Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Monday, April 01, 2013

You're REALLY not going to like it.

Any time I get the urge to start off a blog post with a recitation of my bona fides, well, that's not a sign that I'm in a good mood about the subject of the blog post in question.

This, friends, is one such time.

I try to handle the matter with equanimity, so you know, but when we're dealing with pessimism. And pessimism, in the words of PGW, "gives me the pip."

So, keeping true to both the spirit and form of these sorts of posts -- for both are precious in the sight of some people -- I will list my bona fides as stipulated above.

I'm what the more benighted Catholics might call a Trad. I am pleased and gratified and privileged to live in a "bubble" where my parishes, both near work and home are solid and liturgically excellent. Mass in the Extraordinary Form speaks to my heart, and a reverent Latin Mass in the Ordinary Form also speaks to my heart. Those of you who have been inflicted with my offline society will recall my views on the liturgical equivalent of "bongos-and-kumbaya" and if you are truly deranged and follow me on Spotify, you'll also note the ceaseless march of Gregorian chant. When it comes to "the yells, bells and smells" I believe I check all the boxes.

I have even blogged, rather well if impassionately if-I-do-say-so-myself, on the matter of the importance of liturgy.

So I am not in the throes of pathological enuresis, singing Gather Us In and pondering a jeteé up the nave.

But in reading commentary of "what Pope Francis is doing" is gravely testing my family history of hypertension.

Let it be on the record that I wish the Holy Father had made different choices on a number of fronts.

I brought these concerns to a venerable ol' Jesuit, for many years -- when execrable felt banners held sway -- a liturgical recusant. He looked at me in the way only a Jesuit can (i.e. "You poor, poor deluded bastid.") and made this point. "Pope Francis is doing something, and he's doing something very precisely and very much on purpose. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it's for the greater glory of God. You can 'not like it' or 'not understand it' but you can't not trust him." Since I trust THIS Jesuit, the words stayed with me.

Well, it's true. I don't know what he's doing -- I have a hypothesis, more on which anon -- but after following him for a LONG time, I know to trust him. I also have some understanding of "where he's coming from" both socio-geographically and formationally.

In general the gripes about Pope Francis are related to:
1) The, er, minimalism he seems to bring to
   a) his Pontificate and
   b) liturgies
2) The foot washing thing.
3) The fact that "pro-choice" politicians such as Pelosi and Biden said they receive(d) Communion.

On point 1, let me provide some, I hope, illustrative background.

Most of the Jesuits I know, and this includes those who say EF Mass, have a liturgical approach that's, um, workmanlike. The Holy Father, much like most of his Jesuit brethren, simply do not have in their DNA what I might call much of a liturgical zeal. Furthermore, in Latin America (and I have spent decades there, on an off, since I was 2 years old) the more High Church liturgies are associated in the popular imagination with an oligarchical caste. This isn’t right, proper or correct…but it is what it is. Priests such as now-Pope Francis, accustomed to saying Mass in a garage, in a street corner, in a vacant lot, or in a VERY poor parish are going to develop, by necessity, such an approach.

But watch Pope Francis during the Consecration. Notice how long he "holds" the Elevation.

On point 2 I, personally, wish he had done it differently. But I am satisfied with the explanation given by Fr. Lombardi and the USCCB about how exceptions to the "viri" stricture are acceptable when pastoral reasons warrant it. Not crazy about it, but I can live with it.

On point 3, I can't find a single photo of Biden/Pelosi receiving Communion at the Vatican, and given the mob scene during these sorts of Masses, I cannot expect some diocesan priest from Rome to have the slightest clue who Pelosi and Biden ARE, never mind what they look like. That ALL said, I wish the Holy Father would drop the Canon 915 hammer once and for all, but for the moment I can grin-and-bear it.

Loon that I am, I tried to discuss this at Easter brunch. Of the assembled, practicing Catholics all, and not a few traditionally minded ones, at that, the impressions of Pope Francis were exceedingly positive. Two things struck me:

1- Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, said, suggested, intimated, implied, or otherwise gave even a chemical trace of conveying a sentiment that "Pope XYZ is SOOOO much better than Pope ABC."

