Sunday, October 31, 2010

Roll over Bugnini: It's Halloween!

All-Hallows-E'en (or All-Hallows-Eve), the night before All Hallows Day (or All Saints Day), immediately precedes All Souls Day, when Requiem Masses (see post immediately below) are celebrated on November 2 under the traditional Roman calendar.

Why is this so cool? Because, like the now debased and secularized "Halloween," All Souls Day has all sorts of scary cool stuff associated with it as traditionally memorialized, which is all-but-forgotten in these Barney and Friends times. But unlike stories that are merely scary, the story here turns out to be totally true. The Church offers salvation from actual hell and damnation. Let's ponder this exhilarating subject!

I Googled Dies Irae ("Day of Wrath") just to see what would come up, and there was the predictable Wikipedia article. But, Lo! There was an interesting tid-bit!
Those familiar with musical settings of the Requiem Mass -- such as those by Mozart or Verdi -- will be aware of the important place Dies Irae held in the [traditional] liturgy. Nevertheless the "Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy" – the Vatican body charged with drafting and implementing reforms to the Catholic Liturgy ordered by the Second Vatican Council – felt the funeral rite was in need of reform and eliminated the sequence from the ordinary rite. The architect of these reforms, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, explains the mind of the members of the Consilium:
They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as the Libera me, Domine, the Dies Irae, and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair. These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.
It remained as the sequence for the Requiem Mass in the Roman Missal of 1962 (the last edition before the Second Vatican Council) and so is still heard in churches where the Tridentine Latin liturgy is celebrated.

Now back to the cool stuff -- meaning all the stuff Abp. Bugnini and the Concilium thought we were mature enough to cut out now, since we had come of age and outgrown the need for tales about the terrors of hell and other ghost stories, and could comfortably feed now on a steady diet of tea and crumpets with gentle words from Barney and Friends about love and love and more love since, of course, God is love.

But are we really so "mature" as all that? And are these terrors of yesteryear's liturgy really mere ghost stories for the "immature" in faith? Are the sentiments of the terrible words of the Dies Irae really something that ought to be abhorred as pathologically disturbed, as representing a deformed and negative spirituality? Please. What does the writer of Proverbs call the "beginning of wisdom"? Yes, precisely: the FEAR of the Lord (Prov. 1:7).

Why does the love and mercy and compassion of God no longer mean much of anything these days? The answer is not far to find. I remember seeing spray painted on a railroad trellis above an underpass: "Christ is the answer!" Beneath it was spray painted in another hand: "What is the question?" Indeed. The "Gospel" is no longer "good news" because the context of hell and damnation are missing today. So more hell and damnation, if you please!

Now, is it only my perverted sentiment, or are these musical settings to various pieces from the Dies Irae sequence of the Requiem Mass, not totally cool?


Anonymous said...

Totally Cool! ... I'll be back.

Anonymous said...


If I may take your post in a slightly tangential direction, I thought I would relate a comment I made to my chant class at its first session.

"When are the times when most parishes hear chant? Lent and Advent, since these are penitential seasons.

What chant music do most people know, from these seasons? Why, simplified versions of the Requiem Mass, of course. "

It's no surprise that people think of chant as morose.
Similarly, with a defective ecclesiology, "turning his back to the people" seems unfriendly, and therefore in need of reform.

On the other hand, perhaps we should note what C.S. Lewis is supposed to have said: students underwent the terrors of Greek to discover the treasures of Greek. Perhaps it takes being mugged by reality to be able to listen?



Ralph Roister-Doister said...

I like your post, though there is one thing about it that bothers me, and it certainly does not originate with you, but with the sad effort taking place today in the Church to foist on us an oxymoronic "new traditionalism" that ultimately melts all doctrinal points into a useless puddle of gaak.

Your post makes it seem that (a) the Church as Cardinal Barney's Make Nice Machine, and (b) the Church as the one sure refuge from hellfire and damnation, are merely two of Cardinal Howard Johnson's 31 flavors. It rather strikes me that they are two competing visions, one based in Christ's words as crystallized through 20 centuries of unchanging Church dogma, and the other based in a strange brew of modernistic eclecticism that found its way into V2, and has now become the dominant voice of the Church.

Of course, now Benedict is attempting to lure back the SSPX by emphasizing the issue of interpreting V2 "in the tradition". But this seems to me more of the V2 deliberate "diplomatic" ambiguity that got us into this mess in the first place. "Big tents" are for political parties and circuses.