Sporadic, More Sporadic

Heading off to retreat in a few hours, so less-frequent posting this month will become non-existent. I don’t find the energy to write up a week’s worth on my day off to schedule in day by day.

Father John Veltri’s book, Orientations, has been important to me through the years. I recall his page “Entering Into Retreat” and the good guidance I received at the very beginning of my exploration of the spiritual life thirty-five years ago:

As I enter into retreat I begin with deep faith and generosity; deep faith that the Divine Shepherd wants to communicate very personally with me. God can do so only if I am as open as possible, no matter where I have been in life, no matter how closed I have been in the past.

On my first overnight retreat experience in college, the guestmaster at the Trappist abbey counseled us students to bring no agenda to retreat. It is best to arrive without a plan, or a hope that at the end of the time some new or remarkable decision or direction will be determined. I have generally held to this, though sometimes the outside world was calling.

Therefore I begin by quieting my being both interiorly and exteriorly taking the norm of silence as being extremely important for an atmosphere which will allow my Caring God to communicate personally with me. I shall take care to be recollected, to relax, to let go in this nurturing presence.

I don’t understand why so many people fear the silence. How many times have people asked about my retreats and I usually tell them it will be silent, except for liturgy. I prefer no talks, and I usually connect with my spiritual director before I leave and after I return. That is enough.

I shall plan on making at least four periods of prayer each day, at least fifteen minutes; at most an hour each. As the retreat progresses I can discover with the help of my spiritual guide the number of prayer periods and the length of time of each period that may be more appropriate for me.

The plan is four or five periods, and I find that these days, the time flies by. An hour if often about right.

In between the times of prayer I shall try to keep in harmony with the gift I am seeking either by relaxing, or by reading the supplementary scriptural texts, or by sleeping, or by enjoying nature, or by ruminating, or by a combination of these ways of recollecting oneself. I do all this in order that I may become more and more responsive to God speaking to me.

A natural setting is a plus, but sometimes I’ve been caught on rainy days, or even in a more urban-flavored environment. I remember the wisdom of a retreat master from the 90s who, when I arrived, counseled me to catch up on my sleep. Good advice, especially for me, as  I tend to have one night on retreat, usually the second-last one, where I find myself roused to pray and sleep is no longer natural.

For the prayer periods I can choose one or other of the following key scripture texts:

Lk 11:1-13; Ps 139:1-18; Mt 28:16-20.

Favorites all. But I notice that Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Since evangelization and disciple formation are very much on my mind these days, I’m struck by that right away. I suspect I will be returning to that. But wait!–no agenda.

Posted in spirituality | Leave a comment

Lament in the Psalms

As I’ve prepared my summer bible study for the parish, I’ve been watching the Lectionary psalms with new eyes. This coming weekend’s for example, here.

As I was rehearsing with one of my psalmists this afternoon, a bible study participant, the various elements of the genre of lament surfaced rather easily. The selection of verses from Psalm 69 (8-10, 14, 17, 33-35) encapsulates the essence of the lament pretty well:

R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.
For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my children,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness;
in your great mercy turn toward me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.
Let the heavens and the earth praise him,
the seas and whatever moves in them!”
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.

In the session I have planned for this week, we’ll look at laments in the Psalter. One the features, as many of you readers know, is that the psalmist doesn’t dwell forever on misfortune. There is always a hopeful tone that God will intervene, that God will hear the cry of the just.

Psalm 69 is perhaps a refugee from the liturgies of Holy Week, but check this weekend’s readings. A lament of Jeremiah, and an encouraging word from the Lord: don’t be afraid.

That strikes me as a constructive response to misfortune, to set aside our animal instincts for flight or fight. Instead, we complain honestly to God, we express hope, and we make a vow to praise. We look to the future and temper our indulgence for overreaction in the present.

Posted in Scripture | Leave a comment

Music For The Sprinkling Rite: From Your Side, O Christ

The last of five given Easter antiphons for the Rite of Sprinkling is an old, traditional text. The allusion is clear: the soldier plunging his spear into the side of the dead body of Jesus and from there, acclaiming him as Son of God.

Here is the text as given in the Roman Missal:

From your side, O Christ,
bursts forth a spring of water,
by which the squalor of the world is washed away
and life is made new again, alleluia.

Here’s an earlier version of this text set by J Michael Thompson. The acclamation had a somewhat different wording in earlier versions of the Missal.

If I were considering a setting of this, I might look to using the antiphon with one of the Christological New Testament canticles, Ephesians 1:3-10 perhaps. The 66th might be a prime choice from the Psalter.

Posted in Liturgical Music | Tagged | 3 Comments

Music For The Sprinkling Rite: O Chosen Race

The fourth choice for a Sprinkling Rite antiphon in the Roman Rite’s Easter Season comes from the New Testament. The context is the first letter of Peter, chapter 2 verse 9, part of a larger discourse on God’s house, built of living stones, God’s own people.

