Tuesday, July 19, 2016

OK--What Is The Agenda Behind Cardinal Sarah and the "Ad Orientatem" Movement? III

First of all, before we get further into this discussion, let me lift—though only a bit—the veil of anonymity that I keep drawn so tightly about myself.  At the time I began this blog, I had both a desk job in Rome (though not at the Vatican proper) and a teaching position on a theology faculty. I also had a number of Krazies after me from various books, articles, talks, tapes etc. that I had done over the years.  In fact I began the blog primarily as a way of differentiating for the blog-audience the difference between authentic Catholic Tradition and 1950’s style American Catholic traditionalism represented by a variety of blog sites managed by under-catechized self-appointed arbiters of Catholic orthodoxy. It was important that I be very discreet as not to compromise either my bosses in Rome or my teaching position.  Well, I gave up my Rome job about eight years ago and more recently have retired from teaching.  I am still not willing to let “my reading public” know my exact identity, but let me say that I am a Roman Catholic priest in good standing and a member of a religious Order.  I have been a professed religious for just shy of fifty years and a priest for forty of those years.  As I am still active in priestly ministry with full faculties and in a somewhat unpredictable diocese—or rather, a diocese with a somewhat unpredictable bishop—I am not ready to give my exact identity or location.  I also want to point out that while I had never admitted to being a priest or religious, I had never said anything that denied it—though, some of the things I wrote implied that I was one of you (lay people, you know, the Church’s ο πολλοί, the Great Unwashed).  Anyway, I think we can now move on. 
 I am old enough to remember the Mass as it was before Vatican II.  I was an altar boy for that Mass.  I attended that Mass almost daily from the time I was eleven or twelve.  The first changes in the Liturgy after Vatican II took place in my sophomore year of high school but they were pretty minor—mostly some English during the Liturgy of the Word.  Now that I think of it however, that may have been the fundamental shift that passed unnoticed.  We used to speak of The Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful and now it had become, almost but not quite exactly corresponding to the above The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In the “old Mass” there were no lay readers to do the readings.  There were no “Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist” to help with Holy Communion.  There were no Leaders of Song to facilitate congregational singing—there was almost never congregational singing.  When there was music, which was relatively rare, it was performed by the choir or some old warbler up in the loft squeaking through the Agnus Dei.  There were no ministers of hospitality.  (There were ushers but their job was limited to taking up the collection.)  The only lay helpers were the altar servers who were, for the most part, boys (sometimes men but never women or girls) dressed up as little priests with cassock and cotta.  (The Italian word for an altar server is cherichetto which means a “little cleric.”)  
The liturgy itself was in a language which relatively few—perhaps in an educated society like our own, 10%—could understand.  Moreover the prayers were recited, for the most part, in a sub secreto voice.  Granted, books could be purchased with vernacular translations but relatively few people bothered with these and busied themselves with private prayers of either a devotional or “meditation” nature while the priest “read Mass.”  Those in the sanctuary, especially the priest(s), were dressed very differently than those beyond.  While Catholics tended to dress better for Church in those days (though never as respectfully as our Protestant neighbors) the priestly robes were most often over the top with elaborate lace surplices and albs and outer vestments of silk, brocade, or even velvet. 
In the old Mass the liturgical action was confined to a space segregated from the faithful.  The area around the altar was walled off from the people by a boundary wall formed by the altar rail.  It was mean to be a boundary wall—the legislation was very clear that the space was to be enclosed, even where there was no communion rail, by a wall “of at least chest-height”—to keep out those who were not essential to the sacred action.  Women were rarely permitted within the sacred space—generally on their wedding day but otherwise no, though nuns (and in parishes, widows) could be permitted in to clean.  In other words, everything in the liturgy and its environment made it clear that the laity were there as observers of a sacred action which the clergy performed on their behalf. 
The Mass was a drama in which the priest approached God on behalf of the people, interceding for them, bringing them assurances of the Divine mercy, and feeding them (literally feeding—from his hand to their mouth) with the Bread of Life.  All depended on the priest.  He was the intercessor, the mediator of grace.  From his sacred hands salvation was dispensed.  The welfare of the people, indeed their only hope for eternal life, was literally at his hands.
And so the Fathers generally lived in comfortable rectories built to give each priest a suite of rooms.  They were provided three cooked meals a day.  There was a housekeeper for their laundry and to keep their quarters clean.  They drove comfortable black sedans, wore good suits with straw hats in summer and homburgs in winter.  Should Father condescend to visit your home—in some places they were not allowed to save to bring communion to the sick or anoint the dying—he was offered the best food and beverage you could provide and he never left without an “Irish handshake” that left you ten or twenty dollars lighter in day in a day when that was real money. 
To be fair, if privileged, the life of a priest was not necessarily easy. There were poor parishes and rural churches to which troublemaking priests could be assigned without the comforts of life in an established and staffed rectory. Pastors ruled the roost and often bullied their assistants with ridiculous rules and curfews.  Once the morning Masses were over there was precious little to do.   This was before the era of liturgy committees, parish councils, finance boards, baptismal preparation classes, school boards, and other collaboration with the parishioners in parish matters.  A night out might mean an Altar and Rosary Society meeting or leading the rosary at a wake.  Days off were one a week—and not an overnight; it began after your morning mass and ended at the time the pastor’s curfew designated.  And, of course, a day off usually meant a day with Mom and Dad—maybe doctors’ appointments or going along to visit childless great-aunt Bea who was rumored to be worth “a couple hundred thou.”  No wonder alcoholism was rampant. 

