Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good Heavens: 2011

As usual, thanks to Wikipedia for refreshing my recollection on important events of 2011.  I trust my readers overseas forgive and indulge my concentration on what is of interest primarily in the United States and to me personally.  


1: A bomb explodes outside a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, killing 21 and wounding 97 and igniting hostilities between Muslims and Christians.
5: Murder spree, Omaha, Nebraska: a 17-year-old high school student murders an assistant principal and then turns the gun on himself.  Also: John Boehner succeeds Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
8: Murder spree, Tuscon, Arizona: a shooter sprays bullets at a crowd attending a political event at a Safeway parking lot held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing six (including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge) and wounding 14 others, including Giffords.  The shooter is later taken into custody and declared incompetent to stand trial.
10: Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay receives a three-year sentence for money laundering.
11: Three-quarters of Queensland, Australia is declared a disaster area due to massive floods.
15: The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is erected for English members of the Anglican Church who seek reunion with Rome.  Three former Anglican bishops are ordained Catholic priests; one of them, Fr. Keith Newton, is appointed Ordinary.
18: Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, former dictator of Haiti, is arrested by Haitian police on corruption charges.
25: A "popular" anti-government revolution begins in Egypt.  It is part of a series of similar uprisings throughout the Muslim world that will lead to months of violence and political instability.
31: A winter storm of epic proportions begins to sweep over the entire American Midwest and into Canada.  Global warming is suspected.

Deaths: Charlie Callas (comic actor); Jack LaLanne; Sargent Shriver; Susannah York; David Nelson (actor, older son of Ozzie and Harriet and brother of Ricky); John Dye (the Angel of Death in Touched by an Angel); Gerry Rafferty (musician).


2: NASA announces the discovery of six planets orbiting the star Kepler-11. 
3: The immense 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard dissipates, leaving ice, snow, power outages, airport shutdowns, tornadoes, billions of dollars in damage and at least 36 deaths in its wake.
11: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigns after more than two weeks of allegedly popular protests and calls by the U.S. government for his resignation.  The military now rules Egypt.
15: Civil war begins in Libya.
22: A 6.3 magnitude earthquake strikes the Canterbury district of New Zealand's South Island.  Also: Rahm Emanuel is elected mayor of Chicago.
27: The 83rd Academy Awards is held in Hollywood, California.  I could care less.

Deaths: Jane Russell; Frank Buckles (last surviving American veteran of World War I); James A. McClure (former congressman and Senator from Idaho); Bernard Nathanson (former abortionist turned pro-life activist and Catholic convert); T.P. McKenna (Irish actor); Betty Garrett (Irene Lorenzo in All in the Family); Kenneth Mars; J. Paul Getty III.


2: A Muslim gunman opens fire on a busload of U.S. Air Force personnel at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, killing two and wounding two others before being taken into custody.  Also: Shabazz Bhatti, Pakistan's only Catholic cabinet minister and opponent of Pakistan's anti-apostasy laws, is assassinated.
8: 21 Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are suspended in connection with allegations of child sexual abuse.
11: Japan is stricken by the triple disaster of earthquake (magnitude 9.1, among the worst ever recorded), tsunami and nuclear meltdown, resulting in thousands of deaths and billions in damage.
19: Operation Odyssey Dawn begins: the United States intervenes militarily against Libya's Moammar Qaddafi.  Also: Knut the polar bear dies at the Berlin Zoo in the presence of hundreds of visitors.  Also: the Moon reaches its closest point in its orbit to the earth since 1993, appearing 14% brighter and 30% larger than usual.

Deaths:  David Broder (Washington Post columnist); Elizabeth Taylor; Michael Gough (English character actor); Farley Granger; Harry Coover (inventor of Super Glue); Geraldine Ferraro; Warren Christopher.


1: A six-foot hole opens up at 34,000' in the fuselage of Southwest Flight 812 from Phoenix to Sacramento, resulting in depressurization of the cabin and an emergency landing in Yuma, Arizona.  80 of Southwest's planes are afterwards grounded.
4: An outbreak of tornadoes is reported throughout the American south.
13: Idaho's governor signs into law a bill banning abortions beyond 20 weeks.
14-16: 155 tornadoes sweep the southern United States, resulting in 43 deaths.
19: A plane carrying Michelle Obama has a near-miss incident with another plane.
25-28: Another outbreak of tornadoes in the American south leaves more than 300 dead.
29: The royal wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Kate Middleton takes place at Westminster Abbey.

Deaths: William A. Rusher (publisher, National Review); Sidney Lumet; Trevor Bannister (Mr. Lucas in Are You Being Served?); Gil Robbins (the Highwaymen); Phoebe Snow.


1: Ven. John Paul II is beatified in Rome.  Also: The White House announces the death of Osama bin Laden.
4: In the wake of severe storms, the Mississippi River spills over its banks, causing catastrophic flooding from Minnesota to Louisiana.
5: Claude Choules, the last combat veteran of World War I, the last seaman of World War I, and the last veteran of both world wars, dies at the age of 110 in Perth, Australia.
12: John Demjanjuk is convicted in a German court of the murder of over 28,000 Jews at Sobibor during the Holocaust, and then released on the grounds of his old age, as well as the time he has already spent incarcerated.
13: The pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei releases Universae ecclesiae, an instruction to clarify and strengthen the motu proprio Summorum pontificum, which took the Tridentine Mass out of the deep freeze.
14: Dominique Strauss-Khan, head of the International Monetary Fund, is arrested in New York City on charges relating to the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid.  Although Strauss-Khan admitted having sex with the maid, the criminal charges were later dismissed on the grounds that the maid lacked credibility.
15: Louisiana opens the Morganza Spillway on the Mississippi River for the first time in 37 years, in an attempt to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans by flooding 3,000 acres of rural land.
16: America's Most Wanted is cancelled after a 23-year run.  It will later be brought back on another network.  Also: Spaceshuttle Endeavor successfully launches on its last mission.
17: Oprah Winfrey records her last show, leaving American society with one less pernicious cultural influence.  Also: Ming Ming, the world's oldest panda, dies in China at the age of 34.  Also: Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admits to fathering a child on a member of his household staff.  His wife, Maria Shriver, will soon file for divorce.
18: A tornado strikes Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
19: Barack Obama makes a speech in support of the Arab uprisings and declares that Israel must return to her pre-1967 borders.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Obama, in essence, to sit and rotate.
20: My father celebrates his [CENSORED]th birthday.
21: Contrary to the predictions of Protestant talk radio host Harold Camping, the faithful are not raptured up on this date.  Also: A tornado rips through the town of Reading, Kansas.  Also: another Icelandic volcano, Grimsvotn, erupts, sending up an enormous plume of ash and touching off dozens of earthquakes.
22: The ridiculous hat worn by Princess Beatrice of York to the Big Royal Wedding is sold on Ebay for U.S. $123,325.00.  Also: the city of Joplin, Missouri suffers major damage in a savage tornado strike.  It is the worst tornado since 1947.
24: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress, declaring that he is willing to make far-reaching compromises for peace, but will not agree to a return to Israel's 1967 borders.  Meanwhile, President Obama is out of the country.
25: Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter who murdered a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl and several others, and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is found incompetent to stand trial.
29: Beginning of the Wallow Fire, an immense wildfire that will burn hundreds of square miles in eastern Arizona.

