Family altar



John Zmirak’s crusade against the Catholic “sub-culture”

A personal distaste for the “sub-culture” of orthodox Catholicism has been evident with Dr. John Zmirak for quite some time. In recent weeks, however, this contempt has attained the level of a crusade. His latest rant is remarkable for its pleading stereotypes and crass superficiality:

The weirdness, bitterness, crankiness, and the general mediocrity that pervade the Catholic subculture – from its newspapers to its TV shows, from most of its tiny colleges to the poorly-penned books, and sloppy, sentimental blogs that flood the tiny market of conservative Catholic readers – is the direct result of having few people to choose from …

Is this Church of the Umbrella Handle, with its much smaller set of human types, the ‘smaller, purer Church’ of which Pope Benedict XVI spoke – or is it the subset of ‘neo-Pelagian immanentists’ against whom Pope Francis warned?  Of course, it is both, and the wheat is irretrievably mixed up among the tares. But one thing is certain: It is as inbred as a pack of captive cheetahs, with all the dangers of deformity and disease that that implies.

The Church as righteous subculture is unappealing to nearly everyone – including the kids who grow up inside it, who despite all those years of homeschooling and chapel veils frequently flee for what look like saner pastures.

In fairness, Zmirak could have made a legitimate point here without gratuitously insulting the only Catholics left who give a damn. But that opportunity was squandered by his bitterness. One suspects that the author of “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song” has been, shall we say, unlucky with the devout “home schooled and chapel veiled” set. I should hope so, at any rate.

What Zmirak fails to account for is the fact that without a “righteous sub-culture”, there is no Catholic culture – period. Bad Catholics like Zmirak (and I reluctantly include myself in his company) are by definition parasitical. If you want to be a bad Catholic you need a strong base of serious, orthodox, striving-for-holiness Catholics to sustain the cultural framework. I have discussed the idea at length in various posts over the years. Bad Catholics – defined as those who are less than devout but are not dissenters – are a tolerable and even amusing evil, but they are also a luxury, possible only when the Faith is strong and capable of producing saints. Today, that element is present only in the Catholic sub-culture Zmirak so passionately disparages.

The Catholic sub-culture certainly has warts. But it is virtually alone in producing orthodox vocations, raising large families, and handing down the faith from one generation to the next. Contrary to Zmirak’s insinuation that kids who grow up in this sub-culture are fleeing in droves (which may be his honest perception, as malcontents tend to attract malcontents), those small orthodox colleges are the only Catholic colleges where the overwhelming majority of graduates keep the Faith. As the sub-culture grows and rebuilds, it will also become more diverse, and a place for the Zmiraks of the world will be more secure. But at present, in all sobriety, the Church simply cannot afford Bad Catholics anymore. Bad Catholics drag the Church down just as much as the dissenters, if not more so, because they are more readily perceived as hypocrites (fairly or not) and because they discourage the weak by their impiety. Christ did not establish the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for the pleasure and enjoyment of Bad Catholics. It was “the Church as righteous sub culture”, however unappealing to the worldly, that converted Rome and the world in the end.

Postures for the laity at the TLM

The Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco has posted an extremely detailed and informative booklet by Richard Friend titled “Understanding When to Kneel, Sit, and Stand at a Traditional Latin Mass: A Short Essay on Mass Postures”.  The essay is available in a PDF file here. After reviewing much history and scholarship on the subject, the author concludes:

“Whether the Mass is Low or Sung, ideally people in the U.S. should (i) stand for the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Collects; (ii) sit for the Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia (tract, sequence); (iii) stand for the Gospel; (iv) sit for the homily; (v) stand for the Credo, and Oremus; (vi) sit during the Offertory; (vii) stand at Orate Fratres; (viii) kneel after the Sanctus; (ix) stand at Per omnia sæcula sæculorum at the end of the canon just before the Pater Noster; (x) kneel after the Agnus Dei and throughout Communion; (xi) sit for the ablutions; (xii) stand at Dominus vobiscum before the Post-communion prayers; (xiii) stand during Post-communion prayer and the dismissal (Ite Missa est); (xiv) kneel for the final blessing; (xv) stand for the Last Gospel; (xvi) and stand for the recessional.”

Quite honestly, this seems much more intuitive to me than the current practices for Low Mass as proscribed in the ubiquitous red missalettes published by Coalition Ecclesia Dei (a group which should be thanked profusely for its immense contribution to the traditionalist movement in the United States). I’d be delighted to see this implemented in TLM communities, but I think it will take the leadership of priests to make this happen. It definitely won’t do to have individual worshipers taking this up on their own while everyone else follows the red missalettes!

