Liturgical Tinnitus

Over the years there have many discussions about various aspects of the Holy Mass. What are the roles of the various participants, architectural importance, vestments, furniture and their positioning and on and on.  What might seem to some as just opinions or theological sparring or unimportant minutia can have a profound impact on how the faithful view the Mass; this in turn can affect how the faithful view the Church and her place in the ministry of Christ and how the faithful live their lives. Lex Orandi, lex Credendi, lex Vivendi is more than just a cute saying. All of this has a profound impact on us, and in turn we on the Mass. Tonight I would like to reflect on one of these aspects, one that, thanks be to God, is not an issue with our Vesper prayers.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time of preparation, an almost hushed season where we look within and look both backward and forward to the comings of Christ. But, for me this is always battered by the clang of the secular holiday season. Noise and action and bright lights that drive us to distraction.

Holy Mother Church is not immune to noisy activity, and not just in Advent. At another parish, the month of November is when they sing the Our Father; not chant, but sing. And between the Our Father and the congregation’s final response where, according the rubrics[1], the priest, by himself says: ‘Deliver us Lord from every evil…[2] there is also an instrumental bridge, in short there is background music during the priest’s words where it isn’t allowed. And if the priest and the music don’t match up correctly, then the congregation has to wait for the music to finish before they start their response: ‘For the Kingdom the power…[3] For me, this takes away the congregation’s participation in the prayer our Lord taught us and makes it a tune – of course this is my opinion.

This is not an isolated incident; in many parishes, impromptu musical interludes happen during baptisms, confirmations, post communion time and in almost any moment of quiet. For example, during the sign of peace, where it isn’t allowed[4] many congregations have an instrumental background.

This highlights a very troubling trend in the Mass; one that has been creeping into not only the corporate celebration of the Holy Mass, but into the understanding of the active part of the faithful’s participation – lack of silence. An important part of the Mass is silence, the time that each participant can enter more personally into the presence of God – can hear God within their soul.

The prophet Elijah learned on the mountain that God can be found in: ‘a light silent sound[5]. And this makes so much sense. For us, creatures, to be in the presence of the almighty and total other, who is beyond our own comprehension, the reaction should be one of humble acquiescence and silent adoration, an almost stupefied posture, one that allows only the senses of our soul to be open and receptive.

At the Holy Mass we are in the closest proximity to God that we can achieve on this journey. We are watching God the Son in humble obedience offer Himself to God the Father, and we are watching the action of the Holy Spirit between them. There must be time where the din of noise, both within our hearts and minds, and around us in the celebration stops so we can listen to that ‘light silent sound’[6].

Brothers and sisters, let’s try to resist this ‘noisy participation’ that seems so prevalent in our celebrations and find that quiet time to open ourselves to God. The Tinnitus that has found its way into the Mass must be met with decisive resolve to bring back those moments of peaceful and holy silence. Liturgical Tinnitus numbs the senses whereas holy silence opens the soul to the beautiful symphony that is God. Let’s pray and strive for such times. Even if we can’t affect changes in the Masses that we participate in, we can affect change within each of us in how we look for silence in the midst of the noise. We can try to improve our ability to hear the symphony through the noise – be present in front of that most holy ‘light silent sound’[7].

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[1] Roman Missal pg 664 – ‘With hands extended, the Priest alone continues, saying:’
[2] ibid
[3] Roman Missal pg 665
[4] Pacem relinquo vobis -Circular Letter on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass  #6c: In any case, it will be necessary, at the time of the exchange of peace, to definitively avoid abuses such as: the introduction of a “song for peace,” which is non-existent in the Roman Rite.
[5] 1 Kgs 19:12 (nab)
[6] ibid
[7] ibid

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Fashionable?

I have seen and been part of many discussions in the past 20 years about how we go about celebrating liturgy.  Great points have been raised and discussed but mostly leading to no definitive answer.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Holy Mother Church is always trying to come to terms with bringing to the people the eternal message in ways that they can understand. The way people think and comprehend ideas morphs as experiences influence society – we need to take that into account.  However, there are deep seated feelings within mankind that some things/events are eternal, have a transcendent paradigm, and when these types of things are changed there is a dissonance within each of us. Certain things are meant to be a certain way, otherwise their ontology becomes hidden and their value diminishes.

