Monday, December 27, 2021

My First Christmas as a Christian

This December I have been remembering my first Christmas as a Christian. It was Christmas of 1999. I had only come to Christ scarcely two months earlier. What a whirlwind those early days of faith were! It reminds me of the passage about the scales falling from St. Paul's eyes. Finding Christ—or rather being found by Him—was like having my mind flooded with light, the ground of my being shaken, and seeing life anew. Sometimes I felt like I was gazing out upon creation as if I were the first man, Adam looking upon a new world fresh from the hands of its maker, the breath of God still in his lungs.

When Christmas came that year, I was profoundly aware that it would henceforth take on a new meaning for me. For twenty years I had celebrated Christmas with my family according to secular custom: vaguely aware of its commemoration of the birth of Christ but primarily as a holiday about Santa Claus, family, and gift giving. But even as a child I'd always felt something special about Christmas, especially Christmas Eve. It seemed like a charmed night, a night where the wonder and magic of the old days lived and walked again.

After I had embraced Christ, I realized that, in a certain sense, that year would be my first "real" Christmas. It would be the first time observing the birth of Christ as a brother in Christ. This realization overwhelmed me with gratitude for the holy day I had grown up with but only then begun to understand. Knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He means enriched the celebration of His birth in ways I'd never appreciated. But how would this new realization change my celebration? How would I observe Christmas differently?

This was tricky. I was still living at home and thus how the day was observed was going to very much depend on my parents, who were secular. Furthermore, I had not yet revealed my conversion to them. They knew I was acting a bit differently, but I had not yet figured out how or when to tell them. My conversion was still very new, and I did not want to "cast my pearls before swine", as our Lord said. I believed if I told them of my conversion too soon they would not take me seriously or mock my sudden piety after years of heathenism. So I didn't feel like I could make any requests of them to celebrate any differently.

In the end, the one tangible thing I did was I got my own little Christmas tree. My parents had the large family tree downstairs, but I had this small artificial tree, about two feet tall, that I had previously had in an apartment. I set the tree up upstairs on a table in my parent's sitting room and decorated it with the few ornaments I possessed of my own. When Christmas Eve came, I spent a lot of time up in that room on my knees before the little tree in prayer. I was not yet Catholic, so it had not occurred to me that going to church was fitting for the night. But I at least had enough Christian sense to know I should be praying.

It was snowy that Christmas Eve, but not snowing. It had snowed hard the day before; this night it was peaceful. The land was blanketed in about a foot. The sky was bright and clear, illumined by a moon almost full. The Michigan countryside about was silent, the pine branches, weighted down with snow, drooped. The snow was immaculate, untouched save for the occasional rabbit track. It shone white and twinkled like crystal in the moonlight.  Beams of pale moonlight streamed into the windows of the room and fell on the carpeted floor. I knelt there in the moonlight, before the little Christmas tree, with my arms spread in the ancient orans posture (though I knew neither the name of the posture nor its antiquity).

I again had that sense that this of is if this was the first night. The countryside draped in freshly fallen gave a feeling of purity, of cleansing, of freshness. The light of the moon streaming into the window seemed to me like the light of the Star of Bethlehem. I don't recall what I was praying about that Christmas Eve; but I remember vividly how I felt. I felt like that Christmas was the first Christmas. I felt like Christ was being born right then, as if I were a witness alongside the shepherds and animals of the stable. It was such a tender sentiment...I was so new in faith, and in a very real way, Christ was being born in me at the time as well. Everything I saw on the outside seemed to reflect the reality I recognized on the inside.

I've never had a Christmas quite like that one. It's been hard to recapture that. I had no worldly cares that year. I was just living at my parents, not married, no kids, no girlfriend, just a low maintenance gas station job. I was completely unencumbered. Then, gradually, year after year, life closed in on me. To some degree, there's a paradox where the busyness of preparing for a holiday can obstruct one from actually entering into the spirit of the holiday. Too many Christmases since have been marred this way. I suppose it's just part of dealing with holidays with a large family, kids, and so on.

But, ah, one day when I am old and my face is weathered and my hands are cracked with the rigors of age, and I am closer to my life's end than its beginning, I hope again to come to the feast of the birth of our Lord with nothing save my piety, kneeling in the moonlight of a midwinter's night.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Pope Denethor: Reflections on the CDW Responsa

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment in the legendary Lord of the Rings film trilogy. In the Lord of the Rings, you will recall the character of Denethor, the Chief Steward of Gondor. While the city of Gondor is collapsing before the onslaught of Mordor, Denethor abandons his obligations to defend his city. Instead, he prioritizes the burning of himself and his son Faramir alive in a despairing ritual murder-suicide. The hobbit Pippin, who has pledged to defend Gondor, tells Denethor that there is still hope and tries to prevent him from carrying out his mad plan. Determined to autodestruct himself and his kingdom, Denethor throws Pippin out of his chambers, telling him, "I release you from my service. Go now and die in what way seems best to you."

