Father Joseph Briody presented a Liturgy Conference to the seminarians this evening. Here is the text of his presentation on The Liturgy and the Seminary.
What we do here and why we do it?
In this brief presentation I would like to reflect on what we do here and why we do it? This will involve a brief look at the Liturgy in general, the Paschal Mystery, interior and exterior dimensions, the Mass, adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, beauty in the Liturgy and some practical applications.
What is the Liturgy?
The Liturgy is the official, public prayer of the Church and yet it is also the primary expression of our personal and intimate relationship with the Lord. Its essence is communion with God and fellowship with Christ. It allows us to encounter Jesus Christ in time (YOUCAT, 165). God himself is present in sacred signs and ancient prayers. The Liturgy is given to us as a gift. That is why the Second Vatican Council made clear that “no one, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, pr. 22,3). The Liturgy is a gift from God through the Church. St Paul says “this is what I have received and in turn pass on to you.” We receive it in faith and obedience. It transforms us, shapes us, moulds us into Christ. Were we to invent our own liturgy, it would have little transformative effect. It would be in our own image and likeness, not God’s.
The Liturgy gradually shapes us “that Christ be formed in us” (Gal 4:19), as St. Paul says. God pours out his grace in the Liturgy. Christ acts through the Liturgy and the sacraments just as he did when he visibly walked this earth. “Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments” (Pope St. Leo the Great tells us in his Ascension sermon).
The Paschal Mystery and the Mystical Body
The Liturgy continues “the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, pr. 5). It flows from the side of Christ crucified, and now risen and glorious at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. From his pierced heart flowed blood and water, the “wellspring of the Church’s sacraments” (Preface of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus). From his death and resurrection flow the Mass, the sacraments and all graces. The passage of Christ from death to life is called the Paschal Mystery i.e. his passion, death, resurrection, ascension into glory and sending of the Holy Spirit. This passage from death to life is the substance of every Christian Liturgy. All Liturgy has the shape of the Paschal Mystery in order to form us into the image of the crucified and risen Lord.
All of this is for the glory of the Father and the sanctification of man (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 17). This is the purpose of the Liturgy – the glory of God and our sanctification. The Liturgy then is the worship offered by the members of the Church united with Christ their Head. It is the worship of the full Christ, the Mystical Body of Christ (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 20). We could summarize as follows:
- The Liturgy is the continuation of the work of Jesus Christ.
- It is the action of Christ and the Church (the whole Christ)
- It directs our whole life towards God.
- Through it we offer ourselves with Christ to the Father in the Spirit.
Interior and Exterior Dimensions
The Liturgy has both an interior dimension and an exterior dimension since it is the action of a body i.e., the action of the entire Body of Christ along with Christ her head. The Liturgy necessarily involves external things – readings, bread and wine, oil, water, the altar, vestments etc. We are led by what we see, to the things of God that are unseen. Through “God made visible” in Christ, we are “caught up … in love of things invisible” (Roman Missal, (2011) Preface I of the Nativity of the Lord). We are drawn into the mystery of Christ, the Paschal Mystery and enabled to live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us (cf. 2 Cor 5:15).
Interior attitude should correspond with exterior celebration. Otherwise, the Liturgy could become something artificial, like a theatrical performance, “formalism without meaning” ( Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 24), an empty shell, and not our spiritual worship. In contrast, St. Paul urges the Romans: “I urge you … to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). A good test is how I offer Mass when there is no congregation or how I act before the Blessed Sacrament when there is no one else around.
The chief element we bring to the Liturgy is interior – our dispositions, our openness, our preparation: “For we must always live in Christ and give ourselves to him completely… so that … the heavenly Father may be … glorified” Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 24). The Liturgy is not merely the outward or visible part of divine worship or just “ornamental ceremonial” (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 25). Mind and heart are to turn to the Lord. We are to “have the mind of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5), as St. Paul indicates. As members of the Body of Christ we unite ourselves with Christ the Head. We have to dispose our hearts to receive his grace. This is what is meant by “active participation.” It is not so much doing things physically or moving around, as uniting ourselves with the action of the Liturgy, the action of Christ himself.
Today we are going to look very simply at the pillars of the Liturgy for the priest or seminarian i.e. the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.
The Holy Eucharist is the
SACRAMENT in which Jesus Christ gives his Body and Blood—himself—for us, so that we might give ourselves to him… The … sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present … in a hidden, unbloody manner. Thus the celebration of the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium [LG], 11, in YOUCAT, 208).
The Mass is possible because, (as Pope Benedict XVI expressed), Christ transforms his death into an act of love. The Crucifixion becomes “an act of total self-giving love” (POPE BENEDICT XVI, August 21, 2005). This act of total self-giving love is made present in the Mass. Christ, glorious at the right hand of the Father, still bears his wounds (Easter Gospels) and presents them to the Father for us. He lives now forever to make intercession for us (Hebrews). He is “the Lamb standing (risen) as if slain (still bearing the wounds of his passion)” (Revelation). The Mass then clearly makes present the Paschal Mystery – the passage of Christ from death to life for us.
