Monday, July 25, 2016

Award for the Most Hideous Lectionary Ever

In an article entitled "Books That Cry Out the Unique Richness and Holiness of God's Word," I argued that somewhere along the line, we decided to forego the expense and trouble of creating beautiful artifacts for the sacred liturgy, and settled for a combination of aesthetic mediocrity and repellent modern ugliness. Sometimes it seems as if intentions are good but artistic ability is totally lacking; other times it seems that the intentions are actually modernist and the goal is to repudiate past tradition in favor of a newly-fashioned religion of the future. Whatever the case may be, in my article I provided photos of exquisite historic lectionaries and modern imitations in a similar vein, as well as of some unremarkable contemporary lectionaries.

Recently, I came across a set of lectionaries that struck me as the most hideous I'd ever seen. Since there may come a day when our children and grandchildren do not believe us when we regale them with stories of such things -- they will protest that we are surely exaggerating like a bunch of tippling fishermen -- I thought it worthwhile to reproduce some images here, followed by the palate cleansing contrast of several books in my library that enshrine the Word of God and the rite of the liturgy in a beauty that befits them.

First, the books published in 1999:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

“In Mei Memoriam Facietis”; Liturgical Externals and Memory - Guest Article by Veronica Arntz

We are pleased to share with our readers this guest article by Veronica Arntz, a recent graduate of Wyoming Catholic College who will begin graduate studies in theology this fall at the Augustine Institute.

The heated debate surrounding Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call to celebrate the liturgy ad orientem shows deep division within the Church. If the liturgy is the “source and summit of the whole Christian life,” as Lumen gentium 11 proclaims, then it is essential for Catholics to celebrate it in unity of heart and mind. If we wish to accomplish anything within the fields of social justice, morality, and catechesis, we must approach the liturgy as a gift from God and as an organic whole, meant to unify the universal Church, not divide her. The question of ad orientem worship is extremely important for this unity of the Church and cannot be dismissed lightly. It is necessary, therefore, to understand how the external aspects of the liturgy are important to its celebration, for they assist in forming how we know, love, and serve God. In particular, our memories, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, are formed and shaped by the externals of the liturgy, which means that we cannot ignore them or disregard them as unimportant.

Solemn High Mass in Notre-Dame de Paris
When St. Thomas Aquinas is discussing whether memory is part of prudence in the Summa Theologiae, he lists four ways by which man perfects his memory. The first of these, which shall be our focus, is the following: “When a man wishes to remember a thing, he should take some suitable yet somewhat unwonted illustration of it, since the unwonted strikes us more, and so makes a greater and stronger impression on the mind.” Aquinas gives the following reason for why we need illustrations: “Simple and spiritual impressions easily slip from the mind, unless they be tied as it were to some corporeal image, because human knowledge has a greater hold on sensible objects.” (II-II Q. 49, art. 1, ad 1) In other words, a man’s mind works best by connecting spiritual or invisible realities to a sensible image, for sensible realities are more knowable by him. When he tries to understand a spiritual reality, therefore, it is more likely to remain in his memory if he connects it with a sensible reality.

In Book 10 of The Confessions, St. Augustine gives us an interesting perspective on how our memories are connected with God. Augustine is in awe over the immense power of his memory: “Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a spreading limitless room within me. Who can reach its uttermost depth? Yet it is a faculty of my soul and belongs to my nature. In fact I cannot totally grasp all that I am.” We here find testimony to the fact that this faculty of his human nature, which exists in time, is also something beyond him. Even within his own memory, he finds it impossible to grasp his identity and his role in the world. The crux of the treatise, however, occurs when he realizes that God is within his memory, which is why his memory is beyond himself. “See now how great a space I have covered in my memory, in search of Thee, O Lord; and I have not found Thee outside it…From the time I learned of Thee, Thou hast remained in my memory, and there do I find Thee, when I turn my mind to Thee and find delight in Thee.” Thus, even though his memory knows things within time, it is still capable of holding within itself God, who is outside of time.

For Augustine, memory makes present the things of the past, for time is measured in his mind. How then can God come to be in his mind, if He is eternal and exists outside of time? As Augustine explains, “You are before all the past by the eminence of Your ever-present eternity: and You dominate all the future in as much as it is still to be: and once it has come it will be past: but ‘Thou art always the Selfsame, and Thy years shall not fail.’ ” Thus, it is because God is the “eternal Creator of minds” that he is able to dwell in the mind, and specifically, in the memory. Augustine believes that, given how much our memory is able to hold and understand, then so much more God’s memory, which holds all knowledge, because He is eternal.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI argues that time and eternity meet in the Incarnation and in the liturgy. He writes, “All time is God’s time. When the eternal Word assumed human existence at his Incarnation, he also assumed temporality. He drew time into the sphere of eternity. Christ is himself the bridge between time and eternity.” Thus, because the Word took flesh, God has a connection with man, and indeed, with his memory. “In the Word incarnate, who remains man forever, the presence of eternity with time becomes bodily and concrete.” We thus see a connection to Aquinas’s remarks on memory. God, who is the most intelligible reality and thereby the most difficult for man to understand, took on human form, and now man has a concrete way to understand and know Him. Because Christ entered into time, He is likewise able to transform man’s memory, which exists in time, but is also beyond time, since it is ultimately united with God’s eternity.

