Topic: Prayer

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

The Virtue of Religion Part 3: Prayer

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Why do we pray? We can answer this question in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas if we keep in mind that prayer is an act of the virtue of religion. Understanding this virtue, and how it orders us to God, points to the salvific power of prayer to obtain what God has willed for our benefit. But how does it work? The third video in this series addresses this question.

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

Virtue of Religion Part 2: Interior Actions

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The Virtue of Religion, as we saw in the first video, is the virtue whereby we order our life to God and to giving Him fitting worship. St. Thomas Aquinas carefully explains that this virtue has distinctive interior and exterior actions whereby we journey to God. In this video I explain briefly Devotion and Prayer, which are the two interior actions. Devotion and Prayer are what give life to the virtue of religion and are key ingredients to the Christian spiritual life.

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

The Virtue of Religion Part 1

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Many times when I mention St. Thomas' "virtue of religion" in conversations, I get winced stares of utter confusion. On the one hand, this makes me excited because I am most fain to share what I have learned from my studies of St. Thomas (my brothers are probably getting pretty bored with my rants on religion); but on the other hand, it makes me a little sad because the virtue of religion is such an important and integral part of living the Christian life. With the help and inspiration of Br. Brad, our videographer, several videos will be put out explaining Aquinas' teaching on the virtue of religion.

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

Rubrics & Superstition

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A priest friend of mine from the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, is wont to say, "ritual frees us to pray." In my own experience of trying to pray and participate in the Mass, this quip has proved true again and again. When a priest simply follows the rubrics, says the words as they are written, and doesn't worry about trying to be entertaining or engaging with me, I feel at ease and am able to put my mind and my heart to work in offering the Sacrifice with him: I am free to fully, actively, and conciously participate in the mystery that is taking place. However, when the priest adds, removes, or changes things, I immediately become distracted and worried: "what is he doing?"; "did I miss something?"; "why is he doing this?". Instead of an experience of Christ in the liturgy, changing the ritual of the Mass provides me with an experience of the personality and whims of a priest. I avoid judgment of the priest's intentions, but I can't help but feel that something is not right when such deviations occur. Some might be inclined to dismiss my experiences as examples of unbalanced rubricism, pharisaical punctiliousness, or neurotic scrupulosity. A balanced liturgical sensibility, so the reasoning goes, does not fret if this or that phrase is changed, if the priest extemporaneously interpolates prayers, or other such things. It may come as a surprise to this contemporary sensibility, however, that the Church and St. Thomas Aquinas place the utmost importance on rubrics and the ars celebrandi (art of celebrating) as safeguards that ensure proper, worthy, and participatory worship. 

That priests do not have the right to change rubrics is not a matter of debate. The Code of Canon Law 846 §1 states "In sacramentis celebrandis fideliter serventur libri liturgici a competenti auctoritate probati quapropter nemo in iisdem quidpiam proprio marte addat, demat aut mutet," that is, "In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one's own authority." Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council document on the liturgy, states "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop...Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority"(SC 22). The General Instruction of the Roman Missal #24 states, "the Priest will remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass." Moreoever, Pope Benedict XVI expresses very clearly in his exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (#38) that "The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio. The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5, 9)." 

On top of these objective facts and rules, St. Thomas Aquinas provides a very compelling reason for following rubrics in his large treatise on the virtue of Religion in the Secunda Secundae. Worship, he explains, is the proper act of the virtue of Religion (cf. II-II.81) and the proper response of human beings in relation to God. Religion, moreover, is the most important moral virtue, since it draws people nearest to God while being distinct from the theological virtues. Worship, therefore, is one of the most important actions that human beings have the dignity and duty of performing. Citing St. Augustine, Aquinas argues that the greatest lies or offenses are those that are against Religion (II-II.93.1). The more important an action or virtue, the greater is the offense against it. To express an untruth against the worship of God is especially grievous. Aquinas argues that when a priest does something external that is not in accord with the ritual, he is performing such a lie insofar as he deviates from the given order of the rite: "even as he would be guilty of falsehood who would, in the name of another person, proffers things that are not committed to him, so too does a man incur the guilt of falsehood who, on the part of the Church, gives worship to God contrary to the manner established by the Church or divine authority, and according to ecclesiastical custom" (II-II.93.1co). The essential principle of Aquinas' assertion here is that the priest during Mass acts in persona Christi. As such, he should no longer act for himself but for Him whom he serves, and the Church, which is His Body. To depart from the rubrics of the Mass is to be a bad representative of Christ and the Church. And since offenses against important people are more serious, to depart from the rubrics is a grave insult to Christ and the Church. That is why Aquinas places such actions under the vice of superstition, which is any form of undue worship of God. Superstition is the vice against religion whereby worship is offered, not in excess or with too much solemnity, but rather "to whom it ought not, or in the manner it ought not" (II-II.92.1co). Therefore, to depart from the rubrics or the solemn and proper ars celebrandi of the Mass is an act of superstition.

Can St. Thomas Aquinas and the official documents of the Church magically solve all the problems of supersititious celebrations of Mass? Not easily, quickly, or perfectly. What can help, though, is for more lay faithful to become informed about what the Mass is, how one is to participate in it, and why it is so important for us in the era of the New Evangelization. With better knowledge, the lay faithful will begin to desire more ardently, and seek from their priests more effectively, an ars celebrandi that frees them to worship the One True God who has called us into communion by the bonds of faith, hope, and love. 

*picture from http://www.blurryphotos.org/episode-6-superstitions/

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.

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

Do Not Delay

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Christmas is right around the corner, and I’m not ready. I still have a number of papers to write, cards to address and mail, cookies to bake, and music to prepare for Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While Advent is supposed to be a season of anticipation and expectation, what I’m feeling right now is overwhelmed. There’s just so much to do in order to get ready for the celebration of our Savior’s birth. It seems like every time I cross one task off my list, two more pop up in its place. 

So I can respond in one of two ways: I can procrastinate and put everything off until the last minute, or I can heed the advice of one of my brothers, who once told me, “Do work, son.” While tempted by the first option, I am sure that the second is best. I need to get organized, develop a plan of action, and get to work, now. That’s the only way that I’m going to get everything done. Besides, if I wait until the last minute, I’ll probably end up making myself sick.

The same principle holds when it comes to the spiritual life. So often we sit back and wait, wanting to be told what to do. Sometimes it’s because we’re afraid to make a mistake. At other times, we are simply unwilling to make a commitment. So we avoid doing what it is God wants us to do. Instead of practicing virtue, we become slothful. We put off going to confession, and end up staying away for months, or years at a time. But this is not what God desires.

God wants us to be happy. He wants us to experience everlasting joy as we gaze upon his face. If that is to happen, then we must follow the example of our Blessed Mother. In the Gospel of Luke, we read that after the Annunciation, Mary “went into the hill country with haste” (Luke 1:39). Inspired by the angel’s news that her cousin was pregnant, Mary didn’t wait around. She packed her bags and quickly made her way to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Once there, Mary’s greeting caused John the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth to cry out, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).

Despite what some theologians have said, the story of the Visitation is not about acting impulsively. Mary was responding to God’s revelation, and we are called to do the same, in the same manner. We should not delay when it comes to the movements of the Holy Spirit. If a young man feels called to the priesthood or religious life, then he should call his diocesan vocation director and ask for more information. If a young woman feels God is calling her to do missionary work, then she should contact one of the many organizations that can help make it happen. 

And if it has been awhile since your last confession, now is the time to come back. So many parishes offer communal penance services during this holy season, so that we can get our hearts, and not just our homes, ready for Christmas. Make haste, do not delay, and enjoy the mercy God is ready to bless you with during this sacred time.  

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

A Mirror Among the Stars: Science is Ordered by Wisdom

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A reflection on Feast of St. Albert the Great, Patron Saint of Scientists.

