Not long ago I had the opportunity to read an email that had been sent by a parishioner to his priest and also to members of that parish’s pastoral council. The parishioner’s name, the name of the priest, and the name of the parish was removed for reasons of confidentiality. I believe there is something important in this letter and I feel the need to pass it on. In particular, I believe the sentiments expressed are common to many Catholics, and not merely older Catholics, the so called “boomer” Catholics who lived through the changes after Vatican II. Here is the letter:

Dear Fr. [REDACTED],

I have made the decision to leave [REDACTED] Parish. Please accept my resignation from the Pastoral Council, the Lectors, and Sunday Hospitality. Additionally, please stop my Sunday envelopes.

I am sixty-six years old. I was an altar boy during the sixties. I remember the pre-Vatican2 church. It has been over fifty years that the institutional Church , as we know it, has functioned in the light of the Second Vatican Council. Yet, since coming to [REDACTED] and belonging to [REDACTED], I am slowly watching the institutional Church in our Parish retreating backward as demonstrated in the frequent Latin Masses, the men’s Schola, the effort to re-locate the tabernacle back to the center of the sanctuary (at an exorbitant cost, I might add), and … now you speak of reinstalling the communion rail. I don’t see myself participating in any of it. I happen to appreciate the Church for what it is. I considered doing research to dissuade you from the path you are on but then I realized the voices you are listening to are louder than mine. In my opinion what you are doing is not in the spirit of Vatican 2 and that grieves me.

Thank you for the rich homilies; they offer the Parish more that you may think.

Respectfully,
[REDACTED]

There are many Catholics, especially those older Catholics who lived through the changes of the post-Vatican II era, and who are still active Catholics (of course, so many left the Church too), who look back fondly on that era and still believe to this day that those radical changes were the best thing to ever happen to the Church. As they see it, the spirit of Vatican II is wonderful, and they love that the barriers came down, the stuffy altar was replaced by the communion table, the priest finally turned to face the people who could now see what he was doing, and they even love its music, fondly humming its insufferable tunes. Many of these Catholics are looked down on and summarily dismissed as “boomers” (a term used pejoratively) by members of the so-called traditionalist movement. And many traditionalists are waiting for that generation to die off so the Church can become more traditional again. I think many older parishioners, like this man above, probably feel that sentiment aimed at them and that their voices are ignored.

I believe this parishioner’s frank frustration, blunt verbiage, and his sudden resignation is exactly the kind of reaction that many tradition-leaning priests fear. There are very few parishes in the world today that are not fundamentally “spirit of Vatican II churches,” that is, they have been built on the modernist traditions of the past 50 years. It is what they know, it is their life as it were. This means that any priest who tries to bring changes to his parish in light of Catholic tradition is likely to have at least some parishioners reacting as this man did. Or perhaps the frustrated parishioners don’t leave the parish; perhaps they even don’t let the priest know how they feel. They may instead just work to undermine his efforts in any number of ways. I imagine this email cut to the heart of the priest and was grieved over. I do not know the outcome of what happened next. I hope reconciliation can happen. I doubt it will. But I do appreciate his forthrightness.

I am a Catholic who believes the Traditional Latin Mass is fundamentally and in every way far superior than the Novus Ordo. I am even inclined to believe the Church has been under various punishments since and because of the Novus Ordo’s promulgation. However, I am not a radtrad as some traditionalists call themselves positively and are called by others pejoratively. In fact, I go to both the TLM and the Novus Ordo for various reasons. And I have never been someone who loves tradition either merely for aesthetic or nostalgic reasons. I’m not into tradition as some men love 1957 Chevys. I came to a love for tradition because my life’s journey took me through the world of Christian classical homeschooling, which begins with the nature of man and his purpose in relation to God. I began to critique my presuppositions in light of my experience of living in a post-modern world, growing up Baptist/evangelical, and being curious about history, philosophy, and the arts. Within the Protestant milieu I experienced the anemic stance towards holiness, the personally fashioned image of Jesus, and profoundly false anthropology of modern American Protestantism. I experienced worship redefined as pop-music and sentimentalism. Then I came into the Church (God be praised!) and I saw this same modern Protestant and American culture was thoroughly infused syncretically throughout the local parishes I visited. The leaven of the modernist world had worked its way into so much of the Church.

I also noticed both a mix of blindness to the syncretism and a thorough love of it. Parishioners were not chafing under the weight of modernism corrupting the Church, they were loving it. Or, at least, that’s how it looked to me.

I felt like the bank teller who has learned to identify counterfeit bills by becoming highly familiar with the real thing, but in this case I knew the counterfeit all too well and was only coming to learn of the real thing. The thing is, I was just so happy to be in the true Church that I let a lot slide for a while — and I still do, and I’m still happy. I love being Catholic, not merely for the joy I find, but because Catholicism is true. Also, I am no expert. And who am I anyway? Still, I feel that God has given me the eyes I have, formed on the journey I’ve traveled, to see some things that others might not; perhaps especially so-called cradle Catholics. I believe that the long tradition of the Church, especially that old “stuffy” Latin Mass, lived out in love and relying on the Holy Spirit, is an antidote needed for the world today – not just the for the Church, but for the world.

Thus I am bothered by the letter above. I see it run through with problems, false assumptions, ignorance, and immaturity. I want to be dismissive.

And yet, and yet…

I (and we) must have compassion for those who love the New Mass and its music and its culture. For that’s what it is, a culture. Culture arises from cultus. How we worship, including the nuts and bolts of our liturgies, form us. What direction the priest faces works within us at such a deep level and in such a precognitive way that the simple fact of orientation teaches us about God and man, saying one thing or another thing. How we receive the Blessed Sacrament, whether on the tongue or in the hand, whether standing or kneeling, teaches (instilling within us) us at a deeply subconscious level knowledge (true or false) of Christ and our relationship to Him, saying one thing or another thing. At the end of Mass, when we are told to go out into the world, we take with us our cultus which has formed deep within us, formed even minutes before, so deeply that much of it is subconscious and intuitive, and works on our minds to such a degree, that what seems right to us seems so as though from the foundations of the earth. But this is not the same thing as being right. And that Catholic cultus has to contend with the world’s cultus, which smothers us nearly every minute.

The power of formation is not primarily at the conscious level. Much like the bank teller intuitively knowing a good bill from a false one, the well formed Catholic recognizes truth and error, depth and shallowness, beauty and mediocrity, faith and sentimentality, in an almost precognitive manner. Overwhelming evidence declares that Catholics can be poorly formed. Our sensibilities can lead us to wrong understandings, poor interpretations, and misguided evaluations. And our conclusions will feel absolutely right. We almost can’t help it; no one knowingly believes falsehoods, we can only believe what we believe is true. Therefore, we must have compassion and empathy for others. We must seek humility. Our true battle is not over liturgy, or tradition, or theology. Our true battle is again Satan and his devils, against the sin within us, and against the temptations of the world. We are in a profound spiritual, physical, and metaphysical battle for our faith, the Church, and our souls. That battle, of course, plays out much of the time within the physical realm, including the realm of liturgy, culture, and even politics, but we must seek eyes that see and ears that hear, we must seek soft hearts and and sensitive souls, so that we may know where the real battle lies, otherwise we will miss it — perhaps even joining an enemy who tricks and begiles us.

If you watch documentaries about the 1960s, such as Ken Burns film The Vietnam War, especially the parts that focus on the homefront in the US, or the PBS documentary Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation, you can’t help but feel for the youth caught up in the spirit(s) of the age. There was little chance of any young Catholic at that time, living in the midst of that culture, who would not have also interpreted the post-Vatican II changes, especially those done under the spirit of Vatican II mantra, as utterly comprehensible and necessary. Many of these young Catholics supported refocusing the Church towards the burning issues of the day and, more importantly, defining the approach to those issues in the same terms used by the campus radicals, the feminists, the neo-socialists, and especially those of the anti-war and civil rights movements.

It wasn’t just a matter of getting rid of what was old, it was believing what we call traditional Catholicism as being fundamentally incompatible with the modern age and, thus, being a barrier to spiritual growth, a meaningful relationship with Christ, evangelization, and even authentic Catholicism (nevermind the saints, great and small, who knew nothing else but traditional Catholicism because it was just Catholicism). Traditional priestly garb and religious habits began to look more and more like anachronistic costumes, almost laughable; Latin like a language mummified.

However, with time and statistics we have come to see that a great deal has been lost, not least are numbers of faithful catholics in the pews and vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But also so much depth and richness has been lost. It was, in effect, the Church declaring that the Real Presence was still dogma but not really true, and that faith was merely a matter of personal preference after all. Our priests, by not having the Traditional Latin Mass available to them, perhaps have suffered the most — no longer being fed daily on the more nourishing food of tradition but rather “eating” a less spiritually enriching fair that is bound to leave one at the very least rather anemic. And if one has never eaten from the sumptuous feast’s table one will neither know the riches available or the true depth of satiation.

The Novus Ordo is a culture, and it produces sons and daughters of itself. I believe that many priests have gone into the priesthood thinking and hoping that in the Novus Ordo culture they will become men that only a TLM culture can produce. I know of a similar experience coming into the Church as a convert. Many, many things went terribly amiss during the frantic hubbub of the radical sixties. Much has been lost or destroyed. In one generation enough destruction and spiritual darkness was unleashed that it may take five generations to recover. The “good” bishops and popes have been trying to fix it ever since – tinkering here, adjusting there, moving slowly out of caution? concerns? fear? Of course, I don’t have the answer, and who am I anyway?

The “boomers” and the rest of the Novus Ordo crowd (I also frequently attend the Novus Ordo and just missed being called a boomer by only one year, and not all boomers are pro-Novus Ordo culture) are not the enemy. Even if you are a staunch traditionalist you ought to see them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. One might chose to “fight” for the great traditions of the Church, and especially the Traditional Latin Mass, to return in a big way, but one must not fall into a hardened “us and them” mentality. And you ought to love them. They have been taught and formed by the Church and their culture, just as we all have. Their formation, good or bad, falls largely upon the shoulders of the bishops who had that responsibility and who eagerly welcomed the spirit of the age into the Church, calling it the spirit of Vatican II, though often veering wildly beyond the councils documents. Regardless, our job is to love God and each other. We are to seek unity in love, with humility, and with total faith in God — which means we know that it is God who fights our battles. But the older crowd are not the only ones who love the Novus Ordo more than the TLM. Even many younger folks do so as well, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. People love things for different reasons. And they don’t love other things for different reasons; sometimes merely out of ignorance, sometimes because of their formation, and sometimes for good reasons. But this is a larger topic.

I feel for the man who wrote the letter above. I believe he wrote from his heart. I believe his grievances came from real grieving. I also wonder, without wanting to psychoanalyse him, if his grieving doesn’t come from having had a kind of “mountain top” experience in his youth, being caught up in the spirit of the age and feeling like he had received a “new pentecost,” which has stayed with him and sustained him for many years, and now he feels it’s being taken away.

I’m sure he is not alone.

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Star Wars, Pageantry, and the Mass

“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.

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.

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

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

david-bawden
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.

Lefebvre-Ordination-1977-b
Archbishop Lefebvre, papist (source)

 

…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.

Papal-throne

Seems to me that one can swing a sock filled with manure in a crowd of Catholic traditionalists and eventually hit at least a couple of sedevacantists.

I am not a sedevacantist, and I don’t believe I will become one — I pray I don’t. I lean towards the traditionalist camp, but even then I’m not fully a traditionalist. However, I am curious about the sedevacantist position. I hear this term frequently, especially since I’ve become curious about the traditionalist position. What is sedevacantism and why would someone go there? And what are the arguments for and against the position?

