Friday, July 18, 2008

What Is Mass Really About?

This is the first in a series of three homilies over the next three weeks about the different attitudes, expectations, and ideas that can be an obstacle to our truly participating in and receiving the fullness of graces Christ intends to give us in the Mass. Check back next week for the next installment!

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans today, we hear that “all creation was made subject to futility.” All created things are futile, that is, in the end they will come to nothing – except, that is, in and through the saving and redeeming power of Christ. In and through Christ, St., Paul tells us, all creation will be set free and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. This is similar to what we heard last week, also from St. Paul – that we are not debtors to the flesh, but rather, we have power over the flesh – we have power over the world and sin.

But, as I explained last week, we don’t seem to really live in, really make use of this power that we have been given in Christ. In Christ we are called to “live differently”, and through Christ we have been given the power to live differently, but that power and grace of Christ often goes untapped in our lives.

Last week I explained that there is spiritual “static” that, like the static we hear on the radio, interferes with our receiving the full outpouring of the grace and power which Christ gives us in every Mass. Like the static which can drown out a program on the radio, this spiritual static can interfere with our receiving the “signal” that Christ is sending us in the liturgy. But unlike the static on the radio, which comes from an outside source, most of the time the static that gets in the way of receiving everything we’re meant to in the Mass comes not from an outside source, but from ourselves.

When we come to Mass, we bring our own preconceptions, attitudes, and ideas with us. But often these attitudes and ideas come from the world, come from our surrounding culture rather than our faith – and these attitudes and ideas are actually obstacles to truly receiving the graces of the Mass.

In our gospel, the Lord tells us the parable of the sower: Now Jesus is speaking literally here of the Word of God, but there is a deeper meaning and signifance here. For Jesus himself is the Word of God become man. And where do we receive Jesus? (a parishioner says "at Mass".) . Of course, in the Mass. So this parable also tells us something about what can interfere with our receiving the fulness of graces in the Mass.

Jesus first refers to the seed that falls on the path, which is immediately eaten up, and tells us that this refers to those who hear the Word without understanding it. Well, if we don’t understand what the Mass really is, if we don’t understand what the Mass is really for and what it’s supposed to do, then it’s power never really has a chance to bear fruit in our lives.

The first problem with understanding what the Mass is for comes from confusing purpose and result. We can see how this can cause trouble if we look at the problem in another area of our lives. (points at a parishioner) Now, Ann, you work at the school, right? Ok, now, would it be correct to suppose that you’ve become friends with some of your coworkers? Yes, good. Now, would you say that the purpose of your job is to provide you with friends? No, of course not. Purpose and result: they’re not the same. And I would imagine that, if you began to treat your job as though it’s purpose was to provide you with friends, that would get you into trouble, sooner or later.

Well, the same sort of thing happens with regard to the Mass. We tend to have certain associations and experiences at Mass, and so we come to think, almost unconsciously, that that is what Mass is for. It’s a natural enough thing to happen. After all, when we have similar experiences repeatedly, our minds naturally connect them. For example, I would imagine that for most of us, most of the time, when we go to Mass it’s an uplifting experience – we feel good after Mass, or at least better than we did beforehand. But we only have to think about it for a moment to realize that’s not what Mass is for. God didn’t give us the Mass in order to give us certain kinds of emotions or a certain kind of experience. Again, purpose and result. The fact that a certain result tends to happen when we attend Mass doesn’t mean that that’s the purpose of Mass.

This brings me to something that happened in my previous parish. I’ve related this story before, but it applies here so I’ll use it again: I once got a phone call from a parishioner, who was very angry with me about what happened at Mass the previous Sunday. He said, “I’ll never come to one of your Masses again, Fr. Rob! I felt terrible when I left Mass.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I said, “I’m sorry that happened”. He then said, “I don’t go to Mass to feel bad. I go to Mass to feel good. I don’t need you to make me feel bad at Mass.” I said, “you go to Mass to ‘feel good'? Every time?” “Well,” he said, “most of the time, anyway.” I replied, “well, I can’t say specifically, but perhaps God is trying to show or tell you something that’s challenging or difficult, and that’s why you felt bad. Maybe you needed to feel bad about something.” “I don’t need this”, he retorted. And he hung up.

So here’s the problem: this man had gotten it into his head that the purpose of Mass was to make him “feel good”. Now, he is an extreme example, but I’d be willing to guess that most of give in to that kind of thinking, at least occasionally. But here’s the thing: even if we never felt we got anything out of Mass, it would still be the most noble, holy, amazing, and important thing we could ever do – because the Mass isn’t about us. The Mass is about giving the perfect honor, glory and worship to God, through making present to us here, on this altar, the eternal self-offering and sacrifice of Christ. The Mass is about Jesus, not about us.

The temptation is always to try to make the Mass about something else, rather than God. It’s a temptation that has been there from the beginning of the Church. If you read the letters of St. Paul you’ll see the problem is there already. And the temptation to make the Mass about something else is really just a cover for the real underlying temptation, which is to make the Mass about us. That’ the old man, that’s the damage of original sin, working in us. So, for example, another thing that has gotten tossed around a lot over the last 20-30 years is the idea that the Mass is a “celebration of community”. Now that’s one of those things that sounds good when you first hear it: a “celebration of community”. But once you start to look a little more closely, you realize, well, no... it isn’t. The Mass isn’t the community celebrating itself. Making the Mass about “community” is just making the Mass about us. And the Mass isn’t about the community of us. It’s about offering the perfect honor, glory and worship to God, through making present to us here, on this altar, the eternal self-offering and sacrifice of Christ. The Mass, once again, is about Jesus, not about us.

Here’s an illustration: (I call up a parishioner.) Now, imagine we have never met before. Suppose I came up to you and introduced myself, and, after you introduced yourself, I were to do this: ( I put my arm around parishioner.) Would you be my friend? Please would you be my friend? Won’t you please, please be my friend? (etc.) If I did that, would you be likely to become my friend? No, of course not. Indeed, you would probably try to avoid me. Why? Because that’s not how friendship works.

Friendship doesn’t happen as a result of trying to get it directly. It comes about “along the way” as the result of doing some other good thing together. It’s the same way with the good things that we receive as a result of participating at Mass. We receive them because we’re doing a far more important good thing – giving God honor, glory, and worship through Christ His Son. We don't receive them because we seek them in and for themselves.

We have to stay focused on what the Mass is really about – Christ. If we’re concentrating on, worrying about what “I” am getting out of the Mass, then we’re misplacing our energy. If I’m thinking about what “I” am getting out of Mass, then I’m thinking about me, not God. And if my mind isn’t on God, then I’m not really, fully participating in Mass. And if I’m not fully participating, then I’m not open to receiving the fullness of grace and power that Christ offers us. So, if we want to “live differently”, if we want to gain the full power of Christ’s offering of Himself in the Mass, then we need to put worshipping Him first, and all else will be given us besides.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Musical Heaven: Solemn Vespers at the CMAA Colloquium

As promised in my post of the Requiem Mass, I have photos and audio files from the Solemn Pontifical Vespers from the "Seven Days of Musical Heaven" at the CMAA Colloquium in Chicago last month. I won't post recordings of everything sung, as the whole service was almost an hour long. I'll provide some highlights, though.

We sang "Votive Vespers of the Holy Cross", meaning that the texts and antiphons all centered around giving honor and glory to Christ in His sacrifice on the cross. I was privileged to sing in the choir that provided the polyphonic psalmody for the celebration. We were led by Dr. William Mahrt, the president of the CMAA, and a renowned scholar and intepreter of chant and early music. Here is Dr. Mahrt with us in one of our rehearsals:

We had quite a bit of material to master in only 3 or 4 rehearsals. Some of the polyphony was fairly simple, but some was quite challenging. Everybody dug in and worked very hard, and I think it came together pretty well.

Rehearsing in the Chapel Before Vespers
(photo courtesy of Roseanne Sullivan)

We were honored to have Bishop Salvatore Cordileone (auxiliary of San Diego) as celebrant for Vespers, assisted by Fr. Haynes of the Society of St. John Cantius and several other priests in choro. The organist played an improvisation on the opening versicle for Vespers, Deus, in adjutorium meum intende for the procession, then, having reverenced the altar and proceeding to the chair, Bishop Cordileone intoned the versicle.

The Procession

The Bishop at the chair, Intoning the Versicle

This first recording includes the conclusion of the organ processional, the versicle, and the first antiphon and psalm.

Versicle & Psalm 109
(Recording by Aristotle Esguerra, edited and optimized by me)

Bishop: Deus, in adjutorium meum intende.

Choir:  Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina.
            Gloria Patri et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
            Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
            et in saecula saeculorum, Amen.

Bishop: O God, incline to my assistance.

Choir: Lord, hasten to help me.
            Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
            as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
            world without end, Amen.

Antiphon: O magnum pietatis opus! Mors mortua tunc est, in ligno quando mortua vita fuit.

"O great work of compassion: death was destroyed on the tree, when life died on it, Alleluia."

The first psalm is psalm 109 (110), set in a falsobordone by Lorente de Anchuelo:

Psalm 109 (110):

The Lord said to my Lord: sit at my right hand,
until I make thy enemies thy footstool...

The Psalms were sung alternately in chant or polyphonically. The second psalm was psalm 110. The third psalm was 111 (112) in a setting by Ceballos. The antiphon for the third psalm was:

Ecce Crucem Domini, fugite partes adversae:
vicit leo de tribu Juda, radix David, alleluia.

"Behold the Cross of the Lord, flee, O ye His enemies:
he has vanquished, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, Alleluia."

Psalm 111 (112)

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord:
he shall delight exceedingly in His commandments...

