We Are

assembly Easter VigilA most unconvincing meme is the one suggesting Catholic liturgy has too much of people and not enough of God. I’ve seen variations on the theme from cardinals and bishops to skeptics on liturgical reform. How do such people reconcile with Scripture passages like this weekend’s Psalm, and its refrain:

We are his people; the sheep of his flock.

Granted, the entire text of the Psalm is about the praise of God. But the whole short piece addresses people, not God. Five verses of a psalmist telling people what to do: shout, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks, bless. And who is the object of God’s actions of making, possessing, shepherding? And beneficiary of everlasting faithfulness and–yes–mercy? We are, as the Lectionary has us sing it.

I’m as much a skeptic on too-much-people of this decade as I was on the discredited notion of voice-of-God in the last. Especially given the context of the Mass. The Mass makes it clear that we are focused on Christ.

That said, there are sometimes poor formulations during the liturgy. Sometimes the new translation clouds the message. And sometimes the homily or music is weaker than it could be. Somehow, I doubt the pre-1960’s preaching and hymn texts were one-hundred-percent spot-on every Sunday. So that’s not on Vatican II. It’s the human condition.

I think for this weekend, we can recognize that God is concerned about us. God wants to guide us on a path of faith, hope, and love. If the message is directed to our direction now and then, that’s okay.

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Amoris Laetitia 5: Aiming To Virtues

amoris laetitia memeAs always, I recommend going to the source here: Amoris Laetitia. The Jubilee we observe these days is the context for this document:

5. This Exhortation is especially timely in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. First, because it represents an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience. Second, because it seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy.

A small paragraph, but a good one. Consider those four virtues mentioned for the strengthening of the family. If I were leading a group discussion in my parish, I would ask the participants to ponder the ways they are generous, committed, faithful, and patient. Which is the strongest quality in your family? Which needs the most work? Reflecting on the positive question is important, as family members first need to see where their inherent strengths lie.

In Marriage Encounter, my wife and I learned how to dialogue in their system. Partners separate to write a response to a reflection question. They then come back together, exchange notes, read, and reflect from there. It would be interesting for a couple to see where their strongest virtue is and the one that needs the most work. How many couples would agree? Even if in disagreement, it would be a movement of drawing closer.

We might be getting ahead of ourselves talking about marriage prep, but engaged couples also can utilize a reflection on these four virtues as they explore their mutual love. The application for the pastoral minister would be to explore the Scriptures, especially the ones that could be selected for the Rite of Marriage. Making connections like this is vital for the spiritual formation of the Church: people, Scripture, virtues–they all interconnect, and invite us to go deeper.

Other thoughts on these virtues, or anything else we’ve read so far?

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Amoris Laetitia 4: A Multifaceted Gem

amoris laetitia memeRemember to check the actual document Amoris Laetitia. Here, Pope Francis offers some personal words of thanks.

4. I must also say that the Synod process proved both impressive and illuminating. I am grateful for the many contributions that helped me to appreciate more fully the problems faced by families throughout the world. The various interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem refecting many legitimate concerns and honest questions. For this reason, I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.

The species of document, “Apostolic Exhortation” is something of less gravity than an encyclical letter. But many of these post-synod writings are powerful and demand some careful examination. Note that Pope Francis promises more than just an organized rehashing of two meetings of bishops. You can read it all for yourself. What we’ll do here is take it in daily bites for the better part of the coming year. If that seems like Chinese water torture, consider the alternative: we could be taking seven years to wade through the Catechism.

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Musical Introductions

dulcimerIn my last parish, the music listings included a brief instruction for nearly every congregational song or hymn: “whole refrain” or “second-half tune” or “whole tune.” I haven’t used these in my new parish. I enjoy the benefit of a single person as accompanist for the four English Masses. And using OCP materials, the publishers give a bracketed introduction. In hymnals, you get nothing of that.

Over the years, I’ve determined that those brackets are usually there to be ignored. Usually expanded upon. I watch the people finger through pages of thin paper (annual music issues) to find the correct number, and the given introduction would be over already. And that’s many of the choir members. What determines the right length of a music ministry’s intro? I watch the people in the pew.

Unlike my last parish, my new one has number boards on either side of the reredos. Some parishioners (and some singers) are prepared in advance for the coming song. But not all. The verbal announcement is still needed–not everyone has the eyesight, and many people are seriously listening or praying up until an announcement is given.

Sometimes, it makes sense to give people a longer period of time. We used this hymn this past weekend. It hadn’t been programmed in some years, but was well-used about a decade ago. I asked the violinist to play the whole tune, the pianist joining in at the halfway mark.

It wasn’t just about reminding people of the tune, though there was that. New diocesan collection procedures have lengthened that time of the Mass for us. Some of our four priests like things to be … complete. But it wasn’t just filling time. (At one Mass, we went through “six” verses, including a four-bar interlude after each sung stanza.) Familiar songs generate memories. There’s a spiritual component to music, even when nobody is singing. Instruments alone communicate, and if the players are good, the message gets out there.

