Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Vatican II

Fathers and Marriage: What’s a Synod

A number of individuals have asked what is the history behind the Synod of Bishops. The TV news agency, Rome Reports, has put together a short video with an explanation. Take a look!

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!

Music and Pope Benedict XVI

Music in the Post-conciliar Catholic Church

An appraisal of the current situation based on a talk given to the Panel of Monastic Musicians
by Nick Gale, 8 September 2008, St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde

The cosmic character of liturgical music stands in opposition to the two [prevailing] tendencies of the modern age…music as pure subjectivity, [and] as the expression of mere will. We sing with the angels. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote these words in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI has once again placed Liturgy at the centre of the Church’s concerns, and rightly so, for as the then Cardinal wrote in 1997, the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church whatever.

There can be no doubt that we are currently in the midst of a period of great change in the Church. We are also in a crisis in terms of the Music of the Church. Despite the numerous documents to come out of Rome, both before and after Vatican II, despite the call of the Holy Father to raise the standards of liturgical celebration, despite the restoration of the Chant, largely undertaken by the Monks of Solesmes in the late 19th century, work that still continues today. Despite the fact that the Monks of Heiliger Kreuz Monastery in Austria have been at the number one slot in the charts for months, with their disc of Gregorian Chant. Despite the efforts of notable Catholic musicians who, in may cases, feel reluctantly compelled to work for other, separated brethren because the feel they are fighting a losing battle with the Catholic Church. Despite the many places where choirs exist and are being created to help rediscover the riches of liturgical music which is the Church’s inheritance, and the wealth of new music being written by talented composers in the service of the church. Despite the fact that the monasteries, institutes and congregations which have restored traditional liturgy and chant are gradually filling up once more, whilst many other communities sadly dwindle and die.

In spite of all this, we still will not accept that music in the liturgy is not offered for us, but to God, and must therefore be of the very highest quality that we can muster, both in terms of its composition and its performance, and that the faithful are remarkably receptive to good music, when they are fortunate enough to hear it and, better still, sing it! That is not so say that old music is good and that anything that has been written for the liturgy following the Council is bad. However, the general view of the clergy seems to imply the reverse – that all pre-conciliar music is ‘old hat’ and irrelevant, and that the only music that truly ‘speaks’ to the people of God and draws them into the liturgy is the contemporary ‘popular’ music which we hear in most parishes across the world.

This view is not only false, but extremely dangerous. The Holy Father, again speaking as Cardinal Ratzinger, warns us that ‘mere archaism does not help matters along but neither does mere modernisation’. In 1975 he wrote: ‘We must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism. These things degrade the Liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of a popular newspaper. With this in mind we shall also have to examine the reforms already carried out…’ Ten years later he further commented: ‘since I wrote those lines, other aspects which should have been guarded have been neglected; many treasures that were still intact have been squandered away.’

Music is inextricably linked to the Liturgy and, as we are reminded by the Holy Father, that music be of the best possible quality. Of course, this leads us into the realms of what is to be considered ‘good’, as well as the purpose and effect of music. Is music, including liturgical music, adequately treated when it is left as simply a matter of ‘taste’, of individual response to what pleases? Music is about formation, and not just expression. A constant theme across the centuries is the balance of the need for contemporary musical expression with the responsibility of using music that will truly “sanctify the faithful”. Music should enhance the formative power of the liturgy already represented by the celebration of Holy Mass.

St Pius tells us, in his great motu proprio Tra la solicitudine that, since sacred music is an integral part of the Liturgy, its aim must be the same as that of the Liturgy itself; ie, in St Pius’s words,

the sanctification and edification of the faithful. The ‘chief duty’ of church music is, he goes on to say to clothe the liturgical text, which is presented to the understanding of the faithful, with suitable melody; its object is to make the text more efficacious, so that the faithful through this means may be more roused to devotion, and better disposed to gather to themselves the fruits of grace which come from the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

One of the most shamefully ignored aspects of Sacrosanctum Concilium was its acknowledgement of ‘Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy’, and thereby having pride of place in liturgical music. Just ten years before the Council began, the French Dominican, Dominique Delalande wrote a theology of the Chant. I am indebted, here, to an excellent talk given by Aidan Nicholls at the Catholic Directors of Music Conference last year for his summary of Delalande’s work.

In his book, Delalande called the chant a ‘given’, which theologians must integrate with their work. The structure and ethos of the Church’s official prayer – the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours – cannot be fully grasped, he wrote, without reference to the music that accompanies it. In the case of the Roman Liturgy, that music is Gregorian chant, though, as he explained, the Eastern liturgies possess some analogue of Western plainchant – a monodic music, archaic, pure, with a solemn, sacral character, a consecrated music whose origins are lost in immemorial time, but existing, it may be, alongside a more developed or a more popular music, generally of highly questionable value.

Delalande reminds us of the multiple sources of the chant – Jewish, Syrian, Greek –as well as the anonymity with which composers of genius re-worked its materials at various stages of its long history. Delalande calls this a providential anonymity, which enables us to say the more readily: this music comes from the Church as Bride of Christ, assisted by the Holy Spirit.

In his controversial but fascinating book The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform, the Hungarian musicologist and liturgist Lázló Dobszay laments the loss of the Chant in the liturgy of the post-conciliar church. One of his most frequent objections to much post-Vatican II liturgical practice is that attempts to set antiphon texts for the Novus Ordo has given way to what he terms ‘insertion music’ ie strophic hymns, or has contented itself with settings that cannot of their nature bring out the full meaning of the Scriptures. Perhaps increased celebration of the Missa Cantata in the now commonly know as Gregorian Rite encouraged by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum will remind the faithful that the chant has for centuries successfully and beautifully rendered vocal the precise texts of the liturgical books. Nor should the complexity of the chants of the Graduale put people off – the Graduale Simplex (for the Novus Ordo), the Chants abrégés (a wonderful resource containing simplified chants for the Gradual, Alleluia and Tract) and even the Rossini propers allow even the most modest choir to sing the proper texts of the Mass in either ordinary or extraordinary form. The Church Music Association of America’s spectacular website provides us with every possible resource to achieve this, and all free of charge – I commend to you a thorough exploration of the resources available through

Moving away from the Chant and more towards the general situation of church music in the present day, we find a contradiction between the Church’s historic practice and the present day preference for what Dobszay terms ‘utility music’, whose usefulness at the Liturgy consists in encouraging vocal participation by the people however minimal the artistic standards of the music concerned. This brings up the much-debated question of the nature of participation – the conciliar ACTUAL participation, and the mistranslation often used to justify such impoverished musical contributions – ACTIVE participation. Such a deliberately misguided interpretation of the aims of the Second Vatican Council has given us the increasingly grim impoverishment which follows when beauty for its own sake is banished from the Church.

To return to Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings: One shudders at the lacklustre face of the postconciliar Liturgy as it has become, or one is bored with its banality and its lack of artistic standards. He raises more than a question of taste when he adds in this connexion that such utilitarianism will soon percolate into attitudes to the Liturgy itself, to the Church herself and indeed to the rest of theological reality. He found implicit in this pragmatic and minimalist standpoint a catalogue of errors:

a functionalism which asks only what works for the man in the market-place, an iconoclasm suspicious of beautiful form as such, a congregationalism which rejects the corporate treasury of musica sacra in the name of what appeals to some group here and now, and a Puritanism which fails to recognise the importance of splendour as an intrinsic dimension of the festal. Reverence, receptivity and the humility that is ready to serve by participating in the great works that have already issued forth necessarily stand at the beginning of great sacred music. (Benedict XVI)

Of course, Gregorian Chant is not the only music of the Roman Rite. Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us also of the wealth and beauty of the polyphonic repertoire, and of the need for new generations of composers to work in the service of the Liturgy. The contemporary composer of sacred music in the wake of the Council has phenomenal possibilities, but always in continuity with the best of tradition – as the council fathers remind us, the contemporary composer of sacred music is not working alone, in isolation, but at the end of a long line of liturgical musicians stretching back through Bruckner, Mozart, Byrd, Gombert and the medieval chant-writers whose names we know not.

So where does this leave us now? We are faced with dwindling numbers attending Mass on a regular basis. We are faced with rapidly emptying convents, monasteries and religious houses. We are faced with dwindling vocations to the secular priesthood – back home in Southwark we are fortunate to be sending eight seminarians to study this year. However, in Wales, where I grew up, a Benedictine friend of mine informs me that there has not had a successful vocation to the Archdiocese of Cardiff for five years. The same can be said for several other dioceses across the UK. We are we are faced with a society that neither know nor cares about God.

However, it is worth pointing out some positive facts. Some of the newer monastic foundations, notably in France, are flourishing – I refer mainly to those institutions which have revived the Missal of 1962 and restored the Latin Office. Le Barroux (and its foundation), Notre Dame de Fontgombault, Notre Dame de Randol, Notre Dame de Triors and the Canons Regular of Lagrasse. The FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King and the Institute of St Philip Neri in Berlin are also flourishing. The Monastery of Solesmes, which has an exclusively Latin, Gregorian Liturgy, in their case rooted in the Novus Ordo, does not lack vocations. The Oxford Oratory, after having been forced to turn away vocations for years due to a lack of space, is now building a new wing so as to take on some of the many young men who wish to give their lives in the service of God through the Oratory of St Philip Neri. The recent renaissance in the Liturgy, brought about largely by Summorum pontificum, has also healed schism, in the case of the Transalpine Redemptorists, and has thrown open new windows for dialogue between the Church and separated groups such as the SSPX, the members of which are currently anticipating a lifting of their excommunication following that of their bishops in yet another generous gesture from our Holy Father.

There has been a recent spate of interest in Gregorian Chant, with workshops all over the UK and the US, not to mention non-English speaking countries, and new choirs being established, full of young men and women eager to embrace music which challenges and stretches them, which is both educating and edifying, and which gives glory to Almighty God.

