Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Seven Last Words

As we enter into the Sundays of Lent, I have decided to focus in my preaching on the Seven Last Words of Christ. These sayings, taken from the Gospel accounts of the Passion, give insight and authentic teachings of Christ. Here on the Cross, He mounted the greatest pulpit and delivered the best sermon in history.
The Seven Last Words are:
  • Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34
  • Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
  • Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? -- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt 27:46)
  • Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit. (Luke 23:46)
  • Woman, behold your son; behold your Mother! (John 19:26-27)
  • I thirst. (John 19:28)
  • It is finished (John 19:30)
In each of the Sundays of Lent, and on Good Friday, one of these Last Words will be examined for our reflection.
The first saying of Christ, as he is being crucified and mocked, having already withstood the mock trial that the High Priests and Sanhedrin held and the terrible scourging at the pillar, is "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." In these words we can begin to plumb the depth of the Mercy of Christ. After a night without sleep; having been abandoned by all but a very few of His closest friends, and having suffered terrible indignities, Christ prays for those who persecute Him -- as He has commanded us to do. In His complete surrender, he shows His greatest strength.
It is this strength that he gave to his disciples, as we see in the case of Saint Stephen, who not too long after will pray to Christ for mercy for those who are stoning him. The mercy of Christ -- the Divine Mercy, extend to all who avail themselves of it. The mercy of Christ is not limited to those things we do without knowing, but also to those things we do with full knowledge. Saint Faustina was shown a vision of an ocean, which represented the Divine Mercy; she was made to understand that her sins were but a drop in a bucket in comparison. It would be utter foolishness to think anything is beyond the mercy of Christ.
As long as the perons repents of sin and takes advantage of the Mercy of God, especially as found in the Sacrament of His Mercy, God is always faithful to forgive sinners.
This does have a moral dimension for us. As I mentioned, Saint Stephen prayed for those who were persecuting him. We are commanded by Christ to do the same. As we pray the Lord's Prayer, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we remember the words of Christ, "The same measure that you use will be used for you." As we pray for those who have harmed us, it becomes easier to forgive them. As we show mercy to those around us, we are assured that the same will be shown to us.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And so it begins......

Just over twenty-four hours into Lent, I am beginning to feel the burn, as they say. That one little thing (that comes in twelve-ounce packages) that would have made a great meal oh so much better. Boy was I tempted......
So now we enter into our Lenten fast. Along with many other reasons, we are also encouraged to fast by my friend Shawn Carney and his 40 Days for Life campaign. There is so much that could be said about acts of self denial in this world, and how they just aren't popular anymore. Suffice it to say, if it was good enough for Our Lord, it's good enough for me. That, and He commanded it!
I wish everybody a blessed Lent so that you can have a truly holy Pasch!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Holy Smoke

As has been discussed before on this blog, incense, among its many qualities, is known to be repulsive to demons. It is also a part of the ceremonies of the Mass in every rite I have ever experienced. Why then, is there so much opposition among the faithful to its use?
When we get to the offertory of the Mass, why would anyone not want to see incense rising from around the altar? Americans have a tendency to claim allergies to incense. Often the same people have allergies to the confessional, but that is another story. However, one has to wonder, when the coughing starts before the incense is even imposed, just how much is related to allergies, and how much is their imagination.
As the incense is imposed, it is blessed by the Priest. Traditionally, the prayer Ab illo benedicaris, in cuius honore cremaberis. is said as the incense is being imposed. It is blessed silently. Then the thurible is handed by the deacon to the Priest. First the Oblation itself is incensed. As a rupture from the past, the rubrics of the Ordinary Form call for there to be three swings (double) or a cross. This sad clarification in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal's most recent edition means that the Priest is no longer free to incense the Oblation with three crosses and three circles. After the Oblation is incensed, the Altar Cross and Altar are incensed as well. This is done with single swings of the thurible over or toward the altar.
A hermeneutic of continuity would lead one to incense the mensa (top) of the altar, then the sides, then continue around the back side (or as is the case in disoriented worship, around the front side) of the mensa, stopping, if necessary in the middle to incense the Cross. The other side of the Altar, and the Gospel Side of the mensa are incensed, followed by the front of the Altar. After this, the Priest hands the thurible to the Deacon, who incenses him and then the congregation. In the midst of this can be added any concelebrants, Deacons, Acolytes, or clerics in choir. The Priest and people are incensed as a sign of their being offered as part of the oblation to God the Father.

Friday, February 13, 2009


The New Liturgical Movement blog has a post about new chant settings of the Mass Ordinary in English (new translation). They are truly awesome work. If we can get these into our parishes it will bring about a renewal of the Liturgy. This fits in with the hermeneutic of continuity perfectly. It follows the call of the Church to give Gregorian Chant pride of place in Catholic worship of the Roman Rite, while still allowing for English translation of the texts. In a word, Brilliant!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Deafening Silence

