In less than a week Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, the birth of the Saviour. Looking back at the year that is almost over, I have no doubt this planet of ours needs to be saved more urgently than ever. The climate is heating up, we continue to pollute our environment, wars are raging in the Middle East, the threat of war on the Korean peninsula is real, while Africa, its epidemics, its poverty, its exploitation by local dictators, well Africa is almost forgotten. The question is: Can that planet of ours be saved from ourselves by ourselves?
My doubts are growing. I don’t believe anymore in solutions being delivered by large organizations: the Christian churches, the United Nations, NGOs. The pressing issues are so big and so complex and at the same time large organizations often paralyse themselves by bureaucratic infighting, waste of resources, bad management and endless partisan discussions. Is this planet of ours doomed? I don’t know, but I am rather pessimistic. How blessed a true believer is. How I envy him. He can believe in his personal salvation – through his faith if he is a Protestant, through good deeds if he is a Catholic. He can trust that all will be well, and his faith hopefully gives him an optimism that cannot be shattered. Gloria in excelsis deo! Glory to God in the highest!
A Renaissance mass
Gloria in excelsis deo – the introduction to a Catholic mass. The English composer Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585) composed a wonderful mass for four voices and though it does not make me a believer, it gives me consolation, and I have listened to the recording by The Cardinall’s Musick under Andrew Carwood over the year fairly often. Carwood explains how its structure differed from masses written at an earlier stage under the influence of the Reformation movement, initiated by Martin Luther 500 years ago.
“The Mass is in Latin, but compared with earlier settings of the Ordinary (Nicholas Ludford’s Missa Videte miraculum, for example) the style is radically different”, Carwood explains. “The composition is shorter in length and the Gloria and Credo are rigorously syllabic throughout. Gone are the meandering melismas and the clarity of the text is now paramount. Only in the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei does Tallis allow himself a little more freedom. Gone also is the high treble voice which had been such a feature of music in the previous generation.”
With the Reformation well under way, the world was changing – at the level of religion, of politics and of arts. Today the world is still changing, but much faster. Too fast. We have proved unable to find solutions as fast as we create problems. So let’s slow down and think about what we are doing. One of the hallmarks of the Reformation was to put man at the centre of the quest for salvation, not the church. Luther gave the individual the responsibility for his fate. He gave him a mission with a personal and a societal dimension. And this is something I like. We can believe, we can hope, but most of all we can act. Let’s act. Each of us. Now.
© Charles Thibo