I have been fortunate enough to combine my work at the Cathedral with teaching at the London Oratory School, a post I held for 7 years. The boys there are taught the Chant from the age of seven, and they sing their paternoster and their Marian antiphons with gusto, as well as their classical masses, Palestrina motets and newly-composed works written for the post-conciliar liturgy by composers such as James MacMillan and Roxanna Panufnik. The Music Department is staffed by a dedicated team of professional musicians, under the leadership of Lee Ward, who also directs the famous London Oratory School Schola, and the School is leading the way among Catholic Schools in the teaching of liturgical music to boys and girls of all ages and abilities. The pupils are not interested in passing musical fads, in liturgical imitations of music that their parents once danced to in the 70s and 80s! Children, more than any of us perhaps, are only too well aware of what is passing, and what is timeless. They recognise and appreciate quality. They understand when they are being stretched and when they are being led to an understanding and appreciation of something truly great. Young people know when they are being patronised, when things are dumbed-down, and when people of previous generations try to ‘get down to their level’ by eschewing quality and artistic merit in favour of pop-like ditties in order to encourage them back to Mass. It is these children who are the future of the Church, and it is our duty to bequeath to them an understanding and appreciation of the power of real church music to lead people to God.

I spoke earlier of the renewal of the liturgy in various religious houses and congregations. This renewal in the liturgy is inseparable from a renewal in liturgical music. Perhaps more than any other art form, music is able to both clothe the Liturgy and reach the hearts of the faithful in a unique way. The Church recognises this fact, and has emphasised it throughout Her history, up to, including and beyond the Second Vatican Council. We ignore her teaching at our peril.

There is a new mood within the world of professional church musicians in the years following the election of our Sovereign Pontiff. His love for the liturgy and music, and his recent pronouncements, have given us hope and encouragement. The renewed interest in the Chant is spreading to the parishes and the schools, and the renewed interest and celebration of the Usus antiquior is, as the Holy Father intended, beginning to have an effect on the celebration of the Novus Ordo, and vice versa. I have been asked to speak to the CCDM (Catholic Cathedral Directors of Music Conference) in Salford this year and to direct chant classes for them – in response to this renewed interest in the Chant. The musical provision for the Usus antiquior was also the topic for an enlightened homily given at the last CCDM conference in Liverpool by a priest of the Metropolitan Cathedral. This is all very positive indeed.

The new liturgical texts prepared by ICEL present us with a unique opportunity – that of being able to discard vast numbers of, frankly, shoddy, banal settings, and has given composers the chance to look, once again, at settings of the Mass. The new texts have a poetry lacking in the last translation, and lend themselves more easily and fluently to musical setting. The recent proclamation concerning the use of the tetragrammaton will remove from the hymn repertoire various liturgical songs of questionable theological, musical and poetic substance, and the Church’s keenness that we should begin to use the proper antiphon texts, in place of strophic hymns, will not only please Mr Dobszay, but give composers a fresh opportunity to look at those parts of the Mass which have been so shamefully ignored for the past 30 years. It is also worth noting at this point that Dobszay is currently working on an ‘English Gradual’, with assistance from many of my fellow UK Catholic Church musicians – I look forward to seeing the fruits of their labours, though I remain sceptical as to the setting of vernacular text to a Gregorian repertoire so intrinsically linked to the Latin text for which it was created.

I make no apology when I say that I hope that the years of experimental liturgy and music are over, and that we can, as the Holy Father wishes, return to a more dignified, solemn celebration of Holy Mass and begin, once more, to offer music that is worthy of the worship of Almighty God, who has given us this great gift in order that we might glorify Him. St Augustine reminds us Qui cantat, bis orat; he who sings prays twice. I hope that henceforth our prayers will include the development of music in our monasteries and convents, in our parishes, cathedrals and schools, and the musicians who are working so hard in order to facilitate good musical practice for the glory of God. And for vocations to our convents and monasteries – may our music lead people to a greater knowledge and love of God.

Bless O Lord our hearts and our minds
and grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts we may practise and show forth in our daily lives.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen. Ss Gregory and Cecilia, pray for us.

Nick Gale, September 2009


Tell Me How You Really Feel…

I love timid opinions. Thought I would share this one concerning liturgical music.

London, England, Apr 14, 2011 / 05:46 am (CNA).- A Grammy winning music director has delivered a stinging attack upon modern Church music.  Joseph Cullen, choral director at the London Symphony Orchestra, says that since the 1960s there has been a “glaring lack of sympathy” for “worthy sacred music.”

Writing in the April 9 edition of the English weekly The Tablet, he praised the music used during last year’s papal visit to the United Kingdom. But he added: “Sadly such excellence is untypical of the vast majority of our Catholic churches. There is a glaring lack of sympathy for the heritage which should be the bedrock of worthy sacred music in today’s Church.”

In recent years Joseph Cullen has risen to prominence due to his close collaboration with some of the world’s leading conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev and Sir Colin Davies, with whom he won a Grammy Award in 2006 for their recording of Verdi’s “Falstaff.”

In his analysis, Cullen says the rush to find new musical settings for the Novus Ordo mass in the 1960s led to little artistic scrutiny being applied to the process. As a result, he says, most parish Masses now have poorly composed hymns being used inappropriately as mere “filler” throughout the sacred liturgy.

He writes, “Low-quality material in both inspiration and facility is commonplace. Hymns are set to popular music (for example, “My God Loves Me” to the tune of “Plaisir d’amour”) with little regard to the inappropriateness of the original and well-known words.”

