Some millennials raised in the more informal evangelical tradition are crossing over to the older style of worship. They describe the lure of a Christianity that does not aspire to be relevant or fashionable. The Rev Fergus Butler-Gallie, a 27-year-old priest in Liverpool, said churches did not need to “pretend to be your nightclub” to appeal to the young. “It can be church and have an air of mystery.”
I saw a little news item today about how the Pope has paid homage to the important Jesuit baroque composer Domenico Zipoli by writing an introduction to a recent book about him. And a little quote appeared in the Osservatore Romano yesterday (my translation):
“With joy I accept the invitation to write a foreword to the latest publication of maestro Sergio Militello, for some years organist at Santa Marta and currently docent at the Pontifical Gregorian University”, writes Pope Francis in the foreword to the book Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726). The musical dream of a ‘Paradise on Earth’ (Vatican City: LEV, 2018, 250 pp.) “He was,” the Pope continues, “a young missionary who, through the gift of music cultivated with passion and enthusiasm, completed a marvelous work of evangelization still remembered today. The composer Domenico Zipoli lived in the last years of his brief existence as a novice of the Society of Jesus in the city of Córdoba, a place to which I am connected, having been a spiritual director and confessor for some years of my ministry.”
Alongside that somewhat self-referential (!) quotation appears an essay by Maestro Militello, but not about Zipoli, about whom I’d really be interested in reading. Rather, it’s about themes he considers neglected in Christmas music. He cites the predominance of certain stylistic elements in the received tradition: in some pieces triumphal motifs, in some the tone of lullaby or of the pastorale, as in “Tu scendi dalle stelle”. But here is what is missing, according to the writer:
[…] in the musical literature it is difficult to find compositions that set the real “drama” of the event of the holy night fully in the foreground: the negative reply to a request for lodging, and taking refuge in a cave for shepherds, with no help…
But the human drama of the holy family of Nazareth is still present […] in so many refugee couples [….] For them also there seems to be no sonic commentary about shared hard-working solidarity, about effective intervention to alleviate the weight of life that often – from its beginning – finds incomprehension, indifference, and atrocious silence.
Whatever else there is to say about such a commentary, it’s not a manifestation of the maestro’s artistic expertise or of any scholarly discovery on his part. It seems to be just a facile echoing of some of Pope Francis’ themes. To see this sort of space-wasting in the culture section of the Osservatore Romano, in an edition that only has eight pages for the whole paper, is disappointing.
I’m not even sure the book is worth recommending, for those who can read the Italian. It has a total of one reader review so far on Amazon, and it’s not favorable:
[…] we’re happy for the Holy Father’s attention to a musician close to our heart…. But did anyone point out that the great scholar Luis Szaran treated the subject with documentary completeness in his splendid essay “Domenico Zipoli. Una vita, un enigma” (2000)? Or perhaps that … Alessio Cervelli already published his essay “Domenico Zipoli: amo dunque suono. La scelta radicale di una vita […]” (2016)? All this new amazement shown by Militello, when he talks about examining the Spanish sources […] as though it were something unheard-of and startling: we would like to hope that it’s simply ignorance and a lack of investigation about recent publications (something that would be rigorously necessary for any scholar evaluating the status quaestionis on the object of his study), and […] not rather an insipid act of “courtly obsequiousness” toward an Argentine and Jesuit pontiff.
(UPDATE: I edited the piece after posting to improve a point of the translation. –RC)
When I was in grad school one of my professors was a major Bologna School historian, who liked to tell the story of attending the opening of Vatican II as a seminarian, by pretending to be part of a bishop’s entourage.
I was thinking of him today while, astonished and heartsick, I read the Holy Father’s letter to our bishops on retreat, in particular pages 3-6.
Of all of the problems in this world, it seems to me that the sexual molestation of children and vulnerable adults is the one to caution for the just application of ideals and principles, and against moral relativism.
To see this literally excruciating moment of self-knowledge and conversion turned into yet another opportunity for proposing the creation of a postmodern, postChristian ecclesial community is nearly unbearable.
