Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buoyed by Christian Hope

Good morning to all. I am in Washington, DC this morning for a meeting. I want to thank everyone for their comments on this blog over the past few days. I am crushed for time today and don't have the time for a lengthy blog. Just wanted to keep connected. As this Easter Season continues to unfold, I offer you this snippet from the work of the late Chrysogonus Waddell, OCSO. This piece, The Earth Feared and Was Silent, includes these words in its refrain, "The earth feared and was silent when God arose for judgment, Alleluia." Sample pages of this octavo can be found on WLP's web site here. Waddell's works have a luminous quality and lift my own mind and heart to the heavens. I pray that his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, may rest in peace. I invite you to take a moment out of your busy day today to pray for those among your loved ones and friends, who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again. Today I particularly bring to mind my own sister, Joanne, who died in 2001. This season of joy buoys my Christian hope; my prayer is that it does the same for you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Lived Experience of the LIturgy

Good morning folks. I hope your celebration of Easter continues and that your "Alleluia" is as strong today as it was at the Paschal Vigil. I'd like to offer some general reflections on the comments that were posted about yesterday's blog. I apologize for not being able to comment directly to each one. There simple aren't enough hours in a day. 

I find it fascinating that the first time I entered the arena of musical style and the liturgy, this was the topic that generated more comments than anything else previously posted. Obviously this is a hot-button issue among Catholic leaders, musicians, liturgists, and parishioners. This is an issue that, contrary to some of the comments, is not going to go away. I'd like you all to know one thing about me. Yes, I am the associate publisher here at World Library Publications, but I am also a baptized Catholic, practicing my faith in a poor, struggling community on the near South Side of the City of Chicago. That is where my faith is nurtured. That is where I receive my own foretaste of the heavenly banquet each week. That is where I am asked to sing chant; that is where I am asked to sing treasures from the African-American spiritual tradition; that is where I am asked to sing contemporary Catholic liturgical music; that is where I am asked to sing strophic hymns. I cannot separate myself from my experience. In 1997, the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican released the General Directory for Catechesis. This is a document that I believe should be read by a much broader audience. It has been helpful for me as a liturgist and musician in many ways. In it, the role of the experiential in Christian formation is treated quite well.

"Experience promotes the intelligibility of the Christian message . . . experience is a necessary medium for exploring and assimilating the truths which constitute the objective content of revelation. Experience, assumed by faith, becomes in a certain manner, a locus for the manifestation and realization of salvation, where God, consistently with the pedagogy of the Incarnation, reaches man with his grace and saves him. The catechist must teach the person to read his own lived experience in this regard, so as to accept the invitation of the Holy Spirit to conversion, to commitment, to hope and to discover more and more in his life God's plan for him (GDC 252)."

The liturgy is known primarily through the experience of it. I know that I enter a mystagogical moment following each celebration of the liturgy, trying to probe, post facto, the meaning of the ritual, the texts prayed, the texts sung, the word proclaimed and preached, and the celebration and reception of Holy Communion. When I am sent forth from Sunday Mass, I try to figure out how I am going to work hard to "work off" the rich nourishment I've received at Mass. I don't want to become spiritually lethargic; I know that I have been nourished in word and sacrament to do something, to be Christ for others in the coming week.  There are those who do this when they have an experience of the Mass that is rich with diverse musical genres. There are those who do this when they have an experience of the Extraordinary Form. There are those who do this when they have an experience of a "Life Teen" Mass. There are those who do this when they experience a daily Mass when a few hymns and the acclamations are sung without musical accompaniment. Peoples' experience of the liturgy—whatever musical style is employed— is one that "is a necessary medium for exploring and assimilating the truths which constitute the objective content of revelation." 

As a publisher, we are proud of the fact that we offer a very broad spectrum of musical styles for the Catholic Church. The texts we publish all receive ecclesiastical approval. We have some of the best music editors on our staff. We have theologians on our staff who help composers craft texts that are consistent with Catholic teaching. We know and firmly believe that we are publishing the best music and texts for worship. We want to help people's experience of the liturgy be rich and varied, just like God's people are. One need only explore our web site to discover this. We want to be able to offer the very best in a variety of musical styles to help people enter an experience of the liturgy that helps them grow in their relationship with the living God. 

On this Easter day, I hope you enjoy this snippet from William Tortolano's arrangement of All Creatures of Our God and King.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Choirs of Heaven

"In wonder and gratitude,

we join our voices with the choirs of heaven

to proclaim the power of your love

and to sing of our salvation in Christ:"

This is the conclusion of the preface when, at Mass, the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I. It precedes, or introduces the singing of the Holy, Holy, Holy, or the Sanctus. I have always been drawn into the concluding phrases of the prefaces. When we hear words like "we join our voices with the choirs of heaven," I wonder what those heavenly voices sound like. We all know and believe that the celebration of the Eucharist here on earth is but a foretaste of the banquet in the heavenly kingdom. I know as a publisher, we try our best here at WLP to encourage composers to echo the heavenly song when they compose settings for the acclamations sung during the Eucharistic Prayer. Here's a sample of the Holy Holy from one of WLP's contemporary composers, John Angotti. John's Holy has a definite "rock" feel to it. Here's another example, taken from Ed Bolduc's Mass of Celebration. Steve Janco offers us this setting. Godfrey Tomanek gives us this from his Missa Brevis. Rory Cooney's Mass of St. Aidan includes this Sanctus. Peter Kolar's Misa Luna, a Mass setting that can be sung in either English or in Spanish, or in a bilingual fashion, can be found here. I found this setting of Ambrosian Chant for the Sanctus on YouTube. Finally, here's a Gregorian Chant setting of the Sanctus. 

Why listen to all of these settings? It's a way to show the variety that exists within the song of God's people here on earth. Frankly, I grow tired of hearing people say that "Chant is the only way." I also grow weary of hearing others say, "The Mass has gotta rock if there's going to be any life or meaning in it." If we believe that the Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, I think we need to stretch our imaginations a bit here. Do we not believe that those who have gone before us in faith are somehow part of that heavenly chorus? If we are indeed joining our voices here on earth with the saints who gather at the heavenly banquet, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that there is only one kind of "sound" peculiar to heaven. I know that I have been "taken to heaven" when a chant setting of the Sanctus is prayed. I have been taken there as well when the brass choir introduces a setting of the Sanctus like Steve Janco's in his Mass of Redemption and the assembly enters that song with full voice. I have been lifted up even in a small community when we are singing the Sanctus from Jan Vermulst's People's Mass or Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation without any accompaniment. Call me naive, or even childish of faith if you will, but I think all of the various stylistic expressions used in creating the musical settings for the Mass offer us a unique opportunity. We may or may not like a particular style of music, but I think we need to open ourselves to the immensity of God's love. God’s love was expressed most definitively when God sent his only-begotten Son to be our redeemer. Jesus Christ is the "song" of the Father. I am an incarnational kind of Catholic and I search for Christ whenever and wherever I can. I listen for that "song" all the time. I hear that song in the lives of members of my family, especially when there is great suffering or great joy. I hear that song when I look out across the expanse of Lake Michigan here in Chicago. I hear that song when I see what my parish does for the poor. And specifically when music is played or sung, I hear the song that is Jesus Christ. Sometimes it's embodied in chant; sometimes in rock; sometimes in the splendor of full orchestra; sometimes in the song of a few huddled together, singing without any accompaniment. Whatever the style, I firmly believe that we are hearing the eternal song of God. And for this, folks, we gotta sing and we gotta pray.

"In wonder and gratitude,

we join our voices with the choirs of heaven

to proclaim the power of your love

and to sing of our salvation in Christ."

