Church Music Association of America Colloquium

Sam BellafioreSam Bellafiore
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

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Also by this author: Revisiting Mass

From June 30 to July 6, I had the privilege of traveling to Indianapolis to attend the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium, a gathering of church musicians from throughout the United States and Canada.

The CMAA was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The association was born out of the Society of Saint Gregory of America and the American Society of Saint Cecilia. Both had been involved in decades-long efforts to promote Gregorian chant and polyphony when the groups merged in 1964. In doing so they aimed to heed Sacrosanctum Concilium’s urge that the “treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care” (§114), and wanted to give Gregorian chant “pride of place in liturgical services” (§116).

CMAASince 1990, the CMAA has offered the annual colloquium as an opportunity for people of all musical levels to learn about the Church’s enormous tradition of liturgical music. There was a fascinating range of attendees: college professors, parish choir members, middle schoolers, and doctoral students. There was an African-American Episcopal priest starting a chant schola in the women’s prison where she serves as chaplain, a college student who had never read music, cathedral music directors, pastors, and a woman who runs a three-person schola, the only schola in the state of Montana.

The conference began with choral evensong at the Episcopal Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis. The church’s established and respected choir and organist provided gorgeous music. For many attendees, it was their first exposure to the rich Anglican liturgical tradition.

On the first full day, participants selected one each of chant classes and polyphony choirs for the week. These daily classes and choirs were tailored to particular skill levels, from no previous exposure to chant or polyphony to more academic tracks. I was fortunate enough to have a class on Gregorian semiology with Dr. Edward Schaefer from the University of Florida. Put simply, Gregorian semiology is the study of chant notation. It usually deals with notes called unheightened neumes, small squiggles that were probably the first written music in the West. Unheightened neumesAfter several hundred years of transmitting chant solely through oral tradition, monks began writing these neumes around 800 AD. The neumes reminded chanting monks of a melody’s general pitch and rhythm. Musicians continue studying these neumes today to garner insight on how to interpret and perform chant. The neumes provide an especially rich tool for expressing text, which is the true basis for every aspect of chant. Dr. Schaefer skillfully led the class of about 20 people in studying several chants, comparing their neumes from two different manuscripts and singing two of the chants for Mass during the week.

Each day included a plenary lecture. Fr. Christopher Smith presented on the future of liturgical theology, Dr. William Mahrt on the liturgy’s musical shape, and Dr. Denis McNamara on church architecture. Dr. McNamara’s presentation on sacred architecture was the highlight. He gave an excellent introduction to the subject, emphasizing the corporate body of worshippers and their relation to the space where they pray. The liturgy, he explained, occurs in the present world but helps heal fallen humanity, drawing it back its original state and simultaneously ushering it toward beatitude. Dr. McNamara offered insights into the relationship between Eden and church architecture. He pointed out the long-standing practice of adorning church interiors with floral imagery to imitate the Garden. St. John the Evangelist Church, IndianapolisA church is an Eden we may enter despite our fallen state. Stained glass images of saints remind worshippers that beatitude is not merely a long-lost or far-distant event, but a reality that has already taken active root in the Church’s life. The presentation affected my experience of church architecture almost immediately. Dr. McNamara’s talk enriched the time I spent in downtown Indy’s historic St. John the Evangelist Church, where most of the colloquium’s liturgies occurred. The nave’s upper walls were lush with floral designs. Such ornaments, which never meant much to me, helped me to understand the liturgy a little better. The sanctuary is surrounded by striking murals of angels casting down their crowns before God’s throne (Rev 4), a reminder of the liturgy’s relation to the beatific vision. Over the week I experienced the building less as one in which we prayed and more as a place whose very structure was a kind of prayer that aided ours.

Each afternoon participants chose from several hour-long workshops on a variety of topics. I took two workshops with Dr. Jennifer Donelson on the (surprisingly easy!) art of conducting chant, and one on organ improvisation with David Hughes, the immensely talented music director of St. Mary’s in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Each evening, participants had Mass together at St. John the Evangelist. As you can imagine, the congregational singing was quite strong! The morning chant classes and afternoon polyphony rehearsals prepared music for the week’s liturgies. I had the opportunity to sing under Dutch conductor Wilko Brouwers, whose lively spirit and creative instruction did a marvelous job coaxing emotion and expression from the choir. Polyphony comprised only about half of what my polyphony choir sang. We also sang some 19th-century music as well as a beautifully modern setting of “O Saving Victim” by Zachary Wadsworth. The musical highlight of the week was the Saturday afternoon Mass, when one choir sang Victoria’s ethereally serene four-part Missa pro defunctis.

Two qualities made the conference especially enriching: charity and genuine collegiality. Both pervaded the week. It can be hard for anyone at all to discuss liturgical matters without getting mean-spirited, sharp-tongued or just a little crabby, but everyone at the colloquium demonstrated a remarkable openness and charitable frankness that helped make the week a refreshing pleasure. There was a strong sense of fellowship too. Folks at the colloquium came from a huge variety of backgrounds, musical experiences and parishes, but they were all united in the goal of helping the Church pray. Working toward a goal, co-working in the vineyard, cliché as it is, cannot be underestimated. Of course, we also celebrated the Fourth of July. We watched the fantastic Indianapolis fireworks from our hotel roof and later on some new friends and I huddled around our books and phones, sight-reading motets (with moderate success) late into the night.