When I was in my first parish staff position, a Sister who had been a DRE for decades advised me to charge at least $5 for any program I offered. The reason, she said, was that people tend to stop attending programs unless they had invested in them. Brian Holdsworth argues from that same reasoning in this compelling video.
There is something to this, a recognized phenomenon called the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Rather than making coldly rational decisions here and now, I am likely to factor in my degree of past investment in something as a reason to continue it. In business this is often counterproductive, throwing good money after bad. It’s also one of the reasons for indolence in confessional matters: we tend to identify with what we have spent ourselves on. In Christianity, Holdsworth and my Sister colleague rightly theorize, we can use this normal characteristic of human decision making and help people to make investments in their religion. This is not only the case with 5 dollar bills, but with commitments of behavior and time. Making demands helps make disciples, and waiving rules is counterproductive to evangelization.
SImilarly, belonging is enormously important to people, and to young people in particular. Young people are so intent on forming community that they constantly change their slang–and their social media platforms–as though it were a uniform that only young people were allowed to wear. And here again, waiving rules is counterproductive to evangelization.
Further, fairness is more important to the young than to the old, who have normally had more experience of and toleration for disparity. If rules are broken in a game, young people will not accept it. In the early teen years they are likely to try to change rules, but they are unlikely to accept rules’ being broken.
During Lent, one of the few times when Catholic rules are ever mentioned in a consistent way, the investment of Catholics in the Friday abstinence changes the way McDonald’s prices its fish sandwiches. We change McDonald’s (!) by joining together to do something.
Of course, this is all on the psychological level. We can see this investment strategy, if you will, effectively employed by non-Christians such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose young men go abroad two by two, who sacrifice coffee and alcohol, who tithe. It’s a strategy that can be abused by cults and seducers of all kinds.
It is not evangelization unless it is about Jesus. And in fact it is a theme of Jesus’ never to wash away the costs of a life with Him. “Let the dead bury their dead,” He said. “Deny yourself.” “Take up your cross.” Accessible to children, healer of the sick, He was nonetheless the harsh admonisher of fakers, who do lip service to religion.
And this is where I think Holdsworth falls short of a home run in this video, helpful as it is. (He has many others that are also well worth watching.) The reason the Gospel costs so much is precisely because it promises so much. We are not called by Jesus to be “good people” living polite suburban lives. You don’t need too much grace for that, and grace is an infinite fountain welling up inside of us who are baptized into His death. This flood washes away, not only rough edges and gross sins, but a great deal of what we might think of as our identity–what we have invested in. It prepares us not only for death but for the beatific vision and the endlessly blissful life of the world to come.
Rules are so very minimal. They are indispensable curbs to the defects of human nature, and God and the experience of centuries have taught them to us, but they are not the true costs of the Gospel. The true cost comes with the elevation of human nature, being drawn up into sanctity with the dark nights of a Thérèse of Lisieux or Teresa of Calcutta.
“And we are put on earth a little space/ That we may learn to bear the beams of love,” wrote William Blake. The beams of love so far exceed our mortal frames that they burn us poor weak hybrids of flesh and spirit. As the saint is elevated, he or she is suspended between animal and spiritual nature like Christ on the cross. Liturgy makes it bearable; love makes it meaningful. It is a place of grace and intercession and deep communion and thoroughgoing conversion. It is where the People of God belong.
Charles is the President of the Choral Public Domain Library, and the Manager of ChoralWiki. As it happens, today is the Choral Public Domain Library’s 20th birthday. This vast database of choral scores available for free download makes building a high-quality, classical music library for Catholic worship much less expensive than any commercial alternative.
The Cathedral of Birmingham’s Director of Music Bruce Ludwick set the hymn in an American idiom, using the tune RESTORATION, from Southern Harmony.
Most recently I heard from Alan Lynch, the Director of Music at the Syracuse Cathedral, who set the text to the popular tune HYFRYDOL.
While writing the text, I had the tune BEACH SPRING in mind, which lends itself to marching.
I would be very pleased if this text were to find wide usage during the coming month, when we particularly seek to protect all human life, from conception until natural death.