Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 8.57.11 PMMost of us have a perfect Christmas in mind. Often it is the creation of Hallmark, Currier & Ives, and various marketers. But none of us will have a perfect Christmas, just a real one.

The First Christmas wasn’t perfect either. In fact, the only way to describe it is to call it a crisis. Mary was pregnant before marriage, a very dangerous thing in those times. Just at the time of birth they were required to travel eighty miles on foot to Bethlehem. There was no room for them in the inn. Joseph must have felt dejected, finding no place for his wife to give birth. Jesus is born in a stinking, dank cave. No sooner is He born than there are threats against His life and the family must flee to Egypt. There goes Joseph’s career and livelihood! Mary and Joseph are separated from family and home, from the support they likely needed.

It probably couldn’t have gone worse. There were surely no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no roast or turkey, no gentle fallen snow.

Yet it was in that crisis of a Christmas that Jesus was found, not in the Hallmark Christmas. And whatever your Christmas holds this year, that is where He will be found. So Merry Christmas, unless another sort of Christmas awaits you. But find Christ there and it will be CHRISTmass.

This video shows an imperfect Christmas, but a good one nonetheless.

pope-saint-gregory-the-great-05Every now and again when I write on Holy Matrimony, especially the Church’s more staunch biblical teachings (indissolubility, no contraception, etc.), someone will inevitably write in with a kind of sneer and wonder at or even laugh at a celibate man advising married people about marriage. To be sure, inner experience of something has its place, but so does external observance. I remember as a youth that my swimming coach, who was out of the water, would often correct us if our form was wrong, and advise us on how to adjust it to swim better and faster. His perspective from out of the water gave him an understanding that even I, an experienced swimmer in the water, could not have. I might think my form was perfect, but he could see that it was not.

Similarly, priests and other celibates (such as religious) DO have something to teach about marriage. What we teach is not better than the advice of married people, but it is different; it is given from a different perspective. From our position, sometimes we can see things about Holy Matrimony that even the married have trouble seeing. Further, it is to be hoped that priests and religious are also well-versed in the Biblical teaching on Matrimony and family life and can offer the benefit of our study of God’s Word and our relationship with the Author of Holy Matrimony.

With that introduction, I would like to present some of the teaching of Pope St. Gregory the Great and his advice to the married. For spiritual reading, I am currently finishing up his Pastoral Rule, which contains this teaching. Since he is a priest and Bishop, his advice is less on practical things (such as communication, conflict resolution, etc.) and more at the level of theology and priorities. And yet it does have very practical importance. The following excerpts are taken from his Pastoral Rule (III.27) and are presented in bold, italics.

My own comments appear in red text.

Those who are joined in marriage should be advised that, as they mutually consider what is good for their spouse, they should be careful that when they please their spouse, they do not displease their maker. In other words, they should conduct their affairs in this world without relinquishing their desire for God … They should remain aware that their current situation is transitory and what they desire is permanent.

And in this is the heart of St. Gregory’s advice: God comes first. And even if a spouse may pressure one to forsake what God teaches, or to neglect to pray or attend to sacred duties, let that one with charity and confidence withstand any temptation to negligence of or disobedience to God. Pleasing God is more important and more required than pleasing one’s spouse. And while these two are not necessarily or even usually in conflict, when they are, God must be preeminent.

St. Gregory also reminds that Matrimony is of this world and therefore transitory, while the things of God remain forever. We frequently forget this and focus instead on passing things, joys, and troubles, and forget or minimize the things of the life to come, which have greater significance since they are permanent.

Such an insight is focused on seeing not only marriage’s joys in their proper and passing perspective, but also its sorrows and difficulties. “Trouble don’t last always.” And in this is a remedy that helps to endure difficulties and to see beyond the crosses to the glory that waits and endures.

[Though] as [the married] cannot completely abandon the temporal things [they] can desire union with the eternal … therefore, the married Christian should not give himself entirely to the things that he now possesses, or else he will fall completely from that which he ought to hope … St. Paul expresses this well and so simply saying for he who has a wife should act as though not having one. [In other words he means that] he who enjoys the consolation of the carnal life through his wife, but does so in such a way that his love for her does not divert him. He also has a wife as though not having one, who understands that all things are transitory. 

Here, too, while the love of one’s spouse and the goods of marriage are not necessarily, or even usually, in conflict with the desire for eternal things, nevertheless the married must not fail to consciously work to keep these desires connected and to not allow worldly desires to eclipse or attenuate the desire for heavenly things.

This happens in other areas beyond marriage, too. For example, we have attained great comfort in the modern age with electricity, running water, entertainment, good food in abundance, etc. And sadly, there is a pronounced diminishment today for spiritual things and the things of Heaven. Even many Christians in their so-called spiritual life and prayers, pray more and longer for better finances, improved health, and worldly things than they do for holiness and even Heaven.

Thus the joys of this world and those of matrimony ought to be seen as a mere foretaste of far greater glories to come for which we must more truly long.

The married should be advised that they endure with mutual patience those things that occasionally bring displeasure and that they exhort one another to salvation … They should be advised that they not worry themselves so much about what they must endure from their spouse, but consider what their spouse must endure on account of them. For if one really considers what must be endured on his account, it is all the easier to bear the things of others.

It is so easy to list the sins and shortcomings of others. But every spouse should begin by saying, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it … I am a sinner and I married a sinner, knowing he was a sinner … I am living in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and I myself have a fallen nature.”

The patience that Pope Gregory reminds us of is a reference to the Cross. And the Lord tells us that we must be willing to endure the Cross or we cannot be His disciples. Frankly, people often lay the heaviest crosses on those whom they love. This is because they care about them.

And love brings vulnerability. The word “vulnerabilty” is rooted in the Latin word “vulnera” meaning “wound.” Thus to be vulnerable is to be able to endure wounds out of love. And patience is rooted in the Latin word “patior” meaning “to suffer.” Hence patience bespeaks a capacity or willingness to suffer on account of others.

The married should be advised to remember that they come together for the purpose of producing children, but when they become immoderately enslaved by intercourse, they transfer the occasion for procreation to the service of pleasure … Thus St. Paul, skilled in heavenly medicine writes “Concerning the things you wrote to me, it is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman, but on account of fornication, let everyone have his own wife and every woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1).  And thus, by beginning with the fear of fornication, Paul did not extend this precept to those who were strong, but rather showed the couch to those who are weak, so they would not fall to the ground. He then adds, “Let the husband give what he ought to his wife, and similarly the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:3). … [He says this] because there are many who [though] clearly forsaking the sins of the flesh [i.e., fornication], nevertheless, in the practice of marital intercourse have not limited themselves solely to the confines of righteousness (i.e., intercourse without procreative intent).

And thus, though marital intercourse is both licit and noble, like any pleasure it can take on an importance either too large, or out of connection with its truest purposes.

In the modern age, the contraceptive mentality insists that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. When this error (contrary to both natural law and revealed truth) is indulged, sex is reduced to the thing itself and we divide what God has joined. Sex merely for pleasure too easily devolves into demeaning, even unnatural behaviors and to the reduction of others, even spouses, to sexual playthings, rather than eventual parents. A man who looks at his wife as (potentially or actually) the mother of his children sees her differently than if he sees her as a sexual plaything.

It was in this context that Pope John Paul controversially stated that it was possible even for spouses to lust after one another in violation of the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:28. And what is lust? Essentially, it is reducing the human person to his or her body and the pleasure that body can provide. It is forgetting that this is a person to be loved for his or her own sake, even if his/her body is not available for pleasure, or becomes less “desirable” through age or sickness.

Thus sexual desire, though beautiful and given by God, is, on account of our fallen nature, unruly and must be governed carefully by reason. It must not be allowed to eclipse what is right and what is greater than sex—God and the new life and the family life of which it is in service.

St. Gregory therefore interprets that St. Paul also teaches that a man ought to give his wife what she is due: not merely his body, but himself, wholly. He also should give her what is due by loving not merely her sexual charms, but her very self, her whole self. Likewise for the wife in return are all the same duties. 

If marital intercourse is just about pleasure and not about bigger and lasting things like the other person and children, pleasure has a way of running its course and becoming routine or boring. Building a marriage on things more lasting than pleasure and happiness is essential. Hence Pope Gregory uses creatively the notion that St. Paul shows couples the couch of true marital sexuality and bids them fall on that couch rather than all the way to the ground through lust, contraceptive sex, or fornication. 

