Sunday, April 30, 2017

Priests' Sober Reflections on the Traditional Mass Crowd

I had a chance some time ago to speak to two different priests on the question of Summorum Pontificum and the traditional Latin Mass as it is celebrated by diocesan priests and regular parish churches. Both had eagerly embraced Summorum Pontificum upon its issue in 2007. Both were eager for the traditional liturgy and Catholic tradition. I wanted to know how things had gone for them over the past ten years. The discouraging nature of their answers was sobering. 

The first priest was a seminarian when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated. He always had a deep respect for Catholic tradition and the traditional liturgy. Like many other traditional-minded seminarians, he had to kind of keep his head down throughout seminary. He maintained a respectful silence in the face of progressive indoctrination, did his required reading by day but studied Aquinas and the Fathers by night, and practiced penance privately while his fellow seminarians were spending their free time watching movies. He is a good and gentle soul. When Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio, he was excited to make himself available to the faithful to celebrate the traditional Mass.

After ordination and his first parish assignment, this priest was generous in promoting the traditional Latin Mass and offered it to a "stable group" on a semi-regular basis.

Those days are long gone.

This priest no longer offers the traditional Latin Mass, nor has he for years. He explained that the people who attended the traditional Latin Mass were so mean-spirited, so hyper-critical, just so obnoxious, that he eventually stopped offering the traditional Mass altogether. Perhaps the saddest thing about the story is this priest's personal interest in traditional Catholicism had began to wane. He wants nothing to do with the Latin Mass community.

The second priest had been ordained for some time when Summorum Pontificum came out. He had long desired to offer the traditional Mass and was in the process of training for a celebret under the indult when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated. He had always loved the traditional Mass because of its reverence and the centrality of God. He was excited to be able to offer the Latin Mass without any permission. He has now been offering the traditional Latin Mass regularly for almost a decade. His traditional Latin Mass liturgy has grown to around 75+ congregants.

"If I would have known back then what these people are actually like, I would have never begun offering the Latin Mass," he told me dryly.

His story resembled the first priest's. Soon after beginning to offer the traditional Latin Mass, he began to have negative interactions with those who attended it. An unending barrage of criticisms about the way the Mass was being offered. A general spirit of criticism that was quicker to lash out in indignation at perceived faults than be grateful for what they had; heresy-hunting and badgering the priest about theological statements they did not think were sufficiently precise rather than encouraging him for speaking the truth. In short, they were a royal pain.

This priest also noted that his traditional Latin Mass crowd were very loath to volunteer for any parish events or attend any other parish functions. He made an interesting observation, and I'm paraphrasing, but he said, "It's like the Latin Mass is a 'fix', something they travel around chasing. Looking for anywhere they can get 'their' Mass and then move on." He felt like they refused to put down roots in his parish; they were takers, not givers. They have given him nothing but headaches.

As of now, this priest is continuing to offer the traditional Mass, but he was very clear that he was unsure if he would continue and that he certainly would not have offered it if he knew what he was in for. He now prefers to say Low Masses privately.

Both of these priests are good, solid diocesan priests who loved the traditional liturgy because of its reverence and Christ-centeredness. The thing is, neither of these priests viewed the traditional Latin Mass as part of a "movement", and nor wanted to be part of one. They simply were drawn to the beauty of the old Mass and wanted to share it; they didn't have any chip on their shoulders.

Now, two things - first, I have known a lot of traditional Catholics and been to many traditional communities, and I know for a fact that not all of them are this way. We are blessed at our parish to have a well-established traditional Latin Mass community that is fairly engaged, overlaps with the Novus Ordo parishioners, and is very supportive of our parish priest. There's a lot of wonderful people out there promoting the Latin Mass. In my neck of the woods, Juventutem Michigan does an amazing job of promoting the traditional Latin Mass with absolutely no politics. So, I know this isn't something negative that all traditional Catholics can be painted with.


I have also been around enough traditional Catholics to totally believe these priests' stories without question. Traddies can be seriously, ridiculously obnoxious. Anyone who has been around traditionalist enclaves knows, as the Lord lives, that I speak the truth.

Second - some may huff and say, "If they would quit saying the Mass of ages just because some parishioners got cranky with them, they don't really understand the importance of the Mass. They're not truly devoted to it."

Well, maybe they weren't. Maybe some are just priests who are curious about it. Maybe some priests prefer it simply because its more beautiful. Most priests who offer the traditional Mass aren't part of any traditionalist movement and don't consider themselves "traddies." The reasons priests offer the traditional Mass are as varied as the priests themselves.

But like it or not, no priest has to offer the traditional Latin Mass. It's totally voluntary. And if you want somebody to do something for you voluntarily, then dang, act grateful. If someone is voluntarily doing you a favor, why on earth would you antagonize them?

Don't be obnoxious. Give them a little leeway. No diocesan priest who risks going against the tide to offer the traditional Latin Mass needs your grief; he probably gets enough from the diocesan bureaucracy. The traditional Latin Mass is a gift - God gave it, and He can take it away, just like He took it away from the Japanese Catholics who lived centuries without a Mass, or the English Catholics of the Elizabethan era. He can take it away from you.

Go ahead, bitch at your priest one more time. Whine about his Latin pronunciation. Complain about the fact that he did a Low Mass because not enough people volunteered for the choir. Keep that behavior up and see how long your priest wants to offer the Latin Mass; tempt God with obnoxious complaining and see what happens. God will take the Mass right away from you just like He took the Promised Land away from the grumbling Israelites.

Show yourself worthy of the Mass of ages. Be a blessing to your priest, not a burden. Volunteer. Be cheerful. Give liberally. Be supportive.

Even if the priest ought to offer the traditional Mass, why make yourself into his cross? Is that what God wants? Do you want your priest to think of traditional Catholics as a lot of bitchy mumblecrusts?

Brethren, do we have the joy of the Lord? We ought to be the most joyous of all people.

By the way, since I know sometimes fellow parishioners read this blog, I should mention that the two priests mentioned are neither our current nor former pastor.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Non-Contradiction

Back in February, our modest publishing outfit Cruahcan Hill Press released a book entitled The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures by Phillip Campbell (erm, me).

This book was written to confute the ubiquitous assumption of modernity that the Bible is a book full of contradictions. We would expect such a faith-destroying proposition from seculars, but since the 19th century, this thesis has found its way into Christian pulpits as well thanks to the school of "Higher Criticism."

It is no secret that the Bible contains difficult passages. Any Christian who has ever seriously read the Scriptures knows there are parts that are hard to understand, or that it is hard to see how they fit in context with the rest of the Bible. Biblical exegesis from antiquity to the 19th century, motivated by a spirit of faith, generally sought to reconcile these discordant passages, focusing on how the verses illustrate different theological truths. The golden thread that wound the Scriptures together was the totality of God's revelation, which was able to harmonize the entirety of the Bible. Different books, stories, and passages - even those which looked radically different - were no more fundamentally contradictory than different colored pieces of glass making up a single stained glass image. This beautiful harmonization was made possible because of the spirit of faith.

It should be mentioned, this thinking was common to both Protestant and Catholic scholars. Though obviously Protestant thinkers took certain biblical passages in a different light than Catholic tradition, they still assumed the harmony of the Scriptures. That is, even if Protestants posited a radical rupture with Catholic tradition, they at least assumed the Scriptures were consistent with themselves.

But beginning in the late 19th century, the school of "Higher Criticism" began to take a different approach. Anti-supernaturalist in its assumptions, the Higher Critics implicitly denied the very idea of a unifying body of divine revelation. The golden thread was cut. Instead of working to show how various passages were unified, the new critics focused on the differences among them, even positing that they were in plain contradiction. This view has found its way into seminaries and pulpits around the world. It is an errant and faith destroying proposition that leads to a loss of faith in the veracity of the Scriptures and a relativizing of Divine Revelation itself.

