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Friday, December 31, 2010

Blessed New Year!

As 2010 winds down in the South Texas hinterland, I wish all of you a very Blessed 2011.  I leave you with the words of tomorrow's first reading from the Book of Numbers:

[22] And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: [23] Say to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: [24] The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. [25] The Lord shew his face to thee, and have mercy on thee. [26] The Lord turn his countenance to thee, and give thee peace. [27] And they shall invoke my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.

Sistine Chapel Choir Adeste Fideles

Lest forget that we are still in the Christmas season, here is the Sistine Chapel Choir's beautiful rendition of Adeste Fideles. Let us still continue to celebrate this Holy Season!

Another Hymn from the Vespers

The Magnificat was also chanted during this evening's Solemn Vespers. While the video shows the Westminster Cathedral choir chanting this venerable canticle, it is still a magnificent prayer to hear.

Te Deum

This evening, the venerable hymn Te Deum was chanted at the Solemn Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Although the video is from the Vespers at Notre Dame in France, this beautiful hymn is most appropriate tonight, as we thank God for the many blessings He bestowed on us this year. Enjoy!

The Need for Liturgical Catechesis

This evening, the Holy Father celebrated First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Mother of God.  A migraine prevented me from seeing the Liturgy; however, I was able to listen to the chanting and the commentary.

The Holy Father preached a magnificent homily.  He focused his comments to the Word of God, referencing his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini.  He noted that:

The privileged place of the Word of God is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Diocesan Convention in June, which I attended, wanted to highlight the centrality of the Sunday Mass in the life of every Christian community and gave indications that the beauty of the divine mysteries can shine more in the act of celebration and spiritual benefits that they send. I encourage pastors and priests to give effect to what is stated in the pastoral program: the formation of a group that animates the liturgical celebration, and a catechesis which helps everyone to better understand the mystery of the Eucharist, which triggers the witness of charity.

Liturgical catechesis is sorely lacking in many of our parishes.  We just do not have a true understanding of the sacred mysteries that unfold before us at every Mass.   We also do not seem to understand the rhythms of the liturgical seasons. 

This evening, I made myself go to Mass for the Vigil of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  My parish was not going to have Mass this evening, nor tomorrow, so I went to a neighboring parish.  Even though I was still suffering the effects of the migraine, I really wanted to go.

Although the celebrant preached an eloquent homily and he beautifully chanted the Roman Canon, the music was sorely disconnected.  The women selecting the music chose songs that had nothing to do with the Solemnity, let alone the Christmas season.   They rebuffed a suggestion to use a Christmas carol for Holy Communion.  It was as though for them, Christmas was over. 

The women mean well.  However, the parish perhaps needs to offer its liturgical ministers and the faithful some sort of catechesis on the liturgy.  We need to respect the seasons of the Church's liturgical year.  December 24th begins the Christmas season.  It does not end on December 25th.  It does not even end on January 6th, the traditional date for the Epiphany.  The Christmas season ends with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord.  The women did not know that.  Sadly, not a few of my fellow Catholic facebook friends knew when the Christmas season ends.  It's as though we've shifted from wishing folks a Merry Christmas to wishing them a Happy New Year. 

While the Holy Father's homily was not meant to focus solely on the need for liturgical catechesis, his words certainly made a strong impact on me this evening during Mass.  We are eleven months away from the implementation of the revised translation of the Roman Missal.  Perhaps this can be an opportunity to provide this sorely needed catechesis to our parishes.  This should certainly be a New Year's resolution worth keeping.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Finding Beauty and Truth in Sacred Music

I enjoy reading a lot of Jeffrey Tucker's writings.  He really has a genuine Sensus Fidei when it comes to what constitutes authentic Sacred Music.  Fr. Z reports that the National Catholic Register posted an interview with Jeffrey on that publication's blog.  While Jeffrey had so much to offer, there are, perhaps, two items really leaped out his comments.  Here is the first:

What do you say to parish music directors who think that prescribed music for the Mass takes away from their artistic freedom?

In some ways, Catholicism in general takes away from our freedom to believe and do whatever we want, but there is another sense in which the framework itself frees us to do what is right, true, and beautiful. Many art historians have looked back to see that it is not untethered freedom that has given rise to great art but rather creativity within constraints. Think of the Mass settings of the Renaissance and Classical periods. Many of the great secular composers are best known for their settings of Requiem Masses or operas with a pre-set story. Artists craved a framework to work within; it is this framework that causes an exit from the ego, which is probably the beginning of truly lasting contributions to art.

There is also the need for music at Mass to unify the purposes of the gathered community. That cannot happen if the music is all about individual preferences. Notice how even four people in a moving car cannot agree on which radio station should be played. If we leave the choice solely to individual preferences, the result will be chaos. We need to use music that draws us out of ourselves and into a higher realm that unifies us. The chant tradition provides this. It is a third way, beyond liberal and conservative hymn choices.

Jeffrey makes some really spot-on observations here in his response.  The Holy Sacrifice is not some anything goes from of worship where we can do as we please.   Things need to fit.  Things need to be compatible with the Sacred mysteries that are about to unfold before us.  They need to be congruent.

A long time ago, I was in a debate regarding musical selections for a diocesan Mass.   The local hospital director of pastoral care services, a lay person, like myself,  insisted that Mariachis should be used because he said that they reflected our culture.  I told him that our culture was first and foremost Catholic.  Furthermore, I also told him that a lot of that genre is incompatible with the sacred nature of the Mass.  It was almost like that South Park episode where Cartman and the kids took a pop song and subsitituted the lyrics for something religious, turning the piece into some sort of Praise and Worship anthem.  We were told to compromise.   The end result was a battle of the bands, so to speak, with the organ and cantor doing much of the music, while the Mariachis played a couple of songs.  It was, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus would have said, a "cultural mishmash."

The Church, indeed, gives us the freedom to do what is right and what is beautiful.   That is why we have such beautiful music as Gregorian Chant and Palestrina and simple chants for the propers.   Sadly, though, many parishes are lured into the trap of the proverbial four-hymn sandwich.  The Big Three publishing houses do not bother to set the antiphons to music and so we are stuck with bad hymns from the Age of Aquarius.

The next subject that Jeffrey accurately diagnoses concerns youth and Music:

What do you say to people who think that ”contemporary” or rock music is necessary to attract young people to Mass?
So far as I can tell, the only people who really argue this way are old people. It’s true that plenty of young people are not interested in true liturgical music, but those same people are not interested in Catholicism either. How do we draw people to the faith? By lying about it and substituting false teaching? I don’t think so. The faith draws people when it is not ashamed of itself and when it has the ring of truth.
It is the same with liturgical music. Church music uses free rhythm that always points upwards in the same way that incense is always rising. This assists our prayer. Secular styles of music, in contrast, use rhythms that elicit temporal thoughts and emotions. Rock music points to nothing outside of itself, so it does not belong anywhere near the liturgy.  
We are living in times of transition, and young people seem to know this even more than older people. I don’t think there is any doubt where that transition is headed: People are discovering the sacred music tradition. If you look around at the Catholic music world, you quickly find that this is where the interest and energy is. This is the future.
Here, Jeffrey echoes, in some way, what Pope Benedict XVI wrote as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.  Note what the Holy Father said about music:

Then there are two developments in music itself that have their origins primarily in the West but that for a long time have affected the whole of mankind in the world culture that is being formed. Modern so-called "classical" music has maneuvered itself, with some exceptions, into an elitist ghetto, which only specialists may enter -- and even they do so with what may sometimes be mixed feelings. The music of the masses has broken loose from this and treads a very different path.

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.
Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff in OCP's Spirit and Song falls under the second paragraph from the Holy Father's quote.  When I leafed through Spirit and Song, I was dumbfounded to see that the old R&B song, "Lean on Me" was included as the last song.  It was bad enough to see Protestant P&W songs like "Shine, Jesus, Shine" and "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" in the mix.  It's even worse to hear these choirs sing "I Can Only Imagine" for Holy Communion.  The song seems to totally disregard the reality that we stand in the very presence of God during the Mass, especially at the moment that we receive Him in Holy Communion. 

Jeffrey is right when he notes that the young people want something more than what is being offered to them.  They recognize that there is something greater, transcendent and universal.  Sadly, it's the older adults who do not recognize this and seem to be stuck in a timewarp when felt banners and Kumbaya were all the rage.

Thank you, Jeffrey Tucker, for putting to words what many of us have been thinking for quite some time.  It will take awhile to right the ship of liturgical music, especially here in the United States.  But, I find comfort in the fact that I have two friends in the seminary who have discovered chant and want to promote it as soon as they are ordained.  There is hope for the Church.


Here is the article in its entirety:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the Importance of Liturgical Appropriateness

Msgr. Guido Marini celebrates Mass ad orientem at Santa Maria Maggiore.  (Photo from the New Liturgical Movement)

On Fr. Z's excellent blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say, is an article from the Washington Post.  The article features an interview with Msgr. Guido Marini, the Papal Master of Ceremonies.  It is an excellent piece because Msgr. Marini offers some valuable insight into the importance liturgical appropriateness.

According to Marini, the criterion for the papal liturgies is beauty.   This is something that the Holy See has been promoting every since April 19, 2005, when the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the Chair of St. Peter.  That is also something that the former Cardinal long promoted way before he became Pope Benedict XVI.

According to the article:

Since the Marini II era began in October 2007, the papal Masses clearly have a stronger traditional element. Guido Marini, who has degrees in canon and civil law and a doctorate in the psychology of communication, caused considerable consternation among some progressive Catholics in January when he talked to English-speaking priests about a "reform of the reform."

In an interview Thursday, he argued that the changes should not be seen as a liturgical backlash to modernity but as a "harmonious development" in a "continuum" that takes full advantage of the church's rich history and is not subject to what he has called "sporadic modifications." Liturgical progressives, like Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., are concerned that Marini considers the reforms of the 1960s ecumenical council known as Vatican II as being among those sporadic modifications.

At most papal Masses, a large crucifix flanked by tall candles is now displayed on the altar, even though many progressives say the ornaments block the view of the priest and the bread and wine. They argue that this obstructs the accessibility urged by liturgical reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council.
Marini responds by saying that the crucifix reminds the faithful of who is really front and center in the Mass. He also says that the pope cannot sit in front of the altar when it bears the crucifix because "the pope can't give his back" to sacraments on the altar.

For Marini, Gregorian chants must be the music of the church because they best interpret the liturgy. And in September, ahead of the pope's visit to Britain, Marini told the Scottish paper the Herald that the pope would celebrate all the Prefaces and Canons of his Masses in Latin.
He added that Benedict considered the Mass a heavenly space that shouldn't be modified with "things that don't belong."

Marini has said there are no plans to force the changes on parishes around the world, but he hopes that they slowly spread and seep in.

Under Benedict, the faithful at papal Masses take Communion on their knees and receive the wafer on the tongue. Guido Marini said the change "recalls the importance of the moment" and keeps the act from becoming "banal."
There seems to be a lot of misinterpretation and  misunderstanding of what the Second Vatican Council actually called for in its reforms.  Latin and Gregorian Chant were never abolished.  In fact, it was assumed that Latin would still be used and that the Mass would not necessarily be celebrated in the vernacular completely.   In fact, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy specifically states that Latin is to be retained.  Pope Benedict also made that same call in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, especially in Masses where more than one vernacular language is used.  It never ceases to amaze me when both OCP and WLP trout out their tawdry bilingual Mass settings.  Sadly, these tend to take liberties with the text and also feature very bad, almost banal music.  Simple Latin chants, which were called for by Pope Paul VI when he commissioned Jubilate Deo, would effectively solve the problem because, naturally, they are the official prayers of the Church and their musical settings are genuinely sacred.

Ad orientem was also never deleted from the Holy Sacrifice.  In fact, careful reading of the rubrics actually assumes that the priest is using this posture during certain parts of the Mass.  It is not important to see the priest; rather, it is important to have that encounter with Christ.  The priest is leading us forward to that encounter.  Together, we are seeking the face of God.  It is a point that both the Holy Father and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, who is a consultor to both the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Office of Liturgies for the Supreme Pontiff, have made in their respective books.  In fact, the Holy Father will more than likely assume the ad orientem posture when he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice at the Sistene Chapel to mark the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord.

Msgr. Marini has been a godsend to the Papal liturgies.  When he came onboard, it was as though the Papal liturgies started to make a 180-degree turn towards what is proper.  It also helps the Holy Father when he and his Papal Master of Ceremonies are on the same page.  Pope Benedict XVI and Msgr. Marini work in tandem together.  This is very important.

