Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Tridentine" stagnation in a post-Summorum Pontificum world

I was recently asked what I thought of Charles Pope's recent article is something of a sobering up for the Traditional Roman Catholic segment.

It has to be noted that I really don't have a stake in this discussion - those days are gone.

This being said....

Pope (no opponent of the pre-Vatican II liturgy) pointedly contradicts the affirmations made by certain Traditionalists that "the movement" is growing. Notably, Traditionalists, he argues, cannot argue that ecclesiastical rigging and lack of promotion or tolerance. Almost nine years after Summorum Pontificum, the pre-Vatican II liturgy, and its accompanying variant of Catholicism, appears to have hit a wall. Its growth has stalled and there appears to be little appeal to the broader body of the Roman Church.

Expectations that the innate "beauty" of the old liturgy would drawn in the crowds, that the "Tridentine" liturgy was its own best promotion, have met a harsh reality. It is time, Pope seems to say, to accept reality as it is, and not as we wish it to be.

Pope's prescription is evangelization, although he doesn't particularly narrow down the subject of our gospel. Presumably, the subject of this gospel would be the "Tridentine Mass" itself, after all, Pope's concern is that the numbers aren't there to sustain Traditional Catholicism. Most Roman Catholics are content to find some space in post-Vatican II Catholicism.

Having noted the above...

I have long been a proponent of the theory that Summorum Pontificum did more harm than good. For better or worse, up until that point the "Tridentine" liturgy was (whether Traditionalists prefer to admit it or not) a sign of protest and distrust of the Vatican. More importantly, it provided a venue with which to resist modernity and post-modernity, a consequence of which was some form of resistance to contemporary Catholicism. A consequence of Summorum Pontificum was that it stole much of the "Tridentine" liturgy's thunder; many principles behind the cause no longer had the force of intent behind them.

Evangelization is a tricky thing. To be honest, sacramental churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran) are often tepid at it at best. It is a plain fact that Catholics, Orthodox, and certain strands of Anglicans and Lutherans cannot credibly talk about evangelization without consulting the Protestant churches who know how to do it - oftentimes Evangelicals. Evangelicals are almost fearless when it comes to evangelization and working through the surrounding culture. Sacramental churches tend to be clumsy, hesitant, self conscious, and overly apologetic. In the worst case scenario, Catholics, Orthodox and other "high churches" present themselves as being artificially removed from the culture or relatively clueless regarding its contemporary currents. To cite an episode from my past, I once had music director at Catholic parish tell me utilization of Latin chant wasn't acceptable because "the mission" requires more contemporary music to "reach people." My response, "fair enough, but your contemporary music sounds an awful lot like dated (and poorly written) folk music. If you want to do something contemporary, there is a Pentecostal church down the street that can teach you a bit about the tasteful use of distortion." Needless to say, this didn't go over well. Which is a shame, because there are some fine examples of suitably Christian music laden with distortion or otherwise electronic instrumentation....

Again, evangelization isn't easy - if you're going to talk about it, you need to consult with the people who actually do it. Part of the challenge is building up the experience of a Christian community. Again, Evangelical churches often provide the best example. If your community is composed of cliques and is otherwise insulated and unwelcoming, your evangelization effort has no source of sustenance.

There is the plain fact that there is very little interest in traditional forms of Western liturgy. The dominant preference (and numbers do matter) is for contemporary Western forms that incorporate "Traditional" elements. It is this context where the future of the Latin or Western liturgical tradition resides. This isn't intended to make a value judgment, rather it is a statement of fact. Could this change? Of course, but there is no indication a change is happening anytime soon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ESV Reader's Gospels (review)

For those who missed it, released as it was during the dog days of summer when we're most likely thinking of vacation, the beach, or maybe prepping for a few liturgical days, Crossway released the ESV Reader's Gospels.

You can find some detailed reviews of the volume here and here. There isn't much to add to those very thorough reviews, just some general impressions that come to mind.

If I have had one complaint with Crossway (and it is a complaint that I have with a number of other publishers, including the nearly legendary R.L. Allan) it is the tendency to farm printing (and binding) out to China. Simply put, the quality control often isn't as it should be and there is the nagging voice telling me, all things considered, something about publishing the Bible (or a number of liturgical books) in China just doesn't make sense.

Happily, the ESV Reader's Gospels is printed in Italy. Italy has become something of a hub for Bible printing in the past seven or so years - a number of publishers have utilized Italian printers to produce high quality and affordable "mid-line" Bibles. The leather bound edition has a sturdy, strong build - leather on board as opposed to supple.

The ESV Reader's Gospels is notable for offering an edition of the gospels largely unencumbered by verse numbering and editorial division. This is just about as close to the ancient reading experience you will find in a modern printed edition.

You can pick up either the cloth edition, or the leather bound edition.

As with others, I recommend the leather edition without reservation. It is well bound, has an optimal typeface, and provides a nearly perfect reading experience with the ESV - a translation that soon enough will be the new gold standard across denominational lines.

Gregorian Missal (Review)

Following on the heals of the new English translation of the Missale Romanum that came into force in 2011, the monks of Solesmes published an updated edition of the Gregorian Missal, a Latin-English chant book containing the notated Latin chants for the ordinary of the Mass, the Sundays of the year, and the principle Solemnities. As with the original edition, the revised Gregorian Missal provides an invaluable liturgical resource for those interested in preserving the Latin tradition in its largest church.

The first thing one will notice about this volume is how well it is bound. It has been some years since I last held a book by Solesmes and it was easy to forget just how well made their books are. The Gregorian Missal is a sturdy hard cover and the suitable "heft" to the volume leaves its impression when one realizes this is just under 800 pages - not a monster of a liturgical book by any stretch of the imagination. The covers are strong and the binding itself appears designed to take years of regular use. Indeed, Solesmes knows usability and this becomes readily apparent when examining the interior: crisp typesetting of text and notation on French vanilla paper with high opacity - this is as optimal a format as you can get.

The core purpose of the Gregorian Missal is to provide the annotated Latin chants for the modern Roman liturgy.  As noted above, it is accompanied by the new English translation of the Roman Missal, for consultation purposes only - there are no proper Gregorian chants in English. There is not much to be added to the assessment of the new English translation of the Roman Missal; the new translation is what it is and not much is going to change any one person's view of it. This said, having some of the Latin text readily available will enable one to make up one's own mind about how adequate this translation really is.

The chants themselves at times vary in complexity. A well trained scola will doubtlessly be able to execute what they encounter. Those with a beginner to basic to median comprehension of chant notation may or may not find some of the repertoire challenging. The musical notation itself comes from the annals of the Western Tradition. Even where a new text appears (due to the impact of the reform of the Roman liturgy), said text has been set to an ancient melody.

This edition uses the 2011 English translation and the 2002 Latin text. One can therefore judge the latest translation for oneself, although doing so would be an example of getting lost in the details. The core purpose of this volume is to facilitate the use of chant in the context of the modern Latin liturgy - anything outside of this purpose seems poorly directed.

If I have learned one thing in the Orthodox Church, it is that liturgy was meant to be chanted. If I have learned a second thing, it is that Orthodox churches are more likely to have the necessary tools to chant the liturgy than their Catholic counterparts. For those in the Roman Church, the Gregorian Missal is your starting resource.

Special thanks to the publisher who sent me this review copy. There was no expectation other than an honest review.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Schuyler Canterbury KJV 2016 update

Schuyler is preparing for what could be landmark year for them, and Bible publishing as whole.

The Quentel NKJV is just about due to drop. This is yet another entry in acclaimed Quentel line. One wonders, barring the addition of a new set of translations to the rotation, if Schuyler will continue expanding the Quentel series or if we are getting close to its completion. In any event, the Quentel series proved Schuyler was ready to take its place in the list of premium Bible publishers (Bibles that are built to last, as opposed to falling apart in five years).

The watershed moment, however, might come in August/September 2016 time frame when the Canterbury KJV is completed.


The previews have been something to behold. The red drop caps are a classy touch - we haven't seen this practiced regularly since perhaps the early 1900s, and this was largely in liturgical books, not Bibles. It adds to the aesthetic experience of the Bible as a sacred book.

The Canterbury KJV will largely be double column. Schuyler has opted to present Psalms in a single column format,


I cannot commend this decision enough - this is excellent move on Schuyler's part! Anyone who regularly uses the psalms for prayer or liturgy/worship can attest that a single column format has distinct advantages over the traditional two columns. It assists with providing both visual clarity to the page and actually lets the reader take each psalm in as a poetic work, as opposed to a compressed text. 

If you want a better idea of what these formatting decisions will look like in the context of reading an actual book in the Bible, you can find a PDF sample of Isaiah online. This gives us a fairly accurate preview into what it will be like when encountering all of these features in context.

Formatting decisions being noted, perhaps the most important feature of the Canterbury KJV will be the decision to publish a hardcover edition in addition to the premium leather. Premium Bibles can be cost prohibitive and limit a publisher to a particular market. Schuyler is actively working with Jongbloed in the Netherlands (the premium printer for Schuyler, Cambridge and others) to produce a sewn hardcover edition. The hardcover edition will be printed and bound in the Netherlands and feature gilt page edges. The target price range is around $50.00 USD. 

The significance of a hardcover edition cannot be underestimated. Schuyler has built its base on the premium Bible market. The decision to expand into hardcover is indicative of the broader interest Schuyler has garnered and is a move that could very well position them as the Bible publisher of choice. Schuyler's craftsmanship will have greater diffusion with this step, and I suspect it will put pressure on a number of publishers to "up their game".

Occasionally, I will receive emails inquiring into my enthusiasm for Schuyler. The reason is relatively simple - Schuyler does excellent work. We are living in a time that can only be thought of as the dark ages of book publishing. Things are so bleak that even premium publishers of some reputation have experimented with various cost cutting measures as the sacrifice of quality. I won't name any names, but certain readers will know to whom I refer. Schuyler has resolutely gone against industry trends and shines a light in otherwise black landscape. 

Schuyler intends the Canterbury KJV to be a game changer. Thus far, all of the indicators point in that direction. If everything comes together, this will be a very hard volume to top.