Give Thanks to the Lord, for He is Good! (Psalm 107:1)

Annie Harton, Echo 8

St. Theresa Catholic Church, Archdiocese of Galveston – Houston

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5

You’ve been so busy the past week that you’ve barely had a minute to simply be. You settle down in the pew. Your body relaxes, but your mind is still spinning. You know that someone is reading from the Scriptures, but you can only catch a line here and there. The reader pauses, and you find yourself joining the congregation in automatically saying, “Thanks be to God.” The rest of the Mass follows like clockwork before it flies by so fast you can hardly remember what the readings were about.

Sound familiar? I will be first to admit on certain Sundays, I have been less than attentive. I have never thought about this automatic response following the First and Second Readings until one Summer M.A. Mass on a Monday evening in Malloy Hall chapel at the University of Notre Dame. My mind was processing a week’s worth of coursework in two different classes held over the course of that day. I was tired. The homily was long.  It included a number of historical meanderings, of which I’m not extraordinarily interested in.  I was hungry.  Due to the length of the homily, I was worried that we might not get to the dining hall before it closed.  Furthermore, I had a heavy heart and could not figure out how God was working through some challenges in my life.  Though these concerns made it hard to focus, they also played a part in why this homily would never be forgotten.  The priest suggested we focus upon the narratives of those in the Scriptures.  He reminded all gathered at Mass that the many stories in the Scriptures come in all various shapes and sizes.   The characters in these narratives exhibit a range of emotions and encounter both brokenness and healing. Then, he pointed to the reality that no matter what the story is we hear during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, we proclaim “Thanks be to God!”

If it’s of battle, thanks be to God. If it’s of confusion, thanks be to God. If it’s of obedience, thanks be to God. If it’s of new life, thanks be to God. If it’s of joy, thanks be to God. The list goes on and on.

We understand thanking God for the good things.  We find it easy to offer our gratitude to God for those moments of joy in the Scriptures and our own lives.  That’s when we are the most excited to be Christians, right?  Life is good! God is good! I love God and He loves me! But, why would we thank God when such joy is not present?  In the midst of conflicts? Why would we thank God when we are confused or hurt? How does this make sense?

Well, it doesn’t make sense immediately.  But, when we think of our lives as gifts and each day of that life as a gift, then we come to see that God bestows gift in every nanosecond of our lives.  St. Therese goes as far to say, “Everything is a gift; everything’s a grace.”  When we see that all of these stories are included in the Christian story, our story, the story of Love itself becoming flesh, our “Thanks be to God” could not make more sense.

Whenever we remember the story of Christ’s passion, we know how the story ends. It ends with Our Lord walking out of the cold, dark tomb with wounds in His hands, feet, and side. He’s clothed in pure white, radiant as the Sun.  He is the Son, the Light that conquers all darkness.

Would this image of the resurrected Christ mean as much if He had no wounds, if He had not been lifted up on that wooden Cross, if He had not fallen three times, if He had not offered up His will to the Father? If he had not been so scared of what the future held that he cried tears of blood?  We remember the passion of Christ at each Eucharistic Liturgy and discover what it accomplishes for us.  Even when Christ felt alone, the Father was always with Him. It was Christ’s gift of himself in the midst of each mockery he faced, each wound he felt, each fall he endured and each breath he breathed that made clear the depths of divine love revealed in the Resurrection.

 

“The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving'” (CCC 1360).   

Looking more deeply into this paragraph of the Catechism, one notices that God has accomplished all things through His Word.  From the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) to “Come, Follow Me” (Mark 1:17) to “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).  God creates, redeems and sanctifies.  Our response is an act of faith to this reality, to the power of God’s Word.

I have recently become intrigued by Mary’s faithful response in God’s plan of salvation. Nothing could have prepared her for her visit with an angel, except God’s own gift itself.  At the Annunciation, the angel proclaimed the Word of God, inviting Mary to participate in God’s plan of salvation, to bear the child Jesus.  Amid her shock, confusion, and questions, Gabriel told her the Lord is with her and that she must not be afraid (Lk. 1:28-30). Responding with her faithful ‘yes’, she handed over her understanding and control to God’s will.  Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:28). The angel departed.  She was left with the memory of that encounter and the Word that was spoken to her to comfort her and keep her faith alive in the challenges ahead.  Though the angel departed, the Word of God never did.  The Spirit dwelt with her.

The Eucharist provides us with a similar experience.  We encounter the angels and saints as we gather together around the Table of the Lord. At every Eucharist, we, like Mary, hear in the Word the message of God’s love, God’s constant help and we are comforted. As the Word became flesh in Mary, the Word Made Flesh also becomes one with us when we taste the Bread of Life and are strengthened.  When the Mass ends, we are the ones who depart.  Before doing so, we say together, “Thanks Be to God!”  We are thankful for the opportunity to gather in remembrance of Christ and for the memory of gratitude that will dwell with us until the next time we gather in the name of the Triune God.

In the Angelus, we pray “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The rest of the verse reads, “and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We have daily access to that grace and truth and look forward to the glory of our resurrection.  Each time we walk through the doors for Mass, we bring all that we are, all that we are experiencing. The Word is living and active. The readings are not just some tale from long ago, but rather a way for God to enflesh himself in our narrative. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).  We exclaim our thanksgiving for God’s Word, His promise that He will never leave us, no matter what.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

So, whether you are one who anxiously waits to hear what God will share with you in the daily readings or have understood “thanks be to God” to mean “thank God it’s over,” I pray that we all grow in true gratitude for the Word, the love letter that has been passed down since the beginning.  As we hear the Good News in preparation to receive His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, we are recognized, we are loved, and we are reminded that we are never alone. All we can rightly say is “thank you.”

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2 Cor 2:14

 

 

The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 2

Daniel Whitehouse

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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This is the second in a series of articles geared toward developing an understanding of the lay ecclesial minister in terms of spirituality. The first article, The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 1, laid a foundation for this understanding through a discussion of the participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. This installment will endeavor to clarify the secular nature of the vocation to lay ministry.

The decree of the Second Vatican Council on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, declares: “[t]he Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ.… All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members.”[1]

The document continues to develop the language of a ‘oneness of mission’ in which all share through a diversity of ministry. John Paul II designates the uniquely lay expression of ministry when he states, “[the] lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is ‘properly and particularly’ theirs … designated with the expression ‘secular character’.”[2] This secular character, by which the lay faithful is often described, deserves a closer examination.

