Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Real Advent

Early in December of 1964, my first year in Nelson, I was one evening reading in the Nelson Daily News a virtually full-page article by Dr.Frank Kluge about the celebration of the Advent season in Europe. Dr. Kluge taught German at the university. It was a lively piece as well as long, and definitely put a reader into the mood of the season.It was moreover, especially sparkling to me, because growing up in a family which, except for my grandparents, had no sense of church liturgy whatsoever, I had found my first Catholic Advent, in 1958, the most wonderful device for building the Christmas spirit without confusing it with the cloying excesses of premature indulgence. Even living then in a non-Catholic home I had been able to get into the Advent spirit, and when Shawn and I were in our own household the following year and could set the tone for ourselves, we took every advantage of the restrained beauty of the Advent wreath, the singing of Advent hymns instead of premature Christmas carols, and so on. So well did the Church deal with the real heart of Christmas, thought I, that I could have become a Catholic for that alone.
Now Dr. Kluge was not a Catholic, but a Lutheran, and not being schooled in the varying degrees to which post 16th century religions, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to know that many of those not fully within the Roman bosom could still find as Advent as joyful as I did.
And then, in the midst of my thoughts, I had a locution, just as in Mrs. Ferguson's studio, and probably in about the same week or two, "One of these days Nelson will have a real Advent."
This was, of course, both profoundly interesting and profoundly puzzling. For one thing, it was difficult to apply it to myself personally, this look to an unnamed future date, because I had already known a very satisfying sequence of Advents. And yet it would seem that I was meant to be part of this special occurrence. But what was so unique about Nelson? Was I to assume that Advent had never been taken seriously in the cathedral diocese? How could that be? In the other parishes I had lived and taught in it was certainly taken seriously and both of them were hundreds of miles from their bishop.
Granted the diocese had been dragging its feet in certain liturgical areas. In my first Easter, a few months later, I found it somewhat puffed up about finally getting the new rubrics for the Easter Vigil and related elements into gear. This was a little irksome, as I had been familiar with these welcome changes, actually returns to the customs of the ancient Church, for four or five years.
I had by then become quite disenchanted with the university and was realizing that it was not really the place for me, and I would have to wait for time to reveal the real reasons for my being so inspired to come to the Kootenays. I have by now, of course, spelled out a number of these, but not in any way that could connect them directly with the locution, at least not at the time I was doing this spelling out.
At that time, history reminds us, the Second Vatican Council was finishing up its third session, with one more to go, and then, by the autumn of 67, with the Latin gone from the Mass, in would come the vernacular, and as it was to turn out, probably the worst epoch of hymn writing in the history of the Church. As I've said earlier, I have been rendered incapable of singing most of it, and have expected to carry on in this regrettable predicament until some quite radical changes are made, and for the time being I can see this coming about only if the Pope lays down some prohibitive rules. Possibly there's never been a time when book burning would be more welcome to real men and the good angels.
But, but, but.
Someone in our cathedral has done one small thing. When I arrived for the 8:30 this morning, well ahead of the starting gun, as is my usual custom, I was handed a little leaflet with some mass music somehow supposedly related to the community at Taize. It was, to say the least, not very exciting. Taize's strength is obviously not in composition. And, at first, I was as angry as I was bored, because it was, after all, the first Sunday of Advent and there was not reference to Advent on the first page. This kind of rotten rubrics has happened frequently around here: so many times the music does not in any way reflect the spirit of the particular feast.
So, wearily I turned the page.
Well, as Saint Augustine says you never know from one day to the next who will be your friend and ally, who will be your enemy. Expect reversals, if you want to keep your peace of mind.
Not only did they have the traditional O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but they had it in Latin, three whole verses.
Now they had it in English too, below the Latin. And knowing the lamentable history of this
lamentable diocese, I knew it could be capable of printing just such a paper in order to tell the Pope, yes, we are doing things in Latin and then actually rendering the hymn only in English.
Not the new bishop mind you, but he's busy and not always at hand and so many so called leaders have been getting away with murder so long why would they stop at a thing like that?
Nonetheless, being an incurable optimist, I conned the Latin. I knew that if the tiny little choir, utterly lacking in strong voices, launched into the old tongue they'd need all the help they get. There would not be a peep from the congregation, it is so long out of practice with such things. The choir knew this too, which actually moved me to admire theme somewhat should they go for the Latin.
And whadda ya know? They did.
I wasn't perfect. You can't be perfect without practice and time to recover from disbelief, and the printing was not as bold and clear as it might have been, but the Muse came and I ran the show.
As Augustine, again, says, he who sings well prays twice, and this place needs all the prayer it can get.
And the bishop may actually have been behind the surprise. He's holding a townhall meeting on the future of the parish and diocese on Tuesday night, in the school gym. I just might ask him if we owe the Latin to him. If so, this just may be the Advent God was talking about. Or maybe one getting close to it.

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