The music/hymns of the Mass

Below is a copy of the email I sent members of our community who have volunteered to have responsibilities in the preparation of our Sunday Mass. They very understandably expressed questions regarding choices I have made regarding the hymns at mass, and also why I have not accepted certain suggestions they made. I expect many of you have had similar thoughts. Although this email was addressed to the three of them, I thought it would be good to make it available to all of you who are interested, so that you can realise what a very eccentric priest you seem to have as your chaplain!! Ha ha, actually I do this in order to foster discussion and for us all to learn what sort of worship God wants from us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church. I want to thank all those who help to prepare for the mass; it is a great and awesome work we are involved in!

Dear Opani, KC and Damien,

I really appreciate the way Opani has put your questions over, regarding the music/hymns at mass. I am also really encouraged by your desire to know the reasons why I am rejecting some suggestions etc. It would have been very easy for you to get very upset with me and just call me old fashioned and out of date or something. So I really appreciate you have not done that. Thank you!
I want to say that from the beginning I do not want choices made regarding the music that are purely subjective. On my part, I am not choosing hymns because I personally like them. In fact I would sing very few hymns if I had my choice!
As you said in your email worship/adoration is “offering”. It is giving of ourselves and is most of all a sacrifice. At the heart of our liturgy is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our redemption. He did not go to the cross because He liked it, or because it gave Him certain feelings! And so we need to cultivate a similar spirit when we approach the liturgy, and most especially the mass. The mystery of the cross is the principal mystery at play in the mass, and in a remarkable and amazing way we are participating in that mystery. This is the most important way we can be actively participating in the liturgy. We bring with us to mass all the sufferings and difficulties of life, including the ones we cause ourselves (usually through our sinful tendencies), and we bring them to our Lord’s cross, which is the Altar. The offertory gifts represent these things. And we give ourselves, all ourselves, to Him on the Cross. And our Lord takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and in return gives us Himself. We receive His resurrected Body and Blood to be united with our body and blood, through eating His sacred body and His precious blood. And (as long as we are not in a state of mortal sin) we receive grace of redemption that He won for us at such an awful price on the cross.
This is why the hymns/worship songs that go on and on about us and barely refer to the wonder of our God, of His self-emptying incarnation, and of His joyful self-sacrificial offering on the cross, are really going against the spirit of Catholic liturgy and worship. So I am not making subjective decisions based on my personal tastes in rejecting these hymns. Although I know many of you have become attached to them, but that does not make them automatically appropriate at any point of the mass. And it is not based on whether they are from the 21st, 20th, 19th or 18th century or whatever. The same criteria apply.
The problem that has happened over worship in the Catholic Church since Vatican II is that its reform of the Liturgy has only been in part according to the decrees of Vat II, it has also been a time when lots of clergy especially, and other liturgical ‘experts’ have done what they thought Vat II ought to have said. In other words they have followed their own version of Vatican II – which is an imagined one and not the real one. As a protestant becoming a Catholic I assumed that those involved with liturgy would be immersed in the teaching of Vatican II and especially the document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. But what I found was that hardly anyone has read it let alone studied it and immersed themselves in its principles. What has happened instead is that some people have veered back to pre-Vatican II liturgy (Latin Mass Society) or people have veered in a protestant direction with regard to music and lyrics. And just as protestant evangelicalism has moved away from hymns that express the fullness of our faith and are usually addressed to God, the lyrics now focus so often on talking about us and our feelings, and generally talking about what we can get out of worship. This has characterised the selection of hymns found in most Catholic hymnals today. So just because a priest or a nun has written the hymn does not make it a suitable hymn for a Catholic mass.
Let me give some examples about the way things have veered away from Sacrosanctum Concilium. While the council fathers did ask for the liturgy to be translated into the vernacular (local languages) it did not say that Latin should be excluded totally from it. Yet this is exactly what we find in almost every diocesan parish. I sang and said more Latin growing up in an Anglican parish than I have in Catholic parishes, with the exception of Taize chants of course.
The other example is that of Gregorian chant. According to Vatican II Gregorian chant is to remain as the very best and most appropriate type of sacred music to be used in Catholic worship. What have former Anglican clergy who are now Catholics found when they introduce some Gregorian chant into Catholic masses? All over the country they have found Catholic laity complaining that they haven’t ever sung this and it is not suitable to use in the mass (‘its only for monks’)! Clearly they have not been taught what Vatican II actually said and gave as the basis of the reform of the liturgy.
Though this might seem a bit of a long email reply, actually I have only very briefly touched on the question, what is appropriate Catholic music for the mass. But what I have shared is what I genuinely believe to be the way in which we should be making decisions. Ultimately I carry the can for all acts of worship we have and will make the final decision for the reasons I state, but really do appreciate your contributions not least because although I am trained theologically, I am not trained musically. I hope I have expressed myself intelligibly and that it will foster your own education in Catholic liturgy. Please continue to ask questions in the way you have been doing.
Wishing you every blessing,
Fr Ian
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Only a building?

Lateran Basilica

Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran

Today is the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran. So perhaps we should ask why do we commemorate the dedication of a church building, and one that happened in fourth-century Rome?

So why? First, because St. John Lateran is no ordinary church—it’s the cathedral church of the Pope and still known as “the mother of all the world’s churches.” It is dedicated to Christ our Saviour and Saint John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. It is the place where the Pope’s Cathedra is housed – the chair which represents his authority given to him by Christ. It is the oldest of the papal basilicas and it is, I believe, the oldest church in the West – consecrated in 324 AD.

So one of the things this feast points to is the unity we all enjoy together as Catholics. Catholics are found all over the world, from many nations, from many different cultures, from many different language groups, all with our local customs and traditions. But we are all united by one Faith and one Baptism and all recognise the authority and unifying importance given by our Lord to the Apostle Peter. So this feast also reminds us of the common respect we Catholics have for the Pope, who is the successor of St Peter, the Rock of the Church.

But more than that, because God has from all time intended the church building to be a symbol of His Church and our bodies. This is what the readings for today’s feast invite us to consider. God’s prototype for the church is the Jerusalem Temple, described in this week’s First Reading and Psalm. It is God’s “holy dwelling,” site of His presence in our midst, source of “living waters”—of all life and blessing.

There is a tendency today for people to say that Church buildings do not really matter that much. They are just convenient places to assemble for collective worship. And people will also add that it would be better to spend surplus cash on the poor rather than spend it on fancy buildings. This way of thinking is understandable on the surface, but scratch it a little deeper and we find the argument crumbles.

This way of thinking largely since the 1960s has been fashionable and has seen Catholic churches being built that are very functional, bare and unadorned. Paradoxically while spending on church architecture has decreased, spending on people’s own homes has increased. Our own residences have become more and more luxuriously kitted out, but Catholic church’s over the time became more and more spartan and cheaply made. St John Vianney was a great example to us, he never neglected the poor, but neither did he neglect his church, the vestments and the holy vessels of the altar. His home consisted of a simple chair and table, very little else. But delighted spend what money he had on beautiful chalices and vestments to honour Our Lord, while not neglecting honouring the Lord through supporting the poor.

Churches are reflections of the heavenly city where the eternal and perfect worship of God takes place by Angels and Saints; and we in the Mass participate in this heavenly liturgy which is going on in heaven. Our worship is imperfect, yet we, by grace, participate in this heavenly liturgy. Churches should then lift our hearts to think of heaven – they should not be mere functional buildings. They should be places of beauty and through symbolism point to the divine truth.

The Temple was the prototype for the Church building symbolising the “dwelling place of God Himself”. Our Church buildings are also the dwelling place of God as they house the tabernacle where our Saviour Jesus Christ is truly present under the sign of bread.

But some will say, didn’t our Saviour say He would tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days – not replacing it with another building but His own Body in the Resurrection? Indeed that is the case, but that does not mean Church buildings are not needed or not important, but that they have a deeper meaning.

God intended the Temple to give way to the Body of Christ. That’s what our Lord’s words and actions in today’s Gospel are intended to dramatize. Christ’s Body is now the dwelling of God’s “glory” among us (see John 1:14). It’s the new source of living waters (John 4:10,14; 7:37-39; 19:34), the living bread (John 6:51), the new sanctuary where people will worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:21,23). By Baptism, we are joined to His Body in the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:13).

The Church building points us to Christ’s Body, His living Temple, which is the whole Church, the Body of Christ. In our Epistle today, it says the Spirit of God comes to dwell in us and makes us “God’s building…the temple of God” (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9). So in a way it is the other way round. We, the Body of Christ, members of the Church are to be made into God’s building!  But how can we imagine what that is if we have no inspiring buildings?

Jesus drove out the sellers of oxen, sheep and doves, signalling an end to the animal sacrifices that formed the worship of the old Temple. In the spiritual worship of the new Temple, we offer our bodies—our whole beings—as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1). Like living stones (see 1 Peter 2:5) built on the cornerstone of Christ (see Mark 12:10; Acts 4:11), together we are called to build up the new Temple of God, the Church.

There is a connection between our attitudes towards Church buildings, and our attitudes towards the Temple of our bodies, and also the Church as the Body of Christ. It cannot be too surprising that if our approach to these earthly Church buildings is very functional, then the way we treat one another starts becoming functional too. The temptation of thinking of others in terms of function only is very common in our time. People think of their bodies not as temples of the Holy Spirit, but as a biological machine to perform various functions for us, but equally something that can be disposed of when no longer useful.

It is also connected to the way we think of the Church – it very common to find Catholics talking about the Church as if it were merely a human institution that performs certain functions but which can be changed if we want it to do something differently.

This functionalist approach is not holy. God our Maker has given us our bodies not merely as functional machines, they are part of the gift of our being made in the image of God. Our outward bodies are fully united with our souls. What we do with our bodies will affect our souls. The two are one, just as Christ’s two natures, divine and human, are fully one.  Our bodies are sacred and imbued with a sacred dignity that cannot be taken away. And the Church too is no mere functional organisation; the Church is the mystical Body of Christ – it too is both visible and invisible, both human and divine.  All these things are beautifully connected together – this is why when we enter a beautiful Church which is configured to the truth divinely revealed to us, that our hearts are lifted to the Lord. We sense His Presence and we fall in adoration before Him. In that moment of adoration we become what God wants us to be, we are united to the Communion of Saints in heaven and to the countless hosts of Angels.

But lastly, as the Jerusalem Temple was, so the Church will always be: under construction—until at last it is perfected in the New Jerusalem, our mother Church, come down from heaven. So yes our bodies are not perfect and won’t be until the Day of Resurrection. So the Church is not perfect either and won’t be until the end of time. Nevertheless we look forward in hope to our coming Saviour Jesus Christ, knowing that by the Holy Spirit, and through His Grace, we are being made into the living Temple of His Glory.

AMEN.                   IH Nov 2014

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University Mass

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The University Mass for students and staff, and also for anyone who wishes to come, will continue on Sundays at 11.30 up to and including Pentecost Sunday.

The Mass at 11.30 will resume on Sunday 14th September.

All other Masses at Christ the King are as normal.

I am also continuing the Masses at the Chaplaincy on Wednesdays at 7pm for the next few weeks or until people stop coming!

Every blessing to those of you travelling home and I look forward to seeing many of you again in September. God bless you all.

Fr Ian

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Choose Life, Choose Love

Go to the link below to watch some good videos on the vocation to Marriage and family life.

The Choose Life, Choose Love Conference on Catholic marriage and family life was held at St Patrick’s Church in Soho in March 2014. Speakers at the two day event included Jonathon Doyle, Founder and Director of CHOICEZ Media in Australia, and testimonies from married couples present.

http://vimeo.com/album/2876294

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Christ with us

Today we hear (Lk 24:13-35) of the appearance of the risen Lord by some disciples on the road to Emmaus. We learn not only of this amazing encounter between the two disciples and the resurrected Jesus, but also at another level how it is a model of what the Church does for us.

The Church does for us what the risen Jesus did for the disciples on the road. First He walked with them. Secondly He gave the ‘interpretation of Scripture’. Thirdly He celebrated the Eucharist  (He took bread; He said a blessing; He broke it and gave it).

Through the Church our risen and ascended Lord walks with us. Our pilgrim journey as disciples is not a lonely one, but one in which we are accompanied by the Lord through His Church. The Church gives us the ‘interpretation of Scripture’, through the Church’s teaching authority (the magisterium). We do not need to wrestle alone with understanding the Scriptures but have the wisdom of all those who have been guided by the Holy Spirit to teach with authority. And, the Church celebrates and most truly is the Church when she celebrates the Eucharist.

We can come close to Jesus in the conversation of personal prayer and meditating on His words. We find Him present in our fraternal meetings, for when “two or three are gather in my name, there am I in your midst.” But our risen Lord makes Himself known to us in a wholly and qualitatively different way when we share the Bread of Life, His Body and His Blood.

Fr Ian

 

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Noli me tangere

“Do not cling to me,” are words that might seem quite harsh to those, like Mary Magdala, who love Jesus so much and were filled with intense grief, but at his risen appearance are asked to hold back. Jesus has not, all of a sudden, become like an Englishman, who prefers not to be so demonstrative with regard to affections! So what is happening here?

Well of course the Resurrection has occurred! And this is not just a resuscitation of Jesus’ body (like Lazarus being raised from the dead) but a wholly new way of being human. So of course the way in which people relate to the risen Christ is now different. Yes it will be a human way of relating but it will necessarily be a spiritual way and a deeper way. Eventually of course, after the Ascension, the risen Lord will not be seen until the end of time, but only seen through the sign of the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of the Eucharist. The disciples must relinquish the physical presence of Jesus with which they were so comfortable. From now on the disciples of Jesus must embrace Him in a secret and marvellous way through prayer and faith. Mary Magdalene here may well represent the contemplative spirit of the Church and thus shows us how we are to embrace the whole of Christ.

Fr Ian

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Joy at the resurrection

Both the joy and the import of the Resurrection are imbued in the words of St Peter as he preaches the first papal sermon in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. Peter is of course filled with joy – who would not be? His Master and Saviour who had become a victim of the Jewish authorities and then a victim of the Roman authorities even to a brutal death, was not overcome by death, but had risen. For Peter personally, his sin against the Lord, of denying his Master three times, had been forgiven. This is the joy we have too when we confess grave sin and experience the release from bondage in the absolution. It is a joyful resurrection experience – we were dead to sin, now we are alive to Christ! St Peter had been dead to the grave sin of denying Christ – now he was alive to the risen Christ!

And his joyful message for the Jews listening to him is that this Resurrection joy, through the forgiveness of their sins, can be there’s too. And of course, St Peter is addressing all of us in our sin; we too can receive the forgiveness of sins and experience the joy of the Resurrection life.

We who experience the Resurrection in this way, making use of the sacrament of penance, also have a duty to share it with others. Not necessarily like St Peter preaching in the streets of course, but nevertheless the joy of the Resurrection is not to be kept to ourselves.

Let us pray this Easter, that all of us may have the courage to proclaim in one way or another the joy of the Resurrection with those who do not know it.

Amen.

Fr Ian

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Sacred Triduum 1: The Lord’s Supper

Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of The Sacred Paschal Triduum. These three solemn days celebrate the greatest mysteries of our redemption. The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church gathers and with special celebrations keeps the memory of our Lord’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

On Maundy Thursday the Holy Church begins the Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. When our Lord was about to be handed over to death, He entrusted to His Church a sacrifice which was New for all eternity. This was the New Covenant in His blood; the banquet of His love.

The central act of Christian being is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Everything we seek to do, seek to be, all the other Sacraments, all church ministries, and the works of the apostolate, are all bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented towards it. It is in the Holy Eucharist itself that is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, because it contains Christ Himself, our paschal lamb.

The most sacred Eucharist is both a giving and a receiving. In this great mystery of salvation God gives Himself to us, and, if we are in a state of grace*, we receive and consume Christ the paschal lamb, who sacrifices Himself for us on the Cross. Albeit in a lesser way, we also give; we give ourselves in worship and prayer to God, uniting our sufferings and trials with His on the Cross, and if we have done this worthily, He receives us into that communion in the divine Life by which the Church is kept in being.

By the Eucharistic celebration we unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy. We anticipate eternal life when God will be all in all.

So the Eucharist, the Mass, is the sum and summary of our Faith, our Christian life, and it is the most sacred and most mysterious act of the Church, in which we have the greatest privilege of participating in one way or another.

Thanks be to God for His most ineffable Gift.

Fr Ian

* If we are in a state of mortal sin (by committing a grave sin freely and with knowledge) then we cannot receive the Eucharist until we are reconciled to God by the Sacrament of Penance. If we receive the Eucharist unworthily we profane Christ and commit a further grave sin.

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The valuing of Jesus

Jesus had been anointed with the costly ointment, oil of nard, by Mary of Bethany*. When that had occurred some of the disciples, and in particular Judas Iscariot, had complained that this was an over the top gesture towards Jesus. The cost of such ointment was estimated at over 200 denarii – and we get an idea of how expensive that was if we realise that 1 denarius was the day’s wage for the average worker. So the ointment of nard cost the wages of a worker for 200 days. So Judas and some of the others rebuked Mary for “wasting” this on Jesus, suggesting that it be sold and the money given to the poor.

The generosity of Mary reveals how much she values Jesus. For her, no gift is too much for her Lord and Saviour. This is in complete contrast to Judas Iscariot who not only betrays Jesus but does so for money. He only values Jesus at thirty pieces of silver, which is the price of a slave (Ex 21:32).

What do we give our Lord? How generous are we? Or are we grudging in our gifts? Perhaps we think our Lord does not need our gift, and there are better uses for it? There is a world of difference between the giving of Mary and Judas. So how willing are we to give generously to our Lord? The Lord preserve us from giving a gift like Judas.

Fr Ian

* Although Matthew does not reveal who anoints Jesus and merely says “a woman” (Mt 6:7), in John’s gospel (Jn 12:1-8) we hear that it was Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus, and it is primarily Judas Iscariot who objects.

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The darkness grows but love in weakness conquers

The darkness around Jesus grows as we hear today of the betrayal of Judas and the cowardice of Peter.

It is important for us to realise that Jesus is not powerless against the growing evil intentions around Him. He could, as He tells us later in the Gospel, summon legions of angels to defend Himself. It is important for us to realise that Jesus chooses not to summon legions of angels; He chooses not to use force, of any kind, to defend Himself against the various attacks that are coming His way.

This can seem strange to us. We think it an obvious thing to use one’s power to defend oneself and avoid evil. But of course that is to think of just one’s self. Jesus, on the other hand, is on a mission and it is not about saving His own skin; it is about saving mankind! His mission is to face evil, to face betrayal, to face the cowardice of friends, to face false accusations, to face an unjust sentence, to face scourging, to face immense violence, and to face even death itself not with fear but with perfect love. He seeks not to avoid these things but to conquer them with love.

The darkness that is growing around Jesus is not just the darkness of human sin, human fear and human folly but also the darkness of the kingdom of Satan. It is Satan’s kingdom that is growing around Jesus in order to do away with God! Satan seeks to destroy God and all His Kingdom. And the only way He can do this is to pervert the hearts of men in their sin. In Peter’s heart is fear and Satan uses this to make Peter into a coward – Peter is not strong enough to resist fear, and so Peter ends up denying this man whom Peter says He is prepared to go to death for. In Judas is a heart of duplicity: he hides from the others his malice and evil intent, and for whatever reason he is willing to sell his loyalty to the enemies of his Master – and thus in Judas’ heart is a place ready for Satan to dwell. Satan enters Judas. Darkness falls all around.

The dimensions of the love of God are shown precisely by Christ’s acceptance of His suffering at the hands of evil men. This love of God cannot ever be conquered because it is divine. But Satan cannot see this! Evil men cannot see this! Men filled with fear cannot see this! Can we?

Love, perfect love, becomes a victim of all the schemes of wicked men, and becomes a victim of the kingdom of Satan, but remains true, remains unsullied, remains bright. And thus love conquers fear, hate, evil intent, violence, mockery, suffering and death itself. It does it not by human power but by human weakness re-made into the power of God. This path of self-emptying love is the path we are called walk because by it we share in our Saviour’s victory.

Amen.

Fr Ian

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