciliation with those "traditionalist" Catholics who are seriously disaffected with the Church over the implementation of Vatican II.

These are those folks who frequent chapels associated with groups known as the Society of St. Pius X and the Society of St. Pius V, and others. There is presently a serious division between these groups and the Church, to the point many call it schism, but that term provokes irritation and arguments about legalities; but I mention it to highlight the seriousness of this.

The pope very rightly is concerned that this rupture not become permanent; there are those who argue it already has, and I see signs of that, as well. How often we look back and wonder, if only this or that had been done, perhaps the ruptures of the Protestant Reformation could have been avoided. Only God knows. But the pope, as a shepherd, must be concerned that it is up to him to see if he can prevent something that may have long-term negative consequences for the Church.

2. Reconciliation with the Orthodox. The divisions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches go back about a thousand years, and there has been much ugliness in the whole mess. But the good news is that in recent decades, both sides have come to recognize there is not as much dividing us as we once thought (although I don't want to overstate that--many in Orthodoxy are still very pessimistic about this), and there are folks on both sides talking seriously about eventual reunion.

One of the key issues is the liturgy. As important as it is for Catholics, the liturgy is vastly moreso for the Orthodox, who see it as the main bearer of tradition -- a point Catholics would probably agree with, except we fail to emphasize the point.

So the Orthodox were very troubled by the way we Catholics seemed to treat our liturgy in the wake of the Council. So radical, so contemptuous, so freewheeling in changing it, and worse, allowing so much abuse of the new form. (Again, many Catholics feel the same!)

That leads to the third item here:

3. The right understanding of the Catholic liturgy per se.

The pope has said many times that we've interpreted the liturgy, and the Council itself, the wrong way -- from a stance of "discontinuity" or "rupture," versus one of continuity. I.e., why did the liturgy change so much? Ought it to have? Did the Council really call for that? Is this a good thing?

The pope (among many others) believes not; so he is aiming for a reconciliation, as it were, between the current rite and the old rite themselves.

This isn't about abolishing the Council or the reforms that arose from it, but about rethinking them with a view to the full tradition -- and if that sounds like a strange thing to do, then the pope's point is completely proved. I.e., as Catholics, you would think that we would already have wanted to interpret the Council, and its changes, in the context of our full tradition; and if we didn't to any degree, we simply have to get back on track.

So, what does this mean?

Immediately? It will mean that it will be far easier to request the celebration of the old rite of the Mass, and perhaps other sacraments. We'll find out soon just what the mechanism is for that; and then we'll find out just what the Archbishop has to say. At some point in the near future, I'll know just what it means for me, as a priest, who may be approached with just such a request.

As your pastor, one of my basic approaches is to say that if you have a legitimate option provided by the Church, then I feel obliged to do what I can to fulfill it.

Some may think, because I have called for use of Latin and chant, that I am a great devotee of the old rite of the Mass. Not so!

Don't get me wrong: I'm not against it. But I am not beating the drums for it, either. I have attended it maybe four times in my whole life, once in a "high Mass" setting, otherwise, in the far more common "low" style. Parishioners well know where I stand on that--I favor "high Mass"! And the old Mass, before the Council, was far more often a "low Mass," one of the things the Council felt needed changing. (So when people point to my "higher" Masses as "going back," they don't know what they're talking about.)

I have no idea how to celebrate the old Mass, so long before I could ever grant such a request, I would have to learn how to do it, and I have no idea how quickly I could master it.

But again, if people ask for it, and the pope says they are entitled to it, I will find a way to provide for that.

Are we going to see an old-style, "Tridentine" Mass on a weekday or Sunday?

Well, that seems rather far fetched, but basically, my answer is, that's up to the people. If only a handful ask for the old Mass, I can't see that; were there to be much larger numbers asking, then we'll see.

I might point out that there are folks who insist that they have a personal veto over what others in the parish want. They insist, because they don't like something, that it should never happen, or be pushed to the periphery.

So there will be folks who will take that approach here: they will get up in arms about this and say silly things like this is all part of some secret plan, and everything is going backward, the handwriting is on the wall, and so forth.

Again, the issues at stake are both big-picture, and also down-to-earth practical. The big picture, what the pope is thinking about, is the future of the Catholic Faith, keeping our tradition alive (what are we without it?), rooted in our liturgy. He is looking ahead many decades when he hopes, as do I, that our liturgy is no longer a battleground.

The down-to-earth, present-day issues are simply, how will your pastor, your priests and your parish respond to the legitimate requests and needs expressed by parishioners? I don't know because I don't know what folks will ask for, how many, and so forth. All I can tell you is I will do my best, and all of us should try to be patient and cooperative and flexible.

* A "motu proprio" is a decree or letter by the pope that comes from his personal initiative, as opposed to something that is filtered through the "machinery" of the Church or Rome in particular.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How I spent my summer vacation, part two: reading Jesus of Nazareth

On the way to dinner this evening, I stopped and bought the holy father's book, Jesus of Nazareth. Read about 25 pages over dinner, very happy so far.

How I spent my summer vacation: finishing talks on Sacramentum Caritatis

After leaving the sacred music colloquium, I went as far as Theological College--across the street! I.e., I stayed in D.C. for another couple of days.

Today, after sleeping late and a liesurely breakfast, I got down to work.

As I've mentioned here before, I am planning a series of talks--starting July 23--on the holy father's recent exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity).

Today, I did good work: I finished the final two talks. Not surprisingly, once I finished the last two talks, I saw reasons to go back and revise the middle two, particularly since talks three, four and five will all deal with the middle section of the exhortation, and almost certainly the most controversial parts: how the liturgy ought to be celebrated. (This is why I plan three talks, to allow both more background material, and more discussion.)

As currently planned, the talks break down as follows:

I. The Eucharist is the Mystery--and Summary--of Faith.
II. The Eucharist, the Church, and our Destiny.
III. Where does worship come from? Also: Vatican II Rite and Wrong.
IV. What should Mass be like? Beauty, music, more than words.
V. What should Mass be like, part 2: Latin, structure, authentic participation.
VI. Living and proclaiming the Mystery--our concern from the end of Mass to the end of time.

I'm still tinkering, and I hope to improve these further, but I'm no longer haunted by the thought I'll have to wing it.

FYI, once I deliver the talk, I'll try to post it as soon afterward; what may hold me back is that in delivering it, I am likely to add or subtract various things.

Then, of course, there remains the wild-card--the pope's expected motu proprio on a freer celebration of the old rite of the Mass. Until that happens, and I see what he says and does, I can't know how that might affect my current plans.

Tomorrow, I'll catch up with friends, and also try to do some good for another organization I am involved with.

Update: The series on Sacramentum Caritatis will begin Monday, July 23, at 7 pm, at the St. Mary meeting room at St. Mary Church, in Piqua, Ohio. The meeting room is in the school, accessed from North Street.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wrapping up the Musica Sacra Colloquium

We're snatching food from the hot plates before the caterer puts everything away; we had a very nice brunch after a beautiful, solemn celebration of the Holy Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the nation's capital.

It's been a very busy week, if you attempted to learn both chant and polyphony; I forewent the polyphony, for two reasons: (1) I really won't sing polyphony any time soon, and (2) I needed to focus my energy on chant, which I do sing.

I want to say the lectures have been extraordinarily good -- pointed, substantive, delivered with clarity and good humor, very persuasive. I've sat in hours of presentations that were gassy, overly long; these were tight: a lot of material covered in about an hour, each case.

Some will wonder how practical all this is. Well, this music is slowly returning. Even parishes that never hear a word of Latin do use polyphony, and a lot of people don't know they're not supposed to like Gregorian chant.

This movement is growing: we doubled our participation this year, with many more turned away; the plan is to accommodate many more next year. For Piqua's part, the music director and I have several folks in mind who say they want to come next year.

As it is, I had it rather easy. This year, I wasn't a main celebrant, so I didn't have to worry about intoning any of the prayers; but I open to doing so, even in Latin, which is still rather new to me. But I was glad others got the opportunity this time, and I was very happy to be a concelebrant. All I had to do was pray.

Why should we rekindle and bring back out the treasures of chant and polyphony? Because it is part of who we are, because it expresses the faith so well, because -- as music specifically composed for the Mass -- it conveys something special, and above all, because it is beautiful.

The Sacred Liturgy must be beautiful.

This doesn't mean only chant and polyphony; but it does mean these must not be excluded. On the contary, the Church, at the highest level, teaches they merit "pride of place" (particularly chant).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Live-blogging the colloquium...

I'm sitting here, playing on the computer, while a number of the participants together sing various compositions they brought with them. The fine music director at my two parishes has a composition, so while I wait to hear his, I play on the computer and listen to the other delightful music.

Which reminds me to mention, for those of you wondering what sort of folk come to an event such as this: jovial and enjoyable folk, who appreciate good food, conversation, and invigorating libations, of which there have been only a moderate quantity.

Last night, after all the business, I took the music director out for a tour of Washington, which he hadn't seen since he was 2 years old! We wandered all over town, seeing all the usual sights by car (we were both rather weary), ending up at the Old Ebbitt's Grill, very near the White House, for a late-night snack of very good oysters on the half shell (The Old Ebbitt has very good oysters, and for D.C., at a not-bad price) and beer; then we went up to the roof of the Washington Hotel, for another beer, and a nice view of the city.

The beauty of the Roman liturgy

G.K. Chesterton has a line often quoted: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been wanted and not tried." It would well apply to the Roman Rite, insofar as what many, many Catholics experience is really a minimal shadow of the liturgy as it is intended, as clearly spelled out in the teachings and directives of the Church.

This must come as a terrible shock to many Catholics, and I have been trying to find a way to soften the blow, but I haven't found a way to do it, without concealing the truth.

What prompts this reflection is my participation in study and celebration of the sacred liturgy here at the Church Music Association of America colloquium. What are we doing? We are learning Gregorian chant and polyphony, and reflecting on the nature of the liturgy in various lectures and conversations, and of course, celebrating the liturgy itself. No minimalism here!

Each Mass is celebrated with full use of the music that is integral to the liturgy, from the opening processional chants, with the prayers of the Mass sung, either by the celebrant, the choir or the faithful, as well as in some cases, even the readings. And we have no scruples about using incense and proper ceremony (such as the priests exchanging the sign of peace in the traditional Roman fashion -- a kind of embrace, rather than a handshake), and no one fusses about time.

Oh, of course this isn't something we can easily do in a parish; I doubt any of us really expects this to be how parish liturgies will be celebrated. As one participant said, "this is offered as the paradigm, from which we draw lessons, and which we keep as a benchmark."

By the way, there is also no gnashing of teeth about Latin. Wednesday featured a Mass almost entirely in English; today, a requiem Mass (i.e., for the dead), was almost entirely in Latin (the readings and one piece of music were in English). So it goes.

