Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The papal "Boat Altar"

Mass 'on the frontlines'

Some have called it tacky, even corny...

The refugees, the migrants had the Pope visit them on Lampedusa the other day. 

He celebrated a penitential Mass on an altar constructed in the form of a boat, reminiscent of the boat carrying migrants who drowned when it was shipwrecked.  The altar was a humble gesture, a reminder, a votive offering from the poor, in honor of the poorest of the poor.  Christ was crucified upon such an altar, the crucifix was a contemptuous, disgraceful instrument of death, made from unrefined, crude timber.  The suffering Christ was condemned as a criminal, he was filthy, sweaty, bloody, a man others looked away from in disgust, despised and lowly, held in no esteem... Before execution, he was presented to the jeering crowd, 'tackily' dressed as a mock king, with a 'corny' crown of thorns. 

Christ visited the refugees, the migrants, the homeless survivors on Lampedusa the other day.   

Cardinal Bergoglio, Mass  on a simple table in Buenos Aires slum.

Cardinal Bergoglio Entrance Procession.
When St. Lawrence was asked for the treasures of the Church, he brought forward the poor...

If the Pope makes me uncomfortable at times, perhaps I've been too comfortable for too long.

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More Mass on the frontlines and unusual altars.




  1. Anonymous7:53 AM

    1. If the CIA were trying to "break" me, I wonder what would be the quickest way: a steady force-feeding of Simcha posts or the new 80s style papal liturgies?

  2. What's that Lassie? Timmy is in danger?

    1. This was my reply to you Patrick right after you posted the link to the Register - it ended up as a separate comment rather than a reply. I wasn't sure what your point was in linking to Simcha's post.

    2. Anonymous11:23 AM

      I was trying to express my skepticism over equating actions that one may take to those which Christ would take. That cuts all ways, including towards those who are mocking the Pope or are critical of him. I'm sure he's doing what he thinks Christ would do. I don't have to agree, but I also have no idea what Jesus would do. It cuts all ways.

      That was Simcha's point and why I linked to her.

    3. Oh. I wasn't equating the Pope's visit with that notion - not in the least. My sense is that the Pope is Vicar of Christ - I do not have to even ask WWJD. The Pope celebrated Mass amongst the migrants - Christ is in the Eucharist - Christ visited the poor in a special way that day.

      My reference to the mocking of Christ had nothing to do with the Pope - I was referring to the critics of the form of the altar - who called it tacky and corny. I pointed out that Christ was dressed in tacky cloak and crowned with corny crown, his altar was a rough hewn wooden cross. I wasn't asking WWJD. I'm sure the Pope had absolutely nothing to say or do as regards the vestments of his concelebrants - which in this case I could care less about - nor would he have concerned himself over the altar construction.

      My point is that people who have nice churches, nice marble altars, beautiful vestments and capes, and gorgeous crucifixes made of precious woods or metals, who are comfortable in their padded pews, who travel at will and strive to accumulate enough to live luxuriously, obviously can feel comfortable enough to criticize a refugee camp boat altar as tacky and corny. They mock the poor. The rich mock the poor. The barrios and favelas are tacky - and they look down on those who live there.

      I don't think people know when to stop sometimes, I think we can be arrogant in our religious preferences.

      That said - I still don't get your point - or Simcha's.

    4. Anonymous11:59 AM

      I don't think the Pope being the Vicar of Christ means that everything the Pope does is an expression of what Jesus would do. We only know for sure what God wills through a Pope by virtue of his charism - the charism of the office.

      Simcha's point is that asking, truly, WWJD is a question of personal discernment, not a ready-made recipe. And it cuts through all kinds of criticism and pre-conceived notions of what that may be. What a particular person does in one situation may be different than another (excepting of course those situations in which discernment isn't necessary).

      Also, I must have misinterpreted because in writing about the poor altar/the offering of the poor, and then the Pope making you uncomfortable and being a Pope of the Poor, that it was about more than the altar - it was about the Pope himself too.

      I don't think we should mock the poor at all.

    5. While writing this post I had in mind Crescat's post about the Pope's lack of popishness. The Pope sometimes makes me uncomfortable by what he says at daily Mass - sometimes - I also miss some of the monarchist trappings of the papacy - not on Lampedusa to be sure - but in liturgies and appearances at St. Peter's. But that is personal preference. Style-wise, I wish he'd wear black rather than white because I don't like seeing his trousers through the summer weight sutane. No big deal - he's a slob.

      Though I wrote he can make me feel uncomfortable, I was also suggesting others - along with myself - examine their own lives rather than picking on the Pope for not giving them the consolations they feel they need, or measuring up to our ecclesial fashion expectations.

      Simcha's reference to WWJD is lost on me. I'm more interested in what Jesus did do. Cardinal Dolan doesn't impress me, so the post was doubly lost on me.

      Without doubt, my impression of the Pope's visit is my own - obviously no one else got the same impression, nor were they perceptive of the snobby attitude some people took regarding the liturgical celebration. Perhaps because it was without fanfare and expensive set design.

      I applied the title Vicar of Christ in this case in the same sense one uses in persona Christi for the priest - when the priest acts at Mass and the sacraments, he acts in persona Christi. The Bishop who has the fullness of the priesthood acts in persona Christi and is also the vicar of Christ. The Pope is a Bishop.

      Do I come off as an exclusive, strict ultramontanist? I am Catholic because I believe in the supremacy of the papacy - I love the Pope. I recently commented on Crescat that I think the daily homilies and everything Francis says and does gets a little excessive. In other words, sound bites can be discomforting. I even complained of that with Benedict and JPII - I really got tired of all the JPII encyclicals and exhortations and allocutions which were non-stop during his papacy. Benedict was always quoted on every little utterance - sometimes to the point I thought, 'who cares?' Anyway - I don't perceive everything they say as being divinely inspired or dictated.

      Finally, a pastoral visit such as Francis' first excursion is very significant for so many reasons, the last thing someone should waste their time on is how Mass was celebrated and what the hell the pope wore or what the altar looked like.

      Obviously I've wasted my time on this subject, my apologies.

    6. Anonymous1:08 PM

      No need to apologize. And I don't think you wasted your time.

      What Jesus did do is used sometimes as a stick against those who do something today, in their specific, concrete context, that doesn't jive with the stick-bearer's conception of what Jesus would do if He was in that specific, concrete context. It's an application of what Jesus did do onto a situation Jesus was not in (i.e. Cardinal Dolan dining with Obama).

      Simcha's point was that it's ridiculous to judge someone else's 'imitation of Christ' because, at least: 1) we aren't in their shoes; 2) Jesus was never specifically in their shoes and so no cookie cutter example of how to be Christ there exists.

      I brought her writing up here because I disagree with those who mock the Pope (based on an event like this), but also, at least theoretically, those who would praise him as if He is truly - and exclusively - doing what Jesus would do. In other words, the point cuts both ways - it can cut a lot of ways.

      I don't share Crescat's longing for popishness but I do share her frustration with the implication that 'humble' Pope Francis is a relief after 'not-humble' Pope Benedict.

    7. Thanks Patrick - I understand your point.

      I suppose my real annoyance in all of this was with Fr. L. - but I've moved on from that.

    8. Anonymous7:24 AM

      I see. I didn't know what the source was of the "tacky" and "corny" remarks, having not read Fr. L's post until now.

  3. So your saying that the tie-dye robes were put on them like a mock crown--that they wear them not out of affection but a sign of humiliation? Thanks, I feel better now.

    Love the procession photos. I think processions are starting to make a come back, but we have a long way to go.

    1. My job is done then - I made you feel better. ;)

  4. Glad that I'm not the only person that the current Bishop of Rome (to employ the term he prefers) makes uncomfortable - and it's about time I was jolted.

  5. My first thought when I saw the boat altar was the Barque of Peter.

  6. I, for one, am not happy with something like this.
    When first reading the title, I wondered why the Pope needed to do anything on a boat. I remembered more about the women who were "ordained" on the Danube not so many years ago.

    I do hope that Pope Francis will soon bother to worry about ensuring that his bishops and priests make serious efforts at teaching, preaching, and living the faith.
    I'm growing VERY weary of all this effort to make symbol show so much over substance.

    I'm getting tired of being jolted by every group who wish to show themselves "marginalized". I and millions of others have long been starved of substance and serious consequences of faith.

    If His Holiness wishes to make the faith relevant, I'd appreciate if he'd insist on taking the rubrics of the Mass seriously and even requiring bishops to USE canon law. We could be a very different society if they'd simply start insisting that tenets of Catholic faith be honored in everyday life.

  7. Entirely with you John.

  8. Yes Christ was crucified on a rough ugly cross, by those that despised him!
    Not so sure that He chose to go that way as much as He allowed it.
    I would submit that since has now risen to His Glory we should Glorify Him!
    I fail to see how a silly boat and tie dye chasubles Glorify Him. But what do I know?

  9. ..."it is the Mass! I might be prepared to look at a new Mass form if it magnified God still more and exalted Him still higher; if it lowered man still further in the imagination of his heart; if the mysteries appeared more wondrous and the doctrines more luminous; if the language was more noble and the images grander. But look what we have been given: the exaltation of man and the humiliation of God; the evacuation of mystery, and ambiguity in doctrine; the flattest of images in pidgin vernacular."

    Father Bryan Houghton from his book "Mitre and Crook

  10. I'm not convinced the comparison between the field Mass celebrated (Ad Orientem) on the hood of a jeep, or a make-shift altar on two barrels can be made with the conscious choice of using a "boat style" altar. The options during war time are limited to what one has at hand. It would appear in this case that there is a conscious decision to use a "boat style" altar by whoever makes those decisions. There is a world of difference between "noble simplicity" where the vestments, altar, music and decorum etc are dignified, reverent, uplifting and worthy representations of what the holy sacrifice of the Mass is: the unbloody sacrifice of calvary as opposed to an occasion where "we gather, we listen, we respond" . Can we truly say that the liturgical minimalism so endemic to most celebrations of the Novus Ordo adequately convey to all present that we are indeed thereby present at Calvary? Doesn't God deserve the most beautiful vestments, music and liturgy we can give Him? I'm not advocating for an orchestra, trained choir singing Mozart's coronation Mass (though it wouldn't hurt)...What would be wrong with using Paul VI's "gift to the Church" the "Jubilate Deo song book"? Wherein the very minimum of Gregorian chant all Catholics should know is to be found. What would be wrong with simple, tasteful vestments? What would be wrong with people kneeling (every knee shall bow and every tongue confess) on the ground to receive the Lord of Lords? One doesn't have to be an aesthetic snob to see this sort of liturgy could have been a more clear expression of Catholic liturgical piety.

    1. I think you sum up the issue VERY nicely!


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