Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Season Begins

Feast of St. Andrew
Start of a Christmas Novena

Now that we are well into tripping our way through Mass with the Roman Missal, Third Edition, we can move on. But before we do, why don't yopu take a bit of time to post a comment about how the adjustment to the New Roman Missal is going in your parish or how it feels to you. Just click on the word "comments" below and go for it.

We can now look toward orienting ourselves to the Advent journey. This is the mystery of Mary's "Yes" to the angel Gabriel and Jesus' "Yes" to the desire of the Father that the second person of the Blessed Trinity should become incarnate in human flesh, should enter into our human condition.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle and the tradition day to start a Christmas prayer practice. I weas introduced to this as a high school student be the good sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY at Fontbonne Hall Academy. A little card I have saved through the years bears the 1897 imprimatur of Michael Augustine, Archbishop  of New York.

Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer
and grant my petition
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and of His Blessed Mother.

This prayer is to be said 15 times a day beginning today and ending on Christmas day. Perfect for the intention dearest to your heart at this time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Time for a Book Review

The Paper Garden
by Molly Peacock

Pancratium Maritinum

No, this is not a painting. No, it was not recently done. No, it is not the work of some agile, bright-eyed student of the fine arts or avid botanist. This is an exact botanical reproduction entirely constructed of cut paper. It was made in the late 1770s or early 1780s. The artist, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) began creating such works in the 72nd year of her remarkable life. After the death of her second husband, a much older man with whom she had a most affectionate marriage (very unlike her first), she distractedly picked up paper and small scissors in an attempt to create an exact replica of a geranium blossom. With this creative act and she became the originator of the art of paper or mix-media collage. She produced 985 of these works in an eight year span. These breath-taking botanically correct cut-paper flowers are housed in the British Museum. In 2010 a large exhibit featuring some of her works was mounted at the Yale Museum of British Art. 

Molly Peacock's book, The Paper Garden: An Artist {Begins Her Life's Work} at 72, NY: Bloomsbury, 2010, is an unusual combination of biography of the subject with a smattering of the author's autobiographical material. Although her family had good connections they were forever concerned with having enough money. However, the good connections served Mary Delany well so the book is sprinkled with great historic figures such as the composer Handel whom she met as a young girl and in adulthood was invited to sit-in on his rehearsals!

Her story appeals to the artist in me. Her pursuit of beauty and art throughout her life, her ingenuity and application and skill in her seventh decade sets her up as quite a heroine. Even more encouraging is that a lifetime of fine work in the needle arts seems to have prepared her for this tour de force. Twelve of her works appear in the book, some with additional detail images. It is worth looking for the book at your public library (where I found it by pure chance) just to examine and mediate on the blossoms.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The New Rite - A Mass for Mission

"Go and preach
  Jesus Christ
  and, if you must,
  use words."

Sixth and Last Article of a Series

The fifth essay in this series marking the arrival of the New Roman Missal on the first Sunday of Advent came to a close with the theme of transformation in Christ. The point being made was that the Liturgy of the Eucharist is not a mere memorial, a mere re-enactment of Jesus’ actions and words at his last supper. It is an act in which remembering calls into present time the saving action, the redemptive action, of that event which took place over two thousand years ago. And in that present moment at any Mass not only are the elements of bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ but we too, along with those gifts or offerings, are subject to transformation. We arrive with a desire for God. We make ourselves available at the liturgy. We open our hearts to receive, however troubled, however skeptical, however distracted, and the transforming Jesus enters in. Yes, it is all very mystical. Karl Rahner, the great theologian said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or not at all.

Anyone as old as I am will remember the Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. What was just described here is the action of that grace. And we take it with us when we walk out the door of the church back into our lives, all a complicated mix of joys and sorrows, pain and ecstacy, disappointment and fulfillment. It is the power of our Trinitarian, relational, energetic God working in us.

The language of the New Roman Missal translation of the Latin Mass often emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the fact that the Mass is designed to call to mind the entire Paschal Mystery, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ last supper is thought to have been a Passover meal, itself a remembering into the present of the preservation of the Hebrews by blood of slaughtered lambs splashed onto the door posts. Jesus knew he was going to die, that he would be sacrificed like the Passover lamb. To remember him fully is to remember his passion and death on the cross. Yet, at that last meal the gestures or actions he expressly asked his disciples to imitate were neither violent nor bloody. Before breaking the bread at table, he rose, put on an apron and washed the feet of those present, friends and enemies. Afterward he asked them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? This is what you too must do.” Knowing this would be a huge challenge, especially after experiencing his gruesome death, he left them his consolation. “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you…for this is the chalice of my blood…poured out for you…for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

The Eucharist shared at the memorial meal, our Mass, is to spiritually empower us for the hard work of washing each others feet, of being other Christs, of preaching the love of Jesus Christ without using words. William C. Spohn has written, “If the disciples had taken Jesus literally, Christians would be washing feet every Sunday.” (Go and Do Likewise, 4) Jesus was not asking for literal imitation. He was asking them to love each other whoever "the other" happens to be. This was his last plea to them; an instruction so radical that only washing their feet as if he was a slave could adequately make his point.

