Thursday, November 30

And if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.

Happy St. Andrew's Day

Now That's a happy way to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew. :)

Wednesday, November 29


Dan Mitsui posts on Gaudi's would-be New York skyscraper, which made news some years back when someone proposed it for Ground Zero. If only. It would have been a far more fitting, innovative and life-honoring memorial than the two faceless voids that are slated for the spot. This is mostly old news, but a brief perusal of his links will show some new-ish computer renderings of this wonderful, wondrous high-rise extravaganza--equal parts Tower of Babel and Sant' Ivo Della Sapienza, Krispy Kreme and Close Encounters of the Third Kind--juxtaposed against the New York skyline. It's worth a look--if real-life modern architecture were half as fun as this, we'd have a far more beautiful planet today.

Also worth checking out is a post that serves as proof of my contention that movie architecture these days is on the whole a lot more creative and exciting than what's actually being built in the mainstream, a strange, wonderful and slightly creepy Gaudi-esque cathedral-skyscraper designed for Tim Burton's Batman in 1989. A fantasy, yes, but certainly one worth dreaming about.

Saints Behaving Badly author Thomas J. Craughwell also does a sideline in selling some truly splendid reproductions of antique holy cards in notecard and Christmas card form. Many of them are European in origin, and of a more sophisticated graphic caliber and a more medieval feel than the treacly, sentimental ones of the period we're most familiar with in the United States. Have a look!

Two Book Reviews

Thomas J. Craughwell. Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints. Doubleday, 2006.

Hannah Storm. Sabrina Weill, Ed. Notre Dame Inspirations: The University's Most Successful Alumni Talk About Life, Spirituality, Football--And Everything Else Under the Dome. Doubleday, 2006.

The medievals knew what people wanted in a good saint's life. Sacred weirdness, and lots of it: outrageous miracles, intricately gory martyrdoms, and a sense of courtly extravagance perfectly suited to this most chivalrous and ceremonial of eras. They may have embellished a bit from time to time, but they never whitewashed. Some saints, perfect from childhood, may have fasted from their mother's teat or preached a sermon on the Trinity from the arms of their godmother, but when it came to the reformed bad boys of hagiography, the lurid details of their past were not only not swept under the rug but given appropriately Technicolor treatments. As time past and the only saints seemed to be merely of the plaster variety, the importance of the past lives of these prodigal sons was often forgotten, with the best of intentions. However, it's important to remember that the best saints' lives are those that remind us that sanctity is within our grasp--and by the same token, it ain't easy.

Thomas J. Craughwell's wonderfully enjoyable and even inspiring little book, Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints never lets us forget that saints are made, not born, a fact, as he points out in his introduction, that was not lost on medieval hagiography: "In the early centuries of the Church [...] saints' lives were perfectly candid about saints whose early lives were far from saintly. It is from these ancient sources we learn of the bloodbath St. Olga unleashed on her husband's assassins; of St. Mary of Egypt trolling the streets of Alexandria for new sexual conquests; of the obscenely rich St. Thomas Becket looking down at a poor man almost freezing to death in the street and refusing to give him his cloak." The depth of their youthful sins only serves to make their later lives more compelling. From this we get, not a tabloid thrill, but are given a splendid glimpse into "how grace works in the world." It was this realization that truly makes this book. It's a delightful read, as I found ouit on daily my subway commute to work; a mini-Golden Legend for our time, with a sympathetic, devout and at the same time agreeably light tone perfectly suited to the subject matter and our time alike.

We can be inspired by the drastic turn-around of St. Matthew the Extortionist, or commiserate with St. Alipius the Obsessed with Blood Sports when he backslid in the nosebleed seats of the Colosseum and then found God yet again; or take heart that the etherial St. Francis and the noble Becket were wastrels and hedonists in their day. They all turned out well, with a bit of work and a lot of grace. And so can we.

I'd like to think some latter day Ignatius Loyola might pick up this slim volume like the first Jesuit did the Golden Legend on his sickbed and think perhaps that he, too, could make it to heaven if this pack of misfits, malcontents and downright nasty folks did it before him. Though even for those of us who manage, if not to be necessarily good, to be at least not bad, can definitely learn from this splendid little book, to remind us that if we've tripped and scraped our knee on the road to heaven, at least ten saints have fallen and broken their ankle in just the same way--and perhaps unlike us, have gotten straight up and gone along their way.

I imagine most of the readers of this blog never went as far as Blessed Giles of Portugal's alleged and in all likelyhood mythical dabblings in black magic (though, you never know), but for those of us who struggle with the nasty, everyday little sins, the continual process of conversion and re-conversion on a micro level, these transformations wrought by grace are a tonic to the soul. And a little funny, too, but as my friend Andrew Cusack says, "God's the funniest thing in the world--it's the devil who's dull." May these tales of saintly reform remind us of the ultimate tedium that lies deep in the heart of Hell.


If you ever wanted proof of Notre Dame's school spirit, a quick visit to the campus bookstore would prove its existence without a shadow of a doubt. Not only has the massive structure the size and prominence that has led one visiting bishop to mistake it for the university chapel, but inside is evidence of a cottage industry in Domer-themed apparel, Notre Dame guidebooks, Grotto memoirs, football memoirs, lives of Corby, Sorin, Rockne, McInerney mysteries and just about every conceivable item of clothing on which it is possible to print "IRISH," and a couple you couldn't conceive. I don't say this in a cynical mood, as the supply clearly has grown in relation to the demands of proud alums, ND moms, dads, granmas and kissing cousins in appropriately-labeled sweatshirts, and siblings eager to get their college entrance essay past Admissions. CBS anchorwoman Hannah Storm's Notre Dame Inspirations is a charming addition to the genre.

The usual crowd of famous alums are here, and we'd be disappointed if they weren't: Charlie Weiss, Joe Montana, Fr. Hesburgh, Regis Philbin--yeah, sure, he wears tone-on-tone shirt-and-tie combos, but he's a Domer, after all. And there's a host of lesser characters--a rabbi or two, and, much to my delight, the Most Reverend Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., the noble bishop of Peoria, a local Catholic nerd fave. The shot of him as a seminary student in cassock and biretta, mock-cursing the South Bend winter a with comically Rasputinesque grimace is worth the price of admission, as are his thoughts on Notre Dame's continued, ingrained Catholicity, enduring and inspiring in the most surprising of circumstances: "It's a powerful place for our Faith." Jenky adds, "If I live to seventy-five, I will be the cantankerous old bishop on the front porch of Corby Hall." No doubt with the fragrantly incensed cigar that I will perpetually associate him in hand, and so it ought to be.

While by its nature, not a scholarly review of Notre Dame's history, this well-presented little book is a pleasant jaunt through the last few decades of Domer lore, and full of vivid slices of campus life, past and present--whether sepia-toned, black-and-white, or the eye-searing full-color beauty of a campus October of the present. It would make a fine present for the Notre Dame Mom, Dad, or Grandma who has everything--or even for a freshly-graduated Domer with a bit of nostalgia on his mind.

Tuesday, November 28


Slide Show

Photos from the visit to Turkey.


Let us pray that the safey of the Holy Father is protected,
That the hearts of the Turks are opened to hear the Pope's message,
That hatred subside,
and that the oppressed Christians of Turkey are given their full human rights!

From the Anglican Mail Box

I recieved the following from an Anglican friend:

The Archbishop of Cantuarbury apparently celebrated Mass at a basilica in Rome.

I personally question the appropriateness of this, well-meaning though it was.

But the foaming-at-the-mouth denunciations from some Catholics are so outlandish they're embarrassing. Who are these people?! I had to laugh out loud at the suggestion that Pope Benedict is somehow heterodox...

I think it's interesting that only Hyper-fundamentalist Jack-Chick Protestants and hyper-"traditional" Catholics attribute omniscience and omnipotence to the Holy Father. As if he had power over the actions of every priest in Rome, much less every priest in the Church! God would never give us that kind of a papacy, because frankly God is too good.



Not that I disagree with it, but...

read the first two lines of the Vatican's page on the Papal visit to Turkey.


Monday, November 27


Liturgical Thunder from Down Under

An Unfortunate Renovation Afoot at St. Mary's, Sydney

Sydney possesses one of the few truly spectacular bits of the Gothic Revival on the Australian continent. Its massive cathedral was begun by the Puginesque convert William Wilkinson Wardell after fire claimed the previous church on the site in 1865, and not fully completed until the turn of the following century. At the moment, the rich and coherent fabric of the edifice is at risk through a well-intentioned but essentially misguided renovation of the chancel planned to coincide with the Pope's visit for World Youth Day 2007.

A view of the Cathedral's current main altar, in the context of its historic chancel.

