Sunday, June 30, 2013

Which Lectionary?

It came home to me again this morning just how much time had passed since I had spent time with the FIUV Position Papers : too long! I find a balance in this effort which encourages, never falling short of provoking an honest examination of the status quo.

I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend: Positio N. 15 THE LECTIONARY OF THE EXTRAORDINARY FORM. It gives me occasion, among other things, to make a plug again for the wisdom of what Benedict XVI has hallowed, recommending the growing together of the two forms of the Roman Rite, as "mutual enrichment". The position paper, especially in the Appendices A & B, casts a clear light on a few of our lost treasures in need of recovery for the sake of our own enrichment. Particularly sobering for "new" Lectionary enthusiasts should be the non taxative list of Scripture passages from the 1962 Missal, no longer heard in church even in the course of three years.

Furthermore, encouraged as I am by how Pope Benedict XVI was able to wrest exegesis from the sterility of the recent past and gift us with a lectio worthy of the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, I wish to second a very important point made obliquely in Paper N. 15, concerning pitfalls of the Lectionary prescribed for the Ordinary Form. In speaking about the Lectionary which forms an integral part of the 1962 Missal, the author comments:

"4. The Lectionary’s development is such that, while the Sunday Gospels and Epistles each form a discernible series, the two series are independent of each other. We are not presented with connections between readings dependent on the exegetical preferences of scholars of any particular age, but rather a more fundamental working-out of the mysteries of salvation."

The point is well taken and reflects back on the merit of upholding a millennial tradition of the essential canon which has and should nourish our liturgical tradition. This thought brings me back to Appendix B and an interview with Vatican Radio by Jeffrey Tucker, which spoke convincingly of the benefits for our liturgy of the recovery of our patrimony of Gregorian Chant now under way, which has gone leagues to helping with the implementation of what has either been ignored or has remained vestigial in many if not most parishes from 1970 up until the present day (viz. antiphons, et. al.).

The issue of the Lectionary also "bleeds over" inexorably into the question of calendar reform and the rollback of the Sanctoral cycle generally, but most specifically in favor of the new ferial Lectionary in its two year cycle of first readings. 

"8. The ancient ferial Lectionary did not displace the readings for feast days, and given the fullness of the Sanctoral cycle in Rome, and the developing popularity of Votive Masses, it seems likely that the editors of Roman Missals from the 13th century onwards thought it was unnecessary: there is clearly little point in a cycle of readings which is rarely used. The Lenten ferial cycle could only avoid being swamped by feasts and votive Masses by giving it a greater liturgical priority. A relative paucity of feast days is appropriate to the Lenten season, as is the distinctive character of the ferial Mass formularies, which also include ancient, complex, and profoundly beautiful chants."

I wish the paper hadn't used the word "swamped" to describe the ascendancy of the Sanctoral cycle. You might say that the author lends credence thereby to the thesis which establishes "defense lines" or "levies" to hold back the Sanctoral "tide" for the sake of daily mass goers now deprived of the richness of Matins from once upon a time. I can remember in seminary being taught  to privilege the ferial cycle in Ordinary Time over choices from the various appendices of the Lectionary for optional memorials of Saints. I find intriguing the fact that with the most recent edition of the Lectionary for the U.S. appropriate choices have been made for every saint. A priest friend of mine in this regard has "gone Sanctoral" if you will. Maybe a restoration of an enriched Matins would indeed be a better route to go and more in tune with an ancient spiritual tendency for the proper nourishment of Christ's Bride?

No doubt some will advise me as a mere dilettante to stand clear of realms where "black belt liturgists" have reason to fear. Naive as I am, I cannot help but share the enthusiasm of those which see the reform of the reformed liturgy already in course. In this holiday time of warm weather in the northern hemisphere many a small child is getting his first dunk in a lake or a pool secure in Daddy's firm grasp. He will soon be in the swim of things and through "mutual enrichment" and exposure to treasures many thought lost, we may sooner than later find ourselves awash in the richness of our great tradition.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

You are my inheritance, O Lord!

