M3 Amongst the Hunting Dogs

Messier 3 - Adam Block - Mount Lemmon SkyCenter - University of Arizona.jpgAnother lovely deep space, object, isn’t it? Such clusters of stars orbit beyond the plane of the Milky Way spiral. They are very old bodies, many with stars nearly as old as the universe. In some globular clusters, their blue stars have burned out, leaving more aged yellows, oranges, and reds. Where did they come from? Astronomers aren’t sure. Antiques from the early universe? Renmant cores of small galaxies torn apart by bigger galaxies? Maybe varied origins, though they all look alike to me.

Charles Messier, numberer of deep space objects, actually discovered number 3, above. As with #2, he first saw it as a patch of light in the night sky. Where to look if you want to see it? The constellation of the hunting dogs, Canes Venatici. As with M2, a sharp eye and a very dark night puts M3 at the very edge of natural visibility. Also as with M2, William Herschel was able to verify it was not just a cloud, but a cluster of closely-packed stars. Thanks to Herschel’s very best telescope in the world of the 1780s, those stars could finally be discerned. M3 wasn’t a nebula like M1. It was a cluster of stars, numbering we now know as about a half million.

When I see these clusters, I’m reminded of the Easter Vigil reading from Baruch:

The One who established the earth for all time … he who dismisses the light, and it departs, calls it, and it obeys him trembling; before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice;when he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!” shining with joy for their Maker. Such is our God; no other is to be compared to him … (Baruch 3:32b, 33-36)

Image Credit: Copyright Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona – http://www.caelumobservatory.com/gallery/m3.shtml, CC BY-SA 3.0 us, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20717561

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Desiderio Desideravi 57: The Risen Lord

57. For this service to be well done — indeed, with art! — it is of fundamental importance that the priest have a keen awareness of being, through God’s mercy, a particular presence of the risen Lord.

Perhaps we could speak of this as an awareness of an Emmaus experience. Is it possible or reasonable to expect every ordained person, every presider at liturgy, to have an experience of Jesus that could be communicated? Not explicitly, as in telling a story, but an experience so profound so as to be transformative.

The ordained minister is himself one of the types of presence of the Lord which render the Christian assembly unique, different from any other assembly. (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7) This fact gives “sacramental” weight (in the broad sense) to all the gestures and words of the one presiding. The assembly has the right to be able to feel in those gestures and words the desire that the Lord has, today as at the Last Supper, to eat the Passover with us. So, the risen Lord is in the leading role, and not our own immaturities, assuming roles and behaviors which are simply not appropriate.

The difference here is that people without the conversion experience presenting themselves as the presence of Christ, and those who understand that presence from their own life. And don’t need to brag or assert themselves about it.

The priest himself should be overpowered by this desire for communion that the Lord has toward each person. It is as if he were placed in the middle between Jesus’ burning heart of love and the heart of each of the faithful, which is the object of the Lord’s love. To preside at Eucharist is to be plunged into the furnace of God’s love. When we are given to understand this reality, or even just to intuit something of it, we certainly would no longer need a Directory that would impose the proper behavior.

Directories, instructions, rubrics, of course, are necessary to guide people. But they don’t offer the primary motivation for doing liturgy well.

If we have need of that, then it is because of the hardness of our hearts. The highest norm, and therefore the most demanding, is the reality itself of the Eucharistic celebration, which selects words, gestures, feelings that will make us understand whether or not our use of these are at the level of the reality they serve. It is obvious that this cannot be improvised. It is an art. It requires application on the part of the priest, an assiduous tending to the fire of the love of the Lord that he came to ignite on the earth. (Luke 12:49)

The full document, copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana is here on the Vatican site.

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A Tale of Two QBs

Seen a few times on social media the past day or two.

Though I much prefer “real football,” as the young miss terms it, I can’t deny the NFL retains a certain drama. Not the least of which is seeing yet another morality play trotted out in this comparison of heroes.

Brett Favre was a hero to many. He took lots of money from billionaires, and in his retirement, gets his spending cash from public assistance. It wouldn’t surprise me–or any of us–to learn how many retired athletes depend on it for their daily bread. Volleyball courts, not so much.

If support for Colin Kaepernick all those years ago would have directly eased racial tensions, I can imagine a lot of white people would be burning down their own buildings to avoid it.

