Vol. XX, No.7
Fervorino to Seminarians at the Beginning of a New School Year
Following is Father Martis’s annual discourse on liturgy given to the Mundelein seminarians at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. It is reprinted here with his kind permission.
Virgil Michel, father of the 20th- century American liturgical movement, says “Without intelligence, there is no such thing as worship.” Each creature worships God in accord with its nature. For human beings, this means that without the engagement of our minds, our song may be pretty, our words eloquent, our gestures graceful, but it is not worship. Without the heart, the words are empty, the gestures meaningless, and the song nothing but noise. Saint Paul’s “noisy gong” and “clanging cymbal” (I Cor 13:1) come to mind.
Dom Virgil explains that true worship requires the acknowledgement of God as our Creator and Redeemer and of our utter dependence on Him for everything. To know the importance of that, you’ve got to use your brain.
Today there are three things I would like you to consider in order to participate in the liturgy actively, fully, and especially consciously.
FIRST. Your liturgical formation is a joint enterprise. It depends both on the faculty’s handing on the authentic teaching of the Church and your diligent and careful reception of it. It is clear that you already know what it is like in the parish. Our program is designed to help you learn above all what the Church teaches: this is both our desire and our responsibility.
In terms of your liturgical preparation for priestly ministry, the new curriculum restores a required series of chant courses, specifically designed to teach you the ministerial chants. This indispensable formation had been absent from the seminary program since 1968 — that’s nearly 45 years! We are committed to providing you with every opportunity to learn what is right and good, and to practice it in order to celebrate it competently. We owe that to you and to future generations of the Church.
For your part, your responsibility is to welcome it, receive it, and to put it into practice for the sake of the Catholic faithful. After all, it is nothing less than what the Church herself provides. This is not based on personal preferences, but on the model established by the most authoritative teachings of the Church. I chant the liturgy, for example, because it is what the Church asks us to do, not because chant is my favorite type of music. I, in fact, prefer Sinatra.
What you hear in the classroom will likely be different from your experience in the parishes and communities with which you have been associated and that’s okay. The Church will ever be multigenerational. Consider Moses and Joshua (Dt 31). The first leads the community out of the land of slavery; to the other is entrusted the commission of bringing the Chosen People into the Promised Land. Different times require different gifts. The times are new. The Church embraces us all. God always provides for His people.
Pray with Joshua that elders will encourage the young and trust them enough to pass the baton. “Be brave and steadfast,” (Dt 31:7) Moses endorses his successor. Pray also with Moses that the young will recognize the struggle of their elders and honor their often heroic fidelity despite chaos, conflict, and cynicism. “Thirty days they wept for Moses” (Dt 34:8); they honor him still (Dt 34:10-12). Learn to live in the ambiguity, loving those who are different, without compromising Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
SECOND. The liturgy depends on repetition. Roman liturgy is characterized by its regularity, nobility, and simplicity. It is not intended to be flamboyant. For your part, instead of expecting it to be different and exciting, learn to understand and enter into its regularity and sobriety. Learn to recognize progressive solemnity — not only in how much is sung — but also in the quality of the celebration.
It is not a coincidence that the model the Church gives for a ferial day is the simpler Mass XVI. Compare that with the much more melismatic (melodic) Mass X used to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Tradition has thought these things through. Learn these principles first, and in doing so you will avoid the temptation of thinking that the Church should be guided by idiosyncratic preference. “I like it” is the worst liturgical principle. “I don’t like it” is the second.
Likewise it is not a coincidence that the Church provides a single Collect for each week of Ordinary Time. This pattern is only interrupted by the celebration of a saint or other feast. Nor is it a coincidence that there is generally only one Entrance, Offertory, and Communion antiphon. This is not because the Church’s repertoire is meager, but because such regularity allows the words to wash over us rhythmically, consistently, repetitively forming us in the Word of God, like a gentle stream smoothing the hardness of our hearts. What’s more, the Church uses the Word of God, the word of Christ to His Father, not your words, not my words, but His.
FINALLY. Seize every opportunity to learn and practice the chant. Sing with the choir, not because you have to, but because you are ready to embrace your responsibility of preparing well for the future. You recognize it provides you with the opportunity to deepen your knowledge and hone your skills. Pray the Divine Office not because it is an expectation, but because you know that it is your participation in the prayer of the Church — or more precisely — it is you associating yourself with Christ’s eternal song of praise in the Spirit to His Father. Make it your business to be liturgically disciplined now, so that your liturgical participation will be effortless later. Make it your business to learn, understand, and articulate the richness of the Church’s liturgical prayer so that you will be able to share the beauty of it in the future.
At your sacerdotal ordination, the successor of the Apostles will anoint your hands with the Sacred Chrism, the same oil with which confirmandi are anointed, and babies at their baptism, and bishops, and churches, and altars — the penetrating, impregnating unction laced with the sweet fragrance of Christ. Once your palms have been set apart for religious service, the bishop will put into those fragile hands the sacred vessels containing that offering of the people which will become Christ’s own Flesh and Blood. He will say to you: “Know what you are doing.”
At that moment, all that you have learned in the seminary, all the ways in which you will have been formed, the responsibility of handing on what you yourself have received, will be entrusted to you. You must remember that day and every day that our worship of God can only be authentic when God’s great and unique gift to human beings, our intellects, is engaged. Mindless worship is no worship at all, it is mere lip-service and unworthy of the God who justly expects the gift of our entire selves. Know what you are doing at every moment. Strive to make every prayer, every song, every utterance — indeed, every breath — the total, unconditional, free gift of yourself. It is returned in-kind.
The Reverend Douglas Martis, PhD, STD is director of the Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake and assistant professor in the Department of Dogmatic Theology and chair of the Department of Liturgy and Music.
He studied at Saint Meinrad College, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Université de Paris IV (La Sorbonne), and the Institut Catholique de Paris. He is a board member of the Society for Catholic Liturgy and editor of The Mundelein Psalter. He is a contributor to The Way, La Maison-Dieu, and Antiphon and co-author of Mystical Body, Mystical Voice (Hillenbrand Books).