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Sunday, April 13, 2014

And so it begins...



Today, with the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, the Church enters into her most sacred time of the year, Holy Week.




The Palm Sunday liturgy begins with the joyful, triumphant praises of Hosanna to the Son of David, the opening antiphon and progresses to the epitome of entrance processionals, All Glory, Laud and Honor.  We recall Jesus' triumphal entry into His own city, Jerusalem, and how the crowds chanted praises while waving palm and olive branches.

But, as the liturgy continues, we experience a shift from the joyful to the sorrowful.  We listen to a section of Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant (which we will hear throughout the week).  Then, we chant Psalm 22, My God, My God, why have you abandoned me, the psalm that Jesus quotes as he is hanging on the cross.  The psalm predicts what Jesus will undergo, the piercing of his hands and his feet and the casting of lots for his vesture. Then, we listen to St. Paul's Canticle, taking from his epistle to the Philippians, exhorting us to bend the knee at the name of Jesus and reminding us of Christ's obedience even to the point of suffering through death on a cross.

In the Gospel account, we live through the sacred moments of Jesus' Passion and Death. Twice a year, the Gospel proclamation is shared between the priest, the deacon and the people (with the priest taking on the part of Christ).  In Rome, it is traditionally chanted by three deacons, with the choir taken on the part of the crowd.

A dear priest friend of mine told me that he prefers to divide the Passion into parts (as listed in the above paragraph), where he reads the part of Christ and the faithful take on the role of the crowd.  He explained that, ultimately, we are that crowd.  That crowd speaks for us.  We need to remind ourselves that it was, as Isaiah proclaims in the first reading used on Good Friday, "He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole."  It is important that this reality confront us, head-on and impact us.  A lot of the time, we tend to water down our faith and not really focus on our need for conversion.  Sin is a powerful reality.  It is also deadly, more deadly than AIDS or any form of cancer.  Cancer and AIDS destroy the body; sin destroys the soul.  Jesus said, "Beware of the one who can destroy the soul."

In his homily, my priest friend said that all of us have a role in the Passion.  In fact, nearly every serious sin is found there:  sloth, envy, hatred, violence and greed.  The most serious of these is despair, the despair that Judas languished in because he believed that he was beyond salvation.  This is the worst sin against God because despair means that we do not believe that He can save us.  That is the ultimate death of the soul.

Moments after the account of the Passion, we relive the sacred mysteries of our salvation when we enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Jesus becomes just as present to us as He was to the Apostles who betrayed, denied and abandoned him, to the crowds who cheered for him in the beginning and then jeered at him towards the end and to Pilate, Caiaphas and the Romans who played a huge role in His Crucifixion.

Yet, as deeply profound as these mysteries are, many parishes sadly miss the boat in making the connection between the liturgy and the music for today's Mass.  They do not realize that with today's liturgy, we enter the high point, the summit of the Church's liturgical year.  So, what do these well-meaning parish music directors pick?  Very rarely will we pray the Introit and the Communion Antiphons (the Church's official music for the sacred liturgy).  Instead, choir directors select songs that really do not convey the sacred mysteries that unfold before us.  The King of Glory, One Bread-One Body, Our God Reigns, and other pieces lack the sober nature called for during this time of year.

I know I keep writing a lot about this issue, but there is cause for concern.  Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, in his excellent blog, WDTPRS, lamented about the emerging Magisterium of Sophomores, wherein students at a Catholic High School were protesting an address given by an orthodox priest which touched on some hard-truth issues.  I do not know if these students have been exposed to any liturgy (LifeTeen or otherwise); however, when the liturgy is watered down, that leads to a weakening in the Faith.  When the sacred mysteries no longer impact us and we replace the beauty and solemnity of the Mass with soft Christian pop music, we have contributed to the decline in our Faith.  Such a decline will eventually render us just as apathetic and slothful as the crowds on that first Good Friday.

