Saturday, December 22, 2012

Coming Home for Christmas

My brother-in-law sent me a great picture of his grown-up son, my oldest nephew, standing not far from his grandmother's house by a kind of fun wagon belonging to one of the neighbors. Actually, great as computer systems are for archiving photos he sent me two pictures (the one 25 years old of this then young boy standing in front of the very same wagon). Apart from "to grandma's house" nostalgia for Christmas, such little gifted moments bespeak an overwhelming connectedness over time which, without substantive referent, just plain affirms. We rejoice in such, yes, we do. I would hazard to state that people of good will live from such; they live in thankfulness also because of such little joys.

I want to thank NLM for reprinting a Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB, article expatiating on what could bring about reconciliation with the SSPX. I find three paragraphs of the article important and enlightening:

"In October the Pope recalled: “I have often insisted on the need to the ‘letter’ of the Council―that is to its texts―also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and...I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity.” Perhaps there is a basis for reconciliation here, for an understanding of what must be accepted?

Recently I asked Bishop Fellay about the impasse. “There is a twofold problem which needs to be overcome,” he said. “First, a correct historical appraisal of the situation of the Church and of the cause of the problem causing this horrible crisis in the Church” is needed. “Secondly,” we need to “overcome the overwhelming ‘not welcome’ [we experience] from a great majority (still) in the Church against us, despite the efforts of the Holy Father. This element cannot be forgotten and we experience it every day.”

The latter requires more Christian charity: it is to our shame that this is lacking. The former is complex and will take time, but if we study Vatican II in its texts and history, we do not find a “super-dogma” or a “defining event” before which everything is bad and after which all is good, the “spirit” of which all must worship. It is one of the Councils of the Church’s tradition with its particular historical contingencies. Statistics alone make it clear that it has been followed by a multifaceted crisis. In evaluating this and in discerning the right measures for today and for the future the SSPX, as Catholics, are entitled to their voice."

Concerning other parts of the Reid article, the commentary over at NLM was already so heated by the time I got there that Shawn Tribe was threatening to close the combox and defend charity.

The estrangement, the disconnectedness, which refuses to take Pope Benedict's hand and walk with him on this, troubles me. It plagues much of the life of charity, which ought to be the Church's stellar witness before an otherwise fractured and violent world. In that sense, you might say, I find my reason for being troubled by Bishop Fellay's "twofold problem". He's not the only one, but since Dom Reid is quoting him (and hopefully faithfully), from what we have to go on in this article, I can't see how he can exonerate himself (as he seems to do with his twofold) from having to carry his own share of the burden of charity for the sake of the life of the world. Excuse my bluntness over and against Dom Reid's European propriety.

“First, a correct historical appraisal of the situation of the Church and of the cause of the problem causing this horrible crisis in the Church” is needed." If the kind of hacking, chopping and doctrinaire intransigence characteristic of various combox interventions on SSPX or liturgy topics (at NLM and elsewhere) is any indication of the overall climate, just how many people get to vote or contribute to the paper which will display this "correct historical appraisal" and how and for whom will it become binding? I'm sorry, but get serious! Where is the reasonableness in this demand? Who is going to write this "definitive history" and who is going to buy it?

“Secondly,” we need to “overcome the overwhelming ‘not welcome’ [we experience] from a great majority (still) in the Church against us, despite the efforts of the Holy Father. This element cannot be forgotten and we experience it every day.” Apart from "no-fault" or "no-contest" divorces (in the State of Kansas they used to have something called an "emergency divorce"), there's no less scandal involved in what amounts to a deficiency on somebody's part in the other two theological virtues as well. The image before my eyes is that of an adult threatening to hold his breath until the other party begs pardon for having offended in some way. Who is disqualifying whom? Can we say that only one of the estranged parties in a strained marriage bears the responsibility for seeking reconciliation? I'm wondering where this "great majority" against the SSPX lives and if they represent Catholics straight across the board. The marked change in Catholic iconography and aesthetics over the last decade at least has me doubting whether Bishop Fellay has much contact with ordinary Catholic folk in most parts of the world. Look at what is commonly considered a pretty church today! Look at the images chosen for First Communion cards or First Mass cards! They hearken back to older times and an older canon of beauty, more and more and more. The longing for a recovery of the sacred makes new gains each and every day.

In civil society, we speak freely of people having enemies, of not being able to stand one another. Within Christian families estrangement among family members, especially between adult siblings was always motive at Thanksgiving or Christmas time for a concerted effort to get brothers or sisters to make peace. Sometimes a holiday truce came into effect, sometimes not, and sometimes everyone recognized genuine will in the face of helplessness to mend the breach. How can SSPX continue to hold out and refuse communion in good faith? No one denies the injustices and the violence perpetrated over the years, but all are obliged to seek peace.

Over at NLM, Shawn might have censored me, either out of charity for my sake or for that of others. Family reconciliation is never achieved through scolding, I know. More often than not, older siblings make the effort to get along because of a brother or sister giving example of that simple but profound love which should always everywhere exist among children of the same father and mother. I see no way to challenge the witness of Pope Benedict XVI. He is reason enough to hurry and come home for Christmas.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Liturgical Piety and the Scourge of the Arbitrary

The second of the FIUV Papers on the Liturgy does a super job of discussing the notion of "liturgical piety" so dear to the Liturgical Movement which preceded the Second Vatican Council. Here's a quote from that paper, explaining the rightness and the priority of promoting a truly liturgical piety among the faithful:

"2. The desire for a more liturgical piety arose naturally from two observations. First, 
that the Catholic liturgy is an enormously rich source for the devotional life. As the 
English Cardinal Wiseman exclaimed as early as 1842: 
Why there is not a place, or a thing, used in the worship which [the Catholic] 
attends, upon which there has not been lavished, so to speak, more rich poetry 
and more solemn prayers, than all our modern books put together.

3. Secondly, the liturgy, and in particular the Eucharist, is of its very nature the 
privileged opportunity for the Christian to communicate with God. The liturgy is the 
public prayer of the Church, and the Mass is the re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice 
on the Cross: in joining themselves to the first, the faithful can take part in the 
perfect prayer offered to God by His spotless Bride; in joining themselves to the 
second, the faithful can associate their own offerings with the perfect Sacrifice 
offered to the Father, that of the spotless Victim."

To say that, in striving to develop among God's People a truly liturgical piety to sustain them in their life of faith, we are talking of a good is evident. No matter what the person's stance in favor or against one or the other form of the Roman Rite, I would dare to say that no one zealous for the Lord's House would not want Catholic people first and foremost to be nourished in their faith by a genuine liturgical piety. Even so, this is not yet to say that how best to further this good is self-evident. In the last century and up until the present mistakes have been made or we could say that wrong has been done in the name of fostering liturgical piety, more often than not also at the expense of a solid and well-rounded devotional life (Catholic life in the last decades has many times been stripped of all but Sunday Mass). Nor does affirming the principle that a liturgical piety is to be striven for necessarily open the path to each and every effort which has been made in the past under the mantle of the Liturgical Movement. Nor does it necessarily give evidence of what is at play or at risk in arguing in favor of liturgical reform, ostensibly in the hope of promoting and rooting popular piety more firmly in the liturgy. 

These lessons and many more I learned from a truly valuable book, which I had somehow missed to date, but which caught my attention in a footnote from another of the FIUV Papers on the Liturgy (don't ask me which one!):

The Organic Development of the Liturgy 
The Principles of Liturgical Reform and Their Relation to the Twentieth-Century Liturgical Movement 
Prior to the Second Vatican Council 
(2010-09-24).  Kindle Edition.

Think me a dingbat if you will, but what Reid describes as the comings and goings within and around the Liturgical Movement, especially during the 1950's, frightened me and inspired in my head images of a fully loaded freight train barreling along at top speed, which hit the Council and kept on going. What came to be both in the 1970 Missal and as a result of the opening of those liturgical reform "floodgates", reminded me of one of the grand old men of the avantgarde of the Liturgical Movement, our old Dutch Jesuit liturgy professor in the 1970's, who still hadn't slowed down, having achieved all he ever dreamed about back in the 1950's and almost 20 years later was still desperately panting after novelty, synonymous seemingly for him with relevance. How do you slow such a runaway freight train?