He also criticized the practice of a lone cantor leading the singing in parishes. “The misuse of one booming voice behind a microphone, an ecclesiastical karaoke, seems to have killed off unified congregational singing.”

Perhaps his most stinging attack, though, is aimed at official diocesan musicians who both commission and promote their own music. “The elected church music committees of the bishops’ conferences cannot have vested interests in promoting their own music, or type of music. This would be regarded as corrupt in any other field.”

Cullen is now calling for a greater adherence to the Church’s documents on sacred music and increased training for parishes by those schooled in the choral traditions of the Church.

Sense of the Sacred

This week I want to discuss the role of the human voice within the Liturgy. That being said, I came across a video of Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ interviewing Fr. Scott Haynes, SJC (Canons Regular of St. John Cantius). The interview addresses the “Sense of the Sacred” through the Tridentine Liturgy utilizing the last revision of the Extraordinary Form otherwise know as the 1962 Mass of Paul VI.

Interestingly enough, Pope Benedict XVI calls the EF the Mass of the Vatican II since that is the liturgy which was celebrated during the council. Two fruits of the EF that St. John Cantius Parish has experienced since its introduction include:

  • Massive increase in confession
  • Huge attendance by the youth

It seems, Fr. Haynes remarks, that it is the youth that are the main attendees of the EF. Whether we like it or not, the Millennials want the EF and I predict it will become more and more common. Youth Ministers – might want to pay attention to this, it is probably your future. For more info visit their site: Sancta Missa.

NOTA BENE: I like the fact that the Novus Ordo is treated with great respect and shares that the liturgy is organic and has not “completed” its development. Meaning the EF only became stable after hundreds of years and went through the same process we are having to watch and/or endure.

I believe this is a necessary viewing.

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.

How Do They Relate: Documents of Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council is arguably the most significant Ecumenical Council in the past two hundred years (Yes, that means there has been more than one). Just for the sake of review, the First Vatican Council was convened by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1868 and opened on December 8, 1869. The council is best known for its dogmatic definition on Papal infallibility and was indefinitely suspended on October 20, 1870 by Pope Pius IX due to the Franco-Prussian War (The Kingdom of Italy captured and annexed the Papal States).

Of course, the Church had to wait for Blessed Pope John XXIII to convene and open the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. This Ecumenical Council was different than all previous councils in that it did not define or restate any dogmatic statements. The Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II) is most notably remembered for:

  • Expanding the use of the vernacular within the Sacred Liturgy
  • Establishing the Word of God’s place and role in the Church
  • Reflecting internally on her relation to her children
  • Reflecting externally on her relation to the external world
  • Expanding its communication in Ecumenical circles

The numerous documents that Vatican II produced has at times been used as weapons. Many act in accordance with the “spirit” of the Council which usually means that they are implementing what the Council “meant” even though they have never read the documents. The result, over forty years of nonsense and liturgical deviance that is only now beginning to self-correct.

I came across a graphic recently that helped me understand the internal logic of how the documents and the various themes relate to one another. While not perfect, I have not seen its match. Having read and studied the majority of the documents over the past twenty-years, I more and more appreciate the beauty and wisdom the Council Fathers were trying to implement. In the back of their minds lingered World War II and in the forefront of their minds was the changing needs of the twentieth century. With the birth and convergence of Dialectical Materialism and Modernism in the nineteenth century, the Council Fathers needed a renewed vision to provide the foundation for a new evangelism in the early twenty-first century. And so, through many years of deliberation, they promulgated 4 Constitutions, 9 Decrees and 3 Declarations.  What is the difference in order of importance? Great question:

  • Constitution -the most solemn form of a document issued by the Pope or a Council. It relates to important matters, e.g. changing the “matter & form” of a sacrament, major changes in universal law, etc. and makes new law which changes or abrogates existing law.
  • Decree – is the most important legislative act a Curia can make. It requires the authorization of the Holy Father to make a change in Curial law.
  • Declaration – typically is an interpretation of an existing law and it cannot make new law. Declarations may be general, for the whole Church or particular, for a particular person or church.

The following is a graphic provided by the Vatican II – Voice of the Church Web site. It helps organize the documents to know how they relate to each other. You might base your choice on what documents to read by relation rather than chronology. My only other encouragement is to actually read the documents (and those that helped explain them after the council) and not take the word of anyone acting in the “spirit of Vatican II”. Happy studying!

This diagram cannot easily be bettered, although a truer concept of the interlinking of themes and teachings might be a ‘network’. An important feature of the circular diagram is the clear presentation of the four ‘core’ documents, as the foundation for the rest. This diagram was first published in The Sower Vol 23 No 1, January 2002 and is reproduced with their kind permission.

To read the Vatican II documents, go to the official Vatican site.

