Sunday, July 28, 2013
With the hype around the royal birth this week it could be easy to forget that hundreds of thousands of children are born every day. The new prince was one of four babies born at exactly the same moment on Monday. Certainly the new prince will have a more opulent life than most of those born, but every child is important to God.
In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus teaching the crowds as He usually did. After teaching, some little children wanted to come to Jesus and be blessed by Him. The disciples did not seem to value the children and just wanted them to be gone. They were probably thinking, “Jesus is busy enough with all these adults, He does not have time to waste with these little guys. They can come back when they are older and will understand things.” Jesus criticized them and responded, “Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will certainly not enter it” (Mark 10:13-16).
But what does it mean to “welcome the kingdom of God like a little child”? In general we take it to mean “to welcome the kingdom of God like a child welcomes it.” That corresponds to some other words of Jesus found in Matthew’s Gospel: “If you do not change your hearts and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). A child trusts without reflecting. Children cannot live without trusting those around them. Their trust is not a virtue; it is a vital reality. To encounter God, the best thing we have is our child’s heart that is spontaneously open; that dares simply to ask; that wants to be loved.
But the phrase could also mean: “welcome the kingdom of God like you welcome a child.” In this case, Jesus would be comparing welcoming God’s presence to welcoming a child.
Welcoming a child means welcoming a promise. A child grows and develops. In the same way, the kingdom of God on earth is never a finished reality but rather a promise, a dynamic and incomplete growth process. And children are unpredictable. In the Gospel story, they arrive when they arrive, and not at the right time for the disciples. But Jesus insists that they must be welcomed because they are there. In the same way, we have to welcome God’s presence when it presents itself, whether it is at what we would consider the right time or not.
Welcoming God’s kingdom is at the heart of Christianity. We pray it daily in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come.”
Sunday, July 21, 2013
We begin with some basic questions for all of us: Why are we here? Why do we gather week after week for this liturgy we call Mass?
To celebrate the Sunday Eucharist some of the early followers of Christ risked their lives. Even though there was great personal risk, the faithful were exhorted to gather. One bishop in the early years of the faith wrote, “Let no one deprive the Church by staying away; if they do they deprive the Body of Christ of one of its members!”
Today, at least in the United States, there is no persecution of the Church. But the statement of this third century bishop is still true: the community of believers suffers when we do not gather with it.
There are many reasons that we gather. Some of us are here because it’s a habit. Others come out of obligation. Some come because their parents insist on it. Others come to seek the Lord. Some come because they are burdened with problems. Others are here because they are grateful for God’s gifts. And many of us are here for a combination of those reasons.
More basic to all of these reasons, however, is that we are here because God himself has called us here. It was God who called us to share His own life through baptism. It was God who called us to carry on the mission of Christ in the world today.
And we come for Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. We gather each week to give God thanks and praise. Sometimes we may forget that. It’s easy to focus on what we hope to get out of coming to church rather than on giving thanks for what God has already given us.
The most important thing we find when we gather is the presence of Christ himself. Christ who is in each of us who has gathered. Christ in the Word of God proclaimed. Christ in the presider of the liturgy. And Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
We come here to remember who we are. Here we are reunited with one another and with He who is our head. Those who say, “I don’t need to come to Mass to pray,” miss the point. We’re here because God himself has asked us to be here, so that He can feed us and strengthen us to be Christ-bearers all week.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
How important is music and singing to our celebration of Mass? Over the centuries, the Church has addressed the importance of music in liturgy. In late 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document called “Sing to the Lord,” a guide primarily for liturgical music leaders.
The first section of the document is entitled “Why We Sing.” It begins by commenting that song is a gift from God. In fact, in the first paragraph, it says “God dwells within each human person, in the place where music takes its source.” This reflects the divine nature present in song. Music is not simply something created by humans for their own amusement; rather, it is something received from God.
“Sing to the Lord” then traces the history of singing in the Bible. It begins with the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, where Moses teaches the Israelites specific songs, and goes all the way to the New Testament, with Jesus singing a hymn with his Apostles before their journey to the Mount of Olives.
Since the first Christians were Jews, it's difficult to imagine them not singing psalms. Historically, we know that from the third century to the present, the singing of psalms has been a part of Christian worship. St Augustine, a theologian and a doctor of the Church, says: "As to the singing of psalms and hymns, we have the proofs, the examples, and the instructions of the Lord Himself, and of the Apostles.”
What does singing do for our faith? “Inspired by song, the body of the Word Incarnate goes forth to spread the Gospel with full force and compassion.” Inspiration – literally a “divine influence on one’s soul” – that’s the power of music in the liturgy. We sing because our ancestors in faith sang, because Jesus sang, and because the early Church sang. And we sing because it connects us to us that spark of the divine inside of us.
Music during Mass is not entertainment – it is, rather, our collective sung prayer. All of us, raising our voices together, enter the prayer with the choir helping us keep pace.
There’s an old adage that says that Catholics can’t sing. The reality is probably more along the lines that many Catholics don’t sing. Mark Twain wrote, “Sing as if no one was listening”. We know that God not only listens, but he gives us the courage to enter the song.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
We’re now celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mass in English. 50 years ago a provisional English translation was introduced. In 1973 the United States bishops were granted approval for the translation that most of us became familiar with. But this was an interim translation, a rough draft if you will. In 2011 we began using the new Roman Missal which isn’t just for the United States, but for all the English speaking countries of the world; from New Zealand and the Pacific Rim, to Canada and South Africa. This was a major undertaking, decades in the making. Priests, liturgists, musicians, and the rest of us are still learning the texts, cadence, and wordings.
There were many changes that most of us are unaware of. For example, instead of six Eucharistic prayers there are now many more available for the priest to choose from. Most of these we don’t see; unfortunately, only three are printed in most Missalettes.
With the number of Eucharistic prayers doubling, let’s look at their differences: Likely the oldest, The First Eucharistic Prayer, recognized by the litany of saints we hear intoned, is also known as the “Roman Canon” because it was the only one the Roman rite used for many centuries. The Second Eucharistic Prayer, the shortest, dates from Hippolytus in the 2nd Century. It tries to rediscover what Mass was like for the very early Christians. The Third focuses on the Holy Spirit. The seldom heard Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is prayed with a theology of salvation history – but is not appropriate for Sundays or Feast Days.
There are two additional Eucharistic prayers for reconciliation that are recommended for the Lenten season and for those times the Priest feels that the theme is important to the community. These six represent the ones that we’ve had for fifty years.
The New Roman Missal includes four additional Eucharistic Prayers that are for various occasions: One for the church on the path to unity; a second for God to guide us on the Way to Salvation; a third about Jesus, who is the Way to the Father; and a fourth based on Jesus who went out doing works of mercy.
Finally, there are three Eucharistic prayers for Masses with children. These prayers are simple in form and are meant to be interactive.
Occasionally, some think that Father is making up the Eucharistic prayer, or saying the Mass incorrectly. The reality is that most of the faithful have never heard all twelve options of the canons.
Whatever Eucharistic Prayer is offered, we know that Jesus is truly present to us in Holy Communion.
If Father sometimes seems lost in the Roman Missal, most likely he is. The book is huge compared to its predecessor and is arranged in a different order. There are multiple ribbons to help Father mark his place; imagine the panic when some good intentioned person has rearranged them!
With these changes to the Roman Missal, we should keep in mind that patience is a virtue and we are all getting used to worshipping with new words that bring us closer to our roots.