Category Archives: Liturgy

Demanding a Better Cult

Years ago I wrote a post about my searching for the true Church. I was heading towards the Catholic Church and I knew it. And I did enter the Church later that year. I “came home” as so many converts from Protestantism say. That was a little over six years ago. I do not regret my decision. In fact, I am so glad I became Catholic, and then that my wife and kids entered the Church.

But all is not well in the Church today. It never has been, I realize that, but it seems far, far worse now than in recent centuries. Personally this is a struggle. I know it is for many Catholics as well. My the struggle is not about whether I feel I made the right decision. I am convinced I did, by the grace of God. I applaud (and pray for) any becoming-Catholic person standing on the threshold today, perhaps in RCIA, who is hanging in there and not being deterred by the actions of evil men. For me, however, the struggle has to do more with how I raise my kids, how I and my family become more Catholic, how we move closer to God, and if we end up in Heaven.

I now look back on that post and I realize it was written two months before Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis. Since that time a lot has happened. A lot of water has flowed down the Tiber, a river I “crossed” later that same year. And then this year a couple of faithful Austrian Catholics threw pagan idols into that same Italian river, idols that they removed, no less, from a Catholic church, idols used in honor of demons and that had been worshiped by both pagans and Catholics together in a ceremony in the Vatican gardens at the feet of the Pope who gave his approval, on video, for the whole world to see. I don’t really know what’s going on, but this seems crazy–truly crazy, like antichrist crazy. (Pray, pray, pray for the Pope)

Sometimes I feel like one of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the storm and wondering why Jesus is asleep.

Thus far I have not talked to my kids about these, and many other, dark things in the Church. I only say a few things about them to my wife. In light of it all she has asked if I want to remain Catholic. Honestly, more than ever. This is one of the most exciting times to be Catholic. There is a war for the faith that is evident, palpable, and existential. It’s hard to be lukewarm in times like these, and that’s good.

Over that last couple of years my eyes have slowly opened. I have learned about Fatima and related prophecies, I have witnessed (from afar of course) scandals both theological and moral perpetrated by many close to the Holy Father, I have heard the Pope say a number of highly questionable statements, and the list goes on and on. But there’s so much more. Back in the 1980’s Saint John Paul II (the great?) let a buddhist idol be placed on a Catholic altar in Assisi during an “ecumenical” prayer meeting with leaders of other religions. Earlier the Mass given to us by God was changed by men in the 1970’s into something less than excellent, and with it churches were destroyed with altar rails thrown into alleys, altars crushed and replaced by tables, and the glorious music of the Church replaced with crap, utter crap. And there’s so, so much more to complain about. The list is nearly endless. It’s been going on for decades at least. And it’s clear all this could only come about by the hand of Satan, the willful folly of prideful churchmen, and the eager acceptance of a laity awash in the worldly currents of a modernist, consumerist, distracted, self centered society. (Some have blamed the so-called boomers, and there’s some truth to that, but they are not all to blame.)

This has been an interesting couple of years of eye-opening discoveries for me.

In the meantime I have also discovered something of traditional Catholicism. I have gone to several Extraordinary Form masses. I have a TLM missal (1962), and a couple of much older French versions as well. I have ready many articles and some books on the topic, and been studying it a bit. I have also dug a bit into traditional Catholic practices. Over and over I am struck by what has been abandoned and lost, and by what an enormous amount of knowledge I don’t have. A vastly beautiful religion has been largely gutted with barely a shell left. We are left with an anemic Mass and recourse to whatever we can summon from within ourselves of faith and piety. Modern Catholicism is nearly identical with modern Evangelical Protestantism — a faith of feelings and personal truth. I gather most Catholics today are also mostly ignorant of what has been lost. And most don’t seem to care.

But I must confess that for how much I would love the simplicity of merely raising the flag of Catholic traditionalism, I think the answer is more than that. More than traditionalism, it’s orthodoxy. I believe that ideas have consequences, and that beliefs come before action. Or, perhaps better, actions arise from belief. Traditionalism is fine, but we must be very cautious not to be caught up in the aesthetics, even for all their beauty. We must first go back to the fundamental truths, to orthodox truths. Our actions, whether they look traditional, or a mix of traditional and new, or sometime else, will follow. We must find a way back to the profound truth of Tradition without falling into the ideology of traditionalism. Perhaps it will look like the traditional Church of past generations. I would love that. There is so much that was lost or forgotten that is worth bringing back. But we must make sure we aren’t just larping in the garb of a non-modernist cultural past. Whatever we end up with must first and foremost be based upon, be run through like leaven in dough, with the Truth of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