As we go deeper into the mystery of Holy Week, let us pray that we will allow these sacred realities to permeate into our hearts and souls.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Imploring God's Mercy





If we read Monday's Gospel account of Jesus saving the life of the woman whom the Pharisees caught in adultery on the surface, focusing only on the Lord's rebuke of the men who wanted to stone the accused to death, we might miss out on the deeper message.




The elders had found the woman in the midst of the grievous sin of adultery, and, seized by bloodlust, they wanted her executed.  The scene is somewhat similar to the reading from the Book of Daniel, where the innocent Susanna was threatened with execution on a bogus charge of adultery, only, in Susanna's case, the two elders were guilty.

In the first reading, young Daniel condemns the lecherous judges to a violent death for falsely accusing Susanna.   On the other hand, in the Gospel reading, Jesus challenges the men wanting to kill the adulteress to look into their own lives and see the seriousness of the sins that they, themselves have committed.  One by one, beginning with the elders, the  lynch mob disperses.

After Jesus is left alone with the adulterous, he does something remarkable. He does not condemn her; however, he warns her about sin.  For Jesus, the life of her soul is just as important as the life of her body.  He had literally saved her from physical death; his main concern now is to save her from the eternal death that comes from sin.

Sin is a very painful reality.  Unfortunately, the modern age tends to sugar coat the real danger that sin poses to us.  Even the music that has crept into the Church over the course of 40 years downplays the need for repentance and ignores the fact that we stand in need of God's mercy.  Songs like "Beyond the Days" and "Ashes" tend to make the Lenten season somewhat syrupy, focusing on either social justice or some other sappy theme.

The chant par excellence for the Lenten season, the "Attende Domine", brings home the point that we are sinners.  We stand in stark need of God's mercy.  Like the woman caught in adultery, we stand bare before God in sorrow.  Although the above video, taken from the 2010 Papal Ash Wednesday Mass, features the chant in its original Latin, below, is a translation of the 10th century prayer.

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

Refrain:
Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy,
Because we have sinned against Thee.

1. To Thee, highest King,
Redeemer of all,
We lift up our eyes
In weeping:
Hear, O Christ, the prayers
of your servants.
Refrain

2. Right hand of the Father,
Cornerstone,
Way of salvation,
Gate of heaven,
Wash away our
Stains of sin.
Refrain

3. We beseech Thee, God,
In Thy great majesty:
Hear our groans
With Thy holy ears:
Calmly forgive
Our crimes.
Refrain

4. To Thee we confess
Our sins admitted
With a contrite heart
We reveal the things hidden:
By Thy kindness, O Redeemer,
Overlook them.
Refrain

5. The Innocent, seized,
Not refusing to be led;
Condemned by false witnesses
On account of impious men
Those whom Thou hast redeemed,
Keep safe, O Christ.
Refrain


The last verse contrasts sharply with the episode of the woman caught in adultery.  The angry mob seized the woman and condemned her to a shameful death.  While they quoted the Law of Moses against the impious woman, there was no mercy in their hearts, only a sick thirst for blood.  Just as the woman was thrust before Jesus, the Lord, Himself, would soon be bound and accused by false witnessed, condemned to a painful death.  He, himself, would take the place of the adulterous woman, offering Himself as a Victim for her sins, for the sins of the lynch mob and for the sins of everyone who has cried throughout the ages, "Crucify Him."  

Yes, there is a wideness in God's mercy; however, if we do not realize that we stand in stark need of it, then we become like that lynch mob and like the two elders who falsely accused Susanna. The Attende Domine helps us to remember that we are sinners who must humbly implore the mercy of so loving a God.    Only when we begin to realize this, and engage in a Lenten regimen that takes the focus off of ourselves and re-orients us to God and our neighbor, can we begin our conversion.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

God is in His Holy Dwelling Place

video


On Monday, March 24, 2014, the parishioners of Laredo's Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church gathered for the celebration of the first Mass in the parish's new chapel.  Dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the Patroness of both the United States and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (the Order who staffs the parish), the small chapel was filled to capacity.

