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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Haridasa Thakur and the critique of Abrahamic religion

3 05 2021

Having been born into Roman Catholicism, and having practiced it quite fervently as an adult, the question always looms as to what the role of Christianity is in Krishna consciousness. More ecumenical types want to make it seem that “it’s all good”: bhakti is bhakti, God is one and devotion to Him is also one. Others, however, refuse to be that conciliatory considering the Christian turning of a blind eye towards meat eating and other vices. In fact, my summary of Srila Prabhupada’s attitude on this matter is that he thought that Christianity was very close to Vaishnavism, except for the meat eating and his claims that Christians didn’t know the name of God. He was quite animate about these objections at times.

Yet if we look closely, Christianity was dealt with in Hare Krishna scripture. Well, not directly, but through the assessment of Islam particular in the writings describing gaura-lila: the life of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We have to remember that many of the major protagonists at this time had to deal directly with Muslims, up to learning their scriptures, perhaps even in Arabic itself. If we consider Islam as an outgrowth of Christianity, but perhaps with a slightly more impersonalist flavor, the early Gaudiya Vaishnavas were well-acquainted with it. One major figure was even an ex-Muslim, the namacharya Srila Haridasa Thakur.

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Pancha Tattva

30 04 2021

This post will be one in which I write down my understanding of something hoping that I am mostly right. The Pancha Tattva is what one could call the “Hare Krishna Trinity,” except it’s a pentarchy.

śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya prabhu-nityānanda,śrī-advaita gadādhara śrīvāsādi-gaura-bhakta-vṛnda

To break this mantra down into the five elements:

Sri Krishna Chaitanya: The Golden Avatar of Krishna, a combined incarnation of Krishna and Srimati Radharani, taking on Srimati Radharani’s golden complexion.

Lord Nityananda: The incarnation of Lord Balarama, an avadhuta, He just really wants you to chant the Holy Names of the Lord.

Advaita Acharya: The incarnation of Maha Vishnu and Lord Shiva embracing, or the expansion of Krishna directly responsible for the material manifestation. His prayers are key to calling Krishna’s mercy down into this Kali Yuga.

Gadhadara Pandit: Also an incarnation of Srimati Radharani (confusing, I know), basically here to see how the whole “combined incarnation” of Lord Chaitanya goes and make sure things don’t get out of hand. He represents more the internal mission of Lord Chaitanya in this age.

Srivasa Thakura: An incarnation of Narada Muni. The captain or leader of the devotees. He represents more the external mission of Lord Chaitanya.

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Enthusiasm

23 04 2021

Suddenly, a woman from Orissa, unable to see Lord Jagannātha because of the crowd, climbed the column of Garuḍa, placing her foot on Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s shoulder. When he saw this, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s personal servant, Govinda, hastily got her down from her position. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, chastised him for this. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said to Govinda, “O ādi-vasyā [uncivilized man], do not forbid this woman to climb the Garuḍa-stambha. Let her see Lord Jagannātha to her satisfaction.” When the woman came to her senses, however, she quickly climbed back down to the ground and, seeing Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, immediately begged at His lotus feet for forgiveness. Seeing the woman’s eagerness, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “Lord Jagannātha has not bestowed so much eagerness upon Me. “She has fully absorbed her body, mind and life in Lord Jagannātha. Therefore she was unaware that she was putting her foot on My shoulder. “Alas! How fortunate this woman is! I pray at her feet that she favor Me with her great eagerness to see Lord Jagannātha.” (CC Antya 14: 24-30)

As I have stated previously, I try to break down complex concepts into the simplest terms that I can understand. In that regard, I once stated to a devotee that the mood of the gopis is akin to the mood of screaming enthusiastic girls at pop or rock concerts back in the day. They think day and night about Krishna, their whole life is about getting a glimpse of Krishna, being in His presence, and finally being with Him by themselves in secret. Even during the rasa-lila, the height of all existence and the dance around which all else dances, each gopi felt like she was dancing with Krishna as if she was the only one there when in actuality He had multiplied Himself numerous times to be with each one. That’s like the young woman (and young man nowadays, perhaps) who thinks that the pop star is singing directly to her in a stadium full of other screaming fans.

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Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021
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If there is one difficult thing about reading Vedic scripture as a modern Western person (aside from all of the many-headed cosmic snakes and superhero powers), it’s how differently we have come to perceive protagonists in a story. In the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam in particular, Lord Ramachandra and Krishna are pure unadulterated heroes, or at the very least, they have a cartoonish and irresistible charm. Their enemies are only their enemies for the sake of the story, but everyone else seems to love them. Lord Rama in particular is the Perfect Man who can do no wrong. He doesn’t even sigh a hint of displeasure at being banished to the forest or when He has to banish Sita, nor does He ever lament His hardship. His family, on the other hand, blame themselves for not collapsing dead on the spot from witnessing Lord Rama’s misfortune. Krishna, on the other hand, tries to misbehave as a child and as a youth, but people still love Him anyway. They even love Him because of His misbehavior. In both cases, we are faced with an inexplicable charm and attraction. Something I think we very modern people can’t really imagine at this point.

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Let’s talk about sex…

20 04 2021
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While Pradyumna Miśra remained seated there, Rāmānanda Rāya took the two girls to a solitary place. With his own hand, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya massaged their bodies with oil and bathed them with water. Indeed, Rāmānanda Rāya cleansed their entire bodies with his own hand. Although he dressed the two young girls and decorated their bodies with his own hand, he remained unchanged. Such is the mind of Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya. While touching the young girls, he was like a person touching wood or stone, for his body and mind were unaffected. Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya used to act in that way because he thought of himself in his original position as a maidservant of the gopīs. Thus although externally he appeared to be a man, internally, in his original spiritual position, he considered himself a maidservant and considered the two girls gopīs. The greatness of the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is exceedingly difficult to understand. Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya is unique among them all, for he showed how one can extend his ecstatic love to the extreme limit. (CC Antya 5: 16-21)

Now, I’ve seen a lot of things, read a lot of stories, and heard a lot of anecdotes, but the one above takes the cake for the weirdest one where carnal matters are concerned. The context is that Srila Ramananda Raya was teaching these girls how to perform a drama that he composed for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath. He didn’t just pick any girls, but the most beautiful ones he could find, talented devis dasis with the greatest amount of charm and natural beauty. The modern dirty mind, like mine honestly, would assume that maybe he simply didn’t like women in that way. But that’s not the implication here. Modern gender theorists would have a field day with the history of early Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Ramananda Raya didn’t just think himself a gopi, some state that he WAS a gopi in human male drag, specifically, the gopi Lalita, the chief assistant to Srimati Radharani in the celestial Vrindavan. And he wasn’t the only one: many of the Six Goswamis were really sakhis, or assistants to the gopis in the spiritual world who are themselves young girls. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a seventeenth century Gaudiya Vaishnava saint, is said to have transformed back into a nine year old girl in order to escape government troops who were chasing him, only to transform again into an adult male once the danger had passed.

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