For Pope Benedict, liturgy is man’s window into Heaven, the place where heaven touches earth, and we are able to receive Christ daily in the Eucharist. In the liturgy, man experiences the Beatific Vision for a brief moment of time while still on earth. “The historical liturgy of Christendom is and always will be cosmic, without separation and without confusion, and only as such does it stand erect in its full grandeur.” Liturgy, although an action occurring within time, is ultimately cosmic, for it expands beyond the present time and points man toward his future life in Heaven. The cosmic time of the liturgy “becomes a representation of human time and of historical time, which moves toward the union of God and world, of history and universe, of matter and spirit—in a word, toward the New City whose light is God Himself.” This union of God and world achieved in the liturgy also occurs within the memory, which is an interior power of the soul. A man’s memory is united with the knowledge of eternity and God in the liturgy, and thereby becomes more like God’s own mind.

Thus, the liturgy is not merely a spiritual reality; it is the place where God and man unite, which means that it is necessary to worship in a bodily way. Furthermore, we cannot merely reduce liturgy to the structure of a meal, which many do when simplifying the essence of the liturgy to the Consecration of the Body and Blood, for this removes those externals that remind man of God’s presence in the liturgy. Because Christ’s presence is manifest in the liturgy, which occurs within man’s history, the externals of the liturgy are important for forming man’s memory. As we saw in Aquinas, the memory is formed through connections made between sensible and spiritual realities, which explain the rich external signs within the liturgy that help man become more united to God. The gestures of the priest, the beautiful vestments, the scent of incense, the detailed artwork, the ethereal music: all these external signs are meant to point to God.

Moreover, because these signs are so intimately connected with the liturgy, they form man’s memory about the liturgy and about God. When a man remembers a beautifully celebrated Mass, he often remembers the corporeal signs he experienced, and we see this evident in the Pope-Emeritus’ memory of his Bavarian hometown celebration of Corpus Christi. “I can still smell those carpets of flowers and the freshness of the birch trees; I can see all the houses decorated, the banners, the singing; I can still hear the village band, which indeed sometimes dared more, on this occasion, than it was able!” All of the sights and smells of Corpus Christi are still deeply engraved within the memory; the liturgical life of the community created a beautiful memory for him, which he still connects with the glory of God. We are losing so much in our liturgical tradition with the loss of Corpus Christi celebrations; how many have such vivid memories of that feast? How many can say that Christ has entered deeply into their memories because of Corpus Christi processions and celebrations?

Corpus Christ Procession, Madison Wisconsin (from one of our 2015 photoposts)
This connection of memory and liturgy is one of the reasons that Cardinal Sarah is calling for liturgies to be celebrated ad orientem once again. Since Vatican II, our memories of the liturgy have been shaped by the priest facing versus populum. But, as Pope Benedict explains regarding this orientation, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle.” Thus, our memories of the liturgy are not, generally, connected with God (as they should be), but rather, they are connected with a humanistic, self-centered sort of liturgy. We expect the priest to face us, so we can see him and understand his personality. We expect the priest to put on a show for us, so that we can be entertained for an hour and feel good about ourselves. The corporeal image we have connected with the liturgy in our mind is that of the priest himself. Our memories, however, have been trained with the wrong expectations. We ought to be turned together toward the Lord—our minds and our memories should be oriented toward God in the liturgy, for the liturgy is the anticipation of the coming Christ. This is the purpose of the priest celebrating ad orientem: all who are part of the Mass, including the priest, are meant to be awaiting the Lord’s return. The sacrifice of the Mass is an offering to the Lord, not to the people.

If we humbly follow Cardinal Sarah’s request, we shall retrain our memories to turn toward the Lord in the liturgy. Our memories will once again reconnect with God, who is present within us, not only in our minds, but most especially in the Eucharist. We cannot simply toss aside the liturgical traditions that have formed 1500 years of Saints: in doing so, we lose our connection with the Church and with God. If we refocus our minds and memories on God, “we will go out to meet the Lord who has already been coming all along, we will enter into his coming—and so we will allow ourselves to be fitted into a greater reality, beyond the everyday.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

La Sainte Baume - St Mary Magdalene’s Cave

Even scholars least inclined to skepticism in treating of the lives of the Saints find it difficult to accept as true the legend that St Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, together with many companions, settled in the Provence region of southern France. The most serious objection to the story is that it is completely unheard of before the 11th century among the many ecclesiastical writers and liturgical books surviving from before that period. Mary Magdalene is said to have spent many years in a purely contemplative life in a cave high up on a mountain about 40 miles to the east of Marseilles, and was frequently rapt up into heaven. In the Tridentine liturgical books, there is no reference to this legend in the office of St Mary Magdalene, but it is included in the Matins lessons for the feast of St Martha. The Martyrology also refers to it by giving Marseilles as the place of the Magdalene’s death; it also lists Lazarus as the first bishop of that city on December 17th. St Martha is said to have ruled over a community of religious women, and died at Tarascon, about 60 miles to the northwest of Marseilles. (Tarascon is also the name of a dragon which she subdued – more on that next week.)

The cave said to be that of St Mary Magdalene, known in French as “La Sainte Baume”, is still a popular pilgrimage spot, in the charge of the Dominicans; I was able to visit it this May during the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian’s Pro Civitate Dei summer school in nearby La-Londe-les-Maures, certainly one of the highlights of the program.

