Communion Rails

At the moment I attend two different parishes, depending on my schedule. It’s obviously not ideal and I’m working to make it a temporary arrangement, but one thing both parishes have in common is that they both use Communion rails. Having almost exclusively received the Eucharist in this manner for several months now, I’m struck by what a different experience it is from the ‘Communion Line’ method in favor since Vatican II.

For any non-Catholics in the audience, when one goes to receive the Eucharist in the post-conciliar Church, the normal method is to get in line and receive the host standing (often in the hand, which is a whole other kettle of fish and quite frankly should never be acceptable). Before the council, when most church’s had altar rails, the standard method was for the congregation to kneel at the rail all in a row while the priest went up and down placing the Host on each person’s tongue in turn.

It’s hard to express what a difference this makes, and I don’t only mean with regards to the far greater reverence being shown to Our Lord. To kneel at the Communion rail beside your pew neighbor – whom you may or may not know, and who may be just about any kind of person – is to embody one of the chief teachings of the faith: that God is no respecter of persons, and that whatever men are relative to one another pales compared to the fundamental fact that they are creatures of God: children of a common father and servants of a common master.

This does not happen by standing a Communion line. In a line, you look at the back of a person’s head, merely waiting until he passes on so you can have your turn. It is the same atomized, mechanical process that we’re familiar with from stores, banks, and other public service places: just waiting until you get yours and can go.

When you are kneeling side-by-side with someone, however, you are both facing the same direction, shoulder to shoulder, and thus tacitly united for a common purpose. The communion rail requires that the congregation each subject themselves together with his neighbor; committing a common act of humility and reverence before God, and thus highlighting their common nature before Him.

Let me see if I can illustrate this with an anecdote: there is a story of a Methodist church in the South shortly after the Civil War. When communion time came, a dignified Black man stunned the congregation by presenting himself first at the communion rail. The rest of the congregation sat still, no one wanting to kneel beside him. All, that is, except for a stately, white haired gentleman, who rose from his place and joined him. Seeing this man humbly kneeling beside the other led the rest of the congregation to join him. For you see, that white haired gentleman was Robert E. Lee.

Now, had there just been a communion line, that story would not have had the same impact. Because a line, as noted, is atomized: each individual presents himself effectively alone, takes communion, and leaves. But the rail is communal. Men have to kneel side-by-side with one another, placing themselves on equal footing before God, rubbing elbows with whoever happens to be there.

I am not an egalitarian. I don’t believe there ever has been, will be, or ought to be a classless society, and I think there is much to be said in favor of hereditary aristocracy. But I believe there are three places where all men are equal: in the cradle (all men are born in equal innocence and helplessness), in the coffin (all men are equally subject to death), and at the communion rail (all men are equally subject to God).

It is a great shame that we’ve largely done away with one of these.

AMDG

Please Do Not Try to Find Holy Images in Random Things

I happened upon this article through ‘Big Pulpit,’ and I have to make a quick comment: I really, really wish Christians would stop posting things like this:

Miraculous Image of Blessed Mother Holding Baby Appears in Pregnancy Sonogram – See the Photo!

by ChurchPOP Editor – 

The story itself is actually well worth reading, about a woman who was told she would never conceive, but went on to have nine children. But the image itself is nothing: it’s a vague, orangish blob that, to my mind, doesn’t look much like the image of a face (the ‘forehead’ is too large, there’s a weird projection on the bridge of the ‘nose’, two or three potential ‘eyes’, and so on). Here’s a clearer shot:

Now, anyone is welcome to take comfort from this image, or to use it as a reminder of the ever-present care of the Blessed Virgin, but please, please stop putting this sort of thing out there and calling it a ‘miracle.’ In the first place, it isn’t a miracle: it’s a subjective interpretation.  A real miracle would be far clearer, would be unaccountable by other explanations, and so on. This image has no meaning to anyone who does not already bring a desire to read that meaning into it.

Me, I believe in miracles: if you tell me St. Joseph of Cuptertino flew through the air, I’ll say it very well may have happened, and if you then give me documentary evidence of it, I’ll call it a fact that he did. Precisely for that reason I do not care for cheap, desperate attempts to claim miracles where there are none. To quote Father Brown, if I want real miracles, I know where I can get them.

