Happy Monday

At some point the Catholic indignation industry will implode, right? I thought that more than a year ago when Episode I of the Synod on the Family was taking place. Silly me. Things have gotten so much worse since then. Several new websites, and at least a dozen new blogs, have popped up to inform us just how bad things have gotten in the Catholic Church. The Pope is nuts; the bishops are heterodox; and the laity are left in a perpetual state of confusion. I can’t blame any observer of “things Catholic” for stating the obvious nor for losing their patience with mainstream Catholic writers who try to cover-up the crisis. What I sometimes wonder, though, is what these well-meaning (mostly traditional) Catholic critics are hoping to achieve. Yes, there’s the usual rhetoric about “restoring Christendom” and such, but I am at a loss for how increasingly angry ranting is actually going to do that. Part of me wishes that some of these people would just go full-blown sedevacantist and be done with it all. Or, better yet, just become Eastern Orthodox. They at least recognize the Pope; they just don’t listen to a single word he has to say.

I jest, of course. I can’t fathom the damage that would be inflicted on East/West relations if disgruntled Catholic traditionalists converted to Orthodoxy en masse, and I am not sure American Orthodoxy can handle the internal rumble of ex-Catholics sparring with ex-Protestants over what “real Orthodoxy” looks like. None of this changes the fact that I am still mildly perplexed why certain disgruntled (if not disillusioned) Catholics stay Catholic when the Orthodox seem to be offering everything they want: a beautiful liturgy; more rigorous fasting and Eucharistic disciplines; doctrinal orthodoxy; beards; and so on and so forth.

I know there are many good answers as to why someone ought to stay Catholic and I am not interested in challenging them. My confusion does not arise out of a lack of confidence in Catholic doctrine but a lack of faith in some of those who claim to adhere to it. At what point does the papal office simply because an ideal which completely ceases to manifest itself in reality? When do we finally start staying home on Sundays instead of mindlessly attending parishes that offer grotesque, if not sacrilegious, liturgies? When do we just acknowledge (not accept) that most of the Church is enveloped by heresy and that there is no longer anything substantive to covert people to?

Let me be frank. I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. What I do believe, however, is that something has to give eventually. The Church herself won’t collapse, but things cannot go on like this without the advent of schism (or worse). Sooner or later secular and ideological forces will push harder on the faithful, expecting all to conform to the ways of the world. Maybe that will be the Church’s refining moment.

Thus the world is like an oil press: under pressure. If you’re the dregs of the oil you’re carried away through the sewer; if you’re genuine oil you will remain in the vessel. But to be under pressure is inevitable. Observe the dregs, observe the oil. Pressure takes place ever in the world, as for instance, through famine, war, want, inflation, indigence, mortality, rape, avarice; such are the pressures of the poor and the worries of the state: we have evidence of them… we have found men who grumble under those pressures and who say: ‘How bad are these Christian times!’ . . . Thus speak the dregs of the oil which run away through the sewer; their colour is black because they blaspheme: they lack splendour. The oil has splendour. For here another sort of man is under the same pressure and friction which polishes him, for is it not the very friction which refines him?

– St. Augustine (quoted in Karl Lowith, Meaning in History)


  1. None is spared suffering in the _saeculum_; the Church (any church) is certainly not the place to flee to so as to escape it. The Catholic Church in Boston seems to be kept alive largely by the influx of immigrants: a friend of mine told me that the largest parish here in the Greater Boston Area is one of Chinese immigrants; my Chinese friend who visited said that, during coffee hour, all they did was rag on China and the Chinese heritage (pity, that). Ironically, the population most disposed to attend –Hispanics– spend 80 hours per week working minimum-wage jobs, and since Sunday is time-and-a-half… The Church does nothing to alleviate their worries, or act as a networking hub for opportunities and support, and does not move to reach out to them. Those Hispanics who make it, economically, and join the middle class, are usually assimilated into the blend of middle class culture here, which means suburban Masses, if at all. In the suburbs, every Catholic Mass I attend has some show-boaty person singing the most gaudy melodies, which I think are mangled mashup-translations of psalms; one wonders what would happen to attendance with more traditional forms of worship. We’re not likely to find out. Another friend attends an Anglican Ordinariate parish, sort of in Boston, and it’s made up of a very small click of Catholics tired of the Novus Ordo (a small amount) and a much larger number of former Anglicans, mostly Baby Boomers, who don’t seem to bring their children (or necessarily even their spouses) with them. As with nearly every parish of an older, liturgical variety –Catholic or otherwise– it’s a museum. Were a Millennial or an Xer to walk in to the place, the adults would have no idea how to translate the tradition to them, or explain anything in a way that would connect with their concerns. Affirming doctrinal and liturgical patrimony is merely an ideology when the culture of a parish does not bleed goodness and kindness and care. It seems that most of the traditionalist-types in these Ordinariate parishes can only habituate them to a curmudgeonly way of complaining about political and social trends that the Millennials and the Xers overwhelmingly see as a good thing. Love? Don’t distract me from my pet issues. The Gospel? –we don’t sing that sort of music here.

    I know this sounds cynical: I would qualify everything here, and would probably withdraw some of it were I pressed, but I don’t have time.

    I’ve been meaning to get to that book by Lowith for a while. The citation from Augustine looks like it’s from a sermon. Reference? Certainly sounds post-410.

    1. I think those are all fair remarks. I don’t know. Where I live, most people seem willing to surrender doctrinal orthodoxy for a pretty liturgy, but I don’t blame them either because the banalities, excesses, and other liturgical horrors that exist in most of the Catholic parishes in the diocese in which I live are too awful to detail. At this point I have lost my patience with what Owen White has called “bourgeois Catholicism,” which probably makes me a bad Christian, but sometimes I need to take a step back and recover my bearings (a long process — let me tell you). I would much rather darken the doorway of the UGCC parish here, or the tiny Russian and Romanian Orthodox parishes, than head anywhere else. Heck, I say the same thing about the SSPX parish in a rural town outside of my city. There’s genuineness there despite a tendency to over-problematize things from time to time.

  2. I have had the benefit of staying with one good church for nearly the last thirty years. That church has been St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church in El Segundo, CA. My choir director and I call it ‘the village church at the End of the World’; it is perhaps a half a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The priest there has been serving the Divine Liturgy quite well, and has cultivated a fascinating if small community.

    In that context, I have noted that a large number of people come and go. Many Cath Trads have come, only to leave again after a few visits. While I think that they are attracted by the beautiful and reverend liturgies, they appear to hunger for a Latin spirituality which, alas, no longer seems to exist, save perhaps in small pockets of the world. Likewise, a number of traditional Catholics choose to enter into the spirituality of the East, and ultimately decide to go Orthodox. In fact, the local OCA priest has said, not quite jokingly, that he is thinking of commissioning an icon of our priest, as his teaching has prompted many to become good Orthodox.

    I think that the problem is not with my priest, but with the Catholic world. While the Orthodox agree that the Church is the hospital for sick souls, I fear that in the modern Roman Catholic world, the inmates (both clergy and laity) have taken over the asylum. This, alas, is why we see so many scandals, ranging from clown liturgies and using St. Peter’s Basilica as a projection screen, to the abuse of so many children. In my weblog, I have taken pains to indicate that we should ‘never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence’ (Napoleon’s maxim). Thus, priests and bishops are not uttering heresy and blasphemy because they are evil, but because they don’t know any better.

    The result, however, whether through malice or incompetence, remains the same. There is a perfect Church, in Heaven. At present, we are suffering from ‘friendly fire’, or weak and venal collaborators who are giving aid and comfort to the Enemy. The wise will seek what outposts of sanity still remain. The rest will bitch and moan.

      1. I would not worry too much about self accusation; your scholarship and your wit, as expressed in your weblog, have been a help and a comfort to many, myself not the least among them. Do please continue.

  3. But Bernard: but what of your motto?! What is the web for except for us reactionaries to have a wretched old anti-cathartic global moan? Regarding the subject of this post, I shut down my own blog because I was sorely tempted to make it a perpetual imprecation. A whisper of remaining sanity told me to read a good novel instead. Seeking outposts of sanity is good advice: if they are very far away, creating one de novo is tough going.

    1. I will remind you that my motto includes the words, “Act locally.” I would commend you to do as it directs. Certainly, if your weblog was an occasion of sin for you (and certainly, despair is a sin), then it were better for you to end it. I recall Our Lord saying something about eyes or hands that offend one. But that is not the only option available to you. Reading a good novel is one. Attempting to write one is another. Being a person of peace is yet another. And, as one great saint in my tradition has said, “Acquire a spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved.”

