Armed And ReadyRead Now
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
51. The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.
About one year ago on this post I focused on para. 10 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which described the liturgy as “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows.” There is a two-way street, then, involving the participants who celebrate the Eucharist in assembly. Catechisms, long before Vatican II, have emphasized the “font” nature of the Mass, specifically communion: a real union with Christ with indescribable blessing in the form of the very life of God. The reception of Eucharist, with the right disposition of the recipient, is saving grace; one indication of this is the descriptive term for communion distributed to the dying--Viaticum, “food for the journey.”
The blessings of Revelation through the Word of God—Scripture—were considerably less emphasized in the teaching of the Mass. Nothing makes this clearer than the proclamation of the Scripture texts in Latin until the 1960’s, or the church law that one committed only venial sin if missing the Liturgy of the Word. This is indicative of a Catholic reserve toward the Scriptures themselves, particularly after the Protestant Reformation where a new breed of Christian Churches proclaimed the power of Scripture alone, sola scriptura, to bring redemption to the believer, without the “innovations” and “additions” of the Roman Catholic Church over fifteen centuries—such as several sacraments, indulgences, priestly celibacy, etc.
Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, promulgated on November 18, 1965, is a relatively brief but critical statement on the restoration of the centrality of Scripture in all aspects of Catholic life. Our Eucharistic Liturgy today reflects Dei Verbum; there is now inclusion at every Sunday Mass of a text from the Hebrew Scripture, three readings each Sunday instead of two, and a three-year cycle of Mass readings for greater exposure to the Word of God in worship. The directive of Dei Verbum connects every Catholic activity of worship and deed—including catechetics--to the Bible. Moreover, the Church is gifted by the Holy Spirit to avoid false or self-serving interpretations of the Word, including the practice of “cherry picking” a text to back a specific denominational action. The Church must read the Bible as it was intended to be heard; the revelation of God from Abraham through the Death, Resurrection, and Pentecost event of Jesus.
I was ordained nine years after Dei Verbum, and then as now I would sit and take in the sweep of the congregation during the First Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures—or the second, from St. Paul, for that matter. I have always wondered what, if anything, most of the congregants were taking from these proclamations. For the Old Testament is rich in meaning, but it comes from an ancient time and a much different culture, i.e., the Middle East. St. Paul is, well, St. Paul. The normal reaction to my question, which I would voice in my classrooms from time to time, was something to the effect that it is the priest’s job to explain the texts to us in the sermon. I hate to break the bad news, but full instruction in the Scripture at Mass is an impossibility.
For one thing, there is not enough time. If you recall last Tuesday’s (January 23) post on this weekend’s first reading, from Deuteronomy, you might recall that I needed about 1000 words to “set the table” for Deuteronomy and the specific text proclaimed at Mass. Multiply that by three readings and the “Mass Hour” is over before the collection. Secondly, one of the major complaints about Catholic preaching, confirmed by dozens of continuing research projects, is its poverty. The homily/sermon is not Sunday school. It is an invitation to be born again. The preacher’s actual function is to draw together the readings, the liturgical feast of the calendar, and the lives of struggling believers in a way that, at its conclusion, the listener is compelled to ask to be born again. The assumption here is that the listener is already quite familiar with the texts of the Mass.
This is a reality of the Mass overlooked: the Eucharist is a summit of effort. It is the Super Bowl, not a pick-up game on the Boston Common. The preparation, good works, study, prayer, fasting, forgiving, writing the Offertory check, and other pre-Eucharistic exercises compose the “summit” element of Mass—the totality of preparation. We believe we derive much from the Mass, but the overlooked question is how much we put in.
The “putting in” part of the problem is most evident during the Liturgy of the Word. I would break this problem into two parts: (1) Catechetics and home instruction do not sufficiently emphasize the week’s preparation for Mass. In fairness, most catechists are volunteers who have never had the opportunity to immerse themselves into anything like the training a seminarian receives—though truth be told, my seminary studies in Scripture were surprisingly limited, too [four required courses: Pentateuch, Prophets, Synoptic Gospels, and an overview of St. Paul.] Our professors were aware of this limitation, but they were very good about teaching us the methods of biblical study and professional sources that we would continue throughout our lives.
I can and should extend my concern here to the proliferation of bible study groups in parishes. I have attended a few over the years; my impression is that they are long on good will and short on content. Nor have the resources available to such groups dazzled me. This brings me to my second point, (2) the Catholic as student of Scripture. Penetration of both the Hebrew and New Testament canons is necessary to know Christ. Jesus, after all, was Jewish. His message makes sense only in the Hebrew context. I privately wonder how it is possible to worship Jesus without some inkling of how he prayed, where he studied, how he worshipped, how he identified himself.
