Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday in Chicago

Yesterday we celebrated the Eucharist in the extraordinary form (Tridentine). It was interesting and not without a compelling beauty. However, I figure that I was about only one of two priests who were present who actually remember and had lived the old liturgy, even if in my case it was only for a brief time.

I felt that the priest who was doing it really didn't have it down pat. He was rather stiff, as were all of the younger priests assisting. Time and repetition will, I hope, remedy this. In the meantime, I found it distracting.

Yesternight, Father Frank Phillips, CR, pastor of St. John Cantius (see picture above) presented us with an overview of his experience in maintaining and fostering the treasury of the Church's sacred music at his parish. Frank and I had an all-too-brief sharing before the talk. Today, Michael and I are going to play hooky and go to St. John's for a tour. I've been there several times, but I want Michael to enjoy it.

This afternoon there is a session on reforming the role of the cantor at 3:45. If anything needs reforming in the musical life of the Church it is the cantor. I believe that I have it well-regulated at Holy Redeemer, but I am interested to hear what they have to say. I am like that woman in the story by Flannery O'Connor (can't remember the name of it offhand) who was described as one 'who never had any ideas of her own, but was always able to use those of others so well that she never felt the lack.' Like a little bee, I have gone through life taking a little bit here and there. There is hardly anyone that I've encountered from whom I haven't learned something. Some good, some not so good.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicago, Loyola University

Michael Odom, our organist-choirmaster, and I are at the 18th annual Sacred Music Colloquium, held this year at Loyola U., Chicago. The campus is on the lake shore of Lake Michigan. The beautifully renovated Madonna de la Strada Chapel is the scene of our liturgies. This beautiful chapel opens right onto Lake Michigan. It is as if one is looking out to see as the lake falls below the eastern horizon.

This is the colloquium of the Church Music Association of America. They are the opposite of the spectrum of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Here, chant and polyphony, and the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman Liturgy in Latin and Latin/English reign supreme. When I concelebrated Tuesday and Wednesday, I realized that I was the oldest priest in the sanctuary. This gave me pause, not because of my realization of my aging (I could still give most of those that were there a run for their money!) but that I was probably the only one in the sanctuary who actually remembered the old Latin Mass as a part of my life experience---when it was still the only form of liturgy in the Church! The others were celebrating it and promoting it, but it was that they did not grow up with. This led me to opine that there is a difference of approach between me and them. If push came to shove, I believe that these younger priests in their lace surplices and birettas are really play-acting, although they are doing so with great seriousness and piety.

All of this lead me to describe this event as a kind of liturgical "Jurassic Park." By that I mean that, just as in the movie, people have re-created things from a distant past THAT THEY HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED! In the movie, ancient life forms were re-created, without regard for the fact that the world has moved on, and that a T-rex running around in the jungle is probably a bad thing for folks. Here, an ancient liturgy has been re-created, but without an appreciation that Catholic life, for better or worse, has radically changed since the '50's. You can tell that they are on a certain level play acting since their presentation of the liturgy is so rigid that you can see them mentally trying to remember what is to come next. There is a stiffness to their presentation and, occasionally, some gross fumbles.

The impression I'm getting is that the proponents of this are seeing the ancient liturgy as something to which every liturgy should aspire. The mutual influence of the ordinary and extraordinary forms then becomes rather one-sided. It is not what we can learn from BOTH liturgies, but how can we make the ordinary form more like the extraordinary form. This leads to the ultimate position that we might just otta jettison the new form and go back to the old.

Now they would deny this, and I believe sincerely, but I still have a sneaking suspicion that clericalism is lurking around here, and a kind of piety that is cut off from a vibrant Catholic life. These are just my impressions, and I am willing to be corrected.

At the same time, there is much beauty laid out for us, and as an artist I'm quite enjoying the musical banquet that we are having. There are some practical liturgical things that we're picking up, but they will all have to be critiqued and digested when we get back home. Is this conference worth it? By all means. Oh, and for those of you who thing that I'm on vacation, please understand that we have not left the university campus during our entire time here. There's been no sight-seeing (but much sight-singing), or restaurants or anything like that. Michael and I are planning to take a visit to a church, tomorrow, though. That still doesn't count for a vacation.