Tuesday, January 29, 2013


There are actually Catholics of the progressive bent who think that the Benedictine altar arrangement which is actually the traditional altar arrangement was eliminated by Vatican II. Of course that is utter nonsense, just as removing kneelers, eliminating kneeling and so on and so on were all mandated by Vatican II.

This following picture shows a monastic chapel that I would call "noble austerity." I don't particular like the building and without the Benedictine altar arrangement, this chapel would truly be hopeless.

Yet the style of the altar raised several steps and the simple traditional adornments on the altar make all the difference in the world. Wouldn't you agree?


Henry Edwards said...

In case anyone wonders how the intentions of the bishops at Vatican II--whatever they may have been--were shunted aside, and instead what pre-Vatican II liturgists had planned years before was done rapidly in the 1960s under the cover of an alleged "spirit of Vatican II", a fairly complete outline of the story is available: (part 1) (part 2)

As Cardinal Ratzinger has explained, the key is that the bishops completely lost control of the liturgical situation. From part 2:

"The very rapid introduction of the reforms made it almost impossible for the bishops, who were still spending considerable time in Rome attending Council sessions, to take an active role in planning the implementation of the liturgical reform. So this was left to the “private agencies”, that is, organizations of expert liturgists whom the bishops had come to rely on for interpretation of the Council’s intentions. And the Liturgical Conference was prepared to take on the task."

"The diocesan liturgists who were in charge of implementation almost certainly got their information on the meaning of the liturgical reform in one of the Liturgical Conference’s many institutes, and were presented with their ready-made program for instructing the laity. And that program, the “Parish Worship Program”, instructed pastors to implement a whole array of practices not found in any of the documents from the Holy See, including practices that had been advocated by liturgists for decades."

Unknown said...

What do you mean by "the traditional altar arrangement?" The Benedictine model isn't traditional at all. Most altars even in antiquity faced East. the traditional altar arragement might have the same set up, but it was not versus populum, if that is what you're getting at; if you're not, that statement is very clumsy, at best.

I digress...

For a monastic setting that sanctuary and choir is glorious!!! I would love to see more of the monastic communities embrace that sense of noble simplicity. But in the parish setting, I do believe there should be more embellishment. The austerity formed by the monks is lost on most and it takes a very special charism to be able to appreciate that.

I think that if a church is Baroque it should convey that style, if it is Romanesque it should as well, if it is Gothic, the same...but to simply have those as shells, that doesn't do it, in the average parish, which is what we have now, for the most part.

John Nolan said...

Looks like Blackfriars, Oxford. Most of the time they use a portable forward 'altar'. Here, as elsewhere, the Dominicans haven't quite seen the light and chopped it up for firewood.

Rood Screen said...

The links Henry Edwards kindly provides add further weight to the argument that the present liturgical mess in the West has its origins not in the New Mass, but in a malicious "spirit" that preceded it.

Joseph Johnson said...

For the average smaller parish which, in most cases, could not afford to build a new Gothic or Romanesque church building (with the suitable furnishings) this simple set-up looks like an ideal starting point (in terms of sanctuary layout) to move us back to continuity with our Latin liturgical heritage.

In many cases, such an altar set-up can be accomplished with an existing table altar but moved back for ad orientem and covered (made to look solid and not table-like) with nice flat lying lined frontals. Finish with six candles and a nice missal stand and there you have it! This is a relatively inexpensive way to get this look until the parish can afford to buy a better altar (hopefully one of those reclaimed ones from a place like King Richard's---which should at least please "progressives" because something is being reused and not making a larger "carbon footprint").

Anonymous 2 said...

Andy mentioned the “sense of noble simplicity” that is particularly appropriate for monastic churches but may not be appropriate for parish churches due to the need for a special charism to appreciate it. Perhaps a special charism is needed, but sometimes I wonder about it. Much as I love St Josephs in Macon, which is very beautiful but certainly not an example of “noble simplicity,” I also love the church at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, which most definitely_is_an example of “noble simplicity” and yet is also very beautiful. I have posted a photograph of the Monastery's church before but here is another photo that will make the point even more strikingly: (click on the first link listed)

And here is my question: Does it require a special charism to appreciate at least this particular example of “noble simplicity”? If not, it may suggest the value of diversity in parish church architectural design and decoration, with the ornate beauty of St. Josephs at one end of the spectrum and the austere beauty of Holy Spirit monastery at the other. Moreover, perhaps the experience of worshipping in a setting of such “noble simplicity” might make its own contribution towards combating the hyper-materialism to which so many, perhaps all, of us are susceptible.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

In our own Diocese of Savannah, where we have many rural parishes and churches that are quite simple, prior to the Council, they all had altars that were decorated in the pre-Vatican II way a depicted in this picture and that alone helped to give some "tradition" and elegance to the building.
But after Vatican II many if not most of our churches stripped the altars down,pulled them away from the wall, moved the tabernacle to the side and put two small, rinky dink candles on the altar and that was it. It made these simple churches look like Presbyterian churches.
Simply having the more traditional look goes a long way in a sour church.

Gene said...

Anon 2, How do you define "noble simplicity?" Are you talking about mere architecture or, rather, about ambience? I believe the TLM or a properly conducted ad orientum OF accords a "noble simplicity" even to a neo-Gothic structure such as St. Joseph's...n'est ce pas? Now, put a clown Mass or some prot looking song and dance at Conyer's or some other "monastic" setting and see what it looks like.

Unknown said...


I was speaking about the architecture, but I think that Gene hits upon a very important aspect as well, which I didn't even try to convey in my previous post.

Noble simplicity can be looked at in a couple of different ways, precisely because it is a subjective phrase, insofar as it applies differently to different situations.

When speaking about architecture, I think that my view is can be tweaked a little, but I also think that Gene is spot on when speaking about the rubrics.

Re: architecture. If a church is staying within it's style of architecture, such as Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, etc. without over embellishing the style with needless accouterment, then it remains simplistic in a noble way. So, the monastic chapel shown is nobly simplistic, but then again, so is St. Joseph's in Macon, because it doesn't have needless tchotchke all over the place.

The same applies to the Mass. It is nobly simplistic, if it conveys the notion of "do the red, say the black." If the vestments used are beautiful, if the sacred vessels used are beautiful, that is remaining simple, because it is giving the greatest glory due to God, that man can give. It is not intentionally being deprecating or overly simplistic, which then loses the sense of nobility.

The concept of noble simplicity isn't one of austerity or over simplicity. That is a liberal mistake. Noble simplicity means giving the greatest glory possible to God within the bounds of the style in which it was intended; as well as the actions that were intended.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

I have been in this Church, and John Nolan, is correct, it is Blackfriars in Oxford. Traditionally, the Church's of the mendicant orders ere quite spartan, and that is why so few survived the reformation - the church belonging to the friars (white friars - Carmelites, grey friars - Franciscans, black friars - Dominicans)reflected the emphasis on the vow of poverty. When the reformation came, the crown ordered inventory of such churches showed them to be quite poor, as compared to the monasteries. When the current Blackfriars was built, it was built in the traditional spartan style of the mendicants. In that sense, I do not think the Church was intended to reflect noble simplicty, but rather the austerity stemming from the vow of poverty.

When I was in Oxford, I preferred to go to mass at St. Aloysius (now the oratory. What I particularly remember about that church is in the statues behind the altar there was a statue of the angel St. Uriel and the back had two wonderful murals, one of St. Aloysius (my other middle name) and on of my hero St. Edmund Campion. I know I digress, but the wonderful Office of Readings for his feast is from his Brag.

Henry Edwards said...

The Adoremus outline of the 1960s liturgical revolution shows that it did not merely misinterpret or inadequately implement Vatican II's liturgical recommendations.

It actually bypassed and circumvented the Council, and pursued instead an agenda that activists had planned in detail during the decade or two preceding Vatican II. This was possible because in the aftermath of the Council, the foxes were put in charge of the henhouse. So, in essence, under the cover of the "spirit of Vatican II" they ironically were able to forestall the actual intentions of the Council and implement a program that otherwise would surely have been impossible.

As Father Shelton points out, the Novus Ordo was not the cause of this chaos, but merely a result, and perhaps even (in a sense) a solution (whether or not intended as such). I myself spent this period in a parish directly influenced by Archbishop Paul Hallinan, who as the article mentions was on the cutting edge of all this, both here in the U.S. and in Rome as a member of Msgr. Bugnini's group. For us, the effect of the 1970 Novus Ordo implementation was to somewhat stabilize the situation and bring at least a bit of order forth from the preceding chaos, in which the Mass had seemed to change randomly almost from week to week, as we experimented with various hare-brained proposals.

Indeed, I have sometimes wondered--in considering the possibility that Pope Paul VI might have been well-intentioned (from the present perspective)--whether he might have been "sold" the Novus Ordo at least partly with the argument that it would stabilize the situation, for instance, with only four canons where there had been dozens or hundred circulating and showing up weekly in the loose-leaf binders that had replaced bound missals on many parish altars (or, by now, tables).

Unknown said...

What is interesting Henry is the precedence set. None of it is based upon history, but on each of the other's view, when talking about the liturgists and the reforms. They based their reasoning on each other's views and cited it as authoritative, for the most part. It was absolutely fallacious and it is what has led Benedict to call the liturgical reforms, banal, on-the-spot, and a rupture.

At every turn there is a roadblock from the Church and at every roadblock, the "reformers" circumvent it. This has been the modus operandi of the Consilium since 1948. Which, btw, they were recognized as a body in 1964, but had been calling themselves the Consilium since '48. Convenient, huh?

Unknown said...

All of that being said, in the last post, I have to disagree with you and Fr. Shelton somewhat.

I do think that the Novus Ordo is the cause. Precisely because it is the fruit the reformers created. I also don't see the Novus Ordo as stabilizing at all, but rather as divisive by all accounts.

I do agree that Paul VI was sold on the Novus Ordo, but I think that he was a willing buyer, based upon the reforms. Even if he was a weak willed man, which I do believe, I think that he documents on the Mass bear out that he was at the very least complicit in the actions of the Consilium.

Henry Edwards said...

Andy, I was there in the 1960s, as I believe you were not. The chaos that preceded the Novus Ordo--for instance, with those hundreds of loose-leaf bootleg canons, some parishes hearing a different one every week or month (most of them crude efforts worse than the current four) when they didn't hear one made up on the spot--was worse than what followed it. So, indeed, the Novus Ordo did indeed have a stabilizing influence, introducing a modicum of standardization after a period of unrestrained experimentation.

Because of this, I suspect Paul VI was convinced that he had no choice in accepting the Bugnini-fabricated New Order to slow the breakneck deterioration, though we can only wonder--the historical record being unclear--how reluctant he may have been privately, for plainly he was on the progressive side from the start.

I certainly agree with you that the optionitis and lack of binding rubrics of the Novus Ordo have doomed it (and us) to forty years of continued despair, and it is small consolation that the liturgical situation almost certainly would have gotten even worse if the Novus Ordo had not been introduced. I don't think anyone intimately familiar with the 1960s and 1970s has reason to disagree with this assessment.

Whether or not the Novus Ordo was itself a mistake at that time, when the Tridentine Mass was but a memory and pragmatically unavailable to go back to, the real problem is that for three decades thereafter, Paul's successors did not or could not further the reform that only now is beginning to occur.

Anonymous 2 said...

I am only just now able to check the Blog today. Andy says that “[t]he concept of noble simplicity isn't one of austerity or over simplicity. That is a liberal mistake.” Two points about this. First, regarding the conflation of simplicity and austerity, I am not sure I understand why this is a “liberal” mistake, especially since the distinction between them apparently is only now being made or clarified. Second, perhaps I am being unduly sensitive but am I somehow being accused (yet again) of being that horror of horrors, a “liberal?” I wonder if my reference to hyper materialism had something to do with these reactions to my comment and the extolling of the austere architectural beauty of the monastery church at Conyers.

So, in the end, perhaps Andy is right after all. Maybe it really does require a special charism to appreciate the austere beauty of the church at Conyers. I did not think this was the case but I could well be wrong because I notice that no-one seems to have responded to my comments on that particular point. And I am quite happy to accept the distinction that Andy and others now make or clarify (but that certainly was not evident to me from Andy’s original comment from which I was drawing the terminology I used) between simplicity and austerity and to have my comment understood as referring to austerity rather than simplicity. After all, “What’s in a name? The church at Conyers by any other name would be just as austere/simple (and beautiful).”

