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Sing a New Song with Your Lives

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					    Sing a New Song with Your Lives


    Bishop James D. Conley, auxiliary bishop of Denver, presented this
address to choir members and church musicians at Queen of Vietnamese
Martyrs Catholic Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado, on St. Cecilia’s Day,
November 20, 2010. It appears here with Bishop Conley’s kind permission.

    It is good to be here with you today to celebrate the Eucharist in
honor of your patron, Saint Cecilia. I’m also happy to honor your
vocation as sacred music ministers.

    As you well know, the spirit of our Catholic liturgy is the spirit of
music and song. To give glory and praise to the living God, human speech
alone can only take us so far. Words alone can never be enough. We need
to pay Him homage with songs of joy and with instruments made for praise.

    Saint Augustine said that our faith in Christ puts a new song on our
lips and in our hearts. He writes: “Only the new man learns [this song] —
the man restored from his fallen condition through the grace of God and
now sharing in the new covenant, that is, the Kingdom of heaven.”1 That
is one reason why our liturgy is made to be sung — the Kyrie, the Gloria,
the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, the Pater Noster.

    And because of the intimate relationship between sacred music, the
liturgy, and Catholic identity, I thought this would be an appropriate
gathering to talk about the changes that are being planned for the Mass
in the English-speaking world.

    As you know, in Advent 2011 we will begin using a new edition (the
Third Typical Edition as it is called) and a new English translation of
the Roman Missal. And as some of you might also know, Archbishop Chaput
has given me the task of overseeing the implementation of these changes
here in the Archdiocese of Denver.

    Let me say this: I’m very excited about the changes that are coming
and about the opportunities we have for an authentic liturgical renewal.
Practically speaking, implementing the new Missal means that all of us
will be learning new translations of long-familiar prayers and responses.
This makes it a perfect moment in the life of the Church for a new
“eucharistic catechesis”.

    The Second Vatican Council gave us a great gift with the Novus Ordo.
The Mass in the vernacular has opened up new pathways to holiness and
transcendence, and has given us new strength and confidence for our
mission of building the Kingdom of God.

    But I think we can also recognize that the way in which the reform of
the Mass was carried out after the Second Vatican Council unfortunately
has occasioned a lot of silliness and confusion. The problem has never
been the Novus Ordo. The reformed liturgy that the Council gave us is
beautiful, glorious, and empowering. The problem has been that even good
people have misinterpreted the Council badly.
    I don’t want to revisit the errors of the past or tell liturgical
horror stories (and we all have them!) But in order to understand the
context for this new edition of the Missal, it is important that we
understand some of the errors that have crept into our liturgical
thinking since the Council.

    To illustrate the basic problem, I want to return to the mid-1960s.
Many of you know the background of the Servant of God Dorothy Day, the
founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy was a true radical in
the best sense of the word, a prophet of the Church’s social teaching.
She was also a devout, traditional, and saintly Catholic.

    One day, while Dorothy was away, a young enthusiastic priest came to
celebrate Mass at the Catholic Worker house. And he used a coffee cup as
a chalice. When Dorothy came home and heard about it, she was scandalized
at the sacrilege — that a common household item had been used to
consecrate the Precious Blood of Christ. The story goes that she found a
trowel and dug a deep hole in the backyard behind the house. Then she
kissed the coffee cup and buried it.

    Later she wrote about the incident. She said this:

        I am afraid I am a traditionalist, in that I do not like to see
Mass offered with a large coffee cup as a chalice.… I feel with
[Cardinal] Newman that my faith is founded on a creed … “I believe in
God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. And of all things
visible and invisible, and in His only Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

        I believe too that when the priest offers Mass at the altar, and
says the solemn words, “This is my body, this is my blood,” that the
bread and the wine truly become the body and blood of Christ, Son of God,
one of the three divine person.

        I believe in a personal God. I believe in Jesus Christ, true God
and true man. And intimate, oh how most closely intimate we may desire to
be, I believe we must render most reverent homage to Him who created us
and stilled the sea and told the winds to be calm, and multiplied the
loaves and fishes. He is transcendent and He is immanent. He is closer
than the air we breathe and just as vital to us.2

    In these beautiful words, Dorothy Day here puts her finger on the
basic issue. We cannot separate liturgy from creed. Our law of prayer is
our law of belief. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

    We believe in a God who is transcendent. Yet through the pure gift of
His grace, this God has humbled Himself to share in our humanity, so that
we might share in His divinity. This is what is going on in the offering
of the Mass. The mission of Christ’s incarnation continues in every
celebration of the sacred liturgy. In the Mass, God stoops down to lift
us up to His level. He makes it possible for us, though we are but
creatures, to sing and worship with the angels, in praise of our Creator.
    A lot of the liturgical renewal since the Council has got this
dynamic exactly backwards. And that’s because a lot of the so-called
renewal started from exactly the wrong place.

    Pope Benedict XVI has described the problem this way. He has said
that too many people interpreted Vatican II with a “hermeneutic of
discontinuity and rupture”. Now “hermeneutic” is a big word that means
“way of interpreting”. What the pope is saying is that some people
interpreted Vatican II as a decisive break — a rupture and rejection of
all that had gone before in the Church. I remember in the 1980s when I
was in the seminary some of my professors would refer to the “pre-Vatican
II” Church and the “post-Vatican II” Church as if these were two totally
different Churches.

    In reality, the right way to understand the Council is with a
“hermeneutic of continuity”. In other words, we should interpret the
Council’s reforms not as a break with the past, but as a natural, organic
and integral development of the tradition that has been handed down to us
from the apostles.3

    I say all of this by way of background and context. Because I believe
that in this new edition of the Missal, the Church is trying to reassert
the continuity of the Novus Ordo with the ancient liturgy of the Church.

    In particular, I see in the changes a real effort to restore the
transcendent dimension of the liturgy and to reassert the proper balance
between God’s transcendence and His immanence — so that the Mass always
reveals and makes real our communion and intimacy with God.

    From the start of this new translation of the Mass, we sense a new
attitude, a new focus on our relationship with God. With the new edition
of the Missal, every time the priest proposes, “The Lord be with you”,
the people will respond, “And with your spirit”. Now, we know that this
is simply the literal translation of the Latin that has been there all
along — et cum spiritu tuo.

    In Scripture the expression “The Lord be with you” is a summons to
recognize that we live in God’s presence always.4 We need a keen
sensitivity to this to celebrate the Eucharist. Because in the Eucharist,
our Lord truly comes to us. In the vision of the heavenly liturgy found
in the Book of Revelation, Christ says: “Behold, I stand at the door and
knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him
and eat with him, and he with me.”5

    This is what is happening in every Mass here on earth. The early
Christians prayed in Aramaic, marana tha, which means “Our Lord, come!”
This prayer had a dual meaning. It was a prayer for His parousia, His
second coming to judge the living and the dead. Yet we also find it in
the earliest Christian liturgies as a prayer for His coming to us in His
Body and Blood in the Eucharist.6

    This tells us that every celebration of the Eucharist anticipates and
gives us a foretaste of our Lord’s coming in glory. As Saint Paul said,
in words we still pray in the Mass: “For as often as you eat this bread
and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”7

    So we need a readiness to listen for Christ’s voice, a readiness to
open up the doors of our hearts to Him. We also need a greater
appreciation for who we are in the eyes of God.

    That’s why the change in the people’s response, although just one
word, is so significant. “And also with you” is too pedestrian, too
casual for the occasion. It doesn’t do justice to the fullness of who we
are — and the truth about what we come together to do in the Eucharist.

    So who are we, really? The term “people of God” became fashionable
after the Council. But I’ve always felt that the accent was made to fall
too much on the “people” side of the equation. It can lend itself to
being a kind of populist catch-phrase for those who want to level-out
important and necessary distinctions between the clergy and the laity.

    But the biblical truth and power of the expression lies in the
genitive. We are a people of God. Remember those powerful lines from the
prologue to John’s Gospel that were read at the end of every Mass in the
old rite — Christ gave us the power “to become children … born not of
blood nor the will of the flesh ... but of God.”8

    That’s who we are in God’s eyes. The love of God, the Holy Spirit,
has been poured into our hearts in baptism so that we bear witness in our
spirit that we are His sons and daughters.9 We are made in the image of
God and renewed in the image of His Son, who is the perfect image and
likeness of God.10

    That’s why Saint Paul so often said in his letters, “The Lord be with
your spirit”.11 He was taking the measure of our great dignity.

