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Monday, January 31, 2011

An Unexpected Moment of Privileged Grace

God works in unique and surprising ways.  This weekend presented that unexpected moment of privileged grace.  

I met a young priest at the Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference in Houston.  He was one of the presenters and a priest that I have long admired.  As the conference drew to a close, I mustered up enough courage to ask him if he was going to celebrate Mass before he left.  He was very kind and patient with me and he said that I could come.  As it turned out, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.

It was a very long time since I had been to Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  The Mass was celebrated in a small chapel (pictured above) called Holy House, at Our Lady of Walsingham, the Anglican-Use Catholic Parish.  There were five of us, including Father.   After Father vested, he began the Mass.  I admit that I was flustered with myself because I felt this need to have a Missal in my hands so that I could follow along.  However, after the Confiteor, it hit me that I just needed to let go of the notion that I needed a book and simply join my feeble prayers to Father's.  I found myself praying the Mass and it was quite liberating.  Father's brief homily was also something that I needed to hear.  He reminded us that no matter what storms we may face in life, Jesus is there with us. 

As the Mass progressed, I came to the realization that "active participation" has a truly profound meaning.  "Active Participation" does not mean that I have to engage in vocal prayer at every moment.  The heart and the soul need to be engaged in this "active participation."  Granted, there were times when I joined in the prayers (Pater Noster, Agnus Dei, Domine non sum dignus), but, the rest of the time, I was focused on the Holy Sacrifice, adding my own supplications to Father's. 

Father was leading us in prayer.  We were all facing the same direction.  He was mediating on our behalf.   One thing is for me to read about Ad Orientem in the Holy Father's book, "Spirit of the Liturgy" or to hear about it in an address, like that given by now-Cardinal Ranjinth, but, it is an entirely different thing to actually experience this for myself.  It is a fallacy to say that in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass the celebrant is giving his back to the people.  He is not doing that.  He is leading us in prayer.  We are all facing the same direction because we are literally turning towards the Lord.

At the moment of the Consecration, I prayed for the repose of the soul of my beloved mother (Father graciously offered the Mass for the repose of her soul) and I also prayed for my priest friend back home, the Holy Father and our celebrant.  I quietly prayed the Pater Noster in Latin and then joined in the praying of the Agnus Dei and the triple recitation of the "Domine, non sum dignus".  Communion was a little awkward because I was not sure whether or not I was supposed to respond "Amen."  I  hope Father understood my confusion.  After the final blessing, he read the final Gospel from St. John. 

After Father recited his prayers of Thanksgiving, he asked me what I thought.  I felt so much joy, peace and tranquility.  I told him that I really enjoyed it.  Perhaps that was not the word.  In retrospect, I suppose that my comment could be similar to St. Peter's odd request to erect three booths on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration. 

The joy was not fleeting.  When Father and I said our farewell, I still had that joy about me.  I promised Father that I would pray for him every day, starting that evening.   Somehow, I could not fully express to Father what that Mass meant to me.  The previous evening's Mass with Cardinal DiNardo was certainly incredible, but, this particular Mass in the Extraordinary Form pierced right through me. 

I do not know if I will ever see Father again, but, I will always be grateful to him for the great gift he gave me and I will always be grateful to God for that unexpected (and undeserved) moment of privileged grace.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spiritually Recharged

I needed today.  I am in Houston right now on personal business; however, I was able, with a lot of help, to also attend the Society for Catholic Liturgy's conference (which is also in Houston). 

The talks were excellent.  Later on, after I have digested the material, I will post on the excellent and thought-provoking presentations made by various speakers, including Fr. Uwe Michael Lang.

Tonight, though, I treat the matter of the Mass.  St. Mary's Seminary in Houston has a gorgeous chapel (pictured above).  The beautiful mosaics conveyed a sense of the divine.  I had gone in to take a picture prior to the Mass and I almost felt as though I had violated something by indulging in the typical tourist reaction to photograph something.  But, one of the staff members patiently let me indulge.

The Mass was celebrated by His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.  The 12 or so priests in attendance were the concelebrants and the seminarians  were the servers. 

It was glorious to hear the chapel's beautiful pipe organ for the entrance hymn, "O God, Our Help In Ages Past".  The conference attendees robustly sang the hymn, including your intrepid blogger.  All of a sudden, I started feeling this incredible sense of joy overcome me to the point that I smiled broadly, something that I have not done during Mass for a good while. There was this incredible sense of awe as I saw the entrance procession make its way down the aisle.  The smoke from the incense wafted as the seminarian swung ther thurible.  We went through all the verses of the hymn as Cardinal DiNardo incensed the altar.

My experience was not some fleeting joy.  As the Mass progressed, the joy intensified.  The Kyrie was sung, as were the responsorial psalm and the Alleluia.  Cardinal DiNardo preached an excellent homily, weaving St. Thomas Aquinas's works with today's readings (the ferial ones were chosen as opposed to the ones for the memorial).  The organist played the instrumental version of the Tatum Ergo.  The cardinal chanted the preface and used the Roman Canon, which he chanted.  We sang the setting that the late Richard Proulx wrote, "A Community Mass".  It was majestic.  We also chanted the Pater Noster (and there was no hand-holding). 

The Communion hymn was Taste and See; it was the actual psalm.  For the final blessing, Cardinal DiNardo chanted the dialogue and then the actual blessing.  As the recessional hymn began, I thought that I was going to just burst out (in a good way).  Something  had touched me and touched me rather profoundly.  The full beauty of the Mass pierced me.  During his visit to the Archdiocese of Colombo in Sri Lanka, Fr. Lang had talked about beauty in the liturgy.  Cardinal Ranjinth also treated the subject back in 2008 when he talked about Ars Celebrandi.  One thing is to read about it and wonder if such beauty can be a concrete reality, especially when our liturgies are permeated with things that do not belong there.  However, quite another thing is to experience this beauty and this majesty for oneself and realize that Fr. Lang and Cardinal Ranjinth were not merely presenting a theory, but, helping us to realize a very concrete reality. 

Furthermore, my experience was not one of being star-struck because Cardinal DiNardo was the celebrant and Fr. Lang was there.  Cardinal DiNardo could have been Fr. DiNardo; it was not who he was, but, what he did and how he did it that also added to the experience.   The fact that quite a bit of the dialogue between the celebrant and the faithful was chanted also added to the degree of solemnity.  The quality of the preaching and the fact that Cardinal DiNardo let himself decrease and Christ increase during the Mass also played a major role.  Even the bell choir added a particularly majestic dimension to the Mass.  I had never heard a bell choir before and for me, it was simply incredible.

This afternoon's Mass was exactly what I needed.  I was able to experience for myself the solemnity, the majesty and the dignity of the Mass.  I do not know if I will ever have that grace again, but, I thank God with my whole heart for today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the Conversion of St. Paul

Today the Universal Church marks the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.   Sts. Peter and Paul share the Solemnity on June 29th; however, the Church also honors these blessed apostles on two separate occasions.  February 22nd marks the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.  As already noted, January 25th marks St. Paul's Conversion. 

St. Paul's conversion story shows us the depth of God's merciful love towards us.   But, it also shows us something equally remarkable:  what one man's response is to that immense ocean of merciful love that literally knocked him off his feet (or, as some artists like to depict, his horse). 

Conversion means to "turn around".  In Greek, the word is "metanoia".  We re-orient ourselves.  My dad likes to refer to it as something akin to pressing the "reset" button on his HDTV that restores the picture to its original setting.  God made us to know Him, to mlove Him, to serve Him and to ultimately be happy with Him in heaven.   However, while that is our original setting, original sin also exists.  Sin blinds us to our original purpose, turning us inward, making us focus on ourselves rather than the Other.

When Saul heads down to Damascus, he goes with the full intent and fury of hunting down Jesus' followers, bent on bringing them back to Jerusalem with the idea of forcibly reverting them back to their former ways.   Saul really believed that he was doing what he was supposed to do.  He was a devout Jew, the greatest student of the greatest Pharisee, Gamaliel.  However, in his zeal, it never occured to him that the prophecies that he had long studied had already reached their perfect fulfillment in Jesus.  He may have known about Jesus; but, he did not know Jesus.

One can say the same thing about the demons that Jesus silences right before he orders them to leave the individuals they've possessed.  The demons brazenly state that they "know" who Jesus is.  But, they don't really know Him, since to really know who Jesus is means to love Him. 

It was not until Saul got literally knocked down that he started his gradual ascent.  He went down into the dust when he fell, but, it was not just the physical fall, it was also the spiritual fall that he experienced.  It was as though everything he had believed suddenly turned on its head.  In those days of prayer, as he awaited Annanias'  visit, Saul must have had to re-orient his way of thinking.  It was in his blindness that the great and learned pharisee was finally able to see who Jesus really was.  It was in his lowest moment, being helpless, that Saul was able to open his heart and respond totally and completely to Jesus' love and mercy. 

Saul's transformation into Paul is not an easy one.  In fact, in today's first reading, Jesus tells Annanias that Paul will have much to suffer for His sake.  Apostleship is not an easy vocation, as Paul would later discover.  In his many epistles, Paul recounts the hardships that he has had to endure and the struggles that he has had to face.   The same persecution that he sought to inflict upon the nascent Church would come full circle upon him, as Paul finally gave his final witness to Christ during his own martyrdom outside the walls of Rome.

St. Paul also shows us that conversion is not a "one and done" deal.  Conversion means more than simply accepting Jesus as your savior.  It means putting that acceptance into action.  It means returning that love fully and completely.  Conversion happens every day of our lives.  We wake up with the best of intentions but we fall into sin and have to constantly re-orient ourselves back to God.

In the Church's case, she offers us the wonderful opportunity of pressing the "reset" button by going to Confession.  The Sacrament of Penance helps "reset" the soul, so to speak, to its original setting, taking away the fuzziness that sin has wrought so that we can have a better focus on God. 

We are not perfect.  St. Paul certainly made that point abundantly clear about himself on many occasions.  He laments about the fact that what he wants to do and what he winds up doing are two different things.  How many of us can relate to that?

Yet, the blessed apostle gives us hope.  He who had intended to be the nascent Church's most vigilant persecutor wound up being one of her strongest Apostles.  He who went out to search for early Christians to harm them wound up going all over the Roman empire seeking out the lost sheep and bringing them to the fold of the Church.  As today's Responsorial Psalm notes, he went "to all the world" and proclaimed the Good News.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Need to Understand Salvation History

This morning's homily gave us a lot of food for thought.  The celebrant tied the reading from Isaiah and the Gospel account rather masterfully, I thought.  All too often, we tend to gloss over the Old Testament readings and simply plunge into the Gospel.  However, if we do not look to see what the OT states and points to, then we lose it's fulfillment in the New Testament.

He explained to us that a couple of generations after King David's reign, Israel split into two kingdoms:  10 of the tribes established the northern Kingdom of Israel while the remaining two, Judah and Benjamin, remained in the Davidic kingdom.  The northern tribes, of which Zebulen and Napthali were a part, were conquered by the Assyrians.  Years later, the Babylonians came and destroyed both Jerusalem and the Temple.

Isaiah predicted the Israel would be reunited when the Messiah came.  When Jesus goes up to Galilee after the arrest of St. John the Baptist, he is fulfilling the prophecy.  He is seeking out the separated tribes of Israel first.  He is the great light that the people who walked in darkness would now be able to behold.  He took the first steps to reunify Ancient Israel.  He would culminate his salviffic mission in Judea, where He would offer Himself as the True Lamb, the True Sacrifice and serve as the True High Priest. 

He also did something else.  Jesus began to reconstitute the 12 tribes, only now, they would reformulate the New Israel.  He began this work by calling four fishermen, two pairs of brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John.  The homilist explained that we sometimes tend to misread the Gospel, assuming that the Apostolic band was poor.  Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen.  Simon Peter and Andrew owned their own boats.  Simon Peter had a nice house.  They had money.  James and John had a bigger business.  They worked with their father and had hired hands.  They left everything they had for Jesus.  In the case of James and John, they left their own father for Jesus.  This was huge.  In Ancient Israel, the father was the most important figure in the family.  He was the end all and be all.  If one left his father, it was because of something, or someone, extremely important.  In the case of James and John, they left their father to be with God, Himself, Jesus.

Towards the end of the homily, the celebrant noted that just as Ancient Israel was fractured due to the split of the Davidic Kingdom, so, too, is the New Israel fractured because of the split between the Church, the Orthodox Churches and the Protestant ecclesial communities.  Just as Jesus restored unity to Ancient Israel by his fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, so, too, must the Church pray that her Divine Bridegroom restore unity to His Church, founded on the rock of St. Peter.

In Sacramentum Caritatis, and again, in Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI expounded on the importance of quality in the homily and the need for the faithful to understand Sacred Scripture, as it relates to Salvation history.  This morning, I experienced that rare, but necessary, confluence of both.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Excellent Blog Post on the Question of Music at the Mass

Over at the Chant Cafe blog, Michael O'Connor posts this excellent article on the issue of Contemporary music at the Mass.  It is an excellent read.

