Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Spirituality

Encourage & Teach: Led to Victory by Mary and the Holy Rosary

OurLadyRosaryMy paternal grandmother converted from Buddhism to Catholicism at the young age of 13. As the story is told, she was passing by St. Theresa’s Church in Honolulu one day and heard the music from within the Church. She walked in, talked to the priest, and was received into the Church after a short period of catechesis. As I think back on my childhood, I have no memory of her ever going to bed without the Sacred Scripture in one hand and a Rosary in the other. She was fiercely loyal to Our Lady and devoured Scripture. Happily, she passed on the fervor of both to me. (Read more…)

Celebrating Advent

Today begins the new liturgical year and our “little Lent” in preparation for the Solemnity of the Incarnation. Why do we have a year that is separate from the secular calendar year? Simply put, the liturgical year is meant to be the guiding principal of a Catholic’s temporal cycle and life:

94.[1] The liturgical year is the temporal structure within which the Church celebrates the holy mysteries of Christ: “From the Incarnation and the Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and to the wait in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming”(109).[2] [Emphasis mine]

Within the liturgical cycle the Divine Liturgy occupies priority of place. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,”[3] all our devotions are intended to flow to and from the liturgy. Our spirituality or liturgical life necessarily consists of those devotions that assist us to grow in holiness. And since we live in a temporal world that is meant to express eternity, our devotions are expressed within the appropriate season:

In the liturgical year, “the celebration of the Paschal Mystery […] is the most privileged moment in the daily, weekly and annual celebration of Christian worship”(110).[4] Consequently, the priority of the Liturgical year over any other devotional form or practice must be regarded as a touch stone for the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety.[5]

Even how we decorate and live out the various seasons is catechetical, not only to our children but also to our family and friends. Advent is no different. Don’t get me wrong, the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” branding is great. However, I think we would make much more of an impact if we lived out our Catholic traditions with fervor and diligence in accordance with the appropriate seasons. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, everyone knew you were Catholic because you did not eat meat on Friday. And yes, it was abused at times but for the faithful who integrated the pastoral theology of the Church, the testimony was simple and profound.

So, what does the Church say about Advent? At first glance, I am sure you are saying, “Wait, they actually provide guidance of how we are to live out Advent?” Yep! We’ve been doing this for 2000 years and have collected a few good ideas.

The document for guidance is contained in the Directory for Popular Piety and the Liturgy (DPPL) which was revised and promulgated in 2001 by the Congregation on Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW). Additionally, for those who think it is just another document and lazy reading for a rainy day, it is issued by a Pontifical Congregation, therefore, is binding on all Catholics.

What does it say? Glad you asked. The DPPL provides a rich and beautiful set of options (not all inclusive but those that most generously express the richness of our faith in accordance with the season) to properly prepare us for and during this season. Advent of courses is a time of expectation and waiting,

  • waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge;
  • conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3,2);
  • joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and “we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is” (John 3,2).[6]

The Church recommends a number of devotions to assist us on this journey called Advent. This journey is meant to help us “relive” the four stages of revelation prior to the Nativity. To do so, we are encouraged to make use of the Advent Wreath by:

Placing four candles on green fronds has become a symbol of Advent in many Christian home, especially in the Germanic countries and in North America.

The Advent wreath, with the progressive lighting of its four candles, Sunday after Sunday, until the Solemnity of Christmas, is a recollection of the various stages of salvation history prior to Christ’s coming and a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice (cf. Ml 3,20; Lk 1,78).[7]

No one would argue that Advent is unmistakably Marian. Our Eastern brethren take our Lady’s role in the plan of salvation so seriously that it purposefully highlights her role through its calendar and liturgies:

In the calendars of the Oriental Churches, the period of preparation for the celebration of the manifestation (Advent) of divine salvation (Theophany) in the mysteries of Christmas-Epiphany of the Only Son of God, is markedly Marian in character. Attention is concentrated on preparation for the Lord’s coming in the Deipara. For the Orientals, all Marian mysteries are Christological mysteries since they refer to the mystery of our salvation in Christ. In the Coptic rite, the Lauds of the Virgin Mary are sung in the Theotokia. Among the Syrians, Advent is referred to as the Subbara or Annunciation, so as to highlight its Marian character. The Byzantine Rite prepares for Christmas with a whole series of Marian feasts and rituals.[8]

Of special note in the Latin Rite is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The themes associated with the Immaculate Conception are central to Advent. Here in the America’s, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in our tradition because of its connection to the Immaculate Conception and evangelistic outreach to Central and South Americans.

Among the recommended devotions is the display of a manger or crib – and by extension the crèche,

As is well known, in addition to the representations of the crib found in churches since antiquity, the custom of building cribs in the home was widely promoted from the thirteenth century, influenced undoubtedly by St. Francis of Assisi’s crib in Greccio. Their preparation, in which children play a significant role, is an occasion for the members of the family to come into contact with the mystery of Christmas, as they gather for a moment of prayer or to read the biblical accounts of the Lord’s birth.[9]

There are a number of traditions that may assist us prepare during Advent and Christmastide. To the growing Hispanic American and our Italian population processions are a traditional expressions for devotions.

