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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

Today, the Church presents us with the grand feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her kinswoman, St. Elizabeth.  While some may choose to focus the liturgy on the idea of loving service (if one were to have read Option II for the first reading), we might tend to miss the significant link between the reading from the Prophet Zephaniah, the Psalm and the Gospel.   From Zephaniah, we read:

[14] Give praise, O daughter of Sion: shout, O Israel: be glad, and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. [15] The Lord hath taken away thy judgment, he hath turned away thy enemies: the king of Israel the Lord is in the midst of thee, thou shalt fear evil no more.

[16] In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not: to Sion: Let not thy hands be weakened. [17] The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, he will save: he will rejoice over thee with gladness, he will be silent in his love, he will be joyful over thee in praise. [18]  The triflers that were departed from the law, I will gather together, because they were of thee: that thou mayest no more suffer reproach for them.   

Mary makes the trip down to Judah from Nazareth.  She follows, in a sense, the trip that the Ark of the Covenant made when it was brought down to Jerusalem from its northern location (at the request of King David).  Mary, as the true Ark of the Covenant, is the fulfillment of the prototype of the old Ark.  In her womb, she carries the True Bread from heaven, the True Law and the True Priest.  As the Daughter Zion, she holds the embodiment of the hopes of Ancient Israel.  She bears in her womb, the true source of gladness for the Chosen People:  Jesus.

The responsorial psalm, taken from the Prophet Isaiah, further makes this point:

[2] Behold, God is my saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear: O because the Lord is my strength, and my praise, and he is become my salvation. [3] You shall draw waters with joy out of the saviour's fountains: [4] And you shall say in that day: Praise ye the Lord, and call upon his name: make his works known among the people: remember that his name is high. [5] Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath done great things: shew this forth in all the earth.
[6] Rejoice, and praise, O thou habitation of Sion: for great is he that is in the midst of thee, the Holy One of Israel.

"Great is he that is in the midst of thee, the Holy One of Israel" was the response.  In the womb of Mary, the Lord was, indeed, in the midst of His people.  But, even in Isaiah's prophecy foreshadows Mary's Canticle, which is found in today's Gospel:

[39] And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. [40] And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. [41] And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: [42] And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [43] And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord. [46] And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. [47] And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [48] Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. [49] Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. [50] And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. [51] He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. [52] He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. [53] He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. [54] He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: [55] As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. [56] And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house.       

Those who pray Vespers recite/chant Mary's Canticle, the Magnificat.  It is one of the Church's most treasured prayers.

Earlier in the thread, I alluded to the journey of Mary from Nazareth to Judea mirroring that of the Ark of the (Old) Covenant which traveled from the northern part of Israel to Jerusalem.  Something interesting happens, which parallels the Davidic episode of the Ark of the Old Covenant.  When Elizabeth greets Mary, she asks her "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?"  She brings to fulfillment what King Davidi said as the Ark was brought to him, "Who am I that the Ark of e the Lord should come unto me?"  But, the parallels do not end there.  King David leaps and dances before the Ark.  In St. Elizabeth's womb, St. John the Baptist leaps with joy as he comes into the presence of the Author of Life who has made His dwelling in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Now, I am not, in any way, advocating the so-called trend of "liturgical dance" that has infiltrated our liturgies.  King David's dance around the Ark was not associated with any of the cultic sacrificial worship of Ancient Israel.  However, that is not to discount the immense joy that David experienced in the Ark's presence.  How much, moreso, was the joy that St. John the Baptist experienced when he came into the presence of the Lord, whose full presence was contained in the True Ark.

St. Elizabeth, in her greeting, refers to Mary as "blessed...amongst women."  She is calling Mary what she truly is.  Recall that when the Archangel St. Gabriel greeted the young virgin, he did not call her "Mary"; he called her "full of grace".  That is her true name and her real identity.  She is full of grace because God preserved her, from the moment of her conception, from the stain of Original Sin.  She became the True Ark of the Everlasting Covenant.   Because Mary was full of grace, she could completely and freely give herself to God and accept the plan that He presented to her ("Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.").  For Mary, it is not enough to be blessed among women; it is what she does with that blessing that is remarkable, for, through this blessing, she is able to bring forth the Savior.  She does not keep the blessing to herself; she shares it, first by going to St. Elizabeth's assistance and then, by bringing Christ into the world.

The final statement that St. Elizabeth makes is a rather remarkable one:  "blessed is she who believed" that the word spoken to her by God would be fulfilled.  Perphaps these words resonated in Mary's heart as she watched her Son hanging from the Cross.  Mary's faith actually surpasses that of Abraham.  Scripture tells us that God credited Abraham's faith as an act of righteousness.  The greatest test of that faith was when the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, the child of the promise, on Mount Moriah.  Abraham doeas not know how, but, he believes that God would restore Isaac to him.  That is why he rather cryptically states that "we" will return to the base of the mount after offering sacrifice.  Abraham freely offers Isaac and God, seeing the patriarch's faith, stops him from sacrificing his son.  Mary is called to make that same sacrifice.  She walks up Calvary behind Jesus, who carries the wood of the Cross.  "Blessed is she who believed" perhaps echoes in her mind and in her heart.  She offers her Son completely and unreservedly to the Father, uniting her heart to Jesus' as he suffers and dies.  She believes in her heart that the Father will restore her beloved Jesus, the true Child of the promise, to her and, three days later, it comes to pass in the Resurrection.  Her complete and unwavering faith surpasses that of Abraham.  The type is greater than the fulfillment.

On this feast of the Visitation, let us ask Mary for the grace to believe with unwavering faith that everything that God has promised us will be fulfilled.  May she, who is "blessed..amongst women" serve as the model par excellence of holiness, fidelity and total acceptance of God's will.  May our souls magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our savior.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Have we hit a sour note?

Those of you who are frequent readers are, perhaps, familiar with my periodic rants concerning the music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In fact, a couple of the readers have privately chided me for this; however, this is a very important subject, as music plays an important role in the liturgy.

In his online magazine, Chiesa, Sandro Magister writes a scathing article concerning what he considers the one aspect of Pope Benedict's pontificate that he believes the Holy Father has not quite addressed:  sacred music.

Glorious Music. But the choir is tone deaf.

Magister makes some good points about the importance of having proper music in the Mass.  He even uses the Holy Father's own words (pre-papal and papal) to make his case.  However, he is concerned that of all of the reforms that the Holy Father has tried to implement, nothing seems to be done about addressing the matter of liturgical music.

He compares the situation that Pope Benedict faces to the one that confroted Pope St. Pius X at the beginning of his reign.  Bad music was just as much a problem then as it is now.  However, Magister says that Pope St. Pius X took three months to tackle the situation, while in Magister's eyes, Pope Benedict does not seem to have done much.  Maybe Magister should re-examine Sacramentum Caritatis, especially, no. 42:

Liturgical song
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).

While his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music to commemorate the Motu Propio of Pope St. Pius X, Benedict's words in SC are more direct because he answers a major concern listed by the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, namely the problems of music used in the Mass, specifically those celebrated for the youth. 

I, for one, wish that this problem could have been addressed yesterday, as this is a serious situation affecting our liturgies today.  However, unlike the world of 1903, we live in a totally different era.  With technology, bad "liturgical" music travels fast.  Down here in the South Texas hinterland, we have a saying: "Sound travels faster than light."  That is certainly true insofar as music in the Mass is concerned.  One can download a PDF or an MP3 of a questionable song, learn it and then use it for Mass.  The problem of bad music took over 40 years to develop and fester.  It takes time for the Holy Father to undo the damage that has been caused.

Magester's critical essay also fails to note that late last year, the CDWDS announced that it would be establishing a division of sacred music and art within its Congregation.  This is certainly welcome news.  While I wish that things were more instantaneous, this development is a start.  Perhaps we could help things along by sending the CDWDS questionable material that tries to pass off as "liturgical music".  If enough of the faithful start writing and submitting the bad music for the Holy See to review, maybe something can happen.  Navel-gazing lyrics, sappy, jazzy and bluesy melodies and questionable theology need to be addressed; however, how can Rome know that a problem exists if no one informs her?  

Although I can empathize and sympathize with Sandro Magister, I must remember an old proverb that a prelate friend of mine once told me:  the wheels of Rome grind slowly, but, they grind finely. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Confirmed in the faith

Today's liturgy present us with the elements of one of the Sacraments of Initiation, Confirmation.   In the first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Philip, the deacon (so as not to be confused with the Apostle Philip), goes to evangelize Samaria.  After Philip baptizes the converts, the Apostles (who remain in Jerusalem) learn of what has happened:

[14] Now when the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. [15] Who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.

[16] For he was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [17]  Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 

This is very important.  Already, we see in this account, the rudimentary elements of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Although Philip baptized the new converts, the neophytes needed to be confirmed in the faith, and, the ones who, by virtue of their office, could confer this confirmation were the Apostles, the first bishops.  Thus, Sts. Peter and John travel to Samaria, lay their hands upon the converts and impart the gift of the Holy Spirit on them.

