Friday, April 29, 2016

Hymn for a Creationist

St. Peter of Verona receives the Triple Crown: as virgin, martyr, and doctor.

In the twenty-seventh year of Thomas of Aquino's life, his fellow Dominican Peter of Verona was murdered by Milanese Cathars, against whom he had vociferously preached for years. The great contention between Peter and the Cathars was the creation of the world by God instead of the Devil or some Devil-like deity. The orthodox Peter contended that the world was good, the heretics that it was evil or thoroughly corrupted.

Eleven years after this gruesome martyrdom, Thomas made a pilgrimage to the saint's tomb—for Peter had been canonized less than a year after his death—and composed the following eulogy. It would later be engraved in a slab near the sepulcher.

Praeco, lucerna, pugil Christi, populi, fideique,
Hic silet, hic tegitur, jacet hic mactatus inique.
Vox ovibus dulcis, gratissima lux animorum.
Et verbi gladius gladiis cecidit Catharorum.
Christus mirificat, populus devotus adorat,
Martyrioque fides sanctum servata decorat.
Sed Christus nova signa loqui facit, ac nova turbae
Lux datur, atque fides vulgata refulget in urbe.

Loosely Englished by Msgr. H.T. Henry:

Here silent is Christ’s Herald;
Here quenched, the People’s Light;
Here lies the martyred Champion
Who fought Faith’s holy fight.

The Voice the sheep heard gladly,
The light they loved to see
He fell beneath the weapons
Of graceless Cathari.

The Saviour crowns His Soldier;
His praise the people psalm.
The Faith he kept adorns him
With martyr’s fadeless palm.

His praise new marvels utter,
New light he spreads abroad
And now the whole wide city
Knows well the path to God.

St. Peter's killer, the hired assassin Carino of Balsamo, soon repented of his crime and fled to a Dominican monastery at Forlì. He performed penance, became a lay brother, and lived a religious life until the end of his days, having taken the name Peter.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Saint Vitalis of Milan

Next month will mark the 563rd anniversary of the fall of the Roman Empire, when the city walls which protected the scant remainder of ancient civilization crumbled under the canonnade of Renaissance paganism. It was the proper end of classic culture in one part of the world and the return of it to another. Greek art and literature returned to the West, as did an interest in philosophy and architecture. The Constantinopolitan Church would remain indefinitely alienated from the Roman Church, forced by the new masters of the land into permanent decline. Centuries later we would speak of Eastern and Western Churches, as though they have little to do with each other, a creeping brand of orientalism. 

source: Oberlin College
There are many churches in Italy built during the late Byzantine rule over Italy which seemingly blur the boundaries between what are now denominated East and West, but at the time of their constructions was simply the Empire. Among these is the basilica of San Vitale in the former Exarchate of Ravenna, the remote administrative center of Italy for the Empire now based in Byzantium. The church is octagonal in shape, recounting to us that the Sacrament of greatest importance in earlier days was Baptism, which incorporated one into the Church. St. Augustine simply calls Baptism "the Sacrament" in his Confessions. Images of the occasionally notorious and often effective Justinian and his wife, Theodora, grace the opposite sides of the apse, at the center of which is a beardless image of Our Lord Jesus Christ; the earthly court anticipates the heavenly court. The people of the region likely depicted Christ without facial hair because of the Roman custom of men to shave; they showed Christ as they knew him, even if inaccurately. The arch over the apse holds the images of the Twelve Apostles, through whom we have received the Church and come to know Christ.

A church similar in antiquity but different in both execution (Roman basilica rather than Greek dome) and intention (communal church rather than political metaphor) is Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello. The Mother and Child look down the apse in Greek fashion, but the apse with an episcopal throne and forward facing altar are purely Latin. The imagery on the Rood screen echoes what developed into the iconostasis in Byzantine Christianity. The seemingly Greek Last Judgment on the back wall dates to the 12th century, before the Venetians sacked Constantinople.

St. Vitalis, whose patronal church is more renown on earth, pray for the Church in heaven, where you enjoy fitting repute!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Explaining Concepts

The Rite of Arlington, TX (Bishop Jerry Jones)
Holy Noah, what a storm we are enjoying here in Texas! 

I had the pleasure of feasting with a friend from a mixed-denominational protestant background who is asking questions about Apostolic Christianity, mainly about the significance of the liturgy, something quite foreign to Bible Belt Megachurchdom (and Texas is the belt buckle). It occurred to me that the liturgy is less something requiring a theological explanation than the simplest explanation of the Church's theology. I encourage readers to re-consider this old post on the Liturgy & Tradition: Sensus Fidelium.

We have not touched on things like Apostolic succession or why some Holy Orders are recognized while others are considered invalid. Rather than dive into the specifics of form, matter and intention, would it not be easier to consider the liturgy itself? Leo XIII wrote that if Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. Every Sacrament involves the presence of Christ accomplished in the Holy Spirit. Every bishop gains the power to ordain through the reception of the Holy Spirit. Christ became incarnate of the Holy Spirit. Where One acts the Other becomes present. 

In this context it would not be hard to understand the liturgy as the manifestation of the adage "do what the Church does." Traditionalists have spilled considerable ink on this topic since 1968 debating Paul VI's rite of ordination. While sedevacantists presume the invalidity of the rite and mainstream Catholics its validity, we see the strange phenomenon of men like both HJA Sire and Bishop Richard Williamson holding mild doubts because of the rite could be left to the orthodoxy of the ordaining bishop. Unfortunately orthodoxy in this sense means doctrinal soundness, it means whether or not the bishop intends to pass on the sacrificial priesthood as understood in certain manuals and writings. Historically the antithesis of orthodoxy is not heresy but heterodoxy, not erroneous personal beliefs but false worship. Apostolicae Curae could have been considerably shorter if Papa Pecci (the best pope of the 20th century) had asked whether or not the Edwardian ordinal could be interpreted as an honest prayer of episcopal consecration in any way that would have been recognizable five centuries or fifteen centuries ago, whether or not it could be received in accordance with how the Church prays.

When I served Mass years ago I used to meditate on psalm 84 before vesting: Quam dilecta tabernacula tua.


Monday, April 25, 2016

An April Miscellany

Church Militant
While Mr. Grump has no particular opinion on the unfolding drama of the Wigged Warrior coming out about his sordid past, he does admit to having binge watched the bulk of RCTV’s free videos back when he discovered them. I realized even then that the St. Michael’s Media-produced videos were basically vlogs with a modest budget, but their fairly solid content was appreciated. It would not be at all surprising if the man’s claims about the NY archdiocese are true, although for the sake of the Church I hope they are not. Voris has made many enemies over the years, many of them unnecessarily. Maybe he does not know who his real friends are, and maybe this crisis will make him reconsider some of his policies.

St. Mark
Today is the feast of the Evangelist Mark, the little-known disciple and companion of St. Peter. He is believed to have founded the Church in Alexandria, and to have written the second Gospel under the direction of Peter himself. This Gospel has been endlessly deconstructed and reconstruction by biblical scholars for over a century, but it remains potent in its brevity and directness. Tradition says he was martyred by being dragged through the streets of Alexandria. Allegorically he is depicted as a winged lion in sacred art.

City of God
My reading of Augustine’s City of God continues steadily if slowly. I wish I were the sort of writer who could comment on it as I go, but I cannot do much more than admire the building of Augustine’s literary edifice as he puts it together brick-by-brick. Between the City of God and the Confessions, it is easy to see why his was considered the standard style for spiritual writing in the West for so many centuries. One wishes that style would make a return in earnest.

On Preaching
It was disappointing that the feast of St. George last Saturday was commemorated by a sermon about the Holy Family, rather than a sermon about the great dragon killer. (Did you know that Joseph and Mary didn’t have any children together after Jesus was born? Thank goodness we finally cleared that up.) This is especially surprising since Mr. Grump’s parish hosts a boy’s group dedicated to St. George as their patron. The Sunday sermon also featured a sermon about Mary, originally meant for the month of May, but given early because the priest in question was going out of town for a while. Is it really so impossible to preach on the current feast or season?

Et in Arcadia Ego
There is a Japanese Garden attached to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. During the annual Spring Festival it becomes uncomfortably crowded and noisy, but I have no doubt it would feel calm and cozy at normal times. The garden features structures built in traditional Japanese style, a pond inhabited with large ethnic fish, a narrowly winding walking path, and a small bamboo forest that clicks pleasantly in the wind. Places like these serve as reminders that man was made originally to live in a garden.

Friday, April 22, 2016

An Episode in Clericalism

(Alfred Weber)

Location: Local Tradistani Parish

Occasion: Monthly Men’s Group Meeting During Lent

Mr. B: Any other suggestions for Lenten reading?

Mr. C: I haven’t had the time to read much, unfortunately.

Mr. J (Me): I’ve been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was recommended by the pope! (Polite laughter from the others.) Augustine’s Confessions would make for good Lenten reading, I think.

Mr. B: Well, I have been reading this collection of devotions to St. Joseph. It has a lot of good prayers and novenas you can use.

Mr. J: (Twitching noises.)

Mr. D: Oh yeah, St. Joseph is great! He’s really helped me out with finding a job after I had to leave my last one.

Mr. B: There are some interesting biographical things about St. Joseph in here I had never heard of before. Like how he was from the royal line of David—

Mr. J: (More twitching noises.)

Mr. B: —and how he was actually pretty young when he and the Blessed Virgin were married.

Mr. J: Ahem. Actually, the oldest traditions about St. Joseph were that he was older and widowed at that time.

Mr. B: You know, that’s what I always thought. I don’t know where this writer got his information. He also says that there’s good reason to believe that Joseph was assumed bodily into Heaven, but I can’t figure out where he gets those beliefs.

Mr. J: They were made up in the late Middle Ages, just as the Renaissance was kicking in.

Mr. B: Huh. I was not aware of that. It’s good to know. Oh well, it’s still a decent book if you just stick to the prayers.

Mr. J: (Sigh of relief.)

Mr. D: We should definitely pray to St. Joseph. His intercession is very powerful.

Mr. B: No doubt. Well, unless anybody else has reading suggestions, I suppose we can break for toni—

(He is interrupted as Fr. M walks in. This is the first time Mr. J has ever seen one of the parish priests show up in a Men’s Group meeting.)

Fr. M: I hope I’m not interrupting. I thought I’d pop in since I was done with confessions.

Mr. B: Not at all, Father! We were just talking about reading suggestions for Lent.

Fr. M: Oh, you should all read about Fatima! We’re coming up on the centennial, after all. Our Lady has many important messages for our time.

Mr. B: I was also talking about this St. Joseph book I’ve been reading.

Fr. M: Oh, if you want to read about St. Joseph, you should read The Life and Glories of St. Joseph, by— oh, I can’t remember who the author is.

Mr. J: (Twitching noises.)

Fr. M: But you can find the whole thing online. Joseph is a great saint. He’s the patron of the universal Church! The Life and Glories has lots of great information about St. Joseph, and all the wonderful graces given to him in accordance with his state in life.

Mr. B: Wow, I’ll have to get my hands on that.

Fr. M: You should! It’s very well researched, with many quotes from the Doctors and Fathers of the Church. He even received the grace of sinlessness and of being assumed bodily into Heaven with Our Lady!

Mr. J: I’ve read a lot of Mr. Healey’s book. I can’t say I was very impressed with his scholarship. In fact, he includes some patristic quotes nobody has ever been able to verify.

Fr. M: Oh, I don’t know. He quotes many Doctors of the Church, including St. Francis de Sales!

Mr. B: Well, if it’s online, I’ll have to find it. Maybe we’ll talk about that book in the next meeting.

Fr. M: Oh, that would be wonderful.

Mr. B: All right, let’s break for tonight. Have a good rest of Lent, everybody.

Mr. J: (The twitching noises become eerily calm.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

For Love of God

St. Gregory the Great wrote that the altar is the where the flesh of Christ "is distributed for the salvation of the people," where the "quires of angels are present in the mystery of Jesus Christ", and where things "earthly [are] joined with the heavenly". Today I look at parishes, regularly diocesan or "traditional" and see something lacking since Gregory penned his Dialogues.
The Byzantine liturgy helped this writer, and maybe others, understand his native Roman rite, not just textually and historically, but also in the heart, which is where the Christian must live. Starting with a new rite taught me to pray what the prayers said rather than to take them purely as proclamations of intentions or instances of pedagogy. What I discovered was that the liturgy was, in a very person way (in the sense of speaking to a person, not in the sense of privacy), all about God. I knew if factually from the old rite Roman high Mass, but when I first heard the Great Doxology in my own tongue the remaining scales fell from my eyes:
"Glory to You, O Giver of Light! Glory to God in the highest...."
I heard this any number of times in the Roman liturgy without this simple connection, that the hymn directly addresses God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is offered for the adoration of the Holy Trinity and for the forgiveness of sins. Whatever we ask we ask in our own littleness and out of God's great goodness, not out of expectation for reward of our own righteousness. The Roman Canon begins Te igitur, clementissime Pater.... supplices rogamus, ac petimus, uti accepta habeas, et benedicas, not "You gather your people so that a perfect offering may be made, implicitly by us." Prayer always ascends; the Greek litany before Communion petitions "For the precious gifts here offered and sanctified, let us pray to the Lord.... That Our God, Who loves mankind, having received them on His holy and mystical altar in heaven as a sweet spiritual fragrance, may send down in return His divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us ask."

By contrast the prevailing modern notion—traditionalist Romans are no different—is that we attend Mass to meet an obligation and to get something out of it ("the graces"—from gratis, suggesting something freely given). This blog often caterwauls the difficulty of getting the faithful into churches for a service that does not include Communion (something for me rather than something God gives), unless it is Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. If I do XYZ (go to Mass on Sundays, go to Confession, practice certain devotions that guarantee my ticket upstairs) then I am saved. Does it really work that way?

