Friday, July 31, 2015

Curioser and Curioser

The curious graves at Jamestown

Curious events were made public this past week.  Two years ago, archeologists exploring the remains of the English settlement at Jamestown (Virginia) which had been founded in 1607, discovered four graves beneath what had once been the chancel (altar area) of the colony’s Anglican church.  Continued excavation and research these past two years identified the remains as those of the Reverend Robert Hunt, Anglican priest of the colony; Sir Ferdinando Wainman; Captain Gabriel Archer; and Captain William West.  The position of the graves within the church indicates the high status of the four men, but what has captured attention of historians is that in Captain Archer’s grave a small silver box, apparently containing the relics of a saint (or saints) was found.  This is extraordinary given that the Church of England—the Church to which the colonists have always been thought to belong—was in an extreme Puritan phase at the time and would have abhorred the idea of any Anglican having such a papist trinket.  Now Captain Archer’s parents, John Archer Sr. and Eleanor Frewin from Mountnessing in Essex, England were known to be Recusants (secret Catholics), so was their son also a Roman Catholic?  Secret, of course, as it was highly illegal to be a Catholic in England—or England’s colonies—especially in those days after the Gunpowder Plot.    Nevertheless, if Archer were secretly a Catholic he wasn’t alone.  George Kendall, a member of the Colony’s Council was secretly a Catholic and George Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland and at times Governor of the Colony came from a family that had largely remained Catholic (though secretly) after the Reformation.  (Kendall was apprehended and executed as a spy, presumably for Catholic Spain.) Was there then a secret Catholic congregation in the settlement?
Well there is not sufficient evidence to affirm or deny an underground Catholic Church in Jamestown, but there are some interesting things to consider.   The first thing to consider is that the reliquary was placed atop the coffin and not within it.  Had Archer been Catholic and were there surviving co-religionists in the colony at the time of his death, is it likely that that the reliquary would have been buried with Archer?  It seems more likely that it would have been passed over to remaining members of the covert community for veneration.  It certainly would have been a precious object from a religious point of view and I do not think would have been abandoned to the grave unless there was a secondary reason.  Secondly, if surviving Catholics had intended to bury the relic with Archer for some reason or other, they more likely would have put the reliquary in the coffin and not atop it in the grave.  (The archeological evidence is that the reliquary was found resting on a piece of coffin material which means it would have been on the coffin in the grave and not within.
Now here is the more curious thing.  Archer’s body, like that of the Reverend Mr. Hunt, was buried with its head towards the east.  In Catholic tradition, the bodies of the Laity are buried facing East, that is feet to the East—the direction from which Christ will appear at the Last Judgment so that in the resurrection they will rise facing Christ; but the bodies of the clergy are buried with the heads to the East—that is the body itself is facing West—since 1 Corinthians say that the dead will be raised in their proper rank and the clergy, ranking first, will appear coming with Christ while the mere laity will have to wait their turn with everything for the common folk sort of pall mall.   Regardless what we today might think of this distinction, this is how it was done in the Catholic Church at the time these graves were dug, and for centuries before.  Mr. Hunt, of course, was not a Catholic priest but it is not unreasonable that the practice of burying the clergy with their heads to the East had yet survived in the Church of England.  What is surprising is that Captain Archer was buried in the same clerical position while Sir Ferdinando and Captain West were buried in the normal position of the laity. Some have opined that perhaps Archer was not only a secret papist but a secret papist priest. 
It is unlikely that he was a priest as he was married—though his wife had not come with him to Virginia—and even more conclusive is that there is no record of his having gone to the continent for training as a priest.  Nevertheless his having this reliquary is strange, particularly so as Catholic priests would have had just such a reliquary to use as a portable altar for the celebration of Mass.  In penal times—and later as a somewhat normal occurrence while travelling—a priest would have such a reliquary to slip beneath the tablecloth on the table where he was celebrating Mass.  Burying the object beneath the chancel floor would permit later priests—should any covertly visit the colony—to celebrate the Eucharist on a table, even a Protestant Communion Table, positioned over the grave. 
At the end of the day with the limited information that we have, this reliquary raises more questions than it gives answers but it may mean that much needs to be rethought concerning the state of religion in the Virginia Colony and also the degree of covert tolerance that may have existed among the colonists during a desperate period where their survival could not permit dissension within the community. 
One other curiosity which may indicate Archer being Catholic is that this skeleton seems to indicate that he was buried with his hands folded, a Catholic practice abandoned by the Puritans at the Reformation.  Mr. Hunt’s hands also appear to have been folded.   The other two skeletons appear to have their hands at their sides in the Puritan fashion. (I can only say appear as I am going on an examination of the photos, not a reading of the report.)  Hunt also was known to have been married so it seems unlikely that he was a secret priest, and being the clergy person for the colony it is unlikely that he would have been a secret Catholic.  So again, there are just more questions but it does seem that there was more to the Jamestown religious scene that we previously thought.  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

An Essential Distinction: Tellin' It Like It Is

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”--Sister Joan Chittester, OSB 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reason 4 For Why the "New Mass" Is Superior to the Old Rite

The Monks of Notre Dame d'Acey Gather For
the Liturgy 

 I am a faithful reader of New Liturgical Movement, a blog which is somewhat unique in the world of the Katholik Krazies in as that the articles are usually well researched and informative expositions on the history of the Liturgy. Gregory DiPippo, the managing editor, does an especially fine job in mining the arcane for information which is, while not relevant to anything in the Church’s mission of witnessing to the Kingdom of God, of considerable interest to historian and antiquarian alike.  In fact, I first discovered New Liturgical Movement when it took exception to something that Dom Anthony Ruff of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville—a noted liturgical scholar and one of established reputation—wrote regarding my objections to the “offertory” rite of the pre-Conciliar Mass.  Mr. DiPippo produced a series of excellent article on the various late medieval rites that support his thesis—and my objection—that scholastic and post-scholastic theology introduces the non-orthodox (i.e. contrary to the Patristic Tradition) notion of a double sacrifice in the Mass: a   sacrifice of bread and wine offered to God by the priest that is preliminary to the Sacrifice of Christ which Christ has offered on the Cross and to which we become present in the Mass.  The “offertory rites” are a particular bone of contention for those who reject the 1970 Missal which more or less replaces the “offertory” (sacrificial) with a “preparation of the gifts” which is exactly what it says it is: a preparation of the bread and wine which will then become the mysterium by which we become participants in Christ’s once and for all Sacrifice on the Cross. 
Sadly, not all of New Liturgical Movement’s entries meet Mr. DiPippo’s standards of research and theological reflection.  Peter Kasiniewski recently did an entry on ten reasons why one should choose the pre-Conciliar “Extraordinary Form” over the 1970 “Ordinary Form.”  He made some outrageously unsupported claims for the usus antiquior that, to my mind, express exactly why the old rite should not only not be preferred but be suppressed altogether.  But it has triggered this series of equally unresearched and data-free reflections on why the “New Mass” is superior to the old rite.  I have already posted reasons one through three: now we go for four. 

Reason 4 For Why the “New Mass” Is Superior to the Old Rite

True and authentic prayer is intelligible. 

