Sunday, January 31, 2010

The nostalgia of real RAMEN!

Ramen (ラーメン), which is pronounced "Ramion" in Korean and "Lo Mein" in Chinese, comes from the compound characters 撈麵 (in Cantonese) that stand for "stirred" and "noodles." In Japan where I grew up, I had the genuine Japanese version of the dish years before I ran into the instant "Oodles-of-Noodles" stuff that has the nutritional equivalent of cardboard. (To be fair, it will do in a pinch as a comfort food, if prepared right -- which I say only because I knew a student at Chapel Hill who would pull the dry noodles out of the plastic wrap and spread peanut butter on it, which is definitely not right.) When I was in junior high school in Sapporo, we could put in an order for Ramen for lunch and have it delivered to us at our school for exactly 60 yen (when the exchange rate was $1.00 US Dollar = 360.00 Japanese Yen); and a bowl of "Soba" (buckwheat noodles) or "Udon" (fat, flat bleached wheat noodles) was only 40 yen. But that's all ancient history.

It was with a pang of nostalgia, then, that I read the "Ramen Adventures" (New York Times, January 29, 2010) diary of a blogger helping the Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, with an article he was writing (Christopher Blosser had sent me an email with the link). The photos and descriptions were more than enough to get my mouth watering, as would be case too, I'm sure, for any Japanese expatriate in this country. Have a look. If you like Vietnamese Pho, this is a distant cousin, and one well worth getting to know.

If you enjoy this Ramen genera, thereis a movie you are sure to enjoy if you haven't already seen it, called "Tampopo"(タンポポ, literally "dandelion"), a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha), sportingly referred by publicity as the first Japanese noodle Western. The story centers on two truck drivers happening into a roadside Ramen shop, getting into a fight, then helping the proprietress turn her shop, which isn't doing too well, into the Grand Ramen-Daddy of noodle shops. Somewhat in the manner of Like Water for Chocolate or Mostly Martha, the narrative focuses on the subtleties of delectable culinary delights with a tease of romance in the subscript.

[Hat tip to C.B.]


From the website of the now-defunct Holy Trinity German parish in Boston:
The Depositio

As Septuagesima (Latin for "seventy") is seventy days before Easter, it typologically commemorates the seventy years of exile spent by the Jews in Babylon. As Psalm 136 attests, God's chosen people did not deem it fit to sing their joyous songs from Sion during the Babylonian exile, and neither do Catholics during theirs. The joyful "Alleluia" is thus laid to rest for seventy days until it rises again in the Easter Vigil. As mentioned elsewhere, this dismissal, or depositiio, of the Alleluia can take place formally in a special ceremony. After the Saturday office of None or at some point of the afternoon on the day before Septuagesima Sunday, the choir gathers in the church where it carries a plaque or banner bearing the word "Alleluia" through the church as it sings the touching hymn, "Alleluia, dulce carmen" (part of which is quoted elsewhere). It is then solemnly "buried" in some place in the church. In the Middle Ages this procession could become quite elaborate. Sometimes the "Alleluia" plaque would be in the shape of a coffin, while in parts of France, a straw man with the word "Alleluia" was even burned in effigy in the churchyard. A simpler ceremony based on the same principles, however, can easily be held in one's home or parish.

[Acknowledgement: "Farewell to Alleluia" (Rorate Caeli, January 30, 2010)]

"Bullet" against desacralization of churches

Without agreeing with everything he says, Rorate Caeli's host says that an article written by Michele Dolz of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and published in L'Osservatore Romano on January 16, 2010, "serves as yet another "bullet" in the continuing struggle against modernism in Church architecture, sacred art, and the place of the reserved Sacrament."

In the article, a translation of which is made available at its website, "The tabernacle is not an obstacle" (Rorate Caeli, January 30, 2010), Dolz writes:
But the church which has been transformed into a conference room does not need pictures, and even these could be a hindrance. Let us think of a conference hall or a hall used for conventions: the emptier they are, the better they are for the gathering for which they are used since this helps the participants to concentrate their attention on the speakers.. The churches used as assembly halls do not need pictures because pictures do not serve, they even disturb. And this actually goes well with the minimalist and purist taste of many architects, however creative or repetitive they may be.

Sober and somewhat bare churches are of course not a novelty of the 20th century .... But it is not possible to appeal to Vatican II in order to ask it to justify either the absence of pictures, or the invalidity of personal prayer inside the church. In Sacrosanctum Concilium we read that the purpose of works of sacred art is to “contribute as efficiently as possible to turn the minds of men towards God”, that ”the church has always reserved itself, and rightly so, to be the judge and choose between the artistical works those which respond to faith, to piety and the norms religiously transmitted and which are adapted to the use of the sacred” (122) ...

An extreme and very clear consequence of the “assemblist” (assemblearista) position is the loss of the importance of the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ in the Host after the mass. If one does not think of personal adoration, and as community adoration is no longer actually practiced, then the tabernacle becomes cumbersome and difficult to put between what are normally considered as the two liturgical poles, the altar and the ambo. In so many churches it has thus become subject to a progressive marginalization which has made it at times reach total concealment. The absence of faith in the real presence is vividly noticed in some sectors.

And yet, the story of the tabernacle reflects the progressive development of Eucharistic worship, according to that ”progress of the faith” for which Vincent of Lerins already set the parameters in his Commonitorium (434) and which in this case has witnessed two great moments: the 13th century and the initiative of the Catholic Reformation around the Council of Trent. The bishop of Verona, Matteo Giberti (+1543) for instance put the tabernacle on the altar table, and this action was quickly repeated by many. As John Paul II wrote in 2003, “The designs of altars and tabernacles within Church interiors were often not simply motivated by artistic inspiration but also by a clear understanding of the mystery" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 49). The way of looking at the church as a place for assemblies, on the other hand, looks on Eucharistic custody as something subsidiary and not something arising from the union of the faithful with Christ in Holy Communion.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Albertus Church To Hold Its First Solemn High Mass

Tridentine Community News (January 24, 2010):
On Sunday, February 7 at noon, St. Albertus Church will hold its first Solemn High Tridentine Mass in over 40 years. The celebrant will be Fr. Wolfgang Seitz, the deacon will be Deacon Richard Bloomfield, and the Subdeacon will be Deacon Gerard Charette. Deacon Charette is a recently ordained Permanent Deacon for the Diocese of London, Ontario who studied at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary and regularly attends the Tridentine Mass at Windsor’s Assumption Church.

St. Albertus has the broadest and deepest sanctuary of all of the churches in this area which host Tridentine Masses. Its high altar platform is also larger than the others’. Most likely this is because St. Albertus was the site for major ceremonies of Ss. Cyril & Methodius Seminary and the Felician Sisters’ Motherhouse, both of which were originally located across from St. Albertus. Solemn High and Pontifical Masses were likely a common occurrence in the parish’s early days. It is therefore only appropriate that the most solemn form of the Extraordinary Form Mass that a priest may celebrate is returning to this fitting locale.

Restoration work continues on St. Albertus’ tower bells. Those who attended the previous Tridentine Mass heard them ring out for the first time in many years. Many thanks to Dr. Steven Ball and his team of volunteers who have undertaken this repair task.

The Houseling Cloth

During the Christmas season, enthusiastic decorators at Assumption Church attached a large garland to the Communion Rail. After testing various ways of distributing Holy Communion around this object, it was decided that, in the interest of safety for those approaching the rail, communicants would temporarily kneel before a Houseling Cloth at the center opening of the rail.

Used in churches where there is no Altar Rail, the Houseling Cloth (from the Old English word “Housel”, or Host) is a sheet held by two altar servers in the position where a Communion Rail would be. Like the rail, it can catch any Particles of the Host that might fall. It also serves as a point of demarcation between the sacred (the sanctuary) and the profane or secular (the nave). The below photo shows a Houseling Cloth in use at the 2006 C.I.E.L. convention in Oxford, England. Note that the server on the left holding the cloth is Windsor’s own Brother John Berchmanns of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem.

Papal Master of Ceremonies Defends Sound Liturgy

One of the most important speeches in recent memory was delivered on January 6 by Msgr. Guido Marini, our Holy Father’s right-hand man in charge of papal liturgies, to those attending the Year for Priests Clergy Conference in Rome. It was in fact so noteworthy that it will be reproduced in its entirety over several future editions of this column. Topics addressed included ad oriéntem celebration; Communion on the tongue while kneeling; and the use of Latin, Gregorian Chant, and suitable music.

Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments Defends Sound Liturgy

Not to be outdone by Msgr. Marini, a scant three days later, on January 9, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera granted an interview to the Italian publication Il Foglio in which he, too, articulated similar areas of focus. This interview was conducted on the same day that His Eminence celebrated a Pontifical Tridentine Mass at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. Interestingly for someone in charge of the Vatican congregation that oversees the Ordinary Form Liturgy, Cardinal Cañizares is a regular celebrant of the Extraordinary Form, something unthinkable in Rome prior to Summórum Pontíficum.

Clearly there is a theme being promoted at the Vatican. Whether this is a calculated PR campaign orchestrated by the Holy Father, or simply individuals of their own accord explaining the direction in which the Holy Father wishes to take the Church, does not really matter. What does matter is that intelligent arguments are being posited for the restoration of liturgical practices that are in continuity with the Church’s tradition.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for January 24, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) RIP

Some ten years ago now, I remember telephoning Dr. McInerny on behalf of the Center for Theology at Lenoir-Rhyne University, asking whether he would be willing to fly down for a weekend as a speaker and panelist at the annual Aquinas-Luther Conference, an ecumenical conference founded by the late and Catholic-friendly ELCA Bishop, Michael C.D. McDaniel of North Carolina. As soon as the secretary put through Dr. McInerny, there was not a moment's hesitation. "Sure. When?" The entire weekend at Lenoir-Rhyne, McInerny was the consummate gentleman, handling points of disagreement with amicable and winsome dexterity and charity. Later when we would meet at conferences, he would always recall the event with delight, and it was a privilege to know him.

It was with sadness, then, that I heard about Dr. McInerny's throat cancer some time ago, and now about his passing from this world along with so many great souls over the past couple of years. Yet the legacy he leaves, like many of the others, is one a rich wealth of resources. In McInerny's case, however, there is a most interesting twist. In order to supplement his income, he took up the discipline of writing fiction. The yield has included the TV series, the Father Dowling Mysteries [see image right], as well as a good many mystery novels. I remember finding one, Body and Soul,in the philosophy section of used bookstore, amusingly, just as I once found one of Francis Schaeffer's more serious theological works (which included a biblical exposition of Jeremiah), Death in the City,in the murder mystery section of a used bookstore.

Writing about McInerny's legacy, Thomas S. Hibbs, Professor of Ethics and dean of the honors college at Baylor University, had this to say in "Ralph McInerny (1929-2010)" (On the Square, January 29, 2010):
One of the marks of a virtuous character, according to Aristotle, is the performance of virtuous acts with ease and delight. On that basis, as well as others, Ralph McInerny was a remarkably virtuous man. One of Ralph’s most beautiful books is entitled The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life,the premise of which is that “we can find in the person of Jacques Maritain a model of the intellectual life in the pursuit of sanctity.” Those words certainly apply to Ralph, one of the great Catholic intellectuals of our time. What distinguished Ralph was not just his fidelity, his intelligence, and his astonishing productivity, but his gracious and ready wit. He possessed a knack for conversation with everyone—from philosophers and politicians, to the elderly and children. Unlike most gifted individuals, Ralph was never burdened by his gifts. He engaged in serious pursuits joyfully, almost playfully.

Ralph excelled in so many spheres and combined so many virtues in his person that it is difficult to know where to begin in recounting his noteworthy achievements. He was a philosopher (author of more than two dozen scholarly books, he gave the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1999–2000), a translator (he translated the texts of Aquinas for Penguin Classics), a critically acclaimed and popular novelist (author of a number of mystery series, including the popular Father Dowling series that became a television series), a public intellectual (he appeared on William F. Buckley's Firing Line, and was a member of President George W. Bush's Committee on the Arts and Humanities), a journalist (with Michael Novak, he founded Crisis, a journal of lay Catholic opinion), and a published poet. In the midst of all this activity, Ralph was remarkably generous with his time and his help, especially for his students, in whose families he expressed an avid interest.

In recent years after the death of his beloved wife Connie, with whom he had seven children, his thoughts turned increasingly to age and death. In a wonderful and deeply autobiographical volume of poems, The Soul Of Wit,he reflected at length on death. He said often that since Connie died, he felt posthumous. They were indeed a perfect match. As a graduate student, I met Connie when Ralph introduced her by saying, “Have you met my first wife?” With a wit as quick as Ralph’s, she had no trouble keeping up. Even or especially when occupied with thoughts of easeful death, Ralph’s humor emerged. He liked to tell the story about a hospital visit to see a failing Jean Oesterle, his Notre Dame colleague, a convert to the faith, and a translator of Aquinas. Hesitantly, he asked, “Jean, do you know who I am?” She retorted, “Don’t you know?”

Ralph had an indiscriminate love of puns; he seemed to enjoy bad puns more than good ones—a thesis that would seem to be confirmed by a perusal of the titles of his mystery novels (On This Rockne,Irish Gilt,Law and Ardor,The Book of Kills). An appreciation for the nuances and richness of ordinary language informed not only his humor but also his practice of philosophy. His most important philosophical text was Aquinas and Analogy,a study of the way Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, teased out of the complexity of ordinary language unities of meaning. He rejected the idea that Thomas Aquinas provided us with a philosophical system intended to compete with other systems. Instead, Thomas was asking in a more precise way questions every human being asks; he is interested in the human good, not the good of professional philosophers or intellectuals. In keeping with this working assumption, Ralph wrote both for elite groups of scholars and for intrigued laymen. With the latter group in mind, he penned A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists. His distinctive approach to Thomas Aquinas is most evident in his supple account of natural law (see Ethica Thomistica,for example), and in his defense of natural theology in the text of his Gifford Lectures, published as Characters In Search Of Their Author,the thesis of which Ralph states thus: “For us it is all but inevitable that, however momentarily, we feel ourselves to be part of a vast cosmic drama and our thoughts turn to the author, not merely of our roles, but of our existence. Natural theology is one version of that quest.” Ralph’s philosophical work flourished at the University of Notre Dame, to which he moved in 1955, after receiving his doctorate at Laval under the great Thomist Charles DeKoninck and teaching for one year at Creighton. His first office at Notre Dame was in the administration building, the Golden Dome. When he and a colleague became intrigued by the presence of an old safe, they opened it, and, amid the clutter, discovered a draft of a novel written by Knute Rockne. At Notre Dame, he held an endowed chair as the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies; he was also director of the Maritain Center and of the Medieval Institute.