The entrance to the church complex.
The cave, which is now a church, has been under the care of the Dominicans since 1295, with an interruption of over 40 years at the French Revolution. Before that, it was under Benedictines, and before them, “Cassianites,” i.e., monks who followed as their principal rule the writings of St John Cassian, who died at Marseilles in 435.

A relic of St Magdalene now kept in the cave - her principal relics are at the church of St Maximin, which I wrote about on his feast day in June.
A statue of St Mary Magdalene being rapt in ecstasy into heaven.

Sacred Music Summer Camp for Youth - Lincoln, Nebraska

Sacred Music Summer Camp for Youth

Music Instructors: Nicholas & Elizabeth Lemme

What: Five days of musical instruction in Gregorian chant and beginning polyphony, culminating in a Mass at the end of the week, chanted by all of the camp participants. 

Some highlights:
  • Learn to sight-singing with solfege and Ward Method singing games
  • Improve your vocal technique & ensemble singing
  • Develop aural skills and enhance your musicianship
  • Discover basic medieval music theory in the areas of rhythm, notation, and modes
  • Practice the basics of Latin pronunciation for singing
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the Church’s liturgy and its sacred music 
When: August 8–12, 2016. 9:00am–2:00pm
Where: UNL Newman Center @ the Corner of 16th and Q St.
Who: Ages 7–14 unchanged voices
Tuition: $50 per child; $125 per family 3+
Register by contacting Nicholas Lemme at

Registration Deadline: A non-refundable registration deposit of $25 is due by August 1, 2016. The remaining balance is due on the first day of camp.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Turning Toward the Lord -- An Evangelical and Ecumenical Perspective for Support

Billy Graham teaching
Cardinal Sarah’s challenge that priests celebrate Mass “ad orientem” has sparked controversy and heated discussion throughout the Catholic world. Hyperbole aside, some think this would imply we’re going back to the dark ages. Others see this subtle yet important change as the salvation of the Christian West. Whether you’re with Cardinal Nichols or Cardinal Sarah, it’s a big deal.

As one who converted from the Evangelical faith in 2004, I’d like to offer my support for Cardinal Sarah and simultaneously identify some points where his vision would bring about positive ecumenism with our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters.

For the Evangelical Christian, the person Jesus Christ is so fundamentally important, that he has become the lens for all of human history. All things are “through him, with him, and in him.” As with the larger movement of history, so also Jesus Christ is seen as involved in the story of our own personal lives. For the Evangelical, the Christian life is not so much embracing a political movement or a community, or even becoming a certain personality type, as much as it is a turning toward the person of Jesus Christ and allowing Him access to transform us from the inside out. This is what an Evangelical Christian means when they ask, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" Christianity is about understanding one’s life in and through Jesus Christ. Therefore what Jesus says and does really matters for the Evangelical Christian.

Our Catholic liturgy ought to reflect this too, insofar as everyone ought to “turn” toward Jesus in this way. The irony of this “turning” is that not everyone turns from the same spot; accordingly, Catholic tradition has always offered breadth and depth of authentic content in order to cast a wider net. I might need to become gentler; you might need to grow a spine. The Holy Spirit, who flows from the Father and the Son, and animates the Church, brings “rest in toil, coolness in the heat, and solace in grief.” Further, this same Spirit “bends what is rigid, thaws what is frozen, and sets right what is lost.” (Sequence for Pentecost). Of course the commandments and precepts are the same for everyone, but what marks conversion for me, might be different for you; Jesus Christ, however, brings all these separate “turnings” together, and unifies the result. He is the focus of all true conversion, and each Christian seeks to make himself like him.

And this is precisely where the obedient and reverent liturgy comes into play. It is what makes the whole Christ visible, so that each participant can turn toward Him from their unique perspective. There are as many paths to sainthood as there are persons, because each person is “capax Dei” or “capable of God,” as St. Augustine says; however all saints become so by modeling their lives after Jesus Christ. If we are turned toward Jesus, each liturgy becomes a little conversion and we are born again. When we receive the Eucharist, we are accepting Jesus into our hearts. When we fail, we come to the altar and ask the Lord to have mercy. When we confess and receive absolution, we pray the sinner's prayer in the presence of God and the priest. When we pray the daily office, we are having daily devotional time and offering our praise to GodI use italics here to identify key terms that Evangelicals use frequently, ways in which our Catholic liturgy can fulfill Evangelical practice. Ironically, these are also the ways in which the Eucharist becomes the “source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11).  This understanding of the liturgy was the bridge on which I crossed the Tiber. Even today I have not forsaken the Evangelical teachings of my upbringing, but have rather brought them to fullness in God’s Church.

If ecumenism and evangelization are still worthy goals -- and I think they are, thank God -- we Catholics must retain the fullness of truth in our teaching and liturgical practice in order to cast a wider net. A sermon I heard from a Evangelical pastor in Kenya in 2001 comes to mind. The pastor recalled a mission to a violent and remote tribe, where no missionaries had ever been successful in preaching the gospel, nor had any lived to tell the story of their failure. Eager for a challenge, a young missionary went to them. He prayed to God, asking for help; and somehow, humorously, he received an answer in prayer. He was to begin his evangelization by reading the Gospel of Matthew aloud, starting with the “begats” in chapter 1. I don’t know about you, but pastorally speaking, many of us would see minimal spiritual benefit in reading the whole genealogy of Jesus in a liturgy, let alone to a remote tribe armed to the teeth. “Can we please do the abridged version...?” Not so: the young missionary responded in faith and obedience to the answer God had given, and as he read the genealogies, the men and women of the tribe knelt down peacefully, one by one, in rapt, full attention. What all previous attempts had failed to understand and could not have known without God’s help, was that this tribe had intense admiration for their forebears. It wasn’t hearing about the baby Jesus, the beatitudes, or even the cross, but rather about the respect Matthew has for Jesus’ heritage, that started them on the path to conversion. Not a single word of the Bible is worthless or unintentional on God’s part, nor does any word come back unanswered (Isaiah 55:11). If you ever wondered why all of the “begats” were there, perhaps it was for the salvation of this little tribe... and to save the life of the young missionary!

