The Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 5: 27 32 & 40-41; Rev 5: 11-14; John 21: 1-19
HOW DIFFERENTLY ' we would live our lives if only we could return to our beginnings! The wisdom of hindsight enables us to identify both the blessings and the false turnings of our lives.
: As we look back, we can identify the times when we were at peace with God and at peace with ourselves. The underlying contentment of such moments expressed our Unity with the mind of Christ. Other moments were less blessed. Christ was abandoned in the choices we made. Such choices frequently led to an inner wilderness. If only we could begin again !
Such thoughts clearly preoccupied Peter and the other disciples described in the closing verses of John's Gospel. They had returned to their beginnings on the shores of Galilee. Here, long ago, they had encountered Christ for the first time. Here they heard his call and followed. Now the road seemed to have ended. Now the vision that had shone so brightly was no more than a memory.
With little conviction, Peter tried to fill the emptiness with the trade that had been his former life. "I'm going fishing." The other disciples joined him. The undertaking was doomed to failure They caught nothing that night. Their empty nets mirrored their empty hearts. Nothing could take the place of the Jesus that they had known.
WHEN WE LOOK back over our lives, we will recognise moments that were filled with the presence of Christ. When we lose touch with Christ, we encounter an emptiness that nothing can fill. Dissatisfaction becomes our daily diet.
The Risen Lord revealed himself to his disciples in the frustration of that fruitless night. When they indulged their own emptiness, they caught nothing. When they listened to the Lord, the abundance overwhelmed their hearts just as it overstretched their nets. It had been a long night, and they were hungry. Jesus acknowledged their hunger as he invited them to breakfast.
When we turn away from Christ, we create our own night. It can be long and frustrating. It will always leave us hungry. The Eucharist is that shore where Christ awaits us, ready to feed us with the food we need.
He lifts our darkness with the dawning of his presence. He becomes the bread of life that feeds our emptiness. What happened on the shores of Galilee long ago is relived in every celebration of the Eucharist.
Jesus offered Peter a new beginning. Each celebration of the Eucharist can be for us a new beginning. Peter, the man of action, was not asked what great deeds he proposed for this new beginning. There was only one question repeated three times: "Simon Peter, do you love me?"
Most of us fall into the vanity of wishing to achieve great things. The scale of our achievement, be it great or small, matters little.
One thing alone matters: that all our doing should be filled with the love of Christ. As Peter took this to heart, he learned to abandon his future to the love of God.
Now he was content to be bound by that love. He would stretch out his hands. That love would lead him along paths that selfishness could never have chosen. In like manner the Eucharist questions the love of our lives, binding us to the Lord and leading us away from self. became a Catholic some time ago but have never managed to shake off the impression that some forms of Catholic piety, especially the rosary and Latin in the Mass, are merely examples of those vain repetitions which Jesus warned his disciples to avoid in their prayers while He was on earth. Are my instincts correct or should I siorly succumb to the inevitable and accept such practices on faith?
YGNUS, RATHER like me in some sense, was trained in contemporary dance but then "found" classical ballet at the age of 18. She does not like Latin very much, nor indeed did I. having been formed in the tunes of contemporary music (from The Pet Shop Boys to Madonna), but I was converted to the sounds of Latin song, albeit through the dubious medium of Enigma.
Today my American colleagues would say "he was a liberal mugged by antiquity". Not altogether accurate but getting there. The expression used by the reader, "vain repetitions", reveals her to be a devotee of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP, Cambridge 1662, p. viii).
What Christ said to the disciples was something close to vain repetition. He warned them not to babble as the pagans do. So too did Paul after a fashion in I Cur 13. Shakespeare echoes the same note for us when he places a wonderful sentiment on the lips of Claudius in the drama Homier. "word.s without thoughts never to heaven go."
The pagan worship of the first century AD was Latin for the most part and characterised by a series of repetitious chants designed to induce a trance and examples of the priests and priestesses abound on inscriptions in the National Archeological Museum in Athens, where I went to verify the mask of Agamemnon and other artfefacts. We have some idea of their robes (dressed a la Grecque and styled with elaborate beards), for the purpose of imparting a sense of beauty to
public worship, from a basrelief which can be consulted in Greek Mythology (Athens 1995, p. 21).
