Tuesday, December 30, 2008

People Look East

This is an ancient depiction of Christ as the pagan god Helios. The Greeks explained the rising and setting of the sun as the riding of Helios with his fiery chariot from east to west. Christians, pagans, and Jews prayed facing east, to the rising sun. Father Johansen gives an excellent account of this and its implication for Christian worship on his blog meditation on the hymn, "People Look East."

Susan Moore

Portico Books has just published The Living Word by Susan Reibel Moore. This is a strong introduction for young adults and not so young adults to the faith of Christ.

Susan is an Aussie (transplanted from America) who is an expert on children's literature. You can read her recently reprinted "Fantasy and the Occult in Children’s Literature" in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Worshiping the Daystar

We Christians worship the Divine Son who is the Sun who enlightens our fallen world. One of my favorite images from the early church is also the earliest known attempt to picture Christ. He, the Light who enlightens everyman, is shown as Helios the Pagan sun god.

Father Rob Johansen has an excellent posting, "People Look East," in which he talks about the beautiful hymn by that name. He then relates the ancient practice of Christians to pray facing the rising sun, symbol of the Risen Son. He uses this to explain the practice, now largely disused, of praying ad orientem: of congregation and priest facing the same way.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Is Gregorian Chant And What Role Does It Play In The Liturgy?

What Is Gregorian Chant And What Role Does It Play In The Liturgy?

“Chant” or “plain chant” is a way to sing prayers. The human voices are not accompanied by musical instruments and all the singers sing the same notes. This was the normal method for praying the mass through most of the first fifteen centuries. Nowadays we hear a melody like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” jazzed up with instrumentation and embellishments, but the bare melody is a ninth century chant. The chant used in the Catholic Church is typically called “Gregorian chant,” because, according to tradition, church music was reformed or at least compiled by Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540-604 A.D.) Gregory held that the music of the mass hearkens back to the church’s Jewish roots. Although scholars today contest that it grew out of the synagogue chants of Jesus’ day, one recent study ties the Roman Rite to the ancient Jewish temple rites. Thus chant reunites us with Hebrew praying going back three thousand or more years: the prayers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the prayers of Annas, Hillel, and Jesus. The first five books of the Acts of the Apostles describe the apostles as constantly praying in temple at Jerusalem. This temple worship came to an abrupt end when, forty years after Jesus rose from the dead, Titus sacked Jerusalem, killed or enslaved the inhabitants, destroyed the temple, and built a pagan city on Zion. Thus as the chants of the priests and Levites were silenced on God’s sacred mountain, the church founded by Peter on the seven hills of Rome was chanting the Christian liturgy first in Greek and, after another hundred years, in Latin. (The Greek Kyrie Eleison is a throwback to the first century mass sung in Greek.)

Gregorian Chant and Vatican II

Perhaps you could begin with: “Gregorian chant makes one think of ancient Catholic worship, or perhaps monks in dark cowls, solemnly singing the prayers of the Mass. While this is at least partly true, the Second Vatican Council specifically requested greater inclusion of chant into the modern liturgy. Our own Latin Rite grew in feasts and song gradually. The biblical building blocks of the mass and the diversity of the liturgical calendar are reflected in Gregorian chant, which is the special musical language of the mass. The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed this musical aptness: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium: the Council’s constitution on the liturgy, ¶116. )
Having the right music for the liturgy is important if it is to achieve its end: “the purpose of sacred music … is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, ¶112) One of the reasons the Council Fathers wanted to reform the church’s music is to restore the simple style of chanting that enables the congregation to sing its own parts of the mass. In a real and special way, the Council determined that the congregation has an important part to play in public liturgy, and they should actively sing the Ordinary of the Mass: the Kyrie (Lord have mercy), Gloria, Credo (I believe), Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). In a similar manner, the landmark principle of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy called for the actual or active participation (in the Latin of the document: “actuosa participatio”) of the congregation: “To promote [actual/active] participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, ¶30) This principle grew out of papal support of the liturgical movement. Pope Pius X mandated the reintroduction of Gregorian chant in 1903 and encouraged congregations to sing the Ordinary (the Kyrie, the Gloria, etc.) using Gregorian chant. He used a peculiar phrase in Latin: “actuosa participatio”, a phrase that never appears in classical or Medieval Latin. A careful analysis of its history shows that this, the very phrase the Council used, only occurs before 1963 in certain church documents dealing with Gregorian chant. Thus the phrase is a phrase with a history, a history that ties the Council’s core principle to the century long movement to restore chant to liturgy.

But Why Latin?

Chants exist in English as well as Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and virtually any language human beings have used to adore God. Many people are “enchanted” with plainsong, the chants of the English Book of Common Prayer. Yet Gregorian chant itself is intricately tied to the Latin language, the tongue of prayer for the West these past two thousand years. There is a symbiotic relationship between the language and the music. This relationship grew from the melodies’ slow development interacting with the scriptures of the liturgical calendar over fifteen centuries. Orally, Latin is specially suited for sacred music. The purity and frequency of the vowels are especially apt for musical expression. Composers, mostly anonymous, over centuries marshaled Latin’s sounds and cadences to bring out the beauty of the scriptures and rites of the liturgy. The simplicity and purity of the sounds lend a special solemnity to the liturgy that is difficult to reproduce in English or many other languages.

Why No Instruments?

Today, when we a popular song on the radio or a CD, it is the industrial product of a small army of technicians and instrumentalists. Chant is produced by the unaided human voice. It is preindustrial music.

Chant helps us gain a new perspective on what the mass is. Some liturgists focus on the mass as a supper and a communal get together. Another meaning of the liturgy is suggested by the word’s etymology. “Liturgy” is based on a Greek word that meant a “public work.” In a very real sense the mass is a type of work, the hard work of worshiping the King of Glory.

Work has changed so much we have forgotten how human beings worked together before the age of machinery. We have forgotten the existential reality of millennia of sweat and exertion. Work is highly industrialized in our world. We either do our specialized tasks to the clang of a machine or we work in silence in paper factories. Admittedly some of our paper factories produce only "virtual paper" as the work is done in the silent isolation of a cubicle.

The norm in our more human past was to sing as we worked. Work was physical and power was muscle power. This dependence on people rather than machines puts a premium on teamwork. Getting team members to literally pull together requires physical coordination: power in line was more than one person pulling together.

Why sing? The melody made men move together.
True folk songs are predominantly work songs. In times past, songs unified men in work. This is how gangs of men build the rhythm needed to work in unison. Think of sea shanties. When crewmen were hoisting a topsail, they might sing “Blow the Man Down.” The song coordinated their work. When they sang, “Way, hey, Blow the man down!” each crewmember pulled on the beats, “Way” and “ Hey.”

In the liturgy, the role of chant is to join us in the rhythm of prayer: the common work of praising the transcendent God.
The Holy Father chose the name of Benedict of Nursia whose motto was "Pray and Work" (Ora et Labora.) When St. Benedict’s monks sung the mass and the office, they were working just as much as when they tilled the fields with a song in their lungs and hoes in their hands. The divine work in the oratory produced fruit no less than the human work in the fields.

When we chant, the chanting unites the priest, the congregation, and the heavenly martyrs, angels, and saints as they do this divine work, a work that bears eternal fruit.

Are the Suburbs the Archetype of All That is Wrong in America

Lee Siegel dissects the American cultural elite's hatred of thee suburbs in today's Wall Street Journal: "Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs? America's long artistic tradition of claiming spiritual death by station wagon." I have long believed that the suburbs are a bad place to raise children. My dislike of the suburbs was confirmed by my eleven year exile in Washington's suburbs.

Still if my enemy hates them, perhaps I should think twice. My favorite sentence is this gem that Siegel ends the piece with: "But, then, Hollywood is the most illusion-soaked, soul-hardened and materialistic suburb in the world."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What are You Doing This Advent? Here's a Suggestion.

Enconiums to the Late Avery Dulles

Joseph Bottum writes on the First Things blog, "Avery Cardinal Dulles was one of the greatest thinkers in the modern Roman Catholic church and perhaps its most distinguished representative in the United States. The first American to be named a cardinal soley for his theological work, and for his last two decades a professor at Fordham University, he was acknowledged to be the dean of American Catholic thought.

"His influence, however, extended far beyond the United States."

Thaddeus M. Baklinski writes at LifeSiteNews.com "Cardinal Avery Dulles ... loss is mourned by pro-life and pro-family advocates in the U.S. and around in the world, who found in the Cardinal a staunch supporter and a strong voice against the incursions of the culture of death."

James Mary Evans includes a video of his ordination on his blog tribute.

The New York Times on Avery Cardinal Dulles Who Died December 12th, 2008

Robert D. McFadden writes in the New York Times:

Cardinal Avery Dulles, a scion of diplomats and Presbyterians who converted to Roman Catholicism, rose to pre-eminence in Catholic theology and became the only American theologian ever appointed to the College of Cardinals, died today died Friday morning [12/12/2008] at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was 90. His death, at the Jesuit infirmary at the university, was confirmed by the New York Province of the Society of Jesus in Manhattan.

Cardinal Dulles, a professor of religion at Fordham University for the last 20 years, was a prolific author and lecturer and an elder statesman of Catholic theology in America. He was also the son of John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the nephew of Allen Dulles, who guided European espionage during World War II and later directed the Central Intelligence Agency.

A conservative theologian in an era of liturgical reforms and rising secularism, Cardinal Dulles wrote 27 books and 800 articles, mostly on theology; advised the Vatican and America’s bishops, and staunchly defended the pope and his church against demands for change on abortion, artificial birth control, priestly celibacy, the ordination of women and other issues.

His task as a theologian, the Cardinal often said, was to honor diversity and dissent but ultimately to articulate the traditions of the church and to preserve Catholic unity.

When Pope John Paul II designated dozens of new cardinals in early 2001, there were three from the United States. Archbishops Edward M. Egan of New York and Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington were unsurprising choices; it is common for heads of archdioceses to be given red hats. But the selection of Father Dulles was extraordinary. Although his was an influential voice in American Catholicism, he was not even a bishop, let alone an archbishop.

The appointment was widely seen as a reward for his loyalty to the pope, but also an acknowledgment of his work in keeping lines of communication open between the Vatican and Catholic dissenters in America. Cardinal Dulles considered it an honorary appointment. He was 82, two years past the age of voting with other cardinals in electing a new pope.

His investiture with 43 other scarlet-robed cardinals in Rome on Feb. 21, 2001, almost came unstuck. The last to step up to the pope’s golden throne to receive his biretta, the red silk hat of office, Cardinal Dulles approached with his cane, knelt and was accoutered. But as he embraced the pope, his biretta fell to the ground: a humbling at the great moment, he recalled wryly.

He carried the cane because of a recurrence of polio contracted while serving in the Navy in World War II. The polio had left him unable to walk for a time, but the symptoms had disappeared. They reappeared about a decade ago, affecting his leg muscles, and became progressively worse. About a year ago, his arms and throat were affected, leaving him unable to speak. Thus, his farewell address at Fordham last April was delivered by the university’s former president, the Rev. Joseph O’Hare.

Cardinal Dulles was typically self-deprecating, and soft-spoken, a bit awkward: a lanky, 6-foot 2-inch beanpole with a high forehead, a shock of dark hair going gray and a gaunt face with sharp features. Abraham Lincoln without the beard came to mind.

His spiritual passage to Catholicism was like a fable. A young scholar with a searching mind, he stirred from his establishment Presbyterian family to face questions of faith and dogma. By the time he entered Harvard in 1936, he was an agnostic.

