Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ultamontane Liturgy

"Let the law of supplication," wrote St. Prosper during the reign of Leo the Great, "form the law of belief." Traditionalists will apply these words readily to the Pauline reform of the Roman Missal and, in rare instances, to the Roman Office, but what about to the papal liturgy?

We recently eclipsed the anniversary of the last Papal Mass, the basis of the Roman liturgy and the form of Mass celebrated by the Bishops of Rome on holy days and for stational observances since the middle of the first millennium until the fifteen regrettable years of Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Pius XII.2. Before Pope Paul knowingly tinkered with the ordo Missae of the normative Tridentine Mass he unknowingly created a novel ordo Missae for Papal Mass which would endure for several pontificates beyond his. Indeed, it is unthinkable that Jorge Mario Bergoglio would ascend to the Petrine chair without this innovation by Montini.

What did Papa "Zio" do? He generally retained the rite of Papal Mass and the coronation with the triple tiara, but he moved it outside. Pius IX celebrated low Mass outdoors for troops in the papal army during one of the many nationalist uprisings in central Italy a century before, but Pope Paul rarely fought anyone who was not a French missionary prelate.

While the Archbasilica of Our Savior at the Lateran Palace is the cathedral of Rome the rites of papal initiation have traditionally been performed in St. Peter's basilica. St. Peter was the Prince of the Apostles, the first bishop of Rome, and the Pope is the "vicar of St. Peter." Moreover, St. Peter's tomb has remained one of the primary destinations of pilgrimage in the world. Conventionally the bishop-elected would be consecrated and celebrate Mass at St. Peter's, be crowned with the tiara, and then proceed to take possession of the Lateran cathedral. St. Peter's is not small either; it is nearly as long as the Titanic and can accommodate 60,000 people. And yet this did not suffice for Pope Paul.

Enter the modern spectacle of the Popes holding Paschal Masses, canonization Masses, and audiences outside the basilica for no reason other than the excess capacity offered by the square. Like a rock concert, the man on stage is the primary point of focus. We may say it is a Mass, but we all know, deep down, that the arrangers of these services are putting the person of the sitting pontiff on display rather than humbling him as a celebrant of Divine service within the more demanding confines of the basilica. Within St. Peter's the pope is one of 266 men to have held the office; the vertical focus of the basilica's inner lines draw attention from the celebrant of the Mass to the One Who the Mass honors. Outside, the celebrant is the one celebrated.

Above, Pope Paul is still vested in the unique garments of the papacy: the fanon, the sub-cincture, and the tiara. Despite the arrant use of an opportunity to show a big crowd in the television age, the pope, atop the sedia gestatoria, is layered well enough by his office that his own person did not dominate the event. A mere three years later those degrees of protection would be laid aside or donated to the United Nations. The modern Popemobile deifies the pope and dehumanizes him much more than the sedia gestatoria ever did: in the latter he was touchable and visible without any degree of separation, save for the previously noted ornaments of office; now he is dressed down to the level of a parish priest, but elevated above and shielded with bullet-proof glass, almost saying "The pope's presence among the people is so necessary that God and the Vatican automotive service demand he risk his Apostolic life." At last, the man's presence is more needed than his office's dignified visibility. This is the Papal version of the Mass of Paul VI, and Msgr. Bugnini had nothing to do with it.

We would like more than Francis, but after Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II do we deserve it?

As an aside, this video shows several moments of the papal election procedure that crystallized during the Renaissance practiced for the last time: the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit at the altar at the throne, the "thrones" with collapsing tops in the Sistine chapel (after election all the cardinals would pull their's down and the canopy would denote the new pope), and cardinals vested in penitential violet rather than scarlet; monsignori wore black.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Chocolate Luther


The upcoming flesh-press ecumenical gathering between far-left Lutherans and far-left Catholics in Sweden, while nothing new, is becoming increasingly egregious thanks to its anticipated papal participation. While it’s doubtful that P. Francis will be doing or saying anything worse than the Church has already suffered from P. John Paul or even P. Benedict in regards to ecumenical excesses, this celebration of Fr. Luther’s apostasy raises a new cycle of questions about the place of heretics in the modern Church.

No doubt we will shortly be seeing a slew of online articles from Fr. Zuhl, Catholic Answers, and mommy-bloggers explaining all the reasons why this celebration of German cheek does not technically change any doctrines nor the anathemas of Trent. These will ignore the point that Francis’ pontificate does not operate on the level of truth, logic, or definition, but on the level of agitprop and emotional manipulation. When we are bombarded with photographs of Francis smiling next to a chocolate sculpture of the German monk, the unstated implication is that the this man was sweet; that he was black, but beautiful.

Somewhere in the southeast of Rome sits the Scala Sancta, the steps that Christ himself once ascended in order to be condemned by the Roman prefect of Judea. In the early 1510s a young Fr. Luther, zealous for the purity of the Church and deeply scandalized by the corruption of the Roman clergy, climbed the Holy Stairs and despaired. In his own words,
At Rome, I wished to liberate my grandfather from Purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a Pater Noster on each step; for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul. But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, “Who knows whether this is true?” (source)
Thus did Fr. Luther, fifteen centuries after the fact, echo the words of the devil who inspired Pontius Pilate: “Quid est veritas?” Like Pilate, Luther washed his hands of all his sins—past, present, and future—a self-absolution that his followers imitate to this day. Pilate’s wife had at least made an attempt to stop her husband from shedding innocent blood; Luther was seduced by the disgruntled nun Katharina von Bora, recently escaped from the convent by hiding in a wagon of fish barrels.

Five centuries after Fr. Martin’s moment of despair, and not very long after my reception into the Church, I completed my own pilgrimage up the Scala Sancta in Rome. My meditations on the way up were partly of Christ’s Passion, partly of gratitude for the grace of conversion, but mostly of an utter repudiation of Luther’s mortal doubt. Still, if I had thought about it at the time, I would have prayed instead for the soul of his poor grandfather who was deprived of his progeny’s sacrifices.

The penitential season of Advent is coming soon. Perhaps P. Francis should consider giving up chocolate.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Rare Sight: Lessons in the Spirit & Letter

Above is Delacroix's painting of Armand Jean du Plessis Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu celebrating Mass in the Palais Royal. Even as his France's armies battled those of the Hapsburgs and the Papal States he petitioned the pope for dispensation from having to recite the time consuming Divine Office. One thinks of Cardinal Spellman's similar dispensation; he tended to celebrate Mass a few times a year, usually for American troops abroad at Christmas and for the consecration of churches in New York City.

Ol' Armand fought against the spirit of the law while zealously keeping its letter as long as he needed.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Altar Cards & Last Gospels

They seem necessary to modern "indult", irregular celebrants of the pre-Conciliar Latin rites who say no variation of these prayers in English or Latin throughout the week. Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas or Lava me Domine?

Altar cards are something of an anomaly, if only because they pertain to prayers by the priest that were once private devotions, with the exception of the Gloria and Creed. Moreover, these prayers, personal in origin, varied considerably across the Latin Church. The dual offering of the bread and the chalice is unique to south, central Europe. Northern and far Western Europe preferred the single offering with the paten sitting on top of the prepared chalice. One presumes that with enough repetition and decent command of the Latin language one might eventually learn the Offerimus tibi and the Placeat within a few weeks.

I recall reading somewhere, but cannot recall where, that the Tridentine Missal of St Pius V (the actual one, not everything from Trent to '64) only mentions the central card and says that it may rest against the Crucifix. Tabernacles did not occupy the central place of the main altar yet; a great many were simple holes in the wall, which Trent addressed. The Caeremoniale episcoporum directs that if a bishop is to pontificate at an altar where the Sanctissimum is reserved, it is to be removed to another altar. Presumably, priests were saying their Office regularly enough to memorize psalm 25 and the medieval practice was to recite St. John's prologue during the return to the sacristy. Even after Trent many Gallican usages describe the celebrant reciting the Last Gospel, if it is not proper, during the return to the sacristy at high Mass; the familiar Roman recitation at the altar was reserved to low Mass only. Archbishop Lefebvre was once accused of modernism for "skipping the Last Gospel" when in fact he followed the rubrics of episcopal ceremony by reciting it during the recession. Could the received Roman practice of saying it at the altar at the end of high Mass be inaccurate? Could it still have been said the medieval way at high Mass until the invention of the outside cards?

The epistle and gospel side cards have even influenced ecclesiastical architecture. In the first millennium altars were almost always freestanding. Medieval cathedrals and collegiate churches retained this feature so the bishop could pontificate from the apse towards the people and all could face versus Deum during the Canon. Medieval parishes, however, began pushing the altar against the apse, which elicited some very ornate altarpieces in the northern countries. The tradition continued after Trent, but the altarpieces were replaced with even more elaborate reredoses. The appearance of the additional cards meant a gradine would have to be placed between the altar and the reredos, as only objects proper to the celebration of Mass were permitted on the mensa. Modern traddie altars, like the one at the local Tradistani parish below, have gradines but prefer to put candles on them instead and rest the cards on the mensa. Perhaps one unfortunate aspect of gradines is that they encourage vertical ornamentation even when means are limited, which leads to knobbly bits and debatable results; in neo-gothic the style can work well.

