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Reclaiming a deeper sensitivity to the sacred Liturgy

Today, the Director of the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, Father Douglas Martis, gave the following address today. Father Martis is a priest of the Diocese of Joliet and on the faculty of Mundelein Seminary. Some very useful lessons to keep in mind.

I.  Sons.

 

My Dear Sons,

 

This was the term used by Fr. Fuller on Monday morning, “sons.” It is a beautiful expression. You are sons to us. Our relationship, despite the distance or proximity of age, is one of father and son,  or in certain cases, as with our Director of Music, one of motherly concern. No disrespect to your age or your experience is intended.

 

We have a common project here,  to prepare you for ministry to the Church as priests.

 

And for those of us concerned directly with your liturgical formation, our project is to prepare you in such a way  as to manifest an authentic and profound  intelligence of and respect for the Church’s public prayer, so as to demonstrate a true love for God’s people.

 

This responsibility belongs jointly to you and to us. While it is true that in some ways you are brothers,  on another day you will be brothers in a deeper sense. For now, you sons, we love you, and care for you, and want genuinely go give to you what parents give to beloved sons.

 

What we do, that to which we have committed these years of our lives, is for your good for the good of the Church.

 

My colleagues and I have strong personalities.  We do not have an innate need to challenge you or correct you in order to caress on own self-importance.  The program we have of liturgical preparation and celebration, of respecting ritual and integrating prayer, of insisting on music and chant is not the imposition of our own puny personal preferences.

 

Our teaching is derived from the desire of the Church herself: rooted inSacrosanctum concilium, the ritual books that are the fruit of the Council, and the Church’s liturgical theology. 

 

It is neither our interest nor our agenda to promote our opinions as if they carried the authority of the Church.   Our desire is to present you with the Church’s teaching, for love of you and love of her. 

 

We want you to follow our example.

 

 II. Change.

 

Things change. That’s okay.

 

Get used to it.  New classmates, new teachers, new schedules. New prayers, new responsibilities, new living situations. New circumstances, new trends, new conflicts. New joys, new insights, new challenges.

 

This is the life of a priest in the 21st century.

Learning to navigate change is an essential skill you will need for the rest of your lives.

 

Let us be clear. God remains the same. Our upset, generally has more to do with what we want,than with the objective reality of the change. This is not about you.

 

The church of the 1960s saw excitement and enthusiasm, and resistance, too.

 

In your situation today, learn to appreciate your elders’ excitement, enthusiasm, and resistance. In 2011 you will know the same. Excitement, enthusiasm, and resistance.

 

Change leads some to heresy or schism.

 

Avoid the temptation of being captured by the caricatures of the media, whether your news source is FOX or CNN, whether you are a fan of NCReporter or NCRegister whether you get your information from the blogs or from television. Do not allow yourself to get sucked in by the politics of resistance. When change leads to dissemblance, only the devil is served.

 

As priests, ministers, official representatives of the Church, you have a greater responsibility than settling for, or promoting polemics. Not only that, as a man of prayer, you have–even now!–the responsibility of learning to embrace the beauty, the rich theology, the deep spirituality of the Church’s liturgical prayer.

 

You can stand aloof as a member of an elite that knows the rich treasure of prayer or having integrated it yourself you can teach, inform, model, and so help others to do the same.

 

What is needed here is not a so called “pastoral decision” of diluting prayer but a conviction of genuine care, catechesis and formation that raises up the faithful.

 

This may be the greatest ecclesial moment in your lifetime. Yours is not the only generation to have ever known liturgical change.

 

“We are not in the same situation as … 1963. One cannot therefore continue to speak of a change as it was spoken of at the time of the Constitution’spublication; rather one has to speak of an ever deeper grasp of the Liturgy of the Church, celebrated according to the current books and lived above all as a reality in the spiritual order.”[i]

 

…now
the time has come … to publish liturgical books in a form that both testifies to the stability achieved and is worthy of the mysteries celebrated.[ii]”

 

If the intuition of Pope John Paul II is correct, if the Third Edition of the Roman Missal signals the maturity of liturgical reform, its dignity and stability, then the post-Counciliar church has survived adolescence and provides the opportunity now for a more adult expression of faith. You and I stand on the threshold of this moment!

 

 III. Texts.

 

The challenge with public prayer has always been to make the words our own. Let us understand then, that the great opportunity afforded us in this moment is not one of changing words.  This is about opening a more direct path to the meaning of Catholic worship–a meaning that has always been there and is there even now in the texts we use today.

 

What, then, are we to do?

Here is the simple prescription:

Take the words,

learn to understand them,

make the connections.

 

Follow the example of ancient readers:

 

take the text, do not read it through as if you already understand [this  “mystery ever ancient, ever new!”] take the text, dwell there. Abide between the lines.[iii]

 

“This quality of reading, which enables a reader to acquire a text not simply by perusing the words but by actually making them part of the reader’s self…”[iv] Here is found true blessing.

 

Know what you are doing. Listen for the biblical narrative. The texts of the Mass were not put there by some malicious committee looking to trip you up.  These texts resound with the voice of God’s own Word. Find the origin, search the reference.

 

I know this is not easy. We live in a culture that does not foster this kind of connection. Contemporary culture thrives on sound bites; idolizes short cuts and Cliffnotes, Sparknotes and books for dummies.

 

For your part, claim your place in Catholic culture, with its own language and grammar,  its own symbols and meaning.

 

Plunge yourself in a baptism of the Church’s signs.  Let the insight of your patristic reading anoint your understanding and illumine your prayer.  Open your eyes to what is around, even here on this campus, with its natural beauty, its architectural wonders,  its volumes of wisdom, and its varied residents.

 

A steady diet of this, an habitual practice of attention to everything is an essential preparation for prayer. Collect these insights, engage these people, absorb this environment.

 

Your responsibility as seminarian, is to learn this, to integrate it; then you must model it for others and teach it to those in your care.

 

You become a mystagogue.

 

 IV.  Now.

 

This begins now.  You do not have to wait. You walk out of this auditorium and cross a threshold.

 

Let that crossing be the crossing of every threshold.

 

Let every word of the Mass bring you to a biblical narrative, a theological insight, a pastoral encounter.

 

Let every sign of the Cross bring you to the mount of the Ascension.[v] Let it be, every time, a wrapping yourself in the Trinity, a conforming yourself to the cross of Christ. May it bring you back to your baptism and forward to your funeral. May it inspire the crosses you may trace some day on the breast of future neophytes, on the foreheads of the anointed, on the palms of priests.

 

Let every greeting of the Mass resound with the words of the great missionary Paul,[vi] or the salutation of Boaz to harvesters,[vii] or the words of the Risen Christ.[viii]

 

Let every response, whether it be “And also with you”  now or “And with your spirit” at another time, let this reply make us marvel at God’s wisdom in Ordering the Church and in the Spirit’s work of assembling members with different gifts into one holy body.

 

Let every procession remind us of life’s pilgrimage to heaven; every standing be in implicit imitation of the Great High Priest: “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.”[ix]  Let every genuflection, every bow be the humble acknowledgement of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

 

Let our stance at the Alleluia be so completely devoted to the praise of Christ present in the Word, that rather than tracking the deacon and registering ritual glitches, our minds, bodies and voices melt into the Eternal.

 

Let prayers in the preparation of bread and wine, bring us to Daniel’s fiery furnace, so that the words of Azariah become our own: we have nothing else to offer, but with contrite hearts and humble spirits let us be received.[x]  And may the dew-laden breeze[xi] that soothed the heat of that inferno, come like dew in the desert,[xii] to provide us with our daily bread.”Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord.” [xiii]

 

Let every dismissal, GO! bring us back again to Ascension,[xiv] and to every sending of
Christ: “You, too, go to the vineyard!”[xv]

 

Do you see? At every moment, at every turn, around every corner, the bible is there. A prayer, a doctrine, an insight. And it has been there all along.

 

All we have, are, do, everything we love… is here.

Learning this. Integrating this. Modeling this. Teaching it is our project. 

 

Will you make it your project too?

 

Notes

[i] Vicesimus quintus annus, 1988, 14.

[ii] VQA, 20.

[iii] Alberto Manguel: A History of Reading. “You did not read books through; you dwelt, abided between their lines and, reopening them after an interval, surprised yourself at the spot where you had halted.”, 12.

[iv] Manguel,  58.

[v] Mt 28:19.

[vi] 2 Cor 13:13 et al.

[vii] Ruth 2:4.

