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.”
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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.

 

Mission Church/Checking In

Been busy and a bit under the weather. Checking back in.

Today, the Concord Queen of All Saints Feast and Faith group took a field trip to Mission Dolores in San Francisco for Mass, a tour of the old adobe mission chapel and lunch. There were 13 of us. It was fun and educational, and it’s always a blessing to be able to say a few prayers in a church you are visiting.

Mision San Francisco de Assis was the sixth mission founded by St. Junipero Serra. In October 9, 1776, the official documents arrived establishing the mission, but Mass had already been celebrated at the site on June 29, so, in a sense, the mission is 5 days older than America. From a very early date, the Mission was called Mission Dolores after an adjacent creek named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. I imagine St. Francis would be amused by this, and wholeheartedly approve.

Originally, the mission comprised a fairly vast area, with 10,000 head of cattle, 10,000 sheep, many horses, etc., as well as workshops, farms and gardens. In a very real sense, it was San Francisco. Several thousand native Americans lived and worked there. Following Mexican independence, in 1834 the missions were ‘secularized’ meaning, in effect, that all their lands except that upon which stood the church buildings and cemeteries were seized by the Mexican government and given to private citizens. This impoverished the mission and lead to a decades long decline. By 1842, only a few Indians lived at the mission, and what remained of the building fell into serious disrepair.

Mission Dolores in the early 1850's in San Francisco.
By the 1850s, it looked like this. 

Then statehood and the Gold Rush brought a flood of people to the Bay, including many Irish and other Catholics. A new parish church in a Gothic Revival style was built adjacent to the old mission chapel to handle the crowds. The old adobe was clad in clapboard, for both aesthetic (it was looking pretty ratty, as the above picture illustrates) and protective reasons.

The 1906 earthquake destroyed the large brick church but left the adobe intact and largely undamaged. In the following dozen years, a new Mission revival style church was built to replace the destroyed brick church and the old mission was carefully restored. Today, the majority of parish activities take place in the new (only 100 years old!) Basilica, while the old chapel is used for one mass a week and is otherwise mostly a tourist attraction. But they do a very respectful job.

A cemetery used to occupy acres around the old church, with about 11,000 people buried there from the 1790s up into the late 1800s. As the streets were put through and land became more dear, the cemetery shrank and the remains moved until, today, only a tiny plot on the south side of the old mission chapel remains. A quick look at the tombstones that remain reveals many names that now grace San Francisco streets and landmarks.

Also adding to the holiness of the place: two saints (at least) have prayed there: St. Junipero Serra celebrated mass while it was under construction, and Pope St. John Paul the Great stopped by to pray when he visited San Francisco.

IMG_5124
The reredos and sanctuary. Note the ceiling, painted in a pattern used by the Ohlone in their basket weaving. 
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Top center: St. Michael guards the place. As well he should. 

Finally, we went to lunch at the Kitchen Story just up the street on 16th. Highly recommended.

 

Update of the Random Sort

Last night, the lovely Mrs. YardsaleoftheMind and I went out for dinner. This is not all that remarkable in and of itself, but there’s a story:

A few months ago, we arranged an anniversary getaway to a cabin at Elim Grove attached to Raymond’s Bakery, in Cazadero near where the Russian River enters the Pacific. We highly recommend it if you find yourself looking for a B&B among the redwoods only a couple hours from San Francisco. Our dear son thought he’d send us out to dinner, so he searched for nearby restaurants, and set us up with reservations at El Paseo in Mill Valley

This was a lovely and kind thought. However, while Mill Valley is not all that far from Cazadero as the crow flies, it’s over an hour away as the car drives. Our dear son, who has not driven that area, would not know this.

I did not check this out before we left. So, after having driven the couple hours up to the cabin, we find out there’s no practical way to make it back down to Mill Valley that evening for dinner. We had to postpone it. Until yesterday evening.

The 40 mile drive from Concord to Mill Valley takes anywhere from just under an hour to an hour and a half or more depending on traffic. Bay Area traffic can be and often is evil, so we left in plenty of time to spare. And got there in a little over an hour.

With time to kill, we walked around beautiful, quaint and well-moneyed Mill Valley, a old city nestled in the Marin hills, beloved by hippies, former hippies and would-be hippies with money. That odd and frankly crazy blend of wealth and counter-culture that characterizes much of California’s self image is nowhere better expressed than here. Just as the hippies aged into the Greed is Good crowd on Wall Street in the 80s while somehow still imagining that they were not The Man to whom they had lately imagined they were sticking it, elderly boomers with millions grab will grab an organic frozen yogurt here and browse the boutiques for natural hemp clothing and handmade South American art. Their high priced lawyers will be engaged to sue to prevent some other resident’s latest act of architectural self-expression interfering with the view. And so on, after the manner of their kind. But it sure is beautiful and quaint – great place to stoll and grab dinner!

As we headed up Blythe (one of the main drags) we spotted an enormous, ugly church, which I immediately would have bet money on being Catholic. Sadly, I was right.

This picture of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is very flattering. Built in 1968. The 60s live in Mill Valley in many ways.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways, it is always good to keep in mind. We walked up and tried the door – locked. As we walked around the building, we tried the various side doors. Finally, on the far left, the last door was open! We went inside to look around.

One woman knelt in the middle section of pews, but otherwise the church was empty. Coming in at a weird angle far off to one side, it took me a minute to notice the monstrance atop the tabernacle – Adoration was in progress! All the sudden, that became a very beautiful church!

We knelt and prayed for a bit, then took a look around. I walked past the lady in the pews, who smiled and whispered, asking how I knew Adoration was being held – I told her we didn’t know, just lucked into it. She said they were doing an all night Adoration.

As we left, another woman was arriving. God bless them – and I’m sure He does! – for being there for Him. How beautiful that these parishioners keep this devotion.

As we headed out, I noticed the epiphany chalk inscription above the door of what appeared to be the rectory. Cool! So, whatever the architectural and artistic limitation, the people at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel seem intent on keeping the faith. God bless them all!

We descended down to our dinner. El Paseo is heavy on the quaint in keeping with Mill Valley city ordinances no doubt, set back from the street accessible via a brick passage and pateo and ensconced in an old brick building. Sammy Hagar, who you might have heard of and who fits in marvelously with the overall 60s sort of vibe of Mill Valley, bought and renovated the restaurant some years ago. I honored him by refusing to drive 55 on our way there and back.

All in all, a lovely evening was had by my beloved and me. The food and service were excellent, and Mill Valley is still beautiful. Our son’s kind deed was finally realized.

Another Tale of Two Churches

Went to SoCal over the weekend to see Elder Daughter in a play. (She’s about to graduate from an acting conservatory she’s been in for 2 years now.) So we caught a Saturday morning Mass in Santa Clarita at St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s and a Pentecost Sunday Mass at the Thomas Aquinas College Chapel. Both Masses were of course efficacious and a privilege to attend.

Both churches were built around the same time. St. Kateri:

On Friday, September 4, 2009, Blessed Kateri Church and the Administration Building were blessed and dedicated by Cardinal Mahony. Families began celebrating Masses in the new church on September 26, 2009. The original building became Kateri Faith Center, and the former Worship Area became Slattery Hall.

Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel:

After a dozen years of planning, thousands of contributions from generous benefactors, and more than three years of construction, Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel was dedicated on March 7, 2009.

Both churches show fairly high construction standards, although the TAC chapel’s are higher, with much polished stone and obvious care lavished on detail. St. Kateri is not slapdash by any means, but does show less, how to say? Self awareness.

Arcade View
Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, exterior.
Interior of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, interior.
Image result for st. kateri church santa clarita ca
St. Kateri, exterior.
Related image
St. Kateri, interior.

Is the difference money? Did TAC simply spend vastly more? I don’t know the numbers for St. Kateri, but I’d bet it’s nothing like an order of magnitude less than the $23M spent to build the TAC chapel. I’d guess somewhere in the $5-10M range, but what do I know about such things? (1) What’s different is the vision of what a church is supposed to be. Duncan Stroik, who designed the TAC Chapel, shared a vision with the College of what a church building is supposed to be. The designers of St. Kateri evidently shared an idea of what a ‘gathering space’ is supposed to be with the designers of game show and talk show sets. Or maybe to be a little more fair, convention halls.

