365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Introduction


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

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Register for Liturgy and the New Evangelization

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.



What We’re Reading: joy, Cana, and spiritual longing

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

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1) Adam Booth, CSC on the Wedding at Cana and our spiritual hunger for joy:

It might seem that the problem that Mary draws to Jesus’ attention is somehow lesser than our second-grader’s mini-crisis, that it’s more mundane or secular, less holy, but I think the attention that both Mary and Jesus give to it shows us that that’s not the case.  The second-grader was worried that the church was out of blessing, which would be very serious if it was true, but Mary is concerned that the party is out of joy.  A wedding feast of the time was meant to last for days, and it was looking like it might come to an abrupt halt.

2) Similarly, Timothy P. O’Malley interprets the “sign” communicated by John 2:1-11:

Jesus’ harshness may seem surprising. Yet, in the Gospel of John, it is common that those even who know Jesus quite well fail to grasp the full implications of his identity. That the hour that Jesus speaks about is the final act of glorification upon the cross, when he reveals to the world that God’s love has conquered the darkness of death itself. Indeed, his hour has not yet come. And yet, Jesus’ mother tells the servants to act, and they comply with her wishes.

3) In the New York Times, David Brooks writes on beauty and spiritual longing:

These days we all like beautiful things. Everybody approves of art. But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty. We live, as Leon Wieseltier wrote in an essay for The Times Book Review, in a post-humanist moment. That which can be measured with data is valorized. Economists are experts on happiness. The world is understood primarily as the product of impersonal forces; the nonmaterial dimensions of life explained by the material ones.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

Opening God’s Word: God’s Nuptial Love

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Editorial Note: This piece originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly–January 6, 2016

The image of marriage employed in the Scriptures should, if we were not so used to it, be rather shocking. The Lord, the creator of heaven and earth, becomes the gracious bridegroom to Israel in the book of Isaiah: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken’ … but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused’” (Is 62:4). Thus, it is no accident in the Gospel of John that the first sign Jesus performs at Cana takes place at a wedding. For, in the Gospel of John, a sign is not simply a demonstration of divine power. Instead, signs are moments in which Jesus’ identity becomes clear, inviting the reader to worship and adore before the Word made flesh.

In the first of seven signs, Jesus attends a wedding with his mother and disciples. These weddings were not four-hour events on a Saturday but weeklong celebrations.

When the wedding runs out of wine, there is a threat of a shortened party, a reception that does not live up to expectations. Jesus’ mother intervenes, and he replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4).

Jesus’ harshness may seem surprising. Yet, in the Gospel of John, it is common that those even who know Jesus quite well fail to grasp the full implications of his identity. That the hour that Jesus speaks about is the final act of glorification upon the cross, when he reveals to the world that God’s love has conquered the darkness of death itself. Indeed, his hour has not yet come. And yet, Jesus’ mother tells the servants to act, and they comply with her wishes.

The quantity of water in the stone jars is obscene — the transformation of up to 180 gallons of water into wine. And this is not poor wine, the kind one might serve in the days in which the party is winding down. Rather, the best wine is served toward the end of the celebration.

As a sign, the Gospel points the reader to see Jesus as the Messiah, the one who comes to bring about God’s nuptial union with Israel. The wine Jesus brings for this celebration is both excessively good and bountiful. In the carrying out of this sign, Jesus announces that the wedding feast of the messianic age has begun. To believe in the sign is therefore not simply to recognize it as worthy of wonder but to worship the sign-producer, Jesus the Christ.

The Church exists in the midst of this messianic wedding feast, living as one “drunk” upon the good wine of salvation. And indeed, this is the source of the mercy that the Church preaches to the world. God so loved the world that he became for us the bridegroom of an undeserving bride.

When the Church seeks to evangelize the world, we are inviting others to share in this love, to join with us in drinking the sweet wine of the nuptial feast.

We go forth to the margins to tell a love story, to woo others to join us in the wedding feast of the Lamb, and to discover in the process that our party is enriched by an increase in the number of revelers.