I certainly don't expect to return to my two parishes and celebrate Mass just like this; but I do hope I bring back better skill and habits in prayerfully and in an orderly way, offering the sacrifice. Many parishioners may not realize how much effort it takes for a priest to make offering the Mass seem effortless! Many, sadly, don't care, or they think they don't; they think it doesn't matter very much how carefully and soberly the priest presides. But it does, because the celebrant, by his steadiness, prayerfulness and care, communicates a reverence and seriousness that benefits all. It need not be fussy or (gasp!) "rigid." When it is steady, without constant improvisation, then something wonderful happens--the liturgy itself communicates, and it isn't all about the priest (or anyone else). It is prayer.

The other thing I want to mention is that when one experiences the liturgy in its fullness, with care and attention to the actual celebration of the liturgy, one discovers the important qualities of the liturgy: it is a unity, from beginning to end (as opposed to a series of things we say and do); it is sober and solemn. These don't mean sad, or cold; but rather, the prayer is not obtrusive. One person at Mass may find occasion for great joy, another for deep insight, another for profound sorrow and conversion, another simply for consolation. The Mass should not impose any of these on you, but allow you to experience them in communion with God and his people.

Yet again, the liturgy fully celebrated clearly becomes another moment, another place. It is not part of our time and world; it is an escape, a refuge, a sanctuary.

Now, one might ask: is it necessary to do all the full ceremonial, all the "bells and whistles," in order to experience the Mass this way? I think not; but I do think it is necessary to have the proper reference point. Hence the need for a paradigm, a benchmark, not only for the priest, but for all of us. I suspect many, many faithful Catholics come to a solemn, "high" Mass, and they see "the Mass" with lots of "extras," perhaps too many to bear; when one could just as well come to a low-key, early Sunday or daily Mass, and see that, instead, as a Mass that is abbreviated and simplified out of necessity. See the difference?

I may be wrong, but I fear there are many Catholics who, for whatever reason, have been brought to a place where they reject the Mass in its fullness; they consider it an imposition, a violation, a matter of a priest indulging all his personal preferences: "why must we have all this singing? Incense? Latin?" etc.

It is useful and practical to have distinctions between "high" and "low" Mass; but I do think many Catholics are either being deprived, or depriving themselves, if they do not have a meaningful experience of the Mass in its fullness--by meaningful, I mean a lot more than occasional; and I mean, an encounter that is not defensive and belligerent. The cross-armed scowl is not a proper liturgical posture.

In terms of the tiresome-yet-common pre- vs. post-Vatican II way of talking about such things, it is terribly ironic that many think that celebrating the Mass in its fullness, as I have described, is some sort of "pre-Vatican II" thing! The truth is exactly 180 degrees the opposite!

The Mass, before the Council, was widely (not exclusively) celebrated in the "low" fashion, and then with hymnody almost entirely displacing the proper chants. The Council, in seeking to bruit about a reassessment and rediscovery of the liturgy, manifestly called for a very different approach. One example will suffice: when, at my prior parish, I sang the entire Eucharistic prayer, someone said, "oh, that's like the old days!" (she meant in a good way, but no doubt others do not) -- and, of course, prior to the Council, the Eucharistic prayer was rarely spoken out loud, let alone sung!

So what do we do?

Well, many things might be said, but I believe many of us need to experience some conversion, some dying to self, and some openness. It's not about what happened when one was 10 years old, it's not about your pastor did right after the Council, it's not about personal likes and dislikes. No one has a right or even good reason to expect to "like" everything that takes place in the Mass.

Nor is it about immediately grasping the meaning of what is happening. That is a snare and a delusion! "Father, when we sing Sanctus, sanctus, I don't understand!" Well, first, I am tempted to say, "if I told you you'd get $20 for correctly describing what English prayer corresponds to the Latin "Sanctus," I am certain almost no one would fail to get his or her $20 bill. I.e., you do, indeed, understand it." But set that aside: what makes you think you understand the English? Who really understands what it means to call God "holy"? And so it is with the entirety of the Mass. The English texts are a huge help, but the downside is expecting it to be readily graspable, and that is impossible--or, in fact, the true mystery eludes us still, we haven't really even encountered it.

The focus of our gathering here--chant and polyphony--are not the be-all and end-all of liturgy; rather, they are essential part of the liturgical tradition that, for various reasons, have been almost entirely left out in recent decades, and that is, in my judgment, a harm to the liturgy and more, to the faithful who have a right to their full inheritance, and who, in my judgment, do not really experience the Roman liturgy fully when such things are unknown and alien.

Sacred Music is not about politics

This may or may not be an obvious point, but--the appeal of Gregorian chant and polyphony is not about politics or ideology.

Alas, recent decades have seen a great deal of political/ideological division in the Church, both those related to specific questions of Catholic teaching and practice, as well as those arising from the broader society. And, right or wrong, certain things become identified with such factions.

Here's an example: the practice of concelebration.

At dinner the other night, chatting with a priest from up east, he referred to "concelebration being shoved down our throats"--meaning that those who might be termed "progressive" had done the shoving. That suprised me--I explained that in my diocese, at one time concelebration had been controversial and avoided, for precisely the opposite reason: that it offended some of the more "progressive" folks, apparently because of ordination reserved to men, and that those who were more traditionally-minded count it progress as more concelebration is allowed and practiced.

I.e., there are fault lines and some things end up accidentally on either side. It seems clear to me that sacred music, and even the entire aesthetic of liturgy, are such matters.

At this colloquium, I have spoken to cheerful, self-described "former hippies," who were definitely not Republicans; I just chatted with a gentleman from out west who, at the same time, disagrees with Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI's encyclical upholding Church teaching barring artificial means of regulating births), and is deeply devoted to the classic Roman rite, and the sacred music that pertains to it.

