Durtal – III

6 09 2021

Weathering the Storm

Sure I prayed, but not for safety. Whatever happens happens. I know better to ask God to alter His plans unless it’s very serious. Well, this might be serious. It started tranquilly enough. It was calm, the pressure dropped, it got a bit cooler. Then quiet and ominous. The first gust came, I anxiously looked at the news from the south, and saw what was coming: roofs coming off, rain slamming horizontally, trees swaying until they break. Water rising. By the time the sun was going down, the trees were moving in their Shiva dance of destruction. It would start and then stop again. The Internet went out, then the power. Just when you thought maybe the worst was over, then it would return: like incoming traffic, first distant, then growing to a pitch, the trees creaking. The biggest tree in the yard broke in two, and landed harmlessly on the other side of the yard, taking out the fence. By one in the morning, it still wasn’t over, but by then, I was tired of listening. Either something was going to happen, or it wouldn’t. The whistle of branches became fainter and the destructive gusts more spaced in time. At some point, I fell asleep…

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The Kingdom not of this world

28 08 2021

I listened to the Honest Man’s podcast’s recent episode, Vedic Pornography, with special guest Madhavananda Das, a senior Hare Krishna devotee who lives in Jagannath Puri, India. The topic of the podcast was specifically on the role that erotic art plays in the temple architecture of India. However, that is peripheral to what I want to talk about here. Specifically I would like to discuss Madhavananda Prabhu’s point concerning the Linga Purana. As a quick summary, the Puranas are Hindu scriptures that generally tell of divine and human histories, often from the point of view of a particular god. I have referred extensively on this blog to the Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam, which tells the story of Krishna and related avatars. While the Srimad Bhagavatam states that Krishna or Vishnu is the supreme Deity, other puranas state that their respective subjects are the supreme Deities. So the Devi Purana thus thinks that Durga or Devi is the Supreme Goddess out of who emerges all other manifestations of divinity. The Linga Purana is one of the puranas devoted to Lord Shiva, and not only does it state that Shiva is the Supreme Deity, but also that Vishnu doesn’t even exist. He is merely a dream of Shiva.

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Durtal – II

19 08 2021
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/28/Notre_Dame_de_Chartres.jpg/1920px-Notre_Dame_de_Chartres.jpg

Zelus domus tuae comedit me

July 16th, 2021

It was hard to get anything done that morning. Fortunately, I had the day off. I was finishing some work in the very early morning (remember on weekdays I get up at 3 am), when I checked Twitter and noticed something was abuzz. A document had come out from the Vatican about the traditional Latin Mass, but it wasn’t translated yet and wild reports were circulating about what it meant. I tried to muddle through the Italian, which is harder than you’d think for someone with a working knowledge of Latin and Spanish fluency. However, it became clear what the document meant. Traditiones Custodes issued by Pope Francis was meant to walk back the generous and theologically significant 2007 motu proprio of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum. As I’ve written several times over the years, 2007 marked a point in the traditionalist movement when the old Mass became available to a larger number of Catholics in the United States, Europe, and a few other parts of the world. Priests no longer needed special permission from the Vatican to say the old Mass akin to getting a permit to handle nuclear waste or James Bond’s license to kill. A priest could just say the old Mass whenever it was requested of him by enough of his faithful, which opened up the traditional Mass to a lot of “normal” people (i.e. people not like me).

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Durtal – I

14 08 2021

Early morning driving

It’s three o’clock. Not early for me really. I arise from my bed, alone, do the necessary, and I am out the door in about fifteen minutes.

This time, not to work. But still, early morning driving is the same all days. My wondering if neighbors are alarmed by my being up and about at this hour (they are probably used to it). The random car that meets you at a stop light or sign (“What is that person doing up? Where are they going?”) Good luck if you have to get gas or if, before COVID-19, you wanted to run to the store for a very early errand (a couple of them used to be open at this hour). I once saw a family of four doing their grocery shopping at three in the morning. The youngest may have been two years old. You might see vagrants in front of a convenience store, trying to hitch a ride to somewhere, anywhere. A policeman might role up to the gas station for a cup of coffee, another person might be filling up their tank (again, what are they doing up at this hour?)

The thing that scares me most is the thought of hitting an animal. I have seen some weird ones at this hour: foxes, armadillos, tons of possums and raccoons. There was a doe and her faun who lived a mile from our house, you would see them dart into the woods during the spring days. At night, they would stand comfortably next to the road, until I rolled passed. I stopped in front of them and they fled in a panic. Down the road, I saw a deer leap over a four foot fence when my car came upon it in the middle of the road.

There is an audio book playing in the car. I dart past the eighteen wheelers and the random cars that also happen to be on this interstate. I envision in my mind’s eye what each exit looks like in the daylight, what animals must be up and about in those woods, what creatures are hunting and which fleeing for their lives. The loneliness and darkness hits you sometimes, like you’re one of the few people who survived some global calamity. “Everyone else is asleep. I am an island in this vast sea of silence.”

I get to the temple after about an hour. It is dark save for a light or two. I am weary but still quite awake. A devotee or two might see me and greet me quietly.

“Hare Krishna.”

“Hare Krishna prabhu!”

“I’m ok. Hari bol!”

Someone is in the corner chanting japa quietly. I look at the large head of Lord Jagannath, smiling, with a flower for a dimple below His nose. The bell rings on the door, open and close, open and close. Finally, after a few have gathered, the pujari blows on the conch. The curtain opens.

“Jai Sri Sri Radha Radha Kantha”.

I fall down flat sideways. Like a stick….

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Grifting

10 08 2021

The reason I wanted to read Wilfrid Sheed’s novel The Hack is that I was once involved in Catholic writing some years ago, and even got a check for it (which I donated to the Church). I was never more than an “amateur” and never sought to make it a regular source of income. Sheed’s novel is about a “professional” Catholic writer in the early 1960’s who has a severe case of writer’s block brought about by a crisis of faith. The protagonist author, Bertam Flax, writes kitschy emotional dreck for Catholic magazines and gives talks based on his notoriety as an author. This is how he supports his non-Catholic wife and their five children. The message of the novel is that Flax never really matured in his faith past the mediocre spirituality expressed in his poems and stories. The novel is supposed to be a cautionary tale about having an overly mercenary attitude towards your beliefs. Flax was supposedly Catholic just to make a buck, and not a Catholic who happened to make a living from his faith.

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Summorum Pontificum 2007-2021

17 07 2021

Note: I first published this on July 10th, 2007

But since in this dialogue Socrates is about to derogate pleasure and Philebus has called pleasure, “Venus,” he hastens to make atonement, fearing a goddess’ name especially as a pious man should. Atonement is the restoration of holiness that has been destroyed. Holiness is devotion to holy things…

-Marsilio Ficino, The Philebus Commentary

Eneadum genetrix hominum divumque voluptas, Alma Venus coeli subter labentia signa Quae mare navigerum quae terras frugiferentes Concelebras; per te quoniam genus omne animatum Concipitur, visitque exortum lumina solis.


-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura


The sanctuary at the seminary church in La Reja has an area between two pillars that leads to the apse with the side altars. There, on the epistle side, the professor of liturgy was waiting in the wings and watching attentively. On the altar, a recently ordained priest was saying the 11:30 a.m. Mass. I watched my professor watch the new priest. He was making sure that the man on the altar was saying his Mass correctly: that he was making all of the Signs of the Cross as indicated, that the genuflections were graceful and not twitchy, that he was not saying his Mass too quickly, etc., etc. This was a Mass you had to learn how to say, and new priests were game to be critiqued if they are not performing the actions properly.


This was in the Society of St. Pius X, but I am sure every traditionalist religious order has some of these concerns. The flip side of the Motu Proprio cheerleading has been expressed by some, but I will say it explicitly. Oftentimes the old Mass, for better or for worse, was a chore that had to be endured and far from a spiritual experience. Many priests hated saying the old Mass, and many who remember it now probably said, “good riddance” to it back then. The fact is that the liturgical reform of the 1960’s was the destruction of the old liturgical ethos of the Roman Church and the creation of a new one. I would summarize it very briefly by saying that before, liturgy was something you had to DO, and now it is something that you have to UNDERSTAND.


Indeed, when the divine causes and the human preparations resembling them are united in one and the same act, the acomplishment of the sacrifice achieves all things and bestows great blessings.


-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis


Catechisms from the 1950’s often talked about the necessity of sacrifice in human culture, and those sacrifices needing to be accomplished through a certain set of rules. Sacrifice, for better or for worse, always has a cause and effect mechanism behind it: the sacrifice is done correctly, and the blessings are bestowed. The SSPX put out a document earlier this decade stating that the reform of the liturgy had much to do with the putting aside of the idea of Anselm’s idea of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross being primarily vicarious satisfaction for the sins of the world and its replacement with the idea of the “Paschal Mystery”, something supposedly more ill-defined and Patristic. This is, according to the Lefebvrist theologians, the reason why the idea of the Mass as a sacrifice that takes away sins is no longer emphasized.


In this sacrificial culture, then, the actions of my seminary professor-priest make much more sense. Even if it is not explicitly stated, the very human (read: pagan) idea of accomplishing the cult correctly was at the heart of the rubricism before the Second Vatican Council. The Mass was something that had to appease the wrath of God against sinful humanity. Therefore, it had to be accomplished according to a complicated set of rules, in a language no one could understand, and having parts that were uttered secretly by the priest. (One commenter said that he likes the Mass for the text, which I find highly ironic since most of the “text” was not meant to be heard by the laity anyway.) These were principles that were never defined, but they were nevertheless in the “back of the mind” of Western civilization.


I will not say one way or the other whether or not this idea is correct. And it is still present to some extent even in many Masses said according to the Pauline Missal. (People still have Masses said for particular intentions.) But the Liturgical Movement and the Novus Ordo Missae were very much concessions to the idea of liturgy that was first put forward by the Reformers. Having moved away from the theology of vicarious satisfaction, liturgy is conceived of as something more for the people as the Body of Christ and less for a wrathful and distant God receiving again the Blood of His Son to redeem the sins of the world. It is the remembrance of what Christ has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection. Hence, the greater freedom in how it is carried out, the vernacular tongue, and the general emphasis on interaction with the people. It is admitted by virtually all that this has led to abuses and many undignified things take place during these ceremonies. The degree of gravity, however, of the wrongness of what goes on during these ceremonies depends on what you conceive the liturgy as primarily being. If it is an act of the cult of sacrifice, it is a grave transgression against the order of things. If it is a manifestation of the synaxis of the People of God, it is just people behaving rowdily. Has anyone gone to Hell because of a liturgical abuse?

The bottom line is that these divergent cultures are so distinct now that to think that one can influence the other amounts to wishful thinking. The ethos behind one is completely different from the ethos of the other. While aesthetic radicals like myself love Gregorian chant, Latin, and all of the highly stylized gestures of the old rite, many Catholics who remember them are just glad they do not have to “do that crap” anymore. The ecclesial cultures behind both rites are just too divergent now, and let us face facts: traditionalists constitute a tiny fraction of total Catholics in the world. Even with a greater allowance of the old rite, the only thing that will emerge in my opinion is a niche market style of liturgies similar to Anglican praxis of “churchmanships”. Perhaps it will not fracture the Church, but it will not serve to unite it either. Then again, maybe nothing will.

So I am glad that the Holy Father finally put out his Motu Proprio. I even read it in the original Latin. But part of me fears that this is just “his thing”. He may have very good reasons for it, but it may all just be a case of trying to put something back into Pandora’s liturgical box.

Postscript in 2021: I was right.





The Gregorian soul

4 07 2021

Some time ago, I became fascinated with French organ music from the late 19th and early 20th century. I am not sure why, because it doesn’t really appeal to me aesthetically. Honestly, the organ hasn’t really been a favorite instrument. I suppose I am more interested in this music as tradition. At least in the recent past, the organ has played a substantial role in Catholic music, so in order to properly understand the evolution of the Catholic liturgy over the last two centuries, one inevitably encounters the organist and their instrument. In France in particular, with the likes of Charles-Marie Widor, Cesar Franck, and Louis Vierne, you have not only famous organists in prominent churches but figures who played an influential role in the emergence of the music of the modern French school. One of the last figures of this school, one whose life spans the ascent and decline of the Catholic cultural revival in France between the wars, was the organist and composer Maurice Duruflé.

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Doubt

5 06 2021

Steve Skojec of the Catholic traditionalist website, OnePeterFive, wrote a post on his personal blog entitled Against Crippled Religion about his struggles and difficulties with the current state of the Church. Skojec like most Catholic traditionalists has had a difficult time in the last eight years or so. That is because Pope Francis, who I have argued elsewhere is the embodiment of the actual zeitgeist of the Catholic Church, has done much to bring consternation to those of more conservative ecclesiastical opinions. For example, he has raised the possibility of bringing divorced Catholics back to the Holy Communion table without the requisite annulment paperwork, he has thawed Catholic attitudes toward LGBT people, and he has presented a much more “Low Church” veneer to the world. People like Skojec consider such a neo-aggiornamento an abandonment of spiritual duty by Church authority akin to parental neglect. What is a more personal catalyst for Skojec’s piece is the betrayal he has felt from the supposed “good guys” like the Fraternity of St. Peter priest who is refusing to give his children the sacraments due to their stricter observance of COVID-19 social distancing protocols. While I won’t take sides in that personal conflict, it is compelling in the context of Skojec’s other story of feeling betrayed as a youth by the Legionaries of Christ, another conservative religious order.

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Some dogs go to Heaven

22 05 2021

Nothing begins, and nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan,
For we are born in other’s pain,
And perish in our own.

-from “Daisy” by Francis Thompson

As my final installment summarizing my thoughts on the Chaitanya Charitamrita, I wanted to present the one anecdote from this scripture that summarizes the real spirit of Krishna consciousness. And, as could be expected, this anecdote involves a dog.

The story is told at the beginning of the Antya Lila. Śivānanda Sena found a dog who he began to feed. One day, when the dog wasn’t fed, he wandered off and was thought lost. Later, Śivānanda Sena and other devotees found that the dog had made his way to the feet of Lord Chaitanya, and that the Lord was feeding him. To their surprise, Lord Chaitanya was also teaching the dog to chant the Holy Names. The episode concludes:

When he saw the dog sitting in that way and chanting the name of Kṛṣṇa, Śivānanda, because of his natural humility, immediately offered his obeisances to the dog just to counteract his offenses to it. The next day, no one saw that dog, for it had obtained its spiritual body and departed for Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual kingdom. Such are the transcendental pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the son of mother Śacī. He even delivered a dog simply by inducing it to chant the mahā-mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa. (Antya 1.31-33)

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On remaining Catholic

20 05 2021

This post from OnePeterFive is making the rounds, and assuming it’s genuine, I have a number of thoughts about it. I would contrast this poor seminarian’s experience with my own, in the sense that I went to a traditionalist seminary precisely to get away from the problems he writes about. As a fellow seminary drop-out, I could smugly say that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, however, I would rather just jot down a few thoughts as someone who is “between confessions”, whatever that means (there are days I am confused about it myself).

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