Maundy Thursday 2016

This year Christians’ observance of The Last Supper follows on the heels of the Jewish feast of Purim. Thus we have the whole megillah finished before Maundy Thursday, with Passover nowhere in sight of Easter this time around. Ah, well, the warp and woof of our respective feasts make yet another annual tapestry…

Pange Lingua was written by Saint Thomas Aquinas for the summer feast day of Corpus Christi, but is also traditionally used for Holy Thursday.

It is the latter which resonates for me: our solemn procession under the high arches of that downtown parish where Saint Mary’s Orphanage was located still echoes, even though the orphanage has long since been demolished. Whatever do they do with four floors of solid red brick, or with majestic but impossibly long windows that rattled in the wind?

The church still stands. It’s been ‘elevated’ to the status of Basilica. Somehow I doubt its new promotion has increased the lunchtime attendance it used to have when America was more religious than it is now.

The later feast of Corpus Christi, for which Pange Lingua was really composed, occurred each year while we were at Saint Mary’s Summer House in Orange Park. Out there, Sunday Mass was in a small Spanish chapel (which I read has since been turned into a Little Theatre, and that big old rambling mansion has also been torn down).

By then summer’s implacable heat combined with the distraction of birds flitting through the persimmon tree by the chapel window served to leach out the somber plangent mood of Saint Thomas’ hymn. The rites of Spring — the holy days of Easter, The Ascension and Pentecost, the re-telling of the core of our belief — had long since come and gone. The feast of Corpus Christi always seemed a placeholder during the endless summer Sundays following Pentecost.

On Hesperado’s blog, I found a wonderful link on his sidebar to an artist who happens to be Catholic. I think you might like her reflections on Pope Francis, and on papal elections in general. Given the Pope’s latest mal mot, spoken especially for Holy Thursday, it is good this woman takes the long view. Such spectacles as he makes require that kind of vision.

From March 22nd, her contemplation, “The Holy Spirit Is not A Fixer”:

Every so often someone writes to tender an oblique suggestion that I am not a true Catholic. A lapsed one maybe, a Jack Catholic, but hardly a staunch card-carrier like themselves. How else could I not bang saucepans for this pontificate? How else harbor unsmiling thoughts about Papa Francis? The correspondence goes something like this:

  • Are you Catholic? [Yes.]
  • Are you a practicing Catholic? [Yes.]
  • Do you believe the Holy Ghost guides the Church? [Yes.]
  • Well then, don’t you believe the Holy Ghost chose Francis? [No so fast.]

Straightaway, it helps to stay mindful that every pope, holy or reprobate, governs from within the Church, neither above it nor — as it sometimes seems — against it. He is not the Church itself. One can disagree with a pope’s personal slant, even dislike him for his modus operandi, without being charged with hostility toward the Church.

And, please — the Holy Spirit is not a fixer. Yes, we trust that the Spirit guides, but guidance is not domination. It is not determinative; it does not make puppets of a conclave or engineer outcomes. In light of man’s God-given freedom of will, it would be a scandal if it did. God does not dishonor His own creation.

Made in His image, we are an inventive species. Quite ingenious, the bunch of us. Since Eden we have learned how to manage guidance, retool it. We can over-ride the GPS, set it pointing where we want to go. We have a flair for rationalizing our own druthers as the will of God. It is an easy thing for clever men to parlay their innermost desires, drives, and ambitions into grand illusions of divine intent.

That white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney might signal choice of a God-pleaser. Or maybe not. The Spirit might smile or shrug. We are permitted to do the same.

According to Church law, papabile are forbidden to campaign for their own election. That is a polite advance on the days when a contending candidate might poison his opposition. With toxins off the table, cardinal-electors went full-throttle to canvass for their preference. John Paul II’s 1996 condemnation of lobbying was a back-handed admission of the persistence of the practice.

The papal order Universi Dominici Gregis bears analogy to the many sumptuary laws brought from England with the Puritans. The sheer number of them testified to the irrepressible love of color and finery. Puritan divines were hard pressed to maintain an orderly hierarchy of consumption. Hence, successive condemnations against satin and sable for all but a proper earl.

Just so, politicking — arguing your cause, stumping for your man — is as intrinsic a drive as love of adornment. It is also more consequential, hence more aggressively finessed. Indefatigable, it burrows under censure only to emerge refined and groomed for the fray.

No man rises to the cardinalate without a bent for bureaucratic subtleties and the crafts of diplomacy. In the lead-up to a conclave, is overt electioneering even necessary? There remain the time-honored wink and nod, the hand on the elbow, the stop-on-by-for-a glass-of-Glenfidich. There is the lending of a text or two, the have-you-seen-this-article? And, tell me now, what are your hopes for yourself, brother? Where do you see your charism headed? Where do you want to be come time to hang up the red zucchetto?

I sometimes think the Spirit takes delight in the game — even if the wrong team wins. True mirth has an astringent quality. It acts as a tonic against enfeebling sentimentality and makes us mindful that fear of the Lord precedes mercy.

Kyrie eleison.

To which I would respond, Christe eleison.

At this moment in the liturgical year, the church is Empty. We wait for Good Friday’s lessons. I don’t go to them anymore. They pierce the heart and who wants to hear the woman in the back, sobbing? Better to stay home and have one’s spectacle in private. Especially this year, with ISIS threatening to crucify a priest on Good Friday — for our edification.

Oh, Jerusalem, we weep for your children

P.S. I recommend a visit to Studio Matters to see the art.

9 thoughts on “Maundy Thursday 2016

  1. Well said, Dymphna! (Some of your post brings to my mind C.S. Lewis’ essay ‘Private Bates,’ in the anthology ‘God in the Dock.’)

  2. Thanks. I’m a non-Catholic Christian who grew up among devoted Catholics, and across the street from a St. Vincent’s School, whose Parish Priest was the total personification of Barry Fitzgerald. Other than one particular Nun, no bad memories come to mind.

  3. I live in Orange Park and yes the little chapel was re-located several miles away and is now a community theater.
    Your post brings home the reality of all that has transpired these last 20 years or so. While washing the feet of the “refugees” is on the surface a perfect picture of our calling in this world, it is tainted with the reality of the churches wholesale devolution into becoming just another NGO with a political agenda.
    I agonize between the truth that many of these people are running away from hardships we can only imagine and the equally true fact that many if not most despise the very society they hope will offer them safe harbor. Love will have to reign, but love of one’s own countrymen is as valid as love of the oppressed and afflicted. Where will the next wave of hopeless and desperate people go once the West has been reduced to the same level of poverty and despotism as is found in the lands from which these masses are fleeing?
    Lord have mercy
    Lord have mercy
    Lord have mercy…
    Nonetheless, Indeed he is risen!

  4. Fascinating, thanks Dymphna. I’ve been examining the Rosarium Philosophrum on this rainy Friday, heathen that I am. I have been particularly riveted by woodcut #2, where the sun and the moon grasp each other by the left hand, and whatever process unfolds. …behold, the spirit is required.

    Failing this, I notice the wolves are starting to nip at Obama’s ankles with increasing frequency .. and I’m firmly seated to watch the gore and bloodletting unfold and observe its effect, yes, even within myself. The nagging fear and unease occasioned by the left-hand grasp must be quelled in time for election day. No Holy Spirit required. Francis is destined for the same fate.

    I am unable to find a separate page with just figure #2 alone, which I find so fascinating, so this is a link to all 20 images. Some are quite risque since the alchemists were immodest and used imagery of male and female in coitus to represent the reasonable, honest whole, so I do need to warn your more sensitive viewers about this.

    I like the last image, too, of Our Lord … but I can’t make heads or tails of the others in between, quite frankly, and I’m not about to be sucked into a morass of Jungian nonsense in search of explanation. From what I can see if you let the spirit in, even after grasping by way of the left, which happens, all will end beautifully. That is enough.

  5. “Without Bach, God would be a complete second rate figure —


    Bach’s music is the only argument proving the creation of the Universe
    cannot be regarded as a complete failure.

    Emil Cioran (1911 – 1995)

    • That’s brilliant, Da Capo. If I place the unorthodox believer Beethoven, and the nonbeliever Brahms, on the same pedestal, this is entirely on musical grounds.

      Dymphna, I understand even better why you love Robertson Davies!

  6. That age old, age old problem – how can evil exist simultaneously with an all powerful and completely good God? Isn’t this a contradiction? I don’t know how many books and essays I’ve read on the question, personally … but many. And finally I have become satisfied that the various free will arguments do, indeed, offer satisfactory responses to the problem of pain (as Lewis termed it).

    Rather crudely, my belief can be summed up as “God does not micro-manage” – doing so would be an egregious violation of our freedom and therefore contrary to His nature. I do however, believe that he sometimes intervenes directly in the world that He has created – and this is what is known as a miracle. But I don’t (and refuse to) accept the notion that the Almighty is busy deciding the smallest details of our lives: The mechanics of the world that He designed, along with, crucially, our own free wills interacting with that world, determine those details, both large and small.

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