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.

Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021

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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On true and false renunciation

19 04 2021

After hearing the prayer of Dabira Khāsa and Sākara Mallika, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “My dear Dabira Khāsa, you two brothers are My old servants. “My dear Sākara Mallika, from this day your names will be changed to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Sanātana. Now please abandon your humility, for My heart is breaking to see you so humble. “You have written several letters showing your humility. I can understand your behavior from those letters. “By your letters, I could understand your heart. Therefore, in order to teach you, I sent you one verse, which reads as follows. “ ‘If a woman is attached to a man other than her husband, she will appear very busy in carrying out her household affairs, but within her heart she is always relishing feelings of association with her paramour.’ (CC Madhya 1: 207-211)

“You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy the material world in a befitting way and do not become attached to it.” Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued, “Within your heart you should keep yourself very faithful, but externally you may behave like an ordinary man. Thus Kṛṣṇa will soon be very pleased and deliver you from the clutches of māyā. (CC Madhya 16: 238-239)

The word markaṭa-vairāgya, indicating false renunciation, is very important in this verse. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, in commenting on this word, points out that monkeys make an external show of renunciation by not accepting clothing and by living naked in the forest. In this way they consider themselves renunciants, but actually they are very busy enjoying sense gratification with dozens of female monkeys. Such renunciation is called markaṭa vairāgya — the renunciation of a monkey. One cannot be really renounced until one actually becomes disgusted with material activity and sees it as a stumbling block to spiritual advancement. Renunciation should not be phalgu, temporary, but should exist throughout one’s life. Temporary renunciation, or monkey renunciation, is like the renunciation one feels at a cremation ground. When a man takes a dead body to the crematorium, he sometimes thinks, “This is the final end of the body. Why am I working so hard day and night?” Such sentiments naturally arise in the mind of any man who goes to a crematorial ghāṭa. However, as soon as he returns from the cremation grounds, he again engages in material activity for sense enjoyment. This is called śmaśāna-vairāgya, or markaṭa-vairāgya. (CC Madhya 16: 238 purport)

As a young man, I renounced the world twice. The first time was quite grave and seemed definitive, the second was a continuation of the first, a quick “do-over”. When I went off to renounce the world to do religious stuff, I really didn’t think I would come back. There was precedent: I had grown up poor and I had wanted to be a priest when I was a young man. I thought I was following my desire the whole time of my renunciation. It’s taken me years to figure out that this was not the case.

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On the reform of the reform

25 02 2021

I was listening to a podcast about Catholic liturgy, namely the idea of the “reform of the reform”. The podcast interested me because it recapitulated a phase of my life as a young Catholic man in the late 20th century. I grew up with very liberal, very free-wheeling liturgy as a Catholic in California. When I began to take my faith more seriously, I saw the problems with the ritual (or lack of it) at my local parish. I was not alone in this at the time. The podcast mentioned a book by Msgr. Klaus Gamber called Reform of the Roman Liturgy which I read in college. This podcast speaker claims that this book is among the first to call out the lack of continuity in the reform of Roman Catholic ritual in the late 20th century and thus advocate a reform of that reform towards a more traditional direction. This book was praised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict took many measures to make the reformed liturgy more traditional, at least when he celebrated it. He also allowed again the celebration of the old unreformed liturgy.

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A review of Work of Human Hands

23 11 2020

An “ex-Catholic’s” look at Fr. Anthony Cekada’s book

When I learned of Fr. Anthony Cekada’s death earlier this year, my thoughts turned to another lifetime ago. I was in the Society of St. Pius X seminary in La Reja. It was summer and thus very hot (no air conditioning, of course). I was in the seminary library by myself supposedly answering the phone (no one ever called). I found a stack of journals to pass the time, among them one called “Sacerdotium”. It was in English and dated from the 1990’s. Unlike so many other traditionalist publications, this one contained decent writing. Namely, the author who stood out was one Anthony Cekada. The content of his articles consisted of the same sedevacantist arguments, yet he added quite a bit of humor to it. Some of it was hit or miss, but overall I enjoyed the effort.

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Catholic guru-tattva

25 04 2020

Because the Supreme Personality of Godhead does not actually touch or mix with matter, there are three intersections of Krishna and the material manifestation that are the hardest nuts to crack theologically. The first is Siva-tattva: in Krishna consciousness, Lord Shiva is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He touches and mixes with matter. Shiva presides over the mode of ignorance (tamas), He is God as He works in matter. That is why in the Puranas He is known as Mahadeva, the Great God. But He is not Krishna: if Krishna is milk, Shiva is yogurt which is milk altered in a process to make it “not-milk”. Nevertheless, Shiva is unique in the material manifestation: He stands on the border between the spiritual and material worlds. Read the rest of this entry »

Fr. Daniel Cooper, SSPX

23 02 2020

As you can see, I really don’t have this whole consistent blogging thing in me anymore. Part of this is due to time commitments, but a larger part is I have ran out of things to say. For years, I have struggled with belief and unbelief. Indeed, this has been a struggle for me most of my adult life. It has only been fairly recently that I could really say that, yes, I do believe in God. This has been the case even though I have consistently identified on the outside as a Catholic, and have put up a good front as was expected of me. To be honest, I don’t find answers in Catholicism, and I’m about tired of looking. And to continue that honesty, I would rather not elaborate on it. Those who have been paying attention will probably have some inkling of my actual predilections. I just don’t want my public writing to degenerate into justifications as to why I left Catholicism or why I think Christianity is wrong. I don’t find that useful, and I don’t think it’s very truthful in my case. To my Catholic and Christian readers, I want you to stay on that path. I support you on it, even if I can’t follow along. Read the rest of this entry »

My so-called Neo-Scholastic life

22 12 2019

In spite of philosophy having been an obsession for me since I was a teenager, I have only taken three philosophy classes in my life. In college, it was a Chicano Studies class that I needed to take for another reason, which was just awful. The other two classes were my first year of philosophy in seminary, and I failed both miserably. This was due to my ongoing distraction concerning my actual vocation, and also due to the structure of instruction itself. Lectures were often dry and just reading from notes, on the one hand, and tests were literally just “fill in these twelve lines” format. In other words, it was all about rote learning. There was no real deep explanation concerning what any of it meant: they just wanted to see if you “knew the answer”. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing shadows

9 12 2019

I must have went to my first traditional Latin Mass when I was a teenager in 1993 or 1994. The Mass took place at a Marian shrine about an hour away from our house. As I remember, the Mass was done only once a month, at 7 pm on the first Saturday. At that time, only five or six years removed from Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, the document liberalizing the use of the old Latin Mass, this dearth of celebration of the Latin Mass was quite common. Mind you, this was also pre-Internet (or widespread use of the Internet). How my old friend, blind and 80 years old, found out about it is also a mystery to me to this day. The celebrant was an old Irish-American monsignor who no doubt missed the old liturgy but had gone along with the changes anyway. The venue was the one parish where liberal bishops like to send the conservative trouble makers and rabble-rousers, the folks who write the bishop every month complaining about this or that. These people tend to now “tweet @” or message their prelates on social media. Back then, it was “snail mail” only. Read the rest of this entry »

The day I stopped being a Catholic traditionalist

6 12 2019

The title of this post is misleading. I didn’t stop being a Catholic traditionalist suddenly on a single day. That would not have been feasible anyway as I was living in a seminary on another continent with no way of promptly leaving. I don’t think I even knew at this point whether I would continue at the seminary or not. On the other hand, just as a crack in a foundation can indicate the certain demise of a building, there was one incident that signaled to me that my days of adherence to fundamentalist Catholicism were numbered. Read the rest of this entry »