Here is a video tour (in French) of the cathedral before the fire. At minute 9:05 they enter the roof area. You can see the wood structure and a couple of fire extinguishers. This is where the fire raced through the building. After watching the fire destroy the roof so ferociously, those fire extinguishers look more like ornaments than useful implements. I have to say, though, this is an amazing video. One gets a great inside, behind the walls as it were, tour of this great cathedral. Even if one doesn’t understand French.

Some video showing what the firefighters were up against:

Some images that caught my eye:

[*Note: I don’t remember where I found these images, so my apologies for not giving proper credit.]

Before and after:

Many are pointing out the fact that the aesthetically strange and seemingly out-of-place modernist altar designed to suit the Novus Ordo/Spirit of Vatican II modernist church has been destroyed under a pile of rubble while the traditional altar designed to suit the Traditional Latin Mass (the Mass for which this church was built) still stands. Some see this as highly symbolic, perhaps even prophetic. I tend to agree, or at least I want it to be true, but I don’t want to read too much into it.

And, finally, a beautiful song sung in her honor:

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.

Most every day I pray to St. Pio for a special request. His faith staggers me. I wish I could be such as he was, and I fear it too. What would that look like for me?

This documentary on the life of Padre Pio is remarkable. I so wish for films of such depth and quality for other saints as this one. So many seem thin and sentimental. This one seems honest and artful.

And here is another excellent documentary:

One thing that strikes me while watching these films is noting the contrast of a Catholic culture compared to the non-Catholic culture I experience every day. How amazing it would be to live in such a world. I pray everyday for the return of Christendom. On the other hand, I am grateful that I live in such a time that it is nearly impossible to take for granted moments of true Catholic culture. Christ be praised at all times and in all situations.

“The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father to make, and to order that in union with him and at the same time, all the bishops of the world make the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart.” Words spoken by Our Lady to Sister Lucy on June 13, 1929. (Frère Michel, The Whole Truth About Fatima, vol. II, p. 555)

Russian pilgrims in Fatima (source)

Has Russia been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary? The Church’s official answer is yes. But many say no, and there is evidence that seems to support this opposing view. I am, of course, in no position to know. But the history of the Church in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries most definitely supports a healthy skepticism of almost every official statement or pronouncement that comes out of the Vatican.

A) The consecration of Russia, though “tried” numerous times, has not happened. B) Properly consecrating Russia will be an act of obedience, and obedience is fundamental to the Church’s proper relationship to God. C) The consecration of Russia will bring about the end of Islam and a revival of the Church throughout Europe and the world. Those are essentially the three claims or arguments of the three videos below.

My question is whether those claims are true.

The Fatima Center has been on a mission to tell the world the message of Fatima in its entirety, to make known the full Message of Our Lady of Fatima, and to promote devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They take a decidedly different stance on such things as the Third Secret of Fatima and the Consecration of Russia than the official line. I know very little about this organization, and I know they come from a position often considered far afield from the “official” (or better, “accepted”) line of understanding, but I find their arguments highly compelling, and I tend to shy away from conspiracy theories. Simply, I try my best to look at the world we live in, the Church and its history, Tradition and Holy Scripture, the signs of the times, the nature of Man, the message and context of Fatima, other revelations related to Fatima (e.g. Akita), the various arguments made, and the character of those making the arguments.

Frankly, and perhaps not surprising, those making the case for traditional Catholicism, for a return to the Traditional Latin Mass (and the culture surrounding it), AND for a non-official interpretation of Fatima, can sometimes come across as being culturally and socially at odds with the prevailing mannerisms of of the mainstream society (both within and without the Church). In other words, to some they can seem to be nerds, oddballs, and squares. They can also come across as tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy groupies. The truth is, in a sense they are, and that’s why we should listen to them — not because of their personality traits, but because in today’s world the slick, sophisticated, and hip are too often mouthpieces of the Devil, even when they wear a Roman collar. Those who follow Christ are far more likely to look like cultural outsiders — something which the “Spirit of Vatican II” has wanted desperately to deny.

In short I find these videos compelling, in part because I find the speakers worth listening to (especially David Rodrígez who’s videos I have posted before). I think they are probably right.

Finally, the messages here assume a negative perspective on Islam. I am not against Muslims, I have no reason to be, and neither are the speakers as far as I can tell. However, as a Christian I have to recognize the fact that Islam, as both a religious and social phenomenon, has been, of its own choosing from its very beginning, an enemy of the Catholic Church and traditional Christian culture — and often a violent enemy at that. Consequently and unfortunately the Church has, at times, chosen violence against Islam. There is a war going on that that I would like to see come to a peaceful and harmonious end. I wish peace on earth, between all people, including Christians and Muslims. I do not yet have confidence that is the way it will play out. Regardless, I will try to be at peace with all people and continue to pray for the consecration of Russia. Thus, I do not post these videos as an endorsement but, rather, as part of my process of learning what others think and believe.

In the end, however, we know that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.


What do you think? I would like to know more, and to get other’s thoughts. I realize few people comment on personal blogs anymore, but unburthen thyself and let me know what you think, as well as some good resources for further study.

Not all of us can regularly go to Mass in a cathedral of great beauty. Most Catholics have available to them rather humdrum works of architecture for their local parish. But it’s still possible to find beautiful small churches where careful attention to detail and the meaning of form went into their design. And yet, that still relatively rare.

The following video is an excellent look at one of the crown jewels of Catholic cathedrals, Chartres Cathedral in France. This comes from the “Smarthistory. art, history, conversation” YouTube channel. As you watch it, consider how much thought went into this building, and then consider the church where you regularly go to Mass. My point here is not to highlight the great beauty of Chartres compared to the humble local parish, but how carefully the design and the details were thought through and realized in Chartres. Can we achieve such excellence again? And can we achieve something of this in our local parishes? I believe we can and should.

Of course, very few parishes have the resources to build large and lavish churches, but often a church that achieves the right virtue of proper “churchness” is not a matter of resources, or size, or expensive materials, as it is of basic understanding and will. What I mean is that having the right understanding of what a church is and ought to be, and applying one’s minds carefully to its design, even a small church in a small parish can be a work of architecture worthy of worshiping Christ and elevating the faithful to Heaven.

I am surprised at how apparently ignorant so many Catholics are, including many in the hierarchy, about basic church architecture–or seem to be so. Churches are where we celebrate Mass. This is no small matter. Although, perhaps most Catholics are not as ignorance and not caring about such things, believing they are unimportant. However, the church building itself, though not absolutely necessary for celebrating Mass is, nonetheless, the normative place of worship. In it we meet the Real Presence of our Lord and savior, the King of Kings. If we take worship seriously then we should take church design seriously, including for the humble local parish Church. Catholics used to. But we haven’t for some time now. We must again.

I have frequently posted on this and related topics, for example here.

I also love how the speakers in the above video, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, don’t shy away from orthodox Catholic dogma. This is not a video where the information presented has a condescending tone toward faith and believers. I have no idea if they are Catholics or not, but they just say things as though they are relating how Catholics ought to think of these things. I think this is the best way to present something like Chartres Cathedral. The viewer can make up their own mind, but at least one should know what the builders of Chartres believed and what led to make the kinds of decisions they did.

I have also been reading an excellent book, Visions of Mary : art, devotion, and beauty at Chartres Cathedral by Rev. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion. She is a scholar, photographer, and Episcopalian priest who has come to love Chartres and Catholic history. (I pray she takes the leap and become Catholic–perhaps not easy for a woman who is an Episcopalian priest. She would have to give up some things precious to her.) This book takes a look at aspects that speak directly to the Holy Mother, her role in the life of the Church, and how Catholics (especially in times past) think of Mary. It does so by focusing and meditating on specific details of the cathedral. This book makes me want to go to Chartres and spend some significant time with the Cathedral, taking pictures and making sketches and just attending to it.

As I see it, architects should look at Chartres, and similarly excellent Catholic churches, as inspiration to how they should think about church design in general, and then apply that understanding to every Catholic church building, even the most humble and simple of churches. I also believe the faithful should know these things too, being encouraged in the faith, but also demanding churches actually be Catholic in their designs.

Of course, church design tends to flow from intended use, thus a church designed to serve the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass will necessarily look different than one designed to serve the needs of a Novus Ordo Mass. This is why, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated, so many older churches had their altar rails removed, altars brought closer to the nave, and other changes because the Novus Ordo felt wrong in a traditional space. And this is also why the Novus Ordo still feels out of place in a traditional church even after those kinds of changes have been made, because arches, stained glass, cruciform floor plans, and other harder-to-change elements don’t fit the New Mass. The contemporary modernist church needs a more Protestant style, entertainment hall. Thus, it’s more than merely the architecture that often needs to change.

Thirteen years ago, just as advent began, my wife and I were battling a difficult pregnancy. After years of infertility, the joyful adoption of our eldest daughter Lily, years more struggles to get pregnant, we were finally awaiting the birth of our second daughter. But about halfway into the pregnancy we got bad news. The ultrasound technician seemed to be taking a lot longer than we thought it should take. And she was being a little too evasive in her answers to us. We waited. The doctor came in and told us our daughter had a serious heart condition–treatable with open heart surgery within a few months after her birth, but very serious. We took in that sobering news with a lot of prayer and mutual support. Then we found ourselves in the hospital a couple of times with our daughter’s heart rate plummeting and my wife having contractions–months too early for any of that. We were bracing for losing our daughter. But she hung in there. And so did my wife. Then in early December things again turned worse. We rushed to the hospital. For a moment things calmed a bit, but given the serious nature of the situation we were sent to a better equipped hospital in another city thinking we were going to wait it out a bit longer. But again things quickly turned worse and the doctors performed an emergency c-section. Our daughter Coco Madalena was born on December 7th, the date of both my grandfather’s and godson’s birthday, the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a month before her due date. And she was beautiful.

