THE FAMILY: MONASTERY
OF THE NEW DARK AGES
by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The following address was delivered at the 1996 Wanderer Forum in Washington, D.C.
Just as the physical universe is sustained in dependence on certain centers of power and laws of operation, so it is with the social and the political world, and that great religious organization called the Catholic Church, which proceed for the most part from the presence or action of definite persons, places, events and institutions as the visible cause of the whole. There has been but one Judea, one Greece, one Rome, one Homer, one Cicero, one Caesar, one Con stantine, one Charlemagne. With revelation, there has been but one St. John the Evan gelist, one Doctor of the Nations. Dogma runs along the line of Athanasius, Augustine, Thomas. The conversion of the heathen is ascribed, after the Apostles, to champions of the truth so few that we may almost count them: Martin, Patrick, Augustine, Boniface. Then there is one St. Antony, the father of monasticism, one St. Jerome, the interpreter of Scripture, one St. John Chrysos tom, the great preacher.
Education follows the same law. Its history in Christianity has had three periods: the ancient, the medieval, and the modern. There are three religious orders in each of those periods respectively which succeed one another, on this public stage, and represent the teaching given by the Catholic Church during the time of their ascendancy. The first period is that long series of centuries during which society was breaking or had broken up, and then slowly attempted its own reconstruction. The second may be called the period of reconstruction itself. The third dates from the Reformation when that peculiar movement of mind commenced, the issue of which is still to come. St. Benedict had the training of the ancient intellect, St. Dominic that of the medieval, and St. Ignatius that of the modern. Saying this is in no degree disrespectful of the Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, and other great religious families, or of the holy patriarchs who founded them. I am not re viewing the whole history of Christianity, but selecting a particular aspect of it.
That is the beginning of a great talk, but if you want to hear the end of it, you will have to get the January, 1858 issue of Atlantis magazine. The foregoing was John Henry Cardinal Newman, speaking on the mission of St. Benedict.
I want to talk about St. Benedict briefly, because I think he is a key for us, in this hostile culture, a means to assimilate and to learn what we need to know in order to have an influence on our culture. Dr. Ralph McInerny spoke about going back to St. Thomas as the content or as the guide for what we are going to learn. Where we are going to learn it, or how we’re going to do it—I think Benedict is the guide for that. A wonderful passage in The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton talks about sayings of Christ which seem pretty banal to us now, even obvious, but which at the time must have seemed quite shocking. For example, Jesus says, "And the meek shall inherit the earth." We’ve heard that; it doesn’t strike us as being particularly unusual. And yet can you imagine going to Har vard Business School and having them say, "Now, if you really want to get ahead and ac quire a lot of property and make some mergers, you have to be really mild and meek and careful and cautious"? It’s contrary to common sense, contrary to the way the world works. It was far from a platitude at the time. Ches terton points out that the reason it has become a platitude for us is that we’ve seen it work. And Benedict is one of the examples, because he fled the great Roman Empire, and a few centuries later it was his followers, the Bene dictines, who reconstituted a new civilization, Christen dom.
If we look briefly at the 5th century, we will find that the situation is instructive. Rome was an old empire. The leaders were often morally despicable, but were popular because they fed the people (welfare), and en tertained them with violence in the Colosseum. Everyone thought that life was going to go on and on in this one great superpower. I remind you I’m describing the 5th century.
Rome had a tremendous threat from without. Despite the fact that the Roman Empire had grown old and weary, it still produced a magnificent system of roads, aqueducts, colosseums (or colossea, I suppose), and a system of law. It had assimilated much of the great Hellenic culture, and so it truly was the high point of the ancient world. It was attacked from without, by barbarians who began to come in from the north and eventually broke up and destroyed the Roman Empire and began the period of history we call the Dark Ages. Just how dark they really were perhaps remains to be seen, but it was certainly the period in which the great Roman civilization disintegrated.
In the midst of all this, a young man named Benedict, from a noble and wealthy family, was a magistrate in Rome. His future was assured. But the state of society was so depraved, and the culture had reached such a low point, that he thought the only thing to do was to leave it, not to try to save it. Benedict fled Rome, and went to a cave in Subiaco. For what purpose? To serve God, to worship God, to do what was the original opus Dei—the work of God. What was he seeking? One of his great biographers sums it up in two words, summa quies. He was seeking perfect peace and quiet, solitude. This he wasn’t given, because he was not alone in sensing the hostility of the culture to his faith. Many other young men came out to talk to Benedict, to re ceive counsel from him, to pray with him; then many wanted to stay with him. So the lonely hermit became the father of a monastic family.
They eventually went to Monte Cassino and formed a huge monastery. It was so wildly successful that more and more monks came to join them. They had no room for them all, and so they started other monasteries. Every where in Europe the Benedictines would split up and seek the most remote places they could find. They would find swamps which were unsalubrious, drain the swamps, make farmland out of them, and build a monastery there. They would find forests which were impenetrable, (this is before the age of hyperecology) cut down some trees and make it livable. They would go to the desert, and irrigate it. And so they spread throughout all of Europe, and over the centuries they grew. And in the monasteries they preserved the great culture that had been passed on from the Greeks through the Romans. They preserved the monuments of our faith by copying Scripture, and copying the great Fathers of the Church. Slowly, but inevitably, a new civilization was built up.
Benedict, by fleeing the falling Roman Empire, had unwittingly, but providentially, laid the foundations for the greatest civilization, the greatest union of faith and culture and science the world has seen, medieval Christendom. He did it not by trying to influence society. He did it not by forming a committee for some kind of social betterment. He did it not by running for political office. He did it by putting God first. Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all things else will be given you.
I want to return to Newman’s article, and briefly present the passage which describes the result of what these Benedictines had done in seeking this summa quies. Newman says:
"They had sought in the lonely wood or the silent mountain top the fair uncorrupted form of nature which spoke only of the Creator. They had retired into deserts where they could have no enemies but such as fast and prayer could subdue. They had gone where the face of man was not, except as seen in pale, ascetic apparitions like themselves. They had secured some refuge whence they might look round at the sick world in the distance and see it die. But when that last hour came, it did but frustrate all their hopes, for instead of an old world at a distance, they found they had a young world close to them. The old order of things died sure enough, but then a new order took its place, and they themselves by no will or expectation of their own were in no small measure its very life. The lonely Bene dictine rose from his knees, and found himself a city."
This was the case not merely here or there, but everywhere. Europe was new mapped, and the monks were the principle of mapping. They had grown into large communities, into abbeys, into corporations with civil privileges, into landholders with tenants, serfs, and baronial neighbors. They had become centers of population, the schools of the most cherished truths, the shrines of the most sacred confidences. They found themselves priests, rulers, legislators, feudal lords, royal counselors, missionary preachers, controversialists; and they comprehended that un less they fled anew from the face of man, as St. Antony in the beginning, they must bid farewell to the hope of leading St. Antony’s life. They fled a falling civilization and found themselves the architects of a new and vibrant civilization." [emphasis mine.]
It took centuries, but that was the great work of St. Benedict and his followers. Newman also says, to give us some quantifiable results, that by the 14th century, there were 15,000 Benedictine mon asteries in Europe. To give you some idea of what that number means, let me make a comparison. Does anyone here know the approximate population of Europe in, let’s say, the 14th century? I don’t. I’m going to guess 25 million. I think that’s probably high, but let’s say there are 25 million inhabitants in Europe in the 14th century. There are 15,000 Benedictine monasteries. Now our population in this country is over 250 million. So it would be like having 150,000 monasteries in this country. And that means about 1,000 monasteries per diocese. This was medieval Europe. For us, it would be like having 1,000 Bene dictine monasteries in our diocese. That’s striking; it’s incredible.
By that time there were 22,000 Benedictines who had become bishops or archbishops, and 40,000 who had become saints. This really was an enormous miracle of the formation of Western Civiliza tion, and that is why Benedict for so long was the only one considered the father of Europe, the patron of Europe. Now we have two patrons because we have more consciousness of Eastern Europe as well as the West.
While history doesn’t repeat itself, and we can’t simply follow the past in a blind or slavishly literal way, nevertheless, there are certain patterns. Where does God save the world? Not from Rome, Athens, or Alex andria, but from Nazareth and Bethlehem. Where is civilization restructured? Not in the Senate of Rome. Not in the Atheneum of Greece. But rather in a little cave in Subiaco. God’s way of changing the world is like the mustard seed.
I was hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains last week, near Yosemite, surrounded by a very beautiful, magnificent landscape. One of the really striking features is that up in the high Sierra of Yo semite it’s almost all granite; and yet you look on these sheer granite cliffs and these enormous granite mountains, and there are pine trees growing out of the granite. There’s no dirt; it’s just granite. And you see a pine tree coming right out of that granite. How does that happen? A seed has fallen into a crack, taken in moisture, and has been able to grow and crack that granite and it’s been able to live there. That’s why Christ tells us about the parable of the mustard seed, and many parables of seeds in Scripture. The seed has the power which can overcome obstacles much mightier than itself. This we see in Christ Himself as the one who is the seed that becomes incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin in the little backwater town of Nazareth. We see it also reflected in St. Benedict in Subiaco.
If we look at our civilization, we can see many parallels with the Roman Empire. First of all, once again, there’s only one superpower, and we’re it. Rome had only defeated Carthage a few centuries before. It alone remained as the bearer of civilization. And the United States, for good or for ill, is the most powerful country in the world. While I wouldn’t call what we have a culture, I guess we could call it a civilization, and we are spreading it throughout the world. We’ve been doing it for years. I donhave to catalogue the ills of our society. I think both because you live in this country and because we are presently in this city [Washington, D.C.], we have plenty of knowledge of the ills of a hostile and depraved culture. But let me just give you one principle which I believe sums it all up, and that is that terrible sentence that was issued in this city just a few years ago in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood, where the majority of the wise men of this land led by someone who calls himself a Catholic, Anthony Kennedy, issued this piece of complete nonsense. "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
Now that is nonsense. That is to say, it doesn’t make sense, it’s self-contradictory. You can’t possibly de fine your own concept of meaning. If you don’t now understand the meaning of my words, there’s no way I can define for you the meaning. I can’t define for you some other meaning than what we already accept in our language. It’s impossible. But of course, he probably means that we can define the meaning of life, the meaning of marriage, the meaning of death, the meaning of happiness. That is, we can determine for ourselves what those things are. This decision gave a new foundation to the constitutional jurisprudence which permits abortion on demand. They recognized after over 20 years that privacy really didn’t do it. So we’ve killed 30 million babies and now we recognize that the basis on which we did it really won’t hold up to scrutiny, so we’d better find something else. And so the so-called Catho lic Anthony Kennedy did find something else: liberty, a liberty interest. He defines liberty as the right to define your own concept of the meaning of life and of existence and of the universe and so on. But if that is, and it now is, the basis for future Supreme Court decisions, then clearly that Court can never, ever outlaw abortion.
In its next term it will be considering euthanasia, in the 9th district case and the 2nd district case on physician-assisted suicide. But you know what they said in the 9th district? They said everybody has the right to determine the time and manner of his own death. Well, why not? If you can de fine existence, if you can define the universe, why can’t you define when you’re going to die, what it means to live and to die? If the Supreme Court is consistent—and of course they’re not always consistent, so we at least can hope that maybe they will be inconsistent—then they must affirm that a person has the right to have his physician kill him. Of course that’s just the first step.
This is not a slippery slope. The Ken nedy decision is the bottom of the abyss. There’s no further to go in terms of principle. All that’s left is the application of that principle. Of course it applies at the beginning of life, so you can kill little babies. You can kill other people too, as we’ll find out if that principle keeps being applied You can kill the elderly, but not just them, as we’ll find out when that gets applied. We’ll have a case about marriage, about whether or not it’s constitutional to restrict marriage to men and women; and, of course, if that principle is applied when it reaches the Supreme Court, we’ll have to say, "Well, if you want to define marriage as two people of the same sex, or three people or five, whatever, with some animals thrown in, that’s okay. You’ve got the right to define that." I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that in principle, our society has reached depths be low which it cannot go.
It’s the very thing Dr. McInerny spoke about with regard to Sartre. We have now institutionalized the Sartrian philosophy that there is no essence, no nature. You can decide whatever you want. And that’s why unwittingly the pro-abortion group has chosen an ap propriate name, that is, pro-choice. They really mean pro-death and pro-abortion, but philosophically they’re consistent, because all they’re doing is promoting choice, any choice. What counts is to choose. Well, of course, how can you not choose if you’re living a human life. But "pro-choice" is without content. And that is exactly what the Supreme Court has said we are all able to do. We can give our own content to the meaning of life, happiness, death, marriage, and anything else. I am afraid that if that is followed out, we cannot expect any hope for improvement in our culture, in our society, in our civilization. That’s the internal enemy, as Rome had internal enemies of corruption.
What about the external enemy? What about the barbarians? We don’t have to have an external enemy of barbarians because we are they. They’re already here. And for those last vestiges of civilization, we let the barbarians in through the airwaves, through television especially. I don’t watch much television unless the ‘49ers are playing, but I fly pretty frequently, and I always bristle when they say, "please will you put your shades down so this will be more like a movie theater." They actually said that the last flight I was on. I said no, I didn’t buy this ticket to go to a movie theater. I want to look out there and see the beautiful creation of God (and the left wing of this plane). But you can’t help seeing some of these images. Talk about the Colosseum and throwing people to the lions. It’s just one car crash, one explosion, one machine gun volley after another. They kept most of the sex out for the planes, but they keep the violence in. We are Roman depravity in spades; the barbarian has come within.
What is the response? I think the response is to form ghettos. The ghetto mentality? You bet. It isn’t anti-Semitic to point out that the ghetto mentality has worked beautifully for the Jews. They have survived every vicissitude of history and some of the most horrible, horrendous ones like the Holocaust. They did it by forming ghettos, by maintaining their culture and traditions. We’ve got to do it too. Does that mean fleeing the world? Yes, it means fleeing the world. Forever, not to come back? Not to influence it? No, we can’t abandon the world Christ died to save.
I think there are many signs of hope. I’ve tried to paint the picture as black as it is; but I really believe that there are not only signs of hope, but as far as the Church is concerned, believe it or not, things are getting better. Let me list some of the reasons. The first reason is home schooling. It was shocking when I first heard about this; now it has become more normal to see it and hear about it. Every place I go around this country and outside this country, I find more and more families that are schooling their children at home. They begin, many of them, because they can’t trust the schools, usually the public schools but often the Catholic schools as well. So they teach their own children. There’s a certain archbishop who has told us recently that parents are not competent to do that, but he only thinks that way because he’s poorly educated. He was not home schooled.
These are the parents who want to have children, and that of course is countercultural. And then they’re dedicating themselves primarily to bringing their children up in the Faith and in our Western culture, and in a genuine civilization and culture. I’m seeing tremendous results. I’ve become a convert to home schooling and I’ll answer objections anybody has, because sure, they’re human beings, there’s original sin—read that footnote in Milton and you’ll find out what that is—but I have never found a group of youngsters so well socialized, so knowledgeable in their faith, so friendly, and so well-educated as home schooled youngsters. I really haven’t. They are tremendous. Do you know how many there are? I’ve heard this from a person who spends his time analyzing the situation. There are 30,000 new Catholic home schooling families every year. Benedict had 15,000 monasteries after about 10 centuries. We’re getting twice as many little monasteries every year in the Catholic Church. You may not see that too clearly, but it’s there. There was evidence of that a couple of years ago here in Wash ington, D.C. when they tried to pass HR 6 or 7, that education bill, 700 pages long. There was one paragraph which said that the federal government would have to certify residential teachers, which means home schooling parents. And who’s going to certify the federal government to do that? It looked pretty innocuous. Suddenly within a week Congress had more faxes and phone calls than they’d ever had in this city all at once. They were shocked. They didn’t know what was happening. It wasn’t just because there are that many home schoolers in this country, but they’ve got friends. They’re networked. They keep in touch with each other. They speak with a single voice. Fortunately, I don’t think that people in Washington D.C. or the New York Times fully understand the future political power of the home schooling movement. I’m glad they don’t, because as soon as they get the idea, you can be sure that there’ll be more and more laws and they’ll try to suppress it, as in some cases they are already trying to do. But it’s growing.
There are many other things like the home schooling movement, but I use this as the icon, because in the new Dark Ages every home must be a monastery. Every home must be a place of refuge. It won’t be summa quies, as I’m sure people who are families here will tell me; nevertheless it will be a certain repose from the hectic noise, promiscuity and violence of the world. It will definitely be that. It will be a sanctuary, a holy place.
There are also many little schools being formed by Catholic families. Not everybody can home school. Not everybody thinks it’s the best thing for their family. There are Catholic schools that are popping up all over the country from East to West. I’ve been to many of them. On the West Coast of California there are several already. In fact, there are even two in the city of Napa, California: Kolbe Academy and Trinity Gram mar and Prep School. Tom Monaghan, the great pizza magnate, has bought a little Catholic school and built a building and, yes, he’s going to franchise it. He’s writing the book right now. He’s going to run it for a couple of years, put a manual out, and help people start their own Catholic schools.
There’s another fairly wealthy young man in Cali fornia, Tim Busch, and he just decided to start a school. He bought a parking lot and three weeks before school started there was still no building, but he had 400 people signed up. He went and bought some modular buildings, and they were putting it up the day before school started. But the day school started buildings were there for 400 kids. He’s just bought another piece of property and put up some more buildings. The 400 kids are still there, school is going well. The big success stories of people who have money are noticed; but I know many people, many families who have very modest means, and they’re struggling, but they’re surviving and they’re making wonderful schools. This is another movement that’s very important, and a way that this culture will eventually be turned around.
Something else which you probably don’t recognize as much as I do because I’m a publisher. We’re getting more and more calls from little bookstores. There are families starting orthodox Catho lic bookstores, from coast to coast. For example, there is a fellow named Steve DiCarlo in Covington, Kentucky with 6 children in home school at the top of his little building and at the bottom is a storefront. They sell Catholic books. There’s another family in Victor ville, Califor nia, in the middle of the desert. They’ve got a little Catholic bookstore there and a trailer. They go around to parish after parish and sell orthodox Catho lic books. These things are happening.
There’s something else which is a tremendous source of hope, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now there is no question about what the Catholic Church really teaches and believes. This is a wonderful thing for home schoolers, for small Catholic schools, for individual Catholics. There need be no doubt about the fundamental teachings of our Faith. This is a great and mighty mustard seed.
There are newsletters. We’ve had many for a long time, like the Lay Witness of CUF, the St. Joseph’s Founda tion newsletter, the Adoremus Bulletin; there’s a whole list that I could give you. Newspapers. There are alternative Catholic newspapers springing up everywhere. In San Diego, for example, a friend of mine has a secular paper called the San Diego Reader. He became dissatisfied with the diocesan paper. So he began his own called San Diego Catholic News Notes. They made him re move the word Catholic, which he did. San Diego News Notes. He’s got 42,000 readers, compared to the 21,000 of the diocesan paper. Last year a very modest man, Jim Holman, with a wonderful wife and family, very intelligent, speaks several languages, has studied theology, philosophy, home schools his kids with his wife—decided, "Well, let’s go to Los Angeles." Last year he started L.A. Mission in Los Angeles. They have twice as many readers as the L.A. archdiocesan newspaper. That’s one of the largest archdioceses in the world. There are two more of these papers in the San Francisco Bay area. Again, Tom Monaghan, God bless him, started a newspaper in Ann Arbor. But they’re growing all over the place.
These are the things which are invisible to the New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and Ted Turner. I believe these are the Benedictine seeds of the new civilization. For one thing, these are the people having children, and you can’t have a civilization 100 years from now unless somebody has babies. Thank God that the people who really believe in the Church and believe in our civilization are having the babies and transmitting the culture. Because that will eventually take over.
I could mention many more signs of hope. I just want to mention one, periodicals. The Wanderer has been around for over a century. But I was just thinking the other day that since The New Oxford Review began about 15 years ago—I just picked that as an arbitrary starting point—I can count 19 new Catholic magazines. Every single one of them is orthodox. I don’t know of a single new magazine that’s come out that’s not orthodox. Maybe there are one or two I haven’t noticed. That’s an interesting sign. The tide is really starting to change.
I gave the ordination retreat just down the way here at Arlington earlier this year to 13 seminarians. Now there are 61 parishes in the Arlington diocese. This year they ordained 13 men to the priesthood. Last year 10. The year before last 9. In 3 years, they’ve got more than half of the parishes taken care of, I think they’ve got over 20 entering this year. What’s the secret? Well, there’s not a secret. They’ve got an or thodox bishop and orthodox priests and they celebrate the Mass reverently, they love the priesthood, and they’ve got a great vocation director. It’s easy. In the little, tiny diocese of Fargo, North Dakota (what good can come from Fargo?), Bishop James Sullivan has 53 seminarians!
So I think that the home is already, but must continue to be and grow in numbers to be the monastery of the new Dark Ages. Each family must be a monastery.
I want to put a footnote on this talk. One thing you can do is home school; but you can’t home church. One of the blessings that Benedict had, was that the liturgy was very beautiful at that time, and they helped to make it more beautiful, the whole Benedictine tradition. Each monastery was not only a center of learning and culture and prayer; it was a center of worship, where the Mass was celebrated in all its splendor and beauty. You can’t do that in your home, unless from time to time you’re lucky enough to have a priest who will come and celebrate Mass for you. But even there, beautiful as the home might be, it’s not the same as a wonderful, architecturally beautiful church. We have to do everything possible to promote a more reverent and more beautiful celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
As far as liturgy goes, we have a lot of work to do. That is why a group of us founded an organization called Adoremus: Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. I want to give you one concrete suggestion about how you can participate in fulfilling what the Council really wanted in the renewal of the liturgy.
What did the Council really want? In paragraph 14 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, it reads that the goal to be striven for in liturgical renewal is the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful at the Sacred Liturgy. That was the goal of the Council. What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean what’s happened since the Council.
Many things that have happened since the Council do fulfill what the Council wanted; but I did a study last year of that expression participatio actuosa. It’s interesting because the normal Latin word for active is activus, -a, -um, and actuosus is a bit rare. I thought that this would make it easier to find. I wanted to go and see where I could find that expression—if I could find it at all—"active participation." I looked back through various Church documents and I found out that the first time the expression occurs is on November 22, 1903. It’s in a motu proprio by St. Pius X, who was a reforming pope. His motto was Omnia Instaurare in Christo (to restore all things in Christ). He says in that document that his first and foremost goal is the holiness and majesty of God’s temple, making it more holy, making it more majestic; and that is the source—the liturgy—from which the Christian faithful draw their life by their activa partizipatione (that’s Italian), by their active participation. It was right there in that document. It’s called Tra le Solicitudine — "among the concerns" that he had for the Church. His very first one was the Liturgy, and he said what we must do is promote activa partizipatione. 4 or 5 paragraphs later he indicates how to achieve that; Gregorian Chant must be restored to the people, that they might more actively participate in the Sacred Liturgy. 25 years later, Pius XI wrote an apostolic constitution, Divini Cultus, where he said very clearly, ut actuosius participent, in order that they more actively participate in the Sacred Lit urgy, let the faithful once again be made to sing and to say Gregorian Chant, to sing Gregorian Chant at the Liturgy. About 20 years later, in Mediator Dei, the magna carta of the liturgical renewal written by Pope Pius XII, he cites that again, and he says that in order that they may more actively participate in the Sacred Liturgy, let them be made again to sign Gregorian Chant. That’s what the Coun cil says too. If you actually read the Vatican Council which I would suggest to any liturgists who might be here. Paragraph 54 of the Consti tution on the Liturgy says, "Steps should be taken so that the faithful also may be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them." I would say, one of the questions that you can ask to determine whether or not the Council’s intent to renew the Liturgy has been achieved is this: what steps have been taken in your parish so that you can sing and say the parts of the Mass in Latin that belong to you? If steps have been taken, fine. The Council has been implemented. If they haven’t, we haven’t even started to live the Council.
Paragraph 112 of the same constitution says, "the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art." That is a powerful statement. The Second Vatican Council is saying that sacred music is a more valuable treasure than Michelangelo’s sculpture, than da Vinci’s painting, than Bernini’s architecture. Think of that. The Council is saying that sacred music is greater than Chartres, greater than St. Peter’s Basilica, greater than Santa Sophia. That’s quite a breathtaking statement. Paragraph 114 reads, "the treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care." How many times do you have truly traditional hymns and music at your parish Mass? And finally paragraph 116, "the Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as especially suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services." Ask yourself, does Gregorian Chant have pride of place at my parish? For most people, the answer is, unfortunately, no.
I’m not saying that all we have to do is restore Gre gorian Chant and we’re going to have liturgical sanity and beauty and reverence. I am saying that if we have not moved to restore that beautiful portion of the Church’s treasury of music to our parish life then we haven’t begun to implement what the Council asked for, and asked for centrally. Because the Council clearly said in paragraph 14 that active participation is to be the norm, the whole history of that word associates it with Gregorian Chant, and the Council itself insists on Gregorian Chant being preserved. Well, have we done it or haven’t we? I think we’re at the beginning of the real liturgical renewal. And I’d like to conclude this talk by doing my own little part by teaching you one little piece of Gregorian chant. (Kyrie setting of the Orbis Factor Mass for Sundays — the audience learns it immediately and sings it beautifully.) I rest my case for Gregorian chant. Thank you.
Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., is founder of Ignatius Press and publisher of Catholic Dossier.