Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Plea for Some Kind of Understanding...

Despite my suspicion that the "Extraordinary" is slated to become the "Ordinary"

The seriously misguided and far too influential Dario Cardinal Castrillon de Hoyos

You'd probably do better, your eminence, in putting your good offices to work on things like getting FARC hostages in Colombia released, rather than indulging your obsessions over the Latin Mass.

I believe there is a difference and a fine line between critiquing the church (asking hard and challenging questions of both the laity and the clergy) and garden variety anti-Catholicism. I’ll stand on record and say that I believe there is also a difference between faithful dissent and attacking the Church.

Every now and then I feel a need to put a level-set on what I’m attempting to do here. On my reading list, you can often find material that challenges orthodox interpretations of the faith (Nobody is going to tell me what I can read and can’t read. After all, they read everything at the Vatican). In addition, I’ve had plenty of posts that boost certain theologians who’ve found themselves in hot water in Rome over the years, as well as some posts that have criticized various members of the hierarchy, trends I find disturbing, and poor decisions that have been made over the course of the last 40 years or so. Nevertheless, what I do here is never intended to tear the Catholic Church down. On the contrary. What I’ve always wanted to do here is to build her back up, emphasizing what I consider to be the strongest points in her traditions and teachings. I don’t do this for the entertainment of non-Catholics and skeptics who get a kick out of seeing a Catholic bashing his own hierarchy.

I’m pretty conservative in my basic inclinations, mostly as a result of my upbringing, and the peers and families who’ve most influenced me by positive example. On the other hand, prayerful and collaborative priests who trusted the laity to do the right thing helped to form my vision of the Church. I don’t feel particularly comfortable having to consistently carry water for either the traditionalist or the liberal wings of the Church. As my profile indicates, what concerns me is not championing the causes of the left or right, but polarization, which indicates frustration with both ends of the spectrum. I embrace much of the progressive agenda, I do, but being staunchly pro-life, I’d probably never make a good spokesman for the far left wing of the Church. Liberal Catholicism as it’s commonly understood isn’t really my thing. I like certain aspects of Liberation Theology, which is radical, not necessarily liberal.

When I first started posting on the web, it was on conservative apologetics forums. Like many Boston-area Catholics, I felt a strong sense of outrage and demoralization when the sexual abuse crisis exploded and felt compelled to explore in depth the “root cause” of the problem. Many of us read the books related to the crisis that were getting most of the attention in the mainstream media at the time. I plowed through some of the works of Gary Wills, Donald Cozzens, James Carrol, Paul Dinter, Thomas Cahill, Joseph Girzone, Eugene Kennedy, and others. While some of these authors brought up some great points that are worth considering, I felt that the tone was essentially defeatist and depressing. They seemed void of solutions and void of hope. In addition, it was clear to me that these authors, many of whom were ex-seminarians or ex-priests, clearly had their own agendas and their own demons that they were trying to project upon the Church. Forget about self-flagellation as described in The Da Vinci code. Immersing yourself in the thought held in certain corners of the Church is the ultimate in self-flagellation.

When I played sports as a youth, I learned that you never sit on the bench and hang your head when your team is in trouble. You “put on your game face” and rally.

Poking around on the web, I stumbled upon the world of Catholic apologetics. At the time it was a pleasure to be exposed to men and women who felt no shame in being Catholic, who fully embraced Vatican II without mumbling about how embarrassing the pre-Vatican II Church was. Books that had gone dusty on my shelf by Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Fulton Sheen and Ignatius Loyola, I re-opened with new vigor. I’ll state here that Thomas Rausch and Michael Himes probably never would have motivated me to and explore the rich tradition of the early Church fathers. Would Richard McBrien or Charles Curran motivate any one us to mine the treasures to be found in reading Newman, Francis De Sales, Catherine of Siena, and Robert Bellarmine? Probably not. I found myself wondering if Wills & Co. were wrong. Rather, was the fundamental analysis of the “root cause of the problem” by George Weigel right? As Fr. Neuhaus put it, was the answer “Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity”?