In many regions, various kinds of processions are held in Advent, publicly to announce the imminent birth of the Saviour (the “day star” in some Italian processions), or to represent the journey to Bethlehem of Joseph and Mary and their search for a place in which Jesus would be born (the posadas in the Hispanic and Latin American tradition).[10]

Since Pentecost, the very first novena, popular devotion and piety has developed a number of novenas in connection to various feasts. The Christmas novena is an exciting way to blend a child’s Christmas expectations with prayer and the posture of the Advent season:

The Christmas novena began as a means of communicating the riches of the Liturgy to the faithful who were unable easily to grasp it. It has played a very effective role and can continue to play such a role. At the same time, in current conditions where the faithful have easier access to the Liturgy, it would seem desirable that vespers from the 17-23 of December should be more solemn by adopting the use of the “major antiphons”, and by inviting the faithful to participate at the celebration. Such a celebration, held either before of after which the popular devotions to which the faithful are particularly attached, would be an ideal “Christmas novena”, in full conformity with the Liturgy and mindful of the needs of the faithful. Some elements, such as the homily, the use of incense, and the intercessions, could also be expanded within the celebration of Vespers.[11]

Most Catholics would connect this novena with the “O Anthipons” made popular through the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Just to add a note of snark, why is it that parishes use this song as the premier Advent song when it is meant to be used between the dates of December 17 – 24 ? Just a question.

Hopefully, this is a beginning to understand our tradition of celebrating Advent. Popular piety has a way of conserving the themes and practices that the Church desires us to keep during the Advent without losing ourselves in the commercialization:

Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality.[12]

If we have learned nothing over the past 200 years, popular piety has taught us that that Advent is meant to be a time of sober and joyous simplicity. The sobriety is usually overlooked because we forget that we not only anticipating the first coming of our Lord but also His Second Coming. This understanding will cause us to examine our conscience, repent of our sins and make room for our Lord to be born in our hearts.

As we prepare for Christmas, let’s first live out our Advent. Christmas will be here sooner than we want. May this little Lent be a time of profound spiritual renewal. Take a look at your devotions and align them with the liturgy and watch your spiritual life deepen beyond your wildest dreams.


[1] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW), Directory On Popular Piety And The Liturgy (DPPL), (2001) 94.

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102.

[3] Lumen Gentium, 11. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324.

[4] PAUL VI, Apostolic Letter Mysterii paschalis, in AAS 61 (1969) 222.

[5] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 94.

[6] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 96.

[7] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 98.

[8] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 101.

[9] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 104.

[10] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 9.

[11] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 103.

[12] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 105.

The First Sunday of Advent: New Meditations with the Third Typical Edition

The United States this evening begins our new liturgical year with of course New Year’s. And our New Year’s gift?  The Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal. The fruit of the second Vatican Council is finally realized in Holy Mass.

I thought that we could start off this New Year’s with a resolution to pray the Divine Liturgy better. So, for the next year I am committed to looking at a portion of the Divine Liturgy each Saturday to prepare myself for “full and active participation” in Holy Mass. Should the Lord permit I will share some of the nuggets that find a place into my heart. Hopefully, they may also bear some fruit for you.

Just for kicks and giggles I have also provided for comparison the now abrogated First Typical Edition text. I think that you will agree that the revised translation provides richer material and tradition for meditation.

The Collect

First Typical Edition (1973)

God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.

Third Typical Edition (2011)

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Some Nuggets for Meditation

Notice that the 2011 Collect begins by reminding us that we gather our prayers into one before not just God but Almighty God. There is no limit to His power. Creation, keeping all that is in existence, and answering our every prayer requires no effort on His part. The Collect also properly addresses what the will needs – resolution.

The Third Typical Edition also specifically tells us that we are to present to Christ our righteous deeds which is far more than just doing good. Righteous deeds are those deeds that are imbued by grace and are in accordance with His will and statues – not just the mere effort of our own will power or to meet any need we see before us. As Pope Benedict has said on numerous occassions, people do not need an social service organization but Christ Himself.

We are encouraged to run. Run what? The race of course. This is not by accident. The prayer should immediately bring a number Scriptures to mind:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.      (1 Corinthians 9: 24-25)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12: 1-2)

For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4: 6-8)

The Collect also does not leave us without instructions for the race. We are to gather at His right hand. The 1973 Collect calls us to God’s side. My question is, “To His left or right?” God’s right hand is not only a symbol of our privileged place by virtue of being part of the mystical body of Christ but the right hand of power. The hand of Christ has also pledged the power of Christ to assist us through our life if we are but willing to accept His grace. Why do we need His power? Because on our own we are unable to possess heaven:

…they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

Of course, the revised Collect ends with the traditional invocation of the Most Blessed Trinity. Notice in contrast to the 1973 version the revised Collect is directed specifically to God the Father. This is most prominently seen in the doxology as the celebrant prays,

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

And so, our forty-year wait has ended. A richer text that throws the ancient maxim: lex ordani, lex credendi into high definition. My youngest children will never no the difference but we who feel parched now have a new wine in the Roman Missal to drink deeply from. Happy New Year!

Homily for Christ the King

For us who live in a Democratic society, we often think and feel that we have no point of reference for a feast like today that exults Christ as King. Many see kings as a hold-over from medieval society, a memory of tyrannical rule by those who have while, we, who don’t want a king, have not. Royalty are seen as figure heads that have now been replaced by some form of parliament. Others see kings as a way to oppress the masses – their motto and reasoning might go something like this: Absolute power absolutely corrupts. Thus, we have banished kings out of our vocabulary because we have no need of them. However, I wholeheartedly disagree.

We may say that we don’t want or need a king but if that were true, why is it so prevalent in our American culture? A few years ago Hollywood gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Troy. We’ve seen Alexander the Great running rough shod across the silver screen at the local multiplex. Last year, we saw Clash of the Titans, Princess Kaiulani and even Mega Mind wanting to rule their world.

We have Burger King, and Budweiser – the king of beers . . . We have the Lion King (original and the 2011 remake) and Elvis – the king of rock and roll. I think at the end of the day we are okay with, and even desire Kings…as long as we are the ones wearing the crown. Have you ever gone to the Magic Kingdom where you could be a princess or prince for a day?

But we all know that deep down, something is amiss. We work so hard to be in charge and yet, feel so empty when we arrive at the top. And that is because, we were never meant to rule: our happiness is found in serving the King of Kings and His people. But it is not just an external service assisting our neighbor.

It is a service of the heart, a transformation of spirit that can only happen when we allow the rightful King to rule our hearts and minds and bodies. There is a simple maxim and truth: whoever creates something, best knows its purpose and place in this life. Meaning, the Blessed Trinity created us and, therefore, knows best what will make us joyful in this life and the next.

To be a Christian is to follow behind Christ and to allow Him to transform us into the men and women of God He designed us to be. He is the rule by which we make our comparisons not our neighbor. Being a Christian means submitting everything to Him: how we work, speak, the music we listen to, the movies we watch; how we treat our family, friends and loved ones. Even our time is not our own: serving does not revolve around our schedule or who we want to serve but around the action and timeline of Christ. For Scripture proclaims,

“to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever!” (Jude 1:25)

Some of us may be saying, I don’t want to change. G.K. Chesterton would respond by saying:

“If you want to stay the same, you have to change.”

A house that is left alone deteriorates – that is why we should redecorate, to keep it looking new – please don’t tell my wife I said this! Our King, Christ the King, is not a tyrannical ruler. He is gentle and humble of heart. He wants to hear and then assist us in our actions, troubles, joys and sufferings. Unlike the Lord of the Rings in Tolkien’s classic, of whom Gandalf says,

“There is only one Lord of the Ring…and He shares power with no one;”

our King, desires us to rule with Him by perfecting His creation and serving each other with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.

In a minute, we will have the opportunity to invite Christ the King to rule in our hearts, lives and homes. The Bishop has encouraged us to recommit ourselves and our families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This image and devotion has been given to us by the 17th century Visitation nun, St. Margaret Mary Alocoque. Our Lord appeared to her revealing His heart so we might know that our King is gentle, merciful, forgiving and aflame with divine love for us.

The Bishop, in fact, is encouraging us to enthrone the image, which can be found in the bulletin, in a prominent place in our homes as a sign that he reigns in our hearts. How does our King rule? He freely hands over His heart to us so that we may be transformed by being bathed in His love. It is His rule in our lives and our submission to His law and kingdom of love that heals and makes us whole.

In contrast, Dante in his Inferno, quotes satan who says,

“Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

This could very well become the motto of our culture…look around at our culture…maybe we even embody this by our own words and actions. But we can change this, you can change this. If you are willing to take a chance, or you know that you need to submit to Christ the King, join me now as we bend our knee before the King of Kings and recite together the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus…

Lord Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, we consecrate to You our persons and our lives. We give You our actions, our desires, our troubles, our joys and our sufferings. We give You our families, our friends, and our parish community. In the future we wish to live only to honor and love You and bring You glory. It will always be our heart’s desire to love You more and more, and to make You known, loved and served by others. We know this, O Sacred Heart of Jesus! You are the faithful friend, the heart’s intimate friend. You never abandon us. We trust ourselves to You! Above all, give us charity. Bind our hearts together in our parish community of [Insert parish name]. May our names one day be written forever in the Book of the Living with tjust who reign with You in the life of everlasting hahe ppiness. Amen.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Yours.

 

Getting it Right

As many of you know, I try to keep my blog to discussions related to devotions, T(t)raditions, theology and some funny moments. I find myself today needing to give some props to the Director of Parish Social Ministry at St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax, Virginia.

My experience with those in Social Ministry over the years has been less than stellar. Most of the time, the individuals involved, while well-meaning, tend to be blinded by pure humanism. Their ministry many times is disconnected from the rest of the Church and its rich theology and traditions. A false dichotomy is established and often sets the Church at odds with the people she is sworn to serve.

So, why mention Mrs. Carol Mayfield? She has a beautiful integrated approach to Social Ministry. She models to her leadership team and volunteers to makes a direct link between the Eucharist and ministry.

Her first principle is that ministry flows from the Divine Liturgy and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The strength and motivation of the servant is the love and worship of the Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Her second principle is that the Holy Spirit should direct our service coupled with sound reason to assist in determining the needs of the community. She insists through this principle that the stable and active prayer life of the leader is key in discerning the will of the Father in ministering to the needs of the poor in spirit.

Lastly, she believes that there is no disparity between the various ministries of the Church and social ministry. This is a rarity. To understand that every ministry of the Church is meant to cooperate with each other in order to further the Kingdom of God expresses a clarity of thinking that we all need.

Well done Carol. Many blessings to you and your ministry team. May your faithfulness to Church teaching and the Eucharist reap the grace needed to serve the poorest of the poor.

Patronal Feast for St. Mary of Sorrows (Fairfax, VA)

Happy feast day to all the parishoners of St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax, Virginia. Today, is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows that celebrates its origin with the Order of the Servants of Mary or the Servite friars (Servites) in 1238. In fact, this is the principle devotion of the order. The devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows then was promulgated by the provincial synod of Cologne in 1413.

Two specific devotions have developed from the Servite spirituality which include:

May Our Lady richly bless you today!

