Tag Archives: liturgy

Shrove Tuesday: the Holy Face signals a sense of glory to come

Of you my heart has spoken: “Seek his face.” It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face. (Psalm 26:8-9)


Holy Face.jpgToday is Shrove Tuesday at last, or least I hope this is the beginning of a good, serious observance of Lent. The monks here have sung as many Alleluias as possible before they are packaged up and placed in the closet for 40 days (save an exception or two). 

A liturgical feast that is little known of here in the USA is that of the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. Certainly in Rome and in other places around the globe the Church’s Liturgy provides an opportunity, the grace to seek the face of God in Christ. The psalmody and other readings of Scripture point us in this direction. Some have called today’s feast a  flash of paschal glory before beginning Lent because there is the sense that what was prepared for us in the Transfiguration will happen on calvary and then in the resurrection. Our prayer for this final day of the Liturgy through the Year before the season of holy Lent is:

O God, who willed that your only-begotten Son should become man, and show us in his human nature a perfect image of your divinity, grant, we beseech you, that by venerating the image of his Holy Face we may be united with him in the mysteries of his Passion and Death, and so come to contemplate forever his glorious Face in the joy of the resurrection.

Let us pray for each other this Lent. I need your prayers.

The confession of Peter, the head of the Church

The Feast of the Chair of Peter

 


Chair of St Peter.jpgNow when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19)

 

All-powerful Father, You have built Your Church on the rock of Saint Peter’s confession of faith. May nothing divide or weaken our unity in faith and love.

 

Saint Damasus said: “one Chair of Peter, one true font of baptism” (una Petri sedes, unum verumque lavacrum) bearing witness to the trust our Lord placed in Saint Peter to be the head of the Church. The feast of today is a keen reminder of the witness of Peter’s faith in the Jesus as Lord and Savior of all people with therefore an evangelizing aspect of being initiated into the Body of Christ as Saint Paul would later say. A more superficial sense of what is honored today  is what some say is the day Peter was appointed by the Lord as the Father of Church, the seed to what we now conceive as a pope. True as it is but the Chair of Peter is about witness and baptism first and foremost.

 

Hence, today the Church does not honor church furniture but the responsibility of the Church’s mission as teacher and pastor conferred on Peter by Jesus Christ continuing in an unbroken line of apostolic service down through the ages to Pope Benedict XVI. The Church’s liturgical theology (theologia prima) recalls the importance of the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter. It also helps us to see the objectivity of the Church’s teaching and pastoral authority known in the magisterium under the Roman Pontiff. For the Catholic this is understood clearly in the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic faith solemnly defined “ex cathedra” (from the chair) and extended to all the acts of the ordinary magisterium.

 

As a point of reference the Catechism says:

 

Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep.” The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles289 and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (553).

 

The Pope’s message on YouTube

Pope Benedict speaks on Saint Bede


St Bede.jpgThe saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. “In this monastery,” he recalls, “I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write” (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with this invocation: “I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face.” Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.
 

St Bede symbol.jpgSacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede’s theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as “a” sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls “concordia sacramentorum”). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.
 
Eccl His.jpgAnother topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Cronica Maiora, Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar “ab incarnatione Domini.” Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord’s Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for which he is recognized as “the father of English historiography.” The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.
 
Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ.” In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is “self-generated,” or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes “Mother of God,” participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
 
Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different “states of life”:

a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the “Catholic simplicity,” with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the “Our Father,” and the “Creed” and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John’s Gospel in the common language.

c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate — no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others — either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as “peregrini pro amore Dei.”
 
Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, “bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization” — clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am brown, but beautiful) — attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations “not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat.” He teaches them how to pray constantly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy,” offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise “the priestly office of pastors and guides,” by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) “capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion (“Epist. ad Ecgbertum,” ed. Plummer, p. 419).
 
St Bede2.jpgThe fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of “Venerable.” He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.

Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.

 

(Wednesday General Audience, Rome, 18 February 2009)

The Pope’s brief thoughts on the sacred Liturgy, prayer and belief

Pope Benedict spoke of “teaching the art of prayer, encouraging participation in the liturgy and the Sacraments, wise and relevant preaching, catechetical instruction, and spiritual and moral guidance. From this foundation faith flourishes in Christian virtue, and gives rise to vibrant parishes and generous service to the wider community” to the Nigerian bishops making their ad limina.

 

Later the Pope said: “The celebration of the liturgy is a privileged source of renewal in Christian living” and “to maintain the proper balance between moments of contemplation and external gestures of participation and joy in the Lord”.

Fr. Robert F. Taft gives keynote address honoring the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Robert Taft.jpgMany are familiar with the name of the great liturgical scholar the Right Reverend Archimandrite Robert Francis Taft because they actually know him (and thus love him), or know his very extensive list of publications (more than 850) on matters pertaining to liturgical history or because of an experience him in the classroom or merely because they heard of him. Whatever the case may be this blog entry is not panegyric of Father Robert Taft but a way of encouraging you to listen to his keynote address on the point of liturgy AND the enduring influence of the late Father Alexander Schmemann at the symposium noted below: it will shape anew your thinking on the Church’s liturgical life.


Alexander Schmemann.jpgSaint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary held an international liturgical symposium honoring one of the best of liturgical scholars to walk the earth 29-31 January 2009: “The Past and Future of Liturgical Theology: Celebrating the Legacy of Father Alexander Schmemann.”

 

The talks are thus far available in podcasts noted here.

The other speakers at the conference:

His Grace the Rt. Rev. Maxim [Vasiljevic], Bishop of the Western Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America; “Opening Episcopal Remarks”

Dr. Michael Aune, Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the Chapel, Professor of Liturgical and Historical Studies at Pacific Lutheran Seminary, and Core Doctoral Faculty in Liturgical Studies at General Theological Union; “The Current State of Liturgical Theology: A Plurality of Particularities”

The Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Job [Getcha], former Dean of St. Sergius Theological Institute, Paris; “From Master to Disciple: The Notion of ‘Liturgical Theology’ in Father Kiprian Kern and Father Alexander Schmemann”

Keynote by The Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ; “The Liturgical Enterprise Twenty-five Years after Alexander Schmemann [1921-1983]: The Man and His Heritage”

Dr. Bryan D. Spinks, Professor of Liturgical Studies, Yale Divinity School; “From Liturgical Theology to Liturgical Theologies: Schmemann’s Legacy in Western Churches”

The Rev. Dr. Stephanos Alexopoulos, Professor at the International Center for Hellenic and Mediterranean Studies, Athens, Greece; “Did the Work of Father Alexander Schmemann Influence Modern Greek Theological Thought? A Preliminary Assessment”

Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin, nun of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad; currently teaching Liturgical Studies at the University of Vienna; “Father Alexander Schmemann and Monasticism”

Dr. David W. Fagerberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame; “The Cost of Understanding Schmemann, in the West”

The Most Blessed Jonah [Paffhausen], Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada, Orthodox Church in America; “Closing Episcopal Remarks.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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