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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Disarming the Liturgical Winchester

                                                                                                            



A few years ago, I took ill with a bad case of the flu.  It necessitated my having to stay home for a couple of days.  During my convalescence I stumbled upon a marathon of an old Western TV show called "The Rifleman".  To say that Lucas McCain (portrayed by the late Chuck Conners) was sharp with that repeating Winchester was an understatement.  That rifle went off more times per episode than I could count.

From what I gathered, repeating rifles pretty much won the West and were quite useful for hunting and protection.  The rapid-fire repeats were a life-saving necessity...

...but, not when it comes to the sacred liturgy.

In his great opus Tra Le Sollecitundini, Pope St. Pius X warned against the dangers of mishandling liturgical texts when setting them to music.  He strongly exhorted that 
The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen. 
In other words, the musical compositions need to respect the integrity of the liturgical texts and maintain the status quo.

Furthermore, the venerable Pontiff observed that:
It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical prescriptions the Sanctus of the Mass should be over before the elevation, and therefore the priest must here have regard for the singers. The Gloria and the Credo ought, according to the Gregorian tradition, to be relatively short.
These wise words, written 110 years ago, remain the standard used to govern our liturgical music and should be followed.  Yet, there is a phenomena that crept into the Church with a vengeance over the course of the last 40 years, something that seems to be diametrically opposed to the instructions set forth by Pius X:  the Responsorial Gloria.


Both OCP and GIA have assaulted parishes with various lackluster compositions that employ the "repeating Gloria."  Marty Haugen, David Haas, Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd and several other composers have made use of this format of the Gloria with poor results.  Schutte's "Mass of Christ the Savior" version of the Gloria sounds like the theme from "My Little Pony".  Spanish versions of the "Responsorial Gloria" are equally horrid and the bilingual versions, which really are discouraged for use in liturgy, are cause for disdain, with one of the worst being "Missa Santa Cecilia" from OCP, which reduces the Gloria to a sound that can only be described as akin to "Latin Night" on Dancing with the Stars.

The Gloria is a text that is meant to be prayed straight-through, either recited or chanted.  Inserting a response to the Gloria breaks up the natural flow of the prayer.  Just as it would sound strange to insert a refrain to the Gloria when it is recited, it is equally jarring to do the same thing when the prayer is set to music.

Furthermore, when the Congregation for Divine Worship released the revised translation of the Ordinary of the Mass, then-prefect Francis Cardinal Arinze warned national episcopal conferences that the Mass settings needed to be faithful to the text.  He cited Liturgiam Authenticam No. 60, which notes that:
60. A great part of the liturgical texts are composed with the intention of their being sung by the priest celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, the people, or the choir. For this reason, the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place.39
If we look at footnote 39, it references the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which specifically states that:
53. The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other. It is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by everybody together or by two choirs responding one to the other.
Now, there will be some who will say, "But the documents don't prohibit a 'Responsorial Gloria'.  Even the GIRM allows it!"  Hold on partners, not so fast.  "By the people alternately with the choir" does not necessarily mean that the people sing a refrain during the Gloria.  If one has ever participated in the Liturgy of the Hours, one will note that praying "alternately" means that one side prays one part of the Psalm while the other side takes up the next part.  In the case of the Gloria, this citation from the GIRM simply means that the choir can sing one portion of it and the faithful can join in with the other (but, not repeating the same thing). 

In addition, the next statement reminds composers of the importance of setting the Ordinary to fitting music because: 
61. Texts that are intended to be sung are particularly important because they convey to the faithful a sense of the solemnity of the celebration, and manifest unity in faith and charity by means of a union of voices.40
These words are noble prayers and should be treated with the solemnity and dignity they convey.  Using a setting that sounds like something from a Disney cartoon or a pop song does the liturgy a terrible disservice.

Now, insofar as bilingual Mass settings are concerned, these are not necessarily a good idea, especially when a "Responsorial Gloria" is employed.  Pope Benedict addressed this issue in 2007 when he issued his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. He noted that:
62. None of the above observations should cast doubt upon the importance of such large-scale liturgies. I am thinking here particularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency. The most should be made of these occasions. In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, (182) that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers (183) of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. 
Latin is the unifier because it is the language of the Church.  When we split up the Gloria into a mishmash of English and Spanish or whatever combination of language is chosen, we run the risk of breaking up the important significance of the prayer and running the flow.  It also runs the risk of unduly prolonging the prayer because, more often than not, this will include a "Responsorial Gloria", as evidenced in the dreaded "Missa Santa Cecilia". 

