The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lefebvrism



When the Last Vestiges of a Sentiment in You Dies

Ahh, the wonders of YouTube! I was watching the infamous episcopal consecrations that Archbishop Lefebvre did back in 1988, the ones that got him booted out of the Church (although through a legal mechanism). Of course, I still had a sense of admiration for what I was watching; one cannot help but marvel at the traditional rite of episcopal consecration. And it's not as if now I am horrified at the prospect that anyone could defy the Pope that way (to the contrary...) . However, I am now very weary of the movement that His Grace started as a sheer concept. That is, I have a real problem with capital "T" "Tradition".

Sometimes I think that what the SSPX teaches is not real Catholicism. Of course, I know that if SSPX adherents say their prayers and live virtuous lives, they will go to Heaven. That is not the issue. It is just that with my own experience in the SSPX, I am beginning to realize that in its rhetoric, the SSPX replaces the concrete, real life Church with a vague beast called "Tradition". This beast is basically the Catholicism formulated by a small sector of people since the French Revolution. It is not a religion of triumph, but rather a paranoid religion of decline; it is not tradition, but an absolutist ideology tied into certain political and philosophical reactions to modernity.

We can all appreciate what the Society of St. Pius X has done in the preservation of the traditional liturgy. Let's face it, if they did not preserve it in all corners of the world regardless of what the ordinaries of the dioceses thought, who would have? Maybe some old priests who said the old Mass in a closet, but who would have formed a new generation of priests to preserve that liturgy? Only the pressure of the "schismatics" kept the old liturgy alive to a large extent.

By its own admission, however, the SSPX believes that the liturgy is an outgrowth of a certain theological, Counter-Reformation worldview, and not a thing to be venerated in itself. That is why it is always accompanied with the agenda of distributism, Thomistic moderate realism, and apologetics for everything from the Confederacy here in the United States, to right-wing dictatorships in South America, to the Vichy regime of Marshall Petain in France. (Lefebvre in his last book, Spiritual Itinerary, praises Petain by name.) For them, St. Anselm's theory of vicarious satisfaction that accentuates the propitiatory aspect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass also carries with it the ideal of the Catholic family as agrarian, patriarchal, and fundamentally reactionary. They would be right if they said that this was the agenda of some of the Popes up to Pius XII, but now they are a platform without a party and a body without a head.

As AG has been pointing out to me lately, how traditional was the traditional liturgy really? If people like me care so much about it, why did it die the death almost forty years ago now not with a bang but with a whimper? Has anything really changed? Or has the world continued as it has always been, only some externals have changed of what we do in church? Back then, no one knew Latin, and everyone pretty much did their own thing in the pews. Now, it is just a little more coordinated: people do their own thing, but with parts to speak. At least now, as AG says, black Catholics in the south don't have to stand in the back of the church so that white people don't have to sit next to them. That at least is progess.

Yes, the state of the liturgy nowadays does make me sad. I will admit that. I know the old liturgy so well that it does edify me very much. But I realize now that women in mantillas with their noses stuck deep in black missals are just as much a new phenomenon as Clown Masses and charismatic revivals. Neither can claim more antiquity than the year 1964. None of these things are "Tradition". If anything, Tradition is still there, and it will always be there, regardless of forms of worship, working in an imperceptible and hidden manner. It is the actions of the Holy Ghost in the world, and He does not work according to my theories of aesthetics, theology, or history.

So I too don't care about this Motu Proprio business. And even though I don't think calling oneself a "Lefebvrist" (or "traditionalist" or "traditional Catholic") is the most terrible thing in the world, it may not be the most good faith position in the Church. As long as we keep the Gospel alive in our hearts, and love our enemies and live by the teachings of the Church to the best of our abilities, that is Tradition, a propitiatory sacrifice, and the life of the Trinity among us.

18 Comments:

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Footnote:

This post is not to say that adherents to the SSPX are the worst Catholics in the world. Maybe everybody is confused, just in different ways.

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger Seminarian Matthew said...

I'm not a SSPX follwer, but I would much rather enter one of their chapels than one of the many modernist centers in our world. Catholicism is dying because of modernism. Sacraments are being frequented less and Marian devotion is all but gone in some areas. The Church of Pre-Vatican II and the Church of Post-Vatican II are practically two different ones.

I long for the day when the SSPX is in complete communion with Rome. They are an asset to the Church.

 
At 6:46 AM, Blogger The young fogey said...

