C. S. Lewis, who is perhaps best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, was also a profound Christian thinker. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia aware of Lewis’ faith transforms those well-loved children’s stories into a rich narrative of the Christian life. Lewis was a practicing Anglican who, amidst the vast range of theological opinions amongst Anglicans, held views of the sacraments and the Church with which Catholics can (on the whole) be quite comfortable.
We are privileged to be here this evening, not simply to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but to do so accompanied by the fine music of the English recusant composer William Byrd and in this striking and beautiful church. Byrd himself knew, through his own experience, the precious value of the Most Holy Eucharist. His three settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, for three, four, and five voices, are stark works for individual voices designed to be sung in clandestine gatherings of the Catholic faithful during a dark period of English history. Members of his family were fined for their refusal to attend Protestant worship and many of his compositions draw parallels between the struggles of the Catholic remnant in Protestant England and the People of Israel in captivity and bondage, desperate for the safety of the Promised Land; a land where they might worship the Lord God unhindered. He lived, too, surrounded by the courageous witness of many for the faith. The sacrifice of thousands of men and women for the Catholic faith is as much a harrowing reminder of the potential cost of our baptismal promises, as it is an inspiration for us that, if we are faithful, the reward of abiding in the Lord’s eternal presence is real. As we honour those martyrs of the faith, together with countless other men and women whose lives have been lived in faithful obedience to Christ, we are reminded of the great gift of the Eucharistic sacrifice that sustained them, and we come to offer that supreme act of worship once more here and now as we plead the intercession of those who rejoice to enjoy the beatific vision.
Through the sacrament of holy baptism, the Christian receives new life in Jesus Christ. At the moment of our incorporation into the mystical body of Christ, the Church, the ‘old man’ is crucified with Christ ‘in order that our body of sin might be destroyed’, and the new man emerges (Rom. 6:6). Going down into the water of the font we see nothing, but rising from it we find ourselves in the new day and new light of the resurrection life. As Saint Cyril of Jerusalem puts it, ‘That one moment was your death and your birth; that saving water was both your grave and your mother’.
Reconciled to God through this configuration to the eternal life of Christ, the Christian is restored to the fullness of man’s nature: of what it means to be human. If Jesus Christ is perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, then through our incorporation into his life we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. What we forfeited in the Garden of Eden through sin, the first act of disobedience, is restored to us by means of the perfect obedience of the Son to the Father – the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
During my talk at Theology on Tap on Tuesday I offered to make available a list of essays and texts that might be useful for anyone who wants to do some further reading on the subject of beauty. This is far from an exhaustive list, but there are some great things here. If you have any further suggestions, please drop me an email:
- Pope Saint John Paul II, ‘Letter to Artists’ (23 April 1999).
- Pope Benedict XVI, ‘General Audience’ (31 August 2011).
- Pope Benedict XVI, ‘Address to Artists’ (21 November 2009).
- Pontifical Council for Culture, ‘The Via Pulchritudinis’ (27 March 2006).
- S. Caldecott, ‘Beauty for Truth’s Sake’ (2009).
- J. Conley, ‘Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Role of Beauty in the Restoration of Catholic Culture’, Crisis (10 October 2013).
- A. Nichols, ‘Redeeming Beauty’ (2007).
- J. Pieper, ‘Only the lover sings’.
- J. Ratzinger, ‘The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty’ (2002).
- J. Saward, ‘The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty’ (1997).
- R. Scruton, ‘Beauty’ (2001).
- R. Scruton, ‘Beauty and Desecration’ in City (Spring 2009, Vol. 19, no. 2).
- D. Stroik, ‘Benedict XVI & the Way of Beauty’, Crisis (21 November 2013).
- R. Topping, ‘Rebuilding Catholic Culture’ (2013).
- ed. D. Twomey, ‘Benedict XVI and Beauty in Sacred Art and Architecture’ (2011).
- ed. D. Twomey, ‘Benedict XVI and Beauty in Sacred Music’ (2011).
You can listen to the audio recording of my recent talk, ‘The Way of Beauty; The Way of Happiness’, given as part of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Theology on Tap summer series, by clicking below. The text of the talk will be available on the blog soon.
This past week I have been fortunate to visit a quite extraordinary parish in South Carolina. Prince of Peace in Taylors, just outside the city of Greenville, is led by Fr Christopher Smith who blogs at Chant Café and whom I met at the Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome this past summer.
Prince of Peace is a phenomenally liturgical parish. What do I mean by that? It is a place where the liturgy of the Church is very much at the heart of the life of the community, tangibly present as the fons et culmen of all that goes on – from the parish school to the social life of the faithful. A great deal of effort is put into the Sunday celebrations, with the music, vestments – everything down to the choice of incense – all culminating to achieve in a remarkable way the hopes of Pope Saint Pius X for a participatio actuosa in the Sacred Liturgy.
The usual pattern of daily Mass in the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is currently on hold as the parish awaits a second priest, but the Sunday routine has remained unchanged. A Saturday evening Mass of anticipation is the only Mass now celebrated versus populum, and this uses the chants of the 2002 Missale Romanum provided in English by ICEL, together with a newly introduced setting of the Ordinary of the Mass by Peter Latona. Sunday morning sees a said Mass (OF) at 8am, followed by a Solemn Mass in the Ordinary Form (English with chant and the Latona setting, ad orientem, with an elite squad of servers!), and a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form (c. 200 in attendance) that becomes a Missa Cantata for most of the year, and a High Mass whenever possible. The music at these two principal celebrations is usually augmented by a schola of local students, performing music from across the Catholic repertoire, with a particular emphasis on Latin polyphony of the renaissance. In the evening, the final Mass of the day is a replica of the Saturday evening Mass, but celebrated ad orientem. During my visit, this Sunday evening celebration was concluded by a candlelit outdoor procession of Our Lady of Fatima, attended by well over 200 of the faithful from the parish, of all ages.
