Friday, March 30, 2012

Lenten Haiku

In Lent flowers bloom,
And trees put on festal robes
For their baptism.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Holy Week Coming Up

What is it about Palm Sunday that makes it such a wonderful day?

I suppose I could go on and on about the beauty of the liturgy for that day (yes, even the 1955 Bugnini liturgy), how it moves seamlessly from the joy and exultation of the triumphal procession to the pain and sorrow of the Passion narrative. It's true. It is beautiful. Palm Sunday was also my favorite liturgical day long before I knew anything about the Restored Holy Week liturgies.

About ten years ago, I was a Southern Baptist preacher-wannabe who played trombone in the high school band. One year, right around Easter, I was invited to take my trombone and play a fanfare with a local ensemble for Palm Sunday at the local Lutheran congregation (ELCA). Turns out, the bishop was visiting and the pastor wanted to put on a special show for him.

There were a few things about this service that made it different from anything I had experienced before. First, this church had a female pastor, my former piano teacher, in fact, and I strongly believed, along with most Baptists, that women had no place in ordained ministry. (I still do believe this.) Second, it was a themed service, exclusively dedicated to commemorating the Entry into Jerusalem. Usually Baptist services were either only incidentally or rarely themed to commemorate an event in the life of our Lord. Even Christmas services might take John 3 as their text. Lastly, it was a liturgical service, with scripted prayers and a eucharistic liturgy, something entirely alien to my experience.

I also hated it. I spent most of the time nervous about what was supposed to be going on, much of the time trying to find my place, and the rest of the time reflecting on how dead it all seemed.

Fast-forward one year. In the space of that year, I had taken up various Catholic devotions, studied up on the history of Christian worship, become a raging theological liberal, ands been deemed the most promising young heretic in the local Baptist Association. I decided that year to give the Lutheran service a second chance, especially on a day like Palm Sunday which I had attended before. I went back, and this time found myself transported by the beautiful words of the Lutheran service--well, I thought them beautiful at the time--and happy to have actually spent the day meditating on a single mystery in the life of our Lord. I decided to keep with the Lutheran church and ended up going to all the Holy Week liturgies and eventually becoming a member of that congregation.

I only had one year of being a Lutheran. My next Palm Sunday was in a traditionalist Roman Catholic community with which I worshipped, on my way to joining the Catholic Church through the RCIA process the following year. There was a visiting priest and seminarian, as I recall, which allowed Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the other services to be Solemn Liturgies. I went to the Novus Ordo Easter Vigil to see a friend of mine brought into the Church. The next year's Palm Sunday service was at a regular parish church (Ordinary Form), the last week I would be officially a Protestant.

So, my conversion process has been a series of Palm Sundays, from congregation to congregation and rite to rite until at last at home in the bosom of the Church.

I think, after all, Palm Sunday is a good liturgy for traddies to reflect on, especially in these post-Summorum Pontificum days. Like the people of Jerusalem, think of how we applauded the freedom given to the traditional mass, it's incorporation into the normal life of the Church, the reconciliation of so many traditionalists to the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI. But think about the conclusion of the Palm Sunday liturgy. It only took one week, and the people that greeted our Lord as King would later crucify him for the very same cause. "Son of David" at the beginning of the week was a blessing; "King of the Jews" would later be a curse.

Even so, I often worry that, even as the Church has been given the freedom to experience and share the traditional Mass, the world around us is becoming even more hostile to the Catholic faith. The Mass of the Saints is on the verge of becoming the "Mass of Martyrs". Perhaps we have been given the full recognition of the Church just soon enough to sacrifice our lives for Her. Otherwise, we might have been left out.

To me, this demands that we be even more zealous in defending not so much the traditional Mass or traditionalist practices--the Church does that for us--but rather our Holy Father, the reputation of our fellow Catholics, even when we disagree with them on this or that point, and the witness of the Church in social matters. We MUST do this, or we will go from being the women at the foot of the cross to the women whom Jesus met on the way.

