Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How To Be In, But Not Of, The World

Shaw’s Thesis

Russell Shaw
      Everyone wants to know what Pope Francis is really up to.  Is he the warm and fuzzy fulfillment of the “Spirit of Vatican II”?  Is he really another John Paul II or Benedict XVI in “progressive” clothing?  Who knows?  Russell Shaw comes up with as plausible an answer as any – really, better than most.  The Pope, he says, wants “to reshape the Catholic Church as a Missionary Church” (“Wanted: An American Missionary Church – Soon” here at The Catholic Thing).  Shaw cites Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which the Pope says:

All of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth.” Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all “the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel” [20]

“This”, Shaw tells us, “should be taken seriously”.  But he also adds that “taking up the challenge of being a Missionary Church would be a far more demanding – and exhilarating – project than this one-dimensional version of Francis and the Church” (he’s referring to the fluffy, easy-going, “who am I to judge?” image of the Pope popular with progressive types both in the Church and in the secular media).
     I don’t doubt that Shaw is correct that Pope Francis intends to encourage a more missionary ethos in the Church; it is also true that putting this ethos into practice is no easy task.  The Pope, quite properly, has presented a general direction; he has not dictated a concrete program or detailed plan, which leaves room for Catholic commentators like Mr. Shaw (and me - and you, if you’d like) to toss out our own ideas. 

The Assimilated Church and the Fortress Church

     Shaw turns his discussion at this point to the Church in the United States (although this discussion can apply to westernized countries in general).  Here is how he characterizes the issue:
Taking him seriously also could be a matter of survival, or something close to it.  Certainly, unless American Catholicism remakes itself as a Missionary Church, actively engaged in outreach to the world, it could become a rapidly, and irreversibly, shrinking ecclesiastical entity.

     The alternatives to a missionary Church for American Catholics are two and only two: the Assimilated Church and the Fortress Church.

Shaw goes on to explain that

In the Assimilated Church, most Catholics will have been homogenized into the values of American secular culture and become parts of it.  Indeed, many American Catholics already have chosen this option . . .

The Fortress Church, on the other hand,

Is fundamentally different.  If this is to be the future, Catholics will have largely withdrawn – psychologically, spiritually, and even physically – from contact with secular culture, raising the ecclesiastical ramparts against its influence as they retreat.  The Fortress Church is already disturbingly evident in some elements of the new Catholic subculture that’s begun to emerge.  It is a survival tactic born of desperation.

By contrast, while American Catholicism as Missionary Church will also be committed to opposing secular values incompatible with the faith, it will work hard to preach the Gospel, attract adherents, and, where, possible, evangelize the culture itself.

This is where Mr. Shaw takes a wrong turn.  I agree with what he says about the Assimilated Church - one might argue that many, maybe most, American Catholics are there already.  It seems to me that in the case of the Fortress Church, however, he’s putting up a straw man.  I don’t doubt that such a thing is a possibility, a fortress mentality may well take hold in the case of some individuals or in isolated pockets of the Church, but what I’ve seen of the “emerging Catholic subculture” looks nothing like what Mr. Shaw is describing above.

The Valley Forge Gambit

     It’s hard for me to be specific here, because Shaw does not say what, specifically, he finds so alarming in that “subculture”.  I’m supposing that he means things such as homeschooling, doing away with television, attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and other apparent “retreats” from the societal norm. These things, however, don’t necessarily mean closing oneself off from the larger world.  In fact, just such measures may be necessary if one is to be an effective missionary to the world, which includes both Assimilated Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
     A historical analogy may help illustrate my point.  In 1776 George Washington led his large and enthusiastic but largely untrained army against a combined force of British regulars and Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Brooklyn [here].  His inexperienced Continental Army was simply not prepared for the shock of its encounter with professional soldiers, and collapsed in a disastrous rout. After Washington was subsequently driven from New York, he withdrew his army to the relative protection of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Had Washington and his army stayed in Valley Forge, of course, the war would eventually have been lost.   Instead, temporarily safe from enemy attack his army was able to reform, refit (at least after Congress voted the funds) and receive solid military training under the supervision Friedrich Von Steuben, a European soldier who had served as an officer in Frederick the Great’s Prussian Army.  As a result, a much better prepared Continental Army met the British two years later at the Battle of Monmouth [here] and fought them to a standstill, and but for the inept leadership of one of Washington’s subordinates, General Charles Lee, might have won a decisive victory.  As it was, the British withdrew leaving Washington in possession of the battlefield.

Von Steuben drilling American troops at Valley Forge 

     This, I suggest, is a better analogy for what is happening among many American Catholics than Shaw’s fortress.  The culture at large has become toxic: anti-family, anti-morality . . . anti-God.  It is dangerous to immerse themselves in it, deadly to allow our children to be formed by it.  We need to equip ourselves properly before going out into such a world, or else we’ll fare no better than the Continental Army did in the Battle of Brooklyn. In fact, we may be more likely to be converted by the world than we are to convert it.  We need some space and time in a healthier atmosphere, away from the temptations and onslaughts of the secular world.  We need to train ourselves in our faith, both its meaning and its practice.  We need our own Valley Forge, and the religious equivalent of Von Steuben before we can be that Missionary Church that Pope Francis is calling us to be.  And that's what the subculture that Shaw sees emerging is all about.

Did Someone Say “Clericalism”?

     Russell Shaw, who has been a fine observer of and commenter upon the Catholic scene in the United States for a long time, has got this one wrong because he only sees part of the picture.  He believes that our biggest problem is “clericalism” (!) in the form of a “passivity” that assumes that the ordained clergy will do all the heavy lifting:

Thus a plan of action designed for execution only or mainly by Church professionals won’t do the job.  Unfortunately, this is what we’re all too likely to get from the clericalized  cadres of today’s American Catholicism, indoctrinated as they are in the merits of lay ministry and cut off from the experience of a robust lay apostolate directed to engagement with the world.

With all due respect to Mr. Shaw, he seems completely unaware of the new ecclesial movements (Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Focolare, etc.), composed mostly of lay people, and most of which have an explicit goal of better equipping the laity to witness to Christ “out in the world”.  He makes no mention of a whole Apologetics Industry that includes Catholic television, radio, print publications, and more online resources than can be listed here.  None of these resources, created and staffed overwhelmingly by lay persons, existed fifty years ago at the time of the Second Vatican Council.  I regularly listen to one Catholic radio program that at least once a week has programs restricted to calls from non-Catholics, or from Atheists, or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage callers – and they never seem to run out of such callers.  That’s hardly a fortress mentality.  And it’s worth pointing out that homeschooled students tend to be more socially involved than the population as a whole, both as teens and adults (see here and here).

What Do You Want First, The Good News Or The Bad News?

     Am I saying that all is well, and that the Church in the United States is the picture of spiritual health?  No, indeed.  The statistics that Mr. Shaw cites to illustrate the decline of the Church are real and sobering:

According to the Official Catholic Directory, from 1998 tom 2013 the annual number of Catholic marriages dropped from 289,000 to 164,000; infant baptisms from just over 1 million to 763,000; enrollment in Catholic elementary and secondary schools from 2.7 million to barely 2 million; and enrollment in non-school religious education from 4.3 million to 3.4 million.

The logical end point of assimilation is to become so assimilated that one ceases to be Catholic altogether.  At the same time, there’s a growing core of lay Catholics who are committed to living a truly Christ-centered life, and who are likewise committed to bringing the faith in its fullness to both their fallen-away brethren and to the wider world.  They fit very nicely, in fact, Russell Shaw’s description of the Missionary Church: “committed to opposing secular values incompatible with the faith, [working] hard to preach the Gospel, attract adherents, and, where, possible, evangelize the culture itself.”

There lies the future of Catholicism.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Franz Joseph Haydn, Te Deum in C

I must yet again thank R.J. Stover for his piece [here] "Too Late Have I Loved Thee: On The Genius Of Franz Joseph Haydn" on the Catholic World Report Site.  Because of this article I've been listening to some fantastic music over the last few weeks, such as today's selection, a musical setting to the ancient hymn Te Deum. So, thanks again, R.J. Stover - but I'm still not clear on why we have to stop calling Haydn "Papa" . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (17 August 2014)

Friday was the Feast of the Assumption
    Welcome once more to “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”.  Indeed, one might even call it a Catholic Blogfest (then again, one might not) in which various of us share our posts for the week, both with each other and with you. The main gathering is at This That and the Other Thing [here], in the capable hands of our fearless leader RAnn.

