A Basket of Crabs

Un panier de crabes doesn’t mean very much in English, but I was appalled on reading The Sacra Liturgia Conference has set the cause of the Reform of the Reform back by 20 years. That may not be a bad thing. The subject of this piece by the LMS chairman reflects what I put up yesterday. I suppose that the essential theme of this posting is that the more the Novus Ordo is prevented from taking a more “traditional” form, the more people would be attracted to the Pius V liturgy. Perhaps…

The article conveys to me the shocking reality of parish life ruled by technocrats like in the dioceses, the episcopal conferences and in Rome. No “reform of the reform” is possible and the agenda of the former Pope is forthwith cancelled. No surprise. It also means the same thing as everyday life.

I mentioned the other day that I spent a night with my boat in a fishing port. I simply tied up my boat is a vacant space and left the following morning. It is a bit like the distinction between illegal camping and bivouacking. You just do it, and the worst thing that can happen is being told by a policeman to move on. You ask official permission and you have to jump through hoops all the way, producing the registration documents of your boat (mine don’t exist) and all sorts of prohibitive conditions.

Ask your RC bishop for permission to celebrate using Sarum or the Novus Ordo in Latin facing east, and you might as well be asking for permission to (you name it…). With such official inertia, who wants to be a priest or attend church as a lay person, unless it is for some kind of power trip manipulating other people and making them as helpless and unhappy as possible. As a result of Cardinal Sarah’s words, no different from those of Cardinal Ratzinger’s or Schönborn’s in a different era, a priest has to jump through hoops to say the Novus Ordo on the church’s old altar (assuming it hasn’t been wreckovated). That said, I don’t suppose the English Oratories will be visited by goons to enforce the repression.

It all reminds me of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism in the days of anti-Ritualist repression and priests being sent to jail for very little – just a pair of candles and eastward celebration with very simple vestments. The problem for Rome and the RC technocrats is that they can’t use the civil and criminal laws of the state – Separation of Church and State! But anyone who goes the way of anarchy becomes marginal. You are no longer comfortably mainstream with the money and respectability. That is the agony of the conservatives – certainly not mine!

The point is made: The golden rule in such matters is that you don’t press for clarification unless you are sure things will be clarified in your favour. In short, like in France, you just do something until you are told that it’s not allowed – like parking your car or mooring your boat. Everything is forbidden but everybody does it. English RC’s have become like the Germans – everything is forbidden unless it’s allowed. Churchill put it the other way round for England. Everything is allowed unless it’s forbidden.

The status quo in the RC Church is permanent, inevitable and graven in the rock – at least as much as in the Thousand Year Reich, the Soviet Union or the Brussels Bureaucracy. Earthly empires only last so long before they collapse. When this one goes, I don’t see the conservatives winning. Christianity will be perceived as “rubbish” by many more people. The Church, as sacrament of Christ, will continue to subsist and will survive in the little marginal communities that come and go like each of us comes and goes.

It is ironic that the Pius V liturgy is more “respectable” than the Novus Ordo dressed up as the old liturgy or simply celebrated eastwards. The Pius V option can be contained, whilst the Novus Ordo is the “mainstream”. In 1860, there was a hell of a lot of difference between St Albans Holborn or St Peter’s London Docks and your average respectable Squire’s parish in the country where the organist went fishing during the extremely long sermons of the day! Comparisons can be made, however imperfect they may be.

I had the experience as a Roman Catholic deacon in a parish in the Sens-Auxerre archdiocese of trying to go “brick by brick” as certain American priests would put it. It was a disaster. Everything has become so polarised between those who are effectively Evangelicals and the priests trying to bring back a more contemplative liturgy and making their flocks learn different things. They are stick in the mud, because the Novus stuff is what is traditional for them. It’s now forty seven years since the Novus Ordo was promulgated by Paul VI! That’s a hell of a long time – and it’s now as permanent as a body with malignant cancer. It’s a cultural issue. The old liturgy – Pius V, Sarum, Ambrosian, whatever is only relevant to cultured and contemplatively-minded priests and folk. It will never be anything but marginal. The old idea from the Benedict XVI era that the “progressives” were dying dinosaurs soon to replaced by young conservatives was a fallacy. Thus Benedict XVI abdicated, probably knowing that Bergoglio was waiting for his place! The mask is off and all the discussions of 2011 and 2012 are now moot, as dead as fossils.

I learned many things from my fifteen-year stint in the RC Church. I have had to rethink my own priestly vocation. I am irrelevant to absolutely everyone in the place where I live, so it can only have any meaning in a “contemplative” kind of way, except that I don’t have the regularity and asceticism of monks. The pearl hangs by a slender thread, especially through my Bishop’s fatherly encouragement and tolerance of my wild eccentricities. I don’t have the same judgement of the traditionalists as my friend Patrick. Simply they and I don’t live in the same world. I am increasingly alienated from their categories and priorities. For them I am dead, and for me they are a distant abstraction.

For me, as for most in my little Church, we don’t have to face the agony and cognitive dissonance. We just get on with what we have and are, and do not have to justify or prove anything to anyone outside our own canonical chain of command and hierarchy. We have the eastward-facing liturgy, whether it’s Anglican Missal or Sarum, even if almost no one is interested in attending it. The RC traditionalists, whether they are SSPX or Fraternity of St Peter or Gricigliano, have their own history and cultural references.

The western world will be decreasingly Christian, and the Roman Catholic Church simply seeks to preserve it assets and capital like the Anglican Communion or the Methodists. We enter the mouth of the vacuum faced with the spectre of Big Brother and crazy jihadists killing everyone in sight. There was what appeared to be a new spring, but it was false and as fleeting as a mayfly.

Any real spring will have to be preceded by realism and an extremely sober attitude. The present dark age will not be dispelled by Benedictine monasteries or anything. It doesn’t mean either that we should cease to be Christians, give up and die. It just means that truth and holiness are elsewhere and within ourselves as tiny seeds waiting to be sown. Indeed, the Parable of the Sower.

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5 Responses to A Basket of Crabs

  1. Dale says:

    Father, you stated, quite correctly, that, “The old idea from the Benedict XVI era that the ‘progressives’ were dying dinosaurs soon to replaced by young conservatives was a fallacy.” I am shocked how many believe this and tell it to themselves in some attempt to make it appear that things will get better soon. Even John, of Old Fogey fame, makes this appear to be the future. It is a myth. If one spends anytime at all with younger novus ordo Catholics, they are quite happy with the sappy, banal liturgy of the modernist church and have no interest in tradition; the only thing that makes them “catholic” is that they almost worship the person of the Pope. Quite honestly, they truly do believe that the only difference between a Protestant and themselves is loyalty to the person of the Pope; and nothing else. Both are bereft of Tradition of any sort; but usually Protestants are much nicer.

    Having now spent two summers with such young catholics, if I have to hear “On Eagles Wings” sung off-key one more time I shall consider violence, it is about time to honestly admit that the Tradition is not coming back, the novus order is so theologically defective that no amount of Tridentine tat is going to save it. And all of this drivel about going back to an ad orientem orientation of prayer is simply not going to happen; and what would it accomplish? The real issue is not the position of the modernist clergy, it is the defects of the rite itself and the new theology that perfectly matches the new rites.

  2. Stephen K says:

    I like your sentence that truth and holiness are elsewhere and within ourselves as tiny seeds waiting to be sown, Father. I also appreciate Dale’s candour over his reactions to off-key “Eagles’ Wings” (though it must be said in fairness it isn’t always off-key!). But I have a slightly different reaction to the issue.

    I think that what must be acknowledged is that at heart, we all mould our religion to our own mould of God. If we clap our hands, celebrate Sarum, or adopt any of the other 57 varieties, we are often, and always at the risk of, worshipping ourselves in the form of the image of God inhabiting our minds and strait-jacketed by our words.
    We are so culturally trained by our filtered and censored (and self-censored) experience that we often miss the wood for the trees. The problem seems to be in large part that everyone is worshipping their own Church, and the mystery of God is not accepted or confronted. I am increasingly inclined to see that much religious activity becomes Stalinist because it is all about compliance, conformity, and play-acting. None of these things is exclusive to any one group.

    Another truth appears to be that these liturgical wars have become largely irrelevant in face of the much more embarrassing realisation, as both you and Dale allude to but which I put in my own way, that for more and more people, traditional creedal Christianity is too full of nonsense. Their ideas about what is nonsense may be largely inchoate but not always – there are still legions of bishops and priests who insist on infantilising their “flocks”.

    So, the paradox – a kind of koan – appears to be that we have to try to find our own way, spiritually speaking, but without becoming too attached to our own way.

    • The key to this seems to be self-knowledge and being oneself, making one’s own pilgrimage or perilous voyage to the end of the earth. Our formal religion seems to hang by a thread, but where would we be without it. Most people do not follow a religion in any way. Some are blissfully ignorant. Others miss what they rejected. Others are waiting for something that will never come. Religious expressions seem to be exciting and stimulating only for those who are discovering them as something new and who are ignorant of the deeper issues of the reality. You spoke of bishops and priests infantilising their flocks, but this is the only condition in which we can be held.

      Being an individual person has a price. Christ told us that only by being innocent like children will we inherit the kingdom of heaven. One side of us tells us that we are only of any worth as belonging to the collectivity and being model Soviet or Nazi citizens in a kind of social Darwinism. If we were all like that, regimented like soldiers, there would be no art or philosophy, no originality. Being original and being ourselves will cost us dearly. Some are able to be themselves, yet hang on to some of their religious references and landmarks. It is the battle between Church and Gnosis, the exoteric and the esoteric, the Christian social order and the Kingdom of God within and immanent.

      I don’t know how many people are truly themselves. You and I probably have a foot in each camp. Most people I know are visibly atheists or not interested in churches. Those who are are discreet and just go along with whatever there is, knowing that the essential of life is elsewhere. Some make their decisions, buy a boat, rig it for ocean sailing and cast off into the unknown. I haven’t had the courage for that: my boat is smaller and I have stuck to known coastal passages – and have been safe. How attached are we to safety and how ready are we to make a decision and go ahead with it?

      (…) for more and more people, traditional creedal Christianity is too full of nonsense.

      Most people have abandoned it, and most have found a substitute that is even more absurd. It is for us to find another real philosophy of life or go deeper into what Christianity really should be and seek to understand who Christ really was according to the available evidence. We can bury ourselves in books and academia, but we can ask ourselves whether that would be just another blind alley.

      We are both a part of society (family, married couple, community, village or whatever) and individual persons. What is being too attached to our own way? – especially if we are unable to relate to the way of others? Bonhöffer devised “religionless” Christianity in the face of churches pandering to Hitler and the men who killed him in the concentration camp. Would it still be Christianity, or a mere euphemism for something else? This is our problem when we cut ourselves off from anything familiar. We return to the point when we need something familiar, not because God has any need of it, but because it is our only “interface”. The Churches have been too preoccupied in narrowing this “interface” so that only an elite can relate and have access to the life-giving water. They have closed the door of knowledge, and sin the same way as the Scribes and Pharisees.

      We need a diversity of churches and expressions: both for the extrovert and the contemplative, for the eccentric introvert to those who seek to be with the crowd and in fashion. These landmarks are essential for each of us. The alternative is atheism and meaningless and absurd existence.

      • Stephen K says:

        It is hard to disagree with almost everything you say, although I don’t know what you mean when you say that being infantilised is the only condition in which we can be held. Being an infant is a perfect condition….for an infant: to infantilise a non-infant seems like some kind of abuse. Christ may have said we must be as innocent as children, but innocence is not blind docility or submission. If that were the case it would make a nonsense of the importance of metanoia and repentance, which require knowledge and informed consent.

        What I am pointing to is the tendency we all have to mistake what we think are insights for universal axiomata. We cannot avoid it: our every utterance – these included – are deeply flawed, and in the face of which any form of religious petulance of certitude begins to look ludicrous. I don’t agree that it is our only interface, although it may be a natural modality.

        There is certainly something I think in the idea of launching out recklessly into the wild Atlantic, trusting only in God. But then, perhaps that may be a form of putting God to the test, which sounds like some kind of blasphemy.

        I think the implications of what I’m trying to put words to is that I must cease speaking about religion or God because nothing is reliable, and nothing I say has any more value than anything else anyone says.

        Although this is to go out more with a whimper than a bang, I think it’s inevitable. I wish to thank you, Father, for allowing me to post here; I thank in particular ed pacht and Dale for whom I feel, across cyber-space, considerable regard and affection. God bless, or, as Dave Allen would have said, ‘may your God go with you’.

      • Thank you again for your reflections, which I deeply appreciate. Truth to be told, I think this blog is going the same way, at least in regard to the subjects on which I have written for the past few years. We are all shadows of what we were in the heady days of the ordinariate discussions and the thrashings of the TAC. I suppose I gave way to a temptation in discussing matters concerning the Roman Catholic Church. As you freeze in Australia, we are living through the Dog Days in the heat of the Northern Hemisphere.

        Something is happening in our time: not only are our thoughts about religion unreliable, but our whole understanding of world events, distorted as they are by propaganda and politicians’ lies. We struggle to understand the powder keg of the Middle-East, the USA, Putin’s Russia, the festering situation in Turkey since the failed coup against Sultan Erdogan. I suppose there will be men khazouked (warning: graphic video) in the public places – and then we will be told about Turkey coming into the EU, as the EU at the same time collapses and emerges triumphant.

        You are welcome here whenever you want. I think I will be doing a lot more sailing this summer and reading. The more we can be isolated from the hubbub, the better. Unfortunately the internet is a part of it. Quite a conundrum…

        PS. A forgotten answer. I didn’t mean that being infantilised is a good thing, or that Christ recommended it. Being innocent and unconcerned with the politicking is more like it. Being infantilised is a tool of manipulation. It is the whole deal with the Great Inquisitor who wanted to abolish all freedom so that people would no longer sin. At the same time, the happiest person is one whose mind is empty and hasn’t had any bad experiences. At the same time, I don’t envy that person because he will be the one to be abused and exploited. We go round and round, and the weather is still hot (cold in Australia).

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