I appreciate the work the late Archbishop and the SSPX have done but like Fr Anthony Chadwick I've said for some time the SSPX's failing is it doesn't represent the depth and breadth of real pre-conciliar Catholicism which is a large collection of all kinds of people, good, bad and indifferent, not the small, idealistic, Jansenist-tinged, self-selected sect (Fr C added: built on only one model of clerical life, that of a counter-Reformation religious order, not the more easygoing life of a normal diocesan priest), a kind of caricature of the faith, that traditionalism can become.

 
At 7:07 AM, Blogger Archistrategos said...

Abp. Lefebvre is a hero in my books, though like the heroes of the Greek tragedies, his is a story of bitter irony. I appreciate all the work he has done, and one has to wonder if the Vatican would even have considered 'permitting' the Tridentine Mass without his impetus.

The problem I see with the SSPX and most traditionalists in general is that they appropriate a certain mentality for being traditional, never mind the fact that what they champion was simply the norm some forty or so years ago. It is rather like putting a mindset on eating lunch or breathing. Perhaps this is the reason why there are many women who still wear long, Spanish veils but also attend Charismatic services, and even liberal priests who pray know of the 15 secret tortures of Our Lord.

I know that the SSPX want nothing but the common good for the Universal Church, but the way I see it, it is becoming more and more a haven for the rich than a refuge for sinners. I do hope that Abp. Lefebvre, who is no doubt a saintly man, will find peace in the afterlife. He deserves it more than anything else.

 
At 7:16 AM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

It really is a pity Fr. Chadwick is now off-line. I really do miss his insights and his blog. He always hit the nail right on the head.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger AG said...

That photo reminds me of the beginning of a bad horror movie - which maybe it is....

Thank you for recognizing that there was no mass uprising among the Catholic laity, no howls of fury that shook the foundations of the Vatican when the Tridentine Mass was 'stolen' from the death-hold clutches of average Catholics. And I think that video, which I should not have watched, shows why. So many 'expletives' came to mind - Twee? Not quite. Precious? Without the effeminate attributes that often go with that word, yes. Highly stylized and mannered? Oh, definitely. Is a liturgy where the laity sits there and says their rosaries and prays the St. Jude novena a superior one, for the laity? In what century did people cease to care about the purpose of liturgy, the 20th, or from the looks of that video, the 19th, even the 16th?

I used to argue with Protestants about Marian devotion, prayers to the saints, and popular piety. And this service was one at such a disconnect FROM the people that I can see why many of those of my grandparents' generation didn't know the catechism, were forbidden by priests from reading the Bible, and indulged in all this superstition - for them, dare I say, attending Mass was an experience both compulsory and in many ways empty - one needs to satisfy the longing for God somewhere, so why not in a shrine in one's own home? Marian devotion taken to the extremes, emphasis on prayers to the Sacred Heart and local saints - could these have been attempts at the formation of faith that people WEREN'T receiving because they didn't 'get' that God came to the altar at the Eucharist?

Clergy and laity, moving in two separate worlds, and neither of them bringing about 'heaven on earth.'

I was reading parts of the Mishnah and Avot tractates over the weekend, and it was quite interesting: there are parts that use mnemonic strategies, like "Rabbi Samuel ben Levi says, 'wash your hands, and touch the candle with your right hand'...Rabbi Moses says, 'touch the candle with your right hand after washing your hands.'" That's what this video reminded me of - symbols, gestures, rules; wash, rinse, repeat. Lest we forget, the Jewish codes for ritual were derived from the oral Torah and the codes in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and raised to the level of the Law. Ah, the emptiness....

 
At 2:45 PM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Not only that, AG, but let us remember that Mass used to be an exclusively spectator affair if you were not clergy. Even Holy Communion was only given out a handful of times a year, and even then most did not recieve. What, then, did the Mass become? That is not to say, of course, that it is any better or worse now.

 
At 2:45 PM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:26 PM, Blogger Peter John(son) said...

AG,

Many of your points certainly have merit, but don't you think that overall your being a bit too harsh on the Traditional Rite?

What about the countless Catholics who have revered and been nourished the Traditional Rite ie. Padre Pio, Dorothy Day ... ...

And what of the heart of the Mass, the Mass as a Sacrifice? How many Catholics today are totally unaware of this most central aspect of the Mass, that Calvary is made present before them, for them? The Traditional Rite expresses this sacrificial aspect so beautifully and clearly.