In an article on sacred architecture[1] I was struck by something the author wrote; the nature of fashion is that it does not last.  He goes on to say that ‘succession of fashions is in itself a succession of failures.[2] Fashions are meant to intrigue, to create intense reactions and then fade away – it is the reason that the word ‘contemporary’ is frequently used with it.  The etymology of the word ‘contemporary’ is telling, it comes from two Latin words: ‘con’ which means ‘with’ and ‘tempus’ which means ‘time’ and together, in our language, means: ‘characteristic of the present[3]. Therefore, contemporary fashion by its definition is fleeting, changing, ephemeral.  Contemporary secular artwork, secular music, and clothing for examples are fashionable since people feel something that arouses appreciation and desire but after a while the feeling fades away; they are never meant to mean something in the long run – in a way fashion is a diversion until another comes along.

I also hear the word ‘contemporary’ used quite often when it comes to various aspects of the Church. It worries me that many followers desire the ‘contemporary’; I fear that their desire for the fashion of the time will obscure the transcendent reasons for what the fashion is trying relate.  But, as I said at the beginning, this is a tension that takes place when we try to bring people the eternal message in ways that they can understand.

Holy Mother Church has given us eternal ways to come to understand and live within the eternal.  Paramount in these is, of course, the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass where we participate in the eternal sacrifice of the Son to His Father with the heavenly hosts. Another is right now and here; our participation in the Liturgy of Hours. Coming together and praying Vespers is a participation in the eternal Church’s prayer to the Father through His Son.  By participating in the Divine Office we are imitating our Lord’s daily life of prayer. We are obeying His command to do as He did; as He told us in the Gospel of St. John:  ‘he who believes in me will also do the works that I do[4] By participating in the Divine Office we are continuing Christ’s prayer and we are consecrating ‘to God the whole cycle of the day and night.[5] And by praying the Divine Office we are extending throughout the day and night ‘the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the Eucharistic mystery[6]

It is important for each of us to realize the eternal and transcendent importance of what we are doing (especially in Mass and here at Vespers) because we are doing it for not only ourselves but for Holy Mother Church and her members.  Too often we are assaulted by ephemeral banal affectations and accretions on our most transcendent moments and we run the risk of losing their eternal import.  Let’s ask Christ to intercede for us in our desire to fend off these moments of confusion and to be able to participate in the eternal celebrations as we should regardless of whether they seem in fashion or out.

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[1] The Alphabet of Giants, Dale Ahlquist, Sacred Architecture Issue 27
[2] ibid
[3] Online Etymology Dictionary
[4] Jn 14:12 (RSV)
[5] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours paragraph 10
[6] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours paragraph 12

Peace be with you

I am not sure how Holy Mother Church decided on the progression of readings during these past two weeks.  Last weekend the Gospel reading was about doubting Thomas and that took place a week after Easter which makes sense because it is read a week after the resurrection. Today our reading actually takes place on Easter.  We see this by the first line: ‘The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.[1] These are the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  They have hurried back to the apostles to let them know the good news.

For me this reading is a powerful moment.  It always drives home the importance of Holy Mass. It true that the Last Supper is where Christ institutes the Eucharist and where He teaches the Apostles about the meaning of leadership, servant leadership.  But I always look at today’s reading as a semblance of the Mass.

  • We have Jesus appearing mysteriously in the midst of the apostles. As He appears to us in the Eucharist.
  • He shares a meal with them. As He shares His body and blood, soul and divinity with us.
  • He breaks open the scripture which is the Old Testament and explains to them how it points to His gift of the Passion. As the Mass does in the readings and the Homily.
  • The progression of this event mirrors our action of prayer in Mass. He is concerned with those in the room and then He broadens the concern to the world.
  • And of course like in the Mass Christ bestows His peace on participants.

Peace be with you[2] He said to them. Christ wished to offer His peace to them.  In the Mass we do the same.  Right before Communion we are prompted to this action by our Celebrant when he prays to Jesus:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who said to your Apostles.
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.
Look not on sins,
But on the faith of your Church,
And graciously grant her peace and unity,
In accordance with your will.[3]

Then He turns to us and says: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you always.[4] Which we return with ‘And with your spirit[5] then we are prompted ‘Let us offer each other the sign of peace.[6] Which we do.

I must admit that at this point in the Mass it seems to me that chaos seems to enter.  I usually hear a cacophony of greetings – all the way from ‘God Bless you’ to, and I am not kidding, ‘May your peace spread to your family’ and to ‘Merry Christmas!’ or any holiday.  I do hear variations of ‘Peace be with you’ which is more appropriate.

But why is ‘Peace be with you’ a more appropriate greeting than the others?  For the simple fact that we are not greeting each other we are bestowing the peace of Christ to those around us, and by extension to the parish, the universal Church and to all mankind.

It is of great importance to notice that during the Mass our prayers are addressed mostly to the Father, after all, the Mass is ultimately Christ’s act of supreme sacrifice to His Father for us.  We are adding our participation to Christ act towards the Father.  But at this point, the prayer is to Jesus, we are asking Him for His peace – indeed for Him; because He is peace incarnate.

In other words the congregation through our priest asks: ‘Lord give us yourself and the peace that you bring – we need it.’ So when we turn to each other we take what the priest has asked for, and Christ has given us and wish it on each other. ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Here, I give you Jesus’ could be another way to put it.

And just what is Christ’s peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ and he continues ‘Not as the world gives do I give it to you, Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.[7]

The peace that is Christ – His peace is a fullness of joy and life that can only be attained and experienced in a climate of justice, order, truth, respect, and good will. His peace is not simply the absence of conflict but is the total abolition of evil.  There is no peace without justice. Christ’s peace, in other words, cannot exist along with evil, injustice – even when there is no conflict.

We are not called to make everything calm and happy. Our peace comes when we are with Christ and that means no evil.  We are called to proclaim the truth – call it as God sees it – we are to participate with Christ in the promulgation of His peace which needs truth – no truth, no peace.

This is what we wish towards each other and ourselves.  That we live within Christ and that we live together in that rich life of justice, order, truth, respect and good will.  This means that we radiate this life of peace – we allow others to see it – we evangelize peace and proclaim it.  We turn to each other in the Mass and say ‘Peace be with you[8] but for those who are living this peace it can’t stop there – it must be delivered to others. The dismissals at the end of Mass ‘The Mass is ended, go in peace[9]; ‘Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord[10], ‘Go, glorifying the Lord by your lives[11] all have the same demand on us – spread this peace.

Christ doesn’t guarantee us a calm and serene life when following him – the world won’t allow this: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.[12] But living in the peace of Christ will give us a depth of joy and peace that no buffets from the world can strip away.

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[1] Lk 24:35
[2] Lk 24:36
[3] Roman Missal
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] Jn 14:27
[8] Roman Missal
[9] ibid
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] Jn 15:18-20

Our Part (icipation)

February 16, 2014 – 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell us: ‘Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’; His comment to the group listening points out how important worship is to them.  The discussion is a powerful reminder to them about the importance of being prepared for worship, the necessity of proper disposition and attitude when presenting oneself to God in a Temple service – for us that would be Mass.  Worship, is about interior preparation that leads to a proper disposition and actual participation.

The Vatican II fathers used the Latin phrase ‘participatio actuosa’; some translate it ‘active participation’ others translate it ‘actual participation’ – both highlight important aspects of the phrase.  In my view, because the English language reverses the words it removes the importance of the phrase; or rather changes the paradigm. When we define first: ‘participation’ we can then properly flow to the second word ‘active’ with a correct perspective, disposition.

Participation, in the sense of the Mass, refers to a primary action that we are part of.  What is it that we are participating in? And of course it is the Eucharistic Prayer, the ‘Opus Dei’ (Work of God) of Christ; Jesus prayer to the Father in words and action; His Pasch, His passion death and resurrection in obedience to the Father and for our salvation.

Now, it is obvious that the true Eucharistic Sacrifice is Christ’s gift of Himself to the Father; so what is our part? How do we participate? It is our prayer. To actually participate in the Mass, we need to be actively praying along with Christ.  Our preparation for Mass as well as our disposition in the Mass is one of prayer; we are attaching our prayers of thanksgiving, of petition, of forgiveness, of mercy, of penance, of everything to those of Christ as He offers His whole being to the Father.

I think it bears repeating; our actual participation in the Mass, that makes us active within Christ’s sacrifice to the Father, is our prayer.  Now, of course there are some who are called to ‘do things’ in the Mass and that is laudable, or as the Church likes to phrase it ‘praise worthy’; but when it comes down to it, the most important thing we do is pray.  And as with any important activity we need to train ourselves; as I said earlier place ourselves in the proper disposition, so that our hearts and minds are in tune with the prayer of Christ.

Holy Mother Church recognizes this and knows that the Mass needs to facilitate our being able to place ourselves in the right frame of mind.  The actions in the Mass not only reveal to us the powerful aspects of the liturgy but always help us center in on the active participation of our prayer.  By coming to understand why the church has structured the Liturgy the way she does is not only a study in the history of revelation but it is a means to deepen our relation with the Holy Trinity.  If someone thinks that our liturgical actions are more or less just choreography then their participation will be more of passive spectatorship.  If, on the other hand, someone strives to understand why we do what do at Mass then their participation will become deeper, fuller, more active in what is actually happening; and by means of this deeper participation our personal relationship with God deepens.