And this brings me to the struggle I have today, and one of the reasons I long for the Church of the past. For all its faults (because every age has it faults), the Church of Tradition, of the past, was at its best a kind of totalizing culture. Catholics were trained in all aspects of the faith. Kids were taught the catechism, traditional prayers, Latin, and so much more. Catholic schools were actually Catholic. Religious vocations were a real option. Boys were altar servers and learned the Mass, and even wondered if they might become priests someday. (I believe that boys who learn the Mass become better fathers. Perhaps not necessarily, but I think it’s a good theory.) But I don’t want to romanticize the past. I actually know very little of the past, and certainly almost none of Catholic cultural past. But I can’t help but long for it.

As a new Catholic (it’s only been six years) and as a parent I need a Catholic culture. My family needs a truly Catholic, truly orthodox, saturated, rich, and encouraging culture so that our faith can grow and we can become more conformed to Christ. I want to know how to be Catholic. The examples available to me are not great. Social media doesn’t cut it. Cradle Catholics have no idea what it’s like for a Protestant to enter the Church. They have no idea what it’s like to know nothing of Catholic prayers, practices, and the million little things that Catholics take for granted. It’s like there’s a complete lack of understanding that there anything called “culture” in the minds of most Catholics. RICA courses often range between the pathetic and the heretical (the one I attended was some of both). And, on top of that, the modern Catholic culture is so anemic compared to what it could and should be that in many ways it’s nearly an embarrassment, or should be, to those few Catholics who still go to Mass and don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s the heresy of formlessness, as one author so eloquently put it. So many Catholics who seem all too happy in the midst such great losses, are utterly nonplussed by converts who stare aghast at the crumbled ruins. They sometimes blame the converts themselves for an imagined and caricatured fervency held-over from the ex-Protestant’s former faith. Rather, the truth is more mundane and spiritually dark than that. A great, bland blindness has settled on the Church like radiation fallout over the past few decades. Nearly everything is affected and infected. The reasons for this are legion. But I’m ranting. (And I’m saying nothing new.)

By way of encouragement, I want to say to my fellow faithful and open-eyed Catholics, and to those still considering entering (or re-entering) the Church, hold fast. Hold fast to Christ. Hold fast to His Church, which is His bride. Regardless of what you see around you, and especially regardless of what some scandalous bishop or heretical priest might do or say, hold fast. Hold fast regardless of the meagerness of the cultural feast presented to you. Remember this key truth, culture arises from cult (cultus), that is from worship. If we have a bad or anemic culture it’s because we have a bad or anemic cult. We see this is at play in our larger cultures (American culture is based on what and how Americans worship – money, distraction, sex, power, ideologies, things, themselves, etc) and we see the process at play in the Church subculture. The Novus Ordo Mass, though valid, is an objectively lesser Mass than the Traditional Latin Mass, and thus it produces a lesser culture. It says the Real Presence might not be all that real. It says it’s about us more than about Christ. It says it’s not that important to bring and do our best when worshiping out Lord and King. It claims symbolism more than Truth. If you wonder why it seems we live in a “power of myth” kind of church, begin by examining the Mass.

A faithful Catholic can cut through all that and still worship Christ in Truth, and still be moved and called to holiness, and still be deeply blessed. I certainly have. But when compared to the TLM, the Novus Ordo not only is a sad shadow of the TLM, it often works against itself, presenting strange and unnecessary challenges for priests, music ministers, and laity alike.

Okay, so a lot can be blamed on the past, and certainly on the Novus Ordo Mass and the “spirit” of Vatican II, but that’s the past (though, of course, still present). Let’s not be too emotionally burdened by the past. We must push forward for a better cult. Let’s us be like the Poles who shouted, “We want God!” Let us be like the Israelites who, upon hearing the forgotten and then rediscovered words of the Torah read to them by Nehemiah, wept for what was lost of both knowledge and culture. Then let us weep no more, but rather work towards the culture we need, based on right cult that is based on orthodox truth and that, sadly, must be demanded. Dive into you parish. Put your hand to the plough. Help with the logistics, with the maintenance, with what you can. Support your overworked priest. Don’t be the person who just points out what’s wrong and waits until someone else fixes it. But then claim your voice. Earn the respect in all authentic humility, and then own that respect and speak up, out loud.

