On Hearing the Greatest Hits at Mass

imageI’m pretty sure most people are aware that after Vatican II a great many changes, and some abuses, were inflicted on the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Some of these changes were more or less in accord with the documents promulgated by the Council, for instance, the development of the liturgy in the vernacular (more on that in a future post). Other things happened, though, that had nothing to do with the intentions of the council: priests dressed in clown costumes, “liturgical dance”, rubrics changed by personal whim of both liturgist and priest alike, are just a few examples. I am thankful that under the careful guidance of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, most of these abuses were corrected.

There’s one reform instituted by the Council and fastened on to with rather more abandon than thought, that now seems impervious to correction, liturgical music. Yes, that jarring, saccharine, banal and completely bereft of any taste what so ever music played in most parishes every Sunday was, you might say, an unintended consequence of Vatican II. I believe, rather, that the Church has always desired an element of beauty in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. The Council’s document on the liturgy, Sancrosanctum Concilicium (SC) states:

“Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship.”(#112)

I would submit that without beauty, sacred music does not “add . . .delight to prayer, foster unity of minds, or confer greater solemnity”, instead it fosters distaste, mental upset and the sense of being at a folk rock concert featuring the Smothers Brothers. The music is vaguely upbeat and often performed with instrumental accompaniment, the relentless guitars of various sorts, even electric guitars, piano, fiddle, whatever comes to hand, with the odd tambourine thrown in, just to enhance the mood. For me, it does everything but promote prayer and contemplation.

As I said above, I can’t believe this cacophony was ever the intent of the Church for music at liturgical celebrations. For example, the Council also states,

“All artists who, prompted by their talents, desire to serve God’s glory in holy Church, should ever bear in mind that they are engaged in a kind of sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation.”

Does the music you hear on Sunday do any of that? Does it edify, foster piety or your religious formation? I can’t say, based on my own experience, that it does.

So, you may ask, what does the Council recommend?

Well, the choice given “pride of place” among liturgical music is Gregorian Chant.

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.” (SC #116)

Other forms may be used, “so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action.” To my mind, music such as Gather Us In fails this test miserably. Chant, on the other hand, offers the multiple advantages of being simple, dignified, reverent, and beautiful. I know that many of our liturgists would argue that people today wouldn’t take to chant because it’s antiquated and they’re unfamiliar with its notation, etc. It’s so passé don’t you know? In response, I’d ask, did you ever hear of the hit album Chant — Music for the Soul, by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heilegenkreuz? According to Amazon, this is still the #11 best selling album in the category of Sacred & Religious classical music; pretty good for an album released in 2008. So much for acceptance; it’s obvious a lot of people are quite willing to pay good money to hear chant. It turns out, the greatest hits of the 6th century are still among the greatest hits of the 21st.

If you were attending Mass, wouldn’t you rather listen to some of the best selling, most beautiful, music of our time, or second hand stuff that no one would sit still for, much less pay for, unless forced to by the parish music director? The answer seems like a no-brainer to me.






Love is Worth More Than Intelligence

A 7 Quick Takes on Friday post, hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary


“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. There may be legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not… with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” Pope Benedict XVI

This quote highlights one of the surprises I had in store for me coming into the Church. My misconception centers around an idea common to most Protestants, that the Catholic Church defines, in detail, everything a Catholic must mindlessly believe. The surprise was how relatively little the Church holds as infallible dogma; there are a great many areas where Catholics are free, with a well formed conscience, to make up their own minds.


“Christianity taught men that love is worth more than intelligence.” Jacques Maritain

Some times a person can be too smart for their own good, and the good of those around them. We’re seeing amble evidence of it in the newspapers and TV news shows this week, for sure.


Got the first clarinet lesson in this week, and boy, do I have a lot of work to do. I’m having to relearn everything from putting the horn together to preparing the reed before playing and a whole host of other good stuff. My main problem, and I’m not sure why it is so, is keeping good time, as the music is written. Another surprise this week, I’m not squeaking and squealing as much as I expected. My instructor plays in a couple of local symphony orchestras and teaches classical clarinet, so it’s not surprising he’ BIG on details. I’m going to be doing a lot of exercises, but I’m using the very same book I used when I first started playing.

image“Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

Another thing my clarinet instructor insists on is 45 minutes per day of practice, at least. I thought that wouldn’t be any problem at all. Turns out, that’s hard work! Also, I’m practicing during the time I used to do writing, so I’m having to rearrange my routine. One of the nice things about Benedictine spirituality is that it’s built for situations like this; if you have something planned you needn’t get upset when your nicely conceived plans fall down around your ears. John Lennon would have been a very good Benedictine.


