Three Outrages, Three Churches
outrage: an act of violence or brutality; an act that violates accepted standards of behavior or taste; the anger and resentment aroused by injury or insult (Merriam-Webster)
Whatever definition one wishes to use, there have been three ‘outrages’ of late in sacred spaces, signifying some breaking in of the world into the sanctuary:
First, there was the sacrilegious funeral on February 15th – the day after Ash Wednesday – for s transgendered ‘sex worker’ at Saint Patrick’s cathedral, a certain Cecilia Gentili, a biological man who identified as a woman. As the Pillar puts it:

The funeral service, which was not a Mass, drew criticism after a eulogy described the deceased as a “great whore, St. Cecilia, the mother of all whores,” and after a rendition of “Ave Maria” sung during the liturgy was interrupted by a mourner who shouted “Ave Cecilia,” and danced down the aisle.

The priest celebrant, Fr. Edward Dougherty, was also criticized for using female pronouns to describe Gentili, a biological man who identified as a woman.

The reader may peruse the pictures, but best not. Questions abound, which I will group into three basic ones, before, during and after:

A priori: Why was nothing done to prevent this? Are there no procedures to ensure such travesties do not happen in New York’s premier church?

In media: Why did no one – not least, the priest ‘celebrant’, Father Edward Dougherty – stop the proceedings, as they unfolded?

A posteriori: What will happen now to ensure this happens not again? A Mass of reparation has purportedly been said – very good in itself – but the place may need an exorcism. And what of Father Dougherty? Will he be reprimanded or disciplined in some way?

The second outrage is more nuanced, not least since it took place with the full approbation of the Holy Father, when Justin Welby, ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ celebrated a ‘Mass’ at the high altar in Saint Peter’s basilica.

A couple of clarifications are in order: It has been decreed infallibly by Pope Leo XIII in his Apostolic Constitution Apostolicae Curae (1896) that Anglican ‘Orders’ simply do not exist:

Wherefore, strictly adhering, in this matter, to the decrees of the pontiffs, our predecessors, and confirming them most fully, and, as it were, renewing them by our authority, of our own initiative and certain knowledge, we pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void. (#36)

And in case there be any doubt, or a future pontiff try to modify this infallible decree:

We decree that these letters and all things contained therein shall not be liable at any time to be impugned or objected to by reason of fault or any other defect whatsoever of subreption or obreption of our intention, but are and shall be always valid and in force and shall be inviolably observed both juridically and otherwise, by all of whatsoever degree and preeminence, declaring null and void anything which, in these matters, may happen to be contrariwise attempted, whether wittingly or unwittingly, by any person whatsoever, by whatsoever authority or pretext, all things to the contrary notwithstanding. (#40)

Hence, whatever be his own personal convictions and certitude, Reverend Welby is a simple layman, not a priest, and still less a bishop. In the straightforward words of priest, historian and philosopher of science, Father Stanley Jaki:

Those whom Protestants call their bishops are such only in name. A Lutheran bishop or a Methodist bishop, let alone a Calvinist or a Baptist bishop is a conceptual construct to which their respective origins and theologies can assure no more validity than a mathematician can accord to squaring a circle.

Altars in Catholic churches are reserved for the saying of Mass, which is to say, offering the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to the Father, in a propitiatory sacrifice.

To celebrate a faux-Mass on such an altar – and the altar of Saint Peter’s, above the very throne and grave of the first Pope – seems at the very least disconcerting, if not worse. One must choose one’s words carefully, for one’s mind reels. Things fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. All this, in the most iconic church of Christendom where the traditional Mass, and even private Masses, are now verboten, even on any of the 44 side altars, now left empty and unused.

In his 1928 encyclical Mortalium Annos, Pius XI warned against any hint of syncretism in our liturgical practices, practices that would signify that all religions are the same, or equal paths to God. There is only one route to salvation, through the holy, catholic, apostolic Church, wherein subsists the fullness of Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and Man, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

As Pius puts it, in the Church’s relation to her separated non-Catholic brethren:

it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. 

If such be so, then what are we to make of the permission for non-Catholics to offer a non-liturgy as though it were a real liturgy, on a real, consecrated altar? The same thing happened last April at the cathedral of Saint John Lateran, when a group of Anglicans ‘said Mass’ at the altar. But this was presented as a misunderstanding, which should have been avoided, with Bishop di Tora offering ‘deep regret’.

This time, there’s no regret; rather, full approval, and from the highest authority in the Church. What are we to say of scandal? Is it not Justin Welby’s duty – in any objective sense – to follow his spiritual ancestor, John Henry Newman, to delve into history, and so cease to be Protestant? And do others not have a duty to exhort him in this respect, as did Edmund Campion? Or at least not pretend that his liturgical practice is little more than pretense?

The third outrage occurred not in a Catholic church – well, it used to be Catholic, but was usurped by the Anglicans during the great looting of the Reformation, that is, Canterbury cathedral, where Thomas Becket (most definitely Catholic) was martyred. Since it’s expensive to upkeep such a glorious church  – I stood beside it nearly five years ago, and was in awe at its immensity – and I don’t think liturgical attendance is what it used to be – they decided to hold a ‘rave in the nave‘ on the evenings of February 9th and 10th, with expensive drinks galore, to raise some much-needed funds. People were buzzed and boogying, likely spilling sugary alcoholic drinks on the stone floor, worn down by worshippers. I recall vividly my own time in that sacred space – less sacred now that the Mass has been forbidden for five hundred years – praying a Rosary on the site of Becket’s martyrdom.

Should we be surprised? Newman predicted that the end point of Protestantism is secularism, and here we have it.  The one consolation, if one might be found, is that the ‘rave’ was silent, the music being heard only through Bluetooth headphones. It must have been odd to walk through there without them, to see people swaying silently like hypnotized zombies to music you yourself could not hear. Perhaps they were all hearing different melodies – insofar as such music has melody – reminding me of the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never shared
And no one dared disturb the sound of silence

As one headline put it, if the Anglicans have forgotten what the great cathedrals are for – all of them built by devout Catholics – can we have them back?

I will stop there, for three’s a crowd, and to go further may lead me into strange and foreboding waters, already swirling in my mind, heart and soul. All I can say, on this glorious feast, is that Christ’s promise holds true, the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. This too shall pass, and reparation, restitution and restoration, one day, will be made.