Monthly Archives: April 2008

Chant and “Liber Usualis Modern Notation”

Several things are conspiring to make me think about chant this morning. I’ve been splitting the Sarum hymn tunes into discrete jpeg files—like this one:

Frere's Melody 38

suitable for for use at Matins with Aurora lucis utilat and Lauds with Sermone blando Angelus. Too, at breakfast my Shuffle turned up the Enigma track that samples the Kyrie from the Missa Orbis Factor. Furthermore, I was looking at my blog stats. I get a lot of hits from Office hymn titles or searches for the Liber usualis.

One of the most common, though, is “Liber Usualis modern notation”. If you came here through this search term, I’ll make a quick comment on this topic. I don’t have one here and you’re not likely to find one. Why? Well—it’s about time economies. It would take an awful lot of time to translate the notation from the Liber into modern notation and the genuine fact is that the modern notation version would be inherently inaccurate because of the differences between modern music and chant. Even modern chant notation wouldn’t really do the trick.

So, that’s one half of the time economy; it would take a lot of time to produce it and the result would be imperfect. Now—here’s the other part. Chant notation only looks intimidating; it can be learned quite easily. Once learned, you can use it to read all sorts of things that go beyond the Liber. If you want to learn, I’d recommend starting with this excellent introduction, then download the Liber usualis, and go to your cd collection. If you have some basic chant cds—like “Chant” and “Chant II” from de Silos produced a few years back—cue a track, locate the chant in the Liber, and sing along. Start with the simple, then go from there. And look here for links to more introductions, scores, and audio files.

An Act of Recalibration

Go read Christopher’s latest post. He and I have been working around some similar themes of late especially in terms of what is going on at a national level in the church.

Christian social justice is not separate from personal holiness nor vice versa. In fact, they’re really not in opposition to one another despite what various “culture warriors” want you to think. However, both of them are only Christian when they flow from the Gospel.

Christopher makes mention of the Benedictine tradition. Now, when I think and say “Benedictine”, I often conjure up in my head a kind of idealized Benedictine spirit that I believe existed in ninth century Europe as mediated through my experience with Benedictine teachers I’ve had and monasteries I’ve visited.
But there are other very real and important parts of the Benedictine tradition that I would do well to remember.

The monastic house of Cluny, founded in 909 was by the end of the 11th century to become the head of a sprawling family of houses throughout the Continent and in England as well. At its founding it was devoted to a strict interpretation of the Rule. As time went on, things changed… Because of its later years, the name of Cluny is now associated with liturgical excess. A reading of its customaries reveals that the monks were actively in choir over eight hours a day. Now—liturgy is good; but that doesn’t mean that more liturgy is better. Rather, Cluny lost the balance of the Rule that demanded physical labor and study in addition to hours in the choir. Many scholar of the period regard the use of lay brethren as a kind of second-class citizen to do the physical work as a sign of the decay that eventually led to Cluny’s collapse.

What came in its stead was the Cistercian revolution. More ascetical, less liturgical (by comparison—still far more liturgical than anything most of us have ever known) The Cistercians re-emphasized the principle of balance. They did not jettison the old. Indeed, the use of silence outside the choir was a central feature of Cluniac spirituality retained and heightened by the Cistercian reformers. Fundamentally as an act of Reformation, it was an act of Recalibration. 

While I make no secret of my love of Cluny and its liturgies even when they tend to excess, the Cistercians proved themselves a necessary and important part of the Benedictine tradition. And, in their in their path of Recalibration it would suit us now to walk.

We face different challenges, of course. And yet—the balance of the liturgical life, the intellectual life, and the active life still, I believe, burns at the heart of the Anglican way. We would do well to recalibrate.

New Toy

As a result of peer pressure from all of the cool kids, I signed up for a twitter account. I have no idea if/how much I’ll use it/be able to use it—but we’ll see…

I’m suddenly reminded of Prov 29:11: “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise [man] keepeth it in till afterwards.” How easy it is for Web 2.0 to help us prove Scripture right!

And the Lord did Grin…

Things may be looking for us. After, what, four years or so of bad hands…

  • M got some great news today. Hopefully more later as things develop.
  • Fr. Director has confirmed that I have a full draft of the diss. Of course, it’s still needs quite a bit of work, but a full draft is a Good Thing.
  • The foot progresses. This week I took my first shower since February 9th… The picc line is out, I can walk fairly well and the doctor is planning to stop the oral antibiotics in a few weeks. It’s still a bit swollen and normally hurts by evening, but this is a lot better than it has been.

On the other hand…

  • I imagine most people have seen the Seabury-Western news. S-W isn’t the only one in these straits. There’s a reason why an almost PhD in New Testament and homiletics is boning up on Linux and SQL books…

Earth Day (and Open Source) Thoughts

The Elizaphanian has a post up collecting his theological responses to the environmental issue of peak oil. (h/t Dean Knisely)

Too, one of his recent posts deals with switching away from Windows.

This is pretty high on my list. My Linux machine is down at the moment but its a result of age finally catching up with it. The hardware was at least ten years old—if not older. Nevertheless, it ran Xubuntu just fine with no serious time lags. So (here’s the Earth Day tie-in—tenuous though it be…) I could get away with using hardware from the previous century without having to constantly junk and consume to keep up with ever-voracious demands from the Windows OS.

No, Xubuntu/Ubuntu, OpenOffice, Firefox, Eclipse are my new core suite. Since I do corporate computing I can’t entirely wash my hands of Windows and Office, but I can at home.

As much as I hope Open Source will catch on, however, I fear it will continue to find a home in a niche population than the true mainstream. M, for instance, will still retain a Windows machine. She’s not a computer person and hates when I tinker with things or when everything doesn’t work just as it ought. Many of the Open stuff still isn’t terribly user friendly—and some of it deliberately so, I think… Until that changes she’ll probably stick with Windows.

