Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No, you are not beautiful; get over it

I once overheard a bunch of average-looking women all agreeing that it was an insult for a man to have referred to one of their number while on a date as "cute" and "pretty". (The second seems to have been his attempt to smooth things over when she took visible offense at the first.) They all agreed that she was right to be offended at this. I think of those women every time I read an article celebrating the fact that Robyn Lawley is a lingerie model. Stuff like this:
While the high-fashion industry might consider the gorgeous model Robyn Lawley to be plus-size, we view the 6'2" beauty more as a catalyst of a healthier-looking future for cat-walkers.
Meaning, the writer hopes Lawley will create a fashion for larger women. Well, probably not.

In any case, I don't think the oft-expressed concern about what is and what is not healthy looking is the real point here. Thousands of women (and men) die because of health problems caused by obesity for every one who dies because of being too thin. On top of which, anorexia seems to be caused by psychological problems and not by an attempt to look like fashion models.

"Beautiful" is an ambiguous word; it means different things in different contexts. A man tells his wife that she is beautiful and he really means that she is beautiful. Later that day, he might say that Robyn Lawley is beautiful, because she is, and really mean that too. But he doesn't mean the same thing when he uses the word in both cases.

A while ago, a beautiful (in the second sense of the word) fitness trainer named Maria Kang posted a picture of herself on Facebook with her children and the caption, "What's your excuse." This got her all sorts of hatred. One commenter wrote:
People like you who post pictures like this make me cry because without surgery I will never look like you.
That statement should be framed as a sort of koan for our times.

Here is the thing, even with plastic surgery, she couldn't look like Maria Kang. Most likely, she couldn't even get close to looking good enough that a dispassionate observer would even put her in the broader category of being not-so-hot-but-kinda-close-enough-that-they-might-evoke-Maria-Kang-by-way-of-comparison. I wonder, will that make her cry too?

She couldn't look like Robyn Lawley either. Nine hundred and ninety-four women out of a thousand couldn't look half as good as Robyn Lawley no matter how hard they tried. Robyn Lawley would be just as unhealthy a role model for most women as Kate Moss is.

The issue here is not physical health but mental health. There is a stage in every one's life when we look at pictures of stars and imagine that we could somehow become like that person; that we could somehow become beautiful in that sense. If you're mentally healthy, you'll grow out of it somewhere between the ages of 15 and 17.

Beautiful in the first sense from above is a reasonable goal. Meaning, you can, with serious effort, hope to be cute, pretty and sexually attractive to the world at large and beautiful to those who love you. If that isn't enough for you ...

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/23/4571683/hot-facebook-mom-after-week-of.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, November 25, 2013

Virtue: missing the bus

The Lemon Girl and I have lost track of how long we have been living without a car now. It is seven or eight years I think. Doing so has reintroduced me to experiences that I had long ago and now get to experience again. One of these is missing the bus.

And I get to see others miss the bus too. You see them come running towards the stop as the bus you are on is pulling away. Or running as it approaches the stop. Sometimes the bus driver sees them and is willing to stop and other times not. It's not hard to imagine what they are going through. It's a big effort they are making and something is always riding on it, if you'll pardon the expression.

Last week, we had a rental car because there were errands that needed to get done. I got into old habits of taking things a bit easier and, when the car was returned,  found myself missing a few buses. And there I'd be, looking at my phone to see the time and when the next bus was due and realizing I might not or would not be on time for my appointment.

Putting it like that makes it dispassionate and that is very different from how I actually reacted. What really happened was a combination of anger and helplessness. The moral question is: How am I going to take it? Because I cannot simply master myself at that moment. It is long-established habit that determines how I react. If I routinely allow myself to get angry at frustrations such as missing the bus, I lose the ability to control myself in such situations. (The words "ethics" and "morals" both originally meant "habits".)

Moral question? Yeah! It seems like too much to expect that anyone would get morally wrapped up in such a minor thing. Who cares? And why should anyone care? And yet it is bad for me to let my emotions run over when I miss the bus.

I know, it seems so harmless to just let myself vent a bit. After all, I did miss the bus and this is an inconvenience, why shouldn't I be allowed my little temper tantrum. But why did I expect that I should catch the bus? I expected it because that is the mindset the temper tantrum creates. We convince ourselves that we are having the temper tantrum because something we hoped for didn't work out. In fact, the temper tantrum creates a sense of entitlement in me that wasn't there before I lost my temper. A moment before I was a guy working to achieve some end and now I am standing at the stop swearing at a receding bus as if it was to blame. Worse, I'm making it a habit to lose self control rather than build it up. And, just in general terms, there is lots of evidence that losing my temper is bad for my physical health.
That divine power of his has freely bestowed on us everything necessary for a life of genuine piety, through knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. By virtue of them he has bestowed on us the great and precious things he promised, so that through these you who have fled a world corrupted by lust might become sharers of the divine nature.
That's from the second letter of Peter and it's in the Office of Readings for today. What could be more full of lust than me screaming with self righteous indignation at a bus that I somehow have come to believe I was entitled to catch. I didn't think that as I was getting ready that morning. I kept looking at the clock as I got dressed to go. I was making efforts to catch the bus. And yet, in the short run up the sidewalk to the stop, I somehow threw all that effort away and replaced it with an anger that drove me to a sense that I deserved to catch that bus and that it was the fault of not me but something outside me that I was missing it.

