Thursday, June 21, 2018

Is Nothing (or Anything) Sacred?

June is the month that is most closely associated with weddings. Don't ask me why. But while we're on the subject, let's talk about the possibility of secular music at sacred occasions.

In particular, let's set our sights on one particular piece of music, the favorite or whipping boy of choice when Catholic weddings are planned, “The Wedding Song” originally composed by Noel Paul Stookey (the party of the second part in Peter, Paul, and Mary). A growing number of parishes and dioceses are forbidding its use, because it is a popular music selection, which is to say, secular music, making it inappropriate for sacred use.

So, if you never heard it on the radio or anywhere else, but you heard it at your friend’s wedding, you’d say: “Duuude, that’s not sacred music, that’s a pop song!”

Or would you?

You see, I don’t think people take that position with this song because their disapproval has any merit. I think they take that position because most guitarists suck at it. They don’t play it even close to the way Stookey composed it. As you can hear in the first video, his own performance at a 1986 concert, you probably don’t hear it sound like that anywhere else.

And there’s a reason.

Behind The Music

But first, some background on the song, from the “Shout Music Factory” YouTube channel.

”Wedding Song (There Is Love)" is a song written by Noel Paul Stookey in the fall of 1969 and first performed at the wedding of Peter Yarrow - Stookey's co-member of Peter, Paul and Mary - to Mary Beth McCarthy at St Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar MN: Stookey was best man at the ceremony which took place in the evening of October 18, 1969.

Stookey had written the song on a midnight flight between PP&M concert dates in San Jose and Boston setting out to write a song for Yarrow's wedding which would convey Stookey's Christian convictions while respecting Yarrow's Jewish faith.

According to Stookey, "the melody and the words [of 'Wedding Song'] arrived simultaneously and in response to a direct prayer asking God how the divine could be present at Peter's wedding." (The first two lines of the song's second verse: "A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home/ And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one", is largely a paraphrase of the text of Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.") Believing he could not take personal credit for composing "The Wedding Song", Stookey set up the Public Domain Foundation which since 1971 has received the song's songwriting royalties for charitable distribution.

So, everybody can relax, no one is making a living off this little ditty, are they? Try claiming that about the stable of artists at Oregon Catholic Press, which for nearly half a century has succeeded in dumbing down the music programs for more than half the parishes in the United States. (There’s a secret to how they do it, and my Very Close Personal Friend Jeffrey Tucker explains it all for you.)

The song doesn't celebrate those who hear it, and not really the bridal couple. Whatever one thinks of it, the song celebrates how God is love, with the scriptural references to bring the point home.

Behind The Details

I was certain that Stookey played it in an alternate tuning (that is, a tuning other than E A D G B E, from sixth to first strings), which was the only explanation for its very modal quality. I was surprised to learn that, other than tuning the guitar down three half-steps (Db F# B E G# Db), or four half-steps (C F Bb Eb G C), depending on who you ask, standard tuning and chording is applied. It’s how he takes it from there (as seen in the second video by some anonymous guy who actually doesn't suck at it) that sets it apart from all the wannabes. There are plenty of websites that have the tablature to show how it’s really done, so you have no excuse to play it badly.

To put it another way, you have no excuse to suck at it.

It also doesn't hurt that Stookey uses a twelve-string guitar, both in the original recording and in the live stage example shown here. We all know at least one guy who plays only a twelve-string for the sole purpose of sounding more obnoxious than the next guy in a jam session (or at the parish "folk Mass"), but they really do serve a specific purpose in adding an additional texture, especially with picking or fingerpicking styles (as opposed to the average flattop flogger who should either invest in a six-string, or just stay home).

Roma Locuta, Causa Finita

Let's put the hit parade aside for a moment. What does the Church say about sacred music? Quite a bit, actually. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1963, says that music for sacred worship must serve "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful." (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112) Further, the 1967 instruction on sacred music in the liturgy, Musicam Sacram, states that it must "be holy, and therefore avoid everything that is secular," and further, that such criterion must be "universal" in its understanding. In other words, it must not be subject to the passing whims of popular culture and fashion.

Most important, inasmuch as lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing, in other words, as we pray, so we believe), the words of the composition must be doctrinally sound. It must serve, and not offend, the Truths of the Faith and the glorification of God.

However ...

Having said this, we could subject many of the English-language hymns of the late 19th and early 20th century to the same scrutiny as luminaries of the 1960s "folk scare." One saccharine example is "Mother At Your Feet Is Kneeling," its composer identified only as "Sister SC," and composed as early as 1929 or as recent as 1952, depending on whom you ask. It was recorded for the popular charts by such crooners as Dennis Day and Bobby Wayne, and can be found in a number of preconciliar (and ostensibly traditional) hymnals.

