Friday, February 28, 2020

Divining Obedience

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about the comparison of disobedience to idolatry and divination in the context where lay parishioners were chaffing at the authoritative imposition of a strict dress code. While the sermon linked in that post has since been taken offline, I did think it worthwhile to transcribe a bit of it for posterity:

To consciously and willingly disobey legitimate commands from legitimate authority cannot be without some sin. I promise, when you’re toasting away your time in Purgatory or worse for deliberate disobedience, for stealing from God what is rightfully his, you’ll have nothing but regret and remorse for how good you decided to look that day back when you were so young and beautiful.

The thin line between legitimate authority and its abuse is impossible for most laymen to discern. One cannot remain a Catholic in good standing while rejecting the right of the Church’s bishops and priests to stand, in some fashion and form, in the place of God. Dominic Prümmer, O.P. makes distinctions between servile and proper obedience in his popular moral theology handbook, and says that obedience to men is limited “by the limited competency of superiors” (sec. 459; likewise St. Thomas: “a subject is not bound to obey his superior if the latter command him to do something wherein he is not subject to him” (ST II-II.104.5)), but few moral theologians have ever bothered to explore the precise limitations of the parish pastor or of the confessor. St. Alphonsus Liguori makes the authority of the confessor near-limitless:

Obedience to a confessor is the most acceptable offering which we can make to God, and the most secure way of doing the divine will. Blessed Henry Suson says that God does not demand an account of what we do through obedience. Obey, says the Apostle, your spiritual fathers; and fear not anything which you do through obedience; for they, and not you, shall have to render an account of your conduct. (Sermon XXV)

To be sure, Alphonsus adjures his audience to obey “in everything which is not manifestly sinful,” but for the scrupulous or ignorant penitent it is not a simple matter to discern what is manifestly sinful. Indeed, sexual predators within the priesthood can easily identify those with tender consciences as potential victims. Under the pretense of a holy submission of the will, they manipulate the penitent into participating in perverse sins and utterly devastate their ability to discern good from evil. Consider this slightly abbreviated extract from a recent testimony against Jean Vanier and a related priest:

Each time, I was frozen, I was unable to distinguish what was right and what was wrong. He told me that this was part of the accompaniment. He said, “This is not us, this is Mary and Jesus. You are chosen, you are special, this is secret.” I decided to go and see Father Thomas to seek his advice. He told me to come and see him. There was a curtain, and he sat on the bed. He was not tender like Jean Vanier. Same words to say that I am special and all this is about Jesus and Mary.

When King Saul refused to slay the best of the flocks of Amalec it was not due to a scruple about utterly destroying the sinners and their goods (as one might find in a modern biblical commentator), but because he found them beautiful and wished to dispense them according to his own will. He understood the will of God and chose to do otherwise. That is why St. Samuel likened his disobedience to idolatry and divination, for it was a way of seeking his own will apart from the will of the God of Jacob, while attempting to soothe his conscience with the promise of a future sacrifice.

I have known good lay Catholics who were threatened with canonical censures for demanding the pastor baptize their new child when it had the misfortune of being born in Lent. Two years ago an American bishop made noises about imposing canonical penalties against any Catholic who supported President Trump’s immigration policies. In earlier ages of the Church it was common for popes to place entire nations under interdict for the sins or inconvenient political moves of kings, thus depriving uncounted innocents of sacramental grace.

There are reasons why medieval artists thought bishops to be fine subjects of satirical attack. It is a pity the Counter-Reformation ruined all that fun.

But this is Lent, and we are supposed to use this time to make our wills more submissive, not less. The counsel of voluntary obedience is a north star for the soul embarking into the deep, and it may be a fruitful topic of meditation in these times when obedience is used as a club for bullies or as a snare by seducers. It many ways it is easier to be submissive to the moral law considered abstractly than it is to be submissive to our pastors, confessors, and bishops. Perhaps there is something to be gained in obeying where it is not strictly necessary, some kind of moral clarity to be found by going above and beyond the mere rules and perhaps by finally seeing the invisible order of virtue and goodness intended when we were created in God’s image… but I cannot deny that it is hard to move past the variety of abuse and find what is great about obedience.
Obey those who have charge of you, and yield to their will; they are keeping unwearied watch over your souls, because they know they will have an account to give. Make it a grateful task for them: it is your own loss if they find it a laborious effort. (Heb. 13)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Lent: The Jewel of the East

The prior night, "fat Tuesday", was indeed quite fat here in Dallas. Beef tartare, seared Wagyu, chocolate tartlet, and something resembling a salad for decoration. Mardi gras has become a tradition to indulge prior to a strife that never really comes in the Western Church anymore.

Just a century ago all of Lent aside from Sundays, included fasting every day and the addition of abstinence on Fridays. "Fat Tuesday" originates in the Middle Ages, when animal fats were used up before a purely vegan Lent began on Ash Wednesday. Today, at least in these United States, fasting is mandated only for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Meat is theoretically banished one day a week, but the American bishops always grant a dispensation if Saint Patrick's feast falls on a Friday.

Had I followed the prescriptions of the Byzantine Church I attend, meat would have been off the menu for two weeks and I would have last tasted cheese or milk on Sunday. While liturgically the Sundays of Great Lent are a bit dull in the East, with the readings pre-dating their ill-related feasts, the weekdays are the most unique and beautiful of the year.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified, celebrated at no other time during the year, is all that is right about the Byzantine rite: drama, great moments, and didactic gestures. At no other time of the year does the priest circle the altar counter-clockwise while we sing "Let my prayer arise like incense before you and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice."

The faithful sing may of the hymns greeting the Eucharist while kneeling, as the priest passes by during the Great Entrance holding the precious Body of Christ under a veil, much as we expect to see Him now but not in eternity. The entire service is one great lesson in penance for those who have been conditioned by the gradual elimination of luxuries and disposed by the Church's lessons toward penance.

By contrast, our Latin tradition, yes, even the old rite, seems a bit barren by contrast. The Mass of the Presanctified is celebrated on Good Friday. The weekday Masses of Lent were presumably Presanctified Masses during the middle part of the first millennium, as evidenced by some of the orations, but gradually became penitential Masses. If the Good Friday Mass is any indication of post-antiquity, they were not so very different from actual Masses to begin with.

We have Stations of the Cross on Fridays and the odd parish fish fry, the Lenten mission, but no solid liturgical basis of Lent outside the Masses anymore. Once upon a time the Station Masses of Lent were observed in most major European cities, not just Rome, in which the bishop's appointed representative would lead a procession to the chosen church with the Litanies sung, the minor hours, the Mass, and then Vespers with the preces, psalm 50, and the suffrages of the Saints. The demolition of Catholic culture, the gutting of the Divine Office, and the atomization of society has robbed us of these treasures which even traditional parishes have displayed little interest in restoring.

We Latins have Advent, Christmas season, the Pentecost octave, and the great feasts as our boasts, but in this season of humility the East has found a precious pearl and given all it has to acquire it and show it to the rest of the Church.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Devotionalism and Private Revelation

The problems of epistemology are never so deep as when one is arguing with a fellow Catholic about his favorite devotion or pet doctrinal theory. In such moments one enters the bleak cloud of unknowing, its murky haze made all the more opaque by your opponent’s statements of certainty and your own opposing certainty of his ignorance. By faith we have an actual certainty of those doctrines revealed by God through Christ and the Apostles, that public revelation which is preserved, curated, and crystalized by the Church throughout this age. Those with itching feet who wish to roam beyond the clear-lit space of orthodoxy without first fully understanding what has been illuminated often resort to mystical visions and so-called private revelations to defend their doctrinal theories.

Far be it from me to speak ill of Catholic mysticism. It is a particular ladder that some may climb to seek union with God ever more closely in this life, but there is no doubt that this state of life can have its perilous excesses. Visions and ecstasies are common enough, but their origins or sources of inspiration are not always clear. Often a mystic will form visions from a combination of theology, sacred history (traditional or popular), and his own imagination; there is not necessarily any divine intervention involved. Many spiritual teachers have recommended against seeking visions or any sensible consolations if one desires perfection, and the greatest mystics are doubtless those who never received a single vision in this life.

Nonetheless, Catholic history is dense with mystical visionaries of wildly varying legitimacy. Dante’s poetic masterwork is framed as a vision-tour of the afterlife, which was a popular form of moral instruction in the high Middle Ages; monks would sometimes speak of the great grace granted to them to see the terrors of Hell and Purgatory so that they might thereby avoid such punishments themselves. In England, Margery Kempe was a married woman who bullied her husband into a celibate marriage and wrote about her many visions and dialogues with Christ in between her heresy trials. Anne Catherine Emmerich on the other hand was a proper nun but had her visions recorded by a novelist and collector of fairy tales. Even the book of St. John’s Apocalypse was considered ambiguously canonical for centuries because of its bizarre content and debated authorship.

If the accounts of visionaries are not to be considered as divine revelations demanding assent by the rest of the faithful, but also not to be considered outright as false when approved by ecclesiastical authorities, they must necessarily fall into an odd middle-place in the body of spiritual writings. They may be read for edification by the faithful much in the way that the visions were intended originally for the edification of the visionary, but they may never be treated as sources of doctrine. Rather, they are judged by the standard of doctrine already given to the Church.

John of the Cross observes that “despite the many occasions on which Saint Paul preached the Gospel, which he said that he had heard, not of men, but of God, he could not be satisfied until he had gone to consult with Saint Peter and the Apostles, saying: Ne forte in vacuum currerem, aut cucurrissem” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel II.xxii.12). If even the Apostle Paul, who had been brought up to the third heaven and seen secrets not shown to other men, should be concerned about leaning too heavily on his own private revelation, how much more ought the rest of us to fear straying from the solid ground of public revelation!

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Legitimacy of the Sarum Use

The Sarum Use of the Roman Rite always seems destined for a breakout and yet never seems to get there. Interest in Sarum began in the '90s with the Oratorian celebrations at Merton College chapel in Oxford and has only increased in the years since Summorum Pontificum. Here we had a full length video for the information age to behold: medieval Catholic liturgy in all its splendor, no taste of minimalism or restriction, just the spirit of the ancient Roman liturgy as distilled in England during the centuries prior to the Reformation.

Most recently Sarum Vespers were celebrated in Philadelphia under the approval of the archdiocese in a place where that liturgical rite has never been observed before. It prompts the question: is there a legitimate place for the Sarum Use in the Catholic Church today?

Recapitulating History

With enough resources available to celebrate a proper solemn high Mass over two decades ago, there is already enough about Sarum for readers, but to construct an answer to the question we must construct a premise for understanding what Sarum is.

The Sarum Use was, as characterized by Dr. Adrian Fortescue, a local dialect of the Roman rite adapted to the medieval city of Salisbury in England. There is developed into the cathedral liturgy with its processions, unique texts, variations of Roman melodies as its music, its extra readings on feasts, and other unique features that made it different from the Use of York, the Use of Braga, the mother Roman rite etc.

Its origins are two fold, in Rome and in Saint Osmund. In the former case, Saint Gregory the Great, pope from 590-604, sent missionaries from his house monastery to re-establish the Christian religion in what is now England. During the age of the Roman Empire, when the state religion switched from paganism to Christianity, England followed suit. Gregory Dix records Anglo-Romans asking the pope to bless the corporals used in Masses, demonstrating an early affinity for the Church of Rome itself. After the mission of Saint Augustine of Canterbury various monasteries requested monks and liturgical books from the collegiate chapter of Saint Peter's Basilica so that they might celebrate the Office and Mass as they were sung at the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. While other cities of Europe wished to keep their own rites English churches decidedly wished to follow Roman praxis.

The second great event that led to the Roman rite was the invasion of England by William the Conqueror and the ensuing Battle of Hastings in 1066, the year which begins "modern history" according to my professors on the Oxford History faculty. William received Rome's blessing to invade England in no small part due to the generally disatisfactory leadership of the English Church at the time; a new regime would allow the wholesale replacement of the upper clergy. Among the new higher clerics was Saint Osmund, Norman by birth and later bishop of Salisbury by the will of Saint Gregory VII.

Osmund brought the Norman customs of the Roman rite to Salisbury and built the [first] cathedral to house his synthesis of Norman-Roman liturgy and English habits. Many of the features of Sarum will be familiar to readers of our series of the Lyonese Mass and Br. Aelred's translations of the Voyages Liturgiques. Among them are the stational processions for Sundays and feasts, the role of canons in regulating the cathedral liturgy, the pontifical blessing after the Canon, and the generally communal observance of choir ceremonies.

Sarum continued and thrived, winning a place of honor in the heart of Henry VIII, who commanded it be the only rite of Mass celebrated in England. Not long after came the "king's great matter." Heresy and Schism became friends with each other and Reformers desperate to destroy the Mass whispered into the ear of a king desperate to end his marriage. Eamon Duffy demonstrated in his Stripping of the Altars that the king likely did not approve of the extent of liturgical purging that ensued, but trimming excesses were presented to a generally orthodox king as means of destroying the entire Catholic edifice.

As with the relics at Oxford during Jesuit days at Saint Aloysius, the Missals and vestments were hidden in hopes that better days would come. Churches were ransacked, looted, sold off, the priests butchered in some places and given Prayer Books in others. Then came the Marian Restoration. Mass in the Sarum Use spontaneously returned, Catholic culture revived itself with official approbation for five years until Queen Mary and her ally, Cardinal Pole of Canterbury, died within hours of each other. The Missals and vestments once again were boarded up in plaster and walls in hope that a Catholic would again tolerate the Mass, but Elizabeth became queen, Saint Pius V excommunicated her, and Mass would never be sung in the great cathedrals again.

In the years that followed Recusant families funded priests stationed out of Douai to come to their homes and offer the Sacraments for their loved ones and neighbors who kept the old religion. Early on the priests were clergy who fled Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth Tudor, priests reared in the Sarum liturgy. A Sarum Missal used by one such priest is one display at Coughton Court with the una cum papa nostro N blacked out early on in the Henrician schism. Later priests from Douai, trained by Jesuits in the Tridentine books, let the Sarum Use obsolesce, not that junior clerics would rule the choir at Coughton Court on lesser Simplex feasts.

Unlike the other local usages of the Roman rite, which fell away due to clerical sloth or the costly expense of maintaining a parallel set of liturgical books, Sarum died because the people who used it died off.

Cognizant of this fact, we must consider what would be the proper, legitimate setting for the Sarum Use today, if there is one. As we will see below, although it was the liturgy of medieval Catholic England, it has been used in a variety of settings since then and only occasionally under its original auspices.

Catholic Revival

As stated above, the first major modern celebration of the Sarum Use came through the efforts of Fr. Sean Finnegan, then of the Oxford Oratory. He, along with the now departed Fr. Jerome Bertram CO, and some other liturgically inclined person founded the Saint Osmund Society to organize annual celebrations of the Mass according to the Sarum books. Utilizing the Bodleian Library's resources ranging from Missals and Graduals to medieval commentators and illustrations from devotional Primers, Finnegan put together the blessing, procession, and solemn Mass for February 2, the feast of the Purification or Candlemas.

The Saint Osmund Society offered its first Mass in Merton College's chapel in 1996 and, pleased with the success of the event, followed up with a similar event in 1997. The clergy were from the Archdiocese of Birmingham and the singers taken from local parish choirs. The vestments came from the Oratory. Finnegan celebrated and Bertram preached the sermon. The Archbishop gave his approval for both events and the celebration was destined to become an annual recurrence until legalism struck.

The Rad Trad has heard one version of this story from separate parties which present very different images of the person involved. Whether he was harmless in intention and genuinely curious or an unstable meddler out to cause trouble by means of confusion, a man wrote to the Vatican to draw their attention to the celebrations and denoted that they were being held outside of a diocesan church and under the auspices of the "Saint Osmund Society," an association unapproved by any Roman congregation. Rome talked to the Archbishop who talked to the Oratorians who agreed that to avoid any future confusion they would receive permission under Ecclesia Dei to celebrate the Roman rite and put Sarum to bed. Fr. Bertram, of blessed memory, said that Rome might have been less confused if their association's name had been translated "gruppo" instead of "societa", which they took to mean something akin to "Society of Saint Pius X". Henceforth, Oratorians remembered the organization as the "Donny Osmund Society."

Three years later a pontifical Sarum Mass was celebrated in Aberdeen, Scotland, where it never would have been celebrated in the Middle Ages, by Bishop Mario Conti.

The brief Catholic revival, early in the information age, guaranteed a unique future for the Sarum Use that other non-Roman, Latin rite liturgies have not enjoyed: a deep abundance of information and resources that would perpetuate its interest and enable its survival, even if only as a theoretical rite of liturgy. Blogs concerned with medieval history, Anglicanism, liturgical history and much more make either passing or extensive mention of Sarum. The interest may well have been more tangible if Sarum had become the cathedral liturgy of Westminster Cathedral, as was supposedly an option, then interest may have been deeper. As it were, many of the religious orders during Catholic re-establishment in England were Continental and bound to the Roman rite as were the Irish clergy who often staffed parish churches.

In 2011, the year the Ordinariates were concretely established by Benedict XVI, those close to Msgr. Andrew Burnham whispered that Sarum might once again become available as a liturgical choice for England. The Ordinariate had no liturgy of their own. The books now for the Ordinariate bear a greater resemblance to the Prayer Book and reformed Roman rite than they do to the Sarum Use.

I was present at the first ever liturgy of the Ordinariate, held at Blackfriars that summer as votive Vespers of the Holy Ghost, a service devised by Msgr. Burnham himself. The service followed the older Roman (and Sarum) pattern of Vespers: five psalms with antiphons, a chapter, versicles, the Magnificat with an antiphon, and then several collects and suffrages for the needs of the Church, including the "Deus a quo sancta desideria...." It was a mix of traditional Catholic Vespers with Anglican elements and celebrated in elevated vernacular.

More recently, and hopefully with greater endurance than the Oxonian venture, is the Durandus Institute's celebration of first Vespers of Candlemas in Philadelphia. Under the leadership of James T.M. Griffin using, presumably, local clergy and singers for the event. It comes a year after the Schola Sainte-Cecile also celebrated Sarum Vespers, once again in Oxford. Both were recorded—the Philadelphia event with video and the Oxford one with photographs—and publicized without any fallings out that plagued the 1997 Mass. To my knowledge no Mass has yet been celebrated according to Sarum books under official approbation since 2000.

Anglican Celebrations

"I grew up next to an Anglican church," said Fr. Bertram, "and I still don't understand the Church of England."

A not insignificant number of Sarum instances have come up under Anglican banners in both Europe and North America in recent years. For outsiders to Anglicanism it would be surprising that the Church which replaced the Catholic Church, and which practices the liturgy which replaced Sarum, would be interested in the medieval Catholic liturgy.

Anglicanism does not always hold to the general congruity Catholic and Orthodox Christians perceive between theology and liturgy. A Dallas Episcopalian church offers a vernacular Tridentine Mass once in a while; I have seen the priestess at a local seafood restaurant during Lent with her congregation.

As such, some Anglicans hold a view of the Eucharist more in line with Henry VIII's Six Articles than with the later Thirty-Nine Articles. To such a view Sarum is more comprehensible. It holds to a traditional view of the Eucharist, even if the people do not hold a traditional view of who may confect it and how, its collects and readings, its cycle of saints and choir tradition all preceded the Prayer Book and, indeed, the Prayer Book is in no small part a translation followed by cut-and-paste of the propers of Sarum.

St. Thomas on Huron Street in Toronto celebrated Sarum on, you guessed it, Candlemas, a decade ago. An Anglo-Catholic church which observes the Prayer Book, Sarum would have been an exception to their normal practice.

More famously, Fr. Anthony Chadwick celebrates the Sarum Use in his chapel in France. Much like the Oratorian celebrations in Oxford, Fr. Anthony does not make his Masses an act of historical play acting, replete with period style vestments and vessels. He uses what he has from his days observing the Tridentine books and does his best. He has even put out videos of his low Masses, one of a straight through low Mass and the other an instructional. Both are the only videos of their kind available now.

What is interesting is how like the Dominican Mass and other medieval, monastic usages Sarum resembles as a low Mass. It contains fewer reverences and signs of the Cross than the Roman Mass, prepares the chalice at the start of Mass, and does not perform the Last Gospel as a liturgical function at the altar, merely as the celebrant's private devotion.

Western Rite Eastern Orthodoxy

Without a doubt the strangest place Sarum has reappeared is as one option, in many forms, in the Western rite experiment of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. According to Byzantinist and Orthophile Steven Runciman, the pope's name was omitted from the commemorations at the Divine Liturgy of the Hagia Sophia in 1009. Cardinal Humbert's lamentable venture in 1054 is the commonly accepted, if generally inaccurate date of the East-West Schism. Greeks took a disapproving view of Latins prior to the 11th century yet the final parting did not happen until after the fall of Constantinople, when Mehmed II appointed anti-unionist leader Gennadios Scholarios as Patriarch, who rebuked the Council of Florence in 1471, nearly five centuries after the pope's name was first slashed from the diptychs.

Why does all of this matter? Sarum is presented in these rare communities as a return to pre-Schism Latin Orthodoxy. More than just a liturgical rite, it is a means of constructing a narrative of an England or a Western Christendom that was one a Latin-speaking part of the Orthodox Churches with its own liturgy. One video of such a community contained constant references to Saint Bede the Venerable's time. This is probably a means of bypassing the obvious influence of Saint Augustine as the theologian par excellence of the Latin Church and the role of Saint Gregory the Great, the Dialogist in Eastern terminology, in diffusing Augustinian thought as a means of practical theology.

If one accepts any date prior to Hastings for the Schism, be it 1009 or 1054 even when the West began to use unleavened bread more commonly in the 9th century, then neither Sarum nor its roots were ever celebrated in England or known to Bede, whose monastery at Jarrow would have known some other version of the Roman rite, likely with influences and particularities lost to us. It was the rite of medieval, post-Augustine and potentially post-Schism England.

The Sarum Use as practiced in Western rite settings varies. Some observe it as given in the books with the odd change to suit the practices of broader Eastern Orthodoxy: no Filioque in the Creed and leavened bread. Others heavily Hellenize the Mass and Office to a super-Uniate level. Six years ago a friend looked for an English translation of the Sarum Mass and found a pew book for the Antiochian Orthodox Church's "Sarum" rite. This bastardized Mass containing several exclamations from the end of the litanies of the Divine Liturgy randomly inserted between chants with inappropriate ascriptions to Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory and others. The Thrice Holy Hymn, the Trisagion, was placed before the Epistle, where it is found in the Divine Liturgy. Most dramatically the Roman Canon was amended to include the epiclesis of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, although without any instructions to use that from the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great during Lent as is the case in the Byzantine rite. These celebrations are invariably in the vernacular rather than in Latin.

Conclusions: Legitimate Settings for the Sarum Use

In conclusion, is there a legitimate place for the Sarum Use today? There is certainly legitimate interest.

In Rhode Island a Portuguese priest named Fr. Santos occasionally celebrates Mass according to the Use of Braga, his native archdiocese and the origin of many Portuguese immigrants who settled in the tiny state next to Massachusetts. The Bragan liturgy, like any Use of the Roman rite, is an essentially local variation of the Roman liturgy and belongs to the people for whom it was intended to be celebrated. A Dominican can celebrate the Dominican Mass in his convent or in Saint Peter's Basilica, whereas a canon of Saint Peter's may not celebrate the Dominican Mass at all, as he has no claim to it.

This is an important point in considering whether Sarum should have a future and what it should look like. Sarum was the Mass and Office of post-Hastings, medieval England—not Toronto, not Antioch, and not Philadelphia. Unlike other local Uses, Sarum did not die off due to centralization, the cheaper cost of book printing, or the unanimous decision of the collegiate chapter as happened with many other local liturgies. Also, it was not replaced by the Novus Ordo Missae as was the case for the Dominican, Cistercian, Carmelite, Bragan, and Lyonese liturgies. It was killed by monarchs of the kingdom where it was said. The Catholic clergy of that country never consented to its death and its replacement was due to primarily theological rather than liturgical motivations.

As such, it could be revived on the grounds that the Church never decided to relinquish its practice in England. It belongs to England and is a Catholic rite of Mass, ceremony, and psaltery.

Extending the principle governance of local Uses to Sarum legitimizes its celebration in England, but certainly not readily elsewhere. While I am happy that a video of Sarum Vespers exists and that the event was well attended, I cannot help but think, unless something else was behind it, that the service in Philadelphia was perhaps misplaced.

One place outside of England where the Sarum Use would also be appropriate is in the Ordinariate. As stated above, the Prayer Book which many in the Ordinariate knew as Anglicans is based, at least in the propers and kalendar for the Eucharist, on the propers of the Sarum Mass: its cycle of readings, its Sundays counted after Trinity, its collects and more. Even the beautiful Collect for Purity was a vesting prayer in the Sarum books before the Reformation. While the traditional Roman books are available to any priest of the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, Sarum would be a logical and very fitting extraordinary form of liturgy for Catholics who were raised on those texts in a different setting. Indeed, they would unite those prayers with the Catholic theology from which they were removed in the 16th century.

As for the rest, I am merely a blogger and cannot tell anyone what to do, but Sarum, were it to return, would be most appropriate if celebrated in as close a setting as it was originally intended.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Quo Vadis, Knights?

Knights of Columbus poster from the first World War.
The leadership of Carl Anderson over the Knights of Columbus has had its fair share of controversy. The current Supreme Knight was elected before this writer had even been received within the Church, and it is difficult for me to form a clear picture of how the Knights might have operated before then. I am told by good men who have been part of the order for many decades that the Knights were once well known for their dedication to the corporal works of mercy and for their deep integration into local communities. The Connecticut priest Michael McGivney founded the Knights to assist Catholic widows and orphans, but they went on to provide wartime services, and, in many other ways throughout the years, made themselves indispensable to the everyday operations of American parochial life.

I have also observed the perception that the Knights fell long ago into irrelevance and disrepute as an old men’s club. The Knights of Columbus still retain some visibility in pro-life events, but council halls are usually perceived as watering holes for an aging membership who wish to hide from their wives and complain uselessly about problems. How many pastors actually rely on the parish council as their go-to team to get things done?

Whether or not this perception is correct, it does seem to be the impetus driving Supreme Knight Anderson into making sweeping changes. Even in the midst of accusations of financial corruption, the Knights have been busy redesigning the 4th Degree regalia and are about to entirely rewrite the initiation ceremonies for incoming members. The expressed hope is that, by removing the requirement for secrecy and by collapsing multiple hours-long ceremonies into something that can be over and done with inside half an hour, they will be able to attract more young Catholic men.

While I do not agree with making changes that I think will result in nothing more than a brief uptick in membership, I must admit that I have no real counterproposal for fixing the order. If even the example of Catholic fathers could not convince their sons to join the Knights when they became old enough, how can the marketing team at Supreme do any better? How does an organization recover from the perception of being a crowd of aging do-nothings?

One does not truly respect something that is attained with too much ease. The difficulty and length of the traditional ceremonials made entry into the order something that had to be earned. Previously, a Catholic man had to be proven as a “practical Catholic” by those nominating him for membership, but now anyone with an internet connection can apply online without the need for witnesses. What can such a man expect to join? A social group? An insurance program? Surely not a brotherhood joined by bonds of difficult service and exemplifications. Members are not even required to perform a minimal amount of volunteer work to remain in good standing.

The stated meaning of “practical Catholic” is “a Catholic who accepts the teaching authority of the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals, aspires to live in accord with the precepts of the Catholic Church, and is in good standing in the Catholic Church.” All well and good, and all necessary, but the more colloquial meaning of “practical” may be what has been missing in the life of the Knights. Requiring nothing more than the correct age, sex, and religion does not do much to give a group a unique identity. The historically practical side of the Knights includes the corporal works of mercy, fundraising for parishes and for the poor, a show of arms (quite literally in the recent past), and camaraderie based on a common initiation. When a group becomes more generic it often becomes less attractive. If the order is going to pull itself out of this downward spiral, it must find practical causes through which its men can make practical contributions.

Presumed KofC fraternal banner from the late 1800s.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Looking for Perspective (Intro)

The funeral is over, my father is buried, and an Eastern rite Christian burial is concluded. For those who have never been to a Byzantine funeral, the Constantinopolitan authors of the service must have been dealing with a congregation stricken with doubt as to the death of the deceased, because the troparia and farewell rites constantly reiterate that the dead's eyes will never see, his ears shall never hear, and that we shall never ever speak to him again. Beyond emphasizing how utterly miserable death is, I left with the conclusion that the old Roman Mass would have been textually cheerier, Dies irae and all. There is, however, the moving conclusion when the priest taps the coffin with his cross and says "This is sealed until the Second Coming of Christ," leaving we the living with one thing to look forward to.

We the living are seemingly bereft of direction in the Church right now. Events with correspondents and physical acquaintances nearly brought me into writing something bordering on confessional disputes, which is neither in my nature nor that of this blog. Instead I will seek to write a short series in the coming month on the various maladies afflicting orthodox Catholics in our times, which are perhaps not as turbulent as we believe in our narcissism.

In the interim I would like to thank you, kind readers, for your prayers and support in these difficult months and request you not relent just because the worst is past.