tisdag 30 augusti 2016

Should we sing hymns at a Catholic Mass?

Why do we sing hymns at Mass? The practice has become almost universal during the past 50 years, following the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy.

There is, in reality, no necessity for them in a Catholic Mass, since the parts that are meant for the people to sing are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, which together make up what is known as the Ordinary of the Mass. Add in the Pater Noster and responses and we have enough singing for any congregation.

In English speaking countries, there were at first no musical settings for the text of the Ordinary, which was recited in a normal speech tone. In order to provide some music, hymns were inserted as replacements for the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons (that part of the Mass known as the Proper), plus a Recessional hymn. Thus evolved the notorious "Hymn Sandwich".

Here in Sweden the situation was better as there was a long tradition of Gregorian Chant in the vernacular. It was a natural and obvious choice to adopt this music and build on the tradition when the vernacular was introduced in the Catholic liturgy. Thus the standard of music in the contemporary Catholic church in Sweden is exceptionally high and retains a continuity with the ancient Latin tradition.

However, the liturgy unfortunately also suffers from hymns. There is no excuse. The Entrance, Alleluia, and Communion verses are given in Cecilia, pages 1157 to 1244 (the second group of pages in the book, edged in grey) and mostly lend themselves to setting to Gregorian psalm tones. So why are these texts, which form part of the reading and should not be omitted, normally replaced by hymns? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal puts congregational hymns at the bottom of the list of preferred options.

There follow two practical problems. The first is that there are over 500 hymns in Cecilia. Most people only know a few of them, so they tend not to sing, leaving the organist playing solo, apart from a few scattered voices.

The second is that non-participation in singing is also promoted because people are sitting at the Offertory and Communion. Sitting never makes for good singing. At the Offertory the congretation are looking for their change to put in the collection, whilst at Communion, they are waiting to receive communion and do not have their books with them. If the communion hymn is sung afterwards, it prolongs the Mass unduly and disturbs people's meditation.

The use of  hymns from the Protestant tradition gives rise to further issues of an artistic and theological nature. The overall sound of the Ordinary in Sweden is traditionally Catholic, irrespective of whether it is sung in Latin or the vernacular. The music is melismatic, modal, and non-metrical, with precedence being given to the text.

Protestant hymns, on the other hand, are syllabic, metrical, and in a major or minor key. Thus there are two distinct musical genres in use. The two forms sit uncomfortably together. The result is like putting together food on a plate in a bad combination. Plato had unflattering things to say about both the contemporary major and minor key modes. The major key corresponds to the ancient Ionian mode, which, he claimed, promoted sloth and drunkenness and could lead to the collapse of society. In the context of liturgical music, it is interesting also that Plato praised the Dorian and Phrygian modes, which correspond to modes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Gregorian chant.

The use of Protestant music in the Mass has theological and spiritual ramifications. Composers such as Crüger, Luther, and Neander wrote fine music, but it is polemically anti-Catholic. Their music carries within it the very spirit of German Lutheranism - so much so that if one enters a Catholic Mass when this music is being sung, it is barely recognisable as Catholic. The same applies to music from other Protestant traditions, for example English Anglicanism and Methodism. Anglican hymns from the first half of the twentieth century, such as "Tell out my soul", by Greatorex, are puffed up with the spirit of British imperialism. It is good music and we like to sing it, but it is out of place in a Catholic Mass.

Conclusion
  • We ought to wean ourselves off the use of hymns during Mass. The Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses should be read or chanted. The recessional should be restricted to one of the seasonal Latin or vernacular Marian hymns.
  • We need to produce Gregorian settings for the translated texts for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses.
  • There may be a need for some kind of  "Hymns of Praise" service on the lines of "Songs of Praise" where people who want to sing these hymns, presumably because they were brought up with them can continue to do so. They do not belong in a Catholic Mass. Such services might be held on a weekday or Saturday and be billed as a ecumenical events.

lördag 27 augusti 2016

Burkini ban rumbles on

Biretta and Roman chasuble
The burkini ban, now overturned by the French high court, has been presented as being just about clothing. This is disingenuous.

A clergyman's collar, a monk's habit or a Sikh's turban are items which announce the wearer's entire philosophy and life principles. The Catholic priest who processes into Mass wearing a biretta and Roman chasuble is making a bold statement about his understanding of the theology of the Catholic faith in general and the Mass in particular. The teenager with well-off  parents who chooses to wear ripped jeans is also saying something, Likewise the burkini.

Clothing is never just clothing. There is a sign system at work here. Clothes have meanings. They are a declaration of allegiance to something or other.

fredag 26 augusti 2016

Comment is not free - again

"The burkini ban ruling is a start, but France has more issues to deal with. The nation has still not found a way to ensure its Muslim population are equal citizens of the republic".
Article by Natalie Nougayrède.

She has excelled herself this time. As it is obvious what sort of comments this would have elicited, the embargo on comments was only to be expected. However, I would think that the number of people who agree with her is small and dwindling. Since the Guardian depends on its web site for revenue, articles like this are useless as click-bait. How much longer can it continue?

tisdag 23 augusti 2016

The sacred cow of third-world aid

Aditya Chakrabortty, who often writes perceptively, has gone off the rails with his piece today (closed to comments) on the threat to Britain's foreign aid budget posed by the new Conservative minister responsible, Priti Patel, who, he says is about to trash "our proud record on aid".

The fallacy behind this aid is the concept of "world poverty". The world is not poor. There is enough for everyone. Poverty itself is a world-wide phenomenon. There are poor people in rich countries too. Not only are they are the ones to bear the brunt of the taxation which pays for the third world aid; the tax system in the "rich countries" is the prime cause of their poverty.