We bring everything we are with us when we participate in a Mass. Perhaps we sit in the back because we know only too well all that we bring. We also carry a sack of emotions full of our joys, challenges and trials. In the hearing of the Word and the breaking of the bread we transcend time and space. We enter as mystics into the life of the Trinity. We trust in the transformative power of that life and carry away with us the effect of its rays, a heart burning once again, renewed by grace. And this is just the beginning.

May all of us find it in us to respond to the invitation of this occasion, the challenge of liturgical renovation. It is an invitation to go beyond words, to go deeper, to return to the Source. And it is an invitation to a level of participation in grace that is fully aware, fully conscious and ready for interior transformation. May this be a blessing for our Advent season.

Note: For another riff on the challenge of translation see "Making Sense of It", NYTimes Book Review, Sunday, October 30, 2011, p. 22.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Holy Eucharist

Jesus is Made Present

by Our Remembering

Fifth Article of a Series

Stay with us, Lord! (Luke 24:29) With these words, the disciples on the road to Emmaus invited the mysterious Wayfarer to stay with them, as the sun was setting on that first day of the week when the incredible had occurred. According to his promise, Christ had risen; but they did not yet know this. Nevertheless, the words spoken by the Wayfarer along the road made their hearts burn within them. So they said to him, “Stay with us”. Seated around the supper table, they recognized him in the “breaking of bread” – and suddenly he vanished. There remained in front of them the broken bread. There echoed in their hearts the gentle sound of his words.
                        From the Urbi et Orbi Message of John Paul II, 2005

The previous article of this series marking the inauguration of the New Roman Missal offered an account of the Emmaus story. Here the words of Pope John Paul give a reprise of that vignette. With the travelers John Paul says, “Stay with us, Lord”, because Jesus has been recognized “in the breaking of the bread”.

We come to Mass with a burning, a yearning right on the surface or buried deep within, a yearning to meet God, to experience God in an Emmaus-like moment. This is the place, the event, that which is deeper than the words.

During the Mass we remember the life, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Paschal Mystery. We remember in such a way that what we remember is made present in the gathered community. This kind of remembering is as old as the Hebrews. It is the kind of remembering engaged in at every Passover Seder when the saving acts of God in the Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt is so remembered as to become a felt presence at the Passover table. And notice that this is done at a shared meal. This productive sort of remembering is called ANAMNESIS – your new word for today. In the days before the Nicene Creed to be Christians meant to be faithful to Jesus’ command to celebrate memorial. “Do this in Memory of me.” Luke 33:24-25. For their memorial they joined scripture and readings to the blessing of God for creation and redemption. “However named it has always been part of the church’s grasp of memorial that the mystery remembered becomes a living reality in the lives of those who celebrated it liturgically. For the early writers this was implied in the very idea of symbolic or sacramental representation.” (David N. Power, The Eucharistic Mystery: Revitalizing the Tradition, NY: Crossroad:1994, 488-49).

Celebrations of the Eucharist in which we share today are the occasions in which we call to mind the person and events of our salvation – Jesus Christ and his Paschal Mystery – in such a way that “we” render them living and active in our own time. The “we”, plural pronoun, is operative here. The priest, although in persona Christi, is not acting alone. The gathered community is not merely present or participating by observation. The community gathered for the memorial meal is integral to anamnesis, to recalling and thereby making actively present the person and saving action of the Redeemer. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of the Second Vatican Council declared that God’s people gathered for Eucharist “offer the immaculate victim through the hands of the priest but also together with him”. (48)

The Eucharistic prayer emphasizes this integral function by repeated use of the pronoun “we”. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you (EPII). We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice (EPIII). We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into glory (EPI). Indeed, the level of participation penetrates more deeply if the community offers itself along with the gifts of bread and wine and unites itself with the words of Eucharistic Prayer III, “Father we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and the blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. By this collective effort and offering and in light of the concept of Eucharistic anamnesis Jesus becomes uniquely present in the consecrated bread and wine but also actively present in our time and within and among those gathered. And this answers the question; in what way is Jesus Christ made actively present at each Eucharistic celebration? At least in part, Jesus the Redeeming Christ, is made present within those who are united with Him in this memorial.  Each of the four principal Eucharistic prayers includes a prayer of epiclesis invoking the power of the Holy Spirit as the agent of consecration; “let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy”. (EP II) Whether we speak of “gifts” in the translation we will no longer us, or “offerings” as the new Roman Missal translation renders it, we acknowledge that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts/offerings are transformed. To the extent that we present ourselves, all that we are – good, bad and indifferent – as gifts/offerings available for transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are asking to be made holy and transformed into the mystery that we celebrate, the mystery of the sacrament of remembrance which is making Jesus present in us and among us.

Incredible, isn’t it. But St. Athanasius said in the 4th century, “God became man that man might become God.” This is the incredible mystery of the Incarnation which qualifies us to stand in the presence of God and serve God. This is what the lofty words, the unusual vocabulary, the smells and bells, the vestments, gestures, posture, art and stained glass windows, speaking and singing are intended to communicate. Jesus asked us to break the bread as he did in memory of his life, death and resurrection and assured us that he would be there in the bread and the wine, in and among us in the pews and within us working our transformation into other Christs.

The last piece in this series will speak about the implication of the final words of dismissal at Mass. In the new Roman Missal there are three options for this line: “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” And what could all of that mean?

(For a fuller treatment concerning Eucharistic Anamnesis just type the word 'anamnesis' in the search box to the right.)