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Desiderio Desideravi 55-56: Some Broad Considerations

Let’s take two today. Paragraphs, that is.

55. There would be much more to say about the importance of presiding and what care it requires. On different occasions I dwelt on the demanding duty of preaching the homily. [See Evangelii Gaudium 135-144.] Here I limit myself to several other broad considerations, always wanting to reflect with you on how we are formed by the Liturgy. I think about the regular rhythm of Sunday Mass in our communities, and I address myself therefore to priests, but implicitly to all ordained ministers.

56. The priest lives his characteristic participation in the celebration in virtue of the gift received in the sacrament of Holy Orders, and this is expressed precisely in presiding. Like all the roles he is called to carry out, this is not primarily a duty assigned to him by the community but is rather a consequence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit received in ordination which equips him for such a task. The priest also is formed by his presiding in the celebrating assembly

I’ve long noted parishes take pride in the people they raise up to the priesthood. Pope Francis bypasses the notion also that clergy are created by bishops for a diocese. The description in #56 is not an accident: a consequence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t preclude an institutional “ordering” by a bishop for faith communities. The gift of liturgical presidency also must include an openness to being “formed” by the assembly at prayer.

The full document, copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana is here on the Vatican site.

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Of Gluten and the Appearances of Bread

I take for granted the prescription about unleavened wheat in the recipes for Eucharistic bread. In my parishes over the years, others are more guarded about their health. The best parish practice I experienced was to put the people of gluten-sensitivity or intolerance in charge of the procedure before and during Mass. Over time I was informed of concerns I had not considered, contamination for example, for those extremely sensitive.

Kathleen Basi’s letter to bishops and Pope Francis is making the public rounds, as in here. While I feel disinclined to direct disobedience, I find myself far more sympathetic to her request than I might have been a decade or two ago. It’s a good time to listen carefully to the questions about gluten and bread and appearances and discern carefully.

There are many forms of bread, including those without gluten. In fact, as I searched online for Passover regulations, I found that, at least in modern times, Passover bread may be any one of five grains: wheat, spelt, rye, barley, or oats. Oats are gluten free.

Oats, I’ve been informed, are not always safe for celiac-sensitive persons.

Ms Basi comments in her letter that the exact strains of wheat used by Jesus in his bread have long since faded into agricultural history.

If we have to use what Jesus used, why aren’t we limited to a variety that at least existed at the time of the Last Supper?

The answer, of course, is that it is impractical. It would be an undue burden to insist upon using varieties that are no longer grown.

Mainstream practice in the West long ago moved to individual pieces of flatbread. Visually, that is a significant evolution from what was the practice for the Lord and his disciples. Our Eastern brothers and sisters have no problem with leaven, and Roman Catholics certainly accept their sacramental practices, though in variance from ours, as wholly valid.

But if these adaptations to Jesus’ practice have already been made without jeopardizing the validity of the sacrament, the Church should be able to accommodate celiacs as well.

Yes, I’d say the institution has more work to do on this front.

Canon law has been changed by the Pope in recent history. I have no doubt that was done in consultation with the bishops of the world. I am asking the leaders of our Church to go back to the base assumption upon which the law concerning gluten is based. I beg you to consider: Is this really a necessary burden to impose?

For most Catholics, the answer is a clear negative. Our eucharistic bread doesn’t really look like bread. Truly, it has far more in common with manufactured circles stripped of gluten than any Middle Eastern unleavened loaf.

Or maybe there’s nothing really wrong with teff or millet or buckwheat or even rice. As long as it looks like bread.

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Desiderio Desideravi 54: Ars Celebrandi for Presiders

Section 54 has been one of the most-cited bits in the whole document, which, by the way, is copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana, and is found here on the Vatican site.

54. If it is true that the ars celebrandi is required of the entire assembly that celebrates, it is likewise true that ordained ministers must have a very particular concern for it. In visiting Christian communities, I have noticed that their way of living the liturgical celebration is conditioned — for better or, unfortunately, for worse — by the way in which their pastor presides in the assembly. We could say that there are different “models” of presiding. Here is a possible list of approaches, which even though opposed to each other, characterize a way of presiding that is certainly inadequate:

  • rigid austerity or an exasperating creativity,
  • a spiritualizing mysticism or a practical functionalism,
  • a rushed briskness or an overemphasized slowness,
  • a sloppy carelessness or an excessive finickiness,
  • a superabundant friendliness or priestly impassibility.