Liturgical History and the Novus Ordo

Most Catholics today are unaware of the degree to which the Novus Ordo Missae departs from Catholic tradition. This relatively brief but thorough analysis, written by a college freshman I happen to know with a keen mind for all things liturgical, demonstrates how the Novus Ordo represents a profound rupture with our liturgical heritage. This jarring discontinuity pertains to virtually every aspect of Catholic liturgical tradition, extending even to the once untouchable canon itself, and involves significant departures from the spiritual and doctrinal emphases long conveyed by the liturgies of the Church. Do give it a read.

The Modernist as Reformer

From the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis of Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907:

38. It remains for Us now to say a few words about the Modernist as reformer. From all that has preceded, it is abundantly clear how great and how eager is the passion of such men for innovation. In all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten. They wish philosophy to be reformed, especially in the ecclesiastical seminaries. They wish the scholastic philosophy to be relegated to the history of philosophy and to be classed among absolute systems, and the young men to be taught modern philosophy which alone is true and suited to the times in which we live. They desire the reform of theology: rational theology is to have modern philosophy for its foundation, and positive theology is to be founded on the history of dogma. As for history, it must be written and taught only according to their methods and modern principles. Dogmas and their evolution, they affirm, are to be harmonized with science and history. In the Catechism no dogmas are to be inserted except those that have been reformed and are within the capacity of the people. Regarding worship, they say, the number of external devotions is to he reduced, and steps must be taken to prevent their further increase, though, indeed, some of the admirers of symbolism are disposed to be more indulgent on this head. They cry out that ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic departments. They insist that both outwardly and inwardly it must be brought into harmony with the modern conscience which now wholly tends towards democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy and even to the laity, and authority which is too much concentrated should be decentralized. The Roman Congregations and especially the index and the Holy Office, must be likewise modified. The ecclesiastical authority must alter its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political organizations it must adapt itself to them in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, and are to be more encouraged in practice. They ask that the clergy should return to their primitive humility and poverty, and that in their ideas and action they should admit the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, gladly listening to the teaching of their Protestant masters, would desire the suppression of the celibacy of the clergy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed by them and according to their principles?

Pope Francis is more right than wrong on economics

Thomas Storck explains:

“It is hard to imagine how a Catholic would presume to express any opinions on social or economic matters who has not actually studied these (earlier papal) documents and made their teaching his own. But in any case, I hope that those who have felt alarm at the Church’s latest social document can rest assured that Pope Francis is simply continuing the constant teaching of his predecessors, successors of St. Peter, who will without any doubt teach that same doctrine until the end of the age.”

St. Francis Xavier on evangelism

As today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of the Church’s greatest missionaries, I thought perhaps we should let him instruct us on the basics of Catholic evangelism:

“In the space of one month I made Christians of more than ten thousand. This is the method I have followed. As soon as I arrived in any heathen village where they had sent for me to give baptism, I gave orders for all, men, women, and children, to be collected in one place. Then, beginning with the first elements of the Christian faith, I taught them there is one God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and at the same time, calling on The three divine Persons and One God, I made them each make three times the sign of the Cross; then, putting on a surplice, I began to recite in a loud voice and in their own language the form of general Confession, the Apostles’ Creed, the ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave Maria, and the Salve Regina. Two years ago I translated all these prayers into the language of the country, and learned them by heart. I recited them so that all of every age and condition followed me in them. Then I began to explain shortly the articles of the Creed and the Ten Commandments in the language of the country.

Where the people appeared to me sufficiently instructed to receive baptism, I ordered them all to ask God’s pardon publicly for the sins of their past life, and to do this with a loud voice and in the presence of their neighbours still hostile to the Christian religion, in order to touch the hearts of the heathen and confirm the faith of the good. All the heathen are filled with admiration at the holiness of the law of God, and express the greatest shame at having lived so long in ignorance of the true God. They willingly hear about the mysteries and rules of the Christian religion, and treat me, poor sinner as I am, with the greatest respect. Many, however, put away from them with hardness of heart the truth which they well know. When I have done my instruction, I ask one by one all those who desire baptism if they believe without hesitation in each of the articles of the faith. All immediately, holding their arms in the form of the Cross, declare with one voice that they believe all entirely.

Then at last I baptize them in due form, and I give to each his name written on a ticket. After their baptism the new Christians go back to their houses and bring me their wives and families for baptism. When all are baptized I order all the temples of their false gods to be destroyed and all the idols to be broken in pieces. I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done, witnessing the destruction of the idols by the very people who but lately adored them. In all the towns and villages I leave the Christian doctrine in writing in the language of the country, and I prescribe at the same time the manner in which it is to be taught in the morning and evening schools. When I have done all this in one place, I pass to another, and so on successively to the rest. In this way I go all round the country, bringing the natives into the fold of Jesus Christ, and the joy that I feel in this is far too great to be expressed in a letter, or even by word of mouth.”

The SSPX breaks its silence


The SSPX has been largely silent during the recent firestorms created by Pope Francis’ interviews. Today, the silence is broken with what strikes me as the most comprehensive and respectful criticism I have seen thus far:

A criticism of Pope Francis’ interviews:

After he has been in charge of the Holy Catholic Church for more than half a year, it is easier to understand the thought of Pope Francis. Due to many of his statements, even if we see a genuine movement in his way of focusing on our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel as the Good News, we may feel real causes of concern.

In his declarations, we seem to find running through the papal thought a kind of idée fixe, which focuses on the Pauline teaching developed by St. Augustine regarding the gift of life and the fight against what may kill it. “St. Paul,” says the Pope, “is the one who laid down the cornerstones of our religion and our creed. You cannot be a conscious Christian without St. Paul… Then there are Augustine, Benedict and Thomas and Ignatius,” who was “especially a mystic.” And “naturally Francis.[3]”

His model is Fr. Peter Faber, the Reformed Priest co-founder of the Jesuits. The Pope likes his gentleness and simplicity, his proximity to the poor and those on the margin of society, his availability and qualities of discernment and judgment.[1]

His two preferred contemporary thinkers are Henri de Lubac and Michel de Certeau.[1]” Henri de Lubac, a founder of the New Theology, opened a theological battlefield and created a great confusion with his works on the natural and the supernatural. Moreover, he rejected the necessary ecclesial logical link, the continuity between the present beliefs and the explicit faith of the first centuries.

Would the word of the Apostle to the Corinthians: “For the letter kills, but the spirit vivifies,” help us to discern the web of his mind?

Pope Francis, marriage, and paper tiger morality


We have to find a new balance. Otherwise, even the moral edifice of the church is likely to
fall like a house of cards
, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
– Pope Francis

Radical, earth-shaking, disruptive policy changes don’t generally happen before subtle hints have been dropped in order to gauge reactions and initiate some low-level discussions. A prudent leader wants to anticipate problems and objections in advance. On several occasions now, Pope Francis has hinted that he would like to relax the Church’s perennial discipline as it pertains to withholding communion from those living in invalid “second unions” (those who have divorced and remarried without an annulment). He believes that the present discipline is “unmerciful”. Yesterday, it was announced that the pope will call an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops next year to discuss the matter. This appears to be a subject close to Pope Francis’ heart. His previous remarks on this topic may have seemed unscripted and “off the cuff”, and perhaps subject to translation problems, etc., but he seems very determined to move forward on this subject.

As every Catholic should know, the sacramental theology of the Church requires that communicants be in a state of grace, or free from mortal sin. A person who contracts a civil “marriage” while still validly married to another person is, objectively, living in a state of adultery until this second union is renounced or the first union is canonically annulled. That is reason enough to bar such persons from the reception of the Eucharist. Furthermore, there is the additional problem of scandal, whereby even if such persons were subjectively ignorant of their sin, by publicly receiving communion they would still give scandal to the faithful.

This is a big deal, folks. In theory, I suppose it is possible that Pope Francis could change the longstanding discipline of the Church without, in theory, unraveling the Catholic doctrine of indissoluble marriage. But a change in discipline wouldn’t change the objective reality of sacrilege at the altar. Furthermore, with respect to the faithful, the psychological effect would be devastating, effectively making a mockery of marital “indissolubility” and thereby poisoning every marriage at the outset with an escape clause. I can’t help but think of the insult this would send to thousands of faithful Catholics who, in obedience and faith, have remained faithful to their marriage vows, even when deserted by and divorced from their spouses, and whose fidelity has been – until now – honored by the discipline of the Church.

In the La Cavilta Cattolica interview quoted above, the pope expresses concern that the Church’s “moral edifice” could collapse like a “house of cards” unless the Church finds a “new balance”. He seems to be saying that the Church must relax her disciplines or risk losing her moral authority in the lives of the faithful. The danger is that this “new balance” will itself reduce the Church’s “moral edifice” to a paper tiger.