O Death, Where Is Thy…Tickle?
THE OLD REQUIEM MASS MADE US PONDER THE LAST THINGS
Death isn’t what it used to be — that is, if the conversation I heard the other day was any indication. It was at a modest restaurant where several joined tables were accommodating a rather large family. My ears shot up when I heard the odd phrase “bereavement team.” Odder still was that it was a 70ish Italian woman who uttered it. Such trendy phrases are expected from soccer moms and deracinated chancery bureaucrats, but not from an affection-oozing septuagenarian who could easily be pictured over an outsized, dented aluminum pot stirring tomato sauce. That wasn’t all. This large ethnic woman, perfectly imaginable praying at a Sacred Heart novena, began comfortably gabbing about a questionnaire the “liturgy committee” required for Grandpa Tony’s “Mass of the Resurrection.” Incongruities were flying left and right. It was as if Jimmy Durante were delivering a lecture on deconstructionist epistemology. What was happening here? Who turned that good Italian lady’s soul inside out?
As complex as Churchill’s definition of the Soviet Union — a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma — is the source of this anomaly. It is modernism wrapped in secularism inside sentimentality. This numbing error has not only taken holy doctrine hostage, it has done the same to the God-given web of noble emotions accompanying that doctrine. After modernity impaled religion, it knew its work had only begun. It now had to reconfigure man himself. He could no longer weep over Old Things like death, sin, and disloyalty. He had become the New Man, or, in a construal more suited to readers from an earlier era, he had “come of age.” These New Men now weep over New Things like intolerance, rigidity, and indifference to “difference.” At one time, the Church’s impregnable battlements protected us from such New Men. No longer. Those thick walls have been breached. Our Italian lady is proof enough of the fissure: traditional woman on the outside, New Man on the inside.
Only two generations ago, men faced death as the Church did, with her ancient liturgy replete with glorious paradox, that eye-popping device G.K. Chesterton explained as “truth standing on its head to attract notice.” Men once held their humanity close, relishing its mysteries, even ghoulish ones like death. Glance again at Homer in the Iliad or King Leonidas and his 300 at Thermopylae. See what I mean? But what were those paradoxical truths Mother Church pointed to with her wise finger? There were two: death’s terror and Christ’s conquest. Denying either is to be left with neither. The Church began with the inescapable truth of death’s shattering tragedy, which was only an echo of the more primordial catastrophe of Adam’s original sin. Death was part of the slime heaving from the festering swamp of original sin: unnatural, painful, and utterly punishing because it was decreed by God to be a punishment.
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