All posts by Timothy

Nunc Dimittis and the Art of Dying

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Many evenings since my freshman year of college (when I was in the undergraduate seminary), I have prayed before bed the canticle for Compline, the Nunc Dimittis. The well-known text spoken by Simeon in the Gospel of Luke states:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.

Simeon’s words, over the course of years of praying, has become written upon my own memory and shaped my desire. It is no longer a prayer outside of myself, written upon a page, but has become part of my identity. As I prepare to sleep every night, I practice Simeon’s own readiness to die as one who has encountered “the light of the nations.”

In this way, to pray the Nunc Dimittis is a counter-cultural performance in which each day the Christian practices the art of dying. This is not the death of the philosopher, who acknowledges the brevity of life, and seeks to attune the passions to this inescapable reality. Rather, it is the death of those who have seen the very source of salvation made manifest in the weakness of the infant Son. The death of those who have desired to see God enact the definitive plan of salvation and now abide in a world in which God’s glory has taken flesh.  Simeon, who has seen the beginning of this salvation, gives himself over to the Father, already offering the gift of self that is at the heart of the Church’s Eucharistic life.

Of course, the Christian does not pray at the end of every night that he or she may “literally” die in the course of sleep. Rather, the practice of the Nunc Dimittis is a constant reminder that there are innumerous invitations to die each day, to practice that final self-offering each of us will be called to make (sleep being the perfect image or icon of this death). Our death is inescapable but the Christian takes control of one’s death through transforming even these small deaths into moments of self-gift. We take control through losing control. Like Simeon, only those who recognize the gift before their eyes of the Word made flesh, the gift of existence itself, can make this self-offering. Practicing death doesn’t mean denying that the world matters. Only the one who sees the glorious light of the created order can make this offering.

In this way, to pray the Nunc Dimittis everyday is to practice the very art of discipleship, which is nothing less than the art of dying. It is not a morose dying but a Eucharistic gift of self that renews us every evening in the fundamentals of Christian identity: to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus the Christ. It is to receive anew the light of the world in the risen Lord and to offer up the only thing that we have to give to the God who is pure gift: ourselves. The Nunc Dimittis is, in this way, an icon of Christian life as a whole, of our fellowship in the Church. As Rowan Williams writes:

“…we, drawn into communion, into participation with God through the mutual giving of Jesus and his Father, have become part of a fellowship initiated and sustained by gift, and to abide in this fellowship is to learn how we can give, to each other and to God. That we can give at all rests on what we have been given, on the sense of receiving our very selves as gift…If we are to be fully a gift to the Father, given by ourselves yet also by and through the crucified Jesus, by our association with that prior gift, we must bear the cost–which is the loss of all we do and all we possess to defend ourselves against God and others and death…The cost is the loss of images and fantasies, of clear, tight frontiers to the self. If we can even begin to give in this way, it is only because of the depth of the assurance implied in the given given us on Calvary” (Eucharistic Sacrifice–The Roots of a Metaphor, 29).

Therefore, the last gift of the Christmas season given by God through the Church’s celebration of the Presentation of the Lord is a reminder, as we enter into the season of Lent, that the return-gift that God desires is our very selves. Our whole identities, offered to the God who is love. To die into a world that is pure and total gift.

 

 

The End of Beginnings: The New Church Life

Tim O'MalleyWhen I first purchased my home, I learned very quickly about how to care for the rose bushes on the side of our house. In order to let the flowers blossom to their full potential, it was necessary to prune them with some degree of regularity (a lesson I learned the hard way after the first summer).

In an analogous manner, the Center for Liturgy has been responsible for two “growing” publications in the Institute for Church Life, both of which require a bit of pruning. We first started up a blog connecting the celebration of the liturgy to the spiritual life. Quickly, we discovered that Oblation reached an audience that we didn’t know was interested in liturgical prayer: young adults. We grew so large, that we began to publish not simply once or twice a week but daily. In the four years that the blog has been in existence, we have seen significant growth from 15% in year 1 to 40% over the last year. This blog has become a trusted voice in liturgical formation, especially among Millennials, throughout the United States. It has also become a space to feature the insights of the entire Institute for Church Life, in some sense, becoming a project that was much bigger than the Center for Liturgy.

At roughly the same time, we started up an academic publication for the Institute for Church Life, aptly entitled Church Life. This journal has been marked by its beauty, its serious study of the implications of evangelization in pastoral and social life, and for doing non-desk bound theology (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, no. 133). Our first issue, with minimal advertising and a somewhat difficult platform for reading, had viewership of 25,000 in the first year alone. We wanted more people to be able to read the pastoral theology of John Cavadini, Cyril O’Regan, Ann Astell, and more. But, the digital platform we used was too clunky, too hard to share.