From the earliest writings of the Church, namely, the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that the ordinary minister of confirmation is the bishop, who, is a successor to the Apostles.   Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we see this action repeated several times.  St. Peter is commanded, in a vision, to visit Joppa, and baptize and lay his hands upon Cornelius' household.  Later on, St. Paul lays his hands upon the newly baptized and confers confirmation upon them.

In the Confirmation Rite, the bishop lays hands upon the confirmandi and annoints them with the oil of Chrism.  Perhaps this statement from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales explains it best:

The whole rite has a twofold meaning. The laying of hands on the candidates by the bishop and the concelebrating priests is the biblical gesture by which the gift of the Holy Spirit is invoked. This is well adapted to the understanding of the Christian people. The anointing with chrism and the accompanying words express clearly the effects of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Signed with the perfumed oil, the baptised person receives the indelible character, the seal of the Lord, together with the gift of the Spirit, which conforms him more closely to Christ and gives bim the grace of spreading the Lord’s presence among men.

Oil bears a special significance  to this particular sacrament.  In some of St. Paul's epistles, he talks about how athletes use oil to strengthen them.  The fragrance of the essence of Chrism also calls to mind another Pauline image, as presented to us in the Apostle's Second Letter to the Corinthians:

 [14] Now thanks be to God, who always maketh us to triumph in Christ Jesus, and manifesteth the odour of his knowledge by us in every place. [15] For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.

Pope Benedict XVI makes this challenge to us, as well, when he writes, in the meditation for the 14th Station of the Cross:

Amid the decay of ideologies, our faith needs once more to be the fragrance which returns us to the path of life.

When we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, I believe that we are not only confirmed in the Faith, but, we also have an obligatation to go out and share that Faith with others.  A priest friend of mine likes to quote St. Francis of Assisi:  "Preach the Gospel at all times, but use words only when necessary."  Evangelization is not just the duty of the bishops, priests and deacons.  It is also ours, as well. 

The Easter season is typically the time of the conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion.  I pray that the new confirmandi and those receiving Our Lord for the first time be strengthened in their Faith and grow in their love for Christ and His Church.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ad Orientem and Actuosa Participatio

Over at the Catholic Answers Forums, there is a spirited debate on Ad Orientem and how it relates to active participation.   While I have treated the subject early on when I began this blog, the matter, I believe, certainly bears repeating. 

In his excellent book, Turning Towards the Lord, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang presents a strong case for use of this valid posture. One of the arguments that he puts forth centers around the common  posture of the celebrant and the faithful:

Taking up the suggestion of Jungmann, Cardinal Ratzinger emphasises that the ancient practice of priest and people facing the same way expresses the nature of the Eucharist as a common act of trinitarian worship. The whole assembly is united in facing eastward, that is, in turning to the Lord, as is conveyed in Augustine’s prayer after the sermon, Conversi ad Dominum. Ratzinger considers it momentous that this cosmic symbolism was incorporated into the community celebration. By means of a liturgical gesture, the true location and the true context of the Eucharist are opened up, namely, the whole cosmos. The cosmic sign of the sun rising from the east has been interpreted in two ways: first, as a sign of the risen Christ and thus also of the Father’s power and the working of the Holy Spirit; second, as a sign of hope in the Parousia. The common orientation in liturgical prayer thus not only conveys the trinitarian dimension of the Eucharist but also witnesses to a theology of hope in Christ’s Coming. It realizes the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history.23
The cosmic symbolism of sacramental worship allows the world to remain transparent for transcendent reality. The orientation of prayer reaches beyond the visible altar towards eschatological fulfilment, which is anticipated in the celebration of the Eucharist. The priest facing the same direction as the faithful when he stands at the altar leads the people of God on their way towards meeting the Lord who is to come again. This movement towards the Lord, who is ‘the rising sun of history’,24 has found its sublime artistic expression in the sanctuaries of the first millennium, where representations of the Cross or of the glorified Christ mark the goal of the assembly’s earthly pilgrimage. The eschatological character of the Eucharist is kept alive by this looking out for the Lord; we are reminded that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God. This trinitarian dynamism gives the Eucharist its greatness, saves the individual community from closing into itself, and opens it towards the assembly of the saints in the heavenly city, as envisaged in the Letter to the Hebrews.
It is not essential that I have to see everything that the celebrant is doing in order to actively participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The celebrant is leading us in prayer.  He is mediating between God and the faithful.  When a shepherd leads the sheep, he does not keep looking back at them all of the time, lest he fall into a ditch or trip on a rock or a branch.  As the leader, he needs to look forward, occasionally glancing at the sheep to make sure that they are with him.   Granted, the celebrant will look at us when engaging in dialogue ("Dominus vobiscum", "Oremus", "Orate Fratres") and we respond ("Et cum spirito tuo"), but, for the most part, he is engaged in prayer to God on our behalf.  We, for the most part, are not pew potatoes; rather, we unite our prayers to his.

Fr. Lang makes the same point when he writes that:

It is argued in favour of the celebration facing the people that it is indispensable for the dialogue between celebrant and congregation. The versus populum position no doubt makes sense for those parts of the Mass where priest and people are in dialogue, especially the Liturgy of the Word. But the paramount principle of Christian worship is the dialogue between the people of God as a whole (including the celebrant) and God, to whom their prayer is addressed. If this principle is not manifest in the shape of the liturgy, the Eucharist gives the appearance of nothing more than a catechetical instruction.35 The synagogue service, one of the roots of Christian worship, was not purely didactic; rather, it had a ritual, indeed a sacramental dimension, which was shown in turning for prayer towards the Torah shrine and thus to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. This sacramental dimension is even more definite in the liturgy of the New Covenant. The face-to-face position of priest and people is fitting for catechesis but not for the celebration of the Eucharist.

It seems to me that this is the point that those who argue against the posture of Ad Orientem miss.  Having experienced Mass in Ordinary Form celebrated using the posture of Ad Orientem, I find that this particular dimension to the Holy Sacrifice is an important element.   When the celebrant face the same direction, there is actually more unity.  He is leading us in prayer. 

We also run the danger of making the Mass more about the priest or the bishop (or even the Pope) than about Christ.   That is something that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjinth cautioned against in his address before the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 2008:

Let us face it, all of us priests, bishops, and even cardinals, are human beings and so the temptation to place ourselves at the center makes us feel good — what I call “ego pampering”.

None of us is exempt from this, and now with the Missa versus populum [Mass facing the people], that danger is even greater. Facing the people increases chances of dis-attention and distraction from what we do at the altar, and the temptation for showmanship. In a beautiful article written by a German author, the following comments were made on the subject:
While in the past, the priest functioned as the anonymous go-between, the first among the faithful, facing God and not the people, representative of all and together with them offering the sacrifice … today he is a distinct person, with personal characteristics, his personal life style, his face turned towards the people. For many priests this change is a temptation they cannot handle … to them, the level of success in their performance is a measure of their personal power and thus the indicator of their feeling of personal security and self assurance.
(K.G. Rey, Pubertaetserscheinungen in der Katholischen Kirche [Signs of Puberty in the Catholic Church] Kritische Texte, Benzinger, Vol 4, p. 25).
The priest here, as we can see, becomes the main actor playing out a drama with other actors on a platform- like place, and the more creative and dramatic they become, the more they feel a sense of ego satisfaction. But, where can Christ be in all of this?
Now, Cardinal Ranjinth is not accusing every celebrant who uses versus populum as having this kind of mindset.  However, adopting the posture of Ad Orientem gives the celebrant liberty to focus on the Sacrifice and in leading the faithful in worship in spirit and in truth. For the faithful, Ad Orientem helps them to focus on the sacred Mysteries unfolding before them instead of on the celebrant.  In my case, such posture actually helps me to concentrate on praying the Mass rather than on looking at what the celebrant is doing.  We are all praying together under the leadership of the celebrant.

NB:  I have had a spate of migraines since my last posting.  I am feeling much better now and hope, God willing, to keep this blog up with full energy. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011


...May 21st came and we are still here.  This is not the first time that well-meaning individuals have tried to predict the "End of Days."  All throughout history, folks have assigned a calendar date to Judgment Day.  However, we need to take into account the words of no less than Jesus, Himself, who notes, in St. Mark's Gospel, that:

[32] But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. [33] Take ye heed, watch and pray. For ye know not when the time is.
We need to trust Jesus' words.  Of course, that is not to say that we  can just sit around and do nothing.  None of us know when the hour will come when either the Lord will return or when He will call us to Himself.  All we can do is "watch and pray". 