Aurelie Hagstrom examines the secular character of the laity throughout the relevant conciliar and post-conciliar documents positing three possible interpretations of this character. The term could refer to: a sociological phenomenon which grounds itself in the actual de facto “life situation of the laity,”[3] a theological/ontological reality grounding itself in baptismal identity,[4] or a dimension of the whole Church “that finds expression in a particular way through the laity.”[5] While each position has its own strengths and weaknesses, Hagstrom notes that the third interpretation is particularly strong in its assertion of the secular dimension of the entire Church.[6] She goes on to state that though the Church’s mission is to the world—having a secular character and demanding the responsibility of all the Church’s members—“the laity have a particular relationship with secularity, which characterizes their participation in the mission.”[7] Therefore, the lay faithful are not bracketed from the internal life of the Church by virtue of their secular character; rather, they participate in the Church’s secular mission. As another scholar affirms, “In ascribing a secular character to the laity, the council did not mean to exclude them from activity within the community of the Church.”[8] Apostolicam Actuositatem also gives voice to this reality by stating, “the laity … exercise their apostolate … in the world as well as in the Church.”[9] Hagstrom ultimately claims, “because the Church’s mission is both spiritual and temporal, the laity are called to the building of ecclesial communion (ad intra) as well as to the transformation of the world with gospel values (ad extra) … the secular character of the laity is not posed in opposition to their participation in the inner life of the Church.”[10]  The secular character of the laity’s participation in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king is fundamentally oriented towards the secular mission of the Church even if it finds expression ad intra.

Having established the spirituality of the layperson within the threefold mission of Christ and demonstrated the referent of the ‘secular character’ of the lay faithful, the next article in this series will direct our attention to the increasing numbers of lay men and women serving the Church ad intra through lay ecclesial ministry.

 



[1] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA). 18 November 1965, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html>, 2.

[2] Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (CL). 30 December 1988, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html>, 15.

[3] Aurelie A. Hagstrom, “The Secular Character of the Vocation and Mission of the Laity,” Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries. Ed. Susan K. Wood, 152-174 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 153.

[4] Ibid, 170.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 171.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Zeni Fox, “Laity, Ministry, and Secular Character,” Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries. Ed. Susan K. Wood, 121-151 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 143.

[9] AA, 143.

[10] Hagstrom, 172.

Inklings of a New Evangelization: A Word on Tooks

Miriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

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Other columns in series:

The Beacons Are Lit

Of Myths and Maps

Inside the Song

A Word on Wonder

In my last post, I spoke of wonder.  So it seems reasonable that I should follow up with a few thoughts on adventure, since that is so often the road that wonder will lead us down.  Any child who ever chased a magnificent Monarch butterfly across the fields and forests can tell you that much.

A number of years ago, I stumbled upon an article which announced that archeologists had discovered some human remains at Stonehenge.  The story took a curious turn when it mentioned how the team believed the remains were of a man from the foothills of the Alps. Now what on earth is a gentleman from the Alps doing at Stonehenge? He was a man who was either terribly lost, or knew exactly what he was looking for. Maybe he was doing just fine, tending to his sheep in the mountains, when one day, word of Stonehenge reached his ears, and his heart swelled at the thought of seeing it for himself. One can just imagine this young man, preparing to leave home, his parents nagging him: “Couldn’t you just stay home and find a nice girl to settle down with? Why do you have to go so far for a bunch of rocks? What does it prove? Why aren’t you listening to us…??”

Now, as I speculated about these remains at Stonehenge, my mind drifted from earth to Middle Earth, and led me to some reflections on the Christian and the Took.  What is a Took? Who, rather, is a Took? A brief explanation is in order for those who are not immersed up to their noses in Tolkien mythology. The Tooks were a prominent Hobbit family, known for their adventurous inclinations. They were unusual in the way they did not necessarily exhibit the Hobbit disposition, which leaned heavily towards the settled, simple life; the average Hobbit would have their reservations about gallivanting across Middle Earth to slay dragons, even if there was treasure to be found at the end of it.

Both the Alpine wanderer and the eager Took undoubtedly confronted the first rule about adventure: that it generally involves a risk. And probably not just the one. Adventure involves the possibility that something or someone along the way may perpetrate some significant damage or transformation in heart, mind, or body. And then there is that dreadful prospect that one may never return home. How depressing. But, happily, that is also the way of many good things.

Is there not a stupendous risk in the words “I love you”?  What about the thrill of the marriage vow?  Thank goodness that the human story is full of people who have consistently refused to stop at those old frontiers of what they have known or experienced.  Otherwise, who knows if we would have ever discovered the Arctic Circle or gone to the moon or even been born.   I’m sure many would agree that the married life is about as certain and predictable as a maiden voyage into outer space.

And while it involves a much more internal and personal expedition, faith is also a kind of frontier.  And as far as faiths go, Christianity is decidedly Tookish. When Christ summoned those early disciples, urging them to exchange their fishing nets for greater, bolder tasks, the disciples responded with a mix of curiosity and courage.

It’s not as though they were bored and had made a pact to follow the first chap who came into the village with something interesting to say. No. They had jobs, families, homes, ambitions. What’s more, they did not have the luxury of centuries-old Church history and Tradition to reinforce this Man’s claims. They could not refer to their Bibles, or discuss it with their pastors, or write letters to their local Diocesan offices asking them to verify the legitimacy of this carpenter Jesus. There must have been something so engaging about the person of Christ which was capable of overriding the instinct to just stay put and let Him pass through town, as they had with other preachers who came through with a message and a miracle.  Jesus spoke with stunning authority; even the demons seemed to know His name. He healed lepers, turned loaves into feasts, but then, would suddenly go up a mountain to pray.  His was clearly not the archetypal lonesome life of a wandering wise man.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, as Bilbo Baggins is making arrangements to leave his home in the Shire for good, he tells Gandalf:

“Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.  That can’t be right.  I need a change, or something.” (FOTR, 34)

I don’t know about you, but I have, on a number of occasions, felt like butter scraped over too much bread, and quite ready for “a change or something.” If the vibrant life of the Christian faith is a frontier of sorts, then it’s also the very height of this longing for a radical change.  When other avenues have been tried, when ideologies have been tapped dry, when the distractions fail to mask the reality, we’re left there, feeling stretched thin and a little helpless.  To be sure, Bilbo participated in a great number of fabulous and terrifying adventures, but still felt – and increasingly so, as he grew older — there was one last adventure to be had.  It is the adventure which calls us all by name.  And we can fill up our time and our hearts with as much wealth and knowledge and success, but that last of all adventures (which, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, is the beginning of many others) is relentlessly fixed and waiting on the horizon, standing like the only real and sane thing to be found in the world. 

The question we must ask ourselves is: are we ready to embark?  Perhaps as early as tomorrow?  We are – each and every one of us — beckoned toward frontiers that will make the very edges of the universe appear to be as homey as a crackling fire on a chilly autumn evening.

Yes, I am talking about death.  And if we, in the New Evangelization, are not prepared to speak of such realities, then I’m afraid we’re not well-equipped to talk about those things which precede death – things like life.  But we should take heart and feel inspired as we look back onto the whole canon of story and music and poetry.  They are usually treatments of two things: love and death.  Two adventures of the highest order.  And they are also two things about which the prevailing culture has fashioned some peculiar ideas. What a pity!  There are few worse things than a spoiled adventure.

