Thursday, May 16, 2013

In the Face of Mayhem

I call it May(hem) because so much happens this month.  I know you have a lot going on, some of it because you want to get it done before the summer so you can enjoy some vacation, some of it because of the requirements of the season itself, with sports and the academic year coming to a close.  Some of the things are scheduled now just because it is such a beautiful time of year to do things, like weddings and other events.  It is much the same for me.
But I want to ask you to put something on your calendar for the end of this busy month.  It will help you accomplish absolutely nothing on your list of things to do, but your very willingness to stop doing things is what will make it possible for God to do great things for you.
On Thursday evening, May 30th, at 7:30, we will offer here a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. 
The feast, which Americans have observed on the nearest Sunday since the time of Pope Leo XIII, is originally on a Thursday.  I didn’t even know that until I went to seminary in Rome, where they still celebrate it on that day.  The day of the week hearkens to the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper that first Holy Thursday.  We will have our regular Masses for the feast on Sunday June second, but this Thursday evening will be special.
The choir Chantry will sing polyphonic Mass commons  (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) by Josquin Des Prez, the finest composer of the early renaissance.   His Missa Pange Lingua is based throughout on the tune that you probably know best from the classic Eucharistic hymn Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.   The propers (antiphons and such) are from the Gradualia by the English renaissance composer William Byrd. 
This is astonishingly beautiful music, and to have it sung by such a choir in the context of a Mass is a rare enough thing; to have it in our own church is an opportunity not to be missed.
Thanks to the efforts of Father McDonell, our philosopher, the homily will be offered by Msgr. John F. Wippel, who is the Theodore Basselin Professor of Philosophy at Catholic University of America.  He will have some precious insights to share on the reality of the Holy Eucharist!  Then, there will be a Eucharistic procession after the Mass.
Since this Mass will be in the Extraordinary Form, everything except the homily will be in Latin, but do not let that frighten you away.  You will still be able to participate, just not in the same manner you do in the Ordinary Form of the Mass.   We will have handouts to help you follow the words, many of which you know because you know the Mass so well.  But if you raise your eyes -- and your ears, and your hearts -- you will also be free to follow the beautiful sounds and actions, and to encounter the truth and beauty of our Eucharistic worship.  It is a different way of participating at Mass, and one that I find both illuminating and enriching of our understanding of the Ordinary Form that we celebrate each day in English. 
So, in the midst of all the mayhem, put aside time, not for getting something else done, but for wasting time on God.  Squander a few precious hours in the sounds and sights of divine worship; waste a few hours wandering aimlessly in the presence of the Divine Glory. 
Your list of things to do and places to go will be just as long when you get home.  But when you leave this Mass, you will have heard, seen, and touched Heaven itself, beholding the very face of God.  Jesus did not give us Himself in the Eucharist for the sake of efficiency, but for its own sake, the sake of our Communion with Him.  It is the love of God become flesh for us, and by this power alone will we enjoy order and glory in the face of May(hem).
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Who is first?

Which came first? is an ancient line in an ancient riddle.   This weekend, first things come to mind.  It is the most beautiful weekend of the year, as the seasons announce life coming back to the earth, and our children present themselves to receive for the first time the Author of Life Himself.  It is the time of First Holy Communion.
This is a great and glorious instant in the lives of our first communicants and their families, but that very first-ness brings both excitement and promise – promise of more, promise of second and third and beyond.  There is a lot of first-ness to be found in our relationship with Jesus.
The first thing the Church did, back before she even knew herself to be the Church, back when she became the Church, in fact how she became the Church, was to celebrate the Eucharist.  The disciples who had encountered the risen Lord on the first day of the week, then again eight days later, continued to worship God on this new day in a new way.  Not with Sabbath-worship on the seventh day, but with thanksgiving to God, and the breaking of the bread, on the first day.
The Sacred Scriptures describe this first action of grace and therefore themselves clearly come later.  Communion with Jesus is the root and foundation of the Church, first when He passed through locked doors to say and give “Peace to you,” then as the Apostles anointed with the Spirit took bread and did this in memory of Him, saying, “This is my body.”
It is clear that to be the Church, to live the life of grace, we need that communion – our bodies united with this glorious body.  It has to come first, before anything we do can be “what Jesus would do.”  Before the doing, before the imitating, there must be something else, first.
This firstness is not, of course, something that the Church could make or take, but that Christ himself must and did give.  The firstness of the giving is essential to the communion, for it cannot be earned or bought or won.  Communion is necessarily something that is received, and the first foot forward is that of Him who gives.  Look at the faces of the children who come forward.  They bring nothing but their receptivity to what they will be given, to Him Who gives.   They return having received, their eyes alight with the gift to Whom they give their own flesh.
The first giving of flesh we celebrate as well this month, as we mark or devotion to our mother Mary, who gave her flesh to Him who became flesh to dwell among us.  This first giving is the first first communion, as God Himself, the Eternal Word, took flesh, and dwelt in the tabernacle, the Tower of Ivory that is His most pure mother.  For the unique response to the giving God is also to give, which makes room for that great first giving.  No one has done it better, but we all strive to imitate what she did, to give our flesh to be one with His flesh, to renew what she did first.
It is my hope that giving these first Communions to these receptive and rejoicing communicants is to kindle not nostalgia for what was and will be no more, but delight and desire for what we are to be, and do.   Not only I, but parents, and grandparents, neighbors, friends, and cousins, all watch and see and smile, and know for a moment the momentousness of this meeting, the union of heaven and earth in an innocent soul.
It is my hope that this also be their desire, and mine: to enjoy that same moment, not the firstness, but the communion.  That desire itself is a gift, given freely and without prejudice, given to all who would receive, who would take the gift by giving themselves, giving their flesh to Him whose flesh gives life; to know, to enjoy, to experience this same second that comes second, flowing forth from the gift of God, who came first.
Monsignor Smith