Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

The truth of the Liturgy opens the door to salvation

The liturgical wars of the past years are not over, they’re not even close to coming to an end. Too many people have a stake in what will happen with the promulgation of the new Roman Missal in English and then the forthcoming translations of the Divine Office, and sacraments. I look forward to the day when the newly approved psalms get inserted in the daily use of the Church’s rites, especially in monasteries where being in conformity with the mind of the Church is not always a value. Ultimately we have to say that the various “insights”, agendas, ways of doing things and thinking are in conflict with the whole of the Church’s Tradition of continuity. While it is quite fine to be novel in the place where you live and perhaps in the market and work place, no doubt these places rely on new ways of doing things to “spice up life,” novelty has no place in liturgical theology, liturgical texts, rubrics, gestures and homilies. What is often missing in the work of liturgical theology and the praxis of the “faith community” is Christ, the true seeking of God’s face under the power of the Holy Spirit. How is it that we can claim to be one Church, one faith, working out salvation as proposed be Christ and the Church?

For me, Father Roman Guardini sets the stage of what the truth of the sacred Liturgy is and what its virtue is for the believer.

Mass of St Giles Master of St Giles.jpgThe Church has not built up the Opus Dei for the pleasure of forming beautiful symbols, choice language, and graceful, stately gestures, but she has done it — in so far as it is not completely devoted to the worship of God — for the sake of our desperate spiritual need. It is to give expression to the events of the Christian’s inner life: the assimilation, through the Holy Ghost, of the life of the creature to the life of God in Christ; the actual and genuine rebirth of the creature into a new existence; the development and nourishment of this life; its stretching forth from God in the Blessed Sacrament and the means of grace, towards God in prayer and sacrifice; and all this in the continual mystic renewal of Christ’s life in the course of the ecclesiastical year. The fulfillment of all these processes by the set forms of language, gesture, and instruments, their revelation, teaching, accomplishment and acceptance by the faithful, together constitute the liturgy. We see, then, that it is primarily concerned with reality, with the approach of a real creature to a real God, and with the profoundly real and serious matter of redemption. There is here no question of creating beauty, but of finding salvation for sin-stricken humanity. Here truth is at stake, and the fate of the soul, and real — yes, ultimately the only real — life. All this it is which must be revealed, expressed, sought after, found and imparted by every possible means and method; and when this is accomplished, lo! it is turned into beauty.

This is not a matter for amazement, since the principle here at work is the principle of truth and of mastery over form. The interior element has been expressed clearly and truthfully, the whole superabundance of life has found its utterance, and the fathomless profundities have been plainly mapped out. It is only to be expected that a gleam of the utmost splendor should shine forth at such a manifestation of truth.

For us, however, the liturgy must chiefly be regarded from the standpoint of salvation. We should steadfastly endeavor to convince ourselves of its truth and its importance in our lives. When we recite the prayers and psalms of the liturgy, we are to praise God, nothing more. When we assist at Holy Mass, we must know that we are close to the fount of all grace. When we are present at an ordination, the significance of the proceedings must lie for us in the fact that the grace of God has taken possession of a fragment of human life. We are not concerned here with the question of powerfully symbolic gestures, as if we were in a spiritual theater, but we have to see that our real souls should approach a little nearer to the real God, for the sake of all our most personal, profoundly serious affairs.

For it is only thus that perception of liturgical beauty will be vouchsafed to us. It is only when we participate in liturgical action with the earnestness begotten of deep personal interest that we become aware why, and in what perfection, this vital essence is revealed. It is only when we premise the truth of the liturgy that our eyes are opened to its beauty.

The degree of perception varies, according to our aesthetic sensitiveness. Perhaps it will merely be a pleasant feeling of which we are not even particularly conscious, of the profound appropriateness of both language and actions for the expression of spiritual realities, a sensation of quiet spontaneity, a consciousness that everything is right and exactly as it should be. Then perhaps an offertory suddenly flashes in upon us, so that it gleams before us like a jewel. Or bit by bit the whole sweep of the Mass is revealed, just as from out the vanishing mist the peaks and summits and slopes of a mountain chain stand out in relief, shining and clear, so that we imagine we are looking at them for the first time. Or it may be that in the midst of prayer the soul will be pervaded by that gentle, blithe gladness which rises into sheer rapture. Or else the book will sink from our hands, while, penetrated with awe, we taste the meaning of utter and blissful tranquility, conscious that the final and eternal verities which satisfy all longing have here found their perfect expression. But these moments are fleeting, and we must be content to accept them as they come or are sent. On the whole, however, and as far as everyday life is concerned, this precept holds good, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all else shall be added to you” — all else, even the glorious experience of beauty.

Father Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1998, p 83ff, reprint of 1930 Sheed & Ward edition, trans., Ada Lane).

No applause at the sacred Liturgy

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Hat tip to Fr Guy Selvester at Shouts in the Piazza for posting this image. Indeed, the sacred Liturgy is worship of the Blessed Trinity not a time for introducing secular measures of approval and disapproval. I was at a priest friend’s funeral today and after the homily was finished a member of the laity started the congregation in an applause. Not only was it out of place it bore no relation to the reality of the meaning of the Sacrifice of the Mass being celebrated by the Archbishop of Hartford (himself seemingly surprised yet he drew more attention to the fact that it happened). Not that my friend Father Brian didn’t deserved some thoughtful acknowledgement for his extraordinary human and priestly qualities but at his Mass of Christian Burial applause was out of place. Paying attention to human sentiment and emotion is very important but there are appropriate times for external awareness. Something similar happened after a music piece was perforned earlier this week at a Mass which I attended for a friend’s nephew who took his life. No doubt we were all feeling the rawness of emotion of a young man’s suicide but is the Liturgy the place for secular displays of feeling. My friend Father Ambrose has fought for keeping applause out of the school Mass at St Louis Abbey’s conventual Mass celebrated with the student body in attendance…

Independence Day in the USA

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God of love, Father of us all in wisdom and goodness You guide creation to fulfillment in Christ Your Son. Open our hearts to the truth of His gospel, that Your peace may rule in our hearts and Your justice guide our lives.

A blessed 4th of July!

A “new liturgical movement” according to Pope Benedict

Some may have heard the idea “the new liturgical movement” used nowadays to describe a recovery of the sacred Liturgy that understands a continuity in the Liturgy that has existed through the ages and not just made up by scholars and hacks. John Allen explores the origin of this idea according to the thinking of Pope Benedict in a brief NCR article, “What Benedict means by a ‘new liturgical movement.’

I would also recommend the book referenced by John Allen, Milestones. It is necessary reading for all sorts of things, not just trying to understand Joseph Ratzinger.

Blessing of a Bonfire, the Vigil of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

A long forgotten tradition on the Vigil of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is the Blessing of a Bonfire. Confusion exists because in some people’s minds the 1964 Roman Ritual was suppressed because it’s absent in the US Bishops’ Book of Blessings but it is advocated for in the Directory on Popular Piety.

Since it’s not seen often in the USA it will be seen as esoteric. But those of concerned with Catholic identity and the flourishing of the sacred Liturgy in parishes, monasteries and religious communities. This blessing is one of the most ancient blessings.

Since St Augustine was the one to establish the feast day of the Baptist’s birth, six months prior to the Savior’s and in the summer solstice after the longest day of the year and when daylight incrementally lessens, a celebration of  “light of the World” manifested by the Forerunner, it is an appropriate liturgical observance. Plus, the liturgical catechesis is limitless in this rite.

Because St John the Baptist’s testimony to identity of Jesus as the true light which shines in the darkness of the world, the priest doing this rite can bring together several spiritual “themes” for expanding the heart. One can preach on John as the light-bearer before Christ; “he must increase, but I must decrease”; “I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”

The Rite

Priest: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: May He also be with you.


Let us pray. Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify + this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The fire is sprinkled with holy water; after which the clergy
and the people sing the following hymn Hymn: Ut queant laxis

1. Ut queant laxis resonáre fibris Mira gestórum fámuli tuórum, Solve pollúti lábii reátum, Sancte Joánnes.

2. Núntius celso véniens Olympo Te patri magnum fore nascitúrum, Nomen, et vitae sériem geréndae Ordinae promit.

3. Ille promíssi dúbius supérni, Pérdidit promptae módulos loquélae: Sed reformásti genitus perémptae Organa vocis.

4. Ventris obstrúso récubans cubíli Sénseras Regem thálamo manéntem: Hinc parens nati méritis utérque Abdita pandit.

5. Sit decus Patri, genitaéque Proli et tibi, compare utriúsque virtus, Spíritus semper, Deus unus, omni Témporis aevo. Amen.

(the same in English)

1. O for your spirit, holy John, to chasten Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen; So by your children might your deeds of wonder Meetly be chanted.

2. Lo! a swift herald, from the skies descending, Bears to your father promise of your greatness; How he shall name you, what your future story, Duly revealing.

3. Scarcely believing message so transcendent, Him for a season power of speech forsaketh, Till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth, Voice to the voiceless.

4. You, in your mother’s womb all darkly cradled, Knew your great Monarch, biding in His chamber, Whence the two parents, through their offspring’s merits, Mysteries uttered.

5. Praise to the Father, to the Son begotten, And to the Spirit, equal power possessing, One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages, Ever resounding. Amen.

P: There was a man sent from God.

All: Whose name was John.

Let us pray. God, who by reason of the birth of blessed John have made this day praiseworthy, give your people the grace of spiritual joy, and keep the hearts of your faithful fixed on the way that leads to everlasting salvation; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Philip T. Weller, The Roman Ritual (The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, WI, 1964).

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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