Sunday, April 12, 2009

High Church

Last night, I sang the Easter Vigil with the Assumption Festival Choir, and this year's service was particularly significant because it was presided over by Cardinal Francis Arinze, who is a very interesting man with whom I disagree on several issues. It seemed like a no-brainer to join the Festival Choir for this event because not only was the music absolutely gorgeous, but when a Cardinal comes to your school, I think you go to see them. Regardless of my personal religious beliefs, I have great respect for anyone who has dedicated their life to the study of theology and ultimately to faith. Doing so denotes a certain selflessness, because the person must make a concious decision to spend their life defending and explaining a discipline that cannot offer much in the way of physical, unquestionable proof and is eternally under fire. Since we cannot shake hands with God, the last step in religious study will always be a leap of faith, and I think to dedicate your life to defending something that relies on that faith takes some pretty serious balls.

In any case, the Chapel looked gorgeous; the Brother who handles the decor really works with the simple lines of the Chapel at all times, but he really outdid himself for this service. It was all beautiful spring flowers (glory hallelujah, spring might actually be here for real!) and draped fabric. The effect was really powerful, though I would have limited all the fabric to one color. The service was really well suited to reflection upon the spirit of the season - renewal, rebirth, Jesus, etc. I think that even non-Catholics can likely get behind the spirit of Lent and Easter, if you take the Jesus bits out of it...they're dedicated first to improving yourself and then to moving forward anew. I like that Catholicism does emphasize those areas, and at least at Assumption, it was encouraged outside of the pretext of crushing guilt excessive focus on sin. It doesn't get left wholly out of the equation, but it's not as dominant as it seems to be in other congregations.

The service was...epic. As we know, I am not Catholic, so "Easter Vigil" does not trigger any kinds of warnings about schedule-clearing or footwear advice. I had planned to meet Rich and our friend Joanne downtown afterwards, assuming I would get out at about the same time as the hockey game. Apparently as Rich and Joanne waited for my fool self after the game, the following conversation took place:

Joanne: Wait, did she say what this was?
Rich: No, some church thing, I never know what she's doing.
J: But are there going to be candles?
R: I...have no idea?
J: Oh my God. If it's the thing with the candles, it's gonna be two and a half hours.

It was two and a half hours.

It went really well...the sound was simply amazing and the service was beautifully planned. Needless to say, I don't get a whole lot of high church in my life, so it was really fascinating to see the formal whickety-whack and ceremony with the Cardinal presiding. Cardinal Arinze stopped at the end of the Vigil to say that he was very impressed with the spirit of prayerfulness in the Vigil. He also mentioned the choir specifically - he said he'd heard before coming to Assumption that we sang really well and that now having heard us, he had to agree. Pretty high praise when you figure the guy's home office is the Vatican and he probably hears a lot of really high caliber choirs.

The one thing that took away slightly from the experience for me personally was a section of the Cardinal's homily where he was talking about the Nicene Creed and the parts of it. He pointed out that Catholics declare their belief in "the Catholic Church...the true church...the church that Jesus founded, and gave to Peter, that has been around for 2000 years, not some church that was made up yesterday." Now, of course Catholics pledge this - it's their Church, and they should believe in it to that depth - but it seemed a little unnecessary to throw in the "not some church that was made up yesterday" phrase. It's inherent in the first part of the passage, restating it just makes it more aggressive than need be. I don't begrudge him the view, and obviously I'm more sensitive to it.

I joined Chapel Choir with some concerns over how I would be recieved as a Protestant - particularly one of a stripe that not too many people know about - and since joining I have felt one hundred percent welcome and accepted in the Assumption College Chapel. I was just kind of disappointed in that one dull spot of the Easter Vigil, because it marked the first and only time I've ever felt even the tiniest bit unwelcome in the community, and it came at a true high point in my musical life. I will note that I walked out of the church and shook hands with all the priests who I have gotten to know and they were exactly as warm and friendly as they always are, and that salvaged that brief dip in good feeling. Assumption really has something special.

1 comment:

  1. I think part of that attitude comes from the fact that until Pope John Paul II, Catholics believed that Catholicism was the only faith that God honored. He then came forward and said that all people of all faiths were part of God's family, which was a huge step for the Church. I really miss him - he was such a modern man and he brought the Church out of the dark ages...unlike the new pope who is fucking ridiculous.

    I distinctly remember thinking at a very young age that Protestants were bad people, mostly because of what they were pushing in Catholic school. That attitude changed as I got older, thank God. I think there are still a lot of people who hang on to those kinds of thoughts though.