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Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 2

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Editor’s Note: This second of two posts is part of a lecture given to inaugurate the Institute for Church Life’s 2nd annual International Crèche Pilgrimage, Dwelling with Love Incarnate. 

Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 1

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

This hymn, a text written by Christina Rossetti, rifts upon a number of the motifs that were implicit in O Magnum Mysterium. The silence of the bleak mid-winter is intensified through a placing of the Nativity in an English village, covered with snow. Worship is offered by the angels, yet the marvel of the Incarnation is upon display in Jesus’ drinking of milk from his mother’s bosom, worship being offered most fully through the tender kiss of a mother upon the cheek of her son. Yet, at the end, the hymn takes a turn common in devotional poetry of the time. The contemplation of the pastoral nativity demands some response by the poet and reader alike. A shepherd might bring a lamb, a Wise Man would bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but me—what is left but to give myself?

In this sense, Rossetti’s poetry functions almost Eucharistically. God’s action has unfolded in the Incarnation and what remains but the giving of oneself as a return-gift to the infant Son. And the icon of this return-gift is the blessed Virgin herself, who offers the kiss of love that the poet now desires to give to the Son. Such poetry is self-implicating, wooing one to participate in the gift of what takes place in the hidden indwelling of the God-man.

The liturgical poetry of Romanos the Melodist takes up this same perspective, where the reader of the poem, the singer of the hymn assumes a central role in the drama of salvation. In his hymn on the Nativity, Romanos invites the reader to assume the Marian role in the story:

“For I am not simply your mother, compassionate Savior;

it is not in vain that I suckle the giver of milk,

but for the sake of all I implore you.

You have made me the mouth and boast of all my race,

and your world has me,

as a mighty protection, a wall and a buttress.

They look to me, those who were cast out

of the Paradise of pleasure, for I bring them back.

May all things understand that, through me, you have been born

a little Child, God before the ages (The Nativity, 23).

While also reflecting upon the role of Mary in the drama of the Nativity, the hymn forms the reader to see him or herself as the Marian actor in the drama. In this age, as this hymn is sung, the Christian is also to become the place where Christ is born into the world.

Indeed, it is the very pedagogy of the crèche scene to invite us to participate within our own time in the Incarnation. The “Painted Houses” of South Africa uses tribal imagery to demonstrate how God’s dwelling among us might put an end to the hostility between rival factions.

SouthAfrica_PaintedHouses

The material of the banana tree of Paraguay incarnates the Christmas narrative into the agricultural milieu of that country.

Paraguay_VegetalReign

Alaska’s own wintry background is now where the Savior of the world is born.

UnitedStates_OnlyIciclesAreForReal_

The crèche scenes are moments in which the story of Christmas is seen in its contemporaneity—the world grown weary through sin and death, now renewed through the glory of the Incarnate Word.

The family that keeps watch before the crèche participates in this drama of salvation. And indeed, this drama is unfolding even in the mundane world of family life. Cardinal Marc Ouellet writes, “…the love of Christian spouses and the richness of their family relationships become a sacred sign, a vehicle and sanctuary of a greater Love, the love of the Trinitarian, incarnate God, who enters into a humble and indissoluble bond with their community of life and love” (Divine Likeness, 53). The love of the Father poured out in his Son and then given over to women and men in history itself is still become manifest in the nuptial union. The family becomes an incarnate and inculturated sign of God’s love for the world to contemplate. Each of the families, in their own particularities, reveal something about the triune love of God made manifest in the Incarnation: the couple with a plurality of children, the elderly couple who now live alone, the family forced into migration, and the infertile couple who open their house to care for the poorest of the poor.

In this way, the nativity set can renew family life insofar as it reminds them that although domesticity is often mundane, it is in fact a participation in the drama of salvation in this time and place. It is a participation in a drama where there is not only joy but also signs of sorrow that mark the human condition. And the set invites us, just like the poetry of Christian Rossetti or Romanos the Melodist, to assume our role in the drama.

Born On a New Day

You are the new day.

Meekness, love, humility

Come down to us this day:

Christ, your birth has proved to me

You are the new day.

 

Quiet in a stall you lie,

Angels watching in the sky

Whisper to you from on high

“You are the new day”.

 

When our life is darkest night,

Hope has burned away;

Love, your ray of guiding light,

Show us the new day.

 

Love of all things great and small

Leaving none, embracing all,

Fold around me where I fall,

Bring in the new day.

 

This new day will be

A turning point for everyone.

If we let the Christ-child in, and

Reach for the new day.

 

Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life;

Healing sadness, ending strife;

You we welcome, Lord of life,

Born on a new day.

You are the new day.

A relatively modern carol, “Born On a New Day” is an adaptation of a secular song, one that promises the renewal of humanity through the burgeoning hope of love. The irony of the song, of course, is that the language of “new day” is fitting for the feast of Christmas. The hope of newness, of God’s renewal of the created order, is in fact at the font of the season of Advent itself, where we await the glad tidings of the Savior, who comes to renew all things.

And indeed, the crèche itself captures this newness through the presence of the Magi, who come from the ends of the world to greet the king whose power is made manifest in weakness. T.S. Eliot, in his “Journey of the Magi,” gives voice to these kings who have returned to their land:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

With the coming of this new day is a necessary death, a giving up of the old dispensation for the new. Can we participate in a world grown tired from the reign of sign and death, when we have gazed with wonder upon the king who dwells among us? Is this not the reign we long for?

The new day that we long for, that was supposed to be inaugurated through the birth and death and resurrection of the beloved Son, seems so far away. The tragedies in Paris, together with the suffering of the Syrian migrants now denied homes make this patently clear to us. Should we turn away from this weary world? Should we give up on the project of waiting altogether?

LambThe crèche, as one might imagine, serves as a kind of medicine against this hopelessness, this world weariness of those who await the Incarnate Word’s reign on earth. To put up a crèche each year, in the midst of a world that has grown callous to the life of the unborn, to the suffering of the migrant and immigrant, to the prisoner condemned to death is a supreme act of hope. It is akin to the role of the tabernacle lamp, described by Charles Peguy in his poetics of hope in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope:

One trembling flame has endured the weight of worlds.

One vacillating flame has endured the weight of time.

One anxious flame has endured the weight of nights.

Since the first time my grace flowed for the creation of the world.

Since my grace has been flowing forever for the preservation of the world.

Since the time that the blood of my son flowed for the salvation of the world.

A flame impossible to reach, impossible to extinguish with the breath of death (Peguy, 5).

The family who each year puts up the crèche scene is doing more than following the liturgical calendar. Rather, they are manifesting to the world a hope that cannot be defeated by a politics or culture of death. Hope is born anew in the heart of the child, who recognizes for the first time the fact that that little babe in the crèche scene is Savior of the world; hope is born anew as the family prays before this scene each evening before darkness descends upon the world; hope is born anew when the family becomes the love they receive in this crèche.

Indeed, the manner in which hope is kept alive in the hearth of the domestic church is the reason why something so small as setting up a crèche scene is integral to the new evangelization. Secularity will ultimately not be defeated by intellectual argument alone; individualism cannot be destroyed by building a philosophical case alone against the irrationality of the position; nor for that matter will the coldness of the human heart toward the suffering of the unborn be “fixed” through a really fine op-ed. Rather, the hope of the Incarnation is passed on as a living flame from family to family, each time that they place in the infant Christ as the center of their home, manifesting to the world once against the fact that God is love. This, in fact, is the new day.

Conclusion

The Christmas crèche is thus more than a nice tradition, whereby Christians throughout the world mark the arrival of the season, just as they put up lights upon their homes or drink coffee out of a red cup from Starbucks. Rather, it is an embodied practice of remembering what the Father has accomplished through the humility of the Son, who is Love made flesh; it is an invitation to participation in this narrative again and again, renewing each season the hope for salvation that comes from God alone. It is a practice that serves as a bastion against a practical atheism that lives as if God is not more. It is a practice that renews from year to year the memory of the story that makes sense of all other stories.

