Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2019

 

Beloved in Christ, 

the Second Vatican Council in its constitution on the sacred liturgy states that priests are to preach by explaining either the biblical readings or the liturgical texts of Holy Mass.  Today being the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity I wish to make some reflections on this greatest mystery of our religion by reference to a liturgical text the priest prays at the ablution of the chalice after receiving the Precious Blood at Holy Mass.  Extending the chalice to a server for a drop of wine prior to rinsing it with water he prays: Corpus Tuum, Domine,quod sumpsi,et Sanguis,quem potavi . . . May Thy Body, O Lord which I have received, and Thy Blood which I have drunk, cling to my inmost being; and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, who have been fed with this pure and holy Sacrament; Thou Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.

This magnificent prayer places in focus the whole of our relationship with God and the divine economy of our sacramental life. Today, what may seem incomprehensible in the Mystery of the Trinity is made the more adorable when we consider its relationship to ourselves and the prayer just cited: that is, the unfathomable depth of God’s love in opening His own divine life to our souls, our very being.

We know by faith that in God there are 3 distinct Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; though distinct in persons these three are of but one and the same nature or Divine essence. The Father, Who is also infinite understanding, has absolute and all pervading knowledge of His divine perfections. He expresses this knowledge in one unique utterance: it is “the Word,” the living, substantial utterance, the commensurately infinite expression of who the Father is. In uttering this Word, the Father begets His Son to whom He communicates all His essence, His nature, His perfections, His very life: “For as the Father has life in Himself; so He has given to the Son also to have life in Himself.”

Here I must put out a caveat, a caution against grasp too absolutely the meaning of human expression in the sense which arises from our own limited, created experience.  To say, “begets his son,” – if used of our life – would imply that there was a time when the son did not exist, and then, that he then came into being.  Here is the caveat: time does not apply to God: God simply is.  When we say, therefore. in the Nicene Creed that God the Son is “eternally begotten of the Father” eternally connotes there has been no beginning and no end.  Even though the Son assuredly “proceeds” from the Father, the Son is, nevertheless, absolutely co-eternal with the Father: the Son is eternal God as the Father is eternal God.

This eternally begotten Son is also entirely His Father’s own – entirely given up to Him by a total donation stemming from His nature as Son. From this mutual donation, which arises from only one, infinite and divine love, proceeds, (from that one unique source) the Holy Spirit Who seals the union of the Father and the Son.  This sealing union is the substantial and living love - which is the Father and the Son’s together.

This mutual communication of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, this adherence – infinite and all loving – of the Divine Persons between themselves is a supernatural revelation which regards the sublime holiness of God: it is the union of God with Himself, in the unity of His nature and the Trinity of His Persons.  This is not knowable from nature or reason, but has been revealed to this world through the Second Person of the Trinity, united in time with our flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son Who was born of the Virgin Mary. God, born of man – Who once walked among us and spoke to us of the things of eternity.

Let us reflect for a moment on this holiness of the Trinity. Each of the Persons is identical with the Divine essence and consequently of a substantial holiness; this, because each Person acts only in conformity with this essence considered as supreme norm of life and activity. The Persons are holy because each of them gives Himself – and is the Others’ – in an act of infinite adhesion. What is more, the Third Person, God’s Spirit, is particularly called “holy” because He proceeds from the other two through love ­– the principal act by which the will tends to and is united with its desired end.

Beloved, in this inexpressibly united and fruitful life, God finds all His essential beatitude. To exist God has need only of Himself: finding all bliss in the perfections of His nature and in the ineffable society of His Persons, He has no need of any creature. It is to Himself – in Himself, in His Triune being – that He relates the glory welling forth from His infinite perfections. One commentator has aptly said, “The whole divine life proceeds from God the Father to His Divine Son and returns to Him through their Holy Spirit: proceeds from Him without going out of Him: returns to Him without having been separated from Him . . .  It is like a fountain which ever springs and flows within its own Divine Self.”

By an absolutely gratuitous love which reaches beyond Himself, God resolved to give creatures a share in His own divine life. There is no necessity in God beyond the ineffable communications of the Divine Persons among themselves, mutual relations belonging to the very essence of God – this is God’s own life. Every other communication of Himself which God does make is the fruit of a love that is sovereignly free. But as this love is divine, the gift he gives is divine as well. God loves divinely; He gives Himself divinely. Thus we are called to receive, in ineffable measure, this divine communication. God means not only to give Himself to us as Supreme Beauty, object of contemplation, but He means – and actually does – unite Himself to us so as to make Himself, so far as is possible, one with us.

“Father,” said the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper, “may my disciples be one in us, as You and I are one, in order that they find in this union the unending joy of our own beatitude.”

Beloved in God, the absolute miracle of our religion is that God has decreed that we, wretches that we are, should enter and share this inner life which belongs to Him alone. God wishes to communicate to us the unfathomable happiness which has its source in the fullness of His Infinite Being.  That is grace beyond all telling.

And so, our holiness must consist in adhering to God as known and loved. Not simply as the author of creation, but as God knows and loves Himself in the bliss of His Trinity. To be united with God to the point of sharing His inner life – that is what our holiness must consist of.

It is for this very reason that St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that our subjective holiness must possess two characteristics: 1) purity – the distancing of oneself from every sin, every imperfection; detachment from everything created; and 2) stability – that we steadfastly adhere to God in all things. These two elements correspond, in God, to the all-perfection of His infinite transcendent Being and the immutability of His will in adhering to Himself as supreme good and love.

And so let us return, on this Feast of the Most Holy and Sublime Trinity, to the priest’s prayer after communion: May Thy Body, O Lord which I have received, cling to my inmost being; and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, who have been fed with this pure and holy Sacrament . . .

Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the abiding gift of Christ’s Body and Blood by which we are made, even now, participants in the divine life of the Trinity. Let us ask the Holy Spirit, Whose descent upon the apostles and unerring guidance to the Church we celebrated for the past eight days, let us ask this Personification of Divine Love itself, to keep us faithful to our Father’s will:  that in passing through the transitory things of this life – ever changing, ever fading away – we may never loose that one, true good for which we have been created: possession of the Triune God in the glory of the angels. That Most Holy, Most Sublime Trinity, God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, even now gives us a share in His own life by feeding us with the most pure Sacrament of His Son’s Body and Blood. By its power may we live in all purity, ever confessing our sins, and never departing from Him. To Whom be all honor, praise and glory, now and even unto the ages of ages. Amen

 

 

 

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2019

 

Dearly Beloved, 

Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, the day on which, fifty days after the Resurrection, and ten days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lady and the Apostles as the Lord Jesus had promised.  He descended to teach them the full truth of the Gospel, to give them the courage to preach that truth, and to dwell in their souls in a new and powerful way.

Today’s feast has two dimensions to it, as the texts of the Mass make clear: the ecclesial and the personal.  In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the effect of the Spirit’s coming upon the Apostles—once afraid of even being associated with Christ, they now profess His death and resurrection openly and publicly before all those gathered at Jerusalem for the feast.  As at the time of the Passion and Resurrection, the Christian Pentecost coincided with one of the three major Jewish festivals, such that all adult males were required to come to the city to take part.  Jews from all over the diaspora descended upon the city, not knowing that the Lord would use the moment to manifest Himself more fully, and begin the preaching of the Gospel to the entire world.

The gift of the Holy Spirit both clarified and perfected the teaching the Apostles had learned from Christ, thus enabling St. Peter to preach the Lord’s death and resurrection as foretold in the Scriptures, and its importance for all mankind.  Moreover, the Apostles not only received the doctrine to be preached throughout the world, they also received the courage to preach it, and these two gifts—doctrine and fortitude—remain the principal gifts the Holy Spirit gives to the Church as a whole, so that all my hear the Gospel in its fullness and purity.

The Gospel, in complementarity to the reading from Acts, speaks more of the personal aspect of Pentecost, emphasizing the Holy Trinity’s coming into souls, to rest there and take up His abode.  The purpose of the apostolic preaching is this—that God may dwell in human souls as fully as possible, given our capacity.  Jesus says that anyone who keeps His word will experience the indwelling of the Trinity—literally, we will come and make a room with him.

Thus, the beginning of the spiritual life in Christ is to keep His word—to turn from sin and live according to the commandments; to believe His doctrines and to live by them.  When we turn form sin and remove ourselves from occasions of sin, then we not only begin to live a life of holiness, the Holy Trinity comes to dwell in our souls.  Through grace, we are made capable to this amazing gift and we become a resting place for God on this earth—God becomes the guest of our soul.

The literal phrase from today’s Gospel which describes the indwelling is the Latin, ‘mansionem facere.’  This Latin word ‘mansio,’ transliterated as mansion, should remind us of another verse in John’s Gospel, where Jesus says that He goes to prepare a place for us, for in His Father’s house, there are many mansions.  The old English translation is somewhat misleading, for mansio is equivalent to a room—thus in the Father’s house, there are many rooms.

St. Thomas Aquinas, following Augustine, interprets the rooms of the Father’s house, not as places in heaven, but as our souls.  When Christ ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to prepare our souls as rooms where He, the Father and the Spirit could dwell, and to further prepare each soul chosen by God to be worthy of heaven—to enlarge the heart so that it is ready to love God fully in heaven.           

The Gospel, then, speaks of an initial stage in which we seek to do God’s will by turning from sin, followed by another stage in which the Holy Trinity comes to dwell in us and our spiritual focus becomes not the avoidance of sin, but the making our souls a home so that God will never leave.  As St. Augustine says, “even were God to say to us, ‘Enjoy carnal delights, and sin as much as you wish, you shall not be cast into hell, but this only, you shall be with me,’ we shudder at the thought” and do not dread hell as much as the thought of giving offense to the Lord and being separated from Him.  This is a positive endeavor rather than a negative one—as St. Paul says, the charity of God has been poured into our hearts, and now we must respond in kind—we wish our love to be fervent enough that our guest will come and never depart. 

And this prepares us for heaven, for it makes our hearts grow so they will be ready to know and love God entirely in the Kingdom of heaven.  Not only that: the delight of knowing and loving God now and living in such a way that He will dwell in us more and more fully moves us to share the Gospel with others and work to free them from the slavery and idolatry that binds so many in today’s world. 

So, on this holy day, we do well to consider whether we work at making our souls a worthy room from God to dwell in.  When we await the arrival of guests, if we truly delight in their company, we prepare our houses to receive them, that they may stay as long as they wish.  We buy them food and drink which they like; we provide comfortable furniture to foster long conversation; and we even prepare a bed, should we be fortunate enough to have them spend the night.  In the spiritual life, God comes as a guest through sanctifying grace; He is present to us more or less based upon the intensity of our love and the effort we make to prepare a place for Him. 

The food and drink which He likes are daily prayer and sacrifice; when He finds that in a soul, He comes to visit with frequency.  The comfortable chairs for conversation are love of neighbor, for where fraternal charity is, mercy and forgiveness are present, and God can stay and speak at length.  The bed we make for Him is the lack of love of this world—every worldly attachment, however small in our eyes, means He is less likely to dwell perpetually; He may remain in grace, but He will be largely unknown to us, for we prefer the world to Him.  Love of the world is love of money, possessions, comfort, status, news, sports, entertainment; all things, even good things, which end with this life.  In whatever proportion we run to them, God hides from us.  But in whatever way we shun this world and give up temporal delights for eternal, spiritual goods, He dwells with us, not only for a time, but for many days on end. 

So, then, Pentecost is not about a minimalist view of the Church or of our lives with God.  The Holy Spirit did not come to spread ambiguity or mediocrity; He came to bring the fullness of truth and to make possible the height of sanctity.  Today, let us renew our commitment to both truth and holiness, inseparably bound as they are.  Let us renew our first fervor and seek to let Christ live in us in all fullness, and by so doing, to help renew the Church. 

In the book of Revelation, Jesus says to us, Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Let us prove ourselves worthy of these words, listening to the Spirit in such a way that the Trinity may dwell in us ever more and more, until we come to the house of our Father, the New Jerusalem, to live forever.

 

 

 

 

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Easter 2019

 

Dearly Beloved,


Today we mark the fourth Sunday after Easter. The Church, both at Mass and at Matins, begins to read the
letter of St. James. James was a cousin of our Lord, chosen to be an Apostle, and the first bishop of Jerusalem,
martyred at the age of 96 in the city.


The letter of James is short yet filled with much practical wisdom, and a letter worth reading with some
frequency. The selection for today is taken from the first chapter and has the memorable verses, “Let everyone
be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to anger…for the anger of man does not work the justice of God.”
St. James paired speech and anger together because when we are angry, we often say too much, and vice versa,
when we speak too much, we often get into arguments and are offended by other people’s interjections into our
wise expostulations. Thus: too much speech and too much anger often go hand in hand.


Both speech and anger are ambivalent parts of human life, since they are good in themselves but so often used
to excess. Speech communicates truth, and anger addresses injustice; both are good and necessary human
actions. And it is also the case that if neglect speech or anger, we can be guilty of sin, for there are times when
it is sinful to remain silent or to not get angry. Thus: to be virtuous and grow in holiness, we must know how to
rightly use both speech and anger. Since a Sunday homily does not give sufficient time to cover both, and lest I
say too much and anger you by my wordiness, I will focus on anger.


Anger is first of all an emotion, a bodily response to a real or perceived evil which we cannot avoid. Unlike
other emotions, however, anger is closely tied to reason because anger arises when we judge someone’s words
or actions as offensive toward our person. Thus: there are times when reason dictates that we be angry—for
example, when a child insults a parent, the proper response is anger. The child’s action disrupts the natural
order and anger seeks to address the injustice. Anger also applies to offenses not only against ourselves, but
also against those with whom we are associated so closely as to consider them part of ourselves. An example is
that when someone insults Christ or His Church, we should be angry, and, more angry than we would be if we
ourselves were insulted, since His honor is more important than ours.


However, we know all too well that anger tends toward excess. Proof of this is that we do not praise people by
calling them angry—whereas we say ‘he is a courageous person’ or ‘she is a prudent person’ we do not testify
to someone’s holiness by saying ‘he is an angry person.’ Moreover, anger is hard to regulate because it is
attractive to us: its object, the administering of justice for offenses, which is called vengeance by medieval
authors, is good and so we wish to act upon it, but because it is so attractive, it encourages impetuosity and we
act hastily and disproportionately.


As St. James points out, anger also leads to sins of the tongue, for when we are angry, we often engage in false
accusation and detraction. With a person who hurts us or someone we love, we read into their actions and
assign motivations that are often not present and sometimes we go so far as to vocalize these accusations,
though that only adds to the gravity of the sin we have already committed through accusatory speech in our
minds. Other times we may confront the person, but we are not satisfied with addressing the grievance with
them alone, and so needlessly tell others of the offensive action, which sin is called detraction. Thus anger,
despite its inherent goodness, is also a capital vice, for it leads to so many other sins.


In Christian tradition, there are two virtues that moderate anger: meekness, which harnesses interior desire for
vengeance, and clemency, which mitigates the rendering of vengeance, meaning it tempers our use of
punishment. To return to the example of the parent and child, meekness helps the parent from disproportionate
interior anger by properly evaluating the injury suffered and placing it in context, while clemency ensures the
right exterior punishment when punishment is due. Since our interior dispositions lead to exterior actions,
meekness is the most important for us to cultivate, as then clemency will more likely fall in line.


Growth in meekness is fostered by two things in particular: first, silence; and second, the continual
remembrance of God’s mercy. Silence helps us to temper our anger because it creates an inner sanctuary where
we can evaluate the quality of an injury and respond to it properly. Silence also allows us to consider the other
person’s reasons for offending us, which is so often due to weakness rather than malice. If silence is given as a
punishment, that is, if we are obstinately silent on purpose with our offender, it is sinful; but to take space and
time to better consider an offense is virtuous.


The second help to meekness is remembrance of God’s mercy towards us. If the anger of God was given free
rein to act, each of us would be destroyed or plunged into hell—not only those whom we name as heretics or
infidels or sinners, but each one of us who has use of reason, without exception. We have each offended God to
such an extent that we deserve justice more than mercy, and yet He extends His mercy far more than He acts on
His wrath. If we are called to be like God, which is what it is to be holy and virtuous, meekness helps us put
our anger into perspective. As James says, the wrath of man does not work the justice of God, and this is worth
telling ourselves when we get hot under the collar about anything. The angry man thinks his anger is justified
in each situation and as he perceives it, without exception, so we should check ourselves in every case of anger.
God will have His day and so will His anger and His justice, but at the final judgment. In this life, He prefers
mercy to justice and thus so should we, for insofar as we extend mercy to others now, we will rejoice in His
anger at the end of time, rather than being destroyed by it.


As regards the current situation in the Church, we have reason to be angry. Christ is insulted by the ambiguity
of doctrine, especially the insinuation that the religion He founded is not unique, and He is insulted by the
duplicity of life in the person of His bishops and priests. But because anger is so attractive to us, we must
constantly reevaluate our wrath as to whether it is aiding us in virtue or eating us from within. Some vices
never tend toward the good, while others, like anger, tend to both good and evil alike. If our anger leads us to
more prayer and sacrifice, to measured speech, and to greater hope in God, it is good; if it leads us to excessive
speech and accusation, to spending more time reading of controversy than reading Scripture, to becoming men
of anger rather than men of mercy, our anger is deceiving us.


In this struggle to rightly employ anger, let us ask the Blessed Virgin for help. Though immaculate, she was
angry—angry against the devil, against sin, against lies. But at the same time, she is meek beyond compare and
the mother of mercy and repentance. She prays for all her children, even the duplicitous, that they may know
the fullness of redemption her Son won for us, and may not waste His precious blood by their indifference,
sloth, or malice. May she, by her intercession, teach us to use our anger well, for the salvation of souls and for
the building up the body of Christ, the Church. And may we, by her aid, thus reach the halls of heaven, where
there shall be no need for anger, for sinners shall be punished, the just rewarded, and the Holy Trinity glorified,
and we shall praise His justice and mercy forever and ever.

 

 

Sermon For Sunday After Ascension 2019

 

Beloved, 

On this Sunday when most of the Roman Church at least in America is celebrating the mystery of the Ascension, and historical known as the Sunday after the Ascension which we celebrated in conjunction with the Biblical indication of the mystery having taken place 40 days after the resurrection, I would like to return to something I mentioned Thursday day evening.  I will use the thoughts of Pope Benedict to illustrate, at least in part what I am going to say.  This is going to concern what constitutes authentic liturgy, upon which subject in this context I must necessarily place great limitations.

In Acts 1:11 we hear angels speaking to the Apostles staring into the skies into which the Lord had just ascended: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye there gazing into heaven?  This Jesus, Who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Taking this scriptural passage so pertinent to the Easter season and the great mystery of the Ascension which we are celebrating, I would like to speak to you of the historical basis for Mass celebrated – to use an expression rather indicative of gross ignorance – of Mass celebrated, so-called, “with the priest’s back to the people.”

If Christ be God and Scripture divine, then we do well to examine not the deceptions of modern men and the manu-factured ideas of a world divorced from its roots.  Rather should we, in humility, return to that apt phrase which has  happily fallen more than few times from the pen of “Go to Joseph,” our Pope, Benedict XVI. I want to bring to you some considerations regarding the position of the Christian altar by employing Pope Benedict’s “asceticism of the truth.”  How have the remarks of the angels of the Ascension found expli-cit expression throughout 20 centuries of true Christian faith?  That is, until brushed away these past few decades in the west by a cloud of ignorance as dark as its fruits ruinous to authentic Christian faith and practice?

When the Church has celebrated the holy Mass, century upon century as she has done in her historical rites, she has explicitly marked her longing for the Lord’s imminent return.  This expectation was a vivid hallmark of the urgency of apos-tolic belief: it was the seedbed of martyrdom. Nowadays, who gives it a second thought?

We know from Scriptural passages other than those speaking of the Ascension that the Lord is not only to come again, but will do so in order to judge the living and the dead.  Therefore, we understand, in considering His departure, to what end the angels say that He Who had just left our world will return to it in the way He went: He is going to come back to this present world from the realms of inaccessible light into which He departed.  Scripture also records that His re-turn will be heralded by the Sign of the Cross in the heavens and will be seen by all.  That all is the living and the dead: everyone, each of which will either cower in terror or radiate with joy – for the Lord’s Second Coming will bear directly upon the backlogged conduct of every person born into creation.  At that dread advent there will be no room for liberal whining about supposed rights on the one hand nor the shrill indignation of intolerant self-righteousness on the other.

This Second Coming is a dogmatic truth of Catholic faith. Do we ever think of it?  Do we long for it?  Yet for two thousand years the Church has kept this vigil, watching throughout this “little while,” for the return of her Spouse.  This watching has not been effected by papal decrees nor theological seminars but visually manifest through the prin-cipal font, the principal source, of our Christian life.  And what is that? 

In an age where mystery is overturned in favor of absolute transparency and symbols abandoned by an ascendancy of the superficial, it is necessary that we look at something delivered to us from another age: the liturgy handed down to us from history – not retouched productions imposed by a now dated “relevance” from the late 1960’s, rationalist, and eventually a misguided child of Descartes and what followed him in modern philosophical spheres.

To really understand the liturgy one must turn to the historical – the venerable – rites of ancient Christian worship, rites ever ancient, ever new. 

Let us look at what we are actually “doing” in church this morning.  Let us look at a Mass liturgy whose principles and broad patterns are shared by the whole history of Christianity, east and west; one rite among several whose origins are traced to an era when going to church was not viewed as an obligation – a rather unpleasant one at that – needing to be resolved in the shortest time possible to get on with other things by which the Lord’s day is secularized rather than sanctified.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life.  It is in enacting the liturgy – not just reading its words or studying documents about its content, but our active presence within the living context of its liturgical celebration – it is in the ritual expression of the Mass that the Church has marked its long vigil for the Lord’s return.  For holy Mass celebrated in its classic forms – you pick the rite for in this regard they are all the same – until the errors of Martin Luther every Eucharistic rite in Christendom always placed the faithful behind the priest, who together, face the altar surmounted by the Holy Cross – not a crucifix; not a tabernacle, but the Cross.  The whole is construed in such manner as to face East, the very Heavens into which the Lord ascended, the heavens from which the angels tell us we are to expect His imminent return.

While fulfilling the precepts of charity as commanded by the Lord Jesus, ever has His Church – the faithful – gathered again and again to celebrate these Paschal Mysteries, the Mass.  In so doing the faithful have expressed their belief in the Second Coming as many times by “turning towards the Lord” in the framework of their liturgical action. 

Here we have a classic example of the didactic role of ritual so rather completely overturned by the modern phenomenon of what Pope Benedict calls manufactured liturgy-by-committee.  Authentic worship speaks very, very often without words; it speaks to the heart by the integrity of its signs, symbols, gestures, actions, perfumes, lights, color, grace and glory.

Today Catholics may well ask, “How, in the actions of the liturgy, do we “turn towards the Lord”?  Modern Catholics especially need to rediscover that what is “done in church” is not a rational conceptualization but the formal rendering of hearts’ worship of God.  In theology this is known as latria – adoration given to God as to a god:  God as Master, Savior, Sanctifier – and to that God Who will come to judge our fidelity to Him

Thus, authentic worship is not a modern product of preconceived ideas.  Catholic worship is, by nature and necessity, the rich, harmonious fruit of 20 centuries of continuity in faith.  It is the product of God’s grace acting through men.  Its symbols from the various ages are superabundantly rich in content even if modern men have been produced by social conditions too shallow to know how to read them any longer. The Church’s received forms of worship are divine gifts to us from the past – not old baggage to be jettisoned at will.

In 1992, our former Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, managed to outrage the entire liturgical establishment by endorsing the posthumous work of the New Mass’s leading – and outstandingly qualified, and unrepentant – critic. 

The-then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a preface to  Monsignor Klaus Gamber’s book, La Reforme Liturgique en Question, (here is the English version of the same; neither edition was printed by any respectable neo-conservative press. But later Ratzinger was made Pope, wasn’t he?) 

One of the things most sharply criticized by Monsignor Gamber is the practical attack carried out on the Catholic faith itself by the unhistorical and anti-liturgical introduction of the so-called “Mass Facing the People.”  This seemingly shocking assertion, so abrasive to enthusiasts over the new, is an example of the “asceticism of the truth,” so beloved by Pope Benedict XVI. 

Beloved, what we are doing this morning is in deepest conformity with the continuity of all Christian tradition, east and west, with a basis in scripture itself.

The primary and central function of the Eucharistic liturgy has been served at all times, in all places, and in every rite by the traditional orientation of the people, priest, altar and cross in a single, telescopic, cosmological ordering. This is entirely the case, not withstanding archeological interpretations which run against the absolutely universal liturgical practices from the time of the Apostles, unbroken (in Catholicism) until the second decade of the 20th century.[1]  Fundamental to its liturgical significance is that this orientation is an harmonious expression of human psychology and the natural ordering of all the hierarchical values operative in worship.[2]  Its liturgical reason is the vivid expression of Christian belief in Christ’s Second Coming.

And so with these very few reflections I wish to recall us to the center of our faith and what it is that we do each time we are at Mass.  Christ through us, each according to his rightful role, priest, clergy, faithful, celebrates the totally of His Paschal mystery.  We, that is the Church, proclaims and lays claim to the pleroma, the fullness of Christ: His Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and return to the Father in glory.  By doing so we give the Trinity that glory which is its due.  We pray for ourselves and the needs of the world, we are fed by the divine Manna, that heavenly reality foreshadowed by the Manna of the Israelites wandering in the desert – itself a symbol of us lost in sin.  We are brought to the threshold of glory in the mysteries to which we give voice and action.  And by our very postures, standing as the church Militant, we are marching to the Judgment seat of Christ, turned to the Easts, waiting for him to come back in the same way we have seen Him go.  God grant that we live according to all these graces, and that He, our Victor King, will find us still gazing into the heavens when He comes to bring us back to himself, for judgement, and by our humility to share in the radiance of that place to which He has so gloriously ascended.

No less important is the truth that in the historical forms of liturgical celebration, the communal element has never been absent in any rite of the Church.  Inducing the congregation to respond and sing – that is to restore your rightful role in liturgical action - did not require the wholesale reor-dering of ancient rites themselves.  Integrating the faithful into the liturgical action requires priests who are actually knowledgeable and interested enough in their rites to educate the faithful in carrying out their proper role in worship. This had been taught and well on the road to realization in the Roman Rite for more than a hundred years, promoted by every Pope during that same time frame in conjunction with the ancient, received forms of the liturgy.  It was given further impetus by Pius XII and Vatican II.  Despite the near universal disappearance of Latin, the faithful still do not sing or respond in many instances.

 In his book, A New Song for the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI rightly puts the Church on guard against false expertise:

      “With all due respect for the eminent liturgist, his opinion shows that even experts can be wide of the mark.  First of all, mistrust is always in order when a large part of the living history [i.e. tradition] has to be thrown onto the garbage dump of discarded misunderstandings.  This is all the more true of Christian liturgy, which lives from the continuity and inner unity of the history of religious prayer.”

The Pope (Benedict) continues by saying that the popular notion regarding who gets to change the liturgy is no longer recognized as belonging to specialists or central authority, “but that in the end every “community” wants to be given its own liturgy.  But when the liturgy is something that everyone makes by himself, then it no longer gives us that which is its true quality: an encounter with  mystery, which is not our product, but the origin and source of our life. Dramatically urgent for the life of the Church is a renewal of the liturgical conscience, a liturgical reconciliation, that turns to knowing again the unity of the history of the liturgy . . .”

In his laudatory preface to the book of the late liturgical scholar, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, our former Pope noted that, “what is needed in the Church today is a new liturgical movement [which seeks to] rediscover the living center, of penetrating into the tissue of the liturgy itself, into its concrete realization, so that its accomplishment derive from its own substance.  The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has distanced itself more and more from this origin.  The result has not been an animation but a devastation.”

Pope Benedict goes on to say that Monsignor Gamber should be a “father” to such a new movement, one that would reflect the Council’s right intentions (which Gamber embraced), and a continuation of the movement which bogus liturgists thought ended with Pope Pius XII’s November, 1947, landmark encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei, highly praised by Pope John Paul II in November of 1997.

In looking at the actual changes that have utterly swept the traditional Mass Liturgy of Saint Gregory the Great from the churches of the Roman rite one sees at once the breach between the principles laid down in Mediator Dei and the praxis of the actual reform following the Council called by our former Pope a “devastation”. 

The contrast is most strikingly manifest by comparing the condemnation of Paragraph 62 in Mediator Dei to the actual state of affairs in the Roman Rite today:

        “It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in churches, were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

As for altars “being restored to their primitive table form”, Pope Benedict remarks, page 142 in his book Feast of Faith:

        “Not only had the awareness of the liturgy’s cosmic orientation been lost, but there was also little understanding of the significance of the image of the cross as a point of reference for the Christian liturgy.  Hence the eastward orientation of the celebration became meaningless, and people could begin to speak of the priest celebrating Mass ‘facing the wall’ or imagine that he was celebrating toward the tabernacle.  This misunderstanding alone can explain the sweeping triumph of the new celebration facing the people, a change which has taken place without any mandate . . .  All this would have been inconceivable if it had not been preceded by a prior loss of meaning from within.[3]

Monsignor Gamber rightly insists that Mass “facing the people” is by far the most radical change in the Roman liturgy.[4]  More than any other it has effected a deep psychological shift in the understanding of the purpose of worship and its impact on its participants, moving almost everything from a theocentric to an anthropocentric focus.  The former is insisted upon by Pius XII in Mediator Dei: “Let everything be theocentric…if we really wish to direct everything to the glory of God…”[5][6]

In rejecting the right principles articulated in Mediator Dei, its directive wisdom has been eliminated from the life of the Church as well.  With enthusiasm for the very thing Mediator Dei forbids, the nearly universal intrusion of Mass celebrated so that the priest intentionally looks at the congregation has led to the following:  Pope Benedict XVI:

“The general view [regarding this new practice] is totally determined by the strongly felt community character of the Eucharistic celebration, in which the priest and people face each other in a dialog relationship.  This does express one aspect of the Eucharist.  But the danger is that it can make the congregation into a closed circle which is no longer aware of the explosive Trinitarian dynamism which gives the Eucharist its greatness.”[7]

Incredibly, the universal adoption of a condemned practice prescribed ordered by Conciliar directive nor any rubric in the typical edition of the reformed Missale Romanum is rooted in ignorance of the liturgical, cosmological, eschatological and psychological meanings of its historical antecedent – all freely conceded by the man who had become our Pope.  The one suggested meaning for its adoption is entirely secondary to the intrinsic nature of liturgical action, and, in virtue of its constitutive dynamic, the practice can not help but withdraw attention from the theocentricity of worship, its primary function. 

