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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tia Maria's Gift

Throughout most of Advent, I had been somewhat despondent about the state of our liturgical celebrations down here in the South Texas hinterland. A couple of parishes had decorated for Christmas rather early (even before Advent), a new, somewhat substandard bilingual Mass setting was introduced that lacked any semblance of the sacred, and a couple of celebrants took excessive liberties with the Mass, either inserting a song into the Eucharistic Prayer or, as in the case of last night's Mass, substituting the Gloria for "Angels We Have Heard on High". It was enough to almost make me pull a Charlie Brown lament. "Isn't there anyone who knows the real meaning of the sacred", I interiorly screamed.

After last night's Christmas Eve Mass, as I was getting ready to go back home and spend the evening watching TV with my father, someone called my name. I turned around and felt bad because I did not recognize the woman who reached out to me. It turns out that she was my maternal grandfather's niece. I had not seen her since I was a small child. She invited me to annual family gathering at my great-great Aunt Maria's house (she has since died, but the family retains the house). It had been years since I had gone over there. The last time I was there was when I was five or six. I gladly accepted the invitation.

On my way over there, I called my Dad to let him know where I would be. He was happy, as he remembered Christmas Eve at Tia Maria's house. I then called three of my surviving aunts and they were excited. The streets were quite familiar, almost as though my Jeep knew the route, no need for Siri's directions.

Suddenly, it came back. The house was just as I had remembered it, right down to the familiar sill where the Nativity Scene was placed. Tia Maria's daughters greeted me, picking up where we left off so many years ago. As the rest of the family arrived, one of Tia Maria's daughters announced that we would be praying the Rosary. This was the long-standing tradition that Tia Maria had every Christmas Eve. Two of us led the Second and Fourth Joyous Mysteries in English (the one break with tradition), while three others led the rest in Spanish.

The prayers were just as I remembered them, insofar as the introductory ones were concerned. My cousins meticulously preserved the ritual even down to the smallest detail. I mused that they were more faithful to Tia Maria's venerable custom than, sadly, some priests are to the rubrics. Everyone who was able knelt, much as we did when I was a child. Young and old joined in the chorus of prayers in their language of choice. I felt as though I had walked back in time. In my mind's eye, I could see my Mom kneeling beside me in prayer.

After we prayed the Rosary, we embarked on the second of Tia Maria's customs, the veneration of the Child Jesus. A couple held a basket bearing the Christ Child and each of us, carrying a lit candle, went to venerate the Infant King as we sang a Christmas carol. As we venerated the Baby, we each got a candy. Then, we ate! Even the menu was scripted by Tia Maria, tamales, beans, rice and bunuelos! This time, I got to sit with the adults.

We shared stories about my mother and my Aunt Mattie, whom we lost this year. We also talked about the beauty of preserving these beautiful traditions. As I was bidding everyone farewell, I could not help but be grateful to the Christ Child for restoring my hope and my joy. Even though I do have many burdens and hardships (mostly of my own making), He gave to me what Linus had given to Charlie Brown.

A priest friend of mine had lamented about how he feared that families are not sharing the Faith with their children and handing shown the traditions. I believe that there is one family he does not have to worry about, as Tia Maria has done an excellent job in handing down the Faith!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

An Open Letter to the USCCB

Your Eminences and Dear Bishops:
Grace and peace in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

These initial weeks of the Year of Faith leave much for the Church in the United States to pray about and ponder.  The results of last week’s Presidential election may lead many of us to assess the strength of our Catholic identity.  It is interesting that while many of our Catholic faithful may know the platforms of particular political parties, not a few are probably unfamiliar with the basic tenets of our Faith.

This should certainly be a cause for genuine concern, not only for you, as our archbishops and bishops, but, for us, as lay Catholic faithful, as well.  The question at hand is an urgent one:  What do we do to restore our Catholic identity?

The answer that I propose is two-fold: re-infusing the sacred back into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and strengthening our Catechesis.  These two go hand in hand.

Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the “source and summit” of the life of the Church.  I humbly submit that the Mass is the most important, most sacred act that the Church engages in because it is her greatest treasure.  Yet, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Holy Sacrifice, sadly, is not without its shadows.  In 2004, Redemptionis Sacramentum sought to correct these shadows; however, some of them persist.

Perhaps, the USCCB could, I humbly suggest, conduct a survey to gauge the progress our liturgies have made since the promulgation of Redemptionis Sacramentum.  If problems persist, maybe the Congregation for Divine Worship could send officials to assist dioceses and parishes that need support.  This may take additional resources, but, it is an investment that is well worth it because it involves no less than Christ, Himself.

Along the lines of strengthening our worship, the issue of the music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass needs serious and dire consideration.  In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, noted with concern in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, that

Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129).”

Although the USCCB made a statement on music through the document, Sing to the Lord, problems with the music used in our sacred liturgies remain.  Not a few compositions in English and, in many cases, in Spanish, do feature the particular musical genre that the Holy Father warned against.  When the new Roman Missal was promulgated last year, there was hope that the music would be elevated to fit the sacred texts of the prayers, but, as I have experienced it, this has not been the case.  There is a strong disconnect, in many cases, with the nobility of the prayers and the musical settings that are used.  We are also not using the Propers of the Mass; instead, we are making the fourth option, hymns, the default setting.  The Church gives us magnificent texts to use, but, in many cases, we are not using them.  While independent composers and organizations have taken it upon themselves to set the Propers to chant, it seems to me that the mainstream publishing houses have not seen fit to give these pieces the place they deserve.

The lyrics of many of the songs used at Mass are also problematic in that they emphasize more the horizontal aspect (i.e. social justice) than the vertical (God).  Prior to releasing Sing to the Lord, the USCCB had made a Power Point presentation calling attention to this particular problem; however, a review of the music published by the two main publishing companies indicates, at least to me, that the problem persists.  Some of the lyrics feature watered-down theology that does not accurately reflect our Faith.

