Sunday 28 April 2013

Introduction to Chant (iv)

This week, we will look at (and listen to) a piece of chant that is very different to the last one we discussed.

This is the second Alleluia from the Mass for Pentecost, and is in many ways typical of the Alleluia verse in most Masses (and Graduals often are in a similar style, whereas the Tract, when there is one, is likely to be quite different).

Alleluia, alleluia. 
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of thy love. 

The first thing one notices, perhaps, is the very decorated style.  Whereas in the simple Sanctus which we listened to previously, each syllable had one or (at most) two notes allocated to it, here we have syllables with more than twenty notes.

This style of chant is known as melismatic; a term which simply means singing one syllable to several notes.

The structure of the Alleluia verses lends itself to this: the Alleluia, repeated at the beginning and again at the end is both a joyful and a familiar word, so decorating it is both appropriate for its meaning, and does not risk it being misunderstood.

In fact, the way the structure of the music works, the first time the Alleluia is sung, it is relatively short: it stops where there is an asterisk in the text. This is normally sung by a single cantor as an intonation.  Then it is repeated, by the full schola, or choir, but with the very long decorative phrase added to the final syllable: this is called a jubilus (meaning a cry of joy, or jubilation).

The Cantor then sings the Alleluia verse (marked V) as far as the next asterisk, at which point (normally, though not in the recording I linked to above...) the Schola joins in for the final words (or word, in this case), which are sung to the same tune as the opening alleluia, including its jubilus (sometimes with very minor changes). Then the Alleluia, with jubilus, is sung again. 

The verse, sung as a solo, is also typically melismatic. Here Veni is based on the opening notes of the Alleluia, with slight variation; Spiritus, reple, corda and above all amoris are also very decorated, with many other words having several notes per syllable, making the whole piece melismatic.

As noted in the previous post, sometimes it is the stressed syllable of a word that is decorated (as perhaps we might expect): Véni, Spíritus, Amóris; but at other times, it is an unstressed syllable: réple, córda, accénde, and, of course, Allelúia (though in that latter case, I understand that in Hebrew, it would have been the final syllable that was stressed).

As noted last time, the rhythmic structure of the piece is very different from modern western music, with no regular bars, and each phrase of a different (and to our ears arbitrary) length.

This piece also exemplifies another feature of chant: the decoration of amoris in particular is made up of elements that recur in many other chants, with the pattern repeated with an extended decoration the second time around.  It seems that many chants are in fact built up from stock phrases, as it were: patterns that are used again and again. The sequence of notes on the second syllable of Alleluia is another example of this.

There are a few other things to note.  This piece has a Fa clef (rather than the Do clef we saw last time).  As you’d expect, this indicates the line on which Fa falls; Do is therefore on the bottom space.

Also, this piece is in Mode 2, as indicated by the 2 at the very start of the piece.  According to modal theory (see here) that means the Tenor, or reciting note, is Fa, and the Final is Re.

The second of those is easy to see: the initial short alleluia and the jubilus end on Re, as do every phrase except one: the decorated amoris.  However, the Tenor is less in evidence as an important note, and that may demonstrate the limitations of modal theory, particularly when applied to more melismatic pieces.

The final thing to say is how beautiful this melismatic style is: the phrases seem to rise and fall like the arches of a cathedral, elevating the mind to things eternal, but always rooted in our human experience.  As a piece to precede the proclamation of the Gospel, it is quite wonderful.

Whatever Happened to Faith to Move Mountains?

So, for my long-suffering reader, here is another geek post in my series in which I look at the Lectionary; and specifically, examine which passages have been cut from the Gospels to be read on Sundays through the three year cycle.

For the background, and my analysis of the first half of St Matthew's Gospel, see here; for the rest of St Matthew, here, and for the first half of St Mark, here.

In this post, I finish St Mark's Gospel, and celebrate the halfway stage of the project!  

My hope is, eventually, to summarise all the omissions, and see if there are any patterns, and what conclusions, if any, we can draw.

I have also posted, thanks to Ttony of the Muniment Room, Bugnini's apologia for the new Lectionary.

So without further ado here are the passages cut from St Mark's Gospel (Ch 9 ff), with those that are not represented by a parallel passage from another Gospel in bold.

Chapter 9

 1 There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power. (Only in St Mark)

11- 13  ‘Why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?’ (Also cut from St Matthew)

14- 29 The epileptic demoniac (the parallel passages from St Matthew and St Luke are also omitted.)

44, 46 Where the worm dies not, nor does the fire go out (repeated at v. 48 which is included)

49 If salt loses its flavour. (St Matthew’s version used)

Chapter 10 

1 Leaving there, he went to Judaea... and crowds gathered... and he taught them   (Only in St Mark)  

31 The first, last...  (St Matthew’s version used)

32-34  Prophecy of passion and death (the parallel passages from St Matthew and St Luke are also omitted.)

46 -  52 Bartimaeus (St Luke’s account used).

Chapter 11

11: He entered the temple... looked around... and left. (Only in St Mark)

12-13 & 20 - 21 - The fig tree (Also omitted from St Matthew)

14 - 19 Expulsion of moneylenders (St John’s account used)

22- 24 Faith to move mountains (Also cut from St Matthew)

25 Forgive, that you may be forgiven (Also cut from St Matthew)

27 - 33 By what authority? (Also cut from St Matthew and St Luke)

Chapter 12

1: 11 Parable of the vineyard (St Matthew’s version used)

12 They realised he was talking about them (Also cut from St Matthew) 

13- 17 Render unto Caesar (St Matthew’s version used)

18 - 28a, Sadducees and the Resurrection: the seven brothers.  [St Luke’s version used.]

35-37 Christ, the son of David? (Also cut from St Matthew and St Luke)

Chapter 13 

1 - 2 Temple: not a single stone left on another...  [St Luke’s version used.]

3 - 13 End times  [St Luke’s version used.]

14 -  23 Abomination of Desolation...  [St Luke’s version used.]

Chapter 16 

8-14, The women ran, frightened, and told nobody... Mary Magdalen not believed... Appears to the Twelve and reproaches them. (Other Evangelists' account used, but many of these details are unique to St Mark).

Wednesday 24 April 2013

A Diagnosis at Last!

People have long wondered what is wrong with me; but at last, thanks to Elizabeth Harrington (via Joseph Shaw), an accurate diagnosis has been made. I suffer from an ‘over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity and on human sinfulness.’

Well that's a relief.  Now it's official, I hope that I will be offered full support for my condition: communion rails, tolerance of kneeling and receiving on the tongue, regular confession made available - that kind of thing.

Note, in passing, the beauty of her thinking: how she can move straight from:

The “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” # 161 makes it quite clear that the choice of how to receive communion is the communicant’s. No minister may dictate whether communicants receive in the hand or on the tongue.’

to, in the very next sentence:

‘Receiving communion on the tongue when the majority receive in the hand disrupts the unity that uniformity of posture and practice at Communion symbolises and builds.

This presents, in a microcosm, the strategy that has been used to destroy traditional Catholic practice:
  • First, introduce an option that is different from traditional practice;
  • Then educate/indoctrinate people (especially children: how many are taught of their right to receive on the tongue?);
  • Make it difficult for the traditional option to be exercised (‘It is awkward for ministers to give communion on the tongue to people who are standing,’)
  • Then marginalise and ridicule any who retain the traditional practice;
  • Then move to make the new option not only normative but effectively compulsory.
It is curious how uniformity of practice is an irrelevant consideration when the new option is introduced, but becomes a guiding principle in trying finally to suppress the traditional practice.


In the meantime, I await with interest Ms Harrington's founding of the Church of Latter Day Cannibals, based on the following syllogism:

'We now understand that Christ is present in several special ways at Mass apart from in the consecrated elements, for example in the assembly which gathers.'

Christ commanded us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.


Tuesday 23 April 2013

St Mark: Cut passages, part 1

As my regular reader will doubtless recall, I have decided to examine the Gospel readings for Sunday Mass over the three year cycle, to see what has been cut.  Some passages are cut because they are repeated in two or three of the synoptic Gospels.  However, some have been cut that are not repeated, and some have been cut from all the Gospels in which they occur.

I have recently posted (courtesy of Ttony) Bugnini's rationale for this; but I am also interested in looking to see if there are any patterns in the cuts, and will do that once I have finished the analysis.

I started by looking at the cuts from St Matthew's Gospel (here and here).  

In this post, I examine the first 8 chapters of St Mark's Gospel.  As previously, passages which have been cut, and which are not duplicated by readings from one of the other Gospels over the three year cycle are in bold.

Chapter 2:

 13 - 17 Calling of Levi, dining with publicans and sinners. (St Matthew’s account used)

Chapter 3:

7 - 12 withdrawal from Galilee; great crowds, unclean spirits acknowledging Him, (nowhere else)

13- 20 Calling of the 12, commission, and naming of Peter,  (St Matthew’s account used)

Chapter 4: 

1 - 20, Parable of the sower,  (St Matthew’s account used)

21- 25  parable of the lamp, and the measure in which you are given. (nowhere else)

Chapter 5:

1-20, The Devils of Gerasa: ‘Legion’, the swine... (Parallel passage cut from both other synoptics)

Chapter 6: 

14-29, Herod hears of Christ; John the Baptist beheaded. (Parallel passage cut from both other synoptics)

35 - 44  Feeding of the five thousand (St Matthew’s account used)

45- 52 Walking on the Water (St Matthew’s account used)

53- 56 Cures at Gennesaret (also cut from St Matthew)

Chapter 7

NB These next two sets of verses (marked *) are cut from a passage read on a single Sunday (and are not found elsewhere):

* 9- 13 You have defeated God’s commandment to establish your own tradition: Corban

* 16-20 His disciples asked him the meaning... ‘Are you still so slow of wit? Uncleanness which goes into a man has no way of defiling him... Thus he declared all meat to be clean.

24-30 Syrophoenician woman’s daughter cured. (St Matthew’s account used)

Chapter 8:

1- 9 Feeding of the four thousand (St Matthew’s account also cut)

10 - 13 Sign of Jonah (St Matthew’s account also cut)

14 - 26 Leaven of the Pharisees (St Matthew’s account also cut)

22-26 Curing of the blind man at Bethsaida. (nowhere else)

36 - 39 How is a man better if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul? (St Matthew’s account used)

Bugnini on the Lectionary

I am indebted to Ttony of the excellent Muniment Room blog, who sent me an extract from Bugnini's book:  I will quote it here, for interest, and may return to comment on it once I have completed my analysis of the Gospel passages that have been cut.  Ttony also included, as a post script, an astonishing note by Paul VI.
5. Report to the Pope In the report on the eleventh general meeting, which was given to the Holy Father on November 10, 1966, the relator of group 11 summed up as follows the end results of the long and complex development of the Lectionary for Mass. 
1) Sundays and feast days Sundays and feasts will have three readings: Old Testament, apostle, and gospel. Not only will the number of passages read be increased, but there will be a broader vision of the history of salvation, which will be seen from its earliest foreshadowings to its fulfillment. 
-The three readings will be obligatory. If one is left optional, it will be regularly omitted, to the detriment of a progressive introduction of the faithful to the knowledge and love of the scriptures. The overall length of the three readings will usually not be significantly greater than that of the present two readings. 
- The Lectionary for feasts will be arranged in a three-year cycle, so that the same passage is read every third year. This will also mean a greater variety in subjects for the homily. 
-In keeping with tradition, some books will be read during specified periods; for example, the Gospel of John during the second part of Lent and during the Easter season; the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season. 
- On the Sundays of Ordinary Time one of the three synoptic Gospels will be read in each year of the cycle; there will thus be a Matthew year, a Mark year, and a Luke year. It will be possible in this way to bring out more fully the characteristics of each Gospel. The parts of John that are not read in the other seasons of the year will be used in the Mark year, since Mark is the shortest of the Synoptics. 
- Except in Advent and Lent, there will be a semi-continuous reading of each Gospel. The other readings will be harmonized more or less closely with the gospel, so that as far as is feasible, there will be a thematic unity that will ease the preacher’s task. 
-In this selection of passages, those will be omitted that require a complex exegetical or literal explanation before any spiritual application is possible. This does not mean, however, the exclusion of all texts that may be somewhat difficult, simply because they are difficult; the homily, after all, has for one of its functions to explain the meaning of the sacred text in its context. 
-For some readings that would be very long if read in their entirety (for example, the stories of the Samaritan woman and the man born blind), the Lectionary will indicate how the passage may be shortened in a way that retains the essential parts of the pericope. In a limited number of cases, moreover, an alternate optional reading will be given that has the same meaning; the celebrant can choose it if he thinks it fits better with the concrete situation  of the congregation before him. 
2) Weekday readings. A further expansion of the knowledge of scripture will be made possible by the series of weekday readings, which will be independent of the festive Lectionary. Each day will have its own reading from Scripture at Mass, just as it does in the office. It will thus be possible on weekdays to avoid repetition of the Sunday readings and of the same readings in the Common of the Saints. 
The principle governing the organization of the ferial or weekday Lectionary are the following: 
-For the weekdays of Advent, the Christmas season, Lent, and the Easter season, there will be a one-year cycle for both readings. 
- For the weekdays of Ordinary Time, the Gospel will be arranged according to an annual cycle; the first reading, on other hand will follow a two-year cycle, with alternating weeks of Old Testament and New Testament Passages. 
-In the case of some books, the arrangement of the readings will take tradition into account (for example, Isaiah in Advent; the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John during the Easter season); the others will be read according to their order in the canon of the Bible. 
-These weekday readings will be used at Masses of the third and forth class, which do not have readings of their own.
PS In May 1969 the proofs for the Lectionary were given to the Pope, who sent the following handwritten note of approval to Cardinal Benno Gut, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship: 
In the very limited time allowed me, I have not been able to get a complete and detailed grasp of this new and extensive Ordo lectionum Missae.But because of the confidence I have in the skilled and devout individuals who spent a long time compiling it, and because of the trust I owe to the Congregation for Divine Worship, which has examined and corrected it with such expert care, I gladly approve it in the name of the Lord. The feast of St John the Baptist, June 24, 1969                                                                                                                    Paul VI, Pope

Sunday 21 April 2013

Prayers for Vocations

Our Bishop's pastoral letter for today, Good Shepherd Sunday (which may be read in full from a link here) included an announcement of a novena for Vocations:

Here in our Diocese of Lancaster there will be a nine week novena of prayer for vocations beginning on Pentecost Sunday, and I ask you, your parish and your local Catholic school and college to be part of that ‘wave of prayer’ ascending to Almighty God. Christ the Good Shepherd has given His life for His flock and so will never leave His Church bereft of priests, but our own individual efforts of encouragement, sacrifices and prayers do matter too. May all of us remain faithful in prayer to the Lord of the harvest that He may never fail to send priestly workers into the vineyard of the Diocese of Lancaster. 
 I don't know if other bishops are asking the same thing; but clearly prayers for vocations are very important; and a nine week novena is an excellent idea.

Pray for our Holy Father, our bishops, priests, religious and deacons; and pray for vocations.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium: et tui amoris in eis ignem accende. 

V. Emitte Spiritum tuum, et creabuntur. 
R. Et renovabis faciem terrae. 

Oremus. Deus, qui corda fidelium Sancti Spiritus illustratione docuisti: da nobis in eodem Spiritu recta sapere; et de eius semper consolatione gaudere. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle 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. 

Let us pray. O God, Who has taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of Thy Holy Spirit, grant by the same Spirit that we may be always truly wise, and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.

Saturday 20 April 2013

An introduction to chant (iii)

I have been reflecting on how best to approach this, and am changing tack. Instead of launching into notation and all that, as I said I would in my last post, I think I will build on the idea of this being primarily an aural tradition, and get you listening to some chant.

That also allows me to start to explore why chant sounds so alien to our ears, and some of its peculiar qualities.

In broad terms, chant sounds strange for three reasons. One is the rhythmic structure, the second is the melodic structure, and the third is the monophonic quality of chant.

In terms of rhythm and melody, it is also true to say that there is great variation within the chant tradition.

To start to explore these points, listen to this piece of chant: the Sanctus from the Requiem Mass (and Mass 18).  This dates from at least the 13th Century, (earliest manuscript) but may be, and I suspect is, of much greater antiquity:

(It seems my embedded link was not working, so please click here to listen).

In terms of rhythm, there are a few things to notice.

Compared with modern Western music, there is no regular beat.  We are used to music that is constructed in bars of a regular number of beats, with an emphasis on the first beat of the bar: typically three (eg waltzes) or four (eg marches). Likewise, we expect musical phrases made up of (typically) four bar segments.

But chant does not take such an approach at all.  There is no regular beat, and the length of a phrase is dependent principally on the words.

In this piece, there are two approaches taken to the rhythm. At the start and the end, there is a little rhythmic interest placed on important words: Sanctus, Hosanna, and excelsis.  That is done by having additional notes for certain syllables.  On the word Sanctus, it is interesting to note that it is the unstressed syllable that is decorated; if sung well, the first syllable takes the weight, and the second syllable is lighter and decorated, making a nice counterpoint.  That is often done in chant: the decoration of unstressed syllables.

