Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 3

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 3

Well, by 1500 things in Christendom were in quite a pickle. Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, and the greatest of Christian cities fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453, and the Turks seemed destined to swallow up the rest of Europe, and Christendom with it. The Popes had returned to Rome and the Western Schism had ended by 1417, but Rome was a mess. Old St. Peter’s Basilica, built by the first Christian emperor, Constantine in 330 AD, was about to collapse. It was after all, over a thousand years old and while everyone was arguing about who was the real pope, no one had worried about the tuck pointing or cleaned the gutters.

Pope Nicholas V (1447–55) wanted to clean up Rome and was the first to consider tearing down the venerable old church and putting up a new one. He never quite got around to it, but one of his successors, Pope Julius II, decided to go ahead with the demolition and replace it with something more suitable. After all, he planned on being buried there. So around 1505, the old church was torn down.

(There is a story here that I can’t resist telling. Julius planned his tomb right in the middle of the new St. Peter’s, smack dab on top of the apostle’s grave. It was to be a sort of stepped pyramid, covered with Michelangelo statues. The whole thing took longer than Julius imagined; 120 years to be exact. They didn’t quite finish on time and Julius didn’t get the glorious tomb he had planned in the new basilica. They put Julius elsewhere for the time being and the few statues finished by Michelangelo at the time of Julius’ demise were scattered around Rome Finally, the remains of Pope Julius were interred in St. Peter’s many years later. If you visit St. Peter’s today, walk toward the great altar and over on the right side you will see a large wooden console that I believe holds organ pipes. Around behind it they stack folding chairs for special events. Under the folding chairs you will find the grave of Julius II. The wonder of it all.)

Eventually, serious work was begun on the rebuilding of the heap of ruins that St. Peter’s had become. Giovanni d' Medici, was born in 1475. He was raised as a Medici prince, fun-loving, cultured, a patron of the arts and without the sense that God gave geese. He was elected pope in 1513 (died 1521), an eight-year disaster. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He was quickly ordained and crowned as Leo X. He is reported to have said to his brother Giuliano d’ Medici, “Since God has seen fit to give us the papacy, let us enjoy it." And boy, did he. He paraded through Rome at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, his pet white elephant. Leo could go through money like a drunken sailor in a disreputable port. It is not cheap being a Renaissance pope, what with Italian wars, feeding white elephants, hiring relatives and all, and then there were all the rebuilding projects, and don’t forget St. Peter’s.

One method for raising funds was the granting of indulgences in return for contributions. Remember, bingo had not yet been invented. Enter Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg. Albrecht wanted to be the Archbishop of Mainz, because the Archbishop of Mainz was one of seven people who voted for the Holy Roman Emperor. He was, however, only about 27 or 28 years old, too young to be an archbishop. But Pope Leo was happy to overlook this difficulty for a slight monetary consideration (Remember Hanno, the hungry elephant.) Albrecht had borrowed 21,000 ducats (I have no idea how much a ducat is worth. Though I imagine quite a bit.) from Jacob Fugger, and then got permission from Leo to conduct a sale of indulgences in order to repay the loan, provided half the proceeds went to Leo. Albrecht hired the Dominican priest, Fr. John Tetzel, to preach the indulgence and thus light the fuse that started the reformation.

Fr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German priest and professor of theology at Wittenberg University in the diocese of Mainz. He, like many of us Germans, could always be counted on to have an opinion. When he saw the ad for Tetzel’s revival and fire sale of indulgences he challenged all comers to a debate with his famous 95 Theses, which he both sent to Albert and nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Among a number of ideas, mostly gathered from our friends Huss and Wycliffe, was the idea that indulgences were a bunch of hooey, starving elephants notwithstanding.

Albrecht forwarded Luther’s letter to Rome, and the fertilizer hit the ventilator, theologically speaking. One at first sides with Luther, and perhaps he did have a point. The case can be made that the whole Church was being run by a bunch of crooks.
Fr. Luther might have done great good for the church, had he insisted on the renewal of the Church and the papacy. He started out that way, but he soon came to believe that the pope was not infallible, but that he, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther was, and Dr. Luther had some very strange ideas indeed. In normal times, Fr. Luther would have been in hot water, or at least the guest of honor at a medieval barbecue, but these were not normal times.