Heart scans indicated that she immediately needed a less invasive heart valve operation to help her survive until the major heart surgery she would need in a few months. Naturally we agreed to the surgery. It seemed to go well. The doctors were happy. All looked good. But then she had a heart attack. Emergency procedures were done. She pulled through. But then she began to struggle. During either the operation, or more likely the emergency procedures from the heart attack, she got a rare form of meningitis. The meningitis attacked her brain, and in only one month’s time she died in my arms. She never left the hospital.

All during that Christmas season my wife and I lived in a kind of limbo. My wife was at the hospital every day. I came many days, but was also juggling work. Our oldest daughter was just old enough to be both super excited to get a sister and to know something serious was going on. Family and friends all helped as they could. Many people were praying. And when Coco died our community gave us great support.

Yes, this was a big tragedy for us. A very hard time. But, the truth is, God also came so close to us. It is hard to describe, and even harder to convey. Through all the struggle, all the tears, all the difficult days and nights, We felt God’s presence. God was with us. Often I so desperately wish our girl was with us now. I think of her a lot. I also know of God’s love in the midst of trials. The journey for me was about going from head knowledge to heart knowledge, from my mind to my soul. I would never wish suffering on another, but I do believe suffering may be the only way or, ironically, the best way to come closer to God because in suffering God comes closer to us. The cross gives us a picture of this most profoundly.

We live in a hard and harsh world. So much evil, so much suffering. And that doesn’t stop just because Christmas is here. But God is with us. Christ came as a light into the darkness. Someday He will return in the awesome fullness of His glory. For now we have the Holy Spirit, we have the gospel, we have the Church, we have fellowship, we have the poor and needy all around us, and we have the communion of saints. In these ways God is with us even now.

Perhaps I have always known that, but I know it better because of the gift God gave my wife and I of our daughter Coco. In that difficult time I came to know Advent a little bit better.

“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.

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?

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

priory-chapeldetail-image-timeline_image_1215x855-1215-855
source

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

 

 

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.

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:

 

I think it is fair to say that I read my way into traditional orthodox Catholicism but then, to my surprise and chagrin, I ended up somewhat disappointed in modernist Catholicism. How can this be you ask? I am a convert to the Catholic Church. I came from a very non-Catholic “version” of Christianity (anti-Catholic really), and I felt nervous going to Mass on my own (and I knew no Catholics at all to hold my hand and guide me). So I didn’t go the Mass. Rather, over a period of several years I read my way closer and closer to entering the Church. I read books, blogs, and articles. I also listened to podcasts and interviews. Again and again the theological answers given to my questions made sense. I also heard many attractive things about the Church.

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Tradition is not a fad (source)

I heard of the magnificent history or the Church, and of the glories of Catholic art and architecture. I knew something about that already because I had been an art history major in college, and in those courses I studied some of the great paintings and cathedrals of Europe. I heard of the glories of Catholic music. I heard of the Church’s amazing intellectual history. I read more amazing histories of the Church, its battles, its saints, its universities and how it created what we today call science and modern medicine, and I was amazed at all that it has done in the world.

I also studied its theology, comparing it to the Protestant theology in which I was raised. I grew to love the doctrine of the Real Presence. I learned about the sacraments, the role of priests, the value of Tradition, and more. Again and again I was overwhelmed at the riches that had been kept from me by my ignorant Protestant culture, and at just how ignorant I myself had been. I came to see the Catholic Church had better answers to my questions, and a better grasp of Scripture. I also came to see that the Catholic view of man corresponded to both scripture and my experience than what had previously been articulated to me. I began to shift towards a sacramental view of reality. I began to long deeply for the Eucharist. A song was singing to my soul, calling me to the Church. I knew the Church was the home I longed for.

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Mont Saint Michel. We still look at this with awe. And rightly so.

In my mind had growing visions of cathedrals and richly decorated churches. In my mind I heard chant and I smelled incense. I saw old manuscripts and ornate vestments. I sensed history, depth, and a profound connectedness to a cloud of witnesses. This was not a longing for merely a different style or for some medieval live action role playing experience. I longed for an antidote to the ravages of modernity and the false, modernist view of man. And the Church seemed to offer just that. Noted apologists for the Church would tell me to look at the riches of the Church, and I did.

high altar
Why can’t all churches have this kind of beauty? This is, I believe, a legitimate question and deserves a reasonable, thoughtful, and theologically sound answer.

But I also heard stories of clown Masses, and terrible music, including playing bongos in Church. I heard about the indifference and even anger of some Catholics towards their rich heritage. I heard about the focus of the new Mass being on the priest rather than on Christ. I did not really know what “new Mass” meant, but I thought it couldn’t possibly be so bad. I read that some Catholics didn’t like to hold hands during the Our Father, or didn’t like to receive the Eucharist in their hands while standing, or even refused to sing some of hymns because those hymns were terrible musically and, gasp, theologically bankrupt or even heretical. How could this be I thought? I didn’t know a thing.

All of this I heard about and I knew nothing of the debates about Vatican II. I knew nothing of the traditionalists and the radtrads. I knew nothing of Marian apparitions and her prophecies. I just didn’t know much at all. I really had just fallen off the turnip truck in front of the Catholic Church and thought this is the place.

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Kitsch in Wichita (source)

Then I started going to Mass. And there, at my first Mass, was literally a bongo player amongst the guitarists and bassist. And everyone held hands during the Our Father. Parishioners walked all the way across the nave to hug people during the Peace of Christ (sometimes it seemed this was the moment that brought them to Mass). And the music was terrible, terrible, terrible. And the neighborhood Novus Ordo church building was anything but beautiful and glorious. Everything was so ho-hum, so bourgeois and American, so suburban, so blah. And I knew it wasn’t just a question of money. Like when we see a person who decides to buy ugly clothing for the same price as beautiful clothing because they have bad taste, what I saw seemed a reflection of something wrong at the heart of the Church and culture.

And then I looked around some more. I came to realize that all those Catholic glories of art, architecture, music, and all that culture building of Christendom, and all the influence in the sciences and education, were essentially historical realities of past ages and no longer contemporary activities of the Church. The Church had become a poor shadow of its past.

And yet I still loved it. Once I came into the Church I fell even more in love with Catholicism. I love the Eucharist. I love the Real Presence. Sunday Mass is the highlight of my week. But it was still hard. Hard for me and hard to drag my family along to the sappy Mass in the ugly church with of lousy music. I sometimes felt embarrassed and self-conscious about having them with me and knowing I had been promoting the Catholic Church for several years and now abject mediocrity is what they were getting. (Eventually they all entered the Church as well, thanks be to God.)

So I fell back on two things. First, I still got the Eucharist. That, I have to say, has been my sustenance. Second, I thought a lot about a recommendation from J. R. R. Tolkien. I took solace in the reality that most of us live humdrum lives anyway, that Mass is about Christ and the Eucharist, that we shouldn’t get caught up too much in seeking some kind of perfectly celebrated Mass with dynamic homilies and gorgeous music, and that I just needed to do my best to trust in the Church. We also began attending a more conservative Catholic parish (with more traditionally minded priests) that, while still Novus Ordo, nonetheless sought greater reverence in worship — and has a much more traditionally beautiful building, one that is inescapably a church.

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I have also met a number of Catholics who have had similar experiences as I have, and are now working towards changing the Church by incrementally steering it back to the traditions of centuries past. This encourages me.

But, the truth remains: Modern (modernist) Catholic culture is radically devoid of almost all of its great riches and depth that, perhaps, were taken for granted in those past centuries. What greatness is still there is like a dwindling bank account of an inheritance assumed to be inexhaustible. But this modernist church’s art, its modernist church buildings, its modernist worship, even its prayers, are poor copies, and at times outright repudiations, of past riches. Modernist Catholicism does not create a true Catholic culture. In fact, it tends to create a somewhat bland culture that does not propagate itself very well. It is only by reaching into the past and bringing forward those riches that we have any at all with us today. This is why, I believe, Traditional Latin Mass parishes (SSPX, FSSP, especially those with no Novus Ordo option available) tend to create richer, more integrated and more complete local social cultures than the modern Novus Ordo parishes. Or so I’ve heard, I have yet to witness that first hand. But I wrote something about it here, based on what I saw in the video of a Traditional Latin Mass in Paris. And I’ve heard others say it is true. This is what I hope. Show me that I am wrong.

When I say integrated and complete I mean more than social programs and a “happening” Sunday evening “youth” Mass. I mean an alternative way of life that sees the family as the domestic church and the fundamental unit of society, the parish as an actual community made of and for believers, the Mass as the central activity of that community, and an unabashedly Catholic aesthetic permeating every aspect of the parishioners’ lives that is born out of a shared way of worshiping rooted in deeply orthodox Catholicism expressed in timeless praxis. I also mean a recognition that Catholicism and the world are inherently incompatible, and thus the culture of the parish must act in light of that truth, forming good Catholics, supporting the struggle of parishioners to be in the world but not of it, and creating meaningful alternatives to the allures and seductions of the secular society that pervades nearly every aspect of our lives.