Deaths: Jackie Cooper; Sada Thompson; Randy "Macho Man" Savage; Edward Hardwicke (played Dr. Watson to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes); Barbara Stuart; Clarice Taylor; Jeff Conaway.


2: Murder spree, Yuma County, Arizona: a 73-year-old on a county-wide shooting rampage kills five and wounds one before turning the gun on himself.
3: John Edwards is indicted on charges of conspiracy and violating campaign finance laws in connection with his affair with the woman who bore him a child while his wife was dying of cancer.
6: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) admits sending a picture of his junk to a college student via Twitter.  The revelations will lead to his resignation on June 16th.
17: Three months into an investigation of alleged offenses against his religious vows, Fr. John Corapi, SOLT, announces that he is abandoning his priestly ministry.
19: More than 300 dissident priests in Austria launch a "Call to Disobedience," effectively entering into schism and inviting others to do the same.
25: Same-sex "marriage" becomes legal in the State of New York.
27: The odd-looking, impeached former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is convicted of 17 counts of criminal corruption charges.

Deaths: Lawrence Eagleburger; James Arness; Jack Kevorkian; Geronimo Pratt; Roy Skelton (voice of the Daleks); Margaret Tyzack (Claudius' mother Antonia in I, Claudius); Peter Falk; Yelena Bonner (widow of Andrei Sakharov); Clarence Clemons; Fr. Stefano Gobbi.


1: Leon Panetta succeeds Robert Gates as the Unites States Secretary of Defense.  Also: Dominique Strauss-Khan is released from house arrest after it emerges that the maid who accused him of sexual assault made false statements.  Also: the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a Michigan law banning sex and race preferences in college admissions, government hiring and government contracting.  Also: Venezuelan president and windbag Hugo Chavez makes his first public speech since returning from cancer treatment in Cuba.  As of the date this post is published, the speech is probably still going on.
5: An immense dust storm engulfs Phoenix, Arizona, grounding flights and cutting electricity to thousands.  Also: Casey Anthony is acquitted of murdering her daughter Caylee, and is only convicted on a few misdemeanor counts.
7: Denver, Colorado suffers an immense storm that results in flooding and mass power outages.  Also: Murder spree, Grand Rapids, Michigan: a shooter murders seven (including his estranged wife and daughter) and wounds two before turning the gun on himself.
10: Britain's News of the World, in circulation since 1843, prints its last issue amidst a firestorm of phone hacking accusations.
14: The government of Ireland proposes to pass a law purporting to require Catholic priests to violate the seal of the confessional by turning in anyone who confesses to a crime against children, on pain of imprisonment.
18: A second giant dust storm engulfs Phoenix, Arizona.
19: Pope Benedict appoints Denver Bishop Charles Chaput, OFM.Cap. to head the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
21: With the landing of the space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, the Space Shuttle Program comes to an end.  Also: A proposal similar to the one in Ireland is launched in Australia to require Catholic priests to turn in penitents who confess to child molestation.
22: On the same day that explosions damage government buildings in Oslow, Norway, a shooter goes on a mass murder spree at a youth camp on the island of Utøya, leaving 84 dead.  The shooter is a Norwegian and a Freemason.
23: Murder spree, Grand Prairie, Texas: a shooter kills five and wounds four at a child's birthday party at a roller rink before turning the gun on himself.
31: First recorded case in a deadly listeriosis outbreak resulting from contaminated cantaloupes.

Deaths: Nguyen Cao Ky (former Prime Minister of South Vietnam); Amy Winehouse; Roberts Blossom ("Doc" in Escape from Alcatraz); Betty Ford; Otto von Habsburg (heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire); Anna Massey (British actress).


2: A Syrian Catholic Church is bombed in Kirkuk, Iraq, wounding 15.
6-10: Rioters rampage through several districts of London and several other English cities, killing five and doing hundreds of millions in property damage.
12: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down Obamacare's health insurance mandate.
22: University of Idaho professor Ernesto Bustamante murders Katy Benoit, a graduate student, then turns the gun on himself.  It will emerge that the two had had a sexual relationship, that Bustamante had a history of exhibiting bizarre conduct in the classroom, and that Benoit had complained to the university about his threatening behavior, resulting in his termination days earlier.
24: Steve Jobs resigns as CEO of Apple, Inc.
25: Scientists at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, announce the discovery of an extrasolar planet, possibly composed entirely of diamond, orbiting a pulsar 4,000 light years away in the constellation Serpens.
27: The deadly Hurricane Irene, ultimately responsible for 56 deaths and billions of dollars in damage, makes landfall on the east coast of the United States.

Deaths: Nicholas Ashford (Ashford & Simpson); Jerry Leiber (songwriter: "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound Dog," "Stand By Me," etc.); John Wood (English actor).


4: The most destructive wildfire in Texas history breaks out in Bastrop County, Texas.  It will not be declared extinguished until October 10th.
6: Murder spree, Carson City, Nevada: a gunman murders four and wounds six at an International House of Pancakes restaurant, before turning the gun on himself.
8: A Boise, Idaho lay Dominican blogger and lawyer celebrates her [CENSORED]st birthday.
15: "Indeterminate" is now an option for listing sex on Australian passports.
16: A P51-D Mustang crashes into the crowd at the annual air races in Reno, Nevada, killing five and wounding 50.
17: Beginning of the Occupy Wall Street crybaby demonstrations.
20: The U.S. military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" officially ends.
22: Pope Benedict XVI begins his state visit to his native Germany.

Deaths: Dolores Hope (widow of Bob Hope); Tom Wilson, Sr. (cartoonist, creator of Ziggy); Cliff Robertson.


3: Amanda Knox, an American convicted in Italy of sexual assault and murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison, is freed by an appellate court.
5: Murder spree, Cupertino, California: an employee at a cement plant opens fire on co-workers, killing three and wounding seven.  He is later shot by police after brandishing a weapon and refusing to surrender.
12: Murder spree, Seal Beach, California: a shooter opened fire in the beauty salon where his ex-wife worked, murdering eight and wounding one.  He was apprehended by police.
20: Ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qadaffi is killed in the city of Sirte.
21: Obama announces that all U.S. forces will be out of Iraq by year's end.
22: Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud dies.
28: Britain's laws of royal succession are changed to end the precedence of male heirs to the throne over female heirs, and to permit persons in the line of succession to marry Catholics without forfeiting their place in the line.

Deaths: Muammar Qadaffi; Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud; George Baker (Tiberius in I, Claudius); Steve Jobs.


2: Lindsay Lohan gets 30 days for blowing off the terms of her probation, but is soon released from jail due to overcrowding.
6: The state of Oklahoma experiences a 5.6-magnitude earthquake, the strongest in its history.
7: Dr. Conrad Murray is found guilty of the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.
8: An asteroid 1300 feet in diameter passes closer to Earth than the Moon.
9: Penn State University president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno are fired for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of boys by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
12: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigns.
13-15: The Flea Party occupiers are shut down in Portland, Oregon; Oakland, California; and Zuccotti Park in New York City.
17: Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho Falls, Idaho is charged with attempting to assassinate the President after bullets are found embedded in the White House.
18: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopens the investigation into the 1981 drowning death of Natalie Wood. 

29: Dr. Conrad Murray is sentenced to four years' imprisonment for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.

Deaths: Bill Keane (cartoonist, creator of The Family Circus); "Smokin'" Joe Frazier; Andy Rooney; Leonid Borodin (Soviet dissident); Svetlana Alliluyeva (only daughter of Joseph Stalin).


1: Murder spree, Bay City, Texas: a shooter murders four children, ages five and under, and wounds their mother -- his wife -- before turning the gun on himself.
3: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announces the suspension of his 2012 election campaign.
4: Iran captures an American Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unarmed aircraft.  The U.S. response is to politely ask for the return of the Drone.  It doesn't work.  Also: Koblenz, Germany: after evacuating 45,000 people, bomb squads defuse World War II bombs hidden under the Rhine. 
7: The 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and the last to be marked by the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which officially disbands this month due to the extreme old age and infirmity of its few remaining members.
8:  A shooter kills a police officer at Virginia Tech University and is later found dead.
10: The last total eclipse of 2011 occurs, visible in Asia, Australia and North America.
15: A French court sentences infamous terrorist Carlos "The Jackal" to life for carrying out four deadly bombings in 1982-83.
16: Tropical Storm Washi, the deadliest tropical cyclone of the year, makes landfall in the Philippines, where it will kill hundreds.
25: Boko Haram, an Islamist group, bombs several Christian Churches in Nigeria, killing 39.  Also: Murder spree, Grapevine, Texas: a shooter dressed in a Santa suit murders six members of his family, then turns the gun on himself.  The murders turn out to be Muslim "honor killings."
28: Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests engaged in a turf battle duke it out with brooms in the Church of the Nativity while preparing for Orthodox Christmas celebrations.
29: Kim Jong Un succeeds his father, Kim Jong Il, as tyrant of North Korea.

Deaths: Bill McKinney (character actor); Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on M*A*S*H); Václav Havel; Kim Jong Il; Christopher Hitchens; Cheeta the chimp; Kaye Stevens.

May 2012 be an improvement over 2011. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28th: Feast of the Holy Innocents

Salvete Flores Martyrum, Haydn. Thanks to Msgr. Charles Pope for the following transcription and translation of this hymn, and also for his Dangerous Reflection on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (via Fr. Philip Neri Powell): 

Salvete flores martyrum, – Hail Martyr Flowers
quos lucis ipso in limine – On the very threshold of the dawn (of life)
Christi insecutor sustulit – Christ’s persecutor destroyed (you)
ceu turbo nascentes rosas. – like the whirlwind does the budding roses.

Vos prima Christi victima, – You, Christ’s first fruits
grex immolatorum tener, – A flock of tender sacrificial victims
aram sub ipsam simplices – right up by the very altar
palma et coronis luditis. – now play with your palms and crowns.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria, – Jesus to you be glory
qui natus es de Virgine, – who were born of the Virgin
cum Patre et almo Spiritu, – with the Father and loving Spirit
in sempiterna saecula. Amen. – unto to eternal ages. Amen.

Tempus Fugit

As the old year winds down to its conclusion, it's only natural to meditate on the passage of time, our ever more distant youth, the death to which every day we are one day closer.  Our souls, of course, do not age, but our bodies do, and the world is not the same as it was when we were kids.

One thing that tells me I'm getting old -- besides the increasing sensitivity of my old injuries to changes in the weather, and the new gray hairs I keep finding all over my scalp -- is that my cultural referents are becoming obsolete.  My similes, metaphors and witticisms are intelligible to a more and more tightly circumscribed pool of listeners.  A generation has now grown into adulthood that has to Google things my generation took for granted.  More and more adults today cannot remember the following:

-- Cassette Tapes.  These were things we used to record songs off the radio -- something the newest generation of adults has probably never done.  Bonus points to you 20-somethings if you can identify an 8-track cassette.

-- Vinyl records.  Vinyl records are played on a revolving turntable.  A needle on a mechanical arm is inserted gently onto the record disk and transmits the recording from grooves in the disk to the speakers.  An LP (long-playing) record is 12 inches in diameter; in the '70s and '80s, we all had thousands of them.  There were also cassette versions of records, and we had thousands of those, too.

-- Televisions without Remote Controls.  In my house, I had to be the remote control.

-- Pong.  A video tennis game, played with a console plugged into a television set, consisting of two lines that moved up and down and a bouncing square.  This was state of the art and highly popular.  Seriously.

-- Playing Outside.  Although mine was the first generation to play video games at home, we still played outside.  I used to roller skate and ride my bike all around the block, even in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  The general rule was that when the street lights came on, you came home.

-- Paul McCartney and Wings.  In 1980, it was a revelation to us kids to learn that before Wings, Paul McCartney had been in the Beatles.  We all knew the Beatles, we just didn't know realize that Paul McCartney was one of them.  31 years later, it is a revelation to learn that there was such a thing as Wings.  I don't want to think about whether the existence of the Beatles is a revelation.

-- Rotary Telephones.  Yes, there was a time when a telephone actually had a dial where you stuck your finger into a hole in a wheel corresponding to a number (or letters, back in the days of telephone name exchanges), pulled the wheel back, and waited for the wheel to return to the start position before you dialed the next number.  I don't remember exactly when we got our first touch-tone phone, but it had to be the late '80s.  Mobile phones were a rarity, and structurally no different than an average touch-tone phone with a cord.  No cameras, no video games, no texting, no sexting, no 30-year-old adolescent co-worker taking pictures of his junk and messaging it to your phone.

-- "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran."  Also in 1980, we had the Iran Hostage Crisis.  This song, a parody of "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys (another cultural institution probably unknown to today's adults), was a reaction to the crisis.  "We're gonna rock your Ayatollah/sock your Ayatollah/bomb Iran."  In the far less politically correct climate of three decades ago, this ditty was quite popular and frequently played on the radio.

-- The Impending Ice Age.  Yes, during the 1970s, we were expecting a new Ice Age.  Any minute now.

-- Looney Tunes Cartoons.  Despite watching the unexpurgated version of these cartoons, we did not grow up to become racists.

-- All in the Family.  This show was so huge in the '70s that it is especially depressing to have to explain it to people today.  It is about the Bunkers and the Stivics, who start off all living in the same house: Archie Bunker, the loud-mouthed, bigoted, right-wing longshoreman and veteran of World War II who talks in malapropisms; Edith Bunker, his wife with the high-pitched voice, ding-batty yet wise in her own way (though inconsistently so, due to the producer's efforts to make her friendly to leftist ideology); their daughter, Gloria Stivic, who works to put her husband through school; and Mike "Meathead" Stivic, the hippie-leftist husband, diametrically opposed to Archie's politics.  The show made history with its immense viewership and its controversial subject matter.  Archie Bunker, played by the very-left-wing though gifted actor Carroll O'Connor, was basically Norman Lear's tool for making fun of conservatives.  Still, Archie is anything but one-dimensional.  He also got the last laugh in many ways: except for the bigoted blather, he turned out to be right about a lot of things, and even prophetic (e.g., predicting that Ronald Reagan would one day be president, years before the fact).

-- Mainframe Computers.  The average pocket calculator today is probably more powerful than the average mainframe, which ran on hole-punch cards and occupied an entire room.

-- Old Movies and Old Movie Stars.  We did not see the black and white films from Hollywood's Golden Age in theaters, but we did grow up watching them on television.   As a result, we could all recognize John Wayne, Cary Grant, Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Peter Lorre, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Jimmy Stewart and the rest.  Today, I have to explain who these stars were, and it still doesn't ring a bell.

-- No Altar Girls.  When I was a kid, we only had altar boys.  I cannot recall that any of us girls ever lobbied to become altar girls, or were ever discontent about not being able to serve at the altar in this age before the feminists came along and told girls they needed to be offended about being "left out."  In fact, in an era when daily Mass was offered quite early in the morning, it was a relief not to be called upon to get up before the sun.

-- The Cold War and the Collapse of the Berlin Wall.  About a year or so ago, I was somewhat stunned to realize that many adults are too young to remember the Cold War or even the end of the Cold War; and a new generation just now reaching adulthood was not even born during the Cold War.  When I was a kid, we still had civil defense drills, complete with civil defense sirens.  We kids were actually concerned about what was happening between the United States and the Soviet Union.  After the death of Leonid Brezhnev, the parade of short-lived Soviet premiers, and the idiotic explanations given for their lengthy disappearances from public view, was a popular topic of conversation amongst us junior high kids.  No one who was not alive and in possession of reason during the Cold War can appreciate how all-pervasive and all-shaping it was.  No one not old enough to remember as far back as the Reagan Administration can understand just how sudden and miraculous were the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the fall of East Germany.  The Tienanmen Square Massacre in China had taken place only a few months before.  In October, 1989, my German professor -- a lady of no mean understanding, who had family in East Germany -- gave it as her opinion that the Berlin Wall would never come down, and Germany would never reunify.  Less than a month later, to her joy, the Wall came down.  Less than a year after that, Germany reunified.  Less than a year after that, the Soviet Union itself followed East Germany onto the ash heap of history.

Yes, generations before us have died out, and become mere footnotes in history; we shall not escape the same fate, nor shall those who come after us.  But the reflections inspired by the closing days of 2011 should not end there.  Although our time here is short, and the things and people that were once familiar pass away, we should still resolve, first, to use the time we have to save our own souls; second, to help as many as possible of our fellow men to save their souls; and third, to do what we can to leave this world a better place than we found it, even if we ourselves are forgotten.

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26th: St. Stephen, Protomartyr

The birth of the Prince of Peace was marked by violence: Herod, fearing for his throne, had the male infants of Bethlehem massacred, in the hope that one of the victims would be the Christ Child.  Today the birth of the Prince of Peace is still marked by violence: yesterday, Nigerian Islamists bombed several churches, including the packed St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Madala, where at least 35 died.

So it is appropriate that the feast of St. Stephen, the first to die for publicly proclaiming the Christian faith, should immediately follow Christmas.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

Adoration of the Shepherds (1622), by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656)
First, a visual meditation.  This is one of my favorite pictures of the Nativity.  There are the rough, weather-beaten faces of the shepherds with their childlike simplicity and joy: one can well believe that these were worthy to be the first to receive news about the birth of the Savior.  There is the Virgin Mother, looking like the teenager she is believed to have been at this time, still retaining the slight plumpness of childhood.  Best of all is the smiling St. Joseph, so lost in contentment he seems hardly to realize that he is using a cow's head as a hand rest.

Now, some verbal meditations on the Birth of Christ for the Octave of Christmas from The Incarnation, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

Behold the Lamb of God, Who came to sacrifice Himself, to obtain for us the divine favor, and to become our deliver, our life, our light and even our food in the Most Holy Sacrament!

St. Maximus says that for this reason, amongst others, Christ chose to be laid in the manger where the animals were fed, to make us understand that He has become man also to make Himself our food: "In the manger, where the food of animals is placed, He allowed His limbs to be laid, thereby showing that His own Body would be the eternal food of men."  Besides this, He is born every day in the Sacrament by means of the priests and the words of consecration; the altar is the crib, and there we go to feed ourselves on His Flesh.

* * *

Adam came into the world at a full age; but the Eternal Word chose to appear as an infant -- a child is born to us -- that He might thus attract our hearts to Himself with greater force: "so would Who willed to be loved."  He came not into the world to inspire terror, but to be loved; and for this reason He preferred to show Himself, at His first appearance, as a tender, weak infant.

* * *
Jesus is born in the stable at Bethlehem.  His poor Mother has neither wool nor down to make a bed for the tender Infant.  What does she do, then?  She gathers together a small handful of straw into the manger, and puts it there for Him to lie on: and she laid Him in the manger.  [Luke 2:7.]  But, O my God, how hard and painful is this bed for an infant just born; the limbs of a babe are so delicate, and especially the limbs of Jesus, which were formed by the Holy Spirit with a special delicacy, in order that they might be the more sensible to suffering: A body Thou hast fitted to Me.  [Heb. 10:5.]

Wherefore the hardness of such a bed must have caused him excessive pain -- pain and shame; for what child, even of the lowest of the people, is ever laid on straw as soon as he is born?  Straw is only a fit bed for beasts; and yet the Son of God had none other on earth than a bed of miserable straw!...
But why did Mary, who had so earnestly desired the birth of this Son -- why did she, who loved Him so much, allow Him to lie and suffer on this hard bed, instead of keeping Him in her arms?  This is a mystery....This great mystery has been explained by many in different ways, but the most pleasing explanation to me is that of St. Peter Damian: Jesus wished as soon as He was born to be placed on the straw, in order to teach us the mortification of our senses: "He laid down the law of martyrdom."  The world had been lost by sensual pleasures; through them had Adam and multitudes of his descendants till then been lost.  The Eternal Word came from heaven to teach us the love of suffering; and He began as a child to teach it to us by choosing for Himself the most acute sufferings that an infant can endure.  It was, therefore, He Himself Who inspired His Mother to cease from holding Him in her tender arms, and to replace Him on the hard bed, that He might feel the more the cold of the cave and the pricking of this rough straw.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Needed: Translators without Agendas

After reading the news that Hildegard of Bingen is to be raised to the altar and declared a Doctor of the Church, I ordered a copy of an English translation of her mystical work Scivias.  I have a CD with some of her musical compositions -- which are very beautiful -- but I had never read any of her works.

And after cracking this translation of Scivias, I fear I still haven't read any of her works.

I ordered this book with some trepidation, as all the English translations I could find date back to within the last 30 years.  When it comes to spiritual reading, I generally look for what one might describe as "antediluvian": works or translations of works that predate the flood of arrant nonsense and outright heresy that swept over the earth in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.  The particular volume I ended up selecting -- the Bruce Hozeski translation from the Critical Latin Edition published by Bear & Company, Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1986 -- looked the most innocuous, so I paid the three dollars and change plus shipping and waited.

And soon discovered it was three dollars and change plus shipping too much.  Not that I have any complaints with the merchant I bought the book from: indeed, it was sent very promptly and arrived a lot more quickly than I expected.  But when I saw that it contained a forward by Matthew Fox, the ex-Dominican-priest-turned-Episcopalian-synchretist who was expelled from the Order of Preachers, my heart sank.  This forward certainly represents the absolute zero in human goofiness: Fox tries to shoe-horn Hildegard's thought into his own kooky ideology, all while reducing her mystical experiences to the physiological effects of migraines brought on by being stuck in the impossible situation of having to fight against a sexist, male-dominated Church.  But the content of the book, purportedly by Hildegard herself -- in which I must confess to not having found myself able to plow very far -- did nothing to lift the heart out of its Foxian doldrums.  

The Editor's Note at the beginning is full of dire portent.  It makes clear that the editors cut out anything that they considered "irrelevant or difficult to comprehend today."  They adopted a particular chopping methodology -- getting rid of whole sections rather than parts of sections --  ostensibly to "avoid distortion as much as possible," apparently oblivious to the fact that they were distorting the work precisely by filtering it through their lenses of relevance and difficulty.  Besides which: who were these editors to save me from deciding for myself what is irrelevant or too difficult?  Given some of the people associated with this project, and the era of its provenance, I can't help thinking the "irrelevant" or "difficult" stuff must be anything that fails to support some particular brand of heterodoxy.  

Then there was the deliberate decision to edit out Hildegard's citations to authority:
Hildegard was an astonishingly brilliant woman during an age when such talent and sensitivity were suppressed.  Many Hildegard admirers, myself included, feel that Hildegard expressed herself very powerfully and individually, and then attempted to justify her thought by presenting supportive ideas from other sources -- such as the Gospels, patriarchs, and prophets, or by citing the Church opinion of her day.  We found the elimination of much of this supportive and repetitive text caused a clearer and more visionary text to emerge.
In other words, Hildegard shrank from putting herself forward as her own authority, so We, the Great and Wise Editors, are going to do it for her.  It is just not on for a prophet to set forth her prophecies within the framework of Authority, even though it is the Authority of Christ Himself through His Church.  Thus are English readers of Scivias to be deprived of Hildegard's insights into Scripture and the Fathers and the Magisterium.  Thus also do the editors suppress the evidence of Hildegard's great scholarship and intellect in their quest for "a clearer and more visionary text."

I can't say I feel sure what a "visionary text" is exactly, as these guys mean it.  But I do have a fair idea what constitutes a "clearer text," and it is obvious that this was not what we got when the editors of this translation decided to use "inclusive language."  As a woman, I find "inclusive language" as patronizing and insulting as it is annoying; as a serious reader, I suspect it really excludes not only all things male but also the true sense of the original text.  "Inclusive language" also proves that its proponents have no sense of humor, since they do not perceive the hopelessly idiotic grammatical contortions to which their stubborn refusal to use masculine pronouns drives them.  Witness the following choice example from page 14:
But Lucifer, who had been cast down from heavenly glory because of pride, at first stood special and great because Lucifer did not yet know of Lucifer's weakness in grace and strength.  Indeed, when Lucifer thought about grace and the power of self-strength, Lucifer became proud.  This caused Lucifer to expect that Lucifer might attempt whatever Lucifer wished, because Lucifer had previously been able to finish whatever Lucifer started.  Seeing a place where Lucifer thought that a stand could be made, and wishing to show grace and self-strength there, Lucifer said to God: "I wish to shine here in that manner and there in that manner."  Every idea of Lucifer's agreed with this, and Lucifer said: whatever you wish, we also wish this too.  And when Lucifer was puffed up with pride and wanted to do what Lucifer had just thought about, the zeal of God -- extending itself -- threw Lucifer and the entire company into the burning blackness, so that they seethed against the brightness and clearness which they had had and they were blackened.
I almost feel as though I am looking at this paragraph with a set of compound eyes that sees not one Lucifer, but thousands.  It is the literary-mystical equivalent of Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl: Lucifer, his brother Lucifer, and his other brother Lucifer, and his other brother Lucifer, ad nauseam.  The true sense of the original is obscured behind this wretchedly composed paragraph, like a magnificent landscape behind a filthy, grimy window.  What a stupid and unnecessary distraction.

From the howling desert of the mid-'80s, the heyday of modernist theologians of the Matthew Fox vintage, we seem to have crawled into the edge of an oasis.  The sandstorm that has lashed us for decades is beginning to give way; the heritage that we had lost for so many years is back in sight, still dim, yet unmistakable.  Among other signs of the restoration, the new English translation of the Mass, faithful to the original Latin text, is now in use, and the translators' next project is said to be the Liturgy of the Hours.  Since this seems to be the era of dumping lousy translations, I hereby nominate the 1986 Hozeski inclusive-language translation of Scivias for inclusion in the ash-heap of history.  And since Hildegard of Bingen is to be a new saint and Doctor of the Church, I hope some intrepid and gifted translator feels called upon to give the English-speaking world a complete, faithful and artistically rendered translation of her works.

P.S. I wish somebody would get on the stick and also translate some more of St. Albert the Great's writings into English.     

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011: Winter Solstice

As the year progresses, the sun appears not only to move from east to west, but also to trace a path farther north or south in the sky.  This northerly or southerly travel continues until the solstice, when the sun appears to stand still and begin to reverse course.  Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, which, for us, means the shortest day and the longest night of the year.  After this, the hours of daylight will increase, and the darkness will decrease.