Some wisdom from a great Father, pastor, and Saint of the Church. St. Gregory the Great, Pray for us! 

The Lord’s coming is near. And though we have all been well taught that the word “Advent” means “coming,” there is the danger that we think we are only passively waiting for him to come.  It is not just that the Lord is coming to us, but that we are also journeying to Him. In fact, as the Advent prayers in the Roman Missal instruct, we ought to run, not walk, and hasten to greet Him as He draws near.

The image of the Prodigal Son comes to mind. His father saw him and ran toward him. But at the same time, he was hastening toward his father with contrition and hope. So too, in Advent, do we look for the Lord’s coming. But the Lord also looks for us to come to Him by faith.  We, like the prodigal son, consider our need for salvation, and with contrition (did you get to confession this advent?), hasten to meet our Lord, whom we know by faith is coming to us.

This notion of running to meet God is set forth as a consistent theme in the prayers of the Roman Missal.  Consider these prayers and how the theme of our running, hastening, and going out  to meet God, even as He is coming to us, is set forth:

  1. Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom (First Sunday of Advent).
  2. Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company (Second Sunday of Advent).
  3. Stir up your mighty power, O Lord, and come to our help with a mighty strength, so that what our sins impede, the grace of your mercy may hasten (Thursday of the First Week of Advent).
  4. Grant that your people, we pray, almighty God, may be ever watchful for the coming of your Only Begotten Son, that, as the author of our salvation himself has taught us, we may hasten, alert with lighted lamps, to meet him when he comes (Friday of the Second Week of Advent).
  5. May the reception of your sacrament strengthen us O Lord, so that we may go out to meet our savior, with worthy deeds when he comes, and merit the rewards of the blessed (Post-communion, Dec 22).

Thus, we are not counseled to “wait on the Lord” in a passive sense, as though we are sitting still waiting for a bus to arrive. Rather, we are counseled to “wait on the Lord” in an active sense, much as when we speak of a waiter in a restaurant “waiting on tables.” Such a form of waiting is a very active form of waiting. Alert and aware, the waiter or waitress carefully observes the needs of others and serves as their brother or sister. The good ones strive to avoid distraction and do their job of serving well and with swiftness.

Notice, too, how the prayers indicate what it means to “run.”  We do not run aimlessly or in frantic circles. Rather, running to the Lord means

  1. being engaged in righteous deeds (holiness) by God’s grace.
  2. not being hindered by worldly preoccupations and distractions.
  3. learning heavenly wisdom.
  4. receiving the Lord’s mercy unto the forgiveness of our sins.
  5. being alert and ready for the Lord’s coming, with the lamp of our soul trimmed (humble and purged of sin) and burning (alive with fiery love).
  6. being strengthened by the Eucharist, which is our food for the journey.

St. Paul speaks of running, too:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor 9:24-27).

Are you running to meet the Lord or are you just waiting? Advent involves looking and waiting, but it also means running to meet the Lord, who is coming to us. Run, don’t walk, to the nearing Jesus!

The text of this song says, simply, Domine ad adjuvandum me festina! (Lord, make haste to help me!) It was composed by Vivaldi, and its series of eighth notes creates the image of an energetic and joyful running. Vivaldi also loved to run a melody up and down the musical scale, creating (here) a sense of running up and down the hills as we hasten to the Lord. (The video goes on to include the Gloria Patri.) Try not to tap your toe in the first and third movements of this clip from the Vespers of Vivaldi in G Major!


piusxvatgardenIn the modern struggles and disagreements over the Liturgy, there tends to be a list of friends and opponents depending on one’s stance. For those of us with a more traditional leaning, Pope St. Pius X looms large as a friend and an image of tradition. He is usually seen as a defender of the tradition and a great proponent of what is called today the Extraordinary Form or Traditional Latin Mass (TLM)—so much so that the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) takes its name from him.

And yet things, people, and movements are seldom as simple as we would like them to be. Despite many good reasons for admiring Pope St. Pius X’s attention to the Sacred Liturgy, he also (arguably) helped lay the groundwork for the revolution that would follow, not so much by his ideas but by his rather sweeping use of papal authority to influence and change the Liturgy in his day.

One of the most far-reaching things he did had little impact on the average Catholic but it had a dramatic effect on the Breviary, the prayers said by priests each day in the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours). What makes what he did so significant was his use of papal power to rather summarily effect the change, a change that arguably did away with almost 1500 years of tradition, just because he wanted to. More of the details on that in a minute. Perhaps a little background first. (If you want a shorter read, go to the red line below.)

The Roman Rite of the Mass developed and came to fundamental form very early in the Church and had its most basic elements in mature form by the 5th Century, though it dates back far earlier in most of its elements. Due to the influence of the Roman See, it was largely the pure template for the liturgical practice of the Western Church. However, there were a lot of local variations to the Roman Rite, some of them significant enough to permit the use of another name altogether (e.g., the Gallican Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Sarum). In addition to these, there were many smaller variations and local usages.

This diversity of liturgical practice caused tension at times, if for no other reason than its bewildering complexity. There were various attempts made from time to time to unify the Liturgy throughout Europe by recourse to the Roman Rite and the fundamental purity and antiquity it was accorded. Most notably, the Council of Trent decreed that any form of the Liturgy that was less than 200 years old should be suppressed in favor of the Rite as celebrated in Rome. As such, there was a reverence for antiquity and a concern for novelty and recent innovations.

Yet even after Trent, especially in places like France, there was a tendency for accretions and innovations. Sometimes called “Gallicanism,” the decrees of the Council of Trent were either ignored or gradually less enforced. And thus many local variations began again to develop. By the 18th century, many liturgists began to critique the disorderly state of affairs and emphasized a kind of ultramontanism (a term meaning literally “beyond (or over) the mountains” and referring to Rome), which sought to establish the Roman Rite more purely.

By the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), papal influence was already well established from antiquity, but was also growing against Gallicanism and other local episcopal influence. Weariness over local European divisions was also part of the growing influence of the Pope. The Dogma of Papal Infallibility, proclaimed at the First Vatican Council (though narrowly construed and only invoked in very specific circumstances), served only to highlight papal power and influence.

Thus by the time of Pope Pius X (1903-1914), the relative “booster shot” given to the papacy enabled him to flex his papal muscles and extend his influence in more sweeping ways. And this leads us to the liturgical changes introduced by Pope Pius X.

It was in 1911, with the publication of Divino afflatus, that rather dramatic changes were made to the Roman Breviary. Some of the changes were small: cleaning up some accretions, adjusting the calendar, and giving greater priority to the temporal cycle over the more erratic sanctoral cycle. The obligations of what parts of the office and other prayers had to be said by priests were also clarified. All fine.

But among these changes was a casting aside of the very ancient arrangement of the psalter. Most notably, the ancient and almost universal tradition of praying the Laudate psalms (148-150) every morning and again every night at Compline was simply removed and replaced. No tradition in the Church was as universal and ancient as this, and with one stroke of a pen, Pope Pius X did away with it. Almost no liturgist of that time or since can describe what the Pope did as anything less than dramatic and sweeping.

Alcuin Reid, OSB quotes the views of a number of liturgical scholars on this action by Pope St. Pius X:

1. Anton Baumstark (in a scathing remark): Down to the year 1911 there was nothing in the Christian liturgy of such absolute universality as this practice in the morning office, and no doubt its universality was inherited from the Synagogue … hence, to [this “reform”] of Psalterium Romanun  belongs the distinction of having brought to an end the universal observance of a liturgical practice which was followed by the Divine Redeemer himself during his life on earth.

2. Pius Parsch commented, It is rather amazing that despite the conservative character of the Church Pius X should have resolved on this vast change which went counter to a practice of 1500 years’ standing.

3. Robert Taft, SJ: …this was a shocking departure from the almost universal Christian tradition.

4. William Bonniwell, OP: In the revision of Pius X the venerable office of the Roman Church was gravely mutilated.

All these quotes are from Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy (pp. 74-76).

Frankly, Pius X’s move was unprecedented in liturgical history. And though Urban VIII’s unfortunate redaction of the Latin Hymns of the Breviary was also an unfortunate and imprudent mutilation of ancient masterpieces, their use in the Church was less universal than the psalms of Lauds, and the redaction was not imposed by judicial power.

The issue may seem minor to those unfamiliar with the Office, but the precedent of using sweeping judicial power to simply end an ancient tradition is not minor at all. It is the same thinking that would later allow a sweeping change of the Mass to be promulgated in 1970 and for the Old Rite to be “abolished” by judicial fiat of the Pope. The Mass promulgated in 1970 was not specified by the Second Vatican Council Fathers, but by a small consilium. It was not marked by organic change but (as Pope Benedict and others have observed) rather was characterized by a hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity. Only later would Pope Benedict XVI teach that there was no precedent for or right to abolish the older form Roman Rite (a rite far older than 200 years).

But all this heavy-handed use of papal power ironically had a precedent in Pope St. Pius X, the favored saint of many lovers of tradition. And there were other liturgical waves that emanated from this indisputably good man and pope that have troubled us since. Among them was the disruption in the order of the Sacraments when Pope Pius X moved First Communion to early youth but did not attend to the Sacrament of Confirmation. Thus the ancient order of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist was disrupted and Confirmation became a kind of “hanging” Sacrament, detached from its liturgical and theological moorings. The result was its reduction to a kind of Catholic Bar Mitzvah and a lot of other questionable paradigms.

Further, Pope Pius X was also dismissive, if not juridically forbidding, of orchestral masses. And while he fostered chant—a good thing—he also suppressed a musical form that had inspired most of the classical composers (e.g., Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven) to contribute to the Church’s musical patrimony. It would be 70 years before such Masses would again be heard widely in the Church.

Again, all these issues are less significant for their immediate effect and more significant for the groundwork they laid for what came later in the century.  The sudden liturgical changes of  the 1960s would not have been possible in previous ages since, though the Pope and Rome were strongly influential, local bishops and churches had a lot more leeway and influence on the Liturgy.

As stated above, this setup is not without its own troubles. Too much diversity leads to chaos and difficulty. Some general norms need to hold sway and regional and even ecumenical councils need to help clean out extreme diversity by reasserting proper liturgical principles.

However, centralizing power over the liturgy within the papacy also presents serious difficulties. Plainly put, the Liturgy is just too important to have it all depend on the notions of one man, even a holy man like Pius X. Many of his reforms were good, even necessary, and his sanctity is not in dispute. But even saints do not get everything right, and some of what they say and do may later be exaggerated or corrupted by those that follow.

In recent decades, traditional Catholics have looked to Rome to resolve liturgical debates. At one level this has been necessary, since many local bishops and churches have seemingly abdicated their responsibility to oversee the Liturgy, correct abuses, and guarantee the legitimate rights of the faithful.

However, traditional Catholics would also do well to understand the problems inherent in having an overly centralized control of the Sacred Liturgy. More needs to be done by traditional Catholics to build a foundation for good Liturgy in the local churches where they reside by building a culture that is respectful of tradition and sober about the pitfalls of depending too much on papal authority.

How strange it is that the paragon of traditional Catholicism should have, even if unwittingly, helped paved the way for the (I would argue) excessive use of supreme judicial authority in regard to the Liturgy, a use so sweeping that even Pope Benedict would have to announce that the suppression of the older Roman Rite was neither possible nor in effect.

Just one of those strange moments in liturgical history.

fanBWe have discussed before many of the trends of modern liturgy and how the focus has shifted from God to the “assembly.” Too much of modern liturgy today is anthropocentric (focused on man).

Back in the 1990’s, Thomas Day observed in the book Why Catholics Can’t Sing, that liturgy today often comes down  to “the aware, gathered community, celebrating itself.” Many modern songs go on at great length about how we are the gathered, we are the flock, we have been sung throughout all of history, we are God’s song, etc. When God is mentioned it is more in relation to us, rather than us being in relation to Him. He is all about us, and this seems to please us greatly.

The emphasis has shifted too far. If in the past the people were something of an afterthought or reduced to mere spectators (as some detractors of the older forms say), now it seems we are the excessive focus. And if something doesn’t speak to the people it should either be ditched or dumbed-down.

Even our architecture has given God the boot, so to speak. Circular and fan shaped churches dominated after 1950. The tabernacle was relegated to the side, altars became largely devoid of candles or a cross, and it became almost “immoral” for the priest-celebrant not to “face the people.” Seeing and interacting with each other became the goal. God was invited, too, but His role seemed more to affirm what we were doing and to be pleased with us; or so we sang, on and on and on. Surely God was happy when we were happy!

Well, I exaggerate, but just a little.

I was fascinated to read similar concerns in an unlikely place. I was sent a link from baptistnews.com wherein a Baptist minister raises similar concerns with Protestant worship. In effect, he argues that it is barely worship at all. The minister is  J. Daniel Day, retired senior professor of Christian preaching and worship at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C., and he has authored a book Seeking the Face of God: Evangelical Worship Reconceived. Here are excerpts from his remarks in the article at Baptist News, in bold, black italics. The Full Article is here: Reviving Worship. As usual, my own remarks are in red text.

“Worship can be facilitated and used around any kind of style,” says Day, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. The music and sanctuary decorations can be tailored to fit the tastes of the congregation. “But the question becomes … ‘where’s the beef?’” By that, Day says he means the object of worship, which should be God. But over the centuries, the purpose of worship in many evangelical churches has been to attract and evangelize new members.

Perfectly and simply stated. The worship of God has become the secondary focus. To be sure, people are important. Evangelization is important. But worship is more important and is the first and chief work of the Church. And the worship of God does not demote man; it elevates him. Scripture says we have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory (Eph 1:12). In other words, we were made to praise God, and in this worship, we are fulfilled, reach our highest dignity, and discover our true self in God. So God is not our competitor; He does not steal the stage, and the worship of Him is not a distraction or in opposition to the assembly. 

Further, making the liturgy more about evangelization than worship (where it too easily devolves into a sort of entertainment in order to “draw” numbers) belies the experience of the early Church when one did not gain admittance into the liturgy, into the celebration of the mysteries, until after baptism. In those early days, evangelization was accomplished through the witness of changed and holy lives in combination with preaching and witness. The goal was to gain admittance to the sacred liturgy so as to worship and encounter God and be transformed by that encounter. If worship “evangelized,” it was instead a deepening of faith already confessed. The deal had already been sealed and the liturgy served to deepen and further immerse a person into the life of God and His Body, the Church.

 Another major shift away from historic Christian worship came even earlier, he added. “The whole emphasis coming out of the Reformation was to convert worship into an educational experience,” Day said. “So you had these didactic, Calvinist lectures that became the models for today’s teaching sermons that go on for 45 minutes to an hour.” At that point, churches ceased being places of worship. “The sanctuary becomes a lecture hall.”

Indeed. And while I support Catholics learning to give a little more time to the sermon, here again we ought not lose our way. Homilies in Catholic parishes should teach more than they do, especially with the demise of Catholic Schools and family life.

However, the Mass is fundamentally an act of worship directed to the Father. Christ, the head of the Body and high priest, and we, the members of His body, turn to the Father at the high point of the Mass, the Eucharistic prayer, and we worship the Father. Head and members together.

This is why the stance of the priest during the Eucharistic prayer (facing the people) is misleading. Too often the impression is that the prayer is being read to the people. Not only is the priest facing them, but often priests, by their tone of voice and eye contact, give the impression that they are talking to the people. Heaven forfend if the priest were to lower his voice so Ms. Jones in the back pew could not hear, or that he pray the canon in Latin. But of course the “outrage” would, to a large extent, seem beside the point if we remember that the prayer is being directed to God the Father who is neither deaf nor ignorant of Latin. And while the vernacular has its advantages and helps the faithful to heartfully unite to the action, it is not a disaster if the priest is less-than-fully audible or prays in a language other than that which the faithful understand well.

Surely the Liturgy of the Word is rightly directed toward the people. And yet that aspect of the Liturgy is also marked with worship; it is not just readings and instruction. The singing of the psalm or gradual, and the alleluia or tract, are worshipful responses to what has been proclaimed. And after the homily, the creed and/or prayers also invite the worship of prayer. 

So yes, amen. The liturgy is more than a bible study or a lecture.

Or [beyond a lecture hall, churches] become entertainment centers, Day says, where worship is about “being impressed by the magnificence of the place, the costumes and the jumbo screens.”

