Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arbitrariness as Scourge.

Imbuing the Ordinary Form with Extraordinary Form Spirituality

I shared this article from New Liturgical Movement on Facebook and was surprised to actually receive comments as opposed to the usual pro forma "Likes" and "Shares", which I interpret as a sign of recognition, not necessarily even guaranteeing that the person has read the post. Almost a week has gone by and from time to time I come back to the issue, which the author of the article raises and to which I received reactions, it being one or two issues really, of: a) putting some meat on the bones of mutual enrichment; b) articulating as best one can the scandal involved in the rupture or discontinuity brought upon the Roman Church's Liturgical Tradition by the Novus Ordo.

Basically, despite my profound respect, I want to differ with Peter Kwasniewski on this article. His intention is well-meant, but does not address the heart of the problem or adequately express the ultimate intent of efforts at mutual enrichment between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the one Roman Rite:

"Since the usus antiquior preserves in a specially intense way the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, a judicious emulation or adoption from it of elements of holiness and “good form” will make a real difference in the devotion of the celebrant and the ensuing fruitfulness of the Mass."

a) Mutual enrichment can't be about putting meat on the bones of either of the two forms, if it cannot do that for both; what other sense can the word mutual have? The 1962 Missal and the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal are both equally untouchable as far as anyone other than the Supreme Legislator goes. Apart from nourishing piety, mutual enrichment cannot do anything but inspire reflection. It cannot do other than touch hearts and stimulate thoughts on the question of the organic development of the Roman Rite.

b) Apart from the rational or rationalizing character of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, I think it is important to note that its execution in the late 1960's and the 1970's, in my part of the world, for sure, and in many other places as well, was marred by violence. It was imposed and all which had been before was taken away and proscribed. It was a break with the past which cannot be justified by any reading of the Apostolic Constitution on the Liturgy, hermeneutic or no hermeneutic. The ongoing, up to our day, saga of liturgical abuse and legal optionality, which seem to go hand and glove with the Ordinary Form, makes of it something quite arbitrary and hence laboring under of deficit of what Kwasniewski describes as, "... elements of holiness and “good form” ..." As one of my commentators observes, Peter's approach to enhancing the Ordinary Form, by adding or clarifying according to three principles (continuity, augmentation, mnemonic) seems like too much effort. Or as another commentator put it: as effort needed to change the people's hearts and prepare them for something else, namely a restoration, totally foreign to the experience of their life time, if, as most are, they happen to be under sixty years of age and still have not been exposed to the Extraordinary Form.

Recently, I saw pictures and video of two hierarchical liturgies which were celebrated in my beloved Caribbean region with all manner of singing and swaying and clapping after the popular manner. I will not take on anyone who insists that this is liturgy from the heart and after the manner of the folk. The point is not to deprive anyone of the means of self expression as Saul's daughter attempted in criticizing her husband, henceforth estranged, King David, dancing before the Ark of the Lord as it was being carried up to Jerusalem. The point is obvious, namely that processions are not Temple worship, any more than the popular devotion of a prayer meeting is the same as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The ultimate tragedy of the last fifty years has been to radically narrow the Church's devotional radius to one act, depriving the Eucharist of its unique and sublime character. The major error of the rational reform was the banalization of  all by abandoning the once rich variety of devotions which characterized Catholic culture and its popular particularities outside of Mass in all the various parts of our great Catholic world.

I understand and respect what Kwasniewski is advocating. Some of it, like proper decorum in Divine Worship and celebration of the preparation of the gifts and the Eucharistic Prayer of all together directed ad Orientem, eliminating chaotic moments during the liturgy and slowing down the Communion procession by returning to the reception of Communion at the Communion rail, are not embellishments but options which should be taken and held without variance. Nonetheless, the intent of mutual enrichment would seem to be to expose people to the Extraordinary Form in all its glory or in the case of the Low Mass in all its noble simplicity. The author's three principles presume that priests are familiar with the Extraordinary Form. Maybe priests who find the hurdle to introducing the Extraordinary Form to their parishes as insurmountable should visit with confreres who have succeeded. Maybe seminaries should open up or loosen up (you choose the metaphor) to the Extraordinary Form under the rubric of "try it, you'll like it" and let the creativity of a younger generation of soon to be priests face the challenge of restoring the full spectrum of Catholic devotional life, leaving no one deprived of culturally correct self-expression, while at the same time allowing young and old to be caught up into the mystery of standing, sitting and kneeling before the Throne of God.