There are also rich people in the "poor" countries. These are the owning classes. A handful of families own almost the whole of Pakistan. Concentration of land ownership remains an issue in much of Central and South America. In the nature of things, the benefits of the aid flow into their pockets. So we have the poor in the rich countries helping to swell the bank accounts of the rich in the poor countries, whilst little ends up with the intended beneficiaries, who at best are a privileged few.

I am not saying that there should not be aid, but it is probably better if it does  not come from government but is funded voluntarily and the projects run by charities. Cafod and some of the Quaker organisations have quite a good record of achieving worthwhile small-scale interventions on the ground, such as bringing clean water to people who previously had no access to it.

Behind that, however, is another question - why is anyone at all living in places where they have to make a long trek to fetch water?

söndag 21 augusti 2016

Will Hutton and the burkini ban

I am not particularly interested in Will Hutton's views on anything. He has contributed nothing useful to his specialist field, economics. His latest piece, on the burkini ban - some local authorities in France have, controversially, banned its use on beaches - is also of no interest to me in itself. However, what is of interest is the fact that the Guardian, having initially said that the article would be available for comments on its website "later in the morning", later decided not to accept comments at all.

It does not take much imagination to predict what kind of comments would have been made, nor that many, if not most of them, would have been deleted by the moderators. But that being the case, why did the editors ever even contemplate accepting comments? One wonders too, whether Hutton would have agreed to write an article which was closed to comments? Or why he has even stepped into this febrile subject area at all?

torsdag 18 augusti 2016

Should I go to the Papal event?

A Vatican announcement says that "The joint Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on 31 October in Lund, Sweden will consist of two parts. It will begin with a liturgy in Lund Cathedral and continue with a public event at Malmö Arena that will be open to wider participation.

"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Roman Catholic Church joint event will highlight the 50 years of continuous ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts of this collaboration.

"The Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation is structured around the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness. The aim is to express the gifts of the Reformation and ask forgiveness for division perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions."

I am not sure I want to be there. For a start, I suspect the music will be horrid; second, especially in Malmö, there is likely to be more fudge about "the religion of peace", while jihad-inspired murder continues unabated, and the followers of that religion are proud to wear the badge of what has become a toxic brand. It is one thing to avoid stirring up hostility aim but it does not do to make statements which everyone knows are not true. It would be better to stay silent.

Underneath that, and being a convert from Judaism as well, I cannot see what there is to celebrate. Luther was a notorious antisemite. That is not, to say the least, entirely unconnected with the Holocaust. The Reformation unleashed a century of war in Europe. Its resonances are still taking their toll to this day; it lies at the heart of the Northern Ireland troubles. 1500 years of architectural, artistic and musical heritage were wiped out in an orgy of destruction comparable with what Muslim fundamentalists are doing today.

Nor is this about being uncharitably unecumenical. I usually take the opportunity to attend Matins or Evensong at the Anglican Cathedral when visting places like Salisbury or Oxford; last month I went to Evensong at Durham. Evensong is, after all, just a merging of the monastic offices of Vespers and Compline, and therefore includes the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; likewise the Anglican Matins, is put together from the monastic offices Lauds and Prime, with Venite, Te Deum, and Benedictus. Although I would probably not attend an Anglican eucharist, there is not the slightest reason why a Catholic should not go to an Anglican Matins or Evensong - on the contrary - it seems to me a good thing to do.

Lutheranism is a different animal. Its sound alone declares it to be not Catholic. It is also dying, particularly in Sweden, where church is losing membership at an accelerating rate. This is not the case with the Anglican church, at least in some parts of the world; it retains its vitality.

I also have a polite excuse for not going - prostate trouble means that I cannot rely on being able to keep going for more than an hour at a stretch, and then only by carefully controlling my intake of fluids.

lördag 6 augusti 2016

Stabbing attack was Norwegian teenager

The London stabbing earlier this week was carried out by a Norwegian teenager was described by neighbours as a polite and pleasant boy. This is what the Guardian had to say, and note that he is referred to only as a "suspect" who "might" have been responsible, even though he was caught in the act.

"The teenager who allegedly killed an American woman and wounded five others in a stabbing spree in central London was a polite and pleasant boy who rarely got into trouble, according to neighbours.

Zakaria Bulhan, 19, a Norwegian of Somali descent who has been identified as the suspect in the attack in Russell Square on Wednesday night, lived with his mother, 42, his younger brother, 16, and his sister, 24, in a flat in south London.

"Neighbours described him as a polite teenager as reports also emerged that he had wanted to harm himself. He allegedly launched the knife attack shortly after 10.30pm on Wednesday, killing 64-year-old Darlene Horton and injuring five others. Horton was pronounced dead at the scene, just hours before she was due to fly back to the US after the end of her summer break

"His neighbours expressed shock that he might have been responsible for the attack."

It gets worse, too.

"Police have said the suspect has a history of mental illness and that there is nothing to suggest that, as a Muslim, he had been radicalised."

There is, however, more to it though one must read carefully.

"A local postman, who asked not to be named, complained of music and other noises coming from the Bulhan house. “It’s frightening what’s happened. It’s shocking. It’s sad.” 

"He said he went to Graveney secondary school and took A-levels. The Times newspaper quoted a “close family friend” who said Bulhan had called an ambulance six months ago “because he wanted to harm himself”.

“He is a good boy. He has never been trouble. He has been very unwell. He wanted to kill himself. I saw his mother with an ambulance outside their flat and she said Zac had called it because he wanted to hurt himself,” the friend reportedly said. “He called the ambulance about two more times because he was feeling unwell. His mother was very afraid.”

The attack has all the hallmarks of Islamic inspiration. Could it be that Islam can be a cause of mental illness or something that pushes mentally unstable people past a tipping point?