I don't know if any other conversations have broached political topics, but I suspect not much--because while many of us might naturally assume, or even hope, that our table companions share our views, on the other hand, we hope in a different way they don't.

Because this isn't about politics. Rather, it is about a treasure of inestimable value (what Vatican II called sacred music, if memory serves) that is our common inheritance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

At the Colloquium

Arrived just fine in D.C. yesterday. In fact, everything went swimmingly until I drove into Georgetown. When coming into D.C. proper from the northwest, it's hard to know just how best to do so. So I came in Clara Barton Parkway, which deposited me on M Street. It took me quite awhile just to get from there to Rhode Island. Next time, I'll go the George Washington Parkway to I-395.

So I went from an early arrival to a barely-on-time arrival; oh well.

Very pleasant session with a group of priests reviewing our parts to chant. (Here's a revelation about how Mass goes when you use really good music, not necessarily chant and polyphony--the priest needn't work so hard. Such was my experience, when I offered Mass for this group last year. Doesn't that sound like "full active and conscious participation?) Also, when you really look at chant, you can see that the designers knew for whom they were designing it! People who may not be musical experts. The difficulty of chant is the shift to a different way of doing things, but once there, it becomes rather easy.

This morning I really slept late, and I had morning prayer and breakfast on my own. I skipped the polyphony choir, for two reasons: I really am not going to be taking any part in polyphony any time soon, plus I needed to do some business. No wireless in the dorm where I'm staying, so I'm connecting via the student center's wi-fi. Have to say, seems slow, and this is summer. But free to me...

The good news here is the response to this event: 140 attendees, which is twice last year's; and at least that many wanted to come, but couldn't due to limit on accommodations. Realize many who came last year weren't going to come this year (which is good; this needs to be more than a club). The folks who attend here are ordinary folks, almost all laity -- indeed, the reaction I keep getting is, "wow, a priest came!" This is not a clerical thing. Truth is, the clergy are going to be some of the major roadblocks, for reasons I explain deep in the last post.

To all you laity pursuing this: keep going, be polite but persistent: your pastors will, in time, find it easier to give you some of what you want than to fight you, and almost all pastors are happy when anyone is doing something, on their own, that doesn't need their constant attention -- they usually will just let you alone, and they will, if they aren't totally hidebound in their own views, give you some opportunities. "Something for everyone."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Headed to D.C. for Sacred Music Colloquium

Very, very early tomorrow I'll drive to D.C. for the CMAA Sacred Music colloquium, which I attended last year and blogged about. This year, the music director for the two parishes here will join me--in fact, he quickly signed up, and because I did so rather late, it rather looked as though I would not make it. I'll be there through the weekend, and--a shout-out to friends in the area--I hope we can get together. I may stay around a day or two for some of that.

This is a small but significant movement, indicating something important happening more broadly in the life of the Catholic Church in our country. What do I mean?

> The re-integration of timeless, venerable, deeply meaningful and beautiful liturgical music into the general experience of American Catholics. I mean principally chant and polyphony.

> A re-thinking more broadly about the liturgy. What's really interesting is that some of the grumbling comes from those who see themselves heirs of the old "Liturgical Movement" which arose in the 20th Century, and led to the Council's liturgical work, are now the "old guard" who swat at anyone associated with the "New Liturgical Movement" (a term coined by our holy father, before he was pope, by the way), and ludicrously call them...wait for it: "reactionaries." Hahahaha! I mean, you have to say it: "you wanted liturgical reconsideration, re-evaluation...well, you got it!"

> Most fundamentally, the reconsideration just how to interpret what Vatican II truly means. The best summary of this is expressed by two high-faluting terms: a "hermeneutic of rupture" vs. a "hermeneutic of continuity."

Now, the next 10 paragraphs or so, I will explain some of this, because most folks don't spend time on these subjects. But you may want to skip down for the "so what" question.

"Hermeneutic" means method or principles of how something is interpreted--each of us sees things through some interpretive "lens." In social and political discussions we do this all the time. Martin Sheen came to Dayton recently to visit a homeless shelter, and looking at signs of increased need, seems to think government should do more. Someone else, beholding the very same facts, can just as reasonably conclude government should do less; or, perhaps, the futility of seeking further solutions along that route. The reason this is important to point out is that once people in a political discussion actually notice they are looking through different "lenses," and they start talking about that--that's when the really interesting conversation begins.

Well, that's where we are -- or rather, perhaps and hopefully, where we are soon to be -- regarding Vatican II and the life of the Church as most Catholics experience it. Again, that will be more fruitful, if we can have that conversation, than many of the contentious discussions we've had in recent years about the Council, the liturgy, devotion, discipline in the Church, etc.

The "hermeneutic of rupture" views Vatican II as essentially a break with the past, and it has been the dominant, if not all but exclusive, way of viewing the Council. Very curiously (but not surprising to me, from my political background), it is something that bitter enemies agree on! I.e., both the "progressive" crowd at one extreme, and the "traditional" crowd at the other, both insist on this motif. The "progressive" end does so to justify a marginalization of what went before the Council, even to the point of a kind of test of orthodoxy! I.e., if you don't agree with marginalizing the old, if you like it too much, doubt is actively cast on your "commitment to the Church of today." The "traditional" end does so to justify rejecting Vatican II, and a whole train of reaction comes in its wake, moving in both directions along the timeline: you have "traditionalists" who find less and less to like since the Council; and you have those who, seeking to explain this catastrophe (as they see it), go looking for antecedents -- and some things I've read see them as far back as Pius X and Leo XIII, a reasonable hypothesis, if they were right about the Council.

As I say, this hermeneutic has been overwhelmingly dominant, too often without much serious reflection. When you have DREs, catechists, liturgists, priests, teachers, and therefore, the faithful, continually speaking of two churches, before and after the Council, you see my point.

The problem is, there is but One Church; or, there is No Church. I mean that the Catholic Church--if she is who we profess her to be, must be essentially one, or it is none. Meaning however apparent and interesting the "discontinuities" in relation to the Council's impact, the continuities are vastly more significant. And we risk a grave misunderstanding of the Church and of Christ's promises to the Church, if we miss that.

Example: so-called traditionalists who are lurching into very odd ecclesiology: they seem to do just fine without a pope, they -- I mean the most extreme fringe -- are on the verge of forgetting about the papacy altogether, as they approach a half-century without a valid pope. (Some claim Pius XII, who died in 1958, was last validly chosen pope, others, John XXIII, who died in 1963. If there are other variations, it isn't important for our discussions here--other than that this bizarre idea has taken root among those who call themselves "traditional.") A broader, damaging effect I believe is that many, if not most, Catholics have almost lost touch with the profound revelation that the Church is far more than an "institution," but is really a supernatural, organic being: "the Body of Christ." A sound understanding of the true identity of the Church cuts through all the issues of "what about what happened in history," and all the "what becomes of Protestants, Hindus and atheists?" and all the superficial "two church" discussions of Vatican II.

...Which is why the "two church" motif, the "hermeneutic of discontinuity"* is going to defend it's ground tenaciously. Because when you reconsider the whole mindset, the questions being raised about the liturgy, past, present and future, take on a vastly more significance. A lot of what has taken hold has little to justify it if the hermeneutic of continuity is applied. I.e., it's not even a question of, "should we have Mass entirely with Latin and chant" but merely, "how can we justify having Mass from which such elements are banished? When you see the Church as continually "reinvented," who cares?

There is a seemingly unassailable argument: "you can't turn back the clock," aka, "those days will never return," or "its too late" or "the Church as a whole just won't go there." Set aside the very specious "turn back" and "go back" stuff. Really, that is not an argument. If "going back" is a bad thing, then first, recall that much of the justification for Vatican II's reforms was, precisely, "going back" to truths and practices of long ago, that had been obscured or forgotten! How many know that? Read the documents, particularly on Christian initiation--it's all about "going back"! Second, if "going back" is bad, then toss out the Scriptures, for heaven's sake!

Also, this sort of argument makes assertions about the future that no one but God can meaningfully make. I simply have too little information to know what can, and cannot, happen. I think we do better to leave that to God, or history, or however you want to describe what will determine future outcomes. Even our recent history is punctuated by events and outcomes that smart people all said would never happen. Reagan was being foolish and dangerous in saying, "tear down this wall." The Zionist movement was ridiculous. Hitler was no one to take seriously. The sunny, almost euphoric anticipation of the future, as viewed by the world powers, circa 1900, as they looked ahead to the coming century. Abolish the slave trade, Mr. Wilberforce? Don't be daft. And so it goes.

Now, some might wonder what I think is the practical effect of all this.

Some will say, how naive, he thinks this will sweep the nation. No, I don't. I do not see any imminent upheaval or dramatic change in Catholic liturgy in this country. But remember, the idea of "revolution" did not always mean "upheaval," but recall it's meaning in astronomy--a gradual, orderly turning. Nothing to be afraid of. And such an outcome may, perhaps, be coming. God alone knows. But the "sit down and accept the inevitable" argument doesn't wash.

Others will get rather frightened. I had a parishioner who told me she knew that what I had in mind was making the whole Mass in Latin. She was sure of it. Nevermind I have no such intention, and have said nothing of the sort, and have explicitly said otherwise. She told me, that's what she "read between the lines."

Of course, one of the shocks for some people is merely to discover that Vatican II never abolished the use of Latin, even for the entirety of the Mass. So I have no power, other than arbitrary, to promise we'll "never have" an all-Latin Mass. I.e., I've raised the possibility of a periodic weekday Mass mostly in Latin, but haven't done it; the cardinal in charge of liturgy in Rome, Arinze, himself said a Sunday Mass in Latin, in parishes, would be a good idea. Will that come? I don't have a crystal ball. All I can say is that is an extremely ambitious thing, and I am aiming for vastly more humble things. And everything we have done, I've told people we were going to do. Use a bit of Latin, more than in the past.

So...back to the question more practical folks may ask: "who cares?"

This is what is going on in the life of our Church. It may not be the task of most parishioners to wrestle with these things, but it is the task of our pope, our bishops, and to some degree, our pastors. In a word--we have to get these things right! I mean, maybe we should never have had the Council, okay, that's an argument (not mine, by the way). But we did! Now, we have to think about what the Council said, what the fact of it happening, meant, and try to get it right. And we're going to have several "drafts" of that. You and I are working on, perhaps, the "second draft" of "implementing Vatican II. Sorry, you don't do that very quickly.

So, this is happening, and it's going to keep happening for our lifetimes. And many may not know a hermeneutic from a Herman Munster, but they do want to know what's going on with the Mass. They do want to know why their pastor thinks its important to use Latin, to do more than the minimum.

Does it matter?

Honestly, the answer could be, No, it doesn't. That is a possible answer. Because, after all, it may be just what a brother priest said to me--I am not making this up--that it "doesn't matter" to Jesus whether we use bread and wine, why not something else? Maybe it really doesn't matter if we have the Eucharist, if we have Mass--at all? Why should pouring water and saying words...matter? Why should muttering words in the ears of a priest, and his words back, matter? A smear of oil on the forehead? Who cares?

