I usually attend a longtime friend’s Super Bowl party, but this year he’s at one of the Disney attractions (whichever one is in Florida) with his wife and children. His party consists of eating, drinking and making various bets on which small amounts are wagered over mostly trivial outcomes during the game – who wins the coin flip, a defensive touchdown being scored, etc. “Prop Bet Madness” as it’s been called involves a few dollars exchanging hands and a good deal of situational cheering.
I jokingly said to my wife that we should have Candlemas party this year, but, sadly, neither of us knew what we’d do at one. I’d know how to throw a Super Bowl party and I’d have lots of help from my local commercial outlets on what to serve and how best of entertain my guests. Considering Candlemas, I don’t even know if most Catholic parishes recognize the feast anymore, although it is considered a second class feast and thereby takes precedence over the Sunday propers (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany).
Candlemas celebrates the humility and obedience of Mary in following the Mosaic Law even though she was not subject to it. It is also the day candles used in divine serves are blessed. Humility, obedience and the divine will not likely be featured at Met Life Stadium, though I’m sure a lot of dazzling lights will be on display. After all, the lights must never go out and the music must always play.
I’m not suggesting that we start throwing parties for Candlemas, though perhaps it would be an improvement. I am calling attention to the lamentable decline in our identity as Catholics and our abysmal failure both individually and collectively to convert the culture. The New Evangelization is not working. On the contrary since the various declarations of Risorgimento there are fewer Catholics, still fewer Catholics who actually know and practice their faith and more scandal, corruption and bad news for those who love Holy Mother Church. It should be called the Anti-Evangelization.
Someone with a proposal, no matter how ill-conceived and foolhardy, will always prevail in the hearts and minds over someone who can offer nothing in response. The current Catholic culture offers us very little to infuse our daily lives. The Catholic year is full of feasts and fasts and there is meaning behind it all, but these celebrations and observances grew out of a culture that was shared and where knowledge and memory was handed down. Lives were connected in a way they may never be again.
How the secular powers converted our holy days to commercial days is beyond the scope of this column and the knowledge of its author. What is clear, is that the process of Paganization continues unimpeded as holy days remain so in name only and new secular saints (Abe Lincoln) and feasts (Super Bowl Sunday) take their place. When individual Catholics do try to oppose the culture it is typically negative, joyless and involves no eating. This is only one half of the coin, as Chesterton notes, that you must fast to feast and feast to fast. It is likely these well-intentioned, but misguided, attempts that will give traditionalists a bad reputation.
Saint Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks explains the origin of Rogation Days – another of our neglected traditions. He states, “down to our own times (St. Gregory died in 594) these rites are celebrated with a contrite spirit and grateful heart in all our churches to the glory of God.” Contrition for human wickedness and folly and gratitude at God’s mercy is a worthy practice, but in America you’d be hard pressed to find a Catholic who knows of Rogation Days. They used to be a time for public celebration, complete with processions as in this description from the Golden Legend.
And in this procession the Cross is borne, the clocks and the bells be sounded and rung, the banners be borne, and in some churches a dragon with a great tail is borne. And aid and help is demanded of all Saints. And the cause why the Cross is borne and the bells rung is for to make the evil spirits afraid and to flee; for like as the kings have in battles tokens and signs-royal, as their trumpets and banners, right so the King of Heaven perdurable hath His signs militant in the Church.
I could get my children excited about that. Besides from going to Mass (if you can find one), staying home from work and not eating, I’m not sure how to celebrate Rogation Days now. To acknowledge only the prohibitions (eating, working) and not the joy is to miss the point and to diminish the celebration.
The culture that gave us banners, statues and dragons in great possession has vanished and what replaced it is not Catholic. This seems to bother very few people. We have pastors after our own hearts, who exhort the faithful to come to Mass on holy days of obligation and figure out for ourselves how to live the rest of the week. That’s not an entirely fair caricature, since some are working tirelessly to promote a Catholic way of life, but the crux of it is true. The Catholic faith is no longer an integral thing and the local ordinaries offer little guidance on how we should begin rebuilding the ruins of Christendom. The people in the pews are grateful for anticipatory Masses, which leave Sunday free for watching football.
I want a Catholic culture that encourages celebrations better than Super Bowl Sunday. I want celebrations that have the strength of two thousand years of history standing behind them, not the ephemeral, invented events that sparkle and fade in a dissonant rancor, never to come again. I want celebrations that reflect the power and mercy of God and encourage us to be grateful, not trumped up trivialities that incite our worst passions. I want celebrations the kind in which Belloc’s sailor would join enthusiastically and with ancient song, not whatever lame flavor of the month will be trotted out at Half Time. To have these things you need likeminded individuals and a context to infuse meaning to the gathering. People are too busy and too ignorant. Bishops are too busy fighting legal battles and balancing accounts. Priests wouldn’t be able to hug anyone, and human contact rightly ordered in the service of joy seems essential to any true celebration.
An anonymous commenter on a website I frequent wrote: “I’m sick and tired of having to recreate western civilization in my garage every weekend.” I too am sick and tired of having to patch together from rubble and ruins the Catholic heritage that should be mine, but I will continue to do so because there is no other choice. Patching together these ruins have provided the insights of Yeats who said all’s Whiggery now, but we old men are massed against the world and Auden sitting in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid/As the clever hopes expire/Of a low dishonest decade. And poor disheveled Ernest Dowson, who reminds us, surpassing vanity: vain things alone/Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
So, I guess I am not the only one disgusted and with no clear idea of how we get out of this mess.
I propose we do what all fellow Christians have done throughout the centuries. Accept the world we inhabit is a veil of tears and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We live in an earthly city after all and comfort breeds complacency and complacency breeds spiritual lethargy. The advantage of our age is that we know we are in a battle. There is no mistaking we live in a culture that is explicitly hostile to the Catholic faith and actively working to subvert it. It may not be much, but one good thing that can be said of the present days is that, like those Rogation processions of old, the necessary role of the Church militant is increasingly apparent.