Repetition may work for rifles and learning, but, when it comes to the sacred liturgy, it is time that we fully disarm the Liturgical Winchester known as the "Responsorial Gloria."


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Lowest Common Denominator

H/T to Cartman who manages to capture the accuracy of a situation.


In November 22, 1903, Pope St. Pius X issued his famous Motu Proprio on music in the sacred liturgy, Tra Le Sollecitudini.   The Motu Proprio addressed the major problem of secular influences creeping into the sacred liturgy.  At the time of the venerable Supreme Pontiff, opera started infiltrating the music used at the Mass.

Pope St. Pius X wrote that:
Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries. 
The liturgical texts use beautiful, elevated language as a means of worshipping the Lord.  Thus, the musical settings for these sacred texts should certainly provide fitting "clothing" for these words.  While opera certainly has its elements of beauty, its profane nature does not lend itself to the solemn majesty and dignity that the liturgical rites require.
Now we hit the fast-forward button to the 21st century.  Lamentably, the same issues that Pope St. Pius X sought to correct persist 110 years later, only now, the secular pop musical genre has replaced opera as the chief culprit.  Rather than clothe the sacred liturgical texts with fitting music, this particular genre, especially the Praise and Worship style, tends to cheapen the solemn majesty of the liturgy with a casual tone that is more suitable for the Sirius XM pop stations than for the Mass.

In 2003, another canonized Pontiff, Pope St. John Paul II, revisited this issue when he wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music.  The venerable Pope wrote that
3. On various occasions I too have recalled the precious role and great importance of music and song for a more active and intense participation in liturgical celebrations[9]. I have also stressed the need to "purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated"[10], to guarantee dignity and excellence to liturgical compositions.  
In this perspective, in the light of the Magisterium of St Pius X and my other Predecessors and taking into account in particular the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, I would like to re-propose several fundamental principles for this important sector of the life of the Church, with the intention of ensuring that liturgical music corresponds ever more closely to its specific function.  
4. In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point:  indeed, "sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action"[11]. For this very reason, "not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold", my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that "if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious"[13]. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.  
St Pius X's reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able "to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith"[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.
St. John Paul II stressed the importance of maintaining continuity with St. Pius X meaning that the essence of the 1903 Motu Proprio's teaching has not changed.  What was problematic then remains problematic now.  For whatever reasons, banal music crept into the Mass immediately after the Second Vatican Council with such insipid and uninspired compositions as "You are Near", "Glory and Praise" and "Sing to the Mountains".  Recently, compositions such as "Rain Down", "Table of Plenty", "Bread of Life", and other stuff from OCP's "Spirit and Song" collections have also seeped into the Mass, especially within those liturgies "targeted" towards youth.

Oddly enough, the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist echoed the similar observation that both Sts. Pius X and John Paul II made when they issued their Instrumentum Laboris:
In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.
Incidentally, while the Fathers specifically mentioned the problem with "Youth Masses", their observation is not merely limited to this particular matter.  At least in the United States, the music used in Spanish-language liturgies is just as problematic, if not worse.  Sadly, OCP is also the chief culprit.  In most cases, the genre of music used ranges anywhere from Mariachi to Caribbean to Ranchero and everything in between.  Even the texts tend to be problematic, as some of the compositions, such as "Pueblos Nuevos" seem to be inflicted with tinges of Liberation Theology.  This certainly contributes to a "weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer" that the Synod Fathers warned against.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, maintained this hermeneutic of continuity with the teachings on sacred music held by his predecessors when he wrote that:
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). 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. 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 (128). 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 (129). 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 (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131). 
Unfortunately, this particularly important teaching has been lost on composers and publishing houses and those at both the diocesan and parochial level who oversee liturgical music.  It is as though all four groups, with some rare exceptions, tend to resort to the lowest common denominator when it comes to selecting music for the Mass.  Sadly, a lot of what these folks promote and use winds up sounding like Faith +1, the pseudo Praise and Worship band featuring South Park character Cartman and his animated cohorts.  The baselines, drums and keyboards may sound great on the radio, but, it is hardly a joyfully sacred noise.

According to Pope St. Pius X (and repeatedly affirmed by his successors, most notably, Venerable Pope Pius XII, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI):
Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.  
It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.  
It must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

The aforementioned "Rain Down" sounds more like a piece that one would hear at a jazz bar than within the context of the sacred liturgy. "Alabare" sounds more like a Ranchera-type piece that one could listen to at a fiesta, but, not at Mass.

St. John Paul II echoed his venerable predecessor's words when he noted that:
12. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the "general rule" that St Pius X formulated in these words:  "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple"[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy[34]. In this perspective, in my Letter to Artists I wrote: "How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the Liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God"[35]. 
Thus, for St. John Paul II, the issue of sacred music for the Mass was not an "anything goes" style; rather, it needs to be "worthy...of the temple."  It needs to "perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy."

We cannot and should not settle for the lowest common denominator when it comes to the Mass.  When we use substandard music, pieces that fail to respect the dignity of the Mass, we contribute to the erosion of the solemnity of the Sacred Liturgy.

Authentic sacred music, such as Chant (Propers come to mind), enhances the beauty of the liturgy and allows our minds and hearts to be elevated to the sublime Mysteries that unfold before us.  It brings us in tune with the heavenly realities that unfold before us.  It is too precious to be relegated to the lowest common denominator.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Recognizing the beauty in the old and the new



The readings which the Church presents to us for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time give us a rich plethora of interpretations; however, one theme that we can extract from them is the idea of the hermeneutic of continuity, a concept vividly manifested by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI especially in his teachings concerning the liturgy.

In the first reading, young King Solomon asks the Lord to bless him with the gift of wisdom so that he can properly govern his vast kingdom.  In a sense, we see some continuity between Solomon and his father, the great King David.  God considered David a man after his own heart, despite the fact that the king had committed a plethora of sins against the Lord.  David wanted to rule over Israel properly and he had a profound love for the Lord.  Solomon (at least towards the beginning of his reign) also manifested a deep love for God.  It fell to him to build the great Temple and he lavished it with the finest of materials.  I suppose one could say that Solomon initiated the concept of beauty in worship.

Today's Gospel account carries on that theme of continuity, and, in a sense, beauty.  The merchant who finds a pearl of great price sells everything he has to buy it.  He rejoices because it is a thing of beauty.  Beauty has a way of piercing through the heart and the soul.  It moves us and overwhelms us.  It gives us a foretaste of the beauty of God.

It is the final part of today's Gospel that struck me, though. It was as if Jesus were speaking directly about the current state of affairs insofar as liturgy is concerned:

(H)e said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Those of you who read Fr. Timothy Finigan's excellent blog, "The Hermeneutic of Continuity", will recognize the above scriptural quote, as it appears on the masthead of his site.  Benedict XVI often made references to this same quote when applying the concept of the hermeneutic of continuity to the Second Vatican Council.  Even in his pre-papal writings and thought, Benedict consistently held that the Council's teachings were not a rupture with what the Church has always traditionally held and taught, even though there has been, lamentably, a hermeneutic of rupture.

From the beginning of his eight-year reign as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict embodied that "householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."  The Papal Masses took on a more sacred character.  Gregorian Chant was used, even in papal liturgies celebrated around the world (with the glaringly bad example of the Mass celebrated in Washington, DC and a World Youth Day liturgy). Beautiful vestments that had not seen the light of day in generations returned to the altar, and, for the first time in what seemed like ages, Mass at the Sistine Chapel was celebrated Ad Orientem.

Perhaps the biggest manifestation of the bringing out of the old and the new was in 2007 when Benedict released Summorum Pontificum, the Motu Proprio which liberalized the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (using the 1962 Missal).  Benedict envisioned that there could very well be mutual enrichment between the Ordinary Form (the current Mass) and the Extraordinary Form.  To a certain extent, this has happened in quite a few parishes.  In parishes that offer both forms of the Mass to the faithful, one can certainly see the fruits of the Motu Proprio.  The majestic elements of the Extraordinary Form (sacred music, incense, vestments) have permeated into the Ordinary Form, adding to this liturgy a greater sense of the solemn and the sublime.  Having been to two parishes (not in my local area) that have implemented this, I can say that such liturgies elevate the heart and mind to heaven and penetrate the heart with an indescribable joy, a joy that is not passing, but that remains firmly implanted in one's spirit.

Sadly, for those of us who consider the Holy Eucharist to be our most beautiful pearl of great price, we have yet to experience this hermeneutic of continuity at the level of both the Local and Particular Churches.  We have yet to witness the householder bring out of our Church's sacred treasury both the old and the new.  Instead, we are subjected to an ars celebrandi that is at the lowest common denominator, with substandard music that glorifies the horizontal (as opposed to lifting our hearts to the vertical nature of worship) and a casual treatment of the sacred character of the liturgy.  Even our youth do not get to experience any part of the sublime majesty of the Mass.  Instead, they are treated to religious music that sounds more like something out of their average secular pop station.

Solomon prayed for a heart that would be full of wisdom and understanding and God granted him this favor.  He used his wisdom and understanding to both rule wisely over his people and, more importantly, to build the Lord a temple that was fit for divine worship.  He used the gifts that God had given him to construct something beautiful so that Ancient Israel could offer the Lord proper worship.

The Church is the New Israel.  Her concept of worship does not vary, in theory, from that of Ancient Israel.  In fact, she brings Ancient Israel's form of worship to completion within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  If we look at the elements of the Church's form of liturgical worship, we will find that they have their roots in Ancient Israel's cultic forms.  When Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, he gave us the fullest example of bringing out what is old and what is new.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the old form, the offering up of the paschal lamb, was replaced with the oblation of the real Paschal Lamb; yet, the elements of sacrificial worship are retained.

The Holy Eucharist is our pearl of great price because it is no less than Christ Jesus, Himself.  Let us not shun away from what is old and venerable when it comes to worshipping our Lord; rather, let us unite both the old and the new for in them, we have our fulfillment.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Peaceful Oasis



About two weeks ago, one of my dearest friends paid me a visit to celebrate Fourth of July.  We took a road trip to Pharr, Texas, to visit St. Jude's Parish and Shrine.  The experience was extraordinary.

For several weeks, I have been experiencing so much pain and sadness on many levels.  For a while, it almost seemed as though this trip would never come. But, when my friend stepped off the escalator, I felt such joy.

The joy hit its zenith when we got to Pharr and spent time with the Oratorians, the priests who serve St. Jude's.  Their charism is very liturgical.  They bring to reality the beauty of the sacred liturgy, as taught by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Almost immediately, I began to experience a profound peace.

We had Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  One does not need to have a hand missal to follow along.  All one needs is a heart and soul willing to take in the beauty of this form of the Mass and a spirit eager to unite itself in prayer with the celebrant.  I cried, but, it was not because of the profound sadness that I had been experiencing prior to the trip.  The tears were more of a release.  It was a deep sense of interior peace that I had not experienced in years.  After Mass, we spent time with the Oratorians and the seminarians.  They radiated joy.  Even the parish pets were joyful.

On Sunday, we returned to St. Jude's for Mass.  This time, I experienced the Ordinary Form in Latin (readings and homily were preached in the vernacular, in this case English).  The chants were in Latin as well and Mass was celebrated Ad Orientem. Two children were going to receive Holy Communion for the first time.  It was the first time that I had experienced the liturgy as Vatican II really meant for it to be. I had been in a liturgical desert for so long that this particular liturgy was a most welcome oasis.  The chants were familiar as were the prayers.  Even the first communicants and their families were praying.  The Gospel reading was particularly applicable to my situation:  "Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest."  The Lord knew my deep struggles and led this weary black sheep to a place of refreshment.  In the homily, the celebrant talked about how the Lord continues to give us strength for our trials and tribulations through the Holy Eucharist.  At the Offertory, we sang Jesu Dulcis Memoria.  Everything was new and yet familiar.  During the Eucharistic prayer, I cried again, more tears of joy flowed.  I prayed with all my heart, asking the Lord to please stay with me and help me through my trials.

After Mass, I paid a visit to the outdoor shrine.  It was silent and peaceful.  People brought their concerns, struggles and troubles to St. Jude.  I joined them, lighting my candle and asking the holy Apostle for his assistance.

Before dropping my friend off at the airport, I thanked him for coming and for giving me the opportunity to experience such profound peace.  After his plane took off, I drove back to Pharr.  I met up with the Oratorians and thanked the Fathers once more for the profound experience.

