My Blog List

Monday, April 09, 2012

In a Mysterious Way

If you have never seen director Pier Paolo Pasolini's movie The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964) I urge you to do so. I had been meaning to see it myself for many years but, notwithstanding the judgment of the critics, put it off, hesitant, leery even, over what it might contain given Pasolini's notoriety as a firebrand Marxist atheistic hedonist. I finally got over my qualms, however, and watched it last night. It is an extraordinary achievement.

Pasolini cast no professional actors in this picture, instead using local amateurs, friends and family (his own mother plays, beautifully and movingly, the older Virgin Mary). He shot the picture in southern Italy (rejecting the Holy Land as "commercialized") and put together a wonderfully eclectic score wherein I recognized the music of Bach (Mass in B-minor and Saint Matthew Passion), Mozart (Masonic Funeral Music), Prokofieff (score to--ironically--Alexander Nevsky), the singer Odetta and a Congolese setting of the Mass, Missa Luba.  The dialogue (in Italian), with a few minor exceptions, is directly and exclusively from Matthew's Gospel (the DVD I watched had English subtitles using the King James version, an inspired choice). Combined with astonishing performances from the non-professional cast, we have, in my opinion, the greatest Gospel depiction in cinema, unlike any other I have seen. It moved me to the quick.

Pasolini was brutally murdered at the age of 53, the result of rough trade with a 17-year-old male hustler. I suppose it is a wonder, given his notorious and sordid existence (his last picture, the graphically extreme Salo, made shortly before his death, would likely have had no trouble passing Justice Potter Stewart's test), Pasolini could also be the author of such a moving and loving work of religious art like The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. For me, however, he also serves as a reminder all of us have God in us and thus are capable of godly things. Whatever Pasolini's ultimate fate, let us give thanks and praise to God for the good things he did and pray for the repose of his soul. A Happy Easter to all.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Diary of a Papist Convert: Vigilantes

Jeffrey A. Tucker of the splendid Chant Cafe points out something so obvious it's no wonder that many of us have failed to notice it: the Mass celebrated on Saturday evenings (or afternoons) should not be called a "vigil" Mass. True vigil Masses are celebrated before Easter and the Feast of St. John the Baptist; most Sunday Masses celebrated on Saturday are more accurately referred to as "anticipated" Masses (which hardly trips off the tongue but neither does "Extraordinary Form"--whaddya gonna do?).

The anticipated Mass (there now, that wasn't so hard, was it?) is a creature of the post-Vatican II reforms and for once this hidebound conservative has little cause for complaint--in principle, mind you. I recall my in my youth first observing the then-odd sight of worshipers filing into our neighborhood Catholic church on Saturday. I also recall my younger brother and I, who as budding Episcopalians naturally were  being carefully (if subtly) taught the myriad joys of anti-Catholicism, gleefully dubbing the service the "Get It Over With Mass" (obviously a case of envy projection). Later on, of course, I learned attendance at Sunday Mass was obligatory for Catholics and to that end Holy Church took efforts to make fulfillment as convenient as possible. That seemed reasonable to me, even if the Mass were to be celebrated the evening before.

As a Catholic, my only real objection to the Get It Over With Mass is, for reasons I do not know (but I'll bet Novus Ordo bears at least partial culpability), it has become the repository for some of the most egregious abuses in modern Catholic worship: for clergy, sloppy, even slovenly, liturgy; for laity, arriving late, wearing dress tank tops and chattering non-stop throughout. Part of the reform of the putative reform, which steadily continues its course albeit at a glacial pace, is for traditionalist Catholics to be ever-vigilant (if you'll pardon the expression) to these abuses and lovingly shaming the perpetrators thereof into larnin' to behave.