Wednesday, December 4, 2013

3 minute celebration of 50 years!

You know you're freaking out, just a little. Admit it. Today, Dec. 4,  is the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the first major document of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (known by the shorthand Latin name Sacrosanctum Concilium). 

And if, like me, you are kicking yourself for not throwing a huge party and/or taking the day off to meditate on this awesomeness, fear not! 

I took the liberty of sketching out a little cliff-note-like sketch of the highlights what the Council said about the liturgy, using--get this--the words of the Council itself, and that from (for the most part) the Constitution that today turns the big five-0. This blog's name is inspired by the very purpose of the Sacred Liturgy. If you get that, you get a lot of what the Council wants us to know. 

Skim it, pour over it, or glance at it--either way, happy 50th, SC!

What is the Sacred Liturgy, according to the Second Vatican Council? 

The sacred liturgy, especially the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is where “the work of our redemption is accomplished.” (SC 2)

The sacred liturgy is the action whereby Jesus Christ the High Priest performs “full public worship,” in his Mystical Body, that is, “the Head and his members.” (SC 7)

The sacred liturgy is a “foretaste of that heavenly liturgy,” which is celebrated in heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of God with all the heavenly army.” (SC 8)

Mass is inseparably the following things: the sacrifice of the cross, a memorial of the Paschal Mystery, a sacred banquet of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and the foreshadowed and anticipated eschatological banquet “when he comes.” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, EM 3a, a few years after SC).

What is active participation, according to the Second Vatican Council?

Participation in the Lord’s Supper is always communion with Christ offering himself for us as a sacrifice to the Father. (EM 3b: *quoting Mediator Dei)

“In liturgical celebrations each person, minister, or layman who has an office to perform, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy.” (SC 28)

The Nature of Active Participation in the Mass: The priest alone, in persona Christi, consecrates the bread and wine, but the role of the faithful is the Eucharist is to recall the passion, resurrection, and glorification of the Lord, to give thanks to God, and to offer the immaculate victim not only through the hands of the priest, but also together with him; and finally, by receiving the Body of the Lord, to perfect that communion with God and among themselves which should be the product of participation in the sacrifice of the Mass.” (EM 12)

“(The faithful) should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves.” (SC 48)

“The faithful participate more fully in this sacrament of thanksgiving, propitiation, petition and praise, not only when they whole-heartedly offer the sacred victim, and in it themselves, to the Father with the priest, but also when they receive this same victim sacramentally.” (EM 3e)

To produce its “full effects,” the faithful must come with “proper dispositions,” with “minds attuned to their voices,” understanding what they are doing, to be “actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it.” (SC 11)

“The Church, the spouse and minister of Christ, performs together with him the role of priest and victim,” offering Him and herself in union with Him. (EM 3c)

This sacrifice “has no effect (in the faithful) except in those united to the passion of Christ by faith and charity;” the benefit {not the sacramental validity, etc) for the faithful is “in proportion to their devotion.” (EM 12)

The community, in its unity, is arrange in hierarchical order. Therefore, “each person, performing his role as a minister or as one of the faithful, should do all that the nature of the action and the liturgical norms require of him, and only that.” (EM 16)

Concretely speaking, What did the Second Vatican Council say about sacred art and other externals used in the liturgy?

“In liturgical celebrations each person, minister, or layman who has an office to perform, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy.” (SC 28)

In Catholic institutions and schools, “great importance is to be attached” to the teaching and practice of the “treasury of sacred music.” (SC 115)

Sacred Music forms a “necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy,” and is a “treasure of inestimable value,” greater than any other art.” (SC 112)

The purpose of sacred music, like that of the divine liturgy itself, is “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.” (SC 112b)

 “Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (SC 54)

All things set apart for divine worship should be worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of things supernatural. (SC 122)

In the sacred arts, e.g., sacred art, vestments, and ornaments, etc., “noble beauty” is to be sought. (SC 124)

 “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” Vernacular may be used, “especially in readings, directives and in some prayers and chants.” (SC 36)

Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, no the Apostolic See;” therefore, “no other person , not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” (SC 22)

 “Liturgical ceremonies should be celebrated with the utmost perfection.” For this reason: The rubrics are to be observed carefully, under the watchful scrutiny of the ecclesiastical superiors. (IE 13)

 “In the celebration of the Eucharist above all, no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the liturgy.”  (EM 45)

Where are concrete instructions for the celebration of the liturgy be found?