But still it was a charmed life of being admired and kept comfortably away from want or need.  My experience is, however, that very few priests who experienced that life want to go back to it but there are those younger clergy who see that today you could have the privilege without the restrictions.  The trick is—how to recover the magic and reendow the priesthood with it.  One way, of course, is the Pope Francis way for the clergy to once again earn the respect of the faithful by giving the example of a life rooted in the gospel we preach.  The other way, the Cardinal Sarah way, is to make the Liturgy once again a magical act within the sole power of the priest and upon which all are dependent for salvation.  Magic is so much more fun—and far less hard work—than the Gospel. 


  1. Excellent. I have been reading this series of posts very, very closely, and this is shaping up to be outstanding, even for your typically erudite work.

    As one who is much, much younger than you and has been in diocesan formation for several years, I look to your writing to articulate what often manifests as cruder, unspoken convictions on my part. Fully one-third of the seminarians today seem to be these odd, usually dour types who are young and yet very out of touch with the world from which they emerged. They are a textbook definition of a manufactured nostalgia, in which they long for a time that they never experienced, and more importantly, never *actually existed* as they daydream it.

    It is a serious error, in any walk of life, to project an airbrushed and fictional past onto a real, autonomous present. But then, that would entail choosing the Gospel over magic, and magic, as you so eloquently quipped, is so much fun.

    Thank you so much for this post. It brought much together for me. +

  2. First, I respect your desire for anonymity. It is your right and no one can demand you alter that condition. Oh yeah, what was that college you taught at, who is your bishop, and what was your Social Security number again ? LOL

    On a serious note, being a priest (or a bishop) is a tough job. You have to deal with many different kinds of people, finances, Mass attendance, weddings, funerals, vocations, parish council, superiors, religious orders, local schools/colleges, your own family (brothers and sisters and relatives), etc. You can get a call at 3 AM for Last Rites....and yeah, dealing with the Looney Left and even pests like me (though I am NOT "Krazy") can drive some priests nuts.

    And all for not much money.

    It takes a special man to be a Catholic priest. I respect those who do all of that for loyal Catholics and God. God Bless !

    - Anonymous in NY

  3. "One way, of course, is the Pope Francis way for the clergy to once again earn the respect of the faithful by giving the example of a life rooted in the gospel we preach. The other way, the Cardinal Sarah way, is to make the Liturgy once again a magical act within the sole power of the priest and upon which all are dependent for salvation. Magic is so much more fun—and far less hard work—than the Gospel."

    Let me ask you a question. Is the purpose of the Mass to make certain people feel GOOD about themselves or society by redistributing money from one group to another or is it to engage in a Holy Sacrament for a deity (God) that we worship ? That's what "conservatives" like me see as the difference between those who favor liturgical changes and those who don't. Most (but not all) of the reformers seem more interested with the secular and not the sacred.

    I don't want the Church worrying about income inequality anymore than I want Her worrying about the 55 MPH speed limit, the Gold Standard, or climate change. I do want people to BELIEVE in the Sacrifice Of The Mass but for some people the secular is more important than the sacred.

