Friday, April 18, 2014

RKIA explains the Mass -- part 3

Smells and Bells and Funny hats and much, much more!

Before we explain all those fascinating hats, just a little more about the vestments. You may have noticed that they come in different colors. This goes back to the Jerusalem Temple. The Bible is very clear about the way the priests of the Temple dressed. The Bible says, “…you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother (the first high priest), for dignity and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). The priest’s clothes are described in Exodus 28, Exodus 39 and Leviticus 8. The high priest wore eight sacred vestments.


  1. Priestly undergarments “to cover their nakedness” Good idea. (Exodus 28:42) We wear street clothes under our vestment, but we do wear an amice mentioned above.
  2. Priestly tunic from the neck to the feet, with sleeves reaching to the wrists. (Exodus 28:39 and Exodus 28:40), just like our white alb.
  3. Priestly belt embroidered with blue, purple and scarlet (Exodus 28:39, 39:29) for the high priest plain white for the regular priest, just like the cincture we wear.
  4. The turban. The High Priest wore a broad, flat-topped turban. The ordinary priests wore cone-shaped turban. The modern bishop wears a miter. (More on this later)
  5. The High Priest wore two ephods, a sleeveless robe with blue, purple, and scarlet, 
  6. and another over it, a sort of vest. 
  7. A breastplate with twelve gems, each one carved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel, and finally 
  8. A golden plate fastened to the miter with an inscription, “Holiness unto the Lord.”

Essentially a Catholic bishop is wearing the same sort of garments — amice, tunic belt, miter, dalmatic and chasuble — no breastplate with gems and no gold plate, but the miter does have two small stoles attached to it as signs of office. The reason I mention all this stuff is to point out that it comes from the same instinct to worship the Lord in “holy attire.” 

We even have a special color scheme though it is not quite the same as the high priest’s. We wear green for the ordinary times, white or gold for feast days, red for the feasts of martyrs or of the Holy Spirit and purple for the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent. In addition rose vestments can be worn for the fourth Sunday of Lent and the third Sunday of Advent to remind us that the feast is coming and the penance will be over. Black is now rarely worn but may still be worn for the feast of All Souls Day. You can tell where we are in the liturgical year by the color the priest is wearing. Catholics are always either feasting or fasting, just like our Jewish neighbors. We get the concept of the religious calendar from the worship of ancient Israel. Every year is marked with feasts and fasts to remind us that we are journeying through time just as Israel journeyed in the desert. The celebrations of the liturgical year and the feasts of the saints are signposts on the way to heaven.

Now just for the fun of it. The Hats! Why do we wear all those strange hats? Have you ever been in a gothic cathedral in Europe during winter, or summer for that matter? It’s cold — sometimes very cold. The first and most probable reason that hats are worn for religious rituals is to keep the head warm. I have also heard the theory that God, looking down from heaven, finds it easier to tell who is who by the hats. This is ridiculous. I don’t even know why I mention it. You and I, however, can get an idea of who is who by the hats. We already know about the pointy hat that a bishop wears. It is an adaptation of the miter worn by the high priest in the Temple. 

There is also a kind of crown that was worn only by the pope that is not used these days, but you will see it represented in art, on the papal flag, the papal seal and in architecture. It is called the Papal Tiara. It was used in former times for a papal coronation. It is a single pointed version of the miter and around it are three crowns or bands. These mean that the bishop of Rome has authority over the three locations of the church: heaven, earth and purgatory.

Under the miter a bishop wears what is called a zucchetto. I am not making this up. Zucchetto means “a little pumpkin” referring to the head of the wearer. It resembles a Jewish kippah or yarmulka (skull cap). The pope's zucchetto is white. A cardinal’s is red, a bishop’s is violet. Priests and deacons may wear a black zucchetto, though almost no one ever does anymore outside the Vatican. Franciscans frequently wear a brown zucchetto. The zucchetto is never worn with modern clothes, only with vestments or the cassock, the long black tunic worn by priests, (again, red for cardinals and violet for bishops and white for the pope.) 

There is another hat worn by priests, that is pretty rare now. It is called the biretta, not to be confused with the small pistol of similar name, nor with the Italian word for a quick beer. It is an academic hat, just as the mortar board hat worn for graduations. It was worn in the middle ages by judges and the clergy and as such the priest wore it in confession and processions, taking it off at the beginning of Mass.

All the hats are doffed in the presence of someone of higher rank and in the Mass all the zucchettos, miters, tiaras and everything comes off for the part of the Mass when the Lord is present in the form of bread and wine.

Why do all this? Isn’t it a bit pompous? Maybe. But it is also a bit humble. We all used to get dressed up for special occasions. Now people wear flip- flops and cut-offs to their grandmother’s funeral, because the most important thing is that I, ME, MOI, should be comfortable. Who cares what my flip-flops and gym clothes say about my respect or lack of respect for those around me. After all no one is so important that I should be uncomfortable just to impress them. Keep thinking that and one day the Judge of all will ask you. “Where is your wedding garment for the great feast of heaven?” (Matthew 22:12) And you will say, “Lord, I thought flip flops and gym shorts would do.” We wear these things for the Lord, that He should be worshiped in the beauty of holiness. They remind us that we belong, not to the present age, but to a world that has always been and is yet to come. 

These things take us back to the Temple. In fact most of our liturgical customs remind us of the Temple. The bread, the wine, the oil, the palms, the holy water, the incense, even the bells take us back to the Temple. The high priest wore little bells on the hem of his garments when he entered the most holy precincts. We still use bells when we enter into the most holy parts of the Mass. Our traditional chants probably came from the style in which the ancient psalms were sung in the Temple in Jerusalem. All of these things remind us that we have the renewed, rebuilt Temple of which we are living stones. 

When the Temple of Herod was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, the Pharisees salvaged the moral and ethical content of the Torah but they no longer had a Temple. Those members of Israel who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah found a new Temple, the Church and we still offer sacrifice as we have done for four thousand years. The smells and bells and funny hats and all the other obscure and interesting things that inhabit Catholic worship are all about the symbolism of the Temple. They exist to remind us that this is not just about the everyday world. It is about eternity. It is the constant reminder that the Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow! 

Next week: Church architecture. The houses of God, the foretaste of heaven or spaceships from Planet Ugly?

Friday, April 11, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass -- part 2

Episode 2: Why do they wear all those strange clothes at Mass?
Short answer: they have to wear something. Long answer: the clothes, or as they are usually called, vestments, come from the long history of the Church. They are a visible sign of unity with all those who have gone before us and all those who will come after us. They are full of rich symbolism. Why not wear modern clothes instead of weird ancient clothes? For one reason, today’s modern clothes will become weird old-fashioned clothes in about ten years. For a second reason, it is a reminder that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Before the changes in the Mass in the 1960’s, the things that priests wore at Mass were all very strictly defined. Now, in the Latin Rite of the Church, some are required, some are optional and a lot of priests leave out even the ones that aren’t optional. In the Eastern rites of the Church, the vestments are still governed by very strict rules.  
A priest is supposed to begin with the washing of the hands, a custom that goes back to the Israelites in the temple and that the Jews still practice. As he washes his hands he says “Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.”
The first thing a priest puts on is called an amice. Not many priests wear it anymore, but it is not optional. Its purpose is to cover the modern collar and clothing a priest or deacon wears. When we say Mass, we are symbolically entering a different space and time, so we cover our regular clothes. Also, the amice keeps the alb and chasuble clean. We more enthusiastic preachers can get a little bit sweaty in the course of a hell fire and brimstone sermon. The amice protects the vestments. The amice is a large square of cloth with strings at two of the corners that tie the amice in place. The priest kisses it, places it over his head and then on his shoulders while he says a prayer, “Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.” The amice symbolizes the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17). When the priest and the deacon go to the altar they are going to war with the forces of darkness. The amice reminds them of that.
Second, over this he puts on a long white robe, called an alb (Latin for, you guessed it, “white robe”). It was standard wear at the time of Christ and was the common outfit of the ancient world, a long tunic with loose sleeves. Jews often wear a similar alb at certain services.  It’s supposed to be worn only by the priests and deacons. It is white in order to symbolize the white robe that all of us received at baptism. It is a symbol of sanctifying grace and the purity of heart that the Christian strives for. According to the book of Revelation 7:14, the saints wear long white robes that were made white in the blood of the Lamb. The priest or deacon says a prayer while putting on the white robe. (Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward).
Third, a priest puts on an ancient Roman belt, which is nothing more than a rope. It’s called a cincture. The knot with which it is traditionally tied can be seen on ancient Roman statues. It represents self control, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). A prayer from the first Letter of Peter (1:13) is said when a priest puts on the cincture (Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me). Good prayer. Good reminder.
Fourth and next is something called a maniple. It is not used much anymore, but it has a beautiful symbolism. It is thought to have derived from an ancient style of kerchief that the Romans wore on their left arm. It was used to wipe away tears or sweat and came to be a symbol of the pastoral work of the priesthood. I have also heard that it represented the ropes that are sometimes shown that bound the Lord to the cross in addition to the nails that sometimes sees in old pictures of the crucifixion. The maniple symbolizes that the priest is bound to Christ at Mass, just as Christ was bound. When a priest went to the pulpit to preach, he took off the maniple and left it on the altar. In the Mass the priest represents Christ. He takes off the maniple to show that the Mass is Christ. The sermon is the priest. Perhaps it would be a good thing to bring back a more common use of the maniple to remind us clergy that we are not individually infallible. The prayer said while putting on the maniple is “May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors.”
Then fifth, the priest and the deacon put on a stole over the amice alb and cincture while saying a prayer (Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy). The stole probably comes from scarf or sash of office worn by ancient Roman official. It was kind of ancient Roman sergeant stripes. It also may have ties to the ancient Israelite prayer shawl and the towel that Jesus wore to wash the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. The priest wears it one way and the deacon another way to symbolize their different roles in the Church and the Liturgy. The priest stands in for Christ which is why his stole is thought to represent the towel with which Christ washed the disciples’ feet. The congregation is the Bride, the Body of Christ symbolically clothed in the white robe of baptism, and the deacon? Very interestingly, in the Eastern Church the deacon’s stole is worn outside his topmost garment, the dalmatic. It is rearranged just before Holy Communion to represent the wings of the angels, so at Mass you have the Lord, the Bride and the Angels represented by the priest the deacon and the congregation.
Sixth, over all this the deacon and the priest wear an outer garment in the Latin Church. The priest wears a chasuble; from the Latin word “casula” the word means the little house. It is in fact an ancient Roman overcoat. Originally it was a semicircular piece of cloth sewn up the front which reaches down almost to the feet on all sides. It makes it really hard to lift the arms or even to move. That’s part of the symbolism. Love covers a multitude. (1Peter4:8.) It represents the sacrificial love that a pastor should have for his flock. Over the years the sides have been trimmed back for the Latin Church and the front has been trimmed off for the Eastern Church. The priest or bishop says this prayer when putting on the chasuble: “O Lord, who has said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,’ grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace.”
The deacon wears a dalmatic, which is fascinating garment. It is a tunic with wide sleeves. I was always taught that it freed up the arms so the deacon could lift things and so was symbolic of the deacon role of service, having sleeves already “rolled up for work”. There is more to it than that. The dalmatic was an upper class garment. The emperor wore one. The first to wear it were probably not deacons, but bishops, and bishops still wear a dalmatic for certain occasions. They wear it under the chasuble. This is an important symbol. The priest wears a chasuble, the garment of pastoral love; the deacon wears the dalmatic, the garment of pastoral service.
Everyone thinks of the Church as a kind of military chain of command. It isn’t. The Church is meant to be a family. The deacon doesn’t answer to the priest who in turn answers to the bishop. The deacon is the assistant to the bishop in his ministry of service and the priest is the assistant to the bishop in his ministry of sacrificial love. The bishop is thus the head deacon and, at the same time, the head elder (presbyter and priest mean the same thing.)  The dalmatic ties the ministry of the deacon to the bishop whose servant ministry is like that of the angels. Both the bishop and the deacon say this prayer when putting on the dalmatic “Lord, endow me with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy, and with the dalmatic of justice ever encompass me.”
All this is going on just in getting ready for Mass. So why do we do it? Lots of reasons. For one thing the Bible tells us to, “Worship the Lord in holy attire.” (Psalm 96:2) This is also translated as “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” When we go to Mass, we leave time and space. The clothes the minister wears are not just a good show. They remind us that we are in a time that was long ago and a time that is yet to come. We are eternal.
But the hats? What about the hats?

