Tuesday, August 09, 2022

The Vatican's Astroturfing Survey

The Vatican's Department of Communications released a survey ahead of the Synod of Bishops. They are ostensibly interested in gathering feedback about the Church from a wide variety of persons who may or may not be practicing Catholics. The survey questions revolve around people's perceptions about the Church. The survey was (apparently) not made broadly available to the public; instead, it was disseminated to certain influencers who were then asked to distribute it amongst their social media followers. I found the survey through Jimmy Akin's blog.

The questions on the survey could be textbook examples of astroturfing, the manipulation of public feedback in a predetermined direction to give the false appearance of broad public support. This can be seen in the way the questions are framed. 

Question 4 asks us to consider why we think people leave the Church. We must choose from up to three of the following answers:

One will notice that there is no option to select anything relating to disappointment in the leadership of the Church—the way the popes and bishops have governed the household of faith. We may only find fault with the hierarchy in so far as it pertains to scandals, but not because we disagree with the fundamental direction they are steering the Church. 

You can also see that whoever wrote this thinks the Church's problem is that it needs to get with times, socially, liturgically, and doctrinally. Some of these answers do in fact apply to me, but if I were to choose them, I know how they would be interpreted. I do find most Novus Ordo Masses to be boring. But if I were to select "boring masses and ceremonies," they would interpret this to mean the NO requires even more innovation to make it more "exciting." I do feel the Church is unresponsive to my concerns as a traditional Catholic; but if I select "unresponsive to people's concerns and priorities," they will take it to mean I want more of Francis's theology of accompaniment. I do believe the Church is out of touch with the current concerns of young Catholics, who by and large look for a more traditional experience. But if I choose "Church is out of touch with current concerns," it will be interpreted as a mandate for greater modernization. These questions are phrased in such a way that they can be made to serve whatever agenda the Vatican chooses.

As an aside, the reasons people leave the Church are not mysterious. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University has done plenty of research on this. I do not have the data in front of me, but I have been doing research for an upcoming book on the relationship between the Church and science utilizing CARA's research, and CARA's research suggests that the fundamental reason young people leave the Church is because they perceive the Church's worldview to be incompatible with modern science. This isn't an option either. 

The survey goes on to ask us if we think the Church is in dialogue enough with other groups. I think the survey creators were expecting people respond that the Church does not dialogue enough; I responded that the Church seems to be in dialogue "a lot." Of course, if offers no option for me to state whether I think this is a good or bad thing.

Question 6 on what attributes one associates with the Church is a joke. Here's our options:

There really is no way to answer this one. We are given 8 possible answers, 4 negative and 4 positive. Positive answers such as "innovative" and "supportive" will be construed as evidence of success of the Bergoglian innovations; negative answers will be construed as argument for the necessity of more such innovations to be foisted upon us from the God of Surprises.

Question 8 asks us what we think the Church needs to prioritize going forward. The choices are disappointing:

The first three options are at least objective goods, but the rest demonstrate the Church's profoundly anthropocentric view of its role in the world. Appallingly absent from this list is any reference to the missions, or to evangelization in general. And of course, nothing about liturgical formation, reverence, etc. 

Question 9 gives us our only chance in the entire survey to give original feedback:

No comment here, except this is your place to let em have it.

Question 11 is a very awkward question that has to do with the Church's commitment to "listening." It asks us how the Church can best become a listening entity:

This question struck me as more pathetic than anything else; it reminded of a teenage poser desperately trying to fit in by wearing the right band shirt—it doesn't matter what band shirt, so long as it is the right one. The Vatican has decided that "listening" is the way forward, but it has no idea to whom or to what it ought to be listening, and so it is desperately flailing about, looking for whatever method of listening will provide it with the best optics. If they were serious about listening, they should meditate on Mark 9:7.

The survey is a joke. They already have an agenda they intend to ram through, and when they do, they intend to frame it as the will of the people. The responses to the survey don't actually matter; they have structured it in such a way that the data can be manipulated to create momentum towards whatever agenda they wish.

If you want take the survey, visit the survey link here.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

How Goodwill Was Squandered

This week our eyes were graced with the scandalous spectacle of Father Mattia Bernasconi, vicar of the pastoral care for young people of the parish of San Luigi Gonzaga in Milan, celebrating Mass on an air mattress in the water at the beach at Alfieri in Italy's Crotone region—for no reason save that "it was hot." The source for the story can be found here.

I do not draw attention to this for the purposes of making another tired old "Look how bad the Novus Ordo is" post. We all know how bad the Novus Ordo can be. And besides, if the source is to believed, this Mass was in the Ambrosian Rite, not the Novus Ordo. 

The purpose, rather, is to call this episode as witness to why traditional Catholics do not trust the modern hierarchy when it comes to safeguarding the integrity of the liturgy—of any liturgy. This Mass is the reason why nobody believes Pope Francis when he asked bishops "to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses." This is why Pope Benedict's statements that the liturgy "cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church" elicited only yawns, or why his post-synodal exhortation that priest demonstrate "attentiveness and fidelity to the specific structure of the rite" was a dead letter; why nothing changed after John Paul II called liturgical abuse "a source of suffering for many" and argued forcefully that "liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated...No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality." It is why, despite the CDW's prohibition of liturgical dance back in 1975, it continues to this day.

The reason is, no matter what is said about the dignity of the liturgy, nothing ever changes. Nobody in the Church is actually going to do anything about the abuses endemic throughout the Novus Ordo. Nobody reprimanded Cardinal Schönborn—editor of the Catechism—for having an irreverent balloon Mass in Vienna. Nobody disciplined the Detroit priest who had a Detroit Red Wings logo stitched onto his vestments and intoned the scores of a hockey game during Mass. The priests who handed out Holy Communion in sandwich bags for people to take home during Covid will not be disciplined. Nobody from any Vatican dicastery or diocesan office will ever lift a finger to stop the guitars, the balloons, the banners, and all the other clown-world abominations found throughout the Latin rite. All the talk about liturgical decorum and fidelity is about as vacuous as an American politician talking about balancing the budget. 

As a thought experiment, suppose this history had all unfolded differently. Suppose that the Novus Ordo was still implemented in 1970, but imagine the Church authorities were as rigorous in enforcing its rubrics as they are in suppressing the Latin Mass. Imagine they punished liturgical abusers, quashed innovations like communion in the hand, altar girls, etc.; imagine episcopal conferences reaffirming ad orientam worship and mandating the study and use of Latin, as Vatican II specifically ordered. Imagine diocesan training offered in Gregorian Chant and a broad prohibition of secular styles and instruments as envisioned by Pius X in Tra le sollecitudine. Imagine communion kneeling on the tongue was the norm throughout the west. In short, imagine that the elusive "reverent Novus Ordo" was, in fact, the status quo instead of the unicorn it now is. 

