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Friday, January 20, 2012

What We Should Be Occupying

While I am somewhat sympathetic to this whole "Occupy" concept, I am perplexed at some of the extremes die-hard supporters of the movement have taken in recent months.   In Europe, for examples, some of the protestors have run amok, destroying sacred images in some cases. 

What concerned me the most was last week's incident, wherein protestors tried to "occupy" the Vatican.   As reported by the respect UK publication, the Catholic Herald:

 Some Indignados, as they are known, who are mainly Spanish and French, tried to set up a camp in the piazza, but were ejected by the police. One of the protestors climbed the Christmas tree (which will be in place until 2nd February, feast of the Presentation), and had to be forcibly removed from it.
The police who removed the protestors were not the Swiss Guard, nor the Vatican gendarmes, but the Italian police. The piazza is Vatican territory, but it is policed, by long standing arrangement, by the Italian forces of law and order. The action of the police was fully supported by the Vatican itself. As Fr Federico Lombardi is reported to have said: “Considering the actions undertaken and the language used, these Indignados evidently wanted to use the piazza in an improper way, not in keeping with the spirit of the place and it was therefore considered just and opportune to move them out with the co-operation of the police.”
The actions in question are presumably the assualt on the Christmas tree, the fact that one of the protestors was dressed up in a mock-papal costume, and that the Indignados were shouting things like “The Pope is a criminal!” and “The Vatican should pay taxes!”, as well as “The Church is corrupt!”

Fr Lombardi’s point is one that all Catholics should share. The piazza is a sacred space, frequently used for religious worship, and as such no place for political demonstrations. In fact any attempted political demonstration in either the piazza or the Aula Paolo Sesto, the huge audience hall nearby, is routinely quoshed.
Although Vatican City is its own sovereign state, it is also the seat of the Catholic Church.  St. Peter's Basilica is not a capitol building; it is sacred space.  It is the place where we come to worship God through the sacred liturgies.  As Fr. Lombardi noted, even St. Peter's Square counts among that sacred space because Papal liturgies are also celebrated there.   For the most part, throngs of the faithful gather there to pray and to listen to the teachings of the Holy Father.  This is not the same as Wall Street, the Washington Mall or some other secular place where the Occupy Movement has set up camp.

However, in some sort of twisted way, the Indignados at the Vatican do have the right idea, inspite of themselves and their cause.  If we should be occupying some sort of space, it should be the Church.  We should be occupying the pews, not protesting, but praying.  It seems to me that in this day and age, we have made humanism more important than God.  We rally around causes in a vain attempt to "save" the world, thinking that we can accomplish such secular salvation through human means.

We have never had a golden moment in the history of mankind, as Pope Benedict XVI once observed.  Even in the time of Christ, things were not so grand and great.  Every era has had its share of upheavals, whether these have been environmental, economical, political or some other catastrophe.   For us to think that we can try to save the planet without factoring God into the equation is an even greater tragedy than the injustices that we are rallying against.

I am not saying that as Catholics, we should not have a voice in the public square.  We need to have a presence.  As Pope Benedict XVI told a contingent of American bishops during their Ad Limina visit
(W)e see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.

Before we can even think of "occupying" Wall Street, we need to occupy the pew.
We need to boldly proclaim what the Church teaches and preaches.  But, we also need to do so in the light of a solid foundation of faith.  If we are to truly accomplish anything meaningful, it should be rooted in prayer, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Without it, anything that we try to do, either as a Church or as individual members, loses its meaning. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

We Should Glory in the Cross

The New Liturgical Movement alerted its readers to an excellent piece which appears in the latest online edition of Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  It treats the matter of the altar arrangement the Holy Father uses whenever he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

You can find the article here:

The author, Fr. Stefan Heid, makes some rock solid points about the importance of proper orientation towards God. 

The cross is the focal point of salvation and of liturgical action. It should, of course, harmonize with the altar in style and proportion, but it should certainly not be low standing. The cross is supposed to disturb! The priest is not supposed to “overlook” it! However, the objection is sometimes made that a barrier is created by the cross between clergy and people, something on the line of an iconostasis (a wall of icons in Eastern rite churches, separating the nave from the sanctuary). But this is a specious argument as even the enormous altar cross in the Basilica of St. Peter does not really block the view. There are very few churches, after all, where the people face the altar straight on; more commonly, they face the altar from a lateral perspective, looking past the cross to the priest. Moreover, the higher the cross is placed, the less likely it will obstruct the people’s view. It thus becomes for all a spiritual “attention-getter” (if it is aesthetically high-standing). Finally, it is further objected that an altar cross creates a doubling of crucifixes, in the case that a cross already hangs above or behind the altar. However, the cross on the altar is for the priest, facing him with its corpus, while the faithful look at their cross above the altar.
Having the Crucifix front and center reminds us that during the Holy Sacrifice, we go back to Calvary.  We are just as present at Jesus' supreme sacrifice as are the Blessed Mother and Sts. John and Mary Magdalene.  We are the group that "looks upon Him whom was pierced" for us and for our sins.  St. Paul reminds us that we should glory in the cross.  In his epistle, he writes that he "preaches Christ crucified."  While we are an Easter people, as Blessed John Paul II once said, we must remember that we cannot separate the Resurrection of Our Lord from the Crucifixion.  One loses its meaning and significance without the other.   Furthermore, we cannot excise the Last Supper from the picture.  This sacrificial meal that Jesus instituted on the night before he willingly suffered His Passion is the Memorial of His salviffic act.  Thus, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday all point towards each other in this Sacred Triduum.

Fr. Heid also speaks of the priest raising his eyes, especially during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer. 

He does look up, for instance, in the Roman canon at the time of the consecration while speaking the words: “et elevatis oculis in coelum”. Therefore, Jesus inaugurates the Eucharist “with eyes raised to heaven.”
Even in the ordo novus, the rubric at this point reads: “He (the priest) raises his eyes.” But where exactly is the priest supposed to be looking, at the church ceiling? So when the priest in reciting a prayer is required to look upward, rather than simply staring into space, the obvious focal point is a high-standing cross on the main altar.
Of course, the practice of having a cross on the altar facing the priest is not only needed for a few isolated moments. It has a more general purpose.  When the priest stands at the altar in unceasing prayer to God, he will be gazing at God’s Son, through whom his every petition, his every word of praise, is, in fact, offered...