Saint Teresa of Avila—whose fifth centenary of birth we celebrate this year—describes prayer as “an intimate conversation with Him whom we know loves us.”  What a great description!  Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, a spiritual daughter of Teresa of Avila, wrote in her journal about prayer: “I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and he always understands me.  For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” She elaborates on this in another place and says: “I say quite simply to the good God what I want to tell Him, and He always understands me.”
This makes me question why we feel the need to gild the lily beyond recognition and make our chief prayer, the Mass, into something artificial and even arcane.  It seems to me that the more prayerful the Liturgy the more nobly simple the celebration.  I am not saying that the Mass should not be beautiful—I firmly believe that it should be gorgeous in its every detail; I only believe that its beauty shines out most brilliantly when its essential nature is not buried beneath the baroque trapping that have overlaid it for the last five centuries. 
I remember seeing a production of Madama Butterfly at the Houston Opera forty some years ago.  I have seen this exquisite opera by Puccini many times in many venues: the Rome Opera House, La Fenice in Venice, The Met in New York, the Lyric in Chicago.  What makes the Houston production stand out in my memory from all the others was the utter simplicity of the production.  The story, as you probably know, takes place in Japan at the turn of the 20th century.  The Houston production, in line with Japanese artistic tradition, was rich in quality but absolutely minimalist in the sets which allowed the music to gleam without distraction.  I don’t think I will ever be able to forget the aria Un Bel Di in Scene II where Butterfly sings of her anticipation for Pinkerton’s return. The stage was awash in blue light but otherwise bare except for the drooping pink branches of a weeping cherry.  This incredible aria totally captured one’s attention with the only competition being the brilliant pink of Butterfly’s Kimona stage left and the delicate pink branches stage right and the rich blue light making the plain background look alive in moonlight.  Reducing the beauty of the Opera to its purest essence impressed it most deeply on both the emotions and the memory. 
I had a similar experience some years later while staying at the Abbey of Notre Dame de Aiguebelle near Avignon.  That first March evening as the monks filed in for Vespers, I was reminded of Houston’s Madama Butterfly.  Cistercian architecture permits no extra ornamentation.  The slow toll of a single bass bell in the tower signaled the hour for prayer.  The abbey church is devoid of all decoration except for a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a recessed chapel to the left of the altar and a large crucifix on the northern wall of the choir.  Plain frosted glass fills the windows.  There are but two fat wax candles at the altar, both in holders made of iron and a carved wooden processional crucifix standing to the altar’s right.  The monks entered clad simply in their white cowls.  The walls are unrelieved white stone as is the pavement.  Only the wooden staff he carried distinguished the abbot from the other monks.  There was no organ, only the human voice which, once all were in their place, exploded into breathtaking prayer.  There was no ceremony save a single monk coming up and spooning incense into an iron censer at the Magnificat.  It was pure, unadorned prayer.  You could feel the spiritual energy gathered beneath the ancient vaults of the 12th century church.  The memories of Puccini’s opera faded fast as the psalms of vespers overtook my memories of Butterfly and began to speak their pressing but plaintive message to look within the heart and surrender all to the mercy of God. 
The next morning at Mass—and subsequent mornings of my visit—the Mass spoke profoundly.  Only the cross and its Divine Burden, wooden and roughly carved, stood at the altar to remind us of what we were about.   There was an absolute economy of movement and an avoidance of any hint of ritual for ritual’s sake.  Four priests and a deacon stood alone at the altar, three in cowls and one in an enveloping but unadorned chasuble of deep purple.  On the altar stood a large silver cup and a silver bowl of rough unleavened bread. The bare bones of the liturgy, sung in a deep but somewhat wistful chant by the monks, kept us focused on the Sacrifice being offered.  There was no fuss and bother, no bowing and scraping, no brocades and jewels.  There was no booming organ.  There certainly was no corpulent Cardinal trailing yards of scarlet silk.  There were only men standing, eyes focused on the altar, deep in prayer as they sang the Church’s prayer. 
I know that the average Joe and Josie in the pews need a bit richer diet than this Spartan Trappist spiritual fare offers, but I think that there is too much a danger today of priests becoming old aunts—or let me rephrase that—I have seen too many priests today becoming old aunts who fuss over lacey petticoat-albs and copes that look like they were cut from funeral home drapes as they prance around and bob up and down and bend over wiggling their hind-quarters as they lisp the Sacred Words that should focus our attention not on them but on the Holy Spirit descending upon bread and wine and into stony hearts alike to transform all into Christ.  I don’t mean to leave the ladies out of the equation, but please give us men who are strong, loving, and wise to speak clearly and simply to God and lead us, in our hearts, to do the same.
And yes, I am aware that that it isn’t only the Tridentine Tinkerbelles that are the problem.  Equally awful are the liturgical left’s Jimmy Kimmel wanna-bees who think their job is to entertain us.  I mean, I don’t mind a few laughs during the homily as long as there is some Gospel substance, but I want someone who can lead us in prayer—who is aware that God is part of this equation and that means there needs to be some degree of gravitas.  And I may disagree with the neo-cons about what constitutes beauty in art, architecture, and music—just like there are those philistines who want their Madama Butterfly in a garish red kimono and on a flower laden hilltop with a busy harbor beneath filled with ships sailing to and fro just like it probably was at La Scala that night in 1904 when Butterfly was first sung.  But please don’t make me sing “Here I am, Lord” one more time.  And I don’t want word-strewn felt banners hanging where the statues used to stand.  And I don’t want cheap pottery any more than I want those cheap Knights of Columbus chalices on the altar.  But in all honesty, I find that sort of crap in fewer and fewer places.  I think we still have a long way to go to make the Liturgy as conducive to prayer as it can be, but we have come a long way from the days when a hung-over Monsignor stood scratching his Roman chasubled behind while he stood facing away from us reading the epistle on the right side of the altar.  We have a ways to go yet, but we have come a long way and like Moses said to the children of Israel: I ain’t goin’ back.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Colonial Williamsburg Approach To Catholicism

I love small town America.  I have a little vacation time and I am sitting on the veranda of a country-style coffee shop in East Aurora New York having my breakfast and looking out into a different world of a lazy hazy summer far from the maddening crowd of my normal place of work.  This is so different than my everyday rush and bother and the confused world of a metropolitan area. There are “traditional” families having a 10:00 am weekday morning breakfast together with teenagers who look like they are actually happy to be with their parents.  I don’t see anyone texting or checking their emails.  In fact, I am getting a bit self-conscious about sitting here with my laptop even though I am alone at my table.  Across the street is the white clapboard Presbyterian Church with its tall New-Englandy tower and Palladian widow.  A large American flag hangs from the tower.  I know the time because the bell in the Episcopal Church up the street just sounded the hour.  Lawns are green and tightly clipped; summer gardens filled with hollyhock and painted daises and pink cleome and hydrangea.  This is a world in which the issues of post-modern U.S.A. seem totally removed.  I am sure there are same-sex married couples somewhere in this town, and probably some of these nice ladies in their garden-hats having their coffee and laughing with one another have a Salvadoran of questionable legal status cleaning their homes, and there probably are a few children of color in the in the public schools, but it is all hidden from sight and duly out of mind.   One might think that Dwight Eisenhower is still President and June and Ward Cleaver live just around the corner.  I grew up in a somewhat idyllic world in which everybody went to Mass—and the ladies wore hats and gloves to do so—and divorce was an unknown quantity.  Yes, there was some domestic violence and even more alcoholism and the man across the street wore his wife’s underwear but it wasn’t talked about, at least in front of the children.  Sunday dinner was a roast and we could play outside until dark without anyone worrying.  I miss that world.  In retrospect it was an artificial world: closet doors were nailed shut and to reach the age of reason meant to buy into the web of ever-bigger lies, but it was all so simple as long as you didn’t rock the boat.   And it is wonderful to retreat into a facsimile of that world if only for a few days of vacation; but that world is gone and gone for good.  It was only a frame in social history and despite the efforts of those who wish to see their children and grandchildren safe and secure in their own particular variant of colonial Williamsburg, the toothpaste won’t go back into the tube and we Christians know that our discipleship must face the challenges of today’s world and not hide in some magic wardrobe among the tattered silks and shabby furs of Grandma’s day. 
I think this is the stumbling block for today’s Catholic neo-cons.  The memories of pre-Vatican II Catholicism represent for them a safer, less complex world of back-porch ice-cream and rosary crusades where one didn’t have to look at life’s complexities so squarely in the eye.  We didn’t have to question then, we could just trust the powers-that-be to keep us safe and free.  It all began to come apart when Camelot collapsed and we were left with Viet Nam and Civil Rights.  At first it all seemed so clear and many of us even climbed on the liberal bandwagon.  We wanted to protect our Little Brown Brothers in South-east Asia from the grasp of Khrushchev and Mao.  Who knew that a law that required us to serve lunch at the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter to Miss Savannah, the Black lady who cleaned Aunt Ethel’s house, would one day require us to bake a wedding cake for a Gay couple?  Oh, J.Edgar tried to warn us.  Yes he did.  Martin Luther King was a communist and the Kennedy brothers were sleeping with Marilyn Monroe—but did we listen?  No.  And our whole world began to unravel.  There were the Beatles and the Beatles led to Pot and Pot to Coke—and I don’t mean Cola—and then all hell broke loose at Woodstock.  And those protestors against Viet Nam began to question our government and the next thing you know we had Eugene McCarthy and Eugene McCarthy led to Walter Mondale and Mondale to Clinton and the next thing you know we got ourselves a Kenyan in the White House.  And all the walls have come tumbling down.  Why I have a doctor who is half-German and half-Korean!  And my niece married an African American (but he can passé blanc and fortunately their child looks like us.)  And my uncle divorced my aunt after 35 years of marriage and is living with a woman whose brother is a priest and he goes over to their house for dinner and on vacation with them!  And two lesbians just bought the house across the street and have come over to ask if they can take a clipping from the fig tree in our yard.  If I give them a clipping, will my pastor deny me Holy Communion?   I just love being in East Aurora—it is the next best thing to the Tridentine Mass for forgetting that it is 2015 and following Jesus isn’t as simple as it used to be. 
At the end of the day—or the vacation—Colonial Williamsburg Christianity is not Christian Discipleship.  If God wished us to live in 1950’s America he would have had us born a generation or two earlier.  We are placed in our specific time and place to make the Kingdom of God a reality in that specific moment and location in history.  While the Christian is not called to embrace the peculiarities of culture, we are called to evangelize in the everyday world in which live.  To do this we need to live in the world around us and not to try to take refuge in our memories of an easier, better day. 
I think the single most memorable—and “shaping”—book I read during the entire course of my education was Creative Fidelity by the French Existentialist, Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973).  Marcel’s thesis, at least as I remember it and as it has shaped me, is that faithfulness (fidelity) requires change.  As the world around us changes, so too must we change if we are to keep our values fixed on the unchanging. To fail to change is to be the servant who takes his silver coin and buries it for fear of the returning Master’s wrath.  Let me explain it this way.   I am on the people-mover that carries pilgrims past the tilma containing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that hangs over the altar in the shrine of the same name in Mexico City.  If I am to keep my eye on the image of Our Lady I have to constantly shift my position as I stand on the people-mover as the carrier moves me along otherwise my eyes will see only the blank wall as I move beyond the space directly below the image.   This is what John Henry Newman meant when he said: “To live is to change and to have changed often is to have lived well.”  I am enjoying my time up here in small-town Americana; it’s letting me off my tilt-a-whirl world with all its complexities and challenges, but going to Mass yesterday and hearing the priest remind me about the challenges Jesus faced surrounded by people whose hunger was not just spiritual reminds me that I need to go back into the realities of life and meet people where they are at and not where I think they should be.