Topic: Liturgy

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Extraordinary Glory: On the Beauty of Nature, Plane Flights, and Obscure Rubrics

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"And when they came to threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God."(2 Sam 6.3)

Day Flight

I recently had the tremendous opportunity to fly in a single engine prop plane. A friend of mine with a pilot's license is part of a club that shares planes and resources and such, and had been inviting me to go up with him for some time. Stupendous. Majestic. Enthralling. Wonder-filled. Got me, naturally, thinking about liturgy! Specifically, about the ancient liturgy proper to my order, also known as the Dominican Rite.

Chasuble, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-14-13

The archdiocese of Miami posted a few months back one laywoman's account of experiencing the Extraordinary Form for the first time.1 She relates that, despite the preconceived notions about this mass she had imbibed from the media, her experience was remarkably enriching. She recounts an initial confusion, bridging into an entranced awe, and then a gradually free surrender to the beauty of a liturgy which was, on the one hand, entirely outside her experience, yet on the other, mysteriously and profoundly united with the saints in heaven and through history. Fr. Z linked her article on his blog, which seems to have spawned several more accounts (here, here, and here).

I add my voice to this growing and, as it were, polyphonic chorus. As a Gen-X convert to the Catholic Faith (raised Presbyterian, entered the Church in 2003), my exposure to any mass prior to about 2001 was rare, much less the old rite(s) of preconciliar days. The last thing on my mind upon initial conversion was the existence or possible importance of older liturgical forms. Although I did tend to drift towards more relatively sober and reverent liturgies, at that point most of my needy soul's gaze was inebriated with the riches of Sacred Tradition, the philosophical and theological patrimony of the Church, the gift of an ecclesial hierarchy that unites the Church's faith across space and time, and above all the supreme gift of the Blessed Sacrament. The more I have grown in my Catholic faith, however, the more I have come to realize the importance of liturgical form.

Unison Bow, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-8-13

On this question, one often hears it said that the "externals" of liturgy are secondary to the really important thing, which is one's relationship with Christ. This is true in principle, but misleading. Outward forms matter for the same reason the Incarnation matters: as bodily creatures we perceive the invisible through the visible; the form through the accident, to use scholastic language. When the "accidents" of liturgical aesthetics are shoddy, undignified, or banal, this can implicitly communicate -- especially through long repetition -- false ideas about the character of God. But I get ahead of myself.

My first consistent encounter with the Extraordinary Form was on my "residency" year in Anchorage, Alaska (2010-11), where one mass every Sunday is offered according to the Dominican Rite, the ancient rite proper to the Order of Preachers.2 At the time these were Low Masses (no choir, one server, much silence) and my initial experience of it was a kind of dumb reverence. I sat and gazed inquisitively at the priest facing away from the congregation -- or rather, towards the East(!), at the server bustling back and forth seeming to obey minute rubrics with military-like precision, and on certain intermittent occasions being graced with the priest's voice or direct address: a "Dominus vobiscum" here, a "nobis quoque peccatoribus" there.  The feel and flow of the Mass was unfamiliar but silent and rather unassuming. I was not distracted or paying much attention to the priest's personality quirks; I was not even so conscious of the words being spoken, except for trying to pick out a Latin phrase here or there. Yet it was all oddly entrancing. In a way I could hardly describe, I felt transported into a reverence for something mysterious I did not understand, but in which I sensed a profound unity, coherence, discipline, and depth.

PaintedLady @ Rae Lakes, Kings Canyon NPark, CA, 8-4-11, Author-Jeffrey Pang, Source-WikimediaCommons

The rhythms of the natural world come to mind. Some may have seen the excellent, excellent (did I say excellent?) BBC series Planet Earth. Transported to inner sancta of the jungles, deserts, ice plains, sea-depths, and mountain ranges of our world, one frequently wants to burst out while beholding the marvels, "this looks like another planet!" All manner of bizarre, enchanting, and startling phenomena carry themselves out day-to-day on earth, in an order mind-bogglingly elaborate, yet somehow reassuringly solid, steady, and consistently turning. Hamlet was right: there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy; or in anyone else's for that matter. Such expansive complexity overspreads every inch of the cosmos, yet underneath it a profound and awe-inspiring order shines through. God apparently was interested in aesthetics, in the "externals" of the cosmos, when He created it.

Lift Off, Monterey Bay 10-2-13

Which brings me back to the liturgy and planes. The wonder one experiences when watching Planet Earth occurs in concreto, as it were, by going up in a single-prop plane. Part of nature's power to evoke awe lies precisely in its lack of familiarity, in its uncontrollability, in the fact that it can bedazzle you (like this) but also spike your neck-hairs (like this). Part of the thrill of a plane flight, too, lies precisely in a certain "cost" paid up front: the danger of being thousands of feet up in the air, your life at the mercy of the human engineers who designed the plane, and the sheer know-how of the pilot guiding it. In other words, the experience of anything transcendent evokes a reverence for something other, unfamiliar, unpredictable, and even dangerous. It should not surprise us, then, that a Mass with centuries of venerable tradition behind it expresses the adoration of God in forms and appearances -- governed by minute and complex rubrics -- that are unfamiliar to our daily experience. If Nature is complex, yet profoundly beautiful and ordered, all the more the outer-reaches of reality we peer into when the Triune God is adored at the Mass. God's exceeding beauty, goodness, and majesty would seem to call forth naturally -- or supernaturally, as it were -- liturgical forms that are unfamiliar to us, that enkindle the twin instincts of admiration and, well, something that makes your neck-hairs stand up.

Before Take-Off, Livermore Airstrip

To carry the plane analogy a bit further, I recall sitting on the runway before take-off that brisk early morning.  With a certain reverential wonder, I admired the symmetry of the plane's wings, the aerodynamic perfection of the body, the simple and compact yet, used rightly, wonderful winged potential of this piece of modern machinery sitting silently before me in the pre-dawn light. Awesome. So too, I was glad my friend Doug was scrupulous in checking the specs of the plane before flight (every door, tire, wing flap, and fluid level) since in a few moments this elaborate device would soar us into the heavens at the peril of our lives. His technical knowledge had to be quite elaborate, and his execution virtually flawless, in accordance with the greatness and difficulty of the task. Similarly, it is fitting that liturgy, which is ordered to offering the God of Heaven right worship and lifting souls to union with Him, should reflect the majesty of this God by being complex yet ordered, diverse in movement yet unified in purpose, highly detailed in rubric yet graceful and awe-evoking in overall appearance. If planes that launch bodies into both awe-inspiring and potentially dangerous physical flights require diligent and careful attention, even more the liturgy, the privileged flashpoint where Heaven itself shines through to us who dwell upon the earth.

In the last half-century it has been common to want and "design" liturgies that are more simple, common-place, and closer to the informal and popular customs of the surrounding culture. Whatever we want to say about the manner in which this "inculturation" occurs, what Newman called the "unutterable beauty" of the Mass hangs absolutely, I would assert, on the manner in which the liturgy respects and so reflects, God's simultaneous immanence and transcendence. God humbles Himself to appear as bread and wine, yes; God is closer to us than our inmost self, yes; God is compassionate, gentle, and forgiving, yes -- thank God for our sakes that He would come so near to us! But He is also infinitely removed from our experience, and acts in unpredictable and often very politically incorrect ways. He zapped Uzzah for the apparently understandable action of trying to steady a tottering ark, since Uzzah was not a priest (2 Sam 6:3); He killed Nadab and Abihu for using the wrong type of incense for sacrifice (Lev 10:1); and He metes out punishment to those who would contravene His commands, even disciplining those he loves (cf. 1 Sm 15.3, Ex 12.2, Num 31.7-18; Heb 12.6). He is "good to all, and has compassion on all He has made" (Psalm 145:9), but is also a "consuming fire"  whose holiness excludes anyone who is not themselves holy from seeing Him face-to-face in heaven (cf. Heb 12:29 and 12:14).

High Altar, St. Albert's Priory, Oakland, CA

Today we are not used to thinking of God in these terms. But we cannot get God's immanence without respecting His transcendence. If we want the fullness of God's love, we must (by grace, of course) accord with the strictness of His justice. Adoring His infinite majesty is the condition for uniting with and growing in His intimate love. I have been drawn to the ancient rite proper to my order quite simply because there is a depth and beauty in it, experienced precisely through the complexity and "other-ness" of its outward form, that (for many reasons) is often not accessible in vast swaths of the Church today, where the new Mass was not implemented in a way that organically developed from the pre-Vatican II years.3 And it is precisely, in one sense, this outward and highly ordered complexity that kindles the twin instincts of admiration and fear, of astonishment with a hint of alarm, which one feels in the natural wonders of earth, or in the experience of flight. Instead of the "externals" of Mass being odd and annoying superfluities one must "get past" in order to focus on the really important thing, I have discovered rather that they are genuine reflections of the honor, attention, and dignity due the Triune God, as well as highly fitting for facilitating the individual believer's personal encounter with this God.

Consecration/Elevation, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-8-13

As my formation has proceeded (I look forward to ordination in May, 2014), my liturgical sensibilities have come to be deeply shaped by the Dominican Rite, with a practicum offered now in our formation by Fr. Augustine Thompson -- perhaps the world expert on the rite -- and plentiful opportunities for serving, both at our house of studies and in the Bay Area. It seems a wise proposal of Pope Emeritus Benedict that, for now, the two forms of the Mass -- old and new -- should exist side-by-side, that they may influence one another. The old rite needs to undergo legitimate, careful, and discerning reform; and the new mass needs to re-establish a more direct and organic continuity with the Church's sacred tradition and practice. I would go so far as to assert this sort of legitimate liturgical reform as "storm center" of the vaunted New Evangelization, insofar as John Paul II launched the latter in 1992 as a Eucharistically centered affair -- but that would require another article. For now, we pray God would give all Catholics the fidelity, awareness of his Presence, and single-minded devotion to His glory upon the earth, to order our lives around worship in Spirit and in Truth.

Hoods Up, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-8-13

All liturgical images above were taken at a Solemn High Mass recently celebrated, according to the Dominican Rite, at Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco, with Fr. Anselm Ramelow, O.P. presiding, and all other ministries served by student friars of the Western Dominican Province. They appear here courtesy of the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco.


1 Sometimes misnamed the "Latin Mass," since of course the new mass can be done in Latin also.

2 See my confrere Fr. Augustine Thompson's website for the most comprehensive internet resource on the Dominican Rite. Incidentally, Holy Family Cathedral now has Missa Cantata's regularly, and recently offered a Solemn High Mass.

3 To be clear, I do not assert the intrinsic superiority of the Extraordinary Form over the New Mass. The Holy Spirit evidently wanted, and still wants, a genuine liturgical reform to occur in the contemporary Church. My assertion is rather of a piece with Pope Emeritus Benedict's frequent observation through his career: liturgical reform was needed by the mid-20th century, but the way it happened in practice after the Council too often resulted in hasty decisions to jettison traditional forms, without respect for the internal dynamics of the liturgy that could have led to authentic development. Click here for a recent article by respected liturgical theologian Dom Alcuin Reid, O.S.B., on the ambiguities that lent Sacrosanctum Concilium to misinterpretation, and the positive seeds that are still to be nourished.

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

Harmony in the Sanctuary

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"What role does music play in the Church?" St. Albert's OrganTwo events last month brought this question into focus as the brothers of St. Albert's Priory celebrated Solemn Vespers and the blessing of our new Paul Fritts Opus 36 pipe organ. The Saturday Solemn Vespers was followed on Sunday afternoon by an Organ Dedication Concert given by the impressive Prof. Craig Cramer, DMA, of the University of Notre Dame. One could become entranced by the dance of Prof. Cramer’s feet tapping out peals of bass from the pedals, and not yet ask the question in the title; or one might hear the full range of timbre, resonance and overtones of the organ, unmatched by any other single acoustic instrument, and still be excused from delving into the relation of music to liturgy, of tune to text, and of song to sanctification. But the excuse could only last so long.

As exciting, moving and tremendous the experience of music might be, we tend not be satisfied until we have answered the questions, "why?,"  and "for what reason?" do we use and listen to music in church. Until this mystery is explored and comprehended, it will continue to elude our grasp, like a clever thief who leaves us exhilarated from the chase, but finally exhausted from tapping our toes and wagging our tongues, clutching at a few seams of his fleeing cloak. Opening a treasure chest requires a key—as does music.

In our musical and religious culture the organ concert is a well-established event, and it is certainly right to display the heights of musical art in churches and chapels at appropriate times, for example between liturgical hours. Just as we love story and art, we love music, and it is a wholesome thing to use the arts to delight in the world God has created for our use. But what is the true purpose of commissioning such a glorious instrument? What is the goal of our singing, chanting, and hymning, whether accompanied or a cappella? As well, how are we affected by music, especially sacred music?

It is no small thing to lift our voices to God in praise. Scripture declares, “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, oh my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God, while I have my being” (Psalm 146:1-2). It is a very great thing indeed to offer Sacred Music to Our Savior.

It is so great that the Catechism, in the section on singing and music, teaches that "The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy" (CCC, 1156).

Our musical tradition is of inestimable value! It has the goal of giving glory to God and sanctifying His people. With the highest object of goodness, beauty and praise in our mind and hearts, we lift our voices united in song, bringing alive texts that conform to Catholic doctrine, drawn principally from Sacred Scripture and approved liturgical sources. As the liturgical action takes place, the beauty of musical prayer is matched to the text in a fitting and integral manner, so that the faithful may display a unanimous participation in conferring a sacred character on the solemn rites. We perceive in liturgical music, as with all aspects of the life we have been given, that our ultimate goal is nothing short of the All Good, the Summum Bonum, the worship and glory of our Loving God, whom we will one day embrace face-to-face as He has promised. If any activity on earth is worthy of the word, then it is this liturgical worship before the Most Holy Eucharist that is surely awe-some, in the fullest and proper sense of the word!

Hence "religious singing by the faithful is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises as well as in liturgical services," in conformity with the Church's norms, "the voices of the faithful may be heard" (CCC, 1158).

Whether you join us here at St. Albert’s Priory for daily hours of worship and liturgy, or worship at your own local parish, we pray that your sacramental life will be directed with right knowledge, devotion, and love, to Him who is above all most knowable, most loving and most lovable. Many thanks to all who attended the Solemn Vespers and Organ Dedication Concert with us!

Now, from the Book of Blessings of the Roman Ritual, I leave you with the majestic words that were prayed over our pipe organ: Lord God, your beauty is ancient yet ever new, your wisdom guides the world in right order, and your goodness gives the world its variety and splendor. The choirs of angels join together to offer their praise by obeying your commands. The galaxies sing your praises by the pattern of their movement that follows your laws. The voices of the redeemed join in a chorus of praise to your holiness as they sing to you in mind and heart. We your people, joyously gathered in this church, wish to join our voices to the universal hymn of praise. So that our sound may rise more worthily to your majesty, we present this organ for your blessing: grant that its music may lead us to express our prayer and praise in melodies that are pleasing to you. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture

Eucharist: Tribalism or Communion?

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Dodger, Yankee, Mariner. Patriot, Eagle, Raider.

In some parts of the country, your favorite sports team defines a certain part of you. Does a Colts fan talk to a Patriots fan? But what about in the Church?

English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Latin.

Contemporary Mass, Praise & Worship Mass, Polyphany Mass.

Family Mass, College Mass, Youth Mass.

Vigil. 7am, 10:30am, Noon, 5pm, 9pm.

St. Mary's, St. John's, Holy Family.

Franciscan, Jesuit, Dominican.

Do these people talk to each other? Or are they like a rival sports team? In my trip in Poland, it was interesting to note that in Krakow the gangs are actually socceer team fans. Things can get fairly violent, and your affiliation with a particular team could mean trouble if you encounter your rivals. There's graffiti in Krakow, but it's soccer team signs, not Los Angeles gang signs.

Tribalism seems to be an ingrained element of human nature. We all have our opinions, preferences, maybe even conveniences, and habits. They all come together in making the decisions about what sports games we watch, brand of goods we buy, and what Church we attend. I don't think I need to multiply examples: the point is clear. We love our own tribes, and we fight for our own tribes. We want our tribe to be the best, the strongest, the one with the biggest numbers, something to boast about over all the others.

"The Eucharist creates communion and fosters communion," Pope John Paul II writes in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. (40) In current American Catholicism there seem to be strong currents devoted, not unlike a sports team, over what particular "tribe" you belong to. I've seen communities (of all types) who look upon others with disdain. "Ours is the best," one might boast. I have to ask, what does this look like to our secular contemporaries? What kind of witness is this? Someone entering the Church, or considering converting, could easily be turned off by the factionalism and sometimes loathful disdain that one group may have for another ... even within the same parish!

It is true, some groups may have very valid points, reasons for doing things a certain way. A zeal for faithfulness to rubrics is a good thing. In the cited encyclical the Pope exhorts all Priests to be faithful in their celebration of the Mass: "Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church." (52) Powerful words. But oftentimes it seems as if we have an uncanny ability to live outside of a mean, on the edge of an extreme.

Do we want to give a powerful witness of unity, of the love of the Lord to our neighbors? Isn't it our goal to spread the Gospel in a fallen world, a world that needs the same healing balm that we ourselves have received and continue to receive? We shouldn't wholesale set aside our differences; some differences are important. But even within the differences of our communities, we must, underneath it all, provide a powerful witness to the love of Jesus, and the communion that is built between us in our sharing in the one bread.

The Pope had pretty much "seen it all." I'm sure he'd witnessed his fair share of interesting and questionable liturgies. Factoring out true liturgical abuse (for I do not mean to say that this is inconsequential; the Pope strongly exhorts us to have a reverence for norms, to thereby faithfully adore and worship the Lord, with the respect and dignity proper to the Eucharist), we must look beyond our preferential tribalism, and emphasize our unity within the Church. "...[T]he Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, that is is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." (39)

The faithful, both lay, religious, and clerical, should all strive to preserve and foster the bond of unity within their particular communities, by reflecting on and respecting the greatest of all mysteries: the Eucharist. The celebration of Mass is not a weapon that we wield to break communion within the Church. "From this it follows that a truly Eucharistic community cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must persevere in harmony with every other Catholic community." (39) We must strive, in love, to look beyond our particular tribe to those others whom we may see as outsiders, and see ourselves as part of a much larger communion. The world should not be able to look at our communities and see us acting amongst one another as rivalrous sports fans. We must have mercy on one another in our failings, encourage each other in the faith, and look to what unites us most strongly, rather than overemphasizing the truly accidental.

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

The Divine Office

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As Dominicans, sanctifying each moment of the day by praying the Divine Office--the official prayer of the Church--is essential to our spirituality and the fulcrum of our common life. This short video, produced by the student brothers of the Western Dominican Province, is an attempt to expound upon the central roll that the Divine Office plays in our lives and express the profound joy of praying with the Chruch, for the Church, and in the heart of the Church. 

Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Companions on the Journey: Ad Orientem

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A recurring theme in the documents and discourse pertaining to the New Evangelization is the call to “encounter Christ.” The Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization states: “The Christian faith is a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ” (18). As Catholic Christians this encounter and relationship of faith occurs not only on a personal level in private prayer and study, but, most importantly, it requires a community that worships together: “the best place to transmit the faith is a community nourished and transformed by the liturgical life and prayer” (97). This liturgical theme is also echoed in the USCCB’s Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization, which states, “The active participation and practice of the liturgy…provide[s] a powerful witness to the faith” (Part IV). The community of the faithful gathering together as one, combats the idea of the individualist that lies at the heart of secularism: “To respond to religious needs, persons revert to individualistic forms of spirituality or forms of neo-paganism to the point of forcibly spreading a general climate of relativism.” (Instrumentum Laboris, 53). It is as a community, a whole, as a single worshiping body of the faithful that Christians encounter Christ and are nourished so as to share their faith with one another. As Pope Benedict writes, “The more lively the Eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 6).