...The priests and the faithful could look up to the apse when they prayed, seeing  into heaven, so to speak. The gaze of the faithful was not focused on the altar and the celebrant, but rather overhead. The church building itself always had to be “oriented” to the east at this graphically depicted heavenly art.  The actual geographical orientation toward the east was of secondary importance.
Now, it was clear from the beginning that Christian prayer was not simply directed to God alone, but through Jesus Christ to the heavenly Father. This is precisely where the cross comes into play as a focal point.
I remember observing my Paulist priest friend after he returned to us following his ordination in New York.  When he celebrated his first Mass with us, he was very deliberate and quite reverent (not that he no longer is).  I noticed that as he prayed Institution Narrative of the Eucharist Prayer, he would not look at the faithful; rather he would focus his gaze beyond our sight.  He would raise his eyes to a point in the back of the church that was even higher than the choir loft.  Even at the Pater Noster, he would keep his eyes fixed overhead.

During lunch one time, we talked about his focal point.  He said that in the seminary, he was taught to look beyond the faithful and direct his gaze towards the heavens.   For me, his comments were quite interesting, since, after all, this was from the same person who, as a seminarian, chided me for not being willing to use inclusive language while I was proclaiming the readings.  I was impressed that he was really making an effort at infusing reverence into the Mass (his preference for inclusive language notwithstanding).  My friend further explained that his professor taught him that during the course of the Mass, there are points when he is addressing the faithful and when he is praying to the Father.  As far as I remember, he was the only one of the priests in that parish who would direct his gaze upward during certain points in the Mass.

Down here, quite a few celebrants also direct their gaze towards the heavens while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, my parochial vicar being one of them.   In fact, one of our older parishes has now begun to employ the use of the altar cross for Mass.  When celebrants raise their eyes, gazing spiritually upon Him who has been pierced for our sins, they remind us that the Mass is not about ourselves; it is directed towards God.  Granted, the celebrant will look at us when engaged in dialogue ("The Lord be with you... Pray brethren...")

When Pope Benedict XVI began using the altar cross and the seven candles, not a few people seemed put off by the approach.  As Fr. Heid notes in his article, it was as though, in the mindset of these people,  the Holy Father were putting a barrier between himself and the faithful.   However, such an interpretation might be superficial.  In many of his writings on the liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the focus of the Mass lies not in the celebrant nor in the faithful, as though they were in some sort of an enclosed circle.  We are not there to look at the person of the celebrant, whether he is the parish priest or the pope, anymore than the celebrant is there to look upon the crowd assembled before him.  Yes, there is an interaction between celebrant and faithful, but, it is an interaction of prayer. 

Having the crucifix front and center re-orients us as to why we are gathered together.  Having the crucifix on the altar reminds the priest that he must decrease while Christ must increase.  It also reminds the faithful that while the celebrant is standing before him, whether he is their parochial vicar or the Holy Father, himself, it is Christ who is the principal actor in the liturgy and we, as members of the body that is the Church, unite our sacrifices to His.

The crucifix should shock us.  It should shake us to our very core precisely because it represents the extent of love that Christ displayed for us and the limitlessness of Divine Mercy.  Like St. Paul, we should glory in that cross and preach Christ crucified in our own lives.  The Benedictine altar arrangement reminds us of this saving mystery and its instrinsic connection to the Mass.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tim's Teaching

(image from

Had my father's cousin Sylvia survived cancer, there is no doubt that she would have called our house mourning her beloved Bronco's defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Sylvia was a die-hard fan, right down to her bright orange pom poms.  However, as disappointed as she would have been, Sylvia would also have waxed in poetic admiration of the team's young quarterback, Tim Tebow.  Unlike those of us who have pounced on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo for another season of shattered dreams, Sylvia would have treated Tebow differently.

Before she was a Bronco's fan, Sylvia was, first and foremost, a devout Catholic.  Like her aunt (my paternal grandmother), Sylvia was a woman of deep faith.  In that aspect, she would have found a kindred spirit in the Bronco's leader.

As I observed Tebow, I could not help but admire him.  In the face of a crushing defeat, Tebow still managed to maintain himself, still thanking God in the midst of the trial that he had just faced.  He reminded me of one of the sayings of St. Therese, "Everything is a blessing."  True, in Tebow's case, he could probably say that, since, win or lose, he stands to earn a princely sum for his work.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to suffer defeat in a stadium filled to the nosebleeding heights with rabid fans and in front of millions on prime time television.  Yet, Tebow seemed to have an air of peace about him.  Win or lose, he had done his best.

What struck me the most about Tebow was the posture he took whenever he scored a touchdown.  He went down on one knee and genuflected.  The media calls it "Tebowing", but, to Catholics, it's genuflecting.  It's the posture that we generally should assume when entering a Catholic church as we face the Tabernacle where Our Lord is in the Blessed Sacrament.

Sadly, it's a posture that many of us might have forgotten.  In the article, "The Theology of Kneeling", Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that bending the knee to Our Lord is important.

Kneeling does not come from any culture -- it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God. The central importance of kneeling in the Bible can be seen in a very concrete way. The word proskynein alone occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-four of which are in the Apocalypse, the book of the heavenly Liturgy, which is presented to the Church as the standard for her own Liturgy.

Thus, kneeling is both biblical and liturgical.  Granted, Tebow isn't genuflecting in some liturgical context, he is, nonetheless, offering thanks to God.  Furthermore, perhaps without meaning to, Tebow also makes another point that the Holy Father raises:

(B)ending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.

In saying this, we come to the typical gesture of kneeling on one or both knees. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the verb barak, "to kneel", is cognate with the word berek, "knee". The Hebrews regarded the knees as a symbol of strength, to bend the knee is, therefore, to bend our strength before the living God, an acknowledgment of the fact that all that we are we receive from Him

 In this simple act of witness, Tebow reminds us that every good gift comes from God.  As I see it, he also puts some of us to shame.  If Tebow can genuflect out in the open (where there is no Tabernacle), why can't we do the same when we come into the Real Presence of Christ the Lord? 

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI says it best when he writes:
It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture -- insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the one before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel.

Thank you, Tim, for reminding us about the importance of kneeling before the One who saves us.

The Tears of Hannah and Elvis

I normally do not listen to Gospel music; however, Friday morning's drive to work was a little different. As I was switching stations on my Jeep's Sirius radio, I punched the sixth button where I had the Elvis station programmed. "Crying in the Chapel" was playing. I decided to give it a listen in its entirety.

Somehow, the words resonated with me that day. Three days earlier, I went to Mass. The first reading came from the First Book of Samuel.

9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head." 12 As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, "How long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you." 15 But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. 16 Do not regard your maidservant as a base woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation." 17 Then Eli answered, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him." 18 And she said, "Let your maidservant find favor in your eyes." Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad.

For several weeks, I have been going through some difficult times.  Tears seem to be a frequent occurance.  In fact, that day, I was supposed to receive word as to whether or not I had been accepted into a program.  As the reading was being proclaimed, I had a sense of dread about the situation and started to weep.  After Mass, I spoke to my parochial vicar and he said that he would pray for me.

Sadly, a letter arrived in the mail that confirmed my worst fear: rejection.  The tears flowed like a river.  I thought of Hannah and her tears.  A friend of mine invited me to supper to help me deal with the bad news.  I told a friend of mine that I really felt like Hannah as I face my own moment of despiration.  I also realized that there is nothing wrong with quietly weeping in the chapel, even during Mass.  Sometimes, inaudible tears are the only expressions that we can make when faced with trials. 

Eli, the priest, thought Hannah was drunk.  Hannah was only speaking to God from her heart.  I also remembered the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears.  The tears moved Jesus' heart and he pardoned her sins. 

Although I feel a little better, the sting of the rejection still hurts.  That Friday morning, as I was still thinking about the situation, Elvis blared forth from my radio.  Although I usually switch the station when he starts belting out "How Great Thou Art" or "Battle Hymn of the Republic", there was something that resonated with me as I heard "Crying in the Chapel."  Even though it is a Gospel song (and not suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass), the song seems to have a Catholic feel to it.  Towards the end, he sings of kneeling in prayer.  As far as I can tell, aside from funeral home chapels, Catholic parishes and chapels (for the most part) tend to have kneelers in the pews.  Kneeling is the posture of supplication before the Lord.  We recognize our own littleness before His greatness.  We recognize that we are the creatures and He is the Creator.

Tears, as Hannah and Elvis show us, can be a prayer from the heart, whether mournful or joyful.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perpetuating Bad Liturgical Habits

I admire and respect George Weigel and, just about 99% of the time, I agree with what he says and writes.  His credentials are impressive and he possesses a wealth of knowledge.

However, in reading his article called "Breaking Bad Liturgical Habits" which appears online in the National Catholic Register, I was surprised to find some items that seem to actually perpetuate just what he is trying to halt.

The introduction of the third edition of the Roman Missal and the new translations of the liturgical texts offer the entire English-speaking Church an opportunity to correct some bad liturgical habits that have developed over the past four decades. That is true.  We are now praying to God using language that is befitting.

The point of these corrections is neither liturgical prissiness nor aesthetic nostalgia; there is no “reform of the reform” to be found in lace surplices, narrow fiddleback chasubles and massive candles.

The point of correcting bad habits is to celebrate the Novus Ordo of Paul VI with dignity and beauty, so that holy Mass is experienced for what it is: our participation in the liturgy of saints and angels in heaven — where, I am quite confident, they don’t sing treacly confections like Gather Us In.

Celebrants (not “presiders”): If you’ve fallen into the bad habit of concluding Mass by some variant of “May almighty God bless us all, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” please cease and desist. You were not ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament to invoke, generically, the divine blessing, which anyone can (and should) do before and after meals; you were given the power to confer the divine blessing by being configured to Christ in holy orders. Agreed.

Catholics who embrace the truth of Catholic faith do not enjoy clericalism. But they do not find comfort, much less evangelical leadership, from priests who imagine they can avoid clericalism by unwittingly denying the truth of their own sacramental vocation and its distinctiveness. Agreed.

Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist: The same admonition applies to you, but in a different way — you must not offer a “blessing,” in any form, to pre-first-Communion children who join their parents in the Communion procession. (While he makes a solid point, Mr. Wiegel uses a term that is incorrect.  According to both the GIRM and Redemptionis Sacramentum, the correct term is Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion).

Eucharistic ministers are not junior-grade clergy or petty officers; no one outside of those in holy orders should “bless” in a liturgical context. Again, this is not a matter of prissiness, and still less one of clericalism; it is a matter of doctrinal and theological precision — which, if lost, can damage the celebration of the sacred liturgy. Agreed, except for the fact Eucharistic Ministers are clergy.  Bishops and priests are Eucharistic Ministers because only they can confect the Eucharist.  Bishops, priests and deacons are Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are vastly overused in U.S. parishes, a practice that risks of signaling that the Mass is a matter of the self-worshipping community celebrating and feeding itself. But the problem of the ordinary use of what is supposed, after all, to be “extraordinary” can be addressed another time. For now, pastors must make it clear that no one blesses children during the Communion procession except bishops, priests and deacons, i.e., those in holy orders.  Along with terminology problems, there is a major point that Mr. Weigel seems to miss regarding these "blessings in lieu of the distribution of Holy Communion."  I will address these later on in my post.

Music directors and pastors: As a general rule, sing all the verses of a processional or recessional hymn. Good hymns have a textual integrity that is lost when we sing hymn excerpts rather than hymns. It doesn’t take that much more time to sing all six verses of For All the Saints or all four verses of Crown Him With Many Crowns; cutting such great texts by two-thirds or one-half inevitably sends the signal that music in the liturgy is filler — and there is no room for filler in the sacred liturgy.  Here there is some room for disagreement, especially if there are some questionable pieces out there.  I will cover this comment in greater detail later.

The Congregation: Sacred space is different from other space; the inside of the church is different from the narthex (not “gathering space”). Agreed.

Thus we should all break the bad habit of commencing the post-Mass conversation immediately after the conclusion of the recessional hymn or organ postlude. Wait until you leave the interior of the church before beginning to chat with the neighbors. Agreed.

If there is a choral postlude, chatting over it is an insult to the choir, which has worked hard to prepare something beautiful for God; if there is only an organ postlude (with or without a recessional hymn), chatting over it is an insult to the organist. Thirty seconds of silence after Mass is no bad thing.  Agreed; however, it would not be a bad idea just to have silence after Mass.  We do not need to fill up every moment of silence with noise.  Silence is not the absence of noise; it is the language of God.  We need to give God a chance to speak to us.

And while we’re on the subject of the congregation, might we all reconsider our vesture at Sunday Mass? Dressing in one’s “Sunday best” was not an affectation; it was an acknowledgment of our baptismal dignity. Definitely agreed!  Shorts, graphic t-shirts and flip-flops are not "Sunday best."

Let’s reclaim that dignity and its expression in our “Sunday best.”
As I indicated earlier, Mr. Weigel makes some very solid points, as a lot of what he says certainly rings true.  However, as valid as his concerns are, his article, unfortunately, contains some errors that, in all charity, need to be pointed out.