In his second book, “A Testimonial to Grace,” a 1946 account of his conversion, Cardinal Dulles said his doubts about God on entering Harvard were not diminished by his studies of medieval art, philosophy and theology. But on a gray February day in 1939, strolling along the Charles River in Cambridge, he saw a tree in bud and experienced a profound moment.

“The thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing,” he wrote. “That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.”

His conversion in 1940, the year he graduated from Harvard, shocked his family and friends, he said, but he called it the best and most important decision of his life.

He joined the Jesuits and went on to a career as a major Catholic thinker that spanned five decades.

His tenure coincided with broad shifts in theological ideas as well as sweeping changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. These provided new understandings of how the church, after centuries of isolation from modern thought and even hostility to it, should relate to other faiths and to religious liberty in an age when the church was gaining millions of new followers in diverse cultures.

Cardinal Dulles devoted much of his scholarship to interpretations of the Vatican Council’s changes, which he said had been mistaken by some theologians as a license to push in democratic directions. The church, he counseled, should guard its sacred teachings against secularism and modernization.

“Christianity,” he said in a 1994 speech, “would dissolve itself if it allowed its revealed content, handed down in tradition, to be replaced by contemporary theories.”

Theological and academic colleagues, including many who disagreed with him, said Cardinal Dulles had set high standards of intellectual integrity, fairness in judgments and lucidity in lectures, essays and books. They said his was often a voice of mediation between the church and American Catholics who challenged church teachings.

In “The Reshaping of Catholicism” (Harper & Row, 1988), he wrote that the Vatican Council had acknowledged the possibility that the church could fall into serious error and might require reform, that the laity had a right to an active role and that the church needed to respect regional and local differences. But he also emphasized that “a measure of conservatism is inseparable from authentic Christianity.”

Avery Robert Dulles was born in Auburn, N.Y., on Aug. 24, 1918, the son of John Foster and Janet Pomeroy Avery Dulles. His family was steeped in public service. Besides his father, who was secretary of state from 1953 to 1959, and uncle, who directed the C.I.A. from 1953 to 1961, his great-grandfather, John Watson Foster, was secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison, and a great-uncle, Robert Lansing, held the post under President Woodrow Wilson. Avery’s grandfather, Allen Macy Dulles, was a Presbyterian theologian and co-founder of the American Theological Society.

Avery Dulles attended primary schools in New York City and private secondary schools in Switzerland and New England, but had no strict Presbyterian upbringing.

He attended Harvard Law School for a year and a half before joining the Naval Reserve as a World War II intelligence officer. In 1946, he joined the Society of Jesus, began training for the priesthood and was ordained in 1956 by Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.

He took a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome in 1960, taught at Woodstock College in Maryland from 1960 to 1974 and at the Catholic University of America in Washington from 1974 to 1988, then joined the faculty at Fordham as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society.

Cardinal Dulles served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1975-76 and of the American Theological Society in 1978-79. His books include “Models of the Church,” (Doubleday, 1974), a theological best-seller that appeared in many languages; “A Church to Believe In: Discipleship and the Dynamics of Freedom,” (Crossroad, 1982) on American Catholic theological concerns, and “The Splendor of Faith: The Theological vision of Pope John Paul II,” (Crossroads, 1999).

The cardinal is survived by eight nieces and nephews. His brother, John Watson Foster Dulles, an author and professor, died in San Antonio on June 23, and a sister, Lillias Pomeroy Dulles Hinshaw, died in 1987. Cardinal Dulles remained an active voice in the church into the new century, responding when the church confronted sexual abuse scandals involving hundreds of priests in the United States. After the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a national policy barring from ministerial duties any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor, Cardinal Dulles said the policy ignored priests’ rights of due process.

“In their effort to protect children, to restore public confidence in the church as an institution and to protect the church from liability suits, the bishops opted for an extreme response,” he said. He noted that the policy imposed a “one-size-fits-all” punishment, even if an offense was decades old and had not been repeated. “Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield.”