    What can you do ?

    I think what I and others see is Pope Francis willing to dilute Church teachings and find a lowest-common denominator among Catholics rather than strive for the mountain top. I guess Ratzinger/B16 agrees with me, because he said that comment about a smaller, purer Church (funny: at the time I never heard about that quote, but I see it now all the time). When you see Pope Francis saying that Kasper is his favorite theologian, and surrounding himself with Cardinal Marx (5% Mass attendance -- but steady !!), you wonder what he is thinking. Then he treats loyal bishops like Finn, Burke, etc. shabbily. It's like Seinfeld's "Bizzaro World" where up is down, good is bad, etc.

    My father remembers Monday Novena nights at St. Rita's in Brooklyn in the 1940's and the place was packed. Maybe we aren't going back to that time -- but maybe we should try ? Yeah, I'd even be willing to eat fish on Friday's if it meant marking ourselves more as Catholics.

    BTW, I don't see anything you say here that would cause you problems with a bishop, even a conservative. I don't agree with some/alot of what you post, but that doesn't mean you are being disloyal or subversive. I think your PRIORITIES are wrong and you underestimate Slippery Slopes, but as long as you keep reading my comments, you'll eventually see the light. LOL

    In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be outside any monastery they lock you up at with a sign saying FREE FATHER __________ !!! - Anonymous in NY (what color do you want the sign ?)

    1. The purpose of the Mass is to bring the faithful into a direct sharing in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ which will leave us radically transformed into the Risen Body of Christ where we come to a participatory sharing in the Divine Nature. That is why I am opposed to the pre-Conciliar liturgy, at least as a normative form of worship because I believe that the legitimate liturgical changes introduced by the Church over the last 50 years express our participation in the Sacrifice of Calvary more effectively than the “traditional” rites. It has nothing to do with people feeling good—whether the neo-traditionalists nor the Vatican II types. Whether it is sharing the sign of peace or listening to a choir sing the Fauré Sanctus, whether it is the feeling of being in communion with our neighbor or the feeling of awe and splendor, our feelings have no purpose other than to “bait the hook” by which God will snag us to a profound conversion of heart spoke on in the prophets.
      Now that profound conversion of heart will radically change our attitude towards our neighbor, indeed towards all of creation. Your remarks in this and in previous comments, both published an unpublished, about “redistribution of wealth” shows that you are clueless about this conversion of heart. (Your claims about capitalism also show that you are unfamiliar with the writings of John Paul II who offers the Catholic alternative to both socialism and capitalism.) You seem to be more concerned about preserving the existing socio-economic status quo than fidelity to the teachings of Jesus. Your division of “sacred” and “secular” indicates that you have no concept of the Kingdom of God as it is presented in the Gospel and echoed in the Fathers of the Church as well as the magisterium of the last 125 years.
      As for Benedict XVI and his ideal of a smaller Church, I actually agree with you. During the reigns of the last two popes I found I often disagreed with some of the policies—and even some of the doctrinal formulations offered by those Popes or by their disasteral representatives. I found that I more often agreed with the previous Popes than disagreed, but agree or disagree, the Pope is Peter and Peter is the Vicar of Christ and I behaved accordingly. I always remembered that a Catholic speaks of the Pope only with respect, one does not question his authority, dissent does not belong in the pulpit or the classroom (though the classroom encourages open and honest investigation of the material). I would suggest that those who today attack Pope Francis and the direction in which he is leading the Church should perhaps go somewhere where their sufferings can be relieved and they be dispensed of any supposed obligation to opposed the Pope.
      I have never worried about bishops—I have sufficient theological background to be able to express myself within the Catholic Tradition whether in my initial remarks or any defense of them. What I worry about are the krazies showing up at the front door of my church or their writing letters to the bishop or to Rome that I have to be bothered answering. Trust me, I have had plenty of negative attention from the krazies over the years and there is never arguing with ignorance.

  4. I just discovered your blog. I live in the Diocese of Arlington, and I went searching for information on it and found you. I have been enjoying reading your older posts about anti-Catholicism in America, the religious beliefs of the founding fathers, and the history of Anglicanism.
    I only returned to the church a little over three years ago after being gone for twenty years.
    I am very interested in the mass and how it developed and changed into how it is currently celebrated.