    Our God is spirit. And we are His children, born of water and the
Spirit. And we are made to worship our Father in spirit and in truth. So
it is fitting that we recognize the Lord’s presence among us, “And with
your spirit”.12

    I know that for you, as choir singers and sacred musicians, the
changes in the Gloria raise immediate practical issues in terms of how to
adapt the new text for the liturgy. I hope this challenge excites you and
inspires you. The changes get us closer to the theological richness and
the poetry of the original Latin.

    And I find a passionate intensity and musical cadence in the lines we
will now sing — “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify
you, we give you thanks for your great glory!”

    These rhythmic words remind us that we are singing the song of
angels, the song sung by the heavenly host on the night of Christ’s
birth. We are singing a song of the incarnation — the new creation, the
coming of the Word made flesh. Not only that. As when we sing the
Sanctus, here too we are reminded that our Mass is a singing with the
angels.
    This reminds us that every Catholic liturgy is a cosmic liturgy. The
liturgy we celebrate here on earth is always a participation in the
everlasting liturgy of heaven, in which all creation glorifies the
Creator. This truth, I’m afraid, has been lost or obscured in the years
since the Council. We have a great chance now to reclaim it.

    Pope Benedict has said, “Liturgy presupposes … that the heavens have
been opened; only if this is the case, is there liturgy at all.” This is
the truth we need to recover.

    Christ has rent the heavens and come down to us. Again He has been
lifted up and carried into heaven to take His seat at the right hand of
Power. By His incarnation and again by His ascension, the dividing walls
between heaven and earth, the human and the divine, have forever been
torn down.

    By His incarnation and ascension our prayers here on earth can now
rise like incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints. Our voices
can join with the songs of the angels. And, as we pray in the oldest of
our Eucharistic prayers, Eucharistic Prayer I, our gifts can be borne by
the hands of His holy angel to His altar on high in the sight of His
divine majesty.

    The point is that the liturgy is going on always and everywhere
before we ever walk through the church door. When we celebrate the
Eucharist, the pope says, we are “entering into the liturgy of the
heavens that has always been taking place. Earthly liturgy is liturgy
because and only because it joins what is already in process, the greater
reality”.13

    To drive this point home, our new Mass translation replaces the
mundane affirmation — “Happy are those who are called to His supper” —
with a confession of faith worthy of the cosmic character of our
celebration.

    We are not “happy”. We are blessed. We have not been called to any
ordinary meal. No, we have been invited to the great banquet of our
heavenly King, the wedding feast of His Son, our Redeemer.

    Accordingly, we will now pray: “Blessed are those called to the
Supper of the Lamb”. Again, the prayer has been there all along in the
Latin. The language is an almost literal quotation from the revelation of
the heavenly liturgy given to Saint John in the Book of Revelation.14

    In the holy Mass heaven reaches down to earth and earth reaches up to
heaven. We are worshipping not only in our local church, but in the
precincts of Mount Zion, “the city of the living God, the heavenly
Jerusalem, and [with] innumerable angels in festal gathering, and [with]
the Church of first-born who are enrolled in heaven.”15

    That is how the early Christians understood their worship. And it’s
time for us to reclaim that same consciousness. We need to come to our
worship filled with this same awe for the mystery of God’s love and His
covenant plan.

    This brings us into the heart of the mysterium fidei, the mystery of
faith. What are we doing at Mass? And why are we doing the things we do?
Saint Augustine said that “[God] is worshipped by the sacrifice of praise
and thanksgiving”.16 That’s of course true. But that begs the question.
What are we praising? What are we giving thanks for? Why do we do it in
the form of sacrifice?

    Saint Thomas Aquinas said that worship is essentially thanksgiving
for the beneficium creationis, “the gift of being created”.17 We worship
God because the world He has given us is good, and because it is good for
us to be alive. We worship God because everything we have, we have from
God; and because everything we hope for is His alone to give.

    That’s a glorious way for us to think about the Eucharist. We know
that the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word that means
“thanksgiving”. In the Eucharist, we give thanks for the gift of
creation, but also for the gifts of the new creation — the victory over
death made possible by Christ’s sacrifice, by the gift of His body and
blood, offered on the cross for us and for the life of the world. The
Eucharist is the Festival of the Resurrection.

    In his book on the liturgy In Tune with the World: A Theory of
Festivity, Joseph Pieper has written that:

        The Mass is called and is eucharistia.… The “occasion” for which
it is performed and which it comports with, is nothing other than the
salvation of the world and of life as a whole.… Christian worship sees
itself as an act of affirmation that expresses itself in praise,
glorification, and thanksgiving for the whole of reality and existence.18

    In the Eucharist, we thank God for having shown us that His love is
stronger than death. But why does our worship take the form of sacrifice?
And what does sacrifice really mean?

    Here the changes in the Eucharistic Rite help us to penetrate more
deeply into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I think we will find here
again that the changes intend to restore a dimension of the liturgy that
has been lost or obscured since the Council. The holy Mass is our
participation in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. In our worship we
join our self-offering to the self-offering of Christ on the cross. We
need to reclaim this sacrificial character of our worship.

    To underline this, in the new edition of the Missal, the priest will
say different words at the Preparation of the Gifts. His prayer will go
like this:

        With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you,
O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you,
Lord God.
    This prayer, again, is not new. It has been at this point in the
liturgy all along. It comes from the Book of Daniel. It is from the
prayer of Azariah, one of the young men thrown into the fiery furnace by
the Babylonian dictator.19

    Now more faithfully translated, it contains for us the sum of the
biblical doctrine of sacrifice. The prophets and psalmists had reached
the conclusion that God does not desire animal sacrifices, burnt
offerings of rams and bulls. What God desires is a humble spirit and a
contrite heart.20 He wants all the strength of our bodies; all of our
intellect and will; and all of the passions of our hearts. He wants all
of us, and He wants us dedicated wholly to doing His will for our lives.

    This is what we are promising when we lift up our hearts to the Lord
in the Mass. We are called to make our own lives “eucharistic” — a
spiritual offering, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

    Blessed John Henry Newman put it beautifully in one of his
meditations:

        My Lord, I offer You myself … as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. You
have died for me, and I in turn make myself over to You. I am not my own.
You have bought me. I will, by my own act and deed, complete the
purchase.21

    That should be our prayer, too. That we might become the Eucharist we
celebrate. This is the true spirit of the liturgy. And this is the spirit
that the new edition of the Roman Missal hopes to restore and to foster.

    Before I conclude, I want to dwell for a moment on this need for a
renewed eucharistic consciousness.

    As I was gathering my thoughts for this talk last month, I woke up
one Sunday to hear the news that about 60 of our Catholic brothers and
sisters in Iraq had been massacred that day by Islamic terrorists while
they were gathered to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist.

    This tragedy puts our conversation today into some perspective. We
are still a Church of martyrs. Catholics are still being persecuted every
day for their faith in the Creed, for their faith in the Eucharist.

    I was struck as I read the news accounts about those Iraqi Catholics.
They made their final moments an eloquent testimony to the eucharistic
spirituality that we have been talking about this afternoon. They died as
they must have lived — “eucharistically”.

    Their persecutors broke into the Mass and destroyed icons and stained
glass windows; they desecrated the tabernacle. All the while, the
worshippers could be heard praying for themselves and for their
persecutors.

    One of the two priests executed in that massacre (a third priest was
critically wounded) was shot down while he was holding a crucifix and
standing between the killers and the people, pleading for their lives.
One woman begged the gunman to kill her but to spare the life of her
grandson. Mercilessly, the gunman shot the boy through the head and then
turned the gun on her.

    Another woman survived somehow, lying in a pool of her own blood for
hours while the carnage continued all about her. She told a reporter
later: “I thought I would make it, but even if I didn’t I was in church,
and it would have been ok.”

    In these simple words, in the witness of these humble people, we see
the eucharistic faith that each one of us is called to. We may never be
asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith. But we are called
each day to live by the Eucharist we receive, and to make our lives an
acceptable sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord.

    I began our time together with a quote from Saint Augustine. Let me
conclude by finishing that quote. It is really a prayer for all of us:

    Let us sing a new song, not with our lips but with our lives.22

				
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