“then something Tookish woke up inside [Bilbo], and he wished to go see the great mountains…” (The Hobbit, 28)

Faith can move mountains, yes; but that’s not a good reason to never set out to see what those mountains look like.  There will come a time in our lives, God willing, when the Took inside awakens, and we take to the road. And it could be an entirely new road, or the same one over and over again, but now illuminated by a profoundly new Light.  Our brave Alpine friend held fast to his resolution to see for himself whether or not the place called Stonehenge existed. His was a long road, and we know for a fact that he never returned. But there is evidence that he arrived. The saints are individuals who heard of a thing called holiness, and set out to find it. Their sainthood is a powerful reminder that even we may strive toward such glorious heights.  And while archeology tells us that a man died, far from home, under the shadow of those mysterious structures, our faith moves us to hope for the day when we pass from this world under the brilliant light of His graces.

Being good is an adventure far more daring and violent than sailing around the world.” –G.K. Chesterton (“The Painful Fall of a Good Reputation” in The Club of Queer Trades)

Re-reading Orate Fratres: The American Liturgical Movement is Born (1926-27)

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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The first issue of Orate Fratres (OF), published on November 28, 1926, sets forth the rationale for the journal (and the liturgical apostolate as a whole).   The editors note:

“Our general aim is to develop a better understanding of the spiritual import of the liturgy, an understanding that is truly sympathetic…A sympathetic understanding of the liturgy is one that will affect the actual life of a Catholic.   The liturgical life is essential to the Catholic, for without a minimum participation in it he can not be a faithful child of the Church.   This participation in the liturgical life of the Church admits of increase in its intensity as well as in its individual and corporate extent…A better understanding of and participation in the liturgical worship of the Church, should affect both the individual spiritual life of the Catholic and the corporate life of the natural social units of the Church, the parishes, so properly called the cells of the corporate organism which is the entire living Church, the mystic body of Christ” (OF I.1, 1-2).

Thus, several themes surface in the first issue of OF relative to the aims of the journal:  the promotion of liturgical participation, the fostering of the liturgical apostolate, and perhaps most importantly the treatment of the mystical body of Christ as the theological cornerstone of the liturgical movement.  I will treat each of these themes in order.

The Promotion of Liturgical Participation

In recent years, questions have surfaced among some regarding the precise intentions of the pre-conciliar period regarding the nature of liturgical participation.  The first volume of OF is careful to set forth what is meant by participation in the liturgy.  In the very last issue of the first volume (October 30, 1927), Alcuin Deutsch, O.S.B. (Abbot of St. John’s Abbey from 1921-1950) provides the hermeneutical key to the nature of liturgical participation in his aptly titled article, “The Liturgical Movement.”

In the introduction to this article, Abbot Deutsch writes:

“…the Liturgical Movement has for its purpose to put the liturgy into our lives; that the centre and very heart of the liturgy is the holy Mass; that, therefore, the main purpose of the Liturgical Movement is to put the holy Mass into the very centre of our lives and to make it and what is stands for, the vitalizing and directing principle of our lives” (OF I.13, 391).

Indeed, as the Abbot notes, the danger with the liturgical movement is to treat it as an antiquarian return to lost practice, the promulgation of the Missa Recitata alone [also known as the dialogue Mass], or as a celebration of a lost aesthetics.  Instead, the heart of the liturgical movement is the cultivation of a liturgical attitude in all facets of Christian life.  Let us explore what the Abbot means.

First, active participation in the liturgy (as advocated by Pius X) is never simply a matter of ritual engagement or activity, or for that matter an explanation of liturgical rites.  Instead, as Abbot Deutsch notes:

For Pius X the liturgy is ‘the most holy mysteries’ and ‘the public and solemn prayer of the Church’:  it is the sum-total of the feasts which place before us the mysteries of God and Christ, of our creation and redemption and sanctification; of the rites by which we are sanctified and prepared for union with Christ; of the holy Sacrifice by which we honor God and are mysteriously united with Him through partaking of the flesh and blood of the sacrificial Victim; of all the words and ceremonies by which we express our relation to Him, praise Him, confess His truth and power and goodness, and implore His mercy and bounty for all our needs.   The liturgy is, therefore, the substance of Christian faith and practice, expressed in the language, the gestures and the symbols of prayer–of the official prayer of the Church” (Ibid., 392).

Two important points to draw out from the Abbot’s claim.  The pivotal figure in the early liturgical movement (among the editors and authors of OF) is Pius X.  Gerard Ellard, S.J. remarks that Pius X will be known as the liturgical ancestor of Gregory the Great (“Gregory and Pius, Fathers of Liturgy”, OF I.1, 12-16).   And in a later essay, Ellard examines Pius X’s motto (Instaurare omnia in Christo) remarking that Pius X sought (through liturgical renewal) to infuse Christ’s very life into all aspects of the Church, carrying out the divine pedagogy of the Triune God.  Whenever the first volume speaks of chant, Pius X’s name surfaces–serving not simply as an authority promulgating the use of chant in the liturgy but an inspiration for the entire renewal of ecclesial music:  “The chanted text reaches us not by means of the spoken word alone, but with the penetrating power, the transforming force of melody, of words that wing their way to God in song” (Justine Ward, “Winged Words”, OF I.4, 110).

The liturgical movement is fundamentally a matter of a fostering of the Christian life as a whole.    Abbot Deutsch claims:

This is what the Liturgical Movement seeks to bring about:  a sense of what the liturgy is, a repristination of the spirit which brought it forth and which derived from it the nourishment that made Christian life flourish and produce the fruits of Christian virtue.   This is putting liturgy into life.  Liturgy is the life of the Church; it must become the life of our lives, if we are in intimate contact with it.  The Liturgical Movement aims not only to put the liturgy into our lives, but to put the Mass, which is the very heart of the liturgy, into the centre of our lives–to create in us a eucharistic atmosphere in which our soul lives and moves and has its strength (OF, I.13, 392-93).

The liturgy is thus part of a whole process of renewal whereby Christian existence is re-conceived according to the Eucharistic gift of love, an integral anthropology in which all aspects of our humanity become an expression of divine worship, a sacrifice of love.  In the first volume of OF, this renewal of our humanity through liturgical prayer is carried out with a particular emphasis on the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the liturgical year.  The sacrifice of the Mass, a matter of controversy among some present-day liturgists, is featured prominently throughout the volume.

