The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum

In this essay I continue to register my thoughts on traditionalism and liturgy, specifically with a discussion of the expressed motives for Pope Benedict’s promulgation of the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum.  After this post I plan to take up where I left off with my “Traditionalist Sleight of Hand” essay.

The current biformity of the Roman rite, established formally by the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, is a reality that has existed and has been spoken about as such by Joseph Ratzinger for many years.  He has said numerous times that the old form, that is, the Extraordinary Form, was never abrogated.  However, the Motu Proprio establishes by way of “universal law” this biformal liturgical discipline, presumably, attempting to stabilize, at least for now, this condition as the liturgical status quo:  two forms, one ordinary, the other extraordinary.  The motives for this have been variously interpreted, and it seems to me that something parallel but antithetical to what happened in regard to the interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council has happened in respect to the text of Summorum Pontifcum.   I hope to make this clear as well as suggest a sound alternative. Continue reading

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Traditionalism and Liturgy

In recent posts here on MaryVictrix, I have voiced my concerns regarding certain ideas associated with Catholic Traditionalism.  I have also promised to follow upon on my “Traditionalist Sleight of Hand” post. While this present essay is not exactly the next installment of that series it does serve the purpose of making my basic concerns clearer, and perhaps the motivation behind my taking issue with traditionalism.  In this post I define what I mean by “traditionalism” and its relation (or lack thereof) to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.  In the next post, appearing in a day or two, I will try to articulate the motivations behind Benedict XVI’s formalization of the biformity (two forms) of the Roman Rite and the reason why this is no way a capitulation to traditionalism.

Traditionalism Defined

I have given my definition of traditionalism before, but since it is so important, I am devoting a separate post to the matter. “Traditionalism” can mean many things depending on the circumstances.  I am not referring to the heresy condemned by Vatican I.  Nor am I talking about the philosophical trend of thought also known as Perennialism.  Both of these forms of “traditionalism” are anti-modern, not just critical of modernity, but fundamentally opposed to it.  One might argue that the traditionalism that specifically concerns me is also anti-modern and not just anti-Modernist, but I would not suggest that what I am talking about is essentially defined in relation to modernity.

I should also say that “traditional” Catholics are divided as to the use of the term.  Different people define it differently, and, depending on the definition, some willingly apply the term to themselves and others repudiate it.  As has been pointed out here by another before, some think the name “traditionalist” should be dropped altogether insofar as might be applied to Catholics.  I will not dispute that the use of the term risks misunderstanding.  I will not even claim of having any definitive response as to whether its use ought to be continued in the long run.  But I do believe the present status quaestionis makes the distinction necessary.

By traditionalism, then, I mean that ideology by which Catholics, in the name of conserving Tradition, take it upon themselves to determine what magisterial act does and does not belong to Catholic Tradition.  By calling traditionalism an “ideology” I mean to indicate that it consists of integrated assertions—in the line of contingent opinions—that come together to form an airtight and complete theory for the reconstruction of Catholic life according to the Tradition of the Church.  I argue that this ideology pretends to solve contingent problems by submitting the living magisterium to a scientific analysis and then insists that the magisterium, including the Holy Father, either prove the analysis wrong or conform to it.

It is very important to make clear that my position in no way implies a denial of the real distinction between fallible and infallible magisterial teaching, nor should it be thought to render pointless honest academic inquiry into the formulation of magisterial teachings and their historical context, thus helping to determine more accurately their relative value as part of the received Tradition.  My point in respect to what I consider traditionalism is that at this moment, in the context of current controversies, it represents an obstinate prejudice against an ecumenical council and fifty years of papal teaching.  According to this rupturist interpretation, the Council was not misrepresented and abused by those who have no regard for Tradition; Tradition was misrepresented and abused by the Council itself.  My insistence on the use of the term “traditionalism”—at least for now—is due to the fact that the current of thought here described is real and distinct, and not clearly acknowledged by a great many “traditional” Catholics.  This problem is not a matter reserved to the SSPX and more radical traditionalists and sedevacantists, but includes many who would not consider themselves traditionalists and who believe that they are perfectly faithful to the teaching of Benedict XVI.

