Pope Francis celebrates Mass
Interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about the power of Tea Party Republicans and how through the gerrymandering of districts and the rise of a right-wing sophisticated media network they have been able not only to have achieved a powerful political machine disproportionate to their actual numbers but now actually be in a position to restructure the rules of the House of Representatives to crush opposition from both the moderate wing of their own party as well as from the Democrats. In other words, a movement which represents the views of only between ten and fifteen percent of the American People will be able to set the course of Government for the entire nation. History as seen this sort of thing before whether it was the coup that put the Jacobins in power during the French Revolution, the Leninist establishment of the Soviet Republic in 1917, or the rise of National Socialism in 1933 Germany. It does not bode well for democracy when small factions can dis-integrate the balance of power.
But this blog is not about political power struggles. I only use this example to point out some disturbing glances behind the scenes of the visit of Pope Francis to the United States last month. It was, in most respects, a great visit but there were some disturbing glimpses in the shadow Catholic world behind the official church. The Liturgies, at least in New York and Philadelphia (I wasn’t able to see the Washington one) were more the sort of the liturgies with which Pope Benedict would have been comfortable. They were beautifully done but there was a sense of pomp, even triumphalism, that seemed out of step with Francis’s style and a return to the semi-Tridentine preferences of Pope Benedict. The music, though magnificent, was somewhat consistently “old school” without integrating so much of the contemporary music, and good contemporary music, the Catholic Church in America is producing. Dr. Jennifer Pascual who is the director of music at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Father Matthew Ernest who is Director of Liturgy for the New York Archdiocese are both deep into the Reform of the Reform model of liturgy that briefly flourished during Benedict’s reign but to which some still cling in hopes of a overturn of the more pastoral liturgical style that has emerged in most parishes in the years since Vatican II. John Romeri, former Director of Music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia actually resigned his post last summer because he and Archbishop Chaput simply could not come to a meeting of the minds about the public liturgies of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Chaput, while a doctrinal conservative, prefers a more simple style of liturgical celebration over Romeri’s insistence on a very “high Church” approach to liturgy. Dr. Romeri stayed on the planning committee for the Philadelphia Papal Mass and it showed. It was beautiful but it didn’t speak Pope Francis and it didn’t speak the Catholic Church in the United States.
There are many places where Reform of the Reform Directors of Music and/or Liturgy have installed themselves to create an opposition, and even an obstruction, to the simpler liturgical styles favored by the Vatican II and post-Conciliar generation of Catholic clergy and laity. Now, I think a certain spectrum of High-Church/Broad-Church/Low-Church varieties in style is a good idea as it gives Catholics a choice of worship to fit their own spiritualities, but we have to be careful of tying legitimate variations to some sort of self-established orthodoxy or “authentic” Catholicism that sees other expressions as somehow less Catholic.
I was happy to see the seminarians at Saint Charles give the pope such a welcome. They sang a song of welcome that seemed to have been composed for the occasion as it mentioned Francis by name (Lord, grant health to our Holy Father, Francis… I translate salvum fac as “grant health” though it could also be translated as “grant safety” or “grant salvation.”). Now since the Pope is not particularly comfortable in English, maybe Latin makes some sense here, but again, I wonder. I like Latin. I like using some Latin music in the liturgy on occasion. I particularly like the In Paradisium, the (Lloyd Weber)Pie Jesu, the Mozart Ave Verum Corpus. I like the Missa de Angelis. But if the Pope isn’t at home in English, why Latin? Why not Spanish? Small point, maybe I am attaching too much significance to it, but it just seemed a bit 1950’s. And the cassocks. The cassock, a bit like the biretta, is really a party-badge these days. I am certainly not opposed to religious wearing their habits—in fact I would rather see religious in their habits than in clerical dress, but where secular priests used to wear cassocks nowadays, they wear black suits with a clerical collar. Most priests I know don’t even own a cassock. But I understand that in a variety of seminaries these days students are required to wear the cassock, at least for certain functions or on certain days. And of course the inestimable Father Z was so generous as hit up his public to purchase birettas for the seminarians of his new diocese of Madison Wisconsin. Talk about a loony bin of clericalism. And far more serious, as I have mentioned in previous postings, large number of seminarians in such seminaries as Immaculate Conception at Seton Hall, Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg and even the North America College are openly contemptuous of Pope Francis and where he is leading the Church. Feedback from Theological College at Catholic University, Saint Patrick’s Menlo Park, and the Dominican House of Studies in DC suggests an undercurrent of dissent in those seminaries as well.
All of this is just an indication that as in the Republican party, so also in the Catholic Church in the United States, there is a small faction preparing to steer the Church in a different direction than the majority of Catholics would choose. There is no doubt that a restorationist vision is shared by a majority of younger priests and certainly of seminarians. The clergy of 2030 will be significantly different in their ecclesiology and liturgical styles than the clergy of the past forty years. This will only accelerate the number of America Catholics either falling away from the practice of the faith entirely or adding to the already swelling numbers going to other Christian denominations. Groups such as the Latin Mass Society that favor a restoration of the preconciliar rites as the norm, or we might say making the extraordinary form the ordinary form, will be content as we slide away from the heady enthusiasms of the Second Vatican Council, but it bodes for a much smaller Church and not necessarily a “more faithful Church” but a Church that is closed in on itself and without mission except for self-preservation.
While I think that overall the “Francis effect” is revitalizing the Church in the Southern hemisphere and even, to an extent, in Europe, unless there is some drastic changes in leadership now, the American Church of 2030 will find itself very idiosyncratic and isolated, a bit like some of the Orthodox Churches like the Church of Greece, that have closed in on themselves and pretty much even shoved the remainder of the Orthodox world away.