Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Humility in Intercession

We all pray for our loved ones.  It's the most natural response to worry, especially when we're powerless to effect change in their situation that gives us pause.  Too, our first response to a frustrating situation is to ask for the obvious solution:

Dear Lord, please don't let Pat get laid off.
Please heal Sarah from her illness soon.
Please let Phil get into the grad program he so desperately wants to attend.
Please stop Julie's boss from blaming her unreasonably for the department's problems.

But this is not always the most efficacious prayer.  The Lord's ways are much more mysterious than ours; maybe Pat won't meet the person who connects him with his dream job unless he loses his current one.  Maybe Sarah's death will be the catalyst that draws her entire family back to God.  Maybe Phil needs to learn that failure is not the end of the world, and will get a better education at his backup school.  Maybe the extreme humility Julie is forced to learn in the face of injustice will come to play an invaluable role in making her a better mother to the children she will have five years down the road.

It's hard to see those we love suffer.  I gain much consolation these days from meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Stations of the Cross.  Our Lady was there, following along every step of the way.  She watched her son be wrongly accused, brutally beaten, humiliated in every possible way, and slowly - violently - murdered by the state.

I return frequently to the Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother.  The two of them make eye contact as He's struggling along the road to Calvary.  What did her eyes say to Him?  The most noble and fitting explanation I've ever heard is that her eyes communicated love and encouragement: "You can do it!"  Certainly she shared His pain, and assuredly He knew that.  But to accept that you have to watch someone you love in pain and suffering, even when you know it's for the greater good, is one of the harder crosses to bear.

So lately, I've changed my prayers.  For those who are close to Our Lord, who might listen to Him in the face of crisis, I put aside my own desire for their immediate happiness.  I don't ask for an end to their oppression, just or unjust.  I don't ask for them to receive that which they feel (as do I) is owed to them.  Rather, I swallow my fears and ask for their sanctification in this particular situation.  May Joey's struggles in this class draw him nearer to You. May Harry and Denise's great desire for children in the face of infertility make them holier.  May Terri withstand the awful treatment her mother-in-law is giving her, and may it lead to both their sanctification.

It's a hard prayer, but one that Our Lady keeps reminding me is important.  This life is full of sorrows and suffering, and there really is no easy way out.  The purpose of this life is to draw close to God and to draw others close to Him.

Mater dolorosa, ora pro nobis.
Mater cruci corde affixa, ora pro nobis.

Friday, October 1, 2010

On the Population of Heaven

Most of us who attend Mass regularly have a few favorite priests, and possibly even friends who are priests.  When one of these priests is the celebrant (or, in some cases, even in the sanctuary), it brings me great joy, but also presents a great temptation.

See, it'd be so easy to get wrapped up in the prayer of the priest, and not the prayer of the Church - to go to Father Ed's Mass more for Father Ed than for Mass.  And I've seen this happen unintentionally countless times - whether Father's ars celebrandi causes people to refer to his Mass as "The Father Bill Show" or Father gets transferred and a quarter of the congregation moves with him (or stops coming)...

We're supposed to be more or less immune from that in the Roman Rite.  Our worship is liturgical and ought not to be based on the personality of the priest.  In fact, I try to take a step back and let the priest be Christ to me before he is Father Scott (doubly so because my knowledge of liturgical minutiae is so high).

But the via media is usually the best way, balance the key to solving the equation.  And sometimes reason cannot triumph over emotion; sometimes knowing the altar servers (and knowing how you experience God's love through them outside of Mass) does raise one's heart and mind to God just that little bit further.  The tension remains, however: how to keep focused on God with beloved people right in front of you?

Recently, I was at Mass with one such friend.  He sat in choir in the sanctuary; I, in the nave.  I had been managing to ignore him and focus on the sacred action, thankful for the statue that blocked him from my line of sight.  But at the Communion procession, such aids to prayer were gone, as my spot at the altar rail required me to look right over his head to gaze upon the tabernacle and crucifix.  I took a deep breath, hoping not to be too distracted.

And then it hit me: We know that heaven is populated (by saints, angels, and the Holy Trinity Himself).  And we hope to see our loved ones again in heaven.  The liturgy is heaven on earth.  Having friends who serve in the sanctuary is an even more perfect prefigurement of heaven, for heaven is populated by people we love.  Marriage does not exist in heaven; they say this is not because we will love our spouses any less, but rather because we will love everyone so much and more.

One ought not get caught up in Father Joe presiding or Deacon Bill preaching or little Johnny serving, but neither ought we meto ntally berate ourselves for caring who is there.  Allow the presence of our loved ones in the earthly sanctuary to lift us up to the heavenly sanctuary, where we will worship with those we have loved who've gone before.

Benedicite Angeli Domini Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula.
Benedicite caeli Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula...

Benedicite servi Domini Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Lady of Sorrows

Let us adore Christ, the Savior of the world, who called his mother to share in his passion.

I've yet to meet a photograph that captures the grandeur of this statue, found in St Lucy Church back home in Newark, but here is the one place where I can stand before Our Lady and simply let my heart be moved.  Here she is a beautiful queen in mourning, with simultaneous sorrow and hope in her eyes.  May we all be blessed with such hope in God amid our sorrows.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

There is something about the crux gemmata that has always captivated me.  The cross, this instrument of torture , has become for us the vehicle of salvation (and so much more)!  That's probably part of why the Anglo-Saxon poem Dream of the Rood has been a favorite of mine ever since I first discovered its existence in high school.  I reread it every year on today's feast.

     Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
     which came as a dream in middle-night,
     after voice-bearers lay at rest.
     It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
     born aloft, wound round by light,
     brightest of beams. All was that beacon
     sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
     fair at earth's corners; there likewise five
     shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
     fair through predestiny. Indeed, that was no wicked one's gallows,
     but holy souls beheld it there,
     men over earth, and all this great creation.
     Wondrous that victory-beam--and I stained with sins,
     with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory's tree
     honored with trappings, shining with joys,
     decked with gold; gems had
     wrapped that forest tree worthily round...

That's just the preview.  Go read the whole thing for yourself; it's tiny for an epic poem, and entirely worth your while...

[Translation credit to Jonathan A. Glenn, University of Central Arkansas]

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hymn for the Nativity of Mary

Today is the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Below is the hymn prescribed by the Church for Lauds (Morning Prayer) in the OF.  English translation from the Mundelein Psalter.

O Mary, Mistress of the world,
And Queen of heaven's blissful court,
O gleaming Star of life's wide sea,
And Virgin Mother, pure as snow.

To our poor earth, fair daughter, come,
In all your virgin glory, shine,
For you will bear most noble Flow'r,
When God the Son comes down as man.

Your birth from David's chosen stem,
We venerate with joy this day
You form our hope of Light to come,
To gladden and relieve our woe.

