Music & Ceremony at Mass: 5/14/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geats

On Thursday evenings, we have a little gathering at the local parish where, over the course of an hour, I attempt to go over the feasts and saints of the upcoming week. About 20-25 people show up, which I can only explain by mentioning that there are snacks, often prepared by my beloved wife or some other good cook.

 Figure 3 The landscape of 350 million years ago—Illinois under water.
Like the seas that covered the fly-over states 350 million years ago, my knowledge of history is broad and shallow, and infested with monstrosities.

These little presentations do tend to lead me off into philosophy, history, art, music, architecture and so on. Like the prehistoric seas, my knowledge in these areas is, at best, broad and shallow.

Hey! I spent most of a year at an art school! Been to the Uffizi – twice! I’ve read Tacitus! And Herodotus! More than once, even! And a bookcase or two full of pretty much random history, art and philosophy books. And – I got nothin’.

Even more surprising than there being 20-25 people willing to show up for this is that, repeatedly, I’ve been told by these dear souls that they *like* the digressions into art and history and such.

The snacks must figure into this, somehow, but it’s tricky to see how.

Image result for Late Silurian sea life
Monstrosities, such as lurk in the broad shallow sea of my mind.

The danger here is that – you, my 12.5 regular readers, will be shocked – I *like* rambling on about things I kinda maybe understand a little. There are dangers in encouraging me to blather, similar to the dangers associated with throwing gasoline on a flame, as observed by Dr. Lazarus.

Dr. LazarusThe other danger: I’ll be having a thought, know that I don’t know, hit the interwebs, and come up for air an hour or two later, my head full of half-understood, poorly contextualized (is that a word? Probably shouldn’t be.) FACTS.

Oh, boy. This is how I came to be thinking about Geats. Actually, not Geats, per se, but all those scary Germanic tribes that ended up strongly represented in the gene pools of just about anybody with European ancestry.

Image result for galaxy quest gasoline

And how, one might ask, did I get to thinking about Geats in a presentation on feasts and saints? St. Isidore of Seville, naturally. He was more or less a Visigoth – a Western Goth, as opposed to Ostrogoth, an Eastern Goth. The words Goth and Geat are closely related, along with a number of other similar terms.  Jutes might be Geats, too. There is no end to speculation, invariably the case when the topic is interesting and the facts few. Doubly so when smart guys are involved.

Anyway, dipping a toe into the shallow sea: in 410, when Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome, the The Romans cut some sort of a deal where the Visigoths got a nice chunk of Gaul, the central western part, in exchange for going away.

The funny thing: the Romans could not have been sacked by a nicer, as it were, bunch of barbarians. The Visigoths had for a long time been mercenary partners with the Empire, fighting its wars and defending its frontiers. The Visigoths, especially Alaric, had understandably begun to think of themselves as Romans for all practical purposes. They didn’t just want the money, although they certainly did want to be paid. They wanted respect.

Alaric’s beef with the Empire was that they were happy to treat him like a Roman when they needed his army to save their necks, but treated him like, well, a barbarian mercenary when they didn’t. This did not go over well with Alaric, a proud Germanic king. After a series of insults and having to threaten the Empire to get paid, he started in getting even. He couldn’t sack Constantinople, which was well defended. Not that he didn’t try. So he went after Rome, by then certainly a second-class target but symbolically still the heart of the Empire.

But, as a Roman wannabe, he didn’t want to burn it to the ground and slaughter everybody, and so Rome came through the sack with surprisingly little damage.

And then Alaric died, and his troops move on to Gaul, from which they were fairly promptly driven south into Spain – by other Germanic tribes, who, in turn, were under pressure in the East from yet other Barbarians – Huns, I think, but don’t make me look it up! I’ll be gone for hours!!!

Image result for Kingdom of the Visigoths
Orange is the color of the Kingdom of the Visigoths – dark orange where they settled after sacking Rome; light orange for the greatest extent of the Kingdom; middle orange for the kingdom circa 500 – a half century before Isidore was born.  Also note the green area – the Suevi (except those that stayed in Germany and became the Swabians) were a scary but less sophisticated Germanic tribe that the Goths eventually conquered; the Vandals in yellow are yet another – they persisted until wiped out by the Islamic invasion.

So the oddity here is that the Visigoths were the high class barbarians by the standards of the other German tribes. They proved this by settling down in Spain and putting together a nice Kingdom, comprising most of what is now Spain and a good piece of France. Into which Kingdom of the Visigoths St. Isidore was born. And so on and so forth.

(The Ostrogoths ended up settling in – Italy. Along with the Lombards, the Germanic tribe from which St. Thomas Aquinas is descended. The Ostrogoths conquered Italy by defeating Odoacer, King of Italy, who was Scirian, the Scirii being yet another Germanic tribe. This stuff never ends!)

Geats, on the other hand, were Swedes – sort of. Beowulf was a Geat, probably. Their neighbors  along the shores of the Baltic and North Seas included the Jutes (Jutland being pretty much modern Denmark) , the Angles and the Saxons – who ended up in the British Isles, partly, displacing to some extent the Celts, who seem to come from Bohemia, who no doubt displaced the Picts or somebody.

It. Never. Ends.  This of course occasioned a search for a quotation from Will Rogers (I’m almost sure) about how there’s not a man in the world living on land he has any real right to. But I couldn’t find it.

Oddities & Things I Don’t Understand: A Sampling

Emile: W-w-wait. You… read?

Remy: Well, not… excessively.

Emile: Oh, man. Does dad know?

Remy: You could fill a book – a lot of books – with things Dad doesn’t know. And they have. Which is why I read. Which is also our secret.

Image result for ratatouille movie Remy Emile

  1. Been reading Paolo Freire and Gramsci (Beginning to suspect reading Marxists is asymptotic to being hung, drawn and quartered. Nice Lenten project.) And: people fall for this? Or – a suspicion I’ve long harbored – run of the mill Marxists don’t actually read any Marxists beyond the Cliff Notes. And they skim those. I’ll write more later, perhaps, if my confessor, Fr Torquemada, assigns it. Basic complaint: after you’ve grasped the fundamental set of insane, self-contradictory and laughably stupid dogmas ‘validated’ by the usual cherry-picked ‘history’ and apply it to your chosen topic and vomit forth Marxist ‘analysis’ – once you’ve been through that processes once, reading more Marxists becomes like playing tic-tac-toe after you’ve Image result for princess bride to the painfigured it out. Same old same old. The only fun, such as it is, is in seeing Marxists come up with new ways to explain the utter failure of reality to live down to their theories and excuse their bloodthirsty violence. Not much fun.
  2. The USPS tried to deliver my nice hardbound copy of Mike Flynn’s epic The January Dancer to my place of business – on a Saturday. Once. They are now bent out of shape enough, evidently, to threaten me with a trip to the post office to pick it up. Sheesh. Planning to wait a couple days, hoping that, in their incompetence, they will slip up and just deliver the darn thing, so that I can place it on the stack someplace. Still have the rest of the Firestar series to read.  [update: yep, got here today.]
  3. At WordPress’s suggestion, set up a Twitter account to publicize this blog. Working the Twitter angle does seem to increase traffic – on Twitter. Makes no difference for traffic here. Unless Twitter owns WordPress, this makes no sense.
  4. We had to – I mean, like HAD TO – get the choir out of the choir loft, since adding beautiful music to the liturgy isn’t PARTICIPATION, whereas putting a rock band in the sanctuary is. Yet, somehow – and who could have predicted this? – putting people up in front, as if on a stage, invites such people to perform. I imagine most such folks aren’t actively thinking ‘I’m on stage, must perform!’ – it would just be all but impossible for anyone who grew up in America to see it any other way. Thus, the very nice man with a solid singing voice who leads the music at one of the local parishes can’t really help himself – probably can’t even hear it – from adding schmaltzy glissandos and molto rubato to every. darn. song. Thus, the congregation, some observably small fraction of whom might be willing to try to sing along with the modern pop tunes on offer, are pretty much shut down: how can you follow such a performance? I, punk that I am, sing along vigorously, right on pitch, right on beat. It doesn’t help, there is no help for it, other than owning that maybe some degree of performance is acceptable – and should be done out of sight somewhere, like, you know, up in the choir loft.
  5. Hegel’s criticism of Aristotelian logic really and truly boils down to: it’s old, and hasn’t improved like everything else.  (The gimlet eyed criticism of the criticism is: yep, and if it remains valid, you, Hegel, are blowin’ forest-fire level smoke.) See the introductory chapters of his Logic if you doubt me. There really isn’t any other objection, and Hegel even acknowledges that classic logic is necessary for scientists, mathematicians, technologists – you know, the little people, who produce all that stuff that has made the world better, on the whole, than it was in Hegel’s time. But logic is a total buzz kill for Hegel’s speculative philosophical high, and places limits – logical limits – on what syntheses a dialectic can arrive at. So it has to go. People fall for this?

Road & Reading Update

1. At 6:00 A.M. in February, Houston is merely warm and insanely humid.

2. Houston is home to the beautiful Annunciation Parish, a mere 10 minute muggy walk from the hotel:

Three interesting things:

  • Most of the people there were a) men and b) younger than me. Some were obviously people with jobs downtown catching Mass before work – something a lot of people used to do, but now few parishes in my experience offer Mass early enough for that to work.
  • They used the altar rail – kneeling for communion under both species.
  • Second sighting of the Ignatius Pew Missal in the wild (after Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara)

My Southern California heart was deeply offended:

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😉

3. Travel means:

  • Sitting on a plane
  • Time stuck in hotel room.

Which means: Reading! A few pages from the end of Captive Dreams by Mike Flynn, which deserves praise and a thoughtful review, which, given there’s nothing on the schedule for this afternoon (but you know how that goes) I might get to sooner rather than later. And a read! Get your copy now, and wallow in philosophy, math, and genetics while you enjoy excellent ScFi.

4. Now, two slots east of my native time zone – I need coffee!!

Weekend Update: Milestones, Tahoe, Woodworking Abomination, etc.

1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos. Rule number one: I can’t kill anybody. Bleurk! So don’t ask. Rule number two: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else. You little punim there! Rule number three: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT! Other than that, you got it.”

2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:

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View from the kitchen table. More snow on the way through Tuesday. Lots more snow as you head further up the mountains. 

Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.

I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.

3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.

We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:

Ah! My Eyes!

4. Lots of drafts.  A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.

Catholic Schools Week: A Modest Proposal

Image result for big children's choir
Children’s Choir of Russia. No reason. Bet they sing better music…

(Usual disclaimer about how all the people involved are no doubt better Christians than me, no hard feelings, just calling it as I see it.)

Got blindsided this morning at Mass, as it is Catholic Schools Week, and not having any kids in K-12 Catholic schools, I didn’t see it coming.

What ‘it’ is is all the schoolkids and their parents showing up for the same Mass. This Mass includes several homilies/sermons – the normal one after the Gospel, as well as a pre-Mass sermon about what we’re all celebrating today (hint: Our Lord and Savior’s redeeming sacrifice as manifested on the altar didn’t seem to figure prominently) and the post-Mass sermon wherein we recognize and thank all sorts of people and remind everyone that there will be donuts and coffee at the school’s open house after Mass.

Remember the part in the V-II documents wherein Mass is supposed to contain performances, musical and otherwise, by kids at every opportunity, because nothing says ‘full, active participation’ like listening to children sing goofy social justice songs during Mass?

Me neither.

On the good side, the children’s choir is much better at this parish than the average in my experience, and they even – amazing! – sang some Latin commons. Whoa. This is not to be discounted – that these kids have learned some beautiful music could change their lives. A very good thing.

But the first and last songs, which nobody except the kids in the choir knew and for which no music or text was supplied, sang about ending discrimination and achieving justice. God may have been mentioned at some point, don’t know, I was kind of not listening after a while out of self-defense.

I If anyone ever wonders why we didn’t send our kids to Catholic K-12 schools, well, this about sums it up.

Anyway, as a public service, thought I’d write a song I’d like the little darlings to learn, and sing every morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance and never, ever sing at Mass:

The I’m Not All That and  Need to Lean Something Song

O my head is empty,

There’s nothing inside.

And teacher’s no better

There’s no place to hide!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

There’s no shame in saying

I don’t have a clue

I am still quite little

Now, how about you?

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

If I pay attention

And read stuff that’s old

I might just learn something

Before my body’s cold.

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

Needs work.

Here’s another ditty, sung, perhaps, to Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him. Or not. Trying to reach kids where they are. Suitable for no occasions.

Lord Have Mercy! I’m a Clueless Punk

Lord, Have Mercy, I’m a clueless punk

Not surprising, since I am 10

I’ve been plied from birth with hippy bunk

Same as mom and dad and their kin

Now we make believe

Truth we can retrieve

If we spout the buzzwords right!

Lord, enlighten me!

I would like to see

What in particular’s OK in Your sight.

You’re my friend, Lord Jesus, that I got –

Not as fun as Maddy or James

This whole church thing, fun it’s surely not.

Why can’t we play video games?

Once each month or two

Motions going through

Grandma thinks there is a point!

No theology!

Never bended knee!

All my friends want to blow this joint.

Still, My Lord, I think there’s something

To this praying, kneeling and stuff

You have plans, I get the feeling

Being sort of nice ain’t enough

When I reach the end

I will need a Friend

more than just the final boss!

Help me win this game

Life is not the same

When you look down from that Cross

End of Advent Updates

1. Added to the growing pile of drafts – as always, the post I haven’t written is the best post I ever wrote – but, alas, caught my first full-on cold in years. Why is it when your nose gets stuffed up, so does your brain? Would like to finish a draft or two, but can’t because my thoughts are clouded and confused. More than usual, I mean.

2. Because of this cold, which settled in Saturday, I’ve only caught 2 Simbang Gabi 5:30 a.m. masses. Tomorrow and Saturday are the last 2 – let’s see if I can man up, and share good cheer and cold viruses with my fellow Christians. Or not…

3. Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.

But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.

This is the world in which business people, some of whom certainly do buy political influence in order to get richer, are a greater evil than communist dictators, who without exception abuse, rob and eventually murder their own subjects. The rich man’s greed may motivate him to steal, and may even motivate him to murder in order to steal; the communist dictator’s lust for power disguised as efforts to bring History to its inevitable conclusion, motivates him to murder anyone in his (History’s) way; murder in the 10s of millions in the cases of Mao and Stalin. The billions a very rich man(1) controls make him an irredeemable villain; the nation-state level wealth controlled by a communist dictator, on the other hand, has no effect on his actions whatsoever, which are conclusively presumed  to be sweetness and life itself, no matter how many are enslaved, impoverished or killed by them.

Such discussions are evidently unknown among the enlightened. Few well educated people have been exposed to them, and certainly not in the schools. At best, the well-educated are familiar with the accepted caricature, which exists only to aid summary dismissal of the ideas being caricatured.

4. Trying to work on world/tech/family background for the Novel Which Shall Not Be Named, but it’s hard when moments of clarity (such as they are) are like island in a cold-induced fog. Insofar as I can do it, it’s fun – knowing who these folks are, what they want, why they’re on the generational longship in the first place. So far, my muse, if I have one, has been quiet but not discouraging: the stuff I’m outlining fails to trigger the ‘lame’ response.

I’m counting that as a positive. That may be the virus talkin’.

I’m such a newbie. Spent some time worrying how I’d come up with all these complicated relationships in such a way as to make them work with the story arc, when I remembered: I know a boatload of family stories, both from history, literature and real life. Just use them! What a novel idea! (nyuk) Being careful, of course, with the real life stuff, which is far less realistic than fiction is allowed to be.

5. Got about a dozen books to review here and at Amazon. Got 11 days off coming up, with only maybe 60% of the time already spoken for. So – maybe! In short: L. Jagi Lamptighter’s In the Lamplight and Rachel Griffin stuff, John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son series and Brian Niemeier’s Soul Dancer are all highly recommended. When Prophecy Fails – not so much. Interesting ideas poorly supported. And I need to be seated at a table, pencil in hand, head clear, to finish Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. It’s very good so far. Vindication of Man and Secret Kings are next on the pile.

  1. Well, billions make *their* rich guys into evil incarnate, while *our* billionaires act solely out of pure civic altruism.