Looking to the readings for the 13th Sunday tomorrow, I was very much struck by the familiar verse of the Responsorial Psalm: "You are my inheritance, O Lord".

Having been "on the road" and incomunicado for nearly two weeks, the latest scandals from Rome, involving priests and former priests, money and sodomy, hit me with full force. Such is not and cannot be the way of the prophet or the priest; we belong to Christ; our hearts are to be set on Him alone. Where are all these "double lives" coming from?

Fortunately, neither was I born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth nor do rich benefactors seem to find me irresistible. By the grace of God, I have been spared much, as I don't have the material means to be tempted to amass more either legally or illegally and gambling has never been an attraction. Nonetheless, who among us is spared from setting our sights on something or someone short of the Lord Himself as our portion and cup, our prize? A pittance could very well be a miser's downfall and another man's hell. 

Yes, we, especially secular priests, must strengthen our resolve. Those in authority must be more vigilant in guarding access to the sheepfold, barring the way to the ignoble hireling and the thief; yes, the temple must be cleansed. But we priests must also be more honest in examining our consciences and rooting out all forms of self-indulgence; we must seek the desert experience and dependence upon Him alone. St. Jean Marie Vianney remains our benchmark.

If I might risk offending in expressing myself thus, and lay people must help rather than hinder their priests on the path to holiness. Parishioners must become more solicitous in praying, in storming heaven asking God to make their priest holy, worrying less about whether Father gets out for a good dinner from time to time.

"You are my inheritance, O Lord". Let me never forget and let my people sustain me on the path that leads to His Kingdom!


Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Personal Relationship With Christ?

A video from my home diocese of Sioux Falls (here) drew me to Sherry Weddell's book on promoting discipleship in the Catholic Church and also gave me the American expression which would not come to me in my previous post where I resorted to the German expression "Volkskirche". The equivalent as Sherry points out is "cultural Catholicism" and she opposes it to what she terms "intentional Catholicism", which ought better to guarantee a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ:

"If this trend does not change, in ten years it will cease to matter that we have a priest shortage. The Builders will be largely gone, the Boomers retiring, and our institutions — parishes and schools — will be emptying at an incredible rate. Sacramental practice will plummet at a rate that will make the post-Vatican II era look good, and the Church’s financial support will vanish like Bernie Madoff’s investment portfolio. So let’s be clear: In the twenty-first century, cultural Catholicism is dead as a retention strategy, because God has no grandchildren. In the twenty-first century, we have to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism." [Weddell, Sherry (2012-07-05). Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (p. 39). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.] 

In the first chapter of her book, tagged "God has no Grandchildren", she quotes all the most reputable statistical information and seems to imply that cultural Catholicism once worked as a retention strategy... I don't know how old Sherry is, but my life experience tells me a very different story. American Catholicism has always been marked by powerful "shots-in-the-arm" through immigration and no small number of conversions from Protestantism or from the "nones" category at the time of marriage. People have always "fallen away" from the Church and in big numbers; I know how this has worked in an older generation of Catholics, all long dead, in my mother's family. American Catholicism has always been more of a "free market enterprise" than was Catholicism in the "Old Country". 

Culturally Catholic immigrants have never done well in the U.S. especially when isolated in non-Catholic areas, but even when dispersed among other good and active Catholics in parishes of different ethnic heritages. Italians, for instance, were never many in my part of the world and invariably when I was growing up an Italian family name could denote most anything but Catholic practice. The great challenge today among immigrants to the U.S. from Latin America is to offer them a cultural context within which to insert themselves. I think Sherry is sorely mistaken in contrasting cultural and intentional. There's nothing more intentional than a welcoming cultural context. Defection among Catholics stems from a sense of alienation within the community. They wander off for lack of intentional social support. My personal relationship with Christ, nourished by prayer and Divine Worship (liturgy) cannot be without an intentional/cultural context. The visible Church is the sine qua non for a relationship with Christ, the Bridegroom. My intention is not without its cultural context.

