Father let this chalice pass from me

Classical Catholic Education

The Fourth century saint and doctor of the church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, has a lovely insight – or perhaps I should say – a somewhat different take on Our Lord’s prayer in the garden.

And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Saint Hilary “the Hammer of the Arians” does not interpret the passage in the usual way. Granted that Sacred Scripture is manifold in its meaning as St. Augustine points out in his De Doctrina Christiana

The usual way to interpret the passage (which is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but not in John!) is that this prayer demonstrates that Christ was not only true God but he was also true man.

True, there are many passages in Scripture where…

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Did Jesus Really Become Sorrowful?

See, O Lord, and consider, for I am become vile… O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow:

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Thus Jeremiah laments at the time of the Babylonian captivity, nonetheless, we Christians, hear his words prophetically – as if uttered by Our Lord Himself on the cross.

“Is there any sorrow like to my sorrow”?

The answer, of course, is no! There is no sorrow like unto the sorrow of Our Lord.

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St. Thomas Aquinas considers the question “Whether the pain of Christ’s passion was greater than all other pains?”

To make a long story short he says, basically, “Yes, it was.”

But what about the inner movements of the sensitive appetite which we call the passions? Granted that Christ suffered the greatest pain physically, did he also suffer sorrow and fear in a more intense way than anybody else?

Was the sorrow of Christ greater than all other sorrow? Is there any sorrow that is greater than our Lord’s sorrow?

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Before we answer that question, I think it is fair to ask, in what manner did Our Lord sorrow?

I know that it would appear obvious that Our Lord experienced sorrow. In St. Matthew’s passion narrative we read,

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

Then saith he unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”

How are we to understand this?

Answering, the great fourth century Doctor of the Church, Saint Hillary comments,

These words, He began to be sorrowful and very heavy, are interpreted by heretics that fear of death assailed the Son of God, being (as they allege) neither begotten from eternity, nor existing in the Father’s infinite substance, but produced out of nothing by Him who created all things; and that hence He was liable to anguish of grief, and fear of death. And He who can fear death can also die; and He who can die, though He shall exist after death, yet is not eternal through Him who begot Him in past time.

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Many would interpret the sorrow of our Lord as a fear of death. Fear and sorrow are certainly connected in so far as we fear that thing which will cause us sorrow should we encounter it and, heaven forbid, if we should have the misfortune of obtaining or possessing the object of our fear.

Hillary continues,

I suppose that there are some who offer here no other cause of His fear than His passion and death. I ask those who think thus, whether it stands with reason that He should have feared to die, who banished from the Apostles all fear of death, and exhorted them to the glory of martyrdom?

How can we suppose Him to have felt pain and grief in the sacrament of death, who rewards with life those who die for Him? And what pangs of death could He fear, who came to death of the free choice of His own power? And if His Passion was to do Him honour, how could the fear of His Passion make Him sorrowful?

I love Saint Hillary!

Our Lord was not afraid to die. It is ridiculous to assert that He, for whom the love of so many saints impelled the joyful embrace of martyrdom, was Himself afraid or sad about His own death. Our Lord was not sorrowful because he had to undergo his passion. He was not sorrowful about accomplishing his own mission.

Well then, how was it that he was sorrowful?

 Again Hillary points us in the right direction.

Since then we read that the Lord was sorrowful, let us discover the causes of His agony. He had forewarned them all that they would be offended, and Peter that he would thrice deny his Lord; and taking him and James and John, He began to be sorrowful. Therefore He was not sorrowful till He took them, but all His fear began after He had taken them; so that His agony was not for Himself, but for them whom He had taken.

Our Lord was sorrowful not on his own account but rather on account of those whom He loved.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas adds significantly to our discussion in his question about Whether Christ’s soul was passable?

One significant reason why we suffer is because we are subject, in a greater or lesser extent, to our passions. (from the Latin patior, pati, passus- to suffer.)

St. Thomas says,

We must know that the passions were in Christ otherwise than in us, in three ways. First, as regards the object, since in us these passions very often tend towards what is unlawful, but not so in Christ.

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Christ endured no appetite for something which was contrary to His reason. He was not attracted to anything sinful or unlawful.

Secondly, as regards the principle, since these passions in us frequently forestall the judgment of reason; but in Christ all movements of the sensitive appetite sprang from the disposition of the reason. Hence Augustine says that “Christ assumed these movements, in His human soul, by an unfailing dispensation, when He willed; even as He became man when He willed.”

This is important. In Christ we find the perfect order of reason that God created in Adam. Everything in Christ, with regard to his humanity, was subject to His reason as to a first principle. This is not my experience! I find myself moved in many directions long before my reason has had time to catch up and make a belated attempt to reinistill some kind of order.

He allowed the beginnings, the seed, of sorrow to manifest itself but not the full flower.

This is why Saint Jerome says,

Our Lord therefore sorrowed to prove the reality of the Man which He had taken upon Him; but that passion might bear no sway in His mind, “He began to be sorrowful” by pro-passion for it is one thing to be sorrowful, and another to be very sorrowful.

And finally Saint John Damascene confirms this by saying,

Wherefore the passions of our nature were in Christ both by nature and beyond nature. By nature, because He left His flesh to suffer the things incidental to it; beyond nature, because these natural emotions did not in Him precede the will. For in Christ nothing befell of compulsion, but all was voluntary; with His will He hungered, with His will He feared, or was sorrowful.

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Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Music?

A choir loft is a good place to get a whole view of what is going on at Mass. In fact, it is the only place in a Church where a bird’s-eye view is possible. Of course it is mostly a bird’s-eye view of the back of people’s heads. But from my lofty position as Music Director, I do get a sense for the makeup of the various congregations that come to Mass five times each weekend.

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At my parish, unsurprisingly, there are people from various socio-economic classes and various ethnicities. There appears to be a fairly even distribution of men and women. Although predominantly white and of Italian, Irish and Eastern European descent, our parish also has members who are Asian, African American, Jamaican and, undoubtedly, members of other ethicities as well. With regard to age I see both young and old in the pews, but there are, on average, an assortment of folks who are on the more mature side of life.

Demography is not my strong suit, but to my parochial vision I can see that our parish is not homogenous.

Now when I read Sacrosanctum Concilium , which is of course the primary governing document set forth by the Second Vatican Council concerning sacred liturgy, I am particularly mindful of the passage that reads,

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.

Thus, as Music Director, it is my task to choose music that encourages the full and active participation by all the people.

What is the Director of Music to do? What music should I choose that encourages all the people to engage in full and active participation?

Now, as I have said elsewhere, my procedure in choosing music is to simply choose my favorite hymns Sunday after Sunday. Naturally, I try to make my selections as appropriate for the Mass as possible depending on the time and season and what the readings and Gospel are about. Interestingly, I find that my favorite hymns appear to be appropriate for almost every Sunday of the year.

