Videns Dominus: The Communion Chant for Lent V

Mary Catherine Levri

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Liturgical Choir

Assistant Organist, Sacred Heart Basilica, Notre Dame, IN

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Videns Dominus: The Communion Chant for Lent V

[Editorial note:  This article, though about Lent, is a further reflection upon the resurrection–appropriate to this Easter week]

Videns Dominus (.pdf)

A professor of mine once said that when you are in love with someone, you see them more specifically.  Hair, eyes, smile, hands – the sight of a lover is awakened to features that he did not notice before he fell in love.  This enchanted gaze shows that he has realized a simple truth: nothing about his beloved can be attributed to chance. In this one who is dear, nothing is arbitrary or forgettable.  The real preciousness of particular things like eye color and the angle of a head are illumined because they belong to someone whose very self is precious to him.

This affection for particulars is at the heart of the Catholic life.  There is no better word to describe the sacramental communication of grace than “particular.”  Think of the little things of faith that live in the sensual memory of a Catholic: the taste of the Host, the softened voice of the priest from behind the confessional screen, the sharp fresh smell of chrism.  Incense, the Hail Mary, the priest chanting “lift up your hearts” – these details in our memory are marks of an affection that runs deeper than we can know.  Ask yourself why you love any of these things, and it’s likely you are not able to answer.  They are too deep within us to be analyzed, and are more like a part of ourselves than like something we can hold up to the light and study.  They have a kind of hold on us, because for a Catholic, nothing is arbitrary or forgettable.  A little thing is never just a little thing; it bespeaks a mystery at hand.

The power of little things lately came to mind because of a piece of chant I had been rehearsing – Videns Dominus, the Communion chant for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.  At first, it seems a strange text to sing during Communion:

Videns Dominus flentes sorores Lazari ad monumentum, lacrimatus est coram Judaeis, et clamabat: Lazare, veni foras: et prodiit ligatis minibus et pedibus, qui fuerat quatriduanus mortuus.

When the Lord saw the sisters of Lazarus in tears near the tomb, he wept in the presence of the Jews and cried: “Lazarus, come forth.”  And out he came, hands and feet bound, the man who had been dead for four days. (Jn 11: 33, 35, 43, 44, 39)

It contains no reference to bread and wine, no commandment to do unto others, and no immediate teaching on the sacrifice of Christ.  It is simply an account of the physical actions of Christ and of Lazarus.  It is a series of events, the last one of which is miraculous, but even so one may ask: what does any of it have to do with the Eucharist?

It is possible to focus so much on finding the moral of a story that one misses the essence of it.  The “lesson” of the raising of Lazarus, one could say, is what Christ says earlier in the Gospel reading, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  And yet, this is not the text of the Communion chant.  Consider again what Christ says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25).  He does not say “My salvation is the resurrection and the life,” or even “I will give you resurrection and life,” but “I am the resurrection and the life.”  He is not describing a  notion,  but He is describing His very self.  It is because He is who He is that Lazarus is raised from the dead.  Indeed, Martha and Mary know this in admirable faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died” (Jn 11: 21, 32).

Precious to them was the presence of their Lord, and how dear every thing about Him must have been.  The contours of his troubled face – “moved by the deepest emotions” (Jn 11:33) – and the tears he wept as they took him to the tomb (Jn 11:34).  These features of Christ are presented to us in the chant Videns Dominus, and how poignant a subject to ponder as we approach Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  The body, blood, soul and divinity that we receive in the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Him that grieved, wept, and raised a man dead four days from the tomb.  The particulars of Christ that are proclaimed by the chant are neither arbitrary nor forgettable; they are every bit contained in the Sacrament we approach and receive.

To be struck by the particulars of His presence might be the first sign of a growing love for Him.  Videns Dominus – and many other chants in their stunning particularity – show us that the simple presence of Jesus is sweeter than any moral, lesson, or teaching about Him.  May all of our sacred music communicate this truth, for we are destined for nothing less than to fall in love with Christ.

What Would It Mean to Believe in the Resurrection, Part 3

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

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What Would it Mean to Believe in the Resurrection? – part III

Faith, hope and love must co-inhere. How can we understand their interrelationship? In his little classic, Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Charles Peguy imagines faith, hope and love as three sisters.

Faith and love are older;

hope is the youngest and smallest of the three.

The little hope moves forward in between her two older sisters and one

scarcely notices her.

On the path to salvation, on the earthly path, on the rocky path of

salvation, on the interminable road, on the road in between

her two older sisters, the little hope

Pushes on. …

And no one pays attention, the Christian people don’t pay attention,

except to the two older sisters.

[But] It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.

Because Faith sees only what is.

But she, she sees what will be.

Charity loves only what is.

But she, she loves what will be.

Hope can see what will be, and so empowers both faith and charity. To become certain of the resurrection would require more than a movement of the mind, therefore, it rather requires a movement of the heart. Pascal points out that path to belief: “Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions.” To know the certainty of resurrection, the heart must open to God. And, in turn, the sure hope of the resurrection will persuade us of God’s love.

Does faith dare hope to what lengths divine love will go? When Satan burgled Eden, he took the most valuable possession and imprisoned it in a stronghold he thought was secure. The evil one thought he could hide anthropos from God by shame and accusation and death. He took Adam to a place he thought was out of God’s reach. But he was mistaken. Ephrem the Syrian sings in his Hymns on Paradise


Adam was heedless

as guardian of Paradise,

for the crafty thief

stealthily entered;

leaving aside the fruit

— which most men would covet–

he stole instead

the Garden’s inhabitant!

Adam’s Lord came out to seek him;

He entered Sheol and found him there,

then led and brought him out

to set him once more in Paradise.

When the man and the woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden, the Lord God called, saying, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The cry, “Adam, Eve, where are you?” sounded in the garden that first time. Then angels went to the corners of the universe shouting the question, not only because they were bid by their Lord to do so, but also because they missed the humans’ voices in the celestial choir. The king sent inquisitors with the question through the long corridors of history–Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah–but neither could they find Adam and Eve. Finally, the Lord put on flesh, so that he could die, so that he could look in the last, last place. And there, in Sheol, he found them: deaf, mute, ashamed, dead. And the Lord brought out the man and woman and led them once more to paradise. This dogma is written in icon, too.

This is what we celebrate in this Easter season – the culmination of humanity’s salvation history, and the declaration of our beatitude. We celebrate the Paschal accomplishment of our reorientation from death to life, from darkness to light, from Satan to God. We are directed to the time when we will slough off our garments of skin and to be arrayed in glory. I had a comical thought about this one spring day when I was reminded how anxiously I waited as a child to get rid of my winter coat.  I wrote about it in my column in Gilbert Magazine.

One day I am sealed in my ponderous, bulky coat, and the next I am free of it. Like Superman ripping apart his Clark Kent shirt and tie on the way to the telephone booth, I zip apart my jacket and throw it into the house behind me. Spring has come. I am loose again. It provoked in me the odd thought of wondering what it would be like if other animals in God’s Kingdom followed suit (no pun intended). Spring comes, and the turtle yawns, stretches, then feels for the zipper under his chin and after one smooth pull steps out of his shell. Or perhaps he reaches up behind his neck and pulls his shell over his head like a T-shirt. Unencumbered, he dashes through the grass as speedily as a turtle is able to dash. Spring comes, and the snake slithers out of his pants, carelessly leaving them behind in the grass, like a boy strewing his clothes on the bedroom floor. Spring comes, and the horses kick off their heavy hoofs to run barefoot in the grass, like kids are glad to kick off their galoshes. Spring comes, and the children on the playground doff their snow pants to find they can climb more nimbly; and maybe inside the bulky, lumbering gait of a bear is a lithe and agile creature waiting to step out of its winter woolies.

Clothing – and re-clothing – is a Christian image of the resurrection, described so well by Paul Claudel’s meditations on Resurrection from the Dead. “This flick of the nail which will split our pod from top to bottom … Our material body yellows and withers until the seed of immortality is ready.” It was not made to last forever in its present form. “This body which we have inherited through a series of intersecting accidents is now rightfully ours through grace,” but one day it will be glorified. “The soul therefore surrenders her old tunic to the elements while waiting to be reclothed in that new and innocent garment which He has promised.” Our heavenly garments will be white, like light.  We will be light. “This is the stuff of our baptismal gown. … This is the cloth which heaven supplies to the wardrobe of the Holy Father. This is the linen closet where we would like to plunge our arms and draw forth those noble fabrics with which we would clothe ourselves in folds of glory!” The resurrection to come will be the Great Spring, when we will slough off our mortality.  It will be the Final Spring, when we will find spiritual agility hidden underneath our garments of clay.

To realize that we were made for eternity radically reorientates our priorities. It makes us see each moment through the lens of an impending resurrection. Here is Gregory of Nyssa:

“If you realize this you will not allow your eye to rest on anything of this world. Indeed, you will no longer marvel even at the heavens. For how can you admire the heavens, my [child], when you see that you are more permanent than they? For the heavens pass away, but you will abide for all eternity with Him who is forever.”

The theological virtues of faith, hope and love make us into people who share Eternal Life with the Eternal One, and our vocation is to be witnesses (martyria)! We are called to be “martyrs of the resurrection” in the valley of death, which waits for its transfiguration and completion. Resurrection life is trampling down death by death (as Orthodox hymnody sings at Easter), and being capacitated to contain the glory of God.

Lewis said that some completed people already dot the landscape.

Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. … They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do but they need you less. They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from.

To believe in the resurrection would mean to live something like that. Each of the saints reveal another facet of what resurrection life looks like, which is why we like to keep their company.  Though space, time and matter will evanesce, we are capable of being made into a three-sided liturgical loom on which eternal life is woven, one day to be gently lifted off by the master weaver, without dropping a stitch, and fitted into his own radiant garment. The sepulcher becomes a birth canal.