We might have to be like the boy who said the emperor has no clothes. We just might need to point at the crap we see and call it crap, out loud. We just might need to tell our priests and bishops that communion in the hand dilutes the faith, and laity in the sanctuary is confusing, and bad music degrades the Mass, and that it’s not working anymore (and never did). We must, as servants of our Lord, demand a better cult. It just might be one of the most loving and humble things we can do.

And pray every day for the pope, your bishop, and your priests.

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A summation of where we are today, why we are here, and what can be done

A powerful homily by a diocesan priest whose eyes have been opened.

I have read that the priest who gave this homily is now being forced by his bishop to recant his statements or face excommunication. This is where we are now. Might there be a civil war coming? Are things coming more to a head?

I’ve been reading Warren H. Carroll’s magisterial and masterful history of Christendom. The Church has been torn asunder before, but it always remains. When Christ said to take up your cross, He was saying get on the road to your martyrdom. We must be prepared, and prepare our families.

Pray for the Church.

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William H. Marshner: Modernism In The Church

“They believe the future is theirs. If they just hang on long enough the liberal pope they dream of will come.”

“They cannot endure the orthodoxy of the young.”

In 1993 Dr. William H. Marshner gave a two-part lecture on modernism. It is amazing how relevant these lectures are for us today. The modernists now have their liberal pope, and they are utterly perplexed by the young Catholics clamoring for orthodoxy and tradition.

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Modernism and the Church

modernism octopus

Fundamentalist cartoon: “The Octopus”, by E. J. Pace.

Postmodernism has been a common term for at least three decades. Because of that fact the term modernism may seem to refer to a thing of the past. Modernism has also been used to describe certain concrete developments in the history of art, architecture, literature, and other areas of human creativity. Thus we can speak of modernism in architecture with specific start and end dates, preceded by pre-modern architecture and followed by postmodern architecture. But in the area of ideas it is different, especially in relation to theology and Church history.

Modernism began before the industrial revolution, really earlier with the Protestant Reformers and the embracing of nominalism, and it continues today. In fact, it is so pervasive that one can fairly say modernism is the defacto set of beliefs held by most people, including most Christians. Sadly, I am a modernist in many ways, not because I want to be so, but because it is the ocean in which I swim and its tenets and presuppositions have become second nature to me. In fact, I don’t really see them, and when they are made evident to me I am often surprised. Thus, I have been digging into modernism with the purpose of eradicating it from my life and faith.

I also believe it can be argued that, for the most part, when we look at the Church today what we see is largely a modernist institution rather than a truly Catholic one. Whether that argument can be adequately countered I do not know, but I do think Catholics are very often unaware of modernism and its effects, and thus, because of modernism’s allure and its malleable nature, we are inclined to accept its ideas into their understanding of the faith. In short, modernism appeals to the natural “bent” of human nature, and is thus appealing to all of us if we are not on our guard.

1200px-Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922

Fundamentalist cartoon: “The Descent of the Modernists”, by E. J. Pace, first appearing in his book Christian Cartoons, published in 1922.

Below are some excellent lectures and discussions on the topic of modernism. Each covers much of the same territory and terms, but each is also different and together they help form a complete picture. For those who love the Traditional Latin Mass, the first video is especially excellent.

Although understanding modernism, including where it came from, what it is, and how it has affected the Church, is an important task, Catholics are then faced with the question of what to do now? How does one combat the leaven of modernism within the Church?

Question: If modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, was significantly at play during Vatican II, and if it clearly influenced the formation of the Novus Ordo Mass, and if the so-called spirit of Vatican II is better called the spirit of modernism dressed in Catholic garb, and if the papacy of Pope Francis seems to be a thoroughly modernist papacy, then what are orthodox Catholics to do?

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Church of the St. Louis Abbey: Modernist Icon of Sacred Architecture

Church of St Louis Abbey Elevation

Here is a video on the design process and construction of the famous (or infamous) St. Louis Abbey Church.

Is this a good church? Does it properly serve the purpose of a church? Many would say no. In fact this church is frequently presented by traditionalists as a prime example of terrible church design. Why?

Michael Rose had some thoughts on this topic. The basics are presented here. In short, the idea is that there is no journey towards God, from the profane to the sacred, in a round church design. It is, rather, made for a celebration of community and not the Eucharist. Though perhaps providing excellent acoustics for singing prayers, it is arguably not designed for proper worship in terms of offering sacrifice by a priest to God on behalf of the Church. Of course, in our Novus Ordo world which is focused more on the “people of God” in communion with each other more so than on the Bride of Christ worshiping God, many would argue with this argument. A round church, one supposes, serves better the idea that the faithful are gathered around a table for a meal.