2- Nobody had a clue about the "controversies" let alone had formed an opinion thereon. All they know is "the Pope went to juvie on Maundy Thursday." Not where "he was supposed to go" and not "whose feet were supposed to get washed" or even "whose feet he did wash." Beyond the thin digital line of the Catholic blogosphere, these things aren't on the radar.

My concern is how many (not all) of my fellow Trads are becoming colossal turnoffs to other Catholics. Those people who fulminate like Yosemite Sam or fret like Piglet or are convinced the ecclesial sky is falling like Chicken Little are guaranteed to sway the minds of someone wondering about the EF Mass away. But I realize many of them are hardwired to such a response and therefore are more to be pitied than censured.

Here's what I'm guessing the Pope is doing, and I freely admit this is a pretty half-baked theory.

There is one problem that leapt out at me in the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in the U.S.: Nobody was paying attention to anything the Church said. Bishops denounced Thing One or Thing Two and it was as if the grownups from the Peanuts cartoons were talking.


The Church (in the institutional sense) was hemorrhaging credibility. Scandals were/are swirling around. The Curia was/is an impediment to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and drawing people to God.

What Francis is doing is getting people to focus on the primary responsibility of the Church: Proclaiming Christ, crucified. And he's getting a response. I'll look for these later, but I have gotten link after link of Catholics of varying degrees of fallen-awayness discussing their faith and their desire to reconnect with the Church.

And don't think of Francis as some neo- "spirit of V2" sort. Have you heard any pope in your lifetime mention the Devil and the spiritual warfare we face as often and as bluntly? (Say what you will about the liturgical lassitude assumed of a Jesuit, nobody can accuse them of sugarcoating. To quote my friend Dave, "A holy priest calls a spade a spade, and a holy Jesuit calls it a @#$%ing shovel.")

So, if the Church is to regain its footing in a world increasily secular and increasingly hostile to faith, it has to do so from the ground up, and to do this from the ground we're going to have to go to where the devout Catholics ain't, and address them in terms and symbols they will get.


  • At 1:43 AM, April 02, 2013 , Blogger Sancrucensis said...

    Wonderful, splendid magnificent post. Thanks ever so much.

    I keep on reflecting on something Cardinal Newman says in a Good Friday Meditation "Nor do we know what is best for Thy Church, and for the interests of the Catholic faith." (

  • At 12:36 PM, April 02, 2013 , Blogger Rachel Dobbs said...

    Well Said. My husband and I are both trads (we sing at our local EF Mass) and my husband is big on Gregorian Chant too. That being said, we are saddened and appalled by the actions of some trads lately. It is heartbreaking. You are correct when you say that the sex abuse scandals left the Church nearly bereft of any credibility in the eyes of many people and that it is essential that we get it back. I believe that this lack of credibility is helping us to lose the same-sex "marriage" battle as well as the larger pro-life one. I also believe that trads hurt the cause of greater love and devotion to the liturgy and traditions with their attitudes. I have heard so many stories of people who are or were interested in attending an EF mass only to be treated horribly by cold, mean people. Some trads want a Church that is an exclusive club but that is not what the Church is. We are called to reach out to the marginalized, the lonely, the hurt. What Pope Francis has unwittingly done (I don't think it was his intent at all) was to overturn some other rocks that need to be cleaned: the rocks of pride and phariseeism that is hurting the Church's witness as well. God bless our dear Holy Father. Its going to be a crazy ride but my husband and I along with other Trad friends of ours is all in :).

  • At 9:45 AM, April 05, 2013 , Blogger gnelson said...

    Joe, that was a really nice post. You always say no one's going to like it--empty promises! I don't think I'm either a progressive or a rad trad--I haven't had the opportunity to find out. I'm afraid I'm so superficial that I choose which Mass to go to based on how early it is (especially in the summer so we can have more daylight to take out the boat or kayaks. So lame, I know.). But anyways, I just wanted to say that there were times in my little life where I either did not have access, or only had very limited access (and under extreme circumstances), to the Eucharist. Now that was a long time ago, but I still feel that just being able to attend Mass is a great gift. So when the music is crappy and/or the priest does something wrong, I zone all that out, and focus on that little piece of bread become Body.


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