The words of the antiphon are these:

O chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation,
proclaim the mighty works of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, alleluia.

The passage touches on a few other Biblical passages, Ex 19:6; Is 61:6; Rev 1:6; 20:6. and this might suggest an additional text for the cantor: perhaps one of the Christological passages in the book of Revelation, or even the 61st chapter of Isaiah.

Those suggestions aside, I’ve never experienced a setting of this. They exist, no doubt. I suspect the text may be less inspiring to composers, but not because the expression is untrue or difficult. It’s more of a catechetical teaching than a lyric expression of faith. Maybe Liam knows of something from the Ted Marier opera, or Charles from the reform2 orbit.

Posted in Liturgical Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cultural Appropriation

So, cultural appropriation has become a Thing. And people are losing jobs and/or livelihoods over it. May I side with this writer and throw a bit of gasoline on the conflagration by suggesting that some reactions to “inter-culturation” are positively Trumpian.

Susan Scafidi, law professor, speaking for the defense:

Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.

Which brings to mind some questions. Who is authorized to give permission? Can anyone do it, or does it depend on a committee social media mob, or some appointed expert, or any public official?

The playing field seems a bit uneven, as some guys (like this one or with this product) are grandfathered in as part of a food corporation (like this one). On second thought, maybe Tex-Mex doesn’t count as there’s some dispute about where the cultural boundary might lie. It might be a sexist thing, too. Note that men like Glen Bell or Ray Kroc might get a pass, but white women running a taco stand and put in their place.

I think there are seriously good ways in which cultures can and should mix. Texas and Mexico may be a thing, despite the fact they were once one. Or maybe several if you count native Americans. I told a Lebanese friend that I used to make falafel tacos at home: the baked (not friend) chickpea/fava bean mix in a taco shell with vegetables of my choice. She wasn’t too impressed with my alternative to pita bread, but I liked the corn substitution for wheat.

More from Ms Scafidi:

It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.

I get this. I suppose the most problematic is when a large international corporation utilizes aspects of oppressed or exploited cultures. Thing is, I don’t see much battling on those fronts. People call out Madonna and Katy Perry (women, again) but not the media conglomerates behind them making more money off the adoption of gay, black, or hip-hop culture. What I do see is the Trumpian technique of going after the people you think you can get–not the big boys at the top of the heap.

Sensitive material? Things of religion, yes. Things of tragic events: tread very carefully I think. Things of common use, like food? Since we all eat and enjoy ethnic foods, I would think probably not.

Potential instances of cultural appropriation that might or might not be offensive:

  • learning the language
  • tourism
  • bad timing (eating an Arabic lunch during Ramadan, drinking milk at a Seder meal)
  • plagiarism of artistic works

Before a planned cultural exchange trip to Central America, my host described his hopes for our student visit. We weren’t there to teach music. We were there to share. Our plan was to learn songs, and record some of the local people playing and singing their own compositions–the technology was the one thing we could share. And in the main, just spend time and get to know people. That seemed to me to be the ideal for inter-culturation.

I find this anger and violence toward many people–women in particular seem to be targeted by this Trumpian dynamic–to be unseemly, and not wholly in keeping with what my friends of these cultures think. I wish the culture police would take more time themselves to listen to those they have branded as opponents on these issues. Continue educating, advocating for culture, sure. But lighten up, otherwise, when we’re not talking about appropriation, but appropriate sharing.


Posted in Commentary, Politics | 3 Comments

Music For The Sprinkling Rite: You Springs

The third option for a Sprinkling Rite antiphon in the Roman Rite’s Easter Season comes from the long litany in the third chapter of Daniel. You remember the story: three young Jews who refuse to worship their king’s golden statue are hurled into a blast furnace and instead of shrivelling up and dying, they start singing and remain miraculously unharmed. If only singing in church could prevent any lesser harm from coming to us Christians.

Probably derived from these verses, the words are these:

You springs and all that moves in the waters,
sing a hymn to God, alleluia.

This text, with or without the litany (cf. Daniel 3:52-90) has been set to music countless times. Check the psalm for Holy Trinity Sunday, cycle A for the Lectionary version, which you may sing this weekend in church.

As for the Easter Season usage in the Rite of Sprinkling, the litany form gives the best flexibility for timing. I don’t think a music leader or cantor needs to worry about an exclusive citing of water and watery creatures in select verses (3:60, 68, 77-79). A literal interpretation might even lose the whole point, which is the remembrance of baptism. Dolphins and tuna and dew and all may indeed praise God as a reflection of creation. But the call is for the baptized Christian to give thanks for the grace offered in Baptism.

Some notable settings on YouTube include Lynn Trapp’s for organ, choir, and assembly–not an exact rendering of the antiphon. He has also adapted antiphons one and two for verses as well as Jesus’ citation of living waters from John 7:37ff.

