Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dominus vobiscum. Please.

The problem with having the Mass in the vernacular is that priests are all too ready to change it to suit themselves.

At last Sunday's noon Mass at St. Thomas, Fr. Harris was ill, so we had a substitute priest. And like another substitute on another day, he too said "The Lord IS with you" instead of "The Lord BE with you."

So what's up with this new translation? Did the missal change and no one told us? Or was it just that the priest thought it didn't matter, or it sounded better?

I know some people would say, what's the big deal? So here's my take. The Latin is "Dominus vobiscum", and the English translation that everyone's been happy with for many years is "The Lord BE with you." It's a wish, a prayer. The word "may" is implied: "MAY the Lord be with you." God might be with you, He might not. Let's pray that He is.

So the important thing that the old version does for us is to remind us implicitly that it's possible for us to cut ourselves off from God through serious sin that we're not sorry for. And we can surely show up for Mass in that state. The priest prays for us that God will be with us, but since he has no spiritual X-ray vision, he doesn't know whether God is with each one of us at that moment. As far as I know, that's still Catholic teaching: in short, if you tell God to get lost, He'll respect your decision. He gave you free will, it's part of your human make-up. If you say to Him: Give me my inheritance, I'm off to squander it all in riotous living, He'll give it to you and sadly wave good-bye. He won't tag along. He'll let you go your own way. He hopes you'll come back, repentant and wiser, since He's got a feast waiting for you if you do; but He's not following you with the lunchmobile.

The important -- and wrong -- thing that the new version does is imply that no matter what state your soul is in, no matter how much you've told God to get lost, He's still happily right there, ignoring your free choice, ignoring the state of your soul, ignoring whether you're in the least sorry for the last eight zillion unconfessed sins you've committed. Like a house-elf in the Harry Potter stories, He's right there to serve you, no matter how many times you kick Him in the face.

We might prefer that God be like that. But as far as we know, He isn't. And it's wrong to change the words of the Mass to pretend that He is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Letters from a great Catholic

When I can't sleep, I pick up my copy of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. I don't know why I do it, because it's exactly the wrong thing for drifting off to dreamland. I go from one letter to the next, hour after hour, fascinated. I re-read letters I've seen a dozen times already and still find new things. It's a disaster.

But a good one. Surely it must be one of those whispering hints of the turn of the tide, of the return of the Sea of Faith, that the man who wrote what the reading public has stubbornly insisted on voting the greatest book of the twentieth century (against outraged protests from the literary and academic establishments) could also write this:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. ... For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little, and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know...

As if to give us some consolation for the many things in the past fifty years that we Catholics have to be ashamed of, this humble, irascible Catholic professor gave us something to be very, very proud of indeed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Thomas Mudd, Let thy merciful ears, O Lord
Heinrich Isaac, Dico vobis
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris Hostia

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The other thing Reagan said

On this twentieth anniversary of the momentous speech in Berlin in which Ronald Reagan famously said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", Terence Jeffrey at recalls something else that Ronald Reagan said that day.

Pondering what sustained Berliners, surrounded as they were by the Soviet menace, Reagan concluded: "Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront."

Reagan was referring to the demolition of churches and removal of crosses and Christian statuary that was longstanding policy of the old East German communist government.

His point is interesting because he's linking human creativity to public acknowledgment of God.

When I recall life during the Cold War, it seems to me that the Soviet bloc did very well at inventing and building weapons, and planning for war. But the creativity of their societies seemed stifled in every other way, except when a brave soul like Solzhenitsyn could smuggle something through the censorship. And this was true not only in art, but in more mundane pursuits. Consumer goods were shoddy, scarce, and derivative of Western styles. Soviet cars were a joke.


I think it's because everything true and beautiful comes from God. Cut yourself off from Him, study to forget Him, and after a while, all you can make are things that are temporarily useful. While the memory, the thought-habit, of God's primary creation is still present, as it is the West now, things of lesser good can still be made; but soon, all effort turns to things that can be used for domination. And not just domination of the State over individuals, but also the domination of the weak over the weaker (e.g., abortion on demand, and the killing of human embryos for potential disease therapies). This, after all, was what Lucifer chose when he rebelled: better to reign in Hell, as Milton so colorfully gave him to say -- where I can dominate everyone and everything around me with my own demi-god inventions, according to my own lights and rules -- than serve in Heaven. Than acknowledge that God is God, and I am not.

Lucifer's choice was the Soviet choice. They were great (though ultimately not great enough) at the tools of domination and control, but they gave up all else to get that. And still they failed.

Which is why there's a very practical side to preserving and even expanding the acknowledgment of God -- and specifically, God as Christian faith understands Him -- in public life here in our own country. If we too study to forget God, to drive all mention of Him out of public life, we too will have made that same choice. And we'll go down that same road that took Lucifer to Hell, and the Soviets to the ash heap of history.

We'll give up God, who is everything, to get something -- and we'll end up with nothing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi at St. Thomas

What a musical delight at St. Thomas Aquinas for Corpus Christi today (oops, sorry, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ):

Josquin des Prez, Missa Pange lingua
Gregorian sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem
William Byrd, Ave verum Corpus (motet)
O salutaris Hostia at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
Pange lingua (eight verses!) during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament
Holy God, we praise Thy Name (in four part harmony!) at the dismissal

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Poor St. Athanasius

We went to a local Episcopalian church this morning to hear a friend play her flute at the service. It's actually kind of educational, because it points out to me, every time we go there, why Episcopalianism is doomed.

The priest really seemed to be trying to preach a good, encouraging sermon about the importance of the Trinity. He clearly seemed to think that the Trinity was A Good Thing, sort of. Unfortunately, he seemed very hazy about why it was, or why it would make any difference to anyone.

I knew we were in trouble when he got the congregation to turn to the Athanasian Creed in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (and Catholics take note: why don't our missals have the Athanasian Creed in them?), and provoked a laugh -- a laugh -- with his reading of this sentence:

As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible.

It was as if there were two people at war in the guy's mind: one who revered the mystery, and one who felt it was his modernist duty to say, Who can understand this stuff?

Ah, but he did get in a dig at Dick Cheney in the same sermon. Don't ask me how.

So, poor St. Athanasius. He fought hard for what we now take for granted as the orthodox view of the Holy Trinity, at, as they say, considerable personal inconvenience. His championing of our Catholic understanding of the Trinity saved Western Europe from Arianism, which, as Hilaire Belloc proposed, would have left us with more or less the same worldview as Islam. But for all that, he sure didn't get much respect this morning.

This Episcopal priest just seemed to be unable to make up his mind. Which pretty much sums up my impression of the Episcopal Church at large. Which is why it's doomed.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What a surprise

Charles Rust-Tierney, president of the Virginia ACLU until 2005 and a member of its Board until the day of his arrest, has been sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of some particularly nasty child pornography which, bright fellow that he is, he had purchased using his own credit card and using his real name.

He had been in jail since his arrest earlier this year, because two separate judges in pretrial hearings had rejected his request for freedom, describing the pornography as some of the most sickening they ever had encountered.

Mr. Rust-Tierney wasn't content to enjoy his interests himself. He worked hard to make them available to everyone:

It was Rust-Tierney who, nearly 10 years ago, had argued before the Loudoun County Library Board against any Internet filters on the computers at the public facility.

The library, which had been using filters on its computers, was ordered to change its policy by a federal court.

Coverage of this story by the New York Times and NBC: zero. The WorldNet story cited reports that even when the story is mentioned, the guy's connection with the ACLU is, well, overlooked.

Due to space and time constraints, I'm sure.