Beginning last year, with the help of a new communications director, we concluded that it was time to do some pruning of these publications.  Beginning in February, we will be launching a new site (churchlife.nd.edu), which will include:

  1. Four major essays per month, dealing with theological, sociological and cultural themes related to the pastoral life of the Church. If you’re interested in submitting an essay, see our call for papers.
  2. In addition, we will have regular shorter articles that will respond to present events or pastoral needs in the Church today. These shorter pieces will include the voices of regular columnists, as well as occasional contributors from around the globe.
  3. The blog Oblation will cease to exist under that name (old articles will be migrated to the new site) but instead become Church Life’s official blog, still concerned with themes related to young adult spiritual life and often the liturgy. We’ll be publishing on Oblation through the beginning of February. When we transition to our new platform, we will re-direct readers to churchlife.nd.edu.
  4. Lastly, within the next year, we will be launching a series of podcasts and other forms of digital media dealing with preaching, catechesis, liturgy, and the spiritual life.

Through this four-fold approach, the Institute for Church Life will be at the forefront of the academic study of evangelization in the modern world (catechesis, liturgy, preaching, and social action), providing accessible pastoral resources for those in ministry, as well as engaging in the digital acropolis. We see ourselves as writing a new chapter in both the history of Notre Dame, as well as the American Church.

We hope you’ll come and join us.

For updates relative to progress around our journal, visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Sincerely,

Timothy P. O’Malley, PhD

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Church Life

 

 

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 5

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 5

Genesis 31:53: “Jacob sware [sic] by the Fear of his father Isaac.”


O Lord Jesus Christ, Fear of Isaac, teach us sinners, I pray Thee, to fear Thee, and much more to love Thee all the days of our life, until perfect love shall cast out fear. Amen.

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 4

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 4

Genesis 28:13: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.


O Lord Jesus Christ, God of Isaac, grant, I entreat Thee, that as at Thy Word he willingly gave himself up to die, so we may after his example offer to Thee a willing obedience, eating and drinking and doing all things to Thy Glory: and that, having lived unto Thee, we may die unto Thee. Amen.

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 3

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 3

Genesis 26:24

The Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee.


O Lord Jesus Christ, God of Abraham, Who of stones canst raise up unto him children, give us, I entreat Thee, hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone; and make us partakers of his faith, that we may be numbered among his children in the true Israel.

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 2

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 2

Genesis 15:1

I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.


 

O Lord Jesus Christ, our exceeding great Reward, make, I pray Thee, earth and her treasures exceedingly small in our eyes: that we may long for Thee most of all, and labour to obtain Thee first of all, and that where Thou art there may also Thy servants be. Amen.

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 1

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 1

Genesis 3:15

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.


O Lord Jesus Christ, Seed of the woman, Thou Who hast bruised the serpent’s head, destroy in us, I entreat Thee, the power of that old serpent the devil. Give us courage to resist him, strength to overcome him; deliver the prey from between his teeth, bid his captives go free; for his kingdom, set up Thy kingdom; and for the death he brought in, bring Thou in life everlasting. Amen.

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Introduction

ChristinaRossetti

Editors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. Today, we begin with the opening poem in her corpus. 

Opening Poem

Alas my Lord,/How should I wrestle all the livelong night/With Thee my God, my Strength and my Delight?

How can it need/So agonized an effort and a strain/To make Thy Face of Mercy shine again?

How can it need/Such wringing out of breathless prayer to move/Thee to Thy wonted Love, when Thou art Love?

Yet Abraham/So hung about Thine Arm outstretched and bared,/That for ten righteous Sodom had been spared.

Yet Jacob did/So hold Thee by the clenched hand of prayer/That he prevailed, and Thou didst bless him there.

Elias prayed,/And sealed the founts of Heaven; he prayed again/And lo, Thy Blessing fell in showers of rain.

All Nineveh/Fasting and girt in sackcloth raised a cry,/Which moved Thee ere the day of grace went by.

Thy Church prayed on/And on for blessed Peter in his strait,/Till opening of its own accord the gate.

Yea, Thou my God/Hast prayed all night, and in the garden prayed/Even while, like melting wax, Thy strength was made.

Alas for him/Who faints, despite Thy Pattern, King of Saints:/Alas, alas, for me, the one that faints.

Lord, give us strength/To hold Thee fast, until we hear Thy Voice/Which Thine own know, who hearing It rejoice.

Lord, give us strength/To hold Thee fast until we see Thy Face,/Full Fountain of all Rapture and all Grace.

But when our strength/Shall be made weakness, and our bodies clay,/Hold Thou us fast, and give us sleep till day.

 

Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Symposium 2016

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Register for Liturgy and the New Evangelization

LiturgyandtheNewEvangelization
Over the last several years, the Center for Liturgy has hosted an annual summer gathering attending to the rites reformed by the Second Vatican Council. These summer symposia enabled us to perceive again the theological, ritual, and devotional genius of the reformed Rites of the Council.

Yet, in the course of our conversation, it became clear that the primary concern of our participants was not simply on the reformed Rites of the Second Vatican Council nor a re-reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium. That is, there was a sense that the major concern of our era is not the implementation of a post-conciliar liturgical vision but responding to those new signs of the times that the documents don’t fully address.

We heard from campus ministers, who acknowledged that they are working with a diminishing number of students, who are not coming to Mass at all. We heard from directors of catechesis that there is declining participation in both the sacraments of marriage and infant baptism. Nearly everyone we talked to addressed the difficulty of celebrating the liturgy in parishes where distraction and the busyness of the modern world are obstacles to the flourishing of a liturgical life.

We also heard from the wider Church that the liturgical conflicts that have been so central to those who work in liturgy don’t really matter to them. They’re concerned about the quality of preaching, how to form students (at whatever age) for the sacrament of confirmation, how to draw on a larger repertoire of liturgical music and sacred architecture. And we heard most of all that the translation of the Missal, however despised by those in liturgical scholarship and ministry, is not a major concern among those who offer the sacrifice of praise on a weekly basis. They’re worried about their families, their kids, integrating their jobs and religious practice. The translation neither helped them nor harmed them in this work.

Our conversations during these Symposia reminded me again and again of that famous letter of Romano Guardini, addressing the German bishops in the midst of the Second Vatican Council:

The question is whether the wonderful opportunities now open to the liturgy will achieve their full realization; whether we shall be satisfied with just removing anomalies, taking new situations into account, giving better instruction on the meaning of ceremonies and liturgical vessels or whether we shall relearn a forgotten way of doing things and recapture lost attitudes.

From our conversations, we developed a sense that the liturgical rites of the Church have actually been quite effective in promoting a deeper sense of involvement in Christ’s sacrifice of love among those present in the assembly. But the dire statistics of Pew Studies, the reality of seminarians that are under-formed, of marriages and families in which prayer is not central to identity, and of gradually emptying churches at least in the Northeast and Midwest (and on college campuses as a whole throughout the country) kept intervening. The work of the liturgical movement today is to build a civilization where liturgical prayer can flourish. Where we address the problems of the day not simply through quoting documents, which don’t have credibility for the listener. But return again to the sources of renewal, imagining what it means to live a liturgical life in the 21st century.

This year, we will be hosting our 2016 Symposium precisely on this topic: Liturgy and the New Evangelization. Indeed, we are focusing on this not simply because I wrote a book with this title. Rather, the Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame seeks to solve the problems of this day rather than those of the 1960s. We want to understand, through the research of Christian Smith, how families pass on faith so that liturgical leaders can empower the domestic church. We want to discern how digital media has formed (and at times malformed) the human being, who is to participate in worship. We want to acknowledge the diversity that exists in the American Church, which may open up new avenues for connecting liturgy and spirituality, of “devotional life” and “liturgical life.” We want to know  how liturgy “evangelizes” in the first place through ritual activity, through preaching, through catechesis, and through music. And we want dioceses, high schools, and colleges alike to begin to develop a comprehensive strategy where they celebrate a diversity of liturgical rites as a way of contributing to the work of evangelization in the (post)-modern world. And we want these groups to develop new approaches to catechetical and spiritual formation, grounded in the liturgy, that leads to the fullness of human flourishing, of happiness, of self-gift.

The Center for Liturgy is thus hosting our final Symposia on Liturgy and the New Evangelization as a sign of what is to come.

  • In future summers, we will be hosting a three-year cycle of summer conferences that will form partner dioceses, parishes, and schools in the theological and spiritual principles of the liturgy; in a Eucharistic vision of the world; and in making explicit the intrinsic connection between devotion, social justice, and the liturgy. This event will also eventually have an advanced track, which will consider special topics in liturgical-sacramental ministry.
  • We will be hosting another week that seeks to discern how the principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd might influence how we carry out the RCIA, marriage formation, infant baptism, and spiritual formation on college campuses.
  • We will continue to partner with Notre Dame Vision to develop an approach to liturgical music that is not simply grounded in the formation of musical capacities but whose foundation is in the liturgical and theological vision of the Church. It is not enough to form musicians. We need to form liturgical musicians, who know the liturgy, who pray the liturgy, who love the liturgy.
  • And lastly, we will be hitting the road to do workshops, retreats, and other educational events on college campuses throughout the United States (we’re heading to Michigan State, Washington University, and the University of Michigan during this academic year alone).

In this way, the Center for Liturgy seeks to enrich the liturgical and sacramental imagination for the evangelization and transformation of the world. We see liturgical prayer, still, as a unique medium for healing the modern imagination from consumerism, from injustice, from domestic discontent, social isolation, and technological overload.

Join us this summer at Notre Dame as we start to work together on this renewal of the imagination. A renewal that will lead, we believe, to the renaissance of liturgical and sacramental ministry in the 21st century.