AST WEDNESDAY WAS THE FEAST of Saint Teresa of Ávila. Each morning one of my children reads out a short entry about the Saint of the day. This particular day we couldn’t find the book so I got out the Autobiography of St Teresa and threatened to read the whole thing – though my children know my eagerness for breakfast so they did not seem to take me seriously.
We read the first chapter, which is always fun to read, with her attempt at early martyrdom along with her brother. I love the account of building little hermitages and . Something else struck me this time:
My father was fond of reading good books and had some in Spanish so that his children might read them too.
Why does it mention specifically that some books were in Spanish? Because it is taken for granted that “good books” are in the language of scholarship – probably Latin. If you were educated enough to be able to read, then you were probably educated in the Latin language as well. Knowledge of Latin was a part of the furniture, so to speak. A precise language, common across cultural boundaries, holding the received wisdom of western civilisation.
Where did it go?
Back in my first year of Computer Science, the wonderful Richard Buckland said the most important thing about computer science was standards. Try as I might, I cannot find any similar quote in his current online lectures, which just goes to show how much computers have changed in the last sixteen years. If I have remembered the lesson incorrectly, I apologise, but leave the link to this fantastic teacher.
Standards make it possible to share content. I type up words in one part of the world. My computer converts this to binary and shares it with other computers which all know how to turn those 0s and 1s into the coloured light which comes out of your screen. How many standards are at work there? Some sort of text encoding, also a markup language or two, the joint photographic experts group (jpeg) encoding for the picture of St Teresa up there, hypertext transfer protocol to send all these bits across the telephone lines, etc. The list must be finite, but it is a surprisingly long list which we take for granted.
Common standards, a common language, remains a huge asset for building upon. Like Latin for classics and standards for computer programming, there is a wealth of received knowledge for providing music for the liturgy. Just as so many people use computers ineffectively through not understanding the foundations, so there is much liturgical confusion through breaking away from standards.
So let’s continue learning the building blocks of sacred music. Don’t underestimate the standards.