Tuesday, December 02, 2014

'What clericalism looks like'

This First Things article is so good (plus it's short), I'm just going to re-post it in toto; my comments will follow:

For the past three months, parishioners and friends of the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan have been wondering what happened to the fourteen icons that were removed from two pilasters in the sanctuary on the evening of August 22. They have also been wondering why the artwork was removed in the first place. It was integral to the church’s wall-to-wall iconography, which had been commissioned by the previous pastor and funded in part by the Vatican. Other icons in the sanctuary remain. Those that are now missing were integral to the “sacred geometry of the whole sanctuary,” as their artist, Ken Woo, describes them. Their sudden disappearance has been as conspicuous as their presence was.
Neither the current pastor nor any spokesperson for the parish has offered a public explanation. No notice has been placed in the parish bulletin or in the church vestibule. The pastor did not respond to my requests for an interview. Conflicting reports abound.

Woo told me in September that his lawyer contacted the pastor, who replied by email that the icons would be permanently displayed in the church basement. Noting that “the sanctuary was designed with all the icons in mind at the concept stage,” the artist contends that removing some of them “destroys . . . the integrity of the work of art” that was the nearly thirty icons taken together, arranged just so. The effect of the densely packed, deeply pigmented Byzantine-style art was indeed remarkable. Tastes vary, but many found the design of the whole to be gorgeous. It won awards.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the new pastor, a senior member of the diocesan presbyterate, a local priest suggested to me that the church interior was “busy” and that the reason for pruning it of some art could have been to keep the worshipers’ focus on the tabernacle and the altar. Mary Durkan, a longtime parishioner who spoke with me about the icons, also volunteered her opinion about distractions from Our Lord’s presence in the sanctuary, but her perspective surprised me.

The art never bothered her. She said that what now impedes her concentration is the priest himself. The previous pastor had established the “Benedictine arrangement,” the placement of a crucifix at the center of the altar, and the new pastor discontinued that practice shortly after his installation in the summer of 2013. He may have wanted only to clear the sight lines between the priest and the people, but for Durkan the obstruction was the point. She felt it rather as a kind of veiling.

With the Benedictine arrangement at Mass, “you could connect with Our Lord and not the celebrant,” she explained. The celebrant was “diminished”—appropriately, in her view. She welcomed the relief from “new-fashioned” liturgical clericalism, as M. Francis Mannion describes it: “the ‘talk show’ style of priestly presidency of the Eucharist,” “very much a product of the post–Vatican II era, . . . found today mostly among an older generation of priests.” Benedict XVI observes that “the priest himself was not regarded as so important” when Mass was routinely celebrated ad orientem.

“I suspect this is ideological,” Catholic blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf writes in a post about the icons’ removal, suggesting that the current pastor is making a statement about his predecessor, a popular preacher and author who advocates a traditional approach to liturgy and is known as a powerful magnet for congregants, vocations, and donations.

Supporting Fr. Z’s suspicion is a telling email exchange that came my way in the course of conversations with individuals I thought might have insight into the mystery of the missing icons. In August 2013, only a few weeks into his new assignment, the new pastor wrote to an altar server to rebuke him about some Mass cards, a standard accessory of the traditional Latin Mass. They display the text of the ordinary of the Mass; the priest at the altar prays from them. “If I choose to clean the sacristy of paraphernalia and place it in a closet, that is my prerogative,” the pastor wrote. “Placing laminated cards which were superseded more than 45 years ago all over the sacristy is part of the schizophrenia under which OS has been allowed to operate. That is no longer the case.”

The key word here is “superseded.” That is what the 1962 missal was once thought to be. What has been superseded in fact is the pastor’s misrepresentation of the Church’s teaching on this point. Contrary to an earlier misunderstanding common even at the highest reaches of the prelacy, the traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated, as Pope Benedict XVI noted by way of explaining his decision to liberalize its use. “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows,” he urged. He was concerned to correct those who regarded the older, extraordinary form of the Roman rite as harmful. The old misunderstanding about its status persists in some quarters. Younger priests are less prone to insist on the error.

A month after the “supersession” email, the new pastor discontinued the extraordinary form at Our Saviour, without notice, making it difficult for congregants to collect one another’s contact information and organize themselves as a “stable group” who, per the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, could approach him to request Mass in the extraordinary form. In a comment on Facebook on July 24 of this year, he referred to the extraordinary form as “ridiculous.”

All sensible Catholics join the pope in deploring clericalism, but definitions of it are necessarily broad. We also need descriptions of it. Its faces are many. This is one of them.

Nicholas Frankovich is an editor at National Review.


This is the "clericalism" Catholics so often see these days. Many self-described "progressives" lament about "clericalism," but they never mention this sort of thing. Sometimes, what they call clericalism is nothing more than the priest's choice of clothing, seriously. For example: I know many such folks who would see me dressed, as I am at this moment, in a cassock, and find it impossible not to roll their eyes or make a snarky comment. I know priests who are seriously irked because other priests wear clerical attire and vestments that don't suit their own tastes. Really, folks, why does it bother you so much? 

What do you think?


Jennifer said...

Wear your cassock! It is an expression of your faith and who you are. Others need to mind their own business.

I'm sure there are a lot of grudges and hard feelings that go on behind the scenes of any religion. :(

rcg said...

I feel badly for the priest in New York. It sounds like he is threatened in some way. Additionally, he sounds like he really dislikes the EF. Why? It seems he could gain much from its study and bring it to help his OF.

This sort of out right antipathy towards the EF is not uncommon, either. What do these priests think about these things to make them feel that way? Why would they tolerate denigration of either Pope Benedict or Francis? I seriously would like to know what makes them dislike it so much.

Hoser said...

With us Catholic who reside out in the hinterlands, our understanding of Ordinary Form and ExtraOrdinary Form are not understood and are completely unrealized. For most of us, who are of the age of the 50's and 60's, are the only parishioners who actually know what the Latin Masses were all about. When the uniform of the day at Holy Mass is boots and jeans, I cringe when I see the altar boys AND girls where torn jeans and old tennis shoes on the altar.

I doubt very seriously that our parishioners will ever see a Mass prayed in the EF, unless of course, they take a trip down to the SSPX place 40 miles away.

northernHERMIT said...

It might have been clericalism, or those paintings could have been removed to protect them from work that was going to be done nearby. From what I read most of the comments are based on speculation and gossip. The priests silence might be a moral lesson for gossipers. I also read that the church was built in the 1950's. Much of the other artwork could simply be printed wallpaper murals, and I would guess that after 60years maintenance might be in order. It really does not make much sense that commissioned art work would end up in a basement.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Thanks for posting this, Father!

The progressives are very good at 'lording it over us'.....

here's another example.....


ndspinelli said...

I have a libertarian philosophy that covers this. I believe people should wear whatever they want, wherever they want. I would like life to be like a constant costume party. So, that takes the wearing of your cassock out of the religious realm. Wear it w/ pride! For you it is a religious expression and I applaud that. Of course, the key to this philosophy is not giving a rat's ass what others think or say. We speak of liberations. There are few more profound liberations one can experience than not caring what others think or say. Oh, there are some people for whom I very much care what they think or say about me. But, they would all fit @ my dining room table. My clothing choices are based almost exclusively on comfort. We're heading to Puerto Vallarta this morning for 10 days. Walking shorts, t-shirts, Hawaiian shirts. Now, I plan on visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. I will wear my best khaki shorts and shirt. That may offend some here. I don't believe the Good Lord cares.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Northern Hermit:

I appreciate your charitable explanation. That said, the silence from the pastor about the disposition of valuable artwork is not acceptable. The people of the parish do have a right to know.

For that matter, under canon law, if that valuable artwork is disposed of, they have a right to be consulted about that.

Deacon David Oatney said...

I'd like to know why people would be ashamed of a cassock, unless they are ashamed of the priesthood itself.

Jenny said...

Thanks for posting this, Father! I need to re-up my subscription to "First Things" and haven't yet.

Why indeed! The Catholic question that begs an answer!! 40+ years of crazed clericalism and lay apathy about it. Just as a local example: We in this part of the country have NO access to the EF, despite a stable group of nearly 100 asking and petitioning several priests and now two bishops.

frival said...

FWIW I used to have a pastor who made a rather snarky remark about a (late vocation) friend of his who was in seminary at the time because he frequently wore a cassock. I believe he may have used the word "dress" although it's been far too many years to recall completely. This same pastor also cut up a gorgeous black Roman vestment to use as decoration for the ambo because "we don't use black any more". His comments about Latin were even more acerbic. Oddly, he prayed a very reverent Mass - he just had absolutely no tolerance for anything that was done before Vatican II.

That's the kind of clericalism I see most often, although you see the same type of "zero tolerance for those who disagree with me" quite often in the culture at large. Maybe that's the most damning statement of all - that in the end these folks are not displaying any separation from the world around them.