The papacy was in the hands of a bunch of self-indulgent idiots and the German princes (just as self-indulgent) were intrigued by the idea that they might not have to send all that money to Italy in order to marry their cousins or buy a get out of hell free card. And remember Gutenberg and his printing press? Martin was the first person in history with the means to tell all of his friends just what kind of loons were in charge and just what he thought of them.

Let us review:
1) After a century of exile and schism, the Church, the papacy and the Holy City of Rome were in a shambles.
2)The aristocratic families of Italy thought the papacy existed for their enrichment and amusement.
3) The Muslims were in the process of swallowing up the Christian world, and
4) the German nobility met a German monk with a bad temper and some strange ideas about Christianity, who, they thought could help them say “Take ye a hike, thou varlets!” to those thieves in Italy.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 2

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont.

There is no denying that in the 1400's there were problems in the Church in Europe. The concept of the nation-state was developing as well as the concept of the divine right of kings. These are important ideas.

In the middle ages, there were no “countries” as such, in Europe. There was CHRISTENDOM. The German barbarians (my ancestors) had swept into the Western Roman Empire around 400AD. At that time the Romans had been Christian for almost two centuries. Rome thought of itself as the Christian Empire. Admittedly, the emperors had moved their capital to the town of Byzantium, around 340AD. They called it New Rome, but everybody called it Constantinople, “Constantine’s town.” Sadly, today you can’t go back to Constantinople because now it’s Istanbul. So the Emperors moved east, but the bishop of Rome, acknowledged by ALL Christians as the head Bishop of the Universal Church, stayed in Rome and maintained his political independence from the Roman state. Thus in the years from 400 to1400 there were two forces to be reckoned with : Pope and Emperor. The popes gradually took over the civil administration of central Italy and bishops everywhere took on more and more functions of the state, such as the maintenance of public safety and the care of the poor.

Then came my people, the barbarians. The barbarians didn’t want to destroy the Roman empire. They wanted to join it. What wasn’t to like? The Romans had indoor plumbing. They bathed. They weren’t covered with fleas and they drank wine! And who doesn’t like Italian food? The invading barbarians just wanted peace: a piece of the Roman Empire. And to get it they were happy to swear allegiance to the Emperor in Constantinople, and just go on pretending that they were a new kind of Roman, though they still mostly drank beer.

There were problems however. The barbarians governed themselves differently. They had a system by which soldiers swore allegiance to a military leader or tribal chief and that leader in turn swore allegiance to a king. Romans had a long history of written laws with a combination of elected and appointed rulers. This presented no real problem. The barbarian kings just swore allegiance to the emperor in Constantinople and then did as they pleased.

Another, perhaps larger problem was that the Romans were Catholics who believed that Jesus was God and man and that God was a unity of love called the Trinity. The barbarians were Arians, who believed that Jesus was not really divine. God was a lone ranger who sort of adopted Jesus. The Roman Bishops defended their Catholic congregations from these new overlords, and eventually the barbarian overlords became Catholic and settled in for the next 1,000 years to rule their Roman and Catholic subjects.

Thus was born the Middle ages, a collection of dukedoms and squires and knights and feudal oaths all loosely held together by kings and all swearing allegiance to an emperor, first the one in Byzantium and then one in Aachen Germany called Charlemagne. His descendants quibbled ever after as to who would be elected the Holy Roman Emperor. (WAKE UP!!! THIS PART’S IMPORTANT. I MEAN THE BIT ABOUT ELECTING THE EMPEROR.)

It was hard to tell where the Church left off and the State began, because it was all a big banquet called CHRISTENDOM. The task was to fight off the Mongols and the Muslims who wanted to destroy Christendom. The Muslims eventually did destroy the Christian heartland around North Africa, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and the Holy Land. By 1400, the Eastern Roman Empire held on by a thread in Greece and Western Turkey and only Western Europe was Christian and of the ancient Christian lands of the Mediterranean only Northern Italy, Greece and France remained Christian. Christianity looked like it was finished. Only the northern barbarians were Christian, and the Russians and the other Slavic countries, but Russia and Eastern Europe had been overrun by the Golden Horde, who were Muslims.