 

Discouragement

At different times during our lives we face discouragement. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta says the following:

Don’t give in to discouragement……. If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers. Never bother about people’s opinions. Be obedient to truth. For with humble obedience, you will never be disturbed.

St. Francis de Sales would also say that discouragement is the fruit of a wandering heart. In order to cure our wandering heart, the saint of divine love says that we should train it by bringing it back into the presence of the Master:

If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.

He also says that many of us struggle in our spirituality because we let others write the “story” of our lives. In other words, we allow others to dictate how we view ourselves which in turn affects how we view our Lord. The remedy for this he says, is to abide in the truth and to see ourselves and others in truth.

Some might recommend to love ourselves and others by ignoring our/their faults and shortcomings. The problem with that is two-fold. The first is that by ignoring our faults, one cannot truly accept oneself and the result is that we skew reality. The ultimate challenge with skewing reality is that we become incapable of relating to the world in the way God intended. As a result, we try to transform ourselves into something that we are not because we are so afraid of realizing that our gifts and short-comings, for better or worse, make us who we are – whether we like it or not. St. Francis de Sales says,

Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

and,

Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections.

The second  problem is that we cannot truly love or even be friends with those around us. One of my favorite lines in First Knight is when Lancelot, knowing that he is going to betray Arthur says,

My Lord must not think too highly of me, lest he’ll be disappointed. 

Arthur in his wisdom, and a man who is not afraid of making his heart vulnerable in order to truly love responds,

Then I’ll take you as I find you, if you’ll do as much for me.

Scripture proclaims,

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103: 11-12) [My emphasis]

or the prophet Micah proclaims,

He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19) [My emphasis]

We usually interpret this as the Lord forgiving and forgetting. And yet, that is not possible. If He did forget, they would have never exsisted

Blessed Mother Teresa or Calcutta gives us the final secret.

Obey the Lord of the House and you will never go wrong.

 

Père Garrigou-Lagrange on Psalmody

One of my great heroes is Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange who is the author of  The Three Ages of the Interior Life. The following selection is from that great work and was posted by Fr. Mark at Vultus Christi. The bold headers were provided by Fr. Mark.

The Psalmody of the Divine Office: The Great Prayer of the Church

One of the greatest means of union with God for the religious soul is the psalmody, which in religious orders is the daily accompaniment of the Mass. The Mass is the great prayer of Christ; it will continue until the end of the world, as long as He does not cease to offer Himself by the ministry of His priests; as long as from His sacerdotal and Eucharistic heart there rises always the theandric act of love and oblation, which has infinite value as adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving. The psalmody of the Divine Office is the great prayer of the Church, the spouse of Christ; a day and night prayer, which ought never to cease on the surface of the earth, as the Mass does not.

A School of Contemplation, of Self Oblation, of Holiness.

For those who have the great honor to take part in the chant, the psalmody should be an admirable school of contemplation, of self oblation, of holiness. That it may produce these abundant fruits, the psalmody should keep what is its very essence; it ought to have not only a body which is well organized according to harmonious rules, but also a soul. If it ceases to be the great contemplative prayer, it gradually loses its soul and, instead of being a soaring, a rising toward God, and a repose, it becomes a burden, a source of fatigue, and no longer produces great fruits. Therefore we shall discuss briefly first of all deformed and materialized chant, then true psalmody, which is a deliverance, like the chant of the Church, above all the noises of earth.

Deformed Psalmody: A Body Without a Soul

Deformed psalmody is a body without a soul. Generally, it is marked by unseemly haste, as if undue haste, which, according to St. Francis de Sales, is the death of devotion, could replace true and profound life. The words of the Office are badly pronounced without rhythm or measure. The antiphons, which are often beautiful, are poorly said and become unintelligible, the hymns even more so. The lessons which are not punctuated as they should be, are read as one would read the most indifferent or even the most boring passages, when, as a matter of fact, they are concerned with the splendors of divine wisdom or what is most beautiful in the lives of the saints. People wish to save time, four or five minutes which they will devote to worthless trifles, and they lose the best of the time given by God. Father de Condren used to say: “If a master spoke to his servant as a number of people speak to God while saying the Divine Office, the servant would think that his master was insane to be jabbering in such fashion.”

As a result of haste, the psalmody of which we are speaking is mechanical and not organic; just as in a body without a soul, the members are no longer vitally united, but only placed together. The Office becomes a series of words following one another. The great meaning of a psalm is no longer comprehended; to one who is trying to grasp this meaning and to follow it, this mechanical chant brings fatigue and is an obstacle to true prayer.

Is this manner of chanting a lifting of the soul toward God? Perhaps, but it is a uniformly retarded elevation, like the movement of a stone that has been thrown into the air and tends to fall back; whereas true prayer ought, like a flame, to tend spontaneously toward heaven.

Remedies

What remedies can be applied to this evil? The remedy is to be found in recalling the rules for the chant. But this remedy is not effective if it alone is applied. The evil is deeper, and we must go to its roots. In reality, there is only one truly effective remedy that makes possible the utilization of the others: namely, the restoration of the spirit of prayer. Similarly, in order to restore functions to a body without a soul, life would have to be restored to it.

When the Heart Disengages from Choral Prayer

Deformed psalmody shows us that, for a soul which has no personal life of prayer, the recitation of the Office becomes altogether material, a wholly exterior worship. Not possessing the habit of recollection, this soul is assailed by thoughts foreign to the Office; its work, studies, or business affairs keep returning to its memory, and at times even thoroughly vain thoughts come. The most interior persons sometimes experience this distress. But in the case of those we are speaking of, it is a habitual state of negligence, and in them distraction does not remain in the imagination; it invades the higher faculties. How can anyone in this state taste the divine words of the psalms, the prophets, the Epistles, the most beautiful pages of the fathers and of the lives of the saints which are daily offered to us in the Divine Office? All these spiritual beauties remain unperceived like colorless and insipid objects. The great poetry of the Psalmist and the most profound cries of his heart become spiritless and monotonous.

Routine Mummifies the Liturgy

One day in choir, St. Bernard saw above each religious his guardian angel who was writing down the chant. The manner of writing differed greatly, however: some wrote in letters of gold, others in silver, while still others wrote with ink or with colorless water; one angel held his pen poised and wrote nothing. Routine mummifies the most profoundly living passages and reduces them to mechanically recited formulas. This manner of chanting is nothing but practical nominalism, a sort of materialism in action. The higher faculties do not live in a prayer made thus; they remain somnolent or scattered. A person may still hear the symphony of the Office, more beautiful than the most famous symphonies of Beethoven, but for lack of an interior feeling, he can no longer appreciate it. Often the Divine Office is studied from the historical point of view, or from the canonical point of view of strict obligations, and these distinctions are held to; but it is especially from the spiritual point of view that it must be considered and lived.

Contemplative Chant

What should the contemplative chant be? This chant is distinguished precisely by the spirit of prayer, or at least by the aspiration which inclines us to it, which desires it, seeks it, and at length obtains it. We are thus shown how much the contemplation of the mysteries of faith is in the normal way of sanctity: this contemplation alone can give us in liturgical prayer the light, peace, and joy of the truth tasted and loved, gaudium de veritate.

The spirit of prayer, more intimately drawn from mental prayer, is lost as soon as one hurries to finish daily prayer, as if it were not the very respiration of the soul, spiritual contact with God, our Life, It was in the spirit of prayer that the psalms were conceived without it, we cannot understand them or live by them. “As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God.”

The Pauses: Vital Rest Between Aspiration and Respiration

If the psalmody has this spirit, then in place of mechanical haste, which is a superficial life, we find profound life for which we do not need continually to recall liturgical rules, for these rules are merely the expression of its inner inclinations. Then, without excessive slowness the words are well pronounced, undue haste is avoided, and the pauses, serving as a vital rest between aspiration and respiration, are observed. The antiphons are tasted, and the soul is truly nourished with the substance of the liturgical text.

Psalmody and Mental Prayer

Whoever has the duty of reading the lessons, which are often most beautiful, should look them over ahead of time in order not to spoil their meaning. He who reads the lessons well avoids a too evident expression of his personal piety, but the great objective meaning of Scripture explained by the fathers remains intelligible, and here and there he grasps its splendors in the midst of its divine obscurities. No effort is made to save four or five minutes, and he ceases to lose the precious time given by God. He is even led at the end of the chant to prolong prayer by some moments of mental prayer, like the religious in bygone days who, at night after Matins and Lauds, spent some time in profound recollection. Many times in the history of their lives mention is made of these secret prayers, of this heart to heart conversation with God in which they often received the greatest lights, which made them glimpse what they had sought till then during hours and hours of labor. When this spirit of prayer prevails, real life begins, and one understands that mental prayer gives the spirit of the chant; whereas the psalmody furnishes to mental prayer the best possible food, the very word of God, distributed and explained in a suitable manner, according to the cycle of the liturgical year, according to the true time, which coincides with the single instant of immobile eternity.

A Lifting Up of the Soul Toward God

Such prayer is no longer mechanical, but organic; the soul has returned to vivify the body; prayer is no longer a succession of words; we are able to seize the vital spirit running through them. Without effort, even in the most painful hours of life, we can taste the admirable poetry of the psalms and find in them light, rest, strength, renewal of all energies. Then truly this prayer is a lifting up of the soul toward God, a lifting up that is not uniformly retarded, but rather accelerated. The soul burns therein and is consumed in a holy manner like the candles on the altar.

The Angelic Doctor Moved to Tears

St. Thomas Aquinas deeply loved this beautiful chant thus understood. It is told of him that he could not keep back his tears when, during Compline of Lent, he chanted the antiphon: “In the midst of life we are in death: whom do we seek as our helper, but Thou, O Lord, who because of our sins art rightly incensed? Holy God, strong God, holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not up to a bitter death; abandon us not in the time of our old age, when our strength will abandon us.” This beautiful antiphon begs for the grace of final perseverance, the grace of graces, that of the predestined. How it should speak to the heart of the contemplative theologian, who has made a deep study of the tracts on Providence, predestination, and grace!

The Spiritual Anemia of the Theologian

The chant, which prepares so admirably for Mass and which follows it, is one of the greatest means by which the theologian, as well as others, may rise far above reasoning to contemplation, to the simple gaze on God and to divine union. The theologian who has spent a long time over his books in a positive and speculative study of revelation, in the refutation of numerous errors and the examination of many opinions relating to the great mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the life of heaven, needs, after such study, to rise above all this bookish knowledge; he needs profound recollection, truly divine light, which is superior to reasoning and gives him the spirit of the letter which he has studied. Otherwise he grows spiritually anemic and, because of insufficient contact with the light of life, he cannot give it adequately to others. His work remains too mechanical, not sufficiently organized and living, or it may be that the governing idea of his synthesis has not been drawn from a high enough source; it lacks amplitude, life, radiation, and little by little it loses its interest. The theologian needs often to find the living and splendid expression of the mysteries that he studies in the very words of God, such as the liturgy makes us taste and love: “Taste, and see that the Lord is sweet.” (3)

The word of God, which is thus daily recalled to us in prayer,is to its theological commentary what a simple circumference is to the polygon inscribed in it. We must forget the polygon momentarily in order to enjoy a little and in a holy manner the beauty of the circle, which the movement of contemplation follows, as Dionysius used to say. This is found during the chant, if mechanical haste is not substituted for the profound life which ought to spring from the fountain. The body of the chant must be truly vivified by the spirit of prayer.