Over time I started to see some real problems in those circles, and a troublingly consistent trend. What I discovered was the furtive (and at times not so furtive) contempt for JPII mixed in with the common hagiography that circled around him, and not for his conservatism. It was for his supposed “liberalism” and “modernism”. What I also found, much to my dismay, was not appreciation for Vatican II, but representations ranging from the most tepid endorsements that were humanly possible, to outright hijacking of the council’s purpose and intent and the motivation behind its documents; and worst of all, the accusation that it was some kind of Communist/Masonic/Jewish plot that was responsible for the destruction of the Church and all of the accompanying evil in the world. Some of this came with a nasty streak of anti-semitism which wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been laughed off by more reasonable people as absurd, or if it had been condemned. As fundamentalism sweeps the planet in one form or another, it became clear to me that the polarization that I decry was being stoked much more from the right than from the left.

I could shrug a lot of this off as the web providing a platform for the most committedly extreme elements, but I can’t shrug off the feeling that the hierarchy, as presently constituted, have given up on the Council as well.

In a lot of ways, this pontificate of Benedict’s has been very difficult for me, even more difficult than the years when the scandal exploded. As Cardinal Ratzinger, I never found his actions and decisions to be particularly helpful to the Church, and I find it harder and harder to defend him from the charge that he’s a restorationist. His attitudes towards the liturgy, and his recent comments laying the blame for the sexual abuse crisis on the “proportionalism” that was taught in the seminaries in the 1970s underscore this. There's no introspection, no self-examination, no self-criticism of the institution. It’s always the fault of the liberals. As John Dominic Crossan puts it:

It is not enough to focus only on criminally abusive priests and even on guiltily indifferent bishops. It is not even enough to say that it was “sometimes very badly handled”—when was it ever handled otherwise? What is necessary from the Pope—and what was never even hinted behind his mention of “deep shame” (a private matter)—was some awareness of structural and systemic problems within the episcopal and papal hierarchy which facilitated the depth and breadth of the crime.

Finally, then, while the Pope looked outward and made several very accurate structural criticisms of society, he never looked inward and made similar criticisms of his own hierarchy. Here is the question: is the Roman Catholic hierarchy deeply flawed by an abuse of power and authority of which clerical pederasty and episcopal complicity are but one terrible manifestation?

Now, putting aside the abuse crisis, and getting back to the Council... In speaking of the Council which I believe Benedict has re-interpreted to his own liking, let's be fair for a moment.

The Council did not call for married priests, women priests, acceptance of divorce, acceptance of pre-marital sex, and gay marriage and lifestyles. It didn’t call for acceptance of birth control, although the bishops and theologians did tell Paul VI that they hadn’t tied his hands on the issue.

What the Council overwhelmingly did call for was a “reform and restoration” of the liturgy. With the recent Motu Proprio, however, Benedict sanctioned the use of the unreformed liturgy without the local bishop’s permission. If we are no longer seeing what the council did ask for, I think we can conclude that all of the above-mentioned issues that progressives care so much about are so far off of the back-burner they are not only off the stove, they’ve essentially been tossed out of the kitchen door into the backyard!

A couple of weeks ago, Cardinal Castrillon De Hoyos made some astonishing remarks indicating his conviction that he and Pope Benedict not only wanted to see the Latin Mass made more widely available, but that he'd like to see the Tridentine Mass celebrated in every Parish. So much for the "extraordinary" form. It sure looks to me like a long-term strategy to make it the "ordinary" form again.

A Pontifical High Mass in the Tridentine Rite was said in Westminster Cathedral last weekend for the first time in four decades. Its celebrant, a close ally of the Pope and an ambassador for the old liturgy, promised that further changes will be afoot.

Imagine for a moment a vibrant and confident Catholic church, the pews filled every Sunday with parishioners of all ages, eager to celebrate a distinctive liturgy that will impart a sense of reverence and awe and the mystery of Christ's redeeming sacrifice.

That is the vision of the Church presented last weekend by a senior member of the Curia, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos. And the means of achieving it, he claims, is the revival of the Tridentine Rite.

It was last July when Pope Benedict issued an instruction, or motu proprio, encouraging the rite's much wider celebration if a "stable group" requests it from a parish priest. He designated the Tridentine Mass the "extraordinary form" and the new the "ordinary form" of the one Roman rite. But, Cardinal Castrillón, who is close to the Pope, has now gone much further, suggesting it should be made a far more frequent liturgical experience.

He was eager to explain why he considered the revival of the old rite - which he called the Gregorian Rite - so important. He had a forthright response to those who complain that its reintroduction violates the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, calling such a view "absolute ignorance". Pope Benedict, he added, was a theologian with deep understanding of Vatican II and was acting exactly in accordance with "the way of the council" that the freedom of different kinds of celebration is to be offered. Similarly, he judged complaints about the priest in the old rite celebrating Mass with his back to the congregation to be "ridiculous". The priest represented the person of Christ and in facing east - that is, towards God - he was reviving the sacrifice of the Son to the Father.

Asked whether he hoped to see provision for the Tridentine Rite made in "many" parishes in England and Wales, the cardinal said he wanted "all" parishes to experience this "treasure". As for men training for the priesthood, he disclosed that the Vatican is writing to all seminaries, asking them to ensure they will be taught Latin not just for liturgical purposes but also to prepare them for their studies in theology and philosophy.

But what of the confusion felt by many Catholics who had seen the transition from the Tridentine to the new rite in 1970 and had welcomed it, seeing it as real progress? I suggested that for some this new emphasis on old rite might feel like a step backwards.

"Progress is important, but what does it mean?" said the cardinal. "Today, for me, progress is discovering the meaning of contemplation. This is progress. A person who has no time for silence is a poor person. A person who has no time for contemplation is poor also. The holy Mass is sacrifice. We have to look at Golgotha, at Calvary, the Cross of Christ. When we have sacrifice in Christ we feel free from sin, we are redeemed, then we are happy and when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ we are happy to gather together and to celebrate, but first the sacrifice, second the community aspect of the meal."

Is it not possible to express all this in the new rite?

"Yes, but the experience of these 40 years is not always so good," said Cardinal Castrillón. "Many people abandon the sense of adoration of God. Yes, we are brothers but we are not saved as brothers. We are saved by the sacrifice. We need to be in front of the mystery. We sing because we are brothers. We sing because we are celebrating, but we keep silent because we are in front of the mystery. The new rite can express it but there have been brought out so many abuses all over the Church that many people abandon it [sic]. Many children do not know how to be in the presence of God, how they have to be adoring."

But what exactly were the abuses he had alluded to earlier that had crept in with the advent of the new rite? The answer was surprising.

He explained that he had received letters complaining that a priest had celebrated Mass made up as a clown: "The parish priest with the lips painted and the wig and mirrors here," he said, pointing to his temples. "A travesty." Other examples including that of a priest who had allegedly presided at Sunday Mass dressed in a miniskirt, and a priest who had invited his Protestant "brother" to celebrate the Eucharist. Yet another had introduced his wife and sons before celebrating Mass.

"There is an atmosphere that makes possible those abuses and that atmosphere must be changed, and in my poor opinion the new presence of the Gregorian Rite will help us to take seriously the identity of our faith, respecting all the other ways of thinking but keeping strongly our identity with Christ, with Christ in Calvary, with Christ in Golgotha, with Christ offering his blood for our salvation."

He's not without some good points, but on plenty of blogs I've seen all of this nonsense about clown masses. It's astonishing to see someone like Hoyos buying into it. I don't know... I'm from flinty New England. If this ever happened anywhere outside of the Paulist Center, I'm unaware of it. Has anyone reading this ever actually seen a "Clown Mass"?? Maybe you need to go out to someplace like Rochester or the Midwest where everyone is friendly and cheerful and hold hands during the Our Father to be familiar with this sort of thing... All I can say is that I find it startling that a senior churchman can use this sort of anecdotal, apocalyptic and hysterical nonsense to justify what he's trying to see accomplished.

Get it straight. The revival of Latin and the revival of the Tridentine Rite are all about control (control of language, and therefore, control of theological development... or non-development) and the re-establishing of boundaries between the clergy and the laity (control of everything else).

This is the year of St. Paul, so I'll borrow a bit of Pauline rhetorical style... "Does all of this mean that I'm fed up with the hierarachy, that I'm opposed to the existence of the hierarchy, and that I want to smash it? By no means!"