Below are some interesting videos on that topic. By no way do they represent an exhaustive take on the subject. I present them here merely as a way to broach the subject. I lean strongly to the side that says the pope is the pope, good or bad, and our duty is to show appropriate obedience, even if is a struggle. But I find each of the arguments have at least some merit, more or less, for various reasons. (I must say this topic is a complete rabbit hole of endless videos, websites, and conspiracy theory arguments.)

I agree with the video above, in that we should learn more about what sedevacantism means.

Below is a curious artifact. This is a “film” in the pro-sedevacantist camp. If what it presents are actual facts, then what it presents is truly troubling. On the other hand, it feels like a bunch of speculations and dubious claims strung together as facts by some conspiracy theory nutters. And it’s “style” is exactly what one would expect from a group of crackpots living on the fringe any social group. As an artifact it is interesting just for that. BUT… I think it is still worth considering for several reasons: 1) If it is true, then we should know these facts, 2) If not entirely true, it still represents what a number of Catholics (who are trying to be faithful, but may be apostate or nearly so) believe, and it is good to know what these folks believe, and 3) If it is patently false, then at least we can know what crazy ideas not to believe.

Still, I am a bit troubled by this video:

Perhaps someday more facts will come out and we will have a clearer picture of what happened in those conclaves. Honestly, the deeply troubling actions on the part of cardinals and bishops regarding the sexual abuse scandals on many levels that we are daily discovering makes believing in the evil shenanigans of yesteryear more plausible in my mind. It’s become less and less far-fetched to believe in the work of the devil in the Church throughout much of the 20th century.

God come to our assistance.

The perennial Catholic Answers team on more that one occasion has taken on the questions of sedevacantism. Here are a couple of responses from their shows:

I like Catholic Answers. I am not convinced by their answers here. I don’t think they are entirely on the wrong track, but I believe there are decent rebuttals to their answers. I don’t see the “gates of Hell” argument making a lot of sense here. And I don’t see the sedevacantists saying the gates of Hell have prevailed. We’ve had troubles in the past, we will in the future. I think the stories of Job and of the Babylonian captivity can both be seen as images of suffering individual Christians as well as the Church as a whole can and will experience. In both cases it would appear that God had deserted his people. None of this says that the gates of Hell will prevail. God did not abandon His people. Also, every time a pope dies the chair is empty. Sometimes the chair has been empty for years. So I think the Church can suffer through without a pope for a time.

But is it now? I doubt it. Could I and Catholic Answers be wrong? Yes.

The following video is perhaps the best answer I’ve heard from a sedevacantist on the “proper” stance that a sedevacantist should take. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a proper stance, but if there is I think this might be it:

Finally, I think this homily below perhaps says it best. Sedevacantism can be very alluring. It is a temptation to anyone who is very bothered by the fallout since Vatican II. It is a temptation to anyone who struggles with our current Holy Father. It is a temptation while in the midst of the systematic promotion and support for sexual perversion and predation on the part of priests, bishops, and cardinals. How could a good God allow all this to happen? Well… God has always allowed a great deal of evil to trouble His people at one time or another. But God is good. His will be done. Let us not fall into pride.

Still, I am curious about the whole Cardinal Siri story.

siri
Giuseppe Cardinal Siri

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.

William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.

On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.

Here is the program:

I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.

Quick takes on each participant:

WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.

Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:

He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]

He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”

I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.

Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.

Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.

Here’s a sign attached to a fence around the tennis courts at a local private Catholic high school:

photo (2)

I’m just a little curious. There is plenty of room on this sign to have included all the words from the Bible verse being quoted, but interestingly some words were left out. Here’s the complete verse:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Notice what was left out (highlighted in blue):

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The sign also says: “Proclaim Good News!” I wonder if the school administration believes that removing the strict exclusivity of “No one” and “except” make the good news gooder. In other words, have they improved the Gospel by making it seem as though Jesus is merely one way to come to the Father? Is this easier to swallow? Less offensive?

Is it being ever so slightly evasive?

And all those ellipses: confusing, visual weird, creates suspicion. This is just a poorly designed sign. Is it an example of modern Catholic marketing?? Perhaps indicative of the post-Vatican II era? A sign of the times?

note: take this post with a grain of salt

This is one of the best (probably the best) series of lectures on Vatican II that I have come across. It is given by Fr Christopher Smith , S.T.D., who (according to OnePeterFive) “is the pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Taylors, SC. He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. In 2013 he was elected to the Society for Catholic Liturgy. In 2014 he was received into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem as a Chaplain.”

I find his lectures to be extremely fair and even handed. Although he gives some opinions, he avoids taking a polemical stance. This is good, for the council, and all that has come after it, has been a complex mess involving many good and faithful people. We should base our opinions on clarity and fact whenever we can.

Interesting, and probably sad, how affected Catholics are by the Second Vatican Council and yet have little knowledge of it or little time for listening to such a lecture series. I feel this is worth more than one listen. It would be wonderful if most parishes had similar lecture series. Of course that would take time and education that many priests just don’t have.

I find this video fascinating, strangely so. Clearly it’s an edit of several key scenes from a film, so I don’t know the film ends or what it’s actually trying to say. Nonetheless, these scenes seem to articulate well some of the arguments for the traditional Latin Mass, and the mindset behind some of the changes sought in the “spirit of Vatican II.”

The film is called “Catholics” and aired in 1973, based on the book of the same name by Brian Moore.

Director: Jack Gold
Writers: Brian Moore (screenplay), Brian Moore (novel)
Stars: Trevor Howard, Raf Vallone, Martin Sheen

A number of Churches are trying trying celebrating the Mass with the ad orientem orientation. This is the more ancient tradition (for many centuries before Vatican II) of facing the altar when speaking to God, and then to the people when speaking to the people (versus populum). From what I know it does not necessarily mean also speaking Latin but can be, in fact, part of the Novus Ordo Mass as well as the Tridentine Mass.

I find the arguments for ad orientem appealing. My desire is to grow in holiness. The Mass is a tremendous gift to us, with a powerful sacrament in the Eucharist, to help us grow in holiness. Right worship is absolutely critical. I currently get blessed by the Novus Ordo Mass. I do not reject it like some do. However, anything that helps me focus on Christ and seek His face I welcome.

Here are a couple of videos about Churches and priests who have started celebrating Mass ad orientem. I think their testimony speaks for itself.

Ivereigh offers some perspective on what Pope Francis is doing and why.

Yves Congar is a fascinating figure in twentieth century Catholic theology and thought. His ideas were censured and censored at one time by the Church, but then became accepted and were highly influential at Vatican II (perhaps the single most informative influence at the council).

I am inclined to think that many of the issues that some Catholics are having with the pope, namely regarding his apparently confusion-sowing manner and way of speaking, are in fact a kind of cover for deeper fears. In other words, it seems there is a protective strain within Catholicism, particularly from conservatives (but not only), that actually has problems with the three approaches to reform that Ivereigh identifies. If true, then it would follow that their frustration is actually masking a fear of reform, and the natural processes of reform as identified by Congar. (Keep in mind I say this as a recent convert from Protestantism — which may skew my perspective.)

Although I tend to identify with many aspects of conservative Catholicism (and many aspects of liberal Catholicism), I worry about a kind of Phariseeism that seems to lie just beneath much of the anti-Francis rhetoric — and I’m speaking of the even-handed stuff, not even the foaming-at-the-mouth stuff.

I too see the confusion with Pope Francis, but I can’t judge. I don’t really know what he is up to, and I believe the Church, like all of us, is always in need of reform.

Here is a great talk given by Bishop Robert Barron on the family.

