Interpreting Interstellar

InterstellarA dozen of us from the seminary just experienced in IMAX Christopher Nolan’s latest film: Interstellar. There was so much nourishment in the film to milk, that I’m going to have to return for seconds during Thanksgiving break, but for now, here is what left me most satisfied (and no, it’s not just the Buddy’s Pizza we just inhaled):




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) About halfway through the film, the astronauts come to a fork in their journey and have to decide definitively which planet to visit. They appear to have two solid options, but Anne Hathaway’s character – Amelia Brand – chooses illogically and with great bias. The other two crew ask her why, since their choice is more reasonable and has better chances. Her answer made the audience laugh, me included. But then Ameila explained, and I caught myself falling in love with her answer. It resonated with me. I myself thought about it for a long time: Why does love exist? What is the reason for love?

Answer: there is no reason for love, because Love IS the reason.

Here’s what Amelia said, roughly paraphrasing: I choose this planet, and not the one you have decided on, because somewhere on this planet is the man I love. I cannot explain why, but I know my heart, and I’m trying to follow it. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s because love transcends what we can sense, what we can measure and quantify and experiment on. Love cuts through time and space, because even though I haven’t seen Edmund (her lover) for years, I still love him and am drawn to him. Even though I have every reason to think he is dead, I need to be with him, to know for sure. There’s no reason any of us should keep loving people who are gone, who are far off, who we may never see again, but we still love, because love is the only thing the universe cannot explain.

And the reason why the audience laughed was because we thought she was going to be all mushy and sentimental about her choice: Oh, here we go again… all this follow-your-heart and lovey-dovey stuff… bah humbug!

BUT that’s where Philosophy and Theology kick in: it is true that love transcends the world, the universe. It is completely beyond what is necessary for the universe to keep going, and also completely unnecessary. Love, in short, is supernatural; it’s above nature, not found in nature, and does not naturally occur. Animals, plants, and atoms do fine without it. Love can even put us at risk of danger. Nature would be fine (maybe even better) if love didn’t exist, except that it does exist. And if this supernatural thing we call love actually exists, that means there’s a whole bunch of stuff out there that is beyond our science (“stuff” like God, the Divinity, the Creator). The film even lays it out: “Science is about admitting that we know so little.”

 

CainAbel

[Cain murders his brother, Abel. This screenshot is from Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”.]


—–2) When the remaining crew land on a planet and revive Mann, a huge twist in the story comes up and reminds us of Cain and Abel. The parallels are unmistakable: Mann is Cain, and both are the elder character (Mann was on the planet first and for a longer time). Cooper is Abel, both were the younger character (Cooper arrived later on the planet). Mann tells Cooper (Cain tells Abel) to go out into the field (the wilderness) with him, and that’s when the elder rises up against his brother out of selfishness and seeks to murder him (see how similar it all is to Genesis 3).

Right away, goosebumps filled my epidermis: here they were, in a new world, ready to begin another civilization, and here was the original sin, back with vengeance. Our fallen nature as sinners goes with us wherever we go, even to Saturn, even through a wormhole into another galaxy, even to the edge of a gargantuan blackhole. We cannot rise above without help from outside the human race. Our world/s will be tainted, like the cursed Midas Touch.

Coincidentally (but probably not), the film’s mighty organ music pipes up during this scene (track “Day One Dark“). Given that the organ is rarely featured in film scores, and the prominence the organ has in this very Biblical scene, one has to wonder what Mr. Hans Zimmer was implying by using this instrument that was adopted specifically for the Traditional Latin Mass of the Catholic Church. [Update: click here for all about the selection of the organ for the score!]
—–3) Jessica Chastain’s character – Murph – goes behind her big brother’s back and undermines him and his [insane] will for his family’s future. The tension builds as he returns to discover his sister’s cunning, and just when we think he is going to do something terrible to everyone, Murph runs out to him, smiling, gushing with hope and love, and she embraces him. Immediately, I knew the phenomenon. I experienced is many times and have dubbed it “Severe Tenderness”. It goes something like this: A few years ago, I was at work one day at the sushi restaurant. My shift on Friday evening was the forbidden hour. I was regularly alone at the front during the dinner rush (4-6pm), taking orders, running orders, preparing dishes, washing dishes, cleaning tables, etc. I learned how to work without thinking, to grow four extra arms, and to lose my temper. But always at 6pm, backup would arrive and pitch in. This woman only worked for two hours (6-8pm), but when she would arrive, I was ready to dump all my frustration out on her. Except, when she came up to me, said hello, asked how I was, and so ready to help me… my anger, stress, and tantrum melted away.

Her smile and sweetness was tender enough to soothe me, yet severe and powerful enough to cut through all the mess that was attacking me. It was instantaneous, and instead of blowing up in her face, I smiled back and worked even harder to help her have an easier evening at work. She became someone for me to serve, and I loved it.

Severe tenderness is a gift, a strength not everyone has, and even in my life there are only a handful of people who have that effect on me, consistently. But don’t go and try to see if you’re one of them, okay?

—–4) At the epic’s end, we find Cooper being sent on a mission: somewhere out there in the new world (new planet) is a new Eve (Amelia). It is not good for her to be alone. Go find her. She’s waiting for you. Be her new Adam. (Yes, strongly echoing Genesis again!) [This also strongly hints how Mary (the true New Eve) comes first and awaits the coming of Jesus Christ (the True New Adam!).]

And when Murph tells Cooper of this, reminds him about Amelia, his love for Amelia is roused. This reminds me strongly of the love story found in the Book of Tobit: the love of Tobias and Sarah. You’ll have to find it in the Bible yourself, read it and watch Interstellar to understand what I am saying. But trust me. It looks pretty parallel to me.

CryoEmbryo—–5) Lastly, Interstellar mentions cryogenic-embryos as part of the backup plan to ensure mankind’s survival. I’d like to point out that the film eventually determines this option to be inadequate, because it means giving up on saving those who are alive. This is not the only reason why cryostorage (super freezing) of human embryos is morally evil, mainly because human persons deserve better than to be left vulnerable in canisters and left there as a resource to tap, manipulate and own. I won’t go any deeper on this point for now, because my philosophy thesis is on this issue, and when it is finished, I’ll be sharing it then. This review is already lengthy enough.

—–BONUS) The biggest plot hole in Interstellar is actually a powerful sign of a something more. Philosophy labels this “plot hole” in reality the Infinite Regress. This is a bit difficult to follow, but hear me out:

      At the film’s end, we discover that:
a) Cooper goes back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper2) about the secret NASA coordinates.
b) Cooper2 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
c) Cooper2’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper3) about the secret NASA coordinates.
d) Cooper3 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
e) Cooper3’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper4) about the secret NASA coordinates.
f) Cooper4 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
g) Cooper4’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper5) about the secret NASA coordinates…
ETC. ETC. ETC. for infinity…

But, who told the first Cooper [about NASA] in this infinite chain that goes nowhere and leads nowhere? Was it another Cooper? In that case, who told that other Cooper? And who told that Cooper? And that Cooper? And that Cooper? Etc. How do we even know that this chain of events can change?

This unsatisfying answer/explanation is actually a way to dodge the question, because it gives you no knowledge of anything. This is the INFINITE REGRESS, and it shows that we have to find the first person who started off everything, aka: the first causer, the one who is outside of the chain, outside of our universe, outside of Creation, outside of our reality, outside of the Big Bang, the one who started it off and set things in motion. Philosophy (and St. Thomas Aquinas) calls this first cause by the name God. Theology calls Him Father.

For those of you who want to give Philosophy a go, here’s an excerpt from page 217 of the text (The One and the Many) we’ve been studying in class at seminary (to further flesh out this concept):

[from W. Norris Clarke's "The One and the Many"]

[from W. Norris Clarke’s “The One and the Many“]

All in all, despite some shortcomings in the film, the good points far outweigh the bad. I was very impressed, and was left breathless at all the science, philosophy, subtle theology, love and sacrifice blended together in harmony. I loved being tested on how much I knew and if I could follow along, instead of being spoonfed (like how most of Hollywood does). Thank you, Lord, for storytellers like Christopher Nolan and Co., and thank you for creating us with the wits to enjoy such stories. Amen!

BlackHole

Just viewed Interstellar again (Nov. 29th, 2014) and had a few more sweets to share with y’all!

