Friday, August 29, 2003

YACCS Comments Has Apparently Decided to Get an Early Start In Taking the Weekend Off

Sorry, dear readers, but the Comments feature is down and out for the time being. Not only can't my blog access the comments box, I can't even get to the YACCS home page.

I know that many of you have visited to check out my post on The GIRM and Culture below (my counter tells me so), and I imagine that some of you would have liked to leave a comment. So while YACCS is taking its road trip, if you have a comment, criticism, or observation, just E-mail me!. I'll collect the comments and post them sometime tomorrow, and hopefully by then YACCS will be back up.

By the way, thanks to Amy and Mark for their plugs.

The GIRM and The Culture

This is the first of two parts. The second part will be posted next Tuesday.

Confusion and "Creativity"

There's been a lot of ruminating and a fair amount of bloviating around St. Blog's about the implementation of the Revised GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) in various dioceses around the U.S. Some of the debate, such as between Rerum Novarum and Secret Agent Man, has been about the interpretation of certain specific aspects of the Instruction. Some of the discussion has turned to various misguided efforts, such as in Cleveland and elsewhere, to distort or even conceal the true content of the GIRM in order to advance some liturgist's agenda.

But what seems to be most consistently running through the threads of debate and commentary is a sense of frustration, and even exasperation, among many Catholics. The frustration is over the perceived inability of our bishops, and even of Rome, to issue clear and unambiguous directives on the liturgy. In the words of one commentor over on Amy's blog, the problem is "Confusion, confusion, confustion." Why is it so confusing to know what you're supposed to do at Mass?

Well, there are several problems. Firstly, our own bishops have, frankly, been part of the problem. One has only to look at the hash they have made of Holy Days in this country to know this. Is the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception a Holy Day this year? I don't know without looking at the Ordo, and I'm a priest. Well, let me see, if the Immaculate Conception falls on the second Tuesday after the last full moon of November, it must be a Holy Day. It would almost seem as though the norms for Holy Days were created to cause confusion.

Confusion creates contempt. If something isn't important enough to be clear and unambiguous about, you have signaled that it isn't really very important. And the more that the bishops have tweaked and massaged and reduced Holy Days, the more Holy Day Mass attendance has gone down. Regardless of what pious pronouncements the USCCB puts forth, they have spoken clearly with their decisions that Holy Days aren't a big deal.

So it is with the Mass. By allowing a culture of "do-it-yourself" liturgy to prevail for roughly 30 years, the bishops have sent the signal, unintentional as it may be, that the Mass isn't such a big deal. If the Mass is whatever we (whoever the "we" may be) decide it is, then it isn't such a big step to deciding that it's about Us. And so you end up with the "Self-Actualized Community" worshipping itself. If the Mass is about Us, well then it's not such a big step to deciding that it's about Me. And if it's about Me, then why bother about it all? I can worship Me in the comfort of my own bed on Sunday morning.

A related source of confusion is the mania for "options" within the liturgy. In their admirable desire to provide something for everyone and not impose a stultifying uniformity on churches, our bishops (and Rome is also somewhat culpable in this) have erred in the opposite direction, and given "options" where they weren't really necessary or in keeping with the historic mind of the Church. Witness the controversy over whether the faithful should kneel or stand after receiving communion: The GIRM says that people can either kneel or stand. The result is that in some places the bishop or pastor tries to mandate standing and forbid people to kneel, in others the bishop or pastor tells people to keep kneeling, and in others the attitude is "do your own thing". I'm confident that those who wrote the GIRM didn't intend to create confusion, but that's precisely what ambiguity creates.

This desire for more options is something I truly don't get. The Roman Missal already contains all kinds of options: 4 Eucharistic Prayers, dozens of Prefaces, alternative Collects for almost every Mass, Votive Masses, Masses for Various Needs and Occasions (For you priests: when was the last time you used the Mass prayers "to avert storms"?) and so on. And when, hopefully before the Parousia, we get an English translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, we'll have even more options. But even that wasn't enough for some: when ICEL assembled its now-thankfully-moribund "translation" of the Second Edition of the Missal, it tried to include a whole raft of prayers that the Icicles (what else would you call those who worked for ICEL) had composed themselves. Luckily Rome quashed that edition and we have been spared those products of ICEL's creativity. The restless pursuit of ever more "options" merely spreads the profusion of confusion.

The example of ICEL's attempt to exceed its mandate by composing new Mass prayers out of whole cloth brings me to another source of confusion: the mistaken notion that the liturgy is somehow the object of liturgists' "creativity". Now, I'm all for creativity, properly understood and directed. Certainly the Church has been the beneficiary of an incredibly rich outpouring of creative effort throughout the ages. Our churches have been adorned with some of the finest efforts of artistic creativity ever acheived by Man. Our worship has been solemnized with much of the most glorious and moving music ever written. But those artists and composers all attempted to work within tradition, both the theological and liturgical Tradition of the Church, and the tradition they received in musical technique and composition. Thus the Mass settings of Victoria and Bruckner, though written centuries apart, and in markedly different styles, nonetheless share a common informing spirit. All great art is the product of, and in some sense is subject to, some form of discipline. Great sacred art emerges from the discipline of the Faith of the Church, and its incarnation, the Liturgy.

Part Two, coming next week, will examine the ideologizing of liturgy, and the collapse of Catholic culture.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Another Pin in the Balloon of RadTrad Pride

Jeff over at The Curt Jester has risked the wrath of RadTraddies by posting his own parody of the now-infamous Free Republic thread, which gave rise to Mark Shea's unaccountable impulse to defend his friend, Greg Popcak.

Whereas my parody attempted to conflate the Freeper thread and the Dada-esque conversation from Mark's comment box, Jeff confines himself to coming up with a realistic parody of the Freeper thread alone.

It's pretty funny, and insightful: I don't think I've been credited with inspiring another blogger before...

Needing the Needy

I have a long-standing interest in Catholic Social Teaching, and particularly in exploring how Faith can and should shape our ordering of the economic sphere of human action. I've written about these issues in the past: Most notably, I was the first place winner in the 1996 Acton Institute Essay Competition, with an essay entitled "Poverty, Virtue, and Grace".

My interest in the matters has allowed me to meet and get to know some thoughtful, very faithful people, one of whom is my friend Jenny Roback Morse. She's an economist and Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a regular contributor to the National Catholic Register and has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. She's the author of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work. Most importantly, she's a mother and faithful Catholic.

She has contributed a chapter to a new book published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Wealth, Poverty
and Human Destiny
. Her chapter is titled "Making Room in the Inn: Why We Need the Needy", and she has allowed me to post this excerpt here:

The self-sufficient, autonomous individual is at the heart of America's economic and political institutions. But some people are legitimately dependent on others. Children are profoundly, if temporarily, dependent on their parents. The elderly and the sick are dependent on others. The seriously disabled, and the mentally ill are permanently dependent. The problem of the legitimately dependent can not be finessed or argued away...This ubiquity of unavoidable helplessness points to the possibility that dependency is not peripheral to the social order, but is somehow central to it.

I maintain that we are afraid to look too closely at dependent people because they remind us that our own independence is fragile. The rational faculty is a gift that allows us to think and to choose, which in turn, makes our freedom and autonomy possible. But our rationality is not a necessary fact about us; any one of us could get a bump on the head that would make us radically dependent on others. This is why we should not view our rationality or independence as the source of our value or dignity as persons. It is also a mistake to view people exclusively in terms of what they do for us, unless we expand our understanding of service. ...

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to find out just what kind of unconventional service the radically dependent person can provide for us. My husband's mother became seriously ill. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, at about the same time that we (finally) realized that she had Alzheimer's. Her judgement, her memory and her ability to take care of herself were deteriorating rapidly, at exactly the time that her illness made her even more needy. We told ourselves that we wanted to honor her independence as long as possible. That was only part of the truth. We also did not really want to admit that the mind of this wonderful person was fading away before our eyes. It finally became clear to us that she needed to move in with us.

Our son and daughter got to help take care of Grandma during those last six months of her life. She was a lovely, delightful person, easy to take care of. I made a game of it for the kids. I would summon them by clapping my hands and calling, "Elves, I need some elves. Grandmama needs a tissue," or whatever it was she needed. The kids would come running, tumbling over themselves to be the first one to bring Grandma whatever it was. She never failed to laugh at this, and the kids never failed to be pleased with themselves.

Grandma took a turn for the worse while my son and I were away on a trip to Switzerland and Washington D.C. My husband called us to tell us to be prepared for the worst. When we got home, it was unusually hot and humid, and the family was keeping wet towels around Grandma's neck, and trying to f eed her ice chips to suck on. Nico went right to her room, and began talking to her about our trip. She couldn't say much, but she smiled at him. I stayed with her, and watched as the kids went outside to play together. Nico showed his sister his favorite souvenirs, a noisy cow horn from Switzerland, and a kazoo in the shape of a duck's beak from "D.C. Ducks."

These kids just happened to play right outside Grandma's window, where she could see and hear them. She was happy just to watch them and listen to their noise. They just happened to bring their board game into Grandma's room and play at the foot of her bed. I didn't tell them to do it. They didn't talk about what they were doing. But it was obvious: they wanted to be near Grandma because it would make her happy to see them there. Somehow, the two of them intuited that it was good for them to be near a dying woman whom they loved.

It might seem that they were doing her a service, and that she got all the benefits in this situation. She plainly took pleasure just in being close to these children. She didn't look very good, in fact, her appearance was alarming. She was dying, she couldn't do anything for herself. She would never be able to do anything for them.

But she did give them something: They got to know that they were of value to her, simply by being there. They didn't have to do anything to be important to her and be loved by her. They got to have the experience of being valued simply because they exist. That is as close to unconditional love as a person can get this side of heaven. Surely, this experience of unconditional love is crucial for the foundation of a healthy personality, and sense of self-worth. Certainly, that is how a mother wants her children to feel. What could I have done that could convey that message any more powerfully than their grandmother did on her deathbed?

This is ultimately the contribution of the dependent to the rest of us: they teach us how to love, and be loved.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Ave Maria Radio on XM Satellite Network

Greg Popcak writes to tell me that Ave Maria Radio is trying to get the XM Satellite Radio network to add Ave Maria to its lineup:

Ave Maria Radio has a chance to be carried on the XM Satellite Network. They are currently considering our proposal and things look good.

We are attempting to get St Blog's to help us out by publicizing our petition drive to get Ave Maria on XM.

This would get Ave Maria Radio broadcast nationwide and available to all Americans over the XM network. So visit the Ave Maria Petition site and sign on to get XM to pick up Ave Maria. There is no commitment to purchase XM equipment. This is just about asking them to carry Catholic Radio.

Quote for the Day

America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.

Georges Clemenceau

Georges Clemenceau was the Prime Minister of France during and immediately after World War I. He openly and heartily despised President Woodrow Wilson, saying of Wilson, "He believes himself to be a combination of Socrates and Jesus Christ."