Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kneeling at Mass a mortal sin in Diocese of Orange, CA

The Diocese of Orange, CA comes up with one surprise after another, but to declare kneeling at Mass a mortal sin takes the cake:
Kneeling "is clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin," Father Martin Tran, pastor at St. Mary's by the Sea, told his flock in a recent church bulletin. The Diocese of Orange backs Tran's anti-kneeling edict.

Though told by the pastor and the archdiocese to stand during certain parts of the liturgy, a third of the congregation still gets on its knees every Sunday.

"Kneeling is an act of adoration," said Judith M. Clark, 68, one of at least 55 parishioners who have received letters from church leaders urging them to get off their knees or quit St. Mary's and the Diocese of Orange. "You almost automatically kneel because you're so used to it. Now the priest says we should stand, but we all just ignore him."

The debate is being played out in at least a dozen parishes nationwide....

The controversy at St. Mary's by the Sea began to intensify late last year after Brown appointed Tran to lead the 1,500-family parish.

Tran took over following the retirement of the church's longtime pastor, who had offered a popular traditional Latin Mass.
Read the entire Los Angeles Times article, "A Ban on Kneeling? Some Catholics Won't Stand for It," by David Haldane, Times Staff Writer (May 28, 2006). Where would Dante place the souls of these California clerics, one wonders, were he to include them in his Divine Comedy?

Oh, those English popophobes!

"The 1582 reform of the calendar under Pope Gregory XIII produced--what else?--the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar, who instituted it). Catholic countries soon adopted Gregory's reform, but Protestant countries rejected it. They didn't want anything to do with a 'popish calendar.' Eventually they had to give in (astronomy eventually trumps prejudice), with Britain adopting the calendar only in 1752. There it was called the New Style calendar so no mention need be made of a pope. The Julian calendar was termed the Old Style."

[Tip of the hat to Karl Keating, E-Letter of 5/30/06]

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Pope at Auschwitz: "They wanted to kill God"

"By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith." A startling interpretation of the Holocaust in the words of the German pope. (Sandro Magister, www.chiesa, May 29, 2006)

"The most extensively analyzed and criticized portion of Benedict XVI's trip to the homeland of his predecessor, Poland, was when he visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, sites of the Holocaust.

"It is criticized because of what pope Joseph Ratinger did not say there.

"According to his critics' expectations, Benedict XVI should have asked for forgiveness for the faults of the German nation -- to which he belongs -- and denounced the anti-Semitism of yesterday and today, especially that of many Christians.

"But it didn't happen. Benedict XVI didn't talk speak of these two matters.

"Nor did he repeat the usual interpretations of the Holocaust.

"On the contrary, he made an interpretation of the slaughter of the Jewish people that no pope had ever made before him."

Read the whole article here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

John McCrae lived from 1872 to 1918. A Canadian physician, he fought on the Western Front in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. Soon he was transferred to the medical corps and assigned to a hospital in France. He died of pneumonia while on active duty in 1918. He is perhaps most remembered for his poem about the famous poppies concurrent with the soldiers who had died. He wrote his famous poem In Flanders Fields the day after presiding at the funeral of a friend and former student. His poem is now a memorial to all Veterans. (courtesy, Sarah Lane)
In Flanders Fields - John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The torch, ours to hold it high? If we break faith with them who die, shall they not sleep? Do they sleep? Have we kept faith with they who gave their lives? Are we grateful? Do we laud their cause? Since Vietnam, do we share their cause? Are we sure of our own cause? Are we sure even of who we are as a people? Are we still "a people"? After transferring from Oxford to Cambridge, C.S. Lewis caricatured himself as a dinosaur, the last of the "Old Western Men." Surely an exaggeration. Surely?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Kudos to Amy Welborn

Today in Church I saw that flyers had been made available to parishioners to counter the misinformation of The Da Vinci Code. I saw that they were published by Our Sunday Visitor and that the author was Amy Welborn. They were very basic, as flyers must inevitably be, but attractively formatted and well-organized, with the essentials clearly thought-out. I'm sure this is the sort of thing a lot of rank-and-file folks probably need and will very likely even turn some minds toward the light on this contorted issue. Kudos to Amy Welborn for a good job!

I suppose some of us -- preeminently academic types such as myself -- need reminding from time to time that the world isn't going to be saved by a dissertation as such, whatever it may be worth. The faith of the people is where the hope of the harvest of grace lies. Keeping this fact in view, hopefully, has the power of bringing into proper focus even the work of dissertations.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Jaroslav Jan Pelikan (1923-2006), historian of Christianity

It has been nearly two weeks since Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, died of lung cancer at the age of 82. Yet it is fitting and proper that we mark his passing. Pelikan, the author of more than 30 major books on church history, was by all accounts among his generation's preeminent authorities on Christian history and most accomplished scholars.

Born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio, to a Serbian mother and Slovak father, he joined the Yale University faculty in 1962, where he remained until his retirement in 1996. He served as dean of the Graduate School from 1973 to 1978. He is remembered as an outstanding speaker, for his compelling personality, and widely respected for his even-handed treatment of church history.

Yale History Department chair Paul Freedman said that Pelikan, an expert in church history from the 3rd to 16th century AD, raised the University's profile in the field of medieval history: "He was a world-recognized scholar in the large, important and venerable field of church history," Freedman said in the Yale Daily News. "He was one of a group of people who made Yale one of the prominent centers of medieval history in particular." Pelikan delivered the annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the highest honor conferred by the U.S. government for outstanding achievement in the humanities, in 1983.

A life-long Lutheran, Pelikan was increasingly troubled by trends in the ELCA. Unlike Richard John Neuhaus, Leonard Klein, Reinhard Huetter and other Lutherans who swam the Tiber to become Roman Catholics, Pelikan entered the Orthodox Church 1998. Funeral liturgies were held at the chapel of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Dr. Pelikan, requiescat in pace.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The hermeneutics of fittingness: traditional Requiem Mass vs. new 'Mass of Resurrection'

A writer recently wrote asking: "How about a thread on the hermeneutical fittingness of the traditional Requiem Mass, versus the new 'Mass of Resurrection'?" This is something I hadn't considered before, having never yet attended a Catholic funeral Mass. I have heard some accounts, however, of the differences between the pre- and post-Vatican II rites. The writer went on to add:
I attended a funeral yesterday of a Catholic man who committed suicide, leaving behind a young wife and four small children. I expected, but was still deeply disturbed by, the constant refrain throughout the Mass that we can pretty much have certainty that this man is in Heaven. The rite itself papers over the obvious problem--this man died in the very act of committing several extremely grave sins without any chance for sacramental confession. Is it really good that the Church bids her priests verbalize assurances for things of which they really have no way of being sure?

