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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A Serious Prayer

Last week I reflected about Blessing ourselves, how it is almost rote, no thinking behind it, and yet it means so much. This evening I would like to bring up another almost rote prayer, one that just comes off the lips without a lot of thought. A prayer that also means so much in spite of our almost absent minded recitation.

The Our Father, the prayer our Lord taught us to say. The perfect prayer prayed by many over the millennia. One that, in a certain way is a very dangerous prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.

Look at what we are proclaiming. God is our Father and as such we owe a child’s obedience to Him. Not only that, we are stating that we want His will, not ours, to be done. And since He is God, we can’t comprehend what His will entails, but nonetheless we want it to happen. I would add that because we are the ones praying this, we want to be an instrument in making this happen, which means that we participate in something that ultimately is unfathomable to us. We are telling God that we will go blindly forward with His will – come what may.

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

We are asking for not only His help in nourishing us, but we are saying that we totally rely on His gifts. Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow because God will provide.  ‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.[1] and again ‘do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.[2]

Then we ask for forgiveness, and we need much; but only as we have been forgiving others. Think about how we harbor grudges, anger, yes hatred. How petty we are and fickle.  Is this how we want God to act towards us?

And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

And now we ask God to protect us. Protect us from how we handle the assault for Satan’s advances, protect us, at times, from even our loved ones, but mostly protect us from our own weaknesses.

This whole prayer is a prayer of conversion. We are asking God for certain guarantees and in return we will change our lives. Not slightly, but radically, totally. We are, in a very real way promising much to God in this prayer and this is very serious.  Let’s look at it from a real world point of view. When you ask your bosses for more responsibility they hold you accountable for it, if you fail to do what you promised when you asked for more responsibility then there are ramifications and not good ones. Now, of course God is a merciful God, but the comparison is still valid; the Our Father is a request to participate in God’s work, it is a blind request because we don’t know what that will be, but we request it anyway. And though He won’t fire us, how we will feel when our failings are revealed to us?

Brothers and sisters,
This great prayer that we learned very young, that we can proclaim in an instant should give us reassurance because it is what God desires to hear from us. But, at the same time it should give us concern because what it means and what we are intending when we pray it can be as far apart as the sunrise and sunset. Whatever we are intending when we pray the Our Father we are telling God that we will be obedient and St. Josemaria Escrivá writes ‘to obey is to be a martyr without dying’. This prayer is that serious.

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[1] MT 6:34
[2] LK 12: 29-31

I Have To Wonder Why

Today’s Gospel left me wondering.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is relating to them that God desires a relationship. The parable has a very important line; a hermeneutic of sorts, a key. He relates to them the parable of the master of the house. In it that master tells those on the other side of the locked door: ‘I do not know where you are from.[1] He repeats it a little later: ‘I do not know where you are from’[2] In this there is the hermeneutic, the operative phrase, so to speak, which is: ‘I do not know you’. Christ needs to know us.

A relationship, by definition must be a two way offering, otherwise it is just an introduction; over and over again, but still just an introduction.

The master of the house, God the Father, is constantly introducing Himself to us, offering Himself in fellowship to us. He always desires a personal relationship with each of us. The Bible in one sense is the history of His actions of friendship, familial relationship; and our failure to respond.  He offers all He is to us; and do we offer the same back to Him? This is important because our faith is not an academic faith towards a philosophy, it is brotherly relationship with Jesus Christ and a son-ship with God the Father.

All we need to do is look around Holy Mother Church, Christ is right there, at the most intimate moments of our familial lives. Baptism, weddings, moments of regret for our actions in Reconciliation, Death.  His presence at these moments brings us tremendous grace, some even sacramental grace. But for many these moments, events, are just boxes on a check list, things to do; things that can up to a ticket to heaven. God, though coming to us is still not being welcomed into the lives of the participants. Once the event is over the people move on to another aspect of their lives where God isn’t a part.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking our faith is about doing; doing certain things that pleases God. It is not. Today’s Gospel highlights this when in response to Christ first saying ‘I do not know where you are from’ the people reply ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.[3] A stranger can do as much. No, Christ wants more, He wants us. Let’s redouble our efforts in building this relationship; and the way to a relationship is to talk, it is that simple – prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote: ‘For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.

