Friday, June 22, 2018

The Nativity of John the Baptist

Image result for nativity of john the baptist

What comes to mind when you think of John the Baptist? From where did you leann it?

The majority of what I know comes from the scripture and songs used during the second and third weeks of advent. A smaller portion comes from the play “Godspel”. We meet Jesus’ older cousin in the third chapter of Luke’s gospel. John tells the people to prepare the way of the Lord while preaching a message of repentance and baptizing in the Jordan. He wears a coat made of camels hair held closed by a leather belt. He eats locusts and wild honey, ew! (Come on, that’s what everyone says.)

Today’s gospel is taken from earlier in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:57-66, 80.) The people have gathered for the naming of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son. In what would seem a confusing break with tradition Zechariah affirms that the boys name will not come from his earthly family (the descendants of Levi.) Instead he will be called by the name God has chosen and shared with Zechariah via the Angel Gabriel. To learn more about this, read the first part of this chapter which is conveniently located a few pages back in the readings for The Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist Vigil.

It is impossible to touch on all of the rich details of this story in one article. There is the similarity between John’s parents (Zechariah and Elizabeth) and Isaac (Abraham and Sarah.) There is the parallel of the Angel Gabriel coming to Zechariah like he came to the Blessed Mother at the Annunciation. There is also the irony of the father of God’s chosen messenger (Zechariah) being left speechless after the Angel’s visit.

These are some of the things we will look into in this today’s Sunday Scripture Series at 10:45 a.mYou’ll find more information about this in the bulletin. (Yes, that was a shameless plug.)

The words of today’s prelude are from the verses directly following today’s gospel. They are known as “The Canticle (song) of Zechariah.” These words have been set in a modern composition written by Steve Angrisano and Curtis Stephan: “Luke 1: Benedictus” (#637).

The title of our processional hymn is a poetic description of John the Baptist “The Great Forerunner of the Morn” (#717). The text was written by the St. Venerable Bede, an English, Benedictine Monk who lived from 672-735 and was honored as a Doctor of the Church in 1899. The verses are a perfect way to enter into the celebration of this Solemnity. I hope you will see how the other songs connect with John the Baptist and/or Advent. 

The following paragraph is helpful in explaining the significance of John the Baptist while maintaining an understanding of how his significance is based on the one to whom he points - Jesus.

The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.

Taken from The U.S. Council of Bishops Website

Blessed to be in ministry at St. Mary’s,


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Like Cedars They Shall Stand

Image result for cedar tree lebanon
....and (he) would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, and he knows not how.
                                                                                                  Mark 4:27

Today is the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. We are 1/3 through these 33 Sundays. Where does the time go? While this might be a rhetorical question; how about this? When did we celebrate the first 10 Sunday’s of ordinary time? One was last week, but what about the other 9?  Read on to find the answer.

Ordinary time falls into 2 major pieces: the Sundays between the Christmas season and lent and the Sundays between Easter and Advent. I tend to think of these 2 pieces in three chunks: winter, summer and fall ordinary time. (The latter being when school and choir begins.)

The liturgical color of ordinary time is green. The exceptions are solemnities. You may recall 2 recent Sundays (Trinity and Corpus Christi) when the vestments and altar cloth were white. They will be white  next week when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. 

Ordinary time prompts me to change some aspects of what we sing. You will notice that there is no longer a sung response to General Intercessions. We’ve also changed the mass setting from the Mass of Christ the Savior, sung during the lent and Easter seasons to the Mass of Renewal. (BTW - I was thrilled by how our church sang these mass parts in the first week back.)

The return to ordinary time allows us to resume working through the gospel associated with the yearly lectionary cycle. During the current year (cycle b) we hear portions of the Gospel according to Mark. Today’s pericope (the biblical word for excerpt) comes from Mark chapter 4 verses 26-34.

Jesus tells two parables comparing the kingdom to a bountiful harvest that is the result of Divine providence. The quote at the top of this page is from the first parable. The second is the well-known parable of the mustard seed.

But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. Mark 4:32

The footnotes of my commentary connect this verse with today’s first reading. Consider the similarity.

On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. Every small bird will nest under it. All kinds of winged birds will dwell in the shade of its branches.              
                                                                                          Ezekiel 17:23

Jesus’ audience would relate to his comparing the Kingdom to the majestic cedars of Lebanon. The Jews among them will know that:

1.   Moses had the priests use cedar wood as a cure for leprosy. 
2.   Solomon’s chose it to build the temple in Jerusalem becoause of its strength. 

Those who are early for mass are in for a treat.  John Luland will be singing and playing “Like Cedars They Shall Stand.”  The third verse uses the image of a cedar as a metaphor for righteousness as found in Psalm 92. 

The just shall grow as tall as palms; like cedars they shall stand.
and planted firmly on their God they shall not break nor bow.
                        from  “ Like Cedars They shall Stand”  by Dan Schutte      

Blessed to be in ministry at St. Mary’s,
I am planning an informal gathering on reading and reflecting on the days scripture this summer on Sunday mornings beginning Sunday, June 24th from 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.  E-mail me at if you’re interested.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Panis Angelicus - June 10

Bread of Angels

Before I get to the subject of today’s liturgical notes I need to share how Anita and I became friends and how she helped me to discover an important lesson.

On Pentecost Saturday in 1991 I walked to the microphone intending teach the people a new hymn: “One Spirit, One Church.” (#419)  I began as follows:  “What I like about this song is how it fuses an traditional hymn (Come Holy Ghost) with a new musical composition (the refrain). 

As I looked to the right I saw Anita sitting in the far corner of first row. “This is important (I continued) because we don’t want to throw out what is old, but rather honor it with new possibilities.” 

Anita’s smile accentuated her wrinkles as our eyes met. I wasn’t talking about a song. I was speaking about her.

Last week, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi I introduced a similar song; Curtis Stephan’s “Bread of Angels.” (#367) The verses, composed in 2002 speak of Jesus in the Eucharist and as the Word of God. The refrain sets St. Thomas Aquinas’ latin text to a melody that cleverly begins exactly like Cesar Franck’s classic version.

During last week’s choir rehearsal I shared my reason for picking this song:  honoring the memories of those who grew up with a latin mass while appealing to the musical tastes of more recent generations.  I explained how the Solemnity of Corpus Christi focuses on Christ’s presence in:

1.  The Eucharist
2.  You and I as the Body of Christ
3.  The Communion of Saints

Ironically, I did not share the story of Anita at that time. Just the lesson she helped me learn. 

Today we will be using Bread of Angels at the part of the liturgy where it is most appropriate - communion. I’ll be thinking of my dear friend who for years would greet me with a raspy, “Hello Bruce, you got some good music for us tonight?”
Anita moved to an assisted living facility near her children sometime around 2000. I was honored to play and sing at her funeral at my home parish of St. Dominick’s several years later. 
See you at the resurrection, Anita!


The Nativity of John the Baptist

What comes to mind when you think of John the Baptist? From where did you leann it? The majority of what I know comes from the scr...