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Friday, June 26, 2015

Orienting Ourselves to the Lord

At one of the training seminars I attended, the presenter told us that the average person needs to listen to something at least 27 times before getting the message.  I think that the same can be applied to liturgical matters.

A priest friend of mine told me that he was at a clergy gathering where the issue of Ad Orientem came up.   There were various opinions about this.  For any local clergy who read this blog, here is some pertinent  that may help clarify this issue.

In the year 2000, a European bishop had the same concerns and presented the issue before the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The bishop, in question, asked if the position of the priest facing the apse was to be excluded.  Jorge Cardinal Media, then-Prefect for the CDW, responded in the negative. 

It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [toward God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.
It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [toward the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be "oriented" so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.

It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.

..What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words that express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.

This particular document, Prot. No 2036/00/L, was published at the Vatican on September 25, 2000.  To date, Rome has held firm to this ruling.  Ad Orientem is not only allowed, it is encouraged.  

Four years after Rome issued its ruling, a young priest, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, wrote a book, Turning Towards the Lord, on the same subject.  The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the foreword to the book.  Fr. Lang writes that:

The rubrics of the renewed Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI presuppose a common direction of priest and people for the core of the Eucharistic liturgy. This is indicated by the instruction that, at the Orate, fratres, the Pax Domini, the Ecce, Agnus Dei, and the Ritus conclusionis, the priest should turn towards the people.7 This would seem to imply that beforehand priest and people were facing the same direction, that is, towards the altar. At the priest's communion the rubrics say "ad altare versus",8 which would be redundant if the celebrant stood behind the altar facing the people anyway. This reading is confirmed by the directives of the General Instruction, even if they are occasionally at variance with the Ordo Missae.9 The third Editio typica of the renewed Missale Romanum, approved by Pope John Paul II on 10 April 2000 and published in spring 2002, retains these rubrics.10  This interpretation of the official documents has been endorsed by the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship.

Thus, even the rubrics in the Roman Missal assume that the celebrant and the faithful hold a common posture, facing the altar.

To further his point, Fr. Lang also cites the future Pope Benedict XVI when he notes that:

Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, especially reading and singing, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary. He writes:

Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet Him.19
This viewpoint is also held by the current prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Robert Cardinal Sarah, who observes that:

It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ.  This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.

 In fact, as I noted in an earlier blog post, Cardinal Sarah has even proposed inserting this clarification into the Roman Missal so that it can be clear to everyone that Ad Orientem is not something that should be dismissed.

I hope that this blog post can help clarify what Ad Orientem really means and how, according to the Roman Missal and the interpretation of the Congregation for Divine Worship, it is certainly a legitimate posture for the celebrant to employ. 


Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Taste of the Heavenly Liturgy

Yesterday, the Universal  Church commemorated the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord.  When the Church celebrates a saint or a blessed, she usually reckons the feast by the date of the holy person's death.  Their death is their birth into new life.

However, other than the Nativity of Our Lord, the Church celebrates the births of the Blessed Virgin Mary (inclusive of her Immaculate Conception) and St. John the Baptist.  The Blessed Mother's conception and birth are important because these events set the wheels in motion for the coming of Christ.  The nativity of St. John the Baptist is unique, not only because of the supernatural circumstances surrounding it, but because he serves as the bridge between the Old and the New Testaments.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist "surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last" because the saint "goes before (the Lord) in the spirit and power of Elijah."  The Catechism goes on to note that he is "the Lord's immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way."  Even from the womb, St. John the Baptist "inaugurates the Gospel", as he leaps for joy at Mary's greeting because the Lord was close at hand.

As a major solemnity, the liturgy for the day certainly deserves the best that the Church can give, especially when it comes to music.

Yesterday, my employer gave me the day off because of an out-of-town conference.  I decided to visit the local monastery of the Congregation of St. John, commonly known down here as the "Brothers".  One of them, a friend of mine, had just come back from the Sacra Liturgia Conference in New York.  He and his brethren are trying to re-infuse the sacred back into their liturgies.  It certainly showed at yesterday's Mass.

The altar arrangement was very Benedictine in nature.  By "Benedictine", I mean Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:  three candles on either side of the altar with a beautiful gold crucifix at the center.  The monastery chapel is very simple in nature, but, the layout has a Middle Eastern, almost other-worldly feel.   Prior to the Mass, the brothers, led by their deacon, chanted midday prayer.  We were invited to join them in prayer. We chanted the Veni Creator Spiritus and the corresponding psalms for the solemnity.

Had we stopped at midday prayer, I would have been spiritually satisfied because of the beauty of the chants that filled the sacred space.  But, there was more to come.  My friend caught sight of me and asked me if I wanted a chant book.  I said, "Of course," and he lent me a copy of the Gregorian Missal and told me which parts of the Mass we would be using.  We were to chant the Kyrie, using the Orbis Factor, and the Latin Mass IX setting.  Even though I didn't know the setting, thanks to the Corpus Christi Watershed's tutorials, I was able to stumble my way through the Gregorian notes. I then spied my friend's copy of the Simple English Propers!!!  This was BIG!  Having downloaded the PDF onto my iPhone, I swiped my way to the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist and was ready.  Even though it has been awhile since I used Adam Bartlett's settings, the tone was familiar.

As the Entrance chant began, I joined my friend and the Sisters of St. John.  Even though I was a little off, it was incredibly powerful and refreshing to sing the Mass. While my voice was not at its best form, I could not help but joyfully chant out the Introit and the rest of the Mass.

Although incense wasn't used, it's lack certainly did not take away from the majesty and the beauty of the liturgy.  The prayerful reverence of the celebrant, who wore beautiful vestments, the homily which came from heartfelt simplicity and the overflowing of the magnificence of the chants made this a truly profound liturgy for me.  It "cut to the heart" of what authentic worship is.  It is not someone at the microphone waving arms and leading us into some banal rendition of OCP's latest "relevant" song.  It's not loudspeakers blaring the sounds of a praise band.  It is the noble simplicity of praying the Church's actual texts in music that best expresses its form.  It is about offering God worship in spirit and in Truth.  It is an experience of the heart and the soul that transcends time and space.

St. John the Baptist came from the priestly class.  His father,  Zechariah, was a priest.  He was exercising his priestly office when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him to give him the glad tidings of the coming of St. John the Baptist.  I'd like to think that the young John learned the importance of authentic worship from his father.  It was fitting, then, that a priest should be the one to make way for the Messiah.

And so it goes with the Mass.  The Holy Sacrifice is our encounter with the Divine.  This encounter should be out of the ordinary.  A properly celebrated, reverent liturgy with sacred music, majesty and beauty makes way for that encounter with God.  The solemnity of the music becomes like St. John the Baptist, pointing us to and leading us towards Christ.   

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Real Earthquake

For all of the talk about Laudatio Si, Pope Francis' new 80,000-word encyclical on the environment, the bigger earthshaker, as far as I am concerned, came from just across the Piazza San Pietro, at the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The relative new Prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah, sent major tremors of his own in a piece he wrote for L'Osservatorio Romano.

In his frank article, published in  the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Sarah makes some rather epic statements about the state of the Church's liturgy. He was direct in his emphatic words concerning the Church's form of sacred worship.
The liturgy is essentially the action of Christ. If this vital principle is not received in faith, it is likely to make the liturgy a human work, a self-celebration of the community. To speak of a ‘celebrating community’ is not without ambiguity and requires real caution. The participatio actuosa [active participation] should not therefore be understood as the need to do something. On this point the teaching of the Council has often been distorted. It is instead to let Christ take us and associate us with his sacrifice.
Now, he is not saying anything new.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made the same prophetic statements as the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  He even wrote three books and numerous araticles on the subject.  As pope, Benedict certainly tried to lead by example.  The noble beauty of the vesture he used, the enhancement of chant in the liturgy and his orientation towards the Other helped to enhance and increase the aura of sanctity in the liturgy. 

Cardinal Sarah even touched upon the issue of the orientation of both the celebrant and the faithful during the Mass.  He soundly dismisses the mistaken notion that the celebrant and the faithful need to face each other at all times.

It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ.  This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.

Here, Cardinal Sarah advocates for the usage of ad orientem.  For me, this is of particular importance because there remains so much misunderstanding about this particular posture, even from those who should know better.  Is the celebrant giving me his back when he uses this posture during Mass?  Why isn't he looking at us?  This line of questioning is almost akin to liturgical navel-gazing.  The celebrant and the faithful are not the most important actors in the Mass.  The Lord is.  When we spend more time looking at each other instead of turning towards the Lord, we have missed the point of the Mass. 

Ad Orientem is slowly coming into being, thanks to pioneers like Benedict XVI, Bishop James Conley and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, who have promoted this posture through both word and deed.  Even Pope Francis has made use of thsi posture on a few occasions.  The celebrant faces the faithful when addressing them, but, he joins them in turning towards the Lord when making supplication to God on their behalf.

Another point that Cardinal Sarah touches on is the use of Latin.  While he is saying nothing new, his spirited defense of the language is certainly cause for relief for those of us who have been out swirling in a never-ending sea of OCP-concocted bilingual liturgies.  Rather than unite language groups, these liturgies cause a further divide as they do not encourage prayer in the common language of the Church, the tongue she has used for centuries.

According to the online journal Catholic Culture,
"Cardinal Sarah recalled the Council’s teaching that the faithful should 'be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them,' and said that the liturgy 'must stop being a place of disobedience to the requirements of the Church.'"  

Sadly, as I have written on many occasions, this seems to be lost on OCP which prides itself on releasing the latest bilingual settings that promise to unite bilingual congregations in song when, in reality, they only promulgate the great divide.

But, Cardinal Sarah brings new hope.  He brings a promise of carrying out the liturgical reforms initiated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Cardinal Sarah asked Pope Francis what was expected of him in his new role as prefect.  According to the African cardinal, it is the wish of Pope Francis that he continue Benedict's liturgical work.  And that was the real bombshell as well as cause for great hope! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rubrics and Relevance

At this morning's Mass, our celebrant preached an impassioned homily regarding the beauty of the sacred liturgy.  He stressed how important it is that we follow the rubrics as handed down to us by the Church.  In fact, he read to us an account by St. Justin Martyr on the liturgical practices, circa 150 AD.

This is not the first time that the celebrant has preached on the importance of rubrics.  Yet, this time, there was a sense of urgency to his words.  He touched on the themes of obedience and propriety of music.  I found his words both comforting and encouraging, as he tries to live up to what he professes.  Since Advent, he has been celebrating Mass Ad Orientem and he has encouraged us to be more reverential before, during and after Mass to the point of admonishing us not to applaud the choir and to be mindful of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

He reminded us that, after the Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with the surviving 11 Apostles, teaching them and stressing to them that He would remain with them through the Eucharist.  What He did at the Last Supper and at Emmaus, Jesus now wanted the Apostles to learn to do.  Through their words and actions, Jesus would continue His real Presence; however, they had to understand the Eucharist and what they were supposed to do.

Fast forward to 2015.  Although the format of the liturgy has evolved (somewhat), the Mass still resembles what St. Justin Martyr wrote about nearly 1950 years ago.  However, lamentably, it seems that our collective understanding has changed, and not for the better.  For whatever reasons, we seem to have taken it upon ourselves to make "improvements" to the Mass, on what we perceive to be our own authority.  We want to make the Mass more relevant to our youth by using insipid, commercially-produced music that we believe to be more "meaningful" to our young people.  As Benedict XVI rightly pointed out, we have attempted to cobble up for ourselves our own version of the Mass.  It is almost as though we were committing the sin of Adam and Eve.  We "know" better than the Church as to how our Lord is to be worshipped.  We, rather than the Church, have become the masters of the liturgy, treating it as our own personal property.

We choose substandard, catchy music that is theologically poor because we believe that it will appeal to the youth, never minding that young people hunger for something real, something transcendent.  We believe that our own efforts will help make the Mass more relevant, forgetting that the Lord, Himself, is the author and master of the liturgy.  It seems as though, liturgically, we have fallen prey to the "dictatorship of relativism" that the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger warned us about in the homily he preached at the Conclave Mass 10 years ago.

The celebrant's homily seemed to have touched a nerve on some, especially when he spoke of the music.  He stressed how important it was to expose the youth to what the sacred liturgy should be.  They need to spend quiet moments with Our Lord in contemplation during Holy Hour.  They need to be exposed to music that enhances the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice, not detract from it.

Interestingly enough, late this afternoon, when I was checking my Facebook feed, I found that someone had posted a picture of the homilist at her Mass taking a "selfie" with the CCD kids.  She tagged a Facebook friend of mine and thus, all of the mutual friends were able to see it.  A newly ordained priest opined that he had hoped that this wasn't taken during Mass.  Sadly, the person who originally posted it confirmed it.  I explained to the person, not a Facebook friend, that while the intentions were good, it was not the most appropriate thing to do.   Her response was that she and her CCD teachers make it a point to reach out to the youth and try to make the Mass more relevant to the kids.  In my response, I wrote to her that if we are looking to make the Mass more relevant to the kids, then we have lost the real meaning of the sacred liturgy.  It seems to me that we no longer believe that what the Church gives us is good enough and that we have to invent something for ourselves.

To this, the morning homilist said that we are not being obsessed with liturgical law.  Liturgical law helps ground us on the sacred.  It is akin to the liturgical law that no less than God the Father gave to Ancient Israel, wherein He dictated to His people just how He was to worshipped.  Whenever Ancient Israel deviated from what God had ordained, they were punished. In fact, some met with fatal results.   This is not to say that we advocate engaging in such measures for the New Israel, although Francis Cardinal Arinze was quick to make the comparison some 11 years ago in an address he delivered.  Nonetheless, just as Ancient Israel was obligated to obey the Lord in all things, especially where worship was concerned, so to are we, the New Israel, obligated to obey the Lord.

Maybe what the good CCD coordinator could do is to study the liturgy more thoroughly and allow herself and her team to be enriched and imbued with the supernatural graces that are enhanced when the Holy Sacrifice is celebrated properly and reverently with the tools given to us by the Church, including sacred music.  Maybe if all of us study the Mass and allow ourselves to be enveloped in its beauty, we can begin to understand what it means to offer fitting worship.

The Mass doesn't need to become relevant; rather, we need to change ourselves.  The rubrics can help us reach that end.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Right and Just

In St. Mark's Gospel account of the Passion, he presents the story of a woman who anointed Jesus' head with expensive oil.  The disciples criticize her because the oil cost roughly 300 days wages.  Jesus rebukes them, praising the woman's great act of love.

The woman is not stingy with Jesus.  She generously pours out the oil over his head.  She gives of herself to him.  She gives her heart. What she does is right and just.

In the Roman Missal, the faithful acclaim that "it is right and just", as they respond to the celebrant's invitation, "Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God."  But, what does "right and just" mean, especially now that we have begun Holy Week?

I believe that it means that we allow ourselves to delve deeper into the sacred Mysteries that these beautiful rites present to us.  I believe that if we can take the time to study what these mean and engrave them in our hearts, we can work towards an authentic and deep offering of what is "right and just" to the Lord.

Two friends of mine, on different occasions, each sent me a private message regarding my concerns about the matter of sacred music and why we should concentrate on offering the Lord what is certainly most appropriate and best.  One of my friends likes and exclusively uses OCP's Spirit and Song collection.  Both of them asked me if it was sinful.  In my responses to each, I explained to them that we should not reduce music to the lowest common denominator.  We miss the point of liturgy.  We miss the point of offering what is "right and just."

We have only to look at the example of Cain and Abel.  Both bothers offered sacrifice to the Lord; Cain offered him the produce of the land, while Abel gave him the finest, fatted lamb.  The Lord favored Abel's sacrifice because, like the woman who anointed Jesus, Abel spared nothing for the Lord.  In fact, in the Roman Canon, Abel's sacrifice is mentioned.  Sadly, in his envy, Cain murdered his brother. He lost focus amd offered the bare minimum to God.  When he saw that the Lord favored Abel's sacrifice, Cain became enraged.  We know the rest of the story.

This is not to say that my friends were sinful.  They, like many of us involved in some sort of liturgical ministry, want to offer the best to the Lord.  But, how can we get to what is "right and just"?  
The best way could be to use the richness and beauty of the Roman Missal as a guide.  The Roman Missal presents with the foundation and framework for the Church's liturgies, especially during Holy Week.  The rich texts of the Collect, the Offertory, the Prefaces and the Prayer after Communion, help us to elevate our souls, hearts and minds to the sacred mysteries that unfold before us.  The Roman Missal even guides us to the correct music with its Antiphons.  During Palm Sunday and the Paschal Triduum, the Roman Missal even provides us with the chants.  

Chants are the liturgical equivalent of the expensive, aromatic spikenard that the woman used to anoint Jesus. Chant is costly, in that it takes time and effort to learn.  It is not impossible to learn, thanks to YouTube and other resources.  Chanting the actual prayers of the Mass gives unity to the liturgy.  It helps it flow the way it was meant to be.  One doesn't need to do this in a grand, baroque cathedral.  Even the most modern can do.  Suitable, sacred hymnody, such as "All Glory, Laud and Honor", "O Sacred Head Surrounded" and "What Wondrous Love Is This" help to bring the tenor of the Holy Week liturgies.  The Reproaches, which lamentably, nearly all of the parishes in my little corner of South Texas ignore, make a stirring parallel to what the Lord did for His people during the Exodus and what we have done to Him on Good Friday.  
The prayers of the Roman Missal help stir up within our souls a deep love for God.  When we love someone, we want to offer the very best we have for that person, not counting the cost.  Should we not do the same for God? Should we not break open the fragrant spikenard and give generously and lovingly to the One who did not even spare His own Son for us?

Some may say that engaging in learning the liturgy is time that could be well spent doing something else.  Why do we need to learn, folks may ask, if it's just about the music. Others, like my two friends, would rather depend on what the publishing house suggests.  Sadly, this kind of attitude would be reminiscent of the disciples who jeered at the woman.  

Let us not be afraid to break open the spikenard so that, like the woman, whose generous act of love continues to be told even today, we may offer to the Lord what is "right and just."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cleansing the Temple

Today's Gospel presents us with the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  While not a few homilists have taken on the social justice mantle (Jesus was railing against profiting at the Temple), the celebrant at this morning's Mass took an entirely different approach.  He focused on the sacred nature of worship space and how the activity that Jesus forcefully stopped went against the First Commandment.

The celebrant reminded us that the space where the vendors and money exchangers set up shop was sacred, as it was the Court of the Gentiles.  This space was set aside so that the Gentiles could come and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Recall that Scripture calls it "a house of prayer for all people."  Just because the area was not quite crowded with Gentiles, that did not mean that it was any less sacred than the rest of the Temple.

The sacred mattered to Jesus.  After all, as God, He was greatly concerned about what was going on in His house.  The celebrant held that the same issue that concerned Jesus then concerns Him now.  The Tabernacle, which holds the Blessed Sacrament, is greater than the Holy of Holies.  How many times do we ignore Jesus in the Tabernacle when we enter the main body of the Church?  How many times do we engage in meaningless conversations when He is right there, wanting us to engage with Him?

The medication that the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for the Ninth Station of the Cross seems to me to be an accurate diagnosis for the state of our liturgies today:

What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25). 
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

The homilist talked about the fact that the acred character of our liturgies needs to be respected.  He cited weddings as one of those liturgies that tends to witness the most violations of the sacred.  However, as excellent as all of his points were, he failed to make note of the fact that when we use substandard music, we FAIL to respect the sacred nature of the Mass. Weak music leads to weak liturgies and these lead to weak Faith.

When the music takes on a horizontal nature, we run the risk of "celebrating our wonderful selves" as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus put it.   One of the songs that the choir members wanted to use for this morning's Mass was "In These Days of Lenten Journey", written by Rev. Ricky Manalo, CSP, and published by OCP.  

In these days of Lenten journey, we have seen and we have heard the call to sow justice in the lives of those we serve. 
1. We reach out to those who are homeless to those who live without warmth. In the coolness of the evening we'll shelter their dreams, we will clothe them with mercy and peace. 
2. We open our eyes to the hungry and see the faces of Christ.  As we nourish all people who huger for food, may their faith in our God be renewed. 
3. We open our eyes to the weary and hear the cry of the poor, to the voices that echo the song of despair, we will show our compassion and love. 
4. We call on the Spirit of Justice and pray for righteousness sake.  We will sing for the freedom of all the oppressed; we will loosen the bonds of distress.

