Simbang Gabi 2017, Baby!

Today begins the delightful Advent novena of Simbang Gabi, a tradition from the Philippines, where Mass is celebrated in the darkness before dawn for the nine days leading to Christmas.

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By Patpat nava (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the years, I’ve read a number of explanations of the origin of Simbang Gabi, with slight variations. This seems a good one:

Different Christian cultures have adapted a way in celebrating the season of Advent. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. For Filipino Roman Catholics, the Simbang Gabi (literally means night worship) is a typical way of preparing for the great feast of Christmas. This religious tradition was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish evangelizers through Mexico. Originally, it was popularly known as Misa Aguinaldo. The “Aguinaldo” means gift, which is peculiar to Christmas. That is why, the faithful wake up early morning for nine days before Christmas to join in the celebration of the dawn Mass. The faithful make this their “Aguinaldo” to God for the great gift of Jesus. The practice can also be understood as the preparation of the faithful to receive from God the great gift or “Aguinaldo” of Christmas, Jesus, the Savior of the world. Simbang Gabi is also called Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster based on the time of day it is celebrated; at dawn, at cockcrow.

Liturgically, the practice of Simbang Gabi had its origin in the Rorate Masses  (Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, D.D., Archbishop of Manila. Guidelines on the Celebration of Simbang Gabi in the Archdiocese of Manila, 2010)  which takes its name from the first word of its introit (Entrance Hymn): “Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant iustum,” or “Drop down dew, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness.” It is a Mass  celebrated early in the morning in honor of the Virgin Mary in which the interplay of light and darkness convey the meaning of Advent.

This leaves out the part about shared breakfast, which, based on my tiny sample, is an important part of the tradition.

And so, today, the first day of the novena, the boys and I got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed over to St. Francis of Assisi Church together with a few hundred of our Filipino brothers and sister in the dark for Mass and an always interesting Filipino breakfast: chicken soup seems to be the one mandatory item, followed closely by hard-boiled eggs, white rolls and individually wrapped slices of American cheese. There can be and usually are other items, but these seem invariant.

The chicken soup is usually pretty tasty. Since various parishes and other Filipino groups take turns doing breakfast, one is never quite sure what one will get. Today’s soup was thick with rice and had saffron in it along with little bits of chicken – delicious. Sometimes, we get what I suppose is authentic chicken soup, wherein, it seems, entire chickens with bare minimal amount of prep are boiled until they fall apart – tastes OK, but beware the bones and gristle. Fried sausages and ham, sometimes cooked in sugar or honey, and various gelatinous sweet regular solids rounds out the options.

Since we’ve been doing this for a number of years now even though we are not Filipino nor part of any of the sponsoring organizations, we are recognized, greeted by name, any missing family members (not all of us make it every time – 5:00 a.m.!) asked after. It’s a very welcoming group.

The mass, complete with songs and mass parts in Tagalog, is of course the high point. To see several hundred people up at that hour and filled with good cheer as they prepare a straight way for the Lord is a great comfort and inspiration.

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An Invitation to Solemn Joy

Yesterday, the family attended Mass at beautiful St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco, one of the loveliest churches on the West Coast.

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The neo-Gothic style building is situated in a bit of a valley or hillside on the north side of San Francisco not far from the Presidio. It’s not a particularly large or imposing structure, especially when compared to the Cathedral or St. Ignatius in the City.

The interior, in particular, is very well done. A slightly yellow-tinted stone was used for most of the interior, which gives it a warmth. The many stained glass windows fill it with richly colored light. The woodwork on the confessionals and trim is beautiful German craftsmanship. The proportions are glorious yet still human scale.

I love the high altar in particular. The classic semicircular apse, raised a couple steps above the nave, with an ambulatory which provides access to the sacristy, has the effect of at once setting the sanctuary apart while also allowing people to walk around it easily. The altar piece features Dominican saints arrayed around the Crucifix and Tabernacle. The altar rail, although I suppose unused for decades, is attractive and, more important, still there.

