Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Notes from Armenia

A naturalized American citizen of Armenia extraction, otherwise known as the Rad Trad's closest friend, is currently back in the homeland to pay overdue regards to her family. She has provided a few scattered, if interesting points of interest concerning the Church founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator a decade before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

First, churches are dilapidated because they have been in continuous use with very little necessary maintenance since their original construction how ever many centuries ago. Her village, just outside of the capital, Yerevan, is supported by a monastic church built in 704. A neighboring church was built in the sixth century. While age is a prize, the churches are not kept to the degree that the similarly old Papal basilicas of Rome are. Armenia is poor and has always been poor. Also, during the many centuries when Armenia was under the yoke of the Muhammadans Ottomans and Soviets, church repair proved nigh impossible. The Armenian Church has traditionally valued austerity in style, but any minute ornamentation added over the generations has vanished into dusty grey and brown brick. One monastic church (shown in the video above) is fortunate to enjoy an on-going restoration; it was abandoned during the Soviet era, after Stalin's men threw the priests off the adjacent cliff one by one. Many churches are worse for the wear, but the more notable ones tend to inhabit natural features such as rocks and caves, which lessens the concern for their decay.

Second, the churches are still well attended and occupy a place of importance in the community. In the villages women wear veils—not doilies and mantillas, real veils—whenever they enter the church, even to light a candle; in Yerevan, they veil solely for Communion, as they do at St. Vartan Cathedral in New York. The Mass (as most English-speaking Armenians call their Eucharistic sacrifice) and the Office are conducted in Old Armenian, which is less intelligible to an Armenian speaker than Slavonic to a Russian or Ukrainian and with an air of mystery, covering the altar with a curtain during the introductory part of the liturgy. Sermons are rare outside of the cathedrals; priests may deliver a short fervorino, but formal homilies are the realm of the bishop. They just "get on with the Mass" I am told. As there are no real sermons there are no real seats, that Protestant innovation for listening to ecclesiastical lecturers drone. The altar remains the singular point of focus. The faithful do not turn their backs to the altar at any point and leave the church walking backwards. Little has changed in devotion, although Ottoman and Soviet rule have driven change in popular religiosity.

Lastly, the priest may not sermonize, but he is still a person of importance in town. They do not limit their communal role to the church, which is available for all. They enjoy the status of a reputable person whose opinion should be heard but whose power is not firm, not unlike a former mayor would be in Western countries.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, more than the communist empire itself, wrought tremendous poverty in Armenia. The population of that country is a fraction of its diaspora, although both numbers are falling quickly as Armenians abroad marry men and women of other ethnicities. Those who remained after the post-Soviet fallout tended to be those incapable of escape, people who did not go through much education and who continue to live agrarian lives. They retain their culture and social structure much as they did years ago, if without the kindness they once did; poverty is so pervasive that "They look as if they can't wait to die."

Armenia was the first country to proclaim Christianity its formal religion, before Constantine even held the Roman Empire and centuries before St. Vladimir or Charlemagne. In your charity, consider offering a prayer for the spiritual children of St. Gregory the Illuminator.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Debasement of Michael Coren

Recently it has come into the news that Michael Coren has been stripped of his papal knighthood, having been named a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre in 1992. Ever since Mr. Coren's apostasy, he has used his positions of influence to deride the Church and reinforce his separation from the Body of Christ. It is a true pity, and it seems he requires a great many of our prayers.

Sadly, this incident has not caused any noticeable stirrings of humility, as Coren is reported to be refusing to return the medal of his knighthood. Perhaps he considers it a sort of ghoulish trophy.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is Liturgy Worth Keeping?

New Liturgical Movement has recently discovered a video that Marko shared with us three years ago. Some commentators rejoice in the liturgical continuity between the ordo Missae of their 1962 Mass and the northern European parish Mass recreated by Fr. Piltz. Others are confused to discover that the "TLM" and the local Masses of the Middle Ages are not exactly the same thing: no servers' vestments (only cathedrals and collegiate churches would have been so equipped), a common offering of the host and chalice, difference prayers before the altar, no Last Gospel, the Benedicite at the end of Mass, a different blessing, and only two candle sticks; the recreation depicts a silent congregation, but one observer reminds us that John Burchard's 15th century ordo prescribes a fast of break and water for failing to make the responses at Mass. Some variation owes itself to the difference between the Norman liturgical family and the Roman rite, while other contrasts are really elements of the liturgy that had not yet expressed themselves as they exist to us today. Why did some medieval elements survive while others did not?

