Why Liturgical Reform Shouldn’t Divide Catholics

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Hope Boettner points out in her recent post  that the liberal/conservative dichotomy comes into play all the time, whether one is dealing with liturgy, evangelization, or even assessing the pontificates of Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Benedict, for example, is often portrayed as the out-of-touch pontiff of a pre-Vatican II Church, whose only concern was restoring the Latin Mass and tweaking translations of the Missal. Francis, on the other hand, is portrayed as the champion of social justice, whose mission is to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor and to implement the agenda of the political left by casting aside the traditions and doctrines of the Church and making Catholicism more ‘relevant’ to today’s Catholics. Benedict is the supreme pontiff of the conservative Church, Francis the humble leader of the progressive Church.

Indeed, liturgical reform is an especially divisive topic among 9780899420677(2)contemporary Catholics. This was evident back in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI promulgated motu proprio his Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, which allowed greater access to the traditional Latin Mass. But the divide was especially visible in 2011 with the implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal (the new English translation that gave us “and with your spirit” and “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”). November 2011 saw many Catholic “conservatives” pumping their fists in triumph, anticipating a return to the “glory days” of pre-Vatican II Catholicism, while more “progressive” or “liberal” Catholics questioned what they saw as a distraction from the many social and cultural problems the Church faces today.

Tim Padgett over at Time, for example, writing several months before the implementation, lamented: “It’s sad when Rome’s cassocked scholars subordinate their intellectual gifts to church expediency.” For Padgett, the new missal was nothing but “petty semantics” aimed at “taking the Mass back to the Latin of the more rigid and remote Tridentine tradition.” It is “foolish” and “not very Christ-like,” therefore, to devote the Church’s precious time, energy and resources to “semantics” rather than to  “all the really weighty [social] issues Roman Catholics face.”

But how opposed to each other are liturgy and the social question, really? A legitimate question for BOTH Catholic “conservatives” and Catholic “liberals” to consider is this: does attention to one necessarily undermine the other?

Liturgy—Source & Summit
It seems to me that the seemingly insignificant changes in diction found in the 2011 Missal sought to remind the Church not only of its responsibility to the world’s poor, outcast and marginalized, but also of the place liturgy holds in the Church’s own identity and ministerial outreach: the Church cannot step into the world as missionary until it understands its identity as being rooted in the person of Christ, and its mission, most fundamentally, as being the presence of Christ in the world. Understood this way, the Church’s liturgy becomes the foundation of such an identity, as it is the first and most potent source of Christ, and the “source and summit” (CCC,  1324; cf. Lumen Gentium, 11) of the Church’s activity in the world. It is the primary locus in which the Church experiences Christ, broken and poured out for the world in the Eucharist.

In his Light of the World, Benedict XVI calls the Eucharist “the most intimate heart of the Church […]51OtSkdt9iL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ It is not just another social ritual where people meet in an amicable way; rather it is the expression of being in the center of the Church” (148). And if the liturgy is “the place where the Church is actually experienced most of all,” then both Benedict and Francis have a stake in upholding it as the Church’s primary function and the source of all ministerial activity. The Church exists to call the world to liturgy, to the Eucharist, to Christ – which both popes have done in his own way: Benedict primarily through his attention to the rubrics of the Mass and his many written works, and Francis through his charismatic personality and insistence on being poor among the poor. Benedict reminds us of the beauty and importance of liturgy as the source of the Church’s activity in the world and as the heart of the world’s encounter with Christ , and Francis reminds us of the charge to now bring this Eucharistic love of Christ out into the streets.

If we are going to oversimplify the messages and impacts of the previous two popes in this way, then we must at least be attentive to how Benedict’s mindfulness of liturgical Pope Benedict welcomes Pope Francisreform and Francis’ emphasis on the Church’s activity in the world can go hand-in-hand in furthering the divinely-instituted enterprise of bringing Christ to all corners of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19).

If we are to uphold  lex orandi and lex credendi, then lex vivendi must follow. If what we believe is what we pray, then the way we pray ought to determine the way we live and move in the world.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in Crisis Magazine on July 11, 2011.

The Praise of Lament

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Yesterday, Religion and Literature at the University of Notre Dame hosted a lecture entitled “The Pace of Praise: Might Theology Walk Together with Literature?” by Prof. Robin Kirkpatrick. The lecture was characterized by the perfect marriage of form and content, as Prof. Kirkpatrick explored the relationship between theology and literature through attending to themes of praise (both human and divine) particularly in the work of Dante and Chaucer. The lecture was equal parts brilliant (relative to textual criticism) and poetic (using words to describe narratives that had the audience riveted). Leaving, one had a sense that literature has a unique role in renewing the theological imagination insofar as literature forms us to speak about God in the first place.

At the conclusion, a question was asked by a graduate student about the role of divine praise in the midst of not simply literary tragedy (Macbeth, for example) but real, human suffering. The kind of “tragic” situation in which any attempt to offer praise cracks under the pressure of unspeakable sorrow. In such moments, can we really join our voices to the psalmist crying out:

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,/the moon and stars that You set in place,/what is man that You have been mindful of him,/mortal man that You have taken note of him,/that You have made him little less than divine…(Psalm 8:4-6).

As we watch someone die far too young, can we utter these words of praise? As we turn our gaze to the horrors of war unfolding throughout the world, do we really see creation as infused with divine glory?

The reality is that when we hear about true tragedy, true sorrow, it is exceedingly difficult to find any meaning at all. Literature captures this moment all too well, even in a flawed protagonist like Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time,/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing (Macbeth V.5.18-27).

The “tragedy” of the world presents itself to us in such a way that weMacbeth - Poster become forgotten actors upon the stage of a history told by an idiot. Meaning fades into the background. We are creatures who have lied to ourselves about some grand narrative, some director that guides human life. Faced now with the truth, we must have the courage to see that life itself is devoid of meaning, having no direction at all. What is there left to praise?

Of course, there are alternatives to Macbeth’s lament. The psalms do not deny that life is full of those radical contrast experiences that tempt us to give up the search for meaning in the first place. But, the psalmist does not succumb to this temptation entirely. Instead, the suffering of the world is directed toward God in the form of lament:

“How long, O LORD; will You ignore me forever?/How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I have cares on my mind, grief in my heart all day?/How long will my enemy have the upper hand?/Look at me, answer me, O LORD, my God!” (Psalm 13:1-4).

God is held accountable for forgetting, for refusing to act. We cry out, not passing over our sorrow, but presenting it before the very face of God. To do this, of course, is itself an act of praise. The one who has given up all hope, who sees the world as meaningless, no longer cries out in sorrow. To blame God for not acting, to lament, is itself a form of praise precisely because we believe that God cares enough to listen. Psalms (like the one above) end in praise not as a way to butter up God. Instead, they reveal that lament itself is a form of praise: “But I trust in your faithfulness,/my heart will exult in your deliverance./I will sing to the Lord,/for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:6).

Of course, not all psalms of lament end in praise. The lecture yesterday started with the particularly tragic psalm, Psalm 137. It begins with Israel situated upon the banks of Babylon, the temple destroyed, the captors mocking Israel by demanding the broken people to “Sing us one of the songs of Zion” (Psalms 137:3). Israel, at least upon initial reading, responds not by addressing God but the city of Jerusalem: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem,/let my right hand wither;/let me tongue stick to my palate/if I cease to think of you,/if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory/even at my happiest hour” (Psalm 137:5-6). Yet, Jerusalem is no mere city akin to New York or Scranton. It is the city where God once dwelled in the Temple, a city that (at least to the initial writer(s) of the psalm) may never exist again. All that is left is the desire for revenge against those who have inflicted this darkness upon Israel, who have emptied the Temple of God’s presence:

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites/the day of Jerusalem’s fall;/how they cried, ‘Strip her, strip her/to her very foundations!’/Fair Babylon, you predator,/a blessing on him who repays you in kind/what you have inflicted on us;/a blessing on him who seizes your babies/and dashes them against the rocks! (Psalm 137:7-9).

BabylonianCaptivityAnd thus, this psalm of lament comes crashing to an end. Israel wants the tragedy that she knows so well inflicted upon Babylon. She praises God now, not because of God’s deep abiding goodness. But in the hope that Babylon will know the very suffering that has so deeply wounded her.

Can we say that this psalm is also a psalm of praise? If we only look at the historical situation of this psalm, then no. But we must recognize that this psalm is not being prayed only by those situated on the banks of Babylon’s rivers. This psalm that offers no comfort but that of a violent revenge against one’s captors exists now in the context of the psalms as a whole–a book for divine worship, of praise itself. Even this moment of sorrow, the desire for violence against the enemy, becomes an offering of praise to God. It is offered by the tongues of Jews and Christians throughout the world (except in the Liturgy of the Hours, which decided that imprecatory verses from psalms should be eliminated).

Of course, for Christians, the praise of lament is most evident upon that cross. Christ himself cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Indeed, Christ is truly forsaken. He does not hear the voice of his Father. He is not rescued by angels or apostles from the tragic death that he must undergo. He is alone and mocked, entering into the darkness of sin and death. Yet, his cry of sorrow is still directed to the Father. The suffering servant heaps upon himself all that is tragic about the human condition.

And yet that he cries out, that he reveals the tragic sorrow of the moment, is itself redemptive. None of us as human beings are spared from the tragedy of death. We too will know what it is like to cry out Christto a God who seems so absent in history. Good literature, to return to the question that guided the lecture, demands that we attend to the reality of this suffering, to the real sorrows of what it means to be human. But using the psalms of lament in worship forms us gradually to continue to cry out to God, to praise God not through harp and timbrel but in the pained cry of distress that is part and parcel of what it means to be human. As long as we do not let our voices go silent, as long as we continue to offer our voices to the Father, we carry out a praise that is not Pollyannish. But one that acknowledges that we, despite the tragedies that inflict our lives, remain creatures of a God who loved unto the end. Praise him. 

Christ’s Love Gathers Us: A Series on Dorm Masses (Non-Catholic Students)


Samuel Bellafiore

Music, Philosophy ’15

Undergraduate Fellow
According to Admissions, 83% of Notre Dame students are Catholic. Many Protestant or non-Christian students worship at various sites in the South Bend area. Some find a spiritual home at their dorm’s weekly Mass. This second part in our ongoing series on dorm Masses features insights from two such students. Carmen from Pasquerilla East Hall and Joe from Stanford Hall, both seniors, offer a frank and striking perspective on dorm spiritual life.

 When did you start attending Sunday Mass in your dorm? Why?

Carmen: I started attending Sunday dorm Mass about halfway through the first semester of my Freshman year. I didn’t really have a faith community on campus that I was part of up to that point, and I’d been starving for some connection to God. I believe it was sometime in October that I went to my first dorm Mass because I’d been going through a lot with my roommate and with my classes.

Joe: Freshman year. I attend church regularly at home, and dorm Mass was a convenient way to continue doing so while in community with my brothers in the dorm.

How often do you go?

Carmen: I go to Mass almost weekly. There are things that get in the way at times, but I try to make it a point to be there every Sunday night.

Joe: Every Sunday.

Why do you attend? Are there particular aspects of your experience of Mass that make you want to return? Any that discourage you from returning?

Carmen: Part of the reason I attend is the liturgy. I really enjoy the music experience—I am a cantor and choir member in PE. The other part is the community. I feel an incredibly strong sense of connection to my fellow members of PE, as well as to the greater community of Notre Dame. Another aspect is the homilies. In PE we had a priest-in-residence until this year, and seeing Fr. Tom at every dorm Mass and having him bless me during the Eucharist every week was a special blessing in and of itself.

Joe: I attend because I like the sense of brotherhood, the break at the end/start of my week to refresh my connection with God, and the homilies provided by Frs. Bill and Pete. The thing that has nearly dissuaded me from continuing to attend is a negative response from some other attendees in the dorm, who for some reason seem to think I’m not truly welcome at a Catholic Mass as a non-Catholic, even though I don’t partake in communion. It’s also frustrating that I only can partake in communion when I go home for breaks.

Chapel of the Visitation, Walsh Hall

What do you see as the point of having Mass in your dorm?

Carmen: Each dorm on campus is like a small parish, and each parish needs its own place in which to worship together as a community. It brings together the people in the dorm who are confident in their faith, and those who maybe are still going through the motions. It allows us to take a break from our lives and focus, at least for that hour, solely on Jesus with the women—and occasionally men—who are a part of our community on a daily basis. It allows us to see the
faith-filled women who populate our community as children of God. Further, as someone who is not Catholic, it gave me a safe space to experience the Mass. I could ask questions of Sr. Cindy and Fr. Tom, or of my peers and I knew that I would not be judged, but welcomed. By the end of his time in PE, Fr. Tom knew that I was coming to receive the blessing instead of the Eucharist, and he did not even pick up the host. Dorm Masses are a place where those participating in the Mass and those celebrating the Mass come together in true community.

Joe: Mass in the dorm is Notre Dame’s way of encouraging students to continue and reminding students of the school’s unique Catholic heritage. Many students would fall to the wayside if the only options for them were off campus or at the Basilica. Additionally, the Basilica wouldn’t be able to have enough Masses on a Sunday to allow all the Catholic students attending the university to partake.

Has anyone in the dorm ever encouraged you to attend Mass? How? Discouraged you from going? How?

Carmen: My former rectress, Sr. Cindy, as well as many of the members of my dorm encouraged me to come to Mass throughout my freshman year. Though my attendance that year was more sporadic, I knew because of their encouragement that I was welcomed.

Joe: Nobody has really ever specifically encouraged me to attend Mass, but that’s largely a function of me attending regularly from since my first weekend on campus. I have been discouraged from going as a function of being made to not feel welcome by particular individuals of the community, who have confronted me about not being Catholic. I’m very willing to talk about my Christian faith with people, but when certain individuals act like A) Catholics are superior to all other Christians, B) non-Catholics aren’t Christian, or C) non-Catholic Christians have no place in a Catholic community, it is very frustrating to me. It goes strongly against the core of what I believe being a Christian is all about, and it is frustrating to be confronted in a non-Christian manner that suggests that I’m in some way not a true Christian.

What do you think of the music at your dorm Mass? Does it affect your experience? Preaching?

Chapel of St. Catherine of Siena, Pasquerilla East Hall

Carmen: Music is an integral part of Mass for me, and in PE I’m lucky enough to participate in the music as a cantor and member of the choir. I love the mixture of traditional hymns and “Notre Dame” classics. Music was the way in which I was first able to experience the joy of the liturgy. I had no understanding of genuflection, bowing before the altar, crossing oneself, or many of the other practices of the liturgy that are now commonplace, but music was the way in which I was able to experience the Mass. The preaching at Mass is also a very important part of the liturgy for me. Coming from a United Methodist background, I was surprised by the brevity of the homily in the service. The best part about that preaching, however, is that even though the homilies are briefer than the sermons I was used to before coming to Notre Dame, they are more directly relevant to my experiences because they are directed at college students.