I never understood why the cards were necessary before the changes to the ordo Missae of the 1960s. Still, they have utility for the modern, occasional celebrant.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Simplicity in Prayer

Did you know Southwest has never crashed? Like Qantas, at least according to Dustin Hoffman, Southwest Airlines has never crashed. But it may nearly have a few months ago. I was making a long overdue visit to my godson, born a few months prior and due for the Sacrament of Baptism in Jacksonville. Rather than spend the obligatory $100 for a direct flight, I opted for the budget airline and a connection in Houston, a mere 45 minute flight from Jacksonville.

Every flight to Houston before and after mine had been cancelled whilst a storm brewed over the Gulf and made its way to the Louisiana coastline, right in the way of my eventual second path. My own flight, scheduled for a 6PM departure, only boarded at 8:30PM. I casually asked the airport director if they had put any extra fuel in the plane; he replied no. After the plane detached from the terminal our 737 taxied for a minute and then the roar of the engines stopped. We would have to wait an hour for takeoff while other tardy flights made their way to Houston. After 70 minutes of sitting in the dark without any gin or beverage service we blasted off in one fell swoop and within 25 minutes we were over Houston. Which is where the real point of this article begins.

I have never been too fond of devotions other than the Rosary if for no other reason than that they are too wordy, that they say too much on our behalf and give us no time to think or listen. The repetition and Christological focus of the Rosary, like the liturgy of the Church, allows me to lose myself for a few minutes in the presence of the Divine.

This simple approach to prayer left the conjecture of the mind and descended to the heart after the first few lightning bolts appeared off the east side of the plane. The storm which was supposed to be over the Gulf stayed over Houston. The lightning was not just getting louder, but closer, illuminating the unlit interior of the plane, contrasting the albescent natural light to the artificial, mustard hues of the Houstonian highways below.

During my prior flight I was privileged to be sitting next to a dead-heading pilot who talked me through the landing procedure. The plane approaches the runway parallel and makes two turns to the same side to line up the aircraft. This allows the crew to survey the runway before committing to a landing. We made two right turns. And then another. And then a left. And another left. And another. And a right. They were not ready to land. They were just buying time, which would not have been so troubling had I not asked about the fuel situation while boarding (America only requires 10% more fuel than the length of the journey, which in this case was 24 extra miles of jet fuel). During our various turns the plane began to pitch, no more than the usual few degrees at first, but slowly increasing as we neared the coast until the plane rolled in 20-30 degree increments.

At this point I began to consider prayer, if for no other reason than to assuage my own discomfort. And yet, I thought, is this not a bad reason to pray? Prayer is not a psychological trick or a pagan "centering" meditation and I was not at risk of death. Some deep breathing exercises were more appropriate amid the visible discomfort of my fellow passengers. From the aisle I saw that the only persons who had not yet turned paper white were the Indian with the window seat and the chunky man who occupied both the adjacent seat and some of mine.

After fifteen minutes of turbulence we made our landing descent. Every time the plane lowered its altitude it rattled, a little at first and then very violently whenever it seemed we could descend no more. An overhead compartment was knocked open. when the cars on the road below were visible the plane shook like an M60. The pilot gave up on the descent, hit the thrust, and we climbed back into the clouds. I began thumbing around my Rosary beads; should I pray it? The rattling returned. We were attempting another descent.

We are beginning our landing approach. We are currently at 3,000 feet. Please be sure all trays are in the upright position.

The Rosary? Too many words. The Jesus prayer? Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. No, too many words. The name of Jesus, the original Jesus prayer would do. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus! The rattling returned. If we had been driving on an unpaved road we could not have met more resistance in attempting to lose altitude. The pilot could not lower the aircraft any further without violent rolling and the incessant machine gun noise. I had experienced turbulence before, but nothing like this. Jesus.

