Do we want Christ to come?: A Lessons and Carol Reflection

This is a reflection given at a Lessons and Carols service recently by a CTU student.

The Lessons and Carols Readings are:

Genesis 3:1-15
Isaiah 40:1-5
John Paul II Advent Sermon in 2008
Luke 1:26-38
Isaiah 9:1-6
John 1:1-18


Think of the last party you planned? How big was it? What was the occasion? What was involved in the preparation? Texting your friends to come and hang out on a Friday night at 10PM is “preparation,” but think bigger. What is needed for a successful party? A good location, food, beverages, the proper arrangement of furnishings, maybe a theme for dress and activities, but importantly awesome music? Overall, proper party planning takes a lot of work and energy.

Tonight, we have heard stories from our past. Some have been disappointing, others uplifting, some consoling, maybe one or two curious. But they are stories for us, actuality, they are stories about us. We easily understand the challenges of temptation seen in Adam and Eve. How our pride drives us to be something or someone we are not. How shame prevents forgiveness or admitting our weaknesses. We know our pitfalls and shortcomings.

And we know Isaiah’s story as well. When too we have been broken by stress and torn apart by trauma like Israel during the Exile. We know loneliness, we have felt forgotten. But even greater, but even greater, we too have experienced the power of God’s comfort.

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Think of the countless times God has spoken to us through our friends and family. In the pit of despair, how God has sent his angels as our loved ones who have pulled us out of the darkness and into his glorious light. How the Lord always manages to speaks the peace we long to hear.

And in the fullness of time, as the evangelist Luke and John proclaimed, God set his love in person. A love so great, so generous, so magnificent that the Creator would be become a creature to be with His creation that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us named Jesus. A love so tender desiring to walk with us once again like in garden so long ago. How beautiful, how loving.

And as Pope John Paul II said, Advent is not just about commemorating historical events. We do not just dwell in the stories of yesterday, we recall the past that we may see Christ walking with us today – in the present – in the garden of our hearts. For the promises of the past, are made manifest in the present that shows forth a guarantee toward the future.

Now think once again of the last party you planned? How big was it? What was the occasion? What was involved in the preparation? While, food and drink and location are important, what makes a party is who comes.

Who do you want to invite, who do want to be celebrating with you? Christ wants to be in your our lives. Regardless of our shortcoming, he dispels the darkness of loneliness and walks directly into our arms, pouring forth comfort and joy.

Advent is our party preparation. Advent allows us to reflect that Christ wants to be in our lives and Advent calls us to question, “Do we want Christ to come? Do we want to invite Christ into our daily lives, to transform us, to glorify us, to make us wholly human?” If so, let us cry out with the ancient command handed down through the ages, “Maranatha,” “Maranatha,” “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This is a reflection for a Lessons and Carols service by a CTU student who wishes to remain anonymous. The blog curator vouches that this student is in fact a CTU student. 



The Joy of Turning: Lent Reconsidered


By Robert Droel 

Sometimes faith is funny. For me, Ash Wednesday is a prime example of this truth. I don’t think this day is supposed to be. Actually, I get the impression that it’s intended to be quite the opposite. It’s a dour occasion for thinking about sin, repentance, and ultimately death. But just look at the Gospel reading! I can’t help but crack a smile every year. It’s taken from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 1-6 and 16-18. Never mind the fact that I seem to recall something of great import being found in between those two selections (I think it’s the Lord’s Prayer). In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Well call me a hypocrite, because every year, only a few minutes after hearing Jesus’ words proclaimed, I approach the altar and have ashes rubbed onto my forehead with the instruction, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (or if it’s a particularly spooky year, I luck out with, “Remember, you are dust to dust you will return”). Then, I go about my day as usual (minus the eating) and try to ignore the fact that I have what is hopefully still a cross-shaped smudge on my forehead, though as the day progresses, it tends to lose any resemblance to that symbol which is so central to Christian faith and to this season of Lent. Surely I’m not the only one who recognizes the irony. Jesus tells us to wash our faces when we fast and instead we dirty ourselves. It would be almost as bad if we were to read Isaiah’s critique of penance practices: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Is 58:5). I find the choice of Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday to be ironic and humorous, which inevitably leads me to beginning my Lenten journey with a bit of joy. From a sociological perspective, I also find a bit of humor in the fact that so many people show up to get their ashes on this day, despite the fact that it’s not a so-called holy day of obligation. I won’t see many of them again until Easter, if even then. Part of me wants to tell them that they don’t really have to be there on that Wednesday, but that it would be great if they could come on the next five Sundays of Lent. What is it about this day which attracts so many? And why not me?

