Sunday, March 06, 2005

Catholic Culture and the Trapp Family

I don't often blog on Sunday due to time factors, but today we are going to the Traditional Latin Mass in Columbia, so we don't leave the house til 1:15PM or so.

I picked up "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" by Maria Augusta Trapp in a 2nd-Hand Catholic bookstore some years ago in Pittsburgh. It was on our shelf growing up, but I never read it. [Note it is somewhat different from the movie it inspired. And in fact out the 312 page book, the movie portion is ended by page 126. And even here Hollywood took liberties.]

I am now reading it to the family every night, one chapter at a time. It provides quite a snapshot of Catholicism in Europe in the 20's and 30's. Here is Faulien Maria's description of Lent:

"Lent, the six weeks' preparation for Easter, is very rigorously observed among the country people in the Catholic countries. On purpose I don't say simply "in the Catholic countries," because the big cities have shed all these peculiarities in order to be admitted into the big-city corporation around the world. The national costumes they exchanged for street clothes worn the same in Paris, London, New York, or Shanghai on their respective Fifth Avenues; folk dances were replaced by inter-national ballroom dances; and instead of folk customs-the century-old voice of your own people informing you what your forefathers did at certain times and what you should imitate—they have books now, the Emily Posts of the respective coun­tries, giving minute instructions on what to wear if you want to be called "smart," how to behave if you want to be "socially acceptable."
"The people living in the country still celebrate Lent as it was understood by the many generations since the beginning of Christianity: by voluntary penance and mortification we should participate in the sufferings of Christ in order to be able to celebrate also the day of Resurrection together with Him. We should die to our old sinful self and rise as a new man. To this end fasting is one of the oldest precepts. In Poland, Italy, some valleys of Austria, and especially the Balkan countries, the fast is most conscientiously observed. One meal a day only, and no animal products: no meat, no fish, no eggs, butter, cheese, or milk.
"Of course, when Easter comes and these goods are back on the table again, the stomachs feast and celebrate together with the souls, sometimes so much so that a doctor is needed. The money which is saved by fasting goes to the poor, and the time which is saved is invested in prayer. Ancient devo­tions like the Stations of the Cross are much practiced. Pil­grimages are undertaken, and the soul, sobered and helped by the bodily chastisement, finds easier the access to heavenly things."

Note that (and this is 1927) the culture of Catholicism was alive and well in the country, but not in the cities. Note also the words I bolded about culture and music.

Here is more on music and from Maria Trapp:

"After having read a couple of hours, I would say: "That's enough for today. Let's sing now; all right?"
"That was the signal for everyone to drop whatever he was doing. We sat closer together and started out. First we sang rounds. You can do that for hours on end, and it is a wonderful schooling for the ear. It leads quite naturally to polyphonic music. The rounds teach you to "mind your own business"; sing your part, never to mind what your neighbor sings.
"After the First World War the Catholic Youth Movement sweeping all over Austria and Germany had done a wonderful job for music. These young people were fed up with glee club stuff, with all that coy, sweetish, unnatural material which was sung everywhere. They wanted genuine music again. They went up and down the countryside, collecting real folk songs and folk tunes, delved into archives and libraries and copied unpublished music of the old masters, the great unknown ones. In mimeographed and hand-copied sheets this music went from town to town and brought about a radical change in musical life within a few short years.
"I was lucky enough, in my student years, to belong to one such group of young ones. Boys and girls didn't "go steady" at that time. We met in large groups of thirty or forty and had the most wonderful time doing things together. A large portion of our free time was spent with music. Out of the enthusiasm of those hours blossomed beautiful settings of the melodies we brought home from our hikes through the moun­tains, for two, three, four, and five parts, a cappella and with the accompaniment of instruments. There were violins and cellos, French horns, and clarinets, and there was the newest and oldest of them all, the revived recorder, the ancient flute. There we sat together by the hour, singing and playing and enjoying ourselves thoroughly."

This book, written "to be a canticle of love and gratitude to the Heavenly Father", is somewhat of a handbook on how to celebrate seasons and feasts as a Catholic, and how to create a Catholic culture in your home."

From the small holding in Bethune...

Oremus pro invicem!


Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and I really love it! I also love _The Story of the Trapp Family Singers_ - when I was about nine I remember insisting that our family celebrate Christmas Trapp-family style - that was the first year we had an Advent wreath.

However, from the phrasing of your last comment, it sounds like you might not know that Maria von Trapp wrote an *actual* handbook on Catholic culture in the home, _Around the Year with the Trapp Family_.

It's online at


JCurley said...


Now that you mention it, I think I do recall hearing of "Around the year". I would not have remembered though but for your reminder. And I have never read it. I shall check it out. Certainly reading stories like the 'Trapp Family' helps me to remember the importance of the seasons - liturgical and natural.

I read the 'Austrian Christmas' chapter to the family last night and they were mesmerized.

Thanks for your kind words and tip.


alicia said...

I especially loved the Baroness's comments on midwifery. I remember reading them as a child of 10 or so, and they were probably part of what sparked my interest in that ancient art.