Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Old Year/New Year

The other day, I heard some TV personalities talking about how no one ever has fun at New Year's Eve parties. Whether that is actually true at the kind of high-end parties people like them get invited to, I cannot say, since I'm obviously not in that social class.  Only the privileged get to disdain the privileged lifestyles that the rest of the world only gets to envy. My New Year's Eves are usually spent alone. So I probably wouldn't mind the company!

Still focused on Christmas, the Church's liturgy does not formally celebrate the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new. Pius Parsch claimed that this was because "The Church in her mysteries already lives on the timeless level of eternity." It is, however, traditional to sing the Church's ancient hymn of thanksgiving, Te Deum, on the last day of the year. (Since Blessed John Paul II, this has become a standard part of the public papal calendar.)   Just how old this tradition is, I don't know. I did find a detailed Latin rubric for it in a 1942 edition of the Rituale Monasticum. It seems safe to assume the custom was already a long established tradition well before then. 

An unhistorical but edifying legend ascribes the Te Deum's composition to Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine on the occasion of the latter's baptism by the former in 387. Traditionally, it was sung or said at the end of Matins, more or less on days when the Gloria would be said at Mass. (With some exceptions, that is still roughly the case, although the number of days that call for the Te Deum and the Gloria have been significantly reduced in the Paul VI Missal and Breviary.) 

The Te Deum is a prayer of praise, focused on the big picture of salvation history. It incorporates the whole Communion of Saints in praise of the Trinity. In a kind of creedal formula, the hymn proclaims the incarnation, the redemption, and Christ’s glorification at his Father’s right hand, from which he will return as judge. It ends then in petition that we may join the saints in everlasting glory. 

Reciting the Te Deum today, the motive for thanksgiving is, first and foremost, the great things God has done on our behalf and the lasting community we have become a part of as a result. That fits, I suppose, Parsch's claim about the priority of eternity. But eternity also incorporates what Saint Augustine famously called "our own short day of time." ("He who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time," Sermon 185.) 

It is in this "our own short day of time" - now invested with incomparable importance and significance by the Incarnation - that we are all challenged to be thankful, to find occasion for thanksgiving in the highs and lows of our ordinary time, in this Year of our Lord 2013 that is now fast ebbing away.

Personally, as I look back with gratitude at 2013, I am thankful, first of all, for having made it this far - 65 in 2013; God willing 66 in 2014! That's more years than most of humanity has ever had. And they have left me with a treasury of memories (not all good to be sure, but many very good) and a treasury of relationships (some sadly now only remembered, others still real and enriching my life). Looking back over 2013, I am thankful for yet another blessed year of ministry as a priest, for my parish, for the diocesan presbyterate of which I am privileged to be a part and in which I have been called to a ministry of leadership, for my religious community which supports and sustains me in mission and friendship, and for family and friends far and near who help me be who I am at my best.

To all, everywhere, Happy New Year 2014!

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