Pomp and Circumstance

April 27, 2009

From Scattering Flowers:

I’ve heard more than once that the Catholic Church is all “pomp and circumstance”. What does this mean to those who say it, and are they correct?

First of all, what is “pomp and circumstance”? Well, technically it’s a piece of music, the music that is played at graduations while the graduates walk down the aisle in order to be recognized for their achievements. Since this music is played at pretty much every graduation in the country, people must not have that much against it. So I went to the dictionary.

Pomp, according to Webster, is a stately or brilliant display; splendor; magnificence. But also can be an ostentatious show or display.

Circumstance means several different things, the definition that most seem to fit was one of the last given; it was ceremony or show.

So, I guess what people are trying to say is that the Catholic Church is putting on a show, an ostentatious show. Lots of glitz and glamor without any substance. Where do they get this idea? I keep looking back at Webster’s first definition of pomp, and I can’t help but think, “doesn’t God deserve a stately display? Splendor? Magnificence?”

Where do folks get the idea that God wants simplicity? That God doesn’t want ceremony and beauty in worship?

When the President of the United States walks into a room, everyone stands. Why? Standing is a common form of respect. When we remain seated while the President enters we are making a statement. We are saying that we do not respect this man or his position and we refuse to show him respect. In other words, we disrespect him.

When the Queen of England walks into a room there is quite a bit of ceremony involved. Standing, saluting, kneeling, and all to music playing. Anyone who refuses to follow tradition here will be thrown out on their ear!

As a general rule, we have no problem giving head’s of state their due. Why do we think God deserves less? Shouldn’t He get more pageantry than some Queen or President? In the Old Testament, God was pretty specific about worship. Where is should be held, who should preside, what they should wear, what the surroundings should look like. So what did God prescribe for himself?

Exodus 31:1-11

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled h im with a divine spirit of skill and understanding and knowledge in every craft in the production of embroidery, in making things of gold, silver or bronze, in cutting and mounting precious stones, in carving wood, and in every other craft. As his assistant I have appointed Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. I have also endowed all the experts with the necessary skill to make all the things I have ordered you to make: the meeting tent, the ark of the commandments with the propitiatory on top of it, all the furnishings of the tent, the table with its appurtenances, the pure gold lamp stand with all its appurtenances, the altar of incense, the altar of holocausts with all its appurtenances, the laver with its base, the service cloths, the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, the vestments for his sons in their ministry, the anointing oil, and the fragrant incense for the sanctuary. ”

Exodus 36:8-19

The tent coverings were made of fine linen twisted, having cherubim embroidered on them with violet, purple and scarlet yarn… Then fifty clasps of gold were made, with which the sheets were joined so that the dwelling formed one whole… Fifty bronze clasps were made (to join the sheets of goat hair)… A covering for the tent was made out of ram’s skins dyed red…”

I know this is a lot of quoting, but I hope I’m making my point. Exodus continues with the description of the Ark: made of acacia wood, inside and outside were coated with gold. The propitiatory was made of pure gold. Two cherubim, made of beaten gold, covered the propitiatory.

The Table was made of acacia wood, plated with pure gold. The vessels to go on the table were also to be fashioned out of pure gold.

The Lampstand was to be made of beaten pure gold.

Altars were made of bronze.

And all of this was while the Israelites were wandering around in the desert! God said, “get me the very best artisans and materials that can be offered, and worship me with those.”

When Solomon built the Temple, he built it out of stone. The inside was lined with cedar that was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. The interior of the temple was pure gold. The altar was pure gold, in fact the entire temple was coated in pure gold. In the sanctuary were two cherubim made of olive wood and overlaid with gold. The walls on all sides of both the inner and outer rooms had carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. Everything overlaid with gold. (1 Kings chap 6, chap 7 goes on to describe the Temple furnishings)

Now lets move on to the New Testament. In Revelation, John has a vision of the throne room of heaven, in this throne room there is an altar, golden incense bowls, and creatures who fall to the ground before God and sing his praises. John’s vision also includes a glimpse of the “new heaven and new earth”. The New Jerusalem is described as having foundations decorated with every precious stone, gates made of pearls, streets made of gold.

Okay, so obviously God likes the ornate, the beautiful, the rare, and He likes it to be fashioned by experts, by those who can give the material its due. What about ceremony? Do we have any picture of God being casual? Of God not caring how He is approached? Of God saying, “worship me any old way you want”? We are told to worship Him in spirit and truth, but does that mean the material is no longer important? Then what is God doing mentioning it again in Revelation?! Does spirit and truth equal the fundamentalist understanding of simplicity?

In the OT, God again was very specific about ceremony. So specific, and so serious, that when the prescribed rituals were not followed death came to those who profaned God by not following his ordinances (see Leviticus 10). Everything was ordered in the minutest detail. Why would this God, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, suddenly change His preference for worship? And then change it back again in the end (with Rev)? If the worship that God prescribed for Israel was to be completely thrown out with Jesus, then why did the Apostles continue to meet in the Temple on the Sabbath? Even after Sunday, the Lord’s Day, became the meeting day of Christians? Why are things in heaven (at least according to the glimpses we’ve been given in Isaiah and Revelation) so formal? Why do much bowing and singing? Why are there altars in heaven? How does the fundamentalist explain these things?

When they want to argue that the “early church” met in people’s houses, I will agree. In fact you can tour some of these homes if you visit Rome. But inside you will find altars (like the ones in heaven), you will find evidence of ceremony. They had no buildings or fancy accouterments while the Roman government was persecuting them purely for being Christians! They also met in the catacombs to avoid this persecution. But how does this speak to ceremony? Do you really think that the Apostles, who were steeped in the symbolism of Judaism, didn’t see the parallels between what they were used to and the new revelation they were given from Christ? Where is the idea that the Apostles led worship in homes and later in cemeteries with no ordinances, no ceremony? And you will also notice, if you read Eusebius, that as soon as the persecutions died down (not completely, but by around 200 AD) you find Christians worshiping in buildings. Buildings that were dedicated to the worship of God (this was why they were destroyed by the Roman Emperors who liked to persecute Christians).

Is the Catholic Church full of “pomp and circumstance”? I certainly hope so. God deserves whatever finery we can come up with. God deserves much more pomp than we give to mere Heads of State. I want to worship Him in the way that most closely matches what He reveals in Scripture to like. Why should our churches not resemble the New Jerusalem?


Declining Notre Dame: A Letter from Mary Ann Glendon

April 27, 2009

April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame

Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.

Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.

First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.

Yours Very Truly,

Mary Ann Glendon