And perhaps, it is the simple practice of praying before and setting up this crèche in the context of the domestic church that might be a source of renewal for the world itself. For as Cardinal Ouellet writes:

Evangelizing the family’s various relationships in the image of the Trinity, cultivating its sacramental life and consciousness, and revealing to the family the divine missions in which it participates; all of this could have a planetary impact on the mission of the Church and the future of humanity (76).

For the family to gaze with love upon the crèche, to contemplate the wonderful mystery taking place, and to pledge to become this mystery for the world: in this way, even now, the possibility of a new day, a new world of love can come into being. For when we dwell with love incarnate, we may find (perhaps even against our wills) that we become this love that we abide with: “Jesus, immortal boy, let this your birth give/to us peace and joy” (Adam of St. Victor 5.11).

The Mission of the Center for Liturgy

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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At the beginning of the academic year, the Center for Liturgy often finds itself in the midst of re-articulating the vision that animates our work. We are a Center at the heart of the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission; one that renews the Church through liturgical scholarship and education. We publish material on this blog and in a nationally recognized journal, we hold conferences and host guest lecturers, and we teach courses to undergraduates and graduate students at our University. In the coming months, we’ll be talking about an expansion in our summer offerings related to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, working with Newman Centers, and more.

Yet, the articulation of a mission includes far more than the activity that we perform on a yearly basis. Over the last five years in which I have served as director of the Center for Liturgy, we have listened to those involved in liturgical and catechetical ministry in the Church. We have held conversations with undergraduates and graduate students about the state of liturgical education in the United States. We have met with other universities engaged in the mission of liturgical formation according to their own unique charism.

We have come to the conclusion that the liturgical renewal promised by the Second Vatican Council is, well, unfulfilled. Too often this unfulfilled vision becomes an occasion to blame others.

  • It is the fault of liturgists, who treated the rites as their own plaything.
  • It is the fault of catechists, who never really taught the fullness of what the liturgical and sacramental life consists of.
  • It is the fault of the hierarchy, who hold on at all costs to a clerical approach to liturgical celebration and formation.
  • It is the faulty of the laity, who seem too apathetic about their own liturgical vocation.

While such blame is often cathartic, offering an easy solution to the renewal of the liturgical life of the Church (get rid of those at fault), these blame games seem to ignore that the Second Vatican Council presented a vision of liturgical prayer as so important to the life of the Church that it should not be surprising that there is work that remains. Further, the very moment in which the Church recognized the liturgy as central to her identity was also the precise moment in which modern, secular approaches to being and knowing alike won out over theological accounts of what it means to be a human being in the world.
BlameThe problem with much liturgical renewal today is that it ignores the difficult task of liturgical formation. National liturgical gatherings continue to repeat the same tired phrases again and again, ignoring the fact that these phrases are often meaningless to the modern person. Full, conscious, and active participation is a desired goal. But, what about the fact that it seems more and more Catholics choose not to be present in the first place?

The Center for Liturgy, thus, believes that a renewal of liturgical formation is necessary under the rubric of the New Evangelization. That the goal of liturgical renewal is not ultimately oriented toward better liturgies alone (though this should also take place). Rather, it is to make possible an encounter with Jesus Christ through the liturgical rites; an encounter that ultimately transforms what it means to be human. The purpose of liturgical prayer is thus the formation of a way of life, a disposition of gratitude that is the source of meaning of human life. As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium:

The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving (no. 24)

In other words, the mission of the Center for Liturgy is what one becomes through the practice of liturgical prayer; the kind of life that one lives through learning to praise and adore the living God.

The Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame is thus oriented toward creating educational opportunities that renew the Church in this way of life. There is something “lay” about our approach insofar as we see liturgical prayer less about who gets to do what during the liturgy; and more about the renewal of politics, culture, and family life.

For this reason, the Center for Liturgy focuses our undivided attention on the kind of imagination that the liturgy forms us in. The imagination is the human faculty that enables us to make meaning in the world. It allows us to see a simple activity as getting up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child as a Eucharistic offering. It is that faculty that forms us to see our work in the world as a similar offering. It is the faculty that transforms two people living together as married into an image of Christ’s self-giving love of the Church in the sacrament of marriage. Our educational programming is concerned about fostering this kind of imagination not simply through the liturgy but through the work of catechesis, of theological education, and a style of research that takes seriously the lay experience of liturgical prayer. Of the union between liturgy and politics, justice, spirituality, our relationship with the environment, ethics, vocation. Of discerning those cultural obstacles that make liturgical participation difficult in the modern world and then promoting the kind of “liturgical ecology” that holds up human life as gift.

This is the work that inspires us on a regular basis. It is the mission that will continue to infuse our programming. We are not a Center that plans on gathering people because they want to prepare for the new liturgical reform (or the reform of the reform of the reform). We see value in these conversations. But they are not ours.

Our mission, is taken directly from Pope Francis’ own address to theologians:

A theology – and not simply a pastoral theology – which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences is most important for our discernment on how best to bring the Gospel message to different cultural contexts and groups. The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences. I call on theologians to carry out this service as part of the Church’s saving mission. In doing so, however, they must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology (no. 133).

Ours is not a desk-bound theology. It is a theology that seeks to renew the liturgical life of the Church so that the entire cosmos might experience the transformation of love made possible through the Christian vision of existence. We think this involves a renewal of preaching, of music, of aesthetics, of catechesis, and spirituality. This is the mission of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy moving toward into its fifth decade of existence.

We hope that you’ll join us in our work.

“He is out of his mind:” Missing Out on Messianic Madness (Part I)

David. A. Pitt, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Liturgical and Sacramental Theology

Loras College, Dubuque, IA

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In countries where the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is given the status of a holy day of obligation, that feast is celebrated on the Thursday following the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  But in countries such as the United States and Canada, where Corpus Christi is not a holy day of obligation, the solemnity is transferred to the Sunday following Trinity Sunday (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 7c) – most recently June 10.  As a consequence, while more Catholics in these latter countries were enabled to feast the saving power of the Eucharist, they did not hear the Gospel reading appointed for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 3:20-35.  They did not hear Jesus’ family declaring that he was an embarrassment because he was insane (3:20-21) – a claim unique to Mark.  The non-hearing of this pericope on Sundays is actually quite typical here, as is the non-hearing of the uniquely Marcan verses on weekdays.  In this first post I will offer reasons why these texts are not frequently heard.  In the second post I will discuss why I consider this situation to be a genuine loss.  The lengthier narrative, and especially its first two verses, substantially contributes to understanding what it means to be identified as a member of the Body of Christ.

Catholics in the United States and Canada (and other countries where Corpus Christi is transferred to Sunday) do not often get the opportunity to celebrate the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time for entirely calendrical reasons.  The necessity of preceding Advent with the 34th week in Ordinary Time requires the arrangement of the previous weeks in Ordinary Time to accommodate this progression.  Depending on the relationship between the date of Easter and the date of the 1st Sunday of Advent, the week in Ordinary Time after the Easter Season can range between the 6th and 12th.  But three Sundays that fall within those weeks in Ordinary Time are superseded by Solemnities: Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi.  If, as happened here this year, the Monday after the Easter Season belongs to 8th week in Ordinary Time (i.e., Pentecost replaces the 8th Sunday), then Trinity Sunday replaces the 9th Sunday, and Corpus Christi replaces the 10th.  In order for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time to be celebrated in countries such as the United States and Canada, post-Easter Ordinary Time cannot begin in the 8th, 9th, or 10th weeks.  As this chart shows, however, this happens more often than not (57 occurrences in the 80 year period between 1970 and 2050).  Presuming the transfer of Corpus Christi, in the 80 years beginning with the introduction of the three-year lectionary, there are 22 celebrations of the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Of these instances, only 6 occur in Cycle B: 1970, 1973, 1991, 1997, 2018, and 2024.  When Mark 3:20-35 is next read during a Sunday Mass, it will have been 21 years since it was previously read.

A critical component of this Gospel narrative is contained in Mark 3:20-21.  It is here that Mark introduces the reader to Jesus’ family – and these first impressions are not favorable.  Their rejection of Jesus because of his apparently scandalous behavior leads them to protect themselves by insisting that he is insane.  As such, they are paralleled by the scribes in a narrative likely inserted into the original family story by Mark.  As Morna Hooker has argued, “Both offer false explanations of [Jesus’] activity, and are therefore blind to the truth” (114).  Knowledge of the content of these two verses helps us interpret Jesus’ response to his family in 3:31-35.  On the basis of 3:20-21, Jesus’ question, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” and his insistence that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” clearly excludes the family that has sought to drag him away as if he were in a strait-jacket!