Little wonder that Pope Benedict XVI said in his autobiography, La Mia Vita, that “the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in a great part on the collapse of the liturgy.”  The liturgical reform has been a disaster – for those man enough to deal with the “asceticism of truth”.

I will close by quoting an article from an Anglican journal of all places. It was written in 1975 when the Episcopal Church was gearing up for its self-destruction over the ordination of women - now they have an openly homosexual bishop in Concord, New Hampshire – what next?  The article speaks volumes on the utter confusion heaped into Christianity by the broad-based 1960’s madness for liturgical change

“In Christianity prayer and worship have always been directed towards the east from the earliest of times and churches came to be constructed facing east or “oriented.”  This had nothing to do with sun worship.  The Ascension of Christ took place on the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem.  So it was believed that his Perusia or Second Coming, which was very vivid in the minds of the early Christians, would be heralded from the east.  Turning to the east meant turning towards the glorified Christ who would appear in the east at His Perusia since He had ascended into the east: “This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Beloved, this dogma of our faith is professed every time we go to Mass – or at least used to be before the liturgy was savaged.  Let me insist on this point: the reason we go to Mass is to worship God and subject ourselves to His saving grace.  The liturgy is Christ’s gift to us, His Church.  It is sacrosanct.  We should study it: its history, its sense, its mysteries, its layers, and this we should do fervently.  We should know our Mass Rite faithfully, sing it devoutly, and receive Our Lord Who deigns to come to us through it in profoundest humility.  Indeed, because the Lord Jesus will come again to judge our fidelity to Him.  This I believe with all my heart and soul as a man and a priest. 

I beg you to listen to Christ while venerating the wisdom of Holy Church. For she mediates the divine life of grace principally through this most august Sacrifice and Sacrament, product of 2,000 years’ wisdom and Holy Tradition.

 We will let a Protestant have the last word today for the article concludes:  “It should be made clear that the historical evidence for “Mass Facing the People” has not been carefully examined” [Indeed Monsignor Gamber whose work was thoroughly endorsed by the former Pope demonstrates it as an historical falsification] “and that [Mass Facing the People’s] precipitous adoption coincides with a seriously diminished belief in the Second Coming of Christ in the minds of many today.  But we must ask ourselves, as God has revealed in Luke 18:8, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man shall come again, will He find faith on the earth?

Beloved, the issue of a liturgical restoration is not merely some obscure argument between rubricists.  It is the backbone on which hangs our faith and salvation.

 

Notes:

                [1] Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, 138. “We can show with certainty that there has never been, neither in the Eastern nor the Western Church, a celebration versus populum (facing the people); rather the direction of prayer has always been towards the East, conversi ad Dominum (turned toward the Lord).”

                [2] It is also significant that through the eastward celebration of the classic rites of the Church the personality of the celebrant disappears from public view as is suitable to the role of alter Christus.  This is especially true when the priest conducts himself in an unhurried manner, carrying out his actions sensitively, submissive to the rubrics and ethos of the rite in use. The abuse of this last principle is at the root of much hostility directed to the older Latin liturgy.  The remembrance of some priest’s hurried inattentiveness or outright abusive treatment of the former liturgical directives is often confused with what is intrinsic to the rite itself.  An entire liturgical patrimony can hardly be reasonably dismissed on the grounds that it was ignorantly abused.  Such abuses revealed the “loss of meaning from within” that had already been ingrained into the Latin clergy long before the post-conciliar changes took place.  They indicate loss of a cosmological understanding of what liturgy is in the first place.  That was replaced long ago by a post-scholastic minimalism that contented itself with sacramental “validity” and its  “effects”.  This is what the authentic liturgical movement sought to redress. (cf. Gamber, 12.)

                [3] Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 142.

                [4] Cf. Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, “Celebrating Mass Versus Populum: Liturgical and Sociological Aspects”, 78-89; and “Part II: On the Building of Churches and Facing East in Prayer”, 117-184.

                [5] Mediator Dei, 33.

                [6] Dietrich von Hildebrand, Liturgy and Personality (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), 51.

                [7] Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 142.

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon for the Third Sunday After Easter 2019

 

     Jubilate Deo, omnis terra – shout with joy unto God all the earth, alleluia; sing ye a psalm to His name, alleluia. 

 

Beloved,

 Today our Easter joy is given a new color: in each of His earlier resurrection appearances to His disciples, Our Savior had brought them new and abiding gifts: “Pax vobis: my peace I give unto you”; “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are they who have not seen and have believed;” and again, “I am the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep.” 

     But today He directs our hearts towards the closing mystery in the great Paschal cycle: “Vado ad Patrem: I am going to the Father.” And, in the exchange recorded in today’s Gospel reading, we sense an urgent curiosity among the apostles regarding these remarks of the Lord.  In St. John’s inimitable style we hear Jesus and His disciples discussing this question: “a little while and now you shall not see me, and again in a little while you shall see me.”  The questioning entourage “what is this ‘little while’ business?” and the Lord’s enigmatic response: “Amen I say to you that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice – but I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you!”

     In reference to all this, there is little wonder that the texts of today’s Mass are so filled with Alleluias!  The curiosity of the Apostles concerning this “little while” has riveted the attention of all believers ever since; though the Gospel text is located in proximity to the crucifixion and resurrection, it has a deeper, mystical sense in its reference to the earthly consummation of the Lord’s Incarnation and His return to glory.

     At the Ascension, we will commemorate the Lord’s being lifted from this world and carried physically into the presence of God the Father; at that time those men of Galilee will hear the angels asking them why they are standing there gazing into the heavens, for “this same Lord Jesus will come again in glory as you have seen Him go.”  Beloved for the past twenty centuries the “little while” between this departure at Christ’s Ascension and our eternal and inseparable union with Him has been the cause of the Church’s vigilant expectation of His final triumphant glory: a glory He now possesses, a glory towards which we, in this world, are still longing but have foretaste in our participation in the eucharistic banquet, itself a type and foretaste of the heavenly banquet at which the Lord is already seated.

     Say unto God “how terrible are Thy works, O Lord!  In the multitude of Thy strength Thy enemies shall lie to Thee.”  This is not some curious text; we know how fear can inspire lies and flattery from those unwilling to submit to rightful authority.  For the children of grace, the Easter triumph finds its reflection in the final exaltation of Christ’s Ascension to the glory of His Father.  And the eternal hope of heaven opened by the Redeemer to the children of His kingdom fills us with unspeakable joy.  For the enemies of God it – the truth of Christ in glory – fills them with dread: if not now, assuredly so at the moment of their judgment.

     Today’s collect takes up the theme: may those in error return to the way of righteousness; that is, to the true path of the Catholic Church and her teachings, by professing the name Christian by doing only what is consonant with Christian faith and morals.

     In today’s epistle reading, St. Peter spells out, in all simplicity, the manner of our fidelity to this name we bear: it is not in using our freedom as a cloak for doing malice, but that through our free choices we may show ourselves as servants of God.  The “little while” of which our Lord speaks is this present life, that length of time during which we sojourn here below before entering into the beatitude of God in heaven: that joy which no man will take away. This “little while” is the sojourn of our mortal lives as “strangers and pilgrims” in the present world so mixed with sorrow and joy.  In it we have the ability to choose or reject that good to which God calls us.  The Prince of the Apostles urges us to purity: an uncompromised integrity of body and soul wherein, by obedience to revelation, we will be found justified and vindicated by God at our life’s end. For the “joy no man can take away” is won by a sincere submission now to Him in whose image we have been created and by Whose Divine Son our redemption is made possible.

     Christ’s coming again – that cataclysmic event for which genuine Christian faith ardently longs – is understood under two headings.  The first is His gentle return to us in grace; the second will be Christ’s return at the end of the created order when He will come again, robed in the terrible splendor of the God that He is, and then judge this world with an exactitude of Divine Justice that will brook no compromise.  This definitive coming will cut through the errors and delusions of an obstinate humanity and cast into the abyss any and all who have spurned His love. There will be no appealing to the ‘rights of man’ on that dread day, the Day of the Lord, for then the rights of God will be asserted without appeal.

     That is why the liturgy prays in today’s prayer over the gifts that we may have the grace to “subdue earthly desires and learn to love the things of heaven.”  We do not always perceive that this earthly pilgrimage is just a “little while”: we must learn to know what Our Lord means when He says, “you will grieve, but your grief will be changed into joy.”  For even as we wait, even as we live the daily existence of children of God, we see that sorrow itself has a glint of heavenly joy: for when we see that fleshly desires reveal the bitterness of no lasting satisfaction it is then that our souls come to understand that the shortness of this life is made so because Jesus has gone to His Father.  According to St. Augustine even the second coming is not far off: “It seems long now because time is still passing by; but when the wait is over, we shall see how short it was.”

     Beloved in Christ, do not let your hearts be troubled by the apparent triumph of evil with which we seem to be surrounded. God has triumphed and will triumph forever even while His enemies now mock and scorn.  We are taken for fools while the world rejoices, pursuing its road to perdition: “A woman, when she is in labor hath sorrow because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembers no more the anguish for the joy that a man is born into the world.”  We labor as wayfarers in a world that is far removed from God.  Yet time is short: have faith in the promises of Our Redeemer.  We who share in the delight of His mystic banquet in this life are promised that by humility and grace we will come to an eternal felicity with God in a glory beyond all imagining. Be therefore faithful to God certain that He who died to redeem us from our sins, is standing ready, in the fullness of His own time, to receive our souls into that eternal glory which He has reopened to us by the fruit of His passion and glorious resurrection.