The Eucharistic Heart of the Catholic University

Tim O'Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, 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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Today, at the University of Notre Dame, classes resume.   In the previous days, freshmen were exhorted to get involved on campus; to commit oneself to live fully the Notre Dame experience through engagement in research opportunities, in the intellectual give and takeNotreDameSeal of the liberal arts classroom, in expanding one’s horizons through studying abroad; and the commitment to offering one’s education for the benefit of the community and the world at large.

Of course, today is not simply the day in which the pedagogical work of the University recommences.  It is also the opening school year Mass.   Indeed, a sizable collection of students and faculty (less sizable) will gather in the Joyce Center on campus to celebrate the Eucharist.   The readings will emphasize the gift of the Holy Spirit, the homily will set forth a Christian vocation of higher education, and the provost will exhort students to the intellectual task at hand.   It will be followed by a picnic.

Indeed, there is ample reason to critique these opening school year Masses (present at most Catholic universities and colleges throughout this country).   They often seem less dedicated to ruminating upon the memory of Christ’s death and resurrection, of standing in awe before the Eucharistic presence of the resurrected God-man, of receiving the medicine of immortality and more focused on celebrating the virtues of this community.   Such a liturgy, albeit carried out with the best intentions, can easily devolve into an idolatry of self-worship.  Dear God, thank you for creating this university, which has a community and intellectual life that is better than all other colleges ever imagined by your other creatures.

But there is a different way of looking at these opening school year Masses.  As students undertake the study integral to their intellectual formation, as faculty immerse themselves into the hectic duties of teaching, research, and service, as the residence halls begin to bustle with their own agendas for student formation, we turn elsewhere.  We turn to the Eucharistic worship of the God who became flesh.  By celebrating the Eucharist at the beginning of the school year, Catholic universities are not simply carrying out a tradition marking their identity qua Catholic.   We are confessing that the ultimate saving reality of the cosmos is not our education, it’s not our research, it’s not our student programming.Dorm Mass in Lyons Hall   It’s a logic of Eucharistic love, of gratitude, of total self-gift defining of Christian existence.

Indeed, the life of the modern day university is fundamentally dedicated to teaching and research.   The Catholic university, of course, seeks to inculcate students into intellectual and moral habits, which will enable them to succeed in participation in public life.   It seeks to develop faculty, who publish top notch tomes on Reformation-era poetry and conduct research that expands our knowledge of the sub-atomic world.   But, the Eucharist liturgy at the beginning of the school year serves as a sacramental interruption to such agendas.  It reminds us that our studying and teaching is circumscribed by Christ’s Eucharistic gift of love.

What separates a Catholic university from its counterparts is not merely a commitment to justice in the classroom and abroad; it’s not merely maintaining a robust tradition of the liberal arts; it’s not simply putting up posters that promise the formation of the whole person.   It’s the reality that our study, our teaching, is made possible through a gift that we have first received.

  • The gift of creation, of human relationships, of language, which manifest the beauty of the Creator.
  • The gift of the intellect, capable of discerning complex truths in the midst of a sometimes dizzying array of data.
  • The gift of an imagination that can conceive of other possibilities within the world, one that can move beyond the veil of slogans and assumptions and discern truth.

At the Eucharistic altar, we give thanks for all these gifts; and we constantly remember that such gifts are not ours alone but bestowed for the life of the world.  

Thus, celebrating the Eucharist at the commencement of the school year is not a mere tradition.   It is a medicine for that academic hubris, which can so easily infect the modern day research university.   Our work at the university, among believers and unbelievers alike, is not simply dedicated to receiving accolades from our peers.   It is not about receiving a degree, which will elevate our social standing through a lucrative position in EucharisticMysteryfinance.   It is about an encounter with reality, of gift, at the heart of the cosmos.

