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Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Importance of Fidelity to the Texts

In Musicam Sacram, the Church's authoritative document on sacred music, she presents us with a hierarchy of what should be sung during the Mass.  For example, the parts of the Mass such as the Gospel Acclamation, the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen belong to the first order.  The Gloria and the Agnus Dei belong to the second order.

When setting these parts of the Mass to music, fidelity to the texts must be followed.  The music must fit the official prayers of the Church; not the other way around.  The documents make that clear.  According to Redemptionis Sacramentum:

[59.] The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1963, specifically states that:
Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.
Sadly, it seems to me that some composers have taken it upon themselves to do just that, altering the texts of the official liturgical prayers of the Church in their pieces.  One such setting that comes to mind is the "Mass of Creation", which seems to take liberties with both the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei.  While "God of power, God of might" may seem minor, the composer takes it upon himself to edit the official texts of the Church.  Why could he not simply retain "God of power and might"?  The "and" could have been stretched a little to fit the piece.  Another anamoly from the same setting comes from the Agnus Dei.  Now, there are certain parts of the Roman Missal where the celebrant is given some flexibility whenever the text reads "these or similar words."  However, this phrase only pops up in a couple of instances.  "These or similar words" does not spread accross the board to the parts of the Mass.  The Roman Missal does not have extra "acclamations" for the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).  The official text reads:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
The Roman Missal does not have an asterisk indicating that other titles such as "Prince of Peace" or "Bread of Life" could be used.  It does not even have provisions for the Holy Name of Jesus to be included in the Agnus Dei. 

Unfortunately, this trend is not confined to the English language.  Spanish-language settings also have their share of problems as well.  In some settings, the Gloria is shortened and paraphrased to the point that the prayer is unrecognizable, save for the first line.  A couple of the Sanctus settings have strange phrases inserted into the prayer.  One Spanish-language Agnus Dei setting lumps the whole litany together while the cantor sings "O Pan de Vida" and "O Santa Copa" in harmony. 

The Church gives us these official texts for a reason.  These are the prayers of the Mass that we are to use.  We cannot simply take them and edit them as we please.  When we start to add or delete the wording of these prayers to suit our own needs, trying to put our own "creative stamp" on things, we do a disservice to the Church and to the faithful. 

I am hopeful that the revised translations will force composers to work around the texts and make the music fit the prayer, instead of the other way around.   Composers should be at the service of the Liturgy, not the other way around.

Words to Ponder on All Souls Day

While the Church celebrates All Saints Day tomorrow, calling to mind the Church Triumphant, my thoughts tonight turn to November 2nd, All Souls Day when the Church commemorates and prays for the faithful departed.  All Souls Day took on a more profound meaning for me back in 1994, the year my mother died. 

A couple of years ago, I heard what was arguably one of the best homilies (short of Pope Benedict XVI) on the subject.  I will try to give you the gist of it.

Our parochial vicar preached that a lot of our funeral liturgies tend to concentrate on ourselves. We make "celebrations of the life of" the deceased, rather than praying for the repose of their souls. We forget that we, too, are sinners, as were the deceased. It is as though the belief in Purgatory has slipped our collective consciences.

All Souls Day gives us the opportunity (not that we don't have it any other day) to pray for our loved ones, to offer them consolation by asking God to grant His mercy on them. Death does not break our bonds with our loved ones. They are still members of the Church, in this case, the Church Suffering.

He noted the fact that on Calvary, Jesus handed His Body, himself, to us, which is what happens in marriage. Out of love, Jesus gives Himself to his bride, the Church. It is the handing over of the Body that makes Him one with us. It is this sacrifice that gives us a share in the life of Christ.

Ultimately, the parochial vicar noted, we are on a pilgrimage. We seek the face of God. Ancient Israel begged the Lord not to hide his face from them. We continue to seek God's face. We pray that our loved ones are now beholding the face of God.

I wish that I could repeat word for word what our parochial vicar said, but this pretty much captures the essence of it. We should be conscious of the fact that in every Mass, the veil from heaven is lifted. We are united with the Church Triumphant (whose feast we celebrated yesterday), the Church Militant (ourselves) and the Church Suffering (the souls consigned to Purgatory). That is why, when we sing the praises of God, it is not just us. They are all joining us as well.

Let's Dance---NOT!

The beauty salon can be a hotbed of conversatons.  The old cliche is that everyone tells their hairdresser everything. In my case, that "everything" includes liturgy, only, it was not just my hairdressor, but, my fellow patron. 

Both of us were having our hair colored.  The woman had just come back, two children in tow, from CCD. We talked about liturgy.  It seems that one of her daughters had graduated from my Alma Mater, a Catholic school just a block away from the salon.  I told the woman that I am very disappointed with the turn that the school had taken insofar as liturgy was concerned.  It was, sadly, a turn for the worse.  The new generation of religious running the school took it upon themselves to introduce a new innovation into the Mass:  dance.  Dancing, along with the infiltration of the Protestant Praise and Worship genre into the school Masses is something that I believe their founder, St. John Bosco, would have expressly objected to and outright vetoed.  That Don Bosco wanted to attract the youth to God and to the Church is one thing; quite another is the manner in which this is being done at the present time.  Don Bosco would never have compromised the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  He instilled fidelity to the Church in both his Order and in the children he taught.

My fellow customer asked me how I can raise such objections to dancing if King David danced in the Bible.  This is an argument typically used by proponents of dance (and any other strange innovation folks want to introduce into the Holy Sacrifice).  I told her that, first and foremost, David's dance was not a part of the sacrificial cultic worship of ancient Israel.  He did this entirely on his own.  Furthermore, if we really wanted to go so far as to follow the Davidic example, then, the dancer would have to be male and wear an ephod (a very skimply little apron reserved only for the priest). 

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a statement regarding "dance" in the liturgy some 35 years ago back in 1975.  CDWDS Prefect-emeritus Francis Cardinal Arinze, himself an African prelate, routinely criticized the innovation, citing the 1975 statement.  The document reads, in part, that:

The dance has never been made an integral part of the official worship of the Latin Church.

If local churches have accepted the dance, sometimes even in the church building, that was on the occasion of feasts in order to manifest sentiments of joy and devotion. But that always took place outside of liturgical services.

Conciliar decisions have often condemned the religious dance because it conduces little to worship and because it could degenerate into disorders.
Of course, the document also gives some legitimate allowances for dance.  Read on where it states that:

Actually, in favor of dance in the liturgy, an argument could be drawn from the passage of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, in which are given the norms for adaptation of the liturgy to the character and the traditions of the various peoples:
"In matters which do not affect the faith or the well-being of an entire community, the Church does not wish, even in the Liturgy, to impose a rigid uniformity; on the contrary, she respects and fosters the genius and talents of various races and people. Whatever in their way of life is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error, she looks upon with benevolence and if possible keeps it intact, and sometimes even admits it into the Liturgy provided it accords with the genuine and authentic liturgical spirit." [1]
Theoretically, it could be deduced from that passage that certain forms of dancing and certain dance patterns could be introduced into Catholic worship.

Nevertheless, two conditions could not be prescinded from.

The first: to the extent in which the body is a reflection of the soul, dancing, with all its manifestations, would have to express sentiments of faith and adoration in order to become a prayer.

The second condition: just as all the gestures and movements found in the liturgy are regulated by the competent ecclesiastical authority, so also dancing as a gesture would have to be under its discipline.

However, this principle does not apply to young girls in flowing gowns sashaying up the aisle carrying incense bowls.  This is not some sort of indigenous exercise.  It's more along the lines of some sort of strange performance that would be better suited for a performing arts center.

Now, down here in the hinterland, there is a legitimate use of dance for worship:  the dance performed by the Matachines, a centuries-old indigenous group from Mexico.  The Matachines perform this dance as a form of ritual worship to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In fact, this dance dates back over 500 years.  The interesting thing about the Matachines is that this special dance, which carries rythms and moves that are their own specific ritual, is often performed outside of the Mass, usually in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The dance is performed in parishes that traditionally hold a nine-day novena in honor of Our Lady of  Guadalupe and on her very solemnity.  This is true inculturation.

I enjoy dancing.  On a given Monday, you'll find me plopped in front of the TV going between Dancing wih the Stars and NCIS.  But, when it comes to the Mass, let's not dance.

For more information on the CDWDS statement, you can read it in its entirety at:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Importance of the Homily

I enjoy skits, especially well performed ones that have meaning.  They can be effective teaching tools insofar as the Faith is concerned.  However, there is a time for these skits; unfortunately, that time is not during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the homily should be (or any time, for that matter).  Sadly, these skits sometimes happen during the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass or during some other solemnity.

The Church gives us parameters as to what can and cannot take place within the framework of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that:

65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended,63 for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.64

66. The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person.65 In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.

There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers.66

From Redemptionis Sacramentum we see that:

[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself,142 "should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson.143 In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate".144

[65.] It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the Eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767 §1.145 This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.

[66.] The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as "pastoral assistants"; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association.146

Some could make the argument that such a skit or play could occur after the post-Communion prayer.  However, according to Redemptionis Sacramentum:

[161.]  As was already noted above, the homily on account of its importance and its nature is reserved to the Priest or Deacon during Mass.260 As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ's faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law.261 This may be done only on account of a scarcity of sacred ministers in certain places, in order to meet the need, and it may not be transformed from an exceptional measure into an ordinary practice, nor may it be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of the laity.262 All must remember besides that the faculty for giving such permission belongs to the local Ordinary, and this as regards individual instances; this permission is not the competence of anyone else, even if they are Priests or Deacons.

While a skit is not necessarily lay preaching, it is something of an anamoly that really has no place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we gather for the Mass, we are engaging in a sacred, holy act.  We are participating in the Church's greatest prayer.  A skit, as well-intentioned and as well-performed as it is, belongs outside of the realm of the Holy Sacrifice, in the parish hall.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Simple Propers for All Souls The Chant Café

From the fine folks at the Chant Cafe comes this special treasure.

Simple Propers for All Souls The Chant Café

If only parishes could follow this lead. It would be wonderful to pray this during the Masses for All Souls Day. We tend to forget that the four-hymn sandwich is the last option. The antiphons are the default.

The Chant Cafe renders an excellent service to the Church by providing the faithful with the necessary tools for using genuine sacred music in the Mass.  It is an excellent resource for anyone involved in music ministry!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Funeral Rites and the Laity

Given the fact that we are approaching the month of November, a time dedicated to remembering the Holy Souls, I figured it might be appropriate to talk just a little bit about funeral rites and the role of the laity.

Last year, I encountered something rather interesting, but, sadly, not uncommon in my diocese.  In under a week, I attended two Vigils for the Deceased. Both times, they were "presided" over by laity. We do not have a severe priest shortage in our diocese, nor are we lacking in permanent deacons. In fact the parishes where the deceased belonged to each had two priests and a deacon assigned to them.

What caused me this consternation was the fact that Ecclesia de Mysterio, an authoritative document of the Holy See, notes the following:

Article 12

Leading the Celebration at Funerals
In the present circumstances of growing dechristianization and of abandonment of religious practice, death and the time of obsequies can be one of the most opportune pastoral moments in which the ordained minister can meet with the non-practicing members of the faithful.

It is thus desirable that Priests and Deacons, even at some sacrifice to themselves, should preside personally at funeral rites in accordance with local custom, so as to pray for the dead and be close to their families, thus availing of an opportunity for appropriate evangelization.

The non-ordained faithful may lead the ecclesiastical obsequies provided that there is a true absence of sacred ministers and that they adhere to the prescribed liturgical norms. (111) Those so deputed should be well prepared both doctrinally and liturgically.

The laity are not properly trained. During the first service, the layman leading the vigil declared in his reflection that the deceased was in heaven and that he would be helping out the survivors. He also made a point of going to the body after the service as it to bless the corpse. I spoke to him after the service and told him that the Church only makes that kind of judgment when a canonization is involved and this is not the time for us to be making statements like that. I also told him that only clergy should be blessing. The man told me that he was annointed to do this and that he does not follow what the Pope says, but, what God says. That was a big red flag. He also said that he did not have to obey someone who sins. I was flabbergastged, to say the least.

Then, later in the week, I went to the second Vigil. I was disappointed because a layman led the service. He really had no clue as to what he was doing, but, at least he did not attempt to bless and pray over the body. As I said in my opening comments, the parish where the deceased was from has two priests and a deacon. After the service, I spoke to one of the religious brothers who was in attendance and I told him that what happened should not have occured. He told me that it was time for the laity to start taking over these duties. I told him to read Ecclesiae de Mysterio. He told me that if I didn't agree with empowering the laity, then I should found my own church. Once again, I told him to read the documents, but, he ignored the comment.

Now, truth be told, I had to face this situation four years ago when my paternal grandmother died.  I very reluctantly had to do the rosary for my beloved paternal grandmother because the funeral home couldn't find a priest in Austin to do it. I was very disappointed with my grandmother's pastor. Having seen what the laywoman did at my step-grandfather's rosary, I did not want the same thing to happen for my grandma. It was frustrating.  It just seemed to me that there wasn't much importance given to the Vigil for the Deceased. I certainly did not "feel empowered." 

My point is this: it should not be a question of empowering the laity. Rather, priests and deacons should own up to the responsibilities given to them at their ordinations. I can understand if there are communities that are isolated, as is the case in some parts of the United States and Canada (where our Canadian brethren living in these areas get a visit from the priest once a month, or so).  There are many priests and deacons in my diocese who do preside over the Vigils of the Deceased.  They take the time to be with the grieving families and to pray for the deceased.  I am hoping that what I witnessed was an anomoly that is found only in a couple of parishes. But, nonetheless, as laity, I believe that we should only come into play in the event that there is a grave necessity.  That is why this function of the laity is called "extraordinary" because it should happen only in extraordinary occasions. 

Anyone wishing to read Ecclesia de Mysterio can find it in its entirety at:

We should note that one of the Congregations involved in writing this document was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith whose prefect, at the time, was the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Learning from Stained Glass Windows

I really love my co-workers.  They are very tolerant of me.  After lunch, they gave me a chance to briefly visit the Corpus Christi Cathedral where I spent some time in prayer.

Corpus Christi Cathedral stands as one of the most beautiful churches in South Texas.   I enjoy visiting it whenever I am in that "sparkling city by the sea."  What drew me this time around were the stained glass windows.   I am reminded of what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy where he notes that:

"The windows of the Gothic cathedrals keep out the garishness of the light outside, while concentrating that light and using it so that the whole history of God in relation to man, from creation to the Second Coming, shines through. The walls of the church, in interplay with the sun, become an image in their own right, the iconostasis of the West, lending the place a sense of the sacred that can touch the hearts even of agnostics."
Okay, so the Corpus Christi Cathedral is not Gothic in structure; however, the same principle holds true.  All throughout the Cathedral, these sacred images told a story, our story.  There were depictions of the sacrifice of Abraham and the bread and wine offered by the priest Melchisedek.  The sacraments were also in full display.  What drew me was the image of what I believe to be a transitional deacon being ordained to the priesthood kneeling before his bishop.  Of all of the images, this one struck me the most.  The South Texas sun pierced through the image, giving it special vibrance.  The brightness made it difficult to capture on film.  Corpus Christi is Latin for the Body of Christ.   A priest is first and foremost charged with offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the faithful.  His hands are annointed for this terribly awesome act.  He is given the chalice, paten, stole and chasuble, sacred implements that are proper to his vocation. 

As I was contemplating this image, I thought of a couple of priest friends of mine, men ordained about seven years apart. One was ordained in that very Cathedral while the other was ordained at his order's Mother Church in New York.  While they both have somewhat divergent theologies and philosophies, they share the bond of the priesthood.  They bear the yoke of Christ and are called to offer themselves, in union with the Crucified Lord, as a daily oblation.

I went to pray for both of them in front of the Blessed Sacrament chapel and I asked Christ, the High Priest, to bless them, console them and keep them close to him.

You never know what you will learn or ponder the next time you look upon a stained glass window.  It might just be an enlightening experience.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Turning Eastward

A priest friend of mine borrowed a book from me called "Turning Towrds the Lord", written by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang and heavily endorsed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Ever since reading the book, he has begun, at least in a chapel, turining towards the crucifix during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

I can't tell you how proud I am of him for doing so. He explained to the faithful that he is not giving his back to them; rather, he is joining them in their posture towards the Lord. Then-Carindal Ratzinger made the same point in his foreword to the book. Furthermore, the former prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made a strong argument that nothing in the documents ever prohibited this posture. In fact, carefully reading of the GIRM assumes that this posture was to be maintained, as per our current Holy Father. Ratzinger further argues that this takes away the focus on the priest and returns it to the Eucharist. "He must increase, while I must decrease."

From the earliest Church documents, the posture of priest and people was facing the East because they believed that when the Lord returned, he would come from the East like the rising sun. In this case, this rising sun was the Sun of Justice. In fact, the beautiful hymn, "The King Shall Come" makes reference to Christ coming from the East ("when beauty guilds the Eastern hills and life to joy awakes).

Many of the ancient churches up to those constructed prior to1962 maintained that Eastern orientation. Our cathedral has it.

In his books A New Song for the Lord and The Spirit of the Liturgy, then-Cardinal Ratzinger noted that when the priest faces the altar, the attention is focused on him, rather than on the Eucharistic sacrifice. Unfortunately, that is the case in many of our parishes where we focus on the priest rather than on Christ.

While it is true that Christ is present in his Body, the Church and in the faithful who gather for the Mass, we must remember that the Liturgy is not a celebration of the community. We do not celebrate ourselves. When we put undue emphasis on the people rather than on the Divine Majesty of God, we are, as Benedict puts it, "barking up the wrong tree." I realize that this quote isn't original to him, but he uses those exact same words in "The Spirit of the Liturgy."

The documents never said anything about to the effect that we could not face the Tabernacle. In fact, there is a move now to restore the Tabernacle to its place front and center. Cardinal Arinze has made several statements regarding that, as has Benedict, pre and post conclave.   When then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the foreword to the book, he hoped that the ideas represented in 'Turning Towards the Lord" would foster deep discussion on revisiting this ancient posture. I believe that it is something that is important for us to discuss.

My friend's actions have definitely helped to increase the reverence at Mass. Mind you. He is fairly young (just a tad bit under 50) and he's not into novelty. But, the book really made an impact on him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Questionable Theology: Do lyrics come into play when choosing songs for the Mass?

I don't want to sound bitter.  I'm not an old crumudgeon.  It's just that one can only take so much bad music.  With the Church's vast treasury of Sacred Music, I am perplexed as to why we seem to be stuck in what amounts to be a liturgical version of "Groundhog Day".  We seem to relive the old 70s-80s songs week in and week out.  

While there are some songs that are not that bad, there are not a few of them that, lamentably, have quite a bit of questionable theology (or, worse bad theology that is not reflective of the Catholic Faith) and have made their way into the Mass.

Among these is Gather Us In, a song that was written in the 1980s.  Along with the fact that this song could easily have been merged into Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Emdond Fitzgerald, the lyrics do not jibe with Catholic liturgical and sacramental theology.  First of all, the emphasis is on the community. God is not even mentioned directly in the song. He seems to be an after-thought. Inasmuch as St. Paul says "when we eat this bread and drink this cup..", Haugen's song waters down what happens at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Inasmuch as we join our offerings to the priest, it is he who offers the Holy Sacrifice in our name (and his) to the Father.   One of the most offensive lines to me is "not in some heaven, light years away". What Haugen and his suppporters do not understand is that it is during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that heaven and earth unite. The Mass is supposed to help prepare us for that heavenly banquet.

Whatever happened to using beautiful hymns like All Creatures of Our God and King, Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, The Church's One Foundation, At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing and Shepherd of Souls?  Along with being sacred, these hymns are also rich in the Church's liturgical and sacramental theology.  Because hymns are also prayers that are prayed during the Mass, what we sing is just as important a component of the liturgy  because it needs to jibe with the rest of the Holy Sacrifice.

Gather Us In makes some plea about "giving us courage".  If anyone needs courage, it's the courage to finally put this bad song to rest once and for all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Truly Universal Experience at Mass

I am the first to plead ignorance here, as I know absolutely zilch about the 20+ Eastern Rite Churches in communion with the Catholic Church.  My lone personal experience with one of our Eastern brethren came when my bishop asked me to give one of the Eastern-rite bishops a tour of the city.

However, something beautiful happened at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome this morning (roughly 2:30AM Texas time) that showed me just how Universal the Church truly is.  For the better part of nearly two and a half weeks, the Church had a Synod (gathering, if you will) of a group of bishops, archbishops, cardinals and invited guests to discuss the situation of the Faith in the Middle East.  At stake is the very essence of the Christian community in the land where the Faith was born.  Here, Christians face persecution to the point of martyrdom.  The flock needs to be strengthened, encouraged and allowed to flourish.

This morning, the Holy Father celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to close out the synod. What transpired was nothing short of majestic, sublime and beautiful.  It was, as it were, a confluence of the Eastern and Latin rites.  Inasmuch as the Mass was the Latin-rite liturgy, there were elements from the Eastern-rites that brought a truly different dimension to the Holy Sacrifice.  The chanting of the Gospel both in Latin and in Greek was one aspect.  There were also various chants from the Eastern-rite, unaccompanied by musical instruments.  Chris  Altieri, one of the best Vatican Radio English-language journalists around (along with Charles, Emer and Phillipa), provided the commentary and helped to educate viewers as to what was being chanted.  Even though I did not understand what was being chanted, the music had the element of the sacred that is missing in many of our English-language liturgies.  It was directed at God and not at all about us.

Listening to the chants, I was taken back to what many called the "infamous" Papal Mass that was celebrated back in 2008 at Nationals Stadium in DC.  The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called the music used a "cultural mish-mash."  One bishop called it a multi-cultural celebration.  I side with Fr. Neuhaus' stance on this one.  The Mass, let alone a Papal one, is not the place where we celebrate cultural diversity.  It is where we come together as the People of God, united in one Faith, in one Spirit, in one Body.  What happened this morning at St. Peter's Basilica was not some multi-cultural festival.  It was the union of what the Venerable Pope John Paul II called, the "two lungs" of the Church.  It was the Church being what she truly is:  the Universal Body of Christ.  To see the Eastern-Rite patriarchs and beatitudes up on the Altar of the Confession with the Holy Father was to see the epitome of unity in the Church.

It drove home the point to me that the Church is not just about the Latin-rite (even though, at least in the West, most Catholics are Latin-rite).  The Eastern-Rite is just as much a part of the Church as well.  While I may never get to experience, to pray, an Eastern-Rite Divine Liturgy, it is important to know that such exist.  If I should ever be blessed to assist at one, I will be in Communion with the Universal Church.  It is this Communion that we should celebrate.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Just What Do We Mean by Sacred Music?

This little gem has been making its way all over the blogosphere!  Everyone from "The Hermeneutic of Continuity (an excellent blog by Fr. Tim Finigan)" to the MusicaSacra forum, has posted this humorous, but much-needed piece from the folks at the Corpus Christi Watershed.

Here it is:

I post this here for both your edification and enjoyment!

Rediscovering the Liturgy of the Hours

Down here in the hinterland, it is common for some parishes to hold "Communion services" during the week while the pastor is away.  There have been a couple of times when I've been called upon to do them.  I do not necessarily like doing this.  I only do this because there is a lack of training as to how to properly conduct a "Communion service."  In my research on the subject, I found a portion of Redemptionis Sacramentum that treats the subject:

[166.]  Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations, the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday. Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care.
While the responsibility does fall on the local bishop to regulate such celebrations, RS does specifically state that permission for such "must not easily" be granted.  Now, one could very well use the "pastoral reasons" clause to justify these services.  One can certainly understand taking into consideration the faithful who regularly assist at daily Mass and are daily communicants.  But, daily Mass assistance, while laudable and strongly encouraged, is not obligatory (unless, of course, a Holy Day of Obligation falls during the week).

However, there is another liturgy that many parishes tend to overlook, tend to forget:  the Liturgy of the Hours.  The Liturgy of the Hours is not just reserved to clergy and religious.  The faithful can certainly make use of this particular liturgy, especially when daily Mass is not available.  It involves the singing of hymns, the chanting/recitation of psalms, the proclamation of a scriptural reading and various other prayers.  Most parishes schedule their weekday Masses either in the morning, at noon or in the evening.  The Liturgy of the Hours is normally prayed in the morning, at noon or in the evening.   Pope Benedict XVI frequently presides over the Liturgy of the Hours, specifically Vespers, doing so on the Vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent and the Vigil of the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, just to name a few occasions. 

Parishes could prepare little booklets ahead of time to help the faithful pray the Liturgy of the Hours when they know that their pastors will be out of town or unavailable for Mass.  In fact, those parishes that have a tradition of having a Holy Hour could very well use this time to introduce the faithful to this prayer of the Church. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Youth and the Mass

From what I understand, this coming weekend, dioceses around the United States will be observing World Youth Day.  One of the recommendations is that the Masses (or at least, one weekend Mass) be geared towards the youth.  Suggestions for this include encouraging young people to serve as lectors, ushers, cantors and choir members and gearing the homily and the music towards the youth.

While these are all suggested with the best of intentions, I think that they might lose sight of one thing.  The focus of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is no less than God, Himself.  The Mass is not about us; it's about Him.  When we become the focus of the action of the liturgy, when we start turning it towards ourselves, then, we have completely missed the point as to why we come to Mass in the first place.

There seems to be a well-meaning, but misguided perception of what the Second Vatican Council meant by "actuosa participatio", "active participation.  According to Archbishop Malcolm Ranjinth (soon to be His Eminence, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjinth), Pope Benedict XVI, offers an interpretation of "active participation" that does not necessarily mean that everyone is doing everything.    In his address at the 2008 Gateway Liturgical Conference, Archbishop Ranjinth said that:

The pope, in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, defines actuosa participatio as a call to a total assimilation in the very action of Christ the High Priest. It is in no way a call to activism, a misunderstanding that spread widely in the aftermath of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Stated Cardinal Ratzinger: “what does it [active participation] mean...? Unfortunately the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, p. 171).

We know that in many places this led to the amalgamation of the sanctuary with the assembly, the clericalization of the laity and the filling up of the sanctuary with the noisy and distracting presence of a large number of people. One could say that virtually Wall Street moved into the sanctuary. But was that really what the Council Fathers advocated? Cardinal Ratzinger does not think so. For him, “the real ‘action’ in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God Himself. This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy: God Himself acts and does what is essential” (ibid, p. 173).

This kind of participation in the very action of Christ, the High Priest, requires from us nothing less than an attitude of being totally absorbed in Him. Says the cardinal “the point is that, ultimately, the difference between the actio Christi and our own action is done away with. There is only one action, which is at the same time His and ours — ours because we have become ‘one body and one spirit ‘with Him” (ibid p. 174).