A Lesson Learned

     Here at Principium et Finis I’ve been learning that Summer isn’t the best blogging season, at least not this Summer.  A number of factors have conspired to keep me away from my computer (I hope you notice that I managed to avoid the overworked phrase “A Perfect Storm”).  One result has been that I have been including things in the “Sunday Snippets” posts that I had been trying to publish earlier in the week, but ran out of time.  That hasn’t really been a bad thing, since I like to make this post worth reading in its own right, and not just a laundry list of earlier pieces.  And by declaring someone the “Saint of the Week”, I can talk about him or her a few days after the official feast day without raising too many eyebrows, can’t I?

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of the Week

     This week, unfortunately, I barely even started writing the Saint post before Sunday afternoon.  And that’s too bad, because this past Thursday was the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, one of the Great Saints of the past century, a Saint to whom I have a personal devotion, and one of the Patrons of this blog.  The good news is that there were many wonderful tributes on the internet to St. Maximilian (including some by other contributors to “Sunday Snippets” -  here’s the main site again!).  I’ll limit myself to a few brief comments.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
     Maximilian Kolbe was truly a great Saint.  A Conventual Franciscan, he was both a very learned and a very holy man, but at the same time had a wonderful way of connecting with ordinary people.  He made teaching the faith a major part of his religious mission, for which reason he founded the Militia Immaculatae,whose members are known as Knights of the Immaculata, Soldiers for Christ the King under the command of His Blessed Mother.  He also made a point of establishing publications to teach and evangelize, both in Europe and in Japan, where he served as a missionary in the city of Nagasaki in the years before World War II.  Back in his native Poland during the war, he was arrested and sent to the death camp at Auschwitz by the Nazis, where he died a martyr’s death, offering to die in the place of another prisoner.

     St. Maximilian is a Patron of this blog for several reasons.  His self-sacrificing death and refusal to accommodate himself to Nazism make him an inspiring model in a world that continues to be threatened by inhuman ideologies.  His sense that he and his companions were missionaries not only to non-Christians but also to a Christendom badly in need of re-Evangelization was a precursor to the New Evangelization proclaimed by St. Maximilian’s fellow Pole St. John Paul II (and a theme of the current Pope, as I will discuss in the coming week). Also, his commitment to taking full advantage of modern means of communication make him a natural Saint for Catholic bloggery (if he were with us today, he’d be all over the internet). Finally, as a Knight of the Immaculata myself, I see my blog as a small contribution on my part to St. Maximilian’s mission of evangelization.

The Week That Was

     In keeping with my observations at the top of the page, it was a slow week at Principium et Finis, but there were a few items of note:

 Monday – The Haydn revival continues, with another dramatic excerpt from Pap . . . er . . .the composer’s Mass in Time of War: “Joseph Haydn – Missa in Tempore Belli, ‘Agnus Dei’” [here]

Tuesday – This is the sort of piece that my Lovely Bride calls a “screed”, but I’m just telling it the way it is.  There are people out there (those Islamic State fellows in Iraq, for instance) who play hardball, as we say here in the U.S.A.  Do you think we can buy them off with Happy Talk and a Friendship Bracelet? “If They Do Not Rise To Meet That Challenge, They Will Lose Their Civilization” [here

Thursday – The Morning Prayer piece in my series on the Liturgy of the Hours: “Lauds: Our Daily Orientation (LOH 6 Throwback Thursday Edition)” [here]

RAnn’s Question of the Week: What did you do on your summer vacation?

I worked full time at Wal-Mart (not a bad second job, really), made numerous medical appointments to treat deer tick bites to both me and one of my sons (after a couple of months, my son was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease), and did lots of family stuff, such as going to the beach (where I took cool photos of my feet in the surf), watching a lot of Marx Brothers movies and old episodes of Get Smart, and preparing my eldest son to go off to college (a Catholic college that is actually, well, Catholic). Oh, and a little blogging on the side . . . 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lauds: Our Daily Orientation (LOH 6 Throwback Thursday Edition)

     In my latest discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours I’ll take a look at Morning Prayer, traditionally known as Lauds.  While one may pray the Office  Readings first, Lauds is specifically designed to start us on our daily journey.

The Structure of the Office

"The Birth of St. John the Baptist" by Giuliano Bugiardini
    First, a few words on the structure of this office.   If it’s the first office of the day we start with the Invitatory [link]; otherwise, as in the other offices, we start with “Lord open my lips/and my mouth will proclaim your praise” followed by a “Glory be . . . “.   This is followed by the psalmody where, unlike the Office of Readings, we find two psalms with an Old Testament canticle of comparable length in between.  All three are followed the “Glory Be”, and are bracketed by antiphons.  The particular reading and antiphons follow a four-week cycle, and there may also be other antiphons for particular times, such as Holy Week or Easter.

     Next comes a brief scripture reading, normally only a couple of verses.  These vary more widely by the season (there are different readings for Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter) and, often by particular Holy Days.  This is followed by a three-part responsory, which also varies according to the liturgical calendar.  For Friday of the Third Week of Lent, for example, the responsory is:

            God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
                        - God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
            From those who would trap me with lying words.
                        -And from the hunter’s snare.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                        - God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.

     The Canticle of Zechariah, or the Benedictus, always follows the responsory.  This Gospel Canticle is the song of praise proclaimed by Zechariah after his voice has been returned to him at the naming of his son, John the Baptist. It is also preceded and followed by antiphons determined by the liturgical calendar.
     The office ends with a series of intercessions and a closing prayer which, yet again, accord with the season or Holy Day.

Our Daily Orientation

     I have always appreciated the way in which this office “orients” me at the beginning of the day.  Any morning prayer or offering can be expected to direct our attention to our relationship with our creator, and Lauds certainly does that.  Moreover, the canticles are passages that we might not ordinarily see: the Canticle of Hannah, for instance,(1 Samuel 2:1-10), a precursor to Mary’s Magnificat; a canticle from the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 3, that includes the evocative line “decay invades my bones”; or the triumphant song chanted by the Hebrews after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1):

            I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant,
            Horse and chariot he has cast into the sea . . . .

This last is reputed to be one of the oldest (at least in its present form) passages in the Bible.
     But the office of Morning Prayer does more than that.  It does not just orient us as individuals to God: It orients us to the whole scope of Salvation history.  For instance, every Friday the penitential Psalm 51 opens the office:

            Have mercy on me God, in your kindness.
            In your compassion blot out my offense.
            O wash me more and more from my guilt
            And cleanse me from my sin.

This prayer and others in the Office remind us of the fact that on Friday we focus in a special way on Christ’s suffering for our salvation.
     We also start our day with a specific celebration of the liturgical season, or a particular solemnity or saint’s day, which has a much greater impact than if we should happen to remember it (or not) at some point during the course of the day.  The overall effect is that it brings us out of ourselves and unites us in prayer to the entire Church, which is saying the same prayer throughout the world, and which lives the same faith throughout time.  What better way to greet the new day?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"If They Do Not Rise To Meet That Challenge, They Will Lose Their Civilization"

    It’s never completely safe to be a Christian in this world.  In my recent Sunday Snippets post [here] I briefly discussed the plight of Christians in Iraq, who are facing brutal persecution at the hands of ISIS, an armed movement embracing a particularly virulent strain of radical Islam. I illustrated the post with the Arabic “N”, with which ISIS terrorists target Christian homes, and which has since become an emblem of solidarity and a badge of honor for Christians around the world.
The Fall of Rome
     That explicit identification as Christians, and with other Christians, is vitally important. I made the point the week before [here] that radical Islam would pose little threat to “a Christendom united in Faith and fortified with Prayer”. Unfortunately, what had been Christendom is rapidly de-Christianizing, which creates a twofold threat, both from within and from without.  The external threat, a radicalized and aggressive Islam, still looks fairly distant to those of us in the United States; it looks a lot more formidable in Europe.  There, a growing, poorly assimilated, and increasingly alienated and hostile  Muslim population is combining with the forces of societal destruction under the guise of “multiculturism” to attack the very basis of historic (which means, essentially, Christian) European culture, as described by Joseph Pearce in a piece that is appearing on Life Site News [here].  The article is well worth reading in its entirety; the best summation of Pearce’s point comes in a quote from actor John Rhys-Davies, who played the dwarf Gimli in the screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Rhys-Davies says: “I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged, and if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization”.  Since the actor first spoke these words several years ago, the concrete evidence of their truth has been rapidly multiplying, and so although the multi-culti wrecking ball pounds on, an increasing number of Europeans are starting to see multiculturalism for the civilizational suicide that it is.
     To those of us in the United States, events in Iraq can seem very far away, especially now that there are no longer many of our countrymen serving there under arms.  The incidence of jihadism here can be seen as sporadic, with only a few serious incidents (9/11, the Fort Hood Massacre), and the local Muslim population is still quite small and has shown only scattered signs of radicalization – so far.  The heedless dismantling of our culture from within, however, proceeds apace.  I’ll provide just two recent examples.  First, the College Board, which through the content of its Advanced Placement (AP) exams determines the curriculum of thousands of high school classes around the country, has come with a new AP American History [article here] course that omits great Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, jr.  Instead it emphasizes impersonal “historical forces” - and not so much those familiar to earlier generations of students like the development of democratic institutions and religious tolerance.  From the Fox News article: 

