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No matter what the year in the liturgical cycle, the Gospel for this Sunday is always the narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. (There were no public Masses, therefore homilies, from these days each year, but there are Angelus reflections. On the second, third or fourth Sunday of Lent, the Pope would normally go out to a Roman parish or a youth detention center, so there will be homilies from those Sundays.)

2006:

The image of the desert is a very eloquent metaphor of the human condition. The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the People of Israel who, after leaving Egypt, wandered through the desert of Sinai for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land.

During that long journey, the Jews experienced the full force and persistence of the tempter, who urged them to lose trust in the Lord and to turn back; but at the same time, thanks to Moses’ mediation, they learned to listen to God’s voice calling them to become his holy People.

In meditating on this biblical passage, we understand that to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails, that is, temptation. Only if he is freed from the slavery of falsehood and sin can the human person, through the obedience of faith that opens him to the truth, find the full meaning of his life and attain peace, love and joy.

2007:

During these days of Lent, let us not distance our hearts from this mystery of profound humanity and lofty spirituality. Looking at Christ, we feel at the same time looked at by him. He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.

2008:

It means not off-loading the problem of evil on to others, on to society or on to God but rather recognizing one’s own responsibility and assuming it with awareness. In this regard Jesus’ invitation to each one of us Christians to take up our “cross” and follow him with humility and trust (cf. Mt 16: 24) is particularly pressing. Although the “cross” may be heavy it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather it is an opportunity to follow Jesus and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. Thus, entering Lent means renewing the personal and community decision to face evil together with Christ. The way of the Cross is in fact the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Seen in this light, Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong ascetic and spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace.

2009:  (Same Gospel as this year)

Today is the First Sunday of Lent and the Gospel, in the sober and concise style of St Mark, introduces us into the atmosphere of this liturgical season: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1: 12). In the Holy Land the Judean desert, which lies to the west of the River Jordan and the Oasis of Jericho, rises over stony valleys to reach an altitude of about 1,000 metres at Jerusalem. After receiving Baptism from John, Jesus entered that lonely place, led by the Holy Spirit himself who had settled upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God. In the desert, a place of trial as the experience of the People of Israel shows, the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ who had stripped himself of the form of God (cf. Phil 2: 6-7), appears most vividly. He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathize with our weaknesses (cf. Heb 4: 15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God’s saving plan for humankind from the outset.

In the succinct account, angels, luminous and mysterious figures, appear almost fleetingly before this dark, tenebrous figure who dares to tempt the Lord. Angels, the Gospel says, “ministered” to Jesus (Mk 1: 13); they are the antithesis of Satan. “Angel” means “messenger”. Throughout the Old Testament we find these figures who help and guide human beings on God’s behalf. It suffices to remember the Book of Tobit, in which the figure of the Angel Raphael appears and assists the protagonist in every vicissitude. The reassuring presence of the angel of the Lord accompanies the People of Israel in all of their experiences, good and bad. On the threshold of the New Testament, Gabriel is dispatched to announce to Zechariah and to Mary the joyful events at the beginning of our salvation; and an angel we are not told his name warns Joseph, guiding him in that moment of uncertainty. A choir of angels brings the shepherds the good news of the Saviour’s birth; and it was also to be angels who announced the joyful news of his Resurrection to the women. At the end of time, angels will accompany Jesus when he comes in his glory (cf. Mt 25: 31). Angels minister to Jesus, who is certainly superior to them. This dignity of his is clearly, if discreetly, proclaimed here in the Gospel. Indeed, even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.

2010

Christ came into the world to set us free from sin and from the ambiguous fascination of planning our life leaving God out. He did not do so with loud proclamations but rather by fighting the Tempter himself, until the Cross.

2011

The Devil opposed this definitive and universal plan of salvation with all his might, as is shown in particular in the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness which is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent. In fact, entering this liturgical season means continuously taking Christ’s side against sin, facing — both as individuals and as Church — the spiritual fight against the spirit of evil each time

2012  (Again, like this year, Mark was the Gospel)

St Mark’s concise narrative lacks the details we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The wilderness referred to has various meanings. It can indicate the state of abandonment and loneliness, the “place” of human weakness, devoid of support and safety, where temptation grows stronger.

However, it can also indicate a place of refuge and shelter — as it was for the People of Israel who had escaped from slavery in Egypt — where it is possible to experience God’s presence in a special way. Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:13). St Leo the Great comments that “The Lord wanted to suffer the attack of the tempter in order to defend us with his help and to instruct us with his example (Tractatus XXXIX,3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138/A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215).

What can this episode teach us? As we read in the book The Imitation of Christ, “There is no man wholly free from temptations so long as he lives… but by endurance and true humility we are made stronger than all our enemies” (Liber I, C. XIII, Vatican City 1982, 37), endurance and the humility of following the Lord every day, learning not to build our lives outside him or as though he did not exist, but in him and with him, for he is the source of true life.

The temptation to remove God, to arrange things within us and in the world by ourselves, relying on our own abilities, has always been present in human history.

Jesus proclaims that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15), he announces that in him something new happens: God turns to the human being in an unexpected way, with a unique, tangible closeness, full of love; God is incarnate and enters the human world to take sin upon himself, to conquer evil and usher men and women into the world of God.

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Sorry for the repeat – it’s just easier this way.  Yes, it’s too late to order parish materials, but most of these books and booklets are available in digital format, and at a low cost (including….free). 

  • Reconciled to God, a daily devotional from Creative Communications for the parish.  You can buy it individually, in bulk for the parish our your group, or get a digital version. (.99)amy-welborn-3

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  • The Word on Fire ministry is more than the Catholicism series – as great as that is! There are also some really great lecture series/group discussion offerings.  I wrote the study guide for the series on Conversion – a good Lenten topic. 
  • A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

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Looking ahead to First Communion/Confirmation season? Try here. 

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Today, of course is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Two and a half years ago, we spent a few days at Lourdes, as part of our 2012 Grand Tour.

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We had just spent a few days at a gite near Montignac and the next stop would be another rental in the Pyrenees.

I didn’t know what to expect, since much of what I had read treated Lourdes with a dismissive air, describing it as “Catholic Disneyland.”

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It’s amazing to realize that Lourdes has been a pilgrimage site for a century and a half.  If you ever get a chance, read a good history of the apparition and its consequences and uses by various parties within France and the Church.  It’s really one of the most fascinating events of modern Catholicism in which every aspect of this crazy, mysterious life on God’s earth comes to bear: God’s unexpected grace and movement among us; God’s power; our receptivity; our temptation to manipulate and distort; our fears; our hopes – answered in God’s grace.  Full circle.

(Also, if you have time and the inclination, peruse Zola’s Lourdes. Yes, he has his point of view, but as an account of what 19th century pilgrimage to Lourdes was like, it’s fascinating.)

Anyway, the town of Lourdes isn’t that bad.  Yes, close to the shrine, the religious souvenir shops selling the exact same goods (always a mystery to me) are crammed in shoulder to shoulder – but that’s what you find at Assisi and Rome around St. Peter’s as well. No different, just more concentrated here. The town, as I told someone going the next year, isn’t at all picturesque – if that’s what you’re expecting, forget it.  It’s a busy, ordinary modern mid-sized French town, not a picture-book charming village tucked in the mountains.

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The view from the hotel roof, looking down on the river and the (mostly) hotels lining it. The green-lit building on the bridge was a bar, inhabited by Irish football fans – there for a match v. a Lourdes team – until *very* late.

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But then the shrine.

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I pointed out to the boys the presence of the sick and the pride of place given them.  For every Mass, every procession, every prayer service, the sick are brought in first by the volunteer attendants.  On the walkways, there are specially marked lanes for wheelchairs.  One night, we saw an older man in a wheelchair (being pushed by a young man) get so frustrated with an unaware pedestrian strolling along in the marked lane, he almost poked him with a cane, and would have if the walker hadn’t been alerted Monsieur, pour les malades by someone (er…me).

When I mentioned the place of les malades to the boys, they asked me, “Why?”  I was startled that I had to explain – well, I said, besides being simply polite and compassionate, it’s also a response to the presence of Jesus in those in need, it’s honoring that presence and obeying his command to see him there.  It’s a living expression of what Jesus said: the last shall be first – the sick and weak – like Bernadette herself –  being the last in the world’s eyes.

Les Malades.

They are first to the waters, first to the light, first to the Body because in their physical condition, we can see them, we Christ, and we can even see ourselves.  For we are all the sick, we are all weak, crippled, deaf, paralyzed, suffering, in pain, we are all dying and every one of us yearn to be whole.

And so every night at Lourdes, the darkness illuminated by our thousands of tiny lights, we walk, shuffle, stride, limp and are pushed toward that water. We go on, just as we have always done across time, everywhere  led by the One who bound Himself to this weak, suffering Flesh, awash in the womb of a mother

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This was the line to go into the grotto. Just as he got there…this fellow was turned away. Pas du chien.

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I bought the picture below at a shop well off the beaten path.  The artist made pictures like this and hand-crafted rosaries.  She said to me, “Now you can say that you bought

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This was the edition on my parents’ bookshelves when I was growing up…

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a short post on John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me.  Fr. Longenecker hadn’t known until recently that Griffin was Catholic.  Most people don’t – nor do they know that he was the author of a very Catholic novel.

It’s called The Devil Rides Outside.  I read it several years ago when I was editor of the Loyola Classics series – the series of at-that-moment out of print and obtainable mid-century Catholic-themed fiction.

I have lots of interesting stories to tell about the books we were able to get and those we weren’t.  Perhaps I’ll do a blog post over the weekend about some of them.  It was really a very interesting job.

Anyway, I learned about Griffin’s novel and obtained a well-worn paperback with quite a lurid cover, and started it with high hopes.  This will be great, I thought – bringing back into print the novel by figure so well-known for one part of his life and work and completely unknown in the present for this one.

At the time he wrote it (the late 1940’s) Griffin, not yet Catholic (he was Episcopalian) was suffering from blindness caused by an injury he suffered while in the military in Europe during World War II.  He would be healed of the blindness in 1957.

Griffin was an accomplished and knowledgeable musicologist, and had spent time at Solesmes Abbey exploring both religious vocation and chant.  This novel came out of that experience.

It’s a fascinating piece of work – heated and intense, a confessional novel of a young man’s struggle to find God as he’s pulled between life in the monastery and outside.

In an interesting twist, the novel played a role in overturning censorship laws.  In 1954, Pocket Books decided to use the book to test Michigan’s censorship statutes.  It had been banned there because of Griffin’s (for the time) frank sexual scenes.  The case reached the Supreme Court which decided that censorship laws that were explicitly intended to protect the young were unconstitutional since the consequence of such laws was denying anyone access to these materials, not just the young.

My take?  I probably need to read it again, because that first reading was done with a specific purpose in mind: would this have general appeal to a 21st century audience? So back then, with that in mind I decided…no.  It was certainly interesting – that’s why I say I think I’d like to read it again – but on the whole I found it just a bit overheated, too long, a little hysterical and caricaturish in its portrayal of women.   It’s mainly interesting for the portrait of monastic life – and this is one of the reasons I read even not-“classic” fiction with Catholic themes: you get little glimpses of Catholic history without the academic overlay.

But wouldn’t it be awesome to republish it with this cover?

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You can read it on Kindle now, anyway….so there you go!

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It’s the time of the year during which the RCIA process intensifies, so, if you’re a part of that in any way – candidate, catechumen, sponsor, facilitator, pastor, etc…etc….Check out these resources:

The How to Book of the Mass  – much more here.  

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An excerpt:

When our Lord gave the disciples on the road to Emmaus the bread that He had blessed and broken, “he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:31). It was then that they recognized Him. We receive the Lord as they did in receiving the Eucharist. Now, at the moment that He is within us, we too should reflect, as they did, on the Scriptures that He has opened to us during this Mass, especially on what has made our “hearts burn.”

In our consumer-minded society, we can miss the treasure that we receive if we treat it like one more thing to “get” and then go on to the next thing. Our Lord is not a “thing.” He is God, who has deigned to come intimately into our lives. We should reflect on His Presence within us and ask what He would have us do.

We should commune with our Lord and meditate on His Presence within us. We should thank Him for the great gift He has given us. We should pour our hearts out to Him and ask Him to fill us with the graces necessary to fulfill God’s will for us in this life.

The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, preached and healed throughout Israel, who suffered and died on the cross, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, now is within us. We will never exhaust the multitude of wonder that should fill our hearts at this moment!

The Words We Pray  – more here, inclulding an excerpt. 

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It’s a collection of essays about traditional Catholic prayers, from The Sign of the Cross to “Amen.”  Each chapter provides a bit of historical and theological background, as well as more essay-ish, reflective material.

I have copies of both for sale here.

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…or Candlemas:

Another great piece from Roseanne T. Sullivan in Dappled Things. 

On Candlemas, the prayers said by the priest as he blesses the candles with holy water and incense include the symbols of fire and light as metaphors for our faith and for Christ Himself. The choir sings the Nunc Dimittis or Canticle of Simeon with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel” (“Light to the revelation of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”) after each verse. A solemn procession may be made into the church building by the clergy and the faithful carrying the newly blessed candles to reenact the entry of Christ, the Light of the World, into the Temple.

From a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop in today’s Office of Readings.

In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
  Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil candlemasand to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
  The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
  The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

I love the way Elena Maria Vidal puts it:

At Christmas, we adored Him with the shepherds at dawn; at Epiphany, we rejoiced in the brightness of His manifestations to the nations; at Candlemas, with the aged Simeon, we take Him into our arms. With the prophetic words of Simeon, the day also becomes a preparation for Lent and the Passion of Our Lord. We must offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father; we must embrace our own purification.

This feast day links Christmas with Lent, the joyful mysteries with the sorrowful mysteries.

From a 1951 book of family faith formation:

Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.

Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.

And now for some #B16 from 2011

This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.

It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfilment of their long waiting and watchfulness. They both contemplate the light of God that comes to illuminate the world and their prophetic gaze is opened to the future in the proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Lk 2:32). The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the Awaited One.

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This is one of those (many, perhaps) aspects of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes that really, really makes you go, “Huh?”

It’s bizarre for many reasons having to do with the normal reasons of upending tradition via committee work, but also because it’s such an unecumenical move, and, on paper at least, Vatican II was, we hear, informed by ecumenical concerns.

Backtrack:

To those of you involved in the Extraordinary Form as well as the Anglican Use, this is not news, but today (February 1) on the older calendar has a special name.  It’s called Septuagisima Sunday. It’s the beginning of a little mini-liturgical season.   From Fr. Kirby:

 In three weeks our heads will be marked with the ashes of penitence. A special time of preparation for Lent emerged in the liturgy of the 6th and 7th centuries. The three Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday were called Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, meaning respectively, the seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth days before Pascha. The First Sunday of Lent is, of course, Quadragesima, the beginning of the Lenten fast of forty days.

Here is an excellent, thorough article in Dappled Things:

In the chapter titled “The History of Septuagesima,” Dom Guéranger added, “The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”

Septuagesima Sunday is the ninth Sunday before Lent, and it is the day on which the Septuagesima season of preparation for Lent has begun for more than 1,000 years in the traditional calendar. The Septuagesima season is made up of three Sundays: Septuagesima (which means seventieth), Sexagesima (which means sixtieth), and Quinquagesima (which means fiftieth), and it extends until Ash Wednesday.

Quadragesima is the name given in most languages to the season of Lent that starts on Ash Wednesday. For a few examples, in Spanish the name is cuaresma, in Portuguese quaresma, in French carême, and in Italian quaresima. In English, in contrast, the word for spring, lent, was used, which derives from the German word for long, because at this time of year the days get longer.

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How the Church Keeps Septuagesima

Beginning with Compline (Night Prayer) on the Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday the Alleluia, Gloria, and Te Deum are not said any more until Easter. Two extra Alleluias are said at Vespers on that Saturday. In some places charming ceremonies have been practiced in which an Alleluia is put in a little coffin and buried, to be resurrected again only on Easter Sunday. Throughout Septuagesima, violet vestments are worn, except on feasts observed during weekday.

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Septuagesima and the following days are observed in Anglicanism and in some Lutheran groups. The Eastern Catholics and Orthodox of course observe pre-Lent, described very well here at the Aquinas and More Bookstore site. 

(Hence my comment above about ecumenism. If the Anglicans could keep it…wouldn’t it have been  ecumenical of us to give it a chance to live as well?)

The point being…Lent calls for preparation.  And while it’s all well and good to look at the calendar, wonder, “Hey, when is Ash Wednesday this year?” And then say, “Yikes…that’s soon!  Okay. Start thinking. What am I going to give up?” …well, what these traditional preparation-for-the-preparatory seasons do is to set the fact of that realization and need to prepare into a deep context that is wise, rooted in the richness of tradition , and helpful.

So, from a 7th grade religion textbook published in 1947, part of the The Christ Life Series in Religion: 

(Click on the images to get readable version)

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What I particularly like is the long paragraph on p. 146.  I’ll type some of it out here:

Thousands and thousands of people upon the stage of lief are adjusting themselves to their roles in this drama — this drama which is real life.  Old men are there and old women, youths and maidens, and even little children.  From all parts of the world they come and from all walks of life — kings and queens, merchants and laborers, teachers and students, bankers and beggars, religious of all orders, cardinals, bishops and parish priests, and leading them all the Vicar of Christ on earth.  All are quietly taking their laces, for all re actors in the sublime mystery drama of our redemption.

