Oh Lord, purify me, make me a chalice in which you dwell, offer your sacrifice in me and spread your love through me. Let me shine like gold, adorn me with the jewels of virtue that I may always be open to you. Fill me. Overflow me. Let me be like that most perfect vessel, the Singular Vessel of Devotion, She to whom I cry for protection against the Evil One. I ask this for your glory, for the vessel is nothing without the sustenance inside, the cup nothing unless it is filled. Oh Lord, purify me.

Give me a word, Abba

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Unity and Heresy

One blogger often notes that Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

Ever since the Schism of 1054, the Church has never been the same. Yes, the 15th century brought some of the Orthodox back into the fold under the current name "Eastern Rites", but not more than a century later, the Lutherans had split from Rome, and then the Anglicans, the Calvinists and the rest of the Protestant divisions.

The healing of these divisions among Christians has not been easy. First, there were the religious wars which in some ways were ended with the Treaty of Westfalia. Then there were the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth of England which saw the shedding of much Christian blood in the name or religion. Eventually, these divisions led some to flee their homelands and found America. After that, we kind of got sidetracked by this thing called atheism, modernism and secularism. Since we all were on the same side in these debates, we sort of weren't fighting each other.

Then, there came the idea of relativism and tolerance and some of us really forgot there were divisions between us based on firmly held beliefs. Now, the funny thing about forgetting about a wound and going on as if it doesn't exist is that that only works if it's like a scratch. If it's a division that's more like a broken limb, it's not going to be good if it sets wrong.

This was not perhaps aided by the relativistic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Because of all these factors, the last 50 years have been a time of casual interaction between Christians who were not, perhaps, united with each other in belief, a kind of interaction that tried to forget the wound that might flare up at any time. Of course, there were times when this was not the case. With great abuse comes great reaction. There were some crazy things that occurred in the 70s and the 80s. In 1988, an archbishop ordained three bishops against the express orders of the Pope. This was the beginning of the Society known as the Society of St. Pius X.

Now, in the past decade or so, Christians are beginning to see a crisis. Numbers may be growing, but so is the number of people who are no longer going to church, no longer practicing. This isn't only a Catholic trend. Many denominations are seeing the soft unoffending Christianity and saying "What's the point?" Yet, there are now many people who are turning to a more traditional model of Christianity. Because of this, the old divisions are coming into high relief. However, the similarities, which can heal the divisions, are becoming even more obvious and more important in the face of growing secularism.

And so Christians are returning to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Benedict XVI seems to have made it the point of his pontificate to hammer home the importance of the Church and its actions and beliefs in an attempt to draw other Christians back to unity. It has, it appears, worked. Those who are most influenced by secularism do not hear the call to unity, but those who still understand the importance of unity of belief and their relationship with God and His Church are flocking to the Catholic Church.

The most significant act in this direction thus far is the Pope's invitation to traditionally-minded anglicans who were dissatisfied with the state of the anglican communion. He only needed to open the door and they came in.

Something that is quite as important, perhaps, is the situation with the aforementioned SSPX, a traditionalist society unnerved by the abuses of the 70s and 80s, so much so that they blamed the Council itself. Throughout his whole pontificate, and before as well, Benedict has been extremely vocal in stressing the continuity in the Church from the before the Council to after it. Not only this, but he himself believes the so called pre-conciliar liturgy and devotions to be of value and promotes them as such. Through statements, decrees and his own action, he has steadily paved the way for dialogue with the SSPX. Now, the news is that the SSPX, like the anglicans, are ready for reunification with Rome. Yes, it hasn't been that long, but it is important to keep the divisions as brief as possible. Maybe the Lutherans and Orthodox next?

In any case, I am excited about this unity. However, some are asking, "Why was this group such a big deal if the bishops and priests and people who don't believe in the teachings of the church at all aren't? Aren't they a bigger deal? Real heresy and denial of the faith? Why is it only this "traditional" society?" I would say it was for two reasons. I want to trust our Pope because Christ put him in charge, though that's not to say that I don't think that something should be said about the dissent in the Church.

1. The original bishops were in clear defiance of papal authority. It wasn't just a case of bishops believing or promoting programs that go against the teachings of the Church. It was an act of open disobedience. Thus, it required a very direct approach.

2. The closer one is to the truth, the more harmful the lie. It is easy for traditionally-minded Catholics to believe the SSPX because in many ways they are correct. Since it was an organized affair, the resultant dissent would be much more harmful.

