Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Happy Birthday,Coffee&Canticles! Giveaway week!

One year ago tomorrow,  I prepared to quit my day job and set up this blog, writing a Welcome Post that might have been viewed by a dozen people that week. Now,300 posts and 50,000+  pageviews later, this is still an itty-bitty blog catering to a small (and elite, right guys?) audience.   But Coffee&Canticles is growing, and that means, praise the Lord, awareness of the Liturgy of the Hours is growing too.  There's been a radio "appearance" and a request from Our Sunday Visitor for a feature article on the liturgy of the hours.

This first year of blogging has made me grow, too, both in knowledge and in practice.Thanks to the motivation of writing it,  I've gone from  doing maybe  3 liturgical hours with consistency  to a point  where I rarely miss any of the 5 daily hours.

Any of you who manage that without the help of that nagging voice--how dare you write about praying the Office if you don't do it all?--have my admiration. Because this is not easy. For that matter, anyone who does ANY of the hours faithfully while holding down outside employment OR while caring for babies and preschoolers OR while homeschooling: you  are awesome!

Wait. I think "awesome" is out. "Amazing" is my teenager's favorite happy adjective  these days.  You are amazing.

Writing this blog has forced me to learn so much. I've had to read the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours from beginning to end  several times this last year.   My library of books and fund of liturgical trivia has grown considerably.  (For instance, I know now that in that first post where I equate the Office of Readings with the Office of Vigils,I was wrong! Vigils is more of an extension of the OOR done on the evening before a Sunday or a feast, mainly in monastic communities.)  I'm learning to chant Morning and Evening prayer thanks to the incredible Mundelein Psalter.

And most of all, I've been inspired by the comments, questions, and efforts of all of you, ordinary Catholics who are willing to fool with a bulky prayerbook, or buy an app, or subscribe  to a website, and spend weeks figuring out how it is done and what it all means. And are willing to explain it all to other people, who are likely to blink and reply, "Isn't that just for priests and monks?"

On the Coffee&Canticles agenda for this year is to keep on posting and answering your questions. The book proposal is still being considered by a major Catholic publisher--say a prayer that this will work out. I'm in discernment (that's fancy Catholic talk for confused&wondering) about seeking opportunities to give talks and how-to workshops about the Liturgy of the Hours at homeschooling and other Catholic conferences. If any of you  can advise me there--or know of a planned conference that is short of speakers!--please let me know.

One more thing. I'd love to have guest posts from anyone who likes to write and would like to do a short meditation on a particular day's liturgy, one its hours, or one of the psalms. Or, to tell me about how you learned the LOTH, how you manage to get it said, and what its done for you. Just contact me off site.

Next time: Q&A Wednesday.And coming up: inclusive language breviaries.

Finally, in honor of this one year anniversary, I have some giveaways to, um, give away. Every couple of days I'll give away one of the following to a randomly chosen name from among those who post a comment.
Here are some of the titles. Most are new; the few that are not will be noted.

A Companion to the Liturgy of the Hours by Shirley Darcus Sullivan. Short meditations on each psalm, canticle and reading  from  lauds and vespers. The author draws on Carmelite spirituality.

The Pope and the CEO by Andreas Widmer. A former Swiss Guard gives the lessons for life and for success that he learned watching John Paul II.

The Rosary -keeping company with Jesus and Mary by Karen Edmisten. Short motivational guide to praying the rosary. Good for beginners who want to know what it's all about as well as veterans who need fresh inspiration to maintain their rosary habit.

Shorter Christian Prayer - (slightly used but good condition) a breviary consisting of only  the four week psalter for lauds and vespers plus limited selections from the  propers for Advent, Lent, and Easter, the Holy Triduum, and a couple of feastdays. A good introduction for people who is 1. not sure they really want to  do this and/or 2. intimidated by the size of the regular book.

Daytime Prayer -(slightly used but good condition) a slim volume containing the complete hour of Daytime Prayer for every day of the year. About the same size as Shorter Christian Prayer.  The regular one-volume breviary only contains selections from Daytime Prayer, so if you are interested in having the Real Deal this is the book for you. I kept it in my desk at work for the last year at my day job, since I didn't want to lug the book from my 4-volume set around.

Surrender!The Life Changing Power of Doing God's Will  by Father Larry Richards. Spiritual shock therapy as only Father Larry can administer it.

Holy Traders- Apostles and Evangelists edition. Saints trading cards for kids.

Patron Saints - a list of patrons for every possible profession, situation, person, place, things, illness, and crisis. by Thomas J. Craughwell.

The Mass-the Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. Step by step through the liturgy, with insights on history, theology, and spirituality.

Okay, that's it for starters. I'm not sure which book to give away first, so....... for the first giveaway only, I will let the winner choose which book he or she wants.
All you have to do is write a comment. Anything, like "Happy Birthday" or "I Want Book" or "Pick Me or I'll find out where you live and hunt you down."

I'll write down all the usernames on little pieces of paper, put them in a bag, and have one of my kids reach in and pick one. Only one comment per person. I'll close entries on Saturday night. A new contest (where I name the prize) will start next week.

P.S. If I get a dozen comments from "anonymous" I won't know how to tell you that you've won. either sign on as a follower,(preferred method to my mind) or give yourself a name, or make an unusual remark to distinguish yourself from the other anonymouses. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Good to be Back...

...to writing posts that do not involve movie stars and get comments from disgruntled anonymous people.

And I wanted to increase traffic to this blog, why?

No, really, it was fun and exciting having a post linked by two websites, ThePulp.it (which then goes to National Catholic Register) and NewAdvent,  which is  the DrudgeReport of Catholic blogging.  Cool to see stats temporarily  shoot up from hundreds of pageviews a day to thousands.

And best of all, Coffee&Canticles now has 6 new people in our band of Psalmsayers. Welcome aboard to Michelle, Verda, WillWhite, Richard, Audreyflojo, and Ned. Look around at the pages and archives, and feel free to ask questions either on this post or on our regular Wednesday Q&A. 

Psalm for the Non-Morning Person

 Morning Prayer usually has a, well, a morning feel to it.  Its Psalms are full of sunrises, praise, and desire  for God. Today ( Monday  week IV) we start with  with Psalm 90.  This is the psalm for someone who stayed up too late Sunday night, woke up feeling wretched, and has tried to start praying before that first cup of coffee.

You try to start off acknowledging the Lord's majesty and might: You have been our refuge...before the mountains were born...or the world brought forth, you are God, without beginning or end.

But on a bad Monday morning, it all seems so very bleak. It is easy to be an existentialist on Monday morning.  You turn men back to dust...you sweep men away like a dream, like grass which springs up in the morning...by evening it withers and fades...all our days pass away in your anger. Our life is over like a sigh...our span is 70 years, or 80 for those who are strong...and most of these are emptiness and pain. 

Pretty harsh. True, but harsh. Fits right in with the Monday morning mood of us Non-morning persons. And don't get me started on how the election cycle  is shaping up. Bleah.
Better drink down that coffee quickly. You need all the help you can get. Show pity to your servants. In the morning, fill us with your love. Give us joy to balance our affliction. Fill us with your kindness. 

Pause. Look out the window. Must admit, the sunrise is beautiful. The caffeine is starting to work. (both coffee and the sunrise are gifts from God.) Okay. I'm ready. Praise, praise, praise!
That feels a little better.

Then the reading: We should be grateful to the Lord for putting us to the test as He did our Fathers. Yep, this tiny little test of being faithful to prayer even I'm tired and cranky. At this rate I'll never be ready for martyrdom. But it's a start.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Testing, 1..2..3..

Just jumping through the hoops to get the blog listed on Technorati.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Do It, Liam Neeson!

It's in the news today that actor Liam Neeson is considering a conversion to Islam.  
The only thing close to a  reason for Neeson's interest in Islam is stated in this quotation: "The Call to Prayer happens five times a day and for the first week it drives you crazy, and then it just gets into your spirit and it's the most beautiful, beautiful thing."
Liam, the Catholics have an official prayer five times (or more) a day, too. In fact, the Catholic church had this tradition before Islam even existed. It's called the Liturgy of the Hours, a cycle of prayers and readings mostly from the Bible. True, lay Catholics are not required to pray it the way priests, monks, and nuns are. But many of us do, and that number is increasing. Pope Benedict thinks all Catholics should use these prayers.  Liam, the psalms and other prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours are beautiful. They express every facet of human experience and emotion as we cry out to our Creator.Pray them for a few weeks and I guarantee, they'll "get into your spirit" too.  Would you please look into this and give it a try? You can find these prayers on the internet here and here.
Liam, you also commented on the beauty of the mosques in Turkey, saying, " Some are just stunning and it really makes me think about becoming a Muslim."  Surely you have visited the cathedrals of Europe? And those in your native Ireland?  By any standard, the stun factor of Catholic architecture equals or surpasses that of Muslim architecture. You know this. 
Please, Liam, what is really going on here? A few years back you narrated a Way of the Cross CD to help raise funds for the Redemptorists, whose missionary work you say impressed you. You know about Jesus, about the salvation He won for us. What is it about the gospel that no longer moves you as it apparently once did? You say you are reading lots of books about God these days. I hope that includes some Catholic ones. May I suggest Orthodoxy by G.K.Chesteton, or, if you want a modern bestseller, try Catholicism by Father Robert Barron,and/ or its stunning companion video series. Before you move to Islam, you have to confront the claims of Jesus. Is He Who He said He was, or not? 
Liam, those news articles didn't really tell much about what is really going on in your mind that would make you wish to choose Islam as a way of life. You said, "I was reared a Catholic but I think every day we ask ourselves, not consciously, what are we doing on this planet? What's it all about?" Jesus Christ and the Church He founded has those answers for you. If you never learned them, or forgot them, or blocked them out because of something a sinful priest said or did, please investigate  once more before you leave. May the Holy Spirit guide you,and Our Lady protect you. 

Divine Office help from New Zealand

I just found a Liturgy of the Hours webpage from New Zealand. Father Bosco Peters give some good, basic explanations of the LOTH is, plus some resources and reviews. The page is a recent addition to Father's larger prayer and liturgy website. We can expect more information on this page in the future.
Father Bosco offers some insight that will be helpful to anyone who worries too much over having missed one of the hours that one has committed to, perhaps feeling they have to still do morning prayer in the evening if they did not get to it in the morning. On the contrary: 

 The Liturgy of the Hours, as the Prayer of the Church, and essentially the prayer of Christ (the whole Christ - head and members) is ongoing, and we have the duty and joy of sharing in this prayer whenever possible. When we miss the prayer we can be conscious that the prayer goes on - we do not catch up with it, rather we pick it up again when we can. For those who want to incorporate this insight into their Rule of Life it is helpful to put time limits on when a particular Hour is prayed. If, for example, one's discipline is to pray the primary Hours (Lauds - Morning Prayer, and Vespers - Evening Prayer) one might decide that one does not pray Morning Prayer after a certain time in the morning. If you miss it, you miss it - and pick up the discipline when one next again can.

That's good advice.It brings to mind  two different metaphors of the liturgy. One: as a train or bus with a regular route that loops around and around every day. If I missed the morning train, I get on the evening train. I don't try to get on the morning train during the evening.  Two: the Liturgy is a choir of the Church universal, being sung always on earth and in heaven. I can step in an out of the choir at any time to add my voice to its song. But when I join in the morning, I sing the choir's morning song. When I join in the evening, I sing its evening song. 

Of course, no analogy holds up completely. Because of different time zones, every hour of the liturgy is being sung somewhere on the globe. And this fact was certainly helpful several weeks back when a reader who works the night shift asked about her preference for evening or night prayer when she gets home from work in the early morning, and morning prayer when she wakes up late in the afternoon. It makes sense for her to hop on the "prayer train", or join the "choir" that is going on in India. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Folks, Welcome! and...What's New?

Mad Maxi, KZG, and Miguel in Belgium are three bold, new seekers of wisdom who have joined us at Coffee&Canticles. A warm welcome!

It's Wednesday. Question&Answer day for anyone who is vague on Vespers, confused about Compline, or just baffled by the breviary.   Ask you questions in the combox, and I'm 98% certain I'll find the answer. If there is no precise, official answer to be had, I'll try for an expert opinion. If there's no expert opinion to be had, I'll give you mine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Only Devotional You Really Need

There's a big stack of review copies of recently published Catholic books here in the house. Close to a third of these are devotionals. Some are for a season, such as Lent or Advent. Others are for any time of the year. I'm sure you've seen them.

Typically, you get a page or two for each  that includes a reading, some commentary and reflection questions on the reading (lectio divina is quite the trend these days),  and a prayer. The readings can be from the Church Fathers, from one particular saint (there are  scores  of these), from one spiritual classic (broken down into easy to digest paragraphs and perhaps updated to modern English), from the writings of the  Pope, from a famous non-canonized author,  or from the Bible.

There are lots of devotionals directed at Catholic women or specifically, Catholic mothers. There are lots that are gender neutral.. I've yet to see any for Catholic men or fathers. Realities of the market, I guess.

I always find these to be very attractive little books.  I happily review them. I leave the very best ones on my nightstand, or at my desk, with the intention of using them daily.

But I never do. At least, not after the first week or so. Viewed with optimism, I should see such books as a real bargain: A Year With Padre Pio will last me for three, at least. But usually pessimism prevails. Seeing that book gathering dust-- the bookmark on a date from six weeks back-- I'm thinking, Lazy twit. You can't even read one paragraph a day from this good spiritual book.  
So today, I packed up some of these wonderful, unused devotionals into a box, to be given to a book-loving, homeschooling mother of 8 who lives down the road. Sure, she will have time to read them!
Maybe I'm just spreading the contagion of inadequacy around.

Box packed and shut, I sat down to do the Office of Readings. Great reading from St. Francis de Sales about how one's personal devotion has to fit with one's state in life. Then it dawned on me.

 I was reading from the writings of a saint! And had just read a psalm and a page of Deuteronomy.
And went back over psalm 68 to find the verse that says make a highway for him who rides on the clouds, and thought  for a few  seconds  about Our Lord's ascension into heaven.
A shorter version of this  process is repeated several more  times per day around here.

Maybe I wasn't drawn to all those nice devotional books, not because of laziness, but because I'm already satiated after a day of drinking fully from the best devotional fountain  there is.  A devotional that comes to us straight from the mouth of God, and handed to us by Christ, Who then invites us to pray it with Him.

Compared to that, Daily Holiness Hints for Catholic Gals or a year with St. Anybody just pales.

Monday, January 23, 2012

For our Marchers for Life

Psalm 83 from today's Morning Prayer  is one of the "gradual" psalms, or  "psalms of ascent", sung by the Jews as they made the ascent up from the lower lands and mounted the hills leading to Jerusalem. Some of the other gradual psalms are in the complementary psalter for Daytime Prayer. They are the ones you use if you want to say more than one daytime hour. What's nice about these psalms is that they are short and easily memorized. Once learned by heart, you can pray them while out in your car on errands during the day. That's one way to do a bit of daytime prayer, even if you don't have a book or device with your for the reading or ending prayer.

But back to 83. These lines should be dedicated to our tireless marchers who make a yearly pilgrimage, often in inclement weather, to make reparation for the sin of abortion, and to keep ever before the minds of our leaders that the pro-life movement will never go away:
They are happy,  whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.
As they go through the bitter valley, they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion...
...the Lord will not refuse any good to those who walk without blame. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jeeves for Novenas, and Don Bosco

 This isn't the first time I've mentioned the incredible Pray More Novenas website. But I'll keep on doing so, because it is only thanks to the amazing John-Paul who started this service last year that I have actually been able to complete several novenas in the last few months. Prior to that, I'd always forget by day four or five. This was not so much due to a geriatric memory (it's been a problem all my life) but to being a piety-challenged individual. I'm just not devout enough to keep such things high on my mental to-do list. Or else I'd remember it when I was miles away from the holy card or prayer book with the novena. Then later on, back home, I'd have forgotten all about it  once again.

I'm sure you know how that is.

That's why I'm thrilled to bits with Pray More Novenas.  It's just the thing for us forgetful/lazy/scatterbrained people. Sign up for a novena and an email with the prayer pops up in your inbox every morning for nine days. Just sit there and read it right off the screen. No more hunting for the holy card!  It's like having Jeeves, the perfect English valet, glide up to you each morning with a prayer card on a silver platter and say, "Your novena, sir."

Today is day one of the novena to St. John Bosco. Start today and you'll end up on his feast day. Don Bosco ('Don' is the Italian honorific used for priests. Doesn't mean 'father'.) is one of my favorites. A (fairly) modern saint who got in lots of trouble for throwing a wrench into the industrial cabal of his time by giving  poor homeless boys free lodging and schooling. Hence, a big drop in available slave wage child labor. There were frequent attempts to assassinate him, and these were deflected miraculously. His guardian angel protected him in the form of a huge grey dog that fought off attackers.

As a child, John Bosco put on magic and acrobatic shows for which the admission price was to pray the rosary with him.

Sign up for the novena. Add to your personal intentions and end to abortion, or perhaps more specifically, for some baby who is in danger of abortion this week.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jesus vs "Religion" is false dichotomy

Just doing my bit to counteract the "Love Jesus, Hate Religion" video that has gone viral. There are several Catholic Responses, but this is one of the best since it uses the rap format of the opposing video.

Pass it on!

Convenient Liturgical Calendar

A method for figuring out what week in the psalter you need has been posted here several times. But granted, it does require some mental math, plus a trek over to wherever you hang your parish calendar. Maybe too much to ask of us non-morning types who are huddled over the computer, waiting for the coffee to kick in.

Seth Murray's Online Liturgical Calendar  is the answer. You can  visit the website each day, or better yet, subscribe to daily emails, which include references for daily mass readings, which week of the liturgical year it is, what saints feast it is, if any, and best of all, what week of the psalter to use.

You might also want to check Seth's homepage to see his beautiful custom rosaries, prayer kneelers, and a very thorough tutorial book on the Liturgy of the Hours.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Despair to Trust to Victory in today's Office

Most days, by the time I'm saying the psalms of Evening Prayer, I've completely forgotten what psalms I read that morning at Lauds and the Office of Readings.   So now and then--not everyday--it's helpful to quickly  scan through all the psalms of the day. Taken together, they often seem to  form a narrative.

The Office of Readings and Morning Prayer  has us sorrowing and mourning over the ills suffered by the People of God: Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us...It is for you we face death .. all day long.Lord, why do you sleep? Arise, do not reject us for ever!....you have fed them with tears for their bread, an abundance of tears for their drink, you have made us the taunt of our neighbors, our enemies laugh us to scorn.
Think: the many martyrs of the 20th century and continuing persecution of the Church in the 21st. The harm done to the Church  by the sexual  abuse scandals. The assaults on faith by the "New Atheism" movement and its cheerleaders in the media.

