Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fun with Latin!

Ever since I got to see the Latin version of the current Mass on paper, I have been longing to set the words to music, because they are too cool! (Also, there's no point writing Mass parts for the current translation, since its time is almost up.)

This is not to diss the current translation, except... well... the Latin version is just so powerful, whereas the English version seems to do its level best to dam things up just when the words get on a roll. And I don't know where they hid all the parallelism and structure in the English, 'cause it's all really obvious in the Latin.

Sooo, I've made up my own Gloria melody. I'm afraid that those who think contemporary music is repetitive will really think that of this, because I love rhythms and repetition, and the whole structure of the Latin Gloria is highly rhythmic. Still, you can hardly say that it doesn't have anything for the guys to sing. (I'm singing it in my key, but obviously that would be super easy to change.)

Also, I didn't figure out until after I recorded this that it really should go:
"tu solus Sanctus (Sanctus!)
tu solus Dominus (Dominus!)"
with the last syllable of "Dominus!" kinda sliding under the rest of the choir moving along with "tu solus Altissimus".

Anyway, give it a listen and tell me what you think. (Unless you really hate it, in which case you can just pretend like this post never happened.)

Here's the Latin words with the verses arranged for this melody, for your convenience.

in excelsis Deo
et in terra
pax hominibus
bonae voluntatis.

Laudamus te,
benedicimus te,
adoramus te,
glorificamus te,

gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam,

Domine Deus,
Rex caelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.

Domine Fili
Iesu Christe,

Domine Deus,
Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris,

qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis;
qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
miserere nobis.

tu solus Sanctus, (Sanctus!)
tu solus Dominus, (Domi-)
(-nus!) tu solus Altissimus,

Iesu Christe,
cum Sancto Spiritu:
in gloria Dei Patris.


Feeling Better

I'm feeling much better today, so it's back to work for me! I'm shocked to see how much I posted yesterday. They put a lot of stimulants in that cold medicine, that's all I can say.

Tonight is the vigil Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception tomorrow. It's a Holy Day of Obligation here in the US, since Mary as the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint of the United States. (Ironic for a country with as much abortion as we have, ne?) The feast was only instituted in 1798, so it's very fitting to associate it with our country. It would also be fitting not to rip on France today and tomorrow. After all, when Our Lady appeared at Lourdes, she told St. Bernadette "I am the Immaculate Conception."

The idea behind the whole feast is to remind folks of the doctrines behind it. Jesus was the New Adam, as St. Paul pointed out, free from all sin including the original sin that came from Adam. To facilitate that last, Catholics believe that God chose to cleanse Mary of original sin from the very moment of her conception, thus making her a fitting New Eve.

Which only makes sense, because if you're going to use a person as the new Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant, it would probably be a good thing if the person was totally spotless. (Think of all the nasty things that happened in the Old Testament to priests who were deep in sin and approached the Lord, or who weren't ritually clean. You wouldn't want that stuff to happen to a pregnant lady, especially if she were your mother.)

Beyond that, it's just nice that God, through Mary, gave humanity another chance to try to live sinless, using free will to make good choices instead of bad ones. We believe that, with the help of the Father and the Holy Spirit (and of course, Her Son's death and resurrection, acting retroactively), that Mary did manage to live her life totally without sin. She was an ordinary woman living in the ordinary world, not in the Garden of Eden. Yet, she managed what Adam and Eve could not, because she loved and obeyed God.

Now, no doubt God could have done things a different way. But we don't think He did. If God wants to create a new start for humanity, He can do it any time He figures it's a good idea. And if God wants essentially to baptize someone at the moment sperm hits egg, this isn't any odder than God providing a "baptism of desire" to someone at the very moment of their death. God can work outside the normal rules for the Sacraments whenever God feels like it, because God made the rules. He has planned for such things from the beginning.

If you missed out on the link to that gorgeous picture of Mary as a baby inside St. Anne that I linked to yesterday, here's Jean Bellegambe's picture of "St. Anne's Conception of Mary".

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Science Fiction and Fantasy News!

First off, some of you know that I'm a great fan of the (still unreleased in the US, darn it!) Russian movie Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch). Another American fan has set up a really nice new discussion site, Into the Gloom. One clever feature is that the site is divided into two boards: Warriors of Light for those of us who've seen the flick, and Warriors of Darkness for those who are still patiently waiting until they can see it on the big screen.

