Empty Spaces
The Minding Scripture Podcast

Since you can't go to Mass today...

(I think this is relevant to all Christians, not only Catholics but at least those whose communions have a liturgy, and worth the attention of those who don't. Or for that matter anyone who cares about the Western musical and spiritual tradition.)

Since you can't go to Mass today, probably, allow me to suggest that you listen to one of the great musical settings of the Latin Mass. One of my Lenten things this year--I can't truly call it much of a penance, but "discipline" is justifiable--is to confine my listening to sacred music. So far that's mostly been settings of the Mass, and, if you do this attentively--not just playing it in the background while you cook or wash the dishes or something--it's more or less inevitable that you will attend very carefully to the words and reflect on them.

So far I've mainly spent time with Bach's Mass in B-Minor, which of course I had heard before, having bought one recording way back in the late '60s (I think) and another in the '80s,  but never really gotten to know. It takes a bit of effort, as the work is something of a monster. It requires somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours to perform, depending on the conductor, and was never performed in Bach's lifetime. And if you're like me you may have trouble listening to two straight hours of non-operatic music (opera has a plot, and characters). But that's ok. The Kyrie and Gloria together run well over half an hour, the Credo most of a half-hour. And each of those sections is a complete musical work as well as theological statement.

My two recordings are pretty much opposite interpretations. You can gather that from the running times: two hours and fifteen minutes for one, an hour and forty-five for the other. The slow one is the one I bought when I was in college: Otto Klemperer, the BBC Chorus, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and an all-star group of vocal soloists including Janet Baker. The faster one is John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, and vocal soloists whose names I don't recognize (not that that means much, except that they aren't superstars). (I don't know why an orchestra calls itself "Soloists".) 

The Klemperer is rich and majestic. The Gardiner is clear and lively. The former is, to speak very loosely, more or less in the more or less romantic tradition of Bach performance, while the latter is pretty much a textbook example of what's called the "HIP" approach--Historically Informed Performance.  (You can read about it at Wikipedia.) I think the two camps have at times been at war over the past several decades. I know some traditionalists hate the thinner, drier sound of period instruments, and some HIPsters mock the grandiosity of Mahler-ready orchestras and choruses applied to 18th century music. 

But I am very happy to have both these recordings. Very happy indeed. The traditional recording brings greater depth (in every sense) to some parts, but the big powerful choir and orchestra sometimes overwhelm the counterpoint or just seem inappropriate, too much. The HIP one is wonderfully clear, but the more somber, heavier parts have less emotional power. 

Thanks to YouTube, you can compare them for yourself. Yesterday I listened to the Laudate section of the Gloria four times, twice in each version. (The work is so massive that each idea or sentence in the text gets its own separate composition.) And I really like both. This is one part where there is, to my taste, no definite preference. I really like the light, bright quality of the Gardiner. The singer, compared to Janet Baker, sounds almost girlish, which for this section is appropriate, as is the sprightly tempo. But the violin obbligato, which is beautiful in the Klemperer, is anemic in the Gardiner. And so on.

I'm speaking as if you only have to take your recording off the shelf and put it on. But if you don't own one maybe you subscribe to one of the streaming music services. Or you can listen to one of the many recordings, whole or partial, that seem to be available on YouTube. If your knowledge of the Latin texts is no better than mine, and you don't own a recording which would typically include the texts, you'll probably need something you can read. You could start here and find the parts.




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Well, this is interesting: someone's ranking of the best recordings of the Bm, of which there are around 90(!), puts Klemperer first and Gardiner second. Pretty good more or less lucky picks for me, I guess.


I'm assuming this is the 1985 Gardiner. There is a much more recent one, and this cover is not the same as mine. But the singers are the same, which they are not (of course) in the 20nn one.

Is this the only comment? I thought there was a discussion here.


Hmm, I thought there were at least a few comments. I didn’t delete them.

I went to Mass today! At the seminary where I work they were saying a memorial Mass for my mom, who died on Saturday. I felt guilty.

No need, clearly. I’m sorry to hear about your mother.

Yes. Sorry about your mom, and glad you got to go to Mass for her.


Robert, very sorry about your mom

I just now had a chance to log in and check the comments. There is no trace of any comments on this post except the ones that are currently visible. Not in spam, not in unpublished. I can only guess that we are thinking of comments on some other post.

Condolences on your mother's passing, Robert.

Our diocese has allowed our priests to open the churches for two hours on Saturday afternoons so that folks can come and pray and light candles. I went this past Saturday for about 45 minutes. There were about a dozen people there or so, and everyone was doing the social distancing thing as the diocese recommended. The church seats about 300 so the six-foot rule was easy to abide by. Father advised everyone not to show up at once but to arrange with other families to stagger their arrivals. Seems to have worked.

Sounds like a good approach. Here's a post by a canon lawyer who thinks the bishops who have cancelled all public Masses are probably in violation of canon law and, less legalistically, making a big mistake. The post is too long--you can stop reading around the St. Charles Borromeo point, because from there on it's only more instances.


I think it would have been better to stick with the original plan--blanket dispensation from the requirement but continuing to have Mass.

Fortunately, God's grace is not stifled by these choices. He will just do an end-around. God is constantly showering us with everything we need for our salvation and our vocation. God can outflank Satan and our stupidity.

Quite true.

As an abstract question, it kind of bothers me: if you argue that cancelling Mass may deprive people of salvation, or at least make it more difficult, it may suggest that the "end-around" is not to be counted on. If you argue that cancelling is ok, it may suggest that the sacraments don't matter all that much.

The one case where I think the cancelling was absolutely wrong is one, maybe mentioned in that canon law post, where a priest was forbidden (or refused?) to give the last rites to a dying person. That's Just Wrong.

A question for those of you who were not born or are not living in the United States. Is the term "end-around" a distinctly American term borrowed from American football, or are there other uses of the term in non-American English-speaking cultures?

Robert, I loved your comment about God making an end round. I first heard it when I came to the Mid West, where they play quite a bit of football. It doesn't exist in Europe, because there is no 'end round' in European football. There's quite a few football phrases which are unique to the US, eg 'hail Mary pass', and punt. I really felt I was becoming American when I used the last two. I would never say 'end round' because though I catch the meaning of your term 'God makes an end round', I couldn't invent such a phrase - I am not sure enough of what happens in an end round

The thing is, that you can't look at the Mass situation as something like a division problem that you have to solve with no remainder. God always works in impossible ways. "Go kill the child of the promise," He says, and we have to keep believing that He will fulfill the promise.

If the "end-around" is God's ability to supply what we need, then it is always to be counted on. Even on an average day when everyone can go to Mass, and God greatly desires that everyone receive the Eucharist, most people in the world are not capable to receiving it for one reason or another, but He is constantly working in every individual life by whatever means are at hand.

Perhaps, our not being able to go to Mass is exactly what He wants at the moment. Maybe--certainly--we need to think seriously about how we take It for granted. Did I mention here the article Joseph Ratzinger wrote about fasting from the Eucharist which contains this: When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One.

I doesn't do us any good to question the bishops or be unhappy about it. It only turns our eyes away from the most important thing.

Bad as the virus itself is, one of the results is that we have been given this time of relative peace to seek the face of God, to question our own motivations, and lukewarmness, and lack of trust, etc. We don't need to waste on things that we can't do anything about.


"The thing is, that you can't look at the Mass situation as something like a division problem that you have to solve with no remainder."

I know, that's why I said "As an abstract question...". There's no reason or need for anyone to think about it that way. Some of us just like to. :-)

Re "end-around" : actually I don't even think of it as a football term, just a general term for going around an obstacle. Not saying it didn't come from football, just that I don't think of it as such.

I think that "end-around" has a connotation of unexpectedness that a similar term like "work-around" doesn't. God's doing an end-around would seem to imply an element of surprise.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Popped into my head after reading Rob G's commen.

"Work-around" is a contrivance. "End-around" is a move.

Responding to Janet: I really like that paper of Ratzinger, where he responds to the problem of un-shared communion by speaking of fasting from the Eucharist. Well, I like all of Ratzinger, but that's especially good.

Yes, I've been thinking about the difference between giving up a ton of stuff for Lent, as I always do, and having your normal life taken away from you by force. There's a big difference!

I sometimes do that when I haven’t been to confession for a while and although not in mortal sin (I hope) am feeling pretty grimy.

Speaking of Ratzinger, does anybody want to comment on this obnoxious piece of anti-Catholicism?:


It's mainly based on a marginally honest reading of bits of Introduction to Christianity. I'm writing a refutation of it, which will have the same title, in hope that search engines will find my piece as well when someone searches for the title question. It came to my attention because a Protestant relative asked me about it, seeming to find it plausible.

By the way, Janet, in posting that canon lawyer's view I didn't intend to be agreeing with it. I just thought it was an interesting angle, one that hadn't occurred to me.

Father Khaled sent us a sermon along with the Typica and readings for Palm Sunday.

Here is part of the sermon

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the entrance of Christ, the King of creation, into Jerusalem, “the
city of the great King” (Ps 48.1), riding on the foal of a donkey. On this Palm Sunday, in these
present circumstances, our Lord desires to manifest his sovereign and saving humility to us in an
even more extraordinary way- dispensing with processions and lights and incense and colorful
vestments- and appearing to us in the simplicity and plainness of our everyday surroundings,
asking us to welcome him in all his sufferings and to welcome his powerful love that will fully
manifest itself in his Resurrection.

A good thought with which to begin Holy Week. I really missed going to Mass today. The Palm Sunday liturgy is not something I have a great fondness for, but it should have been there. The one I watched on TV was a Facebook post of a priest doing it in his living room. It was odd.

The priest in the living room by himself is very awkward, especially when the priest is a friend, and was a student when you worked at the Newman Center.

I would suggest this one at 4:15 pm CDT.



I didn’t watch today. Is it a daily thing?



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