Wednesday, July 4th, 2012
4 July 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under On My Bookshelf  Comments
Lois McMaster Bujold is an award-winning author of both science fiction and fantasy. For some reason, her books have dodged my attention. On a recent trip to the library, I decided to pick out one of her best-regarded volumes, Paladin of Souls, which won best novel from the Hugos, Nebulas, and Locus. It’s solidly in the fantasy genre, but I’d rather read a great book than just an ordinary science fiction work.
The main character, Ista, experiences something of a midlife crisis. Her husband and son have died. Her daughter was married off in the prevoius book in this series. It’s time to get out of town, so Ista concocts the guise of a spiritual pilgrimage, gathers a few trusted companions she’s just met, and rides off to adventure. Ista and her party are waylaid by raiders, rescued by a local nobleman, and are invited to enjoy his hospitality behind the walls of what seems to be a rather safe castle. But appearances are deceiving. Her hosts have their own serious issues with murder, political intrigue, and deeply injured persons.
A sense of unease builds up, and about halfway through the novel a shocking revelation confronts Ista, who has figured it out before the reader. For the rest of the book, the forces of sorcery and military might array against Ista, her companions, and her hosts. The plot resolves with logic, well set-up by small clues planted along the way. Good triumphs over evil with a combination of pluck, sacrifice, the eventual emergence of godly assistance, and most of all, through a middle-aged woman who gradually realizes the powers with which she’s been gifted. It’s a good heroic tale, and a satisfying read.
Paladin of Soulsis not a fast read. Ms Bujold spends a lot of time talking Ista and her companions through characterization. When people start getting lost and hurt fairly early in the reading, it’s easy to care about them. For fantasy, there’s a good deal of talking through the ideas–more than average, I would say. It almost seemed Asimovian. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss the thread. If you like fantasy with swordplay and tussles, there’s some of that. But the deepest ideas are developed through an interesting “theology” of five gods. There’s the human struggle, primarily Ista’s, for self-determination, and how she and others seek or resist divine will/interference (or lack thereof).
The essentially pagan family of gods seems to be rather petty and arbitrary, though not quite as badly behaved as in Greek and Roman mythology. They are satisfied to let people find their own way. But they are not above nudging or even taunting mortals to induce desired behavior. Ista is deeply angry with these gods for her troubled life, but they still seek her out and are willing to work with, or in spite of her bitterness. You will note I use small-case “g” to describe these beings. They don’t strike me as objects of faith. Gods who appear to human beings are not a matter of faith, but just more powerful beings.
This book is a very enjoyable read. Nearly excellent, I would say. Its strength is in characterization, a rare skill for a fantasy author. Though slow to unfold, the plotting is sure. The reader travels at the speed of a horse-drawn wagon, but the ride is smooth, the scenery pleasant, and the companions agreeable. If you like fantasy intelligently presented, this book is strongly recommended.
4 July 2012
Liam suggested we take a peek at this document, issued one century after Pope Pius X released his motu proprio on sacred music, Tra Le Sollecitudini.
I hesitated for a bit on this. I’m not sure I want to get into the side battles in the liturgy wars that are still relived a century later: women and pianos aren’t permitted, and such. But I think reading Pope John Paul II on liturgical music will give us some important insights into the contemporary situation. I’d really like to tackle Dies Domini, his 1998 pastoral letter on the Lord’s Day. That holds a little more interest for me. Maybe another month.
Meanwhile, let’s delve into the first of fifteen numbered sections of what we’ll reference by the acronym, CCTLS:
1. Motivated by a strong desire “to maintain and promote the decorum of the House of God”, my Predecessor St Pius X promulgated the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini 100 years ago. Its purpose was to renew sacred music during liturgical services. With it he intended to offer the Church practical guidelines in that vital sector of the Liturgy, presenting them, as it were, as a “juridical code of sacred music”[Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, Vol. I, p. 77]. This act was also part of the programme of his Pontificate which he summed up in the motto: “Instaurare omnia in Cristo“.
The centenary of the Document gives me the opportunity to recall the important role of sacred music, which St Pius X presented both as a means of lifting up the spirit to God and as a precious aid for the faithful in their “active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church”[Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, Vol. I, p. 77].
The holy Pontiff recalls that the special attention which sacred music rightly deserves stems from the fact that, “being an integral part of the solemn Liturgy, [it] participates in the general purpose of the Liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful”[Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, Vol. I, p. 78]. Since it interprets and expresses the deep meaning of the sacred text to which it is intimately linked, it must be able “to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be… better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries”[Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, Vol. I, p. 77].
If sacred music was judged in need of renewal a century ago, it’s not likely the preconciliar era was as golden as some seem to think.
John Paul II seemed to take less stock in providing a new “juridical code” and more a focus on the end of sacred music, namely the “lifting up” of the spiritual lives of the laity.
“Active participation” seems to have been the intent of Pope Pius X. Early and frequent communion. Engagement in the public rites of the Church through singing. Participation in sacred music aims the worshiping assembly at cooperation with God’s grace: giving glory to God in public prayer, and the sanctification of the Body.
