Thursday, June 21, 2007

When Righteous Anger Goes Wrong

A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things. G.K. Chesterton

I've written before about the motu proprio, but for readers who've recently joined me I'd like to summarize my post on it:

1. I think it will be a good thing for the Church.
2. I like the Novus Ordo Mass.

Lots of bloggers of much higher stature than I am have written much, much more, talking in a learned and scholarly way about when they think it will be released, what will be said, what it will mean, and what it will all boil down to. I've enjoyed reading what they've had to say; much of it has informed me about aspects of our recent liturgical past that I was unaware of.

And Bishop Trautman's "John and Mary" article that I blogged about earlier this week helped to put something in context for me: the appearance of an arrogant sweeping away of all that went before us that was very present to those who actually endured, and remember enduring, the post-Conciliar changes. It is not surprising in the face of that kind of condescension to find that so many people, frustrated for so long by a spirit of experimentation and novelty that is anything but holy, long for a return to the ways of the past, to the Tridentine Mass, to a type of worship that, to them, will foster a rich rebirth of worship and holiness throughout the Catholic world.

But as deeply as I sympathize, I'm beginning to be a bit concerned.

When we study the history of America we can't help (unless we're in a public school that strictly forbids any discussion of it) noticing the role played by the Puritans. In point of fact, this role ended up being good for America; the Puritans were so convinced of the rightness of their own views (they never called themselves Puritans, preferring the simple humble term "the godly") that they ended up throwing out those who didn't disagree; many of the more illustrious of those people then went and founded their own colonies, or at least settled in large numbers in colonies that weren't under Puritan control.

The Chesterton quote above points out the danger of harboring, and using, righteous indignation as a weapon. Righteous anger may indeed be justified, and often is. God doesn't expect us to accept blithely the misuse of the liturgy or the outright abuse of it; He Who threw the moneylenders out of the Temple not only understands, but approves, the flame of indignation that may rise unbidden in our hearts if we are so unfortunate as to hear a priest, for example, refer to God as "She."

But Satan weaves around even our best motives a web of intrigue and deceit. We may begin by hating the abuse of the liturgy, and progress to hating the abusers of it. We may sincerely despise the "Gather" hymnal, and from that point start to despise the choir who sings from it. We may abhor the casual clothing some people chose to wear to Mass, and end by abhorring the people wearing it.

Nowhere has this been more evident in the recent past than the casualties of the anger, truly righteous indeed, fostered by the Scandal and the apparently weak and inadequate response to it. No just person, hearing or reading tales of the horrific abuse of innocent children, could fail to be moved to tears for the children and to anger at those who betrayed and defiled them; nor could that anger fail to be exacerbated by the further knowledge that many in the Church's hierarchy seemed more interested in protecting themselves than in putting a stop to the problem, and showed little sympathy to the victims and their families while secretly moving the abusers from parish to parish, school to school, religious institution to religious institution.

But as justified, as necessary, and even as holy in some cases as that anger was, it was also dangerous.

Like a malevolent spider, Satan spins around the core of what is good, our righteous indignation, picking it apart with his malice and redirecting the strands of it to his evil purposes. Some who began by hating the Scandal ended by losing their faith, and leaving the Church: victims, those who worked with them, those who supported them in word and deed.

And the same thing has happened since the earliest days of the Novus Ordo Mass: some who began by raising what seemed to be mild objections to some of the changes ended by deciding that the "real" Catholic Church existed elsewhere, or that it was up to them to go off and start it, even going so far as to elect their own popes.

The motu proprio will, no doubt, be a very wonderful thing, but I'm afraid that like most wonderful things, it has grown impossibly wonderful in anticipation. There will, most probably, be some element or provision in it which will disappoint. Even if it exceeds the wildest dreams of those who long for it, there is the danger that the automatic rebirth of traditional Catholicism many of them all but expect will not take place. And there are many peripheral issues that some will continue to insist must be settled, right now, or they'll never trust those modernists in Rome again: issues like veils and vestments and Communion rails and extraordinary ministers and female altar servers etc., most, if not all, of which the motu proprio will not mention at all.

Righteous anger is only good when it serves God's purposes. It can quickly become unrighteous wrath directed against God, His Church, and His servants. Whether you long for the motu proprio with all your heart or are only mildly interested in it, it's important to remember how horrifyingly destructive anger can become, when instead of being godly it becomes corrosive, poisonous, and a grave danger to the soul.


AnnonyMouse said...

I fell into the trap of righteous indignation the other Sunday. "Everything" has begun to bother me....talking before mass (so loud it resembles a bar) Altar girls chewing gum, Fr's homilies, Fr's changing of words in Eucharistic Prayers/leaving out of parts of prayers...and the songs ...... I allowed myself to get sooooo worked up inside that I was unfit to receive communion especially when he added the fact, looking at me, that we ALL are the body of Christ and we are ONE when we receive it whether we like it or NOT!
That was it and I snapped inside.
Charity flew out the window and I wanted too also.
Since then I have realized my sin as you point out so well, righteous anger gone WRONG!
I have friends who have gone from Tranditionalism to Sedevacantism and my husband and I swore we would not do. That Sunday tho, I could have left. It would have been wrong. It would have been prideful.