For me, the issue still revolves around accountability and general quality control.  The publishers certainly need to exercise it, but, so, too, do individual bishops and the USCCB.  The measuring standards should be taken from the authoritative documents of the Church.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Singing the Words of the Church's Liturgy

I really do not know what to make of the trend that appears prevalent in many composers to make  wholesale edits to the Ordinary of the Mass.  What perplexes me further is that the publishing houses do not even exercise much quality control to ensure that their finished products meet the standards set forth by the Church in her authoritative documents.

According to Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy:

3. 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 drives home the point even further:

[59.] The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.
Liturgiam Authenticam throws this in for good measure:

60. A great part of the liturgical texts are composed with the intention of their being sung by the priest celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, the people, or the choir. For this reason, the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place.39

This last section makes me wonder if the composers have even read the authoritative documents of the Church when they are setting the parts of the Mass to music.  In 2008, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Francis Cardinal Arinze, wrote this statement in his letter to the USCCB announcing the release of the newly revised Ordinary of the Mass:

It will likewise facilitate the devising of musical settings for the parts of the Mass, bearing in mind the criteria set forth in the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, n. 60, which requires that the musical settings of liturgical texts use only the actual approved texts and never be paraphrased.

Even with all of the documentation and admonishments, paraphrases to the parts of the Mass continue.  One glaring example is found in OCP's Spirit and Song book which includes a setting of the Gloria that not only parphrases the prayer, but, it also edits out significant parts of the text.

Here it is:

Compare what is sung to the proper text (that will become obsolete on November 26-27, 2011):

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you,

we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ,
only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

When I pointed out the ilicitness of the setting in question (including citing the appropriate documentation from the Holy See) to an individual who had been recommending it for use in parishes, the response I received was rather chilling.  The person, a parish music director, wrote back that even though the setting was ilicit, that did not matter.  As long as it got the parishioners to sing, the music director thought that it was fine.

Excuse me, as I continue to channel my inner Vicky Guerrero (from WWE's Smackdown)!  It makes no difference whether my parish or I like a particular Mass setting.  If the text does not fit, the usage has to quit.  I would love to give the composer the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he did not know about the prescriptions of the Church.  However, even that would not necessarily work.  If a composer is going to offer to set the Ordinary of the Mass to music, he needs to familiarize himself with the Church's requirements.  He needs to read the authoritative documents of the Holy See instead of taking a red pen and striking texts that do not "flow" with the music and then adding stuff that does not belong there in the first place.  The publisher, too, shares a lot of the blame because it is placing this music out for parishes to use, under the guise that it's  dynamic, engaging and inspiring.  Unsuspecting parish music directors, who probably are not familiar with the Church's guidelines, wind up using something that is ilicit and continue to perpetuate the problem.

As I noted in a previous post, the requirements are not that the music, especially the Mass settings, be dynamic, engaging and inspiring.  The Mass settings need to be faithful, word-for-word to the official texts that the Church provides.  If the setting does not match what is in the Roman Missal, it should not be used.  It's plain and simple.

I wonder, now that the revised Ordinary has been set to music by various composers, if the guidelines will be followed or if we will be subjected to more of the same.  To paraphrase what the late Catholic Southern author Flannery O'Conner once said:  "Sometimes we suffer more in the Church than for the Church."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wonderful news from Great Britain

From one of my favorite blogs, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, comes news that is far more important than a wedding!

The hermeneutic of continuity: Corrected translation dates for England and Wales: "The new (corrected) translation of 'The Order of Mass' will be used in English and Welsh parishes from September, the Bishops have announce..."

Although England and Wales will be implementing the complete Roman Missal in Advent, the Ordinary (the parts of the people and the celebrant) will be in use in September.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tidings of Great Joy

Thanks to a tip from Jeffrey Tucker and the Chant Cafe, here are some samplings of things to come when the revised Roman Missal comes to a parish near you on November 27, 2011:

Missal Proper of Time (US)

Here is a sampling of the Collect for Ash Wednesday:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Note the richness and the beauty of the new language.  We are reminded in this Collect that we must do battle against spiritual evils. 

More will follow in the coming days and weeks.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Makes a Song Fit for Mass

Yesterday, I posted an entry on youth and sacred music.  It is not an easy subject because music tends to bring about a lot of emotional responses.  However, it is important to look at this matter in light of what the authoritative documents of the Church state.  In my research on the subject, I came across an interesting power point presentation that the USCCB made before the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions prior to the formulation of the document Sing to the Lord.

The power point presentation offers some very useful observations and suggests some guidelines that could help parishes, music directors and even youth ministers in selecting music for the Mass.  The USCCB made some interesting findings in its research.  The first lists two major concerns:
  • Individual songs should be consonant with Catholic teaching and free from theological error; and
  • The repertoire of liturgical songs in any given setting should not manifest a collective bias against Catholic theological elements.
The next matter centers around a series of questions that those selecting music for use in the Mass should ask when examining possible songs for inclusion in parish's repertoire:

Is there a sufficient attention to the Trinity and to the Trinitarian structure of Catholic beliefs and teachings? Do our liturgical songs fail at times to present the Trinity as the central mystery of the Christian faith? Does the language used in referring to the Persons of the Trinity contribute at times to a lack of clarity? Is there a reluctance to use “Father” for the first person of the Blessed Trinity? Is the relationship between Jesus and the Father stressed sufficiently? Are there times when the word “God” is placed in a sentence where one would expect to find “Father” or “God the Father” since the reference is precisely to the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity?

Is there an obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ in salvation history and an insufficient emphasis on the divinity of Christ? Do our liturgical songs present Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation? Is the indispensable place of the incarnation in the plan of salvation sufficiently presented? Is Jesus the Savior often overshadowed by Jesus the teacher, model, friend, and brother? Is there an appropriate balance? Is there an imbalance in our emphasis on the humanity or divinity of Jesus Christ? At times, can we detect a negative undertone in speaking of the divine nature of Christ, as if divinity is equated with being “distant and unreal.”

An indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings?

Do the texts give insufficient emphasis to God’s initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action?

Is there a sufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace?

While some may argue that this could constitute a rather laborious process, I submit that this may not necessarily be the case.  If the publishers are not employing this same kind of scrutiny, then, I believe that perhaps it should fall to the parishes to exercise this quality control.  Sadly, quite a few songs that publishers offer in their books do not pass this test.  Spirit and Song, for instance, includes, as its last entry, the R&B classic, "Lean on Me."  This is a secular song, not sacred music.  That is why such scrutiny is necessary.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reviews of the coming revised Mass settings

Adam Wood, a member of the Musica Sacra forum, has written some objective reviews of the coming revised Mass settings.

Review of OCP's revised Mass settings

I found his reviews to be thoroughly helpful.  He is really making a solid contribution to the musical integrity of the Church.



The Importance of Genuine Sacred Music and Youth


Of all of the subjects concerning liturgy, perhaps one of the most volatile revolves around the issue of music.  While I have written a few times about the subject in this blog, there are things that, I believe, merit revisiting. 

In 1903, Pope St. Pius X wrestled with this particular issue. At the time, secular influences like opera and theater were creeping into the Mass.  In his Motu Propio, Tra le Sollecitudini, the saintly pontiff addresses the issue and offers some concrete remedies.  He defines qualities that music used in the liturgical acts of the Church should have:

Sacred music must therefore eminently possess the qualities which belong to liturgical rites, especially holiness and beauty, from which its other characteristic, universality, will flow spontaneously.

It must be holy, and therefore avoid everything that is secular, both in itself and in the way in which it is performed. It must really be an art, since in no other way can it have on the mind of those who hear it that effect which the Church desires in using in her liturgy the art of sound.

But it must also be universal in this sense, namely, that although each , country may use in its ecclesiastical music whatever special forms may belong to its own national style, these forms must be subject to the proper nature of sacred music, so that it may never produce a bad impression on the mind of any stranger who may hear it.
Nearly 108  years later, that criteria still holds true.  Sadly, it seems that the more "popular" music publishers seem to not have taken these qualities in mind when releasing their latest musical offerings.  A friend of mine received the latest catalogue from one of the Big Three publishers.  The brochure is packed with buzzwords and phrases  like "engage", "vibrant melodies", "lively", "versatile" and "uplifting."  He leant me the catalogue so that I could browse through it.  The words "sacred", "sacrifice" and "solemn" did not appear in any of the pages of the catalogue.

I must say that the marketing ploy is rather crafty.  However, looking through the booklet, I could not find anything that quoted from the authoritative documents of the Church.  The content of some of the song books left me rather perplexed.  One of the books, marketed for use with youth in mind, Spirit and Song, claims to "increase participation" and "draw youth into worship."  However, leafing through this book, I wonder just what it has that is appropriate for use in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Pope St. Pius X makes a clear distinction about what  music should and should not be used for the Holy Sacrifice:

Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of motifs adopted in the theaters, and be not fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.

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

Most of what is found in Spirit and Song sounds pretty much like what you would encounter on a secular pop station.  Quite a few of the songs are actually Protestant Praise and Worship anthems that are not necessarily consistent with Catholic teachings, let alone Catholic sacrificial worship.  There is just a huge disconnect, as I see it (and as I have experienced it) with the sacred, majestic act of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and this particular genre of music.  Now, while Pope St. Pius X specifically writes about the theatrical genre, certainly the pop/rock genre can apply here, as well.

It also seems to me that the purveyors of Spirit and Song have probably not read any of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger when it comes to genre.  Perhaps, it's worth revisiting what the former cardinal wrote about the particular genre heavily promoted in Spirit and Song:

On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. "Rock", on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit's sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments.
Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he has carried this theme even in his official papal writings.  Let's look at Sacramentum Caritatis:

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).
What I highlighted in red is something that I believe that the publishers tend to ignore.  Music used in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not merely about being "vibrant" and "engaging".  The music needs to be at the service of the liturgy, not the other way around.  Pope  Benedict is not saying anything new nor different from what he said as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  The Church has her standards and, sadly, a lot of what is used for music at Mass today does not live up to it.

This point was made quite clear back in 2005 when the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod on the Eucharist indicated that:

In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.
It is not the fault of the youth that they are not exposed to music that is proper to the Mass.  The fault lies with the ones who compose, publish and ulitimately select this kind of genre for use in the liturgy.  At some point, those involved both in music and youth ministry need to have proper formation in what is proper and appropriate music for the Holy Sacrifice.  Those who serve at these ministries need to have proper formation, something that is sorely lacking in many places.  However, given the wide resources available online, music directors and youth ministers can certainly consult the authoritative documents of the Holy See to at least gain some rudimentary formation.  The publishing house is not the end-all and be-all.  The publishing house is not the supreme authority.  The Church ultimately is.

Even the founder of World Youth Day, Venerable Pope John Paul II, did not shy away from the subject of music in the Mass.  In 2003, to mark the 100th anniversary of his saintly predecessor's Motu Propio, John Paul released his Chirograph on Sacred Music.  He wrote, in part, that:

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

St Pius X's reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able "to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith"[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.

5. Another principle, affirmed by St Pius X in the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini and which is closely connected with the previous one, is that of sound form. There can be no music composed for the celebration of sacred rites which is not first of all "true art" or which does not have that efficacy "which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her Liturgy the art of musical sounds"[15].

Yet this quality alone does not suffice. Indeed, liturgical music must meet the specific prerequisites of the Liturgy: full adherence to the text it presents, synchronization with the time and moment in the Liturgy for which it is intended, appropriately reflecting the gestures proposed by the rite. The various moments in the Liturgy require a musical expression of their own. From time to time this must fittingly bring out the nature proper to a specific rite, now proclaiming God's marvels, now expressing praise, supplication or even sorrow for the experience of human suffering which, however, faith opens to the prospect of Christian hope.
Clearly, the venerable pontiff does not mince words here, even including an admonishment from his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.  It just makes me wonder if the publishing houses even read the authoritative documents of the Holy See and the writings of the popes as they are preparing their materials for sale.  It is not enough for a song to be vibrant, engaging and moving.  It needs to be sacred.  That should be the most important criterion.

What we pray at the Mass is just as important as how we pray.  As both the authoritative documents and the writings of the popes have shown, what we sing at the Mass is also just as important.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are We Ready?!?!?

It's January 11, 2011, T-11 months and 16 days until the implementation of the revised translation of the Roman Missal.  Are we ready?

For over a year, the USCCB has had its Roman Missal implementation website up and running.  Many dioceses have posted links to the site.  Some parishes, including my own, have ordered booklets designed to prepare the faithful for the coming changes.  Publishing houses and independent composers have already released their revised Mass settings (in some cases, writing new ones), all in anticipation of the big change.  Even ICEL has done its part by releasing an impressive setting of its own, to be included within the actual Roman Missal itself. 