The bitter waters of every life can be transformed into the good wine of salvation. And so, we attendees and brides at so great a feast must sing out to the world: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready” (Rv 19:7).

And the Nominees Are . . .

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

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This morning in Hollywood, the nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards were announced. If you’re a film-lover like me, this time of year is the post-season, where the hundreds of films released over the past year have been culled to a short list of the elite, and soon, there will be only one—the Best Picture of the Year. The problem with the post-season comparison, of course, is that athletes only compete within their sport, whereas films of completely different genres are all lumped together and pitted against one another for Best Picture. This is essentially like comparing apples to Ferraris. Their only commonalities are: they are both things, and they are both red. And the latter isn’t even true all of the time.

As a result of the apples and Ferraris conundrum, the Academy increased the number of possible Best Picture nominees from five to ten for the 2010 awards ceremony in order to allow a wider variety of films to be represented. As it turns out, 2010 and 2011 have been the only years that all ten nominations spots have been filled; 2012–2014 each saw nine films nominated, and, as in 2015, this year there are only eight. While I initially bristled at the increase in nominated films, this year I am once again surprised at the fact that the Academy didn’t just go ahead and fill all ten slots (Dear Academy: Could we nominate just one comedy some year? Maybe?? Please???).

In which J.Law seems to have forgotten that she won the previous year. . . Everybody wants Oscar.
In which J.Law seems to have forgotten that she won the previous year. . . Everybody wants Oscar.

Then I remembered that the Oscar nominations represent the culmination of often politically charged marketing campaigns spearheaded by studios intent upon garnering awards (like a sports team shelling out big bucks for a key player in order to win championships), and this reality means that good films—even excellent films—are sometimes reduced to collateral damage.

Despite these and other flaws inherent in the system (including once again a complete lack of diversity in the acting nominees), I still love the Oscars because they provide people a way in to discovering, thinking about, and talking about movies, and movies in turn provide people a way in to discovering, thinking about, and talking about those things that are part and parcel of human life: identity and the search for it, relationships and all their glorious and heartbreaking complexities, the presence of evil and the struggle for good. And when films tell these human narratives in an authentic and compelling way, I would argue that they have the capacity to open audiences up to encountering a deeper narrative, indeed, the narrative—the narrative that insists that humanity has its source and its summit in something other than itself; the narrative that reassures us that death and evil will ultimately falter and life and love will triumph; the narrative that points, in the end, to God.

Granted, this capacity varies from film to film. Some films, like last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), open viewers up to this deeper narrative by offering a cautionary tale, encouraging us to rethink and perhaps change the ways we live and interact with family, loved ones, strangers, even ourselves. But others, like Best Picture winners A Man for All Seasons, Ghandi, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and 12 Years a Slave, have the capacity to inspire us to be better human beings by presenting us with a picture of humanity’s own capacity to transcend itself precisely through entry into that deeper narrative. All good art does this for those who take the time to look closely and listen carefully.

And so, over the next several weeks, we here at Oblation will once again be taking a closer look at this year’s Best Picture nominees in the hopes of discovering within their individual narratives seeds of the narrative. As we’ve learned over the past couple of years, this task will be more difficult for some films than others, but this series will afford us the opportunity to engage with “popular culture” and “secular media” in ways that are intriguing and challenging for us and, hopefully, uplifting and life-giving for you (or at the very least, entertaining). As Siskel and Ebert used to say, “See you at the movies.”

Embracing God’s Love, Crooked Teeth and All

Sarah Robison

Sarah Robison

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2015

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2016

During the spring of my junior year of high school, a terrible thing happened. I still remember that fateful day. My mom told me she would pick me up after school so we could go prom dress shopping, and I had been looking forward to it since first period biology. But after the final bell rang and I got into my mom’s minivan, I realized we weren’t going to the mall at all. We arrived at our destination and my mom turned to look at me. “Sarah,” she said, and then she spoke the most dreaded three words that any seventeen-year-old could hear:  “You’re getting braces.”

