Sunday, February 28, 2016

Getting Along

I am too young and too low in the corporate ladder to have my own office, but at the moment I share one with an engaging person who, when she is not getting her ex-husband arrested on federal offences, is an interest conversant. She can speak with substance about travel, music, food—seemingly everything except religion. Living in Texas I have the unusual experience of seeing one of two parts of the world where protestantism is still a major force in culture. 

Truth be told, I have an easier time discussing religion with Orthodox, Jews, and outright non-believers than with American protestants. A priest-friend who works in a chaplaincy related a similar experience and included Muslims in that category. Why? Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims belong to a received tradition which places them into a larger context; they belong to their tradition, they do not create it. A secular person who is religiously indifferent but not hostile, or who is open to beauty and history, can similarly dilate upon Church matters in a limited fashion. Even a soul searcher with a quiet, reflective viewpoint can be a companion in conversation. But rarely protestants. Why?

Precisely because the outlook between American protestantism and historical religions differ. Faith alone, Scripture alone, and Divine election position the individual before God, but do not bind the individual to a received teaching or a visible community. Belief becomes Jesus-and-me or the Bible-and-me. Any question or criticism is a personal question or criticism. The believer tends to latch on to specific ideas or Biblical verses relevant to their lives; one person I know, a divorcee, references "Biblical divorce" on account of an experience of adultery. It is as if creative thinking powers down and focus turns to one's personal status in matters of religion.

Traditionally, religion—Catholicism in particular—is the conforming of one's self to God. An individualistic outlook conforms God to the individual and makes God "accepting" rather than demanding. I would be open to deeper conversation with such protestants, but their religion is rarely formed by conventional Lutheran/Calvinistic/Presbyterian/Methodist/Whatever theology. "Christianity" began the moment I was "saved" usually.

What is one to do? I spend more time with the noble pagans.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Liturgy & Law

I had wanted, and still do want, to post something on the architecture of Salisbury Cathedral for the Sarum series but I temporarily wish to divert into the matter of liturgy and law. Marko asks, not unreasonably, why we cannot be satisfied with the 1962 Missal and just do "what is in the book"? I answer precisely because of the question!

The liturgical changes of the 20th century were not uniquely the result of any one factor, be it vulgar theological trends, bad taste, poor scholarship, or bureaucratic centralization. All these things can be found in Eastern and Western Christianity at previous points in history; the Greek liturgy was standardized and centralized centuries before the Roman rite. What is at the heart of the problem and of Marko's question is just how far the liturgy is subject to positive law.

Positive law is the yielding to proactive legislation rather than prohibition. Pius X, Pius XII, and Paul VI all enacted what might be called positive law, mandating something new which came, troublesomely, at the cost of something old. Confusingly, positive law does not have a very healthy or well established disciplinary history in Latin Christianity. Traditionally the law confirmed custom and received, established practices; the law protected the lex orandi of the Church. For example, St. Gregory VII demanded clerical celibacy in Latin Christianity, something that dated back to the fourth century in the Western Church, which had a stronger preference for this status. Similarly, St. Pius V's bulls promulgating the Tridentine books nodded to local traditions of at least two centuries of continuous use and explicitly stated that those books could only fall out of public use if the bishop and the entire chapter of canons unanimously agreed to adopt the Roman rule. The real change may well have come with the erection of the Congregation of Rites in 1588, which did not stop liturgical custom, but it certainly chilled it.

Custom is a law unto itself, as Aquinas surmises in a passage posted from the Summa in our previous discussion. In HJA Sire's Phoenix from the Ashes, a good work with many flaws, he rightly derides the extensive efforts of reactionaries in defending their use of pre-Conciliar Missals on legal grounds: Paul VI clearly meant to suppress the existing liturgy, even if he failed to do so in a precisely way; those who resisted were not right on canonical grounds, but they were right on moral grounds. According to The Banish Heart Cardinal Quiñones's psalter was used one Holy Week in Toledo; the locals instantly recognized the departure from the received rites and forcibly expelled the canons from the Tenebrae service. One wonders if some Spaniard wrote a dubium to the Congregation in Rome first.

