Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments: August 2010 Archives

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.

Blessing of Grapes

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Blessing grapes.jpg

A pious liturgical custom is for the priest to bless grapes on the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Why do we bless grapes on the Transfiguration? Symbolically and on a concrete level grapes represent real transformation, an old vine produces new fruit, a new harvest for God. As the Lord was transfigured on Mount Tabor, so we too are given the grace by God to transform our lives more and more according to His will, the Gospel. The hard of personal conversion is done by authentically following the Church. 

Theologically, one might say that the grape is symbolic of new life; think of the fruit derived from grapes, wine, used at Mass. That after the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and the prayer of consecration the wine becomes the Precious Blood of Christ. It is by His Blood we are saved, given new life, a pledge of future glory with the Blessed Trinity in heaven. Many liturgical families, including the Latin, Byzantine and Armenian Churches have a liturgical theology and rite for the blessing of grapes and situate the blessing of grapes as a needed reminder of our real and on-going conversion to Christ in hearts and minds of Catholics. (Read this blog post on the blessing of grapes where the author brings together several elements: work, harvest, offering, human transformation by God, liturgy, new life, etc.)

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

Response: Who made heaven and earth.

Priest: Let us pray to the Lord.

Response: Lord, have mercy.

Bless, O Father, this new fruit of the vine, which you permitted to ripen through good weather, and drops of dew and may it bring joy for us who will partake of this fruit of the vine, and forgiveness of sins to those who offer it, through the pure Body and Blood of Your Christ, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and always and forever and ever.


(this blessing is taken from the August Menaion, Byzantine Melkite Euchologion published by the Melkite Eparchy of Newton.)

The Master came with his three friendsTransfiguration.jpg
To climb Mount Tabor's height
There he was changed, transfigured with God's uncreated light.

As Daniel, seer of old, had seen
One like a Son of Man,
On whom were kingship, sov'reignty,
And place at God's right hand,

So too, said Peter, we have seen
His glory, come from God,
Revealed to us, who with him lived
And walked in ways he trod.

"This is my Son," the Father said,
"In him is my delight.
To him give ear, that all your ways
May be within my light."

Bring us, O Lord, to hear your Son
That, walking in his ways,
We as your daughters and your sons
May praise you all our days.

J. Michael Thompson
Copyright © 2009, World Library Publications
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 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]



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This page is a archive of entries in the Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments category from August 2010.

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