Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Sensualist Ol' Me

I am very concerned about social justice to the point where some of my friends think there is something a bit pink about me, some American readers of a Reagan stripe regard me as a raging red 'Commie', so those social justice aspects of the Franciscan Papacy suit me well.

As important as the Petrine office is, I feel that Ultramontanism is a serious distortion of Christianity, so again Papa Francisco scores with me, in so far as he seems to be reforming the 'court' aspect of the Papacy, having a second home not over the office seems a really good idea. I think the Ultramontane Spirit of Vatican I is far more damaging than the poltergeist of VII.

I have argued that the first responsibility of the Pope is the diocese of Rome, I have gone as far as suggesting that all those chubby Monsignori ought to get out of their offices and start catechising and evangelising those in Rome, so again he scores.

However, I have vices, I am a wicked sensual creature, I can have deep and moving spiritual experiences, I remember once being in France with a certain bishop, now Cardinal, and at a pretty low spiritual ebb and someone pouring me a glass of a fine vintage Margeaux and suddenly in the first three sips all my spiritual burdens just seem to fall away. It was a deeply spiritual experience. The opera too, I find can speak more to me than hours of spiritual reading, the sheer beauty. In opera the combination of the arts is profoundly rich, there is something both so utterly human and yet divine. So too a beautiful piece of Bach or Mozart or Haydn, or even Jamie MacMillan take take my breath away. Ordinary things too, a piece of wrought iron or carved wood, even a well made piece of furniture, a 'regency' chest of drawers I own, the way the drawers move, I find speaks somehow of God - think of it, God, the craftsmanship, the geometry of careful measurement, the choice of woods, the way the thing fits together, the care that has been lavished on it down the years until I brought for 120 quid, they just move and fit so perfectly. I really can understand Manley Hopkins getting a high on his 'dappled things' and 'all things counter, original, spare, strange'.

It'll be no surprise to you that I find High Mass, even Sung Mass, in the EF spiritually exhilarating, even more so than Grande Opera., it is like a well-made chest of drawers, I am afraid it is not quite same in the Ordinary form, (all that stopping and starting, a bit like a c.o.d from Ikea that doesn't quite work).

I find the accoutrements of Mass can be astonishingly moving too; a decent handmade set of vestments, silverware, brassware, even hand sewn linen can draw me closer to God, it is the craftsmanship. I own a battered old Pugin style chasuble it is so worn I rarely wear it, but it has been so carefully and lovingly repaired, it is like a must confessed soul. A server, a Master of Ceremonies, a pair of acolytes who know and understand what they are doing, a competent choir; it is the "work of human hands" thing, that is in the OF offertory prayers, that moves me; sometimes to tears of repentance. I find beauty in the liturgy far moving than words, even a Pope's words. I know, it is a Catholic/Orthodox thing, the words are ephemeral the action of the the Liturgy eternal. Historically both East and West understood we were all sensuous creatures and transferred sensuality to the liturgy, so liturgy can be describe as 'signs and symbols perceptible to the senses'.

So I am afraid that though Pope Francis scores with me on many accounts, liturgically I prefer not to see or hear what happens at Papal Mass nowadays. It leaves me cold - William Walton described all Italians as the enemies music - the music is literally painful, which I suppose for someone who can meet God in glass of good wine, a bit of reality is not a bad thing but I can understand and sympathise with Katrina's longing for a bit of damask and can sympathise with those who find the new puritanical style difficult. A Greek Orthodox friend finds it Iconoclastic, I don't think it is that, merely that the Pope has ideological difficulties with Grand Opera.

Beauty is the servant of religion and the sister of Truth, it would be sad to see it as an enemy during Francis' days as Pope, but then I admit it, I am a wicked sensual all too human creature, but then Truth and Beauty go together I fear if we sacrifice Beauty we will loose Truth too. Francis' celebrations might suit him but in those who are less humble, less concerned with Truth they can easily be used as a model for self indulgence and all kinds of extempore personalism.


The Bones said...

I read Katrina's piece. Her words struck a chord with me.

Long-Skirts said...


For centuries beeswax
In the sanctuary reigned
Our sacred purpose
From the first ordained.

Producing honeycombs
All that we handle --
Though our sacred purpose -
The Holy Mass candle.

But at the last council
Of the great Church bee
Man turned to man
Birthed sterility.

Graces for fruits
Crops and offspring
Schools, churches shut -
Can’t pollinate a thing

Until man again
On His altars lets towers -
Candles of beeswax
Sacred purpose -
…all ours!

johnf said...

I agree with Lawrence. I need the spirituality of the Mass - it refreshes me. I cannot attend the Sunday children's liturgy at our local parish for fear of my soul. 'Missa happy clappica' I tend to to call it. Very uncharitable. Yet the grandmas who applaud all this are wonderful caring holy Catholics and may be there is something wrong with me.