Joe: The music my first two years was phenomenal. Last year and this year our choir has been less prominent and we’ve had a little less variety in our instrumentation. Music is often my favorite part of Masses/services back home, and is when I feel most strongly connected to my faith. The preaching since Father Bill and Father Pete took over our Masses has been awesome.

Do you think other dorm residents have opinions about Mass similar to yours? When people in the dorm don’t attend Mass, why do you think that is?

Carmen: I know that there are small complaints that happen—the songs are too high, why do we have to hold hands with everyone during the Lord’s Prayer?—but I also truly believe that those who come to Mass in PE truly enjoy it. Those who don’t attend Mass, I think, fall into two categories: those of other/non-faiths and those exercising new freedoms. In the former group, I think that they feel as though they will not be welcomed or that they will be confused. In the latter case, I think that they are simply exercising the freedom to not go to Mass and then they get into a bad habit, or stop believing.

Joe: I think other people have fairly similar opinions; however, a lot of them have a different awareness of the Mass because I’m coming from the experience of growing up in a non-Catholic home. There are many people in the dorm who aren’t religious, only claim a religion because their parents follow it, or attend non-Catholic churches off campus.

Are there snacks after your Sunday Mass or other practices particular to your dorm? Do you think this/these encourage people to attend?

Carmen: There are snacks on special occasions (near exam time, senior sendoff, etc.) but not on a regular basis after Sunday or website_photo_candlelight_massWednesday Mass. We do have Candlelight Mass on Wednesdays which, unlike other dorms, includes a sharing of the Light of Christ which is a beautiful tradition.

Joe: I don’t think people attend because of our Sunday Mass Snacks. We have a lot of ice cream/soda float style desserts after our Sunday Masses, but it’s fairly inconsistent. Our Thursday Masses are “Nacho Mass,” which I think definitely has higher attendance and encourages more people to attend.

If you could improve one thing at your Sunday dorm Mass, what would it be?

Carmen: I would love to have a larger choir with singers who are not just sopranos, or more LMs and EMs so that there is more variety in who is seen at dorm Mass.

Joe: It would include more fabulous singing.

The Temptation of Either/Or: Liturgy and Loving the World

HopeBoettner Hope ’15, Theology Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy         Recently, Elizabeth Scalia over at the Patheos Catholic blog wrote a piece about the need for the Church to be evangelical and missionary. She specifically highlighted what she called the “Incarnational” aspect of good evangelization. In the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt” (“pitched His tent” as the translation sometimes reads) “among us.” And so she discusses the need for this Incarnational evangelization:

Incarnational Evangelization happens when Christian men and women leave the comfortable place of their own origin, just as the Word proceeded from the Father, to set a tent among the “others,” where they are at, and learns their names and their stories. It talks with them, eats with them, laughs and cries with them, helps to birth them and, if necessary, to bury them. It is first and foremost about service to the “other” and to Love. Which is God.

Talking about the need for the Church to be more evangelical is definitely on the forefront these days. Both Scott Hahn and George Weigel have recently written books about it and Pope Francis’ leadership style has further lead to the wider Church collectively thinking about this and acting on it in various ways. However, I’d like to make a bit of an addition to what Elizabeth Scalia is saying. When we talk about the Church as evangelical and missionary, about being present, about “serving,” we tend to set up a false dichotomy. We’ve got the “social justice” (“progressive,” as the media labels this) people on one side and those who want to teach or retain an understanding of the Church and the sacraments on the other (these folks usually get labeled the “Tradition and liturgy and sacraments,” the “conservative, Church-ey” kind of people). We see a classic example of this in how the Pope Benedict persona versus the Pope Francis persona gets played out in the media; Pope Benedict was a fuddy-duddy who cared about liturgy and translations of things, and Pope Francis really loves the people because he wants to hug and serve them. (This is also unfair to how Pope Benedict actually led as well, but that’s for another piece at another time.) The progressive versus conservative, reductionist lens of understanding what faith is and how faith works—especially when it comes to understanding how we ought to evangelize– does a disservice to the Church. I love the quote Scalia cited from Pope Benedict about thinking about what ought to be the goal in evangelization. Christianity is not about a concept or a cause. Christianity is about a Person:

“One doesn’t begin to be a Christian because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation. The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ.” statue

The way to be an Incarnational and an evangelizing, missionary Church comes not in choosing one version of presence. In order to be “present in people’s lives,” and to walk with them, we don’t have to lose the chance to “understand the Real Presence” and the sacraments. Our evangelizing mission in this world, our seeking the face of Christ as we walk with with our brothers and sisters does not come from leaning on one over the other. Learning how to better be an incarnational Church comes in learning that we can hold the people and the Person in tandem. It comes in learning that we can and need to say social justice and liturgy. Relationships and worship. Community building and sacraments. Active action and deep lives of prayer. The two are not diametrically opposed. Far from it! They absolutely need each other. I think that we sometimes think of liturgies, of the Mass, and of the sacramental life of the Church as boring, as non-incarnational and as less helpful at building relationships with Christ and with others because the latter are old. For example: the Mass is a sleepy habit to most of us. It is an hour’s length worth of motions that we go through, that many of us have been doing as long as we can remember. This is why the new translation of the Roman Missal jerked us out of our complacency for a short while and made us think about what we were saying at Mass. What do I mean here by “old”? It’s time to turn to my good friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton.Gilbert_Chesterton