The problem is that when you put something like this out there and declare it a miracle, or declare it is a sign from God, or anything of the kind, you do not convince anyone; you do the reverse. You make Christians or pro-lifers look insane, or at the very least extremely credible and willing to grasp at any flimsy straw that seems to confirm their preconceived view of the world. Worse, it encourages Christians to actually behave that way, which is the last thing we need. Not just because it hurts us in the eyes of the unconverted, but because it is actually damaging to our faith. Accepting flimsy, flattering ‘miracles’ like this only encourages us to take a lax, emotionally charged, and intellectually weak approach to our religion.

Please, please stop doing this.

 

At the Everyman, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

The Everyman asked me to tackle the question of salvation outside the Church, following Bishop Barron’s infamous interview with Ben Shapiro. Fortunately, I’d just been reading up some on the subject.

This one’s probably gonna generate some controversy; if you have a comment, please either leave it at the ‘Everyman’ site, or under this post.

The reason for this is inherent in the Christian claim. Christ came to save mankind from his sins, and by His saving death and resurrection He has opened a path to Heaven for those who follow Him. Salvation, in other words, is the exception, not the rule; we are not naturally directed to heaven. “wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and those who enter through it are many,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:13). Christ is not, as His Excellency said, the “privileged route” (whatever that means), He is the only route.

Our Lord is very clear on this: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), “To as many as believed in Him, He gave power to become sons of God” (John 1:12) and so on.

Christians, amid the heresies and schisms of the first few centuries after Christ, taught from very early on that there was one Church, which alone was the Body of Christ on Earth. Membership in this body is an essential part of following Christ, and hence there is no salvation outside it.

This is a hard saying (though not quite so hard as it seems, as we’ll see), but as with many of the hard sayings of the Catholic Church, it ultimately comes down to the question of whether the Church is what she claims to be, namely, the Bride of Christ and His instrument upon Earth. If she is, then of course there can be no salvation outside of her, since there is no salvation apart from Christ.

Go here to read the rest.

Sticking up for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

So, a few days back, someone posted an attack on It’s a Wonderful Life in the ‘Boston Herald,’ criticizing it, not only as a bad film, but as promoting socialism. It was a very poorly done piece, of the “make a bold claim, then support it with a sarcastic comment” variety, but since the point of view is one that I’ve seen infecting Conservative circles a lot, I thought it needed to be addressed. Hence, today’s piece in The Federalist:

Having dismissed “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a technical level with a single ill-informed paragraph, he proceeds to tackle the film’s message. Graham’s position is that George’s life is “pretty awful” because he endures a lot of suffering, is unable to go to college or even on his honeymoon, and “his kids wear second-hand clothes and get sick from the cold…because George can’t afford nice things for his family.” Graham then claims the film’s vindication of George’s life “fails” because “his life still stinks. He’s not, in fact, rich or even financially secure…and on top of that, Potter gets to keep the eight grand!”

Thus, apparently, Graham’s definition of a good life is one in which we are “rich, or even financially secure,” able to do what we like, able to avoid suffering as much as possible, and perhaps one in which evil people are punished as well. He then rather absurdly goes on to claim that “It’s a Wonderful Life” represents socialist, New Deal-style economics, and that it was intended for “the workers at a Soviet collective circa 1949,” with the message “who cares that you have no shoes? Back to the factory for Mother Russia.”

Ironically, Graham’s view of the good life as defined primarily by material security and wellbeing is far closer to a socialist perspective than anything in the film. The foundational idea of Marxism is that the world is purely material, and therefore creating material security and equality for the most people is the highest good.

Judging by this op-ed, Graham would agree, but only dispute with a Marxist whether socialism or capitalism creates the most good for the most people. One thing with which a Marxist would never agree is that a man’s happiness is far more dependent on family, community, virtue, and so on than by his material well being.

This is a fundamental flaw in modern discourse for both conservatives and liberals: we focus so much on material issues, trying to work out a system that will make, as Graham says, “the best world for the most people,” that we don’t stop to ask what we mean by “the best world” or a “good life.” Both sides are making the exact same mistake even as they draw different conclusions: both accept the same basic philosophy, but disagree on its application.

Read the rest here

Why I Remain Catholic

New Post on the Federalist.

But now I will answer his question directly. The Protestant asks: “Do you believe Protestants have Christ?” The Roman answers: “Not as we do.”

You Protestants have him as a distant voice; we Romans have him body and soul and majesty and divinity. We feed upon his body and drink his blood. We hear, with our bodily ears, his voice through his anointed ones saying, “Your sins are forgiven you” and, “This is my body.” We touch the bones of his saints and venerate the wood of his cross. And yes, we hear his written word in scripture as well. We have him not only as Protestants do, but also in a way that can be seen and and touched and tasted.

Christ is not words on paper or high lessons. He is a man, solid and real. A man who tromped the Earth with his feet, struck people with his hands, and sweat and bled from his body. He is hard, brute, unmistakable Reality, and his bride the church is no different. She is no invisible collection of believers, but men and women bound by words spoken aloud under the same law and the same doctrine: doctrine that means one thing and not another. A visible, objective entity upon Earth, just as he was and is.

You Protestants do not have that. You have pieces that you tore off and carried away. We are original: you are derivative. You have an echo or an image or a dream of Christ. By the grace of God, that may be enough to bring you to salvation, but it is a poor substitute for the real thing. So, that would be my answer to Maas’s question. I hope that makes the issue a little clearer.

Go here to read the rest.

Second Meditation: On Beauty

Note: This is just a series of loose thoughts written out more or less as they come, presented in the hopes that someone will find something worthwhile within them. 

Our society despises beauty. This may sound surprising, given how much we hear about overvaluing of physical appearance, impossible beauty standards in media, and the rest of it, but that sort of thing isn’t an overvaluing of beauty, but an extension of our bonobo-like obsession with sex; it is ‘hotness’ we value, not beauty. Granted, beauty and sexual attraction, in women, often overlap, but they aren’t the same thing.

Once this distinction is clear in our mind, examples and proofs pile up almost faster than we can describe them. Female fashions are designed to emphasize and draw attention to the bodily form, as opposed to earlier fashions which were meant to adorn it. Compare a woman’s frock from the 1930s, with its patterned dress and accompanying hats with a modern body-hugging dress or pants. It isn’t just a matter of being more or less revealing, but a matter of how much the dress itself was meant to look pretty compared to how much it was meant to draw the eye to the woman’s body (this distinction occurred to me watching an episode of All Creatures Great and Small, where I realized that the dress of the protagonist’s wife was doing something very different than a modern dress would).

Also, if our culture valued beauty as such, we would prize it in our art, architecture, music, and so on. We do not. This is almost a truism; no one looks at modern architecture or modern art and praises it for its beauty. Even people who like the stuff like it for other reasons. In architecture we either go for bland utilitarianism or self-indulgent absurdism.

bn-vm736_church_gr_20171009170238

modern-low-rise-office-building-14048267

la-cathedral

This is supposed to be a Cathedral, by the way.

 

We further denigrate beauty with grotesque blasphemies such as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” trying to render the whole thing subjective, either in an excuse to provide poor work or out of misguided compassion (looking at you, Mr. Serling).

All of this, as I see it, is a concerted effort by modernity to try to shut down the one thing it can’t successfully lie about or explain away. G.K. Chesterton exposed this dilemma of the revolutionary in The Loyal Traitor:

“We can rise up ignorance against science and impotence against power, but who is going raise ugliness against beauty?”

Against truth, the revolutionary can assert a lie, and the lie may be convincing. Against nobility, the revolutionary can assert liberty and license, and they are appealing. But against beauty he can only offer sophistries and evasions, because beauty is unanswerable. You can give someone a false idea to fall back on, but you can’t stop him from seeing it if he has any humanity left.

Of the three great pillars of goodness – Truth, Nobility, and Beauty – beauty is the easiest to perceive and that hardest to define. You cannot exactly say what constitutes it; it is not evenness (trees are beautiful), nor size (flowers and mountains are both beautiful), nor vision (music and poems and even ideas can be beautiful). The only way to really describe it is a thing being as it ought to be. In short, beauty is the raw perception that the thing before us is good.

This is why beauty leads to love, and why talk of love is so often couched in terms of beauty: perception of goodness leads easily to willing that goodness to continue, and consequently to the desire to subordinate oneself to it.

