Early tomorrow morning, the world will be watching the royal wedding of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton. While there are bound to be a wide range of critiques that describe a misplaced prioritization of fanfare over marriage, I for one think there is something about the pomp and circumstance that surrounds royal customs from which modern man can take a lesson. Some time ago, I wrote about how our culture has lost a sense of formality, and along with it an appreciation for ritual and solemnity:
At the heart of liturgy is the concept of ritual. Instead of fitting the Liturgy into our lives, it is in the liturgy that we are taken up into something much bigger, the cosmic worship of God. The liturgy is a great drama that is being played out on a cosmic scale, and simply by being there, we are taken up into this drama. This is exactly why having specific rituals in the liturgy is so important. When there are “lines” that need recited, “actions” or “stage directions” that need followed, the structure of the liturgy itself teaches that the liturgy is bigger than us; we are taught that it is not something that we can create, but something that must be received. This is all a very complicated way of saying that the liturgy is an objective reality.
In contrast, when the liturgy becomes the result of the creative efforts of a “liturgy committee,” the congregation is given the impression that the main focus of the action is not on God but on the people, that we are the creators, not God. How the liturgy is presented and the way in which it includes us affects how we come to think of the essence of the liturgy and of ourselves as human agents. This is the basic principle of sacramentality in its most general form. The principle states that “we are how we act.” In other words, the way in which we act forms the views we hold and even the type of person we become. If the Mass is presented as a ritual, people are given the correct impression that it is something bigger than themselves, a sacred action into which they are taken up. They then come to realize that they are not the center of reality. If it is presented as self-created, then people come to see themselves as self-creators.
I was struck by the objections people raised to the fact that Miss Middleton will be arriving to the wedding by car instead of by carriage. Whether it was done on purpose, I cannot say, but it strikes me that Miss Middleton, before the wedding, is not in fact royalty, but rather a commoner. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the newly married couple will depart from the church by carriage (the same one used by Princess Diana at her wedding), for at that time Miss Middleton will be Princess Kate. I would hate to concentrate solely on the carriage example, for it is but one of what will undoubtedly be a series of rituals that make the wedding not just any wedding, but a royal wedding. And I certainly don’t wish to get into the debate over the suitableness of this particular action, but rather to point out the implicit ritual and significance it carries. It is a nice reminder that actions, in particular rituals, do in fact matter. And it is ritual that gives an event solemnity. And solemnity is not necessarily somber, but in fact can be joyful. In the words of C.S. Lewis:
This quality will be understood by anyone who really understands the Middle English word solempne. This means something different, but not quite different, from modern English solemn. Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression or austerity. The ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a ‘solemnity.’ The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity. A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixes est. Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not. The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for pomp — and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of ‘solemnity.’ To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connexion with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast — all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual (A Preface to Paradise Lost, emphasis added).
DC, in its never ending battle to get people to pay $3.00 for 20 pages of printed material, has Superman renouncing his citizenship in Action Comics 900. Superman joins non-violent protesters in Iran and is chided for this by the national security adviser to the US President who fears this has created a major diplomatic incident. Superman renounces his US citizenship on the spot because he is tired of his actions being construed as part of US foreign policy. Go here to see the panels of the comic book.
I was four years old when the Civil War centennial began and eight years old when I ended, but even I recall what a big hoopla it all was. In the midst of it all, Thomas Lawrence Connolley, who would become the foremost historian of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, brought out a book in 1963 entitled Will Success Spoil Jeff Davis?, a satirical look at the often over the top aspects of the centennial observations. The book is a howlingly funny look at Civil War mania and still is relevant today. Here is a tiny sample:
The easiest way to publish something on the War is to submit an article to a historical journal. Better still, start your own journal. There are some two thousand in print and, judging by the tone of the articles, many of them are in need of material. Journal writing has its advantages. If he cannot write good prose, the writer can bury himself in footnotes. The footnote is a clever device, designed to confuse the general reader and absolve the author of any lawsuits. For example, consider a typical footnote to the statement “General Crumbley was a bastard.” 34
34. Ibid, see also, Cornstalk, Bastards in Gray, loc. sic.* op. sit., loc. site, sob. Many maintain that General Crumbley was not a bastard. See Thirty Years View by Mrs. Crumbley, op. sit., sic. hoc. Major Kumpley maintained that the General may have been a bastard but that he was indeed a “magnificent old bastard at that/* See diary of Isaac Bumpley, Moose University Archives, XXCI, pt, 2, Sept. 21, 1863. In addition to being a bastard, the General was also a Mason. See diary of Cornelius Kraut, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, SWMVHR (XXI, Je. 45).
Cardinal George is to the left and Father Pfleger is to the right.
Updates at the bottom. . .
