Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Land of Silent Bell Towers

One of the most beautiful sounds in my mind is the sound of church bells calling out. The campanological songs that one remembers in the old movies that were set in England (like Mr. Chips) come to mind. The image of the great bells being rung out in the movie Becket is stirring. But here, in the United States, our bell towers are silent. It seems so strange to me that churches would erect a building with small little towers appended to one or both sides of the front as if they were a necessary decoration only. If churches did purchase bells, they were usually penuriously limited in scope, usually with only one to three bells. This is fine if the church happens to be a small mission type. But if it is a genuine parish church it should actually be an embarrassment. Very few churches in the United States built a well-proportioned, heavy bell tower and far fewer filled it appropriately.

Bells are very much a part of our historic heritage--and this goes throughout the entire Christian world, not only in the West. Churches built towers, campaniles, and filled them bells to sing out to the community at large. The bells marked the great feasts, important moments of the liturgical services, certain daily devotions (like the Angelus), the time of the day, weddings, funerals, deaths and even civil dangers. Bells were a familiar voice of the entire community. They were part of the family in an existential sense.

The bells have not completely ceased ringing out in Europe, and in some places there has been a little renaissance of the campanological art. But in the United States, our towers are largely silent even when they have bells. We seem too timid to proclaim the faith beyond the interior of the church building by ringing a bell. We fear the complaint of neighbors, and perhaps a complete change of 2-1/2 hours may be out of the question here, surely 15 minutes or so shouldn't be out of the question.

I recall the story about bells from a former parishioner who was from Denmark. She said that before she embraced her Christian faith, she used to get irritated by the sound of the bells on Sunday mornings in Denmark. They would ring throughout the city and it disturbed her. Later, she embraced her faith very devoutly and when she revisited her native country, her attitude to the ringing of bells was markedly different. She loved the sound of them. I have read that there is a real link to one's love of the faith and how one responds the ringing of bells. The bells crash through one's comfortable experience of leisure and call to mind the community that is larger and has more claim on oneself as well as piercing the false wall one builds up against the worship of God in his Church. It is unsettling to sit and enjoy the morning coffee and Sunday paper with the sound of the Church calling to one. It should be so.

Bells are evangelical. They proclaim the Gospel of Christ throughout the area (they can actually be heard a mile or so away when hung properly). They sanctify the time and space that we live in, and so they are not popular with the secularist. They are an habitual voice of faith proclaimed. They speak out that there is a Christian church present, that the worship of God is taking place and as such they are perhaps some of the most cost efficient tools for "getting the word out" about one's community.

They are also comforting. There is something about the sound of a strong and large tenor bell (the largest and deepest bell in a peal, or set, of bells) in a church tower that brings a sense of solidity to one's heart. The slow, steady tolling of the bell at a funeral helps the heart find a beat to live by which aids it to stay afloat in the midst of sorrow. The bells mourn with the bereaved, showing the sadness of all of creation at the loss of a son of God. The comfort of the toll reaches near to a sacramental experience.

What is more celebratory than when near the midnight hour in the cold and frosty dark, the bells sing out in a peal to announce the birth of Christ? They begin with the treble bells and move down sequentially to the tenor, and then they begin moving through a complicated mathematical dance of joy. The darkness comes alive in thanksgiving and exuberance.

And while bells are common to the entire Christian tradition, there is certainly a particular character that is Western. The bells themselves are different. In the Christian East they are cast and hung as they are. In the West, they are turned upside down and turned on a special lathe following their casting so that they may be tuned musically. The West tunes a bell to speak or ring out five distinct tones in the bell. Easterners make an argument that their bells are more Christian because they take the bell as a unique personality as given by God and allow it to speak with its own voice. That certainly represents one campanological school's religious description. It is certainly a nice allegory. But we must note that there is nothing at all dogmatic about it though it a nice way of explaining their approach. The Western approach is not empty of an equally valid and edifying allegory. Bells are tuned just as we fallen human beings must be perfected in our lives until at last we can sing more perfectly the praises of God. The turning becomes an image, or icon, of our spiritual struggles. It's an argument that is equally valid, and, to me, more powerful of where are right now, what is required of us and the beauty of a transfigured life.

The Eastern school is also entirely based on a rhythmic system, which is why the bells don't need to be tuned since it is the rhythm that is important and not the musical tonality. This helps to point out why the East never developed an equivalent of the Carillon so popular among the Belgians who mastered it. Bells are purchased in the East specified by the physical weight of the bell. In the West, they are purchased both by weight and the musical note. Every Western peal of bells can be classified by its musical harmony (diatonic and so forth) and whether or not it is flat, sharp or natural. This would never be thought of amongst the Easterners.

The West is not homogenous in its campanology however. There are some places in which rhythm plays a greater part, although it was never the exclusive focus. Most country parish churches in Italy had three bells, while larger churches had many more. The same was largely true throughout the Mediterranean. But as one moved north the number of bells increased. And as one crossed the English Channel, the theory of bell ringing changed as well.

The English tradition of change ringing is perhaps the most highly developed of all the Western campanological schools. Dedicated teams still practice and play the bells even in smaller parish churches throughout the land. It is an organic and overwhelmingly physical musical experience. The bells seem to even add a little sense of clarity to those who benefit from the work of the bell ringers.

How tragic it is that our towers stand silent. What a farce it is that we so quickly adopt electronic loud speakers to sound out an artificial ring. What does that say about our faith? Is "artificial" really acceptable or an apt description of our faith? Perhaps it is for some. I can accept that one might not be able to have a ready-at-hand team of bell-ringers for every Mass, for every funeral (and sadly, not even for every Sunday), but ought not one strive for this? I would suggest that the ideal is to have bells hung in towers so that they can be rung by hand by use of ropes, and optionally, when necessary, by an electrical motor that swings the bell. I think it is still important that the bells be swung to ring out. It also seems to me that a normal parish church ought to have a peal of six to eight bells, anchored by a goodly sized tenor of at least 10cwt. This would not be a terribly expensive peal and it would be capable a great diversity and beauty. And it ought to be noted that the bells will last for a thousand years being cast of good bell bronze. The investment in a proper peal is very little over the centuries. But we don't think in terms of permanence any longer. A great example of a good parish peal is Bradford Abbas, consisting of 6 bells (13cwt-2-21 in F). A recording of this peal is here:

What would our land be like if the bells began to sing? What would the little country churches that dot our country find if they consistently proclaimed the gospel with bells? I'm not sure that I can answer that with any certainty because I'm not sure how many people would recoil because of their spiritual state rather than be moved by the bells. Yet, I am certain that those who hold the faith would be encouraged, comforted and made more aware of their spiritual lives on a day-to-day, and minute-by-minute basis and surely this could help us begin to rebuild the faith in this formless world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seven Steps through Difficult Times

On my other blog, "PadreTex", I posted an article about how to deal with difficult times. Those of us who love the Western Rite and our heritage often find ourselves in such conflict. I commend that article to you (you can find the link on the side bar).

I'll be posting a new article here in the next day or two.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Culture: Local, Regional, and Universal

There's an old rag, "Never ask a man where he's from. If he's from Texas, he'll tell you. If not, you don't want to embarrass him." Everybody knows where I'm from and even this past week it was pointed out that, as a Texan, it puts me at a disadvantage to understand my parishioners because I'm two degrees removed from them: (1) I'm not from the Middle-Eastern culture, and (2) I'm not a Michigander. My assumptions and way of speaking is not immediately understood by them, and theirs is not immediately understood by me. That's a pretty fair comment I think. I have often said to any one who would listen that in assigning clergy, it is important to remember that the United States is not a homogenous culture. It is actually quite regional. We should expect that. Keep in mind that Texas is the size of France, which is known to have a distinct culture.

Why should I bring this up in relation to the Church? Because it is easily assumed that Christianity has only one culture, or that it should only have a singular culture. This is not quite the same thing as phyletism but it can certainly be one of its assumptions (phyletism is the heresy which holds that one's own ethnicity or culture is superior to all others and acts to suppress or subvert other cultures--without action it is only bigotry). I would like to suggest that Christian culture must be seen as a parallel to ecclesiological order. It is unavoidable. Remember Christ became a very specific human being, in a specific historic time, with a specific culture. If we are real human beings, we will have a real culture that is ours and this will impact the life of the Church.

So how do we begin to make heads or tails out of this, and what is the core of Christian culture? Christian culture exists on a local level, a regional level and a universal level (this should sound familiar to the Ravenna Agreement), but it works slightly differently than ecclesiological authority which operates through the Eucharist and is therefore complete locally as well as universally. In Christian culture the common general elements are found in the universal level and then become more specific as one moves down to the local level.

At the universal Christian level are such things as the Sacraments which must be held, the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, etc. These are not just simple and general, but there are some specific things here that cannot be cast off. For example the basic shape of the Eucharist is part of the universal culture of the Church. It begins with preparation, hymns, readings from the Scriptures one always being taken from one of the four the Gospels another usually from one of the Epistles, or in some cases from the Old Testament. There is always the offering of the gifts of wheat bread and real wine from grapes. The consecration of the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ which include the words of Christ (except in one ancient liturgy) and often an invocation of the Holy Spirit (although not universal in the ancient liturgies). There are the communions and a dismissal.

This is the universal shape which can be recognized in all Eucharistic liturgies around the world. The exact words used and the ceremonials which attended the Eucharistic liturgies were made specific on the regional level. At one time there were a great number of various liturgies (or rites) and now there are relatively few. It is common to speak of two major ritual families: the Eastern and the Western, both of which have several variants. For example in the Western there is the Roman, Gallican (French), Mozarabic (Spanish), and Ambrosian (Milanese) Rites. By far the most common of these Latin Rites is the Roman. But it had local variations too such that, if one is aware of the details, one can tell the difference between English customs and German ones.

This is quite important really because it allows the local culture to take both the universal and regional and make them real in a profoundly personal and obedient manner. It reinforces the Gospel itself and the real personality of those around the altar. When a local culture takes the universal and regional, digests it, interiorizes it and embraces it, it gives it back in a marvelously new manner. The local temperament is expressed and understood.

This historical organic life can be challenged and upset in places like the United States which has been characterized both by immigration and migration. Regional religious culture can undone when a large group from another region immigrate. It can also upset things when local character is not understood or is undervalued. The United States is essentially an English culture with some modification. Its cultural roots and biases are English. Its laws are English, both civil and common law (except from Louisiana which has a mix of English and French law). Her religious life was also formed with an English temperament. That's unavoidable since the Church of England was the established Church in most of the early colonies.

With immigration from Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean there has been a large influx of a different regional culture. It is still Christian culture for it holds to the universal pattern as established in the early Church and the Scriptures, but it has as its base a different set of assumptions and resolutions. It's world view is different. Even here the local variations can create tension (i.e., between the Greeks and the Russians, etc.).

But what happens when the later regional mind comes into immediate contact with an established regional culture? They don't seem to mix and create something new. They tend to polarize against one another. They also insist on the conformity of any "converts" into their own regional culture. In the long run the later culture dies--unless it has an incredibly large number--because by the third generation many of its children are gone. The only hope for a long lasting second culture, is that it and not the founding culture adapt to new circumstances. This is true because all of the externals of the civilization and locality are all ready set and are not up for grabs. If this doesn't happen, then the new group becomes increasingly disconnected with the real needs and concerns of those around, becoming nothing more than ethnic enclaves and ghettos with no real formative power.

This is what I think is under the hood of the experience of Orthodoxy in this country. Its culture has been strongly established within its Byzantine history (partly because of the abuse of the Ottoman Turks and the Communists) and is so rigid as to be set in stone. Recovering a "more Orthodox" mind is done by becoming more Greek or whatever. The monasteries of Fr. Ephraim spring to mind. But in parishes there is a disconnect. Children go to the Episcopal Church, or the Roman Catholic Church or whatever and it is not seen as a problem to many families. The children cannot connect to the attendant culture of the parent's parish because the world they live in is not the old country. The local life they have cannot support the local manifestations of a village ten-thousand miles away.

I have already written about the tragedy of people giving up their own culture to adopt a new one. They don't become something new, they only really are able to reject what they are and thereby become nothing, "a man without a country," without a father and mother.

The culture of the United States can only find its real ultimate cultural life in the old Latin Mass. English culture ultimately springs from this as does all of European culture. There are so many unconscious connections to this regional liturgical life in our culture that it would be impossible to list them all. But they are still present in an intuitive sense. Even if we can't quite put our finger on it, we know that there should be something there. It is here that the regional and local cultures must once again begin to live. Authentic life demands it. Sanity demands it. A healthy integrated life demands it. Oremus. (Let us pray.)

Hmmm. A Little House Keeping.

I have been out-of-pocket the last couple of days with no computer access and I regret that. The comments on the last two entries got a little out of hand. I apologize for that. I will give a wide berth in comments but there needs to be a few boundaries.

This blog is for the purpose of supporting the Western Liturgy. I will make comments about concerns and liturgical subjects and the state of the Western Rite. It is not limited to WR Orthodoxy. It will also look at Rome and elsewhere, but I am where I am, so it necessarily circles around the little world of the WR within the Orthodox Church. Having been an Anglo Catholic, it will also look directly at the current world in which Anglo Catholics find themselves.

But this blog is not about attacking the Eastern Rite or Orthodoxy. There are problems with modern Orthodoxy to be sure. I can name them very quickly because I live there. But the Orthodox are Christians, whatever their sins and errors and we should not demonize them. The Eastern Rite, while not my native Rite, is ancient and venerable. Even the WR altar missals refers to it in the preparation of the priest before Mass in very complementary terms. The authentic WR practice has never disparaged the ER's authenticity and apostolic heritage.

Therefore, I need to stress that all of our comments must keep a civil tone. We shall not demonize anyone. We may point out errors, we may disagree, but the tone should be kept high and civil. If this is an ascetic struggle for some, then I would suggest that it's a healthy one regardless of where one stands. I will endeavor to do a better job of monitoring from now on.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Answer for the Western World

I hate like the dickens when someone rages against the Western culture. It just sticks in my crawl. Almost every where one turns, one hears people bashing our European heritage. Academics belittle it as a matter of course. The virtues of the far east are help up as being magnificent, while we are to be considered power and money hungry barbarians.
   There is a reason for all of this and that is that at the very bottom, the elite classes want to abolish Christianity--upon which the Western culture is based. The heritage of those of us from European countries is decidedly Christian. But the very height of that culture is the old Mass. Think of it. All of the most beautiful art, all of the glorious compositions of musical geniuses like Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Victoria, Palestrina were created for the use of the Church's worship. As my mentor used to say, "It is the Mass that matters." And so it is.
   I am convinced that to resurrect the Western culture to its proper place the Mass must be brought back to the center of life. And it must be the old Mass which was the living tradition in the West from the time of the Apostles. It is not enough to have a Eucharistic liturgy. The Divine Liturgy will not function in the manner that is needed. No, it is a product--which is altogether magnificent and beautiful--of a different culture. The Latin Mass (even in liturgical English) is what formed our parents and ancestors. It is still the quiet and almost unknown heartbeat of our culture.
   But it is the very answer to all of our social ills too. Economics? Absolutely! In the Mass one is united to the God-man. We are filled with wonder and moved by the sight of heaven. The world cannot defeat us nor injure us for we have been united with Life himself and death has been annihilated. Therefore we can face the economic woes not only with courage, but with confidence and joy. The Mass is in fact the answer to all of the plagues of human life, for it is the answer that Christ has given us to be joined to him and united in one Body.
   I recall the words of Christ about putting new wine in old wineskins and causing the to burst. Very often I think this has been the experience of people who have become Orthodox. The "native" Orthodox certainly feels as thought the ground has been shifted under their feet and is no longer the same. Their world seems to have burst. The same is experienced by the convert as well. Their world bursts with the new wine poured into their lives. Friends forsake them, the rhythm of life is greatly altered with new liturgical cycles, and what once made intuitive sense in our culture no longer seems to fit as well. Things get forced in, square pegs are hammered into round holes.
   I am always grieved when I see convert clergy begin acting as if there were Greek or Russian, especially when I can tell from their names that they are Scot, or Irish, or English, or German. The only way for them to make sense of this new world is to reject who they were before. They change their names, even if their previous name was a Saint's name, to show that change is complete. [I want to re-embrace my given name of Guy! I love my name, it's a treasured family name as well as being a Saint name. You'll notice that my blog has taken back my name again as I used it before seminary. And yes, I will absolutely answer to Fr. Guy or just Fr. Winfrey.]
   I spoke with one woman today who has found the Eastern Rite too foreign. She loves the faith, but the liturgy and culture are just not hers. And why should she be forced to change what was not required even by the Apostles upon the Gentiles in the Book of Acts? This makes me believe quite strongly that if people are going to be brought into salvation here in this very Euro-centric land, it can only happen with the old Mass. Anything else will burst the wineskins and people will be lost and hurt.
   As my mentor said, "It is the Mass that matters." And so it is. So… Introibo ad altare Dei (I will go unto the altar of God).