After all, the Mass is a common participation in the sacrifice of Christ (hence the name of the journal to begin with, Orate Fratres…pray, brethren that my sacrifice and yours may become acceptable to God the Father almighty [Virgil Michel, O.S.B., “Participation in the Mass,” OF I.1, 19).  But, the importance of this participation lies not in externals alone.  It is a participation in the Eucharist itself so that one may join the depths of one’s humanity to Christ’s sacrifice to the Father.   Virgil Michel, O.S.B. and Louis Traufler, O.S.B. write,

“Herein lies the explanation for the continued re-enactment of the sacrifice of Calvary.   What was on Calvary made possible for all men, can now be realized for each one through personal choice by means of the Mass.   In the sacrifice of the Mass all persons have the chance to offer up Christ to the heavenly Father as their own personal sacrifice.   Christ descended to the altar for that purpose, in order to put Himself at our disposal, in order to give us a sacrificial gift that can not be refused by His eternal Father.   And Christ, as the gift offered, most truly represents us, since He at one time took upon Himself a human nature in order to represent us more fully, and since He himself was the first to offer all of us up to God in His person on Calvary.  The sacrifice of the Mass thus puts the fruits of the redemption wrought on Calvary within the reach of every man.   By taking active part in the Mass, the Christian gives his personal consent to the general sacrifice Christ made for all men on Calvary; and through Christ he offers himself up to God as an acceptable child” (“The Sacrifice of Christ,” OF I.3, 80).

Thus, the Eucharist capacitates the human being for authentic sacrifice, enabling the Christian to give him or herself away in deeds of love.   For this reason, the first volume of OF turns to saints as examples of liturgical figures par excellence, especially Therese of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi (Rev. James E. Mahony, O.S.F.C., “St. Francis:  Vir Catholicus, OF I.2, 39-44; Mother Mary Ellerker, “The Little Flower of Jesus and the Liturgy,” OF I.7, 215-17).

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the first volume, relative to the theme of liturgical participation, is the first column in each issue by Cuthbert Goeb, O.S.B, entitled “The Liturgy of the Season.”   The column is so interesting, precisely because it does not simply supply a translation of the Epistle, the Gospel, and the propers for each Sunday (or feast) of the liturgical year.  Liturgical formation is not simply a matter of translation.   Rather, Fr. Goeb offers a narrative in which all aspects of the Christian life unfold over the course of the liturgical year.  The texts themselves invite the Christian to offer themselves in a myriad of ways, in thanksgiving in the season of Easter, in penance in the season of Lent, and awe and wonder in the Incarnation.   Precisely, because there is a larger narrative, a story of salvation implicit throughout the column, one discovers a form of mystagogy, of liturgical education, which is both kerygmatic and anamnetic—proclaiming the hidden mysteries of God revealed in Christ, while simultaneously inviting the Christian to participate in these mysteries.

The Liturgical Apostolate

Of course, the celebration of the liturgy itself must promote such a sacrifice, an exchange of humanity with divinity in the act of worship.   And the editors of OF take a sober view at how the liturgy was celebrated in many parishes throughout the United States.  At the conclusion of each issue is a small column entitled The Apostolate.  Here, the reader encounters concrete, practical ways that those throughout the United States (and world) have sought to inculcate the liturgical movement in parishes and schools alike.   One hears stories about successful (and less successful forms) of the dialogue Mass; of congregational singing; and of praying the Mass along with the Missal (“The Apostolate”, OF I.2, 61-63).  While an extensive summary of each of these accounts is outside the scope of our review, it would be helpful to choose one representative account:

‘The Missal has brought me more enjoyment than any other thing I have ever possessed,’ admits a young lady, ‘because it brought me to a fuller realization of the spiritual beauty and richness of the great sacrifice of the Mass.’   Another has learned that ‘the prayers, psalms, and offerings found in it are of ever increasing and lasting beauty’.  Others, in fact most of the answers, speak of increased devotion at Mass.  The dialog Mass ‘increases my fervor and brings me closer to our Lord,’ suggests one; and another:  ‘It makes one feel closer to God and desire to receive Him’ (“The Apostolate”, OF I.5, 157).

Two important points.   First, it should be noted that the liturgy being celebrated in the Dialogue Mass is the Missale Romanum typified in 1920 by Benedict XV and carried out by Pius X.   That is, when participated in intelligently, with spiritual fervor, this Missal produced real fruits.   It is thus patently unfair to imagine liturgy before the second Vatican Council as devoid of spiritual fruits, as a kind of mechanical ritualism.  This, of course, is not to say that the liturgy should never have been translated into the vernacular (incidentally, a fascinating article is found in the first volume on the topic of translation for personal Missals, entitled “The Liturgy in Translation” by Richard E. Power, OF I.7, 203-207; he writes, “After all, the liturgy is meant for ‘the multitude’, so often mentioned in the Gospel as attached to our Lord and beloved by Him.  It must come to them with some of its original simplicity and charm.  Unless the Ordinary of the Mass is established in the minds and hearts of the people, young and old, as the noblest and dearest of all their forms of communion with God, the liturgical apostolate will strive in vain to realize the purpose of its existence…Our best form of propaganda is, therefore, an English (of, if you will, an American) text of superlative excellence” (206)).  Simply, a form of liturgical participation that was genuine, authentic, spiritually fruitful existed before the Missal of the Paul VI and vernacular translations.

Simultaneously, from the Apostolate column one discerns how much effort was required to foster active participation in the liturgy.  The teaching of various modes of chant; forming school aged children and adults in the history of the Mass; introducing parishes to the basics of liturgical theology.  It was an entire movement, an educational effort touching all aspects of Church life.  One can see that even the level of preparatory formation that went into the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal in the United States (and worldwide) is inadequate relative to the commitment to the liturgical apostolate launched in the United States in 1926.  If liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, is to become the source and summit of Christian life, then we will need to return again to the level of commitment to liturgical education fostered by the Apostolate.

The Mystical Body of Christ

The theological cornerstone of the liturgical movement, even as early as 1926, is the mystical body of Christ (for an introduction to this Christological and ecclesiological doctrine, see Emile Mersch, The Whole Christ).  Paul C. Bussard, author of a small catechism on the Mass, writes:

To understand this doctrine of the Church is to have apprehended, at the same time, the basis and reason of the liturgy.   The Church, as the mystic body of Christ, lives her life in the liturgy; and it is a life of magnificent prayer.  Following the example of the divine Christ, the mystic Christ has always prayed, now in the garden, now on the mountain, now in tears like Magdalen, now in joy like David before the ark of the covenant.   And in all these variant actions of prayer, the Church is intensifying her sanctity.   Those members who use the liturgy as a means of divine glorification and personal sanctification, are making themselves more perfect members of the mystical Christ, and are co-operating in the building up of the body of Christ, ’till we all attain to the unity of faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the full measure of the stature of Christ’ (“The Mystic Body of Christ”, OF I.7, 202).

