Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Father Edward McNamara, professor at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University answers questions about liturgy here.
This was a good one: There are three to four Polish seamen in my town awaiting repatriation. They have been to confession with our priest who does not speak Polish and they do not speak English. Is the confession and absolution valid?
Begging the question about why a parishioner would be concerned about the confession of other people, here was the answer:
There are several aspects to be considered here. The first situation is the general obligation of confessing grave sins. This is addressed in Canon Law, No. 960: "Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means." The lack of a common language between penitent and confessor would enter into the category of a "physical or moral impossibility" which would excuse either the obligation of confession or its integrity, and allow for reconciliation to be obtained by other means. In the present case we would be dealing with the confessor making a prudential judgment that the penitent is excused in virtue of a physical and moral impossibility and presuming the latter's sincerity in manifesting those sins confessed in his native language. Thus in this particular situation the sacrament would be valid.
Save A Buck Or Two
If it's a good pitch for telephone service, maybe it'll work for campus ministry
on Long Island. The plan is to replace women religious with recent college graduates as peer counsellors, while keeping the clergy in place.
Pardon my distrust of yet another bishop.
I have fond memories of my two years in campus ministry at Michigan State
. Working with students was great. Dealing with the chancery was interesting. There are three large universities in the Diocese of Lansing, each with their own parish. In 1993, various part-time chaplains serving the small schools and community colleges were not rehired. Save some money, was the thought, I guess. Supposedly, the parishes near these institutions were supposed to be attracting and serving the students. $15,000 was left in the budget, which we learned was set aside for priest stipends for saying Mass. But if the parishes are supposed to be serving these colleges, why isn't the local pastor and the ministry staff there involved, we asked. The community college Mass fund I didn't get. The main campus of Lansing Community College
was actually in the cathedral parish. I could see giving a priest a stipend to walk around the campus with a sign for an hour or so before noon Mass, but ... The LCC campus minister operated out of an office, and with the proximity of the cathedral (not to mention commuting students' home parishes around the county, Mass was never part of the outreach there.
The upshoot of it was this: our unenlightened dinosaur liberal Lansing Catholic Campus Ministry Association suggested that clergy, staff, and volutneers from the parishes should be serving college kids within their borders, and that most of the $15,000 would be better spent training college students as *gasp* peer ministers. Imagine that! Old V2 fogeys were the cutting edge of the Long Island New Evangelization long before it was envisioned on the tail end of New York.
If the diocese of Rockville Center has job performance standards in writing, and the priest-supervisor can document these sisters were not doing the job, that would be one thing. (Leaving aside the notion that clergy are rarely put in a position to be held accountable for job performance.) Incorporating new blood into ministry is also a good way to go, though the notion of mentoring new ministers is a valuable approach to consider, as the CCMA
does. Professional standards
are important, a sampling of which reads (and note the highlights):
A Catholic campus minister is a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church; nourishes his or her faith through participation in a worshiping Catholic community and a commitment to prayer and spiritual growth; publicly adheres to Church teaching and the CCMA Code of Ethics; demonstrates a balanced lifestyle, showing concern for the emotional, intellectual, physical, psychological and spiritual components of one's life.
A campus minister is expected to be theologically competent, to have a basic understanding of Roman Catholic teaching in the following areas: God, Christ, Church, Pastoral Theology, Ethics and Moral Theology, Liturgy, Justice and Peace, Spirituality and Prayer, Canon Law, Scripture and Scripture Interpretation, Church History: World and American. Also to be able to articulate an understanding of the six aspects of campus ministry as delineated in Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future, the pastoral letter on campus ministry. A familiarity with other religious traditions is expected, as is continued theological reflection and education.
Expected professional competencies include the ability to discern the needs of the campus community and to call forth and coordinate the diverse gifts of the community for meaningful worship; evangelization, catechesis and theological reflection; conscience formation and justice education; leadership development and vocational discernment; personal development and service to others. Also communication skills by an ability to articulate the faith through preaching, teaching, writing, and spiritual direction; an ability to articulate an understanding of the nature and purpose of higher education; an ability to articulate an understanding of developmental theory as it applies to ministry on campus. Pastoral skills also: the ability to organize, facilitate, administer and share responsibility and decision-making with other campus ministers in an ecumenical, interfaith and multi-cultural environment, with other college and university professionals. Professional relationships with peer campus ministers, with college and university professionals, and maintaining membership in local, regional and national campus ministry organizations.
For too many chanceries, campus ministry is a great unknown. And as is true for youth ministry, too many bureaucrats hope it stays that way. Few bishops have any idea what happens on campus. Bishops make headlines for visits to the March for Life, and that's fine: bishops should be serving the ninety-nine. A few bishops are noted for visiting prisons, nursing homes, and even giving up luxurious life in the cathedral mansion to be with the flock. Another good example. But in my experience, I've only known one bishop (Matthew Clark) who has ever visited a campus ministry to preside at Mass.
Campus ministry is a largely thankless job outside of the CCMA culture and the students. You inherit the ten percent teen Mass attendance the Catholic school system has left you. You deal with wonderful young people who make poor choices left and right as they try on their adult wings. You try to run a parish (if you're lucky) on a 75-25 mix. The "75" percent are kids who might have been confirmed but their parents were the ones still expected to give generously of time and talent. The "25" are the adult parishioners who like the kids, the setting, could never let go of the parish, or are otherwise university-connected. If you're not so lucky, you run campus ministry out of the back of your car or in a throwaway office the secular university provides for you.
I remember the discussion about "households" with the diocese. We had about a thousand MSU students registered in the parish, plus a few hundred "normal families." What do you do? If you count each individual student as a "family," the cathedraticum went through the roof. Count each dormitory instead.
Enough rant. My take on Rockville Center is that they have high ideals but they're going to fall flat on their faces putting twenty-somethings on the front line of the universities. They themselves have failed on at least a few points of the campus ministry codes of ethics and professional standards.
I'd be the last person to tell you that the CCMA has it all figured out. I found campus ministry types to be extremely conservative with regard to their ministry philosophy obviously, not their ideology or politics. The "liturgy" unit at the ten-day conference I attended was pitiful. I found an amount of resistance from my staff colleagues to some of my ideas and notions. The adult parishioners welcomed new ideas like inviting students into the lay preaching group and other "radical" organizations. But "we've always done it this way" gets tired, be the approach rooted in the 70's or the 50's, and especially when it's clearly time for a change.
I can't blame my former colleagues too much for being insular and turf-protective. College students don't add much heft to the Bishop's Annual Appeal or the Cathedral Renovation Fund, so their protests at the chancery will likely fall on deaf ears. I wish the fired sisters the best. I will pray more for the college students involved in this experiment, which can hardly be called progress.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Loss of Mind
From an e-mail correspondent:
St Blog's seems to be losing its mind over this Terri Schiavo case, no?
Yesterday, the Kansas City Star carried a summary via the New York Times of the past fifteen years. Some facts I did not know:
- Terri's husband and parents were together on an aggressive and hopeful approach for two and a half years until the lawsuit money came through. Only then did it get ugly.
- Terri's in-laws have been getting death threats.
The money item is all too predictable. I remember when my Dad's uncle died and left a large estate to charity. The family members wanted my father, as executor, to join them in a legal challenge. Dad disagreed with the decision to give the money away, but he respected his uncle's wishes. There was some bad blood over that one for awhile. I remember the feeding frenzy from relatives who scrambled to haul away stuff from the home when our uncle headed to the nursing home. Money does crazy things to a person, and I'm not surprised Terri's husband and parents let it control their relationship.
On another blog, I was reading about how vile the "pro-death" protesters were at the hospice. I just can't buy the notion that St Blog's has the high road morally on this one. I've noted a strange kind of group-think around here. It's not enough to be pro-Terri. You have to be anti-husband, anti-Lynch, anti-media, anti-Democrat, anti something. My antenna quiver about this, and my sense tells me that crazythinking has taken root. That's not to say I don't harbor a doubt or two about Michael Schiavo. But I have more doubts about the whole unravelling of the protest against him, starting with Terri's parents and moving on to bounties and threats against Schiavo's siblings.
Another clue was the comment by a sensible St Blog's site host about feeling "exhausted" over this affair. People have good reasons to get exhausted, and one of those reasons is when you're being taken for an emotional ride. I debated getting on the Blogs-for-Terri bandwagon, but something just held me back, something more than the usual St Blog's distrust if your language wasn't just quite right.
So is St Blog's "losing it's mind?" Yes. My opinion:
The Schindlers were clearly devoted to their daughter and her husband, maybe overly so. Few healthy situations result from married couples living with parents, and fewer result when the parents move hundreds of miles to be with their children.
I think Michael gave it a good try for two to three years. Maybe he felt it was time to move on with his life, given that the medical consensus seemed to be that his wife was never going to get any better after two or three years of aggressive therapy.
I think money brought ugly to the party. And the ugly has tainted society's real debate about care of the handicapped and/or care of PVS patients and other dying issues.
I think Terri's bishop was spot on to encourage reconciliation and the St Blog's commentary critical of him is, to use a technical term, wacked.
The Schindlers, especially the dad, seem quite manipulative. Rather than being victims of the Big Bad Media, they've played the media like fine fiddles. They turned a family dispute over money into a public spectacle and they've coopted the real issue with their own inability to let go. Clearly, this inability was in play long before Terri was injured.