An; repetitions always vain as the BCP asserts in its marvellous and somewhat arresting summary of the history of public worship (BCP, "C.onceming the Service," p.viii)? They can be, if they are not touched by thought, for all prayer, even vocal, must draw the subject to reflection. What then of the Old Latin Mass is it an obstacle to prayer or a help? Its elaborate repetitions were a great help to Oscar Wilde and he thought of it as a Greek tragedy. Still, there is no doubt that the transition to English has helped Catholics find a prayer-voice of their own.
Many tridentinists, however, assert that primitive accuracy is the reason why they prefer to stay with the Tridentine Rite, but anyone with basic Latin will be able to spot why the setprayers of the Old Rite had to be reformed. They were doctrinally unsound. Even their hero, Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book on The Spirit of the Liturgy, describes the effort as an attempt to strip away the whitewash of generations which had obscured the ancient fresco of Roman faith underneath. The old repetitions and unnecessary blessings of the sacred gifts gave the impression that the priest was higher than the Lord and so deprived the Roman Mass of its majesty and aura as the Last Supper of Christ.
The accretions have left an unwashed mark all over the English native psyche as I discovered recently when two Sixth Formers were sent up to Alderbourne Hill from an RE Department to conduct a study of Catholic ritual and they were both told by their RE teacher to expect a Roman service entirely versed in Latin. They were relieved to find it in English.
Repetitions in sacred cult, though, presume a music rather like the music of poetry. T. S. Eliot once said that the music of poetry is latent in common speech and so too we may expect that liturgical English be type-cast as a sacred tongue through the help of the great poets of Anglo-Irish literature, such as Keats, Shakespeare, Christy O'Brien, Yeats, Wordsworth, Brooke, Owen, Montague, etc. The beauty of Latin was buried rather than excavated by Erasmus and the humanists who gave us stilted I arble-like pronunciation.
There is already a rich seam of poetic voice from which the Church's officials could exculcate an English sensibility in liturgy. Thomas Campion and others transposing the piety of the 16th and 17th centuries into English offer us a useful example of what could happen in our time as English increasingly looks like a universal language. Transposing it into a living voice that does reflect the variety and fluidity of poetry is the present challenge. As A J Bliss (Spoken English in Ireland, Dublin 1979) tells us, the speech found in spoken English in Northern Ireland and especially in Antrim is in fact a reflection of Shakespearean English, and so gives us back the colour we have lost on the mainland; rather like a lost Atlantis discovered on our doorstep.
So then, when I was leading a scholu ceintorum around Ireland and turning local folk groups into other scholas, I found that the latent tradition in terms of speech and music was much more open to the fluidity of chant than I had expected. Certainly. I now explain this as the way in which Celtic folk-music is better placed to do this and this is why I always found Irish folk-groups far more open and better pitched to turn to Gregorian chain than many polyphonic choirs in England. The transition was easy because a necessary disrespect for plodding metre was already inculcated into the Celtic mind-set The Tridentine Rite is now something of a non-question for many older people and soon those who wish to indulge their childhood piety will be able to do so in a personal prelature.
As for prayers like the rosary, we must leave some pious practices to the way that the Church is touched by inspiration outside the Bible. The feminine dimension of such prayers is important, for they speak to us of order and rhythm in a world of the toccata and fugue. Only in a male patriarchal community is it necessary to "justify" the rosary and other services such as vespers on the grounds that they are relevant. They are indeed relevant because they show beauty in brevity.
For all the above reasons converts from the formalism of the BCP should keep Claudius, from Hamlet, in mind and simply trust the music of the New Roman Rite it will help them to express themselves. The rhythms of Gregorian chant hint at the public worship of the early Jewish converts and should not be forgotten. ICEL now has a job to do but the music is already in the AngloIrish psyche and simply needs to be awoken. This has been done with the new Eucharistic prayers from Switzerland so it may be possible to du something similar for the English version of the New Roman Missal.