However, despite the preparations and the workshops that the USCCB has hosted throughout the country, the closest to me being the one held in San Antonio last October, there are, sadly, some areas where the faithful are not yet made aware of the coming changes.  While some efforts have been made to provide formation to the choirs and pastoral musicians, even this has been a sort of mixed bag.  More often than not, the ones who come and make the presentations are composers affiliated with one of the big Three publishing houses or with a group like the National Pastoral Musicians Association.  Having been to a couple of these presentations, these have left me with rather perplexed.  Instead of listening to a presentation on the importance of following the authoritative documents of the Church, the discourses center on what is new and trendy.  The seminar often ends with the composer pushing his work and his publisher's material, rather than providing substantive training on what the Church calls for in the Mass.  The choirs and pastoral musicians are not exposed to things like the ICEL settings nor are they given any sort of direction based on documents such as Musicam Sacram and Sacramentum Caritatis.

If the choirs are getting short-changed, the faithful are receiving next to nothing concerning formation and information on the coming changes.  It is not enough to say that folks can simply read the missallettes.  John and Mary Parishioner should be given at least some rudimentary catechesis as to why we are going to be praying "I believe" in the Creed instead of using the word "we" and why we will soon be responding "and with your Spirit."  At least in South Texas, we can use a different approach and simply inform the faithful that we have already been using similar language when praying the Mass in Spanish.   However, the faithful also need to have the opportunity to go over the texts and pray with them.  They need to be exposed to the texts.

Granted, the transition will probably not be a smooth one.  It will be bumpy.  However, it would be in everyone's best interest to at least try and prepare the faithful so that when the change comes, it won't take them by surprise.  I don't think that we should have to wait until mid-afternoon November 26, 2011 to tell folks that these changes will take place in a few hours.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ideal Hymn for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord

This would have been great to sing today for Mass either as the entrance or the recessional. Alas, it was not so today. Maybe some day this beautiful hymn will be heard in the South Texas hinterland.

The Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord

From our friends at Zenit, here is an unofficial translation of the magnificent homily that the Holy Father preached this morning for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord:

Dear brothers and sisters, 
I am happy to give you a cordial welcome, especially you parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a moment, I will have the joy of administering the sacrament of baptism. As has become tradition, this rite takes place again this year during the Holy Eucharist in which we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. This is the feast that, on the First Sunday after Epiphany, concludes the Christmas season with the manifestation of the Lord at the Jordan.

According to the story of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John; in fact, all of Palestine flocked to hear the preaching of this great prophet, the announcement of the advent of the Kingdom of God, and to receive baptism, that is, to submit themselves to this sign that called to conversion from sin. Although it is called “baptism,” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite that we celebrate today; as you well know, it is in fact by his death and resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and brings about the birth of the Church. [The baptism] administered by John was rather a penitential act, a gesture that invited people to humility before God, for a new beginning: Plunging into the water, the penitent acknowledged having sinned, he implored God to purify him of his sins and he was sent forth to change his erroneous behavior. 

So, when the Baptist saw Jesus, in line with sinners, having come to be baptized, he is stunned; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, he who is without sin, John shows his confusion: He himself, the baptizer wanted to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus tells him not to resist, to agree to carry out this act, to do what is proper to "fulfill all justice." With this expression, Jesus shows that he came into the world to do the will of him who sent him, to do everything that the Father asks him; it is in obedience to the Father that he has agreed to become man. This gesture reveals first of all who Jesus is: He is the Son of God, true God like the Father; it is he who "humbled himself" to become one of us, he who became man and agreed to humble himself to the point of death on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:7).

The baptism of Jesus, which we recall today, fits into this logic of humility: It is the gesture of one who wants to be one of us in everything and gets in line with sinners; he, who is without sin, lets himself be treated as a sinner (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), to carry on his shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity. He is the "servant of Yahweh" whom the prophet Isaiah spoke to us about in the first reading (cf. 42:1). His humility is determined by a desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to achieve a true solidarity with man and his condition. Jesus' gesture anticipates the cross, the acceptance of death for man’s sins. This act of abasement, with which Jesus wants to conform totally to the Father's plan of love, manifests the total harmony of will and purpose that exists between persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God manifests himself as a dove and descends upon him, and in that moment a voice from above, which all hear, testifies to the love that unites Jesus to the Father for those present at the baptism. The Father openly reveals to men the profound communion uniting him to the Son: The voice that resounds from above attests that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of love that unites them. This is why the Father delights in Jesus, because he sees in the Son’s action the desire to follow his will in everything: "This is my Son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). And this word of the Father also alludes, in anticipation, to the victory of the Resurrection. 

Dear parents, baptism, which you ask for your children today, inserts them into this reciprocal exchange of love that exists in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; by this gesture that I am going to perform, the love of God is poured out upon them, inundating them with his gifts. By being bathed in the water, your children are inserted into the life itself of Jesus, who died on the cross to free us from sin, and rising, conquered death. So, spiritually immersed in his death and resurrection, [these children] are freed from original sin and in them the life of grace begins, which is the very life of the risen Jesus. "He,” said St. Paul, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and form for himself a pure people who belong to him, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). 

Dear friends, giving us the faith, the Lord gave us that which is most precious in life, that is, the truest and most beautiful reason to live: It is by grace that we believe in God, that we have known his love by which he wants to save us and deliver us from evil. Now you, dear parents and godparents, are asking the Church to accept these children into her bosom, to give them baptism, and you make this request because of the gift of faith that you yourselves have, in turn, received. With the prophet Isaiah, every Christian can repeat: "The Lord has shaped me his servant from the womb of my mother" (cf. 49:5); thus, dear parents, your children are a precious gift of the Lord, whose heart he has reserved for himself, to be able to fill with his love. Today through the sacrament of baptism he consecrates them and calls them to follow Jesus, through the realization of their personal vocation according to the particular design of love that the Father has in mind for each of them; the goal of this earthly pilgrimage will be the full communion with him in eternal happiness. 

Receiving baptism, these children are granted an indelible spiritual seal, the "character" that marks forever their belonging to the Lord and makes them living members of his mystical body, which is the Church. While entering to be part of the People of God, for these children there starts today a path of holiness and conformity to Jesus, a reality that is placed in them as the seed of a splendid tree, which must be made to grow. Thus, understanding the magnitude of this gift from the earliest centuries, [the Church] has been concerned to give baptism to newborn children. Certainly, there will also be the need of a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love, and that is why it is necessary that after baptism they are educated in faith, instructed according to the wisdom of sacred Scripture and the Church's teachings, so that the seeds of faith that they receive today can grow, and they can reach full Christian maturity. The Church, who welcomes them among her children, is responsible, together with the parents and godparents, for accompanying them on this path of growth. The collaboration between the Christian community and the family is much needed in the current social context in which the institution of the family is threatened from many sides and finds itself faced with many difficulties in its mission to teach the faith. The disappearance of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation that society continually undergoes, make the educational task truly difficult. Therefore, it is necessary that parishes increasingly strive to support families, the little domestic Churches, in their work of passing on the faith. 

Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of the baptism of these your children; in lifting up our prayer for them, we invoke the abundant gift of the Holy Spirit, who today consecrates them in the image of Christ as priest, prophet and king. Entrusting them to the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, we ask for them life and health so that they can grow and mature in the faith, and bear, with their lives, the fruits of holiness and love. Amen!

Watching the sacred ritual unfold before the television screen gave me a new appreciation for this most important Sacrament.  The Sacrament of Baptism is our entrance into the Christian community.  It washes away the stain of original sin and, as the Holy Father eloquently stated, imparts on our souls the indelible mark of God's grace.  With the sign of the Cross, the Holy Father claimed each child for Christ.  With the annointings, the children took on the Christological image of priest, prophet and king.  With the pouring of the water on their heads, the children were made clean and were then subsequently given the white garment to symbolize their new dignity as Christians. 

But, as the Holy Father reminded the parents, and all of us, baptism is the beginning of our earthly pilgrimage.  The parents and godparents, working in tandem with the Church, need to do their part to guide their children along the way, educating them in the Faith and giving them the resources necessary so that they can discern what God's plans  is for them.

The Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord also marks another significant event.  It is the third Epiphany of the Christmas season.  Recall that the first Epiphany occurred on December 25th with the Birth of Christ and his first revelation to Ancient Israel, in the persons of the shepherds.  The Messiah had to be first revealed to the Chosen People.  The second Epiphany came with the revelation of the Christ to the Gentiles, as represented by the Magi from the East.  This was our Epiphany.  This third Epiphany, with the now adult Christ, manifests not only Jesus as the Messiah, but, it also reveals, for the first time, the Most Holy Trinity:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The Father's voice is heard from the cloud proclaiming His love for His Son.  The Son rises from the waters of the Jordan, baptized and ready to begin the work prophesied by Isaiah.  The Holy Spirit descends upon the Son in the form of a dove.  While the Trinity had been alluded to in Sacred Scripture, most notably in the Annunciation, the full manifestation of the Triune God comes at the Jordan.

At the end of the Gospel accounts written by Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Holy Trinity reference returns in Jesus' command to the Apostles that they go and baptize all "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," the same Trinitarian formula that the Church has preserved to this day for the Baptism ritual.  We do not baptize in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, as, sadly, some parishes have done in recent years.  Such a baptism is not valid because it is a defect of form.  No.  We use the same words commanded to us by no less than Jesus, Himself.

With every Baptism, we go back to that moment at the Jordan when the Most Holy Trinity was revealed.  We become beloved children of the Father, siblings of the Son who shares in our human nature and we are guided by the Holy Spirit. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Remembering a true Father

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was to the internet what the beloved Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was to television.  Neuhaus, a former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism and was subsequently ordained to the priesthood, brought a fresh insight and a true love of the Faith to all three forms of media, print, broadcast and the internet.  Sadly, Neuhaus powerful voice fell silent when he succumbed to the effects of the cancer he had been battling on January 8, 2009.

A frequent contributor to EWTN's World Over Live, Neuhaus helped guide us through the mourning process when Pope John Paul II died and nearly launched into an impromptu Te Deum when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger emerged onto the loggia as Pope Benedict XVI.  He brought dignity and decorum to EWTN's coverage of these historic events.  Perhaps the closest thing we got to an emotional outburst of utter joy from him was when the word "Iosephum" was uttered during the Habemus Papam proclamation. 

Neuhaus was not afraid of telling it like it is, especially when it came to liturgy.  He leveled some valid criticisms of the Revised New American Bible and the Lectionary that sprang forth from it for use in the United States.   I often wonder what his reaction would have been to the coming revised translation of the Roman Missal.  I suspect that he would have been pleased with the new and greatly improved version and probably would have been anxious for November 27, 2011 to come quickly.  His sharp critique was not reserved just for the Lectionary; the music used during the Mass also slid into his radar screen.  His harshest words and on-target criticism came during the infamous Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium. 

Here is what he wrote about the matter back in 2008:

The Thursday Mass at Nationals Park introduced the Holy Father to aspects of the aesthetic suffering endured by the faithful in America. The background notes we have been supplied are not specific about who, for instance, is to blame for the choice of music.

...Of course nothing can diminish, never mind negate, the astonishment of the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass, but it must be admitted that the mish-mash of music and liturgical practices putatively representing the “other” of multiculturalism did vigorously compete with the central reality. I offered an observation or two on this in the course of our EWTN coverage, provoking the response that the people in the stadium were obviously enjoying themselves and we mustn’t try to impose our elitist musical and liturgical criteria. Ouch. The point I was making is that Benedict has written very specifically over the years about the distortion of the dynamics of worship when attention is focused on “our wonderful selves” rather than on the glory of God. He has also stressed the importance of renewing commitment to and continuity in the tradition of sacred music, including Gregorian chant, a tradition almost entirely absent from the stadium Mass. So the point of the commentary on that Mass is that it is remarkable that, on matters about which Benedict has been so emphatic, his views were so egregiously ignored or defied.
His words were spot-on nearly three years ago and they certainly ring true today.  Fr. Neuhaus had a great love of the liturgy and was adamant about the fact that the Church has her standards.  His strong defense of liturgical integrity certainly made a strong impact on me.

He was also very clear about how Catholics should be involved in the Public Square.  He emphatically stated that our voices needed to be heard. 

We call our priests "Father" because they are our spiritual fathers.  Just as our biological fathers are to guide us and take care of us, our spiritual fathers tend to the well-being of our souls.  They are there to love us and to admonish us, always helping us along our earthly pilgrimage.   Fr. Richard John Neuhaus certainly lived up to his vocation of spiritual fatherhood.  Through his writings and his talks, he helped to provide spiritual nourishment to countless faithful.  He reminded us that as Catholics, we have a responsibility to our Church, our country and our culture.  We need to have the courage to stand up for what is right, even if we are small in numbers.

Perhaps this quote from Neuhaus, an exerpt from his book, "Death on a Friday Afternoon", says it best:

“When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my won. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways - these and all other gifts received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will…look to Christ and Christ alone.”
May the souls of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and my mother, and all of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Remembering My Mom

Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of my mother's death.  She died on Friday, January 7, 1994.  It was a First Friday.

During the Rite of Marriage, when a man and a woman give their consent to the priest, they agree to welcome children lovingly and rear them according to the laws of Christ and His Church.   Later on, when the first child finally comes, the same man and woman, now the parents, bring the infant to the Church and promise to serve as their daughter's first teachers in the Faith.

And, so it was with my parents.  My mother never worked until I left to go to the university.  She stayed at home caring for me and for the household while my dad worked.  Along with teaching me how to walk and talk, she also taught me how to pray and to love the Faith.  While I was probably a little rambunctious as a child during Mass, she made sure that I behaved.  There was one incident that I will never forget.  I was about five years old and had accompanied my parents to Christmas Mass.  After Communion, I walked over to the Nativity Scene and belted out "Silent Night," a carol that my mom and I would sing in front of our manger scene at home.  I guess I thought that I could also do this during Mass.  My mom told me that she wanted to hide under the pew.  I think that my maternal grandparents were in the same boat.  She was on her way to take me back to the pew when the priest stopped her and told her to let me finish singing. 

My parents made a huge sacrifice to send me to Catholic school for nine years, kindergarten through eighth.  It was not easy.  My parents had car and house payments to make.  But, with God's help, the house was paid for by the time I was in the second grade and the car notes were always current.

My mother would always augment the lessons I learned from the nuns in religion class.  In fact, she would sit down and go over the catechism with me.   Every night, though, she seemed to disappear, going into the living room.  We did not have a TV there so I often wondered what she did.  She would be in there for about a half an hour.  As I grew older, I realized what she was doing.  She would retreat to the living room to pray her rosary.  She told me that it was her time to be with God. 

Liturgically, my mom, my paternal grandmother and the nuns greatly helped in my formation.  My mom would ensure that we went to Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.  In fact, when I was in public high school, she would pull me out on Good Friday so that we could go to the Liturgy.  One year, we went to Austin to spend Triduum with my paternal grandmother.   She told my mom that we needed to go to the entire Triduum, starting with the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.  My father dropped us off at my grandma's parish and the three of us, grandma, mom and I went to Mass.  The experience really impacted me.  Since that time, I have tried not to miss Triduum in its entirety.

My mom was always concerned about my venturing out on my own after high school.  However, I promised her that I would not miss Mass (unless I was ill).  We would call each other every day.  Ma Bell certainly made a lot of money off of us.  Through boyfriend tribulations and betrayals, my mom was always there to pick up the pieces.  She told me that she would pray for me.  Whenever I went home, we spent a lot of time together, and that also including praying. 

I learned that my mom had gotten involved in liturgical ministry during my absence.  I was proud to see her up in the choir loft singing.  She had a great voice and really enjoyed singing.  Prior to her marrying my father, she was in the choir at her former parish. 

Things started to turn in late 1992 when the doctor noticed a severe abnormality in my mother's abdomen.  February 1993 confirmed our worst fears:  she was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer and was given between one and five years.  I went to daily Mass and engaged in every possible novena.  My mom and dad decided to drive up to Austin to visit me prior to her first round of treatment.  My newly ordained Paulist priest friend agreed to impart the Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick on her.  He did so every time she came.  My mom told me that the sacrament brought peace to her.

December 1993 was bittersweet.  The oncologist told us that it could be her last one.  She had now lost a good deal of hair and because of her compromised immune system, had to assist at Mass from the sacristy (with our now-deceased pastor's kind permission).  I would proclaim the readings and then retreat to the sacristy to be with her.  When I left the afternoon of January 2nd, little did I know that it would be the last time I would see her alive.  Our last conversation took place on January 6th and it ended with an exchange of "I love you's" and a promise to have another chat the next day.

That conversation never came.   The morning of January 7th, my mom took a severe turn for the worst.  By the time I got to the hospital, driving like a maniac from Austin with my paternal grandma in tow, she was dead.  I had missed her by 10 minutes.  Not having the chance to tell her goodbye will always haunt me. 

It fell to me to plan the liturgy, both the Vigil for the Deceased and the Funeral Mass.  Providentially, my mom had already selected her casket, her plot and the funeral home. It was the first liturgy I had ever planned and I wanted to make sure that I got everything down pat.   I chose the readings and the music, with a lot of help from the liturgist from my Austin parish.  I believe that it was the first time that the responsorial psalm had ever been chanted in our local parish.  Our pastor had agreed to everything and even, though slightly grudgingly, agreed to incense.  I did not want eulogies during the Mass.  I told him that the Mass needed to be the Mass.  Any remarks would be made at the Vigil.  He agreed.

It was not an easy feat, but, somehow, we managed to get through the funeral.   Perhaps it was a blessing in a way.   I was so busy worrying about how things would go that I did not cry as much.  But, once it was over and I was back at home with my dad, the grief and the pain hit.

Even 17 years later, the grief and the pain remain.  But, so, too, do the memories and the lessons that I learned from my mother.  My mother was far from perfect.   But, even in her imperfections, she knew that God loved her and she loved Him in return.  She also loved the Church.  Her greatest joy was going to Mass and her greatest comfort was the Rosary.  In her life, she actually modeled Don Bosco's belief that the Eucharist (Mass) and the Blessed Mother (the Rosary) were the two pillars on which the barque of St. Peter is anchored.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Papal Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

Pope Benedict XVI incenses the altar during the Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.   (Photo:  Aljazeera)

Courtesy of the Google Translator, here is the text of the magnificent homily the Holy Father preached this morning at St. Peter's Basilica for the Solemnity of the Epiphany:

Dear brothers and sisters ,

In the solemnity of the Epiphany, the Church continues to contemplate and celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus the Savior. In particular, today's feast underlines the destination and the universal significance of this birth. In becoming man in the womb of Mary, the Son of God came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented by the Magi. And it is on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah (cf. Mt 2:1-12) that the Church invites us to meditate and pray today. In the Gospel we heard that they had come to Jerusalem from the East, asking: "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? We have seen his star rise and have come to worship him "(v. 2). What kind of people they were, and what kind of star was that? They were probably wise to scan the sky, but not to try to "read" the future in the stars, possibly to earn money, rather than that, the men were "looking into" something more, in search of true light, which is able to show the way to go in life. There were some people that exists in creating what we might call the "signature" of God, a sign that man can and must groped to find and decipher. Perhaps the best way to meet these Magi and seize their desire to be guided by the signs of God is to pause and consider what they find on their journey, the great city of Jerusalem.

First they met King Herod.
Certainly he was interested in the child the Magi were talking about, but not for the purpose of worship, as in his lies, he wanted to suppress the child. Herod is a man of power; the other can only see a rival to fight. After all, if you think about it, God seems to be a rival, even a particularly dangerous rival, that would deprive men of their habitat, their autonomy, their power, a rival who shows the way to go in life and prevent it, so, to do whatever you want. Herod hears from the experts of the Holy Scriptures the words of the prophet Micah (5:1), but his only thought is about the throne. Then God himself shall be overshadowed and people must be reduced to mere pawns to be moved in the great chessboard of power. Herod is a character who is not nice and who instinctively judges in a negative way with hsi brutality. But we should ask ourselves: maybe there is something of Herod in us? Perhaps we, too, sometimes,  see God as a kind of rival? Perhaps we too are blind in front of his signs, deaf to his words, because we think that puts limits on our lives and not to allow us to have existence at will? Dear brothers and sisters, when we see God in this way we end up feeling dissatisfied and unhappy; we do not let ourselves be guided by Him who is the foundation of all things. We must remove from our minds and our hearts the idea of rivalry, the idea that God is giving space to a limit for ourselves and we must open ourselves to the certainty that God is omnipotent love that takes nothing away, no threat, indeed , is the only one capable of offering us the opportunity to live fully, to experience real joy.

The Magi then meet with scholars, theologians, experts who know all about the Holy Scriptures, who know the possible interpretations, who are able to quote from memory every step and are therefore a valuable aid for those who want to pursue the path of God . But, says St. Augustine, they like to be guides for others, show the way, but do not walk, they remain motionless. For them, writing becomes a kind of atlas to read with curiosity, a set of words and concepts on which to examine and discuss learnedly. But again we can ask ourselves: there is also the temptation to believe  the Holy Scriptures, this rich treasure and vital to the faith of the Church, more as an object for study and discussion of specialists that we like the Book points the way to attain life? I think, as I indicated in the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini , should always be born again in us the deep disposal to see to the Bible, read in the living Tradition of the Church ( No. 18 ), as the truth that tells us what man is and how it can be fully realized, the truth is that the way to go every day, along with others, if we build our lives on the rock and not sand.

And so we come to the star.
What type of star had the Magi seen and followed? Throughout the ages, this question has been the subject of debate among astronomers. Kepler, for example, believed that it was a "nova" or a "supernova", that is one of those stars that normally give off a faint light, but that they suddenly have a violent internal explosion that produces a great light. Yes, interesting things, but that does not lead us to what is essential to understand that star. We have to go back to the fact that these men were looking for traces of God, trying to read his "signature" in the creation, knew that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (
Ps 19:2), were certain, that God can be glimpsed in creation. But, as wise, knew well that is not with any telescope, but with the deep eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and God's desire driven by faith, that you can meet him, indeed it is possible that God comes to us. The universe is not the result of chance, as some would have us believe. Contemplating it, we are invited to read something profound: the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God, his infinite love for us. We should not limit your mind of theories that are still only up to a certain point and that - if we look good - are not in competition with the faith, but can not explain the ultimate meaning of reality. In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, its greatness and rationality we can not read the eternal rationality, and we can not help but be guided by it to the one God, Creator of heaven and earth. If we get this look, we see that He who created the world and one who was born in a manger in Bethlehem and continued to live among us in the Eucharist, are the same living God who calls us, loves us, wants to lead to eternal life.

Herod, the experts of the Scriptures, the star. But we follow the journey of the Magi who come to Jerusalem. Above the large city the star disappears, there is no more. What does this mean? Again we read the sign in depth. For those men was logical to try the new king in the royal palace, where they were the wise counselors of the court. But, probably to their astonishment, they had to see that that baby was not in the places of power and culture, even if those places were offered them valuable information about him. They realized, however, that at times the power, even that of knowledge, stands in the way the meeting with that child. The star then led them to Bethlehem, a small town, led them among the poor, the lowly, to find the King of the world. The criteria of God are different from those of men, God does not manifest itself in the power of this world, but in the humility of his love, the love that calls to our freedom to be taken to transform and enable us to get to the One who is Love. But for us things are not so different from what they were for the Magi. If we are asked our opinion on how God would save the world, perhaps we would say that would express all his power to give the world a fairer economic system, in which everyone could have everything he wants. In reality, this would be a kind of compulsion on man, why would deprive him of basic elements that characterize it. In fact, it would not undermine our freedom, nor our love. The power of God manifests itself in a completely different way: in Bethlehem, where we encounter the apparent powerlessness of his love. And that's where we should go, and it is there that we find the star of God

So there is a clear last important element of the story of the Magi: the language of creation allows us to go a long way towards God, but ultimately gives us the light. In the end, for the Magi was essential to hear the voice of the Holy Scriptures: only show them the way they could. It 's the Word of God, the true star which, in the uncertainty of human discourse, gives us the full glory of divine truth. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be guided by the star, which is the Word of God, follow it in our lives, walking to the church where the Word has pitched his tent. Our street is always illuminated by a light that no one else can give us a sign. And we ourselves become stars for others, a reflection of that light which Christ has made to shine on us. Amen.


The Magi made considerable sacrifices in their journey to seek the newborn King.  The journey was not an easy one; yet, it was one of joyful expectation.  Little did they know that as they followed that bright Star, it would lead them to something beyond the fulfillment of all of their expectations: God, Himself, in the form of a child.  

Experiencing the beauty of the celebration, even through satellite television, made me wonder why we need to move important feasts to the nearest Sunday.  Granted, I understand that the transfer to Sunday would mean that more people would be able to partake of the feast; however, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf makes a compelling argument in his blog, "What Does the Prayer Really Say" about keeping the integrity of the dates.  January 6th is the 12th day of Christmas.  There is significance in this date.  English Catholics, keeping the Church alive in the underground during the persecutions of the Elizabethan regime, came up with the well-known (but sadly, misunderstood) Christmas carol, the 12 Days of Christmas, to symbolize the season.

Even in the Mexican-American tradition, the importance of January 6th is still kept.  Regardless of the fact that the Epiphany is moved to a Sunday, countless people still hold fast to the January 6th date and mark the occasinon by indulging in a special cake called a "rosca".  This cake, which looks like an oblong bundt cake, is in the shape of a crown.  Imbedded within the "rosca" are one or two tiny figurines depcting the Christ Child.  Whoever gets a piece containing the figurine must, by custom, host a celebration on February 2, the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord.

If people still maintain this custom, would it really be too hard of a stretch to just go ahead and reinstate January 6th as the Solemnity of the Epiphany in the calendar for the Ordinary Form of the Mass?   Perhaps this is a question that the Church, or, at least, the various national episcopal conferences should re-examine.