Upon Celebrating the Mass for All Saints Day

I genuflect at the foot of the altar as, one by one, I step up to an empty tomb and a table of sacrifice. Aufer a nobis, quaesumus, Domine, iniquitatis nostras, ut ad Sancta sanctorum puris meraemur mentibus introire. I will go into the altar of God, the God who was the joy of my youth, the God who, with the passing of the years has become so familiar and yet is so much more than me and my littleness. I bow over the linens which wrapped the dead body of the Saviour in the sepulcher, linens fragrant with spices, redolent of a man who no longer has need of them. Dare I put my lips to the wood of the Cross on which hung the Saviour of the world? Shall I give Him the kiss of the betrayer or that of a friend? Will He kiss my soul with the kisses of His love, is my wedding garment ready for this feast of which I will never be worthy even though I be invited? Munda cor meum ac labia mea, omnipotens Deus, qui labia Isaiae prophetae calculo mundasti ignito. Where is the burning coal of the angel to purify me? Have I embraced that fire, or do I still fear the fire which burns yet does not consume?

Oramus te Domine, per merita sanctorum tuorum, quorum reliquiae hic sunt. Unworthy though I am, I dare to put the sign of love over my lips as they touch the sight of sacrifice. The sacrifice of My LORD and My God, whose blood commingles with that of those who were washed in His blood.

I stand at the head of an army, an army dressed as in battle array. Behind are the soldiers of the Church Militant, soldiers whose arms are justice and truth, whose only fortification for the battle with the Enemy is the chrism of virtue and the strength that comes from our God. They are behind me, and they look to me as their Captain in the fight. My rusty armor, the chinks in my helmet shame me. But God has chosen me to lead them, and as I straighten up from the altar with the dignity of priest and son of God, I gather courage to fight and to lead them.

But just as Peter looked down at the water and feared, I see at beneath the altar a lake of fire. There are countless souls who are submerged in water and fire at the same time. Is this Hell? The Angel who will take this sacrifice to the Father standing at my side whispers, No. These are those who are being purified. A scene terrifying and wondrous to behold. What pain is theirs to have every choice read before them again, to see how they could have loved, but did not! But the joy which resounds from their purification, as the water of their baptism which had once cleansed them turned into a fire which set them alight with perfect love. They are faceless, they wait for their body to be restored to them and to behold the face of the Lamb once slain for them.

My heart fails me. Will I then see hell like the three children of Fatima, or so many holy men and women before me? No. The Angel knows too well that I am a child and cannot take such a vision, and so he blindfolds me to that scene, but opens for me quite another one.

At the foot of the Cross, which is now gloriously empty, I hear the singing behind me. Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festem celebrantes sub honore Sanctorum omnium. The earthly choir with anticipation sings of their own entrance into the heavenly kingdom. The excitement is palpable, my strength comes back. I lift up my eyes on the top of the mount of Calvary, or is it the Mount of Olives, or is it Mount Tabor? It does not matter. I am here, in the Presence. The veil over my eyes makes me see as in a glass darkly, but what I see, and what I hear – it makes me want to rip off the veil and run towards it. But I cannot, not yet. Not now.

Cherubim et seraphim. Apostolorum chorus. Laudabilis numerus. Sancta confitetur Ecclesia. Te martyrum candidatus, laudat exercitus. All I can see is white, the blinding vision of dazzling beauty. No face can be made out, for there are no faces yet to be had. They to await the resurrection of the body. All I can hear is silence. There is no need for word in this space. There is no want of song in this place. Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus goes up as a hymn beyond the telling and hearing of mortal man. I cannot yet hear that sound which is beyond my ken.

I turn my back on the vision, for one brief moment, to look at my soldiers. Dominus vobiscum, I say. The LORD is with us, for from the summit of the earthly mountain where heaven meets earth in the Mass, I have seen a little bit of His glory. Amen. Alleluia!

El Rosario de los Esclavos and Baroque Spanish Piety

When my Peruvian friend Guillermo suggested we go to the Cathedral of Pamplona to pray the Rosary last Saturday night, neither of us knew what to expect. Both of us had the experience of coming across people who were constantly asking us, “Are you going to the Rosario de los Esclavos?” as if it were a big deal. Cynic that I am, I thought we would mumble through five decades of the rosary like the Irish washerwomen before Low Mass in olden times, and then we could afterwards be off on our merry way to have a nice glass of Rioja and debate theology in the Plaza del Castillo so loved by Hemingway. Was I wrong!

The Esclavos who were “animating” the Rosary are actually a pious association of the faithful, to use the modern canonical jargon, whose origin is really rather lost in the midst of time. They have been saying the Rosary every night in the Cathedral of Pamplona for so long no one seems to be bothered with asking how long they have been doing it. Maybe I have some residue from being raised as a Baptist, so the thought of slaves of Mary, I found a little, well, interesting. And being raised in the South, the idea of slaves of Mary was even more perplexing. But thank God the Hispanic world does not revolve around my complexes, and it is much the healthier for it. Pace to fans of St Louis Grignon de Montfort who read this blog! The point is that the Slaves of Mary love their Mother, and on the last Saturday of October, the month STILL dedicated to Our Lady (pause for liturgical Nazi rationalist shivers up spine), I was in for a treat.

At precisely 1930 hours, a bell rang and a procession made its way to the Altar. The banner of the Immaculate Conception flanked by two candles headed up the procession from the neo-Rococo riot of a sacristy through the stately Gothic nave into the walled and gated Quire where the solid silver canopy topped by a caped and mantilla-clad Virgen y Niño presided over a silver altar which looked curiously like a pulpit with a top on it. But behind it was a procession of young people, sweatshirt and jean uniformed, each with an enormous lantern encased in stained glass, each one representing a mystery of the Rosary. At the end of the Procession, the Archbishop in green cope, mitre, and crosier, accompanied by altar boys in cassock and fine lace surplices and two canons with their flat Spanish birettas and red pompoms and red and black mantelletas.
The Archbishop and Canons went to the Throne, inside of the gated sanctuary, and the World Youth Day-meets-Baroque Spanish Catholicism adolescents lined up in front of, but outside of the sanctuary. A men’s choir on risers to the left of the Quire sang.

¡Enhorabuena! This looks promising, I thought. The Rosary began as normal. Four mysteries were prayed, with the people saying the first part and then a cantor the second part of the prayers for one mystery and then reversing for the next one. Right before the Gloria Patri of each mystery, a bell was rung by one of the men in the choir to remind everyone that the mystery was about to close. After each Mystery, the Choir sang a brief responsory together with the people. Because this looked like just another Rosary in church, but a little “souped up,” I took advantage of the presence of Monsignor Canon Penitentiary’s presence to go to confession. As I left, it was time for the Fifth Mystery.

Not more of the same. Not at all. A bell rang, and a procession began again. A large float on wheels, with yet another image of the Blessed Virgin, deftly managed by an older gentleman came out of nowhere, and the entire Procession lined up in the middle of the Ambulatory. Behind the Archbishop, the little kids from the parish came with their own smaller lanterns with clear glass covers. The Choir started to sing the Pater Noster in Spanish, but in four-part harmony. Then, the laity nonchalantly arranged themselves in two lines parallel to the central line of torchbearers and clergy, and, after another bell, everyone started walking through the Ambulatory. The Ave Maria was sung ten times in Spanish, the choir singing the first part and the people the second part. All in perfect and well done four part harmony, and accompanied by organ improvisations. The Gloria Patri was sung in a similar way. Another bell rang, and the Procession stopped for a statio. A hymn to the Blessed Virgin was sung by the Choir, and then the Litany of Loreto, this time in Latin and in four part harmony between choir and people. The Procession returned to its place at the beginning of the Rosary, and the Archbishop gave a brief fervorino about the place of Mary in the New Evangelization. After the blessing, an Organ Recessional accompanied the participants back to the sacristy.

Some observations. It was striking that there was not one “worship aid” to be found anywhere, there was no one greeting the people or barking out instructions in an officious manner, there was not one glitch in the procession. There was no need. It had been done this way for God knows how long, and it had never been touched. And it also meant that someone like myself, who had never seen this done, could participate in it fully with no problem. The repetition of the music throughout the Rosary and the easily melodies meant that I could catch on quickly, and the movements were all intuitive and well executed, without being exaggerated, militaristic, or staged.

There was also none of the modern attempts to “evangelise” or “modernise” the proceedings, as has been done to so many such pious devotions in other places in Europe. No forced Liturgy of the Word, no tiresome explanations about devotions having second place to the Eucharist, no boring sermonizing on current events.

The young people were involved, not by making it “cool and relevant” by an older generation who still think they know what young people want. They were just involved. Period. And they loved it. What a hoot to hear some of the young men joke about going to the gym to get pumped up so they could carry these heave torches like men, or the young ladies appreciating the colors in the stained glass globes of their torches! The whole Church was involved: from the little ones with their little torches to the old men in the Choir, to the Archbishop. There was not a soul who was excluded, and no one was forced to do anything either.

There was also no allergy to multiplication of images, as there were two in procession. And it was also not a clergy-led event. Neither the Archbishop nor the Canons nor the diocesan clergy felt the need to change how the Rosary was done, or preach at the faithful about how “unmodern” it was until they stopped going to it all. No clericalism, of the clerical or the lay variety, here.

The fact that, during the first four decades of the Rosary, no one could see the Archbishop and Canons for the torchbearers standing in front of a gated sanctuary where visibility was practically nil, did not seem to bother anyone. The lack of visibility was made up for by the procession during the last decade. And the pilgrim Church on its journey was well symbolized by the stately procession, fully accompanied by the people, through the Church.

Guillermo made the interesting comment, “You see how Baroque Catholicism attracts people.” I was surprised to hear his observation framed in these terms. The cathedral was comfortably full, and there were not only young people, but people of all ages, together. And everyone had something to do, and they did it without prompting, and without practicing, either. It was all part of a received heritage. This type of Procession does hearken back to Baroque Tridentine piety, the same kind of devotional life that liturgical dilettantes and self-proclaimed experts have been trying to extirpate for years. A feast for the senses, with music which was not artsy or folksy, but eminently singable and beautiful.

To participate in such a devotion makes me realize how, in America, our worship is very cold and sterile. For all of the attempts to make people “feel at home” and make “Church into community”, so often it just seems like so much blah-blah-blah, incessant talking and theorizing, and trying to straight-jacket prayer into preconceived ideological schemes. While we cannot see Baroque devotionalism as the totality of liturgical and Christian life, the fact that it still flourishes where it has not been ruthlessly stamped out should tell us something. Stop talking. Stop trying to make the perfect liturgy according to the way you think it should be done. Pick up your rosary, grab some candles, and start walking, singing and praying. Now, that’s Catholic! ¡Viva España Católica!

Catholic Romaphobia: Just What is the Vatican Doing Messing Around in Everything?

British Catholic journalist Damian Thompson, described as either a “blood-crazed ferret” or “intrepid defender of the faith” given your point of view, has apparently coined a new term: Romophobe. Unfortunately, the Urban Dictionary declares the word to mean a fear of Dallas Cowboys quaterback Tony Romo (and as fan myself, I say, “You should be afraid – very, very afraid!”

But Damian Thompson uses it to refer to the hysterical critics of Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church who made themselves look positively irrational during the surprisingly (surprising for whom, exactly?) successful state visit of the Roman Pontiff. That there exists Romaphobia, anti-Catholicism, or whatever you want to call it, no one in the Church doubts. But Romaphobia is not exclusive to those outside of the Church; on the contrary, it is alive and well within the Catholic Church!

Faithful Catholics have rightfully bemoaned the seeming inability of the media to “get the facts straight” when talking about the Church. Many Catholics and non-Catholics, whose opinions are formed by the media instead of by the Church, have very confused notions about how the Church actually works. Even when the media report accurately particularly salacious events surrounding members of the hierarchy, they often ascribe responsibility for those members and their actions to the wrong people. Other times the word of “a senior Vatican official” is made out to be the deposit of faith, and people base their entire view of the Church on the random musings of someone whose real identity could be a Cardinal Prefect of a Congregation of the Roman Curia, or a barely literate Carabiniere whose beat is Piazza San Pietro.

This Romaphobia among Catholics is particularly manifest in the comment sections of blogs. The anonymity of the internet allows people to make unchecked claims all the time, and the momentum of Romaphobic comments grows as other like-minded birds of a feather flock together to air their grievances against the Catholic Church, which they generally reduce to their hatred of the hierarchy, and encapsulate in the four-letter word, “Rome,” even if they also use “Vatican” as a synonym. One has the impression reading articles, books and blog comments of reading nineteenth century Protestant polemic in the style of Maria Monk or the colorful phrases of Martin Luther on a very bad day rather than vehement protests of faithful Catholics who actually love their Church.

Why has this state of affairs come about? Just what is Rome and the Vatican, anyway, and what role does the Pope, Rome, the Catholic Church and the Vatican (words that are used as if they were interchangeable) have in saying anything to anyone?

One of the most perplexing presuppositions of many Romophobes is that the Catholic Church is a highly organized machine, not unlike a cult, which demands and exacts unflinching obedience from its billions of automaton followers who are homogenized into accepting every word of the Pope as divinely revealed. The Pope, then, is responsible for every action of every single one of these automatons, much like a computer programmer is responsible for the error messages that creep up on your computer screen when something has gone wrong. There are many Catholic Romophobes who know that this a caricature of the truth, that even the slightest glance at history could disprove it, but they still feel that behind the caricature there is, not a grain, but a grain silo, of truth. They then view their “faithful dissent” as prophetic witness in changing the Church so that she (or it) is no longer the object of the caricature. So where do the Catholic Romophobes feel justified in their protest? Let us look at four areas.

Sacred Liturgy

When a liturgical reform is imposed inorganically by committee, it is impossible to escape the criticism of those who are upset they were not on the committee or that their opinion was not followed by the committee. Every Catholic, especially if he serves on a self-styled Liturgy Committee, has an opinion on what the liturgy should look like. The fact that the liturgy is a gift from the Church to be received and celebrated has been transformed into the notion that the liturgy is really nothing more than a human action that can be manipulated at will. Romophobes take the historical development of the liturgy to be proof that it has always been manipulated by human beings, and cry out when someone besides themselves manipulates the liturgy. They are particularly vexed when someone who happens to live in or around Rome says anything about the liturgy which does not square with how they think the liturgy should be.

One of the byproducts of the hermeneutic of rupture has been that the Roman Rite has in practice been divorced from the reality of the local Church in Rome. Whereas before the Council of Trent, many local Churches had their own liturgy, many bishops sent people to Rome to study the liturgy as celebrated in Rome with a view to integrating the Roman ars celebrandi, or adopting it wholesale, into their own liturgical practice. At Trent, many of these local liturgies were abandoned in favour of the Roman liturgy and others were heavily Romanised. No Romophobes these legitimate liturgists. While they did not go to the extreme of Dom Prosper Gueranger who looked forward to the day when no liturgy that was not Roman would exist, they all had a real deference to Rome on liturgical matters even when they preserved their own customs. In the present situation, the Romophobes argue that any intervention from the competent Roman congregation for liturgical matters is contrary to the Second Vatican Council, and such interventions are resisted with the force of the last stand against the Romans at Masada. “Rome” is continually criticized because “they” do not take into account the opinions of those who feel the right to be consulted.

One is reminded of the invocation of the Litany of Humility of Cardinal Merry Del Val, one of those figures of recent ecclesiastical history the Romophobes despise, “from the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O LORD.”

The angst over the new translation of the Roman Missal into English shows just how deep this Romaphobia runs. The publication of Liturgiam authenticam governing principles of translation has not only not been received by the Romophobes, it has been treated as if it were the death knell of language and literature itself. As the arduous process of correcting the translation of the English edition of the missal (by means of wide consultation over a span of many years, unlike the process by which the first translations were foisted upon the Church) unfolded, the Romophobes capitalized upon it to express their fear that, because the initiative was supposed to have come from Rome (as if now three generations of Catholic faithful have not complained for forty years of insipid translations), this was proof that Rome was “rolling back the clock to before Vatican II.”

This visceral reaction, which has been in reality not so much as to the language of the liturgy as much as it has been to the fact that Pope Benedict XVI has made it very clear that the liturgy is not ours to manipulate as we please, has manifested another byproduct of the hermeneutic of rupture: the distortion of the sensus fidelium. The participants at a certain liturgy conference, the members of a liturgy committee of a certain parish, a certain bishop and his chancery staff, are all unanimously agreed that Latin is dead, the Extraordinary Form is for old people who can’t get with it, and that the new translation of the Roman Missal is a pastoral nightmare waiting to happen. The people have spoken. They have exercised their ministry of prophecy. They protest in their “faithful dissent.” Ergo, the Spirit must be inspiring them and they are voice of the faithful; they are expressing the sense of the faithful.

