Friday, December 31, 2004

Christmas proclamation The twenty-fifth day of December, In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth; the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood; the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham; the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt; the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome; the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; in the sixth age of the world, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. Did your parish proclaim this? I always wanted to substitute the first line with: In the thirteen billion, three-hundred thirty-two million, nine-hundred forty-six thousand, eight-hundred, thirty-seventh year since the Big Bang, the four billion, five-hundred nineteen million, one-hundred sixty-six thousand, four-hundred, twenty-fifth year since the condensation of the Sun from the primoridal nebula, the four billion, four-hundred thirty-nine million, five-hundred eleven thousand, seventy-fourth year since the creation of the moon from impact, the sixty-two million, eight hundred sixty-nine thousand, seven hundred sixty-first year since the extinction of the dinosaurs, the three hundred ninety-two thousand, nine hundred fourth year since the control of fire, the eleven thousand, five hundred fifty-third year since the end of the Ice Age A little cosmological perspective, don't you think? Or perhaps not. The latest summary on the Cassini web page is here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/press-release-details.cfm?newsID=524, and it lists moon targets in 2005.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Titan pole flattening One of the latest postings on the Cassini-Huygens web site is this: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=1256. What causes the apparent flattening of the moon? Jupiter and Saturn have flattened globes, and noticeably so even in a backyard telescope. Saturn's polar diameter, in fact, is about 8000 miles less than through the equator, about 10%. These large planets have extremely rapid rotation rates; their "days" are about ten to eleven hours. Couple this with extremely deep atmospheres, and we get a mathematical model which favors pole flattening. Titan can have no such explanation; the assumption is that Saturn's gravity has tidally locked the rotation to correspond to the moon's orbit of the planet. Titan spins far more slowly than the giant planets rotate on their axes. I also think earth-based radar scans of Titan's surface have confirmed this. But I wonder if the atmosphere is affected by Saturn's gravity in the form of tides? Unlike the dual effect of moon and sun on the earth's oceans, Titan would have a bulge of gas and surface liquid always along an axis pointing toward the planet. The other nearby moons might also have an effect. The only way to confirm Saturn tides on Titan's atmosphere would be to image the moon from different Saturn-Titan perspectives. If Cassini were 90 degrees from Saturn from Titan's perspective, tidal flattening would be optimal. If Cassini imaged the moon while passing in front of Saturn, then tidal flattening would be less. I imagine there's mathematics that would predict tides, but that's beyond my ability.
Survey of religion on network TV Yesterday's Catholic News Service brief caught my attention, leading me here to look at the full report: http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/religionstudy/main.asp I thought that the darling of conservatives, Fox, would have done better than second-worst in the overall treatment of religion. Since I rarely watch commercial network television, this study is more of an interesting tidbit than a warning bell for my living room. First, I'm not surprised networks struggle to get it right. Their executives, writers, and producers are generally not religious people. Network people get science fiction wrong, even on the SciFi channel; so why would I expect they could get religion right? Second, the sad truth is that negative examples of anything get more press than positive ones. Negativity sells. I wonder how lawyers, doctors, soldiers, politicians, teachers, and parents rate on the networks? The survey would be more significant if it compared religious people with other categories. Then we could see if the networks paint other groups generally in a poor light, and where religion might stand in a continuum with other treatments. Along those same lines, drama will especially portray a specific character or set of characters negatively. It's part of good plotting. Also interesting would be to see how religion plays out in drama, sit-coms, reality, news, sports, and other categories. Maybe drama writers are falling over themselves to get their twist on clergy sex abuse on the tube. I admit indulging in religion jokes on occasion--what if the sit-coms are the top offenders. If so, does a joke or gag make it more palatable? I suppose the bottom line is that my family watches very little network tv. For our daughter, we set strict limits and supervise everything. When I catch a Law & Order episode in syndication, a portrayal of clergy as criminals doesn't affect my faith or regard of priests at all. I've known people on the abuse end and nothing I've seen on the tube -- even in Dick Wolf-dom -- quite matches the horror of the real thing. Go check out the survey and if you like, tell me what you think.