But all too often we instead get namby pamby bishops talking psychobabble, “listening” rather than preaching the Truth with which they have been entrusted, swooning over an emotions-based modernist faith and the possibilities of a youth-led Church, and making the social-crisis-du-jour their primary concern. Far too often the hierarchy seems to live in a self-congratulatory bubble while showing almost no regard, let alone recognition, of the profound destruction the Church has experienced in the past 50 years.

awful vestments
Aesthetically nauseating vestments for the 2018 World Meeting of Families. If you want bishops to look like the silly gumdrops so many have chosen to be, have them wear these.

Perhaps I’m dreaming. But here’s a basic fact: Adults who come into the Church, whether from Protestantism or something else, are often looking for a way of living that is distinctly (historically, traditionally) Catholic, and instead they all too often find something rather thin and bland; aesthetically more like a half-hearted 1970’s experiment to which the person in charge hasn’t had the courage (or balls) to say “times up;” and which is often more an expression of a culturally bourgeoise Americanism (or western Europeanism) than authentic Catholicism. And what’s perhaps most disheartening is that so many Catholics don’t see this. But I think more are beginning to. I hope so. I pray every day we all see it more clearly.

Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922
You’ve seen this image before. It seems so simple and obvious, but is it really? Modernism is more than a logical set of steps, it is now our culture, and culture is more powerful and slippery than we think. Modernism is the leaven of our age, and our Church.

The simple truth is we are going to have to create the culture we want, by God’s grace. It is going to take effort, and some hard choices, and tenacity. It’s going to be a battle just like it was for the early Church. We are going to have to root out modernist ideas and presuppositions. This will be harder than we think. In many way modernism is essentially invisible to us. And if we want a Catholic culture with depth and longevity and substance beyond our own whims, we are going to have to get at it with a vengeance. But also with joy. We must always keep before us that one does not start building a culture by trying to build a culture. Rather, we begin with what (or who) we love, and with how we worship. Culture is the product of cultus, and cultus is not merely a Sunday thing, not merely a TLM thing, although that’s huge for many reasons. It’s a totality that encompasses our whole life in one way or another. Let us then turn our hearts and minds towards God and worship Him as we ought. Let us pray in the manner of the historical and orthodox Church. Let’s live as Catholics are called to live.

So, let’s get to work. Consider this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. And remember, the Traditional Latin Mass is not great so much because it is traditional, but because it is timeless. Maybe we should call it the Timeless Latin Mass. Also, I hear often of bishops not supporting the TLM, and even trying to shut it down in many parishes. But many bishops are vain and may succumb to increasing pressure if enough Catholics make enough noise. In my parish some parishioners organized a 40-hour adoration event and got good support in our community and from our priests. We also have a great bishop who gets it. There are many things to do other than strictly the TLM. Bit by bit, inch by inch we can take back the precious ground that had been tilled and planted in centuries past.

Of course it is God who creates the culture ultimately. We just do the best be can in fear and trembling, and He does the real work. We, the Church, are His handiwork, and He honors those who honor Him.

Saint Francis, pray for us that we might rebuild the Church.

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Saint Francis of Assisi by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1877-1958)

Christ Chapel drawing Duncan Stroik
Architectural illustration of Christ Chapel in Hillsdale, Michigan by architect Duncan G. Stroik (source)

In a similar way that the Counter-Reformation, as its name describes, countered the Reformation, the Church must again counter a new “reformation.” But this new reformation has really been more of an internal revolution of modernism that has cause enormous damage within the Church as well as outside. Many have felt strongly that some kind of rediscovery and return to the rich architectural traditions of the Church, much like the return to the Traditional Latin Mass, should play a major role in this new counter-reformation. I agree.

Duncan Stroik is a practicing architect and devout Catholic who specializes in church design. He has been on a crusade of sorts to bring back to the foreground the traditions of church design that were once taken for granted and then largely lost (but, of course, not really lost, for we still have many examples). He is a leading voice in the return to beautiful and properly designed churches “movement,” if that’s the right word for it. He is also an author and Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.

Here is a recent lecture he gave, along with numerous examples, on twelve points of this new counter-reformation. This was part of the Catholic Artists Society’s 2018 Art of the Beautiful lecture series at New York University’s Catholic Center:

I have often heard the defence of the Novus Ordo Mass in terms of it’s being valid. As though all that needs to be settled is whether a Mass is valid and then all is good. Validity is truly important. Flee from invalid Masses. I believe the new Mass is valid. The Church says it is and I am bound to accept it, and I do. I have concerns related to its validity, which I wrote about here. But I doubt anyone should take my concerns all that seriously. However, this lecture below by David Rodríguez gets closer to the heart of the matter of what, I suppose, I was really trying to say. For the real issue of the new Mass is not a question of validity, rather it is about the efficacy of grace.

