Friday, November 16, 2007

Time off

I'm taking a long Thanksgiving holiday starting today, so you won't hear from me again until Monday, the 26th at the earliest.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

St. Albert on sacrament and sacrifice

"This sacrament is profitable because it grants remission of sins; it is most useful because it bestows the fullness of grace on us in this life. 'The Father of spirits instructs us in what is useful for our sanctification.' And his sanctification is in Christ's sacrifice, that is, when he offers himself in this sacrament to the Father for our redemption to us for our use." From his commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke.

Psalm choice for Morning Prayer

In reading the rubrics for Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, it mentions that the psalmedy of morning prayer includes 1) a morning psalm, 2) an OT canticle, 3) and a psalm of praise.

This means the following are morning psalms, in the order in which they appear: 63, 5, 24, 36, 57, 51, 119 (145-152), 118, 42, 43, 77, 80, 92, 93, 84, 85, 86, 87, 90, 101, 108, 143 (1-11) , 92. Among the themes of some of these psalms is yearning and pining for God and the courts of His house.

And these are the psalms of praise: 149, 29, 33, 47, 48, 100, 117, 150, 19A, 65, 97, 81, 147 (12-20), 8, 148, 96, 67, 98, 99, 135 (1-12), 144 (1-10), 146, 147 (1-11),

The psalms that are used more than once are 8, 51, 100, 117, 118, 119 (145-152), 147 (12-20) and 150. There is a tendency to repeat on Sundays and Saturdays, plus Ps. 51 on every Friday.

There are no specifications for psalm choice for evening prayer.

I usually pray morning prayer, but rarely get to evening prayer. What I miss the most is the Songs of Ascent (120-134), which are usually only recited in the evening. They are among my favorites, as are some of the others recited in the evening, such as 25, 27, and 62. In fact, I'd say I prefer the evening psalms to the morning, for what its worth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Concerning the Hymn

Joe, of course, is right about this hymn in particular, but Jeff noticed what I did, which I think is the greater problem among Catholics. So many priests will say something like "We have gathered here to hear God's Word and to receive His Body and Blood" without mentioning that we are primarily gathered "here" to be united in the Spirit to the Sacrifice of Christ to the Father. The offering sacrifice is the summit of the liturgy; the hearing of the Word effects a purification so that we may approach the altar, and communion is the consequence of our unification with the Son by the Holy Spirit--we receive from the pierced side of Christ, the fruits of His sacrifice.

A very good old book on this topic was Clifford Howell, S.J.'s Of Sacrament and Sacrifice (Liturgical Press, 1952). This book was probably considered "liberal" at the time, because it emphasized the laity's participation in the priesthood of believers, but right now it seems quite traditional.

In one section Howell talks about the Sacrifice of the Mass as an exchange of gift, comparing it to a man giving a woman a box of chocolates and she in turn giving him some of the chocolates. Okay, kind of a pedestrian comparison, but you get the point.

Anyway, he outlines the Mass like this:
"First, exchange of words,
Our words go up to God (Kyrie, Gloria, oratio).
God's words come down to us (epistle, gospel, sermon)
Second, exchange of gifts.
Our gifts go up to God (offertory, Consecration).
God's gift comes down to us (Communion).
Thus the whole process is complete."

Note: he is quite aware and indeed emphasizes that the offering to God is primarily Christ's, not ours as such. If you keep in mind that "God" here means God the Father, I think it makes sense.
We need to recover the sense that the Mass is directed to God--an act of adoration, worship and especially sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Desdemona. the Valley Girl

My son noticed this line in Othello, Act II, Scene 1. Desdemona responds to Iago's insult to women by saying, "O most lame and impotent conclusion!" I guess this phrase didn't start in the 1990s!

The insidious snares of the Devil

How many of you grew up with the Childcraft series, published by Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, on your parent's bookshelf? It very popular with parents and educators in the 1950s and 1960s. The editorial board and staff was dominated by professors and graduates of Columbia's Teacher's College. John Dewey's fingerprints are all over it.

A clear example of this, one that makes me shudder, can be seen in the general introduction in he first volume, written by Angelo Patri ("Angel of the Father"!). Patri is articulating the philosophy behind the arrangement of the volumes. He first asserts that the symbolic approach to reality is childish phase that we must get over:

This collection begins, as it should, with Mother Goose and other rhymes and poems beloved of childhood. I say that is where it should begin, because children are not little men and women ready to live in an adult world scaled down to their size. The live in a world of their own and they are a people with definite tastes and tendencies and abilities. Theirs is a world of imagination peopled by witches and faries and interpreted by symbols....