But it does strike me that the vast majority of hymns in the majority of missalettes or hymnals that are prevalent in our churches contain music that are mostly appealing to people from a specific ethnicity.

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Granted that most hymnals appear to make an attempt to contain a smattering of hymns designed to appeal individually to a variety of ethnic groups, there is a tacit admission that no one hymn is meant for everybody.  For example, every hymnal has at least a couple of “Spirituals” (e.g. There is a Balm in Gilead and Amazing Grace), and perhaps one or two Polish, Italian, or Irish hymns. Nonetheless, it is pretty obvious to me that the bulk of the music is aimed at a white Western-European crowd. I myself gravitate to English and German protestant hymns like Holy, Holy, Holy and Now Thank We all our God. But I really can’t say how my own preferences appeal to the Hispanic or Vietnamese parishioner in the pew.

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For the most part, the hymns, the Mass settings, and the whole musical experience that ordinary Catholics encounter from Sunday to Sunday is not an experience that we could call universally appealing.

Go Make a Difference might appeal to a young person whereas Holy God We Praise Thy Name might appeal to an older person.

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Lift High the Cross and A Mighty Fortress might appeal more to one, whereas You Are Mine and Shepherd Me, O God might appeal to another. I may have these all backwards, but I am certain that the person who loves Holy God is a different person than the one who loves Christ Be Our Light.

Here is the obvious question: For a Church which calls itself Catholic-which is a Greek word that means universal or whole or all embracing-ought there not be a corresponding music?

Ought there not be Catholic music?

Given the significance of music in the Mass (i.e. music is an “integral part” or pars integrans), one would think that the Catholic church would have a music peculiar to itself. One would think the Catholic church would have a unique music that excelled in catholicity, that is, one would think that the Catholic church would be known by a music that distinguished itself by the qualities of universality and all-embracingness.

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Does it seem a little strange that the musical experience of the majority of Catholics is anything but this? The musical experience is quite definitely ‘parochial’ or ‘provinical’, which are words that signify something quite the opposite of ‘catholic.’

Now, I am not saying that there is no place for a good ol’ fashioned hymn with a decidedly Anglo-Saxon or Germanic tilt. Nor am I saying that there is not a place for a “Spiritual” or perhaps even an Irish hymn on Saint Patrick’s Day.

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But shouldn’t the music at Mass be marked by a universality that characterizes the church itself?

Well, as it turns out, the church does have a music that is universal. And it is universal because it belongs precisely to no one.

It is a music that is written in a language that nobody speaks.

It is a music written by composers that are of unknown ethnicity.

It is a music that does not even appear to belong to a particular time.

It is a music that belongs equally to all because it belongs to no one except to the Church and this music is called … Gregorian Chant.

Gregorian Chant is the music of the church. Gregorian chant is catholic music in the literal meaning of the word.

No wonder that Sacrosanctum Concilium asserts,

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

Gregorian Chant is the music that is suitable par excellence to the Mass. It is completely unique and is a music that belongs unmistakably to the Catholic Church.

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I think it is safe to say that Gregorian Chant is the only music that might qualify as a possible candidate for being universal.

As a matter of fact, I would even assert that it is the only music that does not impose a specific national ethnicity on the one who sings it; Gregorian chant is not Celtic, it is not Italian, it is not Anglo, it is not German, it is not Eastern European. In my view, Gregorian Chant makes everyone equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) and that is because it does not belong to this or that tribe or family. It is the distinct music of the Catholic Church.

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Gregorian Chant is the only music that can properly (and strictly) be called Catholic music.

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Is the Four-Hymn Mass What the Church Really Wants?

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary Musicam Sacram !Image result for fiftieth anniversary

What is Musicam Sacram?

Published on March 5th, 1967, Musicam Sacram is the official Instruction on Music issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Musicam Sacram is the document that was most responsible for the sweeping changes in the liturgical music that ordinary Catholics have experienced over the last fifty years.

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Let me quote the main passage of this important document so that you get the idea. In paragraph 4 we read (and I have emboldened the more significant concepts):

It is to be hoped that pastors of souls, musicians and the faithful will gladly accept these norms and put them into practice, uniting their efforts to attain the true purpose of sacred music, “which is to make the musicians and the congregation feel good-and to make them feel religiously connected with one another”.

(a) By sacred music is understood that which – in any way shape or form – is thought to be sacred or religious or is in any way significant to anyone present.

(b) The following 8 hymns comprise the church’s entire treasury of sacred Music. Be Not Afraid, On Eagles Wings, Here I am Lord, One Bread One Body, Christ Be Our Light, Table of Plenty, City of God, and Glory and Praise to Our God. These 8 hymns are to be given pride of place and to be used exclusively as they are sufficient for every liturgical celebration throughout the liturgical year.

(c) In order to promote the full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful at Mass, the music need include only four hymns:

  1. an entrance hymn
  2. an offertory hymn
  3. a communion hymn
  4. a recessional hymn

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A suitable setting for the ordinary of the Mass may also be used, (e.g. Mass of Creation) but the use of any one of the 18 or so Gregorian settings from antiquity is strictly prohibited except in those cases where dire necessity requires and with the consent of the local ordinary.

(d) Gregorian Chant and works of sacred polyphony are no longer deemed appropriate for liturgical use. In addition Pastors of souls should take care to encourage a greater use of the piano and the guitar while simultaneously discouraging the use of the pipe organ as much as possible.

Well, there you have it. Sounds good?

In actuality,  Musicam Sacram promotes a completely different view concerning sacred music; it represents a continuation of the church’s perennial teaching about sacred music and deserves to be implemented.

Musicam Sacram promotes and encourages the idea that music is an integral part of the liturgy – which assertion was promoted by the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

“112. The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral (necessariam vel integralem) part of the solemn liturgy.”

This same point has been repeated both prior to Vatican II (1958 Instruction on Sacred Music) and since: John Paul II points out the continuity in this teaching from Pius X to Vatican II in the opening paragraphs of the Chirograph for the Centenary of the Motu Proprio “Tra Le Sollecitudine” On Sacred Music.

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Benedict XVI has underlined the concept as well.

And Musicam Sacram spells out clearly what the purpose of Sacred Music is right in its fourth paragraph, which I incorrectly (and I hope not irreverently) cited before.

4. It is to be hoped that pastors of souls, musicians and the faithful will gladly accept these norms and put them into practice, uniting their efforts to attain the true purpose of sacred music, “which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.“[1]

(a) By sacred music is understood that which, being created for the celebration of divine worship, is endowed with a certain holy sincerity of form.[2]

(b) The following come under the title of sacred music here: 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.[3]

and later Musicam Sacram says,

47. According to the Constitution on the Liturgy, “the use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.”[30]

….Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular “the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.“[33]

And from the mouths of the Fathers themselves, as expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium (from which Musicam Sacram had its genesis):

Sacrosanctum concilium

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

And so there we have it.