There is, however, an issue that has been addressed by Pope Benedict XVI and numerous theologians and liturgists regarding how people encounter Christ during the liturgy. A common idea circulating after the Second Vatican Council was that, by having the priest turn and face the people, a more communal, less clerical liturgy would take shape. But if we take a closer look at this idea, we find that, typically, when large bodies of people face a single person, looking over a raised surface, it implies a power differential: a teacher over a desk; a politician over a podium; a judge over the bar. These individuals have power and authority over the mass of people they face. They control the order of events, they give instruction, and all eyes are to follow them while they perform their duties. What matters in a classroom, a political speech, or a trial, is the opinion, movement, speech, and personality of the teacher, politician, or judge.

A similar power differential may be seen in a mass with a priest looking over the altar at the people. Although the intention may be to be inclusive, there may exist a subconscious awareness of a stark distinction between “priest” and “people” in this form of mass. What, then, are some of the potential dangers that this differential poses? There is the danger of the priest and his personality becoming the focus of the Mass. This danger may even pose consequences for the peoples’ ability to encounter Christ, and, therefore, to be sent out as disciples to share their faith with the world. During the Mass, Christ is really and truly present in the community, the Scriptures, the Sacrament, and the priest who acts in His place. When we come together at Mass, we should come ready and open to experience and encounter Christ. Pope Benedict writes in The Spirit of the Liturgy, about the unintended consequences of the priest facing the people: “What happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest… becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing” (Part 2, Chapter 3). There becomes the danger that we encounter the personality of the cleric, to the detriment of our encounter with Christ. As a result, the Pope thinks, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out to what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself.” This is significant since, in our incarnational tradition of worship, the outward bodily form of people in prayer ought to be a visible manifestation of their inward spirit. If the community forms an enclosed circle facing the cleric, what can this imply about its relationship to mission?

On the other hand, when a group of people sends forth an individual to speak on their behalf, it is implied that the single emissary represents and speaks for the people who have selected him. The individual is not above the group, but a part of it. We see, for example, the story of queen Esther. Stepping before the king she represents all of her people, and she gives voice to their universal cry for life and freedom. This representational identity is essential to the Catholic priesthood:  “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness” (Heb. 5:1-2). To serve at the altar is to be a humble representative of the holy people of God. The priest and the people together form a single Body, worshipping Jesus their Divine Head.

We are able to visibly see this communal dimension of the liturgy explicitly when the people and the priest together face the same direction, in what is known as ad orientem (to the East). This is not only the norm for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but is perfectly licit for the Ordinary Form in the vernacular, and is even implied by the rubrics of the Missal. The priest, in this more visibly communal form of Mass, does not have his “back to the people”; rather, the priest, praying the Mass ad orientem and acting as the representative of the people before God, simply faces the same direction as the people who have called him to this sacred office. He knows the humility required for his office, and he knows that he prays the Mass to God for and with the people, and not to the people for God. During Mass he almost becomes anonymous, thinking as John the Baptist did, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

When the community, instead of forming an enclosed circle, physically faces the same direction, they clearly symbolize with their bodies their spiritual reality as fellow pilgrims on the journey to Christ. They journey together, priest and lay person, as companions to the Last Supper and to the Cross. By physically manifesting the common direction of their spiritual lives towards Christ, they visibly manifest their commitment to mission, justice, and evangelization. Their full participation in this journey is not one of “mere external activity,” but a “greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 52). As we embrace the New Evangelization and the call to witness Christ in the world, perhaps we should prayerfully discern and explore the celebration of mass ad orientem. How we pray says much about how we live our faith; if the lay faithful and the priests pray together as fellow pilgrims on the path of faith, how much greater will the Christian life be lived and shared in world! 

Fr. Gabriel Mosher, O.P.'s picture


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I want to begin with a disclaimer. I've been trying to figure out how to articulate an experience I had on Christmas. I'm not sure words can do justice to the experience. But, I figured that I should try.

Over a decade ago, while I was a diocesean semenarian, I was taught by some great guys how to properly serve the Holy Mass. I had, of course, learned the rubrics at my home parish. However, the guys at the seminary taught me how to internalize those rubrics. I was taught how the order of worship and the physical actions are an intrinsic part of Liturgy. They taught me the significance of each action. But, more importantly, they taught me how to make each step, each gesture, an act of prayer. 

I've always treasured this gift. It's always served me in my Catholic life. After all, does not the Church affirm that the Sacramental Life, i.e., the liturgical life, is the constitutive character of Christianity? Everything is ordered to worship and everything flows from worship. The physical movements in the Liturgy, regardless of one's mode of participation, serve as the vehicle for offering a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord. This is why fidelity to the rubrics of the Liturgy, especially the Mass, is so important. It's only through the fixed structures in the Liturgy that the authentic spontaneity of the spirit becomes fully manifest. It is a fundamental mistake to think that the reverse is true. Regularity is a necessary condition for contemplation.

As a Dominican friar the gift that those men gave me has grown, developed, and flowered in various ways. Yesterday, however, that gift reached a level of intensity that heretofore I'd never experienced nor anticipated. 

There's a new monastery of Carmelite Nuns here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of us friars have been offering Mass for them at their chapel when we are able. These nuns exclusively use the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. So, when we come to their Monestary we celebrate our own Dominican Rite of Mass. Usually it is a Low Mass or a Missa Cantata (High Mass). However, on Christmas we were able to celebrate a Solemn Mass for them. I served as the Subdeacon for the Mass.

[For those unfamiliar with the Dominican Rite, or other more ancient forms of Mass as celebrated in the Latin Church, it is similar to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.]

The order of Mass according to the Dominican Rite is complex. There's a lot to remember –– especially for the Subdeacon. You'd think that, as a result, it wouldn't be conducive to contemplation. My experience, however, was remarkable. I've served as an acolyte for both the Low Mass and the Missa Cantata regularly. However, serving as a Major Minister in our Rite had a different feel to it. It was intense.

God has granted me, over the years, a few opportunities where I've found myself in a spiritually enraptured state while serving Mass. It can be embarrassing when it interferes with liturgical duties, but my experience on Christmas was different. It was as if I was given an opportunity to experience the truth about liturgical time. We say: in the Divine Liturgy of the Church our human time enters into eternity. This is how the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ's Paschal Mystery. It's not a repetition of it, simulation of it, or some new sacrifice. Each time Mass is offered we access the one Sacrifice that Christ made for us all. We stand at Calvary with the Blessed Mother and all the faithful. I believe it! The Mass lasted about one and a half hours; yet, it felt like five or ten minutes. But again, it wasn't like getting sucked into the online world, or video games, or some task of interest. Indeed, a similar phenomenon can occur in those sorts of activities. Instead, it was ... well ... different. The experience had a different character, a different feel. The intensity I experienced was radically peaceful. Saint Theresa of Avila's "sober innebriation" is the only phrase that seems to fit.

My mind is still swimming as a result of this experience. I'm still trying to fit together and articulate its profundity. Each detail of the experience held deep significance. For instance, wearing a dalmatic for the first time was really akward at first. Yet, on the other hand, it was a tremendous confirmation of my vocation to be a priest. Holding the paten before my eyes while covered with the humeral veil brought to mind the descriptions of those holy angels who veil themselves before the presence of the Lord. The symbols used in the rite are amazing. They help the human mind realize that in the Liturgy we are joined with heavenly realities. We become true participants in a Cosmic Liturgy. For that brief time I was deeply aware that we were in the midst of the angels and saints worshiping God in both spirit and truth. 

[Modified from its original:]

Br. Emmanuel Taylor, O.P.'s picture

Divine Healing in the Divine Liturgy

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The Liturgy is the place par excellence to receive healing from the Divine Physician. Encounter Jesus in the liturgical preaching by Rev. Br. Emmanuel Taylor at the Sunday Mass on February 12, 2012, at St. Albert's.

Br. Boniface Willard, O.P.'s picture

Prayer of Jeremiah

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Every year, the Dominicans continue to celebrate a modified form of Tenebrae, or the Office of Dark. The heart of this office is the Lamentations of Jeremiah, poems which mourn the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem.

On the last day, at the end of the Lamentations, is sung the great Prayer of Jeremiah taken from Jeremiah 5. It is a plea to God asking him to relent in his anger and to have mercy on his people. And yet, while it is expressive of sorrow and sadness, it is nonetheless an expression of hope and trust in the Lord.
On Good Friday and through the morning of Holy Saturday, the Church mourns for the death of the Lord, who is dead and buried. The tabernacle stands empty, its doors wide open. And yet there is hope and trust that what the Lord has promised will come to pass, not only on Easter, but for each of us when we are called forth from this life: the hope that we might pass from death to life eternal.

It is this spirit of both sorrow and joy that permeates the liturgies of these days, and that will finally give way to unmitigated joy. In the meantime, in the Prayer of Jeremiah, we hear still the echo of his sorrow and our own sorrow out of which joy and hope will arise.

Br. Boniface Willard, O.P.'s picture

Holy Week at St. Albert's

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Today, with Palm Sunday, Holy Week begins. It is especially at times like this that the more monastic side of our life comes to the fore and all our energy is given to the preparation and celebration of these beautiful liturgies, the high point of the liturgical year and a foretaste of what is to come. For us the brothers, it is a time of intense focus on the liturgy, and it is an exhausting week. But it is also a great joy for us to prepare and participate in the liturgies of Holy Week. It has also been a great pleasure for us in the last few years to have with us in these days the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who live in Loomis, CA, and who are laying the groundwork for a new foundation one day. And we also invite any who live in the Bay Area and who so desire to join us for the various liturgies of this week. Below is the liturgical schedule for the Triduum and Easter Sunday. May you have a blessed Holy Week and an Easter full of joy and grace.

Holy Thursday:

Tenebrae - 6.30am
Mass of the Lord's Supper - 7.30pm

Good Friday:

Tenebrae - 7.30am
Verneration of the Cross and Liturgy of the Presanctified - 7.30pm

Holy Saturday:

Tenebrae - 7.30am
Vigil Mass - 8.30pm

Easter Sunday:

Lauds - 8.30am
Mass - 9.30am

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Holy Week - Part 3

Holy Thursday Pilgrimage

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which commemorates the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, ends with the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to a temporary altar of repose away from the sanctuary.

According to popular tradition, in the late 1500's, St. Philip Neri began leading groups of the faithful on pilgrimage to the seven basilicas in Rome – to watch and pray at the altar of repose set up in each. In many parts of the world (including Italy, Poland, and Mexico) the practice of this devotion continues to this day.

At each stop along their journey pilgrims are encouraged to reflect on the seven stops of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion, beginning with his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. After meditating on the appropriate passage from Scripture, one prays an “Our Father…Hail Mary…Glory Be…” and offers an intention for the Pope. Then one is free to spend a few minutes in private adoration before moving on to the next stop. Usually the pilgrimage ends with a holy hour at the last altar of repose.

Scriptural Meditations for the Seven Stops

1: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46)

2: Jesus before Annas (John 18:19-24)

3: Jesus before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63-65)

4: Jesus before Pilate (John 18:33-37)

5: Jesus before Herod (Luke 23:8-11)

6: Jesus before Pilate again (Matthew 27:22-24)

7: Jesus is scourged, crowned, and led to his crucifixion (Mark 15:15-20)

If you are in the area and would like to make St. Albert's one of your stops on Thursday night, or if you would like to join us for any of our Triduum liturgies, check out the schedule below.

Triduum Schedule at St. Albert's

Holy Thursday, April 1


Mass of the Lord's Supper...7:30pm

(followed by adoration until midnight)

Good Friday, April 2


Stations of the Cross...3pm

Liturgy of the Lord's Passion...7:30pm

Holy Saturday, April 3



Easter Vigil Mass...8:30pm

(followed by a reception)

Easter Sunday, April 4


Mass of the Lord's Resurrection...9:30am


(no public Compline)