I could never be a "Sola Scriptura" Christian. Jesus never wrote down a word. He didn't leave a book behind. He instituted the Eucharist, and he left apostles behind, who in turn "sent" out new ones by the laying on of hands. I believe in Apostolic Succession. John Michael Talbot, hardly a raging right-winger, puts it well here:

Jesus, the Living Word, appointed living men to be his apostles and preach his word of salvation. They were anointed by the Spirit of the living God at Pentecost and empowered to fulfill their commission. Thus it was that the living God sent a living Word to a living people through the life of Jesus Christ and the apostles. The word is not written in stone, it is written in the life of Christ! "He is the God of the living, not of the dead."

The early church of Acts 2 did not follow scripture alone, it followed "apostolic instruction." From this living apostolic tradition, the Old Testament was interpreted, and the New Testament itself was brought forth. It is because of this living tradition that Paul was able to say, "Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another. He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law ... love never wrongs the neighbor, hence love is the fulfillment of the law."

Sola Scriptura could never work for me, because for one thing, the New Testament is full of contradictions. No one can convince me any longer, for example, that James and Paul were of the same mind. They were not. In many ways the New Testament reflects the struggles and tensions in the early Church, and is in fact a consensus document, melding and absorbing the Gentile and Jewish missions together. I believe the Bible is inspired because I believe in the witness of the men of the Church who told me so.

It just wouldn't be bad to see them exercise their authority with a little bit more humility and honesty, that's all.

Here's where the plea for understanding comes in.

If Vatican II is a dead letter, it's not only the fault of the obstructionist curia. The Council Fathers were putting a lot of trust in the laity. They were calling on us to be a priesthood of believers and to live out lives of holiness in the temporal sphere. They put a lot of faith in us, and in fact, really went out on a limb for us.

In most cases, we have failed them spectacularly.

Therefore, we have a lot to do with why the Council went nowhere. One of the biggest problems out there now is the lack of an educated laity, and progressives who've pretty much had an unencumbered hand in catechesis have a lot of blame to carry for this "Beige Catholicism".

Although I'm not crazy about the Tridentine Mass revival and other developments, I do understand where it is coming from, and I do share the concern about the deconstruction of our society and the loss of formality that has accompanied it. I've written about that here before too.

I understand where young radtrads are coming from. The cultural sink we live in is a very hostile and difficult place in which to nurture faith. Everthing else that their generation exposes them to is the antithesis of what they hold dear.

In other words, there is fear. There is fear that the Faith is going to disappear.

It's not an unfounded fear. I'll hold out an olive branch to traditionalists, because the disappearance of Catholicsm (outside of a very, very small remnant) within our lifetimes is a real possibility. We are in serious trouble. If we are going to last at all, we are going to have to come to some kind of understanding with each other and work together.

Catholicism matters! It sure as heck does. Despite what all of our enemies and critics say, the world without Catholicism will not be a better place. If the brand of Christianity coming out of the Global South is going to be a charismatic, pentecostalized faith that is demon-obsessed, emotionally-based, rigid, intolerant and literalist, the contemplative aspects of Catholicism will be dearly missed, you wait and see. Not everything that claims to come from the Spirit does. I agree with St. Thomas Aquinas that there are three sources of wisdom - The philosopher, the Theologian and the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, I want to be more about making peace within the Church rather than to be a constant gadfly, although there are times for that.

Almost a month posting nothing, and now I'm babbling and rambling.... I'll close with this quote from Cardinal Martini, whose sentiments I share:

There was a time when I dreamed of a church in poverty and humility, one that does not depend on the powers of this world. A church that gives space to people who think outside the box. A church that transmits courage and worth, especially to those who feel belittled or like sinners. A young Church. Today I no longer have those dreams. After 75 years I have decided to pray for the Church.


cowboyangel said...


Glad to see you back and writing. I'm so impressed again at how you're able to handle topics like these. Yet another thoughtful, well-written post.

Many things one could comment on. You offer a lot of good subject matter.

Crossan's comments on the abuse crisis reflect some of the essential questions I've had.

