Once upon a time there was an ordinary parish. It was Catholic, but used Assembly of God librettos for their Christmas plays, and they had an active liturgical dance group. They used pianos and guitars for their Sunday Masses, and occasionally we would find hosts stuck to the pages of a hymnal in the back of church. Suddenly, they had a new pastor who talked to them about the texts of the hymns they were singing. There was a new music director who was an accomplished organist, and a new hymnal, and slowly but surely, we began singing the Propers. There were a few who complained: “we’re moving too fast,” “no one else is doing it.” But the majority appreciated the effort. “Thank you for giving us our church back.” Slowly but surely the changes were offered, statues were restored, an altar rail was built and installed, Adoration was introduced, and the parish became a magnet. Many people enjoyed its fruits. But the liberals were still not happy, so they complained and complained. Well, the provincial got tired of it, and he and the bishop threw the pastor away; tossed him aside. Some were unhappy about it, but the parish had said a profound “No” to all the changes and went back to Egypt.
There was a period of exile and wandering in the desert. There was discerning and searching and then he landed in a diocese among the vineyards. It was an ordinary parish, a little farther along in the reform. Chant and polyphony lived alongside some of the modern aberrations. They were installing an altar rail along with a new Baldacchino, and they had an Extraordinary Form Missa Cantata every Sunday. There were a few heterodox crying in the distance, but by and large, the parishioners were happy, and open for more. And then came Advent 2017. With a “Rorate” Mass celebrated by Candlelight, a sung vespers presided over happily by the Bishop, and then a week spent learning the intricacies of a Solemn High Mass, men who had little experience with Latin or chant suddenly celebrated a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the feast of the doubter, St. Thomas. Here was a parish that said a profound “Yes.” And the people displayed very broad smiles as they inched toward the mysterium tremendum of Christmas.
‘Tis the longest night of the year; the winter solstice is upon us. You may have noticed, that “my heart exalts in the Lord my Savior.” This song of Mary, and song of Hannah, has been reserved for this day. Because when it gets the darkest, we sing more insistently of a light that never fails. Mary was amazed. She was struck with wonder and awe and amazement. The greeting that Elizabeth had given her when she arrived was, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And then there was the triple blessing: “Blessed are you among women,” “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” “Blessed are you who believe that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled.” Mary, in response to this triple blessing, erupts into an aria; a wonderful song of praise. St. Ephraim, in the fourth century, reminds us that here is the moment she sums up everything there is to know about the work of salvation and her place in it. She is not God; she is the mother of God. This is not anything about what she accomplished. It is about everything that God asked of her, and her “yes”. But it was God who did all this. All these things have happened, she knows, in spite of the lowliness of her position. This humility. “He has regarded the low estate of His handmaid. And from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.” Blessed are you among women.
So, Mary proclaims the new kingdom. The new kingdom is this: He will do great things, He will be mercy for those who fear Him. The proud will be confused in their innermost thoughts. And humility is the queen of all the virtues. This is what she sums up for us. Now, we have not done a great job of explaining this to our Protestant brothers and sisters, and it is unfortunate, because they think that we worship her. I once saw on the Internet that if I put a picture of my mother (who passed away in 2011) up on the wall, put a rose in front of it, and lit a candle and asked her to pray for me, no one would think twice of it. If I did this for Mary, most of the Christian world would think I have lost my mind. But she is our mother. She is our mother in the order of grace. We give ourselves to her because Jesus chose her as the perfect means to unite Him to us and us to Him. That is who she is; she is the perfect means to unite us to Jesus and Jesus to us. We come to her because she gives us Jesus. It is entirely the initiative of God that we celebrate her. It is entirely the initiative of God that our salvation should be born of her and from her; that our salvation comes through her. So, if we reject Mary, we reject Christ. If we reject Mary, we reject God. We reject God’s work, we reject God’s will. If we reject Mary, we reject grace. But God is our only desire and His grace is what we need, and this grace is given to us first, through Mary; she is the one who gave Him birth.
So Mary, unknown, from an insignificant part of the world; – no one knew who she was. But in the midst of this humanity, God acted. God conceived in her the Living Word of God. She gave birth to God in our world. She, with Joseph, raised Him, and gave Him to us. So, she was amazed! She was struck by wonder and awe. So, the question is: are you? Mary erupted in a song of praise that from the depth of her heart, she rejoiced in everything that God has done. And the question remains, is that us too? Will we do that? In spite of the darkness of the world – because the world impresses that darkness upon us – are we willing to continue singing? To continue praising? To continue rejoicing in everything that she gave us? This is our task. This is what it means to be His people; that we have the same love, joy, and appreciation in her that even Jesus has.
Blessings All Year
Dear friends and neighbors,
2017 is drawing to a close and it is time to look back and count all the blessings. Last year I wrote: “I celebrate Mass at the Convent on weekday mornings, teach at the High School during the day, and on weekends, I hear confessions and celebrate Mass at the Parish. Also during the week, I teach an Adult Faith Formation class and conduct a rehearsal for the Chant Schola.” Nothing has changed. I can’t believe how much fun I am having!!
The main event for January ’17 was the Walk for Life. It was a great time to see friends, the faithful from Newark, some of whom make annual pilgrimages to the north for Mass, food and fellowship. February ’17 saw a trip to Oklahoma for the first Regina Conference. There was a handful of us in the conference room and others joined from across America and Europe by video. March ’17 saw the dedication of the Cathedral and the new Baldacchino. The Gregorian chant schola I conduct teamed up with the Marian Sisters to chant the music for the dedication. The next day, I was celebrating Mass at the new High Altar for Gaudete Sunday. This year’s Triduum (April ’17) was pretty extraordinary: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday were all in the Extraordinary Form.
May ’17 was the observance of the 100th Anniversary of the appearances of the Blessed Mother at Fatima. We started with a Rosary in the Parish Hall, a procession with the Statue around the property and along a busy boulevard into the Cathedral, where the new Statue was installed in its niche, then Mass was celebrated and many consecrated themselves to the Virgin.
June ’17 saw another pilgrimage to Rome. It was great to spend time with friends, enjoy terrific food and have marvelous conversations. This included a pilgrimage to the Eucharistic Miracle in Lanciano, to the Holy Face in Manoppello, and to Roman sites associated with the Martyrdom of St. Paul. There was also a pilgrimage to the historic shop of Gammarelli where with assistance, I designed and ordered a very Roman Marian Vestment. Pictures of this trip are on my blog, along with pictures of the vestment. June also saw a trip to St. Paul, MN for the annual CMAA colloquium. July ’17 included a trip to Medford, OR for the Sacred Liturgical Conference. Four of the Marian Sisters also attended. Here, I was able to meet Cardinal Burke, but most attendees insisted the best talk was by Bishop Vasa.
August ’17 was the celebration of my 64th birthday. Many friends came from the old parish and we had a marvelous five course dinner here in the Cathedral Rectory. September ’17 saw another trip to Rome; this was a quick trip of four days to attend the celebrations of the 10th Anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. Here, I had a more extensive conversation with Cardinal Burke who reported on conversations with Italian CPPS. He said that they were aware of how bad things were in the USA and he affirmed my intention to leave the CPPS.
September ’17 I began my second season of teaching High School Scripture and Church History. This included even a few evenings of stretching my vocal chords to sing the National Anthem at Football games on cool autumn evenings. October ’17 was the Fire that engulfed much of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties. Many parishioners and students lost their homes. The High School where I teach was heavily damaged by the fire. When school resumed, we gathered at four different sites. Now, much of the instruction is done online with Google Classroom.
November ’17 saw the renewal of religious vows for the Marian Sisters, chanting a Missa Cantata each Sunday and celebrating Requiems. December ‘17 will include the efforts to celebrate an occasional Solemn High Mass with Deacons and Subdeacons, and singing a solemn Vespers with the Bishop presiding.
I would be remiss if I did not mention a small part of the beauty of my life: The Amice Art. Each morning the sister sacristan who lays out the vestments creates some wonderful artwork from the Amice ties. These have become internationally famous, having appeared on the New Liturgical Movement blog some three times.
Some of my favorite songs are from this Advent time. They speak of an unspeakable joy awaited, an enrichment celebrated with extravagant joy. Our God has visited his people. My prayer for you in this time is that God continues to fill you with his most wonderful gifts. In Christ and in His blood, we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven, so immeasurably generous is God favor to us. (Eph 1:7) Blessed Christmas.
People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations; and the Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart.
O Shepherd of Israel, hearken, O Guide of the flock of Joseph!
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, The Cathedral of St. Eugene, 1:30pm along with the Consecration to The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Omnia Christus Est Nobis
Christ is everything for us!
I am a Roman Catholic Priest from California. I spent 13 wonderful years years as a member of the Province of the Pacific in the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The outline of my life can be traced here.