Peter continues:
This is reason enough for you to make every effort to undergird your virtue with faith, your discernment with virtue, and your self-control with discernment; this self-control, in turn, should lead to perseverance, and perseverance to piety, and piety to care for your brother, and care for your brother, to love.

Qualities like these, made increasingly your own, are by no means ineffectual; they bear fruit in true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any man who lacks these qualities is shortsighted to the point of blindness. He forgets the cleansing of his long-past sins.
I'd humbly suggested that there is no more easily accessibly accessible image of what that sort of blindness looks like than the person who gets angry when they miss the bus.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Latin Mass: Modern vs. modernism

One of the themes I keep circling around here is what is really modern.

You might tell a story like this. Once upon a time, some people decided that they lived in a "modern" world because they lived in a world that had broken radically with the past. To live in this new world, they decided to make everything new, to create a new art and culture that was better suited to this new way of life than the old ways were.

Now comes the punchline: If you are interested in this new, modern culture they created, you can learn more about it by visiting a museum.

Something went deeply wrong. And the problem at every turn is, what is the measure of "modern" art?

It's weird that this even is a problem. Some modern but not "modern" art is incredibly popular. The Impressionists, for example. Also the Pre-Raphaelites. But if you pay close attention to people who argue about what should or should be considered "modern", they have serious misgiving about both groups. They are perfectly willing to admit the Impressionists but only as a phase that was passed through on the way to modernism. The millions of people who buy Impressionist calendars, placemats and other knick-knacks or who visit the Impressionist shrine at Giverny don't see it as the first step to something else. They see it as an end in itself. The Pre-Raphaelites, OTOH, the modernists don't even want to admit are modern. That art is seen as some weird throwback that, while pretty enough, has nothing to do with what it means to be really modern. Except for the millions upon millions of modern people who love this art.

Why this need to exclude so much of what is modern from "modernism"? What is really at work here?

I found an interesting example yesterday in The New Republic by a guy named Jed Perl who has the about as impeccable modernist credentials as you can imagine. He teaches at The New School and they write him up as follows:
Jed Perl, visiting professor of liberal studies, is the art critic for The New Republic. A former contributing editor at Vogue, Perl has written on contemporary art for a variety of publications, including Salmagundi, The New Criterion, The Partisan Review, The Threepenny Review, The New York Times Book Review, Elle, and Modern Painters, where he serves on the board of directors. Specializing in the history and development of post-1945 American art, he is also the author of Eyewitness: Reports from an Art World in Crisis (2000), Gallery Going: Four Seasons in the Art World (1991), Paris Without End: On French Art Since World War I (1988), and the forthcoming New Art City: The Painters and Sculptors of Manhattan, 1950-1965. In addition, he teaches art history at Pratt Institute, the Philadelphia College of Art, and Parsons School of Design.
Now Mr. Perl is angry. He is angry that a pop artist like Art Spiegelman wants recognition from the art world and he is even angrier that he has gotten it. [Link fixed] But notice this, the paragraph below opens with "nobody is more obsessed with their high culture cred than pop culture mavens". Think about that and go read the above again. Wouldn't you say that Mr. Perl has amassed a fair amount of "high culture cred"? Too much, perhaps, for us to believe that this happened by accident?
Nobody is more obsessed with their high culture cred than the pop culture mavens. Art Spiegelman would seem to have achieved everything a media guy dreams of: a Pulitzer Prize; a show at the Museum of Modern Art; a retrospective that has traveled to the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; a more-or-less open invitation at The New Yorker. And yet in the catalogue of “Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix,” the retrospective now at the Jewish Museum in New York, Robert Storr, who used to be a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, is quite cranky about curators who won’t embrace comics with sufficient enthusiasm, and predicts that “someday soon the citadels of culture will be forced to open their gates and let ‘the barbarians’ in.”
You might think, reading that, that modernists like Perl want to keep the barbarians out but modernism has been all too keen to let the barbarians in.  They are just particular about which barbarians they want.

Perl gives us a powerful hint of who the good barbarians are:
The very first wall text at the Jewish Museum informs you that Spiegelman “has torn down the barriers that until recently separated high culture from low.” What on earth is a legitimate museum doing promoting such a ridiculous claim? Hasn’t anybody at the Jewish Museum noticed that those barriers were shaken if not torn down more or less a century ago, by Picasso, Braque, Léger, Schwitters, Picabia, and Duchamp?
We can see that Perl himself is the one being ridiculous if we ask what "low culture" is supposed to mean here? Have you seen any graffiti homages to Braques? How many Leger posters do you see on university dorm-room walls? Leaving aside Picasso, where, outside of high culture, and very high high culture at that, do you hear of anyone else on that list?

The answer is that what he means by "low" is Picasso painting his mistress with a penis imprinted on her head, or Duchamp painting a mustache on The Mona Lisa and making a crude pun as the title of this "new work". Which is to say, Perl is willing to admit what is crass, vulgar and ugly into Art, provided, of course, that this crass, vulgar and ugly is the work of the right sort of people. What he isn't willing to admit is anything that is trying to be genuinely popular.

