Something struck me -- besides my hand -- when I said Domine, non sum dignus ("Lord, I am not worthy ...") at Mass this past week. The self-deprecating gesture, which we make also during the Confiteor, and by pious custom at the elevation of the Host and Chalice, and again during the Agnus Dei, derives from the Gospel parable of the two men who went into the Temple to pray: the justified of the two having struck his breast for his unworthiness to appear before God. The moment of illumination at Mass for me was the realization that this is a symbolic punishment of oneself (howsoever mildly) for one's sins. (A secular psychologist would suspect here a masochistic tendency; but for those of an authentically-formed religious mind it manifests remorse for having offended God.) The logic behind voluntary penances is twofold: as a corrective and as a compensation for the debt incurred by sin. I'm reminded of what Saint Paul spoke of as the chastisements he inflicted on his body to bring it into subjection to his will.
I mention this gesture to you at the beginning of Holy Week because I am much impressed by the corporal punishments inflicted on our Lord during His Passion. He, being sinless, had no need of corrective punishments. It was in compensation for our sins that He received the abuse visited upon Him. This aspect of reflection on Christ's Passion -- now much outmoded -- makes one realize the violence done to the innocent Christ for no wrongdoing of His own, but for ours. He was literally punched, struck, fiercely slapped, receiving what the Latin Vulgate Psalter (Ps 38) calls plagas, physical punishments. We deserve, each one, some of what He took upon Himself in our place. By these attacks and assaults and especially by His ruthless scourging, Christ became our proverbial whipping boy. We will sing of this on Easter: "For the sheep the Lamb has bled: (the) Sinless in the sinners' stead."
Perhaps by this brief reflection you will come to appreciate better what you do at Mass in striking the breast. You make a statement regarding yourself as a sinner and you are making recollection of the cruel punishment our Lord received for what you have done. Things to keep in mind this week.
There ought not be need for me to remind you of conserving and consulting the enclosed Holy Week schedule. Lacking it, and without recourse to the much abused and overused "handheld device," you may consult our parish website which can supply where feeble memories have failed. Know that everybody should attend all the Holy Week services and that all should have confessed sometime before Easter. Do come and spend a significant amount of time in church this week, following with Christ in His sufferings, giving Him the comfort of your presence and your fidelity, seeing Him all the way through to His glorious rising. A terrible week. A wonderful week.
A closing word concerns our music for Holy Week. We do try to sing the prescribed chants of the Church all this week, and as best we can. This includes the chanting of the Passion and the many antiphons and hynmns which come down to us from centuries past. The orchestral Masses of Easter morning (9:30) and Divine Mercy Sunday (noon) will make heard some very stirring music by Franck, Gounod, and Mascagni. Without feigning and unbecoming obsequiousness, I must relate to you that the orchestral Mass played those days will be my own composition, a Missa Cantata in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a work orchestrated rather hastily in its first performance two years ago but which may be heard this year in a more perfected form. With all the great music written for the church by master composers it may be somewhat vainglorious to offer my own work -- yet once again. I ask your kind indulgence -- and our Lord's -- for this repeat performance which I hope will be nevertheless graciously received.
P.s. The Tuesday evening Mass this week will be at 7:00 p.m. in the convent chapel, not in the church.
Sunday, April 09, 2017
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, April 9, 2017):