The big news here is that the sequel, Dnevnoi Dozor (Day Watch) is coming out this January. Finally!! Also, finally has a page to preorder an official English translation of the novel on which Night Watch is based -- in fact, it claims to be a hardcover of the whole trilogy. Their release date is August 8, 2006. Nothing on yet.

I look forward with interest to seeing how it differs from my unofficial translation.

Also, for those of us who enjoy David Drake's Royal Cinnabar Navy series (better known as the Roman/Napoleonic space adventures of Daniel and Adele)... the next book will be coming out sometime in 2006. Some Golden Harbor has a truly beautiful Steve Hickman cover that finally captures my mental picture of Adele. Scroll down a bit to see it.

(I really think Daniel's looking way too craggy and buff. Yes, I know there's such a thing as marketing. But though the guy's dashing and physical, he's also round-faced and slightly pudgy, a bit like unto a cross between NCIS' Agent McGee and Captain Kirk, and instead they make him look like unto Steven Seagal.

Daniel is a perpetual optimist, and this time it's Adele, of the perpetual dry remarks, who looks cheerful. A sign of character development, or marketing again? Also, is it me, or is it hard to make someone who's not wearing a dashing naval uniform, look like a dashing young officer? Still, a good cover.)

The title of this fifth RCN book comes from Tennyson's "Prefatory Sonnet: To the Nineteenth Century":

Those that of late had fleeted far and fast
To touch all shores, now leaving to the skill
Of others their old craft seaworthy still,
Have charter’d this; where, mindful of the past,
Our true co-mates regather round the mast;
Of diverse tongue, but with a common will
Here, in this roaring moon of daffodil
And crocus, to put forth and brave the blast;
For some, descending from the sacred peak
Of hoar high-templed Faith, have leagued again
Their lot with ours to rove the world about;
And some are wilder comrades, sworn to seek
If any golden harbour be for men
In seas of Death and sunless gulfs of Doubt.

Previous books have also taken their names from poetry. With the Lightnings and its opening quote was from Kipling's "Chant-Pagan". (Opening quote is bolded.)

"Me that ’ave followed my trade
In the place where the Lightnin’s are made
’Twixt the Rains and the Sun and the Moon—
Me that lay down an’ got up
Three years with the sky for my roof—
That ’ave ridden my ’unger an’ thirst
Six thousand raw mile on the hoof,
With the Vaal and the Orange for cup,
An’ the Brandwater Basin for dish,—
Oh! it’s ’ard to be’ave as they wish
(Too ’ard, an’ a little too soon),
I’ll ’ave to think over it first— Me!"

Lt. Leary, Commanding began with some lines from another Kipling poem, "The Galley Slave":

"She will need no half-mast signal, minute-gun, or rocketflare,
When the cry for help goes seaward, she will find her servants there.
Battered chain-gangs of the orlop, grizzled drafts of years gone by,
To the bench that broke their manhood, they shall lash themselves and die.

Bale and crippled, young and aged, paid, deserted, shipped away—
Palace, cot, and lazaretto shall make up the tale that day,
When the skies are black above them, and the decks ablaze beneath,
And the top-men clear the raffle with their clasp-knives in their teeth.

It may be that Fate will give me life and leave to row once more—
Set some strong man free for fighting as I take awhile his oar.
But to-day I leave the galley. Shall I curse her service then?
God be thanked! Whate’er comes after, I have lived and toiled with Men!

The problem with Kipling is that Kipling often tells true things about emotions in situations that don't make a lot of sense, if taken totally literally. He's not talking about galley slaves. He's talking about people being stuck together in cruddy situations, and gaining a certain love and nostalgia even for the bad times. He's talking about being shipmates.

The Far Side of the Stars doesn't have a little poetic motto. I think it owes its title more to The Far Side of the World, since as we know, Daniel and Adele owe a great deal to the pseudonymous Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

But the fourth book, The Way to Glory, has a very nice poetic motto indeed, from Tennyson's "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington". Here's yet another excerpt:

He, on whom from both her open hands
Lavish Honor shower’d all her stars,
And affluent Fortune emptied all her horn.
Yea, let all good things await
Him who cares not to be great
But as he saves or serves the state.
Not once or twice in our rough island-story
The path of duty was the way to glory.