Unlike most previous cathedral renovations, such as the complete liturgical Armageddon that Archbishop Weakland dropped on Milwaukee before his departure, the unfortunate of the design is not immediately apparent. Nor is it the result of a patently heterodox agenda; the theology behind it is hardly of the radical variety. Indeed, it's rather painful for me to criticize the design at all, being under the aegis of one of my personal heroes, Vox Clara's very own ex-footballer-turned-Cardinal, George Pell, who I once had the honor to meet at a reception in the headquartes of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

Let me make it clear that my remarks here are not a criticism of Cardinal Pell, this noble man, this strong and great prelate, who has toiled long and hard for the sake of the Church in the Antipodes. This work should not be construed as a comment on his long history of service, his unimpeachable orthodoxy, or his strong support of the proper translation of the Mass. Nor should that Most Eminent Lord be blamed for the individual, unsupervised choices of his designers. Any man who knows Cardinal Pell's work knows his devotion to the liturgy, both in its present-day and classical forms.

That being said, the choices being made in His Eminence's name, if not by him, are unfortunate. In the end, the renovation remains unnecessary. However, to undertake a renovation of a historic cathedral on short notice, and particularly during a time where the fate of the liturgy is once again up for grabs, seems at the very least imprudent. The problems of the design stem not from bad theology but from a misapprehension of the architect's original intention and a general inability on the part of the designers, rather than their patron, to grasp the essence of Gothic revival. Cardinal Pell deserves better from those he has charged to undertake this design.

Essentially, the problem is that there is no problem to solve. Nothing needs to be done to this church to make it perfect for the Pope's arrival.

View towards the sanctuary with the east window.

At first glance, the design apparently has much to recommend it. A broad new chancel, parclose screens, an altar with a proper footpace, and a new bronze ambo to be designed by a well-known artist, Nigel Boonham. However, God is quite typically in the details, and the details are sadly insensitive to the context they've been placed in here.

The wall-like partition of the new choirstalls risks relegating the old high altar to unjustifiable obscurity.

The original focus of the church, the window and its high altar, are poorly served by the massively beefed-up choirstalls that sever any connection between the old high altar and the new freestanding one. The placement of the choir behind the altar where clergy attending in quire formerly sat is a dubious liturgical proposition at best. The massive wainscoted stall-ends only succeed in turning the old chancel into an irrelevant appendix. Should the liturgical climate change in the near future, the new choirstalls would render the hemmed-in old high altar virtually impossible to use.

The proposed Altar of the Entombed Christ in perspective: the breadth of the altar, as well as its minimal footpace, suggest a future traffic-flow problem to be inevitable.

Another puzzling detail are the crude screens that surround the old ambulatory. I am, by nature, fond of the mystery brought by screens and liturgical curtains, but these new additions run counter to the openness prized by Wardell's design. They're Disneyland pseudo-Gothic. Up to a certain point one should applaud the designers for trying a little, at least; but we are reaching a stage in the liturgical renewal when more really has to be demanded from our architects. If screens are deemed necessary, a very handsome and transparent effect could be achieved by the use of gilded and wrought iron in harmony with the existing altar-rail. Proper seating within the chancel should also be provided for concelebrants and assisting clergy, and this should be considered first before the implementation of screens of any sort.

The basic outline of a screened chancel with substantial choirstalls could be achieved without destroying the original context by substituting iron for wood and adaptively re-using the existing benches with new pew-ends and a discrete stepped base that would leave enough of a passage between the main and high altars to create an appropriate visual link. Any new choirstalls should be designed to minimize the amount of platform-space in order to best show off the chancel's splendid mosaic floor, one of the cathedral's undoubted treasures.

Plan of proposed chancel re-ordering. The excessively narrow connection between the old high altar and the new main altar effectively makes any future ad orientem masses virtually impossible.

In addition to the layout of the new chancel, the iconography of the altar and ambo and their relationship to the sanctuary's other furnishings is muddled. One might well question the need for a freestanding altar at all; at the very least, the existing main altar has the virtue of being properly vested in a frontal, with an accompanying crucifix and candlesticks of appropriate substance atop the mensa.

The new design is to be applauded for including a predella--a broad platform or step round the base--but nonetheless this footpace is entirely too small to be of real liturgical use. It does not permit the circling of the altar at the incensation, and would make any attempt to celebrate ad orientem masses impossible. The extreme width of the altar, while otherwise unlikely to excite comment, is likely to cause problems of liturgical traffic-flow in the narrow sanctuary.

The altar proposed is liturgically unsuitable.

Decorated sculptural altars are already difficult to properly vest with antependia in the accepted liturgical fashion; furthermore, if the conceptual art is true to life, the abstracted sculptural decoration, especially the pillars and the mandorla around the figure of the Dead Christ, lacks the subtlety of similar works in the church.

The Pelican Ambo: a baffling exercise in misplaced and unduly novel symbolism.

The Pelican ambo, while likely to be beautiful piece of metalwork, nonetheless is equally symbolically awkward, and, as with most modern ambos, misnamed, as it is essentially a glorified reading-desk. The pelican's Passion imagery is alien to the long iconographic tradition of ambos. Furthermore, the iconography--which depicts a family of pelicans representing a Christian family living under the Gospel--shifts the emphasis from the proclamation of the Word to our reception of it, and exchanges the Christological symbolism of the pelican for a more horizontal one. Even when one sets aside the question of symbolic propriety, the Christian pelican is a creature of myth and legend and to depict it with the gawky zoology of the real thing divests it of its sacrificial majesty.

The cathedra: architecturally naive and not in line with current rubrics.

One final criticism concerns the cathedra. The proposed canopy has since been discontinued, and while I am quite fond of canopies, one has to face up to facts and admit they're no longer allowed. More to the point, putting a canopy over the bishop's chair when the altar stands naked, would be a remarkable display of symbolic insensitivity; in this instance, it can be chalked up to the superficial sort of Gothic being practiced by the renovators. (Sadly, a tester over the new main altar is probably also impossible.)

It would also be better, to stress the linkage of the cathedra to the altar, for it to be made of stone. Wooden cathedras are appropriate in churches where the choirstalls seat a cathedral chapter, but St. Mary's has none, and since the chancel is likely to house a robed lay choir, a wooden throne would be unsuitable.

Cardinal Pell is a great and good man, and one of the lights of the Church under the Southern Cross. He should not be blamed for these bad artistic choices, and indeed, for having the vision to consider Gothic forms at all in his renovation, he should be thanked. However, the Cathedral does not really need any changes at this point in history, and indeed, may be rendered redundant in a few decades. If the design must continue, the designers must more fully the challenge they have been given and seriously study the Gothic that Wardell derived so much beauty from in his original project.

The design has been undertaken at breakneck speed, to spruce up the church for the arrival of the Vicar of Christ. Still, this does not mediate the lesser quality of the work proposed, nor the lack of proper attention paid by the designers to certain liturgical questions. In this time of continued liturgical flux, my advice to the Cathedral is to wait a century or two, see which way the priest is facing, and then start worrying about redecorating. Otherwise the work may prove to be an intrusive addition to this most historic of Australia's precious and small patrimony of church architecture. Cardinal Pell, his cathedral, and Australia, deserve better.

The Great Black and White Vocations Game

A splendid interview with Brother Dominic Legge, O.P., a recent recruit at the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, on the subject of vocations, the Eucharist, and all that good stuff, is available at Go down to October 22, and say that we sent you. Lest I need to remind you, the Dominicans of St. Joseph are the ones who have brought you the fine liturgies and vigils of the Dominican House of Studies at D.C., and thus need no introduction.

Capuce-tip to friend Arina G., and apologies for the delay.

Saturday, November 25


Query for Our Readers

Why is it that the Sistine Choir is so proverbially awful, and on top of that, appears to have been proverbially awful for the past two centuries, at least according to the unanimous testimony of nearly every eyewitness I've read or spoken to?

P.J. O'Rourke on Paraguay

From the humorist's darkly funny Give War a Chance:
Paraguayan church architecture is no-nonsense stuff. The churches look like horse barns with verandas. But inside, they're retina-thrashers. The eighteenth-century church in the town of Yaguaron contains two thousand feet of crazed whittling, a masterpiece of Paraguayan baroque. It's as ridiculously detailed as anything from the Europe of that era but with fun Guarani Indian touches such as drug-trip color combinations and altar chairs [choirstalls?] with armrests that turn into snakes. I took a close look at some of the carved portraits of saints and I think the Guaranis were pulling the padres' legs vis-a-vis conversion to Christianity.
Paraguay is also distinguished by having once had one of the finest traditions of baroque church music in the Americas, one which long outlasted its Jesuit roots. Also, one of its later dictators went mad and had himself canonized by his court chaplain while on the lam from the Brazilian army.

It's the tiara! Hooray tiara!

Courtesy of our Roman pal, Zadok, reports of the papal tiara's demise are greatly exaggerated.

Friday, November 24


It Can Be Done!

St. William, Austin, Texas: Before.

St. William, Austin, Texas: After.

More at The New Liturgical Movement.

"Oh, not the green vestment again, Marini! It makes me look like an M&M!"

Wednesday, November 22


Cool Picture, Cool Blog

Brought to you by... The Hermeneutic of Continuity!

Tuesday, November 21



Well done, Ironic Catholic

Monday, November 20


Seminary Life

An evangelical compares Catholics and Protestant seminary life.

