Sunday, October 30, 2011

Technology and Contemplative Nuns

Nuns Using the Internet
for Contemplative Outreach

Here's a link to a great article in the Irish Times of Dublin about how contemplatives there are using the Internet as a means of reaching out to the world and attracting vocations.

Among the communities featured in the very well done and informative piece are our own sisters in the Monastery of St. Alphonsus in the Drumcondra section of Dublin. This is the community with which I spent three weeks last May. It was such a joy to be with them. Check out the article and get to know more about them.

Note: More to come on the New Roman Missal.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Disciples on the Road to Emmaus

A Lens
Through Which
We Can Enter
the Holy Mass

Fourth Article of a Series

Writing a series of articles on the topic of the New Roman Missal which will be inaugurated throughout the world on the first Sunday of Advent is an exercise in ‘readiness’. I am preparing myself for the transition in an attempt to move to a deeper place; to unite myself more completely with Holy Mass, often described as the ”source and summit” of our faith. These thoughts are being shared here as a means of assisting others to do the same. We need assistance because change is rarely fun and there has been a great deal of rhetoric in circulation about this very significant event. The call is to go beyond the rhetoric and re-enter the Mystery.

Our understanding of the Mass, consisting mainly of a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist, can be expanded by using the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34) as a metaphorical lens providing greater clarity. What happens at Mass can be described as an ‘Emmaus process’.

In that very human story we find two disciples (two men or perhaps a man and a woman) walking away from Jerusalem, away from the great suffering and tragedy of the death of their Master. In their conversation they are trying to make sense of it all – the pain, the futility, the disappointment, the confusion and fear for their very lives. Along comes an eavesdropping stranger who, joining them in stride, enters their conversation and proceeds to cite scripture, illustrating to them how the death of the Messiah had been foretold by the Prophets and had now been fulfilled in their sight. His presentation must have been mesmerizing because we are told they had no desire to end the conversation and invited the stranger to eat with them. And Luke records: “…He took the bread, pronounced a blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him…”

The story has two movements that mirror the movements of the Mass; first, the Mystery is unveiled; it is revealed through the words of Scripture. And second, the person who is the very Mystery is recognized as being present their company. In the Liturgy of the Word, the readings from Scripture that we hear at the beginning of Mass, the mysteries of our faith and their meaning are revealed and expanded upon. They speak to our heads and hearts and can be further magnified by a well-prepared and delivered homily. Then we move into the Liturgy of the Eucharist in which the mysteries of our faith as embodied in the person of Jesus Christ are made present on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine. And we know Him in the breaking of the breaking of the bread.

Not unlike the troubled travelers on the way to Emmaus, we arrive at church for our Sunday worship awhirl in a myriad of emotions, pressures and concerns. We come, consciously or unconsciously, looking for clarity, solace, affirmation. We may also come with a heart full of joy and thanksgiving looking for an opportunity to offer praise to our benevolent God. At the end of Luke’s story the disciples ask each other, “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Our desire must carry us beyond the issues of the language of Mass, the quality of the presider, the babies who may or may not be crying around us or the annoyance of last minute arrivals. At the end of Mass, inspite of whatever tries to get in the way, we all want to leave with burning hearts, our faith fanned into flame once more for the love of God, our constant companion on the way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arriving Officially on November 27, 2011

Receiving the New
Roman Missal
Third Article of a Series

We could call it a challenge. We could call it a transition. We could call it many things. Bottom line is that changes are always difficult. American Roman Catholics come to Sunday worship from so many different walks of life, cultures, races, ethnicities, levels of secular education and levels of religious education that the task of presenting the New Roman Missal for use at all Masses is a truly daunting prospect. Some, in spite of their misgivings and concerns, have already wisely launched into the process with efforts to inform and educate the community and gradual introduction of new wording and music. Others seem to have hidden their heads in the sand.

The New Roman Missal is coming knocking at the door. How will we receive it as individuals and as worshipping communities? That is the question. Sister Sandy DeMasi, SSJ and Father Richard Groncki, SJ, members of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, suggest that the occasion of this change in our worship calls us to give greater attention to the liturgical theological meaning of the Mass. Such consideration can be a means of spiritually encouraging full, active, conscious, participation in Holy Mass. After all the Mass is "the Source and Summit of our faith". In this level of discussion the issue is not Latin vs. English, the old English vs. the new English translation; not simply the accumulation of intellectual knowledge but rather the nature of the face to face encounter with Jesus Christ and contemplative engagement that takes place at the Eucharistic feast.  Simply speaking, this time can be looked upon as an invitation to go deeper than words. Sister Sandy and Father Groncki spoke of it as “a moment of liturgical catechesis”.

As you wait for the next installment of this series to appear you might find it helpful, illuminating or just plain grounding to meditate upon what it is you experience when you come to Mass. What are you hoping for? What is it in the Eucharistic Rite that most connects with your being? What reveals God to you? What do you think is happening on that altar when the priest blesses the bread and wine and evokes the Holy Spirit? What is Jesus’ specific invitation to you in the words, “This is my body, which will be given up for you”?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Coming Soon to Your Parish

The New Roman Missal
Second Article in a Series

About one week ago each of the sisters in our contemplative community was given a CD recording of the new adaptation of The Heritage Mass musical setting for the parts of the Mass often sung by the congregation. The melodies we have been singing for over 30 years are very familiar to all church-going American Catholics. But the changes in wording of these prayers in the New Roman Missal, which goes into use on the First Sunday of Advent, require some tweaking of the original music. Old habits are hard to break. We had a week to listen to the music privately and attune our ears and vocal chords to the differences. Today we had our first practice session with a music teacher. We did well, I must say, even though we do not all read music! We even got to listen to the new Mass music by Dan Shutte. Now we have another CD to listen to so that it will become familiar before our next practice.

My last post introduced the topic of the New Roman Missal for use at Mass and presented some of the historical background. Here I would like to present some additional information and some thoughts to ponder. Most of the material is taken from talks given by Monsignor Richard E. Groncki, SJ and Sister Sandy DeMasi, SSJ from the Liturgy Office of the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey. They spoke at a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities.

Picking up on the translation history in my last post, it is necessary to say that there has been a history of effort toward liturgical renewal in the Church all through the 20th century and now into the 21st. There was a movement for renewal and liturgical adaptations made in each pontificate of the period. This began with the reforms of Pius X (1903-1914) which promoted the reception of First Eucharist at a younger age for children. Another reform with which some of us are familiar is the abolition of the all-night fast before receiving Holy Communion. And most memorable is the great shift into the vernacular which took place in the 1970s. It is a mistake therefore to think that the way things are now is how they always have been. One can imagine a cry from some quarters about allowing seven-year-olds to received Communion or about the sacrilege of ending the overnight fast. We can go back even further to a long period in the history of Church when receiving Communion daily or even weekly was not permitted. Saints we revere had to get special permission to do so.

What we will experience this Advent season will be another change in the continuum of constant change in our world, or families, our lives, and our Church. But we resist change with all our might. It makes us very uncomfortable and we find it arduous.

The text of the Mass that we are now using was approved in 1975 to take the place of the first English translation of 1970. Both of these translations were created as dynamic equivalency translations. Since this was the first time we would hear the words for the truths of our faith in English, it was thought that although literal translation was important it was also necessary that the words made sense. Thus attention was given to the catechetical dimension – the ability of the text to be a teacher of the faith.

The type of translation called for in the 3rd typical edition of the Roman Missal in English to go into use on November 27, 2011 is referred to as formal equivalency translation. This translation sought word for word equivalency in meaning and an effort to retain the syntax (sentence structure) of the original Latin. It is marked by great deference to God, a high level of theology, adherence to scriptural references and less allowance for the celebrant to make on the spot changes.

Next time, we can consider the challenge presented in this change. We can consider how we might view this great shift in the liturgical setting as a challenge in our faith development. But more to the point, how we might use it as a vehicle for deepening our relationship with the One we come to meet with our brothers and sisters gathering for worship. Can we find the invitation here?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Biggest Secret in the Catholic Church

The New Roman Missal
to Your Celebration
of Holy Mass
First Article in a Series

According to poll findings quoted in a recent national Catholic publication 77% of the Roman Catholics in the United States have no idea that when they come to Mass on November 27, 2011, the first Sunday of Advent, beginning of the Liturgical Year, all of the spoken parts of the Mass will have been changed, some in minor ways and some in major ways. At the very least, we will all be jarred out of our comfortable automatic response to the priest who says, “The Lord be with you.” We will no longer say, “And also with you,” but rather, “And with your spirit.” To be jarred out of sheer habitual response is not necessarily a bad thing. Much more thought provoking will be some unusual vocabulary, some unusual sentence constructions and, most importantly, changes in translation that will make us think more deeply and perhaps for the first time in a long time about just what it is we celebrate when we come together as the People of God and gathere around the table of the Lord for the Eucharistic Feast.

A bit of simple explanation for those to whom this is indeed big news. The words we say and hear at any Mass today are an English translation created in accord with the liturgical reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council (1961-65). The translators were commissioned to produce an English version of the Latin Mass of the Missale Romanum. They were directed to translate for closest meaning into modern English the Latin in the Missale Romanum first promulgated in 1570 after the Council of Trent. In the four hundred intervening years minor changes  had been made in the Missale Romanum however the language of the Mass remained Latin and the rubrics of the Rite remained virtually the same from 1570 on.

There is a saying among those who carry out the arduous and thankless task of translation; “The translator is a traitor.” Unless you know two languages well enough to attempt translation, you cannot appreciate how difficult the process of translating for meaning as well as fluidity can be. Languages simply do not match and nuances of meaning often cannot be put into reasonable words in the second language, never mind the impossibility of idiomatic expressions that defy translation because they are so deeply rooted in only their particular culture. These days amazing translations of Russian literature into English are being done by a much lauded team of husband and wife, Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. A great article about them appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. She is a native speaker of Russian with a huge command of the English language. He is a native English speaker with a corresponding command of Russian. Each translates the Russian work independently and then they hash out all of the puzzles in the ways their versions do not agree. It takes years.

Prayers for Vigil Mass for Christmas

For years there have been complaints about our current English translation of the Missale Romanum. So, as you will find out if you go the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it was decided that a new translation be prepared, a translation closely faithful to the literal meaning of the original Latin and even to matching its sentence structure. There has been a great deal of back and forth about this New Roman Missal. But over a year ago it was announced that it would become the official translation for the Mass on the first Sunday of Advent this year. As a bit of trivia – the book the priest uses at the altar which contains all of these prayers has been called the “Sacramentary” since 1970. No longer will it be so. The book on the altar will be called the “Roman Missal”.

These changes have also had consequences for church musicians since the wording for the parts of the Mass commonly sung, that is the Gloria, the Holy, the Eucharistic Acclamation, and the Lamb of God, have been changed requiring adaptation to some Mass settings and composition of entirely new ones. We will have to learn them. Some parishes began this process weeks, if not months, ago. Here in our monastery we have been listening to an adapted Heritage Mass Setting on CDs.

More will follow here on this subject. Perhaps this explanation and the links provided will assist you in beginning your own transition to the new text and also promote a smoother process in the community with which you worship. That which we partake at the Eucharistic celebration, that which we remember so as to make Him present in this place and time goes far beyond mere words, whatever the language.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sisters in Good Company

I awoke to clutter everywhere
Calling me to weave
My life into
Fabrics of soft, rich color or
Bold, dramatic design or
Lacey, light musical tones and texture
To drape on the soul
In her wild dance
Of Transformation.
            Weaving a Life by Sister Bette

…Yet will Love remain constant and pure.
I shall dwell with Love in gratitude and joy;
I shall sing praises to the Beloved,
Heart of my heart.
            Psalm 7 (last verses)
            Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill

An original poem and the ancient wisdom of poetic psalms speak of truth and constancy, two great lessons from blessed time spent with Sister Bette, hermit of Stockton Springs, Maine, living in the utter sufficiency of a circular wooden yurt on Lighthouse Road. Another structure, a canvas roofed yurt, her first home in the woods, now serves as her studio; the loom room in which she creates hand woven garments, shawls, mats and runners earning her reputation as weaver of note. This is paradise to the solitary weaver of her own handspun yarns.

First called to apostolic religious life in a Wisconsin community, Sister Bette eventually felt drawn to live an even further remove from the hustle and bustle of the ordinary market place. She began a long search for the right place to establish a hermitage.

“I…am waiting for winter, its silence and solitude speaking of Intimate love in the darkness – Let’s listen!”

Bette and I have written to each other once or twice a year since our first meeting at the 2004. I was drawn to her as a source of wisdom; an experienced practitioner of the contemplative way, following a solitary path. She was a courageous hermit persevering in steadfast presence before the God of Love and Mystery. Could she teach my extroverted self something about living as a contemplative in community? Could she offer some wisdom for my own journey, my experience of the contemplative way of living together as hermits sharing the common life?

“The unfolding mystery in us; is us.”

I have saved every wise and compassionate letter received from Bette. Our friendship is a strange, inexplicable mutual gift. We both admit to fumbling on our way to God – mysterious and remote while at the same time intimately present in ways beyond our comprehension. For us, sharing our struggles is a means of restoring the bulwark supporting the singular and often lonely contemplative path.

Sometimes longed for meetings with friends rarely seen in person can fall so short of eager expectation. However, my visit with Bette in the early days of August was all and more than I had hoped it would be. Merely being blessed with the opportunity for this contemplative nun and the reclusive hermit to meet was miracle. Bette was typically open and generous; happy as a child to know that I was coming; enjoying all of her planning and preparations for a quintessential Maine lobster lunch presented in her home. “Why eat out when we can talk so freely here?” Bette further explained how our festive meal was provided by the postponed use of a birthday gift from a generous friend. She rejoiced that the gift was magnified in being twice shared.

A tour of her weaving studio and then her wooden yurt replete with solar energy, wood stove, well water, and compost toilet gave a sense of the simplicity with which this hermits lives her days. After driving into the village to pick up steaming lobsters just out of the pot we drove passed the homes of her neighbors.  Many of these friends are very supportive and attentive in their care and attention to Bette’s needs as an older woman living alone in natural terrain and sometimes hostile climate.

Bette put last minutes touches to a meal set out with great love, blessed by her prayers and crowned as sacrament in the wine we shared. Cracking open our lobsters, we enthusiastically sucked out every bit of juicy meat they offered. But greater than this feast of tasty food and enervating wine was our presence to each other.  We rejoiced in the beneficence of God who makes all things possible, even a yurt and a visit to Stockton Springs on Maine’s rocky and lighthouse dotted coast.

“What really matters is Divine Love – and becoming an icon of Christ’s love in the world.”

We shared the challenges of our lives; making sense of vocations which seem to have little or no significance in our world and even our Church; coping with aging, mortality and loss of those we know and love; our own diminishing strength and number of days; the need for a tenacious hold on the Presence in us and among us; and persevering in our availability to the energetic Center of all creation.

Bette spoke so enthusiastically of the inspiration recently received at a Franciscan conference. The invitation issued there radiated from the lives of Saints Francis and Clare and the Gospel of John reminding of the call; the call to be in our own lives a constant presence, an ever-burning flame. If we do no more, we cannot fail if we but maintain ourselves as a burning flame in the Presence of God.

Woven in and out through our conversation like the hand spun yarn in Bette’s weaving shuttle was the theme of knowledge of self and truth to ones own reality. In remaining available to the Divine, in faithfulness to our spiritual discipline, in our generous contemplation, we learn who we are and find, in companionship with our loving God, the strength to live as who and what we were created to be. And so we ate with each other and fed each other all the while knowing and feeling the most Sacred of Energies flowing in, through and between, informing, enlivening, enriching and blessing it all.