Showing posts with label Catholic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholic. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thoughts on Homeschooling, Part II

From the introduction to Paideia, by Werner Jaeger:

Education in any human community (be it a family, a social class, a profession, or some wider complex such as a race or a state) is the direct expression of its active awareness of an ideal. . . .
And, since the basis  of education is a general consciousness of the values which govern human life, its history is affected by changes in the values current within the community. When these values are stable, education is firmly based; when they are displaced or destroyed, the educational process is weakened until it becomes inoperative. This occurs whenever tradition is violently overthrown or suffers internal collapse. Nevertheless, stability is not a sure symptom of health in education. Educational ideals are often extremely stable in the epoch of senile conservatism which marks the end of a civilization—
I cannot say whether the chaos in education is the cause or effect of our society's lack of ideals, although I do finger both the left-wing rebellion from and assault on Western values and conservative pusillanimity and senility as red-handed culprits, but the issue is more complex than that. One could come up with as many explanations of our society's ills as we could reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire.

More important to our discussion is the fact that in a stable society (not static, but stable, and thus including healthfully growing societies) one would not have to think, or think so deeply, about culture and the fundamental guiding principles of life. One would inherit them, live by them, and since the society is healthy and since change is slow or modest, those ideals would guide you throughout your life as they guided your parents.

In contrast consider the conundrum of modern society, in which people's hopes of a good and stable life are foiled in one of two ways. Liberal and open people are fed, or more likely over-fed, a diet of fads, balderdash that changes every decade, or nowadays every year. They bounce from trend-to-trend until the wreckage of their hopes is visible in the rear-view mirror. Conservative types are handed down ideals that are or will become alien to society and which will alienate their adherents from society.

On the conservative side, consider the change within the life of J. R. R. Tolkien, in whose birth year of 1892 Queen Victoria rules the British Empire at its height, Brahms and Dvorak are composing symphonies, John Singer Sargent paints Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, and Kipling publishes Gunga Din.  In the year of Tolkien's death, 1973, the UK enters the proto-European Union, Pink Floyd releases The Dark Side of the Moon, Warhol paints Chairman Mao, and Americans are sending up stations into orbit. It is small wonder that Tolkien crafted the world of the Shire, where change comes slowly, if at all.

What does it mean to speak of ideals amid such swift change? In such rapidly evolving societies, and also in unhealthy ones and ones highly pluralistic that offer a multitude of visions of life, one must consider ideals most carefully, whether conservative or liberal. For the former, the values of yesteryear will set you apart, for better and worse. For liberals, the values of the day won't necessarily be around long enough to get you through life, nor have they been tested and found to be capable of such even if they did stick around. So consideration, to say the least, is a prerequisite of modernity.

In considering whether today's prevailing vision of life is good, some families find that it is not and so choose a new vision, often one rooted in things valued by earlier generations. That's why homeschooling families look odd to modern families, who often describe homeschoolers as Amish, or some such, by which they mean we look disconnected from the culture. Quite right, and quite good, if wisely disconnected—I would perhaps say the ideal is prudently independent. The family should have a somewhat unique and certainly a good vision of life that animates its members, although it should not, of course, become so odd and insular that it becomes a cult. On the other hand, the more debased the culture, the more radical anyone pursuing the good will seem.

If you have no particular vision of life, though, then the appalling popular culture of the present is your vision, whether or not you realize it. Popular culture (by which I mean vulgar culture and the ignorance of high culture and tradition) and what I will gloss over as "modern" trends in education are entangled in schools to such a degree as to form an impenetrable thicket so dense that someone reared within its thorny grasp will find it a long struggle to find his way out to the light, and when he finds his way out, he will not be the same.

I have a chip on my shoulder from the journey, which in some ways is that of a convert and marked by the same self-righteous devotion—often insecure possessiveness—for the old orthodoxy. In a time of greater stability (specifically, cultural stability, or perhaps we should say philosophical stability, or perhaps social consensus of purpose) I would have even with my conservative disposition enjoyed the liberty of dabbling in new trends, but in uncertain times new things, as they were for the old Roman, are the stuff of revolution.

My challenge, though, will be to give my children a traditional upbringing without poisoning their learning with my animus toward the present culture (and my insecurity about my position in it.) They will need to travel confidently and joyfully in larger and more varied circles than I, even though they carry more of the past with them than their peers. I will also need to take extra measure to educate them in the unique goods and opportunities of the present and in the grave ills of the past so that my preferences and partialities do not become their dogmas. Such restraint of my ego and purifying of my purpose—essential aspects of conservatism and education—is impossible save by the example of my wife's temperance and the counsel of her good judgment.

The challenge for those stuck in the briar patch, though, is not simply to get out. (I certainly don't recommend being so at-odds with the world as I am.) If spending a  decade finding the way back to the good things is your path, so be it, but don't jump on the traditionalist or homeschooling bandwagon as a fashion statement, on a whim, or for some purpose other than that it seems a necessary thing. And certainly don't drag anyone unwilling along with you. What to do, then?

If people took honest stock of their own education, particularly its limits, they would stumble, however crookedly, toward some ideal that they would want to reach for and with their children. You probably won't find all of society (or nearly all of it) appalling the way I do, but even from the briefest glances inward and outward I imagine any parents would take charge of some portion of their child's education that they feel they can better provide or that they ought to provide.

Starting from the premise not just that you and your life can be better, but better in ways you cannot yet imagine, expose yourself to some traditional ideas. Some will receive such ideas more readily by their aesthetic sense, others in philosophy of varying degrees of depth and complexity, still more by an innate religiosity, a sense of being bound to something. Some need a personal touch, that is, the guidance of a mentor.

Then from those ideas, develop a vision of life and measure it against what you see in yourself and around you. This doesn't mean to jump from one ideological bandwagon to the next, but in understanding of the many options open to you to develop an authentic self and way of living. One might simply say: since our society has not educated you, you need to educate yourself.

That is a burden of life in evolving, pluralistic and unhealthy societies. (Another is to learn to live in harmony with the many other very different people around you.) Even a cursory evaluation of oneself will reveal some incongruity between an ideal and what you witness in yourself, your life, and your family. The process of that self-reflection begins, it seems to me, in humility and courage.

For my part, I am aware that my knowledge and experience are most terribly limited and that many unforeseen obstacles wait in the path of educating my children, but such a realization does not make any school or program of which I know the slightest bit more attractive. I trust my ability to change more than I trust the situation of education and society to improve. Moreover, my fear of erring does not dissuade me from trying. I'm not so afraid of teaching my kids that I'm going to sentence them to twenty years of misinformation, oppressive workloads, and asking to go to the bathroom. Also, I'm not going to give up my time with them any more than I must, i.e. either to support them or to give them the space they need to grow and flourish.

I often feel that I don't have anything better to do than educate my children. If I had no children then I might, just might, take up some crusade to make the world a better place. (Although I think a lot of people who are on such crusades are really just hedonists, but that's a topic for another article.) Maybe if I didn't value education, or if I thought I would do more harm than good by educating them, I would send them off to school and go about my own affairs. But I think I can do good for them by teaching them and that we will grow best together, so why not try?

