18 January 2010


Advised by kind readers - and the memsahib still being away - I have been drinking deep in the evenings (how do those papist priests manage this celibacy business?) while contemplating via Sanctamissae some North American High Masses. Absolutely splendid.

Watching those videos which come from the Eternal Word Shrine in Clintonland, I have particularly relished the occasional shots of a hunched, determined, Religious figure behind the grille. I take it that this is the great Mother Angelica herself. Eis polla ete Despoina. She has the same no-prisoners-taken appearance as Reverend Mothers often have in the Patrimony. I recall from my days as a seminarian that whenever there was a crisis in the House, off went the Rector to Fairacres on the floodplain of South Oxford to get his orders. He returned and, to this day, I remember the tremors within us as he began "Mother has said ...", and we waited in trepidation to hear the latest Decrees from the heights of Carmel.

Just one anxiety. Those splendid American churches seem to have on display what I am sure a vexillologist would confirm as being the flag of the united and associated commonwealths and states of North America. Now you don't have to tell me that we Europeans are far from perfect. But at least those of us who come from what Gruppenfuehrer Rumsfeldt disdainfully called Old Europe do not usually have, exposed for veneration in our churches, the flags of our transient, flawed, ephemeral, and reprehensible little nation states. I don't recall seeing the Revolutionary tricoleur in S Nicolas de Chardonnet, or the ensigns of the Piedmontese Usurper in the basilicas of Rome.

But perhaps, some readers will advise me, I should keep my eyes more open.


Joshua said...

Yes, it does rather stick in one's craw to see this: the cult of a certain nation, its symbols and apparent near-godlike indefectability in its votaries' eyes (sed contra, need I mention Abu Ghraib?) rather reminds one of Bossuet's upsetting remark that in France of his day, one worshipped God under the triple aspect of the King, Jesus Christ, and the Church (in that order).

Joshua said...

On second thoughts, whose coat of arms is that on the north wall of St Thomas the Martyr?


Michael McDonough said...

Fr. H,

There are a couple of factual mis-assumptions in your post, and Johua's riposte.

(1) Arkansas, not Alabama, is "Clintonland".

(2) Mother Angelica severed her order's control of EWTN a few years back (using a tactic of the "catholic" universities to hoist the USCCB on its own petard when Maphoney (sp?), Archbishop of Los Angeles, tried to wrest control of it away from her). EWTN is located in Irondale, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham; the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is located an hour north in Hanceville, and that is where Mother Angelica established her mother-house, and now lives, and where the TLMs that you have viewed were celebrated.

(3) Flags. Thanks to an offshoot of the English Reformation and Civil War, the United States was settled by passles of Non-Conforming Protestants. We have long heard, and still do hear, about the Whore of Babylon, praying to statues, etc. At some point in the 19th C., the bishops of the US must have determined that to demonstrate that Catholics were as loyal to our Republic as the Non-Conformists, it would be OK to have on the sanctuaries (but in opposite back corners) two flags: one of the Pope, and one of the Nation. I am inferring that it was the bishops, since in the 1950s, as a child, I noticed such flags pretty much wherever I went to Mass.

(4) Joshua may rest assured that no incense, even in the paroxisms of patriotism following WWII, has ever been wasted on either flag. I am not sure if it is a trend or not, but I can report that neither in my own parish now, nor in the parish where I was raised, do either of these flags now appear, even outside the sanctuary.

(5) Alabama is a state where about 2-4% of the citizens are Catholics, although there are probably many more fellow-travelers now, thanks to EWTN. It may be that the bishop of the diocese, to which Mother Angelica's order is subject, has determined that the flags should stay, or perhaps it is just a carry-over from the earlier times.

(6) Although EWTN, as an apostolate of Mother's order, today has an international television audience, and has long been thought well of by such people as JPII and Benedict XVI, it has been the target of the wrath of certain important personages of the American Lowerarchy. Some years back, the local bishop, now retired, was "forced" by them to forbid Mother Angelica from having the Mass of Paul VI which is broadcast worldwide 3-4 times a day from Irondale, being celebrated the good old fashioned way, with the Celebrant showing his back (as they say) to the congregation (which was Mother Angelica's firm resolve).

Joshua said...

Thanks for your clarification - I can get a little riled up sometimes. As I noted when at dinner at the N.A.C. the other day, there are significant cultural differences between Australians and citizens of the U.S.A.: the American seminarians and clergy rose as one to sing "God bless America", with evident innocent heartfelt devotion, whereas I could never imagine behaving in such a manner, I cringe at the thought, it makes my toes curl - we Aussie guests were astonished.

Michael McDonough said...


I take it the NAC is "North American College"?

Yeah, that would probably curl my toes too. Some Americans think of singing that hymn as a prayer for America, rather than a display of chauvinism. I believe it is a sincere, benign attitude; but I understand how others can be suspicious of it.

Not a few Americans meet and get acquainted with "furreners" very rarely, and assume everybody pretty much feels the same as they do. It's naive, but not malevolent.

I'm not speaking here about our government, just fellow citizens. I often find our officials to be about as malevolent as you could want!

Unknown said...

I think it ironic that I should see such criticism of displays of a national flag in Church on an *Anglican* blog. My experience of Anglican churches is that they, more often than not, have a few national symbols. This is not even to mention the endless regimental banners one sees in many broad-church rural parishes.

Personally, I would order all national flags to be removed from the sanctuary immediately were I a bishop in the US. The practice is clearly out of tune with ancient tradition and adds to the plague of "Americanism". If we are to defeat the heretical idea that the ideals of the US constitution trump church teaching (which, it seems to me, most American Catholics think - witness George Weigel) then we need to discourage the flag worshiping. Incidentally, I think that swearing allegiance to an inanimate flag is a form of idolatry.

GOR said...

I would reiterate Michael’s note that the flag in church (along with the Papal flag) was probably instituted to assure the non-believers that Catholics could be as patriotic as the WASPs who still ran the country back then. Catholics in public life were seen as a threat that the US would inevitably be brought under the domination of Rome. As late as the 1960 presidential election when Catholic JFK was running for that office, he had felt the need to assure potential supporters that he would not be taking his orders from the Pope.

Joshua: you must not have ever been to the US, right? The “innocent heartfelt devotion” you superciliously decry is very much a fact of life in these United States – perhaps not so ‘innocent’ but certainly heartfelt. I can’t speak for Australia - never having been there - but it is not something I ever saw, or would have expected, when I lived in England. The closest approximation might have been a heartfelt rendering of “God Save The Queen”.

Father, you will be exposed to this when you visit here. The Stars and Stripes are to be seen everywhere – even more so in times of trouble. After 9/11, people took to having them on their cars (I wore out a few of them in the subsequent months and years). It is a sign of solidarity - that we stand as one and are all in this together. It may seem childish to ‘Old Europe’ and the remnants of the Empire, but it is who we are – not blind to our faults but, in spite of them, still convinced that this is the best country in the world in which to live.

Little Black Sambo said...

The hymn "God save the Queen" is sung in English churches on national occasions. (Parishes using hymnals other than Ancient & Modern can print sticky labels to supply the missing, practical verse.) As to flags, we are fortunate to have no such conflictour church towers is that of the patron saint of the nation and also the flag of England.

Little Black Sambo said...

Accidentally deleted: ". The flag that flies from"

Steve Cavanaugh said...

While Mr. McDonough is correct in the origin of the flags' presence in U.S. Catholic sanctuaries, however, this presence is discouraged. From the U.S. Bishop's site:
"The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has in the past encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary itself, in order to reserve that space for the altar, the ambo, the presidential chair and the tabernacle. Instead, the suggestion has been made that the American flag be placed outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the Church together with a book of prayer requests. It remains, however, for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter."
I recall that the Archbishop (either Medeiros or Law) here in Boston ousted the flags some time ago; most churches I've been in have the flags at the back of the church, not in the sanctuary.

But Americans' devotion to country (many a Catholic school has "Pro Deo et Patria" chisled over the front door) is very "ecumenical"; flags are flown everywhere, the national anthem or some other patriotic song are sung before sporting events and are often sung at the beginning of the school day. I don't recall this when I lived in Colombia; but then again, the national presence there was mostly asserted by the armed soldiers one had to pass by to go in or out of the city and who constantly checked your identification papers.

Sir Watkin said...

The closest approximation might have been a heartfelt rendering of “God Save The Queen”.

"God save the King!" if you please, Sir!

sam said...

American Catholics often put flags in their sanctuaries because they're really American Protestants, or because they want to look more like Protestants to fit in. It is rare to find a Baptist or Methodist church without such a flag, especially in the South.

It's not solely an American problem. When I was living in Hungary I went a few times to the Latin mass (novus ordo) at Matyas-templom, where at the end of a truly lovely liturgy suddenly everyone stood for the playing of the Hungarian national anthem.

St Michael's Episcopal Church said...

In the low church parishes where I was dragged as a boy down South, the vicars' idea of a festal procession (e.g. in the Octave of July 4th, Episcopal Visitation, Christmas and Easter) acolytes carried both the PECUSA (as it was then) and national flags.

Warning, Christian: If you mess with their flag, you'll be branded an "unAmerican foreigner" (Ethel Merman to Terry Thomas in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) and popped on the next British Airways flight out of the country!

GOR said...

Tut,tut - Sir Watkin. I’m not that old!

When I lived there it was already Elizabeth II, feliciter regnans.

Unknown said...

GOR, I think Sir Watkin was referring to the Jacobite claimant, Francis II. ;-)

Ian+, Thanks for the warning. I'll remember to keep my mouth shut on the point when I next visit "the land of the free".

Joshua said...

No, you've mistaken me:

"Joshua: you must not have ever been to the US, right? The “innocent heartfelt devotion” you superciliously decry"

- I don't at all decry it (it was indeed sincere on the part of those Americans, and commendable piety on their part); I just say that Australians find it astonishing and would not behave likewise. That's why I called it a cultural difference, not a moral one.

Bb said...

I love Mother Angelica. Having grown up watching EWTN, it's so distressing to see her as she is now. It's like when I see my grandmother after a couple of years. Of course I know that people age but I suppose I don't really expect it to happen to those I hold dear.

ADALBERT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ADALBERT said...

And by the way, you are being fooled by the Fraternité Saint-Pie X ignorants : the drapeau tricolore is not a revolutionary emblem... The white stands for the king, the blue and red for the coat of arm of the city of Paris. These colors were used in early times in France (see the colors of french madones). It became controversial in 1871 when Henri "V" (grand-son of Charles X, grand-nephew of Louis XVI) refused to be crowned unless the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge was torned down, therefore lacking of the prudence of his ancestor Henri IV : "Paris vaut bien une messe"...

Sir Watkin said...

Adalbert may be correct, but his position is like that of one who argues that "Unionists" should embrace the Irish tricolour because of its calculated inclusion of Orange.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

This red-blooded American agrees that many U. S. churches venerate the flag a bit too much.

Praying for the nation is enough patriotism in worship methinks.