Pray, it is that simple, it is that important; which leads me back to my first sentence. I have to wonder why, for many us, including myself, it is such a hard decision to do it.

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[1] LK 13:25b
[2] LK 13:27
[3] LK 13:26

Doing

It is interesting to listen to the discussions about ‘participation’ at Mass. There are those who think things need to be done by as many people as possible and there are those who think about participation as our interior activity during the Mass. All you need to do is go around to many of the churches in our diocese to see the wide range of understandings.

Cardinal Sarah, in his inaugural speech this month at the 2016 Sacra Liturgia in the United Kingdom spoke about this and the current state of celebrating the Mass and mentioned a maybe more foundational cause of what has happened in the past 50 years to the liturgy: ‘Too often we assume that knowing things about the liturgy is all that is required for liturgical formation, when what is more important is an immersion in the depths of the liturgy, a living out of a truly liturgical life.[1]

His comments and this discussion go much broader than just the ‘doings’ of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; it dives deep into the understanding of prayer as well.  To which we should ask ourselves: Do we just do prayer or are we immersed into prayer?

This question, of course, strikes to the heart of our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours.  If we are not careful we run the risk of only ‘doing’ the hours (specific prayers) and not allowing our conversation with God to come from deep within and allow His response to enter back deep within.

My friends in Christ, our understanding of liturgical action should be based on the realization that the physical actions, either in the Mass or the Divine Office, are not the goal of our participation. Among other reasons, they are meant to focus us and calm our physical being from the chaos of our life so that the spiritual effects of opening our minds and hearts to God is all the more fruitful.

If we come to the Mass to offer our participation in Christ’s sacrifice to His (and our) Father by opening ourselves to God’s transcendent reality then this should also be our attitude in prayer. Our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours should be more than the recitation of printed prayers that we do at certain points of the day; it should be part of an organic flow in our lives where we flow from our dialog with God into our daily activity then flow back into our dialog with God.  It really doesn’t matter if we understand everything about the Liturgy of the Hours if we don’t allow our prayer to immerse us into the cosmic reality of the Triune God. It doesn’t matter how exact, punctual and consistent we are in our daily prayer regime if it doesn’t affect our lives, and our lives doesn’t affect our next prayer. Of course there will be times that our prayer seems dry, seems mechanical, and we need to persevere through these times; not giving up, always praying, because that is what our faith calls for; but we need to cultivate our participation to make those times fewer and farther between.

Brothers and sisters let’s remember that we are both physical and spiritual, we need both physical and spiritual aspects of our faith, but don’t let the ‘doing’ of prayer crowd out what prayer can do for us.
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[1] New Liturgical Movement – article on the Cardinal Sarah’s inaugural speech at the Sacra Liturgia UK gathering

10 Years

10 years ago, on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time we began our Sunday Vespers prayer group.


Today is a day that I hoped for but doubted would ever come – our 10th anniversary of Sunday Vespers. We can look back and raise a praise of thanksgiving to almighty God for this beautiful and compelling gift of our participation in the internal dialog of the Trinity.

  • Beautiful, because when God became incarnate in Jesus Christ – the Trinitarian dialog became reachable to us. Christ elevated our conversation to among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s dialog with each other. No longer is man’s conversation only between creatures but now it is also with the creator Himself – we have been brought within their dialog of love.
  • Compelling, because it envelopes us in the dialog of absolute love, and as such we are called to live as God lived among us; we are called to continue the witness of Jesus Christ, we are called to love those around us by proclaiming the truth through living it; and by loving everyone especially those who are far from this life in Christ.

This has been and will be a daunting gift.  The world never has and never will be easily receptive to the Gospel, even though their hearts yearn for what the Gospel proclaims.  This is a cross that we must bear, one that we must be joyful in carrying. But in addition, this is all the more daunting because of the ever changing dynamic of the world we live in.  Each day we find ourselves in a new situation; each day things we have done before have changed and things never known are now in front of us and we should participate in. To ignore this dynamic is to stagnate in our own isolation and refuse to participate in what God truly desires us to do, which keeps us from who we can fully and truly be.

However, prayer, our participation in the Trinitarian dialog can be unsettling, makes us unsure and timid; but we should embrace it with the knowledge that our continual dialog with the Trinity both in public prayer, such as our vespers and of course the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and just as important, our constant dialog of personal, internal, prayer keeps us united with our strength and guide.

As we enter the unknown of our eleventh year let’s rest assured that He who we dialog with and in will be right there with each of us.  To be sure, we will know doubt and weakness; but we will be embraced by almighty God and live within His dialog of love. Through His loving embrace we can look confidently through the fog of the changing and unknown to the only real future, heaven. It is really up to us; as long as we participate with the Holy Trinity in their dialog and continue to use His gifts as He desires we will know peace and joy. After all, He desires that we use what He has gifted us to ensure that history is His Story.

Let me finish with a beautiful assurance and urging given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to the youth in Madrid Spain:

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.[1]

Let’s live a life of faith as we journey into the uncertainty of tomorrow with the confidence that prayer gives us – that of the eternal goal.

May God bless each of us; and may each of us continue to participate in the dialog of Love, come what may.
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[1] Pope Benedict XVI, 8/21/11, talk to the youth in Madrid Spain

Media Morsels

Friday, the United States woke up to the first wave of editorial headlines about the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laeticia. For those who haven’t take the time (a lot of time) to read the exhortation what they know about it is what they have heard and read in the media.

  • USA Today editorial website: ‘Pope has good news for divorced, but not for gays
  • LA Times editorial website: ‘Pope Francis eases the way for divorced Catholics, but reiterates opposition to gay unions
  • Wash Post editorial website: ‘Pope Francis offers hope to divorced Catholics, says no to gay marriage
  • Boston Globe editorial website: ‘Pope offers ray of hope to divorced Catholics
  • NYT editorial website: ‘Rather Than Rules, Pope’s Document Gives License to Adapt
  • Chicago Tribune editorial website: well… they just used the Washington Post’s headline and article.

It is getting old to say, but once again media is driving the discussion. These headlines focused in on about ten out of 325 paragraphs (I did mention a lot of time).  Ostensibly the media is watching out/caring for society but it isn’t really their main goal; and in this case their desire to pass judgement on the church takes them to the opposite ends of the continuum. The usual scenario is that one day they are blasting the Church for various wrongs (actual, perceived or just made up) and the next day they are blasting them for perceived long-overdue changes – in most of these headlines they are doing both!

First, let me say that some parts of the Exhortation have some ‘edge’ to them; I am still in need of a reread of the eighth chapter. There are legitimate questions to some of what the Pope wrote. There are in any Apostolic Exhortation, after all, they are reflections on discussions that happened; in this case in the past two synods (extraordinary and ordinary). But what is striking is that the worldwide media if focusing on only these ten or so paragraphs. But the greatest parts (both in size and importance) of Amoris Laeticia are ignored. The majority of the exhortation, is a wonderful and inspiring proclamation on marriage, family and their issues.  It is a well written and insightful reflection on what our families, in all parts of the world, have to deal with, and it offers choices to help them, as well as, reassure them that Holy Mother Church walks with them. However, these parts don’t fit with the media’s idea of how the world should work; and besides, the media is all about ratings and the bottom line. They have no time for participating in addressing the ills that challenge families; it takes too much time, is boring, and it doesn’t bring them those ratings and dollars.  They are concerned with tantalizing the viewers/readers with exciting morsels of controversy – making a name for themselves.

For us, however, there is exciting value in this document, and one of the most exciting aspects of Amoris Laeticia is that it is a clarion call for Catholics to proclaim these good ideas about the good news. And can we do this:

  • By our words, as we talk about the whole document. Which means we need to read it.
  • By our lives, as we try living as the family that God intended us to be. Which means we should to read it.
  • By our embracing our extended families, which include the marginalized. Which means we should to read it.

In other words, we owe it to our faith journey and to the world to understand just what the synod fathers and the Pope distilled from the two synods. We need to be familiar with the document’s ideas so that we can both live the faith more fully and defend the teachings of church more knowledgeably. But first we need to start with prayer. We need to pray for our Pope and his bishops and clergy, especially our priests; because like it or not, thanks to this exhortation they will be on the front line. And we need to pray for ourselves, as we read this document and try to implement those ideas it contains that strikes our heart. Finally, we need to pray for the ability to help undo the damage done by appetizer-like headlines and editorials that do no more than tease us with partial truths and colored opinions.

The media will tantalize the world with tasty headlines, but it is the Lord and His followers that will feed them with sustenance.

 

Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.