“What We’re Reading”

by Alan J. Hommerding

I pretty much remember only one thing from undergrad sociology: the professor’s statement that both an urban slum and a suburban country club are examples of ghettos. In the “metaphors are for mixing” spirit of Robert Hovda, I also think of ghettos as ecosystems that are closed in on themselves, lacking in diversity. Perhaps they can survive, but they don’t truly live. As someone whose primary training/interest is in the area of liturgical music, I know how easy it is to get trapped inside the musical ghetto—because it seems deceptively alive and rich. So, in my reading, I consciously make myself diversify. I’m also something of a “chain reaction” reader, in which something I’ve read in one book will lead me to another.

As the year 2015 approaches, I have been dismayed at how many of my liturgy/music colleagues—who were quite enthusiastic in 2013—are nearly unaware of the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council and its final Constitution, Gaudium et Spes. I have been as guilty as many in pointing out with some smugness that the Council chose liturgy, after all, for its initial Constitution. Everything else is postscript to liturgy, and I conveniently chose to ignore the opening of the Constitution, which lays out the whole work of the Council, and especially #9’s caution about liturgiolatry, expressed with an evangelizing tone.

churchandtheworldNorman Tanner’s book The Church and the World in the Paulist Press “Rediscovering Vatican IIseries is a not-lengthy yet thorough review of the (often turbulent) process that led to the document, the production of the document itself, and the final days of the Council. For anyone wanting a basic introduction to The Church in the World of Today (the title Tanner uses for the Constitution), this is a good volume. He also covers the document on means of Social Communication, Inter Mirifica, but as the book is nearly ten years old and the world of social communication has changed so drastically, this section is not as useful. For those who are wanting to see the foundation on which Pope Francis is building, turn to Gaudium et Spes. You’ll find him there (along with Evangelii Gadium) again and again. My hunch is you’ll also get a preview of his forthcoming document on the environment.

I was led to read the Tanner book through Ormond Rush’s Rediscovering Vatican II: Some hermeneutical principles. Rush consistently writes about the need to read and understand the four Constitutions in mutual context, rather than in isolation. He is the one primarily responsible for helping me burst out of my Sacrosanctum Concilium ghetto.

stevenjohnson_howegottonowTo get to know about the “modern” (western/technological) world in which we live, Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World is a great tour guide. You may have seen the series on PBS, but the book provides some richer context. Rather than focus on historical events or persons, Johnson looks at the impact that Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, and Light have had on the world around us. He refers to Kauffmann’s “Adjacent Possibles” theory quite often (a theory that could have intriguing use in the theological/liturgical world), particularly as an explanation as to why, in the industrial/technological age, inventions have come in somewhat simultaneous clusters. Johnson also writes of moral implications (in “Sound” the gender determination of sonograms—used for abortion determinations in China). Some of the evolutionary-type effects are fascinating: clean water, as we might expect, lead to lower infant mortality—unexpectedly, to the bikini!

9780544236042.JPGA similar type of breezily-written, captivating look at the materials that make up the world is Mark Miodownik’s Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World. The science of how, for example, carbon can make something as soft as pencil “lead” (and why it’s called that) or hard as a diamond is fascinating and easily comprehended. This is the book that led me to Johnson’s more thought-provoking one.

bachIn my own area of liturgical music, I’ve recently finished John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven. As an organist, I’ve known Bach primarily through his keyboard and other instrumental music. Gardiner explores Bach’s life in exhaustive biographical detail through the lens of his cantatas. So I’ve gotten a much deeper look at Bach the liturgical theologian as Gardiner examines the relationship between the composer’s music and the scriptural/theological/poetic texts with which he worked throughout the course of the liturgical year.

The text-music relationship, and seeing a production of “Porgy and Bess” at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, got me intrigued with Ira Gershwin, the—figuratively, not literally—unsung creator of that opera, and many songs. I have just begun his Lyrics on Several Occasions, an autobiographical and self-critiquing account of his life through his lyrics. As someone who writes texts for others to set to music, I look forward to gaining new perspectives and insights.

Alan J. Homemerding is the editor of AIM: Liturgy Resources magazine, a quarterly journal from World Library Publications, the music and liturgy division of the J.S. Paluch Company. Alan holds graduate degrees in theology, liturgy, and music from St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, and the University of Notre Dame, with additional studies in organ, accompanying and vocal/choral pedagogy at Princeton University, Westminster Choir College and the Peabody Conservatory.

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