I should also point out that my definition implies nothing directly about liturgical preferences.  A preference for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass does not by my definition make one a traditionalist, nor would a preference for the Ordinary Form in itself absolve one from the charge, since my definition formally has only to do with the relationship of the magisterium to Tradition.  It just so happens that the liturgical tradition is at the center of most disputes regarding the living magisterium’s fidelity to Tradition, and, therefore, the Extraordinary Form has become a kind of banner for a certain kind for crusade for the restoration of Tradition.  I have, in fact, met Catholics who, although they prefer the English Mass, have many questions as to whether the Church has been faithful to Tradition, and sometimes even subscribe to the same conspiracy theories promulgated by those sympathetic with the Society of St. Pius X.

A Bit of Background

In the past and due to my own failure to provide a context, my remarks concerning traditionalism have been misinterpreted as some kind of prejudice against the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.  I wish to dispel this idea.

My community, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, is a “reform of the reform” community and has been long before this idea became popular.  More than twenty-five years ago I was attracted to the FI, in part, because of its reverent celebration of the novus ordo according to the rubrics, and its readiness to incorporate the use of Latin and Gregorian chant into the liturgy.  I know that many of our friars, sisters, tertiaries and members of our liturgical congregations have been attracted for the same reasons.  This attraction has helped to produce many vocations to religious life and continues to be a reason why people come to our friaries and attend our liturgies.

My experience of the novus ordo, in my religious community has always included the use of Latin and Gregorian chant, communion on the tongue with the use of communion plates, the reception of communion kneeling at an altar rail, and for the last four or five years, in most of our American communities, Mass is also celebrated ad orientem regardless of which form is used.  I realize that my experience of the novus ordo for more than two decades has been significantly different from the average Catholic, and that I have been spared a great deal of pain, frustration and scandal within the walls of my community.  But this simply confirms for me that the problems are fundamentally matters of abuse and not of the Ordinary Form itself.  The idea that somehow one is deprived of graces in the use of the Ordinary Form, or that vibrant Catholic communities faithful to Tradition cannot be formed on the basis of the novus ordo I know to be patently false.  The arguments to the contrary, I personally believe to be fundamentally ideological.  I appreciate the historical reasons why to many these arguments seem plausible and convincing, but I am still convinced that they are wrong.  The historical arguments are not free of a priori ideological underpinnings.

In respect to the Extraordinary Form I have a fair amount of experience.  I eagerly learned to celebrate the Mass according the Missal of Pius V, sometime between 1995 and 1998 for several reasons.  One reason is because I was attracted to it and believed it would be helpful to me as a priest, and the other reason—the one that was determinative, since at that time as a community we did not make use of the older form of the liturgy—was that there was a priest in the diocese in which I reside that needed a substitute from time to time to celebrate a weekly Mass for a group of traditional Catholics that had connections with a schismatic group.  The Mass was being made available as an indult alternative to the Masses being offered by the irregular community.  At the time when I learned to celebrate the vetus ordo, I was the only American priest that could do so, aside from the several older priests who had been ordained before the Council.  I was also one of the very few in our Institute worldwide that celebrated the old rite at all.  I simply have never had a problem with the old rite and I can say I fully appreciate Pope Benedict’s remarks about the two forms of the Roman rite having a “mutually enriching” influence on each other.

My experience also includes pastoral ministry to individuals with a traditionalist background and mindset.  I am very familiar with the arguments that are routinely presented, and with the alienation and isolation experienced by those attached to the old form because of complete lack of sympathy for Tradition and the Mass of Pius V on the part of priests and bishops.  I have seen a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, some quite balanced and some bordering on the neurotic.  For, example I have known for many years families who attend the novus ordo during the week and the vetus ordo on Sunday, and I have known couples who refused to be married in a regularized Church even according to the old form, because they believed the even that would be a compromise.  And I have witnessed even more extreme positions than this.