Image de la galaxie spirale, NGC 4414, hubblesite.org, NASA (available through Wikimedia Commons)

A white hole is thought to be a source of light and matter that is radiating into our universe from an unknown and unapproachable source. Unlike a black hole, which pulls in unceasingly all that approaches it, a white hole is thought to have such a thrust that nothing can enter into it. This speculative model describes an event which spews out energy, light and matter, but which may be highly unstable, collapsing upon itself and then exploding. Some theorists posit a "cosmic counterpoint" to black holes, so that there would be a cosmic balancing, a supernal yin-yang of light, matter and energy. There is no firm evidence that they actually exist, but the concept of a white hole, an unceasing font of waves, vibration and spectra, makes for a marvelous model of contemplation.

As created beings, we can identify the subsistence of all substances at any moment, and reflect that all created things are unceasingly supported and upheld by Being. Unlike the concept of the white hole for which we have found no positive confirmation, when it comes to the source of being, we do stand on evidence: it’s called reality. You’re touching it now. And yes, it’s really real.

Adding another level of intelligibility to this vital sustaining process, we could speak of the other transcendentals such as the good and the true, as well as the related realities of beauty, communicability and love. The leap that allows one to move from the basic physical speculative model of the white hole to the awareness of the font-of-life as emanating from within us, is grounded in the principle that all creation may serve as the springboard towards contemplation. It is wisdom that allows us to order our experience and reason thus, from effects to their cause. Through creation, God ceaselessly offers endless paths for contemplating Him. Man-made artifacts show their wear and begin to age as soon as they are constructed. The table I am writing at shows its age by the exposure of the composite material underneath the varnished surface, which has been rubbed away by constant use over the years. In the brickwork opposite me, visible through the window, I see white lines of more recent mortar that has been used to fill in cracks caused by tremors, weather, shifting. From these artifacts and all others we can come to the conclusion that ‘stuff’ doesn’t last: it wears away, it deteriorates, and if it is living, it dies.

Even great stellar events, such as white holes, stars, and galaxies are limited and in a state of transition but their vastness and abundance of years gives them a fabled, quasi-infinite authority. Yet beyond them, not in size and age, but in mode of being, in perfection, and in goodness, shines the source of all, who even now is in our presence and closer to us than our very self. It has been said that, “The wise man will dominate the stars.” The truth of that statement does not rest in warp drives, time travel or harnessing the energy potential of stars. It rather lies in this: that we will be lords of the stars to the extent that we are lords of our own hearts ordered to the praise of God. In the wondrous signs of creation, and the speculative thought of the sciences, we are afforded manifold opportunities to contemplate the depths and the riches and the knowledge of God. May devotion and knowledge increase hand-in-hand, as God's holy people walk through the darkness of this world into the light with joy, understanding and song.

O, Font of Life and Wisdom, Holy Trinity, God beyond all praise! Amen.

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.

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Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

"A Holy and Pious Thought"

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Dante's Purgatorio 13 by Gustave Doré [courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]On Saturday, November 2, we celebrated the feast of All Souls, that special feast in the church calendar in which we commemorate and pray for all of the holy souls in Purgatory. This Catholic feast and the beliefs which undergird it can be repugnant to many non-Catholics, and even ignored or denied by modern day Catholics. (I once heard a Catholic parish catechist claim, “Oh, Purgatory? Well...we just don't really talk about that any more...”). I suppose the idea of Purgatory strikes many contemporary people as some rather quaint, if not terribly misguided, idea that generally does more harm than good: a belief that induces fear and an obsession with working hard, following all the rules. After all, isn't an idea couched in language about law and punishment, about sin and pain, only a symptom of a rather morbid mind? And didn't Martin Luther and the whole Protestant Reformation rather expose this medieval farce and break the shackles of such a terrifying and toxic mentality? Isn't the church just so old and slow that it has not yet caught up with the times and realized the foolishness of such legalistic preoccupations as “purgatory”?

Perhaps very few have not had one or more of the above objections to Purgatory. I, for one, used to think them all. And yet the Catholic Church continues to affirm, notwithstanding some of her naïve and misguided catechists, that Purgatory is real, and that we must concern ourselves with it; that is why she celebrates the Solemnity of all Souls every November 2.

So what is this feast, which can so confuse or upset others, all about? It might be best to quote from one Scripture reading—one that is sometimes read at Mass on this feast—which is actually Jewish, not Christian, in origin:

Judas [Maccabeus] and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen…under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear...and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out...[Judas] also took up a collection… And sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. ... [Since] he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who follow godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin (2 Maccabees 12:39-45).

In this Jewish text, which is revered by Catholics as inspired Scripture,1 we see a Jewish belief and practice, narrated and extolled by a Jewish writer, claiming that it is “a holy and pious thought” to pray and offer sacrifice for the dead, that their sins might be forgiven. It is this basic thought and practice which is picked up later by the Christian church, and continues today in various Apostolic Churches, who continue to offer prayers, above all the sacrifice of the Eucharist, for their beloved dead. While the text from second Maccabees may not give a full-blown and well-developed Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, it does highlight something that is central to the Catholic position: that we can stand in need of further purification and forgiveness even after our own death, and that those left on earth can aid us in this “purgation.” And, furthermore, this text and the Catholic belief in purgatory are rooted in a strong sense of hope: that in spite of our imperfections, God is quite capable of preparing and perfecting us for heaven, even if He needs to do this after we die.

C.S. Lewis (who believed in a form of purgatory), in his classic Mere Christianity, says the same, when he puts the following words on the lips of Jesus Christ:

“Make no mistake...if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in my hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that.… If you do not push me away, understand that I'm going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect… This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.”2

Purgatory, indeed, testifies to this conviction: God wants nothing else for us, but to unite us with Him in Heaven, and He will do what it takes, provided we do not obstinately resist His grace while on earth. It may involve painful forms of purification in this life, and it may, and often does, involve some form of purification after death. And it can offer us comfort when we see, today, our own weaknesses and sinful tendencies: "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (Phil 3:12). That is, our perfection in Christ takes time, and just because we have not yet "arrived" does not mean we never will. Provided we are in His grace, even if we die "unfinished," God is not done with us: He can still work on our souls—a sort of spiritual surgery, if you will, without much anesthetic.

And much like Judas Maccabeus, today we too can assist those undergoing such purification, by our prayers and sacrifices—especially by offering ourselves to God in the one sacrifice of Christ present in every Eucharistic celebration. To do so, paradoxically, may also end up helping us in our purification and growth in holiness on earth: offering such prayer moves us outward, beyond ourselves toward the good of another, and away from vain and fleeting distractions—away from the very sorts of attachments which necessitate Purgatory. To pray and offer sacrifice for the dead, then, truly is "a holy and pious thought."


1. There are six others books in Catholic bibles (and those of Eastern Christianity) that are not in Protestant bibles. See the article "Protestant and Catholic Bibles" by Father William Saunders. [Back to article]

2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996; originally published by Macmillan publishing Company, 1943), Book IV, chapter 9, p. 174. [Back to article]

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Contemplative Shock Troops: Dominican Renewal after Vatican II

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Anniversaries are unique phenomena where the past takes priority over the present time, illumining it with a light of meaning that permits a clearer vision of our self-identity, of our goals for the future, and of what truly ought to matter in life. For example, wedding anniversaries remind couples of love and commitment and the gift of their lives to one another. The particular day, be it December 21st or April 27th, is not significant of itself, but because of what happened in the past, i.e., marriage, a couple recalls who they are to one another, where they hope to be in the future, and why they came together as man and wife. Anniversaries, then, if we are attentive and mindful, can be moments of profound change as we are awakened to something greater than the routine now of everyday life.

It is for this reason that Catholics, especially vowed religious, should hold very dear the date of October 28 as the anniversary of Perfectæ Caritatis, the Second Vatican Council Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI on this date in 1965. Of particular significance in this document is the call for religious orders and institutes to look back to their founders and bring their inspiration to life in the contemporary world: "The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time." (#2)

This "constant return" to the "original spirit" of each order or institute is significant since, while all sharing a common "pursuit of perfect charity through the evangelical counsels" (#1), these communities individually offer to the People of God and to the whole world a unique expression of Christ's love manifested through their distinctive charism. "So it is that in accordance with the Divine Plan a wonderful variety of religious communities has grown up, which has made it easier for the Church not only to be equipped for every good work (cf. 2 Tim 3:17) and ready for the work of the ministry--the building up of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:12--but also to appear adorned with the various gifts of her children like a spouse adorned for her husband (cf. Apoc. 21:2) and for the manifold Wisdom of God to be revealed through her (cf. Eph 3:10)." As a body has many members, each of which performs a unique task for the benefit of the whole, so in the Body of Christ, each religious order and institute has been gifted by God with a unique charism, a unique task and role to play.

