Total Pageviews

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.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Restoring what could be lost

Yesterday, my Alma Mater celebrated its patronal feast day, the Memorial of Mary Help of Christians.  A bad migraine kept me from visiting the school on its feast day; however, I was able to make the trek today.

There is something to be said about having a whole campus to oneself.  While the buildings had been renumbered and some new classrooms had been added here and there, the lay of the land remained the same.  The chapel, shown above, has gone through very little changes; the stained glass windows were added after I graduated.

I learned to love the liturgy in this very building.  My father would drop me off at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM twice a week.  I was bleary-eyed through most of the Mass and, in order to keep me awake, the nuns would invite me to help them in the sacristy.  The nuns introduced me to the Lectionary and what was then known as the Sacramentary (now Roman Missal).  I learned about the Proper of Time and the importance of liturgical colors.  I even learned how to properly care for the sacred vessels.  Those twice-a-week lessons instilled in me a love for the sacred liturgy and it deepened my Faith.  My eighth grade teacher jokingly called me the class "theologian" because I really enjoyed the theological aspects of our daily religion classes.

Now 32 years removed from my graduation, I returned to what once was.  As I walked through the grounds of the open air campus, I could still see the eyeglass-wearing tall kid making her way to the library to check out some obscure book on the Mass or joining her classmates at what used to be the swimming pool.

I also thought about how much school liturgies have regressed since my time as a student.  I am not strictly speaking of my Alma Mater (although, in recent years, the new group has been slightly infected with LifeTeen and other weird things); I refer to what has happened elsewhere within the confines of my Local Church.

At Mass this weekend, I noticed a small program that had been left behind in the sacristy.  The parish school had celebrated its eighth grade graduation the night before and, as I read the program, I grew concerned.  The school had drawn its music from the Protestant Praise and Worship genre (very similar to what LifeTeen has done) and had inserted some para-liturgical items into the sacred liturgy.  One of the parents shared with me that she was concerned that the school had used recorded music and also engaged in some weird "teacher blessing" wherein the instructors were to impart a blessing on the graduates within the context of the Mass.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that, at least at the Local Church, Catholic school staff tend to use the Mass as some sort of petri-dish for liturgical experimentation.  The liturgy in question seemed to me to have heavy influences from both LifeTeen and the Leadership Council of Women Religious,  (on the one hand, music from LifeTeen and on the other, the strange ritual that seems to have been drawn from the LCWR).  One of the school's staff members actually comes from an order that is part of the LCWR.

Based on the commentary of the concerned parent and what I have also personally experienced at these particular liturgies, it seems to me that both the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Redemptionis Sacramentum are routinely ignored when it comes to school liturgies.  The defense that organizers use is the Directory for Masses with Children; however, these are not kindergarten students who are being affected (although I am strongly against inflicting this kind of damage at an early age).  These are eighth graders who are old enough to be exposed to proper liturgy.

Having a song like "Alle, Alle, Alleluia" in place of the prescribed Gospel Acclamation is not allowed in the GIRM.  Music like "Love One Another", "With Every Beat of My Heart" and "Shine, Jesus Shine" may work for youth gatherings, but, they are inconsistent with the Church's liturgical documents and sacred musical patrimony.

It's as though the organizers either never read Sacramentum Caritatis and its back up documentation, or, they simply have chosen to go their own way, completely ignoring the rules.  I know that I have posted both references, but they do merit repeating.  In fact, while re-reading the Instrumentum Laboris for the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, I found this major observations that the bishops made:
(T)he songs and hymns presently in use need to be reconsidered.87 To enter into sacred or religious usage, instrumental or vocal music is to have a sense of prayer, dignity and beauty. This requires an integrity of form, expressing true artistry, corresponding to the various rites and capable of adaptation to the legitimate demands of inculturation. This is to be done without detracting from the idea of universality. Gregorian chant fulfills these needs and can therefore serve as a model, according to Pope John Paul II.88
Evidently, the bishops who took part in the Instrumentum Laboris believed (and still do) that music used in sacred worship needs to be re-examined.  Nine years removed from the Synod, the problem persists.

Now, here is the quote in question wherein the bishops specifically mention the problem with music used at Youth Masses:
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.
If the Synod Fathers found this kind of music problematic, should this not raise concerns within the Local Church where such a genre is used for the youth Masses that take place within its jurisdiction?  It certainly raised a concern for Pope Benedict XVI, prompting him to write this response in Sacramentum Caritatis:
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). 
If those who are planning retreats and other activities outside of the liturgy wish to use selections from Spirit and Song, then this could be suitable; however, when it comes to the Mass, they need to "respect the meaning of the liturgy", as Benedict noted in Sacramentum Caritatis.  While it is certainly laudable that Catholic Schools are doing their best to help pass on the Faith to their charges, they also need to adhere by the guidelines set forth by the Church and not make things up as they go along.

Along with music, another area of concern, insofar as these school Masses are concerned, is the mistaken idea that the Directory for Masses with Children permits everything and anything to occur. The idea of having teachers "bless" the graduating students within the context of the Mass is not allowed.

Again, we turn towards the Holy See, specifically, the Congregation for Divine Worship, for direction on this matter:
Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18). 
Adding this "ritual" into the Mass is a serious abuse to the liturgy.  It also confuses both the students and the parents because they have this mistaken notion that such an act is meaningful and special for the recipients, when it really has no bearing at all and seems to downplay the actual blessing that everyone will be receiving from the celebrant.  Those planning such a thing, including religious staff (i.e. nuns, brothers) should know better, especially since  Sacrosanctum Concilium expressly forbids this (Redemptionis Sacramentum reinforces this prohibition as well):

Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority. (Sacrosanctum Concilium
[11.]  The Mystery of the Eucharist "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured".27 On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved,28 and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ's faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal,29 but are detrimental to the right of Christ's faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God.30 The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ's faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of "secularization" as well.31 (Redemptionis Sacramentum)
Thus, the Church is very clear as to what can and cannot be done.  Lamentably, it has been my experience that those who organize school liturgies tend to hold more value over "rituals" that they create themselves as opposed to that which the Church has established since her very foundation.

The school liturgies that my Alma Mater held during my nine years there were not exactly the textbook model, at least insofar as music was concerned.  The early 1970s were a turbulent time full of sad experimentation and equally bad music.  We were subjected to the likes of the St. Louis Jesuits and other really bad things; however, to their credit, the nuns who handled our liturgies did not take it upon themselves to "create" something.  That was not the way Don Bosco would have had it.

However, these days, the creative spirit has reared its ugly head even there, though not as badly as in other places throughout the Local Church.

The final stop on my solitary tour of my Alma Mater was also my first stop:  the chapel.  As I looked around the space, my mind went back to my younger years. I could still see myself flipping through the pages of the old Sacramentary, asking Sister Guadalupe why some of the wording was in red while a huge chunk was in black.  She gave me the most basic explanation:  the red is what the priest is supposed to do and the black is what he is supposed to say.

It's really that simple.  That is all that has to happen in the Mass.  Unfortunately, when the red is not done and the black is not said, all of us lose out.  The Church loses her liturgical integrity and the faithful, most especially the students, lose perspective.  They lose out on the fact that the liturgy is not something that we can "cobble up", as Pope Benedict wrote on so many occasions; rather, the liturgy is a most precious gift from the Church so that we can render God proper worship.  We need to restore that and, in the case of Catholic schools, such a restoration needs to be made, lest the children lose that connection between worshipping as we believe.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What St. Catherine could teach the LCRW

I was visiting the website of a Boston parish when I noted that the page had a link to a PDF of the homilies preached by the priests.  The parish is staffed by a North American order of priests and I know the parochial vicar rather well, going back to his days as a young seminarian.  

While my friend is a good man and tries his best to be a good priest, he and I would regularly spar in matters of theology.  Even after 20 years, the divide is still very wide.

I do not know who preached this particular homily, delivered during the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2012.  That particular Good Shepherd Sunday fell on the Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena.  Part of me suspects it was my friend who preached this.  The style seems to fit.

He preached about the life of St. Catherine of Siena, telling the faithful about how, after much prayer and discernment, she served as a Papal counselor who vehemently urged the Pope (at the time) to leave Avignon and return to Rome.  Eventually, he heeded her counselor and returned to where he was supposed to be.  So far, so good.

The homilist then took a particularly bad turn when he brought up the issue of the fracas that is the Leadership Council of Women Religious.

Yes, my dear friend, what would St. Catherine do?  He listed a litany of things that St. Catherine had said:
She chastised and conjoled. She called the Pope Bobbo – Daddy. 
She called the Queen of Naples a sick woman guided by her passions. She wrote to a group of cardinals that they should be fragrant flowers but instead their stench filled the earth. 

Yes.  She spoke the Truth because she prayed before she uttered or wrote one word.  She spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament seeking the Lord's counsel before she gave her own.  St. Catherine wanted her words to be Christ's words.

My dear friend meant to use St. Catherine as a means of chastising that "mean old Inquisition Office" for bringing the hammer down on the LCWR.  Yet, his very words and observations defeat his own purpose.

Given St. Catherine's deep love for Christ and His Church, I seriously doubt that she would have condoned the grievous actions and quasi-heretical theology that the LCWR has adopted in recent years.  Rather than come to their defense against the likes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Gerhard Cardinal Muller, St. Catherine would have chastised the LCWR for "moving past Jesus and the Church." She would have upbraided them for not holding fast to the Truth of the Faith and sinking into near gnosticism with their adoption of "conscious evolution", or whatever the new theological trend is these days.

In Shakespeare's comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina refuses to yield to the authority of her husband, Petrucchio. Eventually, through a series of less than savory actions (some downright humiliating), he tames her into becoming an obedient bride.  Finally, in a strange twist towards the end of the play, Katherina, literally manhandles (for lack of a better word), her  very spoiled younger sister, Bianca, into submitting to her new husband.

At some point, the LCWR needs "taming".  They need to realize that they are heading in the wrong direction.  Contrary to the homilist's observation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not trying to beat these nuns into submission.  The homilist fails to realize that the very souls of these nuns are at stake.  When a group of women religious decides that they are moving beyond Christ and beyond the Church, they are willfully choosing to cut themselves from the vine.  The LCWR needs a "Katherina" to come in and have a frank discussion with them, maybe to the point of grabbing the group by the arm and showing them right path.

So, I return to the the homilist's question:  What would St. Catherine do?

St. Catherine would pray and spend significant time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Sometimes we do our  best thinking on our knees.  It certainly worked for Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  

After her time in prayer, St. Catherine would  probably encourage the LCWR to do the same thing, maybe even asking them to join her before the Blessed Sacrament.  She would then urge them to return to the roots of their calling, much as she urged Pope Gregory to man up and return to Rome, only she would have been more forceful with the nuns. Returning to Rome certainly takes on a deeper significance with the LCWR, because such a return is not about merely going back to a city as it is reconciling with Christ, with Peter and with the Church.

That is the real lesson of St. Catherine of Siena.