Thursday, June 19, 2014

Actions, Signs and Symbols

There was a certain barmey bishop appointed in the early 1980s who spent most of his early years as a bishop wandering around his diocese demanding that the Blessed Sacrament be removed from the apex of the churches in his diocese to a side chapel. It meant a great deal of destruction was done to the architectural integrity of many a fine pre-concilliar church, not just to the sanctuary from where the tabernacle was removed but also to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was placed, normally that meant the destruction of a Sacred Heart or Lady Chapel.

The bishop thought he was implementing the post-Concilliar documents which said the Blessed Sacrament 'should' be placed in a fitting chapel. Foolishly he interpreted 'should' as 'must', even more foolishly he did not read the the context of the suggestion, which was about promoting Eucharistic devotion. It was only after much  hurt, destruction and expense that Rome clarified its ambiguous instruction, saying that the Eucharist should normally be placed in the centre of the sanctuary.

The architectural damage was disconcerting, but more so the deeper damage this bishop did to the faith of those who had one Sunday honoured and  genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament and a week later found themselves doing the same to a vase of flowers or the priests chair that had replaced the now ignored Sacrament in the side chapel, after a short time even those who did so mechanically or out of habit had quickly given up genuflecting to anything.

I am sure this Bishop did what he did truly believing he was implementing 'the mind of the Church', doing it with fanatical zeal. In reality what he did was to undermine the faith of his people.

Very easily faith in the absolute reality of the Eucharist is easily pared away. I am sure for this particular bishop, his faith the Real Presence remained the same but for most of us outward signs and symbols are important to both affirm and stimulate faith. A change in outward actions, signs and symbols brings about an inward change in our attitudes.

I blame the Jesuits and the Spirit of the Council of Trent for the cerebralization of prayer and the Spiritual Life.  The Pre-Tridentine life of Christians was rich in actions, signs and symbol, prayer was more than just silent contemplation, it involved bodies too, corporal penance, fasting, prostrations or genuflections, pilgrimage, processions, almsgiving, caring for the needy; these things formed the environment of prayer.
The Norbertines and Cluny soon after Trent abandoned the practice of seven deacons circling the altar with golden thuribles during High Mass, along with the practice of Corpus Christi Mass before the exposed Blessed Sacrament with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament taking place three times during Mass. The consequence is perhaps reflected in the experience of friend who celebrate Mass for some ancient veil-less nuns who remained seated throughout in an an anodyne 'prayer room'.

The other side of the coin: I have a priest friend who is preparing a former soldier for reception into the Church, he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw and did things that deeply wounded him and bears the scars of guilt. We spoke about how to deal with his guilt. Like many ex-soldiers, I suspect he has tried drink, drugs or even psychotherapy, most priests, myself included, might give a penance of a few Rosaries but really rely on allowing him to talk, in my experience this rarely works. Pre-Trent, and possibly in Orthodoxy he would have given a penance that involved a prayer of exorcism of some sort followed by some kind of real penance, public humiliation, an arduous pilgrimage or time in monastery, vigils or fasting. Outward actions, signs and symbols bring about an inward change in our attitudes, our minds and hearts often follow our bodies.

I remember being told of the Compostella Camino after the WWII being revived by former soldiers, sometimes sometimes barefoot, sometimes carrying rucksacks filled with rocks doing penance for wartime sins.


Not That Guy said...

You blame the Jesuits for the cerebralization of prayer and the Spiritual Life.

It is indisputable that St. Ignatius was given an authentic charism of the Holy Spirit. I don't think it would be a stretch to interpret the timing of the rise of Ignatius as a Providential reply to the false subjectivism (of the Faith) of the Protestant Reformation and a necessary development besides: we are not just to carry out actions and signs; the heart must be engaged most deeply and authentically. Perhaps the Protestant thirst originated in a staleness in the Church, one which God provided for via Ignatius and his Exercises.

Numerous Popes and Saints have praised this prayer of the Jesuits, such as Leo XIII:

"The importance of St. Ignatius's book with regard to the eternal welfare of souls has been proved by an experience of three centuries and by the evidence of those remarkable men, who, during this lapse of time, have distinguished themselves in the ascetic paths of life or in the practice of sanctity."

Pelerin said...

Sadly it looks as though 'barmy' bishops still exist helping to undermine the Faith.

I read today of a letter which was reportedly published in the French newspaper 'l'Express'. It stated that 'Nulle doctrine, nulle religion, nulle ideologie, nulle science, nulle culture ne peut revendiquer pour elle seule la propriete de la verite.'

Loosely translated it states that no religion etc can claim the truth for itself alone.

One of the signatories is a French bishop well known in the media and the other is Rector of the French seminary in Rome and one time secretary of the Bishops'Conference. Does anyone else find this as upsetting as I do?

Chloe said...

Whoooooah! This post took my breath away! Thank you Father Blake! It's brilliant. Sooo much food for thought.

Gertrude said...

I remember going to St. David's Cathedral when the relics of St. Therese were there. It was the Church of my Confirmation (many years ago) and I had not been back. It was unrecognisable from those pre-conciliar days, and the Blessed Sacrament had been moved into a dalek looking receptacle, on wheels, and to the right of the altar. It was hard to know where to genuflect!

The Archbishop of the time had his 'throne' in the centre where the Blessed Sacrament used to repose in the Tabernacle. I was horrified.

I believe it has now been restored, thanks be to God.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Is there some reason these "arduous" (serious) penances can't be given in the Catholic Church? Or that prayers for exorcism can't be used?

