måndag 23 december 2013

Which Pope uses Persil?

UK Editions: 1910 to 1950's Advertising &emdash; Persil Washing Powder Advertisement

Those photographs of the two popes remind me of this 1950s Persil advert.

Trim figures in the 1970s


Look how trim these girls look - this picture was taken at Blackpool one summer Saturday in 1970. You would be hard put to find youngsters looking as sleek as this nowadays, thanks to sugar-loaded soft drinks and junk food.

måndag 7 oktober 2013

A wasted opportunity





The Catholic church in Sweden existed in the shadows for over 400 years following the reformation. The broadcasting of a Catholic confirmation service last Sunday came as welcome evidence of its present acceptance in what has the reputation of being the most secularised country in Europe.

Unfortunately, the event was not exploited as it could and should have been, to present the church's wares in the most attractive way. In fact, if one listened only to the sound, the service was hardly recognisable as Catholic. Latin, the sign and instrument of the unity of the Latin rite Catholic church, was absent. I waited for something, but in vain. Not even the familiar Missa de Angelis was sung. One might have at least expected that somewhere in the service, the congregation would have got the opportunity to sing the famous hymn to the Holy Spirit, Veni Creator Spiritus (upper), and that the choir would have performed the beautiful sequence for Pentecost, Veni Sancte Spiritus (lower).

The service was dignified enough, but there was nothing in the choice of music to indicate that it was Catholic. The church from which the broadcast took place, Kristuskonungen, in Göteborg, has two first-rate choirs at its disposal, and a talented organist, so there is no excuse for this choice of dreary non-Catholic music. The treasures of the Catholic church and its culture should have been on display for this occasion. What a sad waste of an opportunity. The parish needs to get a proper grip of its liturgy and stop churning out this tired old stuff.

torsdag 22 augusti 2013

Solidarity with hijab wearers

Women wearing the hijab in Sweden report that they are often treated abusively in public places. In response, some non-Muslims have taken to wearing the hijab as a gesture of solidarity.

Abusing people for any reason is wrong and unacceptable. However, Muslims are world-leaders when it comes to abusing other people, since the principle of intolerance is built-in to the Koran and Hadith. Good Muslims are required to kill the unbelievers, and some of them have always interpreted these texts literally.

Thus people who identify themselves very visibly as Muslims should not be surprised when other people react badly towards them. It is not right but it is understandable and explicable. There is a strong component of racism here because most Muslims have dark skins, but Islam is an ideology not a race, and that ideology is, in principle, fascistic.

This makes it ironic that it is those on the liberal left who are promoting this solidarity. The same people are criticising Russia for its perceived anti-gay legislation. Perhaps they should try organising a Pride parade in Ryadh? I wonder how they would get on?

lördag 17 augusti 2013

A dystopian prediction

The burning of churches in Egypt this week needs to be seen in the broader historical context. This sort of thing has been going on for 1400 years.

It looks as if, in the next few decades, the confrontation between Islam and the rest of the world will reach a level of hostility that will make people wish for the peaceful days when Nazism and Communism were the main disturbing ideologies and events like the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia and the Soviet Gulags were nothing more than a slightly over-the-top exception to a relatively peaceful state of affairs. We need to wake up. Things look as if they are going to get an order of magnitude worse.

It also looks as if the only place in the Middle East where Christians can be secure in the foreseeable future is Israel.

fredag 16 augusti 2013

Collapse of Catholic Church began 1965













Statistics collated by the Latin Mass Society show unambiguously how the collapse of the Catholic Church in England began in 1965 and that the decline has continued steadily ever since. This will accelerate as priests now in their fifties and sixties retire and there are no younger men to replace them. An increasing number of parishes will now be without priests, a state of affairs that is unsustainable and will ultimately lead to a wave of closures.

Of course there are wider social factors behind this phenomenon but the liturgical and other changes that followed the Second Vatican Council must be a major cause. In my own experience of three parishes where I was a regular Mass attender, the exodus began not with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass but with the replacement of a Novus Ordo Latin liturgy with Gregorian chant by an English liturgy with hymns. At least one-third of parishioners would depart immediately, followed by a steady trickle after that. Some became refugees in neighbouring parishes but eventually there was no refuge to go to. At the same time, young people who had left the church as teenagers but thinking of returning in their twenties and thirties found a church they could no longer recognise. And so the decline has gone on, with the hierarchy in denial that there was a problem. Yet on the few occasions where traditionally-inclined priests such as the Oratorians have taken over moribund parishes, the Catholic communities have quickly come back to life.

fredag 9 augusti 2013

Voris - sloppy but right in principle

Church Militant protagonist Michael Voris has been taken to task by Catholic writer David Armstrong for being sloppy about the background to the practice of receiving communion in the hand whilst standing. Armstrong points out that in the Orthodox rites communion is normally received whilst standing, whilst the practice of receiving communion in the hand can be traced by to the times of the early church fathers.

Voris can be irritatingly sloppy at times but is not usually wrong in principle. We are talking about signification here. Customs and gestures acquire meanings. Voris understands this. The view is well supported by semiotic theory and contemporary understandings in cognitive psychology. He may or may not know this theory but he seems to have a sound overall grasp.

Eastern (Orthodox) Rite churches receive do indeed receive communion whilst standing, but it is distributed in both kinds, using leavened bread, with the priest using a spoon, and it is received, of necessity, on the tongue. In addition, Orthodox liturgies use their own set of symbols in order to establish the sense of reverence - in particular, through the presence of the iconostasis in front of the altar, the elaboration of ceremonial and the use of modal music with drones and quarter tones.

The overall presentation of the Latin Rite Catholic liturgy is very different. The altar is open to view, the music is much simplified, and much of it is in an ordinary major or minor key.

In the Latin Rite, the reception of communion kneeling and on the tongue has been the practice for at least 1000 years, in which time it has come to acquire the meaning "reverence". To jump back to the practices of 1000 years previously was never how the church operated, since to do so would be to ignore the meanings that the practice had acquired in that period. Within the contemporary ie mid 20th century context, reversion to the earlier practice has the connotation of a reduction in reverence.

How that practice was perceived in patristic times is of interest but irrelevant in the contemporary context. The overall liturgy at that time would presumably have been closer to the Orthodox model. It does not do to pick and mix, especially down to the lowest common denominator.

tisdag 6 augusti 2013

Why must the liturgy be "contemporary"

Defenders of the type of music that was performed at World Youth Day argue that we are in the modern times and need to be contemporary.

"Contemporary" is a term so vague as to be meaningless. However - we are no longer in the modern time. The presentation of WYD was as dated as a Gary Glitter song or a computer running DOS. We are in the Post Modern time, and have been for the past thirty years. Post Modernism itself arose out of the ruins of Modernism, whose theoretical basis was dismantled in the 1960s by anthropologists such as Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes. In the past two decades we have had huge advances in understanding in linguistics, cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

Building on this, philosophers such as Catherine Pickstock have demonstrated the unwisdom of tampering with the liturgy, and this is confirmed by empirical observation of the contemporary success of the Orthodox church, spectacularly in Russia.

Culture needs fixed points and the liturgy is one of them. A familiar and trivial example is the design of the Marmite jar, which has scarcely changed since the product was launched. It is now owned by Unilever, who employ advertising agencies who, unlike contemporary "liturgists", have to sell things and do so by using all the knowledge currently available. You can be sure that if they thought it would sell more Marmite, Unilever's advertising agency would have recommended a re-design, but they did not.

The Catholic church previously had what in the commercial world would have been described as a strong brand image, an identity sustained by bringing into play all the arts. No commercial agency would lightly throw away such a strength.

There is of course no reason why other forms of music can be used for worship - but they need to be outside the context of the Mass. As regards the music of the Mass itself, it is governed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Sacroscantum Concilium. To breach this norms is disobedient and a lapse in discipline. It is unfortunate that there seems to be tacit approval of this at the highest level, but that is an ancient problem and does not make it right.

lördag 3 augusti 2013

The dreadfulness of the World Youth Day music

The dreadfulness of the World Youth Day music has been widely commented on in conservative Catholic circles. Latin, and the modal Gregorian chant music that go with those texts, are both a sign of the unity of the Catholic church and a means by which that Catholicity are maintained. They also provide a direct link to the Jewish antecedents of Catholicism. Protestant metrical hymns were consciously composed IN OPPOSITION to the music of the Catholic church and has no rightful place in the Mass. There is a need for firm guidance on this matter. If people want to sing it, they should be given the opportunity in some kind of extra-liturgical non-denominational Songs of Praise type event.

A few look enviously at the Orthodox churches which seem to have escaped this damaging nonsense, which has been going on now for forty years. That is understandable but to join the Orthodox camp would be illogical, when the Orthodox churches have long abandoned one of the markers of Catholic universality ie the use of a shared common language.

WYD is unfortunate as it makes it more difficult to argue for Catholic music at a local level when it seems as if WYD type music is approved at the highest level.

There is a bitter battle ahead, I am afraid, and things are going to get worse before they get better. This is something we in the Catholic church have to stay inside and fight for.

In the meantime, I would suggest praying the Rosary regularly in Latin.

fredag 2 augusti 2013

Has the church been too intellectual?

Speaking of the Brazilian church’s failure to keep its flock from straying to evangelical churches, challenging the region’s bishops to be closer to their people to understand their problems and offer them credible solutions, Pope Francis said this...

At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people... without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery.Read more in the Washington Times.

I would argue that Pope Francis is right in his diagnosis and that it is actually a consequence of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council - possibly based on a misinterpretation of the Council documents - that people are straying.

If you compare the Tridentine Mass with the Novus Ordo Mass as usually celebrated, it both cut-down and more wordy, especially when it is in the vernacular. The effect is to engage, primarily, the surface areas of the brain, where language is processed. A side-effect is to block the non-verbal channels which give access to those parts of the brain concerned with the the overall persona. The logical conclusion is that the church needs to return to a liturgy where the emphasis is on the overall action and not primarily on the words and a superficial understanding of their meaning. This would explain why the Orthodox churches have had such success in retaining both intellectuals and the mass of the people. Freemasons clearly have a better appreciation of this, since they realise that their ceremonies are the principal means of transmitting their philosophy.

onsdag 10 juli 2013

Traditional Latin Mass phobia - continued

I have had some discussions with a priest recently on this subject. It has to be admitted that the Tridentine (Extraordinary Form) Mass has attracted, amongst others, a dubious clientele from the extreme right wing of the political spectrum, and not a few anti-semites amongst them. He does not want to attract with people with these kinds of attitudes or be seen to be associated with them.

There are two sides to this issue. From the congregation's perspective, there is little difference between a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in accordance with the definitive Latin texts in the Missa Normativa, with the chants from the 1974 Graduale Romanum. Thus it is a post-Vatican Two liturgy and people who deny the validity of the Council and its liturgy will keep away. There are problems with it, as described here, but it is good enough - in fact, it is hard to see the differences unless you know what to look for. The lack of silence can be remedied by saying the prayers for the Offertory and Canon in a low voice with the sound system switched off.

From the priest's perspective, however, the two forms of the Mass are very different. Priests who have been celebrating the Extraordinary Form report that it has transformed their spiritual life. Thus it is something priests need to make up their own mind about.

The solution to the problem of the extremist fringe has to be to make the Extraordinary Form much more widely available, to the point that it is taken for granted again. It needs to be reclaimed for the mainstream of the church if only for its real practical advantages - for instance, it gets round the problems of bad acoustics, bad sound systems, the difficulties of addressing polyglot congregations, clergy who are not fluent in the local language, and musicians who want to impose their creativity on the parish.

This will take time, but the flexibility of the Novus Ordo Mass makes it possible to introduce the Missa Normativa gradually through a series of one-by-one changes over a period of a year or so.

In the meantime, it would be a good thing if priests learned to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but celebrated it discreetly in private or with small congregations, without publicity. They would then have the opportunity of making an informed judgement about whether or not to introduce it to their congregations and how they should go about it. There is a lot to be said for making it a weekday evening event - for example, on First Fridays or something like that. This has the advantage that when it falls on a feast day, which typically happens once or twice a year, it can take the form of a Missa Cantata and justifies having a more elaborate liturgy.

lördag 6 juli 2013

I went to a Tridentine Mass and didn't like it

I was in a discussion recently with someone who is vigorous in her dislike of the "Tridentine Mass". She has actually been a couple of times, but, it seems, reluctantly, because it was the only one available.

The picture I get is this. She was not there from choice. This suggests, though I might be wrong, that she had not done any work in the way of preparation. For example, there is a raft of theological reasons why the priest and congregation face the same way, just as Orthodox Christians, Jews and Moslems always do and Catholics almost always did until about 1965. The most accessible explanation is given in "Turning Towards the Lord" by Fr Uwe Lang. The reasons for the other differences, and the extended silences, are explained in "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Joseph Ratzinger.

Neither of the books is long or difficult but she would have had a little bit of reading to do in order to appreciate what was going on, otherwise she would have been in the position of someone who goes to an opera without knowing the plot.

Unless and until she had read those book or given someone the opportunity to explain the reasons, she will have felt, and will feel upset that the priest was "turning his back on the congregation", and probably bored by the silence.

Sport is a good analogy here. If you don't know anything about football you will just see a couple of dozen men on a patch of grass kicking a ball around, regardless of whether the game is between local teams or an international championship playing to the highest standard. If, on the other hand, you know something about the game, you will understand the difference in skill levels and strategy. This difference is qualitative. Millions of people appreciate football played at a high level.

To understand what is happening in a Usus Antiquior Mass it is necessary to have some extra instruction, explanation and indeed catechesis, which would in fact deepen understanding not only of the Mass but of the Faith itself. The reason why people are satisfied with the Novus Ordo is that they have not had this catechesis. Were they to have it, they would realise that the whilst the NO is valid and Christ is really present, is an incomplete set of signs. They would then no longer be satisfied with the Novus Ordo Mass as it is so widely celebrated.

Talking of signs raises other issues related to the context in which Mass is celebrated. Even when it is done quite nicely, the effect tends to be bland and does not convey a sense of conviction. 1970s church architecture not help. There might be a few attractive features, but the overall appearance of the buildings, the decorations, the vestments and the entire presentation of the Mass too often seems to have got firmly stuck in the year 1975. A lot has happened since then but it seems as if nobody has noticed.

fredag 5 juli 2013

Anything but Catholic

Coca Cola!
If you are Jewish you can go to a synagogue anywhere in the world and will be able to join in the prayers, in Hebrew. There is a good chance that you will even know the music and be able to join in the singing.

The same used to be true, a fortiori, in the Catholic church, which once offered a worldwide "product" worldwide. The Latin language, and the music which went with the liturgy, was both a sign of the church's universality and an important means by which it was sustained. It had important practical benefits too: for example, a priest could celebrate the same Mass wherever he was.

Then came the Second Vatican Council and its relaxation of the rules, stating that the vernacular may be used. The word "may" is permissive. In this instance, it would mean that Mass would normally be celebrated in Latin, as before, but that there were special situations where the local vernacular language might be appropriate.

Had this been held to, there would have been no problem. Unfortunately this permissiveness proved to be a case of "give an inch, take a mile". Within ten years of the Second Vatican Council, Latin had been pushed to the margins, mostly, it has to be said, by direction from above and against the will of the people. What it led to was a splitting of the church, and with the waves of immigration in the past 20 years, to a splitting of local parishes into language groups.

A generation of people has grown up who argue that the use of the vernacular in the Mass enables them to "understand" it. This is to ignore all recent evidence from a wide range of scientific disciplines, which has shown that most human communication is non-verbal and takes place below the level of conscious awareness. At a practical level, we have ended up with a church that is anything but Catholic in the sense of being universal. You can go to a Mass in a foreign country, and whilst you will obviously have a good grasp of what is going on, precisely because most of the communication is at a non-verbal level, you will not be able to participate in any of it in the way that Catholics could have done in the past.

Where there has been immigration, mission priests have been provided who say Mass in the language of the immigrants' home country. They then socialise after '"their" Mass and hardly ever get to meet the rest of the parish who socialise separately after "their" Masses. Thus the Catholic church becomes an ethnic minority church and is no longer Catholic. Since the second generation are likely to want to throw off their status as immigrants, the chances are that after they are old enough to be given the choice, they will never go inside a Catholic church again.

This is the Catholic church in auto-destruct mode and a vociferous group see nothing wrong with this state of affairs.

onsdag 3 juli 2013

Ecclesiastical bling



Why do people need this kind of candy? The explanation is starting to be put on a scientific basis as a result of recent work in brain physiology, neurology, linguistics and psychology. As the findings in these separate but related disciplines are put together, some sort of an explanation is beginning to emerge. It seems as if spoken language addresses the most recent (in evolutionary terms) structures of the brain. And the act of thinking is also largely non-verbal and takes place below the level of awareness.

Movement and gestures affect the older and longer-established brain structures. The brain is now known to contain "mirror neurons". This work like this. Movements are activated by particular neurons in the person making the action and the same neurons in your own brain are activated if you are watching the person making the movement. This is due to the presence of these mirror neurons. This activity of the brain has been detected through the use of new techniques of functional imaging.

The effect is to give rise to feelings and changes of mood as they affect one of the core structures of the brain known as the hypothalamus.

This recent knowledge has yet to be incorporated into philosophy and theology. The Freemasons have always understood this as they use their elaborate ceremonial to put across their philosophical ideas founded on Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. In the light of this knowledge, the V2 liturgists did exactly the wrong thing. A more effective reform would have been to bring the liturgy as closely into line with Byzantine practice. The endurance of Byzantine Christianity would explain why they would have a sound understanding of faith even if they were less thorough in their theoretical studies. It becomes grained-in through experience of the liturgy itself. As the old saying goes, Lex orandi, Lex credendi.

Theology must assimilate contemporary science

Arguments about the liturgy roll on. In my view it was a key factor in the implosion of the Catholic church in the last four decades. The reforms drove some people away altogether, and their withdrawal from the active life of the church cannot just be explained away as inadequate faith. There is a limit to the amount of liturgical abuse that people can be expected to tolerate.

As the years wore on, those teenagers who had, as often happens, left the church before the reforms, returned in later life to find a church they could no longer recognise and relate to. Thus an important source of (re)-recruitment was lost. A further issue was, and remains, the use of special liturgies for children and indeed the infantilisation of the mainstream liturgy, which made the church childish-seeming and something to grow out of.

I believe that the problems with the liturgy can be understood by reference to
  1. the anthropological theories developed by Barthes and Levi-Strauss in the 1960s, as these referred to earlier work on semiotics by Saussure and others,
  2. the cross disciplinary work on lingustics and psychology and
  3. recent work on neuro-psychology and brain function, with an input from genetics and evolutionary theory.
The results of this work has been quickly grasped by those with an interest in making money by selling things. The big advertising and publicity companies, for instance, of necessity, employ staff with a sound grasp of these subject areas, but it seems that it has yet to find its way into theology and related disciplines.

There is a huge amount of recent cross-disciplinary material to be assembled and  integrated into contemporary theology. To cut a long story short, it would be concluded that the old saying lex orandi, lex credendi applies. Whilst the simplified form of Novus Ordo will continue to have its place - it is perfectly satisfactory, useful indeed, for example, in small communities for weekday use, and for didactic purposes - public celebration of the liturgy, especially in large spaces or when a lot of people are present, the Extraordinary Form needs to be the norm.

Please stop this silly criticism of the Pope

I wish people would stop criticising the Pope, mostly because of the way he dresses. It is not my cup of tea but it takes at least 100 years to make a judgement on a particular pope. Every one has a different task for a different time. This one needs to cleanse the augean stables that the Vatican has seemingly turned into.

Benedict stressed the need for "reform of the reform" and the need to develop Catholic Social Teaching. After more 120 years of Catholic Social Teaching since Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, it remains deficient. Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate effectively takes the subject back to square one, whilst Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter point the way to necessary liturgical reform.

The Benedictine liturgical reforms now need to be driven through, especially at the local level. The laity also need to address the deficiencies in Catholic Social Teaching, working from the ideas set out in Caritas in Veritate. Discussion of the colour of the papal footwear is a damaging distraction and discredits those who keep on talking about the subject.

If issues relating to these matters lead to conflict, they have to be resolved through the use of reason and modern scientific knowledge, particularly in the field of cognitive psychology, a subject whose insights need particularly to be brought to bear on the subject of liturgy.

söndag 30 juni 2013

If you don't like the heat get out of the kitchen

This post a couple of weeks ago aroused a lot of animosity because the musicians concerned chose to identify themselves. Which of course they did not need to do - they could have kept a low profile, taken notice and put their house in order.

Being in charge of church music is like driving a bus. A lot of people are listening or watching - it is a very public affair. Those in the driving seat can expect criticism if they do it wrong. It is common sense for them to keep their backsides covered by making themselves familiar with the regulations and sticking to them. The music in the Catholic church should follow the calendar or occasion, in accordance with Sacrosanctum Concilium and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The Mass is not a concert and it leaves little leeway for personal taste.  If the choir is up to the task, it might do Britten's Missa Brevis, which would not be particularly to my liking but since it follows the text, there would be no grounds for me to complain.

If musicians cannot take flak, then they should not put themselves in the position where they might receive it, especially if they are paid to do the job. As the saying goes, "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen".

fredag 28 juni 2013

Traditional Latin Mass Phobia

Msgr. Moises Andrade's Tridentine Mass
The previous posting (Turn round, Father) stirred up a surprising amount of antagonism. It seems as if there is some kind of phobia against the celebration of Mass facing the direction that orthodox Christians have done for 1900 years, and in Latin. It might be called Traditional Latin Mass Phobia. It is even widespread amongst priests, who refuse even to talk about the subject. You have to wonder what they have been taught at seminary and even why they want to become priests at all.

Yet it is a misapprehension to imagine that we have understood the Mass if we have understood the words that are being said. This seems to be linked with the idea that the Mass is a re-enactment of the Last Supper which seems to be linked to the celebration of Mass facing the people which makes the altar look like a communion table which is presumably Protestant. As a convert from Judaism I find this disturbing in the extreme, as the Catholic doctrine of Mass as Sacrifice is so clearly a continuation of the Jewish concept temple sacrifice and its replacement in post-Temple Judaism by an additional commemorative service.

Thus it is distressing to me to see the Catholic church cutting itself off from its Jewish roots in this way. There is a lot of work to be done. This could usefully start by celebrating Mass more frequently facing the same way as the congregation, which would help people to understand that it is being done on behalf of the people. When people talk about the priest turning his back on the congregation, it is a sign that they have not got the point.

tisdag 25 juni 2013

Turn round, Father!

Monseigneur  Jean-Yves Riocreux
God is of course omnipresent but Mass takes place within a cultural context. We bring all our past experiences to it, which connect to, and then associate with, what is happening in front of us.

In both the contemporary and historical cultural contexts, this confrontational versus populi configuration has been about with power. Such a universal association cannot be simply brushed away.

The celebration of Mass facing the people has nothing to do with the Novus Ordo as such. It began as a 60s fashion based on an erroneous understanding of the architecture of some ancient churches in Rome. The effect is that many priests behave like actors, or worse - haughty and arrogant.

When the priest celebrates Mass in the same direction as the congregation, it is clear that the priest is both servant and leader. When the priest celebrates Mass with his face towards the people, he looks like some kind of chief or ruler. Or perhaps a shopkeeper or petty official. We pick this up unconsciously as oppressive, as an emphasis on the priest's power and inequality. It is surprising that liberal Catholics, of all people, have almost never picked this up.

söndag 16 juni 2013

Horrible liturgy last Sunday

This was the Introit for last Sunday, the 11th of the year.


The translation is
Hearken, O Lord, unto my voice which has called out to you; deign to be my help, forsake me not, do not despise me, O God my Saviour. Ps. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

We did not get to hear it at my local church. Instead, Mass kicked off with a blast on the organ that would have been right for the start of a circus, followed by a version of "Morning has broken", the children's hymn that was recorded by Cat Stevens in the 1970s. The rest of the liturgy was pretty dire as well.

I mentioned this to some friends over coffee afterwards. They couldn't see the point I was trying to make. Their response, and it is a widespread view, is that Protestant hymns are a good thing to have in the Catholic Mass because we should be ecumenical in our choice of music. The problem with this is that the texts might not even be in accordance with Catholic doctrine, but even if they were, it means that the texts and associated music that have belonged to Catholic the liturgy for more than a millenium get squeezed out and replaced by something that does not belong. This is like putting one's heirlooms of Old Master paintings in the attic and replacing them by cheap prints.

Apart from being inappropriate, this was in breach of the regulations in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal. The latest version (2002) says:

"There are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan."

How "Morning has broken" is an appropriate or suitable substitute for a entrance antiphon on a penitential theme - the readings were about Mary Magdalen - is beyond my understanding. I would guess that it was chosen because of the Cat Stevens association.

It didn't get any better as things went on. The Ordinary was one I had never heard before, the first of the readers swallowed most of his words, the sermon was too long, there is no musical setting to the Creed in Swedish but nobody thought to sing Credo 3 even though the parish all know it, and we finished with that piece of Victorian Anglican bombast Holy, Holy, Holy to the setting by J B Dykes. I was glad when it was over and could not get out of the church fast enough.

Praying for a power cut

The organ was grotesquely loud for most of the time, drowning out the singing, with the organist bashing out discords in the bass, creating unpleasant sounds that could be felt rather than heard. I ended up praying for a power cut. It was not answered.

I gather that there have been complaints about the organist for years and the parish priest ought to get a grip of the situation. The organist should assist the worship, not get in the way of it. The organ is in any case bigger than is needed for the size of the building and the organist needs to be given strict instructions to play the instrument with due restraint.

I normally go to an Extraordinary Form Mass somewhere else to avoid this hour of unpleasantness, not for any other reason. Unfortunately it is being suspended for the summer. It was salutary to be reminded how bad things are at my local parish. When the Novus Ordo Mass is normally done so badly, no wonder there is still a demand for the old form.

torsdag 13 juni 2013

Post-modern worship

One of the reasons why I am so keen to see the wider use of the traditional forms of Catholic worship is that it draws in the atheists by addressing them at that level of cognition which cannot be answered by the intellect.

I wish our theologians were better informed on recent developments in neuroscience and cognitive psychology - they would then realise that the 1960s thinking that still seems to dominate in intellectual circles of the Catholic church has run its course. The architecture and liturgy that was leading-edge in the 1970s can have little appeal to the generation born in the 1990s. Why can we not learn from our Russian Orthodox brothers whose Church has sprung so vigorously back to life in the past decade, out of next to nothing, on the basis of traditional forms of worship? It is depressing to compare the start of this liturgy with that in my local parish. Mass begins with a fanfare blasted out by the organist, which would be exactly right to herald the entrance of the performing elephants at a circus.

It is the worship of Byzantium and Counter-Reformation Rome that can engage with the spirit of Post-Modernism. I suspect these Russians know exactly what they are doing.

onsdag 12 juni 2013

A dispute far from settled

I had a discussion with a friend the other day about the benefits of using Latin more widely in the Catholic liturgy. His response was that we should concentrate on getting a better Swedish liturgy and then to walk off.

Of course one does not preclude the other, but it is over forty years since the vernacular was introduced into the Catholic liturgy and one would have thought that things would have settled down to the point that it would no longer be a contested question. Unfortunately, things never have settled down.

The situation here in Sweden is in many ways better than in Britain, but it is far from satisfactory. In Britain, the vernacular was hampered by a banal translation that took liberties with the text. In due course the Ordinary was set to mostly banal music by composers with little talent, but more often, the hymn sandwich came be standard practice: hymns either newly written or of Protestant origin, interspersed with the Ordinary of the Mass spoken by the congregation -the resulting sound being, "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb." There was never a satisfactory English setting for the Creed.

Now that there is a new English translation, things are almost back to square one. There is a new interest in singing the new Propers instead of falling back on metrical hymns. Unfortunately, the rhythm and syntax of the English language means that it is difficult to set texts to Psalm tones in a way that makes sense of the meaning of those texts. Nor do the Gregorian settings for the Ordinary go well in English. Attempts to set the Creed to existing Gregorian music also fail on the texts because the emphases end up in the wrong places. There are some old Anglican settings that would probably work, such as the sixteenth century Marbeck Creed and Our Father, but there seems to be little interest in following that avenue.

The situation in Sweden is in some ways very different. There is an over-use of metrical hymns of Protestant origin. These set a Lutheran tone to the liturgy as a whole. It is not undignified but it does not establish the Catholic sensibility set by the kind of liturgy, wholly in Latin, one would hear at somewhere such as the London Oratory or Westminster Cathedral. When the music is English and borrowed for use at a different season or occasion the effect can be ludicrous. I recently went to an ordination where one of the hymns was to the tune of "Abide with me", Britain's favourite funeral hymn!

There is, however, a wider use than in the English liturgy of modal music in the Gregorian chant style. The language and psalm tones work together. There have been adaptations of some of the old liturgical texts that cannot be faulted - for instance, for Good Friday. Someone has produced an excellent set of Office Hymns for use by religious communities. Settings of the Ordinary are of mixed quality. Some are good adaptations, but others are clumsy. The Advent/Lent Sanctus is sung all the year round, like food out-of-season. There is no setting for the Creed, which makes it hard to remember. The overall sound of the language is harsh in comparison to Latin.

In Sweden, a new translation and service book, Cecilia, were issued earlier in the year, but unfortunately, the problems were compounded rather than addressed. With over 1300 pages on very thin paper and 2mm type, the book is not easy to handle and use.

There was insufficient weeding-out of the protestant metrical hymns. There is recent music of indifferent quality which did not deserve to be included. There is still no setting for the Creed. The Gregorian settings of both Swedish and Latin were issued in a new type of five-line notation that makes the music hard to read and impossible to sing with any expression without much annotation; the pieces are unrecognisable to anyone familiar with the same music in traditional notation.

This has done little to help in the aim of improving the quality of the Swedish liturgy. What needs to be done? It would be useful if all the Swedish texts, were re-set in Gregorian four-line notation. As an experiment, I tried this with one of the Ordinaries during Lent and the result was an immediate improvement in readability and in the quality of the sound. The Good Friday hymn "Höga kors, du enda ädla" also gained from being put into Gregorian chant notation. The Office Hymns in particular, would benefit from having the music written out for every line. It would also help religious communities if the Swedish translation of the Office was issued with the music, but that would be a huge labour of love, and an expensive printing job to boot. Which then raises the question of whether it is really worth the effort when the Latin liturgy is already available in turnkey form?

The majority of Catholics, including the priests, are immigrants and as Swedish is not their native tongue, there are foreign chaplaincies: thus there are many parishes where Mass is said in half a dozen different languages but not Latin, the official language of the Catholic church! One effect is to split parishes into language groups, and from that point of view it would help if people were brought together with a single liturgy. Getting the Swedish liturgy into better shape, with an authentically Catholic sound is, in my view, a project worth pursuing, but I believe this needs to run alongside the improvement of the liturgy through the wider use of Latin.

Latin is one of the three Holy languages. Its universal use is both a sign and means of ensuring the Catholicity of the Roman church. This needs to be firmly pointed out to anyone who says "I don't like Latin in the liturgy".


måndag 10 juni 2013

A New Recusancy?

The English composer William Byrd was a Catholic in Recusant times, when they were persecuted for their faith. The music he wrote for the underground Catholic community features in this edition of the BBC Early Music Show.

The English Reformation was a slow process on the ground, as many priests did their best to maintain the practices of Catholic worship despite the changes that were going on all round. This was largely a story of betrayal by the Catholic bishops and clergy - the faithful bishops were in a minority and only St John Fisher paid the death penalty. There was, however, no firm break until Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth in 1570 and then the serious persecutions began. Known as the Penal times, the persecution of English Catholics did not come to an end until the 1680s, and the last legal disabilities were not removed until the nineteenth century.

For the man in the pew, the transition time must have been a difficult one to negotiate, as it became necessary to discern the essentials. There is a contemporary resonance wt. It is widely accepted that the liturgy is a mess, though many would deny this. Some blame the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Mass, but that is an argument that is difficult to sustain. It is perfectly possible to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass in a way that virtually identical from the Tridentine form of the Mass. All that is necessary is for the priest to face the altar Ad Orientem and to follow the liturgy in the current edition of the Graduale Romanum ie to sing the Proper and the Kyriale in Latin/Greek according to what is in the book. This is not difficult. If the will to do so is present, there is no need for liturgy committees or even for hymn books as it is perfectly possible to celebrate Mass without hymns; these will usually be of Protestant origin and carry with them a destructive Protestant spirituality. There is no requirement for the disruptive Sign of Peace.

But the will is not present. In the majority of Catholic parishes, this does not happen. There is no contemplative sense. Attendance at Mass is a penance in these circumstances. Christ is still really present, but in the context of a liturgical rubbish heap. Such a thing is, if not impossible, difficult within the tightly defined framework of Tridentine Mass. This then raises issues about the Novus Ordo Mass, not in itself, but in relation to the rules that govern it, or rather, fail to govern it. Priests could help the situation, and bishops even more so, but as a rule they do not and then become part of the problem.

söndag 9 juni 2013

Perverse or what?

Latin is the official language of the church. This was affirmed by the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The only Masses round here that are celebrated in Latin, however, are those in the Usus Antiquior ("Extraordinary Form", I don't like to use the term as it is a mis-translation and suggests something weird). These are poorly attended because neither is at a convenient time and one of them is a twenty minute journey out of town.  Thus the number of people who go to them is no indication of the demand. One of them got the chop a few weeks ago as the curate had to go away to care for a sick parent. The other one will stop for several weeks because the priest who normally says it is taking an extended break. The alternative priest who was asked to say it has flatly refused. Worse still, he refused to say it in Latin in the Novus Ordo form, which should have presented no difficulties for him. That would have been a reasonable and acceptable compromise and way of meeting parishioners half-way. But no.

Yet we have in the parish, four Masses on a Sunday in the vernacular (actually the mother tongue of only a minority of the parishioners), as well as regular masses in Polish, Croatian, Spanish, Chaldean, Hungarian, Slovenian and English. Everything, in fact, but Latin. Having Mass celebrated in all these different languages divides the parish into lots of separate groups who rarely get to meet each other. The English Mass is dire because the celebrants and readers are struggling with the language, a problem aggravated by the new ICEL translation. The vernacular liturgies are not very good either because there is little decent music for the language - there is no musical setting for the Creed and there is an over-reliance on depressing Protestant hymns. Matters are made worse because the parish musicians engage in a sort of acoustic terrorism and nobody has the gumption to stop them. It is all very depressing.

lördag 8 juni 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 7


The choir's period at St Peter's, Hove, came to an end when the parish priest finally ditched the Latin Mass in 1986. We all determined to continue and set ourselves up as the SPEM choir, which stood for St Peter's outside the walls. Graham who ran the choir had someone to design a badge (above), though letters on a shield are bad heraldry. There were ties for the men, whilst the women had purple gowns. Our services were much appreciated by the Latin Mass Society and we sang at their events several times a year, with visits to London, Arundel, Portsmouth, St Leonards and West Grinstead, amongst other places.

The bishop was niggardly in his consent, given under the 1971 Indult which permitted the celebration of Mass in the 1962 Tridentine Rite, and one has to ask why? The Masses were generally at inconvenient times and at places that were not easy to reach, and consequently they were not well attended. It was only a few determined souls that made their way to these events, but those that did were consistent in their support.

Relieved of the necessity to prepare music every Sunday, we were able to devote time to expanding our repertoire. The choir continued for about fifteen years. Graham retired and his place was taken by the organist Ron, who, like many organists, was less good with the singers. He died young and was replaced by Teresa, who also died young. Her funeral was conducted at St Mary Magdalen's Church by Mary Berry herself - a great honour. After that, Reg took over. He took a more academic approach and got us to pay closer attention to the neum notation in the Graduale Triplex. We also managed to maintain our link with Mary Berry's Schola Gregoriana at Cambridge. By around 2005 we were all getting a bit old to continue as a choir and we reluctantly called it a day.

Then came the election of Pope Benedict and the Motu Proprio of 2007 which revealed that the Tridentine Mass of 1962 had never been abrogated. It is not overstating the matter to say that the universal imposition of the Novus Ordo had been by deceit. We had kept the tradition alive for two decades during its darkest period. In the meantime the Latin Mass Society was no longer a fringe group of elderly diehards. A new generation had taken over as the beauty and deep spirituality of the traditional Catholic liturgy was being re-discovered.

måndag 3 juni 2013

Concert or liturgy?


INTROIT • Cibávit eos ex ádipe fruménti, allelúja (Solesmes) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Yesterday we had a Blessed Sacrament procession through the city, led by the Bishop. As far as I know, it was the first for 75 years. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do this in a country where for centuries it was forbidden to be a Catholic, and at a time when people all over the world are suffering for their Christian faith. For reasons which are particular to Sweden, the Catholic church has not suffered the catastrophic collapse which has led to the implosion which has been experienced throughout most of the western world.

So it seems churlish to complain about the liturgy, but since the near- collapse of the church in so many countries today began with the collapse of the liturgy forty years ago, if one is concerned about the future of the church one should be aware of what is happening in the liturgy. If things continue on their current path, the present happy situation could prove to be a flash in the pan.

Being about one-third of the way back in the Protestant church used for the occasion as the Catholic church is too small, (though cause for celebration in itself), I actually saw next to nothing. The altar was too low and too far forward, the church presumably having being re-ordered in imitation of the changes made to Catholic churches after the second Vatican Council. Unless they are sitting in the first half dozen rows, those in the congregation will be looking at the heads in front of them. Nor were things helped because the Bishop preached from the sanctuary instead of using the fine raised pulpit put there for the purpose.

My real criticism, however, was the music. Some thought it was beautiful. I was quite impressed with some of it. It was the choice that was wrong - an eclectic mixture which failed to add up to a coherent whole. It was was more of a concert than a liturgy and gave the impression that its main purpose was to demonstrate the prowess of the choir. If you knew what actually should and could be sung on this feast day, you would have been left with a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. This is more than a question of artistic judgement or preference or taste. It is about the propagation of the faith into the future.

The service began with Parry's "I was glad", a piece of Anglican bombast written for the coronation of King George V at Westminster Abbey in 1911. I don't like the piece for its harmonies and tonality and felt a sense of relief when it was over, but that is only part of the point. It should not have been sung at all. It did not belong. Nor did some of the other pieces that were sung.

The service ought to have started with the Introit for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Cibavit Eos (above). The Latin text is: Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, alleluia. Et de petra melle saturavit eos, alleluia. (Psalm 81) Exultate Deo adiutori nostro, Iubilate Deo Iacob. The translation is "He fed them with the finest wheat flour: and with honey from the rock, and they were satisfied, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Rejoice in God our helper: sound the trumpet to the God of Jacob."

This captures the essence of the feast day. It is then reinforced by the great compositions written for the feast day by St Thomas Aquinas:  the sequence Lauda Sion, of which just a fragment was sung in Swedish, and the processional hymn Pange Lingua, which was not sung at all.

These pieces are integral to the liturgy for the day. They have an important catechetical function. They are a means by which the people gain an understanding of the nature of the Blessed Sacrament, which lies at the core of Catholic belief. The music is beautiful. It is not difficult to sing. Other appropriate music would have been Ave Verum Corpus - the Elgar, Mozart and Byrd settings are quite easy, and Farrant's O Sacrum Convivium.  There is no excuse for not singing the right music on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

If this were an isolated incident I would not be making this comment but this is a general pattern: we get fine music which is out of place. It destroys the coherent structure and integrity of the liturgy. In the short term it is just an irritation. In the long term it will dissolve the church as people lose their sense of the theology it is presenting. It needs to stop. The clergy need to take charge and insist that on the correct liturgy, the starting point being the Graduale Romanum.

It would help, too, if there was a wider celebration of the Tridentine Rite, which specific about what may, and may not be sung. Priests should ensure that their parishioners get to hear the Mass in this form a few times a year. Feast days such as yesterday's would provide a good opportunity. If they did that, priests would also have to make sure that congregations were familiar with the structure of the Tridentine Mass, through instruction of their parishioners and Catechumens, notes in the parish newsletter and on the web site, and by using the Roman Canon regularly in the vernacular Novus Ordo Mass so that the people know what the texts meant.

The Novus Ordo and Tridentine forms of the Mass need not be mutually exclusive. The Novus Ordo can have an important didactic function enabling the faithful to experience the more powerful though perhaps less easily accessible signification of the Tridentine form.

torsdag 30 maj 2013

The Feast of Corpus Christi





Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, which was always traditionally on a Thursday, reflecting the fact that the Eucharist was instituted on Holy Thursday. Sadly, we shall not be celebrating the feast today as it has been shifted to the Sunday. That breaks loses the connection. It is also a pity to lose these weekday feasts and hopefully it will one day be shifted back to its proper day. Here are the Introit, Sequence and Communion for the Feast, together with the beautiful Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd.

We are having a special Mass and procession on Sunday. That is an excellent thing. It would be an even better thing if this, the correct music for the feast day, were sung then, and that it was not diluted by music which really did not belong to the feast day or to the Catholic liturgy at all. One lives in hope.

The interview below by Fr Guy Nicholls of the London Oratory puts this clearly.

tisdag 21 maj 2013

Saying the Rosary without falling asleep

The pilgrimage from Skänninge to Vadstena  Saying the Rosary is a good way to get to sleep. In fact, I normally fall asleep when trying to say the Rosary. I rarely get past the first decade. There is something in favour of this if you are trying to sleep. It is safer than tablets, and if it did not work you will have prayed the Rosary, so you win either way, but it is not the point of the prayer. I have now found a solution to the problem.

On Ascension Day I went with a group to Skänninge and after Mass in the church there, we walked to Vadstena, about 12 miles away. Ending at the shrine of St Birgitta, this was a pilgrimage organised by Kardinal Dante-Sällskapet, which was set up by priests from the Institute of Christ the King (IKC) to promote the Tridentine Mass in Sweden; it has the support of the Bishop. Fader Marcus Künkell led the pilgrimage, and on the way, we prayed all fifty decades of the Rosary. So there was no falling asleep even though it was after lunch. The conclusion is to say the prayer whilst walking, which is presumably one of the uses to which monastic cloisters were put.

I learned one further thing. IKC are keen on Latin and so we prayed the Rosary in Latin. It took a while to remember without having to look at the paper sheets with the text on, which had been handed out. Now I have never been too keen on the Rosary in English. One difficulty is that it is too easily said in an Irish accent, or worse still, a parody of an Irish accent. There is also the difficulty with the word "hail" which is what Londoners to when they want to pick up a taxi in the street.

Then I took the trouble to learn it in Swedish but now it has been changed and I cannot remember the new translation. I do not go along with the idea that God only understands prayers if they are said in Latin, or Hebrew or some other special language, but the Latin does have a particular quality which is certainly of help to the one saying the prayer. I recommend giving it a try. The Latin text of the Rosary, the Fatima prayers and the prayers to St Michael can be found here. Future-proof your prayers by saying them in Latin.

fredag 17 maj 2013

I was glad - no alternative to Parry?

I have been complaining lately about the scarcity of Catholic music in the Catholic church locally. I was accused of being small minded and that anyway there was no alternative.

Parry's "I was glad" is to be sung soon at a forthcoming event. This was written for the Coronation of King George V in 1911. It radiates British imperialist bombast in the highest degree. There is a softer setting by Purcell but that was written for the Coronation of King William III in 1695, so it too is hardly suitable for a Catholic liturgy.

"I was glad" is the psalm Laetatus sum. A search on YouTube returned three thousand hits, including lovely settings by Haydn, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Zelenka, Gorczycki, Michael Haydn, Alessandro Scarlatti, Willaert, to name just a few of the better known composers. There is also, of course, a Gregorian chant setting of the psalm.

No alternative to the Parry? Hardly. But why exactly are we ignoring the treasure in our attic? Have we forgotten it is there?


