Friday, April 27, 2018

Not the St. Paul I Know and Love: About Paul the Apostle of Christ Movie

Did you ever watch a move made from a  book you loved and feel let down because the filmmakers left out all the things you liked about the story and fecklessly changed many other things? That’s what I felt after going to see "Paul the Apostle of Christ."  They left out all my favorite parts of some of my favorite books.

As a summary, they show early Christians as loving, but avoid showing the sacramental life they must have practiced. Faith is almost reduced to social work. To me the story banalizes St. Paul, St. Luke, and the early Christians.

The Scriptural story about how St. Paul was converted from a persecutor of Christians to a lover of Christ to his martyrdom is riveting. So is the story of how he walked thousands of miles and suffered beatings and deprivations to bring the good news of Christ to the ancient world, and of how he ended up in Rome by shrewdly claiming his rights as a Roman citizen when brought to trial in Israel. 
But the movie--not so riveting. If I could have left without disturbing the person to my right in her recliner seat, I would have walked out soon after the movie started. So I settled for cat naps through the rest of the movie. Those new recliner seats are great.

I was looking for the saints Paul and Luke who I love and couldn't find them in the movie. There is so much real drama in the New Testament, the filmmaker didn't need to concoct what to me is an uninteresting, unbelievable story. Some say you won’t be able to follow the story unless you know the Acts of the Apostles, which isn’t going to be a good thing for most viewers. But then, I know the Acts account well,  and I couldn’t follow their story anyway. 

They didn't quote the Scriptures in any coherent way, even though they claim in interviews to have started with the Scriptures. Part of a sentence of dialogue from Paul will be an authentic quote, and the rest will be made up. The next sentence doesn’t follow from the first, so the true doctrine of Christ doesn’t ever get spoken. 
The tag line was "Love is the only Way.” That is not the message of Christ.  He told us He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. And even more importantly He said, to show that you belong to Me, keep My commandments. 

There is a lot of complexity to the the Catholic faith, with mysteries such as Baptism, the ordained priesthood, the papacy, and the Eucharist, but our minds are only opened to understanding it all when we realize who Christ is and respond with love to what He did for us. It is trivializing to boil it all down to one simplistic slogan.

Based on one verse in one of St. Paul's letters saying "only Luke is with me,” in the movie Luke comes to Rome to find Paul, who is imprisoned. By a prearrangement, Luke connects with a group of Catholics led by Priscilla and Aquila. 
In the New Testament account, Paul met the couple Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth and lived with them and made tents with them AFTER they had been expelled by Claudius from Rome because Aquila was a Jew and  BEFORE the time Paul was taken to Rome by the authorities.
On Luke's way to meet up with the Catholics, we get to see Christians "burning like candles" to light the streets by Nero's order. It seemed as though the filmmakers had to throw in some shocking violence.
The scriptwriters have Luke writing the Acts of the Apostles while visiting Paul in prison.  Luke is allowed to freely visit Paul after he is found sneaking into the prison and brought to the prison commander, although the script doesn't believably indicate the commander's motivation. 

The central dramatic point seems to be that the Catholics are undecided about whether to flee Rome to avoid the fate of many others who are sent to die in the Coliseum. Priscilla wants to stay because she is helping people. 
The movie reduces Christianity to be kindness and social work. The sacramental Catholicism of the early Church is not shown. The Christians who are hiding out together resemble a group of well-meaning hippies. To my mind, they would have gathered to worship Christ and pray. They would have taken care of each other but wouldn’t have had that as their main focus.  But the movie doesn’t show them worshiping together or remembering Christ’s death in the Mass.

To me St. Paul is a powerfully attractive person because the Lord revealed Himself and all His truth to him at a single stroke.  He became the Apostle to the Gentiles.  In the movie, he is an old man in prison, without enough context. He could have had such great lines, if they used the New Testament, such as the ones he wrote that without the Resurrection our faith is vain. 

Spoiler alerts follow.
Luke is a doctor, so he is called to help the dying daughter of the prison commander. Luke says her lungs are filling up with blood, then he dramatically punctures a hole in her rib cage--with her father’s sword--to allow blood to drain. And then Luke sends the commander to the hideout to get some healing drugs, exposing the Catholics to possible arrest. Then everyone is shown praying for the little girl. She recovers immediately.  Maybe it was the medicine? Her mother and father embrace her with no attempt to avoid the area which Luke had recently opened in the back of chest, so the hole might have healed miraculously. It’s as though the filmmakers are afraid to portray a miracle.  The commander doesn't arrest the hiding Catholics. That's nice.

This would have been a good opportunity to have portrayed a conversion by the father, who had been tediously offering sacrifices to multiple Roman gods to ask for his daughter’s healing.  It would make sense that he would credit her cure to the one God worshiped by Luke, the courageous man who helped him at great risk to the Christians, But no. 

The commander and Paul have a chuckle together in a garden where Paul is now allowed to stroll with Luke before getting his head chopped off. They chuckle because even though the commander had prayed unsuccessfully to the Roman gods to no avail, he tells Paul, I still don't believe in your Nazarene. 
That's okay, it's implied. All you need is love. 