Granted the wide range of these examples, I think that the inadequacy of these models of presiding have a common root: a heightened personalism of the celebrating style which at times expresses a poorly concealed mania to be the center of attention.

Perhaps that is not all. I have also found that many priests don’t focus a lot on their presiding style. For many guys, they emulate a priest they have known early on–home parish, college, or seminary. They adopt characteristics of a person they hold as a mentor. It is easy to lock oneself in to a style. It might appear to be personalism, but often it is more autopilot. I’ve known many clerics who are strongly introverted and would be scandalized if they realized their style presented publicly as “all about them.”

Often this becomes more evident when our celebrations are transmitted over the air or online, something not always opportune and that needs further reflection. Be sure you understand me: these are not the most widespread behaviors, but still, not infrequently assemblies suffer from being thus abused.

If the priest is otherwise good and holy, liturgical behaviors can be tolerated more or less lovingly. It’s more of an impoverishment than an abuse. Not optimal, certainly. But not always malicious or lazy.

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Billy’s Rule

Graham in a suit with his fist clenchedI knew it wasn’t biblical, but I didn’t know Mike Pence’s thing with women was traced to Billy Graham. A good commentary here on friendship. This struck me:

Someone recently observed that maybe evangelicals have so much trouble with friendship between men and women because our view of marriage today is focused too much on sex and not enough on friendship.

I would suggest the opposite: The modern companionate model of marriage so emphasizes friendship that when a spouse inevitably fails to fulfill all of our friendship needs, and we seek fulfillment of those needs elsewhere, the resulting friendships are conflated with sexual relationship.

I think Karen Swallow Prior is largely on target here. If the onus is on men to avoid all contact, it takes the whole notion of discernment out of the picture. I can appreciate how evangelical Protestants have been stung by sex scandals of late. Still, I doubt they would advocate for two parallel Christianities: one for men only and the other all women, served by female ministers. 

Speaking as a man with an occasional opportunity to be alone with people, there have been women I avoided. I certainly avoid minors in any non-public situation. I think unequal situations–not just those with adult and non-offspring child–are best avoided in most cases.

Or can some commentator make a case for the rule?

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Desiderio Desideravi 53: Gestures

Let’s talk about a human expression that doesn’t include words or song.

53. Every gesture and every word contains a precise action that is always new because it meets with an always new moment in our own lives. I will explain what I mean with a simple example. We kneel to ask pardon, to bend our pride, to hand over to God our tears, to beg his intervention, to thank Him for a gift received. It is always the same gesture which in essence declares our own being small in the presence of God. Nevertheless, done in different moments of our lives, it molds our inner depths and then thereafter shows itself externally in our relation with God and with our brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis here speaks of art, but more often I’ve seen the expression that worship is optimally done with a mindfulness. This is an awareness of what one is doing and the meaning and intent behind it. In other words, that there is a unity within the person at prayer. Not a split, as it were, bowing one’s head while thinking inappropriate thoughts.

Also kneeling should be done with art, that is to say, with a full awareness of its symbolic sense and the need that we have of this gesture to express our way of being in the presence of the Lord.

How do we receive the Scriptures read at liturgy?

And if all this is true for this simple gesture, how much more will it be for the celebration of the Word? Ah, what art are we summoned to learn for the proclamation of the Word, for the hearing of it, for letting it inspire our prayer, for making it become our very life? All of this is worthy of utmost attention — not formal or merely exterior, but living and interior — so that every gesture and every word of the celebration, expressed with “art,” forms the Christian personality of each individual and of the community.

It seems the gesture for the Word isn’t limited to how one sits or stands as it is proclaimed. There is a vector that advances in the Christian’s life that moves a person from one point to the next. Art in pilgrimage? We can hope so.

The full document, copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana is here on the Vatican site.

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A Queen’s Image Evolves

Image result for one cent canadaMy introduction to Queen Elizabeth was finding her image on the occasional Canadian one-cent coin that crossed the border into my hometown and found its way to my dad’s pocket.

Image result for Nickel Canadian Coin

The style for her first decade-plus on North American coinage was similar to her father’s–a simple bust with no crown. Headwear was added in 1965, right. This was similar to Queen Victoria, a simple bust with tiara. In contrast, her grandfather’s image on Canadian coins found him in full robe and crown.

See the source imageOver the years, the queen’s image advanced. In the nineties, crown replaced tiara and the necklace was added.

I was thinking about that opening scene in season 3 of The Crown, in which the Queen is presented with images of how she will be depicted on the British stamp. In the filming, they are actually based on the two actors who portrayed her–Claire Foy in her young adulthood, and Olivia Colman in the middle seasons, 3 and 4. The good thing, I suppose, is that a non-narcissist monarch doesn’t use money or postage in daily life, and so never confronts their image regularly. It can be a simple thumbs-up and move along to the next item on the day’s agenda.

See the source image

The final Canadian depiction–I think–is this one, right. A return to no crown or tiara.

Definitely an older face.

Tradition has it that the next monarch will face in the opposite direction. That means Charles III will give spenders his left side. Given the length of his mother’s reign and the shift away from cash money, I suspect his coins will always be in the minority wherever they are minted.

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Desiderio Desideravi 52: Silence

Let’s get quiet.

52. Among the ritual acts that belong to the whole assembly, silence occupies a place of absolute importance. Many times it is expressly prescribed in the rubrics. The entire Eucharistic celebration is immersed in the silence which precedes its beginning and which marks every moment of its ritual unfolding.

Where silence is prescribed by the rites:

In fact, it is present in the penitential act, after the invitation “Let us pray,” in the Liturgy of the Word (before the readings, between the readings and after the homily), in the Eucharistic prayer, after communion. [Cf. GIRM 45; 51; 54-56; 66; 71; 84; 88; 271] 

What is liturgical silence? It is not an individual act, according to Pope Francis. A worshiping community in silence is not a few hundred people retreating into their own space. That is not the point. 

Such silence is not an inner haven in which to hide oneself in some sort of intimate isolation, as if leaving the ritual form behind as a distraction. That kind of silence would contradict the essence itself of the celebration. Liturgical silence is something much more grand: it is a symbol of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit who animates the entire action of the celebration. For this reason it constitutes a point of arrival within a liturgical sequence. Precisely because it is a symbol of the Spirit, it has the power to express the Spirit’s multifaceted action.

Not all silences are the same. In liturgy, they serve different purposes. It’s not about a general prayerfulness, rather an invitation to encounter what God is proposing at the liturgical moment: petition, mercy, preparation, adoration, etc..

In this way, going over again the moments I just mentioned, silence moves to sorrow for sin and the desire for conversion. It awakens a readiness to hear the Word and awakens prayer. It disposes us to adore the Body and Blood of Christ. It suggests to each one, in the intimacy of communion, what the Spirit would effect in our lives to conform us to the Bread broken. For all these reasons we are called to enact with extreme care the symbolic gesture of silence. Through it the Spirit gives us shape, gives us form.

The full document, copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana is here on the Vatican site.

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M2 In Aquarius

Messier2 - HST - Potw1913a.jpg18th century astronomers saw that object in the constellation of Aquarius as a fuzzy spot. Charles Messier, left, made it number 2 on his list of things that were neither planet, nor star, nor comet.Painting of Charles Messier

William Herschel01.jpgPlanet-discoverer William Herschel, right, who had the best telescope in the world in the 1780s, was able to see what Messier couldn’t: the Aquarius fuzzy spot was made up of individual stars. Today we know that over a hundred-thousand of them are packed into a space of 175 light years. By comparison, we think there are a bit less than 7,000 stars in a space of similar size around our sun. M2 is twenty times as concentrated in the density of its skies. Night on a planet somewhere within M2 would be an awesome sight indeed.

If you have very sharp eyes, look up on a very dark night well away from habited places, and know where to find the right spot in the right constellation, it is possible to notice M2 without binoculars or a telescope. The cluster is over fifty-thousand light years away.

Today’s astronomers can peer deep into the universe. The above image of M2 is from the Hubble Telescope. Astronomers can also detect streams of stars from galaxies in collision. The thinking is that M2, somewhat elliptical for a globular cluster, might be the remnant of a small galaxy torn apart by the Large Magellanic Cloud and partly absorbed into the Milky Way. That was billions of years ago, long before the sun even existed.

The massive scale of the universe, time and distance: we get all that from a tiny spot of haze barely visible to the human eye. Imagine.

