Light and serious reading options for the summer

by David Mills

North Texas Catholic

6/11/2019

books on brown wooden shelf
 

At the beginning of summer, a couple suggestions for books to read. They’re not exactly beach reading. They’re books with meat on their bones, as my grandmother said about things that met her standards for seriousness. One’s a happy book, one not so happy.

First, there’s amazing fertile Catholic writer Mike Aquilina’s new book. He and his wife were my and my family’s sponsors when we entered the Church, so I may not be entirely objective about his writing, though I will try to be.

His new book is How the Choir Converted the World. It has the painfully cute subtitle of “Through Hymns, With Hymns, And In Hymns.” Mike likes puns. It is one of his faults. (As I said, I’m trying to be objective.)

“How the Choir Converted the World: Through Hymns, With Hymns, and In Hymns” by Mike Aquilina. Emmaus Road Publishing (Steubenville, Ohio, 2016). 162 pages. $18.95.

“How the Choir Converted the World: Through Hymns, With Hymns, and In Hymns” by Mike Aquilina. Emmaus Road Publishing (Steubenville, Ohio, 2016). 162 pages. $18.95.

We think, “Music in church, of course we have music in church.” But we might not have had it. In an interview with the Macau Catholic Weekly, Mike explained that the early Christians weren’t sure about music. (In case you’re wondering, Macau sits across a bay from Hong Kong. Now part of China, it was a Portuguese territory until 1999.)

“Music had all kinds of shady associations in the ancient world,” he says. Prostitutes used songs as advertisements and pagan temples got people to take part in orgies with music. Worse, “the worshipers of Moloch used loud, frenzied music to drown out the screams of the children they sacrificed.”

Not surprisingly, some Church Fathers were having none of it. They “banned particular instruments, or female voices, or techniques of trilling and such.” Others allowed it, because they understood singing to be an act of worship.

Weirdly, hymn-writing got a big boost from the heretic Arius. He’s the one who claimed Jesus is less than fully God, which led to the first ecumenical council, which led to the Nicene Creed we say at Mass on Sundays.

He put his bad ideas into song. “His heresy became like the ad jingle you can’t get out of your head,” Mike says. Several of the Church Fathers of the time “were roused to take up the art because they saw the success of Arian hymnography. It’s as if they woke up and said: Why should the heretics get all the good songs?”

Mike’s is the happy book. The not so happy book is Stephen Bullivant’s Mass Exodus. It has the depressing subtitle “Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II. (The publisher says the book will be out at the end of the month.)

A sociologist teaching at a Catholic college in England, he had been an atheist but discovered the Catholic faith. He’s been here a few times researching his book. I met him when he was in Pittsburgh, where he was a big hit speaking to twenty-something Catholics.

He explores what Pope St. John Paul II meant when he said in 1990 that “Entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.”

“Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II” by Stephen Bullivant. Oxford University Press (New York, NY, 2019). 336 pages. $32.95. Available June 30, 2019.

“Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II” by Stephen Bullivant. Oxford University Press (New York, NY, 2019). 336 pages. $32.95. Available June 30, 2019.

Stephen tells a gloomy story. But as the pope also said, “The Church cannot shirk the responsibility of making a courageous diagnosis which will make it possible to decide on appropriate therapies.”

In America, he writes in Church Herald, “a third of cradle Catholics no longer identify as such, with half of these now being religious ‘nones.’ In the US, there is roughly one convert for every seven who leave.” Something similar is true for almost every country in Europe and the Americas.

Only about 15 percent of people who were born Catholic go to Mass every week. The number’s even lower in England. The number of young people who identify as Catholic and actively practice their faith is very low everywhere.

People leaving is called “lapsation.” (It’s the way sociologists talk. Sorry.) People bailing entirely is called “deconversion.”

In Pittsburgh, we’re used to meeting people who say “I’m Catholic” but don’t go to Mass. They’re lapsed. At least they have half a foot in the door and maybe we can get them back in.

Even here, increasing numbers don’t have that. They’re deconverted. They’re walking away from the door as fast as they can. We have our work cut out for us. Stephen’s book gives the information we need to figure out what to do.

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David Mills is writing a book on death and dying for Sophia Institute Press. He is a regular columnist for the North Texas Catholic Magazine.

At the beginning of summer, a couple suggestions for books to read. They’re not exactly beach reading. They’re books with meat on their bones, as my grandmother said about things that met her standards for seriousness. One’s a happy book, one not so happy.

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