Tag Archives: music

The Roots of the Messiah

17 Dec

December 17th marks a turning point in the Advent season. We are now unmistakably in the home stretch. As we heard at Mass last Sunday, “the Lord is near”–Christmas is just around the corner.

December 17th also marks the beginning of the “O Antiphons” in Evening Prayer, which draw on some biblical titles of our Lord and Messiah. Today’s “O Antiphon” theme is Wisdom: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

A more literal translation (since we’re into new translations, right?) might be: “O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.” Check out this chart giving the biblical roots for each of the O Antiphons.

On December 17th, the Gospel readings at Mass undergo a significant shift. Instead of hearing about John the Baptist, we are now delving into the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Today we start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, found in the opening verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

There is much more to this genealogy than meets the eye. Continue reading

Why Football Fans Can Sing . . . And Catholics Still Can’t

28 Dec

liturgical musicI need to begin this post on liturgical music with the disclaimer that I’m neither a liturgist nor a musician. My perspective is that of someone who loves the Mass and who can usually carry a tune.

In addition, I want to focus on a very narrow aspect of liturgical music–namely, the selection of hymns for Sunday and Holy Day Masses. To understand my concern, bear with me as I draw a comparison with the music at a professional sports event.

Has anyone ever been to a game where to get the fans fired up they continually play songs that nobody knows (or likes)? Or where they played loud music or otherwise elicited noise while the home team had the ball? (For those of you who might not know, the idea is to be quiet when your team has the ball, so the other offensive players can hear the quarterback better.) Or has anyone been to a baseball game in which they substituted a new song for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh inning stretch?

The answer to these and other such questions is “definitely not.” In other words, professional sports teams recognize the importance of playing the right music at the right time to help create the appropriate environment for cheering on the home team. It’s not rocket science, and any team organist not on board with that concept will soon be looking for other work.

For some reason, though, this concept is lost on many parishes that I’ve visited over the years. So many times I’ve gone to Mass absolutely ready to worship–and sing!–only to experience music selections that are so foreign to me (if not banal or repulsive) that it’s more of an annoyance or distraction than an aid to prayer. Does it have to be that way? Continue reading

Liturgy Matters, Vatican II

15 Nov

Earlier this week, we began a series on the 16 documents of Vatican II with a reflection on the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the first document promulgated by the Council. We focused on the document’s emphasis on the “fully conscious and active participation” of all the faithful in the sacred liturgy, and how this objective helped to guide subsequent liturgical reforms.

Given the significance of the widespread liturgical reforms following Vatican II, I thought that before we move on to the next conciliar document I would offer this “top ten list” of other teachings found in Sacrosanctum Concilium that I have found to be particularly interesting, important, or misunderstood. I have chosen to let the quotes speak for themselves rather than “spin” them through the use of commentary (aside from the captions!).

(1) Source and Summit (no. 10)

“[T]he liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”

(2) Continuity and Change (no. 21)

“In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.”

(3) Don’t Mess with Our Mass (no. 22, sec. 3)

“[N]o other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

(4) Catholics Are “Bible Christians” (no. 35, sec. 1; see also no. 51)

“In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from Holy Scripture, and it is to be more varied and suitable.”

(5) Latin or English? (no. 36; see also no. 54)

“[T]he use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants . . .”

(6) Where the Bishop Is, There Is the Church! (no. 41)

“The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent. Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full, active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.”

(7)  Parts of the Mass (and check out the second sentence) (no. 56)

“The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation.”

(8) The Return of RCIA (no. 64)

“The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this means, the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.”

(9) The Liturgy of the Hours Is for Everyone (no. 100)

“Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers [commonly known today as ‘Evening Prayer’], are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

(10) Not Everyone Got This Memo (no. 116; same goes for pipe organ in no. 120)

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”

Now, Sacrosanctum Concilium had many other significant teachings, from general liturgical principles to specific statements about particular liturgical/sacramental celebrations. Are there any other quotes that you readers would include in your own “top ten”?

The Glory of These Forty Days

27 Feb

My favorite Lenten hymn is “The Glory of These Forty Days.” What I like so much about it is its simple melody coupled with lyrics attributed to St. Gregory the Great that clearly teach us–or at least remind us–what Lent is all about.

The glory of these forty days / We celebrate with songs of praise; / For Christ, by whom all things were made,  / Himself has fasted and has prayed.

This opening stanza proclaims the dignity of the season, and immediately links Lent to Jesus’ 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness, which is the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent.

Alone and fasting Moses saw / The loving God who gave the law; / And to Elijah, fasting, came / The steeds and chariots of flame.

Here we receive teaching on Moses, who represents the Law; and Elijah, who represents the Prophets. Their special role in salvation was accompanied by fasting. They appear at the Transfiguration, which is the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight, / Delivered from the lion’s might; / And John the Bridegroom’s friend became / The herald of Messiah’s name.

Now we hear about Daniel and St. John the Baptist, figures who also come to mind during the Lenten season. Prayer and fasting are connected with deliverance and heralding Jesus as the Messiah. And there’s also the catechetical point that Christ is the Bridegroom, wedded to His Bride, the Church.

Then grant that we like them be true, / Consumed in fast and prayer with you; / Our spirits strengthen with your grace, / And give us joy to see your face.

The hymn here concludes with a personal application, that with Christ and in imitation of the saints and heroes of the Bible, we might devote ourselves to prayer and fasting, as we continue on our journey to our eternal home, where our joy will be complete.

Sure, there are other excellent Lenten hymns. I personally tend to be more patient with contemporary hymns that have doctrinally sound lyrics but a less agreeable melody. Where I tend to lose it is when I start reading a hymn’s lyrics and can’t readily figure out (a) what it means, and (b) why it’s even considered a Christian hymn, suitable for liturgical worship.

Yet our celebration of the liturgical year isn’t limited to Sunday Mass and dependent on the hymns that are selected by the “music minister.” I strongly recommend that families sing hymns together–whether at the dinner table, during evening prayers, or other suitable times. “The Glory of These Forty Days” is an easy song to learn, and singing it as a family is a two-fer: we’re praying (twice, according to St. Augustine) and catechizing, and in the process we’re building an authentically Catholic culture.

For All the Saints!

31 Oct

Enjoy this hymn, and celebrate with gusto the solemnity of All Saints tomorrow!