29 July 2006

Irish-style Wake in America?

My family were having a discussion about this last night, and though I've done a bit of poking around online, I haven't been able to come up with an answer. Is it possible to have an Irish-style wake, with the body of the deceased on view in the family home, in the U.S.? The debate was whether it is legal here or not. I know that embalming is not required everywhere (is it required anywhere? I know I'd rather not be embalmed, thanks), and one funeral home website said they would transport the body to the family's choice of location for viewing, but I couldn't find out whether a body could be kept in a private home for several hours or even overnight.

My family are definitely not in denial that we're going to die someday. We've all let each other know pretty exactly how we want things to proceed when our souls are separated from our bodies. Some people think look at me oddly when I admit that we've had this conversation on more than one occasion, but I don't think it's morbid or something to be grossed out by. We all die, and someone's going to be responsible for seeing that we're buried properly and that Masses are said for our souls. And sometimes you run into questions like the one above, that you'd rather know before your father or mother dies. When you're grieving, praying for your parent's soul, trying to explain to a small child that grandpa has gone to be with Jesus, and you've got three days to plan the funeral and the family gathering, you'd rather not spend that time trying to find out whether it's legal for dear Dad to be laid out in his own lovingly-decorated home, instead of a funeral parlor that hasn't shelled out for new curtains or canned music since it opened in 1976.

26 July 2006

I'm Completely Blowing My Cover...

...but I'm excited and very proud of myself, and I can't contain it. Look, it's me! Beginning chanters should definitely consider coming to this conference. I promise that both Margaret and I are gentle and capable instructors. Those of you with more experience in chant will certainly be interested in what Dr. Schaefer has to say. The conference two years ago (titled "Chant in the Liturgy Today") was an opportunity for quiet reflection, group prayer, learning, and socialization with others who have a common interest, and this conference promises to provide that as well. I'm looking forward to it, and perhaps I'll see some of the readers of this blog there.

22 July 2006

I knew Stephen Fry was a comedic genius, but this really takes the cake:

"Complete loose-stool-water. Arse-gravy of the very worst kind." -- Stephen Fry Speaking about Dan Brown's novel, 'The Da Vinci Code.'

Thus ends the debate on 'The Da Vinci Code.'

20 July 2006

Thoughts for Thursday
aka More on Montreal

There are apparently a lot of Dominican nuns hanging around Montreal. I saw two more today, this time in Bonsecours chapel.

The interior of St. Joseph's Oratory is disappointing. You can definitely tell that the outside was completed according to the original design from (I think) the 20's, but that the interior wasn't finished until the 60's. The sculpture, ironwork, and arches are rough and "futuristic" in a bad way. It's too bad, because the votive chapel and crypt chapel are quite nice, and you see those before you get to the basilica interior, which makes it all the more disappointing. Give me Bonsecours, St. Patrick's, Notre Dame, or Reine-de-la-monde any day. Even the facade pipes on the organ were unattractive.

I did get a kick out of one thing in the main oratory, though--the statue of St. Thomas has his arms folded in a delightfully skeptical pose.

Despite my complaints about the main church, I found the votive chapel intensely moving--if you can walk in there and see the thousands of flickering candles sending prayers to heaven and hundreds of crutches hanging from the wall denoting prayers answered and fail to be moved, there's something wrong with your soul.

Canadians will put moose and beavers on anything, much as Americans might put an eagle on anything. But moose and beavers are funnier.

Montreal would be a lot more fun if my French were better.

18 July 2006

Tuesday Miscellany

Enter into Jane and Lizzy's Dominican sighting logbook: 19:00, 18 July, St. Patrick's Basilica in Montreal. It's stunning 19th-Century Gothic church, by the way, with lots of little paintings of saints and a few panels left blank for new additions.

Speaking of 19th-Century Gothic, the cathedral in Albany, NY is under rennovation, and it's going to be lovely. But does anyone know what happened to the high altar?

I'd like to pick a quote of the week for last week, but there are so many. My two favorites are probably as follows:

Myron Bretholz, the Jewish bodhran player: "People ask me why I hang out in Irish bars. I tell them, 'Find me a Jewish bar.'"
(Mr. Bretholz is a frequent MC for the Catskills Irish Arts Week concerts, and tells a lot of Jewish jokes. His favorite saying seems to be, "Better Irish music and Jewish comedy than the other way around." I dunno, though; Irish comedy and klezmer can be fun, too.)

The gal next to me at the bar and myself, who had never met before and didn't know the other was Catholic:
"So, what do you do?"
"Well, I'm starting graduate school in music history, but I just finished my bachelor's degree in liturgical music."
"Oh, so you know better than to program 'On Eagle's Wings' for every Mass."

Thought for the week: the Irish song tradition was very close to dying out in the 20th Century. A tale that crops up often among song collectors, especially from the 1930's-1960's, is of trekking out to some lonesome farm and getting several dozen songs out of the gentleman or lady of the house, to the complete surprise of that person's spouse. They didn't sing the songs because they were considered "peasant music" or "rot from the old country" or some such thing, something to be ashamed of rather than to sing out. Thank God for the song collectors, and places like Catskills Irish Arts Week, which truly are "Keeping the Tradition Alive."

