August 6 is an important date, not only because around this time you will find the current Adoremus Bulletin in your hands but also because it marks the day on which the Church celebrates the Transfiguration of the Lord, a Feast that is especially meaningful for the liturgy.
In the account of the Transfiguration, read this year from the Gospel of Mark, we hear how Jesus led Peter, James, and John “up a high mountain apart by themselves.” And as Moses and Elijah appear with him, Jesus is transfigured, his clothes “dazzling white such that no fuller on earth could bleach them.” As the story continues, Peter, not sure what to do or say, is motivated to act, and he suggests three tents be erected to mark the event. Then a cloud overshadows the party, and the voice of the Father calls to Peter and the others to “Listen to Him,” his Son.
In this iconic scene from the scriptures, some analogies to the Mass (and even the liturgy generally) present themselves. In the Church’s greatest prayer, the Lord leads us to a height, to a place set apart, while our feet remain firmly on the ground. As we hear the readings, we listen to Jesus, as the Father commands us, presenting Himself within the larger economy of salvation. We call upon the Holy Spirit to bless our offerings at the liturgy and we are in turn transformed and impelled to act in the world – much like Peter was at the Transfiguration.
Keeping these other elements of this beautiful feast in mind, let us focus on one particular feature of the story of the Transfiguration – the image of the radiant Christ. This image above all others strikes me as especially relevant today for understanding and celebrating the liturgy.
It was not long ago that a friend explained to me a passage from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In paragraph 34, the Council Fathers direct that “rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity.” The Latin text for “distinguished by a noble simplicity” is “nobili simplicitate fulgeant,” and the last word word of that passage, fulgeant, is, literally, enlightening. Rather than translating it as “distinguished,” my friend suggested that a more accurate rendering is “shining,” “radiating,” or – in keeping with the Transfiguration account – “dazzling.” The noun form of this word – fulgor, (-oris) – means a flash of lightning.
The reformed liturgical rites, then, ought to communicate Jesus to us like a flash of lightning. Words ought to be brilliant. Architecture and art, dazzling. Music, radiant. Ministers and participants, shining. From this luminous liturgical encounter with Christ and the Trinity, the enlightened (is this not what the baptized are called?) “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” transforming and transfiguring the world.
With this insight in mind, let me draw your attention to our two feature articles. The first, by Adam Bartlett, considers the place of hymnody in the Liturgy of the Hours, not only by examining its history but by providing a contemporary context for hymns in the upcoming edition of the Liturgy of the Hours in English. The second story, by Joseph O’Brien, tells of the newly-dedicated Newman Center church on the campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and how beautiful architecture is a key element in the liturgical formation of college students. See if these examples of radiant beauty don’t convey the joy of a transfigured and transforming liturgy.
One final note on the topic of change – regarding the Adoremus Bulletin itself. In her last editorial (September 2014) before her death, Helen Hull Hitchcock asked, “How will the Church withstand coming changes and challenges?” Little did any of us know, of course, that her own contribution to the Church, the Adoremus Bulletin, would undergo its own changes.
It remains mystifying to me, and humbling, that I find myself continuing the good work that she and others had begun some 20 years ago. Please pray for the continued success of the Bulletin!
While the transfer of operations from St. Louis, to La Crosse, Wis., has been the main focus of Adoremus’s work over the past few months, the change has been smooth, in large part because of the constant and generous help of Helen’s staff – with particular thanks to Hilary Hitchcock, Susan Benofy, Gina Caulfied, and Sean Cullen, and the sound direction of Father Jerry Pokorsky. And like the staff in Adoremus’s St. Louis home, La Crosse has its own excellent contributors—Joseph O’Brien as managing editor and in-house reporter, Danelle Bjornson as layout and design coordinator, and Elizabeth Gallagher as office manager, receiving subscriptions, phone calls, and donations. Finally, thanks always go to Adoremus’s dedicated and faithful readers for supporting the change and keeping Adoremus moving forward.
Celebrate the Transfiguration! May Christ shine through in every liturgy we attend and enlighten us through the humble efforts of the Adoremus Bulletin.
Chris Carstens is Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin.
Christopher Carstens is director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin; a visiting faculty member at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois; editor of the Adoremus Bulletin; and one of the voices on The Liturgy Guys podcast. He is author of A Devotional Journey into the Mass and A Devotional Journey into the Easter Mystery (Sophia), as well as Principles of Sacred Liturgy: Forming a Sacramental Vision (Hillenbrand Books). He lives in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, with his wife and eight children.