Sunday, February 1, 2015

Faith, Hope, and Clarity

I heard a wonderful theology lecture the other night. One of the key points had to do with St. Thomas Aquinas' account of the theological virtues. For Thomas, it's the virtue of hope that has to do with persevering and trusting. Faith, however, is basically about doctrine.

In context, the lecturer was speaking about how Jesus could have the beatific vision throughout His earthly life--the fullness of faith, the "sight" that faith gives way to for the rest of us when we are in heaven--and still be trusting the Father and praying to Him. It is possible to be beyond faith and to still be living in full hope.

I was thinking how this distinction could make a real difference in our orientation in three key aspects of our liturgy.

1. If homilies are in part an exhortation to faith, it seems to me that they could in part be teaching moments. Of course they are exhortations to the other theological virtues, including hope. But it seems to me we generally have these aspects covered. Two of the most common types of homilies these days seem to be a) how life is a journey, and b) how we should trust God. And this is true. But we should also know God. The Church does know things about God, and a homily is a great time to communicate truth.

2. Likewise, in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, helping people to embrace the faith includes communicating the facts of faith.

3. Liturgical music has the power to make these facts shine. The Second Vatican Council says "The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy." Because of the unity of words and music, the cantillation or heightened recitation of doctrinal sections of the liturgy, such as the Creed, helps the congregation that sings them both internalize and remember them. Just this morning I heard a chanted Preface--another doctrinal section of the Mass--and noticed immediately a new intensity of listening, in the attentive hush that fell over the congregation.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit can give us a real taste for the things of God, and although it takes some work to communicate these in any age, it has been my experience that the clear teaching of the Church finds a welcome hearing, and actually is often experienced with a certain sense of relief by the many in the Church who are really ready to know.