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Musical Musings: Liturgy

"The Bread of Life to Eat"

edited by Gary D. Penkala

The reality of the Eucharist is the ultimate Catholic doctrine. The belief in Emmanuel [God-with-us] is more profound with our awareness that God not only abides with us in spirit, but has given of his very self to be our spiritual food. On Christ's true body and blood we are nourished, under the forms of human products: bread and wine. With supernatural "finest wheat" [Psalm 147:14] he fills us, and offers us his blood disguised as "wine to gladden men's hearts" [Psalm 104:15].

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, OCM Cap, Archbishop of Denver, spoke in September 1999 to the Archdiocesan Liturgy Conference. In his opening address he touched on "Matters of the Heart."
Awareness, engagement and enrichment are matters of the heart. Dealing with the human heart is a sensitive thing, and a great responsibility. So often the heart is weighed down by sorrow, doubt or anxiety. This is why, at the preface of the Eucharistic Canon, the celebrant calls the assembly to "Lift up your hearts." When the assembly responds, "We lift them up to the Lord," the people of God remind themselves that in the face of the darkness which sometimes surrounds them, Christ has won the victory of good over evil. This involves a great act of faith and love. Mere sentiment falls short of meeting the heart's deeper needs. A person's deepest longings can only be met by possessing the truth in love.

The Desert Fathers said that the battle for the heart is waged in the mind. And this reminds us of the need to provide for a more thorough catechesis on the liturgy. For the hearts and minds of our people to be aware of, engaged in, and enriched by, the Eucharist — this is our goal.

The Second Vatican Council called for a full, conscious and active participation of all Catholics in the liturgy. This is a key to celebration.

So what does it mean to "participate" in the Liturgy — not just for priests, deacons and other ministers, but also for the whole assembly? Today, too many Catholics assume that taking part in the liturgy almost requires us to be involved in a liturgical ministry of one kind or another. Some of us presume that if we're not involved in a formal ministry, we're more of a spectator than a participant. Others are frustrated because they see in all the rubrics and norms which guide participation, a lack of spontaneity, and therefore a lack of authenticity. Some even change or ignore uncomfortable parts of a ritual in the name of improved participation.

The sharpest challenge to our faith is more subtle than our culture with its obvious problems. The deeper issue involves our own lack of zeal; our own discouragement and doubt. Why aren't we more vigorous in preaching and teaching the faith? It's because the task of taking up the Cross of Christ can be arduous and embarrassing. We can evade the mission God gives us, and we often do. We can distract ourselves with toys, career, travel and entertainment. In the process, though, we become spectators. We learn to watch life rather than live it.
The Archbishop viewed the Eucharist from the perspective of our culture:
Spectators don't contribute. They merely consume. And too often in recent decades, we've carried this consumerist attitude into liturgy. Instead of losing ourselves in worship of the Trinity and love for one another, we're preoccupied by what we are or aren't "getting out" of the Mass. We expect and even train musicians and other ministers to entertain us, rather than to lead us in prayer. In the process, we've too often lost our sense of awe, our reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist, and our Christ-centered service to one another. In our spiritual sleep, important moments of grace are passing us by, while the young, lonely and poor of our world suffer a new crucifixion, alone and without our support. The words of the great Eastern Father, Saint John Chrysostom, speak to us very powerfully today, just as they did 1,500 years ago:
You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother . . . You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food, someone judged worthy to take part in this meal . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become merciful [CCC 1397].
The Eucharist is not just a symbol. Or a memory. Or a pious ritual. Christ is real and present. The living, tangible, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus in the Eucharist commits us to the poor and wounded of our world. Their hunger and thirst must become our hunger and thirst. Only a whole civilization of love can provide for these kinds of needs. And the engine by which such a civilization can be built is the liturgy, which is the source and summit of God's friendship-love for us. You see, only the love that comes from God and goes to God, is powerful enough to heal the wounds of our brothers and sisters — in this and every age.

If we truly believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and we act on it, then others will clearly see and want the joy which is ours. If we enter more deeply into the solidarity of love which the Holy Spirit offers us in the liturgy, then God will use us to convert the world.

Robert Kreutz, one of our own artists, composed Gift of Finest Wheat which was the theme song of an International Eucharistic Congress in 1976, and is still used today. The song beautifully celebrates the truth that Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist, satisfies the hunger of our hearts, pours out His blood for us, and makes us one.

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Part 2: Pope Paul VI plus ... a competition!

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