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Year King Uzziah Died…

To me, that phrase is a powerful one. It marks a particular point in time when things changed in Israel. One could use any number of "moments," but this one will do for deaths do mark changes. Change causes anxiety and angst, but we are all called to change so it seems that it must be part of the human experience as God has given it to us.
   I opined on my other blog about the potential changes coming to the Orthodox Church regarding jurisdictional/canonical corrections. As I pointed out there, it is an absolutely necessary change for Orthodoxy. But strictly speaking it is a heartbreak to me because of the Western Rite.
   I had lunch with a dear friend of mine today and we spoke a little about what is going on. You know how priests are when we get together. We have to share the latest news and our opinions and thoughts about it all. Sad to say that we probably don't confess gossip as much as we should. That reminds me, I have some to do.
   I commented that with the unification of jurisdictions, I am concerned for our Western Rite. The comment I received was chilling. "It will probably just be a marginal note in the history of Orthodoxy." There are too few real parishes and they aren't stable is an accurate paraphrase of another comment from my friend. What are 25 diminutive, struggling, widely-variant parishes in the face of Orthodox unity? His words hit their mark. I know he is right, but it doesn't make it more palatable. So, has the King died? I fear if he hasn't that he is probably on life-support and some of the doctors are urging that the plug is pulled from his ventilator. All at a time that I started reviewing my Latin again!
   What are the possibilities then for the WR parishes? I can only see two. I think they will be given an option to either "go native" and become Eastern Rite, or to be released from the omophorion of our current bishops. I would hope the latter might be done with a generosity of spirit, giving their communities whatever assets they currently hold (building, capital, vestments and so forth). This has happened in the past with the Gallican Church in France, which was an odd Orthodox Church which used the Gallican Rite (a modern re-creation of a medieval French use). They were released from the Romanians and have become a unit of one. They have also since done things which have closed the doors from their coming back to Orthodoxy.
   Will our little WRV fair the same? I think so. If I were to speculate, I would think that most will probably accept being released rather than becoming Eastern Rite. There might be some little desire to remain connected together to see if they could find other digs, but I'm not sure there is really enough unity among our WRV for that to be successful even in the short run. Most of the parishes have suffered and sacrificed enormously to keep their historic liturgical use and it would be too brutal for pastors to force their people to change. I'm not sure their souls would ever recover.
   If they could not stay together and come to a common vision, they would not be able to find anyone who would take them in within Orthodoxy. But parishes cannot live as solecistic communities. Without other communities (and a bishop), there is no communion… there is no Church.
   I rather suspect that a few will try to go back from whence they came. I doubt that any would become Episcopalians again, but I could see some of them decide to become "continuing Anglicans." There is a deep anti-Roman bias among many of them, so I would assume that they would feel forced to look for another type of non-papal catholicism. Perhaps some would go to the American Orthodox Church which has some tenuous claim to the apostolic lineage of Oftimios Ofesh and has a WR. I think some would probably find that very comfortable because they could become married bishops.
   The Old Catholic Church has gone pretty flat in the last couple of decades. There are many groups who claim a Mathew line of succession, but profess heresy or are "affirming catholics" in the modern Episcopalian sense. I'm not sure any one would head there.
   I would hope that none of them would decide to start their own church, but sadly, I think there might be just one or two who would consider such a thing if they couldn't remain WR Orthodox. I will never say whom I think would do so, but I have a couple in mind. That's all the Church needs… one more denomination.
   Finally we come to the only other possibility that I could see and that is Rome. As I wrote above, I think there are many of the guys that are too Romophobic to even countenance such a possibility. But I honestly think that this would be the best direction for those who love the WR should they not be able to stay where they are. I was told by a good friend of mine that he thinks there is a natural problem for a minority rite within a larger church. I think that's probably true. The "Roman Option" was certainly something that I personally considered in 1991 before I became Orthodox. It was for me an impossibility because I believed that I had a vocation to the priesthood and was married. It was not a problem of belief so much as a problem related to a discernment of vocation.
   These will be stressful times for anyone who loves the WR. It will cause anxiety and sadness because I do believe that the King is dying. Yet through this stress, we must be able to be honest with ourselves and allow ourselves to question our own assumptions because something will have to change. There will be no choice. We need to pray. We need to read and meditate and ask for God's guidance.