Friday, July 25, 2014

Joshua's Vision

"Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?" He replied, "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, "What do you command your servant, my lord?" The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so."  (Joshua 5:13-15).

Thinking about the ruthless attacks of the Russian soldiers of fortune in Ukraine and the even more devastating destruction of Mosul and all it stands for in terms of the survival of Christianity in the Middle East, Joshua's vision came to mind, the encouragement he received as he prepared to lay siege to Jericho and begin the conquest of the Land promised to Israel by God. As convinced as I am, that if it be His Will, God will save the Christian presence in its cradle lands even without a 3rd millennium edition of the Crusades, I would not be adverse to hearing news that "The commander of the army of the LORD" had made his appearance. Maybe it is enough to say that there is something terribly wrong about the world standing idly by to the tune of another genocide. You might say that I keep waiting for another parting of the waves.

Preach against this so called caliphate or against Putin's horde I cannot nor will I. Somehow announcing that trust in the LORD is our salvation seems just too enigmatic. Nonetheless, I would be wrong if I did not confess all the marvels I have witnessed over the last months in Ukraine. I can wish that others would share in my hope for victory over oppression. I suspect that we owe more to the LORD of all, that our worship cannot match Joshua's, that we are not prompt enough in obeying His command to remove our shoes in His Presence.

Lest it all sound too Old Testament, too warrior-like, let me close by confessing faith in the Blood of Christ's Cross, sufficient once and for all to save us from sin and everlasting death. Let us all take refuge in the Saviour's outstretched arms, for indeed His mercy will not fail us.


The Other Zebedee

St. James was the other son of Zebedee, both Apostles, but different than his brother John, the beloved disciple, James is among the earliest martyrs, another eliminated by Herod in his wrath.

Was he any less loved by God for not being spared a martyr's death? Hardly! Our faith teaches that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. James is a giant, as the centuries of pilgrimage to Compostela  attest.

And yet, those who would enter into the mystery of Christ's love are discouraged from outright seeking martyrdom. The Blood of Christ is sufficient and our witness in faith to that Blood might just as well be a confessor's or a virgin's, like John, as that of a martyr, like James.

These days I am reading a 20th Century spiritual classic from 1946, The Soul of the Apostolate, which is very much about the personal prerequisites for fruitful ministry for the sake of the Gospel. The book condemns activism in no uncertain terms and teaches the cultivation of an interior life, a life of prayer, as indeed it is The Lord Jesus Who accomplishes everything.

Certainly, it was the faith of James, his sanctity of life, in communion with The Lord, Risen and Victorious over sin and death, which provoked Herod and crowned James with martyrdom. Not knowing which brother's lot will be ours, we must seek intimate union with Jesus and bend to His Holy Will. It cannot not be inspired by that boundless love which draws us to Him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Charisma vs. Canon

Talking with a priest friend, who has given of himself without counting the cost to reform his parish's liturgy and feed his people, I found myself once again before a challenge which cannot be. According to my friend, reforming the liturgy, while a determined effort, is to be likened to a "win-you-over" game of able and gentle persuasion. Especially when it comes to church music, old favorites can't be banned simply for being bad favorites and bad theology, or for having abusively supplanted prescribed texts. A "maladroit" appeal to authority is unacceptable and brother priests easily dismiss the accomplishments of a "trad" or an overly zealous "neocon". You could say that it is an even more worrisome case of "post-Benedict panic" written small. Instead of "one sows and another reaps", it sounds like "one reforms and another wrecks" might be a description of a change of pastors, all of it perceived as capricious by the puzzled flock.

 Charisma seems to be the sine qua non for shepherding these days. It cannot be. Ultimately, I guess you have to ask, "Who was the Cure of Ars?" Isn't great holiness on the part of the priest sufficient to renew a parish? Shouldn't most things play out according to the book? The other day, a family member expressed shock at the newsworthiness of a bishop putting an end to the 30+ years of the abuse of lay preaching he had found in that diocese. Rules are rules, as any child will tell you. Why indeed can't I "play by the book"!

Since we are writing things small, I will limit myself to an appeal to episcopal authority. To do what? Simply to enforce the rules, I guess. First and foremost, to put an end to liturgical abuse, to laud priests with regular confession times that permit people to confess before Communion, to encourage truly sacred music and help priests make it possible even in tiny parishes. A lot of Vianney "stuff", if you will. If we do not hold to the sacred canons, well, then we're in Limbo, and that cannot be.

I laud the bravado of pastors with charisma, who do the right thing, but shepherding Christ's flock should not be comparable to some sort of athletic ninja challenge.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Breadth, Length, Height, and Depth of the Church as Worshiping Community

Sacra Liturgia 
Summer School 
5-20 July 2014

                            La Garde-Freinet
                            (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur)
                         83680 France

For the very first time I participated also as a lecturer at a summer school devoted to the usus antiquior: singing and praying the full Divine Office together each day, with sung and solemn celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, pilgrimage opportunities in the south of France, with academic input (my part on 2 days), book discussions, offering training in chant for those who wished (a greater part of those present), and training in liturgical ceremonies for priests, seminarians and altar boys. 

I attended from the 5th to the 10th of July at the invitation of dom Alcuin Reid and just thoroughly enjoyed my time with enthusiastic young people, for the most part, from Lithuania, Great Britain, the United States and Canada. At my request, I had my own worthy tutor in the celebration of Mass, who dedicated an hour each day for three days to me. I presided over Solemn Sunday Vespers from the faldstool for the very first time in my life.

The experience convinced me even more of the approach I've generally taken in my blog, when it comes to questions liturgical. If I had a plea for Ordinaries of dioceses and for seminary faculties, it would be to expose our future priests to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and as best you can to the beauty of our patrimony of chant.

Half hour talks are too long for blog posts, so I will link you to another page with the snappy title of longer interventions.

The Liturgy of Today and of Tomorrow: Cooperating with Grace and Discerning the Divine Will - Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson, Apostolic Nuncio to the Ukraine (2 parts):

Part One: Indefectibility as Process in the Church - the application of SC to date and the re-emergence of the usus antiquior should give us pause to reflect upon God's providential care for His Church - 7 July

Part Two: “Attamen Liturgia est culmen ad quod actio Ecclesiae tendit et simul fons unde omnis eius virtus emanat.” SC 10. (Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.) - Choosing vs. being led and our obligations to the liturgical patrimony - 8 July

My talks were meant to encourage discussion. I hope they might be of service in the ongoing reflection of others and not be a cause of distress for any who may choose to read them.

My basic point is that we find ourselves where we are for not having found ways to shore up Catholic culture straight across the board. The culmen et simul fons needs much more than an hour a week to display its radiant beauty.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Martyrdom and Professing the Faith

The Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, Apostles,
Sunday, 29 June 2014

Isti sunt qui, viventes in carne, plantaverunt Ecclesiam sanguine suo: calicem Domini biberunt, et amici Dei facti sunt.
Acts 12:1-11
Ex omnibus terroribus meis eripuit me Dominus.
2 Tim. 4:6-8,17-18
Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam.
Matt. 16:13-19

Much can be said about the two greats whose Solemn Feast we celebrate today, the Princes of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. With their blood at Rome they sealed their witness of faith in Christ Jesus: Peter crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded. Their lives, their teaching and their martyrdom teach us that human achievement is a small and passing splendor. For it is the Lord Himself, in His great mercy towards us, Who does great things for us and therefore we are glad indeed.
          Today’s liturgy places before us something which might actually seem contradictory, the famous expression or teaching: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Christian faith”. The martyrs’ deaths contribute to the growth of the Church and do not put its continuance in peril. In imitation of Christ Crucified, the martyr gives life to the Church, the Bride of Christ. As Jesus laid down His life for the Church, sacrificed Himself for His Beloved, so too the ultimate sacrifice of the martyrs does not diminish but rather magnifies/glorifies God and so too His Body the Church. The glory of the martyrs, Peter and Paul together with the countless other proto-martyrs of the city of Rome, is the glory of the Church of Rome and of the whole Catholic world, which finds its origins in their confession of faith.
          Be it said, though, that the Church’s teaching in this matter is not exhausted by the statement that God wills that the Church of Christ prosper and grow through the example of the martyrs. It is not as simple as that. Last year for the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, promulgated by the Emperor Constantine in the year 313, I read a recent book of history written in defense of Constantine and all he did to put an end to that first age of martyrs, to stop the shedding of blood in the Roman Empire of his day. In the pagan Roman world of those early centuries it was not only the blood of Christian martyrs that was shed. There was the whole phenomenon of gladiators and others who bled and died to satisfy the pagan. Symbolically and for all times, the victory in battle of Constantine at the Milvian Bridge, under the Sign of the Cross, eventually put an end to all these bloody sacrifices and recognized as once and for all the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ nailed to the wood of the Cross. The Church, our world, needs no more bloodshed. We live by the Blood of Christ shed once and for all as we profess our faith in Him and are plunged into the saving waters of Baptism, thereby to rise with Christ to new life with Him in the glory of the Resurrection.
          We know that no true martyr of the Church, and certainly not Peter or Paul, ever sought martyrdom. Their original virtue or merit was their obedience to Christ, their confession of faith in Jesus, Son of the Living God. Their confession of faith provoked the hatred of the world around them which would not accept the Kingship of Christ and obedience to God’s Will. This is a rather common experience, which repeats itself sometimes even within our own homes and families. It is not that we as Church live simply to embrace martyrdom, but rather ours is to confess Jesus as the One and Only Savior of the World. We are born of Baptism not necessarily for martyrdom, but to lead others to the saving waters of the baptismal font. We are profoundly thankful when we can fulfill this duty in peace, without bloodshed. Our joy is in living out that witness faithfully without ending up in the lion’s jaws.
          We see the same in the lives of the two princes of today’s feast. In the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we read that God through His Angel saved Peter from death at Herod’s hands in the prison of Jerusalem. God graces us with His peace in this life. In the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, Paul declares that he could profess the Catholic faith everywhere thanks to the strength provided to him by God. Paul expresses his confidence in the divine protection and looks forward by the grace of God to reigning with Christ in the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom.
          Jesus founded His Church on the rock of Peter’s faith, “You are the Christ, God’s Anointed, the Son”, Peter said. Right up until our times, through the Church established on the rock of Peter’s faith, we as Church prevail against the gates of Hell, on the sure path which leads to Heaven for any who are ready to hear and follow the call to Baptism.
          We give glory to God always and everywhere. We pray for His Blessing. Grant, O Lord, that from the font of Baptism Your Church might always be able to draw forth confessors of the faith, men and women, saints, religious and priests, truly faithful married couples and parents.

          Blessed be God forever! Blessed in His Angels and in His Saints!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two Different Worlds

Collects of the Roman Missals: 
A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons 
before and after the Second Vatican Council 
Lauren Pristas. 
(T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy) 
(2013-08-01). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

I cannot say exactly what has led me twice to invest bigger money in the T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy, but again I have a book I now genuinely treasure and which has opened new vistas for me. Believe it or not, despite the almost clinical sounding title, I found the book captivating. I may have to look into some of the other T&T Clark offerings.

With all the rigor of a truly academic work, this Pristas volume methodically lays out the difference between the Missals of Vatican II (1970, 2002, 2008) and all which went before, but especially as presented in the 1962 Missal. Nowhere have I come across such a worthwhile description of what was at stake in the calendar reform, nor such a serene treatment of what all was involved in the numerous substitutions of prayers in the Missal, regardless of whether they were new compositions or antique forms drawn from other sources and genres. I will let the author state the book's purpose:

"This study examines the pre- and post-Vatican II missals in order to discover whether they emphasize the same truths of faith and the same aspects of Christian life, whether Catholics who worship by means of the revised rites are shaped by their worship in the same way that earlier generations were shaped by theirs, and if the answer to either of the preceding questions is no, to determine the nature and significance of the differences." [Highlight Loc. 168-71]

We are reminded of worship's true purpose, as well as its effects upon the worshiper:

"Indeed, it is unfitting to ascribe any utilitarian purpose to worship, for in true worship the human person adores and honors God for his own sake alone...

"The formation of which we speak is not the purpose of worship but its effect, and this in two respects especially. First, because human beings become what they most consistently do, we are formed by the way we habitually worship – by the posture, attitudes, and dispositions we customarily assume before God and the things that we habitually say to him, or seek from him, when we speak from our hearts. Second, at worship the Church beseeches God on behalf of the faithful and seeks from him the things that they need. On the one hand, from the Church’s public prayer we can gain great insight into what God wants for us and from us; on the other, by means of these same prayers, the Church begs God on our behalf for the graces and gifts we need to become what he desires." [Highlight Loc. 198-205]

Pristas, in the end, asks more questions than draws conclusions when it comes to the post-Vatican II corpus of collects. This is certainly a prudent and moreover a constructive stance. The author realizes better than anyone the number of similar studies which would be needed to gain a full picture of what has come about through the changes to our living patrimony.

If I had a wish, it would be that young scholars would gain inspiration from this work to carry on other comparative studies.

For myself, I am left with the aching question, not so much of the preservation of the Latin in the Roman Rite, as of the impact of the vernacular on our prayer. I think it is too simple a conclusion to draw that because the vernacular predominates today that these prayers, for example, work with greater effect than when they were expressed in Latin. One of the principle motives for Pope St. John XXIII calling the Council was the recognition that the edifice of Catholic culture was endangered already back then and by some time. In many places the essential life context for celebrating the Sacred Mysteries was indeed crumbling or in ruins. People are badly mistaken who reduce the intelligibility factor in worship to the Latin vs. vernacular debate. I need a life context: a Catholic home and parish setting, with healthy educational opportunities; think of the importance, to name only one example, of monasticism for the life of the Church and of the individual Christian!

As I say, I am most grateful for Pristas' work. The task before us, however, is to rebuild a whole culture. When we do so we might better appreciate what was lost in the calendar reform and concomitant redaction of our treasury of Roman collects, mostly prayed with great devotion for long centuries, as can be documented from the 8th Century.

Mine is a thank you to Pristas and a call for more scholarship in this area. Mine is a prayer for a multiple and diversified effort to restore Catholic culture as the setting or vessel for Divine Worship.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Worthy to keep before your Eyes

The Second Reading from today’s Office of Readings, taken from St Cyprian's treatise on the Lord's Prayer, concludes with this paragraph:

“But it is the will of God that Christ both did and taught. Humility in dealings with others; steadfastness in faith; modesty in words; justice in deeds; mercifulness in works; discipline in morals. To be unable to do a wrong, and to be able to bear a wrong when it is done; to keep peace with the brethren; to love God with all one’s heart; to love God because he is a Father but fear him because he is God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ because he preferred nothing to us; to adhere inseparably to his love; to stand faithfully and bravely by his cross; when there is any conflict over his name and honour, to exhibit in discourse that steadfastness in which we proclaim him; in torture, to show that confidence in which we unite; in death, that patience in which we are crowned – this is what it means to want to be co-heirs with Christ, this is what it means to do what God commands, this is what it is to fulfil the will of the Father.”

If I had a refrigerator of my own, I would print this one out big on some sort of bright colored paper and in bold. I'd magnet it on at eye level and resolve not to open the door without a quick read-through and a brief pause for recognition.

Yes, that is what I would do!