Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Some musings after Pentecost
So I lied, this will be my last post before the semester ends. And before I turn 21.
I was looking at some photos from the Pilgrimage to Chartres, which is a yearly event in France that attracts all kinds of interesting people. The site Notre-Dame de Chrétienté provides some great images from this, including:
Beautiful, aren't they? And when you look at the images, it's clear that this isn't just the local Altar Rosary Society around Chartres, this is something attended by a lot of people, for all of whom this holds a very special meaning.
Pilgrimages like this used to be commonplace, and to some degree, they still are, when they're distinct from pure tourism. But at any rate, it's something that's been dying off, and has been for a while now. When taken with something I read earlier, this struck me.
What I was reading was an English almanac, full of all sorts of good info about what the weather will be like on a given day, what special baked goods are prepared on another, what interesting little regional or local custom begins when and what it means, all of that great stuff. And I saw the older English name for Pentecost, that is Whistun, with Whitsuntide referring to Pentecost and the Octave which used to follow it. (Or just the week, depending on who you ask)
There used to be all kinds of stuff like that; Whitsuntide and Martinmas and Candlemas (the shocking thing with that one is that the only people who are probably familiar with any use of the word are the neopagans.... grumble....) and hot cross buns (other than the boring practice piece on the piano) and much, much more. But we've mostly lost that now. We've got our massive commercialized Christmas, our mushy chubby-naked-Cupid Valentine's Day, we've got Halloween for people to dress up like Spiderman or watch disturbingly gory movies, but with the exception of maybe Independence Day (in some parts), there really isn't a day that's set aside for some purpose other than taking off from work. Or at least, that's all most people care about. It wasn't always that way; something has changed. And in the wake of that change, one has to ask: What have we gained?
Has losing Whitsuntide improved us at all? Has getting rid of Martlemas beef and plum pudding at Christmas
really done anything for us? But oh, some will protest, we'll have simplified- isn't that good? To have things more simple? After all, all those feasts, saints, customs, and what-have-you were so confusing, and it takes so much time, and it doesn't matter because some dead white guys in funny hats in Rome made it up anyway. This, I think, is not an unfair summation of most of the arguments used in favor of simplicity. I address these in turn.
1. It can't be all that confusing- people got by for a good few centuries with that confusion, and didn't run around screaming about it. And most people who can remember such things would like to see them come back, or at the very least wouldn't mind if they came back. And as to confusing, look at most people's schedules: work, then doctor's appointment, then pick up the kids, then soccer practice for one, piano lessons for another, horseback riding for this one, take that one home because they're starting to look sick, pay bills, plan for the weekend, feed neighbor's cat and call your mother. We can keep this kind of stuff straight. (Well, I can't, but everyone else seems to be able to) I don't think people are too stupid to get this sort of thing, or that their eyes will just roll back in their heads while they tune out anyone who's talking about this kind of thing. I give people more credit than that.
2. It takes too much time- I say: Good. There's a reason for that. Setting aside days for saints and important events ought to be done. This whole Catholicism shtick can't just be a weekend thing. It requires a commitment, because it's about our relationship with God. It's a darn good thing God isn't like a spouse, because if most people spent as little time with a spouse as they did with Him, divorce papers would be served faster than you can say Jack Robinson. And as for keeping, oh, I don't know, the eating of crêpes on Chandeleur for French people, what's the harm? I mean, families do things like pizza night, or Mexican night; it's a great way to get people to do something together in the kitchen, and then have a meal sitting down together. Don't tell me we don't need much more of that these days.
3. Dead white guys in funny hats in Rome made these all up anyway. All right, I admit I made this too easy for myself; my objections to the objections that something is bad because dead white men thought it up are already quite clear. The important point here is that that statement, when applied to this sort of custom, is blatantly false. The Curia didn't think these things up; everyday people did. These customs arose organically, were developed by John Englishman and Jacques Français and Giovanni Italiano and passed down through their families. For a society that's always trying to make itself look populist and pluralist, this seems a no-brainer.
This whole age loves to take things and rip them apart. Iconoclasm has been iconoclasted; iconoclasm was too passé. Everything gets torn down, deconstructed, demystified. Is this truly healthy? What are we cutting out of ourselves that we might miss? This whole attitude has to stop before we throw everything out, and have only a lingering emptiness to remind us that there was ever anything worth celebrating at all.