Maybe John Lennon and Yoko Ono were channeling St. Paul? But really, applying simplistic motives to the heroes of our Faith is just not good enough.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Love and Not-Love At the Movies


I hardly dare to watch modern movies any more. With a few exceptions, such as the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies, almost all of them portray something about the relationship between men and women that revolts me. My biggest objection is that the intimacy that should be reserved for faithful, sacramental, marriage is something that men and women jump into in most movies, as if the act of intimacy doesn’t create any real connection with the other person. The one-fleshment spoken of in Scripture is ignored. In movies these days, when a man and woman come together in that provisional manner, that's supposed to be a happy ending.

As it goes in most romantic movies, even after a big buildup, after two people are attracted to each other, obstacles are overcome, and they realize they really like each other, boom, they go to bed. In most cases, consummating the attraction comes far too soon in the modern movie (or real life, from what I hear tell) for the couple to say I love you. Or if the three little words are said, they imply no real commitment.

The much-awaited consummation only means “we want to be with each other with no strings, and after an undetermindedly long time of trying each other out, we may decide to marry. In the meantime, we’d better hope we beat the significant chance of conceiving a child we ‘aren’t ready for’ even if we use birth control religiously, because then we'd have to make the 'hard-choice.'”

This is not to mention the other unspoken risks, the possibility that the desired person may be carrying a venereal disease from a previous partner. As most of us are aware, when you are intimate with another, you sleep with every one that person has ever slept with and every person every one of those persons has ever slept with, an exponentially mounting number of partners that could reach 100 or more.

Then there is the real possible loss of "some of the best months and years" of their life and their fertility (for the woman) to a lover who may not turn out to really love them after all.

Conditional not-love or love, it’s all depressing to me. I grew up in a time when happily-ever-after  at the movies usually meant love and marriage and a series of baby carriages. And I lived through the years when morality was turned upside down, and what had been seen as hurtful, shameful, and sinful became normal and expected. Nobody has written much about the casualties of the sexual revolution, but the casualties are many, and the count is mounting higher every day.

In reality, having to put up barriers between yourself and your so-called lover, to prevent a pregnancy, to protect yourself against a devastating disease, or to keep your emotions in check to fend off a broken heart almost guarantees there is no real giving, no real union. And no real contentment. How can there be when you are not sure the person will be there with you a year from now, or even for breakfast the next day?

I’ll be watching a movie, greatly interested in the story as it’s going along, and suddenly comes a seduction scene. I don't watch porn or R rated movies, so I  don’t see any genitals, but I do glimpse people being passionate with each other until they fall into bed, and maybe even after they fall into bed you see some things. And then there is the waking up in bed together part.

When they start kissing passionately and shedding clothes, I try to find the remote and fast forward. But even though I try to avert my gaze it takes a long, long time to get the scenes out of my mind. And it takes an even longer time to for me to stop being troubled about how the two protagonists who I have come to identify with as I watched them fall for each other can take those risks of breaking their hearts, scarring their emotions, infecting their bodies, and pretty much ruining their lives.





Sunday, December 03, 2017

Questions About the Coming Consecration of California to Mary (12/9/2017)


Thousands, perhaps millions, of California Catholics are planning to attend a Mass, pray a rosary, and offer other prayers between noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 9 at various locations around the state, with the intention to consecrate California to Our Lord through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 

Some wonder why a specific consecration of our state is needed, because Pope Saint John Paul II already consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on May 13, 1982. Decades before him, Pope Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary—on two separate occasions.  As someone recently asked, Is California not part of the world?

In addition to the previous world-wide consecrations—although few people know this—California was solemnly dedicated to the Mother of God one hundred and seventy four years ago. When the proposed state-wide consecration was first publicized on Facebook a few weeks ago,  Father Anthony Hernandez, pastor of Saint Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church, Los Gatos, pointed out that California was dedicated to Our Lady even before it was a state, and provided the following information from "Our Lady of Refuge, patroness,” from Catholic San Francisco, written by his friend, Brother John Sahama.

 "When both Alta and Baja Californias were still part of Mexico, their first bishop, Bishop Francisco Diego Garcia y Moreno, dedicated both Californias to the Mother of God under the title, Nuestra Señora del Refugio/Our Lady of Refuge, with the feast day being July 4.

“In 1843, in his official declaration of the dedication of the Californias, Bishop Garcia y Moreno wrote: ‘We make known to you that we hereby name the great Mother of God in her most precious title, del Refugio, the principal patroness of our diocese . . . With so great a patroness and protectress, what can we not promise ourselves? What can be wanting and whom need we fear? ... If through the centuries this most worthy Mother of God has shown goodness and compassion to all peoples and nations . . . will she not do likewise for those peoples who bind themselves to her as their refuge and special patroness?’

“In the American period, when Alta California became part of the United States, the feast was generally no longer observed, except in the San Diego diocese. A few decades ago the California Catholic Conference of Bishops re-adopted the feast, but on July 5th instead (as July 4 in the U.S. is Independence Day. Many missions have the image of Nuestra Señora del Refugio."

Bishop Garcia Diego made the proclamation putting the Californias under the protection of  Nuestra Señora del Refugio at Mission Santa Clara in Alta California, which became a state separate from Mexico seven years later, in 1850.

