Thursday, June 11, 2015

Who’s Afraid of Pomp and Splendor?

Obviously, not the zealous Catholics who participated in the Sacra Liturgia 2015 conference and its liturgies. According to some left-leaning news reports, the conference was an esoteric gathering of a tiny elite. Interesting. I was there for the whole time and I saw hundreds of people, mostly young and middle-aged, including families with small children who came for the Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Manhattan — the vast majority born after the annus horribilis of 1970. When one looks at photos of more liberal gatherings, one tends to see a disproportionate representation of graybeards and aging hippies, longing nostalgically (one might say) for the good old days.

In truth, the Sacra Liturgia conference was a glimpse of the future of the Church. Even as the statistics tell us that bored, uncatechized, unchallenged, and utterly secular faithful are leaving the Church in droves, we see renewal coming from a joyful and serene embrace of the Church’s patrimony of liturgy, doctrine, morality, beauty, and holiness. Experience, a good teacher yet seldom heeded, tells us that most of the reforms following in the wake of Vatican II have been a resounding failure; experience is also telling us that the way forward is the recovery of Tradition.

Let us return to our question. Who, after all, can be afraid of or offended by pomp and splendor? Well, some of the bishops at the Second Vatican Council were certainly nervous about it, at times indignant. In the first volume of his Vatican Council Notebooks,[1] Henri De Lubac notes a number of speeches of council fathers who seemed to be calling for a “church of the poor” in a manner strikingly reminiscent of recent papal statements:
Bishop Argaya, Spanish, expressed a wish “de solemnibus . . . formis simplificandis” [concerning the solemn forms to be simplified]. The norms should be: pietas, simplicitas, et dignitas. Let everything be brought back to the spirit of the Gospel, especially in the Pontifical. We should eliminate everything that in dress and ceremonies resembles “alicui pompae humanae et mundanae” [some human and worldly pomp]. (p. 177)
Bishop Pham Ngoc Chi of Quinhen, Vietnam. No. 47: the ceremonies are too long and too complicated. (244)
Too long and too complicated? Not for this consummate MC!
A bishop from Vietnam. … Let us eliminate the maniple and the amice, useless. (277) [Note 2]
A bishop from Chile, in the name of numerous bishops of South America: on the necessity of poverty. Renounce all “vanitas”; vestments should be simpler. We must be Ecclesia docens, non verbo tantum, sed re [the teaching Church, not in word alone but also in deed]. (278)
An Italian bishop. … We can accept greater simplicity in the vestments. (278)
Bishop Paul Gouyon of Bayonne. Evangelical poverty. Simplify the vestments, even the liturgical ones, etc. (278)
Archbishop Joseph Urtasun of Avignon: on no. 89. (1) Missa pontificalis simplicior reddatur; minuantur honores externi. [Let the pontifical Mass be made simpler; let the external gestures of honor be reduced.] (281-82)
Archbishop Henrique Trindade of Botucatu, Brazil. … “humana vanitas” [human vanity]: yes, alas! … Remember that true beauty lies in simplicity; it is compatible with austerity and poverty. Remember also the demands of our times. … The temporal princes have disappeared, but, proh dolor! the Church preserves princely baubles. The legitimate tradition is the antiquissima et genuina liturgia [the most ancient and genuine liturgy]; that is, the life of Christ, consummata in cruce. For a serious reform, nunc est tempus opportunum [now is the opportune moment]. … All of us are acquainted with the social situation, the aversio a luxu et ostentatione [the aversion towards luxury and ostentation]. Reducantur res ad antiquam formam [Let things be brought back to the ancient form]. (283-84)
Traditional liturgies abound in signs of honor
Here we can see how ideas prevalent among the Modernists resurfaced at the Council. For Pope St. Pius X had written in Pascendi Dominici Gregis:
Regarding worship, they [the modernists] say, the number of external devotions is to be reduced, and steps must be taken to prevent their further increase … They ask that the clergy should return to their primitive humility and poverty …
From a more positive angle, Pope Pius X had praised the Church's cultivation of fine art in his encyclical on St. Gregory the Great, Iucunda Sane:
The arts modeled on the supreme exemplar of all beauty which is God Himself, from whom is derived all the beauty to be found in nature, are more securely withdrawn from vulgar concepts and more efficaciously rise towards the ideal, which is the life of all art. And how fruitful of good has been the principle of employing them in the service of divine worship and of offering to the Lord everything that is deemed to be worthy of him, by reason of its richness, its goodness, its elegance of form. This principle has created sacred art, which became and still continues to be the foundation of all profane art. We have recently touched upon this in a special motu proprio [viz., Tra Le Sollecitudini] when speaking of the restoration of the Roman Chant according to the ancient tradition and of sacred music. And the same rules are applicable to the other arts, each in its own sphere, so that what has been said of the Chant may also be said of painting, sculpture, architecture; and towards all these most noble creations of genius the Church has been lavish of inspiration and encouragement. The whole human race, fed on this sublime ideal, raises magnificent temples, and here in the House of God, as in its own house, lifts up its heart to heavenly things in the midst of the treasures of all beautiful art, with the majesty of liturgical ceremony, and to the accompaniment of the sweetest of song.
Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam
Not all of the council fathers were as short-sighted as their confreres quoted above; indeed, many would have concurred with the sentiments of Pope Pius X. In addition to the large number of prelates who expressed grave concerns over the negative pastoral effects of rapidly changing liturgical texts, ceremonies, and customs and who, appreciating the need for better catechesis and formation, saw nothing really broken in the liturgy that needed “fixing,” there were at least three — in de Lubac’s telling — who directly addressed the “simplifying” trend of thought:
Bishop Luis Hernandez Almarcha of Léon (Spain). No. 99: do not allow ancient works of art to be destroyed. Revere and preserve ecclesiastical traditions. Guard our treasures. Found institutes of sacred art and practical schools. (282)
The Abbot of the Olivetans. De sacra supellectile [on sacred furnishings]. In our regions, no scandal; on the contrary, populus christianus videt cum magna laetitia [the Christian people regard with great joy] everything that contributes to the splendor of the ceremonies. Jesus, who was poor in his private life, received ointment on his feet. Cf. Saint Thomas, Prima Secundae, q. 102, art. 5, ad 10. And the holy Curé of Ars. The Church has always loved beautiful churches, etc. We must preserve our sacred patrimony, see to it that sacred objects do not become secular possessions. (282-83)
The Abbot of the Canons Regular of the Lateran. … Propter splendorem cultus divini [On account of the splendor of divine worship], do not suppress the usus pontificalium [the use of pontifical insignia]. He claimed to speak in the name of several canons regular and even of the Benedictine and Cistercian abbots. (283)
Another archbishop warned of “the new iconoclasts” (p. 282) who wanted to strip the churches of their sacred images.

The Procession entering St. John Nepomucene
Thanks be to God, sacred images most broadly understood — all the sensible signs that draw our minds and hearts to the transcendent beauty of God, conveying to us something of His divine attributes and powerfully expressing our own acts of faith, hope, and charity — these images were alive and well in the “treasures of all beautiful art” with which we were surrounded in the first week of June in New York City, in the churches of St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Nepomucene, and St. Vincent Ferrer. Laus Deo!


[1] Henri de Lubac, Vatican Council Notebooks, vol. 1, trans. Andrew Stefanelli and Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015). Note that de Lubac writes in a blend of Latin (when quoting the council fathers) and French. The French was, of course, translated into English, but the Latin was left intact; English has been supplied in brackets. In the Ignatius Press edition, the Latin is not italicized.

[2] This, in itself, speaks volumes: all of the vestments are, in a certain sense, useless. They are not worn because they are useful; jeans and a T-shirt might suffice if utility were the only criterion. See my article "Maniples, Amices, Cassocks--Lost and Found."

All photos from the Sacra Liturgia Conference in New York City, June 1-4, 2015. Courtesy of Stuart and Jill Chessman/Sacra Liturgia. The complete photo set may be accessed here.

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