Metanoia: “Change your mind.”

One can see why theological studies are considered propaedeutic to theology. First learn to think. Then think about God.

In our society at large there is a love of chaos and disorder that both stems from and perpetuates a sloppy philosophy of warmed over Hegel. It creeps into theological thinking. In liturgy studies and spiritual direction, for example, the Paschal Mystery is sometimes reduced to change agency. Dying and rising is applied to everything, including unchanging truths about God and human nature.

Likewise, in Scripture studies, the Old Testament liberation fulfilled in Jesus Christ is often reduced to the rule of the proletariat.

The question, as so often since the Council, is whether the Church is going to lead or follow. Leading does not mean being stuck in the past. The arrow of time moves forward. But leading does mean thinking better, not worse, than society. It means ascending by natural and supernatural means, rather than endlessly circling the drain.

Pope Francis: take Gregorian chant “as the first model” of sacred music

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Address of the Holy Father Francis to the Scholae Cantorum of the Italian Saint Cecilia Association

Paul VI Audience Hall
Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dear brothers and sisters,

I welcome all of you, the president Monsignor Tarcisio Cola, whom I thank for his words; the Board of Directors, and you, cantors, choir directors, organists, who have come from the various parts of Italy.

You are part of the meritorious Italian Saint Cecilia Association, 140 years old from its foundation and still alive and working and desiring to serve the Church. The affection and esteem of the Pope for this Association are well known, in particular St. Pius X, who gave the people of God a synthesis of teaching on sacred music (cf. Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini, November 22, 1903). St. Paul VI wanted you to be renewed and active for a music that is integrated with the liturgy and draws its fundamental characteristics from it. Not just any music, but a holy music, because the rites are holy; adorned with nobility of art, because for God we must give the best; universal, so that everyone can understand and celebrate. Especially, it should be well distinct and different from the music used for other purposes. And he recommended that you cultivate the sensus ecclesiae, discernment of music for the liturgy. He said, “Not everything is valid, not everything is lawful, not everything is good. Here the sacred music must be joined with the beautiful in a harmonious and devout synthesis.” (Discourse to religious women dedicated to liturgical chant, April 15, 1971). Benedict XVI exhorted you to not forget the musical heritage of the past, to renew it and increase it with new compositions.

Dear friends, I too encourage you to continue on this road. To be an Association is a resource: it helps you to generate movement, interest, commitment to better serve the liturgy. An Association that is not the originator or owner of any music, but has love and fidelity to the Church as its program. Together you can devote yourselves better to song as an integral part of the Liturgy, with Gregorian chant inspiring you as the first model. Take care together for artistic and liturgical preparation, and promote the presence of the schola cantorum in every parish community. In fact, the choir guides the assembly, and with its own specific repertoire, is a skilled voice of spirituality, of community, of tradition, and of liturgical culture. I recommend that you help the whole people of God to sing, with conscious and active participation and in the Liturgy. This is important: closeness to the people of God.

The fields of your apostolate are various: the composition of new melodies, promoting chant in seminaries and houses of religious formation; supporting parish choirs, organists, schools of sacred music, and youth. To sing, to play, to compose, to direct, to make music in the Church are among the most things for the glory of God. It is a privilege, a gift of God, to express musical art and aid participation in the divine mysteries. A beautiful and good music is a privileged instrument for approaching the transcendent, and often helps even distracted people understand a message.

I know that your preparation involves sacrifices connected with finding time to devote to practice, with getting people involved, with carrying out feast days when perhaps your friends invite you to come and have fun. So many times! But your dedication to the liturgy and to its music represent a way of evangelization at all levels, from children to adults. The Liturgy is in fact the first “teacher” of catechism. Don’t forget this: the Liturgy is the first “teacher” of catechism.

Sacred music also reveals another duty, that of joining Christian history together: in the Liturgy resound Gregorian chant, polyphony, congregational song, and music of the present day. It is as though all the generations, past and present, were there to praise God, each with its own sensibility. What is more, sacred music and music in general builds bridges, brings people closer, even those far away; it knows no barriers of nationality, ethnicity, skin color, but draws in everyone, in a higher language, and always succeeds in bringing into harmony people and groups, even of very different origins. Sacred music brings people closer, even with brothers to whom we sometimes do not feel close. For this reason, the singing group in every parish is a group where there is an atmosphere of availability and mutual help.

For all of this, dear brothers, I thank you and encourage you. The Lord help you to be constant in your commitment. The Church esteems the service that you present in the community: you help it to feel the attraction of the beautiful, which detoxifies us from mediocrity, lifts us higher, toward God, and unites hearts in praise and in tenderness. I bless you and all the members of the Saint Cecilia Association. May our Lady protect you. And since he who sings prays twice, I trust that you will also pray for me. Thank you!

(translation by RC from the Italian original text, edited)

The cross and the new evangelization

Dear brothers and sisters: the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that God the Father considered it fitting to make Christ, our leader in the work of salvation, ” perfect through suffering” (Hebr. 2, 10). In a similar way, he led the Apostles Simon and Jude through the suffering of martyrdom to perfection in eternity. In every age of the Church, God makes his chosen ones “perfect through suffering”, bringing them to the fullness of life and happiness by giving them on earth a share in the Cross of Christ.

It is easy to understand that God’s plan for us passes along the way of the holy Cross, because it was so for Jesus and His apostles. Brothers and sisters: never be surprised to find yourselves passing under the shadow of the Cross. Christian life find Is its whole meaning in love, but love does not exist for us without effortdiscipline and sacrifice in every aspect of our life. We are willing to give in proportion as we love, and when love is perfect the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave his life for our salvation.

On this day when Catholics around the world celebrate the Triumph of the Cross, the Church invites us to look once again at the meaning of our Christian discipleship, to understand the sacrifices it involves, and place all our hope in our crucified and Risen Saviour.

O triumphant Cross of Christ,
inspire us to continue the task of evangelization!
O glorious Cross of Christ,
strengthen us to proclaim
and live the Gospel of salvation!
O victorious Cross of Christ,
our only hope,
lead us to the joy and peace
of the Resurrection and eternal life!

Amen.

-Pope St. John Paul, Sept. 14, 1987

A bishop reflects on church architecture

In my own childhood and upbringing, Christian art and architecture served this noble purpose of helping to bring me to my knees in recognition and adoration of Christ truly present in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacrament of the Altar. The same architecture helped me realise this was always in communion with the Church, always together with the Communion of Saints. Irrespective of its historic style, genuine Christian architecture must seek to do the same by – we might say – being itself a visible act of witness and worship.

Much more here.

Listening to Young People

One of my hobbies is listening in on the conversations of frustrated young Catholics. They have a lot of hopes for the Church moving forward, and like young people everywhere they have beautifully high ideals.

These are some of the characteristics of the Church of the future many young Catholics would like to see going forward.

  1. Authenticity. Young Catholics are looking for leaders deeply attuned to the Gospel, who speak the truth in love.
  2. Artistry. Young people admire beauty in art, architecture,  and music. They are opposed to flat cartoons and other puerilities, rushed and casual ceremony, and badly strummed guitars. Eurotrash is out; polyphony is in.
  3. A sense of occasion. Jesus Christ the Lord, and all His saints and angels, are present in glory at every Mass. So Mass should not have the casual demeanor of a junior high school talent show.
  4. Respect for the Blessed Sacrament.

Young people constantly complain that their opportunities for reverence are often opposed and even thwarted by adults. Why is this? Often, ironically,  reverence is thwarted by adults claiming that they are trying to attract young people. Irreverence, bad art, and erroneous teaching do not do that.

Anyone paying attention to the young Church will notice that beauty is the growth industry of Catholicism. Moving forward, the way to appeal to the young is to keep faith with the past, reclaiming the lost art of liturgy.

Rejoice, Mother Anne!

O mother Anne, rejoice!
O mother blest, applaud:
Your daughter has been born today:
The Mother of our God.

The Virgin Mary born!
A new parental bliss!
Rejoice, rejoice with Joachim
For such a babe as this!

Your daughter is the first
Of blessings we receive,
Renewing earth whose early dawn
Was cursed because of Eve.

And so we give you praise,
And banners raise today,
And ask that through your holy prayers
Our sins be washed away.

To God the Father, praise,
And glory to the Son,
And honor to the Spirit bright:
Blest Trinity in One.

False sophistication and obedience to God

In thinking about some of the current astonishing happenings in the Church, I’ve found a couple of C.S. Lewis’ books to be very useful. Obviously he is not a Catholic saint, much less a doctor, and we can find a great deal of helpful teaching in the fathers and doctors of the Church as well.

However there are two points that Lewis discusses as well as anyone, and both have excellent fictional treatments in his space trilogy, written for adults at the time of World War II.

In the third book of the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, Lewis writes about a battle between angelic and demonic powers, in which human beings have meaningful parts to play. One of the ways in which the human characters help the evil powers, somewhat unwittingly, is by being too concerned with human acceptance, a phenomenon also explored by Lewis in his essay The Inner Ring. What happens in the book is a prioritization of politics over truth, of acceptance and careerism over professional and personal ethics, that open individuals to compromise and collusion with evil almost before they know that the collusion is happening.

In the second book, Perelandra, which Lewis said was “worth twenty Screwtapes,” we listen in on the temptation of another planet’s Eve. Will she be tempted to disobey God’s command, or won’t she? The tempter, who is a human being fully and voluntarily given over to evil, patiently tries to convince the beautiful woman with all the gifts of unfallen humanity that she will be much more noble and heroic, if only she disobeys God’s command. He says, “Your deepest will, at present, is to obey Him–to be always as you are now, only His beast or His very young child. The way out of that is hard. It was made hard that only the very great, the very wise, the very courageous should dare to walk in it, to go on–on out of this smallness in which you now live–through the dark wave of His forbidding, into the real life, Deep Life, with all its joy and splendour and hardness.”

That is a temptation indeed. Go out of God’s will, it seems to say, and you will find yourself. Discard the simplicity of trust in the God Who makes known His will, grant it no continuity with your life from now on, and you will be noble and adventurous. It’s a siren call that seems–only seems–to be calling to what is best in humanity. It often promises to make humanity better. But it is deadly poison, if swallowed.

Moreover, one can imagine a world where these two impulses are combined. Dissent from revealed truth, one might imagine, could be the way into an exclusive club.

I suppose it starts with little things: little lies, little improprieties, little sophistries in research, little slanders. Perhaps excellent meals and delicious drinks are involved. Perhaps too many drinks, and too much wasted time, and quite a lot of gossip.

Fortunately for us as Catholics, there is always a way back. Lewis’ tempter is unrealistic: although he is not yet dead, he already has the final judgment upon him. It is not that way with us. In fact giving up on the falsely glittering brass ring of rebellion is easy–as easy as a child running home to his father. “Unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Cor ad cor loquitur

In omitting the propers of the Mass, as many parishes do, we miss out on liturgical opportunities to sing to Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom with the intimacy appropriate to our commitment and devotion.

Consider three of today’s antiphons in the Ordinary Form.

Introit: Have mercy on me, O Lord
for I cry to you all the day long.
O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of mercy to all who call to you.

Offertory: Deign, O Lord, to rescue me. Let all be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life.

Communion: Domine, memorabor iustitiæ tuæ solius: Deus, docuisti me a iuventute mea, et usque in senectam et senium, Deus, ne derelinquas me. (I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God.)

These and many other proper antiphons, like many of the Psalms themselves, express a personal and constant reliance of the soul upon God Who saves.

It’s almost like breathing, the way God wants us to sing to Him. The propers give us a way to sing according to this intimacy, heart to heart with God, as a community, from the heart of our worshipping Church.