The Deus Vult Hymnal, part the third (a): Lord of the Dance

Proposed by aetherfilledskyproductions. Amazing, but I don’t think this tune has yet come in for brotherly correction on this blog. We will need to fix this oversight before giving it the Deus Vult treatment. Thus, Part the Third (a) shall review this song; we shall see what can be done to properly weaponize it in (b). 

Lord of the Dance: This needlessly long song suffers from a couple obvious flaws:

  1. Speaks in the person of the Lord. Whether we like it or not, whether we can intellectually justify it or not, on a direct simple level we have a hard time thinking or feeling like we are praying when we speak in the person of the Lord all song long. We may be charmed, or even inspired, but this practice all but prevents prayer. For a song used at Mass, this is not a good thing. (Before you mention the ‘thus sayeth the Lord’ parts of the psalms, merely note that the Lord sayeth his peace, and then the psalmist gets on with it.)
  2. It is too cute by half, and is trying too hard. It would take far deeper poetic gifts than are on display here to make this work.
  3. Salvation is likewise portrayed as a dance. In the hands of a great mystic, this might work. In the hands of Sydney Carter, not so much.

This concept – Jesus as Lord of the Dance – possibly traces back to a song written in the Middle Ages. Based on internal evidence, it is supposed to have been associated with mystery plays. This is believable. Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day, which I append to the end of this post,  is a masterpiece after the fashion of the didactic purposes of mystery plays. Each verse lays out in 4 lines some fundamental teaching, yet frames it as completely personal. the refrain is:

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

…where we, each one of us, is the beloved of Christ, Who expresses his love AND explains what His Dance entails through the example of His life, death and resurrection. He is Crucified for us – AND that Crucifiction is part of the Dance that He is inviting us to!

In other words, as you will see when you peruse the medieval text, quite a bit deeper and more challenging than Sydney Carter’s Lord of the Dance.

Speaking of Mr. Carter, it seems Shiva, the original Lord of the Dance, was as much an inspiration as Jesus:

In writing the lyrics to “Lord of the Dance” in 1963, Sydney Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also partly by a statue of the Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja (Shiva’s dancing pose) which sat on his desk,[3] and was partly intending simply to give tribute to Shaker music. He later stated, “I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”

The sort of Christianity Mr. Carter believes in is not what the Church believes – it is a sort of syncretist Jesus-light Hindu flavored Arianism. So, in the last song, we had a Church of Christ heretic, not to put too fine a point on it, teaching us about the Eucharist. Here, we have a syncretist teaching us about how Hinduism and Christianity are a lot alike, especially Hinduism.

What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like he’d be inclined to equivocate on Jesus’ unique divinity or anything….

[Aside: a perhaps unintended consequence of Vatican II was the driving out of many folk devotions in favor of ALL devotional activity needing to be included in the Mass. Thus, while previous ages had songs for pilgrimages and processions, oratories, and devotional activities such as the mystery plays explicitly for use outside the Mass, we seem to think it essential that any and all devotional fervor find expression in the Mass itself. Much of the less heretical stuff we do today at Mass, from rock bands and their goofy songs, through liturgical dance, to many of the more scripturally based St. Louis Jebbies songs would be perfectly fine things to do – outside of Mass – for the people who like that sort of thing. Indeed, this extending of our personal devotional lives to our time outside Mass is one of the good things to come out of the Charismatic renewal, it just has as yet to spread far enough. Lord of the Dance might be acceptable accompanying a mystery play or sung on a pilgrimage. It just doesn’t really belong at the Eucharist.]

It is set to a modified Shaker tune, perhaps best known from Simple Gifts. Shaker tunes do have a certain charm, and are not as utterly inappropriate for use at Mass as many other styles, but – maybe I’m a snob – they are not great music. We can do better, but, hey, we can and certainly do do much worse. In the folk tradition, the tune is merely beaten into submission whenever the text doesn’t quite fit it.

Let’s go verse by verse again.

Lord of the Dance

I danced in the morning
When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven
And I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem
I had my birth.
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he
This has a rustic charm to it, and is not strictly heretical. He echos the first chapter of John, except that Jesus here dances in creation, instead of *creating* creation. The world was not just passively ‘begun’. Weak. His Divine Nature is omitted, as one would expect from a syncretist.
 
I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn’t follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John
They came with me
And the Dance went on.
Ever wonder why pharisees don’t enter into our Mass songs much? As Chesterton brilliantly points out in The Everlasting Man:
 
We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of  humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does  indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible compassion of God. But nobody with his eyes open can doubt that it is chiefly this idea of compassion that the  popular machinery of the Church does seek to carry. The popular imagery carries a great deal to excess the sentiment of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ It is the first thing that the outsider feels and criticises in a Pieta or a shrine of the Sacred Heart. As I say, while the art may be insufficient, I am not sure that the instinct is unsound. In any case there is something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the idea of having a statue of Christ in wrath. There is something insupportable even to the imagination in the idea of turning the corner of a street or coming out into the spaces of a marketplace, to meet the petrifying petrifaction of that figure as it turned upon a generation of vipers, or that face as it looked at the face of a hypocrite.
Here we have the interjection of the gentle side of Jesus that the Church rightly presents to her children the vast majority of the time into a situation in which He was not gentle. A modern pharisee or hypocrite, confident that he is unlikely to run into the “petrifying petrifaction” of Christ’s face in wrath just around the next corner, might very well comfort himself with the idea of Christ merely dancing an invitation to the pharisees, rather than rebuking them and – gulp! – judging them. 
 
Can’t have that.  It is too horrible to contemplate. The nice syncretist Jesus of our cowardly imaginations would never rebuke us! He is our brother! Our Friend! 
 
Our ultimate Judge, too: 
 
That Guy. The One His Holy Mother is diverting her eyes from. He appears to have smiting on His Mind, and doesn’t seem too interested in excuses.
Verse 1 has watered down Jesus of the Scriptures to an acceptably tepid level. 
 

I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.
In a similar vein, note how it’s not the hypocrites who “said it was a shame” but the holy people. We needn’t stretch too far to see the blanket condemnation of anyone even trying to be holy in any conventional manner in favor of those who are simply willing to dance – as equal partners, of course – with Christ. 
 

I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.
While the ‘devil on your back’ image is certainly evocative, I note that this lyric does the opposite of what the Church does when it commends the Crucifiction to our contemplation: we are urged to focus on our role in Christ’s death, how He died for our sins. 
 
But that would be, like, a total buzz kill. Better to redirect attention to the devil. 
 

They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you
If you’ll live in me –
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.

“Cut”? Odd word. 

In general, this is just not a good song, not overtly heretical, but subtly so. I would find better things to complain about if it were sung around a campfire or as part of a procession, even though even then we could do better. But as part of Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – no. Just no. 

Next up: give it the Deus Vult treatment. 

Appendix: Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Chorus

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.

Chorus

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Between an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

Chorus

Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard I from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

Chorus

Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love’s dance.

Chorus

The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.

Chorus

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance.

Chorus

Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.

Chorus

Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.

Chorus

Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love’s deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance.

Chorus

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.

Chorus

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The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the second: Gather Us In

So far, two of my generous readers have made very worthy proposals for the next modern liturgical ditty to get the Deus Vult treatment: aetherfilledskyproductions nominates Lord of the Dance and Richard A thinks Gather Us In should be very firmly kicked, um, up a notch. I agree with both. We’ll start with Richard’s suggestion merely because my muse is more intrigued by it at the moment.

My analysis of Gather Us In can be found here. To sum up, word count exercise reveals:

Us, We, Our, Ours, People, Peoples: 30 instances.

God, Jesus, Lord, (and related terms, such as Savior, King, etc): 0 instances. There’s an implied God behind the gathering, couple of pronouns wander by, but overall there seems to be a quaint delicacy about just naming Him, let alone thanking and praising Him. Almost like we think Dad’s asleep and don’t want to wake him. He might come down and see what we’re up to.

We also have here the subtle despair of low expectations. Pick any beloved old hymn and  the poetry paints a vivid, concrete picture and puts us in it. Here? Vague feelz, curious circumlocutions, a general resistance to saying clearly what we are doing. Space and Place instead of Church; Awaken and arise to the sound of our names – what? See, the temptation for those of us paying attention is to provide logical backfill so that the lines say something – “I guess he means…” But really, it’s a hymn, not a reading comprehension test.

Must say, this might be the perfect song for the Deus Vult treatment, as it wants to gather us, just not into a holy army; it wants to change us, but not into Soldiers for Christ; it wants us to awaken, but not to repentance and holy fear of the Lord.

We can fix that.

Deus Vult 6
Too subtle? Goodness knows we don’t want to be too subtle here.

Continue reading “The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the second: Gather Us In”

The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the first

Enough is enough. Steps must be taken. For too long have we put up with wretched modern hymns, whining, sure, but doing nothing.

I here propose that we – I and anybody else who wants to play – Do Something. How about we take specific egregious hymns and through the magic of Scripture and doctrine married to classic hymn structures, write something that answers and corrects the pablum and heresy? Line by line, verse by verse, with references, we answer the drivel, the incoherences, the feels and, yes, the occasional overt heresy, with lines that mean something, advance the faith, and even rhyme!

We must for now set aside the ear-achingly bad music and focus on the texts. However numbingly awful modern church ditties may be, bad music most of the time merely insults taste and decorum, not Divine Truth directly. Besides, if we write our texts in any one of dozens of perfectly nice hymn formats, any number of existing tunes should fit them suitably.

Deus Vult 1
Just spitballing here…

We shall call this little exercise the Deus Vult Hymnal. Just because.

Deus Vult 2
Maybe this?

Today’s execrable hymn crying out to heaven for rebuttal if not vengeance, is the little Haugen tune All Are Welcome. Here, Mr. Haugen tries his musical hand at reinventing the Lutheran hymn, and the results are really not bad – musically speaking. The text, however, is a sort of motte and bailey: if we object to singing the Hegelian We Are Church Spirit into existence, we can be accused of objecting to being welcoming. Surely, the very least love of neighbor requires is welcome!

Continue reading “The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the first”

Reading Scripture

In the RCIA class I’m helping out with, we’ve been discussing Scripture and Tradition. One thing I didn’t get to mention, but I imagine might come up: what to do with those passages that contradict beliefs you hold near and dear, beliefs you hold to be *obviously* true? Examples that leap to mind include Old Testament passages where God orders the complete slaughter – men, women, children, livestock and, I imagine, pets – of Israel’s enemies, and Paul’s commands that women remain silent in Church and be subject to their husbands.

My advice, for what little it’s worth: fight off the temptation to explain these passages away. Instead, ask: how could this be true? What could it mean? What does it tell us about God and man? Is there a non-dismissive way it can true?

Image result for adam and eve
Cranach, Adam and Eve, 1526. Adam, in a pose familiar to husbands, scratches his head when Eve offers him the apple. 

How could a loving God order His Chosen People to kill innocent children and non-combatant women? Clearly, I believe my notion of what constitutes a loving God precludes Him ordering his followers to kill innocent people. I personally would not obey such a command. I would assume such a command, if given to me in, what? a vision? a dream? could not be from God.

Still don’t exactly know what to make of this. The best explanations I’ve ever heard include the notion that this evil – the slaughter of whole villages and cities – was a result of Israel’s disobedience when they failed to promptly invade the Holy Land. Had they proceeded as ordered, the story goes, the inhabitants, faced with a huge army invading out of the desert, lead by God Himself, would have fled – and lived. But once Israel futzed about and was unfaithful, the 40 years passed, after which the inhabitants had ceased to be terrified. So God now needed to purge the Promised Land of the abominations of the worshipers of  the Baals – child sacrifice and sexual perversions being central features – to give His people any chance of remaining true. The slaughter becomes like the Mosaic permission of divorce: given because the people were weak, but not intended from the foundation of the world.

Intellectually, those are kind of OK. Not sure my heart agrees. Yet.

The wives are subject to their husbands and should remain silent in church stuff used to bother me much more than it does now. If husbands are to be as Christ toward their wives, laying down their lives for them, then the whole ‘who’s in charge’ thing seems to pale to insignificance. Further, unsolicited and coming as a complete shock, many years ago my wife said that of course she was subject to me. One of the chief reasons I wanted to marry her in the first place was because, while she was sweet and accommodating in general, I’d also seen that she had real spine when people tried to push her around. My immediate thought: I’m not the boss of you!

