I feel much better, now that I’ve given up hope.

by Bernard Brandt


Well, today is my 63rd birthday. It would be better if my late wife, Beth, were here to enjoy it (or for that matter, my first late wife, Carolyn, but as I often say, ‘If wishes were horses, we’d all be knee deep.’). Bur friends are posting greetings to me on my e-mail and my Facebook page. And Beth appeared to me in another dream last night, and we had a nice talk. One accepts one’s blessings with gratitude and humility, if one is wise.

And sometimes, one has to make one’s own blessings. One thing that Beth and I did for the Feasts of Our Nativities, as we were wont to call them, was to have Eggs  Benedict and Irish Coffee for breakfast. I may get around to the Eggs Benny for the Octave of my Feast, but I’m currently enjoying the latter confection as I write, with a nice freshly ground Ethiopian dark roast (3 tbls), nine ounces of filtered water (done to perfection in a small French press), 1 jigger of Jameson’s, two tsp white sugar (a rarity for me, these days) and topped with some good Alta Dena whipped cream. Normally, I’d whip the cream myself, with an half teaspoon each of sugar and vanilla extract, but I didn’t want to walk the mile there and back to get the whipping cream.

And the advantage of buying within walking distance was that there was a fellow outside the nearby 7/11 who asked for change so that he could buy a hot dog. I pulled a dollar from my pocket, gave it to him, and started to walk off, but then I turned back and said, ‘A dollar is not enough to get a hot dog. Here’s another.’ He smiled broadly at me, said, ‘God bless you,’ and started walking to get himself a hot dog. Normally, I keep my alms giving to myself, but that was a perfect and beautiful moment. I just had to share it.

One thing that I am not as happy in sharing, though, is the realization, which came to me this morning, that as long as I am living in Los Angeles, there is no chance whatsoever that I will experience a spiritually mature liturgy or mass during my lifetime in an allegedly Roman Catholic church here, unless perhaps I decide to go to the schismatic one within a mile’s walk of my house.

This is not to say that it can not be done. I’ve looked at the shape of the Old and the New masses, and as far as I am concerned, both have the potential to be done beautifully, prayerfully, and spiritually. But that would require that the clergy actually were to know the rubrics, and to be obedient to them. Fat chance of that ever happening around these parts.

To give but one example of this elaborate ignorance of or disobedience to the rubrics, I will draw the reader’s attention to the Vatican II document Musicam Sacram. It was written back in 1967, and mandates the musical requirements for ALL Roman Liturgies, new or old, that are not full blown missas cantatas, but which add song to the words of the liturgy. First, it mandates that Gregorian chant be given pride of place in all liturgical gatherings. Second, it says that the treasury of sacred polyphony be preserved. Third, it says that AFTER those two requirements are attended to, provision can be made for the ‘music of the people’. And finally, it mandates a graded hierarchy of what music is to be introduced first: first, the chanted interchange between clergy and congregation; next, the Ordinary of the Mass: (you know, little things like the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, and Pater Noster); then either the propers of the day, or the hymns.

To the best of my knowledge, no one does that anywhere in these parts. Most of the time, when ANY music is offered, it’s just the four hymn sandwich, taken from Praise and Worship songs. Gag. Puke.

Recently, I had been hoping for a change. I’d been told that the group of priests who have been given the RC mandate to serve the Old Mass (you know, the bunch with the four letter acronym that sounds like a snake hissing), have finally been allowed inside the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Up until now, I had been favorably disposed to that group. I had looked at their seminaries, and found that they appear to be the only ones actually obeying the various mandates of learning Latin, two years of philosophy, and four years of theology. I’d even heard that a choral director whom I really respect, who has done great work online in teaching people how to sing both Gregorian Chant and polyphony, was the choir director at the church in question, and he was asking, at his website, the group’s website, and elsewhere, for volunteers to the choir to e-mail him. Their mass even was at a time which would not interfere with my choir duties at St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church.

So, I e-mailed him on Palm Sunday evening. I informed him that I had been singing in church and professional choirs for the last 40 or so years, that I could read musical notation (square notes, treble and bass clefs, etc.), that I could read and parrot Latin in the standard Italianate pronunciation, knew Latin well enough so that I could read all the Ordinary of the Mass and most propers, and that my vocal range went from two octaves below middle C to the F# above middle C in full voice, and another octave above that in head voice. Yeah, I know: I was showing off. I also told him that I was Eastern Catholic.

I estimate that I’ve been a member of twenty choirs in my lifetime, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Anglican, Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. I’ve also been in a couple of pro or semi pro groups. The usual deal for all of them is that you ask for an audition, you either show that you can meet the choir’s standards, or they pay you a quarter so that you go away. If they don’t want you, the more polite choral directors will simply say that they have enough singers, thank you very much.

What I was not expecting, however, was an e-mail response from said director a few days later, saying that after having spoken with his pastor, it would not be possible for me to sing in the choir. At first, because of some ambiguities in communication on the part of the choir director, I had thought this was because of my Eastern Catholic status. After several more attempts on my part to communicate with him, I found that the alleged reason was that I was not a member of the geographical location of the parish.

I was tempted to respond to this by saying that in my opinion, this was among the more boneheaded and self-defeating pieces of folly that I have heard or read in my life. I was also tempted to say that if that were indeed the case, then my e-mail to him, and the subsequent frustration on my and his part, could have been avoided by making those additional qualifications known in his initial requests and his pastor’s society’s website. I simply dropped the conversation.

But whether these ‘raindeer games’ were being played by the choir director, his pastor, the pastor of the parish in question, or the society in question, I have grown royally sick and tired of those games. I have given up any hope that RC clergy will stop playing them, or that they will ever be concerned with vindicating the rights of the faithful to obtain the spiritual treasures of the Church. They appear to have other agendas. But I feel much better, now that I have given up hope.