Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ears open and attentive


The verse of the Responsorial Psalm for this 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, with its proper psalmody, really inspired me to hope this morning. It is not only faith which comes through hearing. The marvelous interplay of ears and heart, by the grace of God, can indeed melt the frozen, warm the chill. VENI, SANCTE SPIRITUS!

My review of PART II of the Dobszay book on the restoration and renewal of the Roman Rite left me a bit pensive and wondering whether I didn't owe someone something more than a judgment in terms of the merit of his project on the future of Catholic Worship labelled: "PROJECT ON HOLD!" I would not discount Dobszay's work, so shouldn't I offer a suggestion or scenario for its employ? As only fools rush in where angels dare not tread... I should probably leave well enough alone. We are talking about more than just the difficulty of imposing again, as was done in 1970, on the average man or woman in the pews, without appreciation of what is at stake. We're talking about the tip of an iceberg involving a whole array of questions, theological, ecclesiological and even moral. The ongoing commentary and analysis of the state of affairs in efforts toward a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the SSPX (see latest installment over at RORATE CAELI), at least as I am able to follow it and despite its complexity and the fact that it is also very much emotionally charged, leaves me nonetheless wanting to contribute to untying the Gordian knot and especially now as I am filled with sentiment inspired by the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity just behind us for another year. The SSPX issue is an important piece on the puzzle table of how to go about restoring and renewing the Roman Rite. Liturgical renewal figures centrally in what we are calling the new evangelization.

I disagree with those who claim that when it is all said and done one can characterize "Roman" wariness vis-a-vis the SSPX as an unwillingness "to lose face" in seeking reconciliation and going on with our common history. If that were all there is to the matter, then I'd say, let's pray and study and work hard in the upcoming "Year of Faith" and then come back and look at the matter in November 2013, hoping and praying that we as a Church will be graced truly during this coming year with ears and heart open and ready. What makes this situation different from the old and glorious school fights which pitted the Jesuits against the Dominicans (to give but one example) in titanic battles where despite the heated tone nobody wished to deny anything to the other side except perhaps a sufficiency of understanding of the fullness possessed by the other or a lack of vision on the part of the opponent? These school fights simmered and even boiled on the back-burner and were not always resolved. Why can't we reestablish full communion and be about the fisticuffs in good old Catholic fashion? Not everyone applauded the results of Vatican I, but at some point certain people turned their backs on us forever and others made peace. Why and in what sense is our present dilemma any different?

I think my question is fair, but I'd be a fool if I thought I had an answer to it. I'd be like one of Job's so-called friends, who jumped to conclusions excluding the possibility that it was the Lord Who was there to teach His chosen people another way to understand personal justice and God's favor. Maybe indeed we still have not spent enough time sitting there on the ground and praying with the friend in our midst there upon the dung heap? "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

Summorum Pontificum speaks about "mutual enrichment" as something willed for the two expressions or forms of the Roman Rite. Each day, as more young people of good will get involved, I see new and creative ways found to reintroduce the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite into the life of the Church and especially at the level of parish. What will the outcome of this process of exposure and hopefully enrichment be? Are we apt to see a universal and grassroots movement to pick up the thread and proceed from where we left off in 1962? Will history lead us to a workshop where those responsible sit around and plan our liturgical future with Dobszay's book as an instruction manual or a road-map in hand? I seriously doubt it. Optimal liturgy can only be the keystone of the marvelous edifice of the recovery of the faith. That involves renewed Christian family life and children learning their prayers at home. That involves a more general and profound knowledge of basic catechism.

As I say, I'm terribly hopeful about a positive outcome to the struggle to recover our continuity with a liturgical tradition we never intended to jettison and this for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel, for the sake of the praise in spirit and in truth of His Holy Name. Although I truly always have been put off by the most strident and mindless manifestations of "new liturgy", I can't say how I was able to overcome my association with the trendy perception that Mass "across the altar" was preferable. To a certain extent this was a gradual process worked out in my own life as a priestly celebrant. My longing for worship ad Orientem whenever and wherever possible seems to be the fruit of "melting the frozen, warming the chill, guiding steps which had gone astray". The Lord's Voice goes forth; His Word will bear fruit in due season.
"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Seek His Face

The 2nd Reading for the office of Saturday of the III Week in Ordinary Time comes from the PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD GAUDIUM ET SPES (PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE PAUL VI ON DECEMBER 7, 1965). Two sections of that reading today set off some random thoughts that I want to try and articulate, because they touch some themes which are dear to me. I think these two paragraphs in particular say something about life in the world even 45+ years after their promulgation (I'm quoting them from the Vatican website; I hope nobody minds).

18. It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety; for prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast.

22. (...) The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, received "the first-fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. Through this Spirit, who is "the pledge of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of "the redemption of the body" (Rom. 8:23): "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom. 8:11). Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope.

We are taught and I think we generally believe that our eyes are the windows of our soul and not just in the sense that the clear eye and the steady glance (good eye contact) recommends a person, but also in the sense that through these windows can enter in either/both what enlightens the soul or/and what can darken it. The eye which is probably the most important component of one's visage (face as presentation of the person) is and always has been indicative of what we are about. In his Confessions, St. Augustine argues for the sinfulness even of small children pointing to the jealousy they sometimes display on their faces, through looks even before they can speak, he would say. Avarice, covetousness, lust and more ("a feast for the eyes" as they say) on the one hand and traditional asceticism and moral discipline which demanded "custody of the eyes" point to this key role played by the windows of our souls. With this and more in mind, I think you can understand why I believe that the words "Seek His Face" are thunderously profound. Images of the true face of Christ imprinted on cloth, most significantly on Veronica's veil and on the Holy Shroud of Turin, have always, always been moving and most popular and universal objects of true Christian devotion.

In contemplating our favorite image of Jesus, of His Face, we are sanctifying our eyes; through those windows comes light for our souls.

In the Judaeo-Christian world progeny have always been important. Apart from cultures that lean toward naming that first son Jr. after his father, there's something that will do more than comment, that will say something important and is bordering on an expression of awe when note is made that a child resembles a parent. Parents do live on in their children and find consolation in that fact. Grown children often are caught by surprise when they see a parent looking back at them in the mirror. I cannot help but think of the Old Testament Book of Tobit and the part of that happy ending when through the ministry of the Archangel Raphael a father's sight is restored and he can gaze upon the face of his son.

In my dictionary the distinction is made between Gothic (capital G), the architectural form and gothic (small g) a macabre literary form, which if I bought a new edition of the dictionary would probably include an adjectival use of small g applied to a person: he or she is rather gothic, referring to holdovers from a rather sad trend (black clothes, black dyed hair, pale skin) which seems to romance with death. The whole fixation on the eternally dead vampires, who nonetheless suck the life out of others, is a bit of the same sadness or hopelessness in the face of death. One could claim that this gothic business is just faddy and no more than superficial, but if light never enters the temple?

Part of the spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer and which he recommended to everyone, especially working men and women, is to have available pictures (holy cards?) especially of Jesus and Mary that we can glance at them regularly in the course of the day. He, as we can understand, insisted upon the need to let light into ourselves, temples of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to spiritual combat against the forces of evil both in the world and in our lives, when it comes to rallying around Christ's standard, the standard of the King (Vexilla Regis), we know we have to seek to change bad habits, to root out those actions which are death-dealing. It might be romantic to think of ourselves fighting with the Lord, as it were, back to back, but in point of fact, the victory is His and we are called to open the doors or windows of our souls to let Him in. We are called to seek His Face.

I belong to another time in the sense that wall posters were not part of my growing up. I never wanted or even thought about hanging a poster on the wall of the bedroom I shared with my two littler brothers. In that sense, parents have it harder today, because they have to discuss a child's poster choices. While much would be indifferent, a lot is apt to shroud the windows of the soul in darkness or on passing splendors, which age and illness will soon enough strip of their beauty or splendor. Ours is the choice of opting for life or death. We are invited always and everywhere to choose life.

Seek His Face, yes, Seek His Face.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Another "Baby" tossed out with the Bath Water

Back in September 2011, I published a review of PART I of a book I was truly excited about: "The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite", by Laszlo Dobszay (T&T Clark, New York, 2010) 

At that time, I promised a review of PART II and finally, on this snowy Saturday here in Kyiv, I've manage to make my way through the bulk of this important work. A goodly amount of space in PART II of Dobszay's book is dedicated to the Roman Gradual, chant, church music: not exactly my forte. Even so, the book is in every respect impressive. It may be a scholarly road-map to restoration of the continuity of tradition in the Roman Rite, for healing the rupture we have experienced, but my question to myself is, why should I follow his lead and bow to his judgments concerning what should or shouldn't be? No doubt his criticism of the post-conciliar commissions' work which produced the 1970 Missal of Pope Paul VI is spot on, but why must I buy his approach to reform either in whole or in part?

The author is eminently faithful to his premises and in the end offers a vision of what reasonably would or could have happened after the Second Vatican Council had the process of reforming the liturgy not been hijacked. The academician, the theorist gets high marks from me, but I don't know what relevance the whole practical application part of the thing has to where we find ourselves in the world, or should I say, in the average parish. Most people I know would conclude that opting for Dobszay is like drawing that infamous card in the game Monopoly, which reads: "Go directly to Jail; do not pass GO; do not collect $200." The "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman Rite of which the Holy Father speaks in Summorum Pontificum radiates hope and confidence in the fruits which can arise from the living experience of the two celebrated rightly and well along side each other. Despite what he asserts in PART I, Dobszay offers no plan for what he wants to achieve which doesn't imply violence analogous to that of the post-conciliar renewal which was imposed and sometimes hastily upon the Church. It is all too evident that he wants to shelve the Novus Ordo as quickly as possible and pick up where we left off in 1962 with a series of temporary and transitional concessions to clergy and faithful who have never ever experienced Latin. With all due respect to the master now deceased, I don't think he's being realistic. I think the Holy Father anticipates a gentler hand when it comes to mutual enrichment.

On the one hand, the author seems comfortable with the so-called "Benedictine arrangement", with the priest on the opposite side of the altar from the people. While I too cannot justify huge expenditures to renovate recent church constructions with no focal point or a misplaced altar, so to speak, even for the sake of enabling ad Orientem worship, I would still give that aspect of the restoration top priority. He seems more interested in the number and height of the candles. On the other hand, he is adamant about having the priest pray everything in Latin (Low Mass model, where Father did everything) when there is not a choir or a schola with whom he can sing along in Latin or if that choir should sing the given part, antiphon or ordinary of the Mass in the vernacular. The dialogical character of the Novus Ordo would truly enrich the older form of the Roman Rite.

The great service which Dobszay provides is to document all the evidence for the existence of a tragic rupture with the tradition. His approach to the Divine Office and the restoration for monastic communities of all the traditional hours and in their traditional form sounds great. I like the idea of putting that treasury in everyone's hands and prescribing the parts of that wealth of material to be celebrated by others, such as ordinary priests. Whether his schema for achieving that goal is the only one or the best one remains to be seen. No doubt he's right about the Lectionary as well and he has some good ideas for improving the calendar. Nonetheless, you'd wonder if he had ever been outside of Europe when he talks about restoring the Epiphany to January 6 for the whole Church. Much of my world only discovered this beloved feast when it was transferred to Sunday. In the upper Midwest of the U.S. in the 1950's Epiphany was a celebration for parochial school children and those who came to daily Mass. Now on a Sunday it belongs to the whole parish.

All of this is to say that although I think his book is important and that the restoration and organic development of the Roman Rite will be based on the 1962 Missal, it won't be done without the Novus Ordo. The urgency is to press for respect for the rubrics found in the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, to purge liturgy of musical and other banalities, and wherever and as soon as possible to gift our people with worship ad Orientem, from the Preparation of the Gifts until Communion.

Someone might say, "You've missed the point of Dobszay! He doesn't claim to know the way forward but only projects an optimal end result." That may be, and he certainly enriches the literature on the topic. Even so, his book and my few marginal notes will go back on the shelf and I'll keep praying for "mutual enrichment". 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

No End to the Folly

Now even the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU) is quoting the NYT! And that, to my way of thinking, is sad to say! Perhaps it just goes to show how few discerning readers there are in the world. Ostensibly the NYT article (via RISU) is a review of a preliminary report on "research" done by Rev. D. Paul Sullins, a sociologist at Catholic University who has interviewed over 70 married priests for a book he is writing.

 Who is kidding whom, by pretending to present marriage in our day and time as a stable platform for any profession, let alone Catholic priesthood? In case Rev. Sullins hasn't noticed, I think it more than safe to hold that traditional marriage and family life is in crisis:  50% divorce rate almost in the US, fewer and fewer young people in the Western world opting for the commitment of marriage, and here in Ukraine in 2011 one in five children born out of wedlock! And try to convince me in our all-invasive cell/smart phone culture that there are any professionals of any kind with a land line on their night stand ready to take calls day and night. Don't ask me to recommend the sociology department at Catholic U. if they have no more to offer than Sullins.

The crisis of the Latin Church is not centered on celibacy but on the more basic vocation or call to live our baptism. Too many people fall down when it comes to the basic call to holiness: there is no spiritual tension in their lives (take the practice of the Sacrament of Penance as one of the best indices for a person's honest effort to seek the Lord in all things and above all things). For decades already now young people have been turning their backs not only on celibate priesthood and the religious life, but simply on God, as we know Him through a holy life nourished by the life-giving Sacraments and teaching of His Church. Granted, it is frequently due to a poor upbringing, where they never learned even the most basic prayers at home and no one witnessed for them what St. Justin the Martyr articulated so clearly long, long ago: "We are Christians; we cannot live without Sunday Mass."

I am positively offended by stupid affirmations like: there have been 25,000 men who have left the priesthood since 1970 and only 40,000 priests in the US today. How many of those who left are dead at the moment? How many priests since 1970 served the Church in the US and happen to be dead at the moment? Spare me the nonsense of such numbers and, as I say, keep me far from such CU sociology.

I am very happy about the Anglican Ordinariate. Correct me if I am wrong, but there won't be another generation of married priests there except in so far as more Anglicans "swim the Tiber". I am thoroughly enjoying becoming acquainted with Greek Catholic priests here in Ukraine, of whom about 90% are married. Having so recently come out of the catacombs after such a long and dire persecution, I am sure that for the Greek Catholic faithful as well there is something euphoric about seeing all of a sudden these numbers of young priests with wife and babies in church. My guess is that these priestly families will perpetuate themselves as happened once long ago. I hope and pray too that they offer an inspiring example of marriage and family life to their young parishioners. There have however already been divorces or separations here, there are widowers already as well. Will these men embrace celibacy now as they are expected to do in the long tradition also of the Eastern Churches? I hope they do and do so gladly.

All of this is to say that our calling and our joy (married or not) is for the sake of the Kingdom. Physicians are incredible for their self-sacrifice, their long hours and hard work for their patients. I've known celibate physician priests whom people boast can juggle two careers, burning the candle at both ends, better than many a solitary priest. One of the marks of a true leader, however and more than efficiency, is his vision which stems from his ability to prioritize. From the Old Testament until today the Levite, the priest, the presbyter has the Lord as his portion and his cup. It is not as simply said or understood as to claim that celibacy is characteristic of the priestly life style because Jesus never married. Our sanctity, our prayer, should bind us as closely to Him as He was united with the Father. Celibacy is indeed for the sake of the Kingdom.

Excuse me this outburst, but my favorite reader service in Ukraine owes people more than rehashed NYT. I'm beginning to warm up for the Year of Faith proclaimed by the Holy Father for this coming October 2012. I hope it will go down in history as a genuine year in renewal of the faith, starting with a thoroughgoing evangelization of a new generation such that there might (thinking of last Sunday's first reading) be many more little Samuels who already at a tender age and faithfully for a whole life long sit up or stand up and say: "Here I am, Lord, since you called me."

Better than Prison Planet

One of my favorite columnists on the site RISU is that of Andrew Sorokowski and his most recent article is an exceptional effort:  The New Colonialism

This man makes much more sense than any of the cultural conspiracy theories which are out there. I think he also gives us space to think about our own personal choices to be made not only for the sake of preserving our cultural identity, but in the service of the truth. Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"My Favorite Things"

Although someone might be shocked or horrified at my choice of a pretty, little ditty from a musical to entitle or to frame what I'd like to share briefly, it may only be an indication that I need to cut back on reading blogs and spend more time with the Church Fathers, Doctors and other approved authors. Be that as it may, with no intention to trivialize something I find "earth-shakingly" beautiful (in my little world), I'd like to share two of "my favorite things" from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as I have experienced this (for me) new world of Divine Worship, both in Ukrainian and in Church Slavonic as the Greek Catholic Church celebrates here, during my first almost four months in Ukraine.

The first is a petition, occurring two different times during the liturgy with the very same wording, sung by the deacon to which the choir and faithful respond "Grant this, O Lord."  In the English translation, which I have, it reads: "That we may spend the rest of our lives in peace and repentance, let us ask the Lord." 

Lex orandi, lex credendi, these words offer me a very succinct and Catholic adjunct to that first question in the old Baltimore catechism: "Why did God make me? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the next." And with our "other lung" we could add: "And for all my trespasses, that He grant me space and time for repentance."  Maybe it's just my age or time in life, perhaps chance or a little gift from the Holy Spirit, but this petition is a powerful impulse for me to be about the basic business which is mine upon this earth as one of the baptized. This petition is now mine, for each day and forever this side of Purgatory (hopefully not!) and (please, Lord, grant this) of Heaven for all eternity face to face with the Lord Whom I wish to know, love and serve.

The other day during a Christmas visit with His Beatitude the Major Archbishop, I shared with him this one and the second of my favorite things, the private prayers after Holy Communion. He told me that from childhood they were so trained and the priest is exhorted not to leave church until he has completed his private prayers as prescribed.