In such circumstances, the loss of the Traditional Latin Mass would still be tragic. There would still be a traditional movement advocating for the TLM and arguing for its restoration. But—and I think this is the essential difference—there would be a lot more goodwill between traditional Catholics and the hierarchy, simply because we would all know the authorities were serious when they spoke of correcting liturgical abuses and trying to maintain a sense of reverence. The dynamic between the TLM and NO could have been very different if Benedict XVI and John Paul II had taken substantial action to correct abuses. 

Of course, that is a pipe dream. The fact is, the leadership in the Church does not care about reverent liturgy or suppressing abuse; they only care about suppressing the Traditional Latin Mass. So whenever an attack on the traditional Mass is accompanied by panegyrics about the importance of preserving decorum in Novus Ordo as well, nobody believes it. The hypocrisy is palpable. Fr. Mattia Bernasconi is not going to be disciplined; or, if he is, it will be a slap on the wrist (although, I have heard this priest actually got in trouble with the civil authorities for offending religious sensibilities; what a strange world!) 

Once again, if traditionalists are skeptical about the goodwill of the hierarchy, it is not because we are simply mean or nasty; it is because the ecclesiastical authorities have systematically dismantled that goodwill over the last fifty years and continue to do so to this day.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Exciting News: New USC Site is Live!

I'm so happy to tell you that the new Unam Sanctam Catholicam website is up and running. After working on it for over a year—with some donations from some of you—this labor of love is finally complete...or at least, complete enough. 

My goal with the Unam Sanctam sister site is to (eventually) grow it into the biggest repository of quality articles on Catholic history on the Internet. I have consistently been uploading scholarly articles to USC since 2012 and plan on continuing for as long as I have my wits about me. To celebrate the inauguration of the new site, I'm also happy to present fifteen brand new essays for your edification. These fifteen essays represent the fifteen years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam I celebrated last month. Here are links to the fifteen new articles—

Old Articles

All of the old articles you love are available on the new site as well. To date, about 75% of the articles from the old website have been migrated over. It will still be a month or two until everything is transferred, but almost all of the most popular articles have been moved and can be found on the new site. Please note, the URLs on the new site are not the same as the old site, so the old links will no longer work. You will have to search for the article on the new site. Here are links to some of peoples' favorite essays from the old site, according to the number of hits they receive:

If you are having trouble finding an old article, I recommend using the search function. If the search function turns up nothing, it's probably I haven't migrated that specific article yet, in which case try back later; I hope to have everything migrated by September. 

Free RCIA Resources

One of the most popular things about the old site was the free RCIA outlines and power points. These are still available on the new site at the following link:

Finding Content on the New Site

One of the major changes about the updated site is that it is not structured like a blog or news site where priority is given to the most recent content. The reason I have a sister site at all is because the sister site is meant to be a repository of articles that are of a more scholarly nature, have a permanent relevance, and are much longer than what would be suitable for a blog; for example, some of the essays on the Unam Sanctam site are between 20-30 pages printed out, whereas the average blog article is only 1-5 pages printed. Furthermore, unlike this blog, most website articles are not about current events, and thus there is no need to prioritize new content.

Instead, I have chosen to structure the new site more like a Wiki or encyclopedia. You will notice, if you go to the homepage, each time you refresh the homepage, it will display a selection of articles chosen at random. Don't worry, though; there are several ways to find content, including tags, "recent posts," and the search function. I put together a video explaining how to navigate the new site and have embedded it below. If you've been a frequent visitor to the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website in the past, you might want to watch the video below (6+ minutes), since you might find the new layout very different from the previous. 

One final word

As you probably know, Unam Sanctam Catholicam is 100% independent. We don't have advertisers; we have no sponsors. Except for free will donations (which we solicit very rarely), we take in no revenue. We have no advertising budget. The extent of the advertising I do is restricted to whatever I post on the USC Facebook page.

Despite this, for many years Unam Sanctam Catholicam has consistently been ranked among the top 50 most popular Catholic blogs/websites in the English speaking world; we were even in the top ten one year back before the coming of 1 Peter 5. This was certainly not due to the support of any institution or big marketing budget; it was due to the patronage of regular readers who found what I had to say worth reading, who commented, who shared the articles, and became true peers. I am tremendously grateful for all of you.

And now I ask again for one simple favor to help the new site get on its feet: because the URLs are all different, Google has not quite picked up on the new site yet. I've got the crawlers going over it, but still, the traffic to the new site is only a fraction of old site because it is so new. And the old site is still showing up all the time on Google searches despite being offline for a month. In your charity, please send some time clicking around on the new site. Explore it, read some articles, share something on social media. This will help get the word out and build those new pathways to give the site a boost in the algorithm.

Also, I'm still working on a few glitches, so please forgive if you see something a little off. I assure you I am working on it.

Thanks for sticking with me on this long journey. In your mercy, pray for my poor soul. As always, if you want to contact me, I can be reached at uscatholicam@gmail.com.


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Eat Dung, Get Sick

"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things."
~Php. 4:8

The Christian life calls us to vigilance against the works of darkness and the wiles of the evil one. Too much filth has been unleashed in the Church to afford anymore negligence, naivete, or head-in-the-sand Pollyanna-ism. 

This, however, must be balanced by an equal, if not greater, focus on wholesome things; as St. Paul says, our thoughts should be turned towards the true, the modest, the just, the holy, the lovely, the virtuous. We are to be children of light (Eph. 5:8) and out minds should be turned towards the light. The things St. Paul proposes for our meditation are subjects that ennoble us—they elevate our intellect, shaping it according to the designs of God. Elsewhere Paul tells us that part of faith is having a "resurrected" mindset; if we have been resurrected with Christ, our minds, also, ought to be raised: "Therefore, f you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth" (Col. 3:1-2).

To do otherwise is to damage our faith. We can only focus on the works of darkness so much before the shadow falls over us, as well. Saruman was corrupted by looking through the Palantir. He did so at first only to gain intelligence about Sauron, to be educated about the enemy's activities; but eventually it bent his mind towards darkness, causing his fall. 

Consider now what media you consume, whether secular or Catholic. Is it always focused on exposing some evil somewhere? Is it ever dwelling on the deeds of malicious agents? Is it scandal-mongering, ever purporting to be doing the dirty-work of chronicling the train of abuses and perverse deviations of the modern Church? There is certainly a place for this sort of reporting, but does the media outlet exist only to peddle scandal? And is this all you consume? Is this the entirety of your spiritual diet? 

