Thursday, October 31, 2013

50th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium," Part III

SACRAMENTALITY.  Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005.  For four days thousands, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of the faithful came to pay their respects at his body.  The crowds waiting hours and hours in line held signs saying, "Santo Subito!"  [Make him a saint now!]

I got up at 3:30 in the morning to watch the live television broadcast of his funeral Mass.  I am not ashamed to say the liturgy brought tears to my eyes.  I thought, "Yes, we have witnessed a saint in our midst."  Next spring, Pope Francis will canonize St. John Paul II.

Old-timers will remember question #136 of the Baltimore Catechism:  "What is a sacrament?  A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."  Pope Paul VI a hundred years later gave a contemporary version of this, saying a sacrament is "a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God."  In the seven sacraments, and indeed in just about all of created reality, we "see" the divine in the human, the infinite  in the finite, the spiritual in the material.  In the Catholic Church's vision, all reality is (or has the potential to be) sacred.

In certain individuals, we see holiness such that we call these persons saints.  In the signs of the sacraments, we know that Jesus Christ is really, truly present to us.  In all the workings of the church, and especially when it gathers for Sunday Mass, we encounter God--Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

In the sacraments, grace (God's invisible life) is made apparent to us through human signs (such as oil, water, bread and wine, light, gestures, even the love of husband and wife).  The Sacred Liturgy Constitution called for these signs to "speak" to us, the baptized believers, with profound and unfathomable insight into the love of God poured out on us.

THE DISMISSAL TO "GO IN PEACE."  A priest was giving a tour of a newly built shelter for homeless persons to reporters.  One reporter asked, "Are the homeless you help Catholic?"  The priest replied, "We don't do these works of charity because they are Catholic.  We do them because we are Catholic.  We serve all people in need."  

We use the word "church" with several meanings.  It is the physical building where we regularly worship; it is the worldwide communion of believers in Jesus Christ; and it is the faithful souls who gather around the altar with their priest at Mass.  At the end of Mass the priest (or deacon) sends us the church outside the church into the world.   We do not live in the church (building).  We live in our homes, in our own communities.  We are to bring the love of God, the teachings of Christ, and the joys and passion of the Spirit to wherever we reside, work and play.

Further, there is an ancient connection between the liturgy and the call to bring forth justice.  The prophet Amos cried out, "Let justice flow like water."  Jesus railed against hypocrites who knew how to pray in the temple but left widows and orphans without help.  St. James tells us, "Be doers of the word and not hearers only."  Genuine worship is fruitful.  Genuine prayer consists of praise of God in the church, and the church leaving the church building to do the works of justice and peace, to bring freedom to those enslaved, to proffer forgiveness to enemies and care for the poor.  We are sent forth to be Christ's Body in action in the world.

50th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium," Part II

THE WORD OF GOD.  In 1993 the Diocese of Pittsburgh celebrated the sesquicentennial of its founding through a variety of events.  The culmination was a festive Mass at the Civic Arena (as it was then called).  Over 12,000 of the faithful joined hundreds of priests and bishops in a most lively liturgy, led by our then-shepherd, Bishop Donald Wuerl.  I can still remember the booming, evocative proclamation of the first reading from Isaiah.  The lector, a parishioner of nearby St. Benedict the Moor Parish in the Hill District, engaged every eye and ear in the large space with her resonant voice, as we hung on every phrase, and then affirmed "The Word of the Lord," with our lusty response  "Thanks be to God." 

One of the major changes in the liturgy was to widen the amount of readings from the Bible, during the Mass and in all the sacramental rites.  "The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of the Word."  With a three-year cycle of readings for Sunday Masses (and two-year cycle for weekday Masses) over 90% of the bible is heard and proclaimed.

The old-time Catholic saying that "the bible is for Protestants only" is downright false, and rejected by Vatican II.  From the earliest days of the church, the apostles and disciples reflected on the Hebrew Scriptures and listened to the at-first oral, and then, written, gospel stories of Jesus Christ, written down by evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Every Catholic is called to be an attentive, active listener of the Word of God during the Mass, and student of the sacred authors.

Christ is truly present in the word, as well as in the sacrament of the altar.  Homilies and sacramental signs, too, are to be biblically grounded.  All Catholics are also to pray from the Sacred Scriptures daily, in our homes and personal prayer, or in the Liturgy of the Hours, and in various non-Eucharistic services of the Word.  Our reading of the books of the bible at home will enhance our attentive listening to the Word of God in church.

THE PASCHAL MYSTERY.  As I walked up the aisle I felt a huge lump in my chest.  How could I possibly celebrate the funeral Mass of my own father?  I could barely put one foot in front of the other.  My brothers and friends accompanied Dad's casket to bring his body lovingly to the front of the church.  But the Holy Spirit was with me as I found the strength to sprinkle Dad's casket with holy water, and pray very familiar words:  "In the waters of baptism my father, Frank, died with Christ and rose with Christ to new life.  May he now share with Christ eternal glory."

The liturgies of the Catholic Church should use words and symbols that are understandable to the people.  But there are a few special phrases which every Catholic needs to know.  One of them is "Paschal Mystery."  The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Paschal Mystery as "Christ's work of redemption accomplished principally by his Passion, death, resurrection and glorious ascension, whereby 'dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life.'"  Through the union of God and man, humanity is once again reconciled with the Father in and through Christ Jesus.  As St. Paul wrote, "Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being." (1 Cor 15:21)

The "paschal" of the phrase means "lamb," as in Jesus as the Lamb of God.  It is the Lamb of God who dies on the cross, only in mystery to rise from the tomb three days later.

The whole church is born out of the Paschal Mystery.  The church's liturgical and sacramental life, as well as the proclamation of the Gospels, make the Paschal Mystery present to the faithful.  Through the sacrament of baptism men and women are initiated into the dying and rising of Christ.  Through the sacrament of confirmation the baptized are strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  Through the sacrament of the Eucharist (the Mass), the Church comes to know, in the Sacred Liturgy Constitution's words, that "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the source from which all its power flows."  Our faith in Jesus the Christ, who was born, lived, taught, healed, suffered, died on the cross and rose from the dead, is renewed and nourished when we come together at Mass. 

The Eucharist is a sacred meal, and offers us the Body and Blood of Christ to feed us.  The Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, which is our hoped-for destiny after our death.  The Eucharist is also an unbloody sacrifice.  Christ died for our sins on the cross, in an act of total obedience to the will of the heavenly Father.  We remember and re-present his sacrifice in the Mass, and look forward to a new destiny after our deaths in the blessedness of heaven.

In the homily I offered at my Dad's funeral, I tried to tell stories of how he gave everything of himself in love to my mother, through 57 years of marriage, and to my brothers and me.  Dad never wanted to receive gifts for his birthday.  He only wanted to give gifts.  He drove my brothers and me to ball games, to dances and meetings, and to 8:00 a.m. Mass every Sunday. He showed us what sacrifice meant.  Dad lived out the Paschal Mystery in his almost 84 years on earth.  That's why I believe Dad (and Mom) are saints in heaven. 

It may sound cheesy  but in the homily I quoted the refrain of a Bruce Springsteen song, "Into the Fire," done in tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.  I felt the refrain captured Dad's spirit of giving too:  

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love.

VERNACULAR LANGUAGE.  We priests had flown to tiny Talara, Peru, to visit Father Jack Price, a Pittsburgh priest and missionary.  It was Saturday morning, and the other priests had gone to the market to buy food.  A grizzled old man knocked at the door of the rectory.  I welcomed him in, saying one of the few words I knew in Spanish, "Buenos dias, senor."  He rattled off a long paragraph.  I looked stupid, I didn't understand him.  I mumbled, "No hablo espanol."  He said, "Padre?"  I said "Si!  Padre Francisco."  And somehow I got the message that this gentleman wanted to go to confession.  So we sat, I made the sign of the cross in Latin (very close to Spanish, I thought), I motioned for him to express his sins.  He did, in Spanish.  Is aid the absolution prayer over him, in English.  I told him his penance was "uno Padre Nuestro" [one Our Father].  The man grinned, we embraced in a sign of peace, and he left.  Somehow, despite our language differences, we celebrated the sacrament of penance.

Language can separate and language can unite.  For hundreds of years after the Council of Trent (1543-1575), the Roman Catholic Church prayed the Mass in Latin.  There was a universality about this ancient language.  The Mass was the same, whether said in Spain, Canada, Brazil, Korea, or Tanzania.  But few people knew Latin.  Most of the faithful needed a book, with Latin on the left, their particular language on the right, to understand what the priest was saying and doing.

After the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church went back to the earlier tradition, that of celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments in the language of the people.  Whether in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), Greek (the language Saints Peter and Paul knew, and the language of the markets around the Mediterranean Sea), German, French, Spanish, or any of the 200 languages of the world, the Mass would be "in the vernacular," that is, the particular voice of the people.  The key here is understanding.  Now the people (and sometimes the priest!) would know what the prayers said, and would be able to truly pray the prayers, not just rattle off the Latin whose meaning was obscure.  We are blessed to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments in the particular language we speak and know.  

In an ironic way today, once in a while Latin can unite, too.  Latin is often the language of the Mass when people of many tongues gather--say, at a papal liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, or at a place of pilgrimage.  And we treasure certain songs and Mass responses which were set by famous composers to Latin centuries ago.  (For example, "Tantum Ergo" or "Pater Noster.")

