Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rings and Things and Buttons and Bows

Cardinal Burke during a visit to Gricigliano.  The
Cardinal's train is twice the length of that of the Queen
Mother at the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952.  Note
the page with the saturno at the extreme right.  Nice
Yesterday I wrote about the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, a society of secular priests based in Gricigliano, Italy—just outside Florence.  The society was founded in 1990 by Gilles Wach and Philippe Mora.  Monsignor Wach is the “Prior General” of the Institute and Canon Mora is the Rector of their seminary.  The society has about 50 priests and some seventy seminarians—a very healthy ratio that bodes well for future growth.  The Priests of the institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest celebrate the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite, that is the Tridentine Mass as it was celebrated just before the Council with the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal issued under Pope John XXIII.  The Mass is celebrated in Latin and normally versus absidem—that is, facing the rear wall of the Church with the presider’s back to the congregation.  I say normally because there are churches, notably in Italy, where the principal altar is designed—and has been so for centuries—in such a way that the presider is required to face the congregation.  The four main basilicas in Rome are all such churches, with a confessio, a large open well, immediately in front of the altar that gives access to the crypt below and in the case of both Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, to the tomb of the Saint beneath the altar.   About eight years ago when the first Tridentine Mass since the Liturgical Reforms of 1970 was celebrated in a papal basilica, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, many attendees complained that it was celebrated versus populum—facing the people. This struck arch-traditionalists as inauthentic but in fact at that altar, as at the other papal altars in the four archbasilicas, the Mass had always—even before the Council—been celebrated facing the congregation.  Indeed it was when the bishops were at the Second Vatican Council and saw Popes John XXIII and Paul VI celebrating facing the congregation at Saint Peter’s that the bishops came home to their various dioceses and began turning the altars to face the people.  Of course now some bishops want to turn them back.  Why are some so anxious to return to the old Liturgy?  I think the Canons of Gricigliano can give us a good clue what the drive is to reverse the liturgical renewal of the last five decades. 
      The rochets and mantelettas and buckled shoes of Gricigliano speak of a different age—an age when Church and State were wed—where Monarchy was King and Church was Queen.  It was an age where prelates were princes and the clergy had privilege.  One sees the revival of this in the protocols followed by the Gricigliano priests.  Canopies are slung above the thrones of visiting prelates.  Pages in knee breeches and buckled shoes—they do like those buckles—hold the prelates saturno (the domed and tasseled clergy hat).  Knees are bent to kiss pontifical rings.  Banners are hung with coats of arms.  It is a Disneyesque fantasy land where the sons of butchers and bakers can pretend they are princes and princesses.  And this is my objection to it—it is a fantasyland and our faith is not a matter of fantasy.  What culturally may have had an authenticity in the days of the Bourbons and the Habsburgs in our modern age trivializes the Gospel we proclaim.  Avery Dulles wrote that the function of papal primacy was seen in the first millennium to be about witness, in the second to be about power, and in the third millennium will be about service.  (Avery Dulles, S.J., The Catholicity of the Church, Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1985.  p. 136.)       As a historian I believe Dulles was spot on, but I don’t believe his insight is limited to the papacy.  I believe it is true of the Church itself.  And as Church we have just finished a thousand year reign of power.  We have finished an era in which the Church had great power in and over society.  We have finished an era in which the Church (or since the Reformation, the Churches) sat in the councils of Kings and Emperors, where the Church could dictate laws, where the Church stood above the law of the land in which she dwelt.  That power has been eroding since the French Revolution and now it is all but gone.  The inability of the Church to protect the unborn has frightened to madness those who simply cannot understand the sociological shift that has left the Church politically hollow.   Now the Church is being humiliated again as it finds itself ineffectual to stop same-sex marriage and the advance of gay rights.  Its doomed-to-failure battles only leaves it more exposed as a vacant shell of a once powerful Institution.  In these circumstances, the panicked strategy is “bring back the trappings of the power we once held.”  Bring back the long trains of scarlet silk and furred and hooded capes of prelates.  Bring back the silver buckles and watered silk.  Bring back the canopies and the pages.  They think that these talismans will restore the power the Church once had but instead it only makes the Church look ever more ridiculous, like a senile matron who in her dotage thinks she is the sought after debutante of the year.  Mother Theresa in her cotton sari had credibility even among the Hilary Clintons who disagreed passionately with her, but mincing priests in buckled shoes and pom-pomed hats are the very nemesis of  an authentic evangelization so needed today.   I am the first one to appreciate comedy and farce, but Gricigliano and its fairy-land Catholicism leave me appalled not amused. 

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