Restoration for the sake of organic development is not restrictive but rather particularizes and reopens a window to heaven. The didactic and the rational, the popularly devotional and expressive should not be given short shrift by being crammed into a scarce hour on Sunday morning or whenever you can cram it in on a regular, preferably weekly, basis. What else could it possibly mean to claim our world for Christ?


The Upper Room - Praying for Pentecost

Since last Sunday, Easter Sunday on the Julian calendar, I have been kind of mulling over or reflecting upon my experience in the early hours with Easter Morning Prayer in the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Uzhhorod. The Cathedral was packed full and by the time we came outside so were all the streets leading to and from this lovely house of God on the hill, as well as the processional space which surrounds it. People were assisting at the service broadcast outside by loudspeaker, waiting patiently and joyously to have blessed their "paskha", their baskets with the foods for the early morning Easter breakfast: breads and salt, meats and sausages, eggs and more, each with its carefully tended Easter candle. Besides the prayers and blessing, the bishop expressed words of greeting and warm welcome for Easter to all present, as well as for their loved ones at home. In Ukraine, as to be expected, there were lots of young adults and children, even babes in arms, carefully bundled against the chill of the night, all wanting to be doused with holy water along with their baskets.

 For me this is the Church of the Acts of the Apostles, faithful to the admonition of the Risen Christ to watch and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Upper Room could not hold them all and they listened attentively to the words of Peter, announcing the victory of Jesus over sin and death, and eagerly seeking direction as to what they had to do to be saved.

I look at my pastors and priests here, many of them wearied, worn down by the aggression against their land and their people, perhaps from a human point of view even overwhelmed at the challenges which face the nation. We all need to repair to the Upper Room, persevering in prayer, confident that God will show Himself in power by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

We gather our strength from the power of Christ's Resurrection. Through the gracious words of His ministers, we draw courage and strength from Him alone. He feeds and carries us. Let us all fervently pray, unceasingly pray for the outpouring of His Holy Spirit! For the renewal of the face of the earth!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Leva in signum super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine.

The English translation for the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm for this Third Sunday of Easter Time is: Lord, let your face shine on us. For some reason, I associate the light radiating from the face of Jesus Risen from the dead with this Rubens painting of His encounter with my Patron Saint, the Doubting Thomas. I suppose I could have cropped out the two "prominent Catholics" who had themselves painted into this glorious scene, no doubt in exchange for the financial remuneration of the great painter. I hope the two of them are in heaven and I wish this Sunday to recommend the 100 prominent Catholics of San Francisco to their intercession. Would that those so-called prominent of today would humble themselves or at least learn to spend their money as these two did, namely, to edify, to build up, rather than to tear down.

The first two readings for this Sunday are really powerful and could knock the socks off anyone seeking space within the Church for his or her sin. In the glory of Easter St. Peter and St. John proclaim the hope which can be ours through repentance and conversion.

I hope and pray that priests everywhere in the world this Sunday will have the love and the courage to let the truth of the unabbreviated Gospel shine forth with all its might for the prominent and not so prominent to hear. That stubborn and hardened hearts might repent! That the world might be saved through the preaching of the Gospel in all its fullness!

Leva in signum super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Asleep at the Helm

I am honored by friends known and less known, who quite regularly send me manuscripts of articles and talks not yet out on the public square. Rarely do they admonish "FYI only"; that is a given and their trust is not to be betrayed. Permit me a quote from an undisclosed source, which captures quite elegantly what must be the best approach possible to a very painful issue, namely that of addressing or analyzing the Church's failures when it comes to carrying forth the work of evangelization:

"For almost two millennia now, the Church has striven, in the power of the Spirit, to fulfill the Great Commission: to “go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [Matthew 28.19-20]. The trajectory of that striving has been uneven, jagged, anything but smooth." 