This is also the reason for the ‘beauty equals goodness’ trope, which was never as universal as some like to claim, but it a venerable practice: storytellers make the good people beautiful as a shorthand way of showing their goodness, and the reverse for the bad guys. In visual media, it encourages us to be on their side from the beginning. Beauty is raw perception of goodness, at least in terms of form and appearance, so it is helpful as a means to lead audiences to perceive other good qualities about the heroes.

If beauty is the raw perception of goodness, then we may say that, in our experience of beauty, we have a dim image of how God perceives creation. God saw that creation was good; that is, creation affected God after the fashion a beautiful object affects us. Had mankind never fallen, no doubt his ability to perceive beauty would have been greatly increased, as would his ability to produce it in his own work.

What is more, beauty, as I said, is a perception that a thing is as it ought to be. Thus, the notion of objective beauty contains within it something akin to the notion of intent in creation, something akin to the Platonic forms, the essential concept that there are ideas behind real, physical things we encounter. That is, if we perceive beauty, we perceive that that beautiful object conforms to its pattern or its concept. But that means there is a concept that precedes the object, as the concept of a machine precedes its invention.

There are two ways to understand this; the progressive claims that the concept comes from us; that our perception of beauty depends on how well it fits our own pre-conceived notions of the object. Thus, a woman is beautiful is she fits the ‘standards’ of the (male) observer. The traditionalist, on the other hand, would say that the concept comes from God, and that we perceive that the beautiful object, insofar as it is beautiful, fits the perfect idea of it in the mind of the Creator. We are able to perceive this because we are made in His image and likeness and thus have minds akin to His, if infinitely lesser.

The problem with the progressive approach is first that we may perceive beauty in things we are seeing for the first time, and which we had no conception of before hand. A traveller from the Navajo who ended up in Paris would be able to perceive beauty in Notre Dame Cathedral though he’d never seen a stone building before. A boy raised in the Sahara would not be blind to the beauty of a snowfall merely because he’d never imagined one before (indeed, this is the opposite of our experience; totally new perceptions of beauty strike us more forcefully than ones we are familiar with).

Another problem is one that progressive thought runs into constantly; the problem of origin. If beauty is socially constructed, it is hard to see where the concept came from in the first place. That is, if our perception of beauty is only our perception of the preconceived notions we have been taught by social pressures to apply, then whence can these notions and to what purpose? Who was it that decided Mozart and Bouguereau ought to strike the senses as they do and why?

You see, if our conception of a given object, and hence of its beauty comes from ourselves through social pressures, there must be an origin point at which this process began. And it is hard to imagine either how that would happen or why it would be applied to such completely irrelevant objects as stars, landscapes, and music, but not to more survival-crucial factors such as food or tools (for beauty is so far not utility that the two concepts are almost opposites: very, very few things are valued both for their beauty and their utility).

Now, I am sure some explanation could be offered that was more or less plausible (off the top of my head, a common conception of beauty fosters group cohesion. Though I severely doubt primitive peoples, or really anyone prior to the modern world even thought in those terms, let alone formed quiet conspiracies to enact them. Considering how incompetent we, with our ‘scientific’ understanding of these phenomena are at creating such things, I doubt our ancestors even bothered trying). The point is that beauty requires an explanation, and more than that, if it isn’t going to end in what might be termed a traditionalist view – of objective values, supernatural origins, and teleological creation – it has to be explained away. Beauty, as an objective reality, does not fit into a progressive view of the universe.

Yet even when intellectually explained away, it can’t be avoided except through maiming the soul. Jaded high school students raised on ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ will still stop and gaze at a Bouguereau painting. People still flock to the Grand Canyon and still stargaze, and you can still pack an auditorium to hear the music of Mozart. Beauty is unanswerable because it is simply perceived, as a color is. You can quibble about the definition of green, but you can’t argue a man into seeing red. You can explain beauty away, but you can’t stop someone from seeing it. Beauty, in the last resort, is the final snag that links a man to God.

That is why modern, progressive society hates it so much. That is why we try to scrub it as much as possible from our lives, why we insist on subjectivity, why we insist that ugly works of art are just as good – nay, better – than beautiful ones. That is one reason we lay so much stress on the sexual aspect of female beauty. That is why the Catholic liturgy has been gutted and Catholic churches defaced by their own congregations.

Beauty leads to love, and to love anything for its own sake is to take one step away from the progressive mindset that the end goal is the greatest thing and one step closer to loving God, from whom all good things flow.