Monday, April 01, 2013

"And here....we....go!"

The iconic line of Heath Ledger's Joker, after which, of course, nothing happened.  Well, what he expected didn't happen.  And while this AP article breathlessly reveals that "traditionalists" have had it with the new Pope already, don't expect any fireworks anytime soon.  Art sometimes imitates life that way.

Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.
I am not competent to speak on how much Pope Emeritus Benedict tried to revive pre-Vatican II liturgical practices while still, presumably, trying to uphold the Vatican II theological changes he championed during the actual Vatican II council, but it strikes me as about the right direction to be going.

My theology is not all that radical.  I don't support any of the claims of process theology, which seems to have already fallen by the boards; and I'm not that enthusiastic about the claims of Bultmann, for example, influential though he has been.  My theology is based more in Kierkegaard and Derrida than Heidegger, and more in tradition than not.  In the traditions of Julian of Norwich and the Christian mystics, I hasten to add; and in liberation theology's preferential option for the poor. I digress, but only to say my theology is hardly either mainstream or that radical, not quite traditional but not nearly modern enough, and yet I am, as Benedict is described in this article as being, a great fan of liturgical worship.  Not, however, the liturgical style of Benedict; my sympathies are more with Francis.

I wore the black robe of Martin Luther, the robe of a professor, a teacher, rather than the alb of the Roman worker.  I was too Protestant and Presbyterian to bring myself to wear the alb, although my sympathies were with the garment of the workers.  Had I been radical enough to follow that tradition properly, I'd have taken the pulpit every Sunday in a t-shirt and blue jeans, probably wearing work boots.  We lose so much by sticking so literally to traditions.  It's not too much to say we are all literalists, after a fashion.

Francis, of course, is making minor, subtle changes, compared to a priest dressing as a modern-day laborer in the pulpit.  He is trying, in his own way, to express the humility of Christ.  And, predictably, somebody somewhere doesn't like that:

One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, “Rorate Caeli,” reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict’s eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council’s modernizing reforms.

“The official end of the reform of the reform — by example,” ”Rorate Caeli” lamented in its report on Francis’ Holy Thursday ritual.
 What is wrong with the Holy Thursday ritual?  Well, that is actually quite interesting.  It seems the Pope violated canon law.  Or maybe just ecclesiastical law.  I'm not being glib to say I'm not sure, and I don't take the AP's word for it.  There is a rule about footwashing which, again, adheres strictly and literally to tradition, as that tradition is preserved by the Gospel of John (the only story we have of Jesus washing anybody's feet):

There were certainly none of those trappings on display Thursday at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome, where the 76-year-old Francis got down on his knees to wash and kiss the feet of 12 inmates, two of them women. The rite re-enacts Jesus’ washing of the feet of his 12 apostles during the Last Supper before his crucifixion, a sign of his love and service to them.

The church’s liturgical law holds that only men can participate in the rite, given that Jesus’ apostles were all male. Priests and bishops have routinely petitioned for exemptions to include women, but the law is clear.

 Francis, however, is the church’s chief lawmaker, so in theory he can do whatever he wants.

“The pope does not need anybody’s permission to make exceptions to how ecclesiastical law relates to him,” noted conservative columnist Jimmy Akin in the National Catholic Register. But Akin echoed concerns raised by canon lawyer Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican’s high court, that Francis was setting a “questionable example” by simply ignoring the church’s own rules.

Again, my sympathies are with liturgy being conducted properly.  But I'm Protestant enough to pray with the E&R Church Hymnal:
 Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.

Law, as any lawyer will tell you, tends to ossify things. Sometimes that's stabilizing; sometimes that's the cold, dead hand of history.  But, of course, this isn't really about tradition, or scripture, or history; it's about power.  And humility is about power; at least to some people:

“He cultivates a militant humility, but can prove humiliating for the church,” Bouchacourt said in a recent article, criticizing the “dilapidated” state of the clergy in Buenos Aires and the “disaster” of its seminary. “With him, we risk to see once again the Masses of Paul VI’s pontificate, a far cry from Benedict XVI’s efforts to restore to their honor the worthy liturgical ceremonies.”
I saw that coming; I just didn't think it would come quite this fast.  I submit it was evidence that, as powerful as the office of Pope is reputed to be, it's still just a pastorate; and somebody always complains about how the new guy doesn't do things the way the old guy did.


  1. One of the worst things Benedict did in terms of liturgy was to impose new, stilted, language that was an attempt to steer things back to pre-Vatican II practices. I suspect the plan was that would be a first step. The results, obviously overseen by people who didn't speak English as a first language, have really upset a lot of Catholics. My mother who listens to the mass on TV every day and who spent more than half of her life before Vatican II grits her teeth at it. She loved the change to the vernacular. I'm old enough so I remember what the Latin mass was really like, people watching a ritual being conducted in a language they didn't understand, responding automatically in Latin learned by rote without understanding, lots of people in the pews ignoring what was going on, saying the rosary. An outsider might have seen it as a beautiful show but it wasn't much of a religious expression that imparted any meaning to take into their life during the week.

    As skeptical as I am of Francis' intentions, as sure I am that he's going to do things I'll hate, he's off to a good start.

  2. I actually attended a Latin Mass in St. Louis, as part of my liturgical studies. A friend of mine, who came to seminary via a very fundamentalist church, and I, attended together.

    And, as you say, it was people reciting by rote in a language I doubt they understood while the priest intoned. OTOH, I'm familiar with the stories of the German E&R churches during WWI in the Midwest, where the KKK dragged German speaking pastors out of their pulpits and beat them in the streets for preaching in German. When those churches finally decided to worship in English, the common lament was: "How will God understand me if I don't pray in German?"

    Which is both a bit funny, and a sad lament. However, it's not a justification to cling to a language as dead as the Roman Empire. I understand the desire to maintain an ancient tradition; but mostly I understand it as a desire to cling to power.

    Women in that Latin Mass all covered their heads, except for my friend (we stood out like sore thumbs), and everyone regarded us as strangers. Not nearly the same reception we got in the African American church in downtown St. Louis, where the pastor had to plead with the congregation to clear the building after the service so the next service could begin on time. We stood out there, too (the only white people in the building), but were greeted and treated like family.

    A very vernacular service, too; and, of course, not at all liturgical. I dunno; draw your own conclusions. To me, it's interesting what people insist is important, and why.

  3. I remember women and girls attaching Kleenex to their heads with bobby pins so they could go into church to light a candle. I fondly remember looking down from the choir loft at the bald pates and blue hairs fingering their beads. I have to say the thing I remember most about mass in the pre-vernacular days are the horrid firs with heads and claws that some of them wore.

    The vernacular mass was an extremely important thing for the religious practice of Catholics. I strongly suspect that the bizarre nostalgia for it among those too young to have experienced it, week after week, has far more to do with politics than following Jesus.

  4. I've always thought it rather unfortunate that, like so many other things religious, the Latin language became such a great point of contention between "progressives" and "conservatives."

    I happen to like Latin. I've never attended a Latin mass, which is quite OK with me. I understand that many, perhaps most people have neither the time nor inclination to learn Latin. But I get a great deal out of praying the Liturgy of the Hours in Latin, and think the new English translations rather marginally better than the old ones.

    It's worth noting, of course, that the "new" mass, the Mass of Paul VI, is as much a Latin mass as the old one. Francis was inaugurated with a Latin mass (thought the Gospel was proclaimed in Greek). But it's usually said in translation, in the vernacular.

    I don't think that reading Latin makes one a better Catholic or Christian; indeed, some of the most devout Christians have undoubtedly been illiterate, unable to read even their own language. Nevertheless, to the extent that we are able, I find it helpful to approach the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament (and Greek Fathers and Councils) in Greek, and the Western Catholic Tradition in Latin. As Dr. Johnson suggested, each should get what he can.

    Here is what Blessed John XXIII had to say about the utility of Latin (even though the link apparently lacks a vernacular translation):

  5. I am reminded that the "Vulgate" was the translation of the Scriptures into Latin, then the "vulgar" or "common" tongue. "Vulgar" meaning nothing more than "ordinary" in English (even "common" retains hints of inferiority to something superior).

    This problem of language and translation is always a problem, especially when dealing with "dead" languages like Hebrew and Latin (or even, for that matter, koine Greek).

    Shakespeare's tongue is another language than our modern English, according to linquists; as much as Chaucer's Middle English and the Old English of the Beowulf poet is. It is a pity that language should be a bone of contention, but then my "Prayer of our Savior" is another person's "Lord's Prayer" is yet another person's "Our Father" is yet another person's "Pater Noster," and which is right?

    Especially since Jesus prayed it in Aramaic.

    Which is not to say it isn't better to approach the scriptures in their original tongues. I find disagreements with every translation of the Gospels I open, for example. But someone always wants to insist one of them MUST be the "Word of God," and then what?