Meanwhile for the rest of us, if the anecdote is worth anything, apocryphal as it may be, it demonstrates that we can never anticipate how God will draw us to himself. Therefore, we ought never to limit God’s power and action to our own understanding. We ought never to change the plain meaning of the scripture to suit our own purposes, or change the liturgy to reflect our own personal whims, even if we think we’re helping God’s mission along. Rather we must turn our hearts and minds toward Jesus, listening to what he has to say without interrupting him or putting words in his mouth. The priest ought to be the chief example of this “turning.” No level of theological training, subtlety, or popularity can replace the simple value of obedience. God can work with obedience, and he can teach people who are listening, who are turned toward Him.

Evangelical Christians look on most Catholic parishes with grave disappointment. Often, they say, neither does the preaching reflect obedience to the plain meaning of the Biblical text, nor do Catholics take Jesus’ call to conversion seriously enough to make them any different from the mainstream culture. Catholic marriages fall apart at exactly the same rate as secular ones. Most Catholic children don’t know how to pray, let alone show understanding of the Scriptures. Many Catholics don’t even sing or participate in Church, some Evangelicals say, but rather sit there like lumps on a log, with their mouths hung open and their minds empty. The external signs are useless, they say, if not accompanied by sincerity of heart. Very few are able to explain why they are Christian or what being Christian means in terms of the Scriptures, let alone why someone else might want to become one. And so, for these and other reasons, the criticism is made that, if “you shall know them by their fruits,” Catholics have lost the spark of true faith. When I was received into the Church in 2004, the most favorable reply I received from my Evangelical friends was that, begrudgingly, it was possible for me to remain a Christian in spite of being Catholic -- provided I maintained a regimen of private prayer and Scripture study --  but that the Catholic Church itself wouldn’t provide the encouragement I would need to remain faithful. Further, they suggested that the general apathy and apostasy of Catholics would be a drain on my spiritual growth.

These are hard words to hear, and it would be understandable for many Catholics to be offended by this sort of criticism. Really, however, much of this critique is the basis for the New Evangelization efforts initiated by St. John Paul II. In other words, we Catholics have known for some while about our spiritual diseases, too, and we’re working on them. I don't mean to be cheeky, but perhaps God would help us with the New Evangelization, if we would only turn toward Him. It seems so simple: turning is necessary for conversion. The fact that so many Catholics don't understand worship facing the Lord, is a sign that we do not understand our need for conversion, and it is further proof of our need for the New Evangelization. We have Jesus among us, and yet we have forgotten how to turn to Him and pray.

After twelve years, I’m still Catholic. I knew what I was getting myself into then, as I do now. It can seem like a mess at times, but I have not regretted my decision once. But this critique needs an answer. 

If Catholics hope for any unity with Evangelicals, “ad orientem” could be a big step. Evangelicals are looking for conversion, or at least a warm-blooded attempt, as a sign of true faith. Why not give them the sign they seek? Cardinal Sarah isn’t arguing for tradition for tradition’s sake, but rather that each of us turn toward the Lord with a sincere heart. Jesus the Lord is the cornerstone of the Church, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last; if we wish to rebuild ourselves or our Church, we have to turn toward Him. For the sake of the New Evangelization, let’s turn to the Lord and pray for the success of Cardinal Sarah’s exhortation.

Our Lady of Mt Carmel in the UK

The feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel is especially important  to Catholics in the UK, since it was of course an English Carmelite, St Simon Stock, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared and gave the Scapular. Here are some photos of two celebrations of the feast day last Saturday, a solemn first Mass celebrated in Glasgow, and a solemn Mass with the blessing and distribution of scapulars in Carlisle.

The Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary in Glasgow welcomed newly-ordained Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP, for the celebration of one of his first Masses on the feast day. In addition to the beautiful chant of the Mass, the Schola sang the Missa Aeterna Christi Munera by Palestrina, with his Sicut Cervus as the offertory motet, and Byrd’s Ave Verum as the communion motet. Mass was followed by the beautiful tradition of “first blessings”; Fr Mawdsley gave each individual a blessing which invoked their patron saints, as the schola sang the Te Deum.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in East Harlem

On Saturday, July 23rd, at 11:15 a.m., a Solemn High Traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated in the Pontifical Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Harlem, New York, at the privileged altar of the Crowned Madonna, for the fifth annual pilgrimage being made that day by faithful attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. Services held throughout the day for the pilgrims; Rev. Canon Matthew Talarico of the Institute of Christ the King will be celebrant of the Mass. There is ample parking in the gentrifying neighborhood and the church is very easily accessible via public transportation.

There have been several documented miracles been performed by the Blessed Mother at this shrine. The image located there was proclaimed miraculous by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, and crowned during the pontificate of Pope St. Pius X on July 10th, 1904. There are only three images of the Blessed Virgin that have been crowned by Pontifical Authority in North America. The image has been recently restored.

The Pontifical Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at 115th Street is one of the first Italian national parishes in the United States. At one time, more than 500,000 people attended the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during the month of July before and after the feast day on July 16th. The crown of the Madonna and child is gold, adorned with precious stones, the emerald of which was donated by the aforementioned pope.

The Crowned Statue is taken down in procession only on special occasions and with the authorization of ecclesiastical authority.

R.I.P. Fr Michael Morris, O.P.

It was with sadness that I learned of the death on Friday of Fr Michael Morris, O.P., after an illness. For many years he has been a great advocate for beauty in sacred art and the culture, whose interests ranged from the aesthetics of St Thomas and traditional Christian iconography to Hollywood movie posters. Whatever the subject, he was always in a position to tell me exactly how the Dominican order has a hand in shaping what is good in the world! Many will know of his writing through his monthly art reviews in the Magnificat magazine.

I first met him  in 2001 when I turned up at his office in Berkeley, California, looking for help and advice about transforming Catholic culture. I was a complete unknown who had read St John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, and had set off for America armed with a few poorly formed ideas and plenty of passion, but very little else. He was kind enough to take the time to listen to this odd stranger hammering on his door out of the blue, and offered encouragement and wise advice. He was also very amusing and great company!

We had been in touch ever since, and I saw him only 10 days ago. Although obviously suffering, he still just wanted to talk about art and a course he was planning to teach for the DSPT, the Dominican School in Berkeley next year, and to introduce me to an artist friend of his. The program at the GTU in Berkeley, Religion and the Arts, which he devoted so much time to, is known internationally.

When I saw him we spoke, as we always did, of praying daily to Blessed Fra Angelico, the great and holy Dominican artist as our chosen patron of the mission of to transform the culture. I pray to him now also in remembrance of Fr Michael.

He will be missed by many.

Blessed Fra Angelico’s Virgin and Child with Saints

Men’s Holy Leagues: Manchester, NH, St Clair Shores, MI and Assumption Grotto, Detroit

Please do keep notifications of Men’s Holy League meetings coming; I am happy to promote them both to raise attendance at those already established, and in the hope that it might inspire the creation of more.

First at St Hedwig’s Church in Manchester, New Hampshire, July 22nd, at 7 pm; the Facebook page is here. I am particularly enthusiastic about this one because as well as Adoration there is sung Compline. The church is located at is 147 Walnut Street.

Second at St Isaac Jogues Church at 21100 Madison in St Clair Shores, Michigan; the next meeting will be Saturday August 6th at 7:00 am, with coffee and breakfast afterwards. The organizer tells me that this has grown to an attendance of nearly 60 people in the past year and a half, although he is quick to point out that there is still plenty of room for newcomers. There is also a family Adoration on the third Friday of every month at 6:30 pm followed by fellowship (and ice cream!). For more information go to the website or call the pastor, Fr. Darrell Roman, or his associate, Fr. Brian Shackett, at 586-778-5100.

Thanks to David Schuster, who sent me these photographs of the recent Holy League Holy Hour at Assumption Grotto in Detroit, Michigan. He told me that the numbers are higher than these photos suggest and about 60 men turned up.

For more information about creating a Holy League in your parish, go to the website The mission of the Holy League is to “combat the forces of evil in today’s society, striving to call men back to the state of grace and to transforming the culture through prayer.”

Created with the patronage of Cardinal Burke, it is a new, parish-based network of men inspired by the original Holy League of the 16th century, which by prayer and fasting, implored the help of God’s grace, and the intercession of His Holy Mother. By the grace of Almighty God, on October 7, 1571, at the Battle of Lepanto, the Christian fleet won a crushing naval victory over the Ottoman Turks, saving Christendom and western civilization.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Historical Images of Barcelona Charterhouse, 1960

Our thanks to B.D. for his kind permission to reproduce these photos taken in the Charterhouse of Montalegre in 1960. The monastery is located in the town on Tiana, about 11 miles north of Barcelona, and is the only Charterhouse still functioning in Catalonia.

Two Conservatives Seeing Eye to Eye On Culture - Roger Scruton and Benedict XVI

I recently posted an article about the history of the English telephone box. The idea for that post came from Roger Scruton and his reference to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design in his book How to Be A Conservative, which at the end I contrast briefly with Benedict XVI’s essay Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures.

In this small book, Scruton offers a brilliantly thought out practical philosophy of moral and compassionate patriotism, that cares deeply about the liberty and flourishing of poor and rich alike, and sees a culture of beauty as absolutely necessary to transmit and sustain the core principles and values that bind the nation together (and frankly, make life worth living). It is a denominationally neutral, natural-law case for a just society that is, as far as I can tell, consistent with Catholic social teaching, although he arrives at his conclusions via a logical route that would not be chosen by all Catholics. (See the end of the article for an explanation.) I enjoyed it particularly for his discussion of the origins of culture. Without ever mentioning the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, he provides a wealth of supporting evidence for the truth of this principle – that it is our worship that influences most profoundly our faith. If we agree with what St John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus, that it is our faith which influences most profoundly our culture, then we can also say that therefore, our worship most profoundly affects the culture.

Furthermore, it is an enjoyable read from start to finish. He has many interesting stories and anecdotes from his personal experiences with which to illustrate his points, and he always tells them in a good natured and amusing way.

