Total Pageviews

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Right and Just

In St. Mark's Gospel account of the Passion, he presents the story of a woman who anointed Jesus' head with expensive oil.  The disciples criticize her because the oil cost roughly 300 days wages.  Jesus rebukes them, praising the woman's great act of love.

The woman is not stingy with Jesus.  She generously pours out the oil over his head.  She gives of herself to him.  She gives her heart. What she does is right and just.

In the Roman Missal, the faithful acclaim that "it is right and just", as they respond to the celebrant's invitation, "Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God."  But, what does "right and just" mean, especially now that we have begun Holy Week?

I believe that it means that we allow ourselves to delve deeper into the sacred Mysteries that these beautiful rites present to us.  I believe that if we can take the time to study what these mean and engrave them in our hearts, we can work towards an authentic and deep offering of what is "right and just" to the Lord.

Two friends of mine, on different occasions, each sent me a private message regarding my concerns about the matter of sacred music and why we should concentrate on offering the Lord what is certainly most appropriate and best.  One of my friends likes and exclusively uses OCP's Spirit and Song collection.  Both of them asked me if it was sinful.  In my responses to each, I explained to them that we should not reduce music to the lowest common denominator.  We miss the point of liturgy.  We miss the point of offering what is "right and just."

We have only to look at the example of Cain and Abel.  Both bothers offered sacrifice to the Lord; Cain offered him the produce of the land, while Abel gave him the finest, fatted lamb.  The Lord favored Abel's sacrifice because, like the woman who anointed Jesus, Abel spared nothing for the Lord.  In fact, in the Roman Canon, Abel's sacrifice is mentioned.  Sadly, in his envy, Cain murdered his brother. He lost focus amd offered the bare minimum to God.  When he saw that the Lord favored Abel's sacrifice, Cain became enraged.  We know the rest of the story.

This is not to say that my friends were sinful.  They, like many of us involved in some sort of liturgical ministry, want to offer the best to the Lord.  But, how can we get to what is "right and just"?  
The best way could be to use the richness and beauty of the Roman Missal as a guide.  The Roman Missal presents with the foundation and framework for the Church's liturgies, especially during Holy Week.  The rich texts of the Collect, the Offertory, the Prefaces and the Prayer after Communion, help us to elevate our souls, hearts and minds to the sacred mysteries that unfold before us.  The Roman Missal even guides us to the correct music with its Antiphons.  During Palm Sunday and the Paschal Triduum, the Roman Missal even provides us with the chants.  

Chants are the liturgical equivalent of the expensive, aromatic spikenard that the woman used to anoint Jesus. Chant is costly, in that it takes time and effort to learn.  It is not impossible to learn, thanks to YouTube and other resources.  Chanting the actual prayers of the Mass gives unity to the liturgy.  It helps it flow the way it was meant to be.  One doesn't need to do this in a grand, baroque cathedral.  Even the most modern can do.  Suitable, sacred hymnody, such as "All Glory, Laud and Honor", "O Sacred Head Surrounded" and "What Wondrous Love Is This" help to bring the tenor of the Holy Week liturgies.  The Reproaches, which lamentably, nearly all of the parishes in my little corner of South Texas ignore, make a stirring parallel to what the Lord did for His people during the Exodus and what we have done to Him on Good Friday.  
The prayers of the Roman Missal help stir up within our souls a deep love for God.  When we love someone, we want to offer the very best we have for that person, not counting the cost.  Should we not do the same for God? Should we not break open the fragrant spikenard and give generously and lovingly to the One who did not even spare His own Son for us?

Some may say that engaging in learning the liturgy is time that could be well spent doing something else.  Why do we need to learn, folks may ask, if it's just about the music. Others, like my two friends, would rather depend on what the publishing house suggests.  Sadly, this kind of attitude would be reminiscent of the disciples who jeered at the woman.  

