About “The Interview”

There’s an old saying: Once you’re ordained a bishop, you’ll never again hear the truth or eat a bad meal. And Pope Francis is turning this sense of the hierarchy upside down.

Part of being human and social and fallible and sensitive is a strong aversion to taking responsibility for our own inadequacies and mistakes. Things aren’t as they should be, I’m not as I should be. I like to think of myself as part of the solution, but actually I’m part of the problem too. This is hard to admit.

So I don’t. Instead, I point fingers.

The closer someone is to Jesus, the more the Pope takes him/her to task. The farther away, the more he beckons them to be closer. You can argue with this as a strategy, but in any case, it’s the Gospel. Jesus didn’t say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” to Pontius Pilate. He said this to Peter. He welcomed sinners and ate with them, while constantly upbraiding his own. “He scourges every son He receives.” “He prunes the fruitful branches.”

Note that in the interview, some of the Pope’s strongest criticisms are of his own leadership as a Jesuit superior.

For all we might have learned by actual persecutions of the Church, still, flattery is everywhere. I remember noticing this at my first real Church job. People deferred to me, just because of my position. It seemed weird. Still does. When people whom I know well and serve personally say thanks in some way, ok, that makes sense. But when those employed by a parish (or diocese or universal Church) act like a faultless elite, there’s a problem. “You know that among the Gentiles…the great ones make their authority felt. It cannot be like that with you.”

The only intellectually consistent way to get through a day without faulting myself is by faulting others. Things aren’t right, obviously. Someone is wrong. O yes, “them.”

What if, without abandoning our labors for the good, the true, and the beautiful, we all did a better job of the personal examen, which if I understand correctly is the most important of the Jesuit daily spiritual practices, so much so that if because of time pressure no other prayer is possible, the examination of conscience must never be omitted. What if each minister in the Church sat before God every day and said, “Lord, show me my mistakes. My mistakes, and not anothers. Show me how to change my ways for your glory and the good of the people.” Somehow, I think we would all cheer up. We’d start thinking more creatively, considering real solutions and best practices.

I was sitting on the church steps tonight after adoration, keeping an older friend company while her ride was on its way. A man came by, said a very cheery “Good evening,” and went to look at the sign to see when Mass times are on Sunday. No doubt he’d just watched the news. I couldn’t help thinking that he probably thought his mistaken views were now compatible with Catholic doctrine, now that the news said that the Pope said so. That’s a sort of frustrating pastoral thought, and yes, there will probably be a spike this year in the number of doctrinal/ pastoral corrections that will be going in the RCIA.

Take it as a form of flattery. You don’t strongly criticize a kid practicing scales, all thumbs. But a reviewer may take a concert pianist to task. The new Christian, the returning Christian, though often he puts us elder sons to shame from the get-go, will have a time of trial. But first, let him be drawn closer. And let the grownups take one for the team.

Stabat Mater Translation

We did not observe the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Ordinary Form this year, since September 15th fell on a Sunday. A hymn often associated with Lenten celebrations of the Stations of the Cross, the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, is actually the Sequence for Our Lady of Sorrows, to be read or sung before the Alleluia in the Ordinary form, where it is optional, or following (hence the term sequentia) the Alleluia in the Extraordinary form.

Sequences like hymns declined in the fifteenth century, and reached their lowest stage of decadence where they had most flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth (viz. in France). 5000 sequences of the most varying value have already come to light; they are a testimony to the Christian literary activity in the West during seven centuries, and are especially significant for the influence they exercised on the development of poetry and music. For the Gregorian melodies were taken over by them and preserved with fidelity and conservatism; with the admission of sequences and tropes into the liturgy, ecclesiastical music found its opportunity for further development and glorious growth. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

When translating the Stabat Mater, I was rather surprised by the depth of its meaning, something that might be lost when simply rendering a text into English as a devotional or processional hymn. The sequence itself is highly theological, expressing a hope of entering into the expiating power of the Crucifixion by standing beside Mary, who stands beside the cross.

On the Cross her Son was dying.
Mary stood beneath Him crying,
Sharing in His saving cross.
As He hangs, her soul is grieving,
and a sword her heart is cleaving
and she weeps the bitter loss.

O, the sad, afflicted Mother
of the Son beyond all others:
only Son of God most high.
Full of grief, her heart is aching;
watching Him, her body, quaking,
trembles as her offspring dies.

Who would see Christ’s mother crying
at the bitter crucifying
without tears of sympathy?
Who could see her depth of feeling—
thoughts of many hearts revealing—
and not share her agony?

Pardon for our sins entreating,
She saw Him endure the beating.
All our guilt on Him was cast.
She stood by in contemplation
When her Son, in desolation
Breathed His spirit forth at last.

Font of love, O Blessed Mother,
lend me tears to mourn my Brother.
Never let my ardor dim.
Let my heart be burning freely,
Christ my God be pleased to see me
all on fire with love for Him.

This I ask, O Holy Mary,
that His wounds I too may carry:
fix them deeply in my heart.
Mine the burden He was bearing;
let me in His pain be sharing;
of His suffering take a part.

Let me join in your lamenting,
through my life weep unrelenting
tears for Jesus Crucified.
Let me stand and share your weeping,
all the day death’s vigil keeping,
glad to stand close by your side.

Queen of all the virgin choir,
judge me not when I aspire
your pure tears to emulate.
Let me share in Christ’s affliction—
death by bitter crucifixion—
and His wounds commemorate.

Let me taste the pains He offered,
drunk with love for Him who suffered.
May His wounds become my own.
On the day of Christ’s returning
may my heart be lit and burning.
Virgin, aid me at His throne.

May His Cross be interceding
and His death my vict’ry pleading.
May He hold me in His grace.
When my flesh by death is taken,
may my soul to glory waken
and in heaven take a place. Amen.

A Catholic Flourish

On the penultimate line of each verse of Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, Catholics around the US habitually ornament the melody in a way that is not customary in many Protestant churches, and which is not found in most hymnals.

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name is a vernacular version of the Te Deum, and as such is important to the devotional life of the English-speaking church. It had occurred to me that the ornamentation was possibly simply a sung tradition rather than a printed tradition.

However, I recently discovered that there is a printed tradition, going back at least to the late 19th century.


A Response to David Haas

In the comments on a thread below, David Haas raised an important and topical question.

…Is it really the case that you are going to knock the principle of ‘full, conscious, and active participation?’ This full participation should be “exalted” above all else! Read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy again, friends, and tell me that this principle of participation is not primary. It is not the “easy road.” It is THE road that the Constitution lines out. And then to knock it in favor of “beauty?” Is not the sound of a full throated assembly singing a “beautiful” thing? Do you think it is an ugly sound? And it keeps coming: “above prayer.” Are you saying that when the gathered assembly is participating, it is not prayer? Hello….

It is absolutely correct to say that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy said, abundantly, that the reform of the Liturgy should above all seek to engage the People of God in active participation. Examples of this exact sentiment in the document abound. The Council Fathers were well aware that in the decades before the Council, the ordinary way of attending Mass was “hearing” a spoken Mass, often enough with responses provided by the servers. They were evidently concerned that people must not only pray at Mass, but must pray the Mass.

Therefore, David is right to say that participation was the highest principle governing the reform. However, it is incorrect to suggest that participation–at least participation of a certain type–is the highest principle governing the liturgy. Participation is a richer concept than mere activity, and the Liturgy is a richer concept than participation.

Since the Council, our liturgical context has changed quite dramatically. Participation in one sense is at an all-time high. Almost every Sunday Ordinary Form Mass now contains congregational singing (although not many would qualify as sung Masses). Responses are always said by the people, and never, in my experience of the Ordinary Form, by servers alone. Lay people distributing Communion regularly outnumber the ordinary ministers. “Active” participation in this sense is no longer a problem. Reform in this sense has now succeeded. The mandate of the Council, in this sense and this style of active participation, has been accomplished–and then some. Or rather, it will be accomplished once some of the excesses have faded away (hopefully with the same weary inattention that caused the demise of felt banners), and once the dialogues of the priest and people have received their rightful attention.

However, the work of fostering FULL, CONSCIOUS participation has hardly begun. How can it possibly begin, until congregations are made aware of and have an opportunity to sing all of the texts that pertain to them? The people are regularly denied any contact whatsoever with some of the antiphons–the proper antiphons–that SC said they had a right to in paragraph 30, the paragraph which is the intradocumental touchstone of congregational participation. (Note that the paragraph did not say that the people must sing motets.)

And how can FULL, CONSCIOUS participation be achieved until the music that cantillates the Ordinary of the Mass heightens the words, instead of obscuring them?

And how can FULL, CONSCIOUS participation be achieved when the celebration of Sunday Mass is in most places said in a hurried and casual way, full of distractions, and with consistent disregard for the precepts of the Church? The Council Fathers rather insisted “that the faithful come to [the Liturgy] with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.”

According to the Council, the Sacred Liturgy “is an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ, Head and members,” and to the extent to which the members are not engaged in the work of their own salvation, they are not participating in the Liturgy. It is almost completely inadequate to just show up and sing along with whatever song is being offered. There is an interior work to be done, and the post-Conciliar reform has barely begun to address this.