When the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum was promulgated in 2007, our institute received it with enthusiasm, as I did personally and as did all the friars in the United States.  We generally understood the Motu Proprio to indicate the venerable status of the vetus ordo and the legitimate aspirations of those who were attached to it.  Furthermore, as a means to promote the reform of the reform, Pope Benedict wished to make the celebration of what he now termed the Extraordinary Form more widely available.  This was a matter, he said, of “reconciliation at the heart of the Church.”  I have always supported this reconciliation.  I continue to do so and strive to conform to the mind of the Church, according to the teaching and directions of Pope Benedict.

More on this in the next post.

Lumen Christi

I

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
O King of Israel:
Hosanna in the Highest! (Antiphon, Palm Sunday, cf. Mt 21:9;).

Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying:  This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me (Mt 15:7).

The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same.  Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy.  In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.

Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy.  Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed.  Of course, the patristic analogy is fine.  It is the agenda with which I have a problem.   Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst.  It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.

Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.”  “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.

Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level.  Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).

The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology.  Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.

Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic.  The Angelic Doctor made distinctions.  The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions.  His eros is never the impure kind:  “The lumen Christi takes care of that.  Just think sublimely, mystically.  Spiritual marriage is never impure.”  In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.

But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962.  The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated.  The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise.  The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain.  Why should the liturgy not be painful?  We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.

The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama.  The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live.  He is not a monk.  He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist.  He just wants to go to Mass.  He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook.  He is just trying to make it through the week.  He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.

True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will.   The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and incalcitrant will.  There is a big difference.  Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given.  Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed.  But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator.  Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.

Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road.  It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery.  Our passion play is reality.  “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths.  It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point.  It is a harsh reality we need to face:

I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).

Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7).  Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open.  Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician.  The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo.  We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.

II

A new commandment I give to unto you:
That you love one another,
As I have loved you,
Saith the Lord. (Antiphon, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Last Supper, cf. Jn 13:34).

Where charity and love are, there is God (Antiphon, Ibid.).

The small band of apostles in the upper room was not a narrow sect united by an ideology or by a personality.  Our Lord was neither.  The Word of Truth that lived and breathed was the Incarnate Son of God.

He comes among us a one who serves:  and He serves lepers.  He bends down and washes our filthy feet.  He kisses our sores.

He did it more truly in His passion in the Garden and on the Cross, but during the Last Supper He did it ceremonially as an example to His priests, and by way of them to the rest of us.

The ceremony is symbolic.  There are much worse things than dirty feet.  There is not one among us that is not a moral leper.  If we think otherwise we will not leave the Sacred Triduum justified (cf. Lk 18:14).

We do not need to wait for others to get it.  Those who go to the Novus Ordo Mass should not be presumed to be ignorant and backwards.  This is such a huge presumption that reveals a profound ignorance of the reality of human perfection and defect.  It is a calculation that is facile, narrow and conveniently isolated in spiritual fantasy.  We have not gotten it yet if we are convinced the real problem is someone or something else.

We too easily write off those we do not understand, or who, in one way or another, do not measure up to our ideal, and yet this is one of the faults Our Lord most often corrected.  He at with sinners and gave the Pharisees a hard time.   There are silent sufferers who have been making daily communions since before the Second Vatican Council, and they are presumed to be backwards by the liturgical know-it-alls because they don’t understand and do not want a Latin Mass?  One can be too pastoral it is true.  But one can also be too academic.

Truth is objective.  The Sacred Triduum and the liturgy in general enshrine real history—objective revelation and dogma.  We need to fight for the truth, to be sure.  Many are rightly wearied of the fatherless Church.  The problem is that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb that was slain.  The objective truth is that our militancy must be Christ-like, even if the Church is a mess.

The ideal of the Christian Knight is the One seated on the White Horse, who is called Faithful and True, whose eyes are flames of fire, who wields a double-edged sword from his mouth and rules the nations with an iron rod (Apoc 19:11-15).  Historical chivalry is a poor substitute for the paradox that is the redemptive Incarnation.  The ideal was one thing, the reality another.  Literary chivalry was never entirely Christian.  It was laced with the same erotic Gnosticism that is repackaged today under the title of Theology of the Body (not a criticism of the soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II, but rather of some of his self-proclaimed disciples).  Military chivalry had the function, and still does, of making a bad situation less bad.  The military vocation is a fine and noble calling, but try making a profession out of killing people, and then see how many of those who wield the sword remain knights in shining armor.  This is not to denigrate the honorable service of our heroes, only to note that military honor is not an easy matter, especially when the ideal is Christ Himself.