But, what does this "watching and praying" constitute?  It means preparing ourselves, our souls.  My prelate friend observed that there was an unusually high turnout for confessions this evening.  He reasoned that,  perhaps, this had something to do with the predicted doom that was to hit us.  While, obviously, the predictions did not pan out, they did spur the faithful to confession. That can only be a good thing.  God uses whatever means necessary to help us, even faulty prophecies.

And so it is with May 21st.  And, perhaps, so it will probably be with the next big prediciton, the Mayan Calendar end date of December 21, 2012.  But, once again, we need to remember Jesus' warning about assigning a date to Doomsday.  Just as we don't know when we are going to die, we don't know when He will return.   We just have to pray and trust in God.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coming to my assistance


My spiritual director knows that I have difficulty being silent for long periods of time during Holy Hour.  For awhile, I've been doing some spiritual reading in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  However, this evening, I took a different approach.

This week, I was browsing on my Blackberry to see if there were any free applications that I could use.  Lo and behold, when I clicked on the religious section, I found the IBreviary application available for free download. 

The application turned out to be most handy.  I admit that it felt a little strange pulling out my Blackberry during Holy Hour; however, once the device updated the prayers of the day, I felt a little more at ease.  With the help of the IBreviary, I was able to pray the Vespers, as well as other prayers, such as those for the Holy Father, our bishop and our priests (including my prelate friend and my priest friend from Rome). 

The Breviary function is quite simple to use.  Once the program has updated the material for the proper day, all one has to do is click on to the actual time of day (Lauds, Daytime Prayers, Vespers, Compline or Office of Readings) and then take it from there.

It was refreshing to finally be able to pray the Office.  It is one of the Church's other liturgies.  Lamentably, the Liturgy of the Hours is something that the faithful down here in the South Texas hinterland are not used to praying, perhaps because they have never been exposed to it.  But now, with the IBreviary application, available for IPhones, IPads, Android and Blackberry devices, the faithful can now be introduced to this beautiful form of prayer.

Now that I have the new application, I plan on using it often.  I just need to pray for the discipline to begin this new prayer regimen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Blessed Birthday for the Blessed

Today would have been the 91st birthday of Blessed John Paul II.  Today also marked the day that our diocese designated as the date for the Mass of  Thanksgiving for Blessed John Paul II. 

I had the privilege of going  Mass at my father's parish this evening.  Lamentably, I had to leave right after Mass due to a canine emergency back home; however, I am grateful to my father's pastor for allowing me to sing this hymn in honor of the new Blessed:

It was written by someone named "Kathy" who posted it on the Musica Sacra forum and gave the readers permission to use it.
Staff of a shepherd for the faithful; heart of a father for the poor
Jesus was in him, and the Spirit, for the uplifting of the world
“Be not afraid!” a voice was calling, “Lay down your lives in sacrifice!”
“Be not afraid!” the sound re-echoes, “Open the doors to Jesus Christ!”

Long may his legacy of courage guide us in paths of good and right.
Angels of God, come forth to lead him into the mysteries of light.
There Mary reigns, the Queen of Heaven; there Lazarus is poor no more.
Be not afraid, O Holy Father! Enter the mercy of the Lord.
To the tune of Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted (Rendez a Dieu)

Given John Paul's status as Blessed, I did have to  make an edit to the text:

Staff of a shepherd for the faithful; heart of a father for the poor
Jesus was in him, and the Spirit, for the uplifting of the world
“Be not afraid!” a voice was calling, “Lay down your lives in sacrifice!”
“Be not afraid!” the sound re-echoes, “Open the doors to Jesus Christ!”

Long may his legacy of courage guide us in paths of good and right.
Angels of God, hail the new Blessed, resound the heavens with thy might.
There Mary reigns, the Queen of Heaven; there Lazarus is poor no more.
Be not afraid, O Holy Father! Rejoice in heaven with the Lord!

"Kathy" put a lot of work into this hymn.  She managed to weave Blessed John Paul's familiar words into a solid piece, using a familiar, dignified tune.  Actually, perhaps it is no coincidence that she set the hymn to "Father, We Thank Thee Who Has Planted", as the second verse speaks of the Church, from all lands, being gathered into one.  This is certainly what Blessed John Paul II tried to do in all of his travels. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Proper Time

In the Catholic Answers Forum, there is a thread about music leaders and their song selections for the coming weeks.  It is not uncommon for one or two music directors to post their selections from the Praise and Worship genre.  Others, your blogger included, also post hymn selections.

However, I raised this interesting question in the thread:

My concern with a lot of the contemporary stuff out there is that it does not have anything solid in the theological content and, musically, the form just is not conducive to the sacred mysteries that unfold before us at every Mass. Contemporary music can work outside of the bounds of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but, I find it to be incompatible with the sacred, solemn nature of the liturgy.

