Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumnal Equinox

Today was the first day of Autumn.  Today we have equal periods of light and darkness -- hence the term "equinox" -- and after today, the periods of darkness will exceed in length the periods of light.

It is unfortunate that, based on no discernable mandate from the Second Vatican Council, the post-conciliar Church tried to throw out the Ember Days, penitential days that mark the changing seasons.  The purpose of the Ember Days is to thank God for His bounty in nature, and to remind us to use His gifts in moderation and assist those in need.  As I have pointed out in this space, the changes of season are freighted with spiritual significance.  The vernal equinox coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation, the beginning of the end of the winter of Satan's reign.  It also coincides with Easter, which marks the decisive defeat of Hell, and takes place on the first Sunday on or after the first full moon on or after the equinox.  The summer solstice, when the days begin to shorten, coincides with the Nativity of John the Baptist, who said that he must decrease while the Savior increased.  The winter solstice coincides with Christmas, when the Light of the World enters the world and the days begin to lengthen.   

There is no precise correspondence between the autumnal equinox and any major feast; but since the autumnal equinox does coincide with the time of harvest, my own personal speculations lead me to connect it with the harvest of souls that will take place at the End of Time.  Our business in life is to strive to come out on the right side of that harvest: to be  in with the wheat that is gathered into the barn, and not with the tares that are bundled up and go to be burned.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Still, Small Voice

Weekend before last, I went down to Ogden to visit the grandparents.  Among other things, Sunday the 8th was (a) my birthday, and (b) the date set for Missa Cantata at St. James the Just, the inimitable Fr. Erik Richstieg celebrating, and Michael Wooden directing the schola cantorum.  It was a great treat to be able to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form on my special day.

Meditating on this beautiful Mass gave rise to some reflections.   My attention was drawn to the professionalism of Michael, the altar server, in all his movements.  He did not look stiff and rigid, but on the other hand, there was nothing lazy or sloppy in how he carried out his duties.  I particularly noticed how, whenever he passed in front of the tabernacle, instead of just walking across the front of the altar, he descended to the bottom of the steps, stopped directly in front of the tabernacle, genuflected, then re-ascended the steps and continued on his way.  He was clearly committed to striving for excellence at the altar and doing everything exactly right.  There is an almost military precision to the traditional Mass, and the ministers in the sanctuary who love it, like Michael and Fr. Erik, work hard to be faithful to it.  There is a rubric to govern everything they do at the altar, and it must be done in a particular way.  Part of the purpose of all this strict ritual is to shield the people from the distraction of having the priest's personality intrude on the Mass; to safeguard the priest from feelings of self-importance; and to remind us all that the Mass is the work of God and not of mere men.  So crucial was -- is -- fidelity to the ritual that it was once considered a mortal sin for a priest deliberately to deviate from it.

Things are more relaxed for the people in the pews in the traditional Mass.  Except for genuflecting during the Credo and the Last Gospel, standing for the Gospels and kneeling for the consecration --  instinctive for believing Catholics -- there seem to be no set rules to what the people are supposed to be doing.  My 1962 Missal has a loose-leaf cheat sheet with a table that tells you generally when to sit, stand and kneel, but in practice, one just does whatever is done in a particular place.  You can never go wrong by kneeling through the whole Mass if you want to, but you don't have to; and if you want to sit after Communion, there's nobody to tell you you can't.  Nor are you required to sing, or say any responses, or make gestures.  You can just listen, and watch, and be, and quiet your soul, and leave all the heavy lifting to the alter Christus in the sanctuary.  That is what he is there for.

One can't help contrasting this order of business with the way things are done in most places with the Mass of Paul VI.  The New Mass is supposed to be an expression of the New Spirit of Freedom and Openness...and yet have you ever noticed how strictly regimented we in the pews are?  We are expected to say our parts, and sing the songs, and generally busy ourselves with doing a bunch of stuff.  We have ushers to keep us in line, and priests and deacons to lecture us sternly on our failures of "active participation" if we do not keep up with our many appointed tasks.  We are essentially driven like cattle through a noisy, fast-paced proceeding that leaves us no time to pray or recollect ourselves or remember that we are at the foot of the Cross.  Meanwhile, many priests do pretty much whatever they want at the altar, whatever the books may say.  

And this is what is known as the "golden age of the laity."

Personally, I envision the Golden Age of the Laity as something more along the lines of what I got on September the 8th.  I would much rather let the priest be the priest, and have him let me be me, and shut out the din of everyday life and listen in silence for the still, small voice.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Morton's Fork

I emerge from underneath my rock long enough to comment on the business of Barack Obama versus Vladimir Putin.

I must say, I am rather alarmed by the admiration a lot of people on my end of the political spectrum seem to have for Vladimir Putin, and their readiness to yield to the temptation to compare him favorably to Barack Obama.  There is no doubt that Barack Obama has utter contempt for the rule of law, the free market, the integrity of the family, Western Civilization in general and the Catholic Church in particular, and that he is making the United States a laughingstock on the world stage.  But let us not forget that the Soviet Union, Putin's old stomping ground, was a Machiavellian world of lies, intrigues, betrayals, and assassinations, and that persons did not flourish in such a world by being nice.  We should not be quick to embrace as "Leader of the Free World" a man who rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the KGB.  

We should also keep in mind that great evils frequently come in pairs, so that, seeking to oppose one, the undiscerning are driven into the arms of the other. We had a striking example of that during the last century.  Nazism and Communism were both atheistic, materialistic, religion-hating, tradition-hating, totalitarian ideologies; yet some people joined the Communist Party in order to oppose Nazism, and others became Nazis in order to fight the Communists.  All were wrong, and millions paid the price.

Today we live in equally confused times.  We are sure to pay the price for having deliberately unmoored ourselves from our Christian heritage.