I really don't know what you believe about such things. But as Christians, and moreso, as Catholics, we believe God became a human being, according to his plan and providence. He chose to make certain things matter. He chose the elements and essential form of the sacraments, and he chose the form of the the Church. And he is the Lord of providence; the Holy Spirit, despite all other commentary, is the pilot of the Church's navigation of the perilous seas of history, and without being able to express just why, it remains intensely intuitive that how that actually happened, in the vast bulk of our history, cannot and must not be simply...set aside! I mean THE LITURGY.

Our seminarians, staying with us this summer, recently cleaned up the church basement. The easy thing would be simply, "throw it all out." But I said, no, we have to figure out carefully what to keep, what to throw away. Humility says, "I may see no reason to keep this, but time may eventually show me what I couldn't see." This is how church basements get to be such messes; yet St. Mary's did need attention. The same is even more true with the liturgy, which is, after all, miraculously bound up with the Divine in a way that church basements almost never are.

As a pastor, it really would be easier to ignore it all. That is what a lot of pastors are doing. And I don't blame them, there is so much else we can fruitfully do, it's not as though they are inactive. It would be easier to wait until "higher ups" insisted on this or that, so that when folks grumble, as they will, over "more change," the pastor can point somewhere else. Again, no blame--because you can only fight so many battles at a time, so maybe other pastors have chosen better than I, in postponing grappling with these liturgical issues.

My approach is, right or wrong, to raise the question, and to invite parishioners to join the discussion--but not in terms of liking or not liking this or that, although that's very understandable. But would it shock you if I said there are things I don't like about the liturgy, as it is? As I'm expected to celebrate it? Shall I act on what I like, rather than what I believe the Church expects, and in some cases, mandates? So why do I ask the same of parishioners? Welcome to the priesthood of all believers, a la Vatican II!

We're going to have a series of talks beginning July 23 on the holy father's recent exhortation on the Eucharist; and it will include reference to Vatican II materials, the current norms, and the pope's other writings on the liturgy. There will be discussion most welcome, but the focus is what the Church calls for, and what the successor to Peter teaches.

* I changed this to discontinuity to correct an obvious error (MEF 7:45 pm).

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Justified by Faith (Sunday homily)

St. Paul uses a word we don’t often hear.
A moment ago, we heard it four times: justification.

We often use that word to mean "excuse" or explanation:
At school, the principal might ask you,
"So, what’s your justification for being late?"

What St. Paul means is something different:
how you and I are made just or righteous.

Notice what else he said:
None of us is "justified"—made just—
"by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ."

As Catholics, we are strong on "works"—
mercy and charity, like the Bethany Center;
social activism, like the prolife movement.

And, we have lots of religious "works"—
that is, rituals and requirements:
Mass every Sunday and holy day;
frequent confession;
daily prayer and acts of penance;
a season of penance every Lent.

Yet St. Paul says: we are not justified by our works,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.

I know what you are thinking.
"Wait a minute. Doesn’t Scripture also say,
‘faith without works is dead’"?

And, yes it does.
So, what do we make of this?

It is Faith that saves us, but not faith alone;
because how can genuine Faith in Jesus
fail to result in action? In a changed life?

And, in terms of our practices as Catholics:
our rules and practices have meaning,
because they show us how to live our faith;
they give it shape.

Still, as St. Paul said: the starting-point is faith;
the heart of the matter is faith.

Many of us like to go to Home Depot,
so we can "do it yourself."
But that’s not how it works.

The starting-point is faith—faith in Jesus Christ!

So, now, you might ask,
"all right, just what do you mean by faith?"
And, may I say? You ask really good questions!

To answer, let me say two things.
First: faith is an act of self-gift, of trust, of surrender.

Faith is a whole lot more than a mere belief,
such as: "I believe Jesus exists";
Faith is a choice, a radical choice:
I turn myself over to Jesus.
That is what the woman in the Gospel did,
and that is what Paul described:
"I have been crucified with Christ."

So, faith is surrender…
and second, faith is a gift.

Don’t think that first, you have faith,
and then, God responds with his grace.
It’s the other way round:
first, God gives you grace,
so that you realize how much you need him;
then, you choose; you say: "Jesus, I trust in you!"
or you say, "No, Jesus, I think I’m doing okay on my own."

Do you think you simply chose to come here today.
It’s not that simple.
God was acting to make it happen,
so that you would receive this invitation:

Will you put your faith in Jesus Christ?
Will you surrender your will to his?
Will you ask for the gift of faith,
allow the Holy Spirit to lead,
go wherever he says, do what he prompts,
and give up whatever must be given up?

You are here because
God wanted you to receive that invitation,
and I have just given it!
So when I said, God acts first, with his grace—
this is how it works!

You and I received the gift of his justification in baptism;
but we came to a point where we chose to make it our own;
and we need to renew it, constantly:
that is why we go to confession,
and that is why we need the Eucharist.

This is our moment to do a check—where do we stand?
Can we truly say, with Paul:
"It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me"?

Friday, June 15, 2007

An experiment with a sung Mass with more Latin

On the Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul, we will try something, and see how it goes, and who comes.

We'll have a sung Mass, with more Latin: most likely, we'll sing the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The music director is welcome to prepare anything else, but that should be enough of a challenge for the choir, who he says is eager to try this. I will probably pray the propers and the Eucharistic Prayer in English; the readings and homily, of course, in English too! I'm undecided about the Pater Noster, as that may be harder, insofar as the English chant differs, and I wouldn't want to mix them up; plus, people would want to sing that themselves.

