Jul 182016
 

In my little over a decade and a half as a Catholic I have seen steady improvement regarding the liturgy within my diocese. Attending Mass at multiple parishes all over town I have watched this unfold.

I have definite Liturgy Police tendencies. Part of this is as a convert I became familiar with the GIRM and what the rubrics were. Plus having listened to so much Catholic radio I have heard a lot of questions and answers regarding the liturgy. So knowing what is suppose to happen reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. So I have struggled with these Liturgy Police tendencies which could really take away from worshiping God at Mass. Rantings of angry traditionalists on this though has provided a warning sign to me to not go down this route. A route I could easily fall in to.

When I was a brand new Catholic I often found liturgical abuses across the range. At the time there was pretty much only one parish I could go to where I would not come across these abuses. Looking back I think I transferred most of my anger concerning this into various parodies on this blog over the years. Although my wife had to suffer through many of my rants about liturgical abuses. Thankfully I did not descend into constant angry letter writing. The only case where I did write a letter involved a very serious abuse and the parish pretty much ignored it.

So mostly I am coming to grips with now mostly minor liturgical abuses and of course banal music. I no longer come out of Mass angry. The fact that I less likely to experience serious liturgical abuses has been a good thing for me. I don’t want to turn into the Liturgical Hulk “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

There are some parishes now that have been transformed and mostly the reason for this is that the previous pastor retired. Reform of the reform via attrition has made a serious effect. Parishes that caused me to cringe now offer beautiful masses said reverently. A return of the Pipe Organ and some of the richness from the Church’s treasure of hymns. A return of a little bit of Latin. I’ve also seen a increased return to using a Paten. In these parishes the quality of homilies is also on the increase.

I was reminded of all of this at Mass yesterday at a parish where the music was once dreadful and the homilies contained information that was simply false. Instead now they seemed to have discovered that they had a Pipe Organ and that they could use it. The homily from a young priest was lyrical and moving. At times when he mentioned Jesus he would point to the Tabernacle. It instantly reminded me of the Pastor of the Church I came into, the late and beloved Fr. Leon, who had the same habit.

Sure some parishes time seems to have stood still trapped in the sixties, but even these parishes with so-called “vibrant” music are mostly free of liturgical abuses, with no serious abuses. Since I fortify myself with several homily podcasts, the totally forgettable homilies delivered in these parishes doesn’t bother me as much. Not that I don’t wish the homilies were better for everyone.

So while I am still hypercritical attending Mass, it is mostly as an observer and does not destroy my interior life (what there is of it). Knowing that I can easily turn to the dark side of angry liturgical traditionalism, it gives me some peace to turn away from it.

May 232016
 

What is called the 4-hymn sandwich seems to be the common format I run into for Mass. Although I am also finding that number increasing to six or seven hymns to make sure that not one second of silence is available. In the radio broadcasting medium dead air is to be prevented at all cost. So wall-to-wall hymns seem to have the same philosophy.

I was thinking about this at Mass this weekend as yet another hymn was started during Communion. I was hoping for some sacred silence after receiving Communion. Well I got my wish sort of. The hymn was called “Sacred Silence”, I found this rather hilarious that there is a hymn called “Sacred Silence”.

Sacred silence, Holy ocean
Gentle water, washing over me
Help me listen, Holy Spirit
Come and speak to me

How about instead of singing about “Sacred Silence” that we actually have some? Especially during Communion. Out of several parishes I attend there is only one where there is any understanding of sacred silence. I have been very impressed by this one young man who is the organist there. That he understands that he doesn’t have to fill every part of the Mass where music is allowed with music. That silences are allowed and can feed contemplation.

I especially notice the difference between Sunday Masses and Daily Mass where usually there is sacred silence and not just the rollout of hymn after hymn. I can appreciate Church musicians both for when they play, and when they purposely choose not to play. I am a both/and kind of guy and love both sacred music and sacred silences as they both nourish me. I love to sing, but post receiving Communion I want to concentrate on reflecting of this great gift.