Although Msgr. Marini does not mandate that the changes he has brought forth at the behest of the Holy Father be copied exactly in our local parishes, these Masses should serve as the example par excellence as to how an authentic Ars Celebrandi can be achieved.   One does not necessarily have to have the grandiose space of St. Peter's Basilica or the ornate vestments and sacred vessels in order to have beauty.  Beauty in the liturgy can certainly be achieved by simply abiding by what the Church requests, doing the red and saying the black.

The Marini Wars

Both Fr. Finigan (in his excellent blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity) and the Washington Post made reference to this very funny YouTube video. Like Fr. Finigan, I think that it was meant in good jest. Enjoy!

A Christmas present to the CDWDS from the Holy Father

This morning, I was checking my inbox when this piece of grand news hit (courtesy of the Vatican Information Service):

As members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, archbishop of Warsaw, Poland; Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B.; Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and Cardinal Velasio De Paolis C.S., president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

The appointment of Cardinals Ranjinth and Burke are certainly welcome news.  Cardinal Ranjinth is no stranger to the CDWDS, having served as its secretary until last year when the Holy Father made him Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Cardinal Burke has a solid reputation for faithful adherence to the norms.  Under his watch while Archbishop of St. Louis, he established the Institute of Sacred Music, naming Fr. Sam Weber as its first director.  The office continues to flourish.  Given the announcement that the CDWDS prefect Antonio Cardinal Canizares Lloera made about the new division for Art and Sacred Music, Cardinal Burke's experience with the Institute can serve to offer the Congregation guidance on this coming venture.

Fr. Z calls Pope Benedict XVI the "Pope of Christian Unity", which is certainly true.  But, in this case, I would add that our Holy Father is also the "Pope of the New Liturgical Movement."


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Christmas Present from the CDWDS

A tip of the Stetson (actually, two tips) go to both Fr. Z and the fine folks at the New Liturgical Movement for providing us with two different takes on an interview of Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llorea made by Andrea Tornielli which appeared in this past Sunday's edition of Il Gironali.  Cardinal Canizares Lloera is the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.   According to Shawn Tribe, the editor of the NLM, the prefect made a rather stunning (and quite frankly, much longed for) announcement:

The new liturgical movement will have to discover the beauty of the liturgy. Therefore, we will open a new division in our congregation dedicated to "Art and Sacred Music" at the service of the liturgy. This will lead us to offer soon a criteria and guidelines for art, song and sacred music. As well we offer as soon as possible criteria and guidelines for preaching.
This is literally and figuratively sweet angelic music to these ears.  Two years ago, while attending the Saturday session of the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, MO, I had the unique privilege of meeting then-Archbishop Malcolm Ranjinth, who, at the time, served as secretary to the CDWDS.  Now known as Malcolm Cardinal Ranjinth, he was gracious enough to allow me a question after his splendid speech.  I asked him how music would play a role in an authentic Ars Celebrandi.  I explained to him that the quality of music used for the Masses here in the United States was sorely lacking and that some of it had drifted into the banal.  He told me that he was well aware of the problem that we were facing.  He said that the CDWDS would be issuing a document in the very near future that would address the situation.  However, given the change in prefects and secretaries that would occur later on, I thought that the matter would never be addressed.  I am happy to have been proven wrong.

Given the greater degree of solemnity that the Papal Masses have taken since Msgr. Guido Marini replaced Archbishop Pietro Marini (no relation) as the head of the Office of Liturgies for the Supreme Pontiff and the Chief Master of Ceremonies, I suspect that these liturgies might in some way be held up as an example of how the Holy Sacrifice should be celebrated.  Now, inasmuch as parishes might not be able to afford ornate vestments or sacred vessels encrusted with jewels, certainly the quality of music can and should improve. 

Now, there will probably some who will complain about whatever changes the Holy See proposes (the big three US publishing houses come to mind).  However, parishes do not have to rely soley on the Big Three.  Fr. Sam Weber, the director of the Institute of Sacred Music for the Archdiocese of St. Louis has several of the propers set to simple music posted on the Institute's website.   The Church Music Association of America, through its MusicaSacra website, has excellent resources, including tutorials for the revised translations.  The Corpus Christi Watershed project also provides another excellent source for sacred music, as do the Chant Cafe the Adoremus hymnal.

In any event, such a division within the CDWDS can only serve to bring the Church to a true Ars Celebrandi.  As my Jubilarian friend once told me, "The wheels of Rome grind slowly, but, they do grind finely."

You are a Priest Forever

While the Universal Church marks the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28th also holds a particular significance for me; it is the 25th anniversary of my best friend's ordination to the priesthood.

These days, there are vicious attacks on the sacred priesthood.  It seems that the media only concentrates on the few who commit horrible acts while ignoring the countless who continuously give of themselves as a daily act of oblation to the Lord.  These men, my friend included, have freely chosen to forego marriage to dedicate themselves solely to serving Christ and His Church.

I thank God every day for my friend, and naturally, for his brother priests, especially the Holy Father.  My friend is a gift from God to our diocese and to me, in particular.  He is not perfect; none of us is.  We sometimes argue about things.   

However, in his person, in his celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in his preaching, he manages to communicate to us that Something, Someone, greater than ourselves is present.  He takes to heart the words of St. John the Baptist, "He must increase; I must decrease", when celebrating the Holy Sacrifice. He reminds us that the Mass is the Sacrifice.  He teaches us, with every Mass, that we stand in the very presence of God and that we are engaging in a holy and sacred act.  We have learned so much from him. 

Observing him during the Mass, I sometimes think that without meaning to, he takes Pope Benedict XVI as his model.  Sometimes, before Mass begins, we see him praying his office in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  He tries to teach us that we need to pray.  We need to prepare ourselves interiorly for Mass.  While we do gather as a community, it is within the Mass that we ultimately find our true union.  On occasion, he will celebrate Mass ad orientem, facing the crucifix, leading us in prayer and reminding us that the main focus during the Mass is Christ.  He has taught us what it means to truly pray the Mass.

I do not know if I will be around when my friend celebrates his Golden Jubilee.  But, I do know that I will always be grateful that God chose him to be a priest, a priest forever.  May God continue to bless him, protect him and strengthen him in his vocation.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Video Version of the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Here is the audio of the text that I previously posted. May you find this chant edifying and effacacious!

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

From our friends at the New Liturgical Movement comes this translation of the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ.  Sadly, the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, taken from the Roman Martyrology, is one that we rarely listen to in our parishes.  However, this beautiful proclamation puts the Nativity of Our Lord in both salvation and secular histories.  The Eternal Son of God deigns to be born in time. He desires to enter human history.  He leaps down from his heavenly throne and enters the new and authentic Ark of the Covenant, the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is the fulfillment of the Law, the true High Priest and the authentic Bread come down from heaven.

In the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when in the beginning God created heaven and earth; from the flood, the 2957th year; from the birth of Abraham, the 2015th year; from Moses and the going-out of the people of Israel from Egypt, the 1510th year; from the anointing of David as king, the 1032nd year; in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the 194th Olympiad; from the founding of the city of Rome, the 752nd year; in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace, in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception was born in Bethlehem of Juda of the Virgin Mary, having become man. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
We see the beautiful melding of both the sacred and the secular.  When I have heard this proclaimed, its profound beauty pierces my heart.  It is one of the Church's most beautiful liturgical treasures and it should not be hidden under a basket.  We heard it proclaimed in my parish last night and it was beautiful.

Pope Benedict XVI's Urbi et Orbi Message

Here is the official text from the Vatican:

Verbum caro factum est" – "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14).

Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).

"The Word became flesh". Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.

God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: "I am who I am … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.

"The Word became flesh". The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today. The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Saviour. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the "yes" of our hearts.

And what do our hearts, in effect, seek, if not a Truth which is also Love? Children seek it with their questions, so disarming and stimulating; young people seek it in their eagerness to discover the deepest meaning of their life; adults seek it in order to guide and sustain their commitments in the family and the workplace; the elderly seek it in order to grant completion to their earthly existence.

"The Word became flesh". The proclamation of Christmas is also a light for all peoples, for the collective journey of humanity. "Emmanuel", God-with-us, has come as King of justice and peace. We know that his Kingdom is not of this world, and yet it is more important than all the kingdoms of this world. It is like the leaven of humanity: were it lacking, the energy to work for true development would flag: the impulse to work together for the common good, in the disinterested service of our neighbour, in the peaceful struggle for justice. Belief in the God who desired to share in our history constantly encourages us in our own commitment to that history, for all its contradictions. It is a source of hope for everyone whose dignity is offended and violated, since the one born in Bethlehem came to set every man and woman free from the source of all enslavement.

May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence. May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic. May the same hold true not only for those in Colombia and Venezuela, but also in Guatemala and Costa Rica, who recently suffered natural disasters.

May the birth of the Savior open horizons of lasting peace and authentic progress for the peoples of Somalia, Darfur and Côte d’Ivoire; may it promote political and social stability in Madagascar; may it bring security and respect for human rights in Afghanistan and in Pakistan; may it encourage dialogue between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and may it advance reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

May the birth of the Savior strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of "God-with-us" grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.

Dear brothers and sisters, "the Word became flesh"; he came to dwell among us; he is Emmanuel, the God who became close to us. Together let us contemplate this great mystery of love; let our hearts be filled with the light which shines in the stable of Bethlehem! To everyone, a Merry Christmas!

What struck me about the Holy Father's words was that the first three paragraphs were something that I heard in two beautifully preached homilies, one for the Christmas Vigil and the other for the Mass on Christmas Day.  The homilist told us that the Incarnation is God's concrete manifestation of the immense love He has for His creation.  The Incarnation was not some alternative plan that God drew up when man discarded his friendship.  The Incarnation was His plan from the very beginning.   God wanted to be one with us.  He achieves this unity in the most concrete way possible, in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  The Son, eternal from all ages, chooses to be born in time, taking His flesh from His mother, the Blesesd Virign Mary.  He is the union between God and man that can never be broken.

Buon Natale a tutti amici!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Homily for 2010 Christmas Papal Mass

In Vebum Domini, the Holy Father noted that the quality of the homilies preached during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass needs to be improved.  He is definitely leading by example.  The homily he preached for this evening's Mass of Christmas is certainly a precious gem that should be studied and emulated.  Here is the Vatican's translation of the homily, as preached in Italian:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"You are my son, this day I have begotten you" – with this passage from Psalm 2 the Church begins the liturgy of this holy night. She knows that this passage originally formed part of the coronation rite of the kings of Israel. The king, who in himself is a man like others, becomes the "Son of God" through being called and installed in his office. It is a kind of adoption by God, a decisive act by which he grants a new existence to this man, drawing him into his own being. The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we have just heard presents the same process even more clearly in a situation of hardship and danger for Israel: "To us a child is born, to us a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:6). Installation in the office of king is like a second birth. As one newly born through God’s personal choice, as a child born of God, the king embodies hope. On his shoulders the future rests. He is the bearer of the promise of peace. On that night in Bethlehem this prophetic saying came true in a way that would still have been unimaginable at the time of Isaiah. Yes indeed, now it really is a child on whose shoulders government is laid. In him the new kingship appears that God establishes in the world. This child is truly born of God. It is God’s eternal Word that unites humanity with divinity. To this child belong those titles of honour which Isaiah’s coronation song attributes to him: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). Yes, this king does not need counsellors drawn from the wise of this world. He bears in himself God’s wisdom and God’s counsel. In the weakness of infancy, he is the mighty God and he shows us God’s own might in contrast to the self-asserting powers of this world.

Truly, the words of Israel’s coronation rite were only ever rites of hope which looked ahead to a distant future that God would bestow. None of the kings who were greeted in this way lived up to the sublime content of these words. In all of them, those words about divine sonship, about installation into the heritage of the peoples, about making the ends of the earth their possession (Ps 2:8) were only pointers towards what was to come – as it were signposts of hope indicating a future that at that moment was still beyond comprehension. Thus the fulfilment of the prophecy, which began that night in Bethlehem, is both infinitely greater and in worldly terms smaller than the prophecy itself might lead one to imagine. It is greater in the sense that this child is truly the Son of God, truly "God from God, light from light, begotten not made, of one being with the Father". The infinite distance between God and man is overcome. God has not only bent down, as we read in the Psalms; he has truly "come down", he has come into the world, he has become one of us, in order to draw all of us to himself. This child is truly Emmanuel – God-with-us. His kingdom truly stretches to the ends of the earth. He has truly built islands of peace in the world-encompassing breadth of the holy Eucharist. Wherever it is celebrated, an island of peace arises, of God’s own peace. This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might. This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart. But at the same time it is true that the "rod of his oppressor" is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the "garment rolled in blood" (Is 9:4f) still remains. So part of this night is simply joy at God’s closeness. We are grateful that God gives himself into our hands as a child, begging as it were for our love, implanting his peace in our hearts. But this joy is also a prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfil the prophecy that "of peace there will be no end" (Is 9:7). We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world – the "kingdom of righteousness, love and peace".

"Mary gave birth to her first-born son" (Lk 2:7). In this sentence Saint Luke recounts quite soberly the great event to which the prophecies from Israel’s history had pointed. Luke calls the child the "first-born". In the language which developed within the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, "first-born" does not mean the first of a series of children. The word "first-born" is a title of honour, quite independently of whether other brothers and sisters follow or not. So Israel is designated by God in the Book of Exodus (4:22) as "my first-born Son", and this expresses Israel’s election, its singular dignity, the particular love of God the Father. The early Church knew that in Jesus this saying had acquired a new depth, that the promises made to Israel were summed up in him. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus "the first-born", simply in order to designate him as the Son sent into the world by God (cf. 1:5-7) after the ground had been prepared by Old Testament prophecy. The first-born belongs to God in a special way – and therefore he had to be handed over to God in a special way – as in many religions – and he had to be ransomed through a vicarious sacrifice, as Saint Luke recounts in the episode of the Presentation in the Temple. The first-born belongs to God in a special way, and is as it were destined for sacrifice. In Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross this destiny of the first-born is fulfilled in a unique way. In his person he brings humanity before God and unites man with God in such a way that God becomes all in all. Saint Paul amplified and deepened the idea of Jesus as first-born in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians: Jesus, we read in these letters, is the first-born of all creation – the true prototype of man, according to which God formed the human creature. Man can be the image of God because Jesus is both God and man, the true image of God and of man. Furthermore, as these letters tell us, he is the first-born from the dead. In the resurrection he has broken down the wall of death for all of us. He has opened up to man the dimension of eternal life in fellowship with God. Finally, it is said to us that he is the first-born of many brothers. Yes indeed, now he really is the first of a series of brothers and sisters: the first, that is, who opens up for us the possibility of communing with God. He creates true brotherhood – not the kind defiled by sin as in the case of Cain and Abel, or Romulus and Remus, but the new brotherhood in which we are God’s own family. This new family of God begins at the moment when Mary wraps her first-born in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. Let us pray to him: Lord Jesus, who wanted to be born as the first of many brothers and sisters, grant us the grace of true brotherhood. Help us to become like you. Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance, in those who are suffering or forsaken, in all people, and help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters, so as to become one family, your family.

At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Lk 2:14). The Church has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory – "we praise you for your glory". We praise you for the beauty, for the greatness, for the goodness of God, which becomes visible to us this night. The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve. God’s glory, from which all beauty derives, causes us to break out in astonishment and joy. Anyone who catches a glimpse of God experiences joy, and on this night we see something of his light. But the angels’ message on that holy night also spoke of men: "Peace among men with whom he is pleased". The Latin translation of the angels’ song that we use in the liturgy, taken from Saint Jerome, is slightly different: "peace to men of good will". The expression "men of good will" has become an important part of the Church’s vocabulary in recent decades. But which is the correct translation? We must read both texts together; only in this way do we truly understand the angels’ song. It would be a false interpretation to see this exclusively as the action of God, as if he had not called man to a free response of love. But it would be equally mistaken to adopt a moralizing interpretation as if man were so to speak able to redeem himself by his good will. Both elements belong together: grace and freedom, God’s prior love for us, without which we could not love him, and the response that he awaits from us, the response that he asks for so palpably through the birth of his son. We cannot divide up into independent entities the interplay of grace and freedom, or the interplay of call and response. The two are inseparably woven together. So this part of the angels’ message is both promise and call at the same time. God has anticipated us with the gift of his Son. God anticipates us again and again in unexpected ways. He does not cease to search for us, to raise us up as often as we might need. He does not abandon the lost sheep in the wilderness into which it had strayed. God does not allow himself to be confounded by our sin. Again and again he begins afresh with us. But he is still waiting for us to join him in love. He loves us, so that we too may become people who love, so that there may be peace on earth.
Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: "Glory to God in the highest" (Lk 2:13f.). But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen
A priest friend of mine often states in his homilies that we need to familiarize ourselves with Sacred Scripture.  The Old Testament foreshadows what will come in the New Testament.  The New Testament brings to complete fulfillment all that was written in the Old Testament.  When the Holy Father speaks of the coronation rite of the kings of Ancient Israel, he notes that this particular ritual reaches its true fulfillment only in Christ, the true King of Israel.  The Entrance Antiphon chanted by the Sistene Chapel Choir, "You are my son, this day I have begotten you" reaches its authentic meaning with the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ. 

Later on in his homily, the Holy Father gives us the true meaning of the phrase "first-born Son".  Jesus is the new Adam, while His mother, Mary, is the new Eve.  While Eve was created from Adam's side, Jesus became incarnate, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of Mary, His mother, thus taking His humanity solely from Mary.  Because God has bound Himself to man by a bond that can never be broken.  Thus, He is our brother and we are His brothers and sisters. In one of the Gospels, Jesus says that whoever does the will of His Father, is a brother and sister to Him.

It is so important to read Sacred Scripture, but, not only to read it on our own, but, to read it and study it with the mind and heart of the Church. The Church is the New Israel and she appropriates what she has received from Ancient Israel and makes that her own. As Catholics, it is something that we need to realize and something that we should hear preached in the homilies that we listen to during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It is also important for the homilist to help along this process by expounding on the readings that have just been proclaimed.   The faithful need to be fed, both from the Table of the Word of God and from the Altar of Sacrifice.  We need to realize that Sacred Scripture forms a crucial part of the Deposit of our Faith.  The Church stands on two pillars:  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  We are not just people of a Book.  The Word of God is not merely a book.  The Word of God is a person, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate today.

Beloved Italian Christmas Hymn

Even though this was taken from last year's Papal Christmas Mass, the venerable hymn was sung as the recessional for the 2010 Mass. Tu Scendi Della Stalle is the most beloved and well-known Italian Christmas hymn. Buon Natale a tutti amici!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why we form a line

For the better part of two years, there has been an interesting discussion brewing in the Catholic Answers Forums regarding the appropriateness and licitness of imparting a blessing in lieu of distributing Holy Communion.  Back in August 2008, two forum members submitted a letter to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments asking if such action was permissible.

The CDWDS issued this response on November 22, 2008 (Protocol No. 930/08/L):
1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.
2. 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).
3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.
4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.
5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin).

