Sunday, June 28, 2009

“They Don’t Build ‘em Like This Any More” Or Do They? – Part 3 of 3

Tridentine Community News (June 28, 2009):
In addition to the resurgence of construction of traditionally-designed churches, there is also a growing trend towards church restoration, or “un-wreckovation”. Some diocesan Building Departments are apparently relaxing their restrictions on restorations, which used to be as tightly regulated as new construction. Formerly whitewashed and modified churches are being restored to their original designs or better. High altars are being constructed, communion rails added, and murals painted. Churches both historic and relatively new are being outfitted in traditional, ornate fashion by interior design firms such as Mazzolini Artcraft, Murals by Jericho, King Richard’s, Fynders Keepers, and the granddaddy of them all, Conrad Schmitt Studios.

Schmitt is known for handling some of the largest and most detailed church restoration projects in North America. Stained glass, statuary, murals, and mosaics are all part of their design and construction capabilities. The below photo of Milwaukee’s Basilica of St. Josaphat is an example of the extraordinary level of detail that they are known for. Every nook and cranny of the space is devoted to serious sacred art. The building also makes use of imaginative cove lighting to illuminate some of the murals.

Lower profile local craftsmen also play key roles, such as John Nalepa, who has worked on St. Josaphat, St. Joseph, and many of Detroit’s historic churches. A beautiful example of the work of individual skilled artisans is the recently restored St. Aloysius Church in Olivia, Minnesota, pictured below.

Restoration can also incorporate new elements that benefit church design. For instance, there are superior lighting technologies available today that can illuminate a church better as well as focus attention on appropriate areas of the sanctuary. A visitor to St. Louis, Missouri’s Shine of St. Joseph will immediately be struck by the impressive, high-tech spotlighting of the high altar. The improved technology of modern sound systems helps everyone hear more clearly what is being preached. More efficient HVAC systems, insulation, and sealing make churches more comfortable and economical to operate. None of this need interfere with the architectural message that classic church design is meant to convey. One must resist the temptation to carry things too far, however. Power Point projection screens would be completely inappropriate to the ethos of the Extraordinary Form liturgy.

What must be done to bring about a wider-ranging return to traditional sacred architecture? First, there must be catechesis concerning the history of and rationale for universal church design standards, especially those established by St. Charles Borromeo. This awareness must be spread among everyone from parishioners, to clergy, to members of diocesan Building Departments, to national Bishops’ Conferences. Church design ideas did not start in 1965. Second, accommodation for possible celebration of the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass must be made in architectural plans. This trend is growing, and many seminarians have an interest in it; it isn’t going away. The Extraordinary Form mandates certain design elements whose presence reduces the number of opportunities for errors or omissions in the plans. Third, architects and fundraisers need to make convincing cases that there is merit in spending more money to surpass the rec-room look of so many modern churches. Do we really need another drop-ceiling, fluorescent light, simple wooden altar-table design? The Church is not a franchise; all “branches” need not look the same. Newly-established parishes building their first churches, and existing parishes replacing outmoded churches, must make a conscious choice for the sacred rather than the mass-produced look, just as our ancestors did during the local church construction boom years of 1870-1930.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for June 28, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

U.S. Seminaries: Condition Stabilized

by Dale Vree

Perhaps you saw the headline earlier this year: "Vatican reports most U.S. seminaries are generally healthy." If you missed it, you're not the only one. The results of the long-awaited "apostolic visitation of U.S. seminaries" were released by the Vatican way back on December 15, 2008 -- but news of the report didn't begin filtering out in the American press until mid-January when the U.S. bishops posted a response to the report by Boston's Sean Cardinal O'Malley. Given the scant attention paid to the report in the media, it is likely that this tidbit passed many by. Even those reports that attempted to sum up the 20-page document on the moral and intellectual life of U.S. seminaries seemed to gloss over the most noteworthy aspects of the findings, instead opting for a sanitized "all is well" synopsis. It is instructive to note that the U.S. bishops themselves seemed none too keen on drawing attention to the Vatican report. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) didn't even bother to send out a press release; the report itself, though available, is buried deep in the USCCB website.

So, what did the report actually say, and why aren't the U.S. bishops promoting it?

A little bit of background first. In his book Goodbye, Good Men, published a full seven years ago, NOR Associate Editor Michael S. Rose concretely and vividly described how certain vocations directors and seminaries screen out or persecute manly orthodox men while homosexuals and dissenters are welcomed and proceed to ordination. The book was researched and written in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the clerical sex-abuse scandals of 2002. Rose was one step ahead of a situation that caught most of the Catholic world by surprise. Given the history of out-in-the-open and flagrant homosexuality at certain seminaries discussed by Rose, Goodbye, Good Men went a long way in explaining how we could have had so many moral degenerates in the priesthood in recent decades. Not only did the book make The New York Times bestseller list, it was reportedly widely read in and around Rome. While it is difficult to trace the influence of any particular book, Goodbye, Good Men did, without a doubt, introduce into the mainstream the terms "lavender mafia" and "pink palace."