That's not to say I don't feel badly for these people. I'm sure Terri's parents are crushed and battered by these events. Having ministered to and cared for sick people in my life, I can comprehend the amount of courage, faith, and heroism it would take to hold out for hope against hope. Fifteen years of hoping would make Michael Schiavo a saint. Three years doesn't make him a crumb. But if people were critical of others on the spot for opting out on a long road of heroism, Pius XII would be at the top of more lists.
Last opinion: pray for these poor people, but don't give them any more or less than they deserve on the spectrum from saint to devil. I suspect none of them are at either extreme, though all have had their moments skirting one side or another.
I hope you all had a good Triduum in your parishes, or at least a prayerful time in whatever tradition you follow. I'm taking a few days off to build a door frame, tune up the mower and test it, bake an apple pie or two, and otherwise relax. We might head out to the theatre to see The Incredibles
I confess up front I'm not the most organized person by nature. It takes great discipline for me to navigate Holy Week well. A cross, if you will. Many years ago I had considered chainging ministries or getting out of church work altogether. My wonderfully sensible wife reminded me I'd probably do much more poorly as a procrastinator in the Real World. Perhaps so.
Our new pastor is great to work with, but I wanted to be sure he felt good about the weekend. I was relieved that everything went so well. Our new associate was probably the most nervous of us all. But with only minor mishaps, I think all were pleased.
Our big choir tackled Holy Thursday and gave up Good Friday this year. Given their "pattern" for "meditation" pieces, that was a demanding switch for them, more than they realized. The director had wanted to pass on the Vigil, and I was prepared to assemble an "all-star" schola for it, but the choir members all voted to do all four big Masses: Palm Sunday with procession, plus three Triduum efforts. We might have to look at that next year. Palm Sunday might be a good week for one of the youth choirs to spell them. Maybe they'd want Good Friday back. We'll have to see.
I added a few singers and instruments to my ensemble and both Good Friday and Easter 9AM exceeded my hopeful expectations. One of the big choir members known for his ... frank, shall we say, evaluations, had nothing but good things to say about a group that some, shall we say, suggested retirement as an option. Not dead yet, I guess.
I'm embarassed to report our Easter Vigil went only 2 hours and 7 minutes. That kind of timing gets your Progressive Liturgist card revoked. We have long done minimal readings here, and I'd like to add one for next year. I thought I had my friend Dave lined up to do the fire again this year. Last year, we had a bit of a flap over it. I had persuaded our outgoing pastor to permit a big fire (instead of his alcohol flare on wheels--don't ask). The weather was miserable, so we conferred and decided to go inside. I called Dave and left a message the fire was off. Only thing is, he didn't get the message, so Fr Bill seemed somewhat ticked I "went back on a team decision" and built the fire anyway. This year, it was fifty minutes before Mass time, with no sign of my favorite scoutmaster/firestarter. Our poor associate panicked and asked a neighbor to set something up quick. When I saw Dave Easter morning, he said, "You should've trusted me, Todd. I wouldn't let you down." He did show up with a truckload of kindling, which helped the neighbor's good fire.
Despite fire worries, we did have a good bit more trust this year than in the past two. The people came out in bigger numbers than last year for the Big Three. Fr John was impressed with the Easter Vigil turnout. Lots of people had more room to maneuver than under the previous administration, so even with minimal changes from last year, we did very well, and the people seemed to appreciate it.
I think we have some good foundations on which to build. Next year, I'd like to work on drawing more families to HT/GF/EV. We can look as choir assignments and make sure the workload is more balanced, especially for our big choir. I think we can widen the parish discussions on planning, too: give the parishioners even more input on things, setting up a deeper sense of ownership. Even though I'm supposed to be relaxing today, I'm still feeling excited about 2006.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Neil's commentary on Psalm 118
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” As Konrad Schaefer, OSB, reminds us, Psalm 118 is the concluding Psalm in the “Egyptian Hallel” (Psalms 113-118). We have already heard that God “raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap” (Ps 113:7), turns “rock into pools of water, stone into flowing springs” (Ps 114:8; Ex 17:1-7), and deserves the praise of all nations (Ps 117:1). Now we hear the culmination of all this in a thanksgiving liturgy – we hear that “God’s love endures forever” (118:1-4), and the presider, once hard pressed, declares “the Lord, my strength and might, came to me as savior” (118:14, Ex 15:2), so that, as the assembly responds, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (118:22). They have all entered into the temple, and the assembly cries “Hosanna!” (118:25); they then process to the altar with leafy branches, and the presider summons them, “Give thanks to the Lord, who is good.” The assembly responds, “whose hesed endures forever” (118:29).
St Luke quotes Psalm 118 four times in his writings. Jesus tells the Pharisees that “you will not see me until (the time comes when) you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Lk 13:35), so that Psalm 118:26’s description of an entrance into the temple becomes a vision of Jerusalem welcoming its Messiah. The disciples quote this same verse when Jesus enters into Jerusalem (Lk 19:38) on the back of a colt - a messianic sign (Zech 9:9). But it is only the disciples who see this, not the people of Jerusalem - Jesus is the rejected stone that will have to somehow “become the cornerstone” (Lk 20:17). This too comes to pass. In Acts, St Peter, after curing a lame man and proclaiming that Jesus is the “cornerstone,” tells us “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:11). As J. Ross Wagner concludes, “The vindication of Jesus that was a promise in Luke 20 has now become a reality through the resurrection. What was insinuated indirectly in Lk 20:17, the identification of the ‘cornerstone’ of Ps 118:22 as Jesus and the ‘builders’ as the leaders of Israel, is now proclaimed boldly in Acts 4:11.”
So, “with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all” (Acts 4:33). Christ is risen, Alleluia! But do we today bear witness “with great power” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as did Peter and the apostles? Do we do justice to the assembly’s responses in Psalm 118? Not always. As the Jesuit church historian John O’Malley tells us, “the tradition of empathy with the sufferings of Christ as one's spiritual center,” despite its legitimacy and power, “can lead to neglect of the Resurrection.” He tells us that the reform of the Easter triduum under Pope Pius XII and the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were actually attempts to “redress the balance” left by a spirituality that treated Easter Sunday as a mere anticlimax to Good Friday. And the Redemptorist moral theologian Brian V. Johnstone writes of the Resurrection, “that belief does not seem to have left any mark on Christian ethics or moral theology, at least as this is portrayed in the standard texts.” It would be a tragedy, I think, if the Resurrection were merely a “proof” or “evidence,” ready for us to deploy in an apologetics exchange but meant for very little else.
So, let’s meditate on the resurrection with an image from Psalm 118: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (118:22). And let’s think about actual, concrete stones. The Cambridge theologian Janet Martin Soskice directs our eyes to Ely Cathedral. The consecrations of medieval cathedrals associated the massive stone structures with Jerusalem, “the place of God’s tabernacling with the people.” The standard lesson was almost always drawn from the Book of Revelation: “I saw the holy city, and the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:2). The consecration liturgies also looked back to Solomon’s consecration of the First Temple as a prototype (2 Chr 7:1-16). Then the assembly heard a sermon of St Augustine “amplifying the awareness that the true temple of God is made not of inert rock, but of human hearts and spirits.”
This might seem to be rather off point, but remember that, as Dr Soskice says, “early Christians, it would seem, believed that Jesus had styled his own body as the Temple, or at least that Jesus’ body could be styled as a temple.” After all, St Paul imagines Christ as a foundation, himself as an architect, and all Christians as builders and building simultaneously. “Didn’t you realize that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you?” (1 Cor 3:16). What would it mean to imagine the resurrected body of Christ as the foundation of a structure like Ely Cathedral with Christians as “living stones” built upon it? We would then have to really see our bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit” and also “members making up the body of Christ” (1 Cor 6). We would have to ask if our giving and receiving to and from one another really manifests a continual self-emptying (Phil 2:7). We would have to become concerned for corporate sins and delusions that might lead to the defilement of the body of believers. As Paul asks, “Do you think I can take parts of Christ’s body and join them to the body of a prostitute?” Likewise, we would need to become concerned that our individual bodies do form one body, that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).
The body of Jesus Christ is our Temple. He told us, “I will pull down this Temple that is made with hands and in three days I will build up another, not made with hands” (Mk 14:58). That is what we celebrate today. This means that we can meditate on the Resurrection by meditating on the medieval cathedrals. Dr. Soskice once more: “The complexity of these structures reflects the complexity and specificity of the living Body of Christ – a Church made up of many distinct individuals who, not despite their individuality but because of it, can be brought through their Lord into a glorious architectonic whole.”
Do you feel part of an architectonic whole? Does the living Body of Christ remind you that God’s “hesed endures forever” (Ps 118:29)?
Friday, March 25, 2005
In Every Flower, With Every Thorn
Joseph Plunkett's poem comes to mind this day:
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
Christ's reach of salvation was not limited to a single aspect, unless one can consider his embrace of all humanity a single intention. The title of the oft-maligned seamless garment approach somewhat touches upon this: the notion that people can strive to make a coherent and cohesive stand in favor of life and against death across all the issues. That we might do so imperfectly, or with reservations does not deny the stance. That we might individually or collectively succeed or fail in taking up our crosses and following Christ is irrelevant to the truth of Good Friday. The Lord still calls us. We are urged on and given a great example. We stumble and fall, yet God is there to be our Simon, our Veronica, our Mary, our John.
Have a Blessed Triduum; see you on the road.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Saints or Not
Thanks, Liam, for playing. Maybe 25 was too many. I'll tone the numbers down next time.
Amanda, derived from the Latin "love" or "beloved" has "cousins" with the same meaning, but the name was invented about 300 years ago.
Bobo was taken as a confirmation name about seven years ago in Iowa. The DRE was fuming when she heard it echo in the school gym, but what can you do?
Jennifer is a form of Genevieve, patron of Paris
Miranda is just a moon of Uranus
Derek: not a saint unless you figure it as a form of Eric; they have the same meaning.
Munchin is patron of a parish in my diocese
Trojan, Britwin, Jordan, and Hunger: all saints.
Moloc, whether the Curt Jester would believe it or not, was a saint.
Quadragesimus and Jessica: saints.
Liam's first miss: Oscar is a grouch, not a saint, according to Catholic Online.
Faith, Hope, and Charity are all women saints
Erin no saint, but I would've thought otherwise.
Wendy may be a form of Gwen, but that would make Derek a saint, too. Like Miranda and Amanda, Wendy is an invention.
Blane was a saint, Dominic's immediate successor in the order, if memory serves.
Babar and Celeste: proud pachyderms, but not saints except in the opposite gender forms.
Imogene a form of Veronica? Wow. Otherwise, not a saint.
Hywyn a saint.
Fourteen Holy Helpers: there's a parish in the Buffalo diocese dedicated to them.
Sidney true as a saint in his own right
Melanie is no saint.
Zenna was a great author of speculative fiction, but not a Catholic saint.
Questions from the Gallery
Frequent commenter John Heavrin asks some relevant questions about the previous post:
Doesn't this bishop have a duty to point out to his flock how wrong this man's lifestyle was?
The bishop, the man's pastor, and the man's Christian friends and family share the obligation to correct sin. If the man is dead, the lifestyle's a moot point from the standpoint of personal morality, isn't it?
How does he prevent the holding of a funeral from giving the impression that his lifestyle was just fine by the church?
The bishop catechizes the faithful that the funeral Mass is about the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful. It conveys no statement about the virtue, wealth, or any other secular status of the individual. The funeral Mass is about hope; it is not an imprimatur on a person's life.
Baptism is not about the infant?
No. Baptism is about Christ and the Church. The parents have already committed to rearing the infant in the faith. At a later time, the child will affirm this baptismal commitment.
Liturgies: who and what?
You can check the original story
on San Diego's Bishop Brom denying a funeral to a man who ran a gay nightclub. The family has released an apology
from Brom, who now apparently regrets his decision and will permit a memorial Mass.
I'm sidestepping the issue of public scandal for the moment. First, let's state for the record that church liturgies are not "for" any earthly person or persons. Consider it: weddings are not for the bride (or her mother, groom, etc.), baptisms are not for the infant (or the doting parents or grandparents), and funerals are not for the dead. These people are the reason the Church gathers and celebrates sacraments. But liturgy, by definition, is for the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful. We use that as a baseline and move from there.
People are asking the wrong questions about Mr McCusker's funeral Mass (or lack thereof). One need ask two basic questions here (as Bishop Brom apparently/hopefully did):
1. Will a funeral or memorial Mass be about the worship of God?
2. Will it be directed toward the sanctification of the faithful?
These factors are largely the responsibility of the priest-presider and the liturgical ministers. While there may be people pew-warming or even protesting at such a liturgy without the motives of worship or holiness, that is beyond the reasonable control of those well-intentioned folks either serving or celebrating. Those who would protest McCusker's funeral are not operating with an informed viewpoint. While I have no doubt that some Catholics would see the funeral of a notorious sinner to be a problem, even to the point of needing to rush to the pharmacist for some Tums or such, they have bought into the mindset (which sure as heck didn't come from Vatican II) that liturgies are "for" persons as individuals or groups. They are not.
My take: If the bishop is serious about sin, a funeral is not the place to make a stand. Celebrate the liturgy and show the Church is healthy enough to walk into the realm of doubt and emerge the better for it. God can still be praised and people can still be urged to holiness: which is where the best effort will be made.
notes St Blog's priests in over their heads on liberals and evolution. Anybody want to throw them a line? Anybody want to wait and see if or when the next clerical foot heads to the mouth instead of to the Mandatum basin?
Perhaps our expectations are off-kilter. I can assure you that sensible people do not look to celebrities for advice on child-rearing, politics, or how we should fill in our March Madness brackets. I couldn't give two hoots as to what Ms Spears or Ms Coulter think (even about hair coloring); pop culture isn't personally appealing to me. Likewise, with the way pop culture conducts itself in St Blog's.
Some Catholics fawn over priests. Their option, I guess. I've worked for and with about two dozen clergy in the past sixteen years, and I have a high opinion of most of them. I would feel at home with about 2/3rds being my confessor. A slightly larger portion have dined at my home. Most of them are/were more than competent as parish priests and almost all of them are well-liked by their peers and parishioners. But I'm not going to consult them on my car insurance, my daughter's higher education, or on our upcoming kitchen renovation.
Some Catholics would gush, "Oh yes, Father, a water and ice dispenser option on a fridge is great! Oh, those ACLU people are godless barbarians! Oh, evolution is such a silly idea! Oh, no way Washington has the legs to make the Final Four!" And it reminds me of the way people allow their politics, child-rearing, and medical preferences to be determined by Tim Robbins, Demi Moore, and Jose Canseco ... not necessarily in that order.
Do your parish priest a favor. Celebrate the sacraments with him. Invite him over for dinner or take him out for a beer or for a Starbucks coffee. Maintain non-glazed eye-contact with him during the homily. Pay attention when he seems to be telling the parish something it doesn't want to hear. But don't make him out to be an expert in something he's not. Most priests are good, sensible guys trying to live out their vocation of service and sacraments. And if one of them gets a little out of line on something like the evolution-intelligent design tiff, just say, "Thanks, Father, for being a good parish priest for us, but your notions on (fill in the blank) are wacko. Just thought you'd like to know."
Monday, March 21, 2005
Terri Schiavo exposes Bush Flip-Flop
"In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."
Can somebody put this on the president's teleprompter the next time he talks about the death penalty?
Sunday, March 20, 2005
On Psalm 22, from Neil
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” As the Lutheran exegete Esther Menn
reminds us, Psalm 22
, with its language of affliction and restoration, was probably “written in pre-Exilic times explicitly for performance in the context of rituals that centered on the well-being of seriously ill individuals” – thus, the initial references to a “leader,” the mode or melody of “The deer of the dawn,” and the Davidic classification (22:1). But both Jewish and Christian exegesis would come to identify the “I” of the Psalm with a particular individual. In later rabbinic exegesis, the Psalm is read in light of the Esther story; “Do not stay far from me, for trouble is near, and there is no one to help” (Ps 22:12) is Esther’s prayer as she approaches Ahasuerus. And, for us, Psalm 22 is most resonant when spoken by Jesus in Aramaic from the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46).
Besides Mark and Matthew, we also hear allusions to Psalm 22 in the Gospels of John and Luke - "They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots" (19:24, see also Lk 23:34; Ps 22:19), and the Letter to the Hebrews - "I will proclaim your name to my brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you" (Heb 2:12; Ps 22:23). More generally, the Gospels remind us of the derision directed toward Jesus using the same vocabulary as the Septuagint’s rendition of Psalm 22 – for instance, the “contempt” of Herod and his soldiers (Lk 23:11, Ps 22:7) and the crowds’ “looking on” and “shaking of their heads” (Mk 15:29, Mat 27:39, Ps: 22:8). In Matthew, this crowd shouts, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him” (27:43), paraphrasing Psalm 22:9. The Church Fathers will see even more parallels between the Passion and Psalm 22 – the initial Greek, Syriac, and Latin translations of the Bible would render Psalm 22:17, “They have pierced my hands and my feet.”
And so St Augustine, when preaching on Good Friday, makes reference to the annual recitation of the Psalm, in which “Christ’s Passion is set forth as clearly as in the Gospel.” Dr. Menn concludes, “The prominent allusions to Psalm 22 and other individual laments within the context of the Passion narratives suggest a pre-Markan understanding of Jesus as the innocent sufferer of a humiliating and excruciating death, whom God rescued and vindicated by raising from the dead, thereby accomplishing an inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven.” But it is difficult to meditate on the part of this emphasized by the Gospels - the innocence of Jesus and the humiliation of his death. These aspects of the Passion bring us to the question that a child shocks the nuns by asking in Thomas Klise’s novel, The Last Western: “Why did God kill Jesus?” The Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore has tried to reflect on this. To Dom Moore, Jesus’ consciousness of being divine was nothing less than “a knowledge able to question the very manner in which we learn to perceive the world, to come to understand, to reflect, to make judgments, and, on the basis of judgments of value, decisions.” Dom Moore continues, “Desire, for him, is not trapped in the outlines of survival and exclusion.” But even though we ourselves desire this freedom from our own “survival and exclusion,” we also dread its possibilities; we kill Jesus as if he were a “rival lover who is thought to have it so much better than [we] do.” Jesus goes to his cross freely – he had represented a new humanity in his earthly ministry, and in his death as our victim he inaugurates the new humanity, which will eventually remember the dangers of “survival and exclusion” in continually “proclaiming the death of the Lord until his comes.”