—–6) We find out about the MONSTROUS LIE, the temptation Mr. Doctor Brand (Michael Caine) used to bait Amelia and Cooper on the mission. This scene became clearly alluding to the Original Temptation in Eden, when the serpent lies a monstrous lie to Eve, and Eve’s fall brings down Adam (arguably because Adam did not rise up and smash the deceiver instead!). In this film, we see the same thing play out, and the lie, no matter how good it sounds (because nobody wants something evil, but we all want things we may think are good), is always deeply hurtful to the relationships involved.

—–7) Plan-A, or Plan-B? One of the main objections to Plan-B in the film (and rightly so) is because it gives up on those on Earth. It condemns the living to death, labels them hopeless, and then dismisses them. This reminds me of the Pro-Abortion mentality: a woman becomes pregnant, and since she cannot raise a child because of poverty,diseases, etc., she and others are pressured to abort the baby. The baby is condemned to death and the mother is condemned to murder. The child is labeled hopeless and the mother is hopeless if she does not kill her child. The child is dismembered and dismissed as medical refuse, and the mother is dismissed, left to her own again, so that if she was in poverty then she remains so, or if she was abused and raped then she is vulnerable to being harmed again, or if she experiences post-abortive trauma then she is left to struggle with that alone. Plan-B is the first failure. And Plan-A is amazingly open to the genius of man and the providence of God.

—–8) St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body more than mentions the FEMININE GENIUS, and Interstellar is supersaturated with it. Throughout the film, we see a very strong showing of girls and women who know truths beyond science, beyond logic and beyond explanation. We understand this supersense that is peculiarly feminine as intuition, and we see this when Amelia schools us all about love and its transcendental nature, and we see this when Murph calls the ghost in her bookshelf a person, and we see this in how the love of father and daughter knows no bounds, and how Murph arrests her furious brother’s heart and wins him over (as discussed in #3 above). Just view the film with this Feminine Genius in mind, and you’ll see what beauty I mean.

AP CLIMATE FLICKS A ENT FILE—–9) And the New Adam/New Eve typology (symbolism of Jesus and Mary) goes further still! When Cooper detaches from Amelia and the rest of the Endurance Space Station, he plummets into the black hole, sacrificing himself in order to let Amelia rise to safety and continue on to the new world.

Compare this with the Gospel: Jesus Christ surrenders Himself to the Crucifixion, sacrifices Himself and plummets into the place of the dead (aka: Hades). He is buried in the tomb, which is a black hole in the cave, in the ground. His sacrifice allows, actually it propels Mary (as New Eve and as the beginning and perfection of His Church) to rise and continue into a new world, a new redeemed Creation.

Lastly, recall that Amelia also believes Cooper to have perished in the black hole. She thinks herself alone now in the new world. But… Cooper is on his way to her, seemingly rising from the dead, out of the black hole and back to be with her. Now if this don’t sound like the Resurrection

—–And that’s all I got. For now… let’s see what a third viewing brings…

The Anima Christi

On this day, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, when we remember Our Lady of Sorrows, may I present the newest addition to the Holy Smack Holy Card Collection: the Anima Christi [Soul of Christ]!

This card showcases the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the Anima Christi prayer in the original Latin on one side, with an English translation on the reverse. Popular belief claims that St. Ignatius of Loyola composed the prayer, but others believe he merely popularized it. This English version is given to us by Blessed John Henry Newman — an Anglican priest who became a Catholic cardinal after researching Church history far enough and critically enough to see that the one, true Church is the Catholic Church.

Personally, I love praying the Anima Christi after receiving the Holy Eucharist.

AnimaCardLatin

 

AnimaCardBack3

 

How Women in Veils Inspire Males Like Me

[The following post is in honor of Pope Saint Pius X, whose memorial is today, and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we honor tomorrow.]

Ever since I rediscovered the Extraordinary Form of Mass for myself, being Roman Catholic has never been the same. In fact, three big markers pop out of my timeline of Catholic living: when I encountered the Theology of the Body, when I met Mary, and when I discovered the Tridentine Mass.