The facts that the sensus fidelium is a much broader concept, one which also takes into account the sense of the faithful throughout all the world and all of history, and those who work in Vatican congregations also happen to be part of the fideles, does not occur to them. The manipulation of the media by propagating angry voices at the Roman contravention of the “spirit of Vatican II” and sensus fidelium only increases the impression that the Romophobes are in the majority. When someone also publicly decries the new translation of the Roman Missal as contrary to Vatican II (effectively denying the canonical principle that the Roman Pontiff has universal jurisdiction, not only over the liturgy, but over all of the Church, and, if you are Boniface VIII, over all creation), Romaphobia reaches a fever pitch and the folks in the pews can be excused for thinking that maybe there is something wrong. In fact, what is wrong is not that the Roman Curia and the Pope are exercising their ministry of protecting the sacred deposit of faith; what is wrong is that many have exchanged their own opinions on how the liturgy should be celebrated for living what the liturgy symbolizes: the Church, gathered around the apostles, in prayer and unity. And that unity can never be guaranteed by committee or by refusing to pray with the Roman Church.


There has always existed in the Church a rich theological pluralism. Many times that theological pluralism has brought about discussions, which were more acrimonious than charitable, but those same discussions have succeeded in clarifying important aspects of the Revelation of God in His Church. Nowadays, however, theological pluralism has degenerated into little more than doctrinal confusion. The Roman Church “which presides in charity over all the churches” is particularly solicitous for preserving the deposit of faith. While the deposit of faith, the content of Revelation, is distinct from theology, which is the intellectual exercise of understanding that content, theology veers off the right path if it distorts or denies that Revelation. The Magisterium, which can best be understood as the Church in her office of teaching, has as its duty to evaluate theology vis-à-vis that Revelation of which it is the custodian.

Many theologians today are very concerned with what they call “academic freedom.” It is true that theologians must be free from all coercion to pursue their investigation, formulate their conclusions, and propose their ideas. But if theology is to be anything more than an academic discipline pertaining to scholars in universities, and is to be of service to the universal Church, theology must be done, to use Von Balthasar’s phrase, “on our knees.” Theology cannot be divorced from life in the Church. And since life in the Church is principally a communio sanctorum, a communion of holy people, places, things and ideas, theology cannot operate outside of the sphere of the Magisterium whose task is to evaluate the idoneity of theology with Revelation.

The academic freedom of the religious thinker is subordinate to the higher goal of communion with the Church. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican is the principal organ, although it is by no means the only one, by which the Roman Pontiff assures communion among Christians by assuring theology’s consonance with Revelation. The Romophobe feels his autonomy as a thinker challenged by the very existence of the Magisterium and the authority it claims to exercise in assuring the continuity, not just of one theologian’s thought with Revelation, but of all theology with the deposit of faith. Yet, the theologian’s freedom is ordered to the higher good, not of intellectual progress, but of communion within the Church.

The Romaphobic cries out that poor, unsuspecting theologians are hauled into the Vatican to be intellectually (and in former time, physically) tortured, for their beliefs. The very existence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and any other Vatican congregation, for that matter, is an outrage against human freedom and dignity. How dare they question anyone on what they believe? The reality is that the relatively few theologians whose work is analysed by CDF are not casualties of an all-out witch hunt to enforce conformism to the Roman machine. The process of investigation, discovery and evaluation, which CDF takes up in dialogue with some theologians, is initiated precisely because the hierarchy takes seriously the intellectual capacities of certain men and women to contribute to communion of the Church. One is reminded that even saints were examined by the Inquisition, the predecessor of the CDF, and as a result of such examination had the rightness of their convictions confirmed by the Church. The work of dialogue between the Roman Curia and theologians throughout the world exists first of all to ascertain what is good and helpful. It also carefully engages in fraternal correction, where necessary. Where the interventions of the Roman Curia are portrayed as obscurantist pogroms, the phantasms of Romaphobia can be discerned lurking the background, phantasms which essentially prize freedom at the expense of communion, and often, at the expense of truth.

The Appointment of Bishops

Nobody can seriously deny the evidence that the process for the selection and the appointment of bishops is very different today than it has been for most of history. The Romophobe sees the popular election of St Ambrose as Bishop of Milan from his status as a catechumen as proof of American-style populist democracy in the ancient Church. The Romophobe sees the election of bishops by cathedral chapters and, sometimes even by abbesses, in the Middle Ages and the appointment of every bishop from Rome today and thinks there must be something wrong with the process of today, if for most of history it was done differently. In short, the Romophobe is convinced that the present system testifies to the power-grabbing mania which he takes to characterize Rome, and often declares that this lust for power is precisely what drives people out of the Church.

The history of bishop-making is complicated indeed. But it is complicated partly because of the continued interference of civil leaders in the process. After 2000 years, the Church has extricated herself in large part, although not entirely, from state interference in the selection of bishops. If the Church teaches the principle of subsidiarity, namely, that decisions should be made “as close to home as possible,” then is it not logical for such a process to be as free from the interference of the Roman Curia as it is from the State?

In reality, this presupposition is not Romophobic at all. But it comes up against the sad reality of the fallen nature of man as homo politicus. The wisdom of the ancient Fathers and Doctors of the Church held that no man should ever want to become a bishop. But the type of popular election at the local level of bishops would inevitably cause the rise of careerist priests spending their time electioneering at the expense of their spiritual duties, and of men who might be worthy of the episcopacy being marginalized for not “playing the game.” Such a popular election mires the episcopal office invariably in local church politics.

Even many Romophobes are surprised, when they come across the Vatican’s procedure for the nomination of candidates to the episcopacy, of just how much consultation at the local level is asked for. In practice, the nuncios, the Vatican ambassadors whose job includes the synthesizing of this information to send to the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican, do not always consult as they should. But the method is there. The fact that such nominees are “vetted” at several levels, even as far as the desk of the Holy Father himself, makes it a more consultative and inclusive decision making process than that of the election of many important positions in civil society.

The increased Roman centralization of the appointment of bishops has to be seen in the context of the increased localization of the information gathered to appoint them. It also serves to put forward candidates who might be excluded by local politics, it identifies candidates from one milieu whose talents might be just the right thing for another milieu, and it underscores the universality of the Church which goes over and above the merely local.

The discretion the Church asks of those involved in the laborious process of consultation is offered as evidence of the “cloak-and-dagger” mentality of Rome, when it serves to protect the peace of the candidates involved, as well as to keep out undue influences from the media or from other purely local political factors. The Romophobe, in his obsession with “transparency” actually would turn the whole life of the Church into an eternal campaign; this obsession Rome wisely resists.

It is not a perfect system, and the consultative process could always be larger, but in effect, it works.

The Diplomatic Mission of the Holy See

The Romophobes outside of the Church protested loudly the Holy Father’s visit to the United Kingdom in September 2010 on the ground that they felt they should not have to pay for the state visit of a man who was a religious leader, and not a true head of state. Particularly against the background of the sexual abuse crisis, calls abounded for the Pope to be arrested and handed over to the justice of the State, although no one was clear which State that would be. In fact, whether the Romophobes like it or not, the Pope is the head of a state known as Vatican City State and which is styled The Holy See as its diplomatic name, and as such, he and his ambassadors, the nuncios, are granted the rights and privileges of diplomatic immunity as are any other heads of state and their diplomatic corps.

Theological opinion on the relationship between the spiritual and temporal power of the Church, particularly as it resides in the person of the Holy Father, has varied widely through the ages. The all but complete loss of temporal power in the form of territory at the takeover of the Papal States by the Italian Unification completed in 1871 made such a discussion an academic one for the most part. The 1929 Lateran Treaty, and its subsequent reconfirmations in diplomatic law since then, guaranteed the Pope a spiritual freedom which was actually enhanced by the loss of temporal power and the establishment of the Holy See’s diplomatic mission in its present form.

The Romophobe sees this special status of the Holy See as a fiction. Again, against the backdrop of the sexual abuse crisis, it seems nothing more than a convenient way of escaping the law and empowering immoral behavior. Yet, the handing over of clerics to the civil authorities for punishment of civil crimes is not at variance with the diplomatic mission of the Holy See. The Romophobe, who buys into the aggrandizement of the State as the only legitimate authority (because at least in theory, it is based on representative government, whereas the Church is a hierarchy with an infallible pope and a monarchical episcopate who call the Church a communion), wants to see the humbling of the Church before and by the State for its sins. The Romophobe wants to see the erasing of any vestige of temporal power, in a misguided attempt to restore a purely spiritual power to the Church. How he does not learn from the lesson of Henry VIII, who purported to do exactly the same in England, and ending up just despoiling the Church of her legitimate possessions and enriching himself, remains a mystery.

Here we see again a refusal to see the Church as she is and make the necessary distinctions. The Church is sinless, and made up of sinning members, as the paradox goes. That just punishment, in civil and canon law, for errant clerics and their protectors, must be had for the Church to regain the confidence of many, no one sane can deny. But using the sad story of crisis and cover-up as a pretext for the destruction of the Holy See’s diplomatic mission would be a grave offense against justice and humanity.