By Daytime Prayer we are starting to take heart, acknowledging past sins, resolving to stick with God's commandments come what may, still stating some worries  about  enemies, but overall making acts of trust in God's mercy: Before I was afflicted I strayed but now I keep your word...it was good for me to be afflicted to learn your will...When I fear, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise...what can mortal man do against me?...In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge...

Then, this Evening, we quite talking about ourselves and our feelings about God, instead focussing on the Answer to Everything: Christ the King. He shall endure like the sun and the moon from age to age...In his day justice shall flourish...he shall save the poor when they cry, and the needy who are helpless...from oppression he will rescue their lives, to him their blood is dear...the victorious reign of our God has begun. 

Our final response is to ask not for an end to trials but for unfailing  confidence: let our hearts never waver from the love of your law. Lead us on through darkness to the dawning of eternal life.

All in all, a compelling story of the life of faith. Don't you think?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The 4 Senses of Psalm 55

A short while ago there was a post here about the 4 senses of scripture, the tools that help us to pray the psalms mindfully. Psalm 55 appears today in Daytime Prayer. Here is a quick run-down on how one might apply each of the four senses to it. First, to save you the trouble of looking it up, here's the psalm:

O God, listen to my prayer, *
do not hide from my pleading,
attend to me and reply; *
with my cares, I cannot rest.
I tremble at the shouts of the foe, *
at the cries of the wicked;
for they bring down evil upon me. *
They assail me with fury.
My heart is stricken within me, *
death’s terror is on me,
trembling and fear fall upon me *
and horror overwhelms me.
O that I had wings like a dove *
to fly away and be at rest.
So I would escape far away *
and take refuge in the desert.
I would hasten to find a shelter *
from the raging wind,
from the destructive storm, O Lord, *
and from their plotting tongues.
For I can see nothing but violence *
and strife in the city.
Night and day they patrol *
high on the city walls.
It is full of wickedness and evil; *
it is full of sin.
Its streets are never free *
from tyranny and deceit.

If this had been done by an enemy *
I could bear his taunts.
If a rival had risen against me, *
I could hide from him.
But it is you, my own companion, *
my intimate friend!
How close was the friendship between us. 
We walked together in harmony *
in the house of God.
As for me, I will cry to God *
and the Lord will save me.
Evening, morning and at noon *
I will cry and lament.
He will deliver my soul in peace *
in the attack against me:
for those who fight me are many, *
but he hears my voice.
God will hear and will humble them, *
the eternal judge:
for they will not amend their ways. *
They have no fear of God.
The traitor has turned against his friends; *
he has broken his word.
His speech is softer than butter, *
but war is in his heart.
His words are smoother than oil, *
but they are naked swords.
Entrust your cares to the Lord *
and he will support you.
He will never allow *
the just man to stumble.
But you, O God, will bring them down *
to the pit of death.
Deceitful and bloodthirsty men *
shall not live half their days.

O Lord, I will trust in you.

Employing the Literal sense, we can meditate on King David's betrayal by his son, Absalom, and a trusted advisor who joined Absalom's rebellion.  Anyone who has ever been treated badly by a friend or loved one will jump at the Moral sense, recalling their own hurt, and once more--if they haven't already done so--giving this situation to God in an act of trust. Perhaps the most obvious, and best way to pray this psalm is in the Allegorical sense, as suggested by the gospel reference beneath the psalm title: Jesus was seized with fear and distress. You couldn't find a better meditation on Gethsemane,  since this one is divinely inspired! Imagining Our Lord praying this psalm during His agony will also lead you back to the Moral sense again.This time, not seeing yourself as the injured party, but as the betrayer, as you remind yourself, "He's not just talking about Judas. I, too, have betrayed His friendship."  Last, the Anagogical sense reminds us that God will support us through all trials, and although we are not promised  lasting happiness in this world, our Just and Merciful Judge will make everything right in the end.

Remember, you don't try to figure out every sense of every psalm every day. If you're not a monk you probably don't have time for that. On the other hand, as the months and  years of faithfully praying the psalter roll by, you will find the ability to interpret the psalms becomes, at times, a sixth sense. On a good day these various meanings  will come to you  naturally.

80 Followers! plus Weekly Q&A

And I didn't even have to make my usual pathetic  plea as the number crept close to the next decade.

Welcome David, Nicole, and Martha to Coffee and Canticles.  Martha and Nicole both have blogs which anyone may check out by clicking on their pictures, which are the first two on the followers list.

This is your weekly chance to ask any questions related to the Divine Office. Don't be shy.

Alternatively, if you have, in the course of your daily liturgical prayer, received some great insights, feel free to share that as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Bit of Good news!

I'm sure no one reading this has to be told about Father Barron's Catholcism dvd series.  I've been enjoying this series since receiving it for Christmas, and am sending the dvds to my grown daughter as I finish each one. She in turn, is watching them with her non-Catholic boyfriend.

Has anyone noticed the amazing soundtrack by composer John Mullen? It takes traditional themes such as Veni Creator and orchestrates them in a variety of ways. It's beautiful and compelling.

I want this music!

And just learned, after emailing the producers, that they are working on it. A spring release is planned.

Ransomed! Rejoice!

The psalter of tonight's Evening Prayer includes  psalm 49, wherein the psalmist muses (with his harp) on the problem of the evident prosperity of so many evil people. He concludes that since this life is fleeting and  you can't take it with you, therefore, the passing wealth of sinners should not bother us. 

And even though we agree with the psalmist's conclusion, one can't help but wince a bit by that refrain, In his riches, man lacks wisdom, he is like the beasts that are destroyed.  There's two reasons for the wince: 1. As Christians we are hoping that even those rich sinners will be saved and 2. deep down we know that in many respects we fall into the category of rich sinner, relying too much on material things, clinging to our financial portfolios, or, if we don't have much in the way of a portfolio, obsessing too much over this lack.  

But there is a more positive theme we can focus on in this psalm. Look:
For no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life.
The ransom of his soul is beyond him.
He cannot buy life without end, 
nor avoid coming to the grave.
then, in the second half of the psalm:
But God will ransom me from death
and take my soul to himself.

It appears that the ancient Jews were not clear on what happens to us after death. Early in the Old Testament it seems that the belief was that everyone went to a generic realm of the dead. God had not given them a clear revelation about this. But the idea of eternal rewards and punishments slowly evolved as the Holy Spirit inspired the writers and teachers of Israel. By the time Jesus came, there was a definite idea of heaven and hell --see our Lord's parable of Lazarus and Dives-- that was held by most Jews (although the ruling Sadducees  still did not appear to believe in life after death). 

Whatever the psalmist was thinking when he said "God will ransom me", we can see here a prophecy of the redemption.   A much more cheering thought than that  bit about the beasts that are destroyed. 

Then, in the New Testament canticle from Revelation, God confirms that the hope of the psalmist was fulfilled in Jesus:
With your blood you ransomed for God men of every race and tongue, of every people and nation.

Here I used the Revised Standard Version, which uses the verb "ransomed" rather than the New American Bible "purchased", just to emphasize the way all three elements of tonight's psalter are so neatly tied together. Tonight's reading also follows up on this theme, including our suspicion, noted above, that on the one hand, all  of us are a bunch of foolish, rich sinners, but that all of us have been undeservedly justified by the one who has ransomed/ redeemed/bought us back.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Folk Mass as Museum Piece


I just spend a highly ambivalent hour listening to audio files on this website, which is dedicated to 60s and 70s Folk Mass music and nostalgia. I am so happy that most of these songs are not heard in Church any more, and sincerely hope this website will not lead to their revival. On the other hand, you know how hearing the music of one's lost youth can bring back a tsunami of memories. Mine was for most part a happy and interesting childhood. Listening to these catchy little tunes brought back the sights, sounds, places, and people that populated my elementary  and high school years. Furthermore, I'll disclose that  in 8th grade I received a guitar for Christmas, taught myself  a dozen chords plus the ubiquitous DOWN-down, UP-up, DOWN-up strum pattern, and spent one semester as a member of the Mt. St. John's Academy (Gladstone, NJ) folk mass group.  A year later, at Villa Walsh Academy, (Morristown,NJ) I was struck by  the weird disconnect between the gorgeous  classical sacred music we learned in the school concert chorus (Bach, Palestrina, di Lasso, Handel) and these happy-clappy tunes that we  bopped to during the Eucharistic sacrifice. I quit the folk group, confining my  guitar playing to John Denver, Chicago, Orleans, Carpenters, and other decidedly non-liturgical music.

If any of you are between the ages of 45 and 65, you might enjoy listening  to some of these audio files, even if you are now, like me, a  traditionalist when it comes to liturgical music. A couple more thoughts, with which I don't mean to generate controversy. (I know that musical taste varies. I know people that have been moved to greater love of God by songs that make me ill, and that the music which moves me might leave some people cold.)  Anyway, my observations:
  • Now I know why masses that include contemporary hymns and guitars accompaniment are no longer called "folk masses". Listening to all these files, I now realize (what didn't sink in when I was aged 7 through 17) was that these tunes were clearly in the nouveau folk style of  the Kingston Trio; Peter,Paul&Mary; and the Mamas&thePapas. Those were the pop groups of the early and mid sixties, which eventually were eclipsed by a more rock  and/or a more solid country/western sound. So folk mass music truly was imitating--for better or worse-- what the youth were listening to in those days. Unlike today's "contemporary" hymns, which don't seem to resemble any type of popular music I can think of, although a few of them seem to be aping Broadway show tunes. It seems that  "Contemporary Christian" (or Catholic) music only imitates itself. It is not really "contemporary" with any other style of popular music.
  • Of the list of audio files on the Folk Mass site, only two are still frequently heard in church today: the "Prayer of St. Francis" (Make me a channel of your peace) and "They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love". And the funny thing is, they are now played to organ accompaniment, something that would have seemed totally incongruous during the height of the folk mass era. But the ballad-like pace of the former makes organ work pretty well, and slowing down the latter from its former pop tempo has done the same. Of the two, I like the lyrics of the St. Francis one, but find the melody tedious. With "Know We Are Christians", I find the melody, at the stately organ pace to be acceptable, but not the lyrics, because they are self-adulatory. We should not sing of ourselves, but of God,His truth, His Church, and the salvation He won for us. (the St. Francis lyrics are a prayer of petition for virtues we need, rather than an over-confident  recital of virtues we think we have as in "Know We are Christians") 
  • If you listen to the parts of the mass--Gloria, Sanctus--in the audio files that are from the--God help us! Missa Bossa Nova--you will notice that the lyrics are identical to the "new" missal translation that went into effect this advent. That is because, in the mid-sixties, although mass was mostly in English, and the priest was facing the people, it was still the Roman missal of 1962: what is now called the Extraordinary form of the mass. So if anyone tells you that the mass of Paul VI was the cause of bad liturgical music, just tell them there was such a thing as Tridentine folk masses. The Gloria on the folk mass website is evidence of that. 
  • By the way, I am not slamming all contemporary music or use of guitars at mass. Just most of it. If truly talented and reverent musicians sing reverent, beautiful music whose lyrics reflect Catholic orthodoxy, great. 
  • Just don't sing Gather Us In, please.Or Here Am I, Lord

The Heavens Proclaim

Better than anything I could every say, Pope John Paul II's commentary on Psalm 19 A from today's Morning Prayer uncovers the treasures of this gorgeous morning psalm.

He points out that although there are pagan poems in honor of the sun, psalm 19 places the sun in its context: a creature, not a god.

He mentions the second half of Psalm 19, which we call 19B in the breviary and place in daytime prayer. He explains how the two halves fit together. (light from the sun+light from God's law). Brilliant! (pun intended)

He reminds us that the sun is a type of Christ--warrior and bridegroom.

Here it is for your enjoyment and inspiration:


Wednesday 30 January 2002

Psalm 18, God Creator creates brilliance of Sun
1. The sun, with its increasing brilliance in the heavens, the splendour of its light, the beneficial warmth of its rays, has captivated humanity from the outset. In many ways human beings have shown their gratitude for this source of life and well-being, with an enthusiasm that often reaches the peaks of true poetry. The wonderful psalm, 18[19], whose first part has just been proclaimed, is not only a prayerful hymn of extraordinary intensity; it is also a poetic song addessed to the sun and its radiance on the face of the earth. In this way the Psalmist joins the long series of bards of the ancient Near East, who exalted the day star that shines in the heavens, and which in their regions dominates with its burning heat. It reminds us of the famous hymn to Aton, composed by the Pharoah Akhnaton in the 14th century BC and dedicated to the solar disc regarded as a deity.

But, for the man of the Bible, there is a radical difference in regard to these hymns to the sun:  The sun is not a god but a creature at the service of the one God and Creator. It is enough to think of the words of Genesis:  "God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.... God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.... And God saw that it it was good" (Gn 1, 14,16,18).

2. Before examining the verses of the Psalm chosen by the liturgy, let us take a look at it as a whole. Psalm 18[19] is like a diptych:  in the first part (vv. 2-7) - that has today become our prayer - we find a hymn to the Creator, whose mysterious greatness is manifest in the sun and in the moon. In the second part of the Psalm (vv. 8-15), instead, we find a sapiential hymn to the Torah, the Law of God.
A common theme runs through both parts:  God lights the world with the brilliance of the sun and illuminates humanity with the splendour of his word contained in biblical Revelation. It is almost like a double sun:  the first is a cosmic epiphany of the Creator; the second is a free and historical manifestation of God our Saviour. It is not by chance that the Torah, the divine Word, is described with "solar" features:  "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (v. 9).

3. But let us now examine the first part of the Psalm. It begins with a wonderful personification of the heavens, that to the sacred author appear as eloquent witnesses to the creative work of God (vv. 2-5). Indeed, they "narrate", or "proclaim" the marvels of the divine work (cf. v. 2). Day and night are also portrayed as messengers that transmit the great news of creation. Their witness is a silent one, but makes itself forcefully felt, like a voice that resounds throughout the cosmos.
With the interior gaze of the soul, men and women can discover that the world is not dumb but speaks of the Creator when their interior spiritual vision, their religious intuition, is not taken up with superficiality. As the ancient sage says:  "from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author is seen by analogy" (Wis 13,5). St Paul too, reminds the Romans that "ever since the creation of the world, his (God's) invisible perfections can be perceived with the intellect in the works that have been made by him" (Rom 1,20).

4. The hymn then yields place to the sun. The shining globe is depicted by the inspired poet as a warrior hero who emerges from the marital chamber where he spent the night, that is, he comes forth from the heart of darkness and begins his unwearying course through the heavens (vv. 6-7). The sun is compared to an athlete, who does not know rest or fatigue, while our entire planet is enveloped in its irresistible warmth.
So the sun is compared to a bridegroom, a hero, a champion, who, by divine command, must perform a daily task, a conquest and a race in the starry spaces. And here the Psalmist points to the sun, blazing in the open sky, while the whole earth is wrapped in its heat, the air is still, no point of the horizon can escape its light.

5. The solar imagery of the Psalm is taken up by the Christian liturgy of Easter to describe Christ's triumphant exodus from the dark tomb and his entry into the fullness of the new life of the Resurrection. At Matins for Holy Saturday, the Byzantine liturgy sings:  "As the sun rises after the night in the dazzling brightness of renewed light, so you also, O Word, will shine with new brightness, when after death, you leave your nuptial bed". An Ode (the first) for Matins of Easter links the cosmic revelation with the Easter event of Christ:  "Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult with them because the whole universe, visible and invisible, takes part in the feast:  Christ, our everlasting joy, is risen". And another Ode (the third) adds:  "Today the whole universe, heaven, earth, and abyss, is full of light and the entire creation sings the resurrection of Christ our strength and our joy". Finally, another (the fourth), concludes:  "Christ our Passover is risen from the tomb like a sun of justice shining upon all of us with the splendour of his charity".
The Roman liturgy is not as explicit as the Eastern in comparing Christ to the sun. Yet it describes the cosmic repercussions of his Resurrection, when it begins the chant of Lauds on Easter morning with the famous hymn:  "Aurora lucis rutilat, caelum resultat laudibus, mundus exultans iubilat, gemens infernus ululat" - "The dawn has spread her crimson rays, And heaven rings with shouts of praise; The glad earth shouts her triumph high, And groaning hell makes wild reply".

6. The Christian interpretation of the Psalm, however, does not invalidate its basic message, that is an invitation to discover the divine word present in creation. Of course, as stated in the second half of the Psalm, there is another and more exalted Word, more precious than light itself, that of biblical Revelation.
Anyway, for those who have attentive ears and open eyes, creation is like a first revelation that has its own eloquent language:  it is almost another sacred book whose letters are represented by the multitude of created things present in the universe. St John Chrysostom says:  "The silence of the heavens is a voice that resounds louder than a trumpet blast:  this voice cries out to our eyes and not to our ears, the greatness of Him who made them" (PG 49, 105). And St Athanasius says:  "The firmament with its magnificence, its beauty, its order, is an admirable preacher of its Maker, whose eloquence fills the universe" (PG 27, 124). 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Does God Need Our Praise??

(reposted from February,2011)
Tomorrow  morning at Lauds  we will pray  the shortest psalm, 117. A great scripture memorization project for Catholics.

Oh Praise the Lord, all you Nations,
Acclaim him all you peoples!
Strong is his love for us,
He is faithful forever.

 This psalm contains in a nutshell the essence of  the psalter and the highest purpose of prayer: to praise God for his infinite goodness and love.
As a kid I used to wonder why we were supposed to praise God so much.  Was the Lord eternally fishing for compliments? So egotistical that He needed us telling him how wonderful he was all the time? Would his feelings get hurt if we didn't remember to commend him for goodness regularly? I knew God couldn't be like that, and figured it was just  one of those mysteries, like the Trinity, that we would only completely undesrstand  in heaven.

As the years went by, wise adults led me to wiser authors who had asked the same questions. I learned that God demands our praise not because He needs it, but because we need it. It’s similar to the question of why we should dress up for Mass. It’s true that “God doesn’t care how I’m dressed” insofar as it does nothing for Him. But it does a lot for us to worship God not just with our minds and lips, but with our bodies and yes, with our clothing. So to the extent that dressing up is good for us, He does indeed care.   When we recognize our place in the universe — as mere creatures, and fallen ones at that, who have been miraculously elevated to the status of sons and daughters — praise is the only proper and fitting response. In praising our creator and redeemer, we are conforming ourselves to Reality and taking our rightful places in the universe. To not do so is to live in unreality, to be less than fully human, or rather, to be spiritually disabled humans. So to praise God does far more for us — for our recovery from disability to health and eternal life — than it does for him.