The Typical Edition of the Roman Missal is the primary source for the “what’s” and “how’s” of the Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, or IGMR) has further clarifications. Book IV of the Code of Canon Law has helpful laws and principles for the liturgy. The above mentioned Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents are helpful. The U.S. bishops council also published liturgical documents, available at Other privately written books are helpful, e.g., Elliot, Peter. Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995.

HAPPY 50th, Sacrosanctum Concilium. In some ways, you're just beginning. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marriage, Fatherhood, and Being Complete

The Supreme Court's recent legal decisions regarding marriage certainly add to the growing list of reasons to be worried that our nation's public culture is careening toward a moral and social cliff. 
It's easy to feel distressed.  
It's easy to feel helpless. 
But there are a lot of wonderfully helpful things we can do. One simple thing we can do every day is to celebrate the amazing gift of fatherhood and motherhood--the direct fruits of marriage. 
If we remember the amazing good that fatherhood is, for example, I think that it will help us rediscover the unique good that marriage is. 
We just had Father's Day here in the USA. And, coincidentally, Pope Francis said this about fatherhood: 
"When a man does not have this desire [to be a father], something is missing in this man. Something is wrong. All of us, to exist, to become complete, in order to mature, we need to feel the joy of fatherhood: even those of us who are celibate. Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life, giving life..."

 I’m blessed with a wonderful father. My Dad (that's my Dad on the far left getting a big kiss from my brother) filled my childhood with experiences of fatherly love. In my earliest years, he’d tuck us (five)  little Muirs in bed, pray with us, kiss us on the head, make us feel like we were the most special kids in the world. We just knew he loved us from the way he treated us. 

I assumed his fatherly tenderness to us was automatic. Fatherhood seemed so easy for him. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned my Dad’s love as a father didn’t come cheap. My Dad had been a top-rated college basketball referee when I was born. Against his shocked colleagues’ recommendations, at the peak of his career, he quit…so he could be home evenings and weekends. In my young adolescence, when his successful real estate business (“Muir Real Estate Corner”) began to sap time and precious energy from him, he sold it and became a high school teacher, so was home every day at 3 pm for my Mom and siblings. 
All of my father’s love and tenderness toward my mom and to us kids was purchased at a price. And it made him a great father.  
A Creative Vow. Years later, in the seminary, I came across something by the French Philosopher Gabriel Marcel called “The Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood.”  He said that true fatherhood was born from a special “creative vow”: a father becomes a father not mainly through physical paternity, but through a creative promise in which a man vows to love a child in the “fidelity to a hope which transcends all ambition and personal claims.”  
In a flash, I saw it: my dad’s amazing fatherhood derived its vitality from his promise to embrace his kids without any reference to his own ambition and personal claims. I saw, in other words, that robust fatherhood is born of a weird creative weakness: dying to ambition, rising to relate to a child in a totally selfless way. 
 Gabriel Marcel said that this kind of “creative vow” has to be rooted in the eternity of God, because only God can sustain this kind of radical fidelity and love. During early mornings in my high school years, my Dad often returned from somewhere caring milk and donuts. I thought it was just Safeway. Turns out, he was going to daily Mass before hitting the grocery store. 
 I thought he just really liked donuts. Later I learned he went to daily Mass to receive strength from the “eternity of God” to keep living out the “creative promise” of his fatherhood.  