The daily celebration of the Eucharist at such universities, even in the midst of many non-Catholics, is a perpetual reminder that the work of the university is ultimately not salvific.   For in the University, we come to know truth through the myriad of disciplines.  Our knowledge may allow us to develop new life-saving technologies or develop practices for peace-making in war torn countries.  But in the Eucharist, we constantly remember that truth became a person who loved unto the end, who dwells among us here and now in bread-once-bread and wine-once-wine.  Our salvation is not dependent on our research agenda, on our acumen, on our talent in the arts.   Salvation takes place insofar as we shape our lives according to this logic of love in the course of our research, our study, our performance.   Love alone saves.

As we undertake another year of the deadly serious business of Catholic higher education, as we set ambitious agendas for research and teaching, let us remember the Eucharistic quality of gratitude, of sacrifice, of self-giving love that should come to inform the work of the University.  There are rankings to be announced, studies to be undertaken, external reviews to be conducted.   But beyond all this, there is the gift of truth and love that pulsates at the Eucharistic heart of the Catholic university.   Lift up your hearts.   We lift them up to the Lord.

 

Surely the Lord is in This Place: Celebrating 125 Years at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Last Friday was a special day in the liturgical life of Our Lady’s University, as the entire Notre Dame community gathered to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Aside from the Golden Dome itself, the Basilica is one of the most visited sites on the Notre Dame campus, and for good reason. Quite simply, its beauty takes one’s breath away. DSC_4622The stately columns and graceful gothic arches, the starry ceiling, the painted angels gazing down serenely alongside witnesses of faith from every age, the scenes from the Gospels, the walls adorned with a stunning collection of stained glass windows that filter and color the sunlight—everything captures the imagination. At the heart of the Basilica stands a magnificent tabernacle: crowned by the Lamb slain and risen, its beauty invites all to contemplate the mystery contained within it—the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Himself, present in the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, the entire Basilica invites contemplation of the splendor and majesty of God, who, in an immense and immeasurable love, desires to be in relationship with his people, the Church.

God’s extravagant love for us inspires an extravagant response on our part. In His ministry, Jesus Himself encouraged such extravagance when it comes to one’s relationship with God, particularly in His praise of the woman who anointed His feet with expensive aromatic nard from an alabaster jar (cf. Mk 14:3-9 and Jn 12:3-8). In gratitude to the God who made, called, and redeemed us by sending his only Son, we ought to offer in return the best and most beautiful of all that God has first given to us; thus, throughout history, splendid and majestic churches have been built as signs of gratitude to God and reflections of God’s splendor and majesty. Most importantly, sacred spaces such as the Basilica provide the locus for that most profound point of entry into a relationship of love with the Triune God: the celebration of the liturgy.

DSC_3092In his homily for Friday’s anniversary liturgy, Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C. stated that “there is nothing meager about God.”* He went on to describe the beauty of creation, only to conclude that it pales in comparison to the beauty of the Creator—the God who loved the world into existence and in that same love redeemed the world by sending his only Son through the power of the Spirit, revealing the divine nature as a Trinity of Persons united in love:

“With amazing generosity, the Word was ‘tabernacled’ among us. With astonishing condescension, the Word ‘pitched his tent’ and ‘made his dwelling place among us’ (Jn 1:14). Jesus, the perfect image or icon of the Father, reveals the splendor of the Father’s love. Christ is the sacrament of the Father, making visible the invisible glory of the Godhead; and the Church, the community of believers, is called to be the image or the icon of Christ—a living sacrament that makes Christ present in this world until He appears again in glory.”

The Church’s desire to fulfill the vocation of manifesting Christ, according to Bishop Jenky, inspired the construction of great places of worship throughout the history of Christianity:

“Catholic Christianity is sacramental and incarnational. That’s the reason for this place. Down through the march of centuries, and in many and various changing styles of art and architecture, our churches are outward signs, material icons of inward spiritual realities where the physical signifies the metaphysical. Glory and beauty are divine attributes, so believers of both the Eastern and Western traditions of Catholic Christianity have always tried to build churches as glorious and as beautiful as possible.”

DSC_3106The beauty of a church should cause our hearts to expand with wonder and awe as it reflects the beauty of a God “who so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The beauty of a church should stop us in our tracks; it should quell the unimpressed, overly-stimulated voice inside us that says, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” It should inspire us to look up and around in a spirit of reverent contemplation of all that God has done for us. The beauty of a church should fill us with an awareness of the immensity of God and of our own littleness in the face of that immensity, and in its “sacramentality” and “incarnationality,” it should remind us of that unfathomable Love which became little in order to “pitch his tent” with us so that we may dwell eternally with him in glory.

