Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's storming outside

Which means there is less cause to regret that I have to be inside all day working instead of outside by the pool. I still feel somewhat grumpy!

This morning we went to the early Mass, instead of the summer late-morning Mass, so my husband could go back into work and I could get started earlier also (this, after 12-hour days yesterday - we are not an exciting couple this weekend!) Unfortunately, however, the early morning Mass is Monsignor's concession to the parishioners who prefer the 1970s Marty Haugen/Carey Landry/John Foley liturgical stylings. Haugen isn't even Catholic (a fact I only became aware of recently). While some of his songs aren't so bad theologically or musically (I grew up with them and like several of them), enough are irreverently-styled, vapid and theologically suspect (from a Catholic perspective) that it's a mystery to me why they have come to so dominate in Catholic parishes. They're often performance or pop pieces, not real worship music. Anyway, I notice that Monsignor never celebrates the early Mass himself, only the late-morning and Saturday evening Masses with organ, incense, and chant. I also notice that our sweet, well-meaning choir at the early Mass is populated by middle-aged folks, while our organist and the more traditional choir are all under 30. (Caveats, exceptions, and so forth.) Oh well. I do still sing all the hymns (except for the really bad arrangement of the Our Father) and make the most of it! And I know that, as for the other side of things, it's certainly possible for organ music to be uninspired and sleep-inducing - I've been to parishes where that is the case. In any event, I honestly believe we're past the nadir in American Catholic liturgy, historically speaking, but sometimes I can't wait for these unfortunate elements of the recent past to be left to the past.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not dead yet

I'm still around - I just haven't been able to find any balance at work. Either I'm completely slow, or completely busy. To make up for the slow times, I've decided to accept pretty much any assignment people want to give me . . . leading to at least four due this Friday. When I get out from underneath these lease reviews and closing document drafts I do have a few articles I've been meaning to post on, not to mention the news that Notre Dame seems to have almost the entirety of its 2008 team committed. With all this great recruiting news coming from South Bend, it helps to make the wait time until college football season starts again more bearable. Of course, another thing that undoubtedly helps is Every Day Should Be Saturday, which is posting daily affirmations until kickoff.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Vaccines and politics

A reader asked what my opinion was on the new HPV vaccine, so I thought I would write briefly on the subject . . . I don't think there's anything morally wrong with it. Human papillomavirus is fairly ugly, and causes increased rates of cervical cancer (and infertility) in far too many women. Being vaccinated against HPV doesn't mean that a person is less likely to be chaste because sex would now be "safer"; after all, there are (unfortunately) quite a few other rampant STDs out there, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes; a vaccine against one type of venereal disease is unlikely to encourage a person to think of sex overall as less risky. I believe a family could vaccinate their daughter without fear that it would send a message inconsistent with the virtue of chastity they want to model and impart. That is, it's a far cry from handing out condoms or visiting Planned Parenthood to obtain birth control pills! I also think that no matter how faithfully your children practice chastity and value waiting until marriage, it is, unfortunately, not necessarily the case that their spouse will also have waited until marriage (prior to meeting their intended), and it is possible they may have HPV; if the vaccine could prevent people from contracting HPV from their spouse in that instance, surely it would be a good thing. This is also the case for terrible instances of abuse.

That said, I do have a few problems with issues related to the vaccine. It doesn't protect against all kinds of sexually transmitted HPV strains, for one thing, and so offers incomplete protection. I don't see why it shouldn't be given to boys as well as girls, if preventing the spread of diseases is the main goal. There's no clear evidence on how long the protection lasts and it's quite expensive for those without insurance. Moreover, HPV isn't a communicable disease in the same way that, say, measles are. For those reasons, and the fact that some people do have moral concerns, I would absolutely oppose making the vaccine mandatory (as Texas has done) and I wouldn't think it is a necessary thing, especially if the money isn't there. My understanding is there are no side effects, though, so if a family doctor thinks, and a family agrees, that it's worth it, I don't think it's a bad thing. (For additional commentary, see the National Catholic Bioethics Center statement here and the Catholic Medical Association here.)

My current thoughts on liturgy (or, How to create a reactionary)