A few short months after the book's release, Pope John Paul II held a Vatican summit with all the U.S. cardinals. One result of that surprise emergency meeting was a call for another Vatican investigation of U.S. seminaries: "A new and serious Apostolic Visitation of seminaries and other institutes of formation must be made without delay, with particular emphasis on the need for fidelity to the Church's teaching, especially in the area of morality, and the need for a deeper study of the criteria of suitability of candidates to the priesthood." (A previous systematic on-site investigation of seminaries ordered by the Pope in 1981 was generally regarded as a whitewash, having been delegated to certain unreliable U.S. bishops with the expectation that they would effectively investigate themselves.)

As for the line about "the criteria of suitability of candidates to the priesthood," John L. Allen Jr., the National Catholic Reporter's Rome correspondent, explained its meaning (May 3, 2002): "Observers took this point as an oblique way of calling for a much tougher policy concerning the admission of homosexuals to seminary study. [Bishop Wilton] Gregory [then-president of the USCCB] lent weight to this perception during an April 23 press briefing, acknowledging the existence of a ‘homosexual atmosphere and dynamic' in some seminaries.... Gregory called for ‘an ongoing struggle to be sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.' Conservative Catholic commentators...have argued that tolerance of a ‘homosexual subculture' in the priesthood was partly to blame [for the priestly sex scandals].... The summit endorsed that view." In other words, while Rose was being smeared by conservative Catholic publications, banned from appearing on EWTN, and threatened with a libel suit by one seminary, the Vatican summit essentially affirmed what he reported in Goodbye, Good Men.

It took three years to organize, but the Apostolic Visitation (meaning an investigation commissioned by bishops) took place from September 2005 to May 2006, with 117 investigators visiting all 229 U.S. seminaries. It then took another two-and-a-half years for the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education to digest the data, produce its findings, and offer its recommendations to the U.S. bishops. After all that, the USCCB has done little to publicize the results. Why? Certainly not because it isn't a hot-button issue relevant to the health of the Church in the U.S. After all, seminaries are the seedbed of the priesthood. This is where vocations come to germinate, where men come to be formed and educated and trained as the future leaders of our parishes and other Catholic institutions. The health of seminaries is relevant to every believing Catholic -- and more than a few others.

One possible reason for the bishops' reticence is that the Vatican report vindicates all the general critical claims made in Goodbye, Good Men. Though couched in carefully diplomatic Vatican language, the report also uses unusually blunt terms, especially in its criticism of seminaries run by religious orders. That being said, the assessment also gives American Catholics some authentic cause for hope. Generally speaking, most U.S. seminaries are in better shape -- morally, spiritually, and intellectually -- than they were a dozen years ago. That's good news, yes; but there's still much work to be done if the state of American seminaries is to be considered healthy and robust. Thankfully, the Vatican report clearly identifies several problem areas and proposes simple, viable solutions.

Four basic problem areas are worthy of a closer look: the dissidence of some seminary faculty members who are contemptuous of Church teaching; the "ambiguity" about homosexuality in the seminary and the priesthood (including cases of accepting homosexuality as a part of seminary life); the liturgical and devotional life of seminarians; and the teaching on the nature of the Catholic priesthood itself. Not surprisingly, these were the four basic areas of seminary life that received extensive treatment in Goodbye, Good Men.

First, the most obvious problem is the employment of professors and spiritual directors who reject Church teaching, something the report notes was not news to most seminary rectors. The report reminds bishops that procedures exist to fire such dissenting faculty members, and notes that these procedures "are not invoked as often as they should be." What the report calls a "lack of harmony" in the formation of priests "is almost always" due to educators "being less than faithful to the Magisterium of the Church." We're talking about priests, nuns, and laymen who do not believe what the Church teaches on essential matters of faith and morals, including the nature of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist. "Quite often," the report states, "the Visitation discovered one or more faculty members who, although not speaking openly against Church teaching, let the students understand -- through hints, off-the-cuff remarks, etc. -- their disapproval of some articles of Magisterial teaching." But in other places the dissent was flagrant: "particularly in some schools of theology run by religious [orders], dissent is widespread" in the area of moral theology, which includes the Church's teaching on sexual morality. "It is not rare in religious institutes to find basic tenets of Catholic moral doctrine being called into question."

