I have been giving some thought to matters liturgical over the past few months. Six months ago I began re-reading a very insightful book entitled Mysticism and Narcissism, by Sr Kathleen Lyons. She entered Religious Life in 1945 and the book is her PhD thesis which she completed in 2015. Amongst other things, it provides a wonderful chronicle of the Church pre and post Vatican II and it is all seen through the lens of Religious Life.
Of late I have become a follower of footnotes and this book gave me many opportunities to delve deeper. (There is a special kind of thrill for me when I discover that we actually hold the Journal that is being cited or that Google will allow me to read online a chapter from a book that gets several mentions in the text.) So my delving deeper lead to read around modernism, ressourcement, aggiornamento, Sacrosanctum Concilium and Lumen Gentium. I started looking for patterns and common themes.
I realised pretty quickly that I am a thoroughly Vatican II catholic in terms of my experience of attending Mass. I simply have no memory of pre-conciliar liturgy. I grew up in the North East of England and looking back I can see that although the Mass was in English, much of the pre-conciliar mindset took a long while to shift. So despite Vatican II’s particular teaching on the centrality of the Eucharist, devotions were alive and well in my parish of the Holy Rosary in Sunderland. At the risk of sounding like St Paul, I can tell you that I have made the Nine First Fridays twice, the First Five Saturdays of Our Lady of Fatima also twice and attended the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour countless times. I have also contributed to Spiritual Bouquets, crowned Our Lady with roses as May Queen and practised hymns for a whole week to welcome Mother Teresa to my primary school.
I have spent a good deal of time these past months revisiting the things that nourished my faith journey. I realise that each element plays its part on my journey. The heavy devotional diet was my earnest search for mystery. And yet alongside that something new and very exciting was taking shape. Each week at school one of my teachers would produce a guitar and teach us a new hymn. The first hymn that I remember learning was ‘Colours of Day’. There was something about the accessibility of the words and the tune that allowed my seven year old self to really hear the Gospel. And looking at the words today, there is nothing that I have needed to ‘unlearn’ as an adult. ( And this for me is always a test of the soundness of the implicit theology.)
It’s worth quoting in full:
Colours of day dawn into the mind,
The sun has come up, the night is behind,
Go down in the city, into the street,
And let’s give the message to the people we meet.
So light up the fire and let the flame burn,
Open the door, let Jesus return,
Take seeds of His Spirit, let the fruit grow,
Tell the people of Jesus, let His love show.
Go through the park, on into the town,
The sun still shines on, it never goes down,
The Light of the world is risen again,
The people of darkness are needing a friend.
Open your eyes, look into the skies,
The darkness has gone, the Son came to die,
The evening draws on, the sun disappears,
But Jesus is living, His Spirit is near.
There is something honest and true about the simplicity of these words. They manage to communicate the Paschal Mystery, the Incarnation, the Mission of the Church.
Since becoming a regular user of Twitter I have exposed myself to many opinions and comments that are pretty much outside of my comfort zone in terms of theology and understanding of the church. There seems to be a kind of shorthand for all that is wrong with the post-conciliar church: ‘It’s all felt banners and singing Kumbaya.’ For some this will highlight a perceived lack of sophistication, for others it will be just what they needed at that stage in their life, or still need today.
For the past 25 years I have had a very sober diet of monastic hymnody. When you sing five times a day, every day, the words of hymns gradually become a part of your ‘inner theological vocabulary’. I am very much aware that the part of me that responds to poetry of these hymns was in some sense kindled on the day that I learnt Colours of Day. It was then that I was drawn into the mystery that ‘Jesus is living, His Spirit is near’. And every day since then I am called to make this a reality.