Thursday, March 26, 2009

Off to Spain!

No blogging for at least the next several days, since I am leaving tomorrow for my first trip to Spain. My husband is travelling to the Madrid area for a business meeting, so I am tagging along. While we are there I hope to visit Toledo (pictured above), an important center of Iberian culture since Roman times and home to a magnificent cathedral, and Avila--as in St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. We will stay in the town of Alcala de Henares, northeast of Madrid, which is among other things the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes and Catherine of Aragon.

I will take lots of pictures and report on the trip after I return next week and recover from jet lag.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Maybe Catholics CAN Sing, After All

Many of you may already be familiar with the book, Why Catholics Can't Sing, by Thomas Day. It is a humorous, and informative, look at the often sad state of liturgical music in the post-Vatican II American Catholic Church. When my husband and I first began attending Mass at our local parish, we were bewildered and somewhat dismayed at times by both the lack of congregational singing and the often inappropriate music selections for the Mass. This book helped us put things in perspective. Although some reviewers criticize Day for being a bit too hard on the Irish, in my opinion his analysis is less concerned with assigning blame than with offering constructive criticism and practical suggestions for improvement.

Thanks to Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of Sacred Music magazine and editorial VP of the von Mises Institute, now we have even more helpful suggestions for choosing liturgical music that enriches the Mass rather than distracting from it. His new book, Sing Like a Catholic (see link to the right), is intended to re-introduce Catholics – laymen as well as musicians – to existing resources that will help bring order out of the musical chaos that defines the experience of many modern Catholics. In his article on the subject at, he makes the following observation about the current situation:

For several generations, what was originally permission to sing “other suitable songs” apart from the ritual itself has mutated into a kind of musical nihilism that denies that anything should be called universally appropriate or inappropriate. It is widely believed that, so long as people more or less like it, it can and should be sung or played.

What this has led to is not universal satisfaction with music at Mass, but rather the opposite. One never knows for sure what one will get on Sunday. Catholics are good sports, so they do their best to make a game of it. Will it be the aging hippy Mass, the breathy teen-pop Mass, the pseudo-Broadway Mass, the lone-cantor-plus-guitar Mass, the ethnic parade? The instability of it all becomes a kind of bonding point between us.

He goes on to describe the missing element (which forms the thesis of his book): "both a lack of direction and a lack of any fixed ideals."

As he goes on to point out, this confusion is entirely unnecessary:

The music of the Roman Rite has been part of the structure of the Mass for as long as 1,500 years, and the roots trace to apostolic times. It still would be part of our practice were it not for the fact that we have lived through one of those periodic ruptures that afflict the Church.

However, there is no reason for it to last. The beginnings of clarity come from looking at the actual music attached to the Mass, which you can do by picking up the Gregorian Missal.

He concludes by citing a criticism from one of his musical colleagues to the effect that the book is a waste of time, since the entire point is to point out what Catholics should know already – that the core music of the Mass is the Graduale Romanum (Roman Gradual).
As Mr. Tucker rightly points out, if this were widely known there would be no need for books like his. But it is not widely known; it has been largely forgotten. This book can help remind us of that neglected treasury of Catholic liturgical music.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Solemnity of St. Joseph

According to the liturgical calendar, today, March 19, is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For obvious reasons he is one of the most significant Saints of the Church, and certainly one of the most popular, judging from the number of statues of St. Joesph that I see in churches. Not to mention the rather odd custom of burying a mini statue of St. Joseph in the yard to facilitate the sale of your house. According to the online Patron Saints Index, among other things he is the patron saint of families, of workers (including carpenters, cabinetmakers, craftsmen, etc.), and of a happy death. Why? Because according to Church tradition, he died of natural causes with both Jesus and Mary by his side. According to the CNA website, his feast "has been celebrated throughout the church since the tenth century and has been honored as the Patron of the Universal Church since 1870."

At my parish, Holy Spirit Church-Annandale, we will mark the occasion with a high mass at 7:30 pm, when we will also dedicate our parish's new organ. As I wrote in an earlier blog entry ("The Beauty of Holiness"), our parish is in the midst of our own "reform of the reform," and we have gradually been re-introducing chant (in both Latin and English) and other neglected forms of sacred music. Tonight will sing all of the ordinary parts of the mass in Latin, including the Credo for the first time. Please join us if you are in the area. (See map.)

I consider St. Joseph the very embodiment of a "stand-up guy," the sort who always put the good of others first, especially his family. When faced with the news that his prospective wife is expecting a child, his response reveals a man focused on her best interests: “…Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly.” (Matt. 1:19) In other words, although the marriage was null and void according to the law, Joseph wanted to protect Mary from public scandal. Then when an angel explains to the real story to him in a dream, he doesn’t hesitate to follow the angel’s command and take Mary as his wife. He is the one to whom God reveals the name by which the child will be known – Jesus.

This is the first but not the last time that Joseph’s obedience to God’s direction proves crucial. It is Joseph whom God warns in a dream to take Mary and the child to Egypt to escape Herod’s search-and-destroy mission. Once again, he obeys, and his obedience saves Jesus’ life.

His role in the story of Jesus' life is not quite front-and-center, but his role is crucial. Imagine for a moment what that story would have been like without Joseph. Had he not been willing to follow God's instructions in the first instance, Mary might have been exposed to public shame and even the penalty of stoning under the law. Had he not obeyed God and taken his family to Egypt, Jesus might have ended up as one of Herod's victims. Certainly God would have found a way to work out his plan of salvation, but the point is that Joseph's obedience, like Mary's, was crucial to the success of this particular plan.

The Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square in Rome in 2007 was set in Joseph's carpentry shop in Nazareth, rather than the traditional stable in Bethlehem. It incited some controversy, but one reason that the Holy Father did it this way was to remind us of the critical role of Jesus' earthly father and, by extension, of all earthly fathers, in protecting and guiding their families.
Here is a prayer to St. Joseph with origins, as I understand it, in the first century. It is included in the program for tonight's mass at my parish:
O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son, all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Anglican Use Conference 2009

The recent news that Italian bishops have suggested a Lenten fast from technology (texting, iPods, web surfing, etc.) got me thinking. I concluded that for me it might be more appropriate to resume blogging as a Lenten discipline. There has been so much to write about lately that I've felt rather overwhelmed. But I have to start somewhere, and it may as well be on an upbeat note...

This year's Anglican Use Society Conference is scheduled for June 11-13 in Houston, Texas. Our Lady of Walsingham (OLW) Catholic Parish and St. Mary's Seminary. OLW is, one of the earliest Anglican Use parishes established in the U.S., and this year marks their 25th anniversary. St. Mary's Seminary is the home of the Graduate School of Theology of Houston's University of St. Thomas. St. Thomas is the future home of former Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, who resigned his Episcopal orders in September of 2007 and was ordained a Pastoral Provision Catholic priest in New Mexico on February 21, 2009. He will teach Patristics at St. Thomas and St. Mary's Seminary beginning this fall. He spoke at last year's Anglican Use Conference in San Antonio. You can read a copy of his address here.

If you are interested in attending this year's conference or know someone who might be, find out more by visiting the Conference website or clicking on the tabs below. Whether you are clergy or laity, Catholic or perhaps a Protestant at some stage of discerning whether to dip your toe in the Tiber River, I would encourage you to attend. Several of last year's attendees were Anglican clergymen who were there to learn more about the Pastoral Provision.

HomeRegistrationHotel ReservationsAnglican Use ParishesAbout the HostDirectionsAgenda

(click here to visit the parish web site)

His Eminence
Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, S.T.B, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Galveston-Houston
(For more information, click here)
Fr. James Moore, Ph.D.
Co-founder and Pastor Emeritus of
Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church
(For more information, click here)
Fr. John Saward, M.Litt. (Theology)
Greyfriars Fellow & Associate Lecturer of
Blackfriars at Oxford University,
Parish Priest, Catholic Church of St.
Gregory & St. Augustine, Oxford,
Author of numerous books, including The
Beauty of Holiness
(1996) and Sweet and
Blessed Country: The Christian Hope for
(For more information, click here)
Mary C. Moorman, M.A., J.D.
Apologist, author, consultant,
Ph.D. candidate.
(For more information, click here)

(click here to download the event flyer pdf)

E-mail Questions to: Margaret Pichon