Tag Archives: new evangelization

Marriage and the Priesthood: The 2015 Symposium

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Next week, the Center for Liturgy will be gathering over a 100 participants for our fourth annual Symposium on the reformed rites of the Second Vatican Council. The goal of this event has been from the beginning to consider the cultural, sociological, liturgical, and theological facets of these rites as they are practiced in the early 21st century. In 2012, we treated the celebration of the Eucharist. In 2013, the rites of initiation. In 2014, the rites of healing. And now in 2015, the rites of vocation including marriage and the priesthood.

OrdinationFrom the beginning, the staff of the Center believed it was necessary to consider marriage and priesthood together in particular. That is, it has become common to speak about a vocations crisis today in the Church. One in which the dearth of priestly vocations (which do seem to be on the rise) has left the Church in the United States and Europe scrambling for those to preside over the rites of the Church. Rectories once populated with three or four priests are now lucky to have two. Priests are made pastors of large parishes before they have a chance to develop the necessary pastoral and administrative competencies, often leaving these young men burnt out early in their priestly vocation.

Yet, to the one attentive to pastoral realities, Christian marriage itself is experiencing its own crisis. The number of sacramental marriages have been on the decline over the last several years. Divorce among Catholics is high. Many young couples are afraid of marriage (even when in long-term relationships), fearful that committing oneself to another person too early will disable one’s ability to achieve success. Once married, the challenges faced by families are real. The Lineamenta in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family notes:

 Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex. Indeed, nowadays the question of affective fragility is a pressing one; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution. In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a couple’s relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bonds. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future. The development of bio-technology has also had a major impact on the birthrate (9)

If there is a crisis, then, in both priesthood and marriage alike, it is necessary to ask ourselves whether it is possible to offer a theological and pastoral response to this crisis. And to discern whether the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church includes resources to respond to this pastoral problem. Of course, we think yes.

LiturgyandVocation

Thus, next week from June 8-11, 2015, we will be featuring live updates through Twitter (#NDSymposium2015) and our Facebook Page from our various speakers and seminars, as we begin to explore this common problem together. Some of the questions that will be integral to our gathering  will include:

  • What images from the Scriptures and theological tradition of the Church might we employ in the formation of those discerning a vocation to marriage or priesthood?
  • What is a liturgical theology of vocation? And how might this liturgical theology inform practices of discernment relative to marriage and priesthood alike?
  • What might those involved in marriage formation learn from those engaged in priestly formation? And vice versa?
  • What are the political and social implications of these vocations today?
  • How can one perform marriage preparation as an evangelizing activity in the Church today, reaching out to the very margins? What role does liturgical music itself have in this activity of evangelization?
  • What resources are available for a liturgical and sacramental theology of the ministerial priesthood, one that can sustain a priest over the long haul?
  • Who is the deacon? And how might he contribute to this renewal of family life and Church alike?

Even if you can’t make it to our Symposium, we invite you to join along in asking these questions with us through social media or through attending to the study guides that we will produce after the Symposium. We look forward to hosting yet another Symposium that seeks to carry out the liturgical movement’s deep concern to connect liturgy and life, enabling liturgical prayer to transform not simply the life of the believer but society as a whole. Join us in this liturgical approach to carrying out the New Evangelization.

 

Keeping Patrick in St. Patrick’s Day

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Unless you spend your time hanging out under the proverbial rock, you’re probably aware that today is the feast day of a certain saint famous for his way with reptiles and for creating theological analogies using local foliage (albeit theologically problematic analogies, as we learn here). Yes, laddies and lassies, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. The day when pretty much everyone claims to have distant relatives from the Emerald Isle whether it’s true or complete blarney, because, as the saying goes, Everyone’s Irish on March 17th.

St. Patrick’s Day, like St. Valentine’s Day, has become more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious celebration here in the United States, so much so for the latter that the “St.” in “St. Valentine’s Day” (that is, the historical figure of St. Valentine) has been all but dropped from the consciousness of popular culture, leaving an almost entirely secularized celebration almost exclusively of romantic love, where chocolates, flowers, and bling express the extent of a person’s affections. With St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve at least retained the awareness that St. Patrick was, in fact, a real person, and that he was, in fact, a saint whose devotion to spreading the Gospel impacted an entire nation, but nowadays—or at least on most college campuses—it seems that the celebration of his feast is simply an excuse to indulge in a celebration of all things stereotypically Irish. . . or perhaps more accurately, just the one thing that many people associate with Ireland. In other words, St. Patrick’s Day has become an excuse to drink. Heavily. And not just on the actual day, either—parades and parties take place on the weekend before St. Patrick’s feast day, providing revelers who believe that “Everyone is Irish March 17th” with plenty of opportunities to drink too much, get in a fight or two, and most certainly wake up the next morning with the world’s worst hangover. It seems strange to me that a feast in honor of someone known for sanctity and courage and virtue has given rise to celebrations that generally cultivate none of these things. Somehow, I think, we’ve missed St. Patrick’s boat.

Having spent two of the happiest years of my life living in Ireland, I learned from the locals that the current shape of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland are largely due to the way it’s been perceived and celebrated here in the United States. It’s only in relatively recent years that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland have begun to resemble the drunk-fests they’ve become in the States, in part because so many Americans have begun traveling to Ireland to celebrate the holiday there—the streets of Dublin were thronged with my fellow Americans on the St. Patrick’s Day I spent there. Prior to this recent trend, though, St. Patrick’s Day was (and still is) a national holiday and holy day of obligation in Ireland, one that, until recently, was celebrated simply: one would attend Mass at the local parish and take the day off from work or school, and perhaps celebrate with a “session,” an evening of music, poetry recitations, and story-telling.

Indeed, far more enjoyable to me than the parade and the pubs was the incredibly beautiful celebration of the Mass for St. Patrick’s Day that I attended at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in 2011. The incredibly rich cultural heritage of this small country was represented both linguistically—readings and prayers were proclaimed in both English and Irish, and musically—traditional Irish singing and instrumental music resounded through the church as Irish dancers processed in front of the celebrants.

A Mass rock outside the village of Kildorrery, County Cork, where the Irish would secretly celebrate the Mass during penal times, using the rock as an altar. Many such Mass rocks exist throughout Ireland.

This is Ireland: a country whose resilient people truly are the salt of the earth, whose inimitable language and music and prayer intertwine with all of the intricacies of a Celtic knot. A country where the faith persisted in spite of centuries of oppression. A country where that faith persists still, in spite of a threat more insidious than oppression.

The seeds scattered by St. Patrick blossomed in the rich soil of the land of a thousand shades of green, so much so that Ireland became known as the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” Now, though, with the secularization of recent decades, coupled with the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger, it seems that the Catholic identity of Ireland is more akin to a stereotype or cliché than a reflection of reality. Mass attendance has diminished greatly, and the various sacramental moments of a Christian life are often seen as mere rites of passage. Perhaps the most devastating development of recent years has been the revelation of abuse inflicted on the innocent by members of the clergy in Ireland. Just as the sanctity of one man brought a nation to the faith, so too have the sins of a few rocked that nation’s faith to its core. Thankfully, the light of faith has by no means been extinguished in Ireland; there are still many who live the Gospel each and every day of their lives. However, the reality is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is suffering, as she is suffering in many places throughout the world.

Which is why I think it’s more important than ever for people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, in Ireland, in the United States, throughout the universal Church—not by using his feast as an excuse to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery, but by giving thanks for his witness, imitating his courageous example, and asking his continued intercession for those who live in the land he helped to evangelize.

The Book of Kells' famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ
The Book of Kells’ famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ

Like each and every one of the saints’ feast days, St. Patrick’s Day presents us with a vivid example of a particular life, lived at a particular place and time, in which the Word of God—Jesus Christ—took root, became flesh. By allowing that Word to take root in his heart, and by giving his life over to sharing that Word with others, St. Patrick changed the course of history for the nation of Ireland, and the Irish missionaries inspired by his example in turn helped to bring the Catholic faith to the United States of America. Anyone engaged in the work of the New Evangelization ought to see in St. Patrick not a cultural cliché, but a companion on the journey of discipleship and an ally in the effort to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Ultimately, the story of St. Patrick and the impact he had in Ireland is an incredible example of the way in which Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (Heb 13:8), continues to take flesh in the hearts of those who are open to encountering him, and he does this within the particularities of their own lives and cultures. By allowing Christ to take flesh in his heart, St. Patrick made his own the words of St. Paul—“I now live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), yet he did so in a uniquely Celtic voice, as we see in the lyricism of the prayer for which he is most famous. Today, or this weekend, or whenever we celebrate all things Irish by raising our voices in prayer and song, kicking up our heels in a jig or a reel, attending parades, eating corned beef and cabbage, donning our favorite green woolen sweater, and yes, even perhaps raising our pints of Guinness (it is a celebration, after all, and everything in moderation), may we honor St. Patrick by looking to this great patron saint of Ireland more than anything else as an example of a life lived in Christ for others, and may we echo the final lines of his prayer with courage and fidelity, wherever our lives may take us:

Christ with me.
Christ before me.
Christ behind me.
Christ within me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ above me.
Christ at my right.
Christ at my left.
Christ in my lying down.
Christ in my sitting.
Christ in my arising.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of Gospel Joy

Esther TerryEsther Terry
Program Director, Camino
STEP, Institute for Church Life

As a relatively new Catholic, I admit that I occasionally experience moments of discomfort with the Church’s Marian doctrines. But in spite of any former-Protestant-qualms about the Blessed Mother, I have always loved Our Lady of Guadalupe. In her apparition on the margins of Mexico City, “La Guadalupana” leads us to reflect on the Incarnation of her Son and what this means for the evangelization of culture. Her apparition also invites us to follow Christ as “missionary disciples” who show special preference for the poor and vulnerable.

Evangelization of culture, missionary discipleship, and the preferential option for the poor are themes emphasized by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which he quotes Our Lady of Guadalupe, recognizing Mary as the “Mother of the Living Gospel” and “the Star of the New Evangelization” (§§284–288). GuadalupeIt seems fitting, as we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, to read Evangelii Gaudium with an eye towards her sixteenth-century appearance at Tepeyac. With her, may we “treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts” (cf. Lk 2:19) and may we undergo a deepening and ongoing conversion of our mindsets and actions.

First, Our Lady of Guadalupe invites us to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation and what it implies for our understanding of culture. When the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh, he did so at a particular time, in a particular place, with a particular people. Jesus entered human history, joined himself to human culture, and in doing so, affirmed their created goodness. Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to Juan Diego as a pregnant maiden, clothed in native clothing and speaking Nahuatl, not only points to the Incarnation in her expectant state, but also in the way her message becomes incarnate in Nahua language and cultural symbols. For example, in Nahua cosmology, “flower and song” represent divine revelation or ultimate truth. (See Fr. Virgil Elizondo, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation (Orbis Books, 1997), 34–35.) This gives deeper meaning to the fact that Our Lady appears to Juan Diego on the hill accompanied by beautiful singing and then leaves him flowers as proof for the bishop.

Fr. Virgil Elizondo argues that the New Evangelization in the Americas began with Our Lady of Guadalupe (Ibid., 76). She is an evangelizer of culture; her apparition and message to Juan Diego affirm the beauty of Nahua language, symbols and practices, while uplifting and transforming them, infusing them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, as Pope Francis reminds us, “Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it. . . Whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel” (EG §§115, 116).

So Our Lady of Guadalupe represents “evangelization as inculturation” (EG §122), and perhaps this is why her apparition in the Americas has prompted unprecedented participation in popular devotional practices. It’s worth noting that Pope Francis encourages these popular devotions because he recognizes them as incarnational. They lead people to encounter Jesus Christ, to experience palpable relationships with the Church in the communion of saints: “Genuine forms of popular religiosity are incarnate, since they are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture” (EG §90). How fitting that the expectant mother of the Incarnate Word should play such a role in the gospel’s taking flesh in Nahua culture.

If Our Lady of Guadalupe is a model for the evangelization of cultures, she is also a model “missionary disciple.” Even as Mary “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Lk 1:39) to visit and help her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, to share with her the joy and mystery of the annunciation, we meet Mary again in “the hill country” of Tepeyac, an expectant mother with a joyful, mysterious message to share with Juan Diego. This “missionary impulse” draws her out to the periphery of society, leading her first to a man among “the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked” (EG §48). In this way, she imitates her Son’s compassionate preference for the poor and attention to the lowly. By her native appearance and gentle words, Mary identifies herself with the poverty and simplicity of the peasant and conveys to him the “meaning, beauty and attractiveness” at the heart of the gospel (EG §34).

Our Lady not only models missionary discipleship, but also invites us to join her in mission, even as she sent Juan Diego on a mission to the Bishop of Mexico City. She affirms the dignity, value, and missionary capacity of a poor person whom others despise. When Juan Diego attempts to carry out his mission, people of influence try to stop him, and when he repeats the Lady’s request to build a shrine on Tepeyac, Bishop Zumárraga hesitates and insists on more evidence. Of course we know how the story ends, that Guadalupe miraculously heals Juan Diego’s uncle, provides him with Spanish roses, and leaves her own image on the tilma as proofs for the bishop. But have we ever considered how our own attitudes and lives often mirror those of the bishop? How often do we ignore God’s presence and promptings when we encounter them in unexpected places or in unlikely people?

Perhaps this is why Pope Francis invites us to open ourselves to the evangelizing work of the poor in our midst:

We need to let ourselves be evangelized by [the poor]. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them. (EG §198)

As we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe this Advent, as we participate in popular devotions and wait with her in hopeful expectation of her Son’s birth, let us pray for renewed boldness and creativity in proclaiming the good news of salvation to our culture. May we open ourselves to friendship with the poor and allow them to evangelize us, offering new insights into the Gospel. May Our Lady lead us to conversion, to a fresh encounter with Jesus, in whom “joy is constantly born anew” (EG §1).

Mass Mobs: The Ultimate Flash Mob

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

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Earlier this week, several news sources including the Huffington Post and NPR reported on a growing trend in urban Catholicism, especially Detroit—the Mass Mob. Begun in Buffalo in November 2013, Mass Mobs were inspired by the “flash mob,” where groups of people show up to a certain place at a certain time and either break out into a pre-determined dance routine as in this “Thriller” flash mob or a choral performance as in this “Hallelujah Chorus” flash mob. There has even been an instance of an “Ode to Joy” flash mob orchestra (admittedly this last example was staged for a commercial, but still, awesomeness abounds).

With the Mass Mob, this idea has taken on a sacramental twist: once a month, a group of people attends Mass at a pre-determined place and time. detroit-mass-mobThe locales are often historic churches that are struggling financially, giving people the opportunity to worship in stunningly beautiful spaces and often encouraging them to take action to prevent their closures by contributing money. Apart from the aesthetic benefit for participants, who are opened up to an experience of liturgical architecture and beauty, and parishes, who benefit financially from contributions and receive a morale boost from seeing their often empty church filled to standing room only, there is another obvious benefit to the Mass Mob phenomenon: more people are going to Mass.

When I first heard about this, I worried. I thought, people are making Mass trendy, so what’s going to happen when the trend fades and the media are no longer covering this particular story? Will this kind of flash mob amount to a nothing more than flash in the pan? But the more I read about these events, the more I am all for the Mass Mob: it takes place once per month, so it’s not drawing regular Mass-goers away from their parishes, and it’s in no danger of losing its appeal by becoming routine. By making the Mass Mob an occasional event, the organizers are, in effect, planting seeds. Detroit Mass Mob 2They invite people in to an experience of liturgy in a beautiful space, and (hopefully) those people leave the celebration wanting to enter in to such an experience again before the next month’s gathering. The Mass Mobs are planting seeds within the hearts of those who participate—people who may not attend Sunday Mass under any other circumstances—and these seeds take the shape of a desire for beauty and community. Much has been said in recent posts about the communal aspect of gathering for the Eucharist, and I think that the popularity of the Mass Mobs is a concrete manifestation of these deeply rooted desires for belonging.

Flash mobs bring outsiders in, both directly—inviting strangers to sing and dance and play together, and indirectly—inviting spectators to enter into the joy of the performers, such that the joy of latter becomes the joy of the former. Flash mobs involve normal people who seek to participate in something bigger than themselves. Such people need not be perfect—plenty of wannabe zombies made mistakes in the “Thriller” flash mob. One need not even be part of the original group of flash mob conspirators—see the elderly couple who stood up to join in the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Perhaps they were indeed part of the choir planning the flash mob (one can’t tell from the video who the planners are), perhaps they had simply participated in choirs years earlier and were drawn into the singing by memory and joy. Whatever the reason for their being present, they stood up and joined in the song. Which is exactly what’s happening with the Mass Mobs. detroitmassmobIn their own right, these events are specifically geared toward reaching the people on the peripheries, an act encouraged by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhoration Evangelii Gaudium (§20), an act central to the flourishing of the New Evangelization. People may be participating in the Mass Mobs because it’s trendy, because they always wanted to see some of the architectural gems of their city and this gives them an excuse to finally do so, or because they’re simply curious. The more important point though, is that once those people enter into the church, they are swept up into the ultimate flash mob—the Body of Christ. Because when you think about it, every single celebration of the Mass can be characterized as a flash mob. Members of the assembly come from all over the place, to gather in this one place, at this one time, and somehow, everyone pretty much knows what to do. And if you don’t know or remember what to do, you can pick it up from your neighbor. It’s not always perfect, because we are human beings. The music might be out of tune, people who haven’t been to Mass in some time might still respond with words from the older translation of the Roman Missal, or everyone might be confused on when exactly to stand before the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, but when we as Catholic Christians enter into the Eucharistic liturgy together, we enter into it with and through Christ our Head, as members of his Body, and all of our imperfections are caught up in the perfection of his self-giving love. Now that’s something to get together with a group of friends you’ve never met and celebrate.

Inklings of a New Evangelization: Wisdom and the Palantir

MiriamMarstonMiriam Marston, a freelance writer and musician, has been based in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2006, serving most recently as the Assistant Director of Theology Programs at the Theological Institute at St. John’s Seminary.  She has released two albums of original music, and is currently working on a third.

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Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit
                              Of Myths and Maps
Inside the Song
                                       A Word on Wonder
A Word on Tooks
                                   Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths
Escape and the Good Catastrophe      Treebeard and the Language of Reality
The Valor of Bilbo                                 Laughter and the Logos
Our Lady and the Elves                        Puddleglum’s Dark Night of the Soul
Francis and the Houses of Healing    Lo, How a Story E’er Blooming
The Quiet Wood of Ordinary Time

“For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
—Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring

There might not have been smart phones in Frodo’s world, but there were the palantíri, the “seeing stones” scattered across Middle Earth, which allowed the user to communicate across distances and to glimpse at events from far away.   Unfortunately, most of these stones have a corresponding ill-fated story: some were lost in battle or destruction.  300px-Palantir_StoneAnd in the case of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, what began with an earnest desire to grow in wisdom and knowledge via the palantir ended in a tragic descent into despair.

As steward, Denethor was entrusted with the task of preparing his people for “the return of the king”.  Denethor’s responsibilities were already heavy, but the evil seeping out of Mordor only added to this weight.  He lost his favorite son, Boromir, to the battle with Sauron’s forces, leaving the relationship with his younger son, Faramir, even more fractured than before.  And so it was in this spirit that Denethor was turning to the palantir.  But he was not aware of how Sauron had manipulated the seeing-stone in such a way that Denethor was essentially deceived into hopelessness.  He allowed the designs of the enemy to fill him up, leaving no room for hope or courage.  Over time, the prospect of the returning king began to twist into all the wrong shapes of jealousy and resentment, and Denethor’s attitude towards Gondor was slowly approaching the kind of possessiveness that Gollum felt towards the Ring, his “precious”.

Tolkien gives us the scene: the increasingly despondent steward, using the palantir in secret, in the highest tower of the city.  What good could come of this education, conducted in such isolation, in the worst kind of ivory tower?  denethor It is such a pity, since I do not doubt that Denethor was genuinely seeking out ways to lead his people more wisely.  But his many hours of gazing into the palantir had corrupted his noble pursuits, leaving him with images of an everlasting night; a road leading into the shadows, with no end in sight.  Actually, that is not entirely accurate.  He saw only the ugly plans of Sauron and concluded that everything would end in defeat, and that is precisely the problem.  His heart became closed off to the possibility that Providence still had a word to say.  In Tolkien’s story, that providential word is largely represented by the Eagles, who literally swoop in at the last minute to help keep the army of Mordor at bay, just long enough for the One Ring to be destroyed.

The presumed trajectory of events can be gloriously interrupted, and the same goes for the trajectory of the human soul.  It’s an excellent thing that God’s mercy doesn’t conform to our own assumptions, since we sometimes behave as though He has simply stopped working in the lives of certain people—generally the people we find most difficult to love or forgive.  True wisdom tells us—even if it is little more than a single whisper in the overwhelming noise or bitterness that engulfs us—that God has not finished His work.  There is still a chance that your worst enemy will come knocking at your door, seeking reconciliation.  And we must welcome that possibility with open arms, even if we think it highly unlikely.  It is no wonder, then, that wisdom has traditionally been understood as the spiritual gift that perfects the virtue of charity.  It keeps us mindful of what should come first in the order of our desires, and of where we need to let go.  denethor_palantirWe can recall how it is said that one could still see the image of Denethor’s hands burned into the palantir; a grim reminder of what happens when we try to hold on too tightly onto visions of what may happen, instead of remaining open to the surprising turns of mercy and divine Providence.

What would Denethor’s palantir show us today?  It would show us the wounds left behind in a culture of death.  It would give us visions of new wars breaking out weekly, somewhere in the world.  It would communicate messages of poisoned politics and moral degradation.   But something will start to happen to us if we keep our eyes fixed exclusively on these realities, and indeed, I’ve already noticed a strange subculture—even among Catholics—which seems to thrive on the reportage of sin and evil in our world today.   I would not suggest avoiding the news, since it’s not a bad thing to remain aware of current events (not least of all because such awareness should prompt us to pray).  jesus-of-divine-mercy-radyBut I’ve been surprised to come across a number of discussions and publications that are nearly dogmatic in their commentary, serving up a litany of rather gloomy predictions.  In particular, it makes me wonder how we are to serve as missionaries of Christian joy if we believe more deeply, for instance, in the erosion of moral norms than in the mercy of Jesus Christ.  Denethor believed in the reality of his dark visions more than he trusted in the courage of the good peoples of Middle Earth.

If we are to resist a Denethorian approach to evangelization, it might help to recall Gandalf’s response to Denethor, who pushed back against the wizard’s counsel, since the “Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world…than the good of Gondor.”  Gandalf agreed that ensuring the “good of Gondor” was a virtuous cause, but in his wisdom, he had this to add:

“…I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

mstyora-icon-1We, too, are called to serve as stewards until the return of the King.  I believe this requires a readiness to grow in our capacity to be “far-seeing”, to discern the ways of God, which are not our ways.  To do this, we do not need to turn to a palantir: it is enough to gaze upon the Cross and contemplate the empty tomb.
This is all we need to know about the future:  that it is in the hands of the God who has suffered with us and for us, loving us to the end, and beyond, eternally beyond…for there is no end to the life that is lived in Christ.

Encountering Christ in the Parish: Avoiding a Post-Parish Ecclesiology

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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I recently attended an event that addressed the “messy questions” that ministry in Christian churches should be facing.  One of these messy questions was related to whether “parishes” or “congregational” ministry was where vocational work should be directed.  The argument of the presenter was that in the future, we would have ministers who continued to spread the Gospel of Christ but no longer through the work of churches. Rather, each individual minister would reach out to some segment of society, working outside the confines of ecclesial structures alone.   The major drive of the argument was simple enough:  we don’t need to worry about the Church because we preach Christ Jesus not an institution.

To a certain degree, the presenter is correct.   Of course, Christianity hopes to preach Jesus Christ and not its own institutional structures.   No one has been moved to give their lives over to any particular church through discourses on fundraising, on the need to hire a new minister, on the complications of maintaining church growth, or by looking at a diocesan structural chart.   People give themselves over to the Word made flesh, to Jesus EthiopianIconChrist, the God-man who heals humanity through divine love.

But, the argument in the end, is ultimately short-sighted (not just for Catholics and the Orthodox but for many Christians, some of whom expressed their deep disagreement with the presenter to me).  That is, the local church for these groups is not simply a place to gather, an institutional structure to maintain at all costs despite rapid changes in the world. Rather, the particular parish or congregation is itself an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, an entrance into the Trinitarian life of God.  As Louis Bouyer writes:

The unity, the communion of the agape–of the very love that makes the eternal life of the Father–is the communication of the Spirit of the Father, who is also the Spirit of the Son, because it is the communion in the Body (i.e., in the concrete, total human existence, definitively glorified through the Cross, the Son of God made man), the communion in his Blood (i.e., in his life, which from now on is transfigured, ‘divinized’).   Simultaneously, this vision of faith gives inexhaustible realism and depth to the affirmation that the Church is ‘the body of Christ.’  It signifies and certifies that the life of the Church, her concrete life, when she is gathered together especially for celebrating the Eucharist–but also all the activities, collective and individual, which flow from it, within the Christian itself or in the midst of the hostile world–is the life ‘with Christ’ and ‘in Christ’ about which the Apostle constantly speaks (Louis Bouyer, The Church of God, 319-20).

Churches are not simply communities of practice (to use a term popularized by Etienne Wenger) akin to other social organizations.   Indeed, parishes and congregations are the historical manifestation of that divine love revealed in Christ now overflowing into the world.  To speak about a post-parish ecclesiology, a Church without particular congregations, is ultimately to strip the Church of its sacramental identity.   It is individualism run amok, the flattening of the Church to its sociological quality alone.

Simultaneously, the institutional and human facets of any church exists as the sacramental memory of what it means to practice being redeemed.  The Church passes on those salutary practices and narratives without which any church becomes, at best, nothing more than another social service organization gathered around our founder Jesus Christ. At worst, the elimination of specific bodies of believers in parishes and congregations, who continue to incarnate these narratives and practices through time, will mean the disappearance of the Gospel from existence.  Think about it.   Without parishes and congregations that continue to hand on and receive back (traditio et redditio) the living, breathing tradition of the Church, so much wisdom present within Christianity will be lost. There will be no specific, institutional body whose existence extends beyond one or two generations.  PortugalChurch

The problems with the post-parish or post-congregation approach are myriad.  An individual minister, existing apart from a specific parish or congregation, may create his or her own narrative of the Scriptures–one appropriate for the setting that he or she works in.   He or she will eliminate those practices, which don’t address his or her context. The specificity of language will be lost. Practices will be forgotten.   And soon, it won’t be the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Christians preach.  It will be my gospel, your gospel, the gospel created for the people and by the people.  For these reasons, it strikes me that the trend among Catholics and Protestants to look beyond the parish or congregation is deeply disturbing.  For to bypass the institution of the Church is ultimately to give up that common memory that enables the Word to be preached throughout the world.   Christianity will no longer offer universal salvation but a narrative that works well enough for this group but not another.  Such an approach will mean that we create little sects, conservative and progressive, etc.  But, the Church will cease being the universal sacrament of salvation.

Further, this line of argument seems to operate out of an implicit clericalism.   Why is it the responsibility of the theologically trained ordained or lay ecclesial minister to serve as a minister within the world?  Catholicism (although at times over-emphasizing the distinction) is right to put the onus of transforming the world upon the lay vocation.  It is the engineer, who transforms the world through the craft of engineering.   It is the doctor, perhaps a theological novice, who incarnates divine love in his or her practice.  Parents form their children through the mundane gift of family life in the art of self-giving love. The responsibility of the minister, of the priest, is maintaining the parish or congregation so that the lay person can transform the world, so that the engineer can learn what divine justice is, so that the doctor can learn to be patient toward difficult patients, so that parents can discover how the Gospel can take flesh in their domicile.StAdalbertsChurch

In the end, the talk that I heard brought to mind a recent article in Notre Dame Magazine by Michael Garvey–a layman, who is an assistant director in Notre Dame’s Office of Public Relations.  Anyone on campus who has attended Mass or wandered the tailgating lot on Notre Dame football weekends has met Michael Garvey.   His article captures a truth that the post-parish ecclesiology cannot account for.   I quote a brief section here:

I happen to love our latest pope (and, really, who doesn’t?), but we were never promised loveable popes. We have plenty of saints to keep us company and give us heart, thank God, but we were never promised that the Church would be administered by them, nor even that the Church would be administered by minimally decent and reasonably competent people. We are not promised that Jesus will never again be denied, deserted and betrayed, nor are we promised that trusted teachers, priests, bishops and popes won’t do the denying, deserting and betraying. We are not promised that they (and we) won’t sin again and again and again, only that He will always forgive.

What we are promised is not that we possess the Truth but that He has a Church and that He will always be there, however we may deny, desert and betray Him. What we are promised is that the One who told Moses so frightfully “no one can look upon Me and live” now offers Himself to us as food. What we are promised is his presence in the Eucharist, his mercy in our sorrow, his welcome as we lie dying. What we are promised is that He loves us, and that, if we will only bring ourselves to ask, He will bless us with a ravenous hunger for intimacy with Himself. That He will save us, in other words.

Getting rid of the Church, disposing of our local parishes and congregations for the newest trends in ministry, is to deny that it is through the human body that salvation takes place. The Church has an embodied memory that our parishes and congregations continue to pass on from age to age, in geographical localities throughout the world.  I don’t want my minister, my priest, to be an independent contractor, to carry out his or her own plan discovered in some sophisticated theological seminary, which at times pretends to know better than the local, communal memory of the Church.   I want my minister, my priest, to offer me that love of Christ that continues to become embodied in the Eucharist, in practices of mercy, in the commitment and discipline of lauds, in friendly conversation (and perhaps disagreement) with fellow sojourners.

In other words, I want a parish.  One that is concerned with manifesting the witness of the communion of saints through the ages in this time and in this place.  Perhaps the decline of parishes and congregations is not ultimately a result of new trends in ministry, of the need to give up on parish and congregational life as the center of Christian life.   Instead, just maybe, the decline is because we stopped passing on the memory of the saints that really mattered in the first place.  For, this memory is how we, embodied creatures that we are, located in time and space, is how we encounter Christ in the first place.  To give up on the parish or congregation, one that exists in history, is to cease expecting anyone to encounter Christ in the first place.

Inklings of a New Evangelization: Francis and the Houses of Healing

MiriamMarstonMiriam Marston, a freelance writer and musician, has been based in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2006, serving most recently as the Assistant Director of Theology Programs at the Theological Institute at St. John’s Seminary.  She has released two albums of original music, and is currently working on a third.

Contact Author

Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit

Of Myths and Maps

Inside the Song

A Word on Wonder

A Word on Tooks
Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths

Escape and the Good Catastrophe
Treebeard and the Language of Reality
The Valor of Bilbo
Laughter and the Logos
Our Lady and the Elves
Puddleglum’s Dark Night of the Soul

“I see clearly, that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds….” ~ Pope Francis

In my last post, we ventured into the Underland, that dimly-lit world found deep beneath Narnia.  Aragorn in houses of healingThis time, we venture upwards, into the sixth circle of the majestic and towering city of Minas Tirith, the capital of Tolkien’s mythical land of Gondor.  It is here that the Houses of Healing are located, and where the sick and injured are nursed back to health, thanks to the great knowledge of the men and women of Gondor.  Twice in as many pages, Tolkien gives us the following piece of Gondorian lore (and I should note that the italics are Tolkien’s and not mine): “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”  We might say in response: “What does this have to do with us?  We’re not kings and we don’t have this touch of a healer!”  Ah, but we do.  Or else Pope Francis would have reserved the above exhortation for a much smaller audience.  Do we not, at baptism, enter into the threefold office of Christ?

“Thus, every person, through these gifts given to him,
is at once the witness and living instrument of the mission of the Church itself
‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.’” (CCC, §913)

There is no dodging it: when we are baptized, we are made sharers of the kingly office of Christ.  We have been given the hands of a healer.   PetermotherinlawAnd through our serving as instruments of God’s mercy and healing, the world will come to know the rightful King, the Lord who, in his wisdom, orders all things for the good.  In the course of every private battle, at each moment that we freely “exercise a kind of royal power” (CCC, §908) over ourselves, refusing to allow sin any place of honor in our lives, we glorify God.  And by helping to heal even the smallest wound in the other, the presence of Christ the King is made manifest in the world.

Well, ok.  We’re called to heal the wounds.  But where does one even begin with such a task?  Both Aragorn and Pope Francis give us a hint: we must call those who are suffering by their name.  The very first thing that Aragorn does when he sits by the side of an injured person in the Houses of Healing is to say the name of that person.

“…and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost.” (Return of the King)

Pope Francis has told us time and again that Christians need to cultivate a certain “nearness and proximity” with the wounded among us.  And this nearness can begin with the simple utterance of a person’s name.  We need to develop the habit of looking deeply into the eyes of our neighbor and catching, in his weary gaze, a glimpse of our Lord, looking back at us.   We are called to walk through the battlefield which is the broken home or the broken heart.  As Aragorn seemed to “walk afar in some dark vale,” we must not be afraid to travel far and long, to seek out the one who, in his suffering, has perhaps even forgotten his own name.  Pope Francis asks us, in his words and example:  how far are we willing to walk along the edges and margins, in order to bring the healing touch of the Lord’s mercy?   And is it far enough?

Many of us have now seen the image of Pope Francis embracing a man suffering from neurofibromatosis.  Pope FrancisA headline in the Huffington Post expressed the impression felt by many across the world: Pope Francis Kisses Man With Rare Disorder, Showing The Healing Power Of Compassion.  We probably won’t know what was spoken during that encounter…perhaps almost nothing was whispered between them.  But we do see that the man is so drawn in to that compassionate embrace, that his very face is hidden.  Are we ready to get that close to suffering?

We won’t get very close if we cling too much to the sentimentalism which sometimes accompanies these episodes.  It is not enough for us to exclaim giddily “Oh look, the Pope hugged a sick man!” and then move on to the next story, after some of the warm feelings have faded.  Yes, there are certain images which charm us—say, a photo of puppies frolicking in a field.  But no such photos ever afforded real healing or change, no matter how cute the corgis may be.

And as we stand careful not to slip too far into mild or mushy ideas of Christian charity, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that, even as the Holy Father reaches out to the physically disfigured, he does not forget to address those often-invisible wounds left behind as a result of sin.  Jesus cures a blind manJesus, the Divine Physician, desires to draw out every last drop of poison in the human soul, and the Church, as the extension of Christ’s body in the world, provides the remedies to those souls which might be damaged by the grip of sin.  The sacraments of healingConfession and Anointing of the Sickare treasures of this house which Christ has built.  And if we, as Christians, are members of this house, then we should be trying to live the kind of lives which constantly point back to the healing graces pouring from the side of Christ.

Aragorn calls the sick and injured back to the land of the living.  We should be doing something similar as Christians.  For example, if we happen to see someone stumbling in the darkness and pain of sin, we have a responsibility to attend to them.  And “attending to them” does not translate into raising your voice at them.  Even if you are yelling out the truth at the top of your lungs, a suffering soul may still not hear you.  I believe that Pope Francisfar from curtailing a conversation “about everything else”is emphasizing a point about where the healing normally begins: by grasping for a hand, as a friend might reach out to one who is downtrodden.  And then, hand in hand, we walk with them, emerging from “some dark vale” into the abundant life which awaits each of us under the radiant mantle of the Father’s love.

In the book The Return of the King, the scene in the Houses of Healing does not come at the very end, as one might expect.   I believe it is significant that these scenes of healing do not come after all the drama has subsided, tying up every loose end or uncomfortable plot line.  The healing comes in the middle of the story.  And what does this tell us?  Tolkien states that the now-healed will not wholly forget the pain or grief that comes with suffering, but that “it will not darken his heart, [rather] it will teach him wisdom.”  May our own experiences of God’s healing touch grant us a wisdom which, in turn, inspires us to be fearless in our response to the call to be agents of healing for others.

“Waking Up the Echoes”: Notre Dame, Liturgical Formation, and the New Evangelization

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor
Master of Theological Studies Candidate,
University of Notre Dame

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This is the first in a new series, offering musings on liturgical formation for emerging adults and the New Evangelization, from the heart of U.S. Catholicism.

Praying intently or sleeping soundly? Who can tell?
Praying intently or sleeping soundly? Who can tell?

We’ve all been there. You slump into the pew on Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted from a late night out with friends, murmuring prayers inaudibly along with the dull drone of those around you. Your eyes might glaze over during the readings while you contemplate your to-do list, which probably includes a mountain of homework you’ve left to complete at the last minute and figuring out how to nonchalantly ask the super cute guy in Calc class to your dorm’s dance next weekend. You might even “accidentally” close your eyes during the homily and wake up minutes later to the cacophony of kneelers hitting the floor, clumsily staggering to your feet and glancing around to make sure your lapse has gone unnoticed. Before you know it, you’re lining up for Communion; your hands stretch out mechanically to pop the little round wafer into your mouth, its taste dry and vaguely reminiscent of cardboard. You exit the church exactly the way you entered it: unchanged, untransformed, and completely unaware of the glorious mystery you’ve overlooked.

On the other side of the altar, the cantor stifles a yawn during the readings while mentally rehearsing the psalm and staving off pre-performance jitters—the church is fuller than usual, and her friends in the crowd haven’t heard her sing yet. Her proximity to the activity on the altar ensures her distraction for the rest of the hour; after the closing hymn ends, she, too, leaves the church heartbreakingly unconscious of the cosmic nature of what has transpired. She strides briskly away from the sanctuary (where, in Tolkien’s words, one finds “romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth”) to meet her girl friends for Sunday brunch.

Before you start formulating any judgments, I’ll let you in on a little secret…the person in these two stories is me. A graduate student in liturgical studies and “Double-Domer” at Notre Dame, and I can’t even get liturgy right! And so, the idea for this column on liturgical formation and the New Evangelization was born. Racking my brain for ways to write on this without sounding like another Campus Ministry pamphlet, I was inspired by a quotation from the former French Lutheran minister-turned Catholic convert Louis Bouyer: “Jesus dead and risen, Jesus living in the Church, is the explicit sign of our vocation as children of God, and he is also the first and perfect realization of it.” As children who have now grown into adults, and more importantly, as the children of God, we have received an incredible invitation to encounter the truth and heart of our faith: Jesus Christ living in the Church. But seriously, how in the world can we do this?

Liturgy at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre DameAfter countless hours of prayer and often-discombobulated theological musings, I offer you one unimaginably beautiful suggestion: through the liturgy. Yes, that one hour of the week on Sunday mornings that somehow seems to stretch interminably longer than all the rest, especially after a particularly late Saturday night out on the town with friends–because Catholic undergrads and graduate students like myself stand in the midst of a whirlwind of exciting activity within the Church: the New Evangelization has been called, we have the incredible good fortune to have Pope Francis as our new Shepherd, and in response to the great social and political upheaval in our world today, we have the resounding legacies of Blessed John Paul the Great and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI upon which to firmly plant our feet. Through an immersion into the liturgy, we have the opportunity to form ourselves as Catholics in a radically new way.

Many rightly argue that the flagging faith of young Catholics must be reversed through robust catechetical instruction, both in the home and in parochial religious education. Catechesis is, of course, a necessity—but I contend that it is what we pray and how we pray that truly forms us and catechizes us about these profound mystical realities in the liturgy and in our faith. This practical formation in the liturgy is the ultimate catalyst for interior transformation and renewal. This concrete exploration of the Catholic Church’s rich liturgical tradition is what we hunger for.

Each of us is on a pilgrimage of faith in a world rapidly distancing itself from religious attachment—we all bear a complicated entanglement of emotions, habits and desires that prevent us from stemming the overwhelming tide of secularization, but we also have the great fortune to place our complex and confused selves completely before God in our celebration of the liturgy, and encounter Christ living in the Church. For my part, as a liturgical musician I yearn to strike a balance between performance and sincere prayer. As a graduate student in theology, I endeavor to meditate on the readings of the day as an exercise in theological exegesis. Moreover, as a twenty-something, maturing Catholic woman, I hope to attain the knowledge of self-giving love through steadfast prayer and reception of Communion, reflections on the Paschal Mystery, and a growing Marian devotion, that I might prepare for my vocation as a loving wife and mother one day.

Ultimately, the intended purpose of this column is to enkindle a love for the faith, and a love for the liturgy, while navigating the challenges and triumphs of forging a unique and often precarious identity as a young Catholic trying to live in the world, but not of the world. To adopt a phrase close to the hearts of the Notre Dame community, its intention is to “wake up the echoes” of the Church’s liturgical treasury, and introduce fresh ways of thinking about the Mass, the Office, and other liturgical devotions in these pivotal years of college, graduate school, and our forays into the professional world.

Now is the time for us to “wake up the echoes” in the sacred liturgy–to undergo a transformation that will allow us to enter more freely than ever before into the divine mysteries of our faith. The treasures of the Church are lying in wait for us: all we have to do is explore them.

Church Life 2.1: Jesus Christ and the New Evangelization


TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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Dear friends,

Church Life, Volume 2, Issue 1 will be out in the coming weeks (sorry about the delay–the general editor and our graphic designer both had newborns in their lives for the first part of 2013).   The topic of this issue is Jesus Christ and the New Evangelization.  To pump the primer for this issue, we’re including the full editorial introduction for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy.

Continue reading Church Life 2.1: Jesus Christ and the New Evangelization

Inklings of a New Evangelization: Our Lady and the Elves

MiriamMarstonMiriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

Contact Author

Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit

Of Myths and Maps

Inside the Song

A Word on Wonder

A Word on Tooks
Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths

Escape and the Good Catastrophe
Treebeard and the Language of Reality
The Valor of Bilbo
Laughter and the Logos

“All my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity
is founded upon Our Lady.” – J.R.R. Tolkien (Letter 172)

Since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, there has been some criticism leveled against Tolkien for his supposed failure to include women more prominently in his stories.  One could make the case that the author was writing a tale about war – and such a context doesn’t always leave much room for the contributions of women (of course, we see a vital exception in the figure of Eowyn).  But I believe that Tolkien’s female characters live at the heart of the story, moving events along in ways that may at first seem hidden and even secondary.  And it is through these characters that we are granted a special look into the vibrant faith of the author.  As he has done with other themes (such as the Eucharist or Resurrection), Tolkien has found a way to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in his work.  And during this month of May, it seems only right to turn our attention to the glimpses of Our Lady which shine through the pages of Tolkien’s story.

To do so, we must first return to the dawn of Arda, when the Valar are weaving creation through their song and handiwork.  These Valar – the “angels” who assist in carrying out the will of Iluvatar, who represents God in The Silmarillion – are led by Manwë.  His spouse is named Varda, and she is the one who brightens the sky with innumerable stars.  It is said that it is nearly impossible to describe her beauty, “for the light of Iluvatar lives still in her face.”  And “of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world, the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love.  Elbereth they name her…” Elbereth is translated as “Star Lady,” and truly, she is instrumental in guiding the Children of Iluvatar through times of darkness and trial.  icon_theotokos5Already, we can hear a certain similarity to some of the Virgin Mary’s titles: such as the “Star of the Sea,” who points us in the right direction as we navigate uncertain and troubled seas.   And “Morning Star” – she who ushers in the new dawn as the story of our salvation unfolds.  She is the bearer of that light which precedes the brilliance of day.

In the discussion of religion in The Lord of the Rings, it is frequently noted that we witness almost no act of public worship in Middle Earth.  But while it is true that we do not see something as obvious as the Elves queuing up to receive Communion, Tolkien does give us a clue about their relationship to the divine:

“As a[n] ‘angelic’ person Varda/Elbereth could be said to be ‘looking afar from heaven’…She was often thought of, or depicted, as standing on a great height looking towards Middle-Earth, with eyes that penetrated the shadows, and listening for the cries of Elves (and Men) in peril or grief.  Frodo and Sam both invoke her in moments of extreme peril.  The Elves sing hymns to her.”

Tolkien makes a reference here to the power of intercessory prayer.  When Frodo is attacked by the Ringwraiths, he cries out ““O Elbereth!  Gilthoniel!”  He is not appealing to Manwë, the King of Arda.  He does not even utter the name of Iluvatar.  Instead, he cries out to the “Queen of the Stars”:

O Elbereth Star-kindler,
from heaven gazing afar,
to thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death!
O look towards me, Everwhite!

We hear in this supplication an echo of these words from the Salve Regina:

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve:
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Simply the act of calling upon the name of Elbereth enkindles within the heart of Frodo the courage and strength to go on, even when his task seems impossible.  She hears the cry of the hobbit, feels his pain as though she herself has been pierced by the Ringwraith’s blade.  The light she imparts is not merely the absence of darkness – it is the gift of clarity and vision, the strength of the one who helped set the constellations dancing in the heavens.

In keeping with his cautious approach towards all things allegorical, Tolkien is reluctant to draw a precise connection between the heroines of his story and the Virgin Mary.  But in his discussion about Galadriel, he is not shy about admitting the source of inspiration; he tells us that “it is true that I owe much of this character to…Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary.”  Galadriel The HobbitThe origin of Galadriel’s name means “Maiden Crowned by a Radiant Garland” – or “Lady of Light,” for short.  Such a name is reminiscent of a popular title for Mary in the Middle Ages: “Our Lady of Light.”  And I have, in earlier posts, made it clear that this particular elf is far from being a meek or peripheral figure in the story.  But it is true that she is fading from the tale, to follow the well-worn path of her people, and leaving Middle-Earth to the dominion of men.   Her parting gift to Frodo, as he is leaving the safe and splendid land of Lothlorien to continue on his way to Mordor, is a phial which carries a fragment of the light which had once shone in Arda, when the sun and moon were still new.  This light has the power not only to dispel the shadows, but to cast out any present evil, too. When Frodo and Sam are trapped in the dark tunnels of a ravenous and malevolent creature, they remember this sacred gift, even while they had scarcely guessed at its power.   Imagine their grateful surprise as they watched their enemy recoil from them, unable to face that light which blazed as fiercely as the first dawn, filling the hearts of Iluvatar’s children with hope once again.

Majesty and simplicity…It is telling that Tolkien should couple the two, as though to have an understanding of one is to have an understanding of the other.  Mary, the young girl from Nazareth, who would give birth to the Son of God.  Mary, Queen of Heaven is the same Mary who was the wife of a carpenter.  But these curious paradoxes fit perfectly in the landscape of Middle Earth, where the mighty Elves are fading and a few ordinary hobbits of the Shire are drawn into the great and perilous mission of protecting all that is good and beautiful.  We, too, have inherited this task.  May we call upon Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization, to enkindle our own hearts, and move us to remember, especially in these strange and challenging times, that we should turn to Christ, who is our light in dark places, “when all other lights go out.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)