Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Contra Gentiles (or, Against the Converts)

(Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

When one has spent any significant amount of time reading online Catholic commentary, odds are the reader will have come across something like these aphorisms:
“Converts should keep quiet, and spend at least a decade learning the Faith and doing penance for their past sins.” 
“Never trust a convert who presumes to speak with authority.” 
“I always knew there was something wrong with X. He was unbalanced and constantly yelling at people who disagreed with his ideas of what the Church should be. Typical convert.”
Catholics love to boast about the number of converts entering the Church, but tend to look at their recently adopted brethren with a great deal of suspicion. The maxim of St. Philip Neri, that “Beginners should look after their own conversion and be humble,” is well-taken, but too often used as a billy club, and not just against those few converts who verbally express the Church’s obvious shortcomings.

Why are cradle Catholics so antagonistic towards converts? Many of them seem to forget that none are actually born Catholic. All are baptized out of darkness and into light; in a real sense, there is no Catholic who was not a convert. We are all rescued from the enslavement of the Devil. The ancient Hebrew law merged the importance of hospitality with the memory of universal alienation:
If a stranger dwell in your land, and abide among you, do not upbraid him, but let him be among you as one of the same country. And you shall love him as yourselves, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev. 19)
Thou shalt not molest a stranger, for you know the hearts of strangers. For you also were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 23)
We have all experienced the disorientation of entering into a new country, city, family, or social group. There is always a period of reorientation, which brings with it a deep need for the assistance of one’s newfound peers. We look to those around us and begin to imitate them. We watch what they do, listen to what they say, and attempt to fit in whilst remaining ourselves. What are we to make of those who criticize the newcomer for every peccadillo and misstep, who squelch their enthusiasm and encourage scrupulosity in minor things? Moses calls them molesters.

When the Twelve were given the mission to convert the world, it still took them some time to realize the implications of accepting Gentiles into the new ecclesia. The first, Jewish, Christians wanted the non-Jews to conform culturally to their preexisting Jewishness, and it took decades for the Apostles to decide thoroughly against this. Cephas received the first vision assuring them that the Mosaic dietary law was annulled, but even he later backslid into cultural inertia and scandalized the faithful.

The Judaizers of today are the devotionalists, the sola homeschool-ers, the parish council laymen, the clericalists, the eucharistic ministers, the wild-eyed Fatima prophets, the ultramontanes, the anti-papal hesychasts, the nosy church ladies who carefully vet every book they see you reading before Mass. There are a thousand ways of poking at the splinter in the newcomer’s eye, while ignoring the 2x4 swinging wildly out of one’s own. I might write thousands of words here against the bizarre oddities of Josephite devotion, but if I jump on a new person in my parish without introduction because he’s reading The Youthful Vigor of Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse, how am I any better than an aging hippy with a fake smile saying, “We don’t do that sort of nonsense around here, anymore”?

Not every convert is going to end up as crazy as a Gerry Matatics, a Mark Shea, or a Tertullian. Most of them simply want to be Catholic, to enter in more fully into the mystery of God’s Church. They don’t want to be constantly dodging banana peels dropped in their path by fellow Catholics.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Modern Art Makes Bad Church Art, Part Two: Modernism in a Nutshell*

* "Anything that can be put in a nutshell, that's probably where it belongs"--Will Rogers

Those blessed with a particularly good memory will recall that in the first part of this article, we traced the broad outlines of Modernism in art (especially painting). That movement--you may recall--had three very broad currents, usually referred to as Abstraction, Fantasy, and Expression. It was suggested, as well, that all art involves abstraction; however, what an artist chooses to abstract reveals much about the artist's understanding of the world around him.

With this continuation, we have to ask the question: just because there is a recognized Modernism in the realm of the arts, and just because there is a phenomenon in the Church known as Modernism, does that justify positing a link between Modernist Art and Modernist Doctrine?

Is there, in other words, a real affinity between artistic Modernism and ecclesiastical Modernism? And if so, did this affinity take tangible form in the approach to the Sacred Liturgy favored by Catholic Modernists?

Or are their purple and pink robes cut from the same cloth?
Is there more than visual symmetry at work here?


We should make something clear before we begin. Modernism hasn't been spoken of for the past forty or more years in any major seminary. It was briefly and not without controversy sighted--like Sasquatch--in Dominus Jesus but quickly departed the Catholic intellectual scene without further comment. So, in this sense, it's true: there is no such thing as Catholic Modernism, in that no one mentions it or entertains any ideas about it in "respectable" circles.

Was this number ever even connected?
Apart from that specious approach, there are not lacking those--even serious Catholics at times--who say that there never was such a thing as Modernism, not in any monolithic form. It was never like Marxism-Leninism with a single, internally coherent exposition and discipline. That's no doubt true enough. But I would counter that saying there never was an identifiable Catholic Modernism is akin to saying that there never was such a thing as a typical European nation-state: after all, how could anyone say that Poland and Monaco were states in the same way or according to some common, identifiable European character? But of course they shared a historical legacy that served to unite them (and the other states of Christendom) in a real way: i.e., their shared Catholic Faith.

In a similar way, there truly is a common element in all the modernisms that go about the world, including Catholic Modernism-with-a-capital-M. This common element (and this certainly is not original with me--far from it) has both a positive and a negative aspect.

The positive aspect is essentially the contribution of Immanuel Kant, a bit of a weirdo and yet full of a grim, sad academic ambition, to boot. Setting aside the many subtleties, caveats, and explanations that expand his writings to a discouraging length, his world-altering idea was that none of us observes things through the senses, learns about them, and finally knows them in themselves and in comparison to other things. That's all wrong, or better, all only apparently true.

We are simply programmed, you see, to make judgments about reality ("a thing exists," "it has certain qualities," "it is related to other things in a certain way," etc.), but there is no innate connection between "what is really out there" and our judgments. In fact, says Kant, the thing-in-itself (formerly known just as "the thing") can never be known to us. However ... one thing about the thing-in-itself is knowable to us: the fact that it's unknowable. Somehow, the thing-in-itself that is our intellectual programming is knowable, too. Kant's whole philosophical edifice is about as stable as a barn in a Buster Keaton movie.

But much like young people in Martin Luther's time being told to "sin boldly," Kant's audience didn't worry too much about the details but began to avail themselves of the intellectual and spiritual opportunities offered by his Copernican Revolution (as he styled it). With religion in particular, it took less than a generation for various brainy types  (Hegel, Fichte, Schelling) to lay the groundwork for the idea with which our contemporary western world is saturated: God, insofar as He can be known, is only known within the mind or consciousness of an individual; there is no "objective, external" way to come to a knowledge of God, His existence or attributes, His will, or anything else stemming from those things.

Kant: Laughing at us or with us?


This--too brief and simplistic though it be--is the positive aspect of the underlying unity of all Modernists. But of course, there was a millennium of argument in contradiction to this "Revolution." As with any revolution, any opposition must be swept away. Hence, the negative aspect to any manifestation of Modernism: the attack on Tradition.

Kant and his followers contented themselves with disproving, or at least dismissing, the sections of St. Thomas that were most damaging to the new theories. He speaks of antinomies (or contradictions, in less pretentious language) inherent in the old ideas of causality, space, time, etc. Because the Angelic Doctor--poor thing!--presupposed unthinkingly such antinomies in his proofs for the existence of God (Summa Ia, q. 2, a. 3), his proofs (a.k.a. "the Five Ways") are fatally flawed. Of course, it's not difficult to disprove this kind of disproof. De-bunkers, from Christian Wolff (d. 1754) onwards, had in retrospect an embarrassingly limited knowledge of St. Thomas, let alone his more important Commentators, and so rendered superficial critiques of the Five Ways and almost anything else the Common Doctor penned. The point, of course, was to give like-minded souls a way to dismiss the crushing arguments of their most formidable adversary.

Luther takes the direct approach to silencing his opposition. (Denied a copy of the Summa for his bonfire, he had to content himself with the papal Bull and assorted other documents.)

An even greater obstacle to the new approach to reality--and one that held sway not only in the Catholic Church but across the spectrum of Protestant sects as well--is the authority of Sacred Scripture. Although it's certainly worth reading about in greater detail, suffice it to say that the phenomenon that came to be known as Higher Criticism had as one of its principal aims the undermining of the authority of the Scriptures. The tools employed by such Higher Critics (linguistics, diction studies, internal comparisons, etc.) are always marshaled to this end: Scripture is not quite what it says it is (or, at least, what the Church teaches it to be).

For instance, the Pentateuch is not the work of Moses (with perhaps a few minor additions here and there) because it's actually the work of four, not authors, but groups of authors: the Temple priests, those who addressed God as "God," or as "Lord" (YHWH), or those who drew up Deuteronomy.  Similarly, Isaias wasn't written by Isaias (except maybe the first part) but by pious frauds--might as well come right out and say it--who called themselves Isaias. The same thing was visited upon St. Paul and St. Peter. And so on. Even if it was never said in so many words, the Critics were able to imply quite strongly that the truths of Scripture rested on (at best) long-held misconceptions or (at worst) deceitful and agenda-driven "editors."

And there you have the two unifying aspects of any manifestation of Modernism: an idealist distortion of reality (and our knowledge of it) and the attack on tradition (especially the traditional understanding of reality and knowledge of the divine).

You can actually try the following experiment at home! Consider anyone or any writing that you might suspect of Modernism: we can do a warm-up exercise with the local Director of Religious Education. Let's say, for the sake of argument, you find her conversation less than reassuring when it comes to the Faith. But, a Modernist? Well, let's see. Does her view of women speaking in church (St. Paul), the creation of the Woman from Adam, or the punishment of the licentious in Exodus involve her denial that the Scriptures are reliable on these points? Does she, moreover, use phrases such as "my God is not a judgmental God," or "that may be true for you but not for me"? If so, you might as well get out the big "M" rubber stamp and  plant a big red "M" on her forehead, because she is clearly in the Modernist camp.

Labels can be useful! (Fritz Lang's version of the Dusseldorf Vampire, M)
This simple test is also useful for even a more nuanced, or at least controversial, figure such as Fr. George Tyrrell (a one-time Jesuit). For the sake of argument, let us assume that the following assessment of his thought is accurate:
To some degree, [Tyrrell] began to believe that [his] new insights undermined some of the Church's traditional beliefs, such as in the inerrancy of scripture. He became convinced that the Church placed too much emphasis on the ‘external’ manifestation of religion, with its system of norms and obligations, at the expense of what really counted: the inner workings of God in the individual soul.(Rev. Oliver P. Rafferty SJ,
 Is doubt cast on the authority of Sacred Scripture? Check. Is there at least a hint of the idea that God is within the consciousness and not really accessible through reason? Sadly, yes. Can this summary of his views, especially the second sentence, be read in an orthodox light? Of course it can! But as with any wrong idea, the error will usually lie in what is denied, not necessarily in what is affirmed.
Fr. Tyrrell posing, apparently, in a dark wood

In short, these two pillars of Modernism--Kantian Idealism and the undermining of Tradition--may not describe everything present in the entire Modernist movement, but they are certainly sufficient to identify Modernist thought: anything from the defiant pronouncements of Loisy to the sly, disingenuous approach of the Nouvelle Theologie.


I realize that for our learned readership it is not necessary to rehearse yet again the history of how the early Modernists were hammered pretty hard and forced to take refuge in harmless pursuits such as the Sacred Liturgy and Patristic studies.  Consequently, it should not surprise us that the ideas they took with them as they escaped underground would seek a congenial--shall we say--mode of expression. After all, it would never do to promote (for example) the idea that "God" is solely within us by making use of the Baroque or Rococo. Consider:

Whoever shall look upon It shall live (Num. 21:8)

If anything, the traditional Mass, celebrated in, say, a Baroque setting, draws those who assist out of themselves, all eyes being drawn to what is most sacred. Tradition stands witness to the truth of it all: the Saints (sometimes shown holding the Scriptures), those in Holy Orders, and the living tradition of vesture, architecture, and the rest. If you were a Modernist in those desperate days--I think you'll agree--you would dispose of this artistic inheritance post-haste.

Much more congenial to the Modernist "life project" (with apologies to John Paul II) regarding the Liturgy was the Post-Impressionist style then coming into vogue. Consider--if you would be so kind--another example:

Abstract, Expressionistic, and a little Fantastic: the Modernist dream made concrete (literally)
Here the Cross isn't even the central focal point. The regular features of a church have largely been "abstracted" out of the picture altogether. And there is more than a little influence of German Expressionism:

 Expressionism: suitable for a nightmarish fantasy, or alternately, the local parish church (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920)
But to see in detail exactly how the three main streams of Post-Impressionism, i.e. "Modern Art," were used to express the new approach to the Sacred Liturgy, it would probably be best to have a separate post. You've been more than patient to read this far, and in the words of the Lord Protector to the Long Parliament: "Ye have sat long enough!"


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Transitional Missal, Revisited

The MR 1965 restricted concelebration to as many ministers as could
reasonably surround the altar.
During Benedict XVI's interesting pontificate liturgical dilettantes began clamoring for a merger of the 1962 Roman rite (which rite that is) with the rite of Paul VI. "Mutual enrichment" and "organic development", they called it, all the while condemning any interest in inserting old prayers into the new Mass, aside from a few unspecified rubrics like the "canonical fingers" and maniples. Some wanted the Vatican to publish a reformed novus ordo with the old offertory prayers; others, like Scott "Alcuin" Reid, championed the transitional rites of the 1950s and mid-1960s as the true reflection of whatever Sancrosanctum Concilium demanded. Most recently, Fr. Hunwicke has expressed admiration for the Communion and concelebration guidelines of the "1965" Missal. What was the "1965 Missal"?

As far as I can tell it never existed, but there was a modified Missal of 1964. I have seen several Missals that were published in 1964 and would parse their variety during downtime in the religion section of Olin Library at Cornell University years back. Before I knew much about what Pius XII did to the liturgy I assumed it was generally unchanged since the Tridentine Council until Vatican II. Instead of researching the pre-Conciliar liturgy I researched the transitional rites, which were endlessly confusing. I could not for the life of me find a genuine 1964 Missal, only 1962 Missals published in 1964 with alterations. In fact the 1964/5 Missal is nothing more than a tweaked 1962 editio typica, with no major variances in the propers or ordinary of the Mass. The textual differences were restricted to vernacularization of parts of the ordo Missae, the new Communion formula, the suppression of the Johannine prologue, and the reversal of the dismissal and blessing. The vernacularization scheme might be the weakest point of the 1964 liturgy and is a sore spot for those who wish to personify that "rite" as a balance between tradition and novelty.

Episcopal conferences introduced vernacular at their own discretion, allowing them to translate more than the Congregation of Rites would on its own initiative. The American bishops, peace be upon them, translated the ordinary chants of the Mass (rendering centuries of music useless with only garbage to replace it), the dialogues, and the readings. The variable prayers people were less apt to know by heart remained in Latin. The Kyrie is recited at every Mass and could easily be learned with instruction, but a variable Latin collect could only be known to either those equipped with a Missal or training in Classical languages. One can reasonably assume that the standard parts were vernacularized first because Rome did not want to venture into the time consuming endeavor of standardizing translations across several langues before the end of the Council; they wanted to see results immediately.

The caeremoniale of the transitional rite is the most difficult organic square to circle in the transitional rite, more so than the minor textual differences. Modestly, it asks that freestanding altars be constructed in the style of the ancient Roman basilicas (enter decades of wreckovation). Without the slightest hint that the Mass of the Faithful should be celebrated versus populum, everyone began a forward celebration of Mass. Paul VI himself promoted this trend by inaugurating the Inter oecumenici period with a versus populum Mass in the Parrochia di Ognissanti in Rome. Was anything about the revised liturgy more jarring to the man in the pew than what Geoffrey Hull called the "great narcissism, Mass facing the people"?

Among other strange features of the 1964/5 rite are the offertory procession and the option of performing the Fore-Mass from the chair. The offertory procession must have seemed every bit like the play acting it in fact is. The 1474 Roman Curial Missal speaks of an offertory procession with no indication as to what that was. The medieval rites prescribed a procession with torches during the Gradual in which the acolyte or subdeacon would solemnly bring the gifts from their place of preparation, often an altar in another chapel, to the priests, who would bless the water and wine before the minister would repose them on the altar of sacrifice. In the late first and early second millennium Roman liturgy, lay people would present the gifts to the celebrant during Mass, but only because they had fermented the wine and baked the bread themselves and at the beckoning of the Bishop of Rome. The Byzantine Great Procession is a relic of the Hagia Sophia, where the bishop and deacons would celebrate the first half of the Divine Liturgy while the priests in the skeuphlakion prepared the bread and wine in the ceremony now known as the proskomedia; the Great Procession brought those gifts to the altar and announced the intentions associated with them. The 1964/5 procession has no foundation in liturgical history, unless one considers that at some point a sacred minister had at some prior point taken bread and wine from a table to the altar.

The celebration of the Fore-Mass at the sedilia would not be as unwelcomed as it is if not for the enormous thrones, inevitably stationed at an angle, priests make for themselves. The real trouble with this is that celebration from the chair is traditionally associated with the teaching authority of the bishop, hence why Mass at the Throne and Mass at the Faldstool are considered fuller celebrations of the Roman Mass.

The Agatha Christie Indult and the foundational documents of the Institute of Christ the King (according to one ex-priest I knew) respectively directed the 1967 and 1965 liturgies. Both were summarily ignored for variations of the 1962 and pre-Pius XII liturgies. The FSSPX used the 1964/5 caeremoniale, but entirely in Latin for the sake of international students, until the French branch settled on 1962 and the rest of the Fraternity adopted pre-Pius XII. Putatively, the monasteries of le Barroux and the Fontgombault line use 1964/5, but it seems more likely that they use 1962 without the prayers before the altar (1964/5 had them), without the last Gospel, vernacular readings, and some new prefaces (taken from Paul VI's Missal); they did not adopt the ambitious range of vernacular texts nor all the ritual changes.

Given Cardinal Sarah's interest in the Ordinariate Missal and the Pope's lack of interest in anything in the Missal, one would be hard pressed to recognize this true Mass of Vatican II as anything other than a historical road sign, a point of passing.

As an aside, something does need to be done about the abusive levels of concelebration in the Roman Church today. It is an inherently good thing, well rooted in the Eastern and Western traditions, and a sign of communion between a priest and his bishop, but I remember once speaking with a visiting Dominican friar who told me that he had to look in the Missal and read up on how to celebrate Mass for our community. Why? "I concelebrate daily Mass at the priory, so I don't do this too often."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Turgid Words: How Not to Write

Some writers engage a reader with floral, Waughian descriptions that were becoming unacceptable in literary criticism just as the style was perfected in Brideshead Revisited. Others, Hemingway among them, preferred brief and terse verbiage that allows the reader to imagine setting while the pace of dialogue sets the mood. More recently, Donna Tartt writes down to the precise detail of characters' shoes, the floor arrangement of exhibitions, unsavory activities, and internal thoughts without ever employing an excessive word; Mr. Grump likened her style to a rich chocolate cake: delicious, but only tolerable in measured doses. Floridity and detail need not be sacrificed at the altar of post-modernity, but style has its limits before it irritates the reader.

I recently had the displeasure of reading Bradley Birzer's biography of Russell Kirk, called simply Russell Kirk: American Conservative. The book, a gift I would not have purchased on my own, recalls a quote from a forgotten author, "I have not yet run so dry of ideas to resort to writing biography." Kirk himself wrote biographies of John Randolph and Edmund Burke; his magnum opus, The Conservative Mind, was a series of intellectual biographies and vignettes intent on establishing an Anglo-American conservative political tradition outside of reactionary outcry. On rare occasion biography can be done well, if only economically. If less is more, Birzer does not know when to stop.

Mr. Birzer's 400 page hagiography, flattery, and canonization of the modest Russell Kirk is a textbook on how a person with respectable grammar can improve his style, if only in that it lays out context tendencies to avoid. The book is turgid beyond belief. Every noun is preceded by generally unnecessary and aggrandizing adjectives: "the great Eliot", "the magnificent Stoic", "the Roman Catholic Nicholas Joost". If someone considering a foray into the creation process ever wondered about writing aimless lists, Birzer offers something worth reading; he loves lists, even if they amount to less than Calvin's Institutes. He lists the names of writers who influenced Kirk in long successions for no apparent reason; one can guess Birzer is either attempting to establish a tradition of thought where there is not one or trying to convince the reader that he knows the works of those men in depth. In the span of three pages he lists: "natural law from Plato and Aristotle to the Stoics to Cicero to Richard Hooker to Grotius and Pufendorf to Montesquieu to Burke, Blackstone, and the American Founders"; "Burke, the American Founders, Joseph Story, Orestes Brownson, Irving Babbitt, and C.S. Lewis"; "German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper as well as that of philosophers Alasdair McIntyre and Russell Hittinger"; and "Socrates to Cicero to Christopher Dawson and C.S. Lewis". Perhaps if Birzer spent more time reading these men than dropping their names he would have learned some stylistic lessons?

Blog posts here are rarely planned well enough in advance to warrant anything other than grammatical revision—and even that will slip the Rad Trad's mind in turn—but I would like to think my style is legible. Lord, save us from the turgid words of those who have much to say and little to mean!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

John McLaughlin, SJ

I recently read of the death of John McLaughlin, Republican personality, Congressional candidate, speechwriter to Richard Nixon, television presenter, and one time priest for the Society of Jesus.

It seems like it should have worked: a religious order functioning as the milites Christi, educated men willing to go wherever the Church asked them throughout the world, irrespective of comfort or peril. But it did not work. For every saint like Edmund Campion there is a Molina, Chardin, and McLaughlin. John McLaughlin will be remembered for his contribution to Nixonian politics, but his brief foray into the priesthood demands a least a personal anecdote. 

Other than Irish names and nominal Catholicism, McLaughlin and I share only an affiliation with a Jesuit secondary school in Connecticut, Fairfield College Preparatory. After his ordination in 1959, McLaughlin split his time between writing a dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins at Columbia and teaching English at Prep, as we called it. At some point between Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and his departure from the school in 1970, McLaughlin became intensely interested in national politics. He would sermonize the dangers of Communism and the importance of victory in our Pacific proxy war to his English Literature students in Xavier and Berchmans Halls (before the latest addition named for Pedro Arupe). McLaughlin even admonished them of the virtue of going to war and warned them not to burn their draft cards or think of Canada. Vietnam may have been an ocean away, but Jerusalem and Rome were other worlds.

According to one of my teachers from the "old days" recounted to my History class that McLaughlin's pugnacious pedagogy nauseated enough of the student body for one young Preppy to do something about it. One fine day, while speaking once again about the war in Vietnam and the need for American boys to do their duty bravely and without fear of death, a student produced a grenade, audibly removed the pin, and rolled it down the aisle between the desks. It turned and tumbled until it reached Dr. McLaughlin's feet. Someone yelled "Bomb!" McLaughlin immediately darted from the room, ran down the stairs, through the center quadrangle, and presumably arrived at a safe point to observe the explosion. But there was no explosion. The "grenade" was a defused dud purchased at a surplus store. 

Father returned to class and informed the student he had JUG at the end of the day. JUG is Prep speak for detention, "Justice Under God." A student in my own day found himself suspended after reporting for JUG with a female teacher and telling her, "I like your JUGs." This student, having made his point, accepted his JUG with resignation. A steep staircase between the school and lower parking lot, dozens of them, attracts loitering and littering; he had to clean each step by hand on his knees. Unlike detention rooms, JUG is served under the teacher who gives it and it ends at the teacher's discretion. McLaughlin only intended to keep the grenadier for an hour after school ended at 2:30, but stayed late grading papers. When he left around 5:00, having forgotten the JUGee, he pulled up to the stairwell, rolled down the window, and said, "Sufficient" before driving off.

McLaughlin would run for Congress without permission from the Society—still reeling from the election of abortion-advocate and sexual predator Robert Drinan, SJ—and, when his superiors demanded he return to ministry, he left the priesthood to work with Patrick Buchanan. He married and divorced twice while enjoying a long-running, public broadcasting venture, a poor man's Firing Line

Many of the best priests I know came to the Jesuits for a vocation and left after one year, often with counselling from older members of the Society. The same formation Father McLaughlin received is still alive and well today.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Joseph Resurgent?

Back in May of this year, The Remnant organized a pilgrimage to La Salette, advertised specifically as an apparition site of St. Joachim’s son-in-law. A few weeks ago, a blog story about approved contemporary apparitions of St. Joseph made the rounds. Pope Francis won’t shut up about Joseph, even praising the sainted carpenter’s homeschooling skills. Some male friends of mine recently bought a house and placed it under St. Joseph’s patronage. And so on.

Why does the stepfather of Our Lord, particularly the fraudulently youthful version of him, appear to be regaining popularity? While I have no objection to the veneration of anyone raised to the altars, the devotionalism surrounding Joseph is awkward and anti-intellectually sentimental. What is it about New St. Joseph that attracts the adoration of men’s groups and doe-eyed mystics?

Pictured: Doe-Eyed Mystic
Firstly, I think the “Joseph the Worker” angle is very appealing to the modern man who finds it difficult to orient himself in the increasingly inhuman Western workplace. Opus Dei’s spirituality is too intense to appeal to everyone, but a more generic devotion to Joseph as a workman is attractive to those repulsed by Hispanic spirituality.

Secondly, New St. Joseph is palatable to young Catholic men trying to regain a sense of masculinity in a culture besieged by feminists and perverts. This version of Joseph serves as an ideal for young men looking for virtuous examples of saints living in the world as husbands and fathers.

Thirdly, the hatred of old age and idolization of youth continues apace. As Romano Amerio expounded upon in Iota Unum, the unthoughtful exuberance of youth is glorified in the modern world, while the calm wisdom of the elderly is belittled. The Hebrew proverb that said “Old age is a crown of dignity” has been forgotten, and the Church continues to idolize the young with its annual World Youth Day summer camps.

Fourthly, the Holy Family devotion is still a beacon of hope for those Catholics stuck in desperately poor family conditions, and this devotion falls apart without New Joseph at its head. As Catholic prelates continue to allow the Catholic doctrines of the family to burn while they light cigars on the flames, expect to hear much more from them about how devotion to the Holy Family can patch up everything.

St. Joseph, king of the road trips, pray for us!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pray for Bishop Richard

Please pray for the soul of Bishop Richard Seminack, who fell asleep in the Lord yesterday after a long decline in health. He had been the bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the central United States for thirteen years.

 We mortals were made from out of the dust of the earth, and to the earth we 
shall return again as you commanded when you made us; saying:
‘Earth you are and to the earth you shall return.’
All we mortals make our journey to this end, making our funeral dirge the chant:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

St. Joachim in Tradition and Art

Ambrosius Benson, 1530

In spite of his common popularity throughout the ages of Christendom, St. Joachim did not receive a general feast in the Roman Rite until the 1500s, when it was assigned to March 20 by P. Julius II. Previously it had been celebrated in various places on September 16 and December 9. In 1793, the feast was moved to the Sunday after the Assumption by P. Clement XII, then to August 16 by P. Pius X. Under the 1969 kalendar overhaul, Joachim's feast was merged with Anne's for a unified July 26 feast (the day of her dormition), but Catholics celebrating the Old Latin Mass will be venerating the grandfather of God today.

The name and story of Joachim are known to us primarily through the Proto-Gospel of James, a work much despised by hagiographical iconoclasts, and by St. Jerome. Some biblical commentators have discerned a mention of Joachim in the Heli of St. Luke's Gospel (via the variant Eliachim), although this is far from certain. His name is shared with the wicked Jehoiakim (Joakim), one of the last kings of Judah before the Babylonian captivity.

Albrecht Dürer, 1504
The Proto-Gospel portrays Joachim as a man wealthy in all things but children. Grieved by this lack, and shamed by his fellow countrymen, he impulsively retires into the desert with his flocks to fast for forty days. His wife Anne also prays and mourns, thinking herself a widow. When an angel finally appears to them both and promises them a great progeny, they meet at the city. "Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck," writes Pseudo-James. This scene became a popular trope in art and iconography: Joachim and Anne Meeting at the Golden Gate. Some commentators, like St. John Damascene, argued that the conception of the Blessed Virgin was effected without a hint of sexual concupiscence, but the amorous entanglements of the art argued otherwise.

Joachim and Anne's house in Jerusalem was converted into a church known as St. Anne's or the Holy Probatica, probably by St. Helena. In the ninth century it was converted into an Islamic school, but the crypt below was permitted to remain as a pilgrimage site by the Muslims. Pilgrims were forced to slide down a small chute in order to visit the crypt.

From the readings of Mattins, a selection from the sermon of St. Epiphanius:
These three, Joachim, Anne, and Mary, clearly offered up unto the Trinity a sacrifice of praise. For the name Joachim being interpreted, signifieth "the preparation of the Lord", and out of him was prepared the Temple of the Lord, namely, the Virgin. The name Anne signifieth grace, and she and Joachim did indeed receive a grace when, in answer to their prayers, they generated such an offspring, compassing the Holy Virgin. Joachim prayed upon the mountain and Anne in her garden.

Konrad Witz, 1435

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gaudeamus Omnes! Assumpta Est Maria!

Below is an annual repost of one of the more insightful liturgical articles on this blog.

*     *     *

Liturgical theology is, according to Aidan Kavanagh, not a theological examination of the liturgy, but theology done by means of the liturgy. Liturgy is the theologia prima of the Church. When someone asks a Catholic how to learn more about the faith, the believer never directs the inquirer to obtain a copy of Denzinger. Invariably, the believer tells the non-Catholic to go to Mass (and hopefully at a carefully selected location). With this in mind, let us [very succinctly] consider what the Church told and taught us about the Assumption of the Mother of God today.

Apse of St. Mary Major with mosaic of Mary as Queen of Heaven,
crowned by and reigning with Christ.
source: Rad Trad's collection
Mattins—or the "vigil," as Dobszay insisted on calling the first major hour—consists of nine psalms and readings divided evenly into three nocturnes. Contrary to the eccentric and rich local traditions of northern Europe, which created special texts for Marian feasts, the Roman rite retains a primitive and sparse text. The psalms and hymns for the feast are typical of any Marian feast prior to the 1860s when Pius IX issued a unique liturgy for the Immaculate Conception. Where the Assumption stands alone is in the Mattins lessons and the text of the Mass. According to Dom Gueranger: 
"the Lord Pope went to St Mary Major, where, surrounded by his court, he celebrated First Vespers. At the beginning of the night the Matins with nine lessons were chanted in the same church.
"Meanwhile an ever-growing crowd gathers on the piazza of the Lateran, awaiting the Pontiff's return.... Around the picture of the Saviour, within the sanctuary, stand twelve bearers who form its perpetual guard, all members of the most illustrious families, and near them are the representatives of the senate and of the Roman people.
"But the signal is given that the papal retinue is redescending the Esquiline. Instantly lighted torches glitter on all sides, either held in the hand, or carried on the brancards of the corporations. Assisted by the deacons, the Cardinals raise on their shoulders the holy image, which advances under a canopy, escorted in perfect order by the immense multitude. Along the illuminated and decorated streets, amid the singing of the psalms and the sound of instruments, the procession reaches the ancient Triumphal Way, winds round the Coliseum, and, passing through the arches of Constantine and Titus, halts for a first Station on the Via Sacra, before the church called St Mary Minor.... In this church, while the second Matins with three lessons are being chanted in honor of the Mother, some priests wash, with scented water in a silver basin, the feet of the her Son, our Lord, and then sprinkle the people with the water thus sanctified. Then the venerable picture sets out once more, crosses the Forum amidst acclamations.... it at least enters the piazza of St Mary Major. Then the delight and the appluse of the crowd are redoubled; all, men and women, great and little, as we read in a document of 1462 (archivio della Compagnia di Sancta Sanctorum), forgetting the fatigue of a whole night spent without sleep, cease not till morning to visit and venerate our Lord and Mary. In this glorious basilica, adorned as a bridge, the glorious Office of Lauds celebrates the meeting of the Son and the Mother and their union for all eternity." (The Liturgical Year, August 15)
All rungs of Roman society paused regular life and joined Christ and Mary in the divine life for a night and an octave, celebrating Mary joining her Son in eternity and anticipating their own union with Christ in eternity. Mary was the first of what Christ wants all Christians to become by the Sacraments, albeit in a lesser degree.

The first three lessons are extracted from chapter 1 of the Song of Songs:
1 Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine,2 Smelling sweet of the best ointments. thy name is as oil poured out: therefore young maidens have loved thee.3 Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments. The king hath brought me into his storerooms: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, remembering thy breasts more than wine: the righteous love thee.4 I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.5 Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun hath altered my colour: the sons of my mother have fought against me, they have made me the keeper in the vineyards: my vineyard I have not kept.6 Show me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the midday, lest I begin to wander after the flocks of thy companions.7 If thou know not thyself, O fairest among women, go forth, and follow after the steps of the flocks, and feed thy kids beside the tents of the shepherds.8 To my company of horsemen, in Pharao's chariots, have I likened thee, O my love.9 Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtledove's, thy neck as jewels.10 We will make thee chains of gold, inlaid with silver.11 While the king was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odour thereof.12 A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, he shall abide between my breasts.13 A cluster of cypress my love is to me, in the vineyards of Engaddi.14 Behold thou art fair, O my love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are as those of doves.15 Behold thou art fair, my beloved, and comely. Our bed is flourishing.16 The beams of our houses are of cedar, our rafters of cypress trees.

Some of these verses are very sensual and even sexual. Let no one say that the medievals were prudish on matters of intimacy! These verses can be applied both as the Church's acclamation to the Virgin, joyfully exclaiming her maternal nurturing of us Christians working out our salvation in fear and trembling. These words can also, with some care and reservation, be interpreted as a dialogue between Mary and her Creator. The first verse "Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine" speaks to Mary on a level of intimacy that no man ever knew, but Christ did. He nursed from her, yes, but He, in the Father, also created her in accordance with His divine plan for mankind. The image of the breast conjures immature sexual ideas today, but previous peoples instantly affiliated it with nurturing and familial ties: the affection of the husband, the nurturing of the children—two kinds of love, the second generated from the first, which reflects the Divine Love. At this level of power and privacy did Mary know God, of course without the sexual element. Should the dialogue interpretation continue, Mary is both removed from conventions "I am black, but I am beautiful" and presented as close with God on the level of bride in the King's chamber, as the versicle before the third nocturne says.

The readings in the second nocturne come from St. John of Damascus' second treatise on the Dormition of the Mother of God. These readings replaced the writings of St. Dionysius of the [pseudo] Areopagite —which would have been the lessons read at St Mary Minor—with the Tridentine reforms. St. John explains the typology of the Virgin, her prefigurement in the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the old promise between God and mankind, and its fulfillment in her, who housed the new and eternal promise between God and mankind. And like Christ, she did not refuse death, but embraced it as a path to life away from the death wrought by Adam:
"From her true life had flowed for all men, and how should she taste of death? But she yielded obedience to the law established by Him to Whom she had given birth, and, as the daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence, which even her Son, Who is the very Life Itself, had not refused; but, as the Mother of the living God, she was worthily taken by Him unto Himself."
In the treatise from which the above passage in extracted, the Damascene saint goes on to teach that Mary's body could only be assumed into heaven because its use by Christ consecrated it as a thing of heaven. The treatise goes on to recount the entire event of the Dormition and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which ran the course of three days:
"An ancient tradition has been handed down to us, that, at the time of the glorious falling-asleep of the blessed Virgin, all the Apostles, who were wandering throughout the world preaching salvation to the Gentiles, were caught up aloft in the twinkling of an eye, and met together in Jerusalem. And when they were all there, a vision of Angels appeared to them, and the chant of the heavenly powers was heard; and so with divine glory she gave up her soul into the hands of God. But her body, which bore God in an effable manner, being lifted up amid the hymns of Angels and Apostles was laid in a tomb in Gethsemane. There for three whole days the angelic song was heard.
"But after three days, the chant of the Angels ceased, and the Apostles who were present (for Thomas, the only one who had been absent, came after the third day, and wished to adore the body which had borne God) opened the tomb; but they could by no means find her sacred body in any part of it. But when they only found those garments in which she had been buried, and were filled with indescribable fragrance which emanated from them, they closed the tomb. Amazed at this wonderful mystery they could only think that he, who had been pleased to take flesh from the Virgin Mary, to be made man, and to be born though he was God the Word, and the Lord of glory, he who had preserved her virginity without stain after childbirth, should also have been pleased to honor her pure body after her death, keeping it incorrupt, and translating it into Heaven before the general resurrection." 
The best sermon this writer ever heard preached about the Assumption, or "Dormition" given the setting, was that of a Melkite deacon. Paraphrasing and condensing ten minutes into a few sentences, "Heaven and earth were not vast enough to hold Gods' glory, but Mary's womb was. Christ received His Divine nature when He was begotten of the Father in eternity. He received His human nature when He was conceived and born of Mary in time. When her earthly course was run, Mary died and her body was taken into heaven by the One Who created her because it was inconceivable that the womb which ore God-made-Man could decay in the ground. But this does not separate Mary from mankind. God became united to mankind through her. Mary was the first. We will never know God as closely as she did on earth, except perhaps when we receive Holy Communion, but we can pray to know Him in eternity because of her."

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
At the third nocturne we arrive at the Gospel of the day, also used in the Mass of the day. The pericope, Luke 10:38-42, is the same Gospel story applied in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Greek tradition for this feast, adding verses 11:27-28. The last verses used in the Byzantine liturgy highlight the entire point of the Gospel for this day: "And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." Is any depiction in pre-modern art more popular than that of the Annunciation? Mary became special because she bore Christ. She is a powerful intercessor with Him, indeed the most powerful intercessor with Him precisely for this reason. But also for this reason Mary is not a lone, solitary figure of power. She matters because wherever she is, Christ is nearby. Practically every depiction of the Virgin before the vulgar kitsche artwork of the 19th century showed Mary and our Lord Jesus together. In the various pieta paintings and sculptures, the great paintings depicting the Crucifixion and Norman rood screens recounting the same event, and first millennium holy images—Eastern and Western alike—Mary is with her Son. So let us agree with the woman in the crowd: blessed is the womb that bore the Lord! And then let us turn our attention from Mary to Christ by hearing the word of God and by keeping it.

Culminating with the Mass, the Introit invites us to enter into the heavenly abode of joy, elevated from the earthly joy and instruction in Mattins and Lauds, as well as the rites local to the diocese of Rome described by Gueranger above. In the Mass God's presence begins as a mystic one and elevates into a literal presence that can be seen and touched, a presence similar to the one Mary knew as Christ's mother. The collect of the Mass is among the best in the Roman tradition:
"Forgive, O Lord, we beseech thee, the sins of thy servants: that we who by our own deeds are unable to please thee, may be saved by the intercession of the Mother of thy Son our Lord."
This collect, as Fr. Hunwicke has stated, is the theology of Mary East and West. What words could better express our Lady's place in the plan of salvation? The Mass became the integral part of the Assumption liturgy and, in time, many stunning settings of the Mass were written by the great polyphonic and choral composers. Palestrina's setting of the Ordinary of Mass is a personal favorite. The below sequence of videos has both the proper chants and Palestrina's setting concatenated, as for a Mass.

Lastly, the feast is an octave. This blog has discussed in other posts the concept of the eighth day and the theology of the Resurrection. Christ rose on the eighth day after He entered Jerusalem and He appeared to the Apostles on the eighth day after that, one octave after another. Moreover, the Resurrection constitutes the eighth day of the week, the new day of Creation, or re-creation. Mary's tomb, like her Son's was found empty. While the myrrh-bearing women and the Apostles Peter and John only found a few burial garments in Christ's tomb, Mary's tomb was found full of flowers and sweet scents. Christ's Resurrection brought mystery only clarified with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary's Assumption was clear and a fruit of Christ's Resurrection. 