“ . . . you’re not going to find Thomas Jefferson and the House of Burgesses and the cradle of democracy either,” said Larry Krieger, who retired in 2005 after more than three decades in the classroom.  And finally, you’re not going to find Benjamin Franklin and the birth of American entrepreneurialism . . . what you’re going to find is our nation’s founders portrayed as bigots who developed a belief in white superiority . . .”

The article adds that students will find, overall, “a narrative laden with tyranny and subjugation.”  As if it’s not enough that individual classes are convincing young people that their country is and always has been irredeemably corrupt, we now have entire schools dedicated to the purpose – at your expense.  We now have “social justice” charter schools [here], government schools funded with taxpayer money.  And while the term social justice has an honorable origin in Catholic social teaching, it has long since been hijacked by the left.  No, the students at these schools won’t be studying Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, they’ll be training in “social activism”, a.k.a. leftist political agitation.  All of which means that in certain localities in the United States we’ll have the curious phenomenon of the government expending public funds to set up public schools dedicated to training young people to tear it all down. 
     Tearing it all down is the program of the cultural and political left, whether we’re talking about multi-culturalism, the redefinition of marriage, revisionist history, or Robin Hood economic activism.  They don’t even pretend anymore to have a coherent positive vision of what might replace all the institutions they seek to eradicate.  Not that it would help much if they did: every attempt to build a society hatched in the brains of men (e.g., the French Revolution, Soviet Communism) on the ruins of those that had developed over time in response to the real needs and experiences of human beings has been a disaster.   Bloody, inhuman disaster, such as is still playing out in North Korea.  In similar fashion, the man-made religion of Islam has had a track record over the past millennium and a half of spawning anti-human horrors such the one currently on display in Iraq.     The most profound and radical revolution in human history, on the other hand, was the transformation of the Greco-Roman civilization by the unlikely spread of Christianity.  It was no mere human idea, but the revelation of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ that subdued “the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” (props to Edgar Allan Poe).  And notice that the Church didn’t destroy and replace the institutions of the Roman Empire, but rather “baptized” them and made them the bulwarks of a more humane culture [for more on that, see here].  When Rome did fall to invaders from the North, the Church worked the same transformation on the newcomers.
     And now here we are in a society that wants to do away with both the Church of Jesus Christ and the institutions passed on by our ancestors.  Do we really think that the empty shell that will be left can stand against the legions of the New Caliphate, or any other motivated and determined conqueror from without or within?


Monday, August 11, 2014

Joseph Haydn - Missa In Tempore Belli, "Agnus Dei"

More powerful music from Haydn's Mass in Time of War, this time the "Agnus Dei", the Lamb of God.  Agnus Dei, Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, Agnus Dei, Qui tollis peccata requiem, dona nobis requiem.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (10 August 2014)

   Welcome once more to “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, Where Catholic bloggers share their posts for the past week in a veritable smorgasbord of Catholic bloggery.  The main gathering is here at This That and the Other Thing, home of our hostess RAnn.   Before we get to the past week’s posts at Principium et Finis, however, I’d like to make a couple of brief comments on the image that accompanies this post.

       We know that Jesus Christ will triumph in the end, and that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18). As for me, or you, or particular Christian peoples or even local churches there are no guarantees.  We can see the latest example in the ancient city of Mosul in Iraq.  There has been an unbroken Christian presence in the city since the earliest decades of the Church . . . or rather, had been: the last Christian, it seems, has left, driven out by the jihadists of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has seized large portions of northern Iraq where it has offered the Christians living there the choice of conversion, departure, or death.  Many have died, more have departed (but I have not heard of many conversions).
     The symbol above is a reminder of the horrific events in Iraq.  I first starting seeing it on Twitter a few weeks ago, but it took me some time to find out what it was, except that it looked like an Arabic letter (which, truth be told, made me a little wary).  As it turns out, that’s exactly what it is: the Arabic character that represents the sound “N”. It is also the mark that ISIS terrorists paint on the walls of Christians’ homes in Iraq (for Nazara, i.e., Christian, a follower of the Nazarene) in order to target them for terror more conveniently.  It has now been taken up by Christians around the world both as a sign of solidarity with Christians suffering in Iraq and other Muslim countries (and wherever else they might be persecuted), but also as a sort of badge, a proud emblem of Christian faith (I have added the words "Christian Forever" to the image on my blog to make it clear to those who might be unfamiliar with it that this is intended as a bold statement of Christian Faith).
     The Christians in Iraq badly need our prayers; they also need our material help.  Their plight serves as a stark reminder to us that the way of Christ is the way of the Cross.  Following Jesus means making enemies, and even in a place as seemingly safe as the United States there are growing challenges to Christian believers, to the Church, and the culture that has been handed on to us by our forebears. 

     But more about that next week; today is for snippets from the week past, in which we talked about War, Peace, and Prayer:

The next installment in my little Haydn revival, and what could be more fitting? “Haydn – ‘Benedictus’ from Mass in Time of War (Missa in Tempore Belli)” [here]

The official word is out: the Sign of Peace is staying put, but could we all just tone it down a little? “Peace, Baby” [here]

Part five of the series on the Liturgy of the Hours looks at the Office of Readings; the title says it all. “Feed Your Mind And Soul: The Office of Readings (LOH 5 – Throwback Thursday Edition)” [here]

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Feed Your Mind and Soul: The Office of Reading (LOH 5 Throwback Thursday Edition)

St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
 In today’s post on the Liturgy of the Hours we are taking a look at The Office of Readings.  This office was traditionally called Matins, and took place in the middle of the night, where it was considered to be the first office of the day.  In the reformed Liturgy the Church has untethered it, so to speak, from any fixed time so that it can be said at any time of day.
     We should take this independence from an appointed time as a sign of how important the Church considers this office to be: she wants us to have every opportunity to pray it, regardless of the hour.  It is different from the other offices in that it contains fewer prayers and much longer scripture readings; not only that, it includes non-scriptural readings from the Saints and from magisterial Church documents. The result is an office whose rewards are not only spiritual but educational, and the whole of which is greater than the sum of the parts.
     Let’s first take a look at the structure of the Office of Readings. When it is not preceded by the Invitatory [link], it begins as do the other offices:

            God, come to my assistance.
`           Lord, make haste to help me.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
            And to the Holy Spirit:
            As it was in the beginning, is now,
            And will be forever.  Amen.

     The Psalmody comes next, consisting of three psalm readings, each either a complete psalm or several stanzas from a longer one, preceded and followed by brief antiphons.  After the psalmody and a very brief verse and response we find the first reading, a scriptural reading normally in the range of 500-600 words long; these are normally arranged so that very large portions of the various books of the Bible are covered over a period of a week or two.   After a short responsory there is a non-Biblical reading, often from the Fathers of the Church, sometimes written by the Saint whose feast falls on that day.  After another short responsory there is a closing prayer; on important feast days the closing prayer is preceded by the ancient hymn of praise Te Deum (see below).
     These long readings are one of the treasures of the reformed office.  If I were not praying the Office, I doubt I would have found the time or occasion to read so much of books such as Esther or Revelation.  But there’s more to it than that.  This isn’t simply reading: it’s very much like the practice of Lectio Divina in which we are not only taking in the words of Holy Scripture, but also offering up them up to God.  One result of the liturgical prayers and the psalms in the first part of the office, in addition to being themselves an offering of prayer, is that they put us into a sort of “prayer state” in which we are receptive to the words of scripture in a way that just doesn't happen when we are reading in an ordinary way.
     The non-Scriptural readings also deserve a special mention.  There is an impressive variety of authors to teach and inspire us. To take a random sample, on the ten days from March 19th through March 28th of this year there are readings from: St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Basil the Great, St. Leo the Great, St. Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, and St. Gregory the Great.  It is unlikely that I would have assembled this list of writers on my own, very unlikely indeed that I could have chosen such consistent quality of selections.  Although they are not inspired in the sense that Holy Scripture is, they all have the approval of the Church to which Christ granted authority to act in His Name on Earth.  While none of the authors above is infallible (and Tertullian, for one, actually ended his life a heretic), we know that the passages we find in the Office of Readings are free from doctrinal error; more than that, they are not only endorsed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, they are offered to us as part of her daily liturgy as nourishment for both our mind and spirit.
     I have found the Office of Readings to be an unexpected source of enrichment over the dozen or so years I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  With the internet resources that are available today it is easier than ever to do.   

See also:

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.

To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the King of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.

You overcame the sting of death,
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.

We believe that you will come, and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Peace, Baby!

     In his indispensable book Why Catholics Can’t Sing Thomas Day recounts an incident that occurred shortly after the ancient practice of the Sign of Peace had been reinstated in the Latin Rite Mass.  He turned at the appropriate time to an elderly woman who had been piously praying over her rosary beads and extended his hand.  The woman, says Day, responded with a curt “I don’t believe in that s - - t”, and returned to her rosary.
     While not everyone has quite as negative a view as Day’s pious fellow congregant, there have continued to be concerns about the role of the Sign of Peace (also known as the Kiss of Peace) in the Mass.  Nine years ago the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments made a formal decision to examine the role of the Sign of Peace, especially whether it should be moved to another part of the Mass.  According to the Catholic News Service, the Congregation has finally issued its report (article here).
     As to the question of whether to move the Sign of Peace, the Congregation has decided to leave it where it is, for now at least.  That is not to say, however, that all is well as it is.  According to the CNS article, the Congregation

asked bishops to study whether it might be time to find “more appropriate gestures” to replace a sign of peace using “familiar and profane gestures of greeting.”

That sounds good to me.  I’m all for anything that leads to more reverence at Mass and makes it seem less like a business meeting – or a cocktail party.  The letter also asks bishops to discourage abuses, such as congregants (or priests) leaving their places to give the sign of peace, or using it as an occasion to exchange other greetings (“Peace be with you – and happy birthday!”) or even (this is a new one on me, but someone must be doing it) accompanying it with a “song for peace”.
     This sounds like a step in the right direction.  The Sign of Peace should not be obtrusive.  Really, it doesn’t need to be done at all: it’s optional.  All the same, I can’t recall ever seeing it omitted, and I have often seen most of the disruptive abuses noted above.  At high school student Masses the Sign of Peace general erupts into a frenzy of wide-ranging glad handing, backslapping, and general good fellowship that could, and would, go on for a very long time if permitted.  While things rarely get so rowdy in the parish church, one will often see the same thing on a smaller scale.  It’s conceivable that some people might get the impression that the Sign of Peace is really one of the high points of the Mass.
     Well, what if they do get that impression?  Would that be so bad?  Yes, it would.  Here’s the problem: the Mass is our most direct and profound encounter with Jesus Christ, and it is centered upon the Eucharist, the “Source and Summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).  A raucous outbreak of joviality among ourselves between the Consecration and the reception of Communion not only detracts from an appropriate sense of reverence at this most solemn part of the Mass, but also draws our attention away from the miracle of the Eucharist.  We need to remember that the word “communion” when we speak of the Eucharist means communion with Christ, the God made Man, through the reception of his body and blood; our communion with each other is only through Christ.  This is most emphatically what we call a “vertical” relationship: we people “down here” directing ourselves to God, in the person of Jesus Christ, “up there”.  The interruption of a very “horizontal” relationship, that is you and I directing attention to each other, threatens to distort our understanding of the true significance of what we are experiencing, particularly if the horizontal seems to be receiving more emphasis.
     So, yes, the letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments is a good first step.  We should hope to see some real follow-up on its recommendations.  In explaining why the Sign of Peace will remain where it is in the Latin Rite Mass, the Congregation says that it relates to “the ‘paschal kiss’ of the risen Christ present on the altar”, and points out that it immediately precedes the moment in which “the Lamb of God is implored to give us his peace”.  The letter further explains:

Christ is our peace, the divine peace, announced by the prophets and by the angels, and which he brought to the world by means of his paschal mystery.

The Sign of Peace is really all about Christ, not about us.  If that reality can be clearly taught and practiced, maybe even Thomas Day’s skeptical pew mate will be satisfied.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Haydn - "Benedictus" from Mass in Time of War (Missa in Tempore Belli)

Haydn's comeback continues.  When isn't it a "Time of War"?  And, to continue a theme from last week, the war in "Heavenly places", as St. Paul put it, will continue until Christ comes in glory.  Meanwhile, another magnificent composition from one of the great ones.