For the pastor, Rev. Juan Ayala, OMI, the evening served as the culmination of his parish's 15-year journey.  As with any project, there were triumphs and hardships, but, the parish persevered.


To mark the occasion, Fr. Ayala accepted the offer to chant the Propers for the Dedication of a New Church.  These were taken from the Propers for the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (the Introit is the same as that used for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, as seen in the video above).

"God is in His holy dwelling place, the God who causes us to dwell together; one in heart in His house,  He, Himself, will give power and strength to His people."  The corresponding Psalm verses, taken from  Psalm 68, read, "The just shall rejoice in the presence of God."

Certainly, there was certainly cause for rejoicing.  As the incense wafted through the small chapel accompanied by a chant taken from the offertory for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (the chapel's patron), one could see how the music fit.  Mary was the first sanctuary for her Son.  In her pure womb, she carried the Lord, just as the Tabernacle holds the Real Presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

In his homily, Fr. Ayala reminded us that God, indeed, is in his holy dwelling place.  Despite the difficulties of the journey in making the chapel a reality, the parish, like Namaan's servants (the first reading was about Naaman the Syrian who was healed of his leprosy), trusted.  In fact, I would dare to say, that even Namaan understood the meaning of providing a dwelling place for God.  Recall that, after he is cured, he asks Elisha for 10 mule loads of earth so that he can have a place to worship the true God when Namaan returns home.

After the homily, Fr. Ayala blessed the new sacred vessels and then, the Stations of the Cross.  As he sprinkled each station, the Attende Domine was chanted, reminded all of us that even though this was certainly a joyous occasion, the Stations remind us of the penitential nature of the holy season of Lent.  After the Offertory, as Fr. Ayala was incensing the altar, the offertory chant for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica was used, "O Lord, God, in the simplicity of my heart, I have joyfully offered all things and I have beheld with immense joy your people gathered here.  God of Israel, preserve the good intentions, O Lord God."  This chant, taken from the First Book of Chronicles, is the prayer that Solomon uttered when he presided over the dedication of the Temple that he built for the Lord.  The verses, taken from the same biblical passage, echo the joy of the celebration.  As the chant was being sung, I was reminded of what Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote regarding Solomon and the dedication of the Temple.  Benedict recounted how Solomon knelt down as he dedicated the Temple.

As Fr. Ayala prayed the Eucharistic Prayer, I could sense the deep joy he had.  I knew that this final stretch had been difficult for him; however, as he elevated the Holy Eucharistic species during the Doxology, there was peace, the kind of peace that only the Lord can bring.

For Communion, the chant, taken from the Communion Antiphon for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, was used. "Jerusalem, built as a city whose parts are bound firmly together!  It is there that the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to give thanks unto your name, O Lord."  The verses, taking from Psalm 122, remind us of the joy of entering into the heavenly Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where the temple was.

After Communion, Fr. Ayala formally blessed the new Tabernacle.  A traditional Spanish hymn was sung, one that is normally used for Benediction.  Fr. Ayala then invited us to spend some moments in silent prayer before the Lord.  He then formally reposed our Lord in the Tabernacle.

After the final blessing, we sang a traditional Spanish hymn of praise, thanking God for the dedication of the new chapel.  It was wonderful to hear everyone singing with joy.

God, indeed, is in his holy dwelling place.



Monday, March 31, 2014

Liturgical Blindness





Yesterday, the Church marked the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, as it is properly called.  Laetrae means "rejoice".  Wetb are more than at the half-way point in our Lenten journey.

The music that the Church gives us, the Introit, captures this spirit of rejoicing most eloquently.  We rejoice because we know that the hour of our redemption is near.  "Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and gather round all you who love her; rejoice in gladness, after having been in sorrow; exult and be replenished with the consolation flowing from her motherly bosom."  The corresponding psalm, Psalm 122, speaks of rejoicing when being told "Let us go to the house of the Lord."

The readings echo this joy, as we read about the anointing of the young shepherd David as the new King of Israel.  The failed reign of King Saul led to the hope that David would bring. God saw into David's heart, more deeply than Samuel could ever imagine.   Although David would eventually fall into sin many times, he loved God and knew that God loved him.  That is why he was a man after God's own heart.

The Gospel reading, taken from St. John's account, presented us with the story of Jesus' healing of the man born blind.  In his homily, a priest friend of mine observed that ancient Israel was on to something when it equated illness with sin.  Prior to the Fall, man did not know sickness and death.  After the Fall, Adam and his descendants (that is to say, all of us), fell prey to disease, illness, the aging process and, finally, death.  However, while Ancient Israel equated sickness and disease with death, Jesus pointed out that the man who was born blind did not suffer from his blindness because of sin (Ancient Israel believed that one could sin even in the womb). Jesus said that "the works of God might be made visible" through the blind man.

Jesus spits into the ground and forms clay with his saliva.  Sound familiar?  "In the beginning" is how both Genesis and St. John begin their biblical accounts.  The same God who formed Adam from the clay of the earth now refashions, recreates, the eyes of the man born blind with the clay He has formed with His own saliva.  Then, he sends the man to wash in the pool of Siloam (the word means Sent).  The One who is Sent from the Father is the one who sends the blind man forth.



Now cured, the man experiences something similar to what the Samaritan woman had during her encounter with Jesus.  Both of these encounters have something to do with water.  Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink; Jesus sends the blind man to Siloam to wash the clay off of his eyes.  Both the Samaritan woman and the man born blind experience a profound change and a progressive recognition of who Jesus really is.  They both call him a prophet and then, as their experience of Him deepens, the Samaritan woman calls him the Christ and the formerly blind man bows down to worship Jesus.

As profound as both of these encounters are, somehow, we lose the rich meanings in our liturgies when we choose substandard music.  The Church, as I have often written, gives us the sacred music that is most appropriately conveys what we have just read.  In the case of Laetare Sunday, she provides us with a Communion Antiphon that brings home the point:

Simple English Propers Fourth Sunday of Lent-Communion Antiphon Cycle A

"The Lord made some clay with his spittle, and he spread it over my eyes; and I went forth, I washed myself, I began to see, and I put my faith in God," so we chant in the Communion Antiphon.  The corresponding psalm is Psalm 27:  "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; whom should I dread.  There is one thing I ask of the Lord, on this do I seek, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord, to inquire at his Temple."

In his healing of the man born blind, Jesus fulfills the man's deepest longings.  Ironically, because the man professed his faith in Jesus, the Pharisees expel him from the synagogue, but the man finds the true Temple, Christ, and with his physical eyes and with the eyes of his soul, he is able to "gaze on the beauty of the Lord" and "inquire at his Temple."

Sadly, what did most parishes sing this weekend?  If your parish is anything like mine, you probably heard "Amazing Grace".  Music directors justify their selection of this Calvinist song on the basis of one line, "I once was blind, but now I see" as the reason why they believe this song fits the bill.  Sadly, they ignore the fact that the Protestant hymn extols the notion that grace is received the hour one "first believes", something that goes squarely against Catholic doctrine.  Just because one line makes that one reference, that does not make the song suitable for use.  Just because OCP recommends it as the song du joir, does not mean that it should be used.  As Pope Paul VI observed, "not everything is fit to cross the threshold" of liturgical use.

Probably the worst argument that I heard against using the Propers (and even a simple chant such as the Attende Domine) was that "the music would work better if we had a grand building with flying buttresses, not in a modern building like ours."  What does architecture have to do with anything?  The early Church was chanting in the catacombs.  Chant reverberates through Bernini's arms in St. Peter's Square during outdoor Papal Masses. Even the most modern of Church buildings is still conducive to chant.

