Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Requiescat in pace

His Eminence Alfons Cardinal Stickler recently passed away. He was a good friend to the TLM and a devout and wise man. Thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for the article.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A busy Advent

Well, finals are done (gratias Deo). The year turned out pretty well. And it's shaping up to be a busy last few weeks of Advent. Our Choir Christmas Concert, the last in our concert series this year which included an amazing performance by Anthony Kearns, is this Sunday, so that'll take a fair bit of preparation. Gaudete Sunday will take a little bit of work, too. Around the house, there'll be lots of cleaning, though everything is pretty well decorated now. Two good friends have just gotten back from Europe, so it will be great to see them. And with any luck, my temporary agency will be able to find some office which needs help over the holidays.

For the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I think I'll pull double-duty and go to the TLM at the Basilica at 4. It would be nice to make a regular practice of it. I think they will even be saying/singing High Mass there on Christmas morning at 12:30. I would dearly love to go (I'll probably have to beg, it being Christmas morning and all). I'm hoping that I could make the case that we could simply take two cars to the family party, enabling Gramma and Grampa to get an earlier ride home. This would let me drive to Mass and then drive to the party without worrying about making anyone late. Who knows, though?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Of Man's first Disobedience and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree

It appears that the furor over the Golden Compass is ramping up. Well, it's about time, says I. I can still remember back to the release of the Passion of the Christ, in which all kinds of calls to boycott the movie emanated from the usual suspects (the one Jewish fellow I know who did see the film pointed out "Well, unless Pilate's middle name was Moshe or Shlomo, I don't think it makes much sense to say that the movie makes it look the Jews killed Jesus"- well put.) The tandem phenomenon of Pullman's attack-dog fans coming out and blasting "religious zealots" and "religious fanatics" is, of course, inevitable, but instructive. There's a good discussion of the particulars here.

As much as I can understand and share the impulse to upbraid the film and the books for their anti-Christian message (and we have to face it, even if that message is muted in the film, or is subtle, it is still there- it still informs the major themes of the story, if it can be said to have one other than a rather boringly cliché adolescent resentment of authority in any form), I think some of the best pieces about the hack and his clunky trilogy focus on its literary shortcomings.

To rant a bit, the one name that always comes up in reviews about Pullman's fantasy, aside from the obligatory reminder of how much Pullman loathes (read envies) Tolkien and Lewis, is Milton. The name of the trilogy is in fact a phrase listed from that poet's corpus. What is annoying is when Milton is invoked thematically in explaining the book. The characters in HDM and Pullman himself share but one similarity with Paradise Lost, and that is that they all buy into Satan the Literary Figure's promises of knowledge, enlightenment, and the ability of mankind to set out on his own. But Satan's grand gestures and semi-heroic qualities are altogether absent from Pullman's work. His heroine is a brattly little compulsive liar. Well, so was Satan, but he came off in such a way that I wanted to smack him across the mouth a lot less than Lyra.

It is that two-pronged strategy that will bear the most fruit here: emphasize the anti-Christian aspects of the film and books with the people who would respond negatively to it: that is to say, be sure that this message is getting out in churches and parishes (not during Mass or services, necessarily). Our Baptist brethren are models in this regard, as their ability to get the message out among their churches about films to see or not to see is, so far as I know, incomparable. It is also never a bad thing to be able to say with our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters "See? One more thing we agree on." (sotto voce: "Now come back home!") But among the more secular moviegoers and wishy-washy Christians, be sure to point out that as a work of fantasy and fiction, it's pretty second rate. Mentioning the chip on the shoulder Pullman bears towards Lewis and Tolkien wouldn't hurt, either; the Narnia movie and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy both enjoyed immense popular acclaim, so a blowhard who comes out and waxes irate about how "infantile" and stupid those two stories are would rightly garner some suspicion on the part of moviegoers who found those tales beautiful, moving, and altogether enjoyable.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

USCCB document on Sacred Music

Fr. Z. posted a few sections of the USCCB's latest document on sacred music in the liturgy, with his usual keen analysis and insight. The full version of the statement is here

It is certainly encouraging to read many of the things in the document; the piece, however, is slightly schizophrenic. It makes fine statements about the pride of place given to chant, and how its use should be expanded, and how it should be learned, etc.- but then frequently backpedals. For those who long for a return to an extensive use of plainchant, it's a bit of a roller coaster ride (naturally, I imagine, the feeling is much the same for those who demonstrate a near allergic reaction to chant in the Mass)

One of the interesting phenomena here, though, is the reaction of those opposed to chant. Though a relative newcomer to traditional, orthodox Catholicism, I've seen several examples of the general philosophy these people put forward: they are innovators, who want to shake things up, who want to make changes, who want to seek out and implement alternative points of view, who want to incorporate a wider ranger of cultural elements into the Mass, and who want everyone to feel welcome and participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. Lovely. Here's the odd part, though:

-As for being innovators, shaking things up, etc., that time has long passed for the nouveaux liturgistes. Most of their innovations and reforms already have inch-thick dust about them. And a good number of them seem to young people to be simply mawkish affectation. For my generation, the post-conciliar American silliness which has given us guitar Masses and liturgical dance is old and incomparably out-of-date. We are in perhaps the enviable position of discovering the ancient as the refreshingly novel.

-As for seeking out other viewpoints and incorporating elements of other cultures into the Mass, and wanting everyone to feel welcome, well fine- but could we start seeing a little consistency about this, please? There are too many times to count in which a person complains "Oh, dear, this archaic and antiquated practice is stifling. It practically brings back images of the Middle Ages. I feel my participation in Mass suffers from being subjected to it. O merciful liturgical coordinator, couldn't you do something to make the Church relevant to people today?" And said merciful liturgical coordinator is only to happy to comply, now being able to claim with a face at least half-straight that their "innovations" enjoy "popular support". But when a request comes in for a return to more traditional practices, lo! The shaft! Now this is really so incredible that it deserves an explanation- why, given all these promises of inclusiveness and no Catholic left outside, are the wishes of the traditionally-minded not weighed along with those of the more innovatory? Suddenly that well of sympathy and tolerance for other liturgical practices has gone dry.

It isn't difficult to diagnose the inconsistency. This isn't primarily an issue about any of those fair-seeming principles I mentioned above. Chiefly it is a matter of preference- that is to say, the preference of the liturgist. The question about whether or not the faithful would like a return to some more traditional practices in some areas is rarely asked, and the answer is most frequently stonewall. We do not get so clear a picture of what the people want as what the liturgist wants, insofar as the liturgist serves (manifestly) as the vox populi.

It has been my experience, however limited, that people are generally substantially more receptive to older practices than the liturgist might care to admit. I can remember Midnight Mass last year, when our choir used the settings from Mass VIII "De Angelis" (wrong setting for a feast of the first class, I know, but it's one of the easiest ones for the faithful to pick up on, and it sounds lovely), and our pastor, God bless the good and noble Monsignor, chanted the "Dominus vobiscum" and several other parts of the Mass, much to our very pleased surprise. And the congregation's too, to hear many of them talk about it afterwards.

What I would like to know is, why aren't things like that given a fair shake, too? I don't think I'll get a straight answer for a looong time.