Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No moral democracy

From Thomas Howard's essay "The Touchstone of Orthodoxy":

A hundred years ago, or a thousand or ten thousand for that matter, mountebanks and wizards and false prophets had to whip up what following they could on the strength of their own voice and their own tricks. Now every jester has an instant, vast, and utterly credulous audience via the talk shows [had this been written today instead of in 1979 I'm sure Howard would have substituted "the internet"]. The audience is credulous, I say, because they have been schooled in the tradition of moral and intellectual democracy, in which every idea is worth exactly as much as every other idea, and in which we are committed to giving equal time, not just on the air or in the columns of newsprint, but also in our minds -- equal time, I say, to Isaiah and Beelzebub, for example, or to Saint Thomas Aquinas and Mick Jagger, or the Blessed Virgin and Bella Abzug.

... But this will not do. It is not good enough to receive all data as though it is arriving from some cosmic grist mill, all of it to be ground in to your loaf. There is wheat and there is chaff. Distinctions have to be made. There is good stuff and bad stuff. And the only way to sort out the good from the bad is to discriminate. There is no question of a moral democracy, any more than there is of a gastronomic democracy. If you eat vegetables, they will do you good; if you eat toadstools, they will kill you.

To those who might drag out the old canard about minds being like parachutes, working best when kept perpetually open, I'd say: but in our present day when relativism is rampant, the better use of that simile is to note that a parachute is useless unless you actually do pull the ripcord -- and it better be at the right altitude. Too high, and you die of anoxia; too low or not at all, and you splatter most unpleasantly.

Monday, July 30, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas yesterday:

Josquin des Prez, Ave Maria / Virgo Serena
Heinrich Isaac, Qui manducat carnem meam

There's good news. We're now chanting the Lord's Prayer in Latin -- there was a special insert card today. And the noon "Gregorian" Mass is now being celebrated by a young priest, Fr. Nahoe. Not only does he sing well and seem completely at home with Latin, but he gave the best homily yesterday that I've heard from a Catholic priest in twenty years. Clear, concise, focused on the day's Gospel reading, and delivered without a single "uhh" or silly personal story.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

St. Ann's Day at St. Thomas

Last Thursday was St. Ann's Day, and so the St. Ann Choir pulled out a few stops for Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas that evening:

Josquin Des Prez, Missa canonica (Sine nomine)
Jean Mouton, Celeste beneficium (the St. Ann motet)
Chants for the feast day

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Musical treasure for the taking

Amazingly, you can now download the entire Liber Usualis -- the church's encyclopedic guide to Gregorian chant -- here. All 2,340 pages, 117 megabytes worth. (I'm giving the mirror site link at Musica Sacra due to concerns about bandwidth at the original post site, The New Liturgical Movement.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good news, I think, from Monterey

California Catholic Daily reports that Bishop Richard Garcia has announced that regular Tridentine Masses will be celebrated at two locations in the diocese of Monterey, California, starting in September, as soon as the motu proprio takes effect.

I'm chronically suspicious of any official sponsorship of the Tridentine that offers it only at a few specified locations. There have been too many decades of episcopal opposition to the rite to get over that attitude quickly. It can be a way of keeping the rite marginalized in out-of-the-way places, instead of putting it before the faithful in larger numbers in their normal parishes.

On the other hand, supposing that a bishop is sincerely trying to comply with the Pope's wishes, he might very well choose to get things rolling by arranging for the rite to be available as soon as possible in one or more places. And since it can't start again everywhere at once, if only because most priests don't seem to know enough Latin to properly perform even the Latin Novus Ordo mass let alone the Tridentine, it has to begin in those few places where circumstances permit.

There are some pitfalls. For instance, the priest who has been identified to re-learn the Tridentine and offer it near Paso Robles is 80 years old. What does it say about the rite if it is only offered by the old and perhaps crotchety (as I encountered recently in Santa Clara)?

On the other hand, if the Tridentine is to be truly reintegrated into the normal life of the Church, the laity have to be educated in it again. In order to actually participate in a Latin mass, you have to know how to follow what is being said. If the Tridentine is reintroduced too early, before people have a chance to learn what's going on, there could be a backlash -- an understandable one, too.

But it's a start. Thank you, Bishop Garcia. And Deo gratias.

Depart from us

So many others are marshaling and reviewing news and opinion articles after the announcement of the astonishing $660 million settlement for clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Los Angeles that it's pointless for me to collect links to them here. But here's my take on Cardinal Mahony's future.

The most charitable attitude I think it's possible to adopt toward his reassignment of known molesters is that the Cardinal made an honest mistake in taking the advice of therapists who claimed to be able to cure such priests, permitting them to be sent back safely into situations of proximity to potential new victims.

Now, honest mistakes are likely to be overlooked at the lower echelons of most organizations. The stakes aren't high, and the staff are presumed to be still learning. But we are dealing here with someone near the pinnacle of leadership in a worldwide organization: an archbishop assigned to a large, very prestigious diocese, and a cardinal as well, one of the select group of bishops who, among other things, elect popes.

At such a level in any organization, you don't get and shouldn't expect the leniency extended to lower ranks. You've been given an enormous privilege; the position is not yours by right. You are expected to justify the trust you've been given with actions that are consistently worthy of it. If you want to be judged by your intentions, stay at the worker-bee level. If you want to rise to upper management, expect to be judged by results.

Maybe the Cardinal did make a series of honest mistakes. Maybe he did take bad advice. Maybe he intended no harm and merely did what he thought was best.

But those mistakes, as honest as they may have been, have cost the flock entrusted to his care over half a billion dollars, a humiliating public scandal, and worst of all a terrible blot on the reputation of the Church that will cripple its attempts to spread the Gospel for decades to come.

And that should get him removed from the leadership of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Period.

I leave it to others to analyze whether he should be held criminally liable, or disciplined within the Church in some other way than being removed from office. Those issues will hinge on evaluation of what he knew, and when he knew it. We'll have to wait for the opening of those files the Cardinal's been sitting on for years to know the truth of that.

But nothing more than the patent fact of his terrible errors in judgment is needed to justify an end to his term in Los Angeles, and his exclusion from any future job of high responsibility within the Church.

It needs more than good intentions to govern in the Catholic Church today. It needs wisdom and judgment that Cardinal Mahony has demonstrated he does not have.

Let the housecleaning begin.

Louder is not wiser

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

A useful reflection for journalists from one of the best, Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965). And for bloggers too, now that the web has given the rest of us a wider audience than anyone could have dreamed of having in Murrow's day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New wave

Darn, it's so easy to forget our founding metaphors.

Dover Beach, that is. That long, melancholy, withdrawing roar. But with the motu proprio, we've been blessed to be alive to hear the good loud slap of a small wave of the turning tide.

Like most waves, it has receded again. Now it's up to you and me.

Let's make waves.

Everyone relax

Some people already seem to be getting discouraged at various signs of heavy opposition from bishops to the free celebration of the 1962 Missal as called for in Summorum Pontificum, and the lack of mobs of the faithful beating down various diocesan doors to demand it.

We should all take a deep breath and consider the magnitude of the task Benedict is calling us to: nothing less than the restoration of an entire culture, one which has been intentionally repressed for more than a generation. And this, while the reins of local power are still often firmly in the hands of those who did the repressing.

Those of us who are interested in advancing the work of SP need to be studying how other repressed or disfavored cultures have preserved their heritages, taught them to the next generation, and brought them back into vibrant current usage. Let's find out what has worked for others, and adopt the techniques that apply to our present challenge.

And let's hope for quick victories, but settle in for the long haul.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Faith and reason? We were there first.

From G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man:

... in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not merge until they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers.

Once again, our ancestors in the Faith were no dummies, nor were they the cowled obscurantists they are often depicted to have been on the History Channel. Instead, they broke good new intellectual ground for the whole human race. We can be proud of them.

This has to be worth a plenary indulgence

Lumen Gentleman has established a database for those interested in helping celebrate the Latin Mass of the 1962 Missal, with a new feature that lets you find and request contact with other local like-minded people. What a great idea, and what a great service to God and His Church! And after only a few days of existence and no publicity other than web word-of-mouth, there are already hundreds signed up.

The revival of the Tridentine Mass won't happen overnight, and it won't happen without a lot of hard work, faithfulness, and in some places sheer dogged determination. And some smart organizing ideas, like this one.

(H/T Leticia)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Motu proprio

Well, as you all know already, the motu proprio restoring real access to the 1962 Missal is finally out. CWN has a fine and extensive comment, as does Gerald. Barbara Nicolosi has delicious in-your-face remarks here and here for those who rightly fear that their silly "Barney" and "Halloween" Masses are threatened by the big old Latin boogeyman.

I'll only add two things to what many others, far better equipped than I, have already written.

First, I'm delighted that we the laity, ignored and misled for forty years, can finally again have a Mass with an organic connection to the liturgical tradition of our Church, as the documents of Vatican II always intended (but were hijacked to subvert).

Second, I was a little disappointed that the MP tells us that the 1962 Missal is to be known as the "extraordinary" form of the liturgy, until I thought about it a bit, and then it hit me: we all know from the example of the "Spirit of Vatican II" folks' innovation of "extraordinary" Eucharistic ministers that "extraordinary" really means "mandatory, universal, and permanent."

Now I feel really good!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

There and back again

From "On Fictions and Gospel" in Thomas Howard's The Night is Far Spent:

This is the paradox about stories: they seem to lead us away into imaginary regions, but they have an unsettling way of discovering for us the immediate place where we are.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sudden resurrections

From Hilaire Belloc's Survivals and New Arrivals:

The good fortunes of stupidity are incalculable. One can never tell what sudden resurrections ignorance and fatuity may not have.

Belloc's book is about heresy, and the "survivals" in the title are the heresies that seem to come back again and again, despite having been roundly refuted in the past. That phenomenon is one that our Church ought to take more note of, and plan to fight a whole lot better than we have been lately.

For instance, the apparently sudden popularity of a new Gnosticism (given a big glossy expression in The DaVinci Code) took the Church by surprise. It shouldn't have. Gnosticism comes back periodically throughout history. So why are we constantly behind the curve? Why are we always reacting at molasses-in-January speed? Why are our scholars not anticipating the likely errors that contemporary thought might fall into, and bringing the truth to bear quickly to head off the return of yet another "survival"?

I've often come back to the theme of the crucial importance of time. We don't have forever to stand up against evil and error, and failing to strike at it when it's new and weak means that later you have to stand against it -- if at all -- when it's established and powerful, and has already destroyed many souls.

So to the Vatican, and to our Catholic scholars everywhere, and to all us lay folks on whom so much now depends, I'd say: work carefully, by all means -- but work quickly. And let's not let ourselves be surprised, ever again.

Monday, July 02, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at the noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas today:

Orlando di Lasso, Tibi laus, Tibi gloria
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris Hostia

One Lord left

For most of the world's history, people have had lords. That is, they lived under an authority they could not gainsay, whether he was called king, duke, count, emir, tuan, sheikh, or shogun. The lord's rights to direct and govern came directly from who he was. You didn't choose him; he was just there.

But we live today without lords. We live in democracies in which those in authority over us serve, to some degree, at our pleasure -- or those who control them do. Our Declaration of Independence asserts that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed." If we don't like a congressman or senator or president, we organize ourselves to boot him out at the next election and replace him with someone whose actions might be more to our liking. We might stand when the President enters the room, but we bow the knee, literally, to no man.

Now, Christianity is a religion whose God is constantly referred to as "Lord". So, what happens when the very concept of an authority you can't change vanishes from a culture's ordinary life? C. S. Lewis sensed it: as he put it in the essay which gave the title to a very influential book, God ends up "in the dock", or in American English, "on trial". No longer does man stand guiltily before God; man demands an accounting from God for His actions.

This is a poisonous situation for Faith. God can't really be placed in the dock, of course; but man can deceive himself into thinking He's there instead of on His throne. The restoration of Christian presence in society is going to have to include a renewal of the concept of lordship.

I'm glad the "spirit of Vatican II" folks haven't wholly managed to stamp out the Catholic practice of kneeling during parts of the Mass, because bending the knee is going to help lead everyone back to sanity here, to an acknowledgment of God's Lordship. We don't kneel to anyone else anymore -- no king, no nobleman, and certainly no elected official, no matter how powerful. We kneel only to God.

Kneeling. A good, powerful symbol, rooted in physical action like the rest of Catholic practice, all the stronger now that its use has receded everywhere else in modern life. Time to use it to remind ourselves, and afterwards everyone else, that only God is Lord.