Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (Gaudete Sunday 2014)

     Gaudete!  Today, on this the Third Sunday of Advent, we look forward with Joyful Hope to the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, and at the End of Time.  Welcome also to Sunday Snippets (a Catholic Carnival); if you’re a fan of Catholic bloggery (and if you’re not, yet, you should give it a try), this is the place to go on the Lord’s Day.  Not simply my little corner of the party, but the main gathering at This That and the Other Thing [here], where a varied collection of Papist bloggers gather around RAnn’s Advent Wreath to share their posts from the past week.

The reredos at the Franco Center in Lewiston, ME
     Before I get to my own snippets, I’d like to share a couple other things from my week.  First of all, a pleasant surprise Friday night. My family and I attended a concert by a local youth orchestra in which the daughter of family friends was participating.  The youth orchestra was to be accompanied by a madrigal group from a local public high school.  We anticipated that the orchestra and singers would be good (and we were not disappointed), but given their secular affiliation (especially for the high school group), we didn’t expect that we would hear much about Christmas at this “Holiday Concert”.  The event was taking place in the auditorium of another public school, where a poster advertising the student production of a musical called “Urine Town” (no, I’m not making this up) tended to confirm our suspicions.  I am pleased to report, however, that not only did the student musicians beautifully perform songs about Christmas, but songs celebrating Christ.  Among other things, “I Wonder As I Wander”, which featured a lovely young soprano singing:

            I wonder as I wander out under the sky
            How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
            For poor orn’ry people like you and like I
            I wonder as I wander out under the sky

The players and singers concluded their concert with a glorious rendition of Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus”, with the clearly energized young people in the orchestra putting forth their best performance of the night, and the chorus joyfully singing out “And He [i.e., Christ] shall reign for ever and ever!”  No, it was not a religious observance, but it wasn’t supposed to be: it was, simply, a performance.  I found it refreshing that, at least in a small town in Maine, a group from a secular school can still sing Christmas songs at a Christmas concert without causing a Constitutional Crisis.
     It also brought to mind another experience from a few days earlier.  We attended a talk Wednesday night at a place in Lewiston called the Franco Center, formerly the Franco American Heritage Center, and before that, for most of its existence, St. Mary’s Church.  There’s always something sad about a former Catholic church building converted to secular use.  I couldn’t help but notice that this one retained an unusual number of churchy details, no doubt because of the important place Catholicism played in the lives of the French Canadian community for so many years: there was a large crucifix in a glass display case in the lobby, very few of the architectural details had been removed or hidden, and the display cases inside the nave contained, among other historical artifacts, vestments and prayer books.  The biggest surprise, however, was yet to come: in order to accommodate theater-style seating, a new floor had been built that sloped up from front to back, until it reached the pointed tops of the Gothic arches beneath which worshipers had entered in years past.  When we climbed atop this structure to our seats we were greeted with an unexpected sight: although the high altar itself had (of course) been removed, its towering wooden reredos remained (or better yet, this having been a French-speaking parish, it’s retable).  The niche for the tabernacle was still visible, the red Alpha and Omega still stood out prominently, and above all, a big beautiful Madonna holding the Baby Jesus.

Interior of the Franco Center, formerly St. Mary's Church
     It was a wonderful sight, but it prompted thoughts both negative and positive.  On the negative side, I was struck with the realization that this secular hall still looked more like a Catholic Church than many recent church buildings still being used for that purpose.  On the plus side, however, and the more lasting impression: I was reminded that, however difficult things may look along the way, the Gates of Hell will not prevail.  As with the Christmas concert, the Christian roots of our culture have a way of showing up in all sorts of places. It’s good to be reminded from time to time.
     As for the week’s snippets from Principium et Finis, I found myself giving more attention, sadly, to some of the more negative trends in the culture, particularly as the week wore on:

Monday – Another beautiful Psalm setting from another great, but neglected, composer: “De Profundis (C.W. Gluck)” [here]

Wednesday – “A person is a person”, Dr. Seuss assures us, “no matter how small”.  Well, not everyone agrees:  “Abortion Myth #12” [here]

Thursday – A revamping of a piece from this past Spring, this one examines some of the consequences of family break-down for the health of the Republic:  “Marriage, Family & Liberty” [here]

Friday – Dispatches from the Brave New World of sex education: “A Couple Paving Stones On The Road To Hell” [here]  

Finally, this being Gaudete Sunday, let’s end on a positive note: