Saturday, October 21, 2017

In Which We Wonder If Mass Is a Sacrament

Well.  That escalated … if not quickly, at any rate to a higher altitude than expected.  Apparently, at least over here at the Register, the topic of children’s liturgies is even hotter than Game of Thrones (pun obviously intended).  I don’t know whether to lament this as an instance of one of those regrettable skirmishes in the endless wars over religious nonessentials, or to take it as a net positive that people are more eager to defend their children’s souls than to defend their entertainment choices.  (Why not both?)

A few comments indicated points itching for clarification.  First, I confess that I have never attended or taught at a children’s liturgy—I’ve only watched the kids march out.  This does indeed preclude my critiquing children’s liturgies per se (although many of my readers, being more experienced, felt no such qualms).  But my point was not that children’s liturgies are bad (see disclaimers in the previous post) but rather that there are (at least for my family) better options.
Second, and more importantly, one commenter (“Sharon”) had this question:
Can I ask, though, in what way is Mass itself a sacrament?  I know we refer to the Blessed Sacrament, that comes to us at the Mass, but we don’t refer to the Holy Sacrament of the Mass.  I think I’m missing something, and I don’t like missing anything about what the Mass is!
Actually, I doubt Sharon is missing anything.  She was reacting to my statement that “The Mass is a sacrament—yes, even for those too young to receive Communion—and there’s an advantage to a young soul in being there, beginning to end, even if it isn’t always perfectly comprehensible to a young mind.”  That is, I think, substantially right; but Sharon is also right that we don’t speak of “the Holy Sacrament of the Mass.”

The Count Is Seville

Today we got some fresh farmer’s market fruits and vegetables from a neighbor.  And today, researching how to use three enormous and very green oranges, I finally understood what had long been one of my favorite neglected Shakespearean lines.

It’s one of those difficult lines for actresses, thanks to pronunciation changes from Shakespeare’s day.  Any playgoer who consults his footnote will understand its meaning, but conveying the sense to a nube in the seats is nearly impossible.  It’s one of those fruity Shakespearean jokes that are, alas, ripe for the cutting.

In Much Ado About Nothing, poor Claudio has been informed that his Duke has stolen his girl Hero.  In fact, the Duke has interceded on Claudio’s behalf, and persuaded Hero to agree to marrying the handsome young soldier.  When Claudio’s friends go to collect him so that the Duke can break the good news, Claudio is, understandably, in a sour temper.  He puts on a show of indifference—after all, he can’t very well take a stand against his duke—but underneath he’s seething.  Hero’s cousin Beatrice explains Claudio’s ambiguous humor to the puzzled Duke in the following words:

The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor

well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and

something of that jealous complexion.

The basic joke, as I mentioned, is explained in the footnote of any solid edition.  Beatrice is punning on the word “Seville,” which evidently in Shakespeare’s time must have sounded much closer to “civil” than it now does.  “Civil as an orange” would have been grasped by an audience as “Seville, like an orange,” the city in Spain being, presumably, known for oranges then as it is now.  (Incidentally, this is an interesting illustration of how changing vowel sounds are rarely so much of an issue as changing accents.  If, for example, we now pronounced “Seville” “SEE-vul,” the pun would still be easily rendered in speech.  The fact that we say “civil” “SIH-vul” and “Seville” “suh-VILL” is much more problematic.)

So much for the footnote.  Claudio is of the same jealous complexion as a Seville orange.  Recalling that jealousy is supposed to be green-eyed (itself a Shakespearean coinage—see Iago’s lines to Othello), one naturally supposes that Seville oranges must have arrived in England green, perhaps plucked green from trees by Spanish matadors in the off-season, and shipped to England unripe in order to survive the arduous voyage that even an Armada could not withstand.  Some tough fruit, that.

But no.  As I learned today, oranges are normally green.  I had only been getting half of Beatrice’s joke all these years.

The moral of this story?

(1)  Don’t put green oranges in the windowsill to ripen.

(2)  Never assume Beatrice is telling a lousy joke.

(3)  Always trust a duke named Pedro.

(4)  Shakespeare scholars don’t know everything, even the ones who get paid to write footnotes.

(5)  Someone should hire me to edit a new edition of Much Ado About Nothing.

(6)  We will never really see Shakespeare “the way his audiences saw him.”

(7)  Emma Thompson is an amazing actress.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

In Which We Wonder If the Mass Is a Sacrament

Well.  That escalated … if not quickly, at any rate to a higher altitude than expected.  Apparently, at least over here at the Register, the topic of children’s liturgies is even hotter than Game of Thrones (pun obviously intended).  I don’t know whether to lament this as an instance of one of those regrettable skirmishes in the endless wars over religious nonessentials, or to take it as a net positive that people are more eager to defend their children’s souls than to defend their entertainment choices.  (Why not both?)

A few comments indicated points itching for clarification.  First, I confess that I have never attended or taught at a children’s liturgy—I’ve only watched the kids march out.  This does indeed preclude my critiquing children’s liturgies per se (although many of my readers, being more experienced, felt no such qualms).  But my point was not that children’s liturgies are bad (see disclaimers in the previous post) but rather that there are (at least for my family) better options.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Very Great Adventure, Part I

For many years I had a love-hate relationship with the movie Peter Pan.  We grew up on the Mary Martin film of the Broadway show (while the Disney version was familiar too, I don’t think we owned it).  The movie hews fairly close to Barrie’s original text (which, like the dutiful homeschooler I was, I had also read), including the ending—which I hated with the passion of a thousand flaming suns.  Peter Pan, come back after many years’ absence, finds that Wendy’s daughter is ready for an adventure and that Wendy, now “old, ever so much more than twenty,” has forgotten how to fly.  After some back-and-forth, it is agreed that Wendy Jr. will gallivant off with Peter for a limited period of time, just “to do his spring cleaning.”  Wendy expresses a wistful wish that she could go too.  Peter (and it was Mary Martin’s smirk that made the lines truly unbearable) replies: “No, Wendy.  You’re too old now.”

I was still a kid, and it still stung.

Of course, James Barrie would probably say that it was supposed to sting.  His Peter Pan is a lovely adventure story, but filled with winking irony intended for adult readers speaking to their children.  There is the occasional dash of social criticism (the Darlings worry that their unconventional dog-nanny Nana will lead to raised eyebrows), and plenty of wry commentary on the differences between male and female perceptiveness, especially in affairs of the heart.

Thus we learn, for example, that Wendy’s mother

… was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.  (Ch.1)

It’s a kiss that Mr. Darling can’t get either (and he is not aware of the innermost box, says Barrie); and Barrie adds that not even Napoleon could have gotten that kiss.  Who does get the kiss in the end?  Why, Peter Pan of course.

That’s what is so frustrating about Peter.  He’s not fair.

I am aware, of course, that I am speaking Hookishly here.  But Peter really is so much of a brat that one is forced occasionally into feeling that even Hook had a point.

To be fair to Peter, it must be admitted that the grownups in Peter Pan have an inconvenient way of interfering in their children’s lives.  For example:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.  (Ch.1)

Peter, if he is not exactly an evil passion, is certainly a naughty one.  But so irresistible is he that, troublemaker though he is, Mrs. Darling forgives him.  Indeed, even after he has stolen away her children, she cannot bring herself to say a word against him.

“That fiend!” Mr. Darling would cry, and Nana’s bark was the echo of it, but Mrs. Darling never upbraided Peter; there was something in the right-hand corner of her mouth that wanted her not to call Peter names.

Something in the right hand corner of her mouth, perhaps, that wasn’t quite grown up.

*                      *                      *

Not long ago I watched Hook for the first time, and recently I rewatched it.  For those who haven’t seen the movie (which I suppose is getting a little old now, as grownup things are wont to do): it is a cheerful, scary (for children at least) flick with a lot of “heart” and the occasional unfortunate moments of vulgarity and salaciousness that are for some reason obscure to me considered de rigor in comedy.  The conceit is that Peter Pan—now “Peter Banning,” played with delightful goofiness by Robin Williams—has indeed grown up, and not only grown up but forgotten his past, and not only forgotten his past but become a small-souled lawyer who is so absorbed by his work that his relationship with his wife and two children suffers.  Worse yet, he is afraid of heights (as his scornful and resentful son discovers on a transatlantic jaunt).  Worst of all, as his aged “granny” Wendy discerns, he has become “a pirate.”

In the immediate context, Wendy is referring to Peter’s activities with his firm: he is the tough negotiator who swoops in and defeats the small companies struggling against absorption by their larger competitors.  But the judgment has further implications.  Peter is physically cowardly, self-absorbed, and incapable of recognizing the reality of anything remotely fanciful or imaginative.  Little children, one suspects, are not fond of him—certainly he has alienated his son Jack, though his younger child Maggie remains loyal.  He does not tolerate fooling or teasing or play.  And he does not recognize the reality of time.  Though living in a world bound and governed by time—unlike the world he inhabited for ages as a child—he acts as if its rules do not apply to him.  He can delay attendance at a baseball game or while away the hours of a rare vacation on his phone—indeed, can while away the years of his children’s childhood—without repercussions.  He is master of his time.  At least, he acts as if he thinks this way.  Probably, he doesn’t think about it at all.

Interestingly, all these qualities—the anti-time attitude, the intolerance of jokes, the antipathy of children, the lack of imagination, the egotism, and the cowardice—are qualities of Capt. Jas. Hook.

Of which, and of what Barrie might think of all this, more anon.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why Children's Litrugies Give Me the Willies

A recently witnessed Facebook exchange forced me to confront a deep, dark truth about myself: I hate—no, not hate; I loathe, despise, abhominate, and abhor children's liturgies.  The feeling was a little overblown, and prompted some self-examination.  What exactly was it that gave me such a visceral negative reaction to something that many parents embrace with waves of relief?

I think I know now.  None of these are arguments that your children’s liturgy that your children go to in your parish is anything but the bee’s knees.  They are simply my attempt to articulate to myself why the idea of any child of mine ever attending one makes me shudder like a lizard just ran up my leg when I was almost asleep (true story).

Saturday, September 23, 2017

St. Christina the Astonishingly Nasty

I cannot remember to which Facebook friend I owe my introduction to Kirstin Valdez Quade’s reimagining of St. Christina the Astonishing.  Published in The New Yorker, Quade’s longform story incorporates text from Christina’s thirteenth-century vita into a first-person narrative from the mouth of one of Christina’s sisters, covering many of the events recorded of Christina: her miraculous levitation; her report of having visited purgatory; her eccentric avoidance of people who carried the stench of sin; her extreme penances; the accusations of madness and possession; and, ultimately, her entrance of a convent.

Quade takes the outlines of Christina’s story and her penchant for “astonishing” behavior and weaves a disturbing tale.  I was reminded of The Toast’s epic transformation of “The Velveteen Rabbit” into a horror short—except that while The Toast keeps tongue firmly implanted in cheek, Quade appears to have intended her smackdown of Christina seriously.

Read the rest at the Register.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

“To Trip the Light Fantastic”

John Milton’s pair of longish poems, L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, are a beautiful depiction of mood.  The first joyful and the second meditative, sad, and even grim, they show the world—in large part, the world of nature—through the lens of two mental states which in their extremity might almost be called proto-Romantic.  They are also the source of a few phrases that the wide reader might recognize: “to trip the light fantastic” derives from the following pair of lines:

Come and trip it as you go,

On the light fantastick toe …

… which hail, not surprisingly, from L’Allegro.

For many years I had known of the poems, but not known much about their reception or what effect they had on subsequent artists—until one afternoon when, working on one writing project or another, the baroque music blaring from my husband’s speaker system set a synapse firing in my brain.  What was that line? I asked myself.  Fortunately, in songs lines are generally repeated; the tenor gave it again:

Come and trip it as you go,

On the light fantastick toe …

“What is this?!!” I demanded out loud.

It was George Frideric Handel.  Yes, that Handel, whose other accomplishments apparently include the composition of a “pastoral ode” entitled L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and, you guessed it, inspired by Milton’s poems.  I highly recommend the piece.  You can hear the light fantastic toe around 10:50.  (Full libretto here.)

Handel: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Gardiner,

English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

A bit of historical trivia from the usual quick source:

At the urging of one of Handel’s librettists, Charles Jennens, Milton’s two poems, L’Allegro and il Penseroso, were arranged by James Harris, interleaving them to create dramatic tension between the personified characters of Milton’s poems (L’Allegro or the “Joyful man” and il Penseroso or the “Contemplative man”). The first two movements consist of this dramatic dialog between Milton’s poems. In an attempt to unite the two poems into a singular “moral design”, at Handel’s request, Jennens added a new poem, “il Moderato”, to create a third movement. The popular concluding aria and chorus, “As Steals the Morn” is adapted from Shakespeare’s Tempest, V.i.65–68.

Oh, Handel.  How very Aristotelian of you, to demand the addition of a moderate man!  Poor Milton is probably turning over in his grave, much like the librettist for Messiah, who (the story is possibly apocryphal, but too good not to repeat) complained that Handel had destroyed the poetry with his music.

But what music!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Discerning Censorship

When I wrote my last post here some days ago, I did not expect it to be particularly controversial.  The point seemed straightforward: that it was healthy for people to take personal responsibility for actions done in their free time; specifically, that even seemingly neutral things like entertainment promote increased virtue or stagnation (and, as C.S. Lewis reminds us through the mouth of Screwtape, in the spiritual life stagnation means going downhill).

But the popularity of Game of Thrones is such that its trees rather overshadowed the aforementioned forest; and the post, though not designed to cast shade (pun intended) on fans of the show (who number such respectable Catholics as Ross Douthat), did have the aura of a minor condemnation.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Wrong Question

Even among secular media watchers, HBO’s Game of Thrones has its mild detractors.  Among Catholics, debate about the ethics of—and the ethics of watching—the show can get heated.  I’ve seen multiple social media dumps on articles about the series: articles critiquing its violence, articles praising its realism, articles slamming its sixth commandment shenanigans, articles noting the limited virtue of various characters.

What I haven’t seen is the series itself; and I don’t plan to see it.  I don’t plan to see it because, of all the articles I’ve read on Game of Thrones, not one has made a case for the series that convinces me it’s worth my time’s investment.  I’m not saying a convincing case for the series couldn’t be made.  But the arguments I’ve read for GoT so far have been unconvincing: for none of them ask the right question.

Read the rest at the Register.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Goodnight Stories for ... Rebel Girls?

I have a reading recommendation for feminists (and non-feminists as well, actually): Andrew Lang.

Lang, a Victorian-era writer learned in folklore and mythology, put his academic knowledge to commercial use when he published The Blue Fairy Book (1889), a collection of stories which spawned a series of twenty-five books, mostly named in the same style (the last “color” book, The Lilac Fairy Book, was published in 1910, and the final book of all, The Strange Story Book, in 1913.)

Our regional library owned most of the series; and I devoured them in middle school and high school.  Weaned (I exaggerate only slightly) on Tolkien and Lewis, I graduated

… some would say regressed; but where was there to go but down?

… to fairy tales.  The Lang books were a long and largely rewarding (if occasionally repetitive) sop to my fantasy-starved mind.  And it was not an unhealthy sop: more of a porridge, really: basic, but fundamentally nourishing.

Oddly enough, the stories were also what a person sensitive to political correctness might call “gender neutral.”  Oh, not always in the particular stories, any given one of which might have featured a long-suffering damosel in distress.  But it was interesting how often meek male characters were the butt of stepfamilial abuse, or the committers of Pandora-like errors, and often a female character showed up everyone around with her courage, wit, and resourcefulness.  The fairy tale genre, if it is offensive to either sex, is, like the melancholy Jacques, an equal-opportunity offender.

Thus, when I encountered a certain video ad for Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, I found myself muttering “Gag me with a spoon.”  To be fair: the authors express laudable intentions.  In answer to the query “Why a Book for Girls?” they explain:

Because we are girls. Our entrepreneurial journey made us understand how important it is for girls to grow up surrounded by female role models. It helps them to be more confident and set bigger goals. We realized that 95% of the books and TV shows we grew up with, lacked girls in prominent positions. We did some research and discovered that this didn't change much over the past 20 years, so we decided to do something about it.

And indeed, the collection of stories of real women, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams, looks promising (though I haven’t read it).  Nor will I attempt to take issue with the authors’ judgment that there is a high proportion of shows that fail to show women at their best.  Nevertheless, I took umbrage at the video, for two reasons.

The first is simply that, as suggested above, the video’s rhetoric is based on a flawed understanding of the fairy tale genre, an understanding that would have been corrected by a knowledge of (for example) Lang’s work.  The video begins with a cartoon man, blond, buff, and handsome in a stereotypically over-muscular Hollywood style, who is introduced as the victim of his stepbrother’s beatings and general highhandedness.  There is a ball, a princess, a rescue of this Cinderfella, and then—the warm and comforting narrator is swallowed by a black screen, supplanted by stark white text.  We wouldn’t read this to our sons.  Why read it to our daughters?

I was yelling “stop” a long time before that, right at the part where Cinderfella was submitting meekly to his stepbrother’s maltreatment.  Because—let’s be honest—while both boys and girls can be sensitive and submissive, and both boys and girls can be feisty, boys tend to be more punchy than girls.  For every Anne Shirley who (admirably) breaks her slate over the bully Gilbert Blythe’s head, there are perhaps a dozen girls who would simply have burst into tears at his teasing.  With boys, the ratio is reversed.  This Cinderfella parody had a plausibility issue from the beginning.  You can tell a Cinderella-esque tale about a male character—cf. Andrew Lang’s collections, or google any of the following: “Iron Hans,” “Puss in Boots,” “The Glass Hill,” “Billy Beg and His Bull.”  But that particular Cinderfella was inconceivable.  A jacked, jut-jawed lad who weighs double what his brothers do and could easily bench press them in one hand each, cowering under the onslaught of brooms …  The video’s creators have weighted the dice from the beginning, making the whole story feel absurd.

Of course, the tale is a clear parody not just of any Cinderella story, but of what had become, alas, our culture’s most prominent version thereof: the admittedly somewhat absurd animated film that hales from the studios of a man whose name begins with “W” and “D” and rhymes with Dalt Wisney.

Which sounds like the name of a foolish side
character from the Harry Potter franchise ...

A good deal of the ridiculousness that the video’s creators see in the tale, then, has to do with the particular version of it they have chosen to ridicule—a version in which Cinderella is, in fact, more helpless and less resourceful than she happens to be even in Perrault.  Probably if the video’s creators had been exposed to anything more substantial (dare I say, “wholesome”?) than American film growing up, they would not have picked fairy tales for their whipping boy.

This sort of cultural ignorance, of course, is not their fault.  But there are other assumptions in the video that troubled me.  Most basic of all, the presentation of the problem-solving book suggests that their notion of “Women at Their Best” may differ from mine.  Indeed, it suggests a difference in our notions of “People at Their Best.”

The collection’s title, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, may serve for a launching point.  The idea communicated is surely that women (and girls) who lead noteworthy and/or admirable lives can only do so if they are willing to stand out, whether that means bucking societal notions of what girls “should” do, or simply working really hard to develop their talents and interests.  Put in these terms, there is nothing wrong with the idea: choose almost any female saint of the Catholic Church, from Cecelia to Clotilde to Hildegard of Bingen to Margaret Clitherow to Mother Teresa to Giana Molla and you will confront a woman who stood out, in many cases defying her society.  Heroic virtue of the obvious sort (which is what it nearly always takes to be canonized as a saint) entails taking a stand when it’s tough.  And the same, of course, can be said on the male side: secular male figures and saints, like their female counterparts, are canonized because they did extraordinary things, difficult things, things that their society may not have supported, and of which it often disapproved.

Mind you, they are all saints because they loved God.
But they’re canonized saints because they demonstrated
this love in sometimes surprising ways …

Granting all that, take issue with the concept of rebel.  We are Americans, whose country was founded out of a rebellion.  We love to imagine ourselves the scrappy underdogs, the buckers of trends, etc.  We may be the richest nation on earth, but we love Jean Valjean.  We tend to forget that there is nothing inherently virtuous about being rebellious.  It all depends on what the rebel stands for and against.  Queen Elizabeth was indeed a bit of a rebel, but so was Bloody Mary Tudor; and depending on your historical viewpoint, you may regard either or both as loathsome, as readily as you regard one or the other as heroic.  Jezebel was a bit of a “rebel,” and a wicked woman.

As one character in the Hollywood film
of the same name memorably remarks) …

Lucrezia Borgia.  Wu Zetian.  Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde).  A handful of female Nazis who worked as guards in the concentration camps.  A handful of female serial killers.  And of course, this is just the women: history records the names of thousands more men who were outstanding in their fields, but frankly nasty to live (or die?) with.  There’s nothing inherently great about being a rebel.

Conversely, notwithstanding my acknowledgement of heroic virtue, there is nothing unheroic about meekness.  And herein lies the real crux of my uneasiness with the Rebel Girls project.  I suspect that any version of the Cinderella story, Disney or Lang, male or female, which seemed to praise meekness would have met with their scorn.  Meekness is an underrated virtue.  We tend to read it as weakness at best, prissiness at worst.  We cannot abide Fanny Prince.  We find it paradoxical that “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

What we forget is that meekness itself requires a great deal of strength.  Turning the other cheek and forgiving those who persecute us or even merely “trespass against us” is a terrible burden to bear.  “Lead us not into temptation!” we pray.  “Do not require us to be meek!”

The great question, requiring considerable discernment, is when to rebel and when to suffer.  The recent Cinderella movie directed by Kenneth Branagh, while in many ways excellent, could have tackled this question head-on but failed to do so, though the key line, “Have courage and be kind,” at least attempted to address the issue.  Any “realistic” or live or “grownup” adaptation of the move really does have to deal with the question of why Cinderella accepts her abuse: it’s the motive for doing so, not the fact that she does, which determines whether or not she is worthy of emulation, and embodies the final paradox of virtue: the meek rebel: the womanly woman who also outshines every man born.

For example …

Buxtehude, btw.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Scythian, Take 2

It has become faintly fashionable to complain about the Christian art scene, and specifically the Christian music scene.  I’ve made my share of complaints, and will plead guilty to possession of a possibly snobbish suspicion of any artists marketing themselves as “Christian” or “Catholic”.  So when the band Scythian was noised about a few years back, I was dubious.  Surely they were either not really Catholic, or not very good?

Well, my apologies to Alexander, Danylo, and Larissa Fedoryka; Nolan Ladewski; and Fritz McGirr. You all make solid music. And I’d be hard put to find a group of people that takes their faith more seriously.

Read the rest at National Catholic Register.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Order Our Days in Your Peace

One of the reasons for my long love-affair with the Roman Canon is the fact that every now and then a phrase I’ve heard a thousand times pops out with the singularity of a first hearing.  This time was in the “Hanc igitur.”

Hanc igitur oblationem servitutis nostræ, sed et cunctæ familiæ tuæ, quæsumus, Domine, ut placatus accipias: diesque nostros in tua pace disponas, atque ab æterna damnatione nos eripi, et in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari.

“Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of Your whole family; order our days in Your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those You have chosen.”

An interesting choice of words.  I have perhaps a too-Kantian (or is it Pelagian?) tendency to imagine that I am responsible for the ordering of my days—and in a sense, I am.  But here, as is so often the case at Mass, we are reminded that the real ability and responsibility for any good human effort lie with God; and so we ask God to order our days.

The manner in which those days are ordered is beyond interesting; indeed, the choice of words is positively curious.  “Order our days in Your peace,” says the official Novus Ordo translation.  But what is God’s peace?  And what does it mean for our days to be contained in that peace, as if peace were a bargain box or a chesterdrawers?

My first association of the phrase hails from medieval history.  “The peace of God” was the periodic fast (if you like) from war and warlike recreations such as jousting; like a New England blue law, “the peace of God” applied only on certain days and during particular seasons—Sundays and Lent were typical.

My second association of the phrase is its magisterial (in the nontechnical sense!) usage in Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, when the terrifying character Sunday reveals his true identity as “the Peace of God” (and leaves the mystery of who he is still mysterious!).

Though the associations are accidental and less ancient than the text concerned, both I think shed some light on its meaning.  Both link “the peace of God” to Sunday, to the Sabbath, specifically, as the day to which God’s peace most properly belongs.  The medieval peace, among other things, had the function of insuring that God was properly worshipped on Sunday: if you’re not allowed to engage in your knightly pursuits, the “I’m busy” excuse becomes less tempting.

Come to think of it, perhaps some bishop should
revive “the peace of God” and apply it to soccer?

Chesterton’s character, in addition to calling to mind his namesake day of the week, is also linked to the original day of rest taken by God as a culmination to His creative activity.  Sunday is the ringleader of a group of benevolent spies, an anti-anarchist, a force simultaneously of playful chaotic energy and absolute authority and control.  You could hardly say that Sunday wields his power; he simply has it, and others fall into line accordingly—out of fear, before they really know him, and out of joy and the love of adventure once they do.  The peace of God, in Chesterton’s reading, is a remarkably active and in some sense a perilous matter, like skydiving with a tiller.  And might not the same be said of the Mass?  (I once hear priest giving a talk on the old Mass remark how larded it was throughout with humble pleas not to strike down the celebrant for his audacity in making the sacrifice; and while I had never quite thought of the Kyrie in that light, the description fits.)

One sense, then of “Your peace” might be simply the peace of Sunday, the Sabbath.  The embedding of these words in the key prayer of the Mass further suggests that perhaps this “peace” may be identified with the celebration of the sacred liturgy itself.  But there is another possibility—not an alternate meaning, but an additional one; for “peace” in liturgical language also carries with it a sense of final rest.  RIP, says the tombstone—a terrifying image in popular culture, until one realizes that it is a prayer: Requiescat in pace; “Rest in peace.”  And in the Catholic mind, the rest is not the merely negative rest …

… from which we hope that Carrie doesn’t rise
to wreak her revenge on our hapless selves …

but rather a positive affair, one of those delicate euphemisms by which we veil mysteries too glorious to speak lightly of.  For the Catholic, indeed, “Rest in peace” is a brief optative phrase meant to bring to mind a larger picture:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Absolve, O Lord,
the souls of all the faithful departed
from every bond of sin.
And by the help of Thy grace
may they be enabled to escape the avenging judgment.
And enjoy the bliss of everlasting light.
May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy Saints for evermore:
for Thou art gracious.
May the Angels lead thee into paradise:
may the Martyrs receive thee at thy coming,
and lead thee into the holy city of Jerusalem.
May the choir of Angels receive thee,
and mayest thou have eternal rest with Lazarus, who once was poor.

Put simply, “Rest in peace” is another way of saying “Rest in Heaven.”  And as “peace” stands in for Heaven here, I would suggest too that in the Roman canon “peace” has the additional meaning.  “Order our days in your peace” is perhaps first of all a request from the harried Christian that the world not overcome him in daily life.  The second and richer meaning of the phrase seems to be a reminder that all our days and our daily work should be ordered around the Mass: that the Mass, whether we make it daily or weekly, is the pinnacle of that slice of time in which it falls.  And in this sense, the phrase is once again not a command but a comfort: a reminder that the sacred in which we intermittently participate can, if we permit it, permeate all of life, converting chronos to kairos.  In some sense, sacred time contains secular time.  The third and final meaning takes this sense to the next level.  Participation in the Mass is not merely the salvation of our sanity, nor a way of making daily life fancier and finer, or even happier and holier (though it is all these things).  Participation in the Mass is in fact participation in the life of Heaven itself; and through the Mass, then, if our days are ordered in it—defined by and around it, so that its laws and aspirations and language become a lived second nature to us—though this Massedness of daily life, daily life itself becomes a foretaste of Heaven; transpires, in some mysterious sense, inside the life of Heaven.

“Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of Your whole family; order our days in Your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those You have chosen.”