Let us not be afraid to break open the spikenard so that, like the woman, whose generous act of love continues to be told even today, we may offer to the Lord what is "right and just."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cleansing the Temple

Today's Gospel presents us with the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  While not a few homilists have taken on the social justice mantle (Jesus was railing against profiting at the Temple), the celebrant at this morning's Mass took an entirely different approach.  He focused on the sacred nature of worship space and how the activity that Jesus forcefully stopped went against the First Commandment.

The celebrant reminded us that the space where the vendors and money exchangers set up shop was sacred, as it was the Court of the Gentiles.  This space was set aside so that the Gentiles could come and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Recall that Scripture calls it "a house of prayer for all people."  Just because the area was not quite crowded with Gentiles, that did not mean that it was any less sacred than the rest of the Temple.

The sacred mattered to Jesus.  After all, as God, He was greatly concerned about what was going on in His house.  The celebrant held that the same issue that concerned Jesus then concerns Him now.  The Tabernacle, which holds the Blessed Sacrament, is greater than the Holy of Holies.  How many times do we ignore Jesus in the Tabernacle when we enter the main body of the Church?  How many times do we engage in meaningless conversations when He is right there, wanting us to engage with Him?

The medication that the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for the Ninth Station of the Cross seems to me to be an accurate diagnosis for the state of our liturgies today:

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). 
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

The homilist talked about the fact that the acred character of our liturgies needs to be respected.  He cited weddings as one of those liturgies that tends to witness the most violations of the sacred.  However, as excellent as all of his points were, he failed to make note of the fact that when we use substandard music, we FAIL to respect the sacred nature of the Mass. Weak music leads to weak liturgies and these lead to weak Faith.

When the music takes on a horizontal nature, we run the risk of "celebrating our wonderful selves" as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus put it.   One of the songs that the choir members wanted to use for this morning's Mass was "In These Days of Lenten Journey", written by Rev. Ricky Manalo, CSP, and published by OCP.  

In these days of Lenten journey, we have seen and we have heard the call to sow justice in the lives of those we serve. 
1. We reach out to those who are homeless to those who live without warmth. In the coolness of the evening we'll shelter their dreams, we will clothe them with mercy and peace. 
2. We open our eyes to the hungry and see the faces of Christ.  As we nourish all people who huger for food, may their faith in our God be renewed. 
3. We open our eyes to the weary and hear the cry of the poor, to the voices that echo the song of despair, we will show our compassion and love. 
4. We call on the Spirit of Justice and pray for righteousness sake.  We will sing for the freedom of all the oppressed; we will loosen the bonds of distress.

The sentiments seem okay, but, the song glorifies what we are doing and speaks very little about our own need for God's mercy.  It's about the "we" rather than the "He."

Compare that with the Attende Domine:

Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy, because we have sinned against Thee.

To Thee, highest King,
Redeemer of all,
do we lift up our eyes
in weeping:
Hear, O Christ, the prayers
of your servants.

Right hand of the Father,
way of salvation,
gate of heaven,
wash away our
stains of sin.

We beseech Thee, God,
in Thy great majesty:
Hear our groans
with Thy holy ears:
calmly forgive
our crimes.

To Thee we confess
our sins admitted
with a contrite heart
We reveal the things hidden:
By Thy kindness, O Redeemer,
overlook them.

The Innocent, seized,
not refusing to be led;
condemned by false witnesses
because of impious men
O Christ, keep safe those
whom Thou hast redeemed.

This hymn, the Par Excellence chant for Lent, drives home the point of the season, repentance.  It is also not very hard to learn, contrary to what some of the choir members claimed.  

People criticized Jesus because He actively took measures to cleanse His Father's house and restore the sacred nature of the Temple.  Not a few of us have been criticized, even by priests, for caring about the restoration of the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The sad thing is that there are those who care more about following what OCP says than what the Church says.  There are those who are more interested in having music with a "meaningful message" than in providing for the sacred.  

Aside from continuing the good fight, all we can say, as the former Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, is "save and sanctify your Church.  Save and sanctify us all."