Like Denethor, Pope Francis, another autocrat drunk with power and intent on continuing his mad murder-suicide of the Church, now throws traditional Catholics out of ecclesial life, telling us, "Go now and die in what way seems best to you." That's right, friends, I am talking about the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments' Responsa ad dubia, issued today clarifying certain questions about the implementation of  Traditionis Custodes. There's been a lot of commentary on this today, most of it more eloquent and well-researched than anything I could slap together. But as always, I present you with my own humble reflections.

I. The logic of the Responsa is right out of bizarro world. I am used to reading nonsense from the Vatican, but what I read in the Responsa beggars belief in its inversion of cause and effect. From the explanatory note on Article 4:

All seminary formators, seeking to walk with solicitude in the direction indicated by Pope Francis, are encouraged to accompany future Deacons and Priests to an understanding and experience of the richness of the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council. This reform has enhanced every element of the Roman Rite and has fostered—as hoped for by the Council Fathers—the full, conscious and active participation of the entire People of God in the liturgy, the primary source of authentic Christian spirituality.

So, if a prospective ordinand looks at the chaos in the Church, looks at the flatlined vocations, rampant sex abuse, pathetic liturgies, doctrinal aberrations, plummeting demographics, and general malaise across the Catholic world and questions whether the Second Vatican Council might just maybe have some relation to this, he is to be lovingly told that the problems in the Church are not due to the Council, but to our failure to appreciate the "richness" the Council bequeathed upon us! The amount of ignorance, duplicity, dishonesty, brainwashing (or all of the above) it takes to assert that is stunning, even by Vatican standards. And the whole document reeks of such backwards logic. 

II. Indeed, the Responsa's condemnation of the very things the Vatican itself is causing is reminiscent of the institutional gaslighting perpetrated by Communist governments. Roche says it is sad that the liturgy has become a cause for division; who is currently guilty of fanning the flames of that division? It is certainly not traditionalists. He condemns "sterile polemics" and the exploitation of the liturgy for "ideological viewpoints", yet "sterile polemics" have been the very fuel of the Vatican's assault on the traditional liturgy—and as for liturgy in service of ideology, it is the progressives who have made the Spirit of the Council into the "super-dogma" Ratzinger once spoke of, applying it to the liturgy for the purpose of fostering the new ecclesiology. The Vatican accuses traditional Catholics of its own vices and then stomps on us in the name of mercy. It is like Orwell's Ministry of Peace, whose task is to wage relentless war. And like the antagonist of 1984, we are to believe that Big Brother crushes us because he loves us.

III. Also, isn't it funny how quickly the Vatican can respond to dubia when it wants to? Administering any large organization requires bureaucracy, but the Vatican is a bureaucracy of the worst kind: it either hides behind ambiguity and implied meaning or issues diktat after diktat as the situation requires—the "requirement" of the situation being not the cura animarum, but the centralization of power on the Peronist model. Authority, legislation, appointments, clarifications, communication, even the truth itself: these are wielded in the service of raw power, and that is their only consistency. When and if the Vatican "clarifies" anything has to do with the preservation of power. That's it.
IV. Also, who are the morons who even asked for this "clarification"? Everyone knows that when you get a directive that allows some wiggle room, you shut up about it. The bishops who asked for clarification are like that kid in high school who, two minutes before the bell rings, raises his hand and tells the teacher, "You forgot to assign homework!" Seriously. When a directive is issued in such a way that allows you to maintain some modicum of independence, you don't ask for clarification. You read the instruction, say, "Got it," and go do your thing.

V. "But Boniface" you say, "the bishops who asked for clarification are supporters of Traditionis Custodes! It makes sense for them to ask because they want to clamp down the Traditional Latin Mass even further!" Yes, yes, of course—but it is still moronic for such bishops to ask because Traditionis Custodes was not only an assault on the ancient liturgy, it was also an unprecedented attack on episcopal authority. Any bishop who supports Traditionis Custodes is sawing off the branch he sits upon, regardless of his view of the TLM. Traditionis Custodes claimed to be able to tell a bishop how and when he can utilize diocesan facilities. The Responsa goes even further, as it literally tells a bishop what can be advertised in parish bulletins and what times parish activities like coffee and donuts can be held. Check out the commentary on Article 3§2

...such a celebration [of the Traditional Mass] should not be included in the parish Mass schedule, since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group. Finally, it should not be held at the same time as the pastoral activities of the parish community. It is to be understood that when another venue becomes available, this permission will be withdrawn.