Many of the more successful Reform of the Reform parishes during the Benedictine era taught good theology from the pulpit, did not make a further shambles of the Pauline Mass, and had a Christocentric outlook. In the several parishes of this sort I visited during the Ratzingerian papacy I noticed none of them preached "If you only do this, you will be saved" or that the liturgy was a welfare state amenity: file your paperwork and get a piece of the action. Christ gives Himself in the Eucharist out of His own goodness, not owing to our worthy expectation. His sacrifice makes us worthy to partake.
"Since under the former Testament, according to the testimony of the Apostle Paul, there was no perfection because of the weakness of the Levitical priesthood, there was need, God the Father of mercies so ordaining, that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchisedech, our Lord Jesus Christ, who might perfect and lead to perfection as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was by His death about to offer Himself once upon the altar of the cross to God the Father that He might there accomplish an eternal redemption, nevertheless, that His priesthood might not come to an end with His death, at the last supper, on the night He was betrayed, that He might leave to His beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice once to be accomplished on the cross might be represented, the memory thereof remain even to the end of the world, and its salutary effects applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit, declaring Himself constituted a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the form of bread and wine...." Council of Trent, Session 22, Ch.1 (before the stuff everyone usually reads)
Geoffrey Hull quotes Aidan Kavanagh's words about the tendency to reduce the liturgy to personal value and rational structure, decrying that "Sacraments diminish as unsettling encounters between presences divine and human in the here and now, to become a rather abstract ritual expression of a pattern set by Christ to give scope to the universal kingdom" (p43).

Monday, April 18, 2016

Apollonius the Compassionate Apologist

Today marks the traditional commemoration of a certain St. Apollonius (one of many bearing that name), a Roman senator sentenced to death under the Emperor Commodus in the late second century after he had been betrayed by a servant. St. Jerome writes a brief hagiography in his De Viris Illustribus:
Apollonius, a Roman senator under the emperor Commodus, having been denounced by a slave as a Christian, gained permission to give a reason for his faith and wrote a remarkable volume which he read in the senate, yet none the less, by the will of the senate, he was beheaded for Christ by virtue of an ancient law among them, that Christians who had once been brought before their judgment seat should not be dismissed unless they recanted. (ch. 42)
Eusebius also has a slightly longer entry in his Ecclesiastical History (V.21). While Apollonius’ Apologia was apparently lost after the patristic age, an account of his martyrdom purporting to be original was discovered and published in the 19th century. It can be read below.

Apollonius is a patron saint, presumably, of apologetics. The Apologia recounted above shows his deep love for Christ, the Faith, and even for his opponents. His accusations against paganism would be echoed later in Augustine’s City of God, as are his more benevolent references to that greatest of pagan thinkers, Socrates. The exchange at the very end also shows his willingness to let go of the argument once his opponent becomes obstinate:
The magistrate said—“I thought that thou wast changed in the night from that mind of thine.”

Apollonius said—“And I expected that thy thoughts would be changed in the night and the eyes of thy spirit be opened by my answer: and that thy heart would bear fruit, and that thou wouldst worship God, the Creator of all, and unto Him continually offer thy prayers by means of compassion; for compassion shown to men by men is a bloodless sacrifice and holy unto God.” (43-44)
There is a wide gulf between the Christian defense of Apollonius and the bloodlessly logical approach to apologetics in today’s Anglosphere. The Randian “A is A” will convert no one but heartless pedants, and them only in the most shallow manner.

Unrelated image.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Gregory the Great: Hour of the Sacrifice

"For this sacrifice doth especially save our souls from everlasting damnation, which in mystery doth renew unto us the death of the Son of God: who although being risen from death, doth not now die any more, nor death shall not any further prevail against him: yet living in himself immortally, and without all corruption, he is again sacrificed for us in this mystery of the holy oblation: for there his body is received, there his flesh is distributed for the salvation of the people: there his blood is not now shed betwixt the hands of infidels, but poured into the mouths of the faithful. Wherefore let us hereby meditate what manner of sacrifice this is, ordained for us, which for our absolution doth always represent the passion of the only Son of God: for what right believing Christian can doubt, that in the very hour of the sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens be opened, and the quires of Angels are present in that mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accompanied with low, and earthly joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible?" (Dialogues IV:58, St. Gregory the Great)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Life Is Worth Living, Still

"Congratulations, dad! It's a boy!" I called a friend two days ago to issue these congratulations moments after he sent me a "text message" announcing the awaited arrival of his son. The Rad Trad is to be the godfather and, thankfully, will not have to join the Successful Italian Businessmen to do so.

A coworker returning from maternity leave said her new son is "a bag of organs" until he develops some more engaging characteristics, presumably like the ability to fight her for his dignity. A newborn child is an unwitting explorer, finding and absorbing everything anew, a Romantic and an adventure seeker. What adventurers will this child go on? What lessons will he learn. He could be a great man of the world; he could be a good man, with a steady job and a family of his own; he could be a complete scoundrel and reject all his rearing; he could kill someone; he could be mediocre. He could be a saint; he could squeak into heaven at the end; he could be lost to hell. He really could be anything.