As the work of an Englishman, Scruton’s book is focused on English concerns; however, he admires and visits the US regularly as well and at various points he adapts what he is saying to the American situation.

His is a philosophical argument, that is, one that is argued rationally from the starting point of observations how people are. He is an acute observer of human nature, and so his arguments convince by appealing to ordinary common sense as much as anything else. He tells us first that his conservative instincts came in part from his father, whom he observed growing up in High Wickham in southern post-War England. Jack Scruton, we are told, was a committed socialist who sought the redistribution of wealth, but, as Scruton junior pointed out to us, “we are all right-wing about the things we know.” What his dad knew and loved was local history, and especially the beautiful architecture and the area around High Wickham in Buckinghamshire. This love of the local heritage compelled him to campaign for the preservation of these beautiful signs and symbols of traditional English culture and way of life.

Now in his seventies (and made a Knight on the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list!) Sir Roger Scruton still follows his father’s instincts in this regard, even though he never shared his political views. He has had a long academic career which began as an undergraduate at Cambridge, but which steadily saw him become an independent academic once it became obvious that he would have no career in the faculties of the universities of England, dominated as they are by a left-wing and intolerant intelligentsia.

He does not seem the slightest bit bitter, however; his writing exudes a gentle and optimistic outlook, and it it is clear that he understands and accepts that no men are perfect, liberal or conservative, believing or non-believing.

Scruton does not tell us his personal religious beliefs, for this is philosophy, not theology. Nevertheless, his philosophy sees the necessity of both religion which is rooted in a genuine faith, and religious tolerance. Faith is seed ground from which grow the mores that every society must have in common if people are to feel that they belong to it. In the West, that pattern of living is dominated by Christianity. He sees a harmonious balance of loyalty and love of religion, family and state as the basis for a free and just society.

Scruton is culturally conservative as well as politically and economically. Culture is important in his philosophy because it is the pattern of daily living that communicates the society’s mores to the non-religious in a way in which they can absorb them naturally and comfortably, without being forced to be adherents of the religion. Culture is the principle of inclusion which makes a country a nation – a society in which the citizens feel they belong. It is the beauty of a national culture that tells its citizens that “they are at home in the world.” Furthermore it is tradition, the steadily developing accumulation of what is good from the past, that passes on that culture to us. This is why the conservative spirit always respects what we have and even if critical, looks for modification rather than revolution. It seeks to improve by building on what is good, even in the worst situations, rather than by destroying the present in order to restore the past, or a new future.

For Scruton, society is not an arbitrary grouping. Man has a natural inclination to associate with others, which he must be allowed to do freely, and those associations, the clubs, societies, sports clubs and so on, are the sub-cultures that together form the national culture. The most important associations that are common to all people are faith, family and nation. Even those who are not people of faith, he argues, will in the well-ordered society subscribe passively to it by participating in the culture of faith that binds that nation together. He speaks regularly of how British culture is essentially a Christian culture and how the principles of self-sacrifice, moral virtue and care for our fellows are transmitted via a Christian language of symbolism, verbal, musical and visual, so that they are adopted even by those who do not consider themselves believers.

The picture of a society that he builds up with this natural law approach is, as far as I can tell, consistent with Catholic social teaching. One could have as easily quoted St Thomas, for example, on the natural virtue of religion (made in the Summa in his discussion of the cardinal virtue of justice), in which he says that it is natural to man to worship God, to have piety for family, and “observance” for the nation. Each of these is an offering that is made in justice to God, who created us; to the family which cared for us; and to the nation which give us security to flourish through the other two. The practices of observance and piety are the partial repayments of the debt of love and loyalty to the communities by which we can flourish, and each participates in the highest form of such offering, which is the worship of God. Worship, piety and observance are continual practices because we can never repay fully what has been given to us.

If this argument of the natural associations of religion, family and nation bound by a common culture is correct, then it explains why other political unions, for example supra-national projects such as the European Union, are likely to be unstable and fail. Without a common culture to keep them together, either they will fragment as the national cultures within its artificial border clash, or will have to resort to tyranny to stop this from happening, as was the case in the former Yugoslavia or Soviet Union, and will happen in the EU if it does not disintegrate first.

It is also why a strict multiculturalism, in which there is no absorption of the cultural practices of immigrants into a the national culture, will not work either. The result in Britain has been a fragmentation of the nation with the formation of ghettoes of non-British cultures within the national boundaries. During the Brexit debate especially, some of the intellectual elite who appeared have little regard for traditional British culture derided those who wish to preserve a sense of Britishness in Britain as jingoistic, racist and ignorant. No doubt a few were all three, but I believe this is not true ofthe majority. If we accept Scruton’s thesis, we can see that it is natural for those who care about Britain to wish to retain a cultural identity, and to feel unease about the undermining of culture. To object to these changes does not automatically make someone racist or even anti-immigrant. It does make him “culturalist,” but I would argue that is a good thing. It is a natural response of someone who loves his country. For the “culturalist,” immigration is not a problem provided those who come are willing to become culturally British.

All cultures and subcultures are the aggregated effect of personal interactions and so, as Scruton points out, are always formed from the bottom up. It is one of the great paradoxes of man and society that individual actions that are driven by free will, and therefore apparently random and sitting outside the natural order that is described by the scientific laws of cause and effect, can nevertheless give rise to a discernible pattern and order when the society as a whole is observed. Generally, the best influence of government can have on a culture, therefore, is to protect personal liberty and allow it to emerge naturally. Top-down attempts to manipulate the cultural forms directly by directing personal interaction with law are likely to stifle personal freedom and the human spirit. This in turn leads to a diminution of human flourishing, both spiritually and economically. It is why, I suggest, socialism is such an ugly and dismal failure in this regard.