Of course, it is not quite true that the Pope does not go after the secularist dissenters and only goes after traditionalist dissenters. In his recent homily for Holy Thursday, he mentions how certain Austrian bishops and priests who are calling for open disobedience are betraying their priesthood and thus their mission from Christ. They are, in fact, acting in the place of Judas the betrayer. Pretty harsh words.

Furthermore, it has just been released that the Vatican is intervening in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious which has been infected by dissent and secular ideas. Apparently there is some talk of rejecting canonical status and becoming just a secular interest group.

So it seems that when vocal organized dissent or open disobedience is the situation, the Church in the person of the Pope specifically does not hesitate to warn and discipline. However, our Pope of Unity is constantly looking for ways to bring them back, if they so desire. If they truly just want to promote secular agendas and interest, the discipline will only bring that to light.

But if, like with the SSPX, Unity is desired to heal the wound of division among Christians that has been so damaging throughout history, the discipline will only open up a later opportunity for reunification.

And that, proverbially, is that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

NIKE!

"All that is condemned in Catholic tradition, authority, and dogmatism and the refusal to retract and modify, are but the natural human attributes of a man with a message relating to a fact." (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man)

Imagine if the messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens and declared "Nike! (Victory!)" to the Athenians had been stopped along the way and asked why he was running so fast. He would have said something like "Nike! (Victory!)" or maybe "I have to get to Athens to tell them that we won. (Whatever that is in Greek)." Would those that stopped him have doubted him? Would they have said "No, my dear slave, you are merely suffering under an illusion. There is no way we beat the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. They far outnumbered us. This must be merely wishful thinking. Are you sure that the heat hasn't gotten to you or the run muddled your brain?" The messenger would most likely tell the idiots that he was sure of his message and would they please step aside. After all, he did just come from the battle and he's only been running for 5 miles. And plus, the Persians had sent part of their fleet to Athens, so he kind of had to get there. Would they like it if the heroes were not welcomed back in appropriate pomp because of their delay?

They let him run on, laughing at him behind his back. Of course it was the next day that the whole army of Greek hoplites passed by that same route to Athens, but the doubters were gone, drinking merrily in their rooms and thus missed the celebration in Athens.

However, one of the those that had stopped the messenger believed the messenger. After all, why not? It was a mere five miles to Marathon and the slave couldn't have been that wrong as to have gotten the message completely backwards. And so this man became a new messenger. He started to run to the North to tell his friends. On the way, he too is stopped and asked why he is running. He possible says something like "Nike! (Victory!)" or "Did you hear? We won the battle of Marathon! Spread the news! (Or whatever that is in Ancient Greek)." In this case, the majority of the people believe him, and even if there are one or two doubters, they go along with it because the others seem convinced.

Let us imagine that all over the countryside, people hear the news and a huge mass of people start to descend on Athens for the celebration of the victory. Now it is not just one man who is stopped, but large groups of Greeks who confidently say that the army is victorious and that they are going to Athens for the celebration. It becomes harder and harder for the people of Greece to deny the truth of the claim. People are dancing in the streets of the villages on the way to Athens.

And in the meantime, the original messenger reaches Athens and proclaims the news. He promptly falls dead and so misses the celebration and the result of his work, however the people of Athens believe his message, for who would run 26 miles to relay a false message and would he not have kept the message in his mind for the whole time as its mind-blowing entirety?And so Athens prepares for the return of the army.

Soon, Athens starts to fill with people, and the initial celebrations begin as the city is prepared.

And that might be the end of the story, but you see, I'm still telling it. It did not end with the celebration in Athens because it is an amazing story that the Greeks kept up for generations. And the Persians could not deny it. Who are we to deny it? It happened 2400 years ago, but still the echo of the message "Nike! (Victory!)" resounds throughout history. Were those the exact words the messenger used? Was it only one messenger? Did the army just return to Athens with the news themselves, defeat the Persian Fleet and then celebrate? I don't know. It doesn't matter, for the essential truth remains: The Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon and the whole world now knows it.

A messenger who relays such a message does not, can not change his story for then the truth loses its impact. In such a way, we can not change the story of Christianity. We can not change the fact that the original messengers told us that Christ was victorious over death. Now we are all traveling toward the True Athens, awaiting the celebration of this victory, spreading the news unchanged for two millennia. Let us continue to proclaim this victory as the Truth that is it, without fear and plainly. Let us not change our minds or let our hearts be swayed by doubters. Let them not tell us that we are wrong and that we have succumbed to wishful thinking. The messenger of such a story does not forget. If we are to doubt this story, let us doubt the defeat of the Persians at Marathon.