Yet even though Mark 3:20-35 is read annually in the weekday lectionary, the important first two verses are not generally heard.  The narrative begins on Saturday (3:20-21) of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, and continues on Monday (3:22-30) and Tuesday (3:31-35) of the Third Week.  The troubling first section is thus located on what seems to be the least popular day of the week for attending Mass.  What my own cursory survey of Mass options across the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa (i.e., the states between Notre Dame and Loras College, the institution at which I am located) reveals is that the number of weekday Masses on Saturday declines substantially from the number of Masses on every day between Monday and Friday.  Presuming the accuracy of the data, in the 15 dioceses in those states Mass is celebrated at different 1945 locations.  Saturday daily Mass was held in 518 of those locations (26.6%), while Mass was held on the other weekdays in an average of 1222 locations (62.8%).  Even on Monday, the day in which the fewest number of locations hosted a Mass (1061), the number of Mass locations more than doubled those for Saturday.  Admittedly, the number of locations in which Mass is celebrated does not correspond perfectly to the frequency of attendance at those liturgies.  But such striking data surely implies some commentary on attendance tendencies.  Might one even use this tentative data to make general claims about Catholics across the United States and Canada?  If it is safe to do so and presume that Catholics in the United States and Canada are attending daily Mass in fewer numbers on Saturday than on other weekdays, then the number of Catholics in those countries hearing the portion of Mark 3:20-35 appointed for Saturday (Mark 3:20-21) is smaller than the number hearing the rest of the narrative.  As such, the critical context for interpreting the rest of the narrative is frequently unheard by Catholics.  Further exacerbating this difficulty in Canada is the note contained within the weekday lectionary when Mark 3:20-21 occurs: “Some may prefer to read the gospel in no. 255 [John 10:31-42 – the rejection of Jesus by religious authorities] or 325 [Mark 6:1-6 – the rejection of Jesus by residents of Nazareth].”  While the general theme of rejection is continued, Jesus’ family is absent!

Just as we see happening in the weekday lectionary, both through occurrence on infrequently celebrated Saturday liturgies and/or through intentional avoidance, controversial treatment of Jesus’ family is minimized in the other two Synoptic Gospels.  The authors of the Gospel according to Matthew and according to Luke simply excluded Mark 3:20-21 from their accounts, and treated the two following portions of Mark’s text as separable units (see chart below).  Matthew retained the order of Mark, but inserted 16 verses of teaching material between the episodes.  Luke, on the other hand, rearranged these two portions and separated them by 3 chapters.  And while Mark 3:20-21 serves to introduce Jesus’ family, in Matthew and Luke readers encounter Jesus’ family in far more favorable and well-known circumstances.  Both Joseph (Matt 1:20-24) and Mary (Luke 1:26-38) choose to trust in God rather than in social convention, agreeing to God’s invitation to become parents to Jesus.  As a result, Jesus’ questions about who should be considered to be his family are already answered in Matthew and Luke.  In the relative absence of any claims to the contrary, the popularity of the Matthean-Lucan perspective on Jesus’ family strongly influences how Mark 3:22-30 is heard.

Mark Matthew Luke
Jesus’ Family (1) 3: 20-21 (Sat. OT 2)
Jesus and the Scribes 3:22-30 (Mon. OT 3) 12:22-30 11:14-23 (Thurs. Lent 3; Fri. OT 27)
Jesus’ Family (2) 3:31-35 (Tues. OT 3) 12:46-50 (Wed. OT 16) 8:19-21 (Tues. OT 25)

Simply put, what all of this means is that Roman Catholics in countries such as the United States and Canada rarely hear Mark 3:20-35 and the claim within it that Jesus’ family thought that he was “out of his mind.”  In such places, the Gospel text has only occurred three times since the introduction of the three-year lectionary, and will only occur three more times before 2050.  Further, while the controversial claim is appointed to be read annually, if it is read at all it is read on Saturday – the day of the week that seems to have the fewest masses celebrated and, likely, the day of the week with the lowest overall Mass attendance.  Whether circumstantial or intentional (or some mixture of both), the non-hearing of this text is problematic, for – as we shall see in the next post – acknowledging that Jesus was perceived as being crazy by his family should decisively impact how baptized Christians conduct themselves as his adopted brothers and sisters.

 

Mary in the Liturgy by David W. Fagerberg

As the month of May comes to a close, I wanted to make our readers aware of a small booklet, recently published by David Fagerberg (one of the editors of the blog) entitled, Mary in the Liturgy.  Part of the Deeper Christianity Series of the Catholic Truth Society, the booklet provides an entree into a Marian spirituality, which is intrinsic to the liturgical life of the Church.   Quoting Paul VI’s Marialis Cultus:

The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is an intrinsic element of Christian worship. The honor which the Church has always and everywhere shown to the Mother of the Lord, from the blessing with which Elizabeth greeted Mary (cf. Lk. 1:42-45) right up to the expressions of praise and petition used today, is a very strong witness to the Church’s norm of prayer and an invitation to become more deeply conscious of her norm of faith. And the converse is likewise true. The Church’s norm of faith requires that her norm of prayer should everywhere blossom forth with regard to the Mother of Christ. Such devotion to the Blessed Virgin is firmly rooted in the revealed word and has solid dogmatic foundations. It is based on the singular dignity of Mary, “Mother of the Son of God, and therefore beloved daughter of the Father and Temple of the Holy Spirit—Mary, who, because of this extraordinary grace, is far greater than any other creature on earth or in heaven.”[119] This devotion takes into account the part she played at decisive moments in the history of the salvation which her Son accomplished, and her holiness, already full at her Immaculate Conception yet increasing all the time as she obeyed the will of the Father and accepted the path of suffering (cf. Lk. 2:34-35, 41-52; Jn. 19:25-27), growing constantly in faith, hope and charity. Devotion to Mary recalls too her mission and the special position she holds within the People of God, of which she is the preeminent member, a shining example and the loving Mother; it recalls her unceasing and efficacious intercession which, although she is assumed into heaven, draws her close to those who ask her help, including those who do not realize that they are her children. It recalls Mary’s glory which ennobles the whole of mankind, as the outstanding phrase of Dante recalls: “You have so ennobled human nature that its very Creator did not disdain to share in it.”[120] Mary, in fact, is one of our race, a true daughter of Eve—though free of that mother’s sin—and truly our sister, who as a poor and humble woman fully shared our lot (#56).   

Fagerberg’s contribution to a Marian spirituality consists of five parts, including

  • Where is Mary in the Liturgy?
  • What is Liturgy?
  • Spiritual Attitudes Belonging to Mary and the Church
  • Mary in the Mass
  • The Church As It Dawns In a Single Person

The heart of this booklet is the unfolding of liturgical virtues, discerned through contemplation of the Virgin Mary.  For in Mary, we come to see what happens when a particular human life is taken up into Christ’s own mystery.   Mary is a liturgical figure, because her humanity, was taken up into Christ’s own mystery.  We are liturgical figures insofar as our humanity is taken up into Christ’s own life.   Mary then is an icon of a spirit oriented toward worship.   As Fagerberg note regarding one of these virtues (attention), “The Word took his human nature from Mary, but Mary was also absorbed by the seed.   The Marian mystery in the Church is the ability to be attentive, to remain open and quiet, amid all the noise; to remain a fertile darkness where believers may be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit” (28).

Other virtues that Fagerberg considers include the Virgin at prayer, the Virgin mother, and the Virgin presenting offerings.

This small booklet would be a nice aid to assist parishes in considering how to retrieve a Marian spirituality, which is fundamentally oriented toward and infused by the liturgy.   Rather than treat Mary as an optional aspect of spirituality, the Church must begin to perceive Mary as an icon of the whole Christian life.   Fagerberg’s small book will undoubtedly help the Church in developing a Marian spirituality, which is authentic to the tradition, but also open to the liturgical renewal of the second Vatican Council.