We, too, have our own parts to play in this living drama.  And there is no rehearsal.  We begin now, on Septuagesima, following as faithfully as we can the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us particularly in the Mass and the sacraments.

It would be very clear, wouldn’t it, to the twelve-year old reading this, that he or she is not waiting to be a real, active Christian – the time is now, and the Spirit is active in the lives of all the baptized.  Rather stirring, isn’t it? You’re young, yes, but you’re not an extra in this – you are all in. 

So…..what happened?

As usual, it was determined that all this was too hard for us.

A good summary is offered by Dr. Lauren Pristas here (it’s a pdf file)

In short, the committees appointed to reform everything about the liturgical life of the Church after the Council decided to ditch it.  I’ll quote a bit here, but do check out the rest – it’s not long, although her specifics regarding the Collect prayers (her specialization) may not be of as much interest to you.  The options developed by the committee were:

  1. Either the names of the Sundays or the prayers are preserved, but the penetential aspect abolished
  2. Or the season itself is abolished, but the prayers used at another place in the Church year
  3. Or the season is abolished and the prayers used in the last three Sundays before Lent.

As Pristas points out, the two options that are not there are either making no change at all or abolishing everything, names, prayers, season – which is, of course,  what happened.

Van Doren’s answer to the question about Septuagesima appears first. He added
a solution, (d), according to which Septuagesima would be retained as a period of
austerity. He called Septuagesima ‘the doorway of Lent’ and voted that nothing
be changed. In the event his solution (d) would not prevail, Van Doren preferred
solution (c): that the name and penitential elements be removed but the formularies
retained.

None of the other members voted for Van Doren’s solution (d). Martimort called
for the suppression of Septuagesima. He did not comment on the formularies except
to say that these were the responsibility of other coetus.(committee)
Jounel also voted for suppression of the season, but wanted its

formularies used at another time. Amore
voted for suppression but divided the question of the formularies. He proposed that
the breviary lessons be moved to Advent, and the Mass lessons be retained in place.
Schmidt preferred that everything but the penitential elements remain the same, but
wanted the formularies retained even if the season were suppressed.Dirks voted
that the season with its penitential elements be suppressed but the formularies
retained. Nocent said that Septuagesima should be abolished for pastoral reasons:
so that the faithful may see the progress of the liturgical year clearly and not be
confused by diverse ‘anticipations’. He does not mention the formularies, but
summarises: ‘The names and penitential character ought to be abolished: the Gloria
and Alleluia said, the color green used, etc.’

The Birth of the Liturgy Committee, right there.  Crazy.

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The records of Coetus 1 tell us that
Septuagesima was suppressed for the sake of the faithful: ‘the penitential character of
the time of Septuagesima or pre-Lent is difficult for the faithful to understand without
many explanations’. Further, Adrian Nocent said suppression of Septuagesima was
necessary if the faithful were to see the progress of the liturgical year clearly and not
be confused by diverse ‘anticipations’. But Callewaert’s historical study shows us
that the period of pre-Lenten penitence arose in the first place as an expression of the
devotion of the faithful.
This is key. Lent is a time of obligatory fasting and penance. Septuagesima, on the
other hand, is a short season through which the devotion of the faithful impels them
to prepare mentally, physically and spiritually for Lent. The Church has, since the
sixth century, encouraged and assisted the faithful in this preparation by appointing
special Masses and Offices for this season and using numeric nomenclature that
marks off the time remaining until both Lent (in Latin, Quadragesima or forty) and
the Pasch.

Look. Church Things come about for all kinds of reasons and out of all kinds of circumstances: good intentions, misguided intentions, evil, persecution and even accidents. The mystery of this dynamic intersection of divine and human ways is one of my abiding interests. In addition, liturgy develops, and while “organic development” is practically impossible to define, it’s also obvious that a handful of scholars from a particular place and time sorting through options for transforming a thousand year-old set of traditions in a way that will profoundly impact hundreds of millions of Catholics, present and future…ain’t it.

And perhaps… this example might also remind us – in case we’d forgotten – that there’s no need to view decision-making within Church institutions with piously folded hands that move only to place a finger to the lips while whispering Hush! Holy Spirit at work! All is well!

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