Scruton is well aware that when people claim rights of action and freedoms for themselves, it will lead to clashes. He gives an example where the rights of “travellers” (people who in the past might have identified themselves as gypsies - I’m not sure if this is still the case) to settle where they wish clash with the property rights of those who live where the travellers choose to settle. We might think also of the case where the right of the unborn clashes with the claimed right of the woman to choose to have an abortion. This is where custom, or in the extreme, the law must decide whose right or whose freedom has preeminence; a justice system that is rooted in a consensus of morality that will do that effectively and happily. He maintains that religion is the only viable and sustaining source of morality that works for the benefit of that society, even for the non-religious within it. In Britain this is the basis of common law.

In his critique of today’s post-modern society, Scruton still manages, consistent with his conservative ethos, to be constructive by looking for the positive as well. Chapter by chapter he analyses the institutions and ideas of today, the various “-isms” (nationalism, socialism, capitalism, liberalism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and internationalism) so as to highlight the good to be retained within them, as well as the bad to be discarded. (There chapters titled “The Good in Nationalism”, “The Good in Socialism” etc.) He persuades us with good humored reason, and does not try to goad us on with fiery rhetoric. Through this analysis he paints a vision of a possible society that does not perfect human nature, but rather accommodates it, with all its flaws and imperfections. He promises no utopia, but rather a realistic prospect of something better.

He builds up his ideas by drawing largely on common sense observations of people, as well as the philosophy of Aristotle and writers of the Enlightenment such as Burke, Hegel, Adam Smith and Kant, and sells it to us through his witty and entertaining writing and the obvious love he has for his own country. As a Catholic, I was intrigued at how much the ideas of the Enlightenment and Kant especially, which are not universally admired in Catholic circles (to put it mildly) could nevertheless be helpful.

Intrigued, I wanted to know more and wondered if I was going to have to write another chapter for Scruton’s book for Catholics called, “The Truth in the Enlightenment and the Truth in Emmanuel Kant.”

I am not someone who is excited about the prospect of reading large amounts of 18th century philosophy, so, naturally, as every lazy student does, I looked around for the Cliff Notes to see if someone had done it first. Pope Benedict XVI’s little book on the subject of Europe, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures saved me the effort. Benedict too draws on Kant and Enlightenment thinking in his analysis.

In regard to the Enlightenment he tells us:

“The Enlightenment has a Christian origin and it was not by chance that it was born specifically and exclusively within the sphere of the Christian faith, in places where Christianity, contrary to its own nature, had unfortunately become mere tradition and the religion of the state. Philosophy, as the investigation of the rational element (which includes the rational element of our faith) had always been a positive element in Christianity, but the voice of reason had become excessively tame. It was and remains the merit of the Enlightenment to have drawn attention afresh to these original Christian values and to have given reason back its own voice. In its Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Second Vatican Council restated this profound harmony between Christianity and the Enlightenment, seeking to achieve a genuine reconciliation between the Church and modernity, which is the great patrimony of which both parties must take care.” (p. 48)

One flaw of the Enlightenment, Benedict tells us, is that it cut itself off from “its own historical roots, depriving itself from the powerful sources from which it sprang. It detaches itself from what we might call its basic memory of mankind, without which reason loses its orientation.” (p. 41)

And in regard to Kant he tells us:

“The search for this kind of reassuring certainty, something that could go unchallenged despite all the disagreements, has not succeeded. Not even Kant’s truly stupendous endeavours managed to create the necessary certainty that would be shared by all. Kant had denied that God could be known with the sphere of pure reason, but at the same time, he had presented God, freedom, and immortality as postulates of practical reason, without which he saw no coherent possibility of acting in a moral manner. I wonder if the situation of today’s world might not make us return to the idea that Kant was right. Let me put this in different terms: the attempt, carried to extremes to shape human affairs to the total exclusion of God leads us more and more to the brink of the abyss, toward the utter annihilation of man. We must therefore reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even the one who does not succeed in finding the path to God ought nevertheless to try to live and to direct his life, as if God did exist. This is the advice that Pascal gave to his friends and it is the advice that I should like to give to our friends today who do not believe. This does not impose limitations on freedom, it gives support to all our human affairs and supplies a criterion of which human life stands sorely in need.” (p. 51)

So Pope Benedict too, it seems, is a conservative whose instincts tell him not to destroy, but to amend society, building on the best of what he have. Furthermore, Scruton has provided just the template for a way forward towards a society that is in accord with what Benedict advises. It is through the institutions of the nation state, the family, and religion with an attitude of tolerance of non-believers, that we can have a society bound by a common culture, one which if not perfect, is free enough and beautiful enough that we can at least feel “at home in the world.”

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Reader Laments the Lack of Attention to “Externals” in the Liturgy

A regular NLM reader sent in this letter some weeks ago; it is reproduced below with the author’s permission.

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Men being ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in the traditional Roman Rite (2016)

I enjoyed your post on “The Logic of Incarnation and the Temptation of Disincarnation.” I am so weary of the snide remarks and condescending attitudes characteristic of those who dismiss the Traditional Latin Mass and traditional Roman devotions as a nostalgic preoccupation with externals. As if these things existed in a vacuum or were alien to the heritage of the universal Church! As if they were not the bread and butter of countless saints, still as powerful today in their meaning and impact as they ever were!