Unfortunately, this historic and gladsome liturgy was altered in 1950 after Pius XII's definition of the Assumption—wherein he says nothing new and clears up none of the controversy stemming from the chirpy immortalist crowd, even if the accompanying letter did in fact say she died. The Office readings were altered severely: the first reading is now taken from Genesis chapter 3 and the next two readings from Corinthians (the same passage used in the Requiem Mass). The Pope's encyclical Munificentissimus Deus replaces one of the lessons from St. John of Damascus. The hymns are new and utterly ghastly. And the Mass is entirely new. The Introit is no longer an invitation to joy, but instead an excerpt from Revelation chapter 12. The collect is banal beyond belief and the Gospel is the account of the Annunciation heard at practically every Marian feast now other than the Immaculate Conception. Of all the changes to the feast in 1950, the insertion of Genesis chapter 3 at Mattins and the new Introit of Mass stand out most. Far from according to a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the previous liturgy, these texts exude the images of plaster statues and devotional lithographs so common in the 19th and early 20th century. Who has not seen a plaster statue of the Virgin, clothed in blue, perhaps with a bulbous baroque crown rimmed in twelve stars, standing on a blue globe and crushing the head of a green snake? The problem that arises from this depiction of Mary as crushing sin and standing above the moon, crowned with stars is not so much what it says as much as what it fails to say. The Mary of these images, pieces of art, and, to some extent, devotions is an aggrandized Mary not entirely dependent on Christ for her importance. There is nothing wrong with these texts doctrinally, but they replace other texts that were more coherent, beautiful, and holistically reflective of the Church's understanding of our Lady. The octave was stripped in 1955.

As with Holy Week, the same people who created the Pauline liturgy restored a few small portions of what they vitiated in the 1950s. The old Gaudeamus omnes Introit is made available as an option. The Mass as a whole is just as bad as the Pian Mass though. The readings are respectively Revelation 12 and the 1951-1969 Mattins readings from Corinthians; the Gospel is again the Annunciation. Mattins The Office of Readings gives Ephesians 1:16-2:10 and again Pius XII's encyclical as the lessons. The mystical understanding of Mary in union with Christ, representing the Church, and the link between the God-Man and mankind is obscured or forgotten. Who can deny that even the most pious of Roman Catholics—far better people than the Rad Trad—only know of Mary through the kitsch statue or as the object of the line "Hail, full of grace"? Again, there is nothing strictly heterodox about this folkish interpretation, but it comes at the cost of the stronger, traditional interpretation of the feast.

On a happy note I know of at least one priest who celebrated the old Mass and kept the old Office for August 15 and the octave! This feast, like so many of the most ancient feasts in the Roman rite, brings the faithful deep into the mens of the Church and her theology of the mysteries of God.

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Laudism: Visual Reform

"There is a difference," wrote Russell Kirk, "between reform and change." Reform returns institutions and associations to their original purity in a fashion suitable to the needs of contemporary people, while change for its own sake tends towards instability and calamity. Any genuine reform movement that begins at the top, rather than the rising from grass roots, risks not becoming a full reforms, merely an intellectual fetish for a small clique. The neo-conservative and libertarian sectaries overran Kirk's own traditionalist conservative movement and relegated his own legacy to that of small seminars and annual awards dinners. The same happened to the Laudian "high church" movement in the Church of England and a similar fate might await the Reform of the Reform cause if some serious inroads are not made.

Reform movements must also swiftly recover whatever heritage they desire to preserve before it falls out of living memory and leaves those it wishes to assist to new formations. As a point of illustration and general historical interest, students in the Modern History track at Oxford have created three photographic demonstrations of liturgy in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, showing the medieval Sarum Mass (in 18th century Roman vestments), Cramner's communion service, and the prayer book service with ritual inspiration from William Laud. Each phase is remarkably, even jarringly, different from what preceded it. First the medieval Mass sung in Latin with its mystery, then the stark spoken service with long didactic parts spoken by a cleric in quasi-academic dress, and lastly a ritualized version of the previous done in Roman vestments on an altar instead of a table and with greater singing. Each transition elicited violence of a spiritual and physical nature.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Against the Idea of Retroactive Prayer

"Boethius and Philosophy," Mattia Preti

“We should never lose hope, even for those who seem to die outside of a state of grace,” said Fr. Provocateur. The setting was an adult catechism class, during the usual Q&A section at the end. “We must remember that God exists outside of time, that he sees all things at once. Because of this, he can hear our prayers much later in time and apply them to an event that happened much earlier, from our point of view.”

“But Father,” yours truly interjected, “it seems rather strange, if not presumptuous to pray for a different outcome of something that has already happened.”

“Well, you can’t know what was going through this person’s soul at the moment of death,” he replied. “It’s a mystery to us, and God can retroactively apply all the merit sought for this soul for its conversion, no matter when the prayers were said. You can also pray for a good outcome for something that has already happened, but which you haven’t heard the outcome. It is only presumptuous if you are trying to change what you know to have happened.”

“Sounds wibbly-wobbly, to me.”

~ ~ ~

I have had similar assurances of God’s supra-temporal, retroactive intercession before, but rarely from a Catholic priest. Back in my Protestant years, it was common to hear amateur theologians opine about the complex relationship of time, eternity, and prayer. Such speculations are especially frequent in debates about the nature and operation of predestination and divine foreknowledge. While I do not suggest that the relationship between God’s eternal nature and our time-bound natures is easy to understand, I think that these pious pseudo-certainties are being rather poorly considered.

One is reminded of the old story about a wise rabbi, who once overheard a man in his village praying to God about his very pregnant wife. “Oh God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the wicked man prayed, “please make my child to be a son!” The rabbi chastised the man thoroughly, because the child his wife was carrying was already either a boy or a girl. Even though he couldn’t see the child’s sex, God and the angels surely did. It was arrogant for the man to ask God to change what he had already wrought.

That God in his eternity beholds and acts simultaneously on what we experience as past, present, and future, is the common belief of Catholic theologians. That prayer is efficacious in spite (or because) of God’s foreknowledge, is quite universally held to be true. These are mysterious doctrines, but still fertile ground for contemplation. It is a simplistic conclusion, however, to say that we can retroactively alter past events of which we happen to be ignorant through our prayers.

The softness of logic that goes into these pious nothings shows the influence of popular science fiction and media, in my opinion. The glut of time-travel plots in our popular storytelling has brutalized our minds with flashy anti-logic. Once the public had gotten used to the idea of reality and history as malleable things, it was not much of a stretch to apply reality-altering illogic to prayer and providence.

This sentimental softness is related to a weakness of thought about Being. It is also evidence that we consider the spiritual realm more malleable than the physical, which is certainly not the case. When the Devil and his angels fell, they fell with greater permanence and willfulness than any man has ever fallen. It is actually the physical world that is most malleable, that is most plastic, and yet our minds rebel violently at the thought of, say, the Moon suddenly disappearing without a trace, or being replaced with a giant pyramid made of quartz.

But we are okay with thinking that we can retroactively change the state of a dead man’s soul? The final choice of a human soul at the moment of death is so irrevocable that the angels shudder. Heaven prepares a new eternal home, or Hell opens its maw, to receive the newly departed. These are real things that happen with absolute certainty, quite regardless of our sight or immediate knowledge, and once they happen they cannot be undone. There is something weirdly perverse to think we can change the outcome of such a momentous past event.

By prayer we enter in some mysterious way into the realm of the eternal God. We do not thereby step into a TARDIS, shoot through the time-stream, tweak a few historical events, then pop back into the present for a cup of tea. There is nothing wicked about praying for an outcome if we were ignorant that said outcome had already been reached, but there is no reason to think that these prayers were efficacious towards that end.

The world marches on with or without us, and so does the will of God. Something that was done cannot be made to have never been done, nor to have been done differently. Past is past, and we act only in the present. We thank God for what is, not for what we wish had been.

“I have found power in the mysteries of thought,
exaltation in the changing of the Muses;
I have been versed in the reasonings of men;
but Fate is stronger than anything I have known.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Giving Priests New Purpose: A Few Suggestions


Back in January, His Traddiness argued that increasing the presence of priests and religious on college campuses could be a method of ensuring their continued social worth, a point brought up again recently in his “Unholy Writ.” I do not disagree, and I think placing religious figures in a place where people experience many major turning points in their lives is probably the only way the priesthood will regain any prominence in the public consciousness. One thinks of Fr. Leonard Feeney, who got himself in so much trouble for encouraging young people at Boston College to read patristic sources with his peculiar theological lens.

But there are other such turning points, other times of psychological plasticity when people are more capable of formation. Suicide rates in the United States have recently reached a thirty-year high, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. These rates seem to be going up around the globe, and there is as yet no major Catholic spiritual movement combatting the plague of self-murder or its causes. When suicides occur, the dead are spoken of in vaguely sentimental and pitying terms, neither condemning the act nor the malaise of despair that causes it.

Priests and religious would do well to organize and oppose suicide in all its forms. This means first and foremost being compassionate and proactively seeking out people of all ages who are lost in the mire of desperation. They must learn basic counseling skills, the essentials of the psychological sciences (modern and classic), and the ability to spot potential perpetrator-victims. Compassion is the honey needed to attract the bees, but the desperate cases will not respond without a strong demand for moral reorientation.

So, it would also mean preaching or otherwise publicly opposing suicide as a legitimate moral option in any circumstance. Those who legitimize the option as a noble exit from this life must be condemned as neo-pagans. (St. Augustine’s harsh words on the subject ought to become as familiar as rote.) Those Catholics who implicitly legitimize it by moral sophistry and by exaggerating the slightest argument for lack of culpability must be silenced. Bishops might consider reviving the ancient practice of refusing to bury suicides in sacred ground after this movement has gained some traction.

Another turning point is at conversion to the Catholic Faith. The Church receives many converts every year, but some estimates put the attrition rate of American converts at about 50% within the first year. Conversion is very much a time of psychological plasticity, when men and women are both emotionally vulnerable and capable of surprising alterations in their lives. The choice to leave behind their former beliefs and way of life also puts them at great risk if the following months and years go poorly.

I have described conversion before as a kind of psychological trauma, and I think that is important to bear in mind. The convert has become psychologically destabilized, intentionally, in his efforts to reorient his mind, body, and heart to the Catholic spirit. He is the recipient of many graces and movements of the Holy Ghost, but he is not capable of fully realizing those graces if he cannot find the proper help and formation on the other end.

The very people who are good at bringing people into the Church are terrible at keeping them here. The intellectual formation offered by apologetics is very different from the formation needed by the newly-confirmed Catholic. While the potential convert desires arguments, historical education, and an introduction to basic liturgical prayer, the recently-converted desires moral formation, spiritual practices (devotional or otherwise), the exploration of sacred art, the patronage of his chosen saint, and the discovery of his place in the Catholic social order.

While the aid of laymen (especially godparents and sponsors) is important in many respects, priests and religious ought to take the lead in offering this assistance to recent converts. Perhaps a five- or even ten-year plan could be developed, in which the infant Catholic is gradually guided into spiritual adulthood. As St. Paul once wrote, “You were little children in Christ’s nursery, and I gave you milk, not meat; you were not strong enough for it.” It is grossly unjust to allow converts to wander aimlessly after their conversion, as if assuming that the Spirit who moved them into the Church will infallibly lead them through all of its troubled waters. Clearly this is not the case, as proven by the apostates that commit spiritual suicide in droves.

Welcome to the Church! Prepare to be ignored. (source)
These two ministries—for the suicidal and for the convert—could even be grown out of His Traddiness’s proposed college ministries. Colleges and universities are common trouble spots for depression and self-hatred, but also fertile grounds for conversions when given the right professor or priest. I do not know if such ministrations would be effective towards strengthening the Church’s position in society and culture, but I do know that they are desperately needed, and would be greatly appreciated by the recipients thereof.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Beauty: Is It Worth It?

"I think Luther might have been on to something."
"No, no he wasn't."
"Just look at this place. It's ridiculous."
"It's a church, and not a new one built in America."
"You're just defending everything pre-Vatican II."

Such an exchange took place five years ago in the basilica that commemorates today's miracle, the "Lady of Snows," when the Virgin answered the prayers of Pope St. Liberius and drew the foundations of a church in her honor.

St. Mary's has more in common with the Lateran Cathedral than with either St. Paul Outside the Wall or St. Peter's Basilica. It is a pivot point, itself fundamentally unchanged and still while the Christian world has turned around it, each age leaving a part of itself as it passes: a basilica constructed in the most Romanesque sense, enhanced by the mosaic styles of the first millennium, the floor and altars contributions of the middle ages, the ceiling of the Renaissance, and the chapels and statuary thoroughly baroque. There is a tremendous amount of what my conversant, one time a Dominican novice, deemed excessively ornamental. Most of these superfluous items, effigies of dead princes and likenesses of nobles, came through patronage of St. Mary's by the Spanish court and ruling classes, who held a close association with the church until recent times.

Some of St. Mary's chapels near decadence, but the church is generally beautiful and beauty, said death bed penitent Oscar Wilde, is "useless." To Wilde something was "useless" if it was good, it required no functional purpose for its existence other than its own categorical virtue. Some baroque churches accomplish this architectural feat better than others (baroque is very expensive and difficult to do well); the medieval, uniquely born in the Christian age, best exemplifies beauty for the sake of the Divine alone, although Roman and Byzantine styles can also reach Edmund Burke's concept of the "sublime," a kind of haunting beauty that incites fear within our vulnerable instincts.

Our poor conversant was reared in the religion of large "folk Masses" in churches built after the styles of dormant Detroit warehouses melded with a singularly Wojtylan interest in the Divine Mercy chaplet and family issues, and apostasy was a lesser sin than sniffing within a mile of a Lefebvre-derived Mass. He was devout, the best American Catholicism had to offer in the 1990s. To him a church could never be "useless" for God nor a pivot point in history, through which we are merely passing per omnia saecla saeculorum on our way to the vitam venturi saeculi. Would that there be more churches as uselessly beautiful as St. Mary's!

Upon learning that both Ss. Jerome and Pius V rest within the Liberian basilica this soon-to-be Preacher changed his mind about the Roman basilicas. When we arrived at St. Peter's he pondered aloud, affirmatively, as to whether or not "the Reformation was worth it".