I would think that the acknowledgment in the traditional Rite of the sting of death, along with its emphasis on the divine mercy would have been more appropriate than blithe assurances of resurrection, especially under these circumstances.
I remember thinking to myself, "Whatever became of the Dies Irae within Catholic hymnody?" The Dies Irae ("Day of Wrath"), the famous 13th-century Latin trochaic hymn describing the day of judgment, with the last trumpet summoning souls before the tribunal of God, has been dismissed as too dark and judgmental by the Barney and Friends company of contemporary liturgical commissioners. But Christians of all stripes have traditionally written of this hymn such things as this: "Among gems it is the diamond," "solitary in its excellence," "the acknowledged masterpiece of Latin poetry and the most sublime of all uninspired hymns" (Catholic Encyclopedia). In the current Latin Breviary, it is suggested for use in the Liturgy of the Hours during the last week of Ordinary Time. I think I remember the editor of Adoremus Bulletin in a recent issue assuring a reader that there is nothing in the rubrics of the Novus Ordo that would proscribe the use of the Dies Irae. But this is hardly enough. There is nothing that would proscribe ad orientem Masses, Gregorian chant, or the restoration of Tabernacles to the center axis on or behind the Altar either -- and there actually is something (Redemptionis Sacramentum) that proscribes the ordinary use of unnecessary Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. But how has that kept anything from changing?

The question before us, however, concerns not the Dies Irae but the traditional Requiem Mass as such versus the new "Mass of Resurrection." The question pertains to these Masses as discrete wholes, as well as to all their parts. Does one express more fittingly than the other what is proper to Catholic theology and sentiment, and, if so, why?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Danned if you do. Danned if you don't."

Those who try to explain the dangers posed by the claims made in Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, are bound to meet a very common and tired sequence of questions and comments, says Carl E. Olson. In his blog devoted to exposing the errors of Brown's TDVC, Olson takes up some of the responses given by those who are either "puzzled, amused, or annoyed that some Christians are (gasp!) responding to the historical and theological claims made in TDVC." A typical line of inquiry begins with the question, "Why are you so worried about a work of fiction?" But once an explanation has been given as to why TDVC is not "just fiction," says Olson, one is typically greeted, in turn, by the following sorts of questions:
  • "But isn't it a good thing that people are talking about religious beliefs?"
  • "What are Christians so afraid of? Obviously you are hiding something or else you wouldn't be defensive."
  • "Well, you have to admit that the Catholic Church has brought all of this negative attention on itself by being so mean and secretive."
  • "But isn't it true that we really can't know what happened in the first century? After all, we really don't have any reliable evidence about Jesus, do we?"
In a contribution to what has become a veritable industry since the Brown book's publication, Olson discusses these questions in detail more patient than I could begin to muster. ("Danned if you do. Danned if you don't" -- yes, that's spelled correctly!)

An Anglican archbishop shows spine

NEW ZEALAND: Sexuality -- a make or break issue, says Apb. Jensen.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Liz goes solo

One of my musically very talented nieces, Elizabeth, has been singing for years in various groups. Her father is an internationally touring choir director. Her mother is a piano teacher. Together with her parents and sister, they have performed magisterial settings of Latin sacred music. But her current interests run toward a more temporal genre. She recently left a group and decided to go solo as 'ghhrfy.' Take a tour of her website and listen to a sampling of her solo songs, if interested.

Anthony Esolen on the Communion Rail

Anthony Esolen needs little introduction here. Last autumn we posted an essay, "A requiem for male friendship?" (October 11, 2005), reviewing his feature article in Touchstone magazine, whose cover carried the headline: "Friendship -- the love that can no longer speak its name." Esolen has also appeared in one of our comment boxes in a discussion of a post, "On Turkey's Wings" (April 5, 2005).

But I wish to call your attention to a marvelous article Anthony Esolen has written in Crisis magazine, which has just become available in the online Crisis archives, entitled "Kneeling Before the Gates of Paradise," Crisis (April 2006). He addresses here the question of the Communion Rail in a rich tapestry of theological, cultural, and historical observations. As always, he writes with elegance and deep insight. See for yourself. Here are a few excerpts:
What wonders we American Catholics have seen. Schools, whose joists were sawn and spiked by the hands of men who would send their children there, now empty, crumbling; whole orders of nuns doffing their habits, then their faith and reason too; worthy societies dwindling into a few old men with beers and a shuffleboard table, or a few old ladies with flowers; pipe organs dismantled; hymns sent down the memory hole or, worse, sissified; statues torn from the walls by a New Model Army of ecclesiastical vandals; deep funds of knowledge about Christ and His Church allowed to trickle away into the banal and the secular, a feel-good paganism that would have made Cato turn in disgust.

After night comes the morning, and through the cracks in the deadest parking lot the crocuses will poke their way. So I believe the hidden stirrings of life are with us now. Yet I like to think there is one object at the heart of all those acts of destruction -- and at the heart of our hopes for a new life for the Catholic community. Its symbolism suggests a division that unites: the threshold of the deepest mystery our Church on earth professes. I mean the communion rail.

The rail I remember from my boyhood was installed in the 1950s ...

What was it like to kneel there? Let me say what it was not like. It was not like that web of cheats and frauds called "the real world." In the real world, you wait in the checkout line at the grocery store. You wait in line for a ticket to the movies. You wait in line at the ballpark. You wait for your number to be called at the delicatessen. You wait, per saecula saeculorum, at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It was not like that. People approached the altar from the three columns of pews as the Spirit and their legs moved them. Since there were usually two priests communicating the congregation, and since the people kneeling didn't have to worry about others stepping on their heels if they prayed for a moment after receiving our Lord, you just waited for places to open up and then knelt down....

That rail was removed, as so many were, in the assault of the new puritans of the 1970s. Nothing should separate the laymen from the altar; we were to focus on ourselves as a community of faith, rather than on the Eucharist as an object of cultic worship. So now most Catholics receive the wafer unleavened by faith that it is anything other than a quaint symbol, a modestly caloric cracker, a ticket at the deli. We receive in line, individually, watching the shoes of the person ahead of us. We cannot pause to pray afterwards. "Move on!" says Etiquette to the hungry beggar. "What do you think this place is?" ...
Don't miss the rest of this essay -- surely an essay not to be missed in the analytics of the fittingness of the Communion Rail in "Kneeling Before the Gates of Paradise." He offers a much more in-depth analysis subsequent to these opening paragraphs.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dietrich von Hildebrand on Mozart

The Dietrich von Hildebrend Legacy Project, administered by John Henry Crosby, the son of Dr. John Crosby, Professor of Philosophy at Franciscan University, has as its major project the translation into English and publication of the complete works of the Catholic philosopher and cultural critic, Dietrich von Hildebrand. Transformation, a quarterly e-newsletter of the Project, is aptly named with its allusiveness to the title of one of von Hildebrand's major works, Transformation in Christ. The latest issue of Transformation includes a link to the following page of Excerpts from von Hildebrand's essay Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While Mozart was no saint, as von Hildebrand admits, a deep exploration of his music leads him to conclude that to actualize as a person the spirit embodied in his work, is to recognize something profoundly saintly about the vision Mozart sets forth in his music. "Mozart's art is permeated by a spirit of holy lavishness (heiliger Verschwendung) that we otherwise find only in nature," he writes.