If we hold to the axiom, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”, then how and what we pray at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should reflect our belief, our Faith.  This is where Catechesis enters into the discussion.  I live in an area in South Texas that identifies itself as Catholic; however, much remains in evangelizing our faithful.  Protestant sects, the Jehova Witnesses and the Mormons have, sadly, made inroads.  Catholics who are, perhaps, not properly catechized, have strayed into these particular denominations.  In many cases, catechesis ends after the Sacrament of Confirmation has been imparted.  Along the same lines, my area of South Texas is also heavily Democratic.  However, when I have engaged some of my fellow Catholics and Democrats, I have found that, while they know what the party stands for, they are not well-versed in the Faith.  They are not aware of the five non-negotiable principles.  I believe that catechesis is a life-long process.  We can never learn enough about our Faith. 

Your Eminence and Excellencies, I am not a degreed theologian; I am just one of the faithful in the pews.  I spent much time in prayer and reflection before I put my fingers to the computer keyboard because these are issues that are paramount to our rediscovering our Catholic identity.  Too much time has been devoted to social justice matters and other concerns and not enough has been given to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Catechesis.  While it is certainly important to have an authentic Catholic voice in the Public Square, we must also give greater importance to the basics of our Faith, the Holy Eucharist and the Church’s Teachings.  The Holy Father cannot do this alone.  All of us need to collaborate with him, to be co-workers in the Truth.  Granted, there are many bishops who have made great strides in the area of restoring the sacred nature of the Liturgy, but, all of us need to work together, hierarchy and laity alike.

In your filial service, I remain,
Michelle Marie Romani

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Regaining Our Catholic Identity

As we move forward into this Year of Faith, this New Evangelization, one subject that certainly merits our attention is the importance of maintaining our Catholic identity.  

In this ever-increasing secular world, we seem to be experiencing an identity crisis when it comes to our Catholic faith.  This is not unlike the identity crisis that many a teenager experiences during adolescence.  The youngster knows who his family is. He know about academics and pop culture, but, he might not know much about himself.  Sometimes, he might wind up experimenting with new things, hanging around with different kids and taking on a new attitude that may or may not be for the better. 

Can we not say the same thing about ourselves as Catholic?  Many of us were baptized in the Faith of our ancestors.  We know about God the Father, Christ, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Yet, our knowledge of the Faith tends to stop after Confirmation.  Some of us, like the adolescent, want to explore new things, hang out with different people and seek another route. 

The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger accurately diagnosed this problem on April 18, 2005, when, during the holy that he preached at the Mass to start the Conclave, he said that we faced the "dictatorship of relativism."  When we lose our identity as Catholics, we might tend to think that everything is alike and allow ourselves to be thrown by every wind.

Yesterday's daily Mass reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, the same Epistle proclaimed at that particular liturgy seven years ago, pulls no punches:

"And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried by every wind of doctrine, buy the cunning men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles."

The situation is critical, but, the man who would emerge from that Conclave as Pope Benedict XVI gives us a solution, Christ Jesus.  Christ is the cornerstone of our identity as Catholics. His Church, built on the firm Rock of St. Peter's faith, constantly invites us to moor our little boats unto the Barque of Peter.  If is no coincidence that the logo for the Year of Faith, which I posted in my previous blog post, depicts no less than the Barque of Peter, that strong steady ship which is not easily rocked by strong winds.  

But, how do we go about regaining our Catholic identity?  Again, we turn to Pope Benedict XVI for the answer to this crucial question.  In the homily that he preached at today's closing Mass for the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father seemed to have picked up where he left off back in 2005.  He gives us the beginnings of what I consider to be the Benedictine plan of action:

"I would like here to highlight three pastoral themes that have emerged from the Synod. The first concerns the sacraments of Christian initiation.  It has been reaffirmed that appropriate catechesis must accompany preparation for Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  The importance of Confession, the sacrament of God's mercy, has also been emphasized.  This sacramental journey is where we encounter the Lord's call to holiness, addressed to all Christians.  In fact it has been often said that the real protagonists of the new evangelization are the saints: they speak a language intelligible to all through the example of their lives and their works of charity.  

"Secondly, the New Evangelization is essentially linked to the Missio ad Gentes.  The Church's task is to evangelize, to proclaim the message of salvation to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.  During the Synod, it was emphasized that there are still many regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania whose inhabitants await with lively expectation, sometimes without being fully aware of it, the first proclamation of the Gospel.  So we must ask the Holy Spirit to arouse in the Church a new missionary dynamism whose protagonists are, in particular, pastoral workers and the lay faithful.  Globalization has led to a remarkable migration of peoples.  So the first proclamation is needed even in countries that were evangelized long ago. All people have a right to know Jesus Christ and His Gospel; and Christians, all Christians - priests, religious and lay faithful - have a corresponding duty to proclaim the Good News.

"A third aspect concerns the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism.  During the Synod, it was emphasized that such people are found in all continents, especially in the most secularized countries.  The Church is particularly concerned that they should encounter Jesus Christ anew, rediscover the joy of Faith and return to religious practice in the community of the faithful.  Besides traditional and perennially valid pastoral methods, the Church seeks to adopt new ones, developing new language attuned to the different world cultures, proposing the Truth of Christ with an attitude of dialogue and friendship rooted in God who is Love.  In various parts of the world, the Church has already set out on this pat of pastoral creativity, so as to bring back those who have drifted away or are seeking the meaning of life, happiness and, ultimately, God.  We may recall some important city missions, the "Court of the Gentiles", the continental mission, and so on.  There is no doubt that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, will abundantly bless these efforts which proceed from zeal for his Person and his Gospel."

This last aspect hits particularly close to home, especially in our country.  It seems to me that well-meaning Catholics seem, at times, to be tossed around by "every wind of doctrine", especially during this election season.  Rather than using the Church as their guide, these individuals follow the dictates of a particular party.  Many of them seem to be more familiar with party platform than with the Church's catechism and her teachings.  It's as though the party has substituted the Faith.  