What is it about sugary sentimentality that was acceptable before the 1960s, that suddenly becomes anathema after the 1960s? If the Psalmist wrote of praising the Lord "with trumpet sound ... with lute and harp ... with timbrel and dance ... with strings and pipe ... with sounding cymbals" (that's Psalm 150; read it and weep, suckas!), is it conceivable that He can be praised with the guitar, the stated preference by the Church for the organ in Sacrosanctum Concilium (120) notwithstanding?

So, Now What?

We may still insist that secular music has no place in a sacred setting. But if a band of monks can hit the Top 40 with an album of Gregorian chant, there’s always that chance of it cutting both ways. There's also that chance that walking the fine line between sacred and profane didn't start with Ray Repp and a bunch of singing nuns. Music is sacred on the basis on its own merits and objective characteristics, not some arbitrary classification of who did it first or how, or in which section at Barnes & Noble you find the recording.

If we want to get people to start making sense in choosing sacred music, it helps to know that to which we are both referring, as well as not referring, don’t you think?

Or don’t you?

(NOTA BENE: The above is proposed by this writer as a gedankenerfahrung, a "thought experiment," and does not take away from his dedication to the restoration of the sacred in Catholic worship, and his active promotion of Gregorian chant, the treasury of sacred polyphony, and the Traditional Latin Mass.)
 

Friday, June 08, 2018

In corde Jesu

.Today, Catholics of the Western tradition celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Outside of devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is none more popular or more identified with the traditional piety of Catholic life than this feast, occurring on Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier feast when a Novena to the Sacred Heart would begin, culminating in the Mass and Office of today.

“Christ’s open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wounded Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love.” (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.” To say the least.

But perhaps the finest explanation of this vision can be found in an episode of The X-Files, a detective series that ran on The Fox Network for nine years, and to this day has a formidable cult following. It is from the series' sixth season and is entitled "Milagro" (6X18), originally airing on April 18, 1999. It seems there were people being murdered by their hearts being removed by hand. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) visited a Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this unsavory fellow who explains the story behind the image to her. A piece of the dialogue, from the mysterious writer named Philip Padgett (John Hawkes), describes a vision:

I often come here to look at this painting. It’s called “My Divine Heart” after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story ... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary ... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart ... and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.

His account portrays an almost sensuous quality to the Saint's reaction to this vision, in a way that one might rarely hear or read anywhere else. It is a sign that perhaps the influence of Christendom has not entirely faded from the popular culture, not to mention images created in tattoo parlors.

A common practice in many Catholic homes until the mid-20th century (including mine), was the "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart," in which the family placed the appropriate image of Christ on the wall, and together recited the necessary prayers, pledging the consecration of the family and the home to Him, in return for special graces. Fisheaters has a good explanation of the whole kit and caboodle, just in case it makes a comeback.


It could happen.
 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Novena: Pentecost

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium.
Amen. Alleluia.


Give them virtue's sure reward;
give them thy salvation, Lord;
give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.


Prayer

Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, And enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V: Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created,

R: And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Oh God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Ghost, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise and to ever rejoice in His consolations, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To view this entire series, click here.)
 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Novena Day 9: The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Da tuis fidelibus
in te confidentibus
sacrum septenarium.


On the faithful, who adore
and confess thee, evermore
in thy sevenfold gift descend.


Meditation

The gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Ghost, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Ghost. These fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.

Prayer

Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits, Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration, may merit to be united eternally with Thee in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Novena Day 8: The Gift of Wisdom

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.


Bend the stubborn heart and will;
melt the frozen, warm the chill;
guide the steps that go astray.


Meditation

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: “Take up thy cross and follow Me, for My yoke is sweet, and My burden light.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all passing joys and satisfactions of the earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Novena Day 7: The Gift of Counsel

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.


Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour thy dew;
wash the stains of guilt away.


Meditation

The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must be done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Novena Day 6: The Gift of Understanding

Sine tuo numine
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.


Where thou art not, man hath naught,
nothing good in deed or thought,
nothing free from taint of ill.


Meditation

Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Ghost, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion. By faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to “walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Novena Day 5: The Gift of Knowledge

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.


O most blessed Light divine,
shine within these hearts of thine,
and our inmost being fill!


Meditation

The gift of Knowledge enables the soul to evaluate created things at their true worth -- in relation to God. Knowledge unmasks the pretense of creatures, reveals their emptiness, and points out their only true purpose as instruments in the service of God. It shows us the loving care of God even in adversity, and directs us to glorify Him in every circumstance of life. Guided by its light, we put first things first, and prize the friendship of God beyond all else. “Knowledge is a fountain of life to him that possesseth it.”

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)