The Chicago Tribune and WBEZ are reporting that Cardinal George of Chicago has removed from his parish of Saint Sabina and suspended Father Michael Pfleger sacramental priestly faculties ultimately due to his disobedience.
In a public radio show Father Pfleger threatened to leave the Catholic Church if he were to be reassigned to a Catholic High School by Cardinal George, his archdiocesan archbishop.
Cardinal George was disappointed in this particular response, “If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish(.)”
A Catholic priest’s inner life is governed by his promises, motivated by faith and love, to live chastely as a celibate man and to obey his bishop. . .Breaking either promise destroys his vocation and wounds the Church. . .With this letter, your ministry as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish and your sacramental faculties as a priest of the Archdiocese are suspended.
An “associate” minister of Saint Sabina’s Church, Kimberly Lymore, promised to have an “official” response from the Saint Sabina “leadership” to Cardinal George’s actions.
Well I have to say is Father Pfleger had certainly pushed the boundaries of patience on this one. To say that this was a “shock” or unexpected would be disingenuous of Father Pfleger.
Cardinal George is well within his authority as an apostle of the Church to govern his flock as stated in his role as Archbishop.
Obedience is certainly expected of all archdiocesan priests, but to have Father Pfleger not only disobey the wishes of his archbishop, but publicly threaten to leave the Church if he were to be reassigned to another post went beyond disobedience.
Pray for Father Pfleger, Cardinal George, and the parish of Saint Sabina’s.
ThePulp.it has a roundup of the coverage on the suspension of Father Michael Pfleger from the Catholic blogosphere and the secular media here.
Today President Obama released his long form birth certificate. Go here to view the video. This should convince all but the deeply conspiratorial among us, although since I include most of the Birther movement in that category, I doubt if the release of the birth certicate will slow them down one iota. I have long thought that Obama did not release his long form birth certificate because he secretly loved the Birthers, who allowed his allies to tar all Obama critics as being delusional nutcases. What I find interesting is why did he decide to release his birth certificate now?
ThePulp.it EXTRA is the title of a new series of posts that I will be contributing for The American Catholic . It’s an idea first thought of by fellow blogger John Henry a few years back. I’ll be posting some of the best that the Catholic Blogosphere has to offer every so often to highlight some great posts around Saint Blog’s.
Thinking back over Lent, one of the things that hits me, as it has before, is that I am much better at not doing things for Lent than doing things. Even moderately big changes in my daily routine such as “fasting” by having only one meal a day on Wednesdays and Fridays, or abstaining from alcohol entirely, are fairly doable. However, my resolutions to start each day be reading Morning Prayer, or reading the Pope’s second volume of Jesus of Nazareth, or blogging my way through all of Augustine’s Confessions — not so much.
That’s the point at which I find myself wondering: Is putting so much focus into not doing something a mistake? There is, after all, nothing wrong with eating, or with having my nightly beer or glass of wine. Why should God have any interest in my not doing these perfectly acceptable things? It’s not as if God gets satisfaction out of thinking, “Ah, it’s Lent. I do so look forward to all those little human creatures going in for a little bit of voluntary discomfort. I thrive on discomfort.”
So why give up a few pleasures for Lent — especially while at the same time failing in doing some positive things which would arguably be better things to do?
Well, obviously, the reason for penance is not that God wants us to be miserable.
The film Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) has perhaps the best recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates ever put on film. The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates, is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.
Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans. The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian. If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street. His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.
Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian. Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln. Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II. Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.
Here is a transcript from the film script of the debate:
Robert Holmes “Rob” Bell Jr. is an American “megachurch” pastor and author of such trendy books as Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, and Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality. His latest book, Love Wins, which from what I can tell is an exploration of Christian universalism, has caused quite a stir of late.
I don’t know a great deal about Rob Bell, save for my stumbling on this video this morning of Rob Bell preaching on the Resurrection.
Now — ordinarily, you might think the the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead would be sufficient enough to provoke some stirring of human wonder in the listener.
Rather, the resurrection (or Rob Bell’s speculations on the meaning of such) has to be accompanied by a hip modern rock soundtrack and a streaming psychedelic light show such as I might have enjoyed — oh, perhaps two decades ago, at a Grateful Dead concert, “under the influence.” To such an extent that, at least from my perspective, the content of his message is repressed, obscured by the barrage of the senses.
What is it with these modern, megachurch televangelists?
What does this say about the attention span of the intended audience?
Has the gospel become so boring that we really have to be entertained by it?
Public schools are no longer the explicitly Protestant institutions they were back in the 1900-1960 era
The teaching orders whose virtually free labor made Catholic schools relatively affordable in their golden age virtually ceased to exist in the decades following Vatican II
Changing demographics have moved Catholic populations away from many of the schools already built, and in this day and age building new ones is vastly more expensive
This has left many dioceses struggling with whether to shutter schools, and many of the continuing urban Catholic schools serving students who are mostly not Catholic.