I would propose a scriptural sign that God Himself prizes “the externals.” If we re-read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, etc., we discover a stunning amount of exacting detail that the Lord Himself insisted upon, concerning the specifications of the construction and adornment of His own ark and even the details of vesture and behavior of His priests. The best woods, precious metals, precious stones, and finest fabrics were specified by name. Burlap, ceramic, clay, and sand, incidentally, were not. Those books of the Old Testament are full of accounts of God specifying clearly who was to do which job and exactly how — down to which fingers to use for blessings (I think we could safely call that an early instance of rubrics). God was specific about how, in the externals, He wished to be worshipped, not because He’s an arch-snob but because He knew (as the architect of the human species) that fragrant cedars and jewels and gold filigree would inspire the human heart to higher thoughts of the Fountain of Pure Love than would bare wood and asymmetrical cement.

While there is room for some organic evolution in the minutiae of liturgy as the millennia progress, and while Christianity brings with it a certain artistic freedom as it moves through cultures, how could we ever be justified in the too-frequent modern enshrinement of ugliness and banality in construction, vesture, ritual, music, self-styled liturgical amendments (to “make” the liturgy “more relevant”), and general approach to God, simply because a few measly thousand years have passed? Has the immutable God evolved or devolved? Or rather, have we lost our way?

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI reminded us that the first Mass, which Our Lord offered on the eve of His Passion, was replete with ritual and formality, stemming from the detailed worship of the Jews. The Mass of the Last Supper would have lasted several hours. Jesus did not despise or scorn such ritual; why should we? Nor was He in any hurry, despite the immense weight of sorrow resting on His sacred shoulders, and His divine knowledge that the gears of His own demise were cranking away. Why should we be in a hurry and consider it too much to kneel for a long while in God’s presence, or to pray in silence, or to sing the chants and listen to them?

I see (and lament) the fruit of the shallow theology that spawns a casual or perfunctory worship in many of the Catholic churches I have visited. It is revealed in the amount of respect shown the Real Presence by the congregants therein — both during Mass and outside of it. Does the cursory head bob truly equal a genuflection? Would any modern day human sovereign recognize one as equivalent to the other? Which, if they could choose, would they prefer for themselves as a sign of allegiance and fidelity?

Does the fact that many lay folk go right up to the Tabernacle and help themselves to its august Occupant bespeak a proper respect for Him? When they dare to handle the Body of Our Lord at Communion time, does it show deep respect for the Lord’s establishment of the priesthood itself and His sacrament of Holy Orders, in which the priests’ hands have been consecrated and anointed unto the specific purpose of handling the precious Body and Blood of the Creator of the world? Have we no humility to accept our status as fledglings that need to be fed by hand in the mouth? Have we forgotten that God struck down dead one Uzzah in the Old Testament (2 Sam. 6:6-7) when he presumed with seemingly good intention to lay his hand upon the exterior of the ark of the covenant to steady it (let alone its contents!)? Is this not the same God? While we know that Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father, “Abba,” and while we find our salvation in communion with His flesh and blood, Jesus did not nullify all the previously known (Old Testament) attributes of His Father. “I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. . . .”

I heard a story recently that sent a chill down my spine. Apparently a Moslem had been inside a Catholic church (I'm not sure why), and afterwards, he was talking with someone about what he had experienced. When this person said to him that Catholics believe that the Eucharist is really the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, he replied: "No, they certainly don't believe that, because they would behave in a totally different way if they actually believed it. They would get down on their faces in homage to the Almighty. But they acted as if nothing special were there."

I think what is missing from the current age is the HOLY FEAR and its concomitant respectful behavior that are born of the realization of just WHO is enthroned — albeit in humble estate — in that little box in the center of the church that was once known and revered as the Holy of Holies. It bespeaks a pitiable blindness to the invisible realities, the angelic spirits, who are nevertheless present and attendant upon the King of Kings. Once upon a time, the Church was convinced that the Lord should be given royal treatment and worship. Thankfully these practices are still retained in the Church’s treasury of the Traditional Latin Mass.

More Excellent Music from the Fota Liturgical Conference

Dr Ite O’Donovan, the director of the Dublin-based Lassus Scholars, has posted some more videos of the music for the Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke for the ninth annual Fota Liturgical Conference in Cork, Ireland, at the church of Ss Peter and Paul. I was present for the conference and this Mass, and I just cannot praise the quality of the music highly enough. Particularly noteworthy was the use of Heinrich Isaac’s polyphonic settings for the propers of the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, from his famous Choralis Constantinus. (Click here for more from Fota IX, or visit Dr O’Donovan’s Youtube channel.)

Introit  Suscépimus, Deus, misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui: secundum nomen tuum, Deus, ita et laus tua in fines terrae: justitia plena est déxtera tua. Ps 47 Magnus Dóminus, et laudábilis nimis: in civitáte Dei nostri, in monte sancto ejus. Gloria Patri. Sicut erat. Suscépimus.

Creed from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli

Sanctus and Benedictus from the Missa Papae Marcelli

Communio  Gustáte et vidéte, quoniam suávis est Dóminus: beátus vir, qui sperat in eo.

Te Deum (Victoria) and Recessional

Cardinal Burke’s Sermon

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