Saturday, January 7, 2012

More Notes on Maryland Catholicism

The rebuilt Catholic "Chapel" on the site of
Saint Mary's City in Maryland
I mentioned yesterday that the traditional American Catholicism that is rooted in the Catholic experience of the Maryland colony is more like the post-conciliar Catholicism of today while our memories of the Church before Vatican II reflect the faith and practice of the immigrants that flooded the United States from 1840 until World War I.  I had a number of emails asking me to clarify.  “Surely,” one asked, “the Mass in colonical Maryland was in Latin, was it not?”   Another wrote: “In the picture of the Church in Saint Mary’s City that you posted on the web page, there was an altar rail and the altar seems to face the wall.”  So what do I mean when I maintain  that colonial and early United States Catholicism had  more in common with the Catholicism that we practice today than with the Church that those of us who grew up before Vatican II remember?  
      In the first place.  Yes, the Mass was celebrated in Latin in 1632 when The Ark and The Dove brought the first Catholic settlers.  And the Mass was in Latin in 1776 when Charles Carroll went up to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.  Father John Carroll who was to be our first bishop and other priests discussed Mass in English, but had no permission from Rome to implement their plan.  Without such permission, however, they did (on their own authority) put the Marriage Rite, the Baptism Rite, and parts of the funeral rite (though not the Requiem Mass) in English.  Some of the prayers for Confession were also put into English though not the formula of absolution.  And yes, the altars in the churches invariably faced the rear wall of the church as they did everywhere else except for some of the churches in Rome, most notably the papal basilicas, where they have always faced the people.  So what do I mean in comparing the recusant Catholicism of colonial Maryland with our Vatican II Catholicism today?
      Well there are several points.  Before we get to liturgical issues, I would like to look at ecumenism.  Two and a half centuries ago the Catholic Church was mortally opposed to what today we call ecumenism.  To put this in context we must remember that first of all the Catholic Church was opposed to democracy and taught that monarchy was the form of government most consistent with the law of God because it reflects the Divine Order of the Universe.  God has not established that his laws are determined by the consent of the governed and nations too should be ruled by monarchs who shape laws by decree so that the earthly realm will most resemble the heavenly realm.  (Believe it or not, there are still crackpots in the Church who agree with this.  Michael Voris of “Real Catholic TV” advocated this some time back on his internet-based television network.  The internet also has various blogs and webpages on the subject of Catholicism and Monarchy, and the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was not only a maintainer of the Traditional Pre-Conciliar Liturgy but politically an ardent Monarchist.      
      The Catholic Church not only supported Monarchy as the ideal form of government (thought it “tolerated” democratic republics such as the New United States) but also maintained as a matter of doctrine that although every political society was morally bound to permit the Catholic Church freedom of worship and unhindered participation in public life, that when Catholics became the political majority in a country they had to establish the Catholic Church as the official religion of the State and to put limitations on the practice of non-Catholic “cults” whether Christian or otherwise.   Furthermore the State was obligated to shape its laws according to Catholic morals and doctrines.  Divorce, for example, should not be legal, nor contraception in a Catholic State. The American principle of Separation of Church and State and its corollary of Freedom of Worship was something that could be tolerated until Catholics became the political majority in the United States.  As late as the mid 1950’s the Vatican silenced an American theologian, a Jesuit (who else?) at Catholic University in Washington DC and forbad him (his name, by the way, was John Courtney Murray) to teach, speak, or publish on the issue of Separation of Church and State.  At the Second Vatican Council, the Council did a 180 degree about-face with the decree Dignitatis Humanae asserting that every person was to be given the freedom of conscience in matters of religion.  Similarly until Vatican II, the Holy See had repeatedly condemned the Ecumenical Movement, most notably in the 1928 Encyclical of Pius XI, Mortalium Animos. 
      Interreligious cooperation of sort was prohibited and Catholics were not so much allowed as to say the Lord’s Prayer with Protestants.  As for cooperation with Jews—or Muslims—well, it was not even in the realm of possibility. 
But the American tradition was very different.   Catholics in the former English colonies knew what religious persecution was.  Even in Maryland—founded to be a refuge for Catholics from persecution in England, Catholics had been denied voting or public office since the beginning of the eighteenth century.  American Catholics universally supported the Revolution in hopes of attaining full rights as citizens.  Charles Carroll, the most politically prominent (and the wealthiest) of American Catholics spoke of the “rights of conscience,” to be among the “common rights of nature” granted not by government but inherent in human freedom and dignity.   Carroll’s cousin, Father John Carroll who was to become the first Catholic Bishop in the new nation, ardently supported the cause of Independence and, according to the website of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, defended the American principle of religious toleration despite its variance from traditional Catholic doctrine.  Moreover, Carroll was cordial and collaborative with the clergy of other denominations, respected by all and respecting all.  It was not uncommon in colonial and newly independent America for Protestant and Catholic clergy to cover the pastoral needs of each other’s widely scattered flocks.  Funerals in particular were handled by whatever clergy were available.  Father Gabriel Richard, a French émigré priest serving in Michigan territory before the War of 1812 even served for a time as the pastor of a Protestant congregation in addition to the pastoral work in his own parish.  Catholics and Protestants generally lived together not only peacefully but in mutual respect and cooperation.  Episcopalian George and Martha Washington were friends with such Catholic families as the Lees (the Maryland Lees, not the Virginia Lees—though themselves related, the Maryland Lees had become Catholic at some point) and the Digges.  As I mentioned in an earlier post (January 2, 2012), Washington supposedly gave the first contribution to the building of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria Virginia through the agency of his friend Col John Fitzgerald.  It was a world of civility and good relations that cut across religious lines two centuries before John XXIII saw Protestants not as heretics but as “separated brethren.” 

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