For one, the Holy See, precisely because of its unique status, can be above nationalism and local politics. The diplomatic service of the Holy See is actually in service, not just of the interests of the Catholic Church, but of religion in general and for all true human rights precisely because it is not the usual kind of state. While it is not unforeseeable that the current culture wars may result in stripping the Holy See of that state, a victory the Romophobes within and without the Church will celebrate, such a pyrrhic victory would remove from the public square a unique but powerful voice of conscience.

So where does all of this Romaphobia come from?

The acerbic, and not entirely unjustified, reaction to the sexual abuse crisis understandably feeds anti-Catholicism. But it also feeds Romaphobia. In part, Romaphobia is a positive reaction against those in the Church who do not practice what they preach, and is a call for coherence of life among those who hold the office of teaching, governing and sanctifying in the Church. However, Romaphobia among Catholics also points to the fact that many people no longer think with the Church. The Romophobe reasons that, if there are so many who do not think with the Church, then maybe the Church needs to think again. Yet such reasoning does not have as its reference point anything other than private judgment and individual contempt for the communion of the Church. Our individual struggle with the teaching of Christ and life in His Church, which is at the same time unified and broken, cannot remain at the level of reaction against Rome. That struggle must be lived in the communion of believers.

The hierarchy of the Church must be a model of communion if the lay faithful are going to find such a communion credible. The public accusations of cardinal vs. cardinal, bishop vs. bishop we read in the news today may at first seem like the fight between Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the New Testament, where a prophetic voice challenges Roman authority to truth and justice. But often our hierarchs can be lone rangers, waging their own battles with their own agendas in mind, without that discussion with the Roman Church and the Pope which makes dialogue flourish in communion. The continuous calls of some priests and bishops to “rethink” Church teaching on a variety of questions, from clerical celibacy and liturgical translations to same-sex marriage and global warming, plays right into the logic of Romophobia and does not edify the faithful. These calls give the impression that there is no authority in the Church, or that it is arbitrary, and they always make Rome out to be the villain. That certain men who have occupied the Chair of St Peter and worked in the Vatican have not always lived up to the Gospel as they should have is undeniable. But the same holds for those who occupy the pulpits and altars of Catholic churches all over the world, and those who sit in their pews.

To love Christ and His Church is not to hold back from constructive criticism at the right time, in the right place and in the right way, of those who err, but such criticism must be neither hatred nor fear of Rome, the Vatican, the Pope, or the Catholic Church. It must be offered from the standpoint of the eternal truth of Revelation lived joyfully in communion with the Church, with and under Peter.

Father Christopher Smith is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina and a graduate of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain.

Thinking My Way Through Anglican Difficulties

Before I could find my way to the Tiber to cross through its waters to the Eternal City of Rome, in whose embrace I found the land of milk and honey, I paused for a bit at the Thames. I discovered the existence of liturgy and sacraments in the Anglican tradition, and I thought for a while that coming home to Canterbury might be an option a little bit less extreme in the eyes of my fundamentalist family than going off to consort with what I was taught as a child was the Whore of Babylon.

I grew very fond of the Anglican patrimony: the Prayer Book and the Anglican Missal, the Hymnal, chanting the psalms, cathedrals and boys’ choirs, the poetry of John Donne. I knew there to be Anglicans who considered themselves to be Catholics, even more so than the Romans. Could a life within Anglicanism be a way for me to live as both a Christian and a Catholic, combining the faith of my childhood with my growing love for the ancient and the traditional?

But the Anglican patrimony was not the only thing that attracted me. For the Baptist, there was just Scripture. For the Catholic, there was Scripture and Tradition. But the Anglicans like to include Reason in their trinity of sources of faith. With that typically English (and semi-Pelagian, I would come to realize later) enthusiasm for the capacity of man to know, I thought that, even if the use of Reason could sometimes cause divisions and discrepancies that were hard to square with a drive for unity, surely religion was meant to be in dialogue with Reason, not only my own but others’ as well. Anglicanism was the religion of personal freedom lived within the context of the historical Church, I came to think.

Then something happened which shattered my simplistic view of Anglicanism a potential spiritual home. I read the Articles of Religion, and my eyes rested on these words: Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture. I had come to believe that Jesus had meant what he said when he took bread and wine and said, “This is My Body; This is My Blood. Unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood you have no life in you.” The Real Presence of Christ was made manifest to me first of all through the reading of the Scriptures. The fact that my Bible-believing Church rejected that same Real Presence meant that I had to journey out of the Baptist faith of my childhood and find where this Real Presence could be enjoyed.

I knew that there were many Anglicans who believed in the Real Presence and, even if they were loath to use the T word, they believed in it with the same faith that the Fathers of the Council of Trent believed in it. But I also knew that there many Anglicans who had other opinions. Was this just another example of how Anglicanism’s use of Reason produced a variety of different interpretations that could live side by side together in harmony? Surely I could live as those quirky Anglo-Catholic priests did, who wore 39 buttons on their cassocks for each of those Articles they rejected, right?

But there Article 28 was, right in the Prayer Book. I shut the Prayer Book right then and there, and said to myself, “If I am going to be a Catholic, I am going to be a real Catholic. I am not going to do this half-way.” That very reaction is guaranteed to offend every Anglican who has ever struggled with converting to Rome, who has seen himself always as a Catholic even as he remained within the Church of England. But that is what I felt at the time.

Why such a reaction? How could I sacrifice Reason for the obscurantist obedience and dogma obsessed Roman Communion as simple as that? And why, when I actually professed the Creed in my local Catholic parish church and received for the first time the Body and Blood of Christ, did I not gaze longingly at the Anglican patrimony on which I had turned my back?

Article 28 raised for me a question: By whose authority is Article 28 something that I should even care about?

The Anglican patrimony has two aspects to it: there is a culture associated with it, in its art, history, music, and spirituality; and there is also a mindset, a way of thinking about being Church. In both its culture and mindset there is wide latitude, but sometimes to such a degree as to include mutually exclusive points of view as equally true.

The Anglo-Catholic, and especially Anglo-Papalist variant, tries to mix the culture and mindset of the Anglican patrimony with the culture and mindset of the Roman Church in whose shadow he lives, moves, breathes and has his being. He always has an eye on Rome, even as he is never quite sure what to do with what he sees there. The Anglo-Catholic finds himself in the ambiguous situation of being in communion with a Church of England which has severed ties with Rome and at the same time feeling that the fact of his non-communion of Rome is a lack which has to be remedied in some way.

But how is that lack to be remedied? Reason, that Anglican font of blessing, comes to supply the answer. Some reason that the Anglo-Catholic phenomenon is a way of paving the way for an eventual meeting of the minds between Rome and Canterbury. There is evidence that Anglo-Catholics have caused their Church to restore much of what was lost after Henry VIII: a greater appreciation of the sacraments and Eucharistic worship, the dignity of the office of bishop. Others reason that we having a more broad minded conception of what it means to be Catholic and Church will resolve our difficulties.

Yet what happens when I, from my vantage point within the Anglican Church, claim to be a part of the Catholic Church when the body which calls itself the Catholic Church says that I am not, and the body which calls itself the Anglican Communion says that I am not in communion with the body which calls itself the Catholic Church? What happens then when I say, because I believe it, every Sunday, I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church?

Article 28 not only raises the question: By whose authority is Article 28 something that I should even care about? but also, To whom am I bound as an authority and what are the limits of that authority, and my obedience to it? Anglicans have generally preferred to live with the sometimes uncomfortable vicissitudes brought about by our reasoning on the questions of faith rather than invoke authority. At its root, this preference is inherently Protestant. It doubts the capacity of any human authority to really be able to exercise divine authority, and it can point to innumerable instances where humans claiming to exercise such a divine authority have been frauds and caused great damage to the Church and humanity at large.

This is why many Anglo-Catholics have reveled in their own disobedience to their bishops over matters of faith and liturgy, and why attempts by their bishops to rein them in have been largely unsuccessful. But the same applies to disobedience by other types of Anglicans and attempts by Anglican hierarchy to address such disobedience. It has been commented before that many Anglo-Catholics are practical Congregationalists for all of their Catholic theology.

Each Anglo-Catholic believer, each priest, each parish, each institution incarnates in a very different way what it means to be Catholic and Church, where authority is and what deference should be paid to it. This radically individualistic, Atomistic notion of the Catholic Church is not the exclusive domain of Anglo-Catholics; it is a characteristic of our age. Such an Atomistic Catholic, as I will call him (and he exists in the Roman Church as well), holds on to as much of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, to as much of patrimony and culture of any kind, as he wishes.

But Atomistic Catholics, even as they preserve in themselves to a greater or lesser degree Scripture, Tradition, Reason, patrimony, culture, Catholic and Church, cannot live in communion with others. Atomistic Catholics are to be found not only in the Anglican Church, but in the Roman Church, in fact analogues exist in every world religion and political system.

The Catholic Church, however, whose Magisterium has never condemned Atomism as a heresy, nonetheless by her divine constitution can never admit Atomism as a hermeneutic, as a way of thinking or living. The Church’s founder, Jesus Christ, chose for reasons known to Him alone, weak and sinful human beings to exercise His own divine authority: to teach, govern and sanctify in His Name until He comes back in glory. The Atomist can assent to this truth as a logical corollary to the Incarnation, but he is always looking for a way to reject authority in the name of a higher authority. And that Atomism has taken various forms, from the Donatist heretics who rejected the validity of the sacraments celebrated by clergy whose lives were not in accord with the Gospel, to women ordained on boats in the Danube who reject the authority of an all-male hierarchy in favor of an authority which comes from themselves even as they claim it comes from God.

The women who have themselves ordained outside of the confines of the authority of the Catholic Church on grounds that a higher authority, namely themselves, allows it, have made a public stand that ordination is not subordination. Reason tells them subordination is a grave sin against their individual freedom, which they take as the most important virtue.

The Catholic Church responds, that ordination is all about subordination. It is about subordinating the good of individual human freedom, legitimate autonomy and personal authority to the common good of the communion of the Church, where freedom is not the most important virtue, but the pre-requisite for us to submit in obedience to the Truth of the Gospel revealed in every age in the same way through that same communion.

A hermeneutic of Atomism, then, rejects the notion that any authority can pronounce invalid anyone else’s ordination. If ordination comes from my free response to my own authority, then how can anyone outside of myself dare to question its validity? This is a sticking point with many Atomistic Catholics in and outside the Anglican Communion who are still puzzled over the continued acceptance by Rome of Leo XIII’s recognition of Anglican orders as absolutely null and utterly void. By extension, Atomists of every kind would see in the Catholic Church’s declaration nothing more than mean stupidity.

We see here the difference between how the hermeneutic of Atomism views reality and the way the Church exercises authority. The Catholic Church says that Holy Orders is a sacrament, and by that she means, a outward sign of inward grace, instituted by Christ, which produces the grace that it signifies. The 25th Article of Religion says that Holy Orders, along with four other rites the Catholic Church recognizes as sacraments, is not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles.

It is common to say that the Catholic Church denies the validity of Anglican orders, which some take as a rejection of Anglican ministers’ work and love for the Gospel and for Christ. In reality, the Catholic Church says that Orders is a sacrament. The Anglican Church says that Orders is not a sacrament the way that Catholics define sacrament. The Catholic Church says that Anglican Orders is not a sacrament the way that Catholics define sacrament. The Church’s authority in the reviled Apostolicae curae recognizes that the Catholic and Anglican churches say exactly the same thing about Anglican orders: they are not a sacrament they way the Catholic Church defines a sacrament.

Seen in that light, it becomes clear that the authority of the Catholic Church is not used as a weapon to maltreat Anglicans. Such an authority is used, however, to state the reality of what is: Anglicans and Catholics do not mean the same thing when they speak of the sacraments and Holy Orders. The Atomistic Catholic, however, having changed by his own authority the meaning of Orders, of sacrament, of a whole host of things, then attacks the Catholic Church for being at variance with his own authority. Wherever Atomism exists, it reduces, relativizes and individualizes authority, and rejects any other kind of authority outside of the self, legitimate or not.

The way forward for Anglo-Catholics, and all men and women of good will, who seek to preserve their patrimony and culture, to be faithful to Scripture, Tradition and Reason, is not to debate the relative merits of Apostolicae curae and the Thirty-Nine Articles. It is not to cling bravely hope against hope to a Communion which has always and will continue to marginalize them. It is not even to come into full communion with Rome while keeping an eye on the Church of England whose shadow they are trying not to escape, while reserving the right to keep some authority for their own vision.

The way forward for Anglo-Catholics is to convert away from anything resembling Atomism in their thoughts, words and deeds. It is to realize that their ordination, whether to Orders as ministers of Gospel and Sacrament or to baptism as disciples of the LORD Jesus, is subordination: subordinating the freedom they have to enjoy their patrimony, and culture in their own way to a Truth which is lived in the authority of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which subsists in the See of Rome, not for any merit of her own, but as the greatest gift God has given man to escape being unrelated atoms so as to be built into the very Body of Christ.

Father Christopher Smith is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina and a student at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain, where he is pursuing a doctoral degree in dogmatic theology.

Why am I So “Into” the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?

I was having a delightful meal recently with a bishop whom I love and respect as a father, and who has been extraordinarily kind to me. My personal policy never to even mention the extraordinary form of the Mass at the dinner table was circumvented by one of my brother priests whom I also esteem as a friend and colleague. “So what do you think of the Tridentine Mass, Bishop?” Sweat began to form on my brow as my stomach churned and the previously delectable filet mignon on my plate suddenly revolted me. “Not again,” I said to myself as I began to drown out what I knew would be an deluge of verbiage against the Missal of Pius V/John XXIII by reciting the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar from memory.

It is a scene which has happened to me many a time, and which is very familiar to young priests all over the world. All of a sudden, I was no longer just one priest among others. I was a marked man. I had committed the not very original sin of being one of “those priests,” the kind who celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I was an enigma to the many friends I had made in the communities who enjoy exclusive use of the pre-conciliar liturgical books, who could not fathom how I could wake up every morning and say the detestable Novus Ordo, aka Nervous Disorder. And I was a mystery to my brother priests and even some of my parishioners who couldn’t square the man they knew as their friend, who seemed so jovial, fun-loving and open-minded, with a liturgy which was caricatured by many as the hobbyhorse of the Chosen Frozen, the Walking Wounded, the Integristes, and the Rigid Frigid.

Why? is the question that so many Catholics in pews and rectories all over the world have on their lips after Summorum pontificum unshackled a particular historical form of the Roman rite to work its magic (or wreak havoc, depending on your point of view) on the Church. And it is not an unimportant question.

The fact that Benedict XVI has given me the freedom to celebrate this form of the Mass caused me to sing a quiet private Te Deum in my room, but it does not provide me with answers to that question.

A cogent answer to that question can be given. Priests and laity all over the world are capable of drafting an apologia of historical, theological, and spiritual reasons for why the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is a good thing, why its continued celebration is a good thing, and why it has a place in the Church of today and tomorrow. Maybe one day the Magisterium of the Church will propose such an apologia so that those of us who enjoy the privilege of Summorum pontificum can point to all of those reasons.

But the reasons why people are still scratching their heads about why Pope Benedict XVI would “resurrect” a supposedly dead liturgy in a supposedly dead language for what is supposedly a miniscule minority of devotees have little to do with history, theology, and spirituality. They have to do with people’s experience of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite and those who are attached to it. At dinner, my dear father in God, the successor to the apostles, shared with us, “I remember the Tridentine Mass when I was a boy. I served that Mass. I still remember the responses: Introibo ad altare Dei; ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. But it was not beautiful. We had priests who said Low Mass in fifteen minutes and had no idea what they were saying. I lived through all of that. I am done with that. I like the English Mass, and I don’t want to go back.” One can hardly argue with another man’s experience: it is what it is, it is his experience, and you can’t discount that.

Then the priest who launched the cannonball turned the discussion to the contemporary adherents of the extraordinary Mass, “They’re all crazy. They’re just nostalgic for a past they have never known. And most of them are just the walking wounded. The Pope celebrates the current form of the Mass, so that’s good enough for me.”

My dinner companions’ opinions had been formed by their experience, and that experience had left a bad taste in their mouths. No matter what papal legislation, theological study or heartfelt testimonial would be put before them, it was unlikely that their minds would ever be changed. None of that would change the fact that they would always be my friends and mentors, and the fact that they would always see my penchant for the “Trad” thing as a character flaw, a foible, an inexplicable eccentricity. They would love the sinner even if they hated the sin!

I am a simple parish priest. I cannot provide the air-tight argumentation for the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite which would bedazzle the world into whipping out their dusty hand missals and singing the Graduale Romanum. I celebrate the “Trad” Mass because I have parishioners who want it, and because I want to celebrate it. All I can do is share why my experiences of life have given me this love for something that so many of my fellow Catholics do not love. I am sure that there are many others who will find echoes of their own faith journey towards Trent!

As a child, I was raised as a Baptist. About as non-liturgical as you can get. One day I came across a copy of the Book of Common Prayer in a bookstore. I was hooked. All of these prayers and ceremonies, what were they? I saved my allowance and bought a copy. There are boys who drool over complicated football plays, who imagine themselves in military parades with a snazzy uniform and polished rifle, who rattle off baseball stats and have an encyclopedic knowledge of Beckett’s. And then there are boys who come across Adrian Fortescue’s Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described and fall in love.

At first glance, boy rubrical wizards may seem to have nothing to do with sports and army buffs. But many boys want to be in a place where they can be men with other men, where they can master something which others do not know so they compete with those who know some, where they can be on a team. Catholic liturgy traditionally has been a place where that boyhood dream can be fulfilled; the sanctuary, the sports field, the military academy all have provided that. I was introduced to the world of liturgy with its playbook, its rules, its teams, and its camaraderie. I was hooked.

Soon enough I read my way into the Catholic Church, and went dutifully to the ordinary form of the Mass in English. I became an altar server, a cantor and a lector. I sang in the choir. I had seen a Liber usualis in the choir loft, but didn’t know what the squiggles and the Latin words meant. I stole a little red book with parallel columns of Latin and Englishfrom something called the Commission in Support of Ecclesia Dei that someone had left in the church.

I came across Latin Mass Magazine in a bookstore which had articles about courageous priests and laity throughout history and today who performed heroic acts of sacrifice for what some priest called Fr Faber called “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.”

All of a sudden my world opened up. There was more to my faith and the Mass than just what I had come to know as the Catholic Mass, which was what was celebrated in my parish every Sunday. I learned about young people from all over the world who walked from Paris to Chartres every Pentecost to pray for a return to the sacred. I was not sure what that meant, but I saw these pictures of thousands of young people like me who loved Jesus, the Catholic Church, and the Mass. There was something different about this Mass, this movement.

With the all-critical, all-knowing and all-judging eye of a sixteen year old, I began to see everything else around me in Holden Caufield terms, as “phony.” I never felt quite right about the Life Teen Mass. It just seemed like a bunch of old people desperately trying to relate to me, and we all know that old people, like 33 or so (like I am now!) just can’t understand the young. I had friends who went to Life Teen, and then just stopped going to Mass entirely. I was bored with Mass. It seemed all about the priest’s personality. It was all about jokes, felt banners, and bad music.

I stayed in the choir, and I was never happier than we sang Mozart, Gounod, and Bach. And then came the Glory and Praise and I was just, underwhelmed. And then my priest was exiled for an accusation of child molestation.

For a sixteen year old, this was a lot to take in. I felt betrayed, confused, and most of all, bored. Where was this other enchanted world of High Masses, processions and Holy Hours? Luckily, my senior year, I came across two things which changed my life. I started going to the Orthodox Churches, one Greek and one Russian, in the area, out of curiosity, which instilled in me a sense of the sacred and of liturgical worship. And I went to a conference on Gregorian chant at a Trappist abbey.

During the conference, where I came to actually understand what those squiggles and Latin words in the book I had seen years before in the choir loft were all about, I sneaked into the crypt in the middle of the night to explore and pray. In the dimly lit corridor, I heard the words, Dominus vobiscum. I turned the corner to see an ancient monk face an altar set into the wall, with a couple of people kneeling behind him. “What are they doing at four o’clock in the morning?”

I stayed for the rest of whatever it was that I was seeing, enraptured. Afterwards, I bounced up to the monk and said, “Was that the Tridentine Mass?” And he said, matter of factly, “Yes.” I asked him, “Are you going to do it again?” “Every morning, same time, same place. Can you come tomorrow and serve the Mass for me?” “But, I don’t know how.” “Here’s a little red book you can study for tomorrow. You have to start somewhere.” “Cool!” I said. All of a sudden, that little red book and a ninety-year old monk became my link to a wider world of the faith, and I was included. I was part of something new and exciting.

When I went home, I set about to learn everything I could about this Mass. And so I came across the books of Michael Davies, the figures of Archbishop Lefebvre, and the history of what happened after Vatican II. I also came across The Ratzinger Report and started to read everything I could get my hands on by this Joseph Ratzinger, who became my new hero!

By the time I went off to college, I was well-versed in the history of the crisis in the Church after Vatican II. But I had never studied philosophy or theology, never had a spiritual director, and never had a community of young Catholics where I felt I belonged. In college, I finally had access to all of those things. I had students and professors who painstakingly helped me to evaluate what I had been reading and to develop an authentically Catholic mindset and spirituality.
At college, I was able to see the Novus ordo celebrated well and beautifully and was able to participate in the “Old Mass” as well.

There was still something “edgy” about being a self-described “Traddie.” It was eccentric, it was different, it was cool. I built a huge liturgical library and began to meet other young people like me, and networks began to develop from all over the world. I was no longer bound to polemics and bitterness. As I studied the Roman liturgy, it came alive for me, and I grew to love the prayers, the ceremonies, the music of it all.

My freshman year, I concocted the bright idea that I wanted to see Holy Week in the Old Rite. So six like-minded buddies of mine and I got in a car and drove to Scranton, Pennsylvania to crash the Fraternity of St Peter’s seminary. All three Tenebrae services, the black vestments on Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and the fine party afterwards, the singing of the Haec festa dies: all of them are grafted onto my memory as beautiful and precious for me and for the whole Church. Who would not want to have all of this as part of the patrimony of the Church? I went back every year, and as word of mouth spread, by the last year, we brought 70 others with us.

The day after I graduated, I went on the famous pilgrimage to Chartres. On the middle day of the pilgrimage, we stopped in the middle of the forest for Solemn High Mass of Pentecost. The sumptuous procession of clergy, the active participation of thousands of young people singing with one voice the Latin chants of all ages, it was all a great respite from our grueling walk. And then, after the Offertory, it started to rain. I expected the stampede to find cover, the complaining, a total abandonment of what we were seeing. Nobody moved from the place, except the Scouts, who unfurled linen cloths in neat rows and held them like soldiers holding the flag over a casket.

Priests came with the Blessed Sacrament accompanied by scouts with gold and white umbrellas for the color of the Pope and the Sacred Host. And, as the rain drove down hard upon our faces and drowned out the singing, everyone knelt in the mud, clutching the linen cloths, and received their LORD and God on the tongue with great devotion and love.

This was the faith that I had been looking for my whole life. This was that beauty, ever ancient and ever new, which ravished my heart and gave me strength. There in the mud in the middle of a forest in France far from home, I knew that my vocation was to be a priest, to bring the LORD of faith and beauty to others like those priests who came to the adoring throngs covered in dirt and grime in body, but in grace and charity in soul. And that experience was during the extraordinary form of the Mass. Could I have had a similar or even the same experience in another form of the Mass, or even at some other time? Of course. But God chose that time to reveal Himself and His plan to me in a special way, and for that reason I will always be linked to the liturgy and the people who have sacrificed to encourage its celebration.

I am now a priest of God and the Catholic Church, faithful to the Pope and to the Tradition. Every time I see a young man with a missal in hand and that look of wonder and awe that comes to those who find the faith through its dignified liturgical celebration, I smile and remember. Now I even have to consult some of my spiritual daughters, whose knowledge of Fortescue and the liturgical calendars of various rites far outstrips my own. While I do not celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass as much as I would like, as I follow the vocation God is laying out for me, I am thankful to Pope Benedict that I, and others like me, are no longer outcasts or orphans. We are Catholics, and as such, we rejoice to be such, with a beautiful liturgical heritage and a Pope to show us the way. My predilection for the “Old Mass” is not an indictment of those who do not have such a predilection, or of the Church’s power to reform the liturgy; it is an expression of something positive and wonderful I have found in the Church’s worship, and for that I am grateful to God!

If you’re wondering how the dinner ended, I kept silence because I was too busy thinking of all the things I am writing down here, of how I could respond to the Why? of my tablemates. As it happened, my steak had been whisked away and a lovely crème brulee had taken its place out of nowhere as the rest of the table were on to other topics of ecclesiastical politics. The milk and honey of the Promised Land after so much wandering was around the corner after all.

The Importance of Public Manifestations of Faith

Except for a few ethnic enclaves in the big cities, English-speaking Catholics are not used to public manifestations of their faith. The history of Catholicism in the Anglo world, persecuted and controversial, led many Catholics to be uncomfortable with what are often derided as “Latin” customs such as processions through the streets of statues, relics and images. Many Catholics of English and Irish heritage saw their faith in terms of the Mass, which was what was most virulently attacked by the Protestants. All of that other “stuff” was window dressing or frippery and foppery of various forms.

One thinks of the contrast between those two great figures of English Catholicism, John Henry Newman, whose faith was marked by intellectual orthodoxy and English understatement, and Frederick Faber, whose enthusiasm for Italian Baroque devotions led him to call the Virgin Mary Mamma from the pulpit in such a way that surely raised the frissance of his compatriots. Newman, like many English-speaking Catholics today, preferred sound preaching, rubrically correct liturgy, and orthodox teaching to what seemed like an overwrought emotionalism innate in Romance-speaking Catholic cultures.

This anti-devotional and anti-processional mentality has been aggravated in the last century by several factors.
The Liturgical Movement, in seeking to favour the liturgical processions of the rite books, looked askance at many traditions that were not “liturgically correct.” After Vatican II, the incessant drive for modernization drove not a few clerics to abandon, condemn and proscribe any kind of extraliturgical manifestation of the faith that has existed previously. As the theology of secularization marched onward, people even questioned the sense of having such popular exhibitions of piety as not in line with religiously tolerant democracies, ecumenism and secular culture. If the existentialists in France were right, then did the annual Pentecost pilgrimage of Catholics from Paris to Chartres not seem at best a relic of the past and at worst a provocation? In the quest to purify the Church of “triumphalism” the externals of the Church, from buckles on the shoes of cardinals to grand funeral corteges of public persons were all excised in the name of “noble simplicity.”

At the same time, there has been a growing feeling in the Church that we are lacking something of community in our parish life. American Catholics no longer live in urban ghettoes where people define themselves by the name of their parishes. Some lament that their church feels “cold” to them, not warm and welcoming, and there are many Catholics who are desperate for some sense of belonging, of community, of family in a world where there is increasingly less a sense of all three.

So some parishes have formed welcoming committees; others have eager greeters at the door who repeat “Good morning, welcome to our faith community!” with a smile and then give you songbook, bulletin, worship aid, missalette, pastoral letter, survey and parish financial handbook all in one bundle; others have people shake hands and introduce each other at the beginning of Mass. The desire to respond to a real human need is genuine, and parishes must be centers of Christian charity and welcome. But so often these initiatives, as sincere as they may be, do not always build community in the way they are hoped to do.

But look at what it takes to pull off a procession! What a tremendous opportunity not only to involve all the different levels of parish life as well as incarnate the reality of the Christian witness in the midst of the secular city, or suburbia, or farmtown.

I will only give you a few examples of processions I have participated in and what I have learned from them.

Vieste, on the Adriatic Coast of Italy, is one of a number of towns that Saint Paul is supposed to have visited. Saint George is the patron of the city, and the city takes it seriously. I knew I was not in American anymore when I lined up with the throngs of clergy in cassock and surplice behind all manner of confraternities, sodalities, and parish groups and walked for two hours behind the Archbishop who held the relic of Saint George. Those who were not part of the procession or on the streets unfolded bedsheets out of the windows, or carpets, anything to decorate the space of their houses as the relic passed. Rose petals rained down from on high as we made our way through the streets. The Archbishop then celebrated Mass in one of the large parishes, and while the faithful prayed, the clergy prepared omelettes for the faithful on hot plates scattered all over the sacristy so the faithful had something to eat after Mass. Never have I seen the dictum ubi Missa, ibi mensa taken so literally! What a delight it was to see the clergy serving these home-made omelettes to their parishioners on paper plates, but there was no time to waste, for Saint George had to go back home, and so the procession started up again.

At a certain point, the procession stopped, in the middle of the hot blazing sun, for fireworks that would be invisible to anyone save the onorato of the feast. The gentlemen carrying the enormous statue of Saint George began to turn the statue in the direction of the fireworks. The Archbishop, in accord with the newly Vatican-issued Directory of Popular Piety, protested this act of superstition, and a melee insued. Finally, Saint George got to see his fireworks as the Archbishop, smiling, pastorally allowed this rubrical deviation to the delight of all present.
What did I learn from this spectacular event? I learned that a procession could involve everyone in the parish, bring everyone together, and by its nature, it has to involve civic authorities. There is a lot of work to be had in granting permissions, security, and all of the organization of such an event. I meditated on the fact that the sound system was blaring the words of the Gospel and prayers into shops, apartments and office buildings. The Word was being preached and community was being formed all over town. It was a work of evangelisation. Think of the fact that those few words of Sacred Scripture, those words of comfort and consolation, may have reached people who needed to hear them at that moment, something that never would have happened if the faithful were just in church at Mass for the feast.

I also noted that while the clergy were present and hierarchy was respected (there was a place for everyone and everyone was in his place) this was a lay-driven event. The sensus fidelium was expressed, not by dissenting theologians who like to deem their own opinions as such, but by the devotees of Saint George all over the city who gave their time, talent and treasure to God in an admirable sacrifice of themselves. In doing so, friendships were formed, the communion of the Church strengthened, and God was glorified. And note that it was the laity who made sure that Saint George got to see his fireworks, in a magnificent display of the power of simple piety over boring rationalism perpetrated by the clergy!

I have seen many a grand procession in my time: the princely Abbot of Monte Cassino receiving the keys of the city from the Mayor in medieval dress for the Feast of Saint Benedict, men throwing lira at the Madonna del Carmine in Trastevere with wild abandon knowing the money was going to the poor beloved by their Mother Mary, the stately procession down the Via Merulana of a sickly John Paul II at Corpus Christi the year before he died. There are too many to count. But I have to tell you some more!

The parish behind the Vatican is dedicated to Santa Maria, Madre delle Grazie. The Blessed Mother’s feast is considered so important in this parish that, under the shadow of the cupola of Saint Peter’s, the year that I experienced it, it trumped Pentecost (I can see the liturgists frothing at the mouth already, but I also rejoice in the fact that not a few Vatican Masters of Ceremonies have also participated in the life of this wonderful parish without blinking an eye at such a preposterous notion as such a minor feast having precedence over Pentecost!). The procession through the streets of the neighborhood was like any other Roman parish procession, but with one touching exception.

Every time the large icon passed by the apartment of someone in the parish who was sick, the pastor stopped the procession, the band ceased to play music and the clergy carried the icon up the elevator to whatever floor the homebound Christian was living on, and we brought the icon of the Mother of Grace to visit her Son in the sick and the dying while the faithful prayed the Rosary outside. Invariably, we were asked to stay for coffee or a shot of grappa, and finally Don Romano once had to say, “Honey, we are in the middle of a procession. We gotta go, but the Blessed Mother had to come see you,” and we were off to start the procession again.
This was not an orderly procession like that of choirboys in Westminster Abbey. It was total chaos. But all of those people, alone and suffering in tiny apartments, were able to know in a real way that the Church cared for them, that they were valued and that their prayers were just as important as those who were part of the event itself.

The connection between Church and the civic arena, liturgy and life, devotion and the sacraments (a quick Anointing of the Sick could be administered here and there, too!), came alive by means of this procession. In towns all over Italy, the ordination of a priest and its accompanying processions, showed the same connections. I saw not a few times the traditions surrounding the First Mass of a newly ordained priest in Italy.

The morning of the First Mass, the seminarians of the diocese would wake up the newly anointed alter Christus at his parents’ house by serenading him and accompanying him to the start of – guess what – a procession! The (invariably Communist) Mayor of the town would pronounce a discourse on how proud the town was to have a new priest, one of their own, and the newly minted Father’s parents walked with him (a police escort and a band by his side) with everyone else to his home parish, where his pastor, presumably the one who saw him off to the seminary in the first place, would place a stole around his neck and lead him to the altar to prepare for Mass. After Mass, everyone would come up to kiss the palms that had been chrismated the day before and then go off to a buffet dinner for the whole town where everyone was invited and no one excluded.

These processions don’t have to be just manifestations of regional eccentricities or provincial folklore. They can be a powerful means of linking the local Church with the Church of Rome and the Pope. There is a reason why the Cross of World Youth Day, perhaps taking a cue from the Olympic Torch, is making its way through Spain right now. Last night I gathered together with hundreds of people I have never met in my life to “welcome” this Cross on the Avenida Carlos III in Pamplona, Spain.

The youth of all of the parishes in the city served as volunteers in the procession, bringing along some of their non-practicing friends to help out as well, which was a Via Crucis down the principal streets of the historical center.
The Archbishop was there, the clergy were there, but it was the youth of the city who made this happen. And they did an excellent job. The Cross arrived at the Chapel of San Fermin, the patron of the city, underlining the connection between the Pope and the Roman Church and the local church. And the youth spent the whole night in adoration and prayer before the Archbishop said Mass this morning and the Cross traveled elsewhere to inspire others to take up their Cross and follow Jesus.
These public manifestations of faith are a lot of work, make no doubt about it. But they also encourage leadership, teamwork, and communion.

Can they be sources of tension at times? Sure! But in a world where the streets are filled with the noise of rap music and debauchery, images of sex and consumerism, and sights of human misery and contempt, is this not the time to offer an alternative? Maybe it’s the lilting chant of litanies or World Youth Day ditties, maybe it’s fireworks in the middle of the day to honor saints or icons being brought to the sick to kiss, or the contentment at the end of a day well spent of people whose faith has been renewed, but whatever it is, it is a beautiful thing to behold when Christians bring their faith to the city, when Jesus passes through the streets of today just as he did 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.

Letters from my Windmill

I have loved most of my life in cities. As a child, when I had to go and visit my grandparents in the country, visits which came with an alarming frequency, I always grumbled because I knew I would be Bored with a capital B. Accustomed as I was to television, cassette players, friends in the neighborhood and prank calling on the telephone, I never came to appreciate the pastoral beauties of rolling green hills, the smell of fresh hay, and the sounds of rivulets of water and whinnying horses. In fact, I pitied the country folk with the same kind of childish compassion that I had for the starving famine victims in Ethiopia my mother called to mind when I refused to eat collard greens. How sad that they could not live in a city.

The first time I came across Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome, I expected a book detailing the intellectual Sturm und Drang that accompanied converts to Catholicism like myself. Instead I found a travelogue which read like an enthusiastic anthropologist’s account of joys of Catholic peasantry. While I appreciated the oft-quoted line, “Wherever a Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine,” I imagined myself sipping a meticulously bioengineered Bordeaux at Café Flo in Paris while explaining why St Anselm’s arguments for the existence of God were meaningless, not drinking pastis out of a jug at a game of petanque with old men in Nimes.

Belloc’s “How to Travel Disguised as a Catholic Peasant” meant nothing to me at the time, because my own experience of the faith was wrapped up in extracting myself from fundamentalist Protestantism of the South and the spirit-eating virus of secularism everywhere.

I am firmly convinced that there is a way to develop a Catholic culture in the heart of the city. European immigrants to America had a Catholic culture in large cities like Boston and New York. Some will argue that such a culture still exists. My own experience of what remains of it has led me to see it as a Catholicism of convention rather than a Catholicism of conviction, something unable to sustain neither the convention nor the conviction in the long run.

I would like to think that celebrated liturgical centers like the Oratory in London and St John Cantius in Chicago can provide an oasis in the desert for urban-dwellers, that curious creature whose name is disturbingly close etymologically to bottom-dwellers. Yet, at the same time, even as I participated in a glorious Rogations Procession in an Anglo-Catholic garden in Manhattan, I still had the sense that there was a disconnect between liturgy and life.

There is a lot of talk about how to bring the liturgy to the people where they really are. If I live in the city and my idea of harvesting is a sale at Dean and DeLuca, can I really appreciate the earthy language of Rogations? Would it not be better then to scrap Ember Days entirely and replace them with something more “relevant,” like a protest against nuclear war? Need the language of faith be tied to an ancient agricultural world that none of us, including today’s farmers, inhabit?

It was reasoning like that which led Annibale Bugnini to argue that, since the hours of the day are no longer divided into seven Roman-inspired hours, the Breviary had to reflect that we now live in morning, afternoon and night. Prime was suppressed, and Terce, Sext and None have become Mid-some time of-day Prayer. Liturgical progress was declared a fait accompli because finally the liturgy was adjusted to the real life of believers. Just as no one would ever build a library of cassette tapes today when one can do marvels with MP3s and MP4s and I-things and other abbreviated devices that make our lives more efficient, many wish to remake the Church according to the mind of reason and plain common sense.

Anyone under the age of 30 can see that living together is the best preparation for marriage, so the Church must adjust its teaching to what young people reason as common sense. Young people love loud music and spectacle, so the liturgy does not lose any of its essence, the Church does not become any less Catholic if we all “get with the program” and cast off the shackles of anachronism and embrace the wisdom of the modern city. And so on and so on and so on.

Meanwhile accomodationist Catholicism of this very type has ended up in churches deprived of youth and the older folks engaging in pew-and-blog warfare over what they think the Church should be about. In trying to separate the wheat of the essence of the faith from what is taken to be the chaff of historical accretions and traditions and beliefs fallen into desuetude, no one seems to be able to make a hearty loaf of bread anymore that anyone wants to eat.

But that hearty loaf of bread which was Catholic culture was not the result of a recipe fabricated by rationalist gastronomes. It was the place where Catholic belief, prayer and practice, regulated by a liturgical rite, permeated the ordinary life of ordinary people. Belloc’s peasants did not set about to analyze or produce Catholic culture. They just lived it.

I am getting a glimpse of what this really means, and much to my chagrin, I see that the symbiosis of rural life and Catholic culture is quite natural in a way that the modern urban intellectual, especially if he is a Catholic of conviction, cannot always perceive. Authors like Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Jacques Maritain, or Francois Mauriac are all exemplars of a certain self-conscious Catholicism. They are all part of what has been termed a Catholic literary revival, even when their characters or theses are not “explicitly” Catholic at all.

All of them lived as urban-dwellers for whom the faith was an assent of the intellect to divine truth which formed their lives. Their faith is certainly authentic, but it is still essentially apologetic, because it is at variance with other conceptions of the human person, God, and the Church. Even though O’Connor’s stories reflect the life of the rural South, her theological anthropology is often the result of urban academia, of Teilhard de Chardin’s quest for meaning in the face of modern questions.

Compare this self-conscious, apologetic Catholicism with that of Alphonse Daudet. Practically unknown outside of France, this prolific nineteenth century writer lived the tension between the simple pleasures of a happy boyhood in Provence and the tortured glitterati of Paris. Catholicism permeates his stories of Southern France, not because of a desire to develop characters or a moral with a Catholic idea behind them, but because he describes the inhabitants of down-home country Provence as they are: shorn of pretext and filled with humour. Letters from My Windmill is a collection of stories of people Daudet knew growing up around Nimes. The faith of the characters is not self-conscious, but it is remarkably liturgical.

Today’s liturgical iconoclasts repeat like a mantra that, in the bad old days, no one knew what was going on because Mass was in Latin and the priest’s back was to the people. The characters of Daudet’s book, set as it is amidst Provencal peasantry of another century, would be all totally ignorant if the mantra were correct. The liturgoclasts would laugh at the shepherd explaining to Stephanette that a shooting star was a soul going up to paradise. But have they constructed any community-building rite more touching than that of an entire village continuing to give Old Cornille corn to grist in his windmill when everyone was sending their corn off to fancy new factories in the city?

One imagines the horror with which the modern liberated Christian reads an entire paragraph describing sumptuous processions, “the Pope’s soldiers singing in Latin, the rattles of the begging friars,” only to end in the bald assertion, “That was how the Popes of Avignon governed their people; that was why their people missed them when they were gone.”

Every page mentions causally that some event happened after Vespers, of how the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in every church so the faithful could pray for the sick Dauphin, why “there was not a soul about in the village streets, all were at High Mass” because “our lovely Provence, being Catholic, allows the soil to rest on Sundays.” The book is filled with amusing tale about the village clergy: how the chaplain of the chateau forgot to say Midnight Mass on Christmas because he was thinking of food, how Father Balaguere kept saying Benedicite instead of Dominus vobiscum and how “like hurrying wine-harvesters treading the grapes” priest and server “splatter about in the Latin of the Mass, sending splashes in all directions.”

One of the most side-splitting stories in the book is that of how a Norbertine canon saved his monastery from starving by inventing an elixir of fragrant herbs that everyone wanted. The priest then gets addicted to his potion, and even the Prior’s addition of prayers at the end of the Office for “Father Gaucher who is sacrificing himself in the interests of the community” can’t stop him from singing in his stupor. Daudet calls the clerical medicine man a “worthy parish priest” who then muses aloud, “Mercy me, suppose my parishioners heard me!”

I think that Daudet’s book is illustrative of many things: it gives the lie to the criticism that “fossilized Tridentine worship” had no place in the hearts of the people, and it shows that simple faith lived in a community of neighbors, priests and laity alike, produces joy. He does so not by making an argument, but by describing people whose lives were shaped by the faith. Daudet’s churchgoers are not angrily marking their territories as clergy or laypeople; their relationship is harmonious precisely because they accept the tradition as it has always been handed down to them, without rationalizing it or analyzing it. These are not unintelligent or unsophisticated people. They know their history, they know their crafts, they know their faith.

Crawling into Daudet’s abandoned windmill and enjoying these stories for their literary value has meant a lot to me. If I knew my faith, my craft, my history from my vantage point in the secular city as they did theirs from abandoned windmills! I no longer fear that leaving the city will bore me or that my faith will be shipwrecked if I can’t parry with the truly uncivilized, who live, neither in the countryside nor in the metropolis, but where God is a mystery to be ignored or exploited and not three Persons with whom to share an endle