According to Piltz "All of [medieval] existence was framed by a number of ceremonies and behavioral patterns which were a matter of course for people at the time", among them the Latin liturgy. When, then, was this all important taxis allowed so much variety from place to place and why was time allowed to obliterate certain things within the arrangement? One point of curiosity is the offertory procession. Now a piece of playacting, the medieval offertory procession is not recorded in the Ordo Romanus Primus; the compiler records that the deacons simply prepared the gifts after the pope received them from their fashioners. By the time of Burchard the bread and wine were still brought to the altar rail by the people who provided the gifts and they now received a blessing from the celebrant, suggesting the ritual was not restricted to cathedral Mass; this would become the basis of Paul VI's offertory in 1964. In the Gallican traditions the oblata were initially brought in procession, preceded by incense; as the Middle Ages progressed there came about the practice of the acolyte or subdeacon bringing forth the gifts using the hummeral veil after the Epistle, emphasizing the gradual unfolding of the mystery of the Eucharist which culminated at the moment of transubstantiation. The Roman and Norman processions with the oblata differed both in purpose and manner, yet both appear to have originated in their known forms in the high Middle Ages. Perhaps the only thing the two rituals have in common is that they are both defunct. Why?

Ceremonies and rites construct an "arrangement" or order that frames the Church's relationship with God, singing His praises for His own sake during the Hours, awaking and sleeping with Him at the vigils and vespers, and meeting Him in the miracle of the altar at the Eucharistic sacrifice. The liturgy contains many echoes and whispers of past pieces that time has de-emphasized but not obliterated, such as the Kyrie, once sung at the end of the vigil during the procession to the altar until it was abbreviated and the Introit replaced its former function. The Church adds to its liturgy and retains older parts that crystallize the taxis of the Church. The prayers before the altar and the Last Gospel, as old, or young, as the various Latin offertory rites, survived while the blessing of water at the Gradual died. The Iudica me psalm and St. John's Prologue bookended the action of the Mass, the former ritual ascending the altar and the latter summarizing what just happened. These contemporary additions complimented the Mass at all levels—pontifical Mass, solemn Mass, parish Mass, and private Mass—while the offertory processions (Roman and Norman) could only be observed in solemn functions. This is not to say that the offertory variants lacked merit, but they did not enrich the Latinate concept of the Mass as an act of Theophany that was translatable to every level of celebration. By contrast, the Little and Great Entrances in the Greek tradition introduce the two main events of the Divine Liturgy, the proclamation of the Gospel and the Eucharist and were very easy to translate from the cathedral liturgy of Hagia Sophia to the parish level.

The principle of fitting with the liturgical framework should not preclude unique features that belong to particular gradations of celebration, such as the acts of obeisance and external symbols of high priesthood in episcopal celebrations. While the 1568 and 1570 documents from St. Pius V made wider use of the Roman rite possible (only with the approval of the bishop and the unanimous consent of the cathedral chapter), the 1588 erection of the Congregation of Sacred Rites and book printing probably did more to standardize the liturgy that Papa Ghislieri. Robert Nisbet observed that government intervention into realms usually occupied by traditional social institutions—the Church, the family, the local union—rarely accomplished good and often created a "vacuum" in the wake of what it pushed aside. Something similar can be said for liturgical additions which might further enhance the Church's worship. Whether one uses the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the "EF", the Mass of Paul VI, or something of exotic oriental extraction, we are bound to the books. My university chapel adopted the novel practice of inverting the lines for Holy Communion in reference to Christ's words "the first shall be last and the last shall be first." Did this add anything to the Roman tradition? Of course not, but it does betray an inherent need for local expression and variety in liturgical worship which has enriched the Church over the years. Centralization has yielded a vacuum.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rich Mullins, Catholic?

Yesterday was the nineteenth anniversary of the death of Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, a favorite in the so-called contemporary Christian music movement during the 1980s and ’90s. While the Christian music genre was and is a largely Protestant movement, Mullins has long enjoyed some popularity among American Catholics because of the occasional influence of Catholic liturgy and spirituality on his songs, and because of his aborted attempt at conversion. I listened to him occasionally in my pre-Catholic days, especially in high school.

Raised in a family of Indiana Quakers, Mullins was baptized in the third grade and imbibed an atmosphere of social justice theology and pacifism from early childhood. He began performing music, both for a choir and in a band, at Cincinnati Bible College in the late ’70s. His career as a musician took off in 1981 when his song “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” was recorded by Amy Grant, who at the time was one of the most popular Christian recording artists. He soon began recording his own albums, and enjoyed both popularity and the respect of his fellow music ministers.

Very much a melancholic and prone to extreme moods, and (reportedly) occasional drunkenness, Mullins’ lyrics were often shockingly personal with only a thin veneer of metaphor as a barrier between him and his fans. Most of his songs are prayers, and his body of work composes a kind of Protestant Psalter. Musically, his style fluctuates between cheap praise-and-worship pseudo-rock, and intimate dulcimer-infused minimalism. His hit single “Awesome God” is not especially indicative of his larger work.

In the 1990s Mullins came under the influence of Brennan Manning, a laicized Franciscan priest who had been writing devotional books like The Ragamuffin Gospel, which notoriously out-Luthers Luther in its monistic exaltation of grace over works. In spite of this, Mullins developed an increasing fascination with Catholicism, and his 1993 album A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band is structured in part on the new Roman Mass. In September 1997, he died in a brutal car accident on his way to a benefit concert at Wichita State University. A few days later, Fr. Matt McGuinness, head of the university’s Newman Center, shocked the musician’s mostly Protestant fans by stating publicly that he had been intending to be received into the Catholic Church.

As it turns out, Mullins had flirted with the idea of conversion for years, and had made it all the way through RCIA two years earlier before backing out of the decision. By 1997, he was often attending daily Mass and had written a musical based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He had finally arranged with Fr. McGuinness to make his profession of faith on September 20 at WSU Newman Center. McGuinness had also arranged for Mullins to make his first Confession with Fr. Paul Coakley (now the archbishop of Oklahoma City) at the Church of the Resurrection, a few miles north of WSU.

Today could have been the anniversary of his reception into the Church Catholic. Yesterday was the anniversary of the day he died on I-39 outside of Lostant, Illinois, a ten-hour drive from the Church of the Resurrection. McGuinness was not shy in claiming Rich Mullins as a “convert by desire” in a statement given shortly after the musician’s death, but one truly has to wonder. I am no disciple of Leonard Feeney, but it is hard to ignore a sudden and unexpected death happening so soon before a formal conversion, and presumably while sacramentally unshriven (Mullins assured his priest friend that he indeed had many sins to confess). McGuinness even mentioned in his statement that Mullins had told another friend that he was intending to move his reception back two weeks to October 4, for the feast of St. Francis. Would he have simply kept moving the date back again and again, from a failure of nerve? It’s impossible to say, but the evidence is not optimistic.

To die without Confession, without Confirmation, without the Eucharist—Quantus tremor est futurus, / Quando Judex est venturus, / Cuncta stricte discussurus!—it is a terrifying prospect. I do not wish to be morbid nor to minimize the potential of God’s mercy, but Mr. Mullins did not die a Catholic, however much he loved the Catholic milieu. The year he died, he mused in an interview, “The issue is not about which church you go to, it is about following Jesus where He leads you.”

It seems that Jesus finally led him to a lonely stretch of I-39 on a Friday night in September. Who knows where he went from there?

Friday, September 16, 2016

John the Baptist in the Latin Mass

Usually when reaching the Communicantes prayer in the Johannine-revised Missal, I cringe and quickly skip over the inserted phrase: sed et beati Ioseph eiusdem Virginis Sponsi. Last night at Mass it instead piqued my curiosity towards finding references to the Baptist throughout the text of the Missal.

The first mention is very early, in the Confiteor which is prayed twice, once by the priest and once by the server.
Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Joanni Baptístæ.... Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Joánnem Baptístam, &c.
That adds up to four invocations of John by name before the Introit.

The Gloria refers to Christ as the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, as he was named by the Baptist.

After the washing of hands, in the Suscipe, sancta Trinitas, John is mentioned by name after the Virgin and before Peter and Paul.

In the canon, the Communicantes omits the Baptist, including rather John the Apostle and the John who was martyred under Julian the Apostate.

After the consecration, the Nobis quoque peccatoribus invokes the martyrs, with the Baptist at the head of the list.

The thrice-hymned Agnus Dei of course reflects the proclamation of the Forerunner of the identity of the Christ.

Before the people's communion, the celebrant declares: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccáta mundi. This quotes the Baptist again more fully regarding the Christ (cf. Jn 1.29).

Finally, the Last Gospel makes reference to the witness of John as one giving testimony of the Light.

The testimony of St. John the Baptist is so important to the liturgy of the Mass that the priest not only prays to, but with, him multiple times. Traditionally in the Roman Rite, the feasts of the Baptist were of the greatest importance after the feasts of Christ, the Virgin, and the Angels. This is reflected mightily in the Mass itself.
"Such an one was John, who regarded not the multitude, nor opinion, nor anything else belonging to men, but trod all this beneath his feet, and proclaimed to all with becoming freedom the things respecting Christ. And therefore the Evangelist marks the very place, to show the boldness of the loud-voiced herald. For it was not in a house, not in a corner, not in the wilderness, but in the midst of the multitude." —St. John Chrysostom

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Meow: Taming the Strange

I have great affection for the disturbed, the scarred, and the psychologically abnormal. Between second grade and the time I left independent contracting for corporate life I have only made two close friends who were baptized and, at any time I knew them, practicing Christians; one since broke down and is convinced he is a woman. The disturbed, scarred, and psychologically abnormal attract us, or at least they attract me, because they showcase an Augustinian example of our damaged human nature and how sinful it can be. This the disturbed do from a safe distance, safe enough that we do not see how damaged and sinful we are. They are those who live on the fringe of society, not as victims of broken families and violence, but because they do not really fit in, those on Bergoglio's "peripheries."

Until recently, one such group was the homosexual community. The arrant self indulgence of what has traditionally been a promiscuous demographic elicited many general conclusions about that group, not all inaccurate, but certainly incomplete. A friend, the out-of-wedlock child of a lesbian academe and a mafioso, would moonlight as a dancer in a squalid little club—the sort Omar Mateen targeted in June—during his military days. He once reminisced of a quiet consensus that the hedonism acted as a bandage on a bloody soul, that engaging in mindless acts of the flesh was like a drug high, a happy escape that yielded a lower and lower rate of return until one haunted such places out of deference to one's social banker. His stories neatly preface St. Augustine's reflection that God "fashion[s] sorrow into a lesson for us" (Confessions II.2.4). Many of the people in the gay community "enjoyed" themselves, but were also aware that they were fighting a litany of personal troubles (broken households, abusive fathers, drugs, disease, lost friendships, harsh relatives) by developing boisterous extroversion, the personal disposition that fittingly allows them to be over-represented in music and the arts.

I do not mean to glorify the gay community, far from it. However, anecdotally I have held the friendship of a few members of that community who are more aware that they are broken individuals than the average middle-class parishioner at the Temple of Mammon, the American shopping mall. My friend's pink version of a lonely hearts' club possessed not a few patrons who seriously wondered how far off God's path they had trod and how their parents felt, despite all the consoling words of support and acceptance. I knew a few who attended Mass infrequently, sitting at the back of the church and fraught with trepidation, listening to the words of Christ pass judgment on their actions (as is the case for all sinners).

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to contrast these experiences with a more modern take on the alternative lifestyle demographic. A friend compelled me to attend a fundraiser for a worthy cause with some of her friends, including a noticeably bored Muhammadan and a gay couple. Gone was the outlandishness, extroversion, and self-awareness that many in the public rightly or wrongly associated with that path in previous times. These two were card-carrying members of the Temple of Mammon and regularly attended the American mall. They were early thirty-somethings, held lower management jobs at major firms that produced low six digit salaries and three weeks of vacation, they worked out, shaved closely, and were "looking to settle down." They looked less like Quentin Crisp, more like prissy, domesticated house cats. They had no interest in current affairs, past affairs, or the cause at hand. They had just "moved in," woken up late, and enjoyed a morning with fresh air through open windows. There was nothing offensive about them, but there was nothing intriguing about them either. In them was no sign of the scars of their predecessors from the 1980s, none of the self-congratulatory politics of modern university professors, nothing but pure middle-class mediocrity. I might have asked the submissive of the pair what he thought of Oscar Wilde were I not so certain he would cough up a fur ball.

While the gay community has never been a paragon of Christian virtue, there were once a few unique qualities that allowed those in it the chance to glimpse at the Truth throughout their lives and, in their darker, more private moments, consider accepting It.

Can the devil not even leave alone those who he has already confounded?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mother Teresa: Just Right?

In his most recent broadside against all the groups that annoy him the most, the clearly radically unbalanced convert Dwight Longenecker has mean words for anyone who makes the slightest criticism against the canonization of Mother Teresa:
Rather than undermine her reputation, the attacks on Mother Teresa are a good indicator of her authenticity. When a person is attacked from only one side of the ideological divide one suspects that they are on the other side. However, whenever a person is attacked from both liberals and conservatives they must be getting it just about right.
Heaven forbid we use an actual logical syllogism or historical examples to support our assertions. Although, I cannot help but wonder if this is not some corruption of Chesterton's ruminations in Orthodoxy, where he considers the fact that various people have conflicting complaints about the Faith:
Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out; old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance. Perhaps Swedes (who have pale hair like tow) called him a dark man, while negroes considered him distinctly blonde. Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad—in various ways. (ch. vi)
But of course the main difference between Chesterton and Fr. Slubgrip is that the former actually works out the logic of his speculation, and also admits its limitations. You have to assume that all of the sides criticizing the target are wrong beforehand, and that said criticism is merely an outworking of their irrational or evil prejudices. It ignores any potentially reasonable arguments via a preemptive ad hominem attack.

Also recently, Longenecker has declared both the blog and the novel to be dying forms of publication. No word yet on whether he intends to jump ship on either one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What Was the Bea, Papa?

Fr. Hunwicke has republished an imagined family dialogue about the Bea psalter between an eager, Latinist youth and his sober father. He is right to point out that the liturgy bears the scars of the Church and that Pacelli was a "weak and foolish pope."

I covered some of the more absurd features of the Bea psalter three years ago. As Rubricarius said, "it's a load of crap!" It's unsingable (I remember the Oratorians forcing collaudate eum at Benediction). It's dullish. It's out of place (if the graffiti at Pompeii is any indication, Ciceronian Latin was on its way out a few centuries before Jerome translated the Scriptures). Thankfully it did not catch on (except it lives on at Vespers Lauds in the 1962 Vesperal Paschal Vigil Mass; then we got the Nova Vulgata, which attempted a more modern Latin translation of the Bible. Uh????

Monday, September 5, 2016

Teresa of Calcutta

(Wikimedia Commons)

It hasn't taken long for the Catholic ephemerists of the internet to sing the praises of the newly-canonized Mother Teresa. Fr. Zuhl, for instance, has invoked the newly minted saint for the purpose of converting sinners:
In particular I ask St. Teresa of Calcutta to intercede with God for the conversion, or the failure, of Fishwrap. I ask St. Teresa to intercede with God for the conversion, or the failure, of the dems’ presidential candidate. I ask St. Teresa to intercede with God for the conversion, or the utter failure, of Islamic terrorists. (source)
I, for one, can't imagine a worse reason to ask for St. T of C's intercession than the hope of conversion. She had no use for such nonsense, as she said repeatedly:
We never try to convert those who receive [our aid] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God's presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men -- simply better -- we will be satisfied.
Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him.
It is endlessly depressing to list the reasons why modern canonizations are increasingly occasions of scandal. For all of the very real and tangible good that Mother Teresa and her order has done in impoverished countries, her thoughtless comments were doubtless enough to convince many non-Catholic admirers that they needn't convert to her religion. They were even a serious consideration in my own early temptations towards apostasy.

On the other hand, perhaps God will indeed assign her the task of converting the hearts of infidels as a way of balancing out her earthly missteps. I cannot help but think of her as inhabiting the sphere of the moon in Dante's Paradiso, where inconstant religious women spent their eternity.
"And we are to be found within a sphere
this low, because we have neglected vows,
so that in some respect we were deficient."