Sunday, August 28, 2011

Liturgical Word for the Day: "Kavanah"

This morning, I caught a show on my local ABC affiliate that featured an interview with three Jewish rabbis - talking about the upcoming high holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  During the discussion, each rabbi shared a bit about his/her own preparation and interior disposition for leadership of the liturgies of these celebrations. Of course, since our tradition in the Church is rooted in Jewish liturgy, there were similarities to our own worship.  However, I was struck by a particular word one rabbi used to describe the attitude that he must have to be able to lead prayer authetically: kavanah.

One webpage about Judaism describes it this way:
The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as "concentration" or "intent." The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to G_d and an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.
I think this delightful concept is a treasure we need to explore more deeply as Catholics. When we celebrate the Mass, whether as presider, liturgical minister, or as a member of the assembly, we should have that kind of interior intentional focus.  De musica sacra et sacra liturgia  (Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy)  written in 1958, at the time when the concept of "active participation" was first being universallly promoted, puts the concept this way:

22. By its very nature, the Mass requires that all present take part in it, each having a particular function.
a) Interior participation is the most important; this consists in paying devout attention, and in lifting up the heart to God in prayer. In this way the faithful "are intimately joined with their High Priest...and together with Him, and through Him offer (the Sacrifice), making themselves one with Him" (Mediator Dei, Nov. 20, 1947: AAS 39 [1947] 552).
b) The participation of the congregation becomes more complete, however, when, in addition to this interior disposition, exterior participation is manifested by external acts, such as bodily position (kneeling, standing, sitting), ceremonial signs, and especially responses, prayers, and singing.
53 years on, it is possible that we may have lost the original balance between interior and exterior participation.  We focus on asking people to sing, to say the prayers, etc, but I see very little evidence that  in our catechesis  of children, youth and adults that we more than sporadically make an effort to help people understand what should be going on in their mind and heart during Mass.  To be sure, most people who are willingly at Mass naturally make an effort to be involved in what is happening during the liturgy. They sing, sit, stand, process, and listen.  However, are they doing kavanah?  Are their minds free of other thoughts? Do they understand what they are praying about, and do they think about the meaning of the prayer?

When we begin using the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in the coming months, will people be engaged more deeply because they now have to think about the words? Or will they be put off by long, complex sentences and difficult words? I am convinced that the quality of interior engagement with the liturgy in the months and years to come will be due to the quality of the catechesis provided to people on the new Missal.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Roman Missal: "People of Good Will" - What Does That Mean?

Yesterday, a friend of mine currently revising a musical setting of the Gloria using the text of the new Roman Missal sent me an advance sample. I commented to him that the two longer notes on “good will” in the refrain force the singer, in effect, to accent “good” instead of “will” as one might expect, and that was interesting. His response was that he did that intentionally to help focus people on the meaning of the phrase. 

That, however, got me thinking. What does it actually mean to be “people of good will”?  What will people in the pews in Catholic parishes, asked to sing this “new” phrase think that it means?

Miriam Webster online gives several definitions that seem to apply to some degree: 
1 a : a kindly feeling of approval and support : benevolent interest or concern…
2 a : cheerful consent b : willing effort

Urban is more realistic, perhaps: 
“A factor of humanity that is lacking in most people. Good will is the basic component of "good people," that is, those who are nonmalignant, those with clean motives, and those who possess a lack of cruelty and viciousness.

So, to be people of good will in the worldly definition means merely to have a kindly feeling of approval and support, to give a cheerful consent or make a willing effort and/or to have clean motives and a lack of cruelty and viciousness? Is this our proper response to God and to God’s sending of his Son? Seems a little bit inadequate, does it not?

The translation of the song of the angels in Luke 2:14 in the New American Bible is actually “…peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests”- instead of the Mass text translation of “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”  from the Novus Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible  from which the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is derived.

If God’s favor rests on his people, if we are those privileged to be the objects of God’s love, I would hope we would have more than the dictionary-definition response!  Based on the teaching of Jesus and the Church, I would define the attitude that makes up Christian “good will” as follows:  joyful, open and willing reception of the Good News, evidenced in a life of loving charity and eager service to others.

What do you think? How will you help adults, youth and children understand this?