[viii] Jn 20:19.

[ix] Heb 10:9.

[x] Dan 3:39-40.

[xi] Dan 3:50.

[xii] Ex 16:13-17.

[xiii] Dan 3:84.

[xiv] Mt 28:19.

[xv] Mt 20.D

Liturgical New Year for the Byzantine Church

Happy New Liturgical Year for the Byzantine Church! Have a blessed 7519!!! The Byzantine Church understands this date to be the years since the creation of the world. A new liturgical year, a new beginning to give God glory, honor and praise!!!!

We bless God’s holy name with the singing of the Great Doxology

Vision of the Thorne of the Lord.jpg

Glory to God in the highest, and to people on earth peace and good will.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you, we thank you for your great glory.
Lord God, heavenly King, Father almighty; Lord, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit!
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father: you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. You take away the sin of the world, hear our prayer. You are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are holy; you alone are the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
I will bless you day after day, and praise your name forever. Make us worthy, O Lord, to be kept sinless this morning. Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our Fathers, and praiseworthy and glorious is your name forever. Amen.
May your mercy, O Lord, be upon us who have placed our hope in you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your commandments.
Blessed are you, O Master; make me understand your commandments.
Blessed are you, O Holy One; enlighten me with your commandments.
O Lord, you have been our refuge for one generation to the next.
I said: Lord have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
O Lord, I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will, for you, O Lord, are my God.
In you is the source of life and in your light we see light.
Extend your mercy to those who know you!

Britain’s Bishops have no taste

Papal staging at Cotton Park.jpgThe UK Bishops’ Conference will be providing the Holy Father –and the Church universal– this sanctuary for the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Rite of Beatification for Cardinal Newman. The the only possible thing to say is: OMG!!!! What rubbish.

If this is in fact what Britain’s Bishops are approving for the papal ceremonies it is, in my mind, a complete disregard (a slap in the face) for the liturgical leadership of Pope Benedict and the renewal he’s asked for in recent years. Why spend so much money, time and energy on such stuff.
Architecture is only one piece of the liturgical ac of prayer … I pray the music, flowers, and ritual actions, vestments are not so churlish. Two things we can be certain of: the papal homily will be exceptional and the papal presence will be superior.

Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major

St Mary Major Basilica.jpgA few times a year the Church’s sacred Liturgy observes a liturgical memorial of a church’s dedication and today is one of those observances. When you get down to brass tax we don’t glorify a building but the action of the Blessed Trinity in the lives of believers.

The point of Catholic dogma affirmed with the building of this Marian basilica is that Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos) defined by the Council of Ephesus in 431. This dogma keeps the orthodox Christian’s faith Christ-centered, especially in matters of worship. The Church holds: “From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, in whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs. Accordingly, following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the cult of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: ‘All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me'” (Lumen gentium, 66)
Our prayer at Mass today is:
Lord, pardon the sins of Your people. May the prayers of Mary, the mother of Your Son, help to save us for by ourselves we cannot please You.
Saint Mary Major is the oldest church in Rome dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the worship of the Trinity situated on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills in Rome. The construction of the basilica began following a promise of the benefactors (a Roman patrician), a dream of Pope Liberius and the presence of snow on the spot where the church was to be built on this date on an extraordinarily hot day in August in the 4th century. Pope Sixtus III consecrated the the church in 435. Hence, the Saint Mary Major is often called the Liberian Basilica or Saint Mary at the Snows or Saint Mary of the Crib. The holy crib that held the baby Jesus is retained there.
Today we call the Basilica of Saint Mary Major together with Saint Peter’s (on Vatican Hill), Saint John Lateran and Saint Paul outside the Walls Papal (patriarchal or pontifical) basilicas. That is, these churches are directly connected with the ministry of the Pope and the altar in each of theses 4 churches is reserved for the exclusive use of the Pope to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass; there are times in which the Pope gives permission to a visiting cardinal or a patriarch of an Eastern Church to celebrate at his altar.
Some have designated the four papal basilicas in this way as way of keeping in mind the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of salvation wrought by Grace and the work of the Apostles:
Saint John Lateran recalls the See of Rome
Saint Peter’s recalls the See of Constantinople
Saint Paul outside the Walls recalls the See of Alexandria
Saint Mary Major recalls the See of Antioch.

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).

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]yahoo.com.
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