The Archdiocese of New York, for example, reported in 2008 that, among its inner-city schools, nearly two-thirds of students lived below the poverty line and more than 90% were racial minorities. In Washington, D.C., as of 2007, more than 70% of students attending the lowest-income Catholic schools were non-Catholic. In Memphis’s inner-city “Jubilee” Catholic schools, as of 2008, 96% of students lived below the poverty line and 81% were non-Catholic. In fact, over the past 40 years, the portion of minority students in Catholic schools overall increased by 250%, and the share of non-Catholic students increased by 500%.
Here’s another. At the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson doesn’t want to know what happened on Good Friday as much as she wants to know why it happened:
I’ve had more than one Catholic who grew up either before or on the cusp of Vatican II tell me horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.
“Horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.” I think you already know where Ms. Manson is going with this.
This was a particularly heavy-handed way for priests and nuns to lay an even thicker coat of guilt on impressionable Catholic school children. Because they were sinners, Jesus had to suffer and die to redeem them. It was one rendering of the traditional theological interpretations of the crucifixion — that Jesus had to die to fulfill the Scriptures and that his death atoned for the sins of the world.
Get ready for the customary condescending pat on the head.
I know that countless people throughout the centuries have found profound, life-changing and even comforting meaning in this understanding of the Cross.
Since Ms. Manson has much more important fish to fry(see what I did there?), she’ll let the rest of you have your little legend.
But I’ve often felt that if we immerse ourselves in the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, passion, and death as told by the four Gospels, these texts can broaden and deepen our understanding of the crucifixion.
I don’t know how much deeper one needs to go than getting one’s sins taken care of so that one can go home to the Father.
It can help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.
I stand corrected. Jesus died the most horribly agonizing death that it is possible to imagine in order to “help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.” Got it.
Me, I’ve never ever been able to “make meaning” of diseases, wars, genocides, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis and other tragedies with their attendant human suffering. I guess I’m not trying hard enough.
When I read the passion narratives of the Gospels, I don’t hear simply that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Rather, I hear the four evangelists very clearly say that Jesus’ suffering and death was the will of those who conspired against him — those whose political systems he had undermined, those whose religious convictions he had offended.
Glad we’ve finally cleared that up. Neither Romans nor Jews killed Christ. It was the Republican Party and the religious Right.
However, I thought it would be a lot more interesting if the chart showed the percentage of total income earned by the top 1%, and also showed the total federal tax liability (including Social Security and Medicare) rather than the just the income tax. Luckily, all this information is available easily on line. (Percent of taxes paid. Percent of total income. Historical tax tables.)
Today is Anzac Day. It is remembered by me each year as a salute to the courage and self sacrifice it honors. It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.
At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations, engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:
We are the ANZAC Army
We cannot shoot, we don’t salute
What bloody good are we ?
And when we get to Ber – Lin
The Kaiser, he will say
Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !
What a bloody odd lot
to get six bob a day.
The Azac troops referred to themselves as “six bob a day tourists”. By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs. At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price. Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the German Desert Fox, rated the New Zealanders as the finest troops he ever saw. American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.
Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the great antagonist of Abraham Lincoln, gave many eloquent speeches in his career, but the finest one he delivered was at the end of that career on April 25, 1861 to a joint session of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois. In broken health, his coming death on June 3, 1861 already foreshadowed, he summoned the energy to help save his country. Always first and foremost a patriot, Douglas was intent on rallying members of his party to the cause of the Union. After one of the most vitriolic presidential contents in the history of the nation, it was an open question as to whether most members of the Party of Jackson would stand in support of the efforts of the Lincoln Administration to fight to preserve the Union. Douglas, putting country above party, helped ensure that they would.
Immediately after the election of Lincoln he made it clear that he would make every effort in his power to fight against secession. At the inaugural speech of Lincoln, he held the new President’s hat, giving a strong symbol of his support. Illinois was a key state for the Union in the upcoming conflict. Pro-Southern sentiment was strong among Illinois Democrats in the southern portion of the State, with even some talk that “Little Egypt”, as the extreme southern tip of Illinois is called, should secede from the rest of the state and join the Confederacy. To rally his supporters for the Union, and at the request of President Lincoln, Douglas returned to Illinois and on April 25, 1861 had his finest hour.
The speech he delivered that day has gone down in Illinois history as the “Protect the Flag” speech. It was received by both Republicans and Democrats with thunderous applause and cheers throughout. Although there would be much dissension in Illinois during the War, Douglas helped ensure that Illinois would be in the forefront of the war effort, with its quarter of a million troops, among whom was Ulysses S. Grant, who would ultimately fight under the Stars and Stripes being absolutely crucial to Union victory.
Here is the speech, interspersed with comments by me: