Facing the people in 1955, Paul Claudel’s lament continued . . .

The new, experimental mass in France drew fevered objections from the poet, dramatist, and diplomat Paul Claudel in a Figaro article a month before he died . . .

“It is true that in the traditional liturgy,” priest with back to worshipers, “the most moving part of the Holy Sacrifice is hidden from the faithful. But it is not hidden from their hearts and their faith.”

At Solemn High Masses of old, this sense of wonderment was such that the sub-deacon, one of the regulation three celebrants, at the foot of the altar remained standing during the Offertory, hiding his face with his left hand in reverence.

“We too are invited to pray,” he said, “to withdraw into ourselves, not in a spirit of curiosity but of recollection.

[Emphasis added throughout]

He took note of the (Catholic) Eastern-rite practice of in effect hiding the altar behind the iconostasis, a screen or partition with doors and tiers of icons.

Behind it “takes place unseen” by worshipers, he said, “the miracle of transubstantiation”; and “only afterwards” did the celebrant appear “on the threshold of the sacred door, the Body and Blood of Christ in his hands.”

Something like this “lingered” as a venerated custom in France “for many years,” he said; and the mid-19th-century pioneer in such matters, Dom Prosper Guéranger, “protested energetically against those who had the audacity” to do away with it.

There was nothing like that now, Claudel complained. Instead, the church’s “deplorable practice” had “turned the ancient ceremony upside down, to the great consternation of the faithful.”

“There is no longer an altar,” he moaned, asking, “Where is it, this consecrated stone which the Apocalypse [Book of Revelation] compares to the Body of Christ Itself? There is nothing but a bare trestle covered with a tablecloth, reminding us depressingly of a Calvinist workbench”!

The supposed “convenience of the faithful” required this: “Accessories” had to go, “not only the candlesticks and flowers, but the tabernacle! The crucifix!”

“The priest says his Mass in a vacuum!” he continued. “When he invites the people to lift up their hearts and their eyes . . . to what? There is nothing left in front of us to focus our minds on the Divine.”

Except the priest himself, of course, looking at you.

Of the faithful, “it would appear that not the slightest spiritual effort will be required.” Instead, “it seems necessary to stick the most sublime of mysteries in their faces, to reduce the Mass to the primitive form of the Last Supper and in doing so, change the entire ritual.”

“What is the meaning of ‘Dominus vobiscum’ [The Lord be with you] and ‘orate fratres’ [pray brethren] spoken by a priest” in this new mass, separated from his people [by the table altar] and requiring nothing of them [by way of concentration]?

It seems good to note here that stage directions meant everything to the superb dramatist Claudel, who rebelled at the changes he saw, as if stage design and directions were all wrong and that made all the difference to him.

Liturgy is theater, of course. The mass is staged. Ritual provides stage directions and dramatic impact is crucial. Why not?

More later on this stage-effect function of rites.

In a month after this article appeared, Claudel was dead.

When Will Pope Francis Update the “Hail Mary”? – Crisis Magazine

Has the time come? How about:

Hey, Mary, very nice person! The Lord is with us, and happy are we. Super is your child, Jesus. O, lucky one, accompany us on our journey. Amen.

Those who draw the line at such modernization should have a look at the man’s argument.

Run across while looking for something else: What kind of sinner are you?

From the minor friar:

When dealing with sinful habits the real moral and spiritual danger is perhaps not the occasional slip or fall into the behavior, but giving into discouragement, despair, or the doubt that God’s love is abiding that can lead to scruples.

The question of being a Christian is not whether to be a ‘saint’ or a ‘sinner,’ but of deciding what kind of sinner you want to be; the sinner who lets sins lead to discouragement and an increasing selfishness, or the sort of sinner who allows the experience of sin to lead to humility and an abiding awareness of the immense mercy of God, a mercy which one can then radiate to others.

Try that on for size, why don’t you?