Interesting point about the laity's role in what's happened after Vatican II. It really applies to society in general, and is consistent with your other posts. There was, I think, a fundamental shift in the concept of authority and freedom in the 1960s and Vatican II. The shift came from real necessities and reasons. But I don't think we as human beings responded particularly well to the shift in many ways. The reaction to that failure, however, seems equally problematic. Perhaps, we will find a better center from which to work in the future.

Have you given much thought to how you would like to go about "making peace within the church"?

Dead-on statement: "The revival of Latin and the revival of the Tridentine rite are all about control (control of language, and therefore, control of theological development... or non-development) and the re-establishing of boundaries between the clergy and the laity (control of everything else)." That's always what the battle over language is about.

There seem to be two theories on how we (individuals, organizations, countries) should respond to a major crisis - such as the abuse scandal in the Church, and similarly, perhaps, 9/11 in the U.S. We pause and take stock of what has happened. How did we get to this place? What external factors are involved? What internal factors? Are their healthier behavioral patterns that we can choose going forward? I think that's what Crossan's talking about. The other view is only looking outward to see who or what caused the situation. Be active in combating the Other, the thing that caused this to happen. This seems to be the path the Church and our country have chosen. I think the better path is that looks both outwardly and inwardly. For one thing, I don't know how clearly we can see the external situation in order to analyze it and affect it if we haven't looked inward at all. If you perceive the schema wrong to begin with, then how can you change it in the way it needs to be changed?

Spiritually speaking, I don't know how the Church will be able to move forward in a healthy way until the hierarchy looks more closely at itself and its role in the scandal. If they choose to only go down the outward-looking path, as they seem to be doing, I don't see how there can be any confession, forgiveness and redemption. And as we know from our own lives, that's not a good place to be. I don't think we relate to the rest of the world in a healthy way when we're like that.

Final thoughts: 1) Do you think a Latin Clown mass is totally out of the question? 2)If you find a regular clown mass, will you let me know? Especially if mariachis are involved.

Liam said...

Excellent post, Jeff. I don't have a whole lot to ad. The impression I get from reading what conservative Catholics (I'm not thinking RadTrads, but rather Catholic Answers type apologists) are saying is that there's a desperate need for simplicity and certainty, and that's propping up the more rigid hierarchy. These are the ones who try to end any argument with a reference to a papal encyclical.

I personally am sort of torn about the whole thing. I am very disappointed with the hierarchy from the bishops on up (a lot of this has to do with the appointments made by JPII). I would feel a lot more comfortable if I only had problems with the pope and the curia, because adding the bishops to the mix really messes with an ecclesiology that goes back to the beginning (I agree with you about apostolic succession). At this point, however, I only feel a real attachment with the Church at a parish and religious order level. I really, really don't like my own archbishop cardinal (who seems to take the idea of "prince of the church" way too literally).

So it's all very confusing and, to be honest, sad. I'm very thankful for your thoughtful voice on these issues.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the posts, guys, it's good to be back. Things are finally loosening up a little bit.

Great post, William. I wish I could write that well off the cuff, organizing thoughts like that in a matter of minutes. No wonder Liam would like to see you organize his charters for him.

I think you're entirely right about always having to look inward, especially if you are determined to look outward too. That should be a working principle for nations, churches, and all the way down to the individual level. These guys in the episcopate are so gripped by fear. As Liam's post indicates, a whole generation of fearful men were appointed. It's going to take a lot of time and patience to get past that.

Have you given much thought to how you would like to go about "making peace within the church"?

I'll be f'd if I know! Be more careful in my speech, I guess?

Clown Masses in Latin. Hmmm. Hey, didn't they actually have those in the Middle Ages. There'd be at least one day a year for "Holy Laughter", when everything was ribald and satirized. At least those folks knew they needed to blow off some steam now and then.


I've enjoyed you home-made movies, by the way. Keep them up. I'll have to take a run at trying that.

Catholic Answers type apologists) are saying that there's a desperate need for simplicity and certainty, and that's propping up the more rigid hierarchy. These are the ones who try to end any argument with a reference to a papal encyclical.

I know what you mean. They've pretty much been trying that, however, since about 1979, haven't they? I don't see many signs of success with that approach, which is why the Trads have lost patience and spun off from their right-most wing.

Egan? Yeah. He almost makes you miss O'Connor. :-)

crystal said...

He's back! :)

Jesus never wrote down a word. He didn't leave a book behind. He instituted the Eucharist, and he left apostles behind, who in turn "sent" out new ones by the laying on of hands

I'm more of a Sola Scriptura christian than you. Almost everything we know about Jesus and what he said and did is in the gospels If we are going to be christians at all, we have to have some trust in the authenticity of the gospel account of his acts and words - we really have nothing else, I think. Everything other than that, including Paul, is secondary source commentary by guys like you and me. That's not to say I take literally everything word of the gospels, but that's where I start and I make up the rest with religious experience through prayer - if one can't do that, then isn't our God dead?

I think if the church is going to get better, it should pay less attention to tradition, which I see as the opinions of guys with, at times, agendas and historical blinders, and pay more attention to what Jesus actually said, did, such as we can determine. Plus rely, as if they really did actually believe in the holy spirit, in prayer, contemplation, experience, discernment. You can't go forward when you only look to the dead past (not that there isn't good stuff there). Jesus/God is still alive.

Yikes - I'm turning into a protestant! :)

Jeff said...

He's back! :)

Yo, yo, word up! I'm back in the hou-use!

I hear you. I particularly love the synoptics myself, but the problem with relegating Paul to the status of second-source commentary is that his writings are the oldest we have. They pre-date the gospels, although the scholars seem to think that Q might have been floating around somewhere.

Even if we look just at the words of Jesus, we have to recognize that there are redactions that were made to the gospels, and that each gospel reflects a somewhat different take on the character of Jesus in that each was written at a different time and place for different communities, with different emphases that allowed those communities to survive.

For example, from the synoptics we go from Jesus saying "The Kingdom of God is like..." to the Gospel of John where he says 'I AM...".

Matthew was written for a mostly Jewish-Christian community in competition with the Pharisees. Jesus is portrayed as the New Moses, the perfect lawgiver who extends the commandments and urges his followers to be more righteous than the Pharisees. The Gospel of John was written later for a much more Gentile audience and the days of competition with the Pharisees was over. Now it's open hostility between Jews and Christians. John has Jesus saying:

They answered and said to him, "Our father is Abraham." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.

But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this.

You are doing the works of your father!" (So) they said to him, "We are not illegitimate. We have one Father, God."

Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word.

You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. -- John 8:39-44

I think that's polemic on the part of the author. I have a hard time imagining Jesus ever saying that to his own people in Matthew, or in any of the synpotics. I have a hard time picturing him saying it at all.

Yikes - I'm turning into a protestant! :)

Ha! Another success story! :-D That caps off the perfect weekend...

Emergent Christian, maybe, Crys. If you reduce St. Paul to commentary, you'll have a tough time being a Protestant. He's their apostle par excellence.

You know, I read an interesting quote from Fr. Raymond Brown once. He said,

"Normally, Church tradition has not interpreted what a biblical author meant; it has interpreted what his work means to a living community. I am painfully aware that Catholics and Protestants can be at one as to what Scripture meant, but divided as to what it means."

crystal said...

Not emerging church :)

I think pretty much everything I believe and practice I learned from that Jesuit retreat and from Jesuit spiritual directors, including the books of William Barry.

Garpu said...

I'm with Liam. I don't feel much connection to the Church beyond the parish level. From our bishops I get the feeling that they'd be happier if we all just "prayed, payed, and obeyed."

It does seem like the internet attracts a disproportionate number of whackjob Catholics. by these, I mean those on either end of the spectrum--those who think that every bit of tradition (with a small 't') should be done away with and things like the Real Presence doesn't matter to those on the other end, who think everything should be replaced with Tradition. I'd be happy with some sort of middle ground.

That having been said, I think the internet offers a free soapbox and makes it easier to find like-minded people. On the one hand, it's good (because I've found you guys.) On the other hand, it's bad, when you have people who wouldn't say the things they do in their own parishes spewing some really horrible stuff. What's worse is that there's essentially no penalty for bad behavior on the internet. (Like your little friend, who's been trolling our blogs.)

I think it's just the nature of things right now that people are so polarized over just about everything. Like you, I've never seen or heard a clown Mass, but it seems like every little thing that can go wrong during a liturgy (which is a lot, believe me) suddenly is writ large when some jerk records it and puts it up on YouTube as an example of how poor the ordinary liturgy is. (There are a billion different things that can--and do--go wrong. I think it's unfair to expect perfection all the time, when we're dealing with human beings.) That having been said, we all do need to be on the same page, as far as the GIRM is concerned. The rest is just aesthetics.

Liam said...

I have a Jesuit friend who says that the Jesuit definition of a successful liturgy is one in which no one gets hurt.

Jeff said...

Ever heard the expression, "He's as lost as a Jesuit during Holy Week"? :-D

Garpu said...

I have a Jesuit friend who says that the Jesuit definition of a successful liturgy is one in which no one gets hurt.

Is it a sign of something that I didn't even blink when I read that, but agreed immediately?

crystal said...

Jesuit jokes! :)

A Jesuit and a Franciscan were talking on a street corner as a man walked up to them and asked a question - "Fathers, is it ok for me to pray a novena for a BMW?"

The Franciscan asked, "What's a BMW?"

The Jesuit asked, "What's a novena?"

Liam said...

Crystal -- great joke. I will tell my Jesuit friend, who has a whole lot of them.

Having said that about the liturgy, my marriage was celebrated by three Jesuits and we put together a very solemn, beautiful, and elaborate ceremony. So you never know...

Mike McG... said...

Thanks for returning, Jeff. I’d begun to contemplate, with sadness, life without Aun Estamos Vivos.

There is so much to mine in this post of yours. I’m tempted to address many of your observations but I’m going to confine myself to the process issues.

My sense is that we miss the mark when we speak about these issues the province of the head when in fact they have a great deal to do with the heart. The head focus forces us to attend to differences, minimize ambiguity, and stake out irreconcilable positions and defend them to the death. I think we know where this takes us. In fact, I think as a church we are there. There is another route that I believe to be more productive.

You described Dario Castrillon de Hoyos’ restorationist project, deeply rooted in a rejection of contemporary liturgical practice. Then there is Garry Wills’ deconstructionist project, with its core conviction is that the Catholic church is locked into “deep structures of deceipt.” So let’s begin by stipulating that we’re speaking of two good men with very different views of church. There is little recognition of common ground…and not really much interest in finding any…since neither displays doubt about his project, his construction of reality. (Aside: We’re accustomed to noting the rigidity of belief in conservative discourse. The dirty little secret is there is scant doubt and enormous dogmatism in progressive discourse.)

There are remarkable similarities in the ‘deep critique’ articulated by Wills and the ‘deep critique of the deep critique’ articulated by Castrillon de Hoyos. Each has a predictable round-up of usual suspects, not all of them imagined. Each ‘has its story and is sticking to it,’ holding firm to a repertoire of grotesque abuses and perceived slights.

Both of these guys speak from the head and in that zone the differences are stark indeed. The real similarities are in the province of the heart. Both have been wounded, deeply wounded. (We all have, but that’s for another day.) Each has strongly held and deeply cherished beliefs about this tradition and experiences his beliefs as under siege. Only those who have been mocked and scorned and have held fast to derided beliefs and values can understand.

In order to unpack polarization, we have to feel what it is like to be vulnerable, standing naked before those who sneer at our worldview. My belief is that this is a fairly transitory experience. Most of us can’t stand the loneliness and opt, subconsciously, to protect ourselves.

One response is simply to disengage. The other is to fight. But it is hard to fight battles on two fronts without allies, so we tend to align left or right, blue or red, and direct our fire…our contempt…on ‘one’ other. And contempt is deadly.

That’s why it is so hard for me to see any resolution of the polarization within the church. Commitment to Catholicism, qua institution, is very much on the wane, so that those of us who remain affiliated resonate with a local community rather than an international ‘catholic’ embodiment. Once we’re convinced that our sensibilities are the measure of truth, when ‘we’ are infallible and ‘they’ are deluded, what is there left to say?

shera10 said...


"You described Dario Castrillon de Hoyos’ restorationist project, deeply rooted in a rejection of contemporary liturgical practice. Then there is Garry Wills’ deconstructionist project, with its core conviction is that the Catholic church is locked into “deep structures of deceipt.” So let’s begin by stipulating that we’re speaking of two good men with very different views of church." .........

