mardi, août 18, 2009

Cantate Domino canticum novum

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Deus in loco sancto suo – God in His holy place! Today’s Mass begins with this joyful acclamation that is well interpreted by the fifth Gregorian mode of the Introit. For memory, there are eight modes in Gregorian chant and each one usually expresses a feeling, a sentiment or an attitude of soul.
The first mode is often called ‘gravis’ as it is a mode of gravity that brings an impression of solidity and of stability. The second mode is ‘tristis’. It expresses sorrow and melancholy. We have a very good example with the Graduale and the Offertory of the Requiem Mass. The third mode is ‘mysticus’ as it expresses mysticism and contemplation. The fourth mode is ‘harmonicus’ and evokes interior prayer when the soul reaches a certain harmony and concord with God. The fifth mode, as we said, expresses joy and is the ‘Laetus’ mode.
The sixth mode is ‘devotus.’ This is the mode of the simple and ingenuous prayer of the children and God marked by simplicity and joy. Today’s antiphon of communion is a good example: Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first of all thy fruits: and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine.
The seventh mode is ‘angelicus’. It is a mode of brightness and of keenness, in the image of the angels. The famous Introit of Christmas, Puer natus est, is a perfect example with its melodic flights toward the high notes sol – re. And the eight and last mode is ‘perfectus’. It is called perfectus – perfect, certainly because it is the eighth, number of perfection and number of Christ. Eight signifies achievement and fullness, which are well expressed by the eighth mode. It is a very solemn mode that expresses respect, certainty and majesty.
The eight modes offer us a palette of chant that allows us to sing a new canticle to God as the Scriptures invite us often: cantate Domino canticum novum –sing to the Lord a new song! When we sing to God, especially with Gregorian chant, we pray and we communicate with Him. And we pray as human persons with feelings and emotions, with our body, with our mouth – semper laus ejus in ore meo, Psalm 33 says: His prays shall ever be in my mouth –and with our soul.
The idea that there is a connection between the states of soul and the musical expression is not new. Plato had already well explained this fact. The Greek philosophers used to speak about “Ethos” to describe the moral aspect of music. The aestheticism comes from there. In Greek it means to feel.
Gregorian chant is very human as it is sung by men and it expresses our human feelings. It is also very divine, as it is certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit – the Pneuma or Breath of God. The word ‘neume’,that is the word for the Gregorian notes, comes from there. The Gregorian chant is a breath that comes from God and returns to God. In Gregorian chant, we find this descendant and ascendant movements, - the ladder of Jacob - that is precisely expressed by the Introit Puer Natus est. God descend on earth and men are raised to heaven. The crossroad is Our Lord, the Pontiff, the Bridge between earth and heaven. In Christ, earth and heaven meet, which is also expressed by the number eight with its two circles that are linked: the above circle that is heaven and the below circle that is earth.
Because it is human and divine, the Gregorian chant is our chant, the proper chant of the Catholic Church as the second Vatican Council reminded us. It cannot be and should not be a piece of museum, but the noblest and highest expression of our faith and of our prayers to God. It cannot be simply heard but it must be sung by the faithful during Mass, or even at home during family prayers. Singing is the expression of our love and as such we should not only sing it but rather live it. For many decades, the Church has expressed her desired that Gregorian chant must be restored where it has been lost or abandoned. And this should not be the only concern of the priests or of the monks but of every member of the Church. It is the patrimony that we have received and that we have to deliver to the next generation. Let everybody open his soul and his heart to God and sing a new canticle to the Lord for His glory and the edification of His Church.

lundi, août 03, 2009

Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

It is quite touching to see in today’s gospel Our Lord who weeps. It reminds us that our religion is the religion of the heart, and if sometimes it happens that we intellectualize it too much – the too much would be the excess and not the fact that we intellectualize – it is good for us to look at Our Lord and to consider his human nature, his emotions and his feelings. It shows how much God loves us and that he wants our Salvation. As Saint Cyril explains, the tears of Jesus are the visible proof that God sincerely desires our salvation.
Our Lord weeps over Jerusalem. Would you remain unemotional when thinking about this? Would your heart remain untouched? Would you not weep with your Savior over Jerusalem? But what is Jerusalem? Jerusalem is the City of Peace according to the Assyrian etymology of the name. City of Peace? It is what she is supposed to be. But she denied her vocation and ignored it. If thou also hadst known, and that in this day, the things that are to thy peace: but now they are hidden from thy eyes.
We read in the second book of Samuel that David took the castle of Sion and dwelt in the castle, and called it, the city of David. The Ark of the Covenant would be brought to the city soon he would become the glory of Jerusalem and the joy of Israel, title given to Judith and then to Our Lady, the Ark of the New Covenant. But the strength and the peace of the Holy City would be threatened. The Kings of Syria and of Israel marched against her. They could not prevail over her but they shook the faith of the King Achaz. It is at this time that God sent the prophet Isaiah who gave this great prophecy: Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel. The story of Jerusalem tells us about the infidelity of men and the care of God that sends His prophets to revive her faith and her love. Jerusalem, Jerusalem convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum! – Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord thy God!

We know the rest of the story from the captivity to the Roman domination at the time when the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled. Christ, the Son of David, the Great Prophet would suffer and would die in Jerusalem. But before His Passion, He made this terrible prophecy: For the days shall come upon thee: and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round and straiten thee on every side, And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee. And they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.

The day of the Passover of the year 70, Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian began the siege of Jerusalem with four Legions. After 143 days, the City fell and the prophecy of Our Lord fulfilled. Flavius Joseph reports in The Jewish War that Titus would have said: It is not I who have conquered. God, in His wrath against the Jews, has made use of my arm.

These historical events certainly are a moral teaching for us. First, they may help us to realize that beyond the History of men that unfolds in our time, there is something greater that happens. This fact has been well explained by Saint Augustine in the City of God, one of the most remarkable writing of all times. There is a Providence and God rules the world and its event, even though His Providence does not suppress our liberty. It is certainly a mystery, but precisely because it is a mystery it is worthy to think about in order to invigorate our faith, our hope and our love. Ultimately, what truly matters is to be in the right and good side, in the City of God, whatever are the historical conditions in which we live.

The other thing that we should consider is that Jerusalem is a figure of our soul. Origen says that the Savior weeps over Jerusalem, which is our soul. Our soul is supposed to be a city of peace, the interior city of the peace that God encourages us to seek in Psalm 33: seek after peace and pursue it. You can read this Psalm and make the comparison between your soul and the city of Jerusalem. I sought the Lord, and he heard me; and he delivered me from all my troubles. (verse 5) But the countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil things: to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (verse 11)

The Temple of Jerusalem has been destroyed. Now we have a new temple where we can worship in truth and spirit, and this is the temple of our soul. In the general audience of January 7th of this year, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the importance of this true worship in Spirit and quoted the words of the Prophet Daniel said when the Temple was destroyed:
Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of first fruits before thee, That we may find thy mercy: nevertheless, in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted.
As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee.
And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face. Put us not to confusion, but deal with us according to thy meekness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.
And deliver us, according to thy wonderful works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: And let all them be confounded that show evils to thy servants, let them be confounded in all thy might, and let their strength be broken: And let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, and glorious over all the world.

Today, we live in a kind of same situation and in a time of desolation, but what truly matters is finally to be worshipers in truth and spirit. The enemies of God will be confounded, but we, if we remain faithful will find the consolations of God. They can destroy our churches of stones; they will never be able to destroy the interior temple of our soul. There is only one person that can destroy it: it is yourself!
The great lesson of today is simply to recognize the time of the visitation of God by accepting all His graces. May Our Blessed Mother help us!