Monday, April 26, 2010

EQUALITY AMONG CELEBRANTS


I was inspired by a Eucharistic celebration this Sunday at the very beautiful baroque church of St. John of Nepomuk on the Rock, a short walk from my apartment. The little church is an exquisite jewel-box of perfect loveliness and gives off an aura of humble pride in it's delicate and ornate artistry. I couldn't find any actual photos of the interior of the church and it's remarkable ceiling, so have contented myself with some shots of the more famous St. Nicholas church in the Mala Strana District of Prague, a rather gaudy maidenly aunt up the road a ways,  completely lacking in her garishness the finesse and restraint of St. John's On the Rock at Paleckeho Namesti. Frescoes of St. John Nepomuk adorn the ceilings in pastels of pink and green, depicting events of his torture by the king's servants and his death by drowning in the Vltava River. Most of these events are now considered legendary, and though the Catholic Encyclopedia defends the historicity of St. John of Nepomuk, more secular historians doubt his existence. Wicked people even go so far as to 'blame' the Jesuits for oh so wickedly concocting the entire legend in order to lead the Czech people away from their growing devotion to the great reformist martyr, Jan Hus, burned at the stake by the Catholic Inquisition for insisting, among other things, that laity and clergy should both partake of bread and wine at the Eucharistic celebration. Hus felt this was a vital practice to restore  in order to  teach the fundamental equality among all Christians, with no clerical caste assuming spiritual supremacy and superiority. It all sounds oh so familiar. He was burnt to a crisp for his views and here we are some hundreds of years later! The naughty slander against the Jesuits is probably unfounded, since the cult of John of Nepomuk, the saintly confessor who refused to break the seal of confession by revealing to the king the identity of the queen's lover, was already widespread by the time of the Jesuits' triumphalist takeover of Catholic culture in Prague in 1620 after the battle of White Mountain. Recent historical investigations have revealed, however,  that no John of Nepomuk was ever the queen's confessor, so out the window goes that legend of 'the martyr of the confessional' (the first in Church history.) However, it also seems clear that the Jesuits did all in their power to further the cult of the 'saintly confessor,' which they inherited, and it's not unfair to say that counteracting the growing  devotion to the saintly and genuine martyr, Jan Hus, was the Jesuits' prime motive. How familiar it all seems. At Sunday's mass, conducted in German for a small, very polite and restrained congregation of fifty, all of us together received the Eucharist under both elements, by tincture, under the watchful gaze of St. John - being tortured on the rack up above us on the ceiling - in delicate pastels of pink, lavender and green.  Was he also watching with a bemused eye the two male altar servers, one a very poised, handsome and self-possessed young man of about twenty-two and the other a fidgety, blond, blue-eyed Aryan boy of twelve as they attended to the grizzled, bearded and very somber celebrant? What thoughts we now have, O Lord,  and how long will they be with us? In any event, it all seemed rather peaceful up there on the ceiling, and perhaps that was St. John's opinion of us down below, on this post Easter morning tincturing our hosts in the sacred wine, all of  us more or less equal together before the Lord and infused with the peace that "passeth understanding."  Yesterday's heresies and crimes have become today's common practices and virtues. There's a lesson in this somewhere. But despite all of the follies of past history and the present turmoil within the church, including the dismaying and rather ugly defense presently underway of a dying and corrupt clerical caste system, one could not deny the palpable sense of peace and sacredness that permeated this beautiful little church on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, a sacred mystery still thriving despite all attempts to sully it or use it in the interests of naked power.
But these ruminations only reminded me of another great monument to Catholic Culture (writ large), the grand basilica of Sacre Coeur in Paris, once the most hated structure in the city after the Eiffel Tower and now the second most recognizable symbol of Paris after la Tour Eiffel. (to be continued with reflections on the Paris Commune of 1871, the erection of Sacre Coeur by the reactionary Catholic hierarchy as both a guilt offering and symbol of celebration for the defeat of the working class revolutionaries, the essence of Triumphalist Catholic Culture, and the fact the Eucharist has been 'exposed' at Sacre Coeur without interruption since 1885, or one hundred and twenty five years.)

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