Thus, in the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ, the liturgical movement in the first volume of OF begins to perceive the liturgy as central to all aspects of Christian identity.  All of humanity is being built up into Christ, and in liturgical prayer, this central reality is performed for the sanctification of all humanity.   And it has consequences, as the 1926-27 volume of OF makes clear.   To the peace movement in Europe.   To the love shared among members of the body of Christ in care for the poor.   To the vision fostered relative to nature.   Indeed, in this first volume it is a theme that has not yet assumed total prominence.   But, the seeds have been planted for the treatment of the liturgy as integral to social transformation itself.  The Editor’s Corner of OF I.8 states, “How can a soul thus living the life of Christ still think of war?   How can it still think of the ungodly slaughter of men who are made after the image of God and were rebrought by the blood of Christ?  How can any Catholic worthy of the name, signed with the seal of Christ and the Spirit, refrain from supporting eagerly a ‘Movement for International Peace’, so perfectly identity with the spirit of Christ and His Church?'” (251).

Future issues of this column will explore precisely how this theme of the mystical body develops in the pages of OF itself.

The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 1

Daniel Whitehouse

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

The Second Vatican Council, in its dogmatic constitution on the Church, exhorted all members of the Church to recognize and pursue their vocation to holiness stating, “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”[1] This universal call to holiness is the fundamental vocation of all people, as Christ Himself directs us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48, RSV). Upon hearing the invitation to perfect charity, the question quickly becomes: ‘how?’ The response to this question of expression is largely determined by many factors including: particular vocation[2] (whether it be ordained ministry, consecrated life, marriage, or single life), personality, and occupation. The emerging role of the lay ecclesial minister could seem to push on the categories of spirituality, convoluting lay and ordained manifestations of holiness and tending towards clericalism in the laity.

This series of three articles will explore the concept of spirituality as it pertains to the lay ecclesial minister. The first article will highlight both the participation of all the lay members of the Church within the threefold mission of Christ. The second will discuss the secular character of the lay vocation. The third will treat the unique features of the spirituality of the lay ecclesial minister, positing that the spirituality of the lay ecclesial minister is an authentic manifestation of lay spirituality, integrally oriented to ministry and organically linked to the Church.

Christifideles Laici, John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the lay faithful, provides a very thorough overview of the lay mission and vocation echoing from the Second Vatican Council. The document begins with a commentary on Christ’s parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16, RSV) stating that, “[t]he call [to work in the vineyard] is a concern not only of pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.”[3] The expression of this mission for all the lay faithful is founded upon incorporation into the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king through their baptism.[4] This spirituality of proclamation, sanctification, and service in Christ is intrinsic to all the faithful; however, the lay faithful share Christ’s mission in a degree and essence of their own,[5] based on both their state in the world and their apostolate. Briefly treating the threefold mission of Christ of priest, prophet, and king in relation to the layperson will elucidate a proper understanding of a genuine lay spirituality from which we can move forward.

First, we turn our attention to the priestly mission of Christ to sanctify. John Paul II affirms lay participation in this mission by stating: “[t]he lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered Himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity.”[6] The baptismal priesthood participates, according to John Paul II, in Christ’s Priesthood through a willingness to sacrifice in order to both glorify God and sanctify the world. Lumen Gentium also expresses the particularly lay dimension of the priestly mission stating:

“[Christ] also gives [the laity] a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men…. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” [7]

In and through uniting his or her prayer, activities, work, recreation, rest, hardships, and family life to Christ in the Holy Spirit, the layperson not only gives glory to God but also works towards the sanctification of the world.  Though exhibited differently, the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood are complimentary and have a common root in Christ.[8]

Next, the prophetic mission of Christ is also made present in the layperson by virtue of their baptism as John Paul II contends, “[t]hrough their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, … the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil.”[9] While the hierarchy of the Church—those ordained to ministry—preach and proclaim Christ officially, the lay members of Christ are prophetic through the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful), witness of life, and convincing speech such that “the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.”[10] The essence of prophecy for the layperson is that he or she would bear witness to the truth of Christ by his or her words and deeds, as well as contend against wickedness and sinfulness in everyday life. Lumen Gentium gives pride of place in the lay prophetic endeavor to the Christian family, wherein husband and wife testify to faith and love for one another and their children.[11] Evangelization by word and life is the means by which the world will come to hear the Good News of Christ: “it remains for each one of [the laity] to cooperate in the external spread and the dynamic growth of the Kingdom of Christ in the world.”[12] Even without bearing the authority of the hierarchy, every baptized person, in a manner proper to his or her particular vocation, is charged with the great commission of our Lord: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20a, RSV).

Finally, according to John Paul II, the lay faithful participate in the kingly mission of Christ in two ways. First, John Paul II states that the laity “exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin, and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is Himself present in all his brothers and sisters, above all in the very least.”[13] The mission of Christ’s kingship concerns the re-ordering of all creation with its ultimate telos (goal or purpose), namely, the perfection of charity and union with God. Therefore, lay people should seek to govern their own passions and desires in order to overcome sin, so that they can serve God and one another properly. Secondly, John Paul II continues:

[I]n particular the lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity in an activity governed by the life of grace, they share in the exercise of the power with which the Risen Christ draws all things to Himself and subjects them along with Himself to the Father, so that God might be everything to everyone.[14]

With this in mind, sharing in Christ’s governance is demonstrated to include both a personal and communal role, although markedly different from the ordained manifestation of the kingly mission. The laity “must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, … its role in the harmonious praise of God … [and] … [t]hey must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations,” in order that “the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace.”[15]

The lay faithful, as demonstrated above, are called to participate in the threefold mission of Christ in an essence and to a degree harmonious with their particular vocation;[16] however, “what specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature.”[17] Given this reality, the next clarification to make is the nature of the lay vocation, which will be treated in next week’s article in this series.


[1] Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium (LG). 21 November 1964, Papal Archive. The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html>, 40.

[2] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA). 18 November 1965, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html>, 2.
[‘Particular vocation’ and ‘state of life’ are used interchangeably.]

[3] Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (CL). 30 December 1988, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html>, 2.

[4] Ibid, 14.

[5] LG, 10.

[6] CL, 14.

[7] LG, 34.

[8] Ibid, 10.

[9] CL, 14.

[10] LG, 35.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] CL, 14.

[14] Ibid.

[15] LG, 36.

[16] AA, 2.

[17] LG, 31.

Midwife of Faith – The Soul-Transforming Power of Music

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

On September 14 and 15, the Feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows respectively, Sacred Music at Notre Dame hosted a festival conference on sacred music. This conference occurred in conjunction with the world premiere of Cum Vidisset Jesus, a piece by Scottish composer James MacMillan commissioned by Sacred Music Notre Dame in honor of the Sisters of Holy Cross, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the foundation of their order. Surrounding the premiere of the commissioned piece were two days of presentations on the nature of sacred music offered by nationally and internationally renowned composers. As a fledgling composer of sacred music and a graduate of the Notre Dame Sacred Music program, I was honored to be among the attendees, and came away from the weekend with a great deal of new food for thought on the nature of sacred music, and why it is so important in the liturgical life of the Church.