One parish adapted the acclamation, the tune O Filii et Filiae, and Marty Haugen’s Easter Gospel Acclamation for a triple mash-up here. I find this less successful.

My own preference would be to use the text from Daniel 3. Secondarily, I might explore the baptismal canticle Saint Paul cited to the Ephesians if I wanted to emphasize a focus on Christ. My only caution would be to consider the use of the entirety of verses 3 through 14 to underscore the Trinitarian background of the passage. But maybe I’m being a bit fussy on that point. Another thought would be to use select verses from Revelation 7:9ff to keep the Christological focus and perhaps emphasize the testimony of the elder in verse 14:

These are the ones
who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Posted in Liturgical Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

Looking At Liturgy In Unleash The Gospel III

One of the “markers” in the pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel treats the “Holy Eucharist” directly. Archbishop Allen Vigneron cites Pope Benedict’s encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis to begin his point:

In the Holy Eucharist we reach the summit of our participation in the victory of Christ over sin and death—the triumph we proclaim in the new evangelization. In this Most Blessed Sacrament we have the source of our zeal and strength to unleash the Gospel.(84-87)

Evangelization and the Eucharist mutually feed into each other. Drawing closer to Christ, those who are evangelized come to the Eucharist. And the sending at the end of Mass is an explicit call to go and evangelize:

At every Mass the Church—that is, all her members—are newly empowered and sent forth to bring Christ into the world. Through the Eucharist we become stamped with the pattern of Christ’s own self-giving love so that we can reproduce that pattern in our own lives. Thus the goal of the liturgy is never just to receive the sacrament and go home; it is to become a living tabernacle through which Christ is made present to others. As Pope Benedict XVI stated:

The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: “an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.” We too must be able to tell our brothers and sisters with conviction: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 Jn 1:3).(Sacramentum Caritatis, 84)

This is an important insight. It advances lay celebration of Mass beyond the devotional, past the obligatory, and launches us into something a bit more refined that, say, sixty to several hundred years ago. To be sure: yesterday and today, the experience of the Eucharist was fruitful in the sense that people “got something” out of it and were inspired to holiness. This happened and still occurs regardless of the skill of the ministers or sometimes even the attention of the believer. Today, there is a new horizon. I would see the conciliar emphasis on participation as part of the constitution of a “practicing” Catholic. I mean practicing in the sense that participation engages us and prepares us for the active response to God’s nudges of grace in everyday life. Look to the sad, the hungry, the lost. etc., and help them, in the agency of Jesus Christ, to consolation, fulfillment, companionship, etc.. The experience of the Beloved, Jesus, in the liturgy gives us both inspiration and impetus.

With the assistance of St John Paul II, Archbishop Vigneron writes of an intellectual understanding:

The members of our local Church need to be regularly rekindled in “Eucharistic amazement”(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6) by preaching and catechesis that helps to deepen their understanding and faith in this immeasurable gift and moves them to make a gift of self in return. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, since it brings people directly into the presence of Jesus, is a powerful means of revitalizing a parish and equipping it to transform the culture.

But it is always about more than the engagement of the brain. Understanding Jesus through catechesis is important. But it is vital that disciples do more than know about Jesus. It is important to know him, to know him personally. Adoration is one method of prayer that complements an intellectual engagement.

Parishes are urged to look at their celebration of liturgy:

Parishes must also focus sustained attention on the quality of the Sunday liturgy experience, especially from the perspective of newcomers and newly returning Catholics.

Two popular books are cited in the footnote attached to the sentence above:

* Recent books that provide very helpful guidance in this regard are James Mallon, Divine Renovation. Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2014); and Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2013).

This site has reviewed these books here and here. I recommend them.

Parishes are questioned, and this pastoral letter focuses on the aspects of Mass that appeal to people: hospitality, music, and preaching. Therefore, these questions:

  • Do people who show up for Mass enter into a friendly, hospitable environment where mutual love is evident?
  • Does the music help them to lift up their minds and hearts in worship of God?
  • Does the preaching break open the word of God and help them apply it to their lives?

Archbishop Vigneron also tacks on a fourth question:

Is there an atmosphere of faith in which people’s attention is truly focused on the Lord?

I suppose the first three, if taken out of the context of evangelization, can seem too human-centered. Good music and preaching can achieve this. And I don’t just mean popular songs and friendly homilies.

Everybody has a role to play:

These qualities are not the responsibility of the pastor alone but of the entire congregation. If improvement is needed, let us strive for it with patience and perseverance.

This certainly removes the need for any one person or group to be responsible for any single effort. An entire parish can be welcoming in simple, friendly, unobtrustive ways. Almost everybody can sing. Preachers can solicit input from parishioners–many homilists I know routinely consult homily subscription services. So whjy not their own people?

What do you make of this pastoral letter? We’ve attended to three moments of its interface of liturgy and evangelization. Is the archbishop spot on? Anywhere he can improve the message?

Posted in evangelization, Liturgy | Tagged , | Leave a comment