Monday, April 27, 2009

St. James: Charity and Love

Happy Monday of the Third Week of Easter. I wanted to take some time today to share some information about my parish, St. James, which is located on the near South Side of the City of Chicago. The parish is over 150 years old and has a rich history. To get a sense of that history, click here. What this description of the history of St. James doesn't tell is what has been happening at the parish recently. As many of you know, Holy Name Cathedral here in Chicago had a fire in the attic earlier this year. After the fire, Chicago city officials decided to visit churches that had been designed by the same architect that had designed Holy Name. One of those churches is St. James. The officials arrived, examined our church, which has a few cracks on the ceiling of the south transept, and then ordered the church closed after the following Sunday's Masses. This all happened shortly before Ash Wednesday. My friend Rochelle, sitting behind me in church the day this was announced, began to cry, telling me that she had gone to grammar school at St. James and was a parishioner her entire life. It was a very sad day for St. James. We have been worshipping in our parish hall ever since. We are also in the middle of a capital campaign, "Towering Into the Future," aimed at raising funds to repair St. James' tower. I am proud to say that the parishioners of St. James, who total a mighty 250, are a resilient group of Catholics. What drives us the most, I believe, is the outreach that we provide to the local community. Our food pantry is serving over 2000 persons per month. Check out the photo of our food pantry above. The elderly in the area's homes and nursing facilities are well cared for by our Social Care ministry. St. James is indeed a parish that has its eyes fixed firmly on the poor and disenfranchised on the near South Side of Chicago. 
On this past Saturday night, we held our annual fundraiser for the social care ministry, "Jazzin' to Feed," a jazz concert with a big raffle and a silent auction. The planners had hoped to raise 50,000 dollars. God is good—we raised over 69,000 dollars. God is good.
I've been a parishioner at St. James for about six years. In that time, I have turned into a tithing Catholic. When one sees such need, I don't think there is a choice in the matter. God has blessed me in so many ways. I have no choice but to make a return to the Lord. 
A few years ago, I asked my pastor, Fr. Edward Linton, OSB, what he tells his confreres when they ask him about the size of the parish. Without hesitation, he said, "I tell them we are a parish of 16o0." I looked at him incredulously and said, "Where are all these people? I don't see that many at Mass. You've got to be kidding." He then challenged me, saying that my focus was too narrow. "You may think that there are only 250 people here, because that is roughly the number that go to Communion at Mass each week. But for so many of the poor in this community, they receive 'communion' in a different way. 'Communion' for them may mean a jar of peanut butter, or a box of spaghetti, or a bottle of shampoo. They know Christ through these simple things. They may not 'go to Communion' at Sunday Mass, but they are 'going to communion' in a parallel way when they come to the food pantry. Hence, I count these people as members of this parish." This certainly was an eye-opener for me. I don't want to argue the obvious theological concerns that this brings up. I just share this with you as a reminder of the connection between what we do at Mass and what we are supposed to do after we are dismissed from Mass each Sunday. My experience at St. James has brought me to see a stronger connection between the Eucharist and outreach to the poor. Fr. Edward reminds us often of that connection. 
As we—the people of St. James—continue our exodus in our parish hall, we have some obstacles ahead of us. We don't know the future for our church building. Our Mass attendance has dropped off since moving into the hall. Please say a prayer for us. But we are still singing and praying and helping the poor. In case you haven't noticed, I love being a Catholic. And that love is rooted in the local community. It's rooted in the people I have fallen in love with at St. James. I hope your experience of being Catholic is as rich and full as is mine. I hope your Catholic life is lived in a place where charity and love prevail.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Friday. I am writing this entry while flying to Los Angeles. I departed Chicago on a 6:30 A.M. flight and, after a meeting in L.A., will return to Chicago on a flight later this afternoon. Even though I travel quite extensively throughout the United States and Canada, I am still in awe at the speed with which we can move around on this continent and beyond. I’m also grateful for the technology that has developed to make this all happen.

Last night I attended a fundraiser for Mundelein Seminary here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Funds raised during the event will enable seminarians to travel for an extended period of study in the Holy Land. I was able to catch a brief conversation with Chicago’s shepherd, Cardinal Francis George. I talked with him about WLP’s plans for assisting in the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. As on previous occasions, he became quite impassioned about this issue. He feels strongly that this particular juncture in the history of the reform of the liturgy presents us with enormous possibilities and responsibilities. He said, “We’ve got to get this thing right.” From my previous conversations with him, I know that he feels that this moment of transition will provide Catholics in the English-speaking world a unique opportunity for good liturgical catechesis.

You may know that the bishops in South African jumped the gun on releasing the translation of the Order of Mass and mandated that the new translation be immediately implemented in their parishes. Reaction was swift and, in a word, brutal. People were not prepared and their negative reactions were certainly understandable. Even with preparatory catechesis in other countries, I firmly believe that Catholics will tend to react negatively to the new translation. Change is not easy and people will not be satisfied with reasoning that goes like this: “The English translation of the Latin we have been praying was constructed using one set of rules for translation. The new English translation soon to be put into effect uses a different set of rules that mandated that the translation be more faithful to the original Latin.” I know that many Catholics will find this reasoning hard to swallow. While I resonate with this sentiment, I believe that any opportunity to provide liturgical catechesis is an one that we must seize. All you need do is read the previous posts on this blog about the power of the sacramental life. My central question is this: Do Catholics really believe in the power and potential of baptism? Confirmation? Eucharist? Perhaps I am na├»ve, but I have been called worse. I am going to move through the transition to a new translation with a careful optimism. We will need to deal with the negativity head on, but my hope is that leaders—on the national, diocesan, and local levels—will help people move beyond the negativity to a deeper understanding of the work Christ does every time we gather at liturgy. Folks, when these things unfold, we gotta sing and we gotta pray more than ever! A little bit of J. Michael Thompson's Exultet. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Speaking of Sin . . .

In a comment on yesterday's blog, Rory Cooney made an insightful comment about sin and I'd like to address the issues he raises. Rory said this: "This means, I think, that we have to actually talk about what constitutes "sin," a topic that it seems like preachers don't want to touch lest they be deemed politically motivated. We're only likely to hear about generalized sins and particularly about abortion, which means (generally) that we haven't progressed much since the Genesis view of sin as women's work."

I agree with Rory's assessment. I think that many preachers in the past focused a little too heavily on sin. I remember going to parish missions when I was a kid at St. Charles Church in Woburn, Massachusetts, pictured here. I remember the focus being almost exclusively on sin. I left those mission sessions scared to death. I was sure that I was going straight to hell. With the advent of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and the opening up of the scriptures, preachers began—for the most part—to shy away from talking about sin. I guess I have fallen into the pattern of expecting homilies to uplift me, rather than challenge me. That is why Paul Turner's comment, posted on yesterday's blog, was a real eye-opener for me.
One of the members of the Christian Initiation Seminar of the North American Academy of Liturgy, an Episcopal priest, shared a story with us. It goes something like this:
In his parish, during the first year of the implementation of the catechumenate (process by which adults prepare for and are baptized), they struggled with how to make a connection between what was happening in the scrutinies (pre-baptismal rites of self-searching and repentance) and what would happen at baptism. To prepare for the scrutinies with their one catechumen—a middle-aged man—they asked him a series of questions. They asked him to name the things in his life that prevented him from fully embracing the Christian way of life. During the celebrations of the scrutinies, the parish named these sins and all prayed that this catechumen (and the entire parish) would be freed from these sins. Then it came time for baptism at the Easter Vigil. Just before the man was to renounce sin and make the profession of faith prior to the baptism, two people appeared from a side area, carrying two poles with a banner stretched between the two poles. On the paper banner were written the sins that the man had named during his scrutiny preparation, things like "my long-held grudge against my brother," "my harmful addictions," "my tendencies toward racism and prejudice," among others. Right before the man was asked to renounce sin, the pastor asked him to look intently at these sins. The pastor said that when the man renounced Satan and all his works, and all his empty promises, the things listed on that banner were precisely these works of Satan, these very empty promises. The pastor then told the man that if he were ready to renounce sin, "then approach the banner and tear it apart." This is precisely what the man did. He reached up, grabbed the sins, tore them into pieces and stomped on them. Only then, it seems, did his renunciation of sin hit home. 
I am not advocating this practice in our parishes. What I am advocating is allowing Lent to do what Lent is intended to do: give us the opportunity to prepare for our annual renewal of the baptismal renunciation of sin and the profession of faith. Preaching needs to lead us into ways of recognizing those attitudes and behaviors that fly in the face of the fact that we are baptized; that we have indeed "put on Christ." Once we are led to an honest recognition of our own sins, our ritual renunciation of sin will also hit home for us. I've done some extensive work with the scrutinies. Here's a snippet of my "Three Litanies for the Scrutinies." The scrutinies can help the entire community name the sins that ensnare us. Only then can we know the power that Christ's death and resurrection hold to destroy sin. 
I remember Fr. Jim Dunning, the founder of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate sharing his response to a man who asked Jim if he had been saved. Jim responded, "Yes, I've been saved. Again, and again, and again, and again, and again!" How good is our God to call us back time and time again. For this, folks, we gotta sing and we gotta pray. Here is a portion of Steve Janco's "Concertato on Jesus Christ Is Risen Today." Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Would the Baptized Do?

Yesterday I read with sadness the story of the 11 year-old boy, Jaheem Herrera, who came home from school and hanged himself in his bedroom. Apparently he was the victim of bullying by other children at his elementary school. The reports said that he was called "gay" and taunted because of his accent. I shared this sad news with the young confirmation students who had gathered with their parents for the intergeneration catechetical event at St. Anne's in Barrington, Illinois, on Monday evening. The reason why I brought this story into the presentation was to help drive home a point about baptism. I was trying to get these young people (and the more seasoned Catholics in the room) to embrace the fact that as baptized Christians, we simply cannot take any part in that kind of activity. Because we have "put on Christ," we cannot bully; we cannot taunt someone by calling him "gay." These kinds of behaviors and words were simply not the actions and words of Jesus Christ, in whom we have been baptized. I often wonder how many times in my own life I have turned my own back on my baptism and engaged in behaviors and said words that would never have emanated from Christ. When I reflect on this, I can only turn to God for mercy.
I firmly believe that if we developed a deeper baptismal spirituality and outlook in the Catholic Church, we (and our world) could be transformed more and more. When we are tempted to bully or call out some derogatory insult, we need the strength to pause and ask ourselves, "Is this something that the baptized would do?" 
Several months ago, something that a friend of mine wrote for one of our books here at WLP, started to really make me think about my own baptism. Rev. Paul Turner, in his book Celebrating Initiation: A Guide for Priests was writing about the scrutinies (those penitential rituals celebrated during Lent for the unbaptized who are preparing for baptism—each scrutiny includes a prayer of exorcism). This is what Paul has to say: 
"Underlying the exorcism is the assumption that baptism makes a difference in someone's moral culpability. After you are baptized, you are a member of the body of Christ. You have the gift of God's grace every day of your life. The Holy Spirit will help you make good decisions, based on the Christian life you share. If you sin, it's your own fault. You did not take advantage of the spiritual help that has been with you all along. Life is different for the unbaptized. They have not enjoyed the benefits of sanctifying grace as you have."
When I first read this, my eyes were opened. I am not saying that each of us who is baptized carries around some kind of magical bag of tricks with us. What we do carry within us is God's sanctifying grace every day of our lives. The development of a baptismal spirituality helps us remember the power and potential given to each of us in that first sacrament. This is good stuff, folks. I hope as the Easter Season continues to unfold that you'll say a prayer of thanksgiving for those who who loved you so much that they brought you to the font of baptism. On that day, your life changed forever. From that moment on, you would never be the same again. Here is a snippet from Paul Tate and Paul Berrell's piece Make Us One In Your Love. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

From the Font to the Ceiling

Last night I drove to St. Anne's Parish in Barrington, Illinois to present the baptism and confirmation session to their intergenerational catechetical gathering. One of the stories I shared was about an experience I had several years ago. The good folks at the North American Forum on the Catechumenate had invited me to help lead a pilgrimage through Italy. The focus of the pilgrimage was a bit out of the ordinary: we were going to Italy to visit places with significant baptism fonts or baptismal spaces. It was an amazing trip. Two particular places stand out in my memory. One was the baptistry beneath the Duomo in Milan, pictured below. This archeological find is believed to be the original baptistry, which means that this is most probably the site where St. Ambrose baptized Augustine. We pilgrims stood around the font and sang baptismal hymns.


The second place that stands out in my mind is the baptistry of St. John at the Duomo in Florence. This was our first stop on the pilgrimage. The baptistry in Florence is a separate building that is situated in the plaza in front of the cathedral. It is a stunning octagonal building. It is perhaps most famous for its bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Actually these bronzes are copies of the originals, which are stored in a nearby museum for safekeeping. I don't think our tour guide grasped the fact that we were keenly interested in visiting baptismal sites. She was going on and on about these famous doors. All we wanted to do was go into the baptistry building itself. When she finished her description of the doors, she motioned for us to leave the area. When I told her that we had traveled from the United States and Canada specifically to visit baptistries, she found a way (with the help of a several thousand lira) for us to gain access. When I walked into the baptistry with my fellow pilgrims, I was filled with disappointment. The actual font had been removed years earlier and the tour guide rambled on about the fact that a famous Italian princess had been married in the building. Standing there feeling dejected, I suddenly felt a poke in my side. My mother, who happened to be on the pilgrimage, had elbowed me and when I looked at her, I noticed that she, and most of the rest of the group, were staring straight up. When I looked up, I was stunned. The ceiling was adorned with a huge mosaic. The image of Christ dominated the scene and there had to be hundreds of saints and angels there as well. I could only imagine what it must have been like to be baptized in this building. After having been baptized—having "put on Christ"—the newly baptized would have risen from the font and looked up. What that person saw was what awaits the baptized: a place in the kingdom of heaven; their own spot on that ceiling! I told the people at St. Anne's last night that our Christian journey is a pilgrimage from the font to our place on the ceiling. All along the way we strive to become more and more like Christ. I can only imagine that moment when (hopefully) I arrive in the kingdom of heaven. I live in the hope that God the Father will recognize me because he recognizes his Son when he sees me. And for this blessed hope, today is a day that I gotta sing and I gotta pray!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spirits Lifted High

Happy Monday of the Second Week of Easter to all. I spent the weekend in Kansas City and Saint Joseph, Missouri, presenting two WLP choral reading sessions to the fine singers in the diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph. The first session took place at the diocesan cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which has recently undergone a wonderful renovation, pictured here (second photo). The second took place at St. Francis Xavier parish in St. Joseph. This diocese has obviously had good musical leadership over the years, given the fact that all who attended the choral reading sessions were terrific sight readers. What a blessing for me, the "stranger in their midst." We were able to sing through twenty-five pieces of music and all were impressed by the breadth of choral music we publish here at WLP. YOu can always contact Sister Joan Thomas here at WLP to request a WLP choral reading session in your area. It was a heart-warming weekend. I was able to spend time with Sr. Claudette Schiratti, who directs music for the diocese. She took me to the World War One Memorial Museum, which was a great experience, worth a visit to Kansas City. We also spent time at Visitation Parish, one of the finest new churches I've seen in North America. It is pictured here (first photo).
While walking into St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Joseph for the Noon Mass yesterday, the crowd from the previous Mass was leaving the Church. One man walked out of church with his family, looked at another parishioner and said, "Boy, my spirits have just been lifted!" What a great testament to the liturgical life of that parish. Spirits can only be lifted if we enter the liturgy with our whole being, with spirits high and spirits low. I firmly believe that God wants to work a miracle of transformation within each of us every single time we celebrate Mass. When I bring pain and disappointment to Mass with me, I know that God has something in store for me as those feelings are brought into contact with the death and resurrection of Christ. When I bring joy and gladness to Mass with me, I know that God punctuates those sentiments as my fellow parishioners lift their voices in joy with me. The liturgy has so much power; God has so much to offer us in our celebrations. We just need to do the "liturgical bunny hop" each week at Mass: "You put your whole self in!"
Listen to this snippet of "Gathered As One," a gathering song that really says it all. This music of Paul Tate and Deanna Light, two of WLP's most cherished composers, invites us all to join our many voices together in the celebration of the Mass. 
I hope that this Second Week of Easter finds you still basking in the Resurrection of Christ. Gotta Sing! Gotta Pray!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Enduring Gifts

Welcome new and returning visitors to Gotta Sing Gotta Pray. Some friends and colleagues have asked me the reasons why I chose this title for my blog. Several months ago, when the economic climate began to dim, a colleague asked how the Catholic liturgy and music publishing world was weathering the storm. I simply replied, "Well, even in the midst of an economic downturn, people gotta sing and people gotta pray." Hence the title of the blog.
We at World Library Publications are committed to providing music, liturgy, and prayer resources to all who are seeking a deeper relationship with the Lord, perhaps especially when times are difficult. As we listen to news reports about the rise in the unemployment rate, as we suffer through job losses and the challenge of finding new jobs, we know in our hearts that the Lord is the source of our strength and courage.
During this week, this blog has focused on the Easter Octave. We have been exploring the mystagogical homilies of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Feel free to read the earlier posts to delve into the inspiring words of St. Cyril. Today I'd like us all to focus on the continuing potential and power of the sacrament of confirmation. I take a fairly simple approach to this sacrament. I was confirmed on May 13, 1972. Today, nearly thirty-seven years later, I am still drawing on the power of this sacrament in my own life. One of the central aspects of the celebration of that sacrament is the prayer that the celebrant prays over all who are to be confirmed:

All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.
Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe 
in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Following this prayer, those to be confirmed are anointed with Chrism with these words: "Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit." All who have been confirmed have been sealed with the seven gifts proclaimed in the confirmation prayer. I made my way through my life following confirmation thinking that the sacrament was a one-time-only event, another "notch" on my Catholic journey. It's only been in recent years, when faced with new challenges, that I have realized the perpetual power of this sacrament. I came to the realization that these seven gifts were enduring. I don't know about you, but there are definitely times in my own life when I need to draw on the gifts of right judgment and knowledge. At other times the other gifts of the Holy Spirit have been sorely needed. Earlier this year I was privileged to present a parish mission in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Each day I would drive to a remote location, settle myself on a lava field, and wait and wait. Eventually, gazing out on the Pacific, I would notice water spouts. I had discovered some new friends: migrating whales. Each day, I sat there in awe watching my new "friends", drawing on the final gift received at confirmation: wonder and awe in God's presence. Walking through life with the expectation that God has all kinds of things in store for us; things that will engender wonder and awe, is not really a bad way to live, is it?
On this eve of the Second Sunday of Easter, I hope that you reflect on the enduring power of your confirmation. I hope you continue to cry out to God: Veni Creator Spiritus. Let's all join our hearts and voices together and pray for a continuing outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. John Angotti, one of WLP's wonderful composers, has written a setting of Veni Creator Spiritus. You can listen to a snippet of that piece here. Feel free to visit WLP's web site often to find music, worship, and prayer resources to nurture your life in the Holy Spirit.
Remember, gotta sing, gotta pray!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Life in the Big City - Bearing Christ Within Us