A line from Scripture came to mind: “Father, if it is possible, let this suffering pass from me.”

If you search “average age to bracesget braces” on Google, the range is from eight to twelve years old. This means that the mean age is ten. I was seventeen. Prom, graduation, dance recitals, senior pictures… you name it, I had braces for it. And when you’re in high school, the last thing you want to do is stand out.

What was even more unbearable to me than not being able to eat popcorn or candy was that I was totally and utterly embarrassed about how I looked. What I didn’t understand at the time is that beauty does not come from having braces or no braces, crooked teeth or straight teeth. It is intrinsic to who we are as daughters and sons of Christ.

In all seriousness, I told my mom that if I had to get braces then I would not smile with my teeth or let anyone see them until I got them off in eighteen months, a task which was much more difficult than I realized at the time. I recognize now that this frustration and embarrassment came from a desperate place in my heart in search of a love that comes only from God.  It was impossible for me to love myself because I did not fully understand how unconditionally He loves me.

My promise to survive without showing my teeth lasted for approximately 48 hours. Although I tried to cover them up as best I could, eventually my lips got sore from curling over the metal in my mouth.  ballet babiesThen, two days after getting my braces on, I was teaching a ballet class when a little four year old named Nina pointed to my teeth and said, “That’s so cool! I want some!” She ran off after class and begged her mom to get “twisted paperclips glued to her teeth, just like Ms. Sarah.” That’s the thing about little children—they love every part of you. They think every part is extremely fascinating and beautiful.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we adopt this openness and love, becoming like little children. From then on I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to cover up my braces. It was actually a huge relief not to worry about making sure they were hidden, and my lips definitely forgave me once I stopped straining them in an attempt to cover my teeth.

I wish I could say that the reaction I got from allowing my braces to be visible was earth-shattering or extremely dramatic, but it wasn’t. Everyone carried on with their lives, and nobody even said anything about my braces. What I thought would be the single event that ruined my final eighteen months of high school actually had no negative effect.

My struggle to accept myself with braces taught me that in the most important relationship we will ever have, our relationship with Jesus Christ, there is absolutely no point in trying to hide parts of ourselves. It is once we recognize this and let His love overflow in us that we can truly feel the beauty and tenderness of the unending love of the Savior—a Savior who loved you so much He died on a cross to know every single part of you more deeply.

The day before I moved in for my freshman year at Notre Dame, I got my braces off. The funny thing about braces is that when you finally survive their years of torture, you are confronted with perhaps an even more embarrassing task: the retainer. At least with braces you can talk relatively normally, but when you have a retainer in your mouth, forget it. Yet the beauty of having a retainer lies in the fact that if you get off-track and don’t wear it for say, a few months, you can still put it back in and it will eventually realign your teeth. It might hurt and will definitely be challenging, but if you just allow the transformation to happen, it will.

Aside from the disgusting-ness of retainers themselves, they are a pretty beautiful image for how God works in our lives. Even when I mess up, He is there with His arms stretched wide open on the cross, reminding us that it is never too late to realign our will with His will. Even when we turn our backs on Him, He comes running after us…even if we have braces.

christ rio de janiero

What Can I Give?


