We are not just material beings, but spiritual persons with a need for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that transcends the visible confines of this world. This longing for transcendence is a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth, goodness, and beauty are called the transcendentals of being, because they are aspects of being. Everything in existence has these transcendentals to some extent. God, of course, as the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, has these transcendentals to an infinite degree. Oftentimes, he draws us to himself primarily through one of these transcendentals. St. Augustine, who was drawn to beauty in all its creaturely forms, found the ultimate beauty he was seeking in God, his creator, the beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”―Sister Gabriella Yi, O.P.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Being Present

I've been re-reading Scott Hahn's book Letter and Spirit and pondering the awesome reality of the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary which is, in a nutshell, what every valid Mass is: earth meets heaven; heaven meets earth.

The Sacrifice of the Mass invites us to a very special kind of participation. That participation is not as many priests and laymen imagine, i.e., merely an "active participation". No, the participation to which we are called requires that we be present—heart, mind then body—to the Mystery of Faith. Catholics do pray with the whole person; we are not puritans. However, neither are we meant to focus on doing the Liturgy when in fact we are called to be present to Christ, the principal actor in the Mass. Being (Mary, who listened to Jesus) is the part better than doing (as Martha chose). It is the action of Christ in the Mass to which we are meant to focus our attention and intention. We are meant to forget self and focus on the person of Jesus Christ.

To be present is to listen first and then—immersed in the grace which God provides to those disposed to His grace—to respond wholeheartedly to God's invitation to holiness. Our response is first and foremost a response of the heart. Following the movement of the heart, the worshipper embodies the heart's inclination to adore. The body goes where the heart leads. (Obviously, the mind can be strengthened to choose a better part through the disciplines of fasting and prayer. Posture can condition in us the right mind for prayer. The Church rightly offers orthodox spiritual devotions or disciplines to help us train both the body and the mind to make us receptive to grace.) So, cognizant of the fact we are in the Presence of God, we kneel (at the Consecration). Recognizing we are in the company of the Lord, His angels and His saints, we bow (at the mention of the Name of Jesus and at the mention of the name of His Mother, and at the Holy Trinity). We bow or genuflect at the mention of the Incarnation (in the Credo). We sign ourselves with the Sign of the Cross (at the beginning of the Mass as we affirm the great Mystery into which we are about to enter). We Sign ourselves again, thrice, at the Holy Gospel, the constitution of man's salvation in Christ. We make the Sign of the Cross once again as we receive the blessing of Almighty God at being sent forth to bear witness to the Holy Gospel: Ite Missa Est.

Being present requires so much more "effort" than merely doing stuff. The effort called for in the Mass is one of receptivity—to the Word, and to the Holy Spirit, and to the Real Presence, Jesus Christ.



Many priests and laymen would have us believe that "a full and conscious participation" in the Liturgy means we must do more in a physical manner. That sense of 'full and conscious' participation is wrongly derived from a mistranslation of the original Latin—participatio actuosa. Our participation, if it be anything, is first and foremost actual, intentional, motivated by our intention to cooperate with God and be docile to the Holy Spirit.

If mere external activity was the goal, the word used in Council documents would have been activa, not actuosa. Intention is an action of the heart that "incarnates" in our ritual gestures that are responses to God's grace. This art of embodiment is graced action, an affirmative response to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to participate in the Sacrifice of Calvary.

Each baptized Christian bears the spiritual marks of the Crucifixion. We are called to live as "other Christs" bearing the Good News of salvation to a world that hungers for authenticity, life, hope, joy, love and faith. Ritual action teaches and forms us in the way of right action—graced action. Our acts must be configured to the grace of God.

It seems more likely that Catholics would have a better understanding of the actuosa participatio if they embraced a deeper commitment to the concept of the Sabbath. To keep the Sabbath is to rest. Our rest is patterned on the rest of God. Busy-ness in the Mass—constant nattering at the congregation to "participate"—hardly embodies the reality of the Sabbath. Furthermore, Catholics should reflect more deeply on Mary's choice contrasted with Martha's choice in the Gospel (Luke 10:38-42).

Because too many liturgists cling to an error in translation, laymen and laywomen flood into the sanctuary as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC), for example. "Leaders of Song" badger the congregation into singing every badly conceived ditty, even though nowhere is mentioned in the renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council, the renewal explicitly identified by Sacrosanctum Concilium, that the congregation is meant to supplant the role of the choir. The Council envisioned the congregation singing the acclamations and responses, not the congregation robbing the choir of its role in singing the Proper chants—i.e., the Introit, Gradual Psalm, Alleluia verse, Offertory chant and Communion. Neither did the Council promote the idea that beautiful polyphonic settings of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus and Agnus Dei) should be replaced with trite, awkward settings in the vernacular.

The democratization of the Liturgy has resulted in a loss of depth in the music of the Mass. Sacred polyphony—truly sacred polyphony which is capable of bearing the message of the Gospel and capable, therefore, of bearing the soul deeply into the Mystery of God—has been marginalized by people who decry any high art as "performance music". Sunday to Sunday, we are forced to bear unsingable melodies set in registers hardly conducive to the congregation and barely singable by amateur choirs. Add to the weekly horror show singers who perform with a mile-wide vibrato and you have the reason why Catholic liturgical practices are ridiculed, and rightly so, by trained Catholic musicians who, not appreciated in their own communities, offer their talents for non-Catholic communities that honour skilled musicians and support them financially.

If we want to retain our best musicians, we must
  • configure the celebration of the Liturgy to the music which is lauded by the Council: chant and sacred polyphony. In other words, priests and people must necessarily get with the Second Vatican Council program!
  • offer qualified musicians (cantors and organists) a decent stipend. Professional or near-professional quality cantors should be employed (paid!) to present the music of the Mass. The Mass is meant to be sung, and there are parts of the Mass which require a trained cantor. So, let's train more cantors and pay additional qualified cantors to elevate the level of sung prayer from the level of the cheap, crass and mundane to the level of the true, the good and the beautiful. Let us offer our best to God, the One Who made us and Who redeems man from the grave. The Holy Trinity Who is deserving of all our praise and thanksgiving!

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.