Antiphon & Psalm 111
(Recording by Aristotle Esguerra, edited and optimized by me)

The Sanctuary and Choir During Vespers

The fourth and fifth psalms were 112 (113) and 116 (117). Psalm 112 was chanted, and Psalm 116 was another falsobordone setting, this time by Cabezon. The antiphon for Psalm 112 is:

Nos autem gloriari oportet in cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi.

"We ought, moreover, to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Psalm 112 (113)

Praise the Lord, O ye children: praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, from henceforth now and forever...

The antiphon for Psalm 116 is:

Per signum Crucis de inimicis nostris libera nos Deus noster.

"By the sign of the Cross, save us from our enemies, O our God."

Psalm 116 (117)

O praise the Lord, all ye nations:
praise Him, all ye people...

Psalms 112 & 116
(Recording by Aristotle Esguerra, edited and optimized by me)

Another photo of Dr. Mahrt and the choir (I'm the one in black in the center)

Following the psalmody was the capitulum, the "little chapter" or short scripture reading. This was from Phillipians 2:5-7:
Have among yourselves the same attitude
that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance.

Bishop Cordileone and the ministers

The Responsory after the readings was sung by the advanced men's chant schola, also directed by Dr. Mahrt:

O Crux gloriosa! O Crux adoranda!
O lignum pretiosum et admirabile signum!

O glorious Cross! O adorable Cross!
O most precious wood and admirable sign!
*Through which the devil is conquered and the world redeemed
by the blood of Christ, alleluia.
V.Let us adore the Sign of the Cross, through which we
have received the sacrament of salvation.
*Through which the devil is conquered and the world redeemed...
V.Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
*Through which the devil is conquered and the world redeemed...

Chapter and Responsory: O Crux Gloriosa
(Recording by Aristotle Esguerra, edited and optimized by me)

Dr. Mahrt and the advanced men's schola

The service continued with the singing of the ancient hymn Vexilla Regis:

"The banners of the King come forth;
brightly gleams the mystery of the Cross,
on which Life suffered death, and by his death,
obtained for us life..."

Finally, Vespers concluded with the singing of the Magnificat the final prayer and blessing, and the singing of the Salve Regina in the solemn tone.

Bishop Cordileone incensing the altar during the Magnificat

The Colloquium was a fantastic experience, and being able to sing such wonderful music in the context of real liturgy, rather than in merely a concert setting, brought home to me how this music was written and intended first and foremost as prayer.

Indeed, a spirit of prayerfulness permeated the whole of the Colloquium. While the atmosphere wasn't retreat-like or POD, nonetheless everyone there knew what we were there for, and what the Colloquium (and sacred music) is all about: the praise and glorification of God in music.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the instructors for the Colloquium. Quite apart from the fact that they were all superlative musicians and teachers, they all took very seriously the sacredness of what we were doing. It was quite clearly more than a job or profession or even something they loved very much. I observed in them a genuine and deep devotion and love for our faith. I was genuinely touched on a couple of occasions by things that either Dr. Mahrt or Wilko Brouwers said regarding music, faith, and prayer. It was this gently pervading sense of pietas, in the truest sense of the word, that raised the whole experience to something more than just enjoying good music.

I hope that pietas comes through in the recordings of the music presented to you here.

Something More From the CMAA Requiem Mass

I would have posted this earlier, but the circumstances explained in the previous post prevented it.

At the Requiem Mass I celebrated at the CMAA Colloquium, the chant scholae also sang the traditional sequence for the Requiem Mass, the Dies Irae:

Dies Irae
(Recording by Carl Dierschow, edited and optimized by me)

Dies iræ! dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla!

"Day of wrath, O that day,
which will dissolve the world in ashes,
as David and the Sibyll gave witness!"

(Go here for a complete text and translation)

Interestingly, though this sequence is not included in the Mass for the Dead in the modern Roman rite (Mass of Paul VI), it has never been suppressed, and exists as a "supplemental" text in the modern Breviary. Where it may be sung in the modern rite is a subject of some debate. At the Colloquium, it was sung, in keeping with Tradition, as a Sequence.

I am always moved on singing or hearing this, as it is a chant of great power and profundity, evoking the Last Things and our hope in Christ's mercy.

Sorry I've Been Away...

But here at St. Stan's the thunderstorms which have been ripping through the Midwest have hit us as well. Not as badly as in parts of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, thank God, but they've done their mischief here.

Last week we were hit by an almost-direct lightning strike, which wreaked havoc on our communications. The lightning strike traveled along some of our phone and data lines, and blew out:

(1) the parish/school digital phone system
(2) our gateway router
(3) 2 network multi-port switches
(4) the wireless router in the school
(5) the firewire card on my computer (that one's rather puzzling)
(6) 2 (count them) UPS Back-ups.

The gentleman who helps out as our volunteer IT pro said he's never seen so much damage from a single near-miss lightning strike. Oh, well, I guess it was our turn.

So, we were rather disabled here for a while, and I've been busy replacing equipment and getting things back up and running.

However, posting will be resuming now. Hopefully we will avoid the lightning (or it will avoid us).