I. Homily – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 16, 2014
II. “‘What is God doing in heaven?’ The rabbi’s routinely responded, ‘Reading Torah!”
A. Strictly speaking the Torah is contained in the first five books of the Bible and is referred to as “The Law.”
B. What the Jewish people believe is that the Torah is the revelation of the interior thoughts of God…and these interior thoughts were only revealed to the Jewish people.
C. Therefore, when the rabbis said that God was “Reading Torah in heaven” it meant that he was contemplating Himself…He is content to rest with Himself in eternity.
D. St. Thomas Aquinas expressed this differently when he taught that God’s essence is existence…God is being…what God does is be and his end and goal is “to be”.
III. This means that if God were to deny the Law, God would be denying Himself.
A. This is why Jesus told his disciples: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
B. Limitation of the Law:
1. There is, however, a limitation of the Law. The Law itself may communicate the interior thoughts of God, but…
a) One…it is communicating thoughts and not being…
b) And, two, these thoughts are being communicated with human words…
C. This is where Jesus comes into the picture.
1. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law not in so far as he gets rid of the Law but He fulfills the Law in the Word made flesh…the Incarnation is important because God becomes man.
2. Human and Divine are united in the one Divine Person of the Holy Trinity.
3. The Law is no longer written on a page, the word is no longer simply spoken by a human tongue but “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
IV. God does not simply speak to man or let human beings read about Him, but makes His very self present among us…Jesus Christ takes on our human nature.
A. This nature is also an instrument of His Grace and allows us to be inserted into union with God. As St. Augustine said: “God became man so that man might become God.”
B. This understanding of Christ as the fulfillment of the Law also points us in the proper direction of our own happiness…our eternal joy.
1. First and foremost, our joy lies in existing with God.
2. Second, existing as God has made us to be.
3. Third, acting in accord with what God has made us to be.
C. This is what is happening when:
1. …we assent to what the Church teaches…we are making the mind of God our own…
2. …when we receive the Sacraments…we are being conformed to Christ in our very being…
3. …when we behave according to His Law…we are acting as Christ would act…
V. My friends, not only does this have repercussions for us in the moral life but also in the way we worship. In fact, from very early on, the moral life and the worship of God were closely tied to one another.
A. We live in a culture and a society in which the strongest survive…the customer is always right…my individual desires must be addressed…the majority rules…the songs on the radio are there because they are popular and there will be a different popular song next week…and interestingly, although we would like to think the customer forms the provider, it is more common that the provider manipulates the customer.
B. When it comes to our worship (the liturgy), it is the Almighty who does the forming and, if we truly desire eternal joy, we cooperate with Him. We are not customers but children of the most high and we do not form God, He forms us… but he forms us in an intimate relationship of love…and He forms us not because He desires to manipulate what we have but because He desires to give Himself to us.
C. The reason that the liturgy is determined by God’s law and not our own is simple…
1. The liturgy is meant to communicate the interior life of God and not the tastes and latest trends of our transient and modern society. As we hear Jesus speaking about His coming to fulfill the Law and not abolish it, I thought it might be a good time to address briefly the direction the Church has given us regarding the liturgy and which is a bit different than what we had formerly been accustomed to in the United States.
2. Whereas music in the world is chosen for a wide variety of reasons that have little to do with things sacred, the music in the liturgy is meant to look and sound differently…it is necessarily going to contrast with what we hear in the car on the way to Mass.
a) When I was growing up and many of you as well, there was a particularly trend in music in the liturgy. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, there was a movement by a dominant group of church musicians to make liturgical music sound and feel a great deal more like what we were hearing on the radio or on our iPods.
b) The mantra was that we must change the music to sound more like what is being heard on the radio or we will lose them…it needs to be more entertaining and peppy.
c) However, now the statistics are in…this approach did not accomplish what they said it would…there is no denying the objective facts…
d) The reality is that this approach was self-defeating.
(1) The purpose of the Mass is to communicate the interior life of God…this does bring joy, but it is not a joy born of a external sentiment but a joy born of the depth of Grace and Peace taking root deep within one’s heart.
(2) St. Paul told his disciples in our second reading:
(a) “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
(b) What the Church does in her liturgy is going to be based on a law that goes beyond our human ability to design and so it is going to look and sound different from what a modern society not based in God places before us.
3. What the Second Vatican Council intended for liturgical music was not that the Church would take on the latest musical fads and trends of a fast paced and fleeting society.
a) On the contrary, sacred music was not to take its lead from the latest trends but the constant and deep tradition of the Church in order to emphasize the Sacred Reality being communicated.
(1) For example, “…historically, the Jewish people made a concrete decision for a specific way of singing that was a rejection of the fenzied and intoxicating music of the neighboring and threatening pagan cults.”
(2) “This way of singing traditionally was viewed as having started by King David and continued until the time of Christ…but it was sung in respect to and during the sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem and the early Christians assumed this tradition into the sacrifice of the eucharistic liturgy.”
4. I empathize with some of you who have struggled with the perceived changes. The problem is that true sacred music can be uncomfortable for us, because it now stands in such stark contrast to what we find in every other aspect of our life.
a) When we are accustomed to a fast paced, peppy life…and our relaxation consists in the same…it can be jarring to encounter a sacred culture based not on speed and action but contemplation and being…resting thought and reflection. Our Sacred Liturgy is supposed to cause us to think and pray and prepare ourselves for what we are about to receive and then to give thanks in a way that does not shout.
b) “But, in the sacred liturgy, we enter the precincts not of man’s culture but the heavenly courts of Christ, the culture of the Church, the wedding feast of the Lamb…”
c) When the faithful gather to worship in the eucharistic liturgy and they sing, the faithful are not just getting together to sing their favorite songs. The faithful stand united as the Whole Christ singing to His Father. It is not that Christ sings our songs…we sing His.
d) So…we ask ourselves not what kind of liturgy we like but whether we have allowed ourselves to enter into the liturgy of the Church and allowed it to form us.
(1) You will notice something about the music done here at Saints Peter and Paul:
(a) …the chants of the Mass are not something the priest makes up…except through lack of practice…the chants are taken right out of the missal given us by the Church. They are the music of the Church…
(b) …the chanted versical at the beginning of Mass is not something we make up. It is given us by the long tradition of the Church and reminds us what we are celebrating that day…
(c) …the Psalm response that is sung after the first reading is the Psalm given us by the Church and not the same each week…we don’t replace the Psalm with something I like, but what is found in the lectionary of readings given us by the Church…
(d) The hymns are chosen very closely not because I or you or someone else thinks they sound good…they are chosen because they fit with the celebration, the readings of the Mass or the particular part of the Mass that is being celebrated, e.g., an eucharistic hymn during communion…
D. The Second Vatican Council actually encouraged a rediscovery of the ancient concept of chanting the Mass. The council wrote: “[The musical tradition of the Church] forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.”
1. Although few listened back in the 1960’s, this principle was renewed with the promulgation of the New Roman Missal two years ago.
2. Not only has the New Roman Missal encouraged the chanting of the parts of the Mass but Bishop Conlon just recently has done the same Diocesan wide…reiterating what the constant tradition of the Church has given us. Because we are Catholic and not St. Thomas Catholics or St. Raphael Catholics or SS. Peter and Paul Catholics, then this is, indeed, our Tradition…it should not be foreign to us.
3. My friends, it may seem that Saints Peter and Paul has advanced more quickly than some parishes in the way we celebrate the liturgy, but it is quite clear that the Church is moving away from the approach of the 70’s and 80’s and with good reason. It may create some angst for those of us who grew up or were very involved during that time period, but now the Church is inviting our openness to something both new and old.
VI. The reality is that many of you have really taken to the chanting and I have been impressed with this. It really is an easy way to be involved and we, your priests, have certainly been a wonderful example that the quality of your voice does not matter; however, the truth is that this is not about learning new music or musical prowess…the liturgy is God communicating His divine life to us. If we allow it, the liturgy will consistently communicate these mysteries to us not only in our ears but in our souls. Let us join the Father in “reading Torah” and the Son in singing to the Father.