I like just everything about this talk. Among many interesting and profound things he says, and he says a lot, I found one thing that really jumped out at me at 47:15. He says that if the “great figures of Vatican II” (Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini, Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar) could see that today 75 percent of Catholics do not go to mass regularly they would view their project (Vatican II and all that it anticipated and was meant to accomplish) as a failure. Bishop Barron says Vatican II was meant to revive the Church, in essence to bring more life into the Church. He seems to be saying, however, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.

The possible implication is that if all had happened as they thought it would, then our church buildings would be bursting on Sundays, and filled with many faithful throughout the week. It would have been the Catholic Church that defined the idea of Evangelical, and taken that spirit to the world. Instead Catholics left the Church for the Evangelicalism of the Protestants, or just stopped going to Church altogether. This was happening prior to the council, but it exploded since then. The Catholic Church was run over by the steamroller of late modernity and many Catholics were happy to be run over.

I do not think Vatican II caused any of this in the way that some claim, but it played a part. Exactly how is debatable, but one thing seems certain, though the great figures of  the council were noble in their desires, they thought the Church wanted one thing (get closer to God) when, in fact, it wanted something else (push God away, at least away from their sexuality, definitions of marriage, contraception, etc.). They thought Catholics in large part wanted more freedom to be fully alive in Christ, but what Catholics wanted was freedom from the strictures of the Church (from the perceived tyranny of tradition, the un-coolness of the old, from the barriers that demarcated the Catholic subculture from the popular world). In other words they thought Catholics were interested in becoming more Catholic when, in fact, they wanted to become culturally, socially, even theologically Protestant.

I would like to hear more from Bishop Barron on his thoughts about this. Was Vatican II a failure? What would the great figures of Vatican II say?

Just to be clear, Bishop Barron has a generally very positive view of Vatican II. You get a good picture of his understanding here:

…but I’m curious.

Could it be, however/also, that we have too short and too impatient a timeline for a post-council Church revival to rise and flourish? Do reformations take longer? 40 years in the desert, generations dying off? I am increasingly inclined to see the changes brought by the council may still be in their early stages — and that they are leading towards a deeper understanding and celebration of the mysteries of faith, including the depth of tradition, etc. Sometimes one has to move away for a while before returning in order to appreciate one’s homeland. If this is true, then all the troubles that have flowed from the time of Vatican II may actually be step one in the council’s success.

I suppose one could say the moral of the following post is about humility.

Not long ago I sat in a pastoral council meeting at my parish church. We were discussing the form of Mass, use of music, etc., and I heard an older gentleman, a servant of the church, a good man and Catholic, exclaim that he loved the liturgical changes brought on by the spirit of Vatican II, and thought they were one of the best things that ever happened to the Church. His words gave me pause.

Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass. Just from this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.
Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass? From this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.

I have become increasingly interested in the more solemn Traditional Latin Mass, something very new to me, which many see as harkening back to a pre-council time. Consequently I tend to dislike what I perceive as the terrible music and bad art so common (I assume it’s common, from what I hear and read) in contemporary worship services today — all brought on by Vatican II according to popular legend (assuming that legends can also be true). But then I had to step back a bit and think about it. Am I right in my opinions? Perhaps yes, but perhaps no.

Folk mass 2
I’m not sure this is from a Catholic Mass or Protestant service, but you get the idea.

I’m not a folk-Mass or guitar-Mass kind of guy, but under the auspices of “full disclosure” I must say I’m pretty sure I would have embraced the changes the Church experienced in the 1960’s if I had been a young man then. I know there are many today who lived through those radical changes and feel that the changes were forcibly imposed on them. I’m sure that’s true, but I would guess at least some of those sufferers are not entirely honest. I bet a number of folks who welcomed the changes only later hated them. And like so many, it is likely that I too would have thought those changes represented a great and positive shift to a more authentic and grounded expression of faith.

However, I am certain I also would have eventually changed and embraced a more traditional style as I got older. I say this because, as a Protestant, I went through a similar experience in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I grew up in a rather conservative, staid kind of Baptist church, but I began to embrace Christian rock, and enjoyed how the youth groups changed with the times, and then “big” church changed to a more rock-n-roll ethos as well. I don’t like rock-n-roll church either, but I did years ago. And I changed over time. I began to see that emotional manipulation (a welcomed and sought after manipulation) was the primary function of the “worship team” in so many churches. I realized the folk and rock inspired music was actually about us and our internal feelings (mostly feelings about ourselves) rather than about God.

I don’t believe the serious question of what kind of music is appropriate at Mass is a question of taste, though taste plays a part. It’s deeper than mere taste, for it has to do with the fact of the Real Presence and human nature. How one feels at Mass is not as important as what Mass is; in other words, it’s an ontological question, not an emotional one. Folk and rock are great genres of music, but they are arguably inappropriate for the Mass because of the Real Presence and human nature, and the very purpose of the Mass itself. So why would such changes been made if all this is so obvious?

The fact was it wasn’t all that obvious, at least to a certain generation at a certain time and place.

Of the many shifts of the 1960’s, one was towards a kind of youth leadership. That is, youth began proclaiming its divergence from older generations, and grabbed the reigns of its own destiny. This shift was, perhaps, nothing terribly new, but interestingly the older generations embraced the change, often declaring their own generation had lost its way and only the youth have the answers. We must listen to the youth was a common attitude for many of the “lost” older generation. Some telling slogans appeared in popular culture: “I hope I die before I get old” was a line from the band The Who in their anthem My Generation. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a phrase coined by Jack Weinberg in the heady days of the Free Speech Movement. This shift also precipitated a revolutionary spirit, leading to many protests and the belief that the youth could really change the world if they just let love reign. In Protestantism there was the Jesus Movement, a kind of hippie Christianity that had profound ripple effects throughout Protestantism, and also Catholicism (as many Catholics became fascinated with the more emotive forms of Protestant spirituality in light of the perceived deadness in their own). In fact, it became a sweeping movement of sorts, and many, many people were caught up in it — not unlike being caught up in the spirit. This time, though, it was the spirit of the age. And who owns that spirit?

Folk music and then rock music were powerful cultural expressions of the 1960’s zeitgeist, and they continue to today.

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony.
May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony. Calvary Chapel, lead by Chuck Smith, was a major influence on modern American Christianity.

But this shift in the zeitgeist of 20th century Christianity also had humble, simple, and personable expressions. Expressions that, I believe, constituted a kind of healthy “reformation” within the Church — often drawing people into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and each other.

There was a craving for authenticity: authenticity of living, authenticity of worship, authenticity of emotions, authenticity of self. Needless to say, old forms of worship seemed terribly stale to many — though that probably says more about that generation and their knowledge of those forms than it does about the forms themselves. Regardless, it became an easy step to ask how could one possibly have a genuine relationship with Jesus while sitting in old churches and singing old hymns. (Not a very analytical question, but a visceral one for sure.) Thus grew the folk music movement (followed by the rock movement) within Christianity, for both Protestant and Catholic. [Note: I have played guitar at numerous church and youth worship services — so I’m am also part of the so-called “problem” if there is one.] [Another note: The issue much of the time is not about what instrument is being played. Arguably guitars are not really a problem, except for their symbolism.]

But there was a mood in the air. Old was fake, self-absorbed, plastic; the youth were authentic, seeking, made of flesh and blood. The old had little to offer the youth, and what they did offer seemed already dead. These feelings were felt by many, young and old.

Of course there is a lot more to be said about this history, but my point is that if I had been a youth or young adult at that time I’m sure I would have fully embraced the so-called spirit of Vatican II, at least in terms of worship. AND… I actually love a lot of the folk-mass/folk-christian songs — having sung many from the old, brown Young Life songbook back in the day — though some (like the ones in this post) seem rather sappy nowadays. And let’s admit, as well, that many old hymns are dusty, that they were contemporary once, and being old now does not mean they are good. (Although, because they have been tested by time the odds are they are better.)

FolkMass0021

Consider how one (maybe you) feels after having gone to a deeply emotional and moving (perhaps even Christian) rock concert, with its powerful music, smoke machine, and light show, and then the next morning you go to church and it seems so blah. Couldn’t you argue that you were “closer to God” at the concert? At least you felt that way, right? The same feeling would have been common in the 1960’s with its folk music, which seemed so much more authentic than dusty old hymns. I understand this. Bob Dylan was a prophet. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” seems a better homily than is often preached by many a priest. Peter, Paul and Mary sang truth. “If I Had A Hammer” is a more viscerally powerful sermon than most any Baptist preacher can muster. A young adult looking for such a connection at church just might welcome a couple of guitars and some bongo drums in the service of a passionately sung worship ballad in four-four. I was that young adult. I still have those proclivities to some degree.

Given all that, after hearing that older gentleman at the pastoral council wax positive about those Vatican II changes of yesteryear, I realized my tendency to denigrate those changes of the post-Vatican II era is not an entirely honest tendency. Nor might it be entirely empathetic or loving. I still prefer a more traditional form of Mass, and I tend to think that guitars generally have their place outside of Mass, but I cannot assume I’m really any different than anyone else. I have come to this position over time, and I’m still on my journey. I am sure my current preferences are in reaction to my own experiences over a number of years. I too am a fish in the stream of history — and it just goes to show how easily I can forget myself.

Folk Mass Frances Mary Hunter Gordon

Final note: Let us not forget the Real Presence at Mass. The question of proper form and proper music at Mass flows from this profoundly radical fact. It’s not ultimately about a particular style, or particular instruments, or specific lyrics, as much as it is about appropriate reverence and worship, which includes proper action, and what it is that leads us to that. Understanding how much of contemporary music, especially folk and rock, does not fit within a Catholic liturgy may require a sensitivity and a knowledge most of us are unlikely to have; not because we can’t understand, but because our culture has trained us not to.

Here are two sections in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), a constitutional document from Vatican II. These are sections that mention beauty and the arts. I am doing so for one purpose – to encourage the reader to consider the words therein and compare them with their own experience of the liturgy in their local church. I have bolded a few of the words that jump out at me and get me thinking. It is clear to me that the Church does not prescribe any particular style of art, or demand anything with great specificity. However, I cannot help but notice somewhat of a gulf between what is called out here as important, and the general state (so I hear) of many parishes.

But let me hesitate a bit… There is nothing more natural than Beauty, but creating Beauty is difficult; much harder to do than most people realize. For a local parish to seek Beauty with passion is also to demand a great deal of work, and probably to overturn the tables a bit, even make some long-term volunteers grumpy. And few agree entirely on Beauty.

Regardless, consider these words and meditate on them. Remember Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals. Do not shy away from Beauty. Rather, run towards it and embrace it. I say this as an encouragement for all of us to care more about Beauty in our parishes, our liturgies, and our lives.

122. Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.

Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.

The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship, and has admitted changes in materials, style, or ornamentation prompted by the progress of the technical arts with the passage of time.

123. The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by.

124. Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments.

Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense.

And when churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful.

I wonder how many parishes take all this seriously. I tend to think they (the laity, staff, priests, everyone) don’t much. And when they do, I tend to think they would like to see more Beauty, but it’s hard to make changes; people’s feeling are at stake, etc. But I also think there are two key factors as well: 1) People don’t really notice beauty or ugliness that much, and 2) People are wary of Beauty, thinking it mere prettiness and the surface of things. In other words, they don’t see that there is an issue when there is one, and if confronted with a lack of beauty, they push back in the name of “truly spirituality” and “authentic faith.” Alas, the influence of our modern culture and American puritan piety.