Jesus was innocent, but still the “target and victim of an unfree, Godless world” which mocked him – “they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me” (22:8). But when, having risen from the dead, he confronts his killers, they, “thus freed from the universal bondage, can spread in the world the end of the cycle of victimage, or, in New Testament terms, allow the reign of God to displace the reign of death, the Church to break down the gates of the underworld.” So, then, “Why did God kill Jesus?” Dom Moore answers (in a way) with two profound sentences. “Jesus only becomes himself for us when we understand him as the man whom divine intimacy frees from the closing-in ring of death so that, free of the endless cycle of victimage, he is victimized because he is free, killed because he is free, so that his execution is the perfecting of his freedom, the drama of his freedom in an unfree world.” And, “Jesus, freely attracting victimization and, thus perfected in freedom by it, gives peace where we could only expect vengeance, a peace in which we are free of the cycle of victimage, free to be victims Jesus-style.” After being confronted by the risen victim and discarding victimage by sharing in his death and resurrection, we realize the patristic dictim, “God becomes man so that man can become God” – we can become “loving like God, forgiving like God, enjoying life like God, being large-minded like God.” And we might then become martyrs, “witnesses, the first receivers of the new divine way of becoming human” who tend to become victims themselves. But we will have gotten there by first confronting the innocence of the victim we ourselves humiliated – by remembering Psalm 22 during this Holy Week.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
In researching saints' names earlier this month, I ran across some web sites (thoroughly "orthodox" so far as I can tell) that assisted me greatly in assuring a sound Litany of the Saints for the Easter Vigil.
Here's a contest for you: without peeking, see if you can accurately diagnose the following litany of saints. How much "heterodoxy" can you find therein?. My friend Fr Shawn went five for five the other day before saying, "No more, no more; I don't want to spoil my perfect record." If you have any stories about any of these saints, post them with your answers.
Answers in a day or two. Blessed's count, Old Testament people don't.
1. St Amanda: true or not?
2. St Bobo: true or not?
3. St Jennifer: true or not?
4. St Miranda: true or not?
5. St Derek: true or not?
6. St Munchin: true or not?
7. St Trojan: true or not?
8. St Britwin: true or not?
9. St Jordan: true or not?
10. St Hunger: true or not?
11. St Moloc: true or not?
12. St Quadragesimus: true or not?
13. St Jessica: true or not?
14. St Oscar: true or not?
15. Sts Faith, Hope, and Charity: true or not?
16. St Erin: true or not?
17. St Wendy: true or not?
18. St Blane: true or not?
19. St Babar and St Celeste: true or not?
20. St Imogene: true or not?
21. St Hywyn: true or not?
22. Fourteen Holy Helpers: true or not?
23. St Sidney: true or not?
24. St Melanie: true or not?
25. St Zenna: true or not?
Washing Women's Feet
Boston Archbishop O'Malley will wash women's feet
this Thursday. Thanks to frequent guest Liam for the heads-up on this. His comment strikes me as most sensible:
"I think the current placement of the Mandatum ritual (in the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper rather than in the Chrism Mass) indicates it is not about the iconography of clerical priesthood as such but discipleship more generally. If the powers that be want to make it about the former, it should be moved to the Chrism Mass. Or, why not do both, and incorporate the ritual into ordinations, elevations, and the like?"
Friday, March 18, 2005
Plutocracy for the Masses, Gateway for Me, Iowa for Brittany
My good friend Tom is leaning on me and the family coming up to Milwaukee this summer for NPM the city's big festival. The latter is far more attractive than the former. Best of all would be the chance to pal around with an all-around great guy. But on NPM, let me say a few things...
I first attended an NPM conference in Cincinnati twenty years ago. After an hour in the exhibit room, my eyes were tired from not blinking. The next year, my home town hosted a regional convention. It was so exhausting to the local chapter members that we took the next year off. I have some grand and some gross stories from that event. One night in the hotel bar, a musician sat down at the piano and started doing Ethel Merman imitations on the St Louis Jesuits. Half the bar was in stitches and the other half had no clue as to what the other half was laughing about. Especially when K-Tel offered a free recording of Carol Channing Sings the Best of Carey Landry
for the first 500 callers.
I was on a subcommittee for jam sessions. Even then, I had a healthy distrust of the commercialization of church music. Our policy was that publishers had their readings sessions, and only conference attendees could reserve jam rooms. I'm sure our bottom line suffered slightly, but there were some mighty fine hours of good music. A few David Haas stories never before published ...
David had told our organizers he had a new setting of Morning Praise and Evensong, what was eventually released as the Light and Peace
collection. The local committee was waiting on getting his manuscripts; they were under the impression the settings were getting their "debut" at this convention. My friend Gretchen was surprised to sing them the month prior at a music workshop in Buffalo, NY. It could have been a misunderstanding, but we never got the music until the day of the rehearsal with David. The singers were sightreading. Not one complete measure into the first psalm, David stopped and criticized two or three points. Someone spoke up right away and said we hadn't yet seen this music. You mean you're sight reading this? Yes, David. Ohhhh. Well, you're doing a wonderful job! Let's keep going. File away: when I get to be a music director, I'll prepare my choir with music well ahead of time and make sure I don't berate them till I know why they're screwing up ... especially if it's my fault.
I asked David if he wanted to sign up for a jam session room. He said definitely not; the conference was already getting enough of his music. But when I left my jam session the first night, I squeezed through a crowd of people at the top of the escalator on the 2nd floor. In the middle of the crowd, at the piano, was the man himself. "Do you want to hear the song I wrote while I was in Hawaii last summer?" "Oh yes, David, please!" I shook my head, finished my squeezing through and went home; it was already fairly late, and some of us musicians had an early morning prayer to work.
I appreciate my NPM experience. But I have no need to go back. For one year, I got to plan, work, and play music with some of the best church musicians in my area and a few good ones from around the country. I was recently talking with a KC friend who has been on the NPM Board of Directors, and I found her assessment of NPM, especially its conventions, closely parallel to my own.
For Catholic church music, NPM conventions have become a bad thing. The bigger they are or get, the more self-serving they are, and the less service they do for the Church. Virgil Funk has created a monster: a revenue source on which the organization is deeply dependent, driven by the excesses of market capitalism, headlined by "stars" who are admired less for their skill at being musicians than the savvy promotion of a few powers in Catholic music circles. The curia has cardinals. Catholic musicians have their plutocracy.
The best thing NPM does is their schools. I've never had a poor experience in them. But they don't make money. Local chapters are good opportunities for musicians to get together and trade ideas, mentor new folks, complain about pastors, etc..
Decision: head out to St Louis' Gateway Liturgical Conference. Cardinal Arinze is speaking and I'm trying to decide what question to ask him during breakout session B1. Duncan Stroik is also speaking and I'm looking forward to perhaps a vigorous conversation in the hotel bar Thursday night. Brittany wants to go to Iowa this summer, and that's what our summer vacation is looking like. Sorry, Tom. Catch you another time.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
A progressive responds to Diekmann's post-conciliar critique.
Thanks, Dale, for providing this link to a talk by the great theologian Geoffrey Diekmann.
First and most important in the liturgical movement, we have lost the sense of mystery, of the sacred" that before Vatican II was sustained by the Latin language and by sacramental rites so complicated that only a specialist could understand them.
I would agree that we have yet to achieve a better sense of mystery. But my contention is that such a sense was far from universal before the Council. I think the use of Latin and complex rituals were a false prop, an easy way to maintain the veneer of mystery. The 1970 Rite does not exclude them, but as they were before the Council, musicians, architects, and pastors have done little to recover them. A sense of mystery is important as a means to an end (the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful) and not the end itself. Once we achieve this sense, the work of liturgy will have begun, not ended.
Diekmann would not restore such "false props" as Latin, he said, but during past 30 years people have overemphasized God as eminent and loving, leading to times of "feel good" religion, of "clutching one another at the kiss of peace. That is unhealthy, contrary to our normal instinct of keeping a certain distance between ourselves and others."
Have people emphasized God as eminent (does he mean immanent?) and loving? Yes. Has it been an over-emphasis? In some places, it takes on a sense of being false, of people pretending to love and care for others, but in reality things such as gossip, exclusion, or mean-spiritedness rule. In any human habit, there is danger of using the habit to conceal the truth. I know many abused and recovering people. Is not a proper emphasis to emphasize the love of God, rather than the seeming abandonment of God? I think breaking some of the individualist instinct of keeping distance is a good thing. But I can't argue that people have and will take it to unhealthy extremes.
God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and "eminence should be prior," he said, but it makes no sense without the complementary understanding of God as transcendent, "absolutely other." The need today, he said, is to regain "reverence, awe, a sense of wonder" for God as transcendent. "I would say the greatest spiritual danger at the present time is to take God for granted." As a means of restoring transcendence, he recommended restoration of "kneeling, genuflecting, bowing or even lying prostrate on the floor," all gestures that express "making ourselves small before God." Standing for reception of the Eucharist makes good sense because it expresses the dignity of sons and daughters of God, he said, but times for kneeling also are important.
No argument here on any point.
So is time for reverent silence, he said, "time to listen to God in the dialogue we call prayer." Although young people often become impatient with silence, "it is very distracting to be hounded by never-ending talking and singing."
I can assure you that it has been progressives who were insistent on restoring time for silence and reflection, arguing aginst pastors and others who complain the Mass takes too long, silence makes people uncomfortable, we need to get the parking lot emptied for the next Mass, silence is boring, etc.. In other words, the adversary is not the progressives, nor really the traditionalists, but the pragmatists and their false reliance on the pre-conciliar principle that if we only do the essentials of the rite, that is enough for God to work with.
Diekmann would also restore times of fasting: "We've forgotten the importance of fasting, the recognition that all things come from God. It's like the Old Testament tithing: We give our best." Fasting should be linked to almsgiving for the poor, but primarily "fasting meant a recognition of our creatureliness, the recognition of our sinfulness in not using the things of God properly."