[I have previously posted another amazing lecture by David Rodríguez, this time about the Mass and its relationship to the message of Fatima, here.]

Always, but perhaps more so now, we should be choosing those things which draw us closer to God, and which bring about the grace of God most fully into our lives. We must drive away sin, and root out evil, and cast off the world, and with passion and tenacity turn to Christ, bow before Him, and worship God with utmost reverence. If we fail to see the spiritual battle that surrounds us then we may find ourselves outside the refuge God has provided. And the winds blow strong across that wasteland. David Rodríguez argues that the refuge God has provided us is the Traditional Latin Mass. This does not mean the Novus Ordo cannot be celebrated with reverence, or that God’s grace cannot work through it (which it often does in individuals’ lives), but if one can have more or less grace available, why choose the lesser? Listen to this lecture and decide for yourself.

Golden calf Arthur Boyd
The Golden Calf, (detail) painting by Arthur Boyd.
1946, oil and tempera on composition board, 84 x 89cm. Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection. (Boyd set the story within a contemporary Australian landscape. A modern setting for universal and timeless story.)

The Israelites became nervous. Moses had been too long on the mountain. The people lost patience. They worried. They felt God was distant. They turned to Aaron and he made an idol and presented it to the people. They worshiped the Lord via this idol.

Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:5a-6)

Aaron, because of his role and authority as priest declared this false worship as valid and licit. He made the idol, he declared the day a feast day, he gave the people what they wanted and, one has to assume, the kind of worship they were familiar with in Egypt. But God was not pleased. Through Moses God brought judgement upon the Israelites. God was even ready to utterly destroy them with fire. Remember God is willing to do this.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10)

Keep in mind the people were worshiping God (“Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord”), not some other god, at least in their own minds. What they did was invent a religious expression of their own making, including a false depiction of God. They did not wait for God to reveal both Himself and the proper form of worship. They did not trust that God would provide the worship He demanded. They were in the wilderness. This event has haunted the Jews ever since, always in their past as a kind of specter reminding them of God’s will and the importance of true worship to their Creator.

At some point in the relatively recent past the people of the Church (laity, clergy, and religious — but mostly the episcopate and theologians) began to turn away from “the way” God had given them, perhaps feeling that He was distant, feeling the old way wouldn’t work in the new age. Perhaps they grew impatient. Certainly they were in the wilderness of the modern age. Evidence shows their faith had become, like with nearly all Christians, increasingly feelings-based (the modernist turn) and they wanted a new Pentecost — something that would speak to them in their own language. It could be argued they felt could no longer trust in the old Pentecost, and that the Church needed a new and different Pentecost for the new and different man of the modern age. So the Church took things into their own hands. A Pope called a council and the people of God fashioned a new way to worship.

I have heard it described that this Pope hoped to create a new Pentecost, which sounds to me like a kind of “conjuring” of the Holy Spirit (some might even dare to say this is probably not so far from something like witchcraft, right?) Is that too strong a way to describe it? Perhaps, nonetheless no one can control the Holy Spirit. And man does not change. But I want to be cautious here. It’s easy to get emotional and carried away with interpretations and judgements about the Second Vatican Council, or “spirit of Vatican II,” or the new Mass. It’s easy to fall into conspiracy theories and the like.

Still:

“Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.” (St. Pope John XXIII, 1962 prayer in preparation to opening the Second Vatican Council.)

So, what we got instead of a new Pentecost was the new Mass, and the so-called Spirit of Vatican II, and destroyed and whitewashed churches, and staggering losses of Catholics, including clergy and religious, fleeing from the Church. We also got liturgical abuses upon liturgical abuses. Innovations upon innovations. Confusion upon confusion, and terrible music. We did not get a new Pentecost. We got the opposite. We got a false Pentecost of a different spirit. Could this be the spirit of Vatican II? In their authority the episcopate declared the new Mass valid and licit. That was their right. It is our obligation to accept that (up to a point). And they will stand before God and answer for their decisions, right or wrong. That is the burden of headship. A burden perhaps some no longer believe exists.

Does this not seem a fair understanding of the past seventy-five years? Have we not corrupted ourselves as the Israelites did at the foot of the mountain? Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. I recognize these words are very strong. Who am I anyway to judge those who came before me, whom the Church raised up to positions of authority? My desire is not to actually challenge anyone, but to ask questions in light of profound troubles that have plagued the modern Church.

