I Have Cried Out to You, O Lord!

Update: I wrote the choir/music director telling him how beautiful the choir always is but was especially for this (it’s important to compliment the good aspects of your parish often so people know they are doing a great job…don’t be shy!).  He responded with heartfelt appreciation and said how he thinks it’s funny many people ask for the De Profundis at their wedding which then he and the pastor need to explain why it wouldn’t be appropriate because it would be like saying “Lord, save me from the abyss of suffering that I’m going to enter after marrying this person.” HAH!


That which is beautiful is often written about on this blog, including music. As a true fan of all music genres (from the Philadelphia Philharmonic to Phish) I appreciate music which is perfect for the given situation. This, of course, means no pop music at Mass just as acappela would be poorly suited for exercise. Catholicism has perhaps the richest claim to music heritage in the world and formed some of the greatest composers man has ever heard.

Being Catholic, it’s a shame more parishes don’t dig deeper (or at all) into the treasure trove of sacred music available to them for music within the Mass. Too often parishes opt for (wannabe) pop music or banal 1970’s hymns. Luckily more parishes are reclaiming their lineage of transcendent sacred music…music which opens the soul and fixates one’s gaze up towards heaven.  Luckily I go to a parish which cares about such things.

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During the collect at Mass, the very talented choir, in the newly painted choir loft and nave, launched into a rendition of Antonio Salieri’s (1750-1825) De Profundis (Psalm 130). Me, being relatively new revert, was not familiar with it. It was one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard in a church. It highlighted the importance of sacred music at Mass; the effect was an immediate openness to prayer. It’s known that the three marks of divinity, God, is that which is beautiful, good, or truthful and it was as if angels carried down this beautiful mark of God themselves like a silk rope connecting heaven and earth. Forgive me for the hyperbole but the amount this penitential psalm moved me is hard to convey. I was reflective the entire day because of it, it helped transform the entire Sunday into something beautiful.

Deo gratias for the liturgical revival that is happening across the country and all that comes with it, including our ever-so rich history of beautiful music!

Listen to a similar rendition, although this video doesn’t do any justice to experiencing it live while the Mass is happening in front of you:

Latin
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

English
From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?
For with you is forgiveness; and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord.
My soul has stood by his word.
My soul has hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch, even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

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In Defense of Beauty

It’s said that the three marks of the divine–that which is transcendent–is beauty, goodness, and truth. That which is beautiful, good, or truthful points towards God. This is why Catholic churches have traditionally been built with rich artwork and soaring architecture.

Modern society is at battle with these marks of transcendence. Not only is popular culture seeking to make goodness and truth relative, it also seeks to destroy beauty in favor of efficiency. We see examples of this with the literal destruction of beauty in Catholic churches across the country: high altars ripped down, intricate altar rails thrown away, detailed stained glass imagery replaced by abstract colors, beautiful vestments replaced by schlocky polyester sheets, and many more examples. Secular life has many examples too; most modern buildings favor high-efficiency materials to produce cookie-cutter strip malls dotting our roads, deep and meaningful music, artwork, and literature exists but seems to be harder and harder to find. Gone are the days when someone who cherished authentic beauty in society is to be regarded civilized.

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The soul’s longing for beauty may be hard to easily satisfy in today’s world but those who seek to live a counter-cultural, authentic, better and joyful life need to try. One must ask of everything surrounding their life, “does this reflect goodness, truth, or beauty”? It’s not the most efficient way of living, but it does produce better results. This point is reflected over and over by Rod Dreher in his book Crunchy Cons, “beauty is more important than efficiency”:

Appreciation of aesthetic quality–that is, beauty–is not a luxury, but key to the good life

In my now-heightened awareness of the lack of beauty plaguing both our churches and culture, I found the recent article by Paul Krause particularly edifying. He more eloquently states the same point while citing ancient thinkers such as Cicero and Platinus and their impact on classic Christian philosophy. These notions were once obvious to Christians. This unfortunately is no longer.

What’s hopeful, however, is the recent “re-renovations” of previously destroyed churches, the formation of architectural firms specializing in traditional beauty, and priests interested in offering reverent Masses (especially the TLM).

Quoting only parts from A Defense of Beauty and Excellence from the Classical Tradition (emphases mine):

There are many serious problems facing moderns, but one of the most troubling—and worrying—is the loss and degradation of beauty, not just in the arts, but in society as a whole. Classical Greek philosophy, to which Catholic philosophy largely inherited and preserved, maintained that beauty and morality were intertwined with one another. When Christianity began to spread, the Christian encounter with Greek philosophy was largely positive. However, over the last two centuries, the widening chasm between aesthetics and virtue, and the postmodern assertion that aesthetics is oppressive (and therefore needing deconstruction), has brought immeasurable harm to culture and society.

Culture means life. And for life to be truly flourishing in a teleological sense, Greek, Roman, traditional Jewish and Christian philosophy, always affirmed beauty as an integral aspect of the good life. In his masterpiece, Enneads, Plotinus opened his most famous section—on beauty—by writing, “Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for the hearing too, as in certain combinations of words and in all kinds of music, for melodies and cadences are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above the realm of sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in the conduct of life, in actions, in character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is the beauty of the virtues. What loftier beauty there may be, yet, our argument will bring to light.”

