Sunday, April 02, 2006

Liturgy and Obedience

My friends have started up a discussion about the following article (Which I don't even think is a very good one as far as articles go discussing Latin Liturgy). However, it did spur a response that I believe captures where Mel and I are in our journey right now:

The article can be found here: http://www.drbo.org/conversion.htm
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Although my heart leads me to the Tridentine Mass in many ways – There is a dangerous mentality evident in this article that can lead us (Mel and I) down a dangerous path.

There is rhetoric in a lot of these articles, as Mel has said, that has lack of 2 things: Charity for that which is considered “Catholic” Now, and the spirit of obedience.

These two attitudes could be very easily linked to the two greatest commandments:

- Love God (Love of God consists in obedience not only to Him but to those whom he has placed in authority over us)
- Love of Neighbor (Which would include a spirit of Charity to those who may “Do Mass” in a way that disagrees with their spiritual palate)

Of the greatest importance is obedience: It is the lack of this important virtue that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the first place. God was going one direction, they chose to go another because they were convinced that they “knew better”. At the root of a lack of obedience lies pride – and pride ultimately leads us to death.

I think some of the best illustrations of obedience in reality is probably St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Rita.

Catherine also living in a tumultuous period of history, and though she disagreed in many ways the direction the pope was taking (or not taking, as the case may be), and took the opportunity to tell him so, there was not a question of obedience in her mind. She let him know “This is where I think you need to go/be doing…”, but when a decision was made by him, she fully devoted herself to that cause (Crusades under Pope Gregory, for example). In other-words, she recognized that the Pope was human, and required as much guidance and support as the next guy, but she also recognized in him the authority granted by God himself to guide and lead the Church. Christ told us that He would build his Church upon a Man: Peter, and the keys given him mean we are bound to obey him and his successors.

St. Rita found herself in an abusive marriage, yet she chose to continue to serve her husband, whom was converted on his death bed because of her witness, along with her two sons, who also passed away. She went on to become a nun and receive the stigmata of the crown of thorns.

A great illustration of obedience despite disagreement we can find in The Lord of the Rings (Please excuse the long explanation of the story – I believe it necessary in order to give weight to the principal character’s actions):

In the “Return of the King”, as the enemy is gathering on the border of their lands, the people of Gondor are preparing for an onslaught. Lord Denethor is a “steward” of the city, who is in a long line of stewards who exercise their authority in the name of the king until the king returns to take his rightful place (It has been many generations). (One can see an allusion to the Papacy here).

Denethor has lost his eldest son, Boromir, whom he loved very much. Faramir, the younger son, is now captain of the army in Gondor. He was stationed at an outpost on the city’s outer defenses that has been taken by the enemy – Faramir and his company have retreated back to the main city. The enemy which is throwing everything it can at this country, and the Gondorians are sadly outnumbered.

Denethor has little trust or faith in his younger son, Faramir. At this point in the story, however, it is clear that Denethor is wrong in his judgment not only of his son, but in his judgment, period. Faramir has shown himself to be a trustworthy and virtuous man of great moral strength.

The captains for Gondor are called to council:

“There all the captains judged that because of the threat in the South their force was too weak to make any stroke of war on their own part…’Yet,’ said Denethor, ‘we should not lightly abandon the outer defenses…It is at Osgiliath that he will put his weight, as before when Boromir denied him the passage.’
‘That was but a trial,’ said Faramir. ‘Today we may make the Enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet rue the exchange. For he can afford to lose a host better that we to lose a company. And the retreat of those that we put out far afield will be perilous, if he wins across in force.’ …
‘Much must be risked in war,’ said Denethor. ‘…I would not yield the River and Pelennor unfought – not if there is a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord’s will.’
Then all were silent. But at length Faramir said: ‘I do not oppose your will, sire. Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead – if you command it.’
‘I do so,’ said Denethor.
‘Then farewell!’ said Faramir. ‘But if I should return, think better of me!’
‘That depends on the manner of your return,’ said Denethor.”

So, Faramir takes his band of men and heads to outer outpost of Osgiliath, which everyone knows is basically suicide.

So, what is Tolkien telling us here? That a man of virtue shows his virtue in action by his obedience – obedience even when he (and a good number of everyone else) know the orders to be madness.

There is a line in the movie that brings the point into sharp focus: As Faramir is making his way to the gate to make his charge, Gandalf comes alongside of him and pleads with him not to be rash and throw his life away, indicating that Denethor has given over to madness.

Faramir’s reply is poignant: “Where does my allegiance lie, if not here?”

Gandalf doesn’t have an answer, other than his Father will remember his love of his son before the end.


Why do I use this illustration? I think it brings the issue of obedience into clear focus:

We clearly see Faramir’s obedience to his Father as a virtuous action. The injustice belongs with Denethor to rashly send his son into certain doom.

But let us say that Faramir decided to dis-obey his Father’s orders and arrange the battle in a way that made more sense strategically? What would this tell us?
For many, they would say “Well, darn rights! The steward has lost his mind, and Faramir is of much better use alive and using his own wits than blindly following orders and dead!”

But here is the crux of the issue: If Faramir did disobey the orders given by the leader of the people, then his allegiance no longer lies with the country and people he has sworn to defend – His allegiance lies with himself and his own judgment of what is good and right. He would have cut himself off from the tree of Gondor and become a rouge.

So we come back to the real world of liturgical chaos – the enemy within modern culture are beating down our outer defenses. The Magesterium makes a judgment call: “Let’s have the language of the people within the Holy Mass to make it more approachable – there are so many for whom mass is a duty, let’s have it infiltrate the life of people easier by making it understandable, etc, etc ,etc”.

There are many in the traditional/orthodox camps who believe this change was liturgical suicide – I happen to be one of them – instead of the Church infiltrating society, the reverse has happened – society has infiltrated the Church.

So, we watch the Pope say the Mass, in the language of the people, facing us instead of the alter. In my spirit, I think there are many things wrong, many things lost in this change made after Vatican II, and many aspects open to the possibility of abuse (as we have all experienced). I believe the pendulum has swung too far and the body of the Church has been too easily swept up in the chaos that is our society.

But where does my allegiance lie, if not here?

I am called to be a part of the Body of Christ, and protect what I can with what I have been given, also knowing that in God's mysterious ways, He is still using this broken, beaten down and society-infiltrated ark to save me from the waters of the world.

God has promised us that the gates of hell shall not prevail.

Not mine, but Thy will be done, Lord.

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Prayer for the Pope
Christ Jesus, in your presence I renew my unconditional loyalty to your Vicar on earth, the Pope. In him you have chosen to show us the safe and sure path that we must follow in the midst of confusion, uneasiness, and unrest. I firmly believe that through him you govern, teach, and sanctify us; with him as our shepherd, we form the true Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
Grant me the grace to love, live and spread faithfully our Holy Father’s teachings. Watch over his life, enlighten his mind, strengthen his spirit, defend him from calumny and evil. Calm the erosive winds of infidelity and disobedience. Hear our prayer and keep your Church united around him, firm in her belief and action, that she may truly be the instrument of your redemption. Amen.