Sunday, 29 November 2015

Happy New Year!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent: the start of the Church's year.

We have the whole family here this weekend, to celebrate Anna's (Mrs T's) birthday. So I am not going to spend much time writing new posts. Instead, here is a re-cycled post from previous years, slightly adapted.

Whilst the experts on the Pray,Tell blog are quick to proclaim that Advent is not a time of penance, I demur.   

Having discussed this over a few yearwith my friend the Part Time Pilgrim, we have made some progress.  After a bit of to and fro, he explained that his concern with my position is that Advent should not be seen as the same as Lent.  I agree: the two are different.  Advent is a time of joyous preparation for the coming of Our Lord (memories of his first coming, and looking forward to his second, of course). But both of these considerations naturally lead us to listen to the words of St John the Baptist: Repent!

We think it important to keep our Advent Celebrations quite distinct from our Christmas Celebrations - though they are related, they are two different seasons of the Church's cycle, with different themes and moods.

So as ever, we will celebrate Advent by saying our prayers around the Advent Wreath, singing O Come O Come Emmanuel and having a reading as we add another character to our Jesse Tree. We will also say the wonderful collect from the traditional Roman rite of the Mass:

Arise in thy strength we beseech thee O Lord and come; from the dangers which threaten us because of our sins, be thy presence our sure defence, be thy deliverance our safety for ever more. 

For those who love Latin, or those who fondly remember my introduction to Liturgical Latin, here is the collect in Latin. too:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: ut ab imminéntibus peccatórum nostrórum perículis, te mereámur protegénte éripi, te liberánte salvári.

The Marian Antiphon changes today from the Salve Regina to the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which we will sing until the Feast of the Purification (February 2nd).

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Alma redemptoris mater, 
quae pervia caeli porta manes,
et stella maris succurre cadenti
surgere qui curat populo.  
Tu quae genuisti, 
natura mirante, 
tuum sanctum Genitorem.  
Virgo prius, ac posterius, 
Gabrielis ab ore, 
summens illud ave, 
peccatorum miserere.

Mother of the Redeemer, who art ever of heaven
The open gate, and the star of the sea, aid a fallen people, 
Which is trying to rise again; thou who didst give birth, 
While Nature marveled how, to thy Holy Creator, 
Virgin both before and after, from Gabriel's mouth 
Accepting the All hail, be merciful towards sinners.

(Translated by Blessed John Henry Newman)

(For those who prefer a more contemporary sound, try The Dogma Dogs: It's Lent - but note that this is not for Liturgical Use!)

So today we will be out in the rain, collecting holly for the wreath, up in the attic looking for the advent calendars, Jesse Tree book etc, and I will be singing the Alma Redemptoris throughout the day...

Anna's Jesse Tree blog, means that Ant, when she and her husband,  return home, and Bernie, when she goes back to her flat in Manchester, and Charlie, when he returns to University, can all be with us spiritually at the end of each day as we recall Salvation History.  

Thursday, 26 November 2015

That Offensive Prayer

Further to my earlier post, here is the text of the 'offensive' prayer.

Oremus et pro Iudaeis: Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum. (Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate.) Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Arise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

See also Joseph Shaw's comments here.

Inadvertent Antisemitism?

I was struck by the comment by Deacon Augustine on Fr Hunwicke's post about CBCEW and the Good Friday prayer for the Conversion of the Jews. He (Deacon Augustine) wrote: 
Why are these spineless bishops refusing to pray for the salvation of the Jews? Do they not merit the offer of eternal life too? Are our bishops antisemites?
It is a good question. It is not just that they are refusing to pray for the conversion of the Jews: they are taking time to try to ensure that the small number of people who attend the EF do not pray for this intention.

Here are some possibilities:

The statement released on behalf of the bishops does not reflect their beliefs.

The bishops do not believe that their mandate is to 'go, baptise all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.'

The bishops believe that the Jewish religion is as good a means of salvation as the Catholic Faith.

The bishops believe that the Jewish people should not be offered Christ's salvation.

The bishops care less about eternal verities than about socio-political posturing, virtue-signalling, solidarity with the German hierarchy, putting the boot into the EF or the Pope Emeritus, or some other false god fashioned in their own image...

Have I missed any?

If any of the above are true, it strikes me as profoundly worrying.

