Merry Christmas, everybody!
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and this is The Tuesday Pillar Post!
Here are at The Pillar, we’re taking most of the Christmas octave as a holiday.
I can’t speak for Ed, but I’m trying to spend the Christmas octave eating leftovers, building a rocket launcher with my kids, and mixing the perfect Old Fashioned. I hope you’re as blessed as I am.
But if you’re waiting for news reporting from The Pillar, rest assured that we’ll publish a few things this week, and we’ll be on alert for breaking and urgent news.
So here’s some news:
Is it still Christmas?
If you’re anything like me, you hear people this time of year reminding each other that Christmas is more than just one day — that it is, in fact, an entire season.
Love and marriage (and sex)
Sociologists have written for the last five years or so about a “sex recession” in the United States — with young Americans having sex far less often than did previous generations.
There are a lot of reasons for the “sex recession,” and so-called “Covid fatigue” might be a contributing factor.
But this week at The Pillar, Brendan Hodge took a look at another reason for the “sex recession” - that young Americans who identify as religious seem more likely to live out religious prohibitions of premarital sex than previous generations.
Brendan also looked at whether pornography, marriage, and the pandemic are impacting America’s “sex recession.”
Our Christmas specials
The Pillar Podcast offers you two Christmas specials worth hearing.
Next, for a podcast bonus episode Ed interviewed Sydney’s auxiliary bishop Richard Umbers. The bishop talks cricket, vocations, the banality of committee meetings, and the new evangelization. Don’t miss it.
The Chicago Way
Some readers have followed closely The Pillar’s coverage of escalating proscriptions from the Vatican on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (also known as the usus antiquior, the TLM, or, now, the “antecedent rite”).
Last week, we asked how U.S. bishops would respond to instructions from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship which significantly restrict the ability of priests to offer the Extraordinary Form Mass.
The wait is over — one U.S. bishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich, issued on Christmas Day a policy that restricts the Extraordinary Form in the Archdiocese of Chicago beyond most expectations, in the name of the ecclesial unity.
The cardinal’s policy will require parishes or groups normally celebrating the Extraordinary Form to celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Mass at least once monthly, and at Christmas, Easter, the Triduum, and Pentecost.
The cardinal’s point, it seems, is to ensure that Catholics with a preference for the Extraordinary Form demonstrate that they accept the Ordinary Form of the Mass and are willing to attend it, and that they are unified liturgically at certain feasts to the entire diocese.
Under the provisions of Vatican’s new instructions, those decisions are within the cardinal’s prerogative as a diocesan bishop. They are likely to stand up on appeal in Rome — so much so that Vatican News, the Holy See’s in-house press organ, made it a point Monday to feature the cardinal’s new policies, giving them a rather clear Vatican stamp of approval.
In the long run, Cupich apparently hopes that his policies will move practicing Catholics away from a set of liturgical practices he’s long criticized. But the cardinal must also be aware his policies will get serious pushback in the short term. Of course, pushback from Catholics who worship in the Extraordinary Form is to be expected — Cupich’s policy will dramatically reshape their lives. And the more devout they are, the more his policy changes will impact them.
But Cupich added a provision to his policies that loops into the affair another set of Catholics entirely — practicing, liturgically conservative Catholics who don’t worship in the Extraordinary Form, including some of his own priests.
The cardinal emphasized in his instructions that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is ordinarily to be celebrated versus populum - facing the people - and that offering the Mass ad orientem - toward the east, which is to say, facing the altar - requires his permission.
Need a primer on terms like “Extraordinary Form” and “Ordinary Form?” Not sure what “ad orientem” means, or why it matters? Read our Latin Liturgy Lexicon here.
Priests and laity connected to the “reform of the reform” liturgical movement have long maintained that the ad orientem posture of the Mass is the one presumed by the Church’s ordinary liturgical books. Many have called for a return to that posture, which has had theological significance for millennia. They’ve had the support of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Pope emeritus Benedict XVI - along with Vatican liturgical leaders like Cardinal Robert Sarah, and several U.S. bishops as well.
Some of those priests and laity say that Cupich does not have the canonical authority to prohibit the celebration of the Mass ad orientem. It’s hard to say what Rome would do with an appeal against his directive — while the law is probably not on his side, the momentum seems to be.
In either case, when the cardinal added a provision about liturgical postures to a set of instructions about liturgical rites, he picked an entirely different, though not unrelated fight, at the same time he is addressing the issue of the Extraordinary Form. That decision may foment a kind of solidarity among more mainstream liturgical conservatives with the traditionalist Catholics addressed in Traditionis custodes.
And by putting restrictions on liturgical posture in the Ordinary Form, he’s told traditionalist Catholics that there is no chance the Mass offered once monthly in their communities will even look like the Mass to which they have grown accustomed.
In short, Cupich seems to have taken Traditionis custodes as his opportunity to address a whole bunch of liturgical issues all at once — issues which, he seems to believe, encourage disordered theological and spiritual perspectives.
It is not surprising that Cardinal Cupich has called for these changes, or even done them all at once. The cardinal has been direct about his liturgical theology since he was an Omaha pastor in the late ‘80s, and a seminary rector in the early 90s.
But Mass attendance in the Archdiocese of Chicago has fallen by 27% in the last two decades and parishes are closing, which makes it a gamble to push hard on the liturgies of some parishes with high Mass attendance.
Cupich, presumably, is counting on the fact that the number of Catholics with interest in liturgical theology is very, very small, and that most people won’t be affected by the changes he’s made. That’s probably true.
But the number of priests, especially young priests, with an interest in liturgical matters is not insignificant, especially in the archdiocese which houses the most renowned academic center for liturgy in the country.
Some portion of Chicago’s presbyterate will be aggrieved by the cardinal’s decisions, even if they don’t celebrate the Extraordinary Form themselves. Further, the cardinal’s changes come on the tail end of two years of pandemic exhaustion, and almost four years since the scandal of McCarrick — they come at a time when it’s hard to be a parish priest in America.
Among a presbyterate already struggling with morale, the cardinal may have to keep watch for how his policy impacts the outlook, work ethic, and even mental health of the priests entrusted to his care.
Beyond Chicago, it seems clear that the disagreement shaping up among bishops and laity over the pope’s restrictions on the Extraordinary Form will be framed as a disagreement about the meaning of the Second Vatican Council.
Cardinal Cupich wrote Dec. 25 that behind his efforts is the hope that “all can come to a better understanding and deeper acceptance of the restored and renewed liturgy that is part of the precious heritage of the Second Vatican Council.”
But critics of the cardinal’s decision say it is not supported by the actual text of the Council’s liturgical constitution, and is instead another example of an “implementation” of the Council which is rooted in the spirit of the age, not the intentions of the Council Fathers.
On issue after issue, the Church has been having that fight for five decades — longer than most readers of The Pillar have been alive. That should not surprise us. An ecumenical council is a big, significant moment in the life of the Church — one which takes decades, if not more than a century, to fully understand.
In fact, at the root of the current discord over liturgy is disagreement about authority, papal prerogatives, and the Church’s centralization — arguably, the Church is still arguing right now about Vatican Council I, which took place in 1869 and 1870, and only incidentally about Vatican Council II.
This is why Newman wrote that “the whole course of Christianity from the first, when we come to examine it, is but one series of troubles and disorders.”
That knowledge may well be a source of consolation, as it was for Newman.
Acknowledging “the general disorganized and schismatical state of the Church, her practical abandonment of her spiritual pretensions, the tyranny exercised over her by the civil power, and the intimate adherence of the worst passions and of circumstantial irregularities to those acts which are vital portions of her system,” Newman insisted that God is present in the life of the Church, and in the lives of believers.
“Not denying for argument’s sake, he wrote, “that our Teachers have been at variance with each other, that aliens and enemies have usurped our rights, that the laity has been almost sanctioned by their pastors in loose and irreverent views and practices, and that the very notion of the Church Catholic has died away from the popular mind; granting, that is, what is a great deal more than the truth, it will not follow that Almighty God may not be as truly and supernaturally with us as He was…when the Angel appeared to Gideon during the Midianitish captivity, or to Zacharias in the days of Herod.”
Nevertheless, the consolation of history does not quell the disputes of the present. And disputes about liturgy — especially ones as serious as the one unfolding now over the Extraordinary Form — can be particularly contentious, and for a reason. The Church says that liturgy is the most important thing that she does; that the Mass is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. And the Church has long held that as we pray, so will we believe — that liturgy forms and shapes everything else that we do, and the most important, intimate, redemptive relationship we can have — our relationship with God.
Liturgy is, in short, important. It matters. And practicing Catholics have intimate and personal feelings about how the Church worships, tied up in the identities, their histories, their beliefs, and their hopes. That’s why it’s fought about it so much.
As this disagreement takes shape — one which could reshape a portion of the Church for decades — it’s worth acknowledging a couple of things:
The Extraordinary Form has grown significantly in popularity in the U.S., among priests and laity, since the Pope Benedict XVI allowed for its greater use in 2007. It nonetheless represents a small share of practicing Catholics.
There are well-known writers and internet personalities attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass who have discouraged ecclesial obedience and Catholic unity, and have not been sanctioned or censured by their bishops.
Rightly or wrongly, some of those people are perceived in Rome or in some diocesan chanceries as the face and voice of “traditionalist” Catholicism — no matter how much or how little they influence it or represent it.
There are bishops who have long opposed the use of the Extraordinary Form, and even “reform of the reform” liturgical sentiments, because their own seminary formation taught them those things were contrary to development of the Church’s teachings at the Second Vatican Council. Many of them are, no doubt, acting in good faith.
The pope seems to believe that permission for broad use of the Extraordinary Form was “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
Those on the front line of addressing the pope’s restrictions, and diocesan implementation plans, are mostly those diocesan priests who have in recent years learned, and offered, the Extraordinary Form in communities which asked for it. They will be responsible for pastorally addressing dramatic changes for those communities.
While those things are known, it not really well-known what Extraordinary Form communities in the U.S. look like, and what they believe. At The Pillar, we’re firming up plans to study those things in the next few months. We look forward to reporting what we learn.
But as debate continues, there’s another aspect of study that might prove useful — given how often the documents of the Second Vatican Council will be mentioned in the coming liturgical disagreements, Catholics would do well to read them — and perhaps to start with Sacrosanctum concilium, the Council’s constitution on sacred liturgy. It is probably better for folks on all sides to argue over what texts actually say, and not just what we imagine they might say.
In fact, a great deal of anxiety, disagreement, and even floundering in the Church could probably be quelled by a robust study, understanding, and discussion on the actual meaning of the Second Vatican Council’s actual texts — time well spent, to be sure, for bishops, priests, theologians, and others involved in the mission and ministry of the Church’s life.
In case you missed it
As The Pillar’s readership has grown over the last year, we’ve been fortunate to add many of you to our mailing list, and to share our work with you. Of course, a lot of our work is breaking news, analysis, and developing investigative reporting — the kind of time-sensitive thing where individual stories probably won’t be read over and over.
But as the year wraps up, we thought we’d share with you some of our favorite features, profiles, interviews, and explainers — some of the “evergreen reporting” we thought was important, powerful, or just plain fun.
Here are some stories you might have missed. Enjoy!
‘A gift of grace’
On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, an excerpt from a fifth-century sermon of St. Quodvultdeus:
A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.
The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.
But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.
How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.
May the Holy Innocents, killed for Christ, intercede for us from heaven.
Thank you, all, subscribers and readers, for your ongoing support of The Pillar. We’re grateful for you, sincerely. Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.
Yours in Christ,