1 August 2015

Can we work a revolution?

Some years ago, a cousin who lived in another diocese called my mother on the phone.  She, the cousin, mom's niece, was in tears.  A new priest had been assigned to her parish, and he was destroying the church.  He removed all the statues that had been acquired over the course of  a century, save only the sacred heart statue, and that he whitewashed.  He whitewashed all the murals and frescoes, as well as the stations of the cross.  If the high altar still stood in the Sanctuary when he arrived, it was soon torn out.  Lastly, he removed all the pews, and replaced them with folding chairs.  If anyone on the parish council opposed these moves, they were replaced.  Mother listened patiently, and gently reminded her niece that, if it hurt her so badly seeing this done to her beloved parish, she could switch to another.  And so, she switched.  A few years later, mother received another tearful phone call:  That priest had been transferred to her new parish, and he was doing it again.

I thought of this the other day when I read Anthony Esolen's latest article over at Crisis magazine. The article is a clarion call for the lay people to roll up their sleeves and get to work at renewing the Church.  It is typical Esolen- powerfully written, passionate, strident, intelligent.  But I found myself pulled short with this paragraph:

Restore your parish church and bring reverence back to the liturgy.

Was your church denuded during the Decade that Taste Forgot? Bring art back in. Is there an ugly sculpture of Jesus the Helicopter, or a pseudo-primitive stained glass window of the Baptist dropping a rock on Jesus’ head? Replace them. Are you using hymnals filled with bad poetry expressing hippy-dippy theology to treacly or unsingable tunes? Why? If you know a little about sacred music, learn more. It’s never been easier to do that. Become more familiar with O Salutaris Hostia than with Table of Plenty. You don’t have to be allergic to the great Christian hymns arranged by Bach or written by the Wesleys. Accustom yourself to real poetry, to melodies that can be sung by a congregation, and to thoughtful meditation upon Scripture. Learn Gregorian chant. Will it take a while? It will take longer if you complain about how long it takes. Begin.

When I read this, I immediately thought of my cousin and that priest.  I also remembered how, back in the early eighties, my mother went to parish meetings about a renovation to my old church in order to unsuccessfully fight to keep the tabernacle at the centre of the sanctuary, only to be shouted down by a committee member she had never seen before or since, an expert from the archdiocese who answered her every point with a question:  "Don't you know what Vatican Two says?". I think of the recent case of the removal of icons, purchased at the cost of a hundred thousand dollars, being removed within weeks of the arrival of a new priest.  I think of how my old choir was stopped in its tracks by a new member of the parish council who, with the support of the priest, reduced our repertoire to a handful of hymns- her favourites, not ours.

There are a few cases where the people organized to stop the destruction of their church, but they are few and far between compared to those that went the other way.  Absolutely anything we and those who came before us do or have done can be torn apart by the priest for no other reason than because he feels like it.  They are under no obligation to listen to us.  That statue your grandparents donated?  It doesn't match his preferred colour scheme.  Gone.  The stained glass window raised in honour of the men of the parish who fought and died in the wars?  The priest prefers random tessellated colour patterns for stained glass windows. Besides, who wants to be reminded about war anyway? Gone.  The high altar, where the sacrifice of Calvary was re-enacted for a century?  Take a sledgehammer to it, and use the marble fragments as gravel for the parking lot.  Gone.  The organ is big and expensive and needs fifty grand in repairs.  Let's just use guitars.

And yet, for all this, Esolen is correct:  we must try.  But it will be even harder than Esolen seems to think.  It is always an uphill battle.  Everything you worked and strove for may be undone at the next personnel change.   The priest will always have the final word, and all our good work can be overturned with a snap of the fingers by the one whose help we most desperately need,  who is also the one who should be our strongest supporter, but is all too often our nemesis.

30 July 2015

Update on my Mother in Law

She is improving somewhat.  I'm not entirely sure what that means.  Thank you for your prayers.

In other news, I have some ideas for some posts, but I am busy with other things (like the above) right now.  Posting here will have to wait.

27 July 2015

Prayer request

Puff's mother is in the hospital with Kidney failure.  Please pray for her.

24 July 2015

Another reflection on facebook

My Lord, it's pointlessly boring.  I think I'll severely curtail my time on Facebook and do something more productive and intellectually stimulating, like slicing an apple in two and watching the separate halves turn brown.

15 July 2015

I got nothing

Still around, just feeling a trifle burned out at the moment.  I'll post sometime when I actually have something to say.

8 July 2015

Pope Emeritus Benedict: The truth of Christianity...

...is demonstrated in our music

Certainly, Western music goes beyond by far the religious and ecclesial ambit. And yet it finds its most profound origin, in any case, in the liturgy of the encounter with God. In Bach, for whom the glory of God represents ultimately the end of all music, this is altogether evident. The great and pure answer of Western music was developed in the encounter with that God that, in the liturgy, makes himself present to us in Christ Jesus. For me, that music is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity. Wherever such an answer is developed, there has been an encounter with truth, with the true Creator of the world. Therefore, great sacred music is a reality of theological rank and of permanent meaning for the faith of the whole of Christianity, even if it is not necessary that it be performed always and everywhere. On the other hand,  however, it is also clear that it cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be an altogether special way of participation in the sacred celebration, in the mystery of the faith

A while ago I spoke with a cousin who is a permanent deacon on the subject of how we are often told how most of our sacred music was never meant for the church.  He recalled how Haydn's twenty five minute Magnificat for Vespers could not possibly have had any liturgical use, as it was far too long,  to which he replied that with only twenty five minutes the celebrants would be hard pressed to finish in time.  At the time it was composed, the Magnificat was sung during the incensing of the altars- note the plural.  If you have seen churches in the old style, that haven't been renovated badly, you will see that they often have many side altars, all of which would need to be incensed.  Furthermore, the action for incensing the old altars was thoroughly prescribed and not to be rushed.  Twenty five minutes was not overlong for this process.  

The modern critics must imagine a conversation like this happening when Haydn presented his new piece:

Haydn: Your Eminence, I have just completed the new Magnificat you requested. 

Cardinal:  That is an awful lot of pages you are holding there.  How long is this piece?

Haydn:  Twenty five minutes, your eminence.

Cardinal:  Twenty five minutes?  What are we supposed to do for the extra twenty four minutes and thirty seconds?

When the conversation probably went more like this:

Haydn: Your Eminence, I have just completed the new Magnificat you requested.

Cardinal:  Excellent.  How long is it?

Haydn:  Twenty five minutes, your Eminence.

Cardinal:  Only twenty five minutes?  We'll be a bit rushed with that, don't you think?  

 There may be arguments about not using such music today.  There aren't enough qualified musicians and singers.  It is not suitable to our rites as they exist now.  I disagree with these arguments, to be sure, but at least there is some honesty to them.  However, to say that this music was never intended for liturgical use in the first place is either ignorance, or a lie.  They are either deceived, or deceiving. 

The old composers had faith, knew the liturgy for which they were composing, and they knew what they were doing.  It's our generation that doesn't know any of those things, and I am grateful to Benedict for reminding us.

4 July 2015

What is a right?

My title is a question I sometimes ask activists who get a little too demanding of me.  They want the right for this or that thing- which is really unimportant, everyone, it seems wants something, and they want it now.  I save my question for the more disagreeable sort, the kind that won't let one simply walk away, as though the fact that they wish to speak means that everyone else must listen.  But sooner or later, they must draw a breath, and then it is time to pounce.

"You want this right, do you? And you're sure? You've thought this through?  Very well then, I have only one question for you:

What is a 'right'?"

They often stare at me blankly, as though they had never heard such a stupid question. Doesn't everyone know what a right is?  Or perhaps, and I suspect this too is true, they have never given the matter a moment's thought.

Or sometimes they answer to the effect that a right is the ability to do something, and no one may tell you otherwise.  That would be the most common answer these days, but I still don't think they've given it a moments thought.  But, answer or no, I have never had cause to believe they have taken any real time consider the meaning of their most fundamental term.

I have pondered the matter occasionally, and my ideas are a little different from theirs, for when I look to the past to see what the concept of right meant back when the concept of rights was being formulates, I see that rights often comes hand in hand with duties.  The two were not inimical to each other then, as they are now, but rather two sides of the same coin.  The right to do something also carries with it the duty to do it well.  The right to free speech, for instance, carries with it the responsibility to speak truth.  We are not permitted to liable nor slander, nor lie under oath, nor may we yell 'Fire!' in a theatre where there is no fire.   Informally, we may tell a lie, but a known liar is never again trusted.  A right is a kind of power, and, as Spider-man is fond of telling us, with great power comes great responsibility.

These people I meet so often would have me believe that without a full and complete right, they are unfree, a veritable slave in chains. But this merely shows their folly.  The opposite of right is licence, or the capacity to act without the constraints of duty or obligation.  The true opposite of right, then, is exactly what they mean when they say 'right'. 

To be able to act without consequence is the province of a child, and a spoiled one at that.  They seem to desire that there be no consequences for their choices, no consequences for their actions.  They seem to desire to live a life of no consequence. This is not freedom, for a free man knows his freedom was not free, and, being the arbiter of his destiny, he bears its burden, and he must bear the cost of his mistakes.  But these do not seek responsibility: that they would place on another.  The ultimate freedom they desire is freedom from responsibility.  But this is the freedom of a master over a slave; it is not a freedom of a rule of law, but of the domination of Thrasymachus:  the strong will do as they will, and the weak will accept what they must.  I will do what I want. You will pay the price.

With responsibility it is possible to have civilization.  Without it, there is only the barbarism of anarchy, a Hobbesian war of every man against every man, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.  Too many rights, as these people seem to conceive them, and we shall all be ruined.