Music at Mass: Palm Sunday, 2011

Honest, I’m trying not to whine. The people in this parish are a really good group, the priests have, after all, given their lives to this work – good intentions and actual holiness abound.

The music, however, almost always sucks at Parish A. What is really needed is a young, orthodox priest who can, with heroic patience and good-will, simply lay down the law: we will not fall into these errors. We will consider whether, for example, the Eucharistic theology expressed in the text is something our Protestant and Evangelical brethren would agree with, and if so, NOT USE IT. We will consider whether individuals with broad and inclusive yet highly refined and experienced musical taste consider the musical content of the piece to be worthy of the standards and tradition of the last thousand or so years of Catholic liturgical music, not just the last 40.

And so on. We all know the drill.

Today, we sang musically execrable commons. The texts, although manhandled in the usual way to fit tunes with a certain forced symmetry not native to the English texts, were not heretical – hey, count your blessings. Aside from that, we sang a curious and interesting song for communion “Our Blessing Cup” by Bob Hurd. What makes this song interesting is that 1. it is very scriptural, yet 2. it manages to miss the uniquely Catholic character of the Eucharist. The text of the refrain is from 1 Cor. 10:16 – straight up St. Paul, how could you go wrong?

Our blessing cup is a communion with the blood of Christ
And the bread we break, it is sharing the body of the Lord.

How can we make a return for all the goodness God has shown?
We will take the cup of life, and call upon God’s name.

Precious indeed in Your sight, the life and death of those You love. We are Your
servants, for You have set us free.

and so on.

The communion hymn is one obvious and painless place to express the Catholic theology of the Eucharist. Yet, here, we use a scripture passage that can and has been understood by our separated brethren to express the decidedly non Catholic (anti-Catholic, really, if you read, for example, Hegel) belief that the Eucharist is not really the Body and Blood of Christ, but is, you know, a communion with Christ’s Body and Blood (whatever that means). So, this hymn’s impact could have been greatly enhanced by taking the verse text from John 6 – My Flesh is real food, my Blood real drink, unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood you shall not have life within you.

Instead, as is so often the case with liturgical music from the last 40 years, we express one thought somewhat ambiguously in the refrain, and then sort of leave it hanging as we take a tour of some other possibly related thoughts in the verses. The goal seems to be to achieve a miasma of warm feeling that won’t offend our Presbyterian or Church of Christ brethren – which shouldn’t  really be a prime goal in the sacred Liturgy of the Catholic Church.

Not to mention the soap-opera theme school of music style.

Real Music, With Real Theology! As Sally says: That’s my knew philosophy.


Hegel: Part the Second – the Science of Logic 2

Right at the beginning of the Science of Logic, Hegel asserts that the “…the ideas upon which the concept of logic has hitherto rested have partly died out already, and, for the rest, it is time that they should disappear altogether, and that this science should be taken from a higher point of view, and receive an entirely different structure.”

As mentioned earlier, Hegel doesn’t generally tell the reader who he is talking about. His reasons for not naming names becomes evident the more Hegel ones reads – it’s part of his major premise that spirit, whatever that is, is somehow thinking itself and the world into being. It’s a little too soon (I’m only a couple hundred pages in) but it would seem, that on such a view, we humans are basically along for the ride – the important thing is not that Aristotle discovered/invented logic, it’s that what Aristotle thought represents an important step in spirit getting to know itself. More on this later.

He outlines, in three sections, the problems in the science of logic as he inherited it: that logic can be understood as without content – that it merely the form of understanding but does not, in itself, understand or know anything; that the ideas upon which logic has been based are dead or dying; and that, if logic and what it is trying to understand are seen as separate, conceptually independent things, we’re missing the boat – he says:

“Thus thought, in its reception and formation of material is supposed to not go beyond itself – its reception of material and accommodation thereto is still regarded as a modification of self by which thought is not transformed into its other (?); moreover, self-conscious determination is is held to belong to thought alone; thus thought in its relation to the object of thought does not go out of itself to the object, while the object, as a thing in itself, simply remains a something beyond thought.”

Got that?

What I think he’s saying: Kant is fundamentally wrong about noumena – the thing in itself is not hopelessly distinct from what we apprehend about it. In fact, the way he’s stated his objection seems to imply that he thinks thinking in some sense determines the nature of the thing thought. He hasn’t gone so far as to say that the world is what you think it is – spirit to Hegel is not some one person’s spirit, so thought – I presume – does not refer to any one person’s thought, but, somehow, to thought in general. Maybe.

Hegel is much closer to Aristotle here than Kant (although I don’t imagine Aristotle would be all that amused with much of what Hegel is implying so far) in that Kant was trying to deal with the logical implications of radical doubt, which required patching up logic without resorting to Aristotle. Aristotle, after all, had been very successfully drafted to fight for the Church. The result, because Kant did know his Aristotle, was a model that created the division between thought and the thing itself while retaining much of the classical logical method. Aristotle had concluded that our thoughts did reflect the great Thought that gave coherence and meaning to the world – Thomas took that idea, baptized it, and put it in the service of a Sacramental creation – if our understanding of the world is one way we come to know the mind of God, if God then uses the world to impart grace – ultimately, by incarnating His Son – then the Church’s claim that God’s grace flows through real, physical things falls out almost automatically. Hegel is not only not going there, he’s a staunch defender of the contrary position – it’s the spirit that matters, that thinks things into physical being.

Maybe. Got a few thousand pages yet to read.

Hegel: Part the Second – the Science of Logic 1

Skipping ahead from the Philosophy of History, which I’ll hold off commenting on until I’ve read the unabridged version, let’s skip to the somewhat more interesting and fundamental Science of Logic.  We’ll come back to this again once I’ve read the unabridged whole, but, for now, here’s a couple points:

One of the things most annoying about Hegel is his refusal to name names. I suppose he could be, like Newton in his Principia, simply snubbing the posers who aren’t smart enough to follow his argument without a few signposts along the way. That was certainly the approach of his slightly older contemporary Fichte. At least Newton was honest about it – don’t remember the exact quote, but basically when told that his explanations could be made a lot clearer, said that it would be better if stupid people just gave up left it to the smart people like him. So Hegel begins by saying people used to believe X, then people believed Y, and now, really enlightened people believe Z – leaving it to the reader to figure out that X is Aristotle, Y is Kant, and Z – well, this one he owns up to, being enlightened and modern and all – is Hegel.

This Don’t Say Who I’m Talking About would be trivial except that Hegel largely avoids the terminology and descriptive methods that Aristotle and Kant use, thereby creating simultaneously a terminology mapping and argument reformatting challenge. Unlike Thomas, say, who considers it mandatory to restate his opponent’s position in terms his opponent would agree to, Hegel seems to believe that he’s doing somebody a favor by restating his opponent’s positions in his – Hegel’s – terms.

What this means for the reader is that, to get 15 pages in, one must figure out who Hegel is talking about, decipher Hegel’s description, and then see if that description is a fair representation of the original argument – only then can you proceed to trying to understand Hegel’s positions.

Annoying, but overcomeable. Which leads to the second issue – what I’m thinking of doing is picking out a few important representative passages, and restating them in both cleaner sentences and, where possible, in  more traditional terms. This is fraught with danger, but it seems to me the only way to do that one thing Hegel is demonstrably bad at: clearly stating what he’s up to. A philosopher beloved of totalitarians, royalists, communists, national socialists, progressives, classic liberals – that’s a philosopher who has failed to be clear. That’s on him, not his serious followers.

Hegel: Part the First

The intelligent question here is: Why would anyone voluntarily read Hegel? Here’s why:

30+ years ago, I was supposed to have read a bunch of Hegel in school. At the time – 2nd semester senior year – we had just finished reading a bunch of Kant, worked through Einstein’s Special Theory, and done other intellectually hard things that I’ve purged from my mind as a sanity-preserving precaution. After having worked diligently through Kant’s Prolegemena to Any Future Metaphysics, and plowed less diligently through Practical and Pure Reason, I kinda sorta got burned out – and so made only the feeblest attempt at Hegel. It didn’t help that, about 10 pages in, I decided (like many philosophy students before me) that I hated Hegel with the burning passion of a thousand lighter-fluid-soaked copies of the Philosophy of History. While Kant is difficult because he is a bad writer, Hegel is difficult because, frankly, he chooses to be difficult. There’s no reason to use words like concrete, abstract, subjective, objective, content and so on in ways that are so different from and sometimes the virtual opposite of the way everybody else uses those terms.  And simple declarative sentences worked OK for Aristotle, Thomas and even, occasionally, Kant – there’s nothing about your ideas, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, that couldn’t, at least once in a while, make use of them. So I’m in the awkward and intellectually untenable position of hating Hegel without ever having read him.

So: Guilt. I’m reading Hegel now out of guilt. I went to the bookcases (we own a lot of bookcases) to see what Hegel we had on hand, and the first thing I found was an old cloth-bound Everyman edition called something like Introduction to Hegel – Selected Writings (don’t have it in front of me at the moment). Normally, I don’t read selections or abridgments, but I had to start somewhere and this one seemed OK, and I’m sure we have the full texts someplace for later.

So: starts with a 150 page selection from the Philosophy of History. Part the Second will reveal what I found. Stay tuned.

Daily Mass in Lent

We are very fortunate to have a lovely daily Mass at Parish C at 6:30 in the morning, early enough to attend and still get to work. There was a time when such a Mass was ubiquitous in America, but not any more, especially out in the ‘burbs.

One of the things I enjoy about this Mass is that the 30 or 40 people who attend every day look like a United Nations subcommittee, except with kids:  We’ve got several Latin American countries represented, the Philippines, an African nation or two, India, China, Europe and the US.

Also, the age spread is wonderful. We’ve got moms and dads, grandmas and granddads, some young adults and teenagers – our 2 girls come with us – and even some kids once in a while – if our 7-year old is awakened by the 4 of us getting ready, he’ll tag along. Sure, he falls asleep on the chairs pretty quick once we get there, but he’s there.

We’re having a good Lent. Daily Mass, which I haven’t heard recommended from the pulpit in decades, is a very, very good thing.

The Inestemable Mike Flynn

…writes about courage, sloth and the nature of human beings.

Way better than anything I could say. I’m going to print his diagram out and explain it to the kids.

Will only add that his point about sloth being the opposite of courage is something I never think about, as I waste my life away in inaction. Much easier to sit here, collect a paycheck, take an incoming phone call once in a while, and maybe do something valuable just often enough to make my employers think I’m worth the trouble. And that’s the least of it – I can go home, maybe make some dinner or read a book to a kid, but more often than not, grab a quick nap or surf the web or otherwise become unavailable to this small crowd of people I’m supposed to love.

I am slothful. I am a coward. Lord help me!