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is…. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (From the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy)

In order to fully restore the concept of how we can evangelize as a Church, how we can most deeply speak to the needs of this world, we have to remember both to be present to people in relationships and in walking with them through a liturgical life. To do that we have to realize that we have aged in sin and that the heart of our relationships have gotten a bit stony. Instead of beating excitedly with young love because we encounter Christ in a deeply Incarnational way through the sacraments, our hearts have old-married couple syndrome. So the action of the Church and the rooted nature of the Church need to be constantly feeding off of each other, for the betterment of both of them. I think this is why two of the most important documents from Vatican II were on the mission (Gaudium et Spes) and the nature (Lumen Gentium)of the Church. The AND is where we ought to be. Our Lord held this tension in mind better than anyone. In Matthew 28, the classic citation for evangelization, He said:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” BaptemeFotosearchsmall(1)

Because He is with us always and He has called us to be with others always, He has simultaneously commanded that we baptize and practice and fully live the sacramental life of the Church. The way we observe all that He has commanded us is to properly hold the tension between active, present love in the world that meets people where they are the way that Christ did, while simultaneously loving and being loved in the way He is present to us in the sacramental life of the Church.

Into the Way of Peace

DeniseDenise Azores-Gococo

Heartland Farm, KS

University of Notre Dame ’14

Proprioception is a physiological term for a body’s sense of self. The piriformis and the obturator externus, for example, are two muscles in the gluteal region that primarily carry a proprioceptive function: they keep track of where the hip is angled relative to the body weight and make certain we are able to continue putting one foot in front of another.   Their place in the human body is to ensure that, even with our eyes closed and ears covered, we are (by some miracle, or elegant mastery of design) able to walk in a straight line without losing our balance.  If our body’s sense of self fails, our ability to walk is impaired. We cannot move forward.

The same can be said of our psychological and, as it often follows, our spiritual sense of self. I’ll be the first to admit that I have fallen victim to an impairment of spiritual and psychological proprioception, particularly during my senior year of college. As the main determinants of my self-image, I relied on medical school rejection letters, my inability to enjoy myself in a social setting, and my friends’ virtually futile efforts to make me happy. These cues told me that I was failing; every time I fell down, I lost a bit of my already weakened will to go on. I gave up on myself and succumbed to despair, poisonous judgments, and an uncharacteristic misanthropy. I could not find the light in others, so I shut them out and hurt everyone around me.

I think it’s safe to say that my situation is not unique among college-age students, however much my own flaws contributed to the potency of my particular perfect storm. Universities demand excellence of one sort, parents another, and peers yet another, all of which is exacerbated by social media—a medium by which the success of others’ lives is forcefully exhibited. Although we’re often too proud to admit it, I think most can testify to experiencing that pang of envy and reflective disfavor when we see announcements of accomplishments that we have not received or pictures of “best-night-ever’s” that we have not enjoyed or cannot enjoy. We must be doing something wrong if we are not as happy as they are.

DominicanSistersofPeaceEach day during Morning Prayer, I join four Dominican Sisters in begging God to “guide our feet into the way of peace,” and each day, I realize more and more how God has done just that. Since moving out to middle-of-nowhere Kansas to indulge my country-girl sensibilities, I’ve discovered the proprioceptive mechanisms of the human spirit that so many people are wont to ignore. Previously unexpected raw materials now contribute to my sense of self. The chickens gaze in excited anticipation as I approach to bring them food at daybreak. The tomatoes blush and swell affirmatively to assure me I’ve done well in tending to them. My hands grow calloused and my muscles sore; I realize a surprising strength in my famously tiny frame. As I am daily nourished by the Eucharist, I am capable—in fact, I am charged with—nourishing the creation that the Father has allowed me to enjoy.

Our sense of self is accurately calibrated if we pay due respect to our Eucharistic mission. If we receive our daily bread graciously and embody the daily bread of those around us, we are beautiful in God’s eyes. We become aware of sins that have festered too long for us to pay attention to. We can be proud of the work that God has asked of us and peacefully carry out each task—regardless of what news feeds, transcripts, salaries, or quarterly reports might tell us we should be doing. Granted, the work God asks of us is not always the easiest thing to do; the Lord seems to demand from us both ridiculous feats and numbingly mundane tasks, both of which take a divine sort of strength to accomplish. But the trust involved in knowing I am doing God’s work has a remarkably freeing effect that’s worth all the suffering the world can throw at me.

In 1974, Philippe Petit fulfilled a life-long dream by stringing a tight rope between the World Trade Center buildings in New York City and crossing the wire not once, but eight times. Those who were there with him were astounded by the beauty of one man’s impossible accomplishment—they commented on his playfulness, his delight, his natural presence on the wire, how he could have done it with his eyes closed. He was, really, only putting one foot in frontdownload of another. But each step was a miraculous inspiration to others, all because Philippe Petit had almost psychotic faith in the clarity of his body’s proprioceptive communication.   He trusted his feet to know where to land, his hips to remain square, his body weight to stay center. He beautifully demonstrated the awesome ability of the human body. To be a saint, I think, is to have so much in faith in the way God’s guiding Spirit is telling us where to put one foot in front of another that the world can look on, be astounded by the beauty, and praise God in return.

