Friday, February 26, 2010


"One of the major errors of our time, at least on the religious plane, is to believe that a liturgy can be invented, that the ancient liturgies are inventions or that elements added in a spirit of piety are such; this is to confuse inspiration with invention, the sacred with the profane, saintly souls with bureaus and committees. Another no less pernicious error is to believe it possible to jump over one or two thousand years and retrace one's steps to the simplicity -- and the sanctity -- of the primitive Church; now, there is a principle of growth or of structure to be observed here, for a branch cannot become the root again. One must tend towards primitive simplicity by recognizing its incomparability and without imagining that it can be recaptured by external measures and superficial attitudes; one must seek to realize primordial purity on the basis of the providentially elaborated forms, and not on the basis of an ignorant and impious iconoclasm, and one should above all renounce introducing into the rites a pedantic and vulgar sort of intelligibility which is an insult to the intelligence of the faithful."

--Frithjof Schuon, Christianity/Islam: Essays on Esoteric Ecumenicism, transl. Gustavo Polit. Milan: Arche Milano, 1981.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

do you wanna sing or not?!

so, I'm there. Before Mass, standing at the ambo (the church is too small for another lectern,) and I'm standing in front of a full church, everyone is looking at me, and I'm supposed to teach them a very short, easy, 2-line, *Latin* acclamation.

You wouldn't think it was hard, and when I look out across the sea of faces, most of them (60%?) are making admirable attempts, and I'm so proud of them.

Of the other 40%, I'd say you have the group that's your typical totally apathetic "I don't care at all what happens, you could start screaming and jumping up and down and I'd probably still ignore you, I'm just here cuz I have to be..." and they comprise about 30% of the congregation. And, ok, fine, I admit. They are pretty much a hopeless cause. It's sad, but I don't lose sleep over them.'s the final, remaining 10% of people that really get to me. I'm standing up there, and they're looking back at me, and I can see what they're thinking; they're like, "I'm not going to sing in Latin. I'm not even going to try. It's probably toooo haaaard! So I'm not even going to open the hymnal and at least pretend to look at it..."
(and don't accuse me of judging them cuz I of course can't actually read their thoughts--but I can certainly see that they aren't trying!)

And the thought occurred to me, the most recent time that I was up there, trying to teach them, looking into their faces...
"YOU! You all are the exact ones who have been clamoring the loudest for 'active participation' for the last 40 years! And yet look at you! I could just have the choir sing all the time, but oh boy, I wouldn't hear the end of that... So now I'm trying to make it so you can sing easily; I'm doing everything that I can so that this tiny, little, two-line snippet of music could be easy for you!"

The...irony? They don't really care about active participation...or, at least, not when there's any Latin or something else that might stretch them uncomfortably even a little bit...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

a nine-year old who loves chant

so, I have a piano student who loves chant. And he is nine years old.

As part of his lessons, I have been having him learn a different chant every week (written in modern notation) on the piano keys.

His mom told me that his dad got him a copy of this book on chant, which he has been devouring. It seems pretty legit, but I only got to look through it for a moment (and I hope it isn't too "new-agey-spiritually" if you know what I mean.)

But...then what? He is homeschooled, and with very supportive Catholic parents, but keep in mind I'm only his piano teacher, so I don't really have time to do much more outside of things directly related to piano. I'm thinking I will next have him start learning chants on the piano that are written in square-note notation. He has a very good ear, and will sing along quite well with what he is playing on the piano, so of course the obvious benefit is that by learning how to read chant notation better on the piano, he will be able to sing it better. But of course that will only get him so far, and at some point he is going to have to learn the practical application within a choir, and how to make it actually beautiful, (by following whatever method of singing chant that is being used.) He is also VERY creative, definitely a budding composer (but he is only at level 2 in the piano books, so his composing skills on paper are kind of limited to that.)

So...any other book resource ideas? (keep in mind that it has to keep the attention of a creative nine-year old!) Or other general teaching ideas?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

the things we realize in the later part of life

I read this in Faith Magazine a month ago, and I found it thought-provoking enough that I wanted to re-post it here. It is from an article in which our previous bishop talks about his life since retirement.

"The good Lord is giving me time, time to be open, time to be open to being a priest in the full sense of the term. Before I retired, I was a priest for many years, 53 years actually, and I had a false notion about retirement. I had the idea that once I was retired I could really get down to the business of my spiritual life and then, in a definitive and positive way, devote all of my time to becoming a saint. But I quickly realized that journey should have been going on for 53 years." for thought.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

our pope is just so smart!

"...Let us think first of all of the Dionysian type of religion and its music, which Plato tackled from his own religious and philosophical point of view. In many forms of relgion music is ordered to stupor and to ecstasy. Freeing humans from limitations, which is the goal of that hunger for the infinite proper to humans, is supposed to be achieved through holy madness, through the delirium of the rhythm and the instruments. Such music pulls down the barriers of individuality and personality; in it human beings free themselves from the burden of consciousness. Music turns into ecstasy, liberation from the ego, becoming one with the universe. Today we experience the profane return of this type of music in a large part of the rock and pop music whose festivals are a counterculture of the same orientation---the pleasure of destruction, the removal of the barriers of everyday life and the illusion of redemption in the liberation from oneself, in the wild ecstasy of noise and the masses. It is a question of redemptive practices whose form of redemption is related to drugs and diametrically opposed to the Christian faith in redemption. Hence it makes sense that in this area satanical cults and satanical music are constantly spreading today whose dangerous power intentionally to wreck and eradicate the person has not yet been taken seriously enough. The dispute between Dionysian and Apollonian music with which Plato deals is not ours, since Apollo is not Christ. But the question Plato posed concerns us in a most meaningful way. In a form we could not have imagined a generation ago music has become today the decisive vehicle of a counterreligion and thus the showplace for the discerning of spirits. On the one hand, since rock music seeks redemption by way of liberation from the personality and its responsiblity, it fits very precisely into the anarchistic ideas of freedom that are manifesting themselves more openly all over the world. But that is also exactly why such music is diametrically opposed to the Christian notions of redemption and freedom, indeed their true contradiction. Music of this type must be excluded from the Church, not for aesthetic reasons, not out of reactionary stubbornness, not because of historical rigidity, but because of its very nature."

A New Song for the Lord
"The Image of the World and of Human Beings in the Liturgy and Its Expression in Church Music"
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

singing something for the sake of singing it

A classmate of mine (who works at a very high, professional level,) recently made the comment in class about, "we don't sing something during Mass just for the sake of singing it."

She gave some sort of example like how we shouldn't have the choir sing "Sheep May Safely Graze" just because we want to learn it, but instead should just sing Easter pieces at Easter, etc. (I can't remember what the exact examples that she used were.)

I've been thinking about that assertion quite a bit since then, because, honestly, that's something that I do all the TIME! I find a bunch of pieces that the choir could learn and that look good, and then I kind of have an idea of what order they'll go in, occasionally I'll find one that fits a particular Sunday particularly well, and then they'll sing it when it sounds good (which I usually have a pretty good idea about when that will be.)

Anyhow, a particularly limiting factor for me is simply due to the skill level and numbers of my choir. It is VERY difficult to sing anything in 4 parts, it takes quite a few weeks so I can't just pull out any old 4-part anthem and be like, "oh, we'll sing this on this week!" So I sift through the internet looking for quality 2 or 3-part pieces, or easier 4-part, and since those are all somewhat hard to come by, and I try to do one choir piece every week, well, if it works then we'll do it!

Then, there is the whole other topic of how to "pick" pieces for Mass. Going on the assumption which I have written about before that the Propers are the primary choice of text, and *not* that of the "theme" of the Mass for the day (which may or may not exist,) that brings a whole new level to the debate. What can be sung *after* the Proper is sung? Can't anything? At St. P, the congregation sings a simple arrangement of the Introit in English, a very simplified arrangement of the Offertory after a hymn has been sung, and a small schola of women sings the latin Communion chant. Once that has been sung, then can't *any*thing be sung? Therein lies the dispute. Some people firmly hold to the belief that every Mass has a "theme," however, I subscribe to the belief that (especially since V-II rearranged all the readings,) most Masses are just a hodge-podge of scripture readings, and certainly don't relate to the "theme."

Finally...what is the "theme" of every single Mass?

Repentence, Praise, Adoration.

In that order.

I'm pretty sure that any piece that I have the choir sing will fall into one of those categories...

Saturday, February 06, 2010


TOMORROW--we're being "reviewed!"

how cool is that?

stay tuned and check back for the write-up!