Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Saint's Eve and Reformation Day

A reminder to do Evening Prayer I of All Saints Day tonight.

Some of our Protestant friends celebrate Reformation Day today, and even make this event into a modified Halloween party, with candy and pumpkins and whatnot. This Catholic author finds that ironic, and explains why in an amusing essay.

But in the interests of ecumenism I want to give credit where credit is due. Martin Luther always maintained what the Catholic Church and Church Fathers have always taught about the importance for praying the Psalms. Here are his words explaining that with great eloquence.

Martin Luther's Prefaces to the Psalter
(1) Preface to the Revised Edition of the German Psalter (1531)
The Psalter has been lauded and loved by many holy fathers above the other books of the Scripture; and, indeed, the work itself doth sufficiently praise its Author. Nevertheless, we also must utter our praise and thanks for it …
Yea, the Psalter ought to be precious and dear, were it for nothing else but the clear promise it holds forth respecting Christ’s death and resurrection, and its prefiguration of His kingdom and of the whole estate and system of Christianity, insomuch that it might well be entitled a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended, and compacted into an enchiridion or Manual. It seems to me as if the Holy Ghost had been please to take on himself the trouble of putting together a short Bible, or book of exemplars, touching the whole of Christianity or all the saints, in order that they who are unable to read the whole Bible may nevertheless find almost the whole sum comprehended in one little book … the Psalter is the very paragon of books …
Moreover, it is not the poor every-day words of the saints that the Psalter expresses, but their very best words, spoken by them, in deepest earnestness, to God Himself, in matters of utmost moment. Thus it lays open to us not only what they say about their works, but their very heart and the inmost treasure of their souls; so that we can spy the bottom and spring of their words and works—that is to say, their heart—in what manner of thoughts they had, how their heart did bear itself, in every sort of business, peril, and extremity …
What is the Psalter, for the most part, but such earnest discourse in all manner of such winds? Where are finer words of gladness than in the Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving? There thou lookest into the hearts of all the saints as into fair and pleasant gardens, yea, as into the heavens, and seest what fine, hearty, pleasant flowers spring up therein, in all manner of fair gladsome thoughts of God and His benefits. And again, where wilt thou find deeper, more plaintive, more sorrowful words of grief than in the Psalms of complaint? There thou lookest again into the hearts of all the saints, as into death, yea, as into hell. How they are filled with darkness and gloom by reason of the wrath of God! So also, when they discourse of fear and hope, they use such words, that no painter could so portray, nor any Cicero or orator could so express, the fear or hope.
And (as I said) the best of all is, that these words of theirs are spoken before God and unto God, which puts double earnestness and life into the words. For words that are spoken only before men in such matters do not come so mightily form the heart, are not such burning, living, piercing words. Hence also it comes to pass that the Psalter is the Book of all the Saints; and every one, whatsoever his case may be, find therein Psalms and words which suit his case so perfectly, that they might seem to have been set down solely for his sake, in such sort that anything better he can neither make for himself, nor discover, nor desire. One good effect of which, moreover, is that if a man take pleasure in the words here set forth and find them suit his case, he is assured he is in the communion of the saints, and that all the saints fared just as he fares, for they and he sing all one song together, particularly if he can utter them before God even as they did, which must be done in faith, for an ungodly man relishes them not …
To sum up; wouldest thou see the Holy Catholic Church portrayed to the life in form and colour, as it were in miniature? Open the Psalter. Thus thou shalt therein find thine own self, and the right [knowledge of self], God Himself also and all the creatures.
Let us, therefore, take heed also to thank God for such unspeakable benefits, and to accept and make use of them to the praise and honour of God, that we bring not upon ourselves wrath by our unthankfulness. For, formerly, in the time of darkness, what a treasure it had been esteemed if men had been able rightly to understand one psalm, and to read or hear it in plain German! and yet they were not able. Blessed now are the eyes which see the things that we see, and the ears which hear the things that we hear! And yet take heed—alas, we already see, that we are like the Jews in the wilderness, who said of the manna, ‘Our soul loatheth this light bread.’ It behoves us to mark what is written in the same place, how they were plagued and died, that it may not befall us also after the same sort.
To this end, may the Father of all grace and mercy help us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be blessing and thanks, honour and praise, for this German Psalter, and for all His innumerable gifts, for evermore; Amen and Amen!

(2) Preface to the Edition of the Psalter in 1545
Every Christian who would abound in prayer and piety ought, in all reason, to make the Psalter his manual; and, moreover, it were well if every Christian so used it and were so expert in it as to have it word for word by heart, and could have it even in his heart as often as he chanced to be called to speak or act, that he might be able to draw forth or employ some sentence out of it, by way of a proverb. For indeed the truth is, that everything that a pious heart can desire to ask in prayer, it here finds Psalms and words to match, so aptly and sweetly, that no man—no, nor all the men in the world—shall be able to devise forms of words so good and devout. Moreover, the Psalter doth minister such instruction and comfort in the act of supplication; and the Lord’s Prayer doth so run through it, and it through the Lord’s Prayer, that the one helpeth us finely to understand the other, and the two together make a pleasant harmony …
In my opinion, any man who will but make a trial in earnest of the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer will very soon bid the other pious prayers adieu, and say, Ah, they have not the sap, the strength, the heart, the fire, that I find in the Psalter; they are too cold, too hard, for my taste!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cardinal Sarah and Electronic Breviaries

People interested in liturgy have recently been stirred up a bit by some remarks of Cardinal Sarah about the use of electronic devices for liturgical (or perhaps any type of) prayer. Apparently he thinks using a breviary app on a smartphone or tablet is a bad idea.

I am a great fan of Cardinal Sarah. Lately I've been using his book The Power of Silence for reading during Eucharistic adoration, and find that is helps me stay focused and aware of why I'm there. I also reflected on Cardinal Sarah's insights while attending an Extraordinary form mass last week. (I've always been a bit hyperactive and so, while appreciating the EF mass in principle I sometimes find it difficult to get through in practice.) So I'm taking what Cardinal Sarah says seriously, and thought we could discuss it here.

His remarks about breviary apps were a tiny part of  a much longer  speech given recently to the Roman Forum on Summorum Pontificum.  The whole speech is worth reading, but for our purposes we want to read at least this paragraph, where he says that, when we embark on liturgical prayer:

Secondly, I must—somehow—manage to put aside, even if this must be temporary, the world and its constant demands. I cannot participate fully and fruitfully in the Sacred Liturgy if my focus is elsewhere. We all benefit from the advances of modern technology, but the many (maybe too many?) technological devices upon which we rely can enslave us in a constant stream of communication and demands for instant responses. We must leave this behind if we are to celebrate the liturgy properly. Perhaps it is very practical and convenient to pray the breviary with my own mobile phone or tablet or another electronic device, but it is not worthy: it desacralizes prayer. These apparatuses are not instruments consecrated and reserved to God, but we use them for God and also for profane things! Electronic devices must be turned off, or better still they can be left behind at home when we come to worship God. I have spoken previously of the unacceptability of taking photographs at the Sacred Liturgy, and of the particular scandal that this gives when it is done by clergy vested for liturgical service. We cannot focus on God if we are busy with something else. We cannot hear God speaking to us if we are already occupied communicating with someone else, or behaving as a photographer.

Okay, here's my thoughts.
Seen in context, I believe the Cardinal's greatest objection is to the use of these devices inside a church. It sounds like he's sometimes, during solemn occasions with many clergy present, caught sight of priests whipping out their cell phones to check messages and take photographs during mass or solemn vespers or some other liturgical function.  And I'll bet he's been annoyed by the sounds of electronic notifications from those who forget to turn their sounds off before entering the church. Not annoyed on his own behalf, but on God's. From this perspective, phones and tablets do indeed seem to desacralize prayer. 

 I believe his critique of using a breviary app is mostly given with priests in mind, who: 1. have a solemn obligation to pray the Divine Office and 2. Own print breviaries and know how to use them.  He's pointing out that a sacred book is a sacramental and for most of us is more conducive to a prayerful, contemplative spirit than an electronic device (even if we don't succumb to temptations to interrupt our prayer when a message notification pops up.)

I don't think he was addressing the fact that breviary apps have made it possible for thousands of laymen to learn how to pray and appreciate the Divine Office, people who would have been put off by the initial effort to figure out the ribbons and the calendar for each day.  Or people who cannot afford a four-volume breviary but, because they already have cell phones, can use a free app.   

But we can apply what he said to us laymen. Assuming you own a print breviary, it's probably better to use it when possible.  If you find yourself checking phone messages in the middle of praying with an app, it's time to rethink using it, or form a firm habit of turning off notifications whenever you use your phone or tablet to pray. 

Also, even if you are NEVER tempted to check your phone while at mass, there is something very wholesome in the idea of turning a phone off (as in powering off, not just silencing notifications) or even leaving it behind in the car, before you enter church. It's a powerful symbol of leaving the world behind us before we approach the holy altar of Christ's sacrifice.  Removing one's sandals before stepping on holy ground. 

Remember that Cardinal Sarah's remarks are simply his personal opinions. But we should take them seriously. But I will keep recommending ibreviary to newcomers who don't have a book or find it confusing to use.

Okay, everyone. Share your thoughts.