Let the Church Be a House of Wonder

Introibo ad altare Dei.
Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam.

I shall go in to the altar of God.
To God, the joy of my youth.

A few days ago I entered for the first time what some people in the area call the Sistine Chapel of America. There’s reason for that. Saint Anne’s Church, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, is a towering neo-Romanesque church whose interior vaults and domes, walls and panels, are covered with frescoes of sacred art. The people who love their old church and who are committed to maintaining it say that there are more frescoes here than in any other church in the nation. I don’t know how you could establish it for a fact, but I wouldn’t doubt it, either.

What happened was this. The French who laid the first stone for the church exactly 100 years ago finally got round to filling it with color, story, symbol, theology, poetry, Scripture, beauty—wonder. So they hired an Italian from Quebec to come down and cover the church with beauty. He arrived in 1940 and spent eight years there, painting during the warm months and drawing sketches during the cold months. He worked on scaffolding up to eighty feet high. He painted hundreds of human figures: the Father, the Son, angels, saints, prophets, and priests. Each of the figures was a portrait of one of the parishioners of Saint Ann’s. The girl who modeled for the child Mary passed away only a few months ago. Even the three devils who are being cast into Hell in the painting above the sanctuary are portraits of parishioners. Signore Nincheri asked the sisters at the parochial school to send him the three most mischievous boys.

So we might say that it wasn’t only the souls of the people of Woonsocket that were lifted up into the precincts of glory. Their hair and cheeks and eyes were lifted up—even their chins and noses. Through the genius, the passion, and the sweat of Nincheri the painter, and the many carpenters and plasterers who labored alongside him, those people poured themselves into that supreme act of devotion.

Every time they entered their church, they walked into a great symphony of stories. Here is Abel, the smoke of his sacrifice ascending straight toward the heavens. Here is Cain, ducking, his arms held before his head, the smoke of his sacrifice blinding and choking. Here is God the Father, bringing light out of darkness. Here exactly opposite Him is the prophet Jonah, spat out by the whale de profundis onto the shore. You cannot understand the paintings and their placement in the same way in which you understand a bald message, such as, “The last person to leave the church must lock the doors.” You cannot come to an end of understanding them. They are mysteries, familiar and utterly unfamiliar at once. They cause you to be at home with wonders.

Ecce panis angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum,
Vere panis filiorum,
Non mittendus canibus.
In figuris praesignatur,
Cum Isaac immolatur,
Agnus Paschae deputatur,
Datur manna patribus.

Behold the bread of angels,
Made now the food of wayfarers,
The true bread given to the children,
Not to be thrown to the dogs.
It was shadowed forth in signs
By the sacrifice of Isaac,
By the lamb of the Passover,
By the manna given to our fathers.

Only academics can think themselves into pretending to like verse without music, music without harmony, painting without skies or flowers or animals or people. Intellectuals are the original smashers of images. It was not quarry workers who demanded that their communion rails be knocked out with sledge hammers. It was not little children who pleaded with their pastors to cover paintings with whitewash. It was not housewives who demanded that the high altars with all their draperies and candelabra be replaced with tables so bare and spare that they would not do for an ordinary kitchen.

The Latin verses above, from Thomas Aquinas’ Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem, run in capital letters around the frieze of the sanctuary, forty feet above the earth. Sometimes, I suspect, such features of the old churches survive for no other reason than that the spindle-shanked illuminati won’t climb a ladder that high. Had they been lower, and had the people of Woonsocket been less determined, they would have been obliterated, for the specious reason that they could not be understood.

I call it specious, and here’s why. First, are people so foolish that they cannot learn what such words mean? Didn’t those worshipers encounter prayers in Latin all the time, in their missals, with French or English translations provided beside? Isn’t French a direct descendant of Latin? Isn’t English a cousin of Latin, and haven’t we borrowed thousands of words from Latin directly? Second, why is bilingualism to be praised when it comes to knowing how to ask where the bathrooms are in Tijuana, but to be despised when it comes to prayer and song? Did not Jesus Himself pray in the liturgical language of his time, classical Hebrew? Finally, why must everything we say or sing be reducible to the dull and plain and everyday? Isn’t the Eucharist itself a mystery? Why then should it not be celebrated in words that will never quite yield up their secrets? Why must all of our worship be reduced to less and less, rather than be elevated into more and more?

Vere beata es, ac ter beata, quae beatitudine quoque donatam a Deo infantem, hoc est, Mariam, nomine quoque ipso magnopere venerandam peperisti: ex qua Christus flos vitae extitit.

Blessed and thrice blessed art thou indeed, who in blessedness also gave birth to the child given by God, that is, Mary, most worthy of reverence even by name: from whom came forth Christ, the flower of life.

Man among men is never so amiable as when he gives his heart freely to another in the generosity of praise. We are made more, never less, by such tribute; it is a gift that enriches the giver. Christians have known this. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Why should we not be reminded of those witnesses who have gone before us?

St. Ann's Church MuralOrdinary and healthy people have always loved the saints, in the same way as children admire heroes. It is the intellectual, prone to the leer of envy, who will cast doubts upon the muscular heroism of Saint George, or who will snicker at Saint Michael and his sword, or who will roll his eyes at the middle class girlish effusions of the Little Flower. The people of Woonsocket saw upon that same frieze, in the nave, the words I’ve translated above, from the Roman breviary. They come from the sixth lesson for the second nocturn, for the feast day of Saint Anne. They were written by Saint John Damascene, in praise of the mother of Mary.

Now let us think about that. It isn’t just that the pastor who commissioned the painting chose some words that would be appropriate for the church. They are words from a breviary, that book of prayers that sanctifies every day in the year and every hour in the day. To enter the church is not only, then, to enter a world of stories, as one might find in a cinema, but to join his time with the time of the Church through the centuries and praying on this certain day the world over.

The modern imagination isn’t imagination at all, but a de-imagination, because one symbol is as good or rather as inherently meaningless as another. And this applies also to time. Time is just one meaningless series of numbers on a digital clock. New Year’s Eve is a celebration of when the temporal odometer goes from 99999 to 100000. Hence the obliviousness of the modern liturgist and church architect to the particulars of person and place and time. You go to a Mass on Trinity Sunday and sing no hymns in honor of the Trinity. You go to Saint Bernard’s Church and find no words of that great mystic anywhere. The feast day of a saint comes along and you wouldn’t know it from anything you hear. It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, but because it lands on a Saturday, it disappears, because the integrity of the secular weekend is more important than observing the feast.

What I’m trying to get at here is hard to put into words. When I entered Saint Anne’s in Woonsocket, a church that had narrowly escaped destruction by the diocese, it was as if I had entered the ruins of a lost way of life. Then I began to see that the libido delendi that seized my Church applied to everything in our worship and education. They were not separate but coincidental movements for destruction. They were and are parts of one movement, and not a new movement in the history of the Church, either.

The elimination of altars and communion rails is the obliteration of sacred art. The obliteration of sacred art is the flattening of liturgical language. The flattening of liturgical language is the abandonment of ageless chants and hymns. The abandonment of those chants and hymns is the forgetting of immemorial devotions and prayers. The forgetting of those prayers is the secularization of time. The secularization of time is the laicization of clergy and religious. Their laicization is the rage to deny the mysteriousness of the faith. The denial of that mystery implies the building of churches as neutral spaces. The building of such churches is the destruction of churches like Saint Anne’s, and, as an ultimate but never to be realized aim, the destruction of Christ’s Church on earth.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • kentgeordie

    I read this as I am reading William (Rural Rides) Cobbett’s wonderful, shattering account of the destruction of the English Church and of England by Henry VIII.
    What Henry started continues today, and we should oppose it with all the strength we can muster.
    Pray for bishops, and saints, and angels, to lead us in the struggle.

    • WSquared

      I’m aware of Cobbett, including that he earned quite the reputation as “Peter Porcupine” on this side of the pond, and also that he believed in rights for Catholics.

      Any recommendations for me as to where I can read about his take on the destruction of the English Church?

      • Suburbanbanshee

        Cobbett’s history is available online for absolutely free! It’s called A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, Showing How That Event Has Impoverished the Main Body of the People in Those Countries. The best copy I’ve found is this one. Cobbett wasn’t Catholic, but he was contrarian enough to hunt up the truth.

        • WSquared

          Thanks for that! I shall look into it.

      • LeoV

        Read The Catholic Sanctuary by Michael Davies, short but great read.

        • WSquared

          Thanks for the rec!

    • Let’s not let Luther off the hook here. He also attacked the Sacrament of marriage, reducing it to a mere civil contract. I imagine Cdl. Kasper has imbibed more Lutheran fumes than Anglican.

    • R. K. Ich

      As offensive as Henry’s actions were, the real crime of the ages is the prevailing aesthetic heresy of the 20th century which erected the ugliest church buildings of all time.

  • teo

    ” First, are people so foolish that they cannot learn what such words mean? Didn’t those worshipers encounter prayers in Latin all the time, in their missals, with French or English translations provided beside? Isn’t French a direct descendant of Latin?”
    Ok, this is going to be crazy but I’ve been thinking about an illustration of what you are getting at. I think. So if you were to ask a bright one who is against latin stuff at church if they knew the meanings of the following words:
    ménage, felatio, coitus interruptus, muff, consubstantial. They all have a latin origin. but I bet the one word they couldn’t expain is the one in our credo. Conclusion?

    • WSquared

      So if you were to ask a bright one who is against latin stuff at church if they knew the meanings of the following words:
      felatio, coitus interruptus, muff, consubstantial. They all have a
      latin origin. but I bet the one word they couldn’t explain is the one in
      our credo. Conclusion?

      Spot on.

  • St JD George

    Intellectuals who don’t recognize that their gifts come from God to share and are prideful, that is. Who except the most ardent non believer could say that they aren’t moved and feel a sense of humbleness and grace while experiencing the beauty of a grand cathedral.

    • ColdStanding

      You have raised an important point. The Church has watched over the intellectual development of many great minds. Saints Bonaventure, Albertus Magnus, Thomas, Hilary, and on and on, great thinkers all. Great that as because they first heeded their Mother’s call to humility.

      • St JD George

        I am often struck by the gospel passages which describe Jesus’s love for the innocence of children. The contrast often times sadly is how we often lose that quality of being able to love unconditionally as we complete the metamorphosis process into adulthood, including the all consuming sin of pride that often accompanies what is described as intelligence. I guess in a world of sin we tend towards me-centered skills for day-to-day material survival rather than the eternal salvation of our souls. Indeed the church has produced many great minds, but sadly it seems to be mostly the stuff of history books.

  • Tom Piatak

    An excellent piece.

  • justanotherlittlesoul

    Nobly said, Professor Esolen. Thank you.

  • publiusnj

    The easiest way to tap into the two millennia of beauty Catholicism has produced but now hidden is to sing the five principal Latin/Greek hymns of the Mass (the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) in their original languages. Many of us know those hymns still and younger people can get used to them. I learned the Mass parts in the Fourth Grade, so just about anybody can learn them.

    That would open up several hundred years of truly beautiful music. Palestrina and Mozart versus the pablum writers in our hymnals? The current Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei have so little going for it. Not even close. I personally would have no problem with Latin Masses as well.

    One minor point on the quoted prayers at the foot of the altar: “juventutem” is feminine in gender so it should be”juventutem meam” not “juventutem meum.”

    • kentgeordie

      This is such a good idea. Why can’t our leaders see it? We’ve had four decades of dumbing down, when what people need is Catholic beauty and holiness.

      • WSquared

        Dumbed-down Catholicism is oppressive: it makes us groan under the weight of blah. It’s also pretty narrow-minded.

        Dumbed-down Catholicism is often characterized by dogmatic and doctrinal laxity plus moral strictness. That’s a recipe for disaster, and is not Catholicism, but often a form of perfectionism: the fact that nature sure hates a vacuum should tell us something. Moreover, it’s a recipe for disaster, because absenting any doctrinal and dogmatic rigor that are rigorous for insisting that we let Jesus Christ be Himself is that people are then “free” to lean either too strict or too lax. That’s almost a surefire way to communicate to one’s children that God isn’t merciful and just, but some vindictive Santa Claus who can’t wait to zap you as soon as you put so much as a toenail wrong. To go too far in the other direction is to send the message to one’s kids that a kind and merciful God is necessarily some cosmic gumball machine.

    • WSquared

      Wholeheartedly agreed.

      I’m not sure that the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are “hymns” per se, seeing as how they’re the Ordinaries of the Mass (but if they are, please forgive my ignorance). “Veni, Creator Spiritus” is a hymn, though, and so are the “Salve Regina” and “Adoro Te devote”– and yet how many times do we actually get to hear “Veni, Creator Spiritus” during Confirmations, Ordinations, or during Pentecost. Only if we’re lucky: I shouldn’t be fist-pumping during Mass upon realizing that I’m listening to a rare treat that was once a normal, functioning part of Catholic worship, that is now “reserved for special occasions,” seemingly.

      What we pew sitters should’ve picked up on is that the Ordinaries can be seen as the musical backbone of the Mass: the texts of the Ordinaries of the Mass never change, even if their musical settings might differ to reflect specific seasons in the Church’s liturgical calendar. This is not unmanageable or un-doable. Even most parishes that offer the Extroardinary Form use perhaps at most two well-known settings– usually the De Angelis or the Deus Genitor Alme, and Credo I and Credo III– anyway. Repeat all of that every Sunday, and the congregation will pick up on it in no time. They’ll settle into a groove and a rhythm instead of a rut, knowing that if they felt “lost” this week, they won’t be in the weeks and years to come. At the Latin Mass parish I used to attend, there was this old Vietnamese gent who used to sing the Credo III louder than anyone else, because it’s clearly something he remembered from way back when.