Happy, Happy Friday: First We Are His

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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PRELUDIO: People, behold: the string quartet (sort of) of the gods:

If the first song doesn’t strike your fancy, just skip ahead to the second song. Even Chuck Norris playing a sad song on the world’s smallest violin couldn’t make this any cooler. As if Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile from Nickel Creek weren’t enough, they also recruited a guy who switches from violin to banjo at one point in the video (and plays them both flawlessly)…and a guy who plays the double bass, which would deserve applause even if he didn’t play it but just carried it down the street (because it’s bigger than he is). Anyhoo, HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So there’s not much to discuss this week, except that I saw an ad on TV for cereal that’s filled with chocolate on the inside. Dude: some things are too precious to mix in such a careless fashion (like mixing chocolate with anything healthy, except for strawberries). I don’t want my cereal to erode my teeth to the point where I can whistle “Yankee Doodle” through the holes that sugar drilled in my front teeth. But then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the cereal that’s 95% fiber and could probably be chewable if it were

soaked for ten minutes (like mash for horses. Horse people, feel free to let me know what ‘mash’ actually is, because it’s in books a lot and none of the authors make their characters say something like, “Hey Frodo, did you know that mash for horses is actually made by___? I know that was a completely unnecessary sentence for the plot, but at least the readers at home aren’t tortured by their lack of knowledge.” It’s like books that take place on ships and the author throws tons of ship-savvy words at you like, “Captain Scurvy bellowed, “Haul the lines to starboard side and batten down the mortar-hatches on the port bow and keep an eye on the mainsail from the broadmast!!”” What the heck!? Can’t we sparknote his quote to, “Get ready to go out to sea!!” Okay!! Got it!!). But back to cereal: if it’s somewhere in between cookie dough cereal and pine-nuts-and-sea-salt-esque cereal, then we’re fine and dandy. Just don’t sully the glory of chocolate by masquerading it as healthy food, even though I eat chocolate granola and that statement makes me a filthy hypocrite. Please forgive me, people. And now we can keep moving along.

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, First We Are His

Youtube clip of the week:

There’s a passage in C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” where a Bright Spirit (those people who have already gone to Heaven) is talking to a Ghost who was his sister in their life on earth. He is trying to convince his sister (Pam) to travel deeper into Heaven and seek God,

but Pam is only interested in finding her son Michael and wants to use God only as a means to seek her son. Here’s one part of their conversation:

Bright Spirit: “But, Pam, do think! Don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole…treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.”

Ghost (Pam): “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a mother.”

Bright Spirit: “You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer. No, listen, Pam! He also loves. He also has suffered. He also has waited a long time.”

We often feel like we’re pulled in so many different directions: we are all sons or daughters, and many of us are also friends, parents, coworkers, confidantes, teammates, boyfriends, girlfriends, and/or spouses. But these ties to others have been added on since our birth, even since the first moment we existed. After all, God said that before He placed each of us in the womb, He knew us. And when the hour of our death arrives, even if our relations to others have changed over the decades of our life, we will still be as much His creatures as ever. Even our deepest human bonds are add-ons to the heart of who we are, and above all other relationships we are called to treasure our relationship with God. It is the only relationship that beautifies and purifies all of the subordinate relationships in our life: only when it reigns as lord over our hearts can the kingdom’s lesser subjects fall into their proper places.

But it’s one thing to say that and another thing to see it acted out in daily life. When we’re little kids we’re taught moral reasoning in terms of good and bad (don’t steal, don’t tell lies, respect others’ possessions and tell the truth). The moral scenarios in church workbooks are pretty straightforward…and then we grow up and slowly realize that when we can’t be easily tempted by undisguised evil, we can still be swayed by lesser goods. We are caught up in our loyalties to others, our duties and obligations to the people who trust us, and our desire to answer the needs of the world around us. These things often act to make us more unselfish, courageous, and charitable than we were before, but their ability to foster holiness also depends on their context. There is one relationship, one obligation, one love before which they all must bow: it is the bond that enables our existence and carries a promise that even if we should be forsaken by the whole world, we will not be alone.

The determination to cling to God is where we draw the lines in our lives that we will not cross. When our entire self was made for the single purpose of loving God better, should that not be the heartbeat of our daily life? This isn’t to say that we forsake all of our other obligations to people, but simply that we recognize that none of these obligations are at the center of our existence. Even at their best they are not kings over us, but servants to God: in our highest duties and loyalties and loves to others, we do not find the end-all of our being, but rather only part of our road Home. We were made for one purpose: to love God. He is the litmus test that determines what really matters, and the beautiful thing is that it really is that simple.

As Dorothy Sayers said, “I love you. I am at rest with you. I have come home.”

Dear friends, I hope this Friday is a grand experience J and I send along, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOODALALLYY!!!

Laura


 

Happy, Happy Friday: What It Means to Give Ourselves Up

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

PRELUDIO: OK, people: get ready to be like…WHOOAHH!! (and much thanks to the friend who sent along this gem):

Does it make anyone else feel really geeky at around the 1:40 point in this video when the guy switches into playing the ‘underground’ theme (and you know what that actually means, and you shudder inwardly because everyone hated those levels)? Anyone lost in golden memories of jumping over koopas, jumping right on top of piranha plants, and wondering why everything in the entire world wants to kill you? And what higher power bothered to set all this up (the coins, the mushrooms, the enemies) and why does a koopa run into Mario and then Mario immediately dies? Why doesn’t he just do his levels in a haz-mat suit? Anyhoo, HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY, FOLKS!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So it’s funny when you stop to think about it how for the most part, we all did the whole ‘childhood thing’ in the same way on the deepest levels (going to school, hating fractions, loving in-class movies, chilling with friends, telling your younger siblings things that freaked them out (like saying that Jell-O is made from horse hooves…right?), making art projects mostly out of glue and glitter, and being forced at gunpoint to sing a song about the water cycle with all of your other classmates in front of the entire school…maybe that’s just East Tennessee, actually). But then there’s the outdoor kids and the indoor kids:

OUTDOORS: You’ve climbed (and fallen out of) trees, played more versions of Tag then there are people in Monaco, picked up ticks and splinters and mosquito bites (in order of how miserable these things actually were: ticks, God? WHY?), gotten really creative tan lines in the summer, tracked mud all over the house, and figured out  (and guarded jealously) where the best hiding place is in your yard, your friend’s yard, and the yard you’re not technically supposed to be in that belongs to your neighbors on vacation.

INDOORS: You’ve played Barbies (and found out that their heads, once your sibling pulls them off, do NOT EVER go back on), made crafts that got glitter everywhere (including inside your ears), played video games, read books (and put them strategically all over the house), beaten computer games that helped you read and spell more easily (thinking back, why’d we ever fall for this when we already went to school 35 hours a week?), crawled into the nooks and crannies of your house (and you still haven’t found Narnia), and played board games that are totally based on luck but you took them extremely seriously (like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders).

Chances are most of yall were a mix of both of these, but it’s fun to think back on it, especially now that you have to take care of your own splinters and you only get an Oreo afterward if you buy them at the store yourself. But since that’s a way better reason to go to the store than to buy antifreeze, go for it 😉 Anyhoo, now we can keep moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, What It Means to Give Ourselves Up

Youtube clip of the week (thanks to the friend who introduced me to the coolness that is Jon Foreman):

When people think of the path to sainthood, they reason (to an extent, rightly) that to become a saint means to bring one’s natural self ‘to heel’: the self that demands comfort, luxury, applause, and ease. But that is only part of the larger goal: we are not striving ultimately for the time when we can deny ourselves everything, but rather for the time when we can deny God nothing. Sainthood isn’t about taking things away from ourselves, but about replacing the bad with the good and holy: after all, if we stop sinning and settle for doing nothing instead, we’re leaving a vacuum within ourselves that needs a rightful ruler. It would be like conquering a tyrant and letting the nation fall into anarchy: how will it grow good unless it welcomes its true king? We make sacrifices of love for God not so that we fight against the weeds within ourselves, but so that we can allow God to replace them with a garden (and He does most of the actual weeding, as long as we get out of the way).