In Europe, things went from bad to worse. The papacy, as I’ve mentioned was a wreck which no one took seriously, the clergy had been decimated by the plague, as had society in general and there weren’t enough peasants to work the land. The cost of labor skyrocketed, and the old feudal system that had kept Europe fairly stable for a almost a thousand years collapsed. Wycliffe and Hus went around condemning clerical corruption, and unfortunately they had a point. Wycliffe’s followers were called the Lollards and they did a whole lot more than just point out the corruption of the post-black death clergy. They and Wycliffe denied the papacy, monasticism and the sacrificial nature of the Mass. They taught predestination and an early form of “Bible Only” (Sola Scriptura.) In short, they were Lutherans a hundred years before Luther. Their idea ideas spread in particular in Bohemia, which was at that time part of central Germany.

“How does one get from England to Bohemia? ” I am sure you are asking. Simple: Anne of Bohemia who came to England at the end of January 1381 to become the wife of Richard II (1367-1400). Anne was instrumental in spreading Wycliffe's teachings because the Bohemians who came with her to England introduced his writings to Jan Hus who spread them in Bohemia and the adjacent areas of Germany. Just to demonstrate the mess, it is interesting to note that Anne's brother, King Wenceslaus got involved in the squabble between the Roman pope and the Avignon anti-pope. All this is bad enough, but there was one more thing that put the frosting on the cake.

Wycliffe wanted the state to take over Church properties in England. Well, that sounds reasonable. Remember the clergy were corrupt! (Some certainly were, many more weren’t. It was the monks with their land holdings and incomes who maintained the schools, the hospitals, the soup kitchens, the shelters for the poor, the orphanages, and rented land to poor peasants at a minimal fee saving them from aristocratic vultures who treated them as slaves.) Wycliffe attacked the clergy and taught that the king is above the pope, in temporal matters and that the collection of annates (a type of fee paid to the pope) and indulgences were simony. He also taught that good government required that the Church be without political influence. (Sounds like the ACLU, no?) Wycliffe would have been in big trouble, had he not found a protector in John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, 1340 – 1399 who was acting as ruler at this time. Duke John ran England and really liked some of Wycliffe’s ideas. The king should run things, not the bishops. After all, kings and dukes and generalissimos and Chicago aldermen and mayors really have the people’s best interest at heart.

Remember that the old feudal system had collapsed, and kings and nations were emerging. Instead of Christendom, the emperors and the popes, you now had France and England and Aragon and Castile. The little duchies and squires that made up Europe were about to become nations with divinely appointed kings who wanted no pope or bishop to tell them what to do. Without a pope to excommunicate them or depose them, they would go to war with each other for the next 500 years, until Europe exhausted herself and her Christian culture in that holocaust of the 1st and 2nd world wars in which at least One Hundred Million people died, all told, and in which it seems that Europe herself has died. The final ingredients in this witch’s brew: Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press (about 1450) and that irrepressible German monk, Father Martin Luther (1483 –1546). To be continued....


Saturday, November 13, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 1

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Can you explain why all of a sudden we stopped singing Gregorian chant and started singing Kumbaya at Mass and now we have stopped singing Kumbaya and now we are singing dreary Gregorian chant again. I miss those old, traditional hymns with stirring music and lyrics that we could all sing and understand, words like “eat His body, drink His blood, and we’ll sing a song of love, halelu, halelu, halelu-u-yah” written by the immortal Ray Repp. I am so confused.

Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson

Dear “Hoot” and Annie,

Of course I can, but it will be very long and very boring and you will have to pay attention. The problem begins in 1300 AD, more or less with Philip the Fair, king of France and Edward I “Longshanks" of England (who disemboweled Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”). They were at war over the province of Gascony and to finance the war they both wanted to tax the clergy and the Church. Pope Boniface VIII said “Over my dead body!” and King Philip of France said, “That could be arranged.”

So, Philip tried to kidnap the Pope, but merely managed to have him beat up by thugs on September 7, 1303. He died a month later. The cardinals elected an Italian, Benedict XI, who managed to survive eight months, so the cardinals thought they should elect somebody who could get along with the king of France. They chose a fellow named Raymond Bertrand de Got who was not at the election. He wasn’t even a cardinal, nor was he in Rome at the time. He was in France. This was reasonable because he was, in fact, French.