Perhaps the crisis of marriage and family today can be of help in understanding the gist of my argument. People who marry for love are no more likely to remain faithful a whole life long. Not only do the couple have to choose each other again and again, day by day, year by year, in the course of their marriage, but they really need a supportive social context to carry them through those days when personal intent or resolve seems to flag. 

Sherry wants us all to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; she wants us, like good evangelicals or pentecostals, to be able to mark that conversion experience. I think she may be seeking a greater heroism than the one of the martyrs, even greater than that of a true giant of the early Church, St. Ignatius of Antioch, would have claimed for himself in seeking the support of the Christian community of Rome on his path to martyrdom:

“I have prayed to the Lord to see your godly faces and I have persevered in prayer until I have been granted this — for I hope to greet you, as a prisoner in Christ Jesus, if only I am found worthy to reach the end of my journey. Things have begun well and all now depends on my receiving the grace to reach my goal and receive my inheritance unhindered. But I fear your love for me and I fear the harm it can do me: it is so easy for you to do what you want and so hard for me to reach God if you do not spare me your help.
  You habitually do what pleases God: do what pleases him now and not what pleases men. I shall never have a better opportunity of reaching God, and you will never have the opportunity of performing a better act than now, by keeping silence. If you remain silent, I shall become the word of God; but if your love of my physical life makes you speak, I shall be nothing but a meaningless cry.
  Grant me nothing more than this: that I should be poured out to God, while an altar is still ready for me. Form yourselves into a chorus of love and sing praise to the Father in Christ Jesus for permitting this bishop of Syria to be summoned from the place of the sun’s rising to the sunset lands. Just as the sun sets only to rise again, how good it is to set to this world, to set and then to rise in God.”

I want to read the rest of Sherry's book, but chapter one seems lacking in balance. Our cultural context is ineluctable; it is the fertile soil needed for yielding thirty, sixty or a hundred fold.

Giving Widowed Mothers Back Their Sons

In Year C on the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time both the 1st Reading from the first Book of Kings and the Gospel passage from Luke chapter 7 give accounts of God restoring dead sons alive to their widowed mothers. While such are not events one can hide under a bushel basket, the overall impact of this great wonder must always take a back seat to what were first and foremost in both instances demonstrations of God's boundless compassion toward these two women very much alone in their sorrow. Giving back the breath of life to their sons was intended firstly to free these women of their anguish. There is no evident further agenda behind God's choice to restore life; here we experience only immediate and boundless love at work.

In neither case would it seem that the women tempted fate by demanding the miracle of life restored to their dead sons; in both cases we see their tears and their pain before God. God's superabundant compassion is at work here. I think it more than fair to say that is the way things work in God's world. I think the only question we as baptized believers need ask ourselves this Sunday is whether our world is God's world. We need but ask, examine our consciences to see if we are living our days in the company of the Lord and Giver of Life. What else could possibly matter?

In German there is an expression "Volkskirche", which describes a popular religiosity centered on the village church or neighborhood parish; it connotes for us Catholics a straightforward practice of the sacraments: Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days, frequent Confession as a preparation for the devout and worthy reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion, prayer at home and virtuous living consonant with our state in life. Lots of people dismiss the possibility of ever seeing a general revival of "Volkskirche", of what was a positive and supportive environment in which people could happily believe and be Catholic. I'm sorry, but I cannot accept that thesis. They describe a mustard seed type of witness for us without the rapid growth into a big bush or tree offering shelter to every sort of little bird. How can that be? Is not life in the catacombs but a passing trial, a step on the path to a fuller witness to the Gospel?  What else or what more or what better could we strive for in this Year of Faith? Are we not meant to be the city on the mountain top?

I think that "Volkskirche" expresses the ambience within the life of the Church which best reflects the Scriptural world in which the widows could shed their tears in their loneliness before God. How Christ moves to comfort and console is His sovereign choice, we must only not leave the flock untended.