The ancient tradition of Ember Days, like so many other traditions, was just wiped away in the 1960s, as part of the “extreme makeover” approach of a Vatican committee that suppressed or invented what they thought the world now needed. It’s completely contrary to the way the liturgy has always been treated: as an inheritance to be proudly maintained and jealously protected. How could such a thing have happened?
We were something new that had happened. Whoopee.
A purge of this magnitude arose from the belief that modern man is essentially different from his predecessors, to such an extent that what past generations possessed and made use of can no longer be assumed to be profitable to modern people. This belief, as false as the day is long, dovetailed with the mania for a system and method characteristic of modern times: with enough taxpayer dollars and enough committees, we can build a better world, or, in this case, a better worship.
A zest for tidiness came over the land.
There are multiple reasons for the mania, but they converge on one thing: the triumph of rational method and its (attempted) application to every domain of human life. By “rational method” I mean the sort of thing one finds in rationalist thinkers such as Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, or Comte: the attempt to dominate reality by a self-contained logical system of axioms, theorems, and corollaries. In civil society, this becomes the attempt to create a rational “science of politics” and a system of human rights so that man’s happiness can be procured on Earth and the evils the flesh is heir to can be banished.
Romanticism was a failed response to the rationalist mania, and its failure was all the heavier because it bought the premise of the mania — namely, that system and method are the only ways to be rational. In reacting against rational method, romanticism thought it had to react against rationality itself.
So went the Church:
The groundbreaking essay “Bishops Unbound“ by Bronwen Catherine McShea exemplified how this mania invaded the Church long ago. To respond to the rise of rationally organized states, the Church adopted the same type of rational organization herself, overriding and overwriting centuries of local, organic traditions. To be fair, Protestantism had played those traditions to its advantage: get all the local canons to be heretics, and they’ll elect a heretical bishop. Some response, then, was needed. But in adopting the tactics of modernity, the Church began to drink in the view that system and method are the answer to every problem. We see that mentality extending to governing structures, seminaries, advice for confession, spiritual manuals, mass-produced artworks, you name it. The Church imitated the secular state in its absolutism, its legal codes, its proceduralism, and its regimentation. John Lamont’s analysis of the corruption of the concept of obedience (“Tyranny and Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Jesuit Tragedy”) fits into this picture as well.
Etc. etc. I love this guy. Heard him at a Catholic Citizens of Chicago luncheon some months back. If you are up to a deep dive into what’s gone wrong, he’s your man. More later in this piece and in general . . .