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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Future of the Roman Rite

The Sacred Liturgy is at the heart of the Catholic experience. It is the source of divine grace and the summit of activity for the entire life of the Church. In the Liturgy, the Church’s public worship, the entire Mystical Body of Christ is caught up in a common act of adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication, in which the Body receives nourishment from communion with the Head, Jesus Christ. Sent forth from worship of the Divine Presence, the members of Christ's Body engage the mundane and transform the world. Precisely because of its impact and significance for the Church, the Liturgy is often the topic of much discussion. Liturgy is where we meet God. So, it’s no wonder that it means so much to so many, and that it becomes a passionate crusade for some.
Liturgy was the most visible and recognizable change initiated by the Second Vatican Council. Everyone who lived through it can describe their human experience of the change and the effect it had on them, both positive and negative. Since that time, Catholics have not ceased evaluating and discussing the impact of conciliar liturgical reform and questioning certain aspects of that reform.
In this post-conciliar era, disparate camps have attempted to take the Liturgy under their own control. Radical traditionalists have dug in their heels and insisted on a calcified rite with no openness to organic development. Extreme progressives have also rejected organic development, fabricating knee-jerk changes – everything from re-arranging the Good Friday Liturgy to writing their own Eucharistic Prayers – on their own initiative. The first approach ignores the guidance of the Holy Spirit and legitimate liturgical development; the latter rejects Vatican II’s clear statement in Sacrocanctum Concilium that “no one, not even a priest, may add, subtract, or change” the Church’s ritual. Both are incomplete.
Ted Rosean caricatures these divergent positions in an editorial in the August issue of U. S. Catholic. He contrasts the “bowing down to God in fear” traditionalists with the “back-slapping brother Jesus” progressives, calling the liturgical expressions of both camps a “scandal.” The author has a certain bias in favor of the modern, claiming that “the progressive, alternative Masses are much less troubling than the return of the Tridentine Mass” because “folk” liturgies and the like tend in the direction of the Council’s intent. I contend that the documents of the Council, and those of the Church since the Council, present a different picture. The discontinuous rupture, which led to casual liturgy, is not supported by the documents of the Church or the words of the Holy Fathers. Still, Rosean’s desire for one, unified rite is a proper expression of faith. His conclusion that “[w]e need to get more people to celebrate the existing rite well” is one that I can wholeheartedly stand behind. The question remains: what needs to happen to insure that the Roman Rite of Vatican II is celebrated well so that it will sustain the faith of the Church for generations to come?
For this answer, there is no better place to turn than the rich liturgical treasure of the Roman Rite. We can look to our history to discover the tools we need to form our future. If we consider the Mass of 1962, or of John XXIII, we might identify four obvious themes that exemplify distinction from our current experience of the Mass: the language of the ritual, the complexity of ritual, the use of Sacred Scripture, and the direction of prayer. The reforms initiated by Vatican II certainly called for the use of the vernacular, while preserving the use of Latin; the streamlining of ritual according to principles of noble simplicity and progressive solemnity and the elimination of excess and repetition; and a wider and more varied use of Scripture.
Arguably the most significant (in terms of positive impact on the faithful) liturgical reform of the Council was the expansion of readings from the Bible and the allowance for those readings to be proclaimed by lay persons in the vernacular, thus opening up greater possibilities for forming the faithful in the Word of God. Two of the other notable reforms have been subject to popular distortion in recent decades. First, the re-organization and simplification of ritual does not mean a shift toward a utilitarian, minimalist and casual approach to the Liturgy. Yet, this has happened in certain places according to the whim of the participants. Second, the use of the vernacular does not mean the abandonment of the Latin language, nor of the Church’s rich patrimony of Gregorian chant. Yet, these have all but vanished from our Catholic memory. The future effectiveness of the Roman Rite in leading the faithful into worship of God depends in large part upon a re-discovery of a sense of sacred ritual and a re-appropriation of the Church’s sacred cultic language and musical treasure.
All this leaves us with the question of the direction of our prayer at Mass. The posture of the priest is perhaps the single most noticeable and controversial liturgical development of the Vatican II era. The previous ritual is often falsely caricatured as “the priest turning his back to the people.” The implications of change are far-reaching. Having the priest facing the people when he is praying to God, particularly for the Eucharistic Prayer, risks taking the focus away from the Theo-Centric nature of divine worship and turning the Liturgy into a closed-in circle of human beings. When the priest and people face together in a common direction (and that is what is really going on in the former ritual practice), the unity of the Church in her worship of God is emphasized and ritually portrayed. In the early Church, Christians faced East, the direction of the rising sun from which they believed Jesus would return on the last day (hence the description for the priest’s posture: “ad orientem” – “toward the East”). A common direction toward the altar or crucifix retains this symbolism. The practice of facing the altar remains an option which a number of priests and parishes are embracing. In my limited experience, I find that it takes the focus of the Liturgy away from ourselves, away from the person of the priest-celebrant, and re-orients our focus on the Lord. It further places all who are gathered for Mass in a unified spirit of prayer. The direction of our prayer changes how we pray, and how we pray transforms our relationship with God. When we pray together with a sense of focusing primarily on God, our prayer forms us to live our whole lives with the same focus on Him. There is nothing so significant for the future of the Roman Rite as the re-discovery of the ancient practice of turning together toward the Lord. The pastoral and prudent consideration of the direction of our prayer ought to occupy the thoughts and prayers of all in the Church in these days.

Homily 18 October 2009 29th Sunday of the Year

Click on the title for a link to the audio file.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Homily 28th Sunday of the Year / Respect Life Month 11 October 2009

Just after 3:00 a.m. on March 13, 1964,
a red Fiat rolled slowly through the darkness into a parking lot
adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road station in Queens in NYC.

A young woman emerged from her car
and began to walk toward her apartment house.
But then she spotted someone in her path.
She changed direction and headed toward a police call box.Suddenly, the man overtook her. She screamed.
Residents of nearby apartments turned on their lights and opened their windows.

The woman screamed loudly again and again, crying out “Please help me!"
as her attacker stabbed her to .
Ignoring her cries, her neighbors turned out their lights
and slammed their windows shut.
Forty-five minutes later, a neighbor called the police.
Officers arrived and found the body.
They identified the victim as Catherine Genovese, 28 years of age.
Thirty-eight neighbors witnessed the attacks,
but none came to her aid or even called the police.
They were too indifferent, frightened or self-absorbed to "get involved"
and help a fellow human being in trouble.
Over the years, there have been studies of what is now called
"the Genovese syndrome."
Commenting on this incident, one psychologist wrote:
"If we need help, will those around us let us be destroyed
or will they come to our aid?
Are we there to help sustain life and values,
or are we individual flecks of dust just floating around in a vacuum?"

As we hear the desperate cries of those whose lives are under attack in our society,
are we there to help sustain human life and values
and come to the aid of the defenseless among us
or are we indifferent, frightened and selfish
that we allow those around us to be destroyed?

As we celebrate this Respect Life Month, we are faced with precisely this question.

This special celebration is an opportunity to praise God for the precious gift of life
and also an occasion to examine how we are responding
to the basic human obligation
to share in the defense of vulnerable human lives.

As has been the case at various times throughout world history,
we find ourselves in the midst of a struggle…
a struggle for values…and for the lives of our brothers and sisters.

The voices of the world…the media, the talking heads, the ivory tower academics…
present a limited and at times damaging view of human life.
Hiding under the fa├žade of mercy toward the suffering,
euthanasia really speaks a language of hatred toward the elderly and the sick.

While perpetuating the myth that it promises cures for horrible diseases,
research on embryonic stem cells manipulates and destroys
human persons in the embryonic stage –
the same stage in which we once lived in our human development.

While promising women an easy way out of a difficult and embarrassing situation,
abortion is a lie that leaves in its wake pain and depression for women
and the of millions of children.

Capital Punishment, while not intrinsically evil like these other issues,
and though accepted in a limited and narrow way by Church teaching,
unfortunately contributes to the mentality
that we solve our conflicts and problems with .

Quite to the contrary, God our Heavenly Father,
He who has created us and who loves as His own children,
speaks a word of love, saying: “You are beloved and valuable to me.”

He speaks a word of tender mercy to women and families hurt by abortion…
and of compassion to the sick and elderly.

To every human person, in the womb, in the hospital bed,
at risk from attacks on human life,
God says: “I love you and you are mine forever!”
God’s passionate love for the lives He has created is not negotiable.
It is not open for discussion.
There is no doubt or argument
about how and when and in what circumstances God loves us,
for the life of every person is precious in His sight – all the time.
God’s love is perfect and faithful.

Therefore, it makes no sense to debate about the sacredness of human life
nor how valuable and precious it is to us, who are God’s beloved children.
God loves every life…always…and so must we!

God calls us to unity and solidarity in consistently opposing the intrinsic evils
that threaten the precious lives of our brothers and sisters.

There are many social issues which can be broadly considered “life issues” –
from those which actually threaten the lives of the unborn and the unwanted
to other issues of justice which are themselves significant
such as seeking world peace and ending hunger and poverty.

Our Christian faith and our experience of God’s love
inspire our response to these desperate needs of our fellow men and women.

Christian morality teaches us that the deliberate attacks on the unborn and elderly
are of greater moral weight because of the unique evils they cause
and so they demand a more profound response.


We are called to embrace a consistent love for every life without exception,
and to work for justice for all people
while at the same time prioritizing the most heinous crimes against life.

Our concrete response to the attacks on life takes many forms:
praying peacefully
reaching out to scared and lonely young women in difficult situations
supporting Catholic Charities in their ministry to pregant women
teaching and forming our young people in God’s ways
writing to our legislators and voicing our Christian beliefs
speaking out when faced with people and situations that do not revere life.

God’s love for human life is non-negotiable, so our must be as well.

When faced with the global crisis of the attacks against life,
we who are Christ’s followers do not close our doors,
turn out our lights, slam our windoes shut
and ignore the cries of those in need.

Instead, we pray, speak out and work passionately for the cause of life,
God’s precious gift for which we daily give thanks and praise.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Homily 27th Sunday of the Year 4 October 2009

In the movie “Fireproof,”
Kirk Cameron plays Caleb Holt,
an heroic and respected captain of a city fire department
who values dedication and service to others
thinks little of risking his life to save those in danger
and never leaves his partner behind.

Yet, at home, his most important partnership in life is going up in smoke.

His marriage to Catherine, played by Erin Bethea, is slowly crumbling.

Both husband and wife, though devoted to their careers,
are superficial in their relationship with each other.
His fireman’s schedule and her 9 to 5 routine rarely overlap
and it is as if they are leading totally separate lives
while living under the same roof.
Their respective friends support their individual selfishness
and fail to help them see the web of problems in their marriage.

When Caleb’s father offers him a book
containing a 40-day plan aimed at restoring a troubled marriage,
he reluctantly accepts the challenge
and begins a painful process of transforming his life.


Each day, he takes greater steps to make his love for his wife come alive.
By his self-sacrifice and dedication,
accepting the responsibility even when all the blame is not on him,
he fights valiantly to restore their relationship.

At moments he could have given up on his marriage and walked away,
he courageously goes back into the fire, as it were,
placing his commitment to love above all else
and refusing to leave his partner behind.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is presented by the Pharisees with the question of divorce.

The Israelites had so strayed from God’s paths regarding marriage
and so burdened the heart of their leader, Moses,
that he relented and allowed them to divorce one another.

We can relate to the condition of the culture in the time of Jesus.

Sadly, in our world today, divorce is an everyday occurrence,
statistically as common among Catholics as in the general population,
and increasingly accepted as an easy way out.

We are captivated by celebrities, who bounce from one marriage to another,
with seemingly no concern about the consequences for themselves
or the young people who look up to them.


When the Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is lawful, they are trying to trap him.
Yes, strictly speaking, from a human point of view, divorce is lawful.
Moses has allowed it and it has become part of the Jewish legal tradition.

However, in God’s eyes, it is not only unlawful, it is impossible.
Jesus replies to the Pharisees by appealing to the account of God’s original creation
and therefore to His original design for the human person.

He cuts through the confusion, holds up the dignity of marriage
and calls them back to the original truth of God’s plan.

He says,
“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall…be joined to his wife
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

In the beginning of creation, God created the human person in His image,
created them male and female
and designed them to live united in a loving relationship
after the image of God who is love.

Men and women are made for each other, made for love,
and destined to image God by their loving union.

With heavy hearts, we recognize that at times relationships truly fail,
indicating at times that the foundation of a real union was never there at all.
The separation of husbands and wives has devastating effects on young people,
who are caught in the middle of their parents’ real suffering.

Surrounded by failed attempts to love and the debris of broken lives,
we turn in confidence to God,
whose love and care are boundless and unfailing.

That infinite and tender love of our Heavenly Father,
together with His beloved Son and their Holy Spirit,
is revealed in the love of husband and wife.

As Jesus did for the Pharisees,
the Church holds up the dignity of marriage between men and women,
calling all people to its fundamental truth.

None of the various wild animals or birds of the air,
though beautiful creatures of God in themselves, truly satisfied Adam,
until at last God created woman,
whom Adam declares is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!”

Only woman is a suitable partner for man, and the two become one flesh.

So, too, for each of you are called to married love,
there is only one in God’s plan who is truly yours,
who completes you, and with whom you become one flesh.
You know this in your hearts – you knew it when your eyes first met –
because the longing deep within your souls and truth of God are one!
The love you share compels you like nothing else to live for the other,
to fight for the growth and deepening of your relationship in Christ,
and to never leave your partner behind.

In the face of such love, human wisdom stands aghast in awe.
For in this love, the love of husband and wife, mankind beholds the image of God.

This love is worth fighting for, in our homes and in our society.
And so, into the fire we go, together, as people of faith,
confident that strong and virtuous marriages and families
remain the best and brightest beacons of hope
for the future of God’s marvelous creation.