In an amazing twist of fate, our celebration of the feast of Christmas coincides roughly with the winter solstice, and the beginning of ever-increasing daylight.  It appears that according to the Julian calendar, in use at the time of Christ, the winter solstice was regarded as occurring on -- December 25th.  I am not versed in the vagaries of calendars; still, it seems noteworthy that we continue to celebrate Christmas on December 25th, and that December 25 falls at a moment of the year when the hours of daylight are just beginning to lengthen.

Coincidence?  We know from Scripture that nature reflects God's glory.  Is it just possible, then, that (a) Christ really was born on December 25th, and (b) He deliberately timed His coming this way, so that we who walk in the most profound darkness of the year would see a Great Light?

Monday, December 19, 2011

UPDATED Special Prayer Request: Friars Up for Solemn Vow Vote

Reason no. 4,287 to join the Order of Preachers: we do the coolest backyard conflagrations.  (Lay Dominicans are by no means slouches on this front, either.)
Please stop right now and say, devoutly, a Hail Mary apiece for Br. Corwin Low, O.P. and Br. Peter Hanna, O.P. of the Western Province of the Holy Name.  December 20th is the day their community votes on whether to admit them to solemn vows.

Might not hurt also to invoke on their behalf St. Antoninus of Florence.  The local prior told Antoninus he could not take the habit of St. Dominic unless he memorized the entire Gratian decretal (i.e., the entire body of canon law as it existed in his day).  Which, of course, he did.

UPDATE, 12/21/2011 at 07:34: Brs. Corwin and Peter are approved for solemn vows!  They will be locked in for life on April 28, 2012 at St. Dominic's in San Francisco. 
Br. Corwin (left) and Br. Peter (right). Could these be the future founding fathers of Boise's first Dominican priory?  We can certainly hope so!

Why Books Cannot Be Squirrels, However Much You Might Want Them to Be

For the same reason you are not King of the World, however much you might want to be.
For the same reason you do not have a trillion dollars in the bank, however much you might want to.
For the same reason an intrinsic evil cannot be good, however much you might desire such a result.
If you would learn more, see Fr. Philip Neri Powell's excellent and timely post on the subject.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Saint and Doctor of the Church: The Sybil of the Rhine

Hildegard of Bingen receives a vision from heaven and dictates it to her secretary, the monk Volmar, in this illumination from the Liber Scivias.
In August, Pope Benedict declared that St. John of Avila will be the 34th Doctor of the Church.  It is now being reported that next October,  he will canonize Bl. Hildegard of Bingen, and declare her the 35th Doctor of the Church.

Bl. Hildegard (1098-1179) was dedicated by her parents to the Church at birth.  A lifelong mystic, she was three years old when she first began to receive visions.   At the age of eight, she was given to the care of an anchoress.  At 38, she was elected head of the convent that had grown up around the anchorage.  At the age of 42, she received the gift of instant understanding of religious texts, as well as a divine mandate to commit her visions to writing.  She sought and received ecclesiastical approval to carry out this mandate.  In the last year of her life, her convent was placed under interdict on account of her refusal to exhume from the cemetery the body of a man who had been excommunicated: the man had received the last sacraments and was therefore presumed reconciled.  She succeeded in having the interdict lifted and died in the odor of sanctity.

Although her formal education was very rudimentary, Hildegard of Bingen was a great and learned writer, producing works on theology, natural history, and medicine.  Men of affairs in the Church and in secular life sought her advice.  Under the influence of the Benedictine services to which she was exposed as a child, she was also a composer of music which is still performed and recorded down to this day.  Hildegard of Bingen was, in a word, a feminine counterpart of Albertus Magnus, the great Dominican Doctor of the Church, polymath and teacher of Aquinas, of whom it may be accurate to say that he knew everything there was to know in his day.  In fact, if she is simultaneously canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church, that will be another parallel with St. Albertus Magnus, who was both canonized and declared Doctor in 1931.  

Hildegard of Bingen might be a good saint to invoke in aid of the restoration of the liturgy to its former beauty.  Perhaps that is precisely what the Holy Father has in mind.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Potuit, Decuit, ergo Fecit: Why the Immaculate Conception Must Be True

I will shew thee all good, and I will proclaim in the name of the Lord before thee: and I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please me.  
Exodus 33:19

Once in a while, a comment comes along that deserves a post-length response.  Here, from a self-professed ex-Catholic turned non-denominational, is one that just came in on my post about the appalling song "Mary, Did You Know?":
Mary had to have sinned. She called Jesus "my Savior" and what is Jesus the Savior for? Sinners. She had sinned. And there is no biblical evidence for her having no sin.

Those of you with a kick against the Immaculate Conception always want to set limitations on God.  You generally have no problem acknowledging in theory that God is infinitely good, infinitely holy, infinitely perfect, infinitely merciful and infinitely powerful; but in practice, what you really want is a sort of bite-sized God, One that we can wrap our woefully inadequate brains around and Who does not confound our puny capabilities.  So when God actually goes and does something that only an infinitely good, holy, perfect, merciful and powerful Being could do, you protest.  The fact, however, is that God can do whatever He wants; and whatever is fitting, we may be sure that He will do.

God can do the impossible more rapidly and easily than we can blink our eyes or draw a breath.  It was perfectly within His power to preserve Mary free from the taint of sin from the instant of her conception.  This singular privilege of His grace was purchased for her by the limitless merits of Christ's suffering and death on the Cross.  God, not bound by the constraints of time or space, was perfectly capable of applying these merits beforehand and granting this privilege in advance of the Crucifixion.  Thus God really was Mary's Savior, and did not need her to sin in order to be her Savior: His intervention to prevent her from receiving the taint of sin that she would otherwise have contracted as a descendant of Adam was also a salvific act.  Have you never been prevented from committing sins -- by being deprived of means or opportunity, or because you have never experienced the temptation to commit particular sins?  These are also interventions of God's grace.  So you should know from experience that God saves us, not only by forgiving sins we have actually committed, but also by preventing us from committing sins we would otherwise have committed, perhaps to our eternal ruin.   Why, then, should it be so hard to accept that God, out of the abyss of His goodness and mercy, could exercise His infinite power to prevent the Mother of His Son from being tainted by the least stain of iniquity from the very instant she began to exist?

It is altogether fitting that God should preserve Mary inviolate and immaculate from the first instant of her life.  God always gives us the grace we need to do the work He gives us: the greater the work, the greater the grace given to carry it out.  Was ever a more important mission given to a mere human being than that entrusted to Mary?  It was her task to supply the matter out of which the all-holy Son of God would take flesh, to bear Him in her womb, to nurse Him and to rear Him to manhood, and to share in her soul in the agonies of His Passion.  This touches on a point raised by my correspondent in a follow-up comment:
Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for dying for our sins because He was without blemish. If Mary had no blemish either, that would pretty much validate her for crucifixion too. Which would make Jesus less important.
Here my correspondent, though off the rails in the implications for the importance of Jesus, hits on an important truth.  Mary did in fact suffer with her divine Son, more than any other human being could have.  The saints (e.g., St. Alphonsus Liguori) are of the opinion that her sufferings were greater than that of all other men who have ever lived or will ever live put together, and that only a miracle kept her from dying of grief.  This is why Catholics honor her under the titles of Mother of Sorrows and Queen of Martyrs: only her Son's sufferings exceeded hers.  When she presented her Son in the Temple, holy Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her soul, that out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed (Luke 2:35).  It makes sense that she should bear so great a share in her Son's Passion: not only was she his loving mother; she was also fully aware that He was God, and therefore of the horrible outrage that He should be murdered by His own creatures.  Moreover, would it have been possible for her to suffer entirely for his sake and not at all for her own if she herself had had a share in the sins that caused Him to be nailed to the Cross?  Still, this share of hers in Christ's suffering does not in any way diminish Him.  Jesus was the perfect Sacrifice not only because He was without blemish, but because He was God.  Mankind had outraged the infinite God, and therefore it would take infinite merits to repair the outrage; these could only be offered by the Son of God. 

If you do not accept the Immaculate Conception, then I am bound to ask you why you would want the Mother of God to have been a sinner.  Is this not tantamount to wanting an unworthy vessel for the Incarnate God?   Does it make sense for the woman entrusted with bearing and caring for and suffering alongside the Son of God to have spent even a single instant under the dominion of hell?  No: especially when you consider that the Woman of Genesis 3:15, between whom and the serpent God put enmity is none other than the Mother of God, and her Seed is none other than Jesus Christ:
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
Here is scriptural proof of the Immaculate Conception.  If God creates perfect and implacable enmity between the Woman and the serpent -- and surely it is unthinkable that if God creates enmity between the Mother of God and evil, this enmity will be imperfect and half-hearted -- then it follows that she could never be under the serpent's sway, or in allegiance with him, as she must be if she had sinned.  Thus it was fitting for God to preserve her without sin from the very beginning.

Since it was perfectly possible for God to preserve Mary free from sin from the moment of her conception, and it was fitting that He should do so, it follows that He in fact did do so.  It would be a gross omission on God's part, and incompatible with His infinite perfection, if He should leave undone that which was fitting.  Therefore, we may safely take it that He did not leave it undone.  

Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit! He could; it was fitting; therefore, He did it!

H/T Canterbury Tales

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Eye-Openers from the New Translation

Now that we have the new, vastly improved English translation of the Roman Missal, for the first time since childhood, I need a hand missal for the Ordinary Form of the Mass.  Of course there are pew cards at church with the new, corrected versions of the people's responses; but I want to savor the new translation with my eyes as well as my ears.   My local Catholic bookstore did not carry any nice missals with English on one side and Latin on the other, and there wasn't time to find and order one, so I picked up a copy of the New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal for 2012 -- a very good investment for just a few bucks.

There are a few realities to which the new translation has opened my eyes.  Firstly, when samples of the new translation began to come out a few years ago -- before I ever attended Mass in the Extraordinary Form -- it became clear to me for the first time that the Mass is full of scriptural allusions and signs of the supernatural that had been effectively blotted out in the now-obsolete translation.  Now that we have a translation more in line with the original Latin, these little treasures have been restored: it is like getting a pair of glasses after a lifetime of myopia, and realizing for the first time that you hadn't really been able to see. 

The second eye-opener was that the Ordinary Form of the Mass has actual propers -- introit, offertory, communion -- that should be sung.   All I have ever gotten all my life was the four-hymn sandwich.  It was embarrassing to be a cradle Catholic and not know until this summer -- when my chant schola was asked to sing the Simple English Propers for a Mass in the Baker Diocese -- that Mass in the Ordinary Form is supposed to have sung propers, and that the four-hymn sandwich is supposed to be the option of last resort.  But that one Mass this summer was the first Ordinary Form Mass I have ever attended with all the sung propers...and I haven't been to another one since.

The third thing I have come to realize, now that I require worship aids for the Ordinary Form, is...just how hard the Ordinary Form is to follow.

It is a common complaint about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass that it is too complicated and difficult to keep track of.  However, once you get past the Latin, the structural simplicity of the Extraordinary Form becomes evident.  Whether it's Low Mass, Missa Cantata or Solemn High Mass, the Extraordinary Form has one penitential rite; a single, one-year cycle of readings; one Eucharistic prayer -- the Roman Canon -- one set of prayers post-consecration; and a few variable parts which are dictated by feasts or seasons, and are therefore entirely predictable.  In this rootless age, the world considers this stability to be boring.  The reality, however, is that it has the two-fold advantage of being (a) comforting and reassuring, and (b) memorable.  Constant repetition plants  the liturgical texts firmly in the memory, where they become seeds for meditation and aids in the cultivation of virtue.

The Ordinary Form, on the other hand, seems to consist almost entirely in variations, the use of many of which is determined entirely by the pleasure of the priest.  There are three forms of greeting; three forms of the penitential rite; eight possible Gospel acclamations for use during Lent; two possible professions of faith; no fewer than ten (10) choices of Eucharistic prayer; three possible memorial acclamations; and four options for dismissal.  Unless you know your priest well enough to be acquainted with his customs and preferences, there is absolutely no way to know which of any of these he is going to use, which leaves missal-jockeys at a loss.  By the time a person figures out which Eucharistic prayer the priest is saying, and then finds it in the missal, it's half over.  One questions the extent to which all this freedom of choice conduces to the ability of the average pew-sitter to participate in the Mass.

Indeed, it is often said of the Tridentine Mass that it makes passive spectators out of the faithful in the pews; but one has to wonder whether that is not in fact more true of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, especially as it has been celebrated in so many places for so many years.  The anti-traditionalists make much of the fact that the older form of the Mass is in a language that the people (allegedly) do not understand; the music is (purportedly) beyond the ability of most people to sing along with; and the people don't get to say anything because the responses are (frequently) said for them.  What the "active participation" crowd fails to grasp is that this freedom from exterior bustling actually leaves one with enough time and energy to participate interiorly, and that this is aided by the structural constancy of the Extraordinary Form. 

The Ordinary Form, however, creates a new set of problems.  The vernacular Mass, coupled with the proliferation of options, has the effect of excluding those whose vernacular is other than that in which the Mass is offered.  At least when the Mass was always in Latin, a Spanish-speaking Catholic could attend Mass in Nagasaki and still feel at home, supported by the knowledge and experience gained from the constant repetition of the same texts, over and over.  The same problem arises when it comes to singing along with the music: will that Spanish Catholic be able to sing Japanese songs in Nagasaki?  Besides which, the stuff that (contrary to the mind of Vatican II) has supplanted Gregorian chant is often so terrible as to be truly unsingable.  On top of this, the lousy English translation of the Roman Missal did a lot to obscure the supernatural aspect of the liturgy and and distort Catholic theology, thus barring Catholics from receiving the truths contained in the Mass; thankfully, this is now being corrected.  But the renewed need for worship aids occasioned by this new translation brings home the fact that the person regularly attending the Ordinary Form is ceaselessly buffeted by the vicissitudes within the Ordinary of the Mass itself that are the product of so many zillions of options.  You may well ask: why don't I just forget about the worship aids and just sit and listen?  You mean -- quit worrying about trying to follow the Mass and become...a passive spectator?