The interior is at once joyful, playful, even, in that Gothic way, and completely serious. The result of all this, and the defining characteristic of St. Dominic’s, is that it is a special place, a place set apart. It could not be mistaken for any other kind of building.

St. Dominic’s is an invitation to solemn, almost stern, joy. In a way more definite than even a burning bush, everything tells you you are on holy ground. You should be silent and pay attention. Something Important happens here.

Built in the 1920s, this building is a concrete expression of the Latin Mass, and not just in having been built to facilitate the rituals. It shares an esthetic with the old Mass, and, much more – they share a spiritual mission.

Having recently been blessed to attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass in the way envisioned (and commanded!) by Vatican II – ad orientem and in Latin – it’s easy to imagine that the Novus Ordo, too, shares that same spiritual mission. It’s also hard not to conclude that the Ordinary Form as done 99.99% of the time in this neck of the woods – ad populum and in English, sure, but more important, with the sensibilities of a game show – does not.

The Mass as actually celebrated by the wonderful Dominicans at St. Dominic’s is, of course, beautiful and efficacious, and we are grateful for having been blessed to attend it. And the artistic and spiritual spirit of the building does seem to have a calming affect, inspiring a level of reverence sadly lacking in most parish churches. But the gap between architecture and the practice that architecture embodies was palpable. It would no doubt foment a revolution of sorts, but I imagine that, for some people, maybe many people, that if they started doing an ad orientem Mass in Latin there, they would never want to go back. They harmony of building and practice would call to them. They would know that they were home.

 

The Presence and Absence of God

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I joined Teams of Our Lady, or TOOL. (Our 13 year old promptly pointed out that they should have called it Couples of Our Lady, which would have resulted in COOL, which is, well, much cooler.)  A French priest started TOOL back 1947 to support and encourage Catholic married life. Groups of 7 Catholic couples get together once a month to help reinforce our commitment to God through our marriages, A meal, some readings and prayers, review of certain assigned activities (praying as a couple, reading Scripture, that sort of thing) and just socializing.

We had our July meeting Saturday. While I am radically not a joiner, I’m so glad we joined TOOL. Some of us are retired, kids all grown; some have babes in arms; we are in the middle. Getting to hang out with sane couples committed to their marriages is such a change of pace from the rest of our lives, where many if not most of the adults we know move from tragedy to delusion and back, leaving a wake of misery in their lives, the lives of exes and kids, all the while sure that’s just the way things are, no one is to blame, the kids will get over it.

The opportunity to spend a few hours with folks who would have in the past been viewed as simply normal and healthy is a great blessing.

One of the women mentioned in passing having attended a Catholic gathering a few years back in which the composer David Haas was a featured speaker. He stated that since God is present in us, we can praise God by focusing on each other. She was one of the few people present not to respond to this assertion with a ovation.

What could possible go wrong?

This, for one thing:

Refrain: We come to share our story. We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.

1. We come as your people. We come as your own.
United with each other, love finds a home.

2. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor.
We are called to feed the hungry at our door.

3. Bread of life and cup of promise, In this meal we all are one.
In our dying and our rising, may your kingdom come.

4. You will lead and we shall follow,
you will be the breath of life; living water, we are thirsting for your light.

5. We will live and sing your praises. “Alleluia” is our song.
May we live in love and peace our whole life long.

(Ahh! 2/3rds of this post just vanished! Ratzen-fratzen technology!)

Frivolous Friday Bullet Points

  • Briefly looked over the *97* draft blog posts in my backlog. But am I finishing or discarding any of them? Noooo! I’m drafting another one! Right here, right now!
  • I’ve previously mentioned the froo-froo snacks thing we have going at my place of employment. The company supplies all kinds of free goodies in each of two nice kitchenettes – one upstairs, one down. This bounty includes sodas, bottled waters, fruit nectars, greek yogurts, single-serving cheeses (3 kinds) along with nuts, party mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and on and on. For an office with around 20 people in it.
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Seriously? Does that look like a snack food to you? Or rather more like what you’d feed wintering livestock?