This kind of fatalistic resignation is a part of the problem. These liturgical treasures are there for the using.

It seems to me that the general loss of faith and awareness of the seriousness of sin has been brought about by a clergy afraid to take it seriously. Five years at the Oratory in Toronto, with such things being taken very seriously, restored my own faith.

Adrian said...

A little unfair to the Jesuits, surely?

M. Prodigal said...

I have personally had the sad experience, when traveling, to not spot the red vigil light or tabernacle in a 'worship space' and even sadder have had it happen--more than once--that when asking someone where the tabernacle was, they did not know.

Our Lord in His Real Presence is often not the center of worship in many Catholic churches as we focus on 'we'.

JARay said...

I'm not sure just which "balmy bishop" you are referring to but I can certainly name one candidate who hounded a priest from his diocese because he had the effrontery to build a new church with a centrally placed tabernacle and dared to put in pews instead of movable chairs and even went around wearing a soutane and saying Mass in Latin! That bishop is gone now but still hangs around the place. The diocese is still sede vacante.

Victoria said...

Father, could you please give me a link to the document in which Rome said that the Blessed Sacrament should normally be in the sanctuary?

I have been in some new churches in which the tabernacle is in the sanctuary but off to the side - it looks strange.

Nicolas Bellord said...

From my observation of Cathedrals in Iberia the Blessed Sacrament is usually in a side chapel specifically dedicated to that purpose. Of course the side chapel is usually the size of a church itself and it does seem to me to be a practical solution and probably not an innovation particularly in these days of mass tourism when you have crowds milling about often with little idea of what it is all about. But these are Cathedrals where surely things are different from your average Church where there is no need to relegate the Blessed Sacrament to a side chapel.

Unfortunately, again in Iberia, you often see a box nailed to the wall at the side serving as a tabernacle. I once witnessed someone going up to it and trying to find a slot at the top as he thought it was a collection box for alms!

Again in this country I have seen the tabernacle relegated to a side chapel which was then filled with stacked chairs so that some liturgical novelty could be performed in the nave.

Anonymous said...

Father, I do enjoy your stretching a point to apply the arguments of the Spirit of Vatican II types to the Council of Trent.
I recently had experience of a priest who did conflated "sanctuary" and "altar" and did not realise that the documents (is it the GIRM) say the Tabernacle should not be on the altar but do not say it should not be on the sanctuary.

Anonymous said...

oh, and Pelerin, I think the French says that no religion (etc.) can claim sole ownership (pour elle seule la propriété de la verité)

Unknown said...

Another excellent article but what caught my eye most of all was the date it was published: Thursday 19th.June The Feast of Corpus Christi.According to our Bishops the feast no longer deserves to be ranked as a Holyday of Obligation. I do not know whether our Bishops are barmy or not but what I do know is that they have not given due honour to the most Blessed Sacrament.

John Nolan said...

The seven deacons with golden thuribles are in fact replicated in the Novus Ordo in Los Angeles and elsewhere by diaphanously-clad women with incense bowls circling the altar (or what passes for one). Are they consciously aping the Cluniac Rite?

Православный физик said...

John Nolan, afraid not in LA...the only thing they're replicating is regurgical dancing.

The problems in the western Church can be limited to a lack of love for Christ in the Eucharist...expressed externally by evicting Him to the side or somewhere on the parish ground, Holy Communion in the hand, and the Pouring of Jesus after the consecration (this does happen)

Aussie said...

Rod George is right when he says that bishops "have not given due honour to the most Blessed Sacrament". It seems to be a problem throughout the Western world including Australia. The consequences are huge: Faith in the Real Presence is not built when the Blessed Sacrament is not honoured as such, and love for God and for each other subsequently diminish. Ultimately, belief in God fails.

Decline in Australia began almost 50 years ago. In the 1970s I noticed that Catholic schools had changed. There was more talk of love but less real love in Catholic school and parish, and the local Catholic school taught my daughters to receive Holy Communion in the hand against my wishes. In the 1980s a teacher from the same school laughed at me for believing that I was receiving Our Lord when I received Holy Communion. In the 1990s I went into a Catholic church in another area to pay Our Lord a visit but couldn't find the tabernacle. There was no sanctuary light or kneelers and the seating was individual and stackable. I finally found Our Lord in the entry porch (still under the church roof but not in the church proper) where parishioners coming to and going from Mass would brush past him. There was nothing to mark His presence but a metal door, the tabernacle itself apparently encased within the wall, like a donation box only larger. A Catholic school was next door and therefore the bishop would have visited periodically for confirmations and been aware of how the Blessed Sacrament was being treated.

Yes Father, there have been barmey bishops, and in Australia too. It makes one grateful for the good bishops and priests who have not gone along with the barmey crowd, but held fast, loving Our Eucharistic Lord and protecting and honouring Him. Happily I am now living in a part of Australia where the tabernacle has been retained in its traditional central position. We even have perpetual adoration. Hopefully the altar rails will return soon.

Damask Rose said...

A Jesuit doing penance:

Pablo the Mexican said...

Reverend Father Blake,a little Charity towards our Bishops, please.

Were it not for the bones of Bishops acting as signposts on the road to Hell, many poor souls would never find their way there.


Unknown said...

You say of the Bishop, "his faith the Real Presence remained the same". Am I alone in feeling called to question what the substance of that belief might be? Whatever side one might take on issues like the position of the tabernacle and communion in the hand it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the Real Presence has been de-sacralised.

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