Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Psalm 20: O Lord, your strength gives joy to the king.

With the title "The song of the Church" on this memorial of Pope St. Pius X, we are presented in the Office of Readings with a very beautiful and poignant Second Reading, from the apostolic constitution Divino afflatu of Pope Saint Pius X:

"The collection of psalms found in Scripture, composed as it was under divine inspiration, has, from the very beginnings of the Church, shown a wonderful power of fostering devotion among Christians as they offer to God a continuous sacrifice of praise, the harvest of lips blessing his name. Following a custom already established in the Old Law, the psalms have played a conspicuous part in the sacred liturgy itself, and in the divine office. Thus was born what Basil calls the voice of the Church, that singing of psalms, which is the daughter of that hymn of praise (to use the words of our predecessor, Urban VIII) which goes up unceasingly before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and which teaches those especially charged with the duty of divine worship, as Athanasius says, the way to praise God, and the fitting words in which to bless him. Augustine expresses this well when he says: God praised himself so that man might give him fitting praise; because God chose to praise himself man found the way in which to bless God.
  The psalms have also a wonderful power to awaken in our hearts the desire for every virtue. Athanasius says: Though all Scripture, both old and new, is divinely inspired and has its use in teaching, as we read in Scripture itself, yet the Book of Psalms, like a garden enclosing the fruits of all the other books, produces its fruits in song, and in the process of singing brings forth its own special fruits to take their place beside them. In the same place Athanasius rightly adds: The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions. Augustine says in his Confessions: How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears.
  Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise? Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress."

Not all that long ago on one of the "liturgical" blogs I follow (don't ask me which one, because I dismissed the comment immediately), an author mentioned that perhaps issues of reforming the reformed liturgy (OF) or promoting the restoration of the liturgy (EF) should take a backseat or play second fiddle to issues related to (e.g.) rooting out corruption in the Roman Curia and such. Different than lots of "combox aficionados" I did not sit down immediately to express my disagreement. The person who had expressed doubts about the priority of what he'd dedicated years to and was now questioning deserved better from me.

My thought, very bluntly, is this: the restoration/reform of the liturgy should take a backseat to nothing; the task is indeed urgent. Curial reform and lots more is of profound importance, but liturgy and faith-filled family life are the two legs or pillars supporting all the rest; without them we cannot possibly be equal to the task. The Curia has had and always will have its ups and downs; how can we face the abuse scandal without that faith which comes from home and is nourished by the source and summit of Christian existence? Ultimately, we are talking ecclesiology and evangelization here; we're talking about optimal Church as expression or lived experience. We keep ever in mind the words of St. Augustine who insisted things had never been better than today in the world, not even back in the Garden of Eden.

My simple point, to the honor on his feast of Pope St. Pius X and to his motto of renewing all in Christ, is that promoting the Kingdom is a battle to be fought on many fronts at once. Some may need to think about curial reform, others about other things, but if you have an insight or a gift for sacred music, if you have something to say about repairing the rupture and putting us back on liturgical track, then, you need to stay with it for the sake of hastening the coming of the Day of God. Why else was, and he was, St. Pius X so high on liturgy and specifically on assuring the place of psalmody in the life of the Church?

Pope Benedict XVI, with boundless wisdom, offered us all the opportunity of the Year of Faith, which is flying by. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not yet see (cf. Heb. 11). The world has no more urgent need than to be healed of its skepticism, of its unbelief (I was appalled by the stupid cynicism of comments in the Italian press about the confidence Benedict shared with a guest, who revealed it to some journalist, that God Himself had led him to understand that he should step down as Pope: and the combox takes over with no faith!). Thinking especially about infant baptism, what could be more important than offering a child a home where there is a true awareness of the power and presence of God in our world?

In the best of all worlds, the faith-filled family has a Sunday anchor in beautiful liturgy, thoroughly imbued with a sense of the sacred and rooted firmly in the tradition, which reaches back to the Apostles.

Not much chance that I will reach with these words my friend the blogger with whom I disagree. My point is that we need no apologies or should we have second thoughts about our efforts on behalf of the liturgy; we cannot step back from the challenge of this year of faith to reclaim the family and family space for Christ. This challenge is ineluctably bound to the other and no less important challenge of reclaiming our liturgy, sacred space and time, in the only way possible, namely by healing the rupture with the past and setting forth the organic development of the tradition which comes to us from our Creator, Redeemer  and Friend, through His Apostles within the community of the Church.

Pope St. Pius X, pray for us!



  1. Your Excellency, it does not seem to me that then-Cardinal Ratzinger's famous remark in the preface to Die Heilige Liturgie* can be repeated too often when ecclesiastical reform is being discussed.

    *I believe I have posted it in a comment box here before: “The Church stands and falls with the Liturgy. When the adoration of the divine Trinity declines, when the faith no longer appears in its fullness on the Liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, then faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells. For that reason, the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church whatever.” (emph. added.)

    1. Indeed, HO, most surely.
      Thank you. We'll keep hoping and praying.
      God bless,


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