Next week: Smells and Bells and Funny hats!

Friday, April 4, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass - part 1

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I went to my first Catholic Mass last Sunday. I was clueless. All that kneeling and standing and the strange outfits. Could you please explain the Mass?
Yours sincerely, 
Churchill A “Churchy” Lafemme
 Dear Churchy,
You, like most of us Catholics, have no idea of the meaning, origin and rich symbolism of the Mass, so I will explain it in tedious detail:
The Mass. Mass is only one word for the fullest way we Catholics worship the Lord. The other words are the “Sacrifice of the Mass”, the “Holy Eucharist”, the “Liturgy” and, most interestingly, the Hebrew/Aramaic word “Korban” which is still used by Aramaic-speaking Christians.
“Mass” is an adaptation of the last words of this ancient ritual when it is said in Latin. The last words said by the priest are “Ite, missa est." “Ite, missa est” literally means “Go, it is the dismissal”, in effect, “You are free to go.”  Not a very glorious word for the name of something so important to us.  A lot of liturgical experts try make something more meaningful of the words, saying that it refers to our being sent on a mission, yadda yadda. Hogwash! It means, “You can go now.”  And those were the only words that some people paid attention to.  
The more proper word for the Mass is the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word that means “Thanksgiving”. The ancient Israelites offered a sacrifice called the Thanksgiving Sacrifice, “Korban Todah” in Hebrew. It was a communion sacrifice that involved 40 loaves of bread along with a pouring out of wine. It was offered when someone had been saved from death. The Hebrew sages believed that at the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, in Hebrew, Christ, in Greek) all the sacrifices of the Law would cease, except for the Thanksgiving Sacrifice. The first Christians realized that Jesus had established this Messianic thanksgiving Sacrifice by giving us His own flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. This is what He promised when He fed the multitude by multiplying a few loaves and fish. This is what He did at the Last Supper and this is what finished on the Cross. 
The Mass is a kind of time machine that takes us back to the Last Supper and to Calvary and even to the end of time where we celebrate the great wedding feast of Christ and church. Sometimes we call the Mass the “Liturgy” which is a Greek word. It literally meant the work of the people, but referred to the sacred dramas performed by the Greeks to retell the stories of the gods. These liturgies were very sacred and did not originally change the story. The actors wore masks so that you knew you were not looking at actors but at the faces of the gods. The first Christians who mostly spoke Greek adopted the word “Liturgy” to mean the unchanging ritual that made God present among us. A liturgy belongs to all the Christians ever born or whoever will be born. It is a work of the whole people of God, not just one congregation or community so it is a very structured ritual, not just an optional and changeable church service. 
The Aramaic word by which the very first Christians and their Middle Eastern descendants still call the Mass is Korban, the Sacrifice. Jesus died once and for all on Calvary, but St. Paul says, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions.” (Col, 1:24) Christ’s sacrifice is perfect. All that is lacking is the offering of myself along with Him for the salvation and redemption of the world. He is timeless. We are still in time. At a Mass, time and eternity meet. Heaven comes to us and we go to heaven. Mass is the un-bloody renewal of the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in which you and I have the privilege of participating.  
In the Thanksgiving Sacrifice in the temple, 40 loaves of bread, some leavened and some unleavened, were offered to God and then after some had been burned on the altar and wine had been poured out, the loaves were returned to the one making the sacrifice, which he then took home and shared with his neighbors. In the Mass, bread and wine are offered to the Lord and it is Christ himself, the Lamb of God who is returned to us to share with our family and friends. We believe that the bread and wine offered to God become Christ Himself, the Bread of Life, present in a physical way. Bread and wine don’t simply represent Christ. They become Christ. This is real. We call it the Real Presence. 
In 1996, in Buenos Aires, a communion wafer was found thrown away on a candle holder in the back of a church after Mass. Fr. Alejandro Pezet put it in water inside the tabernacle (the metal box in which the leftovers of communion are kept safely locked) when he next opened the tabernacle, he was amazed to find that the wafer which we call the host, (a Latin word for sacrificial victim), had changed into something that appeared to be bleeding. He contacted his bishop Don Jorge Bergoglio. The bloody Host was left in the tabernacle for years and continued to bleed and grow. After a few years the bishop decided to have it scientifically analyzed because a host normally dissolves when left in water. It doesn’t turn into a bloody piece of flesh that won’t decompose. 

In 1999, Cardinal Bergoglio asked Dr. Ricardo Castanon, an atheist, to examine the host. He sent a sample New York for testing without explaining what it originally had been. One of the examining scientists, Dr. Frederic Zugibe, a cardiologist and forensic pathologist, determined that it was a piece of heart muscle. A piece of unleavened bread had become a piece of heart muscle at a Mass. That’s what Catholics believe happens at every Mass. (By the way, Cardinal Bergoglio is now Pope Francis and Dr. Castanon is now a fervent Catholic.)  The same sort of thing seems to have happened in 2008 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Sokolka, Poland and at the church of St. Longinus in Lanciano, Italy around the year 700. They too, having been forensically examined, turn out to be heart tissue.  
Mass is not just a nice religious ritual. It is the Last Supper continued; it is Calvary renewed; it is the Resurrection made present; it is heaven anticipated. 
“Well,” you may say, “You haven’t explained the strange clothes, the complicated rituals and all the standing and kneeling and sitting.” Don’t worry, the night is still young. 
Next week: Ancient Roman raincoats and other Catholic things.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What do you have to say about Bishop Olson? part 2

Continued from last week

There is a great deal of talk about the Tridentine Mass and the ordinary form, but the Mass envisioned by the Council is not what is being offered in most churches today. The Mass of the liturgical movement, or perhaps we should call it the Mass of Rembert Weakland, is said everywhere and people think it is the Mass of the Council.

Liturgical dancers wearing little more than loin cloths and feathers were never envisioned by the Council Fathers. The theatrical presentation that passes for the Holy Sacrifice more resembles something envisioned by Calvin and Luther. It tends to be a show, not a sacrifice. It is directed at the people, it is improvised not according to local custom, but according to the whim of the celebrant, or of the parish liturgy committee whom he dare not contradict.

Herein lies the heart of the problem. When the liturgists presented their new Mass to Paul VI, he refused to approve it because they had removed the word “sacrifice” from the Mass. Paul insisted that the Mass was, is and always will be a sacrifice. It is not an entertainment or even a classroom presentation. It is not an improvisation. It is a sacrifice in which we are joined to the one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.  It is a liturgical abuse to use the Mass to express an opinion, to make a political or theological point, or to express the aesthetic tastes of the celebrant or the congregation. If I am correct in this, then the Church is rife with liturgical abuse — this includes everything from the most punctilious version of the extraordinary form to the gyrations of the most diaphanously festooned liturgical dancers. When Mass is a show, it is wrong, no matter the nature of the show. Mass is meant to be a sacrifice.

My suspicion, and it is only that, is that Bishop Olson limited the use of the Mass of St. Pius V, the so-called Tridentine Mass, because it was being used to make a point, the point being the old Mass is somehow superior to the Mass offered elsewhere. It is my contention that the Mass of Paul VI and the Mass of St. Pius V are equally pleasing to God. Even the Mass of Rembert Weakland, if offered sincerely, is pleasing to God. (I must admit that the Weakland Mass seems designed to be an entertainment. Its designer was quite a performer. If you visit the cathedral he redesigned, the altar has been replaced with a huge organ. Rembert was, after all, an organist.) Still, even a Mass like the Mass of Rembert Weakland, designed to display the talents of performers, can be pleasing to God if one has a sincere desire to give his life to Christ.

All this to explain why I offer the Mass of St. Pius V only once a month? I offer it not because I like it, nor because it is better, but because I believe every priest should be required to say the Mass of St. Pius occasionally to remind himself that the liturgy is not his property. The Mass of Pius V allows no improvisation because improvisation is the enemy of liturgy. Adaptation to local custom is fine, but individualistic improvisation is the exact opposite of liturgy. Liturgy is a Greek word (of course) that means “the work of the people.” When I was a lad in seminary that definition was the pretext for using coffee and bagels at the Mass instead of bread and wine. After all, Americans had coffee and bagels for breakfast, so if the Mass was the work of the people, why not coffee and bagels?

The liturgy is most definitely the work of the people. The question is, “What people?” The liturgy is the work of the people of God in every county and every age. The liturgy ties us to all those who ever loved the Lord, not just to the people around us with whom we happen to agree. The Mass should be identifiable to all those who belong to the Lord. 

A first century Christian, or a 12th century Christian, or a 19th century Christian, or a Christian from Kathmandu should be able to walk into a church in the twenty-first century and be able to say “Oh, this is Mass!” That’s why we use Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew and even some Latin in the Mass. These words taken from foreign languages tie us to our history and recognize the communion of saints in all places and all times. Amen, Kyrie, Hosanna, Alleluia, Sanctus are all borrowed from our history and the history of the Temple in Jerusalem and even from the wandering of Israel in the desert. The Mass of Rembert Weakland is such a radical departure from the tradition that even twentieth century people don’t recognize its variations.

When I was pastor of a parish that did not allow me to say the main Mass because I was too traditional(and they had their own priest anyway) a fellow who wanted to return to the Lord, started attending. He stumbled into one of the other Masses by accident, one that I was saying, and was shocked to realize that he was in a Catholic church. He had been coming to the “progressive” Mass for over a month and had no idea that he was in a Catholic church.  Could a Christian from another time enter a service where fat men in tight white pants and giant paper maché puppet heads were dancing around and say, “Oh, this is Mass?”  The celebration of the Old Mass, so-called, is a reminder to us, the clergy, that Mass is not about the celebrant. This is a message that all deacons, priests and bishops need to hear regularly, especially the writer of this article. I offer the old Mass once a month to remind me and my congregation the beauty and dignity of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

I do not offer it more than once a month because I don’t want to create a second parish of “real Catholics.” Allow me to be frank. I have met a few aficionados of the Old Mass who are mean as junk yard dogs. I recall a Tridentine Mass during which a parishioner who had never been to the Old Mass wanted to see what it was like. She was following along on her smart phone. Across the main aisle from her was a true believer who started to yell at her during my sermon. You don’t sneeze loudly at the Old Mass. No one talks except the priest and the servers and then only in Latin. No one! This true believer was yelling across the aisle in a roar that she believed was a whisper. I actually had to come down from the altar to quiet her. This is NEVER done at the Old Mass. You never leave the altar except for a prescribed gesture. By communion time the true believer was roaring again. After Mass I apologized to the victim of the tirade and tried to explain to the true believer that the object of her sanctified rage was only following the Missal on her smart phone. The true believer started yelling again, “I don’t care! It’s a sin! It’s electronic!” So much for pleasing God.

I usually avoid Masses that are associated with big events. I detest the way that Mass is abused by liturgists, charismatics and some musicians. And remember, I am one of the founders of the Charismatic Renewal. They all start with good intentions but generally end up with a bout of narcissism. I remember a grand liturgy at which there were not one, but two, yes two choirs, one in the choir loft and one on the ground floor! A veritable battle of the bands! After the show — I mean the Mass — the breathless choir director ran up to me and asked, “How did you like the music?” I said, “It was really great. I hope God enjoyed it as much as I did.” 

Now to skewer the other end of the spectrum. I love Mozart. Few things lift the soul to God like the Ave Verum, but I’ve seen Mozart used as the tool of liturgical abuse. I remember a grand Tridentine Mass with a full orchestra that performed, and I do mean performed, Mozart’s Requiem on All Souls Day at a church not far from my own. All the Mozart aficionados left after the Sanctus, because apparently Mozart never completed the Mass and they will not stoop to listen to the parts not written by him. They were there for the show. Another big Mozart Tridentine Mass ended with a presentation of a big novelty check to the pastor by the organization that had footed the bill. There he stood in the sanctuary dressed like the Infant of Prague, biretta et al., smiling for the cameras.

So we have three variations of the Mass in the Latin rite currently. My contention is that they are all three quite valid and quite licit, provided the Mass of the liturgical movement doesn’t depart from things permitted in the Missal of Paul VI. Prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God. If Gregorian chant lifts your heart and mind to God, good. If Gospel music does it, fine. If Latin is a better way for you to pray, excellent. Myself, despite having taught Latin for 25 years, after having studied it for twelve, I still prefer to pray in English which is my first language.

Tolerance and empathy are very rare things in our time. Most people who would call themselves liberal are as rigid as the traditionalists to whom they would deny the Old Mass. The Traditionalists are centered on their own opinion and their own liturgical tastes as the liberals whom they detest. Some of us prefer roses to daisies. If daisies are my favorite flower and I offer them to my beloved, they’re the gift of my heart, and my beloved knows that. If you however prefer roses, then offer roses to your believed, but don’t disdain my daisies. Roses are not better nor are they worse than daisies; nor are daisies better than roses, if they are an offering of the heart. Just remember that the flowers are to be given for the enjoyment of the Beloved, not kept for our own selfish pleasures.

And Bishop Olson, if these thoughts come to your attention, hang in there. You are in my prayers. Don’t let them keep you from laughing. The devil hates good honest laughter. Isn’t it curious how little the very progressive and the very traditional laugh?

Your Old Latin Teacher,
The Rev. Know-it-all

P.S. A careful reading of Article 5 §1 of Summorum Pontificum says that the Tridentine mass should be offered, “In parishes where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition... (and the practice) of these faithful harmonizes with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favoring the unity of the whole Church.” The Old Mass should be offered. It also says that any priest may say this Mass without special permission.  Fisher-Moore College is not a parish, and one suspects that they aren’t much worried about harmony.

P.P.S. If the Traditionalist crowd, of whom I am pretty much a card carrying member, wants the old Mass to make a comeback, they should request permission to use more English in the Extraordinary form so that anyone can follow it. A lot of young people are looking for dignity and beauty in the age of Miley Cyrus. They will never fall in love with a liturgy that needs a graduate degree to understand. “Latin is a language as dead as it can be. First it killed the Romans and now it’s killing me.” And this from an aging classicist!

P.P.P.S. Let’s dump this Ordinary/Extraordinary nonsense. The Mass said for five hundred years is not un-ordinary and a Mass with people in giant paper mache heads or loin clothes, feathers and clown costumes is ordinary only in a mental asylum
   

Friday, March 21, 2014

What do you have to say about Bishop Olson?



Dear Reverend Know-it-all,

I was wondering what you thought about the smack-down administered to Fisher-More College in Dallas by the new Bishop Olson who has forbidden them to have the Latin Mass? Hasn’t He read Summorum Pontificum which gave us the right to have the Latin mass?

Yours,
Ivanna K. Vetch

Dear Ivanna,

Odd you should ask me about Bishop Olson and the Latin Mass. I was his Latin teacher.  I know Bishop Olson fairly well and love him very much. He is a very smart and a very strong man. When I think of Bishop Olson, I hear laughter, full-throated, joyful laughter. I can’t remember a time that we saw each other and did not start laughing immediately. When I think of Bishop Olson, I think first of joy, but there is another word that better describes Bishop Olson. He is pious.

Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The pious man has a profound respect for God and His Church. It is Bishop Olson’s signal gift, beyond even his joy, his wisdom and his fortitude. In our times, piety is a much neglected virtue. These days, to say someone is pious can be an insult. It implies a dour and reclusive character in the modern mind. The modern mind is crazy, so who cares what it thinks? Bishop Olson was brave enough to be pious when progressive and tolerant sorts wanted to throw him out of the seminary because he prayed too much. Those were terrible times in the seminary when a young man who went to Mass every day or, heaven forefend, said the Rosary was suspected of excessive and morbid piety. Mike Olson was brave enough to keep saying the Rosary and going to daily Mass. Now he is a bishop. He loves the Lord, the Church, the Blessed Mother, and by the way it was Michael Olson who taught me to love St. Theresa, the Little Flower. Boy, did his devotion to her get him grief! That’s what I have to say about Bishop Michael Olson.

Now a little about me, I taught Latin and classical Greek for 25 years. I say the Latin Mass, not every Sunday, but monthly. It is beautiful. We have a men’s schola, no organ music, just Gregorian chant. I love the Old Mass. I grew up with it. The dignity, the ceremony and the mysticism of it touch me deeply. Why don’t I say it every Sunday? That is complicated.

First of all let’s look at the current state of the liturgy. You can learn my opinions from my other fulminations. Just look up my diatribe “A Brief History of the Hootenanny Massand Other Absurdities.” Here I prefer to take a more sober look at the modern liturgy.

In the Catholic Church, there are currently 13 rites: the Coptic, Ethiopic, Maronite, Syrian, Syro-Malankara, Armenian, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, Byzantine, Latin, Ambrosian (Milan), Braga (Portugal), Mozarabic, (Spain) and the Anglican Use for former Anglican priests. It is not a rite, but may eventually become one. Within these rites of the Church there are different ways to say Mass. For instance the Chaldean and Byzantine rites have three anaphoras or Eucharistic prayers. In the Syrian rite there are 12 different Eucharistic prayers! They have such colorful names as the Liturgy (Mass) of St. John Chrysostom or the Mass of Theodore of Mopsuestia.

I would venture that we now have a few liturgies in the Latin (Roman) Rite of the Catholic Church. We have the Mass of St. Pius V (Tridentine), the Mass of the Venerable Paul VI, and the Mass of the liturgical movement. After the Council of Trent, Pope St. Pius V authorized the Missal that codified the earlier and sometimes variant practices of the western Church. After the end of the second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI authorized the current Missal. The Mass of the liturgical movement is always thought to be the Mass of Paul VI, but it is really the product of the liturgical movement that got its start in the enlightenment. In Austria, around 1750, there was a political and religious movement called “Josephine” from the name of Emperor Joseph II. The Austrian government tried to take control of the Church to “demystify” the Mass in the spirit of the enlightenment. Contemplative orders were dissolved and their assets taken by the state. Priests became civil servants. This drive to demystify the Church resurfaced around 1850. Even before the Second Vatican Council, the earlier “Josephine” spirit in Austria influenced the new liturgical movement. There was a great scholarly effort to “restore” the Mass to its assumed earlier simplicity. I remember the excitement in the air before the Second Vatican Council.

One of my earliest memories is of attending the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday morning. It was thought of more as the blessing of the Easter Water than the first Mass of Easter. It had been gradually moved forward on Holy Saturday beginning around 700AD so that it eventually became a Holy Saturday morning Mass. It was restored to the ancient use only in 1956. During the whole nineteenth and twentieth century there were reforms and changes that tried to return the liturgy to a more ancient use, among these was the renewal of Gregorian chant. We like to think that Gregorian chant is an unbroken heritage from the earliest Church. It isn’t. Go to you tube and listen to some Old Roman Chant. Gregorian chant was itself a reform of what had gone before. Liturgical adaptation, reform and renewal are continuous in the history of the Church. The change and development of liturgy has been gradual and organic. The Mass of Paul VI was the fruit of this desire for liturgical renewal and simplification.

What happened in the twentieth century turned out to be anything but simple, gradual and organic. It was abrupt. The incorporation of secular popular music into the liturgy had no precedent except for the orchestral, operatic Masses of the enlightenment such as those of Mozart and Haydn. There is a true saying that things aren’t like they used to be, but then again they never were. The unchanging Mass of the Latin Rite has never stopped changing. The Mass of Paul VI, Mass of the Council, was a simplification of the old Roman rite. As it was planned, it was major change but still not an abrupt departure from the Mass that had developed slowly over 2,000 years. When said by the book, it still resembles the Mass of St. Pius V. It still expects that Latin will be used at Mass along with chanted Mass parts, psalms and prayers. Almost no one realizes that the missal of Paul VI expects that the priest face AWAY the congregation for some parts of the Mass. The prayers at the foot of the Altar and the offertory prayers are the biggest changes in the Mass of Paul VI. The Mass said in most churches now little resemble the Mass as said for two thousand years, or even what Paul VI intended. The Mass of Paul VI is said almost nowhere outside St. Peter’s Basilica, and of course my church here in Frostbite Falls, but we do only one Paul VI Mass here, the 8AM. The rest of our Masses are the usual liturgical movement Mass with its hymns, facing the congregation and offered in English.

To be continued


Thursday, March 13, 2014

We have lost our minds..

