LITURGY CORNER By Rory Cooney
One of the texts that is favored in the Roman Missal for the washing of feet at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thurs- day is an ancient chant song called Ubi Caritas, whose English refrain is rendered: “Where charity and love are, God is there.” The Latin text is terse: there is only one verb at the end of the antiphon, so, literally, what we see is “Where charity and love, God is there.” While the words caritas and amor are often used interchangeably for “love,” caritas usually translates the Greek word agape, while amor renders the Greek philia or even eros. The tiny phrase covers a huge truth of the faith. All love flows from God, most clearly perhaps the agape love that gives with no hope or desire of return, the love that seeks first and only the good of the other. But nevertheless, all kinds of love-friendship, family love, affection, all of it-have their source as God who is love. God is the source and the ocean, and all rivers both flow from and lead back to the One.
The Holy Thursday liturgy, like the gospel of John which is proclaimed that evening, wants us to be clear about what Jesus was doing with the Eucharist. As you’ve heard many times, St. John, in the fourth gospel, doesn’t say anything about the Last Supper itself. He has a long farewell discourse from Jesus after the supper (chapters 14-17), but about the supper, all he has to say is in chapter 13, during the supper, Jesus took a towel, undressed and took the role of a slave by washing the feet the disciples. After that, there are a few words about the betrayal by Judas with reference to eating from the same dish, and then the prediction of Peter’s denial, leading right to the farewell discourse. John doesn’t want us to focus on the food or the sharing of the meal without understanding what was at stake for Jesus in the meal. With important overtones throughout the passage recalling the atonement rituals of the temple, we are meant to see that the meal of Jesus is a sign of service to the world, a sign of willingness to “take on the form of a slave” in order to bring about the reconciliation of God and people, and that “do this in memory of me” is as much about imitating the self-emptying of God in Christ (which we call kenosis) as it is about eating bread and sharing a cup together. After washing the feet, we mustn’t miss the mandatum (mandate or com- mand) of Jesus: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (13:15) Throughout this passage, whenever we read the word “love,” the Greek uses the noun or verb from the root agape, that other-love that transcends self-preservation and seeks the good of the other above one’s own.
In the middle of the 1980s, there were other versions of the Ubi Caritas chant hymn available, notably the hymn version, Where Charity and Love Prevail, and a beautiful antiphonal version by Sr. Maria of the Cross, published by the Composers Forum for Catholic Worship. I wanted to write a version that, like Where Charity and Love Prevail, would be useful throughout the year, accessible by all kinds of people. So I started by writing a new metric translation of the Ubi Caritas that became the four verses of Faithful Family. Then I wrote a refrain based on Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2, words that urge the Christian community to forgive each other and live in love:
“… (B)e kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God …” Which became, in my refrain:
Be like our God, who chose to live and learn our ways And die in deep unbounded love.
Forgive each other tenderly,
The faithful family of our God.
Most of Faithful Family I’m still very happy with. One little text flaw could probably have been fixed: there’s a line that goes, “The love of Christ has gathered us to one from island ways,” and I’m afraid that using the word “island” might have been ambiguous in a way I wasn’t expecting. I hope people understand that I was using “island” the way John Donne uses it in his “No man is an island …” sermon, or as Paul Simon used it in I Am a Rock, which continues “I am an island.” But I’m afraid someone is going to think I mean “island” like Hawaii or Jamaica or Puerto Rico, and wonder why I’m dissing nice hospitable people. I don’t know that people get thrown by that, but every time I sing it, I wish I’d used another word!
I also think (sometimes) that it might be too high and should have been published a step lower. I’ve tried it in F with the choir and it sounds muddy to me, but ending that third line of the chorus on a high D (“ten-der-LY” – yikes) wasn’t my smartest move, and maybe it would be better in F and having that note be a nice reasonable C.
Oh well. I think there’s still something very right about Faithful Family, and it’s definitely one of the songs of mine best re- ceived here at Saint Anne and in my former parish. It continues to be published in the most recent version of the Glory and Praise hymnals (3rd edition), and appears on our 2000 CD Change Our Hearts. It originally was included on our 1986 record Do Not Fear to Hope.