We dwell on earth, but through your prayer
Access to heaven we can win,
Once ransomed by the sacrifice
Of Christ your Son in which we share.

For ever glory and all praise
Be rendered to the Trinity,
Who gave to you a mother's place
Within the Church in name and grace. Amen.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On the Liturgy of the Hours: A Reflection

I have a long and storied history with the Liturgy of the Hours.  Okay, I exaggerate somewhat, but I've been praying the Office with varying degrees of consistency since I was eighteen, so I do have some ground to stand on here.  (Besides, you all know that brevity is not my strong suit!)

I first learned how to pray the breviary by attending Morning Prayer with the guys in the Pre-Theologate (i.e., Minor Seminary) program my freshman year of college, after the guys convinced me that it was open to anyone and I ought to come because Morning Prayer was awesome.  I quickly came to appreciate the beauty of praying the psalms in union with the whole Church, and ended the year by borrowing a spare breviary from my spiritual director.  I prayed Morning and Evening Prayer (Lauds and Vespers) just about every weekday that summer.

When I studied in Austria, we prayed Lauds and Vespers in common (often chanted), which drew between 10 and 50 students, on average.  I quickly realized that my class schedule was set up such that I could easily step away and pray each of the three daytime hours in between, and even while I was traveling, it was with friends who prayed similarly, so I was praying the full Office (5 to 7 hours* each day).

Upon returning to the States, my prayer life shifted again, and I returned to praying Lauds and Vespers on my own daily.  After a year or more, though the Office still held a special place in my heart, it was no longer my bread and butter.  I still went out of my way to pray the principal hours (Lauds and Vespers) on feasts, and sometimes also the Office of Readings (because those readings are generally awesome), but it was indeed going out of my way; it had become something that was not part of my routine.

When I moved home after college, I knew I needed structure, and so I picked up praying at least Lauds every morning.  However, I also decided to place myself ad experimentum in the liturgy, calendar, and spirituality of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, taking advantage of the gap year I anticipated to learn a new (to me) type of prayer more deeply.  After a few months, the divergence between the two calendars became too much, and I put away my breviaries.**

It should come as little surprise, then, that one of the first papers I wrote in graduate school was about this divergence between the calendars, which had caused me so much pain the year before.  (I may be oversensitive, but there's clear disunity within the Roman Rite here, so I stand firm.)  Part of my program here at the Liturgical Institute is that we pray Lauds and Vespers together every weekday, and Mass in common weekly (both daily during the summer).  So, in order to reap more fully the benefits of studying here, I made the obvious decision: to pray with my classmates and our professors and staff members (rather than continuing my previous foray into the EF).  Too, my studies have reminded me that "liturgy" doesn't just mean Mass, nor even Mass and Sacraments, but includes the Divine Office, which is something that I, a layperson, consistently forget...

* * *

I've been traveling a lot lately.  I don't know about you, but when I travel, my prayer life suffers.  Sometimes it's because I lack the privacy I need to pray; sometimes it's because I'm so busy going and going and going that I don't find the time to do more than raise my heart to Our Lord throughout the day.  I know this is good and can be enough, if that's all I have, but it's disorienting at best to return from a trip and have your spiritual life all thrown out of whack (especially if you've been traveling over the weekend of a feast and you feel like you've missed the feast).

This past week, my travels have often involved seminarian friends, some of whom are transitional deacons (i.e., clerics who are canonically obliged to pray the Office).  On such occasions, it's quite common to receive a question like, "Have you prayed Morning Prayer yet?" or sometimes simply "D'you mind if I pray my Office?"  Each time, the gentleman (or -men) in question has prayed the psalms aloud, and I've prayed along by listening  really listening  to his words (to His Word, really).

And I've been struck by the beauty of it all: the radiance of God's Word as revealed in these particular prayers; the universality of uniting my heart in these same Scriptures that are being prayed throughout the world; the brilliant anchor that is the Liturgy of the Hours, keeping the pray-er rooted in God's time, even when his normal routine is shot to pieces.

There are so many reasons to be thankful for the gift of the Divine Office.  Presently, I am thankful for the reminder that, as a single layperson (doubly so as a student), I can take the time to pray at least the five canonical hours of the Office.  Praying the principal hours as I've been doing this past year has borne fruit, I'm sure, but nothing I can clearly see.  I remember clearly how the Office used to be not merely the backbone of my spiritual life but its entire skeleton, and I can see hints of that in some of the clergy around me - and it's beautiful, and I want that.

It's only been a few days yet that I've been praying the full Office, but it has been a wonderful source of stability and consolation.  As Fr Martis often says, the Liturgy shares her treasures with those who sit with her and wait.  I hope and pray that my commitment to pray all the hours for the coming months serves to be vehicle for such revelations.

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.

*When I refer to an "hour" here, it does not mean that I spent 60 minutes in a chapel; rather, it signifies my completion of a particular set of psalms and prayers.  The Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office) is prayed from a book called a breviary, and contains the hours of Matins (Office of Readings), Lauds (Morning Prayer), Terce (Midmorning Prayer), Sext (Midday Prayer), None (Midafternoon Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer), and Compline (Night Prayer).  Only one of the three midday hours ("little hours") is required for those who have promised to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

**Yes, I did consider purchasing a traddy breviary in English, but I knew I was going to have to put it aside in graduate school, so I decided to wait.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On "Maximum Personality"

Human nature was made with the capacity to participate freely and willingly in a process of growing into the likeness of God. Created in the image of God, a human person also lives by relationship, and this provides for maximum individuality. God planned beings who could attain maximum personality.
-David Fagerberg, Theologia Prima, p24

Maximum personality. What a phrase! And situated so, as a gift one attains through relationship. As the persons of the Holy Trinity are eternally in relationship with each other, so are each of us called to relationship with those around us, to love those around us as the Trinity loves.  It is through these relationships - as well as through our relationship with God, of course - that we are principally to achieve holiness.

We know this from many theologians. But look at Fagerberg's last phrase there: to attain maximum personality. Through relationship, we achieve holiness; through relationship, we achieve maximum personality. The holier we become, the more we become truly ourselves? the more our own unique personality shines out?

Perhaps this is why so many saints and holy people are and have been such eccentric folks with habits strange and delightful.  Now that's a model of life I could strive for!

O Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make my heart like unto Thine.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Traveling, Friendship, and Prayer

Between class sessions this summer, I've been doing a lot of visiting of friends, especially of friends I haven't seen in a year or more.  While I have been blessed this year with many truly delightful new friends, there remains something golden about old friends who have known you for years and yet keep you around.  Too, while I've long been perfectly comfortable keeping touch via the phone and internet, it is always upon seeing people that I am reminded how much of their uniqueness is embodied in a way that simply cannot be communicated over great distances.  In these times, I take a deep joy in simply being with my loved ones, in resting in their presence.  Sure, it's great fun to go places and do things, to see their various cities and the places important to their lives, but doing is always, always secondary to being.  It is because of being with them that I return from a visit rejuvenated.