He that walks it, only thirsting
For the right, and learns to deaden
Love of self, before his journey closes,
He shall find the stubborn thistle bursting
Into glossy purples, which outredden
All voluptuous garden-roses.
Not once or twice in our fair island-story
The path of duty was the way to glory.
He, that ever following her commands,
On with toil of heart and knees and hands,
Thro’ the long gorge to the far light has won
His path upward, and prevail’d,
Shall find the toppling crags of Duty scaled
Are close upon the shining table-lands
To which our God Himself is moon and sun.
Such was he: his work is done.
But while the races of mankind endure
Let his great example stand
Colossal, seen of every land,
And keep the soldier firm, the statesman pure;
Till in all lands and thro’ all human story
The path of duty be the way to glory.

Nice, huh?

You can download With the Lightnings and Lt. Leary, Commanding for free from Baen Books' Free Library. The idea is that you'll like the series so much, you'll want to read more.

St. Lucy Ain't Juno Lucina.

This time of year, we always have people spreading bizarre ideas about Christmas celebrations which have no historical foundation. Since Christmas celebrations have all sorts of rich history already, one might wonder why people feel the need to pull stories out of their... out of nowhere.

Here's a particularly priceless one: that St. Lucy of Syracuse is really Juno Lucina.

Well, let's see. St. Lucia is down in Sicily, hanging out with all the Greek Italians. She's a virgin martyr. She's the patron of people with eye trouble because her own eyes got ripped out before she was killed. Her feast is celebrated on December 13. Some people fast from wheat on that day, to commemorate a famine she was credited with ending.

Juno Lucina was up in Rome, in a temple in a grove (lucus) with two ancient lotus trees decorated with Vestal Virgin hair. She was supposed to be a matron midwife goddess in charge of childbirth. Romans brought her a coin every time they had a kid who lived. Her festival, the Matronalia, was on March 1. Sheep were sacrificed to her, prayers offered for wives, slaves given the day off. All women wore totally loose clothing and hair, with no knots allowed lest the women be "bound up" during childbirth. Her other festival was on July 7, the Nones Caprotinae or Nones of the Wild Fig, when fig juice was sacrificed to her.

Gosh, all the similarities make you reel, don't they?

But wait, there's more. Some people actually claim that Juno Lucina was worshipped at the Winter Solstice, wore a red gown, and is thus obviously Mrs. Claus!

No. Because, first off, Juno Lucina wasn't worshipped at the Winter Solstice, and second, Mrs. Claus is a clear product of 19th century American writer Katherine Lee Bates. So unless you want to claim that the lady who wrote "America the Beautiful" was a secret minion of Juno, you must admit to pulling this from your nether regions. (And if you do think KLB was some kind of priestess, you have clearly drunk a little too much eggnog -- especially if you could type such a thing with a straight face.)

Now there was a goddess festival on December 13 -- but that was the Ides of Tellus Mater, goddess of the earth. On December 19, there was the winter Opalia, for Ops, goddess of plenty, and the festival of Juventas, goddess of youth, for all who had become adults (had their 14th birthday) in the previous year. Later that month, there was another festival on December 21 -- on the Winter Solstice -- but that was the Divalia, the festival of the Diva Angerona, goddess of secrecy, who also presided over heart attacks (angina). On December 23, it was Acca Larentalia, sacred to the mother of the Lares.

There were several different sorts of agricultural festivals, too (probably connected with winter wheat or the resting of the earth after harvest), so you might be able to understand someone trying to make something out of the wheat fast celebrated by St. Lucy's devotees. (Though its Renaissance date of appearance would be against you.) But instead, what people are saying is utter unsupported crap.

Look, if you think you're so pagan, you should at least know which false goddess you're worshipping. (In fact, I think that would be a safety consideration, considering the sort of stories that Romans and Greeks told about goddesses who got their prerogatives usurped.) And if you're going to take cheap shots at the credulity of Catholics, it ill behooves you to show yourself credulous enough to believe everything you read on the Internet.

Why don't we just try to enjoy the holidays we have, without trying to make them something they're not?

"I'm Just Some Art Whose Intentions Are Good..."

"Oh, Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

Zadok also provided us with some beautiful pictures of religious art in Santa Maria Maggiore which could be easily... misunderstood. Let's face it -- if it can be done without violating good theological principles, Catholic art is going to do it, and Catholics are going to love it and keep it and annoy non-Catholics with their insensitive Catholicness.

It's not that Catholics want to freak the mundanes or the Protestants. (Though annoying Jack Chick is something of a bonus... Well, no, it's really not. But poor Jack Chick is going to be annoyed whatever we do. All we can do is pray for him to come to reason and Truth.)

Some images are just so deep in tradition that it's obviously foolish to change them around for the sake of a secular society that's changing every minute, and will soon enough be gone. Some images shock because they insist on the reality of the Incarnation, and hence of the importance of all sorts of bodily functions. Some shock to wake up consciences and minds and hearts, like a sort of koan for the eyes. But mostly, if you can make an image of some important theological truth, you should. It shows proper gratitude to God for showing you that truth, and teaches it to others.

So here's one of Zadok's examples: a carving of the Baby Jesus in Mary's arms attached to a plain cross (with purposeful resemblance to an actual crucifix). You will note that Mary is carefully leaning to the side; it is Jesus who occupies the center here. However, it really is clever how the artist replaces the little "step" common on crucifixes with the crescent moon Mary stands upon, as per the Book of Revelation. Also, Mary is crowned, though Jesus is still a baby. This isn't a crucifixion, obviously. But is it a foreshadowing? Or is it a portrayal of Mary and Jesus outside normal time, with Jesus appearing to His people from eternity with the promise of the Second Coming? Either way, it's definitely designed to make you think.

But then, the same people who might be made uncomfortable by seeing the Baby Jesus pre-crucified, or who might complain about crowning and dressing up Infants of Prague, don't have a problem with a Flash presentation accusing everyone of literally making the Baby Jesus cry. (I'd link to it if I could remember where I saw it.) The impulse is the same; it's only the picture that's different. (And the theology of images, of course.)

The Mystical Bath by Jean Bellegambe. In this triptych panel, we see people literally bathing in the blood of the Lamb -- rub-a-dub scrub and all -- in a bathtub at the foot of the Cross. Check out how fast they're running to be saved! Check out the medieval undies! (This is pretty much a true picture of what a medieval bathhouse looked like, complete with wenches to give you a boost and cakes to eat, transposed with the heart of holiness. The bathing person with the jar is probably St. Mary Magdalen with her ointment, and the boosters are probably supposed to be Mary (given the sun on her headdress) and some other female saint -- maybe the Church herself, since the ship could be the barque of Peter. Very bold. Very weird.)

Snake-Stompin' Jesus and Snake-Stompin' Mary! Or, "The Madonna with the Serpent" by Caravaggio. Yep, that's one way to deal with fuzzy readings of scripture. Not to mention a good visual summation of the Catholic "both-and" as opposed to "either-or". Also note Jesus' obvious masculinity and navel -- another nod to the importance of the Incarnation (and maybe His Jewish identity, too). I like how Mary and St. Anne look like tough Italian ladies.

Mothering God: an article on Maria Gravida, Maria Lactans, and other "shocking" images of Jesus' incarnation and Mary's part in it.

This page has two Maria Lactans pictures, though the one way down at the bottom is the cutest. St. Luke is trying to draw Mary's portrait while she nurses, but Jesus is making silly faces at him instead of paying attention to the task at hand.

A Maria Gravida example in St. Augustine, Florida.

La Virgen de la O and still more pregnant Mary's.

A very pregnant Mary on a donkey.

Of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the best known example of a pregnant Mary today.

Awesome picture of Mary's Immaculate Conception inside St. Anne by the same Jean Bellegambe who brought you bathtime on Calvary. I guess you could call this an example of "Anna Gravida". St. Anne is davening in the Temple, and if you look closely, apparently so is the unborn Mary.

Virtual chapel of the Unborn Jesus and a special page dedicated to Mary's holy womb. Part of an anti-abortion apostolate and memory site.

My Patron Church

Teeeeechnically, I don't have a patron saint so much as a patron event. Yup, my birthday falls on the day when we celebrate (or don't; it's an optional memorial) the dedication of the basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the first Marian churches and still the biggest one dedicated to her in the world. It also commemorates the rather unique method of site selection: the Virgin Mary arranged with God for a snowfall in August in Rome in the year 358, to mark where she wanted the place to get built. (Thus the Marian title "Our Lady of the Snows", and the Spanish girl's name "Nieve", Snow.)

It was a daring place that was chosen -- cheek by jowl with the temple of Juno Lucina, appealed to for safe birthing by pagan Romans. You get a lot of people these days claiming that Christians built churches on or near temple sites to include pagan rituals in Christianity. The truth is that they were doing the equivalent of building a cathedral in Mecca next to the Kaaba, or putting a church dedicated to a correct understanding of the Trinity in Salt Lake City's Temple Square. Mary wasn't hiding pagans under her skirts; she was challenging the pagans on their own ground, terrible as an army with banners. She was showing up paganism's insufficiency and falsehood, and calling pagans to come to Her Son, the Truth. So it was especially fitting that this church became perhaps the first Marian pilgrimage church. (Hardly the last, though!)

