Thursday, November 30, 2006

Patriarchal Divine Liturgy

Truly remarkable video coverage of the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. George attended by the Pope. I've never seen so complete an online video of the Divine Liturgy. Such an intimate glimpse into the holy mysteries of the Greek Church truly is a gift by itself.

Lots of random thoughts and observations:

1) The commentary covering the Papal visit in general has been most interesting. On EWTN, Raymond Arroyo and his special guest, Msgr. Stern, have been way too sanguine about the balance of unity and conflict between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, especially Arroyo who has slipped into callous error when he makes statements that the two churches have the same sacraments, priesthood, etc. There is far more separating the two churches than the role of the papacy. The Orthodox see the different understandings of the See of Peter as symptomatic of a greater loss or disordering of apostolic fidelity in the Catholic Church, not just as a single-issue policy problem that can be corrected by juridical fiat. The key to getting the Orthodox is this: everything is about the liturgy, really everything.

2) The very learned Orthodox commentator during the Divine Liturgy was impressive in his ability to make plenty of subtle jabs at Catholic strawmen while being very instructive of the Orthodox Liturgy. Nothing really new if you've studied the traditions of Orthodox polemics, but I almost felt he was deliberately counteracting the Western reflex of grasping for easy and cheap bonhomie. Understandable in that context, but by itself, a bit overwrought. He spoke of Orthodoxy's understanding of the epiclesis as the Spirit's transformation of the entire community (not just the elements) into the Eucharistic Body of Christ (read: unlike those Catholics who think Jesus is "magically" in the eucharistic elements only). Sure, I get his point, but the Orthodox have got to stop characterizing the Catholic Church by its worst theology at the fringes. There are real differences in official eucharistic theologies, but "magical Jesus bread" ain't one of them.

2a) After the Liturgy, Arroyo makes an awkward disclaimer that the commentary was not from EWTN but from Vatican TV. He tried to be oblique about it, but it was obvious he and EWTN didn't like the Orthodox commentary. Gotta protect the dumb Catholic flock from Orthodox propaganda. Sheesh, lighten up. Yeah, it was a bit tendentious, but it was a lot more theologically meaty in contrast to the sugary EWTN analysis. Plus, do you really want to be pitting EWTN against Vatican TV?

3) The Divine Liturgy really is LONG, which isn't news to me, but it made me think of that as the reason they don't like pews. Keeping them on their feet reduces the snoozing that would be pandemic if they had pews.

4) The Christological and apostolic superiority of the Divine Liturgy should be stunningly obvious when compared to Protestant liturgies or most modern incarnations of the Novus Ordo Mass. I just don't get why any Catholic would want to move further away from the Orthodox sense of liturgy.

5) The superiority of the Divine Liturgy to the "RadTrad" Mass (which I do not equate with the Tridentine Mass) is also stunningly obvious. Why the SSPX-type schismatics find so much value in mostly inaudibly muttered prayers by the priest and only the most miserly acknowledgement of the congregation's presence still has me baffled. Secondly, RadTrad Masses have become so hyper-choreographed as to be oozing with self-consciousness; it's really starting to overshadow the liturgical good they stand for. When I've attended these Masses, the heebie-jeebies I sometimes feel comes from the subtext of all the precisioned genuflections and secret prayers: "WE are so cool and traditional. WE are the REAL Catholics." That all may be true, but true liturgy, as the Orthodox show us, should be a total abandonment into Christ (and not a total abandonment into OUR total abandonment) which washes out whatever self-posturing and self-consciousness we have in attending to the sacred mysteries. There were plenty of signings of the Cross and sacramental gestures in the Patriarchal liturgy, but they just did them without much concern for how it looked to others. The choir chanted in a simple circle without much need of exacting intonation or posture. A whole multitude of actors running around chanting, blessing, censing, processing not just the presider and his two sidekicks. It's almost chaotic, and we Catholics need not imitate it, but it has an ecclesiological authenticity that's not in the RadTrad Mass.

6) The Divine Liturgy shows the superiority of vigorous chant over blaring organs. I'm getting so tired of not knowing whether any sound is coming out of my mouth because the organ is drowning out or blurring all other voices. The constant chanting of the Orthodox is truly more mindful of the cloud of witnesses than what an organ produce.

7) The effusive presence of Our Lady in the Divine Liturgy also puts our Masses to shame. I don't think I've ever heard a good reason why Catholic Masses don't really include her, except in passing in a couple of prayers. I thought Catholics are supposed to be excessive about Mary.

8) The papal ermine-trim mozzetta's growing on me. I used to think it made him look that much more like Santa Claus.

