As we prepare for the celebration of the Good Friday liturgy, I would encourage you to listen to James MacMillan’s The Passion of St. John. No musical piece I’ve listened to has quite captured the manner in which the glory of the God-man’s love is revealed in stark contrast to the violence of human action; nor has a piece better integrated the liturgical function of the text into the actual narrative.
Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Editor, Oblation: Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization
Among the undergraduates I work with, it would be fair to say that many of them have a tenuous relationship with the Church. Coming of age in the midst of the sexual abuse scandal in American Catholicism (a scandal that now redounds throughout the world), they have discerned that the Church is a place of hypocrisy, of violence, of power grabs and secrecy that contradict the humble wisdom of the Gospel. They ask themselves: Can I belong to such an institution, one that is marked by the stain of scandal, of disease, of sin. Such scandal is not simply related to the sexual abuse crisis. These emerging adults have encountered pastoral leadership whose preaching has been tepid, who have chosen condemnation above love. They have grown up in parishes built not around the proclamation, celebration, and performance of the Gospel in culture but the self-affirmation of a select group of leadership in the community. They are welcomed in principle not in practice.
In the midst of Holy Week, as the Church begins to contemplate more completely the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we turn for a moment to the figure of Judas. One of the first called by Christ, Judas approaches the chief priests and hands Jesus over to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver. Historically, Judas is often understood as a disaffected disciple, a zealot who hoped that Christ came to enact not the reign of the suffering servant who gives himself over to death in love but the building of a material kingdom. Judas hands Christ over precisely because he was not fulfilling the hopes that Judas himself imagined for his ministry.
The figure of Judas should trouble us. Judas is not an outsider but one of the twelve–one of those who saw the miracles of Christ, who listened to his parables and preaching, who ate meals with Jesus. He was an intimate disciple of Christ, who nonetheless gave his Master up to death.
Dear friends, at the heart of the Church’s central mystery, the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find an array of scandals. Indeed, Judas’ selling over of Christ is only the first step of a process of betrayal in which most of those who followed Jesus ran away in fear in the midst of his crucifixion. In which the darkness of humanity was on display–in the eyes of those who rejoiced in the suffering of a fellow human being carrying his cross, in the power politics of a Roman Empire seeking to display its might, in the Jews and Gentiles who mocked the man of sorrows stumbling through the streets of Jerusalem. Throughout the history of the Church, such darkness has not disappeared. Insofar as the Church (including her leadership) consists of human beings who love the darkness, who have grown accustomed to the comfort of a cross-less Christianity, we should not be surprised. For it is precisely this darkness, the scandal of a humanity who prefers to dwell in death and sin rather than the light of love, that Christ came to save through his own self-gift of love.
Thus, on this Holy Wednesday, we are given the opportunity to look into the darkness. Not simply the darkness of a Church that has not always behaved as an icon of spousal love between the Bride and the Bridegroom. But the darkness that creeps into our individual hearts.
- The darkness that covers us, the baptized, in meetings at work in which we seek to carry out our own will at all costs, even if it means a colleague must be thrown under the bus.
- The darkness that covers us in our addiction to pornographic images of men and women that pervert the good of love, of sexual desire, into the shadow of lust.
- The darkness of a society, of which we are apart, that fails to see the dignity of every life from natural conception to natural death.
- The darkness of an institutional Church that often fails to become a beacon of divine love for the renewal of the world.
- The darkness of suspicion, in which we believe every action of every human being can be reduced to the narrow calculus of power alone.
Yet another darkness remains. The darkness of hopelessness, the myopia that fails to imagine that it is precisely this darkness that Christ’s death and resurrection has come to redeem. Indeed, it is the very institutional life of the Church (even in the midst of its tendency toward scandal) through which humanity is redeemed. In which the sacraments of the Church elevate every aspect of our humanity into the life of God; in which we learn to practice the self-giving love of Christ in relationships with one another (even with those that we do not like).
If the Church is to carry out the new evangelization, then we must become practiced in recognizing the various scandals that are operative in our common life together. We must perform individual self-examinations, in which we as particular Christians living in the world, recognize the ways that we perpetuate this scandal through our failure to love as Christ first loved us. But, even more so, we have to learn that the Church is not the community of the redeemed alone, the blessed alone, but those who are in the process of being redeemed. Being a bishop, being a lay ecclesial minister, being a member of a parish financial committee is not a sure sign of redemption. And the hope of the days that follow this Holy Wednesday is that all of us, through the grace of God poured out in the cross of Christ, even those of us who perpetuate scandal in the life of the Church, might be redeemed.
If we fail to recognize this fact, if we seek to depart the Church and construct our own society of the holy (even in our minds), we’ll quickly find that the darkness follows us even there. That lurking in each human heart is the sin of Judas. A sin that no one is immune from. This is why the Church prays, in the midst of Holy Week: “O God, who willed your Son to submit for our sake to the yoke of the Cross, so that you might drive from us the power of the enemy, grant us, your servants, to attain the grace of the resurrection.” All of us who carry the banner of Christ in the life of the Church must give ourselves over to such grace, to such gift, to such love. This work of redemption is the project of a lifetime–and thus, this day, let us pray that all darkness in the Church, all scandal, might be eliminated as each of us are bathed in the resurrected light of Christ.
Also in this series:
Liturgy: The moving image of That image (part 4)
Liturgy: The moving image of That image (part 3)
Liturgy: The moving image of That image (part 2)
Liturgy: The moving image of That image (part 1)
“Liturgy is the moving image of That image”
The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God. Liturgy is the moving image that reveals the ‘Kingdom that has come and Kingdom still to come.’ The Kingdom of God has come in this new humanity which has been assumed by Christ. This humanity is unceasingly transformed in the Spirit until God’s Kingdom comes in its fullness, or until each and every life of the faithful lives out the pattern exemplified by Christ (cf. Col 1:22-24). Liturgy is the ongoing sanctifying power to restore our humanity in the image of Christ. It is like a tapestry, knitted by hands both human and divine. However, there is no benefit to us unless we strive to live out that reality which concerns the beginning and the end. We are called to act as Christ in this world in preparation for His return in glory; henceforth, we are the eschatos, witnessing the last things. We had once lost our vision of what we are, but now, illumined by the true Light of the world (cf. 1 Jn 1:5-7), we are recovering our vision as the bearer of that Christ-like image in the process of repentance (meta nous, cf. Mt 4:17). Through the liturgy of the Church we encounter this reality. The image of Christ is the compass that directs us to a new orientation of life, in which every aspect of our human nature has to be disciplined and re-modeled for this new relationship between divinity and humanity.
Salvation in Christ restores our cosmic priesthood so that we may offer the world back to God as it is meant to be. “The Church’s worship opens up the world to the infinite. It allows it to breathe beyond its own confine[ment]”. Liturgy is the celebration of the fruit of Christ’s victory: His Resurrection opens for humanity the way of self-giving love that is stronger than death. Through the celebration of this mystery, the new people of God discover they are “new Christs” in their unique and non-repeatable existence. In His sacrifice on the Cross, Christ reconciled humanity with God, and liturgy is a celebration of this saving work.
Liturgy is the divine-human encounter. It is the historical and eschatological reality, interwoven with the strands of the past, present, and future; the crossroads of faith, hope, and love; the communion of the visible and the invisible; the meeting of earth and heaven.
Through each dialogue of His calling and our ‘fiat’;
through each ‘blessing’ and ‘amen’;
through each ‘petition’ and “kyrie eleison’;
through each ‘forgiveness’ and ‘kissing’;
through each ‘yearning’ and ‘censing’;
through each ‘gift’ and ‘thanks’;
through each ‘breaking’ and ‘communing’;
through each “metaonia” and “Alleluia”;
through each ‘epiclesis’;
we are re-imaged into That image Whom we pray and contemplate.
 Robert Taft, “What does Liturgy Do?” Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding (Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2001), 243.
 Photizomenoi, or ‘illuminated one,’ is the term used for the catechumens ready for the baptism.
 Oliver Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, (London: New City, 1993), 287.
 The baptized are anointed in order to proclaim their identity in Christ, the Anointed One. Through initiation, the lives of the faithful are joined to the Life of Christ (cf. Gal 2:20), and are called to be His continued presence in the world.
 A prostration expressing repentance and conversion.
Liturgical Asceticism: A Journey of Recovering Our Vision of Faith
People are unable to see the liturgical celebration as meaningful because they look only at anything visible or ‘pragmatic’. There is inseparable link between the visible sacraments and the invisible reality that they symbolize. When one detaches this link, one loses the objective ecclesial understanding of this mystery.
Baptism is an act of passage from this world into the kingdom of God that first requires conversion of heart as the beginning of a journey of repentance. One must change in order to be befitted for a new life in Christ as an authentic worshipper of God. Right worship is an ongoing re-Creation of our new humanity in Christ. Right worship is inseparable with our way of living, our way of relating to others and the world. We cannot adore God in the right manner without continuous repentance because our experience of love is fallen. We must encounter the Source of true worship repeatedly and continuously with faith, love and hope. Only in Christ can we find the true knowledge of God, theologia.
The Body of Christ conceives her offspring with this true knowledge intrinsically, but the receptor of knowledge, or nous, needs to be dusted off because the human heart is an abyss where divine inspirations and ‘serpents’ mix. The heart needs purification in order to receive God’s divine knowledge; as Jesus declares: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8). Impurity of mind manipulates and distorts the knowledge of God. The divisions within God’s kingdom are not caused by matter of the world, which has been mislabeled as profane and desacramentalized. It is we, the fallen human family, who divide the Kingdom of God by misusing free will and failing in the priestly vocation of all the baptized. Contemplation developed in liturgical asceticism purifies the mind (heart) or nous so that we may recover the purity of heart necessary to see the presence of God in the world. Contemplation is an unceasing encounter with God that nourishes us well in a world marked by forgetfulness, and gears us to live a vigilant life for Christ.
Almsgiving, praying, and fasting are the basic pillars of liturgical asceticism. All three ascetical strands help us to reconcile with the self (fasting), with God (praying), and with others (almsgiving). Fasting from food reminds us of our finitude; establishing physical boundaries sets us free from illusion of ‘playing God’ and re-orients our desires so that we may learn to depend on God alone. Fasting and prayer are inseparable; during times of vulnerability, we call out to God for strength. Finally, almsgiving is an act of self-giving; we share our subsistence with those in need. In fulfilling the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31), we strengthen each other to live in the reality of being the Body of Christ and become a reflection of the image of God to our neighbor.
Liturgical asceticism is a discipline, not a self-help guide. It is inseparable from the ecclesial teaching, capacitating us to walk as faithful disciples of Christ. Asceticism thus becomes a symbol of vigilance that keeps the disciples of Jesus on the “narrow path” to salvation (cf Mt 7:13-14). Only through true obedience are we transformed as the sacrament of Christ. This is our adoration and worship to God, the right relationship of the creature to the Creator. “Humanity is fully humanity when it is this response to God, when it becomes the movement of total self-giving and obedience to Him.” Prayer of the Church is thus the actualization of Christ in us, the true worship pleasing to the Father.
The Greek term, nous may refer to mind or heart. This word has not been used in a consistent fashion. Thomas Spidlik used it in reference to the word ‘organ.’ The author here has used the term to mean both heart and mind in reference to the word ‘receptor’.
 Spidlik, 24.
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, (NY: SVS Press, 1973), 85.
Liturgy as Theophany: The Manifestation of God
Jesus Christ, the new Covenant, was declared out of water and the Spirit. He was baptized not because He was sinful and needed to be cleansed through baptism, but that He might cleanse and sanctify all waters of the river Jordan through His presence. Water was viewed as a sign of chaos and death in the Old Testament, but through the divine presence of Christ, it becomes the source for entry into eternal life. “Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing waters by the presence of the Lord. Today we are redeemed from darkness and illuminated by the light of the knowledge of God.” In the Baptism of the Lord, we celebrate God manifest as the Trinity: the Father proclaims Jesus Christ to be His beloved Son, and the Spirit confirms their relationship.
Christ continues to reveal his self-emptying love of the Father through the Spirit in the sacraments of the Church. The unworthy are deemed as His beloved in baptism. The heavenly Father becomes ‘Our Father.’ The faithful are united with God and become members of His mystical Body. The manifestation of the presence of the Triune God is termed as ‘mystery’ in the Christian East and ‘sacrament’ in the Latin West. Liturgy serves the sacraments of the Church, which unveil on the one hand the manifold ecclesial realization of the one mystery of redemption, and the ongoing salvific acts of God on the other.
Liturgy is the ongoing redemptive act of God
Liturgy in a thick sense is the visible continuation of the very ministry and redemptive action of Jesus Christ in form. The Church—the new people of God—is called out and assembled in the name of Jesus Christ, the new name of “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). They are “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28). They have been baptized into Christ and have clothed themselves with Christ. They have been incorporated into His life and sealed with the Cross as the mark of this covenant—a pledge to the fulfillment of the glory to come. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the ultimate redemptive act. The Church as the Body of Christ is the mysterious presence of God in the world, a divine-human reality. “The liturgy of the Church is the earthly prolongation of His historical acts of salvation, recorded in Scripture and still life-giving, and the visibility of Christ’s high priesthood in heaven.” The triune God is active in the liturgy.
Liturgy in a cultic sense is a service, a religious rite, a ritual or a cultic system of an ecclesial gathering in which the Church is doing what she supposed to do. All faithful, both the living and the deceased, celebrate a common mystery together with Christ as the co-protagonists of this Paschal Mystery. The structure or the movement of the celebration reveals the ongoing salvific activity of the Triune God:
“The first is a movement from God the Father to the world, while the second is a movement from the world to God the Father. This direction of movement in the liturgy reveals that the Father gives His Son in and by the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of the Father. The Father gives His Spirit an assignment, as it were; namely, to effect, illumine, clarify and arrange everything in such a way that the Son be known and that all who believe in Him might live their lives entirely from the Son’s life.”
The Trinitarian form revealed is the concrete motion of the Triune God. It is the kenotic, self-emptying act of the Trinity in which the Father gives Himself to the world “concretely and specifically in the giving of His Son, a Son at every moment accompanied by the action and work of the Holy Spirit.” This motion is termed as perichoresis in Greek and circumincessio in Latin. It is the interpenetrative participation of Life in the communion of the Trinity. This coming and emptying is the whole Trinitarian act which manifests the sacrificial love poured from the Father, demonstrated through the Son, continuously working in the Spirit.
