Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rantings on Liturgical Music

I offered a Requiem Mass (in the ordinary form) at a wake earlier. Before the Mass, the members of the choir approached me to ask if they may sing the responses at the Mass. "Old translation or new translation?" I quickly asked. "The old, father," the leader said, "we have not yet updated ourselves." I was disappointed with the answer as the implementation in the Philippines of the new English translation of the Roman Missal was a year behind the implementation in most English speaking countries.

I ask: Why is it that in spite of the formation given by the Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, choirs still insist on singing the responses in the old translation? If the priests are obliged to use the new translation, why should the noncompliance of the choir be toleration. I think that insisting on using the text of the old translation is really arrogance. If priests must follow rules, why shouldn't the choir? Also, in the Philippines, certain compositions paraphrased the official text. This is the bad case of lyrics adjusting to the melody. Why should the text suffer just so that the composition may fit into the melody? Is the liturgical text the servant of the music? I don't think so! The music is the servant of the liturgical text. Fine! "Mundo" and "sanlibutan" might be synonyms. But the official text of the Agnus Dei in Tagalog is "Kordero ng Diyos na nag-aalis ng mga kasalanan ng SANLIBUTAN" and not "Kordero ng Diyos na nag-aalis ng mga kasalanan ng MUNDO..." I think that composers of liturgical music must have the humility required to make their compositions submissive and faithful to the liturgical text.
In the extraordinary form, these things I speak of are not problems!

Also, I ask: Can't the choir prepare a repertoire appropriate for a Requiem Mass? If the bereaved family requires the services of a priest for a Requiem Mass, I think that it will be inappropriate for the priest to preach a wedding homily. He is expected to speak on the reality of the four last things. If this were the case, then would it be too much to expect from the choir to sing songs appropriate for the occasion? Why should the choir have a greater license than the priest? Everybody involved in the Sacred Liturgy ought to have the humility required to submit the self to liturgical laws. The liturgy is not ours. It belong to Christ. It belongs to the Church.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Confession and the Divine Mercy

Jesus, I trust in you!

“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Risen from the dead, the Lord Jesus stood before his disciples on that Easter evening. These were the very disciples who denied him and abandoned him 2 nights before. The resurrection has vindicated him against his enemies and so the Lord had every right to reproach the apostles for their cowardice. But he did not do this. Instead, he greeted them with peace and then bestowed upon them power which no human being ever had – the power to forgive sins. No human being ever had this power for only God can forgive sins. And yet, on that evening, the Lord breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit who empowered them to forgive sins. This power to forgive sins is honored by heaven itself.

At the resurrection, the Lord Jesus, who was humiliated by suffering and death, was glorified: “I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” He is the Glorious One who holds the keys to death and the netherworld – the keys to death that entered the world as a consequence of sin.  He now unlocks the fetters that bound us to death – the fetters of sin. He does this by bestowing upon his apostles the power to break the chains of sin – that power is the forgiveness of sins. The glorious face of Jesus is God’s face which “is the face of a merciful Father who is always patient,” so said Pope Francis, “the patience he has for us…is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us. He understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart…God never tires of forgiving us!...The problem is that we ourselves tire, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness.” (Francis, 1st Angelus Message, 17 March 2013.)

Those who are weary of asking for forgiveness are “those who trust in themselves and in their own merits…blinded by their ego and their hearts are hardened in sin.” (Benedict XVI, I Believe in God, 139.) On the other hand, “those who recognize that they are weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from him grace and forgiveness…In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the soothing joy of God’s forgiveness. (In the Sacrament of Reconciliation), what is central (is) the personal encounter with God, the Father of goodness and mercy. It is not sin which is at the heart of the sacramental celebration but rather God’s mercy, which is infinitely greater than any guilt of ours.” (Ibid., 139-140.)

