Friday, May 28, 2010

Making Book

As Aristotle says - and I totally agree - the wise man never gambles. But it might be fun, or even useful, to ponder betting on how long it will be before the new English version of the latest Roman Missal, with the alleged return to decent music that goes with it, will drive the slop from the current liturgy in more churches than one really wants to count.
Just in, you see, Jeffrey Tucker's cautiously hopeful account of what will eventually be coming to a parish near you, or if you live in England, Marianne tells me, is already happening is some areas there. Some hope does seem to be on the way. Jeffrey today published his comment on the New Liturgical Movement website, and I asked her to print it. The last thing I asked her to print out was the suddenly lengthy body of her own poetic works, so you can see how pleased I was by Jeffrey's observations.
It can only be some hope, the best you can expect when an organization is still trying to function without accepting as a matter of course that it must live up to its original charter, or face varying degrees of failure in its day to day operation, but it's better than no hope at all. After all, every honest auto mechanic knows that if he refuses to use his training - to say nothing of the principles of physics and chemistry - when he is rebuilding a carburetor, he should not be surprised if the car won't run properly. So when the bishops of the Church, seemingly universally, refuse to honour even the initial sentences of a document of Vatican Two, that is, Sacrosanctum Concilium, they must expect a pitiful liturgy. The document insisted that Gregorian Chant be given "pride of place". It has not been given this, by and large, and thus it is difficult to take pride in the current liturgies.
This has not stopped various so-called authorities - should we call them liars or fools? - from trying to tell us that the modern hymns "invigorate" congregations, but none of this has deceived God, who finds it very easy to know whether or not the prayer that arises in a song is genuine or not. He also knows that he who sings garbage is not "singing well", and therefore is not only not "praying twice" but not praying at all. Jeffrey has some great stuff on what the waltz time congregations actually accomplish in their state of inspirational deprivation, and perhaps even more valuable insight on the mental states of the people who have composed this stuff.
My own particular parish has a unique problem, in that most of its most knowledgeable singers and musicians are mystics, that is, souls made by God - not themselves - to be experts in prayer. Thus, they are made to sing, or not sing, through the actions of the Holy Spirit, who, when He does not approve the chosen text and tune, is awfully good at making them shut up. Now, as  these people once upon a time were the chief vocal, and occasionally keyboard, most genuinely invigorating leaders of the parish liturgy, all genuine "vibrancy" - filthy word in the mouths of most, these days, but I use it to make a point - has been lost for some time. It returns occasionally, at Christmas, or at other times if a real hymn happens to make the list for the day, but generally it has been lost for years, even more than a decade, as the parish became mired in its complete lack of congregational taste or clerical leadership.
But because of the former tradition, which, in total orthodoxy, used to "rock the place" in a fashion Mick Jagger himself would have envied, and the Beatles could never have dreamed of, the parishioners all know who has put class to rest, and who also can bring it back if the music is acceptable to God and those men who are still men.
We are told the new music just might be available around here for Advent of 2011. In the meantime, I conclude my keyboard researches, swank out on the fretted instruments,  and work out the basics for getting the great McDaniel smarted up on Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. A piece of cake, when you know the numbers, and he told me the other day he heard it around the house, a lot,  when he was a kid. His Dad was very fond of classical music.
Gee. Just think. If they'd made McDaniel senior a bishop, we just might not be so far behind the eight ball.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lead Kindly Liturgy

When pondering the English, an expression native to the Sceptered Isle comes to mind: In for a penny, in for a pound. In the previous post I began taking John Paul's administration to task for its inability or refusal to dialogue with the Nelson mystics, and pointed out an area or two concerning the effects of this hiatus. It seems I have to continue this critical analysis, and I must honestly admit to not being surprised, except by the location that provokes it.
Once again it is Marianne's watchdogging the Net that sets me off. She's picked up on the rising concern in England about the disastrous music that threatens to accompany the Masses marking the Pope's visit to England for the beatification of John Henry Newman. The first image that came to mind is that of the sentimental caterwauling that all those moon-eyed girls, and not a few young males who should have known better, were swaying to at the big papal mass when it was Toronto's turn to stage World Youth Day. I know there was a strong wind gusting from time to time that day, but I think the sways were purely internal, and in keeping with the beat. You begin to understand why Gregorian, made for honest worship rather than the campfire, lacks a pulse you can dance to. Even sung prayer, in order to work, has to possess a profound element of stillness to it.
Only an idiot would have thought of that gush of meaningless emotion as the 'hope of tomorrow". The despair of tomorrow would be more like it. Making feelings a foundation for anything can only lead to that which throws hope out the window, once the real world of adult life settles in with its relentless sameness of the daily demands.
This is the beauty of chant, that it demands all the first attentions to the words, the thought, of the prayer that is also sung. But the singing comes second, and it is led by a submissive intellect, aware, or studying to be aware, of its proportional place in the universe, not inviting God to waltz - or even jig - with its self-seeking fantasies.Certainly feeling can come out of this ordered arrangement, but it is a refined feeling, purified by prayer, and thus the best and deepest and most lasting feeling of all.
Damian Thompson, of the London Telegraph, has  begun raising the alarm over the threatening cacophony, and Jeffrey Tucker has pointed out that Cardinal Newman loved the Gregorian. (Can you still hear it in Birmingham?) and further reminded us that chant is remarkably easy to teach to children. He's quite right. I had occasion to work up the Kyrie from Mass Eight, many years ago, with my handy little dozen in Ocean Falls. I think we had only a couple of weeks. The English Church has months before Benedict arrives.
Maybe the little children can start leading  the way out of this continuing downward spiral. Chesterton once said that Anglicanism was not a religion, it was an aesthetic. But that was in the days of the Latin, which, while it may not have been the vernacular, and did feature priests and even bishops who thought they were competing with the overnight express to Edinburgh, also gave the congregation some chant. We may still have the Mass, which of course the Anglicans do not, but the externals of our religion have become a squalor, and the faithful wouldn't know an aesthetic if if became a double decker bus and ran over them. Well, perhaps some of the faithful would, but they would be different than far too many bishops, and for better or for worse, outside the monasteries, it's always been the bishops that make the decisions.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Mothers' Day

It's no fun losing a post. Especially when it's the sort of post that is not all that easy to write, one in which the writer has to scold the very people he has every reason to admire, love, and be grateful for. I really do not know how I did it, other than to realize that it must have been through some strange combination of key striking that is programmed, inadvertently or not, to do it for me. It's never happened to me before, and of course I don't ever want it to happen again. It was a whole post, just finished before breakfast, and then in the process of editing. I was tinkering with a passage about the bishops who had complained at the very short run of the film "The Jeweller's Shop", that strange brew a commercial group made from a poem of Karel Woytyla's. With not a few questionable scenes, no catharsis, and startlingly forgettable sound  track, it drew its due reward at the box office. As Vatican Two was at no little pains to point out, the arts and the sciences really do have rules of their own, and everyone involved with this enterprise was equally at no little effort to break them. I had pointed out that for a film demographically aimed at young married couples it had come out remarkably short of the sort of music they like. Put a good rock track in there, and the Thirty-somethings will turn out to a flik on gardening. I had come up with just a little more salt for the wound when the unthinkable happened. (But at least it wasn't a chapter of fiction. That is a much harder thing to come by these days.)
Why am I going on about something of so little consequence and that happened so long ago?
Because, frankly, I am delighted by the new opportunity John Paul's successor has presented to his own newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Benedict has let the kids at it, like someone who in trying to figure out why the old folks are drying up, then suddenly hid away to read Aristotle's chapter on friendship, eight in the Nichomachean Ethics. Yes, the young certainly do need the advice of the old, but the old also need to not only value the energy of the young, but to learn how to dialogue with it. "The Jeweller's Shop" had about as much real dialogue as a speech by Fidel Castro.
There is no doubt that John Paul was a great man, and the Slav Pope that clobbered Soviet Communism. As a lie, it had to die eventually, but it was the Trumpeter of Krakow who led the charge. But he was overrated as a mystic, and was a Pope of dialogue much less than necessary. It's probably a good thing he became a priest rather than an actor.
Why does this seem so stern, even ungrateful? (And I'm sure there's the odd churchman fuming at such apparent insolence from a layman, but then he's never been alone with the Transformation in my study.)
Nothing easier, when you know your John of the Cross.
This is not the time to go into my long formation as a prophet as well as a mystic, but by January 15, 1984, suffice to say that it was suitably extensive, as well as suitably without honour in my own country, my own province, my own diocese, my own parish. So, when I was told to pick up the phone by the Holy Spirit, and also cleared for my target by my spiritual advisers, I called the telegram people and dictated the following to John Paul II:

"Redemptor Hominis courts error. Come to Nelson for your penance."

By then, the Pope had known months in which to familiarize himself with my thoughts, my record, my spiritual history and position. Not only all my fiction up to that date, but a number of letters. Moreover, he had at hand all manner of theologians supposedly familiar enough with such matters to know how to shoot me down if it were necessary, whereas I had among the local clergy one criminal bishop, and an entire diocese full of priests and religious willing to follow his directives on myself and my community, a situation which never substantially changed until our present bishop, by the grace of God a Capuchin with a sound grasp of the early days of the Franciscans.
Jesus rarely makes it easy for his closest friends, as Saint Teresa was fond of pointing out to him.
I was very aware, of course, once the heat of the prophetic moment had cooled down, that the Holy Spirit might have intended only a spiritual coming to Nelson, and in fact for a decade John Paul did this rather well, especially after a few more months and his trip to Canada and the Holy Spirit upping my status to make me his spiritual director.
But now I think it is not too inaccurate to suggest that He would have preferred a literal obedience. What dialogue would then have ensued? What stories about our little nest of criminal clergy and perverts in high places, all wonderfully masking the truths of the sordid details?
What was lacking? Spiritual courage? Perfect humility? Or, following Pius VII's reaction to the Napoleon who assumed that to have the Pope under lock and key was to run the Church: "Without my advisers I am not Pope!", did he simply lack the right staff?
It was very difficult for John Paul to realize the horror so many priests were creating out there, and he seemed unable to grasp the outright criminal content of their actions. Jesus was crucified; why is a priest above hanging?  Or having his throat slit like the false prophets of Baal?
Benedict has been the one to pay for this neglect, via the recent profoundly unprofessional antics of some of the press, and the Lord's view of the record needs to be set straight.
It would be interesting to see some of this clarity emerge in the "New" L'Osservatore.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Nose That Stings

Bless me, Father, I've been too ambitious again. Not intentionally, so keep it down to three Hail Marys, and God has already been pounding the living daylights out of me anyway, so I don't want much of a lecture either. But I have learned something about old man's fitness programmes: even when you're in pretty good shape for 74 you're still 74, which means it takes longer to recover. Yep, Gordie Howe was playing professional hockey in his 60s, but he knew he couldn't survive on the same full schedule the young guys played.
(Obviously, we're putting off the heavy stuff I was promising. Three different Popes and the abuse scandal not only need a little more recollection, but is also waiting on the official news of a very major appointment in Rome, which I suspect will augment the clarity the Holy Spirit seems determined to provide, if only to underscore the credit of Benedict.)
On the weekend I set off on a much increased rowing schedule, aiming for five or six hundred calories a day, in two sessions, morning and late afternoon. This was after several weeks of a mere 200 calories, occasionally a bit more. And for three-and-half glorious days I got it, too. As I said a few months ago when I had an opportunity to promote rowing in the Valley Voice, just watch that fat melt. At such a rate, I could be down to fighting weight by the end of the summer! (I think I've mentioned my boyhood admiration for Marcel Cerdan and Sugar Ray Robinson and my conviction that I should be a middle-weight, which I did become once I spent a summer swinging a surveyor's axe in the wilderness, but of course lost again without a regular discipline in weight bearing exercise.) But by Tuesday afternoon, out walking, I found myself mentally practicing the following dialogue.
"No, no, Officer. I assure you I'm not drunk, I just seem a bit off balance because I've been rowing so much that my legs are a touch rubbery, and my equilibrium is having to work overtime to catch up. Check me out in  a day or two and I'll show you why my wife still thinks I move like a dancer."
And, to a degree, I was right. next morning - yesterday - I was skipping about as usual making the coffee and attending to the cat. And at six, I climbed the ladder to once more set off with Tennyson and mostly the memories of my blessed and coastal youth. Oh, and Bonaventure's Little Psalter. Such a great companion on a boat trip.
But as quickly as Calorie 30, as I was being dutifully Ayurvedic, taking a leisurely warm-up and breathing religiously through my nose with my four count, my reliable old right nostril began to sting. On the one hand I was annoyed that my vaunted schedule had clearly hit a reef, but on the other I was happily grateful for the genius of John Douillard and just clear scientific proof that my numbers would have to be scaled back. Obviously, for one thing, my lungs had much improved from my beginning weeks on the erg, when the nose was constantly humiliating me. Oxygen shortage, you see, because my suddenly assaulted system was still repairing the destruction of all those cells - in the name of new ones, of course - and the lungs demanded priority, as they were originally programmed to do. So, at a mere 100 calories - and continuing proof that more warm-up was not going to take the sting out of my nose - I cut my losses and climbed back down the ladder, and took the rest of the day off. Walking later, I could stop thinking about chats with the constabulary.
That is, fictional chats. Once upon a time that will feature in this space in the future, I had a conversation with a policeman which had to do with the very visible, public, ligature of the faculties, back in the bad old days when the kids didn't have a chance, thanks to Church, government, press, police all having taken vows to wear bags on their heads.
And then, just a few months later, I started writing to Joseph Ratzinger. Before and after I wrote to an awful lot of other people, too, but he's about the only one who really listened.