In the restored Santa Clara Mission church on the Santa Clara University campus, a painting of Our Lady of Refuge is found “above the larger picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in one of the side altar niches on the left as one nears the sanctuary. Another painting by Eulalio, a local Native American, is on display in Santa Clara University’s De Saisset Museum near the mission church.”—“Our Lady of Refuge, patroness."
Our Lady of Refuge, probably by Eulalio, at the de Saisset Museum
The image of Our Lady of Refuge became a focal point for Franciscan missionaries in the New World because it gained fame for touching the hearts of sinners wherever it was displayed. As described in Theater of a Thousand Wonders: A History of Miraculous Images and Shrines in New Spain, the first painting that later became known as Our Lady of Refuge was actually a copy of another painting titled Nuestra Senora de la Encina commissioned by Italian Jesuit missionary, Antonio Baldincucci.  Father  Baldincucci took the painting along with him as preached throughout Italy to much success. The inscription: “Refugium Peccatorum. Ora Pro Nobis” (Refuge of Sinners. Pray for Us), was added to his painting, and from that inscription came the title “Our Lady of Refuge.”

A print of the image made its way to the Franciscan Missionary College in Mexico, and later many copies of image and the painting were also made. Soon prints and paintings of the image hung in churches, chapels, and homes throughout the Californias and in many parts of northern Mexico and Texas. When copies of the painting were displayed in processions in Mexico, Our Lady of Refuge continued to inspire many conversions.
Father Baldincucci and the original painting titled Our Lady of Refuge


Today, several California parishes bear the title of Our Lady of Refuge, including the latest parish in San Jose, where the first Mass was celebrated on Sunday Feb. 18, 2011, in a former Protestant worship  building in a densely populated and previously under-served neighborhood.
Why? Why Not?

One possible reply to those who object to the planned consecration of California is another question “Why not?” Who can deny that prayers are still needed for our state?  The intentions behind this grassroots effort are to gather the laity together to pray for Our Lord’s help and Our Lady’s intercession, and a gathering of prayer like that can only help in the battle we all need to fight to combat both our own sinfulness and the besetting evils of our era.
Painted 1780, by José de Paez (1720-1795), at an unspecified location
Soledad Mission Museum, unspecified artist
In San Jose, where I live, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Oratory at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church will join in the state-wide initiative to consecrate California on December 9. The schedule will be:
  • 12:00 noon Mass at the IES Chapel at 1401 East Santa Clara St. 95116
    If you are facing the Five Wounds Church, the chapel is to the right towards the freeway on the other side of the Cristo Rey High School building.
     
  • 1:00 pm Rosary
  • 1:30 pm Prayer of Consecration
More information about the event and a downloadable flyer are at Consecrate California to Mary.











Saturday, November 18, 2017

11/22/2017 Mass Below a Miraculous Crucifix that Embraced the Holy Man of Santa Clara

The day before Thanksgiving this year, on Wednesday, November 22, a group of Catholics will gather at the restored Mission Santa Clara, as they have done for the past nine years. They will attend a sung traditional Latin Mass at 6:30 p.m. and pray for the canonization of Franciscan missionary, Fr. Magin Catala, on the 187th anniversary of his death. Anyone who happens to be in the area is encouraged to attend that Mass.

Fr. Catala was assigned to Mission Santa Clara in 1796, nineteen years after the mission was founded by Saint Junipero Serra in 1777, and he labored there with love and great personal sacrifice for thirty-six years until his death.

According to contemporary eye-witness accounts, Fr. Catala was a mystic, a miracle worker, an exorcist, a prophet, and a wonderfully holy man. A free-for-download 1909 book titled The Holy Man of Santa Clara, (by Fr. Zaephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., published by The James H. Barry Company, San Francisco) describes the miraculous events of his life.

The book records the reports of many reliable witnesses (whose hand-written letters still can be viewed in the University of Santa Clara Library Archives). They tell that they saw Fr. Catala levitate when he prayed in front of a crucifix, and that the figure of Christ detached his hands from the cross and laid them on Fr. Catala’s shoulders.

That very same life-sized crucifix hangs over the altar where Wednesday’s Mass will be celebrated.


A marble marker on the left of the altar marks where the remains of Fr. Catala are buried. Although the gold that originally filled the inscription has since worn away, the letters are still legible.

Another fascinating detail about his life is that only did Fr. Catala levitate like St. Joseph of Cupertino, he was also reportedly seen several times during his life in two places at once, bilocating like St. Padre Pio.
Fifty-four years after he died in 1830, Fr. Catala's cause for canonization was taken up by Archbishop Alemany, the first bishop of San Francisco. Testimony about his life and virtue was submitted to Rome in 1909, but the cause for canonization of this worthy servant of God has stalled for the past 108 years. 

Perhaps you may wish to offer prayers on your own for this cause if you cannot attend the Mass.

If you are interested in attending, you can find the restored Mission Santa Clara Church on the University of Santa Clara campus, at the end of Palm Drive, which is the main drive. Ask directions for parking at the campus entrance, which is located 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053. Be aware that you cannot drive to the entrance of the Mission Church, and the distance between the parking areas and the mission entrance presents a problem for some people who have trouble walking. (Click the map to see a larger view.)

Following are some remarkable prophecies from The Holy Man of Santa Clara:
“It appears that Almighty God in those days allowed His servant a distinct view of the future of California. There were still many witnesses alive in 1884 who under oath declared that the holy man had preached substantially as follows: People from almost all the nations of the earth will come to this coast. Another flag will come from the East and the people that follow it will speak an altogether different language, and they will have a different religion. These people will take possession of the country and the lands. On account of their sins the Californians will lose their lands and become poor, and many of their children's children will give up their own religion.
“‘The Indians will be dispersed, and will not know what to do, and they will be like sheep running wild. Heretics will erect church buildings, but these will not be true temples of God. Sons will be against their fathers, and fathers against their sons, and brother will be against brother. The coming of so many people will create great scarcity, so that a measure of wheat will be bought for its weight in gold. ‘Una fanega de trigo se compraria a peso de oro.’ As a consequence, much distress will come upon the Indians and Californians. ‘I shall not see this,’ he exclaimed, ‘but there are those alive that will see it.’”

 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ecce Agnus Dei: The Priest's Fourth Turn Away from the Altar during the Traditional Latin Mass

The priest holds up the consecrated host during the Ecce Agnus Dei
Did you know that priest turns to face the people, versus populum, seven times during the traditional Latin Mass? During the rest of the Mass, the priest faces the altar, which is located at the "liturgical East" end of the Church, and so, for most of the Mass, the priest is facing in the same direction as the people, towards the Lord.
"For us, the light is Jesus Christ. All the Church is oriented, facing East, toward Christ: ad Dominum." "Cardinal Sarah: ‘How to Put God Back at the Center of the Liturgy’ at the National Catholic Register
The fourth turn of the priest away from the altar during Mass occurs at the prayer "Ecce Agnus Dei." The priest recites this prayer when displaying the consecrated Host to the people before giving them Holy Communion. He says: "Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt" ("Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb").  

Why is Christ called the Lamb of God? Christ as the Passover Lamb is prophesied in the Old Testament and clearly identified in the New.

 “Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer, he was silent and opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  

The Torah instructed the Jews to observe the Feast of Passover, to recall the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Every year at the Passover feast, Jews ate a "lamb without blemish," to remind them of how the night before they fled Egypt, the Jews were instructed to sacrifice and eat a lamb and paint its blood over their doors.  When God sent angels that night to destroy the first-born of the Egyptians, in punishment for the Pharoah's refusal to let His people go, the angels spared (passed over) His people who were protected by the blood of the Pascal Lamb.  

In the New Testament, Christ is called the Lamb of God by St. John the Baptist in the Gospel of John the Evangelist, and He is revealed as the triumphant Lamb in heaven in the Book of Revelation. Christ instituted the Eucharist during His Last Supper, which was a Passover meal. John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him, and he said: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world." 

St. Peter wrote, “Realize that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price, the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb…”  

This closing quote from Catholic Straight Answers  is from an excellent article that provides many rich details to more-completely answer the question "Why is Jesus called the 'Lamb of God'?”  
"The Book of Revelation highlights this notion picturing the Lamb surrounded by angels, the “living creatures,” and elders, who cried out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12).  Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14) who will be victorious against the powers of evil and will invite the righteous to the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), the union of the Church, the new Jerusalem, in heaven with the Lord."
San Vito (Treviso) - Parte Romane del XII secolo
Christ surrounded by the apostles with the Paschal Lamb at the center of the arch. San Vito of Treviso, Italy - Chapel of the Redeemer - twelfth century, by Ognibene of Treviso.  By Didier Descouens (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Comm
ons

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Father Rutler Sets Me Straight About the Altar of Sacrifice

Main [Standalone] Altar at St. Peter's Basilica Rome
It all started after Father George W. Rutler agreed to let me interview him for The Latin Mass Magazine after I conducted an email interview with him for Homiletic and Pastoral Review a few months ago[1].

In one question, I asked his opinion about the disputed topic of whether or not Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Apostolic Constitution on the liturgy published in December 1963, was implemented correctly in the Mass of Pope Paul VI that was mandated at the start of Advent in 1969.

Even now, almost 50 years later, lot of people argue in favor of rethinking some of the changes that were made, including the Church Music Association of America President, Stanford Professor William P. Mahrt [2], along with many others in the CMAA, contributors to the New Liturgical Movement website, and scholars of the liturgical changes of the twentieth century around the world.

Many of the changes that were made to the form of the Mass, the music, the vestments, and even the furnishings and arrangement of churches after the Second Vatican Council were not actually called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium—and in some cases the changes contradicted what Sacrosanctum Concilium literally said.  That line of thinking goes: since some changes were not explicitly required, such as the versus populum posture of the priest, those changes might easily be reversed in Ordinary Form Masses without undermining the reforms.

Others believe that Sacrosanctum Concilium
was deliberately and appropriately worded to leave the way open for additional changes beyond what was explicitly set down. Those who think that way believe that the Ordinary Form Mass as it is ordinarily celebrated now is the correct and complete interpretation of the directives in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and it should be left as it is currently celebrated.

In August of this year. Pope Francis stated that “the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI have by now been universally used in the Roman rite for almost fifty years,” and that there is no possibility of a rethinking of the decisions behind the liturgical changes. And he ended by saying, “we can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

(See Sacrosanctum Concilium A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes for a discussion of the differences between the two points of view.)

Alas, it turned out that Father Rutler was not going to address this thorny topic, among many others that I raised. He wrote me back that he had pressing obligations that would prevent him from answering my extensive questions in the limited time before the deadline for the next issue of the magazine. In his email, he made a few general remarks, and he provided some links to some of his essays about related topics.