Anyway, there might be folks who want to experience this, so Mass will be at St. Mary Parish, 528 Broadway, Piqua, Ohio, Thursday June 28, 7 pm.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A different kind of busy week

This week, all the active priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are expected to be present at a three-day convocation, in Dublin, Ohio, outside Columbus. Retired priests are invited, but not required, to come. These happen every five years, and their purpose is some intensive learning or collaboration on some particular topic or concern. Last time the focus was dealing with pastoral responsibilities in a time of not enough priests. This time -- my first -- the topic is "The Spirituality of Managing Change."

So we arrived Monday afternoon, had pictures taken for a directory, and had a social, dinner, and our first session. Several sessions on Tuesday, with an evening off. Today it is sessions all day. These are punctuated by prayer and Mass.

As with this sort of thing -- which is like a convention -- the non-official stuff is useful and important. Many may not realize that we don't all know each other, and we don't often see one another outside of a special Mass or a penance service. So a lot of getting acquainted and so forth. Also, the archdiocese is about 100 miles from north-to-south, so those of us in one region are less well informed about the doings in others.

Meanwhile, there is some down time, and while the schedule has us in sessions all day, this isn't nearly as stressful or demanding as what usually arises in the parish. So I always bring along extra work, stuff I never seem to get to in the parish. I brought a large bin that is my "to read" file; and I have emptied it out, whittling it down to a very small pile of items needing either action, filing, or still to read. I brought along the holy father's exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, and have finished outlining the talks I am preparing (I have written four talks, and I can now write up the other two). I've given some thought to Sunday's readings, and some other matters deserving some consideration.

Now, as to what awaits me upon my return tomorrow afternoon? I'll find out soon enough.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas

After the last Mass today, chatting with the music director, I mentioned how the "golden oldie" hymns associated with the Eucharist come from this feast, and were written by St. Thomas Aquinas. And several are still in the Office which we still pray:

Vespers hymn: Pange Lingue Gloriosi -- used also on Holy Thursday, and the last two stanzas begin, "Tantum Ergo...".

Matins (Office of Readings) hymn: Sacriis Sollemniis -- a hymn I imagine almost no one has heard of -- until you get to the last two stanzas (stanzae?): "Panis angelicus"!

Lauds (Morning prayer) hymn: Verbum Supernum, again not so familiar...until the last two stanzae: "O Salutaris Hostia..."! (Was it customary, in the years prior to the unfortunate abandonment of all Latin, if the hymn was too long for parishes, merely to sing the latter two verses, which is why they are so familiar? Does anyone know?)

Mass: Lauda Sion a sequence now optional, and which is very long; it was recited, at least a shorter section of it, at several Masses here. (I did not have anyone recite it, because I would prefer to have it sung; reciting sequences seems rather limp. That said, if they are required, they get recited if they can't be sung.)

Also, he wrote Adore te Devote, which I find very beautiful; but if written for this feast, I'm not sure how it was used. (Remember, hymns are not the norm for Mass; rather, psalm-based chants are called for at the opening, offertory and communion processions, and there is no post-communion or closing hymn really called for in the Mass. The chants fell out of use somewhere along the line. I don't know how widely used they were before the Council, but because only the refrain was translated in the revised Mass -- that's the "entrance antiphon" that appears in the missallette -- it isn't practical to use as intended; and the closing hymn is just something that came in at some point.)

I can't find that he wrote any other hymns for the Office of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi -- nothing for the little office we now call Midday Prayer, or for Compline, or Night Prayer. Does anyone know?

Melchizedek pointed ahead, and so do you (Homily for Corpus et Sanguinis Christi)

During the readings, I imagine you wondered, "Who is this ‘Melchizedek’ fellow?

He was a curious, shadowy, figure:
a king and a priest, whose origins no one knew.

He brought an offering of bread and wine.

He blessed Abraham and all his descendants.

Who is Melchizedek?
He is the hint, the suggestion, of what would come: Jesus Christ.
> Jesus, the eternal Son of God,
who has no beginning or end;
> Jesus, the first and true priest of all Creation;

> Jesus, the rightful king of the universe;

> Jesus, who offers the new and everlasting sacrifice that is a blessing to all humanity.

Melchizedek pointed forward to something greater; and so do we.
You and I are the image, the sign,
for our time, that points ahead to the reality
still of what is yet to come,
a reality that is vaster and greater
than anyone can possibly imagine!

This is why, the language we use as Christians
is full of power even if we don’t realize it.

It would be like a story where everyone called a girl a princess—
only to find out that she really was!

Here’s an example:
we use the term, Body of Christ, to speak of both the Eucharist,
as well as ourselves?
Do we really think we are the same?

I bet you’d say, no—I’m not God!
I’m not Jesus—no one falls to his knees before me!

That’s all true.
And yet—when you and I call the Eucharist, as well as ourselves,
"the Body of Christ—
we are, in fact, describing the same reality!

Because the Eucharist we adore and receive is already, and completely,
the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; while you and are still "in process."

Here is the Body of Christ (the Cross),

Here is the Body of Christ (the Eucharist);

and here is the Body of Christ (the people).

This Cross is
a sign of what Jesus did for us—
as well of what a lot of Christ’s Body is still going through.
The Eucharist
is Jesus, truly and really here, but also a beacon, a lifeline, connecting us—
the ones who are "under construction"—to the reality that, for us, still lies ahead.

This is what St. Thomas Aquinas said:
the Eucharist is "the pledge of future glory."
Glory for whom? Glory for us!

I said a moment ago that you and I,
in calling ourselves the Body of Christ,
may not think we’re the same as the Eucharist—
and of course, we’re not.

Not yet!
But it is what lies ahead for us.