As good, obedient, and faithful Catholics we are bound to listen to Holy Mother Church in her instruction. She is Mater and Magistra isn’t she?

Now guess what the church says about the way that music should be approached at a Mass? It says there are three degrees of music and we are to incorporate music in the Mass according to each degree, starting with the first and then adding the second and then adding the third, with each subsequent degree incorporating the prior.

Here are the degrees where music is to take place:

29. The following belong to the first degree:

(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.

(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.

(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

30. The following belong to the second degree:

(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;

(b) the Creed;

(c) the prayer of the faithful.

31. The following belong to the third degree:

(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;

(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;

(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;

(d) the song at the Offertory;

(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

Do you see that? Where are those four hymns?


By golly, those four hymns are all contained in the third and last degree of the music that the Church wants sung at the Mass!

For heavens sake, they appear to be the very last in priority. And these four hymns are not even supposed to be included unless the music from the first two degrees have been incorporated.

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I don’t want to get too worked up about this but I find it scarcely credible. You and I go to Mass (and I am not going to mention that I am a Director of Music!) and what is our experience of sacred music for the most part (excluding you people out there at Clear Creek Abbey!)?

Our experience is precisely that Sacred Music signifies four hymns! I suppose we also might experience a frenetically sung Glory to God in the Highest and a Holy, Holy, Holy and a Lamb of God.

But for the most part you and I do not hear the Gregorian chant propers which in fact ought to be the normative music.

Did you know that there are already big thick books (i.e. Graduale Romanum and The Liber Usualiswith beautifully inspired chant melodies written specifically for every Mass and for every part of the mass?

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Did you know that these chants were specifically designed (and undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Spirit!) for each day in the liturgical calendar?

In other words, all the music for every liturgy has already been planned out down to the smallest detail long before anyone of us was born!

And this music is supposed to belong to everyone! Sacred Music is not just for those who dwell behind the cloistered walls of the monastery. Gregorian Chant belongs to everbody! It is our inheritance!

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Musicam Sacram, as if confirming that the chant propers are the normative music, does make mention of the use of other music as being mercifully allowed but with the permission of the local ordinary.

32. The custom legitimately in use in certain places and widely confirmed by indults, of substituting other songs for the songs given in the Graduale for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion, can be retained according to the judgment of the competent territorial authority, as long as songs of this sort are in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast or with the liturgical season. It is for the same territorial authority to approve the texts of these songs.

So the Church, in her solicitude for the needs of all, allows the faithful to do certain things which, although are not the norm, might still be in the realm of the acceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy imposing my own excellent musical taste on the parish where I serve as Director of Music. Here, in fact – right off the top of my head – are my favorite hymns:

  1. Come Holy Ghost
  2. Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow
  3. Holy God
  4. Holy, Holy, Holy
  5. Now Thank We All our God
  6. O God Beyond All Praising
  7. Alleluia Sing to Jesus
  8. Jesus Christ is Risen Today
  9. Hail Holy Queen
  10. Immaculate Mary

I can think of another ten that I like equally as much. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, For All the Saints, On Jordan’s Bank,  Praise to The Lord, Crown Him With Many Crowns, Lift High The Cross, Be Thou My Vision, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, The Strife is O’er, and Faith of Our Fathers. 

Notice that every one of these hymns has a strophic, masculine, uplifting and unambiguous message. As an organist, I like to pull out the stops and play full organ and imagine that the entire congregation is singing and bring down the ceiling so to speak. Actually, to be perfectly honest, given the age of some of our churches I am just a little worried sometimes that the ceiling will come down (or the chandeliers!) so this consideration tends to quiet my organ down a little.

As Director of Music, my job has been mainly to  take the 25 or so hymns that I like and work out a mathematical permutation whereby the entire liturgical year is filled with four of these hymns every week but in a slightly different order, such that the congregation might not figure out that we are really just singing the same hymns again and again and again.

The young and energetic, and, in my view, brilliant Archbishop Sample of the Diocese of Portland, Oregon, made the following comments in an interview with Catholic World Report a number of years ago:

“It is clear that the Council calls for the liturgy to be sung. In recent decades we’ve adopted the practice of singing songs at Mass. We take the Mass, and attach four hymns or songs to it. But this is not the Church’s vision. We need to sing the Mass. It is meant to be sung. The texts of the Mass are meant to be sung.

The Church provides us with chant, which is integral to liturgy, and should inspire the music of the Mass. We need to get away from singing songs at Mass and return to singing the Mass. And Gregorian chant is best suited to the Mass.”

What better way to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Musicam Sacram than to start singing the music that the Church instructs us to sing!

And why not sing the music that She prefers rather than simply always opting for the music that She allows?

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The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well: Who Were Those Five Husbands?

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The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent offers a special little gem for the classically minded church-goer. As Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, He tells her that the water in the well will only bring a limited satisfaction.

Whosoever drinketh of this water, shall thirst again; but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever: But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting. The woman saith to him: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.

I am no scripture scholar, but it’s clear to me that the water that Our Lord is speaking about here is not some kind of physical or sensible water. He is not speaking about H2O.  He is clearly referring to something else; something like the waters of Baptism. Or perhaps he is referring to the gift of faith itself under the figure of water. It is through Faith that the believer springs up to life everlasting.

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The Samaritan woman does not necessarily understand this, but nonetheless desires this special water. But then Our Lord makes this rather strange request:

Jesus saith to her: Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered, and said: I have no husband. Jesus said to her: Thou hast said well, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband.

My knowledge of the customs of the Samaritans is limited. How is it that the woman at Jacob’s well had five husbands? Perhaps each husband successively died? Either that or this woman was a sort of scriptural pre-cursor to Elizabeth Taylor?

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In addition, the shocking revelation of the number of husbands that this Samaritan woman has had sort of covers up what appears to be a strange request by Our Lord in the first place. Why does he say “Go, call thy husband”? Why do we suddenly need the woman’s husband?

But the answer to this particular question is not quite as interesting to the hearer as the simple revelation that this woman has had five husbands!

It’s not everyday that one meets a man who has had five wives, much less a woman who has had five husbands!

I confess I find it scarcely credible that anyone could have that many spouses.

Now I remember that when interpreting scripture one is always supposed to start with the literal meaning. The other figurative meanings have their foundation in the literal meaning.

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So I am ready to simply take Our Lord’s word for it that this woman did in fact have five husbands. She, on the other hand, appears to be very impressed by His knowledge of this and immediately says,

Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

And later she tells her fellow townspeople,

Come, and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ?