He will sop up everything he can, but also leave what he cannot take in behind. His mind is a paper towel drying up excess water after a spill. Something that makes us different from the lower creatures is our memories. They seem to learn from what happens to them, which trains them for their states of existence, be it house dog potty trainer or a tiger cub on a first hunt; their encounters are purely didactic. We do not just have memories, we have experiences of mind, soul, and body with ourselves and with others. Our experiences can be reminisced, rejected, lamented, considered, recalled, decried or assimilated. Learning is a sensory act of punishment in military service, but not always in civilian life. Our experiences and our rumination creates self-awareness and eventually hints to us that we are distinct from the large and small fuzzy creatures, that our souls resemble He Who is above us rather than the animals below with us.

I learned of my godson-to-be's birth the same day yet another article on the impending integration of Artificial Intelligence with human life appeared on the news wires. Futurists are wildly optimistic that dynamic A.I. will replace most human functions and free up our time to do.... something.... I am not in the understandable minority that sees A.I as a threat to human existence. The very reason Artificial Intelligence captures the imagination betrays its limits, that it is bound to a linear, formulaic concept of intelligence with inputs and results that can think for itself if thinking equates merely with finding solutions to parameters of problems. Perhaps A.I. could even learn to multiply its presence, but what it cannot seem to do is value itself inherently or to realize even that it exists in a qualitative way similar to humans. Perhaps the real threat of A.I. is that it could eliminate practically all jobs and render those who do not own the robots penurious; the Industrial Revolution did not cause that much social harm in contrast.

Artificial Intelligence would not have been created if not for creators who see the human mind as a purely sensory computer, reacting to various inputs and stimili, a cross between a dog and a Windows machine. Technocrats would use their inventions to lighten our already white collar burdens and free our time for the bars and our live in girlfriends. We live more and more the lives the the low creatures, roaming from one amenable sensation to another. It sounds pathetic, but it is much worse. Society continues to automate and alienate itself until it reaches a place not seen since the Fall of Adam and Eve, when man who once knew God fell away, losing not only the Divine presence, but even the intuition for God. Difficulty did not cause the separation of God and man; it was the result of the great divorce. Confusion will continue to reign and life generally to become more mechanical, less human. Perhaps the average millennial will be able to take a vacation to the Caribbean in their 50s, provided they do not discharge their savings too soon. Otherwise, we have little to look forward to.

God and friendship are the two most important things in life, friendship being an image of the love of God. Society is withdrawing from God and from its component pieces. But life is still worth living. Msgr. Fulton Sheen ran a television program in America decades ago called "Life is Worth Living". We can love ourselves until we find there is not much there to love if we do not add to our lives. Love of God and love of neighbor fills one much more than a successful career. No one has ever said at a funeral, "Stan could reconcile the entire ledger and calculate EBITDA by close of business. He will be missed. What's that? The recruiter's calling with candidates. Sorry, I have to take this."

Eventually God made man for Himself. Man is a little child, currently having a centuries long tantrum and hiding in the yard. Father slowly approaches. While the rest of society waits for Father to come to him, I hope my godson comes out of hiding and looks his Father in the face.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Amoris Laetitia

No, I'm not going to bother. The reaction of the former archbishop of St. Louis is interesting, though. Cardinal Burke trends toward a space occupied by Giuseppe Cardinal Siri in the '70s and '80s, with the exception that Siri was allowed to continue as a diocesan archbishop. Burke may find himself caught between two currents, unable to find his way upstream or to the shore.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Narrow and Stifling

Sleepy St. Joseph, pray for us!

I have no intention of commenting extensively on the recent papal exhortation, nor even on reading the thing. It would get in the way of me completing Augustine’s City of God, for one thing. If you’re looking for extensive thoughts on the matter, Mr. Skojec has been providing birds-eye view commentary, and Mr. Bear is examining the document in excruciating detail.

Perusing the document quickly drives one to exhaustion. It has that almost hypnotic effect so indicative of intentionally non-offensive yet passive aggressive rhetoric. It either lulls the reader to sleep or drives him mad.