The sentiments seem okay, but, the song glorifies what we are doing and speaks very little about our own need for God's mercy.  It's about the "we" rather than the "He."

Compare that with the Attende Domine:

Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy, because we have sinned against Thee.

To Thee, highest King,
Redeemer of all,
do we lift up our eyes
in weeping:
Hear, O Christ, the prayers
of your servants.

Right hand of the Father,
way of salvation,
gate of heaven,
wash away our
stains of sin.

We beseech Thee, God,
in Thy great majesty:
Hear our groans
with Thy holy ears:
calmly forgive
our crimes.

To Thee we confess
our sins admitted
with a contrite heart
We reveal the things hidden:
By Thy kindness, O Redeemer,
overlook them.

The Innocent, seized,
not refusing to be led;
condemned by false witnesses
because of impious men
O Christ, keep safe those
whom Thou hast redeemed.

This hymn, the Par Excellence chant for Lent, drives home the point of the season, repentance.  It is also not very hard to learn, contrary to what some of the choir members claimed.  

People criticized Jesus because He actively took measures to cleanse His Father's house and restore the sacred nature of the Temple.  Not a few of us have been criticized, even by priests, for caring about the restoration of the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The sad thing is that there are those who care more about following what OCP says than what the Church says.  There are those who are more interested in having music with a "meaningful message" than in providing for the sacred.  

Aside from continuing the good fight, all we can say, as the former Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, is "save and sanctify your Church.  Save and sanctify us all."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Making it meaningful

Lent is my favorite time of the year.  The haunting beauty of the chants, the smell of incense and the solemnity of the season bring a deep sense of joy into this penitential season.

A few weeks ago, I met with a couple of friends to talk about liturgy.  The conversation eventually turned to music.  One friend of mine said that the music needed to be meaningful.  He talked about a couple who sings their own compositions at Mass and he thought that these made the liturgy more meaningful because they had a "message."

It took a lot for me not to choke on my Dr. Pepper as my friend was saying this.  The comments left me perplexed and rather saddened.  The Mass already has a "message", it is the re-presentation of Our Lord's Sacrifice on Calvary.  Even the Propers work to convey that fact, while stressing different aspects according to the readings and liturgical seasons. 

My friend's sentiments seem to echo, almost verbatim, those expressed by OCP whenever we enter a new liturgical season.  "Make your parish's liturgies more meaningful", the emails from the publishing house stress.  And yet, the music that OCP offers fails to respect the penitential nature of the season, focusing mostly on the horizontal aspects, rather than on the vertical, spiritual dimension. "Beyond the Days" by Fr. Ricky Manolo, CSP, is one such example.   The song really doesn't really address the Lord at all.  It talks about what "we" are doing, as opposed to what "He" is doing.

Contrast that with "Attende Domine" or "Parce Domine", which helps us to call to mind the heart of the Lenten season, our recognition of our sins and our desire for mercy.  Both of these sacred chants encourage us to beseech God, asking him for mercy. 

Then, there are the Propers for the Lenten season.  Here is the Introit for Ash Wednesday, for example:

Your mercy extends to all things, O Lord, and you despise none of the things you have made.  You overlook the sins of men for the sake of repentance.  You grant them your pardon, because you are the Lord our God. 

Contrast that with one of OCP's suggested songs, "Ashes": 

We rise again from the ashes, from the good we've failed to do.  We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew.  If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

This is vague. It really doesn't really carry much of a message. The song could be about anything, really.  The piece pales in comparison to the actual texts that the Church gives us for the sacred liturgy.  But, this is a chronic problem that afflicts OCP.  

I told my friend that there is a way to make the Mass "meaningful".  "How", he asked.  I told him that we could start by actually looking at what the Church asks us to sing, as opposed to what the publishing houses dictate that we should sing.  "But, what about that couple whose music has a message", he persisted.  I explained to him that if we examine the Propers, then we will find the "message" of the liturgy.  Benedict once said that the liturgy is not something that "we cobble up for ourselves."  It is something that we receive from the Church.

By the end of our conversation, my friend wasn't quite convinced; however, he was somewhat intrigued by the notion that the Church has already given us a set of texts to use for every Mass.  He seemed open to at least looking at the Propers.  I hope that if he does peruse the Propers, he will find that they do "make" the Mass "more meaningful."