August 30-September 2, 2001
volume 12, no. 147

Sustaining the Outrage    part one

By Michael J. Matt, Editor, The Remnant

Reprinted from The Remnant Newspaper with permission

    Have you ever wondered how much longer Traditional Catholics will be able to have access to the Sacraments? I have wondered this quite often and for quite some time. Though there seems to be somewhat of a tiny resurgence in the popularity of "Reconciliation," for example, in the new Church, it also seems evident that, like everything else today, the Sacrament of Penance has been "renewed." In fact, in some parishes it has seemingly been morphed into a sort of mental health program of some kind, through which one is apparently encouraged to sit down for ten or fifteen minutes every few months and have a gab session with one's priest. I'm sure many people have experienced, as I have, the rather unpleasant ritual of waiting in the short Confession line for a long, long time, listening to the new penitents talk out loud, rattle on and on in obvious conversation, and even break into fits of laughter with their confessors. It's downright irritating. And, then, once one finally gets an opportunity to confess, one is told that one's sins are not sins at all, and that absolution is not necessary.

    Gone are the days when the penitent would approach the confessional with eyes lowered in prayer and remorse. Gone are the short formulas, the concise priestly advice, the slight admonishments and the promises of God's mercy. The new "Reconciliation" (if it is encouraged at all) seems to be designed to make the "Catholic Christians" feel good about themselves, have a chance to "get in touch with their feelings," and get, well, "Oprahized" in a "Catholic Christian" sort of way.

    As a result of all this, many of us go out on the highways and byways searching for confessors where this kind of thing is not encouraged. But our search inevitably terminates in disappointment. So, what happens when they're all gone?…the old confessors I mean. To whom do we turn then?

A Wild Afternoon in the new Church

    Recently, as I drove down a lonely highway out in the country, I spotted a beautiful redbrick church at the outskirts of a small town. Surrounded by cornfields and dirt roads, and serving an obviously declining farming community, the place looked to me like it might still have maintained some of the old Catholic ways. So, I decided to give it a go.

    All of the doors were locked, even though it was 3:45 on a Saturday afternoon. While peeking through the windows, I was surprised when the side door of the church opened unexpectedly. The kind, but slightly querulous, face of a middle-aged woman appeared around the corner: "Can I help you?"

    "Well," I said, "I was just passing by and thought there might be confessions going on today."

    "Oh," she said curtly. "Well, I guess so; I mean if you want. You can go knock on the rectory door and Father Tom will probably be able to help you out." It was evident that "Reconciliation" had made little if any resurgence in popularity at this little parish-there wasn't a soul around.

    "C'mon in," she said.

    And so I stepped in, feeling, as is often the case in the new Church, not like a penitent in pursuit of the sacrament, but rather like an escaped leper in pursuit of alms.

    Still, I took a pew and knelt down. The little church on a good day held maybe a hundred people, but today it was completely empty. It was a typical German-style church, built in the 1930s or thereabouts. The nave of the Church was the kind that has a way of setting the Catholic heart at ease just through the sheer catholicity of its simple architecture. I breathed deeply and raised my eyes expectantly for a glimpse of an image or two of the heroes of the old Faith that might help me pray.

    But, as might have been expected, that was the moment when I first noticed that the liturgical marauders had already paid a visit to this little country oasis. There were no statues, no communion rails, no altars, no paintings of God's most cherished friends, nothing like that. Instead, and in all of its Masonic austerity, there was a "worship space" that defied words in the degree to which it was offensive to the Catholic sensibilities. The beautiful stained glass windows which one associates with a church from this vintage had been torn out, and in their stead was installed the blue glass (cut in completely arbitrary shapes) that might have been part of the set for a Yani concert. No pictures, no images of saints, not even the faintest reminders of the holy persons who were once depicted in those window frames. Just plain blue glass.

    In the "worship space" there were three chairs just behind, you guessed it, the butcher's block…the table, an unremarkable slab of wood on four posts that would, I'm sure, have brought a tear of pride to Cranmer's eye. And the tabernacle? Oh, it was there all right…tucked away and partially obscured directly behind the three chairs and the table. Yes, indeed, the archdiocesan-approved demolition experts had come and gone long ago. And in their wake, as is the case everywhere they've been, was left a Calvinistic ambience, surrounding a Protestant table area, and catering to an empty church behind locked doors.

    "Father is home now. He'll be over in a minute." It was the same lady who had opened the door for me. "Thank you," I whispered, though quickly realizing that whispering in Novus Ordo churches is about as out of place as a wedding dress at a funeral.

    Confident that I would need no more directions on how exactly to locate a confessor, the lady flashed a half-pitying sort of smile in my direction and then walked across the "worship space," apparently without even a thought of genuflecting (that's just not done any more…it's so medieval). She joined a friend, who, I now noticed had been standing just to the left of the "butcher's block" there in the "worship space." He was a tall fellow, about forty years old, and, judging by the guitar which he wore around his neck, I concluded that he must be the lead cantor. I realized then that I had interrupted "choir" practice. The woman who had opened the door for me was now standing next to the guitar player, who, quite unexpectedly, shouted out: "Two, three, four…"

    And then it began…the staggeringly unsacred music of the Novus Ordo Missae. Strumming feverishly, the man shouted out his lyrics like one who'd idolized John Lennon or some such character all of his life and now, in the waning years of his failing career, was coming to the realization that this little church was about the closest to the concert stage he'd ever get. I'd say he had a penchant for butchering his lyrics with a kind of severity that was rather startling.

    At some point, the middle-aged woman jumped into the act, warbling her descants at a decibel level that, I felt sure, would have shattered stained glass…had there been any in the vicinity. Bless them, these two were quite a pair.

    Consider the scene: There was I, the only person in the pews of the tiny church, on my knees trying to pray. And there, only a few feet in front of me, two-thirds of a kind of Peter, Paul and Mary on Prozac act was working itself into a veritable jam session right there in the "worship space." All that was missing were a few hippies and a crackling campfire.

MONDAY: Part Two of Sustaining the Outrage

August 30-September 2, 2001
volume 12, no. 147
Return to Today's Issue