Advice on prayer – still relevant after ~1800 years!

Every day, priests, religious, and many others around the world pray something called the Liturgy of the Hours. (It’s also called the Divine Office or the breviary.) In these prayers are included readings from Scripture and other sources.

One of my favourite readings appears on Thursday in the 3rd week of Lent. It’s from a 2nd/3rd century author named Tertullian. It’s about prayer and I still find it challenging and relevant some 1800 years after it was written.

The spiritual offering of prayer

Prayer is the offering in spirit that has done away with the sacrifices of old. What good do I receive from the multiplicity of your sacrifices? asks God. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats. Who has asked for these from your hands?

What God has asked for we learn from the Gospel. The hour will come, he says, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is a spirit, and so he looks for worshipers who are like himself.

We are true worshipers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own.

We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns. Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God.

Since God asks for prayer offered in spirit and in truth, how can he deny anything to this kind of prayer? How great is the evidence of its power, as we read and hear and believe.

Of old, prayer was able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger, even before it received its perfection from Christ. How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others. But it gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord, and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.

In the past prayer was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil, and has given it all power over good.

Its only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.

All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look out to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.

What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen.

A great talk by Fr. Bill Burke

“Blind faith is a strange gift to return to the God who made human intellect.”

This is a fantastic talk on mystery and liturgy given by Fr. Bill Burke, Director of the National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s close to a half hour long and well worth it.

(Thanks to Salt and Light TV for providing the video online!)

Workshops: Mass and Music

The past week I’ve been involved with workshops, both preparing to give a session and attending several sessions.

Next week I will be giving a morning session with Jason Cody, a teacher with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools. The topic is to be about the Mass and conversion. To help prepare, a podcast episode was recently dedicated to this topic. I also travelled to Saskatoon this past Friday to meet with Jason to plan things out a bit. Since I was near the construction of the new Holy Family Cathedral, I took some quick photos. Here is a neat one of the spiralling roofline and towering cross that goes up to about 170 feet. Photos don’t really do this project justice, however. It is *huge* and is one of the largest things you notice when you enter the city from the north and east. To me, the soaring cross and roofline looks like a beacon to people who are searching for deeper meaning in their lives.

(Don’t worry – the scaffolding won’t be there for long!)

I was also in Humboldt this past week with many musicians from all over the diocese (as well as from my own parishes). We were attending workshops by Fr. Geoffrey Angeles and Bernadette Gasslein, who were presenting on music in the liturgy and on what the new changes in translation mean for the music. I studied in the seminary with Fr. Geoffrey, so it was cool to see him again and to catch up.

Music for the new translation of the Roman Missal

In my parishes we are currently in the process of examining / choosing a Mass setting that we’ll use for the newly translated Roman Missal.

Anyone have any suggestions of good settings that they’ve come across?

Here are ones that I’ve looked at so far.

Revised Mass Settings
Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen
Mass of Light by David Haas
Heritage Mass by Owen Alstott
Mass of God’s Promise by Dan Schutte
Missa Ubi Caritas by Bob Hurd

New Mass Settings
CCCB Mass Setting A by Fr. Geoffrey Angeles
CCCB Mass Setting B by John Dawson
CCCB Mass Setting C by Michel Guimont
Belmont Mass by Christopher Walker

In no particular order, here are a few observations:
– The revised settings are familiar and thus easier to learn (theoretically)
– The revised settings are familiar and thus easier to get confused with the older versions (theoretically)
– It seems to be really hard to compose a good setting for the new Gloria translation. The new words don’t seem to be quite as musical as they were in the older version.
– I’m tending toward preferring a refrain/verse structure for the Gloria in order to make it easier for the people to sing, at least initially.
– The Mass of Creation is easier to sing than the Mass of Light, but I find the Mass of Light easier to play. (I improvise with the guitar chords, though. The actual piano music for the Mass of Light can be challenging for some pianists.) I do love the priest parts for those two settings!
– I like the Heritage Mass.
– The Mass of God’s Promise seems ok, too, though it does add a word into the Gloria (“‘Give’ glory to God. . .”). I’d really like to stick to the translation we’ve been given as close as possible.
– Bob Hurd’s Missa Ubi Caritas is beautiful. I’m a big fan… but I’m not sure how many other people think the same way about the Latin/English hybrid nature of it.
– I really like the new setting by Fr. Angeles… and it’s not just because I studied with him in seminary. :-) I do note that it can be a bit challenging for people (especially the pianist) to learn, however. Also, two of my parishes do not have a piano.
– I really like the Belmont Mass Gloria, which has more of a chant style. It seems easy to learn and sing and has a noble simplicity to it.

What are your thoughts?