31 March 2012

eMissal now includes Music

The industry-standard e-book edition of the English eMissal now includes all the music for Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, as well as the Ordinary of the Mass (including the fifty main Prefaces) and some of the music for the seasons of the year (Ash Wednesday - Pentecost). The ePub version of the Missal is in full colour and is optimised for viewing on 7" - 10" devices. An updated edition suitable for the Kindle will follow after Easter.
Although ICEL has not approved any eMissal version for use in liturgy, one of the requirements that they asked for before considering approval was that the e-book version should include the Musical notation, so this new version is a step towards complying with that request.
Sometimes I have separated the musical sections from the text-only sections (such as the Communion Rite) while in other places I have placed the music directly after the text - similar to the printed Missal.
The file is available for download now at: http://www.rmh.id.au/

26 March 2012

Annunciation - dreaming big and saying yes

The readings in the liturgy today provides a contrast between two figures - the great and mighty King Ahaz, and the young maiden Jew Mary. When the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, appears before the king, and directs him to ask for a sign, he is given permission to dream big. "Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above." So he is given permission to ask for anything; the boundaries that he is set could not - in the Jewish understanding of cosmology - be any bigger. In response, the foolish and rather pathetic Ahaz is only able to respond with false piety - "no, I will not put the Lord to the test." It is hardly a test when you have specifically been given permission by the Lord to ask for something!
As we fast forward through 700 years of turbulent Jewish history, we arrive in Luke's telling in the village of Nazareth - an area that like all of the holy land is under occupation by the might of the Roman army. It was a dangerous time to be alive.
Even the simplest of what we now understand as ordinary activities and events could involve mortal peril. Indeed, sociologists tell us that childbirth and infancy were so risky, with such a high death rate, that just to keep the population of the Roman Empire stable (that is with a zero population growth), every woman of child-bearing age (which in those times was 14 years old - and it was a feat to survive even to that age) had to undergo five pregnancies - because so many mothers died in child-birth and so many infants died. So when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary on this day, and reveals such a confusing and utterly dramatic message, it is even more remarkable that the young Mary is able to respond so readily with the words that we know so well: 'I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.'

Play MP3

Annunciation of the Lord.
Recorded at St Paul's, 9am. (06'08")

25 March 2012

A new covenant

Taking a friend out for a driving lesson a few weeks ago brought to mind my own experience of learning to drive a car. Growing up on a farm, our first driving experience was with tractors and motorbikes and eventually cars as we made our way around the paddocks. But once I actually received my Learner Plates and attempted to drive out on the roads of Bega, I soon discovered that roads and paddocks are different. All was going along okay, until another car approached in the opposite direction and I freaked out, pulling off the side of the road to allow them to pass. Thankfully as my skills improved, so did my confidence in driving. Now, so many years later, when I go for a drive, I don't have to really think about the mechanics of driving at all - it is now second nature.
It seems that God wants us to have a similar experience with his laws. At first we need to be given the structure and outlines of the law to shape us and guide us as we learn and grow in our knowledge of God and his ways - but the plan is that as we go along we begin to make these laws part of our being and they begin to be our second nature. It is unfortunate that so many people still think of the laws of God and the laws of the Church as merely external structures - which often make little sense - which are imposed upon us. But if I need a law to tell me not to kill the annoying person across the street, or to remind me that I should go to church on Sunday, or not to steal - then the laws have not yet become part of who I am.
The prophet Jeremiah provides us with a stunning insight into the heart of God - as he relates a most incredible promise. In the days to come, he tells us, the law of God will no longer be only written on tablets of stone, but now the Lord will personally write the laws of this new covenant deep within each one of us, so that we may truly know his way of life personally. It seems that even Jeremiah is so overwhelmed by this prophecy that he tells us four times in these verses that 'It is the Lord who speaks.'
In the ministry of Jesus we discover what it looks like for the laws and covenant of God to be written on the heart of a human being - indeed the word becomes flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. What is even more amazing is that Jesus offers to feed us and allow the New Covenant to come to life in every one of us as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, and his promise to bring this covenant very near becomes actually real when we eat his body and drink his blood and so receive the very life of God within us. Amazing promises and even more amazing fulfillment!

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's (8am) 09'33"

18 March 2012

Let them go up to worship in love

A Jew would recognise our first reading today as the very last passage in the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. English bibles have tended to reorganise the order of the books in the Old Testament, so that we no longer follow the three-part division of the Tanakh into Torah (the Law), Nevi'im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings), and now conclude the Old Testament with Malachi in the minor prophets. Likewise, we are probably not all that familiar with the two books of Chronicles, since our reading today is the only one during the three-year cycle of readings, and include only eight verses from the 1764 verses of the two books. It was St Jerome in his Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures who provided the title of the books, when he called it the 'Chronicle of the whole of sacred history' whereas in the Hebrew Bible it was called the 'events of the days' or the 'annals of the years' and in the Greek Bible (Septuagint) it was called 'the things omitted'.

Chapter 36 of 2 Chronicles begins with the reigns of the final four kings of Judah - Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah - who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord God. The infidelity extended to the priests and the people, even though because of the compassion that he felt for the people, the Lord sent them prophets. These messengers were mocked and ignored, until in the end there was no remedy available. The city of Jerusalem fell to the invaders from Babylon, and the house of God was burned; those who were spared death were taken into captivity and sent into exile. Although the account of these days is dark, there is a final hint of light, because after the Sabbath of years that Jeremiah had prophesised (Jer 25:11; 29:10) Cyrus, a pagan Persian king comes to the throne. Cyrus is seen as almost a Messianic figure, because he acts to restore the people to their land once again, and finances the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. So the final words of the Hebrew Bible are given over to a pagan king - who invites anyone in the people of God to remember that God is with them and to go up to the city and the temple. Interesting, hey!

