Some weeks ago I was asked about a remark attributed to Pope Francis by that journalist he talks to from time to time, Eugenio Scalifari. According to Scalifari, the pope said that the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen as a physical event. This was one of those conversations with the 90-plus-year-old journalist who neither records nor takes notes of his "interviews." So (1) who knows what Francis actually said? (2) who knows what Francis actually meant? (3) who really cares, unless something more definite is known about (1) and (2)?
So much for that. But my correspondent had searched for something like "does the pope believe in the resurrection?" and had turned up something more serious, albeit happily more obscure. The web site of a self-described "reformed, Calvinistic, conservative evangelical publisher" based in Edinburgh, "Banner of Truth," asserts that Benedict XVI clearly denies the resurrection. A look around the site reveals that it also pushes old-school anti-Catholicism: Far From Rome Near to God: Testimonies of Fifty Converted Catholic Priests. So it's not surprising that in an article called "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" Matthew Vogan says the answer is no:
Maybe it's my thoroughly Protestant roots, but I've never been entirely comfortable with certain aspects of Catholicism. Indulgences and related things are among them. But I am devoted to the idea, at least, of the Divine Mercy devotions, because I feel myself to be in such need of mercy. Janet posted this on Facebook, and I'm not entirely comfortable with everything the priest says here. But I was arrested by the phrase "Not too much mercy."
I don't think I've ever made an "act of perfect contrition." Yeah, I've said the words, but knowing they weren't 100% true. But I try.
I did watch a televised (crudely, via what I assume to be iPhone video) Mass today. I really have a lot of difficulty with that; it just feels wrong in some elemental way. I certainly don't feel a part of it, and the few times I've tried to say the prayers and other parts that the congregation normally says, I felt like I was in some crazy Oral Roberts type thing, where he tells you to put your hand on the TV to receive a healing. But it seems important not to let go of Sunday Mass, even if watching it on TV is more of a statement than a participation.
Here's something for you to do at home if or when you are sick of reading, listening to music, and watching movies and TV. (That's meant as a joke. Personally I don't think I could ever get entirely sick of doing those things; each of them separately, maybe, if I couldn't switch to one of the others.)
"Minding Scripture" is a podcast from Notre Dame (University of, not cathedral) in which a group of scholars drawn from the Big 3 monotheistic traditions look at the various scriptures of each from the point of view of their own faith. There is a core group of four Notre Dame faculty members (see this), of whom Francesca Murphy is one, and who are joined for specific episodes by experts in the topic at hand.
When I first heard of this I didn't think it would be my cup of tea; scripture scholarship is not high on my list of interests. Much lower on my list of interests, usually down into the realm of active avoidance, is discussion of "the historical Jesus," which I generally take as suggesting that the Jesus of the Church is, to put it bluntly, imaginary. But out of curiosity I decided to give Episode 2: The Historical Jesus a try, and found it quite interesting, though if I heard correctly, the visiting expert--John Meier, author of Jesus: A Marginal Jew--said near the end that there is almost nothing in the Gospels that we can take as being the actual words of Jesus. I emphasize "if I heard correctly," because I was listening while out for a walk and was crossing a busy street at that point. I never went back to see if he really said that, but even if he did, I don't have to (and don't) buy it, and there were a lot of interesting details about the life and language of the times.
I went from there to Episode 4: The Translation of Scripture, in part because David Bentley Hart is one of the visitors (the other is Robert Alter), and I really wanted to hear what he sounded like. Answer: exactly what I expected. That episode was completely fascinating, and I can recommend it without reservation.
I've listened to a couple of others now, and I don't know that I'll listen to all of them (there are currently seven). But the series is certainly worth checking out; the conversations are both engaging and interesting. Here's the link again.
(I think this is relevant to all Christians, not only Catholics but at least those whose communions have a liturgy, and worth the attention of those who don't. Or for that matter anyone who cares about the Western musical and spiritual tradition.)
Since you can't go to Mass today, probably, allow me to suggest that you listen to one of the great musical settings of the Latin Mass. One of my Lenten things this year--I can't truly call it much of a penance, but "discipline" is justifiable--is to confine my listening to sacred music. So far that's mostly been settings of the Mass, and, if you do this attentively--not just playing it in the background while you cook or wash the dishes or something--it's more or less inevitable that you will attend very carefully to the words and reflect on them.
So far I've mainly spent time with Bach's Mass in B-Minor, which of course I had heard before, having bought one recording way back in the late '60s (I think) and another in the '80s, but never really gotten to know. It takes a bit of effort, as the work is something of a monster. It requires somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours to perform, depending on the conductor, and was never performed in Bach's lifetime. And if you're like me you may have trouble listening to two straight hours of non-operatic music (opera has a plot, and characters). But that's ok. The Kyrie and Gloria together run well over half an hour, the Credo most of a half-hour. And each of those sections is a complete musical work as well as theological statement.
My two recordings are pretty much opposite interpretations. You can gather that from the running times: two hours and fifteen minutes for one, an hour and forty-five for the other. The slow one is the one I bought when I was in college: Otto Klemperer, the BBC Chorus, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and an all-star group of vocal soloists including Janet Baker. The faster one is John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, and vocal soloists whose names I don't recognize (not that that means much, except that they aren't superstars). (I don't know why an orchestra calls itself "Soloists".)
The Klemperer is rich and majestic. The Gardiner is clear and lively. The former is, to speak very loosely, more or less in the more or less romantic tradition of Bach performance, while the latter is pretty much a textbook example of what's called the "HIP" approach--Historically Informed Performance. (You can read about it at Wikipedia.) I think the two camps have at times been at war over the past several decades. I know some traditionalists hate the thinner, drier sound of period instruments, and some HIPsters mock the grandiosity of Mahler-ready orchestras and choruses applied to 18th century music.
But I am very happy to have both these recordings. Very happy indeed. The traditional recording brings greater depth (in every sense) to some parts, but the big powerful choir and orchestra sometimes overwhelm the counterpoint or just seem inappropriate, too much. The HIP one is wonderfully clear, but the more somber, heavier parts have less emotional power.
Thanks to YouTube, you can compare them for yourself. Yesterday I listened to the Laudate section of the Gloria four times, twice in each version. (The work is so massive that each idea or sentence in the text gets its own separate composition.) And I really like both. This is one part where there is, to my taste, no definite preference. I really like the light, bright quality of the Gardiner. The singer, compared to Janet Baker, sounds almost girlish, which for this section is appropriate, as is the sprightly tempo. But the violin obbligato, which is beautiful in the Klemperer, is anemic in the Gardiner. And so on.
I'm speaking as if you only have to take your recording off the shelf and put it on. But if you don't own one maybe you subscribe to one of the streaming music services. Or you can listen to one of the many recordings, whole or partial, that seem to be available on YouTube. If your knowledge of the Latin texts is no better than mine, and you don't own a recording which would typically include the texts, you'll probably need something you can read. You could start here and find the parts.
I don't mean "Can I have a word?" in the sense of "Can we talk privately?" I mean literally a word. I've been working on a piece of writing that includes this: "the Church as it is, dullness, factionalism, and all." I want another word to go with those two, a word that captures the indifference toward the faith of so many Catholics, including some in the clergy and the hierarchy. I mean the attitude which is described by one of Rod Dreher's readers in this post:
...we discovered that we were all four Catholics, which led in turn to conversations about which parishes we attend, etc (normal light talk among Catholics of any stripe). It turned out that none of the three women still attended mass, sometimes they attended services at local non-denoms but even that was rare. Their reasons were the following: mass is boring; I don’t “get” anything out of it while I feel really great after my non-denom services; people should be able to use birth control; I didn’t like that priest; confession is awkward; etc.
All three of these women (all in their 40’s and 50’s) had attended Catholic schools from K-12, and none of them had even the slightest idea of why the Church teaches what it does, or even a hint of self-awareness that none of their complaints remotely touched what God Himself wants, only me, me, me. Nothing touched upon how they thought God wanted to be worshiped, or how God wants us to live. At one point during one woman’s diatribe about how she gets nothing out of Mass I meekly remarked “well maybe that’s not the point of it all,” to which she blurted “Why else would I go?!”
I had originally written "dullness, indifference, factionalism, and all." But "indifference" alone is too broad: indifference to what? I tried "blandness" and "lukewarmness," but they don't really get the idea, either, even apart from the fact that "lukewarmness" is a very clumsy term.
If you have a single word that does the job here, I'll thank you.
By the way, if you wondered about "Susan From the Parish Council," she is the fictitious proprietor of a Facebook page who writes about her trials and triumphs as an old and entirely unreconstructed Vatican II progressive. She's sometimes pretty funny.
Something I've been meaning to mention for a while: a prayer book has been compiled for use by the Anglican Ordinariates*, and it's very good. If you have any liking for the language of the older versions of the Book of Common Prayer, you should get this. It's inexpensive, very nicely produced, and full of rich prayers, including the laity's parts of the Mass.
And here is one of my very favorite prayers, from the Devotions for Evening.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love's sake.
* We are not supposed to use that term. It can be taken, it is taken by some, to suggest that we aren't Catholic But dang it, just saying "the Ordinariates" is not necessarily clear to a lot of people. And saying "the personal ordinariates created under the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus" gets pretty tiresome.
Every year I get more annoyed with the de-Christianized winter festival formerly known as Christmas. Unfortunately the advertising for that season begins in mid-November, which means that it's during football season, which is almost the only time I watch standard TV and am exposed to any great number of commercials. I am unreasonably annoyed by advertisements that begin "This holiday....", usually followed by something like "make your family happy by buying our thing." I might not be so put off by the whole thing if I weren't seeing those commercials.
The American Christmas has always, or at least since the middle of the last century or so, had its secularized aspect. That was fine: we were a predominantly Christian country, but plenty of people who did not celebrate the religious holiday as such found much to enjoy in the cultural paraphernalia. Irving Berlin gave us "White Christmas," which no decent person could dislike or resent, and he was Jewish. Notice, though, that he didn't shy away from using the word "Christmas." From an early age I had a sense that something was missing when the decorations and greetings and such of the season left out any mention whatsoever of Christmas itself. And at a not so early, but not very late, age it occurred to me that "the holiday season" would lose the essence of its charm if the religious core of it were removed.
Well, that has pretty much happened now as far as public speech is concerned. It seems that Christmas has become That Which Must Not Be Named in most situations that are not specifically Christian. And as far as I'm concerned all that paraphernalia I mentioned, which I used to enjoy for the most part, has begun to seem lame, dull, tawdry, and often depressing. I guess every Catholic who's ever read a book has heard of Flannery O'Connor's famous response to the suggestion that the Eucharist is only a symbol: "If it's only a symbol, then the hell with it." That is pretty much my view of Holiday carefully scrubbed of any Christian reference whatsoever.
The good part of this is that as I lose interest in Holiday I take more notice of Advent. I can't say I've observed it very well this year, but I did a little better than last year. And this year, thanks to the Anglican tradition, I've discovered what is called "the Advent Prose": an English translation of the Latin Rorate caeli. You can read it at the Wikipedia page for Rorate caeli. It's obviously not a contemporary translation, but I don't know how far back it goes. It's good strong stuff; here's how it begins:
Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: thy holy city is a wilderness, Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation: our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee.
I guess it would be wrong for me to think it would be fine with me if that deluge washed Holiday away.
I guess people will be arguing about Vatican II at least for the rest of this century. Personally I have a both-and sort of attitude about it. Yes, things were actually not so great prior to the Council. Yes, things have not been so great since then.
It hasn’t been easy. But ten years on, the ordinariate is a success story.
I won't say the text contradicts that, but it certainly qualifies it. (And most likely the author did not write it.) Joanna Bogle is British and is writing mainly of the UK. Here she describes the phenomenon that apparently surprised a lot of people who thought that the development would be enthusiastically welcomed and that significant numbers of Anglicans would "come over":
A meeting of Forward in Faith, a network of orthodox Anglicans and the leading organisation on the scene, was quickly summoned. And that was when disappointment set in. The reaction of many was not what had been expected.
“We couldn’t believe it,” the ordinariate member recalls. “Speaker after speaker rose to say, ‘Oh, I don’t know … I don’t think this is for me,’ or words to that effect. Where some of us had assumed a general rejoicing and some practical plans on how to go ahead, there was just a flatness, a sort of bland rejection without any real reasons given.”
More or less the same kind of thing happened here. I was not altogether surprised, as I thought the number of interested Episcopalians and "Continuing Anglicans" was relatively small. It's not as if the heterodox drift (to put it mildly) of the Episcopal Church was a new thing. It was obvious and obviously well under way when I converted in 1981. Most people who were truly unhappy with those developments left years ago. As someone I know put it, "that pond is fished out."
And some big proportion of the Continuing folks seem to be very definitely Protestant. Or, if they think of themselves as Anglo-Catholic, are pretty well committed to the idea that they don't need to be in communion with Rome because they're already Catholic. Scratch these folks, and you'll usually get a distinct whiff of old-fashioned British disdain for "the Roman church." I suspect something of that is behind the "bland rejection without any real reasons" which Bogle describes.
(Here I will air one of my numerous pet peeves: the Anglicans who deny that there are any significant theological differences between them and Rome, yet when asked "So why not accept Rome's teaching?" immediately name a number of theological differences that they cannot accept. Either they're significant, or they're not.)
I don't follow these things very closely, but I'm told by those who do that the U.S. Ordinariate is doing better. Our local group, the Society of St. Gregory the Great, is hanging in there, not growing much but not in immediate danger of death, either. And the Ordinariate's cathedral, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, seems to be thriving. I was there a month or so ago and it was a pretty impressive experience. I had meant to do a blog post about it but haven't gotten around to it. There's more to the Walsingham story than Anglicanorum Coetibus, though: it came into being under John Paul II's Pastoral Provision in the early '80s, so it has relatively old and deep roots now.
As I see it, AC was about thirty years late. It is what the Pastoral Provision should have been; the PP was far more limited in scope than the Ordinariates. (See this for what the PP effected.) I think more Anglicans in this country would have come over if something like the Ordinariate had existed then. I almost said "too late," but that implies a hopeless situation. In this case "never too late" and "better late than never" apply. I think of us as nurturing a small and slow-growing plant which may grow into a great tree long after I'm gone. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but it certainly won't if we don't keep it alive now.
Thank you and God bless you, Benedict XVI.
Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at the Cathedral in Houston