Debates over music in the Mass dig deep in the dirt of our deepest feelings. So often such disagreements are not grounded in the Church’s doctrine about what liturgical music is and what its purpose is. Here are just a few reflections on the necessity of connecting what is sung with the liturgical text. I often think that if we at least could agree that the liturgical text itself should be sung our disagreements could at least begin at the same point.
Primacy of the Text
Sacred music unites “sacred song…to the words” (SC 112) of Christ’s divine liturgy wherein “God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified” (SC 7). Sacred music, by its nature, is music that has been “created for the celebration of divine worship,” (MS 4) and therefore not just with the sacred text in mind, but primarily for the sacred text. Though singing is itself important (as in the adage about the one who sings well praying twice), the main place is to be given to “singing the liturgical text” (VL 40). Truly, many liturgical texts were “composed with the intention of their being sung” (LA 60). Sacred music is the servant of the liturgy, not vice versa (see TLS 22–23). Tra le Sollecitudini makes clear that the “principal office” of sacred music is to
People are making a big deal about the apparent contrast between Pope Francis’ comment back in July of 2013 where he said in reference gay persons: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?” and the priest who revealed that he has same-sex attraction and has a male partner and was subsequently fired.
Is there really a conflict here? There may be conflicts elsewhere, but certainly not between what just happened and what Pope Francis said.
In July of 2013 Pope Francis was answering a question with reference to a supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican: “I think that when you encounter a person like this, you must make a distinction between the fact of a person being gay from the fact of being a lobby, because lobbies are not good.” By definition, lobbies are trying to push an agenda. In the case with a gay lobby, an agenda toward changing the Church’s teaching. Pope Francis was saying that as long as such a gay person “seeks the Lord and has good will,” then there’s no problem.
Jesus ate with sinners. That’s always been amazing to me. In some ways it’s the heart of the Gospel:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7–8, ESV).
I was struck by St. Augustine’s imitation of Jesus in the last days of his life:
As the then Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story,
“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving Communion.”
What a gesture! I wonder if that message would come across today. Think about it: your bishop comes to Mass this Sunday and sits in the pews, toward the back. When it’s time for receiving Holy Communion, he stays in his pew and doesn’t receive! When asked, he says he’s trying to show solidarity with those who are divorced and remarried who come to Mass, but can’t receive Holy Communion.
The only way we can be saved from succumbing to the inflation of words is if we have the courage to face silence and in it learn to listen afresh to the Word. Otherwise we shall be overwhelmed by “mere words” at the very point where we should be encountering the Word, the Logos, the Word of love, crucified and risen, who brings us life and joy.
If you watched Pope Francis celebrate Midday Prayer today you might have thought there was something wrong with your feed. At one point I thought my connection was buffering…
But no, there were actually periods of silence. At a certain point it seemed like the silence went on for one or two minutes!
Why? Where does all this silence come from?
As surprising as it might be to some, sacred silence is “part of the celebration” and is indeed demanded by the nature of the “dialogue between God and his people taking place through the Holy Spirit” (SC 30; GIL 28).
In the introductory chapter to his, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, the late Orthodox priest, Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1983) lays out the rudiments of a Eucharistic ecclesiology very similar to that articulated by Joseph Ratzinger. Schmemann’s key assertion as he sketches this vision is that there is in the liturgy an
“undoubted triunity of the assembly, the eucharist, and the Church, to which the whole early tradition of the Church…unanimously testifies” (11).
That said, this unity has been broken apart, not fundamentally, but in the everyday understanding of clergy and laity alike. For Schmemann, such a reunification is the task of liturgical theology as it uncovers “the meaning and essence of this unity” between “the assembly, the eucharist and the Church” (12). The “assembly” or σύναξις is the first move in the liturgy, as it were. This assembling is the action of Christ gathering His people together for communion/κοινονια. So often, Schmemann notes, we look at the Eucharist through individualistic eyes, not seeing that the entire form/ordo of the Eucharist is a dialogical movement between priest and people. In particular, the anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer takes the form of a dialogical synergy or a working together of priest and people whereby they form “one organic whole.” Christ calls out the people from the world and forms them into an assembly to be united to Himself, to be the Church. When gathered together the assembly does not act on its own, but is united with Christ in the person of the priest. This unified working together (synergy) makes new what the Church is by renewing Christ’s unbloody sacrifice in the Eucharist and offering that synergistically to the Father. In the exchange of the offering the Holy Spirit operates in such a way that He both transforms the offerings into Christ’s body and blood and then works a similar transformative action (again, synergistically) on the assembly as they receive the Divine Gifts of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Do not say
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was right: our hearts long for this kind of love—beyond looks, qualities, attributes, smiles, dimples, and pleasantries. We long for a love that embraces our very existence: that no matter what happens I’m a necessary part of someone else’s world—a part that they can’t live without. This is the love that gets Moses up “early in the morning” (Ex 34:4). Indeed, it is the love that keeps us up late and gets us up early: “My soul has yearned for you in the night, and as morning breaks I watch for your coming” (Antiphon from Morning Prayer, Week 3).
Wonder and Awe
Blessed Pope John Paul II
by Jeremy Priest
The first time I met Pope John Paul II…well, perhaps “met” is the wrong word when you’re in a crowd of seven million people? Yet, as I think back to that World Youth Day in the Philippine Islands, “met” is the only word that describes what happened. I didn’t merely see John Paul II. No. Even in a crowd of millions, I had the feeling that he loved me. As his eyes fell upon each of us, I felt loved by him, as if his eyes were the very eyes of Jesus.
I can imagine Jesus looking at people with these same eyes. Pope John Paul II had so given himself to the Heart of Jesus that his eyes spoke with the Heart of Jesus. One can understand why the crowd that gathered that World Youth Day in the Philippines was the largest crowd ever assembled in human history: these young people gathered not simply to see Pope John Paul II; they crowded around the Bishop of Rome because in him they saw Christ.
Who wrote the Gospels? Does it matter? Since their early reception in the Church they have been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Until recently, this was basically unquestioned, though some may have quibbled about which John wrote the 4th Gospel.
The authorship of the Gospels came under deep scrutiny especially in the early 20th century as their very authority as authentic documentary witnesses was questioned. And if their testimony wasn’t authentic, then how could they be written by authentic witnesses? From the opposite angle, if one could prove their authorial attribution faulty, so too is their credibility as authentic witnesses marred.
In order to testify to the authentic witness of the Gospels, the Church made several pronouncements throughout last century. The following are some quotations from the popes, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and Vatican II which show what the Church has had to say about the authorship of the Gospels (note: the Pontifical Biblical Commission was an arm of theMagisterium until Paul VI’s Sedula Cura in 1971):
* Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus (18 November 1893) wrote of how important it was to the doctrine of the Church that the Scriptures were eyewitness testimony:
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” -Blessed Mother Theresa
Wired with Sound
The average college-aged male spends between 4 and 14 hours a day in electronic media. If you add-in sleep, our time for work, and personal interactions, there’s not much time for anything else.
I often find myself having to really focus on paying attention to people in everyday surroundings; avoiding the temptation to multi-task while I’m around others.
Entering Into the Silence: Reflection
The silence of the church is so different than the constant sensation we find outside.
Coming from such a sound and media-saturated environment, it’s hard to get settled into the silence. Why do we find it so difficult?
“Christianity is good because it keeps people moral.”
“Christianity is bad because it makes people complacent.”
“Christianity is bad because it establishes structures of sin and oppression.”
“Christianity is okay…if that’s your thing, if that does it for you.”
Christianity is none of these things. Either Christianity is true or its not. Its truth does not stand on its usefulness or benefits; the relative self-fulfillment of its followers; the actions of its adherents.
We sometimes want it to be the solution to our problems; the “Golden Key” or elixir for all that ails us. As Peter Kreefts says, “Even the image of the Golden Key fails, for a key is the solution to the problem of opening a door. But Christ is not, ultimately, our solution. (Is your lover your “solution”?) He is our divine Love and Lord. All the ‘problems’ of life are part of His marriage to us, His lovemaking, His foreplay…All things in life must be that, because He is not relative to them, they are relative to Him. Everything is, for He is God, and God is the absolute…He is not the solution to our problems; He is the giver of our problems. Our problems are His tasks and our opportunities, His teaching and our education, His will and our sanctification” (Jesus Shock, 37)