Thus: “Liturgy is the Trinity’s perichoresis kenotically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification. It is the prolongation of the Son’s agapic descent to simultaneously enable humanity’s eucharistic ascent.” The Eucharistic prayer is called anaphora in the East to emphasize this up-lifting movement. The ritual moment experienced by the faithful is the divine-human encounter that becomes the basic stance of every other moment of human life. The reality celebrated becomes the transformed mind of the community; it is the formation tool which shapes the community towards the perfection of that very reality. This is why the Second Vatican Council made the significant claim that, through the liturgy, “the work of our redemption is accomplished,” because liturgy is the privileged ground of this ongoing salvific encounter between God and man.
Liturgy is never simply human artifact, dependent on any individual’s brilliant mind and logic to ‘design’ its form and ‘decide’ its matters. Rather, it is the Theophany, the appearance of God, through which we encounter with the Trinity and are thus made godly. It transforms our existence and for this reason is named the ‘divine’ liturgy in the East. People are transfigured when they encounter the presence of God. This is the unceasing work of the Spirit through the Son present in the sacramental encounter. Thus, “the purpose of Liturgy is not to change ‘bread and wine’ but to change ‘you and me.’”
Christian Liturgy is the continuation of the visible form of the very ministry of Christ. It is “what the Church perceives as the continuing act of God, just as the Bible is the word of God.” “Quod itaque Redemptoris nostril conspicuum fuit, in sacramenta transivit” — “That which was visible in our redeemer has passed over into liturgy.” The only difference is the mode of presence. Christ is the sacrament of the Father’s love for the redemption of humanity. His presence in the past is historical, visible in the God-man Jesus. Now He is hidden in the form of sacrament. His real presence is in His absence. 
 From the Service of the Sanctification of the Waters, celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church on the feast of Theophany, or Epiphany, which refers to the Baptism of the Lord (unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which celebrates the visitation of the Magi on Epiphany).
 The Greek word mysterion refers to the entire ministry of Christ, especially His salvific Passion, Death, Resurrection and glorification, through which He reconciles man to God.
 The Latin word sacramentum is derived from sacrum facere, ‘to make holy.’ Used primarily for the oath taken by Roman soldiers upon enlisting in the army, this term was later applied to baptism by Tertullian, who interpreted the act as the Christian’s enlistment into Christ’s army. Since then, it has been applied to all essential acts of the Church on behalf of Christ’s saving act.
 Sphragis, the seal of the Cross on the head of the neophyte, carries the meaning of ownership or protection by the Lord. Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), 54-69.
 David Fagerberg, ‘Liturgical Theology’ in forthcoming T & T Clark Companion to Liturgy.
 All liturgy is ritual but not all rituals are liturgy.
 Jeremy Driscoll, What Happens at Mass, (Chicago; Leominster, Herefordshire: Liturgy Training publication; Gracewing), 11.
 Professor David Fagerberg’s working definition on ‘Liturgy’.
 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium introduction section 2.
 Patrick Reagan, ‘Pneumatological and Eschatological Aspects of Liturgical Celebration,’ quoted in Taft, Beyond East and West, 255.
 A phrase borrowed from the lecture notes of Professor Robert Taft, S.J.
 Leo the Great, Sermon 74.
 Cf. Robert Taft, ‘What is a Christian Feast? A Reflection,’ Worship 83 (2009), 15.
Also in this series:
Liturgy: The moving image of That image (part 1)
Now that we have established Jesus as the Image, the Theophany of God, we turn to the faithful He was sent to save, tracing their identity from the Qahal of the children of Israel to the Ecclesia of the Christian community.
The History of the ‘Deaf’: From Qahal to Ecclesia
God’s ultimate purpose was to call [Qahal] a nation into life as a people particularly His own so that He might offer the gift of salvation. The biblical narrative demonstrates God’s continued action in bringing about the salvation of humanity: God provides for man and preserves him from destruction (cf Gen 3:21; 5:9); God calls the patriarchs and promises to make of them a great nation (cf Gen 12-50); God reveals His name in the burning bush and enters into covenant with the people He has chosen (cf Ex 3) and God delivers His chosen ones out of slavery in an act foreshadowing the deliverance that will reach its fullness in the coming of the Messiah (cf Ex 14-15).
The covenantal-exodus event serves as the foundational event of Qahal, the gathering of the people of Israel as “the assembly of Yahweh”— “the people of God,” the fruit of God’s merciful intervention. The Lord convoked Israel to remember His redemptive actions, and continued to reveal Himself to them by giving them the law. Shema’ had been taught, which became known as the “little creed” of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt 6:4-5). The Shema’ was the epitome of the law, recited twice daily by God’s faithful people. In addition, God continued His presence among His people through the ark and the temple, reminders of the covenant and law. Therefore, the liturgy of ancient Israel, the chosen ones, is the corporate work to witness to the saving act of God. They responded to God’s saving actions with prayer, praise, adoration or supplication, and offered sacrifice to ratify the covenant. This is the first phase of the Church, the foreshadowing of the Church of Christ. Unfortunately, the people of Israel in the Old Testament failed to uphold their covenant with God throughout history. It wasn’t until God Himself became man in Jesus Christ that Shema’ in its full meaning was demonstrated. The Incarnation became the pledge of the communion of God-man. Jesus Christ listened to God and demonstrated His voluntary obedience unto death: the shedding of His blood on the Cross inscribed a new covenant not on any tablets of stone but on tablets of the heart. In the chalice of salvation of this new covenant, Christ’s redemptive love is forever remembered and made present in an act of “anamnesis.”