In my book, the rubric (in red) reads: "Immediately, after having worthily partaken of the life-giving Mystical Gifts, raise your voice in acclamation. Be very grateful and recite the prayers to God with heartfelt fervor." After the acclamation, there follow two pages of prayers, some attributed to the greats, like St. Basil, like Chrysostom and Damascene. The prayers are wonderful, but just as marvelous to me is the fact that all the bishops and priests sit down with their book in their places in the presbyterium behind the iconostasis, immediately after receiving Communion, and they pray those prayers. Yesterday, I noticed in a smaller church with a more open iconostasis, where I could see into the nave of the church, that no small number of the faithful, after devoutly receiving took out their own books to say those prayers privately. Byzantine Liturgy is to my mind a bit hectic because of the constant interplay of the different roles which intertwine and overlay each other: a Latin at heart, I could never renounce the sobriety of my own rite at any cost. Nonetheless, within our own tradition, I think we need to find ways to restore that moment, better those moments of quiet recollection after Communion.

Very simply, these are two of "my favorite things". I don't think they are particularly Byzantine or Ukrainian. I think they are thoroughly Catholic and where missing or lost in want of recovery.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Prayerful Soul

Since reading an article entitled "New-New Translation, Same Rotten Fruits: A Personal Experience" posted by Adfero (see Rorate Caeli), which saddened me, I've been left a bit pensive, not wondering so much about finding or proposing a way out of "the dilemma" as looking at the overall health of the "patient". More so in the past, talking with priests and people about the "funeral culture" today in the Caribbean, but also today and generally I wonder what can be done to inspire generous and even heroic efforts in petition and intercession for those who precede us in death (leaving judgment to God and canonization to His Church).

The kind of ignorance, bad theology, liturgical abuse, and more which desolates not only Adfero is ultimately a faith issue. Let me share a couple reminiscences!

  • As a very small boy in elementary school (before 1960), I can remember that we were able to assist from the back loft of the parish church at the funeral of a boy (8th grade or early high school) who had died after a short illness. He was already too big for the Missa de Angelis, but as it was thought that this good boy had wanted to become a priest, he was buried in one of Father's old cassocks, with his altar boy surplice. We were given to understand the honor as Father had often carried on sick calls the pix with the Blessed Sacrament in the breast pocket of that cassock. I am convinced that the sobriety of the whole occasion was conducive to opening the hearts of us children to the mysteries of life and death, of our longing for the heavenly kingdom, and the sublimity of priestly ministry, especially in terms of those vital ministrations offered through the sacraments to those at death's door. We all prayed very hard for that boy. The simplicity and the familiarity of the Requiem Mass and its chant (I always found the Dies Irae a challenge to sing, but appreciated it all the same) opened a window on time and eternity, enabling us to gently face death and hope for forgiveness and life forever with Jesus, Mary and all the saints, even as children.
  • Early in my stay in Rwanda (1986?), in the absence of the nuncio, I was asked to preside at the funeral Mass in French of an Italian business man (already buried at home in Italy), whose friends and employees were so numerous they half filled the cathedral in Kigali. I don't remember a word of the French chaplain's homily, which the Rwandan workers probably did not understand, but I remember their spirit of recollection and how obviously they prayed for the repose of the soul of their former boss. These people, like we children maybe thirty years prior, understood something of life and death; two continents, two generations, two very different worlds and reasons to pray, two very different liturgical experiences, but we both knew Who is the Author of Life and to Whom we all must return.

The crisis of catechesis, which has afflicted much of the Church for two full generations, is central to the malaise of which loosie-goosie liturgy is no more than symptomatic. We live in a world where we must hope that children will bring the faith home to their parents. We live in a world, a Catholic world, in need of renewal and reform.

A bishop friend recounted to me the experience of having inherited a diocese in total disarray. He was working, long-term, on promoting good priestly vocations and proper formation for his future priests; he was hoping that many of the older priests would accept his offer of early retirement (to get them out of the picture).

As believing people, we pray hard for the conversion of sinners; we pray hard for the souls in Purgatory, that they would soon be freed to see the Lord face to face, despite the times on earth they had sought to escape His loving glance.

People who have read me know I am convinced that the New Missal in English is a great thing, offering us, when coupled with truly sacred music and a return to faithful celebration according to the prescribed rubrics, the possibility of good space for encountering the only One Who is or can be the Lord of my life. Beyond that, I hope my carpenter is working on the new altar for my chapel and that very soon I will be able, as I was in Trinidad, to daily celebrate the preparation of the gifts and Eucharistic Prayer at Mass turned toward the Lord together with my chapel community, ad Orientem. My frequent encounters now here in Ukraine with the Byzantine Catholic Community at Liturgy, confirm me in the belief that a tradition far more than Roman needs to be restored and cultivated in the Catholic Church. Sursum corda! Habemus ad Dominum!