Why We MUST Judge Book By Cover

Why We MUST Judge Book By Cover

From LifeSiteNews…

April 3, 2018 – There is a strange tendency nowadays to think that the external aspects of a thing matter very little, while the “inside” is all that counts. For example: as long as you’re “a good person on the inside,” it doesn’t matter what you look like, how you dress, how you speak, what music you listen to, or even (taken to an extreme) what religion you profess.  

There is a grain of truth in this view: one’s height or build or skin color, for instance, are not moral qualities; sinners and saints come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. The problem is rather that we are too quick to forget how the outside wells up from within, how it often reveals to us just what is in the heart. A good person will dress modestly, speak respectfully, and listen to music that builds up a noble character instead of assaulting it—and all this, because of dispositions in the heart, invisible to men’s eyes but visible to God’s. The profession of a religion, while obviously done with external words and gestures, is rooted in the deep soil of the soul, and shows outwardly what a man’s most intimate worldview and priorities are.

The great British philosopher Roger Scruton comments:

There is truth in Oscar Wilde’s quip, that it is only a shallow person who does not judge by appearances. For appearances are the bearers of meaning and the focus of our emotional concerns. When I am struck by a human face this experience is not a prelude to some anatomical study, nor does the beauty of what I see lead me to think of the sinews, nerves and bones which in some way explain it. On the contrary, to see “the skull beneath the skin” is to see [merely] the body and not the embodied person. Hence, it is to miss the beauty of the face.

With perfect consistency, therefore, our medieval forebears would never have agreed with the platitude “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” For they spent enormous sums of money on Evangelaries or Gospel books with heavy bindings of gold, silver, and jewels, so that it was perfectly obvious that this book held the very words of God Himself, and deserved our utmost veneration.

The sacred liturgy, too, holds the very words of God—indeed, astonishingly, the Mass holds God Himself, the Word made flesh. It is utterly inconsistent with its inner content that the outward form of it should be anything but glorious, majestic, beautiful, solemn, reverent. We should be able to judge this book by its resplendent cover, that is, the Mass by its appearances, musical, textual, ceremonial; we should be able to see the heart in the actions. We should not “miss the beauty of the face.”

Nowadays we hear a lot of emphasis on not paying too much attention to externals in the Mass but just remembering that “Jesus is present.”

To lapse into a bit of slang: Sorry, this ain’t gonna cut it.

Throughout history, Christians have offered the best they can to God in the liturgy, especially the beauty attainable in the fine arts, in order that the souls of worshipers might be better disposed to adore and glorify the Lord. This is the sense in which St. Thomas insists that the liturgy is not for God’s sake but for ours. Of course it is directed to God; there would be no point in liturgy if God did not exist and if Christ were not our Redeemer by whose Sacrifice we are saved.    

But the liturgy does not benefit God or Christ, as if making them better; they are already as good, holy, and glorious as they can be. Rather, it benefits us who offer Him the sacrifice of praise, by ordering our souls to Him as our ultimate end, by filling our minds with the truth of His presence and our hearts with the fire of His love. These things are best accomplished by a liturgy that is impressive in its setting and furnishings, gestures and vestures, chants and ceremonies—one that is permeated from start to finish with manifestations of the nearness and otherness of God. A liturgy that is thoroughly sacral will be one that cannot be co-opted for secular purposes but compels the respect, wonder, and prayer of the beholder.

Put simply, man as a creature of intellect and sensation will not be benefited nearly as much by liturgy that is either verbal-cerebral or superficially flashy (as in the circus exhibitions of the Three Days of Darkness in Los Angeles) as he will by liturgy that is packed with rich ceremonial-textual content and saturated with sensuous symbols. This is exactly what all historic Christian liturgies are. Sadly, this is exactly what most contemporary Catholic liturgies are not.

A happy exception would be the growing number of places where the traditional Roman rite or “Extraordinary Form” [Ed: Traditional Latin Mass] is being offered, for this rite is saturated with sacrality and nearly compels one to pray, to go deeper into the mysteries of Christ through the outward appearances, just as the disciples at Emmaus “knew him in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). The liturgical rite is like bread miraculously multiplied down through all the centuries and placed in front of every king and pauper who seeks the food that will not perish. When we break this bread by entering into the rite, we come to know the risen Christ.

Matthew Schmitz has remarked:

It is amazing that the leaders of a ritual faith imagined that they could dispense with traditional forms of prayer. Among the few elites who saw the folly of this project, most were artists, naturally alert to the way supposedly superficial things can in fact be essential.

In like manner, aphorist Nicholas Davila observed: “When religion and aesthetics are divorced from each other, it is not known which is corrupted sooner.”