50th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium"

We in the Catholic Church have been going through a series of rolling 50th anniversaries, all related to the Second Vatican Council.  It began in 2009, with the 50th anniversary of the calling of the council, by Pope John XXIII on January 25, 1959, in the Lateran Basilica.  The first session began on October 11, 1962 (and was marked in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI with the beginning of a Year of Faith).  This fall, on December 4, it is the 50th anniversary of the first of the 16 documents produced by the Fathers of Vatican II.  This is Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  The final 50th anniversary will be on December 7, 2015, marking the conclusion of the fourth session, and the end of the Second Vatican Council.

For our parish bulletins I did several columns this past month on the 50th anniversary of the Sacred Liturgy Constitution.  I was limited by the 550 words I can write for a column, so these are short.  I'll put these together into one or two posts.  With the greater freedom of the blog, I may expand on one or two points.

"Pastors have the indispensable task of educating in prayer and more especially of promoting liturgical life, entailing a duty of discernment and guidance."  --Pope John Paul II, from the Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa, On the 40th Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, December 4, 2003.

On December 4, 1963, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council produced the first of its 16 documents, Sacrosanctum Concilium (hereafter SC), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  This document was overwhelmingly approved (2,147 to 4) and promulgated by Pope Paul VI.  This document has been Vatican II's most visible impact on the People of God in the universal Catholic Church.  Pope John Paul II said in 2003, in the above quoted document, "With the passing of time and in the light of its fruits, the importance of Sacrosanctum Concilium has become increasingly clear.  The Council brilliantly outlined in it the principles on which are based the liturgical practices of the church and which inspire its healthy renewal in the course of time."

In two months the Church will mark the 50th anniversary of this important document.  Over the next five weeks I'll review this very special document.  I encourage readers to read the document itself (available online at   under "resource library/Second Vatican Council").  But readers already know much that it teaches.  You see the principles of this document each Sunday, when you pray in church with your brothers and sisters at Mass.  In an attempt to make the basic ideas of SC come alive, I'll tell some stories and invite you to reflect on these themes.

REVIEWING HISTORY.  Sunday, November 22, 1964, 5:00 p.m. Mass in St. Wendelin Church, in the Carrick neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh.  I am a 6th grader serving the last Mass in Latin.  I've forgotten which parish priest said the Mass (Msgr. Carl Hensler, the elderly pastor, or Father John Michaels, the young assistant).  With the other server I said the opening prayers at the foot of the altar in Latin, which Sister Mary Jude had helped us to memorize the previous year:  "Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui Laetificat iuventutem mean."  [In English, "I shall go up to the altar of God, the God who gives joy to my youth."]  The following week we began a "hybrid" Mass, part Latin, part English.  Within four years we were fully in English.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy may have been the first document approved by Vatican II, but it had a 100 year history of preparation.  In the 19th century German Benedictine monks began reading the ancient liturgical texts in their dusty archives, and found a wealth of information about how the Catholic Church celebrated Mass in the different centuries.  They also found how the Mass prayers changed over time.  This "liturgical movement" expanded to France, Britain and the U.S.  By 1947 it was endorsed by Pope Pius XII, who made some changes to the Easter Vigil in 1955.  The monks and scholars looked backward in time, to learn better the various traditions of prayer, particularly of the sacraments.  They also faced forward, in "aggiornamento," (an Italian word which means bringing things up to date, sometimes also translated as "opening the windows").  Pope John XXIII, who called for the Second Vatican Council in 1959, wanted the Church to be open to the modern world, while always retaining and renewing its venerable traditions.

"FULL, ACTIVE AND CONSCIOUS PARTICIPATION".  The St. Paul Seminary chapel in the 1970s was a large airy room on the second floor of the DPC building.  Each of us seminarians had his own prie-dieu (kneeler) and chair.  But at Mass we were invited by our priests, Msgr. Don Kraus and Father George Saladna, at the Preface to leave our kneeler and place, and to come up into the sanctuary and stand in a semi-circle around the altar as the priest said the Eucharistic Prayer.  As my brother seminarians surrounded the altar, some kneeling and some standing in prayer, I intensely felt we were the body of Christ as we sang and responded to the presiding priest.

One of the key understandings which Vatican II taught was that the Mass, and all the sacraments, are celebrated by the whole church.  In the words of SC, we the baptized are "neither strangers nor silent spectators," but rather called to "full, active and conscious participation" in all rites.  The people of God participate using their voices in singing and in responding to the priest in dialogue, using their bodies by standing, kneeling or moving in processing, using their minds and souls while sitting or standing in attentive silence at the proclaiming of the Sacred Scriptures.  The priest is not the only one "working" during the Mass.  The various ministers carry out their respective ministries, and all people through the church participate and spiritually offer the sacrifice.