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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beatiful Hymn for Today

Although this antiphon was chanted on Easter Sunday last year, "Tu es Christus" is certainly appropriate for today, as these are the words that Peter used when he made his profession of Faith in who Jesus is.

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

As we mark the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, let St. Peter's confession be our own!

A Blessed Jubilee Indeed

Photo from Whispers in the Loggia

On June 29, 1951, two young transitional deacons, Georg Ratzinger and his younger brother, Joseph, processed into the Cathedral of Freising to be ordained priests.   It was perhaps Divine Providence that this ordination would take place on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, as some 54 years later, the quiet newly ordained priest would become the 264th Successor of St. Peter, himself, taking on the name of Benedict.

As many bloggers have reported, the Holy Father records this monumental day of his life in his book, Milestones.    He writes that:

"We should not be superstitious, but at the moment when the elderly archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird -- perhaps a lark -- flew up from the high altar in the cathedral and trilled a little joyful song. And I could not but see in this a reassurance from on high, as if I heard the words, 'This is good; you are on the right way.'"

And, what a way it's been thus far, for on that bright summer day, the young theologian could scarcely imagine that this journey, begun on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, would culminate in his serving as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.

For the past 27 years, it has been a tradition for the newly named Metropolitan Archbishops to receive their pallia from the Holy Father on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  Previously, they were invested with their pallia in their Cathedrals; however, Blessed Pope John Paul II established this custom to show the unique bond that the Metropolitans have with the Holy Father.  Prior to receiving their pallia, the archbishops declare their loyalty and fidelity to the Supreme Pontif. 

The excellent homily that the Holy Father preached on this Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul weaves the importance of the day, along with the Holy Father's personal milestone and the importance of the investiture of the pallium:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“I no longer call you servants, but friends” (cf. Jn 15:15).Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice. According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. “No longer servants, but friends”: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way. He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me – with his authority – to be able to speak, in his name (“I” forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: “No longer servants, but friends”. He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. “You are no longer servants, but friends”: these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one’s own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.

“No longer servants, but friends”: this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more.

Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. Jn 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.Jesus’ words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: “I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples – to his friends – is that of setting out, stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ...” (cf. Mt 28:19f.) The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God’s kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.

After the reference to setting out, Jesus continues: bear fruit, fruit that abides. What fruit does he expect from us? What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain, by day and by night. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavours, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.Yet now we must ask: what sort of fruit does the Lord expect from us? Wine is an image of love: this is the true fruit that abides, the fruit that God wants from us. But let us not forget that in the Old Testament the wine expected from noble grapes is above all an image of justice, which arises from a life lived in accordance with God’s law. And this is not to be dismissed as an Old Testament view that has been surpassed – no, it still remains true. The true content of the Law, its summa, is love for God and for one’s neighbour. But this twofold love is not simply saccharine. It bears within itself the precious cargo of patience, humility, and growth in the conforming of our will to God’s will, to the will of Jesus Christ, our friend. Only in this way, as the whole of our being takes on the qualities of truth and righteousness, is love also true, only thus is it ripe fruit. Its inner demand – faithfulness to Christ and to his Church – seeks a fulfilment that always includes suffering. This is the way that true joy grows. At a deep level, the essence of love, the essence of genuine fruit, coincides with the idea of setting out, going towards: it means self-abandonment, self-giving, it bears within itself the sign of the cross. Gregory the Great once said in this regard: if you are striving for God, take care not to go to him by yourselves alone – a saying that we priests need to keep before us every day (H Ev 1:6:6 PL 76, 1097f.).

Dear friends, perhaps I have dwelt for too long on my inner recollections of sixty years of priestly ministry. Now it is time to turn our attention to the particular task that is to be performed today. On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul my most cordial greeting goes first of all to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and to the Delegation he has sent, to whom I express sincere thanks for their most welcome visit on the happy occasion of this feast of the holy Apostles who are Rome’s patrons. I also greet the Cardinals, my brother bishops, the ambassadors and civil authorities as well as the priests, religious and lay faithful. I thank all of you for your presence and your prayers.

The metropolitan archbishops appointed since the feast of Saints Peter and Paul last year are now going to receive the pallium. What does this mean? It may remind us in the first instance of Christ’s easy yoke that is laid upon us (cf. Mt 11:29f.). Christ’s yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore “a sweet yoke”, but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds. This brings us to a further meaning of the pallium: it is woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. Thus it reminds us of the Shepherd who himself became a lamb, out of love for us. It reminds us of Christ, who set out through the mountains and the deserts, in which his lamb, humanity, had strayed. It reminds us of him who took the lamb – humanity – me – upon his shoulders, in order to carry me home. It thus reminds us that we too, as shepherds in his service, are to carry others with us, taking them as it were upon our shoulders and bringing them to Christ. It reminds us that we are called to be shepherds of his flock, which always remains his and does not become ours. Finally the pallium also means quite concretely the communion of the shepherds of the Church with Peter and with his successors – it means that we must be shepherds for unity and in unity, and that it is only in the unity represented by Peter that we truly lead people to Christ.Sixty years of priestly ministry – dear friends, perhaps I have spoken for too long about this. But I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is. Above all, though, it is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy. Amen.

As I was reading the Holy Father's words and, subsequently, listening to them (thanks to the rebroadcast online by Catholic TV), I could not help but ponder St. Peter's profession of Faith to Jesus, when he said, in today's Gospel, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  A prelate friend of mine noted that Satan can know about God, but, he does not really know God.  Knowing God means having a relationship with Him.  It means, as the Holy Father repeated throughout his homily, being His friend. 

File Photo from CTV archives.

Peter had an incredible love for Jesus, a strong one, albeit an imperfect one.  Immediately after he confesses his faith in Jesus and Jesus calls him the Rock on which He will build His Church, the Prince of the Apostles tries to dissuade Jesus from following the way of the Cross.  Even though St. Peter made his profession with the sincerest of faith, he still did not understand just what being the Christ entailed.  He did not understand that suffering was an integral part of the package.

