Friday, May 22, 2009

Save the Liturgy, Save the World (from Jansenism)

The bleakness of the Irish institutions where abuse took place seems to reflects the theology of those who ran them. There is no Baroque exuberance, no time of festivity, just grinding tedium, where the norm is fast and penance mitigated by an occasional feast which is itself yet another penitential act. The pictures of these institutions show no sign of the Catholic sun shining, and black tea is served instead of good red wine, there is indeed only Calvinist gloom. One simply can’t imagine a sense of festival that is more than an empty mouthing of the Gloria in these grim mills.
People have suggested that Jansenism lies behind the appalling accounts of dehumanisation and abuse. What type of anthropology lies behind Jansenism? There is a heightened sense of sin, sin which cannot be overcome, but only beaten into semi-containment. There is a division of humanity into the saved and the damned, with the majority being damned. There is a tendency to see the poor, the weak as being damned, or at the very least as being beyond the influence of grace. Victims are damned, abusers are damned. Grace is given so sparingly, by a God who is mean with both love and Grace, and man, he is made in the same niggardly image. God is not merciful and forgiving but full of anger and rage, swift to condemn, waiting to punish. The wounds of the Son are not salvific but condemnatory, both victims and abusers are left without hope, the hell of now is but a foretaste of the hell to come. It is in this image man is created.
One has the vision of Jansenist liturgy celebrate perfunctorily in a damp chapel, poorly furnished with no joy, with no expense, with no understanding, with a mistrust of any movement of the heart. One is left with a vision of liturgy neither touching, nor being touched, by the divine. In the Usus Antiquior low Mass in every sense and in the Usus Recentior functionary anthropocentricity.
The rhythm of the Churches Liturgy, of Feast and Fast, is supposed to give us an insight into God, it is suppose to save a fallen world. It is meant to give us to celebrate what God has made us. In the Liturgy we join with our brothers and sister, the saints, united with God himself but if our theology of Gods has gone awry then so does understanding of man and so does our worship.
The phrase “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” is not a platitude or an empty slogan, the Liturgy forms our understanding of God, of the Church, of ourselves and of our neighbour. The Liturgy has become in the last 40 years reflective of what is deep inside of us, but in the first millennium the liturgy formed those who took part in it, hence in northern Europe monastic liturgists were the great missioners.


Ttony said...

Absolutely 100% spot on.

nickbris said...

Yes Father Ray,That is about as good an explanation as we are ever going to get.

We were certainly made to feel sorry for ourselves and we prayed very hard for salvation.

Adulio said...

Might also explain why the Irish clinged onto the low mass, even when persecution had ceased.

Interesting to note however that Jansenists in France wanted to celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular, with less references to Our Lady and the saints and more "emphasis" on scripture than composed prayers. Dom Gueranger had to fight these influneces all his life.

How he would be shocked if he entered a parish church in France today...

Mark said...

One of the best blog posts I've read in a long time.

Jane Teresa said...

I think this was very insightful, Father.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Beautiful, and absolutely correct!

Elizabeth said...

The Catholic faith is something that was given from Christ to the Church. It is not something that we create on or own, or re-create to conform to the "spirit of the age".

G.K. Chesterton said it well when he stated "Tradition means giving votes to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around" (Orthodoxy 190.

Pope Benedict in his book on the liturgy writes
“First it is important that individual rites have relation to places where Christianity originated and the apostles preached: they are anchored in the time and place of the event of divine revelation. Here again, 'once for all' and 'always' belong together. The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time.”
Pope Benedict continues “That is why the Christian East calls the Liturgy "Divine Liturgy", expressing the Liturgy's independence from human control.”

Thus, I will remain faithful to Pope Benedict XVI and the Apostolic Tradition that has been passed down through the centuries.
Thankfully far away from Jansenism.

old believer said...

One suspects that Irish Catholicism was, at one time, rather different. Whilst there is no doubt that some of the Maynooth clergy were Jansenist there was also a focus on liturgy. One of the best authors on choir reverences and 'making the circles' (the position of canons at Pontifical Mass at the throne) was Daniel O'Loan sometime Dean of Maynooth. By the 1950s a Dean then by the name of Aherne would right a book farcical in the level of its inaccuracies.

The other poisonous thread in Irish Catholicism (and elsewhere too) of course was Ultramontanism. At one time the Irish bishops were interested in the liturgy but Ultramontanism stopped that. The two cancers developed, uniquely and concurrently in Irish Cathlolicism with devastating results.

Peter Porter said...

I am sorry, Fr Ray, but while I appreciate the humanity behind your post I don't believe that Jansenism is entirely to blame for the grotesque activities within Irish Catholic institutions established to care for defenceless children. We know that you and many priests and religious could not possibly behave in this way and are faithful to the compassion of Christ.

Ireland then, and to a great extent now, is a rural peasant society and the priests, religious sisters and brothers would have come from harsh peasant backgrounds where brutality was a normal form of life. They would not have had had the imagination to behave in any other way. Incest and child abuse is, and was, endemic in Irish rural society, reinforced by a culture of secrecy and evasion.

When this is combined with a severe, legalistic form of Catholicism an unholy mess results. There has long been a division between Mediterranean and Atlantic Catholicism and you see here the inumanity that results from the second, compounded by human degredation that makes Ireland's claim to fidelity to the Faith a loathsome sham. Is the Faith that has inspired their faithfulness worth perpetuating in the light of these disclosures?

Sorry if I sound like a secularised liberal, but reading parts of this report on the link you provided a day or two ago has made me ashamed of my Faith. But I know that this is not the whole story and the horror tells us more about Ireland than Catholicism. I like the Irish but I know that there are hidden depths to their life and culture that nobody outside can begin to understand and it stinks.

I remember once meeting an old and rather eccentric Irish Jesuit whose family had been involved with the IRA from the time of its foundation. He was complaining of a new generation of IRA members who had embraced Marxism and ssw no reason against buying arms from Col Gadaffi. This gave him great sorrow because in his father's and uncle's day they had said the rosary before going on a shooting, murdering and firing escapade. The Black and Tans were repellant brutes but at least they did not disguise their brutality behind a veneer of piety.

I shall understand if you decline to publish this comment but, in the end, this gross record demonstrates not so much Jansenism but religion gone badly wrong. All Catholics in these islands will suffer from the consequences of these disclosures. No wonder that priests and religious have disappeared from the streets of Irish towns because they fear being spat at, attacked and verbally abused.

Thomas Cahill said...

Irish catholicism seemed to become markedly more ascetic in the 19th century, largely because of the famine. I read somewhere that as the population halved between 1841 and 1903 the average age of marriage for a man in Ireland rose to 39! Perhaps this widespread stifling of human desires contributed to an obsessive focus on human frailties. As Evelyn Waugh once remarked, "for the Irishman there can be only two ultimate destinations: Hell and the United States".

Fr Ray Blake said...

Jansenism IS "religion gone badly wrong". I don't see that we disagree, I am trying to understand where it has gone wrong.

Old Believer,
Ultramontanism is indeed another factor. Jansen corrupts into authoritarianism, authoritarianism is an easy substitute for Grace.

Laurence England said...

Great post.

Reminds me of reading Angela's Ashes and getting that impression from that book that the Irish Church was joyless.

Kate Edwards said...

This is a great analysis that we all really need to ponder, especially those of us living with the legacy of Jansenism in countries where most of the mission priests were Irish or French.

I think there were some other factors at work as well, including the cultural and theological isolation of Irish catholicism - but this is clearly a key one.

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

Let's not forget the other poisonous legacy of Irish Jansenism -- the ultra-liberalism of so many Catholic priests and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic who are of Irish extraction.

Their parents and grandparents were raised in a bleak, guilt-ridden Jansenist environment, and they have spent their lives reacting against it, by championing a soft, lazy, nebulous, therapeutic, and equally distorted form of Catholicism. One heresy, it seems, leads to another.

nickbris said...

Hank Jansen books in the '50s were very much in demand among teenage boys but woebetide those caught reading them.

maryrose said...

Fr Ray
Your analysis is certainly worth reading and pondering and should be seriously considered but unfortunately some of the comments are an opportunity to attack Irish people and the Irish catholics. I grew up in rural Ireland and whilst the hell and brimstone sermons were the norm child abuse was not. If you look at every society and wash your dirty linen in public then the negatives get exaggerated. We are not the only nation on earth prone to sin and I could write a lot on the injustices visited on our country by our neighbours but I will refain as I am still working on forgiveness. Many people in this country suffered a loss of everything , property, education and life itself to hold on the the Catholic faith. We as a nation have made many mistakes but we are acknowledging them and trying to move on. As for the comments on our resistance to the black and tans. Believe it or not we were fighting for our lives and our faith as we saw it and we were justified in praying for assistance. The people of that time were visited by a bunch of thugs who raped pillaged and burnt them out of their homes. My parents remember the fear at that time and they of course did pray for assistance. please let us not have this discussion decend into a hate of Irish people who have suffered much throughout the centuries and are trying to come to an understanding and a healing of the pain.

Anagnostis said...

I don't know about anthropology, Father; Jansenism is a fatal attenuation of the Gospel - but it seems to me that it's only one of a series of "attenuations" of one sort or another that seem almost to characterise western Christianity in the second millenium - a kind of continual turning away from 'fullness' as something to be feared, or boiled down to its minimal conditions. On the one hand, you have the schools isolating the sacramental 'moment' with the effect of reducing everything not directly involved in 'validity' to the level of ephemeral accidents; on the other, over-reliance on the penal/forensic metaphor of salvation itself. The great failure of much of Catholic 'Traditionalism' is precisely an inability or refusal to recognise that it's merely rejecting the latest attenuation (the liberal therapeutic one) in the name of a prior one.

In any case, there is no renewal without repentance. That's a universal law. Repentance is certainly in evidence for the heartbreaking betrayal and inhumnanity of institutional child abuse; at the level of the liturgy though, it's apparent that the Roman Catholic Church is still concerned principally with the protection of reputations, to the absolute exclusion of any frank admission by authority that being mired in the pig-pen is the consequence of having fecklessly and heartlessly squandered its patrimony. "Hermeneutics of contunuity" are absolutely insufficient.

old believer said...


I cannot speak for anyone other than myself but I was certainly not attacking Irish people, and I very much doubt anyone else was.

The issue is what happened, historically, to mould the Church in Ireland and how that links to the awful abuse scandal.

It is worth remembering too that although there are large numbers of clergy who have been involved in abuse they are but a fraction of the massive number of clergy Ireland has produced the vast majority being good and holy men.

Anonymous said...

Just to be always aware that there are evil people even attracted to some more traditional forms of the well as obviously others.

Father Mark said...

Brilliant, dear Father. Being 50% Italian (and Southern Italian at that!) and 50% Irish, I am well situated to grasp the underlying enjeu. There was more, however . . . especially in the deficient spiritual formation given some religious in Ireland. The accent was placed on keeping rules . . . a kind of legalistic minimalism . . . while the heart's inner bond to the person of Our Lord was not always nurtured. (A study of the spiritual formation given the Religious Sisters of Mercy during the critical period, for instance, would be interesting and profitable.) The saving grace was devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Our Blessed Lady. The secret of healing lies in the recovery and restoration of the sacred liturgy coupled with the warmth and confidence that have always been the fruits of true devotion to the Heart of Jesus and to Our Lady.

Anonymous said...

sorry to disagree. Just look at the views of those who so often comment appreciatively on both the humanity and sense of humour of the Irish Priests they know!

Father Mark said...

I still recall a highly placed Religious Sister of Mercy saying to me: "We were taught to say our prayers but not taught to pray." The dominant model was one of activism. Note that in many cases only 2 or 3 religious, often poorly prepared for their work, staffed large institutions.

At the same time I must recall the extraordinary holiness displayed during this same critical period by Blessed Abbot Marmion, Father Willie Doyle, Father Leen, and the hidden saints whose hearts burned with charity all over Ireland.

Newminster said...

A first-class exposé, Father.
If anyone cares to pick up Thomas Day's book "Why Catholics Can't Sing" they will find at least a hypothesis for the Irish approach to their faith. In a nutshell, when worshipping in your own way is likely to get you killed you tend a) not to do a lot of singing — with all that implies for joyfulness and uplifting praise of God — and b) there is a tendency to get it over with quick before the redcoats turn up.
Whether that has created the culture that Peter Porter describes or whether there is simply an unfortunate collision between the Irish character and the events of the last 4 centuries is, I suppose, a subject for deep philsophical debate.
What I can say from my own experience at a boarding school 50 years ago is that there was a world of difference in attitude to the pupils between the Irish brothers and the others. Only in recent years have I started to understand some of the reasons why that should be so.

Anonymous said...

Incest and child abuse is, and was, endemic in Irish rural society, reinforced by a culture of secrecy and evasion.I'd like to see the evidence for this pssibly slanderous remark.

Is the incest and child abuse the result of Irishness or peasantry?

I cannot believe the Irish or peasants are more likely to commit incest than anyone else in the world.

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis is good, Father.

God knows I desire a decent liturgy, but given thaat my own passion is catechesis, one could just as easily say that a renewal in the transmission of orthodox doctrine will change the world.

I'm not sure it's as simple as focussing on just one aspect of the Faith, is it?

Surely we need orthodoxy AND orthopraxy. Truth and Love in other words. We must pray, fast and give alms. The Mass of course is our greatest form of prayer and the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith.
We must join in the Church's Great Commission.

In short, there is a great deal to be done across the board. Each individual, of necessity, will only be focussed on one or two things, but the Church as a whole must address the lot.

Kirt Higdon said...

I'm new to this blog, having been linked from the Tea at Trianon website. The articles and commentary on the deplorable situation of the Church in Ireland are very insightful and show me how much more I need to know about Jansenism, which until recently I considered mainly just of historical interest.

My own Catholic formation was in the German and German-American tradition with its emphasis on academic education. Knowledge is a good thing in itself, but this approach had the downside of excessive intellectualism, not to mention know-it-all teenagers (yes, I'd include myself) who figured they were theologians before they even finished high school.

mafeking said...

Irish Catholics/clergy of a certain age are getting a real pasting here so I'll stick up for them....

I'll be frank and say I find a lot of comments on this post utter bs. Both my parents are Irish and in fact all my family are Irish on both sides. I went to two Catholic schools in London and was taught by mainly Irish nuns and Irish priests. When I look back on it now they were without doubt some of the best people I've ever met. Self-less, good humoured and kind I don't recognise the caricatures of wickedness I see so many people commenting on here. I went to school with Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Gibraltarian, Maltese, Sri Lankan, Indian and English Catholics and quite frankly I never noticed any difference between the attitude and behaviour of my parents (both brought up in 1930's/40's Ireland) and any of the other parents from the other countries I've mentioned. My parents were brought up in stricter times, but the same was true of everyone. I don't see how Ireland was the special case that some people are making it out to be. That was the Catholic world then, that was the world then. Corporal punishment was still allowed.

Are some people being anti-Irish here? Yes, I think so. There seems to be an undercurrent of that here.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think the memory of the famine, the civil war and mass emigration made Ireland a special case. As an Englishman I think also the brutallity of the suppression of independance was also a contributary factor, together these factors brought about a certain spiritual pessimism.

Sean said...

Peter Porter seems to think it wrong that the Irish prayed before killing the Black and Tans.

tell me, did the people of England pray in the years 1939 to 1945 before they went out killing Germans?

Newminster said...

I'm afraid Fr Blake is right, Mafeking, and I also suspect you are reacting to something that wasn't said.
Certainly my posting about the difference between Irish and other nationalities said quite definitely "brothers", ie religious. I made no mention of parents.
But there seems to me a certain significance in the fact that most (I stress "most") of these terrible stories of abuse are coming from Ireland, Australia and the US. The one thing the Catholic Church in these countries has in common is the predominant Irish influence.
Now that may be a coincidence or it may be that the French and the Germans and the Spanish and the Italians and the Portuguese and various South Americans are better at hiding this sort of thing. But I think it is something that needs to be faced up to and Fr Blake's diagnosis of a form of Jansenism doesn't seem to me to be too wide of the mark.

mafeking said...

Newminster, Fr. Ray

I think you are talking absolute rubbish. I'll repeat what I've just said. I see no difference in the Catholic attitudes of my parents and any of the other nationalities I went to school with be they Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Gibraltarian, Maltese, Polish, Nigerian, Indian, Sri Lankan or English. Subsequently I've met Columbian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Syrian, American, Canadian, Brazillian, Vietnamese and Chinese Catholics of the same age group and I don't see any difference. It was a different time, a different age when authority meant something and the s word and h word were still taught in schools. Quite frankly, so what? One poster seems to have written this bs about Jansenism and Maynouth and then both of you have latched on to it like it's the answer to everything.

