Here is a great letter from Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, OK continuing his series on the liturgy [via Chistus Vincit]. I have freed it from the PDF format it was in and formatted it since it was broken up on the 2nd and last page of the diocese’s newspaper. Their editor included the last paragraph from his fifth letter in this series as the first paragraph in his sixth letter. This is a great letter on the subject and well worth your time reading the whole thing. The whole thing is in the extended entry of this post below:
Music can be a distraction
In my travels around the Diocese, I have noted certain communities where the music at Mass has tended more toward entertainment than toward prayer. The choir or cantor consciously draws the attention of the congregation to their performance and really stirring performances are rewardedby the congregation’s grateful applause.
In this case, the placement of the choir, cantor or musicians in the most visible and prominent part of the sanctuary, not only proves to be a distraction to the congregation, but provides a kind of center stage for a concert of religious music. In this case, the music becomes the center of the experience, the sacramental transformation of the worshipper is reduced to his or her mere inspiration and the liturgical action of the Mass becomes itself a distraction.
While such a scenario is still quite rare in our Diocese, I think we are in danger of moving in that direction and it concerns me as your Bishop.
Highlighting other worthwhile causes We must also be aware that musical entertainment is not the only thing which can compromise the prayerful integrity of the Mass. The Eucharist is just as compromised whenever we use the liturgy to highlight an agenda or cause other than the worship of the Father. This is true no matter how positive or useful the other causes may seem.
For this reason, I want to remind the faithful of the Diocese that the Mass stands alone as a complete action in itself. It is that perfect sacrifice from which the Church derives Her life; thus the liturgy must never be used as an opportunity to teach, as the context for a history or an art lesson, as the background for a concert of sacred music, neither to build community nor to foster parish identity. All these things are good, but all of them are either in support of the Mass or are derived from the Mass, and to use the Mass to foster something less is a serious abuse.
For this reason, I want to discourage in the strongest possible way, those Masses which are sometimes called "teaching Masses" during which the celebrant stops the sacred action in order to make an historic or theological point of explanation.
In that same vein, I want to discourage any extraneous comments or commentaries on the readings or the parts of the Mass which might interrupt the sacred action. The proclamation of the readings, for example, ought not to begin with an introductory comment provided by the lector,"In this morning’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah consoles the Israelites" First of all, such explanations are properly given by the celebrant or the deacon in the homily when he brings together the day’s readings and places their proclamation in the context of that parish’s lived experience; and secondly, an explanation offered as part of the liturgical proclamation could easily lead to a confusion between the inspired Word of God and the possibly helpful insight of the liturgy committee or the lector himself or herself.
The birthright which is our salvation.
All of these ideas and corrections which I have offered these past weeks regarding silence, music and prayer may seem superficial given the great problems confronting the universal Church today and even considering what we must do as the local Church in Eastern Oklahoma if we want to bring the message of Christ to everyone here.
Not only may these issues seem superficial, but I am also aware that some may perceive me as being overly concerned with rubrics and the details of the liturgy, even to the point of missing the larger picture, judging my pastoral concerns as the preoccupation of a liturgical curmudgeon. But if I must defend myself, let me say that I insist on these points for the simple but profound reason that I am concerned lest our people be denied what is their proper inheritance, their birthright as Catholics, that is, the complete and correct understanding of the Mass as a real sacrifice by which they are given access to share in the unique, unrepeatable and all sufficient historic sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
Distractions, the loss of silence and the various liturgical imbalances of which I have spoken are all partly to blame for a whole generation of Catholics who have gradually lost their understanding that the Mass is the true Sacrifice of Christ. But these problems are not the only reason why Catholics no longer see that there is an intrinsic and necessary link between the Mass and their salvation. As critical as these problems are, even more critical to us as a diocese as we respond to the Synod’s call for a restoration of the Lord’s Day is recovering our sense of personal sin which many of us seem to have lost.
Recovering a sense of sin
Whenever the People of God lose their sense of personal sin, their understanding of the nature of the Mass and its great importance is also largely lost. It may happen then that having lost their sense of sin, they also lose their understanding that at Mass we offer to the Father – as members of Christ’s Body and in union with Jesus Who makes this same offering – Our Lord’s own death and rising in order that our sins be forgiven and our lives be reconciled to God.
In place of this sacrificial and redemptive understanding of the Mass, those who have lost their sense of sin may begin to see the Eucharist as principally a communal meal and a time of fellowship (1), which recalls the presence of Christ among us (2). Both aspects – that is, the fellowship meal and the recalling of Christ’s presence – are understood as flowing from the witness and life of that worshipping community as it is already assembled in prayer and established in fellowship. It is incomplete to see the Mass only as a meal
While it is true that the Mass is a sacred banquet, it must be clearly stated that this aspect of the Eucharistic sacrifice is available to us only because the Mass is primarily a sacrifice at which Christ Himself is the host, who invites us to feast on His Body and drink His Blood. At this banquet, the Host hands Himself over, giving His own Self as food for eternal life, and it is paramount that we understand that this"
handing over," this sacrificial element, is the true foundation which makes it possible for us to participate in that meal which establishes fellowship even as it reveals Christ’s resurrected presence among us.
But we cannot honestly approach the Eucharist as a sacrifice without confronting the reason for this sacrifice: our sinful human nature which reveals our alienation from God through our repeated and unforgiven sins. Christ, the Lamb of God, was made the sacrifice of expiation to redeem us from our sins and reconcile us to the Father. At the sacrificial banquet of the Mass, we are united with Christ as He makes this self-offering to the Father on our behalf and thus reconciles us to God by his Paschal Mystery.
If we lose our sense of personal sin, then gradually we lose our perception that the sacrifice of the cross – made present and real to us in the here and now of our daily struggles – is necessary for my redemption, and from these first two losses proceeds the more telling loss, our loss of gratitude for God’s gift of His Son. This is the more telling loss, because gratitude is what impels us to holiness.
Hence it is critical for us as Catholics who are in the midst of a great struggle to recover our celebration of the Lord’s Day to recover first our traditional and accurate understanding
that individual holiness, our coming closer to God, depends directly on our appreciation of the sacrifice of the cross and the enormous gap between God’s faithful redeeming love for me personally and my indifferent and inconsistent love for Him. The crucifix reveals this stark contrast.
Ugly sin but Holy People
When we look at the holy men and women whose lives have strengthened the Church here in Eastern Oklahoma from missionaries like Katharine Drexel and Isidore Robot, to the martyr Stanley Rother, and from His Holiness, John Paul II to the hidden saints who take their pews Sunday after Sunday in our Cathedral, churches and missions we see that they had this one thing in common. All of them – by God’s grace – were conscious of the ugliness of their sins and thus had grown in their appreciation of their indebtedness to God.
Convicted of their sins, nevertheless they grow in holiness. Conversely, the greatest sinners are those who wound the Body of Christ and offend the Father, but are unconscious of the gravity of their sin or unconcerned with how great a distance there is between God’s love for them and their half-
hearted and insipid response.
Saints are redeemed sinners because they accept God’s offer of forgiveness, and moved by gratitude, become intimate with Him. Sinners remain unredeemed when they remain unaware or unconcerned by their sins, and dismissing their need for forgiveness, approach God as is they were His equal.
Intimacy with the Father comes through the Cross
If you ask me how we come to a greater intimacy with God, I would have to tell you that by our own efforts we cannot even come to an awareness of our own sins, much less an appreciation of how their ugliness disfigures the soul. Should you ask me, I would warn you that you cannot start with yourself. If you do, you will end with yourself still in the center of your awareness, only more confused and more frustrated.
Start instead with Christ on the Cross. Come in silence before the image of the Crucified One and wait patiently there focused on the dying Christ, until your heart and mind have both grown silent and when you have finally found that peace, listen for the still, quiet voice of the Lord who will speak to you and try to convince you of His love. If you are patient, you will hear His voice.
Wait for God with patient, prayerful silence, and eventually you will come to know in your heart the distance between His love for you and your love for Him. In that silence your sins will loom large. Your hidden sins will flaunt themselves; your forgotten sins will cry out their names; your repeated failures will mock your courage and shame your pride. Even the sins which you have confessed and for which you have foundforgiveness will return to your recollection.
A sorrow that can liberate, a shame that can bring freedom
And all this will bring you deep sorrow and shame,but this is a sorrow which liberates and a shame which brings us freedom, because once we see the truth about ourselves and accept our guilt, we are freed from the burden of self-justification and no longer have to excuse our sinful behavior. Indeed, our past
will shame us, but only until we realize with untold gratitude that He loves us as we are, in all our brokenness and all our torpidity, with an infinite and unconditional love. All He asks of us is that we surrender ourselves, our sinful self, to Him in faith and in trust.And when we do,our shame turns to joy.
At this point, filled with gratitude, the repentant sinner becomes creative in the same way that every lover becomes creative in his or her search for ways to respond to the beloved.
But it is also true that the sinner who is humbled and grateful for having received God’s love seeks to return that love by loving others creatively. This desire to respond to God’s love by loving others creatively demands from us an ever-increasing self-forgetfulness. This self-abandonment is difficult initially, but absolutely necessary since it is only in sacrificial love that a husband can discover the depth of his love for his wife and children, a wife can discover the power inherent in forgiveness, children can learn to imitate Christ in his love, and employers and employees can help extend the Kingdom of God.
Gratitude for God’s love for us One theologian called our gratitude for God’s love for us "the engine which drives the Church’s apostolic life." And so it is. Like an engine, this gratitude to God furnishes energy and enables priests, deacons and religious to find joy in their celibacy, freedom in the poverty and self-discovery in their obedience.
Those who attempt to live an apostolic life of activity and mission without having learned to wait patiently until God reveals the depths of His love and the paucity of our own are incapable of funding their ministry from the inexhaustible well-spring of gratitude. Instead they work from their own strengths, quickly exhausting themselves in the struggle. Their enthusiasm for service is quickly challenged and fails under pressure.
Like Martha in the Gospel story their apostolic endeavor ends tinged with resentment and bitterness. Are you unconcerned, Martha asks Jesus, that my sister has abandoned me to do all the work? Tell her to help me. (Luke 10:41)
How different this desire to respond to God’s love by loving others creatively is from the kind of creative and enterprising programs which occupy so much of our time and energy! The first is the result of prayer and seeks ways for the soul to express its gratitude through service and charity; the second is born of my anxiety and seeks to invent new ways by which I can feel good about myself and my brokenness.
The first begins with God and ends in love, for oneself and for the poor who are served; the second begins with myself in my poverty and ends up with me despising myself and those whom I attempt to serve. The first is the way of the Gospel, the second is the way of the world!