A lot of it has to do with proper catechesis and a good reading of the Church documents, including Sacramentum Caritatis. Sadly, not a few people take the suggestions and seminars that the publishing houses offer as being on par with the Holy See when that is not necessarily the case. That is why I believe that it is important that anyone wanting to engage in music ministry first read the authoritative documents of the Holy See and the writings of the Popes. This kind of formation is essential and it should prove to be a good and solid guide in choosing music that is fit for the Holy Sacrifice.

What I do not understand is this: if the Church, in the GIRM, lists the antiphons as the first order of importance (insofar as what is to be sung at Mass is concerned), why are we giving so much importance and credence to the last order (hymns)? The Church already gives us the texts of what to use: the Propers. We don't need to have a plethora of songs for the Entrance Processional and Holy Communion if we just sing the Propers.

In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, we find this section concerning Sacred Music:
48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.55

What I have highlighted in bold red print is the default setting; what I marked in bold, blue print is the last option. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line there has been a shift between the two. The last has now become the default while the first is rarely used.

It seems to me that part of the problem lies in the lack of solid catechesis on Sacred Music. The Church already gives us what is proper music for the Entrance Processional and for Holy Communion, the Antiphons. There is really no need to have to scurry and worry week in and week out as to what to select for music. It's already there.

In fact, independent composers, such as those from the Church Music Association of America, have a special project called the Simple English Propers which makes things a little easier for both choirs and the faithful. Some composers, such as Fr. Sam Weber, even offer their settings for free. Furthermore, many of these composers, like Fr. Weber (I believe) are also working on setting the revised translation of the Grail Psalter to music.

I personally experienced the use of the propers a couple of times, the last being when I went to Mass in the Anglican-Use parish in Houston. These were beautiful to sing and actually pray. There is a huge difference between singnig at Mass and singing the Mass.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How a Shepherd Feeds His Sheep

Today, the Church presents us with readings that pertain to the Good Shepherd.  In his Regina Caeli address at noon (Roman time), Pope Benedict XVI noted that:

On this Sunday it is natural to remember the Shepherds of the Church of God, and those who are being formed to become Shepherds. I therefore invite you to say a special prayer for bishops -- including the Bishop of Rome! -- for parish priests, for all those who have a responsibility in leading the flock of Christ, that they might be faithful and wise in carrying out their office.

From the first day of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has striven to become a true shepherd to the flock that Christ entrusted to him in his Petrine ministry.  Through his preaching, his teaching and his rulings, Pope Benedict XVI continues to tend and feed the lambs that Jesus referred to when he charged St. Peter to tend and feed his sheep and lambs.

One way that Pope Benedict continues to tend his flock revolves around the liturgy.   On Friday, the instruction to Summorum Pontificum, the Motu Propio on the Extraordinary Form fo the Mass, was finally released.   Universae Ecclesiae offers both the shepherds (bishops and priests) and the sheep a means for sound and practical application of Summorum Pontificum.   While Blessed John Paul II began the work of restoring the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (often called the Traditional Latin Mass) and established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesiae Dei to provide assistance, there were still restrictions on its use.  In 2007, with his Motu Propio, Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI greatly eased such restrictions and gave every priest the right to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  However, there were some clarifications that needed to be made.  Universae Ecclesiae gives us these clarifications and more.   In subsequent posts, I will break down some of the document's important features.

Pope Benedict officially signed off on the instructions on April 30, 2011, the feast of Pope St. Pius V.  Pope St. Pius V, whose reign during the Reformation set the Church's liturgical house in order, giving us the beautiful Tridentine Roman missal.  Now, some 500 years later, Pope Benedict XVI has restored this magnificent liturgy so that the sheep may once again experience its noble grandeur. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why we need Emmaus

Today's Gospel presents us with St. Luke's account of the journey to Emmaus.  Two of Jesus' discples, one of them Cleopas (whose wife, Mary, joined the Blessed Mother and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross), make the long journey back to Emmaus, walking the seven-mile trip (or so) and reviewing all that had happened three days ago concerning Jesus.  Cleopas and his friend are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the surviving 11 and away from Jesus. 

