Category Archives: Beauty

The Alabaster Church

Should we be building (or restoring) beautiful churches when there is so much poverty in the world? Shouldn’t the Church sell all that it owns and give the money to the poor?

I am a simple man and I do not have a complete answer to that question. But I ask you to consider the story of the feast of Simon the leper, or more appropriately the story of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment. Does this story have a lesson for us that applies to the questions above? I think so.

Rubens-Feast_of_Simon_the_Pharisee

Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee, Peter Paul Rubens, 1618-1620, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

In the Gospel of Matthew, verses 26:6-13, we read:

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, “Why trouble ye the woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”

In the Gospel of Matthew this woman pours ointment on Christ’s head, in Luke it says she pours it on His feet and wipes them with her hair. I think it is fair to say she did both, and to do so fits with Christ saying she did it for His burial. But here’s the question I think we should ask for ourselves in light of this story: Do we not, very specifically and uniquely, have Christ with us at Mass, truly present? Are not our churches, in fact, both temples and palaces: places for worship and sacrifice on the one hand, and places for monarchal reverence and pomp on the other? Yes, we must help the poor, but our love for our neighbor goes forth from our worship of our creator and our savior. We proceed from Mass into the world, conforming our lives to Christ in our actions. And churches are for all who come, rich and poor alike.

The poor, above all else, need salvation of their souls as does everyone else. Certainly we must not forsake the poor with cheap excuses that our monies are tied up elsewhere. Christ chastised the Pharisees for that as well. But we must not turn away from proper worship in order to, instead, focus on the poor. When we do, we put our souls at risk, and theirs.

[I realize I risk saying all this because I am not poor. My apologies for any thickheadedness and offense.]

I believe the state of the “new Church” today, with its numbers plummeting, its thin gruel of RCIA programs, its horrible music, its new Mass with namby pamby vestments and shallow prayers, and all its staggering and ravaging scandals, is all of a piece with its degraded and ugly churches. To forsake right worship, which includes, if at all possible, beautiful places of worship of sufficient design and beauty to glorify the King, is to lose the forest for the trees. It is, in a sense, to lose Christ.

This is one reason why churches that focus only on helping the poor all too often become churches where soup and blankets becomes their gospel and not the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, saving us from Hell, and leading us to eternal life. Raising Lazarus was an image of the gospel, but Lazarus was raised to die again. His true salvation came because Christ died on the cross, and then rose from the dead, then ascended to the right hand of the Father, and then Lazarus believing in that truth.

Therefore, I believe that a gospel which says we should do away with fancy churches and instead give that money to the poor is, in fact, a substitute gospel. It has some appeal because it has some important truth (we truly do need to help the needy and lay down our lives for others), but it elevates one truth inappropriately above another. The poor (and the downtrodden, and those in prison, and widows & orphans, and the hungry, and the naked, etc), whom you must love, will always be with you. But if you are to see Christ in the poor you must first see Him in the Eucharist, and bend the knee, and bow your head, and worship Him. Should you sell all you have and give it to the poor? Maybe. Should the princes of the Church live simple lives of poverty? I think they probably should (certainly many today should be brought low). Ought the Church as the body of Christ celebrate Mass in plain sheet-rocked or concrete-tilt-up boxes instead of beautiful, ornate, and more expensive churches? I think not (if at all possible). Give glory as and to whom glory is due.

Does this mean that if we focus once again on building more beautiful churches all our problems with go away? No. But we must not be afraid to build beautiful churches. To do so will feed and inform our souls in surprising ways, and help us become more holy, more fully human, more like Christ. This goes hand in hand with helping the poor. The stunning churches of old, those that are still with us, are memorials to those who built them in a similar way that the story of the woman with the alabaster box is her memorial.

You will meet her if you get to Heaven. And, perhaps, you will bow to her and thank her for showing the way.

Finally: Arvo Pärt, the brilliant minimalist composer from Estonia, set the words from Matthew above to music. Listen to this and read the words as you do. This is, I believe, a stunning example of what setting the words of scripture to music can be.

Introíbo ad altáre dei.

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Tradition Reviled and Recovered: A Study of False Assumptions about Substance and Accident

Peter Kwasniewski

Here is a great lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. I suppose a brief (and poor) summary might be: While the core essence of the Mass is Christ offering Himself on our behalf to the Father, all the other elements of the Mass are also important because it is through the “accidents” of the Mass that we have access to the “substance” of the Mass. This is true not only for the Eucharist and the doctrine of transubstantiation, but everything else, the smells and bells, kneeling and genuflecting, chant and prayers, etc.

Having recently finished his excellent book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness
Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages, I look forward to finding anything else he has done. Dr. Kwasniewski is a particularly eloquent spokesperson for the usus antiquior.