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Ice Pirates bothering you? Send them here. http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=1242 I complained earlier about the ignorance of Hollywood science fiction writers. The whole driving premise of Star Trek: Voyager's pilot episode was that the bad guys wanted to steal water from the good guys. This led the captain to blow up their only way home, thus giving the premise for the series. Even before the scrutiny given the moons of Jupiter and Saturn by the Voyager probes in 1979-1981, we knew most of them were made mostly of ice. Even pre-space flight technology analyzing light and gravity gave us a clue from 800 million miles away. Since the 130-some planets we've discovered orbiting other stars are mostly Jupiter-sized, it's not a stretch to assume that planets of this size are fairly common in the universe. And where there are planets, there are probably moons. Enceladus is an interesting place. Compared to its larger sisters in the neighborhood, it doesn't seem to have as many craters. A Voyager pic is here: http://www.marssociety.pl/enceladus-saturn-1.jpg. Some of the craters near the day-night boundary seem to be filled with mounds. Then there's that swatch of territory that looks like a glacier. Then what about those straight-line cracks? What is all this? I'm curious to find out.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas marathon: I dropped out at the twenty-mile mark One reflection on Christmas is that I no longer have a child's stamina to go the distance. With Christmas falling on a Sunday next year, I have two years to build up to 2006, in which Christmas falls on a Monday, and we're treated to another marathon of liturgy. After 9AM Mass yesterday, it was clear my flu-addled head had had enough, so I went home, leaving the noon Mass and the 5PM visit by our bishops in the capable hands of our associate pastor, Fr Shawn. The best three singers in our ensemble were already home sick or away visiting, and it took me about half a first verse of "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" to find out what key I was supposed to play in. After Mass, a new parishioner asked me if I had the sound system on. No, I hadn't. I finally noticed after Communion that while the levels on the sub-mixer were all set just right, the on button was still off. That cued me in that it was probably time to go home and rest. Still, Christmas was fun, with a dash of aggravation. Children's choir did well despite my having to accompany and head-nod them. Our director had an illness in the family out-of-town, and my ace-in-the-hole substitute pianist (the end of a long list of calls I made the week before) turned out not to be available as she thought on Christmas Eve. Having an extra half-hour was helpful for the third Christmas Eve Mass (the first two are held simultaneously). We got through most of the prelude. The choir insisted we make room for my wife and I singing "In The Bleak Midwinter," which was dropped last year. Unfortunately, one choir member who left practice early, didn't read the outline and sang on verse 3. Oops. 8PM Christmas Eve was happily full. Midnight, which for the last three years has featured a pick-up group of singers and musicians whose motto could be described as, "Let's do the very best music with the minimum of rehearsal." The minimum of rehearsal bit always scares me, but the presentation at Mass has always been thrilling. One newcomer said he'd be happy to do that about once a month. So a seed has been planted. I have never liked Adam's "O Holy Night," but this group's performance of it has changed my mind. Mary's teen daughter Katie has matured into a dynamite singer--must be the confidence. Christmas Day was more lightly attended than in previous years. Our big choir does two Masses, the 8PM Eve and the 10AM morning with a concert 30 minutes before each liturgy. I felt badly we had about five people in the pews when they began on Christmas morning. Noon Mass was pretty full, though. My one complaint this year was our electronic carillon, or rather its programmer. First, a disclaimer: I abjure the practice of fake bells, and would prefer a real bell tower, if possible. We had the speakers and the various tower hardware overhauled the week before Christmas, and I had re-programmed the device for a variety of Christmas sets at various times before and in-between Masses this weekend. On my way up from the school at 2:45 on Friday, I noted the first program was underway as planned. Then I ran into our retired pastor after 3:30 Mass. He told me that "someone" had erased all of his Christmas programming, so he had to do the bells manually himself. Hmm. He left the thing on manual mode, which cancelled out the bell program before 6PM Mass. Since I had servers to brief and 8PM Mass to set up for, when I didn't scan the computer till mid-evening. Then I found that all of my programming had been erased. To top it off, our current priests were told if they needed a primer on how to run our bells, lights, and HVAC systems, just to call him. The new pastor and I had a good chuckle over it, but not everyone was happy. On one hand, I know the guys appreciated having a retired priest to come in and spell them for two of our thirteen Masses this weekend. On the other, I sure hope that when I retire I can just let go.
I have it on good authority ... Frequent guest Neil Dhingra contributes today's thoughtful post: There is a good deal of talk at St Blog's (and this blog) about what authority should look like. I'd like to share some insights from a talk by Peter McCarthy, OCSO, entitled "The Spirituality of the Superior: Standing in the Midst" (Cistercian Studies Quarterly 39.3 [2004]). When he first became abbot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Oregon, Dom McCarthy thought that the best symbol for his role would be the image of the Good Shepherd. But that harsh teacher, experience, has taught him that the abbot's role is instead to"serve the place of the Good Shepherd within the monastery ... [to] point to the place of the Presence by listening for the Word in the middle of his community." So, ten years later, the symbol he would now choose is the man with the withered hand from Luke 6.6-11. Jesus asks the man to do only two things: "Rise up, and stand forth in the midst" and "Stretch forth thy hand." This seems rather odd. But Dom McCarthy says that these two things are just what the monastic superior is called to do. He first must stand forth in the midst of his brethren. As St Bernard tells us, "Learn that you must be mothers to those in your care, not masters [domini]." Like Mary, the abbot must treasure what he hears and sees and ponder these things in his heart. In Dom McCarthy's words, "It is this willingness to ponder - to hold respectfully the tensions - that points to that place of Presence at the center of the community. It is good to reflect on the courage of the man with the withered hand, the courage to stand in the tensions within and around him." When he becomes aware of the fragility of his community, the abbot might be tempted to depend too much on himself and his own charisma. Thus, the Rule of St Benedict warns the abbot "to act with prudence and not go to extremes, lest, while he aimeth to remove the rust too thoroughly, the vessel be broken" and to also "always keep his own frailty in mind." The abbot might then be tempted to go too far in the other direction - to abandon any pretense to ministry altogether and depend on consensus. But St Benedict warns him to "always to remember what he is and what he is called." The abbot ultimately must do the second thing that Jesus asks of the man with the withered hand in Luke 6 -"Stretch forth thy hand." "This," counsels Dom McCarthy, "is neither the community vanishing under the abbot nor the abbot vanishing under the community but rather the abbot standing in the midst and stretching out his withered hand toward the place of Presence at the center of the community." A diocesan bishop is not exactly a Trappist abbot. But, that said: - Do the problems with authority in the contemporary Church really have to do with the size of dioceses, bitter polarizations, and other things that prevent bishops from "standing forth in the midst" and holding "in awareness the mystery and tensions within himself and the community"? - Can bishops, keeping their frailty in mind, stretch withered hands "towards the place of Presence at the center of the community," or do we unfortunately expect them to (if we are "conservative") always control the situation and already have all the answers, or (if we are "liberal") just vanish into the consensus of the community?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Merry Christmas to all Just finished up music rehearsal for Midnight Mass. I was looking forward to it all day. Children ready for 3:30 Christmas Eve. Tomorrow 6PM Christmas Eve music gets rehearsed. Of course, our big parish choir will concertize before and lead music at two of our eight Christmas Masses, then come back for their usual Sunday spot. Both bishops visit for the annual Serra Club Mass, which has been fused into our normal Sunday 5PM Mass. I get to play MC and tell servers where to go and what to do. Hard to say what state I'll be in at this weekend's Mass #13. (That's an ominous number, I've just noticed.) I'm taking a break from blogging for a few days, maybe a week. Looking forward to baking cookies with my daughter tomorrow afternoon. Looking forward to cuddling with my wife on the couch with only the Christmas tree lights on. Looking forward to making some great music with my friends and parishioners at Mass. Truly, it doesn't get any better than this. My wish for you readers out there is to take a deep breath, and enjoy the prayerful and merry spirit of these days. Receive the light of Christ ... Christ is the Morning Star, who, when the night of this world is past, gives to his saints the promise of the light of life, and opens everlasting day. Venerable Bede, 8th century

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bishops still struggle to find the best pro-life path Like Archbishop Chaput of Denver: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~53~2610084,00.html The hardened optimist would maintain ties, believing that despite distasteful honorees at the dinner, the role of the homilist at the Red Mass would be a substantial one for a persuasive pro-life message. Think about it: a bishop can make a mighty impact with a good homily, and the likelihood that a lawyer will use the thank-you speech at the dinner to pound the pro-choice platform is rather small. I think the archbishop loses the opportunity to be a thorn in the side of the pro-choice position. The problem with shaking the dust from your shoes is that once the drama has died down, your present influence in the group has terminated. Moral issues on the horizon yet to be decided: cloning, stem cell research, etc. have no voice bringing a needed theological perspective. "Chaput, in a response Friday that a guild member provided to The Denver Post, wrote that the tone of the guild toward the archdiocese over the past year "has not been promising."" This sounds to me like the archbishop is complaining about uppity lay people having a difference of opinion with him. If the best a bishop can do is a stump speech on abortion telling lay people, "Obey me," then I think our leadership is wanting. There's a time and place to sever ties and take a public stand. Unfortunately, the indignant sometimes use such opportunities to walk off in a pout instead of persisently and tenaciously engage the issue. I'd like to ask Archbishop Chaput: Has your decision here furthered the pro-life movement in any concrete way?