17 July 2006

Prayer Request

A young man named Adam T., 20 years old, was shot and killed this weekend--no word yet on who did it or why. We didn't know Adam, but his older sister and her husband were college friends of ours. Please pray for the repose of Adam's soul, and for the comfort of his family.

08 July 2006

40 Shades of...Yellow and Brown?

I'm currently at my family's vacation home in the Catskills, as I have been every July since 2002. And every July that we have been coming here (since 2000), I have been amazed that everything is green. I mean I look out the window, and not only are the trees green, but the grass is green. It's not even a lawn! We don't have a sprinkler system! (Everything is black now, of course, because it's midnight and there are no street lights. I'll take a good look at the stars now, because I won't see much of them in L.A.)

This is truly astonishing to a California girl. Wikipedia says that California is called "The Golden State" because of the gold rush, and not because of the "golden" hills covered with yellowish-brown dead grass in the summer. I don't believe Wikipedia on that one. My mother has a friend here who has never been to the West Coast in the summer, and she did not believe us that the grass is not green in summer, so we had to take a picture for her. She probably still doesn't believe us.

Some people moved in next door to us in Napa a few years back. They were from Minnesota. They did not understand in-ground sprinkler systems. They planted things where there was no sprinkler, and then went around scratching their heads when the poor plant withered and died. They dug holes and cut the sprinkler lines, leaving a mess for the next occupants of the house to clean up. My mom, who has always lived in California and has a green thumb (and fingers, sometimes extending past the wrist), attempted to explain, but they never really got it. It doesn't usually rain in California in the summer, unless you live in one of those weird rainforesty spots where the average rainfall is about twice that of Seattle (we used to have a cabin in Lake County where it rained 110 inches a year or something). So, we water our lawns. But in New York, it rains, and no one seems to have sprinklers, but miraculously, all is green.

I think that's a big part of why my parents wanted to buy a place here, even though lots of people thought them a little crazy. It's tons of fun to come and see green stuff when all at home is brown, but also to have our own little bit of home here in East Durham.

03 July 2006


The recent posts and comments at The Shrine of the Holy Whapping regarding liturgical music have prompted a bit of reflection on my part. Being now the proud posesser of an actual Bachelor of Arts in Music, Emphasis in Liturgical Music, and in view of my roughly 15 years of experience with parish choirs, I feel somewhat qualified to reflect on this subject (not that Joe Q. Catholic in the pew isn't, of course, but I know all the fancy terms...like...quillisma).

In all seriousness, the first thing I want to say is that it's not about taste. I like rock music (rock of 40 years ago, but that counts too), I like Broadway both modern and vintage, I like Latin (Latin-American, that is) rhythms and think African drums are really cool, and I've tried my hand at the Irish tin whistle. However, would I bring any of these things into any of the (very white, American) parishes I've attended? Most definitely not. Why? Because as wonderful as they are in other settings, they don't belong at Mass. This is not to say that you can't use your electric guitar to worship God, but please do it from your garage or a concert stage, and leave it at home on Sunday.

Why do I say this? Because the Church says it, and because, having spent the last four years studying and trying to follow the Church's directives on liturgical music (notice I'm not saying "sacred music," which could really be anything with a religious theme, but "liturgical," as in, "the liturgy of the hours and Mass), I've discovered that, surprise! the Church is right.

Chant changes people. This is point two of my tirade. Ask anyone who's lived with chant for an extensive period (every Sunday for six months, maybe) what their experience was, and I'll eat the first page of my thesis if they don't tell you that something about their spiritual life is different now. I'm not saying that anyone who chants regularly will become a better person--God knows I'm even further from being spotless now than I was in high school--but the formation of the soul, their education, has changed. Attending a good (in the heavenly, not academic, sense) school doesn't automatically make you a good person, but it might mean that you have better tools to get where you're going, if you choose to use them.

In junior high, my religion teacher explained, "It's not that people who aren't Catholics won't go to heaven. It's more that Catholics have the map, and everyone else is going by trial and error." I think this analogy can be applied to the music requested by the Church vs. other music. It's not that other music is bad, it's that you know for sure that chant can get you there if you're willing to go, and you can never quite be sure about the rest of it.

I try not to be a snob or an egoist about liturgical music. I have a pretty voice, which might possibly be operatic if I chose to develop it that way, but I've found operatic (read: showy) voices annoying at Mass, and prefer the clearer, purer voice I had as a teenager. People said I sounded angelic, which in one way I loved, because I wanted to make them think of the angels praising God in song, and in one way I hated, because I didn't want to be complimented for my own sake. What I liked best was to be told things like, "God gave you a wonderful gift." I don't like to be up at the front of the church, except possibly when acclaiming the psalm, which should be sung from where the other readings have been done, since it's really just a more musically elaborate reading. I'd rather be in a choir loft, heard and not seen, so as to better bring to mind the unseen hosts which are forever singing to their Lord.

This is also ties into my first point, that this isn't really about taste. In the chant Propers, the Church has told me what should be sung every Sunday and feast day. How arrogant would it be of me to decide that I could choose better than the Church has chosen--text, music, and all? Ok, maybe for variety, we'll have a different setting of the same text, which is, after all, what the music serves, or maybe even a paraphrase. But to ignore it completely just because the music director would prefer something different? That seems like a terrible idea, possibly even a sinfully prideful one (depending, of course, on the music director/cantor/organist's state of mind, and all that).