All of those small sacrifices for God’s sake (biting back retorts and complaints, going out of our way to be kind when no one is around to notice, and owning up to our mistakes when it would be easier to save face) are like practices for the big game: they are moments where God can chip away at our desire to put ourselves first and prepare us for the
moment where (as we imagine it) we can finally give away ourselves to Him. We view it now as a person at the bottom of a mountain views the faraway peak, and we imagine a grand moment of triumph at the top…when in reality, we will arrive there and be surprised at the ease of giving ourselves away. It is then that we will understand that in having made those ‘small’ sacrifices for the love of God that we have been giving ourselves away all along. There may be a crescendo of glory in that moment, but there may not: there may be a jeering crowd as we give ourselves over entirely (as for Saint Peter and Joan of Arc) or we may be alone. The circumstances surrounding us then are not nearly as important as the miracle of grace that we allow to be performed within us: we are only strong enough for the greatest sacrifice because we have been training and practicing for that moment all along, often without realizing it.

We cannot underestimate the value of small daily sacrifices for God’s love. We will find that those people and causes to which we give the most, also end up having a great deal of our love. The actions of graciousness and generosity are done so that the heart may follow. If we look into our hearts and find that we lack feelings of love for God but still possess a desire to do what He wants, then it will be enough. God allows feelings to come and go, but it is our will where He really gets to work, creating the strength that will inspire us to cry out to Him when everything else seems lost. As Screwtape (the devil speaking in “The Screwtape Letters”) says to one of his junior tempter-devils:

“(God) wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His Hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

When this moment comes, may God work through the strength He created in our small moments of faithfulness, and may we give of ourselves each day in preparation for the day when at last we will give over the last remnants of selfishness within us. May no part of our still-broken selves, in the end, outlast His everlasting love.

My friends…have the most beautiful day you’ve ever had (or at least the best day this week) and I send along, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOODALLALLYYY!!!!

Laura

Happy, Happy Friday: The Enemy of Faith is Fear

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

Editor’s note:  This is part of a weekly Friday column by Laura McCarty, a Notre Dame alumna, presently living in Knoxville, TN. Laura sends out this email each Friday to friends–and we wanted to share it with readers of Oblation.  Laura invites readers to use parts of her writing for retreats or parish catechesis, but she first asks that you contact her for permission.  

PRELUDIO

OK people, so we have two gems to start with:

Robin Williams explaining ‘conflict’ on Sesame Street (with a way more serious facial expression than I could ever maintain while talking to a poofy purple monster):

And secondly, even though his live rendition of this song at Rothbury (also on youtube) is awe-inspiring to behold, this one’s a bit more meditative (and still beautiful). Presenting “Ocean” by John Butler Trio:

HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

Don’t you wish all of the words you had to learn for the SAT in high school had celebrities teaming up with Sesame Street characters to explain them? (Good luck with ‘plaintiff’, ‘enfranchise’, or ‘lachrymose’. Sad but true). It’s like how in school, we learned songs to remember the 50 states and the quadratic formula: why couldn’t we have songs about words like ‘obfuscate’? Complete with hand motions?

But in all seriousness (sort of), a lot of the words on the SAT are kind of like red-and-white checkered shoes: you can only pull them out for a really specific need, and even then you’ll still get looks (for wearing shoes that look like a picnic blanket and using the word ‘phantasmagoria’). I guess it’ll enhance your mystique, like wearing a cactus-shaped backpack or dancing like Elaine on ‘Seinfeld’ or driving a Flintstone-esque car where you pedal a stone car along by the sheer might of your FEET (how is this even possible? Fred Flintstone probably had calf muscles to beat the band).

(But really, how was that possible? Did Fred’s feet get pretty beat up since there was no asphalt (at least there were also no potholes, really short interstate merging lanes, GPS systems that sometimes tell you to make U-turns at really busy intersections, just-for-flair traffic roundabouts, or highway construction projects that have been in progress since the Crimean War. Actually, Fred having mauled feet and driving a stone car around isn’t that big of a deal).) (And now we can keep moving along ;)).

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, The Enemy of Faith is Fear

YouTube clip of the week:

In the words of Saint Paul in Romans 8:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-36).

Christ can do so much to sweep away the obstacles that keep us from Him. In Him our death becomes the way Home, no distance is beyond His reach, and no power on Earth or in Hell can pull us away from Him unless we allow it. Psalm 139 beautifully reminds us that our darkness is broken by His day and that the edges of the dawn are not too far away for Him to find us. So why do we still feel far away?

We are the only obstacle that Christ will not sweep aside: to do so would be to compromise our freedom. And perhaps the biggest obstacle to our drawing close to God is not our despair, our hatred, or our sins. God calls out to us in these wide stripes of brokenness within our hearts, and once He sheds light for us to face their terrible reality then He can get to work with the process of healing them.

So what is the true enemy for many of us? A reflection in “Living With Christ” said that the enemy of faith is fear, the enemy whose livelihood depends on being undiscovered and unchallenged. Sometimes fear shouts, and often in these instances its suggestions can save us (ie, get out of the road, run away from that person, etc.). But in faith it can take God’s voice and bury it deep, numbing it with our desire to be safe and comfortable. Fear of others’ expectations, fear of failure, and fear of looking foolish all combine to keep us in our zone of safety that tunes out God as soon as He asks us to risk anything for His sake.

God is not content to chip away at our lives, gradually carving away pieces of us while still leaving enough for us to retire contentedly at the end of our period of service to Him. Make no mistake: if you intend to follow God, He will not leave you with anything of the self within you that longs to be praised, preserved from sorrow, and painless. As the saying goes, God’s path is occasionally comforting but it is not comfortable. It is always pushing us even as it draws us into greater love. Our fear destabilizes our trust in Him and wants Him to stop asking things of us. Fear wants to find a comfortable place and stay there, fulfilling others’ expectations, doing things that win praise, and saying things that are safe.

In this lifetime, fear looms large but that is only because we have not yet allowed it to be swallowed by truth. In “The Phantom Tollbooth”, the three main characters are trapped at the bottom of a deep hole, and somewhere above them a monster is describing how fearsome and terrible he is. But Milo (the hero of the story) has a telescope that enables him to see the reality of things, and when he focuses it on the “monster” he finds a small, weak, and thoroughly un-scary creature.

Fear operates in a similar way. It convinces us that the risk of climbing out of our hole is too great and that our trust in Truth will not save us in the end. But once we see our fears through God’s eyes, we see that they are small, weak things in comparison to the God who is holding us up. Has our fear bled into the heart of our faith and made us afraid of what God’s voice could ask of us if we finally listen for it? But God waits for us. Even now He waits for the day, and prepares us for the day, when we can finally say without reserve, “Speak, Lord: your servant is listening.” He waits to lead us beyond our fear.

And in a final turn of events, there’s one more song for this colum:

Peace be with you, my friends: “perfect love casts out fear”. Let’s pray for one another.

And I send along, as ever,

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOOODALALLLYYY!!!

Laura

Shaped by the Good News in the Liturgy: Part III

Fr. Paulinus Odozor, C.S.Sp.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Formed by the Good News in the liturgy

How then does the Good news proclaimed in the liturgy form us? First, as already indicated it convokes us from the four winds and makes us into a community.  I belong to a religious /missionary community, the Holy Ghost Congregation (Spiritans) which still has missions in over seventy to eighty countries. Our interest is primary evangelization that is with starting churches in those places which have had no Christian presence or which have hardly been evangelized. The stories of missionary activity in these areas reveal the tremendous impact the Good news can have on a community. As a young seminarian I was sent to work with a pioneer Spiritan missionary in Toto in what is now Keffi diocese. Fr. Simon Emenanuo on arrival in this place which had been dominated previously by Islam and African Traditional religion went into direct door to door preaching. He soon had his first converts.  But he quickly realized that in order to hold them together he needed to form them into a worshiping and praying community. Initially he made use of the Hausa lectionary and hymnals but he quickly translated the prayers and thee bible into Bassa. His homilies in Bassa became the launching pad for the evangelization of the people. He co-opted  his new converts in the work of evangelization. Today, there is a thriving Church presence in the area. This is so much true that the Muslim majority who had seen the Bassa in the area as their underlings has taken note of this new presence and have gone on a war path against the Church. They tried to kill Fr. Simon who was saved and bundled away by his new community of faith.