His lecture is perhaps a bit technical, but still easy to follow, and worth the listen. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I myself have been interested in this topic, especially the physicality of worship, for some time. Three years ago, after I had begun to make a more concerted effort to pray in the morning, I wrote on the physicality of faith. And more than four years ago I wrote a piece on reducing faith and worship down to some absolute minimum, which I called an inhuman experiment.

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The People of Summorum Pontificum

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample said: “May the traditional Mass flourish in the Church!”

I agree, and I pray every day both for the TLM to flourish and for the archbishop to continue his good work.

In this light, below is another good video from 2SPetrvs:

While watching this video I was thinking about the nature and function of parades. A lot of people like parades. In this video one see a pilgrimage can be a kind of parade. I have come to believe they have an important role to play in human society. There is something old-fashioned about parades. There is also something very human about them. To parade is to make a declaration. Perhaps more parishes should start parading in their cities.

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The Church is a Monarchy — so start acting accordingly

Coronation_of_Nicholas_II

Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (painting by Laurits Tuxen, 1898)

In the United States of American we live in (more or less) a democracy. Our country’s founding began with casting off the “shackles” of monarchy. We also outlawed the aristocracy.  That set in motion many positive things, but also some very bad things. I’m not saying if they could do it all over again they should rather have sought a compromise with King George (though I hold out that might have been the thing to do). But I will say we did lose something by doing away with a king.

We lost a powerful context within which to learn how to act before royalty.

Without a king, and the repeated experiences of seeing how a king functions, and how a king is supposed to be treated and, perhaps most importantly, how a people ought to act out obeisance and reverence to the king, then we lose a deep understanding of the language of kingship in the Bible. That language will be foreign to our ears, and if not foreign, non-visceral, non-intuitive. We will have some head-knowledge about kings, but not much more. And if we don’t have that deep understanding, then we will struggle knowing how to behave and, perhaps worse, being nearly completely clueless about our behavior.

By why does that matter now, in this life? Because we are royalty too, and Christ is our king, and we come before Him corporately every time we go to Mass.

Many have said that a huge problem in the Catholic Church today is a lack of understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I agree. I would argue that a second, and closely related, problem is that Catholics don’t know what to do with that knowledge even if they do understand it. At best, it often seems, Catholics believe the proper response to the knowledge of the Real Presence is an entirely internal emotional stance: As long as one feels strongly in some way about the Real Presence then one has done one’s part. Emotions are good, but a human person is body and soul together. What we do with our bodies does something to us at the spiritual level. This is a profound fact.

When we enter a Catholic Church we are coming before our king. Christ is really and truly present. The glowing red candle next to the tabernacle tells us that Christ is there before us. When we receive the Eucharist we are receiving the body of Christ, truly. A Catholic Church, then, is like a king’s great hall, a throne room. Jesus is our friend at some level, of course, but far more important is that He is our savior, our high priest, and our king.

The Mass is also a wedding feast. We, the Church, are His bride. He is our bridegroom. At Mass we are reaffirming our vows. The bride is married to the King of all creation. It is a royal wedding.

Wedding_of_Nicholas_II_and_Alexandra_Feodorovna_by_Laurits_Tuxen_(1895,_Hermitage)

Wedding of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna (painting by Laurits Tuxen, 1895)

So, how ought we to act at Mass? How ought we to dress? What should the attitude of our heart be? Well.. how ought we to act before our King? How ought we to dress at our wedding? What should our attitude be?

These are hotly debated questions. I’ve seen a mix of responses. But I would argue that, in general, we can do a much better job. But here’s the real deal: Acting, dressing, and thinking rightly at Mass is not about rules, or looking good, or “being a good Catholic.” Doing what one ought to do in the presence of the King, before Whom every knee shall bow and tongue confess, is medicine for our souls. Because this is true, and because God loves us, He has given us the Mass as a gift. It is good for us to act according to our nature. It is good to accept what God has given.

Remember that the humble Mass you attend on Sunday morning, or the even more humble daily Mass, is participating in the great Heavenly Mass. The images of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra above provide a small glimpse into the kind of grandeur, unabashed pomp, and incredible beauty of a proper coronation and royal wedding. Is this the image we have in mind when we attend Mass? Is this a glimpse of what the Heavenly Mass might be like, even just a little?

If so, then let’s start acting like the Mass is actually what it is. Let’s start behaving like who we are, sons and daughters of God, heirs of the kingdom, royal subjects, the bride of Christ. Let’s come before our King as we ought.

This sounds great, but let’s not forget that we may not know how to do this. Our cultural and governmental examples are mostly democracies, and poor ones at that. Kings are gone or irrelevant. Royalty is banished or laughed at or merely entertainment. And I, being like you, am no more knowledgeable. Therefore, what I suggest is that we all begin with the admission that we have a problem. Then I suggest we begin helping each other to learn and then alter our behaviors accordingly.

Finally, something I think we all can agree upon, and one place where we can all easily start, is to dress as best we can for Mass — not letting the standards set by those around us determine our choices, but the fact and reality of the Mass itself inform our choices.