So I keep my mouth shut and live and let live, and add (with our Parish Priests approval or tacit approval) a few things to the parish website such as a little javascript to constantly display the prayers of the the litany of Loreto and quotes for the day of mostly Papa Ratzinger's thoughts, but Papa Francisco's little aphorisms are gradually being added to the treasure house. Our Parish Priest is introducing some echoes of pre VII, such as the Leonine Prayers after Mass during the week; and there is exposition and Benediction every Friday before Mass.

He also introduced the O antiphons which are wonderful and now another javascript ensures that they will automatically be displayed in the days leading up to Christmas.

So although we have not the EF Mass and my own health is starting to preclude me driving long distances, I can find the spiritual shots in the arm in other ways.

You say that ultramontanism is a sort of Evil, Father. I do feel that I am a bit ultramontane in outlook, and had I been born in the nineteenth century, who knows I might have been tempted to join the Papal Zouaves!

One final point and off the subject, when I link to your website from my main PC, the Malwarebytes kicks in and informs me that it has just blocked a potentially serious threat. I don't know what that means - it may be a'false positive' but you need to know.

Rachel M. Gohlman said...

I haven't ever had a problem with the way Pope Francis offers Mass. Is there something I'm missing?

Fr Ray Blake said...


I can't imagine most people do, it is exactly what happens in most parishes throughout the world.
Obviously you are not afflicted with "sensualism". Thank God for it.

Lazarus said...

The beauties of Catholicism can't be contained in one human being, even a Pope. We need the sensualist and the puritan, and the sensibilities of each need to be constantly challenged by the other. Enjoyment of a splendid liturgy is not wrong in itself -indeed, it can be very right!- but it easily can fall into aestheticism. Enjoyment of a simple liturgy can, again, be the result of a very proper sense of humility, but it can also slide (eg) into an arrogant dismissal of tradition and mystery. None of us should be spiritually complacent in our choices, but, equally, none of us should be ashamed of the different ways in which we reach out to God and he reaches out to us -provided only that we submit our judgment to the ultimate judgment of the Church. (And, to be clear, that doesn't mean the personal judgment of one group or even one individual in the Church.)

johnf said...

Fr Ray - an update on this Malwarebytes issue - it might be a conflict between the Opera browser and malwarebytes. When I link to your site via Chrome, this problem doesnt show up. So probably a false positive.

Sorry for any panic.

GOR said...

I suspect, Father, there is room for both types of people and devotion in the Church – from those who prefer simplicity to those who appreciate grandeur. I can be uplifted by the workmanship of a great cathedral or the beauty of classical music. At the same time while I may appreciate the quiet of a Trappist monastery chapel, the starkness of the surroundings may leave me cold.

Perhaps that is as Our Lord intended. Among the Apostles we had the fiery Paul and the gentle John. And their experience ranged from the glory of the Transfiguration, the revelation on the road to Damascus, to the desolation of Calvary and – apart from John -their own martyrdom.

And even St. Francis, who exemplified simplicity and poverty, could also lovingly construct an elaborate Nativity scene. Our senses are God-given, so we are sensual by nature. But they are a means to an end – and that end is spiritual. We reach for Heaven, but are grounded on Earth – for now.

Amfortas said...

An intersting post and one that certainly struck a chord with me. You're certainly to left of your good friend Father Z!

parepidemos said...

Father Blake, Nicely, sensitively, even beautifully said; and I love thinking of you in "Commie Pink", but only on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays.

Like you, I am something of a sensualist, but I think that is a very Catholic-Orthodox thing. The world is, indeed, "charged with the grandeur of God" though I guess people see it in a whole plethora of ways and that's fine so long as they draw closer to Him.

The Crescat said...

What a wonderful thoughtful reflection. And you know what; your wine w/ the Bishop reminds me a bit of my recent yogurt epiphany. Yes, i said yogurt. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat/2013/07/its-the-little-things-a-lesson-in-yogurt-theology.html

Genty said...

Snap! parepidemos. Hopkins burst through when I read Father's post.
There is today an unfortunate correlation between simplicity and ugly; the result of a perception of a no-frills, early church by modernist interpreters.

Delia said...

I've just come across this early fourteenth-century description of the Ste Chapelle in Paris:

'The choicest colours of its paintings, the precious gilding of its images, the clear transparency of the windows which blush all around, the rich embroideries of its altars, the great virtues of its sanctuaries, the exotic ornaments of its reliquaries decorated with effulgent gems, give to this house of prayer such beauty that in entering it one believes oneself almost borne away to heaven, rightly thinking oneself to have entered one of the most beautiful of heavenly mansions.'

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