Father Rutler replied in detail only about one item out of the following list of changes not in Sacrosanctum Concilium that I had brainstormed to ask him about:

           The almost universal change away from the priest facing ad orientem to versus populum
           Removal of altar rails
           Female altar servers
           Communion in the hand
           Standing instead of kneeling after Communion
           Free-standing altar tables
           Resurrection images replacing crucifixes over the altar
           Churches in the round
           Iconoclasm (removal of images of saints)
           Banners
           Lay lectors
           Lay ministers of Communion
           Concelebration
           Vernacular-only Masses
           The abolishment of Latin and Gregorian chant
           The disuse of the organ
           Hymn singing (the Four-Hymn Sandwich[3]) replacing the sung propers and ordinary

The one thing Father Rutler focused on from that list in his reply was free-standing altar tables. I can’t say whether his silence on the other items implies that he agrees that the others were not mandated by Vatican II, but here is what Father Rutler wrote about that one thing:

“You refer to a ‘free standing table’ when in fact the liturgical guidelines refer to it as an Altar of Sacrifice.  There is nothing about a free standing altar that is inconsistent with traditional liturgy. In fact, the ‘shelf altar‘  is of a later development. Indeed, the ‘fixed tabernacle‘ on the wall attached to the altar developed in the 16th century.  The first to institute it was Cardinal Pole in England.  All the pontifical basilicas in Rome and most elsewhere have always had free standing altars and I say the Ordinary Form ad orientem at a free standing altar.”
I stand corrected. As Daniel Page, one of my Facebook friends from the Church Music Association of America,  commented when I posted about this interchange in my status,
“Yes, those of us who value traditional liturgy always have to be careful to know when the iterations of things existing soon before the cultural and ecclesiastical revolutions of the '60s and '70s were longstanding forms and when they were subject to continuous development (in the Newman sense, of course).”

It’s true that some who reacted with dismay to the changes believe--sometimes erroneously--that the way all things were done at Mass and the way churches were arranged and furnished before Vatican II all were of profound spiritual significance and should not be have been tampered with. I think it’s safe to say this misunderstanding of mine about the widespread change from shelf altars to altars that can be walked around indicates a wider problem.  There is a backstory of emotional trauma behind some people’s reactions against the changes that came down after Vatican II. 

To focus with Father Rutler just on the almost universal change from shelf altar to standalone altar after the council, the worship environment committees in many dioceses directed parish councils in remodeling projects that resulted in the removal of venerable altars that were often irreplaceable works of art.  In many cases, parishioners often witnessed the destruction of beautiful altars that had been in their churches as long as anyone could remember. 

Many of them had never seen a freestanding altar like the ones in St. Peter’s and the other major basilicas in Rome. And it often happened that they themselves or their parents or grandparents had sacrificially donated hard-earned money for the construction of their churches, and so they were understandably devastated when the costly altar and other valuable and treasured elements of church decor were ripped out, buried in church parking lots, sent to the dump, or sold to junk dealers.  We owe some compassion to those who suffered from these kind of changes—which were often made with brutal disregard for both aesthetics and sentiment.

Many of us remember how many priceless artifacts made of precious materials were thrown away during that time. In the mid-1960s in the South End of Boston, when I was living a bohemian lifestyle the year after I lost my faith as a college freshman, I remember seeing church furnishings often in the brownstone apartments of artists, bohemians, and other free thinkers. They thought it was ironic and quite hip to be able to pick up kneelers and altars and the like dirt cheap from salvage dealers and use them as parlor furniture.

Close to where I live now in my northside San Jose, CA, neighborhood, Holy Cross Church is another case in point.  Some 60-year-old oil-painted stations of the Cross, a scaled-down version of Michelangelo’s Pieta, a high altar, the altar rails, and a hand-carved, painted, and gilded wooden crucifix, all from Italy, were thrown out when the interior was remodeled in the 1960s.

The broken crucifix and a few other items were saved from trash pickup only because the janitor brought the pieces home and kept them in her garage. When the crucifix was restored and replaced in the church after the janitor’s death 40 years later, in time for the church’s 100th anniversary, the church had been changed so much by succeeding pastors that the crucifix looked quite out of place.

Whereas the crucifix originally hung from the half dome over a shelf altar with six large impressive candlesticks and an ornate tabernacle, the restored crucifix was mounted on a pole behind the altar table, or, I should more properly say, the altar of sacrifice.  The crucifix was flanked a bit incongruously by two small oak tables for holding flower arrangements.


The church walls had been repainted to hide the previous decorative flourishes, and most of the statues had been removed.  The half dome had in the meantime been covered by a mural painted on canvas by a local artist. (He told a reporter once that he painted on canvas because he didn’t know how to do frescoe painting.) The painting portrayed Christ rising to heaven above a hill with three empty crosses, in the middle of a range of hills that resembled the foothills that surround Santa Clara Valley. The restored crucifix tipped a little to the left on its pole and obscured part of the mural.  The effect was disappointing to say the least. 

When the church burnt down three years ago and the roof fell in, the crucifix remarkably survived with little damage, even though pieces of the canvas from the burned dome painting had fallen and draped themselves over the head of the figure of Christ. 