Maybe one reason I crave sacred silence at Mass is that I fill my life up with noise. Most of the day I have headphones on listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Even in the shower I make sure I have Bluetooth speakers available. About the only part of my day when I am not listening to something is during the periods of prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary. So no doubt I need to nurture some sacred silence in my own life. Although I did keep the irony down by writing this blog post with no music in the background.

May 222016
 

You never know what kind of homily you will get on Trinity Sunday or as I call it Bad Analogy Sunday. Still this time around my pessimism was not rewarded and I was treated to a rather good homily. One that started “Thomas Aquinas says.” He used the Analogy of the Family to good effect, which is also the analogy the Catechism uses (CCC 2205).

Being in the Diocese of St. Augustine, not surprisingly over the years, I have often been treated to the story of St, Augustine, the boy, and the seashell. As a Middle Ages legend it serves it purposes as a reminder that the Trinity is a mystery, but not anything beyond that.

I would rather hear St. Augustine’s analogy of the Trinity he used in his book Confessions.”

I speak of these three: to be, to know, and to will. For I am, and I know, and I will: I am a knowing and a willing being, and I know that I am and that I will, and I will to be and to know. Therefore, in these three, let him who can do so perceive how inseparable a life there is, one life and one mind and one essence, and finally how inseparable a distinction there is, and yet there is a distinction. Surely a man stands face to face with himself. Let him take heed of himself, and look there, and tell me. But when he has discovered any of these and is ready to speak, let him not think that he has found that immutable being which is above all these, which is immutably, and knows immutably, and wills immutably.

Just as long as you remember all analogies limp, and they are downright crippled when it comes to The Most Holy Trinity.

Although I find Frank Sheed’s explanation providing the most light as laid out in Theology and Sanity and Theology for Beginners.

The Lutheran Satire bit on St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies is pretty funny as a vehicle to go over common bad analogies. Although there is no evidence that St. Patrick ever actually used the Shamrock as an analogy for the Trinity.

Mar 132016
 

In the Gospel of John is today’s reading regarding The Woman caught in adultery.

One aspect of this situation is similar to other instances when the scribes and the Pharisees confronted Jesus with a situation.

“This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him”

Again the Scribes and the Pharisees betray their zeal for the law had nothing to do with the underpinnings of the Mosaic law in the natural law. They were not offended by this rupture of the marital bond or how adultery is so often used in the scriptures to point to our relationship with God and betraying him pursuing idols instead.

Instead they see Jesus as a rival teacher and are willing to set him up for their own purposes. They want Jesus to scandalize his followers by possibly disobeying the Mosiac law.

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?”

I would think quite possibly they interpreted the instances when Jesus showed mercy to sinners as a weakness to be exploited. “He ate with sinners.” They were scandalized by mercy, yet were not scandalized by their own lack of justice. Those without mercy often don’t even understand justice.

So while there is so much to draw from this event, there is one aspect I had not considered before.

“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”

Looking at this anew I realized just how surprising the scribes and the Pharisees reaction was. They had setup a trap and had no concern with Jesus’ answer other than that it would reflect badly on him regarding his followers. The surprise is that they ended up listening to him and subsequently counting themselves as sinners. I also find it interesting that the eldest among them left first. He had gained enough wisdom to go beyond the myriad rules and still see himself as a sinner. His response probably helped the others to realize the same.

The prideful scribes and the Pharisees were humbled by their own acknowledgment that they were not without sin. Often when we are confronted by our sinfulness we double-down by rejecting the thought or whip up a defensive wall made of excuses and justifications.

So it is pretty awesome that they heard what Jesus had to say and accepted the grace to humble themselves by leaving.

Mar 062016
 

I heard a very unique homily on the parable of The Prodigal Son. Unique in a good way.

It was a soliloquy delivered from the perspective of the older brother as he speaks about his anger at his brother and father and fleshes out his feelings and reflects on them. Is he just in his anger and being treated unfair? Is he trying to buy his Father’s love by duty? Does he have gratitude for what he has or is he jealous of his brother? There is a whole chain of thoughts expressed to where he comes out the other side seeing his own faults.

I found this rather powerful and a interesting way to get the point across. Listening to it I was hoping that he would finish the soliloquy and not try to expand by trying to explain further – since it was perfect as it was. He did leave it alone.

Now this is not a technique I would want to see used all the time. Turning a homily into a drama audition. Yet used sparingly by someone in a skillful manner I found it a rather effective way to reflect on the reading,

When I have heard the pastor of this church preach I have been impressed. There is a vigor and thoughtfulness to his homilies. Plus more to the point I actually remember the points made in them after Mass. Usually I suspect the Holy Water font contains the water from Lethe.

Feb 112016
 
  1. Complain that in the Latin Rite, fasting norms are rather wimpy when compared to Eastern Rite Catholics.
  2. Someone reminds you that you can personally adopt their Lenten fast yourself.
  3. Never mind.
Dec 252015
 

This year the first intentionally heard Christmas carols were at a Christmas Vigil Mass. I actually managed to play Advent hymns up to that. Still it is hard to avoid “second hand carols” via other sources. But usually they were of the Christmassy, not the traditional carols anyway.

This was pretty hard for me to do as I so love Christmas carols, but now my joy is complete as I will be listening to them throughout Christmastide. Great thing about being Catholic is that listening to these carols dos not end of Christmas.

Now over the last decade and a half I have been building up my collection of Christmas hymns and carols. Radio playing of “Christmas Music” was too scattershot and more and more about secular Christmas and its trappings. So having access to the hymns I love every where I go is a decided bonus.

Still the quality of the recordings I own are all over the place. I like the selection on the John Rutter produced albums, but the production quality is crappy especially the clarity and volume. Paid for streaming music services are especially awesome when it comes to creating the “perfect” Christmas playlist.

I have gone from one music service to another and thus have to keep creating these playlists. This is both good and bad. Good in that I can find new gems I might not have otherwise searched for. Apple Music, like only Google Play Music which I last used, lets me combine songs I own with songs available via streaming.

Ideally I wish I could create a weighted playlist that derives sources from specified playlists. For example the majority of the time I want to hear Christmas carols both the classics and the lesser known. Every once in a while it would be okay to inject one song from another playlist containing Christmassy standards all about the trappings of Christmas and good feelings. Maybe once in 200 plays a Santa related song – possibly the Latin version of Rudolf – Rudolph rubrinasus as performed by the choir at St. Bartholomew’s in New York City.

Another weight would be for favorites that are older hymns, that are still mostly about trappings of Christmas than Christ himself. Although really that specific exemption is for the “Boar’s Head Carol” which I have so loved since as a kid I found it on one of my Mother’s Christmas albums. It stirs me every time even though it is about eating a boar’s head. Just love the melody and since it has a Latin chorus that makes it better.

Caput apri defero (Translation: The boar’s head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Translation: Giving praises to the Lord)

Still not being able to randomize my playlist in an ideal fashion is certainly a #FirstWorld Problem. Mostly I am greatly pleased to create a large playlist containing all songs I like and that are also of good audio production. A nice mix of full choirs, ensembles, and individual singers. I’ve certainly grown an appreciation of crooners of the past like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra when they used their voices to the classic carols and more modern standards. White Christmas is certainly not my favorite of the modern standards, but when sung by Bing Crosby – that’s another thing.

What amazes me most is that each year I find a new favorite hymn. One that totally delights and inspires me. Last year that hymn was “Fum, Fum, Fum”. Still I need to do less writing and more searching for my next favorite hymn or selection of favorites sung by an artist not yet on my playlist.

Dec 252015
 

One thing about Mass at Christmas is that choirs suddenly remember that there were hymns written before 1960. Seriously though I so love the work that choirs put into the hymns for Mass at Christmas. Each year usually I give an A for effort, not for technical performance. They are giving up their time so I try to put away my hypercriticalness. Last year it was hard to do that since the choir consisted of a couple of really awful singers whose discordance felt like screeching chalk on a chalkboard to me.