On many mornings I walk from my home in downtown Chicago to the "UIC-Halsted" stop on   the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line subway. After boarding the train, I travel to Oak Park where I meet my carpool colleagues here at WLP and J. S. Paluch, and then we are off to the office.
This beautiful Spring morning seemed no different than others. I arrived a little early—cup of coffee in hand—sat down on the bench at the train station, and began my routine: doing the Chicago Tribune crossword puzzle. I was a bit early, so I let a few trains pass, then boarded the train that arrived at 7:05 A.M. 
Two stops later, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The train began to pull out of the station (we were on the last of eight connected cars) and something caught my eye. I looked up from my crossword puzzle and saw that an older man had walked to the door. He reached up, pulled down the red knob (used to open the doors in an emergency), and, after the double doors opened, nonchalantly walked out of the moving train. He hit the platform hard and struck his head on a standpipe as he rolled on the platform. We were all stunned as this incredible scene unfolded. The train stopped and several people were already at his side. He was bleeding and obviously dazed and confused. I phoned 911 immediately and soon police arrived, as well as personnel from the Chicago Transit Authority. Reaction on the train was mixed. One woman uttered, "Oh great, I'm gonna be late and I start a new job today." The man sitting next to me said, "You live in the city long enough and you see everything." I was simply stunned. I said, "This guy is obviously sick or confused or something. I think he needs our prayers." That comment looked like it fell on deaf ears, but who knows? So I sat there after talking with the police, and said a quiet "Our Father." Soon we were on our way. What a way to start a Friday. All I can think of now as I sit here is that poor old man.
As this Easter Octave continues to unfold, I wonder about these sad events that occur around the globe every minute of every day. My response to these events is too often a kind of numb apathy. This morning's event shook me out of that. As I have been doing every day this week, I turned to St. Cyril of Jerusalem when I arrived at my office. Here is what I found in Mystagogical Catechesis IV:
"Therefore with fullest assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mightest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are diffused through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature."
I don't know about you, but I have spent a good deal of my life trying to figure out what it really means to be baptized, to be confirmed, to be a partaker of the Eucharist week after week. If, in baptism, we have "put on Christ," then the reception of the Eucharist becomes for us the reminder that through the sharing in Christ's body and blood, we "come to bear Christ in us" more and more with each passing day. Perhaps—and I am not patting myself on the back here—this is why I sat on that train this morning with these horrible events unfolding and, after having done my duty by calling 911 and talking to the police, all I felt I could do was sit there and pray the Lord's Prayer.  Friends, I think this is what those of us who bear Christ in us can only do sometimes: we pray in the words of Christ, for we are gradually becoming his voice, his hands, his own body here on this earth. This reminds me of a wonderful piece of music written by my good friend and colleague, Steve Warner, who is the director of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. Listen to his "Christ Has No Body Now But Yours" here.
Please pray for this man as your day unfolds, in your own words or in the words our Savior gave us. Gotta pray.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nurtured in New England

As some of you may know, I am a New Englander by birth. I was born in the "whaling city," New Bedford, Massachusetts, and grew up in the Boston area, spending many summer days at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester. Today's Boston Globe featured two stories, one about federal money being used to clean up New Bedford Harbor, and one about the citizens of Gloucester, who have signed a petition to have the famous "Gloucester Fisherman" statue become an image on quarters minted in the US in the coming years. The photo shown here is of that statue in Gloucester (courtesy of Keith Kalemba, one of our talented music editors here at WLP.)
As I read these stories about places close to my heart (and to my family in Massachusetts), I was reminded once again of the importance of my Baptism in my life. Last night I spoke with a large group of parents and teenagers at St. Anne's Church in Barrington, Illinois. I told the parents that they could do no better thing than to support and nourish the faith lives of their children. As I told the story of my own "pilgrimage" to St. Anthony's Church in New Bedford in order to visit the place and the font where I had been baptized, it occurred to me that the gift given to all of us in Baptism is one that needs to be nourished in order to thrive. The gift needs to be nourished by parents and other Christians. And perhaps most importantly, each of us needs to remain open, throughout our lives, to the fact that each day we need to live lives that echo the refrain the Church sings at Baptism: "You have put on Christ; in him you have ben baptized." Listen to a snippet of Chrysogonus Waddell's setting of this acclamation here
In this Easter Octave, I am trying to live a life that echoes that acclamation. All around us, we are bombarded with messages that entice us to stray away from that life. It's not easy being a faith-filled Catholic today. The world tells us: "You gotta have this; you gotta have that; you gotta be number one; you gotta have the most toys." Our mantra, in the face of all of this—especially when we realize just how much God has done for us, and continues to do for us in the sacramental life—is the title of this blog: Gotta Sing Gotta Pray!
I hope Spring brings you much joy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Fat

The sun promises to pierce through the clouds that have hovered over the Midwest for days. Some are predicting low 70's on Friday. As St. Julie Billiart would say: "Oh, qu'il est bon, le bon Dieu!"
Speaking of piercing through the clouds, I'd like to share another tidbit from St. Cyril of Jerusalem's mystagogical catechesis. His reflections surely helped his listeners pierce clouds of doubt! Remember that these homilies were being shared with the neophytes and the faithful during the Easter Octave. This is one of his gems as he reflects on the anointing with the oil of exorcism before baptism:
"Then, when ye were stripped, ye were anointed with exorcized oil, from the very hairs of your head, to your feet, and were made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ. For ye were cut off from the wild olive-tree, and grafted onto the good one, and were made to share the fatness of the true olive-tree. The exorcized oil therefore was a symbol of the participation of the fatness of Christ, the charm to drive away every trace of hostile influence. For as the breathing of the saints, and the invocation of the Name of God, like fiercest flame, scorch and drive out evil spirits, so also this exorcized oil receives such virtue by the invocation of God and by prayer, as not only to burn and cleanse away the traces of sins, but also to chase away all the invisible powers of the evil one."
One can imagine the newly baptized, those neophytes, sitting there listening attentively. This was the first of the anointings they would have received. One wonders if their hair was still glistening with the oil; if their bodies were still fragrant from the olive oil and the aroma of the Chrism from the post-baptismal anointing.
I guess the question for us is whether or not we, figuratively, still feel the oil in our hair and on our bodies. Do we know what power we received when we were baptized? Tonight I am headed to St. Anne Church in Barrington, Illinois, to give a presentation on the sacraments of baptism and confirmation to their intergenerational catechesis group. The questions I will pose to them are mystagogical in nature: What does it really mean that you have been baptized? What does it really mean that you have been confirmed? This fifty day feast of Easter is the time for each of us to ask those questions. 
Rory Cooney, a cherished member of the WLP family, is the music minister at St. Anne's in Barrington. His piece, Christ the Icon, invites us to ponder the mystery of the one on whom we have been grafted. Listen to a snippet here. You can also view sample pages of the octavo here.
I hope these days continue to be filled with the "fatness" of Christ for all of us baptized and anointed in his name. This is surely one of the "good fats."
"Oh, qu'il est bon, le bon Dieu!"
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Steeped in Mystagogy: St. Cyril of Jerusalem

As the Easter Octave continues to unfold, I am reminded of one of the great mystagogical preachers: St. Cyril of Jerusalem. His mystagogical catecheses on the sacraments are as inspiring today as they must have been to the newly baptized in the middle of the Fourth Century. The period of mystagogy in those times lasted for the eight days of the Easter Octave. Today, of course, that period of the RCIA is extended throughout the Easter Season. Monthly meetings with neophytes are recommended and some kind of celebration to mark the anniversary of baptism is encouraged. 
St. Cyril held an important advantage over today's mystagogical preachers. He would have preached at least some of his homilies during the Easter Octave at the Church of the Anastasis—the Church built over the site believed to be the burial place of Christ. Imagine gathering at the holy sepulcher and hearing these words:
"After these things, ye were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and ye made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also covertly pointing by a figure at the three-days burial of Christ." 
Those who had been baptized just days earlier must have been awe struck by these words, especially because they were standing at the site of Christ's burial and resurrection. This period in the Church year is an opportune time for us all to reflect on the reality of our own baptism. It is good to be reminded that on the day we were brought to the baptism font, our lives changed forever; we simply would never be the same. As people who have "put on Christ," not only are we changed forever; we are also called to bring Christ into the world. These Easter days are so rich that we need fifty of them (the Easter Season) to deepen fully our grasp of the paschal mystery. Here I've placed an improvisational piece on the chant Victimae Paschali Laudes, found on WLP's Alleluia! Music for Easter Time
Enjoy these days of wonder.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Welcome to Gotta Sing Gotta Pray

Easter greetings to all. Several of my colleagues here at World Library Publications have been asking me to begin a blog, so here we are. Welcome to Gotta Sing Gotta Pray. Why this title? I firmly believe that in good times and in bad (like the current economic downturn), people simply gotta sing and people simply gotta pray. Turning our hearts to the Lord in prayer and song gives us the kind of hope that only comes from God. 
And today is one of those days—at least here in Chicago—that is a little difficult to find the energy to sing and pray. It's raining. The temperature is in the low 40's. Spring was supposed to arrive here already, but it has been very tardy. I know that the flowers are just waiting to burst forth from the ground. This is what this Easter Season is really all about. At least in the Northern Hemisphere most of us are still waiting to burst out of the doldrums of the winter months, hoping to be greeted and nourished by warm sunshine—we live in hope! 
Please visit this blog often. I am pledging at least an entry a day on a topic that brings the world of liturgy and music into a conversation with what is happening in the world around us. Meanwhile, take a listen to this beautiful piece from John Angotti's CD "Joy Beyond Our Dreams." Happy Easter Monday!