Here is a question: At Vatican II, and especially with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, did the Church turn aside quickly (it all happened so utterly fast) from the way which God commanded them (the Traditions handed down to them, given to them, received by them), and did they make for themselves something new, akin to a golden calf? Do they not again and again claim that the Novus Ordo is both valid and licit? But why do they need to continue repeating that? Does the Church sense something is not quite right about the whole affair? Could it be that, while the episcopate can declare it so, they cannot, in fact, make it so? I’m no expert in this, so I can’t say, but I do wonder. Regardless, have they not put the Church in a terrible, terrible bind?

I once wrote: “It has become increasingly clear to me that most of the changes and innovations of the Novus Ordo era were promulgated not by men who loved the Church and thought they knew a better way, but men who hated the Church and sought to destroy it.” And for that I was publically called a blasphemer for speculating on the motivations of those men. Am I? I don’t think so, but someone does.

Questions upon questions. I am not a sedevacantist. I will still regularly attend a Novus Ordo Mass and go to the TLM when I can. I accept the Novus Ordo as valid and licit because if it’s not, then condemnation will fall on other’s heads and not mine. My desire is to be true to the Church, an obedient son, to honor what God is providing for me. But I also work towards changing it for the better from the inside through prayer. I pray every day for a renewed sense of holiness in the Church, and a return to right worship, and a proper anthropology. I pray every day for the Pope. And I have hope change is coming for the better.

I believe the Church is, in a sense, haunted by the Golden Calf. It is haunted by the fear that the Church took a wrong turn 50 years ago regarding its worship. If lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi is true, then we can work backwards and say the life of the Church today is the result of the beliefs it holds, and those beliefs it received from the way it worships and prays. Look at where we are and then trace it back to the roots. If you don’t like what you see today, then trace it back.

God was merciful to the Israelites. He did not destroy them, but disciplined them severely such that they would turn back towards Him, and they did, and then they didn’t. We know that God disciplines those whom He loves. He had to discipline the Israelites many times, and similarly He has disciplined the Church at various times. I know He has disciplined me.

So, are we a stiff-necked people? Is God disciplining us? Will some be consumed by fire from Heaven? Yes, for sure, and we were clearly warned by our Lady at Fatima, and all the related appearances and messages given to the Church. We have most certainly been a stiff necked people. And God has looked upon our iniquity.

Now is the time to destroy the Golden Calf, to remove all false worship and wickedness. Now is the time for a contrite heart, for penance, and for right worship. This means we must, as a Church, identify the wrong worship in our midst. We must call out the Golden Calf for what it is and destroy it or it will destroy us. Go back to the root and pull it out. Root it out from our hearts and from our parishes and from the Church. Are we a people willing to do that?

Κύριε ἐλέησον
Χριστέ ἐλέησον
Κύριε ἐλέησον

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Adoration of the Lamb (detail), Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan and Hubert van Eyck, 15th century. This is the only right sacrifice.

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Pope Michael and his mommy leading over a billion Catholics into a new and exciting future. (source)

I recently posted some videos on the topic of sedevacantism. Please know I am not a sedevacantist. Still, I do find this somewhat of an interesting topic, and for some it’s particularly timely because of a plethora of criticism of Pope Francis and the current state of the Church. I imagine the sedevacantists are having a field day with all of the scandals, and perhaps getting more inquiries than normal.

John Salza is an author who has taken on the sedevacantists. Here is a two-part interview he gave to Brother André Marie on that topic, which I think is pretty good.

Again, I know very little of sedevacantism, and I’m no canon lawyer, so a lot of this is over my head. My take is to generally dismiss the sedevacantists as crackpots, but I can’t entirely deny some of their concerns, and I assume many of them have some integrity. But I just can’t accept their position. Salza and Siscoe, co-authors of the book True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and Other Modern Errors, have been challenged by a number of sedevacantists. I have not really examined those challenges, but you can find them online. However, me sense is that those challenges are likely rather thin or outright silly.

The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre never gave into sedevacantism speaks volumes regarding the sedevacantists’ claims. Even when Lefebvre stood in strongest opposition to Rome, he always believed the Pope sat on his chair.

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Archbishop Lefebvre, papist (source)

 

Pope Francis gestures toward crowd at beginning of  general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican
source

I continue to find examples of how one might connect the message of Our Lady of Fatima to our current day. Here is Fr. Michael Rodríguez, a very traditionalist priest, providing his understanding on this topic. As I have said before, I am in no position to truly judge what he says as being true or false.

But I must be honest and say that I believe what Fr. Rodríguez says makes a great deal of sense to me.

Also, I’ve said this before, but I find it somewhat funny and predictable that the more ardent and conservative (or some might say bordering on “conspiracy theory” vibe) the message the more the aesthetics look forced and unintentionally humorous. Do we really need the smoke/clouds blowing behind him? Still, after a while one just forgets all that and tunes in to what he says. Who am I to judge anyway?

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.

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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.