The plans for the new church building include the crucifix, but no half dome. From the architect’s mock-ups I’ve seen, the crucifix will hang behind a plain stone altar against a curved background of rectangular pieces of non-figurative blue-green art glass such as one might see in a hotel or office lobby, and--aside from the old stained glass windows that also survived the fire--that much-assailed phoenix-like crucifix may be the only thing of lasting beauty to be seen in the new church, aside from the holy sacrifice of the Mass, of course. The altar is not the focus of the design. It seems to float there without any special significance.
It should also be mentioned that the removal of the high altars  from Catholic churches reminded some who know their history about the actions of Cardinal Thomas Cranmer, who was Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer Protestantized the theology of the Mass so that the consecrated bread and wine were not offered as a sacrifice but as a memorial, and ornate altars were replaced with wooden communion tables.  Some who compare the Mass of 1969 with the previously issued Mass of 1962 say that the sacrificial aspect of the Mass is not mentioned nearly as much in the latest version, and it is quite understandable that the removal of the main altar might be thought to be a comparable act that attempted to Protestantize the celebration of the Eucharist.

I wrote this in my return email to Father Rutler:
“You are right, of course. Who knew? When those of us who were used to worship at Catholic Churches with high altars saw the sometimes beautiful marble altars trashed and replaced with what looks like a free-standing table, many of us were reminded of Cranmer's table.. ”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote these sympathetic words in his letter to the bishops that accompanied his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which loosened restrictions on the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass: “And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”

Similarly, have we not also seen how seemingly arbitrary deformations of church interiors have also caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith?


[1] At Homiletic and Pastoral Review: “In Heaven, There Is Only Singing: A Review of Two of Father Rutler's Books, and an Interview with the Author

[2] In National Catholic Register: "Gregorian Champ"

In Regina Magazine:
"Miracle in Palo Alto: How The St. Ann Choir Kept Chant and Polyphony Alive for 50 Years"

[3] At Homiletic and Pastoral Review: “Propers of the Mass Versus the Four-Hymn Sandwich” January 15, 2016

At The New Liturgical Movement: Fr. Samuel Weber’s “The Proper of the Mass": An Interview with Dr. Peter Kwasniewski

[4] "Prominent among the liturgical innovations which prepared the way for or accompanied the 1549 Prayer Book were the principles that the liturgy must be in the vernacular and audible throughout; Communion under both kinds; a new order of Communion to be used with the old Mass; the replacement of altars with tables."--"Excerpts From Liturgical Revolution, Cranmer's Godly Order by Michael Davies

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Visit to Mount Tabor, the Mount of the Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ and here are some recollections of my too-brief visit to Mount Tabor, the Mount of the Transfiguration, in 2005.

Wild Ride to the Mount of the Transfiguration

The first day we stayed on Mount Carmel, we rode off to visit Mount Tabor, the Mount of the Transfiguration. We had to disembark from our buses at the bottom of Mount Tabor and wait a long time at a taxi stand where local Arab drivers pick up and ferry tourists up the serpentine road to the top.

Pilgrimage Group at the Taxi Stand, Fr. Koller Front Right
Whenever I remember my taxi ride to Mount Tabor I'm reminded of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Wind in the Willows. I was in the back seat on the passenger side, and ascetic Fr. Koller was in the middle.  As we sped along each of the sixteen or so hairpin switchbacks, even though I tried to hold onto anything within grasping distance, even going so far as trying to hold onto the fabric on the roof with my fingernails, the slender monk and not so slender I were thrown onto each other, back and forth, all the embarrassing way to the top.
Prohibito: Skimpy clothes, smoking, eating, guns, loud talking, animals



The Latin inscription on this mural in the Church of the Transfiguration reads, “And he was transfigured before them.”

Then after we finally got there, we were only allowed to stay a few minutes. I was so strongly moved by being at the site where Moses and Elijah had appeared with Christ at His Transfiguration in the presence of Saints Peter and John that when the tour guide told us it was time to go, I started to cry, and I told him I didn’t want to leave. Finally he persuaded me, and I reluctantly walked back to the taxi stand with tears streaming down my face while he gently but firmly propelled me along with his arm around my shoulders.

Excerpted from a three part series, "Carmelites Visit Mount Carmel", published at Dappled Things.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Improvisation: Good for Comedy, Bad for Catholic Liturgy

I wasn't around for the change-over to the Mass of 1969 because I left the Church in the mid-1960s and didn't return until the mid-1970s. From what I've heard and read, many devout Catholics who might have otherwise accepted the new Mass when it was first introduced at the start of the 1969-1970 liturgical year were turned off because many priests seemed to think the new Missal gave them permission−or even required them−to improvise.

After much experimentation with the Mass in local parishes while the Second Vatican Council[1] was in session, the Mass of Blessed Pope Paul VI was universally mandated for the Roman rite in 1969 after the council ended. To the dismay of many Catholics (and non-Catholics[2]), the artistically advanced and reverent form of the Mass that developed over centuries had been forbidden. Even though I started out obediently accepting the change, eventually I began to think that most Masses I attended were being celebrated in many cases as a Catholic-lite version of Ted Mack Amateur hour[3].  

I also often think of  Mother Angelica's quip to her biographer Raymond Arroyo that in many parishes, the  Catholic Church had become the Electric Church, because, "Every time you go you get a shock." I was happy to read that she said that; at last someone actually agreed with me there were abuses to be shocked about.

When I had left the Church in 1963, I had been a college freshman with a big head full of intellectual pridefulness. When I came back a humbled believer in the mid-1970s, after trying out just about every other competing set of beliefs along a spectrum from existentialist rejection of bourgeois mores to hippy LSD experimentation to Protestant fundamentalism, to my surprise I found that the Church I had thought I was coming back to was practically unrecognizable.

At first I obediently accepted the changed Mass in English with the priest facing the people along with more participation by lay people, because I had learned to love and trust the Church and Her decisions. However, I grew over the ensuing years to be uncomfortable with what Pope Benedict XVI later called deformations of the liturgy and other related changes that I witnessed week after week in dozens of churches all over the country. I was not shocked at what the Church actually mandated but by the innovations made according to the supposed "spirit of Vatican II."

Shock and Dismay


Over the years, I noticed a lot of disturbing things. During Mass, Christ and His sacrifice were often no longer the focus. Everyone was looking at each other. The priests were often playing to the crowd, sometimes even cracking off color jokes or reviewing R rated movies in their homilies. People unabashedly living "inappropriate" moral lives were handing out Communion. The communion bread was sometimes made with illicit ingredients, and sometimes Eucharistic Ministers were disposing of the leftover Body and Blood of Christ sacrilegiously. Musicians were self-serving and seeking applause, the instruments used and the rhythms were not appropriate for worship, the words in the songs were no longer the words of the Mass and were often doctrinally incorrect. For centuries when singing had been done at a Mass, the words of the Mass were sung. The change to hymn singing actually began years before the council, but the idea of singing the Mass had been forgotten in most places and music directors were leading the singing of any old thing at Mass.

Here is just a random sampling of specific shocks that come to my recollection:  I remember a children's Mass with a five foot tall Snoopy stuffed toy seated in one of the presiders' chairs behind the altar, creating what I was convinced would be a natural conflation in the young Catholics' minds between the unreality of a cartoon character and the realities of the Mass. That church in a prosperous community looked like an auditorium, and it had mostly folding chairs for seating and no kneelers. A jazz ensemble with a big piano, drums, and electric guitars prominently located to the left of the altar table provided the music. Soon after that Snoopy Mass, the woman who staged it left her job as youth coordinator at the parish and the Catholic Church after a divorce, for a denomination that allows remarriage, which to me is an indication of how shallow her relationship with the Church must have been.

In the first church I attended after my return to faith in Minneapolis, I remember a woman who told me she was serially promiscuous every night of the week; every Sunday at Mass, she acted as a Eucharistic Minister. She gazed into communicants' eyes, said "Receive the Body and Blood of Christ" followed by the person's name. Then she handed out chunks of communion bread made with baking powder, milk, sugar, and whole wheat, while a group of long-haired men and women with guitars sang and strummed songs in front of the altar.  At another church on the west coast, I heard unformed Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist discuss whether they should bother drinking the large amount of remaining consecrated wine left over after Mass or pour it down the drain.

The Sunday before Pentecost one year, I was appalled at the sight of dusty, tangled, white banners left over from Easter hanging from the ceiling looking like laundry left outside after a windstorm. Another year during the midnight Mass for Christmas, I heard a man dressed in black with silver studded cowboy boots and a cowboy hat sing and play the atheist anthem "Imagine" on a black and silver electric guitar.

And this is another grievous thing I cannot unremember. I saw a priest, the chaplain at a Franciscan retreat house, who acted out the Gospel of the Sunday in the middle of the aisle; after reciting a passage in which Jesus spoke against divorce, the priest in his homily assured the congregation that Jesus wasn't actually against divorce, that the passage he had just read was an interpolation by the "Matthew" community, who had created that particular Gospel according to their own agenda. When he was done, a group of Franciscan religious sisters in sweat shirts and jeans danced "the gifts" up to the altar. When I asked the priest later in his book-lined study how he could contradict the words of Christ, he told me that a prominent theologian had said so. That was the first time I heard anyone imply that theologians were allowed to redefine doctrine.

But then I had glimpsed something along that line at the University of Minnesota Newman Center soon after I'd returned to the Church; I saw an issue of the Jesuit America magazine on the chaplain's desk with the title of one the articles inside: "Should Divorce Be a Sacrament?" written by a religious sister with a degree in theology. These are just a few of many instances I have witnessed where theological speculation was being taught as if it was defined doctrine, even when the speculations had been identified as false by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Because many of the proponents were out of sympathy with Rome (for example, one "moral theologian" taught his classes that it would be morally infantile to follow the Pope and the Magisterium), the CDF condemnations didn't have any effect on what was being taught[4].

Some rogue theological positions I have been exposed to in homilies and in classes taught by professors at Catholic universities and by diocesan clerics, including a bishop, are the following: the Vatican II teachings on the role of the laity in the Church means that lay people, male or female in any state of life can and should be able to lead parishes[5], the Eucharist forgives mortal sins[6], lay people will be able to consecrate the Eucharist, and authority and doctrine comes from below in the local churches. Besides all this, many of them claimed, morality has to change, and we all have to make up our own moral rules.

Along with the deformations of liturgy, I realize I've also described deformations in the worship environment, in the roles of the laity during Mass, and in doctrine, but its obvious at least to me that they often go hand in hand.

Pope Benedict frankly wrote against what he called "deformations of the liturgy" in his instruction to the bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum in 2007.  The now-Pope-Emeritus observed that many fervent Catholics wanted to hold onto the old form of the liturgy, not because they are sentimentally attached to the older form, as their critics believe, but because many uncalled-for innovations were introduced into celebrations of the new form of the liturgy, innovations that deformed the new Mass and hid its merits.
The desire of at least some of those who wanted to recover the old form of liturgy 'occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorising or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear ... caus(ing) deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.'”
Pope Benedict recommended more faithful observance of the Missal of Paul VI as the only way to prove that the new Mass could be as spiritually rich and theologically deep as the form of the Mass it had replaced: "The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal."