The church is at once a place where God comes to dwell with his people and where God’s people encounter their true home. When we enter into the liturgical celebration, we are joined to the eternal liturgy that is constantly taking place in heaven, as our voices are joined with the angels and saints in acclaiming the thrice-holy God. The angels and saints depicted throughout the Basilica are vivid reminders of this reality as they surround the worshiping faithful.

Elizabeth of Hungary and ClotildeThe stained glass windows seem to sparkle and brim with life as the sun streams through them, and as Bishop Jenky affirmed, “The worshiping saints in eternity visually encircle us, the worshiping saints of time, in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.” Represented in these windows is the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), holy men and women of every age who spur us on in the pilgrim journey of faith, and in their company, we “[keep] our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb 12:2), whose Body and Blood are made present in bread and wine on the altar of sacrifice by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical celebration, we are filled with joy as we celebrate the saving love of God through Jesus, and yet we are also filled with longing as we anticipate the eternal banquet of the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. The tabernacle of the Basilica calls this to mind in its imagery, inspired by the description of the New Jerusalem from the book of Revelation.  On the upper portion of the tabernacle, angels stand as sentinels; on the lower foundational portion, the Apostles are depicted as guardians of the gates to the city of God (cf. Rev 21:11-14). Over all stands the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (cf. Jn 1:36); the Lamb once slain who now lives forever. The altar and the tabernacle together serve as reminders of the “already” and the “not yet”: we participate in the divine life of the Triune God through the sacrifice of Jesus made present in our celebration of the liturgy, yet we continue to await the day when we will enjoy the fullness of that divine life in the Kingdom of heaven. DSC_4625The paintings and stained glass, the Stations of the Cross, the Crucifix, the reliquaries and side chapels, the tabernacle and the altar—all invite an awe-filled contemplation of God’s love and encourage a more reverent participation in the celebration of the liturgy.

Within Friday’s celebration of the Basilica’s anniversary liturgy, the music created aural images as spectacular as those visual images present in the Basilica itself. Brass and pipe and drum and voices combined, enveloping all those present as they joined together in offering sung praise to God in awe-filled thanksgiving for the gift of his saving presence. Several pieces of music had been composed specifically for the anniversary celebration, enabling those gathered to fulfill the words of the psalmist and “sing a new song to the Lord” (Ps 98:1). And just as those who constructed and adorned the Basilica with care and solicitude 125 years ago offered their very best, so too did those who participated in the music ministry offer the very best of their talents, as did those assisting with the liturgical ministries, placing them at the service of the Church for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. The vaulted ceilings and marble surfaces echoed and reverberated with song, as though the very stones of the church cried out along with the faithful in praise of God (cf. Lk 19:40), and all who sang with full heart and voice became as living stones, building up the Church of God through hymns and songs of grateful praise.

DSC_3107In the end, Bishop Jenky encouraged those present to ponder for a moment the hundreds upon thousands of celebrations that had taken place within the walls of the Basilica—baptisms, confirmations, reconciliations, anointings, weddings, ordinations, funerals, Masses—as well as those instances of personal prayer, devotion, and conversion fostered by the beauty of the space.

He summarized thus of the significance of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

All the outward signs of glory in any Catholic church and the rites of consecration are intended to signify a vocation of holiness to which all the people of God are called. …if we allow this sacred space to do its work with us, there should always be the glorious evidence of our cooperation with God’s glorious grace.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the sacred steward of our best memories, and the sacred inspiration of our most audacious dreams. Notre Dame’s Basilica images the grandeur of the universe, because God fashioned the universe. This Basilica images the beautiful, because God is beautiful. Notre Dame Our MotherThis Basilica images God’s holy Church, because in this church, the members of Christ’s Body are taken up through the celebration of the Mass into the very language and love shared by the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. This Basilica images the communion of saints, because we are all called to be saints, and all saints share a vocation to signify the goodness and the glory of God. This Basilica images God, and God’s incandescent heaven, because our destiny is to see God face-to-face in the eternal splendor of heaven.

How awesome and terrible is this place. Truly this is the house of God and the gate of heaven. For the Congregation of Holy Cross, and for the entire Notre Dame family, may this deep conviction of our Catholic faith never be lost, but ever be lived, affirmed, and gloriously celebrated.

*I am grateful to Bishop Jenky for his kind permission to excerpt his homily in this post. The anniversary Mass can be viewed in its entirety via iTunes; for more information on downloading the video, please click here.

The Assumption of Mary: A Sign of Hope, a Source of Comfort

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

 

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“Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: ‘You are my God. My happiness lies in you alone.’
He has put into my heart a marvelous love
for the faithful ones who dwell in his land.
Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows.
Never will I offer their offerings of blood.
Never will I take their name upon my lips.
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and my cup,
it is you yourself who are my prize.
The lot marked out for me is my delight:
welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me!
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.
You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness forever.”
(Psalm 16)

This psalm, prayed by the Church tonight and every Thursday night during Compline, resonates with particular beauty when we consider it in light of today’s solemnity: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Reading this psalm through a Marian lens, placing these words on the lips of the Virgin, we are able to see her entire life as a faith-filled response to the divine initiative. Contemplating this psalm in the mystery of Mary’s Assumption, we behold that which we await: “the beginning and image of [the] Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort” (Preface of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). In Mary, we are able to glimpse what has been promised to us, as she dwells in the “fullness of joy” at the right hand of her Lord and king (cf. Ps 45), in whom her true happiness lies.

Dormition of MaryFrom the moment of her conception, Mary is the beneficiary of the divine initiative; she is a unique recipient of the “wondrous love” that God has put into her heart. It is this love for God and for his faithful ones that prompts her obedient response to participate in the narrative of salvation history. By declaring to the angel, “Let it be done unto me according to your word,” Mary accepts as her delight the lot that God has marked out for her. By accepting her vocation to be the Mother of God, Mary welcomes the heritage that falls to her, and in turn, she invites all the faithful to share in her heritage and become “brother, sister, and mother” to her Son, saying, “Do whatever he tells you” (cf. Mt 12:50 and Jn 2:5).

In contemplating her who “pondered all things in her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51), we see one who, even in moments of darkness, continuously “[blessed] the Lord who [gave her] counsel,” who “[kept] the Lord ever in [her] sight” (Ps 16:7, 8). It was this fidelity to God that allowed Mary to “stand firm” at the foot of the Cross. As she witnessed the horror of the Crucifixion, Mary was able to entrust her Son to the love of God as expressed in the psalm: “For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay” (Ps 16:10). And in the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary witnessed the “path of life” and the “fullness of joy” (Ps 16: 11) as she beheld her Risen Son and Savior ascend into heaven, the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).

Assumption of Mary-TitianWhere Christ the Head has gone, the Church, His Body, hopes to follow, and Mary—Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church—anticipates the destiny of the Church in the glory of her Assumption. Thus, Mary’s Assumption is the great sign of hope for all who belong to the Body of Christ by baptism.

“In [Mary] we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey. There, ‘in the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity,’ ‘in the communion of all the saints,’ the Church is awaited by the one she venerates as Mother of her Lord and as her own mother” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §972).  

Conformed to Jesus by sharing in His sufferings, Mary now shares in His glory. As she is taken up into heaven, Mary can exclaim to God: “You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness forever” (Ps 16:11). In Mary, God has indeed “lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52), and all are called to follow her example of humble, obedient love, and unshakable fidelity so that, like her, all may rejoice in the eternal life of the Triune God. Mary’s Assumption is the sign of hope and comfort that the promise inaugurated by Christ’s Resurrection will be fulfilled. Death will not have the last word. God will not leave our souls among the dead, nor will he let his beloved know decay. As we contemplate the mystery of Mary’s Assumption, may we confidently pray with her in the words of the psalmist, expressing our hope that one day we will join her and her Son in the glory of beatific vision:

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.
You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness forever.

