Benedict XVI on Music, Liturgy, John Paul II

Our pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, gave a speech yesterday at Castelgandolfo (the papal summer residence), where he received doctorates honoris causa from two Polish universities. Even though he has gone on record saying that he would not write any more theological treatises, yet we continue to get these fresh bits and pieces of his thought via his correspondence and very occasional addresses that he gives to groups. In this regard, I hope that many more universities will want to give our beloved pontiff emeritus honorary doctorates, so that we can hear more speeches written by him!

This speech was published today in the Italian and German originals and in Polish translation, and I provide here my translation from the Italian. Besides being written in a polished and elegant Italian, it also contains that “freshness” that so often marks Benedict’s writing: always a joy to read what he writes. Being a lover of music and especially of sacred music, I found his reflection to be especially edifying.

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4 JULY 2015

Your Eminence!

Your Excellencies!

Distinguished Rectors!

Eminent Professors!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

At this time I can do none other than express my great and most heartfelt gratitude for the honor that you have given me in awarding me the doctorate honoris causa. I thank the dear Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Lord Chancellor, and the academic authorities of both universities. I am especially delighted by the fact that, in this way, my bond with Poland, with Krakow, with the homeland of our great Saint John Paul II, has become even stronger. Indeed, without him, my spiritual and theological development is not even imaginable. By his living example he showed us how the joy of great sacred music can go together with the task of common participation in the sacred liturgy, just as grandiose joy can accompany the simplicity of a humble celebration of faith.

In the post-conciliar years, a very ancient conflict about this point arose with renewed passion. I myself grew up in the region of Salzburg, marked by the great tradition of that city. There it went without saying that feast day Masses accompanied by a choir and orchestra were an integral part of our experience of faith in the celebration of the liturgy. It remains indelibly impressed on my memory how, for example, no sooner than the first notes of the Mozart Coronation Mass sounded, the heavens practically opened and one experienced the Lord’s presence very profoundly. (And my thanks also to you, who arranged for me to listen to Mozart, and also to the choir: some great pieces!)

Still, together with this, the new reality of the Liturgical Movement was also already present – above all, via one of our chaplains who later became vice regent and then rector of the major seminary of Freising. Later, during my studies in Munich, I entered in a much more concrete way into the Liturgical Movement by means of the classes of Professor Pascher, one of the most important experts of the Council in liturgical matters; and above all I entered in via the liturgical life of the seminary community. Thus, bit by bit, the tension between participatio actuosa true to the liturgical spirit and the solemn music that enfolded the sacred action became perceivable, even if I did not yet notice it so strongly.

In the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council it is written very clearly: “The patrimony of sacred music is to be conserved and built up with great care” (114). On the other hand, the text stresses as a fundamental liturgical category the participatio actuosa of all the faithful in the sacred action. Those things which, in the Constitution, were still peacefully together, were thereafter, in the reception of the Council, often seen in a relationship of dramatic tension. Significant circles of the Liturgical Movement held that, in the future, only concert halls could accommodate the great choral works and even orchestral Masses, not the liturgy. Here, rather, there could only be space for the common singing and prayer of the faithful. What’s more, there was dismay for the cultural impoverishment of the Church that would necessarily follow from this. In what way, then, could the two sides be reconciled? How could the Council be carried out in its entirety? These were the questions that weighed down upon me and on many other faithful – from ordinary people to those having a theological formation.

Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to pose the fundamental question: What, in reality, is music? Where does it come from and what is its aim?

I think that we can pinpoint three “places” from which music originates.

One of its first sources is the experience of love. When men were seized by love, another dimension of being opened up to them – a new greatness and breadth of reality. And this led even to a new mode of expression. Poetry, song, and music in general were born from this being struck, from this being awakened to a new dimension of life.

A second origin of music is the experience of sadness – of being touched by death, by pain, and by the depths (abysses) of life. Also in this case, new dimensions of reality opened up in opposite directions; new dimensions which cannot find expression in discourse alone.

Finally, music’s third place of origin is in the encounter with the divine which, from the beginning, is a part of that which defines the human reality. It is this encounter of man with the totally other and the totally great that elicits even more so new ways of expression. As a matter of fact, perhaps it could be said that even in the other two areas – love and death – the divine mystery touches us and, in that sense, it is the fact of being touched by God that constitutes the origin of music, all told. I find it moving to observe how in the Psalms, for example, singing alone does not suffice: appeal is made to all instruments. In this way the hidden music of all creation – its mysterious language – is aroused. With the Psalter, in which the motifs of death and love are also operative, we find ourselves right at the origin of the sacred music of the Church of God. One can say that the quality of music depends upon the purity and the greatness of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and of pain. The purer and truer this experience is, the purer and greater also will be the music that is born and develops from it.

