One of the great errors of our time, found sadly even amongst some Christians, is the reduction of the person of Christ to someone he is not. There is a tendency in the mind of the modern man to view Our Lord as something of a guru, but not Christ; as human, but not divine; as a teacher, but not God. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, regarded the bible very highly for its moral message but he disliked anything which struck of the Lord’s divinity, so he literally cut and paste his own version and gave it the rather bland title, ‘The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth’. It is a rather bland title because there is little point in taking any of the words of Our Blessed Lord seriously, unless we take them all seriously. As C. S. Lewis famously said, Christ was either mad, bad, or God.
For the past several years I have looked with some considerable envy at the various photos and videos that have emerged from the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium. Last week I was able to attend the twenty-fourth conference, in Indianapolis, IN, and as I return to Washington to prepare for the new academic year I want to share a few reflections that flow from the excellent lectures given in the first part of the conference week. We were treated to presentations by Denis McNamara, an architect and Assistant Director of the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, my good friend Fr Christopher Smith, Parochial Administrator of the parish of Prince of Peace, Taylors, SC, and Professor William Mahrt, Associate Professor of Music at Stanford University and author of The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. Rather than looking at each lecture individually, simply regurgitating what others more capable than I have espoused, I would prefer to focus on three themes that emerged and that were – at least to me – new, refreshing, and/or worth a renewed consideration.
These posts will appear over the next few days. In the meantime, I simply want to record my initial sense of encouragement. Being surrounded by so many young, capable, and committed Catholics – with a genuine and profound love for the sacred liturgy and the music which is so integral to it – is an invigorating reminder of the central importance of Christian prayer in the life of the Church. Our celebration of the sacred liturgy is never a mere expression of the faith we profess, but the very fullness of it. It is not simply a sign of what we desire, but it is itself the very goal of our deepest longings, because it is in the authentic celebration of the sacred liturgy that we most fervently and clearly encounter Christ – he the head and we the members – in the sacrifice of praise offered by him to the eternal Father, in and through the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian encounter is the essence of the baptismal vocation of all Christians, and so it is the first and most fundamental element of the Christian life. It is not the preserve of experts or the pious, but for each and every Christian soul to experience the fullness of the Church’s liturgy, so that they might be called into a deeper communal and personal-passionate relationship with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good liturgy – beautiful, true, authentic and faithful liturgy – is the first and most effective pastoral and evangelical tool, because it is not reliant on our preferences or our weak and humble prayers, but rather presents Man with God, and God with Man, in a wonderful exchange in which we cannot but be transformed.
Thanks be to God for the graces of this past week, and the friendships renewed and begun. May God continue to bless us as we seek to bring him, and him alone, to our parishes and homes.
You can view reports and photos from the colloquium at the New Liturgical Movement here.
As today’s collect reflects, by tradition the Friday before Holy Week is kept in honour of the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These are seven ways, described in sacred scripture, in which Our Lady comes to share in the sufferings of her beloved son. Depictions of Our Lady of Sorrows (see above) often show seven swords piercing her heart, recalling the words of the prophet Simeon in the temple, ‘A sword shall pierce your own heart’ (Lk. 2:35).
This revelation of Simeon to Our Lady is the first sorrow, followed by the flight into Egypt (Mt. 2:13-14) and the finding of the Lord in the temple (Lk. 3:43-45). In these three moments, Our Lady suffers with and through her divine son because of her unflinching obedience to God’s will. The four remaining scenes: the meeting of Our Lord and the women of Jerusalem on the road to Calvary (usually understood to include Our Lady), the crucifixion, the deposition (from which we get the beautiful image of the pieta), and the burial of the Lord, each show a more obvious tie with the events of the passion itself.
As Our Lady stood by the cross of her son, so the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows now (in the ordinary form) follows that of the Holy Cross, in September. And yet, we are right to reflect in these days before Holy Week on these sufferings of the Mother of the Lord, because by them we are taught how our own lives can more closely reflect Christ’s passion, filled as they often are with disappointment, with anxiety, and with unpleasantness at the hands of others. It is for this reason that we make the Church’s hymn, Stabat Mater, our own today: ‘O thou Mother! fount of love! touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord: make me feel as thou hast felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord’.
O God, who in this season
give your Church the grace
to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
grant, we pray, through her intercession,
that we may cling more firmly each day
to your Only Begotten Son
and come at last to the fullness of his grace.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Alternative collect in the 2002 Missale Romanum.
This homily was given on Thursday 28 February 2013, at a Solemn Mass for the Election of a Pope, at St Patrick’s, Soho Square.
What sets our faith apart? Quite simply, it is this: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’. These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI, now Bishop of Rome Emeritus, in his 2005 encyclical on Christian love, Deus Caritas Est, and in many ways they an insight into his pontificate, and a template for the whole of the Christian life.
Over the past few days certain parts of the press and media have had a field-day with the Church, and as the Cardinals gather in Rome and the conclave begins, to elect a new Pope, we will surely see much more speculation and intrigue appear. The fundamental misunderstanding which seems to be at the heart of these reports is this: however much we try and say otherwise, the world can only really see the Church as an institution and the Pope as a kind-of CEO. For ‘secular culture’, the idea that we are not simply dealing with the appointment of a new President or Prime Minister, is one which is alien to most people. But if we look at the example of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, and even his resignation, we can all find again the true nature of the Church and the essential vocation of the Christian life to which we are all called.