Twice in the article, Mr. Weigel refers to the lay faithful who assist the celebrant in the distribution of Holy Communion, calling them either "Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist" or "Eucharistic Ministers." According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, the term is "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion".

[156.]  This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion" nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist" nor "special minister of the Eucharist", by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.
This language actually came into usage back in 1997, in the interdiscastery document called Ecclesia de Mysterio, signed off on by the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Here is what the document states:

The non-ordained faithful may be generically designated "extraordinary ministers" when deputed by competent authority to discharge, solely by way of supply, those offices mentioned in Canon 230, 3(56) and in Canons 943 and 1112. Naturally, the concrete term may be applied to those to whom functions are canonically entrusted e.g. catechists, acolytes, lectors etc. Temporary deputation for liturgical purposes -- mentioned in Canon 230, 2 -- does not confer any special or permanent title on the non-ordained faithful.(57)

...1. The canonical discipline concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion. The same discipline establishes that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the Bishop, the Priest and the the Deacon.(96) Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are those instituted as acolytes and the faithful so deputed in accordance with Canon 230, 3.(97)
Even the General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes repeated reference to the term Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Using the correct terminology is important because it removes any confusion that inaccurage wording can bring.

Blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion

Mr. Weigel does get half of the point correct.  In Ecclesia de Mysterio, the document specifically states that during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:
In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers -- e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology -- or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant.
This includes the imparting of blessings, as these use both wording and gestures that are proper to the celebrant.

In November 2008, in response to a private query from two American lay men, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments addressed the issue of imparting blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion (Protocol No. 930/08/L).  While the matter remains under the Congregations' study, Msgr. Anthony Ward, writing on behalf of the curial body, made five observations as to why these blessings should not take place:
1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin). 
There is also another matter to consider.  When the celebrant makes the proclamation:  "Behold the Lamb of God...", he is making the invitation for those who are properly disposed to approach and receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, not a blessing.  This "blessing" appears nowhere in the GIRM nor in the rubric for the distribution of Holy Communion.  Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), Redemptionis Sacramentum and the GIRM prohibit anyone, including the celebrant, from adding anything to the Mass.  Some will argue that they have seen the Holy Father engage in this practice.  Bear in mind, however, that the Pope is the supreme authority and can do as he sees fit because he is the visible head of the Church.  Fr. Joe, at his parish, does not have the same authority, nor does Bishop Smith.


While Mr. Weigel (and, a good majority of the parishes and dioceses out there) concentrate on the four-hymn sandwich, the Church presents us with something entirely different:  chant.  Rather than perpetuate the use of hymns (the fourth option), why not just advocate for the default, the Propers of the Mass?  This will, no doubt, remove any notion of using questionable music and, furthermore, actually fulfill the goal of singing the Mass instead of merely singing at Mass.

The GIRM does not regulate just how long the music should be either for the processional or the recessional.  However, when it comes to the introductory rites (which, as a rule of thumb, should be brief), the GIRM does state that:
47. When the people are gathered, and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins. Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.

48. This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting; (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

If there is no singing at the Entrance, the antiphon given in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the Priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. no. 31).

Furthermore, there is no requirement that we should even have a recessional.  The Church states that we can either sing a hymn, have an instrumental or simply depart in silence.  Recessionals need not go in into eternity.  While I can understand Mr. Weigel's point, I would much rather have silence after the time that the celebrant has already left the church.

Mr. Weigel makes some rock solid points on the attire that we should wear for Mass.  I would only add that if folks are exercising some sort of liturgical ministry, they, too, should take extra care in choosing their wardrobe for Mass.  Somehow proclaiming the Word of God while wearing jeans and a t-shirt for Sunday Mass just does not cut it.  Sadly, in today's culture, we live in a world that has the "anything goes" attitude.

That Mr. Weigel means well is without question; however, as I read his article, he fails to do due diligence to what the Church mandates.  Instead of calling for an end to bad liturgical habits, he winds up, without meaning to, further perpetuating the really harmful ones that he is trying to prevent.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Waters of Life

With the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, the Church concludes the Christmas season.  For nearly three weeks, we celebrated these holy days, pondering the mysteries of the Incarnation, Nativity and Epiphany of Christ.  It is fitting that the one who lept for joy in the womb of St. Elizabeth should be the one to formally usher in the Messiah:  St. John the Baptist.

Jesus, for His part, did not have to undergo the baptism ritual of his cousin.  He who was the Sinless One did not need purification.  The Baptist pointed that out to Him as He approached St. John.  However, Jesus chose to submit Himself to this act to "fulfill all righteousness."  At the moment He rose from the waters of the Jordan, the final Epiphany took place: that of the Blessed Trinity.  The Father's voice was heard from the clouds proclaiming "This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  The Holy Spirit descended on Christ in the form of a dove.

The elements of the voice, the dove and the waters harken back to Genesis.  In the beginning, the Book of Genesis relates that the voice of God commanded that light be created.  At Jesus' baptism, the Father revealed that the true Light had come into the world as He declared His love for His only begotten Son.  Later on, in Genesis, we read about the waters of the great flood that nearly destroyed the whole world, save for Noah, his families and the animals aboard the ark.  At Jesus' baptism, the same waters that meant death for man would not be the cause of his rebirth into new life.  Towards the end of the flood narrative, Genesis tells us that Noah released a dove in order to ascertain whether or not the waters had receded.  The dove returns to Noah with proof, an olive branch.  When Noah releases the dove again, it fails to return.  Now, at the moment of Jesus' baptism, the dove returns to earth as the Holy Spirit.  Just as Noah's dove signaled that all would be well, the Holy Spirit heralds the beginning of the new creation brought about by Baptism.

The Baptism of the Lord foreshadows the passion and death that He will endure for us men and for our salvation some three years later.  When Jesus talks about his desire to undergo the baptism he must receive, He is referring to being baptized in His own blood.  When he goes down into the waters of the Jordan River, it is symbolic of His going down into the pit of death.  As he rises from the waters, this act foreshadows His resurrection.

When we receive the Sacrament of Baptism, our souls are washed clean of the stain of original sin.  As a priest friend of mine preached today, we have, lamentably, lost sight of the seriousness of sin.  Sin is real.  In the West, we are quite fastidious about washing and sanitizing our hands, lest we catch or spread some comunicable disease like the common cold.  We treat the flu quite seriously, almost to the point of obession so as to avoid catching it and spreading it. But, when it comes to sin, it is not quite taken as seriously as it should be.  H1N1 scares us more than sin. 

I often wonder if we treat the Sacrament of Baptism with the care and respect that it deserves.  While the Church spends significant amounts of time catechizing parents and godparents on their responsibilities to the children they will be presenting for baptism, not a few times, the trappings of the event, such as the infant's gown, the party and the guest-list seem to overshadow the sacrament.  We need to remember that promises are being made on behalf of the infant.  Parents and godparents become responsible for keeping the flame of Faith lit all throughout that child's life and to educate the little one in that same Faith, giving good example.  It's not a one and done ritual.  It is the beginning of that baby's life as a child of God and a child of the Church.  Just as the parents are diligent about ensuring that their children are immunized and kept physically healthy, they need to take just as much care that their souls are kept as pure as possible.  This means introducing these children to the Faith of the Church, especially to the Mass at an early age.  It means teaching children about the evils of sin and about the supreme price Jesus paid to save us.  We are reminded of that price at every Mass we attend for we once again return to that moment.

At the moment of baptism, we are a new creation, grafted into the family of God as His adopted sons and daughters.  We go down into the Jordan with Jesus, baptized into His death, so that He can bring us to new life.  But, baptism is not the end of our journey of Faith; it is the beginning, just as Jesus' Baptism signaled the start of His mission.

United in Prayer

The subject of Ad Orientem seems to hit the blogosphere and different liturgical forums every January, especially when the Holy Father employs this posture when celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Sistine Chapel.  This time around, there's a twist.  Evidently, a forum member from a Catholic website expressed concern that a priest at a parish he visited used this particular posture.

"My family and I went to a different parish this weekend...When we walked in, I noticed that the Altar was set up 'backward'. The priest 'said' Mass with his back to us.  When I say that the priest 'said Mass', I mean he literally said it.  No emotion. No inflection. Very matter of fact.  He walked in from the Sacristy and walked out through the Sacristy.  He used no Altar servers.  No extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion).  He did not even offer the Cup to us.  The whole thing felt not like a prayer or a celebration, but  more like a performance.  And not only a performance, but a performance from which we were all deliberately and explicity excluded. It was quite jarring and cold...

...(W)hy such a drastic (and may I say rigid) change? ...Are such changes authorized?"
Having read the post, I shuddered.  Subsequent replies appeared to me to not have an understanding of the actual rubric and the role of the bishop in all of this.  Here is an example:
"Of course a bishop may direct the priest how to celebrate the Liturgy since the Liturgy in the diocese is under the authority of the bishop."
Still others wondered why this posture even exists in this day and age, as they seem to think that it is a "throwback" to preconciliar days.  "Vatican II changed all of that" appears to be the consensus among these folks.  However, a reading of the documents, namely the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the actual rubrics do not indicate this to be so. 

Unfortunately, for better or for worse, the Second Vatican Council is blamed/credited for a lot of what has transpired insofar as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is concerned.  Did Vatican II really say that we could no longer kneel in order to receive Holy Communion?  Did the Council Fathers mean for the Mass to be stripped of Latin?  Is it a liturgical abuse for a priest to "turn his back" on the people?  The answer to these questions is a resounding "NO". 

Over a year ago, I wrote on the subject, quoting both Pope Benedict XVI and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, OP, author of the excellent book Turning Towards the Lord.  Both the Holy Father (who, incidentally, wrote the foreword to Fr. Lang's book) and Fr. Lang point out that Ad Orientem is completely legitimate.  Furthermore, the rubrics assume that this would be the posture taken by the celebrant, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  If versus populum (facing the people) were the set mode, then why would there be specific references in the rubrics indicating when the celebrant is to face the people? 

Even the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments weighed in on the matter.  In 2002, the CDWDS wrote that:

Prot. No 2036/00/L

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.

The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account.

It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.

However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as His instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [toward God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.

It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [toward the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be "oriented" so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.

It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.

In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the center of the apse where, seated and turned toward the community, the proclamation of the readings was listened to. Now this presidential place was not ascribed to the human person of the bishop or the priest, nor to his intellectual gifts and not even to his personal holiness, but to his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff, who is the Lord Jesus.

When it is a question of ancient churches, or of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to keep in mind civil legislation regarding changes or renovations. Adding another altar may not always be a worthy solution.

There is no need to give excessive importance to elements that have changed throughout the centuries. What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words that express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.

Thus, as we can see, there is no liturgical abuse if the priest chooses to celebrate Mass Ad Orientem.  When the question was brought up at a liturgical conference concerning whether or not a bishop could put a stop to Ad Orientem, the response was in the negative.  The basis for the response was the aforementioned document of the CDWDS.  Thus, the celebrant is in his right to use this very legitimate option.
Now, regarding the matter of the Holy Father celebrating Mass versus populum at St. Peter's and in other locations, a point that was raised by a member of a liturgical forum, the pope places the focus of the liturgy not on himself, but on  Christ, and, hence, he chooses to use an altar crucifix.  As Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, wrote:
Facing toward the East, as we heard, was linked with the "sign of the Son of Man", with the Cross, which announces Our Lord's Second Coming. That is why, very early on, the East was linked with the sign of the cross. Where a direct common turning toward the East is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior "East" of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community.
This explains why, whenever he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at St. Peter's or at any other church or venue (field, stadium, or square), there is a crucifix (most of the time, a large one) in the middle of the altar.  It should be noted that St. Peter's layout actually faces East.  Furthermore, the way the Altar of the Confession (the altar reserved for the Holy Father) is situated, it is virtually in the round, so, at some point, the Holy Father would, if we subscribed to the forum poster's original statement, be "giving his back" to the faithful located in the area behind him.

Regarding the original statement about the Mass being more of a "performance" than a celebration, these remarks stand in stark contrast to those made by now-Cardinal Ranjith when he was the Secretary to the CDWDS:

Facing the people increases chances of dis-attention and distraction from what we do at the altar, and the temptation for showmanship. In a beautiful article written by a German author, the following comments were made on the subject:
While in the past, the priest functioned as the anonymous go-between, the first among the faithful, facing God and not the people, representative of all and together with them offering the sacrifice … today he is a distinct person, with personal characteristics, his personal life style, his face turned towards the people. For many priests this change is a temptation they cannot handle … to them, the level of success in their performance is a measure of their personal power and thus the indicator of their feeling of personal security and self assurance.
(K.G. Rey, Pubertaetserscheinungen in der Katholischen Kirche [Signs of Puberty in the Catholic Church] Kritische Texte, Benzinger, Vol 4, p. 25).

The priest here, as we can see, becomes the main actor playing out a drama with other actors on a platform- like place, and the more creative and dramatic they become, the more they feel a sense of ego satisfaction. But, where can Christ be in all of this?

As I have written on a few occasions, I have had the privilege of assisting at Masses where the priest has celebrated Ad Orientem.  When he celebrates in this manner, the celebrant is no longer the focus of the Mass; Christ is.  As St. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, while I must decrease." 

When the priest celebrates ad orientem, he is leading us towards the Lord, in the same manner that Moses led Ancient Israel towards the face of God.

What It Means to Follow the Star

I apologize for being late with these posts.  A severe migraine on Saturday  hampered my writing.  Unfortunately, it returned Sunday evening.  Nonetheless, I was able to make it to Mass on both days, as well as catch the rebroadcast of the Papal Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany. 

It is indeed a wonderful blessing to have heard two incredible homilies preached on the same subject by two gifted homilists, the first being the Holy Father and the second, our parochial vicar.  While both touched on the same points, each had a particular method for driving the idea home with vigor.

Here is the Holy Father's homily:

The Magi took great risks to follow that star.  The shepherds, too, risked much, as they left their livelihood behind in the fields, their sheep, to see the true Lamb of God.  Going to where Jesus is entails taking big risks and going on Faith.  For not a few people, the risk has been to the point of the shedding of their blood, as we have sadly, in recent weeks, especially in Nigeria.  Following the star, even today, carries a high cost.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Epiphany is a feast of light. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). With these words of the prophet Isaiah, the Church describes the content of the feast. He who is the true light, and by whom we too are made to be light, has indeed come into the world. He gives us the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:9,12). The journey of the wise men from the East is, for the liturgy, just the beginning of a great procession that continues throughout history. With the Magi, humanity’s pilgrimage to Jesus Christ begins – to the God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always, until the consummation of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). The Church reads this account from Matthew’s Gospel alongside the vision of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the first reading: the journey of these men is just the beginning. Before them came the shepherds – simple souls, who dwelt closer to the God who became a child, and could more easily “go over” to him (Lk 2:15) and recognize him as Lord. But now the wise of this world are also coming. Great and small, kings and slaves, men of all cultures and all peoples are coming. The men from the East are the first, followed by many more throughout the centuries. After the great vision of Isaiah, the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians expresses the same idea in sober and simple terms: the Gentiles share the same heritage (cf. Eph 3:6). Psalm 2 puts it like this: “I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession” (v. 8).

The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ. During this holy Mass, I will ordain two priests to the episcopate, I will consecrate them as shepherds of God’s people. According to the words of Jesus, part of a shepherd’s task is to go ahead of the flock (cf. Jn 10:4). So, allowing for all the differences in vocation and mission, we may well look to these figures, the first Gentiles to find the pathway to Christ, for indications concerning the task of bishops. What kind of people were they? The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. No doubt there were many astronomers in ancient Babylon, but only these few set off to follow the star that they recognized as the star of the promise, pointing them along the path towards the true King and Saviour. They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. But they were also courageous, yet humble: we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort. For them it mattered little what this or that person, what even influential and clever people thought and said about them. For them it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him the promised King, the one they had set out, on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know.

Dear friends, how can we fail to recognize in all this certain essential elements of episcopal ministry? The bishop too must be a man of restless heart, not satisfied with the ordinary things of this world, but inwardly driven by his heart’s unrest to draw ever closer to God, to seek his face, to recognize him more and more, to be able to love him more and more. The bishop too must be a man of watchful heart, who recognizes the gentle language of God and understands how to distinguish truth from mere appearance. The bishop too must be filled with the courage of humility, not asking what prevailing opinion says about him, but following the criterion of God’s truth and taking his stand accordingly – “opportune – importune”. He must be able to go ahead and mark out the path. He must go ahead, in the footsteps of him who went ahead of us all because he is the true shepherd, the true star of the promise: Jesus Christ. And he must have the humility to bend down before the God who made himself so tangible and so simple that he contradicts our foolish pride in its reluctance to see God so close and so small. He must devote his life to adoration of the incarnate Son of God, which constantly points him towards the path.

The liturgy of episcopal ordination interprets the essential features of this ministry in eight questions addressed to the candidates, each beginning with the word “Vultis? – Do you want?” These questions direct the will and mark out the path to be followed. Here I shall briefly cite just a few of the most important words of this presentation, where we find explicit mention of the elements we have just considered in connection with the wise men of today’s feast. The bishops’ task is praedicare Evangelium Christi, it is custodire et dirigere, it is pauperibus se misericordes praebere, it is indesinenter orare. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, going ahead and leading, guarding the sacred heritage of our faith, showing mercy and charity to the needy and the poor, thus mirroring God’s merciful love for us, and finally, praying without ceasing: these are the fundamental features of the episcopal ministry. Praying without ceasing means: never losing contact with God, letting ourselves be constantly touched by him in the depths of our hearts and, in this way, being penetrated by his light. Only someone who actually knows God can lead others to God. Only someone who leads people to God leads them along the path of life.

The restless heart of which we spoke earlier, echoing Saint Augustine, is the heart that is ultimately satisfied with nothing less than God, and in this way becomes a loving heart. Our heart is restless for God and remains so, even if every effort is made today, by means of most effective anaesthetizing methods, to deliver people from this unrest. But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth. God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to “catch” his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us. Dear friends, this was the task of the Apostles: to receive God’s unrest for man and then to bring God himself to man. And this is your task as successors of the Apostles: let yourselves be touched by God’s unrest, so that God’s longing for man may be fulfilled.

The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a planetary constellation, or a supernova, that is to say one of those stars that is initially quite weak, in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs. Dear friends: you followed the star Jesus Christ when you said “yes” to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. And no doubt smaller stars have enlightened and helped you not to lose your way. In the litany of saints we call upon all these stars of God, that they may continue to shine upon you and show you the path. As you are ordained bishops, you too are called to be stars of God for men, leading them along the path towards the true light, towards Christ. So let us pray to all the saints at this hour, asking them that you may always live up to this mission you have received, to show God’s light to mankind.

The Holy Father consecrated two priests as archbishops, each was going to be Apostolic Nuncio to a particular country.  Archbishop Charles Brown, an American, is now going to serve as Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, while the second prelate, Archbishop Marek Solczynski, who is now the Apostolic Nuncio to the Republics of Georgia and Armenia.  He noted that the bishop is to lead people to Christ.  However, in order to lead and to be a light to the faithful, the bishop must first know Christ.  He must pray constantly, never ceasing, preach the Gospel by word and deed and lead.  In a sense, he must be a star to guide the people entrusted to him to Christ.

