In the wake of the decision by a local Episcopal congregation (All Saints Episcopal Church) to host -- for pay! -- a sacrilegious ceremony that parodied Catholic sacraments, comes an article in the London Telegraph recounting some of the sordid history of the English "Reformation" that gave birth to the "Church of England" (of which the Episcopal Church in the US is a part).
What interested me about this isn't just the history, but the parallels. As we look at this, tell me if anything sounds vaguely familiar from recent times.
First, the article: How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation. It is nicely done. The basic facts are not new:
> The Church of England was born of King Henry VIII's ambition to secure his heirs' control of the English throne. When he began to fear his wife, Catherine of Aragon, might not give him a male heir, he needed to be able to rid himself of her, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
> When the pope couldn't be bullied into giving the king what he wanted, the king makes himself head of the Church in England! And to buy support, he plunders English church institutions and distributes the spoils to his aristocratic allies; which also serves as a "burn your boat" strategy: no going back.
> After Henry passed from the scene, the way was cleared for Protestant theology to be introduced into what had been a Catholic church; and because all this was deeply offensive to the Catholic sensibilities of the people, it had to be imposed with oppression, dressed in lies, while all trace of once-Catholic England was destroyed.
The Telegraph article has some interesting tidbits:
The first thing to go under the reformers’ axe was the cult of saints. The ancient robed and flower-garlanded effigies were smashed up and carted off. Stone and alabaster were ground up. Wood was burned. In addition to the dramatic loss of these cherished protector figures, the parishes were also deprived of around 40 to 50 saints’ “holy days” (holidays) a year, when no servile work was allowed from noon the previous day. This was a dramatic change to the rhythms of life the country had known for centuries. The reformers were keenly aware this would boost economic activity, and welcomed the increase in output it would bring.
Did you catch that? Working people were deprived "40 to 50" holidays a year. Add that to the few days that might have been left, that works out to at least day for each week. That means, in Catholic England, working people would have had the equivalent of a five-day work week (factoring in Sunday); under the Church of England, they felt the lash six days a week. All the better to pay taxes for the Tudor "Empire."
As the Telegraph points out, this story is also told in the prize-winning Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy.
The article mentions that "over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and scarcely a handful of books survived the burning of the great monastic and university libraries" -- all in pursuit of the mandate to "take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, candlesticks, pictures, paintings and all other monuments...so that there remain no memory..." (emphasis added).
The oppressors' "spin" was, the people wanted this. But the English people apparently forgot, and periodically would fight back when the thugs showed up to smash their churches. A few heads lopped off and mounted on spikes served to correct the people's memories.
Read the rest of the story at the Telegraph.
Now, did any of that seem strangely familiar? I'm speaking to fellow Catholics.
What about what came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council? Certain folks, calling themselves "reformers," managed to worm their way into various places of leadership in the Church, and use their power to control just how the "vision of Vatican II" was carried forward.
And guess what? Shrines to saints, relics and treasures associated with worship disappeared, and what wasn't plundered was simply destroyed. Devotions to the saints, to Mary, and even to the Eucharist, were discouraged, if not suppressed. Altar rails were ripped out and--to make sure they were never reinstalled, smashed to bits. Out went catechisms and practices and devotions that made sense to people, replaced with "bare ruined choirs" (to use a Shakespeare phrase often applied to this period) -- both of churches but also of devotion. All that old art wasn't all that good anyway, the reformers said: so it was replaced with Brutalist concrete, squiggles of color, or with cruel mercy, whitewashed walls. In one church in the northern part of our archdiocese, statues and stations of the cross were permitted to remain, but only if their lively colors were covered in "non distracting" beige.
And it wasn't just physical iconoclasm; the sledgehammer was put to the structures of devotion and the formulae of faith. The old Baltimore Catechism -- which the reformers tell us must be sneered at, but they seldom are asked to explain why -- told us that a sacrament is "an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace." "Too simplistic" shriek the enraged reformers! "Rote memorization!"--smash!
When I meet with couples preparing for marriage, and I ask them what a sacrament is, and what grace is, they don't respond with that "simplistic" nine word definition. Instead, they offer embarrassed silence. Heckuva job!
A funny thing happens when you bring these things up now. Those so-called reformers -- many of whom are still around -- will look at you with wide eyes and say, oh no, that didn't happen. Well, it did.
What's more, it's still happening. A parishioner told me about how his daughter -- graduating this year from a local Catholic high school -- was told her group of students were supposed to bake bread for Mass on a retreat, with ingredients that have no business being in bread used for Mass (and call into question the validity of such a "Mass."). Thankfully, the girl had better sense, and they scratched the creative bread from the agenda.
Or we might think of developments at the University of Dayton with a planned "renovation" of their once-beautiful chapel, which aren't promising.
Now, the good news is that the tide of destruction has definitively turned. I know many Catholics aren't seeing it where they are, but if you take a look at larger trends, if you look at what is happening with restoration of old churches, restoration of liturgy, new construction, seminary, new priests, new lay movements, revival of devotion and reverence...
There's no doubt, the tide is receding. But remember, tides don't recede quickly; and even then, they reveal destruction that the waters concealed. And even after the water is well back from the coast, you can have plenty of pools of stranded water that will grow fetid before they finally dry up.
Slowly, the true teachings and message -- and reforms -- of Vatican II are being rediscovered as well. It will take time, but it's happening.
And you know what? Those who tried to hijack the Council -- and thereby, the Church -- know it full well. They aren't ready to give up, but they know their moment is fading.
So they are several things they are trying to do:
1) "Operation Memory Hole." That's my name for the effort underway now, on the part of so-called "progressives" who were complicit in the ugliness of the attempted hijacking of Vatican II, to hide their tracks. The responses range from staring at you as if you are crazy, to minimizing ("well, there were a few bumps along the way") to outright denial.
2) Reusing old tactics. One is whining intimidation. You see it in the reactions to the Archdiocese's new contracts for Catholic educators. Only the Archbishop isn't backing down, God bless him.
3) Meanwhile, they keep at their main project: covert, dishonest disobedience, aimed at eventually creating enough of a new reality that the powers-that-be will capitulate. This is how a lot of wreckage was created in Catholic liturgy.
And, this is what they aim at with these sacrilegious "ordinations" that All Saints Episcopal Church was happy to facilitate, as long as it got thirty pieces of silver for the deed. And -- mark my words -- it's what the "progressives" are aiming for with the whole drumbeat about communion for those who are in marriages the Church cannot recognize.
The parallels are striking between the Tudor-sparked revolution in the Church in England, and what their heirs aim at with the Church universal today. They pretend to want only a change here or there, but -- sorry, that's simply a lie. They want a revolution. And just as the English "reformers" were quite willing to ally themselves with ambitious politicians along the way, so the "progressives" today do exactly the same thing. Witness how a number of so-called Catholic groups allied with the Obama Administration to outmaneuver the bishops, when they were trying ensure any health care reform that was enacted was truly prolife.
If you really want to see something chilling, go to the site of the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter. Skip the articles that dish out heresy and condescending contempt for the pope and the bishops. Read the comments from the audience that is fed this daily diet. You will, if you can stomach it, find the most bilious venom directed against the pope, the bishops, priests, Catholic devotion, and authentic, constant Catholic teaching. It is unrelenting.
And you will also notice the enthusiasm the readership has for the government smashing the Church, if the Church doesn't bend to their will. In the showdown between President Obama and the Little Sisters of the Poor over the contraception mandate, they want the sisters to bow down. Lawsuits to force Catholic schools to abandon teaching Catholic doctrine? Smash the schools. The UN tries to slander and coerce the Holy See? They're rooting for the UN. (Regarding the latter, the words of Obi-wan Kenobi come to mind: "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.")
But as I said, the "progressive moment" within the Church is passing. Unfortunately, the "progressive" tide outside the Church is far from cresting, but that's another subject. But we'll survive that too; the Lord promised!