Thursday, June 28, 2007

Motu Appropinquabit

Around Saint Blog's there's all sorts of buzz about the motu proprio on the handling of the Ecclesia Dei indult. You can find it all sorts of places.

I only want to point out what I've found exceptional: Jeff Miller's take on a mad-lib for how one might construct a newspaper article in the mainstream (and madly liberal) media covering this event. However, that post brings to mind one of the serious concerns that many have about this impending release (and numbered amongst those concerned are many in favor the letter): worries, namely, that the media spin and the gossip on this subject may wreak havoc on some of the faithful and our shepherds. It is, therefore, with my tongue planted firmly away from my cheek that I endorse Father Z's recommendation of a novena leading up to the anticipated release date on July 7.

Anyone who knows me very well probably doesn't wonder what I think about this matter. One person asked me recently whether I approved of the Pope "letting priests say the Latin Mass again." The lady got a long answer, and to the question she actually asked rather than the one I presume she intended to ask (although she eventually got that, too). I carefully explained that I've attended the Latin Mass (i.e., the Latin rite liturgy as approved by the Church) every Sunday of my life and in recent years, even oftener. To the corrective, "I meant, in Latin," I responded with more cheek about Sacrosanctum Consilium and... well, you know, that old song. [Gregorian Chant?] Finally, I got around to saying what I thought about the relaxation of the governance of the usage of the old Missal. And now you might be wondering the same...

[Pregnant pause for suspense.]

Tonight, I was flipping through the channels and I came across something which interested me on the History Channel. It was the show Modern Marvels, which I usually enjoy, and the episode was all about cheese! Needless to say, I set the DVR to record this momentous hour so that I can savour it many times over.

I happen to like cheese. I think it is vastly superior to many other pleasures in which modern people indulge. To many in our contraceptive culture, however, cheese is incomprehensible. And I can understand this intuition, somewhat. Cheese begins with milk, which is wholesome enough: but it curdles. And curdled milk is the building block of cheese, once all the whey's been drained away. Your simplest cheese only needs a bit of good enzymatic bacterial reaction, some curdled milk, and a good shaking off of liquid. This is probably the form discovered by the ancients: and it's no wonder that it disgusts some. All you need to do is witness its production, or smell the process up close, and you might need some therapy to regain a taste for your favorite cheddar. But cheese is not merely corrupted milk. It is milk upon which art has been practiced. Milk is the white canvas: cheese is beauty rendered thereupon. And, as with all art (what Dante called "the grandson of God"), cheese is made in the likeness of man.

Men from all different cultures make all different cheeses. Chesterton, in one of his most brilliant essays, celebrates this wonder. Cheese tells a story. It tells of the land it came from, and can tell a lot about its makers. Cows grazing through dandelion fields will give the weed's inimitable flavor to their milk - and that flavor can be enhanced when translated into cheese. A cheese might kiss with the sweetness of clover or bite like proud rosemary, depending on ol' Bessie's caprices. And it was artful monks who first began to put the truest human signatures on cheese. They began with beers and brines and bacteria baths to train their cheeses to sing even more wonderful symphonies, and the art has continued to develop even to this day. And as with all arts, there are perversions, such as placing it in a canister under pressure to be "eezily" squirted.

Ah, cheese...

But... weren't we talking about the liturgy?

Well - I reply - haven't we been?

I think it a reverent enough comparison: the different rites of the Church's liturgy are like cheese. Good cheeses mind you. It would be uncharitable to infer from the above that I consider any major ritual adapted by the Church to be analogous to the "perversions" to which I referred. Rather, I would say that any basic cheese might be whipped and shoved ignobly into a can; and so might any rite be abused, and one could whip through the Tridentine Mass and can it into 20 minutes, with less reverence than a football game, just as easily as one might do so with the Novus Ordo.

Cheeses of different countrysides and different ages (rudimentary differences), embellished with all sorts of artful nuances (ostensible differences), combine to provide, in whole and tandem, a wonderfully variegated experience of the same essential substance. At two levels does cheese suffer impoverishment: first, when the artfulness of practice wears off and cheese is done without due care and devotion, and proper crafty adornment; second, when even choice becomes too limited and the rich variety available to the famished cheesemonger is made unavailable for no good reason.

I think an impoverishment might happen along similar lines in liturgy and ritual, at two corresponding levels. The former is the more serious: it is an abuse of the essential matter, however it comes translated into the hands of the custodian whose job it is to "celebrate" the substance with beautiful adornment and devoted practice. But I think that it is an impoverishment, as well, to have unnecessary limitation on a legitimate construction of the Church's rich tradition.

That's what I think: about cheese and about liturgy. I could have put it all more succinctly had I remembered the aphorism that everything we need to know, we learn in our earliest years. For I remember feeling, when all was said and done, that there was a moral lesson to be gleaned from the song about the farmer and his friends in the dell: it is sad when the cheese stands alone.



Blogger Tim said...

I love that the Motu Proprio is being released on 7/7/7. JACKPOT, BABY!!!
Overall, this is a very insightful commentary into both cheese and the liturgy. Now everytime I see a liturgical dancer giving the homily during the consecration to the chords of a ukulele, I'll call it Velveeta. It's our capitalist mentality that allows for either's existence.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think I've got some Munster in the fridge.

6/28/07, 1:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Hmm. I finally got around to reading this. It's well-written and insightful. I especially like the brine, bacteria, & balderdash bit.

Just when I was gearing up to offer a full plate of kudos to you, I read Tim's comment. "Wait a minute," I thought, "I like Velveeta. A lot!"

Immediately I formulated an analogy. Well-executed Liturgy is to Cabot (or something fancier, if you will) as Velveeta is to the good old "guitar Mass." Both are less than the best, and not quite AMDG. Both have a similar effect on people, however, which is not entirely bad. The power of Velveeta can be harnessed and used for good with shells and brocolli, or chili and tortillas. Mac n Cheese is AMDG! Maybe there's an analogy.

I'm just glad God is an experienced wrestler, because this match is taking forever.

7/10/07, 3:27 AM  

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