The Sainted Popes

I saw some of the ceremony this morning on television at the behest of my wife. I have walked many times up the Via della Conciliazione and across St Peter’s Square with hardly more than the company of pigeons. This morning, those areas were filled with people and the various police and security agencies paid for at great cost by the Italian civil authorities to protect the pilgrims and clergy.

I don’t relate to these big ceremonies of popular religion, and had a sense of sadness when I celebrated the Quasimodo Mass this morning. Should I give my opinion on John XXIII and John Paul II? I decided not to, but rather to keep silence. I saw such opinions expressed on traditionalist websites and felt alienated and revolted, and also by the “mega church” ceremony that had been somewhat self-consciously simplified by Pope Francis.

There is a lot of controversy about John Paul II as about Pius XII and other modern Popes, but it is reassuring that a man doesn’t have to be perfect or right in every way to attain the beatitude of sainthood. It is something I would wish for any of us sinners who turn to God. What now? I suppose that there will be a feast of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, bishops and confessors, in the liturgy every year. It makes no difference to me, since I follow the Use of Sarum and admit only a few major Roman rite feasts of Fathers of the Church and men like St Francis of Assisi and St Philip Neri. For the rest of Christendom, there will certainly be a long “cooling-off” period during which John XXIII will be largely forgotten and only shreds of memories of John Paul II will remain as we all get older and see changes in the world. Many questions remain, and people will always be dissatisfied.

I leave the polemics and questions of infallibility in prayerful silence and pray that somehow, God may bring good out of this event.

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9 Responses to The Sainted Popes

  1. Patricius says:

    What did you think of my take on it? I should say that it makes no difference to me as I do not recognise the canonisation of modern saints by Rome, let alone the rights and wrongs of canonising a modern pope. I would, however, have serious problems if Pius XII were finally canonised; not because of the Jewish question (about which I couldn’t care less) but because of his treatment of the rites of Holy Week.

    • I’m sure we will discuss this next Saturday (I’ll write privately to confirm everything). One thing I have discovered is that we live in a polarised world, and I find myself alienated both by the ideas put out by the “Donatist” sedevacantists and by those who try to make us swallow a whole myth that seems so hollow and empty after the crowds go away and the Vatican workers put all the stuff away.

      I only spent about fifteen years of my life as a Roman clerics, a few of those years as a cleric. I become utterly “frozen to the core”, and only by going to a “little Church” could I find again the warmth of faith and love.

      We have our inner pilgrimages and “putting things together” and that’s what is important. A part of my choice of the Use of Sarum (which “baggage” I brought with me to the ACC) was leaving behind me the Counter Reformation and its consequences in the post Vatican I and Vatican II eras, and the Reformation that was never really a part of me.

      The message put out by today’s ceremony is that the “ecclesial industrial revolution” has won and everything else is blithely trashed. I bring to mind the poem I quoted to you yesterday on your blog:

      To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
      To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
      To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
      To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
      From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
      Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
      This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
      Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
      This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

  2. Yesterday I was killing some time before my Anglican High Mass started so I attended a Roman Catholic Mass. I clearly heard the chap doing the Prayers for the Church mention the canonisation of Pope John the Thirteenth. Apparently someone’s notes were missing an X. Either that or it was some sort of unconscious protest.

    • It reminds me of an Englishwoman visiting the US and being heard speaking with her exquisite Estuary Accent and saying that she lived in France. The person asked which road you take to get to England from France. She replied that you have to get on a ship and cross the Channel (or use the Tunnel). The poor American was completely at sea! 😉

      It takes all sorts…

  3. Stephen K says:

    This subject prompts me to ask, ‘What is a ‘saint’? Of course it is obvious to say, ‘someone holy’. But, then, what is ‘holy’? I don’t have my etymological dictionary with me, but at a guess I would imagine there are links with ‘haelig’ (A-S) for holy, “whole”, “wholesome”, ‘holos’(Gk), all connoting the idea of ‘balance’, ‘completeness’, ‘health’. We imagine someone who is ‘wise’, ‘knowing-in-the-right-way’. We then, Aristotelian-like, begin importing all the virtues: patience, courage, gentleness etc. But have all those who have been attributed the title or veneration of ‘saint’ had those qualities obviously? What about Francis of Assisi? Was he these things or just plain ‘loco’?

    The truth, it seems to me, is that if we look closely enough we will not see all of these things in any of them, but at a distance, and with the right kind of hagiography, they can be presented in as good a sight as the skill of the writer, painter and the faith of the punter.

    When I was younger, I had a crush on St Therese of Lisieux. I thought it was devotion in a higher spiritual sense. I had an emotional attachment to St John Baptist de la Salle, thanks to my education. And I had, and still have, a soft spot for Pope Pius XII. My teenage attraction for the ‘Little Flower’ has been replaced by my maturer awe and respectful bewilderment at St Francis, and a combination of awe and respectful suspicion of St Paul.

    What are ‘saints’ all about? Are they merely the Christian ‘gods’ and goddesses’ who supplant Apollo, Artemis, Diana or Elvis Presley? What do they represent, and what should they represent? More importantly, whatever it is they represent, who should ‘they’ be?

    I think any consideration of these canonisations has to go back to taws, like this. Let me share with you that my first concept of saints was visual, expressed in little colourful pictures of saints in a series edited by Daniel Lord SJ. There were 4 booklets. I formed my images of Agatha, Agnes, Catherine of Alexandria (how beautiful!), Helen, Andrew, Sebastian, Michael, Benedict…..the list goes on, and I remember them all.

    You know what? I think – and have thought for some time now – that saints need to be remote from the capacity for warts-and-all scrutiny. That is, we almost have to know less, not more, about them, for us to give them credibility. I know that much of the story is legend and embellishment, but for me, St Christopher is as real as any of them. I can believe in St Christopher and St George far more than I can believe in John 23 or John Paul 2 or any of their ilk. It is not for me to judge or pronounce on any person, so I don’t. I simply say, I do not think of them as ‘saints’. Now my co-readers know I reject, theologically, much of their traditionalisms, but on this point I am increasingly opposed to the kind of modern criticism that would dismiss the saints of old or legend. I think they serve a religious purpose far more than any modern hero or heroine possibly can. They represent a heavenly kingdom, a thing of beauty, an ideal. Popes who have, intentionally or otherwise, polarised the very people who are expected to venerate them, cannot possibly do this.

    Well! I have expressed an opinion, that’s all. I don’t believe for a second anyone can declare infallibly anyone else admitted into the company of God, as the saying goes. The canonisation is for me merely an institutional act, and not a metaphysical one. It means nothing to me. Pope Francis has simply executed a ritual and formal act, of no substance unless vivified by a devotee’s acquiescence and attention. My guess would be, that both will quickly pass into irrelevance and their cults – if they manage to get so far – fade into neglect, like old local pagan deities under Constantine. By St Paul, all Christians are ‘saints’ or at least “called-to-be-saints”. From where I sit, precious few of us fit into the august company of Daniel Lord’s pin-ups.

    …..Unless, with Luther, we see that Christ’s sacrifice has justified all of us.

    • Stephen K says:

      oops! I think I may have misrepresented the good Luther, here. My apologies to him and to St Paul, where I may have done so. But my co-readers will get my meaning, I’m sure!

  4. Francis says:

    The Martyrology… the very word brings me back to the time of the Catacombs, where Christians, at their secret synaxes, would read the list of those who died for the Faith at the hands of persecutors, and remember them, confident in their intercessions. And today those who are killed, raped, tortured in the Middle East and elsewhere because they bear the name of Christ.

    Somehow, I find myself agreeing with Stephen K. above re: the act of canonization. Saints and all that should have been left to custom and sensus fideli.

  5. ed pacht says:

    I do agree that the ceremony of canonization doesn’t really mean much. Historically ‘saints’ were recognized by the company of the faithful, and often appeared on various local calendars before gaining wider recognition. “Canonization” appears to have begun merely as a more centralized recognition of local devotion and a recommendation that the ‘cultus’ be more widely observed. A saint is a saint whether recognized as such or not.

    At any rate, Francis may not be too far off in his action, as both J23 and JP2 already have such a ‘cultus’ within the RCC. There are shrines, complete with votive candles, to both of them in various parts of the world (I’ve seen photos of both, and have encountered a couple to J23 myself). The RCC is probably ready for both canonizations,

    AS an Anglican, however, I am not bound by such official acts in Rome, nor do I (in my profoundly fallible ‘wisdom’) find myself ready to give such recognition to either of these reverend gentlemen.

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