It is not intelligence, but humility that gives confidence. Not intelligence but the humble admission of weakness and the courage to improve are the stuff of learning. In one of his letters (7.26), the Younger Pliny, reminded by the illness of a friend, reflects that we are best when we are weak (infirmus.) When sick, he says, we ignore passions, temptations, and gossip, and mindful of our mortality we remember God. He concludes that we ought to live when we are well as we promise we will live when sick. Similarly St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, (2nd Letter, Ch. 12, v. 10) "I please (placeo) myself in my infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ; for when I am weak then I am powerful." The Catholic Church's Catechism, too, affirms the need of recognizing one's own weakness when guiding our children:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the "material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones." Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them. (CCC 2223) (original italics, boldface added)
The responsibility and rewards of familial moral, intellectual, and spiritual enrichment are, to me, inspiring. Family education sounds like a grand, vigorous adventure that will never end. Do you know what sounds awful, though? Twenty years of Sparto-Prussian "education" by threats of failure, Pavlovian bells, lines for lunch, lines for the bathroom, endless evaluations, aka putting your kids through perdition, all while two parents furiously and flustered flap around trying to tape up their house of cards. You don't need to have a spiritual awakening to say foohey! to that.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Quote: Dom Jacques Hourlier on the Fervor of Chant

from Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant.
Translated by Dom Gregory Casprini and Robert Edmonson. p. 35f

Unction is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a fervent or sympathetic quality in words or tone, caused by or causing deep religious feeling." . . . Its principal author is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Divine Love. In the liturgy it evokes holiness, order, and peace, the opposite of dryness and sterility. . . Unction makes it easier to enter into an attitude of prayer and love. . . 
Unction, or fervor, describes the atmosphere which all authentic religious music seeks to create.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Quote: Joseph Campbell on 'The Magic of the Rite'

From Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By:

For it is the rite, the ritual and its imagery, that counts in religion, and where that is missing the words are mere carriers of concepts that may or may not make contemporary sense. A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports or historic events, either past, present or to be, but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever.
Where the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling what their symbols "mean." The value of an effective rite is that it leaves everyone to his own thoughts, which dogma and definitions only confuse. Dogma and definitions rationally insisted upon are inevitably hindrances, not aids, to religious meditation, since no one's sense of the presence of God can be anything more than a function of his own spiritual capacity. 
Having your image of God–the most intimate, hidden mystery of your life–defined for you in terms contrived by some council of bishops back, say, in the fifth century or so: what good is that? But a contemplation of the crucifix works; the odor of incense works; so do, also, hieratic attires, the tones of well-sung Gregorian chants, intoned and mumbled Introits, Kyries, heard and unheard consecrations.
What has the "affect value" of wonders of this kind to do with the definitions of councils, or whether we quite catch the precise meaning of such words as 'Oramus te, Domine, per merita Sanctorum tuorum?' If we are curious for meanings, they are there, translated in the other column of the prayerbook. But if the magic of the rite is gone. . . .

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Five Modes of Prayer

It is often remarked that the greatest perk of teaching is the hours, but for my part the choice perk is working in a building with a chapel. The school chapel, like many, is most often devoid of people. Its side chapels remember the muttered masses and prayers of days gone by. The symbols of the stained glass illuminate the litany of saints for the passerby, with the pierced mitre of St. Thomas à Becket shining through to my favorite pew. Like most moderns, I never learned how to pray. Of course I learned to sit quietly and to say the words with good diligence, but I never discovered the disposition until my routine of daily prayers before work. After some years I realized in praying I would fall into one of several predictable patterns.

In the first way I pray the words as a mantra, not so much even focusing on the words themselves as simply saying them without interruption and without letting my mind drift to anything in particular. When praying like this, the act itself is the focus. It sets one apart from the world, blotting out all distractions external and internal.

Its opposite is the second mode, in which I reflect on every word of the prayer. When praying this way I tend to do so quite slowly, thinking on the associations, images, meanings, and implications of each word. Though I don't pray this way so often, I am always surprised by the manner and consistency with which the words reveal themselves excite the spirit.

Sometimes, though, I do not pray a traditional formulation but take the liberty of indulging my mind and formulating my requests or intentions in my own words. This takes two forms. In the third, I pay detailed, even excruciating attention to the formulation. As such, the prayer is in part an act of inquiry, for man's thoughts are seldom clear until they are expressed. How often do I struggle to find the words, stop to correct myself, or realize the foolishness of the request. It is often only by praying in this way that I understand for what I must ask.

After such prayers of considering, the fourth mode is the refined, simple request. Finally, I pray in thanks. This is no refined system or approved model, but it has served me. It could be summed up simply:
  1. Separate from the world
  2. Reflect on the sacred
  3. Know yourself
  4. Ask
  5. Give thanks

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Where Was I? Part I: Marriage

The longest interruption in blogging since our launch in 2009 is going to require some explaining.

Part I: I Was Married

Straight away I must object–are things not back to normal already?– to the phrase get married, for one does not get married in the sense that one gets a cookie, acquiring it. Marriage is not possessed, but lived. Nor does one get married as one gets a lesson, comprehending it, for philosophy and theology aside, who can fully explain what miraculous thing is apprehended by the mind's eye in your spouse? There's a Menckenesque humor in saying that one gets married as one gets spanked, or gets his just desserts–but I can't say I agree, for marriage is more, not less, than can be deserved.

Rather than those, then, I would say one is married, that is, by someone. The question is of course now this: by whom? It is on the one hand by the spouses themselves, for they make the vows, and on the other hand the priest, who having shepherded the couple pronounces the marriage valid. This observation raised for me several others.

First, we need priests. More specifically, good ones. We need priests not only who know things, but who work hard, who are organized, patient, and accessible. We need priests who want to save souls, who want to administer sacraments and therefore are willing to undertake the burdens of paving the way toward celebrating them. That means, beyond learning perfectly to celebrate the ritual itself, they need to answer phone calls, reply to emails, and be available for meetings. There is always an inglorious underbelly to lofty pursuits: truth requires lonely scholarship, prosperity requires prudent administration, health tedious exercise, and so on. Therefore…

Second, it is often that when confronted with things which are ends in themselves, we neglect other responsibilities. For example, confronted with the lofty purpose of celebrating mass, a priest may forget that he has responsibilities of stewardship. Likewise, who hasn't known a teacher who takes seriously his job of explaining concepts, but fails to engage the class? The caricature of the artist who neglects basic cura personalis because he is consumed by his art is, with respect to his tunnel vision, dead on.

For my part I grew fixated on the Latinity and Catholicity of the mass and all of its parts. This sounds reasonable, if not noble, certainly far more than fussy bridezillas cackling about the decor of their rented halls, at least. Yet the mass itself–the music, the words, the tradition–began to blind me to its own meaning. Not advisable.

Third, we are dependent on tradition. Looking back, one of the parts of the wedding which pleases me most is that it is not an expression of my own uniqueness. Aside from the Mozart, Bach, and Byrd, which all suit me quite well, it was a service which countless other Catholics have celebrated throughout the centuries. We spoke our words and the priest his, because those are words of the ritual. The end. If you want to personalize something feel free to write a book, draw a picture, or dress up your cat. You can't change the words or form of ritual because the process of invocation is not democratic, rather it is studiously guarded by a trusted few because it defines a people and their relationship to the transcendental. To utter the words is to acknowledge the world according to the tradition. Invocation is an act of definition

Finally, marriage is a lot of work, chiefly work on your character. I've never wanted to be better more than I do now. No sense of abstract morality, no philosophical premises, no sense of professionalism has motivated me so much as my vows with my wife. 

Continued in: Where Was I: Part II: Because Latin

Friday, February 20, 2015

Things I Don't Get #6: Offertory Shenanigans

So you're at church. Maybe you're visiting a parish or maybe you left the fancy labeled envelopes at home, but you'll be making your offering with cash. The offertory rolls around and as you reach into your wallet you realize you don't have the right change. The cognitive dissonance hits you at once: you have more money than you want to give to God. Embarrassed, you put in the whole amount and pray fervently for the redemption of your piteous, covetous soul.

Or, and perhaps this possibility was unknown to you, you can make change from the offerings in the collection basket. Oh you didn't know this option was on the table? Yeah you just stick your big unbroken bill out at the usher like you're paying for a hot dog, feign confusion that he doesn't have change, and then you can start rifling through the basket. Because nothing says transcendence like making sure you can buy stuff later.

Alright, fine: accidents happen. We forget. Humanum est errare. But how does sucking up your embarrassment and putting a check in the mail lose out to fishing the collection basket for change? I don't get it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Heard at Holy Innocents

Since the Archdiocese of New York's parish consolidation initiative spurred speculation about the closing of Holy Innocents, much has been written in praise of the parish. Least numerous and most necessary among this esteem is the appreciation for the priests who come from throughout the boroughs to say mass there in the Extraordinary Form. These are not idle priests who pop in from next door to say mass, but busy clergy who make time for the Holy Innocents community. They come with good spirit, prepared and thoughtful sermons, and full voices to offer not just a beautiful, but a consistently beautiful liturgy from week-to-week. Such praise doesn't diminish the work of the resident priests at Holy Innocents, who beside the work of their visiting brothers offer the indispensable before every EF mass, confession.

I'll pass over the uncommon grace and decorum of the altar servers to mention what is for me the most extraordinary offering of the parish, its music. From the small, dedicated schola flows week-after-week of glorious polyphony and chant. It's such a mainstay that even I began to take it for granted until, perusing the mass journal which I began a few months ago, I saw just how many pieces I'd noted in the margins.

Classical settings, renaissance polyphony, plainchant, homophony, preludes, fugues, motets, the choices are both varied and complementary, consistent and prudent. This is no small feat, finding such a wide variety of excellent music, rehearsing, and then performing it at the most appropriate mass. To praise just that is even to overlook the sung propers each week, with which I'll occasionally follow with my gradual. And they are indeed sung every week, never skipped because they're particularly florid one Sunday.

Nothing is ever skimped on or supplemented with inferior efforts. There's nothing added and there's nothing taken away, there's just the mass. Its loving, lively, traditional celebration at Holy Innocents makes it feel as it should, the most important thing in the world.

I list just a small sampling of what has been sung at Holy Innocents in the past two months. Again, this is putting aside all of the chant both ordinary and proper.

1. Vorspiel in D minor. Anton Bruckner [YouTube]
2. Missa Quarti Toni. Tomas Luis de Victoria [YouTube]
3. Tantum Ergo. Tomas Luis de Victoria [YouTube]
4. Ave Verum Corpus. William Byrd [YouTube]
5. Fugue in A, BWV.536. J.S. Bach [YouTube]
6. Missa de Virgine. Christobal de Morales [YouTube]
7. Panis Angelicus. Claudio Casciolini [YouTube]
8. O Crux Benedicta. Francisco Guerrero [YouTube]
9. Messa da Capella a quattro voci. Claudio Monteverdi. [YouTube]
10. Plein Jeu. Louis Marchand. [YouTube]

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How To Work Your Latin Missal and Gradual

Every school of thought and specialization has its own vocabulary. The study of electronics makes use of resistors and capacitors, music discusses fugues and ostinato, and philosophy talks of ontology and epistemology. Even the discussion of words themselves, in linguistics or lexicology, has an esoteric vocabulary of words with which the specialists discuss the field. Religions are no exception to the use of exclusive terminology, and Catholicism has one of the oldest and largest glossaries. Now it's easy to blame Catholic education for the gap in understanding, but I'll only fault it so far. Not because it's arduous work to know about which you speak, but because it's all too easy for faith to get overwhelmed by descriptive terms and semantics. It does no good to know the meaning of each word of Hamlet if you can't appreciate the play.

That said, knowing and discussing meanings is quite a help toward the end of knowing, or trying to know, what something is. Moreover, at some point in every Catholic's life he'll need to reference some prayer or hymn or chant, and he needs to know where to look. It's always chastening to realize how much we have substituted familiarity for comprehension when first we realize that we don't even know where to look for something.

My intent here is to clarify some essentials and orient the reader to the central parts of the mass, missal, and gradual. Excellent descriptions of the parts are available in the texts listed in the bibliography.

The Missal

Let us start with the Missal, named for the mass itself. From the Latin verb dimitto, missa originally referred to the dismissal of the service, but gradually to remain until the dismissal became synonymous with staying for the whole Missa, or mass. The missal in the middle ages replaced the earlier Sacramentary and Pontifical or Pontificale.

The missal contains all the texts for the mass and while they vary in organization and content from publisher to publisher, missals are printed approval from the church. The printing of Nihil Obstat ("nothing hinders") and Imprimatur ("Let it be printed") constitute an, "official declaration that a book or a pamphlet is from doctrinal or moral error." [Baronius]

Missals will often contain sections on doctrine, a calendar of the liturgical year, a list of feasts, general prayers, and so forth, but there are a few consistent, important sections which constitute the texts needed for the mass.

The first section is that of the Ordinary, that is, the parts which do not vary from week-to-week. Several of these sections of the order of mass (Latin, ordo, order, rank) are referred to by the first words of their Latin texts, respectively the 1. Kyrie, 2. Gloria, 3. Credo, 4. Sanctus, and 5. Agnus Dei. (The word ordinary can also, somewhat confusingly, refer to the bishop of a diocese.) The dismissal, or Ite Missa Est is sometimes listed in the Ordinary. These five parts are commonly sung by a solo cantor (Latin cantare, to sing) or schola (Latin: literally school, but choir here), although the priest will often begin the Gloria and Credo in plainchant.

In addition to these parts of the ordinary there is the Canon, (from Greek κᾰνών, a straight rod) which scarcely changes throughout the year. (The Latin noun canon can also refer to 1. a catalogue of writings or rule or 2. a body of priests.) The canon is said after the Sanctus.

There are numerous other small prayers in the Ordinary, including the Pater Noster and Asperges Me, but realize simply that in the missal they'll all be grouped together, sequentially and usually in the center of the missal. There will be prompts throughout the Ordinary, however, referring you to the parts of the mass which vary from week-to-week. These varying parts are called Propers.

From Latin's propria, these parts of the mass are proper to particular occasions, such as The First Week of Advent, the Nativity, or Feast Days for Saints. The Propers of the mass include, in order, the 1. Introit, 2. Collect, 3. Epistle or Lesson 4. Gradual or Tract, [and Sequence] 5. Gospel, 6. Offertory, 7. Secret, 8. Communion, and 9. Postcommunion. These are each short prayers, psalms, or passages from scripture. Many missals in the section for the week's Propers will also print the Vespers. Latin's vesper, evening, gives its name to these daily evening prayers which in part comprise the Divine Office, (Officium Divinum,) renamed at Vatican II to the Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum.) The Divine Office includes eight sections of prayers for use throughout the day, bound in a book known as a Breviary, from Latin's breviarium, or abridgment.

To follow the mass, then, you will need to bounce back and forth between the Ordinary and Proper sections of the missal. Note that while it too varies, the Preface (Latin praefatio) which precedes the Sanctus is considered part of the Canon. The Preface, a solemn proclamation said or sung by the priest in imitation of the Lord, introduces the Canon. The various prefaces are usually located right before the Ordinary in the missal. Finally, the Sermon may be considered of the Ordinary or Propers, depending on the priest.

In order, the main sections of the mass are as follows, but realize that there are other prayers in the Ordinary which are not listed here but are simply, "the mass."

Epistle or Lesson
Gradual or Tract, and occasionally Sequence
Pater Noster
Agnus Dei
Ite Missa Est
Last Gospel

Throughout the Ordinary, the instructions for what the priest does are written in red, called rubrics from Latin's rubra, red. In contrast, what he says is written in black, hence Fr. Z's famous invocation to "Say the Black. Do the Red."

A Note on Postures

Unlike the Novus Ordo, the Extraordinary Form, aka Traditional Latin Mass, aka Mass celebrated according to the Missal of 1962, does not prescribe postures for the laity. Many missals come with guides for posture and many are available online, but the lack of prescription suggests that a little common sense, deference to tradition, and potentially homework is necessary. The amicably named Richard Friend has written this useful summary of the issue, but one does not want to be the only man marching in step at the parade. I would hazard two remarks.

First, there is at every mass someone who stands, sits, or kneels at the absolute soonest moment possible, as if a wire is tripped after the final word of each section. This distracts and disrupts the fluidity of the mass. Yes, someone will invariably stand first, but there's a mechanistic mentality inherent in some movements which aggressively hastens the ceremony.

Second, there is usually someone at mass who sits, kneels, or stands through a section in strict adherence to his missal or own beliefs and complete disregard for the posture of the priest and/or congregation. That man may be correct, but he's just made himself the star of the show.

Fr. Moorman advises us that postures, "Do not bind so strictly as to make it a sin to depart from them. The same customs do not prevail in all places; therefore, one should always conform to the local custom." [Moorman, 78]

A Note on Tassels

Many missals come with bookmark tassels by which you can easily move from section to section in the missal. My preference is that the missal not have them sewn in, since in turning the pages by the tassels, which we inevitably do, the tassels eventually get worn down to the point where they no longer protrude from the bottom of the book, rendering them useless. The tassel marks are useful at:
  • The Beginning of the Ordinary
  • The end of the Ordinary
  • The Propers
  • The Prefaces
  • The Kyriale (see below)
  • Other prayers you favor
The Music

If you want to sing or follow the music of the mass, you'll need to do a little more work. Please note that here we are only discussing chant, aka plainchant aka Gregorian chant, settings of the mass. This excludes choral harmonizations, polyphonic settings, and orchestrated versions.

Most missals print in the back a Kyriale, or a collection of chant settings for the Ordinary. Of the eighteen settings some selection is printed. The full selection of chant for the Ordinary and Propers are contained in the Roman Gradual, Gradual, or Graduale. (This is not to be confused with the Proper section called the Gradual, the anthem of psalms between the Epistle and Gospel.) It was called the Antiphonal, Antiphonal Romanum, or Antiphonary, since it includes the sung responses, aka antiphons, of the mass. Today those terms refer to collections of the sung portions of the Divine Office, such as the Antiphonale Romanum, which contains the chant for Vespers. (The Liber Hymnarius contains the music for the other Offices.)

The Gradual, then, includes chants of the Introit, Gradual (in Lent a Tract), Sequence, Offertory, Collect, and Communion. Many Graduals were and are printed with no English instructions or translations of any kind, with even their prefaces and tables of contents in Latin. One should note that some Propers repeat throughout the year, and they are not reprinted but referenced with their page number on the other days to which they are proper.

A few definitions, excluding words with obvious derivatives and cognates to English, may also help one navigate the Proper of Seasons.
  • Adventus - Advent / of Advent
  • Aurora - Daybreak
  • Die - Day
  • Dominica - Sunday, The Lord's Day
  • Feria - Weekday (i.e. not Sunday or a Festival)
  • Hebdomada - 7 days/Week
  • Infra - later than
  • Matutinam - Early [Morning]
  • Nox / Nocte - night / at night
  • Quadragesimae - 40 days/Lent
  • Tempus / Temporis - time / of time
  • Trigesima - 30th
  • Ultimis - last
  • Vigesima - 20th
  • Vigilia - vigil, eve of a feast
With a little creativity, deduction, and reference, one can muddle through even without the soundest grasp of Latin. 

Wikipedia handily lists the structure of the Gradual, but I would briefly outline the Proper of Seasons with page numbers from Solesmes' 1974 edition:
  1. Tempus Adventus (p. 15) - Advent
  2. Tempus Nativitatis (p. 38) - Nativity
  3. Tempus Quadragesimae (p. 62) - Lent
  4. Hebdomada Sancta (p. 137) - Holy Week
  5. Tempus Paschale (p. 185) - Time of Easter
  6. Infra Octavam Paschae (p. 200) - After the Octave of Easter
  7. Tempus Paschale (p. 216) - Sundays after Easter
  8. Dominica Pentecostes (p. 248) - Pentecost
  9. Tempus Per Annus (p. 257) - Time Through the Year, i.e. After Pentecost
  10. Sollemnitates Domini - (p. 371) Solemnities of the Lord
I would also note that the section of Communia, or Commons, contains Propers for people and groups without their own Propers, i.e. "For Educators" or "For Doctors of the Church."

As an aside, the Graduale Romanum is a work of tremendous reference and scholarship. Each chant is labeled with the abbreviations of the manuscripts from which they came. For example, the Gradual chant Tu es Deus, for Hebdomada VI after Pentecost is present in all six manuscripts, but the Alleluia in XI occurs only in the Gradual of Compiègne, from the second half of the 11th century.

There, I hope, you have a little primer for where to find what for praying the Extraordinary Form of the mass. You may also find useful a liturgical calendar. Fr. Moorman's book, listed below, is probably the most succinct explication of the mass. 


Baronius Press. The Daily Missal and Liturgical Missal. 2009.

**Fortescue, Adrian and O'Connell, J. B. Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd. 1958. (First: 1917)

**Fortescue, Adrian. The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. Preserving Christian Publications. 2007. (First: 1912)

*Moorman, Msgr. George J. The Latin Mass Explained. TAN Books and Publishers. 2007. (First: c. 1920)

Pfatteicher, Philip H. A Dictionary of Liturgical Terms. Trinity Press International. 1991.

Solesmes. Graduale Triplex. 1974.

* Printed with Imprimatur
** Printed with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summertime Catholic

The summer is sad time to be a Catholic. Perhaps this fact stems from the re-classification of the season into "Ordinary Time" from what used to be called simply the time "After Pentecost," but all the order of the year and the faith seem to fall away for a few months. One feels as if the faithful would like to hang a "closed for vacation" sign out front. What gives?

First, many priests take their vacations during the summer. I understand that they need rest like anyone else, and that many priests laudably forego their vacations some for years on end, but it seems that the regular, predictable disappearance of priests at a certain time of the year has an insalubrious effect on the parish. This is especially the case when priests announce their departure.

Second, summer is also the time for priests to go visiting and doing their missionary work around the world. This is laudable and necessary, but its concentration in the summer tends to create disorder, less due to their variety than for two other reasons. First, they often make an additional speech besides their homily, ignore the day's readings to focus on their special message, or make two distinct sermons back to back. Second, visiting priests often have some difficulty with English pronunciation. Neither of these problems are insurmountable, but when they occur regularly they become disruptive. I've also heard priests with relatively poor English speak fluent Latin. Just saying.

Third, the choirs go into summer mode too. Various people are away, and out come the same staple tunes which the rag-tag band of whoever shows up sings without much practice.

Fourth, parishioner dress goes to the birds, which is an insult to what seems the most fashionable of earth's species. We find shorts offering varying degrees of coverage, sandals, t-shirts, tank tops... it's a carnival of horrors so grotesque that any sensate individual must be distracted by the colorful vomitus of tastelessness and skin.

Fifth, everybody complains about the air conditioning. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's blowing on me, it's too loud. Is it working? Did they turn it off? They're so cheap. We need to toughen up just a bit, not just because air conditioning is a luxury and not just because so many of us are slumming dregs of style, but because of the occasion's gravity. You don't need to read about the deaths of too many martyrs to get a little context, either.

Finally, mass simply takes a back seat in the summer. Yes, dutiful Catholics still go, but the event slips from the crescendo of the Lord's Day to something which we can "get in" at any time. If we go to the early mass we can still make the mall. Better yet we can go on Saturday evening! Sure the Saturday evening mass is legit, but it doesn't really seem in the spirit of the Christian day of rest and prayer.

I understand that priests need to say mass at various times throughout Sunday and I don't see any way around that, but the necessity seems to invite if not abuse, neglect. If it is easy to shunt mass to an earlier or later time, people will. Everybody's done it, but who hasn't felt a little guilty going to the very last mass on Sunday night?

These absences seem each to be slight, but combined they wound the corporal worship of the church. St. John Chrysostom writes,
You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests. –De incomprehensibili 3, 6: PG 48, 725; quoted from Catechism of the Catholic Church, s.2179, p. 526
The "golden-mouthed" father of the church has identified here the communal nature of joyful worship at mass.

All of these problems seem to have a denominator, if not common cause, which is that the calendar of the church has been supplanted by the calendar of the world. Sunday has been graded down to just mere bump above the rest of the week.

In light of modern man's dependance on the written word and modern Catholics' dependance on the missal, it's curious that a most useful part of many missals goes unknown: instructions for preparing oneself for mass. My Baronius 1962 missal has in its preparatory section several psalms, an explanation of the four dispositions for mass–Adoration, Praise and Thanksgiving, Reparation, and Impetration–as well as the Asperges me and Vidi aquam. There is also a most rigorous section about one's fulfillment of the third commandment in the examination of conscience:
Have you kept holy the Lord's Day, and all other days commanded to be kept holy?–Bought or sold things, not of necessity, on that day?–Done or commanded some servile work not of necessity?–Missed Mass or been willfully distracted during Mass? Talked, gazed, or laughed in church?–Profaned the day by dancing, drinking, gambling, etc.?

These questions are of course not chastisement, though in embarrassment we take them that way. Nor are they an incitement to a game of pious one-upmanship, with one seeing who can out-do the other. Instead they are an invitation to the weekly asceticism without which one cannot cultivate virtue. Benedict XVI writes of how the absence of activity,
relativizes work and directs it to the person: work is for man and not man for work. It is easy to see how this actually protects men and women, emancipating them from a possible form of enslavement. Sacramentum Caritatis, s. 75.
It is a concept paradoxical to the modern age: fulfillment through abstinence.

Monday, July 14, 2014


There's a fine line between perspicacity and wisdom and I'm not sure on which side of the divide falls George Bernard Shaw's statement that, “A man's interest in the world is only the overflow from his interest in himself."Taken by itself the statement seems more clever aphorism than philosophy, a cheap sophism to indulge the narcissistic. Yet taken with another quote from the very same man–that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."–there appears a wisdom to the thinking. I'll charitably assume so, at any rate.

The wisdom seems to me the realization that a great deal of man's struggle is with the fact that the world is not he. We rejoice in individuality, but we long for reconciliation. It is man's curse that the otherness of the world so essential for even recognizing his own being is simultaneously a source of antagonism. Moreover, the otherness from which we are separated is large, intractable, and worse than incomprehensible, parts of it are inscrutable. The mysterious world and the other wills in it are not wholly mysterious and the ensuing possibility for success is a source of both dynamism and despair. Yet what does success look like? Happiness and virtue, but the search for happiness conceals its origin in the ontological quandary, a need to reconcile with a multifariously different and often hostile otherness. To find this reconciliation he has three choices: remaking, rejecting, or redeeming.

Remaking is perhaps the most common path. Man can either attempt to remake the world or himself. Some men are concerned with the matter of the world and attempt to reconfigure the atoms of the world for man's good. These are the scientists and engineers who've been elevated to the preeminent ranks of society in the last two hundred years. Other men, the architects, build structures to dominate the land, and their structures reform the face of the earth. Shaw was right that without such dissatisfaction man would enjoy precious little material progress. Yet most people are incapable of such labors and passing aside their inability to remake the physical world, they attempt to remake men. There is no way persuasively to fake the ability to build bridges and make medicine, but promises of justice, liberty, and unity are too easily sold. Such are of course the goals of political liberalism and progressivism, but despite what they support on ballots, most people don't have a political bent to their actions. Instead we attempt to remake people we know, nudging them slowly but surely until they resemble us. This is usually subconscious, and frighteningly so, but do we reward those who do what we want and punish those who differ? Do we not by our actions encourage others to do the same, and are we not drawn to follow? We remake to reconcile.

Not ourselves, usually. Sometimes with great reluctance, though, we can nudge ourselves into habits more conducive to prosperity. The transformation can of course be major or minor, and stem from pragmatism or principle, but we can change with effort.

Rejecting the world is a period through which everyone passes, although it's possible to ground rejection in principled nihilism. It's no small coincidence that rejection tends to spur rejection. When we're spurned by lovers, we reject love. When we're spurned by bosses, we reject business and economics. When the political reigns are held by the opposition, we say that the system is broken. Most people come to terms with basic facts of life–you need a job, some people won't like you, not all problems can be fixed–but the paranoid reject the world as a malignant otherness.

Redemption is the release of man from the lonely quandary of being a self among others. It is instead of a change, a reunification. As we have observed this reconciliation is sought politically, socially, scientifically, and psychologically, but these means are transient and imperfect. The unification is sought aesthetically too, and perhaps this experience surpasses the others. For for what seems to unify all more than the pervading strains of music? How easy it is to imagine life, whether walking about town or pondering the cosmos, set to music. Too the aesthetic experience invites a coming together of personal impressions–those of artist and audience–with aesthetic principle. Still the experience of art is temporary and cannot fully transcend the isolation of otherness.

The only full redemption has already been paid for man, though, by the suffering of Christ, a passion which redeems man both on earth and in eternity. Man is unified to man each by their unity with Christ, and then man is unified with creator in eternal contemplation.

In his two perfect prayers, St. Thomas employs terms of redemption to describe the freedom and unification in the Eucharist. The Body is healing, enrichment, clothing, and cleaning; freedom from necessity. It is also the extinction of desires and lusts, the quieting of impulses; freedom from one's own and all wills but the divine. Finally it is a happy "consummation" and an "ineffable banquet," a fulfilling to the utmost. We are fortunate that the English translation retains the beautiful sense of consummation here: the bringing to perfect and thus ultimate completion.

It's unlikely that we can choose just one path of remaking, rejecting, or redeeming. We need to make a safe place for ourselves in the world that is somewhat inhospitable. Likewise we do need if not to remake others, to restrain evil, which requires a polity of virtuous men. We need to remake ourselves, to extirpate vices, yes, but also to love, for all forms of love require a change, whether to virtue or selflessness. All loves are likewise a form of unity, as hatred and war of destruction. This polar model has been cluttered for us by cheap pop references to love and war, but the classical (and especially Epicurean) conception of love and war, Venus and Mars, as natural forces is fundamental. Lastly it is evident that the bad must be rejected.

Our goal ought not to be excluding a given path of remaking, rejecting, or redeeming, but learning prudently to perceive and cultivate by kind, expecting, as Aristotle encouraged, no more or less than what each can offer. Much heartache and suffering could be avoided by not expecting perfect reconciliation now and forever through each path alone.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Put Down that Missal

Sin and vice may be, well, sin and vice, but they can still be educative and bear an occasional sweet fruit. Take, for example, the sloth which led me to leave my missal at home when attending mass. In my meager defense I bus 45 minutes down to Holy Innocents in NYC and thus would carry the small but weighty tome with me throughout the mass and remainder of the day. Not exactly Spartan severity, I know, but enough to inspire such confidence in my memory and Latin that I'd consider ditching my cheat sheet.