Facing the people in 1955, Paul Claudel’s lament

From the eminent poet, dramatist, and diplomat Paul Claudel, January 23, 1955, in the French daily Figaro a month before he died:

I wish to protest with all my strength against the growing [unauthorized] practise in France of saying Mass facing the people.

He explained:

The most basic principle of religion is that God holds first place and that the good of man is merely a consequence of the recognition and the practical application of this essential dogma.

Basic, that. Let God be God in your worship. The rest will follow.


The Mass is the homage par excellence which we render to God by the Sacrifice which the priest offers to Him in our name on the altar of His Son. It is us led by the priest and as one with him, going to God to offer Him hostias et preces [Victims and prayers]. It is not God presenting Himself to us for our convenience to make us indifferent witnesses of the mystery about to be accomplished.

We are not the focus for the priest.

The novel liturgy deprives the Christian people of their dignity and their rights. It is no longer they who say the Mass with the priest, by “following” it, as the saying very rightly goes, and to whom the priest turns from time to time to assure them of his presence, participation and cooperation, in the work which he undertakes in their name.

All that remains is a curious audience watching him do his job. Small wonder that the impious compare him to a magician performing his act before a politely admiring crowd. [Emphasis added]

This is a killer phrase, from a six-time nominee for a Nobel prize, dramatist supreme, analyzing the mass as we were to know it. Performance liturgy.

. . . more more more to come . . .

Old-style Catholic mass in Oak Park, 1993, as in Chicago Tribune by Jim Bowman — Part Two

Rite And Wrong Church Follows Its Conscience, Not The Orders Of The Archdiocese

Part two:

A `vertical’ approach

The more than 400-year-old Latin Tridentine mass (established by the counter-reformation Council of Trent) is “the true mass,” [said worshiper Miguel Garcia]. “God instituted it one way, and we shouldn’t be changing it. That’s what happened at Vatican II.”

Something else happened, according to organist and choir director John Cooper of Clarendon Hills, an insurance salesman and part-time jazz pianist. It’s not just that the new mass “an atrocity.” The new church “hasn’t worked.” Seminaries are closing and mass attendance is down, thanks to “all this liberty baloney. People need some kind of regimentation,” he said.

As Scott put it, “No condemnation, no obligation. Popes always used to condemn things, but liberals don’t believe in condemning anybody.”

Scott terms Pope John Paul II “a conservative liberal” who is “very weak in governing the church. He has not acted against heresies.” One such heresy, Scott argues, is to “make man the center of the liturgy.”

Indeed, at Our Lady Immaculate, worshipers look to the altar. There is no handshake of peace before communion (received kneeling and on the tongue, not standing and in the hand), as in the new mass. It is what’s called a “vertical service,” teaching people to look up, to God, rather than “horizontally,” to one another.

“The way you worship affects your view of God,” Scott said. “It is not just sentimentality. We like Latin, the Gregorian mass, and incense. But none of these are the point.”

“What was touted as church renewal and revival has obviously fallen flat on its face,” said John Pfeiffer of Forest Park, a 32-year-old Loop attorney, referring to priestly defections, shortage of vocations, and the like.

“People don’t realize their Catholic faith is being snatched away from them, like in the time of Henry VIII,” said Rita McCarthy, a 40-ish Orland Park typesetter.

“At a funeral, there’s no mention of purgatory. In baptism there’s no mention of original sin. In marriage, emphasis is on the couple. But the first purpose of marriage is to have children, and the relationship of the couple is secondary. All of the sacraments have been watered down. People don’t know anything about sin anymore. Divorce, abortion, birth control condemn you to hell. People don’t seem to know that.”

The church is not amused

Authorized Latin masses are offered at three churches weekly — St. John Cantius, 825 N. Carpenter St.; St. Thomas More, 2828 W. 81st St.; and St. Peter, in Antioch — and every other week in Libertyville and Techny.

But Catholics are forbidden to attend Our Lady Immaculate in Oak Park, though an archdiocese official is wary of saying that it is a sin to do so or that specific penalties will be meted out.