But Garry Willis is only a former priest without power, whereas Card Castrillon is president of Ecclesia Dei and he can impose his views to the whole Catholic Church!


Mike McG... said...

I think we conceive of power differently, Chris.

In my opinion the power of influencial academics to bestow and withdraw legitimacy from institutions and to deconstruct worldviews significantly overshadows the power of cardinals to champion wider availability of a nearly extinct liturgical form.

Compare the influence of the papal commission on birth control to the subsequent papal reiterations of this teaching. The former was vastly more influential. Few Catholics I know, even the more observant ones, give a second thought to hierarchical opinions on issues such as these.

From where I sit, estimations of hierarchical power are dramatically overblown. Among influentials, Wills matters.

shera10 said...

I hope you are right,I don't like Tridentine Mass:)

"Compare the influence of the papal commission on birth control to the subsequent papal reiterations of this teaching. The former was vastly more influential. Few Catholics I know, even the more observant ones, give a second thought to hierarchical opinions on issues such as these."

Of course, the pope cannot enforce the laws on laity.

But Vatican can enforce teaching of Tridentine Mass in seminaries and the pope withdrew bishops' control about TM in their Dioceses.

Jeff said...

Very good discussion guys. Good repartee. :-D

I know that Wills in the past has used some wild hyperbole regarding the hierarchy, and he still throws his digs in now and then, but his last few books (What Jesus Meant, What Paul Meant) have actually been pretty good. Haven't read 'What the Gospels Meant" yet.

Irene said...

Marvelous discussion, Jeff, and thank you for kicking it off (as well as some well-reasoned writing).

But in this entire exchange, it seems like something is missing. Hasn't anyone heard of "sin"? The "pedophile" crisis is nothing but the exposure of a series of sins: sins by priests, obviously, sins by bishops and cardinals, unfortunately, even sin (inaction and lack of supervision) by a pope. But the sins are not confined to the hierarchy, no matter how heinous those may have been. The laity (yes, that's me) have sinned too, regularly and grievously.

Please! The solution to this problem is simple, old, and scriptural. First, the sinners (hierarchy and laity, Jesuits and Franciscans, men and women) -- all of them -- must acknowledge and confess their sins (which Cardinal or which pew-warmer has done that?). Publically would be best, but at least to a priest -- after all, even the Pope has a confessor (and a good one too). Of course, if I were the confessor, the penance I would insist on would be public confession -- preferably on your knees, in the snow.

Then I might feel a whole lot more optimism about the future.

shera10 said...

"Of course, if I were the confessor, the penance I would insist on would be public confession -- preferably on your knees, in the snow."

The Card Law goes to Canossa.
I like this Irene :)

Jeff said...

Hello Irene, and welcome. Another Texan! :D

Well, you're right about that, there certainly is plenty of sin to go around... Like I said, the Council challenged us in the laity to live lives of holiness in the temporal sphere and we've flubbed it badly.

As for the hierarchy, yes, it wouldn't be bad to see some of that Gregory VII/King Henry, do-penance-out-in-the-snow sort of thing. That would certainly be preferable to "kicking them upstairs" by putting them in charge of basilicas and dicasteries, like they do now.

Steve Bogner said...

Jeff - I'm just getting back to reading some blogs, and it was good to read this recent post of yours. You know, as I read your post I was also reminded of my very secular consulting practice....

Organizations fight change, they are full of politics and political agendas, they sway to the persona of their leadership, and while most worker-bees yearn for positive movement they don't get their hopes up too high (they've been dashed too many times). It's really hard to drive change from the bottom-up.... I think the Church is pretty much like many of the large companies I've worked with. It's human nature at work, in my opinion.

That doesn't mean that prayer and action don't count - they surely do! But viewing the Church as just another organization helps me make sense of how it acts in the world.

Jeff said...


Yes, that makes a lot of sense. One thing I've noticed too, from looking at history, is that top-down organizations that wait too long in allowing reform to get intitiated from the bottom up, often get the door kicked in on them when they eventually try to open the door just a crack.