Category Archives: Church

Be Kind: Everyone Is Fighting a Great Battle

A few years back, I ran into a blog called Fencing Bear at Prayer. It was written by a medievalist who liked Mary, so of course I was interested. But the farther back I got into her blog, the more I got the impression that she liked Mary in a neopagan way. So I posted some argumentative stuff about it in the comments and on here somewhere, and went on.

Well, I was wrong about her. So I hope the lady didn’t take my comments to heart.

She was doing the conversion thing and was very new to starting it, so I should have been a lot gentler. And more, she was just at the beginning of fighting a great Internet battle.

Milo Yiannopoulos took an interest in this lady and helped her in her conversion to Catholicism. Yup, the original Peck’s Bad Boy had an eye for the slightly puzzled-looking lost sheep… and I didn’t. That is a prodigious failure on my part.

Yiannopoulos has written a big fat essay, fully researched and linked, about the online mobbing that has been suffered by this kindly lady professor for the last three years, from members of her own field, and why medieval studies is being attacked as a discipline. He calls it “Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America,” and it is worth reading the whole thing.

And then, one of the mob leaders threatened to sue the university where the professor works… over the article that had nothing to do with the university… and before the article even came out.

OTOH, the essay also exposes the way a lot of nasty people on the Internet are happy to speak with forked tongue — writing gentle prose to one group of “friends” on the same day they are whipping up hatemobs against their “friends” in another closed group. No wonder such people like to employ sock puppets; it’s just an extension of their usual methods.

In other news, the Fencing Bear at Prayer has a second book out. Mary and the Art of Prayer, by Rachel Fulton Brown is a tad bit pricey, but where else are you going to get this kind of research and all these great sources? It takes the subject of prayer seriously, instead of treating it as some mysterious obscure practice done only in the dark of the moon in lemur holes, by aliens with five heads. But it is also a history of ideas book, which I love. Prayer has its tides that go in and out, and this is a book about older ways to think about prayer.

And it’s about Mary, who is a great person to get to know. Why do Catholics insist on praying with her and chatting to her? It’s hard for us to explain, because it’s like fish doing dissertations on water. Rachel Fulton Brown is the new fish on the reef, so she can still talk about it instead of just breathing it!

Mostly, though, we need to pray for Rachel Fulton Brown, aka Fencing Bear at Prayer. Because she is still fighting a great battle.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen to angels and men,
Hypermachos Strategos (Great General) of the hosts of Heaven,
please continue to pray for your fencer and her champions.
O beautiful as an army set for battle,
send your subject St. Michael to give them aid and counsel!

O Queen of poets and prophets,
As you spoke your mind freely to your Son and to angels,
teach us to speak boldly and with honesty —
even if it makes us seem foolish before the world,
and even if the world hates us for it —
for we are body parts of your Son, and cannot expect better than He got.
Help us learn to make suffering a path to heaven; and help us not despair.

We ask this in Christ Our Lord, Amen.

* I still think some of the modern academics that Fulton Brown was using as sources are whacked out beyond wacky. But the main ones are useful-wacky, and worth picking through and yelling at. I later saw a lot of super-orthodox folks referencing the same whackdoodles, and some of them trained under the same people! Theology and Bible studies can get pretty offbeat.

Also, it’s well-known that a prof can make really good points and really stupid points in the same book or article, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the same thing happening in theology history books. And to be fair, 90% of all new experiments and theories are bound to turn out to be wrong, if you are actually investigating anything new.

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Marian Shrines for Cyclists

Mary has a long relationship with athletes needing help, and many sports have favorite Marian shrines. Cyclists have Our Lady of Ghisallo, sometimes called Our Lady of the Bicycle, or Our Lady of Cyclists. It’s an old roadside shrine which stands along the route of the Giro di Lombardia. The small chapel was built by a medieval man who was saved from bandits by Mary’s protection.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s image is a painting of Mary, with Christ as a baby or toddler seated on her knee; He blesses the onlooker while she bends toward him, nursing him. But there’s a common variation on prayer cards where Mary is not nursing Him, but lifting toddler Jesus onto a bicycle seat! Medals of Our Lady of Ghisallo or the “Madonna del Ghisallo” are pretty common, too.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s patronage of cyclists was made official by Pope Pius XII in 1949. The relevant feasts are October 13 and November 2 (because a lot of people go there to pray for dead cyclists’ souls).

A post about the place with a nice picture, from a cycling blog. Did you know that Cadel Evans donated his Tour de France yellow jersey to the chapel? No, me neither.

Here’s a bigger article about the place, with some amazing pictures.

There’s also a Museum of Cycling on the grounds, basically to handle all the donations and ex votos that overflow from the chapel. Here’s a news story about it. And another.

Other bicycle shrines include Notre-Dame des Cyclistes in Labastide-d’Armagnac, in the Aquitaine in France; and Nuestra Señora de Dorleta in Leintz Gatzaga, Spain. (Also spelled Lentz and Leniz.)

Notre-Dame des Cyclistes is an old Templar chapel. Pretty cool. It was approved as the French national shrine for cyclists by Pope John XXIII, in 1959.

This blog article talks about Spanish cyclists’ devotion to Our Lady of the Assumption of Dorleta, as well as the shrine itself.

The post also includes a more generic Spanish devotional statue, Our Lady of Sports (Nuesta Señora de Deporte), aka the Virgin of Athletes (La Virgen de los Deportistas) which features Toddler Jesus standing on an Olympic podium, and Mary with a gold medal around her neck. I have to say, it makes me smile and cry.

“Do you not know that everyone runs in the race? Indeed, they all run, but one wins the prize. So run so that you can get it.

“And everyone who strives to win, stops doing anything else — and they do it for a crown that withers, but we for an incorruptible one!

“So I run, but not as one without a finish line, and I box, but not like one pounding the air. I drill my body, and bring it under control.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

“Forgetting what lies behind, and leaning forward toward what is before me, I head for the finish line, for the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)

“And therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses around us, let us lay aside every burden and throw off every sin prone to entangle us; and with endurance, let us run the race set before us.” (Hebr. 12:1)

The post also includes a prayer to Our Lady of Sports. Here’s part of it:

“Our Lady and Mother,
we place in your hands all the efforts made by all the world’s athletes,
so that we can win a ‘crown that withers.’

May our physical efforts be a part of our search for higher virtues,
that forge character and give dignity and meaning to our lives.

As disciples of Our Teacher, Jesus Christ,
life itself is a competition,
and a striving for goodness and holiness.

Intercede before Him for all of us.
May all our work, sacrifice, and worry
culminate for us and for our families
in being filled to the brim with His love, His joy, and His peace.

Amen.”

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The Tour de France Visits Lourdes

As sometimes happens, the Tour de France started a Pyrenees stage in Lourdes yesterday.

Stage 19 is pretty late in the Tour, so plenty of athletes had already gotten bunged up. And so, it’s not surprising to learn that many athletes, staff, and fans sought help from God, visited the shrine, and drank the water, or applied it to their injuries; and even the less devout seem to have visited the Grotto for quiet reflection. Just for a morning moment, the Tour became a pilgrimage.

But did the sports media spend any time reporting this? Not much.

Here’s a site with some nice behind-the-scenes pictures of the pre-race shrine action. “Beardy” is a photographer specializing in cycling.

The race rider shown lighting candles is Andrea Pasqualon, from the team Wanty-Groupe Gobert. He’s Italian.

Marco Marcato of Italy, who rides for the UAE team, speaking to a nun, and bringing his bike along to the Grotto.

Here’s a video uploaded by the folks from the shrine! Nice view of the river behind the reporter. It shows a blessing of normal laypeople’s bicycles, among other matters of interest. It’s a behind-the-scenes view of mixing logistics, crowd control, and a holy shrine.

The most famous connection between Lourdes and cycling came back when Gino Bartali, a pugnacious but pious bike racer from Italy, brought flowers to the Grotto. He was a Third Order Carmelite who was buried in the habit; and he rode races with a dozen medals on his bike, while dedicating all his wins to St. Therese. There were even rumors that a little girl had once seen an angel giving his bike a push!

Mussolini hated him for refusing to go along with Fascism. He helped a family of Jews escape the Nazis by hiding them in his own apartment for years! He also served as a courier for the Florence part of the Catholic network for hiding Jews, delivering forged documents all around the countryside while riding his bike. (The excuse was that he was training! Perfectly normal! The documents were hidden inside his bike frame.) After the war, he refused to talk about his heroic work. But it was remembered; and Yad Vashem now names him as one of the Righteous among the Nations.

So when Gino Bartali pedaled toward Lourdes in Stage 8 of the Tour de France back in 1948, it’s not surprising that his devotion led him to win the stage and then visit the Grotto in thanks. He prayed for safety, not victory; and although he did win several stages (including ones run through rainstorms and snowstorms!), he didn’t win the Tour. Still pretty good for an “old man,” who’d spent the best years of his career racing death instead of other bikes.

May light eternal shine upon him!

So yep, Lourdes and the Tour de France are old friends, even if the media may not be.

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“Because of the Angels”

I have been learning Ancient Greek by way of Professor Mueller’s Greek 101 on The Great Courses, so of course I am rummaging around in Greek texts of the Bible. I was also looking at an interesting 1994 article by Fr. Thompson about St. Hildegarde of Bingen’s ideas about sex and the priesthood.

He notes St. Hildegarde’s “misquote,” or rather, her deliberately partial quote, of 1 Corinthians 11:9. Rather than St. Paul’s “….the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man,” she quotes it as “The man was… created for the sake of the woman, and the woman for the sake of the man.” This is a pretty common thing for medieval authors to do. They know the quote, and they know that the reader knows the quote. But they like to show that an opposite version of the quote is also true!

So anyway, this led me to look at 1 Corinthians 11 with fresh eyes.

Okay, so the rule that St. Paul is teaching is that is that Christian men at Mass (unlike Jewish men at synagogues or the Temple, or so one is told — but see below) do not cover their heads at prayer, because Christ (Who is God) did not cover His head at prayer. But Christian women (like Jewish men and women) do cover their heads at prayer.

St. Paul was Jewish first. What did he learn about the creation of woman?

Woman was created to be the man’s ‘ezer, his helper and rescuer, much as the Lord is the helper of Israel.

Similarly, God has a glory around Him (shekinah in Hebrew, doxa in Greek). Sometimes the glory is displayed, but mostly it was concealed from the people, inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies. The glory concealed God, but also revealed His Presence.

So when Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her glory and given to her as a covering, he’s comparing women and hair to God and His glory cloud.

So yeah, not exactly a disrespectful attitude.

Finally, the whole situation with wearing a covering or not is referred to as being “because of the angels.” But earlier, in 1 Corinthians 6:3, St. Paul asked the Corinthians, if they didn’t already know that Christians were going to be judging angels? So obviously, it doesn’t have anything to do with angels being the boss of Christian women…

So what is really going on?

1 Corinthians is a letter with a lot of stuff about discipline and manners. But it is couched in a context of eternal dignity for all Christians. So the whole letter is addressed to the Corinthians in the Church. Paul says they have been sanctified (hegiasmenois) and called to be holy/saints (kletois hagiois). He says they have been enriched by all the Word and by all knowledge (en panti logou, kai en pase gnosei), and that in their community, they do not lack even one spiritual gift.

But all the same, stuff is going wrong? Why?

St. Paul blames a lack of love among the members of the Church. Then he goes through all the bad stuff they’ve been doing, from lawsuits among themselves and sexual sins, all the way down to a general lack of orderliness. He answers some questions, in case they just haven’t been putting the pieces together; then he wades back into the disorder problems.

And that’s where we find the hairy comments about heads and hair.

First off, Paul points out that all the spiritual gifts and knowledge only belong to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus —

“Who for us has become wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)

Now the interesting bit is that the same Greek word for “became” shows up in the Septuagint/Gospel version of one of the famous quotes about Jesus — the lyrical bit from Psalms, about how the stone which the builders rejected has become (egenesthe) the head (kephalen) of the corner. So St. Paul is thinking about Christ as our head, from the very beginning of the letter.

(There may also be a horrible continuing pun about Greek Kephas from Aramaic Kepha, Peter the rock, versus Greek kephalos, head.)

Obviously St. Paul has a thing about Christ and Temple theology, so it’s not surprising that it shows up again in 1 Cor. 3:9-17.

“For we are God’s coworkers. Y’all are God’s field –

“Y’all are God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation. And another is building upon it; but each one must be careful how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there — namely, Jesus Christ…

“Do y’all not know that y’all are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in y’all?

“If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For the Temple of God, which y’all are, is holy.”

He goes on to point out even more about Christian dignity as baptized children and members of God Himself:

“So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to y’all: whether Paul or Apollo or Kephas, the world or life or death, or the present or the future. They all belong to y’all; and y’all belong to Christ, and Christ to God.

“So let a human being count us as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Cor. 3:22-23, 1 Cor. 4:1)

Paul goes on to point out that he’s trying to act like a trustworthy steward, and that God is the only real judge of his work; even Paul can’t judge himself on that point. Then he points out that if he and Apollos are nervous about God’s judgment, it’s a bit much for the Corinthians to be so confident that they’re heading for heaven. And it is at this point that the angels show up for the first time in the letter.

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death. For we have become a spectacle [theatron egenethemen] to the world [tou kosmou], both to angels and to humans [kai angelois kai anthropois].” (1 Cor. 4:9)

I really like the way this is put. Christ has become the head of the corner, and Christian apostles have become a gladiator theater show!

Paul then talks about all the trouble and disrespect that the apostles face in their mission. He describes them as being treated like gunk scraped off a plate (peripsema) and like throwaway scum (perikatharma). He compares himself and other apostles to the prosperous and popular Corinthian Christians, and urges the Corinthians to imitate his own hardy attitude and loving behavior.

He points out that he is not just sending Timothy to be a reminder of the teachings, but that he will be coming himself. Anybody who is a big talker will then have to prove that he has as much of God’s power as Paul can wield. Do they want a loving Paul, or a punishing smitey Paul?

This brings him to the next topic: a supposedly Christian man who is sleeping with his own stepmother. Ew! Even the pagans don’t do that! Maybe only God can judge someone’s stewardship… but in this case, Christians not only can judge, but must judge their own.

“The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. Although absent in body but present in spirit, I for my part have already pronounced judgment, as if present, on the one who has committed this deed… Is it not your business to judge insiders?… Purge the evil person from your midst.” (1 Cor. 5:2-3, 12)

After this comes all the talk about lawsuits. Disputes should be settled within the Church, if at all possible; and it should be possible.

“How can anyone among y’all, with a case against another, dare to bring it for judgment to the unjust, instead of to the saints?

“Do y’all not know that the saints [hoi hagioi] will judge the world [ton kosmon]? If the world is going to be judged by y’all, how are y’all unqualified for the most minor cases?

“Do y’all not know that we will judge angels? Then how much more, the things of this life?” (1 Cor. 6:1-3)

Angels as underlings again.

Anyway, St. Paul advises two things — that people put up with injustice rather than drag things outside the Church, but also that the Church get its act together and quit letting the members do bad things. People were supposed to change their ways after being baptized and becoming part of Christ. Just as people sleeping with prostitutes make themselves one with the prostitute, Christians shouldn’t be trying to drag Christ’s Body into their own sins. The body of a Christian is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul moves along to talk about marriage. Of course, for those who can handle it (like Paul) —

“It is a beautiful thing for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor. 7:1)

[In Greek, “kalos” means good, beautiful, noble, clean, etc.]

But otherwise, marriage is a good thing.

And this is where it gets interesting!

“But on account of immoral sexual behavior,” [dia de tas porneias] “each man may have his own wife, and each woman may have her own husband. Let the husband do his duty to the wife, and the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority [exousiazei] over her own body [tou idiou somatos]; but rather, the husband does. Yet neither does the husband have authority over his body; but rather, the wife does.” (1 Cor. 7:2-4)

O ho ho! Shades of Yentl! And yup, the phrase is put exactly the same way for either husband or wife. (Everybody tells me that Paul is soooooo sexist.)

Paul goes on:

“Do not deprive one another — unless perhaps by mutual consent, so that y’all might be at leisure for prayer for a time. But then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.

“However, I say this as a concession, not as a command. For I wish all human beings could be as I am.

“But each person has his own gift from God — one this, another that.

“And so I say to the unmarried people and to the widows, that it is beautiful for them to remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7:5-9)

And now it gets interesting again.

“But to those who have married, I send this message [parangellou] — I, not the Lord.

“A wife is not to be separated from a husband.

“But if she has been separated from him, let her remain unmarried, or let her be reconciled with her husband.

“And let a husband not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor.

Paul then says that if a Christian has an unbelieving spouse who wants to stay married, they should stay married; the unbelieving spouse will be sanctified in his union with the believer, and their children will be holy/saints/members of the Church. If the unbeliever doesn’t want to be married, the believer can let them go. In general, everybody should live as they already do (barring sin).

“Concerning virgins, I have no command from the Lord. But I give my personal advice from experience, as one who is trustworthy from having received the Lord’s mercy.” (1 Cor. 7:25)

Again, his advice is to stay as you are; but if a person wants to marry, that’s fine too. This will cause some suffering in the present life.

But ideally, all Christians should live as if the world were about to end, because it is an ephemeral place and Christians are immortal. Christians should set aside anxiety and live for God.

This leads to a discussion of eating food offered to idols. Basically, it’s a bad idea because it gives the wrong idea, and thus leads people astray. Paul talks about how he doesn’t use all his rights as an apostle; other Christians should be thinking of helping others, too. He advises everyone to “run so as to win,” exercising and training themselves with discipline in every possible way. Do not be overconfident in Christ’s mercy. Avoid idolatry and think of the good of others around you.

Again he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. In fact, he tells them to be “mimetai,” mime actors! (“Hypocritai” are the talking actors with masks or makeup.) In Greek society, the students of a philosopher or trademaster were expected to try to imitate him in every way; so were the students of a rabbi in Jewish society.

So finally we get to the stuff about headcovering.

As St. Paul says in a paraphrase of Genesis 2, the woman was literally created out of the man, not the man out of the woman. So man is literally the head of humanity and woman is literally the human rib; whereas the head man of all men is Christ, the new Adam; and Christ’s head is God. This much is clear reasoning.

The tricky bit is that, since Christian men are the image and glory of God, their heads should be exposed; but that since Christian women are Christian men’s doxa or shekinah, their heads should be hidden. Possibly this is talking about how humans are fallible and should be modest before God. In this idea, God’s glory should be exposed and revealed to the world, and should not be covered before God because it is of God. Probably I am missing something Jewish about this.

OTOH, Paul then says that the woman ought to have “authority” (exousian) “on the head” (epi tes kephales). I am not clear why the obvious meaning (going by the earlier passage in 1 Corinthians) is not taken — that the wife does still have authority over the body of her husband, even though he is her head. Possibly this is because it’s a feminine “kephales.”

But in that case, wouldn’t it be saying that the woman has authority over her own head, even if she should be wearing a headcovering and isn’t? Wouldn’t that fit Paul’s argument style better? (And indeed, this is one interpretation — they have more authority than non-Christian women, and need to exercise it so they’ll be ready for judging the world.)

The stumbling block seems to be Paul’s interjection, “because of the angels/messengers” [dia tous angelous]

Traditionally the saying is associated with the idea that bad angels liked the looks of the daughters of men, including their hair. But that doesn’t seem to have been a factor in the Adam and Eve story, in early Jewish tradition. If anything, Eve was a figure of authority in Eden, and Satan resented the fact that such a newbie, made out of meat instead of spirit, was being given such power by God.

All the angels (or messengers) mentioned in 1 Corinthians, up to this point, are good angels. So what is the deal? Is “authority on the head” a symbol of Christian humans being able to judge angels? A sign of dignity, scholarship, and power, or a sign of awe before the Lord?

(long aside follows)

Before the Diaspora, it was not required that Jewish men ever cover their heads, although it was considered pious to do so during prayer, at synagogues, or in the Temple. Temple Judaism did tend to regard covering the head or face as an expression of awe before God or of penance. OTOH, grief or reckless behavior could require one to bare the head and expose the hair. Headcoverings for male scholars were a sign of dignity and learning. Covering the heads of boys was thought to make them more serious. But it may in fact have become customary for Jewish men to cover their heads always, and particularly at prayer, as a contradiction of Christian custom.