First the ebullience of Pope Benedict XVI concerning Mozart; and now this! German sentimentality? Insight? Perhaps a little of both?

"Menstruation Is Fast Becoming Optional"

LINDA A. JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer, "Menstruation Is Fast Becoming Optional":
"Thanks to birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives, a growing number of women are taking the path chosen by 22-year-old Stephanie Sardinha. She hasn't had a period since she was 17."
Fair enough. But what's to prevent, in ten or twenty years (with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight), a mounting silent epidemic of women's cancers coercively 'outing' studies of 'irrepressible data' linking hormonal contraceptives with carcinogenesis?

(1) BBC News: "Pill increases breast cancer risk: Women who have taken the contraceptive Pill at any stage in their lives have a slightly increased chance of developing breast cancer, research shows."

(2) Chris Kahlenborn, M.D., Breast Cancer: Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill:

(3) Overview: Breast Cancer and the Pill, by Chris Kahlenborn, M.D.

(4) How do the Pill and Other Contraceptives Work? by Chris Kahlenborn, M.D.

(5) CancerBACUP: The UK's Leading Cancer Information Service: " . . . there is a risk that the hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) in the contraceptive pill may affect breast cancer cells . . ."

(6) Contraception Information Center, The Journal of the American Medical Association: "Women who are currently using combined oral contraceptives or have used them in the past 10 years are at a slightly increased risk of having breast cancer diagnosed . . ."
(7) Breast Cancer: Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill, by Chris Kahlenborn, M.D.

Holy See Halts Investigation of Legionary Founder

VATICAN CITY, MAY 19, 2006 ( -- "The Holy See won't continue with a canonical investigation into accusations against Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, and has invited him to renounce all public ministry." The Vatican communique concludes: "Irrespective of the person of the founder, the distinguished apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of Regnum Christi is acknowledged with gratitude."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Leave of absence ...

I will take my leave of Blogsville today and be gone until Monday (May 22). I will be assisting as a discussion faciliator in an annual Great Books program sponsored by the Hickory Humanities Forum of Lenoir-Rhyne College through its Lineberger Center for Cultural and Educational Renewal at the Blumenthal family's Wildacres retreat in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. We will be discussing Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat," a selection from the Bhagavad-Gita, Gregor von Rezzori's "Troth" (from his Memoirs of an Anti-Semite), Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge," and William B. Yeats' "Lapis Lazuli," Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning," Robert Frost's "Design," and Elizabeth Bishop's "The Armadillo." Other discussion leaders include George Anastaplo of Chicago, John Van Doren of New York, Eva Brann and Laurence Berns from Annapolis, Don Just from Austin, Texas, and several colleagues form North Carolina, including Ronda Chervin. The sessions include great dining, at least one concert (e.g., a string quintet, but we've occasionally had blue grass), hiking trails just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Accommodations are commodious, with motel-style rooms, large common spaces, including a canteen, a spacious lodge with a fireplace, and refrectory, as well as meeting rooms. Participants come from many parts of the country, with a significant Jewish and Christian representation. The cost of $175 per participant includes tuition, text, room, and board. If any of you would like to be put on the mailing list for future meetings, please call Larry Yoder (next week) at Lenoir-Rhyne College (828) 328-7276.

The trendy underdog becomes the Big Mac-Daddy Dud

Rotten Da Vinci Code film reviews pour in. It's a pity this piece of schlock will nevertheless continue to influence the impressionable dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Nicholas Postgate: Christ's Real Presence in our liturgies is not enough

Nicholas Postgate writes:
I disagree with those who say that we should seek our consolation solely in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The liturgy has a far greater purpose than to give us an opportunity for a moment's adoration in the midst of an ocean of banality and noise; indeed the liturgy is not supposed to be itself a mortification, a cause of pain, but a consolation, a reservoir of peace and joy. The purpose of the liturgy is to form our souls in the beauty of holiness ....

By attending poor liturgy one implicitly accepts it -- that is, one says to it: "Shape me, shape my soul, form my spirit. Make me like yourself." But this is what one must not allow to occur with experimental, horizontal, anti-sacral liturgy; its habits, as it were, must not become my habits. Sadly, the vast majority of Catholics who still attend Mass, including their bishops and priests, have been habituated precisely to this poverty, so much so that it is no longer possible for most to be made aware of the impoverishment, let alone persuade them of its remedies.
For more on Postgate's article, "Liturgy Forms Christ in Us," in an earlier post entitled "Does the form of the liturgy not matter much?" (scroll down, if necessary).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Californian dreamin' liturgy, Mahony style

Courtesy of Karl Keating's e-letter of May-9, 2006 -- the following excerpts:

If you have thirteen free minutes, watch this video:It was taken April 2 at the concluding Mass of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. The chief celebrant was Roger Cardinal Mahony. Total attendance at the Congress was 42,000, with 19,000 attending the final day's liturgies. ...

When you watch the liturgical dancers, you will shake your head over the lack of good taste. You will not mistake these folks for the June Taylor Dancers. Even if you make allowances for the dancers being amateurs, the video is painful to watch. ...

Here is what then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about liturgical dancing in "The Spirit of the Liturgy":
"Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. In about the third century, there was an attempt by certain Gnostic-Docetic circles to introduce it into the liturgy. ... The cultic dances of the different religions have different purposes--incantation, imitative magic, mystical ecstasy--none of which is compatible with the essential purpose of the liturgy. ...

"It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy 'attractive' by introducing dancing pantomimes (wherever possible performed by professional dance troupes), which frequently (and rightly, from the professionals' point of view) end with applause. Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. ..."

Two books to read on Islam and terrorism

Over the last twenty some years, a new politically correct, revisionist vision of Islam has asserted itself in the literature on the subject of world religion. This vision asserts a selective, censured history of Islam such as one finds in the now established classics of world religion such as Huston Smith's The World's Religions, or specific treatments such as Abdel Halim Mahmud, The Creed of Islam (1978), Kenneth Cragg's The House of Islam (1988), or Victor Danner's The Islamic Tradition (1988). Typical are the revisionist self-censorship of Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his Ideals and Realities of Islam (1989), The Heart of Islam (2002), and Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization (2003).

In sharp contrast to this is the new species of politically incorrect, wholly uncensored retrieved radicalism of writers such as Serge Trifkovic. I say "retrieved radicalism," because this other, contrasting current of writing about Islam has only recently fallen into eclipse in the West. The traditional Western Christian understanding of Islam has only been retrieved in this new radicalism, although it will surely be called "revisionist" by the now entrenched 'PC' establishment. Hilaire Belloc, for example, wrote a lengthy essay entitled "The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed" (1936), which is reprinted in a book co-authored by Gabriel Oussani with articles from the old Catholic Encyclopedia in a volume entitled Moslems: Their Beliefs, Practices, and Politics (2002). Recent writers in this tradition of retrieved radicalism include, e.g., Paul Fregosi (Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuriest, 1998), Dore Gold (Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, 2003), Daniel Pipes (Militant Islam Reaches America, 2003), Robert Spencer (Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics, 2003), Bat Ye'Or, and her books, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam (1985), The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude: Seventh-Twentieth Century (1996), Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2001), and Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005), Bernard Lewis and his books, Islam and the West (1993), What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2002), and The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (2004), and Thomas F. Madden's recent historiography of the crusades, "The Real History of the Crusades" (Crisis, 2002), and A Concise History of the Crusades (2005), Paul Marshall (Radical Islam's Rules , 2005), and, most recently, Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam [and the Crusades], 2005).

But far and away the best of these writers, in my humble opinion, is Serge Trifkovic. Trifkovic is a graduate of the University of Sussex, England, received his PhD at the University of Southampton, and pursued postdoctoral research on a State Department grant at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. He began his career as a broadcaster and producer with the BBC World Service in London and with the Voice of America in Washington, D.C. He also covered southeast Europe for U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Times. In addition to several books, he has writen scores of commentaries for the Philadelpha Inquirer, The Times of London, and Cleveland Plain Dealer. He has appeared numerous times on the BBC World Service, CNN Internatinal, MSNBC, and other leading media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic as a commentator on world affairs. He is a regular contributor and, since 1998, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

Book No. 1

Trifkovic began to make a name for himself on the subject of Islam by writing "the other side of the story" with his publication of The Sword of the Prophet: History, Theology, Impact on the World (Regina Orthodox Press, 2002). Those who can't tolerate the political incorrectness of calling sin and evil by their proper names, as long as they are not associated with the Christian West, will be appalled at Trifkovic's accounts of Islamic savagery, both in the founding of Islam, as well as in its contemporary political recensions. But the critique of Islam to be found here -- historical, theological, and political -- is more thorough than any I have encountered. Trifkovic does not endorse war against Islam. The problem of the West, in his view, is not prejudice, but foolishness in the face of violence and barbaric cruelty as manifested in the ongoing slaughter of Sudanese Christians and appalling anti-Semitism of Islamic news media and clerics. The task of the West is to defend itself by restricting immigration and reducing dependence on oil reserves from the Islamic world, and by helping non-Muslims oppressed by Dhimmitude under Islamic law.

Book No. 2

In Defeating Jihad: How the War on Terrorism Can Be Won -- in Spite of Ourselves (2006), Trifkovic develops his comprehensive stretegy for this defense against the Islamist attack on the West. Again, the politically correct crowd will not like what they read, but it was not for nothing that James Burnham wrote a book back in 1985 entitled Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism. Trifkovic points to an obvious and inescapable conclusion: that a correlation between the presence of a Muslim population in a country and the danger that it will be subjected to a terrorist attack is a demonstrable fact. It should come as no surprise that Muslims, as a group, are least likely to identify with their Western host countries. In Detroit, according to the book, 81 percent of Muslims "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" that Shari'a (Islamic religious law) should be the law of the land. Throughout the Western world, Islamic centers have provided platforms for exhortations to Muslims to support causes and to engage in acts that are morally reprehensible, legally punishable, and harmful to the host country's national security.

I have always concurred with Peter Kreeft's sympathy for Muslim abhorrence at Western moral decadence. America has more guns, more suicides, more abortions, more divorces, more drugs, more pornography, more fatherless children than nearly any country in the world. In this regard, any Christian (Catholic or Protestant) should find himself allied with any Muslim who finds all of this revolting. God's judgment lies heavily upon this. Yet it is quite another impulse to jump out of the frying pan of American decadence into the raging fire of wanton Islamic terrorism. It may be that Islamic terrorism is God's scourge upon a degenerate West that is willing to contenance the slaughter or more innocent human beings every day behind the closed doors of its tidy abortion clinics than were killed by Islamic terrorists on that single day of September 11, 2001. Yet that is no excuse for turning a blind eye to the evil of Islamic terrorism. Study it. See it for what it is. Call it what it is. Condemn it for what it is. Combat it, like abortion (and all the other aforementioned evils in this country), for what it is.

Extraordinary ministers: from liturgical abuse to liturgical norm?

Two years ago, on April 23, 2004, the Vatican released its Instruction on the Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist. I think you will agree that the following stipulations of the Instruction continue to be universally ignored throughout most American Novus Ordo parishes (which is to say, nearly all American Catholic parishes):
[157.] If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers [priests and deacons] for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it....

[158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason....
If the record of successively institutionalized abuses over the last decades is any indication, my prediction is that within the next five or ten years, the discrepancy between word and deed in this matter will reach yet another breaking point and that the bishops will simply institutionalize the current practice of employing numerous extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion as found in most parishes. In our parish, at the Sunday 11:00am Mass, despite having both a priest and deacon to distribute Communion, we typically employ eight (8) extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Where's the logic? Where's the rationale?

The March 11, 2005 issue of our diocesan newspaper, The Catholic News and Harald, carried a three-page spread entitled, "Liturgical Norms of the Diocese of Charlotte." Norm # 62 states: "The priest may be assisted by extraordinary ministers in the distribution of Communion, if other priests or deacons are not available and there is a large number of communicants." A photograph on the adjacent page pictures two extraordinary ministers, both women, distributing Holy Communion, with the caption: "The Vatican's new document on liturgy insists that lay people delegated to assist with the distribution of Communin be referred to as 'Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion' and that they be called upon when there are an insufficient number of ordinary ministers -- bishops, priests or deacons -- to give Communion. And yet we employ eight (8) extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion?

I predict liturgical law will change sooner than liturgical practice. Five years, maybe ten. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

Monday, May 15, 2006

September 9, 1850

Do you know what happened on September 9th back in 1850 in California? Sure you do!

California became a state. The state had no electricity. The state had no money. Almost everyone spoke Spanish. There were gun fights in the streets. -- So basically, it was just like California today except that the women had real breasts and the men didn't hold hands (even at Mass).

Mifepristone (C29H35NO2)

Mifepristone is a synthetic steroid used as an abortifacient in the first two months of pregnancy. During early trials, initially available in France, it was known as RU-486. Here is the Wikipedia's latest on it:
Since its FDA approval in 2000, six women in the US and one in Canada have died following medical abortions, causing some medical abortion providers to stop using the method of intra-vaginal placement of the second drug, misoprostol. Two anti-abortion Senators have introduced legislation calling for an immediate ban on the sale of Mifeprex, pending FDA review.

