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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Entering into the Liturgy

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We read in the Gospel that after the Lord’s Supper the apostles and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives singing a hymn. This hymn is a Jewish prayer called the Great Hallel. It is a verbatim recitation of psalms 113 to 118. The very first Mass included music. Those with appropriate skill might today sing the entire liturgy. Indeed, certain priests and deacons can even sing the Scripture readings. Antiphons in the current liturgy are often replaced by hymns: the introit or entrance hymn, the offertory hymn, the communion hymn and the recessional hymn. Frequently the responsorial, harkening back to the Jewish tradition, is also sung by a cantor with the congregation.

It is commonplace that music accompanies movement or action. We see this in the employment of musical scores and soundtracks in films as well as in coordination with marches and parades. The music helps to set a theme or it amplifies the drama or action. Both words and song have power to move the human spirit. Along with the artistry of movement in dance and/or ritual, the experience is given a heightened intensity. It should also be admitted that the wrong kind of music or sound or words can insert dissonance into what we experience. When it comes to liturgy that which accompanies the entrance rite is rightfully designed to explain why we gather to worship as well as to amplify the potency or disposition of the soul for inspiration and awe. The congregation celebrates the movement of its earthly pilgrimage; it is prepared to discern its goal of a heavenly banquet behind appointed gestures and sacramental signs.

There may be an elaborate procession from the entry doors into the body of the church. The priest might also enter from a side sacristy door.  Leading the entourage may be the thurifer with the thurible or incense spraying the path with a perfume that announces the odor of sanctity. The action we are about to perform is out of the ordinary. It is of a spiritual nature directed to the one who is all holy. Next comes the crucifer carrying the great sign of our redemption, the cross or crucifix. Behind him are the acolytes reminiscent of the wise virgins who maintained sufficient oil to keep their lamps burning so they might properly receive the bridegroom. The Eucharist is the marriage banquet of the Lamb of God.  They carry candles that lighten the way and reflect the one who is the light of the world. There may be other servers and a deacon. The deacon is the minister of the Word. Sometimes the Book of the Gospels will be brought in procession to the altar. The deacon will proclaim the Gospel as he is especially entrusted with this ministry. Then there is the celebrant or priest. Every entrance procession harkens back to the first Palm Sunday. Jesus is entering Jerusalem to die. There are many symbols and signs for the presence of Christ. The priest is viewed as “another Christ” who will speak the words of consecration and transport us through time and space to the hill of Calvary and the one oblation that makes atonement for the whole world. He will greet the altar, which because of the Eucharistic sacrifice is forever associated with our Lord and his Cross. The Word proclaimed at Mass will be no mere narrative to inform but will be an encounter to transform. Inspired Scripture is a divine communication between us and the person of Christ. Every meeting with the Lord changes the creature forever. We are either sanctified (remade ever more into the likeness of Christ) or we are convicted by sins that still needlessly disease the soul. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and efficacy to the sacraments. The priest  will  announce,  “Behold, the Lamb of God, behold . . .” and we will be given the great mystery of Holy Communion. Jesus, who is God made man, will give himself to us as our saving food. It is Jesus that we present to our heavenly Father as the one sacrificial gift that pleases him and reconciles creation to its Creator. Bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ— our risen Lord. We are offered a share in the victory of Christ.

The whole movement of the introit and processional should be descriptive of order and beauty. There is no triumphalism other than the insurance that our faith is true and that it is directed to the restoration of those who were lost. A billion believers throughout the world are members of this sacred communion, the house that Jesus built. Languages and various accidentals vary but there remains a profound unity. We are one with all others who come together for the Breaking of the Bread. How we begin sets the stage for what follows. The congregation has risen to its feet. The antiphon is read or the hymn is sung. It is the same everywhere around the globe. However, even if other words are used in song, the Church in pilgrimage is now joining its song to the celestial choir of heaven. This speaks to the cosmic reach of this liturgy. While there are many voices, there is one song and one celebration of worship. Creatures were designed for this— we gather together in a corporate faith to give glory to God.

Christianity believes that words have power. How could it not given that we believe the eternal Word became flesh? Music has its own mystery, the ability through patterns and sounds to impact upon our emotions and to raise us up, bring us down, inspire the spirit or turn the stomach. I have sometimes wondered if the angels might always speak their messages in song, with melodies and harmonies that say as much or more than any words could possibly convey.  Indeed, certain saints suggest that God often speaks to souls with a music that might be compared to a peaceful silence.  Some are attuned to his voice and others are frustrated because they cannot hear him.

Song of some sort has always been recommended for the liturgy. I often lament the neglect of the Church’s great treasury in chant, polyphony and even in the classical symphonic. Modern hymns often sound trite or folksy or like musical theater. Hymns should raise souls to heaven. Note that many people are attracted to Gregorian chant even though they know little Latin and fail to appreciate what is being said. The music speaks on a level beyond the words. This is often the case in great instrumental pieces. While often regarded as too complicated for the liturgy, who has not been moved both emotionally and spiritually by a Mass by Mozart, Faure’s Requiem, Bach-Gounod’s Ave Maria or Franck’s Panis Angelicus?

The introit or entrance antiphon is often replaced on Sundays with a hymn. Parishioners are encouraged to sing and directors sometimes tell the congregants that it does not matter if we have good voices or not. I must take exception to that. Why would we think that God has no taste in music and does not prefer harmony over the discordant? God is deserving of that which is good, ordered and beautiful. Yes, as dubiously attributed to St. Augustine, “To sing is to pray twice.” But God is not deaf. If he can hear a pin drop then he can certainly hear those quiet voices blended but not utterly lost in a beautiful chorus of many more attuned voices. Our participation is still a part of a whole, even if there is no solo and we sing pianissimo (in  a soft voice).

Indeed, in reference to the entire Mass, the most important participation is not the dialogue between the people and the priest. Behind the words, songs and gestures there is a more vital “passive” participation. We come to the Eucharist disposed by grace to the mysteries that God wants to offer us. We are attentive to the substance behind the accidentals. We stand at the foot of Calvary and acknowledge the redemptive work is accomplished by our high priest Christ. He is the priest and the victim. We could not save ourselves. The meaning to his command, “Take up your cross and follow me” is now understood. It is only grafted to Christ— transformed into his likeness— that we can truly offer ourselves to the Father. If the heavenly Father should see his Son in us then we will have a share in his life and reward. If for no other reason, this is why we should never disparage our priests. These men who share in the one priesthood of Christ make present the sacrifice of Calvary so that we might enter into this offering and worship— adding that which was missing 2,000 years ago— our own self-offering. The altar is our liturgical cross. While the Mass and our churches today are often somewhat noisy, we should in truth nurture a sacred silence. If there is one ingredient that the reformed rites could learn from the traditional, it is this— a sense of awe.

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