Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Longest" may not mean "there's no other as long"

This comes up because we've another long Tract, today, much like on Ash Wednesday. It's isn't the whole psalm, but it takes up the same space of paper, not to mention using the same motifs musically.

A Blessed and Holy Palm Sunday, all ye visitors.

the Bat

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Today we recall the Transfiguration, when Peter said: "Lord, it is good for us to be here". And that was true enough, but this was not the time to pitch tents: for who, lighting a lamp, then hides it under a bushel basket? This was not the time to preserve the sign, for He who gave the sign had not yet accomplished that for which He came.
When I was in Rome (for about a week, in 1997), I was taken to the Forum, which was a strangely gravely place. In some places the gravel was thinned-out from much walking to-and-fro, and there one could see tile mosaics in the pavement; I wanted to clear away all the gravel, to get the "right effect" of these thousand-year-old artworks. Four years later, (my summer of nine airplanes) I had been taken to Turkey for about a week, and yet more Roman ruins. Here we were told (as we hadn't been in Rome) that the tile mosaics are covered in gravel (of all things) deliberately, to preserve them. Apparently, the constant gritty treading is less damaging to the tile than the changed weathers of the world since the advent of motorcar and lorry.
Everyone has, I'm sure, heard some awful choirs. Even that everyone has heard some awful choirs singing in a liturgical context, alas... It is indeed possible that this has happened more frequently in the last... forty? ... years ... than the previous forty. It is possible, but I wouldn't jump from this to any surmise that we have become worse singers in any intrinsic sense. I dare say there may have been plenty of unsupportable choirs in, say, the 1920s, the era of decadence (in which setting, for instance, Waugh imagines a most uninspiring but dreadfully sincere young cellista, in Brideshead Revisited). That is, bad music and bad performance and bad liturgy definitely aren't anything new. Bad theology is almost as old as Cain, I'm sure.
An interesting fellow I know, around here, who reads and thinks about these things better than I do, tells me that many of the things sensitive folk find banal in the New Mass are actually codifications of abuses that had arisen more than a hundred years ago — the particular one he mentioned was by the name "three-hymn sandwich": In many poorer parishes, they could afford a Priest maybe but not three (and certainly not three clerics and a smashing-good choirmaster); So Mass was always Low Mass, with the laity singing hymns together whenever the Order didn't have something else going on to listen to or a command for silence.

But a funny thing happens when you have abuses (pious, well-intentioned, and popular... abuses) running for sixty years or more: they fall into time immemorial. "Put them into the books, please".
And so, for a brief little while, it seemed as if what we now may call the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite had been buried. There seem also to have been many who were happy, even gleeful, to leave it buried, happy to cover it with gritty mud and trample over the lot. Yet there have always been places where the gravel seemed thin, and always folk who were fascinated by the intricate patterns one could glimpse here and there. It's hard to tell, but there may just as well have been bits of the old pattern that had already worn out, before the covering was made. We can't see the state of the whole.

Meanwhile, in another part of town is the very new New Courthouse building, whose architecture is a bit odd, that still smells of new plaster and paint and silicone caulking. Most of us aren't quite used to it yet, how to move around in it, its acoustics, and all that. They've already given the English Room a renovation, and the fumes of the glue are still dissipating. It's very busy, though, all of it.
Sometimes, when you bury a thing in mud and later clean the mud off, you find you've also cleaned away lots of other faint dust and stains, and you've polished away scratches that had obscured the colours, and on the whole improved appearances everywhere. Something like this is going on in that strange ritual known by the latin words for care of the foot.

I'm looking forward to a time when we can clean away God's gravel and everyone walk freely in the Roman Forum and admire its ancient craftsmanship, and if that time comes in Time we may well then enjoy something truer than anything enjoyed before. But we may have to wait for a change of weather, a change in the air, a time when our habits and our exhalations aren't worse for it than being covered in gravel.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

It's that time of this year again

... because time in the Church is a funny thing.

last year we had this quasi-meditation; this year I'll only remark (beyond mentioning that) that it's The Longest Tract. We have more Tract this week than we have proper chant ... most other Sundays. I don't want to be groundlessly categorical, so I'll stick with "most", there. Thank goodness, the Schola Master is subdividing the schola so we sing alternate versiculi, each overall singing a page's worth instead of two.

Monday, March 3, 2014

More Star Trek

Golly, but I was ill... Sunday afternoon, after thirty hours of fever-assisted wakefulness, I finally drifted off into weird dreams.

Several times Cpt. Picard thought Counselor Troi looked like someone other than Counselor Troi, and was perplexed by Dr. Crusher's intermittent transparency (like a glass cast copy of herself). These two whom Cpt. saw often walking the corridors together seemed oblivious to their own (or each others') strange appearances.

Later, my older brother suggested to our bus driver he take us to the Tofornia Mile, but I don't think he got on the bus; after younger brother had made us friends with Gayle and Caroline and ... er... I can't pronounce his name... the family sitting behind us, we arrived at the semifamous Tofornia Mile (I think I thought it was somewhere in Mexico) where a someone was wrestling with a malfunctioning automatic baseball tee, in a ballpark between two halves of a divided highway in the midst of thick forest, and we were invited to try hitting one of these baseballs on a mile-long flight (because here of all places one can do that). Anyways, I remember hearing someone with computer-augmented binoculars reading "30 meters... 40 meters... " though I don't remember seeing any baseball bats, or seeing anyone trying to hit the ball.

If anyone has the gift of Joseph and Daniel... but I don't think these were those sorts of dream.


Monday, February 3, 2014

... Everyone needs a hobby?

Dear Mrs Authoress,

There was a delightful exchange between a playwright and Conan Doyle: Q: “May I marry Holmes?” A: “You may marry Holmes, murder him, or do whatever you like to him.”

May I just say, now that you want to play playwright rather than Doyle, that no, you got it right the first time? To say that, as the story played out, it isn't about Potter, (Potter is central to the unfolding, but it's not about him) but about families: that the first big thing we do after Dumbledore's funeral is throw a wedding; that what saves the Malfoys is they decide not to be soldiers anymore but again a family; that Riddle was ruined because his family (mother included) ruined him, just in time for him to destroy them. (Potter doesn't turn into a Dursley, because the Dursleys themselves were scrupulous about keeping Potter out.)

And so, if the story must extend to the generation that follows (it needn't, of course, but that is what happens next) and if that is a happy ending, then the sympathetic characters (Ok, maybe Potter isn't so sympathetic anymore) ought to be well-matched for the purpose of being family. Potter, alas, has grown up without his proper, visible, natural family, and he doesn't connect at all with Hermione's family (they sort-of paper the walls of Diagon Alley once or twice, I think); indeed, who, in the whole tale, knows enough of the running of a family to supply what is wanting in Potter's experience, and can marry Harry and already loves him? I submit that only Ginevra will do.

Leah Libresco very sensibly acclaims the platonic love (I'd say philia) between Harry and Hermione; and why throw away that beautiful moment when Ron himself destroys a bit of Riddle's evil?

I am sorry to hear that you, the immediate author of the original tales, have twice now, been more than willing to recast your characters along lines of will and power, twice now in connection with the generative power and its degenerations. Go read some Tolkien letters (at least when he revises a story, he makes it better), and play with your children some!

a reader

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This is another post about "Gravitational Pull"

As I closed last time, "gravitational pull" tends not to produce collisions — at least, not in idealized circumstances, which I described with the phrase "essentially-two". In the old, "classical" physics setting, this is due to the particular (empirically-determined, but excellently predictive!) gravitational potential, which has a large group of symmetries. The model of a two-object interaction then looks like
\[ \frac{1}{2} \left( \frac{d}{dt} r \right)^2 + \frac{1}{2} r^2 \left(\frac{d}{dt} \Theta\right)^2 - \frac{g_0}{r} = H \qquad\mbox{is constant}\]
where $r$ is the (variable) distance between the two objects and $\Theta$ is a cleverly-composed something that describes the (variable) direction of the two objects' separation, and $g_0$ is a constant describing the gravitational attraction between the two things. It happens that another expression
\[ r \Theta \times r \frac{d}{dt} \Theta = L \] must also be a constant — this one having directional information.