If there is one thing to which the new translation of the Roman Missal may open many eyes, it is that the attempt by the post-conciliar experts to construct a whole new Mass may have been very ill-advised, and that we would perhaps have done better to just leave the Mass alone.  But then, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once pointed out, it is a mark of our fallen human nature that we always make things harder than they need to be.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mary, Conceived Without Sin, You DID Know

Raise your hand if you have ever heard the song "Mary, Did You Know?" within the precincts of a Catholic church.  I can't see you, but I know you're out there.  My hand is also up.  Somehow, because this song mentions the Mother of God, it has become a Christmas tradition in some parishes.  But although the gentleman who wrote "Mary, Did You Know?" clearly means well, this song is both musically inappropriate for Mass and subversive of the Catholic faith.

From a musical standpoint, "Mary, Did You Know?" is basically a pop song, and although the Mass has been saturated with such for a couple of generations now, the fact remains that it is not sacred music suited for use at Mass.  But even more objectionable, from the Catholic point of view, is the lyrical content.  

"Mary, Did You Know?" is based on some abysmally erroneous assumptions.  To begin with, it is supposed that Mary does not know that her holy Infant is the Son of God.  Some saints -- for instance, St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop and Doctor of the Church -- are of the opinion that even before the Annunciation, Mary had a profound understanding of prophecies and Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah.  But even without such an understanding, it would have taken a high degree of inattention on Mary's part to the message of Gabriel and the inspired greeting of her cousin Elizabeth for her to labor under ignorance of her Son's divinity.  It is further supposed that Mary does not know that her Son will suffer for the redemption of mankind.  This would have required her to utterly gloss over the prophecies of holy Simeon concerning her Son as God's salvation, a sign of contradiction, and concerning the sword of sorrow that would pierce her own soul.  The idea of the Mother of God not being in possession of the most critical facts about her divine Son, particularly in view of explicit revelations received by her, is absurd on its face.

But there is an even more blatant error in the lyrics of "Mary, Did You Know?" that ought to induce in every Catholic a sharp intake of breath.  It is a defined dogma of the Catholic faith that the Mother of God was conceived without original sin.  On December 8, 1854, in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. 
Contrast this with the following lyrics from "Mary, Did You Know?":
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.
Whereas Catholics accept as revealed truth that Mary was free from sin from the instant of her conception by virtue of the anticipated merits of Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross, the foregoing is based on the assumption that Mary was under the sway of sin at the time she gave birth to the Christ Child, and that she would remain so until His Sacrifice of redemption.  In short, it is a flat denial of the Immaculate Conception.  As such -- and for this reason alone -- it should never be sung in a Catholic church, or find any place in any Catholic liturgy, and Catholics should not embrace it.

Perhaps a fitting way to honor today's feast of the Immaculate Conception -- in addition to fulfilling our obligation to attend Mass -- would be to defend the dogma which this feast celebrates by doing what we can to see that "Mary, Did You Know?" remains unheard in our parishes during this and every Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Remember Pearl Harbor

This post goes up seventy years to the minute after the Japanese began their attack on Pearl Harbor.  This 70th anniversary is the last one to be marked by the Pearl Harbor Survivors' Association: due to the extreme old age, infirmity and immobility of its dwindling membership (approximately 175, mostly in their 90s), the Association is officially disbanding this month.  Only about 125 survivors are expected to attend this year's commemoration at the scene of the pivotal and defining moment of their young lives.

A Japanese camera captured that moment on the morning of December 7, 1941.  The images of Japanese planes, tiny yet unmistakable, can be seen passing over Ford Island.  The U.S.S. West Virginia and U.S.S. Oklahoma, on the far side of the island, have just sustained torpedo hits. 

One of the iconic images of the Pearl Harbor attack: the U.S.S. Arizona burns.  The explosion of the Arizona's forward magazines claimed 1,177 of the 2,403 American lives lost at Pearl Harbor.  The crew of the nearby U.S.S. Tennessee attempts to fend off burning oil with fire hoses.  

The first two chaplains to die in World War II -- one Protestant minister, one Catholic priest -- died at Pearl Harbor.  Protestant chaplain of the Arizona, Capt. Thomas Leroy Kirkpatrick, sprang to action in sick bay as soon as the attacks commenced.  Sick bay was so near to the forward magazines that he was killed almost instantly in the great explosion while ministering to the wounded.  Chaplain Kirkpatrick still lies with his crewmates in their sunken ship at the bottom of the harbor.

Chaplain Kirkpatrick's clock was recovered from the wreck of the Arizona, the hands frozen at the moment the forward magazines exploded.  

The U.S.S. Oklahoma, capsized and burning.  429 men perished aboard the Oklahoma.

The total number of the Oklahoma's dead would have reached 441 if it were not for Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, Lieutenant Junior Grade, Acting Chaplain.

On December 7, 1941, the young priest from St. Lucas, Iowa, had only been ordained for six years, appointed a chaplain for two and a half years, and had celebrated his 32nd birthday only three days earlier.  Did he have any suspicion that that was to be his last birthday, and indeed almost his last day on earth?  Yet although death came to Fr. Schmitt suddenly, it did not find him unprepared, nor even without Viaticum: when the Japanese attack began, he had just finished celebrating Mass.  

When disaster struck, Fr. Schmitt went to sick bay to minister to the wounded and dying. Mission Capodanno gives the following moving account of what happened next:
When the Oklahoma was struck and water poured into her hold, the ship began to list and roll over. Many men were trapped. Schmitt found his way -- with other crew members -- to a compartment where only a small porthole provided enough space to escape.

Chaplain Schmitt helped other men, one by one, to crawl to safety. When it became his turn, the chaplain tried to get through the small opening. As he struggled to exit through the porthole, he became aware that others had come into the compartment from which he was trying to escape. As he realized that the water was rising rapidly and that escape would soon be impossible, he insisted on being pushed back through the hole so that he could help others who could get through the opening more easily. Accounts from eyewitnesses that have been published in the Arizona Memorial newsletter relate that the men protested, saying that he would never get out alive, but he insisted, "Please let go of me, and may God bless you all."

Fr. Schmitt, martyr of charity, was posthumously awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Medal for his selfless bravery, which saved the lives of twelve crewmen who otherwise would have been trapped in the sinking ship.

Remember Pearl Harbor, soon to pass from living memory.  Remember and do not forget.