May God bless us with His grace today.

There were leaves on the trees
And growth on the headrigs
You could confess
Everything to.
Even your fears
Of the night,
Of people
What was better then
Than to crush a leaf or a herb
Between your palms
Then wave it slowly, soothingly
Past your mouth and nose
And breathe?
If you know a bit
About the universe
It’s because you’ve taken it in
Like that,
Looked as hard
As you look into yourself,
Into the rat hole,
Through the vetch and dock
That mantled it.
Because you’ve laid your cheek
Against the rush clump
And known soft stone to break
On the quarry floor.
Between heather and marigold,
Between spaghnum and buttercup,
Between dandelion and broom,
Between forget-me-not and honeysuckle,
As between clear blue and cloud,
Between haystack and sunset sky,
Between oak tree and slated roof,
I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.

from “A Herbal” by Seamus Heaney

Living the Questions of Sacred Music

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


Beginning a week ago today, I attended several sessions of a two-day conference sponsored by Sacred Music at Notre Dame entitled “Learning from the Masters. Learning from the People.” According to its facilitators, the discussions of this conference would engage and be guided by the following questions:

What constitutes great sacred music? Should we prefer the historical repertories of chant, polyphony and baroque cantatas that have been recognized for their beauty and spiritual refinement? Or do we embrace the music of the people and of the times? Do we judge the quality of sacred music on the basis of its intrinsic beauty or for its capacity to promote congregational participation? Should liturgical music have a separate style than music for everyday life? Can we question the role of contemporary popular styles and of publishers’ anthologies if they appeal to the congregation?

To even begin to answer these questions is a huge undertaking, one people in the Church have struggled with for as long as music has been a part of the liturgical celebration. Anyone familiar with the conference format can tell you that the questions are not often answered so much as raised in new and creative ways that cause us to revisit how we even ask the questions in the first place. Learning from the MastersFor those in the field of liturgical music, the questions above are often the “hot-button” questions—and even as I read them for the first time, I struggled not to answer them in my head one by one, mentally checking off the questions to make sure my opinions on them were intact. These are the questions that send people scurrying to one side of the spectrum or the other, hunkering down in the trenches of their respective arguments, waiting for the other person to make the first claim so that they can fire back with a well-prepared counterargument. It’s a rarity to find someone who is actually willing to listen in these particular situations, who hasn’t settled intractably on one position over the other, who is open to the possibility that there might be a new way to approach an age-old question.

Several of the presenters in this conference addressed these questions in the way I’ve described above—hunkered down in the safety of an opinion honed by years of experiences of liturgical music good, bad, and ugly. One presenter (who self-identified as “very distant from the Catholic Church”) boiled the issue down to pre-Vatican II vs. post-Vatican II, stating that prior to the Council, there was beautiful music in the Church, but after the Council, music became “cheap.” The presenter even went so far as to state, “When you hear that music inside the chapel, I am sure that God left the chapel. There is no God inside. I am absolutely sure of that.” Granted, this person was speaking as a composer and not as a theologian, and while his assessment of much of the music utilized in liturgical celebration following the Second Vatican Council was misguided theologically (God doesn’t leave the chapel no matter how bad the music is), from a musical perspective, the speaker had a point. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there were many poor decisions being made in terms of what was being considered “liturgical” music: James Taylor’s songs sometimes found their way into the Mass, for example. Yet, the struggles of the past 50 years have also brought perspective, and we as a Church are realizing more than ever that liturgical music ought not embody an “either-or” approach, but rather a “both-and” approach, in which the very best treasures of the repertoire past and present co-exist in a fruitful and beautiful way.


This is also not to say that all of the presenters expressed opinions like that of the speaker quoted above. On the contrary, several of them spoke eloquently about the challenges of addressing musical ministry in today’s Church: calling parishioners to discover the beauty and accessibility of chant, polyphony, and hymnody, while at the same time allowing for authenticity and newness of expression amid the ever-changing demographics of the American Catholic Church. Several presenters identified the polemical approach to liturgical music as not only deeply problematic, but also as divisive and potentially devastating to the Church. As Edward Foley, Capuchin stated, “The binary assessment [of liturgical music] is simplistic, inaccurate, and unhelpful.” Ultimately, the needs of the parish ought to be foremost in determining how to approach the ministry of liturgical music; however, the liturgical music minister must continuously strive for growth and insist on excellence, gently encouraging parishioners to venture beyond the familiar to discover new ways to offer sung praise to God (even if those “new ways” are in fact centuries old). As Director of the Sacred Music program at Notre Dame Professor Margot Fassler put it, “It’s up to us to be wise practitioners who put our best work forward and help our congregations draw closer to God.” If that goal lies at the heart of a liturgical musician’s ministry, then answers to the questions raised by the conference will gradually begin to emerge, and in each parish, these answers will emerge a little differently, according to the context and the spiritual needs present. Whatever the context, whatever the need, liturgical musician who embraces the goal of being a “wise practitioner” will continue to seek and to learn the best of the repertoire, guided by the wisdom of the Church and the needs of the parish, helping others to discover and enter into the “Beauty ever ancient and ever new”—the love of God that we celebrate in the liturgy.