Like St. Peter, I did not want to leave Mount Tabor.  I did not want to face the trials and tribulations that awaited me in Laredo.  But, the experience remains engraved in my heart and in my soul.  A few days after the trip, I was dealt a very difficult blow and yet, what I experienced in Pharr is sustaining me.  Yes, I have been frustrated because of this precarious situation, but, something happened to me at St. Jude's that I cannot explain.

The Oratorians, with their love and gracious hospitality, gave me the opportunity to experience the beauty and the majesty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  They proved Pope Benedict's point about the importance of beauty and are celebrandi in the sacred liturgy.  I know that I have to contend with liturgical messes down here; however, I know that I have a welcome respite from the madness just two hours away.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Peter returns to the Cenacle


Seven weeks ago, we entered into the Paschal Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, wherein Christ instituted both the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders in the Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle.

On the eve of His Passion, Jesus directed two of the Apostles (Peter presumably being one of them), to go and prepare the Upper Room for the Passover Supper.  In a sense, one could say that Christ was sending his liturgical ministers ahead of him to ready the Cenacle for the first liturgy of the New Covenant.  Peter and his companion follow the prescriptions of the law in their preparations because the Passover Supper is one of Ancient Israel's most sacred liturgical acts.

As the Apostles take their seats, they anticipate that the Passover ritual will be as it had been ever since the time of Moses; however, Jesus, as the new Moses, establishes a new ritual, a new covenant.  Instead of eating the roasted flesh of a pure, spotless lamb, the true Lamb presides over the fulfillment of the Passover meal.  The ritual that the Lord had commanded Ancient Israel to follow is now fully actualized in the actions of His only Begotten Son.  The ancient form is now supplanted by its true fulfillment.  The Lamb, Himself, is offering His own Body and Blood.

During Pope Francis' recent visit to the Holy Land, one can say that Peter, in the person of the Supreme Pontiff, has returned to the place where it all began.  He has returned to offer the same Sacrifice that Christ offered so long ago.  This occasion was certainly not lost on the Holy Father, who, in his homily, noted that:

The Upper Room reminds us, through the Eucharist, of sacrifice. In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to God our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows… offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.

While he devoted the bulk of his homily to the fact that the Holy Spirit, rushed into the Upper Room on that first Pentecost Sunday, I believe that the offering of that First Eucharist really drives at the heart of the Church.  Jesus shared one final Eucharist with the 11 before His Ascension.  St. Luke makes that observation in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles when he writes that:

And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth.

Other than the account of the Last Supper, the only other time that St. Luke records Jesus "eating" with his Apostles is when he begins the supper at Emmaus.  Once he breaks the bread, he disappears from the sight of Cleopas and the other disciple.  With this final "meal", this final Eucharist, Jesus wanted to remind the surviving 11 that this was how he would remain with them until his return.

After the Ascension, when the 11 return to the Upper Room, it would seem to me that St. Peter, himself, would preside over the Eucharist and lead the 11 and the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer throughout the course of nine days as they awaited for the Paraclete to come.  Nourished by Our Lord, they would be ready to receive the Holy Spirit and boldly go forth and evangelize, as Christ had commanded them to do so.

For me, Pope Francis' celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the very place where it all began was the most significant moment of his trip to the Holy Land.  Peter had returned to the Church's roots.  As Pope Francis said in the beginning of his homily, the Church "preserves the memory of what happened here."  However, she does more than preserve that memory.  At every Mass, she returns to that precise moment.  She returns to the heart of the Paschal Mystery.

According to long-standing tradition, King David is buried beneath the Upper Room.  There is deep significance to this.  In his psalms, David predicted the sufferings of the Messiah, the very sufferings that Jesus anticipated in his Eucharistic Sacrifice on Holy Thursday.  Little did David know that the descendent that the Lord had promised him, sprung from his own loins, would offer himself as a holocaust for our salvation over the very spot were the beloved Old Testament king was buried. Little did David know that directly over his grave would stand His own Lord, who would rule over his kingdom forever.

At every Mass, we return to the Upper Room.  We become just as present at the Eucharistic Sacrifice as the Apostles were.  Pope Francis tells us that "All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit."

For Peter, in the person of Pope Francis, it was the moment of returning, rediscovering and rejoicing. May it be the same for all of us at every Mass.

The Elevation of Woman



On May 31st,  the Church celebrated the Memorial of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth.  