    (Not that Protestants aren't heir to this failing, too. Everyone knows Jesus spoke the King's (James) English, and there are even churches named "King James Bible Church," or some such. Haven't seen one of those in awhile. And try getting a group of disparate but Church raised gatherers at a funeral to recite Psalm 23 in other than the KJV. It's impossible, and any attempt to do so in any regular church setting would probably get you in hot water.....)

  6. Anonymous9:52 PM

    Women in that Latin Mass all covered their heads, except for my friend (we stood out like sore thumbs)

    Were you visiting the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in south St. Louis? I imagine you might have been as it is famous in the area for having received rare dispensation to offer the the Tridentine version of the Latin Mass which predates Vatican II.

    I had an experience similar to that of you and your friend on my first visit. My wife and I were driving by and became curious to see the interior of that gorgeous German Gothic structure which resembles a romantic Bavarian castle. We sat in our car waiting for mass to end, and when it hadn't ended by fifteen minutes past the hour we got impatient and snuck inside. We knelt down at a pew in the back and quickly realized we were out of place. We no idea the liturgy would be in Latin, much less a Tridentine mass which we'd only heard about - but even more surprising was the trip back in time to the 1950’s.

    As you said, nearly of all of the women had their hair covered by a veil or scarf. Not a single woman in that full-to-capacity church was wearing pants; long plain skirts and jackets were the order of the day. To a person the men had either shaved heads or very short haircuts and wore slacks or suits, the least formal attire being khakis. By sartorial contrast my wife and I were wearing jeans and casual shirts and I was sporting long hair - not unusual attire at all in most Catholic churches these days but completely unusual here.

    Even the fashion accessories were counter-cultural. I've never seen so many cat-eye glasses outside of a 50’s high school yearbook or an off-Broadway production of Grease. Instead of heels many of the women wore clunky work shoes or short work boots in an apparent attempt to dress modestly. Clearly there was a very intentional effort not only to recreate the liturgy of the 1950’s but to reconstruct some of the cultural sensibilities as well, if poorly remembered. It was a given this congregation was not going to be either a fan of the Second Vatican Council or the cultural shifts of that decade and the decade preceding it which made it possible.

    Having attended an ultra-conservative Catholic seminary I'm no stranger to a Latin Mass, but per the liturgical direction of the Council we always celebrated the Novus Ordo version: the same Liturgy you would experience in any Catholic Church on any Sunday just rendered into Latin. Not only is the Tridentine Liturgy structurally different from the Novus Ordo the attitude of the Congregation is very different given that this mass is just not as participatory, lengthy prayers in Latin without responses contributing to that. There was a line for the confessional thirty people long during the entire mass, which I found odd, although later I found out it was because they could earn a plenary indulgence for confessing at the first mass of this newly-ordained priest. The sanctuary wasn't even visible to many in line, so those people barely payed attention to the mass at all, some reading from prayer books while standing. And during the long Eucharistic prayer a number of people prayed the Rosary rather than follow along in the missal.

    It was a real insight into the liturgical culture of the past. I personally can see the appeal of having a high mass, which cultivates a more interior, prayerful experience: but I've thought for a long time that ideally the Catholic church should additionally offer a low service which focuses on fellowship and an in-depth sermon of Protestant caliber. It will never happen but I really think it could go a long way toward satisfying some needs of churchgoers while producing more mature Christians.


  7. "...famous in the area for having received rare dispensation to offer the the Tridentine version of the Latin Mass which predates Vatican II."

    I was under the impression that Benedict much liberalized use of the old mass--specifically, that one last revised by John XXIII--in a motu propitio (If I've got that right).

    I've never been to one; I understand it's available in Santa Fe at the old St. Michael's mission, a few blocks from my office. On Palm Sunday afternoon I had to meet with a witness from our Las Cruces office for a short trial the next morning, and the secretary of my boss's boss came in with her family--they apparently attend the old mass there, but the old church has no public restrooms, so they had stopped by afterwards. I suppose I should add that there wasn't a pair of cat-eye glasses among them, and they were dressed as you would expect women to dress in an office.

    Just to suggest, I suppose, that it's not all necessarily time travel stuff. Maybe I should check it out (except that my wife and I typically go to a yoga class on Sunday afternoons).

    Many people feared that Benedict was trying to bring back the old mass by stealth, but I don't see any reason to think that he was doing anything other than what he said he was doing, allowing the old mass for those who really loved it, and got something out of it. In adding another alternative he was really expanding the approach of the post-Vatican II reform of allowing a greater variety of expression of the Roman rite, beyond the five or six now-allowable canons of the mass now included in the Mass of Paul VI.