There is misconception of classifying churches as ‘liturgical’ and ‘non-liturgical’, as if liturgy is one form of worship out of many. The root meaning of the word “liturgy” is the corporate work of a group on behalf of the whole community; therefore, liturgy is the very ministry or the corporate work of the Church to reflect what she perceives as her ultimate concern to herself and to the world. It is a moving image reflecting ‘what Christians are.’
Entering the nave of every Orthodox church, one will notice the two distinctive icons of Christ placed on the left and right sides of the Royal Door. The one on the left signifies the Incarnation of Christ—His first coming; while the one on the right signifies the parousia of Christ—His second coming, which we anticipate in hope. Christians are the “eschatos”, the final ones, proclaiming and witnessing to the Kingdom of God that has already but not yet come, accomplishing this through the way we worship, the way we live, and the way we treat our neighbors. Worship that gives rise to this ethos and shapes us into this Christian identity must be examined under our archetype: Jesus Christ.
Our Archetype: Jesus Christ is the image of the unseen God (Col 1:15)
An image does not have meaning except in relation to that which it reflects. Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the new humanity in which we are re-imaged after this Image. The image of Christ steers us into this new creation and redemption in which He is the new Adam, the new Sacrifice, new Worship, new Covenant. All is in Him and through Him. He is the image of the unseen God, or, as St. Paul teaches, the invisible God made visible by taking on human nature, becoming one of us in order to disclose fully the Father’s will.
God’s intention or economy of salvation to mankind has not been fully comprehended even though man is created in His image and received His “breath”. From the beginning, man is created as the homo adorans who is supposed to desire the source and wellspring of Life, God Himself, yet God gives man the freedom to love Him or reject Him. As the representative of the Creation, man is its cosmic priest; by governing creation, man offers it back to the Creator in an offering of adoration.
In the “eye-opening” experience of the Fall (cf. Gen 3:7), man lost sight of his role as a sharer in God’s Life; he ‘grasped’ the measure of God in a wrong time and misused it for a wrong purpose (cf. Gen 2:15-17; 3:4-7). In a shift from God-centeredness to self-interest, man ‘lifted’ himself up with God, ‘ruled’ his neighbors and made creation ‘subordinate’ for his self-interests. Thus, as sin entered the world, it cast a veil over the image of God in humanity. Man fell short of the glory of God and failed to radiate God fully, even though he was created as the reflection of His splendor and glory.
By direct contrast, Jesus Christ is the new Adam(cf. 1 Cor 15:45, Rom 5:14) who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). He is the high Priest and the Victim who, trusting the goodness of His Father, handed over His life unto the curse of death as the choice sacrifice, presenting all praise and prayers as fragrant offerings to God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Him and through Him, the will and power of the Father and the unceasing salvific work of the Holy Spirit have been manifested; therefore, Jesus Christ is the Theophany of the Trinity. The eyewitness of the Apostles brought forth the Good News to all humankind so that we in turn may gather as the laos, the people of God, and share in the incorruptibility of God. God’s ultimate purpose of salvation was to call [Qahal] a faithful people into Life.
 A term borrowed from Fr. Patrick Reagan, eschatos means that the kingdom of God is personalized in the person of Christ. It is not time but humanity that depicts the tension of His kingdom which has “already but not yet” come.
 Gen 1:27. The Hebrew word, Selem, image implied the meaning of being the representative of God.
 Gen 2:7 the origin of life is always associated with the “breath” of God, therefore, the eastern rite of initiation is the best illustration of this imagery. The priest breathes upon the water three times in the form of cross. The salvation is also the new Creation. “New humanity in Christ” is born as the expression of one’s burial of the old self and rise to the new Life in Christ. The Church is the womb that nourishes us into this new humanity of Christ.
