Thursday, November 29, 2012

For Vespers in Advent: Conditor Alme Siderum

Conditor alme siderum
aetérna lux credéntium
Christe redémptor
ómnium exáudi preces súpplicum

Qui cóndolens intéritu
mortis perire saeculum
salvásti mundum languidum
donnas reis remedium.

Vergénte mundi véspere
uti sponsus de thálamo
egréssus honestissima
Virginis matris cláusula.

Cuius forti ponténtiae
genu curvántur ómnia
caeléstia, terréstia
nutu faténtur súbdita.

Te, Sancte fide quáesumus,
venture iudex sáeculi,
consérva nos in témpore
hostis a telo perfidi.

Sit, Christe rex piissime
tibi Patríque glória
cum Spíritu Paráclito
in sempitérna sáecula.
Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
should doom to death a universe,
hast found the medicine, full of grace,
to save and heal a ruined race.

Thou camest, the Bridegroom of the Bride,
as drew the world to evening tide,
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.

At whose dread Name, majestic now,
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
and things celestial Thee shall own,
and things terrestrial Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread,
to judge and doom the quick and dead,
preserve us, while we dwell below,
from every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Händel: Messiah

The whole thing - 2 hours and 38 minutes' worth!  And with the wonderful Choir of King's College Cambridge, too.

From the YouTube page:
Messiah - Oratorio, HWV 56

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
The Brandenburg Consort

Ailish Tynan (soprano)
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Matthew Rose (bass)

Stephen Cleobury (conductor)

Here's an HTML libretto from Stanford University.

Salve Regina - Cristóbal de Morales

Here's another Salve Regina, this time by Cristóbal de Morales. Gorgeous. I'll try to find out what he's doing here with the chant alternatim; not sure if that's the Gregorian melody or not....

[EDIT:  Yes, the chant alternatim uses the Solemn Tone version of the Gregorian Salve Regina; see it on this page.]

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve. Ad te clamamus, exules filii Evae. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes, in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, advocate nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos, ad nos converte. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O Clemens, o pia, o dulcis virgo Maria.
Hail holy queen, mother of mercy, hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us. And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary.

Salve Regina (Francesco Cavalli)

Before the Marian antiphon at Compline changes, this Sunday on Advent I, from Salve Regina to Alma Redemptoris Mater, I thought I'd post this lovely Salve Regina by Francesco Cavalli:

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve. Ad te clamamus, exules filii Evae. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes, in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, advocate nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos, ad nos converte. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O Clemens, o pia, o dulcis virgo Maria.
Hail holy queen, mother of mercy, hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us. And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary.

More about Salve Regina here. More about Marian antiphons here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Step 11: "Beyond question"

This was in my Facebook feed this morning, from the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" group:
"In A.A. we have found that the actual good results of prayer are beyond question. They are matters of knowledge and experience. All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own. They have found wisdom beyond their usual capability. And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances." Step 11 pg 104.
My bolding above.  This is exactly what I love about A.A.; it consists almost entirely of empirical reports back from the front.   It's people talking to people about "what works."  It's actually concrete confirmation of what religion has been up to for centuries and millennia, but seems to forget so often.

I forget it, too; I forget that prayer is good for me, and I forget to do it - often until my mind becomes completely squirrelly.  And this, after 29 years of sobriety!   Maybe it's because it's been so long, actually; I just assume that I'm completely well - but I'm not.  I need to live a day at a time, and prayer, as much as anybody else.  (I've actually heard people report in meetings that at about this time in sobriety, they completely lost it - and some have started drinking again.  That hasn't been much of a temptation for me - it never was, after I stopped, because it was all such a bad time - but I remembered again that little aphorism that "living inside my own head is spending time in a really bad neighborhood.")

Here's part of Step 11, "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out."  My bolding.
We A.A.'s are active folk, enjoying the satisfactions of dealing with the realities of life, usually for the first time in our lives, and strenuously trying to help the next alcoholic who comes along. So it isn't surprising that we often tend to slight serious meditation and prayer as something not really necessary. To be sure, we feel it is something that might help us to meet an occasional emergency, but at first many of us are apt to regard it as a somewhat mysterious skill of clergymen, from which we may hope to get a secondhand benefit. Or perhaps we don't believe in these things at all.

To certain newcomers and to those one-time agnostics who still cling to the A.A. group as their higher power, claims for the power of prayer may, despite all the logic and experience in proof of it, still be unconvincing or quite objectionable. Those of us who once felt this way can certainly understand and sympathize. We well remember how something deep inside us kept rebelling against the idea of bowing before any God. Many of us had strong logic, too, which "proved" there was no God whatever. What about all the accidents, sickness, cruelty, and injustice in the world? What about all those unhappy lives which were the direct result of unfortunate birth and uncontrollable circumstances? Surely there could be no justice in this scheme of things, and therefore no God at all.

Sometimes we took a slightly different tack. Sure, we said to ourselves, the hen probably did come before the egg. No doubt the universe had a "first cause" of some sort, the God of the Atom, maybe, hot and cold by turns. But certainly there wasn't any evidence of a God who knew or cared about human beings. We liked A.A. all right, and were quick to say that it had done miracles. But we recoiled from meditation and prayer as obstinately as the scientist who refused to perform a certain experiment lest it prove his pet theory wrong. Of course we finally did experiment, and when unexpected results followed, we felt different; in fact we knew different; and so we were sold on meditation and prayer. And that, we have found, can happen to anybody who tries. It has been well said that "almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough."

Those of us who have come to make regular use of prayer would no more do without it than we would refuse air, food, or sunshine. And for the same reason. When we refuse air, light, or food, the body suffers. And when we turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions, and our intuitions of vitally needed support. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of nourishment, so can the soul. We all need the light of God's reality, the nourishment of His strength, and the atmosphere of His grace. To an amazing extent the facts of A.A. Life confirm this ageless truth.

There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. Now and then we may be granted a glimpse of that ultimate reality which is God's kingdom. And we will be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to find and do the will of our own Creator.

It's good to remember all that again - I hope I don't forget again! - and notice how the text states that it's confirming something, rather than coming up with something new.

More on this later.....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

James Alison: "The Portal and the Halfway House"

From Session 10 of his "Forgiving Victim Course."  My bold.
I’d like to explore some ways in which the image of the half-way house can help us re-imagine what it is and isn’t like living with Church. First some similarities. A central one, perhaps, is that the Church, like the half-way house, is not an end in itself. No one thinks that the chief joy of coming out of prison is that you get to go to a half-way house. The half-way house only has existence at all as a staging post, something which has enough elements in common with the sort of life that the prisoner is leaving behind that she not be completely drowned in her own inability to cope with returning to freedom. Nevertheless its whole purpose is to prepare people for freedom, a way of life which has very little in common with what they are used to. This new way of life is one where they will be relied on to be creative, responsible, imaginative, full of initiative, perseverance and so on. In other words, the half-way house exists only as a means at the service of something much greater than itself: forms of social flourishing and togetherness which are initially out of reach of the ex-con. For those who have “come through the system” the idea is that after a time, they become viable in entirely new fields. Then they will have, in the best of cases, only a loose affiliation with the half-way house, an entirely voluntary desire to be associated with it, gratitude for the help derived from their association with it, and a longing to help other ex-cons who are coming through.

Another point of similarity with Church is that the very existence of the half-way house is a firm sign of a benevolent intention implanted by “outside”. “Outside” knows what it is like to live well, and knows that those who currently don’t know how to do so, owing to their time in prison, are in principle capable of living well and can be nudged beyond their current patterns of desire. The quality of the bricks and mortar of the half-way house, and even the competence of the social-workers and probation officers, are secondary to the fact that these are genuine signs, more or less effective signs, of what is a real instantiated project, more or less effectively instantiated, a project which is the fruit of a pattern of desire, a draw, from an outside which knows that there is a way, an arduous way to be sure, of people moving from their prison socialisation to their free socialisation. The half-way house, like the Church, is an effective sign of a draw from beyond itself that is empowering its residents into becoming creators of society.

A third similarity between Church and the half-way house might be that neither is concerned with producing pre-determined results.
A half-way house is not designed to train ex-cons specifically to be computer programmers, or beauticians, landscape-gardeners or air-traffic controllers, though any half-way house would be delighted if its former residents were to achieve stable careers in any of those fields. Its purpose is relational, enabling an arduous change in the ex-con’s pattern of desire, imagination, capacity for socialization, self-esteem, such that they are no longer constantly liable to trip themselves, and others, up, but are able to imagine some good, one that is in some way matched to the talents and idiosyncracies that they are coming to discover as their own, a good that they are increasingly equipped to realise as their talents are allowed to develop. The hope is that eventually they be empowered and connected in such a way as to turn renewed imagination into recognisable flourishing. The half-way house is a structured space in which people move beyond merely being free from something (enforced confinement) to being free for something: constructive and creative involvement with society. Likewise, Church is a structured space in which people move beyond being free from something (being run by death and its fear) to being free for something: constructive and creative involvement in new forms of togetherness and enjoyment.

So: not an end in itself, but an effective sign of a draw from beyond itself, whose hoped-for outcome is free lives run by changed patterns of desire. Well, so far so good. But in fact all of these similarities depend on something which is in evidence when it comes to half-way houses, but not at all in evidence when it comes to Church, and this is the way in which a more or less healthy “outside” society is what people are used to. In our normal countries “Outside” is vastly bigger than “inside”: those who are in prison are, it is to be hoped, a tiny minority of the populace; they are there because of failures to respect the norms of healthy outside life, and their presence there is a more or less long term, but in principle, a temporary, abstraction from where they normally belong. Thus, from the point of view of those in prison the existence of a half-way house is a comparatively banal statement of the values of the wider society, an indication of a continuity between life on the Outside and life on the Inside, along with a helping hand to face the challenges of adapting to a less-structured normalcy. None of those inside a prison deny the existence of an “outside”, even those who will in fact never see it again. So the fact of the existence of a half-way house is not, in itself a very revolutionary or radical statement.
That third point seems really important to me - the thing about the "non-pre-determined results"  - and it's how A.A. works, too.   The experience is open-ended; no particular end is sought (except day-to-day living without alcoholic or drugs), because each person is unique individual with his or her own destiny to live out.  Nothing in particular is prescribed; in fact, A.A., throughout its discussion of the process, goes out of its way to note that some people are like this, and some are like that.   These things were discovered empirically, and were written down to attempt to help all comers.

And the 12th Step ends only by saying "we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs."  But that final clause is hardly elaborated upon at all!  We don't know what shape it will take in any individual life - only that it's part of the A.A. (suggested!) way of life.   In other words:  here's the way it works as you get sober.  Use these steps - and then get back to living, where you'll be able to use them as a lens for focusing your own experience, and as a guide.  We don't know what you'll meet up with - but we think they ought to work in all sorts of situations.

And that open-endedness is exciting.   It makes living on in sobriety an adventure - and one that is unique for each person.

Alison continues:
When it comes to seeing the Church as half-way house, however, something much weirder is going on, something requiring a much greater rupture in our imagination. Because the image starts from the recognition that everyone is in prison, and no one has ever had a previous regular normal life on the outside. In fact, of ourselves, we would not even know that there was such a thing as life on the outside, let alone that it might be available for us, and that we can be, as it were, retro-fitted for it.

And here of course is what is odd: when everyone is in prison, and always has been, and it is the only reality that everyone knows, then of course it doesn’t appear to anyone that they are in prison.
What they are is normal, and life just is what it is. Remember how long it took Jim Carrey in The Truman Show to learn that there was an “outside” to his “normal” world? It is only when such people receive a communication from someone who is not in prison that they learn that they are in prison. A communication from someone who is entirely outside their social and cultural world: someone who offers signs of being from somewhere else, and of there actually being a somewhere else which is in fact more truly where all those who are in prison are from and for which they are capable of being re-fitted.

Now please notice the shocking quality of the act of communication: the Good News that you needn’t be in prison and weren’t made for prison inevitably also communicates the beginnings of an awareness that what you regard as normal may more properly be characterised as “being in prison”. This awareness, and the new characterisation of your situation which comes with it, an awareness which depends entirely on your taking on board a regard from outside, may be perceived as quite intolerable!

Well this of course is what is central to imagining Church. As humans we were quite literally unable to begin to imagine that there might be such a thing as life not run by death. All of our presuppositions are death-laden ones in ways which we couldn’t even recognise as such until something that wasn’t part of our culture structured by death unfurled itself in our midst. It was unimaginable that what seemed to us to be simply normal might in fact be a symptom of our having become trapped in something less than ourselves. And yet that is what the entire burden of our Forgiving Victim course has been: we are being inducted into becoming able to imagine the deathless one unfurling deathlessness as a human life story in our midst in such a way that we can share it and begin to participate in a deathless sociality as that for which we were really made.

Given this, I hope you can see that whereas an ordinary half-way house is a comparatively banal conduit between two social realities, the unfurling of the beginnings of a deathless sociality and the possibility of our being inducted into it, in the midst of our death-run culture, implies much more of a rupture. A shuttle docking at the International Space Station to take the astronauts who’ve been spending a few months there back to Earth is experienced by the astronauts as part of a certain continuity. However a portal from another universe opening itself up over the White House lawn and beginning to communicate with us about taking us into the other universe, asking us to trust that that universe is more fully our home than the one we know, is much more of a shake-up.

Yet this latter picture is the more accurate analogy with Church: a completely unknown social reality has started to instantiate itself in our midst, thus entirely altering our understanding of the social reality which we took for normal. It is one thing to know where you are, and know that there is an elsewhere, and that there is a way to get adapted to life elsewhere. It is quite another when a previously unknown “elsewhere” turns up and is just there, making elsewhere available to you starting now. Where you are, what you are used to, is now completely and shockingly relativized. So in this way the Church is quite unlike most half-way houses. The very fact of its existence, which is the same as the beginnings of the new form of living together which it contains, is already an irruption of elsewhere. It is a reality-altering statement, or sign, of an unimaginably powerful “just there” alongside, and breaking into, what we had taken for granted as normal.

