Tuesday, October 06, 2015

To what do we stay faithful?

This is a very frightening time for faithful Catholics. As the teaching of the Church is questioned, we look for something to hold onto. But today's crisis is not about the denial of doctrinal formulas, so much as the evacuation of their meaning.

Pompous and boring as he is, Mgr Basil Loftus is an excellent illustration of the process. He avoids denying the classical formulations of the the truths of faith, but he evades their meaning. He creates a little structure of obfuscation which allows him to assert something in practice the opposite of the truth. Christ rose from the dead, but - says Loftus - he wasn't physically present after the resurrection, and the empty tomb is just distracting. Marriage is indissoluble, but a valid marriage can 'die'. Christ is in the Blessed Sacrament in some sense, but mercy requires us to hand out Communion like sweets, to everyone.

It isn't very convincing, but it doesn't need to be. The self-contradictory statements of today's liberals aren't the sort of thing which could sustain a living faith, or even the false faith of a false religion. That isn't what they are for. Their purpose is to allow people who did believe the truth to cease to do so with the minimum of heartache. That is the real danger, when these sorts of statements gain some kind of official recognition.

At the time of writing the precise outcome of the Synod is impossible to predict, but suppose it combined the annulment reforms we've already has with some of the ideas about 'mercy' vigorously floated by quite a few influential people, what would that mean? It would mean that the teaching of the Church that marriage was between one man and one woman, that the marriage between Christians was sacramental, and that it was indissoluble, would be proclaimed in some footnote or other to be unchanged. And yet for the sake of the marginalised, the victims, those unhappy people banging on the gates of mercy and justice, people will be able to write their own annulment decrees and, if they prefer not to do that, they will be able to remarry and receive Communion if they express (or can be taken to express) regret for past (if not present) sins. The Church's teaching will make no difference to the way we live. It will be as if it did not exist.

Observe the parallel. The teaching on the Real Presence, on Transubstantiation, has not been changed by the Church. But suppose we didn't hear about it in catechism classes or in sermons because that language is 'difficult', and suppose it were not reflected in the liturgy by any signs of reverence. What would happen? It is not that lots of people would adopt the incoherent position: that Christ is fully and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament but that we don't talk about it and shouldn't genuflect or think twice about picking it up in our fingers. No: the problem is that the ordinary Catholic in the pew will stop believing it altogether, while a bunch of 'conservative' Catholics will tell us that there is no problem, really there isn't, because the traditional formula has never been contradicted formally by the Church, and, gosh, looky here, there's a footnote in this long document on the Vatican website in Hungarian which implies it is still true.

The situation just described is alarmingly close to the reality we have been living through for the past 40 years. There are, in fact, still signs of reverence in the Novus Ordo, for those priests who observe the rubrics; there has even been something of a revival of popular interest in the Blessed Sacrament, for reasons which I won't go into here. The massive loss of faith in the Real Presence among even church-going Catholics, then, has come about as a result of an only partial victory by the liberals. And so has the massive rate of divorce among Catholics.

A complete victory, at least for now, does not include an explicit repudiation of the traditional doctrinal formula, because the libereals want to keep with them the 'conservative' Catholics who will accept everything short of that. A complete victory, at least for now, means the complete eradication of the teaching's practical implications, without the denial of the formula. If we really believe in the indissolubly of marriage, it will naturally make a difference to the way we live. If it makes no difference, if it is prevented from making a difference, then, human nature being as it is, we will soon cease to believe it.

To return to the question of the title of this post, what are faithful Catholics presented with this situation, who want to remain faithful to the truth, to remain faithful to? Repeating the classical formula of the doctrine will not be enough, because it will be (semi-)officially regarded as compatible with a life, a practice, which gives the lie to the classical forumula as classically understood.

Staying faithful means not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. It means avoiding the accusation made by the prophets of the Old Testament, and again by Our Lord, of the lukewarm: not that they deny God, oh no. Rather, as Our Lord says, quoting Isaiah (29:13):

This people honour me with the lips, but their heart is far away from me.
Populus hic labiis me honorat, cor autem eorum longe est a me. (Mat 15:8)

His first hearers would immediately remember remember the next words of Isaiah:

they have feared me with the commandment and doctrines of men.
timuerunt me mandato hominum et doctrinis.

Are we going to follow the doctrines of men and honour God only with our lips?

This has implications for our private lives, but it must be more than that as well: our faith must be manifested publicly. As I've noted before on this blog, although the issue of marriage is supremely an issue for the laity, it is faithful priests and bishops who are going to be between the hammer and the anvil with the proposed new practices. Our faith as laity may find its public expression in our support for them.