Lamentably, it's not necessarily the faithful's fault.  In many of our local churches, catechesis ends the minute that the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred.  We don't do enough to educate the adults in the Faith of the Church, whether young or old.  It's no wonder that when political parties come calling, or people from other religious denominations come knocking on the door, these folks do not know how to respond when the Faith is challenged.  They wind up being swayed by the other side, almost as though the proverbial winds from every doctrine have capsized their little boats.  How can we engage in dialogue when our Faith is challenged when we do not know enough about our beliefs to be able to explain it ourselves?  As I noted in my previous blog post, we need to learn about our Faith so that we an know Jesus.  Spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Even if you sit there in silence, that is a good first step.  He will lead you to what you need to do.  Take part in your parish's activities.  Volunteer for the next festival coming up or sign up for an adult religious education class if you believe you need a refresher.  Above all, learn about the Mass.  While this is the Church's most sacred, public prayer, this also affords us with the most intimate time spent with Jesus, when we come into direct contact with him.  

The work of the New Evangelization should not rest squarely on the shoulders of bishops and priests.  It is part of our baptismal responsibility.  As St. Paul notes in the aforementioned excerpt from his Epistle to the Ephesians, we may not all be called to the same role (we can't all be Apostles, Teachers and the like), we each have a responsibility in this sacred act of evangelizing, whether it's serving as a catechist, writing a blog or just giving simple witness in the public square.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

To Know is to Love

We are now 11 days into the Year of Faith.  When our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, proclaimed this privileged time of grace and renewal for the Church, he charged all of us with the task of doing what we could to bring about the New Evangelization.  It was as though he renewed the same call that he issued in Scotland back in 2010, when he invited the laity to be collaborators with him and the bishops.  It also reminds us that his own episcopal motto reads, "Co-workers in the Truth."

Many dioceses have already embraced the Year of Faith.  One bishop, the Most Rev. Alex Sample of the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, traveled to four points in his See, staking out the entire area under the Sign of the Cross.  As he proclaimed in his Twitter post, "This land belongs to Jesus Christ."  This is certainly a bold and visible manifestation of what the Year of Faith means. It also reminds us of our own call as Christians.  When we were baptized, the first thing that the priest (or, in some cases, the deacon-if he was the one administering the Sacrament) did was to trace the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, claiming us for Christ.  He then invited our parents and godparents to do the same.  After our baptism, the celebrant anointed us with the oil of salvation, charging us to be priests, prophets and kings.  Just as the unborn John the Baptist leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Christ, making his first proclamation in the womb that salvation was close at hand, so, we, too, even as infants, were charged with bearing prophetic witness to the Lord.

As magnificent as Bishop Sample's bold proclamation of the Faith was, he, the Holy Father and our own bishops cannot undertake this New Evangelization by themselves.  They need our cooperation.  Although the Holy Father has the means of television, radio and the internet at his disposal to relay the Church's message, he cannot be at all places at all times.  We, too, need to spread the Good News.  We, too, need to sow the seeds of faith in our homes, in our workplaces and in our community.

But, how do we go about doing this?  Before we can go and evangelize, we need to learn about our Faith.  Before we can talk about Jesus and His Church, we need to know Him and the Church.   Knowing Someone and knowing about that Someone are two very different things.  In the Bible, when the word "knowing" is used, it bears an intimate context, often associated with marital love.  In the Gospels and in the Book of Revelation, Jesus reveals Himself as the Bridegroom.  He does not merely know about us; he KNOWS us.  He wants to have a deep relationship with us.  Satan and his legion know ABOUT Jesus.  Whenever Christ was about to expel a demon, the creature knew ABOUT Jesus, calling Him by name; it did not, however, KNOW Jesus.  Thus, we cannot simply get by with merely knowing about Christ and His Church.

To this end, the Church, as our spiritual Mother, gives us the means to help us know her and her Divine Spouse.  She breathes with two lungs, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Sacred Tradition was handed down to us through the centuries from the hands of the Apostles.  She also hands down to us her most precious and valuable form of prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  While it is the Church's supreme form of public prayer, it is also one of her most intimate, as we return to that moment when Christ hands himself to us, for us men and for our salvation.  We then receive from the Altar His own glorified Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.  He comes to embrace us and to be one with us. Any aspect of the New Evangelization needs to have this Eucharistic element.  Because, as rightly stated by Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,  the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the "source and summit" of our life as the Church, what we do must flow from this supreme prayer.  If we get this wrong, then our efforts lose their meaning.

Before we can go and boldly proclaim our Faith, we must first learn it, love it and live it.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Teach the children well..."

While driving to San Antonio with my father, I switched the radio from Sirius to the regular band and caught my dad's favorite station, KONO, an oldies station.  I caught the beginning of Crosby, Stills and Nash's hit, "Teach the Children" (at least, that is what I think it's called).

The song seemed appropriate enough because the night before, a friend of mine and I were talking about what his parish planned on doing for the CCD students and Youth Group this year.  As we are on the cusp of the great "Year of Faith", I asked him how his parish was going to incorporate the Holy Father's vision into his parish's plan.  "What do you mean," my friend asked after a pregnant pause.  "Just what is the Pope's idea?"  I explained to my friend that Pope Benedict XVI called for this "Year of Faith" to strengthen the Church and to re-open that door of faith that Christ, Himself, had opened for the Apostles as they went all over Judea and the Roman Empire.  I further explained that one of the areas where the Holy Father wanted to stress the issue of faith was the sacred liturgy.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Porta Fidei;

It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; ... and also the source from which all its power flows”. At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.

My friend asked me what the Holy Father meant about the Mass.  I told him that Pope Benedict XVI wants us to rediscover the beauty and the sacred nature of the Mass.  We need to pray as we believe.  I went on to suggest to my friend that he could encourage his parish to help the children and the youth to get a better understanding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  My friend told me that his parish does this by having a Children's Mass and a Youth Mass.  Each group has a Mass "tailored" for them, including music.  They use "kiddie" songs for the Children's Mass while the youth have music along the lines of "Praise and Worship", drawn from OCP's "Spirit and Song."