As with most of the ancient world, Temple Judaism only wanted married women to cover their heads outside the home, basically as a sign that they were taken. It was only gradually that unmarried Jewish women began to cover their hair; it would not have been the custom in the time of Jesus or Paul. Pagan Greek and Roman married women covered their hair.

After the loss of the Temple, custom got meaner; it was permissible for a man to divorce his wife if her hair was ever seen outside, and showing female hair was said to be the same as showing female genitalia. Similarly, the idea that married Jewish women should shave their heads and keep their hair covered forever, even from their husbands inside their bedrooms, was a late medieval or early modern idea, apparently born of an excessive sense of “keeping a fence around the Law.”

Obviously none of this, er, devotional creativity (ahem) has anything to do with Christian women or the strictures of St. Paul. Similarly, Christian women should dismiss the moral reasoning behind Muslim headcoverings. We should not be anywhere on the same page with the heretical Quran. (And yes, I shouldn’t have to say something as obvious as that.)

(long aside ends)

Amusingly, there is at least one Christian group today that believes that only women wearing headcoverings have the authority to exorcise demons. Others associate it with angels covering their faces before God. (Actually, I only know about angels throwing themselves down before God, and seraphim covering up God from human sight.)

Anyway, Paul quickly moves on from the headcovering issue, unlike the rest of us!

“However, in the Lord, woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman. For just as the the woman came out of the man, so the man exists because of the woman. But everything comes from God.

“Judge for yourselves whether it is proper for a woman to pray to God while unveiled.” (1 Cor. 11:11-13)

Then the next knotty problem: long-haired men in the congregation.

“But on the other hand, doesn’t Nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor [atimia] to him?” (1 Cor. 11:14)

Men or boys having long hair was a sign of effeminate sexiness among the pagan men who liked catamites. Some Jewish men grew their hair long, which was… um… misunderstood.

In ancient ancient Athens, atimia was a legal term for losing the powers of citizenship. You weren’t exiled, but you couldn’t vote or act as a juror, and you couldn’t defend yourself by suing anyone else. So having atimia growing on your head is pretty much the opposite of having exousian over your head.

This is the point of the argument where Paul says that long hair is the shekinah glory (“doxa“) of women.

“However, if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for long hair was given to her instead of a warm cloak.” (1 Cor. 11:15)

Presumably “was given” is a reference to Eve in Eden. A peribolaion was often a man’s traveling cloak. Some suggest that it is referring here to chest hair, heh… Probably not, but it’s a fun idea.

Paul ends his comments with:

“So if anyone is inclined to be argumentative — we have no other practice, and neither do any of God’s churches.” (1 Cor. 11:16)

This got a lot longer than I planned on! Let me know if you actually read this wall of text!

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“De Inhonesto Feminarum Vestiendi More”

A lot is said about supposed Vatican or papal documents on feminine modesty in dress. But the Internet is not exactly great on providing exact information. So here I present a literal (but unofficial) translation of an actual Vatican document.

(The bad news is that the OCR is terrible, and the book is not in public domain in the US. I will try to find an original volume or some microfilm, if I can remember to do it.)

You can find the Latin document in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 22 (1930), on pages 26-28.

Here is that volume on vatican.va.

Here is that volume on Documenta Catholica.

Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries:
“De inhonesto feminarum vestiendi more”

(aka “On a degrading custom of female dress”)

Issued by: The Congregation of the Council (Sacra Congregatio Concilii — now subsumed into the Congregation of the Clergy)

Unofficial translation: Maureen S. O’Brien

——————————-

Our Most Holy Lord Pope, Pius XI, with the force of his supreme apostolate, which is performed within the whole Church, never ceased to teach what St. Paul did — that is, “The women in decorative* apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety… and with good works, as is right for women professing piety.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

And numerous times as occasion was given, the same Supreme Pontifex expressed disapproval sharply, and condemned a degrading custom of dressing among both Catholic women and girls, introduced today here and there, which not only offends gravely against feminine splendor and ornament, but even more is also the true ruin of these women in the temporal world — and what is worse, throws others into the most miserable everlasting ruin.

Therefore, it is nothing strange if bishops, and others in the office of Ordinary, have also opposed this kind of crooked license, and every kind of forwardness, in their own dioceses and with one voice — enduring, with a strong and patient soul, no few mockeries and scorn for this reason, brought upon them by people of bad will.

And so, let this Sacred Council describe the vigilance and merited action of this kind of Sacred Prelate with approval and praise, to the clergy and people of approved discipline. Then may it encourage them vehemently, so that they may persevere what they have undertaken, with advice and a suitable beginning. And let them urge eagerly for the sake of men, until this deadly plague may be rooted out from the honest association of humans.

So that it may be put into effect more easily and safely, this Sacred Congregation has decided to establish what follows:

I. As occasion is given, let parish priests and preachers particularly “insist… reprove, entreat, rebuke” (2 Tim. 4:2) about how women wear clothes, so that they may understand modesty, that they may be the ornament and guard of virtue; and let them warn parents not to allow their daughters to wear disgraceful clothes.

II. Mindful of that most grave obligation which they hold, to care for the morals of their offspring and for their first religious education, let parents show particular diligence so that their daughters may be set up solidly in Christian teaching, from their first years; and let them eagerly kindle the love of the virtue of modesty and chastity in their souls, by word and example. Let them be busy with imitating the Holy Family’s example in their own families, in order to set up and govern their families in that way. And so let each family have a cause and an invitation for loving and serving modesty behind its domestic walls.

III. Let parents keep their daughters away from public drills and assemblies of exercise [in immodest clothes]. If their daughters should be forced to take part, let them take care that their clothing shows that they have dignity. Never allow them to wear degrading clothing.

IV. Let principals of colleges and schoolteachers strive to embue the souls of girls with a love of modesty, so that they may be efficaciously influenced to dress worthily.

V. Let these principals and schoolteachers not admit girls that wear clothes that are less than worthy, into colleges or schools; and let those who have been admitted be sent back to their mothers, unless they stop and become reasonable.

VI. Let religious women** not admit girls, nor tolerate those already admitted, who will not keep a Christian custom of dress, in their colleges, schools, oratories, or recreation facilities, according to the letters from August 23, 1928 sent by the Sacred Congregation of Religious. Indeed, let them show particular care in educating female students, so that the love of holy bashfulness and Christian modesty may drive deep roots into their souls.

VII. Let pious women institute and encourage associations of women, which by advice, example and goal of work may decide ahead of time to restrain abuses in the wearing of clothes, by the Christian modesty which disagrees with it; and to promote purity of customs and worthiness of dress.

VIII. Let no one who wears degrading clothing be admitted into pious associations of women. Indeed, if an admitted woman should go wrong in such things afterward, and she will not act reasonably after being warned, let her be expelled.

IX. Let girls and women who wear degrading clothing stay away from Holy Communion, and from the office of godmother for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. And if the case warrants it, let them be prohibited from entrance into their churches.

X. When festivals occur throughout the year, let parish priests and sacerdotes, as well as heads of pious Unions and Catholic guilds, take the particular opportunity to teach Christian modesty to women, especially on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Do not let the opportunity pass to call them back and excite them for dressing according to Christian custom. And on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived without sin, let them complete the particular prayers in every cathedral and parish of the Church, whatever the year; where one can do so, let it be considered an opportunity for encouragement, during solemn sermons for the people.

XI. Let the diocesan council act with vigilance upon what was given in the declaration of the Holy Office on March 30, 1928, advising women efficaciously on better means and reasons for modesty, at least once a year, by declaration.

XII. Indeed, so that this healthy action may advance more efficaciously and safely, it is preferred that bishops and others in the office of Ordinary, also in the third year, alone and with relation to religious institutions, should observe the norms of that instruction given in the Letter “Orbem Catholicum” from June 29, 1923, also upon the condition and status of things concerning the custom and works of women’s dress.

Given at Rome, from the chair of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, on January 12, on the Feast of the Holy Family, in the year 1930.

Donato Cardinal Sbaretti Tazza, Bishop of Sabina-Poggio Mirteto, Prefect.

Giulio Serafini, Bishop of Lampsacus, Secretary.

* Greek: kosmein – “decorated”, with connotations of “orderly, decorous.”
Latin: ornato – “decorated, ornate.”

