Thursday, August 21, 2014

St. Pius X on the Divine Office

I don't have to write a blog post today because Pope St. Pius X has already done it for me.

In today's Office of Readings he tells us about the psalms, their place of pride in the liturgy (mass and office), and why the psalms form us in the mind and heart of Christ. I know you can get it online, but just to make it easy for those of you who don't regularly do the Office of Readings, here it is:

From the apostolic constitution Divino afflatuof Saint Pius X, pope
(AAS 3 [1911], 633-635)

The song of the Church

The collection of psalms found in Scripture, composed as it was under divine inspiration, has, from the very beginnings of the Church, shown a wonderful power of fostering devotion among Christians as they offer to God a continuous sacrifice of praise, the harvest of lips blessing his name. Following a custom already  established in the Old Law, the psalms have played a conspicuous part in the sacred liturgy itself, and in the divine office. Thus was born what Basil calls the voice of the Church, that singing of psalms, which is the daughter of that hymn of praise (to use the words of our predecessor, Urban VIII) which goes up unceasingly before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and which teaches those especially charged with the duty of divine worship, as Athanasius says,the way to praise God, and the fitting words in which to bless him. Augustine expresses this well when he says: God praised himself so that man might give him  fitting praise; because God chose to praise himself man found the way in which to bless God.

The psalms have also a wonderful power to awaken in our hearts the desire for every virtue. Athanasius says: Though all Scripture, both old and new, is divinely inspired and has its use in teaching, as we read in Scripture itself, yet the Book of Psalms, like a garden enclosing the fruits of all the other books, produces its fruits in song, and in the process of singing brings forth its own special fruits to take their place beside them. In the same place Athanasius rightly adds: The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.Augustine says in his Confessions: How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears.

Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise? Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.

How's that for inspiration to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with renewed commitment and enthusiasm?

And now, if you have any questions, please submit them in the comments. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quick Question for Brits, Canadians, Aussies...

...and other assorted users of the Harper Collins breviary, three volume edition.
When I wrote my book two years ago, I stated that the Harper Collins breviary takes its scripture readings from the Jerusalem Bible. That was my memory from using the HC single-volume edition for a while back in the early 80s.

Since the book came out, I've seen it noted in several places that in fact, the HC reaadings come from a  variety of Bible translations: some from the Jerusalem, some from the RSV, and even some from the "Good News" bible of the 1970s.

Can anyone here who uses HC clarify this for me, and also give an estimate on the ratios of the various translations used? E.g., does any one translation predominate, or is it a three way split?

I ask because one American reader wants to purchase the HC based on my saying it used the Jerusalem Bible. I don't want to have him lead astray. HC breviaries are pretty expensive when purchased here in the states, so we have to make sure it's worth his while to do so.

Enchanting Chant Resources

Memorial of St Clare of Assisi. Don't miss her letter today in the Office of Readings. picture credit:

I was fooling around on the internet this morning and came across a few more chant resources.

Chanting the Liturgy of the Hours is something I love more in theory than in fact these days, but once the school year starts and I have a little more peace, quiet, and actual time to do it, I hope to get back to chanting Lauds a few days a week.

This link gives various Sunday lauds and vespers chants for the liturgical seasons and ordinary time.

This blog post on the Walking With God blog has many, many links for chant and music sources, both Latin and English. I've only just begun checking some of them out  myself.

I think I've mentioned Musical Breviary before.  The gentleman who runs this site has accomplished the seemingly Herculean project of recording podcasts of daily chanted lauds and vespers for the entire year. Due to copyright issues he uses a public domain version of the psalms and readings. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Veils Off, Veils On& other Random Delight in the Transfiguration

Originally posted two years ago--just some thoughts on one of my favorite feasts.

Part of this title seems like  a shameless ploy to get pageview traffic, drawing in readers who are interested in the question of wearing mantillas at mass. Or the even hotter controversy in this wide world over the hijab. But what I'm actually thinking of is the Office of Readings for this, one of my very favorite feasts.

In the first reading--a very approriate reading, since it features Moses, a supporting player in today's feast--St. Paul plays on the metaphor of the veil. The Veil that hid the reflected glory of God on the face of Moses, the veil  of misunderstanding that keeps the Jews from seeing Scripture fulfilled in Christ, and the veil that the "god of this present age" puts between unbelievers and the truth. And finally, the joy of that veil's removal, so that we may now see "the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ."

The second reading, from the fairly obscure Anastasius of Sinai, has answered a question that I had for years. You know when Jesus said in Matt 16:28, "Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death bfore they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" ?  I always wondered what He meant there. After all, the apostles died before the second coming.  I supposed that Jesus must have been referring to St. John, who certainly saw the triumphant Kingdom in his visions on Patmos. I never noticed what Anastasius noticed: that this prediction is followed up in the very next sentence  with its fulfillment: six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John...  the Transfiguation was the event in which three apostles saw the glory of the kindgom before they tasted death!

Of course, Anastasius was not hindered by the chapter divisions in the gospels that tend to keep  us from connecting these types of dots.

Okay. Here's one more thing I always think about and laugh about (it's a feastday--we should find things to laugh about!).  How did the apostles recognize Moses and Elijah? We're told that the Jews eschewed most  representational art out of concern for avoiding the temptation to idol worship. So how did they know who was speaking with Jesus on Mt. Tabor? Was Moses carrying his signature tablets of the law? Did Elijah arrive in his chariot, or perhaps have that helpful raven on his shoulder? The gospels don't tell us. Inqiring minds want to know.

There is so much in the Transfiguration account: the voice of the Father, the sweet and gentle, rise and do not be afraid,  and the interesting connection between Elijah and John the Baptist. It's not wonder the Church has us mark this event twice a year-once on a Sunday in Lent and once as a feast.

Pay attention at Evening Prayer today. The New Testament canticle is one we only get today and on the feast of the Epiphany.  It's an adaptation of 1 Timothy, 3:16, with a repeated response worked in. Knowing that it's only used for these two feasts, it makes for a great little meditation to think about how those two are connected.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A dresser of sycamores? plus Q&A

I'm afraid that sometimes, when I'm reading scripture, I get so curious about some minor, obscure  verse that I can barely pay attention to the rest of the reading. Such was the case today with the reading from Amos in the Office of Readings. Amos was explaining that he wasn't prophesying as some sort of career prophet, but only obeying God's orders. He describes himself as "a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores."

Screeech! That's the sound of my brain applying the brakes to meditation and turning around to head in the direction of mere curiosity. A dresser of sycamores? Sycamores need dressing?  The sycamores I know are at best ornamentals. They are frequently chosen as trees with which to line streets because they are  hardy and put down deep, rather than sprawling roots. They also have very interesting, patchy bark:
photo credit

In short, although sycamores are very nice trees, they do not appear to be subjects for dressing. ( They do make great climbing trees, so I totally get Zaccheus making use of one, but that is another story.)

So, I did a little googling and learned that the middle eastern sycamore is a different species. A relative of the mulberry, it produced a small fruit known as the "poor man's fig". These sycamore fruits are slow to ripen. Apparently both the ripening speed and the taste  is improved if the fruit is pierced during a certain stage of its growth. So that is what Amos did as a sideline when not tending sheep. Here is a picture of the fruit.

Anyway,poking holes in fruit does indeed sound like a lowly job, clearly establishing Amos as not one of those "inside the beltway" prophets. 

And I'm sure St. Augustine or one of the Fathers would comment that the piercing of the sycamore fruit to make it ripen is a type of either Christ's redeeming death, and/or the purpose of suffering in His Mystical Body, the Church.

While I'm here, we'll make this our Q&A post. Any and all breviary-related confusion can be dealt with in the comments sections below. Ask away.