Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stephen Maturin's Mass

I've gotten hooked on the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian, which partly accounts for my last week's silence. But today I ran across something interesting from a contemporary Catholic viewpoint in the sixth novel, Fortune of War.

Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon and naturalist, Catalan and Irish by birth, and Catholic, has been taken prisoner with Jack Aubrey during the War of 1812, and goes hunting for somewhere to hear Mass during his captivity in Boston.

... the priest was already at the altar by the time they reached the obscure chapel in a side-alley, and crept into the enormously evocative smell of old incense. There followed an interval on a completely different plane of being: with the familiar ancient words around him, always the same, in whatever country he had ever been (though now uttered in a broad Munster Latin), he lived free of time or geography, and he might have walked out, a boy, into the streets of Barcelona white in the sun, or into those of Dublin under the soft rain. He prayed, as he had prayed so long, for Diana, but even before the priest dismissed them, the changed nature of his inner words brought him back to the immediate present and to Boston, and if he had been a weeping man it would have brought tears coursing down his face.

Lucky Stephen. He lived in a world where, indeed, a Catholic could voyage 'round the world and take solace in the same Mass in each land he visited. The world Catholics had had for a thousand years, and which we had until such a short time ago. May that world come again, and soon.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Verdi Requiem

Recently, my brother was given tickets to a performance of the Verdi Requiem at San Francisco's Davies Hall, and kindly invited us to come along. I've heard it performed before, but this was something special. Fabulous soloists, 170-plus voices in the SF Symphony Chorus, great brass players in the SF Symphony Orchestra.

You'd think that in San Francisco, where nine-tenths of the people seem fundamentally opposed to most of what the Catholic Church stands for, a Mass setting would be treated with some disdain. Not so on that night. The audience was sternly warned on their way in by large placards proclaiming that there would be no intermission in the 100-minute performance, and that no one leaving their seat would be re-admitted to the hall. Not only did the audience treat the music with reverence, minding their manners by not applauding between movements, but the conductor (James Conlon) held the silence after the last plaintive Libera me for a full ten seconds -- and not the slightest sound was heard throughout the enormous hall. Then, of course, the place erupted for seven or eight minutes of cheering.

Of course, it was reverence for Verdi's music, not for the Church or even for God, that animated most patrons that night. But here's the great thing about Christian art of all kinds: it penetrates the soul even in the face of stark unbelief. No human being can escape unchanged from the hurricane of Verdi's treatment of the Dies Irae, all the more so when it returns by surprise near the end, when you've been lulled by several minutes of soft pleas for mercy. There in the program were the Latin and English side by side, and I wonder how many hearts were troubled -- rightly so -- by the unfamiliar sentiments, or by these disturbing lines alone:

Lacrymosa dies illa
Qui resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.

(Lamentable is the day
on which the guilty shall arise
from the ashes to be judged.)

And I wonder how many felt drawn by this wish:

Sed signifer Sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam,
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini eius.

But let Saint Michael, the standard-bearer,
bring them forth into the holy light,
which you once promised
to Abraham and his seed.

Corpus Christi at St. Thomas

Today there was a procession of the Blessed Sacrament in connection with Corpus Christi Sunday, at my little home parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, accompanied by:

Josquin des Prez, Missa Pange Lingua

sung by the St. Ann Choir.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lies > opinion > substance

Darn, that Francis Bacon just keeps on delivering up good ones!

And in these and the like kinds, it often falls out, that something is produced of nothing; for lies are sufficient to breed opinion, and opinion brings on substance.

And that insight explains why, for example, we have to continue to debunk Dan Brown, even though his book is claptrap, no one with any sense will believe it, etc., etc. We have to continue because the lies are out there -- powerfully out there -- and they are already breeding opinion. If that opinion brings on substance, watch out.

Not alone

It's nice to know one's not alone in certain sentiments, so I was encouraged to run across this, from Sir Francis Bacon:

A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds: therefore let him seasonably water the one, and destroy the other.

Trinity Sunday at St. Thomas

From the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas today:

Josquin d'Ascano, In Te, Domine, Speravi
Antoine de Fevin, Sancta Trinitas

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Womenpriests right down the street

Given what a wacky place the Bay Area is, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that we're home to yet another wackiness: women declaring that they are now priests of the Roman Catholic Church. And only a convenient 20-minute drive from my front door!

To say the least, I'm not too impressed with the response of the diocese. Here's the entire acknowledgement of the situation from the current issue of the diocesan newspaper:

Recent news reports of “Roman Catholic Woman Priest” Victoria Rue leading celebrations of the Mass on the campus of San Jose State University require the Diocese of San Jose to issue the following statement: Victoria Rue is not a validly ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Members of the Roman Catholic Church should not participate in celebrations of the sacraments that are conducted by Victoria Rue, as those celebrations are not in union with the local or universal Church.

That's it. Note that although this has been going on for some time, it's "recent news reports" that led the diocese to do something, finally. And there's to be no punishment for anyone -- no excommunication of the "priestesses", no warning of grave sin attaching to attendance at these "celebrations of the sacraments". And what a wishy-washy way of putting the reason for not attending: the bogus masses are "not in union with the local or universal church." Come to think of it, why was it necessary to mention the "local" church at all?

At least they put "Roman Catholic Woman Priest" in quotes.

According to a May 28 story in the San Jose Mercury News, the diocesan spokeswoman, Roberta Ward, believes that

most of the services are so small... there's no point in drawing attention to them.

How many times have we seen that attitude before. Let's not say anything about the evil in our midst. It's small now. Maybe it'll just go away. Subtext: think of how inconvenient and uncomfortable it might become to actually stand up for our Faith.

The diocese's grand strategy has been to try to avoid giving the group publicity. And what happens? The Mercury News, circulation 300,000+, runs a fawning 1,200 word front-page story with three attractive photos, a full schedule of when and where you can attend these false masses, and the group's website.

Well, that idea sure worked great.

Monday, June 05, 2006

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Since this Sunday was Pentecost, the St. Ann Choir performed a full Renaissance mass, Missa Osculetur Me by Orlando de Lassus, along with the Gregorian sequence Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

No Rainbow sashers, thank God.

There was one little girl making her First Communion, very charming in her white dress and veil, the only one of her group of 170 in this three-church parish to learn all the required prayers in Latin! And so she wanted to have her First Communion at St. Thomas, where Latin is used and honored.

There's hope!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Weed 'n' feed

A friend once explained to me why his (non-denominational) pastor didn't talk much about sin and evil: one should just talk about the "good news" of the Gospels, not the "bad news" of evil, lest one become fascinated, even fixated, on the latter.

Quite aside from the danger of making a kind of "happy talk" Christianity, it just isn't honest to ignore evil. To do so gives an incomplete picture of the world, and begs the question of what we needed to be saved from in the first place. There is good in the world, and there is evil. Deal with both.

Anyone who has ever successfully tended a garden knows about celebrating Good while confronting Evil. How's that? Well, what happens if you just plant nice flowers in your garden, but never pull any weeds? The weeds take over. What happens if you weed like mad but never plant any flowers? You get a barren patch of ground. But if you both weed and plant, then you get a garden.

Not all that is high is holy

From Thomas รก Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

I do not desire consolation that robs me of contrition, nor do I care for contemplation that leads to pride, for not all that is high is holy, nor is all that is sweet good, nor every desire pure, nor all that is dear to us pleasing to God.