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."