And whoever wrote that statement, who I am sure believes he was being nice (possibly 'merciful' or 'tolerant' or whatever this week's trendy virtue is) towards the Jews is, by seeking to reduce the number of prayers for their conversion to the True Faith, guilty of (presumably inadvertent) antisemitism.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Bow, Bow, ye Lower Middle Classes!

I started my musings about art and truth prompted by the poor quality of liturgical music, and now I find that I have come full circle, thanks to a comment on Twitter by @cumlazaro, of the excellent Cum Lazaro blog.

He tweeted: ‘It’s perfectly clear that, objectively, a lot of Catholic music is extremely poor, both liturgically and aesthetically. And that matters.

Which made me reflect that there is something else I think worthy of comment. This is not directly about the quality of music, or art, but rather our (societal, and specifically ecclesiastical, and more specifically clerical) attitudes to that question.

My Parish Priest, for example, would not deny (I think) that most of the music perpetrated during liturgies at our church is pretty poor aesthetically, both in conception and in execution. However, he has little interest in changing that. Because his criterion of what is good liturgically is based on a different standard, one that over-rules all other considerations, and that is participation.

This widely misunderstood concept is the trump card: every other standard bows, when it is paraded.

Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!
Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses,
Blow the trumpets, bang the brasses,
Tantantara! Tzing, boom!

That is why we endure readers who cannot read out loud without mutilating the text with misreadings and misleading prosody. It is why the Mass must be disrupted so that the children back from their ‘children’s liturgy,’ may parade in the sanctuary with their drawings. It is why icons written by masters who have studied the tradition for decades are out, whereas felt banners produced by parishioners with more time than taste are in. It is also why we endure poor music, poorly performed.

The notion that we might participate better by experiencing beauty than by engaging in banality is completely incomprehensible to many priests educated since the Second Vatican Council.

The notion of training the laity, and particularly selecting those with aptitude, to use higher levels of skill, would be seen as elitism, and excluding. Anathema sit!

And of course, if they do put their toe in the water, and have one piece of chant at Mass, they get complaints from the usual suspects, and announce, ruefully, that they were right and that ‘the people’ don’t like that kind of thing. (My post on Junk food and junk music refers…)

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


This is why I love blogging. I thought I had said all I had to say about objectivity and art, over the last week or so, in a series of blog posts, starting here.  Then Ttony and Part Time Pilgrim left comments on one of my posts, pushing me, and making me take my thinking further. I was already dimly aware of my underlying thoughts here: the criteria of truth and beauty refer, and some of the comments on Twitter also, about the recognition of beauty, really resonated.

So here is where I am up to...

I maintain that my approach is not gnosticism but rather its opposite. That is, I believe one can discern that there is a Natural Aesthetic similar to Natural Law. It is written in our hearts, but obscured by Original Sin, miseducation, current intellectual fashions etc. Hence the educational programme is firstly wide exposure and the stripping  away of the barriers.

Thus my posts on criteria were more like a primitive jurisprudence. We recognise the Natural Law intuitively, if we are both honest and undamaged. We know it is wrong to lie, to commit adultery, to murder and so forth. But it can get complex and there are certainly moot points, or at least points worthy of discussion (the issue of lying to expose evil in abortion clinics was one such recently). So jurisprudence is developed over the years: the collected wisdom of generations in determining how law applies in particular cases, and the extrapolation of broader principles from that, always subservient (if it is good jurisprudence) the the Natural Law and (if it is Christian jurisprudence) the Divine Law.

Likewise, I think that we recognise beauty and truth intuitively, if we are both honest and undamaged (or healed). We know that admiring the wonder of the stars, the mountains and valleys, the oceans and landscapes, in which we find ourselves, or the dewdrops on a spider's web, the snowdrop peeping through the snow, the snowflake itself, and so many more things in between, is not a mere subjective notion. These things are worthy of admiration, because they are the artistic works of the Creator. Human art is sub-creation, as Tolkien was keen to point out, and as such when it works, it reflects Him and His work. 

All my attempts to identify or define good art are really groping towards that fundamental truth. I have decided to call this approach Artisprudence, for the obvious reason. 

I am not the first to coin the term but can only find two prior uses of it. One is in Scholae Academicae an account of changes in the University of Cambridge during Victorian times, by Christopher Wordsworth, published in 1877. He uses the term once and does not seek to define it. The other use is as the title of a short story, written c. 2004 by Christopher Rowe, and revised in 2008.  I have not read either work, but believe I can adopt the word to my use for the obvious etymological reasons.

I would also suggest that our nervousness around this topic, that terrible fear of snobbery, elitism and so forth, is very much a product of our current intellectual and moral climate; and that we should not be afraid to stand up for absolute truth and objective reality in this sphere, any more than in any other - though we must necessarily be humble about claiming that we know what it is.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

An Artistic Education

All this talk of art and music, and especially my passing comment about the need for education in order to discern the good from the bad, made me reflect on what I meant by education in this context, and indeed on my own artistic education.

By artistic education, I don't mean teaching This is the canon: Shakespeare at the top and the rest in some sort of hierarchy beneath him;  or Mozart at the top at the top and the rest in some sort of hierarchy beneath him; or Leonardo da Vinci  at the top and the rest in some sort of hierarchy beneath him...

I think it a gentler and more reflective process; as much to do with exposure, the removal of barriers, and perhaps the discussion of context and why and how some works get their effects, why some are perceived as great, and so on.

The result of that may be an educated taste that goes a little deeper than the immediacy of an uneducated taste. I have likened this before to weaning children off a diet of junk food. 

If the only music a child is ever exposed to is what's currently in the charts, or used in advertisements, or accompanying tv programmes or computer games, it is pretty pointless to expect him or her, at first hearing, to enjoy the Beethoven string quartets, beautiful though they are.

I make no secret of the fact that the visual arts are not my forte. All I learned in art classes at school was that I cannot draw: a conviction it took me many years to shed. (For anyone similarly afflicted, I recommend Betty Edwards' book, Drawing on the Left Side of the Brain). However, I was fortunate that an enlightened General Studies teacher told me to go to the National Gallery and choose a painting, and look at it for thirty minutes. That seemed a tall order, but I decided to give it a go, and stood in front of one of Monet's paintings of waterlilies.

Prior to that experience, I had always preferred photographic realism: the more like the real thing it looked, the better I thought it was. Monet taught me to look differently.

My musical education was richer. My father was a fine pianist, so from earliest childhood I would go to sleep to the sound of him playing Bach, or Schubert, or Chopin, or Rachmaninov or... Then as a schoolboy I joined a good church choir, and quickly learned to love early polyphony. It was very obvious to me that Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons and so on were doing something rather more wonderful than Gregory Murray, Wilfrid Trotman or Joseph Gelineau.

Strangely (or perhaps not, given the historical context, early 1970s) we sang almost no chant. All I can remember is a version of the Ave Maris Stella, with alternate chant and polyphonic verses, which was magnificent. We also sang some Duruflé, based on chant melodies, which was also ravishing.  But my love of chant comes much later in my musical education, and is based on obedience to the Church, and then the discipline of learning to sing it, and, eventually, falling in love with it.

As I wrote that, I suddenly wondered how we have educated the children, artistically. They have not had the same opportunities as me: no good church choir locally, no National Gallery... But I think we have managed to achieve the same basics via different means. They have all learned to play at least two instruments to a reasonable standard, and played in the school orchestra and various other ensembles, which has given them a fairly good exposure to a broad repertoire. It must be a product of Original Sin that their musical taste (like mine) remains execrable. But while they may, for choice, fill their playlists with Disney songs, they genuinely enjoy it when we get the opportunity to go to a concert and hear, dare I say it, good music.

In the visual arts, their school education has been very much better than mine was; and not only have they learned to draw and paint, but they have been encouraged to do artists' copies, which again has exposed them to a range of works, and some understanding of both aesthetics and technique. In that field, as in so many, they are ahead of me.

And in literature, I do my best with them. Again, they read a ton of junk, but in between they occasionally read something worth reading; and again, genuinely enjoy the live screenings from the National or RSC (we saw the Broadway production of 'Of Mice and Men' this week, and very good it was too. And Dominique loved it).

So, a long and rambling post, but I think the point I am edging towards making is that the need for education to appreciate and evaluate art is not some induction into a world of snobbery; but rather a truly Catholic approach that exposes one to a wide range of works, and that good learning will ensue.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Ave Maria (Offertory for Advent 4)

We have been practicing for our next sung Mass, which is on the fourth Sunday of Advent. The offertory is Ave Maria, and is a truly beautiful chant.

Further to my previous post on the necessity of prayer in our troubled times, I commend this to you.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesus.  Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

(Struggling with the Latin? - go here)