That's what it is, isn't it? A crib, a crutch. The English is a crib of the Latin, in some cases of which the Latin is crib of the Greek, itself often a crib of the Hebrew. More significant, though, the book is a crib of the mass, it's a theft from your mind, a theft of the experience of knowing. It is good to know, thrilling to make the words intimates and enlightening to know them so well that you can bring them forth, and have them unexpectedly brought to mind, in the manifold twists and turns of life.

The alternative to remembering words, as far as the mass is concerned, is a contradiction. When we are forgetful of words we let their printed form work for us, referring back to us the meaning which we don't grasp. In the Phaedrus (275A) Plato called words ὑπομνήσεως φάρμακον, a drug or remedy of remembering, not of memory.We've discussed this turn of thought before, but memory takes on a special role in the mass. The spoken words of the liturgy, the words in time not the words in print, are the mass. The missal is not the mass. To know the mass, then, you need to know the mass and be able to share in its unfolding.

The alternative is what we see most often, and surely do as well, and that is simply keeping pace with the mass. We follow, yes, insofar as we move in the same direction, but because the words are not ours we are cogitating as we go and thus not focusing our feeling. Now there is nothing at all reprehensible about such slight following, but it is not wholly satisfying. The exhortation of Pius X to "follow all that happens at the Altar" is well known, but its context is important:
You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the Altar.
The essential word there is associate, to make an ally of, and as such, to bind up with. We must be so bound up with the words that during the mass they may flow freely through us. The more we must out of necessity read and think, the less we feel in the moment.

The situation is not so different from aesthetic experience. We learn a great deal from analyzing scores and reading plays and to understand difficult ones we often read as we listen to a performance, but how much more vital is the experience when we've internalized the words and may simply experience them unfolding. Contrary to expectations, the mystery of their effect does not disappear by familiarization, but deepens. So many degrees beyond goes our experience of the mass.

Some common sense will illuminate the matter as well. Consider how often we discuss the memorial of the mass and the commemoration of the sacrifice, and making a memory of Christ, all with our heads ducked down into crinkly pages. Perhaps to make a memory we should keep one. How often in the Extraordinary Form of the mass do we look into our books as the priest says Ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Even at a Novus Ordo mass in English people look to the page out of habit, or perhaps just to avoid eye contact with awkward celebrants and lectors.

In any event we cheat ourselves of more intimately praying the mass from heart and mind when we rely on external aids. It's not hard to memorize, even Latin. The Ordinary remains the same week after week, and even without study the patterns of even the canon find their way into the mind. The propers of course vary, but should we not remember of all things these stories and lessons, if not verbatim then at least with some detail? Finally, so much beautiful music shapes the whole mass into the most memorable whole that we couldn't ask for something which more commends itself to the intimacy of memory.

The alternative seems to me a constrained experience, limited by busyness and thought. My missal remains an indispensable book for preparation, but during the mass one ought to carry as much as possible only oneself in fullness. This is surely an ideal toward which we can strive, and I'm not suggesting everyone drop their missals and try to wing a sudden and perfect active participation from memory. Rather we ought to read and prepare in private, follow at mass with a missal as much as we need, but prepare to put it down and remember.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Contempt and Love

Moral philosophers are eager to suggest every which way we might become good people, but they seldom seem to get around to telling you what to do once you are a good person. Don't they expect anyone to try, let alone succeed? Perhaps they don't think that there is anything to worry about once you succeed at virtue, by which I of course mean act generally with approbation, since no one is perfect all of the time. Yet there seems a unique struggle attendant the adherence to virtue, and perhaps even to the attempt at virtue, and that is the development of disdain for those unsuccessful at becoming good people.

I haven't called them wicked because most often they are not. I'm not talking about disdaining dictators, murderers, and the like, which is very easy, but disdaining normal people who don't try or fail to practice virtues. Neither am I talking about intellectual virtue, for we can all comprehend that some people can't comprehend some things. How though should we feel about and react to people who harbor chronic character flaws and make no attempt to correct them, or fail at the attempt?

Let me give you an example and drop the pretense that I'm not speaking about myself. I work rigorously against a nature which is critical, finicky, easily-perturbed, controlling, conservative, proud, opinionated, stubborn, reclusive, anxious, indolent, petty, and derisive, among other faults. For eight years–yes, precisely eight, it's been a deliberate endeavor– I've tried to prune this thorny personality into a gentleman. I very much hope that I've at least made an improvement, but I'm at a point where I remember my old self and I'm not very sympathetic to him.

Moreover, though, I find myself unsympathetic toward those who haven't made the change. Freud wrote that we dislike people who remind us of ourselves, but for my part I find myself disliking people who remind me of my former self. Perhaps this is illogical, for it's certainly possible that such people have wrestled with other demons while I've tamed my less feral passions. Sometimes though you just can't shake the feeling that someone is congenitally–I was going to say congenitally bad, but I think the better word is weak. They lack the fortitude to improve.

There seem two ways to react to such people. The first is that to which I'm  immediately inclined: contempt. This is a word too strongly associated with hate, and it more correctly means to value little, from Latin's contemno. This is no power trip, though, because as much as the sight of such people inflicting their untutored personalities on the world fills me with disdain, that same low estimation is attended by feelings of great pity. We pity them because they don't deserve their burden–who can be said to deserve his character?–and because we feel that we've but narrowly avoided similar fate.

Yet pity is ultimately a feeling of pain, and it's no small coincidence that contemno can mean to avoid. Ultimately we wish to avoid such people. Aristotle's great-souled man is quite indifferent to inferiors. In contrast we take delight in seeing the good and it is the good which spurs us to imitation.

Of course ruling out erotic love, is there no affection these people may receive, no principle which may bind men to each other? How can we share φιλία or have an amicus without equality? Both Latin's caritas and diligo interweave the idea of esteem into the valuation. It seems there is no pure love, to use the overused word, for such people, but is there pure love for anyone? It seems always mitigated or predicated on estimation, eros, utility, similarity, equality, or some premise.

The only two remaining postures are humanism, a pure love for man qua man, and Christian agape. Yet humanism is still predicated on esteeming someone valuable as a human, to which one might rightly ask: so? What exactly might it be about the human which means we should love him? Consciousness? Our genetic similitude? Such are pretty cheap commodities and neither suggests, let alone demands, love.

Alone is agape lacking in estimation, for to love God does not imply that one finds Him in conformity with anything, but that one loves the beginning and end of everything. To love anyone in this regard then, is not strictly utilitarian or merely moral, but teleological, love as ultimate reconciliation. As such it is also love for being qua being, and thus the proper antithesis to hatred, the preference that something not exist, i.e. nihilism.

It is the father who makes men brothers, and it is the universality of this declaration which gives such profound weight to the finale to Beethoven's 9th, a work which has been rechristened in the 20th century as essentially humanist or at best deistic. Yet it is joy, man's pure loving reaction to love and an affirmation of life, that is the divine spark which makes brothers of men. In other words, Deus Caritas est. (Of course refining our understanding of caritas in the process.) In the encyclical of the same name, Benedict XVI wrote of that statement's, "Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny," saying that, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter [congressio] with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction [progressionem]." [Latin English]
1 John 4.16: Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, καὶ ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ ἐν τῷ θεῷ μένει καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐν αὐτῷ μένει. / Deus caritas est et qui manet in caritate in Deo manet et Deus in eo. 
Love and joy, then, are not moral or principled acts, but the proper progression, or climax of life. Again fittingly, hatred and nihilism are the rejections and regressions toward nothing, from God and being.