Perhaps you are reacting to the many traditionalists who trash the current Rite. Perhaps you haven't immersed yourself in the Traditional Rite for a significant period of time where it may be easier to see why there are so many who find the Traditional Rite so enchanting. In any event, I hope you at some point feel more positive about the Traditional Rite of the Mass. Gently reconsider.

 
At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I realize now that women in mantillas with their noses stuck deep in black missals are just as much a new phenomenon as Clown Masses and charismatic revivals. Neither can claim more antiquity than the year 1964." That is not true, veils and missals were around before 1964. In fact, "head covering" for women during worship is scriptural.

AG speaks with a forked tongue. Why would you listen to someone who knocks Marian devotion? Our Lady Of Fatima said "PRAY THE ROSARY DAILY." It was the Rosary that led me to tradition and I believe you won't understand tradition unless you pray the Rosary, and vice-versa.

Peter John(son) said it very well. I am a little less charitable.

You do not have to publish this comment - I just felt the need to tell you because of your blog. Prince Philip, fourth son of King John II exclaimed during the Battle of Poitiers, : “Father,
guard your left flank! Father, guard your right flank!” We Catholics must be vigilant and persevere. Truth Does Not Change.

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

I know that AG has nothing against the rosary, and neither do I.

My comment on women with mantillas and missals should be elaborated, however. The mantilla itself is a beautiful Spanish custom, but not at all universal. In most places, women probably wore nice hats to church. (As one can still see on Sunday mornings in predominately African-American communities, where both women and men still know how to dress up for church.) Mantilla hegemony in the Anglo-Saxon world is a completely traditionalist phenomenon.

As for lay hand missals, I believe that still in the nineteenth century these were still forbidden by the Holy See. Let us recall that the idea of a missal in general is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is the product of priests saying Low Mass, which only became really popular in the eleventh century. Before that, all the priest needed to say were things like the Canon, his communion prayers, etc. The choir would sing the introit, the gradual, etc. and the priest would not have to have the text in front of him. (At that point, all Masses were still Solemn High Masses and sung.)

And as AG pointed out, the liturgy itself was a clerical affair, and the attitude of most clerics throughout the centuries is that the laity had no business knowing what was going on. This is almost a universal attitude in all rites of the Church, where large parts of the most important prayers are said silently by the priest. Even in the primitive mystagogies (commentaries on liturgy), only the parts that were audible were commented on. The rest was considered "arcana", that is, secret.

So I do think that missals are a fairly recent phenomenon. If we had a time machine and were to go back to a Mass before the last Council, very few would be using them. It just was never the norm.

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger Archistrategos said...

If we had a time machine and were to go back to a Mass before the last Council, very few would be using them. It just was never the norm.

I completely agree. When my grandmother died, I was expecting to find an antique leather bound missal somewhere in her belongings. There never was any, despite the fact that she had been attending Mass several times a week for the past four or so decades of her life. Missals were considered extremely expesnive back then, and were a luxury that even few among the rich had. Most of the time the people just sat there and mumbled their novenas, and in bigger churches, crawled to the altars to touch the hand of an image, all the while ignoring the Blessed Sacrament.

I think it's a bit useless thinking that there were no grounds at all for the Council to happen, because there were a lot of them in the past. Of course, the solutions to those problems seem to have spiraled out of control-- hence an even more confused and jaded laity. That's just my two cents' worth, though.

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger AG said...

Peter John(son),

Thank you for your comments. Please understand, I have no problems with the Traditional rite as such, only with those who make an idol of it, especially when it reaches the point of praising someone who was excommunicated and died unrepentant, and defiant claims that one should never have been excommunicated is lack of repentance. Lefebvre, however indeliberately, helped to foster schisms in the Church and as a bishop may have encouraged some to move outside the graces of the Church to their own damnation. That's the horror show aspect - that this liturgical detail and that one (not for a moment ignoring the political movement that goes along with it) are so important that one should risk being outside the ark of salvation, the Church. And those liturgical details were not delivered by divine decree, but were the result of the innovations of men.

Almost everyone who has formed me in the faith, from my parents and grandparents to the nuns who taught me and who I worked with, to the priests who visited our home, attended the only show in town - the traditional rite - through at least young adulthood. And none of them shed tears when it was replaced. My father, who was an altar boy and assisted at the old Mass into young adulthood, STILL has no clue what was being said for most of the Mass, could probably recite Latin syllables without having any idea how they should be formed into actual words, and didn't know what was going on or why it was going on. Sure, those who had catechism classes (not everyone did), were TOLD that Christ was made present on the altar, but it might have been hard to grasp that it was done FOR THEM when the priest is faced away from them whispering in a foreign language while performing strange gestures, and they are not necessarily allowed to receive. Although my evidence is anecdotal, "enchanting" is not a word I have ever heard them use for the traditional Mass. More like "kneel, look down, and pray the rosary." That can be done at home, too.