We talk a lot about the priest shortage, but recent research indicates that the number of Catholics enrolled in the training of lay ministry programs, including catechists, has declined. Thus, there may a decline in the availability of well-read and properly disposed parish staff. Consider that American Catholicism is one of the best educated religions in the country, we have a situation now where doctors, lawyers, and other professionals of considerable reading and insight have few comparably trained Catholic catechists and staff sufficiently grounded to address a population that reads the New York Times weekend book review.
My position at this time is that every Catholic needs to own personal responsibility for knowledge of his or her understanding of Scripture and the essential theology of the Church. There is a lot of “stop-gap” material on the market, but the reliable Catholic publishers—Paulist, Liturgical, Catholic University, Boston College, along with Yale Press and Eerdmans [two publishers of general religious scholarship] provide a college educated Catholic professional of today an adult oriented discussion of Scripture and Faith in a fashion that is compelling and challenging. Consider the faithful study of the Bible and the tradition of Christian theology as a gift to yourself and your game plan for sacramental worship
Checking Up On My Old HomeRead Now
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
49. For this reason the sacred Council, having in mind those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation, has made the following decrees in order that the sacrifice of the Mass, even in the ritual forms of its celebration, may become pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree.
50. The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved.
For this purpose, the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary.
I am in the middle of cleaning and overhauling my home office. A veterans’ organization became recipient of my American history library, so there is now more space for theology. But this does not touch the amount of paper files and photo albums I have accumulated in some cases over 50 years. I found my 1965 SAT scores (577 verbal, 563 math) which may explain why no college came knocking at my door. Catholic University had to take me; I think it was in their charter that they couldn’t refuse seminarians. I also came across a booklet I had published in 1988, for the opening of the church I had built that year. The book was part informational and, truth be told, part legal defense; we documented every part of the structure with Roman directives, because this was a Vatican II Church.
As luck would have it, my wife is out of town this weekend, so I went to Mass tonight right here in my own town, where I pastored for a decade and built the church. [We belong to the parish where Margaret was principal, about12 miles away.] I am not known or remembered there today except for a few of the old guard. Since I left in 1989 there have been several pastors, each with his own reaction to the 1988 Vatican II structure. One of my successors built a rather large chapel connected to the church by a covered walkway. Truth be told, the chapel would adequately house many a smaller parish. More disturbing to me personally was the removal of the carefully designed and appointed Eucharist Chapel and the daily Mass chapel. The stained glass behind the tabernacle was created to illustrate the fire of God descending in the Holy of Hollies.
I have never gotten a precise answer on why that artwork and the complex was tactlessly disposed of. There are two general theories: (1) the space was needed for more seating; and (2) a previous bishop hated saying Mass where he couldn’t see the tabernacle. My guess is that reason two was the driver and reason one the public rationale. I would say that this is my biggest disappointment with the structure today. There are some other changes that brought a smile. The church was designed with a semi-circular arena effect so that the congregation would have excellent viewing lines. Well, a few years ago someone got the bright idea to install kneelers. What I noticed tonight is that the installer never allowed for the pitch of the floor; the effect is kneeling on the downslope of a hill. When I tried the kneeler, I almost fell into the seat in front of me.
I also chuckled at another innovation since my day, the hymn board. A few weeks ago, on this stream I treated of the “four hymn sandwich” mode that afflicts American Catholic music. Well, in this church the chef really goes to town. (See below.) However, the music program itself—despite a few of the hymns—is sincere and unpretentious. The parish has just been assigned two priests from overseas—I’m not sure where. The associate was celebrant, and his English is competent enough for celebrating the Eucharist. The homily was brief and basic. I can understand that. Preaching is hard enough; doing it in a foreign language is a crusher. What I do find in my travels, though, is the amount of respect that good Catholics have for the courage of priests who voluntarily plunge into our culture so that we can maintain the Sunday Eucharist.
Sitting in the main body of the church, I reflected upon every step of the journey to erect this worship space. overall, the atmosphere we tried to create for worship is intact. I remember joking during construction that if a pastor makes any mistakes in construction, they will be enshrined in concrete for a century. I think this building will make it for a century. In the context of our Saturday stream, Sacrosanctum Concilium set the directives for how the Vatican II reforms were to be implemented in rites and architecture. The ambivalence of Catholics about the reforms has been mentioned here before, but having built a church and watching the varying degrees of reception or distaste has given me a front-row seat for what Church journalism calls the liturgy wars.
Take Me Back To Old TurkeyRead Now
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
48. The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator , they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.
There are about a dozen words in present-day Catholic currency that remain woefully obscure in their precise meaning. “Community” is one, “reconciliation” is another. Recently I was invited to a retreat for the “sharing” of my “faith” “journey.” [A three-fer!] I am a practicing psychotherapist, and I couldn’t give you a crisp meaning of the word “sharing.” At best, “sharing” is a time and circumstance conditioned communication through an unspecified medium to an audience of indeterminate size. Is it confidential information? Is it instructional? Is it powerful emotion such as rage? I guess that “sharing” could apply to all or none of these examples. And yet, Church preaching, catechizing, and writing continue to enshrine this word as a strategy and as an end, with no precise comment on the how, the what, and the content.
This conundrum of linguistic expression came to mind in reading Paragraph 48, which serves as a preamble to the Council’s instruction on how the laity become more “involved” [another golden word] in the celebration of the Eucharist. The words employed in para. 48 may be familiar—at least in the hearing—of any Catholic of any age who has engaged in serious study of the Mass. The use of generic language by the Church Fathers at the Council is probably understandable given the limited time which they had available; more to the point, para. 48 is more a summary of achievement or hope rather than concrete marching orders. My concern is that, a half-century later, we continue to teach more about the finish line than the starting line when addressing the words and signs of the sacraments.
What was the earliest Mass like? We are fortunate that independent documentation has survived in a correspondence between a Roman governor, Pliny the Younger of what is now Turkey, and the Emperor Trajan, in 112 A.D. Pliny is seeking advice on how to deal with Christian communities. He describes Christian meetings tersely: he states that they meet on a certain day before light where they gather and sing hymns to Christ as to a god. They all bind themselves by oath, "not to some crimes"…and subsequently share a meal of "ordinary and innocent food." Pliny’s informant does not mention an embryonic Liturgy of the Word though my guess is that the singing of hymns to Christ may be Psalm response to oral or written accounts of Jesus as they were available at that time. [The New Testament canon was not formally established for at least another century.] The “crimes” reference suggests an early penitential rite.
Pliny’s account of the Eucharist is remarkably straightforward; the simple rite described in 112 A.D. must have had significant impact and sustaining power among the Christians of Turkey, particularly in view of the suspicion and surveillance they incurred living among the governing Romans. Para. 48 embodies many critical points, but it also illustrates both the theological and ritual complexities which have emerged over the centuries, some of which, I fear, tend to obfuscate the essential nature of the Mass.
In its first sentence of para. 48 the Council states what it does not wish to see at Mass, the faithful present as “strangers and silent spectators.” This may be a reaction to the Tridentine Mass prior to 1970 when “familiarity” between worshippers was irrelevant and an ambient silence was the norm. In the post-Council Mass, some precision on this point is called for. I strongly suspect that the desired social setting at Mass is outward bonhomie. In larger parishes in particular, the odds are that a typical worshipper might know less than 1% of his fellow worshippers if that; or, many worshippers may be introverts. I assume that anyone who has made the effort to attend Mass carries a quotient of good will, whether it bubbles to the surface or not. The American monk writer Thomas Merton spent nearly all his thirty vowed years in literal monastic silence, but his immense volume of books, journals and letters is evidence that he was a strenuous actor and participant in the sacramental life, silent demeanor to the contrary.
Paragraph 48 goes on to say that “they [attendees] should take part in the sacred actions conscious of what they are doing.” The only actions I can recall from last weekend are passing the basket (and yes, dropping an envelope) and walking up to communion. Moreover, the permanent wooden pew locks me into a space of 18” square, causing me to turn an ankle if I wish to extend bonhomie to the person behind me. The “sacred actions” referred to the document appear to be more metaphysical than physical. Para. 48 labors under the overweight of generic nouns and a paucity of concrete action.
When I saw the new Eucharistic prayers for the first time in 1968 or thereabouts, it did strike me that the provenance of the central segment of the Mass fell exclusively to the priest. There is theological basis for this, as only an ordained priest may consecrate the bread and wine into the sacred species, but there is no getting around that, liturgically speaking, the Eucharist prayer in its full execution is a period of passivity for the laity.
To begin with, there is the kneeling [in most settings.] The Roman Missal does not oblige kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, only a profound gesture during the consecration. The assumed gesture is standing, a physical position of action and statement. In American Catholic culture, kneeling is associated with adoration and submission. It is hard to fathom why there is so much kneeling throughout the Mass, when para. 48 states “they [the faithful] should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.” Kneeling—and even worse, “sneeling,” in which the human posterior rests upon the pew—is at best a passive sacramental. There is some humor in reviewing the Roman instructions for sitting at Mass, as during the Scripture readings; the instructions call for church seating [pews are not mentioned] to be “comfortable,” from the Latin cum forte, with strength. Sitting is the posture of Roman soldiers, lances in hand, awaiting a call to enter battle.