So, again, I suppose we need to simply assent to the simple fact that the Samaritan woman has had five husbands. Perhaps her husbands were each a little like the water in Jacob’s well; stagnant, dull and unsatisfying. Hence she keeps going back to the “well” to draw up another one.

But I don’t think we should be satisfied with only the literal meaning of the Gospel in this instance. Five husbands are just too unusual to let it pass that easily.

Here are two figurative accounts of these five husbands that I find very satisfying.

The first is explained by the Catholic apologist Gary Michuta  who points out the fascinating fact that the Samaritan woman’s “matrimonial history” has an uncanny “parallel in the religious history of Samaria” itself .

Samaria was once part of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had broken off from the Davidic Kingdom…The king of Assyria brought pagans into Samaria to settle there (1 Kings 17:24).

Interestingly enough, 1 Kings 17:30-31 tells us there were five groups that settled there, each worshipping their own pagan gods: The Babylonians worshipped Marduk; the men of Cuth worshipped Nergal; the men of Avva worshipped Nibhaz and Tartak; the men of Sepharvaim worshipped their city gods; and King Hadad worshipped Anath.

Even though the Israelites were joined in covenant to the one true God, they intermarried with these foreigners and adopted their worship and practices. This is why the Jews wouldn’t have anything in common with Samaritans — because their assimilation with these pagans had defiled them. Samaria, like the woman at the well, had five husbands and was estranged from her true husband.

Now this is very revealing! Scales are falling from my eyes!

It makes abundant sense that Our Lord was referring to these false gods as husbands. How often does Our Lord compare his relation to the church through the image of the bridegroom? Christ is the husband of His bride the church. So of course, the five husbands might fittingly refer to Samaria’s unfortunate “marriages” to five false gods.

For our second figurative interpretation let us turn to Saint Augustine. It was through reading his book On the Interpretation of Scripture , that I first gained a sense for the many layers of wisdom contained in the Scriptures. It was there that I learned the principle rule of interpretation, namely the “rule of charity.” Scripture should not be interpreted in a way that contradicts any other part of Scripture. Or more positively, we ought to be open to reasonable interpretations of scripture as long as they do not contradict other doctrines or interpretations that have already been set forth.  Additionally, if I remember correctly, Saint Augustine seems to have a particular fondness towards making sense of numbers in scripture. I know there are some who downplay numbers in the Bible – and I suppose many get carried away with their numerological interpretations – but if examining numbers seriously in scripture was good enough for Augustine, then it is also good enough for me!

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So here is what Saint Augustine says about the five husbands (among other things).

Jesus seeing that the woman did not understand, and wishing to enlighten her, says, Call your husband; i.e. apply your understanding. For when the life is well-ordered, the understanding governs the soul itself, pertaining to the soul. For though it is indeed nothing else than the soul, it is at the same time a certain part of the soul.

Now that is a shock isn’t it? Saint Augustine appears to be suggesting that the rational ability that we have, the understanding, is fittingly called “husband” by Our Lord.

I am certain that Saint Augustine meant no offense with his reference to the understanding as the husband. I think he means something like what St Paul said when he says,

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

The head, of course, is often associated with thinking and I think it is safe to call it the seat of the understanding. Is that a safe assertion?

And so we needn’t dismiss Saint Augustine’s interpretation as merely an interpretation coming out of the patriarchal mindset that he undoubtedly had inherited through no fault of his own.

Rather it would appear, according to Saint Augustine, that beyond any actual husbands that the woman had, he was more concerned with the “husband” that is none other than the understanding part of the woman’s soul. Call that husband.

But more importantly,Saint Augustine gives us an insight into the nature of the human soul. The “well-ordered” soul might be seen as a sort of marriage between the understanding part of the soul and the soul itself. In other words, the soul might be said to have a part which governs, and this part we call the husband.

He continues:

And this very part of the soul which is called the understanding and the intellect, is itself illuminated by a light superior to itself. Such a Light was talking with the woman; but in her there was not understanding to be enlightened.

It seems to me that there is a sort of proportion here. As the understanding governs and instructs a person, so too should Christ Himself govern and instruct the understanding.

In other words, Christ is the bridegroom of the soul. Christ is the husband of the understanding soul.

Our Lord then, as it were, says, I wish to enlighten, and there is not one to be enlightened; Call your husband, i. e. apply your understanding, through which you must be taught, by which {you must be} governed.

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And now you are thinking, “What about those five husbands?”

Without missing the cue,Saint Augustine responds,

The five former husbands may be explained as the five senses, thus: a man before he has the use of his reason, is entirely under the government of his bodily senses. Then reason comes into action; and from that time forward he is capable of entertaining ideas, and is either under the influence of truth or error.

We are either under the governance of our reason, or under the governance of our senses. The senses of course, in a broader sense,  also include the so-called sensitive appetites otherwise known as the passions or the emotions.

We are either governed by our reason or by our passions.

And so our understanding soul, that which ought to govern, is called “husband” by our Lord. But when we are ruled by our appetites, then we have unsatisfying and even “dull” husbands. The senses are not quite as keen as the intellect. No wonder we would marry one after another.

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And when Our Lord says,

“and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband.”

He now refers to an even worse husband than the dull senses or passions. He is referring to the “husband” who is Error. Error might be called an “adulterer”, because the understanding soul ought to be wedded to the truth, the understanding soul ought to be wedded to Christ.

It clearly follows what Saint Augustine says next:

The woman had been under the influence of error, which error was not her lawful husband, but an adulterer. Wherefore our Lord says, Put away that adulterer which corrupts thee, and call your husband, that you may understand Me.

Posted in Augustine, Catena Aurea, classical education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Lent and Liberal Learning

Some things are never out of season and liberal education is one of them.

As a matter of fact the Holy season of Lent provides the Christian with an opportunity to focus on the first thing that anyone should know about Liberal education.

And what is the first thing that anyone should know about liberal education? It is, of course, that liberal education is the kind of education that specifically frees us from slavery!Image result for egyptian slavery

You see, no matter what else one wants to say about liberal education, there is just no getting around the fact that it has something to do with freedom.

Liberal education frees us; liberal education frees us from some things and it frees us for other things.

And isn’t that just what Lent is all about as well? Isn’t Lent a time when the Church asks us to voluntarily fast and abstain and undertake some kind of sacrificial practice in order to free ourselves from unnecessary attachments? We are asked to make a special effort to empty our lives of things that distract us from the Lord; perhaps an excessive attachment to food and chocolate; perhaps an attachment to a certain behavior. But whatever these things are, they are aptly figured in Holy Scripture under the image of slavery.

As the Israelites wandered forty years in the desert before entering the promised land, so too we Christians traverse the forty days of Lent (which might seem like 40 years to some of us depending on how attached we are!).

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Lent is a time when we are supposed to free ourselves from some things so that we might be free for other things.

Now liberal education, although not directly concerned with freeing us from the slavery to sin, is concerned with delivering us from other kinds of slavery. To be precise, liberal education frees us from four other kinds of slavery.

The first kind of slavery that it frees us from is the slavery to fashion.

1. The Slavery To Fashion

My favorite living philosopher defined this sort of fashion in this way:

Those are slaves of fashion who pursue (or read) what is fashionable because it is fashionable and cease doing what is no longer fashionable.

Those who do something simply because it is fashionable are slaves to fashion. Likewise, those who cease to do something simply because it is no longer fashionable are slaves to fashion.

I don’t think it is necessarily wrong to read books which are on the New York Times Best Sellers list. But if this list were the sole principle of one’s reading selections, then we would have to say that such a one was indeed a slave to fashion.

St Paul says (Philippians 4:8),

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.

He does not say,

….whatsoever is contained in the New York Times Best Sellers list…think on these things.

The fashionable has something to do with what is new. We tend to be interested in “the latest,” the latest fashions, the latest trends, the latest thinking.

But liberal education proposes the very opposite.

Liberal education suggests that we read what is old. It tells us to follow the tried and true. It advises us to follow those things which have passed “the test of time.”

Liberal education suggest that we read The Great Books of the Western World for starters.

Thus liberal education frees us from the slavery to fashion. It also frees us from the slavery to our passions.

2. The Slavery to Passion

Aristotle makes reference to this kind of slavery when in his Ethics he says that it is of no use teaching the science of Politics to the young because of the influence of their passions.

Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. and it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living and pursuing each successive object as passion directs.

Now, given the effects of original sin, the Christian needs lots of grace – lots of penance and a great deal of mortification to finally gain mastery of his unruly passions.  But liberal education can also make a significant contribution in this regard.

First, it is liberal education that proposes that every human being should make an attempt to live his life in accord with reason. For Aristotle, virtue consists in allowing reason, rather than something else like the passions, to direct our actions. Thus, liberal education teaches that our perfection requires that we should attempt to bring all our passions under the influence of reason. This is an important contribution- namely that reason should rule, not the passions.

Secondly, liberal education involves a method for bringing our passions under the control of reason-and this method involves something that Aristotle calls “catharsis.” Catharsis first signifies some kind of bodily cleansing or purgation. Such a physical catharsis might be brought about through exercise or perhaps through medicine. Liberal education offers a more spiritual cleansing- a cleansing for our passions. Liberal education proposes that we purge our passions through reading great works of fiction. Liberal education proposes that we cleanse our passions and imagination through exercising our minds and hearts on works of beauty, works of goodness, and works of truth!

We cannot simply repress or sublimate our passions. We need to feed our souls on the wholesome nourishment of good literature and the fine arts. We need to exercise our passions on objects that will allow them to operate in a measure which is eminently reasonable.


Well, among other things, we should read The Iliad.

We should sing Palestrina.

We should dance waltzes, act in Shakespearean plays and recite beautiful poetry.

Now it might take other things as well to bring the passions under the control of reason, but Liberal education does make a significant contribution towards this freedom.

Let us move on to the next kind of slavery that liberal education frees us from.

3. The Slavery to Custom

This is my favorite sort of slavery! One is a slave to custom when his principal reason for thinking a certain way or acting a certain way is because of custom rather than because it is true or good.

At some point we all need to examine our lives and our thinking. We need to examine our ideas and ask of each one of them “Do I think this because it is true, or do I think this because it is what I have always thought?”

For example, at some point, we might become aware of the fact that we think and act the way we do in great part because of

  1. the time in which we live
  2. the place or country that we inhabit
  3. the government under which we are ruled

Now it might be true that we do in fact live in the best possible time and in the best possible place and under the best possible form of government, but it is only a liberal education that requires us to examine these things and consider alternatives.

Liberal education requires us to read and discuss the ideas and governments and thoughts of those who lived in other lands, and in other times and who lived under different political systems. This kind of investigation cannot help but to allow us to engage in a critique of our own ideas and customs. This kind of investigation allows us to think and act the way we do not only because it is our customary way of thinking and acting – but because we have considered it in light of different customs.

4. Liberal Education Frees Us From the Slavery to Plain Old Error!

Erroneous thoughts lead to erroneous actions. The one who is in error must necessarily be a slave, to a certain extent, to those errors.

Take any church teaching concerning morals, and look to the dissenter. If someone dissents from a teaching concerning marriage, he will probably act accordingly. If he dissents from the church’s teaching concerning church attendance or the reception of the sacraments, he will most likely act accordingly.

But the dissenter could only be described as one who thinks and acts in the dark. His actions are those of a slave and not of a free person.

No wonder then that our Lord said, “The Truth shall make you free.”

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Liberal Education Makes us Free

Liberal education concerns itself almost entirely with reading the works of authors long dead in an attempt to preserve, or rather conserve, all that is best in literature and music and art. Liberal education is about reading and discussing the canon of authors to whom Western Civilization owes its origins. It is about immersing oneself in the very sources of civilization and holding fast to its elements and principles, to time-honored truths and traditions; to the vision of all those who contributed to civilization.

The end of liberal education is not first “to think for oneself,” but to know the truth. To know the truth that makes one free, this is the end of liberal education. Liber and libertas, in Latin, denote freedom, as opposed to servility and the servile. Liberal education is the education appropriate to free men and is a source of that freedom. Liberal education, this encounter with and conformity to the truth, frees man from enslavement to unruly passions, ignorance, current intellectual trends and public opinion. Once freed from these bonds, we might choose to live a good life, hold to the truth, and delight in beauty – not to please others or gain some practical reward, but simply because these things are good, or true, or beautiful. Once freed, we might even choose to serve others, as Christ did.

“And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.”

Why do we want a liberal education? Why, simply to make us free.

Posted in classical education, Fine Arts, Liberal Arts, liberal education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Improvident but Cheerful: A Defense of the Unplanned Family

When Benjamin Bunny grew up he married his cousin Flopsy. They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful…as there was not always quite enough to eat,- Benjamin used to borrow cabbages from Flopsy’s brother, Peter Rabbit, who kept a nursery garden.

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Thus begins Beatrix Potter’s famous “The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies.” Now I do not wish to be construed as one who supports those who break the Church’s holy law concerning consanguinity as an impediment to marriage. Nor do I want to accuse Benjamin Bunny of breaking this law, because it is not my understanding that it applies to rabbits as it does to human beings. But there is something about this passage that strikes me as right on the money. Especially the part about borrowing from one’s brother in law.

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Pope Francis has explicitly and compellingly stated that Catholics do not necessarily need to behave like rabbits,

God gives you methods to be responsible,  Some think that — excuse the word — that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No.