Obviously, one of the issues of moral theology concerns homosexuality, and on this subject the report notes that "ambiguities still exist," again, especially in seminaries and "houses of formation" run by religious orders. The report urges seminary educators and evaluators to continue to watch candidates for signs of homosexual tendencies and underscores the importance of the Vatican instruction that prohibits accepting as candidates men who experience deep-seated homosexual attractions. Just as Archbishop Wilton Gregory admitted, the Vatican is concerned that seminaries -- in the U.S. and elsewhere -- ought not become magnets for the homosexual subculture. The report confirmed that homosexual seminary subcultures were a problem by acknowledging that "homosexual behavior" is now on the wane in U.S. seminaries, though it still persists: "Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality -- again, usually homosexual behavior -- continues to show up."

Another significant problem identified by the report is that in some seminaries, again particularly those run by religious orders, the teaching on the nature of the Catholic priesthood itself is distorted. The report noted that students in some seminaries have an "insufficient grasp" of Catholic teaching on the distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the hierarchical priesthood. The report also observed that seminaries are hampered by "mistaken" fears of offending those "who judge the reservation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders [priesthood] to men alone as discriminatory." In other words, they're buying into the concept of women's ordination. Another problem is that the discipline of clerical celibacy is too often called into question. Generally speaking, however, the report states that "chastity" education appears to be "adequate" in all of the U.S. seminaries. Still, the Vatican evaluators recommended stronger oversight of seminarians during their free time, including monitoring their use of the Internet.

The report also points to the decline in many seminaries, widely reported anecdotally by priests and seminarians, of the traditional Catholic devotional life. The report called it "profoundly regrettable" that many seminaries do not include such practices as the Rosary as a normal part of the day-to-day life of students. "Some institutes even have an atmosphere that discourages traditional acts of Catholic piety -- which begs the question as to whether the faculty's ideas of spirituality are consonant with Church teaching and tradition.... Unless a great many seminaries introduce regular recitation of the Rosary, novenas, litanies, Stations of the Cross, and so on, the seminarians will lack an education in the sacramentals and will be unprepared for ministry in the Church, which greatly treasures these practices." Blunt words for the Vatican, to be sure. It should be noted, however, that the report lays the blame at the feet of seminary administrations, and actually praised the seminarians themselves, saying, "Almost without exception, the seminarians show authentic apostolic zeal and possess a ‘Catholic' vision of Church life." This is what one wants to hear. And from all indications, 21st-century seminarians, on the whole, are much more tradition-minded and orthodox than their instructors and other priests ordained a generation before them.

Lending credence to reports that U.S. seminaries are "generally healthy," the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education concludes: "This visitation has demonstrated that, since the 1990s, a greater sense of stability now prevails in the U.S. seminaries. The appointment, over time, of rectors who are wise and faithful to the Church has meant a gradual improvement, at least in the diocesan seminaries."

Next up: the Vatican has ordered an apostolic visitation of women's religious orders in the United States, with an eye toward revitalizing and renewing religious life.

[The forgoing article was originally published as one of the New Oxford Notes in New Oxford Review (April 2009), and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]

Tea bags will not stop this

A very insightful piece by Peter Wehner, "Decoding Obama" (Commentary), begins thus:
In the course of only five months, President Obama has reached into his bag and pulled out a dazzling number of misleading rhetorical tricks.

Let’s begin with his much-touted claim that his Administration is responsible for having “saved or created” at least 150,000 American jobs, even though we have shed well over a million jobs since Obama took office. Jesus may have turned water into wine – but even He did not claim to have turned job losses into job gains. That is the picture Obama is trying to portray. Of course, to place an empirical figure on the number of jobs Obama has “saved” is risible; if Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush had tried to get away with such a stunt, they would have been ridiculed and criticized mercilessly. Among the largely supine and compliant Obama press corps, however, the claim is reported as if it were written on tablets of stone.
... and the rest is well-worth reading. Then, Wehner followed that up by a piece entitled "Still decoding Obama" (Commentary), in which he writes:
In reading more of his comments, I’ve noticed a tendency that now almost qualifies as a reflex: the more strongly the president denies something — and especially, the more he mocks his critics and feigns amusement at what they say — the greater the odds are that he will do what he denies.

... Here’s the thing, though: in every one of these instances Obama is not only doing something different than what he said, he’s doing very nearly the opposite of what he says. Obama’s “light touch” is turning out to be as intrusive a set of actions by the federal government as we have seen. He is “growing government” in record-shattering ways. Facing a staggering deficit and debt, Obama has decided to hit the accelerator rather than pump the brakes when it comes to federal spending. Facing a deficit and debt he calls unsustainable, Obama is adding trillions to them. He actually is running GM. He really is trying to engineer a government takeover of health care. His health-care plan may be the single worst thing he could do for America’s long-term fiscal health. And his Justice Department has acknowledged that FBI agents have read terrorist suspects their Miranda rights.

... [Obama] uses soothing words that come across as reassuring and reasonable. The problem comes when you examine what he says versus what he does. And by that standard, Mr. Obama is turning out to be almost promiscuously misleading. He is not yet Bill Clinton, who belongs in a category all his own — but Obama is taking up residence in the same zip code, which is troubling enough. And for those of us who thought Obama, whatever his political ideology, would bring intellectual integrity to his words and his tenure, it is disappointing. It is hardly the change we were promised. But I imagine that it will catch up with him sooner or later — and when it does, the man who promised to be the antidote to cynicism will only deepen it.
[Hat tip to Prof. E.E.]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Muggeridge vs. "liberal" power mongers

Well, of course this is an old saw, and there is such a thing as just power and just government, but Muggeridge's point does get at the thorny issue of evil and sin in human history.

[Hat tip to S.K.]

“They Don’t Build ‘em Like This Any More” Or Do They? – Part 2 of 3

Tridentine Community News (June 21, 2009):
Some of the churches and chapels served by the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King are either new construction or retrofits of churches built for other denominations. Those churches have a certain beauty, but are often quite small. Because these churches are used exclusively for the Extraordinary Form, high altars against the wall are the norm. Their small size means they often lack an element of the vertical that leaves them out of the league of the majestic kinds of churches we are mainly addressing in this series of columns. The FSSP’s new church in Naples, Florida, pictured below, is representative of such projects. This particular photo displays one of the frustrating realities that small churches can impose: The sanctuary is so small that sacred ministers may have to be outside the Communion Rail.

While even small-scale new construction of a traditional style is commendable, it seems that just a little more verticality in the design would achieve a more inspirational atmosphere. Consider Detroit’s Holy Family Church. Holy Family is relatively small, yet its proportionately high ceiling and bounteous sacred art give it the feel of a larger edifice. Adding some height would be possible in new construction of small churches, but is probably not likely when an existing structure is adapted.

One of the most impressive projects completed in recent years is an SSPX church: St. Isidore the Farmer near Denver, Colorado [click here for image]. Whatever one thinks of the SSPX, one has to admit that this is an impressive structure. Construction began in 1999. This church combines all of the elements of traditional church layout specified as the norm by St. Charles Borromeo at the time of the Council of Trent. The priest’s commentary on their web site reveals that much thought went into the symbolism of the various design elements. We submit that St. Isidore could serve as a model or starting point for designing other new churches. It is a case study of beauty without extravagance. A removable freestanding altar is all that would need to be added to make this design additionally suitable for versus pópulum celebration of the Ordinary Form.

Ethan Anthony of HDB/Cram and Ferguson is the custodian of a proud legacy, that of architectural giant Ralph Adams Cram. In metro Detroit, Cram designed Hamtramck’s St. Florian Church and St. Mary of Redford, two magnificent gothic edifices. Anthony’s recent work seems to focus on grand Gothic and Romanesque exteriors (see St. John Vianney, Fishers, Indiana [click here for image] – a 1500 seat church), with slightly disappointing, more modern interior layouts, making them less suited for the Extraordinary Form. Perhaps this is just a quirk of the kind of projects he has been receiving. One must give him credit for obtaining commissions for relatively large churches, and for selling the notion of classic exteriors in a time when bland, modern design is the norm. As difficult as it might be to imagine such grand churches being built in the Windsor or Detroit suburbs today, Anthony is setting important precedents that will be useful when future building projects are being discussed.

Mr. Anthony has also developed an apparent skill at achieving an expensive look using inexpensive techniques. This is nothing new: Have you noticed that St. Josaphat’s pillars which appear to be marble are actually just decorated plaster? Did you know that the “marble” pillars on St. Josaphat’s high altar are cheap (and loose) pieces of wood? One of our readers, an architect, is no fan of such artificiality. Yet, like fake jewelry or Hollywood sets, such techniques in the hands of a prudent church architect can help produce impressive results when a budget does not permit use of better quality building materials. See more of Ethan Anthony’s work and pending projects at
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for June 21, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fatal political narcissism

Our correspondent in bourgeois-bohemian Seattle just sent us this lovely crack-me-up line from George Will (of which he has more than a few:
Politicians have extraordinary shoulder joints that enable them to pat themselves on the back, and last week the president, a master of that calisthenic, performed it in the Rose Garden.
Source: George Will, "Burned by a tobacco bill" (Townhall, June 18, 2009).

[Hat tip to K.K.]

How Obama's "New Realism" backfired in Iran

Mark Steyn, "The 'New Realism'" (NRO, June 17, 2009).

[Hat tip to T.K.]

Obama vs. Sacred Heart?

I've been out of the news loop for a while, so I was surprised to see that Mr. Obama seems to be trying to displace June, 2009, as Month of the Sacred Heart with June, 2009, as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Pride Month (White House, Office of Press Secretary, June 1, 2009). Go figure -- you just turn your head for a few moments, and look what happens. The Obamanation of Desolation strikes again.

And I see that PBS is phasing out religious programming, including any more Masses (Politics, June 16, 2009), and the Vatican internet users are being blocked from social networking cites like Facebook and Myspace (CNS, June 16, 2009). And this after ABC turned its programming over to Obama with news to be anchored from the White House (Drudge, June 16) and report of Obama's plan for supervision of global financial firms (Reuters, June 16) [see "The audacity of neo-socialist megalomania," Musings, June 16, see below).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Prayer request

My youngest son, an E6 First Class Petty Officer in the Navy, left today for a 7-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. He served two years in Rota, Spain, and on one mission to Iraq aboard the USS Kearsarge.

Yes, the US Navy has men serving in various capacities in land-locked Afghanistan, and, yes, he will be in harm's way. His name is Nathaniel, and his wife is expecting their first child within the next couple of months. Please pray for them, as they are brought to mind.

The audacity of neo-socialist megalomania

Can you believe this? George Orwell's 1984 unfolding within the first six months of "The Chosen One" in office. Is that Big Brother I hear knocking at your door? Unbelievable. There's nothing original about Obama's agenda. It's the time-worn and repeatedly failed legacy of Stalin's 5 year plans and the more recent trendy-lefty European experiments in womb-to-tomb welfare nanny-governments that were soundly defeated and sent packing in recent European elections.

The only thing Obama has going for him is the apathy of the American middle-class, which may actually give him a chance of achieving, what with the technology and willing media he has at his fingertips, irretrievable damage. As long as the system is delivering the goods at Walmart and the good ol' boys have their beer and pizza and ESPN, who out there really cares? It's all in Plato's Republic.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

“They Don’t Build ‘em Like This Any More” … Or Do They? – Part 1 of 3

Tridentine Community News (June 14, 2009):
First-time visitors to Assumption-Windsor, St. Josaphat, St. Joseph, St. Albertus, and Sweetest Heart of Mary, among other historic churches in our area, often stop in their tracks, gaze around themselves, and utter the phrase that headlines this week’s column. But how true is that statement?

Most of us have seen photos of, or have been to, modern churches that either look like a hotel conference room or something inspired by Star Trek. No need to rehash those images here. Common sense tells us that with all of the modern technology available to assist architects and contractors, we should be able to build more magnificent churches than ever before. So why don’t we?

One answer is financial: The better the edifice, the more it will cost. Commercial lenders value real estate based on its cash flow rather than its fundamental asset value, thus it is harder to finance costlier projects. Fancy retail space that sits empty is worthless in the eye of a lender; less fancy but occupied and profitable space means the mortgage is more likely to be paid. While understandable, this philosophy can give rise to an architectural minimalism. We get generic strip malls in place of grand stores that graced downtowns of the past. Consider the former Wright Kay Jewelers Building on Woodward in downtown Detroit. Few suburban stores are so grand and memorable. Suburban residents become accustomed to generic looks, and thus bland churches don’t seem to be lacking. Why spend more for a higher ceiling? Won’t it just cost more to heat and cool?

A second answer is political: Some Diocesan Building Departments have attempted to block the use of traditional architectural styles. Some parishioners and priests don’t want that look, either, considering it outdated.

A third answer lies in the choice of architects: Certain projects have been awarded to architects who have no background in Catholic church architecture, or who don’t seem to understand how liturgy, the tenets of our faith, and architecture should be intertwined.

Fortunately, there are encouraging signs for the future. The Motu Proprio, Summórum Pontíficum, presents perhaps the strongest argument in recent years for the use of traditional architectural design elements: A new church should allow for the possibility of celebrating the Extraordinary Form Mass. No longer can a diocesan Building Department logically argue against having a Communion Rail, for example.

Let’s take a look at some impressive projects that have been built in recent years:

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin is an example of the kind of neo-traditional design that we can expect to see more of in coming years. Designed by Notre Dame professor of architecture Duncan Stroik and dedicated in July, 2008, it has a freestanding high altar surmounted by a baldachino. While there are many ceremonial and logistical reasons to prefer a high altar mounted against the back wall of the sanctuary, this is likely a compromise to permit Holy Mass to be celebrated both ad oriéntem and versus pópulum. Like the reredos behind a wall-mounted high altar, a baldachino provides the shrouding of the sacred, and the element of the vertical, so appropriate to reinforcing our experience of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The tabernacle is directly behind the altar, in the center of the sanctuary, on the back wall. There is a communion rail. A choir loft and pipe organ are in the back of the church. Side altars and traditional confessional boxes line the side walls. Latin inscriptions, murals, and plaster ornamentations are visible high up on the walls and dome.

You know “it” when you see it. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe has got “it”. This is a recognizably traditional Catholic church. See the below photo and the architect’s web site at for some excellent high-resolution pictures. Photos 5 and 17 are particularly detailed and revelatory. [Click on "Dedicated Photos]

Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California is another Duncan Stroik design, similar in many ways to his La Crosse project. Dedicated in March, 2009, it is somewhat less ornate than the former. Keep in mind that over the ages, churches were not always opened with all of the decorations in place. Budget and time concerns made it quite common for portions of the design to be added or completed over time. Stroik has again posted detailed photos on his web site:
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for June 14, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Christopher Blosser debutes in First Things

Christopher Blosser has been invited to become a regular contributor to the First Things blog, "First Thoughts."

His most recent contribution is entitled "Books, printed and virtual" (First Thoughts, June 13, 2009), a reflection on the difference between traditional printed books and books now being offered in electronic format, as in Amazon's Kindle application. While recognizing certain benefits of the latter, I agree with him in preferring traditional books, not only because of their tactile virtues, but because you can mark them up in the margins and make them your own. Would you trade a personally marked up copy of a book for an unmarked new one?

He debuted earlier this week with a controversial post entitled, "Obama, Benedict, and Islam" (First Thoughts, June 8, 2009), comparing certain features of President Obama's recent Cairo speech with statements made by Pope Benedict XVI during his tour of the Middle East. The piece is certainly provocative, though it hardly represents the general tenor of Christopher's posts, which have been consistently critical of the recent drift of Obama's statements and policies generally.

Anyone curious about Christopher's perspective on Obama may wish to consult his blog, Catholics In The Public Square. Those curious about his views on Islam, may wish to consult his posts: "Pope Benedict, Islam and the Prospect of Reform" (Against the Grain, April 23, 2007); "Readings in Islam: 'Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition'" (Against the Grain, July 2, 2007); and "George Weigel's 'Faith, Reason & The War against Jihadism' (Part 1)" (Against the Grain, January 8, 2008).

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Vesting prayers

Tridentine Community News (June 7, 2009):
The Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass incorporates rubrics and practices that display reverence towards holy objects and things destined for a sacred purpose. For example, any object handed to the priest during Holy Mass is to be kissed before being handed over. When an object is taken from the priest, it is kissed as soon as it is taken.

Likewise, before Mass, the celebrant kisses each of the vestments as he puts them on, often while reciting a set of Vesting Prayers.

The 1962 Roman Missal contains one chapter of Preparatory Prayers to be said before Mass, and another chapter of Prayers of Thanksgiving to be said after Mass. The Vesting Prayers comprise one section of the chapter of Preparatory Prayers. All of the prayers in these two chapters are optional. Several had been enriched with indulgences according to the pre-1968 list of indulgences. Many older sacristies, including those at St. Florian in Hamtramck and at the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, have cards containing these prayers mounted on their sacristy walls. Since the pious custom of a priest’s preparation for Mass is not well-known, below we present the Vesting Prayers. For those who may not be familiar with them, these vestments were described in our June 25, 2006 column, available on our web site.

Washing Hands

Da, Dómine, virtútem mánibus meis ad abstergéndam omnem máculam; ut sine pollutióne mentis et córporis váleam tibi servíre.

Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve Thee with purity of mind and body.


Impóne, Dómine, cápiti meo gáleam salútis, ad expugnándos diabólicos incúrsus.

Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.


Deálba me, Dómine, et munda cor meum; ut, in sánguine Agni dealbátus, gáudiis pérfruar sempitérnis.

Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, so that, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal bliss.


Præcínge me, Dómine, cíngulo puritátis, et exstíngue in lumbis meis humórem libídinis; ut maneat in me virtus continéntiæ et castitátis.

Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.


Mérear, Dómine, portáre manípulum fletus et dolóris; ut cum exsultatióne recípiam mercédem labóris.

May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.


Redde mihi, Dómine, stolam immortalitátis, quam pérdidi in prævaricatióne primi paréntis: et, quamvis indígnus accédo ad tuum sacrum mystérium, mérear tamen gáudium sempitérnum.

Restore unto me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which was lost through the guilt of our first parents: and, although I am unworthy to approach Thy sacred Mysteries, nevertheless grant unto me eternal joy.

Dalmatic (Deacons and Bishops)

Índue me, Dómine, induménto salútis et vestiménto lætítiæ; et dalmática justítiæ circúmda me simper.

Lord, endow me with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy; and with the dalmatic of justice ever encompass me.


Dómine, qui dixísti: Jugum meam suáve est et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portáre sic váleam, quod cónsequar tuam grátiam. Amen.

O Lord, Who said, “My yoke is easy and My burden light”: grant that I may bear it well and follow after Thee with thanksgiving. Amen.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for June 7, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Friday, June 05, 2009

Loss of faith, loss of filial piety

"Filial piety" is a rough translation of the Chinese Confucian term xiào (孝) meaning love and respect for one's parents. Though pervasive in the Far East and expressed in a variety of unique cultural conventions, the sentiment is far from alien to the West. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the single Commandment of the Decalogue that carries a promise with it: "... that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Ex. 20:12).

A son who writes "honest" but unflattering paeans to his parents may expect to gain some momentary notoriety in the world today, but he loses all personal integrity and honor in the bargain.

This is what we learn about Christopher Buckley from his book, Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir (2009), as Joan Frawley Desmond shows us in "Fathers and Sons" (, May 14, 2009):
When the relatives and friends of William F. Buckley and Patricia Taylor Buckley first learned that Christopher Buckley, the satirical novelist, was completing a memoir of the year during which he lost both his parents, there was considerable and well-founded alarm. All three Buckleys had enjoyed famously contentious relations, and, in recent years, Christopher had not only confirmed his agnosticism on matters religious, but went so far as to announce his plan to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Has Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir confirmed the worst fears of Buckley loyalists? The appearance of a portion of the book in the New York Times Magazine suggests that the scion has provided a juicy deconstruction of a conservative icon. Readers are invited to feast on a series of delicious vignettes that strip away the parents' public charisma and reveal their profound limitations in domestic relations. Mom is a serial liar and self-justifying socialite who never apologizes for routine bad behavior. Dad is a frenetic "great man" and control freak who impatiently abandons his only son on the day of his college graduation.

What more is there to be said? A great deal, actually. Not only does the younger Buckley acknowledge many rich and distinctive moments of parental love and devotion, the narrative reveals something more than the author may have intended: the connection between this ambivalent portrait of his parents and his own waning faith in God. To this reviewer, his critique of the Buckley paterfamilias reads like an attempt to demystify and exorcise the inconvenient Catholic values that shaped the author's upbringing and still plague his conscience.
Read the rest of Desmond's review here.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fascinating Francis Footnote: "PREACH the gospel at all times ..."

"Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary use words," St. Francis is supposed to have said. That, at least, is the widespread sentimental conceit. Is it just me, or does that slogan also strike you as a perfect contemporary pretext for not preaching anything at all?

As luck would have it, we just received this timely email -- straight from the free promotional Blackberry of our HBCU (Hist. Black College & University) Correspondent on site in Assisi, Italy:
No, he was not the Christian answer to Euell Gibbons, nor a Birkenstock-sporting spouter of America Magazine- or Fr. James Martin-like platitudes. In fact, I wonder if he might even find the Crunchy Cons a bit too eager to embrace their 'Can't We All Just Get Along' Monday morning water cooler pacifism. ... But one thing is certain, and not at all surprising to me: all the folks who so eagerly eulogize Saint Francis' feed-the-birds, lawn-ornament affinities seem to have it more than a bit skewed in terms of the saint's celebrated rhetorical soft gloves. The same man who preached to the air threw himself in a fire. He was hardly harmless, in word or deed.
Our HBCU Correspondent then refers us to the following observations from Mark Galli, "Speak the Gospel" (Christianity Today, Mary 21, 2009):
I've heard the quote once too often. It's time to set the record straight—about the quote, and about the gospel.

Francis of Assisi is said to have said, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."

This saying is carted out whenever someone wants to suggest that Christians talk about the gospel too much, and live the gospel too little. Fair enough—that can be a problem. Much of the rhetorical power of the quotation comes from the assumption that Francis not only said it but lived it.

The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age.

Let's commit a little history ...

First, no biography written within the first 200 years of his death contains the saying. It's not likely that a pithy quote like this would have been missed by his earliest disciples.

Second, in his day, Francis was known as much for his preaching as for his lifestyle.

... He apparently was a bit of a showman. He imitated the troubadours, employing poetry and word pictures to drive the message home. When he described the Nativity, listeners felt as if Mary was giving birth before their eyes; in rehearsing the crucifixion, the crowd (as did Francis) would shed tears.

Contrary to his current meek and mild image, Francis's preaching was known for both his kindness and severity. One moment, he was friendly and cheerful—prancing about as if he were playing a fiddle on a stick, or breaking out in song in praise to God and his creation. Another moment, he would turn fierce: "He denounced evil whenever he found it," wrote one early biographer, "and made no effort to palliate it; from him a life of sin met with outspoken rebuke, not support. He spoke with equal candor to great and small."

... In the fall of 1208, he sent the brothers out two by two to distant reaches. What did he tell them to say? In an early guide written during this period, Francis instructed his brothers to tell their listeners to "do penance, performing worthy fruits of penance, because we shall soon die … . Blessed are those who die in penance for they shall be in the kingdom of heaven. Woe to those who do not die in penance, for they shall be children of the devil whose works they do and they shall go into everlasting fire."

... Why is it, then, that we "remember" Francis as a wimp of a man who petted bunnies and never said a cross word, let alone much about the Cross?

I suspect we sentimentalize Francis—like we do many saints of ages past—because we live in a sentimental age. We want it to be true that we can be nice and sweet and all will be well....

"Preach the gospel; use words if necessary" goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning.... Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.
[Hat tip to J.M.]

What Dan Brown reveals about American religion

In an excellent article, "Dan Brown’s America" (NY Times, May 18, 2009), Op-ed columnist Ross Doubthat writes:
[I]f you want to understand the state of American religion, you need to understand why so many people love Dan Brown.

It isn’t just that he knows how to keep the pages turning. That’s what it takes to sell a million novels. But if you want to sell a 100 million, you need to preach as well as entertain — to present a fiction that can be read as fact, and that promises to unlock the secrets of history, the universe and God along the way.

Brown is explicit about this mission. He isn’t a serious novelist, but he’s a deadly serious writer: His thrilling plots, he’s said, are there to make the books’ didacticism go down easy, so that readers don’t realize till the end “how much they are learning along the way.” ...

Brown’s message has been called anti-Catholic, but that’s only part of the story....

... Brown doesn’t have the soul of a true-believing Enemy of the Faith. Deep down, he has a fondness for the ordinary, well-meaning sort of Catholic, his libels against their ancestors notwithstanding....

... Having dismissed Catholicism’s truth claims and demonized its most sincere defenders, Brown pats believers on the head and bids them go on fingering their rosary beads.

In the Brownian worldview, all religions — even Roman Catholicism — have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It’s a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized “religiousness” detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.
[Hat tip to E.E.]

A teaching moment in rival judicial philosophies

Robert T. Miller, "Sotomayor the Subjectivist" (First Things, June12, 2009).

[Hat tip to E.E.]

America magazine: Obama, a "Vatican II president"

"We have a Vatican II president," says John W. O'Malley, "Barack Obama and Vatican II" (America, May 25, 2009). "[W]hen I heard his speech at Grant Park in Chicago the night he was elected, and more recently his commencement address at Notre Dame, that is what immediately struck me."

No wonder my esteemed mentors have stopped reading America. The editors and writers of America have either lost their minds or decided to turn their magazine into a pseudo-religious counterpart of The Onion or Mad Magazine.

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Monday, June 01, 2009

Mundelein to host course on EF Roman rite

Already in July of last year, the Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, announced that it had added a required 3-credit course on the history and spirituality of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite to its roster of classes in its graduate program in liturgical studies.

Now the Liturgical Institute is mailing out invitations nationally for a two-part course this summer on the "History and Spirituality of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite" (June 8th - June 26th, 2009). The course, which is open to all priests, deacons, religious and laity -- in short, anyone interested in the EF Mass -- is to be taught by "noted scholar and dynamic professor Dr. Lynne Boughton."

The two-part course will focus on the "theological foundations and tangible traditions within the Mass whose antiquity and subsequent centuries of celebration on every continent testify to the capacity of liturgy to transcend historical epochs and cultural divisions."

Where: The Liturgical Institute, University of Saint Mary of the Lake
1000 Est Maple Avenue, Mundelein, IL 60060.

No enrollment in a degree program is required.

Fee: $250.00 (also available for 3 graduate credits for $1,450.00).

To register call the Liturgical Institute at (847) 837-4542.

More info at

[Hat tip to A.B.]