A Golden Silence


Last week I gave some thoughts on music in the Mass but there was one BIG printing error. 

After looking at what needs to sung at Mass I ended the paragraph by saying: ”So we should see the music in the Mass as four hymns.”  It should have read, “So we should NOT see the music in the Mass as four hymns.”

This week I want to say something about silence in the celebration of Mass. Silence is a precious part of our life.  Silence can speak powerfully. It is an important part of any communication. Silence is essential if we are to live fully relaxed and fulfilled lives. We often find ourselves saying “I can’t hear myself think” We fill our day with sounds and noise from the moment we awake till our head hits the pillow. Thus we deny ourselves the experience of times of silence. The Bishops of England and Wales in their 2005 document on “Celebrating the Mass” wrote: “It is particularly important to allow for silence as a part of the dialogue between God and the community of faith. It allows for the voice of the Holy Spirit to be heard in the hearts of the people of God and to enable them to unite personal prayer more closely with the word of God and the public voice of the Church” Within the Liturgy silence is not merely the absence of words, a pause or an interlude. We can see silence as a stillness, a quieting of spirits; it enables us to hear, assimilate, and respond.

For example  we should have silence within the Penitential rite, and again after the priest says, “Let us pray” at the Collect. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says of the Liturgy of the Word that it should be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation and so any sort of haste should be avoided. It then suggests “ it is appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.”

Ideally there could be short periods of silence after the First and Second readings and after the Homily given by the priest. After communion a few moments of silence helps us to praise and pray to God in our hearts.

For us at St Thomas I think there is a challenging paragraph in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It reads,  “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”  Is there any way we could respond to this recommendation? I would be interested to hear you reactions and suggestions.

Music and the Mass

Last week, in my thoughts about the Sunday Mass, I wrote about “the assembly”. This week I want to reflect on music at Mass. I know from experience the subject is very emotive. I often hear; “Why don’t Catholics sing?” or “Why do we have hymns that that we don’t know?” or “Why do all the hymns seem to from the Victorian era?” or “I prefer a quiet Mass with no music” or “What happened to Gregorian chant?” We will never please everyone all the time!


It is important to be clear about certain principles as to why we have music in the Mass. Pope John Paul, in his Letter “Dies Domini”, wrote: “Given the nature of Sunday Mass and its importance in the lives of the faithful, it must be prepared with special care. In ways dictated by pastoral experience and local custom, in keeping with liturgical norms, efforts must be made to ensure that the celebration has the festive character appropriate to the day commemorating the Lord’s Resurrection. To this end, it is important to devote attention to the songs used by the assembly, since singing is a particularly apt way to express a joyful heart, accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love.”


Our model for music in the liturgy is Jesus himself, who sang psalms with the apostles at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). Music is an integral part of our participation in liturgy – an integral part of our participation in the work of God. For “when song and music are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action, they encourage, in a certain way, communion with the Trinity” (John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, 3; Chirograph on Sacred Music, 3).


If we sing anything at Mass then we must sing the Gospel acclamation and the Sanctus (or the Holy, Holy), then we can add some more pieces to this basic core. We can have an opening song or hymn which is intended to unite us and open our hearts to hear God’s voice. The Gloria should be sung as it allows us to express our praise as a community. The Psalm and response puts on our lips words that sum up the day’s scripture. The Communion song expresses our unity in the Christ we receive. To be a little more adventurous, the Penitential Rite is particularly appropriate to sing in Lent and Advent when there is no Gloria. At the Preparation of the Gifts (no longer called ‘Offertory’) there may be a song, instrumental music or silence. The Final Song can send us out inspired but it isn’t essential – it’s not in the Missal! So we should see the music in the Mass as four hymns.


In this parish we are blessed with having music at all the Sunday Masses except 8am. Even there we try to sing the Acclamation before the Gospel and the Holy Holy. It is important that we learn new music that helps us “express a joyful heart accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love.” I welcome any comments you may have on the music we could share at our Sunday Masses.

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Reflections on the Mass

At the beginning of this New Year I would like to write some reflections on the Mass, the Eucharist, which, as you know, is the source and summit of the Christian life.

Today I want to start at the very beginning before we make the sign of the cross. The moment when we gather together we become the Sunday assembly. Coming to Mass is not merely an individual duty. When we gather together, Christ is really and truly present. Jesus promised he would be with us – where two or three are gathered in my name I am there. We need to remember that Christianity is not a matter between the individual and God, but between the individual and the church and God. As one writer put it “Here there is one of the most pressing pastoral problems of today in relation to the Sunday Eucharist: to liberate people from their individualism; to help them see themselves not as so many individuals, journeying through life in splendid isolation from one another, but as a people bonded together in the Lord.”  (Sean Swayne)  One of the great changes that took place after 1964 and as a result of the Second Vatican Council was the change from the congregation being merely a passive presence, where only the voice of the priest and server was heard, to a full active and conscious participation by all present. In the introduction to the Roman Missal we read:  “For the celebration of the Eucharist is an action of the whole Church, and in it each one should carry out solely but completely that which pertains to him or her, in virtue of the rank of each within the People of God.” I would like to thank all those who take on responsibilities as Readers, Eucharistic Ministers, Musicians, Singers, Welcomers, Offertory Helpers and Servers in this parish. Even if you are not involved in one of these particular ministries you participate through your singing, and articulating the responses of the Mass. “The acclamations and the responses of the faithful to the priest’s greetings and prayers constitute that level of active participation that the gathered faithful are to contribute in every form of the Mass, so that the action of the entire community may be clearly expressed and fostered.”  This year we plan to make significant changes to the entrance to our church. The idea is to make it more welcoming and inviting. The plans have already been approved by the Art and Architecture committee of the archdiocese and, once one of three tenders for the work has been chosen, with the agreement of the Archdiocesan Finance committee, work will begin. Our coming into church is important. We need to cultivate within ourselves a welcoming heart, a heart which even when weighed with sadness radiates the peace and joy of the Lord. We rejoice that we have a wonderful opportunity every Sunday to share in the death and resurrection of Christ. Let us not be outsiders or mere onlookers.

Thoughts for a new year

Don’t let the cynics put you off thinking about new year resolutions. 

I think it is only natural for you and I to have some wishes and thoughts about our lives today and how we would like them to unfold.  We are all encouraged to know our purpose in life.  What do you want from your life?  In what are you going to put you time and effort and money? What gives meaning to your life? What enables you to get up in the morning and face another day?  For those who are young they have years to consider,  if it pleases God.  For others of us we have lived a long life and our plans are measured in days rather than years.  For the twelve year old Jesus, travelling to Jerusalem, perhaps for the first time, his purpose became clear.  The family were travelling to Jerusalem and to the Temple.  It was here that he remained after the festival, while Joseph and Mary returned home to Nazareth.  “The temple is understood as the place for the manifestation of the presence of the Father – as a sign of God’s sovereignty, a sign of the one Lord, a sign of the one and only God. “ (Cardinal Carlo Martini S.J.) It is significant that the parents of Jesus were looking for him for three days.  In answer to Mary’s question, “Why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously’ Jesus said: “Did you not know I must be in my fathers house”? The translation we hear this weekend in Mass is “I must be busy with my Father’s affairs” Jesus was saying: I am with the Father: I am in the Father, I must be in my Father’s House.”  Jesus was clear who he was. Jesus was also saying it was necessary. “ I must be busy with my Father’s affairs”  At the end of Luke, when Jesus was walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he said: “Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory”  Jesus had a clarity about what his heavenly Father has asked of him. As we begin our new year let us all be open to what God is asking of each of us. Let us listen in prayer. Let us ask for wisdom and discernment. Let us be like Mary and although we might not fully understand we can humble listen and ponder.

Have a very blessed and grace filled New Year.

The Light which is Christ

Poor Thistle Shopping centre in Stirling! Their decision to turn down a request have a crib in the shopping precinct was covered by all the news outlets  from the Scotsman, the Mirror, the Express to the Times. The reason they gave was that they wanted to appear “religiously and politically neutral” and avoid offending customers. They have now reversed their decision.  A crib can now appear in the shopping centre. 

If you are walking down the high street in Canterbury towards Westgate, “Cafe St Pierre” have painted a large, colourful picture of Mary and the Child Jesus covering most of their front window. This definitely won’t put me off having a coffee and croissant there this Christmas time.  We are given a Christmas season to reflect and celebrate the birth of Jesus. First there is the Octave (eight days) and then the days till 6th January when we celebrate the Epiphany.  This is a time of joy.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds the night Christ was born they gave them this message. “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”  We get much of the Christmas story from Luke. His gospel is known as the gospel of joy. In the gospel today, the fourth Sunday of Advent,  Elizabeth says to Mary “the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.”  The birth of Jesus is a cause of great joy not just for Mary and Joseph but for the whole world.  We share this joy because he is Saviour, he is the one who sets us free. We, the people who walk in darkness, have the light which is Christ. This is the reason there needs to be images of the birth of Jesus in the world of shopping and consumption. They remind us that our hope and our joy for the world resides in the birth of a child, not any child, but Christ the Lord.

Gaudete

I sometimes used to write in cards for those who were getting married Phillipians 4:4 . Those who were curious had to look up the verse in the New Testament. In the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) it reads “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  In the Jerusalem translation, which we use at Mass, it reads, “ I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord, what I want is your happiness”. The third candle on the Advent wreath which we light this weekend is coloured rose. (Pink). The celebrant at Mass wears rose vestments. This reflects the call to be full of joy, to be happy. The first word in Latin of the Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass is “Gaudate”. Rejoice. It is though we are commanded to rejoice. How do we attain happiness? How can we be people who always rejoice especially when we are very much aware of great sadness, poverty and injustice that surrounds us in our world? In our personal lives we might be suffering, full of anxiety and have very little hope. But what gives us joy and happiness is knowing that the one we await, Jesus, who is the Christ, has conquered sin and death. In the resurrection he won the victory over death and redeemed the human race. Christ has taken on what frightens us most. His love is more powerful than anything that can overwhelm us. We rejoice because the king is in our midst and we have no more disaster to fear. This is the very heart of Christianity . As bishop Robert Barron said recently: “Don’t reduce Christianity to the works of social justice, doing good. The heart of the matter is the mystery foreseen by Zephaniah, proclaimed by Paul. Jesus has gone all the way down that we may be brought all the way up. That is the good news, that is the gospel, that is why we rejoice.”

Making YOUR path straight

The pressure is on. When am I going to write all those cards? Have I accidentally left off anyone from the Christmas present list?  Will I cope this year with the family coming for Christmas dinner? Will I be celebrating alone?  Let us leave those anxieties and worries aside for a while.  We need to make space for Jesus in our heart. The cry of John the Baptist is “In the wilderness prepare a way.” Mountains and valleys can make our journey awkward and slow. They are barriers that need to be overcome. How do we prepare a way that is straight and smooth this Advent so that we can welcome Christ with great joy into our lives and hearts?   As Fr Sylvester Flynn* suggests we need to have a look at our lives or to examine our conscience. What are the paths we need to straighten? Are there attitudes or behaviour that have deviated me from loving God? Are there times when I have allowed anger or resentment blind me to the way of love? The valleys to be filled in are the times when I have wandered from a sense of God’s presence or enthusiasm for God’s work was low. The mountains to be laid low are the obstacles which I imagine to be insurmountable because I have forgotten to trust in God; or the hills to be levelled can be the areas of pride where, because I am good at something, to look down on others in judgement. The winding ways can represent the delaying tactics I employed on my journey back to God. Do I delay, postpone, procrastinate.? Do I say: “tomorrow, Lord”? How do we make the rough ways smooth? We need to acknowledge the jagged edges of our personalities which irritate others or rub them up the wrong way. It could be my insensitivities, my lack of generosity, my unwillingness to compromise or my attempts to dominate others in subtle ways. This coming Tuesday at 7;30pm we have an Advent Penitential Service with an opportunity to go to sacramental confession. The Lord waits for my return. I will receive him a welcome guest into my heart.


* “Good News of Luke’s Gospel”

Our Jesse Tree

Our family wasn’t big into Christmas trees. In the living room the focus was the crib and behind it was a fairly insignificant plastic tree covered in tinsel . A friend of mind always has a big tree on which she daringly places candles which are lit occasionally when everyone is in the room. The tree is very much part of any home’s decoration. But there are those who object to a tree being in the Sanctuary of the Church. This year, at St Thomas, the tree appears this Sunday. But there are no lights or decorations. This tree will be our Jesse Tree. What is a Jesse Tree? The Jesse tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history. This Sunday the children will hang the first seven ornaments on the tree. The Sun recalling God’s creation, an apple reminding us of the story of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark or a rainbow reminding us that God saved the human family through Noah, a star reminding us of the the promise made to Abraham, a ram recalling Abraham willing to sacrifice his son Issac, a ladder representing the Jacob’s ladder and the coat of many colours recalling how Joseph is used by God to save his people in Egypt. Each Sunday they will add more symbols until the tree is covered with images of our history of salvation. 

At the end of the Advent season, as you decorate your own tree, here is a prayer you can say before you switch on the lights.

Lord our God,

we praise you for the light of creation:

the sun, the moon, and the stars of the night.

We praise you for the light of Israel:

the Law, the prophets, and the wisdom of the Scriptures.

We praise you for Jesus Christ, your Son:

he is Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace,

who fills us with the wonder of your love.

Let your blessing come upon us

as we illumine this tree.

May the light and cheer it gives

be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.

May all who delight in this tree

come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Just One Filter

The Church celebrates National Youth Sunday every year on the feast of Christ the King. Last year one of the posters issued for this Sunday was a photo of my goddaughter. This year the advertising is very different. The theme is #JustOneFilter. It is addressing young people that use social media everyday. For us oldies “social media” refers to Facebook, SnapChat, WhatsApp. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and the like.  No one thinks twice about altering an image before posing it on social media – it’s all just part of the process of attracting as many likes and comments as possible. This year the theme #JustOneFilter encourages young people to think about where else in their lives they are using filters.

What do they do to mask who they really are?

Are they hiding or enhancing parts of their lives to make themselves feel good?

What do they do to feel like they belong?

How do they make themselves look right?

We want young people to hear the message that there is ONE filter that helps us stay true to ourselves, that helps us all to measure our lives in the right ways and present ourselves to others as we are. This is the filter of God’s Love.

Obviously this is a message not only for young people but for all of us. When we look at our lives through this filter we see ourselves and others as God does, as truly loved, valued and significant, no matter what is going on in our lives. We want young people to know that they are works of art, masterpieces, lovingly created by a God who knows them and wants to be close to them. There is a link to this Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King. 

In the gospel we hear that Jesus came to “testify to the truth” and that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:33-37). Many of our young people do not hear often enough the truth that God loves them, and that Jesus, King of the Universe, can transform their lives if they allow Him into their hearts.

This weekend, let us pray for the young people of our parish, all those at St Anselm’s School, those who come to Prayer and Pub, those who are beginning their Confirmation preparation programme in the New Year, those at the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church, Canterbury, the University of the Creative Arts and Canterbury College.