I hope it is by now clear quite how different the same reality can look, depending on where you find yourself as it arrives. Those who share our culture are perfectly at liberty to see it as not a half-way house at all. The portal that has opened up on the lawn does look remarkably like a dead criminal, executed under shameful circumstances. A failure like that scarcely seems like an act of communication, much less an opening into a richer universe that is just there, palpitating alongside our own.

And this, I think, is what Father Paissy meant when he said "the State is transformed into the church."

Well, all that is really hopeful - but it seems so far from reality. I would like it to be true, but it doesn't seem to be.  I've almost completely left the church now physically - I've gone to only about 5 services in over a year - after having left it mentally some time ago.   I'm still following along with the church year and the readings and the music, which still does what it's supposed to do (at least for me).

I can't seem to live in the reality any longer, though; I react very badly at the moment to any anti-gay remarks I hear - and they keep on coming inside the church, even as things are getting so much better elsewhere.  I mean:  my Christian relatives are now posting anti-gay propaganda on Facebook, along with Bible quotes and lectures about "hating the sin and loving the sinner"; I've had to unsubscribe from my own family members just so I can have a tiny bit of rest from this stuff.   (And the only reason, really, I like Facebook at all is that I can keep up with what these same family members are doing - but I frankly just don't want to be looking at false claims that gay people are all crazy, all justified by "I have God and the truth on my side" argumentation, every time I log in.)    This is just not a good place for me to be - and it's not just the anti-gay church, either.  I feel there's no real support of any kind in the church at the moment; it's far more "culture war" than "spiritual succor," in every way and on all sides.   And what, I ask, is the point of that?  I can get that anywhere. 

The problem is that I really do agree with Alison and Father Paissy - I think they are entirely right about the role of the church - that it's an alternate reality and a "portal" to another way of life - yet I can't live comfortably in the current environment.  I would like to be an adept and a Father Zossima-like elder - but I'm just way too angry about the homophobia, and it simply ruins me for adept-hood.  And to be honest, I resent that, too.  I resent that people seem so completely unable to see what they're doing - cutting gay people off from God and the Christian spiritual life! - and I resent that I cannot be in equanimity about this.  I resent that these people are ruining my own spiritual balance  - although of course it's my own fault and my own problem; I should be able to keep balance, but I'm just not in a place where I can right now.

In fact, I can stand everything except the church right now.   I just don't feel I can live with or in it any longer.   So basically:  I'm out, unless and until that changes - and honestly, I don't see much of this changing within my lifetime. I'm a Christian-without-portfolio now; I'm unsubscribing to the institutional church.

There's a funny bit at the start of this James Alison article, using the image of the Church as a wonderful restaurant, with a Head Chef who wants all the guests to be fed marvelous food.  It's just that the waiters seems to think it's all about them, and offer their own very limited menu selections - and sneer that certain people shouldn't be eating there at all.  Maybe I'll post next on that!

BTW, there's now a "Forgiving Victim" website, and there are lots of retreats being offered at which this course is taught.  It seems to be "rolling out" right now, and there are retreats this weekend and next (in Chicago and Houston, I think).    I've been wondering for years why this stuff isn't discussed on the parish level - and that seems to be the aim here.  I'd definitely love to attend one of these retreats myself, even if I'm not part of the church anymore....

The Brothers Karamazov: "An unfortunate gathering"

"That is, in. brief," Father Paissy began again, laying stress
on each word, "according to certain theories only too clearly
formulated in the nineteenth century, the Church ought to be
transformed into the State, as though this would be an ad-
vance from a lower to a higher form, so as to disappear into it,
making way for science, for the spirit of the age, and civilisa-
tion. And if the Church resists and is unwilling, some corner
will be set apart for her in the State, and even that under con-
trol — and this will be so everywhere in all modern European
countries. But Russian hopes and conceptions demand not
that the Church should pass as from a lower into a higher type
into the State, but, on the contrary, that the State should end
by being worthy to become only the Church and nothing else.
So be it! So be it!"

"Well, I confess you've reassured me somewhat," Miiisov
said smiling, again crossing his legs. "So far as I understand
then, the realisation of such an ideal is infinitely remote, at the
second coming of Christ. That's as you please. It's a beautiful
Utopian dream of the abolition of war, diplomacy, banks, and
so on — something after the fashion of socialism, indeed. But
I imagined that it was all meant seriously, and that the Church
might be now going to try criminals, and sentence them to
beating, prison, and even death."

"But if there were none but the ecclesiastical court, the
Church would not even now sentence a criminal to prison or
to death. Crime and the way of regarding it would inevitably
change, not all at once of course, but fairly soon," Ivan replied
calmly, without flinching.

"Are you serious?" Miiisov glanced keenly at him.

"If everything became the Church, the Church would ex-
clude all the criminal and disobedient, and would not cut off
their heads," Ivan went on. "I ask you, what would become of
the excluded? He would be cut off then not only from men,
as now, but from Christ. By his crime he would have trans-
gressed not only against men but against the Church of Christ.
This is so even now, of course, strictly speaking, but it is not
clearly enunciated, and very, very often the criminal of to-day
compromises with his conscience: 'I steal,' he says, 'but I don't
go against Church. I'm not an enemy of Christ.' That's what
the criminal of to-day is continually saying to himself, but
when the Church takes the place of the State it will be diffi-
cult for him, in opposition to the Church all over the world,
to say: 'All men are mistaken, all in error, all mankind are the
false Church. I, a thief and murderer, am the only true Chris-
tian Church.' It will be very difficult to say this to himself; it
requires a rare combination of unusual circumstances. Now,
on the other side, take the Church's own view of crime: is it
not bound to renounce the present almost pagan attitude, and
to change from a mechanical cutting off of its tainted member
for the preservation of society, as at present, into completely
and honestly adopting the idea of the regeneration of the man,
of his reformation and salvation?"

"What do you mean? I fail to understand again," Miiisov
interrupted. "Some sort of dream again. Something shapeless
and even incomprehensible. What is excommunication? What
sort of exclusion? I suspect you are simply amusing yourself,
Ivan Fyodorovitch."

"Yes, but you know, in reality it is so now," said the elder
suddenly, and all turned to him at once. "If it were not for
the Church of Christ there would be nothing to restrain the
criminal from evil-doing, no real chastisement for it after-
wards; none, that is, but the mechanical punishment spoken of
just now, which in the majority of cases only embitters the
heart; and not the real punishment, the only effectual one,
the only deterrent and softening one, which lies in the recog-
nition of sin by conscience."

"How is that, may one inquire?" asked Miiisov, with lively

"Why," began the elder, "all these sentences to exile with
hard labour, and formerly with flogging also, reform no one,
and what's more, deter hardly a single criminal, and the num-
ber of crimes does not diminish but is continually on the in-
crease. You must admit that. Consequently the security of
society is not preserved, for, although the obnoxious member
is mechanically cut off and sent far away out of sight, another
criminal always comes to take his place at once, and often two
of them. If anything does preserve society, even in our time,
and does regenerate and transform the criminal, it is only the
law of Christ speaking in his conscience. It is only by recog-
nising his wrong-doing as a son of a Christian society — that
is, of the Church — that he recognises his sin against society —
that is, against the Church. So that it is only against the
Church, and not against the State, that the criminal of to-day
can recognise that he has sinned. If society, as a Church, had
jurisdiction then it would know whom to bring back from ex-
clusion and to re-unite to itself. Now the Church having no
real jurisdiction, but only the power of moral condemnation,
withdraws of her own accord from punishing the criminal
actively. She does not excommunicate him but simply persists
in motherly exhortation of him. What is more, the Church even
tries to preserve all Christian communion with the criminal.
She admits him to church services, to the holy sacrament,
gives him alms, and treats him more as a captive than as a con-
vict. And what would become of the criminal, O Lord, if even
the Christian society — that is, the Church — were to reject him
even as the civil law rejects him and cuts him off? What would
become of him if the Church punished him with her excom-
munication as the direct consequence of the secular law? There
could be no more terrible despair, at least for a Russian crim-
inal, for Russian criminals still have faith. Though, who
knows, perhaps then a fearful thing would happen, perhaps
the despairing heart of the criminal would lose its faith and
then what would become of him? But the Church, like a
tender, loving mother, holds aloof from active punishment
herself, as the sinner is too severely punished already by the
civil law, and there must be at least some one to have pity on
him. The Church holds aloof, above all, because its judgment
is the only one that contains the truth, and therefore cannot
practically and morally be united to any other judgment even
as a temporary compromise. She can enter into no compact
about that. The foreign criminal, they say, rarely repents, for
the very doctrines of to-day confirm him in the idea that his
crime is not a crime, but only a reaction against an unjustly
oppressive force. Society cuts him off completely by a force
that triumphs over him mechanically and (so at least they say
of themselves in Europe) accompanies this exclusion with
hatred, forgetfulness, and the most profound indifference as
to the ultimate fate of the erring brother. In this way, it all
takes place without the compassionate intervention of the
Church, for in many cases there are no churches there at all,
for though ecclesiastics and splendid church buildings remain,
the churches themselves have long ago striven to pass from
Church into State and to disappear in it completely. So it
seems at least in Lutheran countries. As for Rome, it was pro-
claimed a State instead of a Church a thousand years ago. And
so the criminal is no longer conscious of being a member of the
Church and sinks into despair. If he returns to society, often
it is with such hatred that society itself instinctively cuts
him off. You can judge for yourself how it must end. In many
cases it would seem to be the same with us, but the difference
is that besides the established law courts we have the Church
too, which always keeps up relations with the criminal as a
dear and still precious son. And besides that, there is still pre-
served, though only in thought, the judgment of the Church,
which though no longer existing in practice is still living as a
dream for the future, and is, no doubt, instinctively recognised
by the criminal in his soul. What was said here just now is
true too, that is, that if the jurisdiction of the Church were
introduced in practice in its full force, that is, if the whole of
the society were changed into the Church, not only the judg-
ment of the Church would have influence on the reformation
of the criminal such as it never has now, but possibly also the
crimes themselves would be incredibly diminished. And there
can be no doubt that the Church would look upon the crim-
inal and the crime of the future in many cases quite differ-
ently and would succeed in restoring the excluded, in restrain-
ing those who plan evil, and in regenerating the fallen. It is
true," said Father Zossima, with a smile, "the Christian society
now is not ready and is only resting on some seven righteous
men, but as they are never lacking, it will continue still un-
shaken in expectation of its complete transformation from a
society almost heathen in character into a single universal and
all-powerful Church. So be it, so be it! Even though at the
end of the ages, for it is ordained to come to pass! And there
is no need to be troubled about times and seasons, for the
secret of the times and seasons is in the wisdom of God, in His
foresight, and His love. And what in human reckoning seems
still afar off, may by the Divine ordinance be close at hand, on
the eve of its appearance. And so be it, so be it!"

"So be it, so be it!" Father Paissy repeated austerely and

"Strange, extremely strange!" Miiisov pronounced, not so
much with heat as with latent indignation.

"What strikes you as so strange?" Father losif Inquired

"Why, it's beyond anything!" cried Miiisov, suddenly
breaking out, "the State is eliminated and the Church is raised
to the position of the State. It's not simply Ultramontanism,
it's arch-ultramontanism! It's beyond the dreams of Pope
Gregory the Seventh!"

"You are completely misunderstanding it," said Father
Paissy sternly. "Understand: the Church is not to be trans-
formed into the State. That is Rome and its dream. That is the
third temptation of the devil. On the contrary, the State is
transformed into the Church, will ascend and become a
Church over the whole world — which is the complete opposite
of Ultramontanism and Rome, and your interpretation, and is
only the glorious destiny ordained for the Orthodox Church.
This star will arise in the east!"

- The Internet Archive

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Gradual for the Feast of Christ the King: Dominabitur A Mari Usque Ad Mare

GRADUAL • Dominabitur A Mari Usque Ad Mare from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

The text comes from  Psalm 72, verses 8 & 11; the JoguesChant full score is below, and their English translation is:
He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. All the kings of the earth shall adore him; all nations shall serve him.

In the Extraordinary form - that is, the form that uses the chant propers from the time of Trent and thus doesn't include "Christ the King" as a feast day, since it was added to the Calendar in the early 20th Century - the Gradual is Liberasti Nos, for "the Last Sunday After Pentecost" (which is how Anglicans celebrate the feast, although the Prayer Book includes a Kingly collect for the day).

Here's an mp3 of Liberasti Nos from Renegoupil, and the score is below:

The text comes from Psalm 44, verses 7-8.  Here's the translation from Rene Goupil:
Thou hast delivered us, O Lord, from them that afflict us: and hast put them to shame that hate us. In God we will glory all the day: and to thy name we will give praise for ever.

And yet:  there is another Liberasti Nos, given as the Gradual for the "33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time" by the Benedictines of Brazil.  This is the last "after Pentecost" mass listed on that page, so it must be referring to the same proper - the words are the same, for sure - but it's definitely a different chant melody.

An interesting mystery....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Mass X (called 'Alme Pater')"

Just the plainsong of the Ordinary (without the Credo), sung beautifully by the Westminster Cathedral Choir.

HT Saturday Chorale:
This week's Sunday Playlist is the Missa Alme Pater, one of the Mass settings contained in the Kyriale. The Kyriale?
The Kyriale is a collection of Gregorian chant settings for the Ordinary of the Mass. It contains eighteen Masses (each consisting of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei), six Credos, and several ad libitum chants. This collection is included in liturgical books such as the Graduale Romanum and Liber Usualis, and it is also published as a separate book by the monks of Solesmes Abbey. Alme Pater (for Marian feasts and memorials).
Source: Kyriale - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Wikipedia page also notes that this setting is used "for Marian feasts and memorials"; Alme Pater - corresponding exactly to "Alma Mater" - means "loving father." (I think the more precise translation is "nourishing father"; Google translate offers "bountiful," "nourishing," "kind," "loving," and "fostering" as alternatives to "loving".)

You can find scores and music for all XVIII plainsong mass settings (along with some other standalone ordinary chants, and seven Credos), in Latin, at CCWatershed.  Get English versions - not all come with sound files - at MusicaSacra.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bach: Mass in B minor (Proms 2012)

Here's a live recording of the whole Mass in B Minor, sung this past August at the BBC Proms. Stupendous.

Prom 26: Bach -- Mass in B minor
Johann Sebastian Bach - Mass in B minor

Joélle Harvey soprano
Carolyn Sampson soprano
Iestyn Davies counter-tenor
Ed Lyon tenor
Matthew Rose bass

Choir of the English Concert
The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor

Royal Albert Hall
2 August 2012

More about the piece, from Wikipedia:

Structure of the work

The work consists of 27 sections.
I. Kyrie
  1. Kyrie eleison (1st). 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Adagio, Largo, common time.[22]
  2. Christe eleison. Duet (soprano I,II) in D major with obbligato violins, marked Andante, common time.
  3. Kyrie eleison (2nd). 4-part chorus (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in F# minor, marked Allegro moderato, cut-common time ("alla breve").
Note the 9 (trinitarian, 3 x 3) movements with the largely symmetrical structure, and Domine Deus in the centre.
  1. Gloria in excelsis. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace, 3/8 time. The music appears also as the opening chorus of Bach's cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191.
  2. Et in terra pax. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Andante, common time. Again the music also appears in the opening chorus of BWV 191.
  3. Laudamus te. Aria (soprano II) in A major with violin obbligato, marked Andante, common time.
  4. Gratias agimus tibi. 4-part chorus (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Allegro moderato, cut-common time. The music is a reworking of the second movement of Bach's Ratswechsel cantata Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29.
  5. Domine Deus. Duet (soprano I, tenor) in G major, marked Andante common time. The music appears as a duet in BWV 191.
  6. Qui tollis peccata mundi. 4-part chorus (Soprano II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Lento, 3/4 time. The chorus is a reworking of the first half of the opening movement of cantata Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei, BWV 46.
  7. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris. Aria (alto) in B minor with oboe d'amore obbligato, marked Andante commodo, 6/8 time.
  8. Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Aria (bass) in D major with corno da caccia obbligato, marked Andante lento, 3/4 time.
  9. Cum Sancto Spiritu. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace, 3/4 time. The music appears also in modified form as the closing chorus of BWV 191.
II. Symbolum Nicenum, or Credo
Note the 9 movements with the symmetrical structure, and the crucifixion at the centre.
  1. Credo in unum Deum. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in A mixolydian, marked Moderato, cut-common time.
  2. Patrem omnipotentem. 4-part chorus (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Allegro, cut-common time. The music is a reworking of the opening chorus of cantata Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm, BWV 171.
  3. Et in unum Dominum. Duet (soprano I, alto) in G major, marked Andante, common time.
  4. Et incarnatus est. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Andante maestoso, 3/4 time.
  5. Crucifixus. 4-part chorus (Soprano II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in E minor, marked Grave, 3/2 time. The music is a reworking of the first section of the first chorus of the cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12.
  6. Et resurrexit. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Allegro, 3/4 time.
  7. Et in Spiritum Sanctum. Aria (Bass) in A major with oboi d'amore obbligati, marked Andantino, 6/8 time.
  8. Confiteor. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in F# minor, marked Moderato, Adagio, cut-common time.
  9. Et expecto. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace ed allegro, cut-common time. The music is a reworking of the second movement of Bach's Ratswechsel cantata Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille, BWV 120 on the words Jauchzet, ihr erfreute Stimmen.
III. Sanctus
  1. Sanctus. 6-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto I, II, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Largo, common time; Vivace, 3/8 time. Derived from an earlier, now lost, 3 soprano, 1 alto work written in 1724.
IV. Osanna, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei
  1. Osanna. double chorus (both four parts) in D major, marked Allegro, 3/8 time. A reworking of the opening chorus of BWV 215 — although they may share a common lost model.
  2. Benedictus. Aria for tenor with flute obbligato (some later editions use violin obbligato) in B minor, marked Andante, 3/4 time.
  3. Osanna (da capo). as above.
  4. Agnus Dei. Aria for alto in G minor with violin obbligato, marked Adagio, common time. Derives from an aria of a lost wedding cantata (1725) which Bach also re-used as the alto aria of his Ascension Oratorio Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11 but as the two different surviving versions are markedly different, it is thought they share a common model.
  5. Dona nobis pacem. 4-part chorus in D major, marked Moderato, cut-common time. The music is almost identical to "Gratias agimus tibi" from the Gloria.

And I've always liked this article, "Bach's Mass in B Minor as Musical Icon."

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Sacrifice, Law and the Catholic Faith": Desire (Part V)

This is the final section of the 2006 James Alison lecture;  See also Parts I, II, III, and IV.

Well, there is much, much more to say in this vein – I would love to have developed more fully the secularising effect in our midst of the doctrine of Creation as made full and complete by Christ, but time and space will not allow it. What I hope to have done is merely reminded you of something counterintuitive: that anything solid and lasting in what we call Enlightenment values of liberty, equality, fraternity and the birth of the scientific spirit comes from a quite specific set of circumstances, brought into being and kept fragilely alive, with many a betrayal and backwards step, by the Happening that is at the root of Catholic Faith. It is the keeping alive of the sacrifice having happened in our midst, the imperative not to do it again, and the realisation that it is only by creating social forms of togetherness such that we do not automatically resolve things by scapegoating, that we can have the space and freedom to discover and work out how our world really works. In other words, our ability to overcome scapegoating by having been empowered to live as if death were not, the realisation that this means one can stand up for the unpopular in order to make the truth shine, and our having started to forge a culture where this is a matter of common sense, this is a necessary precondition for science, for knowledge, and for the possibility of humans coming to live together universally.

Of course, the downside of all this is that the Happening is not our invention, and the power which has undone the roots of our scapegoating culture is not our own. The normal results of the undoing of a scapegoating culture, or of a system of goodness, is wrath, anger, and violence out of control. Because the fragile bulwarks which held that society together have been undone, and there is less and less belief in the authentic “sacredness” of whatever might put them together again. In the midst of this, the slow, patient forging of holy desire, and of the intermediary, negotiable institutions which encourage peace and foment flourishing, is very difficult, and very fragile. We are quite extraordinarily lucky to find ourselves on the inside of the Happening. The Catholic Faith enables us to navigate the wrath which is produced as sacred structures and boundaries collapse from within and a new creation emerges. How we make available to others the uniqueness of this strangely un-religious gift without falling into the trap of allowing that uniqueness to seem like merely another rival form of exclusivity is one of the great challenges of living and preaching the faith in our time.

