Sweet injuries!

Very few of the hymns in common use employ irony, in the sacred way that St. John’s Gospel does. The poems of the martyr St. Robert Southwell, when set to music, are a happy exception that is slowly gaining traction. The beautiful I Sought the Lord, about the mystery of prevenient grace, is another. Another exception very appropriate for this week is My Song Is Love Unknown. This excellent rendering leaves out one poignant verse, given here, which recalls the Reproaches–although in Gospel terms..

The whole hymn is worth long reflection.

Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?

He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight,

Sweet injuries! Yet they at these Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.



A blessed Holy Week to all

May the worship and sacrifices of this sacred time bear fruit in the life of the Church.

If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.

If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshiped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.

-St. Gregory Nazianzen


20th Anniversary of St. John Paul’s Letter to Artists

On April 4, 1999, the playwright and former actor Pope John Paul II wrote to the artists of the world, requesting their cooperation in a renaissance of culture.

…Every genuine inspiration… contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond…

The remarkable letter may be found here.



Preaching the Resurrection of the Body

Next Sunday’s RCIA option for the Gospel as well as the upcoming festivals of Eastertide offer a perfect opportunity to preach on the often-overlooked doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

While some of the articles of the creed are obscurely understood by many Catholics, the article on the resurrection of the body is unique in that it seems widely ignored and unacknowledged. Many believing and fervent Catholics seem not to know that the body is destined for resurrection. We could blame this on thinkers from Plato to Descartes–or we could simply manifest the revelation. I Corinthians 15, which we read in a series as the Sunday second readings a few weeks ago, is especially helpful.

It should not take much persuasion to make this doctrine compelling. The afterlife is our common destiny, and our bodies are so important to us that any physical infirmity is a true affliction. The resurrection matters. It is the meaning of Easter. It is worth bringing up again and again.

The benefits to believing in the resurrection of the body include the following:

-Belief in heaven is more concrete when it is seen as a place for an even more robust human life than we enjoy in this world, rather than as a shadowland. This means that hope, the anchor of the soul, has its hold in a realm that is rightly conceived as more real than this passing world.

-Moral theology makes more sense when we think of the body and soul as a unity called to holiness, with the body in particular a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

-“Hard” moral cases involving the principle of double effect are judged more prudently when our physical natures are seen as part of human intentionality. (A thought-provoking article on this point is Fr. Basil Cole, OP, “Is the Moral Species of Craniotomy a Direct Killing or a Saving of Life,” Nova et Vetera, 3 (2005): 689–702.)

-Liturgical actions and extraliturgical devotions become less casual when the sacrifice of our bodies is offered as “reasonable worship” (logikēn latreian) (Romans 12:1).

-Physical sufferings due to age, illness, and injury become bearable when seen in the light of the glory that is to reign in our bodies as well as our souls (Romans 8:18-39, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, 2 Corinthians 4:7-18).



Catholic liturgical music is inside out: an opportunity

Something odd happened after the Council. The Catholic world became accustomed to a very old form of liturgical song: the antiphon and its Psalm. This came in the form of the Responsorial Psalm between the readings at Mass, in the place of the gradual chant.

The Responsorial Psalm is customarily sung antiphonally. A cantor, or occasionally a schola, intones an antiphon. This is repeated by the congregation. The cantor or choir then sings verses of a Psalm, punctuated again and again by the antiphon.

This is exactly the form of an introit or a Communio.

The Communion antiphons, even in Latin, are almost always accessible to a congregation. Granted, this was not their original intention, but singing them is certainly possible. This is even more the case with the many vernacular proper antiphons, or even “Englished” chants using authentic melodies. Singing anything repeatedly helps us to interiorize its meaning, and the sacred texts of the antiphons are well worth interiorizing.

The Responsorial Psalm is remarkably popular with congregations. No one, in my experience, ever complains about it. This is not normal. Music is a sensitive subject for most people, and liturgical music particularly so. People complain about most liturgical music. And yet no one complains about the Responsorial Psalm.

I’ve mentioned here before that one of the first steps a pastor might prudently take to implement sacred music in his parish is to sing a Responsorial Psalm during the Communion procession–while people are going to Communion. This is perfectly allowable according to #87 of the GIRM:

“In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for singing at Communion: (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the antiphon with Psalm from the Graduale Simplex of the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) some other suitable liturgical chant (cf. no. 86) approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or a cantor with the people.”

One of the many benefits of singing a Psalm in this way is its acceptability. There is still time to sing a congregational hymn after Communion (GIRM #88) if desired, so if a hymn is customary during the procession, it won’t be long missed. People like singing Responsorial Psalms. It’s easier to sing an antiphon than a strophic hymn during a procession, because books are not needed.

In my experience, there is little to no resistance when introducing an antiphonal Psalm at Communion.

Having solved that difficulty, is there a way to solve its converse as well?

A much more difficult change, but one which I would personally welcome very much, would be the return of the Gregorian Graduals, Alleluias, and Tracts. Joining in with an antiphonal Psalm has its place in the Mass, at Communion and possibly the Introit and even the Offertory. On the other hand, it seems to me that the “better part” of a congregation’s attitude during and between the readings is to settle ourselves in for a good, long listen.

The Lord told His disciples that the “good soil” in the parable of the sower is someone who hears the word and understands it. An important aspect of good soil is its preparation. In most parishes, barely has the Mass begun before we hear the Gospel. Is it enough time to open our hearts to hear it?

The Gradual, Tract, and Alleluia chants give us a luxury of time and reflection that is almost impossible to find in our world. Honestly, it is hard to find in the Church, even when proper antiphons are used, because for reasons of time and the limitations of expertise and rehearsal constrain and simplify the verses to Psalm tones or similar musical abbreviations.

I think it is worth running a cost-benefit analysis here. Yes, it takes quite a long time to sing the proper chants between the readings. On the other hand, if they enhance the sacred attention of the congregation to the Sunday readings, is it possibly worth it?