It is thus by strict and faithful observance to their respective rules, in a loving embrace of these unique charisms, that religious orders may experience a spiritual renewal and rejuvenation in pursuit of perfect charity. Perfectæ Caritatis is quite explicit on the point: "everyone should keep in mind that the hope of renewal lies more in the faithful observance of the rule and constitutions than in multiplying laws." (#4) Pope Paul VI, invoking the spirit of Vatican II, re-echoes this point in his Message to the General Chapters of Religious Orders and Congregations, given on May 23rd, 1964: "With respect to undertaking new projects or activities, you should refrain from taking on those which do not entirely correspond to the principal work of your Institute or to the mind of your Founder. For Religious Institutes will flourish and prosper so long as the integral spirit of their Founder continues to inspire their rule of life and apostolic works, as well as the actions and lives of their members." When religious orders and institutes begin to undertake ministries that are not in accord with the vision of their founder, they then declare such a vision to be irrelevant to the contemporary world.

For Dominicans, though, the commitment to the vision of St. Dominic will never be irrelevant so long as there are men and women who have not heard the Gospel, and so long as those who have already heard the Gospel are not moved to live it with the fire of the Holy Spirit. St. Dominic's radical vision was of an order of contemplative apostles: of religious who, from the silent base of a monastic and canonical environment, are sent out (apostoloi) preaching as contemplative shock-troops of God's love and truth. As itinerant preachers and as advanced teachers of doctrine, Dominican preaching, as articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas, comes from an abundance of contemplation, "abundantiam contemplationis." (III.40.1 ad 2) This is also articulated in the Fundamental Constitution of the Order: "It [the Dominican vocation] is an apostolic life in the full sense of the word, from which preaching and teaching ought to issue from an abundance of contemplation." (1 §IV) The famous Dominican motto contemplata tradere aliis presupposes that what has been handed on in preaching, has first been contemplated (quid traditaest , contemplata est). For Dominicans to engage in non-contemplative preaching and ministry is to, effectively, ignore the vision of St. Dominic.

Thus it is that any authentic renewal of Dominican life must begin with an intensification and rediscovery of the value of the contemplative life within the monastic and canonical settings of our priories. This is argued for by Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., in his book Renewal in the Spirit of St. Dominic: "Dominican renewal must begin with an all-out attempt to recreate esteem for the contemplative spirit. Any renewal that does not enrich the contemplative element in the Dominican way of life must be rejected." (55) It is also clearly and forcefully explicated by Valentine Walgrave, O.P., in his book Dominican Self-Appraisal in the Light of the Council, " the future of the Preachers depends on a renewal of the contemplative spirit." (73)

As a unique order of contemplative apostles, Dominicans should not do what is proper to Carmelites, Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines, or diocesan clergy, nor should any of these, likewise, do what pertains to the Dominican charism; this would be to trivialize the unique gifts belonging to each member of the Body of Christ. Rather, Dominicans must hold fast to the contemplative life and its observances, and to the itinerant preaching and doctrinal teaching that flows from it. Dominicans as contemplative preachers do not set out to find Christ in the world, but they set out to bring Christ into the world; a world which hungers for the contemplative encounter of God. All men and women are born to have contemplative knowledge of God, and it is up to the Dominicans to awaken, stir, and enable this loving knowing.

As we hold dear the anniversary of Perfectæ Caritatis, let us also hold dear to the original vision of St. Dominic, and our unique Dominican charism. Let us always strive towards the ideal, correct what hinders progress, and guard zealously the charism to which we have vowed ourselves.

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