We might note two vital points about the Mass that we cannot repeat enough: Sacrifice and Real Presence (from Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God, [June 30 1968]): 1) “The Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars … the bread and wine … are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven (35) … 2) [T]he bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us…(36).
By adorable we don’t mean adorable in the sense that “that baby is cute or adorable” or “my girlfriend is just adorable.” We mean it in the sense of “must be adored” because He is the Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord! This evokes the same response in us as it did with those who fell on their knees before Christ and the New Testament is full of this. Saint Augustine asserts about the Eucharist that, “No one eats that flesh, without first adoring … not only do we not commit a sin by adoring …, but we sin by not adoring ...” Reverence and posture are important. I know this has been spoken of in orientation and human formation, how to avoid certain casual habits in the chapel, like hands in pockets, slouching and so on.
Adoring the Lord: Posture and Practice
Kneeling and Standing: Because kneeling is probably the most distinctive posture, let’s look at it first. “Kneeling doesn’t come from any (particular) culture … it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God” (Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 185). The New Testament is full of “kneeling” – the verb is used fifty nine times there, twenty four times in the Apocalypse, which presents the heavenly liturgy as model (Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 185). Kneeling expresses adoration, the recognition of Jesus as Son of God, and it also expresses supplication. As with all bodily gestures, it is “the bearer of spiritual meaning” (Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 190). The act of kneeling or genuflecting affects the whole person. Cardinal Ratzinger states that “the man who learns to believe learns also to kneel” (Ibid., 194).
When we kneel or stand in the liturgy we look out from ourselves to the One who comes to us and draws us to himself. This is very different from the lotus position or the sitting position of oriental meditation. There “man looks into himself. He does not go away from himself to the Other but tends to sink inward, into the nothing…” (Ibid., 197) Kneeling and standing in the liturgy are distinctively Christian postures of prayer, as we are drawn out of ourselves and towards the face of Jesus Christ in whom we see the Father (Jn 14:9).
Bowing low expresses respect, humility, worship, supplication and dependence on God. Again it expresses “the spiritual attitude essential to faith.” It expresses the truth of our being. Monsignor Moroney referred to this act and spirit of bowing low before God in his opening Rector’s Talk, when speaking of the Supplices of the Roman Canon. Check it out again on the Blog.
Sitting expresses attentiveness, receptivity, readiness and willingness to learn from Christ the Master at whose feet we sit. And so we sit for the biblical readings, except for the Gospel which merits special reverence. On the other hand, other actions such as forms of dancing and applause are not part of the liturgy and are more on the level of entertainment, when we focus only on ourselves, our own closed circle and what is merely human.
At Mass: Sometimes there is some confusion over when we should genuflect or bow. We genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament when entering and leaving the sanctuary at the beginning and end of Mass. However, during Mass, we bow low to the altar because the altar is the focus during Mass. After the Consecration, the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar are the focus, and so we genuflect if passing or approaching the altar after the Consecration. After Communion, once the Blessed Sacrament has been reposed in the tabernacle, the altar becomes the focus again and we bow low before the altar.
Outside of Mass we genuflect before the Most Blessed Sacrament, when passing before the Tabernacle. During Morning Prayer, if a server is coming to read at the ambo he bows low to the altar. At Evening Prayer, because the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, a genuflection is made because at this point the exposed Blessed Sacrament on the altar is the focus. Many people like to make a double genuflection during Exposition if entering the chapel late or leaving early. This is commendable and praiseworthy. However, if you are reading or serving during holy hour then a single, reverent genuflection towards the Blessed Sacrament is sufficient.
Last year, a new tabernacle was installed and blessed in the college chapel of St. John’s. This makes it very clear the Jesus Christ is the center of our lives here. Everything we do revolves around him. He is the living heart of our churches and our lives. Pope Paul VI reminds us that the unique presence of “the Lord glorious in heaven” is made present “on earth where Mass is celebrated” and
…[T]his existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us. ( Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, 26)
Before the Blessed Sacrament our prayer could well be that of St. John Chrysostom. He suggested that when we see the Body of Christ we should say: “Thanks to this Body, I am no longer dust and ashes. (Cf. Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 144)
The Liturgy of the Hours
By becoming man, Christ introduced on earth the hymn which is sung always in heaven. In the Divine Office we are united with this hymn, sung always before the throne of God and the Lamb.
YOUCAT 188 explains it like this:
The Liturgy of the Hours is the universal, public prayer of the →CHURCH. Biblical readings lead the person who prays it ever deeper into the mystery of the life of Jesus Christ. Throughout the world this gives the Triune God the opportunity at every hour of the day to transform gradually those who pray and also the world … The seven “hours of prayer” are like a treasury of the →CHURCH’S prayers. It also loosens our tongues when we have become speechless because of joy, sorrow, or fear. (When we don’t have the words, or feel we cannot pray, though God can be very close at those times). Again and again one is astonished in reciting the Liturgy of the Hours: an entire reading “coincidentally” applies precisely to my situation. God hears us when we call to him. He answers us in these texts—often in a way that is so specific as to be almost disconcerting. In any case he also allows us to have long periods of silence and dryness so that we can demonstrate our fidelity.
Every year, before we begin again with Volume One of the Liturgy of the Hours, it is very useful spiritually to read the General Instruction which explains why we do this and how to do it. The Psalms and the Divine Office in general should become our food, the daily bread of our mediation and our own personal prayer. After the Mass, the Breviary and the Psalms will be perhaps your greatest consolation and companion as a priest. As Bishop Barber reminded us in his retreat conferences: the Mass, the Divine Office and the Rosary are the staple diet of the diocesan priest. In a sense, the spirituality of the diocesan priest is built around these.
Final word on the Importance of Beauty and Dignity in the Liturgy
Beauty draws people to God in a way that rational argument may not. Beauty moves us in a way that helps us to encounter God. Beauty helps us experience the presence and glory of God. I’m sure you’ve heard the story, I’m not sure how true it is, of the messengers of Prince Vladimir of Kiev sent out to discover which version of Christianity they should adopt. It was said that when they entered Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they were so caught up in the chant, the incense, the icons, the liturgy, and the sense of the holy presence of God, that they were completely overcome. In their report to the Prince they said they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth -- they had never experienced such beauty! They could not describe it except to say, "there God dwells among men…" (http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2011/07/we-did-not-know-if-we-were-in-heaven-or.html#sthash.ogCyZCre.dpuf) Beauty is important in the Liturgy. The Church’s Liturgy, in communion with the heavenly Jerusalem, makes the same point: “here God lives among men.”
Some practical points
Please don’t opt out of the singing, especially the singing of the Office hymns and psalms and the parts of the Mass.
A clear outline of the various roles and functions in serving Mass is being completed and will be circulated shortly by the Masters of Ceremonies. We have been trying to see what works best.
The only practical change to be introduced at this stage is in the Liturgy of the Hours and it is this: we should all sing the entire Gospel canticles together at Morning and Evening Prayer. When we recite/say the Office, we recite the gospel canticle together, so it makes sense to also sing the entire canticle together.
This serves to heighten the importance of these gospel canticles which express so powerfully the Incarnation, the Coming of the Savior and the salvation he brings. In the words of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (50), these canticles are sanctioned by age-old use and are “expressions of praise and thanksgiving for our redemption.” So as a general rule we will chant the entire gospel canticles together at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, except on Sunday at Morning Prayer when the verses of the canticle alternate between the cantors and the congregation. This doesn’t affect the way we sing the psalms. We will continue to sings the psalms antiphonally, that is, from side to side, as is appropriate.
The Gospel Canticle at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer is a high point: the Benedictus or “Canticle of Zechariah” at Morning Prayer and the Magnificat or “Canticle of Mary” at Evening Prayer. We stand for these, as we do for the Gospel at Mass. Indeed the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours states that “The Gospel canticles of Zechariah, of Mary and of Simeon are to be treated with the same solemnity and dignity as are customary at the proclamation of the Gospel.”
We will sing the entire gospel canticle together. It also makes sense, during the gospel canticle to face the altar. The altar is the focus during these canticles. On Solemn occasions, the altar may even be incensed during these canticles, as we do from time to time at the discretion of the celebrant. At Evening Prayer the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar, so it makes even more sense to face the altar. If we face the altar together during the gospel canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer then it makes sense to maintain that direction and focus for the Intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer and the Concluding Prayer. We can then turn to whichever priest is leading the Office for the blessing. To summarize, during Morning and Evening Prayer we face each other during the chanting of the Psalms and the Scripture reading. We face the altar for the gospel canticle, the intercessions, the Our Father and concluding prayer. And for the blessing we face the priest, if that is convenient. This can be reviewed after a few weeks.
If you are lector at Morning or Evening Prayer, leave some time after the psalms before you go up to do the reading. Don’t rush up immediately. Also leave some time for reflection between the reading and the short responsory. Don’t rush directly into the short responsory.
Please come to any serving practices/rehearsals organized by me or the Masters of Ceremonies. These are mandatory. Generally speaking there will be a rehearsal for the servers for Sunday Mass immediately after Morning Prayer on Sundays. On a normal Sunday, if things are organized and everyone is there, this should only take 10-15 minutes at the most. So if you are serving on Sunday, the default position is that there will be a rehearsal immediately after Morning Prayer for ten minutes.
Thank you for your cooperation and patience in these matters. Whatever we do here is for the Lord. That should be our motivation and intention. We all make mistakes. There are things we could improve on, things we should do better, things that irritate us. But if we lose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing it, then we lose out on many of the graces and blessings God offers us in the Sacred Liturgy, as well as losing out peace, our tranquility. We shouldn’t let ourselves become distracted from what really matters – the one thing necessary, what takes place right here at this altar.
We shouldn’t be afraid of celebrating the Liturgy properly. Jesus makes this clear when he asks his apostles to go and prepare the room for the Last Supper and to ensure that everything was suitable and in order. He also makes this clear in the scene at Bethany where the woman came in with a bottle of costly, sweet-smelling ointment and wasted it on him. Judas thought it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Christ said of the woman: “she has done a beautiful thing for me; she has pleased me well.” Let us celebrate the Liturgy always well and always for the Lord.
Tomorrow is the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary so let us pray: Hail Mary…