Friday 12 January 2018

The Collect: Christ who prays and is also the prayer

Pope Francis is currently offering a series of General Audience catecheses on the Eucharistic Liturgy. I quite often wonder whether, in the ordinary practice of parish life, it might be more pastorally useful for priests to preach on Liturgical texts other than the Scriptural readings. Very often the ecclesial sense of a feast day is more readily perceived in the Collect or Preface than it is in the Scripture readings. English clergy at least seem to have imbibed from somewhere the idea that the homily is only to be based on the Scripture readings of the day. But the General Instruction of the Roman Missal n.65 actually reads (with my italics added):
The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of listeners.
Pope Francis General Audience addresses appear to offer a resource for this wider approach in preaching.

The most recent General Audience included a rather elegant observation on the Collect. As well as the easily recognised idea that, in this prayer, the celebrating priest draws into one the prayer of all those present, Pope Francis also commented on the posture adopted by the priest during the praying of the Collect (English translation is my own, as full English translation is not yet available on the website of the Holy See):
Il sacerdote recita questa supplica, questa orazione di colletta, con le braccia allargate è l’atteggiamento dell’orante, assunto dai cristiani fin dai primi secoli – come testimoniano gli affreschi delle catacombe romane – per imitare il Cristo con le braccia aperte sul legno della croce. E lì, Cristo è l’Orante ed è insieme la preghiera! Nel Crocifisso riconosciamo il Sacerdote che offre a Dio il culto a lui gradito, ossia l’obbedienza filiale.
[The priest recites this supplication, this prayer of collection, with extended arms and the attitude of the "Orantes", assumed by Christians from the first centuries - as the frescoes of the Roman catacombs bear witness - to imitate Christ with his arms open on the wood of the cross. And there, Christ is the "Orantes" and is at the same time the prayer! In the Crucified we recognise the Priest who offers to God the cult that is owed to him, to be exact filial obedience.]
The thought that, in the Collect, the priest represents both Christ as one who prays and at the same time the prayer offered is, I think, quite striking.

Sunday 7 January 2018

Three actions of the Magi

I rather like Pope Francis' homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany:
Three actions of the Magi guide our journey towards the Lord, who today is revealed as light and salvation for all peoples. The Magi see the star, they set out and they bring gifts....
Seeing the star. This is where it starts.....
Setting out, the second thing the Magi do, is essential if we are to find Jesus.....
Bringing gifts. Having come to Jesus after a long journey, the Magi do as he does: they bring gifts. Jesus is there to give his life; they offer him their own costly gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. The Gospel becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving. To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.
In his discussion of "setting out", Pope Francis included the following:
Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken. God, who set his people free in the exodus and called new peoples to follow his star, grants freedom and joy always and only in the course of a journey. In other words, if we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life.
The reference to the armchair put me in mind of Hans Urs von Balthasar's more forceful comment in the Preface of his short book about the significance of martyrdom in the Christian life, whose English title is The Moment of Christian Witness .
A criterion has a stimulating effect, even if one uses it only in a purely experimental way to exercise one's imagination. If you say to Georges Bernanos, "Come along with me. It's the Ernstfall - the crucial moment in Christian experience", the old grumbler will get up out of his armchair without so much as raising an eyebrow and follow you like a lamb. But if you go to Reinhold Schneider, the author of Winter in Vienna, and say the same thing to him, there is no telling what might happen. Whether you would finally manage to get any response at all from those who have been "demythologised" and converted to the world, I do not know. They have already explained everything away and are left with a merely symbolic belief in a message that they understand only by analogy. For them, both the belief and the message are worth dying for only by analogy, just as they consider their Christianity worth living for only by analogy to something else.

Monday 1 January 2018

"Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life." UPDATED

This is the concluding paragraph of Pope Francis' homily at Mass on 1st January 2018:
Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life. Looking to the Mother, we are asked to leave behind all sorts of useless baggage and to rediscover what really matters. The gift of the Mother, the gift of every mother and every woman, is most precious for the Church, for she too is mother and woman. While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to “keep”, to put things together in her heart, to give life. If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us. May the Mother, God’s finest human creation, guard and keep this year, and bring the peace of her Son to our hearts and to our world. And as children, with simplicity, I invite you to greet her as the Christians did at Ephesus in the presence of their bishops: “Holy Mother of God!”. Let us together repeat three times, looking at her [turning to the Statue of Our Lady beside the altar]: “Holy Mother of God!”.
The video of the Holy Father's Mass can be found on the Vatican YouTube channel here. The moment at which Pope Francis invites the congregation to join him in the acclamation "Holy Mother of God" occurs just after 37:00. You might also like to look at the ending of the Liturgy, with the singing of the Alma Redemptoris Mater, and Pope Francis venerating the statue of Our Lady and, as he leaves the altar, venerating the image of the Infant Jesus.

It is worth reading the complete text of the homily, as mainstream news media appear to be following the Associated Press coverage which represents only a small section of the whole.