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1973), 14-15.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Some might think it odd to find a selection of purely instrumental pieces in our playlist for the papal conclave. However, there is a great tradition of instrumental music in the liturgical life of the Church, and while these pieces are probably not going to be heard in the context of a liturgy anytime soon (apart from the hymn “Simple Gifts” which was featured in Copland’s Appalachian Spring), it’s important to recognize that music written for settings other than worship still possesses an incredible potential to lift the heart and the soul to God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI refers to the entire realm of creation as a “symphony,” and the presence of God is discernible even in the production of orchestral sounds, as “wood and brass turn into tone; the unconscious and the unsolved become ordered and meaningful sound” (A New Song to the Lord, 122). However, whether or not instrumental music is truly capable of inspiring prayer depends as much on how it is received by the listener as it does on the music itself. To hear a piece of orchestral or instrumental music merely for its compositional ingenuity or technical prowess is certainly natural; however, to hear within this music the reflection of divine order and beauty opens the listener up to something deeper, something more real than just a pleasant aural experience. Instrumental music can become a means through which a person might encounter God. Granted, some forms of instrumental music lend themselves to this encounter more readily than others—for instance, it might be difficult to find any semblance of order or beauty in an overly-dissonant, atonal piece (although not necessarily impossible depending on the listener). Nevertheless, the instrumental pieces on the papal playlist were selected not only for their musical genius, but also because each one carries within it different musical manifestations of the theme of renewal, so appropriate for the Church in this time of transition. Additionally, each piece in its own way manifests joy—whether in the exuberant rhythmic energy of Appalachian Spring, the evocative harmonic structure of The Lark Ascending, the noble melody of Nimrod, or the triumphant brilliance of instrumental color of The Firebird Suite, each of these pieces has the potential to draw listeners in to the realm of beauty, and within that realm lies the opportunity to encounter the Source of all beauty. The comments that follow are an attempt to explain the reasons for including these pieces in particular, in the hopes that they might awaken a new imagination and inspire a new way of listening to instrumental music with an ear open to the voice of the Divine.
Appalachian Spring (Aaron Copland)
Throughout this piece, each theme is unfolded, first one by one, and in turn, they are often brought into relationship with others at various points. While the title suggests images of snow melting on mountains and the gradual awakening of nature in springtime, this piece actually brings to my mind the Genesis story. With the introduction of each musical theme, I imagine God bringing the different elements of creation into existence for the first time, from the wind sweeping over the waters, to first rays of light, to the crowning of creation with humanity. Heard in this mindset especially brings a new layer of meaning to the hymn “Simple Gifts,” which for me becomes a commentary on the relationship of creature and Creator: “’Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free.” A childlike, simple trust in God is the source of true freedom, and as the Church strives to find her way in moments of transition, we hear Jesus call us back to that childlike simplicity in order to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.
The Lark Ascending (Ralph Vaughan Williams)
In the world of art and literature, the lark is an incredibly symbolic bird: singing at daybreak, it announces the coming of the dawn, understood by many Christians as the coming of the Son. The lark sings as it flies, unlike most other birds, who only sing when perched. Its song symbolizes hope and good fortune, and for this reason, the lark has also come to symbolize Christ, who announced that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and in whose Passion, Death, and Resurrection, the dark night of sin ended at last.
Ralph Vaughan Williams embodies the voice of the lark with the solo violin, which soars to the heights of its range on a melody that sounds like a bird soaring and gliding on air currents. The melodic shape of the solo violin reminds me of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8). In this way, The Lark Ascending also carries pneumatological images as well: while the lark itself symbolizes Christ in some contexts, the simple image of bird in flight undoubtedly also conjures parallels with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove alighting on Jesus at His baptism. The multivalent symbolism and imagery of this extraordinary piece invite contemplation on the part of listeners; we “lift up our hearts” so that they may soar on the beautiful melody, ascending with the lark to the heights of heaven in a spirit of prayer. We remember that it is “the spirit that gives life” (Jn 6:63), and we pray that this life may be given in abundance to the next pope.
The Firebird Suite, 1919 Version (Igor Stravinsky)
Like Appalachian Spring, The Firebird Suite is a piece full of musical contrasts, no doubt owing to the fact that both works were originally written as ballets. The Firebird Suite tells a definite story. Those familiar with the ballet know that it was based on a Russian folk tale about a magical bird who helps a prince rescue a fair maiden from the clutches of an evil sorcerer; those familiar with Walt Disney’s Fantasia 2000 will recall the beautiful images of a sprite who renews nature after it is destroyed by a volcano. When I listen to this piece through theological headphones, I hear something different. Even the title The Firebird suggests the image of the Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost in tongues of flame, and for me, this music embodies the entirety of the Paschal Mystery.
The Firebird Suite opens with a lyrical melody shared by various winds and the cello, accompanied by the harp. I imagine this as the moment of Annunciation and Incarnation—the quiet, almost-unnoticed entry of salvation into the world. Suddenly, the music shifts into an aggressive, angry section, which brings to my mind the opposition facing Jesus even from His birth—from King Herod, to the Pharisees plotting against Him, to the high priests holding Him trial and calling for His execution. As the intensity builds in this section, the music swirls in ever-increasing chaos, until suddenly the section ends, culminating with the seeming triumph of darkness. This is the moment of Crucifixion and Death. In what follows, I hear the mourning of those who were with Jesus at the Cross; I hear the cold silence of the tomb. Then, a distant horn sounds the theme of the finale—a melody filled with hope and expectation. For me, this presents the image of the sun breaking the horizon on Easter Sunday morning. Gradually, the theme grows as various instruments take up the song, joining their voices in harmony, until the full orchestra resounds with a triumphant fanfare based around the original horn melody. In these glorious final moments, I hear Christ ascending to His Father; I hear the Spirit descending upon the faithful, and as the piece draws to a close, I see the Apostles leaving the upper room to announce the Good News to the world. This piece is a musical embodiment of the story of the bridegroom, Christ, and His bride, the Church. In it, I hear the triumph of love and the promise of hope, and it becomes a prayer for the Church to continue the work of Christ in every age.
Nimrod, from Enigma Variations (Edward Elgar)
This orchestral piece is one that was included simply for its loveliness, without any theological subtext or symbolic intent. The melody, said by Elgar to resemble that of the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, is one of nobility and strength. There is even a hint of solemn resignation in its almost melancholy beauty, and when I hear this piece, I hear a quiet dignity befitting of a pope stepping down from a position of power and prestige to assume a life of prayer and study, far from the public eye. This music invites contemplation and reflection; one could almost hear it as an underscore to a retrospective montage of images from Benedict XVI’s papacy. This piece serves as a musical farewell—an expression of gratitude to Benedict XVI for his life of service to the Church, and a prayer for God’s continued blessings on him, on his successor, and on the Church itself.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
As a composer, I’m more than familiar with the dull dread of facing down a blank page of staff paper. Few things are more daunting than deciding where to start with a new piece of music. Fortunately, when I turn to writing sacred music, I have the ultimate text source to provide inspiration and direction: Scripture. For millennia, composers have been setting the texts of the Bible to music, adorning the Word of God in melody, rhythm, and harmony. Composing this kind of music requires more than mere familiarity with the words of Scripture; it necessitates an intimacy that can only be borne of study, contemplation, and of course, prayer. The gift is two-fold: sacred music based on Scripture not only provides an opportunity for a composer to engage in intense personal prayer, but it also provides listeners with an aural experience of lectio divina as they are drawn more deeply in to the sung Word by its resonant beauty.
The Psalms in Sacred Music
Although many composers have turned to a wide array of Scripture passages in choosing texts to set to music, it is the Psalms that provide quite possibly the richest source of texts from the canon of Scripture. This is the hymnbook of the Church; this is the song of the People of God; this is the entire scope of the human experience contained in 150 poetic expressions of praise, lamentation, and thanksgiving. The Psalms constitute the heart and soul of the Liturgy of the Hours, and have a prominent place in the celebration of the Mass as well. As a devout Jew, Jesus Himself would have been well familiar with the Psalms and no doubt turned to them often in His personal prayer, as epitomized in His cry from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:2a) Through the Psalms, we raise our voices with Jesus in every circumstance. Whether it be a shout of exultation, a plea for mercy, or a wail of distress, the Psalms give voice to our prayer, uniting us with the millions throughout the world who lift these texts to God each day in sorrow and in joy.
Several Psalm settings were chosen for the papal playlist from a variety of compositional eras and styles. English Renaissance composer William Byrd’s setting of Sing Joyfully (Ps 81:1-4) provides an incredible example of a compositional technique called text painting or word painting. In this style of writing, the music becomes an aural reflection of the text. Early in the piece, the words “take the song” are begun in the tenor line alone, then they are subsequently “taken up” by the other parts of the ensemble. This imitative writing embodies the text: one part serves as the leader, exhorting the others to follow in “[taking] the song,” and a joyful interplay results as each part follows the leader in its turn. Another marvelous instance of text painting occurs at the words “Blow the trumpet in the new moon.” The voices have previously been singing in an imitative style similar to that heard at “take the song,” when all of a sudden, they converge and sing together strongly with chords and melody that sound like a trumpet fanfare announcing the arrival of royalty. Byrd’s music provides not only a beautiful complement to the text of Psalm 81, but it also serves as an exegetical tool, providing a musical commentary on the meaning of the text itself. Moreover, this music is a powerful aid to scriptural reflection: when these melodies and harmonies become embedded in the memory, they become a means of ruminating upon the texts to which they are inextricably joined, enabling listeners to continue their contemplation of Scripture, even after the final note has ended.
A setting of Psalm 46 from composer Steven C. Warner provides a significant contrast in compositional style from that of William Byrd. Warner’s Be Still and Know that I am God, is written in a musical style developed by the Taizé community, particularly Jacques Berthier.* In this kind of music, a simple melody is utilized for the refrain, providing the musical foundation upon which the rest of the piece is built. The refrain serves as an ostinato, a musical term which comes from the Latin word “obstinatus,” which means firm or resolved. An ostinato is a musical figure that is repeated throughout the duration of a piece. Perhaps the most famous ostinato is the relentless bass line from Pachelbel’s Canon in D. In music of the Taizé style, the entire refrain is usually written as an ostinato, and verses using a complementary melody are sung over the refrain. The result is that the text of the refrain often becomes a kind of centering mantra for the music around which the verses revolve. The simplicity of this music lends itself well to immediate reception and retention on the part of the listener, even on the first hearing. Moreover, each repetition of the refrain invites singer and listener alike to enter into the meaning of the text even more deeply, resulting in a prayer that plumbs further and further into the depths of the heart.