Over the past few years of attending Tridentine Masses whenever I could (each time a wonderful treat!), one of the things most noticeably distinct to me are the number of women — young and old — who don the chapel veil (aka: mantilla). I always felt different at Mass and worship in the presence of these women in veils, but I didn’t know why (or how so) until this past weekend in the most unlikely of places…

Mass at CampI was at the Midwest’s annual weekend training camp for leadership in the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement of America. Just before our opening Mass in an open field, in the humble shade of a tree and under the gaze of the morning sun, one of my dear friends beside me pulled out a white lace veil and draped it over her hair. It was out of the corner of my eye, but I saw everything in slow motion. I could not believe what I was seeing, and how it lifted my heart. Instantly, I felt a rush of reverence: if she could humble herself so much before Jesus… then how much more should I long to join her in worshiping Him! Her simple gesture to honor Christ floored me, and inspired me to show at least as much reverence.

And then, I found out she was not the only one. Throughout the Masses we shared at camp, I saw another young woman under a veil. As she approached Jesus in the Eucharist, as she knelt before our King and received His Communion, I found myself no longer able to stand before the Lord. The simple and passing beauty of the scene between the King and His daughter made me feel unworthy of beholding it so. I turned my eyes down… I wanted to crawl to Communion because my soul could sense the holiness present. My humble little heart could not handle the beauty.

I know not why it was this setting, this weekend, this event that helped me see how women in veils could help males like me worship, but I praise the Holy Spirit for the gift of this experience, for the gorgeous gift of these women. Thank you. And to further the glory of God, I asked these women to personally share with you their beautiful story…

I’m an all-in-kind-of girl, and as of that, I’ve come to realize that my inability to commit partially is both a blessing and a curse. In any case, it is most definitely the reason why I usually find myself, either, fatally wrong or unshakably confident.

My decision whether to veil or not to veil was no exception. Unbeknownst to me, my discernment process started a few years ago as casual curiosity and admiration. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards it, other than, “Wow, that’s beautiful and holy looking……. I probably shouldn’t wear it.”

But then, through my encounter with the Theology of the Body and the Blessed Sacrament, my understanding for the Church, worship and the nature of God developed — and I wanted to participate in my faith more fully.

It started with my decision to dress more modestly — by replacing my skimpy bikinis with one piece bathing suits.  I avoided controversial situations, like getting drunk while bar hopping in leotards — or just getting drunk, period. (I’m not really sure why I ever thought that it was appropriate to wear leotards as a complete outfit). But bit by bit… all these little changes restored my self image as a child of God. It helped me see myself how my Creator intended me to be. I became more aware of how I needed to represent myself as part of Christ’s body, so much so that I became uncomfortable when I misrepresented myself — and thus misrepresented Christ.

But the holy smack didn’t happen until a few months ago, when I was listening to Tim Staples, an apologist, talk about how Catholics are missing the point of Mass. It’s not just about us ‘getting fed’ but instead the Mass/Sabbath is a day, set aside to give God the praise and worship that is just.  It’s the time to fall to our knees to ask for forgiveness, grace and mercy. It’s the time to glorify Him and hail Jesus to be our true Savior.

Worship is not a matter of my feelings, it is our response to faith.

Furthermore, when I reflected on Scripture, and saw how Jesus references the Church as His bride. The pieces started to fall in place and I understood more clearly, what my Living God was doing. Day-in-and-day-out, upon that altar, He was keeping His Word. He was coming to us, as a MAN. He was offering Himself — completely and fully to us. He was re-establishing a covenant.

Jesus was all in.

[Korean Figure Skater, Yuna Kim, wears the veil.]

[Korean Figure Skater, Yuna Kim, wears the veil.]

This brought me to my knees — literally. I not only genuflected before the Eucharist, I went down on both knees. I am a mortal human that has been chosen to be a temple of God…! I was in the presence of a king. I was receiving Christ! And I wanted to do what was just and deserving of that honor.I begin to prepare for Mass differently. I hung onto every word of the liturgy. I humbly, surrendered and re-committed my life to Jesus, each and every time I received Him.I am a woman, claimed by Christ, Himself.So, what about the veil? Well, there’s no high theology here. It just made sense and was fitting. I want to submit myself before the Lord.  I want to embrace my role as a woman in the Church. The veil represents something that had changed WITHIN me. It is an outward sign of a commitment made in the depths of my heart and soul. So with unshakable confidence — I wear it…’Cause I’m an all-in-kind-of girl.