Father Reid does a masterful job in relatively few pages of documenting over the centuries the vagaries of the organic development of the Liturgy, especially of the authoritative interventions over time to promote a flourishing liturgical life within the Church. He registers clearly various times in history, especially since the Council of Trent, when Popes, the supreme legislators in the Church, have overstepped their bounds and deformed this ever living and growing edifice. Pope St. Pius X comes off badly in the book for certain of his decisions regarding the Breviary and, of course, the Holy Week Reform of Pope Pius XII is not spared in the least. Reid's thesis is that the Liturgy stands over even the Pope:

"These limits were articulated by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not “manufactured” by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity. . . .  The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition. And they are clearly taught by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.” (Kindle Locations 4937-4943).

Father Reid's great service, if you will, is in giving evidence of times past, where a later Pontiff had to retrace a Predecessor's steps and restore the Liturgy, reversing well-intended reforms. About the only exception to a hands-off policy regarding Divine Worship on Reid's part would be his cautious allowance for calendar reform. Particularly convincing is Father Reid's adamant defense of the Roman Canon from all intervention or trimming. It would be hard to escape his judgment of arbitrariness and justify liturgical change mindful of the limits thereto laid down by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.” So the stance of Father Alcuin Reid, OSB!

In banning the "Arbitrary", the point would be not just to exclude the modernist view that anything goes in the name of promoting liturgical piety, but to make a convincing case for excluding most any liturgical change as liable to the accusation of arbitrariness and hence detrimental to the edifice of worship as such. The arbitrary undermines liturgical piety because it takes away from Liturgy itself. We see this on a parish level day in and day out in the case of countless youth and young adults, who do not feel bound to a liturgical praxis which is shot through with what are arbitrary choices and simply caprice on the part of the parish priest, church musicians or liturgical committee. It is very hard for a parent to counter the objection of a son or daughter to going to a Mass which Father makes up as he is going along anyway. Father Reid would have us understand that this hands-off policy goes for everyone in the Church; not even the supreme legislator can escape the accusation of being arbitrary if he changes a jot or tittle of something beyond him as well.

They tell me that the pipe organ of its very nature is made for improvising; the same cannot be said for the liturgy. The point as such is not whether the old wine is better, but rather that regardless of whether or not the present crisis could have been averted had the Vatican Council not been followed by a period of free-wheeling experimentation and innovation with liturgy, the point is that you can't simply overhaul what constitutes our rule of prayer and life.

Am I saying, the sooner we shelve the Novus Ordo and get back to "square one" the better? Not at all! When the Tridentine Missal was made obligatory for the Universal Church following that great Council, those recognized and long-standing (200 years) liturgical traditions existing at the time were exempted; they could and did live on. For all practical purposes today, the Novus Ordo is not only recognized but for all but a few Catholics it is the only liturgical experience within memory. Novus is a misnomer in most people's perception; speaking of Ordinary Form is generally more comprehensible. It is herein that I find the wisdom of the Holy Father's directive to let the two forms grow together, mutually enrich one another. The approach forestalls another arbitrary, if you will, intervention, which would cause scandal and do nothing to disclaim many people's impression that the whole business is all too human, too arbitrary and not necessarily that food  which strengthens us for the trek to the mountain of God, Horeb.

The new English translation of the 3rd Edition of the Latin Roman Missal has contributed enormously to casting out the arbitrary; the chant revival and the new awareness that liturgical music must be sacred in character is progressing as well. The arts are beginning to show signs of recovery and a new/old aesthetic sense is blossoming and bearing fruit. The lessons many have learned in the Perpetual Adoration Chapels are starting here and there to transfer back to the main body of the church. They need to be fostered and reinforced.

Father Reid does not discount altogether the Liturgical Movement of the first half of the 20th Century; he lauds its values and denounces its excesses with consummate self-restraint. Ultimately, it would be the universal will that the Liturgy carry us in faith. We seek a liturgy which nourishes us because as an integral part of the Tradition it comes to us vibrant and substantially unchanged from Christ Himself through His Church. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete in Domino Semper

The Collect for today does indeed explain our reason for anticipatory joy on this Third Sunday of Advent, being already so near the Feast of the Lord's Nativity:

"O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation, and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. – Amen."

As a child, the message of the lightened liturgical color - rose - for this Sunday came through loud and clear: Christmas is coming soon. It would be great if we adults could live our faith also with child-like immediacy and simplicity, truly rejoicing not only in the proximate Christmas season but in His nearness to us in our lives.  He rules and loves us: the Wonder Counselor, Mighty God,  Father Forever, Prince of Peace. As grown-ups we have all sorts of issues; we resist being consoled and enabled by the Good News of the Lord's birth to rejoice heartily. Maybe for that reason the Antiphon from Morning Prayer for Zachary's Canticle moved me particularly today. Although it is not Herod who detains us in prison against our will and on account of our witness to the Truth, we are often, with respect to the Lord, held bound and questioning:

"When John, in prison, heard of the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples with this question: Are you the One whose coming was foretold, or should we look for another?"

We, as adults, are far from child-like simplicity in many ways. Above all, we don't find ourselves living from feast to feast as the Church would have us live. Yes, we party; yes, we go from fete to fete. There has probably never been a time like now in Western Civilization where so much face-painting goes on at so many parties. Somehow, however, this new custom (not limited to children's birthday parties or carnival fairs but practiced also by grown-ups) sort of strikes me as slightly tragic, as not funny, but a distortion or distraction, like clown make-up, as a cover-up for an interior joy which is lacking. Our feasting is secular or in some fashion disconnected from the One in Whom we live, and move, and have our being.

We may not be in chains like John the Baptist, but in much the same way our life situation begs the same question, and rightly directed only to Jesus, Who doesn't seem to be standing there before us, if He is the One or if we should not be looking for another. Different from John the Baptist, who through his disciples outside of prison, asked directly and, upon receiving Christ's response, embraced His words there in prison with Advent joy, we may find it challenging despite our knowledge of the Faith to give ourselves in hope to "...solemn worship and glad rejoicing." If you will, we restrain ourselves from gladly following in the train of Him Who comes, of the Word made Flesh for our Salvation.

I suppose that it stems from our lack of commitment to Him, of failing to entrust ourselves to His power. It is a sin against hope. It is central to what we mean when we decry much of what goes on in society as non-culture or as a culture not life-giving but death-dealing. Beyond heartbreak, this would be the reason why, especially in times past, we shuddered at the very thought of someone so sad and confused that he or she would contemplate suicide. Gaudete in Domino semper! I say it again, rejoice!  St. Paul too rejoiced in his chains and in all he had to suffer for the sake of the Name. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

"O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation, and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. – Amen."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The FIUV Papers on the Liturgy

I've come to the conclusion that I'm much too serendipity in my old age. That is to say, at least as far as this blog is concerned, I'm not showing much method or strategy. I just kind of go with the flow and comment as I please... not good? Let me illustrate with one example where I could have done more. I think I would have enjoyed writing additional reviews and could have weighed in much more heavily on behalf of a project which has enjoyed my favor since I first became acquainted with it, namely the project, discussing specific issues concerning the 1962 Missal, which has become one of the pillars of the internet presence of the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce.

Anyway, a friend brought to my attention this omission on my part when he noted that he had read three of my comments on the FIUV Papers on the Liturgy. Now I am sure that I read the introduction and all of the papers, numbering 13 in all for now (for easy reference here). For some reason, despite the importance to me personally of nearly all 13 topics discussed, it seems as though I only had something to say about PP 3: The Manner of Receiving Communion, about PP 5: The Vulgate and Gallican Psalter, and about PP 11: Western Culture. Looking again, I can see that another three of the papers deserved posts from me: "deserved" in the sense that they masterfully handle issues dear to my own heart and do so in grand fashion. As I say, perhaps too serendipity, but then again, I do have a day job, as they say.

The genius of the 13 papers, to my mind, is that they do indeed teach and quite comprehensively, offering important lessons about why we need to focus more or better on the very real issue of what to do about the rupture in the continuity of our liturgical tradition which has come to be and not through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As important as it may be to get about the business of repairing, I find the work done by these papers to be of a prior importance to any decision about "reforming the reform" or "rebooting" after choosing a restoration point and establishing principles for the organic development of a restored Roman Rite. The FIUV Papers on the Liturgy really grapple with what the Holy Father calls the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite.

That said, what are the other three of the twelve I would like to have promoted the more? PP 4: Liturgical Orientation: It could be that I felt at a loss to add anything to one of the finer crafted pieces in the whole series. PP 6: Liturgical Pluralism: This particular text has what might be termed strategic value in terms of reasoning against the intolerance of the recent past which stifled what we now refer to as the Extraordinary Form of the Rite, not to mention the use of Latin in the celebration of Mass according to the Ordinary Form. PP 9: Silence (revised 10/10/12): More now so today than when the paper appeared a couple months back, thanks to various exchanges and reading the Evelyn Waugh material in "Bitter Trial", I appreciate even more the longing very regular Catholics have for genuine silence and, hence, the popularity of perpetual adoration. Silence must again become a hallmark of the Roman Rite, simply for the sake of our people.

Others might be drawn by the papers on Latin in the Liturgy or the study of Latin in the Seminary, the why and wherefore of perhaps adding some of the beautiful new prefaces to the 1962 Missal or not, questions about Eucharistic Fast and Holy Days of Obligation. Without wanting to be a reductionist about assessing their worth, let me say simply that reading and ruminating over the FIUV Papers on the Liturgy could serve as a marvelous primer for how to address what often ends up being controversial in a very different and respectful manner.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sacred What? - Silence, Song, Amplification

The discussion I came across yesterday in my holy day leisure reading about the impact of sound amplification on Catholic Liturgy: see "Drop the Mic" by Kevin White (First Things) and "Unplug the microphones?" by Jeffrey Tucker (The Chant Cafe`) brought me back to Evelyn Waugh's appeal for the preservation of the old silent Latin Mass:

"When I first came into the Church I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest as a craftsman. He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to the altar with their tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them." (Reid, Dom Alcuin (2011-10-20). A Bitter Trial (Kindle Locations 424-427). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)

If you are not at least 60 years old and didn't have the opportunity for weekday morning Mass before Vatican II or you don't have access to one of the new communities or monasteries committed to the TLM daily, in the half-light of early morning, at a side altar or in the crypt, you probably are at a total loss as to what Waugh describes with verve and no small amount of nostalgia. Video comes to the rescue!

A couple years ago in Trinidad, an over-80 lady friend of mine, daily Mass and Communion, told me of her experience of trying to go back and finding the silence and lack of sonorous exchange with the celebrant to be more than she could bear. We really are talking about different worlds and a profound rupture with our past. People underestimate the difficulty of recovery.

I think I'd like to argue against the abolition, straight across the board, of amplification, arguing simply from the old confessional experience back before most parishes installed a sort of hearing aid, where Father on his side had a microphone to speak into and the person on the penitent side of the confessional had a speaker to hold up to his or her good ear. It eliminated the embarrassed shouting etc. "Did you say 10 Hail Mary's, Father?" which sometimes had half the church outside either in stitches or in tears. How do you restore the "private Mass ambience" all of a sudden? Once again, I cannot see a substitute for a period of mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Whether the elimination of amplification will be one of the upshots of that enrichment does not concern me, I guess.

 A new found, long distance friend of mine and I exchanged briefly about the resistance he encounters when he advocates or encourages priests and bishops to make a choice for celebrating the OF/NO ad Orientem. I sympathized with him, admitting that being "lord" of my own house and chapel, I don't experience that resistance or opposition. In that sense, you might say I live a sheltered life. What many celebrants do not understand is that ad Orientem worship does not diminish the sonorous or amplified exchange with the congregation. Rather, it lends sobriety (and rightly so) to Divine Worship, which ought not be compromised by furtive glances and indiscreet looks during the Preparation of the Gifts, Eucharistic Prayer and Communion.

We've gotten so accustomed, let's say to TV Masses having a certain intimacy about them for people watching at home, that we don't even realize any more how much distraction can be involved when a cameraman, doing his job no doubt, shifts his focus continually from closeups on the celebrant whose eyes are darting here and there and, as happens with Papal Liturgies, the guy focuses on subjects he finds particularly interesting, such as the poor old Cardinal sound asleep in the second row.

Although it may not be exactly counterproductive to discuss amplification of sound in church, I just want to go on record (for the umpteenth time) as saying that when and where possible the recovery of faithful observance of rubrics and the choice of orienting worship are what is urgent. Let's relegate discussion about sound systems to a later exchange!


Friday, December 7, 2012

Just Spinning?

A couple months back a friend from Rome gave me a copy of the brand new Italian edition from 2012 of a Father Alexander Schmemann classic: "For the Life of the World". Until coming here to Ukraine I had somehow managed to avoid the writings of the great Orthodox Russian emigre` to the U.S. Maybe I was either too young or too old for that fashion; maybe I've just always been too comfortable in my "Roman skin"? At any rate, I've read my second Schmemann book since being here and may just archive any such future gifts without so much as cracking the binding. The only place where, perhaps, we find common ground is in discarding the liturgical movement of the first half of the 20th century, as missing the point concerning the role of Divine Worship in fostering the Christian Life. 

Why so harsh? Well, maybe times have only gotten tougher since back when he wrote or maybe I don't see any reason why Western youth especially should "buy" his hard sell. I dare anyone to deny that Schmemann hasn't just put a spin on the Byzantine tradition, a spin which doesn't do it justice, which hasn't even scratched the surface of that reality. I can't see as he offers much of an antidote to what he and others claim is secularism. His description of the development or flow of the Byzantine Eucharistic Liturgy is to my experience of this year of celebrating here in Ukraine nothing short of contrived for Western consumption. His claim to not be writing a theological treatise on liturgy (hence the limitations of his discourse) does not excuse him from his resorting to little more than contrivance and a caricature of what is sublime and much more many faceted.

I have a Lebanese friend in Kyiv who is a proud Maronite and a lover of all things oriental, as in Middle East, as in the interplay of the various liturgical traditions which find their home in that part of the world, including the Byzantine, which Schmemann would be reflecting in its Slavic expression. My friend regularly frequents the Byzantine Liturgy in the absence of his own Maronite tradition. His own domestic personnel and many friends are Orthodox. They with him seem to grasp, as do some of the historians analyzing the Soviet period, that Slavic Byzantine Orthodoxy is quintessentially Marian and monastic. Regular lay faithful are immersed in an action which is rarely theirs in its fullness but which they live out primarily at home through fasting, penance and prayer in preparation for confession and Communion on the high holy days. Despite all his go-around Schmemann is claiming the aesthetic (?) or perhaps cultural greatness of a liturgical expression he claims superior to Western sobriety and our focus on the centrality of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Moreover, I think that Schmemann and many Westerners with him are jousting with windmills when it is talk about secularism, as if it were something worth choosing as a cultural alternative. Permit me to be so bold as to contend that what passes itself for secularism is no more than a euphemism for barbarism, for a lack of high culture in its simplest expressions of family piety and a genuine sense of the presence of God in our everyday lives; art, music, thought and the rest all flow from the "little log cabin", so to speak. To my way of thinking, not much is gained by labeling as something carrying weight, what is a denial or a void, that is, the loss of the sense of the presence of the Creator and Redeemer in our daily lives, which finds sublime expression in liturgy whether Western or Oriental, and whence draws strength and direction for the life of every day lived in Him.

In the first appendix to this Italian edition of his book, Schmemann spends time with holy water (so beloved to Slavs yet today) and, among other things, recommends holding fast to the old and elaborate Byzantine rituals for its blessing and use; he gives no quarter to the modern inclination to abbreviate and simplify things, but considers the old formulae as repositories of the teaching which can restore the proper order to things and order of the universe. I was talking to an otherwise quite "secularized", Western European woman, who told me of their Advent wreath at home and how each of the four Sundays leading to Christmas they light a candle. It is a vestige, but an important one, of a life of faith in our Savior-God born at Bethlehem. The tenuous light, the thoughtful and reflective light of one, two, three, four candles lit in the sanctity of her home is the bulwark of civilization. I don't think you necessarily have to study the whole manual to get the jist of what happens with the proper use of sacramentals like holy water or Advent wreathes.

It seems Switzerland is plagued these days by some young politician, who heads a party with the word "pirates" in its name and who has declared all-out war on all things religious. Tell me we are not talking about barbarism! The battle for culture must be fought on many fronts, but if we can be accused, as Church and Church leadership, of having made a big mistake in the last half century, it has been to withdraw from the battlefront of home and family, cutting ourselves off, if you will, from our base or supply lines. Too much devastates our intimacy and we lift not a hand in defense.

"Spinning" has been done on many sides and mostly for lack of understanding what the Council Fathers meant when they said that the Liturgy (for most ordinary Catholics that means Sunday Mass) is the "source and summit" of Christian existence. The dynamics of Christian existence are played out at home; they are graced, fortified and celebrated at Mass on the Lord's Day.

May Father Schmemann and his teaching rest in peace! May this Year of Faith be a time for the Church Militant to once again take up arms in defense of hearth and home. I hope and pray that part of the effort will include reclaiming sacred space and sobriety in our public worship, but never forgetting that home is the place also in the Roman Church to prepare a good Confession, thus preparing for "Christ to come and enter there".


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Friend-of-the-Bridegroom's Joy!

Every Country, every city has its peculiarities and Kyiv, Ukraine is no exception. Among those I have discovered here and which has confirmed itself with our entry into my second winter season here, is that Kyiv natives seem (to me at least) slow to don gloves and mittens. Where I note it especially is on seeing young dads out walking with small sons: cold, hand in hand, without gloves. If Mom were in charge the mittens would be on!

The glove thing has no importance except that it draws my attention and starts me on one of my favorite thankfulness meditations on the beauty of fatherhood and family. This old (me) friend-of-the-bridegroom has occasion to rejoice in one of the glories of life this side of Heaven, promise of the world to come!

These days YouTube has proposed to me in the right-hand column a couple documentaries on Charter Houses: one in Italy and the other in Portugal. Both short films were hopeful, upbeat and faith-filled despite the advanced age and small number of these Carthusian monks.  Theirs is a very hard life: I can't be tempted to join them because I'm already 20 years past the maximum age limit for admittance. Besides, I know from my youth that I'm not made for night vigils or eating just once a day, and for over 20 years now of rheumatism and arthritis, I also know that I could never keep to my cell! I must content myself with the joy which belongs to the friend-of-the-bridegroom. When every tear is wiped away, they and I hopefully will contemplate His Glory in that Day which knows no end.

So they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him." John answered and said, "No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said (that) I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease."
(John 3:26-30)

Among recent headlines we saw, both cussed and discussed, the decision within the greater Anglican Communion not to admit women as bishops. Many tears were shed and threats were made over what was termed an exclusion. I could not help but think of St. John the Baptist: "He must increase; I must decrease." Whatever happened to recognizing that joy which is indeed special to the friend-of-the-Bridegroom? Not only can't I have everything in life, but hasn't the Lord also willed ... for my joy?

Some more statistics have come out on decreasing numbers of committed Catholics: priests, sisters, brothers, seminarians in America. The anniversary celebration of the great miracle of the evangelization of the Americas by Our Lady at Guadalupe is fast approaching. Pray with me for a little kindness from the Mother of God, that she would smile on us once again and that our people would know the joy of the friend-of-the-Bridegroom. As priests, we image the Bridegroom for His Bride the Church; we do so by radiating the joy of the Baptist, who gladly bore witness to Him.

May this Advent draw us like humble shepherds to the manger to be fed with the only nourishment which can sustain us on life's journey. May we know the joy of the friend-of-the-Bridegroom!