This is a polarity we find again in the 9th Symphony from its chaotic keyless opening, itself suggesting a polarity with the hovering perfect fifth, to its ecstatic choral finale. The poem calls to song, though, not only those who partake in love by friendship or marriage, but all men who have all been given by nature a passion [Wollust] for life.

In the finale to the 9th, then, Beethoven summons all to fall in love under the lieber Vater, and combines the theme to joy with a gesture as simple as it is profound, a kiss to the world, in a fugue. The inexorable motion, rollicking rhythm, and overlapping of millionem and ganzen Welt and kuß seem to create that very joy of which it speaks. It's the fullness of this path from nothing to everything and the rightness, the properness of direction which we feel in joy which makes the 9th seem to transcend its Earthly parameters, calling us to partake in the divine spark which exclaims, Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

That Delightful Rest

The philosophy of Aristotle lacks little, but a gaping omission is a human face. There is no smart aleck Socrates with whom we may laugh and grow irate, nor can we spy a troubled soul, like Marcus Aurelius, behind the words. If there was a character, real or imagined, in the lost works of the Aristotelian corpus, the "rivers of gold" according to Cicero, then we are all the more at a loss, for Aristotle's work is decidedly not that of the mechanical, technocratic mind. His philosophy is not cold and calculating, and we'll find it warm and lived in if we peer behind the notational style. This is nowhere more evident than in the chapter of the Ethics on friendship where he defines a friend, in part, as someone before whom you might do something foolish and still not blush. Yet if this man from antiquity is largely lost to us, there as another face for the philosophy.

Cicero's own philosophical works make no boast of originality, the non plus ultra to the modern mind, but who wouldn't be content, christened "Rome's greatest Aristotelian" by Dante, of all? Unlike their Aristotelian origins, many of Cicero's works are structured not as treatises but dialogues, which give human faces to the dense and often obscure discourses which they summarize or critique. Still there are moments of genuine and unique revelation in Cicero's philosophy when he sheds a new light, filtered by years of study, personal suffering, and the struggles with nation he strove to save, on philosophy.

For me the most poignant of these moments comes toward the end of de Amicitia, written in the summer of 44 BC just before Cicero returned to Rome to launch his famous Philippics against Marc Antony. Here the statesman-philosopher re-imagines Platonism and Aristotelianism, especially the Lysis and penultimate books of Aristotle's Ethics, as a dialogue centered around Gaius Laelius the Wise, the preeminent author and orator of the generation preceding Cicero's. Laelius remembers his friend Scipio Aemilianus, i.e. Africanus the Younger:
Numquam illum ne minima quidem re offendi, quod quidem senserim, nihil audivi ex eo ipse quod nollem. [de Amicitia, 103. The Latin Library]
It seems innocuous enough, obvious even, but there's so much insight in these few words, insight only gained by personal experience. There's so much substance under that polished parallel style.

On the surface, sure, Laelius is saying the obvious that his good friend never said anything which offended him in the least, which he would have noticed, nor vice versa, but this is something we overlook today, I think. With our legal system which functions on the premise that the contest of contrary opinions will reveal truth, a pluralistic polity, and the economic necessity of competition, we perhaps let variety and rivalry get the better of us.

Of rivalry we often consider speaking our mind more than a right but a duty. How quickly do we feel that we'll be implicated if we don't speak up for, or against, something. How quickly do we offer unsolicited opinions simply because they're relevant, even if they're unnecessary. Who doesn't feel the urge to pile on when someone is being dragged through the mud? Laelius' point is of course that he and Scipio didn't offend one another, but surely some of that accord resulted from the prudential application of silence, or at least deferred judgment.

Of variety, how often do we hear platitudes about having rights to opinions, and rights to be heard, and so on. We forget, and Cicero reminds us, that the soul finds rest in the harmony of friendship.

The dialogue contains also in that euphonious and compact relative clause, quod quidem senserim, a subtle nod to the empathy implicit in friendship. Simply, we have to pay attention to how the other person feels, what hurts and delights our loved ones. We need to know that look in their eyes, they way they shuffle in their seats, the way they grow quiet, that tells us we've hurt them, and we have to care enough not to do it again. The very thought of that look, of that quiet, has to pain us so much that we need to avoid it. The dialogue of course is idealized, and it's unlikely anyone has not hurt his friend at some point, but we see the tempered wisdom of Cicero behind the ideal.

Finally, Laelius draws attention to the littlest things, minima, which always need our attention. How our friends cater to our little pet peeves, and how easily we take their considerations for granted. Maybe they let us tell the same story over and over, or they avoid a certain topic to which we are sensitive, maybe they curb their playful teasing, or perhaps they simply stopped slurping their soda for us, but the absence of these irksome bits gradually becomes an environment in which we can find ease, and ourselves, in each other. It's a rest so consoling, so powerful, that we feel it, moreover we can exist in it, even when the activity of friendship is broken off by distance, whether by travel or, as Laelius says about his lifelong friend, by death.

So in but a small sentence Cicero through the voice of Laelius reminds us what restraint, consideration, and appreciation are necessary to make, find, and keep that delightful rest we call friendship.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Holy is one of my least favorite words in our beloved English tongue. To start, the word has an undignified ring, for both wholly and holy are merely 'oly without that oft-unheard puff of air. It sounds like it should be a suffix, not a word of great philosophical and spiritual import, and listen to those sounds next to one another: oh-lee. Say it nice and quickly and it sounds like a siren! Holy is also considerably debased by its position in a variety of common curses and epithets, and for my money there's something unpleasant about a word so frequently appended to the likes of cow and mackerel.

Yet, sanctus, is word which looms large in my mind. Aside from its aesthetic superiority what a panoply of perfect meanings swirl about it: sacred, venerable, pious, ordained. How sanctus seems to contain all the other virtues. It is what we call sanctus that defines not just ourselves, but everything.

One musical setting of the liturgy's trifold sanctus bring out all of these meanings.

The Sanctus from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis emphasizes the mystical power of the word from Isaiah 6:3, its centrality and the reverence it summons from us. Beethoven achieves this in a few ways. First, his indication is mit andacht, rapt and with devotion. Second, he's returned to D, the home key for the whole mass. Third, he's eschewed bright strings for the more austere basses. Fourth, in m. 9-12 Beethoven creates a novel, solemn color palette of horns, trumpets, and trombones. Finally, the theme itself is intimate, with its own internal motion, that step and leap, that generates the whole piece.
We begin then not with confidence, but with the reverence which precedes confidence. Only gradually does that germinal theme, working its way up, graced by a trifold repetition in the brass, finally say in the four soloists, Sanctus. Beethoven repeats not just sanctus three times but the whole phrase, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

In the first repetition, the polyphony emphasizes the unexpected spreading of the word. From one to the other the delicate word spreads from voice to voice. Also, by the musician's power, the melisma, he's made san-ctus, of two syllables, now of three and thus equal to the tri-syllabic do-mi-nus, to which it naturally now seems cognate.

In the second repetition with their crescendo on the first dominus and sforzato on the second, the voices seem to realize the possibility of this momentous development, but back off with the somber, darker piano repetition of Sabaoth. Can our Lord be the Lord of Hosts?

