The Christian Review 2014

Sacred Music for Christmas

Deal W. Hudson
December 5, 2014

At Christmas, music abounds. There is no other sacred day or holiday, so deeply intertwined with music.  If you are considering stretching your musical palette this Christmas, here is a list to choose from.  You may already know many of these pieces but you may not know the particular recordings I have recommended.

I’ve limited my choices to recordings that are presently available on CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, or digital downloads. This list is alphabetized, rather than listed in chronological order. This was necessary since recordings will often include several pieces composed years apart, perhaps much more.

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What I would call ‘Indispensable Sacred Music Recordings’ are marked with an ***.

1. Barber, Agnus Dei, The Esoterics (Naxos).
2. Bernstein, Mass, cond., Leonard Bernstein (Columbia).
3. Briggs, Mass for Notre Dame, cond., Stephen Layton (Hyperion).
4. Brubeck, To Hope! A Celebration, cond. Russell Gloyd (Telarc).
5. Bruckner, Motets, Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral (Delphian).***
6. Byrd, Three Masses, cond., Peter Phillips (Gimell).
7. Burgon, Nunc Dimittis, cond., Richard Hickox (EMI Classics).
8. Celtic Christmas from Brittany, Ensemble Choral Du Bout Du Monde (Green Linnet)
9. Chant, Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (Milan/Jade).
10. Charpentier, Te Deum in D, cond., Philip Ledger (EMI Classics).
11. Christmas, The Holly and the Ivy, cond., John Rutter (Decca).
12. Christmas, Christmas with Robert Shaw, cond., Robert Shaw (Vox).
13. Christmas, Cantate Domino, cond., Torsten Nilsson (Proprius).***
14. Christmas, Follow That Star, The Gents (Channel Classics).
15. Christmas in Harvard Square, Saint Paul’s Boys Choir (AimHigher).
16. Christmas: Moravian Christmas, Czech Philharmonic Choir (ArcoDiva)
17. Desprez, Ave Maris Stella Mass, cond., Andrew Parrott (EMI Reflexe).
18. Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius, cond. John Barbirolli (EMI Classics).***
19. Finzi, In Terra Pax, cond. Vernon Handley (Lyrita).
20. Gonoud, St. Cecilia Mass, cond. George Pretre (EMI Classics).
21. Gorecki, Beatus Vir & Totus Tuus, cond. John Nelson (Polygram).
22. Handel, Messiah, cond., by Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi)***
23. Haydn, Creation, cond., Neville Marriner (Phillips).
24. Haydn, Mass in Time of War, cond., Neville Marriner (EMI Classics).
25. Hildegard of Bingen, Feather on the Breath of God, Gothic Voices (Hyperion).
26. Howells, Hymnus Paradisi, cond., David Willocks (EMI Classics).***
27. Hymns, Amazing Grace: American Hymns and Spirituals, cond. Robert Shaw (Telarc).***
28. Lauridsen, Lux Aeterna & O Magnum Mysterium, cond. Stephen Layton (Hyperion).***
30. Liszt, Christus, cond., Helmut Rilling (Hannsler).
31. Liszt, The Legend of St. Elisabeth, cond., Arpad Joo (Hungaroton).
32. Morales, Magnificat, cond., Stephen Rice (Hyperion).
33. Palestrina, Canticum Canticorum, Les Voix Baroques (ATMA).
34. Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli, cond. Peter Phillips (Gimell).
35. Parsons, Ave Maria and other Sacred Music, cond., Andrew Carwood (Hyperion).
36. Poulenc, Gloria & Stabat Mater, cond., George Pretre (EMI Classics).
37. Respighi, Lauda Per La Nativita Del Signore, cond., Anders Eby Proprius).
38. Rheinberger, Sacred Choral Music, cond., Charles Bruffy (Chandos).
39. Rutter, Be Thou My Vision: Sacred Music, cond., John Rutter (Collegium).***
40. Saint Saens, Oratorio de Noel, cond., Anders Eby (Proprius).
41. Shapenote Carols, Tudor Choir (Loft Recordings)
42. Tallis, Spem in alium & Lamentations of Jeremiah, cond., David Hill (Hyperion).***
43. Vaughn Williams, Five Mystical Songs, cond., David Willcocks (EMI Classics).***
44. Vaughn Williams, Pilgrims Progress, cond., Adrian Boult (EMI Classics).***
45. Victoria, O Magnum Mysterium & Mass, cond., David Hill (Hyperion).***

Art Worth Dying For?

Deal W. Hudson
December 6, 2014

A Review of “The Monument Men” (2013)

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Starring George Clooney, “The Monuments Men,” chronicled the efforts of 345 men and women from 13 nations who volunteered to recover works of arts stolen by the Nazis. Created in 1943 by an act of Congress and the support of President Roosevelt, this mix of soldiers and commissioned scholars, including museum directors, art historians, and architects risked their lives to protect monuments and return priceless works of art and books to their rightful owners.

By 1951 they had facilitated the return of over 5 million stolen objects to their owners — many, however, were never found. Only one-tenth of what was taken from Poland was ever recovered.

If you, my reader, had the chance to volunteer for such a mission, would you have accepted it?  Would you have considered risking your life to save a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci or a rare illuminated manuscript of the Gospel of John from the Middle Ages?

Robert M. Edsel, a wealthy businessman from Dallas, became intrigued, obsessed really, with the story of Nazi plundering and the men and women who volunteered while WWII was still raging. Edsel’s books and his Monuments Men Foundation have resulted in books, films, and public awareness of a story that has still not reached its end, and probably never will.

In February 2012, customs officers found 1,400 works of arts, including paintings stolen by the Nazis, hidden in a Munich apartment.

The Monuments Men, based upon a book co-authored by Robert M. Edsel, should be seen in conjunction with the 2006 documentary he co-produced, “The Rape of Europa.” Based on a 1994 book by Lynn H. Nicholas. the documentary is curiously more compelling than the recent film. Whereas the film is a dramatic retelling of the recovery operation, the documentary shows the systematic plunder of artwork from museums and galleries across Europe, especially from the Jews.

One story from Edsel’s book speaks, as they say, volumes — he writes about interviewing one of the last surviving Monuments Men, 98-year old, S. Lane Faison Jr. During the interview, Faison, who knew about Edsel’s colossal effort, asked him why he thought art was so important. Edsel answered by quoting a sentence carved into the stone entrance to a Budapest museum: “Ars longa, vita brevis,” translated, “Art is long, life is short.” Faison then told a stunned Edsel those were the words that would be on his gravestone. Faison died two weeks later.

The reader might now be thinking, “One human life is more important than rescuing the Mona Lisa.” After seeing The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa, you might think twice about that. Both films testify to the myriad ways that art and humanity are intertwined – that our identity, values, and historical memory are stored in the works of art we esteem and protect.

The French so loved the works in the Louvre that they completely emptied it in advance of the German occupation in May 1940. Thirty-seven convoys of eight trucks each took the entire collection to castles and estates all over France. Paintings were moved from place to place to avoid detection. Individual paintings like the Mona Lisa, as well as complete art collections, were assigned curators for the duration of the war. The art of the Louvre survived intact.

The great Hermitage museum in Leningrad sent one million of its treasures to Siberia, and the staff lived in its cellars during the long German siege of the city, prepared to fight hand-to-hand to defend the remaining collection.

Adolf Hitler aspired to be a painter, and he became a tyrant. As a painter he was mediocre, but his understanding of art’s power was second to none. Hitler knew that conquering Europe would require more than war; it would call for a complete domination of the culture, especially its art and architecture.

Long before coming to Paris for his first visit, Hitler and the Gestapo, especially Hermann Goering, had been stealing whatever art they wanted from Jews in Germany and Austria. Every Nazi leader had an art collection, often numbering in the thousands of pieces. Some of the modern art was burned for being “decadent”; some went into Hitler’s and Goering’s vast private collections; others went to the new House of German Art built in Munich to the Fuhrer’s own specifications.

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The author and his son, Cyprian, in front of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

The documentary footage of Hitler’s blitzkrieg of Poland shows the deliberate razing and torching of Poland’s cultural treasures. Warsaw’s Royal Castle, the symbol of Polish identity, was plundered but not initially destroyed (the Italian allies protected it): It was drilled with holes throughout, where sticks of dynamite were inserted and used to intimidate the populace into submission.

It didn’t work, and when the Poles attacked the German occupiers during the Warsaw Uprising, Hitler’s original order to destroy the castle was carried out. It took 30 years for the Poles to rebuild the structure out of the powdered rubble that remained after the war.

In Krakow, great care was taken to protect the famous altar at St. Mary’s Church, built over 19 years by sculptor Veit Stoss. When it was dismantled and shipped to Berlin, the Poles of Krakow complained that they “could not pray without it.” But the Germans considered the altarpiece “German,” and “all German art should be brought back to Germany.”

One of the Monuments Men, Rose Valland, played in the film by Cate Blanchett, put her life on the line to return art stolen from French Jews. The Nazis housed their looted paintings at the Jeu de Palme, where Valland worked as a secretary. Not disclosing her knowledge of the German language, she secretly kept a diary cataloguing 16,000 paintings, their owners, and their original homes.

When they started losing the war, what the Nazis could not haul away they simply destroyed. Before leaving Florence, they blew up all the magnificent medieval bridges except the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge across the Arno where Dante first saw Beatrice, Ponte Santa Trinita, was reduced to a pile of stones. In their retreat out of the Soviet Union, German soldiers stripped and vandalized the country estates of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and even the Russian national poet Pushkin.

One moment from the documentary stands out: ”I lost all my family memories,” said one Jewish man who was detailed to the warehouse where he helped pack the 22,000 items, stolen from French Jews, for shipment to Germany from Paris. The only member of his family not sent to the camps, he saw his own family’s possessions arrive in the warehouse one day for transfer out of the country. Hoping not to be noticed, he grabbed a suitcase and filled it with photos only to leave it all behind when he escaped to freedom.

The great works of art, as well as other property stolen by the Nazis, are still being returned to the descendants of their original owners. And as these grandchildren receive once-lost paintings into their hands, “life is created from art again.” Or as is written on the headstone of Monument Man, S. Lane Faison Jr. — Ars longa, vita brevis.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans announced Jan. 23 that the Monuments Men will have their own gallery in 2016

Soundtrack Suggestions for Christmas

Deal W. Hudson
December 7, 2014

"King of Kings" soundtrack by Miklos Rozsa.

“King of Kings” soundtrack by Miklos Rozsa.

It’s not too far-fetched to say that film music has become our “classical music.” Far, far more listeners have heard full orchestras blaring in movie theaters than in concert halls for the past fifty years.

This tradition of symphonic music which was announced by Max Steiner’s massive score for “King Kong” (1933) is now regularly played in concert halls by orchestras seeking to win a new audience and woo back the listeners they lost by jumping on the modernist bandwagon, with its deliberate rejection of tonality, and the human ear.

The list below represents a classical music tradition that never broke with the development of tonality in the Western music tradition. In other words, an appreciation for film music is, necessarily, an appreciation for ‘classical music,’ that is, music reflecting the legacy of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, and Strauss.

Any of these 100 film scores, the best I can think of, would make fine Christmas presents to friends or family, or even yourself!

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The music for “Ben Hur” was written by the great Hungarian composer, Miklos Rozsa.

Let’s go even further: Not only does the film composer employ all the potencies of the modern symphony orchestra, and often vocal soloists and a chorus, the composer draws upon the entire development of Western music (and sometimes non-Western) in creating a 90 to 120 musical narrative to accompany the action and dialogue on the screen.

But here there’s an even more important point to make: At the very time that film music was emerging as a developed art form, the mainstream of classical music took a wrong turn towards atonal and twelve-tone compositions. The late Romantic musical tradition, as represented by Mahler, Bruckner, and Richard Strauss, was carried forward by film composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Herrmann. Both Korngold and Rozsa had been established by classical composers before arriving in Hollywood, so they literally embodied the bridge I am describing.

-1. City Lights, Charles Chaplin (1931)
-2. King Kong, Max Steiner (1933)
-3. She, Max Steiner (1935)
-4. Modern Times, Charles Chaplin (1936)
-5. The Charge of the Light Brigade, Max Steiner (1936)
-6. Anthony Adverse, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1936)
-7. Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Prokofiev (1938
-8. Gone With the Wind, Max Steiner (1939)
-9. Sea Hawk, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1940)
-10. Thief of Bagdad, Miklos Rozsa (1940)
-11. 49th Parallel, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1941)
-12. Citizen Kane, Bernard Herrmann (1941)
-13. The Uninvited, Victor Young (1941)
-14. That Hamilton Woman, Miklos Rozsa (1941)
-15. Now, Voyager, Max Steiner (1942)
-16. Kings Row, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1942)
-17. The Song of Bernadette, Alfred Newman (1943)
-18. Mr. Skeffington, Franz Waxman (1944)
-19. Henry V, William Walton (1944)
-20. Laura, David Raksin (1944)
-21. Spellbound, Miklos Rozsa (1945)
-22. Forever Amber, David Raksin (1947)
-23. Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Bernard Herrmann (1947)
-24. Red River, Dimitri Tiomkin (1948)
-25. Scott of the Antarctic, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1948)
-26. The Red Pony, Aaron Copland (1949)
-27. The Heiress, Aaron Copland (1949)
-28. All About Eve, Alfred Newman (1950)
-29. Quo Vadis, Miklos Rozsa (1951)
-30. A Christmas Carol, Richard Addinsell (1951)
-31. A Place in the Sun, Franz Waxman (1951)
-32. Scaramouche, Victor Young (1952)
-33. The Bad and the Beautiful, David Raksin (1952)
-34. High Noon, Dimitri Tiomkin (1952)
-35. The Quiet Man, Victor Young (1952)
-36. Shane, Victor Young (1953)
-37. I Vitelloni, Nino Rota (1953)
-38. Around the World in 80 Days, Victor Young (1954)
-39. Prince Valiant, Franz Waxman (1954)
-40. On the Waterfront, Leonard Bernstein (1954)
-41. Richard lll, William Walton (1955)
-42. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, Alfred Newman (1955)
-43. Night of the Hunter, Walter Schumann (1955)
-44. Diane, Miklos Rozsa (1956)
-45. Peyton Place, Franz Waxman (1957)
-46. Raintree County, Johnny Green (1957)
-47. The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Malcolm Arnold (1957)
-48. Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann (1958)
-49. Ben Hur, Miklos Rozsa (1959)
-50. North by Northwest, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-51. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-52. The Nun’s Story, Franz Waxman (1959)
-53. The Magnificent Seven, Elmer Bernstein (1960)
-54. Exodus, Ernest Gold (1960)
-55. Psycho, Bernard Herrmann. (1960)
-56. The Alamo, Dimitri Tiomkin (1960)
-57. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Henry Mancini (1961)
-58. King of Kings, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-59. El Cid, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-60. Lawrence of Arabia, Maurice Jarre (1962)
-61. To Kill a Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein (1962)
-62. Taras Bulba, Franz Waxman (1962)
-63. The Pink Panther, Henry Mancini (1963)
-64. Charade, Henry Mancini (1963)
-65. The Leopard, Nino Rota (1963)
-66. Goldfinger, John Barry (1964)
-67. The Fall of the Roman Empire, Dimitri Tiomkin (1964)
-68. Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre (1965)
-69. Sylvia, David Raksin (1965)
-70. The Greatest Story Ever Told, Alfred Newman (1965)
-71. A Man and a Woman, Francis Lai (1966)
-72. Sand Pebbles, Jerry Goldsmith (1966)
-73. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ennio Morricone (1966)
-74. Casino Royale, Burt Bacharach (1967)
-75. Two for the Road, Henry Mancini (1967)
-76. Far from the Madding Crowd, Richard Rodney Bennett (1967)
-77. The Lion in Winter, John Barry (1968)
-78. Romeo and Juliet, Nino Rota (1968)
-79. David Copperfield, Malcolm Arnold (1969)
-80. Anne of a Thousand Days, Georges Delerue (1969)
-81. True Grit, Elmer Bernstein (1969)
-82. Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Miklos Rozsa (1970)
-83. The Last Valley, John Barry (1971)
-84. The Godfather, Nino Rota (1972)
-85. Lady Caroline Lamb, Richard Rodney Bennett (1972)
-86. Antony and Cleopatra, John Scott (1972)
-87. The Wind and the Lion, Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
-88. Jaws, John Williams (1975)
-89. Superman, John Williams (1978)
-90. Death on the Nile, Nino Rota (1978)
-91. A Little Romance, Georges Delerue (1979)
-92. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams (1980)
-93. Somewhere in Time, John Barry (1980)
-94. Body Heat, John Barry (1981)
-95. Krull, James Horner (1983)
-96. Once Upon a Time in America, Ennio Morricone (1984)
-97. Splash, Lee Holdridge (1984)
-98. Out of Africa, John Barry (1985)
-99. The Mission, Ennio Morricone (1986)
-100. Untouchables, Ennio Morricone (1987)
-101. Cinema Paradiso, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-102. Time of Destiny, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-103. A Summer Story, Georges Delerue (1988)
-104. Born on the Fourth of July, John Williams (1989)
-105. Henry V, Patrick Doyle (1989)
-106. Glory, James Horner (1989)
-107. Dances With Wolves, John Barry (1990)
-108. Dracula, Wojciech Kilar (1992)
-109. Gettysburg, Randy Edelman (1993)
-110. Jurassic Park, John Williams (1993)
-111. The Age of Innocence, Elmer Bernstein (1993)
-112. Sense and Sensibility, Patrick Doyle (1995)
-113. Apollo 13, James Horner (1995)
-114. Far From Heaven, Elmer Bernstein (2002)
—–

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Deal W. Hudson Ph.D

Stories We Hear Again and Again

Deal W. Hudson
December 7, 2014

We welcome the retelling of traditional stories because we are always seeking both to understand and endure the stories we inhabit and ultimately the narrative which is our entire life. Why else would both the main characters in Casablanca, played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, ask for the same song to be played over and over? The subtext of “Play it again, Sam” is, “I am still trying to understand, to put the pieces of my life together.”

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Why are we able to enjoy a movie that we have already seen, or tell a well-known story whose outcome we already know? My son, Cyprian, and I sat down over the weekend to watch the 2004 film, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell, about the 1978 victory of the US hockey team over the Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics.

I had seen this movie at least two times. I knew the ending and several of the key plot points along the way, but I was completely absorbed watching all of it for 2 hours and 15 minutes. So was Cyprian, who knew the US was going to win because I had told him, and we both were disappointed when there were no “extras’ to watch on the DVD.

Much of the reason we were enthralled by the film was that it was extremely well-made, with Kurt Russell as the US coach, Herb Brooks, taking on the entire hockey establishment with his commitment to beat the Soviets, perhaps the greatest hockey team of all time. Not only was the story of the 1978 victory familiar to us but also the narrative trope of the underdog winning in spite of the odds, in spite of the resistance against him. In this case, it was Herb Brooks and his college hockey players overcoming the resistance of his own colleagues as well as the Soviet hockey team.

We knew everything that was going to happen in that film, but for two hours we were completely in the grasp of the storytelling, skillfully directed by Gavin O’Connor. It must be the case that our appreciation of art, whether a film, a novel or a painting is not found in its presentation of the new, per se. All art, with the exception of kitsch, offers its audience something new in the way the familiar is represented on stage, on the movie screen, on a canvas, or in a book.

When the human form was contorted in cubes by Picasso in his 1907 painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, his audience, no matter how shocked or delighted by the new cubist style, still recognized the human figures, the Young Woman, i.e., prostitutes of Avignon. Indeed, it would have been a superficial critic who applauded Picasso for the stylistic invention if it had not succeeded in revealing something interesting about the young woman it depicts.

In other words, we know in general what a young prostitute might look like, that’s not new. But Picasso succeeded by his new style in depicting the harsh realities of a prostitute’s life. One might say an artist employs the new, his creativity, to re-imagine or re-present what we are already familiar with, and in doing so offers us insight, or greater clarity, into the subject of the work. (Obviously, this description would be amended in the case of totally abstract works.)

Once we have it that art reproduces the human, nature, and the spirit we can appreciate how Aristotle in his Poetics captured the aesthetic experience with his description of Greek tragedy involving the “catharsis of pity and fear.” What we can tease out of this highly compressed statement is important for two reasons: first, the viewer undergoes an experience called a catharsis, and, second, that catharsis has something to do with “pity and fear.” Thus, even without defining precisely what Aristotle meant, we know that for him tragedy was about the human experience, about what we all face along the way, from the impact of misfortune to the consequences of our own mistakes, especially the mistake of pride.

Allow me to use Aristotle’s discussion of tragedy to apply to the arts in general, especially those that employ narratives such as film, novels, and paintings. What Aristotle meant by the “catharsis of pity and fear” is precisely what answers my original question: how we can enjoy a story we’ve already been told. First of all, the human stories we meet in the art are very finite.

I once came across a writer who had created a list of all possible human narratives, and it wasn’t very long. Secondly, these narratives are familiar, along with the emotions and worries that accompany them. Aristotle’s “pity and fear” represent the common thoughts and emotions we all have when, for example, a son rebels against his father, or young lovers disobey their parents, and so on.

We can enjoy, even be riveted, by the retelling of these human stories because their artistic representation, if skillfully made, provides us greater clarity, i.e., catharsis, about the dynamics of that story, our story, thus allaying our predictable emotions and worries about being faced with that situation ourselves.

Catharsis is not an emotional purgation, it is an experience of clarity, of insight, that in making sense of the human condition allows us at least a moment of relief from the anxieties that we bear from day to day. In fact, we welcome the retelling of traditional stories because we are always seeking both to understand and endure the stories we inhabit and ultimately the narrative which is our entire life.

Why else would both the main characters in Casablanca, played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, ask for the same song to be played over and over? The subtext of “Play it again, Sam” is, “I am still trying to understand, to put the pieces of my life together.”

© Deal W. Hudson

Spiritual Renewal Through Beauty

Deal W. Hudson
December 7, 2014

Catholics need to be more welcoming to each other and to parish visitors. It’s not the first time I have made that observation, and it’s not the first time much of the response has been negative. Why? I’m accused of forcing evangelical habits on a Catholic parish, of endorsing the expression of enthusiasm.

Critics of this recommendation respond with their preference for silence, solemnity, even privacy. All this, they argue, is the appropriate attitude towards the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass. There is sometimes the sly insinuation that I still bear the stamp of my evangelical past, now 30 years past this month.

No doubt there is some truth in that, but the kind of truth that Catholics should pay attention to. Evangelicals are constantly aware, and desirous, of witnessing to their faith. To put it crassly, they are selling. By contrast, Catholics are hoarders, a practice arising from any number of sources, the first of which is simply stated — the pious habits of one generation handed down to another.

The critics also reject what I described as a lack of “connectedness” with other worshippers. Either they called it unnecessary, a distraction, or trivial; the only connection that counts is that with Christ and His Body. In order to avoid this sort of buzz saw, I should remember to avoid any allusion to what is felt by Catholics. I’m after a much larger fish, and I employed the word enthusiasm for what that might be.

Judging the present usage of any word or concept by comparison to the distant past is problematic. But the roots of the word in the Greek language and culture is instructive: The original meaning derives from the Greek enthousiasmos, derived from enthousiazein; to be inspired, specifically to be inspired by God, en/theos. The Greeks regarded such men and women with awe and fear, and for good reason, they were often dangerous.

Taken in this way, one can see that generic enthusiasm is a state that exists in tension with the tradition and practice of the Catholic faith — recall what the saints, true enthusiasts, often passed through on their paths to sanctity.

I spoke about the lack of “connectedness” that many non-practicing Catholics report when they are asked why they have stopped attending Mass. I limited my interpretation of this to their sense of rapport with other worshippers – that is, I think, what elicited the criticism. It gave the impression that Catholics should primarily nurture an emotional connection among the members of the parish community to evangelize. Personal recognition is a good thing, but it is not the primary thing, at least among Catholics.

What makes Catholicism distinctive among other Christian groups is its historic institution, hierarchy, and preference for objectivity. Real Presence makes the claim to be objectively true. Papal primacy, the authority of bishops and priests, the universality of the Church, the Magisterium, and the sacraments provide hierarchy and institution.

All of these qualities, it would seem, quash the kind of enthusiasm that concerned Msgr. Ronald Knox in his famous book from (1950) of the same name. He was well aware of the ancient background to enthusiasm:
“… the emphasis lies on a direct personal access to the Author of our salvation, [thus] at the root of it lies a different theology of grace. Our traditional doctrine is that grace perfects nature but leaves it nature still. The assumption of the enthusiast is bolder and simpler; for him, grace has destroyed nature, and replaced it.”

The question of enthusiasm, for Knox, leads directly back to the Reformation debate over the effects of the Fall on human nature, the extent to which nature is corrupted, and the relation of grace to our fallen nature.

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A recovery of enthusiasm is not the best way to address the process of renewal in the Catholic Church. The language must be found elsewhere, at the heart of what it means to practice the Faith. How then is renewal to be pursued? This is where I think the “logic” of being Catholic sends us on a different course than that followed by other faith groups. There is the tendency to assume this renewal should be summoned up from within, based upon prayer, rosaries, or some sort of spiritual exercises. These are all good to do, of course, but that leaves aside the most obvious place to look for renewal: the Liturgy itself.

Let me offer the following example: Have you ever prayed in a great cathedral when the organ was playing or the choir was singing a Gregorian chant, a Mass by one of the Renaissance greats – Palestrina, Victoria, Tallis, or Byrd – or some form of music that moved you? Did you find it easier to pray? Did you find yourself going deeper, praying longer, and rising to leave with a rare sense of joy at having knelt?

I know that the local parish is rarely a great cathedral or even a building of architectural distinction, and I know that most parish choirs are not schooled in either chant or Renaissance polyphony. But, I would ask, how much effort are we, both laity and religious, putting into the beauty of our liturgy? After all, isn’t it the beauty of the music, architecture, stained glass, images, homily, and the liturgical gestures that engage our senses and focus our minds on divine things?

In 2002, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger delivered a sermon, “The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty,” where he said:

“[T]he most convincing demonstration of [faith’s] truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful. How much lost “connectedness” would be recovered if more attention were paid to encounters with “the Beautiful” in the liturgy so that it was never perfunctory, listless, or offensive to the ear and eye?”

Don’t misunderstand me. Beauty in the liturgy isn’t just a matter of better music and homilies; it requires its proper form (i.e., rubrics) as prescribed by the Church.”

This is precisely the kind of “connectedness” I wish was encountered more often in our Church. The beauty of the liturgy, emanating from the Eucharistic sacrifice, has been marred by misguided liturgical improvisation and horrid, or silly, music. Dumbed-down liturgies have only increased the distance — created an obstacle to connectedness many Catholics feel from their Church, whatever their good intentions.

Our renewal must begin with the act of worship, with our liturgy. What will it take for the Liturgy to become an encounter with the Beautiful once again?

When Catholics Lost Their Cultural Clout

Deal W. Hudson
December 10, 2014

Catholics of my generation probably remember only dimly the furor provoked among Catholics by films in the 1950s directed by Luis Bunuel, Los Olivados (1950); Roberto Rossellini, The Miracle (1951); Otto Preminger, The Moon is Blue (1953); Elia Kazan, Baby Doll (1956); Roger Vadim, And God Created Woman (1956); and Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot (1959).

Most people tend to think of the “culture wars” as beginning in the 80s, with the Reagan era, but obviously, the roots of that struggle can be traced back to the postwar period when filmmakers shook themselves free of the Catholic-inspired Production Code that had ruled Hollywood since 1934.

As I discussed in a previous column, it was fear of government censorship that had led to the creation of the Code in the first place. But it wasn’t until its strictures were enforced with boycotts by the Legion of Decency that Hollywood started paying attention, a period that would last through the end of WWII. As the “Mad Men” decade began, filmmakers began to challenge the Legion’s cultural power, and won, first in the Supreme Court and eventually among the vast movie audiences in the culture itself.

It was the 1950 New York City showing at the Paris Theatre of an Italian film, The Miracle (Il Miracolo), directed by Roberto Rossellini, that made its way to the Supreme Court. Shown under the title Ways of Love, the Rossellini film, starring Anna Magnani, won the best foreign language film award the same year from the New York Film Critics Circle. (The scandal caused by Rossellini’s relationship with Ingrid Bergman would come several years later.)

The actress Anna Magnani from Roberto Rossellini's "The Miracle."

The actress Anna Magnani from Roberto Rossellini’s “The Miracle.”

The National Legion of Decency denounced the film as “anti-Catholic” and a “blasphemous mockery of Christian-religious truth,” giving it the C rating — for condemned — so previously feared by Hollywood studios. The Legion’s rating led the New York State Board of Regents, in charge of film censorship, to revoke its license to be shown in movie theaters. The movie’s distributor, Joseph Burstyn, initiated a lawsuit that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which found in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson that the film’s artistic expression was guaranteed by the First Amendment — freedom of speech.

When the same film was released in Italy two years earlier, the Vatican’s newspaper Osservatore Romano wrote, “objections from a religious viewpoint are very grave,” but there are “scenes of undoubted screen value,” concluding that, “we still believe in Rossellini’s art.”

Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York never saw the film but issued a statement to be read at every Mass in every parish of the New York Archdiocese. He condemned it as “a despicable affront to every Christian” and “a vicious insult to Italian womanhood,” eliciting demonstrations in front of the Paris Theater. Cardinal Spellman’s public condemnation of Greta Garbo’s 1941 Two-Faced Woman had caused MGM to withdraw and rerelease an edited version. Ten years later Catholic power in Hollywood was on the wane.

The Supreme Court decision marked not only an end to the power of the Code but was also a sign that the cultural clout of Catholics was coming to an end. However, to put it this way is misleading. Less than a decade later the United States would elect its first Catholic president, and during the same period, a number of Catholic writers would become celebrated among the elites of the literati, including Flannery O’Connor, J. F. Powers, Graham Green, Muriel Spark, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Paul Horgan.

Merely contrasting the work of these celebrated Catholic writers and the Catholic mentality behind the condemnation of films by Bunuel, Rossellini, Preminger, Vadim, Kazan, and Wilder tells most of the story. The sophistication seen in the original Code written by a Chicago Jesuit, Rev. Daniel Lord, SJ, had been turned into a fear-driven attempt of the Legion to act as parents looking out for a nation of impressionable children. In doing so, the Legion’s condemnations showed no appreciation of, or respect for, film as an art form, in the manner contained in Rev. Lord’s original Code.

Yet, after viewing the film itself, The Miracle is precisely what one Catholic critic called it at the time, a story of “regenerating suffering.” And the unforgettable performance by Anna Magnani, as a “holy fool,” demonstrates how far a verbal description of a character and plot and their cinematic incarnation can deviate.

It should be added that the same year, 1950, Rossellini made what is arguably the best film ever made about the life of St. Francis, The Flowers of St. Francis (Francesco, giullare di Dio). Also co-written with Fellini, the film about St. Francis was called, in l995 by the Vatican, one of the 45 greatest films ever made.

The moral of the story? Catholics lose cultural influence when they act like parental arbiters of public taste, especially when they refuse to acknowledge excellence in works of art they find somehow objectionable or dangerous.

Evangelizing Through the Culture — A Manifesto

Deal W. Hudson
December 10, 2014

How to describe something that is all around you, influencing you during every waking hour, perhaps while sleeping as well.  Culture is like that, like the air you breathe but completely unaware, unless you are choking.  That’s precisely why I am raising the issue of culture directly, because to a great degree it is choking us, doing us harm without our knowing it.

Culture cannot be avoided, so that’s not the solution to the problem. As I will explain, human life inevitably creates a culture, multiple intersecting rings of culture as a matter of fact. Each of us lives within the intersection of those rings; thus, to do something about the culture, about the harm it’s doing, you have to first become aware of what you are up against.

sally-davies-jesus-saves-1339975040_bFirst, notice that culture is used to describe many things, the state of a nation, of a region, of an ethnic group, a local community, an institution, a kind of education, a family, and an individual.  Just what are we referring to when we use culture in all these different contexts?  Rather than provide a strict definition, it’s more useful to offer a description of what all these uses of culture have in common:

When we refer to the culture of anything, we are recognizing a specific set of values and attitudes belonging to it, values and attitudes expressed in a myriad of ways, through the arts, films, books, music, radio, TV, the Internet, the media, newspapers, manners, fashion, clothing, architecture, jokes, gestures, formal and informal education, politics, laws, jokes, customs, language, religion, commerce, business, travel, possessions, family life, sexual behavior, heroes, villains, and shared ideals.

The list above is not exhaustive, of course, but it’s long enough to suggest that everything we experience in our lived environment, even how we view the past and future, is a part of the culture, a way through which values and attitudes, especially our ideas, are communicated and learned.

Most of this communication and learning happens to us without our even being aware of it — thus, the necessity of becoming aware of what culture is and how it works.  Now this is the crucial point: Knowing the nature of culture, its power in shaping our lives, makes three things possible: 1) to protect yourself from its harmful influence; 2) to take part in shaping the culture in beneficial ways; and 3) to recognize the ways culture provides a way to knowing what is good, true, and beautiful, or to put it another way, all that is worthy of knowing.

Catholics have heard much in recent years about “evangelizing the culture,” which would be #2 on our list. To evangelize the culture also assumes the fact of #1, that the harmful influences of culture should be avoided whenever possible. But what is usually not recognized in the call to evangelize the culture is that you have to use culture in
order to evangelize.  In other words, you have to evangelize the culture through the culture. Why? Because everything you will use in the process of evangelization will belong to a culture, whether it is a book, a TV or radio show, a film or video, music, or even simple speech.

In fact, all the centuries since the birth of Christ contain cultural “artifacts” that themselves embody evangelization, embody the true, good, and beautiful, transcendentals which lead back to God the Creator. Where does this leave us?  It makes the task of evangelizing the culture much easier, more realistic and effective.  But it also opens up the new world of evangelizing through the culture, looking up the culture around us, as itself bearing the Word being spoken.

It’s my belief that the most effective evangelization is that which can find a point of contact with as many people as possible, as many different kinds of people as possible — this doesn’t represent a mere “worldly” escapade. The way that is done is by meeting them where they are, or by drawing them toward something they find attractive and starting them on their journey at that place.