Sunday, May 29, 2005
Work Versus No Work
Chet Raymo's Science Musings Blog
is a refreshing change from the ideological climate of St Blog's. But even there, I cannot help but draw parallels. Look at Raymo's brief essay on Ice and Fairies. I was struck by his conclusion:
"Science takes work. Intelligent design takes no work at all. Which may help account for its popularity."
The same seems to hold true at times with the ideological struggle between the loyal opposition and the GLB's and GLG's. Always entrusting one's decisions to superiors also takes no work at all. jcecil's
extended essays on women's ordination are a case in point. It takes work to wade through the various points on infallibility, the nature of man and woman, history, and other disciplines. Some people commit to such work and reach the same conclusions as before: pro or con. But some people are satisfied to say, "If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us," and move on to the next item on their to-do list.
Seems to me that like science, the worthy things in life should be worth working out.
My Problems With Apologetics
I feel like wading into some controversial territory tonight. We're heading to Omaha early tomorrow to visit the zoo, so have at it while I'm gone.
The dictionary defines the term as a "branch of theology dealing with the defense and proofs of Christianity." I've known people who have tried to "prove" their faith: Watchtower bearers, evangelicals in college, and now retrenchment Catholics. Being a rational, thinking, and scientific person, one might think I would have a similar approach to faith. But for some reason, I've never found reason to be a very attractive approach.
The pairing of the two ideas in Psalm 34:4-5 distills what has been the foundation of my faith experience:
Magnify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, who answered me, delivered me from all my fears.
For me, worship was the root of my Catholic Christian experience, and it remains the source to which I return when in need. When I was a young lad at my first Catholic Mass at my first week of Catholic school, it was the sound of the organ, the high-ceilinged architecture, the gathering of the entire student body, the proclamation and preaching of the Word: these things led me to my first inquiry in the faith to my friend Michael, "What's happening now?" "Communion." "Can anyone go?"
My first faith experience was that of worship: the arts of preaching and music combined with a sense of community, a sense of belonging. I needed no proof of Catholicism; I knew it in my bones, in the deepest part of my self. The response: to seek the Lord, who indeed answered me. Fearful that the direct approach to my Protestant parents might yield a firm no, I prayed for God to arrange events for me to become Catholic. And in my ten-year-old mind, that's exactly what happened when Father McCarthy called my mom one day, and I overheard her answer on the phone, "No, none of them have been baptized ... Let me see what Todd says."
Although I've enjoyed reading the Bible, taking classes in theology, and using my mind, these have always been secondary to the root impulse of faith in my life. One professor defined theology as "faith seeking understanding." And people who lean on the intellect too much strike me as redefining theology as "understanding seeking surety," leaving faith out of the picture, or reducing it to a supporting role.
This probably explains the personal appeal liturgy has had for me, over catechetics. (One ex-girlfriend thought I was wasting my time as a church musician; I'd make a far better theology professor.) I wouldn't presume my path to faith is the only path. But I can say that the liturgical path is a fruitful one, even for the person who prides himself or herself on the intellectual way.
Defense of the faith: that's something people believe we Catholics need. It seems like retrenchment is the circle-the-wagons approach to the world. Some Catholics even turn their love of apologetics against other Catholics. If such persons persist in "apologizing," I think it would be an abuse.
As I've said before, the plant does not prune itself. The vine does not pick up the cutting tools and determine which branches will stay and which will drop to the garden floor. The wheat does not rise up and operate the combine to get at the chaff. Likewise, it is unseemly, and uncatholic for some believers to assume the role of Christ and pronounce determinations certain people are not of the faith or that they should not be Catholic.
The determination of Christian or Catholic is based (even more perhaps than the Creed or baptism) on Psalm 34:4-5: Does the person engage in worship? Do they call on God? A person who does this frequently is more likely to be closer to God, but I would not discount the power of a single worship event to turn a stray back into the fold. That is why worship is so vital, and why high quality worship is the very best thing parishes can do to cast the net of evangelization wide. Personal, individual, petition prayer is rightly placed in the context of the community at its best: the community at worship.
These are the roots of my problems with Catholic apologists. It's more than the simple rejoinder: I love being a Catholic; why should I apologize for it? While I applaud the USCCB for noting the need for adult religious education, the most important thing bishops and educators can do is to turn their energies to getting people back to Sunday Mass. And for those of us who inhabit the liturgy: to make sure there's something worthwhile for them when they do come.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
The Lord's Prayer
from Neil Dhingra
Catholics believe that we can learn more about the Gospel by paying close attention to the lived experience of the Church, or, as one Orthodox theologian
has better put it, “the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” This means that we can deepen our praying of the Our Father by looking at the Lord’s Prayer in tradition. (I will be here indebted
to the Anglican bishop Kenneth W. Stevenson
.) Already by 1662, the Lutheran scholar and pastor Janis Reiters could publish a collection of translations of the Lord’s Prayer into no less than forty languages – Talmida
will be happy to note that his first text was in Hebrew, but Reiters included everything from Danish to Old Slavonic to Latin and Greek, before finally ending with Old Prussian.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. As you should know, we already read different versions of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew (6:9-13
) and Luke (11:24
) that show the different emphases of the two Gospels. The Matthean version seems to have become the more common – the late first/early second century Didache
includes a prayer very close to Matthew’s and this text became standard for Greek speaking churches. Some of my Catholic readers might have had the experience of praying the Lord’s Prayer with Protestants who immediately followed “deliver us from evil” with the doxology, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.” An early form of the doxology (without mention of the “kingdom”) is already in the Didache; the exact doxology appears in the late fourth century, only to eventually disappear in the West until the Reformation.
As you might expect, parts of the Lord’s Prayer prove to be a bit tricky to translate. What does one do with “ton epiousion arton”? Syriac liturgies will speak of the “bread of our need.” Latin liturgies will instead speak of “daily” (quotidianum) bread, which perhaps nicely holds together different possible meanings – “for today” as well as “for the coming day.” And what does one do with the claim that God can actually “lead us into temptation”? Syrian Christians use a version of the Lord’s Prayer that reads “don’t let us enter into temptation,” and Tertullian
used a version that read “do not suffer us to be led” (ne patiaris) into temptation, instead of the more active “do not bring us” (ne inferas) that would be preferred by St Augustine
. Later on, Henry VIII
insisted on “suffer us not to be led,” and Thomas Cranmer
had to dutifully wait until the “Supreme Head” of the Church of England died before putting “lead us not” into the Prayer Book
. Present-day scholars, I think, would tend to side more with the Syrians, Cyprian, and Henry VIII on this “temptation” question.
And from where do we get “trespasses”? William Tyndale
’s translation of 1534 spoke of “trespasses” and “them that trespass against,” and his language would be incorporated into the Prayer Book. Miles Coverdale
, in his 1536 version, went for the more pedestrian “debts” and “debtors.” Of course, I might also here note the rich tradition of intentional paraphrases of the Lord’s Prayer for private devotion. Here is St Francis
and John Wesley
, for instance.
One thing on which we would all agree concerning the Lord’s Prayer is that it should be, well, prayed. The Didache tells us to pray it three times daily. But it isn’t until the late fourth century that we can say that the Lord’s Prayer was being used in baptismal and Eucharistic liturgies. Then, the Antiochene Apostolic Constitutions
tells the newly-baptized Christian to recite the prayer upon coming from the font. This practice is also seen in Armenian and Syrian Orthodox rituals. Cranmer’s Prayer Book has the entire congregation reciting the Lord’s Prayer after a baptism. The Jesuit liturgist Robert Taft tells us that it was the sense of unworthiness that the reciter of the Lord’s Prayer has to face that initially warranted the Our Father’s introduction in Eucharistic liturgies. In the West, usually only the priest would recite it, and the Rule of St Benedict
has the monastic superior saying the prayer by himself at Lauds and Vespers. But across the Alps and throughout the East everyone would usually join in. The English Prayer Books used the Lord’s Prayer twice at the Eucharist – at the beginning, following medieval custom, and immediately after the sacrament, following the baptismal practice. The Anglicans were here unconsciously replicating the usage of the Assyro-Chaldean Liturgy, but the double-usage did not please the early Baptists, who kept Christ’s warning to “use not vain repetitions” very close to their hearts indeed. Today, the revised liturgies of Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and most Presbyterians all have a popular recitation of the Lord’s Prayer before communion. We might think about saying it, if only to ourselves, after communion as well.
Well, what are we praying for when we recite the Lord’s Prayer? St Augustine, following Cyprian, claimed that there were seven petitions – three heavenly (name, kingdom, and will), four earthly (bread, forgiveness, temptation, and deliverance). Eastern writers generally collapsed temptation and deliverance together, making a grand total of six petitions. John Calvin
also identified six petitions – the first three have to do with God’s glory, the last three are about what we need. In 1649, the Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor
wrote the world’s first (but certainly not last!) devotional life of Christ. Taylor also enumerated six petitions – in the first, the soul “puts on the affections of a child,” in the second “the duty of the subject,” then “the affection of a spouse,” “the affections of a poor and indigent beggar,” “a delinquent and penitent servant,” “a person in affliction and distress,” and “a person in affliction and danger,” respectively. Many commentators, including Taylor, suggested that “daily bread” included a desire for the Eucharist.
The main thing that historical exegetes, ranging from the Catholic Raymond Brown to the Lutheran Oscar Cullman, have more recently taught us is that the Lord’s Prayer has an eschatological
thrust. “Daily bread” is the bread of the Kingdom of God; “temptation” is the test we will all face on the Day of Judgment.