I would like to point out three aspects of the Mass as examples:

1 The Altar
The Mass revolves around two centers, the Ambo where we hear proclaimed God’s Word, and the Altar.  You have all noticed that the clergy come up to the Altar and kiss it. Why? Because the Altar represents Jesus Christ Himself; above any other symbolism that can be given to the Altar this is preeminent.  We don’t reverence a table, we reference a person.  It is always interesting to me to listen to people talk about the altar.  One of the most telling differences in comments is when someone describes adding an altar cloth as decorating the Altar, while others describe that action as dressing the Altar.  We decorate a thing, we dress a person. We should look at the Altar as the clergy do when they kiss it – they kiss Christ, they reverence our Lord who is about to perform the great Opus Dei (work of God), for us, and with us to the Father.

2 The Collect
In the Liturgy, after the greeting and the penitential rite we participate in the Collect.  Most probably know it by the misleading title of ‘Opening Prayer’.  It is called the Collect because of what is said just prior to it.  We hear Father announce ‘Let us pray’. This is not an alert for the Altar Server to bring the big red book to him; it is a call for everyone to quietly gather their thoughts and prayers together to offer them along with our Lord’s offering.  There should be time between the call to prayer and the Collect.  The Collect does what the name says – it collects the congregation’s prayers and through the priest, by means of this prayer, they are offered upward to God the Father.  For me, the term Opening Prayer almost sounds like Opening Act and it makes me feel like we are passive viewers whereas the term Collect calls us to active participation.

3 The Bow-less Creed
I must be honest with you, sometimes I cheat during the Creed.  I look up to see how many people bow at the words ‘by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man’ Holy Mother Church thinks that this little action is very important, it is right there in the Missalette.  The Incarnation is that important; we who are undeserving of this gift, should bow at the thought of God coming to us.  But, in my peeking at you I notice that about as many don’t bow as do. The idea of the bow should be spontaneous for those who have come to participate in Christ’s sacrifice – we recognize our unworthiness for this gift and we humble ourselves for it.

So, three examples of aspects of the Mass that, depending on our understanding, affect our disposition and thus affect our participation; three examples out of the many aspects of the Mass that depending on our understanding can deepen our relationship with God. My prayer for all of us is that we renew our effort to come to a better understanding of the Mass so that we can then participate worthily in Christ’s action to the Father for us.

Altar with a Purpose

Our Parish received a new permanent altar this past week.

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Today’s vespers marks a transition; our first vesper service with the new altar.  Of course we know that this isn’t a new altar, it was originally in one of the houses for religious at Driscoll High School; then it was stored in the Pastoral center for years after the High School was closed.  And now that the Pastoral center has been sold and is moving to a new location this altar has found its way to us.

But throughout its journey, it has always been one thing, an altar.  It is representative of Jesus Christ, which is the reason clergy venerate it with a kiss at the beginning and end of Mass.  It is representative of Calvary, and indeed more than representative, since Calvary is present at every Mass on it.  Throughout all its movements and situations this altar’s purpose has never changed, it is where the source and summit of our faith, our very lives, happen.  If this altar could emit emotion it would be one of joy because once again it is participating in the King of the Universe’s sacrifice to His Father, it is being used as it was intended.  The potential within has, once again, been realized; its purpose is being fulfilled.

We too, throughout our lives, through the changes of our bodies, our environment, our situations always remain the same in one very ontological way; we belong to God.  Sometimes our purpose is potential, other times it is active; but as long as we present ourselves in front of an altar during a Mass and participate in our Lord’s Sacrifice our purpose is strong.  May each of us, in all of our transitions hold fast to our purpose and radiate it to the world.  May each of us, every time we participate in a Mass, here or elsewhere see within the altar our Lord and Savior as He shows us how much He loves us – and with Him – offer our intentions and prayers to the our Father in heaven.

May we echo St. Peter

The Easter Vigil is packed with symbols that, if we let them, speak powerfully about our faith.  They bring the past to the present and we are plunged into salvation history.  Along with the readings these symbols remind us that we are part of an eternal story, God’s story.

For me, one of the strongest symbols is at the very beginning, when outside in darkness St. Dominic Parish lights the new Pascal Candle from a fire. As the candle is lit Father says “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”  Every year at that moment I am reminded of the other great Solemnity that uses light and dark – Christmas.  Light amid the darkness is powerfully presented there as well; but whereas at Christmas I see the glory of God being born quietly, almost secretly into this world of darkness, to mankind who had no room at the inn for His entry; at the Easter Vigil (and every time this candle is lit) I am reminded and consoled that in spite of the darkness salvation powerfully entered the world – beyond any doubt. Entered to our knowledge is the King of the Universe rising from the dead for me, for us.  Made known to the world is God’s eternal plan to bring us home to His side.  Made manifest to us is the greatest joy – Love and its ultimate outcome.  Revealed to each of us is our true worth: ‘I am God’s beloved.’