But I digress. After about half an hour of bored reading, I started running text searches, and my running obsession with St. Joseph paid off in spades. Here is a fascinating little selection from the middle of the document:
No family can be fruitful if it sees itself as overly different or “set apart”. To avoid this risk, we should remember that Jesus’ own family, so full of grace and wisdom, did not appear unusual or different from others. That is why people found it hard to acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom: “Where did this man get all this? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:2-3). “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55). These questions make it clear that theirs was an ordinary family, close to others, a normal part of the community. Jesus did not grow up in a narrow and stifling relationship with Mary and Joseph, but readily interacted with the wider family, the relatives of his parents and their friends. This explains how, on returning from Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could imagine for a whole day that the twelve-year-old Jesus was somewhere in the caravan, listening to people’s stories and sharing their concerns: “Supposing him to be in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey” (Lk 2:44). Still, some Christian families, whether because of the language they use, the way they act or treat others, or their constant harping on the same two or three issues, end up being seen as remote and not really a part of the community. Even their relatives feel looked down upon or judged by them. (Amoris Laetitia 182)
Jesus listening to people’s stories
and sharing their concerns.
The reader is left to his own conclusion about what sort of families are being described as “constant[ly] harping on the same two or three issues.” It’s a vague accusation easily used as a weapon against any family the reader does not like because of some real or perceived assumption of moral high ground. (Maybe a family in which the parents have remained married for fifty years in spite of difficulties is “looking down” on their divorced and adulterous cousins.)

The really interesting language is used to describe what is in fact the popular idea of the Holy Family, in which the threesome of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph make up a kind of self-sufficient unit like an “Earthly Trinity.” P. Francis calls such a small unit “narrow and stifling.”

And he is right! A distorted devotional ideal of the Holy Family is indeed narrow and stifling, and earlier beliefs about the widowed St. Joseph’s children from a previous marriage and the so-called Holy Kinship are great antidotes to this narrowing devotional crutch.

Let us take this opportunity to move past the propagandist devotionalism of the past, and venerate the relatives of Our Lord as tradition tells us they actually were!

“Even their relatives feel looked down upon or judged by them.”

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Holy Saturday: Two Last Thoughts

Does the ICRSS cleric reminisce to his seminary days before 2004?
I am sure I am as tired of writing about the old Holy Week as readers are tired of seeing it appear on their blogger subscription block, so I will finish with two last thoughts, partially inspired by this fellow's thoughts.

First, the proper time of the Vesperal liturgy on Holy Saturday. There is not one. Yes, Egeria recounts three Eucharistic liturgies celebrated in Jerusalem between Holy Saturday and the morning of Pascha, which does not bode well for the midnight-Massers. Moreover, the ordines and Sacramentaries of the 8th century that recount the Mass portion's nocturnal celebration are limited to the original context of the Mass itself, which pre-dates the development of the so-called Paschal Vigil service itself. Properly understood a vigil is an all-night prayer service that culminates with the celebration of the feast itself. The Office of Mattins was once called the "vigils" and in some monasteries it still is. Given the primitive Roman Church's propensity to celebrate multiple Masses for a feast (Christmas, Circumcision, Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and Palm Sunday among them) one cannot pinpoint a proper time for any one of them. I would like to modify my earlier thesis that the Roman Church integrated a Mass into its all-night vigil service by asserting that, in imitation of Jerusalem, the Romans likely had a Mass between the reception of converts and Vespers. The Mass bifurcated between the traditional lucernarium that began Vespers; in this case, the Roman praxis would be older than the Byzantine. And yet the original context of that service (the reception of adult converts in a Christian city during an all-night watch) ceased to exist by the 9th century and so the service itself changed.

The dichotomy of the Vesperal liturgy is that it places the Exsultet ("o vere beata nox") at the beginning of the service and ends with Vespers, traditionally sung at sunset. From this point, there can be no "right time". The only general rule would be that the service has to conclude by the time Vespers are usually sung. The service could logically begin as early as 10AM or as late as 4:30PM. The earlier celebration in parishes and cathedral permits the celebration of Paschal Mattins, in the middle ages the most important Office of the year, as evidenced by the various Resurrection ceremonies observed then (not during the Saturday Mass), while the later time would be more easily accommodated in monasteries. The variance in time reflected local needs and allowed communities with different resources to celebrate the liturgy as fully as possible.

This brings up the second point, which is that the old Holy Saturday was more "progressive" than either the 1955 or 1970 reforms. Pope Pius warned against "antiquarianism" and then proceeded to fabricate rites that purported to "restore" what we vaguely think was done in the first millennium, in turn implying that what had been done for the preceding century was a corruption. The context of the Holy Saturday rites changed when adult converts were replaced by infant baptisms, which could be done on any day. The ceremony became an independent rite in recognition that it now functioned as a proper vigil in the vernacular sense of the word, a day of watch before the greatest feast. This is how Latin Catholics understood this day for a thousand years. A college friend once derided my interest in restoring the pre-Pacellian Holy Week: "Why don't you just use whatever Mass Peter and Paul practiced, if you can find it? I'm sure that will go over well." The opposite is true. The old rite represents nineteen centuries of liturgical development while the 1955 and 1970 rites are poorly informed historical re-enactments of what some people believe was done in the "early Church," that fleeting epoch of Christian mythology.

Now, no more talk of Holy Week until next year!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

For the Forgiveness of Sins

Our's is a gentle religion. One reads enough Western history to discover a cast of familiar characters: the Church, the Pope, the Saint, the Sinner. One reads what they read, parsing passages of Civitas Dei and Summa Theologiae, until one accepts or rejects their propositions. Provided one accepts them, one becomes a candidate for Baptism. After the regenerative waters one attempts to lead a life in accordance with these passed on virtues and according to the Commandments; if one fails, a five minute trip to the "box" is all that is necessary for another clean slate. It is that simple.

Or is it?

My friend's impending sojourn to the Camino de Santiago stirred a long dormant interest, sitting in the back of my mind for some time, in pursuing something worthwhile in life. The camino has become a tourist attraction in recent years, in part due to the film The Way and in part due to the Eat, Pray, Love/Oprah mentality of self-help seekers.

Yet it still recalls the medieval notion of the pilgrimage. One of the few extant pilgrimages of value is probably the trip the traditionalists make annually from Notre Dame in Paris to Notre Dames in Chartres. A long gone compatriot made the journey with the traditionalists in 2012, sixty miles by foot with three solemn Masses. The sequence of a pilgrimage imitates life itself, commencing with a departure from the known confines of one's birth and well integrated bad habits. What follows is a trip through unknown lands with little help and the risk of loose associations; the pilgrim knows where he wants to go and vaguely how to orient himself, but he is not truly prepared for a journey in a strange place with strange people; some will be friends, some enemies, some pointing the way and some dragging him back. The pilgrim at first utilizes his own devices and skill to survive until the isolation and boredom drive him mad; only when he realizes that he is far from home and turns to God, offering his difficulties and failures as penance, does he progress towards his goal, an earthly glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem. Eventually prayer is as important as steps on a pilgrimage. The Way of a Pilgrim has inspired Slavic Christians for years, a slim volume about a boy who asks his mentor how to pray without ceasing; the father gives the pilgrim the Jesus prayer and sends him about the various churches and monasteries of Russia. The pilgrimage culminates at the gates of a representative Jerusalem, a foretaste of the eternal kingdom where the Ghost, Father, and Song through endless ages run.

Believers made their ways to holy places to pay homage to what happened there and to obtain the remission of sins, to find heartfelt forgiveness. Egyptians went to places where they believed the Holy Family stayed during the Flight, and they still frequent these places. The most obvious destination of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built over the place of the Crucifixion and burial of Our Lord; pilgrims such as Egeria recounted the liturgical practices in Jerusalem to their home churches and popularized their imitation, giving rise to Holy Week ceremonies (interestingly, Egeria recounts three Eucharistic liturgies between Holy Saturday and Pascha). In the west, devotion to St. Peter flourished and popularized the Roman Office throughout Europe long before Charlemagne imposed the Roman Sacramentary on Frankish clergy.

Pilgrimage multiplied in the second millennium. St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who held the Church above the state, represented everything noble about the medieval view of order; more pilgrims flocked to his grave than anywhere else in the Christian world until the Reformation, inspiring students from England, Italy and the University of Paris, like Lothar of Segni (Innocent III). Also popular was the Camino de Santiago, the road from the Pyrenees mountains to Compostela where the tomb of St. James resides. The most visible, and notorious, of the medieval pilgrimages was the Crusade. Aside from the disasters of pogroms and the raid of Constantinople, the idea of Crusading, of forfeiting one's self entirely to the will of God and His visible Church transformed Europe, nurtured chivalry, planted the seeds for the vigorous religious orders of the age—departing from the meditative and sedate Benedictines, and inspired the imagination. The Crusade also offered a hope of forgiveness; the Church, to which Christ gave the authority to bind and loose the sins of men, loosened the sins of those who went on Crusade to free the Holy Land from the Muhammadans. Modern historians find it scandalous, but the believer is in no way surprised that those who went on Crusade—criminals, thugs, and generally unsavory individuals—were those most in need of the forgiveness of sins.

Then came the Reformation and the smashing of Catholic culture. Old traditions die hard. In the 16th century St. Philip Neri traversed the seven great basilicas of Rome in a single day with his retinue, all the while singing the Divine Office in Italian and arousing the suspicion of the Inquisition.

There are still pilgrimages, although they can lose their point if done wrongly. A professor in a seminar on Frontier American History mused at the irony of driving to the Rockies or Yosemite. Is there not a similar irony in taking a taxi to St. Peter's Basilica? Aside from Chartres, the St. Peter Fraternity occasionally makes a foot visit to the North American Martyrs and the LMS in England has several day pilgrimages every year. I myself am attempting to convince my friends to adopt the idea of stational churches in our diocese, at least visiting a church named for the saint or mystery on the feast or vigil to say an hour of the Divine Office. But this is a compromise between a 1st century middle easterner religion and an automated 21st century world. True pilgrimage is a re-orientation to God, a change of life as startling as when one first came to believe. It is not "state of grace" religion, but "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" religion.