On a side note, (rant) I never understand why Protestants want to recieve Catholic Eucharist which, technically, they abhor as idolatrous. I'm often symphathetic and even impressed by Evangelicals, though with two great exceptions: anything artistic, and the Eucharist--precisely because it is only my experience with the Eucharist that has convinced me of the truth of Christianity as a whole. Without these Eucharistic experiences, the continuing and real miracle of the Blessed Sacrament, I wouldn't have believed any of it; so, I can't muster a lot of symphathy for those who want to recieve it a priori refusing the very notion that they could experience its reality--the presence of Christ. But anyway. (/rant) Interesting comparison, and worth reading.

"Help us kait shoree weer catliks"

Image Source

If Kerry's attachment to Pope Pius XXIII and the Vatican Council 2 isn't too indissolvable, he might consider joining the Episcopal Church, whose leader just aped his own gaffe impressively:

The Kerry Original:
"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq."

(Which was met with this..)

The Schori Reprise:
"[There are] About 2.2 million [Episcopalians]. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children. [We aren't interested in replenishing our ranks by having children.] It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion."

Just in case the diversity-fest that was Schori's installation thingy seemed... insincere? manufactured? from the denomination that gave us WASP-iness, well, fear not. Doesn't look like much has changed, afterall.

Celebrating Advent with Variety

It's been much remarked upon the last few years that Advent is the most neglected of liturgical seasons. In our secularized version of Christmas, the countdown of consumerism begins sometime in mid-October, reaches its insane peak the day after Thanksgiving (the new phenomenon of stores opening after midnight is the latest example of this), and spends the actual time leading up to Christmas doing things like singing Christmas songs. Even in the Church, Advent can be a very much one-dimensional seasons liturgically, especially in terms of music. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," which is certainly a very beautiful hymn, gets beaten into our brains through the fact that it is basically the only Advent song many people know. Even Mass settings such as Richard Proulx's Missa Emmanuel (one of the weaker moments of one of my favorite liturgical composers) serve to inculcate this unfortunate trend. How, then, to reclaim the season of Advent?

1. Learn some more hymns. There are many and beautiful Advent hymns besides "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "On Jordan's Bank." Let's flip through our hymnal and take a look:
"When the King Shall Come Again" (Gaudeamus Pariter) is one of my favorite Advent hymns, a great text that bespeaks the hope of Advent, set to a great tune that also accompanies the Easter hymn, "Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain."
"O Come Divine Messiah" is a beautiful, easy-to-learn hymn from the French tradition.
"Creator of the Stars of Night" and its Latin original Creator Alme Siderum - a great Advent hymn from the Church's tradition of chant. "Rorate Caeli" and "Veni Redemptor Gentium" are also very good, easily learnable chant hymns.
"Wake, O Wake And Sleep No Longer" and other translations of Bach's Wachet Auf help engage people with some of the greatest music ever written.
"Savior of the Nations, Come" (Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland) is another great German tune that a good parish organist can also expand on in an improvisation or one of many wonderful settings from Buxtehude to Distler.
"Comfort, Comfort, O My People" is an unconventional, highly chromatic hymn tune, but quite effective.
"Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending" (Helmsley) is one of the most majestic combinations of hymn and tune ever composed, and is highly recommended to any parish, especially with a good organ. The setting of this to "Saint Thomas" in the Adoremus Hymnal, incidentally, is highly unfortunate. This hymn demands the tune Helmsley, and any other setting is completely inadequate to the majesty of this text

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Alleluia, Come, Lord, Come!

2. Have Lessons and Carols
Christmas concerts are great, but Advent Lessons and Carols ought to take place before and with at least as much emphasis as any concert. These enable a parish both to learn some of the new hymns mentioned above and also to think more deeply about the Advent season and its meaning amidst the secular Christmas rush. They could also be a great way to help introduce the parish to some new music one is not yet ready to use at Mass, or to help recruit for a parish choir.

3. Learn a choral "Kyrie"
With no Gloria, maybe it's time for your parish to experiment with the idea of a choral "Kyrie" that can help bring some great music from the tradition into the experience of Mass. Since proposing to sing all or many of the Mass propers chorally can bring about resistance from those not ready for the idea, get them used to it by starting with the Kyrie and demonstrating both that it can be done well and is not disruptive to the flow of the Mass. This might also be a good time to take up a Latin chant Ordinary, both as a way of simplifying, and as a way of introducing something new to people for the new liturgical year.

All of these can, I think, help a parish to give Advent a better sense of identity as not simply a prelude to Christmas, which it certainly is, but also as a season with its own identity and themes that ought to be appreciated in their full richness.

New Blog on the Block

Please take some time to have a look at Heirs in Hope, a remarkable new blog by friend and fellow New Yorker Drusilla. Right now she just has two posts, but they're doozies--real literary efforts, including a deeply moving account of her memories of the shocking death of her grandfather at the hands of the Brazilian military junta. There have been few times where I have seen someone take holiness out of such tragedy, and this is one of them.

Visiting Red Hook, Brooklyn

A few weeks back, Dawn tipped me off to a book signing and mini-tour of the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn by Gothamologist extraordinaire Kevin Walsh of Red Hook is an fascinatingly human little bit of New York, newly gentrified, and on a scale that puts one more in mind of the old ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago than built-up Manhattan. The place exudes a nostalgic feel, that reminded me of the urban Midwest, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, South Bend, Peoria--homey, gentle, lazy locales still very much part of my mental furniture, and I was glad of it. And now, a sampling of the lazy, pleasantly low-key delights of our urban adventure...

While still slightly bleak in spots, Red Hook nonetheless boasts a remarkable view of the Financial District and its bristling skyline.

Our urban explorers assemble. Note the hipster in plaid on the right, who appears to have shoplifted Napoleon III's mustache.

An amazing little discovery: the old Workingmen's Cottages at Warren Street. The mid-block courtyard, with its sundials, semi-topiary and trees has a strangely Lewis Carroll sort of feel; more extraordinary is the fact that officially the brick-paved terrace is actually still a public roadway.

This is the nineteenth-century equivalent of low-cost housing. I shudder to think what these 11 ft by 32 ft cottages would go for today.

In addition to being charming bits of urban furniture, these young kids have the unusual distinction of playing in the front yard of a house said to be the birthplace of Winston Churchill's mom, Jennie Jerome--the only belle-epoque belle I can think of who edited a magazine and had a snake tattoo on her ankle. Really.

Afterwards, Dawn and I chanced on a charming little parish church, SS. Peter and Paul and Our Lady of the Pillar (Peter, Paul and Mary?), with a fascinating early Victorian gothic-cum-gothick interior crowded with vivid polychrome gingerbread.

Not quite Ralph Adams Cram, but it had a folkloric vividness and sense of devotion which you could really feel deep in the ornate scrollwork.

And no old emigrant parish church would be complete with a cluttered grandma's attic of colorful plaster saints.

And a little bit of POD history. This is the first St. Anthony's bread donation box I've seen, and a more ornate version I saw at Holy Innocents on 37th Street seemed to indicate it was a form of charity where donations went to buy bread for the poor. What we were unable to ascertain was whether it was linked to distributing blessed bread on his feast day, or whether it was a year-round custom.

And the obligatory nineteenth-century technicolor Mary. Is she wearing eyeshadow?

Red Hook is a fascinating, strangely bucolic neighborhood for all its citified airs, and exudes, in the words of Mr. Walsh's new book, also called Forgotten New York "a wonderful strangeness." This little tour, I later discovered, barely scratched the surface as the place includes a half-sunken lightship with its fully-rigged masts still well above the water, an old sugar refinery granary, and the last wooden railroad barge in existence, now serving as a maritime museum, classroom and event space. Only in New York. And, it seems, especially only in Brooklyn.

James MacMillan and the Development of Liturgical Music

In honor of Saint Cecilia, whose feast is Wednesday, some musical ruminations.....

Left: St. Cecilia Window, choirloft of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Chicago

I talked a bit last week about the problem of trendiness in American Catholic liturgical music, and indeed it is a problem. So much liturgical musical history in our country has been a matter of going from one style of often bad liturgical music to the next, with little organic continuity. Occasionally, and I think we are entering another such period, the tradition of sacred chant receives its due. But the danger is that chant can become another trend if it is not rooted in a broader approach that encourages legitimate development and moves against trendiness once and for all. There may have been a chance at this before Vatican II, when the excellent Pius X Hymnal was published, but it never really got off the ground and soon found itself caught in the whirlwind of the 1960's and 70's, with the move from "Kumbaya" to the St. Louis Jesuits ("hey, at least it's Scriptural") to the works of Haugen and Haas in the 1980's.

The approach in more traditional Catholic circles, especially those where liturgy is important, has often been to cringe at recent trends and to go back to the music that was popular before. The problem with this approach, however, is that some of the music from bygone ages, especially in our own country, was just as schlocky as what we have now, if more orthodox in terms of lyrics (for examples of this, try singing some of the hymns in The Saint Gregory Hymnal). Lost in much of the trendiness and other bad tendencies has been the fact that it is possible to write good new music while being respectful to the tradition. Thus is the tradition truly "ever ancient, ever new" as the Beauty of its God, showing us the sacred mysteries in new and sometimes surprising ways.