In his commentary on the Holy Father's homily, Fr. Z makes the connection between the light that Pope Benedict XVI mentions and the pillar of fire reference in the Exultet.  This connection between the light of the star of Bethelehem and the Morning Star proclaimed in the Exultet is certainly made clear by the proclamation of the date of Easter on the Solemnity of the Epiphany.  The light of Bethelehem's star foreshadows the intense light of the Resurrection.

Our parochial vicar made the same point about following the star as the Holy Father did.  He added that, in our own lives, we are called to reflect the light of Christ and, thus, be stars that will lead others to Christ.  He urged us to ponder the question of whether or not we are lights or shadows.

My friend also touched on something very sensitive, our present form of worship.  He observed that the Magi prostrated themselves before the Infant King, offering Him their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  What kind of worship do we offer the King today?  He noted that, to this end, the Holy Father is leading by example.  He is teaching us the importance of the truly sacred in our liturgies, and this includes music.  The Church already gives us the form of music that we need for the Mass, chant, whether in Latin or in the vernacular.

Our parochial vicar remarked that over the last 40 years, the music used in the Mass has deteriorated to the point that it has become more about "us" than about God.  We've almost forgotten about chant.  The music nowadays centers around what makes us feel good.  We come to Mass in a casual manner and the music reflects that.  He said that the Church has taken the steps to better formalize our liturgies through the revised Roman Missal, but, we must do more.  The use of folk and Mariachi music seem imcompatible with the solemnity and dignity of the Mass.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For example, our cathedral employs Mariachis for the Sunday Mass regularly broadcast live on our diocesan radio station.  Listening to the group yesterday made me wonder if the musicians (as well-intended as they may be) knew that we were still in the Christmas season.  The music was loud and boisterous, more fitting for the plaza across the street than for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It's as though any vestige of the sacred was left out. 

My friend made an impassioned plea for us to return to the sacred, echoing the many statements made by Pope Benedict XVI, both as Supreme Pontiff and as the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  Interestingly enough, we were without a regular choir for the parish's first morning Mass.  The substitute cantor led the faithful in singing traditional Epiphany hymns, along with the ICEL chants.  The homily actually gave the cantor the courage to try out more of the Communion antiphon (with one verse) as the celebrant communicated.  Prior to Mass, she asked him if she could chant the antiphon.  He assumed that it was just the refrain from the Roman Missal, but, in the spirit of the homily, she went with the additional verse. It was the first time that the faithful in the parish had been exposed to the Simple English Propers.  Then, she led the faithful in singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful" once the antiphon was completed.  After Mass, I heard some of the faithful comment positively on both the homily and the music. 

Maybe there is hope from that one faint flicker of a star.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Real Graceland

I found it somewhat oddly funny that this year,  in the United States, the Solemnity of the Epiphany fell on January 8th, which also happens to be the birthdate of the late Elvis Presley (commonly known as "the king").

I never quite understood the maddening hysteria surrounding Elvis.  That he had incredible talent (and not at all bad looking in his early years), is a given, but the intense fascination that folks have for him in the nearly 35 years after his death is a little hard to take.  People from around the world travel thousands of miles and through time zones and continents just to get to Graceland, Elvis' estate.  Fans know every song by heart and pour over even the most minute details his life.  It's sadly fascinating.

This is not against Elvis. I would suspect that he might have thought that this devotion and obsession may have been well-meaning, but sorely misplaced.  Tbis "king" might have wondered where the real King, Christ the Lord fits into all of this.

The answer is found in a singular bright Star that hovered over Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.  It is that Star that fascinated Magi from the East, leading them across deserts, mountains and valleys to the real land of grace, the place where the Child Jesus and His Mother were.  The Magi knew that this Child was important; soon, they would come to know this infant King.

Herod knew a little about this Child, but he really did not know Him. He suspected that this Child was going to threaten his reign and supplant him; however, Herod did not bother to read enough, let alone, open his heart, to the Child.

The Solemnity of the Epiphany calls us to not only know about this Child Jesus, but to come to know Him and allow ourselves to be transformed by Him.  We do not have to cross continents and time zones to come into contact with Jesus.  We encounter each other at every Mass.  Instead of offering Him gold, frankincense and myrrh, we bring to Him our hearts, our bodies, our souls, our very selves.  In turn, He gives us His very self.  While He had a unique encounter with the Magi, Christ offers us the chance of a truly spectacular meeting with us during Holy Communion, as we receive Him in Holy Communion so that we can become one with Him.  It is that holy exchange of gifts that is much more profound than anything the world has to offer.

Let us then turn our hearts to the true King and strive to make our own pilgrimage to that true Graceland, our heavenly home which is the New Jerusalem.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Constantly called to give your life for the Church"

While the eyes of a good part of the football faithful will be on Denver Bronco's quarterback, Tim Tebow, to see if he'll pull off a miracle finish for his team, the Catholic faithful turn their attention to another Tim, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York who will be receiving the red hat of a cardinal next month in Rome.  The announcement, direclty from the lips of Pope Benedict XVI, came after the Holy Father celebrated Mass to mark the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

As the new cardinal-designate humbly put it:

On this “Twelfth Day of Christmas” the traditional celebration of the Epiphany, I have received a gift from Pope Benedict XVI, as he announced just a couple of hours ago at the end of Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica that I would be among those to become a cardinal in Rome at the consistory of February 18th.

Yes, I am honored, humbled, and grateful, ...but, let’s be frank: this is not about Timothy Dolan; this is an honor from the Holy Father to the Archdiocese of New York, and to all our cherished friends and neighbors who call this great community home.

That the Holy Father would tap the New York Metropolitan was inevitable.  That Pope Benedict would name him so quickly to the ranks, especially since the Archbishop-emeritus, Edward Cardinal Egan, is still wtihin voting age is rare.  It should be noted that along with serving as New York's Metropolitan, Dolan is also the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal-designate Dolan is indeed a force not only in New York, but, in the United States as well.  As president of the USCCB, he has worked to rally his brother bishops to fully engage in their ministry as shepherds of the flock, as successors to the Apostles.  He observed that he saw his brethren wearing rings.  This means that they are married to the Church.  

I look out at 300 brothers each of whom has a ring on his finger, because we’re spoken for, we’re married.  Our episcopal consecration has configured us so intimately to Jesus that He shares with us His bride, the Church.

On February 18, 2012, Dolan will exchange his episcopal ring for that of a cardinal's.  During a homily preached at his first consistory in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI explained the significance of that ring:

The Crucifixion scene in the four Gospels constitutes the moment of truth when the "veil of the Temple" is torn and the Holy of Holies appears. The maximum revelation of God possible in this world occurs in Jesus Crucified, because God is love and the death of Jesus on the Cross is the greatest act of love in all of history. Well then, on the Cardinal's ring that I will consign in a few moments to the new members of the Sacred College is portrayed precisely the Crucifixion. This, dear new Cardinal-Brothers, will always be an invitation for you to remember of what King you are servants, on what throne he has been raised and how he has been faithful to the end in overcoming sin and death with the power of divine mercy. Mother Church, Spouse of Christ, gives you this symbol in memory of her Spouse, who loved her and gave himself up for her (cf. Eph 5: 25). Thus, wearing the Cardinal's ring, you are constantly called to give your life for the Church.
In marriage, the husband and the wife are constantly called to give up their lives for each other.  For a bishop (and, in a particular way, a cardinal, he is called), as the Holy Father noted, to constantly give of himself to the Church, as Christ does for his Bride.

Please keep the future Cardinal Dolan in your prayers.  As he noted in the press conference held to mark the announcement:

Over the Christmas holy days I finished a biography of President Kennedy, and recalled his reply to someone who sincerely congratulated him on the honor of the presidency.

“Thanks,” John Kennedy replied, “but I don’t look at it so much as an honor as a call to higher service.”

My sentiments exactly. This is not about privilege, change of colors, hats, new clothes, places of honor, or a different title. Jesus warned us about all that stuff
Jesus also said that the one who ranks first, must serve the rest.  As a cardinal, Dolan will be called to serve the Church in a most unique and awesome responsibility.  He will be called to collaboratae closely with the Holy Father on important matters and to give witness, even to the point of death, to Christ.  He will also be called to strengthen the faithful under his care in the Faith.  Indeed, leadership entails service, witness and suffering.  The color red is a very tangible reminder of that, since it is also the color that the Church uses to mark the memorials of martyrs.

May the Lord strengthen Cardinal-designate Dolan and his fellow prelates, who will be soon be receiving their rings and red hats. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Time Is Now

A little over three years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet then-Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, who, at the time was Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, when he delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  He talked about what it means to have a true "ars celebrandi" in our liturgies.  Using the Holy Father's beloved book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy", the archbishop reminded us what it really meant to be active participants in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Nearly three years later, now-Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, reiterates his call for that true "ars celebrandi" in a letter dated August 24, 2011.  In a letter written to the participants of the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce (which was shared at the group's 20th general assembly held this past November in Rome), his Eminence sends a clear battle cry for true reform.  As shared by our friends at the New Liturgical Movement, Cardinal Ranjith writes:

I wish to express first of all, my gratitude to all of you for the zeal and enthusiasm with which you promote the cause of the restoration of the true liturgical traditions of the Church.

As you know, it is worship that enhances faith and its heroic realization in life. It is the means with which human beings are lifted up to the level of the transcendent and eternal: the place of a profound encounter between God and man.

Liturgy for this reason can never be what man creates. For if we worship the way we want and fix the rules ourselves, then we run the risk of recreating Aaron's golden calf. We ought to constantly insist on worship as participation in what God Himself does, else we run the risk of engaging in idolatry. Liturgical symbolism helps us to rise above what is human to what is divine. In this, it is my firm conviction that the Vetus Ordo represents to a great extent and in the most fulfilling way that mystical and transcendent call to an encounter with God in the liturgy. Hence the time has come for us to not only renew through radical changes the content of the new Liturgy, but also to encourage more and more a return of the Vetus Ordo, as a way for a true renewal of the Church, which was what the Fathers of the Church seated in the Second Vatican Council so desired.

The careful reading of the Conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilum shows that the rash changes introduced to the Liturgy later on, were never in the minds of the Fathers of the Council.

Hence the time has come for us to be courageous in working for a true reform of the reform and also a return to the true liturgy of the Church, which had developed over its bi-millenial history in a continuous flow. I wish and pray that, that would happen.

May God bless your efforts with success.
+Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Archbishop of Colombo

It seems to me that in his message, Cardinal Ranjith seems to reiterate the Holy Father's call for mutual enrichment between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form.  When Pope Benedict XVI issued the 2007 Motu Propio, Summorum Pontificum, which liberalized the use of the Extrordinary Form of the Mass (known in many circles as the Traditional Latin Mass), he wrote that:

 "(T)he two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal."

A year ago, I was privileged to take part in the Society for Catholic Liturgy's annual conference in Houston.  One of the moments of grace that I experienced came in assisting at a low Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.  Even though we were few in number within the tiny Lady's Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican-Use Church, the degree of solemnity and beauty was beyond comprehension.  I had the sense that I was totally in the presence of the Other and I found myself deep in prayer.  I did not have to see what the celebrant was doing or listen to every word that came forth from his mouth.  He was leading us in prayer and interceding to God on our behalf.  For our part, we united our prayers to his.

One way that celebrants can employ the mutual enrichment of the Vertus Ordo into the Ordinary Form is to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice ad orientem, turning towards the Lord, so to speak.  This does not mean that he is giving his back to the people, as has been mistakenly interpreted.  Rather, the celebrant is leading us in prayer.  Another form of mutual enrichment can certainly be in the kind of music selected.  Chant is not exclusive to the High Mass of the Extraordinary Form.  As both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have stressed, chant is the proper music of the liturgies of the Roman Rite.  The music should not focus on "celebrating our wonderful selves", as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus aptly put it. 

The revised Roman Missal is already a huge step in this reform of the reform.  While there are some who have complained loudly that the language is too formal, we need to realize that a greater degree of formality, solemnity and dignity is needed in our supreme act of worship, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we try to change the words of the Mass to make them better suited to ourselves and our own idiosyncracies, we shift the focus away from God and try to bring Him down to our level.  

Unfortunately, this trend rears its ugly head in the music that is used in the Mass, especially that belonging to the Praise and Worship genre.  I have said this before, but, it bears repeating.  The Praise and Worship genre works for Protestant ecclesial communities because they only have the Word.  The Church has both the Word and the Sacrifice.  In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, heaven and earth intersect and the veil between time and space is lifted.  We find ourselves in the very presence of the majesty of God.  For me, it is very strange that while we have a more elevated and formal text for worship, sadly, publishers tend to pair up these sacred words with musical settings and substandard songs that are incompatible with the beauty of the Roman Missal.

Both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ranjith are doing their part to further spread the reform of the reform.  However, they cannot do it alone.  The correct celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass forms an integral component of the New Evangelization that the Holy Father has proclaimed.  If we are to usher in this important endeavor, then, we need to do our part, as faithful children of the Church, we need to do our part.  The time is now.