The Liturgical Year: The Boléro Of The Church

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

If you’re into classical music at all, you’re already familiar with Boléro, the one-movement symphonic piece written by the French composer, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). It’s a fascinating piece of music built on just two simple musical themes that are repeated over-and-over again during the 15 minutes it takes to perform the piece.
The interesting thing about Boléro, though, is that each time the themes are repeated different instruments are used and the volume is gradually increased. It begins quietly and peacefully but ends in a grand explosion of symphonic music. And the whole time, snare drums sound rhythmically in the background, providing the foundation of the musical evolution taking place above them. Boléro is an intriguing, hypnotic, almost mystical work of musical art.
The same themes repeated over-and-over, but presented slightly differently each time they appear. Isn’t that exactly what the liturgical year is for Catholics?
We’re well familiar with the outline and the themes of the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Triduum, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The seasons highlight and help us to enter into the life and death of Christ. Each liturgical season has its own purpose, its own emotions, prayers, readings, music, rituals, and color of vestments.
But, just as the musical themes of Boléro vary in their presentation as they are repeated, so too, the impact of each liturgical season differs for us each year, depending on what’s going on around us, what’s happening in the world.
For example, the consequences and challenges of the pandemic that has plagued the world for the last two years certainly awaken our need for the healing and compassion of Jesus. Reports of war and civil unrest add urgency to our longing for the peace and joy of God’s Kingdom. And perhaps some events taking place in your personal life color your reception of the seasons of the Church’s year too. If you’ve suffered a recent death of a loved one, you’ll probably find a personalized message of comfort and hope in the resurrection of Christ.
You see, the Church’s liturgical year is not a dry, stagnant, function of the calendar. It’s a living, dynamic event, in which the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Christ come to life once again each year. But the way these themes are received and appreciated will vary, depending on what we’re experiencing. The liturgical year is the Boléro of the Church.
Something to think about: Are you familiar with Boléro? Listen to it and be intrigued by it.


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