We’ve recently upped the ante from this already embarrassing bounty by adding ‘healthy’ snacks from a service that supplies them in a cute cardboard box/display every couple weeks. I am weak – I tried some: they range from pretty good (e.g., coconut something-something bars – yum!) to weird (e.g., ‘jerky’ that ended up being limp sticky maple flavored bacon – huh? Bacon = good; this = weird.), as you might expect.

But I do draw the line somewhere. I have nothing against kale, per se, even if I have occasionally and with some

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“A skeet of delicious organic goodness!” 

justification referred to it as ‘a weed with a marketing department’. But

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“This puck delivers 100% of the recommended daily dose of gulibilium.”

I’m not even going to try a snack leading with ‘Blueberry-Vanilla-Kale’ in big print. I have some principles.

Also, the Gucci snack industry’s crack delivery system mutation division can’t seem to settle on terminology: are these oh-so-hip snack units bars? cookies? skeet? pucks? I’d go with ‘wads’ – ‘a delicious wad of vanilla- infused blueberries enveloped in a healthful duvet of the finest kale’ – I might try THAT, once, anyway, out of sheer cussedness.

  • My daughter and I sometimes kid about efforts to be holy, in what I hope is a light and not-asking-to-get-struck-down-by-lightening way. We once came up with ‘redemptive mockery’ in response to the use of the term redemptive suffering for every little inconvenience: one might piously help out a fellow sinner by mocking them relentlessly, for their own good! Look at all the humility and patience to be gained! In a similar vein, living out here in California, we get pretty touchy-feely at Mass. People tend to hold hands at the Our Father, sometimes forming circles of people so joined. I refered to this as ‘redemptive kindergarten’ to said daughter, and had the satisfaction of watching her spend the next few moments fighting off a giggle fit. At Mass. Bad Daddy! Bad!
  • This may have to be my default GIF from here on out:
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(BTW: trying to get my arms around the morality of ‘borrowing’ gifs – this is a snippet of a movie somebody already borrowed, then turned the lines from the movie into text. So the only people who should be concerned are the movie rights owners – who, if they’ve got an ounce of business sense, are thrilled to see people reminded of their movie a million times a day. Ya know?)       

Politics? Education? Religion? Hey, the dumpster fires have to burn themselves out eventually, right? Right? PLEASE?!?

If you want to die at home, my advice would be, don’t go to a hospital. Perhaps this will strike gentle reader as a remark overweighted on the side of the obvious; but there is some method in some of my madness. So I will begin with a careful qualification: my advice holds for Canada, and the United Kingdom, but not for all of those Natted States. (I realize there are other jurisdictions.) And even there, the impossibility of fixing “Obamacare,” without further extending its “entitlement” provisions, shows the end is coming, soon. But in Canada and UK, the future has been here for some time.

The reason, of course, is that at these higher latitudes we have so-called “single-payer” “healthcare” systems in which, as we have been reminded lately, all decision-making is concentrated in the caring-sharing State, or as I prefer to call her, Twisted Nanny. Once the paperwork is complete, and the customer has progressed from the outer to the inner waiting rooms, he is entirely in her power. He may, after reviewing her apparatus (both surgical and managerial), want to go home and die there. But she is unlikely to release him, and it will require the assistance of loyal friends and family to effect the equivalent of a prison break. (Tip: staff tend to be at their least attentive during the conventional sleeping hours.)

You see, Twisted Nanny likes to watch people die. She can become quite annoyed when others appropriate this privilege. She also likes to kill people, and has gone to considerable trouble to establish a monopoly in this regard. And given her latest powers, under legislation for “euthanasia,” she prefers to do it in her own facilities. She doesn’t make house calls, the way they do in Red China.

Have a good weekend!

 

Music at Mass 07/09/2017

(And now for something completely different:)

Praise where praise is due: Bernadette Farrell’s O God, You Search Me is a pretty good hymn, a pleasant tune, easy to sing, theologically sound and appropriate for use at Mass.

O God, you search me and you know me.
All my thoughts lie open to your gaze.
When I walk or lie down you are before me:
Ever the maker and keeper of my days.

You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
And with love everlasting you besiege me:
In ev’ry moment of life or death, you are.

Before a word is on my tongue, Lord,
You have known its meaning through and through.
You are with me beyond my understanding:
God of my present, my past and future, too.

Although your Spirit is upon me,
Still I search for shelter from your light.
There is nowhere on earth I can escape you:
Even the darkness is radiant in your sight.

For you created me and shaped me,
Gave me life within my mother’s womb.
For the wonder of who I am, I praise you:
Safe in your hands, all creation is made new.

The text is based on Psalm 139:

1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Must say I love the line from the song “And with love everlasting you besiege me,” which captures “5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me” beautifully. God has besieged us, we hide behind our castle walls, trying to keep him out. But he nonetheless lays a loving hand on us. Beautiful.

Nice hymn. See, I don’t hate *all* ‘contemporary’ church music! I owe this praise especially since I have earlier offered harsh criticism of Farrell’s work, such as God Beyond All Names, a tune a bit tricky to sing because of some too-precious by half rhythmic goosing. But the real problem is the incoherent and baffling lyrics that don’t stand up to a moment’s thought.

But this is a happy occasion! O God You Search Me is a perfectly nice song to sing at Mass.

Also sang a Jebbie tune this weekend, with the usual feature of too many dotted figures added to a milk toast tune in a failed effort to lift it to the level of mediocrity.  This sets up the traditional War Between the Organist & Congregation, where the organist’s years of training and practice cause her to read the music as written, while the congregation – at least, that minority willing to try to sing – smooths the tune right back out, ignoring most of the dotted figures. In the more extreme cases, typically where the composer has modified each verse individually so as to leave the congregation guessing when to come in and how this particular verse goes,  the War ends up silencing all but an intrepid few (me, for example, who read enough music to generally hang with the organist). In the eternal irony that surrounds the Church throughout her history, music supposedly written to encourage active participation ends up silencing even those few who might otherwise try to sing.

So it goes.

Updates: Home Improvement Project, Graduation Season

Yes, I still need to review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith (short: it’s good), but, until we get Grandma moved in and stuff moved out – you know, stuff – I’m pretty much time-impaired. And I got stories to finish! Anyway:

A: If Grandma is to move in, it would be necessary to have unimpeded ingress to the house. Thus, I needed to get to a point on the endless front yard brick project (EFYBP? Doesn’t roll off the, um, cerebellum?) where a wheel chair, say, could be rolled up to the front door. Thus, last weekend and this morning were dedicated to laying brick. Here’s where it stands:

(Faithful reader Agellius asked for wider view, to see context – couldn’t really work it, but here’s a bunch of pictures that might help.)

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From the street, driveway to the left.
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From the driveway, featuring the bench between the two planters – fig to the left, citrus to the right.
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Standing on the porch, looking street-ward.
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The porch, with my back to the door. Did herringbone on the porch, 2 straight lines of bricks as transition, then checkerboard transition to the curves matching the planters.

That’s it for now. Needs a planter next to the house, with a pillar in front tall enough to support a hand rail. To the right facing the door will be another short pillar, tall enough to hand a gate off and wide enough to house a mailbox – this will mark the entry to the orchard/garden. Will need a couple steps down as well.

But that can wait – one can now approach the front door without running an obstacle course.

B. Went to the high school graduation of the daughter of dear friends, held in St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, often referred to as “Our Lady of the Maytag”. It is an agitating building:

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At least, with beloved Archbishop Cordileone, the homilies are less likely to initiate the spin cycle.

It seems that speakers at events held here are obliged by contract to refer to it as ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely’ – the graduation speakers surely did.

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My daughter, fresh back from 4 months in Europe, including three in Rome, asked: are there any pretty cathedrals in California? And – I was having trouble coming up with any. I’m sure there are, somewhere – it’s a big state – but not in any of the places I’ve lived.

