Thursday, May 13, 2010

Praying the Office with your body

How many of you pray the office sitting in a chair, like I do? It strikes me that such an approach is several levels of abstraction from the way the office is designed or intended to be prayed. Specifically, such a mode of praying renders the prayer overly intellectual, not involving the body. The theology of the body has made me more sensitive to the importance of the body in our spiritual lives.

There are many aspects of liturgical prayer that are absent in that mode of prayer that involve the body. For instance, the normal posture for liturgical prayer is standing. In the Benedictine tradition one stands during much of the office, although one sits on a perch in one's stall during the recitation of the psalms. One bows at the "Gloria Patri" and makes the sign of the cross at the Gospel Canticle.

Usually in liturgical we face the altar or some image of the Lord (a crucifix, for instance). Normally we are in an oratory. Since we can't all go to Church, many of us have an oratory set up in our "domestic churches." That might be an appropriate place to pray the office. In the recent movie about the Carthusians, Into Great Silence, that the monks prayed kneeling in a private oratory in their rooms facing a crucifix. I at least face an image of the Sacred Heart (the same one that is to the left on my blog), although I'm still sitting in a comfy chair.

The other thing that a silent or whispered recitation abstracts from the "normal" celebration of the Office is music. The psalms are meant to be sung. When we just sit there and "pray" with our minds, we are not involving the body at all. When we just whisper we may be involving the body (the lips), but we aren't involving the body as it is meant to pray--with music.

Finally, the Office is the consummate corporate act of worship: it is meant to be prayed in a group. I know the private recitation developed in order to make missionary activity easier, but one wonders whether efficiency ought to be the only criterion for missionary activity. I mean, what might have been the missionary effect if the missionaries had traveled in groups and sung the office together. They may not have been as mobile or gone as far, but the very witness of the Body of Christ in worship may have had a deeper affect than simply proclaiming the Word with a purely private and hidden piety.

One of my criticisms of the Jesuits is their tendency to interiorize their spiritual life so much that there is no obvious manifestation of their devotion to God in their bodily life beyond Mass (which is itself often celebrated in a cerebral way). Ignatius' decision to allow private recitation of the office rather than corporate may have allowed for missionary mobility, but did we pay a price in a sense of the bodily and corporate nature of Christian worship? Might a more bodily spirituality have make some Jesuits more open to and receptive of John Paul II's theology of the body?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Obscure translation mysteries

Okay, someone explain something to me. Here is the Latin of the last line of Gaudium et spes #23.
Ad hanc vero communionem inter personas promovendam, Revelatio christiana magnum subsidium affert, simulque ad altiorem vitae socialis legum intelligentiam nos perducit quas Creator in natura spirituali ac morali hominis inscripsit.
Now, here is the English translation on the Vatican web page:
Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into man's moral and spiritual nature.
Notice that the translator switched the order of "spiritual" and "moral" at the end of the sentence. Why? My guess: maybe it is because rhetorically Latin puts the most important term in a list first, but English puts the most important term last. Any Englishist/Latinist out there want to confirm my guess?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fr. Fessio's new initiative

The trend toward online education continues apace. Fr. Fessio has launched a new Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program. It combines the online teaching of college credit great books seminars (through Angelicum Great Books) with an association with the Universities of Western Civilization, who will take up to 48 credits from Angelicum. This is a way to reduce costs of college education considerably. It also gets students into a robust Catholic liberal education in high school for college credit. Among the colleges in the UWC are Benedictine College, St. Bede's Hall at Oxford, Campion College in Australia, and Catholic Distance University. It is a truly international program with an international student body.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Some thoughts on the Cathedral in Milwaukee

When Archbishop Weakland decided to renovate the Cathedral in Milwaukee (virtual tour here) there were strong reactions to the plan. I shared in the general dissatisfaction with such a radical redesign that seemed to ignore the building itself by moving the altar to the middle, the choir and organ to what was the sanctuary, and the Blessed Sacrament to the former baptistry. I liked the old copper domed baldachin, even if some thought it was chintzy.

I was in the Cathedral today to participate in a Mass at which the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir, including two of my kids, sang. What I noticed was that the new design is not as bad as I originally thought.

I am still quite critical of some aspects. The corona and crucifix really have to go. Even if they were artistically excellent, they just don't fit in a classic building. Besides, the prominence of the thorns causes in me an emotional reaction that is a distraction to the spirit of the Liturgy. I also sorely miss the Blessed Sacrament in the main part of the Church.

On the other hand, I can see why a Benedictine (Weakland) would like the design. It has the flavor of a Benedictine chapel, with the nave for the people, the altar, the choir, and the ambo. The furnishings are actually quite handsome, to me at least, especially the cathedra and the presider's seat, although they look awfully uncomfortable! I always like the baptistry at the entrance.

Besides the corona, I would probably make one change: Since it would be very difficult to move the choir back to the choir loft, so the Blessed Sacrament could be where it used to be, I would move the Blessed Sacrament to where the current presider's chair is (on the opposite side of the altar as the cathedra) and put a regular crucifix above it. Then I would put the presider's chair next to the cathedra, but a step lower. Right now it is the same height as the cathedra. That way, since the altar is a perfect square, the celebrant could face the Blessed Sacrament and the crucifix while offering the Sacrifice.

Fr. Last, are you reading this? I thought not.