The Heresy of the Political Party Approach to the Papacy

Tim O'Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

Each January, members of Congress, the Supreme Court Justices, and the executive cabinet assemble at the Capital to listen to the President’s State of the Union address.  In principle, the exercise is an opportunity for the country to hear from the President regarding the vision that will guide the nation over the upcoming year.   In reality, the speech is often an occasion for partisan politics.   Each proclamation of the President is lauded by that Commander-in-Chief’s political party through a standing ovation and a round-of-applause.   At the same time, the opposing political party sits in silence, standingJohnKerryMcCain and applauding only when it would be inappropriate to not do so (references to the military, praise for a retiring member of Congress, etc.).

This comical partisanship is presently being played out through the reaction of American Catholics to the papacy of Pope Francis. Indeed, just yesterday, the National Catholic Reporter published a column (written by David Gibson) in which the author assembled quotes out of context from various blogs to show how liturgical traditionalists and conservatives are unsettled by the papacy of Pope Francis.   It is a piece written from the perspective of power politics.   Conservatives, according to Gibson, now must endure the same heavy-handed approach that those on the left underwent during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.   Quoting just one part of the text:

But in a few short months, Pope Francis has upended that dynamic, alienating many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives.

In other words (the article implicitly argues), John Paul II and Benedict XVI were conservative Republicans, who courted the favor of those who held the same political ideologies.   Now, Pope Francis, the papal equivalent to a Democrat, is once again attending to the Progressive political platform.   Indeed, this narrative of political violence and revolution has overflowed into the online comment section of the article linked above.   Those who have commented are rejoicing that the right-winged, conservative party of Catholicism must endure the same minority status as they did during the previous two papacies.  A non-Catholic reading such comments would inevitably be surprising to read in the Scriptures the Christian obligation to love one’s neighbor as an act of divine worship.

This narrative regarding the papacy is reductionist, ideological, and for this reason un-Catholic.   Indeed, it is impossible to ignore that there is a distinctive style to Pope Francis, which is at the very least different than that of Benedict XVI (it should be emphasized thatPopeBendictFrancis this is because they are different human beings). The political and bureaucratic trappings of the Vatican are falling away under the evangelistic style brought about through Pope Francis’ preaching and his descent into the margins of society (a “revolution” perhaps begun not through Pope Francis himself but through the rather humble action of Benedict XVI resigning the papacy in the first place!).

Nonetheless, the function of the papacy is not to represent a certain political ideology, which is assumed to be correct by adherents to that platform.  Rather, the Pope is a visible sign of unity among Catholics.  As Lumen Gentium (the Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council) makes clear:

The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.   Individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular churches, which are modelled on the universal church; it is in and from these that the one and unique catholic church exists.   And for that reason each bishop represents his own church, whereas all of them together with the pope represent the whole church in a bond of peace, love, and unity (LG 23).

The function of the papacy is not ideological, not political, but a visible sign of that love and unity made possible through Christ’s presence in the Church, a gift offered for the salvation of the world.   When Pope Francis speaks about simplicity, he is not presenting a political platform palatable to American Democrats.   He is instead preaching the heart of the Gospel, one that should perplex the world.   When Pope Francis visits a juvenile prison, heArgentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos Aires is embodying for the world the reality that light shines into the darkness; that even in the darkest places of life, in suffering and sorrow, there remains the gift of hope.  He is enacting the new evangelization, one that does not remain solely concerned about ecclesial politics but the art of self-giving love transformative of human society and the cosmos alike.