…because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us. (2 Kings 22:13)

RedNoseDay

This year I have been reading through the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The plan has me reading from three separate passages in the Old Testament, one passage from the New Testament, and a section from the Catechism. I started on January 1st and have not missed a day, yet. If I stick with it, God willing, I will finish December 31st.

Reading recently through the books of 1 and 2 Kings I am once again struck at the repeated faithlessness of the Israelites. Again and again they turn away from God. Again and again the kings go after other gods, play the harlot, refuse to tear down the “high places,” and even offer their own children as sacrifices to demons. I cannot and should not claim I am any better than they. We have been blessed with the hindsight provided by Holy Scriptures. But it is, nonetheless, remarkable how often God’s chosen people turned to other gods. What a remarkable lesson for us.

However, in 2 Kings 22 we read of the story of King Josiah, a 7th century BC king of Judah. He began reigning when he was only eight years old. When Josiah was eighteen, the high priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law, which had apparently been set aside and forgotten in some temple storeroom many generations earlier. This, of course, was the law given by God to Moses and handed on to the people of Israel to instruct them in right worship and right living before God. Hilkiah then gave it to Shaphan, the king’s secretary, and Shaphan brought it to the king himself and read it to him. King Josiah’s reaction was faithful and powerful:

And when the king heard the words of the book of the law, he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilki′ah the priest, and Ahi′kam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micai′ah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asai′ah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Think about those last words: “…for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” After this King Josiah set about rectifying the situation, reestablishing right worship, and turning the nation back to God. It’s quite a story.

Can we learn from King Josiah?

Some argue that we shouldn’t live in the past. Of course we can’t, technically, but we can go back into that dusty storeroom and find the riches that were set aside and have been gathering dust and bring them out into the light. God may be a God of surprises, but He is also a God of Tradition, of immutable Truth, and He demands faithfulness. What He has established does not shift like sand, is not not tossed about like a rudderless boat on the waves. Only the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Consider the Church today. Consider the profound and undeniable destruction the Church has experienced. Today we are swamped with stories of systemic sexual abuses and the disgusting clericalism that was marshaled to protect abusers. Today we have a pope who feels he can do and say what he wants irregardless of scripture or tradition. But for decades now, under several popes, the Church has suffered greatly. The sexual abuses, as we know, go back decades and is symptomatic of a terrible spirit of darkness that descended upon the Church over the past 50 years and cleared out the pews, the seminaries, the monasteries, the abbeys, the cloisters, and driven many Catholics to abandon their faith. And it’s not just the episcopate who’s to blame. The “faithful” are culpable too. Though difficult, at any time they could have fought back, but most just ran away. They gave up their faith in Christ and blamed it on other human beings. This is a spirit of darkness.

But it’s the leadership that owns the blame the most. It is they who mostly deserve the millstones. It is the Church’s leadership that eagerly began to play the harlot, bowing down to the spirit of the age, tearing up the traditions, and dismissing the longings of the faithful as old fashioned and out of touch. Many faithful Catholics have even been mocked by members of the Church hierarchy because of their faithfulness.

Is it not reasonable, then, to think the changes in worship brought about by Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Missae have fomented much of the destruction and evils we witness today? Has not the “spirit of the council” gone hand in hand with the withering of the Church? Certainly we can argue about a chicken and egg situation, and we can debate causation and correlation, but is there not an undeniable relationship?

Those who laugh and say a change in worship has no connection to either the troubles in the Church or to their solution are woefully ignorant of Holy Scripture and the God who calls them to repentance and proper worship. Just consider the history of the Israelites and King Josiah.

Worship, faith, blessing, salvation, and all that makes up the Christian life are intimately intertwined. Early on in the story of the world God established that right worship was fundamental to human nature, human flourishing, and the relationship between God and human beings. Remember God’s reaction to the offerings of Cain and Abel. One offering was right and one was wrong, and that was important. God has not changed. Neither has human nature. Christ solved the inadequacies of Old Testament worship by fulfilling the law, but giving us His body and blood, by giving us the Eucharist. However, He did not come to do away with worship, because worship is a gift from God. The rules around worship are only a burden to those who do not love God.

But weak men change how they worship God, rejecting what God has given and replacing it with what they themselves deem appropriate, because they do not have faith and their hearts have turned from God. They fear man and not God. Many have argued this is what happened with Vatican II. Many today are arguing that the series of sex abuse revelations (and there will be many more to come) and the abject clericalism of the Church hierarchy have their connections all the way back to the council and its supposed “spirit.” They say we are seeing the “smoke of Satan” spoken of by Pope Paul VI continuing to damage the Church. They say that the Devil has been attacking the Church intensely for many years and many shepherds have gone gleefully over to the dark side.

I agree. It’s all of a piece.

laughing cardinals

“…for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Pray every day for the Church.