  8. Anonymous12:08 AM

    I was under the impression that Benedict much liberalized use of the old mass--specifically, that one last revised by John XXIII--in a motu propitio (If I've got that right).

    Perhaps he had, I've been out of the game for a very long time now. I know that when I was in the seminary in the mid-80’s those traditionalist-minded guys would have given anything to participate in a Tridentine mass but it simply wasn't allowed then.

    And this was definitely time travel for many if not most of the congregants, a conscious attempt to return to the trappings of a more innocent era. If you were to see what we'd seen I think you would agree. I've attended many, many masses in my life and have never seen an entire congregation dress in such a manner or anywhere close to this - and I say that as someone who was at one time essentially part of this movement. Here in St. Louis, at least, it seems to have moved into more of a reconstructionist phase than when I was younger.


  9. I certainly don't doubt the accuracy of your observations, Windhorse. But it seems to go back to what I observed earlier, an (I think) unfortunate identification of the Latin language with a narrowly-conceived traditionalism, and with an understanding of the 1950's as some sort of golden age. (I think it was a much more complex decade than most give it credit for. And it gave the world me, and our esteemed host.)

    I claim no deep knowlege or experience of contemporary Judaism, but it seems to me, there, that there is a widely-acknowledged place of honor for the Hebrew language that I wish existed among Catholics for Latin. It's not universal facility so much as a sense of commonality that a shared language, even if imperfectly understood, can promote.

  10. Anonymous10:03 AM

    I claim no deep knowlege or experience of contemporary Judaism, but it seems to me, there, that there is a widely-acknowledged place of honor for the Hebrew language that I wish existed among Catholics for Latin.

    I agree. When I was in public high school I started a petition to get a Latin class taught as a sort of stealth way for me to learn it (it was unsuccessful) and then chose the only seminary in the country at the time that regularly offered the Latin mass. There are different modes of worship that are beneficial to people and I think praying in an ancient language can help to put people in a contemplative frame of mind, at least for some. If you have a chance you should check out the Tridentine mass in Santa Fe.

    As for the attempt by the traditionalists to set themselves apart culturally with a sort of Father Knows Best wardrobing, while that particular style doesn't appeal to me personally (I'm a long-haired hippie with the soul of an indigenous wildman who believes in a "come-as-you-are" approach) I understand the impulse; the Mennonites and the Amish and Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus and others all dress in archaic styles to consciously set themselves apart from the world and symbolically express their religious values. The Sufis I know dress in riotously colorful baggy pants and pointed shoes and turbans and robes when they go the the mosque which make them look like characters from the Alladin stories. Dressing in a particular way to worship has universal roots. I just know from bitter experience that the traditionalist Catholic movement is full of very angry people who feel persecuted not only by modern culture but by ordinary Catholics who they see as traitors or agents of evil, and I think arbitrarily harking back to the cultural "safety" and preferences of America in the 1950’s over say, Europe in the 1550’s or Jerusalem in A.D. 50 is a misguided and clumsy attempt at following the Gospel and yet another subtle expression of idolatry and a faith steeped in passive-aggression.


  11. "When I was in public high school I started a petition to get a Latin class taught as a sort of stealth way for me to learn it."

    That's very interesting...Latin was taught in my high school, but I had absolutely no interest in it. I took German and Greek in college, so my Latin, only taken up about fifteen years later, is entirely self-taught, with all the weaknesses that that implies.

    Like with many things I tend to bob in and out of it. Coming across, last year, an affordable used 8-volume set of Erasmus' works, in Latin/German parallel, got me started again, though finding Latin funny is consideraly more difficult that simply understanding it.

  12. The only memory I have, Windhorse, of that service, other than the oddity of the language and, yes, the silent observance (few, as I recall, participatory prayers) was a family that was stereotypical "Catholic." Father and mother, both sitting rigidly erect, she in a dress with her head covered, and children in descending age, maybe 7 of them, if I recall correctly. As close in age as physically possible.

    It was a funny introduction to liturgical worship for one who became such a devotee, nearly a fanatic, for it. It was that, more than anything, that made me a fish out of water in my ministry.

    As for being an "esteemed host," I object that the only esteem I have is self-esteem, and damned little of that.

  13. St. Louis lends itself to "Father Knows Best" more than Santa Fe. I remember the RC church (sorry, I've long forgotten the name) as a time warp, too. It's a Midwest thing more than anything.