This is why I say any bishop who supports Traditionis Custodes is stupid, simply from the point of view of preserving episcopal prerogatives. What bishop is daft enough to want to encourage such micromanaging? Any bishop who supports this is encouraging further Vatican intrusions into the minutiae of diocesan life. And to the extent you find a bishop who is even going to bother to enforce this, in the age of social media how much does such a prohibition on advertising in the Church bulletin matter? It's something only a dying 85 year old man with no concept of modern technology would write. Bishops aren't going to micromanage this, and even if they did, everyone would just go elsewhere after Mass, or congregate in the parking lot, like they do now anyways. Pathetic. An increasingly feckless and impotent Church, trying to hyper-control what is outside their grasp to convince themselves of the delusion they are in control of a situation (h/t to Kevin Tierney for this take).

IV. The explanatory note on Article 3§2 is one of the most condescending things I have ever read. On the prohibition of using a parish church for celebration of the traditional Mass, it states:

The exclusion of the parish church is intended to affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist according to the previous rite, being a concession limited to these groups, is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.

Wow. I am not part of the ordinary life of the parish community. That is just incredibly insulting. But what's even more insulting is the statement that follows:

There is no intention in these provisions to marginalize the faithful who are rooted in the previous form of celebration: they are only meant to remind them that this is a concession to provide for their good.

Ha! No intention to marginalize! What a sterling example of the contemporary Church's obsession with fiat truth: something is so merely because we say it is. We attack, we crush, we ghettoize, we marginalize, but you are not marginalized because we say you are not. Just like the declarations that the Novus Ordo preserves the tradition of the Roman rite, or that the post-Conciliar Church and pre-Conciliar Church are in continuity (see: "Phantasm of Fiat Continuity", USC, May, 2016). Reality conforms to our desires merely because we will it to. Where have I heard this before? Oh that's is the same perverse ideology that is destroying western civilization! It's the same mindset behind "My gender is whatever I will it to be." Or, "The Church's destruction is actually a New Springtime!" It's all the same rot. But fortunately reality does not yield to administrative dictate. "There is no intention in these provisions to marginalize"; here the Vatican destroys us while saying, "It's not personal." Well, in the words of Captain America, "It kinda feels personal."

VI. As an example of the weak logic in this document, let's take the issue of the Pontificale Romanum. The Pontificale Romanum contains the liturgical rites typically performed by bishops. It includes the Mass, but also things like the consecration of chrism, administration of Confirmation, etc. Now remember, Traditionis Custodes concerns itself only with the celebration of Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962; it is silent on these other ancillary rites. Traditionis Custodes 8 says, "Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated." Since the provisions of Traditionis Custodes do not concern themselves with the sorts of rites found in the Pontificale, one may surmise that celebrating these rites does not contradict Traditionis Custodes and hence are still permitted. Since restrictive legislation needs to be interpreted strictly, the fact that TC does not specifically mention these other rituals would imply they are exempt. Essentially, Traditionis Custodes 8 does not imply the pre-conciliar Pontificale is abrogated; in fact, the opposite is inferred. In light of this possibility, a dubium was submitted specifically asking if the provisions of Traditionis Custodes allow for the use of the pre-conciliar Pontificale. The CDW's Responsa says: order to make progress in the direction indicated by the Motu Proprio, [the Congregation] should not grant permission to use the Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum which predate the liturgical reform, these are liturgical books which, like all previous norms, instructions, concessions and customs, have been abrogated (cf. Traditionis Custodes, n. 8).

Notice it states that the Pontificale has been abrogated and cites Traditionis Custodes 8 as its authority for this. But not only does Traditionis Custodes 8 not say this, but there is good reason to infer the opposite. In fact, a question about Traditionis Custodes 8 was the very thing that prompted the dubium to begin with! And yet the CDW responds to the query about the meaning of TC 8 by citing TC 8. The Pontificale is simply declared abrogated with no legislative text quoted in support. TC 8 cannot be the authority for questions about the meaning of TC 8. It's like if a student in math class says to the teacher, "I do not understand how to solve the equation in problem number 8" and the teacher says "Okay. See problem number 8 for clarification." The reasoning is entirely circular.

VII. Continuing on examining the awful response to Article 3§2, we see how ignorant the Vatican is about who actually goes to the Traditional Latin Mass. It naively assumes that everyone who attends the Traditional Latin Mass is part of an officially established dedicated group. On the matter of the exclusion of the parish church as a setting for Traditional Latin Masses, it says:

The exclusion of the parish church is intended to affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist according to the previous rite, being a concession limited to these groups, is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community...Moreover, such a celebration should not be included in the parish Mass schedule, since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group.

The CDW and Holy Father seem to envision a rigid distinction between Novus Ordo Catholics and Traditionalist Catholics, as if the two categories never ever overlap; there are "ordinary" Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo, and then there are "these groups" out there who are completely divorced from the parish structure and are "not part of the ordinary life of the parish community." Francis seems entirely ignorant of the fact that there are many Novus Ordo Catholics who go to the Traditional Latin Mass and that not everyone who attends the TLM does so exclusively. I wish I could remember where I read this, but some years after Summorum Pontificum, a study was published indicating that about 80% of Latin Masses in the United States were diocesan Latin Masses—that is, they were offered by diocesan priests at Novus Ordo parishes as an additional Mass in the regular weekly lineup. Some of the Mass attendees were people who went exclusively to TLMs, but a great many were Novus Ordo attendees who enjoyed going to both forms of the Mass or were learning about the TLM. For example, the parish I am registered at has a TLM once per month. The attendees at that TLM are probably 90% Novus Ordo Catholics. They are not outside the ordinary life of the parish; they are the parish. What about them? What about the tens of thousands of Catholics who are not part of "groups" but are in fact "part of the ordinary life of the parish community"? The fact that Francis has never acknowledged this overlap demonstrates the degree to which he is ignorant of who he is legislating about—and why he should absolutely not be making judgments about these matters.

VIII. Despite the darkness of the current situation, I believe it is the last gasp of a withering regime about to be consigned to the dust bin of history. Our current moment is akin to the second Iconoclast persecution, or the final years of the Diocletianic persecution. It is the final, desperate bid of a dying man to consolidate his power before he goes the way of all flesh. That's not to say there I think there is going to be some sudden restoration of tradition; I don't buy into the traddie wet dream that one day some future pope is going to anathematize and condemn all this modern garbage and formally restore tradition. When and if a restoration comes, it won't be nearly so sudden or tidy. But I do believe that Traditionis Custodes specifically will be overturned in short order. Francis is not popular outside of his circle of sycophants, and I predict TC will be gone shortly after he is.  

IX. You know, on a natural level, if you are part of any institution, there are bound to be decisions made that you disagree with. And it's infinitely easier to acquiesce to disagreeable decisions when you can still presume good faith on the part of others within the organization. I used to work in local government as an elected official, and of course there were frequent disagreements with my fellow city council members. But they were all sincerely civic minded people who were trying their best. Even when we disagreed, there was this sense of "Hey, we all want what's best for the community. We just have different opinions on how to get there." This attitude, this presumption of good faith, made compromise possible; furthermore, it made it easier in those situations when you had to say, "I might not agree with what's happening, but I've been outvoted and I have to work with what I've been given." But if that presumption of good faith is destroyed, there's nothing left except a power struggle, a state of war within the institution. I think Pope Francis destroyed what little presumption of good faith existed with Traditionis Custodes. But now good faith is not only destroyed; it's been thoroughly defecated upon. And now the liturgical wars Benedict put to bed have been renewed. And all for nothing. 

X. "What are we to do?" Why is everyone so obsessed with asking this question? I don't know. How can there be any uniform response? It all depends on the situation within your specific diocese, your own spiritual life, priorities, and centrality of the traditional liturgy within your life. Vague platitudes like "pray" or "resist" mean little outside of the particulars "on the ground" in your diocese. I will tell you one reflection I had today though: sometimes the obstacles we face become so enormous, the dishonesty of our opponents so brazen, the malice so vicious, the scope of the disaster so broad and overwhelming that the circle of tragedy comes full circle, and you find yourself just laughing at it all. During the years of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, there was more a place for impassioned pleas and eloquent argumentation fueled by righteous indignation. Now, confronted with shenanigans of Francis and his ilk, all one can do is squeeze the clown nose and say, "Honk honk. Boomer's gonna boom." And that itself is a consolation. They can take the Mass away from me. They can banish all beauty from the churches, strip every vestige of tradition from the liturgy, and stuff the cathedrals of yesteryear with Pachamamas galore. They can ostracize me, tie me to the stake, and light the fire. They can take my very life. But one thing that escapes their power, the one thing they can never do, is to stop me from laughing at their dumb asses. No sir, I will still be laughing at this ridiculous debacle until the end of the world. So that is the one thing I would suggest we do: laugh scathingly at the sheer idiocy of the entire situation, not just with TC, but the entire post-Conciliar experiment.