It is this message of hope and joy that the Church has been, with varying degrees of success, proclaiming for almost 2,000 years.  Since that day of His resurrection Christ’s followers have felt the joy of God’s Love; since that day on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius Christian’s have made their own St. Peter’s words: “Lord, you know that I love you.” and have strived to live up to Christ’s command “Feed my sheep” Since those days in the Holy Land; we, who have seen this great light, go out and try to radiate it; spread this good news to those who still dwell in darkness.

I am constantly aware of almost 2,000 years of our ancestors who were given this great news and its commission, and followed Christ into the darkness holding His flame high.  Through centuries of human triumphs and trials, our spiritual ancestors, holding fast to Christ and His message, have guaranteed that Christ is still shining brightly.  They have, through great cost, fed His sheep by passing on the faith, living the Gospel, radiating the light of Easter.

As our parish celebrates its 50th anniversary Monday I am made even more aware of this mission as a continuation of those who entrusted it to us.  I am humbled by the sacrifice and determination of those who started this parish; who built the school; built this church; who, as the disciples did in our gospel today, relied on Christ to guide the way.  Who in their hearts trusted in the Lord’s wisdom and cast their nets to great results.  Their gift to me gives me greater determination to make sure that their efforts; that the efforts of every faithful witness for the last 2 millennia, is passed on to those who come after us; because this gift wasn’t handed to us as a reward to keep and admire; but was given to us to pass on by radiating Christ’s light in our world, a world that, sadly, is still in darkness.

The Word of God has come and has spoken, He continues to come and speak; but the story of salvation is still being written with us as its current authors. This is our challenge, at the beginning of the third millennium of the Universal Church, at the threshold of the next 50 years of St Dominic Parish: what are we going to write with our witness in this eternal story?  Is our narrative one of self-interest, inward isolation – is our answer to Christ we have no more room for Him or His people? Or do we write a narrative that, as apostles did in the first reading show that ‘We are witnesses of these things’; witnesses of the Lord and His love for everyone and our love for Him by loving everyone?  Will our part of story be about Christian discipleship; proclaiming the good news, holding the flame of Easter high by living the faith given to us by our ancestors near and far, given to us by our Lord?

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his great book Life of Christ: “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be: ’There was no room in the inn’” Brothers and sisters, let us make sure that along with these ‘saddest of words’, the words that we authored will echo St. Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.

It is much more!

The other day I was talking with a person about how they celebrate the Mass at their parish.  They were telling me about how they had conformed the Mass to better reflect their community. ‘We need to express ourselves to fully participate in the Mass.’  It reminded me of a parish in the next town that before communion announced that in their parish everybody stands after they receive communion until the last person has received.  This supposedly showed not only community solidarity, but that the Mass was bigger than any individual.  Wow! These are two examples of community centered elitism.  What they fail to understand is that the Mass isn’t about the Parish community as the body of Christ.

The Mass is first and foremost Christ’s sacrifice to His Father; that we, as members of His Mystical Body share in.  We come to witness Christ’s ultimate prayer to His Father; His ultimate act of obedience to Him, and ultimate act of Love for us, and offer our sacrifices along with His to the Father.

This Mystical Body, that we are part of; is more than just a person, it is more than those parish communities – it is the whole Church.  The Holy Father in his October 3rd General Audience touched on this aspect of the Mass. The Sacraments, especially the Mass ‘is an encounter between Christ and the Church.  Therefore it is the ‘total Christ’ the whole Community, the Body of Christ united with Her Head, that is celebrating.’  He went on to say ‘It is the worship of a wide open heaven.  It is never solely the event of a single community with its place in time and space.  It is important that every Christian feel and be truly integrated into this universal ‘we’’

When I have been at Masses that have strayed from the Rubrics to ‘better integrate within the community’ I have felt confused and separated from the worship.  I was an outsider, I felt I was intruding. This is not what the Mass is about.  It is about one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church coming together and participating with Christ.  The Mystical Body, me, those around me, those in the diocese, in the world; those living, those that have lived, those in heaven coming together as one in Christ.

We need to realize this universality of the Mass.  We need to stretch our minds passed our little parish mindset and embrace the Mystical Body, the Church Universal if we are ever to understand the true importance and power of the Liturgy.