While the CDWDS indicated that they were studying the matter, their response bears a lot of weight here because they have given guidelines as to how to best proceed in these cases.

Sadly, this practice has spread like wildfire throughout the United States.  In a well-intended, but, misguided attempt at inclusivity, folks who are not yet eligible to receive Holy Communion either because they are not yet Catholic or have a particular issue, are invited and encouraged to come forward during the time reserved for the distribution of Holy Communion to receive a blessing as a substitute.  This particular "ritual" appears nowhere in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, let alone the Roman Missal, nor does it show up in Redemptionis Sacramentum. 

When the celebrant holds the Sacred Host over either the paten or the chalice, he recites this inviation:  "Behold, the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb" (taken from the coming revised Roman Missal).  The invitation is to come forward to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, not a blessing.  This is not to say that the Church is being exclusive in this matter nor unwelcoming to those who cannot receive Holy Communion for whatever circumstance.  We form a line to receive Someone, Jesus Christ, in his full Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, not something, a blessing.

The blessing, actually, is the most inclusive part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because everyone can receive it.  One does not have to be Catholic, let alone Christian, to receive this blessing.  But, it should be imparted at its proper place, the end of the Holy Sacrifice, as the response from the CDWDS indicates.

The CDWDS states that such blessings are explicitly discouraged.  It is not that the CDWDS is trying to be uncharitable towards those who cannot receive Holy Commuion.  However, as stated before, such a ritual appears nowhere in the approved liturgical books of the Church.  In fact, a person, on his own authority, cannot invent a ritual and insert into the Mass.  According to Sacrosanctum Concilium:

Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.

Redemptionis Sacramentum reaffirms this statement when it notes that: 

[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.

Some on the Catholic Answers Forums, particularly in the Liturgy and Sacraments division, have argued that the bishop can grant permission for these blessings to occur. However, proponents of this stance might have forgotten one huge detail.  According to the GIRM:

387. The Diocesan Bishop, who is to be regarded as the high priest of his flock, and from whom the life in Christ of the faithful under his care in a certain sense derives and upon whom it depends,148 must promote, regulate, and be vigilant over the liturgical life in his diocese. It is to him that in this Instruction is entrusted the regulating of the discipline of concelebration (cf. above, nos. 202, 374) and the establishing of norms regarding the function of serving the priest at the altar (cf. above, no. 107), the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds (cf. above, no. 283), and the construction and ordering of churches (cf. above, no. 291). With him lies responsibility above all for fostering the spirit of the Sacred Liturgy in the priests, deacons, and faithful.
These are the responsibitlities of the bishop.  Now, in the event that a bishop may want to address a particular issue such as adding something to the GIRM in the form of an adaptation, then, the competency shifts from the bishop to the national episcopal conference to which he belongs (in our case, it would fall to the USCCB).    According to the GIRM:

390. It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to decide on the adaptations indicated in this General Instruction and in the Order of Mass and, once their decisions have been accorded the recognitio of the Apostolic See, to introduce them into the Missal itself. These adaptations include
  • The gestures and posture of the faithful (cf. no. 43 above);
  • The gestures of veneration toward the altar and the Book of the Gospels (cf. no. 273 above);
  • The texts of the chants at the entrance, at the presentation of the gifts, and at Communion (cf. nos. 48, 74, 87 above);
  • The readings from Sacred Scripture to be used in special circumstances (cf. no. 362 above);
  • The form of the gesture of peace (cf. no. 82 above);
  • The manner of receiving Holy Communion (cf. nos. 160, 283 above);
  • The materials for the altar and sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also the materials, form, and color of the liturgical vestments (cf. nos. 301, 326, 329, 339, 342-346 above).
Directories or pastoral instructions that the Conferences of Bishops judge useful may, with the prior recognitio of the Apostolic See, be included in the Roman Missal at an appropriate place.

A bishop, or bishops, may propose something in the form of an adapation of the GIRM to the USCCB, but, 2/3 of the Latin-Rite bishops must approve it in order for the change to be submitted to Rome for the necessary recognitio from the CDWDS.  At this point, the CDWDS could grant or deny the recognitio. 

There are others who have made the argument that this practice is one of pastoral necessity.  However, the term "pastoral" has been used on not a few occasions to justify questionable liturgical practices.  "Pastoral", as I see it, does not necessarily mean that one has "carte blanche" to do with the liturgy as he or she pleases.   While certainly sensitivities can and should be taken into account, these should be used to help people understand the Church's reasonsings why things can or cannot be done, rather than make adjustments on one's own authority.

The proper solution to this situation revolves around giving the faithful the appropriate catechesis on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and why the Church restricts Holy Communion only to those who are properly disposed to receive this most august Sacrament.  It is not about discriminating against certain segments.  It is about the integrity of the rites.  Furthermore, a truly pastoral approach, in this case, would include encouraging those who cannot receive Holy Communion to make a spiritual communion.  They remain in their pews during Communion time and, either kneeling or sitting down, as Jesus to come into their hearts spiritually and to strengthen them until such time as they will one day receive Him in Holy Communion.  This is a practice that many of the saints have advocated down through the centuries and something that the Church has taught for generations.  Sadly, it is something that is rarely heard of today.

Another question arises where children are concerned.   Granted, small children should not be left alone in the pews.  However, if we teach children that getting a blessing is a substitute for receiving Holy Communion, then, we are not really teaching them the importance of why we are forming a line in the first place.  What one prudent pastor has done in South Texas is to have the children reverence the Holy Sacrament by either a bow of the head or some other small act.  Thus, the children are taught that they are forming a line to come into the presence of Jesus while their parents are awaiting to receive Him.  Now, that is a truly pastoral approach.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ideal Recessional for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Yesterday, we had to sing "The King of Glory." This would have been the most appropriate recessional for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, "Lift Up Ye Heads, O Mighty Gates."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sacramental Minister?!?!?!?

A rather busy week, coupled with a spate of migraines, hindered me from my usual postings.  However, now that I have put some distance between the proverbial week from Hades, my fingers are anxious to get to work.

Yesterday, I read a troubling report on Fr. Z's excellent blog.  It concerns the state of affairs in a diocese up north, way up north, near the New England area.   I used to think that this was an urban legend, having read the many horror stories posted on the Catholic Answers Forums.  However, it was not until I saw the links posted by Fr. Z and one very troubling bulletin announcement that I realized that this legend was a very sad fact.