However, that is by no means a universal rule, as we see later in this piece, where it is the stressed syllable of Hosanna which is decorated, and both the stressed and an unstressed syllable of excelsis.

Another point of interest rhythmically, is that the musical phrases are all of different lengths, determined by the words.

That is related to a third point: that the majority of this chant is treated almost as a recitative; the rhythmic value of notes which are notated identically is not identical.  It depends on the length of the syllable being sung.  That is because, in this style of chant, the music is there entirely at the service of the words.

In terms of melody, there are also a number of things to notice that make this very different from modern music.

The first is that we are used to music being in a key, with a tonic note and an expectation of how other notes will relate to that (typically major or minor tonality).  But in this piece, the note that we would characterise as Do (ie the note above which a scale proceeds in the pattern of a major scale) is on the third line of the staff (indicated by the Do cleff on that line at the start of the piece):

However, the piece starts on the note below this, Ti (if we are thinking in terms of Do, Re, Mi), and this is also the most prominent note in the piece, as it is the reciting note.  The Do is also an important note, as it is the highest note of the piece, but it is used only twice, to lend prominence to the stressed syllables of the words gloria and nomine; it is clearly not the key note.

Moreover, the piece ends on La, the note below the most prominent note: something that is very surprising to modern ears.

Interestingly, this doesn't fit the modality theory and this piece is not assigned to a mode in the Liber Usualis (one of the reasons I think it is of great antiquity).

The melody is very simple, with most intervals being either a single step or two steps on the scale, and that too is typical of a certain style of chant.

The other significant difference from modern music is the monophonic quality: that is there is only one note being sung at a time.  That means there are no harmonies or counterpoint, so climaxes and cadences are not created by harmonic means, but purely by rhythm and melodic line.

There is much more to say about both rhythm and melody, but that seems like enough for one post.  Next time we will look at something that is very different in style, by way of contrast.

But the conclusion I would draw at this stage is that we have to re-learn how we listen, in order to appreciate chant melodies; and in particular listen to the melodic line as a phrase, attached to the words that it supports; and the way to do that, is to listen to lots of chant.

Reasons to be cheerful!

Archbishop Vincent Nichols is quite right, of course: complaining and gossiping are most unedifying.

Our Lord, of course, would never have complained about the legitimate religious authorities of his time (or if He did we are not meant to know about it: see here).

Seriously, though, we do have a responsibility to use the new-found power that ordinary Catholics have acquired of airing their concerns via the social media with prudence and charity.

Leaping from that to another issue entirely, have I ever mentioned that I love To Kill A Mockingbird?

"Gertrude, I tell you there's nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of 'em in the kitchen. You know what I said to my Sophy, Gertrude? I said, 'Sophy,' I said, 'you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining,' and you know, it did her good. She took her eyes off that floor and said, 'Nome, Miz Merriweather, Jesus never went around grumblin'.' I tell you, Gertrude, you never ought to let an opportunity go by to witness for the Lord."

So here is something to cheer you all up:

Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) - the very edifying Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Prayers please

Your prayers are asked for a priest friend of mine.

He has recently been arrested and charged as a result of allegations of indecent assault more than two decades ago.

Whether innocent (as I hope and pray) or guilty as charged, or somewhere in between, I am sure he will need your prayers.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Keeping the Focus

As the liberal media and the pro-choice lobbyists start to comment on the Gosnell case, it is worth keeping a sharp focus on the most important issues and considering how to refute the claim that it exemplifies the need for easy, early abortion.

The first thing to stress, and to keep coming back to, is that whilst Gosnell did many horrendous things, the most serious repeat offence was deliberately snipping the spinal cords of newly-born living babies.  The killing of mothers was also, of course, a great evil, but it was never the intended outcome, whereas the murdering of the babies clearly was.

The testimonies of the workers at his abortion centre, and the distressing pictures, leave one in no doubt about both the fact of the practice, and the fact that these were human babies, not merely 'clumps of cells' or 'products of conception.'  They were these, too, of course, just as you and I are clumps of cells and the product of conception.

Don't allow those who are confused by the propaganda battle (waged by those seeking to use Gosnell to further a pro-choice agenda) to duck the question: was that wrong or not?  If not, then they are saying that infanticide is morally permissible.  That is a morally consistent position for abortionists, but fortunately it is still one that is abhorrent to most people.

If they agree that it was wrong to cut the spinal cords of these babies, the question is: why?  Merely to say that it was against the law will not do.  If that line is used, ask if they would condone it if legal: if so they are back to infanticide.  If not, press on why not?