This year we drove down to Orlando to the Basillica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe which ministers to Disneyworld tourists. First bonus is that the doors to the Basillica have been dedicated as Holy Doors for the Year of Mercy. Have been there several times and the performances of the hymns was usually excellent, but not done by a full choir. It was totally worth the 2 hour plus drive down and then back again. I was really blown away by the performance of the choir and partial orchestra. A couple of times it brought tears to my eyes in joy. They were of one voice and I could not discern individual vocalists. Plus there is something incredible about a live choir in a room with good acoustics. Sure I can listen to great technical performances on CD or streaming, but there is a sacramental quality to hearing these hymns performed live. The downside it that I will be comparing subsequent experiences. I certainly was thankful to God for this and prayed in gratitude for the members of the choir and orchestra (in lieu of clapping).

Over the years I have heard excellent solo performances at Mass, just not a choir acting as one. I realize how hard this is to do having spent four years in a High School choir where this goal is rarely met (especially my efforts).

The homily was a bit of a disappointment. Pretty much totally forgettable. A intro personal story was fine, but as is often the case had nothing to do with the homily other than as a warmup icebreaker. As with most homilies I see them as another opportunity lost. Sure personally I do turn to multiple homiletic sources via podcast or written to find something more substantial. So maybe for once the disappointment isn’t “all about me”. I guess I really do want other people to have something substantial to light the fire of their faith and the turning once again to the Lord. I know I need all the help I can get. Besides something is seriously wrong when you can’t preach on the incarnation, the birth of the Messiah. It is as if repentance is a landmine that must be stepped around and our desperate need for our Savior.

Still I am sure God can bring good out of even bad or mediocre homilies.

Oh and one other thing I found annoying. They usually have some patter regarding this not being part of the diocese and some fundraising pitch. Which is fine as far as it goes. But asking if there were any people from out of town? Sure this was asked rather humorlessly for a church that is almost entirely made up of tourists. It was kind of a meta joke regarding other parishes that ask this. But then they were actually asking people to raise hands and announce where they were from. Fortunately they only asked a sampling or I think we would still be there waiting for Mass to go on.

Otherwise the Mass was quite beautiful rising up my gratitude to God. Te Deum laudimus!

Still I wish they would return the “crucifix” from the set of Frozen.

frozen
Nov 282015
 

Ten years ago I decided to create my own Advent Wreath graphic instead of just using the normal animated gif that I had used previously. If you would like it for your own blog you can use the html code below. I will replace the graphic each week so that it correctly shows the number of candles that should be lit. On Christmas I will change it to another graphic I created for Christmastide.

<img src="http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/Advent/curtjester_advent.gif" width="170" height="189" />
Nov 162015
 

Last Sunday at Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in Huntington, NY a series of unfortunate events left the parishioners on edge and confused.

It started during the singing of the Responsorial Psalm when the cantor failed to raise her arm up to indicate when the parishioners were to sing the response. People were just looking at one another waiting for the cue to sing. An awkward silence was evident while people awaited the visual cue.

The confusion continued when before The Universal Prayer that no mention of the proper response was made. One person did manage a tentative “Lord hear our prayers”, but stopped when no one else joined in. One person complained after Mass that “Just because Lord hear our prayers was the same response used everywhere for years, you just felt comforted knowing exactly what you were to say beforehand.”

Due to a scheduling problem there were not enough ushers to stand next to a row of pews to indicate when that row was to get up to go to receive Communion. As a result everybody from the first to the last row tried to all go at the same time.

The problems multiplied when at the end of Mass there was a failure to read the various announcements from the parish bulletin. Several parishioners were thus forced to read the bulletin themselves.

This uneasiness continued when after the priest said “Go forth, the Mass is ended” there was no “Have a good weekend everybody!” Without the final, final dismissal people were unsure if the Mass had actually ended or not. Some people were actually delayed before they could finally rush out to their car and speed out of the parking lot.