And that's the artificial aspect of the current love for the Tridentine, especially for those who weren't around during the liturgical changes - in my experience these are mostly people who know their Gregorian chant from cds or mp3s, can read volumes of books about the liturgy and search for copies of Durandus' volumes, have memorized the now commonly available missal and know all the prayers (even the secret ones), can be schooled in Latin (or have enough time to learn phrases on their own), and then are now claiming it as the greatest show on earth. That was NOT, and still isn't for most of the world, what the laity had available to them pre-V2. It's THAT element that I object to - informed laity at modern Tridentine mass are really NOT worshipping the way their predecessors in the faith did, which was largely IN THE DARK intellectually, and perhaps even spiritually. In some ways it comes down to increased affluence. And that's why I also sometimes see the NEED for the Tridentine Mass among this crowd as a form of idolatry.

I pray the rosary before Mass, and I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet during particularly banal Novus Ordo Masses, so I don't need the Tridentine Mass in order to say my prayers during Mass-time. However, if I need to put a mantilla on my head, read a guidebook (the missal), and know a dead language to be able to respond, something is up. Neither the new or old Roman rite is perfect, and I don't expect either of them (or the several other rites in the Catholic Church) to be. So I object to either of them becoming so important that one must segregate themselves from others, or place themselves in a position of excommunication.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger AG said...

anonymous,

Dance, puppet, dance! And work on your reading comprehension. That's all.

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger Peter John(son) said...

AG,

Thank you again. Again I agree with much of what you say. Then again, I also agree with Archistrategos above that at least currently the laity seem more clueless and disconected from the Divine than they were fifty or sixty years ago. That can change of course, and I hope it does. I hope a greater appreciation of the Traditional Rite properly celebrated with an engaged laity
will help foster that as well.

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

It may be that this disconnect from the Divine was an inevitable result of the modernization of life in general. In this sense, bring back the old rite on a massive scale could just be the creation of a wax museum in the Church. You never know...

 
At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Webster's) Tradition - the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction. Traditionalism - the beliefs of those opposed to modernism, liberalism, or radicalism.

Msgr. A. Bugnini, co-author of the N.O., regarding his liturgical changes - 'deal with a fundamental renovation...a total change...a new creation'

AG, YOU don't seem to comprehend: YOU'RE the puppet, which is why you (and other 'good' Catholics) keep on dancing after they stopped the music and decided to clap their hands. Lex Orandi, lex credendi: The law of prayer is the law of belief. Changing the Catholic liturgy was tantamount to changing the Catholic faith. Satan attacked us from within.

When I was young, I heard my grandmother lament "They changed the Mass, it's different now." When she died, I found a Missal in her belongings with the latest Imprimatur dated 1953. The section entitled Devotions For Communion states, "The knowledge of Christian Doctrine required for children in order to be prepared properly for First Holy Communion, is that they understand according to their capacity those Mysteries of Faith which are necessary as a means of salvation, that they be able to distinguish the Eucharist from common and material bread, and also approach the holy Table with the devotion becoming their age." If your father et.al. did not know what was going on in the Tridentine Mass or why it was going on, shouldn't they have tried to find out? Is it any wonder then why there were 'no howls of fury'? One cannot love what one does not know.

I am glad to hear you pray the Rosary. The same Missal also gives practical hints to following the Holy Mass, one of which is to "Follow all the ceremonies of the Mass and say the sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and consider the sorrowful Mysteries." When I quietly prayed my Rosary during a N.O. Mass, I was chided by my cousin for being rude to the priest.

I went to a Catholic school and got A's in Religion classes and exclusively attended the N.O. but I thought Mystery of Faith meant Christ has died, risen and will come again. It is not THE FAITH of the people but the WORDS OF THE PRIEST which makes Christ present in the Eucharist, but even the words were not spared. Then there is the Message of the Blessed Virgin Mary at La Salette 1846 "Rome will lose the Faith and it will be the Seat of the Anti-Christ", Pope St. Pius X stating "The true friend of the people are neither revolutionaries nor innovators, but men of tradition", Pope Pius XII, stating before his death, "The day the Church abandons Her universal tongue will be the day before She returns to the Catacombs"...

