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!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Take and Read!

A Bitter Trial 
Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes 
Expanded Edition Edited by Alcuin Reid 
Kindle Edition (2011-10-20). 

For some odd reason the conversion of St. Augustine and the prompting he received came to my mind as I was reading and choosing a title for my little review. Although this particular little book (Thank you, Ignatius Press!) does not rate being categorized as anywhere near sublime or sacred, it has its points and may just be what one or another not so hardened iconoclast needs to read in order to get the process of softening his or her heart started.

Evelyn Waugh is at his best here arguing in defense of tradition and doing so very humbly as if it were only for England, seemingly willing to let the Continent and America go their own way. Waugh makes graphic and historical what the Holy Father means by rupture. 

By the same token, in order to recover our roots and mend the rift, it is clear that fostering the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman Rite becomes the only sane alternative to storming the castle or setting up battlements. Waugh bemoaned the loss of the pre-Pius XII Holy Week: whether we'll find our way there for kick-starting the organic development of the Liturgy or from some place else, the voice of Evelyn Waugh needs to play into the mix not as a minority report but as the voice of reason.

I take heart from the new English of the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal and even more so from what looks like a renaissance of sacred music and chant. The arbitrary and what Waugh called "rowdy" has to be set aside. 


Just Baffled

Simon Called Peter 
In the Footsteps of a Man Following God 
IGNATIUS PRESS    SAN FRANCISCO  (Kindle Edition). 2010. 

Every once in a while, I pick up a book on someone's recommendation which I absolutely dislike. That is not the case with this little book of meditations on Gospel passages referring to St. Peter in relationship to His Lord. For some reason, however, the book baffles me; I cannot identify with it although I appreciate its wealth of spiritual intimacy, let us say.

If anyone else has read it or has it on the shelf to read sometime soon, I would be grateful when you are done if you would share your thoughts. I will never regret the expense nor the time spent reading, but I will never go back to it for homily ideas or for reassurance. For some odd reason Dom Lepori's Peter and mine, if they are the same Rock upon which Christ built His Church, don't seem to be on the same wave length. As I say, a lovely little book, but I find it hard to reconcile Dom Lepori's choice with that of the Lord Jesus. I must attempt my own profile of St. Peter, I guess. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

With a Special Thought to the Older Priest

Pope Benedict XVI  
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives: 3
 Image. Kindle Edition. (2012-11-21).

"This short book on Jesus’ infancy narratives, which I have been promising to write for some time, is at last ready to be presented to the reader. It is not a third volume, but a kind of small “antechamber” to the two earlier volumes on the figure and the message of Jesus of Nazareth."

Impulse buying had me purchasing the Holy Father's latest on the very day of its availability and, well, I just couldn't put it down. Excuse my particular recommendation for my contemporaries and older, but, with the sort of thing we were generally exposed to as exegesis back in the seminary, this book, maybe more than the other two, comes to me as refreshing and authoritatively reassuring.

Some of the first day reviews of his commentary attempted sensationalism, but in point of fact Pope Benedict's Volume 3 contributes more to one's appreciation of the historicity of the Gospels than did his preceding two. There is no debunking or iconoclasm to be found.

Read it if you can this Advent! I think it will put new light and color into your Christmas.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Last Judgment

The first reading for this the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, from Daniel 12:1-3, stirred up a few thoughts and reminded me of another powerful angel from the Apocalypse (from the back wall of the Cathedral of St. Volodymyr, here in Kyiv) which dominates the consciousness of many who live in this city:

‘At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who mounts guard over your people. There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.’

Just recently, the Holy Father presided at Vespers for the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo's fresco work in the Sistine Chapel. There the Last Judgment Scene dominates in incomparable fashion, but the whole ceiling draws us into a constellation very different from that of every day. There we are part, we are immersed in, joined to something monumental, yes, greater than us, but yet to which we very much belong. The Sistine Chapel acclaims the glory of God while affirming our dignity and destiny.

The Last Judgment in the Cathedral of St. Volodymyr, the Orthodox Cathedral not far from where I live and just up from the nearest metro station, is painted on the back wall over the main portal, confronting you, especially that angel with the scroll and the scales glowering back at you as you leave church after having made your visit and said your prayers. Victor Vasnetsov painted much more recently than Michelangelo (1862-1882) and maybe felt the need for a more deliberate confrontation of the sinner in his day and time? 19th Century Kyiv certainly wasn't Papal Rome at the time of Michelangelo, but maybe the two artists just chose different approaches to the same humanity, which since the dawn of time is steadfastly called by the Lord and His Church to adhere to the fundamental message: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel!" 

What can we say or how does either monumental fresco-ed rendition of the theme for this article of faith touch you or me today? Right at the beginning of what has otherwise been a truly enlightening book on the Crusades, the author, Thomas Asbridge shocked me by playing strange to man's fear of damnation, as if it were no more than a quirk of the Middle Ages. While he may have indeed written a definitive history and advanced the cause of scholarship concerning the period of the Crusades, Asbridge lifts the corner of the veil of his own life's light to show little more than darkness and confusion in his obliviousness to his own ultimate call and the profundity of the nature of his personal accountability before God, the Judge of the Living and the Dead.

Let today’s Gospel from Mark 13:24-32 speak to you again:
Jesus said, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
  ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
  ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’

There is nothing idle about living within the context of eternity, focused on that day and hour which is as yet hidden. Rather, human industriousness at any level below that of living and working within, as a part of, that constellation where we are part of God's life sells us short. Noah's flood has past and we live in a world destined for fire. To ignore that or deny it probably explains best the sense of the scowl on the face of Vasnetsov's angel.

As another Church Year draws to a close, we are called to accountability, to make the needed adjustments in our trajectory, such that we remain within that constellation where our Creator and Savior has placed us.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

A little adjunct to yesterday's post

My friend "New Catholic" gave my last post, on the "realism" I see lacking in the demands which Bishop Fellay and/or SSPX put on the Holy Father, some additional publicity, which provoked the whirlwind which one has come to expect from a popular forum like RORATE CAELI. I cannot imagine what he must have edited out!

Yesterday I saw a brief video review of a book by an Italian family author of historical works and social commentary entitled (in English translation) THE BORGIAS - The Black Legend. From his study of the Vatican's Secret Archives the author wants to vouch for the fact that Lucretia never poisoned anyone and died piously as a member of a confraternity... Is hindsight always better? Which authority trumps all others and allows a man to rehabilitate somebody who was part of a story which kept certain apartments in the Apostolic Palace closed for centuries?

I remember a discussion of thirty years ago (with my righteous friend from the post) about discernment, Divine Will/vocation and Divine Providence. He, at the time, was agonizing over choices he thought he had to make and asked me how I was facing the situation. I told him simply that I wasn't facing anything in that matter: that things just happen in my life, really, thanks be to God. God's gentle motions in my life have always required little more than grateful acquiescence on my part and then an unconditional, generous espousal of the lot entrusted to me. Problems arise when I have felt obliged to make a decision or to say: "no, that my life is not going this way". He looked back at me in disbelief and we never touched on the topic again.

I get the impression from the comments on my post that few would doubt my respect for Archbishop Lefebvre and SSPX; I'll let them stare back in disbelief when I say that I am confident that God is running the show, despite the evil He may be permitting, and that I don't need an apology before I give myself entirely to the cause cum et sub Petro, that I dare not claim to win any points sine qua non to be able to make my contribution to the body Catholic for the sake of the salvation of the world. 

Catholic catechesis has been in shambles (a point not to be forgotten, thank you, LONG SKIRTS) for more than 2 generations, but the loss of the sense of the presence of God in our families, the loss of a home-rooted Catholic culture regardless of whether the family is integral or not, disfunctional or not, this is the battle front.

Be realistic and come home! Otherwise, pick up your marbles and move on...?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pick up your Marbles and Move on!

I was trying to decide whether it might be better to title this little reflection "Rules of Engagement", but that sounded too bellicose. Being at a loss all the way around, maybe I should not even attempt to gather and share my thoughts on RORATE CAELI's post of Bishop Fellay's All Saints talk and the commentary engendered by it over there (see Relevant). One of the comments in the combox alluded to the possibility that the missing component in the equation is "honesty": the contributor, who supports SSPX, would claim that many who hold fast to the Lefebvrian position today want no part of Rome or of obeying any authority; they make it up for themselves as they go along. I don't want to believe that possibility and hence the following little attempt to explain why I think that what is missing might simply be tagged "realism".

A goodly number of years ago a priest friend of mine became embroiled in a conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors on an issue of simple justice. My friend is the last person in the world I would ever class as selfish or self-serving; he was always on the side of the underdog no matter what it cost him personally; he could not tolerate hypocrisy, dishonestly, or aggression by the stronger against the weaker. He wanted little for himself really. At some point, he found himself with others in an assignment where all were expected to serve at the whim of the superior. When he balked and protested directly to the superior on his own behalf and on behalf of his colleagues, the superior resorted to pressure tactics, manipulation and verbal abuse. My friend was soon moved to another assignment for refusing to back down. That is all noble and fine. In our imperfect world we often run across similar circumstances. As we are not talking about a marital relationship but rather a work or professional rapport, these things can stand in a broader context and remain irreconcilable though not damning, as the two people must not necessarily live and work together in our big bright world. I know of lots of people in the world of work who change jobs in order to withdraw from an unhealthy or disagreeable environment. If you think about it, this explains partly the Church's discipline for priests being ordained to the service of a specific diocese and yet for good reasons (or not) having the possibility of changing their diocese of incardination, of finding a new place to belong.

This is where my discourse about realism comes in. Tragically let us say, even after being separated from the situation of injustice, my friend would not relent; he continued to seek consequences from others higher up to punish a man who had treated him and many others unjustly. No one denied the truth of his claims but no one was willing to proceed and pronounce judgment; that's not how things work. Realistically speaking, we can say that life this side of heaven is that way. I see parallels in the Lefebvrian case against Vatican II, which cannot come near to claiming that kind of clarity or cogency of my friend's case against his former boss.

To my mind, no one can seriously defend the thesis that the fathers of the council upset the apple-cart. It is utter folly to claim that if Blessed John XXIII had never called the Council we would not have known the tribulation of these years. Who knows if we would be better or worse off today? Despite liturgical abuse, despite the false irenicism distorting ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, despite the inadequacy of teaching on religious liberty, democracy or social justice, the alternative closed-ranks defense would have obviated the need for debate on the place of the Church in the world of our time as we would all be required to wear our specific clothing and carry proof of the tax due for being different than the rest in society. This last statement was unfair simply because we don't know how things might have gone.

When Bishop Fellay says that he can't go any farther than he has already gone, I guess I'd like to introduce him to my righteous friend who could not forego insisting on seeing his former boss disciplined for being an oaf (the man's defects did not touch anything regarding the 6th or 9th Commandments). Granted, a few things have gone wrong over the past fifty years and some gravely so, but book burnings have never been popular events and never seen to achieve the results that time and careful scholarship obtain.  Church history keeps coming back to Gioachino de' Fiori and Savonarola... I can't see them ever fairing as well as St. Joan of Arc. I'm sorry!

Monday, November 5, 2012


A couple things recently read have gotten me to mull over again for myself the whole rupture vs. continuity business and not only as it regards our order of worship. When the Holy Father opts for the hermeneutic of continuity it is not only a healthy choice (like fresh fruit in your diet over pastries) it is the only reasonable option. There is no alternative to living within the tradition, dialoguing with it and allowing it to chart my course through life, be "I" or "my" - "me" or "we", as in Church. According to family oral tradition, the men of my great grandmother's generation who heeded the slogan "Go west, young man!" invariably came back from California to the prairie and to the family they had abandoned, if only to recover their bearings. For us I would venture to say that living in continuity is remaining grafted on the vine. Am I saying that a different Vatican II might have spared us the heartache of these last 50 years? No, "instant" is not a category with importance for assessing things (when in the history of the Church has an ecumenical council not also brought trial with it?) and perhaps the "winnowing" which has brought so much to light in our day, will ultimately bear fruit for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel.

The first read was a reflection and plea by Fr. Mark Kirby on his blog, Vultus Christi, to get on with the reform of the liturgical reform by finally putting legislation in place to curb abuse and promote the reform already now overdue. Father's approach called back to mind for me an important book of Laszlo Dobszay, published postumously: "The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite" (T&T Clark, 2010, London). Even more so today, I guess I would hold for Dobszay over Kirby and namely in the sense that there are more arguments in favor of returning to where we left off in 1962 and setting forth organically the development of the Roman Rite. I say this doubting whether something of the sort is even doable. The Holy Father's expression of hope in the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the rite seems more down to earth and promising as a way forward or out of our malaise.

The other thought comes from a book I'm reading and addresses an issue regarding Church life more generally, in so far as it touches upon the quite commonly experienced 20th Century touting of something called renewal, to be preferred (seemingly) over reform, as the way forward for the Church in the midst of social change. Even when the possibility of reform is conceded we can say that for more than fifty years now there has been an opinion abroad concerning reform, which claims it as something other than restoration or regrouping, if you will. This book I'm about half way through by Borys A. Gudziak, "Crisis and Reform, The Kyivan Metropolitanate, The Patriarchate of Constantinople, and The Genesis of the Union of Brest" (Harvard University Press, 1998, Cambridge, Mass.) goes about setting the world stage for the Ruthenian Orthodox revival in the late 16th Century. My mentors here in Ukraine recommended the book to me as a "must read", if I am going to understand something of the origins of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. I am grateful to the author, now Apostolic Exarch in France, for the gift of a copy of the same.

Gudziak adheres to a very popular school of historians, which saw parallels between the various reform movements in the sixteenth century and the twentieth century's popular sentiment on how to face social upheaval... I don't see it that way. These popular historians or theoreticians are in many ways enlightened folks; those within the Catholic community at the time of the Council would break or did break with the past, star-trekking into the brave new world with their own particular canon and interpretation of the documents of Vatican II. Some are still alive today and some are terribly unhappy with the rereading of the Council in continuity with the whole Tradition which is already well under way. Gudziak's authorities on the Reformation do likewise projecting popular 20th Century strategies or analyses back into the 16th Century.

I distance myself from this school mostly because of my own reading of Hubert Jedin on various aspects of the Council of Trent, done back when I was writing my doctoral dissertation. Jedin held his ground, though immersed in that mid-twentieth century climate which, I think, strove to turn its back on our whole historical patrimony given the horrors of two world wars, Soviet and otherwise godless violence as ongoing, and more. Many of Jedin's contemporaries readily criticized the Council of Trent as an inadequate Catholic response to a world in flux. Jedin did not buy this thesis but rather explained that the way to the future, back then and now, cannot rest elsewhere but on firm foundations which cannot be traced out and built new but must be those of the past; I reform and face the present by retrenching as did the Tridentine Church. To say it another way, no matter how well-read, no matter how smart or clever you might be, if your present is shaky or uncertain, the only way into the future lies in recovery of your past. Hermeneutic of continuity?

Do you remember some years back the big push in radio advertising in favor of a program called "Hooked on Phonics"? The advertisers were targeting parents and grandparents to sell them a tutorial in good old-fashioned phonics, as a way to recover English language skills which schools were no longer imparting. Common sense and/or popular wisdom forbids imagining a world disconnected from its past. God forbid that a faith which comes to us from the Apostles should get caught up in the rupture illogic of abandoning our past or cutting ties with our roots!

I hope and pray that during this Year of Faith parents especially will get caught up in the "back to basics" movement in matters religious. Gudziak describes the perplexity of Polish-Protestant and Ruthenian-Orthodox nobility whose sons chose Roman Catholicism back in the last decades of the 16th Century. I have no doubt that the Lord in His great mercy will not leave His flock untended and will find ways of gathering in a new generation. We owe it to the Lord and to His and our children to do right by them by losing no more time in getting back to basics. I think the liturgical reform or restoration will take care of itself and the Council will bear the desired fruit in a still very unsettled world to the extent that we turn to the Lord, living our faith and gladly sharing it with all of those who are given to us.


Friday, November 2, 2012

My Year of Faith Project

So far my sharing in the "Flocknotes" project to read the whole catechism during the year of faith has been coming nicely (cf. My resolution post) and I haven't missed a day. Today's section on the characteristics of faith should or could be more ingrained in people's lives or their perceptions of what the true significance of life with God in Christ implies. Here's my favorite one:

"Perseverance in faith
162     Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: "Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be "working through charity," abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church."

It gives a much more articulate, a richer sense to what me mean by saying that I, you, we, she or he is a "practicing Catholic". Faith is not once acquired and then kept, but must be worked at in strict companionship with the Church. Too many people today neglect perfunctory Mass attendance on Sundays and Holy Days; they never confess their sins; they reduce the moral code to something less than "be nice, if you can". I guess they can claim Baptism, but all else seems to be on their own terms. It does not square with N. 162 of the Catechism, which is not only an authority, but to my mind is also just too evident a truth. 

I fear that our cemeteries (thinking of All Souls Day today) are all too full of memorials to folks who wrote their own ticket in this life, not managing even to be nice much of the time. There has been and continues to be much talk about "secularization", as if that particular bane were the start and not the last nail in the lid of the coffin. It is hardly since yesterday that, to quote my paragraph of the day, "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith."  

 It is a good and holy thing we do, when today and throughout November especially, but always and everywhere throughout the year, we never cease to beg that God show mercy to all who after death find themselves yet not washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, who find themselves less than ready to follow in His train, who find themselves in Purgatory. 

The teaching and exhortation for each of us, encouraging in the great Solemnity of yesterday, All Saints, and in the sober admonition of today, All Souls, is to waste no more time in finally getting around to practicing our faith with all that implies in terms of keeping the white garment of Baptism spotless, in terms of keeping the flame of faith alive in our hearts. Perseverance in faith is rudimentary, timeless in its challenge and a long way from what might be considered the more sophisticated issues tied to combating that polysyllable: secularization.

Reading the catechism each day isn't exactly nourishing our faith with Scripture, but it can bear fruit too in restoring or improving our practice, which serves our perseverance in the faith which will ultimately lead us to the joys of heaven.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saints and Sinners

It's almost November, but never too late?

Back a couple years, reading a book by Father Benedict Groeschel, I encountered his unqualified enthusiasm for Blessed Angela of Foligno and his judgment concerning the nature of her contribution to Church Reform. Such seeds planted, they eventually bear fruit, in me at least, in a curiosity which grows and knows no particular rest. Hence, nearly two years back I added a collection of her mystical writings entitled "Divine Consolation" to my Kindle library and began reading on and off. I am grateful for the direct exposure to the writings of this great woman, also because she is as unflinching as anyone I have ever read in her embrace of the Cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What I really like about Angela is that she seems less gushy or amorous than other mystics I have attempted to grasp, even if the chapter of her writings on visions remains for the most part inaccessible to my sympathies. The first chapters or books, as they are called, before the visions, however, are mighty and a real challenge to all of us who, alas falling short of evidencing heroic virtue, are not quite ready to be declared blessed, let alone saints for universal emulation. I am still working through the book of her consolations but with November already near and, with it, our duty to pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory during that month, I wanted to quote her.

Lots of folks today give the impression of indifference when it comes to the topic of heaven and hell as it applies both to those who precede them in death and to them personally. Our world seems neither to seek God nor to fear Him. An indication of this, sadly, is that people are not troubled enough to pray for the dead, that is to be concerned in terms of the eternal salvation of others and for that matter of themselves, especially in terms of confession of sin, sincere repentance and firm purpose of amendment. The overall decline in Mass offerings for the repose of the souls of loved ones is a concrete indication of what might be classed ignorance of duty, but no doubt stemming from tepidity.

Over 700 years separate us in time from Blessed Angela of Foligno, but not only is her focus on the Passion and Death of Jesus timeless, but once we get over the shock of her radical approach, I think we find ourselves looking at a woman who could just as well have been born in our time. If you read her with an open mind, she will draw you beyond the a priori exclusions typical of our day which keep us from trembling before the Eternal Judge or seeking before all others the Face of the Beloved Bridegroom. So far, the following passage expresses for me the quintessence of what is to be gleaned in terms of consolation from our faith, if properly grounded. We must remember that the road to perdition is wide and many follow it; the path to life and light is less traveled; it is the way of the Cross.

"Upon the fourth day of the great week I was meditating with grief upon the death of the Son of God, striving to empty my mind of all other things in order that my soul might be the more absorbed in this Passion and Death. Being, therefore, wholly occupied with the endeavor and desire to cast out every other matter from my mind in order that I might the more speedily and completely think only on this, I heard the divine voice saying within my soul, “My love for you was no deceit.” This word was as shocks of mortal pain to my soul, for the eyes of my mind were instantly opened, and I saw that what He said was very true. I saw the working and effect of that delight; I saw all that the Son of God had done for the sake of this love, and I saw what Christ Crucified had borne in life and in death for the sake of this deep and unspeakable love. This is the reason why I understood that it was indeed true that His love for me had been no deceit or jest, but love most perfect and profound. Then I perceived just the opposite in myself, that is to say, I knew that I loved Him deceitfully and not truly. For this reason I suffered such mortal pain and intolerable grief that I thought I was about to die." [Divine Consolation (Great Christian Mystical Writings), Bl. Angelina of Foligno, English translation: Bro. Smith SGS – Kindle Highlight Loc. 2725-33.]

Many things might separate me from the love of Christ, but essentially Angela says it rightly when she experiences "mortal pain and intolerable grief" over recognizing that she had loved her Lord "deceitfully and not truly". You might say that our world, either you or I, tend to "flat-line it", no heartbeat, if you will, non-responsive as we are to the wondrous Savior Who gave His life for us upon the Cross.

I wish everyone were moved by the "Dies Irae", moved personally to sincere and profound repentance, moved to beg the Lord to spare us and all our family and friends from the fires of hell, and through His abundant mercy to hasten the purification and take unto Himself the souls of the departed in Purgatory. Bl. Angela of Foligno may help you comprehend the love of Christ Crucified for you and for me, "love most perfect and profound"; she may, please God, open our eyes to the knowledge that we have "loved Him deceitfully and not truly"; she may ask God for a share in which she suffered, namely "such mortal pain and intolerable grief"... cause really of her consolation and unshakable joy.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orientation: A Linear Plea

Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente 
et venimus cum muneribus adorare Dominum.

At the risk of being accused of jumping the gun not only on Christmas but on Epiphany as well, I just had to post this video and my thoughts thereby channeled or provoked (spawned?).

Not all that long ago I was visiting with a European who knows his way around Rome and who for reasons I cannot really recall all of a sudden just "dumped out his sack" of frustration concerning what the (by his definition) "simple once-in-a-lifetime pilgrim" experiences when he or she assists at a Papal Mass in St. Peter's Square. The phrase which stuck with me was "... and they never even get to see the Pope's face!" At the time, I thought it best to let this tempest just pass. I couldn't really even grasp why I had been chosen for this outpouring of solicitude for the satisfaction or edification of Joe and Martha Pilgrim in to Rome for the week.

At some months of distance from this blast and having watched not few videos of Papal Liturgies in St. Peter's Square in the month of October, I've drawn a couple of conclusions for myself. 

1. Very few of us can pretend to go to Rome and be guaranteed a close-up of the Holy Father, let alone a personal exchange with him; that is the blessing of the visual media and simple mathematics. We can get a close-up of the Holy Father most any day at home on EWTN. As far as the liturgy goes, the question might rather be whether there aren't too many close-ups. I can remember during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II when people heatedly debated whether the camera wasn't too indiscreet and prying.

2. "Intimacy" is not the first word which comes to mind when one thinks of Papal Liturgy whether on the Square or inside the Basilica. Rather, the word "monumental" comes to mind. In a sense, if all the people around you cooperate and are themselves quiet and recollected, it can be an optimal ambience for assisting at the Holy Sacrifice.

I could draw more conclusions, but I will stay with these couple and then simply state that Enlightenment or no Enlightenment if the Liturgy is first and foremost God's work, then I think we could better express that by making it all more linear. Maybe the Square is not the place for celebrating the Eucharist. Maybe there is no such thing as "good seating" at Mass. Maybe the action itself is more important than the mortal celebrant of Christ's action.

The only "definitely not maybe" in all of this for me over the last few years has become the priority for recovering the orientation of the Eucharistic Prayer or Canon. Once we've completed the Liturgy of the Word, there is no better way to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ's action than when we all turn toward Him. If the church building itself is oriented, then, toward geographic east and if not then toward the image of the Crucified One at "liturgical east". Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente et venimus cum muneribus adorare Dominum. In most parish churches, smaller houses of worship and chapels, the Tabernacle becomes part of that focus. "Gathering around", if you will, cannot be other than less than optimal.

The new English translation of the Roman Missal has bound us more closely again to the Scriptural roots of our liturgical formulations. The ongoing recovery of a true sense of the sacred in all that we sing and hear sung in church is key as well. Taking the hectic out of the Communion procession by returning to the rail is a hoped for blessing and when and where possible, we need, celebrant and community, to recover our focus on Christ through worshipping ad Orientem.