Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why would that bishop wear a Cappa Magna?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I just read the most wonderful speech by a very brave bishop from South Africa. He was so brave, the way he defied the pope. Have you seen the speech?
Ann T. Smelzenbels
Dear Ann,

Yes, I have read the speech and would like to respond, inasmuch as someone I consider a friend has been mocked and slandered. You can find the whole speech simply by doing a web search for Bishop Kevin Dowling. I will summarize briefly, first the main points as far as I understand them, then a digest of the speech. (NCR report here)

Bishop Slattery just showed how pompous the Church is again becoming by wearing a Cappa Magna at a Tridentine Mass.
Conservatives are turning their back on the second Vatican Council.
Young people find the Church irrelevant because of the old Mass.
Everyone, including the Bishop of Rome, is obliged to obey the council and its liturgical reforms because it was an ECUMENICAL council and has more weight than a papal pronouncement. (At least this seems to be what he is implying.)

The following address was given by Bishop Kevin Dowling CSsR in Cape Town, South Africa on 1 June.
.....On April 24, 2010, Edward James Slattery, bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma, celebrated the Mass in Latin... in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
For the first time in my life....I saw the grandiose display of the “cappa magna,” the 20-yard-long brilliant red train behind a bishop or cardinal that has come to be one of the symbols of the revival of the Tridentine Mass. Fifteen minutes before the Mass, Slattery processed up the shrine’s main aisle wearing the extravagant cloak, held up in the back by a young altar server; before the main altar, there was a magnificent turn to exit stage left, at which point the cappa magna stretched almost the entire width of the sanctuary in front of the main altar.

'Throughout more than half an hour of pre-Mass entertainment with beautiful Latin music .... the entire basilica congregation of more than 3,000 sat passively as an audience to a musical concert, with nary a word to say in the liturgy.....By that point I had come to realize that this Tridentine liturgy was a... manifestation of ecclesiastical rank, not a Mass in conformity with the... Vatican II mandate for .. participation by the faithful.....Such a display of .. triumphalism in a Church torn apart by scandal, is most unfortunate. (It bears) the marks of a medieval royal court, not the..servant leadership modeled by Jesus...This is also a symbol of what has been happening in the Church especially since Pope John Paul II became the Bishop of Rome “restorationism”, the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, of Vatican II.. Vatican II was an Ecumenical Council, a solemn exercise of the magisterium of the Church, i.e. the college of bishops gathered together with the Bishop of Rome and exercising a teaching function for the whole Church. In other words, its vision, its principles and the direction it gave are to be followed by all, from the Pope to the peasant farmer..

Young people are alienated from the Church.. (They are).. very open to issues of injustice, poverty and misery in the world, aware of structural injustice in the political and economic systems which dominated the world…(they) increasingly feel that the “official” Church is... out of touch with reality.

The rise of conservative groups.. in the Church over the past 40 years and more, has led to a phenomenon which I find difficult to deal with, viz. an inward looking Church, .... relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis....This is all about a fundamentally different .... “vision” of the Church..... I think the moral authority of the Church’s leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that Church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry....One of the truly significant contributions of the Church to the building up of a world has been Catholic Social Teaching (He lists a bunch of noble sentiments among which are Subsidiarity, The Common Destiny of Goods, The Integrity of Creation, and People-Centredness....A democratic culture and praxis.),

At this point he goes into a rather long disquisition on his hard work of seventeen years in South African politics and finally defines subsidiarity) “The principle of subsidiarity protects the rights of individuals and groups in the face of the powerful,”..“Applied to the Church, the principle of subsidiarity requires of its leadership to actively promote participation, personal responsibility and effective engagement by everyone in terms of their particular calling and ministry in the Church and world according to their opportunities and gifts.”

Most of the rest of the speech can be summarized in the following line. (For leadership read Josef Ratzinger) “However, I think that today we have a leadership in the Church which actually undermines the very notion of subsidiarity.”

I know Bishop Slattery. Nice guy. Very humble. Big on serving Latinos, the missions and the poor. He was recently vilified in the press for his support of just and reasonable immigration policies. I have always found him remarkably unambitious. He’s the brave one. I’ve seen a few clergy role their eyes when Slattery and the cappa magna are mentioned. All he has done is to remind us of something beautiful. Whom did it hurt?

Dowling is stuck in the beige period of Catholic art. As chairman Mao said "Let a thousand flowers bloom." You are perfectly free to go to a beige Mass and to sing 50 year old sea chanteys and hackneyed Broadway melodies written by aging ex-Jesuits. No one insists that you go to a Latin Mass or endure a cappa magna. I am always amazed that those who consider themselves liberal insist that everyone think and do as they do. All other religious or cultural expressions, or for that matter political convictions, are somehow evil. Remember the saying, that no one is so conservative as a liberal.

