Category Archives: Church

Sacred Art Worships God

Here’s a nice story for the Christmas season: “The Song of the Minster,” by William Canton.

As the story says, the arts and crafts can be true worship of God. When humans collaborate with living animals or plants, we tame them and make them more themselves, rather than less. But when artists collaborate with the Lord’s inanimate creatures, it allows those creatures to become more themselves, as well.

Turning our back on art, or making things in the service of God deliberately ugly, is a sort of cruelty to the creatures.

This is from an old chapter book with marvelous pictures, and it has been reprinted by St. Augustine Press. It’s too late to order for Christmas; but you can always get something in the New Year!

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Holy Wells in Ireland

This Galway tourism site has tons of beautiful pictures of holy wells!

There are holy wells all over Europe. Like the spring at Lourdes, they are usually associated with miraculous cures, as well as being a convenient place of pilgrimage associated with early saints. But as this page points out, most of the older holy wells were a source of baptismal water for the earliest missionaries, before churches could be built. Some may have been baptistries for old parish complexes, or water sources for hermitages.

Anyway, we don’t tend to have them in the US, so take a look!

There are also some nice pictures of market crosses and roadside shrines. Most of the latter fall into the categories of “We have concrete and we’re not afraid to use it!” and “Lourdes grotto replicas are cool.” But hey, I like devout use of concrete.

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Precious Blood Sisters Doing Stupid Stuff.

The Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood were once a thriving order, but now are dying — except in South America. Apparently Peru is far enough away to avoid stupid Sixties junk.

Back when there were plenty of Precious Blood sisters, mostly working as teachers for schools or housekeepers for Catholic institutions, some of the sisters wanted to follow their spiritual charism of keeping up a Perpetual Adoration schedule into becoming a full-fledged contemplative order. This wasn’t too strange, as one of the Missouri offshoots of the order does this; and then-Archbishop Alter thought it would be a good idea in the crazy modern world of 1956 Cincinnati. The contemplative nuns could pray for the active nuns, and any active nuns who got tired could go recharge with the contemplatives.

It didn’t work out. Most of the younger sisters in the main order got caught up in stupid Sixties craziness. They decided that the original work of the order, housekeeping, was not feminist enough; and that they were too smart to be schoolteachers. They should be principals of schools or administrators of Catholic institutions. They should stop wearing the habit or living in community. And of course they would have to destroy the contemplative offshoot group, because all the more conservative nuns were fleeing there for peace; and there were a lot more Baby Boomer votes in the active side of things.

Before all this really started rolling, there was one Precious Blood sister who was really attached to contemplation, and had been one of the reasons the contemplative group was created. Mildred Dumezil, known in the order as Sr. Mary Ephrem, had a deep spiritual life. She began to have visions of Mary as Our Lady of America, as well as of various saints and of Christ. The archdiocese ended up investigating this informally, and was generally positive about it, although nothing too definite was done. (The title was officially approved for those seeking healing. Eventually, bishops in the Philippines got a lot more enthusiastic about the title; there are churches there using it.)

So yeah, you’ve got a lady of Middle Eastern heritage in the midst of German-Americans. That hadn’t been a source of friction before, but now it became one. You’ve got conservative contemplatives surprised with something new, and liberal actives who suddenly find something really edgy going on — that’s not them.

A lot of stuff happened, and most of it was shameful. Women can be very crued to other women, and a nun gone wrong is very nasty indeed.

In the midst of all this, the famously liberal political radio priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin, died. He had been used and thrown away by the FDR liberals, and most of his political work was forgotten. What survived was the beautiful Detroit shrine he built to St. Therese of Lisieux. He had been planning to set up some kind of religious center out in the middle of nowhere, and he had bought land there. Since the contemplative sisters lived nearby at New Riegel, Ohio, he had gotten to know them. He left the property to them, asking for their prayers to continue in perpetuity as they used the land to live on.

Over the course of the next few years, as the active sisters dismantled the contemplative offshoot and kicked them out, the active sisters also grabbed this land. (Of course they did.)

The stunning part is this: they sold the land to The Way International. That’s not a Catholic group. It’s not a mainstream Christian group. It’s a group that has even been called a cult, and which teaches that Jesus is not God. Its founder also claimed to have had visions (of Christ), but the whole group’s history was nothing but wall-to-wall scandals with money and sex, obsessive control of members’ lives, and credible accusations of abuse and cultism. This was not a secret, even back when the Precious Blood Sisters sold the land to them. They helped The Way International build their creepy heretical, sinful management headquarters on the land that was supposed to be a home for contemplative nuns.

So yeah, that’s not petty behavior anymore. That’s just disgusting.

This is no reflection on the other orders in the Precious Blood “family,” mind you. And of course a lot of the active nuns had nothing to do with this crap; there was a lot of tyranny of numbers going on, with Baby Boomers forcing their will on everyone else. (And then, for the most part, they left the order after they could do no more harm. The outvoted are sitting around in the order’s nursing home, insisting on wearing their habits.)

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Zeal: Good. Presumptuousness: Bad.

The blog Rorate Caeli has a news item about the “reconciliation” (renewal of dedication) of a previously de-sanctified church. A medieval-style Victorian treasure, St. Willibrord’s Church in Utrecht, has been bought by Catholics, and is to become a Catholic church again. Yay!

Except….

The church was never a Protestant one. It was formally desanctified at one point, however.

The Catholic archbishop of Utrecht isn’t doing the “reconciliation.” It was to be performed by Bishop Fellay, the head bishop of the SSPX. He has no diocese; he has no native standing in Utrecht. And St. Willibrord was the first bishop of Utrecht, so it’s not exactly flattering to flout his successor in his own church. Or so one would think!

This isn’t the first time the church has been an object of contention. At about the time of Vatican II, the church was set to be closed and demolished by the Catholic archdiocese. It was bought by a group of laypeople and a priest, Fr. Winand Kotte, and became a private chapel where Fr. Kotte said Mass. (Which is legal enough.) The contentious point was that Mass was always said in Latin under the old missals; but there were legal arguments for priests to do so, and obviously Summorum Pontificum made it clear that it was okay. But private groups of this kind sometimes become hinky; it’s hard to tell if this was the case.

Fr. Kotte died in 2006, but the lay society kept up the church as their chapel. They reached an agreement with Archbishop Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht, which allowed them to remain independent but be fine with the archdiocese. Archbishop Eijk re-dedicated the church in 2009 and named it a “rectorate”, and all seemed well.

At this point, the lay society that owned the church rented it out during the week for the performance of an avant-garde play. The problem was that part of the play simulated various church liturgies, in an offensive way. The apostolate served by the rectorate petitioned the archdiocese to declare the church as having been desacralized by blasphemy, until the owners agreed not to run any more performances. The church-owning society objected to having no operating funds.

Apparently they had various priests say Mass for them, but in 2015 they settled on using priests from the SSPX. (Such priests are pretty much all illicitly ordained, and don’t have valid faculties to perform any Sacrament unless the local bishop grants them. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis graciously stretched a point to grant a few faculties, but yeah, not a great sign. In this case, the archdiocese seems to have gotten disgusted at having all their efforts thrown back in their face.

The lay society ran out of money (or got tired of the wrangling) and put St. Willibrord’s up for sale. The SSPX bought it. After having SSPX priests saying Masses at this church for two years, the SSPX’s illicitly consecrated bishop, Bishop Fellay, decided the church needed to be “reconciled” before any other Masses took place.

So yeah, that’s the sort of convoluted congregationalism that can take place on the fringes of the Church.

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St. Albert the Great on Reception of Communion under Both Species

Yes, I’m still working on St. Albert the Great’s 36 Sermons on the Sacrosanct Sacrament of the Eucharist, which was once commonly attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. Quotes from it were commonly used in books used by priests for Mass preparation.

Right now I’m in the section on the Precious Blood, which is very interesting. From the early Middle Ages until the last twenty years or so, it was the tradition in the West for the people not to receive Communion under the species of wine (except as part of a nuptial Mass, Last Rites, and so on); only the priest received under both species. This had some practical advantages, because parishes outside of wine-growing areas needed only a tiny supply of wine and a tiny chalice. But beyond that, we don’t hear much about the reasoning; and frankly, a lot of people who were in favor of the change were already covering up that stuff when my mom was a kid.

St. Albert is not unaware that things used to be different, so he has to argue about what is “more fitting.” He sees priests and bishops as being much like the sacrificial vessels and equipment used in the Temple. They are not consecrated to one use — that of the Lord. But they should also be adorned with the beauty of virtues, faith, and a strict way of life, just as the Temple vessels were adorned with good materials, jewels, and fine workmanship. In that way, they can act as a fitting receptacle for the Lord’s Blood.

He also sees the reception of the two species by different groups as being similar to Moses’ act of covenant in Exodus, where part of the sacrificial blood was thrown on the altar and part on the people. His quotes call back to the old sacrificial regulations, where the people eat the sacrifices’ flesh. So we hear a lot about receiving both species as a fuller sign; but St. Albert sees the practice of some receiving only under one species as also a fuller sign.

St. Albert also talks frankly about the practical worries of someone serving mostly in wine-producing areas. Since the people did not usually receive Communion frequently, and since most people didn’t have access to Confession every week before Mass, everybody tended to go to Communion during the great Church feasts — particularly at Easter, but also on Christmas, Pentecost, local saints’ days, etc. Anybody could go up to receive Communion when he or she felt ready. It would have been seen as wrong and overly nosy to try to control people’s spiritual lives by making them go up row by row, or line up rigidly. Churches didn’t have pews back then, either. And so we get this:

For when the Christian people come together to receive the Sacrament at solemnities, they press up against each other, because of the crowd around the altar. so that the Lord’s Body can barely be picked up [by the priest] without fear of being dropped. And so how much more could the chalice of the Lord’s Blood not be received without risk of a spill?

I think this clears up why altar rails got popular….

Finally, a more oft-mentioned reason for reception under one species was to fight a heresy that for some reason was prevalent and recurrent in Europe: that each of the two species of Communion only contained part of Christ, not all of Him. St. Albert says that unformed people find it hard to believe in the full Presence of Christ under the species of bread, if they commonly receive the species of wine also.

One would like to say that this was prejudiced of him; but if you spend much time online talking to badly educated Catholics from Europe or the Americas, you often run into people making this mistake. It was also a foundational belief of several Protestant sects that emerged in early modern times. So yeah, you might disagree with his prescription but he wasn’t wrong about the disease.

So you can see there is some very interesting stuff.

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Recycling Old Fake News

This example is from The New York Times. In a late-breaking news story, they allowed an essay pointing out the Times’ refusal to report things like the Communist-made Holodomor famine in the Ukraine.

At the bottom, however, they linked to “The Lost Children of Tuam.”

Accompanied by moody black and white photos (including a cheesy animated GIF of trees blowing in the wind), the Times reporter proceeded to rehash Ireland’s best Victorian era, private religious order, funded on a shoestring, try at providing a home for unwed mothers and their kids — who’d been dropped by their families and had nowhere else to go. The story admits that the kids went to the same public schools as other kids, and that the doors of the homes were never locked.

It has been proved that, although there were abuses typical of large charitable organizations, most of the homes were safe and healthy, and many of the surviving denizens look back with affection at their time with the nuns. It was careless and stupid to lose track of one of the home-associated cemeteries. But it happened a bunch in England with Victorian stuff, and you don’t hear fantasies about serial-killer bureaucrats slaughtering entire secret cemeteries full of kids.

(If you want to have nightmares, though, the English “baby farms” will do it.)

Kids and moms who died at the homes died of the same things that killed kids living on farms or in towns: tuberculosis, influenza, measles, diphtheria, and so on. But everywhere in the world, including the US, kids died at a higher rate in charitable establishments. Why? Because they were full of kids whose moms weren’t healthy, spreading germs to each other; and because the more kids you have in one place, the less care each one is going to receive. (Need I mention American daycare, where the ratios and numbers are lower, but the illness incubation and dirt is endemic?) You also had a situation where the more you followed progressive medical ideas, the more likely you were to do harm inadvertently. (It was dangerous to be warm in the winter, don’t you know?)

Now, all that said… there is actually something behind all this that was worth being upset about. It turned out that there were over 300 swaddled bodies of babies and toddlers that had been buried in a repurposed septic tank out back of the Tuam home. It is not clear whether the septic tank had been properly consecrated as a tomb, or whether the children received proper funeral Masses. If everything was carried out properly, it was done in a hole-and-corner way without proper records and markers. (Or the records were destroyed, in an excess of bureaucratic discretion.) Forgetting about them and building around them was definitely wrong.

However, it does appear that proper death records were kept for these kids, and the local government properly notified. So if they weren’t keeping tabs on the kids’ burials, they bear a good chunk of the blame. My county does better than that, with all the pioneer cemeteries that require tending and protection.

But it’s easier to shift blame to the dead, or to ignore your own sins.

PS — There is a nice picture of olden days Irish First Communion kids. No, the girls aren’t wearing veils. Instead, they are wearing fitted frilled bonnets, with little strings tied in a bow.

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Our Lady of Walsingham Hymn!

EWTN televised Mass today from the Catholic cathedral at Walsingham, England’s great Marian pilgrimage site. There in 1061, a local noblewoman widow, Richeldis de Saverches, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary instructing her to build the Holy House, a replica of Mary’s childhood home with her parents.

(Yes, right before the Norman Invasion. It’s pretty common for Marian apparitions to occur during or right before wars and other bad stuff, perhaps as a sort of spiritual vitamin.)

This homely site was destroyed by the greed of Henry VIII. But the English still make pilgrimage there, and today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is on approximately the site of the old shrine. The Catholic one is at the site of the old “Slipper Chapel” on the outskirts of town, where pilgrims would remove their traveling shoes, so as to approach Mary’s shrine barefoot.

The opening hymn was very striking. It’s sung to the good old hymn tune ELLACOMBE.

Hail Mary, ever blessed,
Of Walsingham the Queen!
Through vision of Richeldis,
Thy favors there were seen.
When England was thy dowry,
There pilgrims bowed the knee.
At morn and noon and even,
They knelt to honor thee.

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
Thy children still delight
To tell abroad thy praises,
Thy miracles, thy might.
Still pilgrim feet are treading
Along the holy way.
Hostess of England’s Nazareth,
Receive us home today!

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
The wells of water pure
Which mark thy holy places
Are signs that God doth cure
For sick of soul and body.
E’er since Richeldis’ day,
They spring in benediction
Beside the Pilgrims’ Way.

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
Thy name is great indeed;
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was in thy womb conceived.
Thy name be ever prai-sed,
Increasing in this place,
And loud the angel’s greeting:
“Hail Mary, full of grace!”

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