Worthy Choral Prayer Attracts Good Vocations

There is great happiness in hearing the Divine Office thus chanted in many monasteries of Benedictines, Carthusians, Carmelites, Dominicans, and Franciscans. This prayer attracts good vocations, whereas the other, because it is materialized, drives them away. When we hear the great contemplative prayer in certain cloisters, we feel the current of the true life of the Church; it is its chant, both simple and splendid, which precedes and follows the sublime words of the Spouse: the Eucharistic consecration. We are made to forget all the sorrows of this world, all the more or less false complications and all the tiresome tasks imposed by human conventions. God grant that the chant may ever remain thus keenly alive day and night in our monasteries! It has been noticed that when it ceases at night in those convents where it should go on, the Lord raises up nocturnal adoration to replace it, for living prayer ought not to cease, and prayer during the night, by reason of the profound silence into which everything is plunged and for many other reasons, has special graces of contemplation: Oportet semper orare.

Holy Repose

The chant thus understood is the holy repose which souls need after all the fatigues, agitations, and complications of the world. It is rest in God, rest that is full of life, rest which from afar resembles that of God, who possesses His interminable life tota simul, in the single instant which never passes, and which at the same time measures supreme action and supreme rest, quies in bono amato.

A Cure for Pious Sentimentality

We may define the mutual relations of mental prayer and the Divine Office by saying that from mental prayer the Office receives the habit of recollection and the spirit of prayer. On the other hand, mental prayer finds in liturgical prayer an abundant source of contemplation and an objective rule against individual illusions. The Divine Office cures sentimentality by continually recalling the great truths in the very language of Scripture; it reminds presumptuous souls of the greatness and severity of divine justice, and it also reminds fearful souls of infinite mercy and the value of the passion of Christ. It makes sentimental souls live on the heights of true faith and charity, far above sensibility.

It will suffice here to recall one example among many: the tract from the Mass for Quadragesima Sunday taken from psalm 90: “He that dwelleth in the aid of the most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of Jacob. He shall say to the Lord: Thou art my protector and my refuge: my God, in Him will I trust. For He hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters and from the sharp word. He will overshadow thee with His shoulders: and under His wings thou shalt trust. His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night, of the arrow that flieth in the day. . . or of the noonday devil. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee. . . . For He hath given His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. . . . He shall cry to Me, and I will hear him: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him and I will glorify him. I will fill him with length of days; and I will show him My salvation.”

All the Ages of the Spiritual Life

The liturgy recalls all the ages of the spiritual life by the joyful mysteries of the childhood of the Savior, by His passion, and by the glorious mysteries; it thus gives true spiritual joy which enlarges the heart: “I have run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou didst enlarge my heart.” It prepares the soul for the more intimate and silent prayer of meditation.

Re-thinking Liturgical Roles…

This past Monday, my Pastor and I were kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament preparing for Reposition. During the singing of the Tantum Ergo, he turned to me and asked, “Do deacons repose the Blessed Sacrament?” I replied, “I have no idea. You are wearing the humeral veil… don’t you?”  We shrugged our shoulders and continued as usual with him reposing and placing our Lord back into the tabernacle. Afterward, he asked me to research his question.

So, I did. I was surprised to discover that it is the deacon who exposes and reposes our Lord even if a priest is present and/or he is not the presiding minister. The Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist in paragraph 51, concerning reposition states:

If the exposition is to be interrupted, the deacon (or in his absence, a priest, even the presiding minister) immediately removes the blessed sacrament from the monstrance and places it in the tabernacle.

Paragraph31 in the ritual also states the same – even if the period of exposition begins during Holy Mass.

Once I shared my findings, a close friend asked, “How do we explain this to the parishioners since it would appear that the deacon is of a higher rank than the priest? Is it that deacons are like worker bees?” Initially I said said, “Sure” because it was a quick answer but then I realized the great disservice that would be perpetuated by such an analogy. So, I thought through a different answer and composed an email.

If you would permit me, I would like to share the email (although this version is cleaned up – DQ should never quickly write an email and hit send without proofing it, especially at 7 am):

Philoeucharista,

I thought about the worker bee image as an analogy to illustrate the relationship of service between a deacon and priest, especially during adoration. I think while the worker bee image makes it easier for everyone to understand, it is an incorrect one. I think the real challenge is that we are looking for the most efficient way to explain this relationship which translates to the quickest way and, thus, falls short of the theological truths that reveal the vocation.

The following explanation is longer to give to someone but I think it is much closer to the truth. The risk of the worker bee analogy is that it can easily cheapen the dignity of the vocation. It is like saying my wife is just a housekeeper or we are just admin assistants.The worker bee image implies a group working for the good of the whole completing whatever task is assigned to them. The service of the deacon, especially during a liturgy, has a very specific focus and service.

The role of the deacon is to serve the priest in all things that pertain to the altar and the liturgy. It is not a case of dignity (priest is higher than the deacon or that the deacon works for the priest) but a case of function. This type of service is what we were ordained for. The following is the mental challenge that I believe we need to overcome:

Many of the liturgical actions that our priests have been ministering are by way of exception not ministerial duty.