No one said it better than St. Augustine:

If you want to understand the body of Christ,
listen to the apostle telling the faithful,
"You, though, are the body of Christ and its members."
So if it's you that are the body of Christ
and its members, it's the mystery that means you.

It is to what you are that you reply "Amen,"
and by so replying you express your assent.
What you hear, you see, is "The body of Christ,"
and you answer, "Amen."

So be a member of the body of Christ,
in order to make the Amen true.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Reality is a harsh mistress

Poor Paris Hilton just found out that reality is, well, real.

The saga of this young lady has been splashed all about the media, surely you don't need me to recap it here?

I considered the image of this young woman, blessed with youth, inheritance, social advantage, good looks, and I suppose talent, weeping as she faces punishment for her own actions: she initially broke the law, driving drunk, and endangering the public, then treated the initial, sentence with contempt. In the courtroom, she wanted her parents to rescue her, she prayed, and then screamed and wailed as sentence was decisively given.

And my thought was, here it is: this is a vivid icon, in terms we can all understand, of the clash between wishes and reality. Except it's not a clash: reality always wins.

Often enough, those who point out the hard edges and normative cause-and-effect of reality, when it comes to family, upbringing, personal choices in life, are told they are unsympathetic, lacking in understanding. The more important fact is that many people cannot bear to face the truth, many others do not want to be the ones to point it out, especially when, in order to make it clear, one has to be rather blunt.

It is not for lack of sympathy that I observe -- from my understanding of the facts -- that this young lady pretty much had this coming. And her best course is to see this rough series of events as a true grace, a wake-up call that can spare her even worse heartaches to come.

Why is she crying? Because people are so mean, so uncaring? Or because there came a point when she could no longer be shielded from reality?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Jesus is the Bridge, the Holy Spirit is the Change (Homily for Holy Trinity)

Some people wonder why it is important
to believe God is a Trinity.
They might say,
“I believe in God, that’s what’s important.”

To which I would reply:
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
“Do you believe Jesus is—as we pray in our Creed—
“true God from true God…one in being with the Father”?

Because if God is not a Trinity, Jesus is not God.
And then Jesus no longer bridges the gap
between God and us.

You see, everyone who believes in God
realizes how utterly different and apart from us he is.
This is where we get the idea of “fear of God.”
It makes sense. God can, indeed, be frightening.

When I was a boy, there were three elderly sisters
in the house next to ours.
Nobody saw them much, but when you did,
they were yelling or being mean.

As you can imagine, as kids we traded stories
of the witchy things we were sure went on in that house!

Well, some years later, one of the sisters died,
and after that, the other two were different—
they would smile and wave—and before you know it,
we’d actually been inside their house—
there was nothing mysterious.
Just two, frail old women, needing some help.

In that case, the gap was easily bridged.

But the gap between us and God is very different.
Only God can bridge that.

Jesus is the Bridge.*
And if Jesus is not both God and man—
then there is no bridge,
and the vast, un-crossable gulf remains.

Now, what about the Holy Spirit?

Jesus has bridged the chasm; at last, we can cross over!
But still, on either side, are two different “countries.”

As a seminarian, I spent a month in South Korea.
It was a great experience—but a very different culture.
They were very hospitable;
but still, it was hard to feel totally at home there.

That happens right here at home.
We have divisions of race and class—
and people tend to stay “with their own.”

So, even with a bridge, something else has to change hearts and minds to bring both sides together.

We don’t need heaven to become more like earth—
but we do need earth—and all of us—
to become like heaven.

And so Jesus brought the Spirit from the Father:
Jesus is The Bridge; the Holy Spirit is the Change.

You could even call it a kind of “Invasion”—
that’s how the great author C.S. Lewis described it
in his book, Mere Christianity.

He called this world “Enemy-occupied territory”;
and “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king
has landed, you might say…in disguise,
and is calling us all to take part
in a great campaign of sabotage.

”When you go to church you are really listening-in
to the secret wireless from our friends:
that is why the enemy is so anxious
to prevent us from going.”
There is our purpose:
To share the Change the Spirit brings;
to draw people across the Bridge—Jesus—
to live with the Father.

Do you see why being a Christian
not only means believing differently,
but just as much, living differently?
Some of the choices are hard—
that’s the Change the Holy Spirit brings.

And we come to communion because we have chosen:
we’re not with the world that resists change;
we are part of the Kingdom of Jesus—
that is, his Church.

And do you see, now, how a prayer
we may take for granted—the Sign of the Cross—
is so important?
For one, it is a summary of our whole Faith
For another: it is the Banner, the Sign, of his Kingship!

Never be afraid to make the Sign of the Cross;
tell the whole world
where our salvation, and theirs, comes from:
“In the Name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

* For the second week in a row, unawares I used an image that comes from one of the saints; this week it was from St. Catherine of Siena, who described Our Lord as "the Bridge." Many times I pick up ideas but cannot recall where.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A good week...

I think I've said this before: a perhaps dismaying, but real measure of a "good week" for a pastor is how full his trash can is. Because a large part of my job is, to put it simply, getting paper off my desk.

This afternoon, my trash can was stuffed, and I have one more day to go this week (Saturday is always a work day).

That said, I still have plenty in "The Pile": many personal thank-you letters to write, some many months old; many calls I need to make; several other odds and ends.

Then there's a very large "to read" pile: this is stuff that doesn't need any other action.

Then there's my office itself, which needs some re-organization--my files need to be re-rationalized, and I'd like to paint the walls (they are the color of Pepto-Bismol that has spilled and been cleaned up) and finally put all my books on the shelves, and hang my pictures. Only been here two years (but I didn't know if my office would stay where it was, or not, until last summer)...