The effect of having my wife tell me that she is subject to me – and I’m sure she means it – is that I’m aware that she is looking to me to lead, and that what a terrible and wonderful duty that is. The last thing I’d want to do is push her around (not that I haven’t failed, but I don’t want to). Talk about throwing down the gauntlet: now I have to be as Christ to her! I think obedience, even to a clown like me, might be the easier task!

Once I did my best to accept that part, the whole ‘women silent in Church stuff seemed at least less offensive. If men must be in charge, but only in the sacrificial sense in which Christ is ‘in charge’, then reserving public leadership roles to men is defensible, and in fact could be beautiful is done well. The hard part: we will, and have, screwed this up. Our mothers, wives and daughters should be the most honored and respected people among us, as Christ shows repeatedly in His life, both in how he treats – and honors – the women he encounters, and in His command to love one another as He has loved us.

This cuts both ways, of course: men will error in both being bullies and in being cowards, women in being harpies and in being shrews. We’re one big screwed up family! Adam must now work and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; Eve’s desire shall be for her man, and he will lord it over her. These two curses are perfect poetic justice for the sins. Doesn’t make it any easier on us.

And this disfunction all gets reflected in the Church. It’s almost like Democracy, in that we tend to get the leaders we deserve.

It is tempting and easy to come up- with ways to dismiss these troubling passages, or to let them destroy what little faith we have. I don’t know which is worse. It is better to embrace them, let them trouble us, and try to discover how they can be true.

This about plumbs the depths of my Scripture knowledge, so grain of salt and all that.

Catholic Schools & the Prussian Model

As mentioned yesterday, currently reading Parish School by Timothy Walch and The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. , a two-volume set published in 1908. For the last few years, I’ve been trying to track down the when and why of the Catholic Church in America adopting the Prussian graded classroom model of school for all parochial schools and high schools. I think I’m on the right track. From the introduction of Burn’s epic:

In point of fact, however, there is a direct historic connection between the Catholic school system in this country and the Catholic school systems of various countries of Europe. The first Catholic schools here were offshoots of the existing school systems there. The founders and first teachers of our schools were products of the Catholic schools and colleges of Europe, and the institutions they established here were reproductions, to a great extent, of those in which they had been trained, or with which they were familiar in the Old World. All through the history of the Catholic school system in this country, this European influence is traceable through immigration, the religious Orders, and other agencies. It has been a potent factor in the making of our schools and colleges and in the molding of their character.

Oh. Duh. In my defense, it seemed amazing that the parish schools in America, founded in opposition to the express anti-Catholicism of the public schools, ended up adopting exactly the graded classroom model used by our Prussian model schools.

To recap: starting with the Potato Famine in the mid 1840s, millions of Catholic Irish immigrated, raising the Catholic population in the US from tiny to significant. According to a couple writers, the few Catholics in America before the Irish tended to be well-off English Recusants and their Catholic friends who knew enough to keep their heads down, mostly, and could afford to do it. They weren’t impoverished peasants showing up in the better neighborhoods looking for work.

The Irish were. They were desperately poor, and coming from a nation where they and their ancestors had suffered  from centuries of English oppression. It’s also not entirely accurate to say the Irish fled Ireland. Some not insignificant portion had their boat fare for the crossing paid for by their English landlords, who did the math and found it cheaper to do that than to feed them as the laws at the time required. (The English hadn’t suddenly gone soft – they just knew a bunch of starving people without hope would be a lot of trouble to control.) The Irish departure from Ireland was not purely voluntary.