Without going into too much historical detail, Western music as we know it would not exist were it not for the Catholic Church. Written musical notation developed and evolved as a means of transmitting liturgical chants. As musical complexity grew, obfuscating the clarity of the text, Vatican officials promulgated mandates regarding the style of music acceptable for liturgical use, thus exerting enormous influence on the development of compositional techniques, an influence which still resonates with composers today.

Enter James MacMillan, who, according to the biography provided in the conference program, is “widely reviewed to be the preeminent Catholic composer of his generation.” He has been commissioned by leading international music organizations, composing a new choral anthem, Tu es Petrus, for the papal visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 for the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. His music has been the subject of BBC documentaries, and has been premiered by world-famous virtuosos like Jean-Yves Thibaudet. By rights, James MacMillan could be spending his time high on a perch alone somewhere, thinking lofty, mystical thoughts that would produce the beautiful, other-worldly music for which he is known. In fact, MacMillan prefers to remain firmly rooted in his parish community, volunteering his time at St. Columba Catholic Church in Glasgow, Scotland as parish music director, frequently composing new music for his amateur choir—practices which astound as much as they inspire.

MacMillan gave an address on September 14 to open the conference, filled with insights that can only come from a person of deep faith. He spoke about the dichotomy between the church and the concert hall, and the challenge he faces as a composer to create music that could reside in both spheres. He spoke about the inspiration he finds in the members of his parish community, stating, “I think I have known saints since I was little,” describing how the faith and dedication of his blue-collar brothers and sisters in Christ brought him to a deeper understanding of the Gospel message. He spoke about his vocation as a composer and his responsibility to help make the celebration of the liturgy beautiful, which in turn can help make the Kingdom of God palpable in the lives of the worshiping community.

His comments sparked a discussion that continued throughout the conference surrounding the question: what is sacred music? For many of MacMillan’s fellow presenters, all music has the potential to be sacred insofar as it creates a space in the listener for an encounter with the Divine. Therefore, one could consider the Nimrod movement from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, or Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, purely orchestral pieces, to be sacred music. Granted, not all sacred music is liturgical; something that may inspire an encounter with the Divine in one listener may or may not be intended or appropriate for use within the context of a liturgical celebration. Additionally, I would qualify the blanket statement of my peers and say that, at least for this novice composer, not all music has the potential to be sacred – certain brands of popular music that endorse drug/alcohol use, hatred, or violence cannot create a space for an encounter the self-giving love of God. It is the music that strives to inspire wonder and a sense of beauty where one can most readily encounter the Divine, and it is this sense of wonder that MacMillan strives to cultivate in all of his work, not merely his sacred or liturgical compositions.

This brings me to the piece that brought MacMillan to Notre Dame: Cum Vidisset Jesus. The text is taken from the antiphon from the Feast of the Seven Dolours (or Sorrows) of Mary. As he frequently does in his sacred music, MacMillan turned to the Gregorian chant setting of this text for inspiration when crafting his melodic material, resulting in a work that acknowledges the rich tradition of sacred music in the Catholic Church, yet speaks to the hearts of today’s listeners in a musical language unique to the composer. The a capella voices plumb the depths of human grief and soar to ethereal heights of hopeful surrender over the course of the piece, creating a musical tableau of the Blessed Mother standing at the foot of the Cross. In both Cum Vidisset Jesus and The Seven Last Words from the Cross (the second piece on the program), MacMillan creates heart-rending drama by his treatment of the text, evoking the tender imagery of Mother and Son suffering together. In the last moments of the last movement of The Seven Last Words from the Cross, MacMillan composed music for the strings that emulated the last breaths of Jesus on the Cross. As the piece concluded, the entire audience was silent, unsure as to whether or not the last notes had sounded, or if there would be one more gasp from the strings. The effect was, quite literally, breath-taking—a sacred moment if ever there was one.

I spoke briefly with James MacMillan at a reception following the world premiere concert, and asked him how he reconciles the brilliant art composer with the parish musician. He replied that he would never give up his parish ministry in favor of his professional compositional life because he finds it so life-giving. In order to create music for his parish that still satisfies his desire for artistic excellence, he strives to give his congregation something of substance, something steeped in the tradition of chant and Renaissance polyphony, but something that speaks to them in their own language, that they can claim for their own as well. His response called to my mind a comment he had made in the pre-performance lecture earlier that evening: “Tradition can enrich the past and the future. A re-evaluation of our heritage doesn’t establish it as a museum culture, but sees it as something alive and relevant that can still inform our imagination.” Returning to his remarks for the opening session, MacMillan stated that he strove to “create something simple, yet attractive enough to inspire even the most reluctant person to sing.” It’s a deceptively simple task for any composer who seeks to write sacred music, whether specifically intended for the liturgy or not. But, as MacMillan observed, it is a vocation, a life to which a person is specifically called by God, and one that has ramifications for the entire Mystical Body of Christ.

MacMillan used a beautiful image of music as the “Midwife of Faith,” something that brings to fruition the seeds of Divine Love planted deep within the human heart. He went on to say, “Music has a transformative power. It gets into the crevices of the human soul and brings about a thirst for transformation.” MacMillan views the parish, the worshiping community, as the locus where this transformation will ultimately take place: “If the Church is going to be renewed, it will begin and end with the sacred liturgy. This is the real Opus Dei—the work of God.” Thus, it becomes the responsibility of liturgical composers everywhere to offer their gifts in collaboration with the creative power of God in order to write music that will inspire wonder and create a space in the listener for a soul-transforming encounter with the goodness, truth, and beauty found in the Divine Love of God.

The Congregation of Holy Cross and the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

Anna Adams

University of Notre Dame

Doctoral Student in Liturgical Studies

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“Why do you love Mary so much?” friends ask, often before jokingly concluding, “you are the worst Protestant ever.” It’s funny, and does not at all upset me. My fumbly response is usually to laugh, chalking it up to eccentricity. But when pressed recently, I had to concede that I’m not in love with a romanticized ‘Marian notion’, nor is it really eccentricity. (It’s not even the golden Mary watching over Notre Dame’s “God Quad,” though she is quite beautiful!). It’s Our Lady of Sorrows, the Mary of the Cross-to whom I find myself drawn.

Our Lady of Sorrows isn’t meekly passive or a willowy downcast figure. A Lady of courage, she stands fearless at the foot of the cross. She waits unflinching in the stillness of the grave. She goes to the tomb in the dark hours before the dawn, the strains of the Magnificat echoing in the living silence. Two thousand years later, she still stands, waiting at the Cross, bearing with the hungry, the last, and the powerless. Millenia later, Our Lady of Sorrows stands firm, with Hope to bring.

Accepting Christ’s call to come and embrace the splintery victory of the Cross, Bl. Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, found himself in the company of Our Lady. Surrendering even his religious family for the sake of discipleship, Bl. Basil knew with Our Lady the dark night of Hope. He encouraged the priests, brothers, and sisters in his care to seek her out as their constant companion so they too could be a family with real Hope to bring. Bl. Basil gifted his sons and daughters Our Lady so that they would not be a timid people, offering false hope, but a sturdy family carved from wood of the Cross, held fast by the Savior they found upon it.

Since I met her in the company of the Congregation of Holy Cross, I’ve found Our Lady accompanying me more and more often. When I lose myself in God’s silence, and exhaust all my little words, there stands Our Lady. I wait with a friend in the pain of separation. I listen to another describe the helplessness of death. And I realize we’re not alone at the foot of those Crosses. Our Lady of Sorrows has been such a frequent companion I was hardly surprised to receive a beloved mentor’s funeral mass card in the mail this week and open the envelope to find Our Lady of Sorrows gazing back at me.

I don’t love Mary because I’m a “bad” protestant. I love Our Lady because I long to be a true disciple. I don’t place myself in her care as though she were a magical panacea. I root myself at Our Lady’s side because to stand with her is to embrace the Cross of Christ, to walk with those who suffer—as a daughter of the Cross, a woman with hope to bring.

“There stood by the cross of Jesus his mother Mary, who knew grief and was a Lady of Sorrows. She is our special patroness, a woman who bore much She could not understand and who stood fast. To Her many Sons and Daughters, whose devotions ought to bring them often to Her side, She tells much of this daily cross and its daily hope.” –Holy Cross Constitution 8:120.

O Ave Crux, Spes Unica. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

Editorial Musings: Introducing Carolyn Pirtle

Dear friends,

We write today with happy news.   Beginning September 5, 2012, the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy hired Carolyn Pirtle as assistant director.   As a part of her work at the NDCL, Carolyn will become an editor of Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization, as well as an assistant editor of Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization.  In addition, she will spearheading the NDCL’s work in liturgical music, assisting with undergraduate liturgical formation, and collaborating with the rest of the NDCL staff on the annual liturgy symposium–to name but a few of her responsibilities.

Carolyn comes to us from St. John Berchmans Parish in Chicago, IL, where she served as Director of Music and as an Elementary Music Instructor at the school.   She is very familiar with the University of Notre Dame, completing her Master of Sacred Music in 2008.  After a year in campus ministry at Notre Dame, Carolyn moved to Wexford, Ireland as the founding House Director of the Teach Bhríde (House of Brigid) community.   She served the Church in Ireland for two years, primarily through music ministry and catechesis.

Carolyn is bringing an extraordinary amount of talent, intellectual curiosity, and pastoral commitment to her work at the NDCL.   She is a gifted composer, an attentive editor, and has an astute ecclesial sensibility.  Carolyn will be publishing in Oblation regularly on topics related to liturgical music, liturgical feasts, and other topics as they come to mind.  We look forward for you, the reader, to get to know her.

 

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Medicine for Murmuring

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

Murmuring.   Bitterness.  Complaint.   Israel’s pilgrimage in the desert is rarely an act of open rebellion against the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob; the God who brought them out of slavery and through the parted sea; who fed them tenderly with manna in the desert and honey from the rock.  It is the rebellion of a murmur, a constant distrust that the God who had been their creator, their sustainer, their liberator actually cared for them.  It is a slowly developing hatred that begins with a hidden conversation behind a closed door, in which we air our discontent for a boss, a friend, a spouse.  And as our conversations increase, we take on the very distrust that was once simply a harmless word, a throw away comment.

With their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

I suppose if I were God (a supposal I mull over a bit too much in my life), this bout of murmuring might have been the last straw.  Fine, I might have said.   You want to see what it’s like without me in the desert.  Go it alone.  Head back to Egypt, where there is real bitterness and real pain and real slavery.  Where you will immediately be taken into captivity, and since your recent departure consisted of the slaughter of every first born child and the entire army of Egypt, I presume that you will not be greeted with a parade.  You thought the slavery was harsh before.   Just wait!

Happily for the history of salvation, I am not God.  Based on the first reading for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, upon initial glance, it does seem like I might have taken over for God but for a moment.  As punishment, the LORD sent serpents among the people, causing their death, a plague that ceased when Moses held up a bronze seraph mounted on a pole and all the people looked.  Like any number of biblical passages, this seems hard to read.  Is it really the case that the LORD is petty enough to punish through sending poisonous snakes into an encampment?  Does the punishment here even fit the crime?

As Christians, we cannot read this passage without looking toward the cross.  Christian typological exegesis, for example, perceives in the bronze serpent an image of the cross itself, which was lifted up in the desert that the Father might draw all things to himself through the death of his Son.  But, why draw all things through death?  The cross, a mystery that we have too often diluted of its bedazzling force, is as perplexing as the serpent mounted on a pole:  why an instrument of torture and of death as our only only hope, the source of salvation?

Like a doctor considering the strangeness of a particular remedy, we have to first understand the nature of the malaise.  Ponder for a moment the origins of human sin.   In the garden, Adam and Eve’s foray into sin is the introduction of distrust, of disobedience into humanity (the true meaning of “original sin”).  Bestowed Paradise, promised the fruit of the Tree of Life, they seize and grab what was intended to be gift.  And they do so because the serpent murmurs to Eve the fundamental lie:  this God of yours doesn’t care but is in fact a despot seeking to manipulate and control you.  Since this moment, human beings have believed the lie.  And too often, we have shaped ourselves into the image and likeness of this god of our own phantasms.  A petty god, who grabs what is his own and manipulates the world according to his own desires.  A god concerned with power and prestige above all else.  A stingy god, who gives away begrudgingly.  An idol of our own self-interest.

Hence, the cross as a medicine for our murmuring.  For in Christ’s self-emptying love, we learn again what it means to be God.  We are rescued from the idolatry of our imaginations.  For:

Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

To be God is not to seize and hold on, to operate according to an economy of scarcity, to protect yourself at all costs.  It is to bend down in love, even unto death on the cross.  The God-man, Jesus Christ, does not murmur, does not hold onto his own identity, but gives it up as an act of loving obedience.  Not because the Father rejoiced in his death, sought his destruction, was hoping to destroy humanity through the visage of his Son.  But because true self-giving love, in a world that seems predisposed to reject such love, leads to death.   In a world operating according to the illogic of scarcity, of distrust, of the murmur, love unto the end is the ultimate threat.  For such divine love upsets the whole system, overthrows powers and principalities, and offers to human beings another way to live.  To give ourselves away according to the foolhardy economics of the cross, rather than the shrewd management of sin.