-Santa Thérèse

The beauty of the mantilla never struck me until reading Crystalina Evert’s blog on the Chastity Project; before, it had just been some weird headdress that old women and younger, presumptuous girls wore to Mass to show off their holiness.  Little did I know that those women didn’t wear those veils because they thought they were holy – it was because they needed to be holier.

Before Vatican II, women were required to wear a chapel veil to Mass in order to show reverence to the Lord on His day, as well showing the world that they, as women, were sacred enough to veil and be protected from the world around them.  The sacred should be veiled, as the Eucharist is protected in the monstrance, the tabernacle, and under the veil during Mass.  After Vatican II, the requirement of wearing the mantilla was taken out of Canon Law, and feminists in the 60’s denounced wearing it because they believed that it was a symbol of slavery to men and to the church, and so the beautiful tradition of the mantilla faded away.

When I read Crystalina’s thoughts on the mantilla, the idea of wearing one intrigued me, but I brushed it off because I didn’t want people looking at me funny or thinking I was getting above myself.  But the image of the veil kept popping into my head, incessantly and constantly.  I decided to pray about it and leave it up to God to show me what I should do, because if I was going to go all out Mary-style, I needed to know exactly why I would.  In the meantime I did some research on it.  I found that several First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, all wore veils upon meeting Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.  If powerful women felt the need to veil themselves in the presence of the Holy See, why shouldn’t we veil ourselves in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?  Not only does the veil show that women are sacred, it also helps you grow into your sacredness.  The wearing of the mantilla promotes the growth of virtues such as chastity, purity, humility, and modesty, all of which are exemplified in the Virgin Mary, who is always depicted wearing a veil.

[Icon by Mina Anton]

[Icon by Mina Anton]

The more I read, the more I felt that God was calling me to be more like our Mother, and to emulate her in everything that I do. Like Crystalina, I loved the idea of being covered by the Holy Trinity and being protected by it.  My boyfriend bought me a white mantilla, which is the traditional color for unmarried women, made of Spanish lace as an homage to my patron saint, Teresa of Avila.  Wearing the mantilla makes me feel like I am alone with Christ during Mass; everyone else melts away, and it’s just me and my maker. I feel more alert, more open, more joyful, and even excited when I get the chance to put it on. I feel even more excited when people ask me about it, because it gives me a chance to share my love for the Holy Family and Holy Trinity.  I love the feel of the lace on my hair, like the caress of a parent’s hand on their child’s head.  I love the way the veil frames my line of vision when I look at the Eucharist.  And I love being able to grow closer to my heavenly Father and my Blessed Mother.

-ANonymous

“And this is why the female body should be veiled because everything which is sacred calls for veiling. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he veiled his face. Why did he veil his face? Because he had spoken to God and at that very moment there was a sacredness that called for veiling… Veiling indicates sacredness and it is a special privilege of the woman that she enters church veiled.” –Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

More thoughts on the mantilla from around the Catholic blogosphere:

1) I Love My Chapel Veil

2) Notes from Beneath the Veil

3)And here’s a video on the veil! 

The Romance Tongue

VaticanAnd when I say Romance, I mean as in relating to Rome, as in the Roman tongue, aka: Latin.

The Roman Catholic Church [aka: the Latin Church] still uses Latin today. Sure, it causes some to wonder why, and causes others to be suspicious. After all, isn’t Latin a dead language? Does anyone even understand it anymore? Why keep up with it when it’s irrelevant?

Well, I’ve heard many of those thoughts throughout the years, and I’ve had many of those years to reflect and pray about it. Here’s what I think:

1) Latin is Mother Church’s language. I mean, wouldn’t you wanna know the language your own momma speaks? Don’t you love her? It’s a part of your heritage, your legacy! (Which explains why I love learning Chinese, academically and for fun.) If you don’t know a lot of Latin, at least know how to goo-goo-gah-gah in Latin, and lip-sync some of her favorite love songs!

2) Latin isn’t so much a dead language as it is a language that has been left alive for one thing, and one thing only: worshiping God. Think about it: we use common languages (like English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Afrikaans, etc.) for common things. We use those languages to work, to curse, to joke, to love, to hurt, to heal, etc. When we use any language well, then it’s all good. But we can also easily use those languages to harm… except we can’t really use Latin to harm! Not enough of us know it well enough to use it for evil. And so Latin’s limited use has left it off limits to common use/abuse, and has dedicated it now as a custom-made language for praying and serving God.

3) Common languages (aka: vernacular languages) are changing constantly. Words in English have changed since Shakespeare. Styles of Chinese have evolved since the Oracle Bones. They change because people use them, and people change. But God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Latin today symbolizes our unchanging God superbly, because Latin does not change! It hasn’t changed since the Roman Empire went to ruin. And now it’s not going to change anymore because it’s a “dead” language: what a Latin prayer meant 1,000 years ago means the same today, and always. Whereas maybe 100 years from now English will be too different to even read an English dictionary!

The Latin Missal4) I cherish being able to pray in Latin. I pride myself in learning new Latin hymns and prayers by heart because it humbles me. I love it because it’s like the trust-game: even though I don’t understand every word and nuance of the Latin prayer, I do know that Mother Church has been praying this way and teaching us these prayers for centuries, and countless saints have said the same prayers, and it worked for them! It teaches me to trust my Church, my Faith, and pray the way she has prayed to her Lord and Savior for ages and ages.

5) Lastly, if some exorcists claim that the demon corrects them when they stumble through Latin in the Ritual, then who am I to think Latin is inferior?! Hell don’t care if English prayers are mispronounced, but mutter a Latin error and the devils go out of their way to correct you while you’re thrashing them??? I don’t know exactly why, but that just means there’s something about Latin you just don’t mess with or brush off. After all, some exorcists even claim that the prayers in Latin are just more effective.

This recording of an exorcist’s testimony reinforces the claims behind the power of prayers in Latin during his exorcism sessions:

So there you have it: five little reasons why I like to have some Latin in my pocket and in my prayers.

P.s. Did I mention that dinosaur names are in Latin?

[Tyrannosaurus Rex!]

[Tyrannosaurus Rex!]

Why Chant Can’t Speed Up

Canto GregorianoWhen I first encountered Gregorian Chant in the Catholic Mass, it felt like a serenade for my soul. The music massaged my anxiety away, and I knew right away I wanted more chant in the masses I went to, more chant in the prayers I prayed, more chant in my life.

So what did I do? What I usually do when I find treasure — I shared it with others as fast and as much as I could.

I started by teaching Tantum Ergo to the kids in the youth group. Yes, it was all in Latin. Yes, they took to it easily and faster than I thought they would. And yes, it was slow, paced, and measured.

But why exactly is Christian chant so slooooooow? Why do we draw out the Kyrieeeeeeeeeee eleison (among others)? Why do we take our time and pronounce everything carefully, tediously…

Well, it’s the same reason why lovers can talk for hours. When you love someone, you don’t rush through conversations, you don’t speed through hellos and blitz through farewells, you don’t sing to each other just to get it over with. You savor it!

You take it slow, show them you care, take the time to make it clear and meaningful.

When you encounter beauty, you want to stay in it. Nobody brushes off a stunning sunset. Nobody forgets a special smile. But everybody wants to prolong their exposure to beauty, to stall and relish in it — get absorbed into it.

And that’s why chant can’t speed up. Because we’re singing to our Beloved, because we’re humming to Him with the saints in Heaven, because we’re steeping in His glory and beauty.

Even toddlers know Gregorian chant is just different — and dare I say…  just better.

So next time you’re at a Mass with chant done right, don’t just listen… but feel the music. It’s prayer with texture.

Is Chant Still a Thing?

[YOU BET it is!]

The Underground Rail

During the past few weeks, there’s been quite a few blog posts railing (pun intended, you’ll see) against the way Roman Catholics receive Holy Communion in the past 50 years. Complaints have ranged from the current mode as being too factory-like, too restrictive, too forceful, and even too formal. Calls were made to make it all more spontaneous, covert, and unobtrusive. You can see what I’m talking about here and here.

Well, I was at my Holy Hour today, and reflected on that perspective. There were good points to be made, but I felt the overall argument was against the overstepping ushers – not necessarily the way we receive Communion.

But then it got deep.

I gazed at our Lord in the monstrance, and He reminded me how I felt less than 24 hours earlier, when I was at a Low Tridentine Mass in a beautiful, yet cold, dim, downtown church (St. Joseph’s of Detroit). It was time for Holy Communion, and we made our way to the communion rail (aka: altar rail. Click here for more about the different parts of a Catholic church building.). I knelt at the rail that divided the nave from the sanctuary, that kept us at a distance from the high altar, that we waited at as the priest approached us and spoon fed us God. I remember feeling strange kneeling beside a man I didn’t know, among strangers who I’ve never seen.

[Notice the Altar Rail along the bottom of the photo.]

[Notice the Altar Rail along the bottom of the photo.]

BirdFeedingThen I realized the beauty – the intimacy. At a communion rail, I am there waiting long enough to gain a sense of angst, to wander in the wonder, to reflect, pray, and be childlike. At a communion rail, we get to wait, to anticipate, to be near so beautiful a sanctuary. The rail serves partly as a limit, a boundary, to keep us in check, to remind us that we are not holy enough, not ready enough, never good enough! The priest – who is in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) – must bring Jesus to us. Our Blessed Lord must come down to us, must stoop down to us as we kneel in wait before Him, and He must feed us like we are his lost and hungry flock, like we are starving little hatchlings still in the nest. He must come to us, because we as mortal man can never lift ourselves to Him. He first loved us, as any parent must first love their child before any of us can ever return love.

[The priest prays for every communicant, one by one as he/she receives communion: “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto everlasting life. Amen.”

And when we are knelt, we are always lower than anyone who is standing. The communion rail encourages us to kneel before Beauty, to stare up with awe at the most gorgeous part of the church: the altar, the tabernacle, the frescoes and stained windows, the statues and the view. So, we are lower than the Lord, and He comes down to our level, and we gaze up at Him as He gives us Himself.

Kneeling also renders us vulnerable to He who is standing. Jesus reaches down to us, gives to us, then lifts us from our humility and vulnerability into intimacy, into His glory and dignity. Then there’s kneeling beside and among strangers during Communion, and when we receive the Lord with them, we become siblings all of us. We shared God together. We become spiritually intimate.

Outside of the Extraordinary Mass, I only ever see people receive Communion knelt at their weddings. The new couple, before the altar, knelt together, intimate as they share God. If this is such a powerful experience for the newlyweds, then no wonder it was the norm for centuries! For millennia even!

Then came the communion line we know of today… sometimes feeling more like a conveyor belt as we shuffle up to receive a handout. We take, then go – like a dine-and-dash, like a carry-out. It’s too quick, too efficiency-oriented, too much like a factory. That’s where I agree with the detractors of “orderly” Communion. But I cannot agree when they seem to call for a random mad-dash, bad-timing-prone, childish and Black-Friday-esque Communion experience (yes, someone even said it should have the fervor of Black Friday chaos. Mind them, people are trampled to death on that shopping day…). The rail calls us to be childlike, but the craziness asked for calls us to be childish!

Yet despite those and other points that I disagree with, I would say the railers are actually deeply longing for the rail of old, the time tested communion rail of the Vetus Ordo Mass, the largely forgotten and neglected and unjustly detracted and overlooked and forced underground communion rail. Because I realized how beautiful and intimate Holy Communion is… and I did not realize it in some queue, but at the rail! among and beside my siblings! humbled before God.

And you can see more of what I’m sharing here.

There Will Be Blood

SurgeryPrepI was at a Tridentine Mass and the priest was vesting in the sanctuary. Altar men in full cassock and surplice were assisting the priest, like how nurses assist a surgeon before the operation, like how technicians assist an astronaut before launch, like how safety personnel assist engineers into haz-mat suits before a mission.

Yes, it was complicated, those Extraordinary Form chasubles of antiquity. But as I watched the priest vest in chasuble and maniple, my imagination took off (as you can see) and my mind stopped when I saw the symbolism. And when I saw it, I could never unsee it. Permanent and powerful.

Vestments

The chasuble was a giant apron, not unlike the kind that a dentist buries you under before they take X-rays of your jaws and teeth. The chasuble is thick, heavy and dense, and looks almost stab-proof.

Now why would the Church vest her priests in these bulletproof vests… err, aprons?

Why?… I wondered.

Because there will be blood. Because there will be BLOOD!

It’s going to get messy at Mass. It’s a sacrifice… the Lamb will be slain, the priest will fill a chalice with its precious blood, the priest will feed us with fresh flesh from the Lamb.

So of course a chasuble is necessary!

FinalChasubleManipleBurseVeilBut now, what about that maniple? That fancy, overgrown handkerchief pinned onto the priest’s left arm? It hangs down by about a foot… so obstructive (right?)! Why would that be important…

Because there will be sweat. Because there will be tears shed.

Worship and sacrifice is hard labor. Prayer and service for an hour before an altar, lugging around all that armor, deciphering all that Latin, chanting all that time, expressing all those gestures and postures, genuflecting, stooping, bowing, kneeling and weeping, and more…

So of course a maniple is necessary!

Because love is hard work, because love involves tears, sweat and blood from the lover and from the beloved. And love is the only thing worth it all.Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck

The Priest Disappears

For most of my life, I’ve been going to the Ordinary Form (aka: the Novus Ordo, the New Order) of the Roman Catholic Mass. It was the Mass I was born into, grew up with, and still appreciate. It’s the Mass of Vatican II, the Catholic Mass of today.

But once you taste the sushi, the steak, the cake, the wine… you just don’t wanna settle for the canned tuna, the burger, the Twinkie, the Hi-C. (That’s not to say you can’t have a really good tuna sandwich, gourmet burgers, and fresh homemade creme cakes with organic fruit punch, though!)

Sushi!

Mmmm… Mmmm!

Hmmm...

Hmmm…

And once I tasted the Extraordinary Form (aka: the Vetus Ordo, the Old Order, the Tridentine, the Traditional Latin Mass), I just found it more and more difficult to feel satisfyingly fed at the Ordinary Mass. I mean, even the name itself sounds… not-extraordinary.

Well today (October 13, 2013, World-Wide-Consecration-to-Mary Day!), a few fellow seminarians invited me along to the Tridentine. I was surprised at first, because we had just went to a Mass! At the Cathedral! Five minutes ago! But at the same time, I felt like someone was treating me to a banquet — how could I decline? How?

So I went to Mass again, twice within four hours!

And WHAT A DIFFERENCE.

I could give dozens of reasons why I’ve grown to love the Extraordinary Mass. Ever since my first encounter with the EF in 2010-ish, I’ve seen my love for the Liturgy and my reverence for the Eucharist mature and ripen. The Tridentine has taught me how to worship, how to pray and praise, and how to serve the Lord.

And today at Vetus Ordo, I noticed yet another reason why: the priest disappears.

That’s right! The priest — he disappears!

I found myself wrestling with the prayers, exercising my soul, working out my mind and disciplining my body. Then I looked toward the High Altar and couldn’t see the priest. “Wait, where did Father go? Where… hmm… OH! There he is!”

So what happened?

I meditated on what just happened (the silence of V.O. Mass let’s you do that easily) and I realized: Mass is really not about the priest. It’s not about his homily, not about the jokes that he shares, not about the stories he relates (good as some are).

No. Mass is about the Lord. Mass is about Christ sacrificing Himself for love of us. And about Him feeding us with Bread from Heaven, with True Food and True Drink (John 6: 48-69).

And the servant of the Lord — the priest — knew Who was the focus of Mass. The priest submitted himself to Jesus, submitted so much so to the Church that *poof* he disappeared.

I must decrease, and He must increase (John 3:30). Right?

Bon Appétit!

*Please see this short video for more*

The elevation of the Blessed Sacrament.

The elevation of the Blessed Sacrament.

UPDATED [Jan. 20, 2018]: My intuition is only further affirmed by this quote taken from this article from OnePeterFive:

In the Old Mass, the personality of the priest does not matter. His office matters, and he and the people together are facing the Lord. Conversus ad Dominum. And for that reason the role of the priest is an objective one. It’s not subjective, and for that reason he disappears. That is, obviously, he is the mediator between the congregation and God, leading the congregation toward God, but because of the objectivity of the structure, he disappears. That is very salutary, because the Mass is not about the priest; it’s about God. In the Novus Ordo, because of the versus populum practice, and because of all the options of the priest inserting something like a comment, or spontaneity, the role of the priest becomes terribly subjective. Therefore, he becomes the focus of attention, so the New Mass is terribly clericalized because it’s all about the priest, as opposed to the Old Mass. And this is unfortunate.