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?


The Pinions of the Most High and the “He” of the Psalms

In the accounts of the temptation of Jesus in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels, Satan quotes Psalm 91 to convince Jesus to throw Himself down. It’s okay. Don’t worry. God has promised that his angels will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.

A lot of the Bible, taken out of context, can give a false sense of comfort. Don’t be afraid. Everything will be all right. And down the gentle anodyne slippery slope we go.

The Church reads the Scriptures as a unified whole, and in the context of the hard-won doctrine of Tradition. The verses quoted by Satan, in contrast, are not taken in context even with their Psalm as a whole. Rightly read, the promises of Psalm 91 are conditional: He who dwells in the shelter of the most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty–to him be the promises.

I believe this is why the entire set of propers for the First Sunday of Lent is taken, almost ironically, from Psalm 91. The Church takes the tempter’s words, removes their sting, and turns them against him in an attitude of faith. Yes, it is the one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty who will not strike his foot against a stone.

Who is this one? The new Adam, Who does not believe the tempter’s suave words. Who does not tempt God. Who is God Who rebukes the tempter, with the Law–He Who is the Word and the Law. Who does not know sin and has power to take sin away. Who does not strike a stone but strikes the head of the serpent with His heel. Who dwells ever in the bosom of the Father.


Church Music Association of America on EWTN

In a two-part series on EWTN’s Church Universal program, CMAA officers Professor William Mahrt, Fr. Robert Pasley and Dr. Horst Buchholz discuss the work of the Church Music Association of America.

The first part may be viewed online or on television at 6:30 pm Eastern Time tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, and part 2 will be presented this coming Sunday at 5 pm ET, with repeat broadcasts on Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening.

Among its many contributions to music in the Liturgy, the CMAA has contributed greatly to a resurgence in the use of the proper texts of the Mass, compiling and making public vast resources so that the propers may be used in every context.

St. Peter Damian, pray for us

The cardinal-monk and Church reformer St. Peter Damian had a hobby. He wrote hymns.

It’s lovely, I think. that this zealous and gifted leader who wrote against the sins of Gomorrah among the clerics of his day, and revived the use of physical discipline as a help to the soul, also showed himself to be truly a simple monk at heart.

Before they were rewritten in the 17th century, many of the hymns of our vast treasury were characterized by a candor and simplicity that would seem to belong peculiarly to the monastery. And yet their devotional tone also shares with us profound theological truths.

Among the objects of St. Peter’s devotions was the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we acknowledge in our day as the Mother of the Church.

Today would be a good day to offer our prayers with his for the Church’s purification in trial, perseverance in truth, and the blessings of endless multitudes of new Catholics devoted to, and trusting in, Jesus Christ, whose graces come to us through the “yes” of our Blessed Mother.

O Theotokos, Mary blest,
Our human nature’s shining crest,
Through you we have our liberty,
Free children of the light to be.

O Virgin, Queen of heav’n and earth,
Though of King David’s stock by birth,
Your royal dignity has come
Not from your fathers, but your Son.

Remove us from the ancient root.
Graft us in Him, the newborn shoot.
Through you may we become by grace,
A royal, priestly, human race.

O offer holy prayers to win
Release from all our bonds of sin.
We praise your merits to the skies:
May we in heaven share your prize.

Exemplar of virginity,
Give glory to the Trinity,
Whose endless treasure-store of gifts
Through you our human nature lifts.

St. Peter Damian. My trans.

The realism of inflated expectations

 On one occasion Abba Moses of Patara was engaged in a war against fornication, and he could not endure being in ‎his cell, and he went and informed Abba Isidore of it; and the elder entreated him to return to his cell, but he would ‎not agree to this. And having said, “Fr., I cannot bear it,” the elder took him up to the roof of his cell, and said ‎unto him, “Look to the west,” and when he looked he saw multitudes of devils with troubled and terrified aspects, ‎and they showed themselves in the forms of phantoms which were in fighting attitudes. Abba Isidore said unto him, ‎‎”Look to the east,” and when he looked he saw innumerable holy angels standing there, and they were in a state of ‎great glory. Then Abba Isidore said unto him, “Behold, those who are in the west are those who are fighting with the ‎holy ones, and those whom you have seen in the east are they who are sent by God to the help of the saints, for those ‎who are with us are many.” And having seen this Abba Moses took courage and returned to his cell without fear.

For two thousand years, in season and out of season–mostly out of season–the Catholic Church has been fighting a war against principality and powers.

Our collective wisdom on battle tactics, if used in cooperation with the grace of God, which we enjoy in full sacramental measure, should be more than enough to overcome any malevolence, including the spirit of fornication.

Let’s face the fact that the 20th century was a century of total war on every level, and that wise fathers were hard to find even in the Church. Some were not fathers at all but perverse and perverting uncles.

Sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem. It is a human problem. But the Catholic Church is unique.

Because we have the solution.

We are called to be a city on a hill, attracting others to Christ by the authenticity of our re-creation by the water and the Blood. We have the call, and the means, to be a singular oasis of goodness and freedom. We have hard-won solutions to problems of loneliness, shame, compulsion, bad friendships, gluttony, sloth, curiositas–all of the handmaids of fornication. And we have a superabundance of grace if only we avail ourselves of it. If only we ask for it.

If only we put our faith in God.

Is “Listening” Enough?

Leonard J. DeLorenzo of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life believes there is more to working with young people than meeting them as equals, or teachers.

The scriptural validation for the approach to “walking with” that the Synod has heralded is the action of Jesus in his encounter with the two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). As stated in the final document, “the Risen Lord wants to walk alongside all young people, hearing their expectations, even those that are unmet, and their hopes, even those that are paltry. Jesus walks, listens and shares” (§5). This is not wrong. What it is, though, is a partial reading of this narrative that functions more like eisegesis than as a faithful contemplation of Scripture.

Yes, Jesus draws near and, yes, he does ask the travelers what they are discussing (twice) and he does indeed listen to everything they have to say (through verse 24). But then Jesus takes control of the action. He starts off by calling those two chatty, downcast, disoriented travelers “foolish” (v. 25).

The impression that the final document gives—along with the preparatory document before it—is that this conversation on the road is an exercise in mutuality, in paired sharing, and in equality. Since Jesus drew near and listened to the travelers, the Church must do what Jesus did and listen to young people. But that leaves out the truly decisive thing: Jesus does not stop at listening to them; Jesus leads them because they really do not know where they are going. His business is to communicate a gift to them. After silencing and teaching them how to listen (not unlike Zechariah who had to learn how to listen at the beginning of this same Gospel), he reforms their imaginations according to the scriptures. He illuminates for them the meaning of his suffering, and then he feeds them with his sacrifice, filling them with a mission on the basis of this intentional formation. Hope hangs in the balance, and so does salvation.

Might this complete action of Jesus actually reveal what a true, genuine encounter with young people should be? Jesus forms them, educates them, preaches to them, nourishes them, and frees them so that they may become witnesses of his Gospel. The point was not in Jesus listening for its own sake; the point was listening to them in order to skillfully heal, liberate, and empower them. The Church should do what Jesus did—all of what he did. That is how we form mature disciples.

The guiding vision for this Synod could and should have been about what mature Christian discipleship looks like. The critical issue is not first of all that young people are lost but rather that the Church has become all too vague in what we hope for young people to become. And when I say “the Church,” I mean the gross majority of those of us called upon to form young people, including parents, ministers, mentors, teachers, religious, priests, and bishops. I also mean our institutions of formation in which young people—from their earliest years to their ripe old years—are supposed to be culturally formed: parishes, religious education programs, schools, lay associations, ecclesial movements, and the family home. Because we have lost touch with what mature discipleship looks like, what constitutes true life, and what holiness means, our ways of forming young people in the faith have become dysfunctional. This Synod should have asked and clearly answered the question “What are we forming young people for?” and considered everything else—including what young people themselves say—in view of that.

Much more here.