If I ever ditched hymnals or annual books and printed music in the bulletin, I’d consider brief introductions on some, but not all things. As musicians or non-musicians, what are your church experiences? Do you get enough time to find the page? Or does it seem mindless or automated or even random?

Posted in Liturgical Music | 6 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 3: “Time Is Greater Than Space”

amoris laetitia memeThe Holy Father’s post-synod document Amoris Laetitia is here. What do you think he means by this quote that leads off paragraph 3?

3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.

This statement is certainly not contradictory to church teaching. But it might seem alarming to some who count on the unity of teaching and application. A personal observation: unity of teaching and practice is a personal discipline first and foremost. Those who are aware of church teaching and are accustomed to implementing it personally, are under at least a twofold obligation. First, to be true to oneself. And second, to give the good example for others.

A vital consideration for those who accompany others and look to them:

This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”. (Concluding Address of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13; cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della sessione plenaria 1979, 1981; Gaudium et Spes 44; Redemptoris Missio 52; Evangelii Gaudium 69)

A heavily referenced quote spanning fifty years. Inculturation is not just a principle for liturgy, as we discussed here five years ago. At the core, there is the matter of trust. Do we trust others to discern the Holy Spirit and arrive at different practices, and–horrors!–a different repertoire than us? Clearly Pope Francis trusts.

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An Absent or Active God?

An interesting essay at the Chant Cafe here. Kathy Pluth picks up on Cardinal Sarah’s continuing sojourn in the seventies to posit two constrasting view of Church and how worship follows from each.

I like the question: do we see ourselves as orphans?

If God is absent from the world … then we are on our own. We are orphan children of an absent God, making our own way, and depending primarily on each other. Petitions and hymns are discussions among ourselves about values. The congregation is the primary instantiation of community. The most appropriate posture is humans facing humans, closing the circle. Intelligibility is of highest importance.

I would suggest this describes a not-insignificant portion of Tridentine Catholicism. To many, God indeed seemed very far away: disinterested in Europe tearing itself apart in four centuries of aristocrat-inspired warfare, oppressed workers told to “offer it up,” and in America, a lot of ethnic-flavored religion, many generations of it before we had a good number of clergy for a generation or two.

Mass was a less significant part of Catholic life.  It was an obligation, but what really floated the Catholic religious boat was the community gathering for devotions, meals, and family-inspired traditions.

By the way, those “petitions and hymns … about values” were quite often teaching moments. Because, you know, you have that captive audience at Mass, and why not tell them what they should do?

Here’s the other side of Ms Pluth’s coin:

If God is actively at work in the world here and now, on earth and in earthlings, continually strengthening and raising us, then liturgy is a privileged opportunity to meet God. Liturgical language expresses our dependence on God’s help. Petitions and hymns ask for more and more divine intervention, and not only for those present in one time and place, but for all people, living and the dead. The most appropriate posture involves all of the people facing the divine presence. Receptivity to grace is our highest action, and God Himself is of the highest importance.

Not much to argue with here, but I would suggest the current challenge, for both traditional and contemporary Catholics, is the need to widen the permissino we give God to enter into our lives. The conciliar call is the universal holiness into which we are all baptized. If God is of the highest importance, why wouldn’t we invite him into our car on the way out of the church parking lot, into our homes and workplaces, into the times when we speak or sing of what we should do, and pretty much everywhere we are?

Liturgical language is as expressive as any other human language. Read the Psalms. Not all are about dependence. Some are about joy. Some express anger and tell God what to do. Some even quote the words of God or tell other people what to do or sing.

My problem with reform2, or whatever one wants to call it, is that the vision is too narrow. It’s a safety net: what worked once, for someone else, will work for nearly everybody today. If it gets a fifty-fifty mix with the so-called people-centered liturgy of today, we’ll be better off than before. Count me a skeptic on that. The wider horizons, the deeper oceans are places nobody has yet begun to explore. The question is not one of God’s absence or action, but ours.

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The Mercy of Peter

I’ve always found John 21:15 and Jesus’ question a bit off:

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

In this weekend’s reading, it occurred to me that Jesus might not have been asking what I thought he was asking. Instead of “Do you love me more than you love these?” maybe the Lord was poking, “Do you love me more than these others love me?”

220px-The_Denial_of_Saint_Peter-Caravaggio_(1610)I can imagine in his enthusiastic state, Peter would have said he did love Jesus most of all. He was the only disciple to suggest he would gladly die with and for the Lord. He doesn’t lose his enthusiasm–in John 21 he also doesn’t wait for the boat to pull into shore; he swims and/or wades the hundred yards to breakfast with Jesus.

Yet Peter’s answer is humble:

Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

No comparison to others. Peter just loves. And good for him, he knows he loves the Lord. He seems no longer willing to place himself above or beyond others. Is this a grace of receiving mercy? Elder siblings and Peter-wannabes take heed.

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