Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Mass as Work

Father Martin Fox, an excellent priest who blogs in Ohio, is working up a parish study of Sacramentum Caritatis. That is the exhortation Benedict XVI issued in response to the Bishops' synod on the Eucharist. What a marvelous idea! I am tempted to suggest we start a study group in our own parish (Blessed Sacrament, Wichita, Kansas.)

His posting catalyzed my thoughts on the liturgy as work. Hence this posting.

Many wonder why we sing in the mass; why we chant. Chant reunites us with three thousand or more years of Hebrew praying, the prayers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the praying of Annas, Hillel, and Jesus. True! But it also is central to the mass as work.

Today, we do not have a sense of the mass as work, but we need one. We have been focusing on the mass as a supper and a communal get together (the horizontal dimension) rather than the hard work of worshiping the King of Glory (the vertical dimension.) One reason I believe the the priest and the congregation should face the same direction (east) is that both are doing the same work; both should be working together. That is the true priesthood of the faithful.

Work has changed so much we have forgotten how human beings work together. We have forgotten the existential reality of millennia of sweat and exertion.

Work is highly industrialized in our world. We either do our specialized tasks to the clang of a machine or we work in silence in paper factories. Admitedly some of our paper factories produce only "virtual paper." The norm in our more human past was to sing as we worked. For work was physical and power was muscle power. This dependence on people rather than machines puts a premium on teamwork. Getting team members to (literally) pull together requires physical coordination: power in line was more than one person pulling together. Why sing? The melody made men move together.

"In times past, songs unified men in work. This is how gangs of men build the rhythm to work in unison. Think of sea shanties! Each crew member pulled on the beat to heave the anchor....

"In the liturgy, the role of chant is to join us in the rhythm of prayer: the common work of praising the transcendent God. We must relearn to pray like men."

True folk songs are predominantly work songs. What irony that the "folk songs" that became the model for contemporary American Catholic masses were the songs written to entertain the upper middle class college kids of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They are a far cry from the work songs handed down from generation to generation with which the "folk" did real physical labor.

The Holy Father chose the name of Benedict whose motto was "Pray and Work" (Ora et Labora) with good reason. The monks when they sung the mass and the office were working just as much as when they tilled the fields with a song in their lungs and a hoe in their hands. The divine work in the oratory produced fruit no less than the human work in the fields.

The whole mass should be chanted with the chanting uniting the priest, the congregation, and the heavenly martyrs, angels, and saints as they do this divine work, a work that bears eternal fruit. Augustine tells us that he who sings (chants) prays twice.

Redouble your efforts!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Preach Christ Crucified and the Church Will Grow

Richard Lapper writes in the Financial Times on Benedict XVI's visit to Brazil: "Protestantism is on the march, especially in Brazil and Central America. According to a recent study by the Fundacão Getúlio Vargas, a Brazilian university, nine out of 10 Brazilians were Catholics in 1970. Today the figure is nearer seven out of 10. Over the same 37-year period the number of evangelicals and pentecostalists has mushroomed, rising from only 4.8m to an estimated 43.6m today."

He cites three reasons:

1) Economics: The evangelicals contribute more and fund a greater presence.

2) Moral theology: "Like their counterparts in the developed world, Latin American Catholics are increasingly ignoring the church’s conservative teaching on contraception and sex-before-marriage and are critical of its hard-line prohibition of abortion and stem-cell research."

3) Liberation theology: "Pope Benedict faces an additional problem in Latin America. He has been a fierce opponent of liberation theology, a body of ideas developed in the 1960s that linked the church to grassroots movements of the left. Liberation theology has been on the wane – a fact likely to be confirmed at the Latin American bishops’ conference, which the Pope will open on Sunday. But it is still popular among many clerics in the region, especially in Brazil."

Like so much of the secular press, Lapper can not connect the dots. Evangelical Protestants (item 1) have been preaching the gospel of Christ, while "Catholic" priests have been preaching economics (item 3.) The former may not have Christ's teaching in its fullness, but they are much closer to the real thing than the lattter. The pope's job (his "special charism") is teach Christ's teaching even when the world does not want to hear it (item 2.)

It is the hundreth aniversery of Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Leconte questions whether the social gospel is "Christianity Without Salvation" or indeed Christianity at all.

Edmund Burke advised us that the only remedy to bad religion is good religion.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Do You Want the Long Version of Benedict's Talk on the Church Fathers in English?

I commented previously on how the English and German versions of his Wednesday talks on the Fathers of the Church were shorter than the Italian versions. I suspect he gives the talks in Italian and then summarizes them extemporaneously in the other languages.

Sandro Magister has just published English translations of the long versions on his blog, www.chiesa. The first five talks are from the Vatican web site and the last two were translated by www.chiesa.