Saturday, August 31, 2013

Turning Around

St Augustine famously said to the people of Hippo, 'for you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian',

I have been a priest for long enough to remember people who lapsed after the Council, as a seminarian I remember meeting a rather harassed mother who had been deserted by her husband. She spoke rather energetically about men and women behind desks who she had problems with, teachers, social workers, people at the council officers, people at the housing office, people at the post office where in those days she had cash her benefit cheque. She ended by "And even the bl**** the priest says Mass from behind a desk nowadays".

In the last few of posts I have been trying to compare aspects of the two forms of the Roman Rite, and although Mass maybe celebrated facing or not facing the people in both forms and the CDW have constantly reiterated the orientation of the priest is his choice in the Ordinary Form, in the same way as the choice of Eucharistic Prayers is his, it is perhaps the question of orientation that the marks the strongest rupture between the two Forms.

Saint Augustine's words highlight the two aspects of ministerial identity, one is a bishop (or a priest) first and foremost because one is a Christian, from and amongst other Christian people.

The years after the Council marked a change in many aspects of priestly life, indeed many of the main concerns of groups like ACTA seem almost wholly concerned about the dynamic between priest and people. The problem is that such groups start off from the premise that it is essentially a 'power relationship', in much the same way as the other categories mentioned above of teacher, social worker etc. The true spirit of the Vatican Council presupposes that priest and people are co-owners of the Catholic Faith, and yet the 20th century seems to be marked by division between those who have the 'traditional faith' or the faith of the catechism, and those who seem to question every aspect of it. There should be no distinction between the faith of the heirarchy and that of the man in the pew. On the contrary today often the heirarchs are portrayed as wishing to change or impose something on the received faith of the man in the pew, rather than increasing devotion or fervour they seem to mitigate it. It is perhaps significant that the leadership of many dissident groups are made up of laicised priests or professional lay Catholics.

It strikes me that the orientation of the priest marks a change in how priests were seen or see themselves. It marks a change of emphasis from something cultic to some governmental. It can be summed up in the use of the terms of 'priest' and 'president'. These terms are often are matters of contention when speaking of the liturgy, but more importantly they mark two very different ecclesiologies. Celebrating Mass facing the people speaks 'presidency' whilst celebrating facing the same direction as people speaks of 'priesthood', though when speaking of priesthood and using more traditional terminology 'offering the Mass' might be better.

The idea of a priest in Old Testament or pagan terms works on three levels, first it is about dealing with blood and entrails and the messier side of human life, he deals with sinners, his hands are filthy with touching that offered for sacrifice and with contact with those who want to offer sacrifice, he is comparable to a tradesman, a slaughterman. Secondly he stands with the people before God, he represents them in the Divine Presence, if he or his people cause God's anger, it falls first on him. His duty is to prepare the sacrifice but also his people but most importantly himself for the act of sacrifice. On the third level he enters the Holy of Holies to bring something of the Divine to his people but it is always something of God and never his own.

The idea of a President, is a modern form Kingship, there is gulf between him and the people. The etymology is he 'sits before', or above the people, his role is to rule and govern. Whilst a priest is essentially a servant of God and man, a President is the opposite. A priest is one who stands between God and man, he has nothing of his own to offer. The notion of presidency seems to be one who only has what is his own to offer, his teaching, his instruction, his rule.

Pope Francis speaks of the clergy 'smelling of the flock' he condemns 'clericalism'. One of the great failures of the post-Vatican II era is essentially a failure of leadership or even of government. Rather than celebrating a common faith with our people, praying with them, the role of clergy today has become one of teacher or administrator. It is precisely these areas of teaching the faith and administering government in the Church in terms of morality where we have failed drastically.

The problem I would suggest is one of authority; as a priest of a cult, authority comes from within the cult, as something God given. In the pre-Concilliar Mass the priest took off his chasuble and maniple to preach, in many places where Sunday Mass was on the hour and half hour he didn't preach at all, the sermon was reserved for the High Mass and or the evening service, which was not of obligation, of Rosary, Sermon and Benediction. Indeed the priest was ordained 'to offer Mass for the living and the dead'. The post-Concilliar priest is ordained 'to proclaim the Gospel', again a drastic change. The pre-Concilliar model sees the priest as giver of sacraments, a bringer of Salvation through the sacraments, the post-Concilliar model is that of herald of the Gospel or of the Kingdom of God. The pre-Concilliar model sees the priests authority coming from what he does, the post-Concilliar model suggests it comes from what he says.

'Doing' is something that can be learnt, it comes from the office, basically any fool can learn to perform rituals; 'saying' comes from personal skills, it is however intensely personal but it is on this personal level that we fail. The post-Concilliar period saw a movement away from ex opere operato where the concern was simply about the 'doing' of a rite, to ex 'opere operantis' where the concern is much about the 'doer', his style, his learning, his personal authority. The Church today faces similar problems Augustine found amongst the Donatist contagion, we are obsessed with, not so much the holiness but the personal qualities of individual ministers, a very heavy psychological burden is placed upon them to live up to it. In assessing priests and bishops, even popes our concern is not an objective concern about the office but subjective about personal traits. This is a decidedly Protestant quality and ultimately destructive to all that is Catholic.

What I have been trying to explore briefly and sketchily is does the re-orientation of the altar re-orientate our theology, our understanding of the relationship between God and Man, and ultimately the Church.

Friday, August 23, 2013

More on the two Lectionaries

A commenter on the previous post said, "'New' lectionary. Most living Catholics have only known this lectionary. Do you see no merits in the OF lectionary?"

Of course Summorum Pontificum means that the ancient Lectionary is still part of the living tradition of the Church today, it hasn't been abrogated and at least for priests and people stands as a counterbalance for the Pauline Lectionary.

There are obvious advantages to the new Lectionary, even if it is a product of a committee and let us leave aside the matter of that committee's theology. The most obvious is that it gives a much broader and richer selection of the scriptures is offered, the Old Testament for example is not really present in the Lections, in the older form. Weekdays have their own readings rather being a re-presentation of Sunday, again opening up more of the Bible, at least for those who attend weekday Masses.

The problem is that the new Lectionary demands a deeper knowledge of scripture than most members of a congregation, or even most priests, actually have. Continuous readings are fine but miss a day with a feast or solemnity and there is a wait until the cycle reappears the year after next. Obscure readings from the Old Testament tend to go over people's heads unless the context is explained, for a highly mixed congregation the second reading and even the more difficult portions of St John's Gospel can exclude rather than include. In fact the new Lectionary more or less always demands the priest to give some explanation.

The newer Lectionary because of its Sunday three year cycle and weekly two year cycle always stands independent not only of the Divine Office but more importantly of the other texts and prayers of the Mass, this is not so with the older Liturgy were the Word of God is integral to the celebration not just of the Mass but of the whole days liturgy.

The change in the liturgy marked a distinct change in the use of scripture in the Church, the Mass of Paul VI made scripture essentially didactic, the ancient Lectionary is theophanic, a moment of divine revelation, an encounter with God, but it is also kérugmatic, it was honed to the proclamation of Christ, his death, resurrection and return. The single year cycle means that those things considered important by the Church are returned to repeatedly, year after year. The annual cycle of saints, remember the high significance of the cult of saints in the tradition of the West, their place in the ancient Roman Canon for example, constantly repeