One of the most important but neglected spiritual practices is the daily general examination of conscience. No business would last very long without taking stock daily, calculating how much profit was made, etc., and there is no business more important than our soul. Socrates famously said that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We could say that an unexamined life is dangerous. It’s important to examine how we are doing fairly regularly in order to improve. When our goal is off in the distance, a little misdirection early in the journey–if it is not corrected–can spell disaster, landing us far off the mark.
My latest book just came out, Three Skeptics and the Bible: La Peyrère, Hobbes, Spinoza, and the Reception of Modern Biblical Criticism, and is now available from Amazon.com for those interested. It details an important part of the history of modern biblical criticism, showing the political and historical developments that began to lead to a more skeptical treatment of biblical interpretation, like that found so often on t.v. today and in university classrooms across the globe. I’m currently working on a much broader work of the same topic, bringing it into the 20th century.
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.
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.
I read with enthusiasm R.R. Reno’s First Things essay “The Return of Catholic Anti-Modernism” and, as always, appreciated his many insights. He helpfully pointed out some ways in which Pope Francis’s recent papal encyclical Laudato Si embodies a bold critique of Modernity. ….Read More