Letter to Mary K. Lastima, the grand finale.
It must seem a little far fetched to you, that somehow the banality with which the liturgy is celebrated by many officiants, the prevalence of abortion and the worship of demonic spirits are somehow all tied together. Perhaps I should throw in space aliens and Bigfoot while I am at it.
I say the Mass of St. Pius V (more commonly called the Tridentine Mass) regularly.  I more often say the Mass of the Venerable Paul VI (commonly called the Ordinary form of the Novus Ordo. I am not opposed to the Mass of Paul VI. I actually love it. It is the Mass that I have mostly said all of my priesthood. My problems are not with the Novus Ordo, so called, but with the outrageous manipulation of the liturgy for personal or political motives. I think of liturgies with giant paper mache heads, old women dancing in flowing skirts and fat men dancing about in tight white pants, or I think of para-liturgies that feature angels roller skating to circus music. I’m not making this up. You can look this stuff up at the following sites.
And in the next one, the men are not as fat, but they are still wearing white. Why do large liturgical men favor white when black is so slimming?
I love the Mass of Paul VI. I remember once reading that the liturgy of the Latin rite is characterized by its simplicity and dignity. One is reminded of that old song, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.”  Paper Mache dancing heads and fat guys in white pants? Dignity? Simplicity?
Still, I maintain that the simplified Mass of Paul VI offered the way intended is very beautiful. The way we priests have mangled it has lowered our standard of the sacred, with horrifying consequences. The Mass as said in many parishes is a venue for rebellion, not for worship. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry.” (1Sam. 15:23) I am regularly asked why a priest changes the Mass, or uses his own words or leaves part out while he puts in things that aren’t supposed to be there. It is simple. He is a rebel and “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry.”  Three thousand years ago the prophet Samuel saw a connection between the abuse of liturgy and the demonic. Look it up: First Book of Samuel the 15th chapter. Saul offered sacrifice which was forbidden to him and for this he lost the crown and his life, as well as the life of his son, Jonathan.
Have you ever read the Book of Wisdom, also called the Wisdom of Solomon? It’s one of those extra Catholic books. You would have read, “…through the envy of the devil came death into the world.” For what, you may ask, is the devil envious of us? He is immortal; he is immeasurably smarter and more powerful than we. This, too, is simple: Angels don’t reproduce, and the devils, who are fallen angels, can only steal our children. God shared something with us that He didn’t share with the angels. We can create something immortal.
God creates the soul, but a man and a woman in their coming together create the body, which is immortal, if Christ’s promise of resurrection is true. Humanity in its art and in its children shares the creativity of God in a way that angels cannot. Therefore, the devil hates art and beauty, for which the Catholic Mass and Catholic churches were the principle venue for a thousand years. The devil has convinced us to swap the amazing music and architecture of Catholicism for ugly buildings and banal music. The simplicity dignity and beauty of the Latin rite, both in the new mass and the old, gives way to the spectacle of the circus. But more than art, the devil hates children. They remind him that “God so loved the world.” In his diabolical envy, he has contrived to create sterile art and sterile marriages. Abortion, artificial birth control, rampant divorce, same sex marriage, on-line and off line pornography. They are the utensils with which the devil devours children and we feed them to him as surely as our forbears threw their children into the fires of the demon-god Moloch, all for the sake of our well being and prosperity.
Why do I lump divorce in with all those other more clearly anti-reproductive activities? Simple: Children need stable homes in which to flourish. Even faithful marriages between men and women who cannot themselves have children strengthen the dignity and reverence in which marriage and the home are held. If the sacredness of the bond between a man and a woman can be cheapened, then children may be born, but in their hearts they usually can’t flourish.
The Latin word sacrament means an oath to the death. We have reduced it to a show, a kind of entertainment, and shamefully this is not just done at the new Mass, but I have seen Tridentine Masses where it is all about the show. The degradation of one sacrament, the breaking of one solemn oath hardens our hearts. We receive the Body and Blood or the Lord without reverence, without “discerning the body” as St. Paul says, and we likewise have no trouble breaking the oath that gives life in the flesh after we have cheapened the oath which gives us life in the spirit.  I cannot fathom how a person can think that the pleasures of what is most certainly an aberrant, use of our bodies, even if it is pleasurable to some, can be compared to the sacred, life-giving secret shared by a husband and wife.
I said earlier, the devil hates good art and the devil hates children, He has tried to teach us that sexual desirability is the ultimate beauty. We go to the gym, the diet clinic and the plastic surgeon to keep ourselves physically desirable. All the while we remain morally and spiritually weak and deformed. We are cheap paintings in expensive frames. We are fifty dollar haircuts on seventy five cent heads. When we mistake the paint, the hair dye and the varnish for beauty, we are fools. True beauty lifts us to God. False beauty fixes our eyes only on our desires. True beauty makes us better. False beauty makes us less. False beauty ties us up in our own needs and fantasies. It fixes our gaze on the filth beneath our feet, not on the stars over our heads.
How can what the modern world calls love ever be compared with that love that brings new life? The disordered desires of the modern marriage movement bring nothing but passing pleasures that are soon devoured by boredom and regret. I know three things that are beautiful: a simple Mass, an old couple and a newborn baby.
A simple Mass simply said, lifts the heart and mind to God. A simple Mass doesn’t entertain. It brings heaven down to earth and earth to heaven in the flesh and blood of the Savior made present on the altar.
The charm of a young couple in love cannot be compared to the beauty of an old man and woman, who after a life of faithfulness walk hand in hand with each other and call each other by names like “sweetheart,” or “Mama” and “Papa”. 
And more beautiful still is that ultimate work of art, fashioned by the Maker of all things in a woman’s sacred womb: a child. Is there anything more wonderful than that little bundle of hope that reminds us of God’s great love? We have trashed the churches and murdered the children, all in the name of progress, freedom and tolerance.
We have lost our minds.
The Rev. Know-it-all

