Some contemporary simplisme

The introitus of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor, changes everything. In the midst of what I call “techie hell” — let me not favour you with the details, gentle reader — I let it fill the room. And then, after the introitus, the rest of that “extraordinary” liturgical composition (set for the Vetus Ordo, as all our greatest music, waiting to be restored). And in a version of the Choeur Arsys Bourgogne (Pierre Cao directing), if that makes any difference. (I think it does, for Cao is steeped in music older than Mozart’s. He will not be too loud, too brassy or “operatic”; he will not be hurried.)

A piece of technology, from another electronic machine, let me candidly admit. I have not the gift of my late theological hero, Hans Urs von Balthasar who, in his old age, parted with his entire classical record collection, with the happy thought that he had all of Mozart memorized, anyway.

Or of my living theological hero, Joseph Ratzinger, who needs only a piano and can do his own arrangements — in his head, should the piano disappear.

At best, I can replay a few Bach fugues in my head; and do, on long walks. But I’m a prisoner to my craving for the actual sound of the music (much more than so in poetry I have memorized).

To be able to switch tracks, in mid-stride, is something I’m still learning. To turn not gradually but “on a dime” from some pointless anger, or other lust, to a subject for delightful contemplation, is perhaps in the “skill set” of many saints. According to the priest whose penitent I am, it starts with mastering a few simple prayers; the Rosary is especially helpful. Or, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Or, if you fear seeing so red that you’ll forget, you may carry the text on a card in your pocket. Or use the shorter form, in one word, “Jesus” — softly addressed.

Contra mundum — and afflicted by the world in retaliation — the alternative is to respond by the kind of internal “shadow boxing” which is among my worst habits. I know I can’t get back, may never have my chance to even the wretched score; may never accomplish anything in this theatre of the absurd, beyond keeping myself aloof; and that only with divine assistance. Yet there are still techniques to dodge all the blows, and I think of them as the spiritual “martial arts.”

One may have real grievances. These make no difference and will provide no exception to the rigid instruction of Our Lord, which was, to love our enemies. (Note that He said love them; He did not say flatter them, or capitulate to them.) This was Him who taught us to communicate in the binary, “yea” or “nay,” rather than in the complexity of twaddle. Even loving one’s friends is not always easy; loving one’s enemies is seriously hard — until by grace humbly sought, one somehow gets the hang of it.

But at the least, switch channels. Light a cigarette, perhaps. (“If you have ’em, smoke ’em,” your army sergeant would say.) Or pour a stiff shot of Laphroaig. Toggle, in this case from “techie hell” to Mozart, and let the hairs stand on thy foolish little head.

As we know, Mozart died before quite completing this Requiem commission, at age thirty-five. He had a premonition he would do so; that he was writing his own strange obituary. This adds to its poignancy. For in addition to others, we ourselves will die. The tumult of this world will be over, and the technical issues will be left behind. Whether they be large or small, we can’t take them with us. Not through that holy fire.