The other nonsensical argument that was thrown at me was that "chant is not part of our parish culture."  this does not make any sense.  Our culture is the Universal Church.  We conform ourselves to the Church.  We conform our culture to the Church's, not the other way around.

The way the music was, one could hardly tell if we were in the Lenten season.  The only thing Lenten were  that the Gloria and the Alleluia were omitted and that the celebrant wore violet (would have loved rose but that is another story). Sadly, if this keeps up, the youth choir will never experience what it is to fully enter into the mystery of the Lenten season.  They will not understand that during Lent, we take on a more sober approach, reminding ourselves that this is a penitential season.  I weep not only for myself, but for a generation that will not understand the importance of the Church's liturgical seasons.

It is not enough to know how to read music (whether it's Gregorian or modern notation).  It is just as important, perhaps, if not, more important, to understand the Church's liturgical theology and teaching.  Bad music in the Mass leads to bad liturgy and this can result in bad theology, more often than not.

The viewpoints expressed to me I find to be examples of liturgical blindness.  It's not necessarily that person's fault, nor do I blame the music director.  The problem is that we spend more time slavishly following what a publishing house suggests instead of picking up the Church's liturgical books and examining what she has already given us to use.  We become blind to the beauty of the Church's liturgical seasons and we fail to see and experience the rich treasures that the Church offers us.

At some point, maybe the music directors and choirs need to go the liturgical Siloam and be cleansed.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Heaven and Earth Unite







Today, the Church celebrates the magnificent Solemnity of the Annunciation.  On this day, she celebrates with great joy the moment that set the wheels of our salvation in motion, the Incarnation of Christ.





The Introit for today's liturgy comes from that which we use for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the beautiful Rorate Caeli.  The Annunciation falls during Spring time, when the life-giving rains fall on the earth, watering newly planted seeds that will later bloom into flowers and other plants.  In this case, the Holy Spirit is the rain that falls upon the Earth, the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The seed of the Woman that God promised is no less than His only Begotten Son, Jesus.



In the Mystery of the Incarnation, God shows us how much He values the humanity that He created.  He values it so much that He wants to be a part of us.  He wants to unite Himself to us in a bond that can never be broken.  This is truly remarkable.  Ancient Greek mythology speaks of Zeus taken on various forms to seduce mortal women (a shower of gold, a bull or some other creature).  The offspring resulting from these unions, of which Herakles is the most famous, were demigods. There was no love there, only discord.



The Annunciation is a concrete reality.  It is the most radical, visible expression of the love of God for mankind.  It is radical because He chose to come down and become one of us.  But, unlike the mythological Zeus, God does not seduce nor force Himself upon a woman.  Through the Archangel Gabriel, He asks Mary to be a part of His divine plan.  He waits for her to give Him the answer, born of her own free will.  Just as Eve sinned of her own free will, Mary agrees, of her own free will, giving her Fiat, her Yes, to becoming the Mother of God.



In the Annunciation, Heaven and Earth unite, finding their meeting place in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary becomes the true Ark of the Covenant, for, at the moment of her Fiat, she conceives of the Holy Spirit.  In the Church's liturgical year, we genuflect two times, today and Christmas, at the words, "and was incarnate", recognizing the magnitude of the events of Christ's conception and his birth.



In his blog, Bishop Christopher Coyne notes that the Church Fathers linked the Annunciation with the Crucifixion.  Jesus is hidden in the womb of his mother for nine months.  When He is born, new life emerges.  Some 33 years later, after His Crucifixion, Jesus is placed in the dark womb of the tomb, hidden from the world.  Three days later, He emerges fully alive, resurrected from the dead, and new life bursts forth. "Here I am Lord; I come to do your will," King David  writes in the psalms, predicting Jesus' mission, carrying out the will of the Father.  "Sacrifices and oblations you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me," David writes.  That Body of Christ, serves as the true sacrifice and oblation, consecrating man through this salviffic act.