Fatherhood completes a man because it roots him in God, and teaches him to love. I'm so thankful for the amazing gift that marriage--through my parents--gave to me: Fatherhood. My Dad's fatherhood, and now the fatherhood I seek to grow in as a priest. 
Nothing else could take the place of what marriage gave to me: the experience of a father's love. 

My Two Dads, and other things I liked about "Man of Steel"

 I confess: I attempted to fly when I was a boy. On multiple (but, sadly, unfruitful) occasions. Though I was never too into any comic book superheroes, my wish to fly around and above the maple trees of Mayfair Park (my boyhoood neighborhood) made me relatively sympathetic to Superman.

And the sympathy remains. But now I am a Catholic priest, and I see flying in a slightly more spiritual way. I fly around the Diocese of Phoenix (in my car) fighting the things a priest fights. This, and other themes in the most recent re-hash of Superman, resonated with my life as a priest with varying levels of profundity. So I offer the following list of ways the life of a priest echoes with Superman in the film.

1. Superman has two Dads. Kevin Costner's character tells the young Superman something along the lines of "Clark, you have two Dads. I'm your Dad. But you have another Father who sent you here for a purpose." My Dad is Ronald Muir. But when I became a priest, I was sent with a mission by another father: my Bishop. Of course this is all rooted in Jesus Himself, who has an earthly father (St. Joseph), and a Heavenly Father. His mission was rooted in His being sent by God the Father.

2. Superman's mother is super important to his mission. A priest depends on the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the most important woman in his life, to comfort him, heal him, mother him. My favorite line of the movie was when Superman's enemy attacks Mrs. Kent, his mom, and Superman says, "You threaten my mother?!?" And then he goes ballistic. Loved that scene.

3.  Superman visits his priest/pastor for spiritual direction to help him discern what he should do in a difficult situation. Fight or run? Go public or hide? Protect himself or protect others? His priest/pastor listens and encourages him to trust what God is doing in his life, and his mission begins. I can't tell you how huge my spiritual director's counsel has been to me, and all the times I've received encouragements to make a leap of faith through good spiritual direction. I hope Superman has that priest's cell phone on his "Favorite" list. He's gonna need it.

4. Superman is immersed in human life before and after he begins his mission. I can't tell you how often people are surprised that a priest actually does human, oh, I don't, sleep, sneeze, like sports, and lift weights. And any number of normal human things. Superman gets a job (journalism) that will maintain his connection with human life, even with his extraordinary vocation. Priesthood isn't exactly a "job", but our connection with the people we serve is essential. Pope Francis said, "Priests should smell like their sheep." Notice the stained glass in the church scene in the movie? It was of Jesus the Good Shepherd, surrounded by His sheep.

5. Funny clothes. And a cape. No, I generally don't wear it. But I'm ready to...just in case.

6. From Kansas. Two of the most important priest spiritual father-figures in my life have deep roots, like Superman, in Kansas: Archbishop Charles Chaput (accepted me as a seminarian) and Bishop Thomas Olmsted (from Kansas, and was bishop of Wichita, respectively). Coincidence? I think not!

   7. His childhood friends don't understand his vocation/mission.

  8. He frequently "gets away" to contemplate the world from a uniquely high perspective. Completive prayer, silent retreats....standing on clouds. 
  9. He changes clothes a lot.
  10. IHOP. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fingerprints of Providence: 3 amazing days

You couldn’t have scripted the three days I spent in Rome for the papal conclave any better than what actually panned out. From beginning to end, the trip had the tone of a pilgrimage and the fingerprints of God’s gracious--and dramatic!--providence all over it. 

Take, for example, some of the not-so-simple details of throwing together a trip to Rome on crazy short notice. Found convenient flights in a few hours. Found a hotel very close to St. Peter’s square. The manager told us we had booked his last room, and he was daily flooded with requests. 

The most dramatic aspect of the experience was the sheer unpredictability of the timing of everything. First, we didn’t know when the conclave was even going to start, and booked our flights based on our best guess. We arrived Sunday night. The opening Mass (Missa Pro Eligendo) was Tuesday morning, and the conclave began just hours later. 

But even more gut-wrenching was the looming uncertainty of when the new Holy Father would be elected. Every single moment of the trip we felt this concern build as a slow burn of anticipation. Granted, if the Pope had been elected after we left Rome--say, Thursday morning or evening, or Friday, or later--it would have been fine. Still a memorable experience, prayerful and all that. 

But when we realized at our very last opportunity for an election that the smoke filling the sky above the Sistine Chapel was in fact white--it first was convincingly black to our eyes--dejection turned into jubilation.  

Wednesday morning I was doing a live interview on Sirius XM radio. Mark Hart, the host and a friend, said at the end of the interview, when he realized how everything (for us, anyway!) came down to the evening ballots, said, “Let me say, brother to brother, that for your sake, I really hope the white smoke comes tonight, so you can experience it all in person.” I told him that’s I’d be okay with whatever God’s will is..but that it seemed strangely unlikely that God would bring me all the way to Rome for a conclave just to have me miss it by a ballot or two, and fly home to watch it on TV in Arizona. Obviously, that wasn’t the plan. 

Now, with tears in my eyes and cranberry juice in hand on flight home, it unmistakably strikes me: as a Catholic who loves the Church, a student of history who loves pivotal moments, a priest who needs the Pope’s guidance and authentic example of priesthood, and as a son who loves his Papa...I’m not sure I could be an ounce happier, this side of eternity.  


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Buzzer beater

I got to St. Peter's square today at 5 pm. It was my last shot at witnessing the election of a Pope, because my flight back to Phoenix is tomorrow morning.

It rained all day. All day. My friends and I wandered all around, chatted with people, and kept staring at the basilica, the tv screens, and other people. Trying to keep dry and warm and upbeat. Black smoke felt...probably.

We waited and prayed and waited some more.

The time for the first ballot of the afternoon came and went. No smoke. No white smoke.

So we waited, and the anticipation grew. Slow burn.

Waiting. Hoping.

Waiting. Waiting.

We prayer vespers. The first night of the conclave the black smoke came out while we prayed the Magnificat.

That didn't work this time.

Then at 7:06 what looked like black smoke appeared, and a spirit of dejection came over us. The crowd sighed, moaned, lamented.

And then someone yelled, "It's white!!!"
And the place went crazy. Elation, joy, bliss. It's winning the super bowl, combined with being a foster child and getting a new Dad. The thought has been crossing my mind..."Would God bring me all the way to Rome for a conclave, just to fly back to AZ and watch it happen on tv?"

 Apparently not!

Rain. Wait. Repeat.

Waiting for the next puff of smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel....

The rain seems undecided here in Rome. I keep going out with an umbrella, and it doesn't rain. And then, like this morning, I went without an umbrella to St. Peter's for a private Mass, and when I exited the basilica later it was pouring.

Here's hoping the cardinals in conclave are proving themselves more decisive than the rain.

I wasn't in Rome during the last conclave, so I don't know what it was like on the ground. But someone who was in Rome then mentioned that the atmosphere was charged with a particular spiritual current. Blessed John Paul II had died, and many of the young pilgrims who flocked to Rome for his funeral were still here for the conclave.

With the quite different circumstances behind the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and consequent ambiguous feel of the days between his announcement and the start of the conclave (which was exactly one month, if I'm not mistaken), there is in Rome what I would describe an a kind of uncertainty that borders on uncertainty.

I don't mean that in a necessarily negative way. It may simply be more a reflection of who happens to be in Rome these strange days. Waiting for the first smoke last night, I chatted with various folks in St. Peter's square, asking them where they came from and why they were here.

Some university students told me that they bought tickets to Rome from Cambridge several weeks ago, and it was just chance that they were at the conclave. Other people from the States told me that they planned to come to Rome this week months ago, and it was dumb luck that they were here for the conclave.

