Mein liebster Leser: My dearest readers

Today I’m struggling with a difficult post, so I thought I would give you something light.

Annedisa of Life, Christ & Me nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award some time ago. Liebster is German for “dearest.” And today I wanted to dedicate this award to you, mein liebster Leser (my dearest readers).

Liebster Blog Award

The Liebster Blog Award.

The award originated, my Google nosing* has revealed, as an award to honor up-and-coming bloggers with fewer than 200 readers. I honestly don’t really know how many readers I have, but I’m sure it’s fewer than 200. So, thank you, dear Annedisa. I don’t know whether my blog is “up and coming” or not, but I pray that wherever it may go, it speaks the truth in love.

* Thanks to Sopphey for in fact doing said nosing, which my nosing quickly happened upon. A splendid research into the history of the internets.

Annedisa’s blog is a lovely place always full with beauty and inspiration, and I enjoy it a lot. Check it out, if you haven’t!

Now I’m supposed to nominate eleven people — but I don’t really think I know eleven people. According to the original rules, as near as Sopphey could surmise, one was supposed to nominate 3–5 other bloggers with fewer than 3,000 200 readers†. I think I’ll go with that instead.

† Apparently the original specification was 3,000, but I think the change to 200 was a reasonable emendation. We little people need all the help we can get. Gadzooks, I wouldn’t even know what to do with 3,000 readers…

Annedisa also gave me some interview question, which I’ll answer. To add a little jazz, why don’t we do this: I’ll add a question to the list at the end (#12 below will be mine), for the next person to answer. Each person I pass this to will add a question, too — so the interview gets longer and longer, and more and more interesting. (I’ll go ahead and specify that if this really keeps going and the interview reaches 30 or so questions, someone needs to edit it down to a reasonable number again and pick only out the best questions.)

First, before this gets too long, let me nominate a few of my liebster bloggers (I’m not quite sure how to tell how many readers a blog has, but I think it’s safe to assume that most of us in our little Catholic WordPress circle are not Big Wheels):

  • Laura at Catholic Cravings, a dear fellow convert and fellow Medievalist‡, always blesses me with lovely, witty, astute, or thought-provoking observations on the Church and her road to it.

    ‡ I’m only part-Medievalist; but I’m sufficiently drawn in that direction that I claim it.

  • Roy at Becoming a Catholic, a dear candidate I discovered just a few days ago, walking the road of his conversion now, through the path of RCIA. I’m excited to be here to cheer him on!

  • 1CatholicSalmon, who has been “liking” many of my posts lately, and I appreciate the encouragement more than you can know. Your blog is full of passion for the faith and strength in the face of rushing stream of modernity. May you go on rowing against the current!

Here are the instructions for reposting:

  1. Post the award image in a post of your own.
  2. Acknowledge who gave you the award (and link back to them).
  3. Choose 3–5 other bloggers who you think should be noticed more than they are and should have more readers, and pass the award on to them.
  4. Copy the interview questions below and answer them.
  5. Make up a question of your own and add it to the bottom, and answer it for yourself.
  6. Copy these instructions somewhere in the message to pass it on.

All right, without further ado, the questions:

1. A book that changed your life: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I’d like to tell that story sometime. But it was the first book that I recall really setting me on fire with a passion for reading and fantasy, when I was about seven years old.

2. Your favourite author/writer: Lloyd Alexander to this day remains one of my favorites; his books are still wonderfully entertaining to me. I recently dusted off my Dickens and I enjoy him a lot. I’ve been reading a lot of Catholic apologetics, etc., lately, especially Karl Keating, Jimmy Akin, Scott Hahn, and others. So I don’t really have a single favorite.

3. Pet and its name: My last pet was a betta fish called Ozymandias (Ozzy for short).

4. Craziest thing you have done: In due time.

5. My best friend: I have several, and they know who they are.

6. A childhood prank: At my tenth birthday party sleepover, one of my friends called the local radio station and pretended to be locked in the bathroom at the mall after hours, and asked if they could send somebody out to help him. Oddly, this was before cell phones were common — so I’m not sure how someone locked in the bathroom at the mall would have called a radio station. Ten-year-old logic. The DJ did mention my friend’s supposed predicament on the air. It was amusing at the time.

7. Favourite music artist: This changes frequently, and can fall into several categories:

  • Favorite classical composers: Josquin des Prez, J.S. Bach, Orlande de Lassus, Tómas Luis de Victoria, Frédéric Chopin, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Guillaume Dufay — This could go on a while.
  • Favorite classical artists: Oxford Camerata, Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen, Hillard Ensemble, Wolfgang Rübsam, John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields — To name a few.
  • Favorite contemporary artists: Rich Mullins, Danielle Rose (discovered her very recently and like her a lot), Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, David Crowder Band — To name a few.

So yes, it’s hard to narrow me down.

8. A place you would love to visit: I pine for Rome. I have a grand pilgrimage planned out, if I should ever have the time and money for it: A long time in Rome, then Assisi, then Florence, then Milan, then Pavia, then Turin (with many stops along the way), then up through Geneva to see Calvin’s stomping grounds — then either to France or Germany to see more saints; I haven’t really planned past Italy. But probably France, to pursue St. Bernard. Also, I’d love to go to England, especially London and Oxford and Cambridge, and York and Durham and Lindisfarne — and Scotland and Ireland, too. That sounds like another trip or four.

9. If you had just 5 minutes left to live what is the one thing I would do?: Ideally, I would be in bed surrounded by my family and my pastor receiving the last rites. But supposing I’m not — I’d fall on my knees and pray and confess whatever sin might be on my heart and throw myself upon the mercy of God.

10. Favourite sport: I agree with Annedisa: Does blogging count? Other than that, I would say American college football.

11. How do you define love?:

  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:7-9)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)
  • Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

12. Who’s your favo(u)rite saint? St. Paul, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Bede the Venerable, St. Thérèse of Lisieux — So many precious people; you know you can’t nail me down.

Amazing Grace: Saved a wretch like me? The Catholic Church and total depravity

John Newton

John Newton, in his later years.

Today I am once again deeply thankful for God’s overflowing grace. Not only did I receive the grace of absolution and the empowering strength of the Eucharist, but the membership chair of the Knights of Columbus approached me at the breakfast after Mass, put on by the Knights, and invited me to join. I am grateful more and more for my church family, who have reached out to me and wrapped me in their love, after I slipped away from other churches again and again.

Our hymn during Communion today was “Amazing Grace.” Everybody knows the words to “Amazing Grace,” right? Well, I was rather surprised when I stumbled in the very second line…

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

“That saved a wretch like me!” I started to belt. But no, that was wrong. We Catholics have changed the words. Our version of the second line is, “That saved and set me free.” Surprisingly, everybody else seemed to get it. I guess few newbs go to the early Mass.

Those are the only words that were different; though we also sang the little-known, canonical fifth verse that I had never seen or sang before as a Protestant:

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease
Amazing grace shall then prevail
In heaven’s joy and peace.

Why did we change the words? Whose idea was this, and when was it done? The byline in the missalette says only “Vss. 1-5, John Newton, 1725–1807, alt. Vs. 6, Anon. (Standard text)” So we “altered” it. (I also never realized that the sixth verse, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” actually finds its origin in African American traditional spirituals, and first gained widespread currency from its use in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.)

I figure someone objected to the use of the word “wretch,” which rings of the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. I tend to think the alteration is a bit of an overreaction. We Catholics certainly believe we are all sinners saved by amazing grace, too (and by grace alone). The “wretch” who is saved in the hymn is John Newton, a former slave ship captain, overwhelmed by the grace of God in his life.

So what is the big deal? What do Catholics believe about the sinful nature of man? What is total depravity, and why don’t Catholics adhere to it? I go first to the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of the cornerstone documents of Reformed doctrine and supposedly a good digest of it. I believe this is the relevant portion, emphases mine (my Calvinist readers will kindly correct me):

  1. By this [original] sin [our first parents] fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
  2. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.
  3. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. (Chapter IV)

The last statement is the most important. Total depravity is also often posed as total inability: the total inability to do anything good apart from the grace of God. Without the grace of God, according to Calvinist doctrine, we are inherently corrupt and evil, and everything we do apart from God’s grace, even what seems to be good, is tainted by sin and done with ultimately selfish and evil intentions.

What does the Catholic Church teach about original sin and the sinful nature of man? The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a lot to say on the matter, and is considerably more wordy. I won’t paste the whole section — but if you’re interested, here it is (CCC #396-409). Below is an important quote that sums up the difference between the Catholic view of man’s fallen state and the Calvinist view of total depravity:

405. Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin — an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

And the next section goes on to talk about the further implications of original sin. For you Protestants who like to claim St. Augustine as one of your own regarding the doctrines of sin and grace, here’s a note for you (#406).

Catholics don’t believe that man is totally depraved; that human nature is wholly corrupt and sinful. We don’t say that every act man does without the grace of God is evil and corrupt. Looking around, it’s plain to see a lot of unregenerated non-Christians doing a lot of good in this world; are we to believe even these good acts are evil and corrupt? Neither do we say, however, that man can save himself. It is entirely God, by His grace, that gives us salvation; it is only God, by His grace, that enables us to even respond to His call (#1996). Catholics agree that man is totally unable to attain God or salvation without the gift of God’s grace.