I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of Lent. I don’t like giving things up and I really don’t enjoy listening to others brag about what they have given up. Fish is not even one of my top ten favorite foods and purple is a color which does not suit me in the least. Forty days (or is it forty-four?) is an incredibly long time for me to sustain an increase in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, while the endless attempts to find loopholes and exemptions from abstinence and fasting requirements makes me think that maybe we’ve missed the point of it all. And then there’s repentance. I loathe the word.

In common usage, repentance is a word associated with sin and guilt. It’s about feeling really bad for the things we’ve done (or not done), said (or not said), and even thought (or not thought) which are wrong and begging God for mercy and forgiveness. God won’t forgive if we don’t repent. And sometimes it seems that everything is a sin—especially the fun stuff. This is how I used to think about repentance and it’s what turned me off to the whole idea. It’s just didn’t seem to make sense to me in what it was saying about God and to be honest, Catholic guilt just never worked on me.

I was surprised to learn that the biblical meaning of repentance is not only different from this grim characterization, but it is much richer. So much so, that it makes even me want to repent. It’s all about turning and returning! Marcus J. Borg explains that shuv is one of the two Hebrew words which make up that word in the Old Testament which is translated as repentance or repent. It is a word which literally means to turn or to return and it stems from the experience of the Babylonian exile. To repent is to return from exile back to the homeland, that is, to return to God on a journey which is also with God.[1]

In the New Testament too, we are instructed by Jesus to “repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). The Greek word used here for repentance is metanoia and from its parts meta (after/with) and noeo (to perceive/think), we come up with a meaning of repentance as being, “to go beyond the mind that we have.”[2] It’s about a change of mind and of heart, ultimately a change of consciousness. It’s about turning and returning, not sin and guilt.

Borg writes:

To go beyond the mind that we have means seeing in a new way—a way shaped by God as known decisively in Jesus. This is repentance. The Bible does speak of repenting for our sins. But the emphasis is not so much on contrition and sorrow and guilt, but about turning from them and returning to God. Repentance is about change, not primarily a prerequisite for forgiveness. To repent means to turn, return to God and to go beyond the mind that we have and see things in a new way. That’s pretty exciting. Forgiveness is not dependent upon repentance. We are forgiven already, loved and accepted by God. We don’t need to do anything to warrant God’s love. But repentance—turning and returning to God, going beyond the mind that we have—is the path that leads to transformation.[3]

I don’t know why I had never seen this meaning of repentance and ultimately of Lent before. It is right in front of me every year when I receive the ashes: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” For too long, I focused on the word sin and completely ignored that first word: turn. Turn around! Change your perspective! Go beyond the mind that you have! Repent! And this Lent, I might try to do just that. And to what am I turning? “Be faithful to the gospel” is the instruction I am given as that ashy thumb presses on my forehead (and hopefully not my hair). The gospel is what I am turning to and recently we have all been reminded by Pope Francis’ exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, that the gospel is one of joy. We are not to be “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”[4] or more colloquially, “sourpusses,”[5] but rather, are to accept “the joy of the gospel [which] fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”[6] So I will not feel any guilt as I smile as the ironic Gospel reading is proclaimed on Ash Wednesday. Rather, I will see it as the beginning of my repentance, that is, my turning towards the joy of the gospel and the gospel of joy.

May my journey of Lent begin with the final stanza of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash-Wednesday,”

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.[7]

[1] Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 158.

[2] Ibid., 159.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 85.

[6] Ibid., 1.

[7] T. S. Eliot, “Ash-Wednesday,” Faber & Faber Limited, 1963.

Can we be a Chanting Church Again?

By: Bradley Vanden Branden

Having been involved in various types of music ministry for over ten years, it was only recently that I fell in love with the treasure of the Church’s chant tradition. For me, the proper and ordinary chants of the Roman rite add something inherently beautiful to any Eucharistic celebration. Whenever I hear or sing these chants, I cannot help but feel instantly connected to the men and women who have worked hard to compose and promote these pearls of our liturgical tradition. No doubt anyone who has read or studied the Second Vatican Council’s document, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, has noticed the Council Fathers’ teachings on chant: “[t]he Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC 116). This single article has given both liturgists and church musicians much to debate. In this short piece, I hope to outline a few reasons why to study and use chant, and suggest some resources that may help introduce chant into our liturgies in a more seamless way.


After a few years of pondering for myself this debate on liturgical music, I have found two sources that have been helpful in forming my own opinions regarding the value of Gregorian chant in the Roman rite. One is the document on sacred music from the bishops of the United States titled “Sing to the Lord” (STL). The other is a blog post written by the popular traditionalist blogger, Mr. Jeffrey Tucker, on his blog The Chant Café. The blog-post is titled “Why we must Chant.” I appreciate these two compositions for two reasons. First, STL suggests that Gregorian chant in the liturgy points to a living connection to tradition and, at the same time, it encourages contemporary Catholics to participate in this tradition. Second, Jeffrey Tucker’s piece points to the notion of Gregorian chant as a means to promote inter-religious dialogue. This latter contribution to the debate was something I had never considered. However, I find that his position may be helpful in the future especially as religious discrimination between Christians and Muslims continues to grow.

Chant as a Living Connection

In 2007 the bishops of the United States  approved the release of the document “Sing to the Lord.” This work provided music ministers across the country with guidelines to enhance liturgical music in their parishes. Among the many aspects of music ministry discussed in the document, the bishops make special note of Gregorian chant, echoing the directive from SC. In addition, the bishops add:

“Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church’s own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy.” (STL 72)

One can easily see that the bishops encourage the use of chant within the liturgical action. As a matter of fact, the bishops even suggest that every Catholic should, at minimum, be able to “learn [the] Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII” (STL 75).

As “pro-chant” as this document may sound, the larger context of these guidelines are actually more balanced. As Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. comments, one should recognize that STL presents liturgical musicians with both “encouragement and necessary caution”[1] when it comes to using chant in the Liturgy. For as much as the bishops encourage parishes to use Gregorian chant, STL also encourages other forms of liturgical music, especially those musical works that are “sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu[s]” (STL 73) of each community. In his commentary, Ruff also notes that chant is never to be used as a “weapon in any divisive way.”[2] I agree wholeheartedly. In today’s liturgical culture, it is too easily assumed that chant is a way of returning to the ‘pre-Vatican II church.’ I would hope not. However, I do agree with STL in suggesting that we try and make greater attempts to reintroduce our musical heritage into our liturgical celebrations as a means of uniting with our ancestors in the faith. This can be done either through the use of Latin chant or vernacular chant in the style of Gregorian chant.

Chant as a Means of Inter-Religious Dialogue

During a trip to Bodrum, Turkey in 2012, Mr. Jeffrey Tucker was awoken early in the morning by “something strange and mysterious, a voice of some sort, a song.” Ignoring it, he was surprised to hear the same thing at the same time the next morning. Upon listening more closely, Mr. Tucker realized that this was some sort of religious chant. Eventually, Tucker discovered there was a mosque near his hotel and that this chant was being broadcast over the loudspeakers of the worship space to alert the local faithful of the first hour of prayer. Now that he knew what was being sung, Tucker made it a point to rise early the next day to listen. He made a connection between this chant and the chant that is inherent to the Catholic tradition. He blogged, “[a]t first, the sound puzzled me. Too foreign. I couldn’t understand the words. But then I became curious and heard melodic and textual similarities to the Gregorian chant. Surely there is a common ancestor between Quranic chant and the Gregorian tradition. They both use scripture. They both proclaim the word. They both date from the first millennium. They are both unmistakably religious.”

For Tucker, this commonality between the two chant traditions is a means of opening the doors to inter-religious dialogue and perhaps even a shared mode of prayer. However, in his mind, Catholic Christians are grossly unprepared to share in this liturgical expression of dialogue. What is Tucker’s solution? I’ll let him speak for himself:

“Let’s shore up Christian tradition – particularly our public prayer. Let’s rediscover our own native chant, the sung prayer that built civilization. It’s right there waiting for us. We too can make a joyful noise when we pray. We too can chant to praise God. It can become part of our lives. It can make us more faithful. And it can attract more people to the faith.”

How do we start to chant?

Given these two positions on the positive elements of chant, perhaps one can wonder, is it too late to begin to chant? It seems as though chant has been one of those practices that is too hard to reestablish. Are there any resources available to help us? Indeed. Especially since the pontificate of Benedict XVI, many musicians have sought to reestablish some kind of chanting tradition in their parishes and/or religious communities. This newer tradition involves both Latin chant as well as vernacular chant. Groups like the Church Music Association of America sponsors various types of chant reading symposiums throughout the year in a variety of locations. Likewise, Corpus Christi Watershed is a website that makes available many settings of Gregorian chant masses, including the settings mentioned in STL.

Individual composers are setting vernacular texts of the liturgical year into collections that are available for purchase. Some of these authors include Arlene Oost-Zinner who authored Parish Book of Psalms a collection of English Responsorial Psalms in the Gregorian Tradition. Another is Adam Bartlett, who arranged the Propers of the Mass into a simplified, vernacular edition called Simple English PropersMr. Bartlett is also working on compiling a collection of Gregorian chant set in the Spanish vernacular. A release date on that volume is pending. Another newer publication is from Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. who published Canticum novum: Gregorian Chant for Today’s Choirs. This volume published by GIA contains 100 hymns and antiphons for all occasions throughout the liturgical year.

In addition, various religious groups are releasing audio recordings of chanted melodies. First, Anthony Ruff has two CDs of Gregorian chant. The first CD is in conjunction with book of chants, Canticum novum, and the second called Singing with Mary & The Saints, sung by the Schola of Saint John out of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN. Also, the Dominican Sisters of Mary the Mother of the Eucharist from Ann Arbor, MI, released an album last year called Mater Eucharistiae. Some local Chicago parishes are also regularly using chanted Propers (either in Latin or the vernacular) in their own celebrations of the Eucharist. Some of these parishes are St. John Cantius, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Clement and St. Vincent de Paul, just to name a few.

Of course, there are many other recordings of chant available as well as many other books promoting the use of chant in the Church. I would encourage all to examine these resources, as it seems that the chant movement is becoming more and more prevalent in the American church.

Indeed, Let’s be a Chanting Church

By “shoring up” our tradition, as Mr. Tucker suggests, we may be more able to speak a similar liturgical language with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Perhaps the same could be true with our Jewish neighbors as well as many Orthodox traditions. By chanting our prayers, especially in the context of our Eucharistic celebrations, we are connected in a unique way to our past while being open to new possibilities with brothers and sisters of other faith traditions. The more I learn about the role of chant in our liturgical tradition, the more it makes sense to me. The Second Vatican Council pointed towards it, the United States bishops suggest it, and a blogger found chant to be a point of similarity in the middle of a foreign place. So, perhaps it is time to again rediscover our chanting tradition. Various groups on both sides of the chant debate are already producing volumes of chant to incorporate into the Roman rite. Perhaps its time to sing to the Lord in a way that is ever ancient and ever new!

[1] Anthony Ruff, “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship,” Liturgical Music Today, 17 (2008): 82.

[2] Ibid.