After the Resurrection, in the account from St. John's Gospel that we heard in last night's Vigil Mass for the Solemnity, Jesus reminds St. Peter that he will be bound and led to where he does not want to go.  St. Peter still did not seem to get it.   However, after Pentecost Sunday, everything changed.  Some 30 years after his profession of faith and after his dialogue with Jesus on the lake (wherein Jesus gave him the chance to undo his triple denial), Peter submitted himself to crucifixion, only upside down.  He finally understood the meaning of the Cross and why it was necessary.  He finally knew what Jesus was trying to tell him so long ago. 

Jesus told his Apostles the night before He died that He was now calling them His friends.  They merely did not know about Jesus; they knew Jesus.  The Holy Father challenges us today to do the same. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beautiful Hymn for Corpus Christi Sunday

I really love "Shepherd of Souls" as it is certainly most fitting for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The text fits rather nicely with the readings of the day, making references to the account from Exodus, wherein Moses reminds Ancient Israel about the miracle of the manna, the water from the rock and about finding life in the words of the Lord.

The Bread of Life

Today, depending on the corner of the world where you are at, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ).   Last Thursday, the Holy Father preached an eloquent homily explaining this august Sacrament.  Here it is, as translated by Zenit:

Dear brothers and sisters!

The feast of Corpus Domini is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of Caena Domini, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated. While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed for the adoration and meditation of God's people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us toward the kingdom of heaven. Today we openly manifest what Jesus has given us in the intimacy of the Last Supper, because the love of Christ is not confined to the few, but is intended for all. This year during the Mass of Our Lord's Last Supper on Holy Thursday, I pointed out that the Eucharist is the transformation of the gifts of this land -- the bread and wine -- intended to transform our lives and usher in the transformation of the world. Tonight I would like to return to this point of view.
Everything starts, you might say, from the heart of Christ, who at the Last Supper on the eve of his passion, thanked and praised God and, in doing so, with the power of his love transformed the meaning of death, which he was about to encounter. The fact that the sacrament of the altar has taken on the name "Eucharist," "thanksgiving," expresses this: that the change in the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the fruit of the gift that Christ made of himself, a gift of a love stronger than death, divine love that brought him to rise from the dead. That is why the Eucharist is the food of eternal life, the Bread of life. From the heart of Christ, from his "Eucharistic Prayer" on the eve of his passion, flows the dynamism that transforms reality in its cosmic, human and historical dimensions. All proceeds from God, from the omnipotence of his love One and Triune, incarnate in Jesus. The heart of Christ is immersed in this love; because of this he knows how to thank and praise God even in the face of betrayal and violence, and thus changes things, people and the world.

This transformation is possible thanks to a communion stronger than division, the communion of God himself. The word "communion," which we use to designate the Eucharist, sums up the vertical and horizontal dimension of the gift of Christ. The beautiful and eloquent expression "receive communion" refers to the act of eating the bread of the Eucharist. In fact, when we carry out this act, we enter into communion with the very life of Jesus, in the dynamism of this life that is given to us and for us. From God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted in the Holy Eucharist. We have heard as much, in the second reading, from the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ"(1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

St. Augustine helps us to understand the dynamics of holy Communion when referring to a kind of vision he had, in which Jesus said to him: "I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me"(Confessions, VII, 10, 18). Therefore, while the bodily food is assimilated by the body and contributes to sustain it, the Eucharist is a different bread: We do not assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ and members of his body, one with him. This is a decisive passage. Indeed, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion, transforms us into him, our individuality, in this encounter, is opened up, freed from its self-centeredness and placed in the Person of Jesus, who in turn is immersed in the Trinitarian communion. Thus, while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members one of another: We are no longer divided, but one thing in him. Eucharistic communion unites me to the person next to me, and to the one with whom perhaps I might not even have a good relationship, but also to my brothers and sisters who are far away, in every corner of the world. Thus the deep sense of social presence of the Church is derived from the Eucharist, as evidenced by the great social saints, who have always been great Eucharistic souls. Those who recognize Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, recognize their brother who suffers, who is hungry and thirsty, who is a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and they are attentive to every person, committing themselves, in a concrete way, to those who are in need.
So from the gift of Christ's love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus' act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God's plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail -- and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, "I am with you always, until the end of world "(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. "Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living." Amen.

Unfortunately, the mercury down here in the South Texas hinterland reached a rather hot 106 degrees and thus, a Corpus Christi procession, as laudable as it is, could not have happened due to the excessive heat and its ensuing temperature index.  However, we did have Benediction before all of the Masses.  Had the weather been better, it would have certainly been great to have had Our Lord accompany us as we walked the storied Streets of Laredo. 

Nonetheless, whether it was celebrated on Thursday or today, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi matters greatly to the Church, and by extension, to the world.   It is the celebration of the fulfillment of Christ's promise that He will not abandon us.   Rather, under the humble appearances of bread and wine, He remains with us until the end of the world.   On Easter Sunday, when he told St. Mary Magdalene to not "hold on to him", Jesus was preparing her (and, by extension, us) for Something different.  We would now experience Him in a different form; the same Lord Jesus Christ would remain with us concealed in bread and wine.  As the hymn "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus" reminds us:

"Though the cloud from sight received him, when the 40 days were over,
Shall our hearts forget his promise, 'I am with you evermore'."
Thus, He remains with us evermore in the Blessed Sacrament.  This is what we celebrate today (or, what we celebrated last Thursday).   This is what we celebrate at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Sequence for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Depending on your little corner of the world, this coming Sunday many of the Church's faithful will be marking the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The liturgy for this great Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ includes the optional sequence, the Lauda Sion, written by St. Thomas Aquinas. While most parishes recite this sequence, quite a few will chant it.

Here it is for your prayerful consideration and meditation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The significance of Thursday

Today, the traditional calendar marks the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.  As the Vatican Radio English-language commentators noted, the Solemnity traditionally falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday as it is strongly connected to Holy Thursday, the day when the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (along with that of Holy Orders) was instituted.  However, most of the world, including the United States and Italy, celebrates this Solemnity on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.

Although Sunday is the day par excellence because the Lord sanctified it with His glorious Resurrection, I believe that we need to have that connection with Thursday, at least insofar as the Solemnities of the Ascension and Corpus Christi are concerned.   I can understand the "pastoral" need for both translating these feasts from Thursday to Sunday, but, it seems to me that we lose the significant meaning of the day.  

During the first months of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI masterfully explained the link between the two Thursdays in the magnificent homily that he preached for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in 2005:

On the feast of Corpus Domini, the Church relives the mystery of Holy Thursday in the light of the Resurrection. There is also a Eucharistic procession on Holy Thursday, when the Church repeats the exodus of Jesus from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives.

In Israel, the night of the Passover was celebrated in the home, within the intimacy of the family; this is how the first Passover in Egypt was commemorated, the night in which the blood of the paschal lamb, sprinkled on the crossbeam and doorposts of the houses, served as protection against the destroyer.

On that night, Jesus goes out and hands himself over to the betrayer, the destroyer, and in so doing, overcomes the night, overcomes the darkness of evil. Only in this way is the gift of the Eucharist, instituted in the Upper Room, fulfilled: Jesus truly gives his Body and his Blood. Crossing over the threshold of death, he becomes living Bread, true manna, endless nourishment for eternity. The flesh becomes the Bread of Life.

In the Holy Thursday procession, the Church accompanies Jesus to the Mount of Olives: it is the authentic desire of the Church in prayer to keep watch with Jesus, not to abandon him in the night of the world, on the night of betrayal, on the night of the indifference of many people.

On the feast of Corpus Domini, we again go on this procession, but in the joy of the Resurrection. The Lord is risen and leads us. In the narrations of the Resurrection there is a common and essential feature; the angels say: the Lord "goes ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him" (Mt 28: 7).

Taking this into deep consideration, we can say that this "going ahead" of Jesus implies a two-way direction. The first is, as we have heard, Galilee. In Israel, Galilee was considered to be the doorway to the pagan world. And in reality, precisely on the mountain in Galilee, the disciples see Jesus, the Lord, who tells them: "Go... and make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28: 19).

The other preceding direction of the Risen One appears in the Gospel of St John, in the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (Jn 20: 17).  Jesus goes before us next to the Father, rises to the heights of God and invites us to follow him. These two directions on the Risen One's journey are not contradictory, for both indicate the path to follow Christ.

The true purpose of our journey is communion with God. He himself is the house of many dwelling places (cf. Jn 14: 2ff.); but we can be elevated to these dwelling places only by going "towards Galilee", travelling on the pathways of the world, taking the Gospel to all nations, carrying the gift of his love to the men and women of all times.

Therefore, the journey of the Apostles extends to the "ends of the earth" (cf. Acts 1: 6ff.). In this way, Sts Peter and Paul went all the way to Rome, a city that at that time was the centre of the known world, the true caput mundi.

The Holy Thursday procession accompanies Jesus in his solitude towards the via crucis. The Corpus Domini procession responds instead in a symbolic way to the mandate of the Risen One: I go before you to Galilee. Go to the extreme ends of the world, take the Gospel to the world.

Of course, by faith, the Eucharist is an intimate mystery. The Lord instituted the Sacrament in the Upper Room, surrounded by his new family, by the 12 Apostles, a prefiguration and anticipation of the Church of all times.

And so, in the liturgy of the ancient Church, the distribution of Holy Communion was introduced with the words Sancta sanctis: the holy gift is intended for those who have been made holy. In this way a response was given to the exhortation of St Paul to the Corinthians: "A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup..." (I Cor 11: 28).

Nevertheless, from this intimacy that is a most personal gift of the Lord, the strength of the Sacrament of the Eucharist goes above and beyond the walls of our Churches. In this Sacrament, the Lord is always journeying to meet the world. This universal aspect of the Eucharistic presence becomes evident in today's festive procession.

We bring Christ, present under the sign of bread, onto the streets of our city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be streets of Jesus! May our houses be homes for him and with him! May our life of every day be penetrated by his presence.

With this gesture, let us place under his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the solitude of young people and the elderly, temptations, fears - our entire life. The procession represents an immense and public blessing for our city: Christ is, in person, the divine Blessing for the world. May the ray of his blessing extend to us all!

In the Corpus Domini procession, we walk with the Risen One on his journey to meet the entire world, as we said. By doing precisely this, we too answer his mandate: "Take, eat... Drink of it, all of you" (Mt 26: 26ff.).

It is not possible to "eat" the Risen One, present under the sign of bread, as if it were a simple piece of bread. To eat this Bread is to communicate, to enter into communion with the person of the living Lord. This communion, this act of "eating", is truly an encounter between two persons, it is allowing our lives to be penetrated by the life of the One who is the Lord, of the One who is my Creator and Redeemer.

The purpose of this communion, of this partaking, is the assimilation of my life with his, my transformation and conformation into he who is living Love. Therefore, this communion implies adoration, it implies the will to follow Christ, to follow the One who goes ahead of us. Adoration and procession thereby make up a single gesture of communion; they answer his mandate: "Take and eat".

Our procession finishes in front of the Basilica of St Mary Major in the encounter with Our Lady, called by the dear Pope John Paul II, "Woman of the Eucharist". Mary, Mother of the Lord, truly teaches us what entering into communion with Christ is: Mary offered her own flesh, her own blood to Jesus and became a living tent of the Word, allowing herself to be penetrated by his presence in body and spirit.

Let us pray to her, our holy Mother, so that she may help us to open our entire being, always more, to Christ's presence; so that she may help us to follow him faithfully, day after day, on the streets of our life. Amen.
It is interesting that the Holy Father notes that both Holy Thursday and the Solemnity of Corpus Christi are marked with processions.  We walk with Jesus, as the Holy Father notes, on His journey to the Cross on Holy Thursday.  During the Corpus Christi procession, as the Holy Father said in tonight's homily, Jesus is carried in procession throughout the streets of Rome.  He is there among us, sanctifying our streets, walking with us. 

Even the music for this evening's Papal Mass from the Basilica of St. John Lateran makes this connection between the two feasts.  The Alleluia chanted is taken from O Filli O Filliae (O Sons and Daughters).   The Lauda Sion, the Sequence written by St. Thomas Aquinas which we chant prior to the Gospel Acclamation, further strengthens the bond between the two Thursdays. 

In tonight's homily, the Holy Father stresses that from the Heart of Christ flows the dynamism that transforms reality into its cosmic dimensions.  It is this Love, in its purest form, that transforms our hearts.  Those who recognize Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament recognize their brothers in need.  From the gift of Christ's love comes our responsibility as Christians to build a society of love. 