      The laity have a substantial part to play by singing those Ordinaries, because musically, the Ordinaries are meant to fit together as a coherent whole, and they anchor the Mass. This is a rhythm that is meant to ground us, and it reminds laypeople that they have a voice. And this is precisely what we’re not doing right now, because we have little to no sense that Mass even exists as a cohesive and coherent piece of music let alone a cohesive and coherent form of public prayer. Moreover, having this sense of the laity’s important role at Mass would likely address and challenge regnant ideas of “participation” that make active participation about “doing more and more stuff”: congregational singing does matter, but it doesn’t mean that everybody has to be singing everything all of the time. Part of the act of worship is learning to listen to God and to be actively still, and not just speaking to Him. Moreover, take all of the Ordinaries plus any opening or closing hymn, and we’re looking at a substantial and important amount of music that the laity is given to sing.

      My humble suggestion would be for any music ministry that is taking steps to rediscover the Church’s musical tradition to move slowly, but deliberately: nail– and encourage the people in the pews to nail– the Ordinaries first. Remind them that they can do it, and that they should be not afraid. This isn’t just “music at Mass.” It’s prayer. We have to think about liturgical music in terms of liturgical action and spiritual formation: Mass isn’t just an “obligation”; it is meant to form disciples.

      Offertory and Communion are places where a choir might introduce some Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Victoria, or Mozart– the point is to choose music that coherently comports itself with the chanted Ordinaries, whether one chants them in Latin or in English. There are so many resources online now, including practice videos on YouTube: the “treasure music” of the Church may take a previously inexperienced choir out of its comfort zone, but the point is to be patient, and to realize as a choir what this music actually gives us and teaches us by way of formation– my own choir is learning Thomas Tallis’s “If Ye Love Me,” which we stumble with on occasion, because it’s the first time that we’re attempting polyphony. But it’s also forced us to listen more closely to each other, thereby teaching us teamwork: the thing about polyphony is that each voice listens intently for cues in the other voices to know when to come in, and no one part works unless everybody else’s does. We also do best when we stop worrying, and just do it, which teaches us to trust God and each other. There were times when we’ve bonded and had fun because upon starting tentatively at first, we just dared each other to keep singing: even as we stumble in places, we hear echoes of where we want to be.

      For a choir that is not used to polyphony, say, or classical music appropriate for Mass, it might be an idea to pick a repertoire of perhaps seven of the easier pieces and rotate them throughout the year to get everybody used to them, including the people in the pews. The stuff that we will sing for Communion is another part of the Mass that requires being anchored, because the Source and Summit of the Christian Life is not a place where we can afford incoherence. It’s probably the best part of the Mass for a choir to cultivate a repertoire of “standards” and go-tos. Moreover, novelty always seems enticing until one realizes that it can put too much pressure on a choir to “perform” at times.

      Orchestrated well and in a coherent way, music by Palestrina, Mozart, Byrd, etc. can help laypeople in the pews see what they’re participating in and what they’re a part of as to what the Mass is; it invites them to make connections, and to learn that the “treasure music” of the Church’s tradition is theirs and belongs to them. Perhaps when these things are in place, when people get used to thinking and hearing Mass that way, might one find it easier to introduce the Propers. In all honesty, many to most choirs in American suburban parishes aren’t yet at the point where they can introduce the Propers. But I think that nailing the Ordinaries and then carefully choosing the other music of the Mass to complement them (here’s where Gregorian chant setting the standard does play a role) might be a decisive step in that direction, and might go a long way in building some necessary cognitive bridges so as not to push anyone off the liturgical cliff.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        In France, there has been a revival of the early composers, such as
        Josquin des Prez and Guillaume Dufay.

        A well-trained choir of half-a-dozen can perform them very well

        • WSquared


          But I’m not talking about more experienced choirs, which I know can handle it. I’m talking about less-experienced choirs and how to get them and the laity on board without their becoming discouraged.

          Discouragement almost invariably happens if we are impatient, and we move too far too fast. A lot of people aren’t used to this music for never being permitted to hear it at Mass, and so choirs who are heading in this direction need to be aware of that and evangelize.

          I needn’t repeat what I’ve said about the idea that Mass should be “fun” or “entertaining.” But it doesn’t hurt to let people in the pews know that they can chant, and that it will help them spiritually, or choirs know that with some patience and effort, they can learn to rock William Byrd and enjoy it.

  • djc

    I agree with the article with an emphasis especially on the last paragraph. My question is what can those of us who agree with your premise do?

    • Dick Prudlo

      May I suggest finding a parish that worships the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and not one that worships all the participants in the “audience.” I plainly mean find a traditional Catholic group who worships as they believe.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Even into the 1930’s 75% of Woonsocket was French-Canadian ancestry, French was spoken on the street, there was a French newspaper and French movies could be seen. The dimes and quarters of devout textile workers created this splendid church. It is a late expression of Quebec’s devout Catholicism which is fading even as a memory. The destruction of Quebec’s Catholic culture was so swift and so thorough one must suspect supernatural agency of the dark kind.

    • ColdStanding

      Cardinal Leger was very active in the modernist camp at the council in question.

  • What Professor Esolen extols and explores here is exactly what first attracted me to, and subsequently has sustained me in the Catholic Church. For me, the best word for it would be “exciting.” It’s also what I value most about CRISIS magazine.

    • meggimann

      I seems so simple, does it not? The Ancient Enemy attacks humanity chiefly by means of the senses, knowing our concupiscence and that our God is unseen. Therefore, the Church, in Her mercy for souls, once universally sought to combat the assault upon the senses with sensorily attainable consolation and instruction in sacred art and music. Any questions, AmChurch?

      • Yes, as in “the theology of the body.”

  • Blake Helgoth

    We are a pragmatic culture that does not have time to be carried off by things so impractical as beauty! Maybe this is the reason we have so few mystics (or artists for that matter). I wish I had know of this church when I lived at Providence College. Thank you for an insightful article.

    • WSquared

      We are a pragmatic culture that does not have time to be carried off by things so impractical as beauty!

      Nah, we just prefer to be carried off by advertising, instead.

  • ColdStanding

    The fathers of the council in question, some of them anyways (for there were many, now neglected, that defended tradition) said that the liturgy must be updated to suit the needs of modern man.

    That phrase and others like it, that is, kindred and sundry themes centered upon the supposed needs of modern man are everywhere used as licence for implementing violent and disorienting changes.

    What then, is the observation upon which the justification for this program of all things made new? What do they really think about modern man and how his needs are to be met?

    It is simple: The council fathers that “shepherded” in these changes think that modern man is an idiot.

    Ask yourself this question, Do you consider yourself to be a modern man?

    • English Catholic

      We don’t change the Mass; the Mass changes us. Or should.

  • Outstanding. The unmasking of Satan’s agenda, fulfilled by his tools. Best we keep our soul in order so as not to become a tool ourselves.

  • WSquared

    “First, are people so foolish that they cannot learn what such
    words mean?”

    I’ve always thought much the same thing. Especially after having to hear one too many times how much more educated Catholics are than ever before. If we’re so much more educated now, then the Latin lay responses at the Latin Mass shouldn’t be that hard (actually, they’re pretty easy, and sink in through repetition). I also note that complaining that Benedict XVI was “too hard to understand” is specious, too. So are many people’s calls for “simplicity”: the interviews that he did with Peter Seewald are B16 at his simplest, which lose none of his profundity (given that Seewald didn’t leave off the hard questions). If, for all that education, B16 at his simplest still isn’t “simple” enough, something’s wrong.

    At the risk of sounding cynical, I sometimes suspect that some people like dumbed-down Catholicism and iconoclasm because it’s convenient: it fits the usual received narrative of “religion” being merely “private” personal consolation, emotional, sentimental, and unreasonable, and for “stupid” people. A “religious” faith that remains private and merely “in the air” can’t challenge them. They have a problem with the Incarnation, because it does challenge us– spiritually, intellectually, philosophically, theologically, historically, and much else, besides: if you publicly profess to believe that God became Man and entered into history, then certain implications logically follow from that belief. The reason why a lot of people like “spiritual, but not religious” is because they know that religion challenges them: as you wrote at TheCatholicThing.org, Dr. Esolen, the liturgy commands and challenges us to adopt the posture of humility. It also challenges us to have some integrity.

    Didn’t those worshipers encounter prayers in Latin all the
    time, in their missals, with French or English translations provided

    Agreed. One of the most galling things I’ve ever encountered was knowing that a lot of those brought up before Vatican II who complain about not understanding Latin almost certainly had a hand missal with an English translation. It’s also eye-roll worthy to hear those who complain about the Church’s “gold,” but who seem to lack self-awareness of their own families’ consumption, say that they never had a missal– because they clearly could’ve afforded one.

    I call B.S.

    • Raguel

      No one before Vatican II complained about not understanding Latin. They wanted to understand the mass more, that doesn’t mean changing the whole language and ceremony. It is a myth that the lay people demanded the mass in the vernacular and a disobedience to Vatican II to make it entirely in the vernacular.

      • WSquared

        Yes, I do know that much.

        What I’m talking about are folks who were familiar with the Latin Mass before Vatican II who complain post-Vatican II that “they couldn’t understand Latin.”

        • Raguel

          I think a large extent of this complaining was them just echoing what they heard from their priests and bishops. Or else they just adopted an attitude of indifference or apathy. If you look at society in the 60’s and 70’s, people in general thought new = better and meant they were making progress. People didn’t have resources like the internet to order books or listen to lectures of positions that differed from that of their priests and bishops whom they were obliged to give their blind obedience.

      • WSquared

        And you’ve hit upon a very important point: why do we assume that “understanding” is exclusively about “knowing what every word means”?

        Why also do we presume that understanding must mean immediate comprehension?

        • Raguel

          I would presume “understanding” did not mean knowing what every single word meant.

          Hence why we see they bought missals and books like “The Mass in Slow Motion.”

    • John O’Neill

      Amen, brother. I too was raised in the Latin liturgy Roman Catholic Church and at the age of eleven I learned the Latin responses; ala introibo ad altare Dei etc I believe that most of the Catholics in the pews, men from the factories and women from hard house work could easily comprehend the Latin phrases that they had repeated sunday after sunday at mass. How many times did the priest have to pray “Dominus Vobiscum” before the Catholic understood that he was wishing them that the Lord would be with them? It is correct to assume that the elite in the Church and Society have always held the working class immigrants among whom I grew up to be dull uneducated dunces. In fact they did appreciate the Latin liturgy and the beauty of the Catholic church architecture much more than the elite theologians and college professors. I still today shed a tear when I hear the beautiful rendition of Mozart,s AVE VERUM and the beautiful Requiem liturgy with its exquisite In Paradisum. Why were they banned, why was the requiem mass suppressed? The modernist liturgy and art that fills our churches is worthy of contempt. God lives in beauty and we once shared this beauty but the modernists are not happy until they trample under their feet all the traditional spirituality of our Church. I have a very good friend who finally became disgusted with the modernist American Catholic Church and went to the Pius X mass and then entered their seminary and even though he was of advanced age he was ordained and set in charge of a parish in Idaho. Unfortunately he was recently transferred to Australia so I can only contact him via email. The present Francis Church is driving me more and more to follow his example or to investigate the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches; the Americanized Catholic Church is fast becoming a cheap imitation of American Protestantism and Francis is smiling with the mischief he is sowing.

      • WSquared

        I don’t think that Francis is on board with Catholicism becoming a cheap imitation of American Protestantism.

        I think American Catholics of a particular stripe try censoring him or misinterpreting him– because they sure as heck wouldn’t like what he said in the interview he gave shortly before becoming Pope: that people spend most of their money on cosmetics and on pets. The poor are an afterthought. He wouldn’t agree with reducing the poor to an ideology, either, or clericalizing the laity, and he wouldn’t agree with treating Mass as if it were entertainment– he may be simpler in style than Benedict, but he only represents the lower boundary of what is acceptable, while Benedict represents the upper boundary: Francis = what every parish can achieve with the resources on hand. Benedict = the liturgy really is that beautiful, peeps.

        • John O’Neill

          Pray and hope that you are right; however I lived through the horrors of the post Vatican II era when the Church was in free fall. Seems to me that the same gang are the cheerleaders for the Francis church.

    • R. K. Ich

      Brilliant. As C S Lewis reminds us in his Preface to Paradise Lost (and I paraphrase it here): form and ceremony, especially religious, require much more humility because they require you to forget yourself for the sake of the thing for which all have gathered. It is rather the self-aware and self-indulgent who are far more likely to talk about their “freedom” and “spirituality” against the rubrics.

  • Vinny

    “Finally, why must everything we say or sing be reducible to the dull and plain and everyday?” We must be fair and equitable. If anyone aspires to a greater sense of awe or deeper conviction in prayer and contemplation, they are disrespecting the person who can’t or won’t do that. The same as the priest having his back to the congregation is disrespectful rather than being a leader and a sign of the worship of God by all. The communion rail is a physical separation which demeans the faithful instead of being the place to properly position yourself to receive God himself.

    • WSquared

      “The communion rail is a physical separation which demeans the faithful
      instead of being the place to properly position yourself to receive God

      I’ve also heard the idea that receiving standing supposedly means that you’ve been “raised up by God” and are now a “grownup”: doesn’t kneeling as a contrite and humbled sinner to receive Him and then rising after receiving to go back to your seat convey that much, much more vividly?

      Moreover, doesn’t the Gospel say that unless we become like little children– i.e. receptive– before God, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Why is it that “letting the little children come unto Christ” is almost invariably used as an excuse to strip the Mass of any sacredness, but when there’s any suggestion that we should all kneel before God as a child would in supplication and anticipation, there are howls of protest? I think this is also somewhat related: it’s as though a lot of parents have no idea that we raise our children to grow up in Christ to love God and neighbor, and when they reach adulthood, they are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to us, as we are to them. Key to understanding the latter is being aware of how God parents us.

