Square Zero

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Bright Monday, Dimmed

Posted by Eric (April 17, 2006 at 2:24 pm)

CrozierI tuned into Scrappleface this morning, right after Bright Monday Matins and Divine Liturgy, to discover a lamentable (and somewhat ambiguous) satire of Pope Benedict XVI. Scrappleface author Scott Ott described a scene in which Benedict XVI took off his golden vestments and, in the style of a Protestant pastor, offered a sort of “heart felt” sermon in which he called himself a sinner and “regular Joe,” while the crowds in St. Peter’s Square rapidly dispersed, apparently interested only in “pomp and circumstance,” not the person of Christ.

It’s sad to see, during Bright Week (Easter Week in the Latin Rite) of all times, that anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well, as it most painfully is in the comments section at Scrappleface (one commentor stooped so low as to draw a parallel between Benedict’s papal vestments and his alleged Hitler Youth uniform!). A debate is is under way there about the purpose of vestments. What’s disappointing is that this debate is being engaged primarily in Protestant terms—as if what redeems Pope Benedict XVI is that underneath all the “pomp and circumstance” he’s really just a good born-again evangelical at heart.

One hardly knows where to begin with a matter like this—a real “Square Zero” situation—about as far from Square One as we can get, no common ground upon which to build—because, again, the whole discussion is taking place in Protestant terms—sola scriptura, what it means to be “saved,” faith versus works. Protestantism is at core a rejection of the sacraments, but the only way to understand vestments and other liturgical adornments is to first understand the sacraments.

On this Bright Monday, which is also my wife’s birthday, I have neither the time nor the inclination to address the injustice of Ott’s satire (not to mention his utter ignorance of Benedict/Ratzinger’s teaching on Christ), but I will offer this one observation—or rather, ask one question.

Why is it that Protestants object to the visual adornments associated with Catholic practice, but never to the aural ones? Elaborate vestments, gilded miter, ritual gestures and postures, sumptuous cathedrals—these all meet with clucking and shaking of heads. But who ever objects to Handel’s Messiah or the religious music of Bach or Mozart?

Why does an elaborate crozier constitute a symbol of the Catholic Church’s apostasy, but an elaborate choral arrangement counts as fitting praise to God? I don’t get it.

Maybe it comes down to that narrow focus on “the Word.” Protestants sometimes seem much more comfortable with a Jesus confined to the pages of Holy Scripture—a Jesus of sayings and doctrines—than one who would penetrate the Universe in the flesh and then remain there sacramentally through the ages.

A musical piece is, on the surface at least, so much closer to “words” (words intoned, or at least sounds) than is, say, an icon. It’s the difference between a Jesus who left us only a text (nevermind the quandry of how that text achieved canonical status—we can avoid that troubling question by simply never asking it), which we can set to music if we please, and a Jesus who left us a Church, which makes present His Body through the ages through every channel by which man can be reached—including of course all five senses.

I don’t wish to caricature Protestant theology, but at base it seems to me there is a denial of the Incarnation itself. The Sacramental faiths—Catholicism, Orthodoxy, even the Anglo-Catholics—eagerly use sign and symbol to make present the glory of God: vestments of various colors and designs, icons and statues, candles, chimes, silver and gold. For was not Christ himself a sign—the image of the Father (“He who sees me sees the Father.”)?

But of course, Protestants do not deny the Incarnation. But their theology, at least so far as it rejects visual adornments in the liturgy, works against a complete embrace of the Incarnation and all it means. There’s a contradiction there—the physical can make manifest the invisible mystery of God, but not really; or it can only in the person of Christ, but not in any other way—the material world is still suspect.

There’s much more to be said here. Ott seemed to be mocking not only papal vestments but the papacy and the entire Catholic heirarchy, as well as the Mass itself. We could talk about “me and Jesus” versus the Catholic concept of the Church as a communion. We could talk about how despite all it’s claims to be seeking a simpler, more fundamental religious experience Protestantism lacks that most radically sipmle, fundamental institution, monasticism.

But not only is this a dim topic for a Bright Monday, and not only do I have a birthday to celebrate, but Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered death, and to those in the tombs he granted life!”

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4 Responses to “Bright Monday, Dimmed”

  1. mig_gee says:

    Thank you. I, too, am disappointed with the anti-catholicism of Scrappleface. I am not surprised though; it is consistently and proudly anti-catholic to a point of smuggery. Your comments and your blog are refreshingly informative. I love my Catholic Faith and am a Catholic by choice. Thank you.

    Comment posted April 18th, 2006 at 6:03 am
  2. Eric says:

    Mig_gee: I guess I never noticed any anti-Catholic content on Scrappleface before. I was pretty disappointed to see it yesterday.

    Thanks for the kind words about this blog. I don’t post as often as I’d like—with seven kids, a full-time job in the pro-life movement and lots of obligations at Church, there just isn’t the time. But do come back again soon!

    Comment posted April 18th, 2006 at 1:24 pm
  3. mig_gee says:

    Off topic- They are planning to teach Sex Ed in the Catholic School that a friends kids go to… it’s called Benzinger. There are two reasons I ask, one is I think it causes scandal to a child in elementary school to talk of such things But it also talks about early cell growth as either snowflakes or Blobs of jelly… And I know where I heard that one before. Also when it talks of family it does not say marriage is apart of family or that it is between a man and a woman. These seem so obviously against Catholic teaching or leading to it… What are the alternatives? You can email me directly with your comments.

    Comment posted April 19th, 2006 at 7:32 am
  4. Eric says:

    Mig_gee: I’m afraid I’m not qualified to comment on the Benzinger program. My own children are home schooled, so I have not had to deal directly with any of the religious education curricula offered in Catholic schools. Sorry I can’t be of more help. You might try Googling for that program.

    Comment posted April 25th, 2006 at 1:28 pm
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