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Détente as Liturgical Demolition

By Fr. Vincent P. Miceli

(About the author, below.)

(This article is excerpted from a book written by Fr. Vincent P. Miceli: The Antichrist. It is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher: Ignatius Press, August 9, 2011. For more information on this book, visit www.ignatius.com/Products/AC -P/the -antichrist.aspx.)

Once again we find that Cardinal Newman foresaw another serious attack upon the Christian Faith. This time he warned Christians against innovators who would relax Christian forms and usher into the Church liturgical frenzy. Such devotees of change question every Christian form of prayer, every posture of devotion, every devotion itself and the very personal or traditional symbols of the faith. Their lust for innovation is used as a battering ram against the stability of long-established, time-tested sacred rites, which have been witnesses and types of precious Gospel truths for Christian communities. Hurriedly, even violently, they replace divine forms with new diluted Masses, new prayers, new sacraments, new churches, new terminologies - all of which confuse the faithful. Newman writes: "No one can really respect religion and insult its forms. Granted that forms are not immediately from God, still long use has made them divine to us for the spirit of religion has so penetrated and quickened them, that to destroy them is, in respect to the multitude of men, to unsettle and dislodge the religious principle itself. In most minds usage has so identified them with the notion of religion, that one cannot be extirpated without the other. Their faith will not bear trans planting . . . . Precious doctrines are strung like jewels upon slender threads." [John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. II, Christian Classics Inc., Westminster, Md., 1966, pp. 75, 76]

Liturgical détente has led to the loss of the sense of the sacred. To realize this tragic event we must reflect on what the sense of the sacred really comprises. The sacred is a mystery. It heralds the presence here and now of the world above, the world of the divine, and it fills man with incomparable reverence. The sacred reveals that the religious sphere is set apart, wonderfully superior and distinct from the rest of man's existence. But this apartness, far from precluding contact between the religious and natural spheres of man's existence, is actually a precondition for their fruitful intercommunion. Sacredness is one of those ultimate data perceived in and by itself, unexplainable, indivisible, mysterious. Sacredness is a reality which does not exist solely outside man as a knower, but it invades and involves the whole man as a free person. The sacred seizes each man in his ontological, intellectual, psychological and historical developments. [Alice von Hildebrand, Introduction to a Philosophy of Religion, Chicago, Franciscan Herald Press, 1970, Chap. IV, pp. 32-39]

Thus the sacred must be approached, not with curiosity the way we approach an objective problem, but with awe and trembling, the way we approach mysteries. For the sacred represents the divine call from above, forcing the man of good will, like Moses before the burning bush, like the three Apostles before the transfiguration of Christ, to his knees in a prostration of adoration. The challenge emanating from the sacred is so powerful that man cannot remain indifferent to it. In the presence of God, the Source of Sacredness, man either adores with the prayer, "Thy Will be done," or rebels with the cry, "I will not serve!" Thus God is the ineffable Someone at the summit of every experience of the sacred. This Summit of the Sacred claims the first place in every intelligent being's life, angels and men. Religion is man's response to the sacred, to God, the Supreme Ruler, Prior, Independent yet ever-present Other. The sence of the sacred presents man with these paradoxical experiences. God is presented as totally Other, transcending man, yet He is simultaneously experienced as being intimately present, nearer to man than man is to himself, filling man with awe and yet desiring to give Himself to man in intimate communication and communion. St. Paul reminds us that "in Him we live and have our being."

The sacred also brings man the experience of God's brilliance and luminosity. Thus man's response to God is his response to the numen or the numinous, that is, to the wholly illuminating, fascinating and ravishing Reality who is God. The experience of the Mysterium Tremendum suffuses the being of man with awe, a mixed feeling of reverence, fear and wonder accompanied by an acute, grateful consciousness of one's creatureliness in the presence of an infinitely good Creator. In the experience of the sacred a "shudder" moves the whole person which, speechless, trembles to the deepest core of its being. The sacred presents God as the Mysterium Fascinans before whom the posture of prayer and adoration is the only adequate response called for by the whole of man's being. Thus religion and the sacred always go together. Indeed, religion vanishes with the loss of the sacred, and vice versa. Religion flourishes with growth in the consciousness and love of the sacred. The moment the sense of the sacred diminishes in a people, it is a sure sign that the faithful are becoming secularized, materialized, paganized. For them they have lost an awareness of the presence of God and of His Kingdom that descends from above. [Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy, Oxford University Press, N.Y., p. 6]

The sacred applies not only to God but to all beings and things that have a special connection with Him- angels, saints, miracles, churches, sacraments, etc. Moreover, there are sacred places and times. The Holy Land where Christ lived, died and redeemed man is a sacred place. Then too, sacred times reenacts, relives historically events, e.g. the daily Mass liturgy and especially, Holy Week which relives the events of man's salvation. But in all sacred instances, eternity is not pulled down to the level of time, rather time soars into eternity. For the sacred is above time, though inserted in time and capable of ransoming time. Thus, the sacred, as essentially related to religion can redeem and blot our man's faults committed in time. By transcending and transforming time through a life and liturgy of faith in the true religion, the sacred does not obliterate time, but saves and sanctifies it. The Source of the Sacred embraced man and his history when the Son of God forever embraced in His divinity the sacred humanity he received from Mary, His Mother.

Man, therefore, is capable of transforming his domain of the non-sacred, of the profane, with the sense of the sacred or of degrading that domain and himself by obliterating in himself his love for the sacred. Man attacks the sacred when he rejects God and the true religion. The Antichrist will be the hater and destroyer of the sacred par excellence. For he will promote himself and his affairs on this earth as his only and ultimate concerns- and those will be the destruction of the image of Christ in the souls of men and the branding of those same souls with his own and Satan's seal. Thus the Antichrist would find modern times much to his liking. For in our generation a social climate charged with hatred of God has produced what even the atheist men of culture have sardonically referred to as the "Savage Sixties" and the "Sick Seventies." For once man rejects God, man becomes what Kierkegaard calls "the eternal zero." This is logical and necessary for, since his awareness of himself is founded on his awareness of God, the godless man, rootless and directionless, is at sea in an absurd world. Of course, he has an identity crisis. And with his animus against God and the sacred, he becomes a menace and a plague to the faith and holiness of his fellowmen. For when he breaks the sacred chains of love that bind him to God, he ends up breaking even the chains of civility and decency that should bind him to his fellowmen. Moreover, it is not surprising that the man who has rejected God and the sacred continues to talk about God, religion, liturgy and the Church. Now, however, he speaks of man from infancy to maturity. Now he experiments with these sacred realities as if he were tinkering with toys or automobiles. Now this "uncommitted interest," this neutrality toward divine, sacred realities is a typical game of ridicule played by the spiritually defeated and exhausted "playboys," choosing to be smart and clever rather than sacred and serious. These atheistic, intellectual snobs refuse to realize that God, religion, the liturgy and the Church can never be merely interesting or amusing myths. The sphere of the sacred is really uninteresting in the shallow, cute sense of that term. For the sacred sector demands one's total self-donation to God, one's eternal salvation being jeopardized if one refuses to say "yes" to God. Trivial things and affairs can be the subject of interest and cleverness. But adherence to the sacred realm is a tremendously serious, ultimate, tragic affair. It is the awful, shuddering one thing necessary for which all else must eventually be put aside, even temporal life itself. When one jokes about the sacred, one is well on the way to participating in the sacrilegious.

For the rejection of the sacred as revealed in the dynamics of ridicule or in the cult of the clever always degenerates into the dynamics of hate and the cult of self, both of which lead to hatred of God, of the Church, of others and finally of oneself. Thus, in our times a social climate charged with hatred of God, poisoned with irreducible religious-moral-political tensions and with hourly seditious preachments bereft of all truth, of all objectivity, of all love is the logical, violent result of the loss of the sense of the sacred. A society sickened from its rejection of God and the sacred necessarily produces a sick culture. In a modern play, Prometheus Unbound, Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from Zeus, the god of the gods, is confronted by the foul furies and asks them wonderingly: "Can anyone exult in his own deformity?" Dostoevsky's Underground Man answers with a soul-searing affirmation: "I am a sick man . . . , I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man." Underground Man then adds that he finds his only enjoyment "in the hyper-consciousness of his own degradation." [Duncan Williams, op. cit. p. 57] Today the Christian and post-Christian savage is idealized in philosophical, political, ethical, literary and theological works as the authentic man-come-of-age- the Rebel Hero of Paradise Lost, the Promethean Savior of a Cosmos Regained. From the heights of this hateful, overweening pride such a man has created a culture in which he defines his fellowman as "that most precious capital," "that useless passion," "that walking bag of sea water." This is the spirit of the Antichrist who will hate everyone made in the image and likeness of God. For as sacrilegious man he will hurl these slogans against his fellow man from a rhetoric of hatred that takes satanic joy in destroying the dignity, sacredness and divinity with which God has endowed men created and redeemed by His Son.

Much of the new liturgy has been drained of the numinous and the sacred. The new forms are without splendor, flattened, undifferentiated. Why was kneeling replaced by standing? Jesus himself fell on his knees and on his face as he prayed to his heavenly Father. Satan too knows the meaning of worship and man's need for it. He tried to get Jesus to fall down and worship him. Why has the liturgical year and the Mass been so unfortunately mutilated against the wishes of the faithful? In fact, the faithful are now confused about the Mass, the feasts of the saints, the holy seasons. Why was the Gloria, that prayer of total concentration on God's Majesty and Goodness, restricted practically to Sundays alone, and only to those Sundays outside of Lent? Moreover, is the faith really renewed and vivified by obscuring our sense of community with the Christians of apostolic and ancient times? The new liturgy no longer draws us into the true experience of reliving the Life of Christ. We are deprived of this experience through the elimination of the hierarchy of feasts and the at random changing of the dates of famous feasts. [Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Devastated Vineyard, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1973, pp. 70ff] Then too, the new forms are the result of experimentation. But one experiments with things, with objects that one wants to analyze. Experimentation is the method of science. The wretched idolatry and vulgarity of tinkering with sacred realities has, unfortunately, penetrated the Church and produced a mediocrity-ridden liturgy, a show for spectators that distracts from the holy, frustrates intimate communion with God and trivializes, where it does not suppress, sacred actions, symbols, music and words. In reality such diminished liturgies have renewed nothing. Rather these innovations have emptied churches, dried up vocations to the priesthood and sisterhood, driven off converts and opened the doors wide to a flood of renegades. Even though valid in its essence, such a new liturgy cannot inspire for it is colorless, artificial, banal, without the odor and flavor of sanctity. A humanized and popularized, man-oriented liturgy will never produce saints. Only a divinized, God-oriented liturgy can accomplish that miracle. One suspects that many priests realize the banality of the new liturgy. That is why they often become, during the Mass and other ceremonies, actors and entertainers. They put on a show in order to gain the attention of the congregation. These comedians in chasubles preach a utopian Christianity rather than the true Christianity. Their treasure is man rather than God; their emphasis this-worldly rather than other-worldly; their goal progress rather than sanctity; their apostolate is immanent rather than transcendent; their means to their goal is the way of revolution rather than the way of the cross; they preach a secular Church instead of the Sacred Church founded by Christ; the essence of their morality is self-assertion rather than self-denial; the Christ they present to the congregation is the Humanist Christ rather than the God-Man crucified Christ; they speak in tongues of protest rather than in tongues of fire, the fire of love flaming forth from the Holy Spirit; they genuflect before the world and stand before Christ; they work for a democratic Church instead of a hierarchic Church; they are moved by resentment and envy instead of radiating the joy of Christ.

In our times, then, it is not any longer a secret that the enemies within and outside the Church want to destroy belief in the divinity of Christ. Once the liturgy is humanized, Christ the center and Object of it becomes the humanist, par excellence, the liberator, the revolutionary, the Marxist ushering in the millennium; he ceases to be the Divine Redeemer. We must be alerted to these shadows of the Antichrist who plan, by convincing us to abandon our sacred forms, at length to seduce us into denying the Christian faith altogether. The Church is attacked by these children of Satan in and outside her fold, because she is a living form, "the sacrament- the sign and instrument- of communion with God and of unity among all men"; because she is the visible body of religion. Hence these shrewd masters of sedition know that when her sacred forms go, religion will go also. Violate the lex orandi and you must inevitably destroy the lex credendi. That is why they rail against so many devotions as superstitions; why they propose so many alterations and changes, a tactic cleverly calculated to shake the foundations of the faith. We must never forget, then, that forms apparently indifferent in themselves become most important to us when we are used to using them to nurture our lives in holiness.

Places consecrated to God's honor, clergy carefully set apart for His service, the Lord's Day piously observed, the public forms of prayer, the decencies of worship, these things, viewed as a whole, are sacred relatively to the whole body of the faithful and they are divinely sanctioned. Rites sanctified by the Church through ages of holy experience, cannot be disused without harm to souls. Moreover, in the words of Newman, "Liturgical reformists must ever be aware of the following truth; Even in the least binding of sacred forms, it continually happens that a speculative improvement becomes a practical folly, and the wise are tripped up by their own illusions." [Newman, op. cit. pp. 78] Bishops would be wise to follow Newman's conclusions in this war on the sacred liturgy:

Therefore, when profane persons scoff at our forms, let us argue with ourselves thus - and it is an argument which all men, learned and unlearned, can enter into: "These forms, even were they of mere human origin (which learned men say is not the case, but even if they were), are at least of a spiritual and edifying character as the rites of Judaism. And yet Christ and his Apostles did not even suffer these latter to be irreverently treated or suddenly discarded. Much less may we suffer it in the case of our own; lest stripping off from us the badges of our profession, we forget that there is a faith to maintain and a world of sinners to be eschewed." [Newman, op. ct. pp. 78,79]

The Fathers of the Church emphasize the corruption of the liturgy that will prevail at the last days. As the end draws near, the Church will be subjected to a fiercer, more diabolical persecution than any previously suffered. There will be a cessation of all religious worship. "They shall take away the daily sacrifice." Some Fathers interpret these words to mean that the Antichrist will suppress for three and a half years all public religious worship. Others remind us that the Antichrist will set up his throne within the Temple of God and demand worship of himself from his depraved followers. We are living in times so wicked that many nations will not allow innocent, defenseless human beings natural birth much less the opportunity to receive the grace of supernatural birth. St. Augustine wondered whether in the days of the Antichrist Baptism would be administered to infants of Christian parents. The reign of the Antichrist will be effected before Moses and Simon the Sorcerer displayed before Peter and John. St. Cyril writes: "I fear the wars of the nations; I fear divisions among Christians; I fear hatred among brethren But enough! God forbid that it should be fulfilled in our day! However, let us be prepared." [John Henry Newman, Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects, p. 102. Newman quotes St. Cyril's Catechism, xv, 16, 17] Unfortunately, it has happened in our day; the liturgy is a sign of contradiction among Christians today; the Holy Mass that once united Christians now, with the new liturgy, fiercely divides Christians. Many Catholics, because of the dilution of the sacred in the new liturgy, and the breezy manner in which many radical priests celebrate it, cannot attend such liturgies; they find it morally impossible to have to endure the desacralized antics allowed by the liturgical storm troopers. Hence they stay away. Thus we see that, over and above the persecution of blood and death, there is even today a persecution of craftiness and subversion. The precursors of the Man of Sin are very effective in splitting up and dividing Christians. They are successful in dislodging many from the rock of salvation, in driving many into heresy and schism, depriving them of their Christian liberty, strength, peace and their household in Christ.

How do we recall a sacrilegiously sick society that functions on the fashionable fallacy that murder is the best therapy for the world's problems to the sanity and sanctity of the sublime? We, especially all true followers of Christ, must help man return to the nature and deep significance of the sacred. Only when men grasp and appreciate the nature, meaning and value of the sacred will they be equipped and willing to understand and courageously confront the moral disvalues of their dying society. Truly an awareness of the sense of the sacred is a barometer that accurately indicates the vitality of the religion, morals and culture of a people. A blindness to the nature of the sacred is a sure preparation of society and mankind for the coming of the Antichrist. On the other hand, a clear vision and love of the sacred will enable mankind to see the unearthly beauty of the holy and to fall in love with God who is Holiness itself.

About the author

Fr. Vincent P. Miceli (1915-1992)

(Excerpted from the website of The Tower of Trent)

Vincent Peter Miceli was born into an Italian immigrant family in New York City in 1915. One of ten children, Vincent manifested a scholarly propensity from the earliest age. He also developed a staunch work ethic which he exhibited throughout the 77 years of his life. While still in school he would leave school and begin work at 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. delivering books six days a week.

When he was 21, he became interested in the Society of Jesus and received his degree from Spring Hill College in Alabama in 1942. Following major seminary, he was ordained in St. Mary's Kansas which was then still a Jesuit school.   

He acquired his S.T.L. from the Jesuits' St. Louis University in 1950 and was privileged to be in Dietrich von Hildebrand's last class in 1960 before receiving his Ph.D. from Fordham University in 1961. His Doctoral Dissertation was on the French Existentialist Gabriel Marcel and published as his first book in 1965 as Ascent to Being: Gabriel Marcel's philosophy of communion. When he began to write, Vatican II had not yet taken place. Seminaries were still teeming, though soon they would be reduced to vacant buildings. Parochial Catholic schools were still full not aware of the drastic changes ahead that would plummet ecclesiastical discipline into a tailspin from which the Church has yet to recover.

Fr. Miceli cautiously watched the progression of Vatican II while teaching at various Jesuit institutions. He did not share the same enthusiasm for change that many of his brother Jesuits did and that skepticism would serve him well when so many others were abandoning the ship or selling out to the progressivism and liberal theology that so permeated not only his beloved Order, but every parish as well.

During these years he wrote much, but didn't really begin publishing much of his work until 1971 when he released his book Gods of Atheism which soon received tremendous plaudits, most notably from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who called his book "as complete a study of atheism as exists in any language."   

In 1989 he published his work Women Priests and Other Fantasies which was a compilation of many of his essays, several published in L'Osservatore Romano. Subjects he covered in this book were Children as Blessings; The Morality of Nuclear Weapons; Abortion: God's Viewpoint; The Virtue of Patriotism; The Forgotten Encyclical; Hans Küng: Credible ? An Inquiry; Détente All Round: Prelude to the Antichrist; Evangelizing the United States; Sisters as Symbols of the Sacred; Modernism and the Priest; Christ and Revolution; Christian Marxism: Sacrilegious Demagoguery; The Governor's [Cuomo] Crooked Wisdom; The Need for Fortitude; Modernism, Revisited; St. Thomas, Justice, and Marxism; Christian Zeal and Personal Renewal; Dietrich Von Hildebrand: Philosopher and Prophet of Truth; Atheistic Humanism in the U.S.A.; Transubstantiation: Anchor of Orthodoxy; The Church and the Family; St. Thomas, Human Liberty and Academic Freedom; and Pope John Paul II and Catholic Universities. There were many more pieces like these -- including the Miceli essay on women priests, keynote of this very large volume. Fr. Miceli wrote in his introduction: "This book declares that the truth is the highest object of theology and philosophy. Unfortunately it is not always the highest object of theologians and philosophers."

His final book was released a year before he died and will forever be his legacy. That was Antichrist, published in 1991. In this monumental work, Father Vincent related the prophecies of the Antichrist and applied them to history, indeed the major disasters of our times. He showed how the great apostasy, warned of by the Mother of God at La Salette and contained in the Third Secret of Fatima, was making it possible for the worldwide collapse of Catholicism. He held nothing back in painting a harsh, realistic picture of the current state of the world. Showing how the failure of authority and the abandonment of the moral fabric and Church doctrine were widening the portal for the Antichrist to come forth. That was 14 years ago. Look what has happened since. He studies many of the false prophets in history and showed how Satan can throw off even the elect. He identified the precursors to the Antichrist and including several who are in power today, and revealed the portents of the coming climax of evil which will be incarnated in the person of the false Messiah who will be the Antichrist. Father illustrated how the presence of mini-Antichrists within the Church have been working as demolition squads with animus delendi - the desire to destroy - the Mystical Body of Christ. Were it not for Our Lord's promise in Matthew 16: 19, this would be even more frightening for what lay ahead, as Fr. could foresee, is hell itself on earth. Only those with heroic virtue will be able to survive the enemy which St. Paul has identified in Ephesians 6: 12 as "principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness: against the spirits of wickedness in the high places." Now fourteen years later we can see all the clearer the truths of Fr. Vincent's warnings.

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