The response of the solid Protestant majority was to impose compulsory graded classroom Prussian schooling. Horace Mann and a host of others traveled to Prussia to study their schools, which were, ultimately, the outgrowth of Luther’s demand that the state compel all parents to send their kids to school, so that state-certified teachers could make good little Lutherans out of them. (It never seems to have occurred to Luther that the state might want to do anything else. He’d have made a good Socialist.) Parents might have other plans than what Luther considered the proper moral upbringing of their own children, and that was intolerable. Such families needed to be, at the very least, overridden. This is a consistent theme in German and, ultimately, all state-run schooling

So, in the 1850s, it was legal in Massachusetts for kids to work in a factory or attend a state school – but illegal to keep them home. If you were a good Protestant or at least a better-off non-Catholic, I’d imagine those charged with enforcing truancy laws might not focus on your neighborhood. Instead, focus on the Irish slums. Because truancy – keeping your child out of school unless he’s off working in a factory (likely as not run by one of Mann’s peers), even if at home with you – could lead to your child being taken away from you. The goal was always the destruction of Catholic families and faith. This is of a piece with the Know Nothings and the anti-Catholicism that has always been a constant in America.

A key part of the Church’s response was to found parish schools. In many ways, the Parish Schools were a remarkable achievement, built, managed, and financed largely by independent groups of Catholics, staffed by religious orders, educating millions of American kids over many decades. My siblings and I all attended Catholic schools, as did many of my friends and neighbors. But from the bishops’ perspective, the results were  mixed: even at their peak (1960) fewer than half of Catholic kids attended Catholic schools.

Public schools were ‘free’ after all, and immigrants are poor. Bishops understood this, but still sought (and failed to obtain) papal permission in the late 19th century to excommunicate anyone who sent his kids to public school if a Catholic school was available and affordable. That’s how seriously the bishops took the threat of the public schools.

Yet, even with this well-founded fear of letting the adversarial state educate Catholic kids, all parish schools to this day, even those few that are vigorously orthodox, are little more than kinder, gentler versions of public schools.

Somehow, that seemed like a good idea? Look at graded classroom schools: what insanity inspired people to accept having their kids rigidly segregated by age? We take it for granted now, but there’s no rational basis for it at all! It’s not ‘efficient’ or ‘scientific’ – there’s no evidence of that, and never was! Seriously, no one ever ran a side-by-side comparison of different models of schooling to see which worked better for some clearly understood definition of ‘better’. The sort of slapdash studies or comparisons that did and do happen, such as comparing test result (whose tests? testing for what?) tend to show, before elaborate ‘adjustments’, that just about anything – tutoring, homeschooling, one room schools, any of the many ‘alternative’ schools – produce better results even on the self-serving tests developed for the public schools.  So much so that there’s a sort of industry around doctoring data explaining away this phenomenon.

The reality, clear in all the writings of all the advocates of the graded classroom schools, from Luther to Fichte to Mann to Barnard to Dewey to today, is that the point isn’t the 3 Rs. It is control, for the state is a jealous god. Graded classroom are favored precisely because they disrupt family relationships that could oppose the state.

Recall that over almost all of America in the 19th century, many if not most kids attended one-room schools, where family and neighbors learned side-by side regardless of age. Teachers assigned kids to teach each other with little regard for age. Natural relationships were reinforced. Results were *better* as measured by the state school’s own tests than those of graded school, despite what the propaganda from the time to this day asserts.

Thus ‘educators’ hated, fought & tried to kill off one-room schools. How are kids to be controlled if their loyalty is to home and village – and Church? Much better to school them in doing what they’re told regardless of natural relationships. Thus, graded classrooms.

Yet, ultimately, all parish school came to use the graded classroom model! How did this happen? Short answer: this battle was already a century or more old back in Europe. Messy compromises had been struck, where the Church could run schools if they followed state models.

Immigrants brought these compromises with them. German Catholics, the single largest group of Catholic immigrants and founders of the most parish schools, brought what they knew with them, evidently having long forgotten the origin: exact copies of state schools but run by Catholics. Prussian model graded classroom schools.

On to more research. I’ve got tabs open (hope this computer doesn’t die suddenly!) on many of the people who come up in the discussions, many I had not heard of before. And it seems I’ll need to get up to speed on a bunch more history, especially the Kulturkampf, which I believe largely overlaps the period of greatest German Catholic immigration to the US.