I went to a church in southeastern Pennsylvania last week since we were there for a family event and found myself saying the same thing I've been feeling more often lately, which is, "I'm not a Trad, but . . ." That is, I don't particularly long for the Tridentine Mass - I really do prefer the current rite - and I've never particularly minded the modern hymns I grew up singing. And yet, I can recognize and cringe at the worst abuses of the current rite, and as I've become better catechized over the last few years (largely thanks to my husband and my best friend, a recent convert and now mostly a Traditionalist), I find myself becoming ever more aware of the extent of the damage that American liberals did to the Church in the 1960s and 1970s, hijacking the intentions of the well-meaning Vatican II reformers to completely revise and deform, as the Pope put it today, the liturgy. Putting yourself into the place of God in hymns ("I am the Bread of Life" -- well, no we're not, Christ is), applause for the choir during Mass (it's not a performance), using treacly and vapid "teen" music (did I *really* have to sing "Our God is an awesome God" so much in high school?), removing the tabernacle from the altars, priests extemporizing excessively during Mass, general lack of reverence during Mass. I think a lot of the damage that was done, however, was not so much an inevitable outcome of Vatican II, as a consequence of the Council having supremely bad timing. That is, at a time when the Church undertook to implement some gradual and welcome reforms, the entire West was going through massive social and cultural upheavals, and the "revolutionaries" seized the moment in parishes around the country, leading us toward more casual, in some cases more freeform Protestant and in some csaes New Age-y, and less reverent worship. It's only been in the last few years that the priests who came of age under the John Paul II "revival" (and older priests who missed the way things had been before) I think have started bringing back the reverence and solemnity - so often in a joyful way - to our worship.

But in the meantime the country is dotted with parishes that exemplify all the worst elements of the 1970s. The parish we went to on Sunday looked like a spaceship with a sail on top (no photos online so I can't post it). In a postmodern move that I'm sure the architect was extremely pleased with himself on, the church had no actual entrance or vestibule ("Hey! Only capitalist patriarchal oppressors put doors on buildings!"). Instead, there were six small unmarked doors scattered around the building, each six feet away from inner doors leading to the sanctuary. Which looked like a spaceship. There was a giant white plaster abstracted/mosaic type Jesus behind the altar on the wall, while rows of track lighting led up to a center point on the ceiling. If they had suddenly started blinking in sequence, I would fully have expected to be beamed up. There was dark slate around the base of the walls but otherwise just white drywall. The saddest part was that behind the altar in a small area of pews where we were sitting (not having found the non-existent main entrance to the church to sit in the main pew area), and not visible from the outside, were about ten beautiful stained-glass panels with (I think) Czech words. They'd obviously been taken from an older parish somewhere in town that now no longer existed. Unsurprisingly, inside the spaceship, it was a little hard to concentrate on the actual worship, even though the priest was actually quite good. I was embarrassed for St. Ann to have her name attached to the parish. Meanwhile, the Methodist church down the street looked quite ordinary and respectable. I found myself thinking - why? But we all know the great, (mostly) well-meaning people who enthusiastically set about "modernizing" the church over the last 40 years, bringing it "up-to-date" while jettisoning hundreds of years of history and tradition relating to architecture, art and music. Funny how it all looks so dated to my generation now.

Fortunately, things are changing. I'm blessed to be able to attend a wonderful little parish with a pastor who cares about solemnity in the liturgy, using incense every week, singing the ordinary parts of the Mass, encouraging respectfulness and orthodoxy by the example he sets. Our organist trained at Catholic, and selects traditional hymns and makes some use of chant while staying unobtrusive and keeping the focus on the Mass instead of her or the choir. And the architecture of our small church allows for this, with the choir loft set above and behind, and the general shape of the church in the cross shape that has so much theological significance as well as practicality and grace. Aside from this example, though, I know there are priests all over the country concerned with regaining the reverence and beauty of the Mass. (Fr. Martin Fox collected hundreds of examples here.) Our generation has really grown up with the joyful and blessed examples of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who have given us many serious reflections on the liturgy and the life of the Church. Re-catechizing the new generation will take time and effort, but we have good examples (even from the last 40 years! - great institutions and communities, full of people like my parents, actively involved in teaching and witnessing the life of the Church) and a lot of energy I think going forward.

We are expecting a new translation of the Mass in English, much more faithful to the Latin from which it derives, that I think is to be implemented starting later this year. And today the Vatican released Pope Benedict's motu proprio encouraging the wider celebration of the 1962 missal (Tridentine) Mass as the "extraordinary" rite not needing any special permission from bishops anymore, as used to be the case. He is also focused on restoring the ordinary rite (the Novus Ordo) to greater orthodoxy, because:
This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

As Gerald at Closed Cafeteria (linked above) put it, "I bet there are a lot of "Amen!"'s out there right now." Yep. For those who do prefer the old Mass, it's great that they should have the opportunity and freedom to assist it, but the ordinary rite deserves to be rescued as well and with his deep concern about the liturgy, Pope Benedict I think brings much cause for hope to the faithful.

I'm hardly likely to become a Traditionalist - I do prefer the Novus Ordo, solemnly celebrated. (Personally, I also am extremely leery of the smugness and misogyny I often encounter with this group.) Nevertheless, if the motu proprio, combined with the upcoming new English translation of the Mass, leads American pastors to celebrate the ordinary rite with due solemnity, I absolutely welcome it. After all, "I'm not a Trad, but . . ."