We are then ready to return to the serpents in the desert.  When we live according to the murmur, to distrust, commit ourselves (either implicitly or explicitly) to the belief that the world is oriented toward meaningless destruction,  it is as if serpents wrap themselves around our heart.  The poison moves within our system, and all things are viewed through the darkness of our murmured words.  In the cross, we find our medicine.

“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For eternal life is never simply life forever (though it is this).  It is zoe, the life that begins for the Christian as soon as they perceive in light of baptismal grace that the cross is the only hope.  That love, self-gift, is in fact (despite all visible appearances) the order of the world.   That even in the most miserable events of one’s life, God is present seeking to bend down in love toward us.  That our relationships with God and each other are not meant to be ones of murmuring, of political machinations, of distrust, but of self-gift.  And as this medicine moves through our bodies, we find ourselves opened again toward real love, real self-gift, the order of love that is eternal life.

In this way, the cross is our own only hope not because it’s painful, not because we should seek out misery.  But because, it is only through the cross that we will discover how much God will bend down in love.  How the serpents of our distrustful murmurs have poisoned us.  And how another possibility exists.  To give ourselves away in reckless abandon, according to the economy of the cross.  And insofar as we do live according to this economy, we will find ourselves sharing in the cross itself, for at its roots is this not the function of Christian martyrdom?  Of true, Eucharistic self-gift?

So then, Ave Crux, Spes Unica.  Hail the cross, our only hope.  Hail the cross that dissipates hatred and death.  Hail the cross that shows the depth of God’s love for the world and reforms our own love that we might love in light of the glory revealed in Christ.  Hail the cross that renews human speech, orienting it again toward true worship.  Hail the cross that destroys every shadowy idol, every contemporary Babylon, who believes that power emerges from manipulation and fear.  Hail the cross, our only hope.

 

Happy, Happy Friday: Trusting to Look Up (Feast of the Holy Cross)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

PRELUDIO: All right, folks: it might be September (in fact, it’s actually September) BUT anytime someone stages an improv musical in a mall in Jersey, it’s awesome even if it’s not anywhere near Christmastime:

Sitting on Santa’s lap is one of those things (like being ignorant of the dratted nutrition facts label) that we just miss from our youth. So sing along in your heart, people, and HAPPY FRIDAY!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So now we need to talk about weird high school mascots. High school was enough of a quirky life-phase as it was (where everyone had braces and unintentionally creative hairstyles), but you’d be pretty darned proud if (instead of being an Eagle or a Bear or a Tiger or, say, the Fighting Irish), your mascot was…

(and before we kick into the highlights reel of this list, you seriously should check out the list if you have time, mostly to see the pictures of these epic mascots. They look pretty legit).

And now, for the highlights-reel version for the 24 people worldwide who aren’t mild-to-severe procrastinators:

  • The Laurel Hill Hobos (I want to hear the backstory on all of these, but especially this one)
  • The Chinook Sugar Beeters (never mind, I want this story first)
  • The Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms (you could call them the Fighting Flowers. Feel the fear.)
  • The Richland Bombers (logo: a bomb cloud. Hey, it’s easy to draw on a banner or whatever).
  • The Ridgefield Spudders (even though it’s cheesy, I hope they (sour) cream their competition. BAD PUN, I KNOW.)
  • New Braunfels Unicorns (at least they tried to make the unicorn look intense. I feel like opposing teams send them Lisa Frank folders as hazing).
  • Watersmeet Nimrods (you’d just have to get used to the other teams using the same three jokes on you, every single game…it’s a hard-knock life when you’re the Nimrods).
  • And finally…the Rocky Ford Meloneers (a watermelon in wrestling shorts and yellow tennis shoes. He smashes opposition to a pulp. If you hate puns, you’ll never forgive me for that one either).

And now that you’ve finally broken down and read the actual list, we can keep moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, Trusting to Look Up

Youtube clip of the week (if you feel like this isn’t the chipper-est song at first, just wait till the end. It’s worth it):

So in the book version of “The Little Mermaid”, when the little mermaid’s wish to go on land is granted by the sea witch, she has to give up her voice…AND the other catch (the part that Disney left out) is that every step the little mermaid takes on land with her new feet causes her physical pain.

Maybe we can’t sympathize with her plight every minute of every day, but we still feel the pains of not being what we were made to be. We’re all living in a place not our home, and so many of the steps along the way are painful. It’s especially difficult when we rediscover how wounded we so often are and how far from perfect we feel. When we fall short of our own expectations or discover some shadowy corner of ourselves that horrifies us, we often spend so long looking at our own wounds that we forget to look at the hands that are reaching out to heal us.

As C.S. Lewis says, when the saints walked around saying that they were wretched people, they weren’t kidding. They weren’t putting on any airs of false humility: they really did find themselves to be (at best) terrible messes of sin and broken humanity. But they didn’t stand looking at themselves longer than they had to, and then they looked outward: towards others with love, and always to God with trust that He was wider than their wounds.

In “The Chronicles of Narnia”, Edmund tries to betray his three siblings to the evil White Witch. After he’s eventually rescued by the soldiers of Aslan (the great Lion of Narnia), Edmund and Aslan speak with each other alone for a long time. Then the Witch arrives to take Edmund the betrayer back as her property:

““You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said.”

As we are now, we hobble and struggle under the knowledge that we are wounded. We are burdened by fears that others will see the extent of our selfish and broken selves and head for the hills, and we wonder if anyone would still love us if they really knew us through and through. So we hide our injuries and walk on, feeling the pain of our proud selves smart with each step. But when will we understand that while our shoulders are not enough to bear our burdens, Another’s shoulders have already gone on ahead of us and borne much greater loads?

All the while God is striving for us to look up from our lonely plodding-along and see that He offers His strength for our weariness. Are we afraid of being exposed by His gaze, feeling powerless, letting our own vices settle into His Hands, still clinging to our insecurities even though they are what wounds us? Do we resist giving up control even if it could save our life? It’s like we’re adrift at sea clinging to driftwood that we know will sink sooner or later: will we find the courage to let go of our feeble efforts to rescue ourselves and finally be pulled aboard a boat by strong hands that calm seas?

God says to us, “Look at Me.” And we are so afraid that if we do, our worst fears will be realized and we’ll be faced with judgment, harshness, and condemnation. We’ll have to pay the piper before we can go home where we belong. But the going home is the thing: our great debt has been paid. The door has been left open for us: our arrival is anticipated. If we find the courage to look away from our ragged selves, in God’s gaze we will find mercy, forgiveness, and love that longs to heal and welcome and cherish eternally. We expect a court of judgment: what we find is home.

Friends, we are a broken and fearful people. We are still wounded, and we remember our wounds so often. But God beckons us closer: He promises we have nothing to fear even as He bids us (as Aslan puts it), “Do not dare not to dare.”

Have a grand day, folks, and I send along to you, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOODALALLYYY!!

Laura