      If anything, a “Benedict Option” should mean, not retiring from the world, but like the original St. Benedict, creating a refuge of peace and charity where one lives. Continuing to live in despair is simply a less attractive and far less beneficial alternative.

  4. In the aftermath of Vatican II, I began to believe the Roman Church contained within itself various heresies akin to cancer cells. After the Great Schism the Orthodox were no longer able to keep these cells (heresies) in check, like an autoimmune system. The cells (heresies) grew and metastasized, eventually they became the massive tumor we call the Infallible Papacy. It is this tumor which will be the “cause of death” of the Roman Church. That in a nutshell is my reason for conversion to Orthodoxy.

    1. I recently went to an OCA church. For the first time in a long time I felt God was actually present in a church.

    2. But Catholics don’t really believe in the “Infallible Papacy”; it’s a false idea that has crept into the contemporary Catholic consciousness but has no valid doctrinal roots. My preferred term for this gross phenomenon is “Papalotry” and while it does have antecedent in the ultramontansism that arose during the 19th Century, it really is a distinct creature that only began to show up after the Second Vatican Council.

      1. In that case why remain in communion with a heretic? Isn’t that a form of Papolatry? Unless you truly believe in the Filioque, the IC, indulgences, purgatory (as defined by Rome) et cetera, why not become Orthodox, either Byzantine or Latin rite?

        1. If you’re Orthodox, you are in communion with heretics, too, or do you really believe in this naive view that Orthodoxy is “pure” and has no corrupt members?

          Latin Rite Orthodoxy isn’t even a real thing.

          As for all of the other doctrinal points you mentioned, I see no problem in affirming them all, though perhaps not in the exact sense Latin Catholics do.

          1. I don’t believe any form of Apostolic Christianity is pure, at least not in this life. It’s simply that Orthodoxy is purer that Rome and our heretics aren’t as publicly celebrated as Frankie and his predecessors. The Latin Rite in its Tridentine form is celebrated in the Antiochian Archdiocese, sans filioque and with an epiklesis thrown for good measure.

            1. “with an epiklesis thrown for good measure”

              Something that never existed in the Roman Canon, just like how the “magic words” never existed in Addai and Mari. Legalism and hypocrisy, hypocrisy and legalism…

              I never moved to Orthodoxy because there was no point. Why go somewhere that will re-Confirm/Chrismate me when I can walk to my local “uniate church” (which happens to have a more orthodox liturgy than the local bubbadox/convertodox OCA and the piano-playing Greeks)? If local churches were truly atrocious to the point of unacceptable I would consider going to an Orthodox church that would be willing to commune me (Oriental or Byzantine). I don’t want to uproot myself unless necessary and I have no interest in anyone who denies the unquestionable validity of the sacraments I received.

              As for doctrinal issues, I doubt my beliefs in any of what you mentioned would be incompatible with Orthodoxy.

    3. Yes, Prior Martin, this possibility exists, alas, especially in light of the many scandals that RC faithful have suffered from their clergy. I will remind you, however, of a saying of St. John Chrysostom: “The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, and the same road is lit by the skulls of erring bishops.” The possibility exists that just as St. John’s Church was almost overwhelmed by the Arians of his day, so the RC Church is being ALMOST overwhelmed by the Modernists of our day. It is in the hope that someday that Church will come to Her collective senses that I continue to dwell with Her. Thus, I differ from the course you have chosen. Nonetheless, I pray that you will profit from that choice.

  5. “…just like how the ‘magic words’ never existed in Addai and Mari…”

    You don’t believe that they did but we’re never written in actual copies of the text due to the age of the liturgy and the general practice during that time of concealing the praxis of the Christian community?y

    1. Considering that ancient Coptic texts have the words while the anaphoras of Addai+Mari, Dionysius, and Pope Sixtus II don’t, I’d say it’s just more plausible that some ancient anaphoras never had the words.

    2. Also, writings of several Western Popes in the mid to late first millenium state that the apostles said the Our Father alone to consecrate the elements.

      It’s very telling that the Our Father and the Sanctus are in all the anaphoras but the epiklesis and “words of institution” aren’t.

  6. I heard that before the happy go lucky De-Latinization days post-Vatican II, the “magic words” were inserted into the anaphora during the Qurbana of Addai and Mari by those churches in communion with Rome that used that liturgy. Is that true or was that just a rumor?

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