Nestled between the feast of the virgin-martyr Saint Lucy and the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church sets aside three days for a particularly acute preparation for the coming feast of the Lord’s nativity. These Ember Days, known in Latin as the Quatuor Tempora, are found (as that name suggests) at four times of the year, fixed not to the liturgical cycle but the seasons. By these Almighty God, whom we recall in this season of Advent as Alpha es et O, the Lord of all things, sanctifies mankind as by his incarnation: blessing with his divine and supernatural presence the human and natural realm in which we live.
In the twenty-third chapter of the book of Leviticus the Lord God instructs the people of Israel to build temporary homes in which they are to live once a year, for seven days (Lev. 23: 33 ff). These dwellings are to act as a reminder of their itinerant forty year exodus, from captivity in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. The annual commemoration of these events is known as the feast of tabernacles, and we read that it was a time appointed for the gathering together as the People of God, to offer sacrifices to the Lord in thanksgiving for his saving acts. Two important themes bear attention: first, the thanksgiving sacrifice of a covenanted people for their salvation from bondage to freedom as children of God; secondly, the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to his people, giving to them a land of their own inheritance.
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.
Given at the church of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
The description of the events on the road to Emmaus is, for us who continue in these fifty festal days of Easter, one that holds particular significance. For the past three Sundays, the gospel has begun on “the first day of the week” – that is the first Easter Sunday – and it is in the events described in these passages that the reality of the Lord’s resurrection is made manifest to us in the scriptures. First, Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Peter find the tomb empty (Jn 20: 1-9), then the Lord appears in the midst of the disciples (Jn 20: 19-31), and today Cleopas and the other disciple recognize Christ through the familiar action of the breaking of the bread (Lk. 24: 13-15).