One of my classmates finds it consistently shocking that I am taking a silent retreat next week.  She just cannot fathom an entire week of Claire not talking (Admittedly, this is something that's not been done before)!  I laugh when she points this out, and smile quietly.  The truth is that I am deeply delighted to have the opportunity to simply rest in the presence of my Lord and my God, Who knows me most thoroughly and has since before I was born.

Too, as I rest in His Heart, He will fill mine, in which place each of you has an abode.  I pray that my week of rest with Him might spill over into each of your lives, and bring with it that peace which surpasses all understanding.

Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This Blog Is Not Dead!

For what it's worth: I have not forgotten about this blog.  It's just that summer courses have been a little bit completely insane.  But rest assured: I will return!

[PS - Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me to continue.  I do appreciate it.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Difference Between Men and Women: A Memory

I am in the throes of finals right now, so naturally my mind thinks back to completely unrelated incidents in college.

In all the dorms at Steubenville, the RAs would wander around before they went off duty and bless all the doors in the building with holy water, as well as any students still up studying or socializing.

If we were in a girls' dorm when it was this time, the RA would poke her head in the door and ask, "Would you like a blessing?"  If we said yes, she'd come in, dip her thumb in holy water, and trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.  (She'd then, of course, remind us that our male guest had to leave shortly.)

If you were in a guys' dorm when the RA was doing his rounds, he'd poke his head in and ask if we wanted a blessing.  If we said yes, he'd take the holy water bottle and shake it at us, sprinkling us liberally with holy water, before reminding us that the ladies had to leave the building very soon thereafter.

The differences between men and women.  Love it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Sacrificing the Latin Language

Clearly the most noticeable new departure is that of language. From now on the vernacular, not Latin, will be the principal language of the Mass. For those who appreciate the beauty of Latin, its power and aptness to express the sacred, substitution of the vernacular certainly represents a great sacrifice. We are losing the idiom of the Christian ages; we become like profane intruders into the literary sanctuary of sacred language; we shall lose a large portion of that wonderful and incomparable, artistic and spiritual reality, Gregorian chant. We indeed have reason for sadness and perhaps even for bewilderment. What shall we put in the place of this angelic language? We are sacrificing a priceless treasure. For what reason? What is worth more than these sublime values of the Church? The answer may seem trite and prosaic, but it is sound because it is both human and apostolic. Our understanding of prayer is worth more than the previous, ancient garments in which it has been regally clad. Of more value, too, is the participation of the people, of  modern people who are surrounded by clear, intelligible language, translatable into their ordinary conversation. If our sacred Latin should, like a thick curtain, close us off from the world of children and young people, of work and the business of everyday, then would we, fishers of men, be wise to allow it exclusive dominion over the speech of religion and prayer?

-Pope Paul VI, Address to a general audience, on the new Ordo Missae, 26 November 1969.
ICEL, Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, par 1762.

It's no secret that I like Latin.  The language is beautiful to hear spoken or sung, and the process of hearing beautiful sounds and simultaneously reading a profound text (with full knowledge of their unity) has deeply impacted my own spiritual life, powerfully lifting me up into the prayer of the Church.

But the academic position I inhabit as a student and hopeful scholar of the Roman liturgy requires that I take a step back from my personal preferences and experiences (thought without discounting them entirely) and look more objectively at the nature of the liturgy, which is derived from the twofold purpose of the liturgy: the glorification of God and the sanctification of man (SC 112).

There is no question that through the Latin language, a principal element in the patrimony of the Church, God is glorified; the question is only to what degree modern man is sanctified or deterred from sanctity through the Latin language.  That phrases the question a bit harshly, yet it does point to where the liturgical reformers were looking: which is more important, the preservation of this beautiful element of our tradition or the salvation of souls?

Naturally, the response is a both-and, just like everything else in our lives.  But in the absence of an opportunity to formally study this question (classwork really puts a damper on my thesis research), Our Lord has placed in my life experiences that have helped me to understand what I once experienced as "the other side."

When Latin acts as a roadblock to participation, it seems to usually boil down to one of two reasons: The first is psychological blocks.  Often times, people have difficulty processing a foreign language, are unable to concentrate when they don't understand the words being spoken, are scarred by childhood experiences connected to the Latin language or liturgy, or simply feel excluded by the language barrier.  These things are difficult to change.  In other cases, however, the primary element that is lacking is simply proper handouts.

Intelligent participation in the liturgical action requires that one know what is going on.  This really hits home to me whenever I leave my missal at home, or there is a special procession with extra prayers.  I find myself sitting or standing with everyone else, intending for Our Lord to heed the prayer of the priest, for I trust in its beauty and efficacy, and yet filled with strong feelings of resentment and exclusion.  I ought to be able to pray these prayers!  But without knowing any of their content, I am truly up the creek without a paddle.  I know that I will be guided to shore eventually, but I am entirely unable to propel myself down the river - and when that contemplative propulsion is what God asks of us (unless we are reasonably impeded), does it not make sense to provide those oars to our people wherever possible?

When I happened upon this quote from Pope Paul VI, I was struck by how closely it mirrored my own sentiments.  Our Latin legacy is truly a treasure, one that cannot be lost.  Still, it does seem that the majority of people are brought to a place where they are able to insert their hearts into the worship of God more easily and more fully when the liturgical rites are in their native tongue.  Who am I to deny them that privilege when Holy Mother Church has so graciously (and so humbly) allowed it?

Spiritus sapientiae et intellectus, miserere nobis.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Liturgical Jansenism

This quarter has been different for me.  Rather than delving deeply into subjects I knew only a bit about (as most of my previous classes here have been), each class has been either an articulation of principles I already knew but couldn't express well or an introduction to a whole new branch of theology.  Consequently, I've had far fewer "Aha!" moments that've brought me here (as you may have noticed).

Often people ask me whether I regret learning so much about the liturgy, because it's so beautiful when it's done well, which it so rarely is.  My answer is always no.

Some of you have been around while I was falling in love with the traditional Latin liturgy.  Some of you can remember me simply delighting in its complex simplicity, in its detailed fidelity.  I did not seek out the TLM as an escape from abuse-filled novus ordos; rather, the attractive power of that tradition proved so compelling that I couldn't stay away.

Fast forward a bit.  Here I am, as I've detailed a hundred times, surrounded by people with a deep knowledge of (and great love for) the traditions of the Church, who yet prefer the novus ordo.  And while I can and do spend many Sundays at the local EF parish, I also have the rare opportunity of having in the area numerous OF Masses that range from pretty good to excellent.  In short: I haven't had this much quality time with the OF since before I discovered the EF nearly three years ago.

