Tag Archives: liturgical year

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 3

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

Day 3

Genesis 26:24

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

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


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 2

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

Day 2

Genesis 15:1

I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.


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


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 1

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

Day 1

Genesis 3:15

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

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

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Introduction


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.


The Advent of Unrealistic Expectations

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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American culture loves programs for self-improvement. We idolize celebrities, who are able to turn over a new leaf in their lives. We subscribe to magazines that show us how to live more simply (by finally organizing our cabinets). We watch with tear-stained eyes as contestants on reality TV are physically or emotionally transformed.

This program of self-improvement leading to happiness is part of American religion as well. Within Catholicism, the season of Lent is that time par excellence in which projects of self-improvement are taken up. We pray more. We fast from electronics or food. We engage in works of mercy. And we hope, through it all, that we will find a space in our hearts to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord with fervent devotion.

This desire for self-improvement is indeed important to the Christian life. The Church herself encourages us to take up practices that renew us in divine love. The Eucharistic preface for the First Sunday of Lent notes:

By abstaining forty days from earthly food,/he consecrated through his fast/the pattern of our Lenten observance/and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,/taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,/so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,/we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.

The importance of “practice” is at the heart of Advent as well. In the first week of Advent, we are urged in the prayers of the Church to take up a posture of watchfulness. This watchfulness is an invitation toward conversion as Benedict XVI notes in his 2011 Angelus address:

Therefore, John’s [the Baptist] appeal goes far beyond and deeper than a call to a sober lifestyle: it is a call for inner change, starting with the recognition and confession of our sins. As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives. May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of He who is “the Greatest” and made himself small, he who is “the Strongest” but became weak.

HeComesAdvent is a time for us to consider where we stand before the living God, who in the first weeks of this season, we ask to come once again. Not as a babe in Bethlehem but in his glory, offering that definitive judgment of the humanity that will renew heaven and earth. We take up practices of watchfulness and self-reflection that prepare us for this coming of the risen Lord. As John Henry Newman writes in a sermon during the season of Advent:

When we kneel down in prayer in private, let us think to ourselves, Thus shall I one day kneel before His very footstool, in this flesh and this blood of mine; and He will be seated over against me, in flesh and blood also, though divine. I come, with the thought of that awful hour before me, I come to confess my sin to Him now, that He may pardon it then, and I say, ‘O Lord, Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, deliver us, O Lord’ (Worship: A Preparation for Christ’s Coming, 964).

Kneeling in prayer becomes a preparation for our encounter with the living God. In this way, the practices of Advent are occasions of learning the proper disposition of humble love that must possess the human being, seeking to encounter God at the end of time. It is learning to become small and weak in imitation of the Word made flesh who became small for the redemption of the world.

Yet, the danger of American religion is that these practices of watchfulness, these preparations for the coming of the risen Lord, become about preparing us to have a great experience. We want to have the “best Advent ever” so that, as Matthew Kelly notes in a primer for a program run by Dynamic Catholic, we can have “the best Christmas ever.” He is right to note that Advent often passes too quickly, swept up into the holiday preparations that occupy American religion. He is right to emphasize that preparing the heart for the coming of the babe at Bethlehem is integral to the proper celebration of Advent (and thus Christmas).

But, the language of “best ever” (although potentially rhetorically effective for the contemporary American) may also lead to the advent of unrealistic expectations. The reality is that Advent preparation often involves coming to the recognition that to prepare for Christ’s coming is surprisingly uncomfortable. As the prophet Isaiah notes in the very first lesson in the Office of Readings for Advent Week 1:

I cannot endure festival and solemnity./Your New Moons and your pilgrimages/I hate with all my soul./They lie heavy on me,/I am tired of bearing them./When you stretch out your hands/I turn my eyes away./You may multiply your prayers,/I shall not listen./Your hands are covered with blood,/wash, make yourselves clean.

Take away wrong-doing out of my sight./Cease to do evil./Learn to do good,/search for justice,/help the oppressed,/be just to the orphan,/plead for the widow…

As we prepare for God’s definitive judgment in history, we realize that it is our very selves that are part of the problem. Though I pray each morning, I somehow find myself annoyed at the driver doing five miles under the speed limit. I lie to myself on a regular basis about my compassion for the widow and the orphan, instead preferring the comfort of my home. I am impatient with my sick toddler, often not considering the mercy I should offer in such a moment. The horrors of violence portrayed regularly on the news leave me often cold, uninspired to do something about the needs of others. I am a sinner, one of those in Matthew 25, who may not be able to recognize the presence of the coming Christ in my midst.

Realizing that one is part of the problem of sin itself is not a “best-ever” experience. It is a humbling one, a recognition of one’s total weakness before God’s triune love revealed in the Christmas creche. The season of Advent opens up a space in the human heart to receive God’s healing mercy in the midst of our poverty. It is often in the midst of the worst Advent, immersed in one’s total failure, that the healing of Christmas might matter most.

AdventOf course, this is not an apology for doing nothing during Advent. It is not a dismissal of practicing watchfulness, which should mark the season. But it is a warning that promising “best-ever” experiences, even for the sake of inviting Catholics to return to a robust practice of their faith, comes with a cost. The cost is that we confuse the liturgical year with a program of self-improvement. We invite those on the margins of our parishes to unrealistic expectations that Christian life is a series of “best-evers” rather than occasions of hidden love in the midst of a God who did not seem to mind remaining hidden in the Bethlehem manger. The Christmas we celebrate may be mundane, lived out in ordinary parish life, still full of the trials and tribulations of family life; but that does not make it less “best-ever.” In fact, the Christian life (and thus the season of Advent) is learning to see (a normally painful process) the hidden ways that the Word still remains flesh among us.

What the Church promises is not that practicing Advent will lead us to the “best Christmas.” Rather, as John Henry Newman hopes: “May each Christmas, as it comes, find us more and more like Him; who as at this time became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God” (The Mystery of Godliness). And we may find that the more full of God we become, the more we are open to his presence among us, we are led not into “best-ever” experiences. But more and more into that longing for redemption, that anxious awaiting of the God who will put an end to Advent and Christmas itself: Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come! 

Musical Mystagogy: Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Confession: even after having studied music throughout college and graduate school—throughout my whole life, really—I find that I still feel woefully lacking in my musical knowledge, particularly of the treasury of sacred choral repertoire. To be fair, there’s a lot of music out there. A LOT a lot. More music than any one person could listen to in ten lifetimes. But still. As someone who thinks and writes about liturgical music, who regularly plays and even sometimes writes liturgical music, I know I can (and should) always be learning more about the musical heritage of the Catholic Church. The well of riches in this area is indeed bottomless, so, in this series, I hope to begin to plumb its depths more intentionally. Why? Because this music has been and continues to be an integral part of our language in worshiping God, and can help us to discover a richer vocabulary of praise. Because this music stretches across time and space, connecting us with those who heard and sang it centuries ago, and with those who will hear and sing it centuries into the future. But most of all, because this music is beautiful, and in its beauty, our hearts and minds are lifted to the One who shows us how to become beautiful. In short, I am undertaking this project because I hope that it will help me grow closer to God.

The confusion is real.
Singing liturgical music is hard. Exploring it can be even harder.

But where to start? The process of trying to find a friendly, fruitful inroad into the vast world of sacred choral music can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the Church herself provides me—and consequently this series—with a road map in the gift of the liturgical year. Much of the sacred choral repertoire was composed specifically for liturgical use, and through the magic of the internet, one can, with just a little bit of searching, discover multiple pieces composed especially for a particular feast or season. And so, once every week, I will be offering little points of entry into the world of sacred music by sharing both well-known works and hidden gems written for specific feasts as they arise on our journey through the liturgical calendar. I will offer a commentary on said pieces accessible not just to trained musicians, but to anyone who “has ears to hear” (cf. Mk 4:9, 23; Mt 13:9, 43; Lk 14:35), where I hope to draw connections between musical construction and theological reflection.

Because the ultimate goal is to get to the listening, my commentaries will be brief (this first post notwithstanding), and because people are busy, the pieces I will feature will also be relatively brief. With any luck, these posts will provide weekly opportunities to take a 5–7 minute respite from the craziness and busyness of the day, and enter into the beauty of a feast through the beauty of sacred choral music. I hope that you’ll bust out your headphones and join me in this sustained expedition through some of the most beautiful music that has ever been written, and I hope that it will help us all discover in this music a via, a way of growing in the knowledge and love of God.

In this first post, I begin—appropriately enough for someone working at a Holy Cross institution—with a recent choral setting of the Introit (Entrance Antiphon) written for today’s celebration: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Composed in 1997 by British composer Grayston (Bill) Ives (b. 1948), Nos autem gloriari is a setting of the Introit, or Entrance Antiphon, which is intended to “give a name to the entire celebration” of the Eucharist, as Paul Turner asserts in his foreword to Jason McFarland’s book Announcing the Feast: The Entrance Song in the Mass of the Roman Rite (xviii). The Introit sets the tone for the feast, alerts the congregation to what we will be celebrating during this Eucharist; it is the musical door through which we enter the liturgical celebration. It is decidedly not just a song that will cover the time it takes for the priest and ministers to process from the back of the church to the front.

Today, the Church invites us to enter the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross with these words, based on Galatians 6:14: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” The Cross, once an ignominious sign of humiliation and shame and agony, is transfigured in Christ as the sign of our very salvation. Christ’s death on the Cross becomes a bridge, spans the chasm between God and humanity created by sin, and if we are to cross this bridge, we must not only accept the Cross for ourselves in whatever way it may present itself in our lives, but we must also glory in it. It is the great challenge and the beautiful paradox of Christianity. Life out of death.

Ives demonstrates this paradox musically by refusing to sugar coat the challenge posed by the Cross: the opening of this piece is haunting, eerie, quietly unsettling. The lower voices (basses and altos) stay on the same note while the upper voices (tenors and sopranos) sing a jagged melody, until all of the voices converge and, together as one chorus, ultimately find resolution on the final phrase of the Introit, which affirms that it is precisely through the ignominy of the Cross that we are saved from sin and death itself. The musical effect here is stunning. After wandering adrift through disjointed, dissonant harmonies, we reach a place of peace, of hope. The musical resolution for which we long comes only after we have confronted and accepted the reality that salvation cannot come apart from the Cross. It is our only way. It is, as the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross have taught us, our only hope.

Ave Crux, spes unica.

The Mundane Enfleshment of the Word: God Saves Through Domesticity

TimOMalley-211x300Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Author of Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love (Liturgical Press, 2014).

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In the midst of the palpable drama of the Gospel for the feast of the Annunciation, it is easy to forget the mundaneness of God’s plan of salvation for the human condition. The arrival of the angel Gabriel, Mary’s questioning, the angel’s response, and Mary’s gift of self: all of this drama has been captured brilliantly by Bernard of Clairvaux in his four homilies on the Blessed Virgin.

In your brief reply we shall be restored and so brought back to life. Doleful Adam and his unhappy offspring, exiled from Paradise, implore you, kind Virgin, to give this answer; David asks it, Abraham asks it; all the other holy patriarchs, your very own fathers beg it of you, as do those now dwelling in the region of the shadow of death. For it the whole world is waiting, bowed down at your feet..Give your answer quickly, my Virgin, My lady, say this word which earth and hell and heaven itself are waiting for (Homily IV.8).

At its root, the feast of the Annunciation declares that God has decided to save humanity through becoming one of us. What does it mean to be one of us? Well, it means that we have to be born. It means that for nine months (and in reality for the next eighteen to twenty-five years) that our very existence is dependent on the life of our mothers. We rely upon the nourishment that our mothers consume. We are influenced by the very woman whom we receive flesh from. Our bodies receive their form, their very life, the fullness of vitality, from another human being.

AnnunciationIndeed, though we are to right to marvel at the wonder of pregnancy, we would also be correct to acknowledge the mundaneness of this way of salvation. The Word did not announce that the fullness of salvation had begun through a parade, a proclamation offered from a government building, or some cosmic event like an earthquake or major storm. The Word became flesh. The Word chose to maturate in his mother’s womb. The Word was born like you or me.

The feast of the Annunciation is therefore not simply the drama of Mary. It is not simply about the answer of this one woman, full of grace, who responds with obedience to the divine Word. Rather, the feast becomes for us an interruption of our expectation that salvation must be grand. That salvation must somehow transcend the human condition, leaving the natural behind and taking us up into some supernatural state in which we have but a memory of what it means to be human. Salvation is domestic. It is local. It begins in the confinement of a womb, in a space, here and now. God’s pedagogy of divine love operates through taking up the human condition, even to the point of emptying himself into the mundaneness of domesticity. As the Te Deum states: When you became man to set us free/you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.