It is therefore only really in the coming of Jesus that the true Messiah arrives, and his love is shown to be so strong that it can conquer every division - and even death itself. St Paul understands this well and provides us with a powerful summary of the Christian gospel of grace and mercy (Eph 2:4-10) which reminds us that this is as the result of God's action - bot because of anything that we have done.

Finally, all of this is brought into focus by the all-too-familiar line in the Gospel of John that reminds us of the centrality of God's love for the world (John 3:16).

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm Vigil Mass (09'09")

11 March 2012

Ten words of freedom

To soften the hard edge of these sacred commandments that are presented in Exodus 20, the Rabbis' would often tell a joke - such as 'when Moses came down the mountain, he began by telling the people: well, there is good news and bad news; the good news is that I managed to talk the Lord down from 20 commandments to ten; the bad news is that adultery is still on the list.' Or, when Moses had a headache, what did he do? He took two tablets. Or, when the Lord asked Moses if he wanted a tablet of the law, Moses asked him how much they were. When the Lord replied that they were free, Moses said, 'okay, I'll take two.'

All jokes aside - and especially those jokes aside - what we encounter in this text, which simply presents God speaking 'these words' - it is not until Exodus 34 that the title of the Decalogue, literally, the ten words is given - is a sacred covenant that is deeply founded in grace and freedom. Scholars tell us that the covenant is an example of a Suzerain treaty, and it is God who first identifies the parties: 'I am the LORD your God' and we are 'you' who he brought out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

I capitalise the word Lord to emphasise the point that in the book of Exodus, the Lord only uses the special name that he reveals to Moses in their encounter at the burning bush in the wilderness a total of three times. In Exodus 3:14, when the Lord tells Moses that 'I am who I am', and again in Exodus 6. The Jews called this name, the Sacred Tetragrammaton - the four holy letters of Y-H-W-H. This is the last time that this name is used in Exodus (and never in Numbers) - although it is often used in other books, including anachronistically in the book of Genesis. It is as if the writer wants to preserve the sacred name to these key moments to highlight the covenant that is being entered into.

When we look carefully at the structure of the text, we can see that the three positive statements that punctuate the unnumbered list, provide an ordering of the commandments into three groups of commandments - the first three that deal with the right ordering of our relationship with the Lord; the second that orders our lives or worship ('keep holy the Sabbath'), and then the last group, that in the Hebrew text begins the fifth commandment with 'Honouring your father and your mother' leading into the last five commandments. [In the church, we are used to numbering the commandments according to the structure, not of the Hebrew bible, but of the Greek Septuagint text, which combines the first two commandments into one and separates the final commandment into two. The Hebrew numbering is to be preferred, but it may provide cause for confusion when a penitent confesses to a sin against the sixth commandment, leaving the priest to discern whether they likely mean murder or adultery!]

It is also worth noting that the final commandment is entirely internal; no one can ever truly judge how much another person is guilty of coveting - and so it provides a necessary corrective to the rest of the list.

Play MP3

Sunday 3B in Lent. 9'31"

04 March 2012

Sacrifice, obedience and the lamb

Our first reading from Genesis 22 contains what is often regarded as one of the finest examples of a short story in all or Western literature. In 19 short verses, the reader is taken on a terrible and shocking journey along with Abraham and Isaac - your only son, the son that you love - for three days until they reach the mountain of Moriah (which 2 Chronicles tells us would become the temple mount in Jerusalem). Although the reader knows that this is a test for Abraham, he is not in on that little secret; so we can only wonder how he endured these three days while he would have been beside himself in grief as he walked along with Isaac, prepared camps, ate meals together and shared stories around a camp-fire - and yet pretended that nothing was amiss in this horrible pilgrimage.

The lectionary reading skips over some of the details, so it well worth reading the full passage to see all the details - and especially the poignant exchange between Isaac - now carrying the wood that would be used to burn the sacrifice and his father, as in innocence Isaac looks up at his father and asks the powerful question: 'here is the flint/fire and the wood - but where is the lamb of sacrifice?' With the faith and obedient trust that has become Abraham's greatest mark and honour, he answers with powerful prophetic insight: 'The Lord himself, will provide the lamb - my son.' We are left to wonder whether 'the son' is meant to be ironic - a hint from Abraham to Isaac of the darker purposes that he is being forced to embark upon. When they reach the summit of the mountain, there Abraham binds his son - an act that provides the title for this sacrifice - the Akedah of Isaac (or in Hebrew, Akeidat Yitzchak). We are not told how old Isaac is at this point - at the end of Genesis 21 we are simply told that 'a long time passed' so Isaac could be a young boy (yet old enough to carry a pile of branches), or a young man. Whatever his age, it seems that Isaac, who now knows that he is to be the lamb of sacrifice, allows himself to be bound and so offered to the Lord.

It is only after Isaac, now bound, and placed upon the newly constructed altar, and as Abraham - presumably racked in grief and tears - reaches out with the knife to lunge it into the neck of his beloved son. As he begins to bring the knife down, it is then that the angel of the Lord intervenes to prevent this heinous crime of human sacrifice from taking place. Then we are informed that a short distance away, a ram is caught up in the bushes, and so is available to take the place of Isaac and be sacrificed. Note it is a ram - not the lamb that Abraham prophesied. After this passage, any careful reader of scripture should be looking for this lamb - when will God come through and answer this promise? When will God finally provide the lamb of sacrifice?

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's 10am - with the assistance of Lachlan, Matthew and Ben, and a whole lot of rope from Bunnings and a huge knife from the presbytery kitchen.
The recording from the 8am Mass is also available: http://www.fecitmihimagna.com/