The never-meeting of the two things is sumarized in the necessity that squares of real things be positive:
\[ H + \frac{g_0}{r} - \frac{1}{2r^2} L^2 = \frac{1}{2} \left( \frac{d}{dt} r \right) ^2 \geq 0 \]

Now, of course we know that things largely under the influence of gravity do occasionally hit one another, and so the Moon is a rather interesting thing to behold at night, and St. Laurence has his “tears” every year — these are instances of things having size, being more than geometric points — and so of not being “essentially-two”, in my strange turn of phrase. Another class of things exerting mutual gravitational pull that aren't “essentially-two” in this sense is that of binary stellar systems. A notable sub-class are the pairings of a red giant and a white dwarf, in relative proximity. Sometimes these sorts of collisions take the form of the dwarf partner gradually accumulating the loose hydrogen from off their red giant partner, untill it gets thick and hot enough to start fusing hydrogen into helium on its own account, which makes a kind of nova. I wonder if (and how) this picture might have been in Benedict's analogical thought when he spoke or wrote of "gravitational pull"?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This is a post about "Gravitational Pull"

It's a funny thing: the Church has Laws — these are in addition to the moral law, at least in the sense that one could reasonably not do what they prescribe under the counterfactual hypothesis that they didn't say it. Nonetheless the Law, justly proposed, itself imposes a moral character on acts that otherwise wouldn't suffer such character.

One such law, which pertains to Priests, accolytes, and cantors, is that Priests as such (accolytes, cantors...) have no authority either to set aside nor to add to the prescribed text and ceremonial of the Mass, except in narrowly described ways. There are good reasons for this on which we need not dwell, and there are annoying consequences of it.

One annoying consequence of it (for a Priest) is that the indulgence attached to the aspiration of "Doubting" Saint Thomas is not allowed him, even in the usual circumstances, at the First Elevation in a Mass he is himself celebrating — for this would be an illicit interruption of, or addition to, the Canon. An annoying consequence of it is that blue chasubles, dalmatics, and tunicles (which exist in plenty, and of which many are profoundly beautiful) are thoroughly outlawed. A most perplexing consequence of it, for the children of Summorum Pontificum is that there really isn't any way the Extraordinary Form can be made an excuse to depart from the edited text of the Missal for the Ordinary Form, nor vice-versa. The dressing of the altar, the vesting of the ministers, the words used and their order, have each their circumscriptions; the propers of a Sunday Mass (proper of the Season) may not be used for votive masses, but only on their own Sunday and feriae; there are more points, but these are enough to keep in mind (unless you are a priest, in which case you keep a fresh Ordo and GIRM and all the rest handy and what are you doing, in whose name, reading this waste of time?) So we're a bit funny, celebrating the Kingship of Our Lord twice a year, and calling 1st January both the Motherhood of Mary and the Circumcision of Our Lord... and for a time we will be funny. (We should always be some sort of funny!) It is not in any authority below the Supreme Pontiff to adjust these counterpoints.

Do we want to unify the Calendars? Perhaps we do, and so why not compose ideas for how to do so; or better: consider sound principles whereupon the Church might do so. Why not write a thesis on the matter together with an example revised biformal Calendar and send it to His Holiness — I understand he answers surprisingly many letters, so the odds are better than at other times that, if he doesn't approve the thing ad experimendum for your oratory, at least he might give you a good reason why.

It's another funny thing altogether (one on which our continued experiences of any kind in this Creation largely depend) that if essentially-two things exert a mutual gravitational pull out of parallel with their relative motion, they never meet.