“One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” Gilbert K. Chesterton


“Be proud that you are helping God to bear the cross, and don’t grasp at comforts. It is only mercenaries who expect to be paid by the day. Serve Him without pay.” — St. Teresa of Ávila


imageToday is the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings during World War II.  These landings were crucial to the defeat of Nazi Germany and I ask you all to take a moment today to remember the incredible heroism of those American, British and allied soldiers who took part in those landings.  We owe our freedom to them.

Unholy Holiness

A 7 Quick Takes

Pope BenedictThis week, I finished reading Pope Benedict’s book, Introduction to Chrisitianity, a book I’ve started three or four times and never finished. I’ve got to make a few comments about the book.

One theme that Benedict refers to repeatedly is the true reason for the faith, a theme that was on my mind for some time before I read his book. The point isn’t to enforce rules or create and follow canon laws, it’s to be a home for believers. As he writes:
“Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical structures. They live on what the Church always is; and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them.”

I find this heartening in the wake of the concern on the part of the very conservative blogosphere over Pope Francis actions during the term of his papacy. These things too will pass.

Benedict also writes about the Church and its relations with the world. The Creed affirms that the Church is holy and one. Many outside the Church, especially in the wake of the priest scandals, have questioned how that could be. Benedict points out that, in effect, the Church is human and takes her holiness from Christ, not from her members. Here is a quote:

“Is the Church not simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight?”

And a little further on he writes:

“I must admit that to me this unholy holiness of the Church has in itself something infinitely comforting about it. Would one not be bound to despair in face of a holiness that was spotless and could only operate on us by judging us and consuming us by fire? Who would dare to assert of himself that he did not need to be tolerated by others, indeed borne up by them? And how can someone who lives on the forbearance of others himself renounce forbearing? Is it not the only gift he can offer in return, the only comfort remaining to him, that he endures just as he, too, is endured? ”

For my part, it would be unbearable to try to be part of a Church that is so perfect that there would be no way I could achieve anything like full participation. Who would want to be part of a Church that was so perfect, it would be impossible to stand?

I guess this is the day for quotes, but I found another interesting quote in Fr Schall’s book, Another Sort of Learning, from, of all places, The Self Made Mad.

“Did you ever stop to wonder about how recent historical events will be reported in elementary school history books 100 years from now? We hate to think so, but in the year 2060, say, elementary school history books will probably be exactly the way they are now. Which means they will be simply written so that children who study them can find easy answers to everything, even things that college professors and historians won’t fully understand. For instance, every historical figure will be either good or bad, with nobody a little good and a little bad, the way most people really are.”

I think this may be proven to be an optimistic outlook, but it does show that wisdom can be found almost anywhere, if you just keep your eyes open to see it.

It appears 3 Secret Service agents have been sent home from the Netherlands this week “for disciplinary reasons”. One agent even passed out in the hotel hallway in front of his room because he was too drunk to get the key in the door. If I were President Obama, I might begin to think it a good idea to start investigating and promoting those old fashioned ideals that he’s so easily dismissed, like morals and a sense of duty. It’s sad how far the Secret Service has fallen over the last few years.

Students at the “other” university in town (i.e., not the Air Force Academy), University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), have started food bank for fellow students. It seems that, after paying tuition, buying books, computers, phones, etc., for many students there’s no money left to pay rent and buy food. I’m very thankful that, when I was going to college, there was no thought of having to buy computers to survive in class. I’m also thankful that tuition in Texas in the early 1970’s was next to nothing. It’s true, books were relatively expensive, but nothing like the cost of text books these days. But I also wonder if education these days is cost effective. I wonder if many students who feel they have to go to school to earn a degree, and who come out poverty stricken, in debt, and unable to find a job would be better off learning a trade so as to be able to earn a living. It’s seems it’s seldom presented to high school graduates as an acceptable alternative. Maybe it’s a good idea to rethink that policy. In the meantime, kudos to the students who initiated this effort.

Weather is a constant source of confusion at this time of year in Colorado. This week alone we’ve had late spring like temperatures and extreme cold and snow. I’m getting ready for spring and the arrival of Easter. If memory serves though, it isn’t uncommon here in the Springs to have snow on the Easter lilies. Since Easter is so late this year, I wonder if the pattern will hold?

That’s a wrap for this Friday post. If you’d like to read many more Quick Takes from other fine bloggers, please stop by Jenifer Fulwiler’s Conversion Diary blog right away.


Locus Communis – Commonplace Book

Locus Communis – a theme or argument of general application. A commonplace book is a scrapbook or compilation of information the author of which deems important. They became popular in 15th century England and included quotes, tables of weights and measures, recipes, recipes for making medicines, prayers, what have you. I look at it as more of a journal of things I think worth notice and from time to time, I’ll be sharing some things from it.

The Order of Things

As part of my on-going reading project, I’ve read a bit from a book called, The Order of Things, by Fr. James Schall. Sometimes I think most anything written by Fr. Schall is worth reading. This quote reminds us to ask the important questions of ourselves, and really consider the answers we give; I think we should do so frequently.

By contrast, I have always particularly liked the practical common sense of an Aristotle, a Samuel Johnson, a G. K. Chesterton in these matters. “We must not think that the man who is to be happy will need many things or great things, merely because he cannot be supremely happy without external goods”, Aristotle told us. “For self-sufficiency and action do not involve excess, and we can do noble acts without ruling earth and sea; for even with moderate advantages one can act virtuously” (Ethics I 179a16). This passage is the great defense of the common man not merely in his daily affairs but in his own personal orientation to what is beyond himself. And if we can act virtuously at all, we already find ourselves subsequently oriented to things of truth that are, as it were, beyond virtue, wherein we begin to wonder about the whole order of things: How is it? Why is it? What is it for? How do I stand within it? — Fr James Schall, The Order of Things

Back at the turn of the century (at my age, I default to thinking about the turn of the 20th century, not the 21st), I had a blog in which I tried to write about the virtues. In my reading, I came across Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was impressed with that book, I thought it one of the few “time management” type books worth reading and I worked out that the 7 habits could be loosely compared to the 7 virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. I was always undecided just where the best fit was for beginning with the end in mind but felt hope was the best fit. In any case, no matter what you do in life, it’s always good to begin with the true end in mind, as Fr Schall mentions in this quote:

An ordered soul, therefore, will carefully examine each object or power within it and seek to rule it, that is, impose its prudential intellect on the act. This act is seen in the light of the soul’s end. It is to be noted that if we choose the wrong end, which we can, all our “virtues” will be conceived as guiding our particular acts of whatever area—courage, temperance, justice, anger—to this end, according to which we define our happiness. In this paradoxical sense, virtues can aid the effective accomplishment of vices. In other words, we can learn to rob a bank well—something that actually makes the fault or sin worse. — Fr James Schall, The Order of Things

Jesus of Nazareth

I’ve also been reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth.It seems, in light of current events, that our participation in God’s knowing is struggling against stronger and stronger forces trying to snuff it out.

But what is “God’s will”? How do we recognize it? How can we do it? The Holy Scriptures work on the premise that man has knowledge of God’s will in his inmost heart, that anchored deeply within us there is a participation in God’s knowing, which we call conscience (cf., for example, Rom 2:15). But the Scriptures also know that this participation in the Creator’s knowledge, which he gave us in the context of our creation “according to his likeness,” became buried in the course of history. It can never be completely extinguished, but it has been covered over in many ways, like a barely flickering flame, all too often at risk of being smothered under the ash of all the prejudices that have piled up within us. And that is why God has spoken to us anew, uttering words in history that come to us from outside and complete the interior knowledge that has become all too hidden. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism to the Transfiguration.

And finally, a little poetry from Sir Walter Ralegh —

Even such is Time

Even such is time that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days.
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

Sir Walter Ralegh (1554—1618)

Two Popes, A Redo

I wanted to write a post comparing the two most recent popes, Benedict and Francis.  I hoped it would be clear and concise and cogent.  Instead it came off sounding like some pompous bull***t and was anything but concise or cogent.  I apologize for that.  All I wanted to say is that the similarities and contrasts between the two men are remarkable, but the important thing is the one common denominator:  each is his own way occupied the same chair of Peter, as have 264 other men in the last two millennia.

That isn’t just a job, after all; it’s a continuation of the ministry Peter received directly from Jesus himself.  So, one man displays humility by giving up what might seem to many to be some sort of earthly power and the other takes it up, only to exercise the office in a very different way; same office, the same divine ministry, just a different style.  I also find it remarkable that both men were accused of being war criminals of one sort or another upon taking up the office.  Can that just be a coincidence?  Or, are the same forces that opposed Benedict the same ones, however unimaginative they are, that oppose Francis now?  It’s tough to think those kinds of things are just coincidences; like they say on the cop shows, I don’t believe in coincidences.

Through it all, we have the Church, the same Church that began when the Caesar ruled Rome.  Where is Caesar now?  I think that’s remarkable; the same Church that began way back then still commands the world’s attention today, almost unavoidably.  It’s hard not to recognize how unique in world history this is.

Two Popes, the Same But Different

Pope Benedictus XVI

The Church has been around for an awfully long time, 2,000 years. To give you some perspective, Martin Luther began his movement only 500 or so years ago.  Yet, as old as the Church is, it’s never inappropriate to think the more things change, the more things stay the same. We’ve seen that played out in remarkable ways in the time since Pope Benedict‘s abdication announcement.

