Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Wine, Music, and Feasting

Over at Rorate Cæli, Fr. Richard Cipolla has posted a translation of a sermon given on the feast of St. Benedict by Fr. Benedict Nivakoff in Norcia. Here's a snippet, but head over there and read it in its entirety, as it is a wonderful portrait of the playfulness of the liturgy, feast days, and monasticism, indeed the spiritual life as a whole.
“The memory of a saint is like music at a feast with wine”.  This is what the book of Wisdom tells us in today’s Epistle reading from chapter 49.  Like music that accompanies drinking wine, or even beer if you prefer, but in any case in the context of a great feast where one eats and drinks well, and where one as well hears beautiful music.  This rings true especially for us who live here in Norcia, this poetic description of a festive banquet in which we celebrate a special occasion,  a day marked by solemnity, an important person.  We think, in this context, of every March 21st, the day on which we celebrate the transitus of Saint Benedict, his passing to eternity.

There are processions, special dress, dinners, the participation of the civic officials, there are fireworks, and so forth.  But although this great feasting makes this event  solemn and happy, it also can obscure the reality that is being celebrated.  For this reason we can take advantage of July 11 for a more intimate form of festivity, we monks with the citizens of this town who venerate Saint Benedict.

The reading from the book of Wisdom helps us very much to understand what we are celebrating in the person of Saint Benedict.   “Et ut in musica in convivio vini”.  We can say so many things about Saint Benedict.  Even better, so many things have been said about Saint Benedict that are repeated year after year.  But when have we heard him compared to music played at a banquet with wine?  Everyone likes music, whether it is rock, jazz or Gregorian chant, and there are very few people who are not able to have some appreciation for music.

But to have a feast: is it really necessary to have music?  Can we not imagine a feast without music?  Even wine:  can we say that it is really indispensable? And in the end, do we really need a feast to remember a person?  But in fact, the idea to have a feast day belongs to a deep level of Catholicism.  It means to put aside the rhythms of daily life to celebrate, without any sense of necessity or usefulness. But it is the very fact that a feast is not necessary or indispensable or useful from the vantage point of productivity that gives it its character of joy and makes it a true feast. [...]

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