The Society of St. Pius X is “not schismatic,” meaning it hasn’t formally split from Rome, notes Rev. Robert Flinn, vice chancellor of the archdiocese. Its bishops and priests are excommunicated, but its parishioners are welcomed back “just by coming, with no need for special absolution.” They need only “disassociate themselves from their Pius X church.”

That’s “moral persecution,” Scott said. “We remind (archdiocesan authorities) continually of what they ought to be. We have a sense of identity and purpose and mission which they have lost.”

Scott himself is a convert from Protestantism, drawn to Catholicism by the writings of St. John of the Cross, the 16th Century mystic who wrote from a prison cell after getting in trouble with the church, and by the traditional Latin mass. Scott had found the new mass “more Protestant than Protestant services” and lacking in reverence.

He met Lefebvre in Melbourne, asked to be ordained, and went to Switzerland for six years to study theology. Ordained in 1988, he was sent to the U.S., where he taught for two years at the society’s seminary in Winona, Minn.

Now based in Kansas City, he heads the society in the U.S. with its 35 priest members (of 250 worldwide) and 100 chapels and other installations in 38 states. He says mass in Elkhart, Ind., or Memphis on alternating Sundays after his Oak Park appearances.

A former Jesuit theological seminary in St. Mary’s, Kan., near Kansas City is the site of the society’s coed kindergarten-through-high-school “academy,” with 345 students, and its 50-student college. At St. Mary’s the society has its biggest parish, where 1,300 attend weekly. The Oak Park parish has 90 families. Weekly attendance is around 235.

The church, formerly Second Presbyterian of Oak Park, was bought for $390,000 by members of the Holiday Inn group. The society took over payments and spent $20,000 to rebuild the altar area and install new stained-glass windows and an altar rail-“to remake it as Catholic,” Scott said.

Traditional worship and morality are the key to Our Lady Immaculate’s attraction, but members’ finding a home away from home is strong as well, as with any successful church.

A sympathetic ear

Scott talks a tough game from the pulpit, but he also offers a good shoulder to cry on, to judge from Julie Badon’s experience. One of her daughters sought him out in the midst of a recent crisis.

“Father Scott counseled her and was very patient with her,” Badon said. “She really loves Father Scott, and has no qualms about approaching him.”

Old-style Catholic mass in Oak Park, 1993, as in Chicago Tribune by Jim Bowman — in two parts; Part One

Rite And Wrong Church Follows Its Conscience, Not The Orders Of The Archdiocese

Every time Julie Badon, a 46-year-old Berwyn homemaker and lifelong devout Catholic, goes to church in Oak Park on Sunday, she violates an edict of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

The mass, in which a priest stands with his back to the people, who pray to God with prayer books and rosaries, is celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a Frenchman who rejected the reformist Second Vatican Council as the work of the devil and was excommunicated for ordaining bishops on his own.

For Julie Badon and hundreds of other worshipers at Our Lady Immaculate, 410 W. Washington Blvd., ostracism by her church is not too high a price to pay for the consolations of the pre-Vatican II mass and the devotion it inspires.

Every time Julie Badon, a 46-year-old Berwyn homemaker and lifelong devout Catholic, goes to church in Oak Park on Sunday, she violates an edict of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

She does it anyhow, convinced that she has found at Our Lady Immaculate the one, true mass rejected for the most part by the one, true church she grew up in.

It’s a Tridentine Latin mass, outlawed for 13 years by one pope and only partly permitted by another, as of 1984.

The mass, in which a priest stands with his back to the people, who pray to God with prayer books and rosaries, is celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a Frenchman who rejected the reformist Second Vatican Council as the work of the devil and was excommunicated for ordaining bishops on his own.

The Lefebvre phenomenon is unique in recent Catholic history because, as a bishop who ordained other bishops, he set in motion a self-perpetuating rebel structure. It was the first major schism within the church since the turn-of-the-century exit of the Polish National Catholic Church of America.