So I guess what I'm saying is this:

The vibe is like a World Youth Day...with a few notable differences.

It's cold.

The people who showed up didn't necessarily plan on coming to it.

And no one knows when the Pope is going to arrive.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's a small world, after all: the pre-conclave Mass

To see St. Peter's Basilica bursting with glorious light, soaring music, and thousands of pilgrims, is a breathtaking phenomenon.

But what really touches me is seeing the approximately 170 Cardinals gathered together and praying the Mass for the election of a Pope.

As they process up to the altar two by two and reverence it with a kiss, I see that they have come from every corner of the world. And here they were, postponing their work back home, to unite together in one spiritual work, the election of a new Roman Pontiff.

Full disclosure: as a Catholic who loves the Church and its history and high theological claims, I can be as lured by the wiles of triumphalism as easily as the next guy. And this moment, with all its glorious beauty and historical weight, could easily have been an occasion for this kind of ecclesial and self back-patting.

In fact, what occurred during the Mass was just the opposite. Moments after moment was marked by a call to tender and heartfelt humility.

One example: the tone (literally and figuratively) of the Mass was set by the opening hymn, Psalm 27, which is essentially a humble and emotional cry to God for help: "Hear the voice of my pleading as I call for help..." The antiphon punctuating the psalm was: "The Lord is the strength of his people, a saving refuge for the one he has anointed. Save your people, Lord, and bless your heritage, and govern them for ever."

These ancient Jewish texts originate from Israel's experience of not only being chosen as God's special inheritance, but also of the way that this "divine election" requires an ongoing process of purification and growth, marked as they were by a history of difficulties, suffering, and, most especially, by God's marvelously faithful interventions.

And now, in this glorious basilica, in 2013, it's clear to me that the claim to be God's chosen people (the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church") necessitates a demand to be utterly small, even humiliatingly dependent on God's providence and guidance.

Triumphalism means you hold your present, past, and future into your own capable hands.

But the pre-conclave Mass signaled anything but this kind of self-assurance. It signified something much more beautiful. Human life--perhaps even especially those men called to be Cardinals in the Church--are utterly dependent on the gracious goodness of God for absolutely everything....from life, to faith, to grace for the election of a new Pope.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Whatcha Need on Conclave's Eve

Scouring the streets of Rome the day before a papal conclave is a fascinating experience.

What is really about to unfold in the coming day?

Like so much of what the Catholic Church says, the happenings of a conclave not only borders on, but races straight into, the arms of the humanly impossible: the successor of Peter will be chosen. And he will be chosen in a line of unbroken historical succession, stretching back two millennia. And he will be given the grace to shepherd the universal Church that Jesus Himself founded. 

So today has been, well...strange, trying to take in the feeling, the atmosphere around Rome and the Vatican.

For some tourists who got lucky with scheduling, it's just a spectacle. For flippant and good-humored (but cynical) Roman restauranteurs, it's Rome just being Rome.  For politically and globally (but secular) -minded people, it's the interesting but dumbfounding creaking of a old dusty bureaucratic grandfather clock.   

But for the theologically minded--that is, those who see history as something which God has strangely entered into *(through the very unprecedented events recorded in the documents we call the Old and New Testaments) it is something quite indescribable: the election of the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ.

Remember how strange Peter is in the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles. He denies Jesus when it counted most. Then, later on, his shadow heals people when it falls on them. He teaches so powerfully that thousands of people are baptized into the Christian life. He has mystical visions. Apostles like Paul submit their God-given teaching to him for approval. And, as the Gospels hint and history bears out, he humiliatingly sacrifices his life as a witness by a tortuous death, so calmly convinced he was that something worth living--and dying for--had begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

But I guess what hit me today, walking around the almost-too-normal streets of Rome, was how everything Catholics believe about the Papacy as the succession of Peter and Peter's office in the Church (and therefore through normal, "secular" history), is utterly contingent on the active work and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that came upon Peter and the other Eleven on that weird morning we call "Pentecost." The Spirit that the 115 men in red will invoke in chant tomorrow morning as they march into another upper room with locked doors. 