Two Humble Popes. When Pope Francis was elected, and ever since, everyone’s remarked about his sense of humility. Out on the balcony, Francis asked everyone in the crowd, and those watching, to pray for him and to bless him, and bowed his head to receive their blessings. The next day, he went and picked up his bags and paid his bill at the hotel where he’d been staying, taking a car from the equivalent of the Vatican motor pool. He has seemingly eschewed the more formal attire of Benedict for the simple white cassock.

It seems people have forgotten how many commentators remarked, correctly on Benedict’s implicit humility shown in his decision to leave the papal office. He showed that, at heart, he was willing to listen to God’s voice and allow that voice to lead him wherever God willed. It was an expression of perfect submission to God’s will that anyone who could be open enough to see would understand.

Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first. We’ve seen, in the last month or so, two humble Christian men put that axiom into solid, easy to understand action for the entire world to see, granted in very different ways, but still easily seen and understood.  They showed themselves to be real teachers and bearers of Christ’s message in doing so and we all should be humbled by their example.

Still Able to Surprise. As I said above, the Church is 2,000 years old, yet she’s still able to surprise and cause the world to sit back and take notice. Benedict’s abdication was certainly a surprise, totally unexpected, yet he was unafraid to break with Tradition and do what he believed to be the right thing. His action showed the Church’s (eternal) perspective on worldly affairs and the right relationship between God and man. He didn’t cling to power like some CEO or world leader but willingly gave it all up when the time had come.

Father Jorge, as Cardinal Brogolio likes to be known, was about the last man anyone expected to elected pope. He was older than people thought appropriate, he was doctrinally conservative, which the left side of the aisle thought disqualified him, and he had been passed over the last time around. By worldly standards, he didn’t have a chance. But the cardinals were listening, not to the worldly types on Twitter, but to the Spirit which appears in the form of a dove and gave the Church a great gift. Surprise!

On top of that, Cardinal Brogolio made yet another break with Tradition and chose to be known as Francis, a name never used before, signaling to the world that it was time to renew and rebuild the Church, just when the world was beginning to write her off as hopelessly out of date, unable to adapt to the new world order.

War Criminals? I find the reaction of those in the liberal media, both Catholic and secular, to both popes remarkable alike. First, there was ample evidence of dismay that the Church once again went with a pope who happened to take her teachings seriously. In both cases, there was dismay and a subtle tsk, tsking, at the display of reactionary spirit by a bunch of doddering old men unable and unwilling to keep up with current trends in society.  They were demanding the Church change to fit their human ideas, instead of doing things in the proper order and seeking the Lord in true and humble repentance and conversion.

More seriously, unnamed, and undocumented, sources popped up in both cases claiming that each man was guilty of war crimes, maybe even atrocities. In Benedict’s case, he was accused of being a Nazi, in Francis’ case, he’s now accused of being a traitor during Argentina’s “dirty war” in the early 1980’s. It seems the world is ready to use any weapon, any charge, true or not to discredit anyone who would lead the campaign against it. In both cases, of course, the effort will be fruitless.

So, we have two popes, each man very different from the other, leading by example and teaching what it means to be humble, showing the world that the Church is still capable of surprise and still able to withstand the worst sort of attacks the world can throw at her. What was it Jesus said about the gates of Hell not prevailing against her? We’ve seen the truth of that, in spades, over the last month or so.

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I haven’t written much, if anything, about Pope Benedict’s retirement. I think it’s a decision only he can make; with my retirement happening on the day after his, I think I understand his motives. I know how hard it is to be an accountant at a small company at 66, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the Pope at 86. And, Benedict is looking increasingly frail and, sadly, seems to be aging very quickly. He may feel he could go on, but for reasons both personal and professional he may question whether he should go on. I understand him thinking he shouldn’t.

Too, much of what has been written in the last two or three weeks strikes me as nothing more than idle speculation, sinking at times to the level of just plain gossip. There are people who presume to speak with great authority about what will happen when Benedict leaves, how do they know that, any more than the rest of us? It’s nincompoopery! Who needs it?

I simply have the feeling that, at this time in particular, the Holy Spirit is actively guiding the Church and will guide the Conclave. I have an inkling that the next pope may not be any of the Cardinals whose names have been prominently mentioned by so-called experts as likely successors; I think the one chosen may be from way out in left field, and will be the best choice for just that reason. But, I don’t care, and I’m willing to wait to see how matters play out and to rejoice when the next pontiff is finally named. There’s nothing else to do.

Pray for Benedict XVI as he leaves office, pray for the work of the Conclave, and pray for the new pope, whoever that might be.