The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures attempts to fill this void by looking at several of the "problematic" passages of the Old and New Testaments and explaining their theological unity in light of the fullness of God's revelation, and demonstrating that there really are no contradictions in the Bible.

Long time readers of this blog will know I have written on this topic substantially. You may be thinking, "This is just some of Boniface's old essays dressed up like a book." Well, there are some previously published essays in here. Long time readers will recognize the sections on Samson's suicide, the genocide of Joshua, and the resurrection appearances of Jesus. But is also a fair degree of new, never before published work in the book, including essays on:

  • The historical practice of reconciling/harmonizing discordant biblical texts
  • Understanding different Creation accounts in Genesis
  • Reconciling God's providence and free will in the episode of the hardening of pharaoh's heart from Exodus
  • The differing accounts of the census of David in Chronicles and 1 Samuel
  • The genealogy of Jesus Christ

Even previously published essays have been reworked and added to, and everything has been orchestrated in chronological order. The result is an easily readable, faith-building book that really digs into the Scriptural texts and applies classic principles from our Catholic theological tradition to demonstrate the beautiful unity of the Scriptures.

For what it's worth, I got a nice little review from Mike Aquilina. I shipped him a copy of the book, and he wrote:
"This is a book that needs to be written anew for every generation. Eusebius wrote one in the third century, and he was already drawing from more ancient sources. The enemies of Christianity always grasp at the same rhetorical straws, and it’s our duty to be ready with the best response. Phillip Campbell makes that easy for Catholics today."
I also want to point out that, while this book is obviously written from a Catholic perspective and draws heavily on Catholic theological sources (such as the Catechism, Aquinas, and Leo XIII), it would also be very edifying to any Protestant or Orthodox who takes the Bible seriously.

The Book of Non-Contradiction is 202 pages, $17.99 + shipping. Available at Cruachan Hill Press but also on Amazon; however, for readers of this blog, I have set up a special Paypal link below for you to get the book at the discounted price of $16.50.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

St. Louis de Montfort and the Drunkards of Roussay

The following incidents from the life of St. Louis de Montfort is an apt illustration of the biblical precept, "there is a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecc. 3:8). It also exemplifies the great balance that a saint has in his disposition - excelling in prudence, St. Louis knew exactly when to use gentleness, and when to come with a rod (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21). The story begins when St. Louis arrived in the French village of Roussay, in the vicinity of Tours, on a preaching tour.

The sick old priest arrived at Roussay to preach a mission. He mounted the pulpit in the parish church, and after a brief prayer, began to speak. This tiny town in the west of France consisted of several dilapidated buildings, most prominent of which was this church with a rowdy bar right next door. As the preacher raised his voice, the drunkards could hear the sermon, and the parishioners could hear the raucous noise coming from the bar.

Knowing this, the denizens of the bar tried to disturb his sermon by screaming insults at the congregation and mocking them for their cleaner habits.

The priest very calmly finished the sermon, gave the people his blessing and exited the church. As he left, though empty handed and alone, he walked directly into the bar. An eyewitness describes what happened next:

"Father said nothing, except with his fists. For the first time since he came to Roussay, men had a chance to see how big, and to feel how hard, those fists were. He struck them down and let them lie. He overturned tables and chairs. He smashed glasses. He walked over the bodies of stunned and sobered hoodlums, and went slowly back up the street."

The men of Roussay were stunned. They now knew better than to so crudely interfere with the mission of the saint.

On the second day of his mission in Roussay, a drunk man burst into the church and stood in the aisle screaming insults at St. Louis. St. Louis calmly left the pulpit and approached the man. Everyone was expecting him to react as he had the day before, giving the man a beating he would not soon forget. To their great amazement, Father de Montfort knelt before the man and begged pardon for anything he had done to offend him.

The man was stunned and nearly collapsed before running out of the church in sadness. Saint Louis calmly returned to the pulpit and finished his sermon as though nothing had happened.

This story, and more about the  life and spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort, can be found here.