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.