...Oh yes, then there is also the 1570 papal bull Quo Primum Tempore of St. Pius V, regarding the Roman Mass and the Roman Missal which "shall forever remain valid and have the force of law". (And please, adding St. Joseph, another collect, and a Vigil to the calendar is not what is meant by liturgical change.)

You are very lucky because there is only one Order that says the Tridentine Mass in my area. The affluent are few, not everyone has the luxury of a Missal, or a car, or a house, or a job. We are outcast by our Catholic countrymen but we actually have a church, unlike other cities where the priests have to say Mass in a garage or apartment. There is always a long line and at least one priest at Confession during Sunday Mass. I read everything I could get my hands on about the "schismatic act" and "status of the SSPX" and referred to the 1983 Code of Canon Law. I double-check what the priests say using Catechism books by Fr. Laux and Bishop Morrow, all published prior to my birth. I just read Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos interview stating "The priests and faithful of the Society have not been excommunicated. They are not heretics". I am vigilant in testing all that I read and hear because I no longer entrust my faith or my children's faith to other Catholics who have scandalized me. I pray for the Pope and all the Bishops I can name at every Mass. I pray for the Pope and for indulgences after every rosary. Pope Benedict XVI said "The Net is Broken" and "The Ship is Sinking". What do you think he meant by that? (Hint: St. John Bosco's prophecy.)

So I am very lucky too, because with or without the motu proprio, I GET IT! One day, I hope you do.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger AG said...

anonymous,

It is nice that you have the luxury of having so much time on your hands, sufficient education, and sufficient financial resources that you are able to track down, have access to, and read all those sources. I pray you praise God everyday for such material gifts. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Indeed, I'd contend that the vast majority of Catholics in the world today do not. Thank you for proving my point about affluence.

Since you attacked them, here are some facts. My father grew up as a sharecropper. My grandparents had no more than an eighth grade education and were barely literate. The nuns who taught me were mostly black Catholics, who understood pre-1970 that one should be thankful for being ALLOWED to attend the Mass (in some places they weren't), and would not have quibbled with a white priest about this and that on the liturgy. The main instruction my father received from the priests he served with was that he (and all laity) were forbidden from reading the Bible; on the liturgy and even what he himself was doing, my father (in a stern rebuke from the priest) "did not need to know." And in the experience of those close to me, such attitudes were common. Perhaps the clergy bear a great responsibility for the laity not 'knowing' the old Mass? (The better argument is that the laity were not *meant* to 'know' the Mass, making all this stuff so artificial.) Unless, you think, as it seems you have failed to consider, the laity who live in poverty, struggling for food and housing, undereducated and ignored, bear responsibility for securing missals they can't read so that they can 'love' the liturgy, and are to blame for the lack of outcry over the demise of the Old Mass.

Or you would prefer a Church that's only for the educated laity and worships as *a minority* of the educated laity deem correct (although the popes and bishops disagreed - Benedict XVI celebrates the new Mass, not the old one) even though you write that the affluent are few at the Mass you attend.

And though I'm educated enough, job responsibilities prevent me from regularly attending the old Mass that's over an hour away on public transportation - I lack a car, too.

This is just silly: "Changing the Catholic liturgy was tantamount to changing the Catholic faith," as though the liturgy descended in its (pick a year) form from on High. The Roman rite developed over centuries, with innovations introduced throughout. St. Pius X re-arranged the Psalter. Who determines what liturgical developments should be approved? The clergy? The educated laity, in an exercise of private judgment?

I apologize to other readers for my tone, but it gets under my skin when someone lapping up milk and honey sticks their nose up in the air over those who, through no choice of their own, are not so privileged, even to the point of calling their devotion into question. Again, anonymous, thank you for proving my point about affluence. Please realize that laity like you are an innovation resulting from modernism and affluence and the *relaxing* post-V2 of the clerical/lay divide, and a novelty compared to the global Catholic population. And no, I will never segregate myself from the people God calls to Himself in the Church by strictly attending one rite or another. I'm comfortable attending both, depending on location. I do not consider it my role to sit in judgment of the pastoral decisions of V2, Pope Paul VI, or the framers of the Novus Ordo. Whatever I may think, I try to be obedient to God's chosen servants on earth. By doing so, I honor and perform the TRADITIONAL role of the laity. As always, all I can do is pray, for God gives every good thing.

Perhaps we are meant to return to the catacombs - we should welcome and be thankful for whatever God provides.

 

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