Tag Archive: liturgy


The Priest

christ the priest

 

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

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The Milk of the Mass.

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“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” – Isaiah 55:1

The Mass is comprised of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which provide nourishment and strength for our souls. We “feed” on the Word and then on the Eucharist. Their source is in Christ, the true life of the Church. What the Holy Scripture speaks of in figure, prophecy and the words of Christ, the Eucharist fulfils. We learn of the true manna from heaven, sit at his feet, and then feed upon Him. This is the milk of the Mass, which flows freely from Christ and is a supreme gift to all who believe.

All of the other gifts pass through and originate from these two teats by which the Holy Church feeds her hungry children. This is why we refer to the universal Church as “Mother Church” because she embraces and feeds people of all nations, helping them to grow into saints. Through the liturgy of the Mass, something divine descends upon us, making our hearts grow bigger, stronger and able to make more room for God’s love. As we become mature Catholics, we will draw from the ample fount of the church’s milk time and time again. Listening to the Gospel, we digest the message, letting certain words come to us and as Mary, ponder the meaning in our hearts. In such sweet instruction, we learn to become a holy people, in stinging rebuke, we notice areas that must be improved. This is the milk working in us, to bring about Christ in us.

Ingesting the Eucharist unites us with Christ. Scripture says: “A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife- and they shall become one flesh”. At the moment of consecration, Our Lord leaps down from heaven’s height and takes shelter in the hands of the priest. As the canopy of love is raised over us, Christ comes forth. The one true Savior, concealed under the appearance of bread and wine, dwells in one flesh with his people, his bride. With each reception of Holy Communion, we grow more and more like Christ, our Divine Spouse. In essence, we become what we eat. What makes this mystery even more beautiful is that it is God’s work, not our own. This is the paradox of Christianity, the Living God who did not deign equality with God but became a slave. We are the truly poor ones but he becomes a poor one, ground by our teeth, totally annihilated out of love. That which is high is made low and that which is low is made high for from our feeble, sinful lays, we are called to partake in his riches.

When Scripture says, “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that passes from your mouth,” we hear a reference to this sublime milk, offered in both the Gospel reading and the Holy Eucharist. For God’s word speaks to us in holy writ and it is the word of God, uttered through the priest that transforms mere bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. At the powerful word of God, every gift of the Mas springs to life. In a new creation, this life throbs, flows and covers the earth. It is important that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is prayed, lived and absorbed into our very being. How rich and blessed are we to be partakers in such choice, divine foods!

The Wine of the Mass.

 

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“Take me away with you–let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!”– Song of Songs 1:4

 

When confronted with the mystery of the altar, the presence of God dwelling there, one is overcome by awe. Words escape some while others long to open their mouths in praise. In both cases, the heart groans silently. Have you ever taken time to notice all of the postures and gestures used during Mass? When the priest speaks a certain verse, we say a certain response. He kneels before the consecrated Eucharist, he whispers certain prayers and holds out his hands. When crossing the altar, we bow and starting the Mass, we make the sign of the cross. These actions are really just a hundred tiny ways we say “Lord, I love you.”

This disposition of reverence is the wine of the Mass. Our chanting, our vigils, our candles brightly burning are all signs of a people enamored by God’s presence. These things all serve to foster a union with God. They help us understand who God is and how we respond to Him. Reverence is the song of the wedding feast.

We behave differently at Mass than in the outside world. Feeling a sense of the sacred, our minds cease their restless churning. The structure and solemnity of the Holy Mass brings peace. It conveys a respect for the Lord’s house. In order to drink more deeply of the sacraments, we must lower ourselves, be humble and meek. It is then we hear what God is trying to tell us. Before approaching Holy Communion, we drink the cup of reverence which prepares us to drink the Saving Cup. Our palates are softened to receive the Living God.

To some, reverence is foolish, the dusty remnants of an old religion that lacks contemporary value. But nothing is further from the truth. Amidst materialism, reverence points to something higher. In a world of darkness, reverence sows light. We exert ourselves in charity, feeding the hungry caring for the sick, ministering to the sinner. Having drunk our fill, we may even give our very lives. Capable of so profoundly moving us with love of God and neighbor, wine is corresponds to the end of the Mass, which is adoration.

Wine is intoxicating, like the powerful, just and merciful presence of God, who loves us beyond measure. Our minds reel at such a love! Running and warm, it also becomes the precious Body and Blood of Christ, who intoxicated by love for us, gave up his life on the cross. Enlivened by this spirit, let us run to the King and Bridegroom of our souls!

The Honey of the Mass.

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“Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” – Proverbs 24:14

There are some things about the Mass that we can just savor. In a sacred place, praying silently, folding our hands, perhaps whispering, we are comforted. Eyes closed, hearing a gentle hymn about the mercy of God, we are given hope. Seeking him, we know he seeks us. This is the honey of the Mass: God’s peace, which the world cannot give. The soft prayers, small gestures and mumblings of the priest are soothing to watch and hear.  A pilgrim people, we are nestled in the arms of God, and there, tell our many petitions.

Honey shows our special relationship with God. Our liturgical gestures reveal a people conversant with God, knowing him as both friend and lover. Every movement is charged with meaning, every word profound. Listening to the Gospel, let us remember that His word is like a honeycomb, beckoning us closer. As the priest recites prayers we may not be able to hear, remember that Jesus often went alone to pray. It reminds us to watch and pray.

You may notice that the words said at Mass have a set text. They are moreso echoed in every Catholic Church around the world. These petitions, handed down in the Church’s wisdom, are the prayer of the universal people of God who intercede for the world.  We don’t just recite these prayers, but enter into them, learning their meaning as we hear them again and again.

And how sweet the words of Jesus that flow from our mouths when we say: “Our Father, who art in heaven”? Our prayers join with those of the whole Church and Christ, who is the Head of the Body, prays with us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, God becomes our humble guest. In silence, we talk to him, tell him our many needs and the needs of others. At this time, we might say private prayers in our hearts.  Because it is savored so long in the heart, honey characterizes the end of the Mass which is petition.

In our desert lives, it is necessary to seek refreshment. The sweetness of the Mass gives us energy to confront a world that is seldom peaceful. Jesus came to give us peace, to bring good tidings to all men. He taught us how to pray and united with him, we worship the Father. Our lasting union with him, is supreme happiness. In him, is our hope and the Mass reminds us of this time and time again. In his body, he died, rose and ascended. Knowing that Our Lord and God endured the hardships of life, gives us courage to face our own trials. Honey sweetens the vinegar of suffering.

 

The Oil of the Mass.

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“I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him” – Psalm 89:20

We each bring our own offering before God in the Holy Mass. In union with the priest, we lift up our hearts. The oil of the Mass, is our hearts, our prayerfulness, our awareness of who we are, the priestly people of God and what we are doing, offering sacrifice. It is also the crowning delight of the Mass, namely, God working through the priest. In our commingled offerings, a pungent fragrance is released. Spreading upward on our prayers and petitions, it fills the house of God.

A priestly people, we are anointed by God’s presence in the sacraments. In the Mass, our oil runs over. It exalts, it strengthens, heals and saves. This is most apparent in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist where a broken, sinful man calls down all the powers of heaven and cradles Christ in his hands. How awesome, the calling given to us, that we may share this incomprehensible blessing! In union with the priest, we offer the greatest sacrifice!

A zealous priest, in love with this sacrament of sacraments, gives forth finest oil. He has given everything, laid down his life and bursts with joy at being made a sweet oblation. The proper disposition we should carry during the Mass, is of self-sacrifice, being conformed to the salvific sacrifice of Christ. We continually apply the oil to ourselves that we may be healed and brought closer to our original dignity, that of our first parents before the fall. Thus, oil corresponds to the end of the Mass which is atonement for sins. The name “Christ” means “anointed one” and we bear his name as Christians. On our foreheads, is the seal of his kingship.

Oil spreads by virtue of its thick, moist consistency. Therefore, as a community, our oil is gathered and lavished upon others. Our anointing doesn’t run out as soon as we leave the church but rather must be spread onto the entire world. Oil is also a fuel. Filling our lamps with it, we burn brightly. This means that instead of hiding under a basket, we teach the truth. And if our lamps should run dry, we are invited to return to the most holy Eucharist and be refilled. The oil of Christ never lacks. His priesthood, and thus our priesthood, lasts forever.

 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most-perfect gift in which God gives himself to man, and man gives himself to God. When we go to Mass, a banquet is spread before us full of splendor, richness, sweetness and praise. God’s goodness overflows.  As a Protestant, I couldn’t really see God’s love for me, nor touch or taste it. God was an abstract person, far from us, that the preacher only talked about. Yes, he did tell us to “accept Jesus into our hearts” but this sort of prayer seemed like an intellectual exercise. When I finally discovered the Catholic Mass, I was able to say, here is truly the outward manifestation of God’s love for us! In the act of receiving communion, believed to be the actual body and blood of Jesus, “accepting Jesus into your heart” became more than just an idea but a real, concrete thing.

The Mass is our “Mysterium Tremendum”. It is the kingly, priestly and prophetic prayer of the entire people of God. Both a banquet and a sacrifice, it reopens every grace bestowed to us by Jesus on the cross of Calvary. In a lifetime, it would be impossible to understand all that happens at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or count all its gifts. Before such a tremendous mystery, we can only reflect on bits and pieces until the whole is revealed in heaven, where at the altar not made of human hands, we will worship for all eternity. The following gifts I now reflect on are just a foretaste of what God prepares for us, that which eye has not seen and ear has not heard.

 

The Gold of the Mass:

gold

“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” – Malachi 3:3

When the sweet smell of incense rises in smoky curls, the organ thunders and heavenly strains of Gregorian chant hit your ears as you see the priest process by wearing vestments that shimmer like fire, you are experiencing the gold of the Mass. These are the outward treasures of the church proudly displayed. While such beauty may consist of expensive materials, they speak of the treasures of heaven rather than earth. We do not count the cost of this perfume poured out in devotion, for God is master of all things.

Some may deem beauteous things as mere externals however, we know their true purpose: our senses, sight, smell, sound, touch, are guided to heavenly realities. Mysteries are brought low, so that man may taste and see. We see before us, entrance into that paradise lost and a foretaste of eternal delight. A lavish wedding feast calls our attention, our minds and hearts.

The gold of the Mass is the priceless adornment of the temple of God, which should match the adornment in our heart. Since we cannot see the hearts of others, we are shown something to strive for, the adornment of virtue, faith, hope, charity. It is also a reminder of God’s greatest gift to us, His Only begotten Son, who was incarnated of the Virgin Mary and became man. The Lord of all creation became poor so we may be rich. He became human so we could become divine. Gold was presented to the newborn babe in Bethlehem, placed before the manger of the King of Kings. Now, chalices and plates of gold are a fitting throne for Him. From a gold vessel we receive something infinitely more precious than gold. We receive the price of our redemption: the blood of Jesus Christ!

The beauty of the Mass summons our collective memory as ransomed people of God, no longer slaves but friends and servants of the most high. A royal priesthood, whose bonds have been loosed, we stand and give thanks to God, carrying our gold, singing our song of victory. Thus the gold corresponds to the end of the Mass which is thanksgiving.

Instead of being a pompous parade of human accomplishments, fine vestments and solemn chant sing of God’s accomplishments. He shed all the glories of heaven and while still Lord of Lords, died on a barren cross for our sins. He wore the sorrowful vestments of death so we could wear the glittering garments of resurrection. Being tried in fire, gold is living. Pressed in the crucible, it emerges stronger. It is also a very pure element, mirroring pure worship. Therefore, being given an inheritance that never fades away, we echo the words: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me.”

 

 

Credo

What is this Catholic faith of ours? What does it mean to be Catholic? It is history, beauty and majesty. It is a love story between God and man. It is not the mundane entertainment of the world nor is it some abstract concept of our intellect. It is a real covenant relationship, a way of life lived to the fullest. It isn’t the way of death, some sterile, modern standard that is pressed upon us day in and day out, no it is life- defying death. Jesus spoke of this saying:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” -John 10:10.

Too many people look at our faith as a set of rules and doctrines. They don’t realize that these rules and doctrines are actually a deposit of rich treasure, lovingly passed down by the apostles, and those saints and martyrs before us, originating from Christ’s undying love for us. Our doctrines and expressions are a gift, a sweet yoke. Not like the yoke of the world which burdens and destroys us. We must cast that yoke off and leave it behind. Then we can truly understand the Church’s wisdom, which is as a fount from heaven.

We worship in a liturgy because creation is liturgy, love is a liturgy. It is an act of giving and receiving and then giving again. It is speaking and being spoken to. God has always spoken to us in the law of gift. Moved by love, He spoke and all things in the universe were made and He pronounced them good. Each person, created in God’s image is a gift to be given. Christ offers us the gift of His very flesh and blood. He makes His life our own and we, enraptured by this act of love, can do nothing but adore and cry out “Amen!!”

Catholicism is a wedding, lasting throughout the ages. It is a lush garden where souls are planted and tended, where men become saints. God’s only son, the loving Bridegroom leapt down from heaven and became flesh to rescue us, to deliver us from sin and death. He gave all he had, his very life, for us. When water and blood poured from the side of the crucified Christ, a bride was taken and many sons and daughters were born anew from this union. We become God’s own sons and daughters. Because of this new identity:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” –Psalm 92-12

In this family of the Catholic Church, we have a foretaste of our promised inheritance. As a wedding gift, He bestowed the Holy Ghost, the spirit of God, so that in a spirit of hope, charity and self-sacrifice, we may show others this Kingdom of God. The husband and wife reveal God’s covenant with man, made from the beginning. The priest’s celibacy shows his mystical marriage with the Church, the chosen Bride. Nothing like this has ever happened! Through the sacraments, which are seven jewels of great price, God makes us partakers in His Divine Life. Everything that belongs to God now belongs to His people.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” – Song of Solomon 6:3

What we see in the visible Church points to a wondrous, unseen reality. Our communion here on earth is united to a greater communion in heaven, those who have fought and loved before us. Out of their sacrifices, modeled after the One Sacrifice of Christ, comes our power and strength. We are weak and have nothing in this world for our treasure is elsewhere.

The Catholic faith proclaims the forgiveness of sins, that when Jesus climbed up on that rugged cross, He undid the sin of Adam and reopened the gates of paradise. And how immense is God’s love that when a priest says “I absolve you from your sins” that through the blood of Christ, we are washed clean. Our faith is one that believes second chances are possible!

“Love covers a multitude of sins” – 1 Peter 4:8

This is our faith, why add or take anything away from it? Why not love and cherish it as Christ loved and cherished us? Catholicism is the pure water in which we have been reborn. It is the Precious Blood we drink. It is God’s Holy Spirit moving and breathing within us. It is the anticipation of life and resurrection and of every good thing in the world to come.

In my little Catholic world, the only types of liturgy I hear about are the Ordinary Form (or Novus Ordo) and the Extraordinary Form (Tridentine Mass). I have gone to both and assessed the pros and cons of each. Needless to say, though I strongly praise and advocate the Tridentine Mass, I’m a person who believes in the Ordinary Form, that if done correctly, reverently and with use of Latin and chant, that it can altogether rock. In my current location however, the parish Mass is subject to corny hymns, improvisations, omissions and the dreaded laundry-list of announcements before the dismissal.  Going to parish after parish in my region, I found nearly identical issues. Without relief, I sighed in my Babylonian exile and longed for the green pastures of beauty, mystery and liturgical heaven on earth.

Facebook is nifty for meeting random people who share the same obscure interests as you do. During a venture, searching out a Latin Mass that wasn’t a gazillion miles away, I met a guy from the same area who knew about a neat, little church, of the Anglican Ordinariate, located in Orlando. For those who don’t know, the Anglican Ordinariate is basically composed of former Anglicans who’ve had enough funny stuff and re-entered into full communion with Rome. Hallelujah! That’s awesome enough, right?

We met up (after I made sure he wasn’t a Nigerian prince trying to get my credit-card number), combined gas monies and embarked on our way. I’d never been to an Anglican-Use Mass before and didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is that they used “high-English”, so in a Homer Simpson moment, my mind envisioned some frilly-collared priest reciting Shakespeare…

Incarnation Catholic Church is rather small, with brick walls and a red, painted door. It sits on green grass beside a school and playground. Inside is old architecture, exposed wood rafters, a communion rail and tall wooden, high-altar standing against luscious stained-glass. First catching my eye was the image of Mary knelt down, holding baby Christ in her arms, a bright, evening star above and these words below: “Lumen de Lumine.” -“Light of Light”. Then the tabernacle greeted me, restfully gleaming from its place behind the altar- as if Our Lord was quietly whispering, “Welcome to My house.” I automatically knew this was going to be an awesome church. The priest said Mass, all spoken and without hymns because daily Masses here, as in the Latin Rite, are low-key. When the moment of consecration took place, the priest turned towards the altar and all the stained glass, beseeching God. He lifted the host and chalice high, beneath the light of that glassy, evening star. After receiving communion, silently kneeling at the rail, in rapt contemplation, I knew I would return.

There is no pretention in the Anglican-Use Mass. English elegance and simplicity combine well with Latin mystique and splendor. In Chicago, we would say they’re “keepin it real.” Kind of like that quaint taco-stand on the South Side, crafted with perfection: you know Jose was born in America but he serves it “autentico”. There’s a world of difference between the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and street-food but sometimes, we must use earthly things to describe that which is heavenly.  One can tell from the air of solemnity, you’re there to ponder divine things. The words are lofty, wrought with “thee’s” and “thou’s” enough to make a KJV-only Baptist jealous. Truly, the prayers are poetry raised heaven-ward. Latin-Mass lovers would find themselves home at an Anglican-Use liturgy, not because of Latin (although that varies- the second Mass I attended there had the consecration and last Gospel in Latin) but because that old-world fear of God is present, a tangible encounter with something bigger and older than yourself.

I encourage people who are interested in more traditional liturgy or maybe just something different to check this out. Maybe you are like me, loving the Ordinary Form but lamenting over its execution in the local parishes, looking to jar your earthly senses into heaven? Maybe you’re an Anglican who’s searching for something more consistent, ancient and unified? You may even be a Tridentine-Mass only person who’s temporarily trapped in Central Florida, feeling misunderstood because you miss kneeling and pretty vestments. Maybe you are craving a quiet retreat? If so, Incarnation Catholic Church in College Park, Orlando might be just the place for you! Check out their website, visit and ye now come back.

 

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See Incarnation Catholic Church at theparish.org

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Sooner or later, every Catholic “goth” chick will pick up devotion to the Mother of Sorrows. Perfect right? While I wrote some poetry about Our Lady at Calvary, weeping over the crucified Christ, early on in my spiritual journey, it wasn’t until recently that a true devotion emerged. If you venture to read my earlier post “The Mother of a Priest” (June/17/2013), you will learn how a friend’s crisis urged me to cling closely to Our Lady, especially in her sufferings. Now, my love can do nothing but continue and grow for Our Lord’s dear mother as she stood by His side- even at the hour of His bloody execution. How tearful and resolute, she watched her priestly son offer sacrifice!

I am not a mother, nor have I ever been, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say I know the feeling of losing a child. Nor can I imagine the torment of it. However, I have seen things and people that I deeply loved be destroyed, get violently taken from me. I have seen close friends and family suffer. I know that feeling, watching, just wishing you could do something…anything- to take their pain away. I know well this powerlessness, this bleeding compassion, such grave heart-ache.  And if there isn’t some kind of suffering right before me, I can imagine it.

I can’t decide which was more agonizing for our Blessed Mother, seeing the cruel torments inflicted on her son or knowing He so passionately loved these tormentors. That same mankind who, blind to grace, lacking love for God and utterly ungrateful, actually took enjoyment at the victim’s suffering. “He has come to save you, to give you eternal life, to heal you, to deliver you from your demons,” she must have thought, “and here you spit and mock him!” Certainly she may have cried unto the crowd: “Yes, your hatred crushes me- yet even moreso His love!”

This was the High Priest of the New Covenant. Mary clad him in the fair vestments of human flesh. Her lullabies were hymns. She offered the first-fruits of her maternity: warmth and milk to His infancy. Patience and wisdom in tender childhood. Rightfully would a priest lament, should his sacred offering be torn from his hands and desecrated or his holy vessel cast upon the ground.  Would he not rend his garments at seeing the temple destroyed? How much more did Mary lament seeing the immaculate Lamb of God stripped, broken, abused and rejected! How sharply she mourned, seeing the precious temple, born from her womb, destroyed! That men crucified His Only Son was such blasphemy that God Almighty rent the skies in two, snuffed out the sun and draped Calvary in darkness.

Mary spent her whole life preparing that offering, dressing him in garments of virtue, perfuming him with goodly faithfulness. Yet surely, did she know?

Yes, she reckoned the words of Simeon: “This child is set for the fall, as a sign of contradiction and a sword your own heart shall pierce.” She knew it, expected the day, the hour when her dearest son would appear as Messiah- and subsequently fall to dismay. Yet nothing could prepare for the flowing blood, the wounds and tears more bitter than gall. Her pondering heart could not bear the sentence, the scourging, the crown of spines pressed down, the rough, wooden cross and the cold nails. Thus, like Abel, she surrendered her choicest lamb to the cruel altar. Here, commenced the world’s most heart-wrenching liturgy. When Jesus cried out “My God, why hast thou forsaken,” Mary remembered the angel’s greeting “The Lord is with thee.” When her precious son, at last, bowed His head and said “Consummatum est”, she raised her arms, having given everything, and answered: “Fiat.”

But the most beautiful thing about Mary’s sorrow was that it came with true victory. No temporary grief over some earthly loss, her tears conquered evil; they erased the sinful pride of Eve and consecrated womanhood forever. They also consecrated manhood- for at Calvary, Mary showed herself mother to all who would call themselves disciples of Christ. Given the good water of such perfect tears, the bloody cross became a tree of life. At this altar, John the Beloved, made the first act of ministerial priesthood. Taking Jesus’s dead, broken body from the gruesome wood, he laid it like a precious host in Mary’s hands.  There, she also showed herself the mother of all priests.

Words cannot describe what an epic mother Mary was. It is with good reason that Scripture describes in few words her espousal to God. Her betrothal sealed in tears and blood; she emerges as the joyful daughter of Zion, the desired beauty of ages. Christ wore a ring of thorns and she, the wedding-band of blackest sorrow. In a heavenly place no longer sorrowful, Mary still desires we recall and venerate her sorrow, offered alongside the Savior’s passion. The poor, virgin-girl from Nazareth has left us with a resounding declaration that all human weakness can be sanctified, united to His suffering. Her example gives strength to Christians everywhere.

By her great pain, Mary stood as advocate of those in pain, bringing forth her Son’s healing balm. By wretchedness, Mary became a refuge of sinners; ever-beseeching executioners lay down their wicked instruments and turn to God. She cleansed Calvary’s hill with tears, saying to the dust: “From this garden, man will be created again.”

A warrior in her feminine way, Mary Most-Sorrowful drew that sword from her own heart and handed it to Christ so He may at last slay the Serpent! How the black rosebud, bowing her head, bloomed forth the white lily! Weeping, did Mother Mary bury her most-precious wheat and rejoicing, she carried back the Easter sheave.

 

So heartily, I end:

Virgin Most-Sorrowful,

Remove from us the dark veil of sin

so we may greet your Son’s dawning light.

O Widow Un-widowed,

Keep vigil when we lack strength.

Mother of Mercy,

Hold your silver lamp against the night.

O Moon,

Shine upon our graves, guide in death’s grim hour

and hush the avenging angel.

Mother Most-Sorrowful,

Black Rose of Calvary,

pray for us.

Sing a New Song

I have often been told by fellow-Catholics that I am too rigidly traditional, demanding staunch formality and intolerant of the Church’s diversity. Let me dispel this right now.

If by “traditional” you mean desiring reverence in the Mass which is the source and summit of Christian life, the unbloody representation of Calvary and the sacred medicine of souls, then yes, I am guilty. If “traditional” means desiring continuity, preserving Latin in the liturgy- as stipulated by the Second Vatican Council, desiring prayerful music, postures and adherence to the rubrics, then I am traditional as they come.

