Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Of his own accord

There has been a lot of talk over the last several months about an impending Motu Proprio from Pope Benedict XVI which would relax the restriction placed on the Mass as it was said prior to the Second Vatican Council (i.e. according to the 1962 Missale Romanum). This Mass is the Mass promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1570 (called the Tridentine Mass these days because it was promulgated after the Council of Trent) and used in the Roman Church until 1962. The current Mass of Pope Paul VI became the norm in 1970.

I would never have thought I would have had an interest in this matter, but about a year and a half ago, I attended a Tridentine Mass at St. Patrick's Church in New Orleans. To my surprise, I was profoundly affected by it. The quiet reverence, the chanting voices of the choir, the clouds of incense filling the Church with the aroma of jasmine, the unbelievable focus of the ministers at the altar and the congregation; the whole experience was overwhelmingly beautiful. I have never seen attending Mass in the same light since. I am also keenly aware of abuses which occur in the Mass of Pope Paul VI.

Case in point: at our parish, the beginning of Mass is not heralded by the ringing of a bell to which the choir begins chanting the Introit as the priest and servers process in. It is heralded by a "commentator" saying, "Welcome to Our Lady of the Lake. Today is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Celebrant is ______ and our Deacon is ________. If you wish to follow the readings they can be found on page _____. " Why do I have issue with this? Because it is unnecessary. If you are sitting in the pew and hear this, it is unlikely that you will suddenly come to the realization that, "What?! I thought this was First Baptist!" If you must know what Sunday it is in the liturgical calendar, look in the bulletin.

I suppose I have most issue with the next two statements. First, we have come to encounter Christ, not Fr. _____ and Deacon _______. When the name of the priest and deacon are announced, Christ becomes secondary to Fr. ______ and Deacon ________. As far as announcing where you must turn to follow the readings, this is not the way our faith has been handed on. The readings are proclaimed from the ambo. They are meant to be received by your ear because the spoken word is alive. The written word is merely a symbolic representation of the spoken word on paper. It is the human voice which brings it to life. When we read along as it is being proclaimed, our brains are doing two things at one time, so we cannot be fully focused on the word being proclaimed. We are distracted.

The commentator shows up again after the general intercessions to announce who is bringing up the gifts. Why? The gifts are not the property of the people who are bringing them. The gifts belong to the entire congregation present, and those bearing the gifts to the priest are representing everyone present not just themselves. It is not necessary to stop the flow of the liturgy to bring recognition to them. Then our parish puts the announcements (by the commentator) in the most odd place, after holy communion but before the post-communion prayer. This should be a time of silent reflection and thanksgiving for the great gift of the Eucharist. Instead, we are hearing about the parish blood drive and CCD registration.

I am a cantor at my parish, and occasionally I am asked by the music director to sing from the cantor stand which is at the front of the church. This has become immensely uncomfortable for me because I have come to realize that I distract from the liturgy. I understand the desire is to encourage people to sing, but in reality people sing what they are familiar with, and if they are not familiar with it, they don't, and no matter how much waving of my arms like an orangutan I do, all this does is provide one more distraction for the congregation (not to mention I look like a goof-ball waving my arms about).

So, I have come to realize that what I truly love about the Tridentine Mass is not the Latin language. It is simply Jesus Christ. The incense, the chanting of the choir, the posture of the priests and altar servers, and the long periods of sacred silence all serve to focus attention on the Lord Jesus truly present in the liturgy. Sometimes I find in the Mass as it is celebrated in my parish that people are so busy doing their own thing that His presence is merely an afterthought, and I really struggle with that.

Father will often reiterate in his homily that Christ is truly present on our altar under the appearance of bread and wine. "The actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ our God is right there on the altar!" he will exclaim. I can't help but think that while these words are good and obviously true, their effect is dulled by unnecessary distractions. Christ should be our focus from the moment we enter the church, and everything that happens in the liturgy should serve to magnify Him truly present among us.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Shall I commend you in this?"

Sometimes I really struggle at work to maintain charity when it comes to matters of faith. The latest thing to cause me to have to bite my tongue involved one of my nurses discussing taking communion at her (evangelical) church. She said, "Sometimes if I am really hungry, I will take a bigger piece of bread from the loaf." What?! Then she went on to tell me that there were a couple of options for communion in their church. Those who wanted to take communion could take either grape juice or wine or flat bread or a regular French loaf. "It's whatever you feel you need to do." What?!


Has it really gotten this bad? Has receiving communion become (in this evangelical protestant church) akin to lunching at the Piccadilly? (I'll take the large fish with hushpuppies and tartar since I am really hungry.) And why must everything be about what pleases you? What about pleasing the Lord? Can people not sacrifice themselves even in something so simple as partaking of the Lord's Supper?

"When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not." - 1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Way of Redemption

Dr. Jack Kevorkian got out of prison today. I noticed this news was followed by the usual "death with dignity" posts on one of the message boards I frequent. The argument goes something like this: we should be in control of our destiny so that if we are put into a situation whereby we are suffering greatly we should have the right to end our suffering by suicide if necessary because death by suicide is more dignified than suffering.

I don't buy it. Here's why. I am a Christian, and as a Christian I must believe in the redemptive power of suffering. Suffering is a result of the sin of our first parents. When they turned away from God in disobedience, Adam and Eve learned the hard way that life without communion with God is hard and painful. They suffered sickness and death. But God chose to take suffering and use it to our benefit by making it redemptive.

As I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament last night I contemplated how God worked suffering into the plan of salvation. I happened to glance at the picture on the front of a book which I brought with me to the chapel, and on it was an image of Christ after the Resurrection showing St. Thomas the gash in his side. I also noticed that the holes in his hands and feet were clearly visible. In his resurrected glorified body, Christ still retains the marks of his suffering, but through those marks and that suffering Christ has revealed the way to redemption, and that way is to embrace our suffering, unite it with his suffering on the cross, and offer it to God the Father. Christ's wounds left by the instruments of his suffering are now his glory, and through our suffering (since we are the body of Christ) we are glorified with Christ. This sacrificing of the self is an image of love, the love of the Blessed Trinity.

Suicide, on the other hand, rejects suffering as evil and unnecessary. With suicide, the sin of our first parents is revisited because God's plan of salvation is rejected for the plan of a human being, i.e. man knows better than God. It is the utmost example of selfishness and the complete antithesis of love. It is evil and mocks the dignity of man. It is never justifiable.

St. Paul tells us to persevere in faith, to run the race so that we may be worthy to win the prize, our heavenly inheritance. But in order to gain our inheritance, we must "suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with him." May we reject the wisdom of the world which rejects God's eternal plan of salvation. May we embrace the wisdom of God revealed through his Son.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. - Romans 8:18

St. Justin Martyr, pray for us.