Diekmann lamented the decline in reception of the sacrament of penance. Many sins are taken away by the Eucharist he said, but "when row after row (of people) come up and receive communion, one wonders whether some are in mortal sin. ... Certainly we've lost the sense of the gravity of sin."
Again, no serious argument here. I think people who have benefitted from Twelve Step Groups and worked steps 4 and 5 are intimiately aware of this, be they Catholic or not. Sadly, I think church leadership has been lacking in the sense of the gravity of sin. Diekmann looks at the people coming to Communion. I think about the prelates who opposed John Paul II's mea culpas.
Because "a mortal sin for anybody with any sense of trying to be true to God is almost unthinkable," he is not disturbed that people no longer frequent confession. Nevertheless, he said, there is still a need for the sacrament several times a year to enable Catholics to recover their sense of God's transcendence, to realize how far they are from fulfilling their vocation to be sons and daughters of God.
Agreed. And I would urge for reconciliation rituals that support and point to the sacrament as other rituals (adoration, benediction, congresses, for example) point to the Eucharist. The Rite of Penance calls for non-sacramental services (as well as form III) but I've never been to a parish that bothered with them.
Whatever course corrections may be in order, Diekmann is buoyant about the future. Schools of liturgy have developed since the council, he noted, and dioceses throughout the nation have liturgy commissions. "Liturgical missions are now headed by people who know something about the liturgy, about its meaning and values," he said. "We have people now who go by not merely what they feel is good or think is good for themselves but what corresponds to the inner dynamics of liturgy and to the best tradition. There was nobody before the council. I, for instance, had no training in liturgy." Diekmann's principal reason for optimism, however, "is the Holy Spirit. If he has seen fit to give us the Vatican Council" with all its benefits, "we must trust him. ... If the council was so unique, we can only spoil it if we are damn fools."
I would share Diekmann's optimism. We're better placed to do good work than we were fifty, or even twenty years ago, despite nearsightedness from the curia. I want to put that quote in bold somewhere on my sidebar.
Liturgical Horizontalism: Why It Might be a Good Thing
The common, predictable criticism of traditionalists is that post-conciliar worship is too "horizontal." Frequent commenter John Heavrin opined that "A more vertical, individual approach to spirituality permits of no such self-deception." My experience has been the opposite.
Mortals can find any number of distractions at Mass to promote their self-deception. In a recent visit to the Latin Mass Society homepage, I found these photos.
Clicking on Birmingham, only three of fifty-eight pics had lay people in view; every other shot was about clergy doing things. In one Birmingham location, Mass took place in what looked like a parish hall with plastic chairs and an altar set up against a wall near an exit door. Great architecture is clearly not an essential for the 1962 or 1570 Rite. And with no organ in sight, I tend to doubt music was much considered here either. The vestments were anything but basement, though. The Tridentine Rite, like everything else of human fabrication, is no panacea for distraction. You can focus on the human-made peripherals of liturgy: the fine gold or silver vessels, the baroque vestments, the fine music (if you're fortunate enough not to be at a Low Mass) or the architecture and miss the point.
In Seeds of Contemplation
, Thomas Merton writes, "A saint is capable of talking about the world without any explicit reference to God, in such a way that his statement gives greater glory to God and arouses a greater love of God ..."
I think this notion was part of the consideration of the liturgical reforms. Twentieth century folks, especially Europeans, were in pain from their experiences of violence piled on top of more devastating violence. Millions of innocents perished as all civilized approaches to warcraft (an oxymoron par excellence) were discarded. Post WWII people responded with generosity and personal sacrifice to human need: the Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps, and other examples of outreach to those less fortunate. Consideration for others, even with no explicit mention of God: this is what was envisioned by Matthew 25:
"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'
Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'
The righteous may be misguided, but would they be so dense if God spelled it out for them? I don't think so. At one parish funeral last week, I noted one older lady singing every song, eyes looking up and around her. After Sunday Mass the next day, she told me the story of how the deceased (just around age 50) had recently been brought back to the Church by our new pastor. She was grateful he homilized right in front of the family pew. At the front pew, I was noticing one of the daughters comforting another (I think) daughter all through the Mass, embracing her head, stroking her back. My eyes were drawn to another pew of parishioners, all singing the songs, all involved in the Mass.
The Latin Mass Society has missed the boat. The first thing of substance the Council had to say about liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium 2:
For the liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished," most of all in the divine sacrifice of the eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.
What is the mystery of Christ? Rejoicing over the return of the lost sheep. Comforting the sorrowful. The gospel example
of Christ is far more congruent with the "horizontal," my sensible pastor and parishioners, and with Merton's "saintly" ideal.
"The saint knows that the world and everything made by God is good ..."
The "too horizontal" criticism is a fallacy. There is danger anywhere in the mortal world. At any time, we can make a god of either rococo finery or chit-chat about out our golf game to avoid God. The Tridentine Mass, some might say, has more potential, more opportunity for lifting the heart to God. I don't buy that either. Fine architecture, fine music, gold and satin are all works of human hands. But those rejoicing at the return of the lost child, those comforting the sorrowful, people like these are aware that these works of God, these sisters and brothers, are worthy of regard, even during Mass. Far from being a perjorative, "horizontal" should be a badge of honor for Vatican II Catholics. We're not saints, not just yet, but at least we're not the track to goathood.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The Unbridgeable Gulf
Mark Sullivan, host of the fine site, Irish Elk
"That (a video of Michael Joncas music performed to the side of the gutted sanctuary) is presented as a highlight underscores what may be an unbridgeable gulf between those who embrace the Vosko-Haugen-Haas program and those who view it as anathema. Is there, ultimately, any ground for compromise between the camps? I'm not so sure there is, but I welcome perspectives from Todd ..."
I like Mark's blogging style: his quick wit and quirky perspective presents an obvious love of the best of high and pop culture as expressed in Church and in secular society. But he trips up on the same error to which so many elitists fall prey: they can't contain and focus their displeasure with the Way Things Are.
His post on Sacred Heart Church in Portland, Maine is a case in point.
Mike Joncas is not David Haas. Or to be more precise, David Haas is no Mike Joncas. Whatever the perceived faults/advantages of either composer (the influence of American musicals versus the influence (some might say imitation/plagiarism) of other liturgical musicians) putting everybody who's written music for the Mass since 1965 in the same basket, along with everyone who's taken out a pre-Vatican II altar just doesn't convince me their argument is serious enough to engage. In this instance, it's not bad enough to criticize architecture, but musical choices, instruments, rain on Opening Day, and anything else going wrong with the world gets tossed into the fray.
Mark and my regular readers know well where I think the danger lies: with those who minimize the importance of putting beauty and quality into sacred art, with those who complain that it's too expensive to build a church, buy a pipe organ, hire a real church musician, or find an artist to craft real statues or icons. (Let's just give the kids new uniforms and computers; let's keep up with the public schools.) We've had this attitude in the US for decades before Vatican II. It was the main thing liturgical reformers struggled against before and after the council. The traditionalists mostly ran and hid after Vatican II, at least in my home parish.
The fallacy that many Catholics buy into is this timeline:
1. From time immemorial we had a uniformity of good music, art, and architecture.
2. From 1963 onward, people allowed these good traditions to be dismantled. Some poor Catholics suffered this in silence. Some ran away, hence our declining Mass attendance.
3. The good stuff was replaced by iconoclasm and poor music.
4. Only now are people starting to realize what was lost, and traditional Catholics, bolstered by a JPII clergy and curia, are starting to reclaim Catholic tradition.
My American timeline is as follows:
1. The United States was mission country for centuries, and immigrant Catholics brought a patchwork of traditions from their European homelands. Sometimes it didn't get remembered right, or it was based on weaker examples. Sometimes finances caused some cutbacks. Sometimes different architectural and artistic styles were all mixed in together because the individual items seemed good. A few places had their act together. But almost all didn't, which was why Vatican II was embraced with such enthusiasm in the 60's. Reformers finally had a blueprint and Father's permission.
2. Sometimes the tools and resources to implement Vatican II liturgy just weren't there. People tried to build penthouses on foundations of sand with no intervening floors. Going from warbly sopranos singing Arcadelt to teens singing Ray Repp and Joe Wise was, believe it or not, an improvement. Sometimes the musicians doing this new music were better than the ones in the choir loft. Sometimes it stayed stuck in first gear, sometimes it got a lot better. I'm not personally aware of any pre-conciliar choirs getting the boot directly. But I'm sure it happened in some places. That was unjust and wrong. But choirs and directors were put in a difficult position: retool everything you've ever done, plus include the pew people in the singing. I knew some musicians who gladly adapted and found great spiritual benefit for the 1970 Rite. And some didn't.
3. Many parishes made slow and logical progressions:
a. Repp to Wise to Landry to the Jesuits to Haugen and OCP and now to LifeTeen music plus other styles and composers. The music written today is more demanding of musical skill, and if parish musicians have missed some steps or stayed in a lower gear, that's not a fault of the liturgy or its reformers. It's a problem with leadership and vision. Without a skilled church musician, you're not going to get people improving. And if you're paying someone to keep you in a rut, shame on you.
b. Iconoclasm started as a pragmatic approach in the 40's, not the 60's. Build cheap. And when a thrifty pastor and committee get a chance to use one room for church, for sports, and as a cafeteria all in one, well, American ingenuity rules and it must be Good, right? Here, too, some parishes made progress: four walls and a roof gave way to thoughtful design, carpet gave way to good acoustics, studio pianos and vacuum tube organs gave way to real instruments, painted plaster gave way to icons and real statues. Again, some people got stuck on the driveway, but that's not the fault of liberals. Blame comfortable pastors and parishes for not doing the hard work that was necessary.
Traditionalists and their mouthpieces, Adoremus, EWTN, the Latin Mass Society, and the like are Johnny-come-lately's to liturgical reform. Many of them picked up their toys and went home in a sulk in 1970. I feel far more for those who didn't, and who stuck with the Church and with what they believed in. I might not care for rococo or baroque liturgical music, but I can appreciate tenacity in advocating for it. Tenacity is a common virtue, I'd say. (But one or two former pastors might question the "virtue" portion there.)
Getting to the gulf ...
I think every artistic-minded Catholic must assess and differentiate between matters of personal taste and the more important issue of quality. We must all realize, for example, that when it comes to music:
1. You can play good music well.
2. You can play good music poorly.
3. You can play poor music heroically.
4. You can botch poor music.
In order, most people prefer options 1, 3, 2, and 4. Most preconciliar parishes were using options 4, 2, and 3, with a very small dose of 1. If your parish is at #3, that's good news if you began in #4, and bad news if you began at #1. Regardless, anyone in options 3, 2, or 4 still has work to do. And any serious musician will tell you that it takes continued effort to maintain yourself at #1.
I think reformers have to pick and choose their battles wisely. I speak from experience. When I was a firebrand in my twenties, I complained about everything: music, non-inclusive leadership, lack of spirituality, loss of mission, clericalism, narrow-mindedness. And that was in a liberal parish among like-minded liberals. I see in retrospect it was very hard for people to take me seriously. People like myself who complained about everything were never satisfied. And if a person can never be satisfied, complaint becomes an exercise in personality, not prophecy.
I began to lens my activism through one consideration: the spiritual benefit of the people I serve. And I discovered that I could live with my dissatisfaction in a more positive way. I could appreciate the people who were stuck and didn't want to move. I would just be patient. The image I often use when mentoring people is that of a doorway. The minister can point to the doorway, like Mary pointing in iconography. We can show the way, invite people through the door, but their choice remains if and when to go. It will not help to badger them with the seventy-seven reasons why they need to get the lead out. Just open the door, point the way, and wait. Waiting in patience works for God; why should we reformers think we have a better idea?
Once the lens of spiritual benefit is in place, I focus on one big task at a time. If I'm on my musical soapbox, I don't forget about architecture. If I'm working against abortion, I don't get sidetracked by gay marriage. If I'm correcting my child's carelesness around moving cars, I don't confuse her with folding her own laundry properly. One thing at a time. That will bridge the gulf.
On Psalm 130, from Neil
My apologies to Neil and to expectant readers for the delay in getting this posted. I enjoy this series; I hope you do also.
is liturgically known as “De Profundis” after its beginning words. “Out of the depths I call to you, Lord.” We need no reminder of the destructive power of “depths.” So, it would seem obvious that Psalm 130 is a lament. But, as the exegete Harry P. Nasuti
tells us, we soon run into difficulties. There is no further description of the psalmist’s situation at all after the opening lines – we never learn about his human enemies, we never hear a specific request for divine assistance, we do not read a confession of his particular sins. What are his “depths”?
Christian exegetes encountered “depths” as the Greek “bathos,” which called into mind two passages from St Paul. The Apostle had assured the Romans that “depth” was among a long list of things that would not be able “to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39
); he would also speak of “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33
). “Depth” would then receive a negative and a positive meaning. For instance, St Augustine claims that we can be sunk in the “deep of evils” – and if we are “really in the deep,” we are likely to despair and continue in sin. But the truest prayer arises from this deep, recognizing that its only hope is in the Christ who has “despised not our depths” and whose saving action has “raised man even from the deep so that he might cry out from the deep, beneath the mass of his sins, and that the sinner’s voice might come to God: crying from where, if not from the depth of evils.” For later commentators, the “depths” are still the depths of human sinfulness, but it is precisely in these “depths” that we actively discover true humility and charity and begin to ascend to God. “De Profundis” is also a “Song of Ascents” (130:1). We are transformed in our “depths.”
“If you, Lord, mark our sins, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness and so you are revered” (130:3). For Cassiodorus
, Psalm 130 “begins from the depths, but like the advancing sun mounts to a great height, enabling us to realize how beneficial is the repentance which we see residing at such a lofty eminence.” How do we ascend? Cassiodorus concludes by telling us to “love the humility which has raised the faithful to heaven” and to “swiftly confess our evil deeds so that we may not meet our deserts.”
Perhaps, then, this Lent we can be raised from our “depths” through the sacrament of reconciliation. Are you scowling? Confession might bring to mind bad memories of clericalism, intensified guilt, and a seemingly relentless focus on sexuality. And it is true that before Vatican II, as the historian James O’Toole has noted
, the average confession probably took two minutes or less, justifying at least some of the criticisms of the 1960’s that characterized the confessional as a “slot machine” or “assembly line.” But, even after all this is taken into account - as it must be, I think that the sacrament remains valuable in our ascent to encounter a God of “kindness” and “full redemption” (130:7). I will turn to an unlikely source – a theologian of the Church of England who was probably even more aware of the abuses of the confessional than we could ever be.
The historian-bishop Geoffrey Rowell
notes that, after the Reformation, auricular confession was associated with clerical dominance and the invention of practices with very little biblical or patristic warrant. But the great Richard Hooker
would consider it to still be a “profitable ordinance”:
Because the knowledge how to handle our own sores is no vulgar and common art, but we either carry towards ourselves for the most part an over-soft and gentle hand, fearful of touching too near the quick; or else, endeavoring not to be partial, we fall into timorous scrupulosities, and sometimes into those extreme discomforts of mind, from which we hardly do ever lift up our heads again; men thought it the safest way to disclose their secret faults, and to crave imposition of penance from them whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath left in his Church to be spiritual and ghostly physicians, the guides and pastors of redeemed souls, whose office doth not only consist in general persuasions unto amendments of life, but also in the private particular cure of diseased minds.
We often are either too complacent or scrupulous, forgetting that our “depths” are both negative and positive. Against the complacent, Hooker cites St John Chrysostom, “To call ourselves sinners availeth nothing, except we lay our faults in the balance and take the weight of them one by one.” For those who instead have fallen into “timorous scrupulosities,” Hooker writes that God has ordained “for their spiritual and ghostly comfort consecrated persons, which by sentence of power and authority from above, may as it were out of his very mouth ascertain timorous and doubtful minds in their own particular, ease them of all their scrupulosities, leave them settled in peace and satisfied touching the mercy of God toward them.”
“And God will redeem Israel from all their sins” (130:8). Does this sound commonplace, even boring? Perhaps you need the spiritual benefit of self-examination and the articulation of your sins. Does it instead sound impossible, even bitterly ironic? Perhaps you need to find a “spiritual and ghostly physician,” a true “guide and pastor of redeemed souls,” to ease your “timorous and doubtful mind.” Part of rising from our “depths,” as Cassiodorus wisely told us, involves “swiftly confessing our evil deeds so that we may not meet our deserts.”
I welcome comments. What do you think about confession?
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Cardinal George and the Liturgical Dragon
I always enjoy reading John Allen's NCR column, especially so when something liturgical comes up, like this week's
interview with Cardinal George of Chicago, one of the leading lights of the Vox Clara Commission, set up to give a few bishops a more direct dealing with ICEL, the English Translation agency for liturgical rites.
First, the cardinal expects Catholics to be responding "and with your spirit," when the changes do come down the pike. It was specifically requested by the curia in 2001. I was pleased to see the cardinal is not working in an ivory tower over it. George said, "People possess the English texts in a way they never possessed the Latin. For some, it will be a difficult habit to break."
Indeed. A minority of Catholics were deeply upset over the Vatican II liturgy changes, which were handled badly in some places. (But not everywhere.) I can think of about a dozen people in my parish who might just refuse to go along and keep saying the old words ... after the other 2200 break the habit. I confess that though despite reading a commentary or two about "et cum spiritu tuo," I'm baffled by what the distinction means. Not the translation distinction, mind you; that's clear enough. But the notion that a greeting is worded in such a curious way: a ritualized wish for God's presence "with you," followed by what seems to be a needless clarification of "your spirit." Does that speak somehow to the priest's liturgical role? Does it narrow the sense of what the priest is doing, confining his presidency to the spiritual and eliminating his human gifts of preaching, speaking, singing, etc.? Maybe someone can tell me.
George seems to think no other changes to the people's words are coming along. This will not satisfy many people. Think about it: make one substantial change because the curia says so, then make no others. Some people on both sides of the liturgy wars will say, "Why bother?" And both might have a legitimate beef.
According to the cardinal, we have another three years to wait for a translated Roman Missal. Advent 2008 at the earliest, and maybe another year or two after that. That's about the past track record for liturgical changes.
I was unimpressed with George's response when Allen asked him about the "'collateral damage' from the liturgy wars." His observation here seems limp:
"The challenge Rome put to the local bishops was to take possession of the process itself, to have bishops involved in every step. Maybe it's more accurate to say that control has been taken away from the experts and given back to the bishops. Canonically, I don't believe it's any more centralized than before, the structures are intact, but with a different cast of characters."
