Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Fr. Stravinskas on the Liturgy - another address

Homily Preached by the Very Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., for the patronal feast of the St. Gregory Foundation for Latin Liturgy, on Sunday, 7 September 1997, at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City

Public perversity, political corruption, the breakdown of the family, massive ignorance and illiteracy, abortion-on-demand and even infanticide, divorce and remarriage on a grand scale, lack of civic virtue, a booming pornography industry, the total collapse of a culture and a civilization. What a depressing scenario to be painted for New York at the close of the twentieth century! Except for the fact that it’s not New York that I was intending to describe; it was Rome when a humble monk was elected her Bishop. Gregory loved Rome with every fiber of his being, and it caused him immense anguish to envision the demise of the Eternal City. By nature shy, Pope Gregory didn’t know how to proceed, but the Holy Spirit gave him ample inspiration as for he embarked on a plan of action to take his beloved Rome back from the brink. So successful was he that he received a nick-name which graces his tombstone: “God’s consul.”

Gregory’s program was really quite simple: To return to the people of Rome a sense of sin and a sense of the sacred. He was indefatigable in pursing both goals. His writing and preaching on the moral life were insightful and engaging; he also enlisted the assistance of his fellow-monks to raise the moral level of what had become a sewer of debauchery, not only by the words of their lips but by the witness of their lives. At the very same time, this great Pope endeavored to return to his clergy and laity alike the lost sense of the sacred. He understood in his time what his successor of fourteen centuries later has stressed in our time: “A very close and organic bond exists between the renewal of the Liturgy and the renewal of the whole life of the Church. The Church not only acts but also expresses herself in the Liturgy and draws from the Liturgy the strength for her life.”

This sensibility he cultivated in a variety of ways – all dealing with the Sacred Liturgy – from the composition of numerous Mass formularies which eventually found their way into the Sacramentary which bears his name, to the founding of a school of sacred music, to the standardization of the Roman Canon which still reflects his noble touch. He realized that while he re-taught basic ethical principles which would restore to the City an appreciation of the good and the true, he also had to give them an experience of the beautiful, and that most especially within the context of Christian worship. Gregory wanted to raise up again that marvelous Roman civilization which laxity and decadence had destroyed, the culture which had produced a statesman like Cicero, a poet like Virgil, a general like Caesar. Culture, however, has always needed cult, in the sense of ritual. And so, he made the reform and renewal of the Liturgy a top priority. Gregory’s plan worked – from the dung-heap of a desiccated, lifeless city, Gregory’s Church built a civilization which even the most cynical must acknowledge as a culture to be admired and envied. The Middle Ages, the Age of Faith, was born; Rome, Phoenix-like, rose from the ashes and proved herself to be eternal.

The picture I painted of sixth-century Rome at the outset could indeed apply to contemporary Rome – or New York, or Paris, or Tokyo, or a host of other places where the spirit of the so-called Enlightenment has pulled down God from altars and there enthroned man. And the trade-off has been every bit as disastrous for us as it was for old Rome. The program of St. Gregory the Great was successful for him; I do not think it wishful thinking to suggest it might have something to offer for us as well.

[Read the entire address]

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