Monday, December 24, 2012
Why aren't our plans working? -- part 2
Continued from last week….
Last time I wrote, Dear Frieda, I said I would address the central problem as I see it: the Eucharist, or as most of us old people call it, going to Mass on Sunday. We are propping up a system of religious education that was designed for a culture that is as dead as a plate of pickled herring, a system that the progressive wing of the Catholic Church helped kill. Speaking of pickled, I must admit that I was a committed member of that progressive wing in my youth. I formally quit the “movement” in my junior year of college when the peace committee broke up in a big fight during peace week. Even though my official membership in the silliness of the 60's was not long, it took me decades to find the moral courage to become as wildly politically incorrect as I now am. When I accuse a certain segment of the Church and the society of killing the culture and weakening the faith; I am talking about me. Enough of breast beating. I will return to chest thumping.
For one thousand years and more, the culture of the West had been nourished philosophically, artistically and esthetically by the Roman liturgy. Even the weak gender identity of the male of the species had been propped up by the Liturgy and the notion of a holy and sacrificial priestly caste. (You mean clericalism? Yes. I do. We need it. Women come by holiness and maturity a lot more easily than men. Women used to be grown-ups. Men have never been grown-ups unless you give them an important responsibility, like fatherhood or ordination. Just think about male hobbies like Ice Fishing and belching contests.) Where was I before the last digression? Oh, yes. The liturgy. The Roman liturgy, the sacrifice of the Mass produced the great visual art, the great music, the great architecture and the philosophical coherence of the culture. It was obscure in its secrecy and strange in its language. The celebrant mumbled in a language that only smart people knew. If you wanted to understand it and participate you had to actually learn something. You had to stretch yourself intellectually and if you couldn’t, you had to trust those who could. The very obscurity and art of the liturgy gave people a window into a world that otherwise would have been denied them.
Then, over night, Palestrina was replaced with polka music, Zurburan and El Greco were replaced with Burlap Banners and Corita Kent. The great soaring Cathedrals, the palaces of the poor in which any beggar was welcome, where the poorest of the poor could taste art and music, and probably get a meal afterwards in the convent soup kitchen, these were replaced by space ships from the Planet Ugly. Why did it happen? I have written elsewhere that the wars resulting from the reformation break up of Christendom started the car rolling down the cliff, but the sixties were definitely the point the car went into the ravine.
What did it? Democracy. Democracy had defeated Hitler. America was a democracy. America was good. The stuffy monarchies of the past were bad. Tyranny must go! The papacy was a monarchy. Thank God for the Council! (At least the shallow interpretation of the Council presented in most institutions of learning.) Now we would vote on the truth just like our American Protestant neighbors, the Congregationalists. We were living in an illusion. America was not and is not a democracy. A very small group of very wealthy secularists tells us what to think, what to wear, whom to love and how to vote. They do so by means of the television that sits in every room of our house. The country used to be ruled by a small group of wealthy secularists. The country is now ruled by a small group of wealthy secularist who have control of the media. I call them the Mediacracy (accent third syllable.)
The guiding lights of liturgical renewal in the noble pursuit of heroic democracy and freedom of conscience decided that the moral thing to do was to play to the lowest common denominator, hence the liturgy of the New Church which we are busy singing into being. (Cf. Do a web search for “Liturgical Abuse: Puppets (WCCTA 2008)”
- Please, I implore you to look at this. You’ll totally platz. I am not making this stuff up.) The liturgy was the lifeblood of the culture. It was hijacked and became the plaything of artistic wannabe’s in the sixties. In the above mentioned video, with its liturgical dances and giant papier mache puppets celebrating Mass, you see the quintessential stupidity of the whole project. Everyone’s an artist, everyone’s a celebrant, everyone’s entertained. Democracy. Christ the King becomes Christ the Sub-committee Chairperson. The only thing the perpetrators in the video clip were afraid to do was have a priestess as the main celebrant. The old fellow with the chasuble wanders around in the video like some lost child, while liturgical dancers female, and possibly male, cavort about sprinkling holy water on the assembled young liberals most of whom seen to be in their 70's. It is very entertaining if you were in college in the sixties. It is as boring as mud if you are young in 2012.
