Traditional Liturgy: Booming Vocations
Since first experiencing the Extraordinary Form of the Mass a few years ago, I have developed a sort of a craving for it. It's a bit of an itch that's hard to scratch, because provision is not great. We have the EF once a month in my own Parish and our 11:30 Novus Ordo is beautiful liturgy, so it's not a huge issue. However, I do feel really drawn to the beauty and transcendence of the EF and will go whenever I can. This love affair drew me to St. James', Spanish Place a few weeks ago as I reported here for a first Mass of a newly ordained FSSP priest, Fr. Ian Verrier.
It was heavenly liturgy; stupefyingly beautiful music, a Mass in which I felt I could really raise my heart and mind to God. But the homily by Fr. Armand de Malleray was the really electrifying and extraordinarily different experience for me. It really sparked my interest in the FSSP.
I spotted this interesting interview in the Catholic World Report from last month. There is a lot of current interest in the FSSP because they have so many vocations. As the liberal dioceses die off, searching questions have to be asked. Why do liberal diocese lack vocation? If they are taking the Church in the direction God wants, why does he not bless them with workers for the vineyard?
If you read my blog regularly, you'll know my thoughts. The young people I encounter through my work in the Diocese rarely understand very much of the faith. Our Catholic schools do not teach the faith, certainly not in any meaningful way that is intelligible to our young people, or can be integrated into their experience of the world. They are fed a bland, vanilla version which in attempting to avoid scaring them off with "hard truths" alienates them completely by being completely meaningless, or interchangeable with a myriad other beliefs or ideologies. Catholicism portrayed this way is no more or less attractive to young people than veganism. It cannot be efficacious, it has no fruit; no tangible benefit on the individual's life, it has no power to transform your life or your thinking. It is just a club, something you do because you've nothing else to do and you will drop it just as easily as you picked it up.
By contrast, if the faith is taught in all its beauty and power, it is completely transformative. But this has to start with a solid explanation of the ways in which the faith is a challenge; the ways in which it is something different; counter-cultural even, something which will change your life, change the world even! Christ calls us to do this by starting with ourselves. By taking the rose coloured spectacles off and looking at our lives with honest eyes, see the warts and all, and recognising that we need help to change. Help which he offers.
Some of the bits that caught my eye in the interview with Father Gregory Pendergraft, FSSP (who is director of development for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the assistant director of vocations) were these:
“Interestingly, it is the younger generation among both priests and parishioners who are often most actively seeking the ancient rites of the Church.”This is certainly true. Practically all the young, serious Catholics I know, my age and younger, are lovers of the EF. Not exclusively necessarily, but they certainly are not opposed to it.
“The emphasis on Thomistic philosophy and theology is a significant difference between our seminary and many others. Another difference is the reception of the minor, as well as major orders (porter, lector, acolyte, exorcist, subdiaconate, diaconate, and priesthood). This systematic integration into priesthood provides graces and blessings along the way toward ordination. At the end of the formation process, the seminarian has progressed through a development of his spiritual and ascetic life within the context of community living.”This is interesting because I wonder if it is fair to say that the emphasis in recent decades has been to remove any vestige of holiness from priests and to make them just like everybody else. Of course our priests are human beings, and need our prayers, but they are also endowed with an extraordinary power; to act as an alter Christus- another Christ, when he celebrates the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, so that when a priest celebrates the Eucharist it is Christ who transforms the bread and wine through the priest speaking the words of Institution. The great journey of every priest is the movement from understanding himself as a mere instrument of the Lord to understanding himself as being a priest in Christ's own image.
The gradual layering of responsibility, grounded in a solid Thomistic understanding of matter and being sounds like a really sensible grounding for this incredible responsibility.
“The Extraordinary Form liturgy sanctified generations of faithful Catholics in the past and continues its work in the present. The singular beauty and reverence of the Mass and its link to the traditional practices of the Catholic faith help to free us from the bonds of sin and the attachment to the things of the world. A strong emphasis on the need for repentance often inspires a return to the sacrament of confession, which has been called the “forgotten sacrament” in our modern age.””
One of the comments often shared in Catholic circles is the contrast between Catholic communities and evangelical communities, like Baptists for example. Anyone who has had much interaction with Baptist friends can quickly discern that they are disciples. They have an active, lived relationship with Christ and the Spirit. They are intentional disciples; followers of Christ. I love this about them, but also find that their liturgy is empty. I have always felt that there is a huge gap in their worship: the Eucharist, the Sacraments. We have all these things, but because so many of us fail to engage inwardly or intellectually with our outward sign of belief, our churches tend to be dour and can even be foreboding places which are intimidating to enter. This is only made all the worse for drab churches and drab liturgy. Lack-luster, going through the motions. How is this prayer to almighty God? When you enter a church, do you act as if almighty God is really and truly present in the Tabernacle?
The next comment from Fr. Gregory explains this even more clearly:
"The rule lex orandi, lex credendi teaches us that the law of prayer is the law of belief. Thus, those who desire to change the doctrines of the Church will always reject anything that seeks to uphold them, whether it be a particular liturgy or even a simple devotion of the faithful."
Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the hatred for the EF and those who hold to the authentic Catholic faith rather than trying to appologise and twist it to suit the secular zeitgeist. I have been literally astounded in my work for the diocese as a foundation governor for example, at the way in which many catholics sneer at others who hold to the teaching of the Church. How we worship should inform how we live, and if we worship with reverence and humility, we will live that same way.
"The loss of the sense of sin and the moral law in general are grave evils of our modern age. These are not new evils, but the modern electronic media have increased their influence dramatically."This comment cuts to much of the challenge we face in modern society. People are full of self-justification and they do not think anyone has the right to tell them doing just what they want is wrong; "it is no one else's business what I do". However, those who understand freedom as the radically arbitrary license to do just what they want and to have their own way are living in a lie, for by his very nature man is part of a shared existence and his freedom is a shared freedom. His very nature contains direction and norm, and becoming inwardly one with this direction and norm is what freedom is all about. A false autonomy thus leads to slavery and unhappiness. We need to call people to responsibility for their own actions and the consequences of these actions, and we need to get them back to the Confessional. To recognise our need for God is the start of our journey into the Trinity.
The reality of sin is that it separates us from God. Just like the first sin, it constitutes our choosing our will rather than the divine will. Since we were made by and for God, only God knows what is best for us (think about the stories of the Israelites in Exodus). When we sin, it always has consequences for our spiritual well being; but all children make mistakes, it is how we learn in a world where we have free will. We have to choose to be guided by the Father, we have to learn how to hear Him. The reality of sin is like a conscious turning away from the Father. When we are in a state of grace, when we are focused on the life of the Trinity, when our wills are closely in tune with His, we can hear Him. I read that some say the Saints will was so in tune with God's they could literally hear His voice.
I don't know about you, but I found these comments orientate very well with what I have learned studying Catholic theology for five years; it smacks of authenticity and does not leave me questioning what the motivation is. Is it challenging? Yes, I think it is extremely challenging, just as we would expect from the Gospel. As Chesterton said:
'The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.'Are you up for the challenge?
You can read the whole interview here.