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.

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