More…

[Plotinus stated] “Then again, all the virtues are a beauty of the soul, a beauty authentic beyond any of these others.”… As Plotinus explains, the ugly lacks a proper cultivation of reason, torn by lust and discord, lashes out and destroys beauty in the process—which also destroys harmony. It is interesting to note that Plotinus associated the ugly soul with the person preoccupied with only material things.

Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arête. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.

Cicero equally noted that people in their folly, are prone to destroy things beautiful and admirable. Nihilism is the end result of anti-intellectualism and relativism, not just the mere absence of values but the abject negation—destruction—of beauty and values.

The quote above is great. Relativism of beauty, truth, and goodness has an end result of not just the simple absence of each mark but a destruction of each. What did we see bishops and priests do in the 70’s? They didn’t just simply start making ugly new churches, they quite literally destroyed the beauty of old churches. The “art” that replaced traditional sacred art in many suburban parishes are kitschy felt banners and horrendously cheesy guitar music. Gross.

It is the inheritance of the classical marriage of aesthetics and moral excellence that had historically been a cornerstone of not just Catholic philosophy, but Western philosophy more generally—inspiring all aspects of culture: art, music, engineering, and literature, to reflect the highest excellence demanded of beauty itself. And in that beauty there exists an irresistible draw for the virtuous to defend all that is beautiful. The compulsion to defend the beautiful, itself, reflects the moral excellence of the person.

…in Confessions, Augustine stated that reading Virgil and Cicero had brought him to belief in God. Beauty is the brilliance of truth, and as Augustine said, “All truth belongs to God.” And we know where that road ultimately ends.

We all should start discerning what is beautiful in our homes and lives. Then we should slowly start surrounding our minds, bodies, and souls not only with what is truthful and good but also is beautiful. ☩

Pope Francis: “Renewal” of Sacred Music needed after decades of “Mediocrity”

Choir for the papal general audience Nov. 14, 2012, in Paul VI Hall.
Don’t they want more bongo drums in St. Peter’s Basilica?

Ahhhhh, some comments out of the Vatican that don’t require peeking between fingers clenching your face as you read. Speaking to a conference on the 50th anniversary of the document concerning liturgical music following the Second Vatican Council, Musicam Sacramthe Holy Father “recognized that sacred music had often suffered since the Council. Isn’t he right!

Quoting from the Register further:

The instruction set out four types of sacred music: “Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony in its various forms, both ancient and modern, sacred music for the organ and other approved instruments, and sacred popular music, be it liturgical or simply religious.”

In his remarks, Pope Francis highlighted that sacred music has suffered in modernity: “At times, a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed, to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of liturgical celebrations.”

Musicians, composers, conductors and singers in scholae cantorum, he said, “can make a precious contribution to the renewal” of sacred music, he said, while also highlighting the need for “appropriate musical formation” of the faithful, including seminarians, to accompany their contributions.

::golf clap::

Yes, many parishes with…modern…leaning music directors wrongly assume that for their “ministry” to be “relevant” in today’s culture they must imitate either popular music (to horrible and cringeworthy results) or regurgitate protestant hymns frozen in the 70s. Holy Mass is known for inspiring the music of Mozart, Beethovan, and so much more. So why do parishes so rarely use the treasures of our history and Tradition: classical chant, polyphony and instrumentals? It’s like The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC only displaying Calvin & Hobbes comic strips…actually, no, it would be like displaying comic strips that no one outside of the museum would ever want to read in on their own time. Show me guitars, maracas, and On Eagles Wings and I will show you a dwindling and unenthusiastic congregation. Show me authentically sacred music, and you will likely find a vibrant congregation full of people of all ages.

Thank you Pope Francis from making even a tiny comment about this issue. ☩

Eric Clapton & Pavarotti Blow Down Doors for Mary

‘Christian Rock’ is a genre of music I typically avoid. Aside from the term alone having a strong stench of cheesy American protestantism, the music typically flat out sucks. As a true lover of all kinds of music, especially rock, I typically state that ‘Christian rock’ doesn’t make Christianity better, it makes rock worse.

However, when authentic Christian themes are built into fantastic instrumentals, led by extremely talented musicians (let alone a guitar god), the results can be stunning on both the musical and spiritual level.

Dr. Taylor Marshall posted today on Eric Clapton and The Princess Bride. He included a video of a live performance of Clapton’s Marian ballad “Holy Mother”. Sitting in was opera legend Luciano Pavarotti. The combination of Clapton’s confident swagger on guitar with Pavarotti’s powerful vocals isn’t to be missed. As the song leaves the typically composed lyrical section, Clapton takes the lead by lacing the vocal refrain of Pavarotti with some stunning guitar work. Check it out:

Another great song to check out is “Presence of the Lord” with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood (not to mention Derrick Trucks, a personal favorite). Halfway through the song, the composition changes tempo from a slower ballad to a heavy blues-rock jam, with Clapton laying on the wah pedal, highlighting his darting leads before mellowing back into its ballad format. What a great way to start the week, enjoy!