One benefit to the older form of the Jesus prayer, simple repetition of the name of Jesus, is that it focuses one not merely on the idea of God made Man and the related definitions of the Church, it more importantly narrows the spiritual gaze to the person of Jesus. Which was good, because when we gave up on our second approach the plane banked to the left with I-45 below. After a few more bolts of lightning a gust of wind interrupted our turn and positioned our plane such that the wings were perpendicular to the ground. For a moment, a brief second, for the twinkling of an eye the plane had no lift and began to stall, sliding some immeasurable distance towards the cars and street lights below until, in a Holy Breath worthy of the Paraclete Himself, the plane quickly fell level again and the air pressure jettisoned the plane back up. The wings flapped like a bird's. "I don't think they're supposed to move that much," I thought, "but I'm very happy they can." We were climbing again. Jesus.

By now everyone who had an open window and who was not screaming had shut their screen closed. The Indian had joined the Caucasian passengers in turning white. Parents were now lying to their children, who have a better instinct for the truth than we give them credit for: "This is completely normal. It's just like a roller coaster. It's all going to be over soon." At one level that last statement was certainly true.

Jesus. Why did I fear a plane crash? I feared the drop more than the sudden stop. Thomas a Kempis was denied canonization for less. Or did I fear finding out something about Christ that went beyond my thinly disguised want of comfort? My thoughts wandered to Dostoevsky's imagined return of Christ on earth, wherein people merely gaze upon Him and are drawn to Him not from His teaching, but rather from His presence. Would I have to stand "before the awesome judgement seat of Christ" if another, stronger wind came at the next bank? He has been talking to all of us aboard this 737 for all our lives; soon we might finally have to listen. Jesus.

Eventually, after the long holding pattern, we dove again below the clouds, again the plane rolled like an old tanker, and again it shook like a military grade gun. This time we forewent the air pressure resistance and found ourselves a few hundred feet up. The pilots killed the thrust and our pitching plane slammed flatly into the runway a minute later to thunderous applause.

After disembarking I marveled at my resignation during our final landing attempt. The initial temptation had been to make Christ into something He is not, my private comforter, a spiritual security blanket. The Jesus prayer instead made present Christ as He is. Although I did not find myself comforted, I did find myself satisfied. There is an honesty that comes with simple prayer ratified by the Saints, prayer that is as much a gift as faith itself, prayer that lifts us up to God rather than infelicitously reduce God to our own level. Such is the simple

"Yes, sir. You can still get to Florida. You can connect in Baltimore."
"Yes, you would just need to fly back to Dallas tonight and—"
"I'll just take my money back."
"Your money back?"
"Yes. All my money back."

Monday, October 17, 2016

Yes, Jesus Loves You

(Albrecht D├╝rer)

Today’s feast of Marguerite-Marie Alacoque is a reminder for most Tradistanis of the Sacred Heart Devotion, something which, while an occasionally troublesome example of Catholic devotionalism, serves at the very least to remind us of that ancient truth of God’s love first revealed in the Pentateuch:
From heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might teach thee. And upon earth he shewed thee his exceeding great fire, and thou didst hear his words out of the midst of the fire, because he loved thy fathers. (Deut. 4)
Throughout the Hebrew dispensation, this truth was reiterated by the prophets:
“For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. Since thou becamest honourable in my eyes, thou art glorious. I have loved thee, and I will give men for thee, and people for thy life.” (Isa. 43)
And the Lord said to me: “Go yet again, and love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress; as the Lord loveth the children of Israel, and they look to strange gods.” (Hos. 3)
“I have loved you,” saith the Lord. And you have said, “Wherein hast thou loved us?” “Was not Esau brother to Jacob,” saith the Lord, “and I have loved Jacob, but have hated Esau?” (Mal. 1)
A greater revelation of God’s love for his people came with the Incarnation and with the ministry of Christ:
And Jesus looking on him, loved him. (Mk. 10)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as the bird doth her brood under her wings, and thou wouldest not?” (Lk. 13)
The Jews therefore said, “Behold how he loved him.” (Jn. 11)
“As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love.” (Jn. 15)
Marguerite-Marie’s visions were of Christ enrobed in fiery splendor, much as he appears in the Apocalypse and at the Transfiguration. He is here surrounded by seraphim, and his heart is described as a “sun” issuing forth rays she fears will burn her to ash. But where the scriptural assurances of God’s love are passionate but brief, Marguerite-Marie writes endlessly about the emotions and thoughts that spring up at the fresh revelation of Christ’s heart, “burning with thirst for the salvation of sinners.” For the average Catholic, a simple re-reading of the Gospels is likely to be more invigorating to the virtue of charity than the French nun’s emotional roller coaster.

I have to think, though, that St. Marguerite-Marie’s visions were indeed a revelation to the Counter-Reformation cultural Catholicism of her time. The Church was heavily focused on tightening regulations and preventing more losses to Protestantism and secular movements, and in such times it is too easy to lose sight of the offer of friendship that God extends to all men.

As to the general practice of the Sacred Heart devotion, I do not have much to add beyond what His Traddiness has written before. The following short book on the supposed promises of Christ to St. Marguerite-Marie is very useful in gaining perspective on the devotion, and for dissuading people from getting too carried away.

A blessed feast to you all!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Consolation of Philosophy & Would Be Catholics

In an ideal world there are no lapsed Catholics who need to revert and every heretic knows that he must convert. Until the Second Coming in glory we are unlikely to live in an ideal world, despite the best efforts of Bernie Sanders, and so we find adult reversions of Catholics who lapsed as students as common if not more common than outright conversion. One of our long time readers, Marco, has blogged about the Bragan use for some time, but about a year ago expanded his writings to encompass non-liturgical aspects of Catholic life, among them the search for illumination in the Fathers after his own reversion. He writes that ten years ago he was "a man searching for meaning, for the meaning of life, and a meaning to my life." Like Saint Augustine of Hippo he dabbled in mystical religions and formulaic philosophies. None of this would be especially remarkable if not for the mention of one name, that of Nietzsche.

Every bad idea in history has come from Germany or resided there for some period of time for devilish refinement: Nazism, Communism, Protestantism, beer, the music of Wagner, sauerkraut, and more. Nietzsche unknowingly bridged the atomistic, bond breaking world created by the Reformation and French Revolution to the movement driven age of Statism and nationalistic ideology. Like the men before him he acknowledged man to be intellectually and morally self-sufficient without cause for social ties or religion, at least in theory. But, the German would say, few have the stamina to break the constraints of religion and custom; only the "super men" could realize a satisfied, individual existence, men like Napoleon Bonaparte and Ayn Rand's John Galt. Nietzsche's philosophy has offered a semi-spiritual consolation to searching for a religious view to life but for whom the leap of faith is a stride too long. It also tantalizes none other than Roger Scruton.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher of aesthetics and one of the rare men who does not read Burke for his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Scruton may well be the most renowned conservative thinker in the world. In Scruton there is something akin to George Santayana, someone who wishes the old things were true, but some hitch prevents an embrace of past ideas. Most today do not seek any truth, just Groupons for restaurants and the mall. The irreligious elect will seek consolation and virtue in philosophy, much like Dr. Scruton, who has always held Christian forgiveness and social values in high regard, despite his hesitancy to embrace them. Instead he has generally turned to Nietzsche in full knowledge that he is not the ├╝bermensch. Yet there is much Catholic in his ideas of musical aesthetics and the influence of beauty on popular culture, popular culture understood as culture for the populace and not kistch. He even once condemned Albino Luciani for replacing the most stunning of all ceremonies, the Mass of Papal Coronation, in a fit of false humility. In reading his more abstract works one sees more than a hint of a religious mind behind felicities of German philosophy.

Recently Scruton has embraced certain aspects of religious community and value. He once quipped that he preferred Christianity among religions if only because it purported to turn his favorite thing, wine, into God. Although he now resides in Virginia, he manages to spend some time as an organist in an Anglican parish when he finds himself on his native soil. While one writer doubts the authenticity of his interest in religion because of his political history, a more serious stumbling block obstructs the professor: he cannot quite bring himself to believe in the Resurrection of Our Lord. Through the Cross and His death for His friends, Scruton reasons, Jesus managed a sort of spiritual, Nietzschean manner of afterlife. Unlike most, Scruton is not scandalized by the Cross; but in the Greek sense of scandal (skandalon meaning "stumbling block"), he is scandalized by the literal Resurrection that the Apostles themselves did not see.

Disillusionment has replaced Coming of Age as the pivot moment in maturation. One discards the creeds and lessons of upbringing without replacing them. Severance from childhood, like any divorce, is a jarring thing, and rather than looking to the Church for guidance a few keen minds who the Church has seemingly failed look to philosophy for consolation. Not always, but often the thoughtful mind who turns to the comfort of philosophy is not someone who was raised in the authentic practice of the faith, not because they would know better, but because they would think differently. Disillusionment follows disappointment and is rarely followed by illumination, just frustration. Philosophy can give comfort, only God can give rest.