Whether we receive the indult to celebrate the Tridentine mass isn't really that important if I myself have harbored all this hatred for the people/things.

Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

Red Cardigan said...

Annonymouse, thank you for that thoughtful comment.

I don't think it's wrong to feel deep frustration at a Mass such as you describe. There should be a happy medium between sedevacantism and loony experimentation.

If there's not a better church near you, maybe you could try writing to your priest or directly to the bishop about the most serious of those matters, the changing of the words of the Eucharistic Prayer? I wrote to our pastor when a visiting priest played fast-and-loose with the Canon, and I was encouraged by the response I got.

I'd consider finding out who's in charge of altar server training, too, and perhaps mention the gum-chewing.

It's been helpful to me to see what good can come of such things being addressed in a true spirit of charity. Perhaps you can help get some positive changes going at your parish.

AnnonyMouse said...

Thanks Red,
I did address the priest about the Eucharistic Prayer and he changed THAT (he was actually BREAKING the host at the part of the prayer that says "he took the bread, broke it...") This is something new and we never know week to week. This is also our third parish is 4 years. The other one that is close by is OK liturgically (Except they are fond of Marty Haugen et al) but the priest is goofy at times and seems to be "acting on stage" during the celebration.
I am glad we are moving to Texas (I think).
You are right that some priest are receptive but sometimes you can get black listed as I feel is our case.
Before I do anything, I have to do it with charity/love and right now...I got a whole lot more rosaries to pray before I get there. :0)
It is so uncanny that most of your essays are things I have been pondering on myself or am going through.

freddy said...

1. I'm only mildly interested by the motu proprio.
2. I like the old Mass.
3. Your thoughts are well expressed, timely, and spot-on.


Why is the first thing everybody wants to do when speaking about the old form of the Mass and those who are attached to it is to grind out some kind of warning? Not everyone who likes the old Mass is a slavering grouch only a prayer away from heresy or schism. It's gotten so bad that I practically have to apologize when meeting some new Catholic family, "Yes, we go to the Indult Tridentine Mass -- you know, the one approved by the Pope, and of course, we still love the N.O., but we've made so many friends there and Father really counts on our boys for servers that we don't get to the N.O. very often, but we still love it of course!"

M. T. said...

Wow. I just randomly clicked on your blog from the 4 real forum and I loved this post. You are so eloquent and this is expresses so well my own worries and what rubs me the wrong way about so many of my "I only go to the Tridentine mass" friends. Thanks for this great post.

Red Cardigan said...

Annonymouse, I'm glad you're moving to Texas, too! We'll be "neighbors!"


Anonymous said...

freddy, I heartedly I agree with you. As for myself:

1. I prefer the traditional Latin Mass
2. I await both the motu proprio as well as the new translations for the Novus Ordo
3. I still attend reverent, proper Novus Ordo liturgies

That said, you're right freddy, those who prefer the traditional Latin Mass are not a danger. There is no need to give out these warnings, which come from both faithful Catholics as well as the world at large. If anything, the majority of traditional Latin Mass goers love and are faithful to the Church. In our day and age, we cannot be naive and think everything is well. There is a lot of craziness going on. I think the true traditional Latin Mass goer won't be overly concerned about altar servers or Communion rails or the like because, honestly, those are of no issue to those who do attend the traditional Latin Mass. We have all boy altar serves, no Extraordinary Ministers, and always have Communion rails. Liturgy is our greatest expression of love and worship to God. The traditional Latin Mass attendee seeks only to offer to God the best form of worship he can find.

Many traditional-leaning Catholics fear that some in the Church - in fact, many will explicitly say it - value the novelty of progress more than tradition. Tradition is essential to our faith. We hold what has been handed down to us. We cannot think that we live in the Vatican II Church which has somehow become its own, distinct from the old Church from the past. There is historical and theological continuity. And if you ever have concern over those who value the traditional Latin Mass, you may have to express concern over our current Pope who is an ardent supporter of the traditional Latin Mass, stating such even before becoming Pope.

God bless you.

Red Cardigan said...

Anonymous (June 26), your comment is appreciated.

I want to be clear: I'm not really concerned about people who love both the N.O. and the TLM and attend both, even if they attend one more than another.

I'm concerned about an attitude I have encountered on the Internet and elsewhere that the N.O. is intrinsically inferior to the TLM.

Certainly, the N.O. can be celebrated irreverently, and no one denies that this is a problem. But I have attended the N.O. in Latin, and honestly, truthfully, sincerely, I don't see how it's inferior to the TLM.

In fact, our current Holy Father once said that if people compared the N.O. in Latin to the TLM they'd be surprised by how similar they really are--I'll try to find his exact quote.

So I'm concerned when I hear good, holy, faithful Catholics, including some priests, say essentially that of *course* the N.O. is bad, wrong, seriously deficient, loud, disorganized, plainly inferior to the TLM, etc., because our Holy Father doesn't appear to think so. I'm further concerned when some people who express this opinion go on to say with obvious glee that the M.P. is going to "fix" everything and they can't wait to see all those N.O. Catholics get the smackdown, an attitude which is as worrying for its lack of charity as it is because I deeply believe that they will be disappointed.

I'd be as happy as anyone to be proved wrong about this; right or wrong, I'll blog about it when the time comes.