Catholic Stuff

The Minding Scripture Podcast

Here's something for you to do at home if or when you are sick of reading, listening to music, and watching movies and TV. (That's meant as a joke. Personally I don't think I could ever get entirely sick of doing those things; each of them separately, maybe, if I couldn't switch to one of the others.)

"Minding Scripture" is a podcast from Notre Dame (University of, not cathedral) in which a group of scholars drawn from the Big 3 monotheistic traditions look at the various scriptures of each from the point of view of their own faith. There is a core group of four Notre Dame faculty members (see this), of whom Francesca Murphy is one, and who are joined for specific episodes by experts in the topic at hand. 

When I first heard of this I didn't think it would be my cup of tea; scripture scholarship is not high on my list of interests. Much lower on my list of interests, usually down into the realm of active avoidance, is discussion of "the historical Jesus," which I generally take as suggesting that the Jesus of the Church is, to put it bluntly, imaginary. But out of curiosity I decided to give Episode 2: The Historical Jesus a try, and found it quite interesting, though if I heard correctly, the visiting expert--John Meier, author of Jesus: A Marginal Jew--said near the end that there is almost nothing in the Gospels that we can take as being the actual words of Jesus. I emphasize "if I heard correctly," because I was listening while out for a walk and was crossing a busy street at that point. I never went back to see if he really said that, but even if he did, I don't have to (and don't) buy it, and there were a lot of interesting details about the life and language of the times.

I went from there to Episode 4: The Translation of Scripture, in part because David Bentley Hart is one of the visitors (the other is Robert Alter), and I really wanted to hear what he sounded like. Answer: exactly what I expected. That episode was completely fascinating, and I can recommend it without reservation.

I've listened to a couple of others now, and I don't know that I'll listen to all of them (there are currently seven). But the series is certainly worth checking out; the conversations are both engaging and interesting. Here's the link again.


Since you can't go to Mass today...

(I think this is relevant to all Christians, not only Catholics but at least those whose communions have a liturgy, and worth the attention of those who don't. Or for that matter anyone who cares about the Western musical and spiritual tradition.)

Since you can't go to Mass today, probably, allow me to suggest that you listen to one of the great musical settings of the Latin Mass. One of my Lenten things this year--I can't truly call it much of a penance, but "discipline" is justifiable--is to confine my listening to sacred music. So far that's mostly been settings of the Mass, and, if you do this attentively--not just playing it in the background while you cook or wash the dishes or something--it's more or less inevitable that you will attend very carefully to the words and reflect on them.

So far I've mainly spent time with Bach's Mass in B-Minor, which of course I had heard before, having bought one recording way back in the late '60s (I think) and another in the '80s,  but never really gotten to know. It takes a bit of effort, as the work is something of a monster. It requires somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours to perform, depending on the conductor, and was never performed in Bach's lifetime. And if you're like me you may have trouble listening to two straight hours of non-operatic music (opera has a plot, and characters). But that's ok. The Kyrie and Gloria together run well over half an hour, the Credo most of a half-hour. And each of those sections is a complete musical work as well as theological statement.

My two recordings are pretty much opposite interpretations. You can gather that from the running times: two hours and fifteen minutes for one, an hour and forty-five for the other. The slow one is the one I bought when I was in college: Otto Klemperer, the BBC Chorus, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and an all-star group of vocal soloists including Janet Baker. The faster one is John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, and vocal soloists whose names I don't recognize (not that that means much, except that they aren't superstars). (I don't know why an orchestra calls itself "Soloists".) 

The Klemperer is rich and majestic. The Gardiner is clear and lively. The former is, to speak very loosely, more or less in the more or less romantic tradition of Bach performance, while the latter is pretty much a textbook example of what's called the "HIP" approach--Historically Informed Performance.  (You can read about it at Wikipedia.) I think the two camps have at times been at war over the past several decades. I know some traditionalists hate the thinner, drier sound of period instruments, and some HIPsters mock the grandiosity of Mahler-ready orchestras and choruses applied to 18th century music. 

But I am very happy to have both these recordings. Very happy indeed. The traditional recording brings greater depth (in every sense) to some parts, but the big powerful choir and orchestra sometimes overwhelm the counterpoint or just seem inappropriate, too much. The HIP one is wonderfully clear, but the more somber, heavier parts have less emotional power. 

Thanks to YouTube, you can compare them for yourself. Yesterday I listened to the Laudate section of the Gloria four times, twice in each version. (The work is so massive that each idea or sentence in the text gets its own separate composition.) And I really like both. This is one part where there is, to my taste, no definite preference. I really like the light, bright quality of the Gardiner. The singer, compared to Janet Baker, sounds almost girlish, which for this section is appropriate, as is the sprightly tempo. But the violin obbligato, which is beautiful in the Klemperer, is anemic in the Gardiner. And so on.

I'm speaking as if you only have to take your recording off the shelf and put it on. But if you don't own one maybe you subscribe to one of the streaming music services. Or you can listen to one of the many recordings, whole or partial, that seem to be available on YouTube. If your knowledge of the Latin texts is no better than mine, and you don't own a recording which would typically include the texts, you'll probably need something you can read. You could start here and find the parts.

 

 


I Need A Word

I don't mean "Can I have a word?" in the sense of "Can we talk privately?" I mean literally a word. I've been working on a piece of writing that includes this: "the Church as it is, dullness, factionalism, and all." I want another word to go with those two, a word that captures the indifference toward the faith of so many Catholics, including some in the clergy and the hierarchy. I mean the attitude which is described by one of Rod Dreher's readers in this post

...we discovered that we were all four Catholics, which led in turn to conversations about which parishes we attend, etc (normal light talk among Catholics of any stripe). It turned out that none of the three women still attended mass, sometimes they attended services at local non-denoms but even that was rare. Their reasons were the following: mass is boring; I don’t “get” anything out of it while I feel really great after my non-denom services; people should be able to use birth control; I didn’t like that priest; confession is awkward; etc.

All three of these women (all in their 40’s and 50’s) had attended Catholic schools from K-12, and none of them had even the slightest idea of why the Church teaches what it does, or even a hint of self-awareness that none of their complaints remotely touched what God Himself wants, only me, me, me. Nothing touched upon how they thought God wanted to be worshiped, or how God wants us to live. At one point during one woman’s diatribe about how she gets nothing out of Mass I meekly remarked “well maybe that’s not the point of it all,” to which she blurted “Why else would I go?!”

I had originally written "dullness, indifference, factionalism, and all." But "indifference" alone is too broad: indifference to what? I tried "blandness" and "lukewarmness," but they don't really get the idea, either, even apart from the fact that "lukewarmness" is a very clumsy term. 

If you have a single word that does the job here, I'll thank you.

By the way, if you wondered about "Susan From the Parish Council," she is the fictitious proprietor of a Facebook page who writes about her trials and triumphs as an old and entirely unreconstructed Vatican II progressive. She's sometimes pretty funny.


St. Gregory's Prayer Book

Something I've been meaning to mention for a while: a prayer book has been compiled for use by the Anglican Ordinariates*, and it's very good. If you have any liking for the language of the older versions of the Book of Common Prayer, you should get this. It's inexpensive, very nicely produced, and full of rich prayers, including the laity's parts of the Mass. 

Here's a review at the National Catholic Register.

SaintGregorysPrayerBook

And here is one of my very favorite prayers, from the Devotions for Evening. 

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love's sake.

 

* We are not supposed to use that term. It can be taken, it is taken by some, to suggest that we aren't Catholic But dang it, just saying "the Ordinariates" is not necessarily clear to a lot of people. And saying "the personal ordinariates created under the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus" gets pretty tiresome.