** religious women = nuns and sisters.

Stuff to notice:

1. Nothing is said about the particular fashions being condemned.

2. No particular hemlines, necklines, or other measurements are mentioned.

3. Totally okay with Italian churches making you wear more clothes, if you want to see the indoors.

4. That said, it’s also totally okay for laywomen to start clubs and apostolates about their concerns.

Other stuff to notice:

This site has a totally different wording for this decree. Their Latin decree appears to be on a similar topic but written in 1954, from the same Congregation but with different folks in charge. Obviously I need to check the 1954 volume of Acta.

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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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Ornery Saints Vs. Ornery Popes

If you read a lot of Church history, you notice that popes were usually respected by the saints, and their maintenance of good doctrine was praised to the skies. But on temporal matters, or at times when good doctrine was in danger?

Well, let’s just say that a lot of saints quoted St. Paul, and “withstood Peter to his face.”

One of the more unusual examples of an ornery saint was St. Clare of Assisi. Sweet, gentle, kindly, and a big pope fan. When Princess Agnes of Bohemia wanted to join the Poor Clares and live their rule, the deceased St. Francis’ old friend Cardinal Ugolino had become Pope Gregory IX, and he was a friend of St. Clare, too.  So the princess consulted the pope… who told her to become a Benedictine instead.

St. Clare wrote a very nice, very pretty, very heartfelt letter to Princess Agnes… telling her not to let anyone stand in the way of her vocation to the Franciscan life. Anyone. And if you need advice from a guy, write Brother Elias — who was then the head of the Franciscan order — and obey him.

Clare never explicitly says, “Don’t obey the pope in this, because it’s none of his business,” but that was the strongly implied gist. (And heck, St. Clare had already disobeyed her parents and her entire family when they overreached their authority over her.)

Medieval Catholics had a very strong sense of obedience to superiors, as far as their right to command extended. But right after that point, they had no hesitation telling their superiors where to go.

Now, there are a lot of saints out there who did obey their superiors on matters that weren’t their superiors’ business. But it was their choice to obey, as a form of ascetic mortification. And usually it was the superiors who were being taught and tried by it.

In all times that the popes have lived in Rome, the Roman people have regarded it as their special task to let the popes know if they are messing up. Their attitude is reverential in regards to papal liturgies and processions, but they have always reserved the right to talk about the popes however they feel like, and to talk to them with great freedom, including anonymous nasty poems and drawings, and even the odd riot. He is their bishop, after all, and they know they should be able to talk freely to their spiritual father, no matter how much drama it takes.

Many of the popes have not particularly appreciated this. But Pope John Paul II acknowledged it in a sidelong way, when he ostensibly asked for them to correct his dialectal grammar, but actually talked about them correcting him. But then, he was too savvy to fight against the sensus fidelium of his own local flock.

Which brings us to the recent correctio filialis. Of course priests and bishops have a right to correct Pope Francis, or to ask for him to clarify his words and stop confusing the world on doctrinal matters. They don’t have fewer rights than laypeople on this subject.

In modern life, obeying and supporting the pope in general is still very important. But if the pope is being unfair or not doing a good job, it is — and always has been — the right and duty of good Catholics to let him know.

 

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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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TV to Adapt Japanese Light Novels about Vatican Investigators

Yes, my children, it’s that time again. It’s time to enjoy or shudder at the Japanese pop culture idea of Catholicism!

Anime company J.C. Staff is making a Gothic/horror/mystery anime called Vatican Miracle Investigators (Bachikan Kiseki Chousakan).

Behold. There is a trailer.

Fr. Joseph Kou Hiraga is a brilliant scientist. Fr. Roberto Nicholas is an expert in archives, paleography, and codes. Together, they investigate miracles!

(Yeah, that’s not how priests usually look. Albeit priests sent to the Vatican to study for the Vatican diplomatic service often are attractively presentable.)

To be fair, they are giving these guys some interesting features. Fr. Hiraga has a twelve year old brother with terminal bone cancer. (Ow.) Fr. Nicholas the archives researcher is an Italian bon vivant, as opposed to the more serious Fr. Hiraga.

The light novels by Rin Fujiki have been running since 2007, so there should be plenty of backstory to work with.

So yeah, it’s gonna be a doozy. Coming this July to a computer screen near you!

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