The 1st speaker did a gracious job reminding people that we were in a church, to remain seated, and hold applause until the end of any group acknowledgements. And, for a while, people were pretty good.

But the event wore on. Eventually, graduates got some whoops and hollers; then stomps and shout-outs – and it was open season. My 13 year old son was very distressed by this – as a family, we always find the tabernacle, when possible, and genuflect, and try to keep the yacking down. I was equal parts sorry for him (and us, frankly) but also happy that he took it seriously enough to be made uncomfortable by it.

But what do you expect in a building that requires very little imagination to picture hosting a major appliance vendor’s convention?

C. The above-mentioned daughter, who is an amazing baker and served as Thomas More College’s baker for a semester (and will probably do so again), agreed to make a cake for Diablo Valley School‘s 20 Anniversary Party next weekend. The theme is Disco Tea Party (?!?) so the cake is going to be some sort of disco ball/teapot hybrid.

Sure to be memorable. I will post pictures.

Music & Ceremony at Mass: 5/14/2017

In accordance with long established practice, for Mother’s day, we drove up to Petaluma to visit Anne-Martine’s mom, who, as a result of some as yet undetermined illness, was hospitalized last week and is now in a nursing home for at least a while. Prayers appreciated.

We attended Mass at St. Vincent’s, a beautiful church and the church in which we were married coming up on 30 years ago. What we did not know going in was that this particular Sunday, the 10:30 Mass was to be said in Portuguese, and that a procession of an image of the Suffering Christ was to follow:

Seems that several centuries ago in the Azores, a beloved image of the Suffering Christ was feared destroyed in the collapse of a church caused by an earthquake. The weeping locals dug through the rubble and discovered the statue undamaged, and so, in typical Catholic fashion, had a procession and a party!

There is a large Portuguese population in California, clustered in places where fishing and agriculture were early established – Monterey, Pescadero and San Francisco for fishing, and, among other places, Petaluma for farming. So my wife grew up among several large Portuguese farming families, and St. Vincent’s as the local parish incorporated any number of Portuguese devotional practices. Including this procession and party.

I could hardly be more down with all this – rock on, Portuguese Catholics! Party down!

The Mass itself was full of pomp. And noise. I don’t know if the Portuguese are traditionally noisy people in church, or if the spirit of V-II had a disproportionate (or perhaps merely delayed) effect on them. They yak up a storm. But hey, I’ve seen worse. They all showed up for Mass in their Sunday best, which is way cool and to be commended wholeheartedly.

The exception was the music – when the band played on, any singing by anybody in the congregation fell below the sensitivity of my instruments – ears and eyes – to detect. The music itself was all some sort of modern-ish guitar tunes in Portuguese, so I have no idea what they were all about. More melodramatic than modern Mexican liturgical music; much less musically sophisticated than modern Filipino mass songs.

The thought I could not escape: what is now Portugal has been Catholic for about 1,500 years, and, while largely on the periphery of Christendom due to geography, nevertheless was a part of the Church’s general artistic and liturgical traditions for all that time. It a sure bet that there are vast amounts of perfectly wonderful liturgical music used and loved over the centuries in Portugal, some of which was no doubt even produced by locals. In any event, Portugal could not have escaped the effects of centuries of chant, polyphony, and other beautiful liturgical music.

Yet, here we sit in church, listening to music that cannot be more than 50 years old, performed well after the manner of its kind, by people who were pretty decent musicians. But this music is being performed in place of music that would actually have something to do with the events being celebrated in the procession and party! One can’t even use the feeble excuse of active participation – the people are going to sit there and listen, more or less, no matter what the musicians play.

Instead of lavishing the same sort of care on the musical traditions that they obviously lavished on the procession itself, they let die all the art and power that uplifted their ancestors in favor of music that the congregation, as far as I could tell, ignored any way.

The death of a musical tradition is just as sad as if the overall traditions of a people were to die. The Portuguese, and all of us, really, are poorer for it.