What the faithful are instructed to do during the liturgy is “give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator , they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” As I alluded to earlier, the general principles cited here continue to lack catechetical precision [e.g., what does it mean to “offer one’s self” through Christ the Mediator?] and equally troubling, they have not translated yet into rubrics and architecture.
It surprises me the translations of the English Mass continue to occupy as much discussion within the Church and the Catholic press as they do. After reflection upon para. 48, I would have to say that the king’s English is the least of our liturgical shortcomings.
Remember As We EatRead Now
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
47. At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity , a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us .
Paragraph 47 opens a segment of Sacrosanctum Concilium devoted exclusively to the Mass, Section 2, “The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist.” Although previous Saturday posts have devoted much ink to the Eucharist, the general principles under discussion (Section 1) applied to all seven sacraments and public prayer. Future segments will include “The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals;” (4) The Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours; (5) The Liturgical Calendar; (6) Sacred Music; and (7) Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings. (And you thought there was nothing more to say about music after last week’s post?)
Today’s entry from the Council is moving and profound. It takes us to the heart of why we gather on the Lord’s Day and the hopes and dreams of what we might experience. The two footnotes are drawn from St. Augustine’s Commentary on St. John and an antiphon from Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi, respectively, both sources taking us back many centuries as a reminder that the breaking of the bread has always stood at the center of Christian life. Even Martin Luther never denied the centrality of the Eucharist and claimed it to be one of the two sacraments actually instituted by the direct command of Christ in the Bible. His differences with Catholic doctrine on the nature of communion bread and wine is more a matter of late medieval semantics than essential denial of the sacrament’s reality.
The Church has always identified the origin of the Eucharist with the Last Supper. While there is some conflict in the Gospels about whether the Last Supper was the Passover Supper or was celebrated one night earlier, as St. John writes, the “Passover intent” of Jesus (my term) has never been in doubt. The Jewish Passover was the ultimate redemptive feast, its origin described powerfully in Exodus 12. In Jewish thought, to “memorialize” or reenact was not simply an exercise of historical recall, although retelling the story accurately was imperative. “Memorializing” brought the past to the present; the act of God---saving the Israelites from prolonged genocide in Egypt--becomes present and continues in fact by the annual observance of the Passover, true in Jesus’ day and true today.
The Last Supper/Passover connection binds together the full intent of para. 47. Jesus, about to die once and for all time for the sins of humanity, established a new memorial whereby his one act “becomes real again” with saving power every time the bread and cup are shared. While it is true that the consecrated food contains the living Christ, consecration is only possible in the full reenactment of word and meal, the Passover/Last Supper made real again. By way of example, a priest cannot consecrate extra hosts if he runs out during communion time—consecration must occur in its proper place in the full Eucharistic memorial. [This is a major Church law.]
What Christ has passed along in the Mass is the ongoing forgiveness and redemption won by his sacrifice. Eucharist is an undeserved gift, though it is hard at times to enter the spirit of Mass because we are plagued with “guilt deficit” or hubris. The gift that is redemption seems extraneous to a self-satisfied believer. Jews have a much greater sense of what deliverance from God is all about—they have faced real extermination at multiple times in their history, and sadly, live in the shadow of sinners who would like to accomplish Hitler’s “final solution” even here in the United States.
If our need for forgiveness is not conscious and felt, the Mass experience can degenerate into just another of the social groupings we pass through. It is no accident that the Mass opens with a penitential rite—a true absolution of sin, except for those of a grave nature that require the intervention of Penance and personal absolution. Para. 47 uses metaphors of deep feeling in describing this sacrament, phrases such as “to entrust to his beloved spouse…a sacrament of love…a sign of unity…a bond of charity…a paschal banquet….” I am particularly struck by the phrase “the mind is filled with grace.” Given that the term “grace” in Catholic theology is synonymous with the life of God shared freely, I am left struggling for an image or metaphor for “a mind filled with grace.” I can explain it dispassionately as an impact of God upon our thoughts and emotions, but I think the authors here have something more in mind.
Again, I turn to the Jewish roots of the Mass. During last summer I had the opportunity of visiting Amsterdam and the building where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis. In later reading I discovered that Nazi oppression of Jews was particularly cruel in Holland, and I thought about the many years that Passovers were celebrated under Nazi occupation. Those families believed that the power of God described in Exodus was present in their midst and that their lives still carried a meaning and a hope in the mind of God. Perhaps a “mind filled with grace” is the inner sense that in my life God will sustain me through it all. Or, as para. 47 puts it, Eucharist is “a pledge of future glory,” a state of perpetual hope.