9) Never noticed before how the gesture of bowing with clasped hands, common in the Mass, does not seem to be reflected in Orthodoxy. On that count, Catholicism is closer to Buddhism and Hinduism.

10) "Two lungs" metaphor - don't wear it out.

11) Orthodox chants in Korean - now I've never heard that before.

12) Did I mention the Divine Liturgy's long? Aside from that glaringly egregrious injustice, Orthodox liturgy is simply unimpeachable, even from the Catholic perspective.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pope in Turkey

This Turkey trip so far is only magnifying my love and respect for Benedict and the Holy See.

These lines from John Allen's National Catholic Reporter daily Vatican column made me choke up, especially in light of the historical animosity of the Orthodox towards the Catholic Church:
“Sometimes when you’re living in the shadows of religious asphyxiation, a brother coming from the West can bring light to the East,” said Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, an official of the Ecumenical Patriarch based in New York.

“Peter has come to give strength to his older brother,” Karloutsos told NCR on the margins of the liturgy celebrated by Benedict and Bartholomew this evening, describing its impact as “almost incomprehensible.”
On the Islam end, it really is remarkable how the Holy See right now is the only serious Western dialogue partner with Islam as a religion on a large scale. Is there any Western state, church, or NGO right now that could duplicate the Pope's potential impact on Islam's spiritual orientation to the West and Islam's own self-reflection? Screw your exclusively private and individualized spirituality -- let Christ be a light unto the nations!

Monday, November 27, 2006

To the nunnery

Time has a nice piece on the growing interest in religious life among young women today, in contrast to the so-called "Spirit of Vatican II" nuns who have always seemed to me more interested in proving to the secular world their full embrace of its definitions of womanhood, femininity, and liberation rather than Christ's. Young people today seem to be intuiting that if it's not for Christ and His Church, then why bother with polyester nun-suits and bad perms? The one good thing that postmodern feminism gave us is the sense that almost any expression of femininity is worth something; so with no principle to exclude celibate religious life, we'll have to see if the marketplace gives this boost in women's religious life any lasting buoyancy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mary for Evangelicals?

Ben Myers has a review of the Tim Perry's new book Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of the Lord published by InterVarsity Press. Myers credits the book for doing "a careful exegetical analysis of the diverse portrayals of Mary in the New Testament." Of course, all I hear parenthetically is "evangelical exegesis." Exhibit A:
Perry therefore concludes that there are two main ways of depicting Mary in the New Testament: there is “Mary the person” and “Mary the symbol.” And in his finely drawn survey of the historical development of Mariology in the West (pp. 119-263), Perry highlights the ways in which the symbolic Mary “has come almost completely to suffocate” the individuality of Mary the person. If we are to develop a biblically responsible Mariology, then, we must give far greater emphasis to “Mary the person,” to the one “who hovers on the margins of her society and on the fringes of the biblical text” (p. 263).
If evangelical exegesis were more theologically rigorous, Perry might want to hesitate on drawing too strong a distinction between the personhood and symbolism of Mary, for it puts him on a path that leads right back into the camp of the now-discredited "Jesus Seminar," which was all about playing the "Jesus of history" against the "Christ of faith," a dialectic totally foreign to and absent from the New Testament, the early Church, and the apostolic churches before the Reformation. Perry and Myers may object on the grounds that they explicit reject that a "historical Mary" can be constructed out of Scriptural texts. But to my eyes the dialectic is the same -- artificially inferring split identities from the diverse portrayals of particular figures in Scripture as a means of resolving philosophical anxieties that have little to do with Scripture itself. Even his use of the term "biblically-responsible Mariology" presumes the central Protestant tenet that the Catholic Church is not biblically responsible. Quaint but intellectually dishonest.

In other words, if Perry insists on suggesting that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have "suffocated" Mary the person in favor of Mary the symbol, then what principle prevents me from claiming that the evangelicals have "suffocated" Jesus the person in favor of Jesus the symbol? Isolating passages that on their face pit the "two Jesuses" against each other is easy enough (my years as an evangelical proof-texter have to be good for something). So once again, we see how sola Scriptura forces the evangelical mind into these strange corners.

Perry is correct that the Lucan narratives on Mary are "theological history," but most of the New Testament is theological history, especially the Gospel narratives. Catholic and Orthodox exegetes nonetheless see a unity in Christ's (and thus Mary's) identity because of their grasp of the fundamental harmony between theology and history and the assistance of apostolic Liturgy and Tradition to unify the ostensibly dissonant portrayals of Christ (and Mary) in Scripture. But because evangelicals tend to accept the modernist doctrine that history has a scientific ground strictly independent of ideological or religious perspectives, they will often sit ill at ease with the idea of "theological history." The problem there is evangelicalism's uncritical acceptance of certain modernist epistemological theories, not the Catholic Church's sense of unity between Mary the person and Mary the symbol, falsely interpreted as suppressing one aspect of Mary against another.