Also, the church was completed in 1962, before the council had done anything, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated. These architectural ideas had been around for some time before the council.

Perhaps what I found most telling in the video linked above is the moment when Fr. Timothy says, “neither the architect nor we knew what we were doing.” I find this particularly emblematic of that era. It was a time when so many felt the strong need to throw off the past and create the future, but then discovered they didn’t know what to do. It made me think of this famous passage from G. K. Chesterton:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

There’s nothing wrong with asking if the way we have always built churches is the best. There is nothing wrong with exploring other possibilities. But, at the end of the day, we always discover our experimentations come from someplace, and the more we are unclear in our own minds the more likely other forces, spiritual or otherwise, will rule the day, and us. My take, and this applies to the “spirit” of the council and all that means, is that a great deal was done, including a great deal of destruction and deformation, because people had grown tired of the old ways and of old things. And I believe they grew tired because they ceased to truly know what they meant and what they were for.

Nonetheless, I pose the question: Is this a good Catholic church? Is it a proper design for what a Catholic church is meant to be?

Church of St Louis Abbey interior

Below is a time capsule Mass celebration in the church made for television:

 

 

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Michael Davies Four-Part Lecture on Vatican II

Michael_Davies

Michael Davies

Though not without his critics even among traditionalist Catholics, Michael Davies is one of the giants of the traditionalist movement. He was both prolific and masterful in conveying the key issues at stake for the Church in the 20th century and up to our own day. He brought a tireless passion to his studies on what many have described as the debacle of the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. He was a tireless crusader for traditional orthodoxy and right worship. He also brought a “punchy” straightforwardness to his delivery that I find refreshing in a Church that so often talks in loquacious circles and cautious euphemisms. He passed away in 2004.

Here is an excellent four-part lecture series by Davies on the machinations and troubling influences that were at play during the council:

I realize that the council was such a behemoth undertaking, and so complex, that any one perspective, even one as in-depth as Davies’ is, is bound to miss a lot. Regardless, if much of what Davies says is true, and I have no reason to doubt the content of any of his lectures, then what a profoundly troubling council.

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Praying in a Modernist Space

Are modernist buildings good places to pray?

abbey church interior

source and overview

I may be somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand I am an advocate of Traditional Catholicism, including Traditional Catholic architecture designed to serve Traditional Catholic worship. (If you search through this blog you will know this.) On the other hand I love much of modern architecture. I love many buildings that many others do not like. I grew up in a modernist house, I studied modern art and architecture in college, and I have been a fan of early twentieth century and mid-century modern art and design. With this in mind, I found this lecture about one of the more famous (infamous?) modernist churches to be quite fascinating, not only for its informative content, but also because the lecturer gives a highly (almost ecstatically) positive perspective on exactly the kind of church design many would deride without hesitation.

Abbey Church SJU_Inaguration__020

source and more images

This lecture below is by monk, educator, and artist David Paul Lange, OSB. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, this is an excellent overview of modernist principles in architecture, especially at the mid-twentieth century point, and why it made sense to people at that time to build a church according to those principles. It is also an excellent “unpacking” of the design, and the ideas behind the design, of a particular church, the Saint John’s Abbey Church:

I find Brother David Paul Lange’s speaking style to be a bit too breathless for my tastes, but he is a great evangelist for the modernist perspective in architecture, and for this church. But I have some questions:

  1. Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
  2. Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
  3. Is this church worthy of praise? As an example of modernist thinking, yes. As an example of excellent construction, yes. As a place for worship, you tell me, but I think no, at least not within a proper understanding of ideal Catholic worship.
  4. Therefore, does this church represent a different ideal of worship than traditional Catholic worship, I think so. But you tell me.

Notice a few things:

  1. He speaks of praying more than worshiping. This makes sense given this church is for a monastic community which is focused a great deal on prayer, but it is also significant. The focus is more about the nature and needs of praying than offering a sacrifice to God. Praying in a church is a good and normal thing. However, prayer is a part of worship, but not the only part. Many spaces can be prayerful. Only specific kinds of spaces serve the needs of worship.
  2. He speaks a lot of his own feelings. In a sense this entire talk is an explanation of his personal experiences of this church, and his feelings during and about those experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point, but as a Catholic would it not be better to also foreground the Body of Christ as a corporate entity a bit more? In that sense he would then speak more of the nature of man in general and his relationship with God. And then tie it back to this church and how it functions.
  3. This is more about a “modernist space” than a church (hence the title of the lecture), even though it is a church where the Eucharist is celebrated. He points out the way the outside comes into the church interior, reminding those inside of the connection with nature, what time of day it is, what weather is outside, etc. In this sense I gather the space functions a bit like stepping into a forest and praying. I like this in a sense, but when I think of celebrating Mass I wonder about the idea of Heaven on earth and the traditional way churches close off the outside world and creating a space that is more heavenly than earthly.
  4. He speaks of the honest use of materials, and how older churches seem dishonest somehow, using paint to create false impressions and faux marble, etc. This is a particularly important part of the lecture. I too love the modernist focus on materials. I also don’t believe such focus is necessarily bad for church design, but a church interior should be (traditionally speaking) a kind of three-dimensional icon of Heaven. Rough, earthy materials that evoke nature have their place, but they should serve a heavenly image, no? Here’s something I might explore in another post, but consider this: Is not a statue of St. Michael (for example) fake because it is not actually St. Michael? Same for the Holy Mother, etc? Would not any church that aspires to create a sense of the heavenly liturgy within its walls be a dishonest use of materials? Maybe. But perhaps that’s a “dishonest” use of the word dishonest.
  5. The bell tower, he argues, with its horizontal lines, points to (or mirrors) the horizontal earth rather than to God. He claims it reminds him that God is everywhere and in all things, and perhaps that’s a good reminder, but this is a curious claim and raises the question, in my mind at least, what is the purpose of a church? To call us to the earth or to call us to Heaven? Do we not minister to each other (horizontally) because we have first sought out and worshiped God–a vertical action? If we do not begin with the vertical does not our horizontal orientation eventually become skewed?
  6. He also mentions that the population of monks used to be 350, but now are only 150. They don’t need such a big church anymore. Only by way of correlation, but still interesting (and troubling): They commit themselves to modernist ideas, they build a modernist church to symbolically represent that modernist spirit, and not long after they lose 60% of their members. Apparently modernism doesn’t need monks. Perhaps modernism doesn’t really need man either.
  7. At the end of the lecture, just before questions, he jokingly apologizes for going a bit long and keeping the Downton Abbey fans from their show — a show whose popularity arose from a longing for an earlier time, represented, in part, not by modernist architecture, but very traditional architecture, and clothing, and customs, etc. Will future generations swoon over the modernist mid-twentieth century in the same way? Perhaps Mad Men did some of that, but that is an awfully dark show.
  8. The first question at the end, by another monk (I believe), is exactly my question, and worth the time for watching this lecture. I have never been in this church, so I have no way of saying what my thoughts would be, but I also wonder if such a place is naturally conducive to prayer, or liturgy at all for that matter. And I truly get the experience from having studied art and swooning over art that others think is stupid or meaningless. And I also find the questioner’s reference to the new cathedral in Los Angeles being obvious a place of prayer puzzling, since it also has been roundly derided for its modernist and non-Catholic design. The answer to his question included: “Do people get modernism? I think the answer is no, by and large,” and “Until I explain this…” In other words, modernist art and architecture requires explanation in order to appreciate it. This is one of the attractions and weaknesses of modern art. I have experienced exactly that feeling of “getting it” after studying it. And yet, I think this may be why modernist architecture is not a good choice for Catholic churches. He also says we are not actually living in a “modernist” society. In terms of art and architecture this may be true specifically in light of design principles–modernism, from an art historical perspective occured at a time in history which is now past. However, the spirit of modernism as a philosophical and theological undergirding of society and the Church is still very pervasive. How modernism in ideas and modernism in design interrelate is a fascinating topic too big for this post.

In the end I find the Abbey Church a beautiful and amazing space. However, I do believe it is probably best suited as a performance space than as a church. I would not advocate a church being built along these lines. Rather, I think we should be informed more by the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass with its focus on God rather than man, uniformity with the Church through history, and creative use of new and old materials that look to the past for inspiration and the future for permanence and authentic timelessness — which can only be done by beginning with a true understand of both God and man.

Finally, I wonder if much of the problems with using modernist design principles and materials for Catholic churches could be solved if the liturgy was the Traditional Latin Mass. In other words, imagine if Vatican II never happened, and the Novus Ordo Mass never promulgated, could churches have been designed in somewhat contemporary and modernist fashion and still fulfill the needs of the TLM? Can architects build “honest” churches and still be Catholic? I think so. But also keep in mind that the St. John’s Abbey church construction began on May 19, 1958, and lasted until August 24, 1961 — well before the council even began, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.

If you want to know a bit more about the architect Marcel Breuer:

If you want to know a bit more about the building of the church:

 

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