I told him that this may not necessarily be the best means to transmit the Faith and the Church's form of worship, especially where the music is concerned.  Sacred music is our birthright and to deny the children and teenagers this sacred heritage is to cheat them out of something that is rightfully theirs.  "Kiddie songs" like "Venimos/We Come", may be alright for CCD, but, they really don't give the children any sense that what they are doing at Mass is something sacred, something important.  "I Will Choose Christ" may work as an anthem during a youth-oriented prayer meeting, but it's too much "Me-oriented" for the Mass.  The parents might think that this is all "cute" and "hip", but, it really isn't.  If we reduce the Mass to something "cute", "fun" and "hip", we run the risk of losing the very ones we are trying to attract and retain.  Kids and young people will grow out of the novelty.  Sadly, not a few of them will eventually grow out of the Church because, based on their experiences as youngsters, they were not given very much to develop.  It's all show and very little substance.

My friend was taken aback by my comments.  He railed a little, asking me how I can offer an opinion if I do not have any children.  I replied that my status in life is not relevant, as I am going by my own experiences as a child and as a youngster.  I was a kid a decade after the council and came of age in the early 1980s.  Even though the nuns exposed us to much of the new and trendy stuff from the St. Louis Jesuits (which, after awhile, lost its new and trendy feel and was somewhat tired), they also gave us a very healthy dose of traditional sacred music.  This sense of the sacred was also re-inforced by my paternal grandmother who had no qualms about encouraging her oldest granddaughter to grab a hymnal and belt out "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Pange Lingua".  During my college years, I went to a parish that was across the street from the University of Texas and, although the preaching was a bit on the liberal side (some of the time), the music, surprisingly enough, was nearly completely sacred.  The faithful, young (children, included) and old, appreciated the beauty of the music. To this day, the parish still continues to maintain its solid reputation of sacred music and those little ones who were CCD students in the mid 1990s are now members of the schola and the regular choir.

On the way back from San Antonio, my father and I took up the conversation.  He told me that he could see my point; however, he has no qualms about making the Faith accessible to the young outside of the liturgy.  He did that for many years when he was in charge of the CYO.  He made the faith accessible to the kids by way of basketball.  But, he was not (and is not) in favor of bringing the roundball and the hoops culture to the Mass.   The kids, he told me, need to learn what the Mass is all about and not simply be entertained.  He told me that, as a kid, my grandmother would take him to Mass and she made sure that he learned his responses in Latin so that he could serve.  He said that the beauty of the Mass and the sacredness of the music made an impact on him.  In fact, he tries to instill that same love in the altar servers that he now trains.  While the priests at his parish would play basketball with the kids and chaperone the dances, they instilled in their young charges (my dad included) the fact that the Mass is the Church's highest prayer and her most valued treasure.

Having read through Porta Fidei, I believe that this is what the Holy Father is trying to recover in both young and old.  However, this recovery and rediscovery can only be accomplished if we truly work to "teach the children well."


Over at the Chant Cafe blog, Fr. Christopher Smith offers some food for thought to his brother priests regarding the importance of using solid musical resources, especially those provided by the Church Music Association of America.   While this is all and good, Fr. Smith makes what I consider a painful observation:  the serious dearth of the same kinds of liturgical musical resources for Spanish-language parishes.

Several months ago, I reviewed the latest incarnation of Flor y Canto, the Spanish-language music book published by OCP.  When I read the promotional materials, I had such high hopes for this publication, but, as I indicated in my review, I found that the actual product differs sharply from what the Church's authoritative documents on music state.  Reading Fr. Smith's observations made me revisit the issue once more.

It seems to me that when musical pieces are offered for use in Spanish-language Masses, they seem to focus more on ethnic culture than on the Church's form of cultic, sacrificial worship.  The pieces, ranging from Ranchera to Mariachi to light Spanish pop, seem more secular than sacred.  Along with stylistic problems, the lyrics, too, seem to focus more on ourselves than on God.  In a couple of instances, they also seem to have serious theological issues that might border on Liberation Theology.  Case in point, "Hombres Nuevos", re-titled "Pueblos Nuevos" or "Danos Un Corazon."  If you look at the lyrics, the song makes the plea to "Give us a new heart"; however, even though God is implied, He does not make an explicit appearance in the song.  It's more about fighting for justice here on Earth, ignoring the realities of Heaven.   "Amor de Dios" talks about "building the community", but, I find it devoid of any real reference to Christ.  "Ven al Banquete" seems to remove any real notion of sacrifice within the Liturgy, focusing, instead, on the meal aspect of the Mass.

As Fr. Smith reminds us, "hymns are not a part of the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy."  While the point is slowly getting across to English-speaking parishes, the concept is still quite foreign to those who assist at Spanish-language Masses.  It's as though we don't think that giving the faithful this kind of exposure to sacred music in their language is important.  It's as though we want to pander to some sort of cultural experience  instead of educating the faithful in the Church's mindset on what it is to "sing the Mass", instead of merely "singing at Mass."

Sadly, this is a problem that was created, in part, by the very publishing house which is supposed to be of service to the Church.  While I can understand that things, even liturgical publications, tend to be market-driven in today's world, such should not be the case when it comes to the Mass.   I do not want to "create" liturgies that are "vibrant and engaging", that reflect our different cultural experiences.  While there can be a place for inculturation (and the Spaniards, for the most part, showed some of this back in the 16th century when they colonized Mexico), we cannot make culture the end all and the be all of the sacred liturgy.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not the time for cultural pandering; it is the time to offer fitting worship to the Lord.

God willing, when we come to the new Jerusalem to participate in the heavenly liturgy, we will not be hyphenated Catholics (Mexican-American Catholics, Italian-Catholics, German Catholics, French-Catholics, British-Catholics, etc), we will be one Church.  Our earthly liturgies should reflect that heavenly reality.  So should our music.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I have been having some formatting issues with this blog and this has affected the quality of my previous post. Please accept my apologize for the slipshod appearance.  I will be working to resolve these issues so that the end result will look more polished.

Mea culpa.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adding and subtracting

If one were to casually read this past Sunday's Gospel account from St. Mark, an immediate interpretation could be that Christ advocated disregarding tradition and the Law.  One could say that to Jesus, the "rules" did not matter.

However, is He really saying that when he blasts the Pharisees for burdening Ancient Israel with human traditions, or, is his message about something deeper?

Notice what the Gospel reading says:

(1) And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. (2) And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. (3) For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients:(4) And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds. (5) And the Pharisees   and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands? 
(6) But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (7) And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. (8) For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. (9) And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do. (14) And calling again the multitude unto him, he said to them: Hear ye me all, and understand. (15) There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man. 
Understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him: (19) Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats? (20) But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man.
(21) For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, (22) Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. (23)All these evil things come from within, and defile a man

Jesus is not talking about disregarding Sacred Tradition and the 10 Commandments.  Compare this with the first reading that we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy.  

(1) And now, O Israel, hear the commandments and judgments which I teach thee: that doing them, thou mayst live, and entering in mayst possess the land which the Lord the God of your fathers will give you. (2) You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Notice what the second verse states:  "You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it."  When the Babylonian exile took place,  Ancient Israel lamented the fact that she had fallen into error and sin, as the exile was God's justice.  The Pharisees, whose movement came about during the exile, recognized that sin was the reason behind the forced move to Babylon.  They believed that they needed to do extra things to keep from falling into sin.  However, in their zeal to restore some sort of order to Ancient Israel, they did the very thing that God told them not to do in Deuteronomy.  They added to the Law, imposing the priestly purifications to the entire community of Ancient Israel.

This application was what Jesus fought against.  These "traditions" that the Pharisees enforced had nothing to do with the Law and with the faith of Ancient Israel.  In another Gospel account, Jesus specifically stated that He did not come to abolish the Law, but, to fulfill it.  Thus, to interpret yesterday's Gospel reading to state that Jesus was against the Law and Tradition is to completely miss the point and ignore the real context of what Jesus did in light of what we had also read in Deuteronomy.

In our day and age, we, too, find ourselves facing the dilemma of additions and subtractions.  In our case, though, these edits pertain to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy makes something very clear:

22. 1. Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the Liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.
Doesn't this last statement sound familiar?  To quote the great baseball legend Yogi Berra, "It's like deja vu all over again."  None of us have the authority to add or subtract to the liturgy.  We cannot take a pencil to the Roman Missal, editing things at will.  It does not work that way.  The Mass has its own form.

Yet, we see that many well-intentioned individuals, including some celebrants, have taken it upon themselves to delete here and insert there, basing themselves on a misguided notion of making the Mass "more relevant" and more "community friendly."

Such innovations include imparting blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion; having the faithful raise their arms to join in as the celebrant imparts a special blessing during Mass, whether for graduation, a birthday, Mother's Day, or some other special event (such "participation" is actually not permitted under Ecclesia de Mysterio); using music that is neither sacred, let alone, liturgical; substituting songs for the Responsorial Psalm; and, surprisingly enough, using musical Mass settings that still paraphrase the texts of the Roman Missal, inclusive of the Agnus Dei.

When the faithful legitimately complain about these nebulous practices, citing that they go against the Roman Missal and its accompanying General Instruction, those in charge call them Pharisaical.  I have seen this happen too many times in Catholic online forums.  The irony is not lost here, as it is actually those who are making (and supporting) the wholesale additions and deletions who, in fact, emulate the actions of the Pharisees.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Restoring the Sacred

For those of us who love sacred, liturgical music, this has certainly been a banner summer.  In June, the Church Music Association of America hosted its annual Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Among the many solid offerings from this venerable conference was an address by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Secretary to the International Commission on the English Language (ICEL).  In August, the Archdiocese of Atlanta hosted its annual Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium.  Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, whose name regular readers of this blog may recognize, delivered the keynote address.  If that were not enough, even Pope Benedict XVI recently commented on the importance of sacred music in the Mass.

As we near the launch of the Year of Faith, I believe that the subject of sacred music in the liturgy is one of great importance.  Last year, the Church gave the English-speaking world the great gift of a new, improved translation of the Roman Missal.  This elevated, eloquent new language gave the words we pray during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass an added and much-needed dosage of the sacred.  However, despite the nobility and beauty of the words we are now using in our prayer, lamentably, in many parishes, the quality of the music used in the liturgy continues to suffer.

In this first of a three-part series, I will examine the commentaries that these three individuals made concerning the state of sacred music, and the sacred in general, within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Tonight centers around the commentary made by Msgr. Wadsworth.

In his address before Colloquium participants, Msgr. Wadsworth made reference to this strong disconnect between the Mass and the music used for it.  He offered concrete suggestions as to how we can overcome this deficit:

We should seek to see the exclusion of all music from the Liturgy which does not a ‘liturgical voice’, regardless of style.
The exclusion from the liturgy of music which only expresses secular culture and which is ill-suited to the demands of the liturgy. A renaissance of interest in and use of chant in both Latin and English as a recognition that this form of music should enjoy ‘first place’ in our liturgy and all other musical forms are suitable for liturgical use to the extent that they share in the characteristics of chant.
An avoidance of the idea that music is the sole consideration in the liturgy, the music is a vehicle for the liturgy not the other way around! 

This last statement hits very, very close to home for me.  All too often, well-meaning music directors down here in the South Texas hinterland tend to stretch the "Gathering song" (which is not a liturgical term, but something made up by, I imagine, some publishing house) into eternity.  The celebrant has already arrived at the chair and the choir launches full throttle into the second verse.  According to the Roman Missal and its accompanying General Instruction, the Entrance Chant (yes, it is a Chant) covers the action of the procession, inclusive of the usage of incense.  It should come to an end when the celebrant reaches the chair.  It is almost as though the music director, without meaning to, has made the liturgy the servant of the music and not the other way around.  Pope St. Pius X makes a very strong case against such a move in his Motu Propio, Tra Le Sollectudini:

22. It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical prescriptions theSanctus of the Mass should be over before the elevation, and therefore the priest must here have regard for the singers. The Gloria and the Credo ought, according to the Gregorian tradition, to be relatively short.
23. In general it must be considered a very grave abuse when the liturgy in ecclesiastical functions is made to appear secondary to and in a manner at the service of the music, for the music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.
The same even holds true for the "Sending Forth" song (again, there is no such liturgical term as "Sending Forth").  The closest term one can find for this is the "recessional hymn".  Like the Entrance Chant, this should be brief and used to cover the action of the procession.  It should come to its end when the celebrant has left.  However, just as with the "Gathering song", this particular piece, in many parishes, goes on into infinity.  

Msgr. Wadsworth makes some very solid observations in the three statements that I have highlighted.  Working our way from the bottom to the top, we see perhaps the most difficult of his observations, the area of musical suitability.  A lot of the parishes down here in the South Texas hinterland use music books by OCP.  A couple of them slavishly use the OCP guidebook, "Today's Liturgy" when selecting  their songs for a particular weekend's Masses, whether in English or in Spanish.  Having leafed through  this booklet, I have rarely found anything that even remotely resembles sacred liturgical music.  Nine out of 10 times, OCP heavily suggests songs written by their own composers instead of anything traditional, let alone, sacred.  Perhaps the worst of the bunch are those selections from "Spirit and Song".  The pieces sound like secular soft pop music.  This is something that Pope St. Pius X warned against in Tra Le Sollecitudini when he wrote that:

5. The Church has always recognized and favored the progress of the arts, admitting to the service of religion everything good and beautiful discovered by genius in the course of ages -- always, however, with due regard to the liturgical laws. Consequently modern music is also admitted to the Church, since it, too, furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions.
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.
Even though in No. 6, the saintly Pontiff was referencing the problem he was facing from the Italian opera works, I believe that this problem has reared its ugly head again, this time in the proliferation of the Protestant Praise & Worship genre that has infiltrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through LifeTeen and OCP's "Spirit and Song".

I received an email OCP this past week urging me to use their products to create "Vibrant and Engaging" liturgies.  Nowhere in the email did I read the words "sacred", "holy", and "reverent."  Even as I leafed through the "United in Christ/Unidos en Cristo" book, the one used by a few parishes in my diocese, I did not find very much that could count as sacred.  Most of the material came from the St. Louis Jesuits and OCP's own stable of composers.  The few traditional pieces of sacred music were heavily edited to the point that OCP removed some very key elements.  For example, the Eucharistic elements of "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus" were whittled away.  "At that First Eucharist" was re-done and when I was leading the hymn during Mass at my parish, the faithful and I had a hard time because we were used to the traditional version of the song and not the OCP edited piece.

Msgr. Wadsworth made a strong case for the use of the Propers.  Not very many parish music directors know this, but, hymns and/or songs, are not the first option to use when choosing music for the Mass.  The Propers of the Mass (Introit, Offertory and Communion Antiphon) are the default music for the liturgy.  However, here on these shores, we have made the four-hymn sandwich the musical standard for our Masses.  The Propers are the liturgical texts that the Church gives us.  When we use the Propers, we are not merely singing at Mass; we are singing the Mass.  When we sing "Gathering songs" in the beginning, we are merely adding an appendage to the Mass.  When the choir and/or the cantor chants the Introit, the Mass is being sung.

But, some may ask, what about active participation?  Aren't we supposed to vocalize everything?  Active participation has probably been one of the most misunderstood aspects of the liturgical reforms brought about by the Second Vatican Council.  Active participation does not merely mean vocalizing the Mass (speaking and singing the parts of the Mass), it also calls for interior participation.  We unite our prayers to those who are chanting the antiphons.  We sing vicariously through them, pondering the words of the Psalms they are chanting.

Finally, we come to the first observation that Msgr. Wadsworth made.  This observation is closely related to the second one.  We need to purify the kind of music that is being used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music to mark the 100th anniversary of Tra Le Sollecitundi, he noted that:

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.

Sadly, it's the very group that was closest to Blessed John Paul's heart, that is now suffering the most from a lack of exposure to genuine sacred music.  Well-meaning youth ministers and music directors insist on giving young people heavy doses of "praise and worship" music, even within the confines of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, instead of introducing them to what is truly sacred, truly the "Other", the extraordinary.  They are being exposed to "road-tested" music that is not necessarily in agreement with the Church's concept of Sacred Music.

Perhaps there will be those who will criticize my words and wonder, what gives benedictgal the right to  write such harsh words?  Does she even know how to read music?   Like Udo Kier once said in a vampire movie, "I have heard that before."  In the interest of full disclosure, no, I do not know how to read music...yet.  However, while knowing how to read music is certainly important, knowing the authoritative Church documents on liturgy and sacred music is just as important.  I would dare say that it is even more important than learning how to read music.  Ideally, one should be able to have strong knowledge of both; however, a strong knowledge of where the Church stands on sacred music is perhaps more important.  Knowing the Church's documents is of greater import than slavishly and blindly following the recommendations of a publishing house.

While I do have my frustrations with the current state of liturgical music in my diocese, I do share in Msgr. Wadsworth hope that we will soon turn a corner.  Organizations like the CMAA are certainly playing a leading role in this  Had it not been for composers like Adam Bartlett, I would not have been exposed to the beauty of the Simple English Propers.

As Fr. Z likes to say, "Brick by brick."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tu Es Petrus

I meant to write something to mark the Solemnity of  Sts. Peter and Paul, however, a family emergency did not allow me to post.  Nonetheless, there is much to be said about the importance of this grand feast day.

Contrary to what some have thought locally, the celebration of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul is not confined merely to parishes who bear the patronage of the holy Apostles.  On the evening of Thursday, June 28, 2012, I went on a mad dash throughout the city seeking a parish that was going to celebrate the solemnity's vigil. At the first two parishes, neither of the priests wanted to celebrate the Vigil, even though both of the Masses they had were past the first Vespers.  It was frustrating and I almost lost hope until I got to the last parish where the pastor, a Benedictine, was preparing to celebrate Mass.  My prayers were answered.  He would indeed be celebrating the Mass for the Vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  I was most grateful.  The next day, I went to my own parish to celebrate the Solemnity.

One might ask why I was so stubbornly bound and determined to make it to Mass both on Thursday and on Friday.  I have a great love for St. Peter,  I suppose it's because I see a lot of my self in the pre=Ressurection Prince of the Apostles.  There is so much that I want to do.  But, as grand as my wishes and my desires are, my mistakes and failures are just as monumental.  Likes, but, when Peter, I want to walk towards Jesus, but, when the winds whipped up and the waters became choppy, like the Apostle, I start to sink.  I could relate to the reading from St. John's Gospel wherein Jesus asks St. Peter thrice if he loves Him.  Although Peter was perturbed that the Lord should ask him a third time, he may not have realized that Jesus was allowing him to undo the damage of his triple denial.  I suppose that every time we sin, it could be seen as our denial of God's love.  The Lord, through the Sacrament of Penance, allows us to undo that knot and start again.

I find much consolation even in the post-Resurrection St. Peter.  He was not afraid to risk his well-being, even his very life to proclaim the Good News.  Even though there were setbacks (his imprisonment, as detailed in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles selected for the Solemnity  and other instances), these, too, were moments of grace. 

St. Peter reminds me that even those whom God chooses for great work experience their moments of trials, mistakes and failures.  Jesus stands at the ready, stretching out His hand to pull us up from the turbulent waters of life, if only, like St. Peter, we cry out, "Lord, save me."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Matter of Marriage

I wasn't necessarily floored by President Barack Obama's announcement of his "support" for "same-sex marriage" as I was mightily disappointed with Vice President Joe Biden for his endorsement of the issue.

While I do not expect the POTUS to be guided by the principles of the Catholic Church, Biden presents us with an altogether different matter.  That Biden, a Catholic, would knowingly and willingly take on a position that runs squarely against the teachings of the Catholic Church is certainly grave cause for concern. 

It is ironic that the POTUS cites Christ as an example for why support for "same-sex marriage" is warranted.  However, Obama's application of the Golden Rule does not exactly fit the equation.  If there was ever an issue were the Lord took such a strong stand, it was the matter of marriage.  In fact, the Lord made his most direct statements on the subject by both deed and word.

St. John records Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana, wherein Christ turns water into wine at His Mother's request.  Christ's presence at the wedding sanctified it.  Later on, in St. Matthew's Gospel account, when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus on the matter of divorce, he gives them this direct and strong response:

[3] And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? [4] Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: [5] For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.
[6] Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

When Jesus makes His pronouncement, He goes back as far as Genesis, confirming not only the earthly permanence of marriage, but, the fact that this Sacrament is covenant between a man and a woman.  Thus, this is not some mere invention of the Church, but something that comes directly from the mouth of no less than God, Himself.

Furthermore, throughout the Gospels, Christ refers to Himself as the Bridgegroom.  St. Paul, in his Epistles, refers to the Church as Christ's Bride. He urges husbands to love their wives as Christ loves His Bride, the Church.  It is interesting that the Bible begins and ends with a marriage.  In Genesis, we read the account of the creation of Adam and Eve and how Eve is given to Adam as his wife.  In Revelation, one of the final acts of the book is the marriage between the Lamb and the New Jerusalem, Christ and His Church, the Bridegroom and the Bride.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we prepare for that wedding banquet of the Lamb and His Bride, the New Jerusalem.  When the Sacrament of Marriage is celebrated within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the bridegroom and the bride are reminded of this important sacramental and sacrificial aspect of their marriage.  They are called to be closely united to each other in love, just as Christ is closely united in love with the Church. 

The Church cannot change that which Christ, Himself, has declared unchangeable.  She cannot go against that which her Divine Spouse has already made clear.  Marriage between one man and one woman is non-negotiable. 

As a Catholic, Biden is bound by Church teaching, as the are those of us who profess to be members of the Church.  Being in public office, I believe, does not excuse anyone from acting with a properly formed conscience.  As much as I admire the late President John F. Kennedy, his infamous 1960 speech really did not help matters any when it came to Faith and the Public Square.  A Roman Catholic should not have to check his or her Faith at the door when running for public office. 

In the final analysis, we are not going to be judged as to whether or not we followed the tenents of a particular political party.  Rather, we will be judged on whether or not we remained faithful to Christ and to His Church.

Regaining our Traditions

For several years, the Texas conference has celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension in place of the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  While some may argue that there are pastoral reasons for making the change, it seems to me that we need to return the solemnity to its rightful place, Thursday.

Fr. Z, in his excellent blog, makes many fine arguments for this return.  We base this beautiful Solemnity on the final Gospel accounts.  The evangelists tell us that 40 days after the Resurretion, the Lord appeared to the surviving 11 Apostles for the last time, charging them to preach the Good News to all nations and baptize everyone in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  He then promised to be with them (and us) always, even to the end of time. 

The number 40 has a special biblical significance.  In the book of Genesis, we read that the Lord sent a deluge upon the earth for 40 days and 40 nights to purify creation.  Ancient Israel wandered the desert for 40 years.  Forty days after the birth of Christ, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph took the holy Infant to the Temple to present Him to the Lord.  Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert after His baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist.

There is also another dimension that we might want to explore, the notion of the significance of Thursday.  Let us look at Jesus' promise, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Jesus was about to leave His beloved Apostolic band, and yet, He promises to remain with them.  How can this be?  We need to go back 43 days to another Thursday, Holy Thursday, wherein the Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist.  When Jesus spoke the words, "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood", He meant what He said.  This was how He intended to remain with us, under the forms of bread and wine. 

If we look at nearly every post-Resurrection appearance that the Lord made throughout these 40 days, each of them had some element of the Eucharist.  Even his appearance to St. Mary Magdalene carries with it a Eucharistic reference.  When He tells her to stop hanging on to Him, He is trying to prepare her for the fact that He will take on a new form, that of the Eucharist.  When He meets up with the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, He celebrates the Eucharist with them, breaking both the Scriptures and the Bread, helping them to see that this is how He will remain with them.

While Sunday is the day of the Lord, we should not lose that important connection to Thursday.  Holy Thursday points the way to Ascension Thursday. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our cheatin' hearts...


The first reading for this past Thursday's Mass centers around the infamous account of the Golden Calf, the golden idol that Aaron had fashioned for the newly freed Hebrews while they were on the base of Mt. Sinai.  

 It is ironic that the first major infraction that Ancient Israel commits against the Lord has to do with worship.  I say that it is ironic because when God asks Moses and Aaron to go to Pharoah to gain the freedom of the Hebrews, He commands them to tell the Egyptian ruler to release the captives so that they can make a three-days journey to offer the Lord fitting worship.  Thus, freedom for Ancient Israel is tied to worshipping the Lord.

Worship gives the soul the opportunity for an intimate encounter with God.  It is interesting that in the various forms of cultic sacrificial worship practiced by the contemporaries of Ancient Israel (the Egyptians and later the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans), there was devotion from the faithful to their deities, but, there appeared to be no evidence of any love in return from the various gods.  If, in Greek mythology, Zeus showed any hint of "affection" towards a mortal woman, it was mostly carnal and self-serving on his part.  The fact that the Lord constantly displays deep and profound love for His people is something quite extraordinary.

Thus, God leads His people into the desert so that He may speak to their hearts.  The language He chooses is the language of worship.  But, the newly freed Hebrews would rather have something instantaneous.  While I was pondering this particular account from Exodus, I was reminded of the many bridegroom parables that Jesus told the people.  In the Jewish bridal ceremony, it was all about the bridegroom.  Everything centered around him.  The contract was made between the bridegroom and the bride's family.  The protagonist, the pursuer in the relationship was the bridegroom.  When the wedding feast finally came, it was the bridegroom whom everyone awaited.  But, because he had to traverse all through town, one never knew when his exact arrival at the bride's house would be. 

I believe that this example could be applied to Moses' lengthy meeting with the Lord, when the Lord was formulating the 10 commandments and the covenant with Ancient Israel.   Moses was the mediator, so to speak, between God and His people.  The 10 Commandments and the Covenant were, I suppose, the nuptial contract between God and Ancient Israel.  The Lord was preparing His bride for Himself. 

But, what did the bride wind up doing?  She grew impatient.  Ancient Israel, for lack of a better term, became the Bridezilla of the Old Testament.  She grew tired of waiting for her Lord, not realizing that, just as the earthly bridegroom had to be away to build a house for himself and his beloved bride, the Lord needed to prepare everything for His intended.  What should have been a time of awe and hope became a time of unfaithful debauchery and deprivation.  The Hebrews forsook the beloved embrace of the God who had just freed them in a marvelous way and, instead, retreated  head-long into worshipping the image of a "grass-eating bullock".  

It was indeed a perverse form of worship, for the Hebrews were not only unfaithful to the Lord with their hearts and souls, but, with their bodies as well.  Worship involves the whole person, body, mind, soul and  heart.  All of these need to be engaged.  In the case of Ancient Israel, they were certainly engaged, but, in the wrong activity. 

When we abuse the liturgy and ignore what the Church prescribes and teaches about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are not too terribly far away from what Ancient Israel did in the desert and what she continued to do in the days leading up to the Babylonian Exile, when she turned away from God and engaged in her own activities.  Becasue of this particular infraction, God not only drove them into exile, He also allowed His own house, the Temple, to be completely smashed and His own city, Jerusalem, to be utterly destroyed.   For Ancient Israel, the Temple was the end all and the be all of worship for it was only there that they could offer sacrifice to the Lord.  Without the Temple, they could not worship God.  Thus, they mourned the loss of the Temple, understanding that this was the result of their infidelity to God.

As the New Israel, the Church needs to guard against abusing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whenever abuses  have crept in, these  have not only affected the way relate to God, but, this laxity also seeps into our lives as individuals and our life as the Church.  A friend of mine told me that abuses in the liturgy seem to correlate with the abuse scandals that have plagued the Church.  When we fail to respect the sacred nature of the Mass, we, in turn, disregard both God and man.  Pope Benedict XVI seems to make this link in the Stations of the Cross that he composed back in 2005, while he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25).

I know that I have quoted this particular station on numerous occasions, but, it bears repeating.  If we regard the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the source and summit of our life as the Church, then, we should do what we can to protect its integrity.  If we get the Mass wrong, then, everything else loses its meaning.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Nuptial Feast of the Lamb.  Christ is the Bridegroom of our souls.  When we come forward to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, we engage in the most sacred act of intimacy we can have with Christ.  As we receive His body, we are joined to His in an intimate embrace.  Pope Benedict XVI shocked not a few people when he noted during the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, that Jesus "wants to kiss" us in Holy Communion.  Shocking?  Yes, quite so.  True?  Yes, and even moreso. 

We even got a glimpse of this in Tuesday's first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel.  The Temple that he saw in his vision was a reference to Christ.  The water flowing from the right side of the Temple foreshadows the water and blood that flow from the pierced side of the dead Christ as he hung upon the cross.  Just as that water brought life and transformed the salt waters to fresh ones by coming into contact with it, Christ, through His Blood and through the waters of Baptism, removes the bitterness from our souls.  But, in order for Him to do this, He must be able to touch us.  Unlike Zeus, who, at times, would force himself on mortal women, Jesus will not harm us, nor will he threaten us.  He loves us with the intensity of the Bridegroom who yearns for His bride.

But, what is our response?  Are we like the Hebrews who refused to wait on God and, instead, transferred their love to a golden calf?  Or, are we willing to allow God's love to envelope us and to transform us so that we can fully love Him with all of our hearts, minds, souls and bodies, and our neighbors as ourselves?  The choice is ours.