One of the things that has been lost since the implementation of the New Order of the Mass by Paul VI in 1970 is silence. This, of course, is not something that was supposed to happen. In fact many documents speak of the need to have silence in the Liturgy.
What has opposed this silence is a false notion of what is meant by full, active and conscious participation. For starters, active is a lousy translation of actuosa, which we can see from cognates is more in line with English words actual or actualized than active, which comes from the Latin word activus, not actuosus.
This bad translation leads to the misunderstanding that participation on the part of the Faithful is to be full of activity. What happens, then, is that there is constant motion -- especially singing (more on that...). The lectors tend to go through the readings non-stop -- beginning the Psalm as soon as the Deo gratias is said, etc. There is no time of reflection given. The return of silence is awkward to people at first, but becomes a great part of the hermeneutic of continuity. Ironically, this is one of the reforms desired by the Council. Many of us have experienced Low Mass at which the readings are proclaimed in such a way as to indicate they are something to get through rather than a substantial part of the Mass. True, the Gradual (and its counterpart, the responsorial Psalm) and Alleleluia are supposed to be resonses to the Word of God proclaimed, and as such, by their nature, follow upon the Epistle in a more immediate manner. However, some slight pause for reflection is also good. The irony is, that many of these kind of reforms never made their way into practice in the Church!
The Offertory (or as they call it now, prepartion of the Oblation is generally silent as well. But, because of the mistaken notion of participation, one frequently hears, "Father, I want to say Blessed be God forever." They can't stand silence. It's deafening to them! Some how they feel as though they are participating in the Sacrifice better if they speak those words. The truth is, the best way for them to participate in the Sacrifice is to be silently offering themselves along with the Host.
This, of course, relates to the disorientation of the liturgy. You see, if the people can see all that is happening on the Altar, they will feel drawn to watch and to listen to the words and make responses, all of which distracts them from full, active (actual) and conscious participation because they are not entering into prayer as deeply, but rather stay at the superficial level of making responses. Because of the nearly universal taking of the option to say the prayers aloud (even when there has been a song at the offertory, which means the option doesn't exist), Priests who desire to say the prayers in silence are looked upon as somehow cutting the people off.
While we're at it, the horrible translation of the offertory prayers into English adds another reason to say them silenly -- the ability then to pray them in Latin.
About the music - As is quoted in a document on liturgy that a friend of mine is perfecting, St Pius X reminds us that in the Catholic liturgical tradition, we don't see at Mass, we sing the Mass. To often people want to use music as a way to be active in their worship. Frankly, they often just want to be like their Baptist neighbors by singing lots of hymns at church. In the case of the Offertory of the Ordinary Form, there is no assigned antiphon, but an appropriate hymn that is theologically rich could assist in participation in a proper way. A good choir that is able to sing motets, or a good organist who can play solo pieces, can add much to the ability of the Faithful to enter more deeply into the mysteries they are celebrating. This, while not being silence per se, is a way that allows the people to reflect.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Continuation of Continuity

As we reach the altar, the altar is greeted by a kiss. In an ideal situation (which I have not) this can be done from the front side of the altar, so as to begin planting seeds for ad orientem worship. As Mass begins, there is an incensation of the altar. Incense serves many purposes: it smells nice, and it looks good. Beyond those two superficial reasons, there is the respect that is shown for the altar by incensing it.
Incense is also an apatropaic substance. meaning it repels demons! Demons are allergic to incense! So many people claim allergies to incense, and one has to wonder how much is in their heads. This is especially true when they start hacking up a lung before the thurible has even begun to smoke! Seriously though, it seems good to use something in divine worship that drives away evil spirits, because it is they who are the cause of many (not all) of our distractions in prayer.
Again, incense is a source of continuity of worship with the Jews. The same people who are gritting their teeth because they aren't allowed to say the ineffible Name anymore (because they think saying it relates them to the Jews, whom they are actually gravely offending), are the ones who don't like incense.
Once the Priest has incensed the altar (if he's allowed to do so), he retires to the presider's chair. This is a break with previous practice for presbyters -- only Bishops read the Introit and beginning of Mass at the Throne. It is good, however, to have the chair facing North (liturgical), toward the Ambo. The celebrant should turn to greet the people, then turn back. Again, this stresses continuity in some ways. It also underscores that the celebrant is not just presiding over a community, as though it were a board meeeting. He is leading them in prayer. At this point in the Mass, it makes sense that he should at least have the Tabernacle in sight. It certainly does not make sense to be looking at the congregation when not addressing them.
Now, the Priest is bound to hear some complaints about this. "You should look at us more!" These complaints stem from an insecurity that requires their egos to be stroaked by the Priest constantly gazing at them, even when addressing the Father!
This, of course, is one of the biggest problems with proper orientation of the altar to begin with. That horrible polemical term with his back to the people has been used to poison the minds of the People of God for half a century or more. As one Priest friend pointed out, no one complains that the bus driver sits with his back to the people. No one complains that a military leader has his back to the people as he leads a charge. Yet, when the Priest who is leading us on our pilgrimage to Heaven stands at the fore of the Body of Christ, they decide he has turned his back on them. Ridiculous!
To me, it is the height of arrogance for people to want the Priest to go into God's house and stand with his back to God, who, while omnipresent, is most substantially present in the Eucharist. Where the Son is, there are also the Father and the Holy Spirit. It never occurs to people that it's rude to walk into someone's house and stand with your back to Him! A restoration if orientation in the Liturgy will go a long way toward applying a hermeneutic of continuity.
With my current situation, I am in a parish with the presider's chair on the south side, but placed diagonally (which is it's own problem -- more on that later), so that the Pastor can sit facing the congregation, at least partially. I am forced, then, to turn in the chair if I wish to face the Ambo from which the Word of God is being proclaimed. There just seems to be a problematic understanding of where one's attention should be. Oh, and the eyes cast downward custom applies here as well. Certainly there is no reason to watch the congregation (which always mutiplies during the readings). The Priest, like everyone else, is supposed to be listening actively to the Word of God being proclaimed -- not paying attention to everything else that's going on in the church.