While it is important to be "wise as serpents" about the goings-on in the Church and world, existing primarily on this sort of diet is harmful in the long run. Like Saruman gazing into the Palantir, it warps your ability to see things properly—to see things as God would have us to see. It can make us skeptical, jaded, and cynical, ultimately causing our love to grow cold. The epistle from the Traditional Latin Mass today tells us, "Be ye of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood" (1 Pet. 3:8). The brotherhood, of course, is the Church. Do you love the brotherhood? Do you love the Church? That is, when you think of the Catholic Church—not as you wish it to be in some golden past, but as it actually exists today—is it an object of desire? Is it something attractive that moves the will? Despite the problems, despite the warts and sores, do you possess a deep and abiding affection for your first love?

I am not naïve about the Church; I know that the Church does a lot to push people away. It is undergoing some kind of catastrophe, and seeing it is like watching helplessly while one's own mother goes through a slutty, drunken, embarrassing midlife crisis. I do not suggest the Church isn't culpable for a great many things. But, that being the case, why on earth would you want the scope of your vision darkened further by drinking even more deeply of the sludge? Yes, the air is poisoned, but the poisoned air means that we must build up our immunities that much more. To do anything else is to gamble with our faith.

Remember, people who lose faith don't just stop believing. They stop loving. Then, their love having grown cold, the hope that keeps them anchored unravels, and hope being dissolved, faith dies. This is why St. Paul urges us to meditate on that which is good and pure and wholesome. It is the spiritual equivalent to eating a balanced, healthy diet. But if you eat dung day in and day out, don't be surprised if you get sick.

Monday, July 04, 2022

The Latin Mass: Even the Homeless Prefer It

A certain diocesan priest I once knew operated a homeless shelter in one of the larger cities in the Midwest. It is a humble, welcoming ministry—the kind of that goes on patiently doing good largely unbeknownst to the outside world. Every day a constant stream of homeless persons file through, looking for a hot meal and a clean bed for the evening. There is no limit on who can come or how frequently. The only condition placed upon the poor for receiving this aid is that they attend one of the daily Masses offered in the shelter’s chapel, two Masses each day. One is contemporary Novus Ordo Mass with modern music and a minimalist liturgy, the other is a Traditional Latin Mass.

Initially, the priest assumed that the homeless, who were probably uneducated in the specifics of Catholic worship and theology, would choose the contemporary Mass because of its simplicity. To his surprise, the opposite proved to be true: over the years operating the shelter, the priest saw that most of the homeless chose the traditional over the contemporary Mass.

Intrigued by this trend, the priest approached one of the homeless men before Mass one day and asked him why he chose to attend the traditional liturgy. Did he know Latin? "No," said the homeless man. Then why prefer an elaborate Mass in a language you don't understand to one in the vernacular? The homeless man replied with reverence, “I might not understand all the prayers, but I know this Mass is all about God.”

The homeless man’s pious observation highlights an important truth about the liturgy of the Church: our liturgical rites have as their primary end the glorification of God. We may think we make the liturgy more accessible to common folks by stripping it down and simplifying it, but in the experience of this Ohio priest, the common folk preferred a more traditional Mass because it enabled them to have a more authentic sense of God’s transcendent majesty—they know it is “all about God.”

The modern Church has made much of the Eucharist as a reenactment of the Lord's Supper. This is certainly part of the Eucharist, but not all, and certainly not even the most important part. The poor man reminds us that just because the liturgy of the Last Supper might have been simple does not mean we should strive for minimalism in our liturgies. Jesus’ action at the Last Supper was simple, but the profundity of this action caused later generations to layer on additional elements of splendor in order to express its magnificence. Though the Last Supper itself may have been simple, the rites and externals of the liturgy that have developed over the centuries are meant to draw attention to the focal point of the Mass: the worship of God present in the Eucharistic mystery. These rites and externals, these layers of splendor, do not detract from the simplicity of the liturgy, but rather express its profundity.

The layering of rites in the liturgy fixes our gaze on God and opens us up to His grace. This liturgical act is neither purely individualistic nor entirely communal; rather it is a symphony of breadth and depth opening itself to the grace of God, mediated through the Church to the individual through its rites, prayers, and sacraments, and through the individual to the Church, which is built up by his personal spiritual growth. The liturgy of the Church is structured to facilitate this glorious exchange of grace.

Beautiful liturgies are important in expressing the magnificence of God. This is especially true when reaching out to the poor and homeless, where the beauty they find in the liturgy might be the only real beauty they encounter. If we really want to be going to the peripheries, this is where we should start. Like the man at little homeless shelter, beautiful liturgies help us all to understand the profound truth that the Mass is “all about God.” 

"I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding" (Matt. 11:25)

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Fifteen Years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam

This year, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, was the fifteenth anniversary of the launch of this blog. My plans for this anniversary went a little awry; I was going to announce a big launch of the new website, but of course, at the last minute there were some bugs and problems to smooth out. I held out till today but probably it's going to be a few more days until I can unveil it.

I was thinking about where the world and the Church was when I launched this blog—George W. Bush was president, we were in the middle of the Iraq War. Benedict XVI was only in the second year of his papacy; the big news was the Regensburg Lecture, which had taken place only a few months earlier. There was lots of gossip swirling on Catholic blogs about an imminent Motu Proprio coming down the pike that would change the status of the Traditional Latin Mass. Marcial Maciel had been forced to step down the year before I took up blogging; the same year I began, all the revelations about his filth began to become public, at least in the sense that people stopped defending him and for the first time there was a universal acknowledgment of what had happened.

It is strange to think that the entire Summorum pontificum era has come and gone within the span of time I have been blogging. When I began blogging there was a imminent sense that the freedom of the Traditional Latin Mass was coming soon; now there is the imminent sense that every month will bring a further blow against its adherents. The same problems still plague the Church: people are uncatechized, liturgical abuse is rife, the Vatican does nothing, bishops are by-and-large useless, and there is nothing new under the sun. But the mood is completely different; it feels completely adrift, alone in uncertain waters far off the chart, on the part of the map that says "Here be monsters." Maybe we'll get back home someday, but we will probably have to do a complete circumnavigation before we arrive, like the man G.K. Chesteron spoke of who walked around the entire earth only to arrive back at his own yard from behind, seeing it what is old and familiar from a strikingly new perspective.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, especially those readers who have been here since those early days of Benedict XVI's pontificate. I used to use this venue to complain. I still use it to complain, but I used to too. And I'm better at it now : )

Blessings and grace to you all
Uncle Boniface

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Monastic Joy


There is an unfortunate stereotype that traditional Catholic spirituality is a dour, mournful thing; that the medieval monks and ascetics were long-faced sourpusses whose minds were bogged down by the oppressive contemplation of their own sins, and who mistakenly thought that God's pleasure in them was proportional to the amount of physical, even masochistic suffering they imposed upon themselves—essentially, the stereotype that traditional Catholic spirituality is all cross but no resurrection. 