In the account of the Last Supper from St. John's Gospel, we read that Jesus loved his disciples to the end.  It is out of that immense love that He wanted to give His very self to us in the Holy Eucharist.  He knew that He was going back to the Father, but, He wanted to remain with us.  As Pope Benedict XVI told the faithful during tonight's Mass, the grain of wheat is now broken to give life, and that life is the Holy Eucharist.

Perhaps one way to reclaim a sense of the two Thursdays could be for parishes to celebrate a votive Mass of the Precious Blood on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (assuming that there is no obligatory Memorial on that day).  A Holy Hour could also be scheduled that evening. 

There is a special significance to Thursday and it would behoove us to reclaim it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Community of Love

Internet problems prevented me from posting this past Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Trinity is:

234 The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith". The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin".

None of us will ever understand the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity.  We are not called to understand, but to believe.  

We first read about the Trinity, albeit, indirectly, in the Book of Genesis.  "Let us make man in our own image", God says, when He forms Adam from the dust of the earth.  We even see an early reference to the Redeemer, the Son, in God's promise of a savior, after Adam and Eve fall.   The Lord uses the first person plural, not once, but twice, in Genesis.

[7] Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another's speech.
Also, in Genesis, we see a curious episode concerning Abraham and Sarah and the three mysterious visitors who happen upon the couple's tent. 

[1] And the Lord appeared to him in the vale of Mambre as he was sitting at the door of his tent, in the very heat of the day. [2] And when he had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near him: and as soon as he saw them he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. [3] And he said: Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant: [4] But I will fetch a little water, and wash ye your feet, and rest ye under the tree. [5] And I will set a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart, afterwards you shall pass on: for therefore are you come aside to your servant. And they said: Do as thou hast spoken.
It is rather interesting that Abraham, in greeting the trio, addresses them as Lord.  Early Christian art depicts this scene, but seems to ascribe the three men as the Holy Trinity.  Thus, one can see, from the very beginning of salvation history, a veiled manifestation of the Holy Trinity.

However, the full revelation of the mystery of the Triune Godhead comes to us in the New Testament.  God the Father, through his messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, tells the young Virgin Mary that she will conceive a Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.   Thus, the second person of the Trinity, the Eternal Son, Jesus Christ, now enters human history, taking on our nature.   But, the real epiphany comes in the River Jordan when the entire Trinity is revealed.  At the moment that the Son, Jesus, emerges from the waters of His Baptism (by St. John, the Baptist), the voice of the Father is heard and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends on the Messiah.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus charges his apostles to go out into the world, proclaim the Good News and baptize the people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Yet, mere humans that we are, we do not seem to be satisifed with knowing about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Especially in this day and age, we want to take things apart and examine the components, shrinking things down to our size.  But, as the young child told St. Augustine, it is impossible for the ocean to fill a small hole. 

So then, what does that leave us with?  What are we to make of the Most Holy Trinity?  The big clue comes from Genesis.  God says, "Let us make man in our own image."  The image of God is love.  Even more than an image, love is the reality of God.  The Most Holy Trinity is a community of love.  Love binds the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They are in service to one another and care about the well-being of one another.

Perhaps the excellent homily that the Holy Father preached this past Sunday in San Marino offers us the best food for thought on the Most Holy Trinity:

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is my great joy to be able to break the bread of God's Word and the Eucharist with you, and to address to you, dear people of San Marino, my most cordial greeting. A special thought goes to the Captains Regent and to the other political and civil authorities present at this Eucharistic celebration. With affection, I greet your Bishop Luigi Negri, and thank him for the kind words he addressed to me; with him, I also greet all of the priests and faithful of the Diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro. I greet each one of you and I express to you my heartfelt gratitude for the kindness and affection with which you have welcomed me.
I have come to share with you in the joys and hopes, the efforts and commitments, the ideals and aspirations of this diocesan community. I know that, also here, difficulties, problems and concerns are not lacking. I want to assure everyone of my closeness and my remembrance of you in prayer, and I unite to this my encouragement to persevere in your witness to human and Christian values, which are so profoundly rooted in the faith and history of this land and its people, with their granite-like faith, of which His Excellency spoke.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the feast day of God -- of the center of our faith. When we think of the Trinity, the aspect of mystery most often comes to mind: they are Three and they are One, one only God in three Persons. In reality, God in His greatness cannot be other than a mystery for us, and yet He has revealed Himself: we can know Him in His Son, and so also know the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Today's liturgy instead draws our attention not so much to the mystery, as to the reality of love that is contained in this first and supreme mystery of our faith. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, because [they are] love, and love is the absolute life-giving force; the unity created by love is a greater unity than a merely physical one. The Father gives all to the Son, the Son receives all from the Father with gratitude; and the Holy Spirit is like the fruit of this reciprocal love of the Father and the Son.

The texts of today's Holy Mass speak of God and, therefore, speak of love. They dwell not so much upon the mystery of the three Persons, as they do upon the love which constitutes their substance and unity and trinity in the same moment.

The first passage we heard was taken from the Book of Exodus -- I looked at it in a recent Wednesday catechesis -- and it is surprising that the revelation of God's love occurs after the people have sinned gravely. The Covenant pact has just been concluded at Mount Sinai, and already the people fail in fidelity. Moses' absence lengthens, and the people say: "But where has this Moses gone, and where is his God?" And they ask Aaron to make them a god that is visible, accessible, manageable, within man's reach, instead of this invisible, distant, mysterious God. Aaron consents and fashions a golden calf. Coming down the mountain, Moses sees what has occurred and breaks the tables of the Covenant -- which is already broken, ruptured -- two stones on which were written the "Ten Words," the concrete content of their pact with God. All seems lost, the friendship, right from the beginning -- already broken.

And yet, in spite of the people's very grave sin, God -- through Moses' intercession --
decides to forgive and invites Moses to reascend the mountain to receive again His law, the Ten Commandments, and to renew the pact. Moses then asks God to reveal Himself, to let him see His face. But God does not show His face; rather, He reveals His being, filled with goodness, with these words: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:8). And this is the Face of God. God's definition of Himself manifests His merciful love: a love that conquers sin, covers it, eliminates it. And we can always be secure in this goodness, which never leaves us. There can be no clearer revelation. We have a God who abandons destroying the sinner and who wants to manifest His love in a still more profound and surprising way, precisely before the sinner, in order to offer [him] the possibility of conversion and forgiveness.

The Gospel completes the revelation that we hear about in the first reading, because it indicates to what point God has shown His mercy. The Evangelist John relates this expression of Jesus: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish by have eternal life" (John 3:16). In the world there is evil, there is egoism, there is malice, and God could come to judge this world, to destroy evil, to castigate those who work in darkness. Instead He reveals His love for the world, His love for man, despite his sin, and He sends what is most precious to Him: His only-begotten Son. And not only does He send Him, but He makes Him a gift to the world. Jesus is the Son of God who was born for us, who lived for us, who healed the sick, forgave sins, welcomed everyone. Responding to the love that comes from the Father, the Son gave His very life for us: on the Cross God's merciful love reaches its culmination. And it is on the Cross that the Son of God obtains for us a participation in eternal life, which is communicated to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, in the mystery of the Cross, the three divine Persons are present: the Father, who gives His only-begotten Son for the salvation of the world; the Son, who carries out the Father's plan to the very end; the Holy Spirit -- poured out by Jesus at the moment of death – who comes to make us sharers in the divine life, to transform our existence, so that it might be animated by divine love.

Dear brothers and sisters! Faith in the Trinitarian God has also characterized this Church of San Marino-Montefeltro throughout the course of its ancient and glorious history. The evangelization of this land is attributed to the stonecutting Saints Marino and Leone, who in the middle of the third century after Christ, arrived in Rimini from Dalmatia. For their holiness of life, they were consecrated -- the one a priest, the other a deacon -- by Bishop Gaudentius, and they were sent by him to the inland, one to Mount Feretro, which then took the name of San Leo, and the other to Mount Titano, which then took the name San Marino. Beyond the historical matters -- which is not our task to go into -- it is worth affirming how Marino and Leo brought new perspectives and values into the context of this local reality, with faith in the God who had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, establishing the birth of a culture and of a society centered on the human person -- the image of God, and therefore the bearer of rights that precede all human legislation. The variety of the different ethnicities -- Romans, Goths, and then Lombards -- that came in contact with them, at times in very conflicting ways, found in the common reference to the faith a potent element for ethical, cultural, social, and in some sense, political edification. It was evident to their eyes that a project for the building of civilization could not be considered complete until all of the elements constituting the people had become a living Christian community, well structured and well built upon faith in the Trinitarian God.

Rightly, therefore, can we say that the wealth of this people, your wealth, dear people of San Marino, was and is the faith, and that this faith created a truly unique society. In addition to this faith, it is also necessary to remember [San Marino's] absolute fidelity to the Bishop of Rome, to whom this Church has always looked with devotion and affection, as well as its attention to the great tradition of the Eastern Church, and its profound devotion to the Virgin Mary.

You are rightly proud and grateful for all the Holy Spirit has accomplished down the centuries in your Church. But you also know that the best way to appreciate an inheritance is by cultivating and enriching it. In reality, you are called to develop this precious deposit in one of the most decisive moments in history. Today, your mission is met by the necessity of confronting profound and rapid cultural, social, economic, and political changes that have determined new trends and modified mentalities, customs and sensibilities. Also here, in fact, as elsewhere, difficulties and obstacles are not wanting, due above all to hedonistic models that darken the mind and risk annihilating morality altogether. The temptation has crept in to hold that a man's wealth is not the faith, but his personal and social power, his intelligence, his culture and his ability to scientifically, technologically and socially manipulate reality. And so, also in these lands, some have begun to substitute the faith and Christian values with presumed riches that, in the end, reveal their emptiness and their inability to hold up to the great promise of the true, the good, the beautiful and the just which, for centuries, your ancestors identified with the experience of the faith.
We should not forget, then, the crisis of not a few families, which is aggravated by the widespread psychological and spiritual frailty of married couples, as well as the hardships experienced by many educators in obtaining formative continuity for the young who are conditioned by many uncertainties, first among them [the uncertainty of] their role in society and of the possibility of work.

Dear friends! I am well aware of the commitment of each element of this particular Church to promoting the Christian life in its various aspects. I exhort all of the faithful to be as leaven in the world, showing yourselves -- whether in Montefeltro or in San Marino -- as Christians who are present, resourceful and coherent. May priests, and men and women religious, always live in heartfelt and effective ecclesial communion by helping and listening to their diocesan pastor. The urgency of a renewal in vocations to the priesthood and to special consecration makes itself felt also among you: I make an appeal to families and to young people, to open their souls to a ready response to the Lord's call. You will never regret being generous with God!

To you laity, I urge you to actively commit yourselves within the community, so that, in addition to your particular civil, political, social and cultural tasks, you will be able to find time and availability for the life of faith, for the pastoral life. Dear people of San Marino! May you remain firmly faithful to the patrimony constructed down the centuries through the impetus of your great patrons, Marino and Leone. I invoke God's blessing upon your path today and your path tomorrow, and I entrust all of you "to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the  love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Corinthians 13:11). Amen!

The Successor of St. Peter preaches this message of Trinitarian love and commitment to the faithful of San Marino with the same urgency and zeal that St. Paul had when he wrote to the Corinthians and the rest of the early Christian communities.  Even though the message is primarily geared toward the Church in San Marino, I believe that the same challenge that he issues them applies to all of us.  We are in a crisis, both within the Church and without.  As I have written in previous posts, part and parcel of the Petrine ministry is to "confirm the brethren in the faith", as Jesus told Peter that he must do.  Benedict presents to us the model of the Holy Trinity as the blueprint for living a life of holiness in service and in love.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The weeds outweigh the flowers

When I was much younger and working in Austin, I used to go to an old-fashioned honky-tonk called "The Broken Spoke" once a month to listen to local River City group, the Geezinslaw Brothers.  One of their early hits was a song called "The Weeds Outlived the Roses".  While I was reviewing the second half of the Flor y Canto preview CD, that song popped up in my head.

As charitable as I am trying to be, unfortunately, to borrow the phrase from the Geezinslaws, the weeds here outweigh the flowers.  In some cases, they overshadow them.