In these words I see reflected the Church's ups and downs over these two millennia: times and places of bitter suffering and persecution alternating with genuine flourishing, marked by expansion, countless baptisms, the heroic sanctity of men and women in all walks of life and with great teaching. Our Gospel image for somehow explaining those times of hardship usually refers to Jesus sleeping through a storm on Lake Gennesareth in the stern of the boat, not at the helm where perforce one of the Apostles must be in charge. We imagine ourselves as striving on our own but somehow always in God's Hands and dependent on His intervention when necessary to save the barque of Peter.

Right as all that is, I think it is important to be reminded that the barque of Peter is not some kind of ghost ship cutting its path through the Bermuda Triangle, its helmsman long dead or asleep. Christ established His Church on the Rock of Peter; the Church does the binding and loosing in His Name. St. Augustine was among those great Fathers and Doctors who trembled at the awesome burden coming to the Apostles and to their successors in the office of Bishop for the sake of the life of the world. The imagery usually cited to admonish or condemn those who fail is drawn from animal husbandry, from shepherding, the dog which does not bark to alert shepherd and flock to the danger at hand, the bad shepherd who drops and runs, abandoning the flock to the wolf, the lion and the bear.

True as it is that certain situations may be beyond our control, such as refer to the horrible persecution visited upon the Christians of the Mideast and North Africa these days, the lack of due diligence, the uncertain trumpet not really sounding the alarm, would more often be the root cause of why the devil, always prowling about looking for someone to devour, gets the upper hand and with the helmsman asleep, we find the ship all but lost on stormy seas.

If you happen to know him from his video blog, Michael Voris grates on a lot of people's nerves as he almost hisses out his condemnations of what he calls "the church of nice" which fails in its duty to truth and to the fullness of the Gospel message. Let the Gospel itself (even without Michael's help) admonish the shepherds to be always vigilant, not sleeping, with staff in hand to defend the sheep against the wickedness and the snares of the devil. Caritas Christi urget nos. The love of Christ impels us to give of ourselves totally, to lay down our lives for the sake of His beloved flock. With the Lord on board, seemingly at times asleep in the stern, let us cut the course He has set out for us regardless of the wind and the waves.

The old rhetorical thing about ours being "the best of times and the worst of times" doesn't really help much, nor does dwelling overly on the sad state of metaphysics. Maybe that is the genius of renewing Baptismal Promises at Easter, before professing our belief in the Triune God and in His Church, we renounce, we reject Satan, his works and his empty promises. Helmsmen, wake up! Shepherds and watchmen, to your post! Yes, it is the Lord Who guards the city, but by His grace and in His Name we keep vigil!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Russian Orthodoxy - Once upon a Time

My Life's Journey
The Memoirs of Metropolitan Evlogy
As Put Together according to His Accounts by T. Manukhin
Part One
Translated by Alexander Lisenko
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
Yonkers, New York, 2014

By sheer happenstance, a gift, I find myself initiated into a world propagated until now by Russian speakers, that being the world of Metropolitan Evlogy, now available in a most readable English translation. I don't know if I will be quite so interested in volume two, which takes up with his move to Berlin in 1921 to assume his duties as Russian Orthodox Metropolitan for Western Europe, but this first part from his birth in old Russia in 1868 up until then has truly been captivating.

Apart from giving to the Bolshevik Revolution a very personal perspective, I found Part One particularly captivating because it recounts his life as Bishop of Lublin, vicar of the Archbishop of Warsaw-Kholm, Archbishop of Kholm, and then Archbishop of Volynia, which is to say here in my territory of Ukraine.

During his imprisonment at the end of World War I, Evlogy was for a time house guest of Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytskiy in Lviv. Places familiar to me have taken on new historical depth, thanks to his memoirs. There's even an odd little encounter with the "Red Prince", the tragic, comic Habsburg figure who sought to set himself up as ruler over Ukraine.

If I were to claim that Evlogy's Russian chauvinism was oppressive I would be lying. At the distance of a century, his prejudices against Polish and Ukrainian Catholics, his disdain for Austrians and his characterization of Don Cossacks border on the humorous, viz. his refusal to accept food or drink at the old Dominican monastery not far from Pochaiv for fear of being poisoned by the good friars who received him so warmly.

Anyway, volume one reads quite well and offers a wealth of information about a famous offspring of a Russian Orthodox priestly family, about the world in which he lived. I do not regret a moment spent and would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Living with Alice in Hope

Despite the wise counsel of very savvy friends to "take Rod Dreher sparingly", I cannot help recommending, especially to parents and young adults, his recent blogpost entitled "The Post-Indiana Future for Christians" The article is wide-ranging and touches on many topics, among the more frightening being the sad state of major US law schools. Read the article also for what it has to say about child rearing! Many things spin out in classic Dreher, but I think he is right, especially when it comes to the topic of nurturing children.

No doubt those who hold for the Kingship of Jesus Christ, who proclaim Him crucified, died and buried, risen victorious over sin and death for the salvation of the world will not falter, regardless of the pressures upon us. Even so, I want to recommend a book by Alice von Hildebrand which I reviewed here recently: Memoirs of a Happy Failure

Maybe that is why my friends counsel against "overdosing" on Rod Dreher? We need to be rooted like Alice. Rooted in the Cross, sobered by the silence of the Tomb and overwhelmed by the proclamation of Easter Joy.


And with the dawn comes the Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Little Priest's Day Reflection

In the quiet of Holy Thursday, I took the time to read this relatively long article about the process and results of  liturgical reform of Holy Week. Rorate Caeli is presenting in English translation a work by Stefano Carusi, from Disputationes Theologicae: THE REFORM OF HOLY WEEK IN THE YEARS 1951-1956 FROM LITURGY TO THEOLOGY BY WAY OF THE STATEMENTS OF CERTAIN LEADING THINKERS (ANNIBALE BUGNINI, CARLO BRAGA, FERDINANDO ANTONELLI).

There is no denying that if you are not a specialist, then you have to be immersed in the topic and its issues as they face the Church today, this is if you want to make sense of the reading or time devoted to reading. For me, the article opened a new vista while confirming a fundamental principle which under-girds my own approach to the liturgical question and its importance for the life of the Roman Catholic Church: Liturgical law and discipline cannot be arbitrary. Much of the scandal of today in matters liturgical has to do not so much with egregious abuse as it does with the arbitrary character of the reform and the consequent attitude which tends to poison our approach to Divine Worship. While there is merit in a recovery of sobriety and decorum, in strict adherence to the rubrics for the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, it is not the heart of the problem. Restoration is required; returning to that reset point in the past which will enable us to heal the rupture with the tradition and then seek cautiously to respond to the question of the organic development of the Roman Rite in the light of the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.

This article was a wake-up call for me in the sense that I had presumed, on the basis of my impressions of Pope Pius XII, that the Holy Week Reform, begun just before my birth and implemented when I just had kindergarten behind me, was something of that seriousness or profound respect for the edifice of cult, which I was trying to imagine for the future. Anyway, to my friends who follow my liturgical ramblings, I wish to give notice quite simply that the hoped for reset, the restoration required to heal the scandal of arbitrariness in matters liturgical must precede this reform as well.

It looks as though caprice had the upper hand in 1956 as well. We are scandalized by the rumblings coming out of certain sectors in the Church today, related to marriage and family, well, it would seem that the immediate post-war period saw some rather vociferous clamoring concerning matters liturgical.

Nonetheless, I still hope and pray that decorum will find its way into every celebration of the Ordinary Form and that worship ad Orientem will help, along with a generous offering of the option of the Extraordinary Form, to center and deepen our faith in the Lord Jesus.

For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!