Early on at Notre Dame, he began, in addition to his teaching and philosophical work, to write fiction. The story of how he made the transition from wanting to be a writer to becoming one is illuminating. After a time in which he haphazardly polished off and sent out short stories for publication, only to receive rejection letters, he decided that he would write daily over the next year. If nothing were accepted for publication, he would take that as a sign it was not meant to be. So, every evening, after he had put his children to bed, he would repair to his unfinished basement and stand, not sit, before his typewriter pecking away from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. On the wall in front of him, he had posted these words in bold, “No One Owes You a Reading.” He eventually published some short stories and then had a breakthrough in 1969 with The Priest,a work that became a bestseller. He wrote more than eighty novels and received the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award for mystery writing.

Ralph’s life and career will always be enmeshed with the university he loved, Our Lady’s University. He was of course deeply chagrined at the direction of the University. The concerns about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity have become very public in the past few years with the administration’s decisions to elevate the tawdry Vagina Monologues to the status of great art and to award an honorary doctorate of laws to a pro-abortion president. Before all that, Ralph objected to the premature firing of Coach Tyrone Willingham, in an New York Times op-ed piece “The Firing Irish,” and to the unseemly image of a president and priest chasing down potential coaches on airport tarmacs in the dead of night. Even prior to that, Ralph objected to hiring practices that focused exclusively on “academic” criteria and rendered irrelevant knowledge of, and sympathy for, the Catholic faith and intellectual tradition. For Ralph, the accelerating abandonment of things Catholic at Notre Dame was the direct result of a craven quest for success understood in conventional, and often quite secular, terms.

It is common to say that Notre Dame’s motto is “God, Country, Notre Dame,” but Ralph was quick to remind us that the official motto is “vita, dulcedo et spes”—words meaning “life, sweetness, and hope” from the Latin Marian prayer, Salve Regina. How fitting that Ralph’s last book, published just months ago, is Dante and the Blessed Virgin. Again, what he said of Jacques Maritain is equally true of Ralph. Teacher of teachers, he was a “model of the Christian philosopher, of the Thomist, both by what he taught and what he was.”

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lech Walesa endorses US Republican

Publius, "Lech Walesa Endorses Republican for Illinois Governor" (Big Government), in an open letter from Walesa to the People of Illinois dated January 20, 2010. Publius says: "Mr. Walesa will be in Chicago this week to campaign for Mr. Andrzejewski. The primary election is Tuesday, February 2nd."

[HT to S.K.]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Orthodox to discuss papal primacy

Sandro Magister, "'The Pope Is the First Among the Patriarchs.' Just How Remains to Be Seen" (www.chiesa, Jan. 25, 2010): "With Benedict XVI, for the first time in history, the Orthodox have agreed to discuss the primacy of the bishop of Rome, according to the model of the first millennium, when the Church was undivided. Never before seen: the outline of the dialogue.":
ROME, January 25, 2010 – This evening, with vespers in the basilica of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, Benedict XVI is closing the week of prayer for Christian unity.

There are some who say that ecumenism has entered a phase of retreat and chill. But as soon as one that looks to the East, the facts say the opposite. Relations with the Orthodox Churches have never been so promising as they have since Joseph Ratzinger has been pope....
Read more ...

Prayer request

A reader writes: "This blogger sounds like a great guy. A PCA pastor struggling with cancer, and getting beat up. Sheltered me, I cannot read his posts without emotionally recalling my mother's long ago cancer, and thinking he needs all the prayers he can get. So read and possibly pray. Strength in numbers..."

David T. Wayne, "Update from Yesterday" (JollyBlogger, January 24, 2010), is pastor or Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie, MD. His profile reads: "I'm a Christian, husband, father, pastor and all around goof who believes that God is at His best when man is at His worst."

Let's pray for him.

[HT J.M.]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How Sweet are Thy Words

The Bible lesson by Gerrit Dou

by Peter A. Kwasniewski

Let me begin with a massive understatement: the Bible is not an easy book, and few, too few, are Catholics who make the study of it a regular part of their spiritual lives. Indeed, before we even delve into it, we are confronted by the fact that the Bible is really many books of many different styles, periods, and particular purposes, so just opening it anywhere and starting to read will not prove the best approach for most of us. Because it was written under the inspiration of the one God, however, the Bible is also fundamentally one book: it deals with the one history of salvation for mankind and it has one goal in view—the knowledge and the love of God, leading to an ever more perfect union with Him. Since, as the Church teaches, “the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of sacred theology,”1 there is nothing more important in theological studies and in our lifelong education as Catholics than turning and returning to the revealed Word. We must therefore regularly set apart time for this task—or, as the saints see it, this great privilege—of reading the only words that have God as their primary author.

Why read the Bible and make it a familiar companion? There are two kinds of answers to this question. One is merely human—a literary, sociological, or cultural answer. It’s good to be familiar with the Bible stories, they have formed Western culture, they are eloquent and moving, they illustrate the great problems of human existence. This answer is really beside the point, because all great literature does this; one could make exactly the same argument for reading Homer, Dante, or Shakespeare. Moreover, as both Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome observed long ago, the Bible is not always, at least for most of us, a “delightful” reading experience, the way poetry tends to be. It is full of perplexing obscurities, remote historical details, repetitions, seeming contradictions, not to mention brutalities and sensualities of a most unedifying nature, such that even the stuffed new Lectionary does not attempt to include them. It demands of us much effort if we are to crack the shell and reach the meat inside.

The other answer is that of faith. We read Scripture because it is what the Church claims it to be—God’s word, true and trustworthy, showing us the path of life, revealing to us something of who God is. In this respect it is unlike any other book we have. The Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas is well worth studying and one can easily devote one’s entire life to mastering its contents. But note how Saint Thomas says in the very first question of the Summa that all his efforts are placed at the service of sacra doctrina, the “holy teaching” that God Himself communicates to us through Scripture and Tradition, safeguarded and handed down by the Church. Saint Thomas had no illusions about the relative importance of his secondary text to the one and only primary source. If God had wanted to reveal either the Summa theologiae or the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Mount Sinai or, some centuries later, on the mount of the beatitudes, He could very easily have done so. The fact that He did not should make us wonder why He persists in speaking to us through so complicated an instrument.

In the end, therefore, it is really the conviction of faith that moves us, or should move us, to take up this book and persevere in reading it. Scripture rewards diligence (meaning, from the Latin diligere, a free and serious love), and it opens itself only to those who show their perseverance.

In What Spirit We Should Read

Scripture itself expresses well the spirit we should ask the Lord to give us as we strive to read and understand His words. The longest and most elaborately crafted Psalm is 119 (Vulgate 118), a hymn in praise of the law of the Lord and a plea for the grace to live according to it. The Psalm again and again mentions “thy word(s),” as in these verses:
11 I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.
16 I will delight in thy statutes; I will not forget thy word.
17 Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live and observe thy word.
25 My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to thy word!
103 How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
105 Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
130 The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
160 The sum of thy word is truth; and every one of thy righteous ordinances endures for ever.
Echoing verse 160 above, Jesus prays to His Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The prophet Jeremiah perfectly captures the appetite that we should have for this sanctifying and truthful word: “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16). In his second letter to Saint Timothy, Saint Paul discusses the important role that the “sacred writings” will have in the lives of those who strive to “live a godly life”:
All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12-17)
Old Woman Reading a Lectionary by Gerrit Dou

A Word of Life, Bread for the Soul

All of Scripture is based on the experience of the Holy by the Holy. Its overriding goal is that we, joining the saints of the old and new covenants, should likewise enter into communion with the living God. It was written by those who became saints for those who are now striving to become saints. Scripture speaks everywhere about vice and error, but it positively teaches only virtue and truth, which it receives directly from the source. As Saint Peter writes in his second epistle:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. … You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. (2 Peter 1:16, 19-21, 2:1-2)
This passage also begins to teach us about the need for an authorized, trustworthy interpreter of the holy writings, if they are to be a “lamp shining in a dark place,” rather than the false teaching and false prophecy that brings “swift destruction” and discredits the “way of truth.”

Consider, in conjunction with the foregoing text from Saint Peter, the following text from the first epistle of Saint John:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
What Saint John is concerned to deliver is not bits of ephemeral information, a beautiful story or lyric; he is neither a modern journalist nor a novelist-poet. John heard, saw, and touched Jesus, and reclining at table against His breast, He received the ineffable gift of the Lord Himself in the most holy Eucharist. The next day he stood beneath the gibbet of the cross and watched the same Lord spill His Blood in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. Two days later, John and Peter saw the empty tomb. That evening, the Lord newly risen from the dead stood before ten of the apostles locked in the upper room and said, “Peace be with you,” showing them His pierced hands and side. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands . . .” It was out of these unforgettable, life-changing experiences that the beloved disciple, aided by the Spirit of truth, was able to draw forth his Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse.

Like all who follow the apostles, Saint John did not merely hear a word of life, He fed upon the ever-living Word of God and was transformed into a living image of Him. Jesus says: “I am the living bread come down from heaven . . . He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:51, 56). Jesus did not come to bring us a message; He came to give us Himself. The good news is that “God so loved the world that He gave us His only-begotten Son.” In its origin, in its content, and in its purpose, therefore, Scripture is given to us for our salvation; it orients us toward Christ, teaches us about Him, urges, reproves, and consoles, all for the sake of furthering this communion with the Word-made-flesh. It is truly a great mercy that, as our Lord said, we are not left orphans—in any way. We are given infallible teaching to nourish our minds and guide our steps; we are given direct access to the eternal High Priest, who stooped to the nothingness of our flesh in order to raise us up to His divine glory; we are given the perfect gift that encompasses all gifts, the Holy Spirit. We are given all that we need to be holy: not slaves trembling in fear, but friends of God, purified of all that is not pleasing to Him. “Blessed be the Lord our God, for He has come to His people and set them free . . . that being delivered from the hand of our enemies we may serve Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our lives” (Luke 1:68, 74–75).2

Saint Anthony Reading by Marcantonio Bassetti

Six Important Truths about Scripture

In conclusion, I would like to leave the reader with helpful points of orientation that I found some years ago in the work of a now-forgotten French Dominican, Fr. Chifflot.3 This balanced and traditional exegete presents six important truths about Scripture that serve as reliable principles for us while we study the sacred page.

1. The Bible is a sacred history. It is not metaphysics; it is a history, the history of a people. But as its protagonist is the Eternal One, it is necessarily unlike any secular history. It is the history of a “love affair” between the Infinite and the Finite. And so it evokes all the grandeur and beauty of God and all the misery, horror, desperation, and darkness of fallen man.

2. The Bible is a promise. The People of God has a history, and it is a forward-moving history, a journey towards a goal, a promised land. It is a book of hope which springs from past deliverance and longs for future fulfillment. There is thus always a tension in the text; it is not “merely” about the past, nor is it simply “news” about the present, or “predictions” of the future. It is about all time in its purposeful movement—the past and the future breaking into the present, the present stretching towards eternity.

3. The Bible is the book of Christ. The written word of God is about the personal Word of God, Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, who breaks into history as the Messiah or Anointed One. Saint Jerome famously says: “To be ignorant of Scripture is to be ignorant of Christ.” Pope Leo XIII adds: “In its pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue and attraction to the love of God.” Blaise Pascal likewise speaks of “Jesus Christ, whom both Testaments concern: as the expectation of the Old, as the model of the New, and as the center of both.” As Saint Augustine says, the Old Testament is the New Testament hidden under a veil, while the New is the Old now made manifest. This being so, the Old Testament is thoroughly Christian, because it tells of the preparation of the chosen people for their Messiah, their unconquerable Davidic ruler. Since Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish religion, all that belonged to the Jews now belongs by right to us, including the Hebrew Scriptures. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum expresses these points beautifully.4

4. The Bible is the book of the Church. The Church opens the Bible for us. As Dei Verbum teaches:
There exists a close connection and communication between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while Sacred Tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity . . . Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. . . . [T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office [Magisterium] of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.5
History has borne abundant witness to this last claim: wherever the authority of the Catholic Church has been assailed or rejected, the authority of Scripture has grown progressively weaker, in some instances disappearing altogether. Conversely, wherever Scripture is accepted as divine truth, there is an awareness, bright or dim, of some supernatural reality called “the Church,” and a desire to belong to it, as if implicitly recognizing that a book by itself doesn’t make a religion. John Henry Newman made a similar observation in regard to Marian devotion, saying in his Letter to Pusey that, as a matter of historical fact, wherever the cultus of the Virgin Mary was abandoned, sooner or later faith in the very divinity of Christ was abandoned. Because of the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation, Mother and Son can never be parted, no more than Father and Son.

5. The Bible is a mirror. It holds up to us a mirror that reveals who we are, where we have come from, what we are destined for. It is a sword that penetrates the secret places of the heart: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

6. The Bible is the book of prayer.6 The Bible is full of prayer; it is about men of prayer and their faithful worship, as well as men who are unfaithful and idolatrous. It shows us the pattern of life and the false paths of death. It gives us the words of so much of our liturgy. The Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours consist chiefly of psalms, canticles, and short readings; the traditional Roman Missal is shot through with Scriptural verses from Introit to the Last Gospel. Unlike the new Lectionary, a repository of artificially segmented texts, and unlike the new Missal, a stripped and shivering product of rationalism, the great Missale Romanum is a living testament of Tradition, saturated with Divine Revelation, resonant, fragrant, irreducibly complex, united to the Word of God as bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh. Traditional Catholics have no need to feel “left out” of the movement to “recover” the Bible, for our Faith was already there, and it goes deeper than the moderns. Generations upon generations have been nourished and informed by the Word of God expressed with vibrant diversity and density in the liturgy itself, in architecture and the other plastic arts, in sacred music and religious hymns, in Catholic culture and its customs. Wherever the traditional Faith has been strong, the Bible has received the devotion its holy content deserves, the veneration its saving message demands. Now that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is leading the way with a genuine reform of the Church, let us not fail to do our part to live a genuinely traditional Catholic life—not the truncated version that modernity sought to produce from the Enlightenment to the present, but the robust life of Faith practiced by our ancient and medieval forefathers, rooted in the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Church.


  1. CCC 132, citing DV 24. [back]

  2. Zechariah is speaking here of servile or slavish fear, not of the filial or reverential fear that suits a child in relation to his parent and, all the more, a creature in relation to its creator. [back]

  3. T.G. Chifflot, O.P., Water in the Wilderness, trans. Luke O'Neill (Herder and Herder, 1967), 55-78. [back]

  4. See Dei Verbum, 14-16. [back]

  5. Dei Verbum 9-10; cf. the opening paragraph of Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus. [back]

  6. See Chifflot, pp. 75-76. [back]

[Dr. Peter A. Kwasniewski is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming. The present article, "How Sweet are Thy Words," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Fall 2009), pp. 6-9, and is reprinted here by kind permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060, and the author.]

Islam: protected religion of the West

Mark Steyn, "The Islamization of the World" (The Corner, January 23, 2010):
Metronieuws has an interview with Afshin Ellian, a witness for the defense in the Geert Wilders trial in Amsterdam. If you don't read Dutch, there's an English translation here. (I've modified it slightly, because I think he missed a nuance here and there.) Here's the key passage:
You said the Wilders Trial reminds you of justice in your country of origin, Iran. Is that not somewhat exaggerated?

“The Netherlands, of course, is not comparable with Iran, but it's about perception. If you cannot say that Islam is a backward religion and that Mohammed is a criminal, then you are living in an Islamic country, my friend, because there also you cannot say such things. Here I'm free to say that Christ was a faggot* and Mary was a whore, but apparently I should stay off of Mohammed.”
(*Judging from the routine taunts of Muslim youth to ethnic European males on the streets of Amsterdam at night, the word "flikker" seems to be one bit of Dutch every immigrant picks up instantly.)
Read the rest of the article here.

[Hat tip to S.K.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition

Fr. Longenecker, "We Are On the Lord's Side" (Standing on My Head, January 20, 2010):
The issue of Jesus guns reminds me of the sniper in the film Saving Private Ryan. The boy is from the deep South and quotes verses from the psalms as he pulls the trigger. "Bless the Lord my Rock, who teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight."Click. Bang. Pop goes the weasel.

It has been suggested that gun sights should not feature Bible verses and weapons should not carry religious encouragement. The gospel, we are told, is all about love. That's right, and at the end the loving person gets tortured and crucified naked in public, while his buddies deny him, run away and one hangs himself. I'm afraid the the gospel is not all puppies and kittens and Jesus carried me on the beach when I only saw one set of footprints.

The fact of the matter is that as we will always have the poor with us we shall always have the war with us. This being the case, we had better make the best of a bad job and ensure that as much as possible the wars we fight are just and that they are fought in a way that is just and avoids all killing as much as possible. In order to do this the military need to have a set of ethics and rules of engagement....

If there is going to be war, then I would rather have soldiers who had faith and standards of morality and a sense of there being such a thing as right and wrong and justice in the world, and it is Christianity that helps to make that alive and relevant in people's lives. So Bible verses on weapons therefore makes rather a lot of sense to me. So does lessons for soldiers in ethical standards of warfare, how to avoid killing and how to treat prisoners well. If that is the case then there is a strong argument for considerably more religion in the war place than less.
This line of argument cuts sharply against the grain of a large swath of Catholic sentiment today, not to speak of the sentiment of general culture. Yet those acquainted with the Catholic tradition of natural law and moral reasoning about the just use of coercion, lethal force, and warfare will know that there is nothing exceptional about Fr. Nongenecker's line of thinking here. Prof. James Turner Johnson of Rutgers University, probably the leading authority on Just War Theory today, makes the startling and counterintuitive claim that we ought to thank God for smart bomb technology, for example, because it allows our military to reduce casualties among noncombatants (one of the criteria of a just war). C.S. Lewis's essays "Learning in Wartime" and "Why I am not a Pacifist" in The Weight of Glory are a good, accessible entrée into the traditional ways of understanding such issues.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Priestly vocations: from every walk of life

"A's prospect leaving baseball for call of the priesthood" (Yahoo Sports, January 22, 2010):
Well, here's a story you don't see every day.

Grant Desme, a 23-year-old minor league outfielder in Oakland's system, is retiring from baseball to follow a calling into the Catholic priesthood.

...Desme was ranked the A's eighth-best prospect by Baseball America after hitting .288 with 31 home runs and 89 RBIs in A ball in 2009 and he was just named MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
Said Desme:
"I'm doing well in baseball. But I had to get down to the bottom of things, to what was good in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. Baseball is a good thing, but that felt selfish of me when I felt that God was calling me more. It took awhile to trust that and open up to it and aim full steam toward him ... I love the game, but I'm going to aspire to higher things."
[Hat tip to E.B.]

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hushing horrid homilies & seeing the sacred in art

Sandro Magister writes (www.chiesa) :
ROME, January 21, 2010 – A stir was made recently by Bishop Mariano Crociata's criticism of the shoddy quality of many Sunday homilies.

Crociata is the secretary general of the Italian bishops' conference. Speaking at a conference on the liturgy at the end of the year, he called many of the homilies given from the pulpit every Sunday insipid "mush," almost an "inedible dish," and in any case "hardly nourishing."

His criticisms were picked up by "L'Osservatore Romano" and by Vatican Radio. There were some who retrieved a quip Joseph Ratzinger made when he was a cardinal: "The miracle of the Church is that it survives millions of terrible homilies every Sunday."

As pope, Ratzinger has made it abundantly clear that he thinks one of the primary duties of the Church is to elevate the quality of the homilies.

The homilies that he gives himself at public celebrations have become a characteristic feature of his pontificate. He prepares them personally, with extreme care. In fact, he proposes them as a model.
All well and good. One has to clearly discern the malady before understanding the remedy; and we can certainly give God thanks for the example offered by our Holy Father.

Massimo Naro, in a brief essay, "The artistic road to the sacred mysteries" (in the lower half of Sandro Magistro's above-linked post), reviews the latest volume of a three-volume work by Timothy Verdon – an art historian, priest, professor at Stanford University, and director of the diocesan office for catechesis through art in Florence – in which Verdon comments on the lectionary for Sunday and feast day Masses using masterpieces of Christian art chosen in conjunction with the Gospel of the day.

Whatever benefit this approach may have, it seems clear that what is sorely needed in Catholic seminary education is not only more exemplary models of inspiring and effective Gospel proclamation (such as a few of our seminaries have), but a deeper acquaintance with and deeper love for Scripture, and good, solid courses in practical biblical hermeneutics and the theology of preaching.

37th Anniversary of legalized baby killing ...

... and Robert George says he's "moderately pro-choice"!!

In remembrance of National Right To Life Day, celebrated every January 22nd on the annual anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Roe vs. Wade (1973), and in honor of the tens thousands of protesters who annually drive to Washington, D.C., to march from the Washington Monument to the Supreme Court, lobby senators, and get themselves ignored by the media in favor of the eight or nine abortion-rights activists who manage to come out and get themselves interviewed on national television, it seemed only decent and proper to come up with a "thought for the day" of some kind before stepping on the bus for D.C. tomorrow morning. Accordingly, I've retrieved from my files the following annual quotation from Princeton professor, Robert P. George:

I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go as far as supporting mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even non-judgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity--not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately "pro-choice."

[Legal disclaimer: Dr. Robert P. George is George McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and earned his doctorate in philosophy of law at Oxford University. Just in case anyone is wondering, the foregoing statement by him is not intended to be taken at face value, but as a parody and reductio ad absurdum refutation of the fallacious reasoning employed pervasively by proponents of a "pro-choice" position favoring "abortion rights." I offer this explanation not to insult your intelligence, but only because of having learned the hard way to cover my bases: some years ago, I sent George's quotation out by email to all faculty, staff, and students at Lenoir-Rhyne University, only to hear that a President's cabinet meeting was called to address the issue, and, the dean of students, frantic to ensure the institution's indemnity and respectability, sent out a follow-up message indicating that the views of my email did not reflect the views of the institution and that the college did not endorse the killing of abortionists! Well guess what? Neither do I or Bobby George!]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Msgr. Pozzo: Summorum Pontificum intended to spread EF

In response to questions in an interview in Italy about the "widespread restrictive interpretation" of the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum -- the interpretation of those who suggest that "the papal provision is primarily, if not exclusively, aimed at those groups and institutes that were already attached to the traditional form" -- Msgr. Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission, Ecclesia Dei, responded that the Motu Proprio is addressed not only "to all Catholic faithful who desire the extraordinary form of the Roman liturgy." Rather, he replied: "The purpose of the document is also to allow the spreading of the extraordinary form." (Michael J. Miller, "A Progress Report: News from the Ecclesia Dei Commission," Catholic World Report, January, 2010, p. 40, my emphasis)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Francis Beckwith: Norman Geisler's co-author popes

Francis Beckwith, "Joshua Betancourt, welcome home!" (Return to Rome, January 12, 2010) writes:
One of my Baylor philosophy PhD students brought to my attention today that Norman Geisler's co-author of Is Rome the True Church?(Crossway Books, 2008), Joshua Betancourt, has converted to Catholicism! This has been confirmed by Doug Beaumont, a friend of Mr. Betancourt's. Here's what Doug writes on his blog (emphasis mine):
I saw the website ( This represents a fairly major move going on in this generation. There are books, TV shows, websites, etc. all focused on those who have left and returned to the RC church. There are also Protestants converting to Roman Catholicism. One chapter in the book Is Rome the True Church?is dedicated to why this is happening. Interestingly, the book’s co-author, a friend of mine named Joshua Betancourt, converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after the book was published! Nor is he the only one. I know several people, whose minds I highly respect, who have made the same decision (Francis Beckwith, J. Budziszewski, to name some famous recent converts). Of course, the opposite is happening too – lots of RC’s are converting to some form of Protestant-Evangelicalism.
Read Doug's entire post here.
[Hat tip to C.B.]

Higher ed: Catholic pro-choice, Evangelical pro-life?

Anne Hendershott, "Higher learning?" (, January 30, 2010): "Catholic colleges have become a training ground for pro-abortion politicians; evangelical colleges are doing better."

Why is this?

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Why Palin drives liberal Jews apoplectic

Jennifer Rubin, Why Jews Hate Palin (Commentary 2010). As Mark Shea writes: "It's not just something about her: it's everything about her. It's like she was created in a laboratory for the specific task of driving Jewish liberals around the bend. The hostility is visceral and pre-rational: the loathing comes first and it is only later, if at all, that the loathers can articulate why they find her so repellent." The Commentary article tells us as much about liberal Judaism as it does about Palin.

[Hat tip to Mark Shea]

Thanks to God ...

... for son returned safely from tour of duty in Afghanistan. Thanks to those of you, too, who remembered him in your prayers.

2010 Latin Liturgy National Convention in Detroit



FRIDAY - SUNDAY, JULY 16-18, 2010
Detroit, Michigan

Exemplary liturgies in the Church's historic language will be celebrated in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms at:

St. Josaphat Church
St. Joseph Church
St. Albertus Church
Sweetest Heart of Mary Church
Assumption Church, Windsor

Talks, Meals, and Vendor Exhibition at
St. Joseph Church Parish Hall
Bus Tour of Additional Historic Churches in
Detroit and Windsor on Friday, July 16

Seminars on Gregorian Chant, Church Architecture, The Arts, How to Get a Latin Mass Started in Your Parish, and More

Founded in 1975, the Latin Liturgy Association promotes the celebration of the Holy Mass and Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church in her historic language of Latin. In 2010, our National Convention will be held in Detroit, a city known for its vibrant Latin Mass communities. Few metropolitan areas can boast the number of Latin Mass sites celebrating both the Ordinary ("Novus Ordo") and Extraordinary ("Tridentine") Forms as the Motor City. Experts in liturgy, sacred music, and the arts from across the English-speaking world will present talks. Masses, Vespers, and Benediction will be celebrated in some of Detroit and neighboring Windsor, Ontario, Canada's most beautiful, historic churches. Come experience and learn more about the treasures of the Catholic liturgy.

Registration details and schedule will be available very soon at
For additional information, please call (248) 250-2740
or email

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Andrew Klavan: Don't Panic, DHS Is In Charge


[Hat tip to S.K.]

Defending the New Missal

There is a debate in America magazine shaping up on the subject of the prospective implementation of the new English translations of the Roman Missal (Novus Ordo), which would introduce such changes as "And with your spirit," "consubstantial," "incarnate," and "Joseph, spouse of the same Virgin." Fr. Michael Ryan counsels against the implementation in his essay "Why Don't We Say, 'Wait?'" (America, Dec. 14), while Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas mounts a strong retort in his essay, "Defending the New Roman Missal" (America, February 1, 2010). Fr. Stravinskas' article is well-worth reading for its good sense rebuttals of spurious counter-arguments.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Proposed 28th Constitutional Amendment

Maybe some of you have seen this:
"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."
Apparently the latest attempt of those in Congress to exempt themselves from the provisions of the pending Healthcare Reform is, for many, the last straw after years of hearing about congressional members retiring, even after one term, at the same pay they were making, and exempting themselves from having to pay Social Security, etc.

Ben Franklin is supposed to have replied to the lady who inquired about our kind of government, "A republic, if you can keep it." We, however, seem well on the way to an elitist Politburo-style class system.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How the Old Mass Shaped the New West

By Michael P. Foley

The fortieth anniversary of the Novus Ordo is [only a few weeks behind us], as it was Pope Paul VI’s wish that his new form of the rite take effect on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969.1 While the Pauline Missal was not published until the following year (and its translations much later), this date is as good as any to reflect on a momentous change to the Roman Church’s worship. Because forty is the biblical number for a generation, I would like to devote this column to a reflection on what we may have subsequently lost, not theologically or spiritually, but culturally. My point of departure is a brusque statement from Doctor John Senior: “from the cultural point of view, the new Catholic Mass established in the United States has been a disaster.”2 What could Senior have meant by such a harsh conclusion, and is there any justification for his opinion?

Sacrifice and Civilization

To understand Senior’s position, we must first surmise his view of Western culture:
Whatever we do in the political and social order, the indispensable foundation is prayer, the heart of which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer of Christ himself, Priest and Victim, recreating in an unbloody manner the bloody, selfsame Sacrifice of Calvary. What is Christian Culture? It is essentially the Mass. That is not my or anyone’s opinion or theory or wish but the central fact of two thousand years of history. Christendom, what secularists call Western Civilization, is the Mass and paraphernalia which protect and facilitate it.3
Senior goes on to describe the Mass as emanating outwards to all aspects of life. What is done on a stone altar inspires the construction of a beautiful church. The church inspires a garden and clerics to tend the church and the people who flock to it. Next to the church and the garden is built a cemetery for those who died as faithful servants of what is done on that altar; and around the church-grounds people build their houses and sow their fields, until a community is formed. That community needs laws, and the laws cannot help but be influenced by the sense of justice that radiates from the center of its citizens’ lives. And before you know it, you have a Christian world built around the Mass.

What Senior calls the “central fact of two thousand years” can indeed be confirmed in the history of several towns and cities in Europe, the most famous of which is Munich, Germany, which honors the Benedictine abbey that led to its creation with its very name, Munchen or Munich being German for “monk.” Nor is this a phenomenon unique to the Middle Ages. Fittingly, it is being enacted by several of John Senior’s former students who converted to Catholicism and became Benedictine monks observing the traditional Roman rite. At the invitation of the local bishop, they founded Clear Creek Monastery in a remote corner of Oklahoma ten years ago, and already neighboring lands are being bought and developed by lay Catholics as the monks build a Romanesque church they wish to last a thousand years. If you want to see how the new West, the West not of ancient Greece and Rome but of Christian Europe, became the most astounding civilization in the history of the world, take a trip to rural Oklahoma.

And if you want to know why, then consider more closely the nature of Christianity. As Father Frederick Faber points out, Christianity is “eminently a religion of sacrifice,” and hence, he says, "Where there is no Mass, there is also no Christianity.” Faber sees all of Christian life as an extension of the sacrifice that is the Mass. All of the Church’s charitable works, all of her vows of religious life, all of her teachings, are “nothing but a glorious and unmistakable preaching of sacrifice,” a sacrifice that flows from “the vital force and omnipotent energy of the Mass. That far reaching Sacrifice is everywhere, and does everything for everyone.”4

The Arts

It certainly did something for architecture. Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the Spanish mission style of the American Southwest, the Baroque style of seventeenth-century Europe: all flow from the Mass. The beauty, order, and proportion of the traditional Latin Mass is reflected in the beauty, order, and proportion of the churches in which it was celebrated, and this in turn went on to inspire architecture outside the church. Even basic architectural terminology owes a debt to the Mass. Romanesque and Gothic churches had several levels of allegorical pictures, reliefs, and sculptures on their façades that each told a story. And since several levels of these representations told several stories, it became the custom to indicate the height of a building by how many “stories” it had.5

We also see the impact of the Mass on the Western legal tradition, not only in the weighty matters of jurisprudence and the rule of law but in the tiniest of details. Have you ever noticed a striking similarity between a traditional church design and a courtroom? Public seating in a courtroom gallery, for example, is akin to the pews in the nave of a church; the space for the lawyers and judge is similar to the sanctuary where traditionally only the clergy would be allowed (note that many courtrooms demarcate this space with a “bar” similar in appearance and function to a communion rail); the judge’s bench, elevated and set apart, assumes the same importance as the high altar, which only certain members of the clergy are permitted to approach and only at certain times; the jury benches resemble the choir stalls found in many medieval churches; and the personnel who move in and out of the bench area, such as the bailiffs, resemble the acolytes serving the priest.

And then there is music. It is not just that without the august sacrifice of the Mass, we would be missing out on two of the grandest and most magnificent categories of classical music, the Missa and the Requiem, categories that have been filled with awesome splendor by the likes of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Verdi, Berlioz, Fauré, and Dvorak. It is not just that we would be missing out on Passion music or Lamentations pieces.

No, it is more basic than that. Without the Mass, there would probably be no Western tonal scale as we know it, for it was the Gregorian chant enshrining the Mass that preserved the eight modes of ancient Greek music, and it is on two of those modes that our major and minor keys are based. Without the Mass, there would probably be no musical notation, which developed in the Middle Ages because the body of Gregorian chant for the liturgical year was growing too large for any one person to remember in its entirety. Without the Mass, there would be no polyphony, no oratorios such as Handel’s Messiah (a genre invented by the founder of the Oratorians, Saint Philip Neri), and no opera as we know it, which developed with the help of the early Jesuits. Without the Mass, there would be no solmization, that is, no simplified way of reading music by sight with the use of the do-re-mi scale, for this method was invented by an Italian monk using the hymn for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist.

And without the Mass, there would not be even some popular secular music, such as carnivale, which developed as a way of bidding adieu to fun right before Lent, and jazz, which developed because slaves in New Orleans were allowed to assist at Mass and express their culture on Sundays and holy days, which in turn allowed for a new synthesis of African and European sounds to emerge at the beginning of the twentieth century. Without the Mass, there would also not be the current style of tobacco auctioneering, which was developed in the nineteenth century after its creator heard Gregorian chant at a High Mass.

Reply to an Objection

At this point we might wonder whether what I have been saying could apply to any form of the Mass, that it need not have been the extraordinary form of the Roman rite behind these developments. While I do not deny this possibility, I would nevertheless indicate three reasons why the traditional Latin Mass, and not some other form of the Eucharistic liturgy, has proved to be such a powerful leavening agent.

1. Stability

First, the extraordinary form is the product of slow and gradual change which gives it stability and continuity, and all without being fossilized like a butterfly in amber. This stability, in turn, provides a reliable springboard for dynamic cultural change. As the philosopher Michael Oakeshott points out, in order to undertake vast new projects, even the most progressive of dreamers must be conservative with his tools, for it is familiarity with one’s tools that enables one to effect sweeping changes successfully.6 Think of how little Microsoft or Apple would accomplish if the order of the letters on their employees’ keyboards were changed every week, an order that has remained the same since it first appeared on a manual typewriter in 1874.

In this analogy, the liturgy is not the project but the tool: it should not be the object of change, but the agent of change, and as such it should not be subject to much change itself. You would think that a changing liturgy would be good for a changing culture, but it is not. For it is not the liturgy that should change dramatically at the hands of the faithful; it is the faithful that should change dramatically at the hands of the liturgy. It is they that should be shaped and reshaped by the sacred mysteries made present in divine worship, a reshaping that goes on to affect the way they perceive reality, make decisions, and live their lives—in other words, the way they produce a culture and a civilization. Conversely, when the liturgy changes all the time, people do not, and the culture suffers accordingly.

2. Manliness

Second, the traditional Latin Mass exudes a healthy understanding of Christian manhood. This is important from a cultural perspective, not because men are the only contributors to human culture (for they are not), but because great cultures thrive when its men view themselves as called to protect the things and persons that produce great culture. This male presumption, I hasten to add, is in no way prejudicial against women; on the contrary, a world in which biological fathers act as good spiritual fathers and in which even single men comport themselves not as predators or playboys but as potential fathers would be a world which allows both sexes to flourish, protected from the evils that uncivilized manliness brings.7

But encouraging the right kind of manliness is difficult because men do not have the same obvious cues from nature as women do about how precisely they are indispensable to the flourishing of the human race; they are thus more prone to overlook their higher, noble calling or, to put it in more modern jargon, they are more likely to have an identity crisis. This is a point I would like to develop in a later article, but let me for the moment simply state that traditional, apostolic liturgy helps greatly in promoting the Christian notion of chivalry that goes so far in resolving this crisis. This is obvious in the Byzantine rite: while the West is seeing fewer and fewer men in the pews, Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches consistently retain roughly equal numbers of men and women, in large part because their liturgy is demanding, hierarchical, non-pandering, and disciplined, all the things that appeal to a manly spirit.8 And while lay women are active in the life of the Eastern churches, their sanctuaries are generally reserved to male priests, male servers, and male lectors.

This is apparent in the Tridentine rite as well, which not only has a clear hierarchical structure and sense of discipline that boys and men find appealing, but is guarded by boys and men in the form of the priest and his ministers. The new Mass, by contrast, does not send the same clear signal. A focus on meal rather than sacrifice, for instance, deprives men of an important manly concept, for it was men and men alone who sacrificed rams and bullocks and calves to the Lord God in the Old Testament, and it was the Son of Man who offered the ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross in what is world history’s greatest manly act. Second, Mass facing the people gives the impression that Mass is about the people rather than God, and with this comes the loss of a vertically-oriented hierarchy. And third, the relatively few rubrics of the new Mass give it less structure and less discipline, especially where reverence of the Eucharist is concerned.

These are all internal characteristics of the Missal which have been magnified by external modifications to its execution, namely, the inclusion of female lectors, distributors of Holy Communion, and altar servers. Father James McLucas has written eloquently in this magazine of the effect that this “outsourcing” of the celebrant’s privileges has had on the priesthood: “The notion that the Church can offer the work of the priest to others without doing harm to both his masculinity and personality is a gross presumption.”9 Others are quick to point out that using female altar servers is bad for priestly vocations, since boys are naturally drawn by the example of other males serving and protecting God’s sacred things, and if you add even one girl to the mix, it spoils the entire ethos of a chivalrous band of brothers. But I would go one step further: having female ministers in the sanctuary is not only bad for priests and for potential priests, it is bad for the men and boys who have no vocation to the priesthood whatsoever. And what is bad for men and boys is bad for the culture.

3. God at the Center

The third and final reason is the simple fact that the extraordinary form makes it unmistakably clear that, in the other words of my pastor Father David Leibham, “it is about God—period.” This is true about the traditional Latin Mass even when it is celebrated, as Father Jonathan Robinson puts it, “carelessly, stupidly, or perhaps, sometimes, wickedly.”10 Robinson, who does not write as a friend of the extraordinary form, nevertheless admits that “the perennial attraction of the Old Rite is that it provided a transcendental reference, and it did this even when it was misused in various ways.”11 His example is Mass with the king of France at the palace of Versailles, in which the king sat in a tribune that was more prominent than the altar. The king’s nobles would sometimes form a circle around him at the foot of the altar, their backs to the sanctuary as they gazed attentively at their monarch. Needless to say, this is “messed up,” but Robinson notes that even here the “Mass held its own” against this twisted arrangement. The nobles were there to worship their earthly king, not God, and yet the king they were worshipping was worshipping the true God. Hence, even if they were there to fulfill a worldly end, the king’s orientation “was a living testimony that there was another power that even the absolute monarch was forced to acknowledge.”12

By contrast, Robinson observes, while the Novus Ordo can be celebrated in a reverent way that directs us to the transcendent, “there is nothing in the rule governing the way the Novus Ordo is to be said that ensures the centrality of the celebration of the Paschal mystery.”13 Indeed, there are professional liturgists who prefer the new form of the rite because it allows them to engraft all sorts of non-liturgical agenda onto the liturgy. One priest, for example, sees the Mass as a great opportunity to bolster ethnic self-esteem, address ecological degradation, and encourage economic empowerment.14 Note that he prefers the ordinary form because it is a more malleable vehicle for cultural development; yet ironically, great culture has not exactly sprung from the celebration of the ordinary form.


We are now in a better position to understand Senior’s harsh remark about the new Mass. Without denying that significant cultural goods may yet come out of the Pauline Missal, we can at least identify the secret behind the old Missal’s influence. That secret is found in Luke 12:31—“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” As we approach the fortieth anniversary of a kind of wandering in the wilderness, let us at the beginning of a new liturgical year renew our appreciation for the extraordinary form and the paradox behind it: When you seek God first and find Him in a Mass that points to Him vividly, the results are simply marvelous.


  1. November 30, 1969. Cf. Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution, Missale Romanum. [back]

  2. The Restoration of Christian Culture(Ignatius Press, 1983; reprinted, Roman Catholic Books), 38. [back]

  3. Ibid., 16-17. [back]

  4. Father Frederick Faber, The Blessed Sacrament, bk. 2. [back]

  5. For more details on the historical facts mentioned in this article, see my Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). [back]

  6. Michael Oakeshott, “On Being Conservative,” in Rationalism in Politics, ed. Timothy Fuller (Liberty Fund, 1991), 179f. [back]

  7. Cf. Harvey Mansfield, Manliness (Yale University Press, 2006), 242. [back]

  8. For a fascinating discussion on men and Eastern Orthodoxy, cf. the prologue of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy, available at, and “Men and Church,” available at [back]

  9. 22. [back]

  10. Jonathan Robinson, The Mass And Modernity (Ignatius Press, 2005), 308. [back]

  11. Ibid., 307. [back]

  12. Ibid., 308. [back]

  13. Ibid., 311, italics added. [back]

  14. Reverend David William Antonio, An Inculturation Model of the Catholic Marriage Ritual (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 98-100. [back]

[Michael P. Foley is associate professor of patristics at Baylor University. He is author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Foley's article, "How the Old Mass Shaped the New West," Latin Mass: The Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition Vol. 18, No. 4 (Fall 2009), pp. 38-41, is reproduced here by kind permission of Latin Mass, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060, and the author.]