Our current state finds us positioned in such a way that particular duties have been ascribed to priests that are not part of their ministerial priesthood. Why can they function in them and not the laity? They were ordained deacons first. The greater can always serve in a lesser position, but not the other way around. Those who are not ordained have been a special gift to the Church – our Lord provided in our need. For these reasons, the pervasive attitude (which we have discussed multiple times) that Extraordinary Ministers of Readers and Holy Communion demand they have a right to serve and be seen, or to serve when and how they want – I find offensive. Not because I am ordained, but because none of us ever have a right to serve whether we are laity or clergy. The Church suspended a number of liturgical laws and traditions that date back to 494 (Leonine Laws) in order to find a way to assist the priest until the institutes (Instituted Lectors and Acolytes) and order (Deacons) could be reestablished – then phase the extraordinary ministries out. But sadly, and mostly because of lack of training and boundaries, everyone believes these are permanent delegations and they have a right to serve in these ministries.

Priests are ordained for sacrifice which is directly linked to the forgiveness of sins and governance. Deacons are neither coming in to take over priestly actions and duties, nor are we married “wanna be priests”. Some liturgical actions, or duties, were never intended to be fulfilled by them. But, as you know, the deprivation in vocations to the Permanent Diaconate has been basically lacking for 22 years in the diocese (Add to the fact that it was suppressed for 1000 years in the Western Church and we are all still learning how to relate to one another).

Within the liturgy, there are certain tasks and duties that are more perfectly seen and understood by someone serving in persona Christi[1] The deacon provides a sacramental image of Christ the Servant.

Deacon Rex H. Pilger, Jr., Ph.D. in describing the duties that are part and parcel of the deacon’s ministry, also reminds us that a priest and bishop are also deacons,

The munera[2] bestowed on the deacon: proclaiming, preaching, and teaching the Gospel, administering baptism, receiving wedding vows, burying the dead, custodian of the Most Blessed Sacrament, viaticum to the dying, care of the sick, and concern for the poor are still very much the responsibility of the priest and bishop. (The latter, of course, confers the munera.)[3]

This must be understood properly in order to maintain a clear functional and ontological separation between the deacon and the presbyterate/episcopate whose ministry is ordered to sacrifice. While service always requires self-donation, priests (includes bishops) through their actions and words (This is my body…) sacramentally offer themselves through a complete donation as Christ the Priest.

I think a greater temptation for our parish is not that the deacon is higher than the priest but “Why do we need deacons? Laypeople can do whatever needs to be done.” The sacramental grace communicated at ordination provides the Church with a living sign or a living icon of Christ the Servant. The deacon’s simple service of the altar, word and charity is wrapped up in the word serve.

Here again, Deacon Pilger sheds some light on the “why” which may be seen in the:

practical dimensions of diaconal ministry. In the Roman Rite, deacons, together with bishops and priests, are ordinary ministers of Baptism. And, it is through the initial sacrament that the call of Christ the Servant comes: the baptized are called to serve God and neighbor. It is through diakonia that the minister of Baptism — bishop, priest, deacon, or even, in emergency, a layperson — communicates the call. At the beginning of Mass, the deacon may lead the assembly in penitence — pleading the mercy of Christ on his people — the (non-sacramental) forgiveness of sins….. At the altar, the deacon visibly serves, and, as he kneels from the Epiclesis through the first elevation of the chalice, leads the rest of the assembly in adoration as Christ becomes especially Real under the appearance of the gifts of bread and wine. (The deacon’s ordination also involved an epiclesis over the kneeling ordinand, the invocation of the Holy Spirit that strengthens the gifts received at Confirmation.) The deacon elevates and ministers the chalice, the Blood of the new Covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins. He invites the Sign of Peace. And, finally, he may dismiss the faithful with the most appropriate commission: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

The three orders serving in their unique liturgical roles together, provide an HD picture of the person of Christ and the Blessed Trinity. I do not think these are the exact words we need to say but what we need to communicate. I hope this helps. Thanks for asking the question. Maybe we can continue the discussion to figure out the best way to “package the message” for those who have questions.

DQ


[1] Omnium in Mentum, October 26, 2009: Article II makes a clarification to separate the ministerial functions of the Bishop/Priest and deacons “Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity”. Presently, there is an argument concerning the nature of the clarification. The understanding of this author, who entrusting himself to the explanations of the diaconal formation team and canonists, is that the deacon serves in persona Christi by way of imageo dei and not as capitas or the head.

[2] Munera: assigned service, function, duty

[3] Pilger, Jr., Ph.D, Rex H., Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, November 2006 (pp 23-27)

God’s Kiss to Creation

Are you still celebrating?” I hope you are! The Christmas season isn’t over yet. The last day of the Christmas season is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (don’t sigh, it used to continue until Candlemas, February 2). And so, with Vespers this Sunday, all the celebrating ceases and we get back to the hum-drum of our Lord’s life…or do we? Maybe Ordinary time would not be so ordinary, if we took a minute or two to consider how the Solemnity of the Incarnation has prepared us for the rest of the Church year.

Michael Card, a Christian artist, released a song in 1987 entitled, The Final Word. The lyrics are worth a short read:

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father’s fondest thought became flesh and blood.
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard,
Took place in God the Father as he spoke that final Word.

And so the Light became alive and manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.

Michael Card sums up Christmas, and all the associated celebrations, with the lines, “When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love, He spoke it in one final perfect Word. He spoke the Incarnation, and then so was born a Son.” This alone should make our hearts leap for joy! The Father has made the deliberate choice to reveal the mystery of His love through the Word made Flesh.

