Out here, (Portugal), it is Corpus Christi. It is a national holiday. What that means, I don’t know. The Feast is evocative. The past. The Procession. The dressed-up windows. The Monstrance. The Communion children. That big heavy cope. Relics of old decency. I wonder now what it all meant and means. We mustered up four of 36 for the Sunday Mass (after First Communion) – it is hardly likely we could manage a few more for a Procession! But then what version of Eucharist are we marketing?
Don’t make God small:
We celebrated Corpus Christi today, in keeping with the country we are in. Language (our efforts to express ourselves) has limited us in our description and celebration of this feast and of Eucharist. We have too often strangled Scripture and squeezed the goodness out of Mass. The static dominates. ‘Eat this bread. Drink this cup. ‘ Corpus Christi – what might it say?
Could it dare talk of the explosion of life around us? The history of people in us. The unlimited potential of each of us. Might it say – that The Body of Christ is a Gallery? An exhibition of Godliness in us and among us. Might it suggest the colour of life in us and around us? We are fed. We feed. We grow. We live. We are surprised. We surprise. The Exhibition goes on and on. Age – young and old doesn’t matter. We all have our juices of excitement and provocation. ‘Came that we might life and have it to the full.’ Real education would demand of us that we be full-time and life-time learners in the ways of God. Let the teasing provocative God, always be around us like the God of Jonah (castor oil plant)
The Biography of a faithful person:
In that Gallery – there is our personal history; our communal history; our environment. We are fed daily. We need healthy feasting. When bread is broken; we recall the brokenness of life. We also recognize the sharing of story; the sharing of helpfulness; the affection of friendship; the endless loving necessary for living. We note too the scars in life and the mess in living. So often we get lost in the past and blame everything and others, for how we are. But in a lovely way and in a difficult manner we are responsible for how we answer the call of life. The food we are given is enough. The call made to us. Get up and get on with it. The moaners and groaners and whingers in life are a blight on the great Artist’s gift.
The Face has to smile:
Our little minds aren’t capable of total alertness. There has to be a simplicity of stopping and listening and hearing and smiling and gratitude and giving and receiving and a sharpening sense of humility in the presence of God. The head has to be lifted. The eyes have to be opened. The heart has to be awake. The imagination has to be challenged. The face has to smile. The weather of every day is a given; we make the best of it. We say hello. We say thanks. We accept. We give.
An unfinished masterpiece:
The Exhibition goes on. The Gallery of life is stimulating. Not everything of beauty and wonder is obvious. Our sleeping minds miss so much. What is catching and stirring and celebratory is the place that each of us have in the universe of God. The Gallery is never complete until and unless we each respond and ‘show off.’
We may not Process, but we do toddle through every day and the Gallery of Godliness is always on the go, here and everywhere. Many nostalgically crave the former Benediction. But we have benediction. The uplifted Monstrance was a formal gesture. The Monstrance of our lives (showing off/demonstrating graciousness) is always uplifted. It has to be.
I am Blessed here. The swinging Thurible with the burning incense is caught in the perfume of the flowers and shrubs and in the sea smells. The Benediction of life is in the camaraderie around me. It is the graciousness of the extended family and the Community. It is in the sharing of experiences. It is in the generosity of life. It is the challenge of always learning more and hearing more and seeing more and knowing that life is an unfinished masterpiece. (I found a little note here from a dear friend of mine who died four years ago. We are here in this place due to the goodness of this man and his wife. The note was one of praise and encouragement. I read it two days ago and I was really moved). I am still blessed by him.
Sin and Confession:
I end as I began – the artist and the poet and the musician is the one who is faithful. We are forever dredging our hearts, minds and imaginations to express the inexpressible. Kevin Doran appears to hint at sin caught by those voting YES at the Referendum and the need for Confession. He may be right in this sense. Sin happens for all of us who limit God; who belittle Eucharist; who are stuck in formality; who are too clear in the formulaic sense of faith; who are slaves to certainty. The real Confession occurs when we stop and say ‘Thanks to God’ for the Benediction of life in all those around us and in all those places we are and all those people who drag the best out of us. That is Confession. The real need of the other version of Confession is when a Gallery of formality is shown off and is detached from the mess, wonder, failure and fun of life and faith.
A little girl called Faith:
A little girl called Faith (First Communion child) linked the ‘Holy, Holy’ with what the Eucharist was about and her Holy Communion: ‘Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.’ The feast of Corpus Christi screams at us: Don’t be minimalist in what is celebrated at The Table of Life. It is dangerous, provocative, explosive and too big for little tidy minds and hearts. ‘A little Breton Bistro’ might not be a bad outline for a new way of embracing life and Eucharist and Corpus Christi.
Seamus Ahearne OSA
Seamus Ahearne is a blessing on all who heed him, teaching us HOW to see.
Great Seamus. maybe it has something to do with the climate but secular Meditteranean society seems to revel in those traditional celebrations such as the Corpus Cristi you described in Portugal. Same in Spain especially at Easter. We all well remember Italy and the little Communist town of Genazzano revelling in the Madonna under the tutelage of the local Communist Sindaco. We colder Northerners are somewhat less ardent though I did enjoy a freezing Easter dawn mass this year in the bog at Derrynaflan in Tipperary. Dum spiro spero.
Father Ahern, please forgive this irrelevant intrusion.
During work for a recent national referendum that dare not say its name we spent a time in localities in our nearby city which on the basis of other articles by you must resemble the parish you minister in.
Our best days and night were in those communities, 7 or 8 in all. Although a lot of my professional life was spent in relation to disadvantage this was an extra revelation.
I’m wondering if in fact your job is one of the more interesting that priests do.
Thank you Seamus. I dare surmise you and Tony de Mello share that passionate challenge to us……….”Wake up” Lee
I have read this article 4 or 5 times. The principal positive message I took from is “count your blessings and say your prayers.” I began counting the number of practices and sources prescribed for some version of the good life and stopped at the 70th. Perhaps too many for an Ignatian examine of conscience! Their classification under the different headings is a study in itself. I began to wonder if Father Aherne is the new and improved Dale Carnegie, Stephen R. Covey, Napoleon Hill or James Collins.
The taxonomy of prescriptions, truisms or otherwise, include little barbs perhaps to show that Father in built in the image of the teasing God he hypothesises. But is it teasing in the sense of the temptress, of the problem solver (“tease it out”), of the pain in the proverbial or of the tormenter? None of them, more thatn likely.
There is the intriguing axiom “…the artist and the poet and the musician is the one who is faithful.” Does this mean that to art is the criterion of faithfulness? Read this way, it rules me out in terms of the fidelity stakes. Since fidelity assumes positive behaviours, the many pronouns “we” in the article referring to such did not include me. But am I one of the “we” who “strangled the scriptures” or “squeezed the goodness out of the Mass”, trapped contentedly as I might be with the gifts inherent in ‘Eat this bread. Drink this cup?’
As I understand his recent contributions, Fr Aherne renders the artist close to being the source and summit of productive religious activity.
This reminds me of a play “Tree Birds Alighting On A Field” by Timberlake Wertenbaker in the Royal Court in London. A millionaire commissions a male artist to paint his wife. She inquires as to how she is going to be depicted. He replies he is not going to paint her but will produce her “essential form.” I forget the relationship that developed between them but suffice to say that the “essential form” had to be influenced by how he regarded her.
The work of the artist is not to reproduce the reality but to look at the reality and think of the possibilities, positive or negative. What is s/he going to be “faithful” to?
At a class in Paris a lecturer once asked me what a particular painting was depicting. It was a single panel covered in sky blue paint. I gave an arty-farty answer connecting it to another painting in the room which garnered a dismissive look. “That” I was told, “is first and foremost an ‘expression of reality.’ That is the first comment you should make.” What was the “expression” being faithful to?
I found his statement very helpful. I love art as I love golf but operate from a high handicap in both. I can’t paint, play an instrument, or write poetry. But life in the social order is characterised by a lot more than art.
It involves the satisfaction of biological and economic impulses; it is also characterised by aesthetic, intellectual, dramatic, practical, human good, and worshipful patterns of experience. The aesthetic (artistic) experience necessitates withdrawal from biological and practical purposiveness and from the constraints of intelligence to partake in the liberated artistic exploration of the possibilities of fuller living in a more enriched world. But dignified living for the artist is dependent on the practical. Food, cloting etc are necessary. And art per se is not the same thing as reaching for the experience of God in prayer. This reaching is possible in the other areas of experience.
So what is the function art in the worship of God? The Golden Calf was an artistic achievement of some merit produced in some innocence for meaningful liturgy. However God made it clear that He and not human creativity is the source of cult or liturgy. Throughout the OT He was most prescriptive as to how liturgy was to be carried out. Similarly the Holy Mass is not a product of human creativity. It’s a matter of “do ‘this.’” it is not the place for many second rate artists to ply their deficiencies.
As Fr Aherne rightly says “Real education would demand of us that we be full-time and life-time learners in the ways of God.” Art, fruitful and exhilarating as it is must align with the ways of God in its contribution to the worship of God. (Worship defined as liturgy combined with how life is lived). The ways of God are the ways of faith and worshipful art should stem from faith.
Perhaps this is what Fr Aherne meant by “…the artist and the poet and the musician is the one who is faithful.”
By way of example, nature in its beauty, as Fr Aherne says is a blessing, a benediction. This is a statement in aesthetics. Benediction as a Catholic devotion is still an aesthetic experience as I am experiencing every day this week. It celebrates art as a by-product. But it adds Christology and eschatology and a sense of the consequences of Redemption to the mix. The artistic expression is grounded in the religious meaning of the event. The art grows from the faith, not vice versa. Which explains in part at least the beauty of the art associated with traditional Catholicism. (In the eyes of some)
Fr Aherne is perfectly entitled not to appreciate the cope et al (if that’s what he writes!). His sense of art is perhaps different from that of those who revel in what he terms the “old relics.” But faith, not art is the defining criterion of faithfulness. Just as well. Whatever chance I have with God I have far less with art!
I don’t think Benediction is an object of nostalgia. It has more to do with the need of Adoration. When the Mass itself is so often shoddily celebrated and routinized, is it to be wondered at that adoration of the reserved Host (which Pius XII defined as an extension of the viaticum and thus of the Mass) looms large in the minds of the faithful as meeting the need to worship? One can extend this adoration beyond the actual eucharistic presence — “quae sub his figuris vere latitas” (who truly art within the forms before me) can be extended to refer to the divine presence concealed beneath all the signs of creation. But the particular focus of eucharistic adoration is more intense and concrete and incarnate, and should not be drowned in the wider kind of adoration.
On the Mediterranean front, I’m returning to Japan from Italy today, leaving behind this beautiful country with regret. Yesterday I looked at the vast collection of Umbrian art in the museum here in Perugia — four hundred years of Madonnas — a whole world of goodness, dignity, and holiness here in the very heart of Italy. Perhaps the Italian church is often locked into that past, but perhaps too it can still be a storehouse of inspiration for building a new and living Christian culture.