This is why in the end, St. Francis, who had sought after nobility with such avidity, rejected status and power.  He got off his horse and gave away his armor to a poor knight.  And then he got off his horse again to kiss a leper.  Christ the Knight is Christ the Leper: Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted (Isaias 53:4).

How many of us have experienced the paradox of a real Christ in our life, who loves in truth and speaks the truth in love?  There is no magic wand for bringing all souls into the embrace of Holy Mother Church.  The only problem with the Church is its members.  And so, we lepers must remember that He says to us:  as I have done to you, so you do also (Jn 13:15).  There is no missal or grimoire that will make that happen.  Sacramental life is a far more ascetical reality.

III

Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world (Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross).

O my people, what have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me. (Reproaches, Ibid.).

Public Scandal is a horrible thing.  A sacrilegious communion piled on top has the makings of hell on earth. Advocacy for child murder and the re-crucifixion of Jesus in a sacrilegious communion is the “matter and form” of a potent curse.  It has been pronounced over our country countless times.  Piled onto to this is the even worse scandal and plague of the abuse of children by priests.  St Christina the Astonishing is reported to have attended Holy Mass many times a day, and upon perceiving a priest in the state of sin approaching the altar, would levitate from the choir loft to the sanctuary and beat him back into the sacristy.

Good Friday is both a curse and a blessing.  The Pharisees made a religious procession of their denial of Christ and consummated it with human sacrifice—indeed with deicide.   It was a pagan execution orchestrated by Satan and given religious significance by the guardians of the law.  He was made a curse for us (for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree) that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal 3:13-14).

How many of those who reviled the Lord on Good Friday had made themselves Satan’s puppets, his acolytes in the unholy rites of hell.  But the foundations of the netherworld itself were rent asunder by the inversion of sin, crafted by our Savior.  The curse became a blessing.  The sign of death became the sacrament of life—the exorcism of the world, the regeneration of souls.

In Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter, the main character, Scobie, slowly but surely spirals into moral depravity, all the while experiencing remorse without true repentance.  He eventually finds himself approaching the altar rail for Holy Communion in the state of sin because he is not prepared to deal with the deception in which he finds himself.  Not having the heart to look up he sees only the skirt of the priest’s cassock “like the skirt of the medieval warhorse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet: the charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from ambush . . .”  But God does not intervene and Scobie receives the Eucharist sacrilegiously.  He prays that his damnation will, through his offering, be the salvation of others.

In the light of this power, the great and small, the sinner and saint process down the aisle to eat and drink unto life or condemnation.  We put our trust in the power, but we also sometimes presume on it, as though Christ will turn our indifferent Communions into grace.  It is absurd to offer up our damnation.  How awful it is that we can be so eager to deceive ourselves.

Our Lord at the altar does not discriminate.  He remains silent under the form of bread and wine.  We bring upon ourselves a blessing or a curse.  He is the “hound of heaven” or the “warhorse bearing down.”

Public sacrilege is a curse upon the Church for which those responsible, and those responsible for allowing it to continue, will render an account.  Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh (Mt 18:7).

But the dirty little secret is that the Church does not need pro-abortion politicians or pedophile priests to profane the house of God.  The Lord has long suffered betrayal from his friends.  St. Margaret Mary asked him why thorns surrounded His Sacred Heart.  He replied: “My enemies put a crown of thorns around My head, and my friends have put a crown of thorns around My Heart.”

Reparation for sins committed against the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is particularly necessary for the outrage of sacrilegious Communions.  On Good Friday the liturgical order is reduced to a state of desolation:  a bare altar, and empty tabernacle, adoration of the Cross, communion without a consecration.  We are desolate without Jesus.