And I find that I can pray the OF pretty well.  At these, too, my heart is united with that of my Lord and Savior; His Eucharistic Heart that I receive is the same in both forms of Holy Mass.  The abuses are different from place to place; I learn to block them out and step forward in faith.  I am an adaptable person; Our Lord will conform me to Him no matter where I end up.

But I've learned just enough for there to be a disconnect.  I could be quite content (if I had to) living in the OF as it is for the rest of my life, leaving behind all those beauties that I found in the EF.  But in order to do so, I would have to just write off my doubts, my criticisms, my confusions.  The Scripture readings at Mass are very beautiful - but now that I know the extent to which the centuries-old cycle of readings was ignored in its compilation, I find myself unable to respect the Lectionary quite as fully as I once did.

Part of me is perfectly willing to just flip the switch and disconnect that part of my brain that causes this trouble, that has doubts where the logical progression of things is not straightforward.  But our faith is a rational one, and as our liturgy is a manifestation of our faith (to say the least), oughtn't it, too, be rational?

No, we oughtn't have liturgy without reason, and doubly so for me, a student of the liturgy!  No one ought to have to turn off their brain so as to be able to manage with what is given them, though they know something doesn't seem to add up (I've seen this on both sides of the OF/EF debate, by the way).  There is a rift in my perception of the whole, and since I have the luxury of examining that rift, I must refrain from the temptation to walk away from it to the solid ground on one side or the other (for if I stay where it's safe, who will benefit from my education?).

Sanguis Christi, levamen laborantium, salva nos.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Priests are People, Too

One of the most humbling things about studying at a seminary is the opportunity to spend time with these men in the weeks just before their ordinations.

At the beginning of the year, they looked forward to their ordinations, sure, but for most that was just because they'd been done with school.  Now that's still a factor (as it is for every student - and most teachers, while we're at it), but there's something different about it now, weeks away from being ordained.  They've long been  just normal guys who speak of the Church with incredibly deep love, but there's an almost imperceptible difference that's crept into their attitudes in recent weeks.  They are, after all, mere weeks shy of their wedding day.

"I can't believe the Church is actually going to ordain me.  Me!  Does she know what she's doing!?"  They speak with the same love and awe of a man who can't quite grasp why his beautiful, talented wife chose him, of all the people in the world.

These men have no illusions.  They know that ordination will not solve their problems or make them perfect.  They're well aware that the life of a priest is not a walk in the park.  But God has chosen them for it.  Who are they to say no?

"It's almost real now.  I'm really going to be a priest in just a few weeks."  There's a deep excitement there, an eagerness to get out into the real world and serve the people in the parishes, but it's hidden beneath a thick layer of reverence for the configuration to Christ they'll soon be given, a layer of awe for the power and responsibility that's about to be entrusted to them.

And it is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time.  Thank you, dear seminarians, for reminding me what fear of the Lord looks like.  I pray that you retain that deep-seated joy and awe at your priesthood throughout your life.  I guarantee that it will bear fruit.

Jesus, High Priest inflamed with zeal for God and souls, have mercy on us.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the Personality of the Priest

I've been having trouble at Mass lately.  No matter where I go (and I've spent time at many parishes: at home, at school, and visiting friends), the personal preferences of the priest seem to get in the way of me praying the liturgy.

One priest has such a thick accent, I have to be consciously attentive every second just to understand his homilies.  Another's homilies habitually have nothing to do with the day's readings.  Another speaks aloud prayers that are supposed to be said silently.  Another priest's ars celebrandi is - well, there's nothing wrong with it per se, but it's just not to my personal liking.  Yet another priest is too slow and meticulous (almost painfully so).  Another speaks things that I would like to have sung... the list goes on.

I have often heard the complaint levied against the OF that it gives too much focus on the priest's personality.  And rightfully so - who among us has not experienced the natural evangelizing effect of a priest with great personal charisma, then seen it topple to pieces when said priest was transferred?

The catch: these priests mentioned above? They're all traddy priests, saying the EF Mass!

I've been suspecting for months that one of the attractive features about the EF is that in it, you're less bound to the priest's failings. Father's voice distracts you from prayer (be it his heavy accent, strange pronunciations, putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, or singsongy "prayer tone")? For one thing, he's not speaking your language for very long; for another, even many of his Latin prayers are prayed quietly or silently. Don't like the priest looking at you? Rest assured that never once in the EF is he able to make eye contact. Your pastor's a tenor and you're a bass, and you can never hit the right notes to sing the response to his "Dominus vobiscum"? You're under no obligation to make a sound; a prayer within your heart is perfectly sufficient. Broken rubrics or liturgical ineptitude upset you? You can't see most of the actions you'd be nitpicky about (and, unless you're a Latin scholar, can't hear them either)!

I am exaggerating the divide to make my case, but the reality stands. The distracting voice in the OF effectively cuts you off from the all prayers of the Mass that you're not saying yourself. If someone is making eye contact with you (even only at the distribution of Communion), it takes great discipline not to look back and see the minister more than the sacrament. I can't even estimate how many times I've had to sing a response (or part of a song) down an octave. And you know things are bad if your spiritual director suggests you close your eyes and presume the best at certain parts of Mass.

There are good OFs out there, and we do need more of them. There are also good EFs out there, in ever-growing numbers.  But there's a difference between fleeing to the EF as a refuge and falling in love with its inspiring beauty.  I suspect that most of us have done a little of both.

χριστός ανέστη!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Good Friday Reproaches

I'd never before paid attention to the Reproaches that are sung on Good Friday, during the Veneration of the Cross.  Such a beautiful juxtaposition of God's goodness to our sinfulness!  Consider them the words of Christ on the cross to his chosen people.

My people, what have I done to you? or in what have I offended you? Answer me.

Because I led you out of the land of Egypt: you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Holy God. Holy, mighty One. Holy, immortal One, have mercy on us. (2x, in alternating Greek and Latin)

Because I led you out through the desert in forty years, and fed you with manna, and brought you into a very good land: you have prepared a cross for your Savior.  Holy God...

What more should I have done, and did it not? Behold, I have planted you as my fairest vine, and you have become very bitter to me, for you have quenched my thirst with vinegar, and with a lance you have pierced your Savior's side. Holy God...

For you did I scourge Egypt and its firstborn, and you have given me over to be scourged. My people...

I led you out of Egypt, overwhelming Pharaoh in the Red Sea, and you have delivered me to the chief priests. My people...

I opened the sea before you, and you have opened my side with a lance. My people...

I went before you in a pillar of cloud, and you have haled me to the judgment hall of Pilate. My people...

I fed you with manna through the desert, and you have smitten me with buffets and with lashes. My people...

I gave you the water of salvation to drink from the rock, and you have given me gall and vinegar to drink. My people...

For you I smote the kings of the Canaanites, and you have smitten my head with a reed. My people...

I gave you a royal scepter, and you have given my head a crown of thorns. My people...