I'm not dreaming when I recall liturgical issues getting hammered out in USCCB general session, am I? By adding the Vox Clara Commission, George and his cronies in the curia have added one new layer to the bureaucracy. You have ICEL doing the grunt work. You have Vox Clara fussing over fine points in non-vernacular English. And you have eleven English-speaking bishops' conferences still picking the work apart and sending it back to committee--two committees, in fact. If local or individual bishops were uninvolved before, it wasn't for the lack of opportunity. Even if you've not been selected to the (US) Bishops' Committee on Liturgy (BCL), it's not as though a bishop is cut off from commentary either at meetings, or in writing.
My thinking: George is dodging a bit in this interview. But I'm grateful he recognizes the problems from a pastor's viewpoint. He's one up on the curia on that score.
Twenty years ago, I would have agreed that an emphasis on "a text's suitability for public proclamation, its beauty as English prose, and its comprehensibility" was the major challenge facing liturgy geeks everywhere. Whether politicized from one angle, another, or both, the process has just taken too damned long. Another problem might well have overtaken the "quality" issue. (Quality really should have been settled in the 70's. It's just sheer stupidity that the translation that should have taken the longest and been done with the most care (namely, the first) was rushed, and that the subsequent tweakings should have been far quicker.) Text alone will not ensure the quality of proclamation and prayer. And given the damage to both the liturgy and the episcopacy, that should be the next task tackled by the BCL and the CDWS. Anything less than a full-scale effort to unify Catholics under the Church's liturgy will be pastorally, if not criminally, neglectful.
I think if you asked me what three personalities I'd invite to dinner, this week I'd have to say Cardinal George, Bishop Trautman (BCL chair) and Cardinal Arinze (the curia's head liturgist). I'd be fascinated to hear their responses to a good batch of questions I've cooked up. If they hurry up and book their flights to Kansas City for this week, they'll get homemade apple or pumpkin pie for their trouble.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
What exactly does a liturgist do?
I don't know what your liturgist does. I know that in my full-time positions in Illinois, Virginia, at Michigan State, Iowa, and here in Kansas City, the job description has varied according to the staff configuration and volunteer involvement. So I could tell you what I do now. But this is different from what I've done in other places. And different from what many of my colleagues do.
Sometimes when the question is raised, the issue is not as much, "I want to know what you do," but rather "I don't like you or the parish liturgy, and I wish somebody else, especially the priest, take over from you." In that case, you'll find this short essay most unsatisfactory.
In parishes, I do what the third or fourth priest used to do in large parishes before the council. Anything that happens in liturgy is my responsibility, as delegated by the pastor. If something goes right, I try to deflect the praise to God and to the people who did a good job. If somebody screws up, the pastor and parishioners let me know about it, and I'm supposed to fix it.
In Iowa, my predecessor was supremely organized and I learned a lot taking over from her. She had dozens of people doing substantial ministry and administrative tasks. My present parish was more pastor-oriented, liturgy-wise, as I took over from him, so things are a bit different here; it's not quite as far along as a Vatican II parish. People here are getting used to the idea that they can do things, suggest things, make things happen, and so forth. If people got it into their heads they could take over some of my job description, that wouldn't bother me one bit. If they wanted to keep me employed, I'd just start or do some things they don't have here yet, like a funeral choir or demonstration tapes of wedding music, or a school liturgy planning team made up of kids, or a small adult choir for the Sunday noon Mass. There's not an end in sight for the good things my parish (or yours, possibly) could do in liturgy that either other places are doing, or nobody's dreamed of yet.
Many years ago, I went to a workshop by a priest who suggested that the lay minister is just a transition from the over-clericalized Tridentine Church to some future Church that will be more egalitarian. I suppose I can thank the present curia for backtracking on Vatican II in the sense that the day liturgists will be out of business has been put off a few more years into the future.
What would I do if there were no liturgy positions in parishes? Keep having fun with my job, no doubt. Maybe I'd even study architecture or go to a culinary school. My dream retirement would be to live at a retreat center, be a spiritual director, play music for daily liturgies, and cook meals for the guests.
The most important aspect of what a liturgist does is serving people in the name of Christ. If a person can't get beyond turf, conservatory training, his or her own precious ideas, or whatever obstacle to make that apparent, I do think another job is in order for the best of all. But modelling one's ministry on Christ? It is a necessary challenge, and one I'm glad to attempt each day.
Friday, March 11, 2005
It's Fiction, People
My wife is slightly more of a tv fan than I. I wandered through the living room the other week and she was watching some show about a clairvoyant woman who assists law enforcement in the solving of crimes. Personally, I prefer Jerry Orbach's wisecracks, but hey: whatever knocks you out. A few days ago, I became aware of nervousness over Medium. Catechism 2115 or thereabouts: all magic and things like that are evil because they deny God's proper role as our ultimate Trust.
I'll admit I love fantasy, and I prefer it in literature as opposed to tv. From the ten minutes I viewed this new show, it struck me as a fantasy. Here's what else is fantasy: Touched By An Angel, Joan of Arcadia, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Harry Potter. In all of these works, the author/creator has suspended belief in how the world is (or created completely new worlds) and endowed the creations therein with magical powers.
I suspect that if Patricia Arquette received visions from God or the Blessed Mother, Medium would be considered more acceptable Christian fare. Of course, one of those "acceptable" fantasies is about "angels," and another was written by a "good" Catholic. In all these works, magic is part of the universe. Plots hum along because of the good and bad choices fictional characters make. Some magical people are good (Samantha Stevens, Gandalf, or Hermione Granger), some are conflicted (Endora or Spike) and some are just pure evil. In the human imagination, it's not about who or what you are, but what choices you make. Just like in real life.
Focusing against magic in fiction is a poor way to do religion or moral theology. Every human person has God-given gifts. Every person has free will to utilize those gifts for good or evil. Even good gifts well-used can be a means for over-indulgence and putting God out of the picture. What's more dangerous for people? I'd say people so enamored of business and making money that overpaid CEO's, callous attitude toward employees, and worship of the almighty dollar create great evil. Enron or the Charmed sisters? Physical appearances aside, that's still a no-brainer.
If you twist my arm to watch tv, I'm going back to Law & Order. But I think those who indulge in a little magical fantasy, even if it's on the tube, should do so without guilt or regret. Key word here: little, not magical.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
New hockey team
The Brisbane Blue Tongues
. I was thinking about that kid in A Christmas Story
who gets his tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole. I don't think flagpoles freeze in Australia. Especially in Brisbane.
On the 2005 creative front, things are going pretty well. I've finished three key songs in my musical, and though the finale stumps me (and has for the past four years) I'm going ahead with the next stage. In my study of the American musical format, I've come to realize I've done things backward, writing songs first. Actually, the first thing I did was to study the text for about six months and ponder how I'd structure the production: which passages would be songs, who would sing them, how I might use non-Tobit passages like Psalms to flesh out some spots. Then I began writing songs, and found a theatre friend to bounce ideas off. Then I took about two years off when I moved to the country.
The plan over the next few weeks is to write the dialogue with most of the material left over from the songs. My wife didn't think much of my original plan, which was to set the whole thing to music, mix in some psalms, and create an operetta. I have nine songs, and there might be as many as three or four more, but I think it's time to create some speaking parts, then go back to the music aspect and see what happens. Tobit 13 definitely needs music, and a blow the roof off cast finale, but I'm not satisfied with the two ideas I've come up with for it. In the meantime, I need to find someone experienced in theatre to review the whole thing and help me assess its worthiness for the stage. At the very least, it will get done in the parish, maybe as early as next Spring.
Any theatre folks with some ideas or good advice?
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Check out new information on Titan, moon of Saturn here.
In college, I was a geology major, but I never lost my love for astronomy. If I were to do it over in a secular career, I'd consider being a planetary geologist. I'd go to the moon in an instant, if I could. I suspect there are some very interesting and surprising things going on there. Not as bizarre as Titan, but then again, it wouldn't take me seven years to get there. Heck, by the time I got back from Saturn, I might miss Vatican III or the Bills winning the Super Bowl or some event of cosmic significance like that.
A close pass near Enceladus was earlier today. They still don't know how or why a moon the size of Texas can behave like a planet. I want to know, too.
See our children's choir on ESPN2
You hope the kids get as excited about singing at Mass, but it is pretty thrilling to be on national tv. Check out the national anthem for the 4pm edt MLS match-up between the Kansas City Wizards and DC United on Saturday, April 30th.
My sports antenna went aquiver when our music director said she had conflicting info. Scout Night was supposed to be a 7pm game, but her info from the team when our choir was picked indicated an afternoon game. Sure enough, the game time was switched to accommodate ESPN2. Probably airing the World Series of Poker again, and soccer ratings aren't very sexy, hence the mid-afternoon start.
If you're in town, see me for tickets.
Credibility and Authority
Church teaching issues boil down to two qualities. Only the extremists of the right (LeFebvre and Pope Pius XIII) or the left (Danubian ordination cruisers) deny the obvious teaching authority of the bishops. Sensible Catholics acknowledge authority, but many also atrribute low or no credibility to church leaders. The fallout from the sex abuse and cover-up scandal is one obvious example. Nobody is saying the bishops don't have the power to govern their dioceses well. We wish they'd done the job when sexual predators were on the loose. The problem of the bishops, and Rome somewhat, is that the bishops lack credibility to tackle the problem.
On sexual matters, the bishops started losing credibility decades ago. Our friend Leo can easily produce a quote like this from Aquinas: As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes. And while some would call that hitting below the belt, so to speak, the Magisterium's problem is that it has not repudiated such thinking forcefully enough. Inherent issues of fairness are glossed over, and instead we get a fawning comparison to the Blessed Mother (at best) and a continuing hammering away at sex issues which come to the same conclusions as Aquinas did. The end seems the same, and they say the means has changed. But sincere people wonder.
The widespread rejection of Humanae Vitae should be a wake-up call. But it's not. There was an expectation in 1968 that the voice of authority would be sufficient to maintain the ranks. Hindsight and 90% non-compliance would tell us that was a fool's hope. Was the document flawed because it ignored the findings of the theological commission? Did Paul VI lose his nerve? Was the document authentic and people just didn't listen? Did the document contain much that was good and did that get lost in the furor over the handling of contraception? All good questions, some better than others.
Paul VI and others clearly felt that their word of authority would be sufficient. But it wasn't. They lacked a sense of compassion for couples struggling in heroic circumstances. They failed to address the situation of women's rights. They failed to repudiate long-held positions that could no longer be sustained by our understanding of biology or sociology. Upholding tradition was fairly safe: no guilt at directly leading people astray, and the few who were put in a position to make terrible choices were invisible.
I wonder how much this contributed to the phenomenon of "cafeteria" Catholicism that we see on both the Left and Right today. Instead of unifying belief, thought, and practice, Humanae Vitae may well have been the beginning of discord within the Catholic Church. Long before Rush and Ann and Al, the seed was planted for today's strife. Sociologists say that the American hemorrhaging of church attendance can be traced to HV. Vatican II reforms ameliorated it somewhat.
What should the bishops do? Credibility is a precious quality. When a person tells a lie, or especially a series of lies, doubt is brought into the relationship equation. You lied about where you were last week ... you don't get the car keys tonight. You're in a conflict with another person who has a reputation for truthfulness ... you forfeit. It takes a long time to recover. The reason why this is a bad time to make liturgical changes or to deny communion is not because the liberals don't like it. It's a bad time because the bishops have another job to do: restore the confidence of the laity. Until that's done, the risk of alienation remains. And that must be factored into every public decision until the right relationship between people and bishop is restored.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
On my lifestyle, deacons, remarriage, that other thread, etc.
People ... first, thank you for jacking up the popularity of my blog. I feel like I've opened a book or gone dyspeptic or something. By all means, feel free to be humorous and wry and post sixty, seventy or even a hundred comments per thread, but please try and make this not like I'm providing a near occasion, if you catch my drift.
For the record, my lifestyle is such that I do enjoy intercourse with my wife without much of a chance of progeny--it certainly would have happened by now. I think Leo is not far off target in criticizing the Church's position on sex. I once had a friend who was amazed the Church permitted women to marry after menopause: after all, procreation is out of the medically unassisted picture for them, no?
I doubt I will become a deacon, at least in the near future. Over and over, God has confirmed what I'm doing, especially in the times I wanted to get out of it. Were I to outlive my wife, it is not likely I would take a second wife. If I were a deacon, I doubt I would seek a dispensation; my wife's parents are long dead, and Brittany is getting ready to take over the world. (The only thing I would dread as a single dad is doing all that girl stuff, but that's what friends are for, as they say.
Monday, March 07, 2005
A friend wrote to ask if I had ever considered the permanent diaconate. I had ... about five or six years ago when I was in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. I had two great friends enter the formation program about 1999. They were ordained last year. It would have been cool being classmates with them. I know my wife would have enjoyed the coursework (that diocese required wives to study with the husband-candidates). My spiritual director back in Iowa was formation director for the diaconate, so I was well acquainted with leaders, roles, and the spirituality.
When it was time for discernment on the diaconate (i.e. going beyond the infatuation stage of being with good people and presiding at infant baptisms and preaching) I had to ask myself what my motivations would be for Holy Orders, especially examining the balance of ego, recognized ministry versus the understanding of service. Our parish already had two deacons, and two other candidates had stepped forward. I wasn't interested in serving another parish as a deacon, so why did the church need a 5th deacon? That seemed disrespectful of the community who had hired me to be their liturgist.
The other challenge for me was spending four or five years in theology courses I had taken long ago in grad school. As one deacon observed, "You could probably teach most of the diaconate courses." Liturgy and sacraments, maybe, but getting excused from coursework might put my wife out of the loop. And as for the diaconate community, it would definitely leave me high and dry. If I offered to take another course of study, say canon law or an MDiv degree, I might be gaining a skill needed in the diocese, but at the cost of the community effort of the class of deacon candidates and their wives. The clinching aspect was my wife's and my decision to adopt a special needs child. I found that calling to be far stronger in my life at that time, so I happily set aside the notion of being a deacon for another calling.
It could be that there are some well-trained lay people who, after ten or twenty years in ministry might discern a calling to the diaconate or priesthood. I will be interested to see how dioceses handle the issue of academic training of these people, should they be discerned as candidates for Holy Orders.
As for me, I'm more than satisfied with being a lay minister in a parish. I serve in the way I enjoy serving, and as God has called me. At this point, I would need about ten more years, plus a clear call from a parish or a bishop to consider becoming a deacon. Or a lightning bolt, I suppose. Whichever came first.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
On Psalm 23, from Neil
Neil Dhingra continues his Lenten series on the Sunday Psalms.
Psalm 95 reminded us that the presence of God is consoling - “cry out to the rock of our salvation.” But God’s presence is also challenging – “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah” - and his love forces us to confront our sklericardia, our own hearts of stone that prevent us from hearing his voice. The same can be said about Psalm 23.
The Sulpician exegetes Michael Barre and John Kselman point out that the psalmist’s moving claim that the divine presence is with him “through a dark valley,” so that “there is nothing I lack” (23:1), is reminiscent of the Exodus. After all, Deuteronomy reads at one point, “It is now forty years that God has been with you, and you have never been in want” (2:7). And the psalmist’s claim that “You set a table before me” (23:5) is an allusion to Psalm 78’s own reference to the Exodus, “They spoke against God, and said, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert?’” (78.19). But Psalm 23 is not merely evocative of Israel’s past – it also daringly speaks of Israel’s future. To more fully understand the psalm, we will have to look at some darker passages that may appear at first to contradict it.
The final claim of Psalm 23 – “Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life” (23:6) - is seemingly turned upside down in Psalm 143 and Psalm 7, where we instead read, “The enemy has pursued me; they have crushed my life to the ground” (143:3). And in Lamentations, we encounter a frightening inversion of the entire psalm, beginning with the declaration, “I am a man who knows affliction from the rod of his anger, One whom he has led and forced to walk in darkness, not in the light” (3:1-2), and ending with the request that God “pursue [my foes] in wrath” (3:66). What is going on here?
Frs Barre and Kselman write about Psalm 23, “In v.6 the psalmist uses ‘pursue’, a verb that has close associations with the language of treaty and covenant, particularly the language of curse for covenant violation. In a daring reversal, he prays that it not be the covenant curses, but only ‘goodness and love’ that ‘pursue him’ (so to speak) throughout his life; here ‘goodness and love’ is a surrogate for the covenant and includes the blessings attendant upon obedience to the covenant stipulations.”
The psalmist’s “daring reversal” of the language of curse had previously imagined God setting “a table before him” - a reference to Psalm 78, but also to a royal banquet in which the overlord (Yahweh) would nourish his vassal (the king). We can imagine the banquet of Wisdom – “She has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table” (Prov 9:2), or, most resonant of all, the new Exodus and restoration described so vividly in Isaiah. “Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” (Is 55:1). Through this imagery of a royal banquet, Psalm 23 refers more broadly to a “new provisioning,” a reversal of the “hunger and thirst, in nakedness and utter poverty” that are so synonymous with exile (Dt 28:48). As our exegetes write about the psalmist’s evident “democratization” of the royal banquet idea, “Yahweh’s covenant blessings ‘pursue’ him and allow him permanent residence in the Promised Land; here he speaks in the name of the exilic community.”
And, indeed, the psalmist’s statement, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” (23:6) links being present in Yahweh’s temple to the blessings of the covenant; Psalm 61 also sees the king’s “dwelling in [God’s] tent” as synonymous with God’s covenantal “love and fidelity” (61:5,8). After all, certain kings had been afflicted with disease and were not permitted to enter the temple (e.g., 2 Chr 26:16-20). Frs Barre and Kselman once more, “As the king prays in Ps 23:6 that he never be excluded from Yahweh’s house, so the psalmist prays in the name of the exiles that they never again be excluded from the Promised Land. This prayer is no expression of pious sentimentality but is uttered in light of the traumatic experience of exile and deportation.”
The desire in Psalm 23 for a “new exodus, new march through the wilderness, new covenant, and new settlement in the Promised Land” reminds us of Jeremiah’s vision that the Lord “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 31:34). And what is this new covenant? We might look at one of the uses of Psalm 23 in the Book of Common Prayer:
After the Baptism, a candle (which may be lifted from the Paschal
Candle) may be given to each of the newly baptized or to a godparent.
It may be found desirable to return to the front of the church for the
prayer, "Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit," and the ceremonies that follow it. A suitable psalm, such as
Psalm 23, or a hymn or anthem, may be sung during the procession.
The oblations of bread and wine at the baptismal Eucharist may be
presented by the newly baptized or their godparents.
What better place for Psalm 23 is there than between the baptismal font that incorporates us into the “new covenant” and the table of the Eucharist that God sets before us as a foretaste of the heaven where we will indeed dwell with him “for years to come” (23:6)? But we should need to come through the “traumatic experience” of our own exiles and deportations with hope, not with the “hardness of heart” that would leave Psalm 23’s “daring reversal” simply impossible to comprehend.