Active participation, thus, is not a giving way to any activism but an integral and total assimilation into the person of Christ who is truly the High Priest of that eternal and uninterrupted celebration of the heavenly liturgy.
Now, this is not to say that young people, or, anyone else for that matter, should not want to exercise some sort of ministry during the Mass, whether it is to be a reader, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (although there is an age limit), an altar server, an usher, a cantor or a member of the choir.  These are liturgical roles that are important.  However, I am reminded of a quote from the movie Shadow of the Vampire, where John Malkovich's character, F.W. Murnau, is bombarded with questions from his camera man about using peasants for Nosferatu.  "But, Herr Doctor, these people do not know how to act", the camera man bemoans.  "They do not have to know how to act," Murnau replies.  "They have to be."

And so it is with us at Mass.  As Archbishop Ranjinth observes, we need to assimilate into Christ's person so as to penetrate the mysteries unfolding before us during the Church's highest prayer.  This is an important lesson that, I fear, has been lost to not a few of us, including the youth. 

When Pope John Paul II reached out to the young people (and I was a member of that first generation), he did so not by amending and adapting the Mass, but, by showing us the liturgy's true beauty.  Inasmuch as there were instances of "contemporary music" seeping into the Mass during World Youth Day, that was not necessarily the direction the Holy Father wanted to take, as evidenced in his 2003 Chirograph on Sacred Music.  He wanted the youth to begin to assume their rightful role in the Church because the torch of Faith needs to be passed on to the next generation.

However, part and parcel of that torch involves the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its rituals, its music, its transcendent nature.  Unfortunately, this has been lost on quite a few people to the point that, insofar as the music used at these Masses is concerned, the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist found this to be problematic.  The big problem with using the Praise and Worship genre is that it is incompatible with the sacred mysteries, the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It works for Protestant ecclesial communities becasue they only have the Word.  We have the Word and the Sacrifice.   During the Mass, the veil between time and space, and heaven and earth is lifted.  We enter into the very presence of God, Himself, in union with the angels and the saints.  Just listen to any one of the prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer that the celebrant uses.  What we do at the Mass is something completely out of the ordinary.  We are getting a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy.  Thus, what we do at the Mass needs to be something apart from our everyday experiences.  For this reason, what we listen to on the secular radio stations really is incompatible with what goes on at the Mass.  Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, makes a strong case against this type of music:'

"On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. "Rock", on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit's sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments."
Now, some can make the case that the lyrics of many of these contemporary songs are based in Scripture, mostly coming from the Psalms.  However, lyrics make up only half of a song; style also plays a key role as well.  One could have the Magnificat as the text, but, if it has a rap beat, then it is not necessarily compatible with the liturgy (whether it's the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours or Benediction). 

I believe that we do the youth a great disservice by not exposing them to the Church's treasury of Sacred Music, especially simple chants.  These hymns, based in Scripture, deeply rooted in the Church's liturgical and sacramental theology, are also great tools for teaching the youth, and everyone else, for that matter, the basic Truths of our Faith.  It also provides a living link to the present. 

If we worry about making the Mass more "interesting" for our youth, then we have lost sight as to what actuallly happens during the Holy Sacrifice.  At every Mass, we are just as present at the Paschal Mysteries as were the Blessed Mother, Sts. John and Mary Magdalene and the Apostles.  This is because God lives in the eternal present.  We participate in something sacred, whether as lectors, servers, ushers or the faithful in the pews.  Because what we pray is sacred, everything, especially the music, needs to take on a sacral nature.  This is what we need to expose the youth to, since they will be the ones who will carry on the Traditions, passing on the torch of Fatih to the next generation.

For the complete text of Archbishop Ranjinth's speech, please visit the Adoremus website:

Although I was at the conference, heard him speak and took copious notes, it helps to verify what I took down.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How We Pray is as important as What We Pray

So, now we are at T- 1 year, one month and five days from the expiration of the current translation of the Roman Missal!    Throughout this period, I plan to examine the texts of the revised Roman Missal so as to help catechize my fellow Catholics on the beauty of the words that we will soon be praying.

Last month, the Laredo Morning Times published two letters that I wrote to introduce my fellow Laredo Catholics to the revised translations.  The timing was important because on September 16, 2010, the English-speaking world got to hear for the first time, the revised translation in a new musical setting called the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman.  Here is the first letter that was published on that day:

When Pope Benedict XVI travels to the United Kingdom to beatify the Venerable John Cardinal Newman this weekend, he will not only be raising a new blessed to the altars of the Church, but he will also partially roll out a change that will affect English-speaking Catholics the world over: a revised translation of the prayers of the Mass.  The revised parts are the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Memorial Acclamation, presented in a musical setting, the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman.  Locally, Laredoans can catch the broadcasts  on EWTN.

The revision process began in 2001 when the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (the department that oversees the Liturgy for the entire Church) published a document called  Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), which sets the guidelines for new translations in the various languages of the faithful.  In our case, these revised translations were made by the International Commission on the English Language (ICEL), composed of bishops from the various English-speaking countries.  Another commission established by the CDWDS, Vox Clara, headed by Australia’s George Cardinal Pell, also provided guidance on the translation.    

In this first of a two-part series, we will look at the history behind these revisions.  In part two, we will look at some of the changes themselves so as to better acquaint the faithful with the revised prayers.    Up until about 1964, the Church celebrated the Mass in Latin.  While the homily was preached in the vernacular, that is to say, the language of the people, all of the prayers were in the Church’s official language, Latin.  But, as early as 1964, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (which eventually merged into the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) published a Roman Missal in English and Latin.  

After the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI ordered a new Roman Missal (the official Mass prayer book) to be published both in Latin and in the vernacular.  This new missal debuted in Advent 1969.  However, while the different language groups retained much of the original Latin version, the original ICEL used a French document that employed “dynamic equivalence”, meaning that translators would attempt to keep the essence of the Latin original, but, not use a literal translation.  For example, in Spanish, the celebrant greets the faithful with these words:  “El Señor este con vostros.”  The faithful respond, “Y con tu espíritu.”  In the current English translation, the celebrant says “The Lord be with you”.  The faithful respond, “And also with you.”

Later on, Rome revised the Roman Missal twice.    When ICEL translated the second typical edition of the book in 2001, it was submitted to the CDWDS for the necessary recognitio, (approval).  However, the CDWDS denied the recognitio, restructured ICEL and ordered the creation of the Vox Clara committee.  Also during the same time period,  Venerable Pope John Paul II promulgated the third typical edition of the Roman Missal and ordered the CDWS to implement Liturgiam Authenticam.  “Dynamic equivalence” gave way to a revised, formal translation of the Roman Missal for English-speaking Catholics.

The key word in all of this is “revised”.  The format of the Mass does not change.  The Liturgy of the  Word, including the scriptural readings, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist remain the same.   However, the big shift comes in the style of language the celebrant and the faithful use to pray the Mass.    The revised translations take on a more elevated tone.  For Catholics, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the prayer par excellence of the Church.  According ot the Second Vatican Council, it is the "source and summit" of the Church's life.   The faithful enter into the very presence of God and the Paschal Mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.  Thus, the language used for the Church's highest prayer needs to take on a dimension of the sacred.  It needs to be language that goes beyond the ordinary because the mysteries that unfold at every Mass are, the Church holds, extraordinary.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why the GIRM needs to be CONTAGIOUS

A belated birthday dinner with my my favorite aunt necessitated a change in my daily Mass schedule.  Now, friends, I don't go to Mass looking for things to happen.  Sadly, I seem to be a magnet for, shall we say, irregularities. 

Be that as it may, I was most grateful to get to Mass.

Everything went well up until we got to the Agnus Dei.  The celebrant kept looking around for an EMHC (there were only 30 of us) for help.  A person went up to help him and he gave her the key to the Tabernacle so that she could retrieve the ciborrium.  I could feel my blood pressure rise.  Now, the area where daily Mass is celebrated doubles as the cry room.  The tabernacle is in the sanctuary.  The cry room opens into the sanctuary.

The reason why my antennae went up like a periscope was because the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) gives some very clear-cut direction as to what is supposed to happen:

162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose.97 In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.98

These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.
The celebrant is in good health and is not elderly.  There was not any reason why he could not have gone to the Tabernacle, retrieved the ciborrium and distribute Holy Communion to the faithful.  Furthermore, there was actually no need to go to the Tabernacle if provisions had been made beforehand to determine the number of hosts needed, either by having the faithful place their hosts into the ciborrium (by way of tongs before Mass) or by making a calcuation based on the regular number of communicants for daily Mass, which does not really greatly vary.  By the way, Holy Communion in this parish, at least during daily Mass, is distributed under one Species.

After Communion, he gave the key to the EMHC who then went to the Tabernacle to replace the ciborrium. Again, this is a big no-no according to the GIRM:

163. When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.

This, apparently is a regular practice at that parish.  Sadly, this is also a regular practice at many other parishes down here, especially during the weekends.  At my dad's parish, the pastor still wants an EMHC during a Mass where there are roughly 40 faithful in attendance.  The EMHC approaches the altar at the Agnus Dei and retrieves the ciborrium from the Tabernacle and then replaces it back inside after Communion. Holy Communion at my dad's parish is distributed under one Species.   Even the Cathedral, which is supposed to set the standard on liturgical fidelity, still has the EMHCs come up during the Agnus Dei.  At least these EMHCs don't retrieve the ciborrium. Holy Communion at the Cathedral, even during the week, is distributed under both Species.

There is also the matter of over-usage of EMHCs.  Both the GIRM and Redemptionis Sacramentum give some parameters on their legitimate usage.  Here is the RS statement:

[156.]  This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion" nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist" nor "special minister of the Eucharist", by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.
[157.]  If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.258

[158.]  Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.259 This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.

Two weeks ago, I sang at a Quince Anos Mass.  There were only eight communicants.  The same thing that I witnessed this evening played out in this other parish, only worse.  The celebrant sent an EMHC, who seemed just a couple of years older than the 15-year-old honoree,  to the Tabernacle, located in a chapel away from the sanctuary, to retrieve the ciborrium accompanied by two altar servers bearing candles.  The EMHC then carried the ciborrium to the altar.  I began the communion hymn as soon as the celebrant consumed and then, to my shock, I saw that he stayed at the altar while the young lady was distributing Holy Communion.  After Communion, she went back, again, accompanied by the two candle-bearers, to replace the ciborrium back into the Tabernacle.  I was shell-shocked even as I sang the recessional.  The celebrant disappeared before I could say anything.

Now, this is not a rant against EMHCs in general.  The Church allows their use under legitimate conditions.  But, these conditions need to be met.  Sadly, this is becoming a matter where the "extraordinary" has now become, in many parishes, the ordinary.

We are entering that time of year when we are fearful of germs as these bring about colds and the flu.  However, this is one GIRM (the acronym sounds exactly like the word "germ") that needs to be contagious and spread to every parish and chapel down here and across the world.  The Church gives us both the GIRM and RS as the antidote to liturgical abuse. 

New Cardinals of Note

The long-awaited announcement of the new red hats finally came at about 5AM Texas time.  It's kind of hard to watch the live feed from EWTN with one bleery eye open and the other wanting to succumb to the effects of Zycam, but, two names made me pop up:  Archbishops Raymond L. Burke and Malcolm Ranjinth! 

The former, an American, heads the Apostolic Signature, the Holy See's equivalent of the Supreme Court.  The latter, formerly served as the Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and is now the Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka.  I was blessed to have had the privilege of meeting Cardinal-elect Ranjinth when I was at St. Louis for a conference.  He is a very holy prelate and is an expert in liturgy.  He has taken great pains, since his return to Sri Lanka, to instill sound liturgical practices. 

Archbishop Burke left a huge mark on the Church of St. Louis, especially where liturgy is concerned.   He established the Institute of Sacred Music in his archdiocese, placing as its head, Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, who is a renowned expert in the field. 

Congratualtions to both Archbishops Burke and Ranjinth for this well-deserved honor!

Congratuations to both Archbishops Burke and Ranjinth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bridezilla meets the organist

I used to volunteer at our Cathedral, helping out the wedding coordinator.  Every once in awhile, we would get the bridezillas from Hades who wanted everything and anything.  One scary moment came during the offfertory when the Mariachi band one bride contracted played "Spanish Eyes". The rector gave the wedding coordinator a non-verbal signal and she went up to the choir loft to kill the music. 

This video, posted on the CMAA Musica Sacra forum, gave me a much-needed laugh:

As comical as this little video is, it is suprisingly accurate.  Aside from its reference to the Unity Candle (which has no place in Catholic nuptial liturgies), the video is on target.  It also brought back a lot of memories.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beauty and Truth

I'm a huge Star Trek fan (original series).  Whether or not the late Gene Rodenberry meant it, sometimes the show, or, at least the episode titles, got downright philosophical.  One such title that struck me came from the show's third and final season:  "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"  In a nutshell, the episode centers around a Medusean ambassador whose appearance causes the beholder to go mad.  It seems as though the only one who can tolerate him is a beautiful young scientist who is blind.

Last month, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjinth, formerly the Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and now Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, hosted a liturgical conference for his archdiocese.  Archbishop Ranjinth, who, as Chiesa's online editor Sandro Magister notes, closely follows Pope Benedict's liturgical lead, invited several speakers to the conference, including Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llovera, Prefect of the CDWDS, and Rev. Uwe Michael Lang, a member of the CDWDS and a consultor to the Office for the  Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.  Fr. Lang's topic centered around beauty and the liturgy.