Son takes teaching post

One of my sons, currently finishing a doctoral dissertation in patristics (on Origen) at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, has been supporting himself and his burgeoning family by working at the USCCB. He recently wrote to tell us that he is taking a teaching post in the midlands and moving on in pursuit of his vocation, which is always gratifying news for a father. I share his email with you below:
Dear family and friends,

Today I accepted a position on the theology faculty of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. My position there will begin this August, and the family will be moving to Kansas sometime in July.

Some of you will be hearing this for the first time, and others have heard nothing else for the last few days. I will be in touch with everyone in the not-too-distant future with details, few of which are available now. But I wanted to be sure that the word went out to everyone.

We have cherished our time in Washington, and especially working with the Conference, and the move will be difficult in many ways. But I hope you will join us in celebrating what is certainly, for us, an answer to prayer.

In Christ,

Jamie Blosser
Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
By the way, so as to avoid any confusion, 'Jamie' is the same person as 'Benjamin'. 'Jamie' is a nickname that stuck since he was a young lad.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Does the form of the liturgy not matter much?

I used to think it was only evangelical Protestants from non-liturgical, congregationalist traditions who thought "external forms" in didn't really matter, that all that really counted was on the inside, "in your heart." On this view, the Lord doesn't really care about the outward appearances, but is really interested only in what was going on inside one's soul. The view has a certain prima facie logic to it, because of what we all know about the possibilities of hypocrisy. However, the logic collapses as soon as one sees the implications of the Catholic sacramental worldview, according to which the exception proves the rule, and what is within our hearts and souls naturally seeks outward forms of expression. Even the marital embrace, thus, becomes sacramentally an outward sign of an inward grace.

But the extent to which Catholics have succumbed to this dichotomized way of thinking over the last decades came home to me as I recently read an article which caused me to reflect on my experiences at Catholic Sunday Mass. In many ways, it seems to me, the sacramental worldview has been eroded in contemporary Catholic experience. Christ's Presence in Catholic churches seems to be perceived much more in a spiritual way as apprehended personally and subjectively by individual believers in the congregation (just listen to how Protestant that language sounds!), rather than corporeally as spatially locatable in the Tabernacle or on the Altar. This tendency would seem to be reinforced by the versus populum stance of the priest, as well as by the frequent 'in-the-round' construction of church interiors that has parishioners genuflecting across the aisle towards one another (rather than towards Him) if they genuflect at all. Where the Tabernacle has been removed altogether, along with the kneelers, the erosion is nearly complete. The article that prompted my reflections is by Nicholas Postgate, entitled "Liturgy Forms Christ in Us," in the Spring 2006 issue of Latin Mass magazine. The whole article is well-worth reading, but here is a summary with some excerpts. See what you think.

Postgate argues, initially, that as the Virgin bears Christ in her womb and presents Him to us, so the liturgy bears Christ and presents Him to us. Just as we go to Him through her -- ad Jesum per Mariam -- so He comes to us through the Church and her liturgy as through a mother.
To say, then, as so many Catholics do, that the form of the liturgy doesn't matter that much ("because, after all, Christ is truly present when the consecration is valid; what difference ultimately should it make? Should so much trouble be made over Tridentine vs. Novus Ordo, when we just ought to be humbly grateful that our Lord is truly present?") is like saying it doesn't matter what kind of mother Jesus has, what kind of woman or what kind of character Mary has -- virginal, sinless, graceful, gentle, or their opposites. These things would be accidental, incidental, not of the essence of the Christ who comes to us through her.
Postgate points out, however, the deep falsity of this position that becomes apparent when one begins to discern the profound connection between, on the one hand, Mary's sinlessness and the glory of the Redeemer, and on the other, our heavenly mother Mary and our sacramental mother, the Mass. It was not long, he points out, before early Protestantism severed the connection between the believer and the visible Church, and then went on to sever also the deep connection between the Savior and his Mother. Mary was quickly reduced to little more than an ordinary Jewish peasant girl, who had several children from ordinary marital relations, etc. No wonder Catholic tradition has insisted from the days of St. Cyprian, that "A man cannot have God for his father who does not have the Church for his mother"; and, one must add, as the patristics often did: "A man cannot have Jesus for his brother who does not have Mary for his mother."

Coming to the heart his thesis, Postgate writes:
The liturgy has two purposes: to worship God with all due reverence and love, and to feed, nurture, shape, and perfect the worshiper. God is not changed or moved for the worse by our bad liturgies; it is we, the Christian people, who are deformed by the Novus Ordo Missae as it is celebrated in most of our churches.... I disagree with those who say that we should seek our consolation solely in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The liturgy has a far greater purpose than to give us an opportunity for a moment's adoration in the midst of an ocean of banality and noise; indeed the liturgy is not supposed to be itself a mortification, a cause of pain, but a consolation, a reservoir of peace and joy. The purpose of the liturgy is to form our souls in the beauty of holiness; and if the human elements of the liturgy are, on the contrary, deforming our souls, then we must not allow it to do so unless, again, we have no choice in a given situation. The "spirit of the liturgy" rightly understood cannot change; that is why the new liturgy, insofar as it is an experimental and non-traditional liturgy, has either to be brought firmly back into conformity with tradition, or to be suppressed utterly (in a sense these amount to the same, for to bring it back sufficiently to its roots would be to abolish it in its current form, even as one who has to relearn a subject from the roots has also to unlearn the faulty version he got first). When push comes to shove, it is not tradition but the departure from tradition that has got to go.

By attending poor liturgy one implicitly accepts it -- that is, one says to it: "Shape me, shape my soul, form my spirit. Make me like yourself." But this is what one must not allow to occur with experimental, horizontal, anti-sacral liturgy; its habits, as it were, must not become my habits. Sadly, the vast majority of Catholics who still attend Mass, including their bishops and priests, have been habituated precisely to this poverty, so much so that it is no longer possible for most to be made aware of the impoverishment, let alone persuade them of its remedies. This is one among many reasons that the Church, for all who have eyes to see things as they are, has entered upon a second and more perilous "Babylonian captivity," from which she cannot be liberated until the empire of rationalist liturgiology and neo-modernist theology crumbles under its own dead weight. The captivity of the Jews lasted some seventy years (ca. 586 to 516 B.C.); the Avignon papacy lasted for nearly the same (1309-1978 A.D.). Will we be delivered from the disgrace by the year 2040? It is too soon to tell, or even to guess.

