Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Christmas Reflection - 2019

It's time to reconsider the reason for the season and the challenges offered by the drive-by "experts" of the day who intend to cast the entire Biblical narrative concerning the Blessed Nativity into doubt. Consider again the Biblical narrative:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pas, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter Two, Verses 13-20)

Here we are again, on the first day of the Christmas season. It has become something of a Christmas tradition for me to engage the following text by C.S. Lewis in connection with the above quoted Scriptures. The reason will be obvious.

Nearly every Christmas, it seems, NEWSWEEK or TIME or some television special will feature the "latest scholarship" questioning the "authenticity" of the Christmas story. I am not concerned with the question about whether the Nativity of our Lord occurred on December 25th. That's a matter of Church tradition and incidental to my concerns here. What concerns me is how the Biblical narrative itself is invariably called into question or even dismissed as mere "myth" -- the account of the shepherds, the Angelic host, the Christ Child in a manger, the Star and the Magi from the East, Herod's slaughter of the innocents, the flight of Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child into Egypt, etc.

The scholarly authorities typically interviewed, whether Catholic or Protestant, are consistently and incorrigibly one-sided, quite thoroughly corrupted by the Humean and Kantian philosophical presuppositions undergirding the historical-critical reading of the Biblical narrative. Typical is the About.com website, where Internet browsers frequent to learn "the facts" about this or that -- a site where one finds this sort of thinking gone to seed in an article by Austin Cline, "Nativity vs Gospels: Are the Gospels Reliable About Jesus' Birth?" (About.com), where the partisan skepticism of such historical critical assumptions is abundantly evident in his suggestions that all the key ingredients of the Nativity story in the Gospels were concocted fictions of various kinds.

The lack of critical circumspection, if not patent fantasy, in all of this would be amusing if it were not so destructive. The upshot is always the same: that the Gospel writers are unreliable and not to be trusted, and certainly not to be taken at face value. Just how ludicrous this all is, however, can be seen easily by anyone with a modicum of familiarity with literature, mythology, and history. One of the best examples of a powerful antedote to this kind of foolishness -- and one I keep using because it is simple -- is a little essay by C.S. Lewis entitled "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," which is available in a collection of essays by Lewis entitled Christian Reflections (1967; reprinted by Eerdmans, 1994). The following are some excerpts from Lewis' essay, which begins on p. 152 and contains four objections (or what he calls "bleats") about modern New Testament scholarship:
1. [If a scholar] tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour...

I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one [of the stories in the Gospel of John, for example] is like this... Either this is reportage - though it may no doubt contain errors - pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative...

2. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point - and often involves throughout - the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars... The idea that any... writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.

3. Thirdly, I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur... This is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon 'if miraculous, unhistorical' is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the Biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing.

4. My fourth bleat is my loudest and longest. Reviewers [of my own books, and of books by friends whose real history I knew] both friendly and hostile... will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why - and when - he did everything... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.

The 'assured results of modern scholarship', as to the way in which an old book was written, are 'assured', we may conclude, only because those who knew the facts are dead and can't blow the gaff... The Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

However... we are not fundamentalists... Of course we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent. It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method wavers... The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date...

Such are the reactions of one bleating layman... Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar; he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more...
Lewis, of course, was hardly a naive ignoramus. He knew all the critical objections to Christianity because for the first part of his life he was himself a confirmed agnostic. He was anything but "soft-minded," to use the Jamesian idiom. He taught philosophy at Oxford briefly before going on to teach Medieval and Renaissance literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, and conclude his prolific academic career teaching at Cambridge. An account of his conversion can be found in his Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life,in which we find the following quotation:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words “compelle intrare,” compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation. (emphasis added)
Lewis, an Anglican, was a man of deep Catholic habit of mind, probably because of his immersion in medieval literature; and many have wondered why he never himself crossed the Tiber. Walker Percy even compared him to Moses, who led many others to the Promised Land, though never himself crossing over. A number of books have been written about this, like Joseph Pearce's C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church,and Christopher Derrick's C.S.Lewis and the Church of Rome.The most probable reason is cultural: his father was an Ulsterman. Whatever the reason, his common sense criticisms of those Biblical "experts" who attempt to dismantle the entire Biblical narrative under the influence of Enlightenment prejudices, can be accepted with gratitude.

For further reading: Merry Christmas everyone!

Tridentine Christmas Masses in metro Detroit

Tridentine Masses This Christmas Week

Wednesday Dec. 25

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Tridentine Community News - Extraordinary Form Confirmations in 2020; Our Lady of the Rosary to Host First Traditional Mass; Debut of Hani Sarweh’s Mass Setting; Side Altar Restoration at Our Lady of the Scapular;

"I will go in unto the Altar of God
To God, Who giveth joy to my youth"

Tridentine Community News by Alex Begin (November 17, 2019):
November 17, 2019 – Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost

Extraordinary Form Confirmations in 2020

Once again this year, Detroit’s Old St. Mary’s Church, in cooperation with the Oakland County Latin Mass Association, is planning to hold Confirmations in the Extraordinary Form. The Sacrament of Confirmation is open to children as well as adults. Candidate adults and parents of candidate children are requested to register in one of two ways:

OCLMA members should speak with Msgr. Browne after Mass at the Academy of the Sacred Heart Chapel, as well as e-mail info@oclma.org with the names of the candidates.

Those who do not attend the OCLMA should call Randy Bowers at Old St. Mary’s to register at (313) 961-8711. The parish may request you to speak with their pastor, Fr. Epperley.

The date of the ceremony will be determined by the availability of Bishop Donald Hanchon and will be set once a list of candidates has been assembled.

It should be noted that the St. Benedict Tridentine Community will not be arranging Confirmations in Windsor this year, so this provides a nearby opportunity for St. Benedict members to receive the sacrament.

Our Lady of the Rosary to Host First Traditional Mass

On Saturday, December 7 at 7:00 PM, Our Lady of the Rosary Church on Woodward in Midtown Detroit will host its first Traditional Latin High Mass. Fr. Derik Peterman will be the celebrant, and a reception for young adults age 18-35 will follow, organized by Juventútem Michigan. As always, those of all ages are invited to the Mass, which because of its time will satisfy the Sunday obligation.

Our Lady of the Rosary was originally built as an Episcopal church. Many decades after the Catholics took it over, it became the home of Detroit’s Oratory of St. Philip Neri in formation. Sister oratories such as those in London, Oxford, and Birmingham, England, and Toronto, Canada, are famed for their devotion to the Traditional Mass, so it is only fitting that our local one join that august company.

Debut of Hani Sarweh’s Mass Setting

Shortly before he passed away, St. Benedict and OCLMA choir member Hani Sarweh composed a Mass of St. Michael the Archangel in E Minor. On Sunday, December 8 at the 2:00 PM High Mass at St. Alphonsus Church in Windsor, the St. Benedict Tridentine Community Choir will debut the piece. Hani’s brother Wassim will direct the choir, and his brother Basel will travel from Texas to sing.

This week San Francisco’s Benedict XVI Institute of Sacred Music got word of this event and publicized it on their Facebook page. They see it as part of a burst of newly composed Mass settings that have debuted across the globe in recent months.

Side Altar Restoration at Our Lady of the Scapular

Longtime readers of this column are quite familiar with the talents of local church restoration expert Fr. Mark Borkowski. Responsible for restoration work at Sweetest Heart of Mary, St. Josaphat, and St. Joseph Churches in Detroit, Fr. Mark began a gradual restoration of Wyandotte’s Our Lady of the Scapular six years ago. This month he completed restoration and gold leaf work on the church’s two Side Altars, which now glisten with beauty. Our Lady of the Scapular holds a Tridentine Mass approximately once per month on a major Feast Day.
[Comments? Please e-mail tridnews@detroitlatinmass.org. Previous columns are available at http://www.detroitlatinmass.org. This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Albertus (Detroit), Academy of the Sacred Heart (Bloomfield Hills), and St. Alphonsus and Holy Name of Mary Churches (Windsor) bulletin inserts for November 17, 2019. Hat tip to Alex Begin, author of the column.]