What struck me about the text of Fr. Lang's speech was the keen insights that he offered on the importance of beauty in the Mass.  He notes that:

"In the modern (Western) context, it is precisely the transcendent dimension of beauty as being convertible with truth and goodness that is contested. Beauty has been divested of its ontological significance; it has been "emancipated" from the order of being and has been reduced to an aesthetic experience, or indeed to a matter of "feeling"

One result of this detachment of beauty from being, truth and goodness has been an aesthetic theory and practice that rejects anything beautiful as a deception and holds that only the representation of what is crude, vulgar and low is the truth. Beauty is distrusted - it is considered shallow, superficial, and incapable of disclosing the truth. This school of thought has had an effect on the Catholic liturgy as well as on sacred art and architecture. The great tradition of Catholic art, architecture, language, music and gesture in which the Church's traditional forms of prayer and worship were expressed, are often met, even within the Church, with a similar distrust and suspicion. It has not been a rare thing to hear that beauty is not an appropriate category of the Church's worship. And we know all too well that in Europe in the last forty or so years a considerable part of the Church's cultural and artistic patrimony has been squandered in the name of falsely understood honesty and simplicity. Generally speaking, an iconoclastic attitude seems to be a constant temptation for theologians and it recurs again and again in the history of the Church, not least in the twentieth century.

Of course, the Catholic tradition also knows of a false kind of beauty that does not lift men up towards God and his eternal kingdom, but instead drags them down and stirs disordered desires for power, possession and pleasure.  The book of Genesis makes clear that it was such false beauty that led to original sin. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden was a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3:6). It only needed the temptation of the serpent to provoke the first couple's rebellion against God."
Beauty and truth go hand in hand.  Beauty and the liturgy must go hand in hand.  The grand, the glorious, the majestic and the beautiful aspects of our Faith, such as ornate churches, sacred music, rich vestments and precious sacred vessels have given way to sterile buildings, folksy, casual music, fashionable vesture and less than ideal sacred vessels.  Modern church architecture, lamentably, resembles the industrial.  Sadly, if one were to drive by such a structure, he wouldn't know he was moving past a Catholic parish unless he looked at the marquee.  Sacred music, especially chant, is hardly heard anymore, giving way, in most cases, to soft pop, folksy tunes and the rock-style of the Praise and Worship genre. Vestments, too, seem to have taken on a more casual style.  It is rare to find Gothic chasubles, even rarer, still, fiddlebacks.    Redemptionis Sacramentum clearly states that using glassware, among other breakable items, as chalices and ciborria is reprobate. Yet, how many parishes still do that? 

Is there in truth, then, no beauty?  Fr. Lang put that question before his audience.  The obvious answer is that there is.  However, we need to open both our physical eyes and our spiritual eyes.   Quoting Pope Benedict's magnum opus, "The Spirit of the Liturgy", Fr. Lang writes:

As a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger has written of "the struggle - necessary in every generation - for the right understanding and worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy";36 the same holds for sacred art and architecture. And as he has reminded us, at the beginning of this struggle, there must be the realisation that art - like liturgy - "cannot be 'produced', as one contracts out and produces technical equipment. It is always a gift.... Before all things it requires the gift of a new vision. And so it should be worth all our efforts to regain a faith that sees" 37 A "faith that sees" is crucial also for appreciating the immense treasure of beauty, which previous generations have left us in their stupendous works of sacred art and architecture. The great cathedrals and churches all around the world are not just cultural monuments, they are also testimonies of the Catholic faith. Pope Benedict observed in The Spirit of the Liturgy: "The great cultural tradition of the faith is home to a presence of immense power. What in museums is only a monument from the past, an occasion for mere nostalgic admiration, is constantly made present in the liturgy in all its freshness".38
I was chatting online with a facebook friend who was hoping that the local philharmonic chorale and orchestra would perform one of the famed classically composed Masses at our Cathedral in a concert. I asked him, "Why not put this Sacred Music in its proper context, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?"  His response was a question mark.  I explained that these pieces of Sacred Music should not be confined to concert halls because they were never meant for that.  They weren't meant for applause; they were meant for prayer.

The same also holds true for our older, more majestic Church buildings.  A couple of years ago, I was blessed to have been able to make a trek up to St. Louis, MO, for a conference.  During my free time, I was able to visit four of the city's parishes, including its two Cathedral basilicas.  Walking into the newer Cathedral-basilica (as well as the old), there was a real sense of the sacred, of the Other that Pope Benedict so often writes about in his books.  The mosaics of the newer Cathedral-basilica were not mere museum pieces.  They told our story.  They form part of our heritage, from the creation of Adam and Eve to the triumph of the Resurrection.  

The music was mind-blowing.  That the Cathedral-baslica choir is talented there is no doubt, but, more important than the talent was the fact that genuine sacred music was used and prayed.  Sadly, I have not had that experience repeat itself in the two years since my visit.  It's not that our local choirs want for talent.  The talent is there, but, it is wasted on less than stellar music.  

In Truth, there certainly is Beauty, but, like the pearl of great price, we have to go out and find it, and, in some cases, work to restore it in our liturgies.  Only then, will we be able to get that glimpse of heaven. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Defining Genuine, Sacred Music

Over the course of 40 years, it seems that somehow, the concept of authentic, sacred music for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has lost its way.  Gregorian Chant, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, gave way to what pretty much amounts to a mishmash of folk music, soft pop and, in some cases, a full-blown rock genre (complete with drums, electric guitars and keyboards).  A lot of it can be attributed to well-meaning folks who paid more importance and gave more credence to the alleged "Spirit" of Vatican II than what the actual documents of the Second Vatican Council really said.

According to the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy:
"Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into Divine Worship."
"True art" is an interesting term, something which will be looked at later, as interpreted by two Pontiffs, one who preceeded the Council by 60 years and the other who was actually at the Council.Of course, the problem of bad music infiltrating the Mass cannot be attributed to the 1960s.  It actually goes back to the first couple of years of the 20th century.  Pope St. Pius X issued a Motu Propio, an apostolic document, defining what Sacred Music should be.  In his time, operatic motets and theatrical music made their way into the Mass.  These compositions, the saintly pontiff wrote, do not belong in the Holy Sacrifice.

"Among the different kinds of modern music, that which appears less suitable for accompanying the functions of public worship is the theatrical style, which was in the greatest vogue, especially in Italy, during the last century. This of its very nature is diametrically opposed to Gregorian Chant and classic polyphony, and therefore to the most important law of all good sacred music. Besides the intrinsic structure, the rhythm and what is known as the conventionalism of this style adapt themselves but badly to the requirements of true liturgical music."
How does Pope St. Pius X define Sacred Music?  He writes that:

"Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.

It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.