It strikes me that there is a felicity to the feast of the Annunciation occurring in the midst of the half-way point of Lent. The danger of Lenten practice is that we imagine our fasting, our almsgiving, and our prayer as occasions of supernatural effort that save us. That we are striving to ascend above the human condition, to experience divine life through force of effort. In reality, salvation occurs not through the deepest movement of our affections, not through the (however worthy) grandeur of our religious practice. Salvation takes place at the local, it unfolds when we offer our wills over to the Father through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit in time and space. It occurs, like the very first moment of the Incarnation, through the mundaneness of the domestic.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Salvation for us occurs by entering ever more fully into the redeemed human condition. Divine love is not an abstract idea, an ideal expressed best through the poetic or the aesthetic alone. Rather, the gift of divine love that the feast of the Annunciation ruminates upon is the flesh itself. It is the mother and father who rise in the middle of the night, giving fully of oneself to a child who refuses to sleep. It is a teacher, who cares not simply for the intellectual development of the student but the flourishing of every aspect of the student’s being. It is the Christian who enters into the life of the neglected, the poor, caring for the bodily needs of those whose flesh has been de-valued. It is love in time and space.CatholicVigil

The transformation of the mundane is at the heart of John Donne’s poetic meditation upon this feast. The poet muses:

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

Of course, we must prepare to perceive the mundane unfolding of this immense gift of salvation. The season of Lent is an occasion for us to practice seeing anew the enfleshment of the Word. We pray not as a Lenten obligation but because the psalms form us to discern God’s presence unfolding in human history. We give alms so that we might learn to give of our very self. We fast (from food or social media) so that the entirety of our attention might be directed to the art of self-giving love. Every aspect of Lent is re-creating the heart so that it is more human (and thus more divine), more capable of perceiving God acting even now.

The feast of the Annunciation requires us to contemplate the mundaneness of the unfolding event of salvation. The drama of the account peaks our interest but the attentive reader knows that the drama still unfolds. It is no longer only through the voice of the angel that the plan of salvation is announced. Rather, this plan is proclaimed from parish to parish. The plan of salvation, the Gospel, is announced in the voice of every person who asks us for cup of cold water. In every occasion in which we can offer our will in love to the Father, in which we can resume that authentic posture of childhood that the Son came to reveal. The moments for such self-gift are as infinite as the Word itself.

MaryIconAnd we like Mary are invited to offer our fiat. Let the plan of salvation be done for me here and now. Let me recognize the scandal of the Word made flesh, the occasion to give myself away in foolish love to all those whom I encounter. Let my ears hear the divine word proclaimed in the memory of your church, and let this memory take flesh again in the lives of your lives. Let me be a disciple, one whose whole life has been re-oriented toward divine love made flesh.

We contemplate Mary precisely because she offers to us a vision of the joy of the Gospel, a way of being human that has been entirely taken up into this mystery of divine love. Into the mystery of her son, Jesus Christ. A mystery that began with the pronouncement of an angel but unfolded through the hidden years of Nazareth. Through the mundaneness of domesticity. And even now continues to unfold in the historical life of the Church, in the mundaneness of those who gather this day at the sacrificial banquet and participate in that Eucharistic self offering, which is the salvation of the world. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Preparing to Prepare

Chris LabadieChris Labadie

MA Candidate, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary

Director of Liturgy, Saint John’s University Campus Ministry

This past Monday winter arrived here in Minnesota with a bang. As I was going home on Sunday night from our 9 PM student Mass there was green space a-plenty and just the hint of cold in the air. When I awoke on Monday morning to the sound of an alert on my phone informing me that the university was closed, central Minnesota was in the midst of a blizzard that would end up dumping around a foot of snow on us in just under 24 hours. P1080134All of the sudden we had gone from a beautiful, if somewhat protracted, fall into the deep of winter. For me it was a jolt to the system and a reminder that the end of our liturgical year draws ever closer. With the odd way in which the temporal and sanctoral cycles lined up this November we end up celebrating only one Sunday in Ordinary Time this month.

As I was drawn into the celebrations of All Souls Day and the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica it was hard to also keep track of the changing seasons of the Church—but here we are, having just celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King and less a week from the beginning of a new liturgical year. In a “normal” liturgical year the last few weeks of Ordinary Time are spent in preparation, they are the “season of waiting” for the season of waiting. During those weeks we would hear from the prophets about the end of the world and we would read in the Gospel about the Kingdom of God. The Church is reminding us that just as the liturgical year will come to end and transition into a new cycle, eventually our lives will come to an end in this world and transition into a new life. The last weeks of Ordinary Time call us to conversion as we await the immediate time of preparation for the coming of our Lord.

Just as I was unprepared for the coming of winter, I feel unprepared for the coming of the new liturgical year. (Perhaps it has something to do with the fact I am trying to ignore that with the new year comes the final semester of my graduate program!) It always seems like Advent moves too quickly and before I know it or am prepared for it, we are celebrating Christmas. The month of November, with its focus on remembering the deceased and with the liturgical reminders that the end is near, usually gives me those extra few weeks to put myself in the proper state of mind so that Advent can actually be a time of preparation. So, just as I had to switch into winter mode on Monday morning, these last few days before the beginning of Advent need to be a time where we can switch into Advent mode. How might one do that?

LectionaryThe lectionary cycle, which I alluded to earlier, is a great place to start as we switch into Advent mode. If you have the chance to attend daily Mass over the next several days, pay close attention to the readings as they draw us closer to the mystery of God’s Kingdom. I would even recommend looking up the readings for the 31st and 32nd Sundays in Ordinary Time, the Sundays bumped off the calendar this year, and taking those readings to prayer. Many parishes may have already put out their Advent prayer resources— grab a copy and maybe spend some time looking over the first few days of reflections or prayers. If your family or community has a special time of prayer each day, consider adding an element which evokes the sense of preparation that will take place in Advent. We do not want to jump the gun and begin Advent before we have completed this time after Pentecost, but if you are like me and need a running start it cannot hurt to begin adding these elements to prayer.

On Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is a fitting way to end the Year of Grace 2014—remembering that Christ is the King of everything that we do. May these last days of the year be a grace-filled time in which we can thank the Lord for the blessings we have been given this year and prepare ourselves for the coming season of Advent. Let us prepare ourselves well for the coming of the King into this world so that when we see him face-to-face he might say, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).

Mother of the Church: Mary’s Presentation in the Temple

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame

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In November we commemorate an event of Our Lady’s childhood about which the Scriptures are silent. The Presentation of the three year old Mary in the temple is recorded in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of St. James written around AD 145 which also tells us about the parents of Mary, Anna and Joachim, and the circumstances of Mary’s conception and birth. While this story is a legend with no historical foundation, the writer’s intent is to show that from her conception Mary was especially chosen and completely dedicated to God. About the reception of the little girl we read:

The priest received her, blessed her, and kissed her in welcome. He proclaimed, “The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.” Mary was placed on the third step of the Temple and there danced with joy and all the house of Israel loved her. It was there that she was nurtured and her parents returned, glorifying the Almighty.
(Protoevangelium of St. James, 7,8).

In the Byzantine Church Mary’s Presentation in the Temple is among the twelve great feasts of the Liturgical Year. Mary is seen as the new and living Temple, where the King resides and delights among his people. The first church built to commemorate this event PresentationofMarywas dedicated on November 21, 543. The Liturgy celebrates Mary’s entry into the Temple with a hymn rich both in doctrine as well as poetry:

Heaven and earth rejoice together today
At the sight of the mystical heaven, Mary!
The virgin and immaculate
Is entering the holy Temple
To be brought up in honor.
Zachary, the high priest,
Had this to say to her:
“O Door of the Lord, to you I open the doors of the Temple.
Enter with joy,
For I know and I believe
That salvation will come from you
And from you will be born
The Word of God.”

Hymnographies describe little Mary as the “palace of the King of glory” and as “tabernacle sacred and celestial.” The Kontakion stunningly summarizes the feast’s mystery as follows:

The most pure Temple of the Savior,
His most bridal chamber,
The little girl of our humanity,
Sacred treasury of God’s glory,
Enters today in the house of the Lord,
Bringing with her the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Wherefore the angels of God are singing
“Behold the heavenly Tabernacle.”

In the ninth century, monasteries in southern Italy who were familiar with the Byzantine tradition, started to celebrate the feast and by the forteenth century it had spread to France and England. In 1472 Pope Sixtus introduced its celebration in the Liturgical PresentationofMaryBcalendar of the universal church. The recently beatified Pope Paul VI acknowledged of this feast that “despite its apocryphal content, it presents lofty and exemplary values and carries on the venerable traditions having their origins in the Eastern churches” (Marialis cultus, 8).

It was the same pope who fifty years ago on November 21, 1964, at the conclusion of the third session of Vatican II and on his own initiative proclaimed Mary Mater Ecclesiae – Mother of the Church. Blessed Paul VI introduced his homage, given at St. Mary Major, as follows:

This moment is the most solemn and the most appropriate to fulfill a vow which we alluded to at the end of the preceding session (December 4, 1963) and which numerous council fathers have made their own, by earnestly asking that there be explicitly declared, during the Council, the maternal function the Blessed Virgin exercises towards the Christian people. To this end, it seemed to us fitting, in this public assembly, to consecrate a title of honor for the Blessed Virgin, one that has been requested by various regions of the Catholic world, and which is most especially pleasing to us, since its admirable brevity expresses the eminent place which the Council recognizes belongs to the Mother of God in the Church. That is why for the glory of the Blessed Virgin and for our consolation, We declare Mary Mother of the Church…

At these words delivered with inner emotion, a number of Fathers stood up and applauded vociferously. Eventually, four fifth of the assembly joined in and the applause lasted more than a minute. Only then could Paul VI finish his discourse, saying: “… Mother of the Church that is to say of all the people of God, both of the faithful and of the pastors.”

Three days prior to this announcement, the council fathers had cast the final vote approving the Constitution of the Church Lumen gentium. The constitution’s last chapter contains the hitherto most comprehensive magisterial teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary. While the document does not refer to Mary as Mother of the Church, it nevertheless highlights her spiritual maternity “by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church” (Lumen gentium 63). Ten years later, in response to ‘the Marian crisis’ of the time, Blessed Paul VI issued Marialis cultus highlighting principles for a correct devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this Apostolic Exhortation the pontiff drew attention to the place Mary occupies in the Church: “the highest place and the closest to us after Christ.”(Lumen gentium, 85). Moreover, he drew attention to the liturgical buildings of Byzantine rite, which show clearly Mary’s place in the Church.

On the central door of the iconostasis there is a representation of the Annunciation and in the apse an image of the glorious Theotokos. In this way one perceives how through the assent of the humble handmaid of the Lord mankind begins its return to God and sees in the glory of the all-holy Virgin the goal towards which it is journeying. The symbolism by which a church building demonstrates Mary’s place in the mystery of the Church is full of significance and gives grounds for hoping that the different forms of devotion to the Blessed Virgin may everywhere be open to ecclesial perspectives. (Marialis cultus 28)

It took until 1980 until the title Mater Ecclesiae – Mother of the Church was added to the Litany of Loreto. A year later, on December 8, 1981, the mosaic Mater Ecclesiae was unveiled at the North West corner of St. Peter’s square near the papal apartment. Commenting on that event the pope said:

Today we recite our Angelus Prayer for the first time before the Icon and under the eyes of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Church, who looks out on St. Peter’s Square from the mosaic placed on one side of this Apostolic Palace. In the setting of this stupendous square there was lacking an image to recall, also visibly, the presence of her, whom “the Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors with filial affection and devotion as a most beloved mother (LG 53).”


What was initiated more than 2000 years ago when Joachim and Anna brought their little daughter to the Temple where she was formed and prepared for her exulted mission as the “most pure Temple of the Savior,” continues to be a blessing for the Church throughout the ages. Let us celebrate this feast mindful that we, too, have been chosen and elected as God’s children to serve Christ. To commemorate Paul VI’s proclamation fifty years ago, it would be a good idea to revisit chapter eight of Lumen gentium. May Mary, Mother of the Church, accompany the pilgrim church with a mother’s love and watch in kindness over her homeward steps, until the Lord’s Day shall come in glorious splendor (cf. Preface of the votive mass “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church”).

Liturgy: The Soundtrack of a Life

HopeBoettnerHope ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

I have a confession to make. My personal music taste is pretty strange and eclectic. It has always been so, mostly because as a young child movie soundtracks served as one of my (few) cultural exposures. And still, over twenty years into the game, soundtracks continue their hold on me. The first few notes of many a soundtrack instantly link and connect me to moments within a wide range of movies.


This instinct to be called out of myself, to recognize a moment within a story, has affected me since about the age of three when I was conscious enough to realize what was happening in the Man from Snowy River movie as the main character, a cowboy named Jim Craig rode through the Victorian Alps of Australia. I believe this is one of the powers and abilities of a good soundtrack: it can serve as an instant connection to moments and times in movies. Soundtracks can call us to a sentiment or mood that movie-makers and those creating films scores hope to inspire in watchers and listeners, regardless of where we came from when the movie began.

Concrete examples help us to make more sense of this:

Rudy— The main theme of “Rudy” is one nearly all Notre Dame fans can identify. There are some intense songs in the movie to be sure, because the whole thing isn’t flutes and Notre Dame scenery (after all, it is a football story). But the main theme is soft, inspiring, and continually climbing.


Lord of the Rings- “The Bridge of Khazad Dum.” The very instant this piece starts, you know something intense is happening. Indeed, the Fellowship is fleeing for their lives, but the piece manages to be powerful and motivating while communicating the urgency of what is happening at the same time.


Little Women- “Spring.” The “Little Women” soundtrack by Thomas Newman, a musical genius, is one of my all-time favorites. It is particularly brilliant because the soundtrack spans all seasons and sentiments. “Spring” is what you would expect. It is lilting, hopeful, and one almost thinks of daisies popping out of the ground as the music plays.


All three of these themes all have their purpose, their place, and their particular time within the movies. The movie-maker would not want soft flutes and strings when Rudy is about to go out on the field; we would hate the “Bridge of Khazad- Dum” amidst the tranquility of the Shire. The cheerfulness of “Spring” should not come where Beth is dying. Those other themes, those other things have their own place. But within that particular soundtrack, individual pieces call us to something different at varied times throughout the course of the movie.

I’m reminded of the often-quoted passage from Ecclesiastes 3:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….” (NRSV Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4)

Would we live our own lives differently with the aid of a soundtrack in the background during these varied seasons and times? Would we take somber moments more seriously if ponderous music played? Would we realize the beauty of births and baptisms if somehow a corresponding theme unfolded? Would we thoughtfully be more present during important conversations if some background instruments portrayed the gravity of the moment?

This discussion of soundtracks has been a rather long-winded way of connecting our lives to the liturgical calendar. And so here is the LiturgicalYearquestion I pose: what if we thought about the liturgical calendar as the orienting soundtrack of and for our lives? What if God, through His cosmic liturgical screenplay, has created a liturgical movie score for the soundtrack of our existence?

Sacrosanctum Concillium, Vatican II’s document on liturgy can help us to inform this thought:

“Within the cycle of a year, moreover, she [the Church] unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.

Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace” (Chapter 5, Paragraph 102).

Throughout the course of a liturgical year, we experience, remember, and unfold the whole life of Christ. The entire “drama” of salvation unfolds—and this is a much bigger drama than a football player achieving his goal or of the fulfillment of a fantasy fellowship’s quest. This is THE cosmic drama. It most certainly deserves soundtrack status.

When we think about the liturgical calendar as a soundtrack for our lives, an important distinction must be made to separate our personal feelings from the disposition to which the season calls us. I am not saying that we should instantly summon the “feelings” associated with a liturgical season simply because it is the appropriate liturgical time. On the contrary: one of the beautiful parts of the “soundtrack” of the liturgical year comes from its ability to call us outside of ourselves in a way that supersedes the power that soundtracks have in movies. There is something beautiful and transcendent about singing, “Alleluia, He is risen!” and knowing that Christ has defeated death, even if your voice cracks because you are mourning from recent loss. There is something sobering about the call to repentance during Lent, even if in our own lives we may have recently experienced moments of fulfillment or excitement and happiness.

I remember a moment in class a few years back when a professor explained:

“’Ek” means to go out, and ‘stasis’ means to stand. Creation happened when God literally went outside Himself with love. It was ek- static.”

The liturgy can perform a similar function. It can be ek-static. In the liturgy, we are called outside of ourselves, outside of our own communionthoughts and feelings and recent experiences. We are united with the entire Church in one common goal and disposition as we strive Home toward our Creator.

Sacrosanctuum Concillium also tells us that:

“….the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”

How would our own lives be different if we consciously chose to let the liturgical calendar orient our actions, our thoughts, and our prayers? What if we thought about the liturgy as both a summit (climax) and a font (the exposition and rising action) of our liturgical story? What if the cosmic calendar of uniting ourselves to the life of Christ was our own soundtrack? What if the seasons of the liturgical year helped to shape the seasons of our lives?


This is one more way to think about the liturgy as not a “designated for Sunday mornings and fifty-some odd minutes,” but rather as a way to shape and orient our entire lives. Liturgy can be our soundtrack. It can be the beautiful, sometimes soaring, and sometimes sobering theme that plays constantly throughout the drama of our lives.