Experiencing the Sacraments in Context: Miguel Pro and Bunny Get Married

Elizabeth Franzosa

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Chicago, IL

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I love teaching Sacraments because it’s so directly related to the students’ concrete experiences of faith. Sacraments are a primary way the students will continue to engage their faith throughout their lives, and this lesson gives them a way to experience and learn about the Sacrament of Marriage in the classroom. Hopefully, our classroom preparation and reflection will give them an understanding of the Sacraments that they can use in their faith lives now and in the future. Because of the experiential and reflective parts of this lesson, the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation) is useful in explaining it; teachers and catechists who are familiar with other templates for lesson planning may find the steps familiar.

Learning Objective

Students will be able to demonstrate and explain how the words and symbols of marriage show the meaning of the Sacrament, in order to understand and celebrate the sacraments in their own lives.


In the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, this is the “prior knowledge and attitudes” piece of the lesson plan, the recognition that the students and I are coming from a certain time, place, and culture when we engage with the material. At Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, we serve an almost completely Mexican-American population, because of our location in the city and our dual-language curriculum. The sophomores in this class have all been raised Catholic and had almost all attended a Catholic wedding before we began this lesson. Their previous experience with the Sacrament and their impressions of what marriage means gave us a place to begin and develop our experience of the Sacrament.


In my sophomore Sacraments class, the best investment in classroom materials I’ve ever made is the $1.50 I spent at the thrift store on a Cabbage Patch doll. We named him after Blessed Miguel Pro, our school’s patron, the Mexican Jesuit priest who cried, “Viva Cristo Rey!” as he was martyred. Cabbage Patch Miguel Pro is the one who experiences all the Sacraments we study; the students understand that we don’t want to actually do the Sacraments on real people, but Cabbage Patch Miguel Pro gives us an opportunity to see what the Sacraments are like in a classroom setting.

The students sit in cooperative learning groups in my classroom, and I assigned each group to one aspect of the Sacrament – the Liturgy of the Word, the Consent, Blessing and Exchange of Rings, Nuptial Blessing, Final Blessing – as well as groups to explain the symbols of the Sacrament and prepare Miguel Pro and his bride, Bunny, for the Sacrament. I’ve done this activity with older students with the words of the Rite as a primary source, but the advantage of having a textbook is that the students have a grade-level resource to help them understand the Sacrament. Either way, the students use the words and actions of the Sacrament to explain what it means in the lives of people who are experiencing it.


This is where the catechetical function of the Sacrament serves us so well in the classroom. After each group looks into the words, actions, and symbols of their section of the Sacrament, they stand in front of the class to act out that part of the Sacrament with Miguel Pro and Bunny. After they act out their section, they stop and explain what that section tells us about the meaning of the Sacrament. This is also my opportunity to emphasize important parts, lead them to further personal reflection, and fill in any gaps in the material the students have presented. When I teach this lesson, I often use what the students have presented to emphasize or add to a point.

The words and actions of the Sacrament itself give them material for reflection, and this activity works especially well in getting them to connect their prior knowledge and experiences of the Sacrament. The picture shows Miguel Pro and Bunny as the studentsprepared them for the ceremony, wearing rings made out of paper clips (as bracelets, considering that they don’t have fingers), and Bunny is wearing the white garment that we also use at Miguel Pro’s Baptism. The students insisted that Bunny and Miguel Pro need a lazo (or lasso), a Mexican tradition, at their wedding, and they cast other students as godparents to put the lazo on them to symbolize the joining of their lives in God.


The “action” piece of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm asks the students to consider how their learning translates into action in their own lives. I assess their learning about the meaning of the Sacrament, but my goal for this lesson, beyond the academic, is to lead the students closer to an interior knowledge of the meaning of the Sacrament of Marriage in their own lives and the lives of others, and to act on that knowledge throughout their lives as they encounter God through the Sacraments.


What Would It Mean to Believe in the Resurrection, Part 2

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

What Would It Mean to Believe in the Resurrection, Part 2

The first condition for believing in the resurrection, I said, was faith.  Here I would like to discuss the second and third conditions: love and hope.

Confirmation of love’s role come from a surprising source – the philosopher Wittgenstein. Born into a Jewish family, and living in relative agnosticism for part of his life, he thought his way into religious questions. In Culture and Value he writes:

What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought. — If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation…

But if I am to be really saved, — what I need is certainty — not wisdom, dreams or speculation — and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence.…

Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection.

Wittgenstein has linked together faith and love.  They co-inhere.  Faith consists of aligning our heart with God’s heart, and his heart is full of love.  We are being made fit to receive the joy held in store for us.

Human beings are made for Eternal Life, which is different from everlasting life.  It does not mean going on, and on, and on. Eternal life is full, active and conscious participation in the life of the Eternal One.  As such, it can already begin. Benedict XVI writes in his second volume on Jesus, “’Eternal life’ is not – as the modern reader might immediately assume – life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. ‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death.” (81) But this means that we can already begin our eternal life.  We can start the process already. The Desert Fathers spoke of a first resurrection of the soul that happens when we have overcome the passions and aligned our will to love God above all things; a second resurrection of the body is to follow. If things work right, we go to our death already resurrected!

Then everything would be different: our experience of time and history and matter would be different; we would desire differently and perhaps different things; our work, our play, our vocation, would all look different.  Most people know that when they are deeply in love their toes are touching bedrock as they otherwise float along through life.  (And I don’t just mean romantic love; think of parents sacrificing for their children by being deeply in love with them.) The happiness that comes from loving, is different from any other sort of happiness.  It is a foretaste of resurrected life. This love lifts us out of things temporal and points us, like an arrow, at eternity. Chesterton writes,

“for Catholics it is a fundamental dogma of the Faith that all human beings, without any exception whatever, were specially made, were shaped and pointed like shining arrows, for the end of hitting the mark of Beatitude.”

Hope is the third name of the subjective state I am trying to describe. Jean Danielou writes about the impact hope would have on us in his little book Prayer: Mission of the Church.

The most difficult theological virtue is hope. In spite of the promises of Christ, how many Christians there are who haven’t the slightest certainty that they will one day enter into possession of the beatific vision and the overflowing joy of God! How many Christians there are who live without the conviction that they are moving toward this joy! And these people thus show little disposition to generosity because lacking certainty about what is to come, one would rather, as they say, get the most out of this life.

I suggest his words contain the truce between liturgy and social justice, between the tabernacle and the soup kitchen, between the mystics and the Matthew 25 Christians. Our liturgical celebration of the mystery of the resurrection floods the light of hope into our hearts, and produces generosity in us because it permits a sort of reckless abandon in the way we live on this earth. If this is all there is, we might conclude “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” If we are only a flickering bit of consciousness that will be snuffed out tomorrow, we might only focus upon the little pleasure we can squeeze out of today. (How simple life must be for a hedonist!)

I understand there are some Christians who are so heavenly minded they’re of no earthly good, but Danielou’s very point is that this is the hope for beatitude gone awry. It is the light of the resurrection that allows us to take the proper measure of this world, and therefore respond with the proper action. It allows us to see our brief 80 years in proper perspective. The saint with a soul soaring upward into heaven does not forget the world; to the contrary, he or she is in the most radically free position to transform the world. Chesterton describes this by saying we must be “enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it.” Having hope in the world to come does not cut us off from the world we live in now. Rather, it permits us to love the world radically, without practical calculation of cost analysis. Hope gives courage. Hope gives fortitude.


What Would It Mean to Believe in the Resurrection, Part 1

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

What Would It Mean to Believe in the Resurrection, Part I.

I believe all kinds of things: I believe that in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue; I believe E = mc2 (though I don’t understand it); I believe warm weather will finally come to South Bend; I believed my Garmin yesterday as it brought me to this doorstep; and so forth. But surely different kinds of truths call for different kinds of belief. The object requires something of the subject. Something different is required of me to believe the weatherman when he tells me tomorrow it will be sunny, than is required of me when I believe my wife when she tells me that she loves me. Different degrees of commitment by the believing subject are required, and the difference is created by the object of knowledge. This is what I have in mind when I ask: what would it mean to believe in the resurrection?

My teacher, Paul Holmer, investigated the subjective quality of knowing (which is not the same as subjectivism).  As a philosopher, he considered the cost of knowing some things. He wanted to ask how we are capacitated to know truth, and I share two of his summary remarks with you. First, “You cannot peddle truth or happiness: what a thought cost in the first instance, it will cost in the second.” In other words, what it cost Augustine to understand grace, it will cost you to understand grace. He can point the way, but he cannot travel the road for you. In one kind of knowledge, scientists stand on the shoulders of previous scientists as they pile up knowledge, but there’s another kind of knowledge – wisdom, I would say – which cannot just be piled up. Each person must take it and apply it to himself individually. The second remark by Holmer was “What we know depends upon the kind of person we have made ourselves to be.” There are things a coarse and egocentric person cannot know; there are things a gluttonous and avaricious person cannot know (speaking of liturgical asceticism again, as the first three parts of this series did).

Now, what kind of person must we be in order to believe in the resurrection? I’d like to suggest three names for the subjective condition for believing in this objective truth. I think I’m describing one state, but naming it works better using three names instead of one.
(1) First, the subjective state required to believe in the resurrection may be called faith. I am thinking both of the beginning touch of faith, and its greater extension in our lives. I mean it in the sense of metanoia – conversion, repentance. We take on a “new mind” (a meta nous). There are some things for which, to see them, a new mind is required, which capacitates us for this belief.  A profound modification of the human being is needed. We do receive new minds from time to time, and with a little effort you can think of examples. That philosopher who opened up for you a whole new way of seeing things, or that theologian who made the penny drop.  A man might boringly till a field to plant the most boring crop of turnips ever put in the ground, but one day he falls in love, marries, has children, and begins planting his garden to feed his family, and the old action becomes different. Teleology is connected with meaning.

Cultivating this teleological orientation requires a sort of integrity of us, which Holmer says is a kind of attentiveness.

“If someone says,” he writes: “’My trouble is I’ve never known what I wanted,’ the issue is not the hiddenness and internal privacy of wants, but very probably that one has never wanted steadily and long. The problem is not that my ‘wants’ are unknowable, even to me; the problem is that I have not trained my wants, like I have not trained my eye on the target. Failing this, there is no “I.”

Who I am involves what I have loved long and hard. Holmer continues, “If one’s subjectivity is made up only of episodic and trivial desires, stimulated by accident and circumstance, then one is not a person at all. No self gets a chance to develop.” This is what it means to have integrity. Integritas means soundness, from integer, which means whole, complete. Integrity means being a person who wants, instead of being a collection of wants. There is someone inside. My name is being written on the white stone. If we wanted steadily and long, if we wanted worthwhile things, if we judged between the trivial and the consequential, if we focused our attention so as to order the welter of sensations we receive, then we would have a kind of consistency or texture to our lives. Do we really want the resurrection? In his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis says

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Resurrection hope lifts us from our love of mud pies. And we need beauty, imagination, glory, and similar qualities to awaken us to this greater dimension. The liturgical celebration of the Paschal mystery of Easter in a week should do exactly this. We have been told that this material world is all there is, but Christianity believes that this world has a sacramental scent. Again, in C. S. Lewis’s words:

Everything in this world is but a reminder of a far-off country. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

What if we really did believe that a human being is made for resurrection and eternal life? Would we not treat the human being differently, whether at the end of life, or in the womb as the person is just beginning to pass into actuality. A human being’s whole existence is constantly on the crest of a wave from potentiality to actuality. If we really did believe we have eternity after today’s life – wouldn’t that affect how we behave today? It would imply taking the measure of this world against the horizon of eternity, the way we must sometimes take the measure of the day’s events against the horizon of our whole life.
In his book Man At Play, Hugo Rahner describes the affect of standing at the exact midpoint between heaven and earth.

He who plays after this fashion is the “grave-merry” man … he is a man with an easy gaiety of spirit, one might almost say a man of spiritual elegance, a man who feels himself to be living in invincible security; but he is also a man of tragedy, a man of laughter and tears, a man, indeed, of gentle irony, for he sees through the tragically ridiculous masks of the game of life and has taken the measure of the cramping boundaries of our earthly existence. (27)

In other words, only such a man can accept and lovingly embrace the world – which includes himself –as God’s handiwork, and, at the same time, toss it aside as a child would toss a toy of which it had wearied, in order then to soar upward into the ‘blessed seriousness’ which is God alone.

This seems to me a description of an elegant person of faith.

Editorial Notes: Articles this Week (4/25-29)


A blessed Easter Monday to you all.  We here at the Center for Liturgy remain on holiday through Easter Tuesday.  But, we still have a fresh selection of articles coming out this week in commemoration of the Octave of Easter.

David Fagerberg will continue his series on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, with the last of a three-part series on the resurrection, entitled “What Would It Mean to Believe in the Resurrection.”  Our twenty-part series by Tim O’Malley providing a mystagogy of the Paschal Triduum will also continue with mystagogy on the Easter Vigil, including the Exsultet, the readings of the Vigil, the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), and the Easter Alleluia.

Finally, we have two additional pieces this week, one on teaching the sacraments to high school students by Beth Franzosa and another by Mary Catherine Levri on an Easter chant.

Though we don’t have a space for comments at the end of the article, we welcome any comments, questions, or corrections.  You can send them into Tim O’Malley.

Full, Conscious, and Active Participation in Christ’s Death, Part 3

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

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Full, Active and Conscious Participation in Christ’s Death – Part III

The struggle against the vices, that we mentioned last time, was the focus of the ascetical theologians. They wanted to know how to put our passions to death. The Greek philosophers had thought of man as having three faculties: the concupiscible, the irascible, and the intellective. In other words, human beings have an appetite, they can be moved in spirit, and they can reason. When these faculties are working properly, they function in the image of God. But when they move incorrectly, they produce the passions. So when Evagrius systematically orders his list of passions, he does it around these three faculties. Gluttony, lust, and avarice are distortions of our concupiscible faculty; sadness, anger, acedia are distortions of our irascible faculty;  and the last two passions afflict our right reason: vainglory, pride. So long as I see the world through the cataracts of sin, I see the world falsely. If I look at my neighbor’s wife lustfully, or at my neighbor enviously, or at the goods of the earth avariciously, I am seeing the cosmos in distortion. There is therefore an ascetical struggle that trains for death by dying to the passions. Maximus observes that “Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul; fasting extinguishes the concupiscible part …” So we see fasting, almsgiving and prayer as the Lenten aerobic exercises leading us up to Good Friday, year after year. It takes a sharp sword to make the fine cut that would separate our passions from our heart, without stopping our heart beating. Such a sword God wields. Claudel says “God came to pierce each soul; it was His way of opening a passage for Himself.”

External circumstances, the practical life in which we are engaged, only allow us to live on the crust, to use the most superficial part, not necessarily the worst but the least authentic part of ourselves. Only profound emotion, the weight and painful pressure of harsh and turbulent events, reach down to the gushing salutary vein in the depths of us. Someone has fought his way through to us. Someone is urging us to say outright the real name, our own real name.

With all this talk about piercing and pressuring and crucifying, what would cause us to actively pursue it? It is the deepest mystery at the heart of asceticism. At this depth, faith works by its own logic, and it frequently turns our expectations upside down. We get exactly what we want, exactly the way we want it, says Charles Williams about judgment. And Claudel says we rush to the resurrection from our grave because we desire judgment. A strange thought. Our first reaction is to skulk along the back wall of the room and avoid the gaze of God, but Claudel says that deep down we desire it.

Our conscience has found what it longed for above all else: a Judge … There are so many things heaped up inside us all ready and only waiting to become an answer for the question to be put. A question, a challenge, a presence.

On the day of the Last Judgment, it is not only the Judge who will descend from heaven, the whole world will rush forth to meet him.

George MacDonald picks up a passage from the book of Revelations to explain this paradox.  The 17th verse of chapter 2 in the Book of Revelation says “To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows save he that receives it.” What is this name? It is not one of the ordinary names we go by in this world.

A name of the ordinary kind in this world, has nothing essential in it. It is but a label by which one man and a scrap of his external history may be known from another man and a scrap of his history. The only names which have significance are those which the popular judgment or prejudice or humor bestows, either for ridicule or honour, upon a few out of the many.

We have names of these kind in abundance – from our tribe and our kin and our employment. But MacDonald says deep down we want our true name.

The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the being, the meaning of the person who hears it. It is the man’s own symbol – his soul’s picture, in a word – the sign which belongs to him and to no one else.

How do we get such a name? The answer is obvious. We know the answer in fact, unconsciously, but conversion means becoming fully conscious of this knowledge. Conversion means coming to an active desire for this name. MacDonald asks three questions about it:

(1) Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is, or even, seeing what he is, could express in  a name-word the sum and harmony of what he sees.

(2) To whom is this name given? To him that overcometh.

(3) When is it given? When he has overcome.

Now the mystery of grace & free will arises.

Does God then not know what a man is going to become? As surely as he sees the oak which he put there lying in the heart of the acorn. Why then does he wait till the man has become by overcoming ere he settles what his name shall be? He does not wait; he knows his name from the first. But as – although repentance comes because God pardons – yet the man becomes aware of the pardon only in the repentance; so it is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it …

God foresees that from the first, because he made it so; but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear, and could not know what the word meant … Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name. To tell the name is to seal the success – to say “In thee I am well pleased.” …

The bare wood of the cross is fixed with greenery between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, as the bare tree of our soul comes to bear its blossoms at judgment day. We must kiss the cross on the way to receive our white stone. We must desire that judgment, that purgation, that purification fully, consciously and actively. When the good mare Hwin meets Aslan for the first time, she trots up to the lion, shaking all over. “Please, you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”

Full, Active, and Conscious Participation in Christ’s Death, Part 2

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

We spoke in the first part of Christ’s activity always proceeding out of the relationship of love. God’s love is seen through the crucifixion. Paul Claudel’s reflections on the crucifixion are focused exactly on this. They are gathered from his various writings by his goddaughter, Agnes du Sarment, in a meditation on the Apostle’s Creed entitled I Believe in God. Jesus said, “I come not to be served but to serve.” And Claudel replies, “well, if it is true that you came to serve, I daresay you got what you were after!” Then he criticizes a casual attitude toward liturgy. “It is painful to know that you are here at our disposal and that we can think of no better use for you than to help pass that tedious half hour before dinner on Sunday.” On the cross the fall is undone. Things work now in reverse in order to reverse our backward life. Claudel writes, “Long ago Adam hid himself from God among the trees of paradise; now it is God’s turn to hide. … He created the world, and the world denies him a sip of water.”

A god is about to die before our eyes … On the very brink of this act by which all things exist he found no way to defend himself from the shaft of love.

The earth trembles and gates, the curtain of the temple is torn from top to bottom, the graves vomit up their dead. There is a universal shuddering of the whole creation around the cross. On all sides things break asunder and yawn open.

The first creation which we have stained had to be split open so that the seed of new life can find its way to the surface. And to plant such a seed in ourselves, we too must be split open. The hammer blows on the nails in his hands, must become chisel blows cracking our closed souls open. It feels impossible. Claudel concludes, “I feel that I have undertaken something beyond my strength. These wings of wood, how can I adjust them to sit on my shoulders?”

The eternal son did not need to die, for he was born without the original curse and was in constant communion with his Father, who is the source of life. Nevertheless he died in order to crack open the door through which we may squeeze into eternal life. Louis Bouyer is blunt about the matter. “Christ died for us, not in order to dispense us from dying, but rather to make us capable of dying efficaciously.” (xiv) Our dying must be full, we must actively embrace it, and we must do so consciously.

Rightly understood, [Bouyer continues] the imitation of Christ is the very essence of the Christian life. We must have in us the mind that Christ had; we must be crucified and buried and rise with him. This, of course, does not mean that we fallen human beings are to copy clumsily the God-man. The whole matter is a mystery signifying that we are to be grafted upon him so that the same life which was in him and which he has come to give us may develop in us as in him and produce in us the same fruits of sanctity and love that it produced in him. (xv)

Astonishing! Jesus is the Lord, Adonai, the Kyrios, the corporeal dwelling place of divinity – but this is not all. “Just as men had borne the likeness of the terrestrial Adam, so they were now called to resemble the heavenly Adam. Baptized in him, they would ‘put him on.’” (xv)

We dig our toe in the sand in humility, either false or real, and confess that we do not think we can resemble Christ. We are content to downgrade the mystical faith to a religious morality in which we just try to keep enough of the ten commandments to squeeze past judgment. But the divine economy did not plan on stopping short. The Holy Spirit’s chisel will not stop its blows until we are perfect, as our father in heaven is perfect. That is the closing verse of the marching orders to evangelical perfection, the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5. Blessed Columba Marmion writes,

“What in fact is a Christian? ‘Another Christ,’ all antiquity replies.”

And what is the life the Christian lives? “A list of observances? In nowise. It is the life of Christ within us, and all that Christ has appointed to maintain this life in us; it is the Divine life overflowing from the bosom of the Father into Christ Jesus and, through Him, into our soul.”  “God not only wills that we should be saved, but that we should become saints.”

“God is not content and never will be content … with a natural morality or religion; He wills us to act as children of a divine race.”

The liturgical mysteries, then, are not events in the biography of the Nazarene, buried under the dust of time, taken out to ogle on days of obligation. In the Triduum we do not look at the past, but at our future, and what it will presently cost. Our participation in the paschal mystery is full, conscious, and active because, Marmion says, Christ attaches a grace to each of His mysteries in order “to help us to reproduce within ourselves His divine features in order to make us like unto Him.”

This death is hard for creatures like ourselves, so we must practice it. We must train for our  biological death by daily dying. Such an athletic training was called askesis by the ancient world, and the Church fathers spoke of an asceticism in the Christian life. If asceticism was perfected in the sands of the desert, it is born in the waters of the baptismal font. Every Christian is to be an ascetic, though not every Christian is an ascetic of the monastic variety. Asceticism is a battle against the passions, the vices, and this battle every Christian vows at his or her baptism. Remember that sacramentum meant the military oath a soldier took; then liturgical asceticism is the fulfillment of our baptismal sacrament. Liturgical asceticism is the cost of being made more Christoform. A person is a block of marble within which lies an image of the image of God (the Son), and each strike of mallet and chisel by the Holy Spirit frees that image from stone-cold vices in order to create out of women and men a liturgical son who shares the Son’s filial relationship with God the Father. If liturgy means sharing the life of Christ (being washed in his resurrection, eating his body), and if askesis means discipline (in the sense of forming), then liturgical asceticism is the discipline required to become an icon of Christ and make his image visible in our faces.

I am suggesting that this liturgical asceticism is how the mystery celebrated liturgically becomes the mystery loved and lived. The mystery of the liturgy clings to us as we leave the church, like the scent of incense clinging to our clothes, that we may practice the paschal mystery fully and consciously and actively in the recesses of our heart. For the place where we confront our old Adam in order to put him to death is not on a hillside outside Jerusalem, but within the depths of our hearts. In our hearts the struggle between the vices and virtues go on.



Full, Active, and Conscious Participation in Christ’s Death, Part 1

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

I am not being flippant or, what would be worse, sarcastic, when I pluck up a phrase that normally occupies the land of rubrics and apply it to the crucifixion. To speak of full, active, and conscious participation usually brings up pastoral disputes in the liturgical range wars over hymnal selection and extraordinary ministers of communion. But my intent in juxtaposing it to Christ’s death is to remind us that any reform of the liturgy does not have as its purpose to bring us closer to some historical era, but to Christ. Too often when we think about liturgy we think only about its tip – I mean something like the tip of an iceberg. The tip of the liturgical iceberg is the part we can see: it is the public, liturgical ceremony done in ritualized form. But it is connected to a massive reality below the waterline. Of course liturgy has a visible ceremonial face, but it is not merely this. To fully comprehend the ritual liturgy we must appreciate the saving economy that it epiphanizes. Thus Pius XII’s definition of liturgy:

The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder, and through Him to the heavenly Father. It is, in short, the worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christ in the entirety of its Head and members. (Mediator Dei ¶ 20)

The liturgy is our inclusion, made possible by the Holy Spirit, in a relationship between the Son and the Father. (i) The Son worships the Father; (ii) the Church worships the Son, her founder; (iii) and through the Son, together with the Son, the Church worships the Father. All this occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit who is ushering creation into a redeemed, eschatological, spiritual existence.