This feast is rich in meaning.  It reminds us that Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, as her journey from Nazareth calls to mind the journey of the Ark from the northern part of Israel to the land of Judah.  Tiny St. John the Baptist leaps for joy, much as David did, when the true Presence of God stood before him.  

St. John Paul II would use this feast to release an annual letter to women.  I think that Benedict XVI maintained the practice; however, I do not know if Pope Francis has continued it.  Nonetheless, it has been Francis' actions that have borne solid witness to the authentic role of women in the Church.

Much has been written about the ongoing, almost soap opera-like saga of the members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR).  Their words and actions seem to me to be in imitation of the first Eve, seeking to snatch power and engaging in a prideful claim that they know more than the Magisterium.  Gerhard Cardinal Muller rightly corrected them, even apologizing for his use of strong language.  When the members of the LCWR were seeking support from Pope Francis, they found none.  He had confirmed the warnings and admonishments that Muller had given them.

While I do admit to struggling with Pope Francis' definition of humility, I do think that he is on to something, especially where it concerns the LCWR and women, in general.  Christ founded the Church, His Bride.  Just as a bride submits to her husband, so, too, does the Church, the Bride, submit to her Divine Spouse, Christ.  This submission is not something evil or masochist; it is a submission done in love.  Christ submitted Himself to us and we nailed Him to the cross by our sinful actions.  Nonetheless, He bathed the Church with His own blood and cleansed her wounds. Our actions, as evil as they are, do not diminish His love for us; however, they run the risk of diminishing our love for Him.

The LCWR is no different than the women who advocate priestly ordination for themselves.  They fail to recognize the unique and holy position that Christ and the Church have for them.  They cannot get past the pride of the first Eve and they wind up rejecting the holiness and humility of the New Eve.  When the Blessed Virgin Mary prays the Magnificat, she is not praising herself.  From the very beginning, Mary acknowledged her role as the "handmaid of the Lord" and renders her Fiat to God.  She who holds the highest honor that God could ever bestow upon a woman, being both His Mother and His first disciple, receives her divine Motherhood with the greatest of humility, awe and reverence.

Jesus also bestowed an honor to another woman, St. Mary Magdalene, by permitting her to be the Apostle to the Apostles.  He entrusts her to impart the glorious news of His resurrection to St. Peter and the surviving 11 Apostles.  As the messenger, she does not overshadow the message, but, passes it on in humble obedience to the Lord.  The holy and faithful women who have shed their blood for Christ and His Church did not make the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom to bring about glory for themselves, nor did they seek after something that was not theirs.  St. Agnes told her suitor that she was betrothed to Christ.  She and her sister martyrs chose to unite themselves to Christ, preferring Him to any other earthly power or enticement.

The Feast of the Visitation reminds us where our priorities should be, whether we are male or female.  It means that Christ comes first in our lives.  It means that we are all called to be Christ-bearers to the world.  It means that, like the tiny St. John the Baptist, we are to be joyful messengers.  We do not snatch and claw at divinity and demand things of Christ and of the Church that are not ours; rather, like the Virgin Mary and like St. Elizabeth, we receive with humble joy the greatest gift that God has for us, Himself.

It is sad that many of the LCWR members have chosen to move "beyond the Church and beyond Jesus".  It is just as disheartening that those women who demand ordination cannot see the dignity and beauty of their station as daughters of the Church.  May they, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, St. Elizabeth, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Agnes and all holy women, learn to accept the beauty that exists as a woman in the Church.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Restoring Thursday



Thursday bears a special significance for the Church.  It was on a Thursday that Christ instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood.  Traditionally, it was on a Thursday when Christ  ascended to the heavens, mounting his throne amidst shouts of joy from the angels.  

Up until the year 2000, Texas had celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension on its traditional day, Thursday, exactly 40 days after Easter.  Unfortunately, the bishops reached the decision to translate this very important day from its biblically traditional date to the closest Sunday.  The usual suspect for this particular line of thinking was that it was for "pastoral" reasons.  Sadly, sometimes even pastoral decisions are not always the best ones.

When we begin to tinker with sacred liturgical time, we lose sight of the deeper meaning behind why, for nearly two millennia, the Church celebrated this feast when she did (although certain places, praise God, still maintain the tradition).   The number 40 holds a special designation for Ancient Israel and the New Israel, which is the Church.  Noah and the occupants of the ark endured the Great Flood for 40 days.  Ancient Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.  The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the Temple 40 days after His birth.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying, vanquishing Satan and his temptations towards the end.  As St. Luke tells us in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, for 40 days after his triumphant Resurrection, Christ instructed the surviving 11 Apostles, spending no little time with them to prepare them for the great work that lay ahead.