It all begins with the Annunciation.  It is the moment when the skies let the Just One come forth like the dew, descending from the clouds like the rain.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Worship at the Well




This weekend's Gospel reading presents us with St. John's account of the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  Three years ago, I wrote about perhaps the most forgotten passage in the whole account, the matter of worship.

I spoke to a friend of mine who is a priest about this topic.  He explained to me that fidelity to God and fidelity to one's spouse are linked.  After God rescued Ancient Israel from Egyptian slavery, the Chosen People rebelled against Him, worshipping a golden calf and engaging in all sorts of depravity.  Time and time again, Ancient Israel turned her back on God, worshipping false gods and engaging in immoral acts.  God had commanded Ancient Israel to remain pure, meaning intermarriage between the descendants of Jacob and pagans was not allowed because when these occur, the non-Israelite spouse would wind up bringing pagan influences and thus cause infidelity.  Such was the case with the Samaritans.  When the Assyrians conquered the northern part of Israel, they swallowed up 10 of the tribes of Jacob.  Then, they brought in their own peoples to the lands and intermarriage with the remaining Israelites and the pagans occurred.  The offspring, the Samaritans, recognized the Lord, the God of their fathers; however, pagan influences had crept into their worship of the One True God.

Now, when Jesus asks the Samaritan woman about her husband, she tells him that she has had five.  This is a metaphor of the five nations that intermingled with the remaining Israelites after the Assyrians had taken over the territory. In fact, the Samaritan woman embodies all of us, because in her person, both Ancient Israel and the Gentiles are united.

So, what does this have to do with worship?  After Jesus identifies the issue of her living arrangements (the sixth man is not her husband), the woman asks him about the proper place for worship.  This is not a strange question.  When the Jews (descendants of Judah) returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans offered to help them rebuild the Temple.  The Jews declined the offer. Having been rebuffed, the Samaritans decided to worship the Lord on a mountain in their territory.  That is why the Samaritan woman asked Jesus where worship should take place.  Jesus tells her that the Jews worship what they understand because, despite all of the issues they have had, they retained the cultic sacrificial practices handed down from God (through Moses).  The Samaritans intermingled their worship of God with pagan practices.  Thus, their infidelity in not keeping the marital practices dictated by God led to their corrupting worship of Him.

In this day and age, the question of worship remains a key issue.  We do not worship God as we wish; we worship Him as we ought through the means given to us by the Church.  When we inject things into the Mass that simply do not belong there, we run the risk of corrupting the liturgy in much the same way that the Samaritans who had done so with their form of worshipping the Lord. 

One prime example is the music that is used for the Mass.  This weekend, I was at my parish.  If one were to peruse the musical selections (Blest be the Lord, I am the Bread of Life -Talbot), one would think that we were in Ordinary Time.  Not a song had anything to do with the Lenten season.  It was pretty much the usual fare from OCP's Spirit and Song.  While the choir and the music director mean well, it is sad that they do not seem to have a concept of the Church's liturgical seasons and the idea of sacred music.



The First Option of the Introit for the Third Sunday of Lent speaks to the plight of both the Samaritan woman and us.  The fact that she draws water during the hottest part of the day means that she is not accepted amongst the women because of her living situation.  She is ostracized.  When we sin, we are spiritually destitute.  Yet, there is hope.  Just as Jesus begins to transform the Samaritan woman, inspiring her to give of herself to both Him and her village (she begins to evangelize the very people who thought nothing of her), He looks upon us with that same love and mercy.   Somehow, "Flow, River Flow" does not quite capture that deep reality.

The account of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well has a myriad of rich meanings; however, it is the matter of the idea of proper worship that perhaps stands at the very heart of that encounter.  Worship prepares the heart for that deep encounter with God; however, if we only come to this on our terms, then, we have completely missed the point.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Beauty of the Transfiguration







This past Sunday, the Church presented us with the account of the Transfiguration, wherein we read of Jesus' giving the apostles Sts. Peter, James and John, a glimpse into his divinity while preparing them for the Passion and Death He was to endure in Jerusalem.



While both options of the Introit speak of the significance of the feast, the second option (shown above) reminds us of the beauty of the Transfiguration.  It speaks of seeking the countenance of the Lord, beseeching Him not to turn His face from the seeker.



This is a beautiful imagery.  Ancient Israel knew that God had no body, so to speak, but, she believed that her Lord had a face.  Moses, after all, spoke to the Lord face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.  In the psalms, David exhorts us to seek the face of God and he beseeches the Lord not to hide His face from him.



In the Mystery of the Incarnation, Ancient Israel receives the opportunity for which she has longed since time immemorial: she finally gets to gaze upon the face of God in the person of Christ Jesus.  He is the fairest of the sons of men.  He is the pinnacle of beauty itself.



The music that the Church gives us certainly fits the mystery of the Transfiguration.  St. Peter gives voice to the near ecstasy that he and his fellow apostles are experiencing when they see Christ taking on a dazzling appearance as He gives them a glimpse of His divinity.  The Introit shown above expresses the awe and wonderment of this most august display, drawing us into the mystery with Sts. Peter, James and John.



The Communion antiphon, with its corresponding psalm, further elaborates on this theme:



"Tell no one about the vision you have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead" reminds us of the admonition that Christ gave his apostles.  Psalm 45, the corresponding verse to the antiphon, sings the praises of the beauty of the Lord, further echoing the joy that St. Peter experienced.  "My heart overflows with noble words.  To the king I address the song I have made."  These words offer praise to the beauty of the divine majesty of God.



The Prayer over the People that the celebrant recites at the end of the Mass brings this point home:



Bless your faithful, we pray, O Lord,
with a blessing that endures for ever,
and keep them faithful
to the Gospel of your Only Begotten Son,
so that they may always desire and at last attain
that glory whose beauty he showed in his own Body,
to the amazement of his Apostles.


Sadly, though, the songs normally used by parishes for this particular occasion (and others throughout the Church's liturgical year) seem to demonstrate a disconnect between the liturgy and the music.  Not a few parishes, for example, used "Beyond the Days" a contemporary Lenten song, as the entrance hymn and then "Hosea" as the offertory, followed by a modern setting of the "The Lord is My Light" and then "I am the Light of the World."  None of these songs capture the sobriety and the solemnity of the Lenten season, let alone the nature of the day's liturgy.



The Church gives us the Propers, the liturgical music for the Mass.  The Propers are not some randomly chosen set of pieces that sound okay.  These are sacred chants that go hand in hand with the prayers of the Roman Missal.  This is the Church's default liturgical music.  The four-hymn sandwich that many parishes commonly use actually falls into the fourth category of music that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal allows.  It is optional, but, it is not the default.  Unfortunately, publishing companies eager to promote their own composers and compositions neglect to include the propers.  Unless parish music directors know that such music exists, they are more than likely going to slavishly follow the suggestions put forth in OCP's Today's Liturgy or whatever GIA has suggested in its musical program.



Nonetheless, for those parishes that opt to go with the Propers, the tone is quite different.  As soon as the bell rings and the chanting to accompany the entrance procession begins, one realizes that something totally Other is happening.  The chant sets a sacred tone to the Mass.  The faithful can follow along the words, praying with the one who is chanting the Introit and its accompanying psalm, and begin to draw themselves into the beauty of the sacred mysteries that are about to unfold before them.



This is what one means when the phrase "singing the Mass" is used.  This is the real meaning of "sung prayer."  The Propers allow us to experience a glimpse of the beauty called for in the last prayer of the Mass for the Second Sunday of Lent, not only for that day, but for every liturgy we pray.