Image result for Kulturkampf
“Between Berlin and Rome”, with Bismarck on the left and the Pope on the right, from the German satirical magazine Kladderadatsch, 1875. Pope: “Admittedly, the last move was unpleasant for me; but the game still isn’t lost. I still have a very beautiful secret move.” Bismarck: “That will also be the last one, and then you’ll be mated in a few moves – at least in Germany.”

A Comment or Two on the Current Unpleasantness

In the Church.

In general, I follow the rule of not getting emotionally or intellectually involved in the dirt, and not saying anything bad about priests. I recommend it for us peanut gallery folks.

Today, however, want to point out something subtle and pernicious and so very modern in the way many church leaders seem to think think.

Take this, for today’s example:

https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/cardinal-cupich-pope-bigger-agenda_Chicago-491855581.html

cupich

Here we have Cardinal Cupich explaining that:

  1. the Pope has a bigger agenda than dealing with the sex abuse scandal
  2. It’s a rabbit hole – dealing with it would derail more important things
  3. The pope has a record of acting when actionable information is made known
  4. People don’t like the pope because he’s Latino
  5. It’s not just about the Catholic Church.

So:

  1. It is not the primary duty of the Church, the Bride of Christ, to be holy. The personal holiness of all Catholics and most especially of Her priests, ordered to their salvation, can be set aside for the sake of the environment and migrants, for example.
  2. Seeking justice and truth is a far too involved and time-consuming activity when other more pressing goals are on the table.
  3. The pope acting on credible information – isn’t that the question being asked? It is a rabbit hole to ask it? Seems a fairly straight forward question. Either Vigano’s information wasn’t actionable or was never known by the pope. Well? Is this the denial Francis himself would not make?
  4. This is simply too absurd for serious consideration. Really? People were all cool with Italian (or Polish or German) popes, but an Argentinian pope (of Italian ancestry!) is just too much? This reeks of deflection and desperation.
  5. The church somehow can only act if EVERYBODY gets on the sex abuse bandwagon? We now *follow* in moral issues, instead of lead? Or does the Church get a pass because gym teachers also abuse people?

The basic attitude here is political. Some powerful subset of the bishops has long seen their role as primarily political, of trying to get the state under the guidance of Democratic party to do the good works of the Church. Worries about the spiritual well-being of their flocks and priests are easily classified as rabbit holes, things that merely distract from their *real* job of using political influence to create heaven on earth.

It’s no surprise that this is being said by Chicago’s archbishop – a city long given to big Catholic funerals and weddings for criminals, mobsters and murderers who, nonetheless, were the political powers and so could not be offended. Habitually letting the personal criminal behaviors of the people you are courting for political reasons slide for Higher Goals in the Big Picture, ignoring their advocacy for sins like abortion and sodomy because they never met a union or refugee they didn’t love, is a habit of contempt for Christian charity. Let them die the second death, so long as we get to unionize and outlaw capital punishment!

They all seem to think they’re Cardinal Richelieu (as if that would be desirable). They’ll let others loose their souls, and loose their own, if they go to bed at night having been patted on the head by the right kind of politicians.

All those saints, starting with John the Baptist, who called out the sins of the powerful and got persecuted, banished and murdered – pray for us! Pray for our priests, bishops and pope! And pray we have the strength to do the same.

Symbols & Turning One’s Back

First, a digression or prologue: Here are some descriptions of modern art as proposed by their creators, gleaned off the interwebs:

The picture shows how unhappy people which, is dependent on consumption, and as he turns into a cripple.

The painting shows the influence of television on the number of things we purchase.

Pity draws this exercise to a premature close. The artists themselves seem to be charmingly innocent, just trying to do what they’ve been told to do, and I don’t want to just pick on people. Simply, one could never tell, prior to the explanation, what, if anything, the artwork was supposed to ‘show’. It would be cruel, perhaps, to mix and match descriptions to artwork and see if anyone other than the artist could tell the difference.

Key point: great art doesn’t require a program to appreciate it, only, at most, a common cultural background with the artists. You have failed as an artist if you need to tell people what your work ‘shows’.

Let us pick on more deserving targets. Returning to the well one more time, here are snippets from what might be called the program that explains the cathedral in Los Angeles, from its website, with some commentary.

Spanish architect, Professor José Rafael Moneo has designed a dynamic, contemporary Cathedral with virtually no right angles. This geometry contributes to the Cathedral’s feeling of mystery and its aura of majesty.

We are being told here that the proper feeling to have when viewing this:

LA Cathedral

…is “mystery and its aura of majesty.”

Well. For comparison, I choose from among any of the thousands of great Catholic cathedrals that have been loved for generations:

Image result for siena cathedral

Does the degree to which you feel the “mystery and its aura of majesty” looking at the Duomo in Siena just like the feeling you get looking at the L.A. Cathedral? In any way similar? (Spoiler – having stood in about the spots each of these pictures were taken: no, the feelz are not similar. While the pictures in each case greatly tone down the effects, they do accurately engender them.)

Let’s pop inside: LA Cathedral Interior

Siena

In the first picture, the lack of right angles is supposed to contribute to our feelings of mystery and majesty. In the second, I think maybe it’s the awe-inspiring beauty that gets that done.

 

The challenge in designing and building a new Cathedral Church was to make certain that it reflected the diversity of all people.

Really? Who says? A small ‘c’ catholic church building should rather emphasize unity, maybe?

Rather than duplicate traditional designs of the Middle Ages in Europe, the Cathedral is a new and vibrant expression of the 21st century Catholic peoples of Los Angeles.

None of whom were consulted nor approved of this design. Just saying.

“I wanted both a public space,” said Moneo, “and something else, what it is that people seek when they go to church.” To the architect, the logic of these two competing interests suggested, first of all, a series of “buffering, intermediating spaces” — plazas, staircases, colonnades, and an unorthodox entry.

Um, what? Setting aside the weird circumlocution beginning with ‘something else’ that clumsily avoids talking about God and salvation, there’s an ancient tradition of providing transition from the external to internal worlds. Note, for example, the lovely piazza in front of the Siena Duomo leading to steps and awesome huge doors. It’s perfectly clear as you assend the steps from the piazza and approach those doors that you are moving from the public to the sacred. With its steps, levels, plaza, long confusing ambulatory, the L.A. Cathedral merely awkwardly overdoes it.

The Cathedral is built with architectural concrete in a color reminiscent of the sun-baked adobe walls of the California Missions and is designed to last 500 years.

…which adobe was always whitewashed, often painted, and adorned to the fullest extent the people could manage. That ‘designed to last 500 years’ always seemed like a threat, but maybe that’s just me…

The Cathedral’s interior design captures the principle of a spiritual journey.

The painful and unsettling part? Chesterton talks about how Catholic art favors the gentle, suffering Jesus over the ‘Woe and Temple-cleansing’ Jesus because gentle Jesus is easier to approach in prayer. I guess we modern Catholics are tougher than that!

Unlike most Cathedrals, we are not entering through a rear door near the last pews. Rather, we enter the ambulatory which circles the interior of the Cathedral.

This gets to the entire point of this preamble: one would never suspect there was anything wrong or lacking in the approach and entrance to a traditional cathedral unless he were *told* there was something lacking. To recap: one enters a traditional cathedral typically by crossing a plaza to ascend steps, passing through massive doors and under a tympanum which usually depicts the Last Judgement, entering into an awe-inspiring nave, flanked by lines of columns leading to and focusing attention on the high altar. Many, many people over the centuries have commented on exactly how moving that experience can be.

But not in L.A.! Here, we need to be told that we’ve been missing something, and told we should love and prefer a meandering, pointless, artificially long entrance.

Our betters will tell us what to think. If we don’t like it, well, that just demonstrates why they are our betters!

The ambulatory urges us forward, on a slight incline, heightening our sense of an upward journey, past various devotional chapels that open onto the walkway, not onto the Cathedral’s worship space, allowing a more meditative environment for devotional prayer.

The light and diversity of shapes draws people forward along the ambulatory and around the corner to the Baptistery and the enormous public worship space.

Hey! ‘Enormous’ used correctly in its original sense!  Also, note ‘worship space’. Not a church or even a nave, a ‘worship space’. OK, enough of this.

Artist statements we love

When I first began this blog, I wrote a number of items on symbols versus signs. The key distinction: symbols have meaning that does not need to be explained, or, at worst, once explained ‘clicks’ – the church uses red symbolically on the feasts of the Martyrs. Any questions?

Signs, on the other hand, will sometimes employ symbolism, but are more conventional in their meaning. Stop signs are traditionally red, but that they mean ‘stop’ is conventional. Red is a good color for this, but not necessary to get the point across. Blood, and therefore martyrdom, and red are connected in a way that stopping and red are not.

Signs can be made much more powerful by the artful use of symbols. In the old days, banks, which engage in the most abstract and ephemeral of businesses, made their buildings out of stone, as a sign of permanence. Good use of the natural symbolic content of stone – hard, enduring, not going anywhere – to communicate what they wanted to communicate – See? We’re not the fly-by-night operation you might reasonably suspect us of being! Solid as a rock, you might even say.

Gestures can also be symbolic, having meaning independent of social convention. Bowing and kneeling are gestures your dog understands. This doesn’t have to be the case – shaking your head for no and nodding for yes are, I hear, conventional. But I will contend that there is a large range of human gestures the meanings of which are not conventional, or at least have a core meaning conventions hang off of.

The whole preamble of this essay was intended to show how we, in the modern age, often try to gloss over with words of explanation the symbolic content or lack thereof of art, gestures, and actions in general. The L.A. Cathedral is known as the Taj Mahoney, because many people saw right through the pretend taking of input and invocation of diversity as attempting to veil what was essentially a $200M+ exercise in hubris. Both symbols and signs were involved in getting this project through – mitered cardinals in long processions, masses, blessings – but a key was blowing smoke, smoke illustrated in the snippets quoted above. What you see is not what you see – we will tell you what you see.

All this ramble was occasioned by an observation at mass yesterday. One universal symbol, a gesture that, again, your dog understands, is turning you back. Your dog knows that you are withholding approval or showing disapproval when you turn away from him. By dozens of gestures, we turn our backs on the Eucharist both literally and figuratively. As a symbol, this gesture has its meaning and emotional effect regardless of the words – the artistic program – used to explain why that’s not what it means. What you see is not what you see – we will tell you what you see.

This turning has been ritualized to the point where failure to comply makes one stand out, so very few people, even among those who understand what’s happening on some level, will buck the behaviors.

Before I go on, let me say that there are more or less reasonable reasons for many of these gestures. Taken separately, each might be OK in the sense that there is at least a sound theological or practical debate possible on the topic. Taken together, however, and it’s clear the goal is to change theology, or to express a theology already changed.

Let me count the ways:

  • Churches renovated so that it is all but impossible for some portion of the congregation not to stand with their backs to the tabernacle. Maybe it’s the choir, or maybe it’s some pews positioned so that the altar is surrounded. Either way, everybody gets the clear message that the tabernacle, and by necessary and inescapable logic, what is in the tabernacle, is not only not important, but is being actively shunned.
  • Versum Populum. This might be the number one case in point for where there are good historical and theological reasons. The Church has done this off and on over the centuries. But how it was implemented – I’ve heard stories about centuries old altars being jack-hammered because they were too close to the wall to allow the priest to face the people – shows inescapable contempt for history and craftsmanship (I’ve yet to see a new ‘table’ half as beautifully done as many old altars). And you’ve turned your back on the tabernacle, if it hasn’t been consigned to the outer darkness.

These are the most literal and obvious cases of turning your back. Other similar issues:

  • Bowing instead of genuflecting when passing in front of the tabernacle. Again, can be non-stupid reasons. Taken with everything else…
  • Communion received standing in the hand, instead of kneeling on the tongue. Sure, reasons, but since we’ve turned our backs on the Real Presence, traipsed back and forth across the sanctuary like a living room and otherwise worked to actively destroy any sense that this moment is sacred – well, is it sacred? What does sacred even mean?
  • General loss of the distinction of vulgar versus sacred space. Inside the church, a building made sacred by the Real Presence, should be fundamentally and patently difference from the space outside. Is it?

Anyway, I find myself more in favor of any gesture that marks the Mass and the physical church it is celebrated in as sacred. We are a people set apart. High time we started acting like it.