Wednesday 22 December 2021

The Pear Tree and Authority

As I slaved away yesterday on other people's sentence structure (and checked Facebook for new critiques of my critique of The Photograph), there was loud knocking on the front door. Benedict Ambrose answered it, and then he called to me from the hall, sounding very surprised. I popped my head out of the office/dining-room/guest room door and beheld a 5 foot tall cardboard box. 

"It's the pear tree," I said with glee, for my youngest sister had said she wanted to give us one for Christmas, and I had forgotten. 

I began to pull apart the box, and it was indeed a baby Conference Pear tree, skinny and leafless, supported by a bamboo cane, standing in a pot. 

B.A. immediately took charge, soaking the root ball according to the instructions, and repotting Perry (as B.A. informed me the tree is called) in the pot formerly belonging to an old live Christmas tree. B.A. had released poor Chris from its potbound captivity by planting it beside a blackcurrant bush.   

Our downstairs neighbour came out to see what B.A. was doing, and when B.A. pointed out the Christmas decorations he had put on our new friend, she offered to lend us her spare Christmas tree. I suspect our neighbours think we are destitute, for they keep offering us to loan us things we obviously don't have, e.g. an electric lawnmower. 

No partridge came with the pear tree, but that is no loss for we have the Real Thing: the partridge in a pear tree is a symbol for our crucified Lord. "The Twelve Days of Christmas", we have been told for some years, was possibly a secret catechism for Catholics in Britain during the Penal Times. 

In the Penal Times, it was illegal to celebrate or attend Mass, and as the English and Scottish Catholic clergy, trained abroad, learned the Traditional Latin Mass of Rome, not the more local Sarum (Aberdeen, etc.) Rite, the TLM we know and love was the one Catholics were willing to suffer to attend and to die to celebrate. 

Thus, I think we in the United Kingdom are especially awake to the irony of Pope Francis and his court trying to suppress this Mass themselves. And as there is no English or Scottish cardinal or bishop who has publicly said, "Well, now, look here, Holy Father, that just isn't cricket," British Catholics who love the TLM don't have clear episcopal leadership in this matter. 

Who speaks for Catholics who love the Traditional Latin Mass? I think this is at the heart of what I was writing here yesterday and in my imprudent remarks on Facebook. In fact, more than one of the women who took me to task on Facebook would make much better spokeswomen for the TLM than a social media star received into the Church three weeks ago--insofar as the laity and, indeed, laywomen, can speak for the TLM community. 

And this is where I open the worm can, and the worms go crawling all over my desk. The internet revolution has created a number of popular figures who have set up their own talk shows on any number of subjects, and one of those subjects is, unsurprisingly, Traditional Catholicism. Some of these popular figures started their online careers by discussing Catholicism; others moved into discussions of Catholicism as a subsidiary to their other interests. Some of these popular figures sell gimcracks: mugs with slogans, for example, and this is not (by the way) a hit on Fr. Z, whom I very much admire  much and who, as a priest, is an actual pastor.

Occasionally there are rivalries between the different popular figures, hurt feelings, disrupted alliances, social media wars in which fans take sides and accuse this or that social media star of being a "grifter."   I draw the line at calling people grifters unless there is real, solid evidence that they are misleading their generous donors by leading a double life, and I don't know of any current Catholic social media stars who do. That said, there really are grifters out there. 

How much authority TradCath social media stars have is an open question. Certainly the Catholic priests who write about traditional Catholicism have authority by virtue of their ordination, their training, and their education. Certainly Catholic laymen who are known for their scholarship, like Gregory Di Pippo at New Liturgical Movement and the prolific Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, have a different kind of authority. Catholic lay leaders like Dr. Joseph Shaw, the president of the International Una Voce Federation, and Michael Matt of The Remnant newspaper have authority through the many years they have worked for the traditional movement and, indeed, by the longevity of their organisations. 

What all these men--and they are all men--say counts, and it counts for good reason. They are not celebrities but statesmen, as it were. Sadly, there are today celebrities who are famous only for being famous and have done very little work except make themselves famous. And if they lose their conventional fame, I can think of a community that is always happy to reward a new convert with a blaze of new publicity: Catholics, especially poor Catholics marginalised for their love for the TLM. 

Of course women who love the Traditional Latin Mass have a leadership role to play, but for the vast majority of us, it's going to be at home and/or in the parish hall, either teaching children or setting up the tea table about which, by the way, there is nothing menial. The House of God should also be a home, and it is up to the socially-attuned women of the community to make sure it feels like a home to the new, the young, and the shy. 

But there have also been women who have played a massive, decisive role in promoting the Traditional Latin Mass. Edinburgh's Miss Mary Neilson fought like a latter-day St. Catherine of Siena for the TLM in Scotland. Her obituary makes for impressive reading, and I think it's safe to say that there are not a lot of Miss Mary Neilsons among us, just as there have been few Joans of Arc. 

That said, there have been other interesting women who have represented the TLM community in public, notably the novelist Alice Thomas Ellis and the cook/television star Jennifer Paterson. Paterson was very fat (indeed, she was one of the Two Fat Ladies) and over 60 when her TV show began. As such, she was proof that Fat and Old Women Matter. I don't think she ever published a photo of herself looking winsome in a veil, but she struck a real blow for the Old Ways when she kissed an abbess's ring.

"That's all gone into the past," said the abbess, hair escaping from her inadequate coif and flying about in the wind. 

"Not with me, it hasn't," said Paterson. 

Who we have not had, and who I hope we will never have, is a woman who is treated as an authority on the Traditional Latin Mass by virtue of pretty, let alone being famous for being famous. One of the distressing comments that followed The Photo I've been banging on about for three days was by a non-Catholic who asked the celebrity for her thoughts on Archbishop Roche's Responsa against the TLM. By her own announcement she had been to the TLM exactly once.

Actually, almost all of the comments were distressing, for a goodly number of people hate this particular social media celebrity with all their hearts, and the comment stream was a sewer. But anyway, this is hopefully my last word on the topic of The Photograph, if not on Who Speaks for the Movement? and The Trad Woman Question.