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France is paying for 2,800 Cathedrals & Churches to be Demolished across France

It’s sad to see a beautiful Catholic church building destroyed. The video below shows some demolition moments from a church destruction earlier this year in France. But for how sad the video is, the churches demolition is really just a symptom of many other factors.

Those factors include such things as:

  1. The French government and not the Church itself owns all the Church buildings. And many of these buildings are old and in need of major repairs, and are unsafe if not repaired — the one above was going to be quite expensive to repair. And though beautiful, they don’t attract enough tourism to warrant their survival.
  2. A Church whose membership numbers have been in free-fall for decades. Thus there just are not the numbers to keep the churches filled with parishioners and, consequently, financially supported. There are a lot of reasons for this, but certainly they include: Too many priests and bishops who no longer believe in the faith, but have found careers essentially live action roll-playing being priests and bishops. Modernism and all its mutant children, including bad theology, a lightweight view of marriage, and rampant sexual immorality seem to have replaced a hearty and robust faith — and few are interested anymore. And many Church leaders often seem eager to dismantle the Church.
  3. Consequently very few Catholics are left who have the means and are willing to save these old churches. It’s easy to bemoan the loss on social media, it’s another thing altogether to step up and contribute where needed, even to fight for it.

And the list goes on. The point is, however, that we should not be surprise at all about the destruction of this church. What we should be is sad. But not so much for this building as for the Church itself, and for the world that is so actively and happily rejecting Christ. If anything, the above video is a powerful reminder of how the Church has been, and is continuing to be, assailed from within by a Catholic leadership who no longer has faith, and a laity who follows suit.

This is the text from the video notes:

This is the last moments of Église Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville (St. Jack’s Church Abbeville). France is paying for 2,800 Cathedrals & Churches to be Demolished across France. The Saint-Jacques church was a neo-Gothic parish church located in Abbeville The building was constructed from 1868 to 1876 at the site of 12th century church which was rebuilt in 1482. It gradually deteriorated for lack of maintenance at the beginning of the 21th century and was demolished from January to May 2013. Architect Victor Delefortrie was responsible for the design of the church. The church contained two bells, Jacqueline from 1737 and another, mute, dated 1645. Inside, there was a particular organ called Mutin Cavaillé-Coll from 1906. During World War I , Abbeville was bombed but Saint-Jacques church was not affected. Only impacts shattered the windows. It also survived World War 2. In 2008, it was estimated that it would cost 4.2 million euro to restore the church from weather damage and disrepair. In 2010, an association was created to safeguard the church and a petition was launched. In spring 2011, while deciding on its fate a crack was noticed which had caused stone to fall from the church. The 31 January 2013, Nicolas Dumont, the mayor of Abbeville, issued an order to demolish the church as a safety hazard. The next 7 February, the city council voted to demolish the church at estimated cost of EUR 350 000. On April 27, the foundation stone was found and preserved by the city. In November 2013, the rubble of the church are used by two artists to create a work of contemporary art entitled Build/deconstructed. A town square was proposed for its replacement. The project was the work of an architect in the city, Jean-Marc Demoulin, who accommodated the desires of the residents. A lawn of grass covers the church’s location, taking its shape and orientation. Two pathways form a cross. At the site of the choir, a memorial will be erected to honor veterans and Achilles Paillart, the pastor responsible for the church’s reconstruction in 1868. A small pond will occupy the site of the altar The conversion also included the creation of forty-two parking spaces on the perimeter of the square, including three for people with reduced mobility.

The story as told above doesn’t seem as horrible as the video images first seem, but it’s still a terrible situation. I do not know if it’s entirely true about how many churches France is paying to demolish. 2,800 seems rather high, but my gut says it’s probably true. Is there hope for France and its churches? Can these buildings be saved? Can the Catholic Church in France rise from the ashes? If Christ returns will He find faith in France?

I pray every day for the Church in France.

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Seven Reasons to Love the Traditional Latin Mass

I like this video. It speaks to the same reasons I love the TLM. However, the TLM I go to once a month is a lot more humble than the ones you see here, and also most women do not wear a head covering at the Mass I go to (I’m sorting out my thoughts on that anyway). Still, the reasons apply.

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Archbishop Alexander K. Sample on Youth and Catholic Tradition

The 2SPetrvs website has been posting some good videos. This one below is with Archbishop Sample (who happens to be my bishop) on the place of Catholic Tradition, especially when it come to the Liturgy, and how he has seen the positive responses from Catholic youth.

I believe Archbishop Sample is doing a good job of carefully, but steadfastly, promoting Catholic Tradition(s), such as the TLM and more reverence in the NO Mass, in the least “churched” region of the United States. The northwest region is the land of the “nones,” that is the land where when people are asked what religion they are, they select the “none” checkbox. So I truly appreciate that he is gently, but steadily, calling Catholics back to their heritage.

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