One commentator remarked that the difference between tradition and antiquity is continuity of use. Continuity forms the practice of the faith, it forms the believer, and it frames the worship of God. Antiquity is at best a way of understanding elements of continuous tradition. A return to the Roman liturgy as it existed before Pius XII or Pius X is simply a return to the received continuity, which is also the more historically justified legal mind of the Roman Church and a departure from newfangled positive law. Is the worship of God something applicable to positive law in the modern sense? The most remarkable indictment of the new liturgy's relation to the law is that no one has ever made an effort to improve it, only to celebrate it more reverently. It was clearly an experimental rite with minor variations from what was displayed before the 1967 synod in the Sistine chapel. Despite this, it has not developed its own tradition or been in the least synthesized with the received tradition. Is not interest in restoring the old rite more reflective of the conventional mindset of the Church?

After all, who would want to cross those hot blooded Spaniards?


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Rite Vestments

Another parish embraces liturgical restoration:

Another church on the rite liturgical trajectory. The celebrant is a very sensible convert and a lover of Newman; the subdeacon was an experienced MC who trained a great number of the 1980s and 1990s old rite celebrants in the northeastern United States. I recognize them both from when I attended Mass with the St. Gregory Society in New Haven. Good to see them continue their work.

Keating’s Parthian Shots

One year ago Karl Keating, Esq. stepped down as president of the apologetics apostolate Catholic Answers. He founded the group in 1982 after plucking some unpleasantly anti-Catholic tracts out from beneath his windshield wiper blades. He became a full-time apologist in 1988 with the written endorsement of Archbishop Roger Mahony. Deciding that Fundamentalists were the greatest immediate threat to American Catholicism, he published the nearly 400-page Catholicism and Fundamentalism through Ignatius Press and focused his organization on correcting Fundamentalist-style Protestant objections to the Faith.

Ever since his retirement, Keating has focused his energies on his old loves of hiking, travel, and writing about the people who annoy him most. The last year and a half has proven to be a fruitful literary period for Keating, and his output already includes such extended essays as No Apology, Jeremiah’s Lament, and Anti-Catholic Junk Food, and two more full-length books (in excess of 300 pages each): Apologetics the English Way and The New Geocentrists. His book The Ultimate Catholic Quiz—“intended both for the individual reader (that means you) and for parish-based adult-education and RCIA programs” (source)—is due to be published next month.

Giving the bishop a pass?
Keating’s writing and speaking style has always been dry, bordering on the pedantic, and usually lacking any but the most abstract kind of humor. He wears an uncomfortable smile in most photographs, and in interviews he gives the impression of having a low-level obsessive personality disorder. His Catholicism and Fundamentalism is so boorishly focused on the history of American Evangelicalism that the reader is shocked when he actually starts talking about the theological errors supposedly under discussion.

In addition to being annoyed by Fundamentalists, Keating has a long-running dislike for Catholic Traditionalists. He and his Catholic Answers crew have focused many assaults on the traddy fringe for decades, inferring if not implying that to have any part of the Traditionalist movement is to be on a slippery slope down into anti-Semitism, sedevacantism, Feeneyism, and all around extremism. It is well known that the “Traditional Catholicism” forum on the Catholic Answers website has been ruled with an iron fist ever since its introduction about a decade ago.

His retirement has given Keating the time to gather his notes about the rad trads (no affiliation), especially his favorite traddy target, Robert Sungenis, M.A.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Officium Defunctorum

Please note that the usual page for out practice of reciting the Office of the Dead during penitential seasons is now running. You can list your intentions as specifically or vaguely as you wish.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Worth Remembering: Benedict Rebuffed in Germany

Nearly five years ago, on September 29, 2011, Pope Benedict arrived in his native Germany. Most of the bishops lined up to greet him refused to shake his clearly outstretched hand. Cdl. Kasper only grabbed his fingers and gave them a mild oscillation.

One wonders what effect this moment must have had on the German-born pope. Was this a watershed moment for Papa Ratzinger, realizing that his own clerical countrymen despised him? There is something pitiful about this frail old man in white almost magnetically repelling the men in black and red. Even in this low-quality video, you can sense the loneliness on the pope's face.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Papa Perón

¿Qué tal, padre Jorge?
Americans are justifiably irritated by the Roman bishop's shenanigans at the Mexican border, where he celebrated Mass and championed immigrants who come to the United States without legal documentation. The ordinary of the Eternal City even made the unprecedented move to broaching into electoral politics by condemning billionaire and Republican front-runner Donald Trump's desire to deport illegal immigrants as "un-Christian". While the Church is not without a history of intervening in political affairs either to secure the safety of the ecclesiastical structures or to deal with genuine abuses of other people (cf. efforts to hide Jews during the Holocaust), Bergoglio's foray does not really fit into either of these categories; the American Church is quite secure and fat in its place, and any dangers faced by illegal immigrants who are not refugees are ones entered by free volition. Mangling political affairs for one's own sake is behavior more fitting of a "Renaissance prince" than of a shepherd who "smells like the sheep."

One must not neglect the influence of Perónism on Bergoglio. Like all popular 20th century political movements, Perónism is a populistic movement which builds consensus by focusing on a common enemy. The synthesis of South American populism with the 20th century Society of Jesus produces a priest convinced of a dichotomy between those who receiving unfair treatment and their "moochers"—to borrow a term, ironically, from Ayn Rand.

If Bergoglio wants to "smell like the sheep" and influence American politics then perhaps he might have some words about Mr. Sanders, who seems determined the take money out of the hands who contributed to the collection basket and give it to millenniums who frequent independent coffee shops, or perhaps Mr. Rubio, the self-identified Catholic who said he would be willing to attend a gay wedding. Trump has his shortcomings, but his determination to recognize that the United States is a sovereign nation with defined borders is not one of them.

Should the Pope condescend to national affairs in the future I suggest he look to Leo the Great rather than to Leo X for inspiration.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Turn Back the Liturgical Clock

According to my ordo recitandi from the St. Lawrence Press today I must turn back my liturgical clock, if only a few hours.

Lectio libri S. Laurentii
The Angelus and Sunday Vespers continue at the normal time, but ferial Vespers are said by noon and typically Mattins and Lauds are anticipated the prior evening, which we recognize in the rites of the un-reformed Triduum and Paschal Mattins on Saturday evening. Before I tried this schedule I easily conceded that it was an accommodation to monks who wanted to cheat their fast and have their meal after Vespers. After having prayed the old way for four years now I see the value of the inversion in the reversed times; the Resurrection restores order and puts things the way they should be.

A "private Mass"?
The X in the right column for Monday indicates a votive Mass of the Dead may be sung this day. Votive Masses are prohibited during Lent and generally during Advent but the Roman Church did permit one Requiem Mass for deceased friends and benefactors to be celebrated on the first ferial day of the week with the accompanying Officium Defunctorum. The St. Lawrence ordo's abbreviation key indicates that the X signifies a "private Mass", however before 1960(2?) "private Mass" did not mean a low Mass celebrated in a sequestered environment, just a Mass other than the one canonically required for the day. A parish priest is only required to celebrate Mass on Sundays and Holy Days; religious orders are required to celebrate the full liturgy every day. A "private Mass" is a permitted special addition in either of those settings according to the old scheme of things. It really is a misnomer, given that a cardinal archbishop could celebrate a pontifical high Mass with full polyphony and it would be "private".

Has not the older liturgy a richness to it that encourages more effort on the part of the faithful?

Look for our usual Officium Defunctorum page in the near future. We will be praying the Office of the Dead on the first ferial day of each Lenten week for your intentions.

Also, buy a St. Lawrence Press ordo!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Introducing the Fathers

The Fathers need a genuine return to Church life and catechesis. We must not know merely what the Church Fathers believed but also how they believed. We have received doctrine from them through succeeding generations with the sensus fidelium intact, we pray. Several movements to reinvigorate interest in Patristic texts arose in the 19th and 20th century, among them the Oxford Movement and the Ressourcement component of the Nouvelle Théologie. The latter group, as well as the 20th century liturgical reformers and certain German speaking writers, selectively read the Church Fathers to advance novel concepts. A more genuine return to Patristics transpired in English Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as in the Orthodox Church. While the revival has not led to any significant changes at the parish level it has precipitated publishers to print affordable volumes of the Fathers. St. Vladimir's Seminary is one such publisher.

St. Vladimir generally puts out a good product, a faithful translation accompanied by a moderate introduction from a qualified academic. Their volumes from St. Cyprian of Carthage are introduced by Dr. Allen Brent, a leading professor of theology at King's College and the Lateran University. While one might think an introduction to a Church Father might merit a short biography and an outline of the work about to be read. Dr. Brent supplies these necessities and more. No fewer than three times in his edition of On the Church does Brent delve into the consequence of Cyprian's writing for the Papacy. Why? Because "Clearly Cyprian's theology of the Church seems to render unnecessary a pope of Rome as the guarantor of the unity of the Church." Brent writes off Cyprian's short and almost easily missed exegesis of Matthew 16:18 as a lingering foible from his pagan mindset, which, in the "tradition of Tertullian and Irenaeus.... made the See of Rome analogous to that of the emperor as princep, or as first citizen and leader of the Senate." Both in the introduction and in the actual text Brent rambles about the supposed forgery of the later version of the the purportedly papalistic text by proto-Ultramontanists as hypothesized by Edward Benson, father of Robert Hugh Benson, while acknowledging that other commentators believed Cyprian may have modified the text when his address reached a different audience. While I am sure St. Vladimir's is pleased that Dr. Brent penned his gloss of St. Cyprian, but I am equally sure they read past his equation of Anglican ecclesiology with Greek and in contrast to Roman.

Brent's dodgy ideas do not stop there. He goes on to lament that Cyprian "has not the fruits, if such they be, of modern literary criticism of the Fourth Gospel, which would see the Petrine passages, principally John 21, as the later imposition of a hierarchical principal in which Peter as a named individual receives the ministry of teaching and preserving the flock." In contrast to this "later imposition" of authority, "Many scholars would argue that Paul's early communities were charismatic" and "self-authenticating" coteries "united by the same Spirit." An honest question for Dr. Brent from someone who read History at two respected universities: just what is a self-authenticating community in the Spirit? Rather than answering a reasonable question, Brent passes another question: "Why cannot therefore the Church as the body of Christ be understood as such a self-authenticating movement of the Spirit, creating new communities without hierarchy, in which every Spirit filled believer receives the power to absolve?"

A more prudent question might be: why do men who do not trust the texts of the Gospels still, in one form or another, dedicate their lives to some fluid concept of Christianity which would render them irrelevant if taken to its full conclusion? The Holy Spirit does not blow where ever it will in the loose sense Brent asks it to. The Holy Spirit came once at Pentecost and is passed on by the Church, which is a community authenticated by the Spirit, not by itself.

I am deeply disappointed that St. Vladimir is publishing this sort of scholarship in their Popular Patristics series. Hopefully their seminary instruction is more traditional.

Dr. Brent is now a priest in the Ordinariate.

Fatima, Chiliasm, and Russia—“Oh My (Jesus)!”

I have rarely paid much attention to the apparitions in Fatima or in other places, but a recent conversation with a devoted priest and Fatima’s upcoming centennial has gotten me reconsidering some of the things said there by the Blessed Virgin. The transcription of her discourse on war by Sr. Lucia is of particular interest to many Fatima devotees:
If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The [First World] war is going to end; if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI.... In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.
The “period of peace” has been interpreted many ways, some reaching absurd heights. Even though the context clearly refers to peace in terms of a rest from war and military aggression, many interpret it as a worldwide conversion of men to the True Faith. “So, the period of peace to be given to mankind can only mean the peace of Christ reigning in the hearts of men,” says one commentator.

This borders on the ancient error of Millenarianism or Chiliasm, which posited that Christ would return bodily to earth and reign gloriously but carnally from Jerusalem for one thousand years before the Resurrection and Final Judgment. While the Fatimite Millennials do not say that the Second Coming will come before the “period of peace,” some of them argue for the rise of the Great Catholic Monarch who will rule over this period. This monarch is a French figure predicted by a few saints, but never given much credence by Church authorities.

It is more reasonable to think that the prophesied “period of peace” will be a more worldly kind of peace: a cessation from war but probably without a revival of anything resembling Christendom. Russia will be converted—supposedly to the Catholic Faith, and not to Russian Orthodoxy—which will certainly be a miracle all of its own.

Will this actually happen? Is Fatima only a private revelation that can be ignored? Did the popes heavily edit all of the three shepherd children’s messages so that we don’t really know what all Mary said? Oh, these are all questions far above my paygrade.

I would, however, enjoy having an excuse to be rid of the “Oh my Jesus” prayer at the end of every Rosary decade. The church ladies are unable to pray it aloud without infusing the opening phrase with as much emotion as their mantilla-draped hearts can muster. (The Portuguese original begins with “Ó meu bom Jesus,” but the official Latin text starts with “Domine Iesu,” stripping out some of the latent sentimentality. Let’s fix the English according to the textum Latinum!) However, as long as I accept the longstanding tradition that the Second Eve bestowed the Rosary to the Church by means of a private revelation, I suppose must accept her right to amend it by the same means 700 years later.

St. Dominic, do your thing!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Bloggers Bloviating about Abandoning the Great Commission

Think what you want about Chris Ferrara and Mark Shea as writers (I don't care much for either), but they restrain themselves admirably in this debate for the Argument of the Month forum. It is worth viewing in its entirety, even if just to watch the occasional interruptions to the debate, as when everyone present stops to say a Hail Mary for someone they just learned is dying in a hospital.

This is a good topic for discussion, and one which tends to get ignored even by well-intentioned men.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Painted Church of Lindsay, Texas

About an hour and a half north of Dallas sits St. Peter Catholic Church of Lindsay, Texas. It is one of the famous "painted churches" of Texas, a tradition thought up by German and Czech immigrants who wanted to lavishly decorate their parishes on a budget. Most of these churches can be found between Austin and Houston, but St. Peter's is very much in the opposite direction, closer to the Oklahoma border.

From the photos I've seen of the other painted churches, St. Peter's seems to be uniquely patterned with geometric shapes, and since its founding the parish has been able to afford a decent set of stained glass windows to add to the decor. The current building dates back to 1918 after it was rebuilt from a tornado strike.

St. Peter's was brought to Mr. Grump's attention when a priest wandered in to a cigar shop being frequented by His Traddiness and yours truly. Fr. Smokey was kind enough to regale us with tales and photographs of a few beautiful Texas churches. I decided to devote a Sunday morning for the road trip. A few of my own photos are below.

Parking lot entrance. St. Peregrine sits to the right. The church is easily the largest structure in the whole town.
The main altar. Everything behind the altar (window excluded) is painted.
A wider view of the sanctuary, including the pulpit and abat-voix.
Mary's altar. At the far right, you can see a cylindrical speaker painted to match the wall.
A rather strange interpretation of St. Joseph and the Christ Child.
A bit of stained glass in the Marian altar corner.
One of the colorful ceiling patterns.
A side aisle.
A view of the organ and choir loft. The choir was quite good.
Above the sanctuary.
The small but cozy baptistery.
One of the Stations of the Cross.
Part of a series of scenes from the life of St. Benedict.
A view from the rear.
Bell tower and front entrance.
There's plenty more to see that I haven't included. It's amazing what a farming community can put together when it has a mind to, and it makes you wonder why us city folks put up with such bad architecture in our parishes.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Candlemas: For God's Sake

source: St. Dionysius Monastery
A quick reflection on the example of Our Lady, which we commemorated with today's feast. The Blessed Virgin was born without the "stain of original sin" and had no strict need to purify herself according to Leviticus ch. 12, which mandated a period of purification on account of the ritual uncleanliness of childbirth resulting from sin. I am uneasy with those who assign to the Virgin an innate inner knowledge of Divine things or that Our Lord gave her detailed lectures on theology. Personally, I bet she was as stunned at the Annunciation as any of us would be, but that the grace with which she was full helped her accepted her role in Salvation history with an eager quickness no other person has ever been capable of. She did not have to visit the Temple, purify herself, and offer the sacrifice of two turtle doves. She may not have been aware of her place, but her instinct for love of God triumphed over any given probity to self-reflection that we lesser creatures have. She knew nothing other than the love of God and love for God. Her fiat was not a passive surrender; it was an open acceptance. Ecce ancilla Domini means more properly "Behold the slave of the Lord." 

We can concretely learn from this. We can learn not to serve God out of obligation for precepts or expectation of certain promises and graces in return. Let us do whatever we do out of love for God, trusting that He will look kindly upon us as He did her. I tire of hearing 2 Corinthians 3:6 abused ("the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life) to justify every inaction and act of self-congratulatory neglect of one's duties. Our Lady is the embodiment of what this passage from St. Paul really means. The Law was meant for those mired in sin, meant to force them to behave according to the natural law and to know God at a basic level. The Spirit of the Law expects far more from us than the written word of the Law does because it is more "glorious" than that which preceded it (2 Cor 3:11). The Virgin epitomizes the realization of the letter of the Law with the Spirit that Christ brought precisely because the Law was not enough. The same presence of Christ within her as a mother is available to us through the Sacraments.

We will never be as she is, "more honorable than the cherubim and by far more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim", but we can follow her example by doing whatever we do for God's sake rather than our own.