I'll say again I find some of the anti-Irish sentiment in the comments really quite shocking. Some people here seem to be unaware of their own predjudices.

Maryrose said...

Fr Ray,
Jansenism does seem to be an explanation of the flavour of catholism in Ireland but also the widespread devotion to Our lady and the Sacred Heart does not totally fit the picture. I think these popular devotions are not encouraged in the seminary and especially a new liberalism has now taken root that is also very damaging. The report should have seperated physical abuse from sex abuse as physical punishment was the norm for childrearing up to the 60's. This is not condoning the excesses but everything has to be viewed in the culture of the times. I hope that bringing all this out into the open will assist in the healing of the pain for alll the victims. The church needs to go forward on its knees then the Holy Spirit can act. The wickedness that human beings are capable of is always present in every age and repentance and forgiveness is the only way forward. Its a mistake to believe any society occupies the high moral ground because every society has its hidden demons.

Fr Ray Blake said...

If this is rubbish, then the other possibility is that out of all of the nationalities you mention, one, only one, above all others has a genetic bent to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. You might well be right, I doubt it, I prefer to look at the theology that has formed the thinking of those who perpetrated and tolerated theses crimes.

Perhaps you might like to suggest other reasons why this has happened.

mafeking said...

Fr Ray

As I said total rubbish. If you've got evidence Irish people during this and other periods have committed more physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children than any of the other nationalities I've mentioned show it to me. Give me the comparison and prove it.

I've got another explanation for what you've written. You and others here have a problem with your own spiritual pessimism and the original poster who said it has brought it out. Quite frankly don't dump your spiritual hang-ups on the Irish.

Fr. McGrath, Fr. Barrett, Fr. Quinn, Sr. Bruno, Sr. Maria Gorretti, if you can hear me pray for me, if you can't I'll pray for you. Thanks for everything.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The Irish government have shown what has happened in Ireland, the Irish heirarchy accepts it verity. Neither the goverment nor heirarchy have suggested that this type of systematic abuse has happened elsewhere. No other governmentor heirarchy has suggested it is happening elsewhere.
I think that your suggestion that this is normal, or usual, in childcare and education seems to be one of the reasons why this was never rooted out. Such a suggestion is itself part of the problem.

mafeking said...

Fr. Ray

Don't twist my words. I never suggested it was normal or usual all I asked you for was some kind of comparison. If you haven't got one just say so. I'm trying to stick up for those good Irish priests and nuns who are being unfairly lumped in with the rogues. I thought maybe you would be able to understand that, but obviously not.

My main problem with this blogpost is this though...

One, the anti-Irish sentiment expressed by some bloggers. It's really quite shocking and shows the sort of ignorance I thought was a thing of the past. I'm surprised some of it got through without correction or at least a warning to others to tone it down.

Two, the suggestion that Irishmen and women of a certain generation were uniquely spiritually pessimistic. What rot. They were no different to any other Catholics of their generation. They were brought up strictly and the s word and h word meant something. That's the way it was. If you want an answer to this care home abuse scandal in Ireland look elsewhere.

Three, if some people on this blog have suddenly got the Jansenist bug then maybe they are the ones who've got the problem. Go dump your spiritual angst on somebody else.

St. Patrick, pray for us

Ann said...

This is a very interesting post and the comments are wonderfully thoughtful. I don't think that anyone can explain Irish Catholics or Irish Spirituality on a blog. It would take an examination of Irish history and the abuse that the Irish suffered from the time of the first invaders (Vikings I think).

One comment by a poster that does explain a lot: the effect of the British persecutions leading to a joyless liturgy. Would any culture, faith, liturgy, retain much joy given a comparable history?

Perhaps the history of persecution and the influence of Jansenism are the key to the answer.

Thank you very much.

Bryan Dunne said...

Dear Father Blake,

A quick search on Google using the terms "Irish" and "Jansenism" threw up an article from the Oxford Enc. of Ireland which suggests that the Irish clergy in fact were in the forefront of those who opposed Jansenism even before Unigenitus.

"Jansenism." The Oxford Companion to Irish History. Oxford University Press. 2007. 24 Jul. 2009

In caritate Xp.,

Bryan Dunne

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