It must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

But it must, at the same time, be universal in the sense that while every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of sacred music that nobody of any nation may receive an impression other than good on hearing them."
It seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same.  What Pope St. Pius X faced back in 1903 still rears its ugly head today, some 107 years later.  This is the same concern that his successor, the now Venerable Pope John Paul II, lamented when he wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music, which he released back in 2003 to commemorate the MP's 100th anniversary:

"In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point:  indeed, "sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action"[11]. For this very reason, "not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold", my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that "if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious"[13]. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.

St Pius X's reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able "to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith"[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations."
Now, neither Pius X nor John Paul II dismissed new compositions.  In fact, both of them welcome new works.  However, even the most modern compositions, John Paul writes, should
"respect both the liturgical spirit and the true values of this art form. I make my own the "general rule" that St Pius X formulated in these words:  "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple"[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy."
Sadly, these words seem to have fallen on tone deaf ears, insofar as the publishers are concerned.  Week in and week out, they suggest using songs like "Gather Us In", "O Love of God", "Shine, Jesus, Shine" (which is not even Catholic), and "Be Not Afraid."  While some may make the case for "Be Not Afraid" as being fit for use because it is based on Sacred Scripture, the musicality of the piece still sounds rather folksy. 

Pope Benedict XVI, himself an accomplished and classically-trained pianist, also lamented the current state of the Church's liturgical music.  In Sacramentum Caritatis, he wrote that,
"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)."
Music used for the Mass needs to fit the Holy Sacrifice and not the other way around.  Pope Benedict does not mince words here.  His comments came as a result of concerns that the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist aired when touching upon the subject of music used at "youth Masses".  The Synod Fathers wrote that
"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."
Unfortunately, a lot of the publishers seem to have yielded to that "consumer mentality." When they issue their musical planners, the publishing houses give preference to their own works, rather than what constitutes traditional, sacred music.  Music directors should not have to be tied down to a publishing house's musical planners.  The publishers carry no real weight.  They do not have ecclesial authority.  Sure, they can make suggestions, but, that does not mean that the parish musicians' hands are tied.  The Church has a 2,000-year-old treasury of Sacred Music that awaits to be used.  Venerable hymns like "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name", "Shepherd of Souls", "All Creatures of Our God and King", "Attende Domine", "Come, Holy Ghost", "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus (the complete version)," "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" and "For All The Saints" should be brought back to the parish musical repertoire.

Now, Liturgiam Authenticam, the authoritative document of the Holy See that addresses liturgical translation, mandates that all national episcopal conferences (such as the USCCB) submit a common repetoire of music for use in the Mass.  The USCCB has submitted its directory to the Congregation for Divine Worship and and the Discipline of the Sacraments (which oversees the Universal Church's liturgical practices) some three years ago.  However, the recognitio has not yet been granted.  Perhaps this directory will help rectify the situation. 

Let us ask for St. Cecilia's intercession to help restore the "Sacred" in Sacred music.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sacred Space

I was sitting in Municipal Court a couple of days ago awaiting my turn to see the judge.  The bailiff was ensuring that proper decorum was followed to the point of turning young women away clad in shorts and having the men remove their caps.  Everything was quiet.

It never dawned on me until I was sitting on the "pew", so to speak (since the word "bench" is reserved for the judge's seat), how very much like a Catholic church the courtroom is.  There is that separation between the people and the actual court in a manner similar to the altar railing (still found in some of the older churches) that separates the pews from the sanctuary.  Even in those churches that do not have an altar railing, there is still a somewhat informal divide, so to speak, that separates the faithful from the sanctuary, whether it's steps or a slight elevation. 

Sadly, it seems to me that we tend to behave more respectfully while in court than we do while we are at Church.  In the court, we are in the presence of the judge; however, in Church, we are present before the true Just Judge.  In the secular court, we need to maintain silence.  Mobile phones should be inaudible,  Proper attire must be worn.  The same should hold true in Church.  The operative word is "should".  Unfortutnatelly, that is not always the case.  Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, formerly the Secretary to the Congreagation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and now Archbishop of Colombo (Sri Lanka), lamented during his keynote address at the 2008 Gateway Liturgical Conference that "Wall Street" has moved into the sanctuary.  Folks engage in conversations with each other, sometimes aloud.  The different mobile phone ring tones seem to chime in chorus.  Somehow, prayer seems to be an after-thought.

My dad experienced this tonight at his parish.  The song leader and her assistant were laughing and chatting away to the point that it made prayer a difficult feat to accomplish for the folks in the pews.  He had to walk out of the Church because he could not pray.  He made it back right before Mass began.  Unfortunately, what my dad experienced is not something that is confined to this particular parish.  It's a problem that permeates all over the place.

It's also a problem that, oddly enough,  Jesus personally encountered in Jerusalem.  It always amazes me when a well-meaning person poses the infamous question: What would Jesus do?  Well, let's look at it for a moment and examine what Jesus actually did.  He goes to the Temple, His house, to pray.  What does he find?  He notices a lot of loud conversation, folks buying and selling and, what amounts to a marketplace.  But, some might say, whoa, benedictgal, weren't these folks outside of the Temple?  Actually, they were not.  The Temple had three divisions: the Holy of Holies (reserved only for the priest), the court for the Hebrews and the Court of the Gentiles.  The moneychangers and the vendors set up shop at the Court of the Gentiles, an area that was reserved for the non-Jewish followers of the God of Israel so that they could worship the Lord.  It was already sacred space.  As God, Jesus was perturbed and disturbed that this kind of activity should be going on in His house.  What did Jesus do?  The Gospel accounts tell us that he fashioned a whip of cords and drove out the moneychangers and the animals.  "My Father's house is a house of prayer," Jesus said. 

These words reverberate today.  Of course,  I don't think that anyone wants to break out the cords and whips (although, there might be a strong temptation to do so, sometimes).  But, we need to remember just Who's house we are inside when we go to  Church.   If we must observe stringent procedures when inside the courtroom, should we not have just as much respect, if not, more, when we are inside Church?  Jesus issues the invitation.  He yearns for us to spend time with Him.  He yearns to speak to us.  It's kind of hard listening to Jesus when we're chatting with the person next to us in the pews.  It's also difficult to prayerfully prepare for the sacred mysteries about to unfold before us in the Mass if we are visiting with our friends while inside the Church.  Active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass also includes interior preparation as well.

Next time you find yourself having to sit in a courtroom, I invite you to make the comparisons between this space and the Church's sacred area.  Compare what you experience in the courtroom to what you see and hear going on prior to Mass on a given Sunday.  Granted, infractions of court decorum are punishable by either jail time or a huge fine (depending on your  particular home state).. At least there is a huge measure of respect in the presence of the judge.  But, in Church, we are in the presence of, as I wrote earlier, the True, Just Judge.  Our behavior should that reflect that all the more because we do this not out of fear of fines or jail time, but, out of love.