Quo vadam?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Revisiting The Work

Like most Opus Dei centers, this one was nicely furnished and decorated with good taste. From the outside it appears far more modest, as a faded brick building without much to indicate what’s inside. The Work’s inclination towards privacy is interpreted by some as excessive secrecy, and sometimes that is difficult to argue. I wasn’t there to write an exposé, but to visit an old friend.

Old in more ways than one. Prof. G— was well into his 80s and retired from teaching philosophy for about a decade. I hadn’t seen the old professor since moving to Dallas, but before I left town he was the closest thing I had to a mentor. He had been a numerary with The Work since his younger years, and when spiritual direction with the Opus Dei priests was threatening to become worse than useless, he stepped in and encouraged me to work on my intellectual life.

He emboldened my growing interest in what we call the “Great Books” in the States. I had just started reading books from the Classical era, and the professor’s input was invaluable for contextualizing them. He introduced me to Josef Pieper and was the first Opus Dei member I had met who thought I should read books not published or approved by the prelature.

Upon being led up to his room, I was disheartened but not surprised to witness his declining health. He had lost none of his mental faculties, and we talked at great length on all manner of topics—our personal lives, whether such and such bishop was good, how some books are so thorough that they can be written only once, that my idea of St. Joseph had come to differ from Josemaría Escrivá’s, Pope Benedict’s love for cats, and Roman pilgrimages—until we were both exhausted. We parted feeling nostalgic and refreshed.

If, as St. Dionysius intimates, part of the blessedness of the Celestial City is in being illumined by the light of the other saints as they themselves have perceived the Godhead, there must similarly be a kind of heavenly pleasure in discoursing soul-to-soul on spiritual matters. Like Augustine and his mother anticipating Paradise in their garden, so it is when two Christian minds dialogue on matters of the Faith. There are few greater works than that.

“Those in love do not know how to say good-bye: they are with one another all the time.”
—St. Josemaría Escrivá

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Comb Overs

Just as Rorate took down one article on the ancient Roman liturgy, so they have added another, this concerning the proper postures and rubrics for high Mass. Ceteris paribus, an attempt to introduce these guidelines at the local FSSP parish would likely cause a revolt: no kneeling for forever, standing during the prayers before the altar and after the consecration of the chalice (Irish piety dies hard), popular singing of the Introit—expanded beyond the solitary psalm verse—as the true "opening hymn", and approach of the communion rail during the Agnus Dei are all quite foreign in this area. Traditional Benedictine monasteries seem to be making headway, but their influence ends at their walls. This writer, for one, thinks such an approach would lighten the showcase-like rubricism of many old rite Masses and encourage popular involvement without resorting to Faith of Our Fathers or the Missa de Angelis. I am told Fr. Ronald de Poe Silk printed Mass leaflets following the old instruction to stand after the elevations; perhaps there is hope yet!

In other news, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald "Make America Great Again" Trump, and his bugaboo, "Lyin' Ted" Cruz, are both making remarkable strides for that emetic fashion of post-middle age, the Comb Over. Trump's is more obvious, less a comb over than a comb forward; a man I knew who played golf with the Donald c.2003 said his biggest danger in life was a gust of wind that would open his head like a tin can. Cruz's comb over is more subtle, covering an emerging patch rather than an existing bald spot. Trump's double in London, Boris Johnson, simply has terrible hair, as though a Chinese takeaway fried it in peanut oil without adding something to help the strand caramelize.

The gentleman's comb over is on its way out, the last stylish practitioner of it being Prince Charles. The comb over was once a standby hairstyle of preppy New England and the Old World. Once a man thinned on top he could simply and gracefully part his hair lower and lower, gradually reaching a point of reasonable protection from the elements. Post-military short hair and post-hippie long hair render the post-middle age comb over antiquated.

And yet some comb overs perplex us. William F. Buckley Jr. looked like a man with something to hide on his program Firing Line, particularly in the 1970s, when he sported a frayed weave to the side opposite his low hair line. However, as ridiculous as it looks, he sported the same hairline when he served as an infantryman in World War II at the age of 21. What was Bill Buckley's secret? In time we may never know....

More serious material is in the cards....

Sunday, April 3, 2016

To Come....

From the FSSP Roma Facebook page (no, I don't have Facebook)
I recently moved, am still unpacking, and recently drove to Houston to visit my father before his operation. When I have had a moment to check the blogosphere, I have happily been surprised at the proliferation of celebrations of the original Holy Week. I have received a few queries from readers about the "proper" time (again!!!!) of the Vesperal liturgy on Holy Saturday.

Personally, I found Augustine's warning to retain our Lenten sobriety during this celebratory period very helpful, as too much feasting undoes the benefits of the fasting!