“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Terrible Is This Place!

Our family marks the liturgical calendar at our Grace Before Meals. Following the typical "Bless us, O Lord..." we add a little verse to remind us of the season or the liturgical day. We don't do that for every day, just for the Solemnities, Feasts, and special saints. The rest of the time, the verse is to remind us of the monthly devotion (e.g. the Holy Name in January) or the season (Advent, Easter, etc.)In the last year, I reformed the verses using the old Roman Missal (from the Introits, Graduals, Communios, Vespers, etc.). Even though we follow the new calendar, I just like the language and liturgical choices of the old Missal.

Just to give you a for example, here are some verses from Palm Sunday through Divine Mercy Sunday.

Passion Sunday Hosanna to the Son of David - Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord
Holy Week The zeal of Thy house hath consumed me - And the reproaches of them that reproach Thee, fell upon me
Holy Thursday A new commandment I give unto you - That you love one another as I have loved you
Good Friday It is consummated - And bowing His head, He gave up the ghost
Holy Saturday The Lord is my portion, said my soul - Therefore will I wait for him
Easter Sunday Christ our Pasch is sacrificed, Alleluia - Therefore let us feast, Alleluia
Easter Octave This is the day which the Lord hath made, Alleluia - Let us be glad and rejoice therein, Alleluia
DM Sunday After eight days, the doors being shut, Alleluia - Jesus stood in their midst and said: Peace be to you, Alleluia

And so it goes. No, we don't memorize them. We have our handy spreadsheets nearby to help. Eventually, the monthly or seasonally verse gets memorized, and we ignore the spreadsheet. That always leads to missing a day or two (sorry Simon and Jude!)

My favorite verse in the spreadsheet is the one for November 9th. This one goes, "How terrible is this place! - It is none other than the House of God". To be honest, the reason I like it is it makes me giggle. Yes, I find it funny because of the alternative, and more used, meaning of "terrible", and I can't help but glance at the messy kitchen from the meal just prepared.

The whole Introit goes as follows:

Terribilis est locus iste: hic domus Dei est, et porta caeli: et vocabitur aula Dei.

Ps. Quam dilecta tabernacula tua, Domine virtutum! concupiscit, et deficit anima mea in atria Domini.

How terrible is this place? this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven; and it shall be called the house of God. (Genesis 28:17,22)

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. (Ps. 83(84):2, 3)
Followed by the signature doxology, and repeat.

It is interesting that, at least in the mass text (I haven't checked the Divine Office) that first part, the part that makes me giggle, is no longer a part of the liturgy. I have to say, that's sad. It's not sad that I don't get to giggle at mass. After all, the New American translation, I believe, is "Awesome" instead of "Terrible". But it is a verse that reminds us of where we stand in the church. Should we need a reminder? I'm sure Mary never needed one. But the fact is that I forget vastly more than I remember. When Israel uttered those words of Genesis, he trembled in fear. Even though we might not, it is important to remember that we should.

I think one of the most impressive fruits of Vatican II is the three-year cycle for the Missal. In pre-conciliar years, there was only a one-year cycle, and each mass had only one scripture reading before the Gospel (either a Lesson or Epistle). Today, we get much more of the Bible at mass, and it's truly a blessing. But unfortunately, something always falls out. The Mass of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran, much like other Masses of old, used to be named from the first words of the Introit. It is almost as if this Mass has lost its identity. And as one looks through the old Missal, it's easy to see a lot more. One can see why we used to be a much more militant "Church Militant".

I am grateful that we still have the old mass out there. As our Sacred Liturgy continues to evolve as the years go by, I do believe the current retention of the old form will act as a stabilizer for the new form as it undergoes future changes. I don't know for sure, but I think the bishops and the laity were so anxious to cut the old form loose that they had no idea what they were tossing aside. Thus, we've seen some pretty crazy things since then, most notably in the liturgy. In the old form, the rubrics seem to be universally respected. I sure wish the same could be said for the new form.

Our English-speaking bishops are really making strides in the right direction, returning language to the liturgy which will lend itself towards greater respect, maybe even a little trembling now and then. I pray for a successful transition, with full ascent from priests and laity. I hope that will lead to other changes. Like priests turning their back on the people, unafraid that they will turn back again and see the pews empty. Like a Latin Credo, chanted. Like a glorious organ reverberating during the recession. Beautiful altars! Pews that face the same direction! And sit lower than the sanctuary! Pianos and guitars shoved into the closet! Parishioners who say, "Yes, Father, I'm on it!" instead of "Why don't we try this..." Cats and dogs, living together!

My apologies. I got carried away again.

I'm sure there will be trouble. While we as a Church should proceed with caution and charity, like Jacob, we need to remember whom to fear.

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