Yes! When keeping people happy and coming becomes the main goal, things really start to go off the chain. Frankly, we people are fickle, our culture is ephemeral and trendy (especially in America), and we tend to need more and more exotic things in order to be impressed. A lot of megachurches note that although people come, they don’t often stay for long. There is really only so much you can do in a church surrounded by an entertainment culture.

Eventually, those who are indulged in merely trendy notions get bored and say, “Peel me another grape.” When ideas run short, the bored move on to the next phenomenon or star preacher. And eventually many of them end up out of the Church altogether or back in the Catholic parishes they left for greener pastures.

Entertainment-based churches eventually either run out of ideas or lose out to glitzier,  better-funded churches. Most of the megachurches of the 1990s here in D.C. are closed now and newer, bigger “centers” and campuses have opened to cater to the latest trends. But soon enough, even they, so financially difficult to maintain, will likely close as well.

Again, the central point of liturgy is not to impress or entertain human beings. It is to worship God. And even the “praise songs” of many such churches look and sound more like entertainment. Some songs are actually not bad in terms of content. But many are riddled with catch-phrases stitched together.

In the Catholic Church, too, a lot of contemporary liturgical trends seem to have “the people” in mind more so than God. He’s invited too, but pleasing the folks is more the point. Otherwise, why is trendy, ephemeral liturgy (especially the music) such an issue? Does God change and need new forms? Does He get bored with the older hymns and chants? No! So all the trendy stuff is more about us. 

To be fair, this problem is not new. The big orchestral masses of the Baroque period were quite the item back then. Eventually, they were criticized for trying to be more like opera, trying to impress donors rather than be suitable for the worship of God. Even early polyphony got so artsy that the Church had to warn composers that the text being sung was more important than the musical artistry designed to impress and “wow” the people. 

Every now and again, the Church needs to throw a penalty flag on the field and say “Back to God!” Now is surely one of those times in both Catholic and Protestant settings so powerfully influenced by the anthropocentric, consumer-focused culture. 

A growing number of scholars from a variety of traditions are exploring the value ancient approaches to worship can have in modern times, he adds. One is to provide a sense of authenticity and rootedness in the history and practice of the ancient church.

Sadly, I doubt our Baptist brethren will look to Catholic antiquity. But hey, this is a start! It never hurts to value ancient approaches. Inevitably, those who look to these sources may well discover how Catholic the early Church was. Let’s pray. God bless the good Reverend J. Daniel Day in his search and for his admonitions to us all!

I have some more things to present on Liturgy tomorrow, more from a Catholic setting.

Again, not all Contemporary Christian music is bad. I like a lot of it (e.g., “Still,” “You Never Let Go,” “Shout to the Lord”). But a good bit of it is also very poor. Here’s an amusing video that pokes fun at the poorer stuff:

church colorsA little over a year ago, I wrote an article asking and answering this question: What Does the Catholic Church Offer for those with Same-Sex Attraction? And the answer is, “the truth.” It is the same gift we offer anyone who will give us the gift of attention and presence. The truth, as revealed by God, is what we offer and celebrate along with the Sacraments, the communal life, and prayer.

Of course the truth we offer in terms of human sexuality is out of favor among many today. But the truth, in accord with Scripture and natural law, is that human sexuality is ordered to the good of procreation, and by extension, to the good of the husband and wife so that they may be strengthened for their role as parents through the bonds of sexual intimacy and the stable love and loyalty cultivated there. This benefits not only them, but even more so their children, who need a loving and stable family in which to be best raised. It is to this that human sexuality is properly ordered and why its legitimate expression is only within the bonds of marriage. All other types of sexual expression are, in one degree or another, disordered (i.e., not properly ordered to the proper ends of sexuality). Thus sex as recreation, fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery, pornography, masturbation, and homosexual acts are disordered.

This is the truth that the Church offers to all who give us the gift of their attention. We affirm, as did St. Paul, that We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2). We do not discriminate or exempt anyone from this teaching. It is a teaching that applies equally to all and is the clear and consistent stance of Scripture and Church teaching extending all the way back into ancient Jewish times. Even if not all have lived it perfectly, it is what is taught and what is true from the Revelation of God and backed up by Natural Law.

There was an article in the Washington Post on Sunday that, thankfully, sets forth another side of the debate over those with “same-sex attraction.”

This other side is important to hear because it is commonly held by many today that the ONLY way to affirm, love, or accept those with this orientation is approve of and even celebrate homosexual acts. Anything less is called “intolerance,” “bigotry,” “homophobia,” and even “hatred.” But of course those of us who read the Scriptures and their plain teaching on the matter of homosexual acts cannot do what is “required” by many in our culture today.

And we must insist that this does NOT mean that we fail to love or accept those with same-sex attraction. An attraction to do things the Scriptures forbid is common to all of us. We are forbidden to lie, steal, fornicate, wrathfully vent our anger, drink too much, etc. But many experience an attraction to do sinful things like this.

We usually call such attractions to forbidden or excessive things “temptation.” But temptation does not make a person sinful—only yielding to it does. Some are strongly tempted to anger, some to drink in excess, others to illicit sexual union. The Church does not say, “stay away” to those who have these temptations. On the contrary, it is all the more reason to come, to be strengthened in the truth that these are sinful things, but also to experience mercy and help through the Sacraments, preaching, fellowship, and prayer to avoid giving in to these sinful drives. It is no less the case for those with same-sex attraction. They are tempted to do what is sinful. This alone does not make them bad nor does it make them unique. Only acting on sinful desires is sinful.

A person with same-sex attraction is called to live celibately, like any unmarried heterosexual person. And though celibacy has its challenges (as does marriage) it can also be a very fulfilling way to live. Of this I am a witness. I am heterosexual, but I live celibately, not just because I am a priest, but because I am unmarried. And my life is very rich and fulfilling. I am not lonely, frustrated, or miserable. I suppose sex can be a source a happiness. But I have done enough counseling to know that sex can also be a source of stress, struggle, and yes, unhappiness. It is wrong to simplistically link sexual intercourse with happiness or to declare it a sine qua non for fulfillment.

With this background in mind, I was pleased to see an article in the Washington Post that discusses the lives of those with same-sex attraction who choose to live celibately and in conformity with the teachings of the Church in this matter. Over the years, I have known many Catholics who do this, and do it successfully. It is a form of heroic virtue in an age that powerfully tempts them to think otherwise and to depart from biblical teaching on this matter.  I would like to present excerpts from the article in bold italics along with some remarks of my own in plain red text. The full article can be read here: Gay Christians choosing celibacy emerge from the shadows.

When Eve Tushnet converted to Catholicism in 1998, she thought she might be the world’s first celibate Catholic lesbian.

But, thankfully, she is not. There are many others in the Church who have same-sex attraction and yet live lives faithful to Church teaching.

Having grown up in a liberal, upper Northwest Washington home before moving on to Yale University, the then-19-year-old knew no other gay Catholics who embraced the church’s ban on sex outside heterosexual marriage. Her decision to abstain made her an outlier. “Everyone I knew totally rejected it,” she said of the church’s teaching on gay sexuality.

Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.

Thanks be to God for her witness. In the Catholic sphere, we also have http://couragerc.org, an outreach and support group for Catholics with same-sex attraction, and those who love them. 

Celibacy “allows you to give yourself more freely to God,” said Tushnet (rhymes with RUSH-net), a 36-year-old writer and resident of Petworth in the District. The focus of celibacy, she says, should be not on the absence of sex but on deepening friendships and other relationships, a lesson valuable even for people in heterosexual marriages. Amen.

However, they are also met with criticism from many quarters, including from other gays and lesbians who say celibacy is both untenable and a denial of equality. “We’ve been told for so long that there’s something wrong with us,” said Arthur Fitzmaurice, resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.

But, respectfully, there is something wrong with you, just as there are things wrong with each of us. Not all of our desires are good or properly ordered. Some desires we have are disordered. Being attracted to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex is disordered. It is not ordered to the proper ends of sexuality, namely procreation and the good of the father and mother so as to be good parents. Physically, homosexual acts cannot attain the proper goals of sexual intimacy. The body parts do not fit together and are not designed for such purposes. Since these attractions are not ordered to the proper purpose of sexual intimacy, they are “dis-ordered.” Intentionally contraceptive sex is also disordered, as are pornography and masturbation. As such, they are all wrong.

Mr. Fitzmaurice also says that celibacy is “untenable.” It is not. I live it every day. So do the people interviewed in the article. What he probably means is that it is unpopular and/or difficult. So are many virtues. Many people find sin popular. Many also find exhibiting self-control to be less popular or less pleasant. But that does not make it impossible or wrong. 

As for his notion of “equality,” it is a modern problem that many use the word “equal” to mean “the same.” A man and a woman are equal in dignity before God, but they are not the same. A married person and a single person are equal in dignity before God, but they are not the same and do not have the same roles or obligations; neither do they have the same rights or prerogatives. Married people can do things that the unmarried should not. A courtroom judge and I have the same equality of dignity before God, but we have different roles, and there are things he or she can do that I cannot. Equality is not sameness.

Acceptance in exchange for celibacy “is not sufficient,” he said. “There’s a perception that [LGBT] people who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.”

And here is the central problem with the whole LGBT(QIIA) movement. They insist on having their whole public identity revolve around a behavior that history, culture (until recently),  and the Scriptures have consistently thought wrong and sinful. And, claiming this as their almost sole identity, they then insist that anything short of a complete declaration of the goodness of their behavior is insufficient and amounts to a lack of personal acceptance. Those in the LGBT movement do not alone get to decide what constitutes “sufficient” acceptance. They can decide what they think, but “sufficiency” speaks to a matter of justice. And one side alone in a dispute does not get to simply declare what is just by diktat. There are legitimate and just objections at work from the standpoint of many in this dispute.

It is clear that many in the LGBT community take rejection of their behavior very personally even if many of us do not mean it that way. Perhaps they take it personally because many with same-sex attraction have decided to weave their entire identity and dignity around whom they are sexually attracted to. But as for me, I choose to see more of people than that. So I can truthfully say, “I accept you; you are a fellow human being. But I do not accept or approve of every behavior you exhibit or every behavior you insist that I approve of. I cannot and I will not do that. It is not personal; it is only experienced by you as being personal because you have chosen to make it so.”

The reaction among church leaders themselves has been mixed, with some praising the celibacy movement as a valid way to be both gay and Christian. But others have returned to the central question of how far Christianity can go in embracing homosexuality—even if people abstain from sex … [some leaders in Evangelical denominations are]  not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer. “Even if someone is struggling with same-sex attraction, I’d be concerned about reducing them to the word ‘gay,’ ” Mohler said.

Fair enough, as stated above. Reducing our whole identity to a matter of sexual attraction is an awful reductionism. Neither is being “gay” a gift from God, (though like any cross he permits, he can draw graces from it). However, we ought not shun all discussion and identification. For example, it is sometimes important for alcoholics to speak openly of their struggle and to identify with a group and a cultural category that can help both the afflicted and the wider community to find healthy ways of overcoming difficulties. “Over-identification” ought not be replaced by total silence either. Silence and shame are often related. But silence and shame are not usually healthy either.

Josh Gonnerman, 29, a theology PhD student at Catholic University, writes…“There is this shift from the more negative to the more positive,” he said. “In the past, the Catholic approach was: ‘Oh, sucks for you’ [that you’re gay]. The emphasis was on the difficulty. Celibacy is being reimagined.” Yes, in other words, celibacy is a good thing; the celibate life is a rich life.

The rest of the article by Michelle Boorstein is here:  Gay Christians choosing celibacy emerge from the shadows.

So, it is good to finally see some publicity for those with same-sex attraction who live celibately. They are not few in number or percentage, as any Catholic pastor will tell you. There are many who do so. They are not usually among the loudest protestors; they usually live quietly as members of our congregation. Like any Catholics, they struggle with sin (sexual and otherwise), but they are in agreement with Church and biblical teaching and know how to find a confessional when sin of any kind overtakes them. It’s good to see another side to this story published in the Post.

Please be careful and gentle with your comments. The article is not perfect, people are not perfect. But it is worth affirming that some are striving to live the Church teaching. So, say what you mean and mean what you say—but don’t say it mean.

JoyThis Sunday is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday based on the Introit for the day: Gaudete in Domino semper, iterum dico, Gaudete (from Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice). This theme is developed most fully in today’s readings in 1 Thessalonians 5:16ff. It, too, begins with the salutation and imperative, “rejoice always!”

Let’s take a closer look at that reading and what is meant by the admonition to “rejoice.”

The text begins, Rejoice always. The Greek word properly translated here as “rejoice” is χαίρετε (chairete). However, more is intended here than to merely rouse ourselves to some sort of the emotional state of joy or happiness. You may note the root word “charis” in “chariete,” and charis refers to grace. Hence chairete means, properly, to delight joyfully in and BY God’s grace, to experience God’s favor (grace), to be conscious of and glad for His grace.

Since it is a work of grace, the gift of this sort of joy is more fully understood as a serene, confident, and stable joy, a joy not rooted merely in the passing moods of our fallen human state.

The text continues further to identify three basic ways that our joy can become both stable and deeply rooted in our personality and psyche. In effect, the text does not merely instruct us to rejoice always, but tells us how this can be done. Let’s look at these three ways.

I. PERSEVERANCE IN PRAISE – The text says, Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Hence we see the first three foundations for rejoicing always. Let’s take them a little out of order.

A. Grateful - In all circumstances give thanks – Thanksgiving is an important discipline that trains our mind to focus on reality. For it so happens that we tend to be negative, perhaps due to our fallen nature. The reality is that every day ten trillion things go right and only a few things go wrong. Now you may think that ten trillion is an exaggeration, but it is not. Consider all the things that have to go right with every cell in your body. Add to that all the many things and factors on this earth, indeed in the whole universe, that must be perfectly balanced in order for you and me to even be here at all, alive and flourishing. Ten trillion is not an exaggeration.

However, if we are not careful, we are going to focus on the five or six things that went wrong today. And, mind you, some of them may feel serious at times (although usually they are not). Nevertheless, even the truly serious mishaps cannot negate the reality of the ten trillion things that have gone right.

Thanksgiving disciplines our mind to focus on the bigger reality of our countless blessings. Even some of the mishaps of a day can actually be blessings in disguise.

Hence we are told to give thanks in all circumstances. Daily thanksgiving disciplines our mind to focus on the astonishing number of blessings. What you feed grows, so if the negative is fed, it will grow. But, if the positive is fed, it will grow and become an important basis of stable joy in our life. Give thanks in all circumstances.

B. Prayerful – Pray without ceasing - Here, too, is a discipline of the mind. Paul does not mean to say that we should stay in a chapel all day. He means that we should lay hold of the normal Christian life, which is to be living in conscious contact with God at every moment of our day. To the degree that we are consciously aware of God’s presence and in a dialogue of love with Him all day, our joy is deeper and becomes more stable.  Thus we are able, by this ongoing sense of His presence, to “rejoice always.”

C. Spirit-filled – Do not quench the Spirit - That such gifts (ongoing prayer and thanksgiving) are “God’s will for us,” means that God wants to give us these gifts. Hence we should not quench the Spirit, which bids us to seek these things. Rather, we should heed His promptings and seek these gifts, even pester God for them. Too often we quench the Spirit by not taking seriously the promises He offers us in Christ Jesus. We are not convinced that the Spirit can give us a whole new life and deepen our prayer and gratitude, so we don’t even ask. We also quench the Spirit by cluttering our lives with endless distractions, never sitting still long enough to listen to the small, still voice of God. But if we fan into flame the gifts of God’s love, God the Holy Spirit will kindle a fire in us that will never die away. And as the gifts of His love, including deeper prayer and constant thankfulness, take hold, our joy deepens and we can “rejoice always.”

II. PERSPECTIVE THROUGH PROPHECY – The text says, Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.

In the first place, “prophetic utterances” refers to Scripture itself. Scripture is a prophetic interpretation of reality. It describes the world as it truly is and sets forth a clear vision. It is an antidote to the muddled and murky suppositions of worldly thinking that, at best, grope in the darkness, and at worst, are deceitful and erroneous. We ought not despise God’s Word in any way, but should accept it wholeheartedly. To the degree that we do so, we are assured of the ultimate victory of God, His truth, and His Kingdom. Our own victory is also set forth in the paschal mystery of God’s Word, wherein every cross, faithfully carried, produces for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (cf 2 Cor 4:17). This vision, this prophetic interpretation of reality, produces in us a serene joy that allows us to “rejoice always.”