All that new liturgical music is 50 years old. It is as about as current as disco music. It might be delightful nostalgia, but it isn’t the eternal Sacrifice of Calvary. “But,” the young octogenarian liberals respond, “the Church used to be so dreary, so morbid, all that thinking about death.” We abandoned the black vestments and the Dies Irae, and replaced them with more upbeat things like white vestments and happy hymns like “On Beagles Wings” and “Be Not A Noodge.” “Dies Irae” was “Be Afraid, Be very Afraid!!”
Maybe we shouldn’t be afraid. Maybe the Bible, the big book on the coffee table, is wrong when it says that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 9:10) Well, we may longer be afraid, but we are also not entertained. There are a lot better things to do on a Sunday morning than watch a bunch of aging ex nuns dancing around in giant paper mache masks sprinkling Holy Water on aging liberals by means of small pieces of shrubbery. The liturgy was scary with its smoke and candles and strange gestures and solemn chanting in a strange language. God was scary. Life was scary. God and Mass are no longer scary, but life on Planet Earth gets scarier and scarier. At the Mass, we no longer propose reasonable answers to the difficult questions. We propose a kind of spiritual entertainment, a sort of community gathering, salvation by a positive mental attitude. There really is no reason to go to Mass on Sunday, unless there is nothing better to do. And believe me, there is always something better to do. That something is high school sports.
High school sports is one of the greatest enemy of Catholicism and of Catholic schools. I have elsewhere said that the sign of successful Catholic educational system is an adolescent who goes to church on Sunday by himself in July when his parents are out of town. This happens with about .0001 percent of Catholic adolescents. (I made that statistic up, but I bet the real figure is not much different. Somebody, please prove me wrong.) Most parents give themselves and their children a dispensation from church if there is a BIG GAME. Or a medium game. Or just an optional practice. The big, medium or optional sporting event is far more interesting than a bunch of old liberals cavorting about in what passes for liturgical dance. In fact the liturgical dance just gets downright embarrassing to a normal adolescent male when a 50 year old, overweight, balding man dances around him clad in ill fitting white pants sprinkling him with heaven knows what.(Cf. Afore mentioned video.) Better to be on a practice field throwing some kind of ball around. We old people who find this stuff meaningful have no idea how boring it is to our tech savvy, media addicted grandchildren. The liturgy which acknowledges and answers the great questions about death, judgement, heaven and hell has meaning. The liturgy as we now perceive it answers these great question with coffee and doughnuts and bad art.
To be Catholic is to go to Mass. It is the sacrifice by which we acknowledge our real condition as sinners who will die. At Mass, we commit ourselves to God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life. This is true of the Mass in all its valid forms, Tridentine, Novus Ordo and all. Mass as entertainment has no power to move men’s souls. It merely moves their emotions. A good Bears-Packers games is much better at moving the emotions. So why bother to go to Mass? After all, all dogs go to heaven, that is, if there is a heaven. God is too nice to send even the Chihuahuas to hell.
The first Christians believed the Mass was the Messianic sacrifice. The Hebrew sages believed that the messiah would do away with all the sacrifices of the Law, except for the “Todah” sacrifice, the Thanksgiving Sacrifice, that is. The Thanksgiving Sacrifice was offered when a person had been delivered from death and danger, not when a person wanted to be mildly entertained. Thanksgiving is Todah in Hebrew. It is Eucharist in Greek. The reason that the first Christians celebrated the Eucharist was that they had been delivered from certain death. Sometimes it seems the modern liturgist wants to distract the believer from the prospect of mortality. The messianic Thanksgiving sacrifice was about life and death. The liberal liturgy is about political correctness and good times. It is irrelevant to modern people who can find more efficient ways to distract themselves.
What has this to do with our attempts to put Catholic parishes and Catholic schools on a sound economic footing? Simply this: If one does not go to Mass, one is not a Catholic (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2042 and Canon Law # 1247) Mass defines the Catholic. We have schools that present no real reason to go to Mass except that there is a tuition discount. Done with school, done with Mass seems to be the motto of the Catholic school graduate of today. In the current muddle we have schools that simply don’t produce Catholics, et ergo, they are not Catholic schools. We are bleeding money to pay for private schools that produce secular humanists at reasonable rates. I know people who would open up their mattresses in a minute to have Catholic schools. They aren’t quite as interested in what we have going now.
I believe in Catholic schools. I wish there were more of them.