As for the cappa magna, it's just theater. No one was charged admission to enter the church. It costs 100 bucks to see a stage play. The poor are generally excluded from beauty, art museums, concerts and stage. I’ve never seen the musical, “Les Miserables.” I got close once. One cold winter night I made the rounds with a friend who served poor beggars and addicts in Chicago. He turned down a dark alley next to a high end theater and knocked on a pile of boxes. Out came a lot of young African American men who greeted him like a long lost brother. The pile of boxes was their home. They took advantage of the hot air coming up form the heating system that warmed the well-heeled theater goers who were inside gushing over the sufferings of the poor in nineteenth century Paris. I have never been able to go to a performance like that since.

Anyone of these poor beggars would have been welcome at no charge in a church to see the eternal drama of redemption. The new and improved beige Catholicism pretends that it is all about the poor. In my experience, the feigned simplicity of the beige liturgy is more about making the prosperous feel less guilty about their prosperity. It may move people’s emotions, but it has very little power to move their souls. The older, more dramatic liturgy had a power to fascinate. It could transport you to a different world if you let it. One walks into a modern Mass and it's nice. You say to yourself, “This is okay, nothing very special. People are chatting. Some people are drinking a Starbucks waiting for Mass to start. (I’ve actually seen this.) A Broadway style tune passes for a “gathering song.”

The presider comes to the a throne situated behind the altar/table, and says “Good morning!” The congregation responds, “Good morning, Father”. The presider continues, “Welcome to St. Tiffany’s our theme today is ....” He eventually gets around to “In the Name of the Father (or perhaps ‘Creator’ or ‘Mother’...” (I’ve heard this, too.) The way some celebrants begin is not in God’s name, but in his own name, “I would like to welcome you.” What narcissism.

You walk into an old Mass and say to yourself, “Whoa, this is different. What’s going on? I don’t understand this.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You have to ask questions. The drama and mystery of the old liturgy captured men’s souls for a thousand years and sometimes actually impelled them to virtue. The Catholic Church is the greatest charitable institution in human history and for more than a millennium it was fed by a liturgy that Bishop Dowling thinks is, well, evil in its implications. What hubris!

Allow me to quote Fr. Anthony Brankin, “Perhaps the good bishop should look up the liturgical meaning of the cappa magna, and he will learn that it does indeed stand for all worldly pomp. But when the celebrating bishop removes the cappa just before the mass begins, he is forsaking all that stands between him and Our Lord. He is proclaiming that he is nothing now in the eyes of the world and everything is about Jesus. But then, Bishop Dowling thinks it is about the celebrant."

In other words, the greatest magnates and prelates are no more important than a country priest when they are at the altar. An emperor and peasant went to the same Mass. Liberal is still a useful word. It has to do with the Protestant reaction to the enlightenment. Liberalism is all about the individual. It is about “ME” and “MY” rights. Look it up in the dictionary. The new Mass highlights the celebrant and his smiling face. In the old Mass you didn’t see his face and half the time you couldn’t hear his voice, because the Mass wasn’t about him. That’s the symbolism of the cappa magna and it is lost on modern puritans.

I don’t think that one form of the Mass is better than the other. I really don’t. I love the Ordinary form of the Mass, if it’s done by the book, Gregorian chant works just fine even in English and there is a dignity and simplicity to it all. My point in all this is that it’s a wonderful time to be alive. If beige is my favorite color, then there is a liturgy for me. If pomp and purple are my favorite color, well, guess what! There is a liturgical expression for me too!

As for the youth who find the Church irrelevant, let me remind his Excellency Bishop Dowling, it is the new and improved liturgy they find irrelevant, not the old one. They’ve never experienced the old Mass. When the so called extraordinary form was still the ordinary form, the church was packed. Now, in a lot of places, it is inhabited by a scattering of grey heads.

As for the Vatican council and papal pronouncements, I wonder if His Excellency has bothered to read the Vatican council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, which maintains Latin Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. It does not mention the turning around of the altars nor the use of beige polyester vestments. All those things were part of the liturgical renewal and were initiated by papal pronouncement, not the council, except of course for the turning around of the altars. That was never mandated anywhere as far as I can tell. It was just trendy at the time. If His Excellency really believes ecumenical councils are superior to papal pronouncements, has he returned to the use of Latin in his Masses, as the council demanded?

As for subsidiarity, defending the weak from the powerful, who is powerful here? Were the Pope a tyrant, Dowling would be out on his episcopal buskins for his support of condoms as an AIDS preventative. The few who enjoy the old Mass need protecting from the liturgical tyranny of those who are currently in power in some liturgy offices. The vast majority of the faithful were never consulted when sweeping change was mandated back in the early sixties, not by council, nor pope, but by committees and liturgists. If the principle of subsidiarity, so dear to His Excellency’s heart, means that diversity be preserved, does diversity not apply to those who relate to an older style of liturgy? I wonder if His Excellency is as supportive of collegiality and subsidiarity when he has a difficult pastor in his diocese, perhaps one who insists on saying the occasional Latin Mass?

This brings me to my last point. To believe that in some way that a council is superior to papal authority is a heresy called conciliarism. Bishop Dowling seems to imply this. If he believes and teaches it, he is a heretic.

Where are the rack and the thumbscrews when you really need them?

Rev. Know-it-all            

1 comment:

  1. Good one! I especially enjoyed the part about the poor and the drama.

    Oh, and to answer the question: Because it lets everybody present know that something special is about to begin.