That then leads to the question: if it is wrong once the baby is delivered, is it also wrong when the baby is partially delivered?

One can then progress backwards: if wrong when the baby is so completely formed, what about a week earlier?  And a week earlier?  And so on.

Keep the focus on these questions, as they are the key moral issues.  What we are seeking to make clear is that all abortion is precisely about the killing of innocent, unborn human beings.

What Gosnell's crimes have forced into the light of day is the humanity of his victims: not just the poor, desperate women who went to his clinics, but also their children, murdered for cash.

Our job is to help people, who will be resistant to this, to understand that what he was doing is what all abortions do.

There is a need for sensitivity here, of course: the odds are that anyone you talk to about this will have direct or proximate experience of abortion, as I noted in a previous post. It is both difficult and essential to balance clarity of intellectual argument with human sensitivity and compassion.  Veritas and Caritas...

Be ready, too, for the counter-attack: 'So you want to return to the days of back-street abortions!'

That is more a rhetorical and emotive argument than a rational one. Nobody argues that we should licence the killing by gangs of their rivals, to ensure no innocent people get caught in the cross-fire, on the basis that such killings are going to happen anyway, so we should minimise the damage.

The first question is, is it morally permissible to kill another innocent human being?  If it is not, then how can we minimise that, and also do so in a way that minimises other harms that may arise?

The evils of back-street abortions, or maternal suicides, are real and terrible risks, and should be engaged with as best we can as a society: but we cannot sacrifice thousands of innocents on the altars of these risks.  We must strive for solutions to all aspects of this evil, seeking the good of the mother and the child in equal measure; and also of the father, the medical profession, and civil society.

Saturday 13 April 2013

More reflections on the Gosnell Case

I said in my post about the horrific Gosnell case, yesterday, that
The only sane conclusion one can draw is that the Savita story was covered because it seemed (as initially reported) to be a useful tool to push for the legalisation of abortions in Ireland.  Whereas the Gosnell story, throwing into sharp relief the truth that abortion kills children, is clearly not welcomed.
I am not sure that is true.  I still think it a probable conclusion, but it it not 'the only sane' one. I am always wary of absolute statements, because I believe in absolutes. I try to avoid making them casually, but yesterday I was clearly so outraged that I was inattentive.

It may be that some media are not reporting the story because it is so appalling, and they do not wish to cause distress to women who have had abortions, particularly late ones.  That would be a more noble motive.

However, another possible conclusion is that the media are working out their strategy to spin this story in a way that furthers their pro-abortion stance.

Even if that was not the initial reason for the (consipracy of?) silence, I think we should ready ourselves for that.

For the abortion issue is a war indeed: a spiritual war, masterminded by a diabolic intelligence, whether those engaged in it are aware of that fact or not.  And in any war, it is always prudent to consider what the enemy's strategy is likely to be and to prepare for that.

So if I were the Enemy, I would be planning how to use this to my advantage.  And I think my strategy would be to use the outrage that the Gosnell case will provoke as the details become more widely known, to press for wider availability of, and possibly a constitutional right to, earlier abortions.  That is, to use it as a counter-attack against the gains that the pro-life movement has started to make in the US.

Therefore I predict that over the coming weeks, we will see numerous articles appearing, arguing that Gosnell's attrocities arose not because abortion is an appalling business, but because the poor women who resorted to him were failed by a system that didn't make early abortions more easily available.  Gosnell will be portrayed as the very thing that abortion rights are designed to defend against; a seedy backstreet operator, rather than, as we see him, the natural development of the abortion industry.

What we need to do is help to use this case to awaken the public's awareness that what  Gosnell was doing is precisely what all abortionists do: killing vulnerable humans at a very young age. If this becomes about the awfulness of late abortions, we have lost this opportunity.  We must work to prevent that.

But that will be very hard. 

One of the greatest difficulties the pro-life movement faces is the fact that so many people have a vested psychological interest in abortion being, at some level, not evil.  So many women have had abortions, so many men have been party to the decision, so many parents and siblings have supported or condoned it, so many medical staff have gone along with them, and so on.  In 1967, when David Steel's bill was passed into law in the UK, it was just about possible to believe that a foetus was not really a human being.  Every advance in knowledge and technology since then has made that belief harder, to any balanced observer; yet many still hold on to it - they need to hold on to it.

These people (women, partners, family, medics...)  know that they are not murderers or accomplices to murder, as that was never their intention.  Therefore when pro-life people point out that abortion is murder, we provoke a defensive psychological response of denial.  Likewise, when we point out that what Gosnell was doing was just the same as what they were involved with, they will respond in the same way.

There are a few, brave, souls who have overcome that response: people who have repented of having abortions, and others who have repented of performing them.

The challenge we face is to find ways to help more people to reach that position. It is almost certainly the case that confronting them with the truth about abortion is part of that process, though we may need to be sensitive about how and when to do that; but I am pretty sure that abusing them or referring to them as 'murderers' is not.  But until we can work out a strategy to address this issue (as well, of course, as reducing the reasons that drive women to seek abortions) , we are a long way from victory in the war against this evil

An Introduction to Chant (ii)

In the first of these posts, I mentioned that we had no real idea of the origins of Chant.  Clearly the impulse to sing, and to celebrate with music is very deeply embedded in humanity, and clearly the Jews sang the psalms.

One can also consider the different functions that chant fulfils liturgically, and see how it may have developed over time to meet these in different ways, finally being consolidated into one body of practice.

Thus the prayers of the celebrant may have been intoned for the practical purposes of being heard more clearly over a longer distance, and also indicating to the Faithful where in the liturgy he was up to (consider the distinctive Sursum corda chant, which instantly indicates to the wandering mind where we are up to).

Then there are the ordinary prayers of the Mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei: these are natural opportunities for communal singing of penitence, adoration and so on, as they are the same words every week and can therefore have the same tune (or eventually, tunes).  Communal singing has particular benefits, of course.

There are the proper prayers of the Mass, which change day by day: the Introit, Gradual, Tract, Alleluia verse, Offertory, and Communion. These are more likely to have been sung by a cantor or two, as they would be different every day.

There are also the prayers of the Office: above all the psalms, but also antiphons, and hymns; these would have been of particular importance in the monastic life, where the community would come together several times a day (and during the night) to sing.  Given the need to sing the whole psalter (150 psalms) regularly, it is not surprising to find that simple melodic structures were developed which could be used to sing large numbers of psalms.

Each of these could have developed somewhat independently, and could have been influenced by other musical traditions from other cultures: certainly there are different styles associated with different elements of the Chant we have inherited.

Or it may not have happened that way. Perhaps the whole collection was dictated to Pope Gregory the Great by an angel.

But it is very important to understand that Chant is primarily an oral tradition: that is to say that it existed and was handed on from generation to generation long before it was written down.

Even when attempts were made to write it down, they are not fully understandable today.

But the breakthrough in handing on the music accurately came with the introduction of a staff to indicate pitch accurately.

This is attributed to a monk, Guido de Arrezzo, who wrote his theoretical work Micrologus around 1025.

From that time on, we are able to be fairly (but not absolutely) confident of the melodies of the chant.  His four note stave, and the use of a clef (either Do or Fa) allow us to read the intervals between notes.  The relationship between the notes is as in a modern major scale, with the only accidental being the possibility of flattening the Ti.

Chant notation only shows us relative, not absolute, pitch (as opposed to modern notation).  The Cantor or Schola can pitch a piece wherever it suits them.  And that is why I refer to notes by Do Re Mi, etc rather than C, D, E.

Interestingly, the terms Do, Re Mi, Fa, Sol, La (apart from Do, in fact) originate from this chant:

Ut queant laxis

Hymn for Second Vespers on the Feast of St John The Baptist, 24 June
So that these your servants can, with all their voice, to sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips. O Saint John! 

This is the first verse of a hymn to St John the Baptist.

The first note of each phrase starts on each successive note of (what we would now call) a major scale, and the corresponding syllables are Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La.  Ut is still used in continental Europe, though in English we have replaced it with Do (from the first syllable of Domine, I have been told, but cannot verify that).

Note that this piece is written with a Fa clef, and the syllable Fa does indeed fall on the line indicated by the clef.

In the next post in this series, I will address the issue of notation in a little more detail, particularly with regard to the rather more contested issue of rhythm.  Then I shall go on to look at different types of chant, with lots of links both to notation and recording to illustrate what I am trying to convey.

Friday 12 April 2013

Evil at work...

I know a few journalists.  I have done various courses on working with the media.  One of the things I have learned is that we now live in a 24/7 news world, in which there is a desperate need for news stories, all the time.

All of which makes it strange when a newsworthy story is largely ignored.