"Sacrifice, Law and the Catholic Faith": Faith (Part IV)

More from the 2006 lecture by James Alison;  see also Parts I, II, III, and V.

Again, it is difficult to imagine that it should be faith that is the gateway to a relatively benign secularity. Faith, surely, is the ultimate Sacred Ideology to be held to by those creating religious forms of togetherness and those who are in or out. But again, this is not so! The word “faith” has come to stand in for “religion” which is a blinding muddle. For most religions faith is not particularly important. It is some or other form of practise, or act of acceptance which is important. That the centrepiece of the Catholic Faith should be exactly that, faith, a habitual confidence given us by Another in whose hands we can relax, is something far too little commented on. It means that what causes us to belong is a pattern of desire produced in us by someone we cannot see who is giving us the strength to live in the midst of this world as though death were not. And the access to this faith is desire: that we should want the gift of eternal life. It is the giving to us of this desire which we normally celebrate with that inverted religious rite called Baptism. In this rite we agree to undergo death in advance so as to live thereafter with death behind us. It is an inverted religious rite since it is not the crowd which gathers to drown the victim, but the candidate, not frightened of becoming a victim, who walks through the waters of being drowned so as to emerge on the other side into the welcome of those who are already living with death behind them.

It is for this reason, being dead in advance, that with Baptism there comes a complete loss of identity given by any human forms of belonging: your parents are now your brother and sister in Christ; the only form of hierarchy which need matter to you is the hierarchy of service made available through signed members of the community you are joining (made available by us signed-ones more or less incompetently to be sure, and with greater or lesser admixtures of an ability to relativise the way the world does “power”). You have no King but Jesus, no Prophet but Jesus and no Priest but Jesus. And Jesus was a crucified criminal. Now you share that kingship, that gift of prophecy and that priesthood. Indeed you are charged to make it present in the world by yourself incarnating and recreating the “happening” which we looked at earlier.

But this means that no form of earthly belonging is sacred: your family, your tribe, your clan is not sacred, and you may have to stand up against it in order to live the truth; your homeland is not sacred, and you may have to be considered a criminal or a traitor by it in order to live the truth. Your only form of belonging is invisible except by sign. It is for this reason that there is no Christian Holy Land, only lands where the usual mixture of holiness and destruction is lived out, but where political frontiers can only be pragmatic matters, able to be negotiated over time, never sacred ones. There is no Christian Holy City, Rome’s status being a purely historical and pragmatic one, and there being absolutely no sacred imperative that the Bishop of the Church in that city should also be a secular head of state. There are purely contingent and pragmatic considerations, always up for negotiation. It is genuinely indispensable to being a Catholic that we have a direct relationship to the successor of Peter. Yet that relationship is in principle entirely independent of whatever secular power structure adorns, or blackens, the Petrine office. And it is quite right that it should be secular affairs which give the context within which our relationship to Peter is lived out in each generation. The same reasoning lies behind the fact that there is no Christian Ummah – not because the West is somehow enlightened, decadent, and has lost its religious roots, meaning the remnants of Christendom, but because the whole point of Christianity is to bring down the sort of wall of protective sacredness which makes universality impossible by having a necessary “other” over against whom we make ourselves “good”.

The premise of the Catholic faith is that there is no real other in any meaningful religious sense, that is “another” who can be seen as so unlike us that they could not learn as we have learned, that we are victimizers and must learn not to be, and so belong to the same sign as we. There are only humans, who, starting from where they are can have desire reformed in such a way as to learn not to create identity over against anyone else at all.

Whenever we come across an apparent “other” and start to get frightened and retrench into identity politics, we are not becoming more Catholic, but much less Catholic. My sorrow at Archbishop Nichols’ recent sermon seeking to maintain a sacred right to discriminate against gay people was not because I am a gay man, but because I’m a Catholic. It is because I am a Catholic that I recognise that anyone playing identity politics with a victimary slant is functionally atheistic.

Is not identity politics a refusal to allow ourselves to undergo the Happening which might teach us who our neighbour is, and empower us to grow into being not-over-against-anyone at all? Doesn’t such politics tend to produce cheap togetherness and junk goodness? When I see this identity politics with a victimary slant from other groups in our society, – and Lord alone knows there are enough of them from throughout the spheres which we call “religious” and “secular”, both left and right -, I’m sorry for them, but how can I judge whether they know better? They are genuinely sheep without a shepherd. But when I see a Catholic authority doing this, I am really, really sorry, because we are without excuse. Catholics cannot complain about being treated victimarily, since at the centre of our Faith we have agreed to be treated victimarily in advance, without ever seeking it, so as to be able slowly and patiently to work towards the truth and wellbeing of all our sisters and brothers with all that victim stuff already behind us. We’ve agreed to lose our identity in advance so as to receive the much, much bigger, stronger identity of being contributed to by others who, whatever they may think, are not really over-against me at all. That’s what “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” means!

"Sacrifice, Law and the Catholic Faith": Law (Part III)

More from this wonderful 2006 lecture by James Alison; here are Parts I, II, IV, and V.

Mockingbirds will like this section!

Another way of looking at the same dynamic is to look at Law. One of the first pieces of evidence that the Happening had happened was that it became possible to detect that systems of goodness are terribly dangerous things. This was Paul’s great insight concerning the Law. He wasn’t being anti-semitic. The space created by his own relationship to Torah was merely the particular barn within which the bullet marks of the Happening had happened. He had perceived something about all sacred systems of goodness. And this is that they are traps. A system of goodness works by having rules which determine who is in and who is out. If some of the rules are hard to keep so much the better, since that gives the impression that what is in fact a tragically easy form of goodness is, rather, heroically difficult. Paul’s insight is that systems of goodness do not counteract people’s desires which are run according to the familiar mechanism of gathering people into unanimity against an evil one to be expelled. On the contrary, systems of goodness depend on that mechanism, and tragically easily they fall prey to it, so that the most “virtuous” within systems of goodness become those clearest about who is in and who is out.

What Paul understood from this is that in practice systems of goodness which give the impression of being chosen voluntarily do not really work that way. Their adherents are driven by them and become functions of the crystallized group violence which underlies them. So you get people who want to be good, and know that goodness looks like loving your neighbour as yourself, but because they are trapped in a system of goodness, they become unable to see their neighbour as themselves, and end up in fact hating their neighbour and perceiving them as something unclean, or outside, or not quite human, so as to be able not to love them as themselves. This is how you end up with people who are convinced that their religion is a religion of peace, yet who are quite unaware of how completely the system of goodness of which they are part jerks them about. This system makes them, in fact, incapable of creating peace. Paul discovered this very clearly (Rom 7,19):
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Here he is talking quite specifically about how the system of goodness runs people, and also about how the only way out of it is the realisation that because God had occupied the place of one “cursed by the Law” by undergoing the death of a despised criminal, the system of goodness has been rendered moot for ever. From now on the shape of goodness is the slow learning how to live without being dependent on a system of goodness. It involves instead our becoming aware of how much we have been loved by someone who is our victim. Because of that we can become good as we are loved in our most vulnerable places, rather than by forcing ourselves to cover up our vulnerability and be good so as to be loved. This means that the only sort of goodness we know is that of the penitent. It is only as undergoing being forgiven that we can possibly start to be good. And that means being daringly patient about forgiving others, not holding things against them, seeing them as the same as us before offering to put them right and so on. This means that over time we can actually learn that some things that seemed to us to be good and holy and just are not so, and some things that seemed to us to be impure and evil and profane are not so. And this is because the question of whether we are allowing ourselves to be forgiven by our victim, and whether, in the light of that forgiveness, we are learning to treat our neighbour as though we are the same as they are, this question gradually comes to supersede all other questions of morality which a system of goodness would impose on us.

Let me give you both an ancient and a modern example. It might surprise you to know that the first written records we have in European history of people standing out against, and questioning Witch trials came not from enlightened sceptics but from people whose religious understanding led them to be highly sceptical of the craziness of the systems of goodness which were leading people to the pyre. Of the first four voices, two (1549 and 1612) were Spanish Inquisitors who understood perfectly well that their job was to introduce the boring secularism of due process into areas which would otherwise have tended to exciting lynch deaths. These Inquisitors would have been considered “not sufficiently religious” by those at the time who were run by systems of goodness. Those for whom belief in the real evil of the witches was at that time what belief in the magical capacity of gay people to destroy the fabric of society is now: the dividing line between “true believers” and the advancing secularity offered by the due processes inspired by Catholic faith. The truth was that the Inquisitors knew, within all the limitations of their time, that goodness after Christ’s sacrifice looks like introducing boring intermediary forms of process and protection, and insisting on rules of evidence other than what is derived from torture, given how easy it is for us to ignore that Christ’s sacrifice has happened and instead to recreate it in a dangerous bid for goodness.

For a more modern example, look at the pictures recently published in the US media of José Padilla [5]. This man, a full US citizen who is a Muslim, has been arrested, held without proper charge or trial for several years in a US prison, tortured, incarcerated, and treated as though he were toxic waste by the American legal system, at the instigation of that champion of a system of goodness John Ashcroft. All the evidence which was produced against him has been revealed to have been fabricated so as to give the Administration the electorally convenient weapon of “a Muslim manufacturing a dirty bomb”. So much has the balance of his mind been altered by the torture and deprivation that he has suffered that although it is clear that none of the evidence against him has stood up, it is not at all clear that he will ever be able to tell his own story or mount a defence. The reason I ask you to look at a picture of him, going back to websites in order to do so, is that of the pictures of him that have been released, one stands out. It shows him chained, handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit, with goggles on (apparently so that he can’t blink some signal in code to his alleged Al Quaeda colleagues). It shows him being pushed around by some quite extraordinarily overdressed and overarmed military figures, who look as though they have just rushed into a scene of extreme danger. In fact they are about to escort a totally helpless, mentally unstable, rather small man towards a visit to the dentist in a prison in South Carolina. But what leaps out about the photograph is that it is exactly the same picture as a mediaeval representation of Christ being blindfolded, tortured, and beaten by the Roman soldiers in Pilate’s palace.

Anyone who sees that, knows what is going on: a terrible system of goodness is torturing and destroying someone for whom Christ died, yet it is the cursed one to whom we must reach out. It doesn’t matter whether he is a Muslim, or a Jew, a Hindu, a Christian, a Communist. He is the one who is our neighbour because he is ourself. It doesn’t matter whether he would do the same to us if he had the chance. It matters terribly that we recognise that all systems of goodness have been interrupted by Christ, and that the apparent secularity, the boring due process, of the justice system seems to have been suspended by those who, thinking themselves good, are in fact being run by the evil of a sacred system of goodness to produce the usual, lethal, sacred results. And it matters not only for Mr Padilla, but it matters for all of us: for as long as we continue to find, torture and blame people like him, just so long will we remain in ignorance of what the real threats and dangers to any of our societies might be, and unable to take the small scale, rational, proper precautionary measures to protect ourselves and others.

So, please remember this, the Catholic faith is not a system of goodness. It is the introduction into the world of a constant undoing of all and any systems of goodness such that a genuine, difficult, tentative goodness can begin to be elaborated by those who are becoming aware of how terribly dangerous “goodness” and our need for it is. But the perception that systems of goodness are terribly dangerous, and our very proper modern suspicion of them: these are not enlightened, sceptical positions. They are the working out, over the time in which we have learned to suspend easy sacred solutions, of a quite specific divinely-given tradition: the Catholic faith.

[5] Hose Padilla In Chains, The Smoking Gun, [04.12.2006].

"Sacrifice, Law and the Catholic Faith": Sacrifice (Part II)

Here's more from James Alison's lecture; Click these links for Parts I, III, IV, and V.

This part is tremendous, and explains utterly clearly why "sacrifice" is a key concept in Christianity - something that can't be jettisoned without changing the faith's entire raison d'etre - and for reasons I don't know that anybody's articulated before (although of course I could be wrong about that!). 

I'm particularly blown away by this section:   "As Catholics we carry around with us, as it were, a mobile crime scene, in the form of the Mass. Please remember that the structure of the Mass is suspended halfway between being an ancient sacrifice or murder, and a modern community meal. And taking advantage of that suspended state, the One who constantly wants to get through to us so that we can be free, makes the sign alive, empowers it to be both the remembrance and the actual living presence of “the Happening”. This is so that we can simultaneously undergo being set free from fear and death, and enabled to stretch out in a new set of interpersonal relationships. In other words, what we have as the source of holiness is the portable crime scene which encourages the happening to incarnate itself in us again, to keep us constantly undergoing that crime scene."

So, here's the whole thing:

As far as I can tell it is the Catholic understanding that the best shorthand to describe the “happening” is to call it a sacrifice. The “happening” consisted in the complex, and mobile event of God himself coming into our world as an act of communication with us which was designed to show that the Creator of all things likes us and wants to prove to us that He can be trusted as wanting our good, wanting us to be free and to share his life. He set about proving his goodness, his “not out to get you” nature by offering himself to us, in what looked like something entirely familiar to us, a sacrifice.

However, this sacrifice was curiously subverted: instead of it being us offering something to God, it was God offering himself to us. What God was doing was in fact showing us what we do when we sacrifice: ultimately we kill another human being as a way of keeping ourselves feeling safe, secure and good, dressing up a murder as something holy. And the point of God’s act of communication was not to leave us feeling “accused” by this piece of knowledge of what we are like, but to show us instead that though we are inclined to behave like that, we aren’t really like that, needn’t be like that, and that if only we will let go of the world of false security and group self-congratulation at having “got” the bad guy, we can be moved into a much bigger world, one in which we can be free, not frightened of dying, not having to grasp at security, but able to trust in a benevolence that wishes to take us into something much more alive than we can imagine. As we allow ourselves so to be moved, so we will discover amazing new and liberating possibilities of life together –including new scientific possibilities – which we just couldn’t have imagined while “hunting for another victim to sacrifice” seemed to be the solution to our problems.

