11/22/2012 8:40:00 AM Beloved monk conveys the beauty of the Liturgy
Mount Angel Abbey photo
Benedictine Father Paschal Cheline teaches at Mount Angel Seminary.
ST. BENEDICT — Fr. Paschal Cheline’s course on the Liturgical Year begins each day with a prayer and a bang. Mount Angel Seminary’s beloved teacher, spiritual director and administrator conveys his love of liturgy with the vigor of his Viking heritage. “The Catholic faith is essentially liturgical,” he explains to the seminarians with waving gestures that underscore each point. “The liturgical year is meant to be transforming and building – it makes us into disciples of Jesus. The liturgy is like a great party,” he continues, leaning over the lectern, “a celebration of the presence of Jesus Christ the Lord, who is among us in signs. Further, it embraces all of time – from the past to the present, drawing us into eternity.”
Fr. Paschal Cheline, OSB, arrived at Mount Angel Abbey at the age of 14. With the recent celebration of his birthday, he now has spent more than 60 years on the Hilltop. Many of those years were dedicated to teaching, whether at Kennedy High School in Mt. Angel, as a pastor, or as a member of the Mount Angel Seminary faculty. For ten years, he has served as Executive Director of the Abbey Bach Festival – just one of his many roles. Among monks in the Abbey choir stalls, he is known as one who “cannot sing a wrong note.”
Fr. Paschal opens the class each day with a liturgical prayer and calls on students to identify where it belongs in the Mass. He looks pointedly at individuals and asks, “Has the liturgy affected you? Is it affecting you now?” This question leads him to consider the virtue of hope. “Every liturgical act is meant to restore our hope, he states. “And hope produces peace and joy.”
Despite our individualistic culture, the Mass is never about “Jesus and me,” Fr. Paschal explains, but rather “Jesus and us.” To illustrate his point, he draws upon favorite literary works, such as Carson McCullers’ Member of the Wedding. The novel’s protagonist is a young girl who is dismayed to learn she can’t accompany her older brother and his bride on their honeymoon trip. She protests that they belong together: “They are the ‘we’ of me.” Fr. Paschal asserts this should be our feeling, too, as members of living Christian communities. The liturgy builds the kingdom of God by establishing us in unity with one another and with Christ in the now of liturgical action.
Fr. Paschal’s course explores the liturgical cycles of the year, the seasons, the feasts, the weeks, the days and the hours. He examines the history of Church traditions and practices, and discerns the challenges and opportunities facing priests and their parishes today, ranging from ideas about fasting to the restoration of the Easter Vigil. He sprinkles his material with the occasional tear of conviction, humor and personal stories, such as the time he flung handfuls of holy water on the congregation when he realized his aspergillum was missing.
Fr. Paschal seldom leaves you wondering what he may think about a given topic. “What is the basic point of a homily?” he asks. “Is it moral living? Trying to tell jokes or make the hearers feel good? Pious babbling? No. The basic point is preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” On another day, he urges the seminarians to “restore the sense of Sunday as the Lord’s day,” and to remember, “we are a people of the day. Sunday is not just the day to go to Mass, it’s the day Christ restored the world and rose from the dead.”
Fr. Paschal embodies a priest’s deep love of liturgy. At the same time, he is completely a Benedictine monk, shaped at the cellular level by 60 years spent praying the Divine Office in community. And, too, he is a pastor, loving each person in his classroom through his fierce desire to convey the eternal beauty and glory into which we are drawn by the liturgy.