These two musical examples are very different treatments of texts from the same scriptural source, and in their differences, they demonstrate the multitudinous variety of expression found throughout the Psalms. Regardless of the circumstances in one’s life or the particular brand of personal piety one espouses, the Psalms provide a rich treasury of sung prayer that will continue to form the hearts of the faithful just as they formed the Heart of the One in whom we believe.
*To listen to this piece and others, check out the papal conclave playlist on Spotify.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
People don’t make mix-tapes anymore. At least not in the way they used to. The days of dual cassette decks and poor sound quality may be long gone, but creating musical compilations remains as much a part of cultural and individual expression as it ever was, and thanks to the digital age, the process is a lot easier now. When we can’t find words to express love for that special someone, we can rely on The Beatles or Frank Sinatra to convey our feelings. When life deals a heart-crushing blow, Simon & Garfunkel encourage us to keep going and Josh Ritter comforts us. We work, drive, exercise, clean, and sleep, often serenaded by a soundtrack that not only alleviates the mundaneness of the everyday, but also punctuates the highest and lowest moments of our lives. We play music when people are married and when they are buried, and more often than not, on those life-defining occasions, we turn to specific pieces that have helped shape an identity as a means of expressing the uniqueness of a life and the significance of a moment.
In the life of the Church, music has no less important a role to play, for it is music that often enables us to pray with a fervor far beyond that which we experience when using ordinary speech. In this time of transition, we express our gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI for shepherding the flock of Christ, we lift up our hearts in supplication for those who will choose the next successor of Peter, and we ask for God’s grace to be poured out on the one who will next assume the duties of the papacy. And when our stuttered words crack under the weight of this solemn time, the Church, too, can turn to music as a way to express that which mere words cannot.
A few weeks back, the good folks at Spotify asked us at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy to compile a playlist for the papal conclave. This collection, comprised primarily of sacred choral music, was intended to provide a musical commentary as well as a leitmotif for prayer on this occasion. It’s not every day you’re asked to make a mix-tape of this magnitude, and narrowing the field of choices with such an enormous selection was daunting at best. Nevertheless, we humbly present this compilation not as an exhaustive list, but as a catalyst for the discovery of new and beautiful music, and for a more profound prayer. Thanks to the beauty of technology and social media, we were not only able to assemble a collection of music fitted to the task of praying our way through the papal transition, but we were also to share it with others around the world. In this way, music becomes a source of prayerful unity, a way for us to lift our hearts as Church across continents and time zones, and a means through which we can open our hearts to an encounter with divine Love in an experience of beauty. May this music enable us to recognize God’s voice resounding in melody, and may it inspire in us a heartfelt prayer that soars to the heights of heaven and harmonizes with the divine Beauty which sings in all of creation.
Music for the Petrine Office
In assembling this playlist, several criteria came into play. First among them was to find selections with texts that spoke to status of the pope as the successor of St. Peter. Many composers throughout history have set the text “Tu es Petrus” to music. The Latin text translates: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:18-19). This is the proper text of both the Alleluia verse and the Communion chant or antiphon for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29). Two settings of this text are included from very different time periods. One is by Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina, whose works have come to epitomize polyphonic (many-voiced) sacred music. The other is by French 20th-century composer Maurice Duruflé, who wrote a great deal of sacred music based on Gregorian chant, yet harmonized those chants with chords that had a unique 20th-century sonority. (A beautiful example of this technique is found in his setting of the Ubi Caritas, also included in the playlist.) Both of these pieces convey the unique manifestations of musical beauty and theological understanding that have occurred throughout the centuries, yet in their textual unity they also demonstrate the continuity of the Church, especially in the papal succession. The Church is many, yet she is also one under her shepherd, Christ.
One piece on the playlist deserves special mention as particularly connected with the history of the Vatican itself. Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere dates from around the 1630s and was composed exclusively for use in the Sistine Chapel,
at the Matins office during the Tenebrae services on the Wednesday of Holy Week and on Good Friday. The history of this piece is somewhat mysterious: throughout the 17th century, performances outside the Vatican and transcriptions of the music were strictly forbidden under pain of excommunication. However, a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard the piece in 1770 during his visit to Rome. The fourteen-year-old prodigy attended the Wednesday Tenebrae service, and afterward, transcribed the piece from memory. He returned for the Good Friday service to ensure its accuracy, and in 1771, the piece was published in London. When Pope Clement XIV learned that the Miserere had escaped the Sistine Chapel, he summoned Mozart back to Rome and, instead of excommunicating the teenager, Clement XIV commended him on his work of remarkable genius. The ban on the piece was lifted, and since that time, it has become one of the greatest treasures in the sacred choral music repertoire.
Stay tuned for more posts on the music featured in the papal playlist in the coming days, and feel free to share by way of comment those pieces that have inspired deeper prayer in your own life.