Today, this letter comes to you from the organist’s bench instead of the pastor’s chair. It seems like a life-time has transpired since my previous letter in September; almost an entire parish season has passed, one that has been marked by exceptional growth in a number of ways. I suspect that most of us who read these letters worship weekly – or even daily – at one or both of our parish’s beautiful, historic churches. In this regular pattern of life, it is difficult for us to accurately gauge, and thus fully appreciate, just how much we have collectively achieved since the establishment of the new parish, since the institution of the new Mass schedule, or even since the birth of the new year!
Music was one of the primary topics of conversation throughout the merger process, and with my appointment a year ago as the parish’s Director of Music, I was charged with helping the parish find a unified musical voice. This was a tall order and continues to be an enjoyable challenge. That being said, in the weeks and months since my arrival, I have received an overwhelming outpouring of welcoming support, encouragement, and love from Fr. Walter, his brother friars, the sisters, my fellow staff members, and of course you, my fellow parishioners. Not a day goes by that I do not give profound thanks to God for the opportunity to work within such a parish family. So, as we race towards the quietude of summer, let us take a moment to musically survey the past year, to reiterate our goals, to contemplate what we have accomplished, and to prime ourselves for future growth.
Fr. Walter, in his bulletin letter last week, made the point that ‘singing at Mass’ and ‘singing the Mass’ are two different things. It is from this observation that my survey germinates. For those of you who attended this spring’s Parish Study in which Fr. Innocent and I gave an overview of the various aspects of the Mass (prayers, readings, chants, gestures, etc.), you may recall that Mother Church sets forth a hierarchy of things to be sung at Mass. That is to say, the prayers and orations (the Collect, the Preface, etc.), the Pater noster, and the Mass Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) enjoy musical pride of place. So for the congregation to ‘find its own voice’, the fitting place to start was with these.
(By way of an advertisement, in next week’s bulletin, Fr. Innocent will write about the Propers of the Mass, those parts primarily given to the role of the cantor or the Schola Cantorum (choir). Choral music, hymnody, and organ music and their roles in the Mass will be reviewed in another letter in the future.)
THE ORDINARY OF THE MASS
Beginning last July, we set forth a plan to use three different congregational Ordinaries that would alternate according to the liturgical season. All three are chant Masses, meaning that there is only one vocal line. (Compare this to most of the hymns we sing, which were conceived harmonically in four parts: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass.) Chant is the musical language of the church and is the bedrock on which all subsequent Western music was built, from Bach to Beyoncé. Its inherent, beautiful simplicity makes it ideal for communal singing. Furthermore, chant eschews the immediacy of emotionalism (being neither overtly dolorous nor triumphant), lending it the timeless, universal quality that is so vital to the ethereal nature of Catholic worship. Think of it as the aural equivalent of incense.
The three specific congregational Masses sung in our parish were chosen because each possesses a character befitting the season during which it is sung, and all are familiar enough to be welcoming to visitors. Also, since you are more likely to encounter one of these three throughout the Catholic world than any others, you are subtly being prepared to be able to fully participate in a Mass on your travels across town or across an ocean.
Mass XVIII: Deus Genitor alme
This simplest setting is sung during the two penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. It therefore does not include a Gloria. If a Catholic is likely to know a Sanctus or Agnus Dei in Latin, this is it!
Roman Missal Mass
This is the musical setting of the Kyrie, Gloria, etc. found in the (English-language) Missal, the book that the priest uses at the altar containing the prayers that are sung (or said) at Mass. This vernacular setting is used during Ordinary Time (from Corpus Christi to Advent and from the Baptism of the Lord in January until Ash Wednesday). We also use this setting for feast days of a lesser rank.
Missa VIII: Missa de angelis
Chant Mass VIII, also known as the Missa de angelis (Mass of the Angels) is undoubtedly one of the most mellifluously beautiful of the approximately two-dozen Latin chant settings. This florid Mass (what a musician would call ‘melismatic’) is sung in our parish during Christmastide and Eastertide, as well as on major feast days, such as Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. While the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are undeniably difficult to sing at first try, the tunefulness and the repetitive nature of some of the phrases prove memorably after a few attempts.
Beyond the repertoire of congregational Ordinaries, I want to point out the great musical variety that this parish offers: hopefully with something to suit everyone’s preferences. The Church in her wisdom has always balanced universality and individuality, and while everyone worships in ultimately the same Mass, the slight variations thereof recognize the individualism of the human soul.
So for those of you that prefer silence and simplicity, we have Low Masses at which there is no music at all. For those of you who prefer to worship in the richest expression of the Rite, we offer the Solemn Mass on Sundays and feast days, with the Schola Cantorum, incense, and the occasional procession. And for those of you who prefer something in between, we have that too! If you think your porridge is too hot or too cold, I encourage you to try another bowl from our restaurant’s menu.
Even within one form of Mass, there is variety! For example, on a regular Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the congregation sings the Ordinary. (Until my arrival, the choir almost always sang it.) This change of practice enforces the primacy of place given to this music in the congregation’s role. However, on feast days, the Schola sings one of the glorious polyphonic settings handed down to us through the Catholic patrimony of the last five centuries, whether it be Palestrina or Pärt. I hope that this balance is working well.
Vespers, another project introduced last fall, is a splendid addition to our liturgical life! I know of no other parish in the archdiocese that has weekly, sung Sunday Vespers in the Ordinary Form. I would encourage all of you to attend, even if you do not have time to attend the explanatory class that precedes it. Attendance has stayed strong and it is a wonderful way to draw your Sunday to a close.
Speaking of closing, I need to take this opportunity to say how pleased and proud I am with the vocal response from the congregation. Catholic congregations are notorious for being inaudible. And while there is always room for improvement, from my vantage point on the bench, the participation of the congregation has noticeably improved since a year ago. Please keep it up! And with much more to say but no room in which to say it, may I just extend an invitation? As I have remarked before, most parishioners arrive at Mass after my prelude has begun and leave before my postlude has finished, thus affording me little opportunity to get to meet and converse with you. So, please know that my door is always open! If you have any questions about what it is that I do, why it is that we sing what we sing, or if you would simply like to have a chat about nothing in particular, please feel free to drop me a line or meet me in person.
You will be hearing from me again soon as we outline the exciting things on the horizon for the coming year! Until then, may I remain,
Yours in Christ,
James D. Wetzel
I always write these lines on Monday morning and as I craft them I wonder what will transpire before the congregation actually reads them. On the other hand, this means that the events of the previous weekend are fresh in mind. In fact, yesterday, Sunday, is on my mind because I had the 5 pm Mass at St. Catherine’s.
We have seven Masses on our weekend schedule, and this is the one I have least often because I am on the team promoting Vespers, which takes place at nearly the same time. At this Mass, uniquely, the Cantor leads the singing a cappella, that is, without the accompaniment of the organ. This arrangement began as an experiment to see if we could have convenient and complementary Mass times in both churches, and do it with one organist. I for one have never seen an arrangement quite like this.
I came tired to an afternoon Mass on a gray and rainy Sunday, and probably so did many of the 125 people in the congregation. But by the time Josh Simka, that Mass’ regular cantor, had led us all in Kyrie eleison and Gloria in excelsis, I was totally awake and energized as the singing of the assembly filled St. Catherine’s with the beautiful sound of the Mass. Here was a “poster congregation” for the second wave of liturgical development in the wake of Vatican II. If the first concern was to get people to “sing at Mass,” the next is to enable them to “sing the Mass.” This is the vocal movement from “going to church” to mindfully undertaking one’s baptismal part in the Eucharistic worship commissioned by Jesus at the Last Supper.
If in the natural realm common singing provides emotional release and deepened connection, then in the service of God feeling and human connection attach to vocation, the common calling we have to acknowledge God. With all the others, each of us sings the Mass because at our baptism God commissioned us to be a priest of Jesus Christ, and with that, we are called before God to acknowledge the gift of our life with our whole self: body and mind.
The chants Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (known collectively as the “Ordinary” of the Mass) give each of us a voice in this work and join our voices to others. The singing of the texts makes us aware, at a level beyond conventional speech, of the power of God as the source of amazing, blessings, the answer to constant need, and the dispenser of unimaginable healing. We acknowledge God in song, not because He needs to hear it: being complete in Himself, He is beyond need. Rather, the acknowledgement connects us to the essential truth of ourselves as both gifted and needy, successful and failed, unique and completed by others.
Singing of this kind possesses special beauty because it does not manipulate. It is not calculated to get the congregation to feel triumphant, or joyful, or ashamed, or sad. Rather, singing – and especially chanting – elicits our participation in the common work but also gives us freedom to discover what lies within us at a given time and place. Of all the singing we do at Mass, the responses, the Pater noster, and the Ordinary take pride of place because they pertain most directly to the work God has appointed for us. Put most simply, this music serves not our feelings but our worship.
I note that what is said of singing the Mass could also be said of good preaching. Both decline to exercise emotional coercion. Neither do they settle for the easy trade of giving people a “feel good” experience. Instead, preaching and singing connect each participant to the wider world to the human community and to the inner world of our soul, showing more clearly God at work in both. These evangelical tools pull the worshipper out of himself and deeper into himself. When both “systems are go,” people leave Mass more human, because they are more aware of themselves and their God.
This perspective on worship rebukes Karl Marx’s assertion that religion is the “opiate of the masses.”
The word “liturgy” captures this work of acknowledgement. When we sing the Mass we unite ourselves not only to those who carry out the liturgy in the next pew, but in the next parish, the next state, and the next country. This is why we sing the texts of the Ordinary not only in English, which is essential to our comprehension of them, but also in Latin so that we have a palpable connection to the church in every time and place.
Next week, James Wetzel will follow these comments with more detail and insight into the three Ordinaries of the Mass we now use in the parish.
This weekend I am away from the parish with our Nuns in Buffalo. These are women who spend their whole lives in the work of acknowledgement: for them liturgy and life interpenetrate. Please know that they and I will have all of you in our prayers on this Easter day.
The Sunday of Good Shepherd invites us to believe that the Lord really is present, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to all the particularities of our individual lives, and our common life.
First among these this weekend will be the First Penance and First Communion of our young people. Heartfelt congratulations to:
Lucia Hufnagel Cano
We draw nigh to the completion of our first, fully-merged parish year. Now is a good time to update you on as much as possible before the great dispersal sets in.
All the data on Holy Week and Easter seems well in place. I feel that our whole parish community gave an excellent testimony of faith. Since we sit at a crossroads of the city, part of our mission will be to welcome visitors of all kinds. From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday 3,674 people worshipped in our churches. Many people, in many ways, made them welcome and that surely counts as a proclamation of the Gospel.
Our new Finance Council met for the first time on April 24. We were able to update them on the first half of the fiscal year and to begin looking at the budgeting process for the new parish. Normally, the Council meets quarterly but we will meet more frequently over the next several months to get the group’s ongoing conversation up and running. The members of our Finance Council are Lois Deming (Chair), Lauretta Bruno (ex-officio as Trustee), Michael Silverstein (ex-officio as Trustee), Daniel Dunay, Charles Earle, Karen Kardos, and Jean-Hughes Monier. Upcoming on the Council’s agenda will be the development of a strategy for managing the holdings of the parish. On behalf of us all I extend my gratitude to these men and women who place their expertise at our service.
As indicated above, Lauretta Bruno and Michael Silverstein have agreed to serve as Trustees of the Parish. They have the task of signing off on our financial report to the Archdiocese for each fiscal year. To do this they need to have a comprehensive perspective on the life of the parish. Therefore, they will attend, ex-officio, the meetings of both the Finance Council and the Pastoral Council.
Expanding upon this statutory role, I have asked them to monitor our compliance with Archdiocesan and state regulations. They will review our practices and documents as these emerge.
There will be more to say next month in these pages about the Pastoral Council and some other committee developments.
I will be absent from the parish from May 10 -18 doing a formal “visitation” of our monastery of nuns in Buffalo.
In the monastic quiet, I hope there will time for me to reflect on the profound experience of this past year, and then the opportunity to put those reflections in some usable order.
As I write these lines on Monday, April 24, we have come to the end of the Easter Octave. For those of us who try to live by the liturgical cycle this marks the first full tilt work day since before Holy Thursday. Clergy are expected to be recovered from their paschal exertions and at their stations, ready to do business. World events conspire with the calendar to keep us vigilant.
Currently, we wonder about a shutdown of the federal government, and we ponder the second round of France’s Armageddon of a presidential election. Everywhere there appear new things to no longer be taken for granted. But if the sinews of the present grow brittle, the eternity operating within us offers a crucial perspective on the fragility of the moment. Answering that question, and delivering that answer, will be the work of preachers. Our own preaching patrons, Catherine of Siena and Vincent Ferrer addressed their times with prophetic authority precisely because they regarded eternity as more real than their immediate crises.
This issue becomes important for us in marking out the middle ground between obsessing about our situation and hiding from it. Our summons to witness demands that we engage with social realities as people for whom eternal life has become tangible already through the sacraments. The principles of this encounter flow from the ancient words we speak in the dark every Easter Vigil. As the celebrant carves the four numerals of the current year into the wax of the Paschal Candle he says. “Christ yesterday and today, the
Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him, and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age. Amen.”
This establishes the principle that every age of culture, politics, commerce, and science serves God’s plan for the human race. If God uses each age, we must live in each age. Consider that the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, then became an institution of it, and ultimately lived through the trauma of its fall. In the Middle Ages the Church became integrated into the feudal system and in the Renaissance as a major patron of the arts. Christ’s Body has passed through the storms of Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Revolution. In succession Capitalism, Nationalism, Fascism, Communism, and Secularism have each challenged our place in the social fabric. In each of these ages, and from each of these movements, we have learned more about Christ and His Gospel, and about the essential power of the sacramental way of life He bequeathed to us.
At the same time, carrying with us the vocation of prophecy, the Church also offers a critique of her times as to mores, methods, and convictions.
If she had not the promise of the Resurrection we could not fulfill this complicated vocation. As it is, we already carry with us eternal life – the one thing that no age can take from us; and so the Church can be humbly and authoritatively present in each age. When we draw on this tremendous heritage, we learn from every movement but do not allow ourselves to be co-opted by any of them.
The Second Vatican Council offers a sterling example of the Church serenely learning from the times and critiquing them. But think how much has changed since 1965! We will not be done with the work of engagement until days are done.
In this age we, the Church, behold a technological revolution and its ramifications for each aspect of human life. The work place is not the same, nor is politics. The patterns of domestic life have changed, but then so has the way people relate to social institutions, including religious ones. The pace and expanse of communication continues to accelerate. It will be for us to learn from these developments and not just in practical ways like online donation and having a Facebook page. We also have to survey these changes in the light of the Easter Candle. They will give us new insights into Christ as He comes to us in the Scriptures and Sacraments. We will gain new perceptions of what it means to be just, temperate, courageous, and prudent, and new forms of art will serve the presentation of the Gospel. The significance of the human person will become more apparent, not less.
But as the age pushes us back to a rereading of all that has been given to us, our tradition will impel us toward a charitable critique of our times. This work of prophecy is ours from the Font, and we will not worship with integrity if we do not fulfill this commission.
The life flowing from Christ’s Resurrection keeps us serenely in this place of engagement, because we have learned that there will be another age for us to deal with after this one. When no new age comes we will be home.
If you were here for any of the Triduum services, I imagine that the numbers in attendance amazed you as they did me. When the great feasts bring non-churchgoers to church they offer us a heaven-sent chance to connect. To me this year’s Holy Week gave our whole parish community, laity, religious, and clergy, a singular chance to testify that Jesus lives and calls us to life. Succinctly put, the days were beautiful and they were effective; one could catalogue aesthetic successes, but one could also feel the conviction behind them. In this lies the difference between celebrating mysteries and executing ceremonies. Thanks go to the Holy Spirit for having gathered us all in such marvelous fashion and for having woven so many personal gifts into a fabric that is “revealing” in a whole new way. Certainly, I will never express adequately my gratitude to Him for including me in your company.
Perhaps Holy Week 2017 can teach us about our capacity to bear effective witness all year long. To that end, I invite you to participate in eight days of prayer for a new Pentecost.
Consider some things so deeply implanted in us that they often go un-named. If you are reading these lines, faith probably makes a significant difference in your life. On the Cross you recognize your Savior, and in the Eucharist you experience His support and companionship. It is a fair bet that you have persevered in parish life because you are reorganizing your life around the truth of the Resurrection. Simply, you have the Easter Faith.
From this gift we derive comfort and enlightenment, challenge and nourishment: faith gives confidence in believing. But why is this gift so hard to share in our times? God is allowing you and me to live in a society that finds it difficult to believe. That which gives coherence and direction to our lives, eludes our contemporaries. So I ask: how do we react to living with secular people who do not “get it”? We could become defensive and circle the wagons against our age, or we could become angry and belligerent toward it. We could resign ourselves to being old fashioned, or we could decide that every age does its own thing and worry no longer.
But from the very frustration of not being able to share belief, we might also discover a whole new avenue of growth for ourselves, and find the depth of believing that shines forth in the Saints. When the Saints recognize the doubt, indifference, or error of their neighbors, they love all the more, and longing for the belief of their companions deepens their life of prayer. Standouts in this category are the two patrons of our parish, St. Vincent Ferrer (1357-141) and St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) were Dominican preachers who lived in a plague-ravaged Europe and sharply divided church. Both burned with desire that others would come to know the God who brought them so much joy and fulfillment. God responded to each with a singular gift of communicating the Gospel to their contemporaries.
I feel we have the task of begging God for the words, images and insights that will help the people of this time connect with the timeless content of what Christ reveals. I am inviting you to join me in prayer for this intention during the eight days that connect the two feasts of our patrons. We can ask these two holy preachers to pray that we share their zeal for truth, their love of souls, and their empathy with their contemporaries.
Mass will be offered each day for your intentions, starting on April 28, the Vigil of the Feast of
St. Catherine of Siena, and concluding on May 5, the Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer in the calendar of the order. (We also celebrated a feast day for St. Vincent Ferrer on April 5 according to the traditional calendar.) Prayers for this intention will be said at all our parish Masses and a sermon related to this octave of prayer will be preached daily in both of our churches. Please make use of the envelopes available at the shrines of St. Vincent and St. Catherine to let us know of your personal intentions. Please know also that the Friars in our community will be joining in eight days of pleading for the spread of the Gospel, so that more and more people may live serenely on the foundation of Christ’s promise of life.
I believe that when, from the gut, we desire others to have what we have, we have it all the more.
These days of prayer will open our Parish Jubilee, connecting the 150th anniversary of Dominican parish ministry in New York with the 100th anniversary of St. Vincent Ferrer church.
By tradition, “The Lord is Risen,” supplants conventional greetings during these days of joy (“He is truly Risen” providing the venerable response.) It is also the first Christian sermon, preached by Mary
Magdalene to the Apostles, garnering her the grand title of Apostle to the Apostles (Apostola Apostolorum) and the co-patronage of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). She announced not just a fact, but a life. As He passes through doors and remains unrecognizable to His followers until the Holy Spirit lowers the barrier, Jesus without losing His humanity, has entered upon a new mode of life.
The gospels of the Easter Sundays to follow, six of them leading up to Pentecost, disclose the nature of that life and indicate that through the sacraments we have already begun to share in it. At Mass during the fifty days of Easter we always hear a first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which chronicles how men and women organized their whole lives around the Resurrection from the moment of Pentecost. Without a word of the New Testament having been written, they become Christians, through Baptism and the Breaking of the Bread, the Teachings of the Apostles and the common life. Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles do not show up throughout the Roman world with a book to talk about, but with a life to share.
The saints who followed them through the ages turn our heads because we perceive in them a life reshaped by the fact of the Resurrection. Two such are the Patrons of our Parish, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Vincent Ferrer. Both of them are Easter preachers. Like the Apostles, they walked through the world proclaiming the victory of Christ. They did not ground their work in institutions, but claimed the sacramental life as their sustenance. Each of them represents itinerancy, that aspect of life the Dominicans have inherited from the Apostles. They possessed the singular grace of having no real home, but lived lives on the road for the sake of the Gospel. They trod the byways of late Fourteenth and early Fifteenth Century Europe, a world depopulated by the Black Death and sundered by schism. In fearful times they preached from the courage of the Good Shepherd. Each challenged the age prophetically to recover the confidence that comes from Faith.
In the formation of our new parish, we are blessed to have two Patrons who accepted from Christ the gift and challenge of a life in motion. We, ourselves, have been launched into change by the decision of Christ’s Church. Our Patrons can teach us much about how to live in these times and preach to these times.
It comes to the Parish as a singular gift to the Parish that our Patrons have feast days so close
together. St. Catherine’s Day is April 29, while the Order now celebrates St. Vincent on May 5. (His feast in the general calendar is April 5, but Lent and Easter Week too frequently suppress it). This fortunate circumstance allows us to link the two feasts with a festival of prayer. So even today, as we begin the singular Octave of Easter, we will shortly celebrate our own parochial octave of prayer from April 28, the Vigil of St. Catherine, until May 5, the Feast of St. Vincent.
As with the St. Joseph and St. Jude Novenas we have already celebrated during this parish year, this Octave will be facilitated by our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude, and like the St. Jude Novena, this Octave will feature a series of special preachings. We will invite you to come to it with your prayer intentions, and we will also have a common intention as a Parish. This will be to pray for a new Pentecost; to ask the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Vincent Ferrer, that the preaching of our church may truly reach the men and women of this age.
These days of prayer will figure as the first event in a Jubilee of our own. The Dominican Friars took up their first parochial ministry in New York City in June of 1867, and the current Church of St. Vincent Ferrer was dedicated on May 5 of 1918. This gives a “Holy Year” between the 150th anniversary of our presence in the Archdiocese and the 100th anniversary of St. Vincent Ferrer Church. The Parish Year of 2017-2018 will have this Jubilee as its defining theme.
I believe that for a century and a half, Dominican women and men have undertaken in our city the Easter Preaching, after the pattern of Catherine and Vincent. I hope that our teaching, preaching, and our service in parishes and hospitals have all been a fulfillment of the Risen Lord’s greeting, “Peace be with you.”
Details on all of the above will follow soon.
The laws of mass-produced bulletins being what they are, I wrote these Holy Week lines way back on March 30.
I look forward to the holiest of times through a lens of bafflement. Information about events now comes so elaborately sauced with spin that I cannot figure out what meat lies on the plate. What am I to believe? With public affairs so obscured, the believability of Jesus startles me as I look forward to this Holy Week. In the long narrative of the Passion Jesus stands in a cloud of posturing as the real one. Pilate testified to this when he looked upon the scourged and mocked Jesus and said, “Behold the Man.” (Ecce Homo) (John 19:5) The Prophet Isaiah gave word, centuries in advance, to the credibility of Jesus when he prophesied, “There was, in Him no stately bearing to make us look at Him, nor appearance that would attract us to Him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
As Jesus carries His cross through these days He manifests in His person the startling truth of human beings. Behind our displays of muscularity; be they physical, technical, political, artistic, or financial, men and women walk this earth alone, vulnerable, and finite. Age, handicap, and illness do us the invaluable service of serving up the ungarnished and unvarnished truth about humanity in general, and ours in particular. The message of Holy Week is that God loves this truth of us and builds upon it, as He grounds the resurrected life on the death of Jesus. What is most real about us, becomes the way to the reality of God.
So as we pass through these days take note of who in the story wants to demonstrate power to us; Pilate, Herod, the High Priest, and the crowd. As we entertain their claims we realize they all act in God’s drama.
By contrast, we contemplate how Jesus, knowing His God, has the security to be real for
Himself and for all of us.
On Palm Sunday we ponder the way in which Jesus permits Himself to be misunderstood by the crowd, as we are misperceived by those close to us.
On Holy Thursday we marvel as He washes feet, addressing Himself in love to the the part of us that bears the dirt and smell of the road we have walked, and recognize how much of our life is shaped by our mileage.
We see how He promises to be with us through time under the forms of the most basic food and drink, and recognize the many hungers and thirsts of your own life.
We hear how He names His loneliness in the face of betrayal, and denial and we recall the isolating record of our disappointments.
On Good Friday our ears perk up as Jesus says to the High Priest, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the Temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing.” (John 18:20) In Jesus there is no muscularity of secretiveness or
On Easter we recognize the otherworldly paradox that we are impressed by the
un-impressiveness of Jesus, and therein lies the power to look beyond the unimpressive things that used to impress us. We share in divine life through His very human death and so we do not shy aware from any part of human life. We present ourselves to the world without spin because we now carry in ourselves the news that may be believed.
Tomorrow, Monday, April 3 opens a new phase in the Lenten cycle which we call “Passiontide.” The liturgical focus now shifts from moral conversion to a contemplation of the suffering and death of Jesus. At Mass every day this week you will hear a distinctive Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. Each Mass
contains such a preface, and it indicates the particular reason for which we give thanks at a given Eucharist. It is worth noting we take the stance of gratitude at every Mass, even when we commemorate something as terrible as the Suffering (Passion) and Death of the Lord. The preface reads as follows:
It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father,
almighty and eternal God.