“Prophetic utterances” also refers to the teachings of the Church, the words of the Fathers of the Church, and the teachings of the saints down through the ages. There is a great deposit of faith that has been carefully collected and lovingly handed down from apostolic times. The dogmas and doctrines of the faith are like the precious fragments gathered up by the Apostles at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. For the Lord had told them that nothing was to go to waste. And so we, too, ought to seek out every instruction prophetically uttered by Mother Church, allowing nothing to fall to the ground.

The Fathers and saints, too, have left us wondrous testimony that we should neither despise nor ignore. They, along with the Church, utter wisdom and announce victory to every believer. In the laboratory of their own lives, they have tested the Word of God and found it to be true. Added to this number are many trustworthy people in our own time who teach us the Word of God. They include our parents, priests, religious, and holy men and women who have inspired us. And to the degree that we will let the Church and the saints teach us, along with trustworthy souls of our own time, to the degree that we do not despise these prophetic utterances, the foundation of our joy becomes more sure and we can rejoice always.

III. PROGRESS TOWARD PERFECTION - The text says, Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

The greatest source of sorrow in our life, the biggest killer of joy, is our sin. To the degree that we indulge it, our joy is sapped. But to the extent that we allow the Lord to deliver us from sin and make us more and more holy, our joy becomes deeper and more lasting. The words “holy” and “whole” are not far removed from each other. And to the degree that we become more whole, more perfected, more free from sin, more holy and blameless, our joy becomes deeper and we can increasingly “rejoice always.” God will do this for us if we are willing and if we ask Him.

Thus we see that the mandate, the exhortation, to “rejoice always” is far more than a command to whip ourselves up to an emotional high. Rather, it is a stable and serene joy rooted in prayerful gratitude, a mind transformed by God’s truth and a growing holiness. Allow the promise of the Lord to be fulfilled in you. For He has said,

Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (Jn 15:9-11).

This song says, “Joy, Joy, God’s great joy! Joy, Joy, down in my soul. Sweet, beautiful soul-saving joy. Oh Joy! Joy in my soul!”

And this songs says, “The King shall rejoice in thy strength O Lord! Exceeding glad shall He be.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 6.30.23 PMMost of us begin by thinking the world can make us happy. But if we reach maturity, both spiritual and emotional, we realize that we were made for something higher, something more akin to our hearts truest longings. The body gets the most from this world, but our soul needs something else, someone else—and that someone is God. Without God, our hearts are restless and unsatisfied. Sadly, many try to bury this longing with more and more of the world. In the end, it does not work. We need God, our heart’s truest longing and the fulfillment of all our desires.

John Lewis is a chain of English department stores.  Each year, they produce a great Christmas commercial. In this commercial, a little penguin teaches us the lesson of our heart’s truer longings and the inability of the world to satisfy us. The surprise ending of the commercial is that the lesson is in us, not the penguin.

telegraphThe old Roman Ritual was (is) a magnificent collection of blessings and prayers. It had some of the most amazing little blessings of things it would never occur to you to find in such a collection. For example, among other more common blessings of statues, religious medals, and so forth are blessings, often elaborately laid out, for things like a seismograph, a typewriter, a printing press, a fishing boat, a fire engine, a stable, medicine, a well, a bridge, an archive, a lime kiln, a ship, an automobile, mountain-climbing equipment, and an electric dynamo.

Thankfully, the old ritual is still able to be used since, as many priests will attest, the current “Book of Blessings” issued back in the 1990s is all but useless. It is also improperly named, since there are really no blessings to be found in it. It is all rooted in a rather narrow notion of blessing that seeks to bless the user of (or someone walking nearby?) an object, but not the object itself.

It is an odd theology to say the least, especially for the Catholic faith, which is so incarnational and seeks to sanctify things as well as the people who use them. But I’ll let the theologians debate this. As a pastor, I (as well as most of my brother priests) know that people want their things blessed, and they are looking for that sign of the cross, that holy water, those words somewhere in the rite that actually ask God to bless the thing. The old Roman Ritual does this, and does it well. It also has good prayers that go beyond the mere act of blessing and seek to put the object in God’s wider plan of sanctity for us.

In the old ritual, there is a remarkable prayer for a telegraph—yes, a telegraph. It quite elaborately laid out psalms and antiphons, but I will only present here the prayer of gratitude at the end, just before blessing it with Holy Water.

To my mind, it is also perfect as a prayer, expression of gratitude, and blessing when using a computer or for the extended “cloud” of our computers, otherwise known as the Internet. The prayer is both thrilling and fitting. It is a minor masterpiece if you ask me. Though written sometime prior to 1945, and likely after 1830, its basic structure fits well what we do now with the Internet. There is probably one word that needs changing, and perhaps you can help by suggesting another word.

But without further drumrolls, here is the prayer, first in its Latin original, and then translated by Rev. Phillip Weller:

Deus qui ámbulas super pennas ventórum, et facis mirabília solus: concéde, ut per vim huic metállo índitam fulmíneo ictu celérius huc abséntia, et hinc álio praeséntia transmíttis; ita nos invéntis novis edócti, tua grátia opitulánte, prómptius et facílius ad te veníre valeámus. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.

O God, who walkest upon the wings of the wind, and thou alone workest wonders! By the power inherent in this metal, thou dost bring hither distant things quicker than lightning, and transferest present things to distant places. Therefore grant that, instructed by new inventions, we may merit, by thy bounteous grace, to come with greater certainty and facility to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sign of the Cross + and sprinkling with Holy Water.

Magnificent. It almost paints a picture in the mind as the words go forth. Yes, such beauty and a picture of the swiftness of information going hither and yon, like lightning, or as on the wings of the wind! And may indeed this wondrous tool serve to draw us closer to God and not be corrupted by sinful curiosity, hostility, defamation, profanation, or pornographic and prurient temptations.

One word, “metal,” may need adjusting. What word would you suggest? Perhaps simply “computer” will work, but more is in mind: the whole Internet and “cloud” are part of what we are grateful for and ask blessings for. But of course we may not be in a position to bless the whole Internet, and our blessing or prayer of gratitude is only to be directed to our computer, our one portal to the vast communication network. Anyway, this is just a thought.

But I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Encourage your priest to get a copy of the older Roman Ritual. For many years now, it has been my custom to use it instead of the Book of Blessings.

This video of the history of the telegraph reminds us that the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse was “What hath God wrought?” This almost seems to have influenced the prayer in the ritual!

I want to give two thumbs up for good old-fashioned experience, just experiencing life to its top … just having an experience! Too often in today’s hurried age and also in this time of 24×7 news, we rush past experience right to analysis. Too often we insist on knowing immediately what something “means” and what to think about it. This rush to think and analyze often happens before the experience is even over. And, of course, analyzing something before all the facts are in leads to limited, often poor analysis. Two old sayings come to mind:

  1. Don’t Think … Look! – We miss so much of life when we retreat into our brains for immediate analysis. I recently went to an art exhibit called “The Sacred Made Real.” As you walk in, you are handed a thick pamphlet describing each of the works. This is fine, I thought, but before I read a word I wandered through and gazed upon each marvelous work. Some of the works were mysterious to me: “Who was this?” I thought. But the mystery was part of the experience. Only later did I go back and read about each work. I also noticed many people buried in their little pamphlets barely looking at the actual artwork beyond an occasional glance. Most of their time was spent reading. There were others who had headphones on, which allows a better look, but still fills your head with information too soon. Another variant on this saying is “Don’t Think … Listen!” So often when listening to others, we pick up a few words or a sentence and then zap!—our mind lights up as we start thinking about how we’re going to answer them and we miss most of what they are saying to us.
  2. Don’t just do something, stand there. – With all of our activism, we seldom savor life. Few people take a Sabbath rest anymore. Few eat dinner with their families. Few even know how to chill and just relax. Even vacations are often packed so full of activities and destinations that there is little time to actually experience what one is doing. I live near the U.S. Capitol, and observing how some people are so busy taking pictures of it, I wonder if they ever really see or experience the Capitol.

Even in the sacred liturgy we get things wrong today. Consider the following:

  1. It’s a First Holy Communion or perhaps a wedding. As the children come down the aisle, or perhaps the bride, dozens of cameras and cell phones are held aloft. Annoying flashes go off, creating a strobe effect. People scramble to get into better positions for a picture. In recent years, I have had to forbid the use of cameras. For a wedding, the bride and groom are permitted to hire a professional photographer. For First Holy Communion and Confirmation, we permit one professional photographer to take pictures for the entire group. But otherwise, I instruct the assembled people that the point of the Liturgy is to worship God, to pray, and to experience the Lord’s ministry to us. I insist that they put away their cameras and actually experience the Sacrament being celebrated and the mysteries unfolding before them.
  2. A few years ago, I was privileged to be among the chief clergy for a Solemn High Pontifical Mass in the Old Latin Form at the Basilica here in D.C. The liturgy was quite complicated, to be sure. We rehearsed the day before and as the rehearsal drew to a close I said to whole crew of clergy and servers, “OK, tomorrow during the Mass, don’t forget to worship God!” We all laughed because it is possible to get so wrapped up in thinking about what is next, and about what I have to do, that we forget to pray! The next day, I told God that no matter what, I was here to worship Him. I am grateful that He gave me a true spirit of recollection at that Mass. I did mix up a minor detail, but in the end, I experienced God and did not forget to worship Him. Success! Thank you, Lord!
  3. The Mass is underway in a typical Catholic parish. Something remarkable is about to happen: the Lord Jesus is going to speak through the deacon, who ascends the pulpit to proclaim the Gospel. Yes, that’s right, Jesus Himself will announce the Gospel to us. As the deacon introduces the Gospel, all are standing out of respect. And five hundred pairs of eyes are riveted … on the deacon? No! Many eyes are in fact riveted on the missalette. Halfway through the Gospel, the Church is filled with the sound of hundreds of people turning the pages of their missalettes (with one or two dropping them in the process). Sadly, most lose the experience of the proclamation of God’s Word with their heads buried in a missalette. They may as well have read it on their own. I know, some will argue that this helps them understand the reading better. But the Liturgy is meant to be experienced as a communal hearing of the Word proclaimed.
  4. I celebrate a good number of Wedding Masses in the Old Latin Form. Some years ago, a couple prepared a very elaborate booklet so that people could follow along and understand every detail of the Old Latin Mass. Of itself, it was a valuable resource. They asked me if, prior to Mass, I would briefly describe the booklet and how to use it. I went ahead and did so, but concluded my brief tour of the book by saying, “This is a very nice book and will surely make a great memento of today’s wedding. But if you want my advice, put it aside now and just experience a very beautiful Mass with all its mystery. If you have your head in a book you may miss it and forget to pray. Later on you can read it and study what you have experienced.” In other words, “Don’t think … Look!”
  5. In the ancient Church, the catechumens were initiated into the “Mysteries” (the Sacraments of Initiation) with very little prior instruction as to what would happen. They had surely been catechized in the fundamental teachings of the faith, but the actual details of the celebration of the Sacraments were not disclosed. They were Sacred Mysteries and the disciplina arcanis (the discipline of the secret) was observed. Hence, they simply experienced these things and were instructed as to their deeper meaning in the weeks that followed (in a process known as mystagogia). Hence, experience preceded analysis, understanding, and learning. And the very grace of the experience and the Sacraments provided the foundation for that understanding.

Well, I realize that this post will not be without some controversy. Let me be clear about one point: catechesis is important, but so is experience. And if we rush to analyze and decode everything, we miss a lot. I have taught on the liturgy extensively in this blog (http://blog.adw.org/tag/mass-in-slow-motion/) and will continue to do so. There is a time to study and learn, but there is also a time just to be still and experience what God is actually doing in every liturgy—indeed in every moment of our lives.

Two thumbs up and three cheers for experience.

I realize that some further distinctions ought to be made, but I want to leave that for you who comment. Have at it!

the-second-coming1In Advent, as we continue to meditate on the Parousia (the magnificent Second Coming of the Lord), we do well to allow our imaginations to be engaged in contemplating the glory that awaits those who are faithful, to meditate on the joy and ecstasy of the culmination of all things!

Though we have soberly meditated on the need to be ready and on the great danger that many who are not serious may be lost, for those who ARE ready, what glories await! The great and terrible day of the Lord will indeed be great for those who have allowed the Lord to prepare them.

I was stirred this past month in reading a magnificent book by Cardinal Jean Danielou on Angelology (usually pronounced an-GELL-o-gee), the study of angels. The book is entitled The Angels and their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. It is must reading and very accessible—only 114 pages—but packed full of stirring and edifying accounts of the wonderful works of the angels, according to Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.

The final chapters on the eschaton (the last things) and the Parousia (the Second Coming) are particularly magnificent. I would like to distill them here, adding some material and reworking it just a bit. However, the research is that of Jean Cardinal Danielou. I hope you will be stirred with as much joy and zeal as I was in reading and preparing this material. And thus we proceed:

Perhaps as a beginning point, we may wonder what happens to the ministry of our Guardian Angel when we die. Even if our souls are in heaven, our bodies are still awaiting the resurrection. Ancient Christian tradition maintains that during this time the angels keep watch over the tombs of the saints. In the Jewish apocalyptic book The Assumption of Moses, it is said that Joshua saw Moses’ soul rising to Heaven with the angels (40:1–7). However, the Epistle of Jude also says that the Archangel Michael fiercely disputed with the devil about the body of Moses (cf Jude 1:9). Stories such as these, combined with the ancient Christian practice of frequently depicting angels in cemetery art and funeral monuments, indicate a role for the angels in guarding the bodily remains of the elect, even those sadly scattered about or buried in the depths of the sea.

Scripture is replete with descriptions of the role of angels in the great Second Coming of the Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a text that may refer to 70 AD, but surely also describes the end of time:

Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt 24:30-31).

The first epistle to the Thessalonians also says,

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise … (1 Thess 4:16).

St Cyril goes on to describe the extraordinary magnificence that the presence of the immense multitude of angels gives to the final judgment. He considers how the great depth and breadth of the spiritual world has been invisible until now, except to the eyes of faith. But suddenly it is made manifest! He asks us to try to imagine the immense multitude of angels by considering the vast numbers of human beings who ever existed, from the time of Adam to the present day, now standing before the Lord Jesus. And then he asks us to imagine that the angels are vastly more numerous than we are. For they are the 99 sheep whereas humanity is but the one sheep! Such vast numbers can only be spoken of as myriads and myriads! Or as Daniel poetically says,

Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head like pure wool; His throne was flames of fire,  with wheels of burning fire. A river of fire surged forth,  flowing from where he sat;  Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,  and myriads upon myriads stood before him (Dan 7:9-10).

Such a vision and such multitudes can hardly be imagined.

Of course the first step in assembling this Great Judgement is to wake the dead. And the angels are surely part of this: 

The Second Sibylline Book, a Christian work, describes the archangels shattering the gates of death, raising up even the bodies of those who had been drowned in the sea or whom savage beasts had devoured (Sib, 2:214–235).

St. Ephrem speaks of the angels as waking the dead, and says,

Then the Lord will appear in the heavens like lightning with an unspeakable glory. The Angels and the Archangels will go on before his glory like flames of fire, like a mighty torrent. The Cherubim will turn their faces and the Seraphim will fly ahead crying out in fear: “Arise, you who sleep. Behold the bridegroom is coming!” Then the tombs will be opened and in the flash of an eye all the people will rise and behold the beauty of the Bridegroom.

St. Paul says that our bodies will rise, truly our bodies, but gloriously transformed:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:21).

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (1 Cor 15:42).

Then of course Comes the Judgment by Christ and the here too the angels execute that Judgement:

Matthew 13 describes the angels as separating the wicked from the just:

The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mat 14:41-43).

And Matthew 25 describes the angels as with Christ when He takes His judgment seat:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-32)

St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of the angels leading the sinners away, body and soul, “in the full sight of the armies of heaven and they will be unable to escape.” But the angels are also uniting the just.

So, on the one hand, Matthew 13 describes the angels leading evildoers away:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who caused others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace (Mat 13:41-42).

On the other hand, St Ephrem also goes on to describe the angels leading the elect to paradise:

Then the angels will come together from all sides and take up the holy and faithful people into the glory of the clouds above, to their meeting place with Christ.

Origen also speaks of the angels escorting the blessed to paradise:

When … we have begun to enter the holy place and pass on to the promised land, those who are really holy and whose place is the Holy of Holies will make their way, supported by the angels and unto the tabernacle of God … They will be carried on [the angels’] shoulders and raised up by their hands.