In the vanguard of new music within the Catholic tradition is Scottish composer James MacMillan, a third-order Dominican who has recently made headlines with his controversial article about how "Bad Music is Destroying the Church." MacMillan himself has taken up the task of writing good music, in what I would describe as a "postmodern style" comparable to the likes of Tavener or Pärt. He composes challenging, beautiful music that might at first seem on some levels disturbing, but that is worth taking seriously and integrating into the liturgy. His "A New Song" is a particularly ethereal and beautiful anthem whose choral interplay beautifully brings out the text and leads the listener to contemplation. MacMillan has also composed a Mass setting that is perhaps the most challenging and dissonant version available of our current ICEL translation - one that takes our inadequate translation to heights one might not consider possible.

The Church always needs a musical avant garde to help develop the tradition, to bring it in new and interesting directions. In the past it was the likes of Palestrina, or later of Widor, who helped accomplish such development, and today MacMillan stands out as someone who is making wonderful contributions to the Church in the area of sacred music by respecting the tradition and at the same time moving it forward. Let us applaud him for it and challenge any would-be composers among us to take up the call.

Saturday, November 18


Overheard in New York

Between two soccer-moms (or the NYC equivalent) in the checkout line at the local Food Market. One of them says,

"...she takes care of Abelard when I'm out of town."

Which either means the lady in question has a child or a dog named after the theologian in question. The other lady chimed in mentioning her son Jack was going through a knight phase, and he wanted to know when he'd get to Europe to meet a real live knight! Unlike Abelard's namesake, he sounded--via his mother--like he was on the right track; he says he'll "be a page when he turns 8," and then a squire.

Afterwards, after I moved up in the checkout line, I told the woman, with great kindness, it was good for a young man like her's to have an interest in chivalry, and wished her a good evening, like the good chevalier that I strive to be.

(Though my advice is for Abelard to avoid any 9-year-old heartbreakers at his gradeschool named Eloise. It wouldn't do.)

Friday, November 17


Found at the $1.00 Rack at the Strand

An ordinary Lutheran hymnal, you say? But look within!

Even better than Jo(h)n Voight's '88 LeBaron!

Dawn Eden's Book

Shrine friend Dawn Eden (alas, I've only met her briefly) has authored a new book, "The Thrill of the Chaste," which has been reviewed here. Check it out.



Friendly Reminder

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But when commenting on theological works, or any written works for that matter, it is particularly important to keep in mind the importance of having (thoroughly) read the material about which you comment.

The Power of Beautiful Liturgy

In Thursday's Notre Dame paper, Rev. Richard Warner, CSC, the director of campus ministry, reflects on the experience of those who have watched the televised Mass on the Hallmark Channel:

Mass from Notre Dame means a lot

They love the astounding beauty of the Basilica. They enjoy the music and the homilies, which they can access each week on the Campus Ministry website. They write to tell us how impressed they are by the large number of young men and women who are present for Mass, and how this gives them joy and hope for the future of the Catholic Church in our country.

They like the wide age spread of the Holy Cross priests who preside at the Masses. And they let us in on especially touching moments in their lives.

One man wrote to tell us that for six months before his wife died of cancer, the two of them "attended" Mass together every Sunday while holding hands and watching the Mass from Notre Dame. At the end of the Mass, their daughter, who serves as a Eucharistic minister in their parish, brought them the Eucharist.

A woman from California told us that, while she was channel-surfing one Sunday morning while taking a break from gardening, she happened upon the Mass. After more than twenty years as a lapsed Catholic, she started watching the Mass each week. A love for the Church and the Eucharist was reawakened in her heart, and she wrote about the joy she now experiences after returning to the Church last Easter.

The director of an RCIA program in her parish in Colorado told us of a young man who dropped out of the program last year. He rejoined it as a result of a homily in which the priest asked the question, "Where would we be without the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?" He realized that was why he wanted to become a Catholic, and did so in April.

These kinds of things of stories fill me with pride at having been a part of this as a member of the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir (which is giving a reunion concert tomorrow night at 8:30 in the Basilica, for those in the South Bend area), as well as great hope for the future of the Church, that people are awakening to the power of beautiful liturgy and its ability to bring people to Christ. I see this, too, in my own parish, where people are greatly affected by the beauty of the liturgy and music, people who in some cases had not experienced such beauty in many years. These aren't people of particularly conscious traditionalist bent (or they might have sought out an indult Mass more thoroughly), indeed in some cases not people who were even of particularly religous bent beforehand, but the beauty of the liturgy led them to an increase in faith. This is what doing the Missa Normativa well can mean to people - there were indeed problems in its genesis, we can acknowledge and try to improve that, but let's remember that it can and does lead people closer to Christ and to reconciliation with his Church. If we are to move forward constructively, we must not be so blinded by the abuses over the past 40 years so as to forget that. If, as Dostoyevsky put it, "Beauty will save the world," here is a concrete example of it leading people closer to Our Lord through beautiful music, a beautiful church, and a beautifully celebrated liturgy.

Thursday, November 16


The Pope Calendar!

You've heard about it. Secretly, you want it almost as much as the Fatima Tie.

And American Papist has a rundown of the whole thing, including pictures. Because he's awesome like that.

Ratzinger on Borromeo

While I have been posting lately on fairly concrete historical matters relating to the recent past in the Church, I think this reflection gives us some food for thought on the real point of it all:

"There is no return to the past. A restoration understood thus is not only impossible but also not even desirable. The Church moves forward to the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. If, however, the term 'restoration' is understood accoridng to its semantic content, that is to say, as a recovery of lost values, within a new totality, then I would like to say that this is precisely the task that imposes itself today in the second phase of the post-conciliar period. yet the word 'restoration' is linguistically laden in such a way for us moderns that it is difficult to attribute this meaning to it. In reality it literally means the same as the word 'reform', a term that has a wholly different sound to us today. Perhaps I can clarify the matter with an example taken from history. For me Charles Borromeo is the classic expression of a real reform, that is to say, of a renewal that leads forward precisely because it teaches how to live the permanent values in a new way, bearing in mind the totality of the Christian fact and the totality of man.

"It can certainly be said that Charles Borromeo rebuilt ("restored") the Catholic Church, which also in the area around Milan was at that time nearly destroyed for awhile, without making a return to the Middle Ages. On the contrary, he created a modern form of the Church. How little 'restorative' such a reform was is seen, for example, in the fact that Charles suppressed a religious order that was nearly in decline and assigned its goods to new, live communites. Who today possesses a similar courage to declare that which is interiorly dead (and continues to live only exteriorly) belongs definitively to the past and must be entrusted with clarity to the energies of the new era? Often new phenomena of Christian awakening are resisted precisely by the so-called reformers, who in their turn spasmodically defend institutions that continue to exist only in contradiction with themselves.

"In Charles Borromeo, therefore, we can also see what I meant to say with 'reform' or 'restoration' in its original meaning: to live outstretched towards a totality, to live from a 'yes' that leads back to the unity of the human forces in conflict with each other. A 'yes' that confers on them a positive meaning within the totality. In Charles Borromeo we can also see the essential prerequisite for a similar renewal. Charles could convince others because he was a man of conviction. He was able to exist with his certitudes amid the contradictions of his time because he himself lived them. And he could live them because he was a Christian in the deepest sense of the word, in other words, he was totally centered on Christ. What truly counts is to reestablish this all-embracing relation to Christ. No one can be convinced of this all-embracing relationship to Christ through argumentaion alone. One can live it, however, and thereby make it credible to others and invite others to share it."
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Ratzinger Report pp. 38-39 (Ignatius, 1985)

Wednesday, November 15


Dignitatis Humane and the end of "Christendom"

Much has been made in our comments boxes of the shift in the Church's teaching about religious freedom with the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, which I consider a brilliant treatment of the subject. I think that when thinking about this topic, a few things need to be kept in mind. First of all, the relationship of the Church to the state is not a matter contained in the deposit of Faith, but rather a matter subject to prudential judgment on the part of those who are involved in both at any given time of history. Secondly, 19th and early 20th century Popes who discussed this topic were still coming to grips with the end of what can be called "Christendom" or "Integralism," the ideal of the merging of Church and State with the result being the notions that Catholicism ought properly to be the state religion and that "error has no rights."

"Religious Freedom" says Dignitatis Humanae, "has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore, it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" (Par. 1). As a result of this, religious freedom guaranteed by the state respects the dignity of the human person and allows for a free choice and exercise of religion. Furthermore, it allows the Church freedom to function and to preach the Gospel without becoming tied up in the affairs of state, which were so often a scandal for her in the past.

Dignitatis Humanae, furthermore, does not adopt a neutralist understanding of Church and state, but rather one in which "Government is also to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties" (par 6). Unlike, say, the United States or secular Europe, then, this document urges states to support the religious lives of their citizensd and their institutions such as schools. Imagine, for a second, if our own country were to adopt such a positive approach to religious schools (granting that at this point in time that might be less desirable than at the time Dignitatis Humanae was written). Indeed, perhaps such an approach in our country from the start would've yielded a healthier religious plurality rather than the de facto Protestant establishment followed by a decline into the muddle that we now face on these questions.

This great document, then, takes nothing properly away from God and the Church, but rather demands that freedom be allowed for the preaching of the Gospel, and that coercion by the state not interfere in matters of religion. This is fundamentally important, since so much of today's European secularism and lack of Church attendance stems from lingering bitterness over the abuses of integralist "Christendom". A state religion enforced by coercion often means one associated with the many abuses that come with any state or form of government, and a revolt against the government can often seem necessarily to demand a revolt against the religion, as occurred in the French Revolution and the revolutions of the 19th century.

Dignitatis Humanae therefore acknowledges that the era of Christendom is over and is indeed perhaps an exception rather than the rule for the Church's pilgrim journey towards her Bridegroom. Rather than demanding partnership with the state, the Church demands freedom to be a leaven for the nations and to preach the Gospel without State-induced compromise. Only in this way can the excesses of secularist Europe, and the abuses of "Christendom" that sadly helped bring it about, be avoided.

George Washington Smith and the Budget Church

I recently encountered the work of California revivalist George Washington Smith, who, despite having a name which sounds like a sixties novelty song performer, produced some intriguing if low-key work back at the beginning of the last century. Smith did not produce the most exciting work of the Spanish Colonial revival, and on the whole his work consists of those polite, plain-vanilla workmanlike background buildings that, in a more civilized age, would not require architects to get right. Still, his few ecclesiastical works show a more sophisticated touch within that simplicity, and offers much food for thought for those who would produce high architecture at a low cost.

Front Elevation: Immaculate Conception, Ajo, Arizona. A complex and beautiful detail--and one which would be fairly inexpensive to reproduce--enlivens and elevates an otherwise simple facade.

My favorite Smith work, and one of only two churches I am aware that he undertook, is the parish church he designed for Ajo, Arizona (the name means "garlic") as part of a masterplan for the would-be southwestern-style garden city. Immaculate Conception is intriguing, first, as it was designed as part of a new urban context, and not merely plopped into a suburban lot with only convenience as the determining factor. It faces onto the town's curvilinear main plaza, flanked on the opposite side of the road by a Protestant church originally intended to be of similar, if smaller and simpler, design.

This move--of differing denominations given equal time on a main square--is not an uncommon move in more recent attempts to plan an ideal city in a religiously mixed society; Lutyens did something similar with his plan for Hampstead Garden Suburb where the established Anglican church sends its spire upward next to the domed top of a Free Church meeting house. More recently, the folks at Seaside plopped a nondemoninational chapel down in their town more as a bit of urban furniture than an actual place of worship, and even then, as a civic gesture, the strange bit of preserved dune scrub later placed between the chapel and Seaside's Ruskin Square effectively negates any meaningful relationship between it and the town as a whole.

The church at Ajo has the happy advantage of being built in the southwest--like most of Smith's works--and thus is built in an adaptation of the local Hispano-Mexican vernacular. Stucco and adobe are capable of covering a multitude of budgetary sins, and also have the advantage of adding interest through their mottled surfaces to the vast unadorned walls that are often forced on the unmoneyed client. At the very least, with Catholicism raplidly expanding in the south and west, a careful study of such stucco and adobe work seems a very good idea for a church architect to undertake.

Merill & Pastor's recently completed elegant Carribbean Colonial-inspired Rosemary Beach Town Hall in Florida.

Recent secular work, such as that undertaken at Seaside and Rosemary Beach by firms such as Merrill Pastor show that not all modern stucco-work is of the supermarket strip-mall variety; such a wall-driven aesthetic allows money to be spent on refining and detailing to the highest level only very crucial symbolic and practical points in a church project. Smith is not the only architect within the last century to do decent simple work with the style--indeed, mixtures of low mission baroque and Romanesque revival crop up in an astonishing number of places and with a surprising quiet dignity. There's even a handsome mid-century brick-and-stone Romanesque church in chilly and distinctly un-Hispanic South Bend, Indiana, with a few generic Baroque flourishes that elevate it from commonplace to clever, especially considering the budget it was doubtlessly built on.

Indeed, Smith's other ecclesiastical project, a funeral memorial chapel-cum-vault, is in that mixed Romanesque-Baroque mode, with a simplified Baroque dome and a stripped-down Lombardic-inspired gable. It is a flexible style, and worthy of emulation for those having to count their pennies. Still, I'd caution architects to be careful with their revivalism--I can think of a good many bad Taco Bell-esque edifices inflicted on the Southwest, as well as even fairly good Spanish Colonial-style structures in places where they manifestly don't belong--wet South Florida, where a whole pueblo would wash away in one hour of summer rain, or even Minnesota, where vigas and bell-walls simply don't belong.

Holy Cross Parish, South Bend: Not a George Washington Smith project, but a somewhat later example of mixed Romanesque and Baroque elements, here adapted to a Midwestern contect.

Smith's church is more baroque than it is Romanesque, and it points to the curious fact that while America has always felt mildly uncomfortable around this most Italian and Catholic of styles, somehow in the southwest, its Spanish cousin seems to avoid setting off alarm bells for one of our nation's numerous stylistic neuroses. Perhaps the Franciscan connection is appropriately soothing. Whatever the reason, Smith's design is a brilliant example of how simplified Baroque detailing can enliven a remarkably plain, even stark, facade. Gothic suffers when reduced to basics, and full-blown pure Romanesque really requires real stone (and sometimes brick) to truly sing.

Immaculate Conception: the apse. Note the complex results achieved through the judicious combination of simple elements and the visual interest resulting from the distinct texture of the stucco. .

Immaculate Conception is a brilliant budget response to both the historical context of its site, and designed in such a way that its environment almost automatically brings out the best in it. Using a dome, rather than a campanile, to be the visual focus of the composition, is particularly clever, as it serves to dignify both the interior of the church and its exterior. A campanile has presence only on the exterior, and its purpose can be easily duplicated through a simple bellcote. The rough stucco enlivens potentially dull blank surfaces in a time-tested way seen across the whole of the Southwest--Georgia O'Keefe's painting of the oddly massive and unintentionally sculptural rear buttress of the Rancho de Taos parish church comes to mind--while its blinding whitness is all the more beautiful under an Arizona blue sky that lends itself to simple silhouettes. Still, while simplified, it is not merely simple, and its component parts not basic building blocks but cleverly massaged to pack the most into very little. While fairly cost-effective for its time, the design does not shy away from complex elements such as a dome or a conceptually elaborate--if simply rendered--broken pediment. A project such as this shows that baroque detail need neither impare the cost of a church, nor is it a style alien to the roots of American Catholic culture.

Immaculate Conception: Another view of the rear; note the bellcote to the left of the dome. On the whole, striking: though the dome's lantern might have been more interesting with true windows, rather than being blind as designed.

Simplicity does not mean plainness, or austerity. Nor does it is achieved by shying away from "fancy" details such as domes, cupolas, vaults or the elegant touch provided by a judicious bit of baroque detail. Such are the lessons taught by the church at Ajo, and they speak to the future of parish projects across both the Southwest, and in more abstract ways, the whole country.

Awesomeness, Under Construction

Your update on that most promising of new Catholic churches, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lacrosse, Wis.

Truth leads to Truth

Mark Shea is very good at pointing out the frequency with which well-meaning Evangelicals, presumably precisely because they are well-meaning, tend to discover Catholic teaching anew by drawing to conclusion what they already believe about Christ.

He points to This article about Evangelicals discovering Catholic teaching on artificial birth control. Of course, being Catholics, we give this same truth a really cool Latin name (Humanae vitae!) and they, being Evangelicals, give it a kind of hokey-slogan name ("Is your quiver full?"). But, either way, hurray, culture of life!

Also of interest, in the vain of Evangelicals discovery Catholic teaching and practice, is this book introducing religious life to Evangelicals, Karen Sloan's Flirting with Monasticism, which is an easy and fun read about her encounter with a Dominican novice, and, through him, mendicant life.

I look forward to the next book published in this vain, "Evangelicals Discover the Papacy." I can imagine it now: "Pastor John was trying to find some way to exercise the Petrine ministry of confirming the brethern, but then we realized: it's already been done!"

Imago Describenda Est!

Such an awesome picture deserves a good caption. Anyone?

Islam makes a belabored step towards equal-rights

Pakistan is amending its laws to allow persecution for rape

A woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours in Pakistan, according to the country's independent Human Rights Commission... Correspondents say these figures are probably an under-estimation as many rapes are not reported.

This is due in no small part to the fact that it is almost impossible to be convicted of raping a woman--in fact, usually the woman herself faces prosecution for inciting the rape:

Until now rape cases were dealt with in Sharia courts. Victims had to have four male witnesses to the crime - if not they faced prosecution for adultery.

A change for the sake of justice and humanitarianism:

Now civil courts will be able to try rape cases, assuming the upper house and the president ratify the move.

However, devout Muslims are opposed:

Religious parties boycotted the vote saying the bill encouraged "free sex"... They have threatened nationwide protests over the revised bill.

An Anglican "Sub-Rite"?

The Times is reporting rumors of the creation of a personal prelature for converts from Anglicanism to the Catholic communion.

"...the Pope will this week receive on his desk a document that proposes something akin to an Opus Dei-style personal prelature for disgruntled Anglicans of a Catholic bent. This would allow them to be received into the Catholic Church but retain their Anglican identity, with presumably their (or should I say our?) own priests going with them too. William Tighe, who touts this possibility, which is also being debated on ShipofFools, says nothing will be published officially before January."

Friends have told me that the Pastoral Provision parishes are essentially a dead-end in the long run, because there is no provision for their continuing Anglican identity: there is no way for seminarians to be trained specifically to continue these parishes, and so therefore they will eventually revert to typical Roman Rite parishes.

However, Personal Prelatures have the right to establish national or international seminaries, and therefore the creation of a viable "sub-Rite" within the Roman Church.

We'll see. And pray :)

Tuesday, November 14



My discussion about hermeneutics of rupture and continuity in the comments box on Matt's NPR post elicited disagreement on two levels. The first of these was about the value of a hermeneutics of continuity at all, and whether reading Vatican II supports such a thing. The second, and I believe the more serious, had to do with my reading of recent history, specifically recent American Catholic history. I, in fact, have my own particular thesis, based on both (what I consider) thorough research and reading of both sides of the issue from the time period in question, as well as encounters with those who were present. Thus, I feel that I speak with some degree of competence, regardless of limitations of age. Furthermore, I am of the firm belief that some distance from those tumultuous times might actually provide a healthy detachment of perspective from the events, and thus a different lens of interpretation than might otherwise be available.

With that, let me share my perspective on American Catholicism in the 1950's. The Church was strong in terms of numbers as such and in terms of attendance; no one can really disagree with this. Behind this exterior strength, however, I do believe that there were certain kinds of interior issues that were not present on the surface but that came out with a vengeance in the next decade.

One of these, I think, was an often weak theological formation for priests and religious, which of course also found its way to the laity. While Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris called for a re-emphasis on the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the way this often ended up coming to the average seminary was in the form of neo-scholastic manuals that often bore little resemblance to the teaching of St. Thomas himself. Furthermore, the dryness and singular approach of these manuals (I admit that I am making some inevitable generalizations here, but not particularly unfair ones, in my opinion) tended on the one hand a) to mask the theological creativity within the Church and b) to give the impression of a fixed theological system (as opposed to a fixed deposit of faith with a plurality of legitimate theological expressions, especially on matters not pertaining to defined dogma). This led to both a desire for more compelling theology, whatever it might be, and a degree of unpreparedness for change. Had they been reading de Lubac at the time rather than the manuals, one suspects they may have had less thirst for more radical theologians later. That they were not reading de Lubac, of course, had partially to do with unjust strictures stemming from Humani Generis, which de Lubac graciously accepted - a patience which later helped him become an influential part of the Second Vatican Council.

This confident, burgeoning Church of the 1950's also flourished within a milieu where American Catholicism was still an urban phenomenon and only beginning the move to the suburbs. Note what some suburban churches (and city churches, for that matter, as Matt recently explicated with the unfortunate chapel at NYU) built in that decade look like, and you might get a sense that some sort of aesthetic change for the worse was already afoot. American utilitarian and consumerist attitudes were already starting to make their way into the Church, and the continuance of this phenomenon would have likely produced some sort of crisis later on, one way or another. Add to this the fact that, some places excepting, the United States did not have a particularly consistent tradition of liturgy and music, leading to the "layered closets" of which Thomas Day speaks in which one finds, even before Vatican II, a marked degree of trendiness, much of it for the worse. Exceptions aside, the musical disasters of the 1950's and later did not come out of a vacuum but rather out of a continual lack of a sense of musical tradition. If, as Day argues, more choirs were abolished in the 1950's than in the 60's, something was definitely problematic already. Ironically, the exceptions to this dismal choral record seem to have come mostly in the Midwest, where the liturgical movement was taking hold in interesting and occasionally strange ways (such as Cardinal Stritch's versus populum funeral in Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago in 1958), but such careful approaches were quickly left in the dust of the chaotic '60's.

In the area of religious life, it is also strongly arguable that many religious communities in the 1950's were perhaps approaching the religious life with a bit too much rigidity and ignoring legitimate ways of adapting. This is evident, for example, in women's religious communities in the 1950's that were resistant to changes that, had they implemented them, might have staved off some of the problems of the '60's. It is also evident in the fact that those communities that were the very strictest in the time before the Council tended to be the ones that experienced the worst problems afterwards. It would seem to show that in some cases a healthy moderation was lacking, and that perhaps earlier openness to small change might have prevented some of the disasters to come.

The Church in America, like much of the rest of the world, was thus unprepared to deal with a Council that was in some sense long overdue. It also entered the Council at something of a crossroads in its own life, though it probably did not realize it was at a crossroads. Thus, the event of the Council itself unwittingly unleashed many latent forces in American Catholicism that only needed an excuse to express themselves, and apparently had no idea how to do so in a healthy manner. What happened at this point was not the effect of some massive conspiracy against a thriving Church, but rather of existing weaknesses showing themselves and becoming epidemic. This is not to blame all of the problems we have endured on this particular condition, but rather simply to acknowledge that it was there and that the 1950's and preceding decades and centuries were not an idealized past, but a time like any others, with good points and also with problems.

A hermeneutic of continuity, then, proposes that Vatican II was not only not a bad thing but was in itself a good and necessary event for the Church. The evangelical impulses coming out of Trent and its surrounding events had perhaps done as much as they could, and it was time for the Church to engage herself with new and good trends within the Church, such as the nouvelle theologie and the new lay movements in their infancy at the time. By acknowleding religous freedom, this Council bequeathed to us Dignitatis Humanae, whose discussion of that issue far surpasses any before or since in American polity. It bequeathed to us also the new evangelization, proposed in Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, championed in John Paul II's pontificate, and continued in Benedict XVI's. Furthermore, legitimate theological plurality within the Church lends itself to new and healthy engagement with philosophy and the others sciences, as well as the continuous unpacking of giants like St. Thomas himself, St. Bonaventure, and more recent greats like Hans Urs von Balthasar. This kind of plurality is necessary for theology in the Church to function creatively as it ought, and to engage in positive, serious dialogue with Orthodox and Protestant thinkers.

But a hermeneutic of continuity also acknowledges that we cannot have a brighter future by ignoring the present and the past 40 years. That is not to validate the mistakes that have been made, but rather to realize that we have to deal with their aftermath and approach it compassionately and realistically. This is why St. John Cantius or FSSP parishes, while providing insights to us, cannot realistically be a model for how to move forward liturgically at this time. While these places are certainly not entirely ideologically uniform, as I may have mistakenly implied earlier, they do presuppose a certain unity of openness to Latin, chant, and the like that simply cannot be expected to immediately take hold elsewhere. We cannot expect the average parish, with its plurality of views, to immediately go in the direction we might want, and indeed that the Church wants. Rather, we must learn to bring the insights of the tradition to bear on our current context with charity and with patience. Not everyone is going to listen to, and many will resist vehemently, proposals to use chant or polyphony at Mass.

In opposition, then, to our earlier commentors I think that the nouvelle theologie of de Lubac, Danielou, Balthasar, Benedict XVI, and John Paul II, and the Council that it helped inspire and continues to draw inspiration from, provide the best chance for the future of the Church. Our mission, then, is to go out and to proclaim the joy of living the Gospel and the Catholic life, the joy and beauty of the riches of our liturgy and tradition. Such a proclamation, I strongly believe, will open many eyes and ears that have perhaps been henceforth closed.

The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots

Man's voice: I think she's dead.
Woman's voice: No I'm not!

(sounds of physical harm and screaming start again.)

Announcer: That was episode two of "The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots", specially adapted for radio by Gracie Fields and Joe Frazier. And now, Radio Four will explode.

~Monty Python's Flying Circus

After reading an abridgement of John Guy's new and rather flamboyantly titled Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, I'm left more and more confused as to truly who Mary quite contrary really was. Guy pretty readily rejects Mary as an outright martyr, calling it a pose or perhaps a psychological prop, but she also doesn't think the gal did in her hubby Lord Darnley. I'm not sure I can be so quick to dismiss her martyr status, but at the same time, I'm not sure whether to affirm it, either. I'd like to think of Mary as a martyr, and as another of that select group of uppity Catholic heroines I revere (Joan and the Catherines of Aragon and Siena, for instance), but it's hard to really get a bead on her true motives.

The court that had her executed was certainly a kangaroo one and the motives that led to her death were inextricably linked to both politics and religion, but the fact of her third marriage to Bothwell being celebrated according to Protestant rites is at least somewhat baffling when it comes to her personal piety. Of course, a long time elapsed between that and her death, and it was a weird time for just about everyone involved. At the very least, her being Catholic didn't help when push came to shove, and you could add her to that vague category of Passion-Bearers and mixed religio-political martyrs that includes Louis XVI, Charles I and the late Tzar Nicholas.

What are we to make of this tragic chameleon? This imperious, strong-willed five-foot-ten beauty (with impeccable fashion sense, an almost theatrical manner and Hollywood leading-lady good looks if her death mask is anything to indicate) alternately cast as the craftiest and most bloodthirsty of Papist agents and the passive, ultimate wronged woman who seemed to have had the worst taste in husbands known to history. Certainly, the first image is more the product of a fevered Tudor imagination, but the second, while closer to the historical record, is even harder to square with her strong will and intense, even rash, personality.

Certainly, she riccocheted wildly between dominating and being dominated by the men in her life, whoever they were. I'm utterly confused, and I'm curious to know what my learned and gentle readers make of her.

So--Mary, Queen of Scots: so good or no good?

Some of our favorite sisters make Time Magazine Today's Nun has a Veil--and a Blog

Combatting the axiom that no news is good news, the latest issue of Time takes a look at the communities of women religious whose numbers are growing and whose average age is dropping. It's a familiar story to the blogosphere by now, but not so much to your average Time reader.

Towards the end of the article, it seems as though the author might be ascribing some of the success of these communities to their technological savvy, rather than more substantial attributes. On the whole, though, it was a pleasant, uplifting, and honest article, and I experienced remarkably little of the internal cringing I generally go through when reading MSM pieces about Catholicism.

Monday, November 13


From Our Buddies over at the Pastoral Provision

Repeat readers to the website will no doubt be aware of the Pastoral Provision started by Pope John Paul II, and the attendant Anglican Use liturgy. Check out their shiny brand new website! (Catholics and Anglicans, and ex-Anglican Catholics can all agree on their love of shiny objects.)

For those of you who just tuned in after that last commercial break, the Pastoral Provision is a juridical process by which Anglican or Episcopalian clergy and whole parishes can be brought over to the Catholic faith while retaining a distinct identity in the form of a very beautiful liturgy (approved by the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops, with one of the best translations of the Roman Canon out there) derived from the Book of Common Prayer, with plenty of smells, bells and ad orientem altars. There are six or so parishes in the U.S. that fall in this category. The Pastoral Provision's clergy are unimpeachably Catholic, in union with Rome, and also increasingly numerous these days: eighty have been ordained since the whole thing started more than a quarter-century ago, with more on the way as we speak.

In other Pastoral Provision Internet News, it looks like Our Lady of the Atonement in Texas has also significantly snazzed up their website, with some shots of their mammoth parish church extension only recently dedicated, as well as other signs of thriving sacramental and parochial life.

Things that make sense at the end of a horribly long all-nighter

"My tea does not contracept!"

Sunday, November 12


Matt (and Others) Talk Tridentine on NPR

At long last, it aired: Matt and Dawn's Catholic-on-the-street interview with NPR religion correspondent Rachel Martin at St. Agnes. Check it out! It's actually pretty even-handed, and much less alarmist than most of the recent coverage on the subject. And my radio voice ain't half bad!

To Our Visitors from JunkYardBlog

First, the obligatory gratuitous links of some of my hypothetical projects and ink drawings:

Christ the King Seminary, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Church of Our Lady, Queen of the English Martyrs, Chicago
A New Church Building for St. Agnes, 43rd Street, New York
S. Saviour's Parish Church, Generic Suburban Location
S. Gregory the Great and His Parents
Portrait of the Authoress Dawn Eden with an Allegorical Image of Chastity

Christ the King Seminary, La Crosse, Wisconsin

And now that we've got that out of the way, we're glad to have you here! Both Dawn's very kind comments earlier this week and the JunkYardBlog's intriguing take on the troubling state of the arts among our Protestant separated brethren offer some food for thought. My blogging confrere Drew has discussed the monumental awfulness of Thomas Kinkade before as symptomatic of a vacuum in American religious culture regarding the notion of kenotic suffering as a background against which joy can only be understood.

Still, I think in this instance this question of church architecture can be chalked up only partially to theological difference (meeting-house vs. Domus Dei), but at the same time, it is also symptomatic of an across-the-board throwaway attitude to church design which impacts Catholics and Protestants alike, and even secular architecture. There is, first, an absolute bare minimum of quality in design required by human dignity that is not being met in most secular architecture--and if it's not being met for places we sleep and dine and live in, how much less with God's house! Compare, for instance, the utilitarianism of two hundred years ago, with that of today. Even a disused Victorian warehouse with mass-produced cast-iron decoration is a world apart from the corrugated metal of today's quonset hut.

It's an issue of quality and laziness, in part; with regards to ecclesial architecture, it comes down in many respects to an indifference towards thought, any thought at all. Often, the whole notion that an architecture can signify something is totally forgotten, much less the question of what it should signify. Before we even get to the meaty theological questions of the house of God and the house of God's people, there's a rock-bottom modicum of thought required by good architecture, that a building is more than just a roof over one's head, that it can actually convey some sort of meaning--even if we may disagree over the substance of that meaning, or its propriety--that is not being met today.

I understand we may disagree, Catholic and Protestant, as to what the ideal results ought to be, but at least realizing that some thought has to be put into it is a fairly major mental step for many out there. It just doesn't come up. Someone may think that the stained-glass of Chartres is beautiful, but they often leave it at that, rather than pursuing it beyond art for art's sake. What does this tell us about God? About what the Catholic Church teaches? On a more personal level, what does my awestruck response to it tell me about the impact of God working through the arts, and through physical means in general?

It is interesting to note that the recent outlet-mall megachurch trend is in fact something of a deviation from the last century's trends in Protestant architecture, which was previously moving towards a more liturgical model, even in denominations not known for ritualism. The Catholic and Catholicizing Oxford Movement and the work of the Ralph Adams Cram caused an invisible revolution not only in Catholic but in Protestant churches as well. No longer was the simple white country meeting-house a model, but instead some American Protestants aspired to create their own versions of Europe's Gothic monuments. While not totally successful, at the very least, Puritan clapboard was replaced with stained-glass and grey stone as the stereotypical ideal.

(Cram once commented that the only thing that his monumental East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pitsburg required to celebrate a Catholic High Mass were a crucifix, six candlesticks and twenty minutes of prep time.)

In some instances, this change in design also accompanied a change in theological perspective, as with the Anglo-Catholic party within the Church of England, while in other places, it was more of a shift in taste than in theology. The pulpit did not give way to the altar in the chancel, and the attendant theologies of sanctoral devotion and sacramental realities did not take hold among the Presbyterians and Methodists. There nonetheless remained an openness to artistic and spiritual beauty in some form. Even then, there were a few cautious but significant shifts in emphasis: one particularly interesting case-study is that of Cram's Euclid Avenue Presbyterian in Cleveland, which ripped out an old shallow chancel with a dominant pulpit and organ and replaced it with a freestanding and distinctly altar-like communion table with an ornate Gothic reredos-cum-backdrop in the 1920s.

But even before we reach that point, there is a bare minimum which is far from being met in both the sacred and the profane. The plainest New England meeting-house had a spare sort of dignity to it, and was consistent with the theology preached within, even if the theology it expressed was radically different from that of, say, my beloved St. Vincent Ferrer. While Puritan austerity is at odds with Catholic theology, it was not aggressively ugly in the way that most contemporary designs are. At the very least, some thought was put into what a building meant, and starkness was chosen not because it was cheaper, but because it meant something--just as we ornament our churches to express the timeless truth of the Incarnation. (And certainly simplicity and austerity are Catholic and incarnational virtues when properly understood, as in the case of Cistercian architecture, a world apart from the Astrodome churches built today.) Even if we may disagree on the existential significance of the church building, there is a basic common denominator that a building, any building, can be more than just about structure or shelter, or be more than simply about itself, that we all can agree on that requires us to demand to look deeper into the philosophy we express in our churches, and the message that it may send, intentional or not.

Friday, November 10


St. Anne's Church, Vilnius, Lithuania

I've managed to find some images of the curious Flamboyant Gothic brick church in Vilnius which was the inspiration for my Holy Trinity Chapel project; I post them here in part to show that I wasn't just imagining the odd half-round pseudo-proto-Palladian thermal window, and also to give a sense to my readers of how the traditionally-trained architect works from a precedent, modifying and massaging it to produce a new organic whole often surprisingly different from its parent model.

St. Anne's at night.

The ever-useful Wikipedia notes:
A novel aproach to bricks as a construction material was employed in the church's construction. The main façade, designed in the Flamboyant Gothic style, is its most striking feature. Traditional Gothic elements and shapes were used in unique ways; Gothic arches are framed by rectangular elements dominating a symmetrical and proportionate façade, creating an impression of dynamism.

St. Anne's during the day, showing its monastic context

[...] It was built using 33 different kinds of red-painted bricks. The interior is decorated in the Baroque style, as is its altar. The imitative neo-Gothic bell tower, constructed in 1870s, stands nearby.
The entry also notes:
The first church at this site, thought to be wooden, was built for Anna, the second wife of Vytautas the Great. Originally initially intended for the use of Catholic Germans and other visting Catholics, it was destoyed by a fire in 1419. The present brick church was constructed on the initiative of the King Alexander[2] in 1495 - 1500 and has also suffered severe fire damage. The reconstruction of the church, funded by Mikołaj "the Black" Radziwiłł and Jerzy Radziwiłł, was carried out in 1582. The exterior of the church has remained almost unchanged since then.