That is an extreme example, but it is something that characterizes all "modernism". The way the new liturgy was introduced is a good example of this. One option for introducing it would have been to simply make the Novus Ordo available alongside the existing Latin Mass. If proponents had been correct in their assertion that the new liturgy better served the real needs of the modern world better than the old, then people would have experimented with the new stuff, decided they liked it better and switched. But it didn't happen that way.

Which isn't to say that it might not have worked out that way if people had been given the chance. But they were never given the chance. The efforts that were made to suppress not just the old mass but a whole lot of "old Catholicism" were staggering. And I don't say this to condemn the rather vulgar way the people who did this behaved, although that condemnation is richly deserved, but rather to point out something else. The problem is that they weren't sure the Novus Ordo would sell. They didn't trust the people to make the right choice, so they forced it on them. They mistrusted popular opinion every bit as much Jed Perl doesn't trust it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Latin Mass: and the latest modern crisis!

We get news this morning that former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warns that the Church of England faces extinction withing a generation. Well, no, probably not. What the Church of England is facing—along with the liberal wing of Catholicism, Church of Christ, United Church of Canada, and the Mainline Protestant churches—is the possibility of being one generation away from becoming utterly irrelevant to the larger culture.

By way of analogy, think of unicyclists. There aren't many but there are some and every generation sees new unicyclists. The unicycle is not in danger of extinction. That said, the cultural significance of the bicycle is an important issue, the unicycle not so much. The Church of England is one generation away from having the same cultural stature as a club for unicyclists.

That is the source of the crisis that spurred Rev. Carey to speak out.

That is also why the demographic problem that so many others have worried about for decades now never concerned Rev. Carey in the past. He's never really cared about issues of survival; what matters to him is cultural status. If anything, Church leaders like Carey used to argue that concerns about demographics of the C of E were driven by scaremongers.

Okay, it would be easy to cynically suggest that Carey is only scared now because he thinks journalists are going to erase his name and number from their list of contacts. But that's not fair. Carey is far from stupid and neither is he any more vain than the rest of us. In any case, he is not going to survive even one more generation so he can hardly be said to have a personal material interest in the matter.

Let me suggest another explanation. And it begins with an often forgotten aspect of modernism and that is that modernism was always an elitist and anti-populist movement. Modernists were people who rejected huge swaths of modern culture. They hated what they regarded as sentimental art and religion. They could see that one of the unexpected legacies of Romanticism was to establish a giant market for sentimental art and religion but they hated that stuff.

That is why, despite the obvious popularity of sentimental art and religion, they went to war against it. They argued that the modern world had no place for sentiment. In their view, the thing that made "modern" really modern was that it was cut off from the past. They emphasized a discontinuity. They screamed of a crisis that called for immediate action.

And it is important to grasp that. Too often, the debate is seen as one between reformers and the the status quo but there are really no people in the status quo camp. Anyone who has followed the Latin Mass movement within the Catholic Church, for example, will know that there has been far more reform there than in the larger church. These reforms were all made in the interest of restoring the Latin mass to what was hoped to be a "purer" form but they were reforms nevertheless,.

In fact, if you look to people in the Carey camp, they will cheerfully admit bore you to death with their tales of having been unable to make any reforms in recent decades.
The Most Reverend John Sentamu told the Synod – where leaders will debate how to persuade traditionalists to accept women bishops – that they spent too long 'arguing over words and phrases, while the people of England are left floundering amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair'. 
The lie here is in the second part. The people are not floundering. They are singularly unaware of any crisis. In fact, if there is one thing that characterizes modern life it is the rather stunning lack of crisis. Stunning because they are constantly being told that really bad things are happening out there and yet ... yawn.

Rev. Carey is actually playing the same tune he has always played here. He is a charter member of the Church of the Modernist Crisis. Crisis is the card he always plays. He's never particularly cared about poverty unless it's part of a poverty crisis. He's never cared about female clergy or feminism unless that too can be linked to a crisis. He never cared about declining population of the Church of England until he could make a crisis out of it.

Whatever it is going to take to get people back into churches, assuming such a thing is desirable, for there are bad churches as well as good ones, it isn't yet another retired church leader hectoring a numb and bored population about the latest crisis.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rare political comment: Ford and Obama

We have two politicians flaming out this month. Rob Ford is a guy most people had never heard of until he messed up so spectacularly. Obama was famous even before he screwed up.

The Ford mess strikes me as pure entertainment. So far anyway; there are hints of a dark side to the story that I won't mention here that, if they turn out to be true, will make this a very worrying story indeed. What we have seen on the surface, though, is pure comedy and very humbling for Toronto which, while I have many good friends living there, is long overdue.

The political consequences of it strike me as minimal. I don't think the outer-ring vote is going to turn around from this and all agree that they need to submit to whatever those hipsters in the core want in the future. If anything, I would think the opposite will happen.