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Humble God (late Maundy Thursday posting)

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

“Fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, (Jesus) rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist…”

Lest we have the wrong impression that Jesus was weak and so ended unto the Cross, we are shown in the Holy Gospel the real glory of Jesus: the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God. He was fully aware of who he was: You call me master and teacher, and rightly so, for indeed I am. His knowledge of his Divinity all the more makes his gesture very significant. From what he did, we could see the humility of God. Jesus did not cling to his Divine nature and took upon himself the lowliness of ours. Not only did he wash his disciples’ feet, he washed us of sin with his precious blood shed upon the wood of the Cross. He practiced what he preached. He said that the gentiles lord it over them and the great ones make their presence felt (Luke 22:25) but it should not be so amongst his disciples. For the ones who are greatest must be the servant of all. He who was given power over everything, he who was from God, he who is Lord and Teacher – he bent down and performed the most humiliating service than any servant can render, that is, to wash another person’s feet. The sacrifice that he was about to make upon the wood of the Cross is the utmost humiliation of God – for what God is there that would sacrifice himself in order to save his lowly creatures. It is this Divine humiliation that takes place in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God does not only take upon himself human flesh. He goes even further down by hiding beneath the humble appearance of bread and wine, food and drink. He heeds the voice of his priests and comes down upon our altar when his words are repeated by them over bread and wine. God who becomes food and drink, God who obeys his priests – this is our God, our truly humble God! God who lays down his life for us, God who washes not only our feet but our souls as well – this is our God, our truly humble God! God who no longer calls us his servants but his friends, God who reveals to us everything – this is our God, our truly humble God!

And then he tells his priests: Do this in memory of me. He tells us: If I who am your Master and Teacher washed your feet, so should you wash each other’s feet. God, our truly humble God, leads us along the way of humility. He reveals to us the only way to his kingdom is by the way of humiliation and self-emptying, the way of self-denial and sacrifice. By his Incarnation and Paschal Mystery, our blessed Lord goes down into the depths and by doing so, is exalted! The Son of Man enters into his glory! 

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

The Smallest of all Mustard Seeds

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised.” The words of the angels were addressed to the women who went to the tomb on that early Sunday morning. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James. The gospel writer identified them as the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus. This detail of coming from Galilee with Jesus was not a simple reference point of origin. One of the marks of St. Luke’s gospel is that of movement. The life of Jesus is shown as one big journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Thus, “coming from Galilee with Jesus” was indicative of discipleship. Here, we have another important Lukan theme: the women as disciples of the Lord. In other gospels, only the males were identified as disciples – the 12 men who followed Jesus. However, St. Luke mentions a parallel list of female disciples. Of course, he was not advocating a battle of the sexes. Rather, he was making the point that Jesus elevated the dignity of women in society. These women disciples were made co-heirs of the kingdom of God.

And so, the gospel of the Resurrection was first proclaimed to these women. I totally dislike the comments that the choice of women was on account of the fact that females are rumor mongers and so they were chosen to make the news spread faster. I find such as offensive to both women and the faith. First, it is an unfair stereotype imposed on women. Second, the resurrection is not a rumor. It is a true event! I think that the women were chosen to be bearers of the gospel of the resurrection because society then looked down on their gender as second class citizens. And Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, once glorified his Father for having hidden great mysteries from the wise and the learned only to reveal it to mere children. The gospel of the Resurrection was entrusted to the lowly. These women were really so lowly that they were not even taken seriously: “the women…told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” The story of the Resurrection is already fantastic enough and entrusting it to second class citizens makes it even less believable. But that is how it really is. The Lord entrusts the revelation of such great mysteries on the lowly.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that is the smallest of all seeds. But when it grows, it is the biggest of all plants. Pope emeritus Benedict referred to the Resurrection as the smallest of all mustard seeds: “Throughout the history of the living, the origins of anything new have always been small, practically invisible, and easily overlooked…In terms of world history, Jesus’ resurrection is improbable; it is the smallest mustard seed in history “ (Jesus of Nazareth, vol 2, 247). It was an event that involved a very small group of people to whom it was revealed. Nobody even saw it as it happened. It happened “behind closed doors” so to speak (well, it was more “behind unrolled rock”). And yet, the resurrection altered the course of human history. From the movement to destruction on account of sin, the course of the world was altered to a movement towards salvation. The smallest seed became the largest of plants and all of us take refuge in it. And such a history-changing event is entrusted to mere lowly vessels like Mary Magdalene, like Joanna, like Mary of James, like you and me. Perhaps the wise and the learned will scoff at us and find it difficult to believe, especially if it came from us who are the most unlikely of all messengers. But we must remember his words. We must return from the tomb. We must announce all these things to all the others. For the resurrection is too great an event to be kept secret and it will be unfair to keep it from those who need to know it. Christ the Lord is risen from the dead! He dies no more; death no longer has power over him. He lives for God. Let us live for God in Christ Jesus! Alleluia!

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!