The cardinals thought he would be neutral and make nice with the king. He was crowned pope in a grand ceremony attended by the King in Lyons, France. He never quite made it to Rome, the city of which he was now bishop. He got as far as Avignon, now part of France, then owned by the king of Sicily. And there they stayed until, seven popes later, Pope Gregory XI was elected in 1370. He was pope until 1378, and was the last of the Avignon Popes. His return to Rome on January 17, 1377 was inspired by the prophecies of St. Catherine of Siena.

Problem solved? Hardly! This is where things get really bad. After the death of Pope Gregory XI, an Italian, Urban VI was elected. He had some odd ideas about cardinals, like avoiding gratuities and gifts, and accepting salaries from kings and noblemen and limiting luxuries and retinues, and the multiple benefices (clerical sources of revenue). And he refused to move back to Avignon, which irritated King Charles V of France. The cardinals were deeply insulted and five months after Urban’s election, the French cardinals met at Anagni, to declare his election invalid because they had been intimidated by the Roman mob (which can, in fact, be intimidating) into electing an Italian pope. So, they elected Robert of Geneva who was commander of the papal troops. He became the anti-pope Clement VII, and thus began the Western Schism which divided Catholic Christendom until 1417.

Nobody knew who was on first, authority wise. You had two popes, one in Avignon and one in Rome. France, Spain, Naples, and Scotland recognized the Avignon pope. Denmark, England, Flanders, Germany, Hungary, northern Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, and Sweden recognized the Roman pope. At one point there were three popes. Finally, the Council of Constance met in 1414, authorized by the legitimate successor of Urban VI, (remember him? The true pope in Rome?) The Council of Constance elected the new pope, whom (almost) everybody recognized. Finally, problem solved. Not on your life!!! Now it gets really, really bad.

While no one was paying attention, a few things happened. The Church had become enmeshed in the politics of Europe, there were good and godly clergy and there were some not quite so good and godly, just like now, and then there was the black death. Over a period of 2-4 years, beginning in 1348 the Bubonic plague wiped out as much as half of the population of Europe. The death rate among clergy was much higher, perhaps two thirds. Parish priests and monks who were doing their jobs caught the plague and died.

In Avignon, Pope Clement VI's physicians told him to surround himself with torches to hide from the plague. But he remained at his post in Avignon supervising pastoral care of the sick and burials. He never caught disease. He wasn’t a man noted for his holiness, but in this case he did his job. I would probably have hidden under my bed, whimpering and trying not to inhale.

So the good priests died, there was chaos in the leadership of the Church for about a century and the aristocracy tried to take over the Church. In this chaotic climate, there arose people who thought they knew what to do. The first of these was a priest named John Wycliffe in England, (1324-1384) who was in effect the father of the Protestant Reformation a full century before Luther.

(To be continued......)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A reflection on Liturgy celebrated "ad orientem"

Instead of the usual “Rev. Know it all” this week, I would like to share some reflections on a recent experience. At the end of a conference on the Church Fathers, I said the ordinary form of the Mass, the so called Novus Ordo, in the English language. It was no different from any other Novus Ordo Mass, with one exception.

For the Offertory, Canon and Our Father I faced the altar, not the congregation. I said the opening prayers from the presider’s chair, where I remained for the readings. I wore a microphone as usual. I then read the Creed and the prayers of the faithful, went down to receive the offerings of bread and wine, and then went to the altar directly, not going around behind it. The deacon and I turned to the congregation at the prayer “Pray brethren..” I next turned to the congregation at the sign of peace and then again at the “Lord, I am not worthy...” After the distribution of Holy Communion I returned to the presider’s chair and finished the Mass as usual. The music was very simple, very little organ, mostly plain chant in English, some Latin used in the ordinary parts of the Mass, all prayers and readings in English. I had warned the congregation that I would do this one time only as part of the conference that we were having at the parish. I faced away from the congregation for about 14 of 55 minutes, all told.

I did it as an experiment. I suspect that the Council Fathers of Vatican II never envisioned Mass facing the people. I wanted to know what the Mass of Vatican II would really be like, some English, some Latin, Gregorian chant, unaccompanied singing and a balance of facing toward people when addressing them and facing the altar with them when addressing the Father. I think this is what is called in the rubrics of the Missal when it indicates that the priest should face the people six times during the Mass:
1)When giving the opening greeting (GIRM 124).
2)When giving the invitation to pray at the end of the offertory, "Pray brethren" (GIRM 146).
3)When giving the greeting of peace (GIRM 154).
4) When displaying the Host and Chalice before Communion and saying: "Behold the Lamb of God" (GIRM 157).
5) When inviting the people to pray before the post communion prayer (GIRM 165).
6)When giving the final blessing (Ordo Missae 141).

The fact that these rubrics exist, seems to assume that the priest is facing away from the people at some time during the liturgy.

After Mass, comments were varied. Some people loved it, most didn’t like it, some were infuriated. In particular I got angry fingers in the face, from someone who said that “the Pope had sent a letter to all priests telling them that they had to face the people.” How do you prove something that never happened? Rome has never said anything about having to face the people during Mass. One must do so only six times. It is one of the great mysteries of our times why, overnight, most of the altars in Catholic Churches were turned around.

There had been some experimentation in the 1950's by people like Balthasar Fischer based on the assumption that the first Christians had celebrated Mass with the celebrant facing the congregation. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the custom of facing away from the people originated among the Frankish clergy in around 700 or 800 AD. I would like to know why they write this.

For two reasons, I doubt that the Mass was ever said completely facing the congregation. Facing east, which usually means facing away from the people is the usual posture in liturgical prayer of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. It is still the custom in most of the Eastern rites, at least during the Eucharistic prayer. They have done this from time immemorial and still do. They wouldn’t have changed it just to accommodate the Frankish barbarians of the west, 700 years after Christ. This custom of congregation and clergy facing the same direction in prayer was universal until about 1967. The first Christians were Jews for a century after Pentecost, at least according to sociologist Rodney Stark. Facing a sacred direction and not a congregation was normal in the synagogue services from which the Mass developed. Orthodox Jews still face east, or more precisely toward Jerusalem, away from the congregation for much of the service. It is a natural gesture.

I, however, wish I had not said Mass facing away from the congregation, and not because of the anger directed at me. I am a Catholic priest. I am used to people being angry with me. I wish I had not said Mass in what I believe to be the posture assumed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, because it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my priestly life. You cannot imagine what it was like to say words like “we” and “our Father” and “us” while standing at the head of a congregation that was turned together in a physical expression of unity. No matter how one might argue to the contrary, it is impossible to say “we” while looking at 500 people and not be speaking to them.

The Mass is a prayer addressed to the Father, and despite our best intentions, we clergy address it to the congregation at whom we are looking. You cannot help it. The human face is a powerful thing. Last Saturday night I realized for the first time that I was part of a family of faith directed toward the same heavenly Father. I felt as if I was part of a church at prayer. It was not my job. It was my church. I never realized how very lonely it is to say Mass facing the people. I am up there looking at you. I am not part of you. For 13 or 14 minutes. You weren’t looking at me. We were looking at God.

I love the Tridentine Mass, or as we are supposed to be calling it now, the “extraordinary form.” I think that the Holy Father has been very wise in allowing its revival for those to whom it is meaningful. Its sense of solemnity is very beautiful and enshrines an essential dimension of the mystery of worship. I taught Latin for about 25 years, I understand the complex rituals of the old Mass. They mean a lot to me. Still, I don’t think that we should return to the exclusive use of Latin. I think the Council Fathers were right to simplify the mass.

The Holy Spirit anticipated the difficulties of our times. The simplification of the complex and beautiful gestures of the Tridentine Mass are entirely appropriate for the times we live in. In the same sense, there should be a pastoral balance between the common language and a “sacred language.” People pray best in their own first language. Remember that Latin was the vernacular when the Mass was in Greek. Latin itself was a concession to the popular mind. This being said, we the clergy should admit that we enshrined the liturgical abuses that were at the heart of the rebellion against tradition. We have become stuck in the 1960's and are unable to look without prejudice at the hemorrhaging of our congregations. We have failed to inspire them with a sense of the sacred and sublime and generations have been lost to the Lord and the Gospel.

I know that most people in my congregation would be offended if I started to face the altar regularly, because they are unaccustomed to it. I would be accused of factionalism or some such crime, so I don’t think that the market will bear it, but from now on every time I say Mass staring at the congregation and they hear Mass staring at my ugly mug, I will remember what could, what should have been. I fear I am as much a performer as a priest. I want to be a priest, but the show must go on.

The Rev. Know it all