It’s the sheer cluelessness of the place that was most striking. For example, I sure hope that thing with that guy nailed to it doesn’t interfere with the sound system. Would hate for the acoustics to suffer:

speakers and cross
Somebody looked at these massive overstated speaker stacks hanging above the altar, clashing with everything else, dwarfing the Crucifix, and thought – that looks great! Out of the frame is a bandstand complete with a glassed-in drummer’s box. Priorities are clear.

Now, we didn’t get to attend a big Feast Day Mass at St. Kateri’s, but, based on the sound system’s prominence and a band/choir area bigger than the sanctuary, I fear I can guess what it would be like. At TAC, their incredible chant/polyphony choir – or  as much of it is around during Summer break – filled the chapel with angelic, unamplified voices singing beautiful, timeless music. Sadly, the TAC choir could probably not have been heard over a jet engine at 100 paces – something I’m confident the musicians at St. Kateri’s with their array of technology could deal with. But I don’t know, a Saturday morning Mass did not require that particular Kraken to be released.

Both buildings use much nice stone and wood; one is a timeless yet warm church, loved by all; the other doesn’t know what it is, and is only loved by its figurative mothers. If the TAC chapel had been burned down in the late fires, there would have been mass mourning, and funds would have been raised quickly to rebuild it. If, God forbid, St. Kateri’s were lost to fire, some people would be sad, sure, but devastated? Would they insist it get rebuilt just like it was, as a link to their posterity and, indeed, heaven?

I doubt it.

  1. Here’s an article talking about costs to build churches. Based on the numbers they are throwing around, and this being California within commute distance of LA, and St. Kateri’s being a pretty big church, that $10M guess is starting to look tame. Probably safe to say that if one went tile instead of marble and maybe scaled back on the fixtures, toned down the stone capitals and arches a bit, the people of St. Kateri’s could have had something like the TAC chapel for the money they spent on what they got. That this probably never occurred to anyone involved (not that Mahoney wouldn’t have shot it down if it had – see: LA’s new Cathedral he built) is the real problem at this point. Meanwhile, the little old ladies and people who have traveled some and those who take their faith seriously would have probably voted overwhelmingly for something more traditional. But we’ll never know, and they (we) don’t get a vote.

Make a Difference! 5/6 Music at Mass Review

Attended a lovely and efficacious mass at which a passel of 2nd graders received their first Holy Communion. The younglings cleaned up nicely, and were dressed in lovely little white dresses and little coats and ties, each according to the sex God gave them.

I mention this because we were in San Francisco, among people many of whom consider those who merely roll their eyes at Archbishop Cordileone reactionary troglodytes. Take nothing for granted. This lovely church is in North Beach, perched between the harbor below and Embassy Row above.

The views are nice. Million dollar, even.

We entered this lovely building and discovered a cacophony. It seems the idea that the interior of a Catholic Church especially in the minutes before Mass might be a place best reserved for silence or at least quiet is one of those ideas held only by the above-mentioned troglodytes.

File:DVinfernoVirgilShowSoulsOfWrathful m.jpg
Virgil shows Dante the souls of the Wrathful. Not so much silent reflection on the sins that brought them here, but rather a whole bunch of wailin’ and railin’. Seriously, it wasn’t like this at Mass. The people were clothed. 

So, a minute or two after Mass was to start, the celebrant came out to ask people to please quiet down so we could begin. After a few moments, things settled down to the usual background of rustling paper and clothes and whispers, and we began.

Silly me – I looked at the hymn board, and looked up the opening hymn, which was Jesus Christ is Risen Today. Alleluia, indeed! Only to have my wife hand me a program a moment later, which had Sing a New Song as the opening ditty.

Aaaaand – it was all downhill from there. But let’s not bicker about ‘oo killed ‘oo. Rather, I here want to beat on another dead horse: participation in the singing was effectively zero: the nice lady sincerely strumming her guitar and singing into the thankfully not deafening sound system basically went solo. At least, the participation in the songs – and we’re talking songs that have been sung to death for 50 years now – was not enough to drown out the ambient (to borrow Brian Neimeier’s favorite word) susurrus. I, following my general rule of singing along if the song, however terrible, is not actively heretical, started singing – and drowned out the other hundreds of people there. With a lingering high chest cold and not going all Pavarotti on it, either. Just audibly singing.

The rest of the tunes were less well known to me, at least. The mass commons were in that style, praise music, I believe it’s called, where one note follows another without nearly enough structure to warrant being called a tune, yet the guitar strumming remains vigorously sincere. Since the sheet music was not provided and no mortal power could consistently guess what note was coming next, the song leader’s solo continued unchallenged, even by me.

Finally, right before the hellish cacophony resumed, we sang a little ditty I’d been mercifully spared from before, or else my mind purged the memory in an act of desperate self-preservation: Go Make a Difference. Check this action out:

Go make a dff’rence, we can make a diff’rence
Go make a diff’rence in the world
Go make a diff’rence we can make a diff’rence
Go make a diff’rence in the world

So, we are to go make a difference – excuse me, diff’rence – in the world. OK, then. My first thought was to find a freeway overpass and drop cinder blocks into oncoming traffic – that will make a diff’rence!

But of course, that’s not what the author means! He mean, I suppose, to make a difference – excuse me again! – diff’rence – by, oh, fomenting violent revolt by the oppressed masses. Because if it were anything such as feeding the hungry or, God forbid! repenting of our sins, he’d have said so right out front.

But he didn’t. In the verses, we get:

We are the salt in the earth, called to let the people see
The love of God in you and me
We are the light of the world, not to be hidden, but be seen
Go make a diff’rence in the world

We are the hands of Christ, reaching out to those in need
The face of God for all to see
We are the spirit of hope, we are the voice of peace
Go make a diff’rence in the world

Salt *in* the earth? Not *of*?  Like, salting the fields so that nothing will grow? Salt in food, is the Biblical image. Merely confused, and unnecessarily so, since in and of scan exactly the same here. So, why?

At least that God person does get mentioned, three times even, albeit not until line two of the first verse. On the other hand, counting the implied ‘you’ of the imperative ‘go,’ we have 27 references to you, we, us, and so on. So we see where this is focused.

But is that God person actually referenced 3 times? Glad you asked – not really, or at least in odd ways that point back to us. At no point is God simply recognized as our God and Savior, Creator of the World, worthy of our love and praise and source of all goodness. In each case, God is raised up only to be a mirror in which we see ourselves.

Each of the three cases, God twice and Christ once, do not refer directly to God. Instead, they not so subtly say *we* are God. In the first and most readily defensible case, the ‘love of God in you and me’ is what we’re talking about. Are we actually talking about our Creator Father here? Or rather about how cool we are that we are showing people a love already in us with no hint of a struggle let alone the real possibility that we could reject that love. Nope, a simple given.

In the second, the writer likewise uses a traditional formulation – many saints have said this – to say we are Christ’s hands. The difference is – oops, excuse… oh, heck with it! – that the saints were cajoling and warning us: don’t wait around for God to act in some miraculous manner. YOU are that tool, however imperfect, in God’s hands. The sense of awe and unworthiness, and concomitant need to rely entirely on God’s strength and grace, is not so subtly lacking here in this song. Nope, we got this.

Finally, the assertion that we are the face of God, while again true, is oddly backwards from how the saints talk about it – Mother Teresa, for one example out of many, recognized the face of Christ in the poor she served, and thus was strengthened in her efforts to serve them. It is others, largely to the horror of the saints so identified, who see God’s face in us. Well, in the saints, at any rate.

Read just about any old Catholic hymn to compare and contrast, and you’ll see what I mean here.

But, again, I am grateful to have attended Mass and received the Blessed Sacrament with my brothers and sisters in Christ on a lovely Sunday in a beautiful church, together with that passel of charming 2nd graders. In comparison to that great act of God’s mercy and love, my complaints are utterly trivial.