The priest prostrates and begs forgiveness for his sins and those of the people.  We own Good Friday.  We own the desolation.  It is what our sins deserve.

“For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  We cry for mercy.  The Precious Blood pleads on our behalf.

It is never a public scandal to refrain from Holy Communion.  What is a scandal is cueing up for Holy Communion and neglecting the Sacrament of Penance.  The door of mercy is always open.  The Good Shepherd welcomes back the lost sheep.

The state of a person’s soul is between him or her and God.  If someone refrains from receiving Holy Communion, cast your eyes down and keep your mouth shut—even if it is your own child.  You don’t know what is going on and you don’t need to know.  Let the Holy Spirit do his job and never allow yourself to facilitate a sacrilegious communion.

IV

Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,

The Alpha and Omega,

All times are His,
And all the ages.
To Him be glory and dominion,
Through all ages of eternity.
Amen (Easter Vigil, Blessing of the Paschal Candle).

May the Virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font,
And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration (Easter Vigil, Blessing of Baptismal Water).

The incorruptible flesh of Christ cannot be bound by death.  The Virgin born escapes the tomb without breaking the seal.  The Fathers of the Church speak of the incorruptible Virginity of Mary as unprecedented miracle of Divinity of Christ.  The incorruption of the Resurrection is the unprecedented miracle of the Redemption:  Incorruption is not the expected outcome of Good Friday, and it is for this reason that we experience a kind of bliss at Easter.

Some object to referring to the “incorruption” of virginity as though it implied that marriage and motherhood were something dirty.  But that is to miss the point entirely.  A woman is not corrupted by marriage, but her virginity is.  And the virginal state is a value unto itself, both before marriage and especially when it is consecrated to God for life.   Its joy is the inverse of what the world expects, or what the human mind may calculate.

Both motherhood and virginity are values, different and mutually exclusive values.  Only in one case were both values realized, namely, in the person of the Blessed Virgin, but this includes the Church as well.  Mary as archetype of the Church, and the Church, of which Mary is the preeminent member, are both Virgin and Mother.  Neither Mary, nor the Church is impregnated.  They conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is a miraculous power that shakes the foundations of the earth and changes history forever.

The Virgin Born who is also the First Born of the Dead breaks the incomprehensible blackness of sin, pride and calculation, “bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night” (Easter Praeconium).  Carried aloft, His truth brings about a conformation of our lives to His death, so that His life might overcome our death.  This is power is beyond the will or manipulation of man.  It is the cause of our joy.

Baptism is a virginal mystery, precisely because it belongs to the order of the Incarnation and Resurrection, precisely because, like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, it accomplishes a miracle of the first order.  It makes a child of wrath a child of God.  There can be nothing more fundamental to the origin of our relationship to God than our divine filiation.  Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration.  The fundamental metaphor is rebirth, not marriage, because this birth is not a function of marriage but of virginity.

Drawing a comparison between the Easter Vigil and pagan fertility rites is to prefer magic to sacrament.  They are not the same.  The unfortunate association of paganism with this Feast by means of “Pascha” having been englished “Easter,” only underscores the struggle between light and darkness, just as the Feast of All Saints becomes associated with the Druidic witchcraft and struggles, so to speak, to maintain its identity.

Magic is based on the presumed relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, between the larger world of cosmos and spirit and the little world of man.  Sacred Marriage in the pagan tradition is power because by it man wills to align the psychic energy of ecstasy with the world spirits to produce some effect in the world or the soul.

Sex is not a sacrament, even if a non-consummated marriage can be, in certain cases, dissolved.  It does not produce a sacramental effect.   Sacraments are not based on an alignment of our psychic experience with God, but on the alignment of matter and form with intent to do with the Church intends in celebrating the sacraments.  It is the will of God and His power, His infinite power that effects sacramental grace.  It is a covenant, not a biological process or a psychic experience that accomplishes the sacramental transformation, because in Christ we are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).  The efficacy of the sacraments would not be expected except that God has willed it so.