But let us not doubt either, for Christ is Risen, or in Ancient Greek: Christos Anesti!


Sunday, April 8, 2012

One Sacrifice

This weekend, we Catholics did an amazing thing, or rather we participated in an amazing thing. This amazing thing was the one sacrifice of God which was the only way we could be reconciled with God. God became Man so that Man could be reunited with God.

This got me thinking about the Mass. Over the Triduum, I went to Tenebrae service in Latin, Mass of the Lord's Supper in Latin and English, The Lord's Passion in Latin and English, the Stations of the Cross in Latin and Italian, the Easter Vigil in Latin and Easter Mass during the Day in Latin and English and a whole lot of other languages.

It did not seem disjointed.

Now you may be wondering why I say this. Well, it is often the case that people make the argument that the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form are necessarily at odds with each other, are in conflict. They are like two ships constantly at war with each other, hoping to recover the treasure supposedly taken by the other. To support one is to reject the other. One is the face of Catholicism in its true form. The Ordinary Form is the Mass of Tradition because we tradition is a continual thing in the Church (a position I have taken). The Extraordinary Form is the Mass of Tradition because the Novus Ordo has rejected some parts of the tradition of the Mass, like the use of Latin, ad orientem worship and many poetic and beautiful prayers thrown out the window (I have also taken this position).

I have, as I mention, participated in this debate. In fact, since the Liturgy means a lot to me, I have to defend and define good liturgical practice. I didn't make up the word Marchiturgy for nothing.

Yes, I have recently written something about this, but I came to a further realization this weekend. Yes, the Novus Ordo may currently use some prayers that are not as poetic as some in the Tridentine. The thing about the Novus Ordo is that you can always write new prayers for it. Heck, you could always write new prayers for the Tridentine. Pope Pius XII did it in 1955. You could even decide that the prayers from the Tridentine would be used in the Novus Ordo. Nobody is stopping the Pope. You wouldn't have to change what the people say (much, if at all) and the prayers would be more poetic, if that's what you care about.

But there's also some poetry in the Novus Ordo that the Tridentine doesn't have, particularly in the Third Eucharistic Prayer (my favorite). The Novus Ordo gives the opportunity to include motets and music that strict Tridentine traditionalists couldn't allow. In the history of the Church, there has always been adding of prayers into the Liturgy.

Now, I'm not saying "We no longer pray in Greek, so we should just throw out Latin too." I'm not a progressive in the sense that progress means throwing things out. The thing about the Novus Ordo is that the Vatican Council didn't call for throwing things out either, and the Missal was written with a lot of external similarities. Like I said, I went to a Novus Ordo in London and I thought I was at a Tridentine.

All of this is more or less irrelevant though. The main point is not that there are differences in the forms, but whether those differences mean anything essential. Is the Ambrosian Rite different from the Roman Rite? Yes, I believe it is. Was the Sarum usage different than the Parisian usage? Assuredly. Did Trent try to create a unified rite? Yes. Is that the end of the story? Not in the least. Unity is not the same as uniformity. Continuity does not mean identical in form. A Gothic Cathedral is not the same a Baroque church. There is a formal difference, and yet there is an obvious continuity in meaning.

Essentially, the Ordinary Form is the same as the Extraordinary because both are the One Sacrifice of Christ as expressed through the public prayer and work of the Church. They are merely two different ways to do the same thing. Is that so wrong? And in any case, it is not we who do it, but Christ. It is Christ who is continually making sacrifice to the Father on our behalf and the Mass is that sacrifice manifest in our lives. If he chooses two forms in the Roman Rite in which to do it, who are we to question that? Will it change? I don't know. Should it? I don't know. Can it? Of course.

All around the world, priests are offering the Mass in persona Christi and no matter what form, the sacrifice is the same. The Church has not abolished the Tridentine. It has not replaced it, no matter what some may say. We have not retired the ship to build another. We have added a boat to the fleet and though some may steer it poorly (for maybe it is not well understood at this point), both boats take us on the Voyage of the Eucharist toward the Rising Sun. When the Ordinary and Extraordinary form are not steered against each other, they sail side by side in perfect rhythm and there is no issue in going from one boat to the other, to catch the better breeze on one, to catch the better sun on the other.

This is what the Triduum in Rome was like, and the glory and the wisdom of the Church shone forth in its two battleships.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reasons to sing

I sing:
  • Because the 12 notes of the chromatic scale arranged in a simple melody is able to evoke myriad emotions in an intelligible, mathematical manner
  • Because music is related to architecture
  • Because music is what speech would be if we didn't stop every word so soon.
  • Because music can express nature
  • Because I like how it feels
  • Because that is how I praise God
  • Because I am happy
  • Because I'm free
You can tell I'm in a somewhat weird mood because I'm posting Audrey Assad again.

Funny how that works.

One of my regular blogs that I peruse, Seraphic Singles, has recently gone through a major renovation. While before the background was a pleasant but rather feminine powder blue, it is now a striking and particularly girly pink with faint stripes. Along with the color change, the main addition is the Swashbuckling Protector, a picture of a man which the author is sure will scare away the manly men who snoop on the blog.

Of course, this includes me.

The content hasn't changed, so I'm not really too much in the mood to stop reading the blog. What's funny is the effect that saying explicitly "Go away men. This should stop you" has on people. When someone tries to stop me from doing something, I generally try to avoid stopping, unless it's, you know, sinful. I think it might have to do with being a choleric or a man or both. Put a challenge in my way and I'll engage it.

Of course, out of respect to the author and her readers, I will refrain from commenting on the blog, since that is apparently not desired. However, putting a picture of a man that's supposed to scare away other men is the best way to get men interested in staying.

At least that's how I see.

Needless to say, much amused.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tradition

"The difference between the liturgy according to the new books, how it is actually practiced and celebrated in different places, is often greater than the difference between an old Mass and a new Mass, when both these are celebrated according to the prescribed liturgical books."--Cardinal Ratzinger

I have always been drawn to the truth of this statement, namely that the celebration of the so called Novus Ordo is in direct continuity with the so called Old Rite. When I was in London, I was sure I had stumbled upon a Tridentine High Mass on Christmas Morning. However, I soon realized that it was not, but rather the Novus Ordo in Latin, ad orientem according to the rubrics. This was in the Brompton Oratory, founded by Bl. Cardinal Newman.

Thus, after seeing this reality and the reality of my home parish, I hesitate to associate myself with "traditionalism" and more specifically with many interpretations of traditionalism. My hope is that any problems that may have arisen in the implementation and abuse of the Novus Ordo may quickly be remedied partially through a more thorough examination of the continuity between the two forms of the Roman Rite. This is why there are currently two forms of the Roman Rite which are intended to mutually enrich one another.

It is my hope also, and I have reason to believe that Pope Benedict may intend this, that we eventually have a Definitive Roman Rite which shows explicitly the continuity and reform that was intended during the Vatical Council. After all, the Tridentine Mass came about not randomly but through a careful examination of the various rituals of the different Western Churches, such as the Sarum Usage. A multiplicity of forms is not necessarily a bad thing, unless it indicates a battle of spiritualities (referenced here). When the multiplicity is merely an expression of different distinct cultures, there is no problem, as long as a unity is maintained in the purpose and direction of the liturgy. Now, in our globalized world, distinct cultures are becoming rarer and rarer and the need for a Unified Rite is of utmost importance, as it was in the 17th C. when Christian Division was becoming more and more common.

I personally am a fan of the multiplicity of usages/rites/forms. I am a medieval man through and through. If the need however arises for a more unified Rite, I am behind it 100%. Rather than promote division and resentment, we must become once again one Church with a united purpose. Now many on both "sides" of the argument will probably hate this hypothetical Definitive Roman Rite, but at least they will not be camped in their separate tents spitting vitriol at each other indiscriminately.

Thus, I am calling for a new Vatican Council. Or maybe another Lateran Council. Not to re-establish the Tridentine Mass, nor to affirm the so called "Spirit of Vatican II." Rather, there are enough new cultural dilemmas that need addressing in a systematic way, and one of these the division over liturgy. Pope Benedict has made great strides in the direction of Unity, but there is very much the danger of the Camp mentality while on the path to this unity. Ultimately, this Unity is only accomplished in Heaven, but as the Liturgy is the foretaste of that Final Banquet, unity in the Mass is essential to our journey.

But all these things take time, and we must remember that 50 years is not a long time in terms of the Church. All is not lost. We must be patient and eventually, maybe, this period of the Church will be thought of not as "pre and post-Vatican II" but merely as "around the time of the Second Vatican Council" which is how we remember most other Conciliar eras.

Patience then, and Tradition always, for Tradition stops for no war of interpretations.

Puritanism and Hedonism

I am back, and with my return come some remarks on one of my favorite topics: Puritanism and Hedonism.

This is not particularly relevant to my ultimate point, but I firmly believe that the origins of the American Project are Protestant and even Puritan. Thus, all the comments I am going to make on the personal level should be taken in this cultural context. I am not going to chip away at the cultural disease right now, but merely reflect on the realities of this disease on individuals, presumably myself as well as others.

There is an impulse in each of us to sin, often referred to as concupiscence (for the love of God, teach this word to your children. They will thank you). There are perhaps two sides to this concupiscence. One side is what I would call the Emotionalist and the other I would call the Intellectualist. The emotionalist concupiscence tends to see all actions in terms of how they feel, whether they feel good or bad, whether they make you feel happy or not. Essentially, it is whether you have a powerful emotion about something that determines its worth. The intellectualist concupiscence is essentially one of pride. It is the assertion that your thought and your logic and your rejection of the impure emotional intuitive instinctive judgements. As long as your argument is valid and sound, you have reached the summit of correct action and thus can not be faulted. Both of these, if you notice, are based on the assumption that you are the most important consideration in all matters, whether it be your emotions or your intellect. Simply these could be called sins of the flesh and sins of the intellect. C.S. Lewis tends to find the latter to be more dangerous to one's soul. I haven't reached my own conclusion on that yet, but I tend to agree.

These impulses, unfortunately, are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, when someone's world-view is Intellectualized, the need for authentic human interaction outside the mind often drives them to sins of the flesh. It is, as I say, an authentic need, but because of the extreme Intellectualism, the response is an extreme Emotionalism. Because of this dichotomy, the need for justification arises and so the Intellectual intellectualizes his emotionalism. Thus, the two are tied up in one big knot and he can not escape either one else he would lose everything.

Which might be the point.

One of the great things about Catholicism is that it is able to embrace two extremes, (Christ, you know, stretched out His arms on the cross to embrace the whole world). The two extremes that are relevant to this discussion are what I would call the Mirthful and the Thoughtful. Once again, the two are not mutually exclusive and one often follows on the heels of the other. However, Mirth is not Hedonism. It is not self gratifying, but very free and open to others, and especially in a Christian context, to God. It is an expression of Joy. Thus, we get Hilaire Belloc saying: "Wherever the Catholic Sun doth shine, there's always laughter and good red wine." and Thomas Aquinas recommending drinking to "hilarity." We get St. Francis leaping about among the animals and nature and get all the great Catholic humorist Saints, like St. Lawrence. I myself have experienced this true, pure mirth which forgets all prejudice and hatred on the banks of the Tiber after a particularly potent Mass.

And this, as I mentioned, is the connection between the two. It was out of a reflective, thoughtful, prayerful Mass that this Mirth comes. Giving one's mind and soul over to God in the Eucharist for spiritual communion (not to mention the physical communion of the Eucharist) will release such a spiritual dopamine that one can not help but sing a song unto the Lord. Once we understand ourselves and our relationship to God and his creation through thoughtful reflection (and the Grace of God), we can rejoice in the our place in creation. We are lowly, not worth mentioning in relation to God, but he has elevated our humanity through the Incarnation. We rejoice not only in our humble relationship to God, as a dog does when his owner throws a ball, but also in our relationship to God as sons and daughters.

This is the true coin, the real mint. The other is merely counterfeit. Thoughtfulness is not rigid intellectualism and puritanical legalism, nor is mirth pleasure seeking hedonism that answers merely our emotional need. There is a tension between mirth and thoughtfulness, but it the tension that holds together the spider web and creates a beautiful geometric image. It is not the tension of a stretched rubber band waiting to snap. This is a lesson, I think, for everyone. The tension itself must serve the whole (the Thought and the Mirth must contribute together to the worship of God) and not divide the person into two persons, the Puritan and the Hedonist which just breeds confusion and chaos. The Hedonist/Puritan eventually becomes so self absorbed just trying to break the confusion that the two sides of himself war each other into annihilation. This could be called damnation, and in fact some have called damnation annihilation.

But the unity of Mirth and Thought is the Joyful Life of the Trinity, which is both Dance and Reason. When we allow God to enter our minds and our hearts and fill them with a Reasonable Dance or a Gamboling Logic, we are drawn into greater communion with Him and that, my friends, is a taste of Heaven and in fact, ultimately, will be heaven itself.