Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Beyond fun: Solemnity

The current issue of Crisis magazine features an essay by Anthony Esolen, professor of English at Providence College (Rhode Island), titled "Redeeming the Black Avenger." Professor Esolen imaginatively relates the boyish passions of Tom Sawyer to problems in contemporary liturgy. Herewith his noteworthy remarks on the importance of solemnity, liturgical and otherwise:

Fun vanishes with the occasion, but solemnity has the power to bring us a deep and abiding joy, whose wellsprings remain with us even in times of grief. We are solemn when we understand the surpassing import of what we are doing and when, knowing how unworthy we are to be there, we place ourselves full-heartedly under the direction of our betters, our forefathers, our teachers, our God. David, then, was most solemn when he danced with such abandon before the ark that his skirts rose up over his shame. But his sober wife, Michal, who despised him for doing it, was deaf to the meaning of the ark, hearing only the wearisome chatter of the handmaids in the royal halls (2 Sam. 6:20). David's leaping and halooing were solemn; solemn too are the priest's hands as he dare not touch the monstrance, but clasps it under the folds of his vestment. Singing hymns that praise the Lord -- not ourselves -- and sound like hymns, not like rock 'n' roll, or like sultry moanings at a karaoke bar; solemn, whether in sorrow or joy, in petition or in gratitude. But breeziness, informality, and slackness destroy the solemn. [pp. 39-40]

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