The Anglican Scotist on the Eucharist

In his comment to my post below and in a new post on his blog, the Anglican Scotist takes issue with my suggestion that those representing the national church and those clergy with progressive political views remember that demands for justice in church flow best from acknowledging God’s call to humanity in light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

He states:

Granted, loosey goosey lefty preachers might preach social justice and
be too dull to notice the sacramental context in which they preach is
soaked in political references, but there is also a loosey goosey
mentality perversely abstracting the Eucharist from the political, as
if real labor and real money and real paychecks and real exchanges were
not actually involved and actually sanctified, as if it were all just
symbolic or even pretend.

I can’t tell if he’s directly accusing me of holding the second “a loosey goosey
mentality [that] perversely abstract[s] the Eucharist from the political” or not… If he is, it’s a caricature and not an accurate representation of what I said or believe. I agree that there are some who have tried to make a hard separation between the religious and the political and that doesn’t make sense to me either. You can’t pray the Psalms and believe that “YHWH is king” has no political implications.

However, let me reiterate to clarify my position to the Scotist. The Eucharist is a powerful multivalent symbol. The Eucharist is misunderstood whenever we attempt to reduce its complexity.  Our historic liturgy and architecture is designed to highlight these multivalent elements and the move in recent years to change things has resulted in just such a reduction. That is, an east-wall altar speaks of a table, a sacrificial altar, and a tomb. The bread, wine, and water speak of simple family meals, the fruits of the earth,and—yes—the products of human labor. The liturgical words speak of covenant relationships, political injustice, the triumph of love, and a God who choose to permeate human life through multiple modes of presence and incarnation. And these items that I have pointed out just barely scratch the surface…

I would not claim that the Eucharist is “simply religious,” abstracted from the political. That’s not how I understand “religious”—it can never be “simply” anything because it’s fundamentally not simple.

In a similar fashion, I would hope that the Scotist would shy away from reducing the Eucharist to the purely economic or even political and miss the full splendor of its spectrum of meanings.

Liturgy is Not Enough

As my readers know, I love the liturgy a great deal. I believe, in fact, that the liturgical cycle as it came to fruition by the end of the early medieval period is the greatest tool for Christian formation that the Western Church has ever produced. Much of the great writings of the medieval monks, mystics, and others could have only been produced in relationship to this cycle. It is a great and powerful engine for the formation of disciples.

But it is an engine that has largely gone untuned.

At the time of its creation, it was only accessible to a small number—namely those who lived within intentional liturgical communities, had the capacity to become fluent in a language other than their mother tongue, and had the temperament to turn their wonder, creativity, and intellect to its majesties rather than to other arenas.

At the time of the Reformation, the English Church was the only dissenting group that preserved the key elements of the cycle—the Mass and the Office—but even these were severely pared back, breaking, obscuring, and eliminating many of the connections that had bound the cycle into a harmonious whole.

For most of its history, the Episcopal Church has been an either/or body: either Office or Mass. With the coming of the ’79 BCP and Eucharist becoming the normative Sunday celebration, two hundred years of Office supremacy came to an end—but balance has yet to be achieved. Too, the ’79 book has recovered more of the classical links with its inclusion of seasonal material than any other BCP with the possible exception of the failed English ’28 text.

And yet the discipling inherent in, promised by, the liturgy has not appeared.

And it will not appear.

The experience of the liturgy is not enough.

Certainly there will be some who will start to see and make connections. Who will discover a hunger and turn to earlier and other sources to learn of the connections, to recover or recapture the mystery and the power they feel near its surface—but this is not “most”. Nor necessarily even “many”.

If the liturgy were enough, the discipling would be happening.
If it were enough, there would not be people in our churches who have stood, sat, and knelt through decades of liturgies and not been formed by them. If it were enough, there would not be clergy in our churches who have
stood, sat, and knelt through decades of liturgies and not been formed
by them.

The liturgy is not enough. And yet it is an engine of great power. It does not choose to sit idle; we allow it to do so.

What the liturgy needs from us are three things:

  1. We must be open to it. This is the first and greatest step. We must open our hearts to its leading in confidence that the Holy Spirit speaks through its ways and its means.
  2. We must recognize the treasure that we have before us. The liturgy is many things. It is a path, a discipline, a place where aesthetics, intellect, the affections and emotions are all engaged. We must recognize its value and allow it to have its own authority over us. That is, we must live in it before presuming to change it. And I don’t mean existing alongside of it—I mean living in it. Opening ourselves to it and following where it leads. Because this isn’t really about the liturgy. The liturgy is a path and discipline that leads us into the mind of Christ. And that’s what this is really about.
  3. We must share its riches. Specifically, this means we must testify to its power and capability to transform, and we must educate. The liturgy is not self-evident. You must be open to it—but it also must be opened to you. Preeminently, this means communicating that the liturgy is an embodiment of essential Christian theology. We don’t do a solemn high mass or evensong just because we like it (though we do, of course…) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. Liturgy is theology made kinetic and aesthetic. Even when we succeed in our first two tasks, this is where we have failed in the past and are continuing to fail today. The Episcopal Church is moving towards a new prayer book; protesting at its arrival is too little, too late. If we hope to see a prayer book whose liturgies stand in continuity with our Anglican, our catholic, our Benedictine roots, then we need to start learning, talking, and teaching now while it is yet on the horizon and not yet here at our doorsteps.  

All of us who love the liturgy must be intentional about these things if we wish it to exercise even a quarter of its full power within us and within our communities. Through the centuries, I believe the Holy Spirit has crafted this great work as a faithful and true means of guiding humanity into the mysteries of God. But we have to be faithful and true to it as well.