Of course, you may occasionally find Catholics who are too pessimistic and dark about their spirituality. But traditional Catholic spirituality, whether of the monastic or lay sort, was always characterized by the paradox of profound joy in the midst of ascesis. Yes, our Lord tells us we must take up our cross daily. But He also promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (cf. Matt. 11:30). But the thing is you have to actually take up the yoke and carry the burden before you realize its lightness. And in what does this lightness consist? Not that following the Lord is "easy" in the sense of not requiring effort, but the sense that supernatural grace working alongside a docile will renders the burdens bearable, even sweet and delightful over time. For the novice, spending an hour in prayer can be tiring, dull and require extraordinary strength - in other words, it is a burden; for the saint, spending an hour in prayer is a delight, a consolation, a source of great blessing - in other words, the burden has been rendered light.

In the medieval world, the strictest observance of the Rule of St. Benedict was found among the Cistercians, those followers of St. Robert of Molesme who in 1098 broke away from the Cluniac usage to follow an unmitigated and primitive observance of the Benedictine rule. If anyone in the Middle Ages were dour, long-faced, sourpuss Christians, we would expect it to be the Cistercians, as the discipline of their early years was particularly severe.

There is no way to discern how joyful or mournful were particular monks who lived nine centuries ago, but we can tell something about how they viewed their monastic vocation by looking at the names they gave their monasteries. A striking feature of early Cistercian abbeys is their nomenclature, which demonstrates that the monks of the early 12th century viewed their monastic enclosures as havens of peace and joy. Let us look at the names of some of these early foundations from the first few decades of the Cistercian expansion. Notice all the references to happiness or goodness (variations of bonus) and light (variation of clara):

In France: Bona-Requies, Bonus-Locus (Bonlieu), Bonus-Portus (Bonport), Bona-Vallis, Carus-Locus (Cherlieu), Caritas (la Charité), Clarus-Mons (Clermont), Claritas-Dei (Clairté Dieu), Clara-Vallis (Clairvaux), Clarus-Locus (Clairlieu), Sacra-Cella (Cercanceaux), Sacer-Portus, Vallis-Lucida, Vallis-Paradisius (Valparayso).

In Germany: Caeli-Porta (Himmelspforte), Cella-Dei (Gotteszell), Schola-Dei, Vallis-Speciosa (Schoenthal).

In Belgium and Holland: Aurea-Vallis (Orval), Portus Beatae Mariae

In Poland: Paradisus (Paradiz)

In Ireland and Scotland: Beatitudo Benedictio Dei, Mellifons (Mellifont), Melrosa (Melrose).

In Italy: Fons-Vivus

Finally, a very popular phrase, Vallis-Dei, which was the name of several Cistercian houses in England, Ireland, Austria, Spain, Holland and even Norway.

And what do these names mean when we translate them? In vernacular English, the above names read:

Sweet Repose. Happy Place. Good Harbor. Lovely Valley. Beloved Abode. Brotherly Love. Bright Mountain. Brightness of God. Lightsome Valley. Serene Place. Holy Cell. Sacred Harbor. Vale of Splendor. Vale of Paradise. Gate of Heaven. God's Sanctum. School of God. Beautiful Valley. Golden Valley. Beatitude. Port of St. Mary. Blessing of God. Fount of Honey. Rose of Honey. Living Fountain. Valley of God.

The rule of the Cistercians, especially at their foundation, was by no means simple. To this day, the strictest observance of the Rule of St. Benedict is found among the Cistercian order, those of the Strict Observance (Trappists). To the world, the fastings, the vigils, the manual labor, the austerity could not possibly be sources of the joy and peace exemplified by the nomenclature of the Cistercian abbeys. And yet the monastic experience proves otherwise; it proves that our Lord was telling the truth when He said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Yes, to follow our Lord entails suffering, self-denial, and the carrying of the cross. But our Lord does not leave us orphaned; if we are willing to pick up that cross - willing to follow the Lamb wherever He leads—we find a sweet consolation, more tender and dear than anything offered by the world. We see that our Lord is a pearl of great price, and in our joy, we are willing to forego everything else to obtain that pearl, to drink from the living water.

And he who drinks from that living water will never thirst again (John 4:14).

This was what the early Cistercians knew, when despite the trials of setting up a new monastery, the difficulty in observing the Rule of St. Benedict, and the general conditions of medieval life, they found in their monastic profession a profound joy, as evidenced by the nomenclature of their abbeys.

"For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Another Bold Stroke from the Pope of the Peripheries

On June 15 Pope Francis issued rescript changing Canon Law. The rescript, which takes immediate effect, prohibits any diocesan bishop from erecting a Public Association of the Faithful wishing eventually to become an institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life without explicit written permission of the Vatican Dicastery in charge of such institutes/societies. Essentially, the Vatican has assumed control over the establishment of all religious communities and priestly orders. 

Though it is not specified, it is assumed that this is primarily aimed to halt the formation of new traditional associations. It is clear from numerous statements by Francis—including his screed against traditionalist "restorers" made only one day before the issuance of the rescript—that Francis considers traditionalists the greatest threat to the modern Church. I have seen some banter online of people saying, "Don't assume this is about traditionalists" and "traddiedom is not the center of the Church." But to Francis it is. To Francis, traditionalism is the great enemy of his time. And he has not attacked any other segment of the Church as he has traditionalists. Therefore it is more than reasonable to assume this rescript is issued with traditional Catholics in mind.

The Dicastery in reference is run by de Aviz and Carballo, whom Dr. Kwasniewski referred to as "progressivist thugs", a sentiment I completely agree with. The chances of any traditional association receiving the requisite institutional approval from these gatekeepers is nonexistent.

I offer a few reflections on this development:

1) The Total Overthrow of Institutional Credibility

The Catholic Church has spent the last several decades destroying its institutional credibility, at least understood from a human perspective. The Church once possessed great institutional credibility; I am continually amazed, when I read histories of ecclesiastical events of the pontificates of Pius IX or Pius X, how the mere hint that the pope or some Congregation wanted something was enough to compel complete obedience, even beyond what the authorities asked for. But those days are long, long gone. The Church itself has continually debased its own institutional credibility since Vatican II by torrents of abuses gone too long unchecked, by the stream of garbled nonsense that is ceaselessly vomited out of the Vatican, and by unjust persecutions of Catholics whose only crime was to hold their tradition too dearly. The Church has spent a generation cultivating the mindset that the letter of the law doesn't ultimately matter; the "spirit" and the "signs of the times" are much more important. 