The problem with the political party approach to the Papacy is that it presumes that each Pontiff must enact a revolution, a new way of doing things, over the last Pope.  Is it not possible, instead, that each papacy strives to enact this unity, this gift of self to the world, in a particular way and with particular gifts?   In fact, there is a sacramental beauty to Pope Francis’ claim that the encyclical Lumen Fidei was the fruit of four hands:  his and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.   Is it not the case that the life of the Church is the fruit of hundreds of millions of hands throughout time, who have dared to embody self-giving love in the world?  St. Francis de Sales and St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

There is no single way to be Catholic, to become a saint.  And likewise, there is no univocal way to be a Pope.   The particular histories, the theological and spiritual formation of each man who sits in the Chair of St. Peter, will continue to make its mark until the consummation of the ages.  Not all that each Pope does will be perfect.  Nor can we be sure what is lasting from a papacy and what will fade away.  Rather, like the parable of the wheat and the tares, the wheat of a papacy can only be known at the end of time.  A political party approach to the papacy, whether professed by those who call themselvesWheatandTares liberal or conservative, refuses to acknowledge that God might be acting even in decisions that we find troubling. After all, there might be an abundance of wheat, where we see only weeds.

Thus, it seems necessary for the flourishing of American Catholicism that we cease professing the heresy of the political party approach to the papacy.   Those who tend to love the liturgical papacy of Benedict XVI, admire the way that Pope Francis descends into the margins of society as an act of Eucharistic love (thus, in some ways, continuing the liturgical papacy).   Those who look to Pope Francis’ actions as a commitment to the poor, read Benedict XVI’s discussion of the Eucharist as obligating us to a life of concrete love to those most in need.   Let us refuse to introduce false dichotomies between Pontiffs, a division that rips apart the Church.

Our hope for the papacy can never be that we desire one Pope to be right, while the other is proved wrong.   Instead, as Catholics, our hope is that each Pope, through his own gifts, in his own concrete time, might lead people to contemplate how our humanity is elevated in Christ.   Not every Pope will succeed in this work in every way.  But rather than rip apart the Pope for his ideological impurity (or praise him for his purity), let us rejoice that those who look upon Pope Francis right now may be moved to love Christ ever more deeply.

 

 

 

 

 

Eucharistic Adoration: An Antidote to Navel-Gazing

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Like many people, I sometimes struggle with focusing inward on myself. It’s a fairly easy habit to develop, especially when society promotes such behavior by emphasizing the need for things like “Personal Space” and “Me Time.” Moreover, the advent of the smartphone has made self-obsession not only the new norm, but a new art form: people spend hours every day updating Facebook and Twitter statuses or posting the latest selfie on Instagram, and although these “social” media claim to have an outward focus in the name of making connections, in reality, people are more isolated than ever. SmartphonesInstead of helping people cultivate healthy friendships, social media tend to encourage unhealthy life comparisons. How many of us have had the following interior monologue while scrolling through the Facebook newsfeed: “Another one of my friends is in a relationship/engaged/married/having a baby/getting a promotion/traveling the world… why is my life not as fabulous as his/hers is?” When we look at what others have chosen to post through the rose-colored lenses of selective sharing (or, if you will, the sepia filter of Instagram), we start to believe that everyone else’s life really is that perfect (it’s not), which makes our lives look even bleaker by comparison (they’re not). We begin to look at the lives of others only as they relate to ourselves, and by constantly comparing, we delve deeper and deeper into the darkness of self-obsession.

The insidious danger of this self-obsessing, comparative mindset is that it eats away at our ability to be grateful. How can we say “thank you” for what we have received when it never seems to measure up to what everyone else has? As if that weren’t enough, when we continually focus on the self, our capacity for gratitude is gradually replaced by a sense of entitlement (not to mention resentful judgment of others’ worthiness). Smartphone Mood“I’m so much nicer/prettier/smarter than so-and-so; I should be the one with the amazing friends/spouse/job.” We cut ourselves off from the possibility of rejoicing in God’s presence at work in the lives of others, choosing to focus instead on the perceived lack of that presence at work in our own lives. Our vision becomes skewed as our gaze turns ever inward, and we become blind to the light of grace at work in every moment of every day. This is just one possible example of what St. Augustine called a curving inward on oneself. The more we obsess and the more we compare, the less we are able to look beyond the confines of our own self-pity. We become trapped within ourselves.

When we reach this point, the only possible solution is to turn our eyes away from the darkness of the inner self and look toward the light of Christ, and it is here that the practice of Eucharistic adoration can help us to realign our gaze. Eucharistic AdorationIn front of Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist, everything else returns to its proper place, and the way in which we view the world returns to an ordered perspective. The problems, insecurities, difficulties, and sorrows don’t magically disappear before the Blessed Sacrament, but in the loving gaze of Christ, we can learn to see our lives as He does. In Eucharistic adoration, the monstrance becomes a sort of mirror: Christ reflects back to us the person that He sees—a beloved son or daughter of His heavenly Father, for whom He died and rose, and for whom He remains, under the form of a simple host, so that we might draw near to Him.

In this Presence, we are able to perceive the truth more clearly. And if we spend enough time gazing at Him who shows us most fully unto ourselves, if we truly enter into the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we may just learn to see beyond even our selves and see Him who gazes back at us in complete and utter love. It is at this point, when we can finally see beyond the self and gaze upon the Other, that we become capacitated to receive the wealth of grace offered to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
And the grace Jesus offers is the grace to carry His Presence out into the world. He invites us to become, not a replica of the people whose Facebook lives cause envy within us, but an icon of Himself—a manifestation of Love that is humble so that it might lift others up, Love that is made perfect in weakness, Love that lays life down willingly for the sake of friends and enemies alike (cf. 2 Cor 12:9, Jn 15:13; Rom 5:7-8).

As we gaze at the Blessed Sacrament, we encounter Christ, who gazes back at us in love. Here we meet the One who emptied Himself of divinity to be born in a stable, who walked dusty roads to proclaim the Good News, who struggled under the weight of the Cross on the road to Calvary so that He could offer His last gasp of breath and His last drop of Precious Blood to set us free from the captivity of sin and death. Jesus with host and chalice And here—here is the One that, even now, continues to “love unto the end” (Jn 13:1). Here is the One who fulfills all promises, who is “with [us] always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Faced with such incomprehensible love, we cannot help but be transformed. We remember our lives with a new vision healed of its envy, and we see the loving presence of God that was there all along. We even find the grace to rejoice in that presence in the lives of others, where once we may have resented it. The Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament breaks through the barriers we erect around our hearts, and in the face of His loving Presence, we learn anew to say “thank you”: for the love of Father in which he sent his only Son, that we “might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). For the love of the Son in which He “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:8). For the love of the Spirit who pours into our hearts “a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15). For the immeasurable graces of God that continue to be “packed down, shaken together, running over, … poured into [our laps]” (Lk 6:38).

As we gaze upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the grace of eucharistia—thanksgiving—is poured into our hearts, and we learn once again that all is gift.

Imagine what would happen if people took a fraction of the time they spent on Facebook and spent it instead in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or at the very least, contemplating the love of Christ, who comes to meet us in the Eucharist. Imagine the renewed sense of love, devotion, and gratitude that would develop through such a practice, and how that would transform our celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy, in which we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus into our very bodies. As Blessed John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter on the mystery and worship of the Eucharist, “Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love” (Dominicae Cenae, §3). Jesus waits. For us. With patient, inexhaustible love. Will we keep Him waiting?

“Waking Up the Echoes”: Notre Dame, Liturgical Formation, and the New Evangelization

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor
Master of Theological Studies Candidate,
University of Notre Dame

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This is the first in a new series, offering musings on liturgical formation for emerging adults and the New Evangelization, from the heart of U.S. Catholicism.

Praying intently or sleeping soundly? Who can tell?
Praying intently or sleeping soundly? Who can tell?

We’ve all been there. You slump into the pew on Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted from a late night out with friends, murmuring prayers inaudibly along with the dull drone of those around you. Your eyes might glaze over during the readings while you contemplate your to-do list, which probably includes a mountain of homework you’ve left to complete at the last minute and figuring out how to nonchalantly ask the super cute guy in Calc class to your dorm’s dance next weekend. You might even “accidentally” close your eyes during the homily and wake up minutes later to the cacophony of kneelers hitting the floor, clumsily staggering to your feet and glancing around to make sure your lapse has gone unnoticed. Before you know it, you’re lining up for Communion; your hands stretch out mechanically to pop the little round wafer into your mouth, its taste dry and vaguely reminiscent of cardboard. You exit the church exactly the way you entered it: unchanged, untransformed, and completely unaware of the glorious mystery you’ve overlooked.

On the other side of the altar, the cantor stifles a yawn during the readings while mentally rehearsing the psalm and staving off pre-performance jitters—the church is fuller than usual, and her friends in the crowd haven’t heard her sing yet. Her proximity to the activity on the altar ensures her distraction for the rest of the hour; after the closing hymn ends, she, too, leaves the church heartbreakingly unconscious of the cosmic nature of what has transpired. She strides briskly away from the sanctuary (where, in Tolkien’s words, one finds “romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth”) to meet her girl friends for Sunday brunch.

Before you start formulating any judgments, I’ll let you in on a little secret…the person in these two stories is me. A graduate student in liturgical studies and “Double-Domer” at Notre Dame, and I can’t even get liturgy right! And so, the idea for this column on liturgical formation and the New Evangelization was born. Racking my brain for ways to write on this without sounding like another Campus Ministry pamphlet, I was inspired by a quotation from the former French Lutheran minister-turned Catholic convert Louis Bouyer: “Jesus dead and risen, Jesus living in the Church, is the explicit sign of our vocation as children of God, and he is also the first and perfect realization of it.” As children who have now grown into adults, and more importantly, as the children of God, we have received an incredible invitation to encounter the truth and heart of our faith: Jesus Christ living in the Church. But seriously, how in the world can we do this?

Liturgy at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre DameAfter countless hours of prayer and often-discombobulated theological musings, I offer you one unimaginably beautiful suggestion: through the liturgy. Yes, that one hour of the week on Sunday mornings that somehow seems to stretch interminably longer than all the rest, especially after a particularly late Saturday night out on the town with friends–because Catholic undergrads and graduate students like myself stand in the midst of a whirlwind of exciting activity within the Church: the New Evangelization has been called, we have the incredible good fortune to have Pope Francis as our new Shepherd, and in response to the great social and political upheaval in our world today, we have the resounding legacies of Blessed John Paul the Great and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI upon which to firmly plant our feet. Through an immersion into the liturgy, we have the opportunity to form ourselves as Catholics in a radically new way.

Many rightly argue that the flagging faith of young Catholics must be reversed through robust catechetical instruction, both in the home and in parochial religious education. Catechesis is, of course, a necessity—but I contend that it is what we pray and how we pray that truly forms us and catechizes us about these profound mystical realities in the liturgy and in our faith. This practical formation in the liturgy is the ultimate catalyst for interior transformation and renewal. This concrete exploration of the Catholic Church’s rich liturgical tradition is what we hunger for.

Each of us is on a pilgrimage of faith in a world rapidly distancing itself from religious attachment—we all bear a complicated entanglement of emotions, habits and desires that prevent us from stemming the overwhelming tide of secularization, but we also have the great fortune to place our complex and confused selves completely before God in our celebration of the liturgy, and encounter Christ living in the Church. For my part, as a liturgical musician I yearn to strike a balance between performance and sincere prayer. As a graduate student in theology, I endeavor to meditate on the readings of the day as an exercise in theological exegesis. Moreover, as a twenty-something, maturing Catholic woman, I hope to attain the knowledge of self-giving love through steadfast prayer and reception of Communion, reflections on the Paschal Mystery, and a growing Marian devotion, that I might prepare for my vocation as a loving wife and mother one day.

Ultimately, the intended purpose of this column is to enkindle a love for the faith, and a love for the liturgy, while navigating the challenges and triumphs of forging a unique and often precarious identity as a young Catholic trying to live in the world, but not of the world. To adopt a phrase close to the hearts of the Notre Dame community, its intention is to “wake up the echoes” of the Church’s liturgical treasury, and introduce fresh ways of thinking about the Mass, the Office, and other liturgical devotions in these pivotal years of college, graduate school, and our forays into the professional world.

Now is the time for us to “wake up the echoes” in the sacred liturgy–to undergo a transformation that will allow us to enter more freely than ever before into the divine mysteries of our faith. The treasures of the Church are lying in wait for us: all we have to do is explore them.