Two More Authors: Denise Azores-Gococo and Meredith Holland

DeniseDenise Azores-Gococo is a home-grown South Carolinian hailing from the great city of Greenville.  She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2014 with degrees in Science Pre-Professional and Theology. During her much needed retreat year before entering the medical field,  Denise is working at Heartland Farm: a spiritual retreat center and organic farm in the heart of Kansas run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Her days are now spent tending to chickens, gardens, and lovely alpacas, getting lost during dirt-road runs, reading Wendell Berry, and trying to hear God’s voice in birdsong and the Kansas prairie wind.

MeredithHollandMeredith Holland is a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame, having received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Theology in May 2014. She is currently a Master of Theological Studies candidate at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, where she studies and serves as a graduate assistant. In addition to her interest in religion and literature, Meredith hopes to focus her studies on Catholic Higher Education, particularly considering institutional mission and ministry as well as student formation and vocational discernment.

Liturgy: A Love Story

rsz_1img_2732Anthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author


Having spent the past five years on a college campus (four as an undergraduate, one as a graduate student and Assistant Rector), I’ve witnessed the whole spectrum of romantic relationships.

  • There’s the couple that met during Freshman Orientation and have had their wedding date booked at Notre Dame’s Basilica ever since.
  • There’s the couple that “is going to be together forever” (or at least until they part ways a week later and never speak again).
  • There are the two seniors that seem to have spent the past four years stuck in the miserable “on-again-off-again” cycle, or the two freshmen who think every bench, lounge chair, or dining hall seat is their personal private cuddle zone.

Indeed, relationships and love stories are ever more visible – on college campuses and beyond – in the social media era, in which “public display of affection” has taken on a whole new meaning and flash-mob proposals have become all the rage. But what is a relationship, really? Perhaps “relationship” can almost be described as the external expression of an internal drama unfolding in the hearts of two people; or an ongoing attempt by two or more parties to find some way to express a kind of internal reality. But “the hearts of the people are fickle,” (Hosea 10:2) and thus we often find the unstable and unsustainable relationship models that often populate today’s college campus.

It’s been several years since I’ve picked up Joseph Ratzinger’s (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) The Spirit of the Liturgy, and most of it went over my head at the time anyways. But since I first read this book about four years ago, I haven’t been able to get one line in particular out of my head, and every now and then it resurfaces as I reflect on love and relationships. Ratzinger, writing of the connection between the formulaic Sabbath ordinances described in the Torah and the act of creation, states:

The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant. If this is so, then […] creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man. (Spirit of the Liturgy, 26)

I will return to this quotation in a moment; but first, think about your
Creation of Adam favorite love story. Whether it’s from a book, movie, television show, or real life, there are at least two certain elements it shares with other love stories: first, it is to some extent public, which is simply to say that it necessarily involves at least two people. It is public in the sense that in order for a relationship to unfold, for us to recognize that a love story is occurring, internal feelings, stirrings or desires must at some point emerge from the privacy of the heart and take on some form of externality.

This leads to the second element: namely, that there is always some element of risk involved in such a process. To allow internal stirrings, thoughts and feelings to venture outside of the heart and to take on external expression is a risky business, so to speak. One risks heartbreak,  pride, or the possibility that one’s feelings and expectations won’t be validated. We are ‘safe’ as long as these feelings and desires stay locked quietly in our hearts and heads, but to allow them any form of external expression is to necessarily step out of the comfort of abstractness and into the uncertainty and toil that accompanies any real declaration of love.

In part, what I think Ratzinger is suggesting above is that the act of creation is indeed such a declaration. The love of God is too enormous to remain hidden and enclosed within Himself, and thus in the act of creation we see a pouring out of this love into an external form. All of creation, then, comes to be the cosmic space in which the love story of God and man can unfold. And just as with any love story, there is no guarantee that the love will be returned, the feelings validated, the expectations fulfilled. The act of creation risked (and even resulted in) rebellion, rejection, and heartbreak. Creation made it possible for love to be spurned, its declaration ignored.

salvador-dali-the-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossYet this is the risk that the Creator took in order for the love for His Church to be outpoured and realized. Thus “the goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man.” If this is true, then might we say that liturgy – essentially God’s gift of Himself to man and man’s oblation of his whole life, lifted in gratitude to his creator and through his redeemer – is the relationship, the external expression of love par excellence? Liturgy “sums up” the covenant, the love between God and man. It reminds us that real love is not an emotion, feeling, or sentiment; and it cannot remain internal. Real love is Incarnational: it took on flesh, it hung on a cross and it says things like “This is my body, which is given up for you.” (Luke 22:19)

Much more of course can (and will) be said of liturgy, which I will leave to later blog posts. But whatever else can be said, I’d like to propose that, at its heart, liturgy is most fundamentally a love story: the love story.