Thus, having worked so hard to enthrone the spirit, it is laughable that the Vatican now thinks it can rule by the letter; having spent a generation undermining the value of the letter, it now wishes to subvert the authority of every bishop by pen stroke. It is almost comedic. Liberals have long ignored the letter of the law; and Traditionalists have realized the implementation of the law is hopelessly stacked against them. The only ones still trying to square the circle are the naïve neo-Catholics, who have their heads so deep in the sand they can see Beijing. Traditionalism arose despite the letter of the law and it will not be crushed by the letter of the law—especially a law whose import has been eviscerated by decades of the Vatican's selective interpretation.

2) Necessity of New Models of Organization

But if no more traditional institutes are allowed to be erected by bishops on their own initiative, how shall we escape the letter of the law? The answer is simply that we will have recourse to organizational models not envisioned by the current canonical strictures. I refer you to an article called "Into the Woods" I wrote in 2018 in the aftermath of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life document Cor Orans, which essentially revolutionized the way women's religious communities governed themselves. The gist of the essay is that as the institutional Church becomes more untrustworthy under the current zeitgeist, traditional movements will be more about living a certain lifestyle than obtaining any specific ecclesiastical status. The Vatican might regulate the episcopal erection of new religious institutes, but it can do nothing against a group of individuals living together and making their own private vows. It may prohibit the creation of a new priestly society dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass, but it cannot prohibit priests who love the Traditional Latin Mass from organizing on their own outside of official channels. It may prohibit the Latin Mass being said in diocesan parishes, but it cannot prevent it being said in private venues. The Church can shove the NAB and the Liturgy of the Hours at me as much as they please, but they can't prevent me gathering with likeminded men to pray the traditional Divine Office in Latin. Whatever we want done, we are going to have to do it ourselves—not by going "against" ecclesiastical authority in any schismatic sense, but by merely operating in spheres where ecclesiastical authority has no say. This is how Christendom was built; St. Benedict had no episcopal letter when he clambered up the slopes of Mount Subiaco and wandered into a cave.

3) Machiavellian Delegation and the Farce of Synodality

In case anyone had any shred of doubt left, this should make it perfectly clear that Pope Francis's ideas about "decentralization" and "synodality" are farcical. The same pope who allegedly wants to allow local bishops' conferences to make true doctrinal judgments also wants to tell bishops what organizations they can and cannot erect in their own dioceses. This is the same pontificate that, in the explanatory letter after Traditionis Custodes, purported to tell individual parishes what they could and could not advertise on the parish website or in the parish bulletin. The same pontificate who has systematically dismantled the independence of various religious orders and trampled on their charisms. Decentralization and synodality indeed!

Francis does not, and has never wanted, decentralization. Rather, he believes in what I would call Machiavellian delegation. Actual decentralization is too risky. After all, bishops like Cordileone and Mutsaerts exist, and we can't risk allowing more space for their ideas. He lacks the testicular fortitude to throw the cards to the wind and see where they land. Actual administrative control must be centralized as much as possible. But, since Francis is the pope of the peripheries, he needs his more revolutionary bold-stroke changes to appear to come "from the people"; after all, if everything were imposed from top down, it would merely reinforce the caricature of Francis as a dictator pope. So certain things are strategically delegated to local churches where and when Francis knows they will return a result favorable to his overall agenda.  In this way the most radical changes can appear to have come "from the peripheries," their adoption being presented not as a bureaucratic fiat but as yielding to the vox populi that the God of surprises foists on us. It is a machination worthy of Pontius Pilate. To put it bluntly, power is centralized, but revolutionary change is outsourced. If I were to illustrate the movement of Machiavellian delegation, it would look like this, where Rome is the yellow dot and "the peripheries" are the blue:

Taking control of religious orders and priestly societies? That power can be assumed by Rome. Married viri probati clerics? That change must come from the Amazon. Regulating the Latin Mass and forbidding parishes to advertise it? That power can be assumed by Rome. Allowing Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried? That change must come from Germany. Of course which specific "peripheries" this radical change is outsourced to are matters of calculated deliberation; you'll never see the Vatican allowing the African bishops to take the path of synodality when it comes to handling same sex marriage. It's all carefully crafted theater rigged to return pre-determined results.

4) We Follow the Way

For us, though, this is ultimately about a way of life, not who has institutional control. I don't mean to downplay the importance of institutional control; and God willing, one day, the institution will be better, the ship's course will be righted, and mother will not be drunk anymore. Until that happens, however, what we are seeking is a way of life. In the New Testament and the earliest Christian writings, the Catholic faith was referred to as "the Way," and Christians were called "followers of the Way." This sort of thinking has greatly benefitted my own spiritual life during these difficult times. I am seeking a city whose builder and maker is God (cf. Heb. 11:10). The regime the Church finds itself under can annoy me, make me drive a little farther, make me jump through a few more hoops, make me roll my eyes, but it can't ultimately stop me from following the path our Lord Jesus has laid out. It cannot stop me from living the Faith of our ancestors and loving our traditions. 

But if things get so bad that I am deprived of certain spiritual benefits through no fault of my own, will God hold me to account? Certainly not. "For," the Scriptures say, "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not" (2 Cor. 8:12). This means that if I earnestly will to follow God with my whole heart, I cannot be judged for what I lack, only what I have. It's not about how many talents I have, but what I do with whatever amount has been entrusted to me. God chose you to live in these times. He wants you here. And if we believe at all in God's Providence, that should be a very encouraging thought. The pope can make certain aspects of my external observance difficult, but he cannot touch the pearl of great price. "My Father is greater than all...and no one is able to snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). The corrupt regime in Rome is only able to knock me off the path to the degree that I let them. 

Stand Fast

So stand fast, brethren. Follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Purify your hearts, so you can hear His voice. And remember, "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

What a Dark Night Is and Is Not

There is a rich tradition in the West of describing the progress of the soul along the path to God in terms of stages of development, with certain characteristics proper to each stage. St. Teresa of Avila famously spoke of seven "mansions" corresponding to different levels of spiritual attainment; others divide the spiritual life into three phases: purgative, illuminative and contemplative. Medieval mystics such as Robert Grosseteste, Julian of Norwich and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, following the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius, take an apophatic approach to their theology, viewing the ascent toward God as a stripping away of assumptions and images about God in an attempt to contemplate the divine essence itself.

All these approaches have merit, and we should probably not insist on adhering to one too closely; they are all ultimately subjective expressions of what particular souls have experienced. Even if these experiences have been quite common in Church history, God ultimately works with each soul in a unique manner. No two souls take the same journey, even though all souls who seek God seek the same end. These descriptions are meant to be pedagogical, teaching the devotee what to expect on the way to holiness. They are not doctrines that we must insist on to the exclusion of other conceptual frameworks.