....With all this on my mind, I marched up the Gianicolo Hill on the Night Before the Conclave to the North American College (the "NAC"), and offered the Holy Mass at the Pentecost Altar in the crypt chapel. And there I prayed that God would guide the Cardinals (and the whole Church) by means of the absolutely necessary grace of a new Pentecost. Meaning that God would directly guide those entrusted with the universal Church, with Fire that cannot be seen, but whose effects are seen and experienced. 

Meaning that God would give us what we could never give ourselves: a shepherd who will feed His lambs, and tend His sheep, with Divine Life, with Heavenly Fire.  

Manic Monday: Rome 24 hours before a conclave

When the opportunity came up to come to Rome for the conclave, and I prayed that God would direct me to know whether I should do so as a quiet pilgrim in prayer, or share the experience of prayer via Social Media. I sensed that God wanted the latter, so I said, "God, I'm happy to share the experience with anyone you wish."

Since then, in my first 20 hours in Rome, I've bumped into all sorts of interesting media types here to cover the conclave.

For example:

On my flight from London to Rome, the man across the aisle asked me if I was going to the conclave. I said yes, and we had a lovely chat the rest of the flight. Turns out, the gentleman is Sean Klein, the Bureaux Editor for the BCC, for the entire continent of Europe. He is here with a huge gaggle of reporters from the BCC to cover the conclave. We chatted about journalism, languages, paparazzi, and how faith factors into the professional life of a journalist in Europe these days.

At the east edge of the St. Peter's square a host of journalists are gathered. I bumped into the team from WGN in Chicago and chatted with them about why I am in Rome and what the conclave means to me as a priest and a Catholic. They were particularly interested in the fact that I studied in Chicago at Mundelein Seminary for 5 years. Watch WGN tonight and see if my mug gets on there. On the WGN website they said they spoke with a seminarian from, hey WGN, I hope you didn't mean me. I'm neither. Check out my beard, you know? I'm old!

Later in the day, strolling by the well-known Via Borgo Pio just north of the Vatican, I bumped into Fr. Jonathan Morris from Sirius XM. He has been doing wonderful short interviews with Cardinal Dolan from the North American College.

There is a calm anticipation all around Rome, perhaps it would seem like a normal March day, except for details here and there...The windows of the Apostolic Palace shuttered. Pictures of Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus on the back of buses, with the word "Grazie!", "Thank you!" above it. Press boxes going up in random places. And my favorite...I was sitting outside at lunch enjoying great, simple Roman pizza with seminarians and priests and other friends, when we saw a cardinal quietly duck into the front door of the little church just behind us.

Apparently he has something on his heart to bring to prayer.

Saturday, March 9, 2013



Now, slightly calmer...

I'll be in Rome starting the Sunday before the conclave. I'll be there as a pilgrim and a priest. And I'm looking forward to sharing the experience with everyone who is interested in my experience there. I plan on being all around the goings-on around the Vatican. I predict the unpredictable!

I'll posting here on this blog a few times a day. I'll be tweeting from @Fr_JMuir and also on my Facebook page, for FrJohn Muir. Feel free to follow along, comment, and above all, to pray with me!

Friday, March 8, 2013

priesthood and a dead end

As we get ready for the election of a new Pope, let's refresh our memories about how central to Jesus and the Church--and indeed, the Papacy--is the notion of priesthood.  And if I'm not mistaken, this is first time in a video Fr Barron has ever said the words, "I'm the emperor of China."

Don't we sometimes find ourselves--perhaps unconsciously--making similar assumptions as Garry Wills? When in fact the New Testament present Jesus--Fr Barron is saying--as restoring and transforming the notion of priesthood in his person and work.