Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: The Meaning of the Sanctus

At the end of the Preface (depending on the Preface), various invocations of the angels and saints in Heaven are made. We are then called to join their song humbly. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is something very important to remember. When we begin the Sanctus, we are not simply saying it alone. We are moved outside of time, united to heaven in a very mystical way.

The Sanctus is a very rich prayer when we consider what exactly is going on. Two scenes are called to mind in this prayer, both of which were introductions. The first is from the Prophet Isaiah:

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple. Upon it stood the seraphims: the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they hew. And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory. And the lintels of the doors were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts.
And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.
I would like to submit that when Isaiah saw this vision, Isaiah saw the Mass. Remember, heaven cannot be measured via time, because it is outside of time. God is timeless. When he saw the angels in their chant, he was seeing yesterday, his present time, and several millennia later, right up to the present day. He states that he was in the temple. Temples are the place of sacrifice. The smoke from the incense filled the temple, and God himself was present. What he saw (but perhaps could not explain), was that God was present as both priest and victim. Recognizing the amazing event he witnessed, he saw how unworthy he was. Not only because he saw God, but rather that he saw God accomplish his ultimate plan, the salvation of the human race. As a result of this, an angel comes and purifies him, so that he can prepare worthily for the event he is about to witness.

The priest finds himself in a similar situation. After that purification (which we all receive in the Sacraments of Initiation), God asks for people to accept the calling of the priesthood. Not everyone will answer that call. When the priest does, he may ask, like Isaiah does, how long must he preach the Gospel? How long must he offer the Mass? The answer God provides is instructive:

Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land shall be left desolate. And the Lord shall remove men far away, and she shall be multiplied that was left in the midst of the earth. And there shall be still a tithing therein, and she shall turn, and shall be made a shew as a turpentine tree, and as an oak that spreadeth its branches: that which shall stand therein, shall be a holy seed
In short, the priest is meant to act until the end of the world. Likewise, from the saying of the first Mass until the end of time, there will always be a priest somewhere, at some hour of the day, fulfilling the Lord’s request throughout the earth. This call remains equally true to the faithful, albeit in a different way. The Sanctus is a reminder that we too must live according to the Gospel to the end of the earth. The worship of God was meant for all creation. If one iota of creation is not yet participating in it, the job of a Christian is never done. Like Isaiah, we must realize our unworthiness to partake in the mystery of God’s redemption. This task is perfectly suited towards God. God is Holy. His very name is called Holy. When something was said three times in ancient times, it was a very special confirmation of what was being said.

Yet what makes the Canon such a holy thing? It is more than just our participation at Calvary. Through the Roman Canon, Holy Week itself is retraced.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On True Holiness

Stop me if you've heard this one before.  (Actually don't, as this is my blog, I make the rules.)  Whenever extolling someone, you hear "he is so holy!"  This is one of the most dangerous statements around.  If one doesn't understand what true holiness is, they are giving a false assessment, and that has the potential to mislead others.  While some might view this a hard assessment, I would object.

The beauty about God is He has no desire to hide all of His works from His creation.  Sure, some things might be clouded a bit in mystery, but he points us the way to something, and faith makes up for what we lack.  So it is with holiness.  We have seen many priests disgrace their priesthood.  The shocked faithful always say "but he was so holy!"  Perhaps we need to do a more in-depth examination of what holiness is.

Our first mistake is to define holiness as something we do.  That is alien to the Biblical world.  Rather, being holy was what we are. In being holy, we are set apart.  Holiness is what we do to represent our being set apart.  Through our bodies, we carry out certain actions, and these actions can be judged as to whether they are in accord with a state of being set apart from the ordinary.  If they are not, and we are all too ordinary (like the world), that being set apart is used in our condemnation.

So in judging holiness, we must look at acts that are set apart from the "normal" ways of the world, or of our nature.  Our nature was corrupted by sin.  As a result, we stopped acting as if we were set apart to give God glory, and acted to the contrary.  Right away this eliminates marks of being holy such as eloquence in speech, or the ability to repeat intellectual propositions that can be turned into talk points.  The mouth can preach orthodoxy with great eloquence.  Yet the heart can also use that mouth to manipulate, even under the appearance of orthodoxy.  When Marc Antony spoke in Julius Caesar, he was assenting to the orthodoxy of the day from the powers that be.  Yet through manipulation, he managed to undermine those very figures.

Likewise, when Satan approaches our Lord in the desert, everything he says is true and orthodox.  He indeed was able to quote scripture with the best of them.  Yet he was using orthodoxy to undermine proper practice, or orthopraxy.  He was tempting Christ towards vanity and arrogance.  If he hooked Christ on those things, he could break Him later on the orthodoxy stuff.

That is why when we are measuring holiness, we must look for those traits and virtues which are not "of this world."  Anyone can speak with eloquence, but true Christian charity is hard to fake.  Authentic Christian faith, hope, and charity cannot come from within.  They can only come from externally.  The world cannot fake these things.

We are given a second tool outside of these main virtues, in that they are measured by how we live our vocation.  In the secular world, our profession defines who we are.  A businessman is concerned with striking the balance of making their business efficient yet still profitable.  To the extent they are both efficient and profitable, we can measure how successful a businessman they are.

God gives each and every human person a vocation, a calling.  Those vocations have certain requirements to them.  A priest is called to a life (if not always a vow) of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Poverty comes about in not relying on the things of this world, even if we have them.  Chastity (by extension celibacy) is in accordance with the fact that they are living a life in anticipation of the Kingdom of heaven, a sign for all of us of our eventual destination.  Finally, obedience is the recognition that they are priests of something other than themselves, so what they want is not always what is best.

Another vocation exists for the married life which people are called to.  While many might not realize it, they have the same requirements, they just carry them out in a different manner.  The life of poverty calls them to cling to their spouses, the greatest created gift God has given them.  Material possessions should never take the place of primary devotion over their spouse.  In chastity, they are called to realize that they can be with their spouse only, and no other.  To the extent the eyes (and person) set themselves upon another, they are not living chastely.  Finally they submit in obedience to their spouse by realizing that their needs are no longer of paramount importance.  The benefit of their spouse is their business, and more importantly, the benefit of the family as a whole trumps all.  A businessman who increases his own efficiency and profit at the expense of the company he works for will either find himself fired or in jail for fraud.  Likewise a spouse who puts their own needs above that of the company he works for (their family) will place their souls in mortal danger.

Like those authentic virtues, they are incredibly tough to fake when viewed properly.  They are something that must be continually done.  They define who we are.  One may be able to trick themselves into leading a double life.  Yet they will be found out eventually by others, who can examine their actions over a lifetime.  Since they are not living towards their vocation in their double life, they cannot be considered as practicing holiness, even if they do great things.  Indeed, those great things become condemnations.  A husband cannot practice marital chastity for long when he places the needs of himself as paramount.  Eventually, those needs will lead to his own fulfillment.  What does his wife think?  Who cares!  He is looking out for number one.

Likewise, a priest that spends his lifetime building up material possessions will eventually come to be defined by them.  Without that character of poverty, he will not long have a character of chastity or obedience.  In addition to being incredibly hard to fake long-term, they are inseparably linked.

Finally, when we look at holiness from this perspective, one thing comes to mind.  Man is holiness hard!  That is what we should always remember when we see someone stumble.  If we look upon ourselves, we will find that, to greater or lesser degrees, we aren't following that spirit which leads to virtue.  That brings us to humility.

Humility is the hardest of all of these, yet it is also the most necessary.  If poverty, chastity, and obedience lead to faith, hope, and charity, humility is the glue that holds everything together.  Humility is our reminder that if we do this on our own, we will fail.  If we examine our consciences for but one minute each day, this will become blatantly apparent.  Poverty and chastity reach obedience through humility.  If one is not humble, he will have few of those virtues for long.  Eventually the winds of this world will blow obedience away from chastity, or poverty from obedience.  Like everything else here, the glue is something we cannot produce out of ourselves.  It needs to come from somewhere else.  That "somewhere" is a "someone."  That individual is Jesus Christ.  Later we will consider how this is to be so with a few analogies.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Challenge to the Church of NFP

Every now and then an article is written that doesn't so much as set the trend in the blogosphere but tells in public what many were thinking in private. As a result, serious discussion develops. Very few remember one sentence from Alice Von Hildebrand's takedown of Christopher West. What they do remember was that a lion of Catholicism had finally given some much needed fraternal correction to Mr. West. She said in her eloquence what many had been thinking.

I think Danielle Bean over at Crisis Magazine has done something similar. If nothing else, she causes me to think.

I remember several years ago I was on a first date with a lady. During that date, out of the blue, she asked "do you plan on using Natural Family Planning during your marriage?" From the love of baseball to thermometer reading and charting. This is an experience no (then) 23 year old should go through. In discussing the rather absurd and bizarre situation with a friend, he gave what was probably the best reply I've heard. "Me and my wife are firm believers in Natural Family Planning. I plan on hitting the lotto, then having my family naturally."

Like Ms. Bean, I do not intend to dog on NFP. It has always been permitted by the Church under certain conditions. My problem is with what I call "The Church of NFP", or when I'm in a slightly more polemical mood "NFP or Die."

For these individuals, NFP is not just something couples should consider prudently. To not practice NFP is to show a lack of prudence. In their mind, to not engage in NFP is to abandon "responsible parenthood." That they cannot cite one magisterial document which says every Catholic should practice NFP is irrelevant. They base their understanding on John Paul II's Man and Woman He Created Them. That John Paul II never said such a thing is once again irrelevant. (Like the defenders of the school of thought of Christopher West come to think of it!)

I cannot speak to all of the reasons Ms. Bean gives. I'm a single Catholic male, so I can't speak about "fertility symptoms", breastfeeding and all that jazz. Yet the other points she gave made me think about a lot of things.

First, those who are practicing NFP need to answer one question: Why? The Church is clear that if sufficient reasons are evident, NFP may (not must) be practiced. Yet I think Catholics should ask themselves honestly: is this really done? I would very confidently wager that answer is a negative. When they are considering economic needs, are they considering true subsistence style living, to where it would be near impossible to provide a child with basic necessities, or are they considering that they won't be able to pay a full ride at a four year university and grad school for all their children? Worse yet, are they doing it for their own selfish reasons, as having children will deprive them of worldly benefits? For mental and spiritual reasons, is there a genuine concern, or is there just uncomfortable feeling?

Better yet, are they discussing these matters with an independent third party, who can consider the spiritual reasons for why they are practicing NFP? In other words, how involved is a sound orthodox priest (preferably their spiritual director) in these discussions? People are masters at rationalizing their behavior. Sometimes we need an independent third party to tell us we are doing it wrong. Simply saying you are discussing it with your doctor isn't good enough. They may have the medical knowledge, but they do not have the knowledge of being able to provide spiritual direction. (Very few of them at least.)

If one is doing these things, these words aren't for you. If you've done these things and still arrive at the prudential consideration to employ Natural Family Planning, then such is your choice. All I'm saying is that somewhere along the way, people got the mistaken notion that to not practice NFP at all times was somehow the sign of a sinful Catholic couple.

I'd also like to talk about "responsible" parenting. Somewhere and I have no clue where, "responsible" parenting became about the number of children you have, rather than the quality of how those children were raised. Do you have ten children? Are all of those children raised in the Catholic faith, given access to the sacraments? Is a high emphasis placed upon education? Do you present your children with an environment and opportunity to practice authentic Christian virtues? Congratulations, you are doing "responsible" parenting, even if you live in a small house and the children wear hand me downs. This is just as true if you have even just one child.