Consider these elements:

• multiple murder charges 
• medical malpractice
• exploitation of poor ethnic minority women
• macabre storage of body parts
• treating white patients better than black ones
• local political and medical authorities turning a blind eye..

and the list goes on.

Yet the trial of Kermit Gosnell has received very little coverage.

The BBC reported that he was charged 2 years ago, but has not covered anything since the trial started. Likewise, the only national news organisation in the UK that seems to have covered it at all is the Daily Mail.  The same pattern holds true in the American media.  Apparently, it is deemed to be a local story; which is odd, really, when the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland was regarded as very newsworthy indeed by the same media.

The only sane conclusion one can draw is that the Savita story was covered because it seemed (as initially reported) to be a useful tool to push for the legalisation of abortions in Ireland.  Whereas the Gosnell story, throwing into sharp relief the truth that abortion kills children, is clearly not welcomed.

So much for the media.

But the sheer barbarism of Gosnell is worthy of note. Not only did he break several laws, and show scant regard for the women he was treating; he also deliberately and regularly delivered live babies and cut their spinal cords.  He also kept their corpses, or parts of them, all around his facility.

This kind of barbarity is more than the greed of a man making millions from others' tragedies.  It is diabolical.  

I believe that the same dynamic is present here as was manifest in the Philpott case: there comes a time when one is so steeped in evil, by repetition and hardening of heart, that one becomes a tool of a will other than one's own.  The Devil, when he gains power, revels in human sacrifice.

So we must pray: for the mothers, for the babies, for the staff, and for the appalling Kermit Gosnell.  For Christ thought he was worthy of saving, and died on the Cross to offer him the chance of salvation.  Let nothing diminish our hatred for his evil deeds, and for the malevolvent will of Satan that inspired them; but let us remember not to hate Gosnell, but to hope for his repentance and ultimate salvation.

An Introduction to Chant (i)

Following my posts about the Modality of Chant (here and here) a couple of people on Twitter (@TowardstheTiber and @JHSteelson) have asked if there is an introduction to Chant somewhere.

I have had a brief look around, and beyond what you might expect on Wikipedia, there doesn't seem to be a lot out there.

So, as usual, I am prepared to rush in where wiser people might tread more cautiously.

This series (if such it develops to be) comes with my famous no quibbles guarantee: if you do not find it immensely satisfying and worthwhile, you can get a full refund of exactly what you have paid for it, without deductions for admin or anything else.

I will also, as is my wont, make clear my credentials for writing an introduction to chant: I have none.

That done, let's launch in.

The first problem, perhaps, is nomenclature.  You say plainchant, I say plainsong, you say Gregorian, I say Roman, let's call the whole thing off...

I don't want to get too precious about this, and most people use these terms fairly interchangeably; but what I am talking about is the Chant of the Roman Catholic tradition - as opposed, say, to Byzantine Chant, which is rather different.

The reason it is called plain is because of its simplicity compared to polyphonic music; in plainchant, only one note is sung at a time.  There is no counterpoint, and there are no harmonies, chords, and so forth.  It is strictly monophonic and can thus be sung accurately by one person.  If more than one person is singing, they must sing exactly the same thing at the same time for the chant to work.

In terms of history, it is fair to say that the origins of Chant are lost in the mists of time.  We know that the Jews at the time of Christ sang the psalms for example: as Christ and his disciples did at the Last Supper. We do not know how directly liturgical Chant descends from their practice.

One tradition says that all the Chant was dictated to Pope Gregory (who was pope 590 - 604) by an angel: hence Gregorian Chant.  A more prosaic explanation is that he codified the Chant.

The earliest chant manuscripts are from the 9th Century, and the earliest fully notated manuscripts date from the 10th Century: The three earliest surviving books containing the year’s liturgical cycle are: Chartres, Bibliothèque Municipale 47, Laon, Bibliothèque Municipale 239 and St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek Cod. Sang. 359. (Ref: here)

These contain neums rather than staff notation, making it hard to be precise about exactly how the Chant represented was performed.

Neums - from around the year 1000 AD: St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 390, p. 61 (

By comparing these early manuscripts with the earliest extant square note notation, scholars have made significant progress in interpreting these neumes, but there is still much that is unclear, and plenty of scholarly disagreement about their interpretation.

The introduction of square note notation, placed on a staff that indicates the precise relationship of one pitch to another, was a significant development, and  I will pick up the story at this point in a future post.