St. Teresa of Avila: Doctor of Prayer

St. Teresa of Avila provided the world with one of the greatest tomes on prayer, Interior Castle. To honor the Holy Spirit and its work within her, I have put some thoughts together on Catholic spirituality. At the end, I have also summarized the Teresian Mansions.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is the natural bloom of a life steeped in prayer.  In the broadest sense, spirituality refers to “any religious or ethical value that is concertized as an attitude or spirit from which one’s actions flow…In the strict sense of the word, the only authentic spirituality is a spirituality centered in Jesus Christ and through Him to the Trinity.  Christian spirituality is therefore a participation in the mystery of Christ through the interior life of grace, actuated by faith, charity, and other Christian virtues.”[1] Spirituality finds its foundation rooted in a dual wellspring – the living Tradition of the Church and prayer. [2]

Any spirituality that contradicts and opposes the teaching of the Magisterium is clearly in error.  Error by its very nature is insidious and many times difficult to see.  Like a weed, error usually prevents growth.  Unchecked and untreated, it will eventually strangle the life out of its victim.  Authentic spirituality necessarily must be rooted in the instrument that Jesus chose to safeguard truth— the Magisterium.

Rooted in Prayer

Likewise, we must be equally rooted in prayer.  Prayer is the direct action of the Holy Spirit inspiring a response of loving affection to the Father from who all blessings flow.

Prayer is the lifeline of the Christian.  We would do well to recall our Lord’s admonition in John 15:5, “…apart from me you can do nothing.”  Many of us live in the illusion of self-reliance.  Others of us live in the illusion of entitlement.[3] In the end, it is the individual who steeps his/herself in prayer and waits to be refreshed and directed by the one in “whom we live, move, and have our being” who truly lives the authentic Christian life.

As we briefly look at tendencies, modes, methods, and mansions of prayer, this short paper should be used only as a reference guide.  Choose appropriate books and read them.  If possible, read them in conjunction with a competent spiritual director who can assist you in understanding and assimilating the information that will encourage holiness.  May God bring to completion that which He begun in our baptism.

Christian Prayer

Christian prayer traditionally emphasizes four orthodox tendencies.  An individual runs the risk of falling into disordered or heterodox prayer, and consequently spirituality, when they over-emphasize or suppress a particular spiritual principle or teaching.

At different times in Church history, one or another tendency has been emphasized- usually to combat heterodox views of spirituality and theology.  Interestingly, there is a significant correlation between personality and the tendency of spirituality.

Four Traditional Tendencies

  1. Speculative:  The emphasis is on the ordered progression of thought from cause to effect.  While the focus is on the intellect, it moves from observable facts to first principles. The intellect informs the will so it may not only love but love deeply.  This has been instrumental in priestly formation for the past 400 years i.e., Dominican or Thomistic spirituality.
  2. Affective or Emotive:  This Affective or Emotive form directs prayer with emphasis on acts of the will and experience i.e., Franciscan.
  3. Apophatic: This emphasis is going beyond thought and images, by way of the “via negative” and/or the application of Scripture to ones life (Key Word: Transposition).  Thus, instead of understanding who God is in relation to who we are (anthrotypology), it focuses on who God is not (We may be wise but God is not wise, He is Wisdom) i.e., Carmelite and Augustinian traditions.
  4. Kataphatic: The emphasis is using images through the sensible imagination (Key Word: Projection).  This is the most popular among the laity and statistically for the general population i.e., Ignatian prayer.

Four Heterodox Tendencies

  1. Encretism: Extreme discipline, discipline for its own sake.
  2. Rationalism: Using the intellect as a hyper-measure of all reality.  Whatever does not appeal to the mind, reject.
  3. Quietism: The rejection of discipline and ritual because the individual(s) are so “in the spirit” i.e., Montanism/Protestantism
  4. Pietism: Religiosity.  An extreme need for externals without the corresponding continual internal transformation.  Also, typified by an individual(s) who liturgically participates without knowing why they do what they do.

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila developed a mystical theology that provides valuable insights into the progression and obstacles an individual confronts in his/her prayer life.  These “grades” of prayer are points of reference to assist the individual in understanding and overcoming the particular associated difficulties.  She consistently emphasized that these “grades” are not like that of rungs on a ladder but a fluid progression of ebbs and flows in the spiritual life.  While each inferior “grade” gives way to the next, the individual will use those “skills and structures” they have learned, particularly in arid times.

St. Teresa’s castles or mansions may be divided into two categories: ascetical and mystical.  The first four grades may be said to belong to the ascetical and the remaining five to the mystical.  The essential difference is that the ascetical prayer may be attained through one’s own effort and ordinary grace while the mystical is infused prayer, which properly belongs exclusively to the action of the Holy Spirit by means of His gifts.  While the latter are the work of the Holy Spirit, these grades are still the natural progression of the Christian in growth in holiness in prayer.

The past 100 years has seen a return to the traditional teaching of spiritual theology that embraces both the ascetical and mystical states of the Christian. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. was the principle champion of this approach.  The separation of these two areas of the spiritual life created an artificial and quite damaging view of the spiritual life.  Consequently, the mystical state was improperly relegated for those chosen saints.  This in itself is not completely erroneous.  What some deemed to be the logical end was.

Vatican II reminded the Church of the Universal Call to Holiness, which includes the laity progressing in prayer and holiness to the heights of sanctity.  The following is a summation of each mansion and purgation as understood by St. Teresa:

Ascetical States

First Mansion: Vocal Prayer

  • Any prayer expressed in words whether written or spoken
    • Three reasons for vocal prayer
      • Arouses interior devotion
      • Homage to God with our body as well as the mind and heart
      • Gives expression to the spiritual sentiments that floods the soul in prayer
    • Two requirements
      • Attention: Total awareness of what you are doing here and now (intellect)
      • Devotion: Purposeful direction of our will towards God (will)

Second Mansion: Discursive (Reasoned) Meditation

  • The reasoned application of the mind to some supernatural truth in order to penetrate its meaning, love it and carry it into practice
  • The most important element is the act of love aroused in the will due to the presentation of the truth by the intellect

Third Mansion: Affective Prayer

  • The type of prayer in which the operations of the will predominate over the discursus of the intellect
  • The method of St. Ignatius is not conducive to affective prayer as it emphasizes method and imagination and not the spontaneous movements of the heart

Fourth Mansion: Prayer of Simplicity

  • A simple loving gaze upon a divine object whether on God Himself or one of His perfections
  • Affective prayer gives way to a simple loving gaze towards God
  • Also known as Acquired Recollection and Simple Contemplation

Dark Night of the Senses (St. John of the Cross)

  • Purgation of habitual sin, human efforts aided by grace

Mystical States

Fifth Mansion: Contemplative Prayer (Prayer of Union)

  • Two Stages
    • Prayer of Quiet
      • Principally affects the intellect
        • Intellect and memory are tranquil
        • They are still free to realize what is occurring
      • The will is captivated and God’s presence fills the soul with ineffable delight
      • The other faculties are free and thus able to continue with the duties of life
    • Prayer of Union
      • All interior faculties are captivated including memory and imagination
      • Only external bodily senses are free
      • Signs of the Prayer of Union
        • Absence of distractions
        • Certitude of being intimately united to God
        • Absence of weariness and tedium

Dark Night of the Spirit (St. John of the Cross)

  • Purgation of involuntary and spiritual sin, divine effort

Sixth Mansion: Conforming Union (Mystical Espousal)

  • All interior and exterior faculties are captivated
  • Complete ecstasy
  • The difference between conforming and transforming union is a matter of degree of intensity

Seventh Mansion: Transforming Union (Mystical Marriage)

  • The essential difference is that God’s will and the individual’s will may no longer be distinguished
  • Heaven on earth
  • Attainable by every baptized Christian

[1] Aumann, Jordan, Spiritual Theology (Sheed and Ward, 1980) p.17-18

[2] Christian spirituality is preeminently Trinitarian through the person of Jesus the Christ.  There are two particular distinctions that set Christianity and Judaism apart from other world religions.  The first is that Christianity and Judaism are the only two religions where God instigates the relationship and actions.  The second is that both religions are totally responsive.  God acts – we respond.  These two movements are clearly exemplified in the Liturgy.  God speaks, we respond in affirmation.  God offers Himself in the Eucharist and we take and eat.  All other religions act in order for their god(s) to respond.  Unfortunately, this is very prevalent in Catholicism today by enculturation.  We have become a childish society demanding what we want and when we want it- especially spiritually.

[3] The illusion of entitlement rears its ugly head typically in one of two ways.  The first is the unfounded notion that all good people go to heaven.  Goodness, a trait that all would agree saints possess, is not the key to heaven.  What is the key?  Grace!  Grace makes us holy.  Holiness is the action by which the Holy Spirit, in the context of a willing response of our cooperation, forms us into the image of Christ.

The second is a quote out of context.  “Life is a prayer.”   St. Francis’ life was undoubtedly a prayer.  That is not to say he did not pray.  There is a prevalent illusion that says that as long as we do those duties that are required of us, prayer is optional.  Prayer is our primary duty!  Our vocations, and those actions that are related to living out our calling, flows forth from prayer.  Should one examine the teachings of the spiritual masters and the lives of the saints, one would find that those who emphasized life as prayer were the same ones that spent hour upon hour in prayer, several times a day.

Cor ad cor loquitur

Cardinal Newman

Today, the Holy Father beatified one of the nineteenth century’s sharpest minds, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Born in London on 21 February 1801, he was born into a family with a strong Anglican tradition.  While always drawn to Scripture, which became his moral compass, his mind demanded more.

During a conversion experience in 1861 he received what he considered the most significant grace in his life, the one that brought about an acute awareness of the presence of God and the invisible world.

In his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, he confessed that this experience did have a great influence on his personality, “isolating me from the objects which surrounded me, in confirming me in my mistrust of the reality of material phenomena, and making me rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator”. He also chose from Scott’s book two phrases that were to mark his whole life: “holiness rather than peace” and “growth, the only evidence of life”.

After a distinguished studentate at Oxford and a vibrant participation in the Oxford Movement against Liberalism, he developed his theory of the Via Media. This theory strove to prove that the Anglican Communion was the legitimate heir of primitive Christianity and the true Church of Christ. He believed that since England had been preserved from the Protestant heresies and the influences of Rome, the truth of Christendom could be found in Anglicanism itself. It was through his studies of history and the dogmatic integrity of the Catholic Church that his mind yielded to the truth of Catholic Christendom. On 9 October 1845, Newman was received into the Catholic Church by by Bl. Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist. He began a Catholic priest and founded the St. Philip’s Oratory in Birmingham. For more on Cardinal Newman.

Holy Father Speaks on Cardinal Newman

The Holy Father today raised the beloved Cardinal Newman to the status of Blessed. During his homily, BXVI commented that the holy Cardinal now joins “Saint Bede, Saint Hilda, Saint Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus” to name a few of the scholarly saints.  Cardinal Newman believed in the laity and had a vision of who, through his guidance, he wanted them to become:

I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390).

Benedict speaking to those gathered in Westminster at the Cathedral of the Precious Blood, exhorted English Catholics to become the priestly people that they had been called to be:

Dear friends, let us return to the contemplation of the great crucifix which rises above us. Our Lord’s hands, extended on the Cross, also invite us to contemplate our participation in his eternal priesthood and thus our responsibility, as members of his body, to bring the reconciling power of his sacrifice to the world in which we live. The Second Vatican Council spoke eloquently of the indispensable role of the laity in carrying forward the Church’s mission through their efforts to serve as a leaven of the Gospel in society and to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, 31; Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7). The Council’s appeal to the lay faithful to take up their baptismal sharing in Christ’s mission echoed the insights and teachings of John Henry Newman. May the profound ideas of this great Englishman continue to inspire all Christ’s followers in this land to conform their every thought, word and action to Christ, and to work strenuously to defend those unchanging moral truths which, taken up, illuminated and confirmed by the Gospel, stand at the foundation of a truly humane, just and free society.

…Let us pray, then, that the Catholics of this land will become ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness.

Click here to read more of Pope Benedict XVI’s homilies and exhortations to the people of ancient Britannia or as we say today, the United Kingdom.

Through the intercession of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, may our minds be enlightened by the truth that our hearts be inflamed with love for our Hope of Glory.

Recapturing the Meaning of the Sacred

Etymology is an important science that seems to have fallen out of vogue. The daily decimation of the English language has been made clear over the pass two decade with the advent/recognition of Ebonics and the Urban Dictionary - or maybe it is because Merriam Webster adds hundred of new words each year and changes the meanings of the others. Few realize that historically, languages dramatically change on their own about every 700 years and consequently, so to do countries and cultures (think Gaul/France, Angl-Saxon/Great Britain, etc). Language is arguably the principal tool of a unified society. The information age most likely will speed this natural process up. In some ways, it seems we have created our own Tower of Babel and splintered our own society in the process.

The Church has always understood the power of language. The first nine centuries of the Church our liturgical language was Greek. Then with the spread of Christianity through Europe, Holy Mother Church needed to figure out a way to bring warring clans together as the idea of states and countries began to form. Her solution? Latin.

Latin as a language was no longer being used as a common tongue. It’s vocabulary and meanings had been solidified and thus the “negotiation” of terms and finding a common lexicon in a conversation was eliminated. So, she introduced it to her liturgy. Quickly it also became the language of education and with it a golden age of scholasticism. As mentioned in a previous post, the term culture is derived from the Latin term cultus. Cultures are formed by what they worship.

I say this as a prelude to understand a re-posting of an article on the term holy which the author briefly applies to  sacred music. Music is a visceral topic to all, especially liturgical music. Any teacher will tell you that music is one of the single most effective teaching tools in their toolbox. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Rite has experienced an explosion of creativity as it relates to liturgical music. Some good while others disastrous.

I am a particular fan of Praise and Worship music. It has played a huge part in my life and historically has been part of our tradition since the beginning – but it does not constitute sacred music. Not because it does not raise our hearts and minds to the highest heavens but it is transitory in nature. That is easily illustrated by just the simple observation in changes of style every few years. Sacred Music, and yes, I mean Gregorian and Plainchant, have an enduring quality about them that is shaped by the use of Latin. The language and the way it is expressed shapes how we express ourselves in worship. I suspect that you would never find hands raised in praise during the O Salutaris. It seems out of place which does not mean that folded hands are more reverent than raised – just different expressions for different liturgical actions.

I guess the last point is that our liturgy is supposed to be universal. For some reason we want to customize it and make it attractive so that more people will like it. Isn’t that called entertainment? The Sacred Liturgy is just that, sacred. The problem is not the music (although it helps) nor the preaching (Lord does this help). The problem is liturgical illiteracy and a common language. The problem and solution is us.

Maybe we should discuss this further because as I mentioned before, music and Latin in the liturgy are very visceral topics. Music is probably the easiest and most logical first step in re-educating our family. Thus, I expect to see (and in a sense hear) your comments.

I want to thank Jake Tawney at the Rome locuta est blog for the following article that he posted on August 26, 2010.

One of the many problems in dealing with theological questions is the issue of vocabulary.  This often come up when Catholics are discussing the issues of salvation, sanctification, redemption, and justification with Protestants.  My experience is that people are knee deep in arguments before they realize that either (a) both sides intend something entirely different when using any one of these terms, or worse (b) one or the other is unaware themselves of what they mean when they use the vocabulary.  Undefined terms are not limited to debates between Catholics and Protestants.  They can occur even among Catholics, as is the case in terms such as pastoral, tolerance, or even truth (Quod est veritas?).

In discussing the nature of sacred music and architecture with people who have difficulty in either understanding or accepting the Church’s tradition, one source of the problem is the lack of an adequate understanding of the word sacred. Worse yet is the ambiguity imbedded int he use of the word holy. In this post I seek to recover the meaning of the terms, to explore some related words, and then to briefly comment on how this impacts the manner in which we understand the Church when she speaks of “sacred music”.
There are two Latin stems that are synonymous: one is sancire;  the other is sacrare.  Both are the present infinitive and translate as any one of the following: to make holy, to set apart as sacred, to declare as holy, to consecrate, or even to devote.  The first person present active forms (“I make holy”) are sancio and sacro respectively.  Both forms come from sacer, the masculine adjective meaning sacred, holy, or consecrated.  (The feminine is sacra and the neuter is sacrum.)

There are three related Latin words that are worth mentioning.  The first is sacerdotalis, an adjective meaning “priestly” and deriving from sacerdos (“priest”).  This word shows up in the first line and title of Pope John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (“Priestly Ordination”).  The etymological connection between the sense of priest and that of sacred is obvious, which in part explains the Church’s phrase “Holy Orders” in reference to the Sacrament that confers the priesthood upon men.

The second related word is sacrosanctus, which is an obvious combination of sacro and sanctus.  It’s translation is the same (“consecrated”, “made holy”) but has an even stronger emphasis on the religious nature of the “setting aside”.  The English word “sacrosanct” (meaning “extremely sacred or inviolable”) is a derivative.  We see this word show up in the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (“This Sacred Council”).

Finally, we have the common Latin word sanctus, a masculine perfect passive participle of sancire, translated “having been made holy.”  The word can also be a noun meaning “saint” or “one who has been made holy.”  This is the word that is used to refer to a canonized Saint in the Church, and its identification with the perfect passive participle is important in that it emphasizes that the sanctifying action is on the part of God, not on the part that was “made holy”.

There is a plethora of English derivatives for these various forms.  To mention just two, “sanctify” means to make holy, and “sacrifice” means to side aside for God (which emphasizes Ratzinger’s point that it is not that nature of sacrifice that necessitates the involvement of destruction, but rather it was the advent of sin that gave rise to the bloody sacrifice on the cross).

From where, then, does the word “holy” come, which sounds nothing like any of the Latin words?  The answer is not to be found in the Latin language, but in Old English.  The original word is halig and translates the same (“holy”, “sacred”, etc.)  It use is a bit wider, however, as it can mean “healthy” or “pius” or even more generally “one”.  There is an obvious metaphysical point here: that which is set aside for God (“made holy”) is also properly integrated (“one” or “whole”); the final cause (telos) of all creation is identical to its efficient cause (that from which it came), namely God.  It is from this Old English word that we get the term “hallowed”.

The lesson here is that the term “sacred” or “holy” (or any derivation of this) always has an element of being “set aside” or “consecrated”.  This helps us to understand why the Church is in need of a style of music and art that is not that of pop-culture.  Liturgical music, precisely as liturgical, is in need of an artistic style that is truly its own. Only then can it be said to be “set aside”.  When we say that Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony are examples of “Sacred Music” we mean that they have been set aside for specific liturgical use and that they differ from music that is “secular” in style.  “Secular” comes form the Latin saeculorum, meaning “of the age”.  Think here of the end of the Gloria Patri: et in saecula saeculorum, meaning literally “and in ages of ages”.  The translation “forever” is appropriate but loses the poetic repetition.  Another antonym of sacred is “profane”, from the Latin profanus meaning “not religious”.
When we understand that being “set aside” is a critical element of being holy we can better understand the Church’s claim that some music may be religious without being sacred.  Certainly Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony are both religious and sacred.  The question is: can praise and worship music, which by its nature models the music of our age, and thus rendering it secular, honestly be described as “sacred”?  The same question applies to the vast majority of music composed in the last several decades, the only difference being that the “age” is one that is fossilized in the 60’s and 70’s rather than the current age.

Before closing let me make a few comments about the Latin language in general and its suitability for the Liturgy.  First, the vernacular (from the Latin vernaculus meaning “domestic” or “indigenous”) by its nature is also secular (“of the current age”).  Latin, however, is a language set aside for a sacred use.  Even in periods where Latin was the vernacular, the form of the vernacular and the form of that used in the Liturgy were different enough that people like Ratzinger argue that the average Catholic would not have been capable of fully understanding the language used in the Mass.  Hence, even when Latin was the language of the day, the form used in the high church liturgies was a form “set aside” for liturgical purposes.  Many religions have seen the importance of having a language set aside for sacred use, be it Hebrew, Greek, or in this case, Latin.

Moreover, this post opened by pointing out that the English word “holy”, and to a lesser degree “sacred”, has suffered a loss of meaning in recent decades.  People will describe praise and worship music as “holy” without fully understanding what the term means and why it is an inappropriate attribution.  The mere fact that this post is necessary points to the loss of meaning of English words.  Because the English language is still in use in conversation inevitably leads to these ambiguities.  It is not a fault of English, it is the very nature of languages that are actively used.  They are subject to change in vocabulary.  Latin is a language that is no longer in conversational use, and thus it is not subject to semantic changes.  The recent controversies about the old and new translations of the Roman Missal would be avoided if we simply did not translate.*

* This is not a wholesale criticism of the new translation – it is certainly a dramatic improvement over the one currently in use, and I will welcome it with and open heart and soul on the First Sunday of Advent 2011.