With great power I lifted you up, and you have hung me upon the gibbet of the cross. My people...
(Translation adapted from the Institute of Christ the King)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Two Sinners

Tonight Anne and I went to a local Byzantine parish for Liturgy.  Much was beautiful, but what struck me most were some of the proper prayers for the day, based on the gospel.

The gospel reading covered both the woman who poured her costly oil on Jesus' feet and Judas' agreement to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Those prayers beforehand drew out the connection between the two, highlighting the simplicity of her costly gift (amid her sinful life) in contrast to his greedy treachery (hidden by his facade of virtue).  I wish I could reproduce the prayers for you here, because I simply cannot imitate the brilliance of the East with which they shone.

Instead I assure you of my prayers for you, and exhort you to keep in mind the model of the sinful woman.

Remittentur ei peccata multa quoniam dilexit multum.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On "a good novus ordo"

A few of us gather in the chapel of my building to chant Compline on weeknights, occasionally followed by a conversation (or a walking rosary).  One such evening a few weeks ago, it came to light that Kyle and I had both been at the same local EF parish at the same time, without either of us having realized it.

Now, Kyle and I have chatted liturgy before, so all our cards were out on the table before the conversation began: He prefers the OF, I prefer the EF, and we're both perfectly fine with the other liturgy (it's just not our preference).  The more we chat, the more I am impressed by the fact that, despite his lack of personal attachment to the EF, he is willing again and again to return to it, to try and learn it, to try and love it, simply because it's a part of our Catholic tradition.

The chat was pleasant enough, as always, and toward its end, Kyle made a remark that he surely forgot immediately, but that stayed with me: "I'd rather a good novus ordo any day."

I had neither profound insight nor witty retort ready at the moment, so I left it be, bade goodnight, and went back to my room.

But as I was reflecting upon this conversation later that evening, I found myself concluding that what Kyle prescribes here is very possibly what the Church most needs.  You all know that I love the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and it is truly beautiful to see the EF being celebrated in more and more places the world over, and thus unlocking the treasury that had been all but forgotten in the turmoil of recent decades.  Yet in how many places is the EF celebrated in complete isolation from the OF, thus providing a refuge for some without sharing its grandeur with the many?  Or how many times is the EF celebrated without adequate catechesis, resulting in brief nostalgia, or curiosity followed by an unchanged return to prior practice?

I know Summorum Pontificum has only been in effect for two and a half years, and that's no time, in the grand scheme of things.  I know that it's too early to effectively judge what effect its celebration, even in isolation from good liturgical catechesis, will have in the Church at large.  But at least the EF is being celebrated well.  I daresay it's easier to find a good EF, no matter where you live (at least here in the States), than to find a good OF.

How many Catholics go to Mass and suffer through hokey liturgies with unlikeable music just because they're supposed to go to Mass on Sundays?  There are myriad people with no particular interest in tradition or Latin or even good liturgy, who are just fulfilling their duty.  These people are not going to go out of their way for Mass.  But how much more would these same people be fed if their regular Sunday liturgy connected them with the past, sustained their spirits, and taught them how to worship God?

I learned recently that every Catholic has a canonical right to the liturgy celebrated correctly.  A right!  Canon Law is not particularly concerned with rights (especially when compared to American civil law), so this is a big deal.  Not just a right to the sacraments, but to them celebrated according to the appropriate liturgical books.

Imagine: Walking down the street to Mass at the local parish of wherever you're visiting, secure in the knowledge that that there you'll find "a good novus ordo" - that you won't have to block out all sorts of strange liturgical adaptations in order to pray.  What a world!  Perhaps one of the most direct ways to accomplish this would be for people to just start doing it.

I know I'm dreaming, but maybe... Maybe if "a good novus ordo" were an everyday reality, then the gulf that currently exists between the OF and the EF might shrink, and liturgical politics really might not matter all that much.  Maybe then we'd be freed from what Mosebach calls the "monstrous act" of evaluating liturgy, and would be able to walk into a church and simply pray.

What a world to hope for.  What a world to work towards.  It might not be my personal preference, Kyle, but I think I, too, might rather a good novus ordo.

PS - The nerd in me is so proud that more than two thirds of you do not use Internet Explorer to access my website.  It's the little joys... :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blog Relaunch!

Hello, my dear readers!

Even forgiving my recent absence due to finals week and general craziness of life, many of you have likely made note of the gradual shift in the focus of this blog.  When I first started writing nearly two years ago, a friend asked me, "Why don't you write a liturgy blog?"  My reply was that I had nothing to contribute to the blogosphere that wasn't already out there already, better-phrased and with more education and experience behind it.
Now I do have something to say.

As you've likely noticed, I've embarked upon an academic quest of sorts.  My goal is to get my mind around the postconciliar reform of the liturgy, and everything leading up to and flowing from it, with a eye to how Summorum Pontificum changes the scene.  This basically requires that I read all the prominent liturgical scholars of the past two centuries.  Blogging has become for me an outlet whereby I process these various ideas.
Thank you to friends like Joe, Aaron, and Anne, who have left helpful comments, and Aaron, Sana, and Fr Dana, who have verbally responded to thoughts I presented here.  I know few of you consider yourselves liturgical experts, but I do know that most of you attend the Sacred Liturgy.

David Fagerburg makes a distinction between liturgists and liturgiologists - any Catholic who regularly attends  Mass is a liturgist; one who studies the liturgy from an academic setting is a a liturgiologist (I simplify, but not much).  You are all liturgists, and I need your input to remain in touch with my own inner liturgist as I continue in liturgiology.  Any feedback you give me on any ideas, no matter how small, will help to form my thesis (which will unfold in this blog during the next year and a half).  For such aid I am truly grateful.

To this end, I have completely renamed and redesigned this blog.  The domain name will remain the same, but the new title is "In Te Speravi," which, poetically translated, means, "In You, O Lord, I have placed my hope."  I don't know where my research and musings are going to take me, except that they will bring me closer to my Lord, and that's all that matters.

In the meantime, I intend to post on a more consistent schedule of twice per week.  Academics come first, of course, but I should be developing the discipline to do such things as well.  After all, I'm unlikely to have this much free time again in the next few decades.

Thank you for reading.  You are in my prayers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hymn for Saint Joseph

One of the coolest things about the Mundelein Psalter is its hymns.  See, the Liturgy of the Hours has hymns prescribed for specific feasts and days throughout the year (it's not just "pop in a song and go"; there's a prescribed song that's ideal to be sung).  Below is the Vespers Hymn for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary:

O Joseph, heav'nly hosts thy worthiness proclaim,
And Christendom conspires to celebrate thy fame,
Thou who in purest bonds were to the Virgin bound;
How glorious is thy name renowned.

Thou, when thou didst behold thy Spouse about to bear,
Were sore oppressed with doubt, were filled with wond'ring care;
At length the Angel's word thy anxious heart relieved:
She by the Spirit hath conceived.