Baffled at the Ostracism

It is not only shocking but also baffling for me to find out that during the past almost-fifty years, those who loved the beauty and reverence of the pre-Councilar Mass were suddenly totally denied access to it and and were belittled for their preference. I also found out that Priests were punished who wanted to keep on celebrating it. Dissent among the laity was labeled immature, dissent among the clergy was labeled divisiveness, and dissent was not allowed.

For example, Father William Young of San Francisco, who was in his late 70s when I interviewed him about four years ago, began to love the traditional Latin Mass as an altar boy. By the time he was in seminary, the new Mass was the only Mass allowed.  After a while in a parish assignment, he decided he would not say the new Mass any longer. He said it wasn't that he and other priests like him believed the new Mass was invalid. They objected because they believed it was doctrinally and aesthetically inferior.

Father Young was relieved when the archdiocesan human resources director assigned him to an out of the way hospital ministry in which he was allowed to continue to say the pre-1969 Mass, because the archdiocese thought that would contain his "divisiveness." Other diocesan priests he knew who continued to say the traditional Mass were removed by their bishops from their ministries. People started hiring priests under the radar to celebrate traditional Latin Masses in private homes and meeting rooms.

After thirty years of all this, I joined the St. Ann Choir under Prof. William Mahrt[7] in Palo Alto because they were singing chant, which I had learned in grammar school, and thought I knew. The beauty of the chanted liturgy was opened to me, along with the enormous amount and variety of chants for the Latin rite. The choir sang at Ordinary Form Masses, but the choir was singing the ancient Gregorian chant, along with polyphonic motets, and the music was beautiful. After a while I found I did not want to go back to other Masses where the traditional sacred music was lacking. Then in 2007, after Summorum Pontificum came out, I started singing with a new choir that was forming at an Oratory where only the traditional Latin Mass was being celebrated. The Second Vatican Council document on the liturgy mandated that Latin be retained, never outlawed ad orientem, and encouraged the singing of Gregorian chant as a treasured part of our Church's sacred patrimony. So there is no rebellion or disobedience when these practices are followed. The improvisers are the ones that are rebellious and disobedient.  And if the traditional Latin Mass is often the only place to find a reverent Mass with appropriate sacred music, that's where my preference lays.

Another Kind of Martyrdom

It must have been heartbreaking for those who lived through the changes that were made at one blow on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969 with no exceptions allowed. It makes me sad to hear about what happened to lovers of the traditional Latin Mass, especially about the disdain that came their way. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger said the following about how people who loved the traditional form of the Mass were treated as lepers and how intolerant his otherwise tolerant "episcopal brethren" were being.
For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way? I must say, quite openly, that I don’t understand why so any of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance, which for no apparent reason is opposed to making the necessary inner reconciliations within the Church. … I must say, quite openly, that I don't understand why so many of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance… ." - J. Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002, 416.
I pray for an end to the intolerance and an end to the deformations, in the church environment, in the roles of the laity, in doctrine, and in the liturgy itself.

Even though I don't have space to go into more detail here, I want to mention that San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone started several initiatives to not only make the Extraordinary Form Mass more available but also to  help to remove the deformations in how the Ordinary Form of the Mass is sometimes celebrated. To that end, for example, he created the aptly named Benedict XVI Institute of Sacred Music and Divine Liturgy at the St. Patrick's Archdiocesan Seminary to educate interested seminarians in the Extraordinary Form. Importantly, a primary goal of the Institute is to form both future priests and any laity who perform ministries during Ordinary Form Masses so they can celebrate and worship at the Mass reverently in a manner consistent with actual Church liturgical directives and authentic doctrine[. 

[1]"[T]he form of the Mass seemed to be changing by the month, and no sooner had one novelty been introduced then it was replaced very quickly by something else. A number of priests took the opportunity to introduce their own whims and fancies, which only exacerbated the problem[1]." − "The 1971 'English' Indult - a Recollection"

[2] "The Fascinating Story of the Agatha Christi Indult" describes how a petition was circulated among musicians, artists, writers, and intellectuals to request that the traditional Latin Mass be allowed to be frequently and regularly be celebrated alongside the new Mass in the local languages. The appeal compared the planned obliteration of the centuries-old Mass to a senseless decree that would destroy equally venerable basilicas or cathedrals. Agatha Christi was one of several non-Catholic writers, artists, and other intellectuals who signed it. As the story goes, Pope Paul VI responded favorably to the appeal because he recognized Agatha Christi's name, and he granted permission for the traditional form of the Latin Mass to be celebrated, but only on special occasions with the consent of the local Roman Catholic bishop, but only in England and Wales.

[3] The Ted Mack Amateur Hour when I saw it as a child was a TV show on which amateurs competed for prizes. Their order of appearance was determined by spinning a wheel. As the wheel went around, the announcer would say, “Round and round she goes and where she stops nobody knows.” Nobody knows indeed.

[4] "No Recipe for Morality Says Bay-Area Jesuit"

[5] "Ordination's No Object: San Jose Diocese's Continuing Revolution"

[6] "Is Penance Relevant? What San Jose Diocese Teaches Lay Leaders about the Sacraments"

[7] "Miracle in Palo Alto: How the St. Ann Choir Kept Chant and Polyphony Alive for 50 Years"

[8] "Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: Leading By Example"