That being said, that does not mean there is not some commonality in mystical experiences. Most of the progressions described in the mystical writings of the Church, East and West, center on a particular shift in experience from the intellect to the affections—from the head to the heart. For example, in the West, meditation is commonly recommended as a sort of prayer for beginners in the spiritual life. Meditation consists in taking a certain episode of sacred history or truth of the faith and holding it before the mind's eye, drawing out different levels of meaning, making pious resolutions, and dwelling on the implications of the truths of what we are meditating on. It is primarily an intellectual activity utilizing the imagination.

Similarly, the Eastern tradition places great emphasis on the Jesus Prayer, intentionally choosing a particular expression and repeating it while meditating on a specific element of the Faith. This is again an active, intellectual work that depends on human activity.

But in both traditions, there is a transition that occurs. In meditation, one eventually moves to contemplation, while in the Eastern tradition, the repetition of the Jesus Prayer as an active prayer is supposed to yield to a more passive spirit of contemplative prayer. In both cases, the movement is from an active to a passive sort of prayer, from a field in which human activity predominates to one in which the soul is more responsive to the graces God wishes to bestow upon it. This transition cannot be forced; it does not yield to human effort. It may come on a soul suddenly, or gradually over many years, or perhaps never at all. No matter what schema we use to describe the transition, we get to a place where God is the dominant agent and the soul must be docile before Him.

This transition can be painful and disorienting. In some mystical traditions (most notably the Carmelite tradition exemplified by St. John of the Cross), the movement into these higher degrees of spirituality is accompanied by a painful episode that is known as a "dark night." The dark night is typically described as a period of deprivation, where the sensations, pious aspirations, consolations, and happy feelings that accompanied the individual in the lower stages of the spiritual life are withdrawn. This process of the dark night is part of the larger transition from the "head to the heart" that God affects in the spiritual life of docile souls.

It is commonly known that the dark night exists for the purpose of drawing souls closer to God, but why, specifically, is this the case? Why must a soul experience this deprivation of consolation in order to progress?

In this life, faith infused with charity is the only way a person can truly gain access to God in prayer. But when we begin, our faith and charity are weak and need to be propped up with other things: mental images, pious thoughts, spiritually pleasant feelings, imagination, etc. These are all objectively good; no matter how far we advance in the spiritual life, these will always have a certain place. But these things can never attain to God without a corresponding increase in faith, which is the key to prayer and union with the divine. That strengthening of faith we require to truly commune with God can only come about in a state of detachment, just as a person on crutches does not return to full use of their leg until the crutches are discarded and the muscles can be worked without the aid of the crutch. Similarly, growth in faith necessary to put a person into closer union with God requires that pious feelings, divine consolations, and the ability to approach Him through reason be set aside. This setting aside of all the active, human-based elements of the spiritual life is why persons in the dark night feel so incredibly helpless. Yet the dark night is extremely enriching, because by it faith is strengthened and prayer is transformed into a mutual exchange of love.

None of this is new to anyone who has even read a little bit of Catholic mystical theology, but it is something that is sadly misunderstood. There are plenty of counterfeit dark nights out there: experiences that people believe to be a dark night but are actually something other. For example, the dark night must be distinguished from a "period of dryness." All believers experience periods of dryness occasionally, during which prayer is difficult and spiritual consolations seem to be removed. This is what St. Ignatius refers to as the period of "desolation." These periods are usually briefer and are universal to all believers. These periods of desolation can be used by God, or they can be inflicted by evil oneGod will typically use a period of desolation to turn someone towards him, while the devil's desolation is characterized by confusion and wavering in resolutions. A spiritually mature believer needs to be able to discern these cyclic periods of dryness from the greater "dark night" that the saints speak about. In other words, you are not "going through a dark night" just because you are spiritually dry or having a hard time.

Furthermoreand probably more commonwe cannot mistake true dark nights with periods of confusion or disorientation that arise due to our own sinful activities. For example, about fifteen years ago, I experienced a profound period of dryness and dissatisfaction that lasted for about two years. Prayer was very difficult. I seemed to be making no progress in my spiritual life and had a very challenging time focusing on God. In my own limited understanding of things at the time, I imagined I was experiencing the dark night of the saints. What I did not consider was that I never prayed the Rosary, seldom went to Adoration, read the Bible only infrequently, attended Mass only on Sundays, and nurtured several bad habits and personal sins that I was unwilling to make the effort to overcome. In this case, was my dryness and difficulties really due to some dark night? Were they not rather due to my lukewarmness? Thank God I was roused from that slumber!

A true dark night comes not to souls who are tepid, but to those who are fervent and burning with charity. This is why it is so distressing for them; precisely because they are typically so inflamed with zeal for our Lord that the deprivation of His consolations is devastating to them.

It has become, in a certain sense, fashionable to speak of dark nights. People discuss their spiritual lives far too openly, and everyone who experiences some momentary setback in prayer or some cyclic lack of initiative wistfully speculates to their friends that they are suffering a dark night. Dark nights are not fashionable. They are not something casually discussed, and they are not something that come to those whose pursuit of God is not relentless; even among those who do pursue Him relentlessly may never pass through it. They are extremely distressing to the souls who undergo them, and even souls of exemplary holiness and clarity of mind may not understand what is happening to them.

If we feel ourselves in a period of dryness or desolation, rather than speculating about if we have been sufficiently holy to merit undergoing the trial of the dark night, let us turn to the much more practical advice of St. Ignatius Loyola: Consider that the dryness you experience is due to your own apathetic practice of the Faith. If you have noticed the dryness, however, God may make use of it to prod you on to a more fervent practice of the Faith. That fact that you recognize that you are dry is itself a grace. Ask God to bring you where He wants you to be and assent to whatever means He chooses to do this.

If you are already fervently practicing your faith, moving from good to better in the service of God, as St. Ignatius says, the dry spell may come from the evil one, who tries to place obstacles in the way of perfection. St. Ignatius calls this state "desolation." What can be done when this happens?

If you are in a state of desolation, do not make any changes to your spiritual routine. It is best to stay firm in our disciplines and resolves, focusing instead upon overcoming the desolation through prayer and meditation. Patience and fidelity to God are necessary here. Maintain faithfulness to the resolutions you made in the light. Changing your plan in the dark is never helpful because the desolation clouds your judgment. It will pass.

Besides our own slothfulness and tepidity, St. Ignatius says we sometimes go through periods of desolation because God wants to test us and try our faith, or because God wants to reveal to us our true state without the aid of His grace.

These periods of desolation are natural to all believers and are distinct from the dark night that is spoken of by the mystics and vouchsafed only to souls who have made exceptional progress in holiness. It is good to understand this and fortify oneself during a period of fruitful prayer and consolation by thinking how one will handle the desolation which will inevitably come.

If we made ourselves more familiar with these basic principles of spiritual life, we would do very well indeed. Through the successful navigation of these cycles of consolation-desolation, we in fact slowly come to master our spiritual life by God's grace and understand the movement of the Spirit. Thus, growing stronger, we eventually do come to the stage where our spiritual focus must shift from the head to the heart and we may in fact undergo the dark night. But if we have not mastered handling our periodic desolations, what will we do when God's consolations are utterly removed during that time of darkness?

