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.
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?
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?
Below is a time capsule Mass celebration in the church made for television:
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.
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:
Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 noNovus 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a great lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. I suppose a brief (and poor) summary might be: While the core essence of the Mass is Christ offering Himself on our behalf to the Father, all the other elements of the Mass are also important because it is through the “accidents” of the Mass that we have access to the “substance” of the Mass. This is true not only for the Eucharist and the doctrine of transubstantiation, but everything else, the smells and bells, kneeling and genuflecting, chant and prayers, etc.
His lecture is perhaps a bit technical, but still easy to follow, and worth the listen. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I myself have been interested in this topic, especially the physicality of worship, for some time. Three years ago, after I had begun to make a more concerted effort to pray in the morning, I wrote on the physicality of faith. And more than four years ago I wrote a piece on reducing faith and worship down to some absolute minimum, which I called an inhuman experiment.
John Vennari was the editor of Catholic Family News from 1994 until his death by cancer in 2017. Here is one of his last lectures before he died. According to his obituary, “John Vennari’s single mission was to teach people how to recognize and resist the pernicious errors of Modernism, especially since Vatican II.”
I found in this lecture a great overview of the history from a Catholic traditionalist perspective of how we got to where we are today, and providing key insights as to how we should understand Pope Francis’ papacy past, present, and future. I’m am very curious about the traditionalist perspective. I don’t really know where I stand on all of it, but it is fascinating. As you will see, Vennari was no fan of Pope Francis. However, this really isn’t about the current Holy Father, rather it’s a much bigger story, in which Pope Francis plays one part of many. You may agree or disagree, but I hope you are encouraged by considering the complex and rich way the history of ideas has played out, for better or for worse, and how your prayers can become that much more focused.
The video is presented by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group that has a complicated relationship with Rome, and with which I am not associated. Increasingly I find myself having strong traditionalist sympathies, but I don’t (yet) consider myself a full-blown traditionalist, and I have mixed feelings about the SSPX. But I do pray every day they may become fully reconciled with the Church. Until then I keep them at a distance. Nonetheless, I appreciate this lecture and others they have made available.
In 2002 a story that broke about the widespread sexual abuse of children and young adults by Catholic priests in the Boston area. Most of the victims were boys and young men. Since that time many, many more stories have surfaced. The Church has paid out millions upon millions of parishioners’ dollars to victims. Church attendance numbers continue their precipitous decline. Bishops do very little, and frequently appear tone-deaf. The laity continues to cry out for more to be done, for actual repentance, for actual consequences, for any kind of actual acknowledgement of guilt and visibly genuine contrition on the part of the hierarchy.
Years of stories, years of tone-deafness, years of little action. Years of wondering: “What is the Pope going to do? How serious does he really take this? When is he going to say something?” And really everyone is getting Catholic sex abuse fatigue.
We also now know that in early June at the Honduran bishops’ conference, a letter, written by 48 (out of 180) brave seminarians, was circulated accusing widespread sexual abuse. After the letter was read aloud at the assembly, Cardinal Maradiaga immediately started attacking the letter’s authors. So far nothing of substance has been done.
What does Pope Francis think about all this? One way he is actively signaling his thoughts to the world Church is through his Twitter accounts. Nearly every day he tweets to the world. I assume these tweets represent his deepest concerns, his most important encouragements, and succinct insights of wisdom from Christ’s own Vicar on earth to the faithful and the world. Why else would a Pope tweet?
So I thought I’d take a look.
Here is a little over a month’s worth of recent tweets from Pope Francis, with a couple of newsworthy events thrown in for context:
June 18: “Let us try to express the joy of God’s Kingdom in every way possible!”
June 19: “Choosing to follow Christ helps build a more just, more friendly, more humane society, that is closer to the heart of God.”
June 20: It was announced that Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick was removed from public ministry by The Holy See after “credible and substantiated” evidence was discovered that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy when he was priest in New York. Then almost daily more information spills forth out about how widespread the abuse was with many young men and seminary students, and how it was an “open secret” among many in the Church hierarchy. This information had likely been internally known for some time by the Holy See, as was the scheduled date of the news release.
And then on the same day…
June 20: “We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected, or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbour in need.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection
June 20: “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection
June 20: “Dear young people, help us adults whose hearts are often hardened. Help us to choose the path of dialogue and harmony.”
Interesting tweet considering the day.
June 21: “Praying together, walking together, working together: this is the way that leads to Christian unity.” #WCC70
June 22: “Love for others needs to become the constant factor of our lives.”
June 23: “Let us ask our Lord to help us understand that love is service, love means taking care of others.”
June 24: “Like St John the Baptist, Christians have to humble themselves so that the Lord can grow in their hearts.”
June 25: “Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from sin, sadness, emptiness, isolation. It is the source of a joy that no one can ever take away.”
June 26: “Torture is a mortal sin! Christian communities must commit themselves to helping victims of torture.”
June 27: “We are called to assist the elderly, the sick and the unborn: life must always be protected and loved, from conception to its natural conclusion.”
June 28: “Let us pray for the new Cardinals: may they assist me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome, for the good of all God’s people.”
June 29: “Every kind of material or spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, comes from turning our backs on God and His love.”
June 30: “When we are firmly united to the God who loves and sustains us, we are able to withstand all life’s difficulties and challenges.”
July 1: “I ask all of you to join me in prayer as I travel to Bari on Saturday on a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the long-suffering Middle East.”
July 3: “We receive God’s graces to share them with others.”
July 5: “Do we know how to silence our hearts and listen to the voice of God?”
July 6: “The suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, is an urgent reminder that we Christians must be more united.”
Note: the Cardinal McCarrick story has become daily news, with article after article being published, more evidence being revealed, more stories of abuse and coverup, and social media being lit up by the Catholic faithful asking for the Church hierarchy to respond in a meaningful way.
July 7: “The God of all consolation, who heals the broken hearts and takes care of the wounds, hear our prayer: Let there be peace in the Middle East!”
July 7: “May all humanity hear the cry of the children of the Middle East. Drying their tears the world will get back it’s dignity.”
July 8: “Every occasion is a good one to spread Christ’s message!”
July 10: “You too are like the Good Samaritan when you recognize the face of Christ in those near you.”
July 11: “Europe rediscovers hope when the human person is at the heart of its institutions. St Benedict, pray for us!”
July 15: “Try reading the Gospel for at least five minutes every day. You will see how it changes your life.”
July 16: “May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, accompany you on your daily journey towards the Mountain of God.”
July 18: “Jesus invites us to build the civilization of love together in the situations we are called to live every day.”
July 20: Vatican press office issues a press release that pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Pineda Fasquelle, a Honduran auxiliary bishop serving a top advisor to Pope Francis, without giving a reason. The reason, as later revealed, is specifically the sexual abuse of a seminarian, but also apparently McCarrick-like systematic abuse and coverup of many victims. Another “open secret” of sexual abuse and abuse of power by someone close to Pope Francis.
Nothing for two days, then…
July 22: “God wants us to call Him Father, with the trust of children who abandon themselves in the arms of the One who gave them life.”
July 24: “Prayer is never in vain: it always brings forth something new that, sooner or later, bears fruit.”
July 26: “Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please, take care of your grandparents: love them and let them talk to your children!”
We’ll stop there.
I do not mean to be critical of the Pope. Who am I anyway? But I am curious what to think. I have not made up my mind, but here are two concerns:
Although the Pope has many things on his plate and on his mind, it seems rather stunning to me that in light of these rather staggering announcements the Pope has nothing to say about the matter on one his most active communication channels (he has 17.7 million followers on this English language Twitter account alone). I realize he may not want to address the specific stories directly on Twitter, but he has missed more than one opportunity to make serious and meaningful statements on sex abuse, on justice, on reform, on repentance and forgiveness, and more. I feel it would have been better if he had just shut down this account and said nothing. Basically he has said nothing while maintaining his stream of verbosity. This feels offensive to me. But I don’t know if I should be offended. What am I missing?
I’m a bit surprised at the vacuity of many of these tweets. Are they untrue? I don’t think so. They seem theologically sound, if theological is even a word worth applying to them. But are they deep, deeper than a fortune cookie fortune? Not often. Do they represent well the powerful and rich traditions of Catholic thought? Not at all. Do they tend, at times, towards the saccharine and sentimental. Unfortunately, yes. Do they come across as basic, rather simplistic sayings that anyone (Catholic or non-Catholic) could quickly come up with? Yes. In that sense do they seem to be talking down to us, assuming we are simple minded people? That’s how I feel. Is that what the world needs? Maybe. And maybe that’s one more reason I’m not the Pope, or the person running his Twitter account for him.
Here’s what I think is probably going on: The Pope doesn’t really use Twitter at all. He has a team of people who manage his social media. They come up with things to tweet and he approves them. He doesn’t take it that seriously because he doesn’t live in the world of social media and therefore doesn’t really know its power and importance. Therefore he somewhat blindly trusts his social media team (they are the experts, right?) to handle that for him. And social media teams tend to be cautious (which is good) and work from a planned timeline. So, in a sense, while “Rome burns” they are just doing their jobs by following their timeline, not really concerning themselves with current events, certainly not diving into hot topics without clear direction from their superiors, and the Pope just nods his head that the tweets say something he believes and don’t say something he doesn’t like. IF this all adds up to a failing, then it may be more a failing of the Pope’s administration and not the vicar himself.
Still, they are officially the Pope’s tweets. He is putting his name on them.
Basically I’m just curious. I will leave it at that.
This is my own poorly formed, and somewhat indirect, take on the Cardinal McCarrick story. I would like to know if I am way off base or on target, or somewhere in between. Insights, challenges, and comments welcome. My question in the title is intended to be an honest question.
When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.
I believe this sentence contains more than most Catholics want to think about or are willing to admit.
And it’s one of the saddest and most heartbreaking sentences in this whole sordid affair. And that sentence (as I have come to understand about other abuse stories) has repeated itself again and again in Catholic homes, between parents and their sons and their daughters, mostly their sons in these cases.
At every level the sex abuse scandal is horrible. Christ spoke of a small amount of leaven leavening the whole lump; in other words, a small amount of yeast spreads throughout the entire lump of dough. This is how sin works in one’s life. It is also how sin works in the Church. A little infection gets in and soon there is rot everywhere. A little smoke of Satan finds an open window or door and…
We are right to condemn Cardinal McCarrick for his wickedness. We are right to condemn the cardinals and bishops who have participated directly and indirectly in this grave scandal. We are even right to criticize the popes for being so blind and so slow to act. It is also right for us to condemn the priests who have done terrible things. But what about the laity? What about us?
When there is widespread sin, widespread covering up of that sin, and a corresponding widespread blindness or ignorance of that sin, one should expect a pervasive cultural willfulness underlying it all — a kind of unspoken subconscious “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.” It is corruption, and it is often so subtle, that produces its own self-protecting blindness. We are all too quick to call out “good bishops” and “bad bishops.” Are we being honest? What has the laity gained by choosing to side with their priests and bishops over their own children until proven wrong? That, I believe, is a HUGE question of enormous implications.
Perhaps… perhaps there was a time for that kind of blind trust. But not for a very long time, if ever. I cannot blame Catholics for leaving the Church over this disgusting tragedy. It’s a steady and vile stench hanging over the Church, and it goes back a long ways. I don’t think they should, but I understand.
Have we not become a Church too easily given over to our precious self-images? Are we not a people wrapped up in supporting a kind of Catholic doppelgänger that has more to do with telling us what we want to believe about ourselves rather the truth? If we are to condemn bad bishops, shouldn’t we also condemn bad parents who are so in need of believing that the bishop is pleased with them that they will betray their own children. Do we need to condemn ourselves and the “Catholic” culture we have created? Perhaps I’m going too far, but I know something about the human heart because I know my own heart.
[As an aside: Someone very dear to me was repeatedly sexually abused by her father from age five until high school. Her mother was subconsciously but willfully complicit in the abuse. Once the abuse became public, her mother supported her father. Her grandmother said she was the one who enticed the abuser. She was only five when it started. Only five. He was the abuser, the adult, but the other adults were complicit. She was the child. He got away with it because he knew the world in which he lived would let him. He had power in that world and controlled it because he had willing accomplices because it was easier to not know than to open their eyes. They were all in good standing in their church community. They all saw themselves as good Christians who would never willing do or support evil. They all got what they wanted, expect the victim. Perhaps this makes me rather sensitive to cultures of complicity.]
The question is not primarily whether James’ parents knew about the cardinal, or that any parent knows about the abuse happening to their child by a priest. I believe most of them don’t actually, truly know, at least at first. (I want to believe that if any parents do find out they would actually do something about it. Perhaps I’m naive) The fundamental question is whether or not the parents (or any of us) are willing to believe. Another way of putting this is do they believe the truth of the gospel and of the Church’s teaching, or know why there is a crucifix above the altar. Do they fully embrace the Church’s teaching on sin? Can it be that many Catholics are so fundamentally unbelieving in the story of salvation that they would rather believe there are men walking around as sinless as Christ and impervious to temptation merely because they have been ordained? Do they suppose a clerical costume makes a man a sinless superhero? Can they read Christ’s condemnations of the religious leaders of His day and still not suppose our own religious leaders are just as likely to fall prey to sin and the devil? Sure, the millstone goes around the bishop’s neck, but too often the parents, and the culture they have helped to create, are complicit.
Keep in mind that even our saints do this. In her 2005 book John Paul The Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, Peggy Noonan tried to explain why the pope didn’t take seriously enough the reports of sexual abuse by priests. In a 2014 article she reiterated the same argument. She writes:
[I]t would have been almost impossible for John Paul to understand the depth and breadth of the scandal because of his history. He had come of age under Nazism and Communism. They hated the church. Priests who fought them—John Paul was one—were heroic. Nazis and communists constantly attempted to undermine the church by falsely accusing its priests of mis- and malfeasance, including sexual impropriety. That was his context when John Paul was told of recent charges of child abuse. The idea they were true would have seemed impossible to him.
It would have been almost impossible for him to understand. It would have seemed impossible to him. I tend to agree with her assessment. It’s a plausible explanation that rings true. When St. JP2 looked at a priest he saw a hero. How could a hero abuse a child? But even if Noonan’s take is true, it still doesn’t get him off the hook. It just makes it easier to understand why he did what he did, and it’s a lot like why we tend to do what we do. He was blinded by his experiences and his desires. We are too.
I say this and yet Saint John Paul the Great is still a hero to me. But I also know he was a man.
Let’s be clear: The parents are in no way directly at fault for the abuse. Cardinal McCarrick is the one who abused. He is the one with the millstone around his neck. The bishops who knew the open secret of McCarrick probably also have millstones around their necks. And there are probably many others. The issue I’m trying to understand (and I know I’m doing a poor job of it) is about parents turning against the words of their own children (“he was told that he must be lying”) and refusing to even consider they are hearing the truth because to do so would contradict the precious image of they have of the wonderful cardinal, or the parish, or of the Church itself, or how a good Catholic should act towards the clergy, or even one’s image of the pope. But this is a form of idolatry. Some of this is certainly generational. Younger Catholics today, sadly, have become more informed, and consequently more cynical, about these things than their grandparents were. But all of us are potentially the unbelieving parent or friend.
However, I have great hope for the laity. As I witness the responses of cardinals and bishops to sex abuse revelations, and as I again and again see a group of men protecting their clericalism and bureaucratic comforts instead of, it would seem, having faith in God, I am also witnessing the rising up of the laity. Too often the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acts like their primary job is all about program administration and publishing official statements, and not about the gospel. They put out statements about needing to have “clearer procedures” in place to handle abuse cases, etc. etc. The “good” bishops (and sometimes “bad” bishops) put out platitudinous statements condemning the abuse, but then do nothing. They risk nothing.
Are we now like sheep without a shepherd? Who will lead us?
Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should publicly identify and shame the “bad” bishops. Perhaps they should not let Rome whisk the abusers back to Rome for rehabilitation and retirement. Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should literally start punching the “bad” bishops in their faces (like St. Nicholas slapping Arius at the first council at Nicaea). Honestly, that might make for one of the best bishops conferences ever.
But I am seeing the laity standing up more and more, calling false shepherds what they are, pointing out the wolves in sheeps clothing, and being less afraid to say what needs to be said because they have come to trust first in God rather than the hierarchy. And perhaps because they have social media at their fingertips. I have hope. I think we are going to hear less and less about parents refusing to listen to their children’s cries for help. I hope we hear less and less about abuse too. I am all for a massive house cleaning.
Finally, if the whole Cardinal McCarrick affair is a prime example of the “open secret everyone knows,” potentially implicating numerous bishops in a vast coverup, what about Catholic media? How many stories were not written, stories buried, leads not followed, questions not asked, and reporters told to back off? How complicit is the media? And how complicit is the Catholic media? How much did those at EWTN, Catholic News Service, National Catholic Reporter, etc., etc. know? Who knew what and when did they know it?
It was an open secret. Everybody knew, or heard stories. Are not Catholic news reporters trained in investigative reporting? Or are they merely mouthpieces for the hierarchy?
Here’s something to consider. Read some of the last lines from the film SPOTLIGHT. Remember that this award winning film is about the 2002 Boston Globe (a secular news agency of course) investigation and reporting on the story of predatory sexual activities by Catholic priests in the Boston area, and the subsequent and systematic coverup by the Church hierarchy, specifically by the revered Cardinal Law. Read this carefully:
We’ve nailed down multiple stories on seventy priests.
Yeah. And with the confirmation from Robby’s source, we’re ready to go. We can have a draft next week.
Robby, that source of yours, is this someone we could revisit?
Might be tough.
But he has no problem helping the church protect dozens of dirty priests. Guy’s a scumbag.
Matt glances at Robby. Who’s looking at Ben.
He’s a lawyer, he’s doing his job.
He a shill for the Church.
He knew and did nothing.
He coulda said something about this years ago. Maybe saved some lives.
What about us?
What’s that supposed to mean?
We had all the pieces. Why didn’t we get it sooner?
We didn’t have all the pieces.
We had Saviano, we had Barrett, we had Geoghan. We had the directories in the basement.
You know what? We got it now.
Robby, this story needed Spotlight.
Spotlight’s been around since 1970.
So what? We didn’t know the scope of this. No one did. This started with one goddamn priest, Robby.
Robby looks at Sacha.
MacLeish sent us a letter on 20 priests, years ago. Sacha found the clip.
Are you freaking kidding me? 20 priests?
Just after Porter. December of ‘93.
We buried the story in Metro. No folo. Sacha found the clip.
That was you. You were Metro.
Yeah, that was me. I’d just taken over. I don’t remember it at all. But yeah.
The room quiets. Gut punch. Ben shakes his head.
Uh, can I say something?
They turn to him.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on, and there’s fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived but all of you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.
The team takes this in.
Having said that, Cardinal Law and the Catholic community are going to have a very strong response to this. So if you need to take a moment, you’ve earned it. But I will need you back here Monday morning focused and ready to do your job.
Here’s what I believe you should notice: Marty appeals to the precious self-image of the reporters to support their own coverup. Yes, we all “spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark,” but they weren’t in the dark except that they wanted to be. They had the information. They had the evidence. They chose to burry it. Marty’s words lets them get themselves off the hook. Yes, we all have to keep moving forward, and yes their reporting eventually was good and necessary, but Marty has just helped them clear their consciences. They are now “absolved” because, while everyone else is stumbling, “you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”
I see the bishops doing the same thing — giving themselves a pass again and again. They set up commissions, appoint overseers, establish new processes because the old ones didn’t work, and then walk away self-congratulated and self-absolved. No risk. No sackcloth and ashes. A brood of vipers.
But remember, we all do this in one way or another, and we support each other in our games. We’ve all got our own precious self-images. And we will protect them fiercely. We’ve all got some viper in us, so let’s be careful in our judgments. But still…
‘When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.’
Archbishop Alexander K. Sample said: “May the traditional Mass flourish in the Church!”
I agree, and I pray every day both for the TLM to flourish and for the archbishop to continue his good work.
In this light, below is another good video from 2SPetrvs:
While watching this video I was thinking about the nature and function of parades. A lot of people like parades. In this video one see a pilgrimage can be a kind of parade. I have come to believe they have an important role to play in human society. There is something old-fashioned about parades. There is also something very human about them. To parade is to make a declaration. Perhaps more parishes should start parading in their cities.
In the United States of American we live in (more or less) a democracy. Our country’s founding began with casting off the “shackles” of monarchy. We also outlawed the aristocracy. That set in motion many positive things, but also some very bad things. I’m not saying if they could do it all over again they should rather have sought a compromise with King George (though I hold out that might have been the thing to do). But I will say we did lose something by doing away with a king.