All of a sudden, the One whom they are discussing suddenly appears, but, they do not recognize Him.  Jesus asks them what they are talking about and Cleopas asks Him if He's the only one who does not know what had happened during these past three days. There is a bit of humor here.  Of course, He knows.  Jesus was there.  At this point, Jesus begins to explain to the two disciples just why these things had to happen, breaking open the Scriptures in the process, the Liturgy of the Word, if you will.  Suddenly, something is stirring within the two men and they invite their Guest to abide with them.  Little do they know that they are in for a major surprise.  Jesus takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it and gives it to the disciples.  The moment they recognize Him, He vanishes from their sight.  Cleopas and the other disciple recognize Jesus in the "breaking of the bread", that is to say, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Then, they make a mad dash back to Jerusalem to tell the others.  When they get there, they find out that Jesus has, indeed, appeared, first to Simon Peter and then the others.

When Jesus said "Do this in memory of Me" at the Last Supper, He was telling the Apostles and their successors, that this was now how He would remain, how He would continue to abide with them, and with us, under the forms of bread and wine.  The Eucharist is His pledge of Love to us, a Love that endured suffering and torment for our sakes. 

It is that same love that compelled Cleopas and his friend to rush back to Jerusalem, the very place they were running away from, and return to the Upper Room.

In his Apostolic visit to Aquileia, Pope Benedict XVI noted that we need to have another Emmaus, so to speak.  We need to return back to Jesus and not run away.

Here is the Google translation of the homily he preached this morning:

Dear brothers and sisters!
I am very pleased to be among you today and celebrate with you and for you this solemn Eucharist. It is significant that the place chosen for this liturgy is the Parco di San Giuliano: a place where you usually do not celebrate religious rituals, but cultural and musical events. Today, this area hosts the Risen Jesus, truly present in his Word, in the People of God with their pastors, and so prominent in the sacrament of his Body and his Blood. To you, venerable Brother Bishops, priests and deacons, to you religious and laity address my most cordial greetings, with a special thought for the sick and infirm are present, accompanied dall'UNITALSI. Thank you for your warm welcome! I greet with affection the Patriarch, Cardinal Angelo Scola, who I thank for his touching words he addressed to me at the beginning of the Mass. I pay my respects to the Mayor, the Minister of Heritage and Culture on behalf of the Government, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and the civil and military authorities, who by their presence they have honored our meeting. A heartfelt thanks to all who have generously offered their collaboration in the preparation and conduct of this my Pastoral Visit . Thank you!

The Gospel of the Third Sunday of Easter - just heard - has the story of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35), a story that never ceases to amaze and move us. This episode shows the consequences that the risen Jesus by the two disciples: conversion from despair to hope; conversion from sadness to joy, and even conversion to community life. Sometimes, when it comes to conversion, it is thought only to its appearance tiring of detachment and renunciation. Instead, the Christian conversion is above all a source of joy, hope and love. It is always the work of the risen Christ, Lord of life, we have obtained this grace for us through his passion and communicates the power of his resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters! I have come among you as the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter's ministry to confirm fidelity to the Gospel and communion. I have come to share with the bishops and priests of the missionary proclamation anxiety, which we all must engage in a serious and well coordinated service to the cause of the Kingdom of God You, here today, represented the Ecclesial Communities born of the Mother Church of Aquileia. As in the past, when those churches were known for apostolic zeal and pastoral dynamism, so today we need to promote and defend the truth with courage and unity of the faith. Must give an account of Christian hope for modern man, often overwhelmed by vast and disturbing issues that arise in crisis the very foundations of his being and his activity.

You live in a context in which Christianity presents itself as the faith that accompanied the centuries, the way of so many people, including persecution and testing very hard. Eloquent expression of this belief are the many testimonials scattered everywhere: churches, art works, hospitals, libraries, schools, the very environment of your cities, as well as the countryside and the mountains are dotted with references to Christ.

Yet, today this is likely to be of Christ be emptied of its truth and its deeper contents, could become a horizon that only superficially - and the issues rather than social and cultural - and embraces life, risks being reduced to a Christianity in which the experience of faith in the crucified and risen Jesus does not illuminate the path of life, as we heard in today's Gospel about the two disciples of Emmaus who, after the crucifixion of Jesus, they returned home surrounded by doubt, in sadness and disappointment. This tends, unfortunately, to spread in your area: this is when the disciples of today are moving away from the Jerusalem of Jesus Crucified and the Risen Lord, no longer believe in the power and the living presence of the Lord. The problem of evil, pain and suffering, the problem of injustice and oppression, fear of others, strangers and far who come into our land and attempt to seem what we are, leading to today's Christians say sadly, we were hoping that the Lord deliver us from evil, pain, suffering, fear, injustice.

It is necessary, then, for each of us, as happened to the two disciples of Emmaus, be taught by Jesus: first, listening to and loving the Word of God, read in light of the Paschal Mystery, it warms our hearts and enlighten our mind, and help us to interpret the events of life and give them meaning. Then, you must sit at the table with the Lord, to become his guests, so that his humble presence in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood we return the eyes of faith, to look at everything and everyone through the eyes of God, in light of his love. Stay with Jesus who was with us, to assimilate his style of life offered, he choose the logic of communion between us, solidarity and sharing. The Eucharist is the ultimate expression of Jesus' gift of himself and is a constant invitation to live our lives in the logic of the Eucharist as a gift to God and others.

The Gospel also says that the two disciples recognized Jesus after the breaking of bread, "set out immediately and returned to Jerusalem" ( Lk 24:33). They feel the need to return to Jerusalem and tell the extraordinary experience: the encounter with the Risen Lord. There is a great effort to be made ​​that all Christians, here in the Northeast as in any other part of the world, becomes a witness, ready to proclaim with vigor and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ. I know the care that, as the Church of Triveneto, lay in trying to understand the reasons of the heart and how modern man, referring to the ancient Christian traditions, do you bother to trace the program guidelines of the new evangelization, looking with attention to the many challenges of present time and rethink the future of this region. I wish, with my presence, to support your work and instill confidence in all the intense pastoral program initiated from your pastors, hoping for a fruitful engagement of all members of the ecclesial community.

Even a traditionally Catholic nation may, however, warn in the negative, or assimilate almost unconsciously, the repercussions of a culture that ultimately suggest a way of thinking which is openly rejected, obstructed or hidden, the Gospel message. So what has been and continues to be great as your commitment to defend the perennial values ​​of Christian faith. I encourage you to never give applicants to the temptations of the hedonistic culture of consumerism and materialism to the calls. Accept the invitation of the Apostle Peter, with the second reading today, to lead "with fear of God in the time when you live here as strangers" ( 1 Peter 1:17) and I call that takes the form of a life lived intensely in the streets of our world, aware of the goal to be achieved: unity with God in Christ crucified and risen. In fact, our faith and our hope are addressed to God (cf. 1 Pet 1.21): addressed to God because it is rooted in him, based on his love and his faithfulness. In past centuries, your churches have a rich tradition of holiness and generous service to others, thanks to the work of zealous priests and religious of active life and contemplative. If we listen attentively to their spiritual teaching, it is not difficult to recognize the unique and personal appeal that we address them: Be holy! Put Christ at the center of your life! He built on the edifice of your existence. In Jesus you will find the strength to open up to others to make yourself, following his example, a gift to all humanity.

Around Aquileia join together people of different languages ​​and cultures, not only made to converge by political needs, but above all by faith in Christ and inspired teaching of the Gospel from civilization, the civilization of love. The churches are called now generated from Aquileia to reinforce that old spiritual unity, particularly in view of immigration and the new geopolitical circumstances in place. The Christian faith can contribute significantly to the reality of such a program, which covers the full and harmonious development of man and society in which he lives. My presence among you will be, therefore, also a keen support for the efforts being deployed to promote solidarity among your Diocese of the Northeast. He wants to be also an encouragement for all initiatives aiming to overcome the divisions that might undermine the concrete aspirations for justice and peace.

This, my brothers, my hope is, this is the prayer to God for you all, invoking the heavenly intercession of the Virgin Mary and many saints and blessed, among whom I wish to recall St. Pius X and Blessed John XXIII but also the Venerable Giuseppe Toniolo, whose beatification is imminent. These shining witnesses of the Gospel are the greatest asset in your area: Follow their example and their teachings, blending them with current needs. Trust: The Risen Lord walks with you, yesterday, today and forever. Amen.

One of the Holy Father's priorities remains the re-Christianization of Europe.  As he pointed out in his homily, there is an urgent need to once again evangelize the continent.  Like St. Benedict in the Dark Ages, Pope Benedict XVI is trying to restore Europe's Christian identity.  During the Last Supper, Jesus told St. Peter that when he turned, that the Prince of the Apostles should confirm his brethren in the Faith.  That is exactly what Pope Benedict XVI has spent these last six years doing.

Many of us have fled the place of loving suffering to walk towards our own Emmaus.  But, Jesus walks along with us, though we do not yet recognize Him.  Yet, He is there if only we look for Him in the Holy Eucharist where He breaks open the Scriptures for us and then breaks the heavenly Bread that is His very self.