30 November 2009

St. Andrew's Day

Today is St. Andrew's Day! Visit a church named for him, participate in cultural activities of places under his patronage (Scotland, Russia, Greece, Ukraine, Romania, among others), and don't forget to start your St. Andrew Novena for Christmas!

Say fifteen times a day:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment when the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayers and grant my desires, through the merits of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother.

21 November 2009

(page from a Latin grammar, copied c. 800)

There was a session on chant in the Carolingian era at AMS. All four papers were awesome. I very much enjoyed Peter Jeffrey's discussion of the dissemination of the Roman liturgy in France. Apparently, the gradual chant was not, in that period, sung from the steps from which it gets its name (gradus=step), but from the same lectern as the Gospel and Epistle; singing from the step was a Frankish innovation, and it stuck. I love details like that.

I have been musing a bit on the last paper read in the session, which dealt with the Carolingian principle of "correctio," that is, correcting errors and doing things in the right manner--from education to liturgy to singing. Textbooks tend to give the impression (at least to me; perhaps others don't read it this way) that the Carolingians were obsessed with standardizing things. Not so, says Susan Rankin. The Carolingians didn't spend much time talking about standardization or making everyone do things the same way--their concern was to do things the right way.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the obsession with standardization comes later, much later. Trent was somewhat problematic in the matter of allowing for growth in the liturgy, but it seems to me that things got worse in the 19th century. The Vatican Gradual might be seen as emblematic of correctness at the expense of legitimate variety. I do not mean to denigrate the monumental work of Solesmes--chant scholarship would hardly exist without them, and certainly the present sad situation would have been (if possible) even worse. Yet there are some small issues with the current Gradual that ought to be addressed, and I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

I am straying from my main point. What I really wanted to say was that hearing about the Carolingian idea of correctio really rang some bells in my head in regard to the new English translation of the liturgy. In ninth century France, scholars and clergy were concerned about correct texts in prayers because they worried about transmitting incorrect ideas if the prayers were not correct. A change in wording might bring a different theological nuance--one that might be wrong. This was probably especially important in an era with relatively low rates of literacy, because people relied on hearing prayers said rightly. We supposedly have high literacy rates now, but so many in our society are accustomed to passively receiving information that they lack critical faculties for filtering out incorrect information. This makes having a better translation of the liturgy very important: if we do not pray rightly, we will forget how to think rightly about liturgy and theology.

We're not changing the liturgy, but like the medieval monk Gottschalk* who complained that a chant text for the feast of St. John the Baptist was not true to the actual scripture passage, we want to make corrections and improve things so that we can pray rightly. Incidentally, the next generation of students at Gottschalk's monastery did fix the chant text in the next manuscript copies.

*Please note that I in no way endorse some of Gottschalk's other ideas (he was an early advocate of predestination). But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, right?

16 November 2009


Over the weekend, I was in Philadelphia for the national meeting of the American Musicological Society. I heard some really excellent papers, and generally had a good time. The AMS is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and there were some special events involving people who had been members for 50 years. On Saturday evening, as the hotel elevator rushed downward toward the lobby (from whence I intended to head across the street for Mass), the one other person in the elevator turned around and looked at me. He was wearing clerics, and a red ribbon attached to his AMS name tag proclaimed him a 50-year member. The name tag read, "Rembert Weakland." I didn't say anything to him, and he didn't say anything to me, but I felt all the oddness of it.

I exited the elevator, and the lobby. Thankfully he was not also headed to the basilica for Mass--that would have been even more awkward. The beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul was directly across the street from my hotel, and had a Mass time that fit very conveniently with my schedule. (My flight on Sunday did, in fact, get me home in time to sing at the 5:15 Mass, but I was hedging my bets. And I wanted to see the church.) The service itself was Mass, more or less as you'd expect a Saturday evening Mass to be in any church across the country, although I was a little surprised that there were no altar servers. The music was unremarkable, but the organist and cantor rather better than you'd get in most places. Also, the organ was beautifully in tune--most organs, even some cathedral organs, suffer from sad neglect in terms of tuning.

There was an announcement before Mass about the USCCB bulletin insert regarding the healthcare bill. Apparently, the insert had been handed out the previous week, but they wanted to announce that for those who hadn't seen it, there were extra copies available. Mentions of healthcare access for all and protection of the unborn and the most vulnerable among us were included in the general intercessions. I also noticed that the Cathedral Basilica has its main Sunday Mass in Latin twice a month from October through June. I would have gone, if my flight time had not precluded it. Overall, I was quite impressed with the church. I wonder if Cardinal Rigali knew that Weakland was in town....

I didn't have my camera, but for those who don't know the church, I found a couple of pictures online. Note the tabernacle shrine behind the altar, made relatively recently by St. Jude Liturgical Arts.

01 November 2009

How I Killed That Hour I Gained Tonight

DomoNation.com: Domo and the Bat-that-Wasn't by greenharpist

Like it? Create your own at DomoNation.com. It's free and fun!

Not too bad, eh? Some of the transitions are a little abrupt, but I think I did pretty well. Now run along to the website and animate your own, and be sure to leave a comment here with the link. I've got term paper deadlines soon and need as many procrastination aids as I can get.