Tridentine Community News - Liturgical North; New Communion Rail in Mississippi; Second of Two Detroit Episodes of Extraordinary Faith Now Viewable on YouTube and Vimeo; Hani Sarweh’s Mass Setting Also ... Sung at Old St. Mary’s; More Masses at St. Mary of Redford

"I will go in unto the Altar of God
To God, Who giveth joy to my youth"

Tridentine Community News by Alex Begin (December 1, 2019):
December 1, 2019 – First Sunday of Advent

Liturgical North

It is well-known that in the Traditional Mass, the priest is said to face “Liturgical East” when he faces the altar in the same direction as the people (hence the “oriéntem” in the term “ad oriéntem”). East represents the rising sun as well as the Son, in Whom we have our hope.

It follows that “Liturgical North” would be facing the 9:00 position, if the 12:00 position is East. Notice that when the altar missal is moved to the Gospel (left) side of the altar, it is angled to the left, versus when it is on the Epistle (right) side of the altar, the missal sits parallel to the front of the altar. Also notice that when the MC or Subdeacon holds the Last Gospel card for the priest, it is held angled to the left. Even more significantly, in a Solemn High Mass, the Deacon chants the Gospel while facing directly towards the 9:00 position.

All three of these rubrics serve the same purpose: They represent the historic need to preach the Gospel to the pagan North Countries of Europe. A gentle reminder from Holy Mother Church that the Gospel should be used to evangelize those not already practicing the True Faith.

New Communion Rail in Mississippi

It’s always good to see un-wreckovation taking place. This week historic Our Lady of the Gulf Church in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, site of October’s Extraordinary Form celebrant and choir training, (re)installed a Communion Rail to support their recent debut of weekly Tridentine Masses. [Photo above by Bill Cork]

Second of Two Detroit Episodes of Extraordinary Faith Now Viewable on YouTube and Vimeo

Episode 14 of Extraordinary Faith – Detroit Part 2 of 2 – is now available for viewing on the Extraordinary Faith channel on YouTube and Vimeo. We tour Old St. Mary’s Church, learn about the structure of the Traditional Mass from Fr. Lee Acervo and hear about vestments from Fr. Mark Borkowski at St. Florian Church, visit the ornate and domed St. Hyacinth Church [pictured], and meet the energetic volunteers who purchased and are restoring St. Albertus Church.

Hani Sarweh’s Mass Setting Also to Be Sung at Old St. Mary’s

In addition to its previously announced debut at the 2:00 PM Mass at St. Alphonsus Church in Windsor next Sunday, December 8, the late Hani Sarweh’s Mass of St. Michael the Archangel in E Minor will also be sung by the St. Benedict Tridentine Community Choir this Friday, December 6 at the 7:00 PM First Friday Mass at Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit.

More Masses at St. Mary of Redford

Additional Tridentine Masses have been scheduled at St. Mary’s of Redford Church: Next Sunday, December 8, there will be a High Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at 6:00 PM. On Saturday, December 14, the usual weekly 8:00 AM Low Mass will be replaced by a 7:00 AM Solemn High Roráte Mass. A Roráte Mass is a Votive Mass of Our Lady celebrated by candlelight before dawn during Advent.

[Comments? Please e-mail tridnews@detroitlatinmass.org. Previous columns are available at http://www.detroitlatinmass.org. This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Albertus (Detroit), Academy of the Sacred Heart (Bloomfield Hills), and St. Alphonsus and Holy Name of Mary Churches (Windsor) bulletin inserts for December 1, 2019. Hat tip to Alex Begin, author of the column.]

Tridentine Community News - The Advent Wreath; St. Benedict Tridentine Choir to Sing at Assumption Church Midnight Mass; Tridentine Masses This Coming Week

"I will go in unto the Altar of God
To God, Who giveth joy to my youth"

Tridentine Community News by Alex Begin (December 8, 2019):
December 8, 2019 – Immaculate Conception

The Advent Wreath

Most Catholic churches nowadays place an Advent Wreath in their sanctuaries. This practice has been questioned by some Catholics. Some contend that this is a Protestant custom, not found in Catholic churches before Vatican II. Is this a matter warranting concern?

There are contrasting stories as to how the Advent Wreath came to be. Some maintain that it evolved from ancient Germanic and Scandinavian winter prayer wheels, which beseeched pagan gods for a return to days of longer light. Others claim that it had its origins in the Middle Ages, with modern forms of the wreath developing in the 17th century. Definitely Lutherans, and apparently some Catholics, began to employ it in that century. Still others believe that it began as a 19th century German custom with 23 candles representing all of the days in December before Christmas. Later it was abbreviated to only four candles, to represent each of the Sundays in Advent. Various documents indicate that Advent Wreaths began to attain popularity in Catholic churches and homes in the mid-20th century.

The current form is meant to help us anticipate the joy of Christmas to come. The use of evergreens symbolizes life through arid times. It is preferable not to include flowers, as they are prohibited on the altar during Advent except on Gaudéte Sunday; it would be premature to express the exuberance that flowers represent.

The anti-wreath position notes that the Prayer of Blessing of an Advent Wreath is not found in the Extraordinary Form Rituále Románum, the Church’s official book of prayers, blessings, and sacraments. Because the blessing is found in the Ordinary Form equivalent, the Book of Blessings, it is argued that the practice has only begun to be encouraged post-Vatican II.

Advent Wreath supporters point out that the very fact that the wreath is composed of three violet candles and one rose candle points to its Catholicity. These are, after all, the Catholic Church’s liturgical colors of Advent. Any Protestant denomination using an Advent Wreath with the same colors is merely adapting a practice originated by the Catholic Church. If a Protestant group modifies the wreath design, for example by changing the candle colors, then for purposes of this discussion, it is not comparable to the Catholic version of the Advent Wreath and should not be cited in comparison. Furthermore, the Extraordinary Form Rituále’s “Blessing of Any Object” prayer may be used to bless an Advent Wreath, just as it is often used to bless various religious objects which do not have their own particular blessing prayers. The Catholic Church supports, and in some cases embraces, sacramentals and practices consistent with the Faith. These evolve over time; for example, the Divine Mercy devotion has only been approved by the Church for approximately 30 years, yet it enjoys popularity among many of those who prefer the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass. Some of the most popular English hymns employed at Extraordinary Form Masses have Protestant origins. Thus, just because something is new, or partially or wholly created by Protestants, does not mean that it is not compatible with the Catholic Faith as taught throughout the ages.

There is nothing inherently Protestant about the Advent Wreath. It is an optional, para-liturgical component of our churches. So are Christmas trees and a Nativity Set, yet those are also seen in virtually every Catholic Church. None of these objects suggests anything contrary to Catholic belief. While we should not clutter our sanctuaries with every imaginable item that might evoke some religious concept, there is nothing wrong with judicious use of popular customs compatible with our Holy Faith.

St. Benedict Tridentine Choir to Sing at Assumption Church Midnight Mass

For many years, Assumption Church in Windsor had an impressive choral program, singing the traditional Latin repertoire at their 11:00 AM Sunday Ordinary Form Mass and even producing the occasional recording. Several years ago, however, parish leadership disbanded this choir and terminated the employment of the organist/choir director. Assumption has since offered a contemporary repertoire without organ at all of their Masses. It was therefore encouraging to learn that the St. Benedict Tridentine Community Choir has been invited to provide the music for the Christmas Midnight Mass at Assumption Church this year. It is both an honor for the St. Benedict Choir, which until 2014 had been based at Assumption Church, and hopefully a recognition that some parishioners might appreciate more traditional music.

Tridentine Masses This Coming Week
  • Tue. 12/10 7:00 PM: Low Mass at Holy Name of Mary, Windsor (Feria)
  • Sat. 12/14 7:00 AM: Solemn High Mass at St. Mary of Redford (Roráte Mass)
  • Sat. 12/14 7:30 AM: High Mass at St. Matthew, Flint (Roráte Mass)
  • Sat. 12/14 8:30 AM: Low Mass at Miles Christi (Feria)
[Comments? Please e-mail tridnews@detroitlatinmass.org. Previous columns are available at http://www.detroitlatinmass.org. This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Albertus (Detroit), Academy of the Sacred Heart (Bloomfield Hills), and St. Alphonsus and Holy Name of Mary Churches (Windsor) bulletin inserts for December 8, 2019. Hat tip to Alex Begin, author of the column.]