Meet Our New Authors: Renée Roden and Laura Taylor

Oblation is happy to announce two new authors being added to our happy little community of authors:

ReneeOriginally from the quiet suburbs of Minneapolis, Renée Roden is now a resident of New York City’s bustling East Harlem neighborhood. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Theology from the University of Notre Dame in May 2014, she began work as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Cristo Rey New York High School. Renee has always been captivated by stories. She is particularly interested in the stories humans create in works of literature and art, and the story of salvation that we reenact with each liturgy we celebrate; and how those stories reveal the extraordinary beauty that lies within the ordinary events of daily life.

Oblation Pic LT

Laura Taylor, M.T.S. is a “Double Domer,” having received two degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She first graduated in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in Honors Theology, Piano Performance and a minor in Liturgical Music Ministry, and graduated again in 2014 from the Master of Theological Studies program with a concentration in Liturgical Studies.  She is currently serving a two-year commitment in Ireland with the House of Brigid, an organization dedicated to reinvigorating the Catholic Church in Ireland through liturgical music ministry and catechesis, co-founded by Assistant Director of the NDCL, Carolyn Pirtle.


Vocation is Now

SamuelBellafiore Samuel Bellafiore Philosophy, Music ’15 Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

At Catholic Exchange, Benjamin Mann has written an insightful piece on how “Your Vocation is Not About You.” He perceives several misconceptions in the way people think about vocation today, including options and personal satisfaction. Especially for young people, these points can distract from an authentic understanding of vocation. Without a good understanding of vocation, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to discern one or pursue it well. Mann points out that vocational discernment has become like our consumerist culture. A few steps into any big-box store presents a trove of options. Regardless of whether one needs a new television, one can gaze at the wall-to-wall rows of gleaming, sharper-than-life screens. One can compare specs, sizes and resolution. There’s a similar proliferation of options for Christians today. Not only are there all the people you already know, there are also all the people on CatholicMatch.

There aren’t just the religious you happen to meet, now every single order has a website. Naturally, everyone freaks out. What if I my whole life is in one link and I don’t click it? If that’s not enough, every third blog post you read purports Wall-of-HDTVsto be good advice on how you’re really supposed to be spending your life. (Oh, the irony.) In another age, a young person who wanted to serve the Church made the trek to the local monastery or convent, knocked and entered. (Or a boy’s parents sent him there since there was nothing else to do with the third-born son.) Maybe not better times, but simpler. Today young people can suffer from a paralysis of the possible. Youth, while rarely clear or easy, often includes a joyous awareness there is an entire life ahead of us. There is so much that could happen. At our best we delight in this. But so often it simply arouses anxiety about will happen. This comes from a lack of perspective on the goal of human life. The goal of human life is to return where it began, in God. “He made us, we belong to him.” (Psalm 100:3) He made us, and therefore we belong to him. Our aim is to return.

The final human vocation is not to a spouse or parish or job, but to eternal union with the Trinity. On the way there, to get there at all, all our choices are to be ordered to beatitude, the lasting happiness of that union. Discerning a vocation starts at the end. Each person’s particular vocation is a means to that end. This doesn’t mean the particular vocation excludes other ends – in fact, loving with true eros means seeking your own end in another human being. But each particular call from God is a road map to help get people home to him. It is a sure method for returning to the origin and reaching the goal. With this in mind, discovering one’s particular vocation need not be a fraught process. But nothing good ever came without a cost. No surprise then if beatitude, the greatest happiness, comes at a great cost. Mann gets this:

“A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.”

Whoever wishes to follow Christ must deny himself and carry his cross. Whoever wants life must give up self-interest in exchange for self-emptying, always at the service of others. Knowing your gifts can help reveal your vocation: it shows what it is you must pour out. But gifts don’t determine a vocation; they indicate it. God can call someone to a vocation that may not seem to use any of his or her gifts, a vocation of which that person may seem absolutely incapable. Like every other vocation, that vocation wGrunewald_03ould require trust. The Christian call is not to efficiently allocating resources, but to selflessness.

Mann is concerned that current discussions of vocational discernment are too caught up with resolving personal insecurities. He rightly asserts that one’s particular vocation will not do this. It will, he says, lead to being “mysteriously fulfilled even when I am not happy.” The self-emptying Christian mind can perceive happiness where the self-centered imagination cannot. One’s particular vocation may not always yield warm feelings or remarkable chirpiness (though both can be fruits of a well-lived vocation). The Crucifixion was part of Christ’s particular vocation. However, living one’s vocation bestows a new kind of perspective: the joy that comes from the Spirit and the peace that passes understanding. This perspective allows St. Thomas Aquinas to say Christ on the Cross is the true image of happiness.

Self-emptying readies the heart for the unfathomable treasure of Christ in heaven. It is to this kind of love each person is called in the present moment. If we’re ever to live a future calling well, we must live the present one well. Conveniently, the present call is often more obvious than the future one: being a son, daughter, student, employee, sibling, friend. Living the call now is the surest way to find the call later. If a person refuses to see the call now, how will he or she recognize another call when it arrives?

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the veteran demon Screwtape tutors his nephew in the art of deceiving humanity. On how to distract people from the importance of contentment with the present, Screwtape writes, “The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”