The way I figure it is that the Pope was showing a great deal of merciful concern for families when he said this…especially for families in third world countries where there is absolutely no food or water, but there is  an abundance of disease and death and ignorance and gang violence and extreme poverty and what not.

Should such people behave like rabbits?


But what I do know is that marriage is for the sake of children. In my apology to the Supreme Court of The United States of July 3, 2015 I defined marriage thus,

Marriage is a stable union, between a man and a woman, by mutual consent, for the sake of children.

It should be pointed out that when we say for the sake of children, we mean to include both the procreation and, even further, the liberal education of children. After all, it should be clear to everyone that the purpose of life is tied up with the proper cultivation of the mind and the heart.

Now the question is this: When a couple gets married, what should their view be concerning children?

The answer is: Stop planning!

Am I a providentialist? No! My advice is to just stop worrying about everything.

Just work hard and practice the faith and keep singing.

When I look around the pews at Sunday Mass it is evident to me that the effect of all that worry is fewer children.

Think of all those closed parishes (about 50 in my diocese).

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Think about all those merged and closed parochial  schools.

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Does anyone live in a diocese where massive school closure is not an issue?

Where are the children? Well, among other things, worry and careful planning has eliminated them.

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Now, I need to make a confession:

I hate planning. I always have. I don’t like calendars and I refuse to think about retirement.

The result: (and this is sort of the elephant in the room right now) Twelve children!

If I were smarter and enjoyed planning and worrying and calculating, I am quite certain that I would only have one child.

And so you might be chuckling right now thinking,

“It’s all well and good for you for the time being, but why don’t we wait another twenty years when you are thinking about retirement? Tell us then about how well your lack of planning has worked!”

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Ok…it is true. I probably should just keep quiet.

Solon, the great Athenian law giver, did say, “Call no man happy until he is dead.” By which I think he meant that we should reserve judgement about the success of a person’s life until we are in a position to make a judgement about the whole.

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My problem is that I will not be able to write this when I am dead. And so, aware of the risk, I am putting it out there right now while I am still “compos mentis” as they say.

Perhaps my advice is no good. Perhaps I will end up on the street homeless and too proud to beg. Perhaps I will one day wake up and say “Darn, I wish I didn’t have so many children!”

But I don’t think so.

Posted in ad libitum, beauty, Solon, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

The Secret to Beautiful Liturgy: Leave it to the Kids!

O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise…

Recently I attended a simple daily Mass along with 60 students in grades 6-12. Let’s see, that places them somewhere between the ages of 11 and 18. So given that there were only 70 people in the church – students and a handful of adults- I would say that the average age of the congregation was somewhere between 15 and 16.

Sometimes people prepare for a big event through careful planning. We say to one another “this is going to be a special event and naturally everyone will want to see it.” Therefore we practice and we stage dress-rehearsals.

We are careful to market the event and distribute flyers. Maybe we even sell tickets.

And then it passes like any other special  event. Everyone says “what a great experience…but what a lot of work! It sure would be tough to do that every week!”

But, strangely, we sometimes find ourselves in the middle of something big, something extraordinary…and surprisingly it is something that happened with absolutely no fanfare. We were not prepared for it because there was no advance marketing, no announcements, no flyers, no tickets-and consequently (and not surprisingly) no audience or crowd of witnesses.

And this simple daily mass with these ‘children’ was just such an event.

Somewhere during the Mass I found myself thinking: What is going on here? This is absolutely beautiful! I don’t think these kids are even aware of what they are accomplishing!

And what was it that they were accomplishing?

They were accomplishing, in an unassuming and unostentatious manner, the very thing that every Church Musician, every Liturgist, every Pastor, every Bishop…nay even the Fathers at the Second Vatican council wanted to accomplish when they wrote Sacrosanctum Concilium.

They were accomplishing full and active participation in the sacred liturgy.  They were accomplishing this through beauty! And as the choir was practically coextensive with the congregation, I found myself thinking,

“Wow, look here! Here at last is a liturgy in which the full and actual participation of the faithful is being accomplished! Such a thing was not simply a whimsical dream of the council fathers after all! Quick, call the bishop, call the Vatican, call the pope and tell them all that… it is possible!”

Because as we all know, this is the express wish of the council fathers when  they said

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in the ceremonies which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy )

Granted that active participation does not mean the same thing as actual participation, nonetheless these kids were demonstrating active participation to the greatest extent that I can imagine.

Let me give you a quick overview of what happened.

As it was a simple daily Mass, the students chanted the Kyrie (from the Gregorian setting Mass XVII). So singable, so lovely! What is it about Gregorian chant anyway? The words are melded so perfectly with the melody that the two become one… like body and soul.

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Have you ever heard a crowd of 60 youngsters singing Gregorian chant? And singing it beautifully and singing it from habit?  They sang it gently while allowing for the natural rising and falling and swelling and diminishing to dispose the soul in the perfect attitude that the prayer itself calls for.

I don’t know how the Holy Trinity could refuse when invoked by voices in such a way!

And then they sang the Gloria!

Now as a parish organist and music director, understand that, I am a paid professional.

I take it as one of my primary duties to do my level best in coaxing the congregation at my church to sing the Gloria every Sunday at five different masses with hundreds of people in attendance.

One day I dream of introducing the Gregorian Gloria VIII (aka Missa de Angelis) to our parish, but for the time being we are required to sing the recent Mass of Kevin Keil (The Mass of Saint Francis Cabrini). And a parish music director must be sensitive to the fact that singing music in Latin, Gregorian chant no less, might in fact excite a stampede in protest. How can anyone ever be expected to sing music in a language which one doesn’t speak or understand?

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But as far as I am concerned the Gloria from the Missa De Angelis is in fact a perfect Gloria. there really is no need to sing any other. It is easy. It is tuneful and memorable. The rhythm and melody match the words perfectly and the soul is aroused towards the worship of God!

And these sixty students, these sixty youngsters with ordinary voices, these sixty joyful hearts sang the Gloria without batting an eye. Not even the youngest student present raised his hand to say “but I don’t understand Latin! How can you expect me to sing this?”

At the offertory they sang the lovely Marian hymn Ave Maris Stella.

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I have always loved this hymn to Mary the star of the sea. She is the one to whom we must always appeal as we sail through the storms in our lives (or should I say the storm of life?). This hymn has many beautiful verses and is therefore quickly and easily learned by just about anyone.

Next they sang  the Sanctus  from Mass XVII. With its soothing descending intonation there follows an immediate spirit-lifting symmetrical ascension. A perfect preface for the Eucharistic prayer. The final Hosanna soars aloft but then glides down for a graceful landing on the word “excelsis.”

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For many of these students, especially the younger, the chant was new. For all of them it was never rehearsed. I suppose the older students knew it from having sung it at many previous school Masses, but the way the music is passed from the older students to the younger seems almost magical. The power of emulation! But that’s the way it is with those Gregorian Mass settings…you hear them once and can join in the second time. Even if you are just, say 11 or 12.

I love the Agnus Dei. All of the settings, of course, have some repetition – yet some variation. Poignant and ethereal, the chant communicates the pleading of the words. The melody said the same thing “Lamb of God….have mercy..”

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That of course gives the full meaning of “bis orat qui cantat” (he prays twice who sings!).

Now after the students received communion they sang the quintessentially appropriate communion chant Ave Verum Corpus.

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I don’t think there really could be a more fitting chant for communion. Hail true body, born of the virgin Mary! As this chant proceeds solemnly and reminds us of the passion, it ends with the triplex direct invocation of Jesus. The first two are identical-and therefore the second builds in intensity preparing for the soaring third invocation “O Jesus Son of Mary!”

Mass ended with the the rousing Viadana Exultate Iusti. To hear their voices blossom forth into polyphony with the upbeat, fast-paced, exultant tones was a perfect conclusion as we prepared to step out into the rain of that bleak February morning.

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The priest processed out led by the altar boys. The final note of the Exultate Iusti reverberated throughout the church and then there was a profound silence.

I looked around discretely from time to time to see if the kids were aware of what they had done. Yes- I know they knew what they had done, as far as youth knows…but were they really aware of the profound beauty that they had cooperated in producing? Were they fully aware of their cooperation in so sublime an act of worship?

By the appearance of their youthful and carefree expressions I don’t think so. For them it was an ordinary experience – another school Mass. But in my hidden tears I knew it was nothing of the sort.

Posted in Music, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Open Letter to My Daughter(s)

Is there anyone who was not profoundly touched by the flurry of open letters that loving parents wrote to their daughters concerning the recent election of our new president? (for example here and here and here)

Ms. Sallie Krawcheck consoles her daughter after the election thus,

Dear Kitty,

You cried the morning after the election. You got angry later that afternoon. And the next day, you told me that maybe the outcome was a good thing, because it made you want to accomplish something important with your life. And to be successful despite the obstacles that remain for women in politics and in business and in…you know, life. In some ways, it feels like it’s getting harder, doesn’t it?….

I find this sort of open communication especially poignant. And I am quite certain that Kitty was enthusiastic about her mother sharing her feelings with the world at large.

If there is one thing I know about young people it is that they do like everyone to know how they are feeling. While preserving the intimacy that is found in a face-to-face discussion, or a personal note, the open letter provides an opportunity to employ this intimate interpersonal communication as a MANIFESTO to the entire world! Wonderful!

As it is a brand new year, I too, will adopt the same method in discussing a matter that is near and dear to my heart, and which I know is sacred to the feelings of my own children, especially my daughters. I too shall “pen” an open letter! It is high time to talk seriously about a sensitive matter, time to talk about an embarrassing subject, a subject  so universally misunderstood, so painfully obtained, so essential yet so entirely impractical in the modern world. And what is this subject?

It is liberal education.

Granted that not all of my daughters, due to their young age, have suffered the trials and tribulations of attaining a liberal education, I will address them all as if they have already completed their respective educations.

While I appreciate the idea of writing an intimate open letter to a daughter, as the father of nine daughters,  I would expect a somewhat greater latitude in the tolerance extended to me in writing a single letter to my daughters en masse. The task of writing nine such intimate open letters is just a little daunting for one whose communication skills are minimal!

“Dear Rose and Sarah and Margaret and Anna and Mary and Christine and Lucy and Cecilia and Gracie,

I am sorry that you live in a world where an authentic Liberal education is not the norm. I am sorry that the beauty and necessity of such an education is not obvious to everyone you meet. It can be frustrating to have to always be defending and explaining liberal education to almost everyone, can’t it?

You have spent years studying Latin,  chanting forms, memorizing principal parts and acquiring vocabulary. You can spot a passive periphrastic and parse a gerund. You know all about the supine (mirabile dictu!) and the ablative absolute.

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You have gone to considerable pains in acquiring the fundamentals of Greek. Maybe you have had some personal misgivings about the six principal parts in Greek! Why can’t there just be four for heaven’s sake!?

But now you can chant the fist lines of the Odyssey!

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That is pretty “cool.” Who doesn’t want to do that?

And you can follow it up with the Aeneid!

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How does one explain why this is worthwhile to anyone who doesn’t grasp its significance already? How can you share the beauty of Virgilian dactylic hexameter or the beauty of his chiasms, senechdoches, metonomys, syncheses and anastrophes to those who were not fortunate enough to encounter them for themselves? Maybe there are some who place no value in such beauty?!

Maybe in a moment of frustration when others do not see why these things are beautiful you blurt out “If you don’t already know, then I can’t explain it to you” like Will Kane in High Noon!

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Maybe there are times when you feel sad because you are unable to share beauty with others and you felt something like Odysseus when his heart melted at the song of the minstrel and,

“tears wet his cheeks beneath his eyelids. And as a woman wails and flings herself about her dear husband, who has fallen in front of his city and his people, seeking to ward off from his city and his children the pitiless day; and as she beholds him dying and gasping for breath, she clings to him and shrieks aloud, while the foe behind her smite her back and shoulders with their spears, and lead her away to captivity to bear toil and woe,  while with most pitiful grief her cheeks are wasted: even so did Odysseus let fall pitiful tears from beneath his brows.”

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It’s ok to cry from time to time! There is no shame in crying or weeping or groaning. Aeneas also groaned heavily from time to time.

Extemplo Aeneae solvuntur frigore membra:
ingemit, et duplicis tendens ad sidera palmas
talia voce refert:

At once the limbs of Aeneas are relaxed  with cold; he groans and stretching both palms to the stars he says such things with voice…

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It’s ok to groan.

The collapse of language and of syntax and of Grammar in our culture is certainly something to groan heavily over. The utter collapse of the knowledge of the grammar that is common to every language is something far more profoundly terrible than a dozen or so shattered ships on the Mediterranean sea. And if Aeneas raised both his palms to heaven merely about a terrible storm brought about by Juno and her pawn, that windy god Aeolus, then certainly you my daughters can raise your palms to heaven and groan heavily about the complete negligence of grammar in our society!

And what about triangles and squares and pentagons and circles and cubes and spheres and dodecahedrons? Such beautiful realities are rarely studied in our time for their own sake, but reduced like everything else to the level of their utility.

Who is there today that loves them as they ought? Who is there to marvel at the properties of, say, parallelograms on the same base and within the same parallels?  Who is there who will appreciate unique construction of the hexagon inscribed in a circle?

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Who is there  to say in the face of death, like Archimedes,

Don’t disturb my  circles!

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No one really cares about these things any more. No one, mind you, except for God, and his Angels, and you my dear daughters.

And who knows? May it be that perhaps one day, one day when you shall have families of your own that maybe….maybe your children will also love the very ideas that God has concerning the mathematical realities that He has created; Eternal truths concerning mathematical realities that only you and anyone else who has tasted them will appreciate.

Tonight I looked up at bright Venus, and thought of you. I have long forgotten my Ptolemy now, and my Copernicus, and my Tycho Brahe, and my Kepler, and my Galileo, and my Newton. But I did not forget that there is a beautiful cosmic order outside of myself that I did not create, and about which I can do nothing except to know. You know these things now better than I do. Your study of Astronomy, as brief as it was has opened the book of the heavens  for you.

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I wish I was as eloquent as Demosthenes! I could then speak fittingly and compellingly and persuasively about the beauty of liberal education. I never practiced Rhetoric like he did, filling my mouth with pebbles and struggling to speak articulately in spite of them.

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If I had done that perhaps I could now describe with fitting eloquence the beauty of the human mind which is worthy of cultivation for its own sake.

We spend a great deal of time and money cultivating the small plots of earth on which we live with flowers and herbs and annuals and perennials, how much more worthy to spend just a portion of our earthly time cultivating our minds with the truth and perennial wisdom of the ages. And that is what you have done.

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Ah! The glories of the word! The logos! Man is given the gift of speaking the word. He is in the image and likeness of God Himself, The Divine Poet, who also spoke The Word. Albeit it takes us a few more words than it did Him to express even our most meager thoughts.

You have spent years now learning and practicing your minds in Logic. I have long since forgotten how to identify syllogisms in any one of the four figures, nor can I distinguish a Bocardo from a Darapti from a  Celarent … but with a little refresher I know that you could explain it all again to me.

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You have not just occupied the best part of your thinking years practicing to varying degrees the arts of the Trivium and the Quadrivium….but now you have entered into the very secrets of Philosophy that Hugh of Saint Victor talks about.

And why are there secrets of philosophy? Well they are secrets not because anyone is intentionally hiding them. No, they are secrets because very few appear to know them. And even sadder, very few appear to want to know them. And still fewer there are who appear to know where the answers are to be found. Where are the answers to the most significant questions?; where are the answers to questions like, what is motion and what is time? What is life and what is the soul? What is man? What is friendship and what is the state? What is the good? and What is God?

But you have heeded the advice of the seven wise men of ancient Greece when they said

“Know thyself”

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and you have heeded the words of Socrates when he said

“The un-examined life is not worth living.”

and you have hearkened to the warnings of the great Heraclitus when he said

“We ought not to act and speak as though we were asleep.”

and when he warned you not to be like the many, for

“The majority of people have no understanding of the things with which they daily meet, nor, when instructed, do they have any right knowledge of them, although to themselves they seem to have.”

No, you have listened to the wisdom of the ages and have attuned yourselves to Wisdom. And you have progressed very far indeed.

None of us there are who are perfect. All of us struggle to understand to varying degrees.

But I am very proud of you for the efforts that you have made to expand your souls to the extent that you have.

Now there is also the entire matter of “the beautiful” which you, oh my daughters, have not neglected. You have as far as possible tried to cultivate your own hearts in the appreciation of the beauty that comes not so much through the liberal but rather through the fine arts.

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And this is no easy task in a culture in which the ugly is ascendant. Your love for beauty is manifest- whether it is the beauty in music and dance, or beauty in art and architecture, or beauty in poetry or beauty in graceful behavior or the beauty that can be found everywhere only by those who have eyes to see it.

You have not just realized that liberal education involves the formation of the mind, but you have understood that it involves the formation of the heart as well. There are some who, perhaps coming to an appreciation of the life of the mind a little late, have excelled in the liberal arts and philosophy but have not trained their tastes and sensibilities in the beautiful.

Over many years from your earliest youth you have acclimated your hearts to the beautiful, and consequently you have made your own souls lovely homes for the reception of the true and the good!

And what is the end of all this?

True, liberal education is not all by itself the sum total of what a human being needs to be happy. It is also true that a liberal education appears to never be fully possessed by anyone you meet. It might sometimes appear to you that the liberally educated human being is like one of those “limits” that Calculus speaks of, some kind of asymptote always approached but never quite reached.

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But this should not disturb you. We all know about the imperfections involved in human nature ever since Adam’s happy fault.

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But through your efforts, through your liberal education, you have disposed yourselves towards the workings of grace. You have disposed your hearts towards the worship of God in spirit and in truth.

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And this is the end to which all of our efforts find a happy conclusion. This is the natural end of a liberal education as strange as it may seem in the midst of a Geometry or Latin exam.

I am very proud of you, dear daughters, and I love you.


Posted in beauty, catholic education, classical education, education, Fine Arts, Grammar, Homer, Liberal Arts, Seven Fine Arts, Uncategorized, Virgil, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

In Hac Die Laetissima! Christmas Dinner 2016

Ah, Christmas Dinner…which I now post only at the request of two dear friends and former students of mine. They suggested that it also might be a way to cheer up the atmosphere of Lionandox.com since the last pre-election post was a bit on the darker side.

So Merry Christmas! And nothing says Christmas dinner better than a bone-in rib roast!

We will let the pictures tell the story.

I acquired this beautiful rib roast from a reputable market and the butcher graciously tied the bones back in.  Those bones are scheduled for a delicious beef broth tomorrow.


Rubbed some olive oil,  salt and pepper into it and then tied the Rosemary sprigs on top.


after twenty minutes at 450 degrees then at 250 for a couple hours it came out looking splendid.


Looks a little ‘done’ in the photo- but the roast was juicy and rare to medium-rare on the inside.

Then of course all the other preparation of the table by various unseen hands- I never quite know how this all gets done….

I was the happy recipient of several nicer bottles of wine this Christmas, and so I chose a bottle of 2014 “Decoy” Sonoma county Cabernet. Lush and fruity, rich tannins, oaky…yum! The kids drank some sparkly drink of one sort or another.

The asparagus was cooked to a perfect “al dente” texture. Still just a little crunch to the bite and very fresh tasting. It’s so easy to overcook asparagus.


And some crunchy beans with walnuts bacon and brown sugar. Delicious!



Whoops,I forgot to mention the scalloped potatoes! I don’t know how Stephanie manages to make that sauce- but it was creamy and cheesy and the potatoes were cooked just right.


And these lovely home made buttery rolls.


After dinner we dug into a box of Enstrom Almond Toffee which my father sends every year just in time. It is now a Langley family tradition. Goes wonderfully with tea and coffee.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Dinner, Feasts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments