Saturday, May 19, 2018

Devotionalism: Its Relation to Religion


Proper devotion, as noted by the Thomistic reference in the previous installment, is tied intrinsically to the practice of religion. While a particular devotion might have grass roots it must have a close relation to the religious practice of the Church if it can be considered a Catholic devotion. There is little necessary in the way of a formal process of ecclesiastical approval; indeed, aside from recognition in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum or outright condemnation there is little to stand in the way of a devotion from developing however its devotees wish.

In an age when the faithful were more attuned to the movements and rhythms of Tradition, one could more easily trust the common instinct as sensus fidelium. The iconoclastic movement of the Counter-Reformation shifted devotionalism to a clergy-approved process, but the modern age has seen even priests turning skeptic. Devotionals tend to be split between extreme populist practices (consecrations to St. Joseph, various novenas, private revelations) and those safely approved and promulgated (Divine Mercy chaplets, miraculous medals).

The practices of religious orders were the source of most popular devotions. From the formal prayer of the psalter or breviary has sprung the Rosary, books of hours, little offices, parochial vespers, and many more. Every popular form of scapular comes from a religious habit. Consecrations to Christ and Mary take the form of quasi-religious vows. The admonition to have a “rule of life” is a derivation of the strict order of monastic living.

The ancient practice of pilgrimage developed in a multitude of ways from its roots in the Jewish Passover, and devotions like the Stations of the Cross and “round-the-block” processions are simplified extrapolations from its basic principles. So too are derived the various labyrinths of medieval cathedrals.

The kalendar found popular expression in the dedication of months to saints and Christological aspects, usually tied into a particular feast found in that month. The same is often applied to the days of the week, but to far more questionable effect.

When devotions move away from their roots they begin to take on lives of their own. The Rosary gains a fourth set of mysteries and loses all symbolic connection to the 150 psalms. The brown scapular is handed out like candy by everyone but the Carmelites and becomes a garment of superstition. The vigil is disconnected from its complex roots in the Roman Rite and Breviary, and becomes a way to escape going to Mass on Sunday mornings. Unless it maintains strong roots in Tradition, devotionalism slips into rigid atomization and restless novelty.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Devotionalism: An Introduction


It was nearly a year ago, I think, that His Traddiness requested I start a series on devotionalism in the Church, as much for my own edification as for that of our readers. My discomfort with popular devotions began during my early movements toward the Church out of my schismatic beginnings and never entirely disappeared. Even that most benign devotional, the Rosary, was soaked with such an overwhelming perfume of sickly sweetness that it took over a year before I felt comfortable praying it without suspicion.

My background in Neo-Reformed spirituality subsumed the entire spiritual life within the prayerful, careful study of Holy Writ. Exegesis upon the literal meaning of the sacred texts was simultaneously the closest intimacy with the Divine Mind. Sentimentality was rarely permitted except when meditating on the comfort provided by God’s preservation of the elect forever in a state of salvation. Even the traditionally Calvinist hymns were triumphalist and overwhelmed by the awe inspired by divinity. Christ was seen as judge or as a means to the end of justification and atonement, rarely as a person capable of giving or desiring charitable passions.

The effeminate paintings of the Savior that spread like mold across the walls of our parishes only further the divide between the old world and the new. It is difficult to take icons that resemble the “bearded ladies” of outmoded circuses seriously, and pastel-drenched images of the Blessed Virgin and the multitude of saints only compound the difficulties.

Even worse are the devotionals that demand certain emotional outpourings of which not all people are capable—at least not at all times nor on command—and which create scruples when the devotee fails to correctly conjure them up. The texts used for the Stations of the Cross at a local parish during Lent, for example, insist on a very particular emotional state of mind in those reading the responses and add further problems by surprising the laity with statements that, on a literal level, amount to solemn vows.

This demand for emotional conformity has found its way into the liturgy of the New Mass as normally celebrated. Anyone in the pews who does not appear to be emoting in lockstep with the cantor and peace-givers is either shunned or chided from the pulpit. Individuals are commonly offended if you show a disinterest in their peculiar devotions or decline the offer of a plastic sacramental.

My own spirituality has been—understandably, I hope—somewhat reactionary and similar to what it was in my “Young, Restless, and Reformed” days: studious, technically theological, and suspicious of emotionality. It is easy for someone like this to lose track of the liturgical year, to have to be reminded of traditional fasts, feasts, and vigils. (Indeed, when one kalendar is being used by most Catholics, another by most traditionalists, and yet another by a minority of Roman Rite historians, it is difficult to feel vitally connected to a sense of annual ritual.) When I read of the spiritual practices found in ancient Catholic nations, I admire them with a touch of jealousy, but with little sense that I can participate in anything noticeably similar.

But while I have written skeptically about some devotions in the past, I am far from denying their efficacy for many souls, and farther still from suggesting a prohibition on any but those based on pure fabrications (see nearly everything I have written about St. Joseph to date). I also recognize that my spirituality of study is not profitable for all, and that it is wrought with its own dangers. The primal admonition that faith without works is dead rings true as well; one feels a deep need to participate in the pilgrimages, fasts, vespers, and processions of old, even if their forms must be recreated from scratch in the modern world. Something that once would have seemed commonplace, like making and keeping a vow of pilgrimage, is now itself seen as devotional nonsense by church ladies who gush lovingly over images of Divine Mercy Jesus.

“Devotion,” Aquinas writes, “is an act of the will to the effect that man surrenders himself readily to the service of God.” He argues also that devotion is tied intrinsically to the practice of religion, and is not something that normally stands alone as a simple act of charity. The privatization of devotion is a real danger in our increasingly atomistic world, as is the imposition of the devotional whims of the few upon the many.

The intent of this series is to look afresh at devotions in the Catholic life, especially those old and discarded: the pilgrimages, the processions, the sponsorship of mystery plays by guilds, and so forth. Can they be revived? Would the attempt be a foolish bit of antiquarianism? Let us hope not.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Viri Galilaei, Quid Statis Aspicientes in Caelum?


"I may be allowed to say that the disciples' slowness to believe that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead, was not so much their weakness as our strength. In consequence of their doubts, the fact of the Resurrection was demonstrated by many infallible proofs. These proofs we read and acknowledge. What then assureth our faith, if not their doubt? For my part, I put my trust in Thomas, who doubted long, much more than in Mary Magdalene, who believed at once. Through his doubting, he came actually to handle the holes of the Wounds, and thereby closed up any wound of doubt in our hearts." —St. Gregory the Great, 29th sermon on the Gospels

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Special Kyrie

Henri du Mont wrote during an unusual time, the period well after the Renaissance, when polyphony and plainsong were common and quite separate, and the pre-Vatican II era, when the high Mass was dominated by noisesome, loud sing-songy tunes in Latin. Du Mont's Messe Royale falls somewhere between plainsong, polyphony, and the pre-Vatican II method. It is not quite plainsong, since it is timed, but follows the notation and pattern. It is not polyphonic properly, since it contains a singular, flowing melody. And it is not of the 1950ish variety due to its time of writing, although it probably has the most in common with these.

Not unlike Josquin de Prez's Missa Pange Linguae, the Messe Royale begins each setting of the Ordinary with the same melody, although unlike Josquin the Messe Royale does not explicitly borrow from an extant Gregorian melody, unless a uniquely Gallican tune escapes me. In fact each part of the Messe Royale begins with the same melody, which over the course of the Mass becomes repetitive.

It is not an especially fine Mass, but the Kyrie for the Messe Royale as interpreted by the choir of Saint Just, the FSSP parish in Lyon, is very special. Saint Just offers a rendition of this Kyrie, intended for the private chapel of Louis XIV, with a mix of Old Roman droning and the French style of organ Mass. Despite mixing the eighth and eighteenth centuries, it works extraordinarily well and is quite moving. The domineering presence of God that this sort of music proclaims mimics the song of the angels (it is the remembrance of Saint Michael's apparition today) and might compel some to put down their hand Missals and just think about God for a moment. I would like to hear a happy Gregorian or polyphonic Gloria after this Kyrie, but this sort of music absolutely has a place and offers ambitious choirs something to aspire to after perfecting the seasonal settings of Mass. One does not need to sing Palestrina for special occasions. This sort of music will do.

On another note, I will be in London and Oxford for the next two weeks and happily away from my computer. J and Fr. Capreolus will keep the posts and comments rolling, so don't stop reading. Please keep me in your kind prayers.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Who Are the Poor?

What follows is a post originally intended for Lent. Holy Week encroached upon its writing and then I fell very ill for the two weeks after Pascha.

One poor for the Kingdom of Heaven
source: Huffington Post
What is the most haunting, or "challenging" in the modern parlance, passage from the Gospel? The myrrh bearing women coming to an empty tomb at dawn two days after Our Lord's death upon the life giving Cross? Christ's own foretelling of the end of the world, the tribulation of faith, and His own return to pass judgment on the quick and the dead? They call us to attention for our sins and remind us that our deeds and faith will have to measure up to what Christ expects when we meet Him. Do any of them remind us how stringently Christ will judge us, especially we modern Catholics, like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

"There's no reason to be poor anymore dude! If you're poor it's all your fault!" exclaimed one excitable fellow during dinner some weeks ago. This crypto-capitalist unfolded the mystery of America's wealth dichotomy, the strange fact that America is the wealthiest and most generous nation the world has ever seen and also one whose Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches mantra could be summarized as "Do it yourself."

"Do it yourself" is an empowering concept that has created considerable wealth and eliminated a great deal of poverty since the Industrial Revolution downsized agrarian life and relocated farmers to cities. "Do it yourself" also assumes quite a great deal. It assumes social mobility, a society that allows anyone to move from his current state, however degraded, to a better one on merit. It assumes the downtrodden are capable and skilled people who can offer something that our consumer-driven, post-industrial, knowledge-based society wants. And above all it assumes that no one needs a second chance, since all opportunity is immanently available.

Is there merit to this logic? Absolutely there is merit. The poor in modern America live in section 8 housing or trailers and collect benefits to use at Walmart or the local corner shop in some crime-infested neighborhood. It may be terrible, but it is not the "leper" society of first century Jerusalem when a mere ailment meant social exile, homelessness, disregard from one's own relatives, and a hungry, lonely death in ritual impurity. Our religious sentiment hopes to assuage genuine poverty in random acts of kindness in encountering a displaced street person, but even they are no longer always what they seem.

There is another sort of poverty that transcends all income levels, that of dis-empowerment, those people who cannot make decisions on their own owing to circumstance. People in this predicament may not live on the street; they may live in a disheveled flat in a bad neighborhood or work away from home for periods of time because their only work prevents them from seeing their families. These poor souls, who cannot make choices with the same levity as most in our post-Industrial, materialist society, are probably the closest we will come to finding traditional poverty.

Poverty, especially of this sort, can be romanticized in literature and devotional writings, not least because for centuries the target audiences for these materials rarely had great means. Dostoevsky almost always has a holy lunatic whose penury frees him or her to embrace a mystical devotion to God. Western spiritual writers seem to think poverty has a merit all its own. This may be true in the case of a devout person, but it cannot be true absolutely. The poverty of dis-empowerment, more than anything, breeds bitterness, resent, quashes dreams, and impinges on one's ability to love others or see beyond the scope of one's own quotidian misery, the latter two being the essence of the Christian life. Far from freeing one of materialistic concerns, this measly state unleashes the worst in our survivalist instincts and when one fails or falls behind, the blame rarely goes to circumstance and almost always to others.

"Blessed are the poor," said Our Lord, but another recounts Him as saying "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Blessed are those who help these poor where ever he finds them. Blessed is he who teaches them to love and to live better. And then will the poor be rich in the kingdom of God.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Latin Novus Ordo

Pontifical Latin Mass, the new way. Super K sits in choro.
Sunday will end a remarkable Paschaltide week in the old Roman liturgy which began with the ancient feast of Ss. Philip & James and which ends Sunday with a quintessentially Roman feast of Saint John at the Late Gate, which displaces the Sunday. Not only does the Church recall the martyrdom of two Apostles and the near death of another, she contemplates the glory of the Life Giving Cross through the lens of the Resurrection of the Redeemer and calls to mind the "greatest soldier the Catholic faith has known," Athanasius. Adding to the sanctoral in later editions are Monica, who reared the most influential of Western theologians and the greatest convert after Paul, and also Pius V, who codified this very rite. It is a week so joyous, so Paschal in its brightness, and so very Roman in its disposition.

And I cannot help but notice the 1962 rite does not have even half these qualities this week:

  • The seventh century feast of two Apostles is replaced by a mandatory concoction geared towards post-War Communists; this mockery of Saint Joseph was only obligatory on the Roman kalendar for fourteen years
  • St. Athanasius upheld the Incarnation when every bishop other than Hilary and Liberius had explicitly caved, but we could not uphold his feast; Mattins devolves from three nocturnes to one nocturne of nine psalm fragments
  • The Invention of the Holy Cross is scrapped and the mystery of the Crucifixion is not revisited during Paschaltide; by contrast Corpus Christi specifically revisits the institution of the Eucharist outside the more intensive context of Holy Week
  • Since this Saturday is a first Saturday I suspect a good number of '62ists will celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary votive Mass rather than the feast of St. Pius V, who guaranteed the liturgy which most traditionalists purport to use
  • St. John at the Latin Gate is gone, not even commemorated with a Mattins reading and a collect and Last Gospel at Mass as he was in the S Pius X rites; this and the abolition of several other uniquely Roman feasts reflects a deleterious tendency in the 1962 and Paul VI rites to remove Roman elements from the Missal in favor of more universal principles, which would be fine if the new Missal were the only rite in the entire Church and permitted no variation, but this is not the case
In contrast to the old rite, the first week of May in 1962 is less "wrong" from an historic perspective than it is just plain old weird.

Similarly, there is nothing technically wrong with practicing the Pauline Mass in Latin—a pet peeve to many a traddie—but they are right in that it is just plain old weird. It is not weird in the way S. Ioseph Opifex is weird, just that the concept behind it is quite awkward and people react to it in various ways because there is no hard and fast rule behind when and how to do it.

I have attended numerous Latin Novus Ordo Masses in my life, which is quite something because they are considerably rarer than the 1962 Mass and may become rarer than the real old Mass if this past Holy Week presages the future. One was in Connecticut, one at the Altar of the Throne at St. Peter's in Rome, and the rest at Oratorian churches in England. All were quite beautiful owing to their setting, the exceptional quality of the music, and that the language removed any spec of personality or innovation from the clergy. The Roman Mass was probably the least "fussy" while the Oratorian Masses were as buttoned-up as a 19th century wingtip collar. The priests of Saint Peter's followed the same ritual as any other Paul VI Mass, just with better music, a different language, and no chatting between parts of the Mass. By contrast the Oratorians were sublimating the ritual, or often directly copying the movements of, the Tridentine liturgy, right down the lined up ministers and Roman vestments. It begs the question, what is a Latin Novus Ordo Mass supposed to be?

That is the $64,000 question.

First, there is the question of how much Latin is to be used. Given that the new liturgy favors an entirely didactic approach to the readings it only makes sense for them to be said in vernacular, although sometimes the Gospel has been read in Latin. One could make the case the orations, being variable, ought to be in vernacular, too. Oratorians do the new Mass entirely in Latin except for the readings and intercessory prayers. Some others adapt a pastiche of back and forth between the old and new tongues. Ss. Cyril and Methodius practiced the Latin rite in Slavonic, but with Latin readings in accordance with Adrian II's "literary principle." There really is no guiding logic in this question.

Then there is a matter of ritual. At Oxford I witnessed what must be one of the rare uses ever of an acolyte in his commissioned place at a new rite Mass, doing everything the subdeacon would in the old Mass. Except they referred to the altar servers as acolytes and the acolyte as a subdeacon. As a remarkable departure from this milieu, a church in this area attempted to do a Latin Novus Ordo Mass on Fridays some years ago, replete with altar girls and Eucharistic ministers; they wondered why there was no demand.

The issue with the Latin Novus Ordo Mass is that it is anachronistic and something of a redundancy on its own. It is the reformed liturgy in another language at heart. Despite what some kind-hearted people wishfully thought under Benedict XVI's reign, a generally vernacular liturgy is what Paul VI intended; he introduced his Mass at a time when Mass had been 100% in vernacular for two years and versus turbam for longer than that. The rare instances where a Latin Novus Ordo has been implemented successfully fall in conservative settings, that is, settings where people were trying to conserve what they had at a time when it was being taken from them. Were a major church in this area to Latinize its primary Sunday Mass the congregation would be confused at the move and older people irritated. In 1969, when the Consilium saw fit to introduce new pains to congregations in frequent intervals, retaining an all-Latin liturgy with excellent music, normal vesture, and a real altar attracted people already familiar with those things. If anything, the Latin Novus Ordo Mass has never been as successful as its prototype, the English Oratorian Mass, which owes its remarkable popularity to the circumstances of its introduction and not entirely its own principle.

Monday, April 30, 2018

"The Jews"

"He's mad about conspiracy theories."

"Too much time on his hands."

"A lack of industry."

"He's probably somewhere on the Spectrum, so go a bit easy on him."

"Full of odd ideas about the Jews controlling the banks."

"Well, they do."

"What?" I inquired amid coffee after the Divine Liturgy, my conversants being visitors from an unnamed setting.

"Really? I had no idea!"

"Yes, they created the Federal Reserve in 1917, or something like that, to control the banks. The Rothschilds control 80% of the world's banks. But the Russians and Putin, who's a great Christian man, threw the Rothschilds out of Russia, so at least there is one Christian nation out there."

"You know," I trolled, "the Rothschilds got the Pacelli family into the Vatican."

They were not phased.

"And the Jews really invented Communism just so they'd have control over both conservative and modern governments. It's really ingenious."

"Who, pray tell," I asked, "are 'The Jews'?"

What followed was indiscernable, "paranoid style" clap trap so very typically of disempowered groups convinced of the self-evident goodness of their own ideas and so who can only explain the failure of those ideas with conspiracy and shadow. Who, I repeat, are "the Jews" in the context of this conversation? Can the Rabbi in Dallas put me in touch with the London or Neapolitan Rothschilds? I would like to join the New World Order; it sounds more lucrative than my current profession.

This sort of ignorant nonsense—Ignorance and Want being Charles Dickens' two great crimes—greatly hinders real and significant engagement that needs to take place with the Jewish diaspora. The systemic attempt by Hitler's Germany to exterminate ethnic Jews remains the most vivid and remarkable cruelty of the media age. Unfortunately, a lingering consequence of the "Final Solution" is that countries and cultures are more disposed to produce policy based on lasting guilt than on prudence.

The creation of a Jewish state had long been considered before World War II and after the War the Allied powers gave the Zionist pipe-dream of occupying the Palestinian coastline an eventuation in reality. Of all Great Britain's mistakes following the collapse of its Empire, and there were many, this was the greatest: to locate an ethnic and religious minority, who had not lived in that land since the days of Tiberius, in a hotbed of religious turmoil just as that place was entering modernity and putting off the hijab. Between the various players in the Middle East this writer is unconvinced there are any good guys, just lesser degrees of bad guys. Would it be terrible still without that 1947 United Nations decision? Yes. Would it be less bad? Absolutely.

James Meyer de Rothschild, Order of St George
And then there is the lasting identity that comes from what transpired in Germany during the Austrian corporal's reign. Jewish culture is not the only one which has made its victimhood from genocide a central element to its modern culture, but it certainly has done so to a point unprecedented by contrast with similarly suffering ethnic parties. No one who doubts what Hitler did will escape the label "Holocaust denier"; such a person can expect to lose his job, his livelihood, and any place in polite society. Meanwhile the European Union did not recognize the Holodomor—Stalin's deliberate starvation of Ukraine which resulted in comparable deaths to the Holocaust—until 2008; the United States has yet to recognize the event officially, although there have been commemorative events. Perhaps most alarmingly governments have been slow to recognize the Armenian genocide outside of Western Europe. Like what transpired in Germany, an ambitious government sought an orderly extermination of what it viewed as a potentially subversive minority; the Turks were just as evil as the Nazis, if less effective. Armenian immigrants in America have made recognition of the deplorable genocide a desiderium that hews them to their native culture. The younger, second generation Armenians are less enamored with the cause and find the cultural identification around genocide understandable if a bit morbid.

Which brings us back to post-Liturgy coffee hour. One could reasonably ascribe some of the Church's current malaise to post-War guilt; one only need listen to the Polish and German popes comments about 1944 Germany and the Vatican's resolute post-Conciliar optimism to see a Church racked with guilt over the idea that they contributed to a world which made the Austrian corporal possible. But if "the Jews" and Rothschilds are wholesale to blame for current woes perhaps such conspiracy theorists would better suited by ignoring the Federal Reserve and instead looking into that loan James Rothschild gave Gregory XVI.

Or maybe we should get out of coffee hour and talk to others about God rather than reflect within our own porous fortress.