Author and talk show host Dennis Prager accurately observes that there is no greater concept in the first five books of the Bible than that of “distinction.” More specifically, it is the clear separation God makes between certain things: God and man, animal and human, life and death, sacred and profane, good and evil, male and female.
He even goes so far as to call these differences “God’s signature” on the created order. Like six pillars holding up a great house, when the structural integrity of those columns becomes significantly compromised, the whole house comes crashing down.
If these distinctions are rooted in divine authority, then blurring and obliterating them can be accomplished by undermining that authority. According to the eminent historian Arnold Toynbee, undermining divine authority is one of the hallmarks of the age we live in.
Toynbee says that in the first twenty ages of world history, people generally submitted themselves to some overarching religious metanarrative (e.g., Scripture and Tradition) for guidance in the affairs of life. In the twenty-first, the age we live in, he asserts that this has been jettisoned, and man has hitched his wagon to the star of secularism.
This goes all the way back to Eden, where the serpent said, “Hath God said?,” thereby casting doubt on the command that God had orally transmitted to Adam and Eve about what they could and couldn’t do in the garden. In tempting them with the promise that they would become gods, they succumbed, rebelled against God, and made themselves the arbiters of truth and morality. Thus, the distinction between God and man became obliterated, long ago laying the groundwork for Toynbee’s twenty-first age.
Other examples of the obliterating of distinctions are easy to furnish. Animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) call the slaughter of chickens a “Holocaust on a Plate,” equating such an act with the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust. An Associated Press poll revealed that half of American pet owners consider their pet just as much a member of the family as the people therein.
Orthodox Catholics know well that when people are not ascribed the dignity of being creatures made in the image of God, it opens the floodgates of death with abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Princeton University professor and “ethicist” Peter Singer believes that if a couple has a Down syndrome child, they have the right to kill that child one month after his birth.
It almost feels banal to point out the obliteration of the distinction between male and female, since we are bombarded with it every day. Just check out Facebook with its 71 different gender options.
The same could be said of the blurring of good and evil. Back in 2005, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
We are awash in a culture where people “follow their heart” or “listen to the god within” rather than appealing to divine authority. This was highlighted in Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, when she encouraged the audience to “embrace their truth” (emphasis mine).
The obliteration of the sacred and the profane is quite obvious in the avant-garde art world. The homoerotic and sadomasochistic work of Robert Maplethorpe, the immersion of a crucifix in a jar of urine by Andrés Serrano, and the spattering of elephant dung on a picture of the Virgin Mary in the work of Chris Ofili leave the orthodox Catholic aghast.
But the desecration doesn’t end there. In the pre-history of heaven, Lucifer tried to usurp the throne of God and was cast down to Earth with legions of fallen angels who had joined him in his rebellion (Is. 14:12–15). The Mass is the place where Heaven and Earth intersect, and, in this holy precinct, Satan is more than happy to leave one of his signatures: the blurring and obliterating of distinctions in the realm of the sacred and profane.
If he can’t desecrate the most holy place in Heaven, he’ll try to accomplish that feat on Earth. With the Pachamama abomination, he saw his endgame become a reality: “For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils: but the Lord made the heavens” (Ps. 95:5, Douay-Rheims).
When I was received into the Catholic Church, I couldn’t help but notice some unsettling things related to how people dressed and behaved in the large parish I attended in the Upper Midwest. Chewing gum was not uncommon. People wore sweatpants, tank tops, tube tops, spaghetti straps, flip flops, beach sandals, and sometimes dressed immodestly.
Many distinctions have been blurred or obliterated in the last half-century in the Mass related to issues such as these: (1) who can touch the consecrated Host and who cannot; (2) who can distribute Communion and who cannot; (3) how to receive the Body and Blood and how not to; (4) what direction the priest is supposed to face in offering the Sacrifice and what direction is not allowed; and (5) who is allowed to receive Communion and who is not.
As someone who is new to embracing the truth of the Extraordinary Form, I know that seasoned veterans of the TLM can furnish many other examples beyond the scant list I provided. And since the 40 acres of identifying and understanding liturgical abuse in the last half-century has already been plowed by more qualified writers, I leave the reader with three observations seen through the lens of a neophyte.
First, I can’t help but see what a powerful antidote a return to ad orientem would be for a Church debilitated by liturgical toxins. Think of the story of Moses, Aaron, and the episode of the Israelites dancing around the golden calf. The story could be given the title “A Tale of Two Priests,” since both Moses and Aaron were called priests (Ps. 99:6).
Aaron got in trouble because, in being the temporary leader of the nation, he looked only to himself (subjectivism) and the voice of the people (the Zeitgeist) for guidance. Moses, in contrast, was up on Mt. Sinai, looking outside himself to God in receiving the law. He was metaphorically facing east.
In this story, Aaron is the quintessential precursor to modernism, who is afflicted with what Pius X called “immanentism,” which he defined as “a philosophico-religious system which, in its most rigid form, reduces all reality to the subject, which is said to be the source, the beginning, and the end of all its creative activity” (emphasis mine). Ad orientem, among other things, returns the priest and people to the posture of looking “out and up” — i.e., looking outside themselves (transcendence) to God for divine revelation in a hierarchical relationship.
Second, as others have pointed out, the parallels of our day with the First Book of Maccabees are striking. Just as Antiochus Epiphanes IV had a lawbreaking faction within Israel promoting his agenda, so Satan has many modernist priests and prelates to do his bidding as we approach the decade of the 2020s.
This comes to mind when looking at the issue of who receives Communion. Pope Francis did tell the bishops of Buenos Aires that they had interpreted Amoris Laetitia correctly in allowing the divorced and “remarried,” in some cases, to receive Communion.
The de facto leading prelate in America, Blase Cupich, has made it clear that he has no qualms in giving Communion to same-sex couples if they are approaching the Body and Blood in good conscience. Thus, both Francis and Cupich obliterate sacred distinctions by inviting those in mortal sin to the Lord’s table. No wonder the corporate Body of Christ is sick when such leaders open the door to those who partake of the Holy Sacrifice unworthily.
Third, in looking at the recent events of the debacle of the Amazon Synod, the scandal of the Pachamama abomination, and the study that revealed that only 69% of self-identified Catholics believe in the Real Presence, I can’t help but think of the famous study called “broken windows.” Wikipedia says “the broken windows theory is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.”
If you don’t fix the broken windows in a gritty neighborhood, it emboldens the bad guys to commit more crime. Put another way, the road to Pachamama was paved with at least five decades of liturgical abuse and blurring the lines between the sacred and the profane.
If, for example, there’s no distinction between those in mortal sin and those not in mortal sin receiving Communion, then it makes the proposals of Amazon Synod (e.g., the Amazon Rite, female deacons, married priests) seem modest by comparison. The chief organizer of the synod, Bishop Emeritus Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil, simply looked at a half-century of ecclesial broken windows and took that as a green light.
Others see such broken windows, including many young people, and run to the TLM like frightened antelope. They take refuge there in the bulwark of Scripture and Tradition, in a place where broken windows don’t stay broken for very long.