St Paul seems to speak to the same glory when he writes to the Thessalonians,

The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The Fathers of the Church then consider and imagine the joy (and relief) of the angels whose long work is now done. Of this final culmination, Scripture says,

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under [Jesus’] feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he [the Father] is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one (1 Cor 15:26-28).

And thus, having gone forth to execute judgment, Jesus now returns to His Father’s right, in the Holy Of Holies. He ascends there, now with all the members of His body (body and soul) joined to Him. He ascends to the throne as Unus Christus, amans seipsum (one Christ, loving Himself). And though co-equal to His Father in glory and majesty, He is delighted to hand over the Kingdom of His Body, the Church, to His Father, who is, as Father, the Principium Deitatis.

And at this ascension, the Fathers ponder that the angels will make the same declaration, the heavens echoing with their cry:

 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!  that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory?  The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24: 7-10)

And there shall then come to pass the transformation of all creation and the fulfillment of its longing for its share in the glorious freedom of the Children of God, as prophesied through St. Paul:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it [because of our sins]. But the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies … (Rom 8:19-25).

And now it comes! Heaven and earth are united and creation receives its original glory and more besides, for the heavenly realities are now joined to the earth, beautifully restored and raised. Again, as Scripture says,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:1-5).

Cardinal Danielou beautifully concludes,

On that day, the joy of the friends of the Bridegroom, [the angels] will be complete. They have led to paradise the souls of the just who are entrusted to them. They have kept watch over their mortal remains. But [for now] they still await the day in which the Bridegroom will come to look for his Bride, when her beauty is finally perfect, in order to lead her into the House of his Father for the eternal wedding feast (p. 114).

Of this magnificent beauty, St. Methodius says to us,

Oh dearly beloved, [the angels]  burn to see the day of your marriage, all the angels Christ has called from heaven. They will come, O Lord, O Word, and they will carry with them mighty gifts, in their spotless robes.

Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” … He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.  (Rev 22:17; 20-21).

ParousiaHere in the heart of Advent, we are considering how prepared we are for the Lord to come again. Either He will come to us or we will go to Him, but either way we must prepare. In today’s post I’d like to consider some teachings about the Day of Judgment, from an Advent hymn that most do not know is an Advent hymn. Tomorrow I would like to consider the great Parousia, wherein the saved enter into glory with the Lord.

Regarding the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, Judgment Day,” I am of the mind that one of the great treasures and masterpieces of the Church’s Gregorian Chant is the current sequence hymn for Latin Requiem Masses, the Dies Irae. This gorgeous chant was one of the more beautiful and soaring melodies of Gregorian Chant, and many composers such as Mozart and Verdi set the text to stirring musical compositions.

But the hymn was not in fact composed for funerals. Actually, it was composed, by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century, as an Advent hymn. Yes, that’s right, an Advent hymn. Don’t forget that Advent isn’t just about getting ready for Christmas; it is also about getting ready for the Second Coming of the Lord. And that is what this hymn is really about. At this time of year, as the the leaves fall and summer turns to winter, we are reminded of the passing of all things. The Gospels we read are those that remind us of death and the judgment to come.

Journey with me into the beauty and solemn majesty of this hymn. I will offer an inspiring English translation by W. J. Irons, one that preserves the meter and renders the Latin well enough. (You can see the Latin Text along with English here: Dies Irae.) I will also offer the scriptural verses that serve as background to the text.

The syllables of this magnificent hymn hammer away in trochaic dimeter: Dies irae dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla, teste David cum Sybila!  Perhaps at times it is a bit heavy, but at the same time, no hymn more beautifully sets forth a basis for God’s mercy. The dark clouds of judgment part and give way to the bright beauty of the final line: Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem (Sweet Jesus Lord, give them [the dead] rest).

The hymn opens on the Day of Judgment warning that the day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin. God’s wrath is His passion to set things right. And now it is time to put an end to wickedness and lies:

    • Day of wrath and doom impending,
    • Heaven and earth in ashes ending:
    • David’s words with Sibyl’s blending.

Yes, all are struck with a holy fear! No one and no thing can treat this moment lightly: all are summoned to holy fear. The bodies of the dead come forth from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet and all of creation will answer to Jesus, the Judge and Lord of all. Consider two scriptural roots to this first verse:

  1. (Zeph 1:15-18) A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
  2. (2 Peter 3:10-13) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up … the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!

The “Sibyl” referred to here is most likely the Erythraean Sibyl, who wrote an acrostic on the name of the Christ in the Sibylline Oracles. These will figure prominently in tomorrow’s meditation on the Parousia.

And now the stunning, opening stunning scene of creation. All have been set aghast; our rapt attention turns to Jesus, who has come to judge the living and the dead and the whole world by fire:

    • Oh what fear man’s bosom rendeth
    • When from heaven the judge descendeth
    • On whose sentence all dependeth!
    • Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
    • Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
    • All before the throne it bringeth.
    • Death is struck and nature quaking,
    • All creation is awaking,
    • To its judge an answer making.
    • Lo the book exactly worded,
    • Wherein all hath been recorded,
    • Thence shall judgment be awarded.
    • When the Judge his seat attaineth,
    • And each hidden deed arraigneth:
    • Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Here, too, many Biblical texts are brought to mind and masterfully united. Here are just a few of them:

  1. (Matt 25:31-33) When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left …
  2. (Matt 24:30-32)  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. And then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.  And he shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them.
  3. (Rev 20:12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
  4. (Rom 2:4-6) Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works:
  5. Luke 12:3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
  6. 2 Peter 3:14 and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

So, Judgment shall be according to our deeds; whatever is in the Book! Ah, but also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy. And so our hymn turns to pondering the need for mercy, and appeals to God for that mercy, basing it on the very will of God to save us. Was He not to be called Jesus because He would save us from our sins? (Mt 1:21) Did not God so love the world that He sent His own Son? And did He not come to save rather than condemn? (Jn 3:16-17) Did He not endure great sorrows and the cross itself to save us? Ah, Lord, do not now forsake me as I ponder my last end. Keep me faithful unto death!

    • What shall I frail man be pleading?
    • Who for me be interceding?
    • When the just are mercy needing?
    • King of majesty tremendous,
    • Who does free salvation send us,
    • Font of pity then befriend us.
    • Think kind Jesus, my salvation,
    • Caused thy wondrous incarnation:
    • Leave me not to reprobation.
    • Faint and weary thou hast sought me:
    • On the cross of suffering bought me:
    • Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
    • Righteous judge for sin’s pollution,
    • Grant thy gift of absolution,
    • Before the day of retribution.
    • Guilty now I pour my moaning:
    • All my shame and anguish owning:
    • Spare, O God my suppliant groaning.
    • Through the sinful Mary shriven,
    • Through the dying thief forgiven,
    • Thou to me a hope has given.

Yes, there is a basis for hope! God is rich in mercy. Pondering the Day of Judgment is salutary, since for now we can call on that mercy. For of that day, though there will be wailing and grinding of teeth at a just condemnation, such tears will be of no avail then (Mt 13:42). Please Lord, let me not be with the goats at the left, but with the sheep on the right (Mt 25:33). And in the end, it is only grace and mercy that can see us through that day. Only you, Jesus, can save me from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10):

    • Worthless are my tears and sighing:
    • Yet good Lord in grace complying,
    • Rescue me from fire undying.
    • With thy sheep a place provide me,
    • From the goats afar divide me,
    • To thy right hand do thou guide me.
    • When the wicked are confounded,
    • Doomed to flames of woe unbounded:
    • Call me with thy saints surrounded.
    • Lo I kneel with heart-submission,
    • See like ashes my contrition:
    • Help me in my last condition.

And now comes the great summation: that day is surely coming! Grant me O Lord your grace to be ready; prepare me:

    • Lo, that day of tears and mourning,
    • from the dust of earth returning.
    • Man for judgment must prepare him,
    • Spare O God, in mercy spare him.
    • Sweet Jesus Lord most blest,
    • Grant the dead eternal rest.

It is a masterpiece of beauty and truth, if you ask me. Some years ago, I memorized most of it. I sing it from time to time over in Church late at night, the hauntingly beautiful chant ringing through her echoing arches. When I die, please sing it at my funeral! For I go to the Lord, the judge of all, and only grace and mercy will see me through. Perhaps the plaintive calls of the choir below at my funeral will resonate to the very heavens as I am judged. Amen.