The bulletin announcement, written by the parish administrator, a laywoman, informs the parishioners that they will not, for the time being, have the services os a "Sacramental Minister", also known as a priest, for daily Mass.  He is retiring and will no longer be available for daily Mass.   Yes, "Sacramental Minister" is the word used by this particular parish in the front page of its bulletin as the title for the priest.  At the risk of sounding like the rather annoying Vicky Guerrero from WWE's "Smackdown" program, "Excuse me!"  A priest is not some mere "sacramental minister."  He is ordained to be a shepherd to the faithful entrusted to him.   The hallmark of his ministry is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It seems as though the folks in this particular parish have forgotten that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the source and summit of the life of the Church.

Now, I can understand that there are priest shortages, but, even the parish administrator's justification for wholeheartedly endorsing lay-led "Communion services" is highly suspect. 

One insight I gained praying with Catholics in Tanzania is that we are entirely too priest dependent in the United States. There, local communities take great responsibility for keeping their churches vibrant and active even though they only get to celebrate Mass once every couple of months! They still meet regularly to pray together and study the sacred scriptures. They celebrate the feasts of the church with or without their pastor. Their choirs practice two or three times a week! I was totally amazed by this experience of church.
"Too priest dependent in the United States"?  Again, pardon me as I channel Vicky Guerrero.  Excuse me!  It seems to me that this well-meaning, but, misguided parish administrator does not seem to regard the priesthood as sacred and essential to the life of the Church.  Citing Tanzania as a  means of justifying her position does not cut it, either.  Tanzania is still missionary territory.  Furthermore, I would think that the Tanzanian faithful would greet any priest who comes to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice with great joy and perhaps form long lines at the confessional so that they can reconcile with God and His Church. To merely refer to a priest as a sacramental minister is to completely disregard everything that a priest does.  He is the spiritual father of the community entrusted to him.  He provides us with spiritual and sacramental nourishment.  He advises us, and, sometimes, corrects us.  He is there to be a servant to his flock, spending himself and sacrificing himself for the salvation of their souls.  A mere sacramental minister he is not.  As I see it, this term is most derogatory to the priest serving that particular parish.  My pastor and my parochial vicar are not mere "sacramental ministers".  They put in long days and are engaged in various duties.  They are out there ministering to the people, whether it's ministry to persons with disabilities, those in jail, the homebound or the infirmed. 

Surely, the territory where this parish is located in can should have priests available, at least for a couple of daily Masses per week.  If Mass cannot be celebrated, maybe the parishioners should engage in the Liturgy of the Hours and pray for more vocations in their particular diocese.   However, as it stands, there does not seem to be an interest to do even that, since the parish administrator seems to relish in the idea of lay-led communities that can and should function without a priest.

This is certainly a sad state affairs for that area, indeed.  It really should be cause for alarm in the United States and should prompt all of us to pray for more vocations to the priesthood.

Here is a link to the bulletin of the parish in question:

Monday, December 13, 2010

What not to do for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

While the musicians may be well-meaning, this does not exactly equate to making a joyful noise unto the Lord. Sacred music this is not.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gaudete Sunday and Our Lady of Guadalupe

It seems that about every seven years, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe falls on a Sunday.  This year, December 12th falls on Gaudete Sunday.  "Gaudete" is the Latin word for "rejoicing".  The introit speaks of rejoicing.  The Savior of the world is near.  Our redemption is at hand!

The rose carries special significance for both Gaudete Sunday and Guadalupe.  The color for the vestments on Gaudete Sunday is rose (not pink).  The tangible manifestation of Our Lady of Guadalupe is accompanied by roses that bloom out of season on a very cold day in December.  Even the readings for Gaudete Sunday manage to compliment the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  While the Gospel speaks of St. John the Baptist, who was the Messiah's herald, one can apply the same concept to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In the case of Guadalupe, Mary comes to Juan Diego, an Aztec convert, as a pregnant royal maiden, as evident by the black sash about her waist.  Like St. John the Baptist, she is proclaiming the coming of her Son to the peoples.  She urges prayer and preparation in order for the Aztecs to fully receive Jesus.  She is the forerunner of the Lord, so to speak.  Her maternal love appeals to the Aztecs and plants the seeds of conversion in their hearts.  She appears as one of them in order that what they see and love in her, they will see and love in her Son.   Our Lady of Guadalupe, then, is the compass that orients the Aztecs and their descendants to Christ.

In the United States, because December 12th falls on a Sunday, the Church gives us the option of celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day on either December 11th or December 13th.  This is not to say that the feast is ignored; rather, the Sundays of Advent take precedence over every other feast.  In fact, when December 8th falls on a Sunday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (the patronal feast of the United States) is translated (transferred) to Monday, December 9th.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that processions and special celebrations may take place on December 12th; however, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass must be for the Third Sunday of Advent.

This helps us to put Our Lady in the proper perspective.  Theologians and spiritual writers refer to Mary as the moon.  The prophets referred to the Messiah as the Sun of Justice.  Just as the moon receives its light from the sun, so, too, does Mary receive her light from Jesus.  We do not honor nor venerate Mary any less simply because her feast is transferred to another day.  In fact, we honor and venerate her more when we worship her Son on the day reserved for Him.

It is no coincidence that both St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary play key roles in this holy season of Advent.  Both of them, in their distinct vocations and missions, lead us to the Messiah.  St. John the Baptist vehemently encourages us to repent; Mary teaches us to believe and be open to the will of God.  In particular, in her apparitions as Guadalupe, Mary encourages us to rejoice and have hope!

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

On the Importance of Preaching

One of the fundamental responsibilities of the ordained (bishops, priests and deacons) is that they preach during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The functioning of preaching the homily is reserved solely to them.  According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

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.

Redemptionis Sacramentum, promulgatged in 2004 by no less than the Venerable Pope John Paul II (and, written, in part, by the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger when he was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) goes into greater detail:

[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

I highlighted this particular section because seminarians are not yet ordained.  While the intention may be to either give them some time to learn homelitics, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not the venue for this kind of training.

I write this because a friend of mine called me after having attended Mass at her parish.  She told me that the pastor had read the Gospel, but, then, invited one of the seminarians to talk about Our Lady of Guadalupe during the time reserved for the homily.  The priest did not preach at all. I told her that this was ilicit.  Redepemptionis Sacramentum goes so far as to say that this practice is reprobated.  She told me that the seminarian did a good job; however, even if he were to preach like St. Paul, that does not take away the fact that he should not have been preaching at all.  The Church is very clear about the fact that the celebrant or the deacon should be the one preaching a homily on Sunday.

