First things first: one joy of this trip was my discovery of Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company beers. So far the only two I've had are Boulevard Bully Porter, a dark-roasted malt in the tradition of the classic English porter containing chocolate malts; and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer, a lively ale with a natural citrusy flavor and distinctive cloudy appearance. These are truly impressive offerings, I must say. Well ... sorry folks. I'm shameless. You see where my priorities are. As Ben Franklin said, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
Another joy of this trip, rather coincidental with the first, was visiting my son, Benjamin, and his family at Benedictine College and seeing him ensconced in a supportive community in that place. I was impressed that a college of some 1200 full time students could mount a faculty of five or six each in the departments of theology and philosophy with nine hour course requirements of all students in each of those two areas; and a Freshman seminar course devoted to study of the college mission! Heavens! How do they do it! Haven't they heard of "market forces"? Aren't they aware that students aren't interested in such things anymore? What happened to their market consultants? Faculty members told me that Benedictine College has been collecting statistics on what students report as their reasons for selecting Benedictine College. You know what the number one reason is? It's their clear Catholic commitment. Huzzah! Put that in your pipes and smoke it, all you market consultants and educational demographic experts!
Another privilege of this conference was meeting at least three of our readers, whom I will reference here simply as Chad, Matthew, and William. A singular pleasure to meet each of you! I hope we can stay in touch, gentlemen. (Chad, please email me with your address when you get a chance.)
Kathy, you would have enjoyed this conference so immensely. In a previous comment I read only after returning, you asked me to say hello to Helen Hitchcock for you. Sorry I hadn't read your comment sooner. What you would have particularly liked, I think, are the parts of this conference that offered positive and often imaginative proposals for things that can be done to improve our worship as Catholics rather than mere criticisms or historical reviews of where things have gone wrong with the present liturgy. In this vein, there were some interesting presentations, of which I will mention the following:
- Susan Treacy, from Ave Maria University, offered an interesting presentation on how Benedict XVI's vision for sacred music might sound in an American parish. That, essentially, was the subtitle of her talk, entitled "The Music of Cosmic Liturgy." In her presentation, she played some CD recordings of a dialogical, sung Mass, with the people antiphonally responding to the priest, who takes the lead. She highlighted the Ordinaries and, particularly, the Propers, which, she said, have been altogether underrated for the aesthetic and spiritual role they can potentially play in liturgy if placed in the appropriate musical settings. If the audio recordings, performed by a Dutch group, are any indication of what could realistically be said to lay in our future, I would be hopeful. The settings are reverent and beautiful and lift one out of the mundane and banal "environment of art and Catholic worship" we now too often suffer.
- Fr. Samuel Weber, from Wake Forest University, actually put some of these ideas into effect in a sort of workship in which he taught the conference participants to chant some antiphonal plainsong Mass settings that he had arranged and printed for the occasion in a booklet for us entitled, Chants for the Order of Mass (2006). Weber, who previously spoke at Lenoir-Rhyne College at one of our annual Aquinas-Luther Conferences, has been working for some years arranging English verse in plainsong settings -- no easy feat. But the results were and are, to say the least, encouraging. While English does not lend itself to chant as readily as naturally as Latin, as anyone who understands chant knows, Weber has done a remarkable job of implementing the cadences and inflections of English verse in conformity with the principles of chant to yield a fine result. Weber is a consumate teacher, energetic, inspiring, and effective. If Weber's workshop is any indication, chant is not that difficult to learn. A willing congregation ('willing' being the operative word) could be taught to chant some of the simpler Mass settings with minimal effort. If the Novus Ordo could be rendered in plainsong, I think many of it's extraneous problems would disappear. Anyone interested in subscribing to his plainsong settings for weekly Sunday Masses, may contact him, he says, at the following address: Rev. Samuel F. Weber, O.S.B., Box 7719, Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC 27109-7719 (or Email him).
- Denis NcNamara, from the Liturgical Institute in Chicago, talked about religious art. He drew a distinction between three kinds of art: (1) liturgical, (2) devotional, and (3) historical art. With examples drawn especially (but not exclusively) from the Orthodox tradition, he showed how liturgical art facilitates worship by elevating us out of the temporal into the timeless realm of the eternal. Devotional art is exemplified by the mail order statues, for example, of the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Virgin one used to see in the side altars of traditional churches and sometimes still sees in churches today. They facilitate personal devotion, but not necessarily liturgy. Historical art is art that depicts historical scenes with varying degrees of historical realism, such as the nativity, crucifixion, or other biblical scenes that may be good religious art but don't necessarily facilitate liturgy either. Some good theory along these lines.
- Duncan Stroik, from Notre Dame School of Architecture, gave an interesting talk in which he wondered aloud how Catholic churches and Cathedrals ever used to be built without the help of Liturgical Design Consultants! (You know the significant difference between Liturgical Experts and Terrorists, right? Right: you can negotiate with terrorists.) He also offered a substantial discussion of six aspects of church buildings in terms of their (1) sacred space, (2) liturgical function per se, (3) sacramental dimension, (4) liturgical elements, (5) devotional purposes, and (6) iconographic and symbolic functions. Very interesting.
Thanks to Michael E. Lawrence for posting a link to our article on the Kansas City conference over at the blog founded by Shawn Tribe, The New Liturgical Movement, to which he is a regular contributor.