Over the next century, the basilica got pretty run down. (This happened a lot with Roman era basilicas, both governmental and Christian. The places were huuuuuge and hard to maintain, especially with the troubles of the Western Empire.) But after the Council of Ephesus (held where Mary was said to have gone with St. John to live) upheld Mary as "Theotokos", Mother of God, in 431, Pope Sixtus III decided to rebuild the place. One of the unique features was a copy of the cave at Bethlehem where Christ was born, built to house a small piece of the Manger. This led to the place being nicknamed "St. Mary of the Crib". (See, there really is a tie-in to the season!)

St. Jerome, patron saint of bloggers and translator of the whoooooole Bible, is buried in this "cave" crypt. St. Matthew, the thirteenth Apostle, is buried under the high altar.

Now to get to the inspiration for my post. Zadok noted that Santa Maria Maggiore also houses the world's oldest Nativity scene extant. They were marble figures made about 1290 by Arnolfo di Cambio, who also did the big bronze St. Peter at St. Peter's. (Restoration has just been finished on the figures, hence the news story.) Another nickname for the place, therefore, is Santa Maria ad Praesepium -- St. Mary of the Stable. ("Culla" is manger, in case you were interested.)

St. Mary Major (or Santa Maria Maggiore, in Italian) also houses the plague-fighting, wonderworking Byzantine icon of Jesus and Mary known as "Salus Populus Romani" -- a pun that both means "Health of the Roman People" and "Salvation of the Roman People". St. Ignatius of Loyola spent a lot of time praying before it.

Now, it's not all that likely that I'll ever be getting to Rome (though all the bloggers there make it look mighty tempting!), but I'm pretty chuffed to have found out that my patron church is such a very nifty place.

More descriptions of the history and features of the church can be found here.

St Mary Major's page on a really awesome website dedicated to the many churches of Rome.

Pictures of architectural features, and more architecture pictures.

A virtual panorama of the church's interior, and a four panoramas of different parts of the church.

Interesting page comparing other late Roman art to the late Roman bits of Santa Maria Maggiore, like the mosaics.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I hope he left you something in your stockings or your shoes.

I got a day off, which I have been spending being sick. But I feel a little better now.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Absolutely Bloody Typical

I did a nice little Advent Google for "Fathers Luke" and happened to find this essay on heroes and heroines by the sf writer Elisabeth Vonarburg.

I once bought a book by Elisabeth Vonarburg, in the broadminded spirit of international fannish friendship and literary exploration. You will note that I did not seek out another. But when I read the beginning of this essay, I started to think that, gee, this writer couldn't be as bad as I remembered her. She sounds like she likes exciting books; maybe that boring and pretentious thing was a bad translation. Then the woman becomes a feminist. Instead of broadening her tastes, she gradually learns to turn her back on everything she's ever loved.

Either the girl could withstand being criticized for reading boys' books by boys and non-feminists, or none of them ever criticized her. But the peer pressure of feminists, now, that wasn't oppressive. It just made her deeply ashamed of her own instinctive likes and dislikes, that's all. It just made her chop away at her own uniqueness, in favor of some theoretical construct to which she must conform or confess herself an Uncle Tom to men. Now that's inherently liberating. That makes her stronger as a person. Oh, yes.

If you want to see why the fight for women's rights turned so very sick and twisted from the mid-twentieth century onward, you have only to look at this example of Maoist self-criticism.

My idea of women's rights is a good deal simpler. I say a woman should be able to have the same rights as a man, and vice versa. A woman should be able to make her own choices in life, no more and no less than a man. Both men and women should be happy and content with the sex they're born with, and with the opposite sex being opposite. Both sexes should bear with each other, and be as nice to each other as they can get away with. If women want to work, fine. If they want to stay home and work on their kids, fine. If the husband wants to stay home and work on their kids, fine.

But nobody should be made to feel that it's shameful to read books about heroes of the opposite sex. Girls and women like heroines, sure. But women have also always liked pondering male heroes, because duh, they are romantic and droolworthy. And though boys may at times be allergic to reading about heroines, they often grow up and discover that they enjoy reading about beautiful women with big guns. Women may have admired them, but it was men who trooped after Elizabeth I and St. Joan of Arc.

If you have to disown yourself to follow an ideal, you'd better be real sure you're following the right ideal. False gods don't give you anything real to replace what you give up.