Friday, June 23, 2017

Maureen Mullarkey on Kitsch


Here are a pair of articles worth reading on the triumph of kitsch in Western religious art (here and here) from the mid-19th century onward. She accurately observes that the sentimental, saccharine kitsch that pervaded post-19th century art was a poor man's imitation of the expensive skillful Baroque and Renaissance art.

Would not we be better returning to the mosaic, iconographic, and medieval statuary traditions, which did not require once-in-a-decade talent and great cost to produce?

A Burning and Shining Light [Repost]

[The supplanting of that most ancient celebration of the Vigil of St. John's Nativity by the Sacred Heart devotional feast (due to a peculiarity of the current calendar year) prompted this repost of last year's praise of the Savior's forerunner, that great man who was so close to Christ's heart and mind. Perhaps no saint is more needed in our current trial, where even ostensibly traditional churchmen wink at divorce and adultery.]

(Pierre Puvis de Chavannes)
St. John’s Eve is tonight, a celebration of the Nativity of the Forerunner. No other saint’s birth is celebrated in the liturgical kalendar, apart from the nativities of Christ and Mary. If the Josephites have their way, the stepfather of Christ will someday receive a similar feast, but for now we are spared that indignity.

Among those born of women, none have risen greater than John the Baptist, who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his sainted mother’s womb. None deserve to have universal side-chapels opposite the Virgin more than John, which would be a magnificent continuation of the ancient iconographic tradition of the Deësis. While the pre-ministerial years of Our Lord are shrouded in shadow, we know that he expressed a great affection for his cousin with many compliments:
“For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him.” (Mt. 21) 
“He was a burning and a shining light, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” (Jn. 5) 
“The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or from men?” (Mk. 11) 
“Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” (Lk. 7) 
“What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’” (Mt. 11)
Angel, Burning Light, More Than a Prophet, Friend of the Bridegroom—the Forerunner is given the Messiah’s stamp of approval at every opportunity, even though John himself says that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3). But “he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23), and thus the Church has historically placed him opposite the Virgin herself in his exalted intercessory position.

One can easily imagine The Baptist in a desert place as a young man, preparing for the mission ahead of him. Like the later desert hermits, the Devil must have sent his craftiest lieutenants against him, perhaps wondering if his imperviousness to temptation meant he was the promised Messiah.

John was a martyr, but not for baptizing nor for prophesying the Christ. He was murdered for one simple, repeated declaration: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” God could have permitted John to live well into the new dispensation, to witness the Crucifixion and Pentecost, and to be finally martyred as a Prophet of the Risen Christ. Perhaps it was not fitting that John should outshine the Twelve, or perhaps it was most fitting that the prelapsarian tradition of marriage should be witnessed bloodily by a sinless man even as Jesus was reestablishing its pre-Mosaic form. The strumpet Salome was herself the product of a broken marriage, a fitting image of contemporary times.

Even long after his death, the bones of St. John produced so many miracles that Julian the Apostate began to burn and pulverize them before the remaining relics were rescued. Today his cult has been pulverized: his feast cheapened into a yearly bonfire party, when it is celebrated at all, and his relics called into question by thoughtless bishops.
“For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man, and kept him. And when he heard him, did many things, and he heard him willingly.” (Mk. 6)
But for the craftiness of Herod’s concubine, John would have lived and probably converted the king to repentance. Elijah, too, was harassed constantly by the witch-queen Jezabel. He escaped the persecution of the prophet-killer by a fiery chariot, but the Second Elijah was made to suffer and die for the perpetuation of the lie of Herodias’ marriage.

Centuries later, his namesake John Chrysostom would denounce the neo-pagan queen Aelia Eudoxia, who in her turn would depose and banish the bishop. “Again Herodias raves,” he preached, “again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.” The golden-mouthed John would eventually die in exile from his bishopric.
“What peace? so long as the fornications of Jezabel thy mother, and her many sorceries are in their vigor.” (II Kg. 9)
There will be no peace until the wicked queen is thrown by her unmanned slaves to the dogs. There will be no peace until the birth of a true prophet is celebrated, until his father’s dumbness is released and his mother’s childless shame is removed.

Herod feared John, so did Herodias, and so should we.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Salt of the Earth


"As a boy, then, I had already heard of eternal life promised us through the humility of the Lord our God stooping to our pride; and even from the womb of my mother, who hoped greatly in Thee, I was sealed with the sign of the Cross and salted with His salt," wrote Saint Augustine in his Confessions.

Salt is the fix for flavorless food, although too much can ruin a good thing. More conventionally, it was a means of preserving meats, fruits, and a few other foods that could spoil before the concoction of refrigeration. Cardinal Newman, among others, wrote that growth was the only the only sign of life. Salt kept and improved what it touched; what it did not touch decayed and rotted.

So, like water which cleansed and satiated, or bread with nourishes, or wine which "gladdens the heart of man", salt was hallowed by Christ in Christian language. The Christian is the salt of the earth, which gives the earth its savor and which the Christian sins in hiding from others. Salt is Christian charity and goodness, purified by Baptism an enlightened by the Beatitudes.

By the time of Saint Augustine, salt had become a tool of blessing and exorcising those things ridden in darkness. The catechumens or the ailing un-baptized would be anointed with holy oil and signed with salt for the cleansing of their ailments and the expulsion of evil in the hope that those pagans would eventually enter the waters of Baptism. From his Confessions one might surmise that the Doctor from Hippo was salted at the behest of St. Monica after birth and, perhaps, once more during a near-fatal sickness. The aspiring rhetorician lived to be baptized properly and the Church is better for it, perhaps through the healing Christ granted in this uniquely Latin sacramental.

Only after consulting Fr. Capreolus did I discover salt has been exorcised from the deformed new rite of Baptism. Baptized a Methodist at age one, I was unaware of current Roman praxis. Eastern clergy often applaud vernacular in the new Roman liturgy, but retain qualms about the gutting of the Baptismal service.

In an era of innovation and fakery, when even a three Michelin star chef like Marco Pierre White urges us to use artificial substitutes in cooking, we ought not be surprised that the same has happened in our liturgy. Perhaps Paul VI should have revised the Sermon on the Mount to read, "You are the Knorr Beef Stock Cube of the earth."

Friday, June 16, 2017

After the Reformation II: The Mutable Heresy

I have been thinking of how I can contribute to the "After the Reformation" series begun by His Traddiness. One might think that I, having been raised an Evangelical Protestant, would have much to say on the cultural effects of the Reformation, but I already said quite a bit about the paucity of Evangelical culture in a post from last year:
They have no lasting poetry, no sculpture, no memorable novels, no architecture, no music that isn’t a cheap imitation or childish emoting. When an Evangelical wishes to learn how to integrate faith and the arts, he inevitably falls back on Catholic examples, and then spends hours explaining to his friends why reading Flannery O’Connor doesn’t necessarily make one a dirty papist.
Consider the American Calvinist. Occasionally this individual will be a member of a mainstream denomination like the Presbyterians, but most often the Calvinist is to be found in a small, roaming pack of co-religionists. Rather than living within the tradition of the great iconoclast John Knox, they make historical reference solely to the 17th-century Synod of Dort by way of its oversimplification in the 20th-century floral mnemonic TULIP. Sometimes they can quote Calvin himself, but only as already quoted by a Calvinist preacher. Their taste in clothing, facial hair, and alcohol have more in common with urban hipsters than with their Reformed forebears. As likely as not, they belong to no denomination, but only to some "local church."

The case is even worse with the more generic Evangelical Christian. There is no unifying principle, even for a single community—no history, no hymnody, no common creed beyond a bland belief in the Trinity and the authority of the Scriptures. Ministers are often burdened with attendees who are not even certain they believe in God because they are so angry with their Creator. (Horrifyingly, our Catholic parishes resemble the Evangelical milieu more and more every year.)

Protestantism is a persistent heresy in part because it is so good at adaptation. The first few generations of this movement reinvented themselves to appeal to the needs of the time. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melanchthon, and all the rest were vastly different personalities with vastly differing theologies, all flying more or less under the banner of the five Solas for the appearance of unanimity. Luther was a crypto-Manichean, but Melanchthon retroactively wrote him as an Augustine revivalist. King Henry exploited Protestantism for his own gains, caring little for theology.

As time went on, even the Solas fell out of favor, until Sola Scriptura was the last one standing. And then, liberal Protestants ate away even at the authority of the Holy Writ with its endless stream of German Panzer exegetes. Fewer and fewer Protestants, even self-professed conservatives, can be found today who unironically profess the authority of Scripture.

Luther exploited the exhaustion of the laity who were sickened by simony and clerical lechery. Calvin exploited the rising humanistic trends of linguistics and the dismissal of gradually developed tradition. Knox exploited the political chaos in Britain to loot the churches of Scotland. The so-called Great Awakenings were movements that exploited resentments and pushed for social justice, birthing denominations like an endless series of bastard children. Historical-Critical scholarship exploited the rise of skepticism and anti-religious sentiment. Charismatic groups exploited the dryness that came from an excess of loveless doctrine. Televangelists exploited the lonely and desperate who had no friends outside of their television sets.

Doctrinally, Protestantism might as well be renamed Proteanism in its perversion of the Pauline desire to become "all things to all men." The heresies concerning justification and the sacraments were condemned at Trent, but most spiritual descendants of the Reformation today could not even explain what they believe about those things. They attend church services to hear a nice sermon that may or may not be about Jesus, and sometimes hope to be convicted by "the Spirit" to change their lives for the better, but they don't care to know much about the nature and character of God. They come for the community and the small discussion groups, sometimes for the marriage counseling. When they stop feeling "fed," they move on to what seems like greener pastures at a new church.

For all its faults, the Counter-Reformation insisted on retaining a recognizable Catholic identity in the Roman Rite (liturgically, theologically, and artistically), and this monolithic homogenization was a draw to those exhausted by the shifting waves of Protestantland. Eventually, Protestantism found a way to exploit even the Catholic Church, adjusting itself like a parasite to a new host, and now the Church finds herself desperate to adapt to every perceived need of modern man, no matter how little modern man cares for her attention.

The Church has raised up many opponents to the Protestant mutagen, but they are all as different as their target chose to become: Erasmus, Robert Bellarmine, the Society of Jesus, Francis de Sales, and so on. There is an argument to be made that Protestantism is just a continuation of the old Manichean heresy that itself traces back to the Gnostics of Apostolic times. So perhaps there is no true end of the perennial heresy until the end of the world. Even if the last traces of Luther and Calvin are eradicated from the earth, some mutated strain would live on in the hearts of men. The best we can do is prevent infection and hold true, even when many in the Church recommend succumbing to its sway.

Prayer card for the martyrs of Douai College.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ember Wednesday: Date this Collect

The few sources I have found on the matter date the octave of Pentecost to around the 800s. Before that, the Sunday of Pentecost coincided with the seasonal ember days, so, given the Baptismal and creation-based character of the feast, it seemed reasonable to extend it over the ember days to each the whole week.

Some of the language in today's collect hints that the ember Mass pre-dates a certain dispute of language....

Mentes nostras, quǽsumus, Dómine, Paráclitus, qui a te procédit, illúminet: et indúcat in omnem, sicut tuus promísit Fílius, veritátem.... Per Dominum nostrum....

Sunday, June 4, 2017

After the Reformation I: "My Words Will Never Pass Away"


Some weeks ago I was meandering through a bookshop, trying to kill excess time before a distant appointment, when I happened upon a special edition of Life magazine called Blessed Art Thou Amongst Women. Pompeo Batoni’s Virgin of the Annunciation graced the cover of this well illustrated little volume on the Blessed Mother. A Catholic, Robert Sullivan, wrote the long essay inside, an essay which aspires toward a broad perspective on Mary that befits modern journalism, an overview on what she means to people rather than who she is. One particular line caught my view while thumbing through the line; I cannot recall the phrase precisely, but it effectively surmised that the reactionary Reformers of the 16th century preferred the narrowly known Mary of the Bible over the experientially known Mary of medieval Catholic devotions and miracles. And with this the influence of the Reformers’ sola scriptura doctrine crystalizes in modern times.

The Reformation broke out at the end of the Middle Ages, an epoch characterized by an extroverted, almost militant piety which asserted that Christ, the Saints, and holy things had a normal, continual presence in the world and which, by the faithful’s cooperation with them in a penitential spirit, the Church could obtain favor from heaven and the remission of sins. Or say contemporary textbooks. Factually, all of this is true, if amiss in characterizing the spirit of the Middle Ages, the apex of the Latin liturgy, monasticism, pilgrimage, papal power, and also administrative corruption. Many of the virtues of the medieval period—penance, Mass, pilgrimage—became occasions of vice for ambitious Italian and Spanish families in the form of ready-paid indulgences, fraudulent Mass stipends for aliturgical “dry” and votive Masses, and military actions dissimulated as holy war. It was in this time, at the close of the medieval period, that Luther left the loo to make his objections.

In the same bookshop I sauntered over to the religion section and found myself thumbing through one of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s books on the Reformation. He resolutely denies that Renaissance decadence was the condition sine qua non for the Reformation, instead insisting that the Reformers, especially Calvin, were returning to the orthodoxy of Chalcedon—which is convenient, because a few councils later the Church declared the absolute orthodoxy of venerating holy images. This is rubbish. All reform movements are inherently reactionary, at least in cause; they handicap themselves the more they hew to their reactionary stimuli rather than the challenges of the day. But also, reform movements look at the current state, compare it to the past, and find the need to purify the current day to make it like unto the past. This is fine within living memory, but Reformation idealized an age fourteen centuries passed.

In reaction to the excesses of medieval piety and the sums the Borgias and their imitators profited, the Reformers sought consolation in the Scriptures and their friendly confines, where Mary says very little, the Apostles even less, sins are pardoned without the aid of manuals for penance, and there is no Roman Canon. The Reformers arrived at sola scriptura, paradoxically accompanied by two or four other solae, depending on one’s numbering. Within these Scriptures, they taught, all Truth resides for the profit, belief, and salvation of the believer. The reduction of the Truth to what was recounted in a book may seem narrower and purer to modern academics skeptical of medieval piety, but at the time it must have carried an elitist association on par with owning a Rolls-Royce in modern times.

A Rolls-Royce and a Gutenberg-era book have much in common: new both cost as much as the average person made in several years, both took quite a while to produce, both were decorated with the finest materials, and both required something special to wield (in modern times a chauffeur and in older times literacy). One might retort that the non-nobles and non-clergy who possessed academic and functional literacy could read the Scriptures at the local cathedral library, but then again one can rent a Roller for one’s special occasions.

The diffusion of literacy and cheapness of printing after Gutenberg’s press made its way to factories made the Scriptures more accessible to people, who would now understand the Bible in a different way than people had in the old religion. A Catholic would readily admit the profitability of reading the Scriptures, that they are written under Divine inspiration and contain no error of doctrine, and that they are integral to the faithful’s religion; why else would the Church read them at the Office and Eucharist? Where the Church comes full stop is in asserting that the Scriptures are sufficient for all truth and belief. For example, what if someone wants to better their Christian virtue? They can and should read the Gospels to meditate on the miracles and teachings of Christ; they can take some inspiration from the Acts of the Apostles, but little more; the rest of the New Testament has exhortations to virtue proper to the problems of the day, which can often apply to us, but they were not absolutely written for our specific challenges. Saint Luke is aware that he is writing Scripture, Paul is not. Without the examples of the post-Apostolic saints and the various kinds of devotion (pilgrimages, types of penance, parish customs and charities) that emerged over time, one is left with the need to personalize the contents of Scripture to one’s own life rather than take the Evangelists’ plain words as they are meant to be heard.

While popular piety was time-travelling into the Apostolic and Old Testament age, like characters from the ‘80s B film Time Bandits, the scholar class born of the same Renaissance Europe began to take a very different approach to the Scriptures. A renewed interest in Greek language and culture followed the appeal of Emperor John to the western bishops at Venice and the exile of Byzantine scholars and clergy (most famously Bessarion) to Italy after the fall of Constantinople. These men read the New Testament in the Greek original in between Aristotle and Homer. A revival in Greek scholarship enabled various vernacular translations without using the Vulgate as an intermediary; mostly famously, the King James edition came from this movement. By the 18th century the scholarly class had taken a view of the Scriptures quite contrary to what the translators of prior times had. Years of guessing at the better use of words here or there and the study of language patterns gave rise to the notion that the Scriptures were written over a century after their purported events and that their texts constitute several editions of various corruptions, emendations, and made up nonsense that can best be characterized as a wishful piety. At worst, there is Voltaire’s entry for “Eucharist” in his thoroughly blasphemous Dictionnaire philosophique.

By the 19th century a cottage industry of linguists dedicated to the study of religious texts had emerged in Germany. They studied the Koran, the Old Testament, and the New, only to find all three wanting. The Koran was written off as the result of tribal superstition written down in a developing language with poor structure; the Old Testament did not fare much better; consensus arose that the New Testament probably derived from some fellow known to us today as the “Historical Jesus”, and that the Christ described in the Prologue of Saint John’s Gospel came about some time later. The Church resisted this secular take on the Scriptures—the New Testament assertions of which have fallen out of favor in recent decades—until the 20th century, when the German outlook coincided with the ecumenical movement. Was there not a book called The Rhine Flows into the Tiber?

At last we return to where we began, at the Barnes & Noble at 75 and Northwest Freeway in Dallas, reading snippets of Life magazine’s edition on the Blessed Virgin. The post-Christian world agrees with both the pietist and the scholarly aspects of the Reformed Biblical perspective. Christianity was simpler, purer, and without unnecessary extras during the era of the New Testament, when people heard the words of Jesus and kept them without candles before icons, vestments, popes, or works. It also finds that static, real-only-for-a-few-years-and-irrelevant-to-us-now version of events hopelessly impossible to justify according to the historical record and linguistic analysis. We end with a Mary bereft of the Rosary, intercession, and the title “Mother of God”, being left with a Mary who is only known through a few passages of Sacred Scripture and whose role in those texts is best glossed over; at best they might detract from focus on Christ and at worst the Magnificat itself is a later interpolation.


Our Lord said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, my words shall not pass” (Matthew 24:35). They have not, but the doctrine of sola scriptura gave its best effort yet.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Liturgical Theology: Pentecost Vigil (REPOST)

source: oca.org
UPDATE: You should be able to watch a livestream of the vigil at 5PM EST (US) here.

Pentecost is too big, too vast, too intimidating for any singular explanation, but the Roman liturgy's rich vigil for this feast nurtures the faithful with some food for thought. Let us consider the liturgy of the Roman rite for this great feast, second only to the Sunday of the Resurrection in importance.

source: traditionalmass.org
The vigil commences with the celebrant—vested in a violet chasuble—kissing the altar and following the lectors, who read six prophecies from the Old Testament, interspersed with collects sung by the celebrant. The first lesson is the familiar story of Abraham ascending a mountain with his son Isaac, prepared to sacrifice his only child in obedience to God. An angel intervenes and tells a relieved Abraham that God would never really do such a thing. All of this was proclaimed on Holy Saturday, prefiguring Christ's willingness to sacrifice everything to the Father on behalf of the world. Pentecost enters this passage late at the point when God rewards Abraham's fidelity by promising "I will bless thee and multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the seashore.... and in thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because thou hast obeyed My voice."

The second prophecy is an extraction from Exodus 14, wherein the Pharaoh's forces chase the Israelites through the desert and into the Red Sea, which St. Moses has just parted by the Lord's command. The Lord then tells Moses to close the Sea and drown the Egyptians, which he does. The tract continues the passage:
"Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified: the horse and the rider He hath thrown into the sea: He is become my helper and protector unto salvation...."
These two prophecies speak of the same thing, Baptism. Water is a symbol of creation and the essential ingredient of all that lives. Yet water is also uncertain, difficult to control. Genesis chapter 1 speaks of water roaming the earth before it had form. God used water to protect the Israelites from the Egyptians. Egypt itself is a type, a parallel, an example of sin and loss and here God saves His people—fulfilled and most perfectly expressed in the Church—through water. Through water He will "multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven," only He will no longer multiply Abraham's progeny through obedience, but Christ's Church through Sacrament. The second collect of the vigil demands this interpretation:
"O God, who by the light of the New Testament hast made clear to us the miracles wrought in earliest times, prefiguring unto us the Red Sea as an image of the sacred font, and Who in the deliverance of Thy people from the bondage of Egypt, hast foreshadowed the sacraments of the Christian dispensation; grant that all nations who have merited by faith the privilege of the children of Israel, may be born again by partaking of Thy holy Spirit."
The third prophecy, take from Deuteronomy 31, compares and contrasts closely with the Ascension of Christ. Moses, nearing death, has taken care to write down his encounters and history with God. He abjures and confronts his fellows Israelites for their infidelity to God, "For I know that, after my death, you will do wickedly, and will quickly turn aside from the way that I have commanded you." The scripture, excluded from this passage, goes on to tell us that his bones were never found. This is extraordinary. Moses joins Elijah, Enoch, and the Blessed Mother among those whose bones have not been found and the others were taken bodily by the Lord, Elijah in a chariot of fire and our Lady after her death in Jerusalem. Moses, a prefigurement of Christ who leads God's people out of bondage, many believe, Jews included, was also taken up by God. Should he have been assumed by God then an strong parallel with the Ascension presents itself. Christ of course was not assumed into heaven, but rather ascended through His own power as God. Moses brought people forth from human bondage and Christ from spiritual bondage. Both died and were raised, so to speak, and rebuked their followers for their lack of faith. Moses's followers would continue to fail God, even if they would eventually reach the promised land and create a kingdom of Israel. Christ, in a marked contrast, promises something perfect that will never be lost, a "Helper" (meaning of the word Paraclete) to preserve the faithful "in all truth." He ascends telling the Apostles to "baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.... For I am with you always, even until the end of the world." Moses's deliverance from slavery is made perfect in Christ's words.

The fourth prophecy again anticipates the inception of the Church in the Baptism of its members, "the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Sion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning" (Isaiah chapter 4). At this point perhaps the faithful should consider what Baptism is. It is the movement of water over a person's skin with a Trinitarian formula, yes, but it is so much more, too. "Baptism" derives from a similar Greek word meaning "to immerse" or "to plunge." To be "plunged" into Christ and in the name of the Trinity is more than to enter a visible community or lose a sentence of punishments condine to one's sins. To be "plunged" into Christ is to be immersed and filled with the very life of Christ given by the Holy Spirit, Who, St. Gregory reminds the Church of Rome during Mattins of the feast, is the love of God Himself. The Holy Spirit, to be simplistic, is God's love working and doing something, creating or renewing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes this rebirth in Baptism through water, the physical essential in life and the material, again referencing Genesis chapter 1, which formlessly covered the earth before creation. Water is also like the Holy Spirit, or "Holy Wind" to take a very literal translation, in that water is not easily contained, limited, narrowed, or defined. It enters through crevices unseen and can also be lost by poor care through other unanticipated openings. It is this in water that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, renews His creation. It is for this reason so many commentators have adduced the psalm from the Vidi aquam "I saw water flowing from the right side of the Temple, alleluia; and all to whom this water came were saved...." Therefore the Church uses as her last prophecy in the vigil Ezekiel 37:1-14:
"Thus saith the Lord God, Come, spirit, from the four winds, and blow upon these slain, and let them live again. And I prophesied as He had commanded me; and the spirit came unto them; and they lived; and they stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army.... Thus saith the Lord, I will open your graves, and will bring you out of your sepulchres, O My people, and will bring you into the land of Israel.... and you shall have put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall make you rest upon your own land; saith the Lord almighty."
source: traditionalmass.org
A procession then brings the sacred ministers to the baptistry where the font's waters are again blessed and infused with chrism, itself a priestly thing, as on Holy Saturday. The Paschal candle, extinguished on Ascension Thursday after the Gospel, reappears. Let not the importance of its reappearance be lost. As Dr. Laurence Hemming adumbrates in his Worship as Revelation, all the fires in a church are to be lit from the Paschal fire much as the Presence of Christ in the Sacraments comes from Christ's Incarnation and work on earth. The Paschal candle is extinguished at the end of forty days because, as with Christ and the Sacraments, its purpose, to diffuse holy fire, is accomplished. The fire remains without the candle's use just as Christ remains in the Church without a bodily physical presence. The candle returns because it symbolizes the Resurrection, the event which made this new life in the Holy Spirit possible. The celebrant plunges the candle into the font, almost baptizing the font with the candle rather the other way around. The celebrant sparges the faithful with the blessed water, infuses the chrism, and baptizes catechumens into Christ and His Resurrection. More adept parishes will also have the good sense to administer confirmation at this time, giving the neophytes the Holy Spirit and His "sevenfold gifts."

After the baptisms all who have been "baptized into Christ" on earth sing the Litanies of Saints, imploring the intercession of those in heaven who are the perfection of God's promise to Abraham, "multipl[ied] as stars of heaven." The saints, together with those on earth baptized into Christ, form the Church and carry that same Spirit and fire found on Holy Saturday. Pentecost makes the Resurrection permanent on earth, preserved in the Church unto ages of ages.

source: traditionalmass.org
Mass follows immediately during the vigil. The lesson, taken from Acts of the Apostles, recounts Paul's preaching of the Baptism of Christ, or into Christ, to the Ephesians, hitherto only aware of St. John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. The alleluia is the same as on Holy Saturday. And in the Gospel St. John tells of Jesus saying "If you love me, keep my commandments." What is the Holy Spirit other than the strength to do this? This simple, demanding sentence of Christ calls to mind James 2:18, "I will show you my faith by my works." The Holy Spirit creates, re-creates, renews, strengthens, and preserves the Church in Christ, of Christ, and for Christ, as foretold to the prophets long ago. He makes all things anew, fashioning a new, holier creation out of the materials and persons of the existing, fallen creation. And He will remain with us until the very end.

In a rare moment the Byzantine tradition has a far simpler and more understated take than the Roman Church. The Greek theology of this feast can be found in the troparion of Penteost, which I heard today at Divine Liturgy and last evening at Vespers:
"Blessed are You, O Christ our God, You have filled the fishermen with wisdom by sending down the Holy Spirit upon them, and Who through them have caught in Your net the whole world. O Lover of mankind, glory to You!"




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Giving and Taking Offense

Fr. Longenecker's latest complain-o-gram on Patheos includes a few noteworthy bits:
Traditionalist Catholics are constantly getting on their high horse. Then its the feminist and homosexualists who are stomping off in high dudgeon. Next it is the Liberals or the Eastern Orthodox or the Lutherans or the college students or the environmentalists.[...]
That’s why we have these college “safe spaces” and the fear of free speech–because other people’s truth is a threat and makes you feel bad.
The irony of criticizing safe spaces while shutting down his own comment box is almost too obvious to point out, but I cannot seem to help myself. Last year, "Fr. Dwight" was deeply offended by any objection to Mother Teresa's canonization, and he frequently displays the same thin skin as most Patheos/Aleteia/NCR/WordOnFire ephemerists. His casual calumnies of everyone who is not exactly him are too boorish to be attended in any great detail.

Still, the basic conceit of the article—that Catholics should grow a sense of humor and thick skin—is solid enough. It is no virtue to be quick to anger at every little thing, nor to be habituated towards emotional rather than intellectual arguments.

One simply wishes that the good padre would take his own advice.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

One Who Has No Interest in Pleasing

Portrait by Henry Lamb.
The Claremont Review of Books has a welcome review of Philip Eade's new biography of Evelyn Waugh, subtitled A Life Revisited. This new volume apparently is more an examination of Waugh himself than of his novels. I think it must be admitted that the writer was often more entertaining than his own writings.
Eade recounts Waugh’s life in an admirably economic, straightforward manner, with a nice sense of measure and in a prose style free of jargon and cliché. He neither Freudianizes Waugh nor condemns his lapses into social savagery. Without a trace of tendentiousness, free of all doctrine, the biographer seeks to understand the strange behavior of his subject through telling the story of his life without commenting censoriously on it.
Joseph Epstein's review notes not only Waugh's brutal sense of humor, but also its apparent roots in his horror of boredom. He engaged in what Epstein describes as "free-floating malice" which found its targets even in those few people Waugh liked. He despised his father for his sentimentality and was jealous of his older brother's success. Evelyn hated even his own name for its sexual ambiguity, a complaint he drove home when he briefly married a woman with the same name.

Waugh is one of those twentieth-century Catholic novelists everyone finds amusing, but few wish to imitate. If the price of producing such biting satire is personal misery, who would wish to follow such a path? Still, Waugh gave a voice to the hatred of modernity and the love of tradition that fuels so many of us, even today. He did so in a way that educated and entertained, right before it insulted.

Would Waugh have indeed given in to the temptation of apostasy, as he worried he might, if he had lived long enough to see the Vatican Council come to completion and endure the brutalism of the Pauline Novelty Mass? Pius XII's Holy Week creations were terrible enough for the man, and one thinks it was a blessing that he was taken from this life so suddenly on that Easter morning in 1966.
Waugh notes that he had much earlier attempted suicide by drowning, and was only stopped from completing the job by the incessant biting of jellyfish. In Vile Bodies, a novel he felt he had botched, Waugh more than suggests the emptiness of life among the higher bohemia of Bright Young Things. Modernity itself became an affront to him and Catholicism was the spar he chose to grasp against its choppy seas.
Catholicism hardly seems like a sturdy stay against the choppy seas of modernity anymore. Perhaps another Evelyn Waugh is impossible in the 21st century because there is no longer a safe refuge from the ennui of the world. There is no height on which to climb, from which one can denounce the evils of the world. The Church cares so little about its own history and tradition that it's no wonder it holds no attraction to those tired of modernity's pomps.

Happy Ascension Sunday to all our readers!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

REPOST: Why Look Down, Men of Galilee?


"I may be allowed to say that the disciples' slowness to believe that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead, was not so much their weakness as our strength. In consequence of their doubts, the fact of the Resurrection was demonstrated by many infallible proofs. These proofs we read and acknowledge. What then assureth our faith, if not their doubt? For my part, I put my trust in Thomas, who doubted long, much more than in Mary Magdalene, who believed at once. Through his doubting, he came actually to handle the holes of the Wounds, and thereby closed up any wound of doubt in our hearts." —St. Gregory the Great, 29th sermon on the Gospels

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Series: After the Reformation

Centennial anniversaries are all the rage in Western Catholic blogs this year, all of them foreboding anniversaries, too. Five centuries ago an Augustian monk with scruples and hemorrhoids entered into a dispute with Leo X. Three centuries ago some Franco-British cleric founded a lodge for like-minded, enlightened people. And one hundred years ago the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in a field in Portugal. It is the first of these anniversaries that elicited the other two, and it is this event which deserves some greater study.

The outward effects of the Reformation are well known. Swiss and German Catholicism devolved into fissiparous sects led by men who assumed the teaching authority of bishops, but who rejected the Sacramental authority there of. Henry VIII split from the Church for his divorce and Catholics became "the other" in England. Swedish and Norwegian Christianity took its own odd turn. The Reformation broke the Church's final authority in temporal matters and ushered in a new era of nationalism, colonialism, individualism, and, the first stage of political cancer, democracy.

But what of the lesser known influences of the Reformation? We have noted Geoffrey Hull's observation that the Reformation replaced Christian Europe with a series of European nations, the majority of which had Christian populations. Robert Nisbet drew attention to the replacement of "intermediary" institutions like the Church and guild with the absolute state and the lonely Christian believer. Much of this blog's early work compared protestant pietism with the Counter-Reformation liturgy and devotional life. Yet, there are other influences from the Reformation, and we hope to explore them throughout the rest of this year, namely: book printing, the objectification of Scripture, art and music, philosophy, and nationalistic politics. Stay tuned. It should be quite a year....

