Simple Gifts

Two artists of impeccable musicianship and sensitivity, plus sheer love of music render a classic American tune that strikes me as always appropriate for today’s US observance.

My parish sang this contemporary song with gusto at the close of the Thanksgiving Mass this morning. I think many of us struggle with gratitude. “Holiday” means leisure, even the fourth Thursday of November in America. Can we look around and be thankful for what we have? Do we draw God into the equation, and can we sing that difficult concept with sincerity?

Your grace is enough.

Let’s leave off today’s post with two works by the American great Charles Ives. His arrangement of a classic spiritual that riffs on the theme of what is enough for the Christian believer.

And “Serenity,” just because I like it.turkey

Blessings on your Thanksgiving, and your giving thanks, readers.

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Laudato Si 166: Popular Movements

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Praise for many environmental organizations:

166. Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances, thanks also to the efforts of many organizations of civil society. It is impossible here to mention them all, or to review the history of their contributions. But thanks to their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas and encouraged more far-sighted approaches.

Not so much for international “summits.”

This notwithstanding, recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.

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Apple or Pumpkin?

PumpkinsapplesLocal sports talk radio was debating the choice yesterday. Growing up, my mom loved to bake and we loved to eat. As I remember it, she made five pies many Thanksgivings: one mincemeat, my dad’s favorite; two pumpkins, and the two apple pies my brother and I devoured. If you have only one choice for the American holiday tomorrow, what would it be?


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Songleader to Choir

cantor at STA MassWhen I arrived in my new parish, we had a few highly-attended funerals. For the daughter of my retired predecessor, most of the choir sang. I was asked about reviving the funeral choir. Since it wasn’t my initiative, I acceded to the suggestion–one of the few big changes that has happened since my arrival.

I’ve also been careful about my vocabulary. Rarely do I utter the term “cantor.” None of the weekend Masses have single songleaders, so the psalmist comes from the ranks of the choir. In effect, the pattern is that one has to be a choir member in order to lead the Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, or such.

I think this is still unusual for the Church in the US, not a common practice: to have a choir at all Masses, even a small group. In fact, I can’t think of a good reason to schedule a single songleader–the last three parishes I served all had ample resources of willing singers. Even in Kansas City, where I encountered the remnants of the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach to parish music, the cantors sometimes recruited friends, sisters, and other singers. Once when a single singer was scheduled, eight women were in evidence.

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Laudato Si 165: Fossil Fuels

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.

Business interests attached to coal, oil, and gas resist. But the truth is that in a thousand years, these products of ancient plants will be largely gone. These resources have given human beings a lift up into the age of industry and beyond. By the end of the third millennium, we will have water, air, sunlight, and the atom. Or wood and manure for fuel. When one can view the end of one’s road, it is time to ponder plans for the next direction.

This is a moral issue:

Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition. In recent decades, environmental issues have given rise to considerable public debate and have elicited a variety of committed and generous civic responses. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world. Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.

To do this, we will have to understand the distinction of dialogue from debate, and move in that direction.

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The Warm-Up

Sausages frying in pan on camping stove at Hollands Wood Campsite, New Forest, Hampshire, England, UK.

Sausages frying in pan on camping stove at Hollands Wood Campsite, New Forest, Hampshire, England, UK.

Paul Inwood writes up nine “healthy” pre-liturgy practices he has noticed. I’d like to peel out number 2, the warm-up.

Three minutes before the starting time, the cantor does a brief (one-minute) warm-up, preparing the assembly to celebrate, followed by silence for reflection.

This is one practice I wish I could avoid totally. I don’t know why. Yes, I’m an introvert, but that’s less a public persona and more a realization of where I draw energy and have it drained. I suppose I wish new music would arise organically from an assembly of music-reading people.

And yet it is an act of courtesy to the assembly. 99% of the time we fail to prepare the assembly to celebrate. This means we are treating them as passive spectators instead of active participants. To participate actively, you need to know what is going on. The brief “warm-up” (a better expression than “rehearsal”, which can imply an overemphasis on performance or a “teaching” environment”) tries to give people a simple way-in to the celebration by running through one or more of the items that will be sung during the liturgy, ensuring that there will be some familiarity when they actually encounter that singing later on.

I do think the “warm-up” is necessary for the five to ten times a year when new music has been prepared. On the other hand, I think Mr Inwood exaggerates the 99%. “We” don’t always need to prepare the assembly. Many people come already prepared to celebrate the liturgy.

The other thing: we can call it a warm-up, but I don’t mind “rehearsal” as a term. The main thing is that this whatchamacallit be rehearsed by the cantor and the choir as well. In my recent adventures with teaching a new Mass setting, I prepared the music ministry and did exactly what I planned at the end of the pre-Mass warm-up with them. They knew to be prepared to sing along with the other people.

Let me reiterate that point: any rehearsal with the assembly really must be planned and choreographed to make maximum use of a minimum of time.

Image credit.

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Laudato Si 164: International Dialogue

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. How should the conversation beyond single nations take place? Sections 164-175 cover “Dialogue On The Environment In The International Community.”

164. Beginning in the middle of the last century and overcoming many difficulties, there has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.

One of the ways this has been facilitated is through space exploration. Not just humans taking loved and admired images, such as Apollo 8’s view of earthrise from lunar orbit in 1968 (above, left), but also the access that travel technology has given us. More people than ever in history journey thousands of miles from home to see wonders only a select few pilgrims enjoyed.

Not just peop0le move around, but also products:

An interdependent world not only makes us more conscious of the negative effects of certain lifestyles and models of production and consumption which affect us all; more importantly, it motivates us to ensure that solutions are proposed from a global perspective, and not simply to defend the interests of a few countries. Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan. Yet the same ingenuity which has brought about enormous technological progress has so far proved incapable of finding effective ways of dealing with grave environmental and social problems worldwide. A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries.

Five reasonable goals are within the reach of sincere dialogue among people on the international level:

Such a consensus could lead, for example, to

  • planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture,
  • developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy,
  • encouraging a more efficient use of energy,
  • promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and
  • ensuring universal access to drinking water.
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