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Catholic Pessimism vs Catholic Realistic Optimism My instincts tell me that optimism is part of a healthy life and optimism impacts us positively in the various realms: physical, emotional, and spiritual. While true that pollyanna people have a one-sided view of life, I think the same holds true for pessimists. Translating to Advent terms, some pollyannas were expecting the Messiah to come, kick butt, and restore the virtuous to prosperity. Maybe that was the plan liberal optimists had in mind. Win the War on Poverty, give equal rights, ensure everybody gets a fair piece of the pie, and heaven on earth is only a generation away. Church liberals too: let's just open up the windows, let in some fresh air, and everything will be smooth sailing for ever and ever. Pessimists might tell us the Messiah isn't coming. Pessimists would tell us a battle that can't be won isn't worth fighting. The poor we will always have with us, so why bother about the temporal? The same group will tell us Vatican II was a failure, and sometimes in so many words, suggest we just turn the clock back. SoDakMonk's recent essay here: http://sodakmonk.crimsonblog.com/archives20041201.html#93010 wasn't exactly dour, and it wasn't exactly congruent to my imaginary pessimist, but it underscores the blind spot in today's "orthodox" Catholicism. First, five points of the post-conciliar Church are laid out: 1. The priesthood is de-emphasized. 2. Celibacy is de-emphasized. 3. Sacrifice in general is de-emphasized. 4. Faith is seen primarily as providing people with comfort. 5. Popular models of spirituality are effeminate, that is, they lack appropriate masculinity. 1. I see people all over the ideological spectrum who still respect their priests and honor the notion of priesthood. That isn't to say there's not some erosion of emphasis. Some of it is the clergy's own doing, both individually, as in the case of molesters and bishops. Some is due to the loss of respect for authority in general, and would have happened if there wasn't a council. Some of it is due to chafing at the "lording over" clergy sometimes have practiced. Do leaders lead from pedestals? Do they lead by showing the way? Personally, I think the clergy are in trouble most of all because the nature of Holy Orders was never dealt with in depth by the council. But that's a topic for another post. 2. Sex is emphasized throughout the West, thanks to the 50's and 60's, but this is a development of culture, not council. 3. I'm not sure I can buy into the pessimism that sacrifice is passe for Catholics. I think the concept is worth prayer and discernment for individuals, parishes, and any religious community. Maybe people are still willing to make sacrifices, but they look for some assurance it will be a worthy effort. Parishes still build churches and schools, and there's no lack for money when a good plan comes forward and the people trust their leaders. Young people, as well as the V2 generation still spend a year or more of their lives doing mission work and serving the church and the poor. I distrust the sentiment that the notion of sacrifice has been lost. 4. Spiritual creature comforts? I guess I don't understand where the author is coming from. 5. Actually I think images of Jesus were more effeminate before Vatican II than after. The 12-Step Movement has probably influenced popular spirituality as much as any other recent development. And while some people are happy to hover on the fluffy fringes of AA and other groups, those who are really seeking healing and inspiration will eventually come face to face with the gritty reality of personal honesty. SoDakMonk continues: "My main point: when any Catholics, well-intentioned or not, express regret, anger or sorrow over the loss of their local parish, they should be reminded that we as Church have been working toward that goal for more than a generation. That may sound terrible but it is the truth. We reap what we sow." This conclusion doesn't ring true with me. It sounds like blaming, another modern Western culture hallmark. While true that local consequences happen when a parish remains stubborn about growth and reform, I cannot imagine that spirituality is to blame for the flight of Catholics to the suburbs. The institution of the Catholic parish remains very strong in North America. The various associations touted by neoconservative Catholics have about as much hope of taking root in the US as Liberation Theology does. I could see it in small groups on the fringes of Catholicism. But it won't ever be a mainstream development anytime soon. "Whatever real renewal is going on in the Church is taking place largely in the newer organizations and asociations that have arisen." SoDakMonk's last statement here misses the mark. I think renewal happens whenever Catholics are deeply intentional about living their faith. To a degree, we see it in the internet blogging community, which despite its tendency to self-immolate in bile, does have certain qualities of vitality. Intentional Catholicism is seen in some Tridentine Mass communities. I suspect communities that flourish do so not necessarily because of the fruits of the liturgy. The liturgy is a banner for people to rally around, bond with others, and explore a deeper spirituality. You see it in LifeTeen parishes, too. I saw much the same in my own parish in the 80's. A very liberal, and sometimes infuriating place, but undeniably touched by the Holy Spirit. I find an optimism spiked with a dose of realism is a most helpful outlook. When I was approached about six years ago by people who wanted to bring a St Joan of Arc/LifeTeen infusion to a parish Sunday night liturgy, I was deeply doubtful. But when you've got about a dozen people willing to invest time, prayer, and effort in liturgy (making sacrifices for it) you can't overlook the potential. The notion needed guidance, and I winced at some things that were suggested (and a few that were tried), but even though the experiment lasted only a year, it bore fruit I did not foresee. My optimism about the Holy Spirit working in people's lives let me consider an effort I would not have chosen to initiate. My realism allowed me to steer good developments into mainstream parish liturgy and help one or two good friends through their disappointment we didn't become St Joan's of Iowa. Pessimists will always attract a crowd. Sort of like slasher movies. But after time, the dire speeches grow wearisome. They do not reflect good leadership or sacrifice. In a twisted way, they appeal to the cheer other pessimists find when things go badly for others--the I-told-you-so crowd. And pessimism is ultimately a passive approach to life. The caricature of it would be a person who sits in a recliner, passes judgment on everything that skitters on the tv, rarely bothers to get involved because it won't do much good anyway. Optimists, though sometimes misguided, are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. With Christmas virtually upon us, it's important to remember that the time of Baby Jesus in the manger was long ago. Remember it, celebrate it, sure. But fifty other weeks of the liturgical year are devoted to furthering the Gospel. And I'd rather hang with optimists, however misguided we can be, than play it safe by condemning others' mistakes.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Camps of Sacred Architecture: there are more than you suspect About nine years ago, my parish was thickly engaged in planning a renovation for our 1945-built church. Some of the attraction of working there was the thought of finally getting a renovation right, instead of what I'd been stuck with in my last three parishes (namely poor lighting, a leaky roof or two, a sound system wired with domestic-grade stereo wiring, no pipe organs, mangled seating arrangements, to name a few). Under the tutelage of a wise pastor, I learned a lot from that process. I'd like to think I contributed a good bit and nudged the liturgical direction a bit more true. I'm still fascinated with the building and renovation process for a church. I'm hoping someday to work with one again. It occurred to me that those who paint the renovation scene in the Catholic Church today as being exclusively preservationist-traditionalists verses reformer-iconoclasts reveal their ignorance of architecture as much as their lack of a grasp of what goes on in the minds of the people of the average parish. I've found five main camps, and sometimes people aren't beyond pitching a tent in two or three. Stasis. These folks resist change at great cost. In my Iowa parish, for example, the imported Italian marble altar and altar rail was to be preserved at all costs. It didn't matter we discovered it was a 1/8 inch marble veneer glued to concrete cinder block. Ditto the gold grille work behind the altar ... which turned out to be a very cheap wood spray-painted shiny brown. The Stasis Camp, however, makes for a good corrective in a parish. Their instinct is that ritual sameness and tradition are important values to bring to the mix. Traditionalists yearn for the ideals of Tridentine worship, and the associated European architectural styles. I think they're on to something important: the atmosphere of reverence and mystery that good architectural form can bring to worship. These folks like to undo 60's and 70's renovations, many of which were poorly conceived. People-first folks bring the important sensibility that the human beings who worship God need more attention than the setting in which they worship. In the words of Bernard Huijbers, we're talking "walls and a roof shetering people." My friend Jean used to say that a church should look and feel empty and that the building itself is incomplete without the decoration of people in the pews. Some people in this camp are indeed iconoclasts of a sort, but I don't think they intend to be anti-Christian in doing so. Some people in this group are pragmatic and say that finery in buildings is better spent on the poor (or on the school, or even left in their pockets). Minimalists might be motivated by a monastic simplicity. They are less iconoclasts than seekers for God in a stripped down setting. The assumption is that the spiritual imagination of the people fill in the gaps. Maybe those ideals are too high for your average parish. Or maybe they can't afford ot choose not to afford finery. Artists seek the very best in quality and beauty. This camp will use a lot of natural wood and stone. They will probably avoid carpet and chintz. They will drive up the building budget, but you might often be glad they did. Artists have their own motivation for pipe organs and statuary which may not be traditional. I suspect that self-styled orthodox Catholics would place themselves in camps 2 and or 5, and perhaps 1 for those who might understand less of art and architecture. Reformers might align in camp 3 and in 4 or 5. Your average pew people might be in 1 and 4, perhaps 3, with a minority in 2 and 5. Any camp I've missed?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

In a space mood ... and why not? Tom Hanks' HBO Production From the Earth To The Moon has been on late night TNT the past two days ... er, mornings. Taped episodes and watched them while home sick with the flu earlier this week. Anita might have my shopping done, but I told her I wanted that on dvd if Santa could find it. Currently, the Cassini probe has completed a close fly-by of Titan and a more long range pass of Dione. See raw images here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/raw/index.cfm to get a sense of what comes back fresh from the spacecraft. All those color photos you've seen from this and other probes? They are created from a composite of images taken in different light: red, green, and blue. The Titan shots image various wavelengths outside the visible spectrum to allow the penetration of the thick atmosphere on this moon. I like the Dione images beamed back, even if they seem to have processing glitches. It could be the moon, except that the white streaks give you a hint of some sort of ice deposit. Not straight like ejecta streaks coming from the moon's newer craters, but perhaps something flowing from underground. The ground on Dione isn't rock, by the way; it's mostly ice. I had to laugh over that horrid movie The Ice Pirates. Premiere episode of Star Trek: Voyager, too. Their premises? Simply that the bad guys had to steal water to supply life to populated planets. Unfortuantely for the writers of these sad efforts, there is no water shortage in planetary systems. Want water? Go to the moons of the giant planets. No giant planets or they're too close to the sun? Just head out to the Oort Cloud, where you'll find enough comets to water anyone's whistle. (Though in space, nobody can hear you whistle.) Saturn's major moon is Titan, about as large as the planet Mercury. Atmosphere is about as thick or thicker than the Earth's, though it is nearly as impenetrable as Venus'. Though they share a common basic composition of ice, each of Saturn's mid-range moons has an identifiable quality: Mimas is known for it's "Death Star" crater, Enceladus for an ultra smooth surface and possible ice geysers, Dione for its wispy streaks, Rhea for a cratered surface like our moon's, Tethys, for a magnificent system of chasms, Iapetus for being dark as tar on one half and bright as snow on the other, Hyperion for being oblong, and Phoebe for orbiting Saturn in the opposite direction of the other moons. Check out the large moons here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/large-moons/index.cfm. If you're interested in the twentysome other bodies in orbit, lots of photos of those too on the "small moons" page.
Heard this illustrative story recently: Talking and hearing, but not understanding
Catholic school music teachers in my area are far chummier than I thought. They attend each other's Christmas programs. In fact, our teacher played at an event for a colleague at another school this year. This kind of cooperation is rarer among parish liturgists, although I'm sure the mutual regard and affection is the same on the church end of things. Anyway, a nearby conservative pastor expressed his extreme displeasure last year over the school Christmas program. The music teacher, whom I know, is an outstanding musician and teacher, but isn't a cradle Catholic. Knowing what the vogue of Christmas programs is like, I suspect the pastor found the pop style a bit off-putting. Maybe the dancing and acting, too. I can understand his sensibility, actually. I like very little of what passes for "inspirational" music for elementary kids, too, but that's beside the point. My point is that his comment last year was something along the lines of "Why can't you do something like Handel's Messiah?" Where do you think that comment got him? What do you think of when you hear the suggestion of doing The Messiah with children grades 3-5? The teacher in question decided that it was incredible to suggest elementary-aged kids could pull off such a thing. This year's Christmas event was done only for the school students, and was considerably trimmed back from the standing-room-only invite-the-parents spectacular. I suspect what this pastor was seeking was a children's program with these Messiah qualities: classical music, based on Scripture, without the flash of the Protestant-generated musical repertoire. I doubt he wanted to bring in Renee Fleming and company for a choral spectacular with the kids. (Though doubtless, I would have left my sick bed to see her in that!) He was simply unable to articulate what he wanted. Sadly, I suspect that my teacher friend misunderstood his intention. She thought he wanted an undoable classical event out of reach for the parish choir, much less the youngsters. I don't think he did. ... But I could be wrong; maybe he thinks the wonders of Handel can be mastered by eight and nine-year olds. I thought it illustrated how well-meaning Catholics deeply immersed in church life can arrive at total blockage of understanding without realizing it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Mass Under a Microscope: Gospel Acclamation Returning to IGRM 62: After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant indicated by the rubrics is sung, as required by the liturgical season. An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and professes their faith by means of the chant. It is sung by all while standing and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated if this is appropriate. The verse, however, is sung either by the choir or by the cantor. - The Alleluia is sung in every season other than Lent. The verses are taken from the Lectionary or the Graduale. - During Lent, in place of the Alleluia, the verse before the Gospel is sung, as indicated in the Lectionary. It is also permissible to sing another psalm or tract, as found in the Graduale. The alleluia "constitutes a rite or act in itself," is a pretty substantial thing to say for a piece of music. Especially a piece of music that is not traditionally included in the "classical" Mass setting. I had a friend who questioned the practice of "burying" the alleluia during Lent. It was like playacting, he said, to ignore we have no reason to sing "Praise God" before the Gospel. Additionally, he said we sing the same thing in English during Lent, but we sing a corrupted Hebrew/Latin blend other times. Not that he would have outright disobeyed and sung "alleluia" during Lent, but he did grumble about it. Me, I never saw the fuss. Just do what they tell me, right? I will say that one music director never permitted an "alleluia" to pass her lips during Lent. Hey, folks, let's hum along with the Dameans, "Sing Hmm-mmm-mm-mm, Sing Hmm-mmm-mm-mm, Sing Hmm-mmm-mm-mm to the Lord." I probably mentioned this before, but years ago, they asked me to do Evening Prayer at the cathedral for the Rite of Election. (It was 3PM in the afternoon, but hey ...) To my horror, I found Gelineau's Magnificat with Alleluia refrain printed in the w-aid. Oops. First Sunday of Lent; can't do that puppy. At least not the refrain. I had a very Middle Eastern arrangement of that setting for mountain dulcimer. It was fun, even though it was Lent. But I digress ... IGRM 63: When there is only one reading before the Gospel, - During a season when the Alleluia is to be said, either the Alleluia Psalm or the responsorial Psalm followed by the Alleluia with its verse may be used; - During the season when the Alleluia is not to be said, either the psalm and the verse before the Gospel or the psalm alone may be used; The Alleluia or verse before the Gospel may be omitted if they are not sung. Of course, we were told in the olden days we should omit it if not sung. Personally, I can think of nothing more dead than a listless repeating of alleluia after a presider. Minimum qualification for ordination should be the ability to sing one, just one alleluia. Verse optional. IGRM 64: The Sequence, which is optional except on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost Day, is sung before the Alleluia. The original draft was curious, placing the Sequence after the alleluia. Glad they got that cleared up.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Blogging, but not writing, ambivalence Believe it or not, about every one or two, I reconsider the effort of blogging. With the exception of the occasional friends who bother to act with civility, I have to admit it rates something akin to a mild addiction. I know in my head that I should stay away from it, but the thrill of trumping a woefully poor conservative argument or dropping some sarcasm seems so tempting. A better approach would be to write well here, rather than quickly or sloppily. And write about topics that really have meaning. Given the orthodontist's bill (I was a little taken aback that the copay was 61% of the bill, but on second thought, that's probably not surprising) looming on the financial horizon, writing profitably might be a good option, too. The Development Council produced a seven-minute video on the parish as part of this year's pledge drive. The Worship Team rather reamed the idea of taking an Advent Sunday for it. But it was well done, and our pastor gamely preached on both gospels last weekend, so if the drive proves successful (and with a new pastor and new energy on this Development Committee, it has a chance) maybe it will be for the best. I got to play technical backstop at six Masses this weekend, and fortunately, after a rough spot or two Saturday night, today saw no problems. Evening Prayer tonight, not really well attended, but I'm not bothered by that at the moment. It was nice to just be able to worship without juggling a half-dozen technical tasks I hope won't be needed in future efforts. I sold a small article on my first pitch to a magazine for which I'd never written. Anita saw the e-mail first and was excited about it. I was too. The germ of the idea was Liam's, so if you're in Kansas City sometime, buddy, the first round's on me. About three years ago while Anita was going crazy in small-town Iowa, I considered, then shelved some writing concepts. Maybe I need to go back to them. Braces in 2005; who knows what's on the horizon beyond? After a full, but fatiguing weekend at the parish, I feel more energetic for writing; less for blogging. I've been cutting back on my appearances elsewhere (even as some faithful bloggers have quit or gone on hiatus). It would be good to focus on this blog--most of the best bloggers write more or less exclusively for their home sites. Blogging will likely be a bit heavier here the coming week, lighter the next, of course. Stay awake ... even as I go happily to bed tonight.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The V2T scale My pastor shared this scale at a staff meeting a few weeks ago. It has stuck in my mind as something applicable not only to the state of volunteer involvement in my parish, but also the liturgy struggles of the Church, and the nature of priestly intercession. 1 The leader does everything 2 The leader does everything, the people watch 3 The leader does everything, the people help 4 The leader and people do things together 5 The people do things and the leader helps 6 The people do things and the leader watches 7 The people do everything Suppressing a chuckle at the thought of being stuck at stage one--honestly, I'd assess my parish as averaging out at about 3.2, my mind started applying this to liturgy. The Old Testament (some would say Tridentine) model of priesthood would understand that the priest exists to intercede properly to God on behalf of the people. A Vatican II Catholic might take Jesus seriously when he speaks to the woman at the well: But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24) Does this abrogate much or all of the notion of the Israelite priesthood? How much of the priesthood of all believers should or could be expressed by people's more active participation in liturgy? I submit that the Tridentine model of worship hovers around 1 (private Masses) and 2 (passive spectators at prayer). The Vatican II ideal would strive for 4, but the reality is that most parishes are stuck around 3. It's very hard to get off 3. But even if we did, is it just a recipe for disaster as things lurched into 5, 6, and 7? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Saturn, again Take a break from the liturgical battles and Christmas shopping to check out the Cassini-Huygens website at JPL: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm The December 3 photo of Prometheus interacting with one of Saturn's rings is marvelous.
The Mass Under A Microscope: Psalm In college, it was an unusual experience to sing the psalm, unlike my home parish in an urban neighborhood, which had psalmists at least as far back as 1972, when I began to notice such things. At the Newman Community, the pastor studied liturgy at Notre Dame for a few summers, and each Fall, the liturgy committee and three music groups were initiated into new developments. After I graduated and while I still worked for the University, we commenced an organized catechesis on the psalm. I was appointed to plan the workshop for the musicians, which involved bringing in the diocesan music director. The original thought was to have two psalms in our repertoire, a "happy" one and a "sad" one, but fortunately, we managed to convince the powers-that-be that seasonal psalms were a good way to go. Here's what the GIRM says in section 61: After the first reading comes the responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God. I've never liked or used the adjective "responsorial." Too many misconceptions remain about its purpose. It is integral to the Mass, and not a "response" to the first reading. The responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary. A surprising bit of leeway given here. It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people's response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist, or the cantor of the Psalm, sings the verses of the Psalm from the ambo or another suitable place. First choice ambo, second choice anywhere else that's "suitable." The entire congregation remains seated and listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through without a response. Sensible. The musical composition of the Psalm dictates how much of it the people will sing. Theoretically, chanting a psalm text antiphonally is an option, though I think variations from the routine might be more distracting than helpful. In order, however, that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more readily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the various seasons of the year or for the various categories of Saints. Our first option at Newman. Not a bad way to begin, presuming that the music ministry is putting great effort into making this one of the musical highlights of each liturgy. In my opinion, a parish can use this clause as a way to gradually build up repertoire until the psalm of the day can be well-presented each and every week. These may be used in place of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung. Great. Another priority listing ... If the Psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in such a way that it is particularly suited to fostering meditation on the word of God. i.e. not routinely ... In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: 1. ... either the proper 2. ... or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, as found either a. ... in the Roman Gradual b. ... or Simple Gradual c. ... or in another musical setting; 3. ... or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. Lots of fussing in ortho-Catholicism about psalm paraphrases. Is "Shepherd Me O God" a song or a psalm setting? Does it fall under the category of 1c (proper Psalm with another musical setting) or is it covered under the following: Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm. Liturgical law suggests that if the USCCB or diocesan bishop weighs in against particular styles or songs or settings, you have a case. Lacking a clear policy against, it could be argued that such psalm paraphrases (which would be necessary under the clause of "psalms arranged in metrical form," as listed above) are within the bounds of GIRM 61. Musicians should be critical of particular settings from the musical judgment. Once a parish is singing psalms well and has a more or less full repertoire, upgrading should be a consideration. Another rarely used option is to employ psalms at Communion time. That's a good place for cantors and choir to shine on verses, leaving the people their refrain. Assuming parishioners are well-prepared, there should be a minimum of confusion as psalmody is given a more rightful pride of place in parish music repertoire.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Is This Advent? That's what they tell me, anyway. Before our daughter came, Anita and I observed Advent a bit differently than we do now. The Rigid Liturgist now accedes to trimming the tree on December 17th. St Nicholas or Santa and whatever "third face" he has are just fine in our house. I must confess we haven't set up an Advent wreath. But on the other hand, I've still not given in to the dueling decorations on our street. Anita informed me that I will put up electric icicles; it's the least we can do to keep the neighbors from thinking we're pagans. I guess. One of those weekends at church. Ambulance call at 10:30 Mass. Musical misadventures at the two Masses I played at, some of which were courtesy of me. Advent has some of my fave hymn repertoire, but dusting these pieces off every eleven months has disadvantages. The school Masses look like O Come O Come Emmanuel plus business as usual. I sort of raised my eyebrow over that one, but given the way they asked me to play The Advent Song (tres largo) I can understand why they don't want to explore anymore. The parish's Stewardship Committee said the children's choir appearance during Fr John's "More Money" talk the week before Thanksgiving was "perfect," and was there any way they could sing again this weekend. (Forget Gaudete Sunday; it's pledge weekend.) RL has turned into a pup. "Sure they can sing," I said. A cynical parishioner mentioned they want those extra few families that only show up when their kids are doing something. I prefer to think of the confluence of opportunities: I can give my Ensemble the week off to polish up for Christmas repertoire; I can throw a catered brunch for the kids and their families (have to do that in the school auditorium--our parish hall is too small for 43 choristers, parents, and siblings); I can lubricate the management mechanisms in the parish for future liturgy. It's only two days before my choir director's big seasonal program. In short, when she shrugged and said she comes to Mass anyway, and it didn't matter if she sat with her family or directed a choir, I thought we had a slam dunk. Let's just hope we can avoid another 911 call this weekend. Last time the kids sang, we had a vomit deposit in row one just before the entrance song. Hopefully we've gotten the strange stuff out of our system. So in between special requests (Can you transpose "O Holy Night" for keyboard and voice into A?) and the usual crunch to line up some good musicians and singer for the rest of the month, (and not forget my Advent chops) liturgical ministers' schedules, and the like ... I think I'm ahead of the game just by having Anita's electric icicles in my den ready to go. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Mass Under A Microscope: the role of the choir

Here and on other blogs, I've gotten into vigorous discussions on the role of the choir at Mass. Here's what IGRM has to say in section 103:

Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, ensuring that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering the active participation of the faithful through the singing. What is said about the choir also applies, in accordance with the relevant norms, to other musicians, especially the organist.

The choir's main role is not to entertain, though it could do that within the bounds of liturgy. It is not to provide a spiritual atmosphere, though again it could do that. The liturgical role of the choir, according to the Roman Missal, is to sing well and to lead the active sung participation of the faithful. Any liturgical minister taking the place of a choir (a lone organist, a songleader, a cantor, a duet, or whomever) takes upon this role. Does this mean there is no place at Mass for the classical repertoire? Certainly not. Choral singing can assist in the unification and prayerful preparation before Mass. Its harmonies can add zest to hymn-singing. On occasion it may take upon itself the parts of the Mass which are proper to its role: the Gloria, psalmody, alleluia verse, the Credo, at Preparation of the Gifts, during or after communion, or even as exit music or a postlude. Nobody says the organist has to fill in all these spots. A well-prepared director leading a well-trained choir has ample opportunity to showcase musical/spiritual talent without horning in on the vitals of sung participation from the pew. Certainly good choirs should be providing their parishes with an opportunity to stretch and show off in concert. So please, hands off the exclusive work on the Sanctus, the Communion Song, and other places where leadership is called for: showing the people how it's done, not doing it for them.

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