Music for the Eucharistic Banquet

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On Saturday, October 11, 2014, I had the great joy and privilege of blessing the newly restored organ at my titular church in Rome, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains. The original organ goes back to 1686 and is recognized as one of the three oldest and finest organs in the city of Rome. In 1884 it was reworked and restored, but for the past 50 years it has remained silent because of the poor condition into which it had fallen. After nearly three years of restoration work, on that Saturday evening, we had the celebration of the restoration of the organ with its solemn blessing. Michel Formentelli, the curator responsible for overseeing the restoration work, gave a presentation on the accomplishments of the organ. Maestro Francesco Colamarino, the organist at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Rome, provided the accompaniment. Following this was a concert by Maestro Giandomenico Piermarini, the principal organist at the Papal Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

The following day, we were joined at the basilica by a large number of faithful as well as religious and priests for the Mass of Thanksgiving and Dedication. With me at the altar was the Abbot General of the religious community responsible for the basilica, the Canons Regular of the Lateran, Don Giuseppe Cipolloni, together with his predecessor who first greeted me when I was assigned to that church, Don Bruno Giuliani. Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia also concelebrated. In the context of that celebration, we reflected on how the liturgy for that day was so appropriately focused on how we are nourished in our life of faith by the great Eucharistic banquet which is the purpose not only of the organ we were dedicating but the basilica itself.

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After thanking the artisans, technicians and workers for bringing this seventeenth century masterpiece once again to life so that it could provide a beautiful and inspiring voice of praise to the Lord, I touched on the theme of the liturgy and tried to highlight how we are nourished by God who loves us and invites us to find in him all that we need.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah described in poetic and colorful terms what it will be like when the kingdom of God is manifest among us, when the Messiah comes. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6), So often in the pages of Sacred Scripture the Messianic kingdom is described in the language of feasts, banquets and gathering at the table.

The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians told us that it is in Jesus that we will find whatever we need. “God will fully supply whatever you need in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus used the parable of the wedding feast to teach us that God has already prepared all that we need, has invited us to share in the joys of his kingdom, and that all that is left is for you and for me to do is to accept the invitation, to put on the wedding garment and to come to the feast (Matthew 22:2-14).

The dynamic of the Gospel unfolds in our experience of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Christ invites us to his table.  The King of Glory invites you and me to come and be fed. It is the Church that acts as the servant of the Lord who summons us to the feast, who brings to us the invitation.

At every Mass we hear all over again the invitation to come to the wedding feast.  The spiritual food that we find in the Eucharistic Liturgy begins with our attention to the Word of God. It is truly God who speaks to us. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

In the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel we read that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…So that we might see the glory of God.” The Word that became flesh also died for us. The night before he died, Jesus instituted the great action of thanksgiving to God by which we could participate in the memorial of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. It is precisely in this memorial that we experience the work of our redemption being carried out in us.

The liturgy also tells us what our attitude should be as we approach this mystery. We are told in the very opening action of the Mass that our first posture must be that of a penitent.  We confess our sins, recognize our fault, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” and ask for God’s mercy.

But we also are invited to approach the liturgy with confidence. As the responsorial psalm tells us, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:1-2).

Brothers and sisters, whenever we gather in joyful celebration of our invitation to the banquet of the Lord and praise him with music and song, let us renew in our own hearts a sense of repentance and at the same time confident faith that our loving God welcomes us to this banquet which is the sign and foretaste of the great heavenly banquet we hope to enjoy in glory.

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