Chairs… no – Music at Masses Review

A reader commented that my life must be pretty near to perfection if I can find the energy to gripe about church chairs. While he may have a point, sorta, the reality is more like I am so easily distracted that even something as trivial as weird church chairs can distract me from… uh…

Today, I went to a 9:00 Mass at one nearby parish so I could do the RCIA dismissal after the Scrutinies at Queen of All Saints at 10:30. We sat in these chairs:


Clearly, they are intended and used as flexible pews.


Vastly better construction than these chairs. Legs integrated into the seat and set at an angle to minimize pressure on the joints. Yet, I was distracted from the chairs which distracted me from Mass by the sweet smell of pancakes. One of the things these chairs tell you is that the parish is unsure of what, exactly, the church building is for. Normal pews commit one to viewing the building as exclusively a church. Evidently, this large box of a building is also for pancake breakfasts, because a bunch of tables were set up for one at the back of the church, and the smell of the pancakes cooking filled the church. There’s not even a visual barrier between the Mass and the breakfast – I walked through the tables on my way to the porta-pews.

So, of course, we sang, or rather listened to, Jebbies and Haugen. This mass had a children’s choir, a small passel of cute little girls miked up like they were calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment – more than one mike for every two girls. Otherwise, it would have been pretty darn quiet during the ‘singing’.

We listened to them singing Jerusalem My Destiny, a little ditty I’ve somehow missed.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.

Other spirits, lesser gods,
have courted me with lies.
Here among you I have found
a truth that bids me rise. (Refrain)

See, I leave the past behind;
a new land calls to me.
Here among you now I find
a glimpse of what might be. (Refrain)

In my thirst, you let me drink
the waters of your life,
Here among you I have met,
the Savior, Jesus Christ. (Refrain)

All the worlds I have not seen
you open to my view.
Here among you I have found
a vision bright and new. (Refrain)

To the tombs I went to mourn
the hope I thought was gone,
Here among you I awoke
to unexpected dawn. (Refrain)

Aren’t we wonderful! References to I, me, we, us, etc: 31. God: 1, and the one verse that even mentions Christ turns Him into some sort of abstract expression of group identity:

In my thirst, you let me drink the waters of your life, Here among you I have met, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pronoun trouble: the ‘you’ here seems to be Jerusalem at least some of the time, but not always? You’d be hard pressed from context to figure out when it is or isn’t.

This song represents perhaps the nadir of content-free hymnody. It says nothing and means nothing. It invites the question ‘what is that supposed to mean?’ without providing any sure context within which to to figure it out. Take the opening line, or any line, for that matter, of just about any classic hymn, and you’ll see what I mean:

Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens adore Him

Joyful, Joyful, we adore Him

Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All

Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow

And on and on and on. A relationship between the singer and the Savior is established within the first 10 words; God is the subject of the hymn, praise the objective. God is described as the Giver of Blessings, the Joy that answers our desires, the Object of our adoration. Jerusalem My Destiny? Not so much. Evocative words and phrases  – Jerusalem! Destiny! – end up meaning exactly whatever you want to imagine them to mean. It is an anti-hymn, an anti-psalm.

On Saturday, went to a Catholic Men’s Conference. Our beloved – and he could sure use your prayers – Archbishop Cordeleone of San Francisco celebrated mass at noon, with a lovely choir doing chant and motets and a couple nice songs, some in Latin. We sang as Byzantine-style 4-part setting of the St. Michael’s Prayer. No question Who this mass and its music were directed toward.

On the whole, the weekend was a huge plus on the music at mass front.


Update: Reading, Writing, Life

I must have half a dozen books/magazines going right now, may be some kind of record for me. Plus a bunch of things I’ve finished that I ought to review. So, of course, started another book last night – I admit, a blurb yanked from a review did me in:

“It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.”

I mean, c’mon. So I’m about 50% into The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by Hans G. Schantz, which is book 1 in the series book 2 of which earned the above comment. So far, yep. Dude is very good and inventive writer. If he keeps it up, I’m up for the series. Plus, it not too long.

About 25% into Okla Hannali by Lafferty. It started getting sad, and there are times I can’t read a lot of sad. This is one of those times. Brigg’s Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics got to the point where I needed to reread the opening chapters to sure I was getting it – and so, almost to the end, I started over. Good book. Needs more attention than I’ve been able to give it so far.

And a pile of books on mythology that I tend to read when nothing else appeals to me at the moment. Greek, Roman, Polynesian.

And the Phenomenology of Spirit, where I stopped half-way through the main text after having read Hegel’s interminable introduction. Read it in college, need to finish up the reread.

Read a bunch of superversive/pulp rev magazines that I’ve yet to review. Have a pile I haven’t started yet. Also, looking sternly down at me from the shelves, are some Flynn, Wright and Wolfe. *gulp* In addition, I have maybe half a dozen books and stories from the Essential Sci Fi Reading List I’ve yet to get to. There’s maybe 20 more I haven’t tracked down a copy of yet.

Aaaand – there’s the longer term projects. Half way through some education history and biographies of the major players, but set all that aside as I need to be sitting up at a desk taking notes, not drifting off to sleep, to read these. I want to write a book or two about my findings one of these years.

So much for the reading side. On the writing side, seems I’ve done nothing since about August of last year. This is not merely inertia or laziness – life got complicated. I have maybe 3 out of 4 Friday and 2 out of 4 Monday evenings free – weekdays all booked up otherwise; weekends are a crapshoot. I get up by 6:00, so pulling 10:30 – midnight writing jags really isn’t in the cards, at least not regularly. And, for spiritual/emotional reason (fancy way of saying it calms me down) I’ve taken to playing piano an hour or two a day. About halfway through learning Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, as well as continuing to plow through the Well Tempered Clavier (have about 6 down pretty well, and a few more sorta kinda). Also throwing in a little jazz and improv.

That said, for some reason I reread a bit of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (except here’s a sample that has since been revised and may not even end up in the book) the other day, and started getting excited again, and wrote another few pages, and – I need more time, but I also need a job.

Very sad last few days at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, where my charming and beautiful younger daughter is a junior. The little brother, 11, of one of the students fell into a coma out of the blue, and died. No one knows why, totally unexpected. Please say a prayer for the repose of his soul and comfort for his family and for the College, which, being tiny, is taking this very hard. A number of other sad things have happened there as well – when there are only 125 students and everybody knows everybody, problems and tragedies are communal things. Tough Lent for them.

Me? Feeling better, love, love, love being involved in RCIA, the First Communion Parent’s class and my Feasts and Faith class at the local parish, even when it does burn up a huge chunk of time – but then, that’s what life is for. So that’s all good. Have almost completed the transition from worrying about raising our kids right to worrying about what they will do with their lives. Youngest just turned 14, the three others are in their early 20s. And worrying about how they take care of themselves. Fortunately, we were blessed with truly wonderful kids, so we don’t worry too much over things most modern parents worry about. But, still.



Music at Mass Review: 1st Sunday of Lent 2018

Up at Lake Tahoe for our annual President’s Day weekend snow trip with friends from Diablo Valley School. ‘Snow’ being pretty much nominal this year, unlike the 10′ high drifts last year.  So off to the striking church of St. Theresa’s Parish in downtown South Lake Tahoe for the 8:00 Mass. A lovely group of people with a good, humble priest.

One amazing thing happened. This building has a large window behind the altar through which one sees forest and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra – very striking, especially on a windy winter’s day when clouds whipped by, sunlight dappling the sanctuary as they flew past.

At the Elevation, the altar was in shade. As the priest lifted the Host, It was brilliantly back-lit while all else remained in shadow. Very beautiful and appropriate.

In previous years, I found the amateur woodworking on the pews distracting, as discussed in the post linked above. I think I’m finally over that particular temptation. The music, however…

Again, some sweet people are doing their best. A young woman with a lovely light voice lead the singing. But if all you know is Ripple, good red wine will be spit out of your mouth.

Theory: contemporary church songs are particularly bad in Lent, because contemporary writers have no concept of repentance. How could they, when, at least in the West, the whole project since V-II seems to be to get everybody to accept everybody (themselves included) as, essentially OK as they are. Repent from what? in other words. Hurting Gaia’s feelings, I suppose?

That Desert Father and Counter-Reformation Jesuit recognition that we’ve screwed up both individually and as a Church and could not possible do enough to correct it (we need a Redeemer, after all – another thought conspicuously absent from 99% of modern songs) is completely foreign to enlightened sensibilities. The idea that it is meet and just and ESSENTIAL TO OUR SALVATION that we throw ourselves weeping on the Mercy of God, despairing of our own strength and trusting solely in grace of Christ’s Holy Sacrifice as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world – not so popular. Am I saying we’re not OK? How dare me!

Pick any Catholic Lenten hymn more than 75 years old, and it’s easy to see St. Francis fasting and lying on the cold ground while praying those thoughts, or St. Catherine of Sienna weeping her eyes dry. It works. Now, imagine St. Teresa of Avila, in her stern humor, or Mother Theresa or even Dorthy Day reading over ‘Ashes’ and – I think some anathemas might be forthcoming.

Continue reading “Music at Mass Review: 1st Sunday of Lent 2018”

Music at Mass 01 14 2108

Robert Hugh Benson’s book Lord of the World has been praised and recommended by both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. In the story, set in some future Britain in which a Humanitarianism indistinguishable from modern Progressivism rules with an ever-tightening grip, an Oliver Brand, a junior member of Parliament, is to give a speech in Trafalgar Square to a vast crowd that includes his mother and his wife Mable. Before his speech, the crowd is lead in a hymn.

In the following passage, his mother, a simple woman and still a Christian, is faced with the meaning of the hymn:

The hymn was one composed ten years before, and all England was familiar with it. Old Mrs. Bland lifted the printed paper mechanically to her eyes, and saw the words that she knew so well:

The Lord that dwells in earth and sea.” …

She glanced down the verses, that from the Humanitarian point of view had been composed with both skill and ardour. They had a religious ring; the unintelligent Christian could sing them without a qualm; yet their sense was plain enough—the old human creed that man was all. Even Christ’s, words themselves were quoted. The kingdom of God, it was said, lay within the human heart, and the greatest of all graces was Charity.

She glanced at Mabel, and saw that the girl was singing with all her might, with her eyes fixed on her husband’s dark figure a hundred yards away, and her soul pouring through them. So the mother, too, began to move her lips in chorus with that vast volume of sound.

This sprang to mind as we – excluding me – sang the following entrance song:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek
to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found
in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground
where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

And so on. He Who Shall Not Be Named other than to mention it’s Marty Haugen tosses together a word salad of nice biblical-sounding phrases and, as part of his ongoing efforts (largely commendable in themselves) to reinvent the Lutheran hymn, sets those words to a fairly straight-forward and singable tune.

What here would give Fr. Benson pause? Weeeell…

  • The house doesn’t exist?

One might imagine – hope and dream, even – that those attending Mass at a Catholic church might share the vision that the Catholic Church is the House of God and the Body of Christ, and that we cooperate with God in building it up through humility and sacrifice. Or something like that. Let’s just say that this hymn (unlike others, thankfully) doesn’t actually go into the bulldozing of existing structures to prepare the ground for us and our new building project. It assumes that’s already happened – an understandable position – and starts right in with us building a new ‘house’ no doubt way better than the old one.

  • Note the ‘we’ are building a house remarkably free of God’s help and influence.

“Built of hopes and dreams and visions” – Whose? Do we care if such hopes, etc., comport with God’s will? Well, if we’ve more or less unconsciously absorbed Hegel-flavored modernism, we don’t, or rather, the question has no meaning. See, once God entered capital ‘h’ History, His only valid expression is His Spirit’s unfolding in that History – meaning, of course, whatever the enlightened people on the Right Side of History think. It’s not reasonable – the law of non-contradiction does not apply – and it is by definition certainly not traditional – history is becoming, in the sense of becoming something different that renders the past irrelivant.

The hopes, etc., of the proper set of hopefuls of course, ARE the Will of God. No need to trouble one’s head any further about that. Who constitutes the correct set of hopefuls is also not a question allowed – the detail that not all people share the same hopes, dreams and visions is something it is assumed the Spirit will unfold out of the way, if it is even considered at all.

The idea that pride is the first sin and humility the gateway to all virtue are more concepts the Spirit has clearly folded away.

  • We do not bring forth both old and new – just new, thankyouverymuch.

In the same way, “all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.”  Paul’s epistles, while full of admonitions to keep God’s commands and stick to the teachings of Jesus, seem strangely lacking in the dreaming God’s reign anew department. For example.

“We claim the faith of Jesus.” Note the direction of the action here. What ever happened to pure, unmerited grace? Neither Luther not Calvin would be pleased. Catholics, while recognizing the small but sacred role played by that great good gift of our free will, nonetheless never imagine faith as something to be claimed, as if it were our due or some primitive wilderness.

  • We must embrace the symbols while subtly rejecting the reality they are symbols of.

“Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace” and “love is found in water, wine and wheat”. No mention of the Cross as the *means* of our redemption from sin by Jesus’ obedience to the Father – talk about harshing our mellow! – nor of God’s real presence in that wine and wheat.  Nope, we define those realities away by redirecting our attention to superficialities.

Just as in Benson’s “The Lord that dwells in earth and sea” uses imagery and phrases meant to evoke traditional understanding while at the same time subverting that understanding, Haugen drops phrases like “rock of faith and vault of grace”, “where peace and justice meet” and even “as we share in Christ the feast that frees us” in order to invoke sentiment and cash in on unspoken associations while at the same time undermining everything those associations and sentiments were built on.

Don’t sing this song. Ever. But double don’t sing this song at Mass.

Leet Leet Skilz: The Parish Ale

Mentioned last post that I’d whiled away a little too much time clicking links and doing the whole ‘hmmm – that looks interesting’ thing while digging a bit into the history of ‘quiet enjoyment’. The internet is like having a drug dealer in your home – as a child, I’d have to go to a physical library to waste this kind of time, wandering through the stacks, pulling books that looked interesting, sitting on the floor skimming them until my legs fell asleep.

Now? That kind of high is just a click away! WEEEEEE!

Ahem. Anyway, quiet enjoyment lead to courts leet, which it turns out were a flavor of courts baron, or manorial courts, which lead to parish ale. No, really. A ‘leet’ seems to be an area that comprised the lands governed by a baron, so that a court leet was a manorial court for that area. English law, growing from feudal, ecclesiastical and tribal roots, as well as a heavy dose of Danish and Norman influence, had a variety of courts with equally varied jurisdictions. Courts leet generally handled criminal cases up to a certain level of seriousness, with the most serious cases kicked up to aristocratic or royal courts. There was also a sense of group responsibility in the subgroups within the leet. Hundreds and tithes would be responsible for the duties and crimes of those within them. Like all things feudal, layers and layers of relationships, duties and rights.

There’s some relationship between a parish and a leet, but it’s not clear exactly how that worked, unless the lord in the manor house had an area of rule that happened to correspond to a single parish – easy to imagine that being the case at least some of the time, but I don’t know.

File:Teniers Elder Village Feast.jpg
Village Feast by David Teniers the Elder circa 1640.   Panel Accademia Carrara, Bergamo     Source: Paineted a century or so after the Middle Ages are supposed to have ended. Like the barrels – we will conclusively assume they are ale barrels for the purposes of this post.  

Among the layers of relationships, rights and responsibilities (hey – a feudal 3 R’s! Wouldn’t it be nice if our current comparatively trivial 3 R’s took place within those medieval ones? Might even work better…) was a responsibility for upkeep of the parish church. One way this was handled was with parish ale. The word ‘ale’ when tacked onto the end of another word tended to mean party or feast, as ale is of the class of substances known to bring joy, and a readiness to party, to a man’s heart.

A parish ale was a generally annual feast or party celebrated with ale, as a fundraiser for the parish. Food, music, dancing held in the parish yard or a nearby barn. Money was charged for the ale, at least, with the proceeds going to church maintenance and the poor box. All in all, a charming example of local people taking care of local issues in the most Catholic way possible – duty, charity, and a party all rolled into one!

The oracle Wikipedia has this to say:

These parish festivals were of much ecclesiastical and social importance in medieval England. The chief purpose of the church-ale (which was originally instituted to honour the church saint) and the clerk-ale, was to facilitate the collection of parish dues and to make a profit for the church from the sale of ale by the church wardens.[3] These profits kept the parish church in repair, or were distributed as alms to the poor.

The churches must owe, as we all do know,
For when they be drooping and ready to fall,
By a Whitsun or Church-ale up again they shall go
And owe their repairing to a pot of good ale

— “Exaltation of Ale”, by Francis Beaumont[3]

In the gallery of the tower arch of St Agnes, Cawston in Norfolk is inscribed:

God speed the plough
And give us good ale enow …
Be merry and glade,
With good ale was this work made.[4]

On the beam of a screen in the church of Thorpe-le-SokenEssex, is the following inscription in raised blackletter on a scroll held by two angels: “This cost is the bachelers made by ales thesn be ther med.” The date is about 1480.

The parish ale being local, fun, and traditional, the English Reformation was of course opposed to them. Over time, they were restricted and largely faded away, but a few persist to this day.

No other reason for this post than that I found the idea of the parish ale delightful.

Freak Leeks

I don’t cook with leeks a lot, but I’ve cut up at least dozens of leeks in my life – this is the first time I’ve come across this:


Setting aside the immediate thought: are leeks evolving into or devolving from onions RIGHT BEFORE MY VERY EYES? was struck by the beauty of it all. Details of this, and the next also fascinating if less dramatic leek I cut into:

leek details 1

Leek details 2

After stopping to admire and photograph these beautiful vegetables, chopped them into bite-size pieces, mixed with halved Brussels sprouts, added a little olive oil, liberally salted and peppered them, spread them on a baking sheet, as roasted them in the oven. Earlier, had done the same to potatoes, yams, beets, and carrots, added whole garlic cloves, added thyme and rosemary and roasted separately – they take longer. Then mixed them all together and brought them to a post-caroling pot luck.

Several older couples attended -older than me, even. Imagine. A couple of people told me to tell my wife (who was off at the airport picking up incoming offspring) how good the vegetables were.

I smiled, and said I surely would.

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.

Image result for simbang gabi
By Patpat nava (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, 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.