Lefebvre ordained his four bishops in 1988, having broken off talks with the Vatican authorized by Pope John Paul II in an effort to head him off at the pass before he institutionalized his rebellion.

Lefebvre and his followers, the equally excommunicated priests and bishops of his society, have essentially told the Vatican to take the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), source of virtually all that is changed and modernized in the church, and shove it.

For Julie Badon and hundreds of other worshipers at Our Lady Immaculate, 410 W. Washington Blvd., ostracism by her church is not too high a price to pay for the consolations of the pre-Vatican II mass and the devotion it inspires.

It’s not the only Latin mass in town. Since February 1990, the archdiocese has allowed a Latin mass at three churches, one on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side, one on the South Side, and one in Antioch in Lake County.

But Our Lady Immaculate is the only local church run by the St. Pius X Society, an international organization that remains by far the biggest traditionalist thorn in the side of the Vatican since the Second Vatican Council.

At the heart of the rebellion, symbolic and symptomatic of the society’s rejection of changes in the church, is Sunday mass with incense and Latin and statues all around, as the mass used to be before the council.

To Our Lady Immaculate, worshipers come from Aurora, Oak Lawn, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights, the Northwest Side and points in between, self-described refugees from “the new mass” and the new church-what Catholicism hath wrought in the last 30 years.

`I feel like a dinosaur’

Balloons in church for her son’s first communion pushed Badon over the edge of churchly respectability 17 years ago; that and mass for a much-loved uncle held in the school basement around a small table surrounded by folding chairs.

“I wanted a mass for my uncle,” she said, “and instead I got a paraliturgy”-not a mass at all, but a prayer service modeled on a mass.

It wasn’t what she’d been raised on in several South Side parishes and a South Side high school-all of them gone now, like the Latin mass. She and her husband wanted their five children to have what they had as kids, “the sacraments, the way we were taught. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur. Everything from my past is gone.”

At Our Lady Immaculate, it all returns. Rev. Peter Scott, a 35-year-old Australian ordained in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre, who died in 1991, commutes weekly from Kansas City, Mo., where he is U.S. superior for the Society of St. Pius X.

A slight, lean, dark-haired man who says mass with grave demeanor and preaches with verve and intensity, he is the chief deliverer to Badon and others of old-time Catholic religion, with its deep suspicion of the outside world, its emphasis on asceticism, and its confidence of possessing the true faith.

Living for the afterlife

“So many Catholics are Sunday Catholics,” Scott says from the pulpit after reading Scripture passages twice, first in Latin at the altar with his back to them and then in English from the pulpit. “They are a very common species. They don’t want to get involved.

“It’s a natural tendency. But we must overcome the spirit and influence of the world, perform our daily prayers, say the rosary, examine our conscience. We must watch closely over our daily lives, shunning immodesty, rock music, TV. The world is controlled by the passions of the flesh. The modern world is full of despair. It has no future, no hope.”

He decries “the liberalism of the day” and bids his listeners look ahead to the afterlife. “The torments of the world are allowed so that we might live not for this life but for eternity.” He extols “the joy of depending on God” and predicts, “Our sorrow can be turned into joy.”

Preaching like that keeps Francis Gaul coming back for more. Gaul, 74, a 1937 graduate of Mt. Carmel High School on the South Side, and his wife commute weekly from Des Plaines to Our Lady Immaculate. He hasn’t been to a new mass in 17 years.

He won’t attend any of the archdiocese-sanctioned Latin, or “indult” as they’re called, masses in the Chicago area. “The sermons would not be what I get here. The church isn’t Catholic anymore. It’s Protestant.”

“Today’s church is in direct contradiction with what the popes have taught,” Scott said. He argues that the church is in conflict because it approves religious liberty, ecumenism and the non-Latin mass, which were condemned, respectively, by Pius IX in 1864, Pius XI in 1929, and Pius XII in 1947.

