Monday, December 5, 2011

A Sobering Homily

I have been on an Advent Retreat while here in Europe but went out Sunday at the request of a friend to a “Pontifical High Mass According to the Extraordinary Form.” I am, as readers know, no fan of the Tridentine Revival but I must admit that it was magnificently done with an all male a capella choir. (I do like my chant pure and unadulterated by accompaniment.  I also believe that just as the African voice can do things the American/European cannot, so too the male voice has certain characteristics that the female voice cannot replicate and these are particularly suited for chant.)  The liturgy itself was distilled with great dignity but no pomp—all the extraneous elements such as the cappa magna and vesting at the chair were eliminated so the focus was never on the prelate or lesser ministers but on the liturgy itself.  It was done as the Extraordinary Form should be done if it is to be done at all: pure and utterly transcendent.  Of course, being in a ninth-century Romanesque basilica helps. And I do understand the Latin.   And the sacred ministers were choreographed perfectly—each moving slowly but always on time and in time arriving to where they needed to be.  I am convinced that monks have an instinct on how to do this sort of thing—all that getting the bread to brown at exactly the right minute is good preparation for liturgy.  So it broke all my stereotypes (and resultant fears) of this nostalgia for the “old mass.”  In other words, I enjoyed it thoroughly.  But what struck me was the homily.  Quite short and to the point.  The bishop, seated on his faldstool on the Gospel Side of the altar (as he was not the ordinary he could not use the “throne”) simply asked:  Do you really think God is pleased with this ritual, as beautiful as it is, while a third of his children on this fragile earth are dying of malnutrition.”  He reminded me of Chrysostom: Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me"... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.”

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