Just my two cents.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Quick Review

The Hunger Games is a teen-oriented movie/book about children fighting each other to the death. It is also yet another of those moody teen-lit crazes that seem to sweep this country every few months. As you might imagine, I went to see the movie with some degree of skepticism.

What I found, however,was that I was pleasantly surprised by The Hunger Games, and pleased with the social message it was trying to send. This message was also probably lost on the audience that I saw it with.

Part of the point of the whole movie is that the Capitol population is so glutted with luxury goods, entertainment, technology, and fashion that it takes a bloodbath to even raise an eyebrow. In the meanwhile, the government uses its power to keep the poor, poor so that they can continue to keep the Capitol population entertained. Honest hard work just doesn't sell.

It reminds me a lot of Tertullian's description of the young boy at the gladiator games. At first, he went, promising himself that he would keep his eyes shut. Then the spectacle and shock of the thing makes him peek. Finally, he is hoopin' and hollerin' just like the rest of the pagan crowd around him.

The violence in this movie is unique in that it is never glamorized. Beautiful, precious children die and other characters grieve existentially for them. Vengeance is bitter and hollow. The greater fear of death, at least for the main character, comes from starvation and poverty on the part of her family than for herself. I have rarely seen a movie targeted at young people that spent more time critiquing the values that most of them act on. I say bravo.

This is not a movie for young children, or children under the age of 14, in my opinion, but might just be a good discussion starter with a consumption-crazed teen.         

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Essence of Traditionalism

I am a traditionalist Catholic. For some of you, that will mean something, for others, nothing at all.

What is traditionalism?

A few years ago I tried to answer that for myself in a series of long, tortured essays originally meant for public consumption. My conclusion was that traditionalism, by which I mean traditionalist Catholicism, was an organic relationship of various movements and organizations that all developed from an original skepticism of changes in the modern Church. In other words, traditionalism as a singular idea or theology simply does not exist, only relationships between organizations.

Those organizations include groups that have varying relationships to the Roman Catholic Church. For example, on one extreme there are groups such as the C.M.R.I or Independent chapels which deny either the authority or the validity of the current Pope due to his 'heretical' or 'modernist' beliefs, or due to the fact that they deny the validity of Holy Orders in the new rites of the Catholic Church altogether. On the other extreme are groups such as the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, certain Benedictine houses (like Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek in Oklahoma), or even certain Oratories of St. Philip Neri, where the Usus Antiquior, or traditional form of Mass, exists alongside the celebration of the Forma Ordinaria, or Novus Ordo, and priests are fully integrated into the ordinary structures of the Church. In between, leaning towards the independent side of the argument, is the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and leaning towards the integrated side, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). The SSPX, for example, celebrates the Sacraments and operates chapels/parishes without the ordinary authorization of the Church, while still claiming obedience to the Holy Father, while the FSSP refuses to celebrate in the Novus Ordo, but still cooperates with Rome and with the local bishops in carrying out their mission. In my experience, both organizations take a fairly similar stance on interpreting the Second Vatican Council. That is to say, they ignore it as much as possible.

The fact is that while these groups have radically different theologies, perspectives on the Church, interpretations of conciliar documents, and approaches to ministry, they are all connected organically, i.e., on a personal level. Thus, most of the Independent chapels and SSPX churches have members that have defected from one or another of the other organizations, and those who attend officially approved celebrations of the usus antiquior, get support materials, publications, and news from groups and individuals which do NOT operate under normal Church rules. However, for each person the level of contact between these groups is different, such that there is more of a "nexus" of relationships amounting to the "traditionalist movement" than an actual organic body of sparring traditionalists.

If all of that didn't make much sense to you, don't worry. I've been trying to explain it to fellow traditionalists for years without much success. Ultimately, the most important thing to understand is that for each traditionalist the traditionalist movement is different, albeit sharing some similar characteristics with other traditionalists' views of the traditionalists, and that the sum total of these similarities could be called the "traditionalist movement", which means that most traditionalists cannot agree fully with any other traditionalist on anything.   This is my self-justification for writing yet another traditionalist blog, in hopes that I may find an active readership which will share at least some of my opinions, or want to debate them.