Grace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

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During these liturgical feasts of Christmas, the Holy Family, and Epiphany, we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts.  There are the physical gifts around our Christmas trees that we give to each other; there are the spiritual gifts of presence and prayer that we share; and most of all, there is the gift of God in human flesh for the salvation of us all.
God gives himself to us!  That is an incredible, extraordinary, marvelous, and life-changing gift which we receive if we allow our hearts to be open to his coming, but it is also a gift which begs the perennial human question in response to this action of divine mercy,
“What can I possibly give to God in return?”
So often I feel like the old shepherd in the film The Nativity Story who feels that he has no gift to bring to God and to others.  He says this to Mary and Joseph, who are warming themselves by the fire he had offered to them on their way to Bethlehem because they seemed cold.  While they are sitting by the fire, Mary says to the shepherd, “I will tell our child about you.  About your kindness.”  The shepherd replies, “My father told me a long time ago that we are all given something.  A gift.  Your gift is what you carry inside.”  Mary then asks him, “What was your gift?”  The shepherd says, “Nothing.  Nothing but the hope of waiting for one.”
I would say that many of us feel similarly.  Growing up, we are frequently asked by others questions like these:  “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”  “How do you want to use your gifts?”  “What will you do to make a difference in this world?”
Sometimes we have an idea of what we would like to do with our lives, so we say what that might be.  But that vision often changes with our circumstances, and by the time our student lives are over, and we are working to make a living, sometimes we wonder, “How did I get here?”  “What I have missed?”  “Where am I really going?”  “This is not what I had planned.”  “Am I really making a difference in this big world?”  We can feel small and poor because the world can be a lonely and confusing place.  The gifts that we thought we had don’t seem to be massively impacting the world, we don’t feel fulfilled in giving of ourselves to our daily labors, we’re working in ways that don’t make use of our gifts because we’re struggling just to scrape by, or we’re still searching for our gifts.
I remember during one year in high school when I was on a retreat, my small group leader asked the members of our group to make a list of ten gifts that we have.  I thought about it and wrote down two or three, which seemed inconsequential to me and not of much use.  Then tears started to form in my eyes because I couldn’t think of any more gifts to write down.  I felt so small and poor in comparison to others around me.  I could only hope that I was wrong and wait for someone to tell me how immeasurably blessed I am and what a difference I can make in this world.  I didn’t know it then, but I had to understand first what “gift” really is and what “making a difference” means.
When someone does tell us about a gift that we have, which we did not initially recognize in ourselves, it is great news to us – just like when the angel appears to the old shepherd and announces to him the great gift of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.  When we receive news of such a gift, we are taken aback, an awareness is awakened in us, and we go to seek out what this great gift is and how we might share it.  When we find it and touch it, we are surprised by joy, and we express thanksgiving by sharing it with others.
And so, in The Nativity Story, the old shepherd travels to the stable in Bethlehem to see what this gift is that he almost despaired of waiting for in thinking that he had nothing to give.  When he approaches Mary cradling the infant Jesus, he kneels down and looks at the newborn Jesus with amazement.  He then slowly reaches out to touch Jesus, but he cannot bring himself to do so.  He seems too good to be true.  And why would he want to give himself to me, a poor, lowly shepherd with no gifts to give in return.
As Christina Rossetti writes in her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,”
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?”
magigiftsThere are people who can give their property as shelter – a stable for animals that the Holy Family uses – and there are those like the magi who can give gold, frankincense, and myrrh out of their wealth.  But what can poor, lowly shepherds give?  They don’t seem to have anything of real value to give to such an extraordinary person – God made flesh in love for us.  The old shepherd withdraws his trembling hand, but he continues to gaze in wonder at this newborn child, this indescribable gift.
Mary, however, turns to the old shepherd and holds Jesus toward him, saying,
“He is for all mankind.”
Encouraged by these words, the shepherd then slowly reaches out his hand again to touch the infant Jesus.  TouchWhen he finally touches Jesus, the shepherd is overcome with emotion and closes his eyes.   Mary then says to the shepherd,
“We are each given a gift.”
The old shepherd’s eyes widen with realization.  It’s as if Mary is saying to him, “Touch him.  He is your gift.  He is what you carry inside.  Touch him, open your heart, and he is yours!”  This infant Jesus is a gift for all human beings, including the old shepherd himself.  We are each given the profound gift of love, God in the flesh, become one of us and who shares in our suffering and in our joy.  That is the gift that we carry in our hearts – love himself.
Thus, this Christmas event radically transforms our understanding of “gift” and of “making a difference.”  Our epiphany is this:  His striking manifestation to us as true God in true human flesh reveals to us that our sinful humanity is not worthless.  He loves us!  He has mercy on us!  He is one of us!  This gift of Jesus leads us to recognize how we might share that gift of love with others.  The old shepherd, even when he thought he had nothing to give, had the gift of love:  he gave to the Holy Family kindness, warmth, comfort, and friendship, even though he was just a stranger on the road.  Even though he may have felt cold and empty, he still carried the little flame of hope inside.  The gift of Jesus helped him to recognize the value and purpose of his own life.  Life is not just about survival.  It is so much more than that.  Love makes the difference.  Talents that we have may be gifts, but they will remain just abilities if not given to others in love.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7,
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
They are gifts because they are not our own; they are meant to be shared.  They are gifts precisely because they involve a gift of the self in love to the other.  Gift is an embodied act, and it is the way in which we are to see the world.
We are each given a gift.  What gift do I carry inside?  Do I know what gift I can give to the Christ child in my heart?   What can I give?  As Christina Rossetti writes in the last stanza of her poem,
“Yet what I can I give Him:  give my heart.”
givehearttogodWe can’t really give anything to God, except what has been first given to us.  When we give gifts, it is because something or someone makes a claim on us, and we want to express our gratitude.  It can never really be an exchange.  In the case of God, moreover, God makes His claim on us; we cannot make a claim on God.  No gift of our own will ever really be adequate to express our thanksgiving.  We can only offer back the gift he has given us first:  His love.  Our love is formed and perfected in His love, and it is that we are to give.  Jesus is the gift that we receive, and at the same time, he is the gift that we give in our worship because he is the true gift, the perfect gift, the gift of love.  He is the only one who leads us to the Father, and the way we meet the Father is through love.  Jesus is this love.  In our hearts, if only we prepare Him room, dwells Love incarnate.  The gift that we can give Him is our hearts filled with love , as we give of ourselves for each other.
worksofmercyHow can we do that?  Through the practice of mercy, which is what God demonstrates for us as the face of mercy in Jesus.  We can do corporal and spiritual works of mercy for each other, and in doing so, we give our hearts to God.  Likewise at Mass, we “lift up our hearts” to God in prayer.  We can proclaim the praises of the Lord, as Mary does in her Magnificat, humbly lifting up her heart to God and magnifying His name.  That is how we can make a difference in the world.  It starts person to person.  Mercy must be practiced constantly for love to bear fruit.  In Jesus, our poverty is made rich because he is the gift of love, and he invites us to become sharers in that gift of love.  Our life reveals its meaning in gift.  Let us lift up our hearts to embrace that love and to share it with all we may encounter.  Let us approach the newborn Jesus each day, gaze upon him in wonder in each person we meet, touch his face, and realize this gift of love that animates our lives.  Let us walk rejoicing and share this gift with gratitude.

