On church music

1 06 2011

They transform into entertainment that which has been created for no other purpose than to produce in the Christian soul a holy and salutary sadness.

-a French cleric quoted in the liner notes to the CD: Charpentier: Leçons de Ténèbres du Jeudy Sainct

I am just repeating some thoughts that I have been repeating over and over again for years, but I haven’t brought up this quote in a while, so might as well dust it off and post it.

Personally, I think a Mozart Mass is way more traditional than anything I can sing out of a Liber Usualis. Perhaps, by extension, the St. Louis Jesuits are way more traditional than some choir with a newly found hobbyist obsession with Gregorian chant.

I think “On Eagles Wings” makes the baby Jesus laugh with glee. There, I said it. Break out the tambourines and guitars, and let’s praise Jeeeezus!

This is not a liturgical post

19 05 2011

It is with some reluctance that I comment on Geoffrey Hull’s book, Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church. I am not really interested in liturgy (as I have stated before), nor did I find the book all that compelling. Nevertheless, even my newly recovered philosophical orientation has not prevented me from pursuing a broad range of interests. A book that claims to analyze the degeneration of the religious ethos of the West can thus be of some interest to me.

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Hegel on Catholicism

6 04 2011

Catholicism does not claim the essential direction of the Secular; religion remains an indifferent matter on the one side, while the other side of life is dissociated from it, and occupies a sphere exclusively its own. Cultivated Frenchmen therefore feel an antipathy to Protestantism because it seems to them something pedantic, dull, minutely captious in its morality; since it requires that Spirit and Thought should be directly engaged in religion: in attending mass and other ceremonies, on the contrary, no exertion of thought is required, but an imposing sensuous spectacle is presented to the eye, which does not make such a demand on one’s attention as entirely to exclude a little chit chat, while yet the duties of the occasion are not neglected.

-Hegel, The Philosophy of History

One should keep in mind in the above quote that Hegel was actually very much a Francophile. Maybe he did not appreciate the religion much, but he liked the French, and even quipped to his wife that they should go live in Paris. Also, from the description, it is not hard to imagine Hegel actually gracing the doorstep of a church in France or witnessing a procession through the streets of statues or the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t think he is particularly bigoted, even if many of his dismissals of entire continents in this work show that he is, in his core, a bigot.

But of course, now we live in a different world. I have often called Vatican II, “the clericalization of the laity”. Many hardened traditionalists call it the “Protestantization of Catholicism”. Perhaps it is both, but not for the reasons commonly thought. If anything, the clergy were supposed to be the ones who “spiritualized” the popular rites and ceremonies of the people. Most clergy were probably just functionaries, and failed to do so. (This is why Jansenism was so popular amongst many sophisticated quarters in urban France: it attempted to “interiorize” religion, and not just make it the obligatory ideology of the State.) With the modern resourcement, the Liturgical Movement, Vatican II, etc. these rites could no longer be cultural and political obligations: they had to “mean something”, be assimilated by the Spirit,, etc. even if what they meant had to be made up on the fly.

I think the average Catholic, the real average Catholic, has the last laugh in all of this. Our rites still don’t take much “exertion of thought”, people still chat in church, and so on. (Makes you less nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”.) And there are still at least some “cultivated people” (I’ll go out on a limb and put myself in their number) who still find Protestantism hopelessly pedantic and captious. While we may miss the “spectacles for the eyes” and bemoan the frivolity and lack of gravitas in current Catholic ritual, we still might choose a parish based on church architecture and decoration, music, and so on. Plus ça change

Thoughts on a baptism

8 12 2010

Recently I had a child baptized, so I offer the following thoughts regarding Bugnini’s ceremonial and other matters:

In seminary I had been educated concerning the changes that Bugnini and Co. sought in the ritual of infant baptism. Having seen both versions, it is evident that in the old ceremonial, the parents were non-entities. This is because one was to pretend that the child is already a fully rational adult who is making the choice herself to be baptized. The modern ritual refuses to playact in that sense: it addresses the questions primarily to the parents, with only a vague concession towards the role of the godparents as a sort of cultural accretion. Even in the ritual, it is the parents who are called the first teachers of the child in terms of religious instruction.
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In defense of religious snobbery

29 09 2010

Or: what I do in real life

I don’t think that there is anything wrong being a liturgical snob, and it just makes sense on one level. Do you honestly think that the King of France should have attended the same kind of Mass that the plebs had in a country chapel in Provence? Or do you think that sending Bossuet to such a chapel would vastly benefit the peasants more than the rustic style Catholicism that they were used to? I don’t think so.

The problem that I see is that Vatican II was a flattening of Catholicism. That cannot be helped, as the rest of society was flattened in terms of class divisions. When I lived in So-Cal, it was not uncommon to see people fall out of their Hummers and into a strip mall looking like bums in their flip-flops and raggedy clothes. Rich people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that sort of thing back in the day if they could help it. Also, look at the state of weddings: people blow thousands of dollars on those sorts of things and they still come out looking cheesy and cheap. (Never understood the whole “getting married outdoors” thing, although AG and I have been over this in terms of “secular weddings”.) How much do you think liturgy directors at large mega-parishes earn? And look at the crap they put out Sunday after Sunday.

So it doesn’t make sense that little ol’ moi would go to the local parish down the street. I read philosophy books on my lunch break, and save up money just to fly to places to see a ballet. My wife and I usually spend Friday nights watching films with subtitles (lots and lots of films with subtitles). Sometimes to relax, we’ll put on some Charles Ives or Bartok. So how are we going to just go down the street and listen to some guy with a guitar chirp out “One Bread, One Body” and NOT roll our eyes? Does that make us worse Christians for not suffering with the plebs? So be it.

And that is sort of my whole point: whether you go to a traditional Mass or an Eastern-rite liturgy, that doesn’t necessarily make you a better Christian, and maybe you should stop associating where you go to church with that issue altogether. I come from a very “low church” background: raised charismatic, bombarded by kitsch and folk Catholic imagery, and surrounded by people who had just come straight from el rancho in Mexico. I appreciate that upbringing for what it was, but that doesn’t mean I want to live it, and that doesn’t mean that I am going to condemn it either. It is what it is. 99% of people will be happy with that stuff, or at least see nothing wrong with it. But in terms of where I choose to go to church, that is entirely based on my cultural snobbery, and I make no apologies for that.

The earth does not swallow us

13 09 2010

The title of the book, y no se lo tragó la tierra, by Tomás Rivera comes from a scene where the boy protagonist curses God thinking that the earth would swallow him for his blasphemy and thus end his misery. From the title of the book, one can surmise that it didn’t happen. In the eyes of the author, it was a turning point for the young man in which he realizes that whatever would happen in life, God would remain silent, as if He did not exist.

Being a book about the entrance of a young man from one society (rural Mexican) into another (modern American), the above event is a microcosm of what many have and are going through. In the past, people saw the society and cosmos enveloped in a web of sympathetic, causal relationships. God was king of heaven and earth, so if you crossed Him, it would swallow you. If you made a promise to God but didn’t keep it, God will send some calamity to “gently remind you” of your obligations. If you defaced a sacred image, don’t be surprised if you died the next day from a strange and unforeseen accident. And so forth. When that failed, there were always societal pressures to conform to such beliefs, whether it came from the elites or from the populace in general.
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Notes on a blog

8 07 2010

This one

“Liturgy” without authority does not exist: This is true not because authority creates truth, but rather because liturgy itself is a legalistic category. Liturgy can only really emerge with the printing press. For example, all of the prefaces that were thrown out with the Council of Trent: were they not liturgy? How about, then, the Ludus Danielis in the cathedral of Beauvais, the poems of Hildegard von Bingen, or the various accoutrements such as ostrich eggs used in some medieval ceremonies? Once you start to use the term “liturgy”, you have already fallen into a scholarly trap: either it is the “official prayer book” (wherein emerges the conversation between the local and the trans-local, power and truth), or it is the tradition of the learned as opposed to the tradition of the plebs (in which you also get bogged down in conversations concerning power), or it is something that falls from the sky from the hands of angels (which is ridiculous).
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On two headed statues

5 07 2010

Notes on the sacred and profane

Above: Las Morismas de Bracho – Mexican Catholics having too much fun

It is public knowledge that in the town of Villar, now uninhabited, there lived a girl who had one body and two heads with complete faces, and that one spoke or sang and the other replied, and as proof of the truth of this they saw and it was public knowledge that in the chapel of Saint Dominic there was a statue of a body with two heads carved from wood, and it was there a remembrance of that remarkable phenomenon among other holy images of wood that about twenty years ago [from 1578] more or less, were taken out by permission of the Church, because it was indecent for it to be there, and afterwards the statue was lost.

-found in William Christian’s Local Religion in Sixteenth Century Spain

Is the Catholic Church finished?

Such was the question that a commenter echoed on Commonweal. In that thread, the answers from various commenters are quite informative. These people aren’t exactly the ones to give predetermined, curt answers.
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Oh no! A Chesterton post!

26 05 2010

image credit

Well, I haven’t read a lot of Chesterton. But sometimes I like to get my feet wet with his prose just to see what people are talking about. In this blog post, I found the following snippet:

He begins to realise that it is the secular world that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not a question between a dead language and a living language, in the sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating language.

This is from a “conservative Catholic” blog, but I relish the irony of a site that defends the current liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church rather innocently putting up an eloquent apologia for the Latin Mass all the while seeing nothing wrong with the Mass in the vulgar tongues. Chesterton is their prophet, sure, but he wasn’t right about everything.

That is sort of the attitude that many “conservative Catholics” have towards the generation of Anglophone Catholics who converted before the Second Vatican Council. There is a selective amnesia concerning what these figures actually stood for in the concrete, and their writings and personae are emptied of all things that contradict the policies of the powers-that-be. Apparently, Chesterton warmed up to the idea of worship in a “dead tongue”. The abandonment of this worship was one of the reasons Waugh nearly died in despair. One wonders what Hilaire Belloc would think of lay Eucharistic ministers… But no matter. Like all “modern Catholics”, we only use the past insofar as it conveniently reasserts the things that we deem important. All the things that contradict our current tastes we will chalk up to the multi-purpose deus ex machina: development.

On Chesterton’s thought itself, I am not one to sound the alarm on anything, but I find it at the very least thought-provoking. With Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, and other means of modern communication, it does seem that language is in a real sense changing. Perhaps it was never really alive in the first place, so the idea that it is dying can by no means be proven. Nevertheless, I still find a void in modern communication, a void that at least for me has been somewhat filled by my study of Latin as a youth. A dead language is a great anchor of perennial thought. And a changing language can never be a sacred one.

For Proclus, language is inherently theurgical, both because all forms of discourse are an extension of the divine names and because language reiterates the hierarchical nature of reality.

-Sara Rappe, Reading Neoplatonism p.192

Lost in translation – II

11 01 2010

Pierre Hadot loses his religion

At this point, it would probably not come as any surprise that my favorite philosopher in the last five hundred years is an apostate Catholic priest. Pierre Hadot was born in 1922 to a Catholic family and entered minor seminary in his early teens. He advanced rapidly in his studies, having been put through the typical regimen of scholastic philosophy and militant Counter-Reformation piety in style at the time. He was ordained in the midst of the Second World War at the age of 22. Unlike others from his generation, he did not leave the priesthood in the wake of Vatican II, but preceded the mass exodus of men from the priesthood by about fifteen years. He abandoned his priestly vows and ultimately the faith in 1950 to run off with a woman who he would divorce twelve years later. His reflections on his Catholic upbringing and formation are predictably mixed, but the few times he speaks of them in his latest book to be translated into English, The Present Alone is Our Happiness, they are very perceptive in reading the mood of the Church in Europe before the Council.
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