Going deeper, we quickly realize that the Incarnation is the door through which the human body enters into theology. Even more importantly, upon reflection, we suddenly become aware that the human person finds its deepest meaning only when understood through the person of Jesus. Venerable John Paul II constantly reminded us of this and loved to quote throughout his Pontificate, the words found in paragraph 22 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World(Gadium et Spes),

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear (n. 22).

Our understanding of who we are is directly rooted, and thus finds its origin, in the Incarnation. Even our theology must finds its locus and be guided by the conception and birth of the Christ-child. John Paul II writes in Fides et Ratio,

The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of revelation and the content of faith. The very heart of theological inquiry will thus be the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. The approach to this mystery begins with reflection upon the mystery of the Incarnation (n. 93).

The Solemnity of the Incarnation is not just the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. It is the “decoder ring” as it were for understanding God Himself. This in turn, becomes the very foundation of our Christian Anthropology which helps us answer the deepest questions in our lives, “Who am I? What is my purpose?”. We cannot even begin discussing the rest of the mysteries of our faith without a proper understanding of the Incarnation. In other words, as a speaker I once heard said,

If the language of Israel is Hebrew and the language of Islam is Arabic, the language of Christianity is the body.

How we understand the Incarnation must affect the way we view the rest of our theology. Our catechesis has always taught us that Original Sin necessitated the Incarnation for our redemption. St. Thomas, using St. Augustine’s formulation (De Verb. Apost. viii, 2), when responding to three objections, as he answered the question, “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?” says,

Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come. And on 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners,” a gloss says, “There was no cause of Christ’s coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine.” (ST III, Q. 1, Art. 3, sed contra)

In the end, the Incarnation was simply a remedy for sin.[1] Being a self-proclaimed Thomist, it pains me to say that I think there is a deeper mystery to consider apart from St. Thomas’ (and St. Augustine’s) position. In fact, I believe that the Franciscan Blessed John Don Scotus has something to add to the discussion. Peter J. Leithart, during his discussion on Necessary Incarnation, explains the Scotian position as such,

For [Scotus] the Incarnation apart from the Fall was not merely a most convenient assumption, but rather an indispensable doctrinal presupposition. The Incarnation of the Son of God was for him the very reason of the whole Creation…The main emphasis of Duns Scotus was on the unconditional and primordial character of the Divine decree of the Incarnation, seen in the total perspective of Creation.

In other words, from all eternity, God the Father called forth creation in order to have a place for us to encounter His Son in the flesh. WOW!!!! Many of the mystics (i.e., Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, etc.) would take it a step further and say that from all eternity the Father intended to give a bride to His Son and creation is His bridal chamber. The Incarnation then is the only way for humanity to encounter its heart’s desire.

This Scotian view can also found also in the thought and writings of two immanent Doctor’s of the Church: St. Lawrence of Brindisi, the Apostolic Doctor and Doctor of Conversions and Missions and St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of Love of God.

St. Lawrence of Brindisi wrote,

God is love, and all his operations proceed from love. Once he wills to manifest that goodness by sharing his love outside himself, then the Incarnation becomes the supreme manifestation of his goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for his own sake. For him all things were created and to him all things must be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created world finds its foundation and meaning in him. Moreover, this would have been the case even if Adam had not sinned.

Additionally, St. Francis de Sales, the great Doctor of God’s Love wrote with some of the most beautiful words in discussing the why of creation. Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, O.S.F.S., in an essay appearing in: Human Encounter in the Salesian Tradition (Rome: international Commission for Salesian Spirituality, 2007) pp. 399-408, argues convincingly this de Sales Scotian view. By way of example, he says,

Many texts from de Sales could be cited in support of his Scotian understanding of the relationship between creation and Incarnation, but the words of his final Christmas sermon are especially apt. Just as a contractor designs a house that will suit the personality and wishes of his client, “the eternal Father did just that in creating this world. For his intention was to create it for his Son who is the Eternal Word.”

Fr. Fiorelli continues and discusses how St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God speaks of the Incarnation as “God’s Kiss to Creation.” I don’t think there is a more beautiful image to share with our wives and children-that the Word made Flesh is God the Father’s kiss to creation. From here, one has to admit that the rest of Jesus’ life is a wooing of his Bride into this eternal love affair. Every action, ever gesture now explodes with meaning with the understanding that Jesus called forth creation in order to woo His Bride.

In one sense, we suddenly understand that the cosmos was created, just because He wanted to present a gift to His Bride. Continuing that train of thought, in an age that needs to know the “why” to everything, the answer to the popular question, “Why did He created the billions of stars and galaxies if we are the only rational life?” is “Because He could. He desired to capture the love and affections of our hearts with sheer magnanimous beauty.” And, isn’t that what a Bridegroom does? Doesn’t He adorn His bride and her bridal suite so as to prepare her for that personal exchange of  love?

It is true that regardless of our speculation, the Fall of Man happened – non contendere! But it is also true that the love of God for us is beyond compare. Is it so hard to believe that if He was walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the Garden that he would not want to further unite our hearts to His in eternal love? To embrace this Scotian view does not cheapen but only deepens our understanding of God’s love for us.

And, how did we get to these considerations? All of this because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.


[1] I should also point out, in an effort to be fair (I need to redeem my Thomistic roots), St. Thomas did not exclude the possibility of an Incarnation that was necessitated by the need for redemption in the same sed contra,

And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.