Thursday, April 09, 2009


Tonight begins the High Holidays of Christianity, known as the Triduum, or Three Day sequence (Thursday night to Friday night -- Friday night to Saturday night -- Saturday night to Sunday dawn) of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Holy Thursday = Last Supper, Betrayal & Arrest in Gethsemane, Denial & Trial

Good Friday = Trial, Torture, Mocking, Execution, Death, Burial

Holy Saturday = Hiding and Fear on earth, Harrowing and Liberation in Limbo

Easter Sunday = Resurrection, Revelation to Mary Magdalene, Reunion

Tonight at Holy Thursday Mass the Catholic Church celebrates the institution of two sacraments: the Eucharist (the transubstantiated meal of the Body and Blood) and Holy Orders (the ordained priesthood).

Tonight I will be celebrating in my own way at a church where, in the Catholic understanding, neither of these sacraments is present.

I believe I mentioned, lo, these two years or so ago, what I called The Great Choir Massacre of '07, with the promise that I would tell the story. I have never been able to make myself do that, because it remained (and remains) too painful, or at least too exhausting.

Fear not -- by "massacre" I do not mean that anyone died. Just that there was a violent rupture in my religious practice, and in my relationship of trust and friendship with a community of priests, via the dissolution of a choir and its replacement by an unwelcome, unexplained, and so far unsuccessful new musical regime.
Something died, but it was not coporeal.

Recovery from this rupture was slow, and so far incomplete. If recovery means forgiveness that may be achieved -- if it means forgetting, well, it is hard to "unknow" unpleasant and unlooked-for truths and disillusionments about people.

The dissolved choir went in various directions, and after the reverberations of shock had subsided, re-formed itself for seasonal gigs in other places, much appreciated by nursing home residents and others.

For myself, as long as the actual music, collected in six different binders and comprising a repertoire of some 500 works, was stuffed away where I couldn't see it, I began to manage my emotions (with a little pharmaceutical help!) and get back to an even keel on this tender subject. But the minute the music comes out, in preparation for one of our independent gigs, I am overcome, sick with sadness and longing for that deepest of spiritual engagements I was fortunate (and always grateful) to have experienced for seven years.

Last Easter we (the spousal unit and I, he not being a choir member but a fan of the former regime) bolted to Texas to experience an entirely new and different Triduum, out of the environment where we would feel the vacuum so acutely. This Easter, for tonight at least, we go our separate ways -- he to some Catholic Mass or other not at our parish (if "our" parish it still is -- it often doesn't feel that way), and I deprive myself of the Catholic observance altogether by singing for the Anglicans.

Well, I suppose it isn't an "altogether" insofar as the music we will sing -- treasures of the Counter-Reformation and Flemish Renaissance, amongst others -- are entirely Catholic in origin but under-appreciated in too many Catholic churches of the modern age. For me, tonight, there will be no genuine priests presiding, nor genuine Eucharist to partake in, but a schismatic parody thereof, however sincere may be the Christian philosophy of the congregation. So this will be Holy Thursday intra cor meum -- in my heart -- lifted by the music I have ached to sing, and which had come nearly to define the Triduum for me -- certainly to have enriched it more intensely than I had ever known before.

There are times when I can hardly believe I was so privileged as to spend my Easter singing these works. Perhaps the day will come again, in my own church, surrounded by my friends again. Cum dolore langueo.


Summa Contra Improbos said...

How sad and how all too common to be driven out of one's "home" by the the replacement of holy words, music and song by irreverent noise more remeniscent of a county fair than a Catholic church. Happily, there is always a refuge of sanity within the Catholic Church where the faithful can regenerate. I find my refuge in the Maronite Rite. No guitars or rock songs here. Prayerful hymns often sung in the language spoken by Our Lord. You will again be able to sing in your own church. "The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it". He did not say Hell wouldn't try!

Winefred said...

Oddly, what happened in my church was not the replacement of motets by motor music, but by a dreary, funereal, "Catholic kitsch" approach to Gregorian chant. Furthermore, the new regime pastes Tridentine elements into a Novus Ordo framework, which DOES NOT work (and which is, I believe, illicit). Hymns and congregational participation in general have been decimated and the Mass turned into a dull dog's breakfast of styles, often with texts that are not those of the day. This was accomplished with the brutally un-Christian firing of the former director, who was replaced by a strange little man who set conditions that were both unpleasant and, in the case of people with young children, impossible for members of the former choir to meet (despite our having been promised continuity by our priestly "friends"). It's nice to know that Catholic institutional dysfunctionality is not limited to the Vatican or the American Catholic college system.

I have enjoyed (and sung for) the Tridentine Missa Cantata, but never stopped being part of what was once a beautiful family Mass attended by many close friends. Our parish Tridentine Mass continues (without me -- and apparently with success), which is all the pastoral princes were concerned with. The new maestro is then free to conduct whatever composing and pastiching experiments he cares to do at the the expense of the not-so-family Mass. I much preferred being a sheep of their flock to a liturgical lab-rat in their musical maze. Singing for the apostates was no substitute for the ancien regime, but restorative to my soul nevertheless.