Christian marriage is not natural marriage.  Grace builds on nature, but it also transcends it.  There is no return to the Garden.  Grace is supernature, not preternature.  There is and will be no earthly paradise during our time of trial.  Chastity is supernatural, an unexpected turn from the natural course of a fallen world.

During the Wedding Feast of the Lamb we find the Bridegroom on His White Horse, with fiery eyes and the sword of His word.   The matrimonial ritual is a resistance to opposition, the casting down of the beast and the false prophet and the slaying of the enemies by the sword of him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceedeth out of his mouth (Apoc 19: 7-9, 11-15, 19-21).  It is not exactly parallel to earthly experiences.  Our experience points up and its meaning is informed by the mysteries we celebrate.  But natural ecstatic experience elevated by knowledge, what Renaissance philosophers called “natural magic,” is not an experience of grace.

The power of Easter is entirely unexpected, not the function of a predetermined process.  It is a turn of the tide, a “eucatastrophe,” as Tolkien has written:

it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief (On Fairy Stories).

The joy of Easter is tied precisely to its character of being unexpected.  No one expects a virgin to become a mother.  No one expects a crucified man to rise from the dead.  No one expects one who deserves hell to be reborn into innocence.  No one expects the fallen to be chaste.

The signs of the Knight of the White Horse and the Woman in Travail and Clothed with the Sun are the signs of the “high tide and the turn.”  The passion of the Church is a night “thrice over us,” and sometimes the thunderclouds of vicissitude are like an “iron cope,” that shuts out the light of heaven.  But Christ is yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega. 

He is the Light of the World, in a world that needs an illumination.  At the Vigil the new fire and the light of the Paschal Candle will cause a visual illumination that corresponds to an enlightened regard for the meaning of Our Lord’s suffering and death.

We must choose death to see God.  St. Bonaventure says:  “My soul chooseth hanging, and my bones, death.  He who loves this death can see God, for it is absolutely true that Man shall not see me and live.”  We must pass through the Passion of the Church.  We rightly say in liturgical language:  “Say the black.  Do the red.”  But Catholic life cannot be reduced to rubricism or magic formulas.  We must wait in patience for the “high tide and the turn,” the “wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto.”

Lumen Christi.  Deo Gratias.

The Discipline of the Secret

In my post for Holy Thursday, I mentioned the mystogia, the Easter catechesis in the early Church that was given to the newly baptized in order to deepen their understanding of the faith, especially regarding those central mysteries celebrated in the liturgical events of the Paschal Triduum.  In this post, I am offering my own little Easter mystogia in relation to the values of Marian Chivalry.  At the center of this paschal enlightenment are the two principle Christian relics that became the focus of chivalrous ideals, the Holy Grail and the Holy Sepulcher.

The mystogia was particularly necessary because of a custom practiced from the earliest times of the Church called the disciplina arcani, “the discipline of the secret,” whereby the most profound mysteries of the faith were kept hidden from heathens and from even the catechumens preparing for baptism.  The special—but not only—object of this discipline was the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament.

Gatekeepers

Hence, one of the minor orders of the Church—in fact, the lowest—in preparation for diaconate and the priesthood was Ostiarius or “Porter.”  In the Roman rite, the Porter was the gatekeeper who locked and unlocked the church, and who made sure that no unbaptized person was present for the “Mass for the Faithful,” or what is referred to in the Novus Ordo as the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Catechumens were permitted to be present for the “Mass of the Catechumens” (Liturgy of the Word), but then were escorted out of the Church by the Porter at the beginning of the offertory.  The catechumens’ first experience of “The Mystery of Faith,” celebrated at the altar, was immediately after their baptism, when they were escorted into the Church in their white garments.  The first time the newly baptized received the Eucharist, they had just moments before become aware of the full truth of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.

Reverence Inside and Out

St. Basil compared the discipline of the secret to the way in which Moses, by God’s command, reserved certain parts of the tabernacle by putting in place “sacred barriers.”  He wrote that “the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.”  And “Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar” (On the Holy Spirit, 27).