What is certain is that we have no more excuse for despair than had the Jews or our brethren six and a half centuries ago. The arm of the Lord is not shortened, however crippled his earthly members may seem. We are in a waiting pattern where humility and patience, longsuffering and prayer, is the lesson we are forced to learn, if we wish to remain faithful to the Lord. (emphasis added)
How, then, does good liturgy properly shape our souls? Essentially Postgate argues that, like the Virgin Mary, and like Christ on the Cross, the ancient rite of the Mass allows God's glory to shine through self-effacement:
Reflect on the ethos of humility inculcated by the traditional rite of Mass. In the classical liturgy, all the "weight" is on the priest and the sacred ministers. This is a good thing entirely, though a difficult one for fallen nature. It is good because, first, it enables the faithful to lean upon their pastor, to go with him to the altar; the liturgy is not suddenly thrown into their hands, but paradoxically, because of the centrality of the cleric, the faithful are able to enter more deeply into the sacrifice "under his chasuble," like the medieval paintings of the nameless faithful crowding under the copious mantle of the Blessed Virgin. The reason is that the objective "place" of worship is in the sanctuary, with the sacred ministers, but subjectively everyone can place himself into this place and follow in his heart the offering made by the priest -- there is not a false shift to the "heart of the individual believer" as in Protestant worship. The focus remains on Jesus Christ, Head of the Mystical Body, because the focus remains on His sacerdotal icon, the priest who is the self-sacrificing image of the High Priest.

One might object (and many did object in the fifties and sixties): Doesn't all of this place too much weight on the priest, too much of a psychological burden? The answer is obvious: the priesthood is the most sublime, the most arduous, the most demanding of all vocations -- that is how it should be, in fact it cannot be otherwise. The fact that today some priests are little more than social workers or parish event facilitators reveals a serious amnesia, not to say corruption, of the theology of Holy Orders and its assimilation to the High Priest. (The writings on the priesthood by Saint John Chrystostom or Saint John Fisher, among others would make a good corrective to modern tendencies.) When Christ is present in our midst, the right reaction is to worship Him, not one another. The priest "disappears" into the Holy Sacrifice when he faces ad orientem and offers the sacrifice with his face invisible to the people. Jesus alone is the center, the one Sun whose light illuminates all the worshipers, including the priest. In this sense, the ancient liturgy places at once all the emphasis and none of it upon the priest: he is the most visible and the most invisible, central and at the same time peripheral. He is central as an icon of Christ, he is peripheral as Jones or Smith. Now things are reversed: Jones or Smith, "this man," is central; what has become peripheral is the unique Mediator between God and man.

* * *
A friend of mine once remarked that the ancient rite preserves the important act of the priest praying with the people, at the end of Mass when all kneel towards the tabernacle to recite the Hail Marys and other Leonine prayers. It struck me powerfully the other day that at a Novus Ordo Mass, it is possible for the priest never to be standing otherwise than towards, which is to say, over against, the people --which, in an ironic twist, increases the hieratic distance in an artificial way and makes the priesthood seem like a political office rather than a sacred weight. At the old rite, it is clear that everyone is focused on one and the same act of worship, the priest in persona Christi, the people by their baptismal participation in Christ's priesthood.[*] The roles are vividly distinct yet seen to be convergent and harmonious because all are facing ad orientem in common, and at the end of Mass all are praying together, beseeching the Mother of God for her protection. The anonymity of the priest in the old rite paradoxically increases his visibility as minister of the sacred mysteries and hides him, decreases his idiosyncratic presence as the individual man: "He must increase, I must decrease." This is what the entire ancient liturgy does in every respect: it brings forth Christ the Lord and suppresses the fallen ego that wishes to assert itself. (emphasis added)
There is much more to this article, of course, that bears reading in the original. The article, again, is by Nicholas Postgate, entitled "Liturgy Forms Christ in Us," Latin Mass magazine (Spring 2006), pp. 12-15. For anyone interested, a subscription to the magazine can be purchased online at LatinMassMagazine.Com.


[*] See St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, IIa, q. 63 on sacramental character, where the Angelic Doctor explains that all Christians participate in the one priesthood of Christ through the character imprinted on the soul at baptism. This character is a power of receiving divine realities from God through the ministers of His Church. The sacerdotal character is, in contrast, a power of giving divine realities to the people, not by an independent authority, but by sharing in Christ's unique authority.

[Nicholas Postgate, Ph.D., teaches philosophy at the university level in Europe. He has published articles on a wide variety of subjects, especially on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and on Catholic social doctrine.]

Of related interest:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Yield of the Year of the Eucharist: Back to business as usual?

Some of you may recall the article by Peter A. Kwasniewski we reproduced from Latin Mass magazine back in March, entitled "Musings on the October Synod" (March 16, 2006), offering his observations on the Eucharistic Synod called by Pope John Paul II before his death and concluded under Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of his pontificate. Among other things, Kwasniewski observed that what was most surprising was the astonishing lack of discussion or even the seeming awareness of the most fundamental point in any attempt to come to grips with the Church of today and her Eucharistic life -- namely, the extent to which the so-called reform of the liturgy has been a disastrous failure. "Here was a golden opportunity for some honest soul-searching," he wrote, "for the admission of collective guilt in allowing the riches of the Western liturgical heritage to be pitilessly scattered and buried, for the proposal of radical cures to confront a disease already far advanced. Here was a chance, dare we say it, for humble acknowledgement that what the majority of the Fathers of Vatican II had expected and desired in a liturgical reform was far, far different from what actually transpired at the hands of Bugnini's band, that the de facto abolition of the unbroken custom of ad orientem worship and the associated destruction of sanctuaries and tabernacles across the world was a wretched mistake." Further, he insisted, the burning heart of the matter is the Mass in concreto, not he Eucharist in abstracto, for it is through the liturgy that the Lord gives Himself to us.

Last month, hard on the heels of Kwasniewski's article, appeared the following article by Ryan Grant, entitled "At the Closing of the Year of the Eucharist," New Oxford Review (April, 2006), which is reproduced here with permission of the editor.

At the Closing of the Year of the Eucharist

by Ryan Grant

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: "Oh, at least I got to receive Communion." Or: "I made it just in time to receive Communion." Or else you have seen people make what is called "The Judas Shuffle": leaving before the final blessing just as Judas left right after receiving the Eucharist at the Last Supper. We have also seen the shock and horror at the suggestion that certain individuals, such as non-Catholics and "pro-choice Catholic" politicians, ought not to be given Communion.

Thus it seemed a much-needed relief and a hopeful sign when in October 2004 the late Holy Father, John Paul II, in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, declared a Year of the Eucharist to last until October 2005. He said, among other things, "It is my supreme hope that this year will bring stronger devotion to the most Holy Eucharist."

What was done to foster an increased devotion? What was done to engender greater belief in the Real Presence among Catholics? Nothing discernible. John Paul II made some nice remarks, including that a greater sense of mystery ought to surround the Eucharist, and suggested in a working document that the increase in the use of Latin was advisable. Yet it does not seem that anything practical occurred at the parish level to make the renewal hoped for by the late Pontiff a reality. More importantly, what exactly has this "Year of the Eucharist," laudable though it may be, done for the Church?