    There were parts of Chicago (and St. Louis, but more in Chicago) that seemed to have been preserved in amber from the 1950's. It was always a bit odd.....

  14. I keep thinking of things but don't have an edit function:

    My attendance at this church was in the days of JPII, I'm fairly sure. Certainly long before Benedict, unless by some quirk you meant Benedict when he was still a Cardinal, and not yet Pope.

    Don't know that that matters, but yes, it was the church that had received a special dispensation. I do remember being surprised a Latin Mass was available at all, and having the information that it was a very special case (and not a renegade).

    St. Louis, too, as the RC Pastoral Care priest/teacher told us, had more Catholics than you can shake a stick at. No surprise, I suppose, given the name of the city/county. Also the birthplace of the UCC, oddly enough (via Eden Seminary).

  15. "(few, as I recall, participatory prayers)"

    The meaning of "participation" has long been one of those points of contention. Coming from a Protestant background, it certainly appears that Catholics have been on strike against congregational hymn-singing for about thirty years.

    Evelyn Waugh famously made this observation, shortly before his death:

    "Participation in the Mass does not mean hearing our own voice. It means God hearing our voices. Only he knows who is participating at Mass. I believe, to compare small things with great, that I participate in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout."

  16. Anonymous9:51 PM

    I believe, to compare small things with great, that I participate in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout."

    Amen to that. Instead of "participatory" I should have said "responsorial prayers."

    ~ Windhorse

  17. I dunno. YMMV and all that, and all due respect to Mr. Waugh, but: bollocks, says I.

    I've sat through too many Protestant services where the whole thing was aimed at me and especially at my listening and singing too many verses of too many hymns and Pastoral prayers (curse you, Zwingli!) that rambled on worse than the sermons. And the other extreme is the Orthodox service which is aimed at God. The Mass I recall wasn't exactly a "work of art" (I freely admit I'm not trained in it enough to appreciate it) so much as a rather dull presentation. And there is stagecraft in worship: never doubt it. Theophany is as much stagecraft as FX are on the screen. God knew enough to thunder and lightning when Moses was on the mountain; the Israelites saw it and KNEW something was going on. And it's been a part of worship ever since (there's something in Isaiah, or is it the Psalms, that grounds that, but I can't think of it now).

    I've tried "studying" as/in worship, and I don't find it a fit object of study (apart from an academic exercise). I prefer to be in it, not of it or apart from it. "Participatory prayer" doesn't mean I am truly praying at all times in all ways. It can mean I'm trying, seeking, longing, hoping. But it is activity. Hymn singing is, frankly, hymn singing sometimes. Responsive prayer is sometimes just reading. But it doesn't have to be. And it gets me a damned sight further on than "study" does. When I study a work of art, I'm aware of it as a work of art. When I experience a work of art, it's something else altogether.

    YMMV, of course; and I'm sounding terribly belligerent while only trying to establish a distinct separation. I set myself off from Mr. Waugh's remarks, not because he is wrong and I am right, but because they don't reflect anything I've ever experienced; and because, intellectually, I disagree with them. Nice thing about remarks; you can argue with them without arguing with the person.

    Worship, after all, is for me, not for God. What God knows about my participation is bollocks to me. What I know of the presence of God is all that matters. And if I'm shut off, it's not because God is punishing me for not participating in a manner pleasing to God.

    I prefer my liturgy as leitourgia, as the "work" of the people; as something active much more than passive. I'm not a Quaker, after all.

    You know, I've been kicking around a few ideas on worship. I should write something about them, get my thoughts out where I can make sense of them; or not.

    As I say, nothing personal, not even to Mr. Waugh. He's right for him. But I don't really buy it. And there is the matter of having taken a bit too much pride in my ability to craft a worship service; I was always a bit too Protestant to simply follow ancient ritual (although ritual has its place). Oh dear, there I go off again, and suddenly it's complicated and needs further explaining.....

  18. It is interesting that you should go there, because it's exactly where Waugh went after the quote above:

    "I am now old but I was young when I was received into the Church. I was not at all attracted by the splendour of her great ceremonies - which the Protestants could well counterfeit. Of the extraneous attractions of the Church which most drew me was the spectacle of the priest and his server at low Mass, stumping up to the altar without a glance to discover how many or how few he had in his congregation; a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do. That is the Mass I have grown to know and love. By all means let the rowdy have their "dialogues", but let us who value silence not be completely forgotten."