The liturgical stance of Ren Aguila.

Before I continue, I draw attention to this bit of news I read today. The rumors are true. Please pray that the Lord will forgive and grant eternal rest to him.

*****

Yesterday was the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. On that occasion, the rector at the RC parish wherein I serve wore a red chasuble, which was a rarity for him. He didn’t want to embarrass the apostles, he said. And he delivered a sermon which would, in a sense, be the total opposite of, say, what a priest appearing on EWTN would say. He said that it was meaningless to demand that for instance communion should be received kneeling and in the tongue, and that women should be wearing veils in church. He was unhappy that people in church organizations were imposing standards of worthiness for membership. Only Christ makes us worthy, he said, and emphasized that mere church attendance was not enough to show one’s true Christianity.

I was half-expecting him to say, “How can we have Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament if we cannot spend an hour serving at the clinic?”

After that liturgy, my father and I had a discussion over dinner. He is a person who in Anglican ecclesiological leanings is low church. We have had disagreements over the question of liturgy, and last night was no exception. Our priest had managed to strike a nerve—I tended to agree with him half the time, but the other half infuriated me. He was on his way to arguing that liturgy was unimportant. My father on the other hand agreed with much of it.

My journey as a Christian has led me to the conclusion that, much like my mentors from the Episcopal Church, I am conservative on some things but not on others. And by conservative, I mean the kind that would not be branded as “reactionary,” a resistance to necessary change. I have recently come to adopt as my own a statement by the late Jaroslav Pelikan that I read on the wall of the Facebook group, “I want to be banned from GAFCON too!”:

“Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble.”

This of course is my position on the question of liturgy. I do think there is room for us to reappropriate the old, but we must not lose sight of why we do it. Liturgy is “useless” insofar as it does not serve a utilitarian purpose for us, but it ultimately matters because all life in a sense is supposed to be a life of praise and service to God in others, a God who calls us in spite of our frailties and unworthiness. If we cannot see that, then our liturgy indeed becomes problematic.

But if liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life, as the Second Vatican Council rightly teaches, can we not give it our best? Can we not allow a bit of transcendence, of a “break from the everyday,” to intrude into that time of worship? And I suspect that liturgy celebrated without a sense of gravitas means that everything that flows from it will be sloppy, whether in what is done or what is said. So if for instance one dumps the consistent use of incense in the liturgy, one dumps a powerful piece of intercessory symbolism in the Bible (Rev 8:1-4), which in the Eastern liturgy, for example, has always been connected with prayer for (and subsequent action on behalf of) those in need.

In fact, if Frank Weston were alive today, he would join me and my parish priest in chastising our bishops for paying more attention to the sexual orientation of those taking part in the Santacruzan than on whether the Church is doing right by the poor who are watching the Santacruzan walk by. And he would join me in asking whether dumbing down the liturgy is demeaning to both God and the poor in whom we see God’s face.

Good liturgy should lead into good social action. And vice versa. That is why I am proud to adopt as my own the tradition of those pastors in inner-city London who not only worked for the improvement of people’s lives in the slums, but also helped them see beauty and transcendence in their lives.

Weekend notes

1. The countdown begins to the Lambeth Conference, which is going to take place in a month. I am sure that there will be a lot said and done in the run-up, but all I can say is that cooler heads ought to prevail.

2. Thanks to Don Jon Alano, I discovered something called Ancient Faith Radio, an Orthodox-operated and funded web radio station. I am already enamored with the music feed, a shuffle of chants and sacred songs that don’t grate with me. (And the meditations sometimes read between the singing are pretty good themselves.) Now, I’m listening to the podcasts.

3. Of course, this weekend begins an important week for Philippine debate. One of the oldest debating societies in the Manila area, the UP Debate Society, begins their fifteenth anniversary on Saturday. And later in the week, the Ateneo Debate Society hosts the Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships. More on those soon.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Highlights and lowlights.

Last weekend, apart from the storm (of which enough has to be said), I attended a wedding. I mentioned Blue Leaf before because it just so happened that the reception was there. The wedding was of my mother’s cousin’s son, and it took place at a church which, from the South Expressway, looked like a very interesting set of corrugated boxes.

The highlight? Dinner. It was a wonderful wedding dinner, all four courses of it. (I fled before the meat course because I had another engagement to attend.) We had a very interesting Mexican corn soup for the starter, down to a tortilla topping, and then (I forgot the salad) the first entree, baked snapper topped with mango salsa on a bed of couscous finished with sour cream. The meat course was being served just as I was leaving, which was grilled tenderloin.

The bad part was at church. I honestly think that if ever I get married, I would have to work out the wedding liturgy in excruciating detail down to who sings it. The people who sang at church were most likely the same people who did the music at the reception. Hence, there was one unfortunate rendering. At communion time, I winced more than once at their rendition of Manoling Francisco’s “Tanging Yaman.” It was pathetic. They turned it into some jazz standard, complete with melisma.

Now it really offended me for two reasons. One, I know that this song was composed in a contemplative environment and deserved a rendering worthy of its original context. I would have had an organ and four-voice chorus do it if the organist knew how to accompany them. Two, I am somewhat conservative about liturgical music. I do not mind Taize or a U2charist, but I am unhappy with having silly renditions of tunes meant to draw us close to God in a particular way. So I think that for my wedding, or my… (figure that out), I will have to hire a real choir with a real group of musicians who can do justice to sacred music.

I don’t blame Fr. Manoling for that, though. I hope he and his Jesuit brothers now regret that they allowed “Tanging Yaman” to become the title of a commercial movie and thus liable to being covered in a crass, commercialistic, poppy way. And the Jesuit musicians should realize that they may soon suffer the kind of backlash that Marty Haugen, David Haas, and the St. Louis Jesuits are getting from a significantly noisy part of the Church in the US because of this. I should know; some of them are on a bulletin board I visit every day.

(On this note, I think I should really get that sacred music conference set up. Dr. Feliciano will be getting a visit from me sometime.)

Otherwise, I liked dinner.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Tomorrow is the commemoration of one of three birthdays in the liturgical calendar, the Birth of St. John the Baptist, the “great forerunner of the morn” as the old hymn goes.

It is a public holiday in two parts of the Manila area, including Manila proper, which was founded on this day four centuries ago. (Hence, Manila’s patron is St. John the Baptist too, I suppose.)

More importantly, it is the national feast day of Quebec, in Canada. But 128 years ago tomorrow, a band first played what became Canada’s national anthem. It was a smashing success. It was only in the 20th century when it became very popular throughout the country, gaining English lyrics early in the century. Around the time Canadians were beginning to debate whether it should attain official (rather than customary, much as “God Save the Queen” is in the United Kingdom) status, my university adopted a slightly adapted version of the song as its hymn. The adaptations occur at the first six bars of the verse, the first six bars and the last two bars of the refrain. In fact, what the adaptation has done was to make the last bar of “O Canada” end, not on a low note, but on a glorious, shoutable, high one. In fact, I think the last bar of “O Canada” sounds better with it.

So for the sesquicentennial, I hope Ateneo de Manila could present a symbolic thank-you gift to the people of Canada for borrowing their national anthem. Perhaps a grand performance of “O Canada” in both French and English, followed of course by the alma mater song, without missing a beat would suffice!

*****

Happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day to Francophone Canada, Porto, the Cities of Manila and San Juan, and Puerto Rico! Not to mention the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

A note from the Episcopal Church Council meeting

On some places where this will be reposted, I am sure that some readers will pay attention, so here is this excerpt from the Episcopal Church (USA) Executive Council meeting as reported by Episcopal Life Online:

“[Presiding Bishop Katharine] Jefferts Schori reported that during her recent trip to the Philippines, she visited Bishop Miguel P. Yamoyam, Episcopal Church in the Philippines’ provincial secretary, who suffered a stroke October 27, 2007 while attending the Executive Council’s meeting in Dearborn, Michigan. Yamoyam, she said, has recovered some movement on the side of his body affected by the stroke but has not recovered his speech. However, due to financial limitations and the fact that he and all Philippines clergy do not have health insurance, Yamoyam has been forced to stop his rehabilitation, Jefferts Schori said.”

Now please tell me what quickie autonomy has brought us. And please don’t tell me that St. Luke’s, an Episcopal institution, cannot even bother to tithe their time and resources to help Bishop Yamoyam. If that were the case, I’d suggest that all the Episcopal clergy seriously rethink being part of a church that can’t pay for health insurance.