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Monday, October 05, 2015

Pope Francis attacks 'leftists'

I think I've seen everything now.

From the Associated Press, via Japan Times:

A Chilean television station has aired a video that shows Pope Francis defending a Santiago bishop whose opponents allege has covered up sexual abuse by a notorious pedophile priest.
In the video, shot in May and broadcast on Friday by Chilean TV channel Mega, Francis blames “leftists” for a campaign against the bishop of Osorno, Monsignor Juan Barros.
“Don’t let yourselves be led by the noses, by the leftists who have plotted this,” the pope says in the video, speaking to Chilean visitors at the Vatican. He noted that the allegations against Barros had been dismissed by a Chilean court.
Read the rest.

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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Bishop Olmstead addresses men

St Joseph
Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix, Arizona, has issued a pastoral letter specifically addressed to men. It is an encouraging sign that the efforts to highlight the problem of alienation and lapsation by men in the Church are finally being faced.

You can read the letter here. It encourages men to take up their responsibilities as Catholics, as members of society, and as husbands and fathers.

There is a paragraph about fathers as heads of their families; I do not believe I have seen any (living) diocesan bishop mention this aspect of the Church's teaching before. This is what he says.

Friday, October 02, 2015

More on the music for the FIUV in Rome

Cantus Magnus with Matthew Schellhorn at St Mary Moorfields, accompanying the Easter Vigil.
The Latin Mass Society is organising a Roman Pilgrimage to coincide with the General Assembly of the FIUV and the annual 'Summorum Pontificum' pilgrimage, 21-26th October, and we are sponsoring part of the music for these events through Matthew Schellhorn and his group Cantus Magnus.

See details of the pilgrimage here.

Matthew was recently interviewed on this in the New Liturgical Movement; he explains to Gregory Dipippo:

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Was Constantine the Great a Clericalist?

It is an obvious point, but if you have a world view which requires you to assert things which are clearly absurd, then you have a problem with your world view. I've been reading Russell Shaw's 1993 book about clericalism, To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain, and this point has been borne in on me with great force.

Russell Shaw (RS) is an American neo-conservative Catholic. The importance of the 'neo' is considerable. A quick characterisation of neo-cons might be that they defend the teaching of the Church without being concerned about the ancient liturgy; perhaps that is how they see themselves. But as this small volume demonstrates, they have adopted so many of the premises of the liberals that their positions would be totally unrecognisable to orthodox Catholics of any time up to about 1970. In the case of RS' characterisation of clericalism (I'm interested in his book because I agree with him that it is a historical and contemporary problem), his analysis is distorted by two fundamental liberal claims: first, that the Church must be 'separated' from the state in an American sense; and second, that the liturgy glimpsed in the earliest surviving sources, and extrapolated from archaeological traces of the earliest surviving churches, wrongfully excluded the Faithful from meaningful participation, and went on doing so until the Novus Ordo Missae was promulgated in 1969.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

LMS Pilgrimage to Aylesford, Sat 3rd October

This is the first time, certainly in recently years, that we've been able to arrange a High Mass, rather than a Missa Cantata. The celebrant will be Fr Marcus Holden. The music, provided by Matthew Schellhorn and his group Cantus Magnus, promises to be a treat as well.

Aylesford is an important shrine, a great example of the reconstruction of Catholic England, that was going on right into the 1950s.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dietrich von Hildebrand on beauty, 4: Raising hearts to God

A.W. Pugin's stunning chapel at St Edmund's College, Ware, draws the eye,
and thus the attention and the heart, to the centre of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Concluding this series of quotations from Dietrich von Hildebrand's Trojan Horse in the City of God, mostly from chapter 26, a final section addresses the question of the role of beauty lifting our hearts to God: perhaps a hackneyed phrase, but for something which, surely, we all feel. It is a theme taken up in recent times by Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who talk of the via pulchritudinis, the Way of Beauty, as a form of evangelisation.

Beauty helps form us in the Faith and helps us to become holy. If we take this idea seriously, we will concur with the attitude of the Liturgical Movement which wanted to rid the liturgy and devotions of aesthetic elements which struck the wrong note, in the first half of the 20th century: most obviously, sentimental hymns and art. Far, far worse, however, is the invasion of our churches by various forms of pop music in more recent decades. It is not just a matter of giving the audience aesthetic pleasure, but of engaging with them in the right way and to the right end: this brings us back to the earlier arguments in this series, against aestheticism and on the question of beauty as an adequate expression of worship, serving worship and not distracting us from it to its own, alien, theme.