The words “Do not be satisfied with mediocrity!” have been much in my mind of late, and I thought of them again as a read a brilliant thesis on Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited by Elizabeth Quackenbush, a senior at Thomas Aquinas College this year. I suppose I must have been about 14 when I first read Brideshead, and I was completely dazzled. As Thomas Howard once wrote, Continue reading
The latest CD from my monastery’s record label (www.obsculta-music.at) is meant in part to promote a more faithful implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy. The following is a translation of my confrere Pater Karl Wallner’s preface to the CD booklet.
The enthusiastic reception of our CDs shows the timeless fascination of Gregorian chant, which has been moving souls for over 1000 years. The calm melodies allow both singers and listeners to plunge into the sphere of the mystery of God. The texts are taken mostly from the Bible. We sing the Word that God has spoken to us back to Him. Chant is not simply song; it is divine worship. Therefore in the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz we sing Gregorian chant only during the Liturgy, especially during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
“Chant – Missa Latina” is meant not only as an “advertisement” for the beauty of God – we are certain that all who hear this chant, whatever their faith, will be moved by the Eternal Splendor – but this CD is also meant as an “advertisement” for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which, as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) taught, is “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).
Particularly we want to promote the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin. The Mass can and should be celebrated in Latin. Not only in the so-called “Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite,” which was usual before the Second Vatican Council, and whose celebration Pope Benedict XVI facilitated in 2007 (Summorum Pontificum, Art. 1), but also in the “Ordinary Form.” That is, Latin has its place in the “post-conciliar” Mass usual today. It was certainly good that the Council opened up the possibility of a limited use of the vernacular in the Liturgy. But it is entirely beside the intention of the Council that today the ancient and noble liturgical language of the Latin Church is almost unkown. The Second Vatican Council states explicitly: “Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium Nr. 54)
“Chant – Missa Latina” is meant to promote this forgotten mandate of the Second Vatican Council. Hence the golden cover which is meant to refer to the “golden jubilee” of the opening of the Council, 50 years ago. “Chant – Missa Latina” includes all the chants of the Mass of the Sacred Heart from the Introit to the “Ite Missa est.” The faithful can even use it as a kind of practice CD for learning the parts of the Mass in Latin. The Council also gave high praise to Gregorian chant (Sacrosanctum Concilium Nr. 116); it would be a great enrichment if it were to be sung more often during Mass…
But, dear listeners, one can of course simply listen to this CD and be moved by the beautiful music. The beauty of music of itself gives glory to God – as the Ensemble Vox Gotica shows so well with the “Missa Sine Nomine.” May God bless all who listen to this CD!
Father Karl Wallner, O.Cist., October 11, 2012.
I suppose I am the last person on earth to discover this brilliant poem. It reminds me of my own visit to Greece in 2003, but of course (like all Betjeman poems) it is really about England.
by John Betjeman
To the Reverend T. P. Symonds
What did I see when first I went to Greece?
Shades of the Sixth across the Peloponnese.
Though clear the clean-cut Doric temple shone
Still droned the voice of Mr Gidney on;
“That hoti? Can we take its meaning here
Wholly as interrogative?” Edward Lear,
Show me the Greece of wrinkled olive boughs
Above red earth; thin goats, instead of cows,
Each with its bell; the shallow terraced soil;
The stone-built wayside shrine; the yellow oil;
The tiled and cross-shaped church, who knows how old
Its ashlar walls of honey-coloured gold?
Three centuries or ten? Of course, there’ll be
The long meander off to find the key.
The domed interior swallows up the day.
Here, where to light a candle is to pray,
The candle flame shows up the almond eyes
Of local saints who view with no surprise
Their martyrdoms depicted upon walls
On which the filtered daylight faintly falls.
The flame shows up the cracked paint– sea-green blue
And red and gold, with grained wood showing through–
Of much-kissed ikons, dating from, perhaps,
The fourteenth century. There across the apse,
Ikon- and oleograph-adorned, is seen
The semblance of an English chancel screen.
“With oleographs?” you say. “Oh, what a pity!
Surely the diocese has some committee
Advising it on taste?” It is not so.
Thus vigorously does the old tree grow,
By persecution pruned, watered with blood,
Its living roots deep in pre-Christian mud,
It needs no bureaucratical protection.
It is its own perpetual resurrection.
Or take the galleon metaphor– it rides
Serenely over controversial tides
Triumphant to the Port of Heaven, its home,
With one sail missing– that’s the Pope’s in Rome.
Vicar, I hope it will not be a shock
To find this village has no ‘eight o’clock’.
Those bells you heard at eight were being rung
For matins of a sort but matins sung.
Soon will another set of bells begin
And all the villagers come crowding in.
The painted boats rock empty by the quay
Feet crunch on gravel, faintly beats the sea.
From the domed church, as from the sky, look down
The Pantocrator’s searching eyes of brown,
With one serene all-comprehending stare
On farmer, fisherman and millionaire.
It’s a curious fact, but the best writer on football/soccer is an American: Brian Phillips. Perhaps it something to do with the fact that in Europe football is such a plebeian game. The new England manager they tell us is “a broadsheet man in a tabloid world,” and they are at least right that the world of football is tabloid. In America on the other hand the sort of people who like soccer tend to be europhile intellectuals. But then again there are intellectual football writers in Europe as well – Jonathan Wilson, various people at the Guardian etc. – but still the way they approach the game is formed by its place in their culture. Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that Americans have an apologetic imperative – they live in a culture which considers soccer rather a bore compared to other sports. This forces them to demonstrate football’s superiority to other sports, which leads to a more philosophical account of its essence. Continue reading
When one is doing a lectio continua of the scriptures it starts out being a literary pleasure — Genesis and and the first part of Exodus are as exciting as anything in ancient literature — but then one comes to the tabernacle descriptions in Exodus and then Leviticus. Leviticus! Surely one of the hardest bits of Scripture to plow through. Those long lists of ritual laws. One of the things that makes the laws so boring is that they seem so arbitrary. Why is suet fat never eaten, but always burned entirely? Leviticus doesn’t say. Of all the books of the Bible Leviticus is perhaps the last one that one would least think of reading as belles-lettres, but that is exactly what the anthropologist Mary Douglas does in her book Leviticus as Literature. Leviticus, Douglas argues, is not a random collection of arbitrary rules, but an intricately crafted work of analogical thinking. She shows how the body of the sacrificial animal is a kind of model or map of the tabernacle, each part of the dismembered animal corresponds to a part of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle is itself a model of Mount Sinai, which is a model of the universe. The sacrificial rites thus become an enactment of the cosmic order. So the suet over the entrails is sacred to God not because it corresponds to the curtain before the Holy of Holies. But what corresponds to the Holy of Holies itself. Well, that’s where the bridal symbolism comes in:
A virtuous Woman who can find? Her price is far beyond pearls. – Proverbs 31:10
Again, the kingdom of heaven is as if a merchant were looking for rare pearls: and now he has found one pearl of great price, and has sold all that he had and bought it. – Matthew 13:45-46
Cornelius a Lapide mentions that one can take the pearl of great price to mean Our Lady. But in that case who is the merchant? The merchant is God Himself Who searched through all generations till He found the “virtuous woman” who was to be the Mother of His Son. And He was willing to pay all He had for her. In an earlier post I looked at how the Our Lady can be seen as the final cause of the entire universe; she is more than all other purely created things the end and motive that God had in mind when He created the world. And it was above all for Her that the Divine Son paid the ultimate price on the Cross. There is a beautiful meditation on this in Fr. Antonio Maria Sicari’s Way of the Cross for the Jubilee of Priests: Continue reading
Monstrance of silver, gold, and precious stones. 66 cm high. Vienna 1704.
I never understood how some people can object to the custom of praying the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. What could be a more appropriate response to the real, true, and substantial presence of the Incarnate Word than to call out to his Blessed Mother the very greeting with which the Incarnation itself was announced: “Hail, full of grace!” The baroque goldsmiths knew this perfectly, as this Monstrance from the Schatzkammer in Vienna shows. It is, as the official guide book points out, a kind of Latin version of the Byzantine “Platytera”.
Domikus Böhm’s Heilig-Kreuz Kirche in Dülmen
In a fascinating series Shawn Tribe and Matthew Alderman, have been examining what they call “The Other Modern” in sacred architecture: architecture which learns from the tradition rather than rejecting it, but which nevertheless has a peculiarly modernist flair. One of the questions which they have raised is whether it is possible to make use of elements of modernist minimalism and austerity in an authentically Catholic fashion. Even if the avante garde of modernism tended to use minimalism as an expression of nihilism, or the as a revolutionary demonstration of man’s self-alienation in his works, are there no other uses possible? Could one use a form of modernist austerity to achieve “noble simplicity”? There have certainly been architects who thought that it could, and the “Other Modern” series has brought some interesting examples to light. There have, after all, been examples of austere architecture in the Church’s past, Tribe and Alderman raise the example of Cistercian architecture.
The question of modernist vs. Cistercian austerity came to my mind last summer when I took a tour of the Heilig-Kreuz Kirche in Dülmen, built by the German architect, vestment designer, and composer Dominikus Böhm. Now, Böhm’s architecture is not an example of the “Other Modern”–it is simply modern–but I think a consideration of it can help to show what it is about modern austerity that a successful Other Modern has to avoid. Böhm was an enthusiastic proponent of the twentieth century Liturgical Movement, and, while a convinced modernist, he included allusions to traditional architectural styles – especially the Romanesque – in his buildings for the sake of better expressing his theology. The tour guide, who lead some of my confreres and me through the Church, made a point of comparing Böhm’s architecture in general with Cistercian architecture, and Dülmen in particular with our Abbey Church in Heiligenkreuz, which has some striking coincidental similarities to Heilig-Kreuz Dülmen.
This has set me thinking on what exactly the meaning of austerity was for the Cistercian Fathers, and how it relates to the turn to austerity in the ecclesiastical architects of the industrial age, especially those associated with the Liturgical Movement. For S. Bernard austerity in architecture was part of monastic perfection. In the Apology to William S. Bernard writes the following: