We make the liturgy beautiful

MA Theology
Keep holy the Lord's day - Today's Catholic
Our role in worship fulfills the beauty of the liturgy (photo source)

What makes liturgy beautiful? When we claim that the liturgy is “aesthetic,” it’s helpful to explore the idea from two angles. First, liturgy is aesthetic because it is perceived as beautiful in its own right, objectively speaking. Second, liturgy is aesthetic by the subjective experience of its participants. This is not to say that every liturgy is objectively beautiful in an error-free, flawless sense, or that every participant is overwhelmed by beauty simply by existing in a space where liturgy is taking place. Still, our subjective role within liturgy brings the overarching objective beauty of the liturgy to fulfillment.

In his book “Spirit of the Liturgy,” Guardini something with style “has, by virtue of its existence and activity, expressed in a convincing manner that which it really is, and if at the same time by its quality of specialness it does not merely represent an arbitrary mood, but its relation to a corporate life, then and to that extent it may be said to have style.” The liturgy is both expressing itself and going beyond itself to reflect the reality of communal worship: beyond individual families and communities, to the voice of the universal Church at prayer.

World Youth Day kicks off with message: 'Have the courage ...
World Youth Day is a visible example of the universal Church gathered in prayer. (photo source)

Guardini takes this idea one step further. As a communal event, in the liturgy, “the individual yields place to the universal” (44). Guardini emphasizes that we must not approach the question of the liturgy’s purpose from a sense of utility, but look for ultimate meaning beyond our individual selves. “In the liturgy man is no longer concerned with himself; his gaze is directed towards God” (66). Individualism has a tertiary place within the liturgy. Its primary purpose is worship of God. Second, we surrender our own needs and wants to pray with others in the liturgical context of community. If we happen to “get something out of” the experience, personally, it is an added blessing, but not the core purpose of our worship.

At first, this thought is disconcerting; our human tendency is often to attempt to maximize the outcomes of our time, seeking- if not profit- at least personal fulfillment. But in our worship, we are called beyond this mentality. “The liturgy offers something higher. In it man, with the aid of grace, is given the opportunity of realizing his fundamental essence, of really becoming that which according to his divine destiny he should be and longs to be, a child of God.” (69). Although the purpose of liturgy is worship, our individual sanctification is not forgotten, and God uses our active participation in liturgy as the key to reunion with humanity as his adopted children. 

Finally, it’s worth noting again the beauty of the liturgy itself. “In the liturgy the faithful are confronted by a new world, rich in types and symbols […]. Out of this the question arises- what is the precise significance of all this as regards the soul’s intercourse with God? […] God is Simplicity; then how is He concerned with specific ritual, actions, and instruments?” (53). In short, it is because of our human nature-our physical bodies and spiritual souls- that our worship embraces the physical to heighten our awareness of the spiritual. Indeed, every symbol must contain both spiritual and physical components; not loosely related, but so intricately connected that the meaning is lost when one or the other is absent. “A symbol may be said to originate when that which is interior and spiritual finds expression in that which is exterior and material” (57). In this way, our materiality is a critical feature in concretizing our spiritual expression of worship. 

Why Catholics use incense at Mass? - Catholic Say
During the liturgy, we sanctify time, objects, and people. (photo source)

Surrounded by the physical elements of symbol that are in themselves beautiful, and raised up to a higher calling of worship beyond self-satisfaction, our subjective role as communal participants during the liturgy sanctifies the time, the space, the material elements, and even the people around us. As we bless our God during the liturgy, God blesses us and uses our material world and our efforts for our own salvation, and the sanctification of the whole world.

The Beauty of Love in Relationships

MA Theology

Relationships are complicated. We learn that early on in life. Some parents have varying degrees of success at loving one another, and others provide painful examples of what relationships should not look like, ultimately culminating in the fallout of broken relationships. Ultimately, when done well, the sacrament of marriage in particular is a glimpse into the love God has for us. It’s an embodiment of the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. The Revelation of God’s love for us is indescribably beautiful because it is love made manifest through an encounter with a person. Our encounter with God’s love is modeled through the life of the Virgin Mary, it is experienced in authentic worship, and it is handed on through a lived example of self-sacrifice.

We take our first example of an encounter with divine love through the life of the Virgin Mary (she herself is no stranger to difficult circumstances in marriage). Like Mary, we are called to surrender to God’s will, no matter the cost. In his book “Love Alone is Credible,” Balthasar highlights how Mary’s receptivity to God-made-flesh in her womb shows how this love can bear fruit in both literal and figurative ways. In marriage, couples bear fruit through children and also through lives of radical hospitality, obedient to sharing God’s love with both the neighbor and the stranger. Our call to follow Mary’s example of surrender moves beyond poetic verse and is concretized through many forms of popular piety, especially in the rosary and many other Latino/a cultural traditions. Our Lady of Guadalupe in particular, present to St. Juan Diego in person and to us through his tilma, speaks to her people in intimate ways that cannot – and should not – be scripted as symbols, but loved and lived as an image of strength, solidarity, and communion.

How do we respond to this invitation to divine love? We follow Mary to the foot of the cross. The Eucharistic celebration is the pinnacle of Christian worship, and in our worship we remember and experience intimate communion with divine love. As Christians, we are formed by the bread that nourishes us, and we see deeper meaning in the sacrifice of the Mass. As we learn to become active participants in the liturgy, worship becomes more than rubrics and responses: it is encounter and communion with God and each other. We leave behind the comfort of suburbia and we face the bitterness of a broken society and stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us. As Roberto Goizueta emphasizes throughout his book “Christ our Companion,” our prayer must become action. Liturgy speaks to the deepest needs of our hearts for love, nourishment, and healing.   

We see the glory of God’s love shine most clearly in his self-emptying love, poured out over and over again in mercy throughout the ages, but most poignantly in Christ’s paschal mystery. The Mass is a place of encounter, but it is the beginning, not the end. At its conclusion, we are sent out to be transformed and transformative in the lives of those we meet. In light of our experience with God’s love, Balthasar explains, we begin to overcome the limitations of our human love and begin to love with the heart of God. This love cannot help but spill over into the deepest recesses of our souls, softening our hardened hearts until mercy waxes into forgiveness and we become the suffering Church who stands in solidarity with the victims of oppression, violence, and the sins of the past. Giozueta’s message be summarized this way: healing and restoration seeks not retribution, but reconciliation.

Although humans are imperfect in many ways, the sacrament of marriage strengthens its couples to understand, encounter, and share God’s love with those around us. As we overcome everyday trials and seek the good of the other, we begin in some very small way to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. May our faith become action, and our encounter incite a transformation in our own lives that seeks to set the world ablaze.

Like A Cowboy

MA Theology, Uncategorized

A country girl at heart, I’m partial to one classic country music motif in particular: The Cowboy. Swashbuckling classics like Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “Beer for my Horses” run parallel to darker tones of Garth Brooks’s “Rodeo” and Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Like most good country songs, The Cowboy theme intertwines with The Girl, and all the complexities that relationships bring with them. Modern artist Jon Pardi proposes that it “Aint Always the Cowboy” who does the leaving, despite George Strait’s earlier assertation of the fact in “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

The relationship between cowboy and lover is seen in a unique light in Randy Houser and Brice Long’s 2014 song, “Like a Cowboy.” For me, this song is even more powerful and emotional in light of a modern context reimagining: cowboys as soldiers, and the struggle of long-distance relationships in military families.

It’s clear that Houser knows and relates deeply to the themes of reunion and longing, as he concretizes emotions of regret, courage, fidelity, transience, and wanderlust with the audience. “The work of art has been pondered before being made,” says Maritain (p. 8, Art & Scholasticism), “has been kneaded and prepared, formed, brooded over, and matured in a mind before emerging into matter.” This song is a beautiful coloring of a unique relational reality faced by many people across the expanse of time.

What makes this piece beautiful? It possesses “a vision, that is to say an intuitive knowledge, and a joy” (Maritain, 24). In the case of “Like a Cowboy,” we receive a front-row seat to the Cowboy who comes and goes, driven by duty and desire, and the woman who loves him. We see, we know, and we respond: we rise and fall with both the lyrics and the crescendos in the music itself. As a piece of art, the song has integrity, proportion, and a sharp clarity (Maritain, 25) into the joys and brokenness that comes from loving over long distances.

The beauty of this song is objective in itself, as a unified whole within the genre, but when understood through personal experience of a lived reality of long distance love, it becomes all the more beautiful. Maritain says it well: “It is beautiful only under certain aspects which some discover and others do not see” (Maritain, 31). Those of us who have endured the reality of months of separation know both the joy and the heartache more intimately than others who have not.

The quality of an artist’s work is in proportion to the amount of love it receives.”The artist must be in love, must be in love with what he is doing […] so that beauty becomes connatural to him, bedded in his being” (49). While it’s apparent that Randy Houser loves the music he makes, the same can be said for the Cowboy and his way of life. The lovers in the song are always chasing each other but are never free of the lingering transience that comes with working away from home. This sense of incompletion is also felt by the artist: “He is on the tracks of wisdom and running upon the scent of its perfumes, but never possesses it” (37).

There is an eternal tension between the Cowboy’s two loves: the road and his relationship. He desires both, but cannot have them together. As he chases them both, will he ever truly possess either?

One might initially think, in the case of military family life, that you cannot possess both. You can either be at home, or you can be out and serving your country. Even as your family lives in transience and moves from base to base, they are never truly entirely with you, physically or psychologically. This black-and-white mentality, along with the dangerous kinds of work and the high-stress of distance, is more than many families can withstand.

However, I do believe that it is possible to possess both: the love a soldier has for his or her family drives the individual to be a protector and provider, and the nobility of this call gives the family some small, partial satisfaction to help them endure the longest nights and hardest days. Both the family and the soldier need to be willing to make incredible sacrifices on behalf of the other, but it is possible to survive and even thrive in this world. Soak up the joy of presence while you have it, and keep fighting the good fight until you’re together again.

Our Lady of the Rosary

Blog, Reflections

To be honest, as much as I love Mary, I don’t love praying the rosary.

I get distracted midway through, and feel guilty when I lose my place. I like the idea of the prayer, and I ask Mary to pray for me, but the rosary has never really been my thing.

I wrote the Rosary Companion Journal for these very reasons: to help me pray better, with more intentionality.

This journal has a variety of sections, to pray the rosary in different ways:

  • Write your own Intercessions: sections to write tailored meditations on each mystery. Use these spaces to reflect on scripture, creative interpretations, or modern issues that parallel the mysteries.
  • Write your own petitions. For each mystery (or even for each bead!), plan your intentions. I think this method is especially helpful way to keep me focused, when I’m praying for things I care for most.
  • Write your own interjections. In each Hail, Mary, add a specific Marian trait: “Holy Mary, Mother of God and Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.” “Holy Mary, Mother of God and Virgin most pure, pray for us.” This can also be done with Jesus’s name: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, King of the Universe.”

Mary’s “Fiat” is an example to all of us: we are called to say “yes” to God, to be open to his plan for our lives.

On this the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, let’s thank Mary for her selflessness and her commitment to Our Lord.

Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

Who owns the extra clothing in your closet?


The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” (source)

I’ve been thinking about this quote from St. Basil the Great lately… specifically in the clothing area. I have a surprising amount of clothes that I don’t like or don’t fit properly; why don’t I give them away?

This quote, paired with a minimalist-style desire for less “stuff” in my life, led to the ultimate overhaul of my entire wardrobe.

As I was sorting things, I was having a philosophical discussion with myself (as often happens when I’m home alone; the cat is not much of a conversationalist). Here’s the question:

Why do we give less fortunate people our junk?

The initial answer seems obvious: they don’t have much, so they’ll be grateful for whatever we give them. But what kind of attitude is that? Do I think the invisible “they” don’t know any better and don’t realize they’re getting my junk?

Now, let me add that I come from a very secondhand and thirdhand family… we love Goodwill and thrift stores, and about 90% of my clothing is already secondhand. I’m not a spendy gal. But! We as a community of privileged need to change our attitude.

There were several times I caught myself holding back on donating a dress or pair of shoes… “I paid a lot of money for that! I should hang on to it!” …even though it doesn’t fit and I haven’t worn it in 3 years.

Why should I keep that dress from those who are less fortunate? They are humans just like me and deserve nice things for nice occasions- maybe a wedding or funeral dress? …Does it even matter?

A second excuse I used for keeping clothing was this: “Second-Cousin-Once-Removed-Euphronia-Fitzherbert gave me that top. I should hang on to it.”

The real question I should ask is this: would sweet little Mrs. Fitzherbert be offended if that shirt was given away and worn by someone who needs it multiple times a month (or week!), or would she prefer that it hangs in the closet for another 2 years until I decide that a lime green turtleneck just isn’t going to come back in style?

I had to break the hearts of a few distant relatives today, but they are no worse off for not knowing and I can clear my conscience. It’s something I plan to focus on as I get the rest of the house in order: how can I give from my surplus, instead of just my excess?


What are you holding on to that a neighbor needs? Food? A pair of shoes? Spending money? In what areas of your life are you being challenged to surrender your “wants” in order to help the needs of another?

(Author’s note: this post was originally published on one of my other blogs. I’m bringing my best work here, to showcase it and share it a little further).