The Obama mess is harder to judge. Obamacare may survive and then it may not. My guess is that the insiders know the mess is even bigger than has been reported so far; Obama, in particular, acts like a man who knows that a major charge against him is pending and is hoping for a miracle reprieve that he doesn't really believe is coming. Either way, it's out of our hands.

And that, I think, is the central lesson to learn here. One of the illusions journalism tends to foster is that being better informed helps us control our fate. It doesn't. No one even gets to vote on any of these things for a year, if you get to vote at all. Meanwhile, these two guys either go down in flames or they don't. I think you can get all the news about them that you need by checking up on them once a week. At most.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Latin Mass: versus the sometimes painful weeniness of the new liturgy

Like the mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is part of the liturgical prayer of the church. It is both less important and less well known but it matters. A lot of people, including priests and those in the consecrated life, make a vow to say it every day. A lot of others, including me, simply choose to say it.
Like the mass, the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH) was substantially revised under Pope Paul VI. As with the mass, most of what was done is justifiable. I would argue even that the revisions were required and are an improvement, although I know a lot of people who disagree with me.

That said, however good the general sweep of the thing, the devil is in the details. And yesterday (Wednesday of week IV) had one of those details. There are intercessionary prayers included with morning and evening prayer. These were written by God-knows-who and, Deo Gratias, are optional. Yesterday evening featured this gem:
Remember, Lord, that you sent your Son into the world to be its savior, not its judge,
— let his glorious death bring us salvation.
I'm sure that can be finessed if we could somehow compel the editors to appear before some sort of tribunal. Perhaps, something along the lines of, "We meant the first time!" But you can see the problem I hope. If not, let me remind you of something that appears in both creeds. First the Nicene Creed:
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
Now the Apostle's Creed:
From there he will come to judge
the living and the dead.
Now, as I say, maybe this can all be finessed by saying that Jesus came to save the first time and will judge after his second coming. But it shouldn't have to be finessed. It's especially galling that the intercession begins by reminding God of his intentions. Yes, I know, the real point is to remind us and not God of his purposes but that just makes it worse for what could be more important than to remind us that Jesus will come again to judge. This weenie intention doesn't just forget to convey that crucial truth, it actively works to suppress it.

I read stuff like this and I wonder, do the people who make these things up really believe the creed? Do they, in fact, really believe anything at all?

A few weeks ago, I heard a homily following the gospel in which Jesus says that he who is trustworthy with small things will be trusted with great things. Do you know what Father gave as an example of a small thing we can do? That we should recycle instead of throwing things in the garbage, thereby, "showing our respect for Mother Earth". Again, if you had to, you could finesse the point but we shouldn't have to finesse the point. This is was a homily!

It's not the core of the new liturgy, which remains redeemable by good execution and some judicious pruning but it is a major problem. Contrary to what some reformers seem to believe, it is a blessing that we might have to explain things in the liturgy because they are obscure or because they are hard teachings. If, however, we have to stop and justify stuff that is just plain weenie, that is a giant problem.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Latin Mass: Teaching the heart to love

This is part of something I wrote in the comments this morning that I wanted to repeat (with some additions and corrections) here:
As to the participation issue, it seems to me that the big question is not whether the people should feel that our participation is somehow required (which is pretty vain) but what special efforts can and should we make when participating? Should we prepare ourselves by, just for example, 
  • reading the collect of the day, which the priest still says for us, ahead of time and making sure that we believe and want what that prayer asks for so it really is our prayer,
  • reading the antiphons and readings and thinking deeply about what they mean ahead of time,
  • thinking about and making a specific intention for this mass,
  • fasting.
One thing about the TLM is that it has specific rules for that sort of thing. Nowadays we tend to argue that what comes from the heart is better than following rules by rote. The problem is that, while that sounds good, it tends to become a matter of doing nothing. We think that our heart wants to love but it has to be trained to love.

ADDED: That is one  thing we do when we go to mass; we train our heart to love. It is also, we hope and pray, being granted grace by God and that grace is, by far, the more important part. But there is a tendency to forget that we should act differently because of that grace because I don't really believe in that grace if I don't act differently. One of the specific functions of the liturgy is to train our hearts to love. On that measure the Novus Ordo, at least the way it is celebrated in most churches, is seriously lacking. The restored TLM, because it requires more effort, does that job better.
ALSO ADDED: Yes, I know all about the pious lady who said her rosary right through the mass, stopping only to bow her head when a bell rang and to shuffle forward to receive communion. But my point here is to discuss the restored Latin Mass. Whether they meant to or not, and this is going to be my argument going forward, the fans of the TLM have made it into something modern and even modernist (in the cultural sense of modernism and not the religious heresy). Thinking this over in the shower just now, I've decided that is a bad way to put it. Words mean what they mean in conventional use and I can't over-rule the use of "modernist" by insisting on some special meaning of my own. A better way to put it is that the TLM enthusiasts have, without meaning to, created something that is modern without being modernist.
STILL ADDING: Think of it this way, a Catholic going to the TLM or returning to it, has to make a huge effort just to participate and that makes us actually earn our participation rather than treat it like a right; we have far more in common, when going to the Novus Ordo,  with that pious woman of yesteryear than we do with the seriously devoted fans of the TLM of today. It also forces us to think about the past and our relationship with the dead than the new mass does, really being modern means basing ourselves in the past rather than obliterating it.
I should add that I am not necessarily advocating a return to the TLM, although I think it should always be available where numbers wanting it warrant it. I do think, however, that we would celebrate the Novus Ordo in a way that was much more genuine and meaningful if we emphasized its continuity with the TLM rather than its discontinuity.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is the Latin Mass beautiful?

UPDATE: I've made some changes to the last paragraph of this post.

Believe or not, this really is related to this morning's post about whether the Traditional Latin Mass is Romantic or Modern.

To answer this afternoon's question is a lot easier than this morning's. We simply use the classic cop out: that depends on what you think is beautiful. (Which, if you're keeping score, is a point for the modern side of this morning's question.)

But it doesn't get us very far because it is a cop out.

Here is the problem. Imagine someone who converts to Catholicism from Anglicanism. Now, not all Anglican services are beautiful (most these days are ugly and plain) but some are beautiful. When the Anglicans decide to do it right, they have some really, really beautiful liturgy. Okay, so what happens when someone whose idea of beautiful liturgy has been conditioned by years of The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) goes to a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM)? The answer is that confusion happens.

The effect is a little like what it would be like for a hard core fan of American football to go to a game that was described as being like football only to find that, while players dressed, huddled and lined up like the football they knew, there was no actual ball. So the payers would line up, then break and huddle again and line up but never anything that our poor football fan would recognize as action.

To go back to the BCP service. What makes it beautiful? What plays the part of the ball in football and makes the action progress? The answer to that is, the language makes it beautiful. Appreciating the beauty of a BCP service is mostly a matter of appreciating the language. There may well be music and vestments and incense too, but the language is what makes it special.

There is some beautiful language in the TLM but it's in Latin! And you can't hear most of it.

If you ask any fan of the TLM about that, they won't even have to think about their answer. They will say: "It doesn't matter that you can't understand or hear the language because ...

... it's not being prayed to you!"

The priest says, or, even better, sings, the mass to God for you and not to you for God. Your role in the thing is supportive.

If you're not familiar with the TLM, let me tell you about something that shakes most people: you're not allowed to say the words of the Our Father, or Pater Noster, because this is Latin after all, along with the priest. We're only allowed to say the last line, "Sed libera nos a malo", which is said as a response to the priest having said the rest of the prayer first. Even fans of the TLM sometimes bristle at that. I was at a mass last week where the priest turned to the congregation after the mass was over and chastised "the faithful" because some had joined in with him.

Why can't we? Because, as Lady Marchmain would say, it's not in the logic of the thing.

Here is a fascinating quote about Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (love that name) from a book I've been rereading:
The commission essentially made Viollet-le-Duc's reputation as one of the most important, even infamous, architects of the nineteenth century. Almost solely responsible for creating a new field of restoration architecture, he challenged the neoclassicism of the Académie des beaux-arts, whose traditionally conservative architects tended to dismiss Gothic buildings as ornamental, or at best superfluous. Viollet-le-Duc set out to prove them wrong, by insisting not on the beauty but on the extremely rational basis of Gothic architecture—the structural significance of every buttress and gargoyle. (Decadent Enchantments P7)
And, if you are going to get the Traditional Latin Mass, that is way to approach it. Don't look for beauty, look for the rational basis of the thing. There is a carefully reasoned significance to almost every detail of the TLM. Appreciating it means understanding those signifiers and how they fit into the underlying logic of the thing.

And getting to the point where you can do that is hard work.  You have to go at least 20 times before you start to get the sense of thing. And you have to start at home and prepare for the experience by reading the missal and figuring out, studying and, yes, memorizing the mass so that you can participate in it by not just following along but letting your heart leap along with it. You get to the point where you don't need to say the words of the Pater Noster because your heart feels every word the priest says and you affirm those words by responding "Sed libera nos a malo" at the end.

And that only gets you to the point where the mystery begins ...

More on this next week, but the the direction I'm going is to affirm that the TLM shows the way to be really modern. In a good way.

The Traditional Latin Mass: Romantic or Modern?

I know, talk about questions that no one is asking. And why would anyone ask such a bizarre question?

I think it's a question we should ask.

Humour me and start by considering that the TLM is a revival, a restoration. That, in itself, may seem crazy. Surely, you may think, it was continuously celebrated. The "spirit of Vatican 2" fabulists may have done all sorts of crazy things but they didn't succeed in entirely eradicating the TLM! Well, it's complicated.

For starters, the TLM was changed over the years and it was especially changed in the years leading up to Vatican 2. You can find comments from before the time of John 23 where people deplore how the once-great liturgy has been debased beyond recognition. They didn't mean the order of the mass but the ways in which it was celebrated. And that is the problem: there is no shortage of missals, but how do you interpret them?

I don't know what was going on world-wide but I do know that the people who fought to "preserve" the mass that I knew in the 1970s and the 1980s were often uncertain about what exactly they were preserving.

At first, the project was a matter not of re-establishing the Latin mass but of finding places where it was still said. I remember my father driving us to a little white clapboard church in a little community on the edge of the city when I was a kid. But this mass, even though it seemed interminable to my sister and I, was a low mass, not sung, and not elaborate. The little church had neither the resources nor the knowledge to celebrate a solemn mass. Already, a lot had been lost.

 And the Latin Mass had been modified a lot. When the reformers set about imposing the newer Liturgy (and that "imposing" is not a value judgment but simple fact) they ended up dividing the few remaining Latin Mass churches into isolated communities. There were "convents" here and there where the community was able to resist the pressures of the local bishop and continue to celebrate in the old form. These communities had to be careful, however, that they didn't achieve too high a profile for if large numbers of the outside community started attending, their internal matter could become a diocese matter and, therefore, subject to the authority of the bishop. Why does that matter? Because these communities had a local practice and no way of comparing with what was going on elsewhere.

There had also been a lot of experimentation with the Latin Mass in the 1940s and 1950s, most notably with the dialogue mass. This mass allowed the congregation, rather than just the server, to make some of the responses. But which ones and how much? Again, local practice varied.

This is not a scholarly examination of what happened and I'm not the person to do it. My anecdotal evidence, for what it is worth, is that the return of the Latin Mass was very much a restoration. It might seem that it was simply a mass of pulling out the old hymnals, of which there are thousands upon thousands still floating around (I own a least a half dozen myself) and following the directions. But that is never true because any ritual involves hundreds of interpretative decisions (compare various attempts to do authentic recreations of what the music of Haydn and Mozart "originally" sounded like). I remember listening in to many long, and often heated arguments, about what should and should not be done.

It's not quite like creating an authentic performance of Gregorian chant or even of Bartok, but there are very real questions. I mention Bartok because there are recording of Bartok playing his own piano music and, when these were studied, scholars quickly determined that he played his own music in a  style that differed significantly from current practice. Bartok died in 1945!

And I'll stop there for now. More this afternoon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The advice they give: Studies that prove things about sex that we'd rather not face

There is a video over at the Wall Street Journal that has been in the top five most viewed things at their site all week long. The subject: What Motivates Married Couples to Have Sex? That alone tells you something important, namely that a lot of married men want to figure out how to encourage their wives to be more motivated about sex.

If you watch the video and read the accompanying article carefully, you'll notice that the research the experts are citing makes them a little uncomfortable. They go to great lengths to talk around the subject. Right from the start, the author of the article, Elizabeth Bernstein, classifies these reasons as "positive" and "negative". She says that "people" who have sex, "to feel closer to their partner", have good sex and people who have sex "so their partner won't be angry" have not so good sex. (The authors of the study used the words "approach" and "avoidance" rather than "positive" and "negative".)

Well, you could classify those reasons as "positive" and "negative" or "approach" and "avoidance" but I don't think that gets you very far. The "negative/avoidance" reason could just as easily be phrased in a positive way. You could just as truthfully say that "people" who have sex, "to feel closer to their partner", have good sex and "people" who have sex "so their partner will be happy" have not so good sex. Now they are both positive/approach reasons! Feel better?

Now I'm going to put it yet another way with the intention of making you uncomfortable: What this study really says is that married women who have sex with their husbands for selfish reasons have better sex. Because that is what that result really says. Mary says that she wants sex because she wants to feel closer to her husband.

But, but, but, selfishness is bad isn't it? Well, maybe. But you might also say that there are good selfish reasons and bad selfish reasons. If Mary says she wants to have sex because she wants to feel closer to her husband that is one kind of selfish and if she says she wants to have sex to conceive a child because that is the only thing she ever really wanted out of this useless marriage in the first place and she is damn well going to get what she wants before she divorces that bastard and makes him pay child support so he isn't around here getting on her nerves all the time that is another kind of selfish reason. Put yourself in the position of her husband and ask yourself which one you want. You can measure the "selfishness" of your actions in terms of how you feel inside when you do them or you can measure it in terms of the actual effect your actions have on other people.

By the way, you may have noticed that I said women rather than married people in general. Well, look at this little vignette from the case of a Julie and Rob Binton mentioned in the article that Elizabeth Bernstein wrote about the study and see if anything jumps out at you. Julie, we are told, just wants to zone out in front of the TV at the end of her day.
But some nights, her husband, Rob, reaches over to rub her shoulders and offer her a back rub. And then Ms. Brinton thinks: "Has it really been three weeks? I guess we should probably have sex."

"I will do it for him," says Ms. Brinton, 34, who lives in Mesa, Ariz.

Mr. Brinton, also 34, appreciates his wife's gesture. "But afterward," he says, "I always feel guilty, that I've been selfish."
Yeah, it's not "people" that we are talking about but women people. This study establishes that women who have sex for selfish reasons have happier marriages than women who, as Julie puts it, "Do it for him". This shouldn't surprise us because other studies have found the same thing.

We should also take a closer look at the "positive" reasons that the authors of the study are so keen to have us see as the real cause of happiness. Bernstein gives as an example of a positive reason the woman who says that she wants to feel closer to her partner. Okay, now read how Julie describes the feelings that actually worked for her.
About a year ago, Ms. Brinton decided she and her husband needed to work on their sex life. "I thought, 'I want to enjoy sex. I want to feel connected to my husband. I want to reclaim my sexuality.'"

So she started doing things to make herself feel sexy: She bought new lingerie and started reading erotic romance novels.
She wanted to "enjoy sex". She wanted to "reclaim her sexuality". She wanted to "make herself feel sexy". And she wanted to "feel connected to her husband". Only one of those statements is about her husband. Three are about her. (And notice that the words "approach" and "avoidance" are just stupid in this case. They are just two more examples of words that people use when they want to make what is really a discussion about the pursuit of human virtue, in this case womanly virtue, appear clinical and scientific.)

Again, it's "selfishness". It's good selfishness when we consider that Julie might also have accomplished her goals by finding another sex partner. What redeems her selfish goals is not only that she decided to pursue them within the marriage but that it also met his selfish needs by solving his problem of "But afterward, I always feel guilty." He doesn't have to feel guilty if she wants to feel sexy.

The advice that should be given to women is that if they want a happy marriage they should work on claiming or reclaiming their sexuality. They need to figure out what works for them—what really works for them and not what they feel, because of peer pressure or "morality", should work for them—and apply it to their lives.

I think the key question here is, as I noted above, what is the actual effect our actions have as opposed to how do we feel inside. Suppose I buy you dinner at your favourite restaurant as a gift "for you". All through the meal I'm focused on you and your happiness but you can't help but notice that I toy with my food and take no pleasure in eating it. Can you really enjoy that meal? You'd get more pleasure if you left me at home and went out and paid to have that meal with someone who really enjoyed it.

Now, the Lemon Girl likes Vietnamese food and I don't. I, on the other hand, like satay dishes a lot more than she does. We can both meet these needs by going to different restaurants. Why not do the same thing with sex? People do cheat sexually, of course, but very few people start off meaning to cheat or casually agree to "go to different restaurants" every now and then.

I think the reason for this really jumps out at us if we look at another study that was written up in a really short article in Salon. That "really short" part matters. The headline reads:
Study: Non-monogamous couples as happy as other couples
And then we get this paragraph from which I have removed one word:
Researchers looked at consensual non-monogamy — relationships in which both adults agree to have multiple sexual or romantic partners — among ___ couples and found nearly identical levels of satisfaction as those in monogamous partnerships.
Convinced? Here is the quote with the missing word back in:
Researchers looked at consensual non-monogamy — relationships in which both adults agree to have multiple sexual or romantic partners — among gay couples and found nearly identical levels of satisfaction as those in monogamous partnerships.
Well, that kinda changes things doesn't it? Lest you think I'm making a point about same-sex relationships, ask yourself whether you think lesbian couples would be as happy with non-monogamy. (That's a rather odd word, don't you think; it's sort of like saying "non-truthful" so as to avoid saying "lying". It should tell us something that humanity has gotten along for several millenia now without ever having had to come up with a word for "consensual non-monogamy".)

If we read on, we find that "consensual non-monogamy" is a lot like anal sex—meaning that despite positive press in outlets like Salon, the vast majority of people decide they don't want to do it. "People" here again acting as a stand in for "women".
There are very few studies on consensual non-monogamy out there, perhaps because it appears to be so rare. Currently, between 4.5 to 10 percent of all relationships fall into this category, but the number could be higher.
If the vast majority of people choose not to do something it's usually for a good reason.

That's also one very weaselly paragraph. Yeah, the number could be higher. It could also be lower. And that there is a variation of more than 100 percent in the cited numbers tells us that we should be very dubious.

And I would want to know a lot more about how consensual non-monogamy works out in practice before reaching any sort of judgment. For starters, what's the break-up/divorce rate among these couples. And how does the power relationship work? Or, to put it more graphically, who does most of the sleeping around? It's one thing if Mary agrees to non-monogamy because that is what she really wants and another thing altogether if she does it because she thinks that is the only way she can keep her partner from leaving her.

To get back to my main point, sexual faithfulness means not holding yourself back. Doing something "for the other person" is to withhold yourself. Your spouse could get the same deal from a prostitute and probably feel slightly less guilty doing so. You are also telling them that you see sex as purely a physical outlet for them by doing this.

Jesus famously said that a man who looks at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. He was deliberately using hyperbole to shock us when he said that and not saying that looking really amounts to adultery. You could make an equal hyperbolic claim that a woman commits adultery when she walls off her sexual life. That, in my experience is what women who cheat do. But it is also a betrayal if you wall off your sexuality but don't take another partner. You may feel better about yourself because you're not betraying him by having sex with another but you are withholding yourself.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

From the comments

Gaius writes:
Maybe my least favorite part of the TLM is the fact that the scripture readings are sung in Latin. I know the Sanctus, the Credo, and the Gloria but there's no way I'm going to understand the Gospel reading sung in Latin.
That's a very good point. Even most people who have studied Latin could not follow the sung epistle and Gospel readings. Which defeats the point of having scripture readings in the Mass in the first place. We do this so that people can have the Word (capitalization intentional) fed to them through their ears. That is not achieved if everyone simply turns to the place in their missal where the translation is provided and reads along.

Now, critics of the current mass will rush in here to say that the reading at many Novus Ordo masses is so bad that it may as well be in Latin and that is true (no one should be reading along with the lector at Mass). But that is an issue of execution whereas it doesn't matter how well delivered the singing (or reading at a Low Mass) is at a Latin Mass.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The first in a series of posts on the Traditional Latin Mass

I went to a Latin mass for All Saints Day. The reasons for my doing so, as they say on FaceBook, are "complicated" so I won't go into them here.

Unlike most people, however, I have a long history with the traditional Latin mass (TLM). My father was a huge fan of it so I went often as  child and continued to do so long after it had disappeared from most parishes. I was still occasionally going to the TLM well into my twenties. I went quite often in university for the not terribly profound reasons that there was a church offering it right down the hill from my campus and I found the women that went more attractive than most of the women I would see at the regular mass available on campus.

Anyway, I eventually gravitated towards the Novus Ordo (that's the official name for the mass most Catholic churches use). I hadn't been in more than a decade until last Friday.

Before going back, I dug out one of my old missals and reviewed what was in it. There is surprisingly little difference between the two masses when you consider them on paper. If you'd never been to the TLM and looked at the missals, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Novus Ordo was just a streamlined version of the TLM. You'd quickly realize that was an illusion very quickly if you actually went to one. The main difference between the two masses is one of execution.

On the other hand, there is an argument that says, actually, there is very little difference between them and the seeming differences of execution are a consequence of the TLM usually being well-executed and the Novus Ordo being badly executed. This argument goes on to say that if the Novus Ordo was said as it should be said, it would come to resemble the TLM much more than it currently does.

So, what's it like

The first thing that hit me was the start. The thing about the TLM is that it just starts. No MC comes out to say good morning and tell you how welcome you are. Similarly, no cantor comes out to tell you what this morning's hymns are or to make you practice the refrain to the psalm. No one says, "Please stand and join us in our opening hymn." No, the music just begins and the altar boys, deacon, subdeacon and priest just begin processing (this was a solemn mass).

That may seem like a small thing but it really hammers home an important truth and that is that the mass (any mass TLM or Novus Ordo) is an event that happens independent of your presence. It doesn't require you.

In modern parlance, this sort of attitude, and there is lots of it in the  TLM, is treated as a barrier to full participation. That's not crazy, there are hurdles you have to clear to fully participate in the TLM—not the least of which is figuring out what is going on—but these aren't necessarily barriers.(Although any hurdle will be a barrier to the person who can't clear it.)

By way of analogy, is courtship a barrier to love? From the point of view of the lonely person it can often seem to be. Why do I have to go through all this ritual when I just need a little love? Of course, the person who just wants sex and isn't particularly interested in love will say the same thing. But is it just trust issues that make us go through courtship? Do we do all this just to get to know one another? Or is there something about going through all those steps, and facing the fear of rejection,

I wonder if the traditional rites of the mass don't serve a function like that. The TLM makes you work for certain but that work could be the making of a deeper bond. That is to say, far from being a barrier to full participation, these hurdles actually make for a more profound participation in the long run.

I don't know the answer to that. There will be more posts on the subject here on an irregular basis.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A little light culture: It's a nice day for a white wedding dress

It didn’t matter that I had never dreamt of my wedding day or created inspirational tulle-filled scrapbooks as a little girl; I still knew exactly what was expected of me, and I did not want to disappoint.
That's TracyClark-Flory writing at Salon.  She planned to have a "feminist wedding" but found that, as the day got closer and closer that it was slipping away from her.

White dresses are a major sticking point. Did you know that white dresses used to symbolize virginity? Actually, no they didn't.* But that urban myth apparently makes it difficult for a feminist to wear one at her wedding.

The problem here is that there is no problem. A real act of rebellion would be to wear a white dress anyway even though you weren't a virgin. Well, it would be if anyone was trying to stop you. You can do anything you want at your wedding. You can wear school-bus yellow or silver lamé if that appeals to you. You could get married naked at a nudist colony, or wearing scarlet leggings and a teal blue tank top in Las Vegas, or dressed up like your favourite super hero in a movie theatre you rent for the occasion.

There are 923 words in Clark-Flory's essay. The word "I" appears 51 times. The word "my" occurs 25 times. "Me" makes 7 appearances. The word "he" referring to her future husband occurs twice (and both times he is urging her to stand up for her feminist principles). The word "his" referring to her future husband does not appear even once. The word "we" referring to something they are doing together appears once ("we got engaged") and, most tellingly, the "our" makes zero appearances.

This, by the way, actually has nothing to do with feminism, however much it may appear to. Clark-Flory's feminism is every bit as much an I-I-I-my-my-my affair as her wedding:
... I have no interest in defining what is feminist for other women. All I can speak to are my own feelings about my own feminism ...
All she can speak to are her own feelings about her own feminism. Clark-Flory has no trouble seeing that "modern girdle" is a contradiction in terms, and it is, but she can't see that "my own feminism" is no feminism at all.

* White wedding dresses became popular because Queen Victoria wore one. She picked white because she had some lace she wanted incorporated in her dress. They have remained popular since then because most women really, really, really like them.