      The question I almost invariably have for people who assume that Mass should be “fun” and “entertaining” is whether being at the foot of the Cross (since Mass is the re-presentation of Calvary) is supposed to be “fun.”

      Moreover, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both little kids once. However did they fall so deeply in love with Jesus Christ and the liturgy at a young age without American pop music at Mass? I suspect that the whole pop-music-at-Mass thing is a bit of a conceit on some levels (it’s also symbolic of the “throwaway culture” and chronological snobbery/historical supercessionism on other levels). I’ve also noticed something else: it’s as though Americans expect everything to be appropriate to age group in an extremely segregated way, and have little to no sense that Jesus Christ was once a baby and a little child Himself, and is therefore able to speak to our kids at their level and understand what they’re going through. It’s like we do so much to keep Jesus from our kids and our kids from Jesus through our micromanaging and our own unwillingness to engage Him.

      “The same as the priest having his back to the congregation is
      disrespectful rather than being a leader and a sign of the worship of
      God by all. ”

      If it’s so very, very important that we have a “close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” doesn’t it make far more sense that we all actually face Him? What can be a little… curious are Catholics who seem to talk endlessly about how our Protestant brothers and sisters stress having a relationship with Christ, but who will make no effort themselves to learn that the Catholic Church also does out of necessity, and that Christ Himself provides the most intimate of such relationships through the Sacraments of His Church.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Many old French
        churches have, not altar rails (which came in with the Council of Trent), but rood screens, many richly decorated

        Here is one from a little church in Brittany (Chapelle de Kerfons)

        And a magnificent example from the Cathedral of Albi

        Fortunately, they are State property, so they have been spared that vandalism that not a few clerics would like to inflict on them.

        • WSquared

          That’s beautiful, Michael. Thank you for sharing!

          The rood screen reminds me of how the Eastern Church has an iconostasis– and likely for good reason.

          And here’s the thing: do any of us actually “see” with our eyes the Father sending the Holy Spirit down upon the gifts of bread and wine like the dewfall at Mass?

          No? Then what is there to “see,” exactly? What precisely would anyone be deprived of “seeing” if the priest faces the tabernacle and the Crucifix, or is behind the iconostasis or rood screen?

        • R. K. Ich

          As did/do many of the great English churches: it’s the Western approximation of the iconostasis we find in the Eastern churches.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            Yes, Anglican churches retained them, whilst many Continental ones were demolished after Trent.

            The only example to survive in Paris is Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which is much more open than earlier examples


  • Leonard St. Pierre

    AMEN!!! It’s so true. How do we save these GREAT places of Art and most importantly …God! We still have many here in the Detroit area. For how much longer …

  • guest

    Thank you!!! This is a great article. Too many people today will protect artwork depicting vulgarity…but if you want to protect or display our beautiful artwork and Catholic Heritage then you are painted as out of step with the culture. The destruction of the 70’s and 80’s with floating Crucifixes and bare banal altars lifted no one. The Churches you describe are about God. The modern Churches are about man.

  • meggimann

    My goodness, what a sigh of relief I breathed as I learned that this magnificent edifice has dodged the bullet of banality fired by chancery bureaucrats barely recognizable as “Catholic”.

  • Bernonensis

    Ah, Professor, you haven’t told the whole story! St. Anne’s hasn’t been a church for nigh on twenty years now. It was closed on the pretext that it was structurally unsafe, although this didn’t keep the diocese from leasing it to a local arts and cultural center. Eventually it was sold to this group, which makes the space available to any group that wants to play church, so it’s just a matter time before sodomites start getting hitched in it. The good people of Woonsocket, you see, will give money to preserve pepere’s portrait on the ceiling but don’t care a snot about what he’s looking down on. The best thing that could have happened was for this gorgeous hulk of a building to burn to the ground.

    • Martha

      Is that true?? How terrible! God help us all.

      • Bernonensis

        Yes, true and terrible.

        • Augustus

          Yes, the church is now privately owned because the diocese claimed it was too much of a financial burden. We should rejoice that it was not demolished like so many other great works of religious art. The community is trying to preserve it and they can’t without funds. This church, as long as it exists, acts as a witness to the faith to all who see it. For you to wish it destroyed shows how much of an iconoclast and philistine you are. You are part of the problem.

          • Bernonensis

            No, Augustus, you are wrong on several counts.
            The “church” is not privately owned, because the building is no longer a church.
            We should not rejoice that something dedicated to the service of God is now just something for man’s delight. It was a witness to the faith of its builders, certainly, but now it simply accuses their children of abandoning the faith.
            I may be a part of many problems, but I’m hardly an iconoclast; a philistine perhaps, but not in the Arnoldian sense that you mean it. Your problem, though, is one in which I thank God that I have no share: I don’t value aesthetics above piety.

            • Augustus

              Firstly, the church is not owned by the Catholic diocese but by a private charity. It is not publicly owned (state owned) and therefore it is privately owned. That is a fact. The point is that the laity saved the church from destruction because the diocese claimed it could no longer financially support the parish.

              Secondly, the Church is a monument to the glory of God, regardless of who owns it. It is a work of religious art regardless of who uses it. The building is, in fact, used for religious purposes. If it is used for other events, that does not eliminate its religious power. Your mentality is Protestant. You think that God can not speak to us through the created world. You think that religious imagery or artwork can only be used in a formal religious setting in order to convey a religious message. We should be delighted by religious art regardless of where we find it. Religious art points our mind to the divine, whether we find it in a public square or a private home. Of course the church should be used as a church. No one disputes that. But that’s not possible in this case. The alternative is not destruction but preservation so that future generations can be inspired by the example of our ancestors. Religious art does not cease to be religious art simply because the building it’s in is used for different purposes. Your distinction between aesthetics and piety is false. Your purist mentality would deprive someone in spiritual need a religious experience by preventing him from entering a sacred space. That is shameful.

              • Tony

                It is, I believe, still owned by the diocese, but has been legally rented at a nominal price to the group that wishes to preserve it. The rental agreement stipulates that the group must respect its nature and history as a Catholic church.

                • Augustus

                  According to their website, it says “in September, 2007 the Diocese of Providence turned ownership of the building over to the nonprofit group for its permanent use as an arts and cultural center.” This was after seven years of leasing the building from the diocese. http://www.stannartsandculturalcenter.org/mission-statement.html

              • Bernonensis


                “Your mentality is Protestant.” Oh, now I get it!
                At first I thought your response was meant to be taken seriously. So when I read the first paragraph, I couldn’t understand why you were going to the trouble of arguing something that wasn’t in dispute: the ownership of the building. Or why you kept calling it a church, even though you acknowledge in your response to Tony that it is in fact not a church but a cultural and arts center. But then you helpfully dropped a hint that you aren’t really interested in an exchange of ideas with me, because you’ve already constructed a protestant Bernonensis to play with, and told him what he’s supposed to think. Judging from the rest of what you’ve written, I suppose you need that kind of advantage. Have fun.

                • Augustus

                  The fact that you did not respond to my argument tells me who is not “interested in an exchange of ideas.” You said it was NOT privately owned. I corrected you. Just because it is not used by the diocese does not mean the building should be destroyed. THAT is the core of our dispute and THAT is what you refuse to debate. Don’t blame me for not wanting to have an exchange. I made an argument and you refuse to respond. The “hint” you refer to is a figment of your imagination. Your position is Protestant and you have not said anything in your last post to suggest otherwise. Your position is heretical because it is iconoclastic. No Catholic would favor the destruction of religious art.

                  • Bernonensis

                    Please don’t be tiresome.
                    I said that THE CHURCH is not privately owned because it is NOT A CHURCH. Who or what owns the building is of no interest to me whatsoever, but if you had taken the trouble to read my first post before responding to it, you would have seen that I said that it had been sold by the diocese to the arts group.

                    Your description of my position as protestant is absurd. Catholics recognize that things consecrated to God’s service are set apart and not meant to be put to profane use. An example of the protestant mentality would be the instruction in Cranmer’s prayerbook regarding the reservation of the Eucharistic elements: any bread or wine left over after communion is to be taken by the minister to his house to be used at his table. That’s fully in the same spirit as what you favor doing with buildings like St. Anne’s: we’re not using it for Mass anymore, so let’s use it for pumpkin carving demonstrations and folkdancing.
                    Your accusation of iconoclasm doesn’t hold up either, since it assumes that I intend the destruction of all holy images to avoid their being honored, when in fact I only see the destruction of some religious images as preferable to the scandal of their misuse. I said that it was only a matter of time before sodomites were using that building as a venue for their pseudomarriage ceremonies; since you haven’t addressed that point, am I to assume that you agree that this is so, and that you have no problem with it?

    • RufusChoate

      That is just awful but being in New England sadly one gets use to these persistent treasons. It was only a little over 100 years old.

      Dante was right to place so many churchmen in hell.

      • Bernonensis

        Quite so, Mr. Choate. But why does it seem that almost everyone who has commented here lives in New England, or once did?

  • Dick Prudlo

    Mr. Esolen once again strikes the cord succinctly. Beauty and Function together clearly pleases He who is to be worshiped. The wholesale destruction that too me is the ’70’s (whether we blame Vat II, or the playbook after it) was not of the Holy Ghost, but another of similar nature but a whole lot less. And today like yesterday we need to say no and no again to more of the same. The Holy Mass of the Ages must be brought back exclusively and not share any part with the what we call the New Mass.

    • meggimann

      Have the worldly careerist cardinalate and their lackey bishops really dismissed the time-honored claim, “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi”? If so, I pray for their eternal prospects. We MUST have recourse to the good, the true and the beautiful if we are to persevere to the final end God made us for.

    • WSquared

      “Beauty and Function together clearly pleases He who is to be worshiped.”

      Yeah– because beauty is logical.

      Pragmatism and utilitarianism don’t “own” logic and reason.

    • musicacre

      The wholesale destruction ( of the beauty of the churches) was orchestrated in such a short time and uniformly everywhere that we are crazy to not think it was planned. The advantage of the destroyers is that we’re Catholic and not even supposed to whisper that anyone could be deliberate…why do we hesitate to call the smoking ruins what they are…then do something about it? We all can catalog the abuses, the times we were told in a very manipulative way it is wrong to kneel because the supposed offended feelings of you neighbor are more important, the treasures that were taken or smashed in front of our noses, and we are timid to admit that whoever does this indeed has a hatred to worship God and worship him respectfully. In our diocese, the bishop and priests actually took an ax to the high altar in the Cathedral (in the 70’s). An ax! Guess there doesn’t need to be bloody revolution to take our religion away from us in N. America…it’s been whisked away piece meal for decades.

      Pray for a complete return to the Latin Liturgy.

  • tiberswimmer

    A wonderful article reminding me of the Holy beauty of the Catholic Church that I found so awesome in my Protestant youth! One niggling point: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is of such importance that the Obligation is not abrogated on Saturdays and Mondays unless the Feast has been transferred from Sunday to Monday because Sundays in Advent always take precedence as occurred in 2013.

  • Dan

    The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is one of two Holy Days of Obligation that is actually maintained if it falls on a Saturday. I hope I am not being “too rigid” by pointing that out. Other than that, great article as usual!

  • Kris

    Beautiful. You write the things I wish I could write myself.

  • Noe

    “It became obvious why Catholics had
    built such beautiful cathedrals and churches throughout the world. Not
    as gathering or meeting places for Christians. But as a home for Jesus
    Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. Cathedrals house Jesus. Christians
    merely come and visit Him. The cathedrals and churches architecturally
    prepare our souls for the beauty of the Eucharist.”
    Allen R. Hunt
    Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor: How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church

    • Noe

      Joe Heschmeyer at Shameless Popery blog had a sterling piece on Latin and the Bible worth reading as well.

  • J.T. L.

    Wow! Echoes my thoughts and sentiments exactly. As I exited the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mount Saint Mary’s University on a recent cold and snowy December 8th, I remarked to my friend “how could anyone, anyone, not participate in a service such as we just participated, and not be moved to tears. Ours is an absolutely beautiful and deeply moving faith. How lucky we are”! I may not be addressing your article specifically but you get the idea. What you have penned is true.


    Catholics in Maine – The Latin High Mass on Christmas Day will be celebrated at 8 a.m. at the Cathedral on Congress St. in Portland and at noon at St. Peter & Paul Baslilca in Lewiston

  • Gerard

    Beautiful. Thanks. Having toured churches all over the world, I always come away from the French connection to churches with a sense of awe at how beautiful they are. In this hemisphere, the churches in Montreal and Quebec city are among the most beautiful that I have seen, and your reference to the French sets me in the right frame of mind for what to expect in your church in RI.

  • Michael Gray

    Dr. Esolen – this essay a masterpiece. It is a literary equivalent of “The Rumble in The Jungle”. Your last paragraph has the same effect as Ali’s final left-hook and straight-right to Foreman.

    I came to the Catholic Church just 8 years ago after a 42 year journey. The journey began when I was a very small boy. One day I saw the edifice of Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was a structure at once imposing, uplifting and inviting. (Thankfully it still is.) Beauty aided my journey to the Church.

    • WSquared

      Welcome home!

  • Patriot

    See St. John Cantius in Chicago, for another heavenly inspired church. A glimpse of the beatific vision.

  • hombre111

    In general, I would have to agree. There is more than one cultural barbarian who calls himself a liturgist. And I would have joined those parishioners who fought tooth and tong for the preservation of their beautiful church. I find little inspiration in many a modern church hatched by some pastor tied up with some liturgical theory and deaf to the longing of his people.

    Latin is not a particularly elegant language. It lacks articles for one thing and, for people like us whose word order style English language has relatively few inflections, it presents a huge translation puzzle. But on the other hand, its vocal sounds lend themselves to the long ecstasies of Gregorian Chant, which loses its beauty when it is sung in 4/4 time by the average parish choir. With Chant, then, I plead: Either an excellent well-trained choir or sing something else.

    The translations you gave of St. Thomas’ poetry had to insert words that were not there and create grammar that is not there in the original. It had to, because the Latin text, without articles and with all those inflections, sounds really clumsy, even primitive. Like Yoda. The second choice you gave is especially difficult. After five years of Latin, I got out my dictionary and grammar and tried to plow through it. Some real puzzles there. Take “donatam a Deo Infantem.” A doozy. And it does not literally mean “she gave birth to the child given by God.” But that is a quibble. In general, I think you are spot on, although I have doubts about the Communion rail. Along with being art, it is also a theological statement about a certain kind of ecclesiology.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Take an example of really good translation

      The Roman poet, Juvenal wrote:

      “Magnaque numinibus vota exaudita malignis”

      Literally translated, in the same order

      And big/by spiritual powers/vows/having been heard (agreeing with “vows”)/malign (agreeing with “by spiritual powers”)

      This is plainly gibberish.

      “And big prayers having been heard by malignant powers” reproduces the meaning of the individual words, one by one, but scarcely the meaning of the phrase. The result is flat and pedestrian; it conveys next to nothing of the experience produced by reading the original.

      Dr Johnson translated it as

      “Enormous prayers, which Heav’n in vengeance grants,”

      Johnson translates, not the words in isolation, but the phrase; expressing, not only the sense, but something of the rhythm and cadences of the original – hence, his elision of the last syllable of “Heaven.” Above all, it preserves the terse, epigrammatic style of Juvenal.

  • Ioannes

    “Oh, we are a poor church; we have to go around with smiles while being surrounded with misearble and blasphemous liturgy.” -says enemies of the Traditional Latin Mass.

  • musicacre

    Well spoken, with all the passion this subject deserves!! Keep going!! You speak the words our hearts cry out!

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I find tombs in old churches and the sense of continuity they create very appealing.

    A couple of years ago, I heard mass on All Souls’ Day in the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

    After mass I visited a number of the tombs in the church.

    There was René Descartes – his name means “born-again” (Renatus). Strange that we have no English equivalent for that Christian name par excellence. His brain, I recalled, is preserved in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris; the irony of which would not have been lost on the philosopher of dualism.

    I visited the tomb of Chlothar II, King of all the Franks, who died in 629, more than a thousand years before Descartes. Muhammad had three more years to live. There were the tombs of Childeric II, his wife, Bilichild and their five year old son, Dagobert, all assassinated, whilst hunting in the forest of Livry, one autumn day in 675, all baptized into the same hope as ourselves. I lit a candle.

    What Scotsman could remain unmoved by the tomb of William Douglas, 11th Earl of Angus, who went into exile rather than renounce the Old Religion and died in 1611 and of his gallant grandson, James, who died aged 20 in the French service in 1637? Despite his youth, he was Colonel of the Scottish Regiment, renamed « Régiment Écossois de Douglas » in his honour.

  • Ann

    Wow, this church is beautiful. Unfortunately, it seems to operate as a museum only. It seems they saved the art but lost the rest. Perhaps it will operate as a church again one day. If anyone can find information that they do offer Mass, please post a follow up comment. I visit the area a few time a year (my hometown is nearby) and would love to go to Mass at St. Anne’s. Of course, my hope is that the Mass offered there would mirror the mystery and beauty of the artwork.

  • Saint Augustine wrote a beautiful book about The City of God and the City of Man and the modernists supplanted the City of God with the City of Man as confessed by soon-to-be-Canonised Pope Paul Vi on that day of Catholic Infamy, Dec 7, 1965. We…have the cult of man.

    The Neo-Iconoclasm trailing in the wake of the revolutionary council was not a disconnect from that council, rather, the Neo-Iconoclasm was in continuity with the revolutionary council.

    Yes, Virginia, you are on your own and you have been since the beginning of the Council
    ; the wolves are in charge and just because they have not yet devoured the entirety of Tradition does not mean they eventually won’t

  • OldWorldSwine

    Could not have said it better. “…churches as neutral spaces”. Art matters. The Church knew that, once, and inspired (and funded) some of the greatest artistic achievements of the human race, but our more enlightened age has given birth to countless sad suburban “worship spaces” that can’t be torn down soon enough. How anyone could imagine that this represents “progress” is beyond me.

  • andrew

    I have three young children (ages 6, 3, and 0.5 years) and would love to know which “lives of the saints” book Prof. Esolen would recommend for our nightly family devotion. Thanks in advance. In fact, thanks for all you do! Venite, adoremus.

  • R. K. Ich

    Over a year ago, while driving around beautiful Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin, I witnessed firsthand the horror of seeing a so many beautiful Gothic Revival mainline Protestant (mostly Episcopal and Lutheran) and Catholic structures boarded up or for sale. Tears of immense sadness and anger welled up simultaneously as hatred for the Spirit of modernity bubbled and boiled unabated.

    What I did rather find in abundance were the ugliest structures hardly fit for prisoners or insane asylum patients, but clearly architected by an Insane and Imprisoned Intelligence. Only a madman, an apostate of Beauty no less than Her heaven-born sisters, could fashion such cold and soulless crypts. Their mocking postures jutted out discordantly, calculated to proclaim the age of Grace-perfecting-Nature has been overthrown and the age of Man-perfecting-Nature has finally been ushered in. The Incarnation which was once writ large in stone and wood is now muted, now muffled by that which is uglier than the basest Gargoyle — even *he* knows his place in the order of glory and could beautifully praise the Trinity, his stony fetters notwithstanding.

    What fresh hell we must endure! The devil’s craft and power monumented no less in cement and plastic and ungraceful steel round about the unguarded faithful. Judgment has come! Our temples have been laid waste, and where is our Judas Maccabaeus? Who will deliver us from the “shitty shepherds” the Canterbury poet describes?

  • M.J .

    Would it be that The Lord , having foreseen our times, has blessed The Church , with the Icon of Divine Mercy ( The Vilnius Original , with that Fatherly gaze ) , said to be the only icon done at The Lord’s request …and yet , most of our churches lacking in same ;
    for even less than $ 500 , a good size icon at a prominent place in the church can add what possibly many frescoes would not !


    The money that might be saved , could be alotted to helping poorer parishioners to have same ,in their homes, hoping for the fulfillment of The Lord’s promise to bring graces through same ..and may be the grace of a few lives , the temples of the Holy Spirit , thus saved , would be the antidote to the destruction we are seeing in our midst !

  • AugustineThomas

    Lazy Americans like lazy worship and they’re far more concerned with what they want than what God wants.
    Americans are the people who have murdered sixty million of their own children. You can’t expect them to be reverent.

  • Wait. Mr. Esolen, aren’t you an intellectual? 😛 Not sure if I’m an intellectual, but I pretty much agree with you. The only place I might disagree (not sure if you implied this) but I think mass should be in the vernacular. But we should disperse some hymns throughout in Latin.

    • R. K. Ich

      It shouldn’t be in the vernacular unless there are competent linguists trained in poetics involved. The old NO I encountered in English is just deflating and distracting on so many levels. I can only guess people go out of a sense of needing to do penance.

      • Then you should seek out the Latin mass. I’m not saying we should prohibit them. But the standard mass should be as direct a link to the common person as possible.

        • R. K. Ich

          Latin was far less a barrier to the common man than the debased NO millions have had to endure.

          • I can agree with you there. Perhaps the Church should authorize a group of poets to take on that project.

            • craig

              It’s already been done. It’s called the Anglican Ordinariates’ liturgy.

    • Tony

      Alas for me, I have been afflicted with that thorn in the soul; I am what some people would call an intellectual.

      I don’t insist that the Mass be in Latin. I also don’t insist that it be in the vernacular. Nor do I know exactly what people intend when they use the word “vernacular.” Language is a remarkable and manifold thing. When Jesus read from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue, he was not reading it in the language he would use upon closing the book and speaking to the congregation. The scroll was in Hebrew; his speech would have been Aramaic, bearing roughly the same relationship to Hebrew as Italian bears to late Latin. Even in the scriptures, though, the Hebrew you read wasn’t always the Hebrew you would have spoken. The poetic language of Psalms is different from the language of Kings and Chronicles, just as the poetic language of Tennyson was not the language on the Victorian streets.

      One of the most foolish assumptions of the English vulgarizers after Vatican 2 was that language is strictly functional …

      • I understand where you’re coming from. But mass was originally in Aramaic, and as Christianity spread out, then in Greek and then in Latin. In other words it was in the vernacular of time and place. Plus, language builds barriers and we should feed the flock in how they best can digest it. Sorry for mixing metaphors.

        • Tony

          Well no, not exactly. When the first followers of Jesus gathered, they prayed in the language that their people had always prayed in; and that language would have been Hebrew, if they were praying the Psalms, as they certainly did, from the beginning.

          All languages have a variety of “registers,” a fact which the vulgarizers have ignored. So you find that Greek hymns use language that you would not hear on the street, including even words that would have fallen out of common use for many generations. The same was true of Latin.

          Sacred language is like the language of poetry, which both veils and unveils. And again I say that common people aren’t the ones who always insist on the dismissal of sacred language, just as it was not common people who eliminated rhyme and meter from most of English poetry. If you returned to 1965, you would find that most of the common parishioners were not insisting that Latin be dispensed with. Their “betters” were the ones insisting on it.

          • Was it Hebrew? I know there are still masses in Aramaic. Still it was mostly said in the vernacular.

          • I’ve heard converts from Protestantism say they probably would never have converted if the mass were in Latin. They would not have gotten it.

            • craig

              Maybe, I’m not sure. And yet you’re more likely to hear hymns incorporating Latin such as “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in a Protestant church than a Catholic one. Go figure.

          • M.J .

            Good to see you upholding the fact that Hebrew would have been the language of The Lord for the liturgy that He celebrated with the Apostles .
            It has been a surprise to read that Hebrew as a language was revived by a few people in Israel ; would it be that all this yearning for more sacredness and richness in Liturgy is also a yearning for Hebrew , more so may be in those who might have closer connections or who were meant to have had same as their true patrimony .
            Interesting too that The Lord spoke to St.Paul, in Hebrew , which he takes pain to specify , that it was in Hebrew that The Lord addressed him – Acts 2.22 ; would it be that making up for the neglect of Hebrew also would be a means to make up / do penance , in ways to return to the roots , for the whole
            Church Family !
            The Eritrean Liturgy that seems to be the one that is closest in its use of the Hebrew connection and that connection may not be just linguistic but more of the spiritual patrimony as well, which is what seems to speak to the heart so well , even in its plainest form and setting and even when the words are not understood ; hopefully same can help those who might want to revive the Hebrew connections and restore much else with it !

      • I was being falsly humble. I would probably be called an intellectual too, though i hate to admit it. 😉

  • RufusChoate

    Beautiful article and I am very envious of your proximity to this jewel. Suburban Churches build since Vatican II are the bane of Christendom. Upon moving to this area of New England where my family and I now live, we visited the local Church, a 1970’s era, ugly ark like disaster for daily mass. I concluded that the Priest and his helpers who built it simply didn’t believe. It is little more than a meeting hall with the entire focus is on the Celebrant with a misshapen, coarse and grotesque crucifix hung over the dais that I found odd for some ill defined reason. The Corpus was looking up and to the left and lack the placard of Pilate and the wound in it side.

    The mystery of the Crucifix was solved when I discovered after questioning older parishioners that the Corpus only was all that remained from the original church triptych of the Crucifixion scene that included the good and bad thieves and Christ. The Priest who built these eyesore selected the Good Thief rather than Christ. As obvious a mockery of faith as I have ever seen except for the painting of Christ modeled by the shared boyfriend of the Bishop and the Pastor of a particular parish near by. (Actual admitted by the same Priest who died in Prison).

    The Franciscans replaced the Good Thief and replaced him with an immense and beautiful Crucifix of Italian origin about 5 years ago.

    • Tony

      Incredible. I will file that story away with all the other stories I have heard about this rage to smash things …

      • RufusChoate

        By the way, I am reading your latest book: “Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching” as my second spiritual reading for morning prayer after Bossuet’s “Meditations for Advent” and it is very fine as always. Cheers. I kept trying to horn it into my scheduled “non-spiritual” reading and finally gave up and inserted it into my spiritual reading.

    • Tony

      Would that be in Griswold, CT, by any chance?

      • RufusChoate

        Very close… Right state but I dare not share more.

  • Scott

    Is it any wonder why our young Catholics are abandoning the Sacrament of Matrimony in the Church and getting married in gardens, gazebos and on beaches? They have lost the sense of the Sacred and why Sacred rituals should be held in Sacred places!

    • R. K. Ich

      That’s because only Man can purpose ugliness for worship. Habitable Nature’s airy cathedral beckons those deprived souls out of the ravaged churches.

  • Mark Duch

    Spot on.

  • David F. Dieteman

    The beautiful church in Woonsocket looks quite similar to Our Lady of Victory (Fr. Baker’s) in Buffalo, NY. A must see, if you’ve not seen it.

  • C.Caruana

    One sure sign of generalised apostacy is the elevation of the cult of ugliness in the name of functionality. In former ages it went by the name of the iconoclastic heresy.

    • R. K. Ich

      The old iconoclasts didn’t object to the notion of objective beauty even if they didn’t want to use images in worship; the new iconoclasts got rid of all that’s beautiful and then tried to justify it with kitschy statues and banners.

      • Neihan

        I think another difference is the old iconoclasts were lead into error by a strong faith, reverence to God, and smashed images of Him because they believed such things to be an offense to Him.

        The new iconoclasts believe only in themselves, they worship themselves, and they find images of God and the Saints to be offensive to themselves.