For all these reasons, then, a liturgy not only may but must be judged “by its cover,” by appearances—for, as Aristotle says, it is the appearances of a thing that point to its nature and substance. The Catholic Church has to care not only about realities but about appearances. Human beings come to know the truth through their senses; they cannot have concepts without phantasms. In religion, in the encounter with the God-man in His life, death, and resurrection, our senses, memories, imaginations, and emotions play as important a role as our intellects and wills. Source – LifeSiteNews

Comments invited…  

Comments (25)

  • The Bookish Elf


    April 4, 2018 at 12:11 pm
    • editor

      The Bookish Elf,

      I had to think about whether or not to release your post. If you have come on here merely to advertise your own site, with no intention of making a substantial comment on the theme, in keeping with the nature and purpose of our blog, I’ll be removing your post later. I hope you understand. We are not an advertising agency!

      April 4, 2018 at 12:23 pm
  • The Bookish Elf

    Hello Editor, You got it wrong.
    I just put that smiley because I wasn’t sure what to write.
    Your Blog title and subject is in contrast with what I grew up listening “Don’t Judge Books by its Cover”, and that is just awesome.

    April 4, 2018 at 12:27 pm
    • Margaret Mary

      The Bookish Elf,

      If you attend the new Mass, you would soon comment on how right the author is, because there’s just no meaningful ritual or ceremonial in that rite at all.

      Only in the Traditional Mass do you get a sense of the sacred. That’s important when worshipping God IMHO. Talking all the time about worldly things and offering bidding prayers all about making this a better world, don’t seem enough IMHO. The new Mass is too earth-bound. Do you agree?

      April 4, 2018 at 1:09 pm
    • Fidelis

      The Bookish Elf,

      I’d be interested to know your thoughts about the externals of the new vs old Mass, especially if you are a novus ordo Catholic.

      April 4, 2018 at 7:04 pm
    • editor

      The Bookish Elf,

      I’d be only too pleased to have got it wrong – or… “misjudged” (!) the situation but I’m not reading anything remotely “Catholic” yet from you.

      Howzabout it?

      April 4, 2018 at 11:17 pm
  • RCAVictor

    I think this argument goes way beyond the liturgy, about which I will blather more later, but this preference for the “inner” at the expense of physical reality is actually the basis of both Modernism – which defines faith as a subjective “inner” experience – and the transgender depravity, which denies the objective reality of male and female (now condemned as “binary”) in favor of what you think you is “inside” you. The result is “gender du jour.”

    (It’s also the basis for That’s Amoris and situation ethics).

    Another way to put it is that the individual “conscience” now trumps all – objective reality, Divine Revelation, the infallible teachings of the Magisterium – because it came from the ever-elusive “inner.” Never mind that such a “conscience” is not actually a conscience at all but a delusion of pride – in fact, for the Church to form the conscience is a violation of “human rights” – just another one of those endless benefits we got from the sick mind of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

    April 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm
    • Fidelis

      RCA Victor,

      It may go beyond liturgy but the article made a lot of sense to me. The externals of the faith ARE important, and nowhere more so than at Mass. If you are looking at a priest who is looking at you, and the altar is crowded with women in clacking high heels reading out banal bidding prayers, and then you attend a Traditional Latin Mass, you can see how important the externals are.

      I do agree with everything else in your post – you make excellent points about the transgender depravity etc. Well said!

      April 4, 2018 at 7:03 pm
      • Pat McKay

        I don’t know about you my fellow bloggers, but I don’t go to Mass to be entertained.

        There are priests who insist in turning it into a pantomine, e.g. having all the children traipse up onto the altar, where he speaks to them like a Dutch uncle for a bit, then they’ve all to hold up the cardboard angels they’ve just made – and we’ve all to give a big round of applause.

        Cringeworthy stuff.

        April 5, 2018 at 9:11 am
      • St Miguel

        Agree, last one I was at had the usual clique of readers, mostly retired teachers and some busybodies from the Parish Council, reading banalities.

        The responsorial psalm in particular is the one that causes my toes to curl.

        No one has a paper copy in front of them and yet the congregation has to repeat a chorus of ‘deers thirsting for water’ or something long winded statement about ‘Israel’s trumpets blasting’.

        Next, everybody tries to ‘remember’ the long winded response.

        Some remember and some don’t, there ensues a babble of something which sound like people taking under water and I go back to sleep.

        April 5, 2018 at 10:57 am
      • editor

        St Miguel,

        Don’t know where you live but same response from me, as I’ve just given to Pat McKay. Get thee to a traditional chapel, without delay. Here’s a list of UK chapels http://fsspx.uk/en/community/priories

        April 5, 2018 at 11:32 am
      • Pat McKay

        I heard about one quite recently where the priest only had a ‘Star Wars’ line about the Mass, including organist playing a few bars from that familiar theme.

        The children were all up on the altar, of course, when he introduced his Star Wars teddy bear, which he fished from underneath. He was disappointed he couldn’t get its lightsaber to work, but left it sitting on top for the remainder of the Mass.

        We know all about young people leaving the Faith, but now we are hearing there are concerns about over-60s who don’t bother coming to Mass anymore. No wonder!

        April 5, 2018 at 11:38 am
      • St Miguel

        Pat, one local NO Mass I was at a few years back, was replete with guitarists sitting on the altar rails and people tapping their feet to the modern hymns.

        Final one for me was a middle aged female Eucharistic Minister, with a bare midriff and a jewelled belly button !

        That was the time when female cantors were the ‘in thing’ and they had another Parish Council diva screeching away and she actually thought she was an undiscovered opera singer

        You just cannot make this stuff up.

        April 5, 2018 at 4:19 pm
      • Pat McKay

        Star wars, indeed.

        We’ve often said many of these folks were on another galaxy.

        April 5, 2018 at 4:28 pm
      • editor


        Well… get thee to a traditional chapel and leave the “cringeworthy stuff” behind. Mass is at 10.30am in Glasgow, in Renfrew Street, here http://sspx.co.uk/page_chapel_glasgow.htm

        Email me for details about parking…

        April 5, 2018 at 11:29 am
  • RCAVictor

    Judging a book by its covers does have a certain limit for Catholics, however. For example, we are told that we cannot judge Pope Francis to be a heretic, despite his painfully obvious favoring of heresy, because only a Council of Cardinals can be his earthly judge and jury. We can, however, correct and resist him to his face.

    Or, we can describe him as an Emperor with No Clothes, in which case we don’t have to worry about his “cover”!!

    April 4, 2018 at 7:10 pm
    • Fidelis

      RCA Victor,

      “Or, we can describe him as an Emperor with No Clothes, in which case we don’t have to worry about his “cover”!!”

      LOL! That’s hilarious!

      Yes, I do agree about the limits. We’re well taught not to judge by appearances when we are dealing with people, that the holiest looking person might be far from God and vice versa, the seemingly coarsest soul might be very close to God, it’s all about what is going on in the heart.

      Even though it’s tough watching the Francis scandal ongoing, it takes away the burden of the Church becoming like a political party with endless elections of leaders, scandals, sackings, resignations, new campaigns for leader, re-election etc.

      Suffering a bad pope who is near the end of his life doesn’t seem so bad when weighed in the balance, like that. LOL!

      April 4, 2018 at 7:16 pm
  • Lily

    I thought that was a great article from Lifesitenews. It does show the importance of externals in the Mass. I found it most thought-provoking.

    April 4, 2018 at 7:20 pm
  • editor

    All comments so far are very interesting – can’t see anything with which to disagree (even in RCA Victor’s post 😀 ) so I’ll simply say “hello and goodnight” since a gal needs her beauty sleep and those of you who have now seen me on the video, will be saying a loud “AMEN” to that!

    April 4, 2018 at 11:19 pm
  • RCAVictor


    “…a gal needs her beauty sleep and those of you who have now seen me on the video, will be saying a loud “AMEN” to that!”

    What a set-up for a wisecrack related to the subject of this thread! Dear Lord, give me the strength to resist this temptation…..

    April 5, 2018 at 2:23 am
    • editor

      RCA Victor,

      You are definitely a case for the High Court… :


      April 5, 2018 at 8:50 am
  • RCAVictor

    How about this: “A study by the research consultancy firm ComRes finds that young people in the United Kingdom are influenced in their decision to become a Christian by their family, attending a religious school, Sunday School and the Bible. And the church building itself.”


    April 7, 2018 at 2:37 pm
    • Lily

      I’m not sure if that shows young people are shallow and superficial or in-depth and profound, LOL!

      April 7, 2018 at 6:44 pm
      • RCAVictor


        My point was that this thread was discussing the importance of reverent and solemn accidentals – and this study confirms that youth find beautiful churches, i.e. one of those important accidentals, meaningful.

        April 7, 2018 at 11:14 pm
      • editor

        RCA Victor,

        And you are spot on in your observation. It stands to reason that beautiful churches and cathedrals will appeal to the young just as they appeal to everyone else. Indeed, in the English GCSE Religious Studies exam there is a section on this very aspect of religion – the way religious buildings – for example – cause a sense of wonderment, awe in the soul.

        April 8, 2018 at 11:06 pm

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