England's second Reformation - on the ground

This was originally a response to a posting on Fr Blake's blog. Eamon Duffy's "The Stripping of the Altars", dealing with the sixteenth century Reformers in England, has a resonance with events within the Catholic church in the 1980s.

Following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, there was little change in the sound of Catholic liturgy. Organisations such as the Association for Latin Liturgy were established to encourage the continuing use of Latin within the Novus Ordo Mass. During the mid-1980s, however, the use of Latin dwindled, mostly on the initiative of a new generation of priests.

This was largely against the wishes of the laity, since the abolition of Latin in the liturgy would normally result in the immediate loss of about one-third of the congregation, who would then migrate to neighbouring parishes. The process was then repeated when these neighbouring parishes in turn lost their Latin liturgy with the arrival of a new incumbent.

Eventually there was usually nowhere left for them to go unless they lived in one of the large cities and could travel to one of the few remaining parishes where Novus Ordo Masses were celebrated in Latin. Thus, in the end, the characteristic Latin Rite Catholic sound was rarely to be heard.

Locally in the Brighton and Hove area, this is exactly what happened, first at St Peter's Hove when Fr Dickerson retired in 1983, then at St Mary Magdalen's when Fr Flanaghan died in 1990, and finally at Sacred Heart, where Monsignor Stonehill and then Fr Mario had held the fort for so long.

All this was under pressure from the bishop. The principle of "Lex orandi, lex credendi" ie the signifier becomes the signified, means that this amounts to a determined attempt at destruction of faith. From within.

onsdag 15 maj 2013

Post Modernism and Catholicism

Punk Girl #1 by Elmar Eye
Punk Girl #1, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
In his sermon last Sunday, a local priest put his finger on what must be an important factor in the decline of the Catholic church in Europe. He said that the Second Vatican Council addressed the modern world just as it was moving into the era of Post Modernism. Post Modernism grew out of, amongst other things, the understanding of signs and symbols, through the work of people such as Levi Strauss and Sperber during the 1960s.

The first fruits of this were to be seen in fashion and music, in the Punk movement, which was about the recycling and re-use of signs. It was quickly picked up by, amongst others, the American architect Robert Venturi who wrote an influential book, best known under its revised title "Learning from Las Vegas", published in 1977. This knocked the supports away from the architectural movement known as Modernism, which had come to prominence just before World War 2 and dominated architectural theory until challenged by the Post Modernists such as Venturi.

The irony is that the Catholic church, through its liturgical reforms, deprived itself of much of the language needed to talk to this Post Modern world, just as it was coming into existence. To understand the implications of this, ask yourself where would the Freemasons be if they abandoned their richly symbolic ceremonies?

In the light of this, it is no accident that in UK and here in Sweden, the only growth point in the Catholic church is around the old liturgy, where young people are being converted from atheism. The lesson needs to be learned and acted on.

What should church choirs be singing?

The purpose of a church choir is to sing the music of the church to which it is attached. When people join they expect to sing that music - not, for instance, Irish folk songs. The limitations are part of the deal. If they want to sing Irish folk songs as well then they can join, or set up, another choir that specialises in that.

If you join an Anglican church choir you can expect to spend most of your time singing the characteristic Anglican repertoire - Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell, Blow, S S Wesley, Goss, Walmisley, Stainer, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Howells and probably something unpleasant and difficult to sing, by the current resident organist who fancies himself as another Bach. The main services being Matins and Evensong, an Anglican chorister will have to master the technique of Anglican chant. Put that all together in a large vaulted stone building with timber choir stalls and an organ with a solid diapason and you have the authentic Anglican sound which you can hear at a couple of dozen cathedrals from Truro in the south to Durham in the north.

Until the late 1970s in England at least, there was also a characteristic Roman Catholic sound consisting of Gregorian chant with background organ harmonisation, from, eg the Solemnes accompaniments, some polyphony eg Victoria, Palestrina, etc, and the odd more recent piece by, eg Bruckner, Elgar or Duruffle. From a reading of Sacrocanctum Conciilium it is clear that there was never any intention of obliterating this tradition but that is what happened, so that it is only preserved at establishments such as the London Oratory and, more recently, those few parishes where the "Extraordinary Form" has become the main Sunday celebration.

An independent choir can of course sing whatever it likes, though people would naturally want to have a fair idea of the scope of its repertoire before they thought about joining. A choir set up to concentrate on English Tudor church music would be unhappy if it suddenly found itself having to cope with new pieces with continual key changes, accidentals and sour discords.

The BBC Radio 3 programme "Choral Evensong", available on BBC iPlayer, is an excellent coverage of the range of contemporary church music. It is broadcast every Wednesday at around 15.30 and repeated on Sunday afternoons.

måndag 13 maj 2013

Is there such a thing as Catholic music?

Is there such a thing as Catholic music? The question arose because I argued that pieces from Bach's St Matthew's Passion, fine though they were, had no place in the Catholic liturgy. Did this mean that music written by non-Catholics should be excluded? I was accused of being narrow-minded for making such a suggestion.

Surely music used in the Catholic liturgy should be music that was written for the purpose? The Catholic liturgy is not a concert, nor is it a performance. First and foremost, it is prayer. It is not as if there is a shortage of suitable music. In the case of the Good Friday liturgy, for which the St Matthew's Passion piece was suggested, there are, for instance, the well-know Allegri's Miserere and the recent composition by MacMillan.
Another version by Lotti


Adoremus te Christe by Palestrina

Another version by Monteverdi

Crux Fidelis by King John of Portugal

There is wonderful but rarely heard music written for the purpose which is an integral part of the Catholic heritage, yet rarely heard. Surely this should take precedence in the Catholic liturgy over music written for the Lutheran liturgy and which is regularly performed? But an important reason for not using Protestant music is that it is infused with the spirit of Protestantism. There is fine music written for the Anglican church by composers such as Orlando Gibbons, Purcell, Blow, Pelham Humphrey, Weelks, etc. I have a collection of it on my i-Pod but I would not suggest it belongs in the Catholic liturgy, especially if it squeezes out music that was written for the purpose.

Post Modernism and the Second Vatican Council

I heard an interesting sermon this morning. The point made was that "the Second Vatican Council set out to address the problems of Modernism and the rationality that characterised it, but that Modernism itself was soon to be supplanted by Post-Modernism, which is characterised by disorder and chaos, if anything at all."

This could explain a great deal. The liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council, at their best, led to a liturgy of rationalism. If this is the case, then it is not surprising that the only real growth point within the contemporary Catholic church in Europe is within the Traditionalist movement, for the traditional Catholic liturgy alone is able to reach the dark corners of the human psyche that lurk beneath the surface of rationality.

It was the acknowledgement of the existence of these dark corners that brought about the collapse of Modernism and led to the birth of Post Modernism. There is a fine irony in the notion that traditional Catholic practice, with its rich symbolic vocabulary, is able to engage in the Post Modern cultural environment, whilst the Vatican Council reforms left the Catholic church deprived of the ability to enter contemporary discourse in any meaningful way.

I hope our bishops are noticing.

lördag 11 maj 2013

Gregorian chant - four lines or five?

I have had a reply to a Facebook discussion, arguing that setting Gregorian chant in modern notation will encourage congregations to sing it. I don't know where this idea has come from that people can sing Gregorian chant more easily from modern notation which they are used to. I have looked to see if there is any research on the subject and have found none. Most people of course cannot read music at all and even those that can, cannot sing from a score but have to learn the tune and use the score just as an aid-memoire - which is what I and the majority of choir members do. I cannot even recognise music that I have sung for 40 years when it is set in modern notation.

If people are not used to reading from musical scores they get used to Gregorian notation more easily - I could not read music at all and began with the Gregorian notation and then MOVED ON TO modern notation when it was required. Gregorian notation is best for beginners, and for those that are used to modern notation it takes about ten minutes to explain how Gregorian notation works.

The point then is that the 4-line notation is 20% easier to read for a start because the lines are further apart and it is easier to pick a note from four lines rather than five. And in most cases one of the lines is completely redundant because Gregorian music does not extend over the range provided a five line stave. It is also the case that people like to decide where to pitch their doh, by agreement between them, depending on the state of their voices and the weather, etc. One the music is written out to a definite pitch, choir directors tend to use that as a weapon and refuse to make accommodation to people's wishes. A further issue is that the Gregorian notation indicates the shape of the music phrases, and so it is easier to recognise music and phrases within the music, that one has sung before.

A further issue is that there are variations in the dynamics of the music that are not indicated in modern notation eg the difference between square notes and diamonds. These are critical to the sound. Without them, the characteristic "wave" quality of the music does not come out and the music sounds flat and boring, which gets it a bad reputation.

That is not all. If modern notation is used, it takes up more space, and also spreads the text out along the lines in separate syllables. It is then no longer possible to apprehend it as text, which is disastrous seeing that it is the text that is important and the music is essentially ornamentation of the text to give emphasis to certain words and phrases.

måndag 6 maj 2013

What is a Catholic church choir for?


At our choir in Hove we used to sing an old hymn, with a dreary tune and well over-the-top words by the Ultramontane Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster, called "Full in the panting heart of Rome". It must be the ultimate in Catholic kitsch music. "Panting hearts", as we called it, became a standing joke, but then it was probably done as a joke in the first place. I suspect that the original Catholic triumphalist text was tongue-in-cheek, as the music came from the Calvinist Scottish psalter. We would laugh about it in the pub afterwards. We did not give up singing just because we did not like the music now and again.

However, I gave up on the current choir a couple of weeks ago, and that was for the reason that the choir director had got the idea into his head that I was a bass singer, and there was nothing that I could say that would change his mind.

It simply does not do to push singers into music that is physically difficult for them to sing. It is perfectly possible for a singer to work slightly out of his or her normal range but the trouble arises when this has to be done repeatedly, for example during rehearsals. Then they will end up with a sore throat. Unfortunately, the problem was compounded because this director's rehearsal style was to carry on with repeating the same piece of music over and over and over again, until voices were strained, tempers were frayed, and the choir members were thoroughly sick of hearing it - which he didn't seem to have noticed.

Following all of this, I received a nice letter from the director of the choir thanking me for my services and suggesting that the real reason I left the choir was his choice of the music. It is perfectly true that I did not like his choice of music, but I would not have given up for that reason. As a choir member you expect from time to time to have to sing things that you will dislike, though you pick your choir on the basis that it sings the type of music you want to sing. You laugh off the odd nasty, as we did last year with the contemporary Swedish composer Ulf Samuelsson who has a predeliction for writing sugary stuff garnished with discords that taste sour in the mouth.

But since the matter of the choice of music was raised, it is worth exploring. One joins a choir to sing the type of music for which the choir was established, just as one goes to, say a sushi restaurant to eat suchi and would not be well pleased to be served up with eggs and bacon.

In the case of a Catholic church choir, one expects to sing Catholic church music. This is not a matter to be settled by the choir director's preferences or a democratic consensus. Most of it is, or should be, predictable. There is little scope for choice or discussion.

Catholic church music must be chosen in accordance with the principles laid down in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document that was issued after the Second Vatican Council. Thus, the texts would, for a start, include the Latin propers, if possible sung to the tunes given in the Graduale Romanum, or in psalm tone if the correct tunes were too difficult for the choir. There might be some polyphony, again, depending on the abilities of the choir. The choir would lead the congregation in the singing of the Ordinary of the Mass, again, normally in Latin, according to the season. It would expect to be singing most Sundays and festival days, and, ideally, it would be available for weddings and funerals.

If the Entrance Antiphon is sung, as it should be since it forms part of the readings, the Mass provides just three other occasions for singing, at the Offertory and Communion, and at the recessional. Whilst congregational hymns might be chosen, in practice, people are seated at the Offertory and Communion and are not going to sing with any enthusiasm or vigour. Besides which, at the Offertory congregations are fumbling in their wallets or purses, and at the Communion, they are not in their places or are meditating after having received the Sacrament, so neither time is appropriate for singing. So the Offertory and Communion are good opportunities for the choir to sing. Panting Hearts can come at the end as light relief.

What is highly questionable is whether there is any place for music of Lutheran, Anglican or Nonconformist origin in the Catholic liturgy? There is no denying that it is popular, and some of it of high quality, but music does not exist in the abstract. It carries values and beliefs, and Protestant music carries Protestant values and beliefs. In the case of Lutheran music, it was carefully conceived to put across the notion that it was NOT-Catholic. It really needs to be weeded out from the Catholic liturgy. The same applies to hymns of Anglican origin written in the later nineteenth century, which carry the values of British Empire triumphalism.

Directors of Catholic choirs need to be aware of these nuances.

torsdag 2 maj 2013

How to do it

The Pilgrimage to Vadstena by Elmar Eye
The Pilgrimage to Vadstena, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
The Bishop of Stockholm, a Carmelite, came to Göteborg today and gave a talk about how Pope John Paul II had been influenced by Carmelite spirituality. He referred in particular to St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and the spiritual significance and value of the Dark Night of the Soul.

He did things the right way too - with a celebration of Mass and a ten minute sermon, and a 50 minute lecture after the Mass. We also had the opportunity for a buffet supper afterwards which was an enjoyable social occasion.

söndag 28 april 2013

Some things can not be improved


RT2240, originally uploaded by jon jon be good.
Some things can not be improved. One example is the RT bus. Introduced in London in 1939, and the standard London bus after the war, the type remained in service until 1979. A perfect marriage of form and function, there is nothing about it that could be added or taken away which would make it any better. It looks good from every angle. Faultless detailing and clean lines are enhanced by the simple livery and the LONDON TRANSPORT logotype on the side, in gold letters in the special Johnston typeface.

The same can be said of the Tridentine Mass. In comparison, the Novus Ordo Mass is like one of those clumsy rear-engine jobs which weighs over half as much again, but without a corresponding increase in the number of seats, and with a fuel consumption to match its bloated weight.

Mass this morning

fUnnerstal-preview by Nerammah
fUnnerstal-preview, a photo by Nerammah on Flickr.
Mass this morning looked more or less like this. Thanks to Pope Benedict and his document Summorum Pontificum, and thanks to our parish priest who took the initiative, we can, and do, have an Extraordinary Form Mass every Sunday, unfortunately at 8.00 am, which is hard when the mornings are dark and cold, and a difficult time for working people with families. There were about a couple of dozen people in the church, some of them regular weekday attenders. Unfortunately too, there was no opportunity for coffee afterwards so everyone just went straight home without talking to each other. The Mass was accompanied by discreet organ playing, though looking around at who was present, it could with preparation have been sung instead of said.

There is a different atmosphere in the church. The action is simple and uncluttered. The sense of flow is smooth and quiet There is a stronger sense of presence. One is not straining to hear words which are hard, sometimes impossible, to hear anyway because of the acoustics, the public address system, and people's dialects and unclear diction.

It would be an excellent thing if some of the weekday evening Masses were said in this form, so that an increasing number of parishioners had the chance to get used to it. At some time in the future, the use of the EF form could then be extended to feast days and to some of the main Sunday morning sung High Masses.

If the church is to flourish and grow, the use of this form of the liturgy must be a key element in its evangelistic efforts.

lördag 20 april 2013

Are we Recusants?

In Elizabethan England, a stubborn minority refused to convert to the Protestant religion but remained Catholics. One of these was the famous composer William Byrd, who nevertheless somehow managed to hold on to his position as Court composer. Many were tried and executed. Others fled to the continent or suffered a persecution as severe as many in twentieth-century communist regimes. Another composer, who became a refugee, was Peter Philips, who in 1593 found himself imprisoned in the Hague under allegations of being involved in a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth. He was one of the great Tudor composers of keyboard music and vocal polyphony.

It sometimes feels as if contemporary Catholics are in a similar situation. It is not through persecution outside the church, from which point it is largely regarded as an irrelevancy, but from the inside, from the clergy and hierarchy. I have just resigned from the parish choir because a stubborn and not very perceptive new choir master got it into his head that I should start singing bass, after nearly forty years singing as a tenor. I agreed to give it a try, just for the fun of it, but quickly ended up with a sore throat after rehearsals and found that I could not reliably sound the tunes in my head at the lower bass notes. Unfortunately he didn't get the message when I mentioned the problem so I took direct action and just sang an octave higher, at which point he told me to sing at the lower pitch. Not wanting to have a quarrel in front of everyone, I just left quietly.

The choir director had taken over the choir at the start of the year in circumstances which should never have arisen. It was always going to be a difficult task for a new director to follow in the footsteps of the previous one. He quickly proved not to be up to the task, upset most of the members of the choir for different reasons and was, I have to say, the worst I have encountered in three decades of singing in choirs. The vacant post should have been advertised and the candidates and choir given the opportunity to meet each other.

I am not altogether sorry because although it was a Catholic church choir, the amount of genuine Catholic church music it sung, ie Latin Gregorian Chant and Polyphony, was minimal. There is, in the parish, a determination to include in every Mass a good helping of music that is definitely not Catholic. The predominant sound is Protestant, with hymns mostly of Lutheran, Anglican or English Nonconformist origin - with the odd bit of Catholic music thrown in as a sop to keep people like me quiet. As a result it feels like a Protestant church, worse, in fact, because the mixture creates a sense of confusion and incoherence.

There is nothing wrong with Protestant church music and some of it is very beautiful and intensely moving. But it is imbued with the spirit of Protestantism, which is exactly why it was written the way it was, and that is before taking into account its Protestant associations. It should be kept firmly out at the door.

When, added to that are the practices of celebrating Mass always in the vernacular, facing the people, standing in a queue for communion and then receiving it in the hand, whilst still standing, and the near-disappearance of Confession, what is the end result? Catholicism Lite. Which it would be very difficult to distinguish from Lutheranism or middle-of-the-road-Anglicanism, except that the latter in particular generally make a better job of the actual celebration of the Liturgy than is customary in Catholic churches.

torsdag 18 april 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 6

Demolition job
Soon after Fr Dickerson retired, the other priest were moved away. If I recall correctly, Fr van der Most and Fr Benyon had gone by then and Fr Mark Elvins was curate. He went to St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton and Fr Michael Reynell was brought in to St Peter's from West Byfleet, where he had imposed the full panoply of changes following the Second Vatican Council. He was accompanied by an elderly priest as curate.

The first thing to go was the Ad Orientem celebration of Mass (true east at St Peters), followed by most of the Latin - ie the responses and the Canon. This left just the Ordinary and the Proper in Latin. By the standards of today, that would be considered a respectable proportion of Latin, but the changes annoyed the congregration and it annoyed the choir, partly because the liturgy kept swapping languages in a messy way. The parish shed about one-third of its members pretty much immediately. Presumably some of them migrated to the neighbouring parishes of Sacred Heart and St Mary Magdalens, which were still holding out against the unwanted changes. They too were to go the same way within a decade, and after that there was nowhere left.

The parishioners begged the priest to leave things as they were but to no avail. He soon gained the nickname Obadiah, as in Rev. Obadiah Slope, a character in the Trollope novel Barchester Towers. A few weeks after his arrival there was a hostile meeting between Father and the choir in the choir loft, in which it was obvious that there would be no room for compromise. Tempers rose and one choir member called him a worm. This stuck, because he must have told his fellow clergy of the incident, and if they had to see him (he also held the office of Dean), they would say "I'm off to see the wur'rum."

Letters to the bishop, Cormac Murphy O'Connor were of no avail either. "Nothing to do with me, Guv", was the bishop's response, in the same tone as would be used by a local British Rail manager in reply to a complaint about an epidemic of cancelled trains. Of course it was everything to do with the bishop but he did not want to admit responsibility. The other priest (I think he was called Fr Paul), was more than sympathetic but could do nothing.

Nevertheless, things continued in much the same vein for three years or so, with the introduction of Protestant metrical hymns at a few points, first and last verses only. The son of the choirmistress took charge. His full-time job was as tenant of the Bedford Tavern, a popular pub in the middle of Brighton, and he had the engaging habit of handing round Jaegermeister miniatures at the start of the Sunday rehearsals, in case anyone had a hangover from the night before.

For some reason, Fr Michael had an objection to Marian hymns at the Offertory and these was a source of tension at first, though eventually we got to know his foibles. Further conflict was avoided but there was always an underlying animosity in both directions.

The axe came three years later, when numbers attending Mass had dwindled to the point when the 11.00 Latin Mass and the 12.00 Folk Mass could be merged. The two groups of musicians were then told that their services would no longer be required.

With the opposition thus despatched, the church building then became the subject of a determined attack. The original marble altar and altar rails dating from 1915 were smashed up and replaced by a dull array consisting of chair, altar and altar, sufficiently in keeping to get the approval of the local planning authority, at a cost of £30,000, a hefty sum in the 1980s. This was in the days when ecclesiastical buildings were exempt from planning control and at that time the church was not included on the list of protected buildings of architectural and historic interest. This did not happen until much later, and partly as a result of the years of rampant and unchecked clerical vandalism.

For the choir, however, it was a new beginning. We refused to be silenced and were unanimous in our determination to continue. The choir took the name of SPEM, the accusative form of spes, meaning hope, and standing for St Peter's outside the walls.

onsdag 17 april 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 5

July 1978 saw me back in Hove and singing with the choir at St Peter's, Portland Road. It was a stable choir in a stable situation. Most of the time was necessarily spent learning the music for the following Sunday High Mass, which was all in Latin apart from the sermon and readings. There were three priests, the ageing Fr Dickerson and his two curates, the Dutchman Fr van der Most and the young Fr Chris Benyon. The latter had encouraged the setting up of a folk group which sang at the 12 o'clock Mass, accompanied by guitars. I think Fr Dickerson gritted his teeth but the ruling principle was live-and-let-live.

We slowly increased our repertoire with some polyphony, including pieces by Palestrina. A few people left when they moved away from the area, and a few joined when they arrived from somewhere else. The music consisted mostly of the Gregorian Chant Ordinaries and the Propers, sung to psalm tones. The choirmistress tried to vary these from the usual tone 8g which it is tempting to stick to all the time. We also learned the correct Introits for the main feast days: Christmas, Easter, Ascension; Pentecost; Trinity; Corpus Christi; St Peter and St Paul; Assumption; All Saints, and a few others.

The guiding principle was to do simple things and do them well. The music was chosen so as just to stretch the ability of the choir, which had the reputation of being one of the best Gregorian chant choirs in the Diocese. We rehearsed once a week from 8.00 to 9.30 and then retired to the pub. On Sundays we would arrive an hour before the start of Mass to warm up our voices and have a final run-through. This was in the church hall and the choirmistress smoked most of the time, often singing between, and even during, drags.

I do not recall the choir ever being expected to sing music that people did not like, in part because when it comes to Gregorian chant, the music is the music and like and dislikes do not come into the matter. Singing the music is a task to be done, just as the priest has to say Mass. Likes and dislikes began to enter into the equation with the introduction of the vernacular and new music to go with it, but as this had not happened at St Peter's, we could just get on with doing what was required.

A new bishop, Cormac Murphy O'Connor, was installed in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, and he must have leaned on the priest, to say Mass facing the people, as a new movable altar was added, for use during the week. This was similar in general appearance to the original altar and placed just in front of it. It cramped the sanctuary and gave a strange double-vision effect, but it was put to the side for the main Sunday Mass so nobody minded too much.

The Parish Priest was not as fearsome as he seemed at first impression and he took both choirs out to dinner at a country hotel once a year, as a token of his appreciation. Fr Dickerson retired just before the Summer holidays, in July 1983, giving a memorable farewell speech. Naively, nobody really expected any significant change. After all, things in the parish were running smoothly, with well-established traditions which could have continued in the same way for decades. The liturgy was set up so that there was something to suit all tastes. We could not have been more wrong. We had underestimated the wrecking skills of the bishop.

söndag 14 april 2013

Organ failure

Lincoln College organ by Elmar Eye
Lincoln College organ, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
Music in the chapel at Lincoln College, Oxford used to be supplied by this modest organ by Harrison and Harrison of Durham, but was replaced in 2010 by a new one by William Drake. The old one was a bit undersized and the sound would die from lack of air if too many of the stops were pulled. When I was a student at the college I used to enjoy listening to my friend playing Bach. He was a chemistry student from Shipley and a really good player.

Our own parish church acquired a second-hand organ that was probably originally in a much larger building. It can sound impressive. It can also be a hazard, especially for the choir if it is played too loud when they are trying to sing, which unfortunately it often is. Then they can't compete and end up with sore throats. Worse still, the sound levels can exceed the recommended safety limits.

7 Hz weapon
The organist also has a taste for discords, especially in the bass register. These sound unpleasant. A sound similar to that of a crying baby, or an air raid siren, will arouse feelings of fear and dislike through association and memory, which might be considered a cultural response. It is not just a matter of taste or personal preference, though that comes into the picture. Our feelings of distaste are a biological response. Low frequency discords create infrasound as beat frequencies. Two notes played together in the lower octaves will generate infrasound in the range of 4 Hz to 15 Hz, where people are not even consciously aware of it. The frequency of 7 Hz is notorious. A vehicle designer once told me that it was important to avoid creating structures - railway carriages, for instance - with a resonant frequency of 7 Hz, as it would make passengers feel sick. The same frequency has been mentioned in connection with a US weapons programme, using infrasound at this frequency.

'Acoustic Trauma: Bioeffects of Sound,' by Alex Davies states that the most profound effects at this infrasonic level occur at 7 Hz , which "corresponds with the median alpha-rhythm frequencies of the brain. It is also commonly alleged that this is the resonant frequency of the body's organs and hence organ rupture and death can occur at high-intensity exposures."

In one UK study, it was found that the extreme bass frequencies instilled strange feelings at a concert hall. Effects were "extreme sense of sorrow, coldness, anxiety, and even shivers down the spine." [source; Organ Music Instills Religious Feelings,' by Jonathan Amos, 9/8/2003]

7 Hz infrasound can be produced on an organ by playing at the same time the C below middle C and the C# a semitone above (130.8 and 138.5 Hz). In lower octaves still, for example on the pedal organ, the disturbing infrasound frequency can easily be generated by playing certain chords, in which case the amplitudes will be much higher due to the greater energy in the lower registers with their long pipes. Bottom A and C# are a very unpleasant chord. I wonder if the organist knows this and does it deliberately? I would expect that this piece of information is well known amongst the organ playing fraternity.

An organist at Brompton Oratory used be able to clear the large church in about half a minute by playing the appropriate music. It was more effective than a fire alarm. People made a dash for the exit, probably without realising why. Perhaps this is one reason why I have developed a distaste for my local parish church.

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