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