Fairies, witches and elves live in the child's world because he needs them. Rhythmic language, lovely poetry, tales worn smooth in their passage down the years are his own forms of expression, happily understood and readily assimilated into speach and action.

Patri acknowledges that there is truth and beauty in the stories, but then goes onto say that adults get beyond the need for symbolic expressions of truth as they begin to understand that the real world has no such invisible realities or relationships as imaginitively symbolized in fairy stories.

The vital spark of truth they contain, the sure touch of beauty that is upon them, justify the child in his love for them.

The time comes when the child emerges from his world of imagination and symolism into one nearer actuality. He demands the true story. Is it true? Did it really happen? Really and truly? These questions indicate a readiness for more actual acceptance of life, for facts and experiences that bear the hallmarks of life. The child is now eager for biography, history, and science told in story....

The next sentence makes little sense to me, except that somehow such prosaic literature, when well told, must and will seem to have the same kind of spark and magic as fantasy, as if somehow our delight is transfered to the "reality" of "facts."

The form shifts but the content must still hold the halo and glamor of romance, the poetical quality of a dream, while it offers the sterner stuff of soul structure: duty and honor and truth.

This is pure Cartesian rationalism. It perpetuates the deadly idea that the real is that which can be expressed in clear and distinct ideas present in the human intellect, using denotative language and the idea that the only real relationships are those that can be described mechanically and quantitatively--that the empirically invisible relationships expressed through
symbolism are less real--the opposite, so to speak, of the sacramental principle.

It reminds me of my father's explanation for his aversion to fantasy. "I prefer realism," he would say. That canard was ably refuted in Tolkien's essay "On Faerie Stories," and by Rollin Lasseter in his 2006 talk, "The Lost Tools of Imagination--the Spiritual Senses," at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture conference on Modernity. Lasseter tells the following story about an incident between him and his son that illustrates the pervasiveness of this Cartesian attitude in our culture:

One Autumn night, too many years ago, I was outside, looking at the stars with my little boys, all under eight years old. I told them about the major constellations we could then see, particularly Orion the giant, large and clear to spot in the southern sky. Suddenly a little wind kicked up and tossed the trees and the dust. I said, "Don't be worried the trees are just dancing." My little son looked up into the sky and said, "Look! They are dancing too!" I looked up and saw that the stars did indeed seem to move about, as their light came through the swirling airs. I told them that the stars were still in their places but that the light was refracted, etc. Sad. My child in his tender age saw dancing. I in my willful, educated intellect saw refractions throught the prism of atmosphere. Sad. Many years have passed, and I have learned a thing or two about dancing. And leanred many things about fathers and sons. There is a disconnect that cries out for reconnection. The imagination of us educated men and women is not working right.
Lasseter then offers allegory, properly understood, as the classic and necessary solution to the poverty of the symbolic imagination.

The symbolic is our most direct access to mystery and to the empirically invisible beings, events and relationships that are every bit as real, if not more so, than those realities, events and relationships that can be described mechanically and quantitatively using denotative language. A rejection of the symbolic robs Sacred Scripture and liturgy of their ability to communicate, in the fullest sense of the word, the truths of salvation and future glory.

So, what is missing from this hymn?

We sang a hymn called "As We Gather at Your Table" this morning at Mass set to the beautiful tune Nettleton. The words, though not heretical (although what exactly IS the sacrament of life?), miss something crucial when talking about Mass. If you have an idea about what is missing, leave a comment. Tomorrow I will discuss it at some length, because I've run across this problem many times and I think it is symptomatic of a profound lack of catechesis concerning the Mass. Here are the lyrics:
As we gather at your Table,
As we listen to your Word,
Help us know, O God, your presence:
Let our hearts and minds be stirred.
Nourish us with sacred story
Till we claim it as our own;
Teach us through this holy banquet
How to make Love's victory known.

Turn our worship into witness
In the sacrament of life;
Send us forth to love and serve you,
Bringing peace where there is strife.
Give us, Christ, your great compassion
To forgive as you forgave;
May we still behold your image
In the world you died to save.

Gracious Spirit, help us summon
Other guests to share that feast
Where triumphant Love will welcome
Those who had been last and least.
There no more will envy blind us
Nor will pride our peace destroy,
As we join with saints and angels
To repeat the sounding joy.

Ex ore infantium et lactantium....

At table the other night, we were talking about the section from the Sermon on the Mount about the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our six year old son piped up "I know who the salt who has lost its flavor is......(more)

Monday, November 12, 2007