OCP tries to market itself to everyone, encouraging parishes to use their material to "create" engaging liturgies.  However, whatever happened to fostering a sense of the solemn, the beautiful, the majestic and the dignified?  Whatever happened to offering fitting worship to the Triune God?

Instead, this third edition of Flor y Canto gives us what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called, a multi-cultural mish-mash that, in the end, sounds more secular than sacred and really does not achieve its end, suitability for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Sadly, the notion of the Mass as a sacrifice is noticeably and painfully absent in most, if not all, of the songs in the sampler CD.   El Reino de la Vida, which is meant as the recessional, focuses solely on the meal aspect of the Mass and is centered on our own lives, as opposed to the sacred mysteries that have just unfolded before our eyes.

Si la Gente Dejara Sus Odios does not even mention God at all.  It centers on what we should be doing.  Granted, we should engage in the corporal works of mercy, but, the liturgy is not about us and what we are doing.  It is about God and what He is doing.  Felices, based on the Beatitudes, is only slightly better.  However, the setting just does not cut it.

Hagamos una Casa suffers from a really bad setting.  The lyrics are not problematic; however, musically, this song sounds more like a Ranchera or a Corrida ballad, than sacred music.   If I were to remove the singing from this piece, the music alone would probably be something I would hear playing as background at local restaurant or on a secular radio station instead of during the Mass.

The song that is perhaps the most perplexing is Llevanos al Senor, el Vino y el Pan.  The vocal arrangement is beautiful as it almost sounds medieval; however, the drum beats, the guitars and the flutes, along with the lyrics, probably rule this song out as a possible piece for the Mass.  Even the soundtrack from the Robert  De Niro film The Mission had better music It seems to me that this is a misapplication of inculturation.  Maybe this song (with better lyrics) might have worked in an indigenous setting, where inculturation is meant to be used, but, not in the American heartland.  Perhaps the most confusing part of the song is that it has a very strange break in the middle.  I thought that the song was over and then, about 20 seconds later, the drum beats started up again.  This may work for a secular piece, but, not for something that is supposedly meant for liturgical use.  If we could divorce the drum beats and the guitars from the song, and had better, more liturgically appropriate lyrics, this could have worked with an organ.  The melody is pretty, but the song suffers from unsuitable instruments and bad lyrics.

OCP evidently invested a lot of money in marketing this third version of Flor y Canto.  From mailing out CDs and sample booklets to the actual production of the materials themselves, that is quite an expenditure.  However, where I believe OCP erred was in the actual production.  If OCP meant for its music to be used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, why not use the instrument that the Church strongly recommends:  the organ?  Why not write music that is meant for the organ? 

In part one, I noted that OCP claims to have followed the Church documents on music.  Again, I ask:  which "church" and which "documents" were  used? Incidentally, OCP's promotional materials tout the fact that it has Latin chants and settings.  Why were these not included in the sampler CD? 

Furthermore, was there a need to have 740 songs?  Just this past week, the USCCB approved the Spanish-language propers for the Mass.  Why can we not have these set to suitable music instead?  The Church already gives us the texts to use for singing the Mass.  We do not need additional music to merely sing at Mass.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Flor by another name...

One of the first writing tasks that I had in Longhorn land (also known as the beloved 40 acres, the venerable University of Texas at Austin) for the Daily Texan  was to review music albums.  It was not a task that I enjoyed and it lasted, mercifully, one semester. 

Now, some 25 years removed from my first forray into college newspaper writing, I return to the keyboards to review music, only this time, instead of REM, it's now OCP.  I received a sample copy of the latest incarnation of the OCP song book Flor y Canto.  The promotional material included a sampler booklet with 24 new songs along with a CD that contains each of the songs in their entirety.  What caught my eye was this curious little paragraph:

 "Worship with confidence knowing all music was guided by Church documents and selections have been expanded to include more songs in Latin, including the Chant Mass!"
Regular readers of this blog are perhaps familiar with my periodic rants about both OCP and GIA and their particular musical offerings. Thus, I greeted this particular sentence with guarded optimism.

Yesterday, I decided to pop the CD into my Jeep's audio system to check out the material. I have gone through half of the music, really trying to find some good among the selections. However, as I listened to the various songs, I wondered which "church" and which "documents" OCP was referencing.

Allow me, then, to use these documents as the guiding principle for my review.  First, here is Sacramentum Caritatis 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).

Here is Musicam Sacram:
45. For the Liturgy of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, and for other special celebrations of the liturgical year, suitable melodies should be provided, which can encourage a celebration in a more solemn form, even in the vernacular, depending on the capabilities of individual congregations and in accordance with the norms of the competent authority.

62. Musical instruments can be very useful in sacred celebrations, whether they accompany the singing or whether they are played as solo instruments.

"The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lift up men's minds to God and higher things.

"The use of other instruments may also be admitted in divine worship, given the decision and consent of the competent territorial authority, provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use, or can be adapted to it, that they are in keeping with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful."43

63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.44 Any musical instrument permitted in divine worship should be used in such a way that it meets the needs of the liturgical celebration, and is in the interests both of the beauty of worship and the edification of the faithful.  
66. The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead.

From the Chirograph on Sacred Music by Blessed John Paul II:
3. On various occasions I too have recalled the precious role and great importance of music and song for a more active and intense participation in liturgical celebrations[9]. I have also stressed the need to "purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated"[10], to guarantee dignity and excellence to liturgical compositions.

In this perspective, in the light of the Magisterium of St Pius X and my other Predecessors and taking into account in particular the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, I would like to re-propose several fundamental principles for this important sector of the life of the Church, with the intention of ensuring that liturgical music corresponds ever more closely to its specific function.

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].
Finally, here is a reference from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.

Bear in mind that these are the authoritative documents from both the Holy See and both Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II (who also includes references to Pope Paul VI in his own writings).   Now that the guiding principles have been set forth, here are the reviews of the first half of OCP's new offerings.

One of the better songs in the first dozen that I listened to is "Un Nino Ha Nacido."  Composed by the late Alberto Taule (who takes his text from Isaiah, St. John's Gospel and Psalm 109), this song would make a good entrance processional for Christmas Midnight Mass.  While the musical introduction is a bit lengthy, the setting is about as close to the Church's ideal of Gregorian Chant that OCP gets.   My only caveat is that OCP could have recorded this particular hymn using an organ, as this piece is quite suited for such an instrument.

Another reasonable song is "Gloria Trinitario", written by Mario Aravena.  If we were to strip away the "beat" from this hymn, it could very well be suitable as the entrance processional for Trinity Sunday.  Again, rather than pair this rather decent hymn with keyboards, a "beat" and a guitar, it would have been better to also have used the organ.

The next suitable song is "Reciban Su Alma" by Mary Frances Reza.  The text is loosely based on the Rite of Christian burial.  The melody does have some degree of solemnity, but, the choice of musical instruments somehow detracts from the soberness of the text.  Somehow, adding a drumbeat to the song just does not seem compatible with this particular portion of the funeral rite. 

At first, I thought that "Alegrate, Maria", composed by Juan A. Espinosa, was loosely based on the Regina Caeli, but, it is not.  Other than the refrain, there is no real Marian connection.  It could have referred to St. Mary Magdalene or Mary, the wife of Cleopas.  The melody does have the potential of being something beautiful; however, it suffers from being clouded by excessive musical instruments and a setting that needs to be toned down.
"Cantico de Simeon", by the song book's editor, Pedro Rubalcava, is another reasonable piece; however, there is still a very lengthy musical introduction.  It seems to me that the composer seems to put more stress on the music, itself, leaving the text as an after-thought.  It would have been better to have used the organ for this particular canticle.
Unfortunately, the sampler CD takes a serious turn for the worse with the rest of the lineup.  Perhaps the worst of the worst is a piece called "Hoy Es Dia de Fiesta".  It's as though the composers translated "Gather Us In" into Spanish and somehow made a bad idea even worse.  The song is sung by children.  The beat sounds more like something you would hear at a salsa dance club, but, it's the lyrics that are rather disturbing.  According to the composers, the most interesting thing about the Mass (and they don't even refer to it as such, calling it a "fiesta") is that there is room for everybody.  The catechesis on the Holy Sacrifice, on reliving the sacred Paschal Mystery, is completely lost.  The composers spends so much time emphasizing the "equality" of everyone at this "fiesta' that they forget that something mystical is happening. 
The next worst song is called "Tu Me Conoces" by Efrain Arellano and Nelson F. Murcia.  Readers who are familiar with the Mexican pop group, Mana, might find similarities between this song and the band's work.  It begins with a pop rhythm and the vocalist singing "Ah, ah, ah".  If this piece was meant for RCIA, it might work well for a rally, but, certainly not for any of the scrutinies, let alone the Rite of Election.  The lyrics are not the problem; the form is just not suitable for any liturgical rite.
 The next song that I found rather questionable was "No Hay Amor Mas Grande/No Greater Love", by Bob Hurd, which is suggested for use on Good Friday.   As in "Tu Me Conoces", the lyrics for this song are scripturally based, taken from Jesus' last discourse; however, the musical setting is just too much, with heavy doses of musical instruments.  Recall that the rubrics, especially for Good Friday, require that musical instruments be used only to sustain the singing.  They are not supposed to overtake the singing.  There is also a very long musical introduction.  The setting, itself, is not really compatible with the degree of sobriety, solemnity and dignity that the Good Friday liturgy demands.  Rather than write a new song, why couldn't OCP simply set the Reproaches to music?
Another of the songs that somehow misses the mark on liturgical suitability, in my opinion, is "Porque Me Ha Ungido" by Jaime Cortez.  Again, the text is based on Sacred Scripture, but, the setting is just too secular.   Now, Cortez did take a stab at the Te Deum with "A Ti Dios".  This would have been a good song, but, it suffers from a bad setting.  If one can dance to a piece of music, chances are it's not suitable, much less fitting, for use for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It suffers from the same fate as "Porque Me Ha Ungido" in that there is excessive music. 
One song that, sadly, does suffer from textual issues and a bad setting is "Presentacion de los Dones."  The setting sounds more like a "cha cha cha" piece.  The lyrics heavily emphasize the meal aspect and what "we" are doing and what these "gifts" mean to "us".  It's a short song, but, brevity alone does not suffice.
The next part of this review will appear in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why Pentecost means so much

Birthday blessings to the Church!  On this great feast of Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter, we mark the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Mother while they were praying in the Upper Room.  That same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters and caused them to teem and breathed life into the lifeless form of Adam, and by whose power the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus, now brings to life the faith of the Apostles and invigorates them to preach enthusiastically about Jesus.

This is the message that the Holy Father gives us for Pentecost 2011, in this translation from Zenit:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost. If, in a certain sense, all of the Church's liturgical celebrations are great, this one of Pentecost is so in a singular manner, because, arriving at the 50th day, it marks the fulfillment of the Easter event, of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, through the gift of the Risen Lord's Spirit. The Church has prepared us in recent days for Pentecost with her prayers, with the repeated and intense plea to God for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us. The Church re-lived in this way the events of her origins, when the Apostles, gathered in the cenacle in Jerusalem "were perseverant and united in prayer together with some women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:14). They were gathered in humble and confident expectation that the Father's promise communicated to them by Jesus would be fulfilled: "Before long you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit … you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, who will descend upon you" (Acts 1:5, 8).

In the Pentecost liturgy, corresponding to the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles of the birth of the Church (cf. Acts 2:1-11), is Psalm 103, which we heard: a praise that goes up from all creation, exalting the Creator Spirit, who did everything with wisdom: "How many are your deeds, O Lord! You have done them with wisdom; the earth is filled with your creatures … may it always be the glory of the Lord; may the Lord rejoice in his works" (Psalm 103:24, 31). What the Church wishes to tell us is this: The creator Spirit of all things, and the Holy Spirit whom Christ had sent from the Father to the community of disciples, are one and the same: creation and redemption belong reciprocally to each other and they constitute, in their depths, a single mystery of love and salvation. The Holy Spirit is first of all the Creator Spirit and so Pentecost is the feast of creation. For us Christians the world is the fruit of an act of the love of God, who made all things and who rejoices in them because they are "good," "very good," as the account of creation states (cf. Genesis 1:1-31).

Thus God is not totally Other, unnamable and obscure. God reveals himself, he has a face, God is reason, God is will, God is love, God is beauty. The faith in the Creator Spirit is the faith in the Spirit whom the risen Christ bestowed upon the Apostles and bestows on each one of us; they are therefore inseparably joined.
Today's second reading and Gospel show us this connection. The Holy Spirit is he who helps us recognize the Lord, and he makes us pronounce the Church's profession of faith: "Jesus is Lord" (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3b). "Lord" is the title given to God in the Old Testament, a title that in the reading of the Bible took the place of his unspeakable name. The Church's Creed is nothing more than the development of what is said with this simple affirmation: "Jesus is Lord." St. Paul tells us of this profession of faith that it is from the word and work of the Holy Spirit. If we want to be in the Spirit, we must adhere to this Creed. Making it our own, accepting it as our word, we acquiesce to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The expression "Jesus is Lord" can be read in two senses. It means: Jesus is God, and at the same time: God is Jesus. The Holy Spirit illuminates this reciprocity: Jesus has divine dignity, and God has the human face of Jesus. God shows himself in Jesus and with this conveys to us the truth about ourselves. The event of Pentecost is letting ourselves be deeply enlightened by this word. Reciting the Creed we enter into the mystery of the first Pentecost: There occurs a radical transformation in the chaos of Babel, in those voices that vie against each other: the multiplicity becomes a multiform unity; from the unifying power of Truth comes growth in understanding. In the Creed that brings us together from the four corners of the earth, which, through the Holy Spirit, does this in a way that permits understanding even in the midst of the diversity of languages, through faith, hope and love, is formed the new community of the Church of God.
The Gospel passage offers us a marvelous image to clarify the connection between Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father: the Holy Spirit is represented as the breath of the risen Jesus Christ (cf. John 20:22). The Evangelist John borrows an image here from the account of creation, where it says that God breathed into man's nostrils a breath of life (cf. Genesis 2:7). The breath of God is life. Now the Lord breathes into our soul the new breath of life, the Holy Spirit, his most intimate essence, and in this way we are welcomed into the family of God. With baptism and confirmation we are given this gift in a specific way, and with the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance it is continually repeated: the Lord breathes a breath of life into our soul. All of the sacraments, each in its proper way, communicate the divine life to man thanks to the Holy Spirit who works in them.

In today's liturgy we see another connection. The Holy Spirit is both Creator and the Spirit of Jesus Christ, in a way however that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one single God. And in light of the first reading we can add: The Holy Spirit animates the Church. She does not derive from the human will, from reflection, from man's ability and from his capacity to organize, because if this were the case, she would have already been extinct for some time, just as every human thing passes. She is rather the Body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit. The images of wind and fire, used by St. Luke to represent the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:2-3), recall Sinai, where God was revealed to the people of Israel and he granted them his covenant; "Mount Sinai was covered in smoke," we read in the Book of Exodus, "because the Lord had descended upon it in fire" (19:18). In fact Israel celebrated the 50th day after Passover, after the commemoration of the flight out of Egypt, as the feast of Sinai, the feast of the Covenant. When St. Luke speaks of tongues of fire to represent the Holy Spirit, the ancient covenant, established on the basis of the Law received by Israel on Sinai, is recalled. Thus, the event of Pentecost is represented as a new Sinai, as the gift of a new covenant in which the alliance with Israel is extended to all the peoples of the earth, in which all of the barriers of the old Law crumble and its holiest and immutable core appears, which is love, that precisely the Holy Spirit communicates and spreads, the love that embraces all things. At the same time the Law expands, it opens while remaining more basic: It is the New Covenant that the Holy Spirit "writes" in the hearts of those who believe in Christ. The extension of the Covenant to all the nations of the earth is represented by St. Luke through the considerable list of peoples of that time (cf. Acts 2:9-11).

With this we are told something very important: that the Church is catholic from the very first moment, that her university is not the fruit of the subsequent inclusion of diverse communities. From the first instant, in fact, the Holy Spirit created her as the Church of all peoples; she embraces the whole world, she transcends all frontiers of race, class, nation; she razes all the bastions and unites men in the profession of God one and triune. From the very beginning the Church is one, catholic and apostolic: This is her true nature and as such she must be recognized. She is holy, not due to the capacity of her members, but because God himself, with his Spirit, always creates her, purifies her and sanctifies her.

Finally, today's Gospel gives us this beautiful expression: "The disciples rejoiced in seeing the Lord" (John 20:20). These words are profoundly human. The lost Friend is present again, and those who were frightened before now rejoice. But it says more than this. Because the lost Friend does not come from just anywhere but from the night of death -- and he passed through it! -- he is not just anyone but both the Friend and he who is the Truth that gives men life; and what he gives is not just any joy, but joy itself, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is beautiful to live because I am loved, and it is the Truth who loves me. The disciples rejoice, seeing the Lord. Today on Pentecost this expression is also intended for us, because we can see him in faith; in faith he comes among us and he also shows to us his hands and side, and we rejoice in this. So, we wish to pray: Lord, show yourself! Give us the gift of your presence, and we will have the best gift: your joy. Amen!

The Holy Father reminds us of the importance of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in our lives.  Through the Holy Spirit, God sanctifies and purifies the Church, and us.  It is through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, where we experience that personal and deep encounter wih the Triune God, offering worship to the Father, through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, many parishes tend to treat Pentecost as an after-thought.  We begin the Easater season on the great night of the Vigil with a huge and proper celebration, yet, we tend to close out the great fifty days with what seems to be a whimper.  

The splendidly celebrated Papal Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost shows us how we should conclude the Easter Season.

Photo from Daylife/NLM

The chants were splendid and the degree of solemnity was unparalleled.  But, some may say, "Benedictgal, it's the Vatican, after all."  However, the Holy Father presents us with a model of how a properly celebrated Mass should look like.   Local parishes could learn simple chants, including the Jubilate Deo setting promulgated by the late Pope Paul VI (which he intended for parish use).  They could also emplooy traditional hymns like "Come, Holy Ghost", music that speaks to the sacred mysteries unfolding before us. 

At each Mass, we become mystically present at the Upper Room, at Calvary and at the empty tomb.  During the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant prays that the Holy Spirit sanctify and bless these offerings of bread and wine, letting "them become for us the sacred Body and Blood of Christ". 

May the Holy Spirit guide us and lead us into preparing liturgies that are worthy of the sacred and holy mysteries that we celebrate at each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.