There are still First Communion classes where children are learning that Jesus is in the bread, or that the Eucharist is merely a symbol. The 1992 Gallup poll indicating that less than 30 percent of Catholics believe in Transubstantiation doesn't seem to have changed much in 14 years. More importantly, a large number of the faithful believe that Communion is a right, not a gift. These modern attitudes and aberrations are not merely a change of custom, as their apologists would have us believe. Rather, they are indicative of a certain theological idea on the part of their originators, which is ever apparent in the faithfuls' understanding of Mass and Communion. This idea is that the Mass is not first and foremost a sacrifice as declared by the Council of Trent (and affirmed by John Paul II in Dominicae Cenae) but is a communal meal. Or perhaps an expression of community, a gathering time.

We also see this notion reflected in contemporary language used regarding the Mass. For example, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is now commonly termed "Celebrating the Eucharist," an ambiguous formulation that would easily roll off the tongues of Anglicans and Lutherans. In many parishes, the priest is no longer referred to as the celebrant, but the presider, terms loaded with meaning. In Catholic theology a priest celebrates the Sacrifice, which he alone is empowered to do via his sacramental orders. However, in Protestant theology, because the minister is as much a priest as is his congregation, he presides over their act of worship. So, while the term presider might not be heretical per se, for there is some sense in which the priest presides over the action of Christ, the term is a half truth used by progressive liturgists to teach a falsehood. At best, it confuses the faithful as to the role of the priest and the nature of the Sacred Liturgy. "Celebrating the Eucharist," like "presider," is not heretical per se, but it is ambiguous. It is a half truth that only tells part of the story, and generally the Church Fathers agreed that in many cases a half truth is worse than a lie.

The 1992 Gallup poll question, "What is the Eucharist?" focused on one aspect alone of the Mass. Would the 30 percent of Catholics who answered that the Eucharist is Jesus be able to give a correct definition of the Mass, which is intrinsically bound up with the Eucharist? The Catechism of the Council of Trent defines the Mass as "The unbloody representation of the sacrifice of Calvary on the holy altar." How many Catholics could provide this answer? Further comment would be superfluous.

But these results should not surprise us, given the state of catechesis (if there is such a thing anymore) after Vatican II. No doubt this can be attributed to the non-sacral appearance of many a celebration of the new Missal to the over-emphasis of the notion of a communal meal.

Likewise, the tone, demeanor, and text of hymns regularly sung suggest that the celebration is for the people, not directed toward the Lord. Like most things modern the "our" and "us" and "we" songs in the hymnals easily outnumber any other types of hymns. Mgsr. Klaus Gamber, whom Pope Benedict XVI has ranked as one of the greatest liturgists of the 20th century, noted in his book Reform of the Roman Liturgy that "We are now involved in a liturgy in which God is no longer the center of our attention. Today the eyes of our faithful are no longer focused on God's Son having become Man hanging before us on the cross, or on the pictures of his saints, but on the human community assembled for a commemorative meal."

The manner by which numerous faithful receive Communion is empowered by this notion of Eucharist as meal. For if Mass is primarily a meal, then Communion is necessarily a right. We, in a rather self-centered manner, look at the Eucharist as a must-have, or worse, treat it as the item to be received at a fast-food counter. This is contrary to the manner of worship in the history of the Church.

Herein lies the crux of our modern problem. Coupled with the fact that the faithful now feel they have a right to Communion, there are numerous persons who take Communion in an unworthy state. In the Tridentine era, Catholics prepared themselves very carefully before receiving Communion. St. Therese of Lisieux prepared herself in the following manner: "When I am preparing for Holy Communion, I picture my soul as a piece of land and I beg the Blessed Virgin to remove from it any rubbish that would prevent it from being free; then I ask her to set up a huge tent worthy of heaven, adorning it with her own jewelry; finally, I invite all the angels and saints to come and conduct a magnificent concert there. It seems to me that when Jesus descends into my heart He is content to find Himself so well received and I, too, am content" (Story of a Soul). We would do well to imitate her example.

Further, the Council of Trent teaches: "It is not becoming for anyone to approach any of the sacred functions except solemnly, certainly, the more the holiness and the divinity of this heavenly sacrament is understood by a Christian, the more diligently ought he to take heed lest he approach to receive it without great reverence and holiness, especially when we read in the Apostle those words of terror: 'He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself not discerning the body of the Lord' (1 Cor. 11:29). Therefore the precept, 'Let a man prove himself,' must be recalled to mind by him who wishes to communicate." St. Thomas calls the reception of Communion the "Foretaste of eternal glory." This is because when we are in eternal glory, we are in the presence of God, complete and total. When we receive Communion, we are in that same presence, though it is only a preview of that eternal glory we shall receive.

However, if when we die we should appear before God in a state of mortal sin, the Church has always and everywhere held that without a special act of God's mercy not revealed, one will be judged and sent to Hell. Even St. Francis, the "apostle of peace," said in his canticle of creation, "Praised be Sister Death, for no one can escape her grasp. Woe to those who die in mortal sin." Now, if one receives Communion in such a state, it is a foretaste of that eternal Judgment. This is why in the Tridentine Missal, the priest prays before Communion: "Perceptio corporis tui, Domine Iesu Christe, quod ego indignus sumere praesumo, non mihi proveniat in iudicium et condemnationem," which is: "Let not the partaking of your body O Lord Jesus Christ, be to my condemnation and judgment, though I am unworthy to presume to receive it." St. Thomas echoes this in his prayer after Communion, which can be found readily in the back of most Tridentine Missals and Breviaries: "Et precor, ut haec sancta communio non sit mihi reatus ad poenam, sed intercessio salutaris ad veniam," which is: "And I ask that this Holy Communion may not be to me a remittance unto punishment, but a saving plea unto forgiveness." Unfortunately, instead of instilling such attitudes of reverence and devotion toward the Holy Eucharist, there are certain priests in our time who preach to the contrary.

The Council of Trent said: "That so great a sacrament may not be unworthily received, and therefore unto death and condemnation, this holy Council ordains and declares that sacramental confession must necessarily be made beforehand by those whose conscience is burdened by mortal sin, however contrite they may consider themselves. If anyone moreover teaches the contrary or preaches or obstinately asserts, or even publicly by disputation shall presume to defend the contrary, by that fact itself he is excommunicated " (emphasis added). Yet how many Catholics eat and drink their condemnation, at the behest of their parish priest? And how many parish priests have excommunicated themselves by asserting this false teaching?

One cannot condemn strongly enough the attitude toward the Eucharist that progressive liturgists have instilled in the faithful: that it is rightfully theirs. (Of course, if somebody dares to kneel for Communion, then he must be kicked out of the church!).

We must carefully contemplate the state of our souls before reception of each and every Communion, and focus the mainstay of our worship on the Consecration, the very moment when the Sacrifice of Calvary is made re-present on the altar. For the whole of the Mass is itself the drama of our salvation, and the foretaste of our future glory.

Why is it that no such reforms were presented either from the Vatican or from our local bishops during this Year of the Eucharist? How is it that the teaching of the Eucharist was not given exposition? Why were there so few missions in our dioceses that spoke on this pregnant topic, and so few bishops who explained how to receive Communion worthily? Rather, we saw more of the status quo as regards Holy Communion. Therefore, as with most things in the past 40 years, the Year of the Eucharist was, practically speaking, little more than a waste of time and paper.

[Ryan Grant's "At the Closing of the Year of the Eucharist" was originally published in the New Oxford Review (April 2006), and is reprinted here by permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A. Ryan Grant is a religion teacher at a Catholic high school in California.]

I do not want to leave the impression that I am simply a cantankerous ingrate and see nothing positive around me today. The Diocese of Charlotte last year sponsored a wonderful Eucharistic Congress that was in many ways an inspiration to all who attended. Those of us in this diocese owe a debt of gratitude to Bishop Peter J. Jugis for hosting such a Congress, as well as for so much else he has done for us. Yet when we look at the Church at large, and even the Church within our own Diocese, we cannot ignore the kinds of questions being raised by Kwasniewski and Grant. It would be irresponsible to do so. Those of us with any attachment to Catholic tradition find ourselves in a time of transition and trial in the Church. Personally we must each seek to strike a path between blissful ignorance and despair, between naively accepting the institutionalized abberations of the status quo and overlooking the fact that, on the other hand, even here in the desert wastes, He is with us.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The hermeneutics of liturgical fittigness: ad orientem - versus populum

I would like to resume our discussion of the sacramental hermeneutics of fittingness in the changes in the Roman liturgy since Vatican II. So far we have explored four issues: (1) posture: "On the sacramental hermeneutics of fittingness in posture for prayer" (March 2, 2006), which was primarily concerned with the question of which posture was more expressive of a proper disposition for penitential prayer; (2) mode of reception of Communion: "On the hermeneutics of fittingness: Communion in the hand, standing" (March 6, 2006); (3) the Communion rail: "On the hermeneutics of fittingness: the removal of the Communion rail?" (March 22, 2006); and (4) the veil: "The hermeneutics of fittingness: head coverings for women" (April 8, 2006).

In this post I would like to entertain the controversial question of the orientation of the priest during Mass: ad orientem (facing "towards the Lord" together with the people), or versus populum (facing the people). Since the Second Vatican Council, as is transparently obvious to anyone who has set foot inside a contemporary Catholic church of the new liturgical missa normativa, the priest faces the congregation throughout the entire liturgy. Today it is surprising to most Catholics who visit many Lutheran churches to find the minister, at various points, "turn his back" to the congregation as he orients himself (or herself, in the case of some ELCA congregations) towards the Lord, according to ancient Catholic tradition.

In his Preface to U.M. Lang's book, Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes:
The Innsbruck liturgist Josef Andreas Jungmann, one of the architects of the Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was from the, very beginning resolutely opposed to the polemical catchphrase that previously the priest celebrated 'with his back to the people'; he emphasised that what was at issue was not the priest turning away from the people, but, on the contrary, his facing the same direction as the people. The Liturgy of the Word has the character of proclamation and dialogue, to which address and response can rightly belong. But in the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest leads the people in prayer and is turned, together with the people, towards the Lord. For this reason, Jungmann argued, the common direction of priest and people is intrinsically fitting and proper to the liturgical action. Louis Bouyer (like Jungmann, one of the Council's leading liturgists) and Klaus Gainber have each in his own way taken up the same question. Despite their great reputations, they were unable to make their voices heard at first, so strong was the tendency to stress the communality of the liturgical celebration and to regard therefore the face-to-face position of priest and people as absolutely necessary.
What rationales have you heard for the changes since Vatican II in favor of the priest facing the people? There must be some, surely, though whether they are good rationales is another question altogether. I know many good priests who speak with apparent gratitude of the change to versus populum, including not only my own priest, but Preacher to the Papal Household under Pope John Paul II, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, whom I heard allude to this issue during a speech he gave at the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte last year. Yet, for the life of me, I have not yet heard a clear or cogent rationale given that makes much sense to me. Ratzinger himself, on the other hand, offers some plausible arguments in behalf of the ancient ad orientem tradition. Which is the more fitting orientation, and why? What think ye?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Liturgical jewel of Chicago

A highlight of the weekend conference in Chicago was the privilege of assisting, for a blessed change, at a traditional Mass. I had found the website of the Saint John Cantius Parish in Chicago. You can scroll down the page and find the "Mass and Devotional Schedule" link, as one would expect. What is exceptional is what one finds, scrolling down a bit farther, under the "Sacred Music" link. Here you find a month-by-month schedule of sacred music and Mass settings, such as you could hardly imagine being mounted by a single parish. I suggest taking a look. At the suggestion of my good friend from Seattle, Kirk Kanzelberger (whose blog, Sapor Sapientiae, some of you may know), we got up early and went to the 6:30am Tridentine Low Mass on Friday morning and Tridentine High Mass at 8:30am on Saturday. The piece de resistance was the Sunday 12:30pm Tridentine Sung High Mass with Propers in Gregorian Chant and Ordinaries sung by chamber choir and strings to a setting by Mozart (Missa Brevis in F, K1 192/K6 186f).

One can take a cyber tour of the restored interior of St. John Canisius Church in Chicago. My friend, Kirk, allowed that one might allow for architectural 'cloning' in cases such as these. The whole inspiring story of St. John Canisius parish, how the church building, built originally by the Polish community, and saved from demolition, and restored, and turned into a center of renaissance of traditional Catholic liturgy, art, and music in Chicago, under the patronage of the St. John Canisius Society and Archbishop Cardinal George of Chicago, is well worth examining.

Chicago conference shows interest in Scheler

The Max Scheler Society of North America conference in Chicago, in conjunction with the Central Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, April 26-29, 2006, attracted a modest but happy increase in interest this year. With two full sessions, there was still hardly enough time to accommodate the number of speakers and respondents on the roster. Furthermore, it was good to see a significant number of younger newcomers in attendance this year -- one even a student from Belarus! More than anything, I had the sense of a great deal of work in progress, with many fecund ideas for future projects in the work. A great meeting with prospects for more to come. Hopefully we can get more of the younger Scheler scholars on board as speakers next time around. More information on Scheler will be posted in the future on my Amazon Blog, which is focused at this point on my Scheler work, and on my Philosophia Perennis blog.