There’s a lovely article on Fr Ray Blake’s blog Poorer Church, a non-Pelagian Church, a re-Orientated Church. He naturally bases his ideas on what he has been hearing from Pope Francis. Poor Church? Few things make me more angry than learning that some monstrosity has been installed in a church or a cathedral for use as an altar facing the people and cost a fantastic sum of money, perhaps thousands of euros (dollars, pounds, whatever) for an ugly piece of concrete, metal or plastic done by a questionable artist. In the 1970’s, they were burning vestments on bonfires (some of mine were rescued from such a fate) and commissioning expensive new vestments that “looked poor”.
What is even more obscene is the impoverishment of the liturgy whilst some clergy drive flashy cars and have equally flashy careers. There I agree with the idea that many of us do well to drive around in more modest vehicles, and live in a more modest lifestyle. Some of us have little choice when we are limited by a low income. Frankly it suits me to eschew bourgeois life and fashion. I like the simple life!
Fr Blake makes good points about the bishops hob-nobbing with the powerful, but we have to be realistic. There is a difference between simplicity and impoverishment. An impoverished Church ceases to be or do any good for anyone. Without priests, liturgy, beauty, inspiration and more, what is the point of the Church?
Pope Francis seems to have been calling traditionalists Pelagians, those who in St Augustine’s time believed that salvation was through human strength and not divine grace, a man-centred religion. Supposedly it is a matter of saying so many rosaries to get this or that favour from God. Fr Blake seems to understand things deeply – the man-centred religion is not the traditionalist resistance but rather the way things have been done in the Church over the past fifty years. The quintessential Pelagian liturgy is the priest taking the place of God looking at his flock over the altar, as Benedict XVI put it, the closed circle. The antidote to Pelagianism, or its modern equivalent, is re-orientation, turning to the east, the Eastward Position for the liturgy. In the eastward-facing Mass, the priest is hidden and God takes his rightful place. Re-orientation is not only doing the liturgy the old way, but also turning back to God ourselves – conversion, turning around and going the right way. There is the conversion of each of us, but also the conversion of our institutional Churches.
Good reflections, Father Blake, and we all have progress to make regardless of whether we are Roman Catholics or are in some other ecclesial communion.