The new mass is “Protestant in its inspiration,” vetted of its Catholic meaning for ecumenical reasons, Scott said. As such, it is “dangerous” to the faith of Catholics because it teaches the wrong things, de-emphasizing the sacrificial and emphasizing the communal-meal aspect of the mass.

For instance, worshipers in the new mass often hold hands while saying the “Pater Noster,” or “Lord’s Prayer.” Asked about this, Scott said derisively, “Oh, please.”

Hand-holding, balloons in the sanctuary, wine served in paper cups, wooden chalices and folk songs-it’s all anathema to members of Our Lady Immaculate, who worshiped 10 years at the Hillside Holiday Inn before coming to Oak Park.

At the Holiday Inn, they set up an instant chapel, bringing statues in garbage cans that they up-ended and draped as pedestals.

This sort of preparation is crucial for Miguel Garcia, a Northwest Side computer programmer and father of four small children, here 17 years from his native Mexico. Garcia rejects the “party atmosphere” of masses where the priest dresses in “ethnic colors so Spanish people can relate to it.” He finds it disrespectful, “because God is King.”

Bishop saves his people from having to hold hands at Mass at the Our Father

The bishop said there’s no rule requiring it, you’re free to do as you wish.

The blogger, sympathetic with people in dioceses where this has not been explained, has a solution. Get one of these from your local church goods store:


The “Our Father Holding Hand” is a one-size fits all that you can easily slip on your real hand and then slip off discreetly so the progressive congregant to your left or right has a hand to hold. Meanwhile, your real hands are now reverently folded so that you can pray the Lord’s Prayer without getting stuck in that giant 60’s style peace chain.

Who says the church is in trouble, when there are inventive people like this around?

Walked into church this morning, and everyone was talking. “What the. . .”

Fifteen years ago. Mass hadn’t started, it was not too big a crowd, but it was like walking into a school board meeting before it’s called to order.

And as in some board meetings, the calling to order did not entirely silence some, who took mass as chat time.

It was a family group, with infants in arms, people you like to see. But couldn’t they be quiet?

Minister Friendly . . .

In the spring of ’02, I dropped in at Old St. Pat’s on Ash Wednesday for my annual reminder that I am dust and unto dust will return — good to keep in mind when I am tempted to take pride in my considerable accomplishments — only to be told by a feverishly smiling 35-ish woman-with-ashes that God loves me, or something like it.

She did not tell me to have a nice day, I’ll give her that.

I believe God loves me and do not object to being reminded of it. But what about paths of glory leading to the grave and all that, in this case the time-honored “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return”? I believe also in resurrection, but what about death and its brand of finality? You can overdo reminding people about it, but you can underdo it too. Not good to skip it.

This wasn’t my first happy-face reminder on Ashes Day. Funeral masses have not involved black vestments for ages, having given way to white ones, which emphasize resurrection. Catholic funerals emphasize life after death, of course. It’s the ultimate selling point. But it means we can stand being reminded of death and putrefaction in at least one small ritual.

CHURCH AS REDECORATED . . . unfortunately . . .

Undeniably tart comment in 2002 by Reader D-1, who reports her church

redone in “a rainbow of colors,” including purple and pink and “new shades of blue-greens . . . all radiating from [a] once dramatically stark huge crucifix above the sanctuary, which now looks like a Divine Mercy wannabe, clashing with modern stained glass windows already there in bold blue, green and yellow.

“The ‘liturgy committee’ . . . saw autumn approaching and brought out last year’s hangings on either side of the crucifix in vivid orange and yellow, with nosegays of artificial orange/yellow flowers. Streamers of artificial leaves cascade down the walls of the nave between stations of the cross.

“We have either become the Rainbow Coalition or been taken hostage by Puerto Ricans. Not to say that would be such a BAD thing, but if you are not color blind you wish you were.”

I have a book about this problem by Michael Rose (author of the startling Goodbye, Good Men. It’s The Renovation Manipulation: The Church Counter-renovation Handbook (Aquinas Publishing Co., Cincinnati), which I have only skimmed so far.