Musical Mystagogy: Singing the Incarnation

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Every year, I lament the fact that there simply aren’t enough days in the Christmas season to listen to all of the incredible music that helps us enter the exultant hymn of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus. Let’s face it: there’s a reason we secretly start listening to Christmas music around the middle of Advent (or that we at least really want to). Christmas music is sacred music par excellence. Whether it’s a traditional carol like Hark! The Herald Angels Sing or Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, or a chant like Of the Father’s Love Begotten, or a more recent addition to the repertoire like Morten Lauridsen’s anthem O Magnum Mysterium, or Alfred Burt’s carol Jesu Parvule, the songs of Christmas make real the idea of “beauty ever ancient, ever new,” a phrase that comes from St. Augustine’s Confessions as he addresses God himself. Some may balk at this analogy between the earthly beauty of music and the divine beauty, but I maintain that one can indeed use Augustine’s description with reference to Christmas music, because its material beauty points beyond itself to the divine beauty present in the very mystery this music helps us celebrate.

On the one hand, Christmas music does seem ancient: we know it intimately. It has accompanied us to the manger each and every year. And yet, on the other hand, it is indeed ever new: we never seem to grow tired of it. The reason for this, I believe, is that every year, we approach this season and this music different people than we were at this time last year, and as a result, though the music remains the same, we will hear it differently. This is the gift of a set repertoire of carols and hymns and chants, and the gift of the new additions to the repertoire that have slowly and steadily found a home within this treasury over time. The music of Christmas allows us to return to it year after year after year, and, like a wellspring, it continually slakes our thirst for beauty and mystery and meaning.

So, with the vast breadth of music, how does one choose a single piece to encapsulate the Christmas season? With the understanding that there is not ever going to be one piece that does so, but with the hope that, at least for this year, this one will help unfold the mystery a little more fully. With that, I offer Egil Hovland’s The Glory of the Father. I came across this piece as an undergraduate member of the St. Isidore Catholic Student Center Choir at my alma mater, Kansas State University, and I have come back to it every Christmas since then. This piece, written in 1957 by Norwegian composer Egil Hovland, uses as its text excerpts from the stunning prologue of St. John’s Gospel. This passage is proclaimed on Christmas at the Mass during the day, which perhaps seems an unusual choice. There is no mention of a journey to Bethlehem or a manger, no angels singing or shepherds dropping in. Instead, what we have is light. The light of the human race. The light that shines in darkness. The light that no darkness can overcome. The true light which enlightens everyone. The true light that was coming into the world. And what is this light? St. John tells us.

The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

This text serves as the beginning and end of Hovland’s stunning yet simple piece. In constructing the piece this way, Hovland is holding up the Incarnation—Jesus Christ Himself—as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The music in these sections is open—hollow sounding and yet somehow also full. The first words of the piece—“The Word became flesh”—are sung with a chant-like rhythm using the interval of a perfect fifth, one of the two intervals used in the medieval period to create the first instances of harmony. The other interval was the perfect fourth, and Hovland ends the phrase “dwelt among us” on this sonority (the italics designate the syllables on which this interval occurs). Why mention this? To demonstrate that the openness of the piece comes from a compositional technique that signaled the birth of harmony as we now know it. A beauty ever ancient. On the other hand, the composer uses close harmonies and controlled dissonance (clashing notes) to create a sense of fullness, particularly when the choir sings “We beheld the glory of the Father” the second time. A beauty ever new.

At the heart of the piece, Hovland returns to the beginning of the prologue: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God.” The piece takes on more life and movement here, indicating the life and movement of the eternal Word, the second Person of the triune God. With the text “In him was life,” a stirring drama builds, and suddenly, a tension is introduced with the phrase “and the life was the light of men.” The startling chord on the word “men” indicates a new presence: darkness. Through the sin of humanity, darkness enters the world and threatens to blot out the life of the Word, “the light of men.” This darkness continues as the composer holds up for our attention a reality that we would rather forget as we celebrate Christmas: “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” This child, the Word made flesh, the true light which enlightens everyone, was rejected by those whom he called his own. Is still rejected.

And yet, immediately after this sobering, convicting statement, the composer returns to the opening section, indicating that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Moreover, the abrupt shift from the darkness back to the light indicates that the glory of the Incarnate Word—“the glory as of the Father’s only Son”—is not contingent upon our acceptance of Him. The light has come into the world. It is offered as gift for those with the eyes to see it, and “to those who did accept him”—who accept him still today—“he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). This season, as we sing the mysteries of the Incarnation, may we open our eyes to see and our hearts to welcome the light of the world, the Word made flesh, the glory of the Father.

The Holy Family as Community: Thoughts for Our Parishes and Families

Hope BoettnerHope Bethany ’15


Echo Apprentice

Each year on the feast of the Holy Family, I wonder about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I wonder about how we as a Church think about the Holy Family. I wonder how to make sense of their family in light of my own family, or in light of the other families whom I know and love. A traditional (very well-intentioned) bent of homilies on this day sometimes takes the following approach:

“Mary was the perfect mother. Moms, be Mary. Joseph was the perfect example of a father. Dads, be Joseph. And kids, young Jesus didn’t disobey Mary and Joseph. Be Jesus.”

Hearing this sort of approach, my slight cynicism makes me think:

“Yeah, no kidding… TWO of the three members of the Holy Family were literally sinless and the THIRD one lived with TWO sinless people. How does that even begin to compare?”

No family looks like this. Not even on Instagram. Don't kid yourselves, guys.
No family looks like this. Not even on Instagram. Don’t kid yourselves, guys.

The “follow their example” approach to the feast makes sense, at least partially. The Holy Family was obviously a model for our own families, but a perspective that leaves the Holy Family as only a perfect model can seem saccharine and disconnected from reality.  None of us come from sinless families. Some of us come from families aching from recent hardship or loss; all come from families with a variety of dysfunctions; some of us come from families whose stories are too difficult and complex to describe in short detail.

This year, my contemplation of the feast of the Holy Family has been shaped by my first five months in parish ministry. As I thought about this feast for the purposes of teaching catechetically about the family and about the Holy Family, I began to explore different angles. I have noticed an ache for community in my own parish, among young adults, among older people missing their children and grandchildren, with young moms and dads— and this is not merely a reality in my parish alone.

I came across some articles this year that made me realize the loneliness that people carry and all the different ways in which many of us try to fill that loneliness. This article speaks about millennials choosing to live in shared housing with other married couples; another article discusses how parishes can reach out to support young mothers and young families who may be far from tdd_yngheir families of origin. These articles, other sources, and conversations all feed into one reality that is a reality in all places and for all families: the longing, desire and human need for community. This need is all the more acute in a world of families who live far from one another or for those whose family does not seem to even compare with the Holy Family.

Dorothy Day famously said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.”

On this year’s feast of the Holy Family, for the sake of our own families and the sake of our own Church, what if we looked at the Holy Family not as a moralistic tale of a perfect family, but rather as a model of community? Mary and Joseph lived through an unplanned pregnancy and fleeing hardship together. They lost Jesus in Jerusalem and searched for Him together. “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man,” living in community with Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:52).

Seeing the Holy Family as a model of community and bearing with one another through loneliness, hardship– or in good times for that matter– does not mean our families are sinless. This does not mean our families are without illnesses. Nor does this mean we can label families who may be hurt and broken as failures. What it does mean is this: when we call the Holy Family a model for our own families, we must have a more nuanced idea of what we mean by the family as “holy.” That idea would do well both to bring in a sense of community and to develop what we mean when we refer to any family (including the Holy Family) as  “holy.”

For this, since we often refer to the family as the “domestic Church,” I find this insight from Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” particularly compelling.

Introduction_to_Christianity“The Church is not called “holy” in the Creed because her members, collectively and individually, are holy, sinless men— this dream, which appears afresh in every century, has no place… however movingly it may express a human longing….

The holiness of the Church consists in that power of sanctification which God exerts in her in spite of human sinfulness. We come up here against the real mark of the “New Covenant”: in Christ, God has bound himself to men, has let himself be bound by them.

The New Covenant no longer rests on the reciprocal keeping of the agreement; it is granted by God as grace that abides even in the face of man’s faithlessness. It is the expression of God’s love, which will not let itself be defeated by man’s incapacity but always remains well disposed toward him, welcomes him again and again precisely because he is sinful, turns to him, sanctifies him, and loves him (Ratzinger 341).

These words also apply to our imperfect families and, by extension, our imperfect parish families. Or in the words of Pope Francis:

“So great was His love, that He began to walk with humanity, with His people, until the right moment came, and He made the highest expression of love – His own Son. And where did He send his son – to a palace? To a city? No. He sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family. And He could do this, because it was a family that had a truly open heart. The doors of their heart opened.”

The holiness and dignity of the family, like the holiness of the Church, does not stand merely on the behavior of individuals. The holiness of family, and the holiness of striving to be a holy family, stands upon the fact that by choosing to enter into a family, Christ has forever sanctified all families. Seeing Francis’ and Ratzinger’s perspective on the family and on the Church may help us to see the Holy Family not merely as a model of moral perfection, but rather as a model of holy community that knows how to “love one another with mutual affection, anticipate one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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