Perry should take more seriously his own observation (which the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have made consistently for 2000 years and he's only getting around to now) that Mariology is directly tied into Christology. He should then ask himself what his theology of the "two Marys" implies about his Christology and ecclesiology.

Perry also seems to adopt the tiresome "complementarity" model of ecumenism in which evangelicals imagine themselves to be fillers of certain critical gaps in the Gospel that the Apostolic Churches have missed or failed to uphold. This supposedly gives them ecclesiological parity or equivalence with Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Hence when he speaks of Catholicism suffocating Mary the person, he's implying that evangelicalism can 1) contribute substantively to the Mariological tradition and still 2) retain its adversarial stance over and against Catholicism. That's all very cute to me (the way an adolescent would try to advise, without any sense of irony, a parent about a matter she's only giving serious thought to for the first time) but also demonstrative of the theological immaturity of mainstream evangelicalism.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Queens English in Queens, NY where I grew up.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Rhetoric of Prophecy

Prof. Kaveny has been clarifying her disagreements with the politically pro-life wing of American Catholicism over at the Mirror of Justice blog. She characterizes the "culture of life" vs. the "culture of death" rhetoric of Evangelium Vitae as "moral chemotherapy," the equivalent of trying to kill a fly with an RPG. And she makes a good point. American Manichaeanism does tend to ravage and neutralize the brain whenever it faces any dualism. But isn't it silly to place blame on the rhetoric itself? And just as chemotherapy is sometimes necessary, isn't there a logical flaw in judging a procedure solely in terms of its destructive but unintended effects? In fact, that to me, seems to be a classic liberal error.

Liberal thinking has always appeared to be marked by a largely self-induced fragility of ego, hence the chronic inability to distinguish sin from the sinner, both in oneself and in others. So when the life vs death rhetoric gets thrown at liberals, their unarmored egos get easily bruised and scatched. But as a political pro-lifer (political in the sense that I believe that pro-life ethics requires political and legal solutions as much as cultural and socioeconomic solutions), I have never thought of "Kerry Catholics" or the more moderate "Roche Catholics" as permanent members of the "Culture of Death;" if anything, their membership depends on their shifting beliefs and practices. I think Kaveny would have a hard time trying to find explicit language that is any more judgmental of their persons than that.

"Liberal" casuistry may in fact feed what we call the Culture of Death (and it is in the end figurative) and on that count, be foolish, non-sensical, and worthy of a swift smack upside the head. The brutality of pro-life criticism is, more often than not, a proportionate reaction to the way a certain erroneous worldview can wreak such grave havoc upon the rational faculties of otherwise highly intelligent and well-intentioned Catholics.

For Prof. Kaveny to neatly stuff all this into a "prophetic rhetoric is bad" sack is in itself harmful because it threatens to stuff the entire prophetic tradition of the Old Testament along with. The targets of the Nebi'im were always deeply offended by the proclamation of truth. Isn't it in MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail where King addresses the offense taken by so many respected clergymen regarding the prophetic rhetoric of the civil rights movement? The key distinction between the prophetic tradition and a puritanical moralistic tradition is that the prophets held themselves to be under the same hand of judgment as their target audience. The political pro-lifer sees herself as subject to the judgment of God in an issue that is quite literally about life and death (cf. Moses' speech on that). As the Prophets did not have the time or luxury to mince words or employ "practical reason" on a trans-pratical matter, I would want to avoid taking too much offense at anything at the very least for fear of finding myself on their bad side.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Searching for Bobby Kennedy

There are two types of Democrats, those who worship Jack and those who worship Bobby (Teddy's definitely a Jack-wannabe). Unfortunately, most of those who worship Bobby think he's just Jack minus the Camelot cologne.

What they never bother to contemplate is how a Kennedy who fathered 11 kids, who was far more devoted to his mentally disabled sister Rosemary than his brothers, who took his Catholic faith far more seriously than his brothers, and who increasingly identified with the scrappy working class over the blueblood Brahmin class could possibly become an advocate for the bourgeois addiction to the unrestricted right to destroy human life in its most vulnerable stages.

Had the devil failed in conspiring against Bobby's life, the McGoverniks would never have risen to such unopposed dominance in the party. As it was then, only Bobby can save the Democratic Party from its nihilism now.

Obama comes close in spirit, but he's still politically and intellectually captive to the pro-abortion uni-brain. Casey, well, he's not his father, the last true RFK ghola. Let's see if the purportedly more moderate freshmen Democrats can channel a little of RFK's spirit.