I really should let Bishop Stevenson have the last words – “The historian will enjoy looking afresh at the past in order to understand the Christian story in greater depth. But with this particular prayer, which Augustine once referred to as a sacramentum, fascinatingly rich as the tradition is manifestly shown to be, there is a wider ‘public’ life for the words that Jesus gives to the whole world; words that will continue to evoke new interpretations, new layers of textuality, and new patterns of devotion, in what Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury once described as ‘the great Christian centuries yet to come.’”
Friday, May 27, 2005
St Louis Jesuits, part 7
(Dealing with Loss)
two-part article on the St Louis Jesuits concluded with the news that after twenty years, a reunion is in the works. I'm cautious about such efforts. I've never found an appeal to go back, but Roc O'Connor's explanation seems on target, "We see it as an act of hope, to work together again. An act of reconciliation."
And Bob Dufford's as well:
Our music is integrating the sense of loss of where we once were, riding high on the tide. I knew it would end one day. But can I let go gracefully? Can I embrace my own death, my own loss of hair and nice waistline? Can I embrace the loss I feel in the changes in the liturgy of the church? And I say, it's O.K. for it to go. But is there still something the Father has to say to me?
I confess my own sympathy for the difficulty in letting go. On one hand, I've found it easy to move forward, leaving friends and family behind geographically in my wanderings these past seventeen years. Having my own family makes that much easier, but I still deal with concrete realities of loss, not just hair and waistline issues.
It seems the time I could pick up my daughter and carry her was all too short. I can sense the beginning of grasping harder for memories. Sometimes seconds or a few minutes will pass before I have the right word. Dufford is in a better place to be able to say that it's okay for it to go. Maybe I can say that about 90% of my life, but some things are still hard.
The solution? I can't say I have one. Maybe I need, like the Jesuits, to take it to Scripture and the liturgy. Like the line in the Merton prayer, "I have no idea where I am going," but the liturgy can't be too far wrong.
At Saturn: Things Worth Watching
For any science geeks out there, the Cassini web site
has a few new items worth checking out. Watch the movie of the small moon making waves in the rings if you haven't done so already. A "hot spot" on Titan is pondered. ("Hot" being relative; it would still chill your frosty beer mug quite effectively.) Is it a weather system? Is it molten water gushing from Titan's subsurface?
I'm suspicious of a weather system staying in one place for a long time; that only happened in fairy tales. There's speculation that a warm weather system is trapped by mountains, but there's a problem with that hypothesis. On other outer solar system moons with cryovulcanism (volcanic activity based on liquid water, not liquid rock) tides from other moons are most often responsible for producing the internal heat that leads to volcanos and geysers. (Triton, moon of Neptune, being one exception: it has black nitrogen geysers, but on a fairly small scale.) Titan is the only moon of substantial size in the Saturn system. It's one thing for a moon the size of a city to make ripples in rings: these moons within tens of miles of the scallopped waves they produce. Is Titan large enough to hold residual heat? Earth volcanoes are powered by radioactivity. (Did you know that?) Mars' volcanoes have nearly died out because the planet is only about one tenth the heft of earth. Titan, though big, has only a fraction of the bulk of Mars. What is its heat source?
Pretty pictures, too. Check out the various shots of Saturn and rings. The archives are full of them. Nice color reproductions here and there, too.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
St Louis Jesuits, part 6
(Words and Music)
In contemporary English-language liturgical music the direction toward Scripture was begun by the Jesuits. They never let up, and their standard has been adopted in whole or in part by just about everyone that came after them.
"For me," says Schutte, "it was the most natural place in the world to go. All our Jesuit prayer was built around Scripture. Take a couple of words, or take a line, imagine yourself in a passage-that’s where our own prayer was coming from."
Virgil Funk said of them, "They were the first to effectively link English liturgical texts based on the Bible with cultural music that worked in the American liturgical worshipping community."
(They) understood and capitalized on the musical traditions of the church. "Their work used chord progressions that resembled those in the commonly-used St. Gregory hymnal," notes Elaine Rendler, associate professor of music theory at George Mason University. "Consequently, their product sounded familiar to many Catholics."
Their music became popular without the workshop/concert/publicity machine of the 90's. It remains popular across all age groups. The best of their music adapts extremely well for many performance styles.
Put simply, they sounded Catholic, and did so in ways that remained compositionally interesting. Though originally only Foley had extensive training as a musician, all five resisted the banality of previous postconciliar work.
They were also concerned their music would be done well in parishes. They were the first to provide ample performance notes for amateur musicians. Their guitar charts were most helpful to guitarists trying to duplicate the musicianship of the recordings. As a learning guitarist in the early 80's, I applied everything I read in their notes to other songs.
This commentary also bears out the fact that good, if not great musicians, can also arise from non-schooled sources. The Beatles combined natural talent, hard work, and inquisitive and creative minds to be the primary pop music influence of a century. There's no reason to think that a parish can't also produce talented, hard-working, and creative musicians given the right environment of prayer and encouragement.
My fear is that we've lost some of that environment in today's Church.
There were three country churches in a small Texas town: Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic. Each church was overrun with pesky squirrels.
One day, the Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about the squirrels. After much prayer and consideration they determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn’t interfere with God’s divine will.
The Methodist group got together and decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creations. So, they humanely trapped the squirrels and set them free a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.
It was only the Catholics who were able to come up with the best and most effective solution: They baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the church. Now they see them only on Christmas and Easter.
Pointers for Pluckers
Guest John asks for some advice in the thread below. Knowing I have a small number of musician readers, I thought I'd make his request an open one. So feel free to add comments below.
The question is really two-fold: utilizing guitar and/or bass for performing music, and the appropriateness of said instruments for sacred music. First fold first:
I confess up front I am not a strummer. That is, I don't employ mindless strumming when I play guitar at liturgy. In a small ensemble, two guitars are enough. A third player could think about getting and learning to play bass. Actually, if a group doesn't have a bass player (either electric or stand-up bass viol) guitar player number two could be encouraged in that regard.
I use the organ as my model for building a proper guitar group or ensemble. Because the organ is a traditional instrument? Not really. Because the organ, when well played, serves as an ideal support for the singing voice. The bass or bass guitar serves the function of organ pedals, and a guitar group or ensemble without a bass (piano, or even the organ will do) is like the organist who plays only the manuals. By the way, many men feel uneasy singing with guitar groups, not because the music is pitched high (though that happens) but because without the lower register covered, they feel unsupported in their singing. Guys can hit those notes, but when they do they feel a bit naked.
The guitar is analogous to the manuals on the organ. It supports women's voices well, and adds percussion (whether strummed or picked). It even works as a second instrument with the organ. Assuming the acoustics and sound reinforcement are ideal, an organist can cut back or eliminate the 4' stops, and let the guitar cover that. The organist will play 8' and 2' on the manuals and assuming the musicianship is in place, you'll get a very nice effect, not unlike the baroque string orchestra with harpsichord. While the organ and guitar are not necessarily consonant in style, they provide contrast, which can be well done and provide good interest for the listener and those singing along.
I'm not a believer in altering repertoire to accommodate the guitar. A good guitarist will find much organ repertoire fits well with the instrument, hymns based on folk tunes come to mind. Guitar accompanies chant extremely well, when accompaniment is called for. Musicians need to take care that chording charts match the keyboard parts. Publishers seem to be lazy in producing arrangements that work both ways. (They should call me; I have about twenty in my office.)
Second point: appropriateness for worship. I'm obviously going to say, "Yes, of course they are." The understanding is that the musicians are skilled and versatile, able to accompany and complement singing, not just tag along for the ride or expect others to hold on. Good guitarists can also function to lead singing by the playing of appropriate cues, sort of like what the solo stops on an organ would provide: indicators that stand out from the body of music, telling people when to enter in on the refrain or verse.
That's about all I have at the moment. Any other suggestions?
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
St Louis Jesuits, part 5
(It's not about them)
Unlike today's market-driven liturgical music "stars," the St Louis Jesuits "were noted for their refusal to do large-scale staged performances." Commentary from the article continues:
"That was the difference between the Jesuits and earlier groups," says Gary Daigle, member of the fellow liturgical group the Dameans. "They didn’t do concerts. When they gathered people, they would do their evenings more like prayer services, hymns and carols."
Virgil Funk, NPM founder says, "They understood from the beginning that it was not about them."
Most composers find ministry roots in a parish or other worshipping community. A notable few do not. It shows. It is possible to write good music with Scriptural lyrics, but the same liturgical music will fall short of the ideal if it is not rooted in the prayer of the people. I just don't see how people can make travel and workshops the focus of their ministry. Maybe someone else has an idea.
The parish is a drag on one's ego, and that is reason enough to stay rooted. Working in a parish is like making a recording. All its faults--all your faults--are on display for all to see and deal with. Swooping in for a concert, a workshop, is easy work. It's like live music: only the grossest of errors will be focused on.
St Louis Jesuits, part 4
(The Timing's the Thing)
In 1973 timing called forth action. Many of the men involved were completing their studies and would soon move to new places and apostolic assignments. It was now or never.
The Jesuits' first compilation, Neither Silver Nor Gold, has the rough feel of something put together quickly. There are a lot of good moments on the recording. More than meets the ear. And maybe a few things to cringe at. But it's interesting to know the recording was conceived as an ending of the times in St Louis, a personal effort to leave people with the music of their days there, and not part of a publisher's marketing effort.
At Corpus Christi, we also had a substantial body of songs. We sifted through a few dozen pieces we had written and asked friends and staff members to whittle us down to about twelve to record. We approached the parish to finance it, with the promise to donate all proceeds to parish outreaches. It seemed like a good deal. We were confident we could recoup every penny put into the project and have thousands of dollars for the poor.
It was the same kind of thing for us in 1986 as it was for the Jesuits in '73. People were getting married and dropping from our group in ones and twos. New members were not quite making up for the losses. Some people were discerning other parish ministries, or leaving the parish altogether.
I was finishing up the last of my MA courses, and it was dawning on me that Rochester was not a good diocese for full-time liturgists. At Corpus Christi, our organist was not considered to be part of the staff; he was listed with the parish secretary. I began to sense my own time in Rochester was drawing to a close. We had reached our zenith in the summer of '86 at the NPM convention in Rochester, being selected the top ensemble of those who had submitted tapes. We played a few real folk songs with our mountain instruments, rocked the house in our live performance, and had a lot of fun.
After more than a year of arguments with parish staff and a few parishioners, the conversation over the album came down to this:
Us: Remember, 100% of the proceeds will go to the parish outreach programs. Every dime.
Them: Every dine? Really? Why didn't you tell us that before? Why are we even bothering to debate it? Let's do it.
By then, we had lost much of our energy. I was still writing songs by the bundle, but keeping the group together was proving impossible. The parish had one last musical push during my sojourn there: the centennary of the founding. We put together one all-parish music group. I still have a photo in my office of half the group, including one of my last times playing an electric guitar. Corpus Christi 1988, and less than two months later, I was in Illinois. Mike, my good friend and choir director and his wife had left the group and the parish. New leadership came forth, but nobody talked of recording the old Thursday group. The staff recorded a tape of homilies ... which I have somewhere around here ...
A few years later, the parish produced its own hymnal, and they asked if I would mind contributing some of my songs to it. I was promised payment, which I never received. Though there's a certain thrill seeing one's own music in a book, it was sort of a bittersweet moment. Back to ignoring copyright laws, I noted. The parish had come full circle, in a way, but the best musical moments for me were long in the past. I was writing new and better songs, but my friends were attached to my early efforts.
I grew in my appreciation for timing, both as a musical discipline and as a fact of life. As I raced through my twenties with all the arrogance and heady expectation of doing great things, I didn't reflect as often as I might on the friendships, the bonds, the prayer that I was part of. Today I look at things differently. Just about every weekend as I walk over to church, I think, "I'll never be quite in this place again. And in forty years, I'll look back on these days as a wonderful time, full of life and music. Will I look with regret, or will I remember a time in which I was grateful for God's good gifts?"
I still look forward to possible future collaboration with musicians, actors, directors. Collaboration is an underappreciated experience, one we church musicians should seek out more often than we do. More later ...
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Even More Liturgy
From Neil Dhingra
The principal architects of Sacrosanctum Concilium
(Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy) were Johannes Wagner, Aimé-Georges Martimort, and Pierre-Marie Gy. Père Gy
, a French Dominican who passed away in 2004, gave a rambling Père Marquette Lecture
in Theology at Marquette University on the Feast of the Presentation, 2003, on a topic that interests us all: “The Reception of Vatican II: Liturgical Reforms in the Life of the Church.” But, first, a humorous story.
When the question of Episcopal vestments was raised at the commission in charge of liturgical reform at Vatican II, a European archbishop, thought to be a well-known liturgist, argued that the vestments should remain “as they always were.” Nobody was willing to question him. Wishing to press his point, the archbishop then noticed that a Japanese bishop was seated opposite him and added, “Episcopal vestments for us are like the kimono is for you” (vestes episcoporum apud nos sunt sicut kimono apud vos). The Japanese bishop replied, “The kimono for us is like pajamas are for you” (Kimono apud nos est sicut pajama apud vos).
Anyway, Père Gy begins by noting the direct involvement of Pope Paul VI in the reform of the liturgy, especially regarding the question of the vernacular - of which the then-Cardinal Montini had spoken in favor at the very beginning of the Council. Paul VI was also careful to listen to minorities – Père Gy’s friend and fellow Dominican, Yves Congar, would remember how, when going to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope would bring along the main arguments offered by the minority to whatever conciliar document happened to be the most contentious at the time. Another humorous story. The cardinal and bishops of the liturgical commission accepted, for the Ritual of Marriage, the words, “I, N., take you, N., for my lawful wife (husband), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Paul VI asked whether it was right to say “for richer or poorer,” wondering, “If these words were adopted and then used in Calcutta, could they be understood to suggest that Christianity wants to make people poor?” Père Gy says, “I agreed that we could safely leave out these two words.”
Père Gy also helps us clarify the question of “active participation.” Before Vatican II, it was thought that the sole celebrant of the Mass or Divine Office was the presiding priest or bishop. This was understood according to Canon Law’s incorporation of the Roman notion of a public person – persona publica – who had the power to act in the name of the people, the populus. Furthermore, the first liturgist to apply the word “celebrant” in an exclusive sense to the priest was Lothario di Segni. And he just happened to become Pope Innocent III
(1198-1216). A bit later, “the chief novelty of the Tridentine Missal, according to (the great Austrian Jesuit liturgist) Jungmann, was the way in which it considered the private Mass as the fundamental form, the Grundtyp, of all eucharistic celebration.” In a recent article in America, Fr Keith Pecklers, SJ, writes that, “the priest had become such a predominant figure in the celebration of Mass that several bishops at the Council of Trent (1545-63) went on record with a startling proposal. Perhaps it would be better, they suggested, if the laity just stayed at home and let the priest say his Mass without the distraction of a congregation.” At least their proposal wasn’t adopted.
Vatican II restored the idea of the Ecclesia, or Christian community, as the integral subject of the liturgy. This restored the importance of the text of the Eucharistic Prayer, in which the grammatical subject has been in the plural - “we” instead of “I.” The new Roman Missal in 1975 consequently replaced the word “celebrans” (celebrant), with “sacerdos-celebrans” (priest-celebrant), a specification that emphasizes that the laity too are celebrating, “offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him” (SC 48).
Already, on the First Sunday of Lent, 1964, everywhere in Italy, this “sacerdos-celebrans” had turned to the congregation, and, instead of saying “Dominus vobiscum,” said, “Il Signore sia con voi.” The whole congregation then responded, “E con il tuo spirito.” The growing use of the vernacular - now far past the greeting - has led, Père Gy claims, to greater comprehension of the liturgy. In 1954, he had come to teach at the University of Notre Dame, and was told that American altar boys all thought that at the beginning of Mass, towards the end of the Confiteor, they were to say, “me a cowboy, me a cowboy, me a Mexican cowboy.” The use of the vernacular has even benefited those who can translate “Mea maxima culpa” – now, for instance, the congregation can understand the Communion antiphons.
The antiphon for the First Sunday of Easter, “Extend your hand and see the places of the nails” (Jn 20:25
), can now be heard at the same time as communicants open their hands for the Eucharist, an ancient practice formally approved in the United States in 1977. And, concerning the Divine Office
(the “Liturgy of the Hours”), Père Gy points out that in many religious orders, the tradition since the Middle Ages had been that the lay brothers recited the rosary during the choral office, because they did not know Latin. Now, says Père Gy, “the vernacular has opened to them a new and marvelous participation both in the liturgy and in the religious life of their order.”
Père Gy cautions us to remember that liturgical reform takes time. At the time of the Council of Trent, the faithful very rarely took communion at Mass. Pope Pius V’s liturgists realized that all post-communion prayers were in the plural and moved to restore communion at Mass for the faithful. The first implementation of the new rubric did not take place until the 18th century, and really had to be encouraged by Pope Benedict XIV. So, patience. Père Gy’s last words in the lecture are, “If we look back to the last half century of the Church’s liturgical life in our various countries, could we not say that, in spite of a few divergences and the lack of sufficient time needed to understand the liturgical reform deeply enough, the main effect of Vatican II on our spiritual life has been our experience of a deeper participation in the liturgy?”
Well, could we?
St Louis Jesuits, part 3
Foley had grown tired of being the point man for Jesuit liturgy: "I was the only one doing it. I had to play all the Masses, and it was too much."
Know the feeling. Though I never thought I'd see the day. By 1988, I packed up my belongings into my new car, and left for the Chicago suburbs. After playing a few Masses a week for seven years, I was ready to work in my new parish. There I was playing even more, putting my piano skills to the test in groups that had guitar players, putting guitar skills to work in groups that had pianists. I played pretty much every parish Sunday Mass, school Mass, baptism, RE liturgy for three years. And unlike back in Rochester, I didn't find the togetherness I had cherished in my home parish. I was in charge. The point man, as Foley found out. I was ready for stepping back, and finally by 1993, it was time to step back almost entirely from liturgical music. When Anita and I moved to Iowa in 1995, I was ready to return, but not every Mass, every week. Since then, I've found a good balance. Though I have yet to uncover a songwriter or two to work with reguilarly, having the occasional great musician and the many enthusiastic ones makes it worthwhile. So I read with interest the Jesuit story from the early 70's. Foley and Dufford had dropped their music involvement, but something else was cooking at St Louis University.
The Masses there were well known for their great preaching. Now Schutte, Manion, O'Connor and others were organizing, playing and writing music for them as well. The combination began to draw attention, and crowds. "On a Sunday, we would totally fill the church," remembers Schutte. "They'd be spilling into the side chapels along the back and up into the choir loft.... My last two years there we had to give out tickets for the Easter triduum, because the fire department was upset and had put limits on how many people we could have in there."
The elder SLJ's noticed. How could one not notice? That would be the dream of any serious Catholic liturgist: drawing people by the fistfuls for good preaching and music.
By the time I had joined Corpus Christi Parish in 1982, they had held a Thursday Night Mass for several years. Like the group in St Louis, good preaching and music was drawing people to worship on a weeknight. Though I found externals off-putting: altar rail, high altar + reredo, chintzy orange carpet, and even the more than occasional inattention to prayer and liturgy (these people were still copying songs without copyright permission, for heaven's sake), the sense of being part of something far greater was more than enough to compensate for the idiosyncrasies.
And like the early Jesuits, a number of us found inspiration not only in prayer and the Church's liturgy, but also in our mutual efforts and writing music. Soon, it seemed, everybody was writing music.
Those experiences, and this story from America
as well, convince me there are certain elements necessary for a lively parish and music ministry. First what doesn't work (at least not by itself): ideology, architecture, hymnals, overproduction. What is essential is what Catholics have been asking for for decades:
1. Good preaching
2. Good music
3. Intentional faith
Add to this mix, a sense of prayer, both personal and communal. If the people involved have a sense that great things can happen with human openness and God's grace, the die is cast. After seventeen years in professional liturgical ministry, I have yet to see it in any parish I've worked for. Sure, we've had moments of light and grace. I'm sad that efforts like the one in St Louis are no longer happening ... or seem to be happening. Lee's comment in the thread below is telling, and I've come to sense that professionalism might not be part of the essential mix of great parishes. More to come ...
St Louis Jesuits, part 2
(There Goes the Neighborhood)
Bob Dufford described his exposure to and his love for musical theatre and the classics. The America story continues:
One day, another Jesuit arrived at rehearsal with an original song and a guitar. Seeing that guitar, Dufford thought, "There goes the neighborhood." That Jesuit was John Foley.
Foley, as it turns out, studied piano since age five, but when he entered the Jesuit novitiate, his superiors rarely gave him permission to practice. So he asked some seminary chums to show him around the guitar.
The move would be providential, as the council soon after opened the door to the use of new instruments, including the guitar, in the liturgy.
Imagine! If the Jesuits had let him practice on that piano, the whole course of American liturgical music may have changed. There might be no "For You Are My God," no "Cry of the Poor," none of that. Once they started singing, Dufford was surprised to find he appreciated Foley’s song. "You played through it and you sang it, and I thought, ‘This is not what I was expecting.’" Inspired, he began to write music of his own.
In my own life, when I was exposed to other songwriters, I was inspired to see what I could do. At the Newman Community as an undergrad, I was impressed with the music the Saturday night group was doing. Mind you, I avoided the folk Masses of my home parish; I didn't really care for Mudd, Wise, or Repp. But the St Louis Jesuit songs were something else entirely. First, I noticed these songs were scriptural. I was able to immediately pick out Psalm 139 in "You Are Near" and Abraham's call in "Yahweh, the Faithful One." The group had two clarinets and a flute, and occasionally the director was able to talk his girlfriend into playing recorder or bassoon. Not only was I hearing liturgical music a few notches up from home, but I was hearing it led by good guitar players, competent singers, and orchestral instruments. By the time I was drifting from Newman to my new parish, I had begun writing songs. And by 1983, I was adding parts for clarinets and flutes, just in case I ever joined a group with wind players.
On a trip to a Jesuit novitiate, on which he met Dan Schutte, Dufford was shocked; they were playing his songs and the songs of Foley. He had no idea that their compositions had been circulating. In fact, their music was stimulating the compositions of the novices.
Schutte remembers, "Their stuff was singable and scriptural and it reached your heart in way that was more than the sentimental group stuff that was being produced."
As I was reading the story of this meeting, I realized what a great disadvantage parish music directors today are in. Composition blossomed during the post-conciliar years because it was more of a shared effort amongst like-minded musicians trying to give vernacular liturgy a voice. The simple songs of the mimeographed 60's were giving way to more refinement, more prayer, more skill. And people were working together to produce this music. How many people do you know who were inspired to start a music publishing company by the good example of the novice down the hall? As a portable and intimate instrument, the guitar had a natural advantage, even when the novice masters were locking the practice room. It was almost inevitable that the guitar would come to prominence as the new liturgical instrument. And the reality is, many guitar players got damn good at music. In not a few places, they surpassed the musicianship of parish organists, especially those pianists pressed into service to "help out Father" for a dozen or two Masses a week.
St Louis Jesuits, part 1
A friend sent me the America
two-part article (May 23rd and 30th editions of the magazine, 192:18-19) on the St Louis Jesuits. I'd consider it a great and informative read for anyone interested in liturgical music. Over the next several days, I will excerpt brief portions of the piece by Jim McDermott SJ, and overlay some of my own history in liturgical music.
"As a young man, John Foley once had the chance to ask Jackie Gleason’s arranger how to compose songs. The arranger replied: 'You want to learn how to write songs? Write 100 of them. Write 100 of them and don’t look back. When you find out what’s wrong with the one you just wrote, correct it in the next one.'"
This was my philosophy as a musician, songwriter, and composer, though I never spoke with Gleason's arranger or John Foley. I wrote about two hundred songs between 1982 and 1988. During that time I drifted from choices working for a university in development or alumni affairs (closed door) to church ministry. It was during these years I became a very good guitarist, took voice and piano lessons, and took very opportunity to immerse myself in music. In a way, I was making up for lost time: the lost childhood during which I very much wanted to learn the piano and write music. (I have about ten or fifteen things I wrote for the three-octave push-button chord organ my parents gave me for my birthday one year.)
When I spent a few summers at the Rensselaer Program for Church Music and Liturgy, my composition mentors wanted me to rewrite my songs. I demurred. I wasn't interested in covering old territory; I wanted to put to use what I'd learned in new songs. Many songs I wrote were born of my personal prayer life: the psalms and texts from the Liturgy of the Hours. I experimented a lot with other people's words, with putting my words to existing music I found in the Sacred Harp. I brought about a third of my songs to my friend Mike, who was my choir director. In turn, he rejected about three-quarters of what I brought to him. At times, I was a little miffed, but I knew that only my best songs were being taught and sung at the parish.
Since 1988, I can say I've written scarcely a hundred pieces of liturgical music. Rarely, I'll pull out a psalm for Sunday liturgy. People who come to Evening Prayer at my parish might hear a few more things. Looking back, I'm glad I took the Foley path: write tons of songs and don't look back. I miss having people to strain through my weaker pieces: as a music director I find my parish associates are both less critical and more fawning of what I write. Collaboration is an important factor, but that gets covered later in this series.
Looking to the East
from Neil Dhingra
In my previous posts on the liturgy, we looked at Fr Keith Pecklers’ claim that at the very center of Sacrosanctum Concilium
(Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) “was one fundamental principle: full, conscious, and active liturgical participation for the whole mystical body of Christ.” We also explored Pope Benedict XVI’s critique of much modern liturgy – that its subject has become “neither God nor Christ, but the ‘we’ of the ones celebrating.” Well, it would seem that an important question would be: How can we encourage “liturgical participation” - including the participation of minorities and those whom Fr Pecklers calls “the great unwashed, those beyond the pale” – without losing Pope Benedict’s cosmic vision of “God’s going and drawing all back to himself” and “reverential silence”? Can it be done?
Perhaps we can look to the East. At his opening address at the third Orthodox Congress of Belgium, held in the October of 2000, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia
began with reverence. The Eucharist, he said, is a “mystery beyond our understanding.” He quoted the Liturgy of St James
: “Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling.” But then Bishop Kallistos said, “Without direct participation in the Eucharistic mystery, without personal involvement, without active experience, all our words about the sacrament are empty and useless. St Philaret of Moscow affirmed that the creed is only ours in so far as we live it. So too with the Eucharist: it has to be lived – directly, communally, personally, practically.”
And, yes, this participation must be communal. “At the Divine Liturgy
there are only active participants, and there are no passive spectators.” And, if the Divine Liturgy is to express the true character of our personhood, it needs to be interpersonal - we should express ourselves in the Liturgy as persons-in-relation fashioned in the Trinitarian image. So, Bishop Kallistos suggests that, at the recitation of the Creed, the Orthodox replace “I believe” with the more ancient form “We believe.” He points to the threefold exchange of mutual pardon during the Liturgy, when the priest bows to the people and they return his bow at the very beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, before the Great Entrance, and before the priest takes communion. He says that without such an exchange of forgiveness, there could be no Eucharist. “The priest needs the people’s forgiveness, and they need his; neither can act without the other.”
Bishop Kallistos then tells us to read the words of St John Chrysostom
: “Everything in the Eucharistic thanksgiving is shared in common. For the priest does not offer thanksgiving alone, but the whole people give thanks with him.” The Bishop says that “it might be said that the celebrant, as it were, asks permission from the laity before he begins to recite the anaphora
, and until this permission has been given – ‘It is meet and right’ – he cannot proceed.” The whole congregation should sing, the whole congregation should exchange the kiss of peace, and, Bishop Kallistos suggests, the whole congregation should repeat the threefold ‘Amen’ at the conclusion of the epiclesis
We are reminded that the Eucharist is meant to be “heaven on earth” (Catholics might want to reread Orientale Lumen
, 11). St Germanos of Constantinople, after all, began his Commentary on the Divine Liturgy by writing, “The church is an earthly heaven, in which the heavenly God dwells and moves.” But we are “taken up” with the whole Church – “through the icons
the members of the Church in heaven become active participants in our earthly worship, while the walls of the church building open out into eternity.” And on the drum of the dome in a Byzantine church, one can often see a representation of the Great Entrance, but if you look closer, all of the figures – deacon, priest, subdeacon, bishop – are angels. As we affirm in the the presanctified Liturgy, “Now the powers of heaven worship with us invisibly.” And collectively, you might add.
We can also sustain a communal and reverential Liturgy if we remember three things. First, “the true celebrant at every Eucharist is always Christ the invisible priest; we, the clergy and the people, are no more than concelebrants with him.” The real celebrant is not a priest whose “power” can somehow be disconnected, conceptually or otherwise, from the rest of the Body of Christ. Second, the Eucharist is a communion in Christ, but also a communion in the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:13
), and, since the Spirit makes Christ’s presence a living and continuing reality in the Church (Jn 16:13-14
), we cannot separate the Eucharist from our more everyday actions that must build up the Church. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:7
). Third, we must remember that the liturgy looks outwards – it is celebrated for the “life of the world.” Thus, there is, as St John Chrysostom says, a “second altar” in the marketplace, streets, and alleys. Chrysostom says, “Wherever you see someone who is destitute and in need, think that you are looking upon an altar.”
Why do we have such trouble reconciling participation with reverence? Perhaps we have forgotten that “everything in the Eucharistic thanksgiving is shared in common” and exchanged such a vision for clericalism, replaced our icons with less meaningful statues and paintings, neglected thinking about the “communion in the Holy Spirit” because of concerns about the other Real Presence, and dismissed the “second altar” as strangely unrelated to our personal salvation. And so on. So participation and reverence always seem to come now at the expense of one another.
Do you think that we can celebrate Liturgies that avoid what Benedict XVI has called “autocelebration” while still honoring the “fundamental principle” of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “full, conscious, and active liturgical participation for the whole mystical body of Christ”? I’d love to know.
Monday, May 23, 2005
Offertory versus Preparation
This could headline a celebrity liturgical smackdown. It's not that big a deal to me: the tussle over calling the post-intercession liturgical action "Offertory" or "Preparation of the Altar and Gifts."
What used to be called "Offertory" now has more things going on that just the people offering their gifts to God. The servers, deacon, or priest are also preparing the altar for the Eucharist. In my parish, chalices are placed on the side, the Sacramentary is brought to the middle, and the priest chalice and purificator are placed in between. After the bread and wine are received, they are also put on the altar. So a bit more is going on than just the "Offertory." But if a cantor announces "Offertory Song," I don't go into a hissy over it.
"Offertory" is also passe in some circles where pastors and liturgists want to be sure people know the main offering takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer. Setting up the altar just right is important, but it's only a preparation for more important rituals to come.
The closest parallel I can think of is from football. When a quarterback is trying to complete a pass, more is going on than his physical act of throwing the ball far enough for the other player to catch it. A pass play is much more than one guy throwing. A receiver is running a pattern, avoiding coverage, trying to get open. The line is blocking the pass rush from the other team. Other receivers are trying to deceive the defense. So yes, you can say it's about the guy throwing, but that would not be the whole story. And if you watch tv football, the announcers are wise enough to inform you of other things going on.
Similar would be referring to the part of the Mass as the "Lamb of God" or "Agnus Dei." Strictly speaking, either term refers to the music. Inclusive of the presider's action of breaking the bread is the "Fraction Rite." In most parishes, that includes a) The last few (or not so few) greetings of peace, b) the music, c) the priest breaking the large host, and d) the Eucharistic Ministers getting ready for service. When someone says, "At the Lamb of God ..." we know what they mean. But if this were a test for a nitpicky teacher who took off for spelling, expect to be marked off a sliver if you talk of "Offertory" or the "Lamb of God" and aren't specific about what else is going on at Mass.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
1 - Total number of books I've owned
Probably about 3,000, about half of which are still with me.
2 - Last book(s) I bought
Australia, a book of photo essays on the wildlife, geology, and oceans of that country.
3 - Last book I read
Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle by David Tripp. Probably the best book ever written about a single coin. It reads like fiction, but is a gripping and real life account of ... well ... gold, greed, and mystery. Like the title says.
4 - Five books that mean a lot to me
The Bible (unless you insist on a single book therein, then it would be the Psalms), The Joy of Cooking (I have other cookbooks, but I return to this one most often), The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen (great book for a great retreat), Logical Chess, Move By Move by Irving Chernev (not the most advanced book, and not my favorite chess book, but it taught me how to think at the chessboard and took me from being a casual player into tournament competition), the manual from our Marriage Encounter.
5 - Tag 5 people and have them do this on their blog
One is enough. Lee at From the Back Pew.
It's only black and white, but I like it, like it, yes I do.
cast shadows on the planet. The Cassini spacecraft has turned its primary attention away from moons for a few months. Cassini is now in a stage of its mission to study and examine the beautiful rings, which the earthbound can see in strong binoculars or a backyard telescope.
Almost daily now, the Cassini web site offers new photos of rings. It boggles the mind to consider they stretch over 200,000 miles from end to end, but are only as thick as a two-story house. In other words, if the rings were as thick as a piece of paper, they would form a big round "O" over a mile from end to end.
On metaphors, junk, the challenge to parish musicians, etc.
Commenter Susan takes up a challenge in the thread below.
I don't want to be told in a hymn, for example, that "all are welcome, all are welcome here."
However good or poor the lyrics may be, as lyrics they include the use of metaphor and are not intended to concretely cover every potential circumstance. The murderer is at the door intending to do harm. No sensible person welcomes that person in. Does the song need to cover that exigency? I don't think so.
At every Mass we pray, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy ..." We're not praying to a fluffy barnyard animal, we're using a metaphor to get underneath the surface meaning of the words to express a complex and profound reality (sacrifice, intercession, mercy, salvation, union, peace, etc.) that would take a few paragraphs (or more) to explain literally.
"All Are Welcome" speaks of "end(ing) divisions," and by singing it, one presumes the people mean to work against the more usual divisions in a parish: the school parents vs the empty nesters, blue collar vs white collar, stay-at-home moms vs employed moms, Anglo vs Spanish, the cool vs the geeks, etc.. Not murderers and victims. Even if an individual isn't singing it, the parish as a whole is praying and singing it, and even the silent ones have been coopted into the challenge: believe and act on what they are singing or not.
A side note: This song is criticized for being too horizontal, when in fact "God" references balance "us" or "we" eleven to seven. And five of those seven "usses" are the set-up for each verse. The song's not my favorite, and I probably wouldn't teach it to a parish that didn't know it, but there's nothing particularly problematic about it either, theologically speaking.
Another side note: many people find they "cannot" sing, for whatever reason. That does not abrogate the person in question from opening up the hymnal and praying the words. The point is not to sing and mean everything literally; the point is to unify the assembly with the intent to celebrate the Eucharist. Not being able or not wanting to sing does not excuse anyone at Mass from making the effort to pray.
Also, though I cannot play music myself, I know drippy tunes when I hear them.
Yes. Sometimes it's the tune. Often it's the arrangement or the way less skilled musicians play them. I recognize this is partly a repertoire issue, but it's also a skill issue.
You know good music from bad. Don't give us junk, even if you think we'll like it. We're a lot shrewder than you think.
Fair enough. Church musicians, are you listening?
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Discussed a bit in the St Blog's Choir Loft this week, this quote from speroforum
"One really easy way to stick your hand into the hornet’s nest is to say something like,'We need to get back to real music in the Church and get rid of this folk stuff.'"
And besides saying, "Well, yeah," I have a few other thoughts:
If you still think contemporary liturgical music is "folk stuff," you don't really know your music as well as you should. Educated musicians should know the definition of folk music, and what major liturgical publishers are putting out these days is not it.
On the Sacred Music website, this report:
"All who love true liturgy and its musica sacra were filled with joyful hope at the election of Pope Benedict XVI. As we followed the television broadcast of the Mass for the inauguration of his pastoral ministry, we were deeply moved by the Holy Father's celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, and his sermon. But as the Mass continued, we were increasingly disappointed by its musical features."
It wasn't "folk music," but by all reports, the commentator thought it far inferior to the kind of music he or she could produce. Which leads me to my point today.
Good musicians are very picky about their art. They should be. When I listen to jazz, I'm generally pleased with what I hear. When I listen to popular music, I find more to criticize: the lyrics and arrangements mostly. On the rare occasion I attend Mass outside my parish, I try to take off my critic's hat and pray. But I have definite ideas about what other people could have done better. I tend to be more gentle on this point. I have colleagues who know they could do a better job than anyone else, and they're not afraid to tell you so.
Many St Bloggers complain and whine about church music, but only one regularly posts what happens each Sunday, and I'm not even sure he actually has programmed or played the music. We church musicians all know colleagues who might turn up their noses at some of our liturgical repertoire. It's all well and good to complain about the state of liturgical music, but the tenor of complaint works against any attempts at positive examples.
So pardon my suspicion of the glee over the coming liturgical housecleaning from Benedict XVI. There are reasons why it won't happen and the onus will remain where it should: with the parish musician. This is not about adherence to the Church's treasure of plainsong. Often it's a matter of taste. More often it's about good music in the eyes of the critic. Many weaker musicians honestly believe they offer good music for the Sunday liturgy. Many parishioners agree. One of two things might be going on here: either the music might be pretty decent or it's not. In either case, good examples reinforced over years, if not decades, might eventually turn the tide. What kind of good examples? Glad you asked:
1. Recordings of good parish choirs singing good music. This would be a diocesan responsibility, I think, to promote it. But any good parish music ministry should think about recording their best efforts for posterity and for the experienc eof doing so, if nothing else.
2. Concerts of good sacred music. Shared responsibility, parish and diocese.
3. Music education for anyone in music ministry who wants it. Shared again: dioceses to provide it, parishes to sponsor and encourage it.
4. Mentoring for new music ministers. Professional responsibility of church musicians. Teaching students at a conservatory doesn't count unless the students are already in active ministry at a parish. Also must include non-conservatory musicians, even for music professors.
It's my conceited opinion as a church musician that a person lacks the qualifications to criticize the liturgical music other people do unless and until he or she actually has actually given good example through these steps, especially number 4.
What do the folks say?
List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over.
Which circle? My family, my parish, my professional colleagues, my neighborhood, or St Blog's? I might have a different list for each. I think I'll list one in each of five categories:
1. Sport: NASCAR. It seems random to me. Lots of potential for fixing races or damaging the outcome either intentionally or through stupidity. One on one racing: that might be interesting.
2. The arts: Classical Music from about 1750 to 1900, especially of German or Austrian lineage. Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert, even Beethoven. I don't get these guys. Chopin, Dvorak, and Liszt, yes. And of course, pretty much everything before 1750 and after 1900: pop or classical.
3. Pop culture: network television. I watch very, very little of it. When Anita and I sit in the living room at the tv is going (usually some mystery), my sharp-minded wife has usually figured out who did it by the first commerical break, though Law and Order has a surprise a fraction of the time. She prefers cable fare, which is sometimes better, but not always. Television strikes me as stupid, and that was before reality tv.
4. Home & Garden: putting effort into your lawn beyond mowing the grass and occasional seeding. Here's a shocking admission: I haven't watered the grass since my mother asked me to when I was home from college. If I want to pamper plants, I'll start a garden. Otherwise grass is tough stuff: I say let it alone.
5. Books: Anything DaVinci Code. Pro or con. Dan Brown is an author of fiction with a PR machine behind him. Maybe there are some people who really believe Middle Earth happened; Tolkien wrote the books to create a modern mythology after all. But he didn't use or need a publishing house whipping things up into a frenzy. And maybe the anti-DVC crowd needs a piece of the action, and they have a point that gullible folks treat this fiction as fact. Given the history of the Catholic hierarchy, Brown has plausibility on his side. But I can't see the point in encouraging the guy or his publishers.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
The Scallop Effect
Cassini scientists have discovered the small moon responsible for the scalloping found on the edge of one of Saturn's rings. View the movie
to see the as-yet unnamed moon in action.
'Tis the Season to Disinvite
Okay. A few more thoughts before heading back to bed.
Suffering through the usual rounds of Spring disinvites and neocon criticism of abortion supporters getting to speak at Catholic institutions, I have these questions to ask (of bishops, school leaders, or anyone who wanders by)
Why are controversial people invited in the first place, if it's just going to cause trouble? In the age of the internet, it's easy enough to find out what the person supports, especially if nobody has the guts to ask them straight out: do you support legal abortion?
Do bishops and school intend to put the worst face possible on the Church by first inviting, then cancelling invitations? Isn't this just like handing ammunition to the adversaries?
What would happen if a bishop, instead of boycotting or condemning such a speaker or the institution, asked for three minutes at the podium? (I know, I know: no bishop ordained can talk about anything in less than ten, but go with me on this one ...) Even a canned speech like: So-and-so is a good person for supporting Catholic moral teaching on this issue, blah-blah and that issue blah-blah-blah. But I wish she or he were with us hoping to end abortion. Rather than disinvite or publicly condemn, I publicly urge all of us, especially our honored speaker, to consider our stance on this issue and uncover specific ways in which we can work for the end of abortion, especially this fine hosting institution. If our speaker finds it in his or her heart to acknowledge abortion is a difficult issue, I would be pleased to match any contribution he or she might make to Birthright, and our diocese would match any donation from any contributor present today. We need to turn the tide for people in need who want alternatives. Why not start today and help folks who don't want to abort a child?
Anagram some of these loony phrases into titles of liturgical music:
sin, a mud pain
Tuba Lied Joe
rat team bats
a gap inclines us
Number three does not refer to the pope.
More Liturgical Snapshots
Ascension Sunday: This concession doesn't bother me too much. I'd prefer a holy day on the 40th day of Easter, but I'd also prefer a church and school holiday, too, complete with a parish feast after an evening Mass. Since I'm not likely to get it, I can live with Ascension Sunday, knowing it was once celebrated six weeks earlier on Easter along with the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Extinguishing the Easter Candle on Ascension: What? Is anybody still doing this? I thought it went out with balloons.
Sequences: I know their liturgical pedigree, but given that they're dropped in on unsuspecting congregations so infrequently, do they really heighten the liturgy of the word? Or are they sort of a formalized Kahlil Gibran: post-Biblical poetry that has stumbled its way between New Testament readings?
Pentecostal peccadilloes: Asking people to wear red to church, birthday cakes (though I do know this notion has some pre-conciliar legs on it), ignoring the Pentecost Vigil liturgy, and not using the Easter Candle (see above)
First Communions on Saturdays: I'm the first to admit it: it's a long tradition in my parish to do it the day before Mother's Day. A person who should know better asked me, "Do we have to come back tomorrow for Sunday Mass?" All together now, people: "Heck, yeah." First Communions belong on Sunday ... I'm about 90% convinced on that one, surprisingly wishy-washy for a liturgist, don't you think? I'm also in favor of first or second graders celebrating First Communion when they are ready. But the odyssey to convince the Catholic Catechetical Establishment of that one would make Shackleton's Antarctic ordeal look like a stroll in the park.
Light blogging due to unknown illness this week. (Anita cautions that a doctor's visit may be in the works: she's noticed a large bruise on my elbow (which I saw) and that my fingers had turned green (which I didn't see) so I may be bundled off to my family physician tomorrow if I'm not careful.)
I made it into the parish office long enough to rehearse the Confirmation musicians Monday and to come back to set up for and celebrate Confirmation Wednesday. Forty-six more "soldiers for Christ" unleashed on the world. Look out Kansas City.
Except for Neil, there may be light blogging here for a few days, possibly more. Be sure to comment on his threads: his kind of writing needs to be encouraged far more than mine. Happy bir... I mean blessed Pentecost to all.
Is it the Men, the Music, or the Madness?
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, or so Euclidean geometry would tell us. Take a population sample from the inside of a Catholic Church circa 1962 and another from the same church this past weekend. Traditionalists will tell you that's all you need to know, and don't you think it's time to turn back the clock?
Human geometry is not a one-dimensional exercise. It is more complex than Einstein's curved space, and no one is anywhere close to describing an equation that will predict it, especially in the melting pot of faith, psychology, art, sociology, and politics we call the Church.
Men are turned off in Catholic churches. The Mass is not manly enough. Too many feminazi musicians in pantsuits or wimpy homilies
according to commentary at one of last week's popular open book
threads. Frequent contributor Neil Dhingra sinks the salvo that men have been marginalized by modern ecclesiastical society about mid-thread, relating historical items of women nudging men out of the pews a century ago. And it has probably happened every year before and since. A University of Washington study (somewhere in the archives here it's linked, but I can't find it tonight) suggested it's a Mars/Venus thing: that men are just wired differently and care less for the spiritual and the last things than women. An older historical study I saw suggested that in colonial times, when men outnumbered women among this continent's settlers, churchgoing and church membership were considerably less than they are today.
The Catholic Church doesn't keep statistics for what would be helpful to know: a year-by-year tracking of men's attendance habits and a comparison with women's. Then we might know for sure if men are bleeding off more heavily than women. This would be a more helpful gauge than taking two points and attempting to draw a line between them. Even more helpful would be to discern what events affected church attendance: wars, natural disasters, cultural upheaval, an ecumenical council, an encyclical on contraception, a liturgical change. Andrew Greeley suggested many years ago that in the US, Humanae Vitae would have caused more of a hemorrhaging in Mass attendance if not for liturgical reform. I hear conservatives blame liturgy for chasing off churchgoers, but would they feel the same if these chased off were practicing forbidden stuff in the bedroom instead of Tridentine fussbudgets? To hear some people talk this past month, they're ready to nail the planks to the edge of the ship and give "heretics" their disembarkation passes.
I have a hard time buying into the notion that men are particularly chased away by the Vatican II Church. Or that tough talk by a cigar-smoking, whiskey-slugging cleric in a cassock and biretta will lasso the males back into the fold. I think it's as silly to focus only on the men who aren't there as it is to focus just on gay sex predators. We all know that lots of women are alienated from the Church, just as we know a significant portion (if not a decided majority) of sex offenders are heterosexual.
The music angle is less convincing. I put pre-conciliar treacle like "On This Day" next to the best (or worst) of what David Haas puts out. The Church has always had horrid music. It chased away the men (and women) in 1962 and it probably still does today. But most people don't base their church attendance on getting finally fed up with the musical scene. Even if feminist sisters in pantsuits are directing the choir.
I've watched the efforts to form a Men's Club in my parish with interest. We had an initial event about two years ago: a good breakfast speaker that drew maybe a hundred guys. This past winter was a shrimp dinner and poker night. That outdrew the Saturday breakfast on parenting and being a good husband. I think the golf outing is set to better either. Would the world be wonderful if a weekend retreat or a prayer night drew the most of all? Of course it would. But you can't deny the allure of playing.
Targetting men is setting up for failure. Genetics are against you. If the numbers of single women of all ages don't draw men to the doors, do you think homilies against contraception and abortion will?
If you want more people in the pews, why not instead target the fence-sitters? You know: the people who might just come back to church if they were asked. I know that's a radical concept for the post-JP Church that's ready for a leaner, more streamlined look under our new pope, but what is this all about? Making the Body of Christ into the image of an idealized unconciliar conservative Catholicism? Or actually going out after the lost sheep, regardless of their gender? WWJD?
Pope Benedict on Liturgy
from Neil Dhingra
Our convenient labels, “conservative” and “liberal,” in their simplicity, often disguise as much as they reveal. Let’s look more closely at Pope Benedict XVI’s opinions on the liturgy. I will here depend on a recent essay
by Fr John F. Baldovin, SJ
, of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Fr Baldovin first recounts some familiar details – Joseph Ratzinger, a systematic theologian, taught at Bonn (1959-1963), Münster (1963-1966), and Tübingen (1966-1969), before moving to the University of Regensburg in 1969. In 1977, he was made Archbishop of Munich-Freising in Bavaria. Perhaps the most important single event in this trajectory was Fr Ratzinger’s negative response to the student riots of 1968, which supposedly turned him toward more “conservative” sympathies.
Benedict XVI’s constant theme in his writing on the liturgy has been that its subject has sadly become “neither God nor Christ, but the ‘we’ of the ones celebrating.” The Pope has worried about the ubiquity of concepts such as “celebration,” freedom,” and “creativity,” and their tendency to lead to “autocelebration.” Fr Baldovin acknowledges, “I think that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a telling point when he underlines the centrality of Christ, and thus divine activity, in the liturgy. How often does one participate in a Eucharist in a progressive American parish only to find that all of the music chosen emphasizes what we do in the celebration – ‘we are Church.’ No doubt, this is an extremely valuable insight – but like all good ideas, it goes awry when overused.”
Benedict XVI’s vision instead “centers on a cosmic vision of God’s going (exitus) and drawing all back to himself (reditus). … History is creation returning to its source.” Fr Baldovin notes that Benedict draws on Teilhard de Chardin’s view of transubstantiation as “the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the Christological fullness.’”
And when Benedict XVI has meditated on the Eucharist, he has written, “God gives himself so that we might give.” He remembers the phrase from the Roman Canon that we offer “from the gifts that you have given us” (de tuis donis ac datis). He denies the traditionalist argument that we must consciously limit the universality of the gift of Jesus’ sacrificial death by translating the biblical peri/hyper hymön as “for the many” instead of “for you and for all.” But Benedict XVI is very anxious to preserve the primacy of divine initiative – the ordination of women, to him, would signify that the Church could just take ordination into its own hands; intercommunion, to the Pope, would mean that the Church is trying to create a unity that must properly be a reality first given to the Church.
While Benedict XVI does not deny the recovery of the corporate and the communal in God’s gift of the Eucharist, he claims that, in Fr Baldovin’s words, “we have also run the risk of forgetting the dimension of personal and individual encounter with the Lord which requires a certain reverential silence.” Fr Baldovin muses on this, and suggests that this might make a good argument for placing the greeting and exchange of peace between the prayer of the faithful and the presentation of the gifts. Joseph Ratzinger’s emphasis on reverence means that he has also supported Eucharistic Adoration - even though he knows that this is a medieval development – the Catholic tradition, he says, has recognized that the presence of Christ remains in the consecrated gifts and has always surrounded them with a “reverential fear.”
Does Benedict XVI’s Christocentricity and emphasis on reverence present us with a unremittingly traditionalist vision? Not quite. Joseph Ratzinger knows that the correct translation of offerre is not “to sacrifice,” but rather “to bring,” and does not miss the offertory prayers of the medieval Mass. He knows that communion was received in the hand during the first nine Christian centuries and has read with profit St Cyril of Jerusalem’s moving 4th century description of receiving communion in the hand. Benedict XVI is very much aware that the Roman Church’s liturgical language was originally Greek until the 3rd century, and feels no loss with the move to the vernacular. His main critique of liturgical reform, it seems, is that it often seems too overtly engineered, too consciously created, too focused on diversity, to avoid the danger of, well, “autocelebration.” For instance, he has criticized the Missal of Paul VI as a creation of “professors,” rather than a liturgy that emerged organically and unconsciously over time from communal prayer.
Perhaps Benedict XVI’s most controversial opinion has regarded the orientation of the priest at Mass. He believes, perhaps dubiously, that Christian churches were oriented to the east instead of Jerusalem, with the cross of Christ in place of the Ark containing the Torah. The priest must then face east in expectation of the coming of the Lord, towards the cross symbolizing the Christ who will return, rising like the sun in the east. The Pope has expressed concern that the conscious moving of worship away from facing God threatens to turn the liturgy into a “self-enclosed circle.” Fr Baldovin acknowledges this unexpected consequence, “I would agree that too much depends on the personality of the priest, who must exercise enormous self-discipline in not succumbing to the temptation to put himself forward.” And Joseph Ratzinger does not necessarily want the priest to face away from the people. That’s not really the point. He has even suggested symbolizing the “liturgical east” with a cross in the center of the altar toward which both priest and people can both face. The point, in his words, is “to be able to fix our gaze, all of us together, on him who is the Creator, the one who receives us into the cosmic liturgy, and who shows us also the path of history …”
Regarding music, Benedict XVI has also been controversial, using words such as “glorification” and “spiritualization” to describe a Christian music that stands in contrast to the enthusiastic delirium of “Dionysian” contemporary music. Christian music, we might say, raises us to contemplation, Rock music, on the other hand, sinks us “beneath the elemental force of the universe.” Fr Baldovin’s attitude towards rock music in the liturgy is rather similar (there isn’t a praise and worship band at Weston, one concludes). But it might be interesting to speculate on what the Pope, a very traditional if cultured European, might think of the reverential quality in the jazz liturgical music of Duke Ellington or Dave Brubeck.
Well, we can say that this is a “conservative” vision in many ways. It is critical of the present, it is anxious about subjectivism and individualism, it does not make any great use of historical/critical analysis. But, as Fr Baldovin concludes, Benedict XVI’s vision reminds us of the importance of centering the liturgy on Christ, maintaining a cosmic and eschatological vision, and respecting contemplation and inner engagement, even as we continue to recognize the importance of “active participation.” Surely, “liberals,” “moderates,” “radicals,” “traditionalists,” and those of us still without labels, in our own way, must appreciate his Christocentricity and reverence.
What do you think? We’d be delighted to know.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Dust devils on Mars.
Check it out.
... in this month's Nature.
You can see the image of Phoebe
here. This was pieced together from two images from last summer's fly-by on the way into Saturn.
"Once in a while, these things get lucky and get captured by one of the giant planets, says Jonathan Lunine, an astronomer with the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson AZ. The evidence is clear that objects move about in the solar system, and that Phoebe looks a lot like objects from way farther out in the solar system, but scientists have yet to come up with an actual mechanism for this moon to have been captured into an orbit around Saturn.
Moon-size objects don't just check out a planetary neighborhood and decide to slow down of their own volition. An object must lose speed to be captured by gravity. One mechanism is by grazing the top of an atmosphere. The air will cause drag on the object and if the conditions are just right, voila: a new moon! Problem with Phoebe is that it's several million miles out from Saturn. Once a captured object has grazed the atmosphere of a planet and been captured by gravity, it will return to that orbital low point and continue to spiral in closer. Sometimes the object will break up, as was the case with the comet Shoemaker-Levy
prior to its 1994 plunge into Jupiter.
So the mystery remains: how did Phoebe get captured? The outer four giant planets of our solar system each have a small population of moons in irregular orbits. We know they got there from somewhere else. But how?
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Keith Pecklers on Liturgical Reform
from Neil Dhingra
I thought that some of you might like to read a summary of Fr Keith Pecklers’ “40 Years of Liturgical Reform: Shaping Roman Catholic Worship in the 21st Century,” Worship 79 (2005), 194-208. Fr Pecklers, a Jesuit who teachers at the Gregorian and Anselmo in Rome, begins on December 4, 1963. On that auspicious day, 2,147 bishops voted in favor of the Liturgy Constitution of Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium
. Only 4 opposed. That, we might say, is a mandate.
Fr Pecklers says that the vote was really the fruit of fifty years of preparation, beginning with the work of the Benedictine monk Lambert Beauduin at the Benedictine Abbey of Mont Cesar in Belgium. When Dom Beauduin became a professor at the Anselmo in the 1920’s, he spread his vision to many students, including a young German-American monk named Virgil Michel
who returned to St John’s Abbey
in Minnesota and sparked the liturgical revival in the United States. The first “Dialogue Mass,” celebrated facing the people, was at the German Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach
in August, 1921. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, there was a notable increase in hymn singing in the vernacular during Mass. The supporters of the liturgical movement were hardly unopposed, however: some actually accused them of not believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, since they would so constantly speak of the church as Christ’s mystical body.
And back to the council. During 1964, the shift from Latin to the vernacular languages became the top religious story. Even Sports Illustrated covered it. This was controversial: Cardinal Spellman of New York spoke against “an exaggerated historicism and a zeal for novelties,” and suggested that confusion and hurt would result if the faithful would “see the unchangeable Church changing her rites.” Fr Pecklers mischievously notes that Cardinal Spellman’s own Latin was, well, not the best. When he spoke at the council, a member of the Vatican staff would stand at another microphone to translate Spellmanian Latin into correct Latin so that the cardinal could be understood. What was going on, says Pecklers, was a visible tension between the local church, which would benefit from inculturation of the liturgy, and the universal church, perhaps more concerned with uniformity.
At the center of Sacrosanctum Concilium “was one fundamental principle: full, conscious, and active liturgical participation for the whole mystical body of Christ.” One would belong to the church by belonging to her worship. This stress on “participation” meant that the liturgy would have to be adapted to “the native temperament and the tradition of peoples,” but we can say that the Liturgical Constitution envisioned a balance between tradition and progress. Fr Pecklers notes that certain translations from Latin were made too hastily, and the Council Fathers probably did not imagine liturgical texts sung to the tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
So, where are we now? Remember, Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated only twelve days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. What does it have to say to a world plagued by terrorism and AIDS? Closer to home, what does it have to say to a church “rocked by sexual scandal and polarized by conflicting theologies and ideologies,” suffering through a decline in vocations, composed of many who find themselves “‘beyond the pale as far as church teaching is concerned”? Fr Pecklers directs our attention to six areas.
First, we will need to be more hospitable. This will involve simple matters, such as making sure that newcomers are not lost in large urban churches. But we will also have to “allow ourselves to be led on pilgrimage to the margins, to association with the great unwashed, those beyond the pale, for whom Christ came” – we will have to become hospitable to disconcerting experiences. For, as Fr Timothy Radcliffe, the former Master of the Order of Preachers, has written, “Our preaching will only gather in the people of God, if we honestly name their sorrows and joys. We have to be seen to speak truthfully, to tell things as they are.” The pain and happiness of our congregations must find “some space in our words.”
Second, we will have to answer the question that one liturgical pioneer, Msgr Martin Hellriegel, had already asked in the 1940’s: “Why would we want to throw such rich cultural diversity into the melting pot so that we all appear the same?” Msgr Hellriegel imagined a mosaic; there will be more tessera in any imagined mosaic today. 4.5 million immigrants came to the United States between 1990-1994, and, in an international context, by 2020, 80% of Christians will be people of color who live in the southern hemisphere. Will multicultural parishes be possible?
Third, we will have to recover “that sense of awe and wonder, mystery and transcendence that was so evident prior to the council.” The Mass cannot be a merely cerebral event, nor should it be something created by the community. The active subject of the liturgy is the Risen Christ, and, as Cardinal Danneels has said, “The Liturgy is first ‘God’s work on us’ before being our work on God.” The liturgy, he went on to say, is nothing less than “the epiphany of the Christian mysteries through the service of the Church.”
Fourth, we need better liturgical formation. Todd can comment on this.
Fifth, we will need to deal with priestless parishes. The problems cannot be minimized, ranging from confusion arising from different services of the Word, to the simple fact that people are being denied the celebration of Holy Eucharist, which, according to Sacrosanctum Concilium is the “source and summit of the Church’s life.”
Sixth, we should increase liturgical ecumenical exchange. For the most part, the major Western Christian churches now proclaim the same three scriptural lessons in church each Sunday, albeit with variations in translation and the length of each reading. Fr Pecklers encourages that Rome accept the Revised Common Lectionary
for usage in Roman Catholic worship in the interests of Christian unity.
Well, what do you think?
The Danger of Moralism
from Neil Dhingra
“The great temptation of the moment was to transform Christianity into moralism and moralism into politics, that is, to substitute believing with doing. Because what does it mean to believe? Someone might say: we have to do something right now. By substituting faith with moralism, believing with doing, though, we retreat into particularism. Above all, we lose the criteria for judging and the guideposts that orient us in the right direction. The final result, instead of constructive growth, is division.”
-- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Funeral Homily
for Msgr. Luigi Giussani, Feb. 24, 2005
What might this mean for discussion of our thorniest public issue - abortion? It is always best to look at concrete cases. And, in the April 2005 issue of Studies in Christian Ethics, the Duke theologian Amy Laura Hall
looks at the Anglican priest Joanna Jepson
. Rev. Jepson was born with a facial disfigurement, afterwards surgically corrected. Years later, as a Cambridge divinity student, she realized that, because of a 1990 amendment to the law that allowed third trimester abortions if the child were otherwise likely to suffer “from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped,” abortions were performed after diagnoses of cleft palate
. Arguing that a cleft palate was not even remotely a “serious handicap,” Jepson tried to get the relevant police to investigate and then the High Court in London.
Now, we have gotten pretty good at arguing against positive eugenics – bioengineering for the sake of enhancement. The political theorist Michael Sandel has told us that positive eugenics would make it difficult for us to “view our talents as gifts for which we are indebted,” instead making it likely that we would simply see them as possessions. This would, needless to say, negatively impact our capacity for humility, responsibility, and solidarity. The enviromentalist Bill McKibben has suggested that the quest for engineered perfection would alienate us from the “deeper world” of nature and our own earlier history. The President’s Council of Bioethics’ “Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness”
has criticized the construction of “better” children in a romantic defense of childhood as “that stage of life justly celebrated as most innocent, open, fresh, playful, wondering.” All well and good.
But it is much harder to argue against negative eugenics. For instance, in their coverage of Rev. Jepson’s witness for the value of the lives of those with facial birth defects, the British media constantly focused on her good looks (the result of surgical correction). As a writer for the Times, after breathlessly mentioning her appearance - “long blonde locks, slim with perfectly manicured nails” - put it: “For all her sharply expressed arguments, her every sentence seems to cry out: Would it have been right to abort me? And the answer, even to those wary of Christian anti-abortionists, is no.” As Amy Laura Hall summarizes, “By this version, Jepson’s past is redeemed by her observably beautiful present. The outrageous cruelty she endured before her surgery is rendered meaningful by the perceptible results of the surgery itself.”
But this could only be ironic. Rev. Jepson wanted to suggest that the value of those with birth defects had absolutely nothing to do with “long blonde locks” or “manicured nails.” She instead claimed, “There needs to be maturity in accepting that there will be suffering in this life,” and that her own suffering had “made me who I am, aware of other people.” The Times writer, robbed of his story of cygnet redeemed by becoming swan, could only dismissively respond, “Now she is giving me a sermon.” Regarding Alistair, her brother with Down’s Syndrome, Rev. Jepson said, “My brother is amazing. He loves taking photos. He takes these fantastic pictures of people that everyone else ignores – like the dustbin men, the postman, or the workmen in the street. Somehow, these people are important to Alistair, and I would never have seen that unless he had given me his take on the world.” Those who are handicapped, Joanna Jepson tells us, have a capacity for sustained attention – a “take on the world” that the rest of us desperately need.
But the British press could not grasp the possibility of this “take on the world,” seeing the presence of handicapped life only as a threat to “what a woman wants” or as a disruption to “a person in the midst of life, with goals, relationships and responsibilities,” who would be terribly inconvenienced by having such a child. What was missing from the editorials was a sense of the grace present in the difficult lives of the handicapped – the sense that, as one mother of a cleft palate son asserted, “There is nothing that cannot be sorted and nothing will put his life in danger and stop him from leading a normal life.” As Amy Laura Hall puts it, when followed to its conclusions, this becomes a theological sense, the hard-won awareness that all “has been created by grace ex nihilo.” And so, “Christians may need to speak explicitly in the public sphere about the gratuitous nature of every life, held as each is by the extravagant providence of God.”
To be sure, we must be ecumenical, and we must cooperate with those who share the belief, even unconsciously, that “What is good and just is rooted in eternal truth, in the nature of God, who is what he is quite independently of what the world is and what the world thinks” (Rowan Williams
, Al-Azhar, Cairo), so that the worth of human beings is ineradicable. But we will only be able to communicate the real depth of our views if we do not focus on changing laws or external things, but try to get others to gaze upon Christ. As Pope Benedict said, “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story; it is an event.” And in the light of this event, we can become aware of the true significance of the especially attentive “take on the world” of those who are handicapped, the beautiful grace discernible through the “there is nothing that cannot be sorted” that is manifested in their lives.
As Rev. Jepson said in a remarkable sermon
“God decided to come upon his people not as a conquering King but as a poor, weak, defenceless, dispossessed child. So remarkable and unsettling was this choice, that I think we still find it difficult to absorb. We drown out the true Christmas message in self-indulgence and self-congratulation, as a distraction from a truly important message. God's Word was made into tiny, weak, vulnerable flesh. What are we to make of this? How are we to understand a God who so clearly turns his back on all-consuming glory and chooses instead the most abject humility?
“The answer is that God was sending us a message of love and urging upon us a lesson of responsibility. He was telling us that his heart is always on the side of the marginalised, the disregarded and unloved. I believe that he particularly cherishes those babies who are terminated in the womb for the cruellest of reasons: namely, that they do not match the physical perfectionism of our times.”
How do we make this present? Not through moralism, that’s for sure.