Other thoughts from you readers?
4 July 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Music Leave a Comment
You may know the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem …
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
One of my favorite pieces of American music is Charles Griffes‘ The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan. I first heard the original piano version and a bit later, was introduced to the transcription for orchestra, performed here by the Seattle Symphony. Listen to both, and tell: which do you prefer?
Many music lovers appreciate the symphony, but I’ve long preferred the tone poem. Not sure why. I don’t find the statement of a theme (China, or Paris, or Rome) to be so much of a constriction as a starting point of a journey I can choose to take wherever the imagination leads.
4 July 2012
Today is Independence Day in the US. It’s also the conclusion of the Fortnight for Freedom. In parallel, we will draw this series on worthy women to a conclusion. Thanks, all for reading and following. I’m especially appreciative for our guest bloggers these past two weeks: Fran, John, and Rae.
I was looking for an American woman to close this out, but I was struck by the story of Maude Petre, as an unabashed modernist in an age when aggiornamento was a most unwelcome guest in the Catholic Church. So let’s wrap up two weeks of worthiness with an Englishwoman who struggled for freedom within the Church she loyally loved and supported.
Maude Petre was born into a Catholic family in 1863. As a young adult she expressed skepticism about the faith, so her Jesuit confessor recommended she look to Thomas Aquinas. And in 1885, it was off study neo-scholasticism with some professors in the Vatican. One of her relatives quipped, “Maude has gone to Rome to study for the priesthood.”
She settled into religious life with the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a French community of sisters who, lest you think the 19th century was all about cloisters and habits for religious women, allowed its members to live in their own houses and wear street clothes. This, friend trads, before the invention of polyester. Her apostolate included ministry to orphans and housing the poor. The once-skeptic also instructed converts to Catholicism. Her leadership skills were apparently well-regarded as she was named a local superior in 1896 and a provincial just four years later.
Also in 1900, Maude met the Jesuit theologian George Tyrrell. In her own writings, she seemed less a parrot of his ideas of a Catholicism recapturing its mystical voice, and the search for God in human experience. She promoted a Church in which people should be free to discuss such possibilities. Maude published Catholicism and Independence: Being Studies in Spiritual Liberty. For this, she was refused permission to renew her vows with her community.
Those conversant in Church history know that Pope Pius X came down brutally hard on the modernists. Fr Tyrrell was eventually ejected from the Jesuits, from the priesthood, and excommunicated. A priest friend of Tyrrell’s was harshly disciplined for making a sign of the cross over the man’s grave.
Maude’s bishop grew alarmed at her efforts to edit and publish the works of Fr Tyrrell. When she refused to sign the anti-Modernist oath, she was excommunicated.
If I am wrong, then I am so deeply fundamentally wrong, that only God can prove it to me. If I am right, then He will make good to me what I have forfeited before men.
Maude always considered herself a faithful Catholic. When she moved to London, she attended daily Mass, regularly receiving the sacraments. In his book, Blessed Among Women, Robert Ellsberg spoke of her as “exemplify(ing) a spirituality of loyal dissent.”
Near the end of her life, she wrote:
Nothing can alter the radical aspirations of the human heart, and it was for these that the Modernist contended, and for the sake of which he endured the cramping torture of ecclesiastical institutions, because in spite of their limitations, he found in them a support in the passage through this dark and troubled life: he found through them, the grace to live, the courage to die.
If the US bishops were authentically inclined to religious freedom, it would mean more than just a salve for their own consciences. Religious liberty applies within the institution, and not just to a limited interpretation of how it might be threatened from without. Ultimately, a believer is always in charge of her or his expression of faith. People like Maude Petre and other worthy women realized this. They made decisions–not always compliant, not always dissenting. But they made these choices as part of a lifelong loyalty to Christ, the Master of Liberty and provider, thanks to the Paschal Mystery, of the freedom to choose God and walk in the life of the Spirit.
4 July 2012
A “closest harmony” concludes the Mass, according to saintly tradition:
23. After the altar has been prepared, the bishop celebrates the eucharist, the principal and the most ancient part of the whole rite,(See Pope Vigilius, Epistula ad Profuturum Episcopum 4: PL 84, 832) because the celebration of the eucharist is in the closest harmony with the rite of the dedication of an altar:
For the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice achieves the end for which the altar was erected and expresses this end by particularly clear signs.
Furthermore, the eucharist, which sanctifies the hearts of those who receive it, in a sense consecrates the altar, as the ancient Fathers of the Church often assert: ‘This altar should be an object of awe: by nature it is stone, but it is made holy when it receives the body of Christ.’ (John Chrysostom, Homilia 20 in 2 Cor 3: PG 61, 540)
Finally, the bond closely connecting the dedication of an altar with the celebration of the eucharist is likewise evident from the fact that the Mass for the dedication has its own preface, which is a central part of the rite itself.