We lost a powerful context within which to learn how to act before royalty.
Without a king, and the repeated experiences of seeing how a king functions, and how a king is supposed to be treated and, perhaps most importantly, how a people ought to act out obeisance and reverence to the king, then we lose a deep understanding of the language of kingship in the Bible. That language will be foreign to our ears, and if not foreign, non-visceral, non-intuitive. We will have some head-knowledge about kings, but not much more. And if we don’t have that deep understanding, then we will struggle knowing how to behave and, perhaps worse, being nearly completely clueless about our behavior.
By why does that matter now, in this life? Because we are royalty too, and Christ is our king, and we come before Him corporately every time we go to Mass.
Many have said that a huge problem in the Catholic Church today is a lack of understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I agree. I would argue that a second, and closely related, problem is that Catholics don’t know what to do with that knowledge even if they do understand it. At best, it often seems, Catholics believe the proper response to the knowledge of the Real Presence is an entirely internal emotional stance: As long as one feels strongly in some way about the Real Presence then one has done one’s part. Emotions are good, but a human person is body and soul together. What we do with our bodies does something to us at the spiritual level. This is a profound fact.
When we enter a Catholic Church we are coming before our king. Christ is really and truly present. The glowing red candle next to the tabernacle tells us that Christ is there before us. When we receive the Eucharist we are receiving the body of Christ, truly. A Catholic Church, then, is like a king’s great hall, a throne room. Jesus is our friend at some level, of course, but far more important is that He is our savior, our high priest, and our king.
The Mass is also a wedding feast. We, the Church, are His bride. He is our bridegroom. At Mass we are reaffirming our vows. The bride is married to the King of all creation. It is a royal wedding.
So, how ought we to act at Mass? How ought we to dress? What should the attitude of our heart be? Well.. how ought we to act before our King? How ought we to dress at our wedding? What should our attitude be?
These are hotly debated questions. I’ve seen a mix of responses. But I would argue that, in general, we can do a much better job. But here’s the real deal: Acting, dressing, and thinking rightly at Mass is not about rules, or looking good, or “being a good Catholic.” Doing what one ought to do in the presence of the King, before Whom every knee shall bow and tongue confess, is medicine for our souls. Because this is true, and because God loves us, He has given us the Mass as a gift. It is good for us to act according to our nature. It is good to accept what God has given.
Remember that the humble Mass you attend on Sunday morning, or the even more humble daily Mass, is participating in the great Heavenly Mass. The images of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra above provide a small glimpse into the kind of grandeur, unabashed pomp, and incredible beauty of a proper coronation and royal wedding. Is this the image we have in mind when we attend Mass? Is this a glimpse of what the Heavenly Mass might be like, even just a little?
If so, then let’s start acting like the Mass is actually what it is. Let’s start behaving like who we are, sons and daughters of God, heirs of the kingdom, royal subjects, the bride of Christ. Let’s come before our King as we ought.
This sounds great, but let’s not forget that we may not know how to do this. Our cultural and governmental examples are mostly democracies, and poor ones at that. Kings are gone or irrelevant. Royalty is banished or laughed at or merely entertainment. And I, being like you, am no more knowledgeable. Therefore, what I suggest is that we all begin with the admission that we have a problem. Then I suggest we begin helping each other to learn and then alter our behaviors accordingly.
Finally, something I think we all can agree upon, and one place where we can all easily start, is to dress as best we can for Mass — not letting the standards set by those around us determine our choices, but the fact and reality of the Mass itself inform our choices.
There is a remarkable amount of great content in these videos. I have become increasingly interested in the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal. Consequently, I’ve been digging into various lecture series, etc. I’m also interested in knowing what a traditional Catholic perspective is on all these things, including the current state of our culture and the so-called culture wars. Why is it that traditional Catholics holds certain views and not others? How did our society get to where it is today? These lectures offers a unique perspective.
There is no little risk in speculating on symbolic prophecy, and that is true with these lectures. However, given the seriousness of the Fatima miracle and messages, and given the state the Church and world is in today, there is the need to at least dive in deep and put some pieces together. This lecture serious by a traditionalist priest does just that. It is worth taking the time. I cannot speak to the completeness of his analysis, or the verity of his conclusions, but if he is right then we may want to increase our prayers significantly.
Lastly, these videos are by a traditional Catholic priest and they contain a traditional perspective on social and moral issues. Clearly this perspective is at odds with the mainstream narrative of our culture. I post these videos not as a wholesale endorsement, but as part of my process of learning about various perspectives in my pursuit of Truth.
Thomas Woods is a radio and television commentator, libertarian, Catholic, and the author of numerous books including How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (2005). I know almost nothing about him, but I have read some of this book, which I thought was good. The book was turned into a video lecture series. Here’s episode one:
I find it interesting that again and again when people dig deep into the history of the Church they tend to develop a strong anti-Vatican II bias. One of Woods’ earliest books is: The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church, which he co-authored with Christopher Ferrara, a Catholic pro-life attorney, activist, and journalist, and regular columnist for The Remnant, a traditionalist Catholic newspaper.
I’m not anti-Vatican II, but I do have some sympathies for those who struggle with that council. As of now I would rather be in the camp that says it’s the abuse of the council that has caused so much trouble. However, I’m still studying and trying to be open minded.
Here’s a fascinating time-capsule from a key time in the feminist movement. Certainly it is dated, and some of it may seem a bit corny to us today, but the core message is still powerful and shocking — and not surprising too.
From a traditional Catholic perspective one can easily see why feminism, at least as it is presented here, was seen as incompatible with Catholicism — it has at its core the destruction of the traditional family. On the other hand, consider how much feminist thinking has entered into our culture and, in many ways, become the de facto position. Something about feminism captivated the collective consciousness of vast swaths of western culture and beyond, and has stayed with us and continued to influence and shape our culture.
In many ways this video is so sad — so much heartbreak beneath the surface of power posturing and strident demands. Consider where our society had to gotten to in order for these women, and so many others, to feel as they did. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to consider how such a radical change in attitudes may have also had a demonic element. I think it’s likely a lot of different elements and motivations were at play, some good and some bad.
This lecture is worth the entire two and half hours. And it is a packed two and a half hours. Every bishop should watch it. Every priest too. It is profound and filled with riches to ponder and meditate upon. It is also filled with many challenges. Share it with others. Discuss it.
I am not a conspiracy nut, nor am I a staunch traditionalist, nor am I prone to sectarianism or division, etc, etc, but…
Given the connection between the message of Fatima and the Mass, and given a number of connections and observations Mr. Rodríguez makes, it makes sense that the third secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. It seems rather clear that the message is very likely a direct challenge to the spirit of Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. And given that the third secret was to be revealed in 1960 and wasn’t, and also by that time the pope and other key individuals in the Church were intent on changing the Mass and bringing about a glorious revolution, no one in leadership (including popes St. John XXIII, B. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) has wanted to open that can of worms — whether to cancel the council, or redirect its purpose, or not promulgate a new rite of the Mass, or call all of it into question after the fact. Perhaps they would all feel (or have felt) like they would need to officially abandon the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and they just can’t handle admitting that Vatican II was not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man alone. If this is true, then certainly what we have seen in the Church over the past fifty years are the profound and terrible results of God’s judgement — the list of troubles is staggering. Of course, I cannot say all this is true for I know almost nothing about it, but I wonder, I really wonder. Certainly it is deeply sobering to consider. (And the only “arguments” against this that I’ve come across consists of eye rolling. Thin arguments indeed.)
I worry that a great many cardinals, bishops, priests, and perhaps some popes, from the last half century or more, will end up in Hell because of the destruction they have brought about.
Am I way off? Is Mr. Rodríguez wrong? What am I missing?
There is a lot of talk about the post-Vatican II Church. Some praise the openness and engagement with the world, saying the Church is no longer stuffy, no longer turned in on itself, no longer disengaged. Others decry the staggering decline in numbers of priests, religious, and faithful as signs that the council, and especially the post-council era, was a terrible turn. In that latter camp one will find many different opinions. Some say the council was entirely the work of the Devil, and that we actually have no pope, and have not had one for some time. Others accept the existence of the pope, but stand in clear opposition to much of what he does and says, and they decry the modernist church, pointing to the council as the key event in the Church’s profound decline. Others are not so strident, they stand with the pope, but they struggle with the council and its modernist tendencies, and they call for a return to authentic reverence at Mass, and think returning to the great traditions of the Church is a good idea, including the traditional Latin Mass of the pre-conciliar Church, but do not think the Church must “go back” to the past in a complete sense.
As I continue to work through these ideas I find myself somewhat in that last camp (and perhaps a bit in the second camp). Pope Francis is my pope. I have written about my struggles with some of what he has said and done, but I still stand with him. He is my pope and I pray for him every day. However, I think it would be wonderful if the great traditions of the Church experienced a world-wide renaissance. And I pray every day that the beautiful and rich traditions of the Church would once again be the norm throughout the world. In a sense, I see the need for a kind of Catholic counter-revolution against the modernist forces that have harmed and are still harming the Church and the world today. What that could or should look like I do not know. But I find these two lectures below to offer some perspective and possible ideas — especially in light of the terrible revelations we are experiencing today. Needless to say, these lectures come from a very “conservative” place, a place I mostly find appealing (however I don’t consider myself either conservative or liberal) but some might find the lectures leaning too far in that direction and the examples used too extreme. I will leave that up to you to decide.
We make “verbal moves” all the time in order to navigate the complex and sometimes dangerous subcultures in which we live.
You have heard this before… While in some deep discussion about something about Christianity, especially when the discussion gets a little intense, one of the persons says “All I know is that Jesus loves me.” Or, “All I know is that God is love.” Or, “All I know is that it’s about Jesus.” Or, “I just like to keep it simple.”
Who can argue with that? But often it’s a kind of defense mechanism. Of course Jesus loves me, and God is love, and it is all about Jesus. (I realize many times we need to be reminded about this.) But the point of such statements is usually to shut down the discussion. One reason is because the discussion has got a little difficult and the person starts to feel a little defensive doesn’t want to get emotional, or get caught in a verbal tangle. In many ways it’s a prudential move, and sometimes very necessary.
Another reason for the defensive maneuver is to avoid dealing with ideas that one has not considered, especially when it’s clear the other person has. Unfortunately, many Christians have not thought much about their faith beyond platitudes and common phrases and basic political positions. This does not mean they don’t have authentic faith, or even deep faith, but at the level of intellectual understanding many Christians remain rather ignorant. It’s a good thing that none of us have to pass a theology exam to enter into Heaven!
In a similar way, there is another kind of verbal move often made by Christians. I call it the “Well, I think…” move. This is a very common move in our modern, pluralistic society. Declaring truth is felt to be improper, even bad manners. But opinion is fine. “Well, I think faith should just be simple.” “Well, I think it doesn’t really matter what church you go to, as long as you love Jesus.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to judge. He just forgives.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to start a religion.” “Well, I think as long as one has faith that is all one needs.” “Well, I think Jesus loves me for who I am.” “Well, I think the Church shouldn’t keep anyone from communion.” “Well, I think On Eagles Wings is a wonderful song.” “Well, I think Lord of the Dance is better.” “Well, I think we should reinstall altar rails.” “What?!”
We have become a culture of opinionators. Perhaps social media has fueled this. Certainly it’s partially a result of secular pluralism. Regardless, a lot of Catholics have strong opinions about the Church and its practices, but not all, perhaps not a lot, of those opinions are actually thought through. This is because most opinions tend to arise from intuitions, and intuitions can very easily be poorly formed.
Opinions are fine, but I think we owe it to each other, both as fellow Christians and at the basic human level, to ask the follow up question: “How do you know?” And if the response is: “Well, I just know.” Then that deserves the question: “Do you actually mean you really know, or that you just feel it’s true?”
We owe it to each other to hone our understanding. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and to make others uncomfortable. And I don’t just think that’s true. It is true:
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16a)
Christians should not be people who are merely carried along by the currents of culture (like dead fish flow with the river’s current) regardless of whether that culture is secular or Catholic. If we say “Well, I think…” that expression should be based on actual thinking that reflects careful consideration. It doesn’t get us off the hook. And merely removing the “Well, I think…” portion doesn’t make one’s opinions more true. Too many Catholics have become mouthpieces for popular culture(s) while thinking they are holding truly Catholic ideas. Catholics should, instead, create actual Catholic cultures, and that’s no easy task.
Let our thinking be excellent. Then, when we say “Well, I think…” it truly means something excellent and not mere opinion reflecting and supporting a largely unconsidered culture.