This is a timely post, given our recent discussions about the wolves among the shepherds.
Many, perhaps even most, of us ortho-Catholics aren’t fans of homilies (e.g., Bonald’s post on the topic from earlier this year), those long, bloviating, insipid talks delivered after the Gospel reading and before the offertory, pockmarked with jokes and irrelevant personal anecdotes. I often shake my head after hearing them, thinking something I often think after my interactions with parish leaders: “What a missed opportunity.” But I had never before heard or read about a homily that was actively pernicious until I came across this one, delivered by a deacon at a San Francisco Bay-area parish, entitled “Chasing the Money Changers out of the Temple.” Guess who the money changers are?:
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II, I think it’s important to remember what things looked like before the council reforms. As the people of God we have always been called to worship well. But, as Father Dibble reminded us last week, the council was called to “open the windows”, to bring some fresh air into every aspect of the church, including worship. If you are as little as five or ten years younger than I, you probably have few memories of the pre-Vatican II church. So I want to take a few minutes to walk down memory land and share with you what it looked like back then.
(Slide 1) This is what the inside of a typical Catholic Church looked like in 1960. There was beautiful art work, painted ceilings, and many statues. If you look at either side of this picture, you’ll notice the “side altars”. Very often, while one mass was being offered at the main altar, separate masses would be offered at one or both of the side altars. The idea that any mass was more about the celebrant than the people might be viewed as one of the pre-Vatican II failings of the church.
(Slide 2) As we look at a closer shot, we see a wooden structure that separates the body of the church from the sanctuary. That’s the communion rail, and it served two functions. It was where one received communion, but it was also a physical barrier between the altar and the people. Could that be a money changer? I’ll come back to that in a minute.
(Slide 3) Look at this altar, with its ornate carvings. You could always tell if the mass was really “important” by two things: how many candles were lit on the altar and how many acolytes served at mass. The more important the feast was, the greater were the numbers of both. Look at all of the steps the priest had to climb to approach the tabernacle. Do you think these trappings might be thought of as institutional failings or “money changers”?
(Slide 4) Here’s another communion rail in front of the altar. This is where everyone had to kneel to receive the Blessed Sacrament. The Communion Cloth, this white cloth, was draped over the communion rail by the altar servers, and then communicants had to kneel with their hands under the cloth in case the priest dropped the host and the altar server didn’t catch it with the paten that was held under the chin of each Communicant. Only the priest and bishop had thumbs and forefingers consecrated so they could touch the host. To me the idea that only consecrated fingers could touch the Blessed Sacrament was a bit silly. Why is any finger more sacred than any other?
(Slide 5) This is a rather innocent looking picture, but there is one thing that is worth noting: we didn’t have altar servers, just altar boys! That’s a pretty obvious failing in the institutional church, and we thankfully now include both girls and boys in altar service.
(Slide 6) And then, after we realized that we had so many money changers in our own lives, we had to go to the confessional. It was dark. It was scary and it seemed to be focused on us doing the correct penance rather than on understanding our failings.
(Slide 7) This last slide shows a joyous day, the day that these young people were confirmed. Don’t they look joyful? I think “terrified” is a better adjective. And look how the boys and girls are segregated.
Get that? 400 years of the Church’s liturgical history, approved by an ecumenical Council and a sainted Pope, a mass for which men were willing to die (and often did), was all just an “institutional failure.” And if you disagree, well, go hang, you sexist Pharisee prick!
From the vaguely hinted-at Marcionism in the opening lines to the typically modernist blindness to the withering of the Church in the postconciliar age, I don’t think there’s a single element present in this homily that wouldn’t have driven me to storm out of that church in rage.
Amazing stuff, really, especially when you compare the “institutional failings” of the preconciliar Church (children feel uncomfortable, that incense smell is so strong, etc.) to those of the postconciliar Church (obvious heretics pronounce rebellion with the tacit approval and support of renegade bishops, vocations collapse, ignorance of Catholic moral teachings reach unprecedented highs, etc.). And this, as our Pope (himself no great fan of the novus ordo Mass) struggles to reconcile the SSPX to Rome.
Woe to us, saddled with such shepherds in these dark latter days!