Mysticism may be mysterious, but there is an inner logic to it, and without proper discipline and ascesis, we can't even get past our own periodic desolations, let alone the true dark night.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Stop Trying to Make Deacon's Wives a Thing

The image for this post is taken from my diocesan magazine. The article interviews five women who are married to permanent deacons and discusses how that affects their marriages and their work in their parishes. 

The celebration of the "role" of deacon's wife as a quasi-ministry within the Church is something I long ago predicted, as permanent deacons are increasingly looked to as a solution to the priest shortage. Since pushing a married priesthood on the Latin rite is still facing too many obstacles, I suspect the idea of deacons and their wives working jointly within the parish is a more surreptitious way to introduce "couples ministry" into Holy Orders.

There's nothing wrong with a husband and wife volunteering together for the parish; I'm sure many of my readers and their spouses are involved in such laudable activities. Even so, the emphasis on a deacon's wife filling an actual "role" within parish life is another subtle movement away from the traditional view of the diaconate in particular and Holy Orders in general. 

The article (which is broken into a Part 1 and Part 2) asks five women to comment upon their experiences being married to deacons, how this affects their marriage, and how they participate in the ministry of their husbands. Reading the article, I am left with the impression that these women consider deacon's wife itself to be a vocation, and that their status gives them a unique shared ministry with their husbands. We see a discussion of "how married couples might begin discerning a call to the diaconate life"; we are told that "the role of deacon's wife is as unique as the women who fill that role"; that being a deacon's wife allows "opportunity to participate in a more active role in ministry"—one says "we are involved in ministry together." Another speaks of fulfilling her "commitment to my vocations as wife, mother, nurse practitioner, and deacon's wife." One says that "one way I participate with my husband in his diaconal ministry is when I serve as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist or lector at our parish," suggesting that she views these things as sharing in the diaconal ministry itself.

A few out of context quotes do not give the big picture, so I encourage you to read the articles linked above.

Two points:

First, I understand that none of these statements imply there is any sort of institutional "deacon's wife ministry." And some of them can be taken innocuously enough; obviously before a married man enters the permanent diaconate, he and his wife together should discern what that vocation would mean for their marriage. So I don't mean to make a mountain out of a molehill, or infer nefarious meanings to these statements that the women clearly do not mean. Even so, one cannot deny there is a substantial blurring of the lines between clergy and laity demonstrated here. While a husband and wife must discern together what a diaconal ordination will mean for their marriage, it is the husband alone who has the vocation to Holy Orders. While a deacon's wife may be laudably engaged in parish volunteer work, none of this constitutes "participating" in the husband's diaconal ministry. While being married to a deacon may give a woman more visibility in the parish community, she is not thereby admitted to a "unique role" that necessitates active ministry. While a permanent deacon's wife should support her husband in his ministry, but that does not translate into his ministry becoming a "couples ministry." 

Second, this critique should not be construed to devalue the very good things these women do in their parishes. They are certainly not lukewarm Catholics. Most of them have decades of volunteer work serving the poor and sick and clearly take their obligations to God and the Church very seriously (even if some of it, like serving as an EMHC, is misguided). They should be commended for this, so I would hope nobody considers this article disparaging these women or tearing them down. I pray that when I am their age I might even have half as much time spent volunteering for my parish as they.

The issue is not with the women, but with an ecclesiastical philosophy that urgently wants to replace the traditional, celibate male only priesthood with something—anything—else. That philosophy did not begin in the humble parishes where these women serve, but in the high echelons of the Church bureaucracy years ago when old men, stricken with the sickness of the age, theorized that the Church's traditional model of the priesthood needed to be drastically reformed. Until the Church recovers a clear and compelling vision of who a priest is, what he does, and why we need them, the effects of these deviant philosophies will continue  to ripple outward.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

My Opinion on The Chosen

I mentioned in a previous post that I am getting ready to launch a revamped Unam Sanctam Catholicam sister site with an entirely new and attractive layout (Deo gratias). I also stated that the movie reviews section would be going away; I've already started deleting them, as a matter of fact. But before I toss in the hat on movie reviews altogether, a viewer asked me to give my opinion on The Chosen series. This reader said that "it seems really cheesy" and "the fact that it's universally acclaimed by evangelicals" made them more skeptical.

Given that The Chosen is a series comprised of (at the time of writing) two seasons with 16 episodes total and a third season coming out in a few months, I'm not going to give a comprehensive review, but I will share my general thoughts.

I think The Chosen is absolutely fantastic. I have watched both seasons, and watched them multiple times. Several episodes have made me break down in tears in the best kind of way. It touches my heart in a way very few religious movies have been capable of. I liked it enough that I gave money to the crowdfunding campaign. So I am a big fan.

I will say that at the outset I did not like it; the first time I watched Season 1 Episode 1, I was not impressed. I even sent the folks at The Chosen a message complaining. My complaint had nothing to do with content; I was making a very technical gripe about camera angles and cinematography. I regret I sent this message now. It's challenging making any professional video production, and any series takes a few episodes to get their feet under them. I wasn't going to continue, but I heard so much praise for The Chosen that I had to continue—and I'd watched and reviewed every other depiction of Christ on film so I thought I owed it to see what all the hubbub was about.

I am so glad I persevered. The writer's of The Chosen clearly understand the difference Jesus makes in a person's life, and it is the only Jesus movie or series I've ever seen that successfully wields typology to show how the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.

Are there little gripes I could make? Yes, of course. Every now and then there's some cheesy lines. Some of the sets—especially in Season 1—are a little low budget (they make the miraculous catch of fish happen in about two feet of water). John the Baptist's beard totally looks like its glued to his face. Now and then the characters talk like Protestants. But these things are all minutiae in my opinion, and not the sort I am going to gripe about. Afterall, the writers of The Chosen have also gone out of their way to incorporate Catholic elements into the storytelling as well. Season 2 Episode 6 has a beautiful scene that symbolically demonstrates the intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And, as I mentioned, the typology is positively Catholic. And the operation of grace is depicted masterfully. 

Some may take issue that the series really uses a lot of creative license to fill in the backstories behind certain biblical episodes. But the stuff they are improvising on is stuff that's not mentioned in the Bible anyway, so it's in no way a distortion of the Scriptures—and in most cases the fabricated backstories significantly buttress the biblical episodes. For example, remember the paralytic at the Pool of Siloam who had nobody to put him into the water? He just gets a few verses in the Gospel of John. In The Chosen, we get an entire episode centered on him with a very well developed backstory. Not just a backstory, but one that is deeply moving; both times I watched that episode I wept. And the way the show used all these little narratives to build up to the Beatitudes at the end of Season 2 was superlative. Is there extrabiblical material? Of course. But everything that matters is played straight, following the New Testament beat for beat. 