Through, and in the liturgy the Good news forms us by sensitizing us to certain things and in certain ways. Consider the ways, the image of the blessed virgin as Mother of God has sensitized the entire Christian community on motherhood. In my part of Africa the celebration of the Blessed Mother in liturgical settings is perhaps the best case anyone can make not only for taking motherhood seriously but also for respect for women as mothers. It is not by accident that Mother’s day is celebrated in Nigeria on the Feast of the Annunciation. It is not accidental that the most powerful and most respected group in the Church is the Catholic Women’s Organization (CWO).   I am not saying that there was no such respect for motherhood before Christianity, all I am saying is that the good news, celebrated liturgically  has sensitized this community even more to this value as well as to theirs as well. Finally, I want to conclude this section by pointing out that the debate on inculturation which is an ongoing concern in African and other theologies is simply a debate about the shape the community which has encountered the Lord should take. It is not by accident that this debate took off first as a liturgical question.  The issues were simply that of determining whether the encounter with the Lord in Word and sacrament can only occur on terms supplied by other cultures and brought into Africa or whether Africans could come to this encounter as Africans, with all that that entails.  What is becoming clear in the debate on inculturation is that a community, convoked by the Lord and addressed in the liturgy has a distinctness about it which also impacts the choices it makes. This is not new since we have evidence of this in the New Testament and in the Christian tradition. Being formed into a people of God a community is let into the mind and intentions of God for humanity and for the world. Such a community would have to see the world with a different set of eyes. A community which is formed by the Good news is above all, a community of hope that is, a community which has faith that the grounds on which it stands is firm and that despite the trials and tribulations of the present age, the future is good because it is in God’s hands. Such a community is motivated to continue to toil, as if all depends on us, but to believe in God, knowing that all things depend on God.

Hopelessness and despair are not part of the Christian story. The Good news proclaimed in the liturgy challenges us to do more and to be more for the life of the world. Christians like everyone else are faced with obstacles, frustrations, failures and challenges in their lives. The liturgy is a privileged location for Christians to bring back their issues and concerns. There they are re-invigorated by the word of God and by the celebration of the sacraments and thus able to go back to the world to see how they can make it a more humane and livable place for all. Thus the community which is formed by listening to the good news and through encounter with Jesus in the liturgy is of necessity a missionary community. It must be a community which intentionally sets out to evangelize the world around it, to evangelize the world around it, including those who have lapsed from the faith and to take on new missions in places and areas where the Gospel is hard to preach or has hardly been preached. One of the tragedies of our time, especially in the Church in the United States is a loss of the sense of mission by the Church.  Few parishes have outreach program to its lapsed members. Fewer parishes still have missions to the community around them. On a much larger scale, the United States  church is becoming less and less a sending church. I am not here referring to the feel-good trips which some schools and even dioceses organize for some of their young people occasionally. I am speaking here of mission ad extra and ad intra as an intentional undertaking by the Church as a result of  its self- awareness as a community which encounters the risen Lord in the sacraments and which wants to share the joys of this encounter with everyone else because it is Good News.

When the Liturgy becomes ineffective

Perhaps, I should issue some sort of disclaimer towards the end on my paper.  There are two things I am not saying in this essay. In the first place, I am not saying that Scripture can or should only be read in the liturgy.  All I am saying is that the liturgy is the primary and most efficacious locus for announcing the good news, for learning what the scriptures have to offer, and for obtaining the fruits therefrom. There is no excuse for failing to read the scriptures on one’s own on a regular basis. As St Jerome said long ago, ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ himself. The other thing I am not trying to do in this paper is give the impression that the liturgy always and in every situation constitutes an effective milieu for Christian formation. As in many other situations in life the liturgy rewards you for what you put in. Even though the liturgy is the work of God, it is also, human work.  God will always be God. The human agent through slothfulness, bias, ignorance or for whatever reason can frustrate God’s design.  But the good news is that God manages to continue to work his way through our many inadequacies.

 

Shaped by the Good News in the Liturgy: Part II

Fr. Paulinus Odozor, C.S.Sp.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Liturgy as Integral to the Good News

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Christian liturgy as “the participation of the people of God in ‘the work of God’.”[1] It further states that “through the mystery of Christ, our redeemer and High priest continues the work of redemption in, with, and through his Church.”[2] There are three aspects to Christian liturgy: the celebration of divine worship, the proclamation of the Gospel, and active charity.[3] These three aspects also summarize the mission of Christ. Christ came into the world to do the work of God (John 17:4). Christ is our High Priest who continues to plead our cause before the throne of grace (Heb. 7:25). In his public ministry on earth Christ had constant solicitude for God’s people through his works of healing and charity.  Christ is thus, the priest par excellence, the one who continues to do the work of God. Hence, the liturgy is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. But the liturgy is also the work of the Church, the body of Christ. In the liturgy, the body of Christ, head and members, give full worship to God. “It follows then, says Vatican II that “every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.”[4] Echoing both Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI asserts that  “the Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (Kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.”[5]

As already indicated the issue this paper seeks to investigate is that of the extent to which the fact of the Good news proclaimed in the liturgy has a formative impact on the lives of the community and of the individual Christian.   I will begin my reflection here by taking a look at some scriptural passages which occur regularly in the post-Easter lectionary, especially, John, 20: 19-31, and Luke  24: 13-35. Some aspects of the post-Easter lectionary impressed me more deeply this year than they had done in the previous years. Here are some points of interest from the lectionary.

First, as should be expected, the third readings of the first three Sundays of Easter are devoted to the post- resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ.  Secondly, aside from the account of the initial appearance of the Risen Lord on the morning of the resurrection or of the narrative of the empty tomb, the other accounts of the resurrection occur within a community gathering which had some liturgical undertones.  In John 20:19-31 we have an account of two appearances to the disciples gathered in a group. In the first appearance (John 20: 19-25) all of the apostles are present except for Thomas (Didymus) who is inexplicable away. This encounter takes place, according to the evangelist, on the evening of the very day of the resurrection. On this occasion Jesus shows the disciples his arms and his pierced side as proof of identity. He invokes his peace on them, gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and gives them the power to forgive sins or to refuse to do so, all in his name. The gospel makes a point of stressing the absence of Thomas at this first meeting. When Jesus appears again a week later Thomas was present. He, Thomas, had been told about the first appearance of Jesus to the group the first time. He had doubted the tale because it made no sense. He would only believe that Jesus was indeed alive when and if he saw “the marks of the nail in his hands” and put his finger “in his side. Otherwise he said, “I will not believe” (John 20: 24).  When Jesus appears a week later and after the initial greetings, he goes straight to the matter and invites Thomas to do just as he had vowed to, that is “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” William Barclay notes about Thomas that he made a mistake. His mistake was that “he withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed the first coming of Jesus. We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from the Christian fellowship and try to be alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s church which will not happen to us when we are alone.”[6] My friend and colleague, Munachi Ezeogu, C.S.Sp, has this to say on his homily website about this incident between the post-resurrection Jesus and Thomas.

The second appearance focuses on Thomas.  Where could he have gone?  Could it be that when they heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, he, Thomas, went out on his own to seek him out? Perhaps he went to the houses of Jesus’ friends, to the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany, or to the village where they ate the last supper. He was seeking Jesus alone while Jesus was with the assembly of his followers. Could it be that this is the evangelist’s way of telling the reader that encounter with the risen Lord is something that happens not so much in the privacy of the individual’s religious initiative and practice as much as in fellowship with the community of believers? So the following Sunday Thomas is there fellowshipping with the rest of the community. Jesus appears as usual and Thomas experiences the desire of his heart and exclaims, “My Lord and my God (v. 28).” Next time around he would not lightly absent himself from the community Sunday assembly.[7]

As Ezeogu points out there are many people like Thomas in our society today who are seeking for the Lord in their own private hearts and on their own resources outside the worshipping and believing community. They try to draw near to God by engaging in all sorts of self-imposed devotional exercises. Religion, they say, is personal, and they are right. But religion is also communitarian, and this they need to learn just as Thomas did. One often hears people say, I read the Bible, I am a spiritual person but I am not religious. This means that they do not belong to any worshipping community , that is, a community that celebrates the sacraments. One also sees some theologians who do not go Mass or who seldom attend any liturgical celebrations. They theologize from presuppositions which are sometimes no less secular than their non-believing counterparts who study religions as a phenomenological reality. Many people today who are biblical scholars are careful not to link the Bible to faith. They are disdainful of the Church and its teaching authority when it speaks in any authoritative way on the Bible, forgetting, as St Jerome said long ago that the Bible was born in the womb of the Church. And even though the Bible stands in judgment over the Church as the second Vatican Council says, the true meaning of the Bible can only be evident within the believing and worshipping community. In the liturgy, the Christ takes time to interpret to his people “the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Lk: 24: 27). Here in the breaking of the bread and in the other sacraments he becomes present again to his people, in sacramental form.

The point here is that although it is true that proclamation is logically prior to worship there can be no deep faith aside from worship. As the scripture passages above attest it is in worship that we are exposed in a most intense way to the narratives that shape our lives as Christian believers. From worship to worship we re-tell our story or rather the story of God and of God’s dealings with us. We do not just retell it, we re-enact it in dramatic fashion both to delight God but also to memorialize it. In a true and real way, what we hear ever so often becomes us, takes hold of our imagination and  impels us to try to live morally upright lives.  “In liturgy – which is community remembering – we recall in celebration the life death, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a way that we appropriate more deeply our own present identity. In doing so, we enjoy the present experience of God.”[8] Christian liturgical celebration always consists of word and sacrament. Both are indeed two sides of the same coin.

It is Christian belief that Scripture as the word of God is a revelation of God’s intention to save. God’s salvific intent is absolutely and supremely made manifest in Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus is the story of God who so loves the world that even when “we sinned and lost his friendship” would not abandon us to death  but continues to help us all to seek and find him[9], a God who at the appropriate time sent his Son that we might have life and have it abundantly.[10] In the liturgy Christians recall and celebrate this fact. In the liturgy, the scripture as proclaimed is not just a retelling of the past but an invitation to all Christians to enter into God’s continued act of salvific benevolence in human history and to strive to further it through political commitment, that is through active engagement in and with the world for its own good and for the redemption of all humanity.

The Good news therefore lets us into the mind of God, as it were. The letter to the Ephesians talks of the mystery hidden long ago but revealed in our own time. The essence of this mystery is that God in Jesus is reconciling all humanity with himself and with each other. The Christian who listens to and celebrates the word of God in the liturgy is bound to come to knowledge of God’s intention for the world.  He or she is bound to be a disciple. “The biblical narratives and their liturgical commentary are intended to reveal the basic meaning and direction of Christian living as discipleship.”  As William Spohn said some time ago, a disciple of Jesus is one who takes seriously what Jesus took seriously. And what did Jesus take seriously? Jesus took God seriously.  He was saturated with the cause of God: “Zeal for your house consumes me.”[11] He made the cause of God his own to the point where he willingly paid the supreme prize for it. Jesus took human beings seriously, all human beings, including the outcast, children, women and men, the sick and the infirm, the rich and the poor. Jesus took reconciliation between God and humanity seriously. Forgiveness of sins was a major factor of his preaching and work. Jesus took life seriously and did everything he could to safeguard and restore it. The good news as proclaimed in the liturgy brings these realities into sharp focus for us and invites us to “go and do likewise.”[12]

 

Of course the liturgy is not the only place or setting where we can read the story of Jesus and of God’s revelation to humanity. Anyone can pick up the Bible and read up all these stories. The problem here is that the Bible without the liturgical backdrop is little more than another book or collection of stories. The story of God or of Jesus without a liturgical component risks being the story of another hero or even a fairy tale. As the pope points out in a recent speech, “If people forget God it is partly because the Person of Jesus is often reduced to that of the figure of a wise man and his divinity weakened, if not denied. This manner of thinking is an obstacle to understanding the radical newness of Christianity, because if Jesus were not the Only Son of the Father then God did not come to visit human history either. We only have human ideas about God.” [13]  In the liturgy we get the whole deal. In other words, the liturgy as proper setting for the story of Jesus forces us to remember that we are in the presence of something radically and supremely different.   It shapes us to become of the same mind and heart as Jesus. The story of God’s dealings and intentions told and retold in the liturgy shapes our imagination, sensitizes us and provides us with an angle of vision and a perspective on reality.

Let us return to Thomas the twin again. As already indicated his one mistake was that he had perhaps set out alone in search of the risen Jesus. When he returns to the group later on his faith was still very weak concerning the events of Easter Sunday. It is noteworthy that even before the Lord appears again to the group his fellow disciples were already evangelizing him. He was not yet strong again in his belief but we must not underestimate the impact that the community’s faith had on his own faith. When the Lord came again, there was something there to build on. The point is that in the liturgy the community acts as a bridge through which we build our faith/attachment to the Lord. We all have moments of doubt and distraction which can sometimes not be dispelled by merely reading the Bible alone within the confines of our rooms and homes.  The faith of the community proclaimed in and assented to in the worshipping community carries one along in such moments.

I had one such moment in my life as a seminarian when the anguish I felt at seeing my beloved mother dying in pain as a result of a cancer that had ravaged her formerly beautiful and energetic self led me to the point where I was almost being convinced by Frederich Nietzsche whose work I took a particular delight in at this time that there was no God or that God had once existed he was now dead. Two things saved my faith. One was the charity of my confreres in the community and indeed of the whole community. The second was participation in community worship, especially daily mass. Even though I was too distraught to join in community prayers and Eucharist at this time, my friends in community would not let me have my way on these occasions. They would often literally drag me to these events. Often, I chose the last and loneliest seat in the chapel. But that was enough. For, from there, I was struck by the devotion and the expressions on faith which were evident in the chapel. Initially, I wondered what this was all about, how anyone could believe in a loving God when events all around me spoke the contrary. Things were compounded when I remembered how religious and deeply faithful my ailing mum was and how despite her cries and prayers, God was not coming to her aid. My answer came that Easter week in 1979 when in participating with the community in worship the stories of the death and resurrection of the Lord took on a different dimension. To this day, I am sure that if I had not been part of a worshipping community that took the word and sacrament seriously I may have lost my faith.

Next time I will consider how the Good news proclaimed in the liturgy forms us.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana/ United States Catholic Conference, 1994, henceforth referred to as CCC), no. 1069).

[2] CCC, no.1069.

[3] CCC, no.1070

[4] Vatican II, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) in Autin Flannery, O.P. ed. Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations: A completely Revised Translation in Inclusive language( Northport, New York: Costello Publishing Company/Dublin Ireland, Dominican Publications, 1996), no.7#2-3.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est., n.25a

[6]  William Barclay, the  Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of John, vol 2: ch 8-21, rev. ed. (Burlington Ontario, Canada: Welch Publishing Co. 1975), p.276.

[8] Richard A. McCormick, “Scripture, Liturgy, Character, and Morality,” in Readings in Moral Theology, no.4: The Use of Scripture in Moral Theology, eds., Charles E. Curran and Richard  A. McCormick ( New York: Paulist Press, 1984,  p.290

[9] Cf The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer

[10] John 10:10

[11] Jn. 2:17

[12] Luke 10:37.

[13] www.zenit.org/article-32857?l=english From an address by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Ecclesial Congress, June 14, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaped by the Good News in the Liturgy: Part I

Fr. Paulinus Odozor, C.S.Sp.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

This essay was given at the 2011 June liturgy conference hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.

Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11).  These words with which the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds go to the heart of the Christian understanding of the nature and mission of Jesus.  Jesus is bearer of the good news of God’s salvation. He is in fact the good news, God’s offer of grace. The question this presentation seeks to answer is that of the impact of Jesus on the life individuals who find salvation in him and on the community of his disciples. This is a very large question. To employ (abuse) Johannine language, to be able to address this issue adequately the entire world cannot contain the books which will have to be written on the subject. To be frank, a lot of work has been done on this issue from various aspects of theology. Take moral theology for example. Before, during, and shortly after the Second Vatican Council, there was a lot of discussion on the question of scripture and the moral life. In the first part of this debate  people were concerned with what specific norms are uniquely drawn from scripture and which norms are available to every other person including those who have not been addressed by God in scriptural revelation. The question of the distinctiveness of scripture soon gave way to the more specific one about what unique difference Jesus makes to moral discourse. That is, whether Jesus taught or introduced any moral norms which are specifically his, or knowable only by those who have faith in him. From this second phase we moved into a third one where people, tired of the intractable discourse on norms, their nature and sources, moved over to the discussion on virtue and character and for Christians, of how faith in Jesus, and attention to  his word impacted Christian moral behavior. The conclusion among some theologians  was that although scripture alone was not the  “final court of appeal for Christians”  the vocation of the Christian community “is to discern  what God is enabling  and requiring  man to be and  to do in particular natural , historical , and social  circumstances. Its moral judgments are made in light of that fundamental ought, or demand. Thus, scripture deeply informs these judgments. But it does not by itself determine what they ought to be.”[1] In other words, the role of scripture or of Jesus himself and his good news was more as shaper of the believer’s moral posture, attitude, disposition or perspective and moral intention.[2] I have no intention in this presentation to go into the intricacies of this discussion or to the evaluation of their merits especially since I have done so in several of my published works. And, even though I may make occasional references to the debate I do not intend to dwell at any length on this issue.

My interest in this paper is in the liturgy as locus of the celebration of the good news and as context of Christian formation. My first contention in this paper is that the debate over the role of scripture in Christian moral formation to which I alluded above was wrongheaded because it was carried out on a very narrow and dry understanding of scripture as Good News. It did not take sufficient account of the Good news or scripture as a living word and as a celebration of God’s offer of salvation, addressed to all human beings and accepted within and celebrated by the community of faith. In short, the discussions paid very little attention to the liturgical aspect of the Christian Kerygma and of the Christian life.

Jesus: Good News of God

The focus of the earliest Christian teaching was the absolutely fundamental event of the death and resurrection of Jesus and his expected return in glory. As Edward Schillebeeckx so often puts it, what happened on Good Friday was a fiasco. Those who had put their trust in Jesus of Nazareth were utterly stunned by these events. With the ignominious death of Jesus on the cross, their hopes were shattered.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus captured the sentiments of the other followers of Jesus when they said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24.21). Although the disciples had initially to wrestle with panic, doubt and suspicion, they were able with the resurrection of Jesus to arrive at “a second innocence of tried faith, a faith in which they experienced that Jesus can indeed be trusted and that he is alive and in their midst, though in a different way.”[3] Thus, faith in the one who was crucified, died and was buried and who now lives with God, has always been the first Christian proposition. Sacrosanctum Concilium says as much:  “Before people can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and conversion. ‘How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can people preach unless are they are sent?” Rom. 10: 14-15.[4]

In the life and death of Jesus Christians understood that God was doing something utterly new, something unrepeatable in its uniqueness. In Acts 4:10, 12, we hear the Christian appreciation of what Joseph Sitler refers to as God’s engendering deed in a nutshell.  This passage comes after the healing of the crippled man at the temple gate.  After this miracle many people were amazed at the what had happened. But the incident brought unwanted attention from the religious authorities who threw Peter and John in jail. When they were arraigned before the authorities the next day, they were asked to state the source and authority of their miraculous power. It was then they gave this statement which has  since formed the center of the Christian kerygma:  “…Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health  by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (Acts 4; 10, 12).

The Church has been the place in which the memory of Jesus has been kept alive all these centuries. Without the Church, the story of Jesus would perhaps have been no more than a historical footnote. The Second Vatican Council was indeed very correct when it referred to the Church as sacrament of Christ in the world. This means that the Church is the place where “salvation from God is made a theme or put into words, confessed explicitly, proclaimed prophetically and celebrated liturgically.”[5] For Christians, there is no Jesus without the Church’s confession of Christ, “just as there is no Church confession without the liberating appearance of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.”[6]  The first result of the Good news of Jesus Christ is the calling into being of the Christian community, a community which finds ultimate meaning in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. But there is more. Even though the first liturgical act of Christians has always been faith, that is belief in the absolute lordship of Jesus, Christian faith has never been merely a notional assent to a set of propositional truths. It has always been an assent to a person, Jesus, the Christ of God; it has always issued in, and been nourished by worship and expressed in charity.  This is illustrated very clearly in the life of early Christians and of the primitive Church.

Gaius Plinus Cacilinus Secundus, also known as Pliny the Younger was imperial legate to Bithynia-and- Pontus (c. 110-113) when Trajan was emperor in Rome. Like many Roman officials of his day, Pliny found the Christians in a way insufferable, and in another, quaint. The more Pliny tried to deal with the “Christian problem” the more it seemed to grow. Pliny felt compelled to investigate this group further in order to be in the position to give a more comprehensive report to his imperial masters in Rome.  In a portion of his letter Pliny pinpoints the central issue in the Christian religion.  He had in the course of his investigation discovered, he said, that Christians gathered on a fixed day, before dawn, and together recited a hymn “to Christ as to a god, alternating back and forth (carmenque Christo quasi dicere secum invicem) and commit themselves not to anything criminal, but to avoiding theft, robbery, and adultery, to not breaking their word, and to not refusing to deliver up a deposit when summoned to do so. After that, they would disband, and come together again to have a meal, but with ordinary and harmless food…”[7]

I want to highlight three important points in this letter.  The first point, as we can see from the letter, is that the Christian religion has always involved community worship at which Christ is the center, and during which Christ is adored as divine. The second point is that Christian worship involves a ritual meal at which all participate. Thirdly, in the course of the Christian worship/ritual meal Christians make a moral commitment to be of good behavior. As Franz Van Beeck points out, Pliny’s account leads to the conclusion that Christian worship is the identifying mark of the Christian and that Jesus Christ, worshipped as divine is the central theme.[8] Of course the Second Vatican Council affirms as much when it recounts that from the very first Pentecost, Christians having received the Holy Spirit, “have never failed to come together  to celebrate the paschal mystery, reading those things  ‘which were in all the scriptures concerning him’ (Luke 24:27), celebrating the Eucharist, in which  ‘the victory and triumph  of his death  are again made  present’ and at the same time ‘giving thanks to God for his inexpressible gift’ (2Cor 9:15) in Christ Jesus, ‘in praise of  his glory (Eph. 1:12) through the power of the Holy Spirit.”[9] In other words, as one ancient writer puts it, we have always been a community which moves from Eucharist to Eucharist. Although Christ is present in many ways to his people, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, the liturgy constitutes the most privileged locus of encounter with Christ the good news of God.

The next part of this article will treat how liturgy is integral to the Good News.


[1] James M. Gustafson, “The Place of Scripture in Christian Ethics: A Methodological Study,” in Readings In Moral Theology,  vol. 4: The Use Of Scripture in Moral Theology, eds. Charles Curran and Richard A. McCormick (New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1984), p.176

[2] See among others,  James M Gustafson, Christ and the Moral Life (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press: 1968), especially, pp.238-271; William C. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus an Ethics (New York: Continuum, 1999).

[3] Edward Schillebeeckx, God Among Us: The Gospel Proclaimed (New York: Crossroad Publishing, co., 1983), p.122

[4] Vatican II, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) , no.9 in Austin Flannery, O.P. ed. Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations: A completely Revised Translation in Inclusive language( Northport, New York: Costello Publishing Company/Dublin Ireland, Dominican Publications, 1996).  All references to the documents of Vatican II are from this text unless otherwise stated.

[5] Edward Schillebeeckx,  On Christian Faith: The Spiritual, Ethical and Political Dimensions (Crossroad Publishing: New York, 1987), p.32

[6] Edward Schillebeeckx, On Christian Faith, p.36.

[7] C. Plini Cacili Secundi Epistolarum Libri Decem, Ed by  R.A.B Mynors (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963). This translation is from Franz Josef Van Beeck, God Encountered: A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology, vol. 1: Understanding the Christian faith (New York: Cambridge, Philadelphia: Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco), p.146.

[8] Franz Josef Van Beeck, God Encountered, p.148.

[9] Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Consilium, no.6.