Hymns for Times of Lockdown

Once I was teaching 3rd graders to sing the chants of Benediction, and the school experienced a “lockdown,” which means that the windows and blinds are closed for security.

Kids get scared when this happens, and as soon as it was over, I told them the next time we met I would tell them a story of a lockdown that happened about 1700 years ago.

During a persecution, the Church at Milan gathered together and sang hymns to encourage one another in the faith. Their bishop, Saint Ambrose, wrote the hymns, as Saint Augustine recounts in his Confessions. 

How did I weep, in Thy Hymns and Canticles, touched to the quick by the voices of Thy sweet-attuned Church! The voices flowed into mine ears, and the Truth distilled into my heart, whence the affections of my devotion  overflowed, and tears ran down, and happy was I therein.

Not long had the Church of Milan begun to use this kind of consolation and exhortation, the brethren zealously joining with harmony of voice and hearts. For it was a year, or not much more, that Justina, mother to the Emperor Valentinian, a child, persecuted Thy servant Ambrose, in favour of her heresy, to which she was seduced by the Arians. The devout people kept watch in the Church, ready to die with their Bishop Thy servant. There my mother Thy handmaid, bearing a chief part of those anxieties and watchings, lived for prayer. We, yet unwarmed by the heat of Thy Spirit, still were stirred up by the sight of the amazed and disquieted city. Then it was first instituted that after the manner of the Eastern Churches, Hymns and Psalms should be sung, lest the people should wax faint through the tediousness of sorrow: and from that day to this the custom is retained, divers (yea, almost all) Thy  congregations, throughout other parts of the world following herein.

One of the hymns attributed to Saint Ambrose was the great Te Deum, translated into English by Clarence A. Walworth as Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, which is often sung at the close of Benediction. Another was the following, here in my translation.

Deus Creator Omnium
Vespers Hymn
St. Ambrose

O God, Creator of all things,
Who rules the firmament as King,
Who clothes the day with gilding light,
And with the grace of sleep, the night,
With welcome rest our limbs restore
To their accustomed work once more.
Relieve our mental weariness,
And free us from our grief and stress.
We hymn you thanks for this done day,
And for the rising night we pray,
That you will hasten to our aid,
To help us fill the vows we made.
To you our deepest hearts resound,
To you our voices’ tuneful sound,
To you arises high above,
From sober minds, our purest love.
And when the darkness is profound,
And day lies in dark’s prison bound,
May faith not know the want of light
But light the very dark of night.
O Christ and Father, we request,
From you and from your Spirit blest,
That You who rule with single might
May care for us throughout the night. Amen

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Taking Refuge in God

Since God is our refuge, God who is in heaven and above the heavens, we must take refuge from this world in that place where there is peace, where there is rest from toil, where we can celebrate the great sabbath, as Moses said: The sabbaths of the land will provide you with food. To rest in the Lord and to see his joy is like a banquet, and full of gladness and tranquility.

Let us take refuge like deer beside the fountain of waters. Let our soul thirst, as David thirsted, for the fountain. What is that fountain? Listen to David: With you is the fountain of life. Let my soul say to this fountain: When shall I come and see you face to face? For the fountain is God himself.

St. Ambrose, from today’s Office of Readings

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Coronavirus: Some Pastoral Considerations

Many pastors and administrators in the United States and around the world are formulating responses to the current pandemic. I thought I would offer some of my personal considerations in case they might be helpful.

Pro-Life: The coronavirus affects persons who are weak in more tragic ways. I feel that the response of the Church should consider them in particular.

End of Life Pastoral Care: At its worst, episodes of this virus have precluded funerals and most likely the presence of a priest at the end of life. “Flattening the curve” would enable ministers to reach everyone who needs it and to have at least private funerals for the souls of those who have passed.

The Domestic Church: With the social media literally at our fingertips, pastors and their staffs could easily formulate home “care packages” to enable families to continue their Catholic home mission. It could be a very good Lent, celebrated at home.

Protecting the Triduum: It is 4 weeks until Good Friday, and a serious response now would help us recover our footing in time to celebrate these liturgies as they deserve. Choirs would suffer but could also, at least in theory, practice together using technology.

Communion on the Tongue: Holy Communion need not include contact if both the recipient and minister are careful, and reception on the tongue often involves less contact than reception in the hand.

Sunday Mass: Common sense measures might include dispensation of vulnerable persons and disinfecting pews, as well as omitting the sign of peace.

At the risk of overreacting, it seems to me that in the United States we are generally under-tested for the virus, and the statistics of existent cases may be artificially low.

May I invite all of our readers to pray for those who are making decisions at this time, including our Church and civic leaders, for families, and for those who are dying today.

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Christendom College Organ Scholarship

Christendom College will offer free organ lessons and $500 in tuition reduction for a student starting in the Fall of 2020.

Next fall, there will be one beginning scholarship in organ opening up which will provide free lessons and $500 in tuition reduction.

Specifics can be found at this link: https://www.christendom.edu/the-benedict-xvi-organ-scholarships-2020-2021/

These scholarships are part of a generous bequest of an anonymous donor to train parish organists. The recipient is expected to study the organ, working toward a degree program in music at the college.
Students must submit an audition video by March 6 and, if selected, will need to come to campus to audition in person on Saturday, March 28. If there are any questions you should contact Dr. Kurt Poterack at: kpoterack@christendom.edu

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Principalities and powers

As divisions in the Church reach an astonishing screeching pitch, one particular Scripture passage has been on my mind.

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

We are in a cosmic battle, not a war against fellow Catholics. One of our common enemy’s most powerful tactics of division is also his easiest to employ: anger, hatred, resentment,  scorn, sarcasm, schism.

I think we should muster ourselves and turn against the evil one who threatens us, instead of fighting constantly among ourselves. All of the easy points have already been scored.

Yes, there are blatantly corrupt prelates. But there are also shining examples of exemplary bishops. Why not talk about them?

Yes, there are public menaces who speak in bewildering scattershot against the faith while pretending to represent it. But there are also faithful priests and teachers who live both their vocations and their apostolates in extraordinarily fruitful lives of service. Why are the most-read blogs not full of their stories?

Yes, there are goofy and often tragic abuses of Catholic institutions. But there is also a constant flowering of new and effective initiatives for the authentic spread of the Gospel. Why aren’t these stories going viral?

In every age, the most effective defenders of the Catholic faith are the saints whom God gives to the Church. I suggest we find them and follow them into the real battle, and make their radiance more widely known.

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Excelsam Pauli gloriam

Let all the Church acclaim St. Paul,
And sing the glories of his call.
The Lord made an apostle be
From one who was his enemy.

The name of Christ set Paul afire,
Enkindling him with great desire;
And higher these same blazes reached
When of the love of Christ he preached.

His merits are forever praised,
For to the heavens he was raised,
And there, the all-mysterious word,
That none dare speak, by Paul was heard.

The Word, like seed sown in a field,
Producing an abundant yield,
Fills heav’nly barns whose stores of grain
Are tilled and grown on earthly plains.

The shining of the lamplight gleams,
And drenches earth with heaven’s beams.
The dark of error’s night is past;
The reign of truth has come at last.

To Christ all glory, and all praise
To Father and the Spirit raise,
Who for the nations’ saving call
Gave us the splendor of Saint Paul.

Translation © 2008 Kathleen Pluth. Listen to Latin original here.

Roger Scruton, RIP

The world lost one of its greatest champions of the beautiful this week.

The philosopher Roger Scruton worked to restore a sense of beauty that was lost in the 20th century’s love of the brutal and the shocking, the flat and the banal.

The real-world results of abandoning beauty are utterly dehumanizing. In his classic BBC documentary “Why Beauty Matters,” Scruton spoke about architecture’s responsibility for urban decay: “This building is boarded up because no one has a use for it. Nobody has a use for it because nobody wants to be in it. Nobody wants to be in it because the thing is so…ugly.” Ironically, the result of a utilitarian ideal in architecture is block after block of abandoned buildings.

Church art must take heed to this prophetic call for a restoration of the sense of the beautiful. We live in a time when 1 out of 6 young converts to Christianity come to believe in a visit to a church.    We can’t afford to “update” our sanctuaries with eurotrash posters and ill-suited furnishings, with exposed sound equipment and felt banners.

Beauty is not naive. Devotion is not childish. Idealism is not an abandonment of the real. We are spiritual, and renewed, creatures of Beauty Himself, and our churches and the worship they are built for must foster a sense of hope in Him.