Top image credit: By ESA/Hubble, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77703345

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Desiderio Desideravi 51: The Participation of the Assembly

Why is participation important? The Holy Father recognizes the attitude of ars celebrandi is important to cultivate in all people present.

51. Speaking of this theme we are inclined to think of it only in regards to ordained ministers carrying out the service of presiding. But in fact this is an attitude that all the baptized are called to live.

Full participation is very wide indeed:

I think of all the gestures and words that belong to the assembly: gathering, careful walking in procession, being seated, standing, kneeling, singing, being in silence, acclamations, looking, listening. There are many ways in which the assembly, as one body, (Nehemiah 8:1) participates in the celebration. Everybody doing together the same gesture, everyone speaking together in one voice — this transmits to each individual the energy of the entire assembly.

A certain uniformity isn’t a bad thing:

It is a uniformity that not only does not deaden but, on the contrary, educates individual believers to discover the authentic uniqueness of their personalities not in individualistic attitudes but in the awareness of being one body. It is not a question of following a book of liturgical etiquette. It is, rather, a “discipline,” — in the way that Guardini referred to — which, if observed authentically forms us. These are gestures and words that place order within our interior world making us live certain feelings, attitudes, behaviors. They are not the explanation of an ideal that we seek to let inspire us, but they are instead an action that engages the body in its entirety, that is to say, in its being a unity of body and soul.

This is an ideal goal, that the expression of the human body and the mind’s consciousness align with the intent of God who draws souls into the divine life.

The full document, copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana is here on the Vatican site.

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“I can help.”

My little buddy always comes to hang out with me when the puzzle gets rolled out. It’s not the fabric so much, and probably not the pieces.

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Desiderio Desideravi 50: Learning One’s Art

50. From these brief indications it should be clear that the art of celebration is not something that can be improvised. Like every art, it requires consistent application. For an artisan, technique is enough. But for an artist, in addition to technical knowledge, there has also to be inspiration, which is a positive form of possession. The true artist does not possess an art but rather is possessed by it.

When I speak of music or liturgy, I will often mention how important it is to get inside the effort. On the other end of the spectrum one might find a person dabbling. They poke and prod and mostly watch from afar.

When I remember my first experience of the Mass, one image I felt at the time and still mention is that it felt like the music surrounded me like a cloud. Obviously, a liturgical minister has to be good at what they do. Getting “inside” their offering, living it, sharing it–this is how I would interpret Pope Francis’ words for me.

One does not learn the art of celebrating by frequenting a course in public speaking or in persuasive techniques of communication. (I am not judging intentions, just observing effects.) Every tool can be useful, but it must be at the service of the nature of the Liturgy and the action of the Holy Spirit. A diligent dedication to the celebration is required, allowing the celebration itself to convey to us its art.

Allowing the liturgy to convey us: this is another good way to describe it.

A great liturgist of the past century also says it well:

Guardini writes: “We must understand how deeply we remain entrenched in individualism and subjectivism, how unaccustomed we have become to the demands of the ‘great’, and how small the parameters of our religious living are. We must regain the sense for the ‘great’ style of praying, the will towards the existential in prayer too. The way to achieve this, though, is through discipline, through giving up weak sentimentality; through serious work, carried out in obedience to the Church, on our religious being and acting.” [R. Guardini Liturgische Bildung (1923) in Liturgie und liturgische Bildung (Mainz 1992) p. 99] This is how the art of celebrating is learned.

The full document, copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana is here on the Vatican site.

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Digital Downloads

Image result for digital downloadsMore and more, liturgy publishers are promoting the downloading of music from the web. It’s happened a few times: I’ve needed a few extra copies of something for rehearsal. Pay, click, boom: copies are ready.

After some years, I see a significant drawback. Unless I want to be bad cop at church, collecting all copies promptly after Mass, they tend to disappear. Last night was the third time this year for this piece. During Lent, I had copies to spare. Not so last night. Plenty of Bb instrument parts. But alas, no trumpet or clarinet.

I’ve been in touch with a self-published composer. His method is to sell a license for each song. The license includes unlimited copies for singers, instruments, and worship aids. I think I’d pay a bit more for such a license. If for nothing else, to spare myself the nickels, dimes, and time to pick up two or three or ten extra copies on download.

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