Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Everyone Is Special, Dash" Or "Why Tiaras Are Important"

Let's begin by laying down a few foundational principles for this post.

First, the caption is from The Incredibles (which if you haven't seen, you should):

Second, the entirety of the Second Council of Nicea, but we'll reprint this part as a summary:

We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people.

Notice that this isn't a suggestion. It's an order.

Third, this snippet from the Council of Trent, Session XXII, Chapter 5:

And whereas such is the nature of man, that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of divine things; therefore has holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, to wit that certain things be pronounced in the mass in a low, and others in a louder, tone. She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolical discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.

In case that wasn't clear enough, the Council returned to this point later:

CANON VII.--If any one saith, that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of masses, are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety; let him be anathema.

Make sure you read those last four words.

The reason all this has been on my mind is because of some loose talk that has been getting circulated regarding Pope Francis. If there's one word that has gotten completely played out since his election, it's "humility." Or maybe "humble." Or both. These words are getting thrown around by people who apparently have no idea what the nature of humility or pride is.

Consider pride. Is it prideful to know one's station and act accordingly? Being pope happens to be the most important job in the world. Is it wrong to therefore treat it that way? This is important because people have been falling all over themselves to regard Pope Francis's actions as somehow more becoming of a pope than those of his predecessors. This is offensive because it essentially paints prior pontiffs as prideful in contrast to Pope Francis.

Are we to assume that Pope Benedict was not humble because he demanded solemnity in the liturgy? That Blessed John Paul II was prideful by wearing the mozetto? Blessed John XXIII was given a full papal coronation, wore the triple tiara, and used the sedia gestatoria. Was he some kind of egomaniac?

Let me be clear that I'm not saying this as a criticism of our current Holy Father. I'm defending the others.

Here's the point. Humility consists of adopting one's station regardless of how uncomfortable it might make you. Pope John hated the sedia gestatoria. He used it anyway. St. Pius X bemoaned how he had to dress as pope. He did it anyway. It made them uncomfortable, but it was also their job. What they wanted didn't matter. The very fact that they treated the papacy as the glorious thing it is was a mortification for them.

Humility is a subjection of the self to God. If Providence put you in a place of high rank, attempting to demean that rank by making it look like something less than it is is not humility. If anything, it is pride since it's taking something established by God as great and lowering it to suit one's comfort level.

In other words, being the Vicar of Christ is unique. Considering it as something that is on the level of any other position deprives it of its uniqueness. Most assuredly, when it comes to something like the papacy, everyone is not special, and we shouldn't disregard the dignity of the office because some secularists like to think of it as just another job.

Let's move on from that and talk about liturgical what-not. We've already heard Cardinal Mahony (and others) cackling over what they perceive as a new age dawning of liturgical banality. This is often trumpeted as being in the "spirit of St. Francis." To suggest that St. Francis would have espoused a degraded liturgy is something that would only be said by liars, the ignorant, or folks who have seen Brother Sun, Sister Moon way too many times. Fr. Zuhlsdorf has dealt with this to some extent, but I'd like to provide the following clip thanks to Tancred at the Eponymous Flower:

It's all Franciscan, with none of the disco or farm animals that so many seem desirous of.

Anyways, there's this widespread idea that the Church should junk the vestments, the precious metals on the sacred vessels, lace, statues, and all the other things that are usually classified as adding "pomp" or "grandeur" to our liturgy and churches. This is a repugnant attitude for a bunch of different reasons, but I'm going to try and limit the discussion to make a long story short (I know; too late for that).

Recall the items we began with. The person who wants to criticize the pomp of the liturgy or the use of rich externals for the Church had best tread carefully lest he invite the censure of both Nicea II and Trent and make of himself a heretic.

Next, this kind of thinking says more about the person doing the criticizing than anything else. Much of our liturgical difficulty springs from the fact that so few seem to understand what the Mass is and what is happening during its offering. We don't put the priest in splendid vestments to make a show of the priest. We don't use precious metals for the sacred vessels because we like shiny things. Icons and such aren't just pretty decor. These things are there to glorify God and to assist us in appreciating His Majesty. The Mass is the most important thing that happens on the planet. Ever. To take something of that magnitude and treat it as just another event, with no external recognition of its significance, is basically to insult God.

When a person talks about the splendor of the liturgy in a derogatory manner, they are the problem. This is someone who has assumed the prideful position of claiming to know themselves how God should be worshiped. There's also a very good chance that they just have a problem with beauty in general, since they want to strip the Mass of its beauty and magnificence in order to render it commonplace. There is nothing humble in any of these sentiments. It's more about pride and someone needing to change the liturgy to make themselves feel better about what's going on.

Read Matthew 26, Mark 14, or John 12 to see what Our Lord thought of expense being incurred in honor of Himself. Uncomfortable, yes? But true.

I'm not even going to get into the ecumenical problems with trying to "ordinarize" things. We've done that before, and I think Pope Francis should especially understand this since he was in charge of all the Eastern Catholics in his diocese in Argentina.

Finally, the removal of pomp in the liturgy or splendor from the Church's external trappings, as is made clear by both of the above Councils, would be supremely uncharitable, since it would deprive the souls of the faithful of things that are nourishing and healthy. It is (again) pride to assume that we, of ourselves, possess all that is necessary to overcome our baser instincts and devote ourselves entirely to the worship of God without assistance. The Church meets us where we are by engaging our senses and feeding them holy and uplifting things to raise our hearts and minds to the dizzying heights of sanctity.

This is why we need tiaras and such. The Pope has duties and obligations far beyond those of any other person on earth. He also carries an authority that is likewise exalted above all others here. When he dispenses with the signs of that authority, the understanding of the office will necessarily decline as well. Likewise with the Mass. When the Mass is treated as something of ordinary origins, we will naturally lose our respect for the Holy Eucharist.

Here endeth the rambling.

1 comment:

spraffmeister said...

How many of those wishing for a "humble" Mass with felt, polyester and plastic/glass abounding would turn up to a wedding wearing tracksuit bottoms or expect to see the bride and groom in bland, non-distinct clothing?

As you say, their desire for the banal and humdrum at Mass betrays their lack of knowledge regarding the Mass itself. Their problem, not the Mass.