BTW Gene, like Andy, I was talking about architecture, although I would not refer to it as “mere” architecture because I suspect that the aesthetics of the space in which we worship has profound emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects just as the “ambiance” does. And I was trying to suggest the value of diversity of architectural style (within acceptable norms), from the ornately elaborate to the austerely simple.

Unknown said...

@ Henry:

I didn't have to actually be there to be able to understand the mindset of the 1960s. I've had it shoved down my throat since the day I was baptized, in 1972. But to assert that is akin to saying that a psychiatrist can't help a crazy person unless he was crazy, at some point too. It just doesn't follow.

I've been studying this stuff a long, long time (since 1994) and I can tell you that the chaos was supported by Paul VI. There are sources now coming forward to prove this. (Look in the most recent issue of the Remnant and read Chris Fererra's piece)

It's kinda sad really, because if we are to accept that Paul VI was privately discouraged, but couldn't "stop the train" then what does that say about his "heroic virtues" which are leading to his impending beatification and eventual canonization?

There is a very real problem if what you're saying is true and there is a unanimous assent to move his case along. Sorry for the sidebar.

Back to your point, there are still "bootleg" canons all over the place. My parent's pastor makes up words in the EP that he reads every week. It is close to EP II, but because he changes and adds things, it isn't the approved canon. Which is my point. The Novus Ordo is the cause. Because the Roman Missal (read: Sacramentary) is bound and costs $500 now doesn't mean that it is any better than the loose leaf stuff of 1964, it just looks nicer.

The Novus Ordo, from a practical point of view was lost from the start. It was no more a stabilizing ceremony than a birthday party for a 5 year old. With all the options and leeway given, it is no wonder that we are where we are.

This is REASON #1 why the Reform of the Reform must start from the TLM and the Novus Ordo needs to be booted to the annals of history.

Unknown said...

@ Anon 2;

"...regarding the conflation of simplicity and austerity, I am not sure I understand why this is a “liberal” mistake..."

Look at 90% of churches today. How are they appointed? Even in historically Gothic or Baroque or Romanesque churches, how many have been stripped down to just a shell and have very little or no resemblance to their intended architecture? When austerity is substituted artificially under the name of "noble simplicity" then you have your liberal undertones and overtones for that matter.

"...perhaps I am being unduly sensitive but am I somehow being accused (yet again) of being that horror of horrors, a “liberal?”"

Not by me.

It does require a special charism to understand that austerity doesn't mean noble simplicity. There is great and immeasurable value in austerity, but not when it is a disguise for iconoclasm under the guise of "noble simplicity."

That is my point.

Pater Ignotus said...

Anon 2 - I don't think a special charism is need to appreciate the monastery chapel at Conyers. We are simply individuals with individual tastes.

The intention of Trappist simplicity is to support a monk's inward looking, his/her inner quest for God. inasmuch as we all have that inner quest - though in different forms and to different degrees - we can all appreciate the Conyers chapel for what it is. Asking or expecting it to be something else is an error in and of itself, not an error of the design or decoration of the building.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I love Conyer's monastery chapel and think it is a good model with some modification for parish use.

The only thing missing, which it once had, is the so-called Benedictine Altar arrangement. That's all it needs to make it perfect and get the fly out of the ointment.

Anonymous in Archdiocese of Detroit said...

Father, what is your opinion on plain, simple wood Altars that look like kitchen tables,which dominate most churches in my area built from the late 1970s to the present, such as
this: Guardian Angels, Clawson,
this: Our Lady of the Lakes, Waterford,
this: Resurrection, Canton,
this: St Dennis, Royal Oak,
this; St Ephrem, Sterling Hts,
this: St Patrick, Whitelake
and this: St Jane Frances, Sterling Hts

Keep in mind, these are suburban, middle class parishes that spend literally over $1000 a year on flowers for Christmas and Easter. Imagine wasting $1000 a year on perishable flowers when it could be better spent on a nice marble altar or some sacred artwork.

Such is the legacy of John Cardinal Dearden, one of the creators of the "spirit of Vatican II" left wing, subversive agenda. I fear the Archdiocese of Detroit may never recover.