Thou with thy newborn Lord didst seek far Egypt's land,
As wand'ring pilgrims, ye fled o'er the desert sand;
That Lord, when lost, by thee is in the temple found,
While tears are shed, and joys abound.

Not till death's hour is past do other men obtain
The meed of holiness, and glorious rest attain;
Thou, like to Angels made, in life completely blest,
Dost clasp thy God unto thy breast.

O Holy Trinity, thy suppliant servants spare;
Grant us to rise to heav'n for Joseph's sake and prayer,
And so our grateful hearts to thee shall ever raise
Exulting canticles of praise. Amen.

Coming soon: official relaunch of this blog (with new name, new layout, new all sorts of things)!  Happy Solemnity!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On New Perspectives

Probably the most exciting part of my studies here and now is that my theological-liturgical understanding is in a state of constant flux. Not so much so that I have now ground to stand on, but that I am constantly learning and nuancing and reexamining.

I am now surrounded by people who know the liturgy thoroughly, love it deeply, and are rooted in tradition: and yet prefer the novus ordo.

This intrigues me (because it baffles me), especially because these are people whose scholarship I greatly respect.  I may or may not come to find myself in a similar position by the time I'm done here, but there is no doubt in my mind that I've got much to learn from this perspective during these two short years.

This weekend, for instance.  Denis suggested to me that people go through liturgical phases (admitting later that this theory was autobiographical in genesis):  First, they get fed up with the abuses at their local novus ordo parish, then they flee to their local traditional parish, but eventually they wise up and realize that there's a reason why people were trying to reform the Mass for so many centuries.

It was a challenging thought.  Certainly the EF Mass is far from perfect, but the OF Mass is at least as imperfect, albeit in different ways.

It took a few days of processing things, but I finally realized why Denis's above statement struck me as not quite right: because my life has followed a different path from his.  I did not flee to the EF Mass as a refuge from terrible novus ordos; I came to the EF Mass because I was attracted to its great beauty!  (All things considered, I've been extraordinarily fortunate in how few grave liturgical abuses I've been subjected to.)

So I have some problems to work through.  See, I trust Holy Mother Church when she says that there has been no rupture in the liturgy.  But I perceive (and feel) a rupture.  As I have learned and researched, I've been able to close some gaps, but others have opened further.  There are still a few elements of the novus ordo with which I am profoundly uncomfortable (less so in the experience of its liturgy than in the theological understanding thereof).

I am so blessed to have this opportunity to study the sacred liturgy.  And I will not stop until I understand this mysterious continuity between the rites.  And you lucky people get to come along for the ride.  Welcome.

Jesus, mitis et humilis corde, fac cor meum secundum cor tuum.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Good Friendships and Inaccurate Assumptions

I am generally pretty astute when it comes to social situations (like most women, I consider a million details all the time), but I have my moments.  There was a dance in college to which asked a guy friend (we'll call him J) on a date by accident.  That is to say: I didn't realize until during the asking that this was obviously a date.  He was very good about it, and picked up all the chivalrous things guys do just as if it'd been his idea.  Needless to say, I was mortified!

Relatively new to the idea of gender-appropriate behavior, I quickly grabbed a mutual guy friend and told him the whole story, asking whether I'd made a huge misstep.  He told me I was fine, that sometimes it does a guy good to have a woman make a move every now and again.

He had taken for granted that I had a crush on J.  I had no such feelings; J was merely a great guy who liked to dance and was always great company (and in my collegiate cheapness, saving that extra dollar on the dance ticket seemed to be worth so much!).  All the girl friends to whom I told the story in the days until the dance also took for granted that I had a crush on him.

There is some reality to your friends knowing your feelings for someone before you're willing to admit them.  However, I will insist to my dying day that the crush I developed on J at and after that dance was precipitated by my friends' unanimous belief that I already had a crush on him.

This is not an isolated incident (the friends perceiving crushes where they were none, that is.  I haven't accidentally asked out /too/ many guys since then).  When I first started telling stories to friends from college about my musician friend back home, they all thought I was in love with him, though I was not.  His music uplifts my heart, and his friendship is a delight, but there were no romantic feelings there.  However, I learned to rarely speak freely about the joy his music and his friendship brought to me, because I just didn't want to have to explain that he was not the new romantic interest (and, of course, denying a theory like that only gives credence to its likely truth)...

I have to be careful when telling stories to friends outside of here, even.  Mention the same guy's name in a funny story more than twice, and the other person is already suspicious that I like him.  Conversely, if I mention a visitor before his arrival to friends here, the sentiment (dare I say the hope?) is that perhaps this one might do as more than a friend...

I have long been aware of the phenomenon wherein a girl discovers that a guy whom she only likes as a friend likes her as more, and then she develops a crush on him.  The phenomenon wherein a girl's friends think she likes a guy because he's fodder for funny stories, and she consequently develops a crush on him?  Much less documented.  No less real.

I take great delight in God's creation of human persons.  He really did an excellent job all around, and one of the most fulfilling -- and, thankfully, most consistent -- ways I experience his love is through discovering the personalities and idiosyncrasies of other people.  And I like to tell stories.  Heck, the bedrock of my friendship with Anne is that we both show love for people by telling them stories about other people we love!

What am I getting at here?  I don't know.  Perhaps all I've done is reveal one of my own weaknesses.  Still, it brings me much joy when people accept friendship at face value without suspecting other motives.  C. S. Lewis calls friendship the "least natural of loves," because it is not essential for the survival of the species (as is affection, to keep us from killing each other, and eros, for reproduction), and perhaps it is this very unnaturalness that causes us to infer eros where he is not present.

Crushes are not fun, (well, they may have an element of fun, but they're usually more trouble than they're worth).  As with many of my musings, these thought processes are not new.  But there's nothing new under the sun, eh?

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Mass Versus Populum, and Watching the Priest

When I first started going to the Traditional Latin Mass on a semi-regular basis, one of my favorite things to do was simply to watch.  Sure, I'd read through the proper chants for the day, but I knew the gist of what was going on without reading along, and I could instead watch in rapt attention as the servers genuflected in perfect sync, as the priest made deliberate, measured motions, as everything proceeded like your proverbial well-oiled machine...

Learning to pray the Extraordinary Form of the Mass taught me much about how to pray the Ordinary Form: it taught me how to insert my heart into the prayers, to really offer the Lord my whole being; it taught me the best bits of the sacred attitude by which things had been done (more or less) for centuries; it taught me to quiet my mind and pray in silence with others.

The more I came to learn about the liturgy and its rubrics, the more difficulty I had praying at most Masses, because of the unfortunate reality that liturgical abuses abound, largely out of cluelessness.  A popular coping mechanism was to look at anything other than the priest.  One spiritual director actually suggested that I close my eyes at certain times.  This is nothing unusual, in our current day and age; many of my peers have shared with me similar experiences.  We just close our eyes when we can, at first to block out what is probably going wrong, but after a while it just becomes habitual: I just don't watch the priest, save perhaps when he's preaching.

