Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Visit to the Solanus Center

Today my family and I made a visit to the Solanus Center in Detroit. The Solanus Center is part of St. Bonaventure's, a Capuchin monastery in downtown Detroit famous as the home of Ven. Solanus Casey. Solanus Casey (1870-1957) was the son of Irish immigrants from the midwest, the third oldest of a family of sixteen. He was ordained a Capuchin priest in 1903, but because of his poor grades in theology and latin, he was ordained as a "simplex priest", meaning that he remained permanently without the faculties of hearing confessions or preaching theologically complex sermons. He spent a few years in Huntington, Indiana and Brooklyn, New York, but most of his life as a Capuchin, fifty years, was spent at St. Bonaventure's in Detroit.

He was assigned the very humble office of porter in the monastery, which, however, brought him into contact with hundreds of people and their problems. He became a familiar face locally; he began the practice of praying for the people he met and keeping a journal of answered prayers. Over the several decades he was porter at St. Bonaventure, he logged thousands of answered prayers, everything from miraculous healings to simple things like men finding employment (his prayer logs were on display at the Center). Once, when Chrysler had shut down in 1925, he had the whole company enrolled in the Seraphic Mass Association and had 500 Masses said for the company; a month later the factories were back in business and were even working overtime. At the time, it was popularly believed that his prayers saved Chrysler. By the 40's and 50's people regularly waited hours to see the "Holy Priest." When he died in 1957, 20,000 people attended his funeral. He is buried outside of the chapel in St. Bonaventure's.

I really do not know how well Ven. Solanus Casey is known outside of Michigan, but around these parts there is great pride in our local saint. Our visit there was very moving; I was able to pray right on Fr. Solanus' coffin, attend Mass in the chapel where he worshiped and walk through the great doors where for decades he served humbly as a porter, in addition to seeing his violin, habit, sandals, prayer logs, etc.

If Father Solanus serves as an example of holy simplicity for our age, it was a real let down that the monastery where he served offers a contrary example of everything that is worst about modernity.

The humble monastery itself had been converted into a very modern facility with information desks, interactive computer displays and all the bells and whistles. Relics of the Capuchin lifestyle were displayed behind glass cases. Educational panels described that the lifestyle of the monastery in Father Solanus' day was "almost medieval" and remained so from its founding "until the 1960's." But that austere way of life had vanished. You felt like you were in a modern museum in which the past was respected, but the way one respects an exhibit; it was no longer a living way of life. The doors where the humble Father Solanus had once answered as porter were now watched by a privately contracted security guard. The rest of the center was like some sort of social justice shrine. Like so many other orders, it seemed like the Detroit Capuchins had kind of switched their focus over the decades from contemplation to social work. There were statues of Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero, among others. I did not see a Martin Luther King Jr. icon, but one would not have seemed out of place.

When we got to the chapel, I noticed that, while much of the original neo-gothic high altar and wooded reredos where Solanus Casey said Mass had survived, the chapel had been renovated in the modern round orientation with the tabernacle way off in the back in a small little room about as far away from the altar as it was physically possible. As we prepared for Mass, we were distracted by the "praise band" rehearsing loudly with piano and flute, and the sanctuary was astir with people walking to and fro chatting as if it were coffee and donuts after Mass. I am afraid to say that the Capuchin friars did nothing to discourage this. In fact, several of them walked around mingling and chattering away as well.

As Mass began, I noticed that the celebrant was wearing rose-colored vestments, despite it being the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. He explained that these pinkish-rose vestments were for "breast cancer awareness."

Music was very disappointing. It was a combination of piano, flute (which somehow always manages to be too loud in a liturgy) and three women with suit-pants and short hair who sung with great emotion and gesticulation. Everything was turned into a hymn; the Gloria was a hymn where the first line was a refrain; the responsorial psalm was turned into a hymn with a bridge and conclusion; Lamb of God and Sanctus were likewise performed as hymns, which is very common in NO parishes. Hymn selections were your standard fare; "Blest are They", "Unless a Grain of Wheat", etc.

The "praise band" was situated immediately to the right of the table altar (the massive neo-gothic altar Fr. Solanus used sat unattended in the back like a monolithic relic of a bygone age). I ought to mention that while the praise band occupied center stage to the right of the altar, an impressive choir-loft featuring a gloriously large pipe organ also remained conspicuously unused.

Readings and homily were on the rich young man. Capuchin celebrant mentioned some story from "the Zen tradition" that he had picked up "back in the seminary" and tried to relate it to the Gospel.

Let's talk about the passing of the peace. We have all heard of the ubiquitous people "jumping over pews." No one here jumped over pews, but they came pretty darned close. People left their seats and walked across the sanctuary; band members left the band area; priest stepped out of the sanctuary and mingled with the crowd. In went on for quite awhile. My daughter said, "Daddy, why are those people walking all over the place?" I couldn't come up with a good answer, so I just said, "They're being naughty," which maybe was the best answer after all.

During the Eucharistic liturgy not a single person kneeled at all at any time. They stood up until communion, and then after communion they just sat down. My family were the only ones kneeling.

As can be expected, there were an inordinate amount of Extraordinary Ministers. I counted seven. Seven EMHCs plus the priest for a congregation that had maybe seventy people in it. It was clear that the EMHCs are not for necessity, as the rules state, but more for the promotion of a kind of inclusive ecclesiology where lay people give the sacrament to themselves. With one priest and seven EMHCs, that means one attending this Mass only had a 12.5% chance of receiving Holy Communion from the hands of a priest, and that largely based on the accident of where you were sitting. As I suspected, the priest shuffled off to distribute on the other side of the sanctuary to a place where there were only ten people in line, leaving everyone else to go to the EMHCs. Well, I thought to myself that if they didn't mind people running all over the sanctuary for the passing of the peace, they wouldn't mind me doing so at communion time. So I grabbed a couple of my kids and sauntered off across the circular sanctuary to get in the line to get communion from the priest.

At one point I saw four EMHCs each with a chalice of the Precious Blood attending only a single line of communicants.

After communion, but before the last blessing, the priest gave some "announcements" that went on almost as long as the homily. Everyone with a birthday or anniversary that week was encouraged to stand up, state their birthday or anniversary, and everyone would give them applause.

As one final kicker, the priest, during the announcements, let everyone know that he would be leading a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and that there would be an informational video presentation after Mass.

After the liturgy was over, everybody started gabbing again immediately as the chapel emptied. I went outside, knelt beside the tomb of Ven. Solanus, banged my head on the coffin and prayed for the Universal Church.

On the way home, my wife asked me, "Why do they do that? When will people figure out how wrong that is and start doing it right?" I said, "Not until this entire rebellious generation dies in the wilderness."


Anonymous said...

My cousin worked at the shrine for years and St. Bonaventure Church was the church where my godfather, godmother and said cousin had funeral masses celebrated. I have to agree with you completely - from the time my godfather died 12 years ago until current, the modernization of the church has completely taken all sense of reverence from the shrine. It's utterly appalling and in my opinion disrespectful to Fr. Casey's life of humble piety and service. It is very moving though to be able to touch his coffin and see the tiny cell he lived in.

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

I think it's a shame that your visit to the shrine was marred by the dumbed down mass and the weird museum displays. The statues of Day and King had no place in that museum. Both of them were involved in or with leftist or communist organizations. Their religious veneer was merely a cover for their leftist, socialist politics. The King statue, along with Day's, should be tossed into the garbage. The man was not even a Catholic, and his depraved lifestyle belies his moral image as 'St. Martin'. Yet, every January, we hear as least a brief mention of his 'saintliness', and his 'holy work'. BTW, I wonder what saint's day is supposed to be celebrated on MLK Day? Maybe our priests ought to mention that someday.

Sean said...

I am not going to call your fatherhood into question, but I would never subject my family to that. I guess maybe if you're at a family event like a wedding, you kind have to bit your tongue, but you sought out this place. I know that for Mass, sadly, of course, that any location with the Ordinary Form is a crap shot, Russian Roulette, which I won't play. How many times do you have to be biten before you say, we'll got to Mass somewhere else, and visit the shrine in the off hours. Pray dearly for these men who have created such a terrible atmosphere in which to worship God!

Boniface said...

Well, in all fairness Sean, I was recommended to this place by a very close friend whose judgment I normally trust. Although I did not specifically inquire about the minutiae of the liturgy, they told me this was a "safe" place to go. I apparently overestimated the degree to which this person and I agree on what is a good environment.

Things have to be pretty bad before I'll walk out of Mass...this was just standard NO fare, nothing exceptionally out of the ordinary.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the "priest"(?) sitting "in choro"(?) to the left of the celebrant has found something better to entertain him during the Doxology, rather than focussing on the Body and Blood of Christ. Says it all. The Church in its present incarnation is dead.

Boniface said...

I do not believe that is a priest.

Anonymous said...

First thing I noticed when looking at the photograph of the Mass being said was the man to the left, smiling and chatting with someone. I once participated in a Eucharistic procession, (elsewhere, not at this church) was walking near the monstrance-holding priest, and was amazed at one point to see him and a man standing beside him say something to each other and laugh. The Church had two popes at one point in history. I really wonder if we will see "two" Catholic churches, each claiming to be authentic, with one of them holding fast to truth, keeping it safe for the day when there is "one" church again.