At this point I would like to share an idea that lately has increasingly caught my attention, especially as the various cultures and religions become more interconnected. In different cultures and religions there is present a great literary corpus, great architecture, great paintings, and great sculptures. And everywhere, there is also music. But in no other cultural setting is there music of equal greatness to that which arose from the environment of the Christian faith: from Palestrina to Bach, to Handel – all the way to Mozart, Beethoven, and Bruckner. Western music is something unique that has no equal in other cultures. And this – it seems to me – should make us think.

Certainly, western music goes far beyond the religious and ecclesial environments. But, in any case, it finds its most fundamental origins in the liturgy and the encounter with God. In Bach, for whom the glory of God represents the ultimate end of all music, this is quite evident. The great and pure response of western music grew within the encounter with that God who, in the liturgy, makes himself present to us in Christ Jesus. To me, such music is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity. In order for such a response to have developed there was an encounter with truth, with the world’s true Creator. For this reason, great sacred music is a reality of theological rank and of permanent significance for the faith of all of Christendom, even if it is not at all necessary that it should be performed always and everywhere. However, it is also clear that it cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be an entirely special way to participate in the sacred celebration, in the mystery of faith.

If we call to mind the liturgy celebrated by St. John Paul II on every continent, we see the full breadth of possibilities for expressing the faith in the liturgical event; we see also how the great music of the western tradition is not foreign to the liturgy but is born and developed in it. In this way, it can contribute anew to shaping the liturgy. We do not know the future of our culture and of sacred music. But one thing seems clear to me: wherever the encounter with the living God – who, in Christ, comes to us – really takes place, there is born and grows anew also the response, the beauty of which comes from the truth itself.

The activity of the two universities that have bestowed upon me this doctorate honoris causa – for which I again offer wholehearted thanks – represents an essential contribution so that the great gift of music that comes from the Christian faith tradition might remain alive; also so that it might help to preserve the creative force of the faith even into the future. For this, I thank you all from my heart, not only for the honor you have given me, but also for all the work that you undertake in the service of the beauty of the faith. The Lord bless you all.

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An Apropos Prayer

In light of Friday’s tragic and disastrous Supreme Court ruling, this Sunday’s Collect (opening prayer) is quite fitting:

O God, who through the grace of adoption
chose us to be children of light,
grant, we pray,
that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

My homily from this Sunday can be downloaded on this page.

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God’s Apparent Powerlessness

Here is my homily for this Sunday.

In our gospel this Sunday we see a very clear demonstration of the attribute of God called omnipotence – the fact that he is “almighty”: he is able to do whatever he pleases; he has supreme power over all things. And even when he appears to be “checked out” of the scene – such as when Jesus was sleeping in the boat – yet he still knows what is happening and has power over it. Reflecting deeply on this scene will have important implications for our lives.

Indeed, in light of recent events, it might be good for us to raise a question about God’s omnipotence, for there are so many occasions when it seems to us that the Lord is asleep and doesn’t wake up, doesn’t respond. Think about the terrible shooting in Charleston – why did Almighty God not intervene? He certainly could have stopped the shooter. Even from our personal lives we can raise various examples and ask: If God is omnipotent, where was he when this or that thing happened? Why didn’t he change the outcome?

It turns out that in raising this very common question we are in good company, for it is even brought up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But the Catechism also gives an answer under the heading of “The mystery of God’s apparent powerlessness”. And I’d like to share the first paragraph with you. It says:

Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem… absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe”.

This answer therefore challenges us, when we witness God’s apparent powerlessness in our world, to seek the wisdom of God, which is wiser than worldly wisdom. Worldly or conventional wisdom might tell us: God was absent in that event – he didn’t intervene. But God’s wisdom leads us to think of the Cross, and how Christ was apparently powerless there as well, yet conquered evil all the same.

In other words, we need a spiritual outlook that sees beyond the limits of this world, as we look forward to the world to come and a sharing in Christ’s life for all eternity. In that way, we can see the events of our lives through the lens of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Could God have stopped something bad from happening? Certainly. Would we have liked him to have stopped something bad from happening? Certainly! But did he do so? No. And that does not make him any less powerful – or loving. He has triumphed definitively on the Cross, and apparently, in his plan, tolerating some particular evil now means even greater glory to come. God can always bring good out of evil.

Thus the Catechism continues: “Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ’s power. The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God’, and was able to magnify the Lord…”. We have seen this type of faith at work in Charleston where – unlike the cycle of violence in other cities marked by terrible crimes and tragedies – the community has responded with forgiveness and love. They have accepted the mystery of the cross – “the mystery of God’s apparent powerlessness”. This is already a great good that has come out of a great evil. And we await other goods to come.

In our human weakness we want things to go easily and smoothly in our lives, but that is simply not realistic – even less so since we are followers of Christ. May he heal us, then, of any distrust in his omnipotence. Let us seek his wisdom in the face of evil and take that long view that sees beyond the apparent defeat of the Cross to the glory of his resurrection. He is all-powerful, and it will be our glory in the life to come if we learn to trust now in his power and his plan. May Almighty God, then, increase our faith. Amen.

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Encyclical Hysteria


I have only scanned part of the encyclical and read excerpts of other parts thus far. It will be challenging, for sure. But it is part of the Papal Magisterium, so we must read it with an open and humble heart and follow its teaching.

That said, it also has to be interpreted correctly. There are already those who are interpreting it in the most hysterical of ways. Therefore, a warning:

1. Don’t listen to secular media reports about the encyclical. Whether it’s Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or your local news, DON’T LISTEN. The majority of journalists reporting on this are taking a political and worldly approach to interpreting this document. Some are trying to sow division in the Church and others simply don’t “get it”. If you want to hear news analysis about it, I highly recommend EWTN News Nightly instead.
2. READ THE ENCYCLICAL YOURSELF. It is part of the Papal Magisterium and therefore is important for us, as Catholics. If there are parts that you find particularly difficult or challenging, speak to a priest and ask him to help clarify things.

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that the encyclical takes its name from a canticle written by St. Francis of Assisi. And that canticle ends with a very strong spiritual emphasis, which must inform our own approach to living – whether we are thinking about the environment or about liturgy or whatever. As Fr. Z wrote on his blog recently:

[L]et’s not that Francis’ hymn ends with the real point of everything we do: salvation!

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Read the encyclical yourself and don’t trust secular reports!

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High Altar Mass for Benefactors

Though I didn’t have a chance to announce it beforehand, I wanted everyone to know that this morning at Holy Rosary, I celebrated Holy Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on our historic high altar, for the intention of our parish benefactors (see here for back story).

No fresh flowers this morning – they'll be put out in time for tomorrow's Mass.

No fresh flowers this morning – they’ll be put out in time for tomorrow’s Mass.

Since my last benefactor update, we have made great progress in the renovations to one of our buildings that will enable it to house our new Reading Program. I think that it will actually be called a “learning center”, since there will also be some homework and tutoring done there as well; the full name remains to be announced. We are on track to open it for the new school year.

Our summer day camp program will begin in a couple of weeks, and a full compliment of activities are scheduled for the participants. Also, we have the area youth “work camp” coming to help us do some much-needed cleaning out of some of our spaces soon.

So, not a lot of news since my last update, but in any case none of what we are doing would be possible without the generous support of our parishioners and many outside benefactors. So, once again, many thanks!

If any readers are interested in how they can help, please drop me a line!

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Seminarians Take Note: First Blessings

Me giving my blessing to Bishop Baker seven years and one day ago, after he ordained me.

Me giving my blessing to Bishop Baker seven years and one day ago, after he ordained me.

Seminarians who are preparing for ordination often wonder about how to give their first priestly blessings, both after their ordination and First Masses, and in other situations where people approach them – usually during the first year especially (for which, incidentally, there is NO plenary indulgence, contrary to popular opinion).

The great Fr. Hunwicke offers a very fine suggestion in this regard. Here is the Latin version:

Per impositionem manuum mearum sacerdotalium et per intercessionem beatae Mariae semper Virginis, Sancti N. et omnium Sanctorum, omni benedictione caelesti atque terrestri benedicat te Omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus. Amen.

See his blog for the full article and the English version.

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More Fundamental and More Modern: Catholic

Read this snippet from Fulton Sheen’s excellent collection of essays, Old Errors and New Labels (pages 49-50), and tell me if it isn’t extremely relevant for our time:

[The Catholic Church] prides itself on being neither Fundamentalist nor Modernist…. It is not Fundamentalist, because more fundamental than Fundamentalism; it is not Modernist, because more modern than Modernism.

Fundamentalism assumes that the Bible is fundamental. Catholicism retorts… that the Bible is not a book but a collection of books, and hence the question more fundamental than Fundamentalism is: Who gathered the books together, and declared that they would constitute the Bible, and be regarded as the revealed Word of God? To answer this question is to get to a body beyond a book, namely, a Church with a spirit; for Pentecost was not the descent of books on the heads of the Apostles but the descent of tongues. From that day on it was to be a tongue and a voice, and not a book, that would be fundamental in religion.

The Church is not only more fundamental than Fundamentalism, but she is also more modern than Modernism, because she has a memory that dates back over twenty centuries; and therefore she knows that what the world calls modern is really very ancient – that is, its modernity is only a new label for an old error. Modernism has an appeal only to minds who do not know what is ancient, or perhaps antiquated. The Church is like an old schoolmaster who has been teaching generations and generations of pupils. She has seen each new generation make the same mistakes, fall into the same errors, cultivate the same poses, each believing it has hit upon something new. But she, with her memory, which is tradition, knows that they are making the same mistakes all over again, for in the wisdom born of the centuries she knows very well that what one generation calls modern the next generation will call un-modern. She knows also that Modernism is no more logical than a sect called “Three O’Clockism,” which would adapt our gods and our morals to our moods at three o’clock. The Church knows too that to marry the present age and its spirit is to become a widow in the next. Having constantly refused to espouse the passing, she has never become a widow, but ever remains a mother to guide her children and to keep them not modern but ultra-modern, not behind the times but behind the scenes, in order that from that vantage-point they may see the curtain ring down on each passing modern fad and fancy.

There are many today who want the Church to become a widow (though they think of it more as “adapting the Church to the needs of the modern world”). What wisdom Sheen had, and well over 80 years ago! I encourage all to read this excellent book.

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A Gem on Beautiful Churches

A beautiful medieval statue I saw today.

A beautiful medieval statue I saw today.

I attended a talk by Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco this morning, and he had a very interesting statement to make about the cost of building beautiful churches.

The story went that the San Francisco Cathedral was started in 1963 and that there was a fairly sizable budget involved. By the time it was finished a few years later, however, the “social climate” had changed (60s revolution) and at that point people were complaining about the fact that so much money should have been spent on a place of worship instead of on serving the poor.

Dorothy Day was apparently present at one such gathering, and the Archbishop quoted her as having said:

“The Church has an obligation to feed the poor, and we cannot spend all our money on buildings. However, there are many kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, and we must give people food. But there is also a hunger for beauty – and there are very few beautiful places that the poor can get into. Here is a place of transcendent beauty, and it is as accessible to the homeless in the Tenderloin [neighborhood] as it is to the mayor of San Francisco.”

This dovetails very nicely with other things I’ve said in the past here on the blog concerning the importance of beauty in our churches and in our worship and the need to invest money and resources in it (for example, here, here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, the type of utilitarian stinginess that Dorothy Day decried still comes up rather frequently nowadays, so we need to keep speaking about these things. The good Archbishop also spoke about the biblical imperative to give our first fruits to God — the very first and best of what we have. We have a ways to go!

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Demonic Entertainment

A very troubling phenomenon came to my attention yesterday, and I felt the need to share about it on Facebook and also via a letter to the parents and teachers of my parish school. I am going to go ahead and share the relevant portion of that letter with you here as well, so that more will be made aware of this dangerous trend.

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It was recently brought to my attention that there is a new “challenge” that has become “viral” among young people, called “Charlie Charlie”. It involves summoning a Mexican demon named Charlie and asking it to manifest itself in a certain way — similar to using a ouija board.

I am warning you about this so that you can be vigilant with your children about it. Anything having to do with the demon is very serious and to be avoided at all costs. It is never “entertaining” to summon a demon. Asking the Devil to entertain us is a sure recipe for disaster.

Exorcists regularly note that one of the causes of demonic possession and other serious spiritual afflictions is the use of ouija boards and the like. These things are promoted as “innocent fun” but are anything but. Please be vigilant with your children and instill in them a healthy fear of evil and the occult. I hate to think that any of the children of our community might be harmed because of these wicked things that are promoted as fun and glamorous.

While we must not give undue attention or curiosity to things of the occult, on the other hand we must be aware of it so that we can avoid it.

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If you (reader) have participated in such activities, I urge you to pray earnestly,repent of it, and go talk to a priest; he will help you determine if it is matter for Confession (if you are unsure) and can also give you advice on how to protect yourself from evil.

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An Ill-Advised Practice

I have posted here on various occasions about the ill-advised practice of Communion in the Hand (use the blog’s search function to find previous articles). I note today that Crisis Magazine has a fine article about the same. Do take a look. We need to continue to raise awareness about this issue so that reverence and respect for the Most Blessed Sacrament will increase in our country and throughout the world.

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Bouncing Baby Girl

Once again, many thanks to all of you for your prayers. As you know, I’ve posted here from time to time about my sister’s difficult pregnancy. This morning at 11:42am Eastern Time, she was delivered of a healthy baby girl weighing 8 pounds 9 ounces, 20 inches in length! Catriona Dawn is beautiful and we are all so excited!

Mother and child are doing well!

Mother and child are doing well!

I am relieved that both mom and baby are doing well, given the various health problems – some extremely serious – that were involved along the way. In the end, my sister Sarah was able to carry the baby to full term and the labor was very quick, with everything going smoothly. I’ll be going home in early August for a family reunion and can’t wait to meet my new niece then. Again, many thanks for your prayers! Thanks be to God!

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Another Homily on Vocation Boom

The web site “Vocation Boom!” asked me to record another homily for them – this one, for the Solemnity of the Ascension. If you’re interested, you can listen to it by clicking here.

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