With the significant emphasis that she places on discipleship, Sherry Weddell makes a convincing argument for such intentional Catholicism in Chapter Three of her book. She holds up a couple of parishes as examples of where a handful of ‘intentional Catholics’ have made a real impact on the wider life of the parish, and where this has spread within the parish context, setting aside the fable that some are called to sanctity, whilst others are called to be mere ordinary Christians.
Certainly in parishes where I’ve worked this has been the case. A small group of particularly committed Catholics – intentional, to use Weddell’s term – can make a difference to all areas of parish life, not least catechesis, faith formation, the witness of sacramental preparation and thanksgiving, family life, and sacrificial giving. The lay faithful expect their priest to be a man who leads the way, but when other laity do so too, it creates a healthy atmosphere of dedication to the faith and perseverance in the way of the Lord Jesus; an attractive path for others to follow.
In his 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (SC), Pope Benedict XVI remarked that ‘Everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty’ (SC §41). I would like to offer, here, a few short reflections on how a better understanding and knowledge of this simple, guiding principle, might underpin our celebrations of the Eucharist.
First, it is the duty of the Priest (and all those assisting with the celebration) to ensure that everything neccesary is made ready before the Mass begins. This may seem to be an obvious point, but being ‘ready’ does not simply mean being organised; it means being spiritually prepared for the role we undertake in the Sacred Liturgy, from the Priest-Celebrant to those in the pew. The Priest should take – and should be given – space and time to prepare to ascend the altar, both in the church and in the sacristy before Mass. Bishop Peter Elliott recently called for the mandatory and official use of the Vesting Prayers in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This is a good way for the Priest to recognise that he is not simply ‘getting changed’, but being clothed to enter the Holy of Holies. In the Personal Ordinariates, some priests make use of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, from the Extraordinary Form, as a preparation with the servers before Mass. This, too, can inculcate a proper sense of preparation and readiness for the sacred action.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, last week I gave the first of two talks on Sacred Music at the parish of Ss Francis and Anthony (The Friary) in Crawley, West Sussex. We spoke first about the nature and purpose of the Sacred Liturgy, drawing on the documents of the second Vatican Council and the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, before turning to the nature and purpose of Sacred Music. Why? Because as both Pope Saint Pius X and Sacrosanctum Concilium point out, the music performed in the Sacred Liturgy is intrinsic to the rite itself. To use the phrase coined by Mgr Andrew Wadsworth, “We need to sing the Mass, not sing at Mass”.
One of the questions that came up in the Q&A session touched on the appropriateness of differing styles of music in the Mass. Theologically sound music of a high quality can be found in genres other than plainchant and polyphony; hymns of good quality can be found (if we search hard enough!). So why can’t these pieces be used in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, be it the celebration of the Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours? Reading over Archbishop Alexander Sample’s talk to the recent CMAA conference in Salt Lake City, we see this exact question answered by placing alongside all performances of music in the liturgy three specific criteria.
First, Sacred Music is holy – it is sacred. Sacred Music is music set apart for the worship of God alone and, therefore – in the words of Pius X – must “exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it” (Tra le Sollecitudini §I). This means that the music performed in the liturgy cannot simply be secular music – either in origin or style – ‘baptised’ by Christian worship; it must be set apart for the worship of the Almighty, just as a chalice is never to be used for profane purposes once it has been consecrated for the offering of the Mass.
Secondly, there must be an intrinsic beauty in the music performed in worship. It must be ‘good’, in the sense that it must of the highest standard of music and of performance, and it must also be ‘Good’, in the sense that it has within itself some transcendental element. The sheer beauty of the performance, of the music itself, should generate a desire for God within the one listening; this is why concerts of Sacred Music are always an opportunity for evangelisation, and why listening to Sacred Music outside the sphere of the liturgy is a way of deepening our desire for God, and our sense of his fundamental right to the worship we offer.
Thirdly, Sacred Music must have a universal character. Obviously plainchant embodies this perfectly (at least in our Latin context), but it would also be naive to suggest that only the chant can exemplify such a character. Certainly it does so in an unambiguous way, but music that is universally recognisable as sacred and intrinsically beautiful – even when it is drawn from a particular culture or context – can also embody such a characteristic. Victoria is pure Spanish renaissance, but utterly suited to the liturgy; Zoltán Kodály’s exquisite Missa Brevis is a work of twentieth century genius, but equally meets the required characteristics of beauty and sacredness. Neither draws on a secular idiom or style, neither seeks anything other than the objective worship of God.
If the music in our liturgical celebrations doesn’t meet these three criteria, then we are falling somewhat short of offering to God the best that we are able. Even with limited resources, if we attempt to apply these criteria to our worship, we will not fail to see more clearly the essential and true purpose of the Rites which we celebrate. In doing that, we will also see more clearly the essential and true object of our worship – the God who has loved us and known since before time and who, even now, desires nothing more than our presence with him in the full splendour of our heavenly home, where we will (we pray) worship him for all eternity.