And on the rare occasion when I do watch the priest, I usually spend the entire Ecce Agnus Dei wishing that I didn't have to try to mentally block out the priest's face, directly behind where he's holding Our Lord, in order to properly adore my God.  This does not encourage me to change my ways.

Many excellent books and articles have been written to address the question of celebrating Mass ad orientem.  I think it's a fantastic idea for many reasons, and wish it were done more frequently.  That being said, I have little power to effect such change from my pew, so I don't lose sleep over it.  Instead, I have to pray with what I have available to me.  And when the EF is not reasonably available, that tends to mean that I have to offer myself to the Father even though the priest is looking at me.

Several weeks ago, this strange inspiration struck me, and I looked up to watch Father as he prayed the Eucharistic prayer (I honestly can't even remember if it was the Canon).  The OF may have removed many of the signs of the cross and other reverential actions of the EF, but there is plenty remaining for displaying love of and devotion to Our Lord, and this priest certainly displayed that.  I was spellbound: here was a man offering to God this perfect sacrifice, paying no attention to me, attending carefully to every detail.

His very ars celebrandi lifted my soul up to God.

Is this not what proponents of Mass versus populum intended?

Since then, I have made a concerted effort to watch the priest, to unite the movements of my heart to his ritual actions, for those actions were placed there deliberately by Mother Church and have great meaning.  Sometimes it's a bit like listening to a reading proclaimed in a thick, unfamiliar accent: you can understand, despite the difficulty, but it takes some effort.  In analogous cases, what we often perceive as a lack of reverence on the part of the priest (thereby making it hard for us to pray, because we in the pew feel like we're taking the sacred action more seriously than that man in the sanctuary who, though ontologically configured to Christ the Priest, seems to be just going through the motions for the end of having Communion to distribute)... this is more likely just an indicator of a different spirituality, a different brand of reverence from our own.  How judgmental we humans can be when life is not how we expect or want it to be!

Remember that story of the two bishops walking down the street who see a prostitute?  The first bishop averts his eyes to keep himself from lustful thoughts, and the second simply looks at her with great love.  When the first bishop rebukes the second for not protecting his innocence, bishop #2 cries with sorrow: "How sad that such beauty should be sold to the lusts of men!"*

I don't know about you, but I want to be that second bishop, no matter what it is I'm observing.

Jesus, mitis et humilis Corde, fac cor meum secundum Cor Tuum.

*The prostitute converted and became St Pelagia, in case you were wondering.  :)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On Liturgical Vernacular, and Listening with Reverence

Fr Z recently posted a poll about one's language preference for the Mass (i.e., Latin or vernacular), so these thoughts seem timely.

I grew up with the novus ordo in English (with the occasional Spanish Second Reading at Midnight Mass).  When I first fell in love with the Traditional Latin Mass, one of its strongest draws was precisely that it was not in English, that I had to put forth some effort in order to pray it effectively.

Just over a year ago, I posted about the perks of praying in Latin.  My arguments basically boiled down to the fact that we fallen humans just don't listen, so Latin (with translation provided, of course) would be a way to wake people up and help them to enter in.  (Leaving aside entirely the theological points of universality through space and time, and of undoing both the Babel event and the fall.)

But, as my regular readers may remember, I have recently had to reexamine how I look at things in light of the huge blessing that is my opportunity to study the Sacred Liturgy, for the service of Holy Mother Church.  So I have found myself wondering.

For this was one of the major aims of the Liturgical Movement, to have the Mass in the vernacular, and since I seem to be continuing in their footsteps, I thought I'd best address our major points of divergence (the other being Mass celebrated versus populum, which is a forthcoming post).

I began to wonder about the mother of the young child, who knows what's going on in the heart of the Mass, but cannot pray the propers or orations (or, in some places, even the readings) because she doesn't have the time to open her missal and read them.  About the old man who's losing his sight.  About the foreigner who has no missal.  About the illiterate man who sits in the back.  About the child.  Sure, all these people can pray, principally through the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy.  But how can they enter deeply into the liturgical prayer of the Church, as their baptismal priesthood both entitles them and calls them to do?

Certainly /I/ prefer Latin, but I'm an intellectual and an avocational linguist.  My mother, on the other hand, is put off by it.  If Jesus Christ descended to become incarnate as man so that we could know Him on our own level (if you will), then why can the Sacred Liturgy not speak our own language, so that we could know Him there?

This blog is aptly titled, for I find myself musing here with greater frequency.  Not concluding, mind you, merely musing.  When all is said and done, I don't know which is "better."  I know which I prefer, but is my preference a devotional-like attachment to praying the Mass the way I want to pray it, rather than how God has asked me to pray it?

Considering that Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, has asked that we continue to pray in Latin as well as in the vernacular, and that modern popes and magisterial documents have requested that every Catholic know at least the Ordinary of the Mass and common prayers in Latin, my desire is clearly not contrary to God's perfect will.

Still, these objections must be considered.  Were I to simply voice my assent for a universal application of what practices I find beneficial in my own spiritual life, I would be a poor scholar, and perhaps even poorer a Christian.

Even more practically: I do not have the option of going to a Mass where everybody does everything the way I want.  The very concept is laughable, and selfish.  My responsibility as a Christian is to offer my heart to Our Lord at every liturgy I find myself attending, to always place myself upon that paten to be offered up as a sacrifice.

When I'm at a Mass in English, that means listening.

I've always been bad at listening, but my listening skills do seem to have deteriorated over the past year or two.  Admittedly, I was spoiled at Steubenville by dynamic, intellectual homilists.  But even back home (especially at my EF parish) I heard my fair share of excellent homilies - and still had to keep mentally slapping myself to attention because my mind had wandered off several sentences ago.

As I summed above, we fallen humans just don't listen.  But, by virtue our very participation in the Sacred Liturgy, we are called to rise above the fallen state of our humanity and enter into the heavenly worship.  By our offering of ourselves upon the sacrificial altar, we are called to let go of our sins and weaknesses.  By our sharing in this our wedding banquet, we are called to intimate Communion with our divine Bridegroom.

We are called to listen.  And not just to listen: to listen with reverence.  We are called to make that listening our prayer, just as we make prayers of our standing and sitting, our signs of the cross and bows of the head, our dressing in finery and speaking of the assigned responses.

We are called to listen to Him, as He listens to us.  Regardless of the language of the liturgy (but especially so when it's in our native tongue): listening to Him in the liturgy can be the first step to listening to Him in our hearts. 