You can read more about the colloquium and the CMAA’s numerous free resources here. I returned from the colloquium informed, enlivened, and refreshed for continued service with liturgical music. I highly recommend the colloquium to anyone who wants delve a bit more into sacred music, learn about liturgy, or deepen their participation in the Church’s prayer. As often as I can return to this plot in the vineyard, I will.

Revisiting Mass

Sam BellafioreSam Bellafiore
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

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Also by this author: Church Music Association of America Colloquium

I don’t associate communal prayer with the invitation to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11). Meditating on Scripture by myself, walking alone: perhaps. With others: less so. Least of all at Mass, sad to say. A recent experience reminded me that my associations are a bit misguided and provided an opportunity to reflect on the depth of the mystery of the Visitation.

From June 30 to July 6, I attended the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium, a gathering of church musicians from throughout the United States and Canada. Each day’s packed scheduled culminated in the celebration of Mass. Two of the conference’s six Masses occurred in the Extraordinary Form, the form of the Mass promulgated in 1962. While the current Roman calendar celebrates the feast of the Visitation on May 31, the 1962 calendar celebrates it on July 2. As a result, I got to celebrate the Visitation a second time this year.

Attending the Extraordinary Form can be jarring. It features everything that, when I was a child, adults had described without joking as the “bad old days.” The Mass is in Latin. The priest and congregation face the same direction. The Eucharistic Canon is lengthy and the priest says most of it silently.

Extraordinary FormOver the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Form about a dozen times, in settings from a thousand-person congregation, an orchestra and Mozart’s Requiem to a cramped chapel with ten people. The most striking thing about these liturgies has been their silence. For the Visitation, the colloquium congregation sang a Gregorian chant setting of the Mass ordinary. As always, silence fell over the whole church after the Sanctus. The thick silence speaks for itself: something significant is happening. It confronts worshippers with the magnitude of the Mass. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He is coming, very soon. Be still and know that it is he.

This silence affords worshippers a certain space and freedom. One can pray the text of the Canon, reflect on the Gospel or simply kneel and be. As a hyperactive college student, this has been a healing way to experience the Mass. Even though congregants may be praying slightly different kinds of internal prayer, everyone is united in praying the Mass.

Reflecting on the Annunciation in December, Pope Francis said, “Silence is really the ‘cloud’ that covers the mystery of our relationship with the Lord…where there is no silence in our lives, the mystery is lost, it goes away. Guard the mystery with silence!” Some things are so awesome they must be proclaimed on rooftops, some so awesome they remain unspeakable. The Mass, it seems, is both. If anything deserves rooftop proclamation, it is the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, and their reality in the Mass. But if there is anything before which humanity must also stand mute, it is those events.

Sound ebbs and flows throughout the liturgy, creating a rhythmic structure for the Church’s prayer, revealing the importance of both sound and silence. The Visitation narrative presents not only an interaction between people but also the relation between their sounds and silences.

The Visitation-El GrecoMary hastens to Elizabeth after Gabriel’s announcement. In Pope Francis’ December reflection, he presents Mary as a model of silence and suggests she may have remained completely silent after Gabriel departed. How would a person react to that staggering news, perhaps even more mysterious to Mary than to us now?

In the verse after the angel departs Mary goes up to visit Elizabeth, bearing the growing God in her body. She cannot contain her good news, so she goes to aid Elizabeth and relate her great joy. John, who cannot speak, leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets her, even before Elizabeth can respond. Then Elizabeth “crie[s] out in a loud voice” (Lk 1:42) and exclaims Mary’s blessedness. Elizabeth recounts to Mary what the narrator has already recounted, that John leapt at Mary’s greeting.

John’s leap is mentioned twice. While Elizabeth’s line—“For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44)—is well known, the third-person narrator is the first to mention John’s leap, just before Elizabeth’s line. This structure makes John an active part of the narrative, not just someone about whom his mom talks. While the reader learns of John’s action through the written text, Mary learns it because Elizabeth cries it out in a loud voice. John, of course, cannot say a word. His inability to speak does not mean his silence is an inferior substitute for speaking; his silence is good on its own. His silent expression of joy is its own word, a testimony to Christ’s presence. This word he speaks silently becomes a subject of Elizabeth’s own words spoken aloud, as each of them greets the bearer of the Word, who also cannot speak yet. Mary in turn cries out with the Magnificat, proclaiming God’s greatness.

The apparent protagonists respond to the Incarnation of the unseen and true protagonist, each in his or her own way. Mary, who silently “kept all these things close to her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51), responds first perhaps with silence and then with haste and loud exultation; John, the voice crying out in the wilderness, in silent joy; Elizabeth, the woman who didn’t expect a child and is now expecting both John and her Messiah, cries out with irrepressible excitement.

Of course, the mystery of the Visitation is not primarily about sound or silence. It is about the mystery of Christ’s presence and the mystery it engenders, true joy. Mary, John, and Elizabeth can serve as images for sound and silence at Mass. Each of them comes to know that the child in their midst is God. Be still and know. At Mass, as at the Visitation, the mystery of Christ’s coming receives expression both in sound and in quiet. Mass is not a matter simply of either silence or sound but of joy.

When the Church gathers for Mass Christ invites her, “rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” (Ps 98:9) She realizes that “you make him rejoice with the joy of your presence.” (Ps 21:7) In my haste and my noisiness, I often lose sight of that joy and that presence. Attending Mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms has reminded me of the fullness of rejoicing present at the Visitation and still present when the Word Incarnate hastens to greet us.

Sound, silence, and the Visitation comprise a welcome and needed reminder of the joy of the Gospel and of the Eucharist, an astonishing joy but easily forgotten. As the Church prays after Communion on the Ordinary Form feast of the Visitation, “as Saint John the Baptist leapt with joy when he first sensed the hidden presence of Christ, so may your Church rejoice to receive in this Sacrament the same ever-living Lord.”

Our Lady and Mount Carmel

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life,
University of Notre Dame

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Tomorrow, July 16, we commemorate Our Lady of Mt Carmel. With this title we associate a place—a mountain range in the Holy Land, a religious community—the Carmelites, and a devotion—the scapular. Megadim Cliff of Mount CarmelNear the city of Haifa and about twenty miles west of Nazareth, Mount Carmel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. For the Jewish people the peninsula symbolizes blessing and beauty (cf. Is 35:2) and is linked to the memory of Elijah and his followers (cf. 1 Kgs 18).

My Carmelite professor at the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, OH, Fr. Eamon R. Carroll, O.Carm, told us that Christians for centuries had chosen to live lives of prayer and penance in this remote site. The story goes that, after the Incarnation, the successors of Elijah turned Christian and built a church on Mt. Carmel in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From that time, they were by apostolic privilege called the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel. The Brothers have drawn a connection between Elijah and Our Lady. The scriptural story of Elijah mentions a little cloud in the shape of a man’s hand, which sanctioned the end of a three-and-a-half year drought (1 Kgs 18:44). This cloud is seen as a symbol for Mary, through whom the rains of mercy and grace descended on parched land, thereby restoring all things. The little cloud alludes to Mary’s virginity and maternity.

The relationship between the devotion to Mary and Mount Carmel is expressed beautifully in the Collect Prayer used by the Carmelites in the liturgical celebration for their patronal feast on July 16: “Lord God, you willed that the Order of Carmel should be named in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of your Son. Through her prayers as we honor her today bring us to your holy mountain, Christ our Lord (emphasis added).”

The prayer identifies the holy mountain Carmel with Christ. The “ascent of Mt. Carmel” evokes the Marian way of life of the Carmelites as a spiritual ascent of perfection. On this journey with Mary, Carmelite Brothers and Sisters endeavor to be transformed by way of contemplation and intense communion with God, Our Lady, and one another. The Order is proud of their “totally Marian” spirituality which is made visible and best known through the scapular.

In comparison to this ancient history, the Carmelite devotion of the Brown Scapular is more recent. Madonna with the Scapular-Stetner (1740)It emerges in the late-fifteenth century and owes its origin to St. Simon Stock, who received a large brown scapular from Our Lady in a vision on July 16, 1251. From the Latin scapulae (shoulders), a scapular is actually a sleeveless outer garment of a monk’s or sister’s habit that falls from the shoulders and serves like an apron protecting the habit from getting soiled. Analogously, the brown scapular given to the Carmelites implies that Mary clothes a Christian with the garment of her attitudes and devotion to Christ in order to protect his or her soul from the filth of evil.

The Mount Carmel Brown Scapular is the oldest among eight scapulars with a Marian character approved by the Church. It signals a special grace for the Carmelites and has meanwhile become one of the most widely practiced Marian devotions. Mary promised St. Simon that whoever wore the scapular daily and died wearing it after having lived in chastity according to one’s state of life would not suffer everlasting punishment and would quickly be released from purgatory.

On July 4, 1908, the Congregation of Indulgences approved the devotion and its conditions. The decree reads that those who wear the scapular and “have ever observed chastity, have recited the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin, or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days), may derive after death—especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin—through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.”

Brown ScapularThe conditions attached to the devotion clarify that wearing the scapular is not an automatic insurance to get to heaven. Rather, as a sacramental, the scapular should be a daily reminder that at Baptism we have become clothed with Christ. The scapular thus serves as a sign of and protection for the white baptismal garment of our soul which, with the help of Our Lady, we strive to take unstained to heaven.

As we celebrate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we rejoice in the rich tradition of devotional practices offered to us in Mary’s school where saints are formed. One of the most recent graduates from this school is St. John Paul II who recalls: “I too received the scapular, I think at the age of ten, and I still wear it!”[1]

At the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to St. Simon Stock, St. John Paul II noted that “the sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother’s loving presence in their lives.” Whether we faithfully wear the scapular or practice another Marian devotion, we may be confident of the constant protection of Our Lady on our journey heavenwards and especially at the hour of our death, provided that this ‘habit’ has kept spotless the garment of our souls.


[1] John Paul II. Gift and Mystery: On the fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination [New York 1996], 30. “El Escapulario de Juan Pablo II. Regalado a la Iglesia de los Carmelitas Descalzos de Wadowice, Polonia,Miriam-Revista Mariana Universal (Encro-Febrero 2006), 18.

Liturgy: God’s Healing Presence

John FyrqvistJohn Fyrqvist, M.Div.

Operations Manager,
St. Joseph County Right to Life

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Morning Prayer for the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Symposium, Liturgy as Healing
(June 16-19, 2014). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

Is anyone among you suffering?  He should pray.
Is anyone in good spirits?  He should sing praise.
Is anyone among you sick?
He should summon the presbyters of the church,
nd they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil
in the name of the Lord,
nd the prayer of faith will save the sick person,
and the Lord will raise him up.
If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another
and pray for one another,
that you may be healed.
The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
(James 5:13-16)

I live in the Catholic Worker community in downtown South Bend, which means I spend a fair bit of time with scraggly homeless men.  Though I love them very much, many of these guys haven’t showered in weeks, have an unkempt mane of hair and beard, and wear donated clothes in various stages of disrepair.  To the casual observer, it is obvious that they are in need.  Our needs are not so obvious.

The reading from St. James exhorts us, in all situations, to return to the Liturgy.  “Are you suffering?”  Pray.  “Are you in good spirits?” Sing God’s praises.  “Are you sick or sinful?”  Come and pray and you will be raised up and forgiven.   The need to return to God always and with every experience is universal.   Some may wear their need as an addiction, a pathology, or a tattered coat.  Many of us hide it under an illustrious pedigree and a polished demeanor.  Christ Heals the Man Born BlindBut all of us, in every circumstance, are in need of God’s presence, of returning, as the Psalmist invites, to “bow down before His holy mountain.”

For it is in God’s presence that we are able to truly worship, an act which sets us free.  In His presence we are free to shed the idols that distract us.  We are free to rightly order our loves, and conform our wounds to those he bore on the cross.  Liturgy is the source and summit of our lives for this very reason: in true worship we are made whole.  In God’s presence sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, lives are transformed.  We hear St. James proclaim, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

Pope Francis recently described the Church as a “field hospital”.  He reflected on a Church that is able to heal wounds; a Church defined by its proximity, its nearness to those in need.  What is so clear in our reading today is that there is no distinction between those in need and those who are whole.  Even the one who rejoices is told to enter into God’s presence and sing praise.  There is no self-sufficiency in the city of God.  All are brought together in worship, in healing, in wholeness.   The needs of all, visible and invisible, are laid bare before God’s throne.  He alone can bind them.  He alone can fill us, and send us forth rejoicing once again in the kingdom where “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Liturgy: Healing the Heart for Joy

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre DameBen Wilson, M.Div.

Assistant Director
Summer Service Learning Program,
Center for Social Concerns
University of Notre Dame

Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a Morning Prayer homily during the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Symposium, Liturgy as Healing
(June 16-19, 2014). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption,
the redemption of our bodies.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope.
For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait with endurance.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
(Romans 8:18-27)

 You could hardly describe him as someone who enjoyed life’s pleasures: John the Baptist wore camel’s hair for clothing and his diet consisted of locusts, which couldn’t taste all that sweet even if the only other thing he ate was honey (Mt 3:4). Not only did he forego culinary enjoyment, he also abstained from the more sophisticated pleasure of winning people’s praise.  He addressed the crowds who flocked to hear him as “You brood of vipers” (Lk 3:7).

And yet, when Pope Francis lays out in Evangelii Gaudium what he means by joy, he points to John the Baptist’s life as being framed by joy.  Visitation iconWhile still in his mother’s womb, before he could seek happiness or pleasure, the unborn John the Baptist leapt with joy at Jesus’ presence in Mary’s womb (Lk 1:41).  And the climax of John’s prophetic message comes when he again points with all his being towards the Christ who has come and exclaims: “This joy of mine has been made complete” (Jn 3:29).

What, then, is this joy possessed by John the Baptist, who possessed so little else?

Our Morning Prayer today is full to overflowing with references to joy. In the opening hymn, we acclaimed God as “Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy.” In the first antiphon for Psalm 86, we implored: “Give joy to your servant, O Lord; to you I lift up my heart.” Then, in the second antiphon for Psalm 98, we raised our voices to say: “Let us celebrate with joy in the presence of our Lord and King.” Isn’t it a bit early to be this joyful?  Maybe by midday prayer, but morning prayer?

And maybe, even, joy seems unattainable, no matter the time of day. Some of us might not describe ourselves as having the sunniest of dispositions.  Or more seriously, many of us might feel overcome by real human suffering—an illness we are facing, or separation from someone we love, or a frustrated desire that seemingly won’t come to fruition.  It might not even seem right to be joyful in light of the poverty and suffering that exists in our sinful, broken world.  St. Paul, who was certainly no stranger to heartbreak and hardship, says in today’s reading from the letter to the Romans, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves also groan within ourselves” (Rom 8:22-23a)

This conference is dedicated to exploring the liturgy as healing.  Our morning prayer today is an invitation to see liturgical prayer as healing our hearts for joy, true joy.

“Give joy to your servant, O Lord; to you I lift up my heart.”  Joy is, first of all, a gift from God.  And it a gift we can ask God for.  And if joy is something we can ask for, it also means that our prayer to God might often begin when we don’t feel joyful.  The psalmist, echoed by the priest at Mass, instructs us to lift up our hearts to God…whether they are heavy with sadness or full of light and laughter.  God receives what we bring, blesses it, and in turn gives us God’s own self.

John the BaptistTrue joy, as we see in John the Baptist, is not a mood or a cheery temperament; joy is recognizing Christ’s presence as John did in his mother’s womb, joy is giving thanks for the coming of Christ as our salvation, joy is receiving our entire sustainence from our merciful God, joy is praying in the Spirit who comes to the aid our weakness and intercedes for us.

Joy isn’t about us.  Experiencing joy in life’s various circumstances isn’t a tribute to our emotional or physical toughness.  Joy is about receiving what God has done and is doing.  Joy, as Pope Francis defines it, is “a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (EG, §6).

The liturgy reaches beyond those physically and temporally gathered and is truly cosmic.  Similarly, Christian joy exhibits a contagiousness that extends to the entire created world.  Whereas all of creation was made subject to futility, the Psalmist proclaims: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.  Shout to the Lord all the earth, ring out your joy. … Let the rivers clap their hands and the hills ring out their joy” (Ps 98: 3b-4, 8).

Our own lives also have many varied terrains, some smooth and refreshing, some steep and rocky.  Across all the features of our lives, joining in the prayer of the Church trains our hearts to celebrate with joy in the presence of our Lord and King, from our early, nascent glimpses of Christ’s presence until the day when our joy, too, is made complete.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary: A Model of Purity

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life,
University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

This past Friday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recalling that the human heart of Jesus Christ is the prototype of a heart totally directed to and united with God. On the following day—Saturday June 28—we commemorated the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The main promoters of the veneration of Mary’s Immaculate Heart (St. Anselm, d.1109; St. Bernard of Clairvaux, d.1153; St. Bernardine of Siena, 1380-1444; St. John Eudes, 1601-1680) were solicitous in emphasizing the intimate union between the two hearts of Jesus and Mary. Sacred and Immaculate HeartsThe Gospel of Luke speaks twice of Mary’s pondering heart: “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (2:19) and “His mother meanwhile kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).

The heart as the expression of the core of a person is universally accepted as the symbol of love. It is likewise the heart from which our choices and commitments originate. Thus we can say that Mary’s fiat given to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation reveals her innermost disposition to serve God with an undivided heart, no matter the cost. Thus writes St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater:“By her loving consent, Mary first conceived Christ in her heart and then in her womb accepting fully and with a ready heart everything that is decreed in the divine plan” (RM, §14).

Mary’s Immaculate Heart is God’s gift to her, preserving her from original sin and strengthened her in her resolve to remain sinless. In actuality, sin—to say it simply—is a lack of love. Mary does not experience this lack, because the ecstasy of her heart leaves no room for sin (cf. RM, §36). Thus, when Mary ponders all she has experienced in her heart, she does so with a purity of spirit which allows her to “see” with her heart the ways God wants to lead her.

Unfortunately, it is not so with our hearts: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mk 7:21-23). Yet, a heart which at baptism has received the “purification for sins” through the Son of God has become a pure und undivided heart (cf. Heb 1:3), capable of loving God and neighbor with heart and soul.

Love washed, cleansed, and transformed through the Blood of Christ does not wither, but is passionate in seeking the integral good: “Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §10). Indeed, true love cannot be disimpassioned! Immaculate Heart of Mary-largeThe purified heart is a strong heart because with the help of grace it can succeed in channeling all antagonistic powers wrestling within towards God and His reign. Such a heart is also brave because it has persevered and matured amidst trials and challenges. Those who may call such a heart their own are allowed to see God (cf. Mt 5:8).

“Here is my secret. It is very simple. One sees well only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” These words of the Little Prince could also have been spoken by Mary. A heart that sees well has acquired the art of love; it perceives God’s gifts reflected in His goodness, His creation and creatures! We may want to ask, “How well does a heart need to be in order to see rightly?” Or “what obstacles prevent a heart—my heart—from seeing well?” Celebrating the Immaculate Heart of Mary invites us to take stock of the condition of our hearts.

Purifying the Polluted Heart
Daily we are confronted with the devastating effects pollution has on the earth and are taught preventive actions. Yet, hardly anybody speaks of the pollution of the human heart! Nonetheless, the abiding contamination of the world around us corresponds to the increasing threat and devastation of our inner world caused by the poisonous impressions we permit to enter our heart.

Do we need to pay better attention to the hygiene of our heart? This could start with a good confession and the decision to regularly allot time for the sacrament of reconciliation. The prophet Ezekiel tells us rather bluntly: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit” (Ez 18:31).

Sincere efforts to purify and beautify our hearts will by necessity have an impact on our daily decisions and personal style of life. At stake is a sincere (re)evaluation of our habits concerning prayer, language, and choice of entertainment, to name but a few. Needless to say, the cultivation of our hearts is no romantic waltz. On the contrary, it involves pertinacious legwork, patience and humility, since this endeavor will doubtlessly bring us to remove the different layers with which we cover, protect, disguise, and even harden our hearts.

The following scriptural passages could accompany us on the journey:

♥     I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you
your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26).

♥     Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing heart, to sustain me (Ps 51:12).

     My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music (Ps 57:8).

♥     So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people
and to distinguish between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9).

     Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Mt 5:8).

By commemorating Mary’s Immaculate Heart we can confidently turn to her knowing that she is our Mother and teacher. We can take her hand and tell her:

Blessed Mother, your heart is well-ordered and in harmony with the heart of your Son. Your favorite occupation is to treasure and ponder Him in your Immaculate Heart. In many ways, my heart lacks this order. Let me participate in the richness and beauty of your heart. Teach me in my struggle to surrender my heart undividedly to Jesus and His work. Strengthen me in my efforts to depollute the trash accumulated in my imagination and consciousness. Then I, like you, will discover my heart as the temple of God and learn to see and ponder Him in my everyday life. Amen.

Liturgy and Justice: An Exercise of the Imagination



Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

I was recently making my way through a rather lovely, albeit deeply challenging book, by Fr. Emmanuel Katongole (a colleague here at ReconcilingAllThingsNotre Dame and teacher at this year’s Symposium) and Chris Rice (Duke University) entitled Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing. This book offers a vision of reconciliation not as an isolated ministry of the few but a challenge and gift offered to the whole Church.

In the midst of reading this book, I came across a series of comments on reconciliation and justice, which are helpful in considering the relationship between liturgy and justice. Often, I have heard this relationship articulated in a consequential manner. When we engage in Eucharistic worship (or any other liturgical rite), then we are obligated to live in justice. Justice becomes an act of the individual will of the one who celebrates the liturgy.

Katongole and Rice offer a different vision, one that is perhaps more true to the pedagogy of the liturgy itself. They write:

Reading Scripture and dwelling within its distinctive vision shapes new possibilities in our response to the conflicts and brokenness in the world. Quite often the brute realities of the world intimidate and overwhelm us. According to the world’s logic, it takes power, strength, money and influence to effect change. And so, given the widespread realities of war, conflict and violence in the world, we feel terribly over-powered and helpless, as if we lack the necessary resources to make any difference (66).

The liturgical rites of the Church are nothing less than an embodied participation in the distinctive vision of the Scriptures, one in which we are invited to consider new possibilities. That my body is valuable because it is a living stone, the temple of the Spirit. That bread and wine are destined to become Christ’s body and blood. That the rising and setting of the sun are natural phenomenon that take on new significance in light of Christ’s rising and death through the Church’sPeaceableKingdom embodied practice of chanting psalms. That humanity is not destined for violence, warfare, or division–but that every human being is called to the peaceful worship of the kingdom.

Justice is therefore not a consequence of liturgical participation, an act of the will of the one that has worshipped. Rather, through liturgical participation, I am shaped to see new possibilities of justice, of God’s justice, where before I could perceive only the darkness of death, grammars of power and control, of violence itself. Again, turning to Katongole and Rice:

“…early Christians did not start out with a quest for justice. Rather, they were captured by a fresh story of God’s new Pentecost, and as they were drawn into this story and its communion, they found themselves practicing a far more radical version of justice than they could ever have imagined” (74).


We learn to desire and perform God’s justice not through an act of the will alone. Instead, we come to be taken up into a vision of something larger, something for which our vision was too small to perceive. We are invited into the logic of the kingdom through the practices of worship that spill out into practices of radical hospitality, practices of forgiveness, practices of patience, practices of rest, practices of prayer.

Living justly is therefore not something separate from liturgical worship. It is not a consequence of this worship pure and simple. Instead, we begin to live justly when we lift up our hearts to the Lord, when we dwell in the peace of the Church.

Of course, our individual parishes or congregations are not always places of justice themselves. They too need to be lifted up into God’s own imagination. Too often, our parishes and congregations are concerned more with self-maintenance than dwelling in the distinctive vision of the kingdom (St. Paul addressed the Corinthians on this exact point). Yet, if we are to truly proclaim the living memory of the God who loved unto the end, then our parishes and congregations must become sites of this radical love.

FraAngelicoNativityPerhaps, the problem with such parishes and congregations is not simply that they have grown used to living unjustly. Perhaps, our parishes and congregations are afraid to teach and preach that vision of total, self-giving love revealed in Christ. Perhaps, our worship has become less about entering the life of the fearfully hospitable triune God and more about a divine praise of ourselves. Perhaps, what is needed is not simply exhortations to be more just; but instead, a renewal of the very heart of the Church to perceive anew how even now God takes flesh in the justice of a kingdom that is continuing to unfold in the power and wisdom of God. In the simple rites of the Church, in the simple life of the family, in the streets of the most violent neighbors: it is here that the Word seeks to become flesh and dwell among us.

Novena to St. Jude

Rick BeckerRichard Becker, RN, MS, MA

Associate Faculty, Bethel College, School of Nursing

Co-Director of Religious Education, St. Matthew Cathedral 

Editors’ note: This post first appeared on God-Haunted Lunatic.

Must be said 6 times each day,
For 9 consecutive days,
Leaving 9 copies in Church each day.



Sound familiar? Of course!

You’ve seen it many times: Photocopies of photocopies, usually in small stacks, scattered here and there in church – at the end of pews, stuck in the hymnal racks, or back in the vestibule with the bulletins and pamphlets. They’ll appear and disappear depending on when they’re left – and when the janitoStJudeLeafletrs get around to pitch ‘em.

I love those little prayers – I freely admit it! Yes, they’re like spiritual comfort food – junk food, really – and so we’re reluctant to fess up to praying them, or anything like them. With their elaborate directives, they’re the equivalent of heavenly chain letters, and, like chain letters, they make us uneasy – as if we’re doing something wrong; as if we’re guilty of trying to manipulate God to do what we want.

Eh? So what. It’s prayer at its rudimentary best – a child bugging his dad for something – and we could do much worse, as in, let’s say, not pray at all.

And then – BOOM – I got the word from my daughter recently: Prayers like the St. Jude’s Novena are a sin! At least they’ve been declared as much by the good people at the Midwest Theological Forum. They’re the ones who put out Joan’s religion textbook, Our Moral Life in Christ from the Didache series, and it’s there that she directed my attention:

A sin of superstition occurs if one insists that certain prayers be said a particular number of times for an exact number of days in order to obtain favors from God…. These practices are wrong because they attribute the results to the external rituals involved and not to God’s goodness.

I have no beef with the Forum or their Didache series. Our bishop has adopted it for the high schools, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, it has blurbs of support from Scott Hahn and other trusted authorities, and an introduction from Bishop Jerome Listecki, now Archbishop of Milwaukee. And, of course, it goes without saying that the series is published with ecclesiastical approval and conforms with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, I must protest.

The Didache textbook itself refers to novenas and other sacramentals as “legitimate religious devotions,” so that begs the question: What is a novena other than praying “certain” prayers for a “particular number of times” and for an “exact number of days?” The word itself – novena – is derived from the Latin for “nine,” and refers to the exact number of days the Apostles and Our Lady prayed between the Ascension and Pentecost.apostle-st-thaddeus-jude

So, then, is it the objective of obtaining “favors from God” that make the St. Jude’s Novena a sin? There again, I’m wondering what a novena is if it’s not a persistent badgering of the Father to do what we think He should do.

In any event, Jesus Himself tells us to pray that way – nagging, hounding, not taking ‘no’ for an answer:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’?

I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs (emphasis added).

Note that Jesus is hinting here that the Lord honors persistence itself – interior disposition isn’t a factor, at least in this story. The Catechism underscores this emphasis as well: “‘Knock, and it will be opened to you.’ To the one who prays like this, the heavenly Father will ‘give whatever he needs,’ and above all the Holy Spirit who contains all gifts.”

Scripture gives us plenty of other examples of this kind of tenacious petitioning – like Abraham cajoling God to ease up on Sodom, Moses doing the same in defense of the golden-calf worshiping Hebrews, and then there’s the classic image of Jacob wrestling with an angel all night for a blessing. “From this account,” the Catechism explains, “the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance.”

One could object that there’s a big difference between steadfastness in prayer and the elaborate mandates that some novenas impose. Consider, then, the healing of Naaman which required his bathing in the Jordan exactly seven times – no more, no less. Or the Israelites’ victory in the Battle of Jericho, involving six daily circumnavigations of the city, and, on the seventh day, a full seven additional circular marches, with precisely seven priests leading the way blowing seven rams’ horns – again, no more, no less. Nobody’s going to dismiss these seemingly arbitrary requirements as superstition.

A pause here to list a couple disclaimers: Clearly, persistent prayer of this sort ought to include a unquestioned deference to God’s will. Even when all the prescripts of a particular novena are followed to the letter, the faithful supplicant will still acknowledge that God might just have something else in mind.

And it follows that outright superstition and magical thinking – that is, using novenas and other sacramentals completely apart from any relationship with God – are to be avoided altogether. Again, the Catechism:

To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

But our interior dispositions are fickle,and that’s where the value of following a novena to the letter comes in: It’s a reaching out to God and a sign of simple trust, despite the fact that I’m just trying to get my own way.

Here’s a parallel example: My participation at Mass. The Council fathers wrote:

In order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain

How do I know I have adequately adored and worshiped at Mass? That I’ve rendered unto the Father the attention and reverence that is His due? That I really cooperated with grace and haven’t receSantaTeresaived it in vain?

Who knows? I can always second-guess my thoughts and aspirations, even when they appear to be pious. Besides, pious or not, my thoughts are only intermittently “attuned” to my voice at Mass since they’re perpetually mixed up with shifting moods, varying degrees of fatigue, and the most mundane of distractions.

Nevertheless, I was there! My mere presence at Mass – even if I’m only fulfilling a Sunday obligation – is a sign of filial submission, however reluctant or imperfect. It’s better than nothing, in other words: It may not be a solid foundation, but it could very well be the few bricks that God desires from me as He shapes and molds me to His liking.

Novenas – even the complicated ones like those photocopies in the pews – are like that: They’re not the highest reaches of prayer, but they’re a place to start – at least they get us actually praying. Who cares if we’re just trying to get God to do what we want? St. Teresa wrote that “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.”

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s like whiny children bugging their dad for stuff. Even when the dad turns them down, isn’t he delighted that they’re coming to him with their requests?

Of course he is.

Of Eunuchs, Emmaus, and Holy Water Fonts

Rick BeckerRichard Becker, RN, MS, MA

Associate Faculty, Bethel College, School of Nursing

Co-Director of Religious Education, St. Matthew Cathedral 

Editors’ note: This post first appeared on God-Haunted Lunatic.

Baptism is enough, it is sufficient to evangelize.
Pope Francis

Katharine made her First Holy Communion on May 4 – a momentous event, a holy moment! Naturally, she received some gifts to mark the occasion: A scapular (the plastic bothered her; I’ll get her a cloth one), a child’s Bible, and a beautiful ceramic holy water font. The font clearly caught her fancy, and she asked me that same evening how we could get the “special” water for it.

Fortunately,BoyAtHolyWaterFont-b I already had a small bottle of holy water in the house, so we hung up the font near her bed, filled the reservoir, and then dipped our fingers to bless ourselves. She went to bed very content – happy to have received Jesus in one Sacrament earlier in the day, and then encounter him again in that mini-Sacramental reminder just before sleep.

My guess is that she’s been using that font pretty regularly since then because of what happened soon after First Communion. After donning her PJs, Kath sought me out, holding up one hand very solemnly above the other. Without saying anything, she touched her wet fingers to my forehead, made the sign of the cross, and then headed off to bed. It was a blessed moment, come and gone so quickly, and so profound: My daughter, blessing me, and giving me such an intimate reminder of my baptismal dignity.

That profound encounter came to mind as I listened to the first reading on May 8 about St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. You remember: The seemingly chance encounter on the road; an explication of opaque biblical texts; an entreaty to linger followed by the administration of a sacrament; and finally, a miraculous disappearance that paved the way for an apostolic journey.

Then it dawned on me: I’d just heard the same basic story during Katharine’s First Communion Mass! Only then, it was Luke telling about the two disciples who ran into Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.

Cradle Catholics will have grown up hearing the Emmaus story as an image of the Mass: The Lord’s explaining the Scriptures parallels the Liturgy of the Word, and then, in Emmaus itself, there’s a meal that concludes with the breaking of bread in which the disciples “recognized the Lord” – an obvious parallel to the Liturgy of Jan_Wildens_Landscape_with_Christ_and_his_Disciples_on_the_Road_to_Emmausthe Eucharist.

The implications of those parallels are made plain in the sudden disappearance of Jesus precisely at the moment he was recognized – the moment, that is, when his bodily presence became almost redundant since he had become truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. In other words, those disciples in Emmaus had nothing on us: We have Jesus here today in our Tabernacles just as much as they did around that Emmaus dinner table!

But, back to Philip and the eunuch – the similarities with the Emmaus story are striking, and many scholars have commented on it. Besides, both stories were recorded by St. Luke – the Emmaus story in his Gospel, and the Ethiopian eunuch story in his Gospel sequel, the Book of Acts. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And, as I mentioned, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what Luke was intending in the Emmaus narrative, but what about the Ethiopian convert? And why the parallels?

Here’s a few thoughts inspired by Kath’s holy water font.

First, Luke uses the eunuch story to teach us about baptism – that we’re all utterly unworthy of the divine life it transmits to us, and there’s nothing we can do to earn it. It’s totally free – like Kath coming to me and bestowing her blessing that evening. Completely unexpected; a startlingly fresh gift. “Look, there is water,” the man asks Philip. “What is to prevent my being baptized?”

Apparently not anything! Not the brevity of his catechetical formation, not his pagan background, and not even the fact that he was mutilated and made impotent – something that would’ve prevented his being fully admitted to God’s family under Mosaic law. The adoption of this complete outsider into the body of believers marks the newfangled Way of Christ as radically open – extravagant, even. As extra(c) National Trust, Anglesey Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationvagant as God himself!

But there’s a responsibility that comes with the gift, and that leads to my second point – the disappearance. When Christ disappears in the Emmaus story we understand that to mean that the Lord had become present in the Eucharist. So, in the Acts narrative? When Philip vanishes? What else can Luke mean than that the apostolic authority has now become manifest in the newly baptized!

What? He can’t be serious! The foreigner had barely covered a rudimentary overview of the whole Judeo-Christian enterprise, and now we’re to see him on the same level as an Apostle appointed by Christ himself?

Yes, indeed. Luke records that the eunuch “continued on his way rejoicing.” And we, who also have been baptized, are called to that as well. And every single one of those cute little infants we baptize in our churches on Sunday mornings. They’re all called to be apostles – we’re all called – to spread the Gospel, to preach the Faith. Even the Pope says so:

Do we believe in this? That baptism is enough – sufficient to evangelize? [All of the baptized must] announce Jesus with our life, with our witness and with our words. When we do this, the church becomes a mother church that bears children. But when we don’t do it, the church becomes not a mother but a baby sitter church, which takes care of the child to put him to sleep.

And that leads to my final point: The whole eunuch thing – what’s that all about, right? Very awkward. Like trying to talk to junior high boys about St. Paul’s teaching on circumcision. (NOTE: I’ve tried this – forget it. It’s impossible. If you ask me, just skip to the Parables and forget about circumcision until they get into college.)

Nevertheless, awkward or no, the eunuch must be dealt with. On a superficial level, Luke notes that the Ethiopian official is a eunuch simply because it was the case – it was noteworthy in Luke’s mind, perhaps as a way of identifying the actual individual in question. We have to keep in mind that the Ethiopian eunuch and other biblical characters aren’t just literary devices utilized by authors to make theological points. Although it’s true that Scripture doesn’t record events the same way the New York Times would today, those whom God inspired to compose Holy writ were still jotting down actual occurrearticle-2538097-1A97C26800000578-298_634x645nces involving actual people. It’s God who orchestrated events to reveal truths; the human writers just recorded and reflected on them.

That being the case, the fact that this early catechumen-turned-neophyte in Acts was a eunuch takes on a deeper meaning which Luke draws out. Obviously, a eunuch is infertile by definition, and yet, once baptized, this eunuch immediately sets out to proclaim the Gospel and plant seeds of faith. Tradition even goes so far as to associate this early convert with the foundation of the very ancient church in Ethiopia. The infertile transformed into the fertile  that should be me, too!

Ah, but there’s risk involved in being an apostle – a risk of humiliation and shunning, even a risk of death. It’s no accident, I think, that this story of the pagan Ethiopian convert shows up in Acts on the heels of Luke’s mention of the martyrdom of St. Stephen and its aftermath:

And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria.

Baptism is an infinite boon folded in with a dire warning: Beware! Danger ahead! And yet, new life as well. More life than you can possibly imagine! So much life that the risk of martyrdom will pale in comparison! The Catechism, quoting Vatican II, teaches us as much:

“Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God.

Thus, when my daughter dips her fingers in the font to cross herself or me? It’s no small thing. It’s a reminder of baptismal grace, to be sure, but also a reminder of apostolic burden: Be a missionary; proclaim the Word; make Jesus present wherever you find yourself, no matter the cost!

Next time I dunk my own fingers in Kathy’s holy water font, I’ll think twice, and pray for strength – for both of us.

Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness

“The more numerous are our acts of charity, self-denial, and forbearance, of course the JohnHenryNewmanmore will our minds be schooled into a charitable, self-denying, and forbearing temper. The more frequent are our prayers, the more humble, patient, and religious are our daily deeds, this communion with God, these holy works, will be the means of making our hearts holy, and of preparing us for the future presence of God. Outward acts, done on principle, create inward habits. I repeat, the separate acts of obedience to the will of God, severing us from this world of sense, and impressing our hearts with a heavenly character” (John Henry Newman, “Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness”).

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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