Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: The Western Civilization is daughter of the Catholic Church | Looking forward to TLM as Ordinary Form

by Fr. Richard G. Cipolla
St. Mary's, Norwalk, Connecticut

Together we look forward to the time when the Traditional Roman Mass 
will once again be the Ordinary Form of the Mass

And who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you suffer anything for justice’s sake, blessed are you  So have no fear of their fear and do not be troubled; but hallow the Lord Christ in your hearts.   (I Peter 3: 14-15)

We have a president of this country who acts sometimes like a bull in a china shop.  One cannot help but wonder what he will say at the G-20 summit in Hamburg.  But he did give a speech in Poland a few days ago that caused quite a stir.  The Poles were quite stirred by the speech and liked it. The liberal press was stirred to attack what he said, especially in one part of the speech.  He asked whether the West had the courage and grit to defend Western civilization against those whose values are inimical to that civilization.  And he mentioned faith as a part of that civilization, and without being more specific he meant the Christian faith. 

I happened to be listening to NPR on my drive home through the back roads so I could avoid the eternal traffic on 95.  Late every afternoon they have a series on topical questions and choose one person from the left and another from the quasi-right, quasi because NPR seems to associate conservatives with red-neck Neanderthals who would be invited.  There was a woman from the Boston Globe as one of the participants-I need not say which side she represented.  The other was David Brooks from the New York Times, who, for that paper of record is a centrist, and does not always tow the Times line.  The woman chided Trump for his speech as being nationalistic and narrow and exclusionary, this based on his mention of Western civilization and as something worth fighting for.  David Brooks, to my pleasant surprise, said that he thought it a good speech and saw nothing wrong in Trump’s positive assessment of Western civilization that is worth fighting for.  He the civilization of Plato and Aristotle, of Rome, of the moral, teaching that was the basis for cultural and civic traditions that came from the ancients and were developed through two millennia:  this is something very real, and although far from perfect, was something Brooks is happy to be a part of.

What Brooks did not say, and probably dared not say, is that without the Christian appropriation of ancient Western culture, which deepened that culture in so many ways, the culture of which we are an integral part would not exist.  And to be more specific:  without the Catholic Church the past two thousand years would be incomprehensible and void of much meaning.  The Church’s strong influence in every facet of culture—from government to inventing the hospital, from the art and music that was inspired and supported by the Church to the development of rational thought that made possible modern science, but above all for the truly civilizing influence of the Church that turned barbarians into the English and the French.

And all this because of the Church’s faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world  in his message of love of God and love of neighbor, and his Real Presence within this world in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The informing of the worldly with the spiritual:  that is the gift of the Church to the Western world.

It is when the Church seemed to forget her mission to the world at the end of what we call the Middle Ages, when the distinction between the Church and world became increasingly blurred and laid the foundation for the Protestant revolt that is called by historians, the Reformation, that modernity begins, whose fruit is secularization and the banishment of the sacred in the everyday world.  And now it is in these post-modern times that the Church has been banished and has in fact banished herself from what gives meaning to personal lives lived today.  How said that a Cardinal from a diocese not too far from here had a highly publicized welcome home Mass for LGBTQ men and women. There is no doubt that these men and women who have every right to be part of the Catholic Church but who like the rest of us must be willing to acknowledge our sinfulness and be reconciled with the Church. That confrontation of personal sin was not part of the celebration. The world applauds such things and then has a good laugh at the Catholic Church trying to be modern when for most people it makes no difference at all.

Last week we celebrated, with little fanfare, the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, the magna carta of the Catholic liturgy.  The document itself is flawed, with its artificial creation of two forms of the Roman Rite, with its talk of a coetus, a group of the faithful who go to the bishop or pastor and ask for the Traditional Roman rite.  And the pastor, including the bishop, it presumes will respond to this request with alacrity and charity.  This has not happened.  But even though the document is flawed,  what it did cannot be underestimated. It freed the Church from the terrible bonds of a deliberately modern liturgy imposed in a most un-Catholic way a liturgical form based on personal rationalizations  that claimed to be based on scholarship.  Let us be clear about this once and for all.  Because I find out that the offertory prayers are Gallican and did not come into the Mass until after the first millennium has absolutely nothing to do with the reality and validity of the liturgical life of the Church and those particular prayers.   Let us be clear about this.  Scholarship is relative to time.  And who would prefer a runty tomato plant about which we have a full DNA printout  to a plant that is held up by stakes on which is hanging ripe tomatoes to be savored with basil and olive oil?   

Dare we say that the Traditional Roman Mass that developed from the early Church through Gregory the Great, through what historians call the Dark Ages, through the flowering of what we call the Middle Ages, even to the eve of the discovery of the New World, is one of the bedrocks of Western civilization?  The greatest composers, including the anonymous composers of the chant and the composers of polyphony like Byrd, Victoria and Palestrina, Bach, Mozart and even Stravinsky:   all this music inspired by the Traditional Roman Rite and written to make the Rite sing for the praise of almighty God.  The Traditional Roman Rite is certainly the bedrock of the Catholic Church,  and its suppression in the 1960s will be written about in Church history in the same way as the Babylonian exile.

But there is more. The Orthodox believe that the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil are God-given.  And I would dare to say that the same is true for the Traditional Roman Mass.  It is God-given. It developed in the womb of the Church like a pearl in an oyster.  It has nothing to do with committees or consilia appointed to invent a new form of Mass that has relevance only to those who wrote the texts, whether on a napkin in Trastevere or in an office in the Vatican.  The irrelevancy of the Catholic Church is this post-modern age is in great part due to the irrelevancy of a liturgy invented in the modern age and now already obsolete in the post-modern age of freedom defined by the naked self. 

And yet.  And yet. We cannot retreat from the sad situation in the liturgical life of the Church and therefore in the very life of the Church.  We must not hunker down and do our own traditional thing and consign everyone one else to some terrible boring and bland version of the Eucharistic liturgy and thank God that we celebrate the real thing.  We must evangelize, my friends.  We start with ourselves and make sure we are in spiritual shape to do battle, spiritual shape, not personal shape or aesthetic shape.  Spiritual shape  And to get into spiritual shape requires hard work, work that demands painful spiritual pushups every day that causes some pain. 

You young men who serve at the altar, you young men who come to this Mass, dare you come to the aid of not merely the Catholic Church, and I say “merely” in a purely grammatical and stylistic sense, but to civilization itself, a civilization that has been lobotomizied  with no memory of its roots and its past?  Will you buy into this self-centered culture that keeps everything at arm’s length except the truth about oneself and one’s relationship to the truth, a truth that is a person, Jesus Christ, and his Church founded to make all things new?  Will you allow priests and bishops who have failed to take their faith seriously and so have scandalize you make you fall into a cynicism that will make your life devoid of real faith and prevent you from even considering a vocation to the priesthood or the monastic life? 

And you young women here:  dare you embrace the challenge of a religious life that was and should be the heart of the Church, dare you to be Mother Courage in the face of the spineless posturing of your generation? Dare you to have the zeal and faith of St. Birgitta, St. Catherine of Siena, both of whom who told off Popes when he was wrong.  Dare you in whatever vocation you decide upon to be a source of faith and joy in this unbelieving world? 

And you members of the Hispanic community:  dare you give of your real gifts that include a love of celebration of our precious Catholic faith to the whole parish and to the whole Church?  Dare you encourage our Hispanic community to come to this Mass and see where the basis of the traditions you love are founded, to come to understand the freedom that the Traditional Roman Rite gives to each of us, that frees us from the burden of language?  Dare you become leaders of the recovery of Catholic Tradition?

And to all of you here, married with children, do you dare to take the next step, the step after coming to this Mass at St Mary’s in Norwalk because you see its power and reality, and take the next step in making this parish a powerhouse for the Lord that will overwhelm jaded Catholics and prideful secularists with the joy of knowing that God loves us so much that he died for us so that we may be saved from eternal death? 

The answer to these questions for each of us here is the key to the future, not only the future of this parish but also the very future of the Church.  Together we look forward to the time when the Traditional Roman Mass will once again be the Ordinary Form of the Mass.  May this be the will of God.