However “traditional” doesn’t mean I hate Mass in vernacular, regard the Novus Ordo as inferior and expect our worship to be solemn and depressing. I am not stuck in the Middle Ages and I appreciate lay participation in Mass. Vatican II did open up alot of great things, such as more Scripture readings, basic prayers in vernacular, ability for composers to draw up beautiful Mass pieces and most of all RCIA. I don’t hate Vatican II. What I do hate is people introducing irreverent improvisations, tearing everything down and allowing frankly, crappy music to be played at Mass in the name of Vatican II.

My ideal Mass is actually the Novus Ordo. It is the form I attended when coming into the Catholic Church. The Novus Ordo has a certain crispness and clarity that is not to be taken for granted. Modern-day hymns have a soul that shines when done right. I am okay with “Shepherd me O God”,  “On Eagle’s Wings” and “I Have Loved You” but I am NOT for their incessant overuse. The problem occurs when these newer hymns dominate and completely replace the old goodies. Vatican II specifically places chant as first priority. There is no sound more beautiful than the sweet strains of “Salve Regina” filling up a big cathedral! What angers me is not so much the variety of modern hymns as the average parish’s insistence on forgetting about ancient ones. Ironically, I ask why doesn’t the parish Church try something new? Why not try chanting the Mass ordinaries in Latin- at least for solemn feast days? The Vatican does it. Maybe just the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” if all at once is too much? Why not throw in an “Adoro Te devote” during communion? Maye around Advent try doing “Creator of the Stars of Night” accapella? Try mixing in the soulful, “Were You There” with a fluid “Ave Verum” on Goood Friday.  I don’t hate diversity, actually my preference for combining old and new is the height of diversity!!

Growing up Protestant, I was used to guitars and drums in our worship. Now, I don’t believe these are proper for the Holy Mass. Yet, I’m not some meanie who despises talented guitarists and drummers because we can use them in a praise & worship service. Maybe Catholic churches should try that on a Wednesday night? You can have dancing and everything! -Just not at Mass. I don’t understand why people get such a bad rap for wanting to distinguish the secular and sacred. Mass is sacred time, where heaven and earth meet and Christ becomes present in His body and blood. This is not an ordinary occasion so we shouldn’t treat it like one!

I’d like to change it up a bit. Maybe try a Byzantine version of the “Kyrie”, during Lent just having silence at communion, at Advent celebrating Mass in candlelight. The power of the human voice as an instrument is seriously underestimated. There is no reason why a well-developed choir can’t take advantage of plainchant, polyphony and classical pieces. When is the last time you heard Bach in church? The moving nature of accapella is also neglected. I remember one time when my church choir sang “Amazing Grace” as the recessional hymn without any accompaniment. The stong but gentle melody nearly made me weep. Hymns don’t have to be sappy in order to be moving. Too much sap does the opposite. People cringe from obviously phony lyrics. Young people hate it. If teenagers come looking for authentic, hard-core faith and instead encounter wimpy “love songs” it’s guaranteed, you’ll lose them.

Sometimes the problem is that too much diversity can actually cancel out the Church’s universal character. Our Masses become segregated: Spanish Mass, Creole Mass and English Mass are separated thus, we cannot worship with our ethnic brothers and sisters. Now if the Mass settings were the universal chants used by the Vatican, we could all learn them and worship together. Even better, when you go to another country, visit another state or a new parish, those lyrics will match. Learn how to sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and you can sing it anywhere! Bilingual Masses are confusing and uncomfortable whereas a Latin Mass can bring unity. I often hear the complaint “Then no one will understand it!” Good then, at least we’ll all not understand it together!

It’s not rigid or overly traditional to want these things in our liturgy- it is Catholic and what Vatican II intended. It is time to rediscover old beauty, to unveil hidden treasure. Our venerable church has such a rich history and we should utilize it. We shouldn’t be afraid to resurrect a hymn from Renaissance times, to intone a Medieval introit, raise up a Negro spiritual or belt out “Crown Him With Many Crowns”. Just remember- all in moderation- and keep it reverent. We should never hesitate to sing in Latin, because it is the language of the Church. It was the tongue used by St Francis, Joan of Arc, Augustine, and Theresa of Avila. I think the time is nigh, that we tap into our vast treasury, that we truly sing a new song to the Lord.