Now this is a very complex “Happening”. It involves a particular historical act by a particular historical protagonist –a going to be crucified, a dying, and then a being seen in an identifiable but mysterious form, an act both drawing from, and making newly available, an inherited network of texts and interpretations and a network of interpersonal relationships among those chosen to be witnesses. And the evidence we have of this hugely complex, dynamic, meaning-stretching happening, is the pock-marked barn wall of the texts of Scripture. These only make sense at all in as far as they enable us to begin to sense the parameters of the sheer richness, fullness and dynamic nature of the happening whose symptom they are, and then reimagine ourselves undergoing that same happening which is working itself out in our midst, in our culture, and in our language.

I have emphasized this because the Happening is, in principle, relatively free from the words which are the pattern of bullet holes it has produced. The texts of the Apostolic Witness are not the centre of the Happening itself, they are the evidence from which the shape and dynamic of the happening can be scoped out and understood by us. But in principle, the same happening can happen anywhere where the same human dynamic of sacrifice is available to be subverted from within. In other words, the act of divine communication that is at the root of our Faith is a radical interruption of, and reinterpretation of, a key element of human culture which is present, as far as we know, wherever there are humans. That element is our tendency to create group unity, togetherness, and survival by resolving conflict through an all-against one which brings peace and unity to the group at the expense of someone, or some group, held to be evil. Every culture will partially hide, and partially describe what it is doing, and will use different words to justify its group unity over against another. So in every culture, the linguistic bullet marks of the Happening as it unfolds in the midst of that culture will be different, but the dynamic of the Happening will be the same, and we will know it by comparing the normative pattern of bullet holes seen in our New Testament barn with the pattern of bullet holes as they emerge in the cultures concerned.

In other words: the Catholic faith is of its nature syncretistic. Whatever culture it comes across, it will gradually subvert and change from within. This it does not by imposing a set of laws, texts, or norms, not by making a particular set of words, or a particular language sacred and thus normative. Rather it does this by making available the “happening” through preaching, liturgy and example in such a way that whatever is “sacred”, or taboo, or demanding of sacrifice in that culture ceases to have a hold on people as they come to lose their fear of death. This is when they start to be able to witness to the freedom that comes when one is no longer run by death and its fear, when one is able to make plans for people’s long term good lasting beyond one’s own lifespan, and when one is not afraid to stand up against sacred consensus in order to make truth available.

Please notice what this means: in any seriously “religious” culture, the Catholic faith will, quite properly, be regarded as “not religious enough”. Inevitably, as the Catholic faith permeates, various things will start to become unimportant: there will no longer be any good reasons for sacred rules concerning food, for particular sorts of food which may not be eaten, or for special cultic killing rites for meat, no religiously required forms of dress [4], no impurity or impropriety concerning women’s menstrual cycles. It is not that these things will suddenly be abolished, but that in every case the same realities will gradually come to be looked at differently: is such and such a food good for you, or for us; is such and such a form of dress appropriate? Might we not agree on such and such a communal fast for those strong enough to do so? In other words, it is the pattern of desire at work in us: whether we are seeking attention or acting modestly, whether we are deliberately scandalizing and provoking those of bound conscience, or trying to help them move beyond their fears, whether we are strengthening our desire for God through prayer or fasting but without seeking to impress anyone with our holiness. This pattern of desire becomes the central thing to which we attend. It may very well have outward forms, but it is the pattern of desire, and not the outward form in itself which matters.

Phrases like “‘everything is permitted’, – but not everything is convenient” or “to those who are pure, everything is pure” or “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” could be quoted by anybody, and they sound the rankest of secularising remarks. And they are. They are all phrases by which Paul sought to make the oddity of the un-religion which he was preaching available to people (1 Cor 6,12; Tit 1,15; 2 Cor 3,6): the subversiveness of the pattern of desire unleashed by the sacrificial death of Christ proving God’s goodness to us when faced with any “sacred” religious observance.

As Catholics we carry around with us, as it were, a mobile crime scene, in the form of the Mass. Please remember that the structure of the Mass is suspended halfway between being an ancient sacrifice or murder, and a modern community meal. And taking advantage of that suspended state, the One who constantly wants to get through to us so that we can be free, makes the sign alive, empowers it to be both the remembrance and the actual living presence of “the Happening”. This is so that we can simultaneously undergo being set free from fear and death, and enabled to stretch out in a new set of interpersonal relationships. In other words, what we have as the source of holiness is the portable crime scene which encourages the happening to incarnate itself in us again, to keep us constantly undergoing that crime scene.

Now this centrality of a flexible form of worship which acts as a sign of the “happening-having-happened” happening again in our midst is as vital for what it is not as for what it is. It is not a text. It is not a law. We are not a people of the book. We are a people of Spirit and Sign. And the criterion we have for who God is and what God is like is given us by God doing something in our midst as human, something detectable at a purely anthropological level, something in flexible imitation of which we are invited to be swept up.

Here is what is bizarre: any normal account of the “secular” would posit that the world of sacrifice is the direct opposite to the world of the secular. And that a religion based on a text or a law is much more likely to be secular than one based on a sacrifice. In fact, the reverse is true: unless you face up to the universality of the human tendency to scapegoat and sacrifice, text and law will merely create new forms of sacred as you impose them on others, and become much more tough, rigorous and likely to sacrifice those who fall foul of them. If you do face up to the universality of the human tendency to sacrifice, then any text and law you have will gradually come to be interpreted by your facing up to that tendency, and so will become comparatively toothless.

This is for the simple reason that the more you resist the tendency to sacrifice, the more the interpersonal relationships within your group will be de-sacralized, and the more it will become possible to learn who people really are. If you simply replace sacrifice with a book, you will recreate the same dynamics of sacrifice within your group, sanctifying those dynamics with the words of your text, while hiding from yourself that you are involved in sacrifice. If we have Jesus giving himself to us as sacrificed out of love constantly before our eyes, then there is a goodish chance that we will remember how prone we are to participating in such things. If instead of that, we say “that’s over – now I’ll go by the book”, then we may fall into the terrible trap of seeing ourselves as the righteous, and others who don’t go by the book as outsiders, sinners, and so on. In other words, we will participate in the creation of a new sacred instead of allowing the Holy One to make us ordinarily holy. This ordinary holiness is found in the changing of our pattern of desire in the midst of the new time that has been brought about by the gradual undoing of the violent sacred.

So please remember this: the Catholic faith is not a rival sacrificial system among many. It is the undoing from within of all sacrificial systems wherever they may be.

[4] It may, for instance, be perfectly reasonable to fight for the civil right to wear, or not to be forced to wear, a particular item of clothing or jewellery – a crucifix for example – in this or that public forum. But since Christian faith makes no demands concerning what we wear it would be misleading to claim that it is an infringement of the Christian faith that someone be prohibited from wearing a particular article of clothing or jewellery.