Now, regarding the seminarian (or any other lay person), RS does state the following:

[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.

Thus, the seminarian could have very well delivered his reflection, but, not within the confines of the Mass.  My friend told me that the parish was going to have a play depicting the Guadalupe apparitions tomorrow morning.  I told her that this would have been the most appropriate setting for such a talk. 

What is sad is that both the pastor and the seminarian should have known better.  The priest is obligated, by both the character of Holy Orders and by Church liturgical law, to preach a homily on Sundays.  Now, he could have entrusted this to a deacon if he was unable to preach, but, never, never to a lay person.  Seminarians are not ordained.  Thus, they are laity.  Even duly instituted alcolytes are not allowed to preach. 

Redemptionis Sacramentums specifically states that the faithful have the right to a properly celebrated Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  That is to say that it must be free of abuse.  Not preaching a homily and handing over this task to a seminarian is a serious abuse to the point that the Church calls this practice reprobate. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Serpent's Venom

During midday Mass today, the celebrant offered us interesting food for thought during the homily.  He presented to us the account from Genesis about the temptation of Eve (and, subsequently Adam) by the serpent.  Our celebrant used the example from one of the National Geographic specials to drive home his point.  When a lizard preys upon a beast larger than itself, he bites the animal's lower limbs.  While the bite does not cause instant death, the poison emitting from the lizard's teeth makes it's way into the prey's blood stream and infects it.  Death is sure to follow.

Our celebrant applied this example to what happened to Adam and Eve.  While the serpent did not sink his fangs into Eve, he managed to bite into her soul, and Adam's too, inflicting it with the poisonous venom of sin.  This sin, which ultimately leads to death, is passed on like some sort of spiritual gene to our souls.  It is this sin that does not allow us to fully see God and to fully experience what it means to live.  Sin causes us to only look at ourselves and not at others, including and especially God.  It was sin that skewed the pereceptions of the folks in today's Gospel account who found reasons to dismiss both Jesus and St. John the Baptist.  Sin clouded their judgment, much as it clouds ours today.  It's the result of the poisonous venom that the serpent, in this case, Satan, injected into the soul.

But, unlike the wilderbeast that succumbs to the lizard's poison, God presents us with an antidote to sin's venom, first through the Sacrament of Baptism and then, as often as we are able to receive it, the Sacrament of Penance.  St. John the Baptist already gives us this framework.  In last week's readings, John preached repentence and baptized those who came forward for the forgiveness of their sins.  This was a foreshadowing of these two sacraments to be instituted by the True Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. 

Even though, it is appointed that all of us must die because of the effects of original sin, these sacraments, along with reception of the Holy Eucharist, give life to the soul.  The sacraments also help fortify our souls to be able to at least make a valid attempt at resisting temptation, and, even when we do fall, these same sacraments give us that joyful hope that we are not altogether lost. 

Perhaps this is Advent's true message.  Just as St. John the Baptist encouraged Ancient Israel to repent and seek reconciliation for God in preparation for the Messiah's arrival, so does the Baptist reach across time and space to our generation (and every generation) calling us to that same repentence and reconciliation as we prepare for the Messiah's ultimate and final arrival. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Yesterday, the Church celebrated the great solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  It is interesting that the Universal Holy Days of Obligation associated with Mary all have to do with dogmatic principles.  The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, celebrated on January 1st, treats the matter that was decided in the 4th century, when Mary was declared the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  August 15th marks the final dogmatic Marian declaration, issued by Pope Pius XII, that of her Assumption, body and soul, into heaven.

December 8th, the Immaculate Conception, goes back to the dogmatic declaration issued by another Pius, Pope Pius IX, who, in 1854, solemnly defined that

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
Now, in order for us to understand the significance of this Solemnity, of this dogma, we need to also understand the reality of sin.

The readings the Church presents us in the liturgy for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception illustrate this point rather well.  In the first reading, taken from the Book of Genesis, we encounter Eve alone in the garden.  Adam, who was charged by God with protecting the garden, is absent.  The serpent takes advantage of the absence of Adam and tempts Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.  When Adam returns, Eve hands him the fruit and he, in turn, eats it.  Suddenly, their eyes are open and they realize both their physical and spiritual nakedness before God.  Thus, they go into hiding.  When God seeks them, they reluctantly stand before him, ashamed of their nakedness.  God then tells them that they have eaten of the forbidden fruit.  A blame game follows.  Adam blames Eve and then Eve blames the serpent.

What we tend to forget here is that in the beginning, God created man in His image and in His likeness.  He created man sinless.  Adam and Eve did not know sin.  However, the serpent's temptation of pride, dangling in the form of forbidden fruit, seduced them.  Thus, they fell into sin.

Yet, it is the sin, this "felix culpa" that the Church later on refers to in her Exultet (chanted at the beginning of the Easter Vigil) is what sets the wheels in motion for the coming of Christ, the new Adam.  It is the promise of God that the seed of the woman will be the one to crush the head of the serpent.  That Seed of the woman is Christ.

Now, in the Gospel reading, we fast-forward several hundred  years later to a town in Galillee called Nazareth, where a virgin named Mary is visited by the archangel Gabriel.  Interestingly enough, he does not address her in the beginning as Mary.  He addresses her by which she truly is, "full of grace."  In order for someone to be "full of grace", the rest of her soul must be completely empty.  Mary is full of grace because she is freed from sin.  As Pope Pius IX defined, because she was to be the Mother of God, Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin.  God needed a pure, spotless vessel in order for His Son to enter the world.  Thus, He created a new Eve, who would truly become the mother of all the living.  Just as Eve emerged from the body of Adam, the new Adam would emerge from the body of Eve, for Jesus' conception was a truly divine act, accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, as the archangel told Mary.

Being full of grace, Mary accepted unreservedly all that God offered her.  "I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me as you have said," Mary responded.   With this act of obedience, Mary begins to undo the knot of disobedience that Eve had tied so tightly around humanity. Like Eve, Mary had a free will.  She could have said no.  But, because she was full of grace and full of love for God, she readily accepted and believed, enduring even the painful Passion, Crucifixion and Death of her Son. 

In the end, in that garden called Calvary, the scene begun at the Garden of Eden reaches its fulfillment.  While death was brought about due to to disobedience of a man and woman in the midst of a tree, salvation is brought forth through the obedience of the new Man and the new Woman, in the midst of a Tree.