Domine, exaudi orationem meam...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Liturgical Conformity

Shortly after my arrival here, I was given a copy of Liturgiae Celebratio: The Celebration of the Liturgy at Mundelein Seminary.  It's a very thorough (and well-footnoted) little book, covering practical details of liturgical celebration without glossing over brief moments of theological explanation.

So that you can see I don't exaggerate when I say it is a thorough book, I reproduce here its table of contents.  It has particular instructions for: Assembly, Celebrant, Concelebrants, Deacon, Acolyte, Lector, Psalmist, Musicians, Master of Ceremonies, and Sacristan; it also contains a chart for progressive solemnity, a section on the Liturgy of the Hours, and, in closing, some spiritual and ecclesiological perspectives.

Naturally, most of those parts don't apply to me.  But I thought it only fair to read the bit on the Assembly, since I was given a copy, and I do form part of the assembly.  Most things I read were familiar enough, but the last bit of the "Sign of the Cross" section quite upset me:
Note that the General Instruction provides for no Sign of the Cross during the formula following the Act of Penitence. The priest's absolution in this instance "lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance." (Liturgiae Celebratio, p8, cf. GIRM 51)

I was absolutely floored by this!  Sure, I could see that it'd be important to train devotional habits out of future priests, who will be in the sanctuary, easily visible by all, and an acute symbol of Christ the Head.  But me!?  Why couldn't I be that little lady who sits in the congregation with her old-fashioned piety and worships Our Lord in her own little way, without detracting from the Holy Sacrifice taking place at the altar?

Some semblance of decorum prevailed, however, and so I refrained from making a noticeable sign of the cross at this point.  Not quite what's asked of me, I confess, but I have a strong attachment to this pious act, learned in childhood at my parents' fairly typical Catholic parish, an act which now reminds me of the EF liturgy that I hold so dear.  It's difficult to let go of a beloved tradition when a non-binding rule asks you to without explanation.

When Fr Martis first mentioned in class that we're supposed to shun all displays of individualism in the liturgy, I was taken aback.  I immediately considered defensively the hardly-discernible devotional actions I make during Mass, and the prayers from other liturgical traditions that I have incorporated into my private preparation for the Eucharist.  Then I recalled a more reliable source than my own sentiments: our holy father.  He explicitly commends beating the breast at the Agnus Dei (not a prescribed action!), to keep in mind the sacrifice of the Lamb Who was slain for our sins (cf. Spirit of the Liturgy, p207).

The subject fell to the back burner, but Fr Martis mentioned again at the Triduum conference yesterday that we are not present at the sacred liturgy to pray how we want to pray but how God wants us to pray (my paraphrase, his ideas).  This does make sense - the whole reason we have rubrics to follow is because the liturgy is not our own creation but something that Our Lord has handed on to us, something that we must do in a certain way simply because He has asked us to.

Not that I ever doubted Fr Martis's scholarship, but a rule feels more binding if you see it in print yourself.  And sure enough, clearly stated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
The faithful [. . .] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other. (GIRM 95)

Shun is a very strong word for the Magisterium to use in a document.  Have you ever noticed that Rome kind of stays away from particularly strong words, that every Decree ends with the phrase, "Everything to the contrary notwithstanding", that most scheduled events can be pushed to a different time if pastoral judgment requires it to be so?  And yet here, Holy Mother Church asks us to shun individualism, and anything that might even look like individualism, in the context of the liturgy.

That's a big deal.

I should be so united with the rest of the congregation in my liturgical prayer that you would hardly be able to pick me out from the crowd.

Certainly, our hearts should all be upon the Paschal Mystery, upon the sacrifice taking place at that altar.  And it is perfectly understandable that our bodies should show a certain degree of uniformity.  For we are not acting as individuals in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; rather, we are entering into the Body of Christ and speaking with one voice as His Bride.  Still, because the liturgy is my nuptial union with my divine Bridegroom, I want to have a satisfying emotional experience.  Oops.

The deeper in I get to the Roman liturgy, the more deeply I notice its essential differences from the liturgies of our Eastern brethren (in this case: the demanded uniformity of the faithful's exterior participation).

And the more I wonder how much of my attachment to various liturgical forms is due to devotional piety, rather than to that piety proper to the sacred liturgy. Expect more on this in the weeks to come.  It scares me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Scandalizing Moments, and the Abolition of the Minor Orders

One of the more inspiring (if crazier) stories I heard in college was about Pope Paul VI.  I don't remember all the details, but apparently he'd called together a group of advisors in the late '60s and had them evaluate various aspects of sexual morality.  The advisors unanimously reached the conclusion that contraception was totally fine.  Paul VI thanked them, and then promulgated Humanae Vitae anyway.

I was thumbing through Anibale Bugnini's Reform of the Roman Liturgy the other day, and happened upon the section that dealt with the minor orders.  Some background is in order:  Before Vatican II, there were nine minor orders, steps on the way to the priesthood - kind of like a religious taking temporary vows before taking perpetual vows (the minor orders no longer exist in the Roman Church*).  In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council Fathers called for some changes and simplifications in the liturgical and paraliturgical rites of the Church, and Bugnini's book is intended as a memoir (but sometimes feels like a tell-all) about the Consilium, the Sacred Committee of Rites, and the process of the revision of the liturgy.

So I was reading with interest about the whole process, and was surprised to hear that both the Consilium and the pope wanted to keep a few of the minor orders.  They all wanted to cut out the ones (like porter) that no longer really exercised their functions, but they agreed in definitely wanting to maintain lector, acolyte, and subdeacon.**  (I'm simplifying here, but not a whole lot.)  No consensus was reached, and discussions were tabled for a while.

When discussions were picked up again six months later, the pressure was intense.  Bishops, priests, and seminarians the world around wanted answers.  They didn't just want answers from Rome, though; they wanted a specific set of answers.  The nail in the coffin was a group of German seminarians, who quite simply refused to be ordained to the minor orders, "claiming that they are 'absurd and not fulfillable'" (Bugnini 741).

That is to say: Some seminarians wrote to Rome and said, "Look, you'd better ordain us some other way, 'cuz we're not doing that," AND ROME LISTENED!  Holy Mother Church caved to the demands of a class of impatient seminarians.

I am just about scandalized!  I take comfort in the fact that this was not a matter of doctrine (as in the Humanae Vitae story above), but still: an ancient, laudable tradition of the Church, important though non-binding (much like the celibate priesthood) was just chucked out the window because the people rebelled.

Little wonder people seem to think the Church is a democracy!

*I know, I just made a dangerous claim there.  While the minor orders do seem to exist in many fantastic traditional communities, they remain a juridical reality more than anything, and unless those communities have an exemption to the current Code of Canon Law of which I'm unaware, treating their seminarians as clerics before diaconate is not technically correct (but is grandfathered in because of the wonderful tradition).

**These are pretty much what they sound like.  The lector reads, the acolyte serves at the altar, and the subdeacon assists the deacon (much like an MC or a really good main server).

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