On the 40th day, Thursday, St. Luke tells us that Christ has been "at table" with the Apostles.    In St. Luke's Gospel, this "table" connection appears another time:  Emmaus.  Jesus is at "table" with Cleopas and the other disciple when He breaks the bread, revealing who He is.  Jesus has one more liturgy with His Apostles, telling them that they must now look to Him in the Eucharist.  And, when did He first reveal Himself in the Eucharist?  It happened on Holy Thursday.  Again, we see the connection between Holy Thursday and Ascension Thursday.

Jesus reminds them to "do this in memory of Me", to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  He returns them to the place where it first took place.  Then, he leads them to Mount Olivet, the site of His agony in the Garden.  That sorrowful night was the last time that 10 of them probably saw Him before the soldiers took him away.  Now, this would be the last time that the 11 would physically see Christ on this Earth.  Jesus enjoins them to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them.  The same men who left Mount Olivet in fear the night Jesus was betrayed would burst forth from the Upper Room with courage and zeal, bearing witness to Christ "not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed, to the ends of the Earth."

Then, Christ blesses them for the last time and then, on His own power, He is lifted up while the Apostles look up and a cloud removes Him from sight.  Two angels appear to the 11 and tell them that Jesus will come back in the same way just as they had seen him ascend.  The Apostles then return to the Upper Room, joined by the Blessed Mother, and begin the first novena, engaging themselves in nine days of prayer.  On the fiftieth day, the Holy Spirit descends upon them, bursting into the Upper Room and literally inflaming the hearts of the Apostles, while Mary, who was already full of the Holy Spirit, witnesses the launch of the Church.

Biblically, numerically and liturgically, Thursday needs to be preserved.  The Church traces many of her practices to Ascension Thursday.  We get our reckoning of the Proper of Time from Easter Sunday and count 40 days to Ascension Thursday.  From Ascension Thursday, we trace our practice of the novena, nine days of Prayer, reminding ourselves that the Apostles spent these days in intense prayer with the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On the fiftieth days of Easter, we mark the descent of the Holy Spirit.  We get the name Pentecost (whose root comes from 50) because, 50 days after the celebration of the Passover, Ancient Israel celebrated the feast of Pentecost.  That is why so many of Ancient Israel's children were in Jerusalem.

For nearly 2,000 years, the Church kept this sacred time intact.  However, something happened that has caused us to lose track of this very important and sacred time.  Up until the year 2000, it did not seem to me that it was too much of a hardship or an imposition for people to go to one extra Mass during the week.  If parents can make time to take their children to extracurricular activities such as karate, baseball practice, band practice, cheerleading events or other things, or if adults can make time to slavishly attend their gym regimen (zumba, spinning, weights, etc), why not invest the same time for God?  Why not celebrate the fact that Christ raised the dignity of our humanity by taking His body back to heaven?

Maybe the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (and, by extension, the bishops of Texas), thought that an additional day out of the week for Mass was too much of a burden so they came up with some sort of "pastoral" reason to move this important feast to Sunday.  I would submit to them that  this is a short-sighted practice because it actually reduces the significance of what that day means.  When we break the connection that Ascension Thursday has with Holy Thursday and with the commemoration of the first Novena, then we lose sight of the beauty of the biblical and ecclesiastical significance that this solemnity has.  Furthermore, if we are not impacted by the fact that Christ did not despise His humanity but took it with Him back to the Father, then, moving the Ascension to Sunday really does not do much.

I do take comfort in the fact that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, which liberalized the use of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  At least in the 1962 Roman Missal, the integrity of Ascension Thursday is preserved.  Lamentably, the closest celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form is three hours away in the Rio Grande Valley.  As much as I wanted to go to the Oratory in Pharr, I could not due to work.  However, I do intend to take time off next year and go.

I do pray that the bishops of Texas will come to the realization that restoring Ascension Thursday to its proper celebration takes us back to our scriptural and liturgical roots.  The law of prayer is the law of belief; however, if we arbitrarily move feasts for the sake of convenience, then we have lost the connection to what is sacred and we risk having future generations that do not understand the significance of why the Church does what she does.