Imagine the joy of the newly baptized who were privileged to know the sacred mysteries and their exultation at being able to participate in so awesome a mystery while being introduced more fully by the post-baptismal catechesis into the truths of our faith.  Think also of how fearful the mysterious must have seemed, in terms of inspiring awe, reverence and gratitude.  What a tremendous grace was contained in the revelation of the mysteries and how beautifully was both the superabundance of God’s grace communicated while the dignity of the mysteries preserved and augmented.

As more and more it became necessary to defend the faith against heretics, apologetical tracts of the Fathers protected less and less of the secret, until the discipline was entirely abandoned.  One might also understand that in the face of Gnosticism and many other Christian heresies that secret keeping could lend itself to the privileging of a few to the detriment of the universality of the Church.   After all, the lure of secret keeping has been to form exclusive societies in which the initiated can pride themselves on being enlightened and being in control of the unenlightened.

Even so, we may regret, at least theoretically, the complete loss of the discipline of the secret, especially today when the introduction of the mundane and even the profane into the precincts of our sanctuaries have stripped the faithful of a sense of the sacred and mysterious.  The tragic consequence of this has been the systematic cultivation of irreverence.

Revealing What Is Hidden

But the discipline of the secret is built into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during Easter.  Our Lord celebrated the first Mass in the upper room into which he ensconced the apostles for the preservation of the mysteries of Holy Thursday.  Into that enclosed space they would return, as a huddled and fearful band, after the events of Good Friday, and into that enclosed and locked space Our Lord would reenter in order to reveal to them that which he did not reveal to all.  As St. Peter said of himself and his companions, the Lord manifested Himself not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him, after he arose again from the dead (Acts 10:41).

Our Lord also initially hid Himself from His inner circle, as He did to St. Mary Magdalen at the Holy Sepulcher, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to Peter and his companions at the Lake of Galilee.  Certainly this deprivation of their ability to recognize Him was symbolic of their own lack of faith and of the power of the Resurrection to break down that barrier against faith. They knew him in the breaking of bread (Lk 24:35).  But may we not also reflect that the revelation of what was hidden underscores the mysterious content of the faith and the mystical or dark way in which the activity of God touches our soul?

St. Bonaventure says that we must enter the tomb with Jesus—into another enclosed space—and there we must die and experience the suspension of our senses.  He is not necessarily referring to ecstasy, but what belongs more fundamentally to the mystical life, namely, a new way of thinking that is not dependent on what we see, but on what the Lord tells us.  Of course, first of all that means what the Church teaches, but it also must mean the manner in which we assimilate it through our own efforts to surrender in faith in the silence of prayer.

Making the Hidden Grow

The Easter proclamation is the so-called kerygma, that kernal of truth at the heart of evangelization, and it must be broadcast to the four corners of the globe.  That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops (Mt 10:27).  That proclamation is this: “The night will be as clear as day:
 it will become my light, my joy” (Easter Praeconium).  But each person it touches by way of the hidden workings of God:  So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the earth, and should sleep, and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring, and grow up whilst he knoweth not (MK 4:26-27).

In inner revelation of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail, has nothing to do with esoteric knowledge entrusted to a secret society or any other species of Gnostic, though these heretics have gotten lost along the way of a real quest for a real treasure.  Indeed, all along, it was quite literally under their noses: For lo, the kingdom of God is within (Lk 17:21).

Today we sell our secrets for a bowl of porridge and repackage old and used rags and peddle them as lost and hidden treasures.  Just call the most meager and pathetic truism a secret, such as the power of positive thinking, and then absolutize it with false promises and you can make millions of dollars on the same old stale snake oil.  Or take a real secret, such as the secret of our personhood, that leads us to veil our sexual values, and call it prudery and the snake oil business is booming once again.

Modesty, reverence and the guarding of the heart, are perhaps the most precious jewels to be cultivated by the truly honorable and courteous heart.  It is for these values that true prowess is willing to suffer and die.  The enclosed spaces of the Tomb and Chalice, like the Womb and Heart of Our Lady, are the places where Thy Mystery of Faith is celebrated and where the revelation takes place.

I will have more to say about the Holy Sepulcher and Holy Grail in my next Easter post.