In the third an final repetition, the syllabic pronunciation is timid declaration, as quavering ninths in the violas and cellos fade away over a drumroll. The ensuing movement comes an emphatic yes in the form of an ecstatic fugue on pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Memory is a strange word for a strange concept. What does it mean to remember? Our English word memory is not helpful, conjuring images of a faculty of remembering, as if drawing water from a well. The clunky memorize has its connotation of firing synapses, but tells us how, not why is memory. Latin's tenere in memoria is an improvement, suggesting as it does the activity of holding in memory, as does its recordare, the holding of something in one's cor (stem cord-) or heart, living spirit. We retain something of this understanding in the phrase, "learn by heart," which alas seems to be ebbing away.

As we often do, though, we turn to the Greeks, and not just to their pair of λήθη and μνήμη, forgetfulness and memory, but to the famous discussion of memory which concludes Plato's Phaedrus. This passage is often quoted by proud memorizers who revel in recollections of their favorite poems, and while it's all well and good to wag a finger at the philistine who can't quote a line of any significance, it doesn't answer much to say tritely that reading print simply weakens the memory. It even elucidates little to say that the written word is not knowledge, as pretty as the thought may be.

Plato's insight, though, comes soon after the oft-quoted and there he idealizes not the tender of letters who sows words in the garden of letters for recollection, but the dialectician who plants words in souls, not perfected but alive, potent to propagate. This claim sounds incredible, for how can an idea differ simply by its location? This is surely some ploy to lay secret knowledge in the hands of the few. Our lack of imagination often fails philosophers, but especially Plato who might jest about our mental infecundity. Here, imagine a word in a book: it does nothing. If one asks it a question, as Plato said, it responds nothing. Yet the word in the mind partakes in our activities, observes them and changes them, even perchance changing itself. It is only passed on if by, or through, a memory.

There is something of this thinking, quite unexpectedly, in Aristotle's causality wherein man, the lover of understanding, seeks that "why" of things which is both question and answer, and in understanding fulfills his nature and the promise of worldly intelligibility. Understanding, then, is a reconciliation of self and other, and to remember Plato and Bach and Horace as much as mathematics and astronomy is as much to know oneself as to know them as to know the world. To hear the words of the mass not as spoken text but as an awakening of the words within you, an awakening of words shared, transferred through time and transfigured through the sacrifice, is the reconciliation of all things.

Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
–Little Gidding

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Lost Calendar

Time is shaped or it is incomprehensible. Scientists peer in vain back at the still time before time which began time and forward through the eons to time's still termination to avoid the eternal presencing through space. A poetical thought few if any minds can live on, man seems to find it simply one damn thing after another. Man must fix time for himself. Art satisfies man as it does for it seems to tame time into something recognizable: film sculpts time, music meters time, and painting stops time. For moments these move the soul beyond the world but they cannot remove his intolerable shirt of fire.

The Christian calendar orients man's world around Christ while we dwell in the world, reconciling the corporeal and transcendent. Scripture and saintly homage, sacred remembrance and theology are all reconciled through the mass. The Christian however calendar is also gone, replaced socially by secular holidays and that most sacred bourgeois feast, the weekend, and liturgically by that ternary bloc of Advent, Lent, and Ordinary Time. The epoch of Christ's redemption, the years Anno Domini, are now the years of the "Common Era," an epithet slapped on by those so indolent, unstudied, and cowardly that they didn't even have the decency to fish for a new date from which to start their age. Even the French Revolutionaries had the decency to do that. Add to this disorder the rotation of scriptural readings and the liturgical breakdowns and we have a true loss of time, season, and center.

You'll notice that the leading image above isn't that of a liturgical calendar. How many of those round doohickies (left) do you see, taped and torn, festooned around schools and church vestibules everywhere? I've never known anyone to find it more inspiring than its color-coding. With it's arbitrary transferring and shifted observances, it's the fruit of tinkering and not tradition. The image above is that of the Labors of the Year, that is, the seasonal organization of life which results from the order of the Christian calendar.

It is no coincidence and to their credit that the online spaces of so many Catholic writers and bloggers become calendars where they mark the feasts, posting paintings, pieces of music, and prayers which they are discovering for themselves. They miss the order, surely, but also the pleasure which shaped time gives, for the calendar gives not only purpose but season to worship as does a Bach cantata or an altar cover of Bernini.

The traditional mass, its shape of and through the year, and the art of its expression are instead of interminably presencing through time, of time, man, his expression, and God a perpetual reconciliation. The alternative is one damn thing after another.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Good Intentions

Traditionalists are seldom lacking reasons they prefer the older form of the Roman Rite: the lectors, the extraordinary ministers of communion, the priest facing you, the sign of peace, and on and on. You name something, and one of us has a gripe about it, wisely or not. Experts might be able to justify better candidates and name a more egregious cobbling or snipping, but for my part as a humble layman I find the recitation of the petitions the most awkward part of the Novus Ordo.

To begin with charity, the notion of simple requests for God's help was a noble idea. It hearkens back to one of my favorite passages from Classical philosophy, a passage from Marcus Aurelius Meditations in which the emperor reminds himself to pray like the Athenians, "simply and freely" or not bother praying at all. Not structured by formula or tradition, these are short, simple petitions–even the word is appropriate, from Latin peto, which simply means to ask–seeking help. With regrets, that's where my charity ends and my frustration begins.

First, you can't structure spontaneity. I cannot force a genuine, simple outpouring of concern for these fleeting, unprepared announcements, whether or not I actually have concern for them, just because they're tossed at me. I know what the mass is and prepare myself for it, but these petitions blindside me and I'm paralyzed.

Second, the petitions often wildly differ. Who can with honesty and a moment's notice, pray for earthquake victims, political leaders, vocations for the priesthood, the military, and the deceased of the parish? This variety is also distracting and sends my mind down various byroads away from the mass.

Third, these requests are usually read by lay readers. Why? Who is this person and what function of the mass do they serve? Are they saying prayers? The Missal Instructions (GIRM 69) say that the priest "regulatesthe "prayer" from the altar and then (GIRM 99) that the lector announces the petitions.

So are the words of the lector the prayer or not? If not, what does it mean for the priest to regulate my prayer?

Also, nuntio in Latin means to bring news. To whom is the lector bringing news? If it's God he brings the news to, then it's a prayer (whose?), and if it is I to whom be brings it, then how can he bring me my own prayer? What's going on here?

I'm really not trying to be clever here, but this is confusing.

Fourth, what about the Kyrie at the beginning of mass? Yes, those six words which so many priests speed by are prayers for mercy from God. I find when they're sung as some length and with beautiful music the words are a perfect time for collecting one's various concerns, and coming at the beginning of mass they are gradually focused into the prayer of the mass.

Fifth, why do the petitions have to be the same for everyone? Who decides what "the prayer of the entire community" (GIRM 69) is, and why does it change on a weekly basis? Why is it called the "Universal Prayer" or "Prayer of the Faithful?" What about other prayers? What about the mass itself?

Sixth, The Missal Instructions define the Universal Prayer as one in which "the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith. . ." (GIRM, 69) This is not even a syntactically comprehensible sentence, let alone a theologically comprehensible one.

Seventh, the speaker always references a "parish book of intentions," which I'm apparently supposed to have read, perhaps? Or maybe I'm just supposed to offer prayers for everyone? I just don't know what to do here.

Finally, the Universal Prayer always ends with an encouragement to pray for our own special intentions, as if to say, "Right now find something to pray about!" Or am I supposed to save something to pray for at this time? What about that spontaneity? Or why not just pray when it occurs to you? What's special about saying it right at that time?

Also, why send everyone off on their own prayers right before the Liturgy of the Eucharist?

I might seem out to be contentious, but I'm bewildered by the fact that no matter my preparation or disposition I always feel awkward at this part of the mass.