As for the acting, I want to single out for praise three in particular: Jonathan Roumie (who is a practicing Catholic) as Jesus, Paras Patel as Matthew, and Elizabeth Tabish as St. Mary Magdalen. All the actors are good, but these three really carry the show, in my opinion. There are some excellent interviews on YouTube with Dr. Scott Hahn (who is also a big fan of the show) talking to Jonathan Roumie; I found these very edifying. Oh, and Eric Avari completely nails it as Nicodemus, who is a major character. I only wish he were in more episodes.

Now, I know there are Trad Catholic criticisms of The Chosen out there, some by popular priests. I am already aware of them and have read them, so please don't post them in the comments asking me to respond. All I can say is I find these Trad critiques without merit, focusing too much on matters of little import, or else making mountains out of molehills (like the critique I read where the Trad viewer objected to the fact that the infant Jesus in the Nativity was depicted wet after being born—as if its a matter of dogmatic faith that we must believe Jesus emerged from the womb of Mary entirely dry! What nonsense! I am not aware of a single point in which The Chosen deviates from any Catholic dogma, nor has any Trad criticism I've read of it been convincing. In fact, some of the Trad critiques I read made me think, "What is on earth is wrong with us?"

As to the issue that "evangelicals are excited about it therefore I am suspicious," while I understand the hesitancy when you see Protestants going gaga over something, I don't think that's ultimately a justification for skepticism. In 2004 Catholics were going gaga over The Passion of the Christ; had a Protestant said they were skeptical of it for that reason, would you have found that a compelling argument? I would hope not. Of course, sometimes Protestants get excited about something because its Protestant nonsense; but sometimes they get excited about something because its good. I say The Chosen is the latter.

One final thought: As some of you know, I was not raised Catholic. I was baptized Catholic as an infant, but I never made a First Communion until I was 22, didn't start practicing until I was an adult. I had what I consider to be a dissolute and debauched youth. When the Lord snatched me from the snare of the fowler—when He looked at me and said "Follow me"—it was life changing. And I've never looked back. The Chosen has brought me back to that place of remembering what it is like to be redeemed. Yes, I know every Catholic, even cradle Catholics, are redeemed, need to be forgiven etc. But I mean that sense of being totally lost, totally mired in darkness, and then you see the light, and you hear His voice, and He summons you, lifts you up, turns your heart of stone to flesh and calls you His own. The Chosen continually reconnects me with that experience. It continually reminds me of the difference that Jesus makes, and it challenges me to love better. 

But hey, that's just my viewpoint, and maybe my perspective on this show is colored by my experience, which is different from yours. Some of you will probably disagree; some of you probably watched it and couldn't stand it for various reasons. Some of you will think I'm a sentimental schlub for liking it. That's fine; I am a sentimental schlub. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that. I would say, if you're not positively predisposed against it, at least watch to the end of Season 1. You might find an unexpected gem.

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Traditional Low Mass: Simplicity vs. Informality

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This beautifully designed neoclassical structure is situated on a forested hillside in a quiet neighborhood outside La Crosse. It was the creation of Cardinal Raymond Burke, specially dedicated by him to the patroness of the America. This structure was meant to reflect the liturgical ideals of the movement known as the "Reform of the Reform." The church itself is gorgeous; the altar is constructed in an Italianate style reminiscent of St. Peter's basilica, with a massive baldachin supported by four massive marble columns. The altar features the so-called "Benedictine arrangement" that was so touted during the last pontificate. A series of splendid paintings of various saints decorate the transepts, each situated over a reliquary altar of their respective saint. A sign in the narthex explains that all Masses at the shrine must be offered ad orientam and explaining that this is "really" how the Novus Ordo is meant to be offered according to the rubrics. It is an impressive place that elicits a sense of piety and grandeur.

I attended the 12:15 daily Mass, which of course was offered in the Novus Ordo. The contrast between the majesty the structure evoked and the realities of the liturgy being offered was stark. There was nothing amiss with the priest; he did a fine job, offering the Mass exactly according to the rubrics with worthy reverence. But the liturgy itself was so strikingly...informal. The banal dialogues, the Prayers of the Faithful with the scattered whispers of "Lord, hear of our prayer" squeaking out of the congregation, the casual language of the Eucharistic prayers. Of course this realization is nothing new, but I think the informality of the New Mass is thrown into relief when celebrated in a more solemn locale. The glory of the building shines a brighter light on the banality of the liturgy. The more splendid the church, the more unsuited the New Mass appears. 

But I wondered if I wasn't being unfair. After all, a Low Mass offered in the Extraordinary Form wouldn't be much to look at either...right? Would I not find the silent, stripped down Low Mass as unimpressive in the same circumstances?

As I pondered this, I realized something about the traditional Roman rite: even though the traditional Low Mass is simple, it is never informal. A Low Mass is a rather simple affair: the priest approaches the altar, he works his way through the prayers (with the laity participating with whatever manner of quiet devotion seems best to them), and Sacrifice is offered, Holy Communion is distributed, and Mass ends. It is extremely straightforward. It is simple. But it is elegant. It is noble. It is dignified. The much touted "noble simplicity of the Roman rite" the liturgical reformers lauded was always present in the traditional Low Mass. It is a liturgy capable of rising to the occasion when offered in a glorious basilica—but also of elevating the occasion when offered elsewhere, like on the hood of a Jeep on a World War II battlefield, or a hastily constructed wooden altar in the wilderness of Brazil. It is a kind of simplicity that has a universal appeal, admirably reflecting the omnipresence of God whose glory is present in the grandest cathedral and the vilest slum.

When it comes to the Novus Ordo, however, the reformers fundamentally confused simplicity with informality. In seeking a "simplified" Mass, they crafted one that was shockingly informal. Informality in the way it addresses God, in the commonplace language of the prayers, in the gestures, in the way it clumsily drags the congregation into the dialogue-responses. It is an informality that is capable neither of rising to the majesty of a beautiful church, nor of elevating the surroundings when offered elsewhere. 

Simplicity can still be grand. Informality is not. Simplicity can still lift us out of the workaday world and orient us towards God. Informality merely reminds us that we are still in the workaday world. The traditional liturgy never made the mistake of conflating simplicity with informality. It may have had rites that were simple, but they were never informal. Never humdrum. The Novus Ordo sought to create "noble simplicity" but instead created ho-hum informality and its progenitors were too inept to tell the difference.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin is an absolutely beautiful structure situated in beautiful surroundings. It is a place of beauty through and through. I wish it had more liturgies suited to the grandeur of the place.