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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Recognizing the beauty in the old and the new



The readings which the Church presents to us for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time give us a rich plethora of interpretations; however, one theme that we can extract from them is the idea of the hermeneutic of continuity, a concept vividly manifested by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI especially in his teachings concerning the liturgy.

In the first reading, young King Solomon asks the Lord to bless him with the gift of wisdom so that he can properly govern his vast kingdom.  In a sense, we see some continuity between Solomon and his father, the great King David.  God considered David a man after his own heart, despite the fact that the king had committed a plethora of sins against the Lord.  David wanted to rule over Israel properly and he had a profound love for the Lord.  Solomon (at least towards the beginning of his reign) also manifested a deep love for God.  It fell to him to build the great Temple and he lavished it with the finest of materials.  I suppose one could say that Solomon initiated the concept of beauty in worship.

Today's Gospel account carries on that theme of continuity, and, in a sense, beauty.  The merchant who finds a pearl of great price sells everything he has to buy it.  He rejoices because it is a thing of beauty.  Beauty has a way of piercing through the heart and the soul.  It moves us and overwhelms us.  It gives us a foretaste of the beauty of God.

It is the final part of today's Gospel that struck me, though. It was as if Jesus were speaking directly about the current state of affairs insofar as liturgy is concerned:

(H)e said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Those of you who read Fr. Timothy Finigan's excellent blog, "The Hermeneutic of Continuity", will recognize the above scriptural quote, as it appears on the masthead of his site.  Benedict XVI often made references to this same quote when applying the concept of the hermeneutic of continuity to the Second Vatican Council.  Even in his pre-papal writings and thought, Benedict consistently held that the Council's teachings were not a rupture with what the Church has always traditionally held and taught, even though there has been, lamentably, a hermeneutic of rupture.

From the beginning of his eight-year reign as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict embodied that "householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."  The Papal Masses took on a more sacred character.  Gregorian Chant was used, even in papal liturgies celebrated around the world (with the glaringly bad example of the Mass celebrated in Washington, DC and a World Youth Day liturgy). Beautiful vestments that had not seen the light of day in generations returned to the altar, and, for the first time in what seemed like ages, Mass at the Sistine Chapel was celebrated Ad Orientem.

Perhaps the biggest manifestation of the bringing out of the old and the new was in 2007 when Benedict released Summorum Pontificum, the Motu Proprio which liberalized the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (using the 1962 Missal).  Benedict envisioned that there could very well be mutual enrichment between the Ordinary Form (the current Mass) and the Extraordinary Form.  To a certain extent, this has happened in quite a few parishes.  In parishes that offer both forms of the Mass to the faithful, one can certainly see the fruits of the Motu Proprio.  The majestic elements of the Extraordinary Form (sacred music, incense, vestments) have permeated into the Ordinary Form, adding to this liturgy a greater sense of the solemn and the sublime.  Having been to two parishes (not in my local area) that have implemented this, I can say that such liturgies elevate the heart and mind to heaven and penetrate the heart with an indescribable joy, a joy that is not passing, but that remains firmly implanted in one's spirit.

Sadly, for those of us who consider the Holy Eucharist to be our most beautiful pearl of great price, we have yet to experience this hermeneutic of continuity at the level of both the Local and Particular Churches.  We have yet to witness the householder bring out of our Church's sacred treasury both the old and the new.  Instead, we are subjected to an ars celebrandi that is at the lowest common denominator, with substandard music that glorifies the horizontal (as opposed to lifting our hearts to the vertical nature of worship) and a casual treatment of the sacred character of the liturgy.  Even our youth do not get to experience any part of the sublime majesty of the Mass.  Instead, they are treated to religious music that sounds more like something out of their average secular pop station.

Solomon prayed for a heart that would be full of wisdom and understanding and God granted him this favor.  He used his wisdom and understanding to both rule wisely over his people and, more importantly, to build the Lord a temple that was fit for divine worship.  He used the gifts that God had given him to construct something beautiful so that Ancient Israel could offer the Lord proper worship.

The Church is the New Israel.  Her concept of worship does not vary, in theory, from that of Ancient Israel.  In fact, she brings Ancient Israel's form of worship to completion within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  If we look at the elements of the Church's form of liturgical worship, we will find that they have their roots in Ancient Israel's cultic forms.  When Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, he gave us the fullest example of bringing out what is old and what is new.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the old form, the offering up of the paschal lamb, was replaced with the oblation of the real Paschal Lamb; yet, the elements of sacrificial worship are retained.

The Holy Eucharist is our pearl of great price because it is no less than Christ Jesus, Himself.  Let us not shun away from what is old and venerable when it comes to worshipping our Lord; rather, let us unite both the old and the new for in them, we have our fulfillment.

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