Now, at the center of that timeline between the protological alpha and the eschatological omega, stands the paschal mystery. Everything leads up to it, and everything flows out of it. And when Mother Church said, in the second Vatican council, that she “earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations,” she was not speaking about our right to ritual. She was speaking about our right to spiritual life. (I suppose this to also apply to the new translation coming ahead. Like a new pair of shoes, the translation will pinch for a few weeks while we break it in, but the purpose of every liturgical text is to enable us to walk up to the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.) This kind of participation is the Christian’s right and duty by reason of their baptism, and confirms their identity as a chosen race, and royal priesthood, holy nation, and a redeemed people. The reason to restore and promote the sacred liturgy is so that the faithful may derive from it the true Christian spirit. All this is from Sacrosanctum Concilum 14.

What is the true Christian spirit that we are to derive from the liturgy? The one found in Christ, the one which is found in Christ’s hypostatic union. This is where a human will was finally fully conformed to the will of God – something intended for the first Adam, but not accomplished. The first Adam did not have equality with God, but grasped at it; the second Adam did have equality with God but did not grasp at it, but emptied himself into only one desire: to obey the Father, to love the Father, to be near the Father. George MacDonald, the Scottish preacher who had such an influence on C. S. Lewis because Lewis said he could “smell holiness” in his writings, puts it this way:

His whole thought, his whole delight, was in the thought, in the will, in the being of his Father. The joy of the Lord’s life, that which made it life to him, was the Father; of him he was always thinking, to him he was always turning. I suppose most men have some thought of pleasure or satisfaction or strength to which they turn when action pauses, life becomes for a moment still, and the wheel sleeps on its own swiftness: with Jesus it needed no pause of action, no rush of renewed consciousness, to send him home; his thought was ever and always his Father. To its home in the heart of the father his heart ever turned. That was his treasure-house, the jewel of his mind, the mystery of his gladness, claiming all degrees and shades of delight, from peace and calmest content to ecstasy. His life was hid in God.

This attitude was present throughout the life of Jesus, such as we are privileged to glimpse it in the Gospels. Jesus’ one will is to do the will of the one who sent him. And, “Why call me good?” he asks, “No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:8, Luke 18:10). And when the hour was coming when each of his disciples would be scattered to his own home, the hour we will be remembering with shame in a few days, he says he will not be alone “because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32). Insofar as the cross is the Father’s will for his Son because it is required for our redemption, Jesus brings himself to embrace the cross. The most frequently mentioned type of Christ by patristic theologians was Moses, of course: prophet, priest and king all rolled into one. But the second most frequently mentioned was Isaac. He willingly submitted to Abraham’s raised knife hand (though Jewish interpretation supposed Abraham was old and frail, and Isaac was young and strong and could have escaped). By whose sacrifice was it, they asked? The Sacrifice of Abraham or the Sacrifice of Isaac? If you are focused on the victim, it is the sacrifice of Isaac; if you are focused on the wounded love, it is the sacrifice of Abraham. And whose sacrifice is it on the cross? No less the Father’s than the Son’s.

Now, that raises a challenge for us. We are anxious to get to the resurrection, to Easter, like children are anxious to get to their chocolate eggs on Easter morning. We would be happy to embrace the prophet, the teacher of love on the shores of Galilee, the idea we have of a Messiah, the miracle worker and parable spinner, but we cannot speed past this fact: that if we are to fully, consciously and actively participate in the life of Christ, then we must embrace what he embraced. And he embraced the cross, from love, out of obedience.

Part 2 will be posted on 4/20/2011.

Editorial Notes: Articles this Week


It has come to our attention that it would be helpful for readers if we kept you aware of what articles are forthcoming over the course of a week.  This week, in commemoration of the more contemplative tone of Holy Week, we will be beginning a 6 part series by Oblation’s co-editor, David Fagerberg, on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The first three will be published on Holy Monday, Holy Wednesday, and Good Friday of this week.

We will also be continuing the series on mystagogy in the Paschal Triduum, with videos/text on the silence of Good Friday, the suffering servant, the intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy, the Eucharistic nature of the adoration of the cross, and the communion rite.  The series will continue after the Triduum with reflections upon the Vigil in the octave of Easter.  Our regular columns will resume after Easter.

We pray that you have a blessed Holy Week.  We’ll leave you with these two videos to chew upon.  Look for a posting this afternoon.