He couldn't have been talking about German music....

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Casual Thoughts on Divine Mercy

Pictured: Doe-eyed mystic.
Recent times have seen a bit of backlash against the JP2-Approved "Divine Mercy" devotion and feast. Last year, Hilary White wrote an extensive hit piece on the What's Up with Francischurch? blog, and a few days ago the equally irascible Maureen Mullarkey expressed her disgust with the phenomenon. My interest in anything related to plenary indulgences has waned considerably as the Holy Father's monthly prayer intentions have become increasingly absurd, and while I have a grudging respect for the "Sacred Heart" movement, I find the prospect of reading Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska's diary to be even less attractive than the prospect of reading Stephenie Meyer's memoirs.

But aesthetic problems aside, the implications of the Divine Mercy Sunday devotion are somewhat troubling. If taken literally, the devotional practice is said to grant graces much greater than that of a plenary indulgence, graces greater than all the Sacraments except for Baptism, at the rank of a second Baptism. Gone is the usual indulgence requirement of complete detachment from sin; now we're in the dispensation of the New Pentecost, I suppose.

Still, what do I know? I cannot say I understand how P. John Paul's 1993 canonization of Sr. Kowalska and the creation of her Divine Mercy feast in 2000 deals with the apparently severe problems of her character and theology, so much as it sweeps them under the rug. The endless gibbering of JP2 2.0 about "mercy" is the logical endgame of mercy without penance.

One of the tragedies of the spiritual life used to be the soiling of one's baptismal garments. Rare even was the saint who never soiled that primordial purity with mortal sin. The stains of sin were difficult to wash out, and the loving desire for self-purification was a great drive for those wishing to please God and his Mother. Now this has been replaced with a yearly return to baptismal purity with little effort on the sinner's part, like Hera at Kanathos. But maybe this is what we require in these dark times? Maybe the Catholic faithful are so far lost in ignorance and apathy that God is reaching down into the depths to pull us up into his good graces. Maybe we have been trained so long to hate penance and perfection that Christ is outpouring his mercy in such a way that he is willing even for that to be abused by preachers, so long as it is received.

There is also a liturgical tragedy, for the old celebration of the Octave Day of Easter in its various forms (Low Sunday, White Sunday, Quasimodo Sunday, Pascha Clausum, etc.) has been lost. Like so many other octaves on the Roman kalendar, the Octave of Easter has been manipulated, though at least not eliminated. I cannot help but think that Karol Wojtyła was inspired by national loyalty rather than careful reasoning when he promoted Faustina's cultus and devotions to universal status.

Still, what do I know? On Low Sunday this year I thankfully heard a sermon that spoke of Jesus and Easter, with only a passing mention of the Divine Mercy stuff. Maybe one day I will dip into Sr. Kowalska's diary and present commentary on a few choice passages, but until then I have more interesting books to read.

Jesus' secretary "in this life and the next," pray for us!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Future of the Roman Liturgy & the Ordinariate Option


In his 2015 article The Silent Action of the Heart Cardinal Sarah wrote in L'Osservatore Romano that he would welcome a return to normative oriented worship in the fourth edition of the Pauline Roman Missal. “Liturgists” decried the cardinal’s assertion of orthopractic worship and let a more intriguing textual suggest slip by, that is, the desirous return of the Roman offertory prayers. Unlike the Canon Missae, offertory prayers originated in the Middle Ages and never enjoyed a universal text, so why reify such a narrow restoration? The old Roman offertory is now the most commonly used Sunday and festive option in the most recently approval Roman Mass books, the Missals for the various Ordinariate communities whose worship descends from Anglican rites. Has the Ordinariate Missal become a test run for the future of the Latin liturgy? No, but the future itself is less certain than it was just a few years ago.

The Ordinariate Liturgy

“Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open” are the first distinctively Anglican words at the Ordinariate Mass to an average Roman Catholic who attends either a Paul VI or pre-Conciliar Mass. In fact this prayer is not Anglican at all. It originated in pre-Reformation England and appears in several editions of the Sarum Missal’s prescribed clerical vesting prayers.

The Ordinariate Missal is not the Sarum Mass or the Tridentine Mass celebrated in English. It is an adaptation of Paul VI’s Mass to a manner of liturgical worship that originated in post-Reformation England and done in accordance to the Book of Common Prayer. Several features of the Prayer Book rites of Eucharist are inserted into the Mass at their appropriate times (the litany, the Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access) and numerous Anglican formularies appear along Roman greetings (“Christ our Passover is sacrificed”). The Missal renders the texts in an early modern-style English rather than the literal translation now in force for the Roman Missal and the heretical translation previously in force.

Paul VI’s Mass is more than a palimpsest for Prayer Book texts in the Ordinariate rite. The eventual outcome of the Ordinariate liturgy reflects Anglican tradition as much as it reflects the sort of Anglicans who took advantage of Benedict XVI’s generous offerings in Anglicanorum Coetibus. While many who have come over to the Church do so from a “high” American Anglican patrimony of sung Prayer Book Eucharist and Evensong services, a similar number of English extraction converts come from an “Anglo-Catholic” background, wherein some variation of the Tridentine Mass or English Missal was done in fiddleback vestments and Benediction followed Vespers. These celebrants and faithful come to the Ordinariate familiar with the prayers before the altar, the priest offering “a flawless victim” for the benefit “of all Christians living and dead,” the triple Domine non sum dignus, and the Johannine prologue. These prayers are medieval Roman prayers which are as proper to the spirituality of many in the Ordinariate as “Almighty and everliving God….” While they do not belong to the patrimony of William Laud they do belong to the patrimony of the Ordinariate.

Anyone who can attend an Ordinariate Mass, even if infrequently, should do so. The Mass captures the illative part of Catholic worship between reverent words spoken to God and the sweetness needed to move a Christian to devotion without delving into profundity. The parishes tend to exceed the average diocesan church in music; the propers are almost always sung as are motets and hymns. The now-cathedral in Houston even has a Rood Screen, an element of pre-Reformation liturgy if ever there was one. The Divine Worship Missal transposes much of what was good in post-Reformation Anglicanism into the contemporary Roman Mass for most excellent use by Ordinariate parishes.

A True Reform of the Pauline Mass?

Benedict XVI’s 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia brought the impossibly post-modern academic phrase “hermeneutic of continuity” into the vocabulary of liturgists and students of ecclesiology. A small collective of critics of the modern Church arose from Benedict’s pontificate. These men tended to have been ordained from the time of Paul VI and John Paul II, too young to remember the days before the Council and too old to be caught up in the post-Summorum traditionalist movement; the outlook on what went wrong always included the liturgy, although agreement on what was never universally agreed upon. The one consensus of their liturgical critiques was that the Mass of Paul VI had been misapplied, that those who brought “Pope Paul’s New Mass” into parishes did so with the “hermeneutic of rupture” rather than continuity. In Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI Anthony Cekada personifies this generation of priests as “Fr. Retreaux,” who believes the reformed liturgy requires an ars celebrandi as buttoned up as an Italian cassock.

During Benedict’s papacy a style of Mass emerged in a handful of parishes in every diocese called “Reform of the Reform.” Just as the hermeneuticists of continuity could not agree with what was defective in modern liturgy, they could not agree on a consistent fix. Several different reformed styles of celebrating the reformed Mass proliferated. They included Latin chants for the ordo Missae, use of the Roman Canon, fiddleback vestments, canonical digits, singing of the propers, male altar boys, birettas, six candles around a central crucifix atop the altar, and, when possible, Mass versus Deum.

These applications of the pre-Conciliar praxis to the new Mass reflect an outlook already held by English Oratorians since the 1970s, although the Oratorians’ independence allowed them to anticipate the Reform of the Reform more thoroughly than most diocesan ordinaries will permit their pastors.

Even before the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, interest in the Reform of the Reform waned. No one declared it dead or read its obituary at a CMAA conference, but there was a subtle realization that “Blessed are You, Lord God of the Universe” is a Seder Meal prayer, whether in Latin or Latvian. Moreover, the assertion that Paul VI meant for the reformed Missal to be celebrated like an Institute of Christ the King Mass has no basis in the historical record. The three trial run demonstrations put on for the 1967 synod of archbishops in the Sistine chapel were a low Mass, a low Mass with hymns, and some sort of “high Mass”, all on a free standing table. Paul VI celebrated a hybrid Mass in Italian and Latin versus populum the first day the law permitted in 1964 following the changes of Inter oecumenici.

The faithful welcomed or sought improved celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI, but by 2013 few were still extolling its inherently ceremonial character. If the election of Francis did not end the Reform of the Reform, time would have. The Oratorian celebration of the Pauline Mass can be an aesthetic apotheosis that few bishops would permit; it was easier to celebrate a 3PM indult Mass for the hundred people who want it than to celebrate an improved new Mass as the primary service of the day in full view of a thousand donating parishioners. With the election of Francis to the Petrine See and the conversion of several Reformers of the Reform (notably Thomas Kocik) to the old Mass the movement to celebrate the new liturgy as if it was the old lost momentum.

No broad movement has been born out of the publication of the finalized Ordinariate Missal, but significant anecdotal discussion has come out of it and what it might imply for the Roman rite said in 99% of parishes throughout the world. A celebratory change in the new Mass could only accomplish so much without becoming awkward and uncharacteristic of its intent. The Ordinariate Missal offered something Benedict’s outlook did not, the possibility of fundamental changes to the text in the post-Conciliar Missal. Few if any are interested in the uniquely English flavor of the translation, ceremonial movements, or the character of those for whom it was ratified, merely how it might prove a useful precedent for improving what people have to sit through one hour a week.

What did attract the attention of post-Benedictine Catholics were the Anglo-Catholic features of the Missal, namely the prayers before the altar with the double Confiteor, the Tridentine offertory, the restriction of Eucharistic prayers with an explicit preference for the Roman Canon, and the Johannine prologue at the end of the Mass. All traditional elements of Roman worship present in a ritus for former Anglicans and all absent in the Missal of Paul VI.

So the question arises, could the Mass of Papa Montini effectively remain as is in its lectionary and sacramentary, but find the eventual additions of certain elements from the old Mass, saved only by the miracle of the Ordinariate? Or, put another way, could the Ordinariate Mass, sans its many Anglican texts imported from the Prayer Book, be a template for how the new Mass might look in twenty or fifty years? Is the Ordinariate a typos of the general Roman Church’s future?

No, it is not, but the future is increasingly difficult to ascertain.

The Road Ahead

There are a few hundred traditionalist Mass centers, regular or irregular, in the United States. There is a similar figure in France, which comprises a significantly higher percentage of practicing Catholics in that country. Currently there are a humble 43 Ordinariate parishes in North America with similarly modest figures in England and Australia. Along the same vein various Oratories of Saint Philip Neri have appeared regularly in the Anglophonic world, always styled after their English counterparts rather than their Continental ancestors.

These groups collectively make up a fraction of a percent of the Roman Church throughout the world, yet discussion about the future of the Roman Church tangibly looks at little else if only because there are few other places to look. Countries which once propagated Catholic culture are now utterly bereft of it. The land of Ferdinand and Isabela championed gay marriage long before most European nations would touch the issue; 17% of Spaniards attend Mass. The Fraternity of St. Pius X has served a few Mass centers in Portugal for nearly five decades and has never had a vocation from that country; 19% of self-identified Catholics hear Mass on Sundays. The most stunning collapse of Christianity has transpired in Ireland, where, in the wake of institutional protection of pederast priests and an economic boom in the years after the birth of the Common Market, Mass attendance has dropped from 90% to below 30%; Maynooth seminary operates at 10% its intended capacity. Hardly any of those who still attend Mass go parishes staffed by Ordinariate priests, traditionalists, hermeneuticists of continuity, or reformers of the reform. Yet this topic must necessarily revolve around those very people.

The shortage of vocations to the priesthood in more troubling that the decay of Mass attendance, if only because it offers fewer opportunities for those weak in faith or who attend Mass for habitual reasons to remain somewhere near the bosom of the Church. Jansenism is for the devout, the Church is for all. While Rorate-Caeli could hardly suppress its Alleluias that every parish in Limerick, save for the Institute of Christ the King, will be without Mass every other Sunday, others understand that this marks the beginning of the end for a highly structural, NGO institutional Church that emerged after the 19th political revolutions and normalization of Catholicism in non-Catholic countries. There are enough faithful to justify a few Sunday Masses, but fewer and fewer priests to celebrate them.

Progressive relics from the ages of Paul VI and John Paul II, who for years yearned that the laity might have greater participation in the “ministries” of the Church, may finally get their hearts’ desire, the priestless parish. Meanwhile, the real battle should be over what emerges among those who do celebrate Mass, barring a drastic change in paradigm such as the normative ordination of married men in the West.

Among priest-filled parishes will emerge destination churches, the kinds of parishes people seek in preference to the nearest convenience. Traditional forms of Catholicism are not merely the fastest growing in vocational numbers, they are the only places where there is growth. These various expressions of traditionalist or conservative parish life invariably favor some brand of liturgical orthopraxy, numerous priests living together under one roof, and offer more programs than the average parish. These parishes appeal to a broad range of faithful, from aesthetes to families with children, the simple and the over-educated. Parishes like this currently struggle in bringing the middle of the Church through their doors, the weekly Mass and little-catechized people in suspect marriages. However, as clergy fade without replacement and the less anchored lamentably lapse, the “remnant” may not have much choice but to embrace these destination churches.

In France there are already less than a hundred priestly ordinations a year, between seventy and eighty when excluding the archdiocese of Paris. Various purveyors of “destination parishes”—FSSPX, FSSP, ICRSS, IBP, Communauté de Saint-Martin, the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, and traditionalist monasteries—gradually occupy a larger and larger percentage of the declining total. A similar effect might eventually take root in less “integrist” lands where one off communities like Oratories or canonries become thriving focal points of dioceses, even if they do not make up a significant portion of priests. Destination parishes will never make up the majority of the Roman diocesan churches, but then again neither did the Dominicans, Franciscans, Oratorians, or Augustinian Canons. Movements are never effected by majorities, but vocal minorities whose vigor convinces a surplus to throw in with their cause or become amenable to their view.

The surplus in this case is whatever remains of the diocesan priesthood, men who survive seminary formation and who are spread thin like butter over too much bread in a cluster of parishes in France or alone in a rectory built for five in Ireland. Diocesan formation is as mediocre as it has been since the 1970s, save for a few reputable programs. The “JP2 generation”, however, does not share the political views of its antecedents and often not its liturgical views either. Anecdotally, diocesan seminarians are either friendly to traditional liturgy or indifferent on the matter with the former more resolute in its interest than the latter in its disinterest. This hardly constitutes a movement, but it does constitute a group of people who can be moved, especially if they already have something in common with more vibrant destination churches than they do with those where the weak continue to lapse.

The Growing Rift

The failure of the Reform of the Reform or improved celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI to take root originate in two distinct places, the nature of the new liturgy’s introduction and its regulation.

Conventionally, attempts at Tridentinizing, medievalizing, or simply making more reverent the common celebration of the Montinian Mass came from desire to continue a pre-existing liturgical maximalism in an age where the ceremonies and texts did not agree with symphonic Masses or Palestrina’s motets. This was certainly the case with Msgr. Schuler or the Brompton Oratory. The purpose to prolong a certain liturgical style characteristic to a parish did not apply to the majority of churches after 1970. More relevant today is without formation in the old liturgy few clerics feel compelled to sublimate its genius in the context of the new liturgy.

The other impediment to the various essays at “enriching” the new liturgy is that organic development is both unknown and illegal in the modern liturgy. The new Missal is without essential change since its introduction, not unlike the Roman liturgy from the time of Trent until the nineteen regrettable years of Pius XII. Celebrants follow an intuitive combination of what is in the book and what they have watched since childhood. The ritual imitation of the old rite once called Reform of the Reform comes across as stilted, misapplied, and out of place. It is even more difficult to imagine a textual enrichment of the new Mass from the old, or from other sources, in the current milieu. The books of the reformed liturgy are regulated and published by the Congregation for Divine Worship without the input or approval of local priests, who habitually follow its familiar gestures.

While the number of priests continues to contract and the number of more traditional (broadly understood) Masses proliferate, the very barriers to the long desired “mutual enrichment” remain, the barriers of inorganic formation and of the centralization around the new rite. Diocesan clergy who wish for more to their new rite Mass than the odd Latin Agnus Dei at Christmas may find it easier to throw in their lot with the “stable groups” who want an old Mass or with destination parish clergy who have adopted a different outlook altogether.

One might optimistically tend to think this would eventually effect a more traditional version of the new liturgy. It will not. Unlike diocesan clergy, bishops are selected abroad from among men whose dedication to the current causes of national conferences and Rome outweigh their sympathy for the interests of parish liturgy. As long as this remains true the new Missal will remain as is, without any mutual enrichment, Tridentinisms, or new developments of its own accord.

What might this mean in a world of fewer priests and less ecclesiastical structure to watch over those who remain in parishes rather than in the growing fraternal communities? Diocesan clergy who were interested in the old liturgy, in part or whole (a sizeable minority from purely anecdotal experience), but who were not interested in leaving their hometowns for ‘50s-ism or Nerian spirituality, may find themselves free to expand their offering of the old Missal rather than toy with what they know they may not change. As peculiar as it sounded ten years ago, traditionalist communities have expanded modestly, but diocesan Latin Masses have grown by a multiple. Many remain at odd times for small groups, but the growing normality of the [putative] 1962 Missal could well justify a liturgically-minded pastor’s expansion of his Mass schedule to include a Latin Mass at 11AM rather than at 2PM, especially if he is the only priest in a parish.

The danger in this emerging trend of traditionally minded seminarians, priests, and priests of what we have termed destination parishes is that the Roman Church’s internal divisions would become externally manifested by liturgical praxis. If the French trend continues and diocesan interest in the Latin Mass increases, a third of French clergy may be Tridentine Mass-saying integrists who support the National Front while the other two thirds wear golf shirts around town between celebrating one monthly Mass at each parish in their clusters. Bishops, again, almost always strangers to their own flock, will have less and less in common with a growing segment of their own clergy. What are they to do with such priests? Ghettoize them? Leave them be? Promote them to larger parishes on merit?

Reform or Return?

1982 might have been the optimal year to re-instate the pre-Conciliar Latin liturgy as the normative Mass in the Roman Church. John Paul II re-established a nominal orthodoxy regarding sex, the roles of the sexes, and basic doctrines that were ignored during the stagnant post-Conciliar days of Papa Montini. Regardless of his phenomenology the Polish Pope created an externally sound perception to the Church that hid the liturgical abuse so arrant to those inside. Liturgical experiment continued in some circles, but a general mediocrity, born in suburban American parishes, became the international standard. So why would 1982 have been the best year to return to the old Roman ways?

In that same year The Tablet published results of a poll of English Catholics concerning the liturgical reform. Over 40% desired a return to the old Mass; the next largest block were indifferent; only a quarter preferred the new Mass to the old. The new liturgy’s novelty factor had run its course during an age when the former ways were still within living memory of most priests and laity. A return would have been difficult, but far easier than either a return to the old rite or a revitalization of the new rite has proven today.

There also existed the issue of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who, for what good he did, missed a grand opportunity at this juncture. He founded the Seminary of Saint Pius X in 1970 with permission of the diocesan bishop for the formation and ordination of priests. Doctrine concerned the French archbishop as did clerical education. Liturgy ranked lower on his list of priorities. Originally, the Seminary of Saint Pius X, and the associated priestly fraternity that governed it, was intended for the training of clergy who could return to their home dioceses for regular parish work; Cardinal Siri sent men to Econe in the early years and incardinated a few into his diocese, presumably celebrating the “illegal” Latin Mass until Paul VI noticed. If he had qualms about the new rite, then those qualms arose from what the new rite represented more than the integrity of the rites themselves; how could he celebrate the 1962 rite otherwise? After his 1976 suspension by Paul VI the “rebel archbishop” found himself the subject of religion segments in the newspapers and the topic of shorts in international news. During the same period a significant number of clergy in the United States and Europe, some retired and some forced into “independent” ministry, could have reverted to the old rite with the inspiration that a charismatic, orthodox figure could imbue. As a former missionary who baptized thousands of Africans, Msgr. Lefebvre should have been that very figure. The requisite inspiration never came, and the old Mass remained a symbol of opposition to Dignitatis humanae and French democracy. At the peak of his potential influence Lefebvre quietly began to work with the Vatican for a successor bishop and in the process forced the entire non-Francophonic populace of his Fraternity into adopting the 1962 liturgy over the pre-Pius XII book in force; it seems “pre-Vatican II” and “Latin” were more operative in the Fraternity’s liturgical outlook than “tradition.” Lefebvre never lawfully received his successor bishop; the June 30, 1988 consecrations and the following Vatican pseudo-liberation of the 1962 Mass in Ecclesia Dei adflicta all but ensured the old liturgy would stay in the realm of ghettos for those who could not move on.

Spiritual Health

While a wholesale return to the old liturgy remains an elusive dream, the prominent return of older rites in a larger portion of the Church remains more probable than a reform of the Pauline Mass along the lines of the Ordinariate Missal or a better practice of the current Novus Ordo liturgy. On its own, diverse rites cause little trouble; Lebanese Catholics attend rites based on whether they live in a Maronite village or Melkite village. However, liturgical diversity within narrow geographies, when the liturgical boundary is not also a national or cultural boundary, has a checkered history on a larger scale. Melkite Christians lost their original Antiochian liturgy and were compelled to adopt the Byzantine rite. Roman missionaries in Ethiopia attempted to foist the Roman rite on the locals and separate the priests from their wives. In a divided Church liturgy has historically been used as a symbolic weapon against those with a different idea of how to be a Catholic. Given the turbulence of the contemporary Roman Church the Pauline Mass, old Mass, and reformed new Mass—if the latter two gain sufficient “market share”—may provide visible markers of division between contrasting opinions of what constitutes a Catholic.

In a normatively Catholic world justice would demand those who believe themselves in the right to combat those in the wrong at the parish level as Athanasius did against the Arians and Augustine against the Donatists; even the Great Western Schism, which controverted the legitimacy of the rival popes more than any doctrine, was reduced to the local church with rival bishoprics. We do not live in a normatively Catholic society anymore, any further diversity risks creating an Anglican menagerie if the liturgy merely becomes a banner for other causes.

The broad mission of liturgical restoration must make inroads with seminarians and celebrants for diocesan churches in order to be anything other than a sect within a sect. Anything less than meeting Catholics where they are—poorly catechized, in dubious marriages, and agnostic to Latin—will only succeed in creating more minute groups dedicated to long dresses, home schooling, lace albs, and the National Front. The new liturgy has too little history and too much centralization to reform itself organically while the old is too different from the new to be introduced in a broad stroke; with these challenges, champions of reform—or, more accurately, restoration—would be wise to let reverent liturgy inform the culture of a parish rather than force an arbitrary culture on those who seek reverent liturgy.

Benedict Revisited: Felix Culpa?

Four weeks ago more Roman Catholics celebrated the traditional rites of Holy Week than at any other point since 1955. Deacons sanctified the Paschal candle by inserting blessed incense into the torch that burns with the uncreated light. During the blessing the Levite remembered God’s permitting the Fall of Adam: “O felix culpa quae talem et tantem meruit habere redemptorem.” God, wrote Saint Augustine when he coined the term felix culpa, does not create evil, but he does allow it if a greater good might prevail.

Never before have the futures of both the liturgy and the institutional structures of the Church been less certain. Past attempts to focus the reformed liturgy through the lens of tradition belong to extenuating circumstances in an era gone by, while current attempts, exemplified by the Ordinariate liturgy, are bound to be thwarted by the bureaucratic root of the contemporary Mass. Groups desiring more orthopractic liturgical forms have experienced modest growth, but the most startling numbers lay in the growth of vocations in these “destination” communities, which figure to make up a sizable minority of the shrinking institutional Church within a few generations. Those favoring older rites have a clearer path to influence than Reformers of the Reform, although they lack any clear route to the restoration they so desire unless they are willing to engage younger diocesan celebrants who are amenable to tradition and not weighed down by the baggage of post-Vatican II Traditionalism.

In a Church where some purport to speak for the Magisterium, some for God, some for Kasper, and all for Bergoglio, any liturgical revival threatens to become a battlefield for other conflicts that will make visible those divisions which have already insinuated the subterranean structures of Western Catholicism. Yet does not natural justice demand the right thing be done irrespective of circumstance? It does, and targeting strife within the Church is far apart from trying to survive it. Laity, unfortunately, suffer more than clergy amid disputes between Churchmen and their causes, as happened during the Great Western Schism, the Reformation, and the 20th century liturgical revolt.


Benedict XVI’s liberalization of the 1962 liturgy may well have been a felix culpa in clarifying competing factions and the struggle for the Church’s temporal future. More importantly Benedict’s motu proprio led to a dual effort to revive the ’62 rite and improve the new rite using its existing text. The abandonment of the Reform of the Reform and visible trend to pre-Pacellian rites among diocesan Traditionalists can only mean people have looked at the existing Roman liturgy in both “forms” and found it wanting. While the future is less certain than ever the current revival of the old rite and trend towards the un-revised Roman liturgy represent the first genuinely organic, non-committee driven liturgical movement in the Roman Catholic Church since the original Liturgical Movement a century and a half ago. A grassroots transition through an Ordinariate-style Missal would benefit the faithful, but there exists no viable channel for such a transition.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

St. Gengulphus: Martyr for Marriage

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The cultus of St. Gengulphus (†AD 760) does not appear to have ever been especially large. He was one of the rare "secular" saints of the first millennium, being neither a cleric nor a religious, but rather a martyr of sorts. He lived in Burgundy, and many churches in France still bear his name (or some variant thereof), as do some German churches.

His hagiography is miraculous from its first recounting, and serves as an interesting counterpoint to later women saints who suffered greatly under their wicked husbands. Gengulphus suffered the indignity of a straying wife, who began an adulterous affair with a clerk of some unknown rank while her husband was away from home. When the nobleman was finally convinced of his wife's unfaithfulness, he advised her to repent and himself retired to a distant estate, rather than punish her. The two adulterers feared for their safety and plotted to kill the saintly husband, and one night the clerk slipped into his bedroom and dealt him a mortal blow. After returning to his mistress, the clerk quickly died in the manner of Arius and the wife was ironically cursed after replying to news of miracles performed at her husband's grave with, "If Gengulph can work miracles, then so can my arse." One day a week for the rest of her life, an ignoble sound erupted constantly from the part of the body she thus indicated.

The story of St. Gengulphus was not popular enough to warrant inclusion in the Golden Legend, and his mention in the martyrology of the Roman Breviary for May 11 is terse: Varennis, in Gallia, sancti Gangulphi Martyris. Nevertheless, many of his relics can still be found in the areas surrounding his original cult, as can the aforementioned churches named in his honor.

Some later legends claim that Gengulphus had retired from married life to become a hermit, but there is no such indication in the earliest hagiographies. He never divorced his wife nor sought to annul his marriage. In many ways he is the kind of saint needed in our troubles times. The culture of divorce and "easy outs" from bad marriages has permeated the Church herself. Gengulphus suffered greatly from a bad spouse, but did not use this injustice as an excuse to commit sin.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Benedict Option for Laymen?

A recent short essay published by Crisis Magazine examines the problems that come with an "Abundance of Benedict Options," playing off the social engineering schema popularized by the ex-Catholic Rod Dreher:
The most famous [option] is certainly the Benedict option popularized by author Rod Dreher. But others have written about the Dominican option, the Dorothy option, the Escriva option, the Buckley option, the Boniface option, etc. I have no problems with these suggestions or reflection on this question. It is vital and important to prepare for the full flowering of western liberalism and its possible collapse under its own weight. However, most who are writing on this topic miss the contingency of this question, the participatory nature of the Church, and Ecclesial unity.
The essay by Dr. John Meinert is both short and good, basically trying to calm the contentious option-holders from beating on one another in public, in favor of admitting a variety of valid options within the Catholic sphere of moral orthodoxy.

I wonder if Dreher's repurposing of St. Benedict's name in naming his own social-religious philosophy is unnecessarily confusing. It seems that Dreher is constantly fighting off concerns that he wants laity with family to live like monks. Why invoke the Rule of the great Benedict if you are only going to abstract a few applicable ideas for the common layman? "I came up with the concept," Dreher says, "and I'm not sure what it means."

John Senior was more intentional with his invocation of the ancient Benedictine way of life. He argued that the larger Catholic culture (lay and clerical) can only find a revival if first the monasteries are purified by returning to a strict obedience to the Rule. Fix the monasteries, and the rest of the world will follow. Dr. Senior, I suspect, would accuse Mr. Dreher of putting the cart before the horse. Senior wrote in The Restoration of Christian Culture:
We are creatures of habit, as the nuns used to say. In the moral and spiritual order, we become what we wear as much as what we wear "becomes" us—and it is the same with how we eat and what we do. That is the secret of St. Benedict's Rule which in the strict sense regulated monasteries and in the wider sense, through the influence and example of monasteries, especially in their love of Our Blessed Mother, civilized Europe. The habits of the monks, the bells, the ordered life, the conversation, the music, gardens, prayer, hard work, and walls—all these accidental and incidental forms conformed the moral and spiritual life of Christians to the love of Mary and her Son. (130-31)
While Senior's vision demands a top-down purification of culture, Dreher's vision is born of an impatience with the failures of those in higher states of life in the Church. This is no surprise, considering that clerical corruption was the cause of his own schism. There is something unnatural about creating a "rule" for Catholic families that is divorced from the daily, weekly, and yearly life of a parish or monastery. It is the kind of thing one would expect in a place like pre-20th century Japan, where pockets of Catholic communities were forced to perpetuate themselves without the help of clergy of any kind after the expulsion of Western influences, not in the cybernetically connected 21st century.

Certainly, at times families need to keep themselves Catholic in spite of the local parochial influence. Dreher's vision of the family besieged on every side, even the ecclesiastical side, is not without merit. But it is dangerous to cultivate a lifestyle of seclusion, where the laity arrive at the church once a week for Sacraments, but otherwise refuse to engage with the life of the Church. I worry mostly that Dreher is implicitly recommending a kind of Protestant spirituality, wherein each family is an island that develops a habit of suspicion against all outside influence.

The health of the Church Catholic depends heavily on the holiness of her monasteries, and to a marginally lesser degree on the holiness of her priests and bishops. Any spirituality that places the natural family at its center I consider suspect, and I say this as one recently married and hopeful of a fruitful life, and who also regularly bemoans the disintegration of family life in the West. Our spiritual life revolves around the Household of Heaven, in which the Son is paradoxically greater than the Mother, in which our familial relations become mere metaphors for a more perfect life. Sacramental though our marriages be, they are not intrinsically paradigms for the life of Heaven, where we will neither marry nor be given in marriage.

I am not insensible to the need of securing the moral and traditional aspects of family life. It is an important problem, and one urgent enough that it will not simply wait for the hopeful Benedictine revival in the West. In this respect, I think families need to make peace with the fact that any moral corrections they make against the culture or against malign ecclesiastical influence are going to be limited, imperfect, and temporary. Whatever "option" we take, we should not think it to be a permanent or wholistic solution.