On the topic of shame, Ms. Bean is even stronger. I personally do not need to hear about an individual woman's fertility cycle, mucus, etc. The only woman I will need to hear that about is when I'm married, and she is my wife. I've beaten this subject to death in the things I've written in regards to Theology of the Body/Christopher West, so I will be brief. Sharing these details so casually is a violation of the sacredness of the body and the marital embrace.

The final topic I would like to touch on would be a delicious irony, were it not so tragic. In pushing "sex is holy", the church of NFP makes it less holy. The marital embrace is only discussed about on the natural level. If husband and wife come together, there is a "risk" (oh how I hate such talk!) a child would be conceived. Many in the TOB crowd claim their critics focus too much on the pro-creative aspects of the marital embrace, and not the unitive. They rightly point out God created the marital embrace as a way of strengthening the bonds of marriage. Every time husband and wife come together, they are renewing their marital vows in a very special way. done properly, one could say it is a way of making present the grace one receives during the Sacrament of Matrimony. Out of such selfless love (where neither party seeks their own gratification), a new life is created through our participation in God's creative work.

With all the emphasis solely on child-bearing, the church of NFP robs the marital embrace of much of its power. Husband and wife coming together to renew their marital vows for their sanctification is viewed as a "failure" in abstinence. To engage in perfectly normal marital relations is not a failure. While we must always be careful to ponder our intentions (i.e. we must make sure we are not coming together for selfish reasons), it is truly scandalous that the church of NFP makes them think otherwise. Sadly, the author herself even falls into this trap. "Struggling with abstinence" in the married life is suggested as a struggle with purity. Now this may be the case. Yet why should one assume that a wife struggles with purity if she desires to engage in the marital embrace with her husband? Why should a husband be prohibited from renewing his wedding vows with the woman he has pledged to give up everything for? Because a chart says is a terrible reason. They are heeding, in a very special way, the call to become "one flesh." Now there may exist reasons and circumstances where periodic continence is advised. Yet such situations are meant to be temporary.

In the end, I fear we Catholics today have a fear of giving up control. We foolishly think we are in control of every aspect of our lives, including fertility. Yet this is nonsense. God is in control. He may choose to work through our voluntary free will in the marital embrace, but He is still in control. The idea a pregnancy should be viewed as a "surprise" or "unplanned" amongst married couples is shameful. By engaging in the marital embrace, one "planned" the possibility that a child may be born. Now one may wish to take prudent steps, in accordance with nature, to space births for various reasons, but our plans can and will go astray if God thinks the better of it. We shouldn't look at that as a bad thing. God might see the discipline and self control in a couple practicing NFP and go "You know, such restraint is a great quality in a parent, and even better in a child, so I will help them conceive."

How much of this enters the NFP discussion? Check the comments at the site of the article. All are worth reading.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: The Lavabo to the Preface

As we come to the end of the Offertory, a distinct tone begins to emerge. In the texts there is a growing sense of unworthiness on behalf of the priest and the faithful that they are participating in this event. The Mass is the very Sacrifice of Calvary, yet it is far more than just that. Through the Mass, heaven and earth become united, the covenant with the Father is renewed, and we partake, in our own certain way, in the mystical banquet of the Lamb’s Supper in Heaven. Sinful flesh that we are, we should be feeling a sense of unworthiness.

That sense begins with the Lavabo, which goes as follows:

I will wash my hands among the innocent, and I will compass Thine altar, O Lord. That I may hear the voice of Thy praise, and tell of all Thy wondrous works.

I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth. Take not away my soul, O God, with the wicked: nor my life with bloody men. In whose hands are iniquities, their right hand is filled with gifts.

But as for me I have walked in mine innocence: redeem me, and have mercy on me. My foot hath stood in the direct way; in the churches I will bless Thee, O Lord.
There are a few things to note about this prayer. The Psalm originates in a Psalm of distress. David’s claim of innocence is not a boastful claim. He feels a great moment of distress, and points to the fact that he has looked to please God in all he does. Confident of God’s mercy, he washes his hands amongst the innocent. Likewise the priest and congregation should feel a slight distress based on their current position. We are entering in a very special way into God’s presence. We are about to experience a deeply personal moment beyond those even Moses experienced with God. Our only response is to state we have looked to do God’s will to the best of our ability.

Following the Lavabo there is a final prayer to the Trinity which states:

Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation which we make to Thee, in memory of the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honour of Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and of these [the relics in the altar] and of all the Saints, that it may avail unto their honour and our salvation, and may they vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven, whose memory we celebrate on earth. Through the same Christ our Lord.
The sacrifice which is offered is of course first and foremost offered to the Trinity. Yet like all other offerings, the offering is also a commemoration of those who walked before us. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us to honor those who walked before us in the faith. Yet how does honoring a saint give glory to God? Are our Protestant friends correct when they assert the mere suggestion of including honor to the saints in offering to the Trinity is blasphemous, for only the Trinity is worthy of any honor?

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the kind of honor given. No saint in and of themselves is worthy of honor. Not even the Blessed Virgin. Only through Christ can anyone receive any honor or praise. It was only through Christ that the Blessed amongst women was preserved from sin. When we honor the saints, we honor God’s handiwork within them. (Eph 2:10-12) Since those in heaven are “the spirits of just men made perfect”, we ask for their intercession. God stated in the Old Covenant that “if even Samuel and Moses prayed for these people I would not listen” and help that sinful wicked generation. Yet we are Christians redeemed by the blood of the lamb alongside the saints, would not their prayers be of great benefit?

We then come to the Orate Fratres. Unfortunately, the modern understanding of the liturgy in many Churches has really damaged the significance of this prayer. In the extraordinary form, the priest is facing God in the tabernacle and the East (where the Risen Christ will come from) instead of the congregation. When this prayer comes, he turns to face the people, saying:

Brethren, pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father almighty:

In the context of the Mass, the priest normally turns to face the people in saluting them or blessing them. Yet this time instead he asks for their prayers. In this statement is a recognition that without their prayers, the priest will struggle going forward. One could further say, without the prayers of those individuals, something is lacking from the Mass. What could possibly be lacking from the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ? The same thing that Paul states was lacking from the Sacrifice of Christ in Colossians 1:24. The sacrifice lacks in the degree of application, since Christ does not save against someone’s own will. Therefore we pray that hearts are turned, and that the Sacrifice of Christ be applied. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Father will accept the sacrifice of the Cross during the Mass. That sacrifice is always before Him. Yet there is a legitimate doubt as to how useful the sacrifice will be for the individual faithful due to lack of faith. That is why in response, we ask that the sacrifice be for “our benefit, and that of all His holy Church.”

What is a beautiful exercise in symbolism loses a lot of significance in the modern liturgical landscape. Since Mass is said facing the people, this is no longer an externally special moment. The appearance is no different than every other moment of the Mass in such a situation. If one needs a reason to return to saying Mass ad orientam, here is a strong one.

After praying what is known as the Secret (one of the propers which is made a final urgent supplication to God), the priest begins the Preface. Unlike previous salutations, the priest says Dominus Vobsicum still facing the altar and the tabernacle. One could say, in a mystical sense, he has begun his transition into acting in persona Christi. Christ acts through Him, so that the identity of the priest becomes less and less important. We are then called to sursum corda, lift up your hearts. Where are we lifting them up to? We lift them up to heaven! At this point in the Mass, we are entering (albeit in an imperfect way) into Heaven, or rather Heaven is coming to us. At this point in the Mass, I am no longer simply assisting at Mass at my local parish. I’ve entered into communion with all the saints and angels. This moment is truly timeless, for it is outside of time. Having entered into this blessed moment, the only acceptable response is thanksgiving towards God.

This understanding is vital for the next part of the Mass. If all of the Mass is holy, the Roman canon is the holy of holies within the Mass.