Liturgy as Court Ritual

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Pontifical High Mass at the Throne in the Usus Antiquior

Peter Kwasniewski has a wonderful post up at The New Liturgical Movement defending the liturgy as ‘Court Ritual’. He argues that especially in our democratic times it is necessary to emphasize that the Sacred Liturgy is a the court ritual of Christ the King as well as the oblation of Christ the Priest:

Monarchy or princedom, the oldest and arguably the most natural form of political organization, has been a far more consistent part of the human experience and of the formation of Christian culture than the democratic/egalitarian ideology of “self-evident truths” of which we have persuaded ourselves in modernity. Regardless of whether we think democracy can be made to work or not, in the realm of supernatural mysteries, Christianity is purely and entirely monarchical. Against the backdrop of the Old Testament revelation of God as the (one and only) great King over all the earth, and of the people of Israel as a kingly, priestly people ruled by prophets, judges, and ultimately the Davidic dynasty, we profess that Christ is our King, the Lord of heaven and earth, of all times, past, present, and to come, of this world and of the next; that His angels and saints are His royal court; that He deigns to call us His friends and brethren, yes, but such that we know that we never cease to be His servants. We long for His courts and tabernacles. The thick “politicism” of the imagery points to the real, sovereign polity of the Mystical Body, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church as a societas perfecta and altogether perfected in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the great King. Our ecclesial sacrifice, the Most Holy Eucharist, is a kingly and high-priestly oblation.

Consequently, the modern fixation on democracy, as if it were the best or the only good form of government, not only does not abolish our need for the language of kingship and courtliness, but makes it far more needed than ever before, in order to impress on our minds the way things really stand in the definitive reality of the kingdom of God. All of our democratic and egalitarian experiments will fall away at the end of time, as the glorious reign of Christ the King is revealed to all the nations, and those who have submitted to His gentle yoke will be raised to eternal life in glorified flesh while those who have rejected Him will wail and gnash their teeth, condemned to eternal fire in unending torment. The liturgy should reflect the truth of God — His absolute monarchy, His paternal rule, His hierarchical court in the unspeakable splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem — and not the passing truths of our modern provisional political organizations, or, in other words, that continual redesign of the liturgy, in language and ceremonies and ministers, for which the noveltymongers are agitating.

Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Many years ago, in my undergraduate thesis, I made a similar point (though with much less eloquence):

The principle of active participation, which the Second Vatican Council was so right to insist on, has been nearly everywhere misunderstood and misapplied. This is because in modern democracy participation in the political order is understood in terms of being one of the rulers. We see this understanding of participation taken over so that active participation in the life of the Parish or Diocese is understood as participation in “pastoral councils” and similar tom-foolery. In the Sacred Liturgy active participation is taken to mandate all kinds of laypeople messing around in the sanctuary as lectors, ‘introducers,’ extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc. This banal caricature of true active participation and the priesthood of the faithful persists despite all efforts of the Magisterium to correct it. The problem is that when political government ceases to be what it should be the “wonderful resemblance” that it bears to God’s government, of which Pope Leo XIII speaks, is destroyed. But grace builds on nature and men ought to be disposed to the higher by the lower. (p. 36)

The Party Spirit in the Church

On January 21st, 1990, the then Cardinal Ratzinger preached a sermon at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. (The English version of the sermon can be found in The Catholic Priest as Moral Teacher and Guideand an expanded German version in Zur Gemeinschaft gerufen). It was, like today, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A in the ordinary form. And he preached on the following words from the Epistle:

Still, I entreat you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, all to agree with each other, so that there will be no schisms among you, but you will be united in the same mind and the same understanding. For, my brothers, I have been told about you by Chloe and her people; that there are rivalries among you. I mean this: each of you says: I am for Paul; or else: I am for Apollos; or: I am for Cephas; or: I am for Christ. Christ is partitioned! (1 Cor 1:11-13)

Ratzinger asks what exactly was wrong with the parties in Corinth. What could be wrong with saying: “I am for Apollos”? Was not Apollos a great teacher “very helpful to those who, through grace, had become believers” (Acts 18:27). What could be wrong with saying: “I am for Paul”? Must we not be for the great apostle of the Gentiles? What could be wrong with saying: “I am for Cephas”? Must we not be for Cephas, for Peter, the Rock on whom our Lord built the Church? And above all what is wrong with saying “I am for Christ”? Is not that what it means to be a Christian?

And Ratzinger answers that the problem with the parties is that they are parties. A party is a group that grows out of a common understanding of the good and how to achieve it. A party is therefore a human work, and we form parties according to our own conceptions of the good, our own preferences and tastes. As Ratzinger puts it:

If I stand up for a party it becomes my party. The Church of Jesus Christ, however, is never my Church; it is always his Church. The essence of conversion consists in the fact that I no longer seek for myself a party looking after my interests and corresponding to my likes, but that I place myself in his hands and become his, a member of his Body, the Church. […] Faith is not the choice of whatever program appeals to me; nor is it the joining of some fraternal club where I feel I am understood. Faith means conversion that transforms me and my preferences or at least allows my desires and wishes to become secondary.

A party is a work of human hands, and its members have to do the best job they can in building it. But the Church of Christ is not a work of human hands, it is work of God: “not from blood or from the will of the flesh or from the will of man, but from God” (John 1:13).

I have been thinking a lot about that sermon of Ratzinger’s recently, because of the controversies about Amoris Laetitia, which have made the ever present danger of dividing the Church through a party spirit apparent. I have to ask myself: am I being faithful to Christ, or am I dividing Him. Is my position an “I am for tradition” in the way in which a Corinthian party might say “I am for Paul” and look down on the naïve party of Cephas? Conversely, of course, certain others should ask themselves whether they are really being faithful to Peter, or whether they are saying “I am for Cephas” because the opinions of the current pope fit their preferences. Now, I do not think that I have been motivated by a party spirit in what I have said and written about Amoris Laetitia. But then, as Nietzsche says, “we are unknown to us, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves.”

St. Paul gives a sort of criterion for discerning whether one is really following Christ or dividing Him with party spirit by appealing to the cross. Partisans follow clever arguments, but Christians follow the folly of the cross:

Christ did not send me forth to baptize, but to preach the gos­pel; not in accomplished oratory, but so that the cross of the Christ might not be made meaningless. For the word of the cross is folly to those who go the way of perdition, but to us who go the way of salvation it is the power of God. Since it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will make void the intel­ligence of the intelligent. Where is the sage? Where is the scholar? Where is the student of this age? Did not God tum the wisdom of the world to folly? For since by the wisdom of God the world did not, because of its wisdom, know God, God saw fit to save the believers through the folly of what was preached to them. For the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the heathens, but to us who are chosen, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Since the folly of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: that not many of you are wise in the way of the flesh, not many are strong, not many are well born. But God chose out the fools of the world, to shame the wise, and God chose out the weak of the world, to shame the strong, and God chose out the humble and despised of the world; and what is not, to abolish what is; so that no flesh may take pride before God. (1 Cor 1:17-29)

In the first reading for today we here how the land of Zabulon and the Nephthalim, the first part of Israel to fall to the heathens, the land of darkness, that seemed despised of God, will be the very place where salvation begins. And in the Gospel we see this prophecy fulfilled; our Lord begins preaching the Kingdom in Galilee. This will be a great obstacle to the inhabitants of Judah— can anything good come from Nazareth? If I imagine myself as a Judaean at the time of Christ I think I would probably have belonged to the party of the Sadducees, or at best the Pharisees, and would have looked with scorn on the Savior of the world because he came from the land of Zabulon and the Nephthalim. God preserve me and all of us from falling into a similar trap today.

In Paradisum

Yesterday was the funeral of my grandmother. The whole occasion was very beautiful and moving. There was such love and gratitude towards her. A great many people were at the funeral whom I had not seen in years, or whom I only knew from stories.

On Tuesday evening we prayed the rosary for the repose of her soul in St. Sebastian. The Archbishop of Salzburg came and simply knelt in a pew and prayed the rosary with us. I was very touched by this sign of fatherly and pastoral care. So good of him to take the time to pray the rosary with us given all the other things an archbishop has to do.

Earnest solemnity rather than sadness was the dominant note. The solemn nobility of the Usus Antiquior seemed particularly fitting. (See the photos of the Requiem in St. Sebastian above). Auxiliary Bishop Laun preached the sermon, recounting how he had known my grandparents when he was a little boy, and how he had been impressed by their courtship. He read my grandfather’s description of meeting my grandmother from his autobiography. They met at the house in Morzg where the Launs (including the future Auxiliary Bishop) and the Seiferts were living after the war.

The burial was at the cemetery in Aigen, at the grave of my grandmother’s parents-in-law. The sun was shining through the crisp, clear, winter air on the masses of snow that lay about the graves. It was very beautiful.

Marie Theresa Waldstein, 1930-2017

My grandmother at my ordination

My grandmother at my ordination Mass with my grandfather, and my brother Johannes with his daughter

In my father’s house there are many rooms. Were there not, I would have said to you that I was going to make ready a place for you. (John 14:2)

Of your charity, dear readers, pray for the repose of the soul of my grandmother Marie Theresa (Esi) Waldstein, née Froehlicher, who passed away on January 2nd.  She had been ill for a long time, and was ready to pass over to the next life. She was very week in the last days, but prayed with an intensity of longing. For my grandfather it is of course a great blow to lose her after 65 years of marriage. It was very beautiful to see them together during her final illness— the beauty of a great love purified by long fidelity, by continual kindness and forgiveness. She had a very different temperament from her husband, but their love made them similar in another sense. I do not think it will be long till he follows her to the house of the Father. Continue reading

In Sinu Jesu

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A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a book by an anonymous Benedictine monk which had just been published: In Sinu Jesu. I have been reading it slowly in the adoration chapel of the seminary here in Heiligenkreuz, and although I haven’t finished yet, it has already made a deep impression on me. It is the sort of book that one wants to read in chapel; and this makes it difficult to write about. It a book about the intimacies of prayer, and therefore not one that lends itself to “blogesterial” discussion. It is a book that should be read in silence. It is a journal that the author kept at adoration, and consists largely of words “given” to Him by our Lord and our Lady. These words are mostly about prayer, and adoration, and sacrifice, about friendship with Jesus, and about the renewal of the priesthood. Readers who want to get a flavor of it can consult Peter Kwasniewski’s posts at Rorate Caeli and The New Liturgical Movementas well as the excerpts that Dom Mark Kirby has posted at Vultus Christi.

One theme that struck me particularly was the theme of loneliness, and the flight from loneliness into the trap of distraction, and the necessity of withdrawing from distraction in order to feel the pain of loneliness so that that pain can be healed by Communion with God. This is a theme that I have been reflecting on from from a quite different perspective in my dissertation on David Foster Wallace, and so I was struck by the words on it here. Consider the following passage:

I want you to tell priests of the desires of My Heart. I will give you many opportunities to do this. Make known to them these things that I have made known to you. So many of My priests have never really heard and understood the invitation to an exclusive and all-fulfilling friendship with Me. And so, they feel alone in life. They are driven to seek out in other places and in creatures unworthy of the undivided love of their consecrated hearts, the fullness of happiness and hope and peace that only I can give them. So many go forward in bitterness and disappointment. They seek to fill the emptiness within with vain pursuits, with lust, with possessions, with food and drink. They have Me, very often, near to them in the Sacrament of My love, and they leave Me there alone… (p. 27)

The theme is of course a traditional one, because it has to do with the condition of fallen man as such. Exiled from friendship with God through original sin, mankind wanders through the regio dissimilitudinis, and tries to numb the pain through importunitas mentis, inquietudo corporis, instabilitas (vel loci vel propositi), verbositas, and curiositas. 

The problem is a perennial human problem, but it takes on a particular character in the Cartesian universe of modernity, more prone to  anxieties of isolation and insecurity that to those of dependence and finality (to use Fritz Rieman’s jargon). The classic modern expression was given at the very dawn of modernity by Pascal in his analysis of diversion in the Pensées, and it recurs throughout the modern era— not only in Catholic writers such as Walker Percy, but also in non-Catholic ones as diverse as Kierkegaard, Paul de Legarde, Heidegger, and David Foster Wallace. Wallace is particularly interesting because of his insistence on loneliness as the root problem (cf. my discussion of this on The Great Concavity). I need scarcely say that while I think those authors are good at setting up the problem, most of them do not have a clear grasp of the solution…

In Sinu Jesu treats the problem particularly as it presents itself in the priestly life. The author is both a monk and a priest, and he shows how fitting it is for all priests to live at least some elements of monastic life. These elements are aimed at leading the soul into the “desert,” as it were, where it is free of diversions and distractions, and becomes able to feel the pain of the loneliness of sin, in order then to receive the healing consolation of Christ. In the Western Rite, all priests are at least required to live a celibate life, and In Sinu Jesu is in part a wonderful reflection on the beautiful and prophetic witness of celibacy. And yet priests engaged in the cura animarum, especially in a modern world that is so intent on diversion (and so skilled in producing it) can so easily fall into diversion’s trap and in “seek in other places” the consolation that can only really be found in Christ.

One of the most moving things about In Sinu Jesu is the constant repeated message that in this earthly pilgrimage true consolation can be found easily in the Adoration of Christ in the viaticum, the way-bread of our journey, in which we already have a foretaste of the union with God that we hope for in Heaven:

There is no need for you or any priest to remain alone. My Heart is open to all my priest sons, and to those who ask for it, I will not refuse the grace of a special intimacy with me, a participation in the unique grace given Saint Joseph and Saint John in the beginning. (p. 36)

I am He who understands every man’s loneliness, especially the loneliness of My priests. I want to share their loneliness so that they will not be alone with themselves, but alone with Me. There I shall speak to their hearts as I am speaking to you. I am ablaze to be for each one of My priests the Friend whom they seek, the Friend with whom they can share everything, the Friend to whom they can tell everything, the Friend who will weep over their sins without, for a moment, ceasing to love them. (p. 14)

The revival of Eucharistic Adoration among the Catholic movements of our time is one of the more unexpected “signs of the times”. If one looks for signs of life in the Catholic Church in Western Europe, one finds them almost always in movements and groups who put a good deal of emphasis on Eucharistic Adoration. A development that became very visible at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne. Who would have expected this development? The Liturgical Movement in the 20th century considered Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass to be a dangerous habit, which might lead hearts away from the Sacrifice of the Mass itself, into an “Emmanuel piety” of Divine presence divorced from the Cross (cf. Dom Gommaire Laporta’s extraordinary polemic Eucharistic Piety). But In Sinu Jesu shows how, properly understood, the Adoration of the Eucharistic presence leads into and deepens the participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice:

Many priests do not have a real and practical faith in My Eucharistic presence. Do they not know that the Eucharist encloses within itself all the merits of My Passion? Let them recover the faith of their childhood. Let them come to find Me there where I am waiting for them and I, for My part, shall work miracles of grace and holiness in them. (p. 14)

In adoration, and from it, as from an ever-flowing fountain, you will receive the love that makes suffering precious and makes you like Me in the hour of My Sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. The more you adore Me, the better equipped you will be to accept suffering and to live it in union with My Passion… (p. 146)

In a way, In Sinu Jesu reads like a commentary on Pope Benedict XVI’s sermon at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2005. Not a speculative commentary, but an experiential illustration. I’m convinced that any reader who is willing to enter into the spirit of this book will be inspired with a new desire for union with God in prayer. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Tilman Riemenschneider, Last Supper - Detail

Dubia and Initiating Processes

I am very grateful to the four cardinals who submitted dubia about the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia to the Holy Father. With humility and reverence before the Vicar of Christ, and “supreme teacher of the faith,” they ask him to answer some specific questions about how Amoris Laetitia is consistent with previous teachings of the Church. As they note, uncertainty has been caused by conflicting interpretations, and they ask the Holy Father to bring clarity by responding definitely to their questions. Continue reading

The True Doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers

In a recent post I claimed that «the Protestant doctrine of “vocation,” and the “priesthood of all believers”» are «vulgar, bourgeois distortions of Pauline theology.» But of course there are also orthodox, Catholic ways of understanding “vocation” and “the priesthood of all believers”. Today’s saint, Pope Leo Great, is a great teacher of the later truth. In Sermon IV, Pope St. Leo teaches as follows:

Although the Church of God as a whole has a hierarchical structure, so that the completeness of the sacred body consists in a diversity of members, “we are,” nevertheless, as the Apostle says, “one in Christ.” No one functions so independently of another that even the lowliest part does not have some relationship with the Head to which it is connected. In the unity of faith and Baptism, we have an undifferentiated fellowship, dearly beloved. and a uniform dignity.

So proclaims the most blessed apostle Peter when he says with these most sacred words: “And you yourselves should be built up like living stones into spiritual dwellings, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And later on he says: “You, however, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart) All who have been regenerated in Christ are made kings by the sign of the cross and consecrated priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Apart from the particular service that our ministry entails, all Christians who live spiritual lives according to reason recognize that they have a part in the royal race and the priestly office. What could be more royal than the soul in subjection to God ruling over its own body? What could be more priestly than dedicating a pure conscience to the Lord and offering spotless sacrifices of devotion from the altar of the heart? Since this has been given to everyone alike through the grace of God, it is a devout and praiseworthy thing for you to take joy in the day of our elevation as if in your own honor. Let the episcopacy be celebrated in the entire body of the Church as one single mystery. When the oil of benediction has been poured out, the mystery flows, though more abundantly onto the higher parts, yet not ungenerously down to the lower ones as well.

The grace of Christ flows over His body, the Church, in a hierarchical manner. “Like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, Which ran down to the skirt of his garment” (Ps 132[133]:2). It is poured out on the Apostles and their successors, and from them it is given to the rest of us by means of the instrumental causality of the Sacraments.

Gregory on Envy and the Communicability of the Divine Good

But why do we say so much about envy if we do not also suggest how to get rid of it? It is indeed hard for people not to envy someone who has what they want to acquire. Concerning any material good that is acquired, the more it is divided among many owners, the less of it does any single person have. And that is why the mind of the one who wants it suffers so much from spite: one person who has what that one wants has either bought up the whole supply or has made it scarcer. The one, therefore, who wishes to be rid of the plague of spite for good must fall in love with that inheritance that is not used up by the number of coheirs. It is one for all and all for each one. The more abundant it is, the greater the multitude of those who receive it. (Moralia 5.XLVI.86)

Augustine on Sin as Preference for the Private Good

Thus when the will, which is an intermediate good, holds fast to the unchangeable good as something common rather than private – like the truth, which we have discussed at length without saying anything adequate – a person grasps the happy life. and the happy life, i.e. the attachment of the mind holding fast to the unchangeable good, is the proper and fundamental good for a human being. It also includes all the virtues, which no one can use for evil. although the virtues are great and fundamental goods in human beings, we thoroughly understand that they are proper to each person, not that they are common. Truth and wisdom, however, are common to all, and people become wise and happy by holding fast to them. of course, one person does not become happy by the happiness of another. even if you emulate another in order to be happy, you seek to become happy by means of what you saw made the other person happy, namely through the unchangeable and common truth. Nor does anyone become prudent by another person’s prudence, or is made courageous by another’s courage, or moderate by another’s moderateness, or just by another’s justice. Instead, you conform your mind to those unchangeable rules and beacons of the virtues, which live uncorruptibly in the truth itself and in the wisdom that is common, to which the person furnished with virtues whom you put forward as a model for your emulation has conformed and directed his mind.

Therefore, when the will adheres to the common and unchangeable good, it achieves the great and fundamental goods of a human being, despite being an intermediate good. But the will sins when it is turned away from the unchangeable and common good, towards its private good, or towards something external, or towards something lower. The will is turned to its private good when it wants to be in its own power; it is turned to something external when it is eager to know the personal affairs of other people, or anything that is not its business; it is turned to something lower when it takes delight in bodily pleasures. And thus someone who is made proud or curious or lascivious is captured by another life that, in comparison to the higher life, is death. (De libero arbitrio 2.19.52., trans. Peter King)