|The Barque of Peter, remodelled.|
The modern world, which denies personal guilt and admits only social crimes, which has no place for personal repentance but only public reforms, has divorced Christ from His Cross; the Bridegroom and Bride have been pulled apart. What God hath joined together, men have torn asunder. As a result, to the left is the Cross; to the right is the Christ...The Western post-Christian civilization has picked up the Christ without His Cross. But a Christ without a sacrifice that reconciles the world to God is a cheap, feminized, colorless, itinerant preacher who deserves to be popular for His great Sermon on the Mount, but also merits unpopularity for what He said about His Divinity on the one hand, and divorce, judgment, and hell on the other. This sentimental Christ is patched together with a thousand commonplaces....Without His Cross, He becomes nothing more than a sultry precursor of democracy or a humanitarian who taught brotherhood without tears.
Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ
This weekend, I had the joy of attending Low Mass in the Dominican Rite, for the feast of St. Vincent de Paul; then a Novus Ordo Vigil Mass for Sunday celebrated ad orientem. But it all had to be paid for this morning, when I found myself at a Mass with muzak-like campfire ditties played on piano and bass guitar and bongos and cymbals and tinkly chimes; girl altar servers with loose hair and flip-flops; people encouraged to socialize with each other instead of getting recollected for Mass; a priest improvising Mass parts; the canon gone through hastily and almost carelessly; and applause at the end for Murph and the Magictones, followed by raucous yakking inside the church.
Such is the Cruise Ship of Peter, the favorite fantasy of so many Catholics, even in the hierarchy.
Unlike the Barque of Peter, constantly under assault and in danger of sinking, yet manfully plowing forward through rough seas, the Cruise Ship of Peter is nice. Its worship is uncontroversial. It is bland. It is insipid. It is jejune. It is decadent. It is effeminate. It kindles no fires, stirs no ardor, pricks no consciences. Its lifeblood is mediocrity. It docks at any old port, and will strike any old compromise to do so. It insulates man from the uncomfortable mystery of the supernatural, and protects him from transports of zeal. There is little enough to distinguish it from any other organization calling itself a church, or even from secular society: its very furnishings are precisely those of a posh country club. That is why it always has smooth sailing, at least for as long as this serves the purposes of the prince of this world. Even when sailing is not smooth, the ship is so grand and luxurious that nobody on board notices. One leaves the liturgy on the cruise ship feeling as though one has just been to a really nice wine and cheese reception. With its affluence and its amphitheater layout and its cushioned pews and its polished wood and its orchestra pit next to the sanctuary and its soothing, tranquilizing liturgy, the Cruise Ship of Peter is all ordered, down to the smallest detail, with a view to sealing up Catholics in a soft, warm cocoon of niceness and upper-class comfort, making them forget, or even filling them with friendly feelings toward, the pirates and cutthroats that smile back from their little boats that nevertheless daily increase and close in.
All are welcome aboard the Cruise Ship of Peter -- they even have a song about it that they sing at the beginning of Mass! -- all, that is, except anyone who might rock the boat. What might the Cruise Ship do, one is tempted to wonder, with a Francis of Assisi, or a Dominic de Guzman, or a Catherine of Siena, or an Alphonsus Liguori, or a Fulton Sheen? Would they have to walk the plank? How much has the Cruise Ship liturgy to do with immemorial tradition? Does it inspire missionaries and fortify martyrs? Does it remotely resemble the Masses of Aquinas, wrapped in awe; or those of the Recusants in Elizabethan England, where it was death to be a priest; or of Father Willie Doyle on makeshift altars in the muddy trenches of the First World War; or of the Cristeros in their secret refuges from the Masonic Mexican regime; or of the first and only Mass celebrated by Bl. Karl Leisner, secretly ordained in Dachau on Gaudete Sunday, 1944, desperately ill yet on fire for souls? Can one picture Father Augustine Tolton on board, his soul blazing like a beacon from the crumbling lighthouse of his overworked body, his trembling hands raised amid the mellow strains of "On Eagle's Wings"?
Is it worth it to try to trade the Barque of Peter in for this new luxury model? Does the Cruise Ship of Peter connect Catholics to their illustrious past? Does it prepare Catholics to meet their adversaries in battle in these increasingly stern times? Is it counter-cultural? Does it provide Catholics with a distinctive identity apart from the secular society? Does it actively promote unity, rather than Balkanization, of Catholics of differing ethnic and linguistic backgrounds? Does it make Catholics know that we are not of the world, though we are in it?
Or does it merely fatten and soften up the sheep for the slaughter?