The design of the church building is attributed to either Michael Enkinger, the architect of a church of the same name in Warsaw, or to Benedikt Rejt. However, none of the attributions is attested in written sources. St. Anne's Church is part of an ensemble, comprised of the much larger Gothic Church of St. Francis and Bernardines with a monastery.
Just thought you might like to know. There's a whole lot more Gothic out there besides delicate French cathedrals and pastoral English parish churches, and would-be architects would do well to study it.

Wednesday, November 8


The Chess Queen, the Virgin Mary, and the Song of Songs

From Marilyn Yalom, Birth of the Chess Queen: A History:
When the great chess reform took place at the end of the fifteenth century, Catholic countries continued to use the vulgar [vernacular] equivalents of domina--dama in Spain, donna in Italy and dame in France, that evoked "Our Lady." But in Germany and England, transformed by the Protestant Reformation, refused derivatives of domina that might suggest any link to the suspect cult of the Virgin Mary. Instead they used the secular terms Konigin and "queen."
From a Hebrew text attributed to the Spaniard Bonsenior ibn Yehia:
She sits at the top of the high places above the city. She is restless and determined. She girds her loins with strength. Her feet stay not in her house. She moves in every direction and into every corner. Her evolutions are wonderful, her spirit untiring. How comely are her footsteps as she moves diagonally, one step after another, from square to square!

And the King, dressed in black robes, stands on the fourth square, which is white. His queen stands on the square next to him, which is black. He draws near to the pitch darkness, his eye is upon her, for he has taken an Ethiopian woman [as his consort]. There is no difference between them as they come towards you. They set out towards you along the same path, at the same pace, and by the same route. When the one dies, so does the other.
From Gautier de Coinci (c. 1177-1236) Miracles of the Virgin Mary:
Whoever serves her [Mary] well
Has such an advantage in all games
That the devil...
Cannot beguile him


God made such a Virgin Queen
That the devil was mated and undone.


God planned a brilliant move long in advance
Which the devil in no way foresaw.


He covered His side with His Queen.


The devil, who works much evil,
When God had advanced His Queen
Lost his wits and his power.


This Queen moves in such a way
That she checks the adversary in all directions
The traitor who knows many moves
Soon takes fright when she moves:
He cannot fathom even one of hers.


Then she gives him a perfect check
So ingenious and well done
That he immediately loses the game completely--
O! What a queen! O! What a chess queen.

[In reference to the former move of the chess queen, which was one square, rather than her current unlimited powers:]

Other queens move but one square,
But this one moves so fast...
That before the devil has taken one of hers
She has him so bound and bewildered
That he doesn't know which way to move.


This Queen mates the devil head on,
This Queen mates him in the angle
This Queen quiets his jangle
This Queen deprives him of his prey,
This Queen torments him every day.
This Queen goads him everywhere,
This Queen [drives him] square to square.


We cannot move without you,
[We are] your pawns:
Teach us to play, God's Chess Queen [lit., Fierce Dieu]
And take such care of us
That to the great King
We may all arrive.

Tuesday, November 7


Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel, Washington Square

A Hypothetical Church Project by Matthew Alderman

A Proposal for Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel, New York City. Matthew Alderman. Elevation onto Washington Square.

Now, I believe, nobody can say any longer that Matthew Alderman doesn't do Gothic. Or at least a species of Gothic suitably esoteric to satisfy my curiosity. Despite being in favor of a properly dogmatic understanding of the Faith, I tend not to be particularly strict when it comes to architecture, so long as it falls under the big tent of what might be termed organic tradition by some or classicism by others (in the small-c sense); the broad variety of styles, manners and hybrids that lie within that vast sweep all are necessary in some way, as with the bewildering variety of the spiritualities and personalities of the saints, to express the multiplicity of charisms that lie within the unity of the Catholic Church. Certainly, there are levels of sophistication and refinement, hierarchies of decorum and propriety, as well as practical considerations such as site or budget that suggest the selection of one mode of design over the other, or the organic development or creation of a new style, or the mixing of several different ways of building.

In this instance, Gothic was the only truly workable and sensible aesthetic choice. Holy Trinity Chapel, the semi-obselescent Newman Center for NYU, overlooks the southern end of Washington Square Park in New York, occupying a choice if narrow lot (50 by 200 feet) directly across the street from the venerable Romanesque-Renaissance-Beaux Arts Judson Memorial Chapel by the equally famous belle epoque classical firm McKim, Meade and White. This startling juxtaposition of a broad, heavy, classical mass with the narrow slender shape that Holy Trinity's lot would most logically generate, not to mention the contrast of Catholic versus Protestant, would have made for a truly virtuoso essay in city church design. However, instead, what got built on the site was a sort of grubby Stalinist parody of Sainte-Chapelle. It's due to be torn down, as most of the student parish functions have gotten absorbed by St. Joseph's a few blocks over, a tastefully dull Greek Revival box from the days when that sort of thing was popular.

Holy Trinity Chapel, as it stands.

The actual loss of the building is not a big one, but the loss of the site is extremely unfortunate to say the least. The prominence of what might have been a living parish community showing the cross in public, especially contrasted with the comparative institutionalized redundancy of Judson, now largely reduced to a glorified school auditorium. Furthermore, the replacement of a fairly low, human-scale structure, even an ugly one, with another high-rise slab hardly seems a felicitous urban development.

So, naturally, I got my sketchpad out and decided I'd tackle the problem myself.

My first notion, and the one I'd probably pursue if I was magically given this entirely imaginary commission, was to essentially plop down a Manhattanized interpretation of Sainte-Chapelle on the site. Given the proportions of the site, the time-tested refinement of French Gothic, the totemic significance of collegiate medievalism, not to mention the significance of a Catholic French university, that of Paris, to the history of higher education, such a design would be the most conservative and probably the most striking option. Washington Square, with its gleaming white marble arch and urbane atmosphere, has an aura almost European in feel that would be complemented by a gesture to this most glorious of Christendom's temples.

Judson Memorial Church, across the street.

So, naturally, I did something completely different. That's the freedom of the esquisse, the sketch project, that it allows you to strike out in a direction you might not have the luxury to in a real-life situation. Furthermore, the elegant refimenents and minor changes that would make a Sainte-Chapelle design the architect's own, are not possible in the broad, quick format of an esquisse, designed for broader explorations. French Gothic is the creme brulee of architecture--remarkably beautiful but very difficult to truly improve on and make your own. That doesn't mean necessarily one ought to stop making it; except I felt like doing something more unique for my own benefit.

I was principally inspired by the Gothic of Germany and the German-influenced lands of the east, an area with a rich Gothic past mostly overlooked by past revivals. The round arch that graces the front facade of the chapel, as well as much of the westwerk's design was inspired by the curious St. Anne's Church in Vilnius, with its appropriately three Trinitarian pinnacles. Other aspects of the design, such as its scalloped and faintly Dutch gable outline and its Cram and Goodhue-inspired detailing are intended to harmonize with the broader spectrum of New York Gothic and Dutch Revival architecture, while the red-brown brick, buff stone trim, and brick-and-stone striping are intended to tie the radically different architecture of the church to the colors and materials of its Romanesque next-door neighbor.

The iconography of the front facade is thoroughly Trinitarian and represents in stone the gradual unfolding of Divine Revelation from the Old Testament to the New Covenant. The portals are conceived as a Tree of Jesse, with Our Lady and the Infant Jesus at its center as the Sedes Sapientiae. Above the portals are the holy ancestors of Our Lord, including Adam and Eve, Noah, Enoch, David and Solomon. This group in turn is flanked by figures of Moses and Elijah, representing the shift from the age of the patriarchs to those of the prophets. Moving upwards, above the window, is the Trinity as the Throne of Grace, with Mary and St. John the Baptist standing beneath the arms of the cross, and symbols of Faith, Hope and Charity, paralleling the three Persons of the Trinity. Peter and Paul bookend the composition, just as Enoch and Elijah do below. A triple-barred cross crowns the gable, with a sunbursted triangle topping the spire. Note the placement of the astronomical clock between the registers representing the Old and New Covenants, representing the end of time, the coming of the Eschaton and the promise of Heaven. This also serves as an important civic gesture to the park, as there is no public clock on the square of this size at present.

A Proposal for Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel, New York City. Matthew Alderman. Elevation onto side-street.

The side-elevation continues the themes of the front facade. The four evangelists stand in the niches on the upper register, with further Old Testament prophets below. There is an attached rear service building housing classrooms and parochial offices, entered off a small courtyard or light-well with an iron-grilled entrance opening onto the side-street. A statue of St. Catherine, patroness of students, stands next to the entrance and forms the base of an octagonal chimney that anchors the parish house to the courtyard archway sequence. The upper level of the chapel, with its small clerestory windows, is intended to allow a small assembly hall to be located above the chapel, reached by stairs or elevator from the narthex.

The exploration of such designs, while ultimately unrealizable in this instance, allows us to consider how such problems--a juxtaposition of Catholic and Protestant, religious and urban--might be handled in future, and when we consider the sorry state of the church that this hypothetical design replaces, justifies the traditional architect of today to both the art itself and its future practitioners in a happier and more sensitive age.

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