Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Making Assumptions

Today, the Churches of the West celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (while in the East, it is referred to as her "Dormition," or falling asleep). It is a Holyday of Obligation for Catholics of all rites of the Church. It remembers when the Mother of God, the Theotokos, was raised body and soul into Heaven. "Our tainted nature's solitary boast" paved the way for us, that we may one day do likewise in the resurrection on the Last Day. This dogma of the Church was defined and proclaimed infallibly (that is, without error and bound in heaven as on earth, yeah, that's how it works) by His Holiness Pope Pius XII in 1950.*

As readers of this venue are aware (and you both know who you are), I prefer the traditional form of the Roman Mass (the Old Mass, or Tridentine Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass, the juridical understatement rendered as the "Extraordinary Form," or whatever somebody out there wants to call it). I presently sing in the schola cantorum of Saint Rita's Church in Alexandria, Virginia, but tonight was a Low Mass; no singing except for the impromptu opening and closing with the only two Marian hymns the priest knows.

I went anyway. What could go wrong?

I entered the church to discover that Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was in progress and nearing an end before the Mass would begin. The vicar was celebrant for the evening, but alas, there was no entourage of altar servers to assist him, and he was alone. I thought something might be amiss. Fortunately, "Have Cassock And Surplice Will Travel" and I ducked out quickly when it was over, to fetch my vestments waiting in the back seat of my car. Any door I would have entered to the inner sanctum was locked, so I knocked, and the good Father answered, to find me rather glibly asking: "Hey, Father, you look like you could use a hand." He gladly obliged. "Yeah, sure, suit up."

Unlike the reformed liturgy, where as often as not an altar server is viewed as a nuisance unless it's a sung Mass, the older form of Mass with a congregation requires a vested clerk (either an ordained major or minor cleric, or a layman acting in his stead), if only to assist the priest with preparing the Gifts, ringing the bell, and reciting the responses on behalf of the faithful (in the event that the latter are channelling their ancestors from the Penal Days and dare not utter a peep).

Contrary to popular belief, the Low Mass actually requires only one acolyte, being all the priest is entitled to have, with a second acolyte allowed by privilege (albeit one universally indulged).

And so it goes; indeed, so it went ...

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I was blessed for this opportunity. Every boy who has ever knelt before the altar of God, and who subsequently comes of age, should have at least one chance to serve alone, all the more to appreciate the sublime beauty and noble simplicity of being one with the "alter Christus" in ascending the sacred mountain of which the Psalmist wrote.

V: Emítte lucem tuam, et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt, et aduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.

R: Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, and into Thy tabernacles.

V: Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.

R: And I will go in unto the Altar of God: unto God, Who giveth joy to my youth.

Psalm 42(43): 3-4

It is an action that is in union with all those present in the assembly, with the whole Church around the world, indeed, with the Angels and Saints in Heaven. And yet, in the context of the simplest of the Missa Recta, it is an intimate moment between the priest and the one who serves him.

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IMAGE: The Saint Andrew Boys' Choir, Milford, Ohio, December 1966. Yours truly is third from the right.

I can remember in the fifth grade learning the Latin that we were supposed to know. The postconciliar changes had already begun in 1965, but training for altar servers was still as much "old school" as it had ever been. Sister Shiela Marie had us repeat after her, the responses to the priest as she had written them on the board. In my parish, serving the Mass began in the sixth grade, while the fifth graders were confined to Rosary and Benediction every Friday night. Father Steinbicker called out the Mysteries of the Rosary. The servers led the Paters and the Aves, as if our training for the priesthood had already begun.

The old high altar was still holding out against the tide that year, only to be removed the following year, but our training remained the same. Two of us would stumble into the servers' sacristy early on a weekday morning, flip a coin or otherwise decide who got "the bell" (the first acolyte's position on the Epistle side) or "the book" (the second acolyte's position on the Gospel side). The more experienced server usually got the former, unless the coin toss prevailed.

Some of the boys got out of school to do Requiem Masses (funerals) during the week. Some were even picked to do Nuptial Masses (weddings) over the weekend. They usually received gratuities; yeah, they were paid! I was apparently not one of the chosen inner circle, having failed to impress the Sisters of "Charity," even though I was already reading Latin by the third grade. Then in the eighth grade, a few of the neighborhood girls decided to make me lose my composure while in the Communion line. My father upbraided me for this lack of manhood (I was thirteen), and the shame and dishonor I brought upon his noble house.

I stopped serving Mass, lacking the opportunity to earn gratuities, not to mention the aggravation of keeping the old man suitably impressed. I didn't get anywhere near it for fifteen years.

In the more recent fifteen years, the boy who wasn't good enough for weddings and funerals has been a Master of Ceremonies for Traditional Solemn High Masses, has trained dozens of servers, apprenticing emcees, and seminarians, and in the "Ordinary Form," has been a Master of Ceremonies for several bishops, two of them being members of the Sacred College of Cardinals, one of the two having been widely considered "papabile" (Italian more or less for "could be the next pope maybe") in the most recent conclave. Yeah, I wrote about that one already.

Isn't it awesome how the universe eventually achieves its balance in the form of poetic justice?

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Many have seen the famous photo at right, of a Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass), celebrated in the shell-shocked remains of the Cologne Cathedral in the aftermath of the Second World War. My father served Mass there in 1953. During the 1940s, he had studied for the priesthood through four years of preparatory school and the first three years of college. Even in the years after he left, he maintained ties to his longtime home away from home. One of this former colleagues was in Germany while Dad was a payroll officer for his Air Force squadron during the Occupation. They made arrangements to meet there, and it was in that sacred if desolated place that the good Father could be found, early on a Sunday morning, offering Mass at a side altar, with Dad offering assistance.

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I agreed to put everything away when the Mass was over. By the time I left, practically everyone was gone. There, in the near darkness of the pews, was the good Father, breaking character and his evening of prayer just long enough to smile and wave. I don't get to serve Mass as often as I used to, but even when I was doing it every Sunday, whether as the MC for a High Mass or as a surrogate minor cleric "in choro" for a Pontifical Mass at a great Basilica, I never get tired of it.

Saint Augustine once wrote that a priest ceases to age during the moments of Consecration. One might reasonably conclude that he continues to age thereafter, but if the doctrine of "transubstantiation" is what Catholics are bound to believe, one cannot help but imagine being close to the portal connecting this world with a dimension beyond time and space.

Maybe that would explain accounts of Albert Einstein's fascination with such a belief, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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* In light of this proclamation, new Propers for the Mass (chants for the Entrance, between the Readings, the Offertory, and Communion), as well as new orations (the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion prayers), were composed to reflect this raising of teaching to formal dogma, and as such, was ostensibly within the nefarious influence of Annibale Bugnini, who by then was already enjoying a running start to becoming the architect of the post-conciliar liturgical iconoclasm. Thus the Grand Conspiracy is worse than originally imagined by throes of über-traditionalist whipper-snappers squirming in their pews holding their precious 1948 edition hand missals, longing for a bygone era of which they know next to nothing.

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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.”


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.


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.”


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.)