Monday, March 10, 2014

The fruits of Liturgical Chaos

Letter to Mary K. Lastima continued
When last I wrote, I tried to make the farfetched argument that “…liturgical chaos spawned moral chaos which in turn spawned abortion, infanticide and abortive artificial birth control, and you see, the devil hates babies.”
At face value this seems both simplistic and absurd. Allow me to invent my own wacky conspiracy theory. The madness that engulfed the Catholic Mass in the mid-1960s had consequences that went much farther than people realized. The wholesale de-formalization of the Mass changed the way Catholics looked at themselves and the world. When one fifth — give or take — of the world’s population changes its way of thinking, living and praying, that’s huge, and that’s exactly what happened in the 1960s. We Catholics lived in a hierarchical Church until the Mass changed. Hierarchy is of course a bad thing in the eyes of modern people. I recently heard about an interview in which the products of modern American education were astonished that the earth moved around the sun and that President Roosevelt had died. The product of modern education and culture are for the most part as well educated as gravel. Where was I? Oh, yes moderns dislike hierarchy, but they don’t have a clue as to what it means.
It is assumed that hierarchy means chain of command. It doesn’t originally. Hierarchy is a Greek word that means sacred leadership. I know of only two forms of sacred leadership: the bishops of the Catholic Church and the original hierarchy: Mom and Dad. The old Mass embodied hierarchy. The priest went into the holy of holies, the sanctuary and spoke to God. Nothing was given him except through the hands of those ordained. The deacon gave him bread and he offered it to the Lord. The deacon gave him wine and he offered it to the Lord. The people didn’t do much. They responded and prayed along quietly. The priest assisted by deacon and sub-deacon went into the sanctuary to intercede for the community. There were moments when the priest could not be heard. There was no microphone at the altar. It was as if parts of the liturgy said “I’m talking to God, not to you. Mind your own business!” How insultingly un-democratic.
There were times when we could not see or hear what was going on. All we could do was look at the play book i.e. the missal. There was a clarity of roles and everyone knew the drill. It sounds awful to modern ears, but if you’ve ever seen it done it is a fascinating thing to watch, almost like a ballet. The new Mass was designed to be less mysterious, but mystery was not thrown out all together. That came later. I remember the day it happened in my life. I was about 15 or 16 years old. We lived down the street from the church and we were about to have our first home Mass. Until that time a Mass could only be offered in a public place of prayer, for instance a church. Masses were meant to gather the faithful together, and were never thought of as private celebrations. Somehow we thought that private Masses would democratize things. Go figure.
The young cool priest in our parish was coming to our house to celebrate Mass on the dining room table. People kept asking, “Can I come?” We managed to cram 50 plus people in our house and a choir of nuns with guitars. It was well-intentioned chaos. We thought it must have been like the early Church, so informal, so homey. Why we thought that I have no idea. There is no evidence for the assumption that the first Christians celebrated Mass on dining room tables, but it just had to be true.
Needless to say the celebration had all the dignity of a coffee klatch as we slouched around sitting on radiators and folding chairs etc. trying to get a good look at what was going on. I kept thinking maybe we should move it down the street to the church where there was more room. It was great. It was NEW, and in the 1960's NEW was wonderful. We had new and improved shampoo, new and improved cars, new and improved dog food, new and improved antacids and now we had new and improved Masses. It was not long before vestments and rubrics went the way of the dodo. Words were changed and we were consecrating bagels and Ripple. If hierarchy, sacred leadership, was important in old, the new seemed to be neither sacred nor led by anyone. We were desensitized to the need for leadership, sacred or otherwise. This is the same era in which 18 year-olds believing that this indeed was the Age of Aquarius, took to the streets to attack the evils of society. It was the time of the sexual revolution and the drug culture. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll!  Well, we certainly tore down the walls, but we had nothing with which to replace them. The sexual revolution gave way to epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases and the culture of divorce. The drugs gave way to burnout and worst of all rock n’ roll gave way to disco and polyester pants suits. Talk about societal decline.
This was also the era in which TV sit-coms like “Father Knows Best” gave way to shows that could have been titled “Father Is An Idiot”. The correlation between the demise of the Mass and the demise of fatherhood is not too farfetched. Don’t forget that Catholic Priests were called Father. Priests everywhere stared to shy away from their titles. You might say, “Hello, Father,” only to be met with “Oh, I’m not your Father, just call me Pete.” That was how you showed you were a cool priest — that and wearing blue jeans instead of dreary black. It didn’t mean you were cool. It just meant you weren’t sure what you were doing with your life.
You were no longer a man who was called and ordained to intercede for the people of God in imitation of Christ, so what were you — sort of a life-coach or a Saul Alinsky community organizer?  We were anti-clerical clerics and were supposed to be close to the people. Some of us got close to people in a very unfortunate way and I needn’t go into that. I will just quote an old Lithuanian priest who shook his head when they removed the confession screens. “They’re going to find out pretty quickly why they put in the confessional screens in the first place.”
The world threw out sacred leadership and in the “spirit of Vatican II”, we joined in the party. The TV shows went from “I Remember Mama” and “Father Knows Best” to “Maude,” a show that celebrated divorce and geriatric promiscuity. It was an overnight transition. The Catholic prohibitions against promiscuity, artificial birth control and divorce became laughable. The Catholic prohibitions against abortion and same-sex relationships became crimes against tolerance and are fast becoming crimes against humanity.
What has this to do with human sacrifice?  In Deuteronomy 12:31 we read, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their (the Canaanites’) way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”
In our county we worship the twin deities, Freedom and Prosperity. Why do you think babies are snatched from the womb? Either for the sake Freedom or Prosperity.  And what do you think they do with those babies? They are thrown out and from there either go into landfills or into incinerators, just like Jews in the Holocaust.
Burn ‘em or bury ‘em. Just get rid of them. There was a shrine in the Valley of Gehenna called Tophet or the Roasting Place. There was set up an idol of the god Molech. According to the medieval Jewish sage Rashi, “Moloch was an idol made of brass. They heated him from his lower parts and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.” 
The drums beat, the doctor recommends, the paper work is filled out, the insurance pays, so that our hearts might not be moved. The Early Christians as well as the Jews believed that Moloch was no god, but a demon — the very personification of evil. So we seem still to be throwing our children into the fire, or into the landfill. It really makes no difference. It is all for the worship of the gods Prosperity and Freedom.
There is no father to weep for his children, no father to protect his wife, no Father in the pulpit to speak for God, no father in the home to teach his children. We may do as we please because nothing from the liturgy to human life is sacred.

Next week: I’m far from done.