Peccavimus: We have sinned

Piero della Francesca, The Penance of St. Jerome (c. 1450)

The Penance of St. Jerome (c. 1450), by Piero della Francesca. (WikiPaintings.org)

Today I discovered a new composer, and was immediately inspired to share him with my friends, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I’d translated the text of this overpoweringly beautiful and stirring motet. I thought it was worth sharing with you all.

I don’t know how many of you worldwide have access to Spotify; but I certainly hope many of you are able to hear this. Even if you can’t, I hope you enjoy the text. I highly recommend Spotify. With it I am able to explore and discover so much music, listen to whole records, all on a grad student’s budget.

This is from the CD TYE: Missa Euge Bone / MUNDY: Magnificat, from Naxos’s Early Music collection, performed by the Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerly (one of my favorite ensembles). This is the motet “Peccavimus cum patribus.”



[spotify id=”spotify:track:0vv7TNroSfVmRevxJdZT6A” width=”300″ height=”380″ /]

Christopher Tye (c. 1505 – c. 1572) was an English composer and organist, who lived right in the thick of the English Reformation. He served as Doctor of Music at both Cambridge and Oxford, and as choirmaster and organist of Ely Cathedral. He apparently had Protestant leanings, but served faithfully through the reigns (and religious tumult) of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Later in life he took holy orders and served as Rector of Doddington, Cambridgeshire. This motet was composed, I suppose, under the Church of England, but I’m okay with that. It hit me especially powerfully in the penitent mood I’ve been in lately.

I’ll translate it a little bit by bit. I wasn’t happy with the English translation on ChoralWiki.

Peccavimus cum patribus nostris, 
iniuste egimus, iniquitatem fecimus.
Tuæ tamen clementiæ
spe animati ad te supplices confugimus, 
benignissime Jesu.

We have sinned as our fathers,
we have done unjustly, and committed iniquity.
Nonetheless driven by hope of your mercy
We flee to you in supplication,
Kindest Jesus.

Qui ut omnia potes
ita omnibus te invocantibus 
vere præsto es.
Respice itaque in nos infelices peccatores,
bonitas immensa.

Who just as you are able to do all things
So to all who have prayed to you
You are truly present.
Look upon therefore us unhappy sinners,
O boundless goodness.

Respice in nos ingratissimos miseros, 
salus et misericordia publica; 
nam despecti ad omnipotentem venimus,
vulnerati ad medicum currimus, deprecantes 
ut non secundum peccata nostra facias 
neque secundum iniquitates nostras retribuas nobis.

Look upon us most ungrateful wretches,
O salvation and mercy for all;
for we despicable ones into your omnipotence come,
Having been wounded we run to your healing [or to the Physician],
Praying that you do not do according to our sins
Neither according to our iniquities repay to us.

Quin potius misericordiæ tuæ antiquæ memor 
pristinam clementiam serva, 
ac mansuetudini adhibe incrementum 
qui tam longanimiter suspendisti 
ultionis gladium, 
ablue innumerositatem criminum, 
qui delectaris multitudine misericordiæ.

Rather remembering your compassion of old
Retain your former mercy,
And add increase to your gentleness
With such long-suffering having held back
The sword of vengeance,
Wash away the countlessness of our offenses,
You who are delighted by a multitude of mercy.

Ingere cordibus nostris 
tui sanctissimum amorem, 
peccati odium 
ac cœlestis patriæ ardens desiderium, 
quod magis ac magis crescere faciat 
tua omnipotens bonitas. Amen.

Pour into our hearts
Most holy love for you,
a hatred of sin,
and a burning desire for the heavenly kingdom,
Which by your omnipotent goodness
Make to grow more and more. Amen.

Traditional Latin Mass

Latin Mass

Tridentine Mass in a chapel of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston. (Wikipedia)

Last Sunday I attended my first traditional Latin Mass, at a local parish in Alabama while I was home visiting my parents. I had been meaning to check it out for a while. It was considerably different than what I’ve been used to; though I could still observe the basic form of the Mass. I wanted to briefly share my thoughts and observations.

What is commonly referred to as the “traditional” Latin Mass is also known as the Tridentine Mass (Tridentine from Tridentinus, belonging to the city of Tridentum — or Trent) — the Mass that was in use from the Council of Trent (1545–1563) until the revision of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The Mass liturgy we use today is known as the Mass of Paul VI. There is actually a bit of disagreement about what to call the pre–Vatican II Mass. The Catholics who hosted this Mass I attended were Traditionalists, and so referred to it as the “Traditional Latin Mass.”

But “Traditional Latin Mass” is something of a misnomer, I discovered. The liturgy was traditional, certainly; but the form that was presented was essentially 1962 frozen in time. I was kind of expecting something more ancient — traditional music and chant forms, in particular — but the music felt like the 1950s. It was pretty, don’t get me wrong; but it wasn’t “traditional.” My parish, especially before the recent Mass revisions, was much more traditional in its music.

Mantilla

Something like this.

It was immediately apparent, as soon as I entered the church, that these people were Traditionalists. All of the women wore headcoverings, mostly in the form of lace mantillas. This was kind of neat; though besides it being in the Bible (1 Corinthians 11), I don’t understand the reasons for doing it. (Is that the only reason? They argue that the requirement of headcoverings is still binding today.) If the idea of headcoverings is modesty, I must confess, like many modest fashions, I found it rather alluring, wondering what the ladies’ hair and faces looked like underneath their headcoverings.

Another thing I noticed is that the church was packed. It wasn’t a very large church, but the pews were mostly full. A man was leading the Rosary. At my church, we also pray the Rosary about thirty minutes before Mass, but there are usually only a handful of people there then. Here, everyone was praying. It was rather moving.

But here I noticed another aspect of Traditionalism: at every iteration of the Glory Be, the orator invoked the “Holy Ghost,” rather than the “Holy Spirit” as I’m used to. Throughout the entire meeting, the name “Holy Ghost” was consistently used in English (in the priest’s homily, too — this was Pentecost, so he talked about the “Holy Ghost” quite a lot). This seems to me a rather pointless traditionalism just for the sake of traditionalism. Why insist on the Germanic “ghost” rather than the Latinate “spirit” — when the Latin of the Mass, which this gathering was supposed to preserve, refers to the Spiritus Sanctus?

A couple of other aspects of the priest’s homily grated on me. He referred several times to Pentecost as the birth of the Catholic Church, and to the Holy Spirit as a gift to Catholicism; he never once used the word “Christian.” His words seemed chosen specifically to separate and exclude all others but Catholics from the celebration of the Holy Spirit — and, I suspect, he would have privileged Traditionalists if he’d had the chance.

On to the Mass itself: I picked up a little booklet that contained the Latin liturgy and an English translation on the opposite page. Now, my Latin is fairly good, though pretty rusty. But the priest celebrated the Mass ad orientem, and spoke his Latin very fluidly and not distinctly. I was almost immediately lost, and struggled to keep up in the book throughout the liturgy. I wasn’t in a very good position to see what he was doing, either, since he was facing away and I wasn’t very close, so I didn’t have any visual cues. It was very much like experiencing a liturgy in an unknown foreign language. I suppose that those who attend Latin Mass every week probably have a much easier time following and understanding — looking around, none of the regulars had the little liturgy books — but I didn’t feel that I had taken much of a part.

But that’s just it — no one really did. It was true what I had heard — that before Vatican II, the congregation didn’t really have much to do or say; that they mainly just watched the priest. The liturgical reforms of Vatican II restored many of prayers and responses of the faithful that had fallen into disuse and been transferred to the priest over the centuries; in this Mass, he said nearly all of them. The main response the people consistently had was to answer “Et cum spiritu tuo” (“And with your spirit”) to the priest’s “Pax vobiscum” (“Peace be with you”). At several other places — the Pater Noster, the Credo — the choir sang, and the faithful could sing along if they liked, but not many people did.

I also didn’t get the feeling that even the priest was speaking the Latin with a grasp or appreciation for its sense and meaning. The words were rote, for both the priest and the people. They may have known what they meant, but they didn’t act like it. A prime example that stood out to me: When the priest spoke, “Oremus” (“Let us pray”), he didn’t actually pause for anybody to pray. He did this consistently throughout the liturgy.

In the second part of the Mass, the Mass of the Faithful (so called because the non-baptized were once excluded from it; in some places they still are) — what’s known in today’s Mass as the Liturgy of the Eucharist — the priest more or less conducted the liturgy privately. His prayers were low and inaudible (at least from where I was sitting), and the sense was that he was praying for the consecration of the Host in his own intimate communion with God. The faithful weren’t a part of this.

And that, I think, is what bothered me the most. The participation of the faithful throughout the Mass — and most especially at that intimate moment of consecration — is one of the most important aspects of the Mass to me. It’s at that moment that I feel the most connected, the most in communion, with the Church and with her members and with all believers over the ages. I respect the mystery of the liturgy; I know that in the medieval church, the rood screen separated the people in the nave from the priest in the sanctuary, and that Orthodox churches have an even more solid separation in the iconostatis — but I feel, as the Vatican II Council Fathers felt, that the people should not be excluded from the liturgy. The liturgy is the work of the people; we are the people of Christ. I go to Mass to be a participant, to practice my worship actively; not to be a spectator.

One thing I liked, and this is minor, and not exclusive to a Traditionalist Mass: in receiving Communion, we went to kneel at the altar rail, and the priest walked by to communicate us. It was much more solemn and humble than our usual habit of lining up, efficient though it may be.

Missale Romanum

Overall, my experience at the “Traditionalist” Latin Mass was one of intriguing cultural reconnaissance, and a peek into the past, though it was the not-too-distant past: the way a Catholic would have experienced Mass in 1962. I decidedly prefer today’s Mass, especially since the recent revision. The Tridentine Mass is beautiful, and its tradition is valuable — but tradition shouldn’t stand in the way of the faithful approaching God. I think, in some basic respects, the Mass of Paul VI is more conducive to our corporate worship.

I don’t understand the Traditionalists’ objections; I admittedly haven’t read much about that. But I get the feeling that they object to change just because it is change. I do think the intentions of the Vatican II Council Fathers were good, that the reforms were needed, and that the letter of their voices in the documents is true and faithful to the tradition of the Church. The Church today is making steady progress to undo the abuses and mistakes that were wrought by modernists “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

On the Place of Latin in Our Liturgy

I value the Latin of the liturgy a lot. Contrary to popular conceptions, Vatican II didn’t eliminate Latin as the language of the Mass. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, firmly states (36),

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the [vernacular] tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. . . . These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority . . . to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used . . .

“In the spirit of Vatican II,” modernists have run a lot further with this than they should have. The use of the vernacular language is certainly advantageous to the people. The faithful need to understand and take part in our worship and devotion. But the Latin of the Mass is our glory and our heritage, and it should be preserved and celebrated. Again, Sacrosanctum Concilium (54):

In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their [vernacular] tongue. . . . Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

When I first started attending Mass in my parish, this is what we did. We sang in Latin, in traditional chant forms, much of the Ordinary of the Mass: the Kyrie (in Greek), the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. And the people loved it and embraced it; it was never an impediment but an ornament to our worship. Now, since the new Mass settings ordered by our bishop, we only have the Agnus Dei in Latin. (We also still sing the Salve Regina and the other seasonal Marian antiphons in Latin.) But I would love so much to reincorporate more Latin.

What I would really like to experience, in fact — and I don’t know of anybody around here who does this — is the whole of the ordinary form of the Mass celebrated in its underlying Latin.

Hallelujah!

Happy Easter! He is Risen! Hallelujah!

For as much as our culture has used and abused this piece, I encourage every person to stop a moment and let these strains wash over you. (Be sure you have some good speakers or headphones.) Even if you’re not a Christian — this is one of the most powerful musical expressions of triumph and joy ever composed.

In Christ There is No South or North

So, hi. It’s been a while. My break has unfortunately been nearly as frazzling as school, with just as many thousands of things to do, but without the enforced structure of the academic week. I’ve had a lot of things on my mind, not least among them the Church. So I have several items to share. I’ll try to pace myself and not dump them all on you at once.

Benedictine Vespers

Benedictine monks singing Vespers on Holy Saturday (Wikipedia).

It is good to be back in my academic, and Catholic, home. My church is such a comfort to me. Daily Mass centers my day, and my week, on Christ. Despite that, I lost my Magnificat again a couple of weeks ago, throwing my daily routine into disarray. I’d grown accustomed to it for my morning and evening prayer, the bookends to my day. It gave me such peace to devote my day to the Lord at its beginning, and to go to him again at its end in the joy of thanksgiving, or the comfort of penitence. And suddenly, my guide in that devotion was gone. The good thing about it was, it forced me to do what I had been meaning to do for a long time: introduce myself into the actual Liturgy of the Hours. (I’ve been using the Universalis app for my new iPad.) And I’ve found in it such a deep, such a steadfast, such a constant companionship with the Lord. (Then, once again to the credit of my parish: After nearly a whole week of being missing, my Magnificant mysteriously showed up again in the book holder of the pew behind where I usually sit, where a man who remembered my carrying one pointed it out.)

Introit HymnsAs I mentioned not too long ago in a comment, our parish uses a very cool hymnary that sets the Church’s prescribed entrance antiphons (introits) to the music of established and respectable hymns. (I reckon this is the one: Introit Hymns for the Church Year Accompaniment by Christoph Tietze.) Many parishes, such as the one in my hometown, simply dispense with the prescribed introits as stuffy or unwieldy and replace them with hymns of their own choosing — something that apparently was allowed in limited circumstances by the 1970 Missal, but which many have gone over and beyond, to the regret of those of a more traditional, liturgical bent. The cool thing about what our church does is that we use the Church’s traditional introits as prescribed in the Missal, while losing the perceived stuffiness and unwieldiness of singing them in Gregorian chant, and yet retaining, in setting them to traditional hymns, a very traditional, churchy feel that many contemporary hymns lose. We’ve used many tunes that were familiar to me as a Protestant, some of Wesleyan or Lutheran origin.

And then today, our introit had a distinctly Southern feel. I could imagine, as we sang, the blue-haired old lady at the organ (not Ms. Betty — her hair is not quite blue), the good Baptist men and women in the pews around me (honestly, we Southern Catholics don’t look or dress much different than our Baptist brethren). I looked down at the byline. “McKee”. African American spiritual. No wonder it sounded Southern. The tune, as it turns out, has even older origins in an Irish folk tune, before it was adapted by African American slaves here in the South. How fitting it is, I thought, that we would sing it here today — the most ancient and exalted words of Scripture and the Roman Missal, set to the music of Southern slaves and common folk.

How fitting it is, too, that the tune of “McKee” was also set to such a hymn of communion and reconcilation as “In Christ There is No East or West”:

In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In Christ there is no East or West, North or South. Though there are still so many earthly divisions between us, the fact of us, Americans of evangelical Protestant background and descent, having reunited with Rome, is a testament to our longitudinal progress towards communion in Christ. And the divide between North and South — so ever-present in the memory of my city and state and region, especially to me as a Southern historian — is so completely bridged and blotted away by the Gospel of Christ, especially in his visible, Catholic Church, which covers all the world.

In him shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find,
his service is the golden cord
close-binding all mankind.

Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate’er your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
is surely kin to me.

Bishop Joseph Oliver Bowers

Bishop Joseph Oliver Bowers (b. 1910, Dominica), the first African bishop consecrated in the United States.

I looked around me as we sang. At the end of the next pew was an African American family. There are not very many in our parish; demographically our town, whether including or excluding the University’s student body, is predominantly white by far. Historically in the South, voluntary segregation between the races has continued within evangelical Christianity. Black people go to their own churches and white people go to theirs; there are even whole white and black denominations. I am blessed and thankful to have grown up in an ethnically diverse church with a long tradition of racial harmony; for many other Southerners, this hasn’t been the case. In the Catholic Church, I suspect there has been at least a little more racial diversity than elsewhere in the Deep South — the Church first established itself in more racially diverse, coastal, urban (and founded by the French) areas such as New Orleans and Mobile; Bishop Joseph Oliver Bowers, the first African bishop consecrated in the United States, was consecrated in Mississippi in 1953. But by and large, as the Church has moved into the upland South, it has been slow to take hold with traditionally evangelical African Americans. There are no black people in my RCIA class. But I pray, as racial division is healed in so many other ways in the South and throughout the U.S., that African Americans can find hope and healing and welcome in the Mother Church as I have.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
in him meet South and North,
all Christly souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.

May it truly and ever be so. May we find, too, reconciliation in Christ across political and cultural and regional and sectarian lines, the South with the North and the East with the West — between Protestants and Catholics, and Catholics and Orthodox. May we truly be one Body in Christ.

A Musical Journey

I’ve already written a little about my first flirtations with liturgy: how I began listening to Mozart’s Requiem as “mood music,” at a time when I was feeling morbidly depressed. I listened to it repeatedly, reflecting on failure and death and loss; recalling the sad end of Mozart’s life, and the idea that he was writing music for his own funeral — it seemed the most pained, desperate thing I could manifest. I had little concept of liturgy or what that even meant, only the sense that these words in Latin were somehow sacred and powerful. I downloaded their text; I memorized it. This fascination was one of the motives that brought me to study Latin.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, a Lutheran, but someone who knew how to worship God.

My next contact with liturgy was Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, a recording of it that came highly recommended. Honestly, at the time, I’m not sure I could have even told you what a “Mass” was, other than “something Catholics did.” At the time, it was just beautiful music to me; or so I thought.

But then, some four or five years later, something remarkable happened. It was after I had graduated with my bachelor’s. I was teaching at a small, Christian school. Preparing for class was one of the most stressful things I’d ever done. Peace was more a premium than it ever had been before. I had discovered Last.fm; I was listening, I think, to the J.S. Bach radio. And then, like a breath of fresh air, I heard this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhuZ9GHT9pQ]
(The English translation on the first slide should read, “Hail, O sweetest Mary”)

Carlo Gesualdo

Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa.

Voices so worshipful, so longing, so mournful, so penitent — the music pierced right to my soul. The composer was Carlo Gesualdo, Italian nobleman, musician, composer — and murderer. As a young man, he had murdered his wife and her lover. Later in life, wracked with depression and guilt and fearful for the fate of his eternal soul, he wrote some of his most expressive music in penance. The story of the man, and especially his music, immediately captured my heart.

And listening to Gesualdo on Last.fm led, soon, to Dufay, and Josquin, and Tallis, and Byrd, and others — my collection of early, sacred music quickly mushroomed in a matter of a few weeks. As did my obsession with it. Very soon, it was all I was listening to. It had burrowed into my soul — these sounds of so long ago, carrying such order and peace; this worship — for I understood immediately that it was worship, and worshiped God with it — so clean and bright and pure and heavenly. What affected me more than anything was the Mass settings. I felt the sense, very early, that the Mass was spiritual food.

Josquin des Prez

Josquin des Prez, my current favorite composer (this frequently changes).

Prompted by the feelings of worship that the music stirred in me, I soon was devoting time every morning to daily Bible study, something I hadn’t done consistently for a very long time. I made my way through the whole New Testament in a matter of a month or two; there had been books, up until that time in my life, that I’d never read before. I played the music while I worshiped and prayed. I told myself that it “made me feel like a monk” — prayerful and contemplative and ascetic — this was a good thing. I felt I was drawing on some ancient, powerful store of spiritual power.

And I was. That store was liturgy. I was hearing the Mass every day. The music of the Mass was piercing my heart and drawing me to worship. The words of the Mass were pouring into my soul — even before I understood them or knew what was happening; though by this time my Latin was good enough that I understood them quickly. On a number of occasions I found the Roman Missal online, in Latin, and followed along. I began to practice the prayers of the Mass in my private spirituality. I had little inkling at this time that I was on the road to Catholicism; I had no intention, starting out, of ever attending an actual Mass. But the Holy Spirit was drawing me to the Church through the Mass, through liturgy.

Kyriale

Tonight I started missing the old musical settings of the Mass, the ones we used to sing before the bishop ordered new ones — especially the Kyrie, which was always dearest to me. So I thought I would go and find them. Only I knew next to nothing about chant settings.

I went on YouTube and searched for “Kyrie chant.” Cool. About a dozen numbered settings came up. None of them sounded familiar, though. Annoyed, I searched for “Kyrie simplex” — a simple Kyrie. Wow, that was it. And the label on the video noted that it was from the Roman Missal ordinaries. Really, right out of the Missal itself? Then I bet I can do better than this…

And I did. Through just a little googling and listening and reading, I discovered that this setting comes out of the Kyriale, a collection of chant settings that is included in the Graduale Romanum — the book of chants to be used in the Mass — and the Liber Usualis — the massive tome of chants for both the Mass and the Divine Office. And I learned that this particular setting was Kyrie XVI, from Mass XVI, In feriis per annum (“In holy days through the year”) — which is when we used it.

And as it turned out, that first collection of settings I found on YouTube had XVI, too; I just didn’t go high enough:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQp1d59dniM&w=560&h=315]

… As it turns out, I can’t read Gregorian chant notation (I want to learn! though I can’t sing). Here it is in modern notation:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PIwmNWqeog&w=560&h=315]

This is the Sanctus we used to sing — from Mass XVIII, Deus Genitor alme. (So I guess it’s permissible to “mix and match”?) I can actually follow this one in the chant notation:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPBdSYgoup8&w=560&h=315]

And the Agnus Dei — from Mass XVIII again:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzOU4xoHKZY&w=560&h=315]

And this is the setting of the Salve Regina that we still sing. It’s not part of the ordinary of the Mass, but apparently there are several settings of it:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecwOagBg31I&w=560&h=315]

Here are the Mass settings I grew to know and love. And here I’ll always be able to go back to them. I’m such a nerd. And I’m in love with these traditions.

P.S. This is a pretty sorry recording of it, but this is the old Gloria we used to sing, too (from the Heritage Mass by Owen Alstott):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACdBrUcJKQw&w=560&h=315]

Alstott also revised this setting for the new English translation. I like it a lot better than what we have now.

The Great Amen

I badly need to get back to my grading. I still have 23 exams to go before tomorrow, and I have RCIA in four hours — but allow me to nerd for a few minutes about liturgy. I don’t know much about liturgy. I had no liturgical background at all where I’m coming from. So I’m fascinated to learn about it and love it oh-so-much.

A few weeks ago, our diocese undertook new musical settings of several sections of the Mass, to begin our transition to the new English translation of the Roman Missal this Advent. I haven’t wanted to criticize it, not wanting to be a complainer, not feeling it was my place (being, as I am, yet a foreigner), wanting to be obedient to my bishop, and being eternally grateful to be a part of the Mass at all — but today I decided to post about it, and came home to google something.

I was looking for the quote from St. Jerome that Scott Hahn refers to in The Lamb’s Supper: “Our ‘Amen!’ here should be resounding; it is traditionally called the ‘The Great Amen.’ In the fourth century, St. Jerome reported that, in Rome, when the Great Amen was proclaimed, all the pagan temples trembled” (54-55).

Pope Benedict at Mass

Pope Benedict at Mass.

The “Great Amen” has always been one of my favorite parts of the Mass. We used to chant it simply, but vociferously; it seemed so guttural, so desperate, so hungry — as if this were the moment in the Mass we had all been waiting for; as if we were crying out in our need for Christ, and finally He was arriving. Scott’s quote from St. Jerome underscored everything I was feeling: when we cry our “Amen,” every fortress of the Enemy shakes. It resonated with my evangelical roots: I wanted to shout “Amen!” to the coming of my Lord in the Eucharist.

In the new Mass settings, they have us singing the “Great Amen” — and well, it feels wimpy. Not only do we pause a few seconds after the final doxology for our cantor and organist to get on cue, thus losing the urgency of the moment; but the music itself is neither forceful nor resounding.

Imagine my surprise to learn that there’s apparently no such thing as the “Great Amen” at all.

According to these good folks at the MusicaSacra forum (which is awesome, and I’m glad to have discovered it), the “Great Amen” being sung is a newfangled addition, not prescribed in the GIRM or rubics of the Mass, and is disagreeable to a lot of them (purists, no doubt). And I have to say I agree.

As Gavin here recommends, “Ditch the ‘Great Amen'”:

When your priest sings “Through him, with him, in him” to the simple tone, just respond on the same note he used as the reciting tone: “Amen.” If he uses the solemn tone (with the slurs on some syllables), respond according to the pitch he ends on “A-me-” and then move up a whole tone “-en.” It’s all so simple, no one can object to it if it’s done routinely, and it makes SUCH a difference in how the Mass is perceived by the congregation.

St. Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great, who instituted Gregorian chant, and has always been one of my favorite saints. (Studio of Carlo Saraceni.)

And here I learned new terms! Father Joe has always sung, “Through him, with him, in him” so powerfully and stirringly — and I now learn that this is called the “final doxology” of the Mass, and that this style of singing is called “simple tone,” part of the grand tradition of Gregorian chant. “Solemn tone” is something I don’t know if I’ve encountered. ::listens to clips:: Okay, maybe I have. I have been listening to, and loving, liturgical music for a lot longer than I’ve been pretending to be Catholic. The way we used to chant it sounds like the way Gavin describes the “solemn tone” response above.

I have much to learn, and will love learning it. As I commented recently to my dear friend Audrey, there are limitless opportunities in Catholicism to be a nerd; a limitless capacity for nerditude.

Oh! More nerditude! I did look up that quote from St. Jerome. It seems Scott Hahn, annoyingly, took it out of context:

St. Jerome

St. Jerome, another of my favorite saints. (Caravaggio.)

Do you wish to know, O Paula and Eustochium, how the Apostle has noted each province with its own particular characteristic? Even till our own day the vestiges of the same virtues or faults may be traced. It is the faith of the Roman people which he praises. And where else can we see so fervid a concourse to the churches and the tombs of the martyrs? Where does the “amen” thus resound like the thunder of heaven, and shake the temples of the idols? Not that the Romans hold another faith than that of all the Churches of Christ, but that they have a greater devotion and simplicity in believing.

—St. Jerome, Commentary on Galatians II, vol. 7, 427 (A.D. 381)
(English translation from John Chapman, O.S.B., “St. Jerome and Rome,” The Dublin Review CXXII: 42-73, at 62)

I also found a really sweet site that apparently has all of the volumes of J.P. Migne’s Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca — the massive collections of the writings of the Latin and Greek Church Fathers — scanned and online! I may never be wanting for a text again! (Our university library does have the PL but not the PG.)