For through the saving Passion of your Son
the whole world has received a heart
to confess the infinite power of your majesty,
since by the wondrous power of the Cross
your judgment on the world is now revealed
and the authority of Christ crucified.
And so, Lord, with all the Angels and Saints,
we, too, give you thanks,
as in exultation we acclaim:
Put simply, I am thankful at this time because the Death of Jesus has caused me to perceive the power of God in a particular way. In Passiontide, I recognize His power over power. He has subjugated what has subjugated me.
The Cross channels the human power to dominate. Jesus walks the Via Dolorosa carrying the weight of Imperial Rome, official religion, and the crowd. Each claims control over life, and the three have colluded to “get” Jesus. Jesus Crucified is bound in the place of all those who pay the price for life having the order that someone else thinks it should have. But since we look at the Cross through the lens of the Resurrection we recognize that God has judged all of this power to be futile and responds to it with His own unfailing power to give life. God judges our efforts to dominate, to overawe, and to manipulate to be vain, and yet He loves us and calls to a life beyond such dead stratagems.
By contrast we are amazed by the authority of Jesus who has lost every shred of His own human
power, save the power to love which serves for the healing of the rest. We smirk at the idea of love having power but look how it has reoriented our lives. The helplessness of Jesus has transformed our behavior, our thinking, and our longing in a way that no totalitarian or revolutionary could ever dream of. You read these lines not because you are afraid of God, but because you love Him and desire Him.
By the life of the sacraments this perspective of God is now ours. We are equipped by Him to see through, lovingly, the vanities of our own time and to confess that the victory of Jesus is more real than they.
Next Sunday it will be time to acknowledge the power in us of the powerlessness of Christ. On Palm Sunday we walk in procession and confess to the world that Christ’s transformation of us has begun, but is incomplete. We celebrate another Holy Week because we need to, and our witness is not our triumph but His.
Consider gathering at St. Catherine’s and walking to St. Vincent’s next Sunday, April 9, to testify to the one who has the power to keep you in motion toward the highest of goals.
When you read these lines Easter will be on the horizon at three weeks’ distance. For me winter has flown and three weeks of Lent have evaporated. Our absorbing politics no doubt greased the wheels of time. The newsfeed on the phone has delivered almost hourly fascinations and amazements. Of course at some point the preoccupation with events ceases to be productive. Now is the time to deal with this. I realize that to enter into Holy Week and Easter I need to challenge the compelling power of the news. Spiritual convention says to shut off the information and focus on the cross and empty tomb. But perhaps I give the events of Holy Week their full power by using them as a most accurate lens through which to perceive the events of the time. I move beyond seeking a refuge to finding a response.
Holy Week celebrates not only the truth of eternity but its victory. That means we not only remember its past effect but access its current power. The Resurrection gives us power to hope in Heaven, but also the capacity to see beyond what is not heavenward in this life. The resurrection currently has more power than whatever intimidates, shames, belittles, or manipulates.
It will be timely to use our Parish Lenten Retreat to draw on the present power of eternal life so that we have the serenity to be peaceful in ourselves and a leaven in our times.
Please join us on Saturday, April 1, at St. Vincent Ferrer to ponder
Easter in Lent
Christ’s Resurrection as power for serene living now
Schedule 9 AM Welcome
10:15 Shared silence
10: 45 Conference
11: 15 Stations of the Cross
Noon Mass of Our Lady in Lent
If you would like to join us, please call Rachel at (212) 744-2080, just so that we can plan.
Holy Week will give us an opportunity to look further into the lived reality of the Resurrection. For some years now we have gathered on the Tuesday of Holy Week for a simple supper and reflection that gives new insight into the familiar liturgies of the Triduum. This year Holy Tuesday falls on April ll.
We will gather in St. Dominic Hall at St. Catherine’s after the 5:15 Mass. Together we will make a study of the beautiful Chapter 21 of St. John’s Gospel, in which unfolds an extended encounter between the Risen Lord and His disciples, it is a passage which teaches us much about how Jesus has equipped us with distinct means to now live a life shaped by Resurrection.
For the evening, St. Dominic’s Hall will be our own Upper Room.
So that we can plan properly please call Rachel Miller at (212) 744-2080 if you would like to join us.
I hope that both of these events will afford us a significant pause before the intensity of the Triduum.
May this second half of Lent give you a deep longing for the Easter Peace.
I write these lines on Monday, March 13, and by all accounts you will have had a challenging week of
weather by the time you read them. I say “you” with some embarrassment because I write you from Sarasota, Florida, which looks to feel this storm only by way of highs in the sixties rather than the seventies. My father winters here in Sarasota and I take a turn accompanying him. As you may imagine the time is precious for its climactic and personal warmth. I find also that that by living according to a different rhythm for a few days I appreciate the gift of my own life and companions.
Of course, while technology has made it easier to travel quickly to a different world, it has also blunted the effect of travel so that one can keep tabs on multiple worlds at the same time. So this morning WYNC kept me up on all the storm preparations even as I was looking out the window at palm trees. As I think of New York I am more alive with concern for those who are there, guilt at not being there myself, and glee for being here. I find this
multiplicity of experience to be a fascinating gift of our time.
I receive it as a privilege of nature as well. Living in the fifties of life confers a windfall on me, for I connect to multiple generational worlds as well. My father is thirty years my senior and it startles me that on the one hand we share much in common, but on the other, age has carried him bodily to a different world, a voyage he has managed with extraordinary humor and good grace. At close quarters lie a world of shared tastes and experiences, and a gulf of time that cannot be crossed, save by empathy.
From my sunny perch I can look north and see the multiplicity of worlds as gift to my life at home. Consider the three Friars with whom I work most closely. Fr. Joseph Allen is 79, and Br. Damian McCarthy is 77, a few years short of my dad’s 84 and Fr. Innocent is 30. The four of us have much in common by way of our Dominican life and training, but we also represent three generational worlds of the Church. That means three perspectives on all kinds of issues, ranging from worship to administrative priorities.
For the guy in the middle this offers some challenge, but mostly exhilaration, as the combination keeps one profoundly in touch. Of course the life of our Parish staff offers a microcosm of the life of our parish as a community of generations, and to look at the procession of these in a local place offers a glimpse into the very vast movement of people through time that is the Church.
One’s generation provides so much belonging. Events, fashions, and the arts support a unity of perspective that grows with time. When I speak with people my age about the 1980 election it’s almost like we are sharing a family secret. To be in a generation is to inhabit a world, and to recognize another generation is to discern another world. As a I watch the kids on spring break enjoy the sand and the waters of the Gulf, I see that the men favor swim trunks that reach their knees. Walking along with my pale middle aged calves showing proudly I am mystified by these young people. Why would anyone come to the seashore on an 80 degree day and wear that much clothing in the water? My incomprehension notwithstanding, they are having a great time, perfectly comfortable with each other in their world. (They probably look at me and think that someone with such legs should cover up.)
But with hemlines, tie widths, and favorite actors, each generation also seems to craft a narrative of its own uniqueness, seeing in itself the long awaited answer, or the fresh start the world needs. In the strength of this
conviction it makes its contribution to every field of endeavor, until it perceives the tsunami in the rearview mirror. All of a sudden there are people coming from behind with different answers and different norms. In the procession of generations time affirms in part and rejects in part, and it’s a happy old age that befriends the inexorable flux in things.
With pondering, the passage of generations reveals one of life’s quietest joys. Contempt for the past and war against the future never repay the effort, but striving to make a contribution in the present offers a double reward when it builds on the past and gives scope to the needs and insights which must come after. I believe that the more I maintain awareness that I live within the movement of time, the more I achieve both fruitfulness and humility. I can even turn things around so that time becomes an opportunity rather than a constraint, and the chance to contribute a gift rather than an episode in a culture war.
Consider that since Vatican II the Church has received the Pastoral Care of Paul VI, John Paul I and II,
Benedict XVI, and Francis. We can analyze this history politically as a series of pendulum swings, or we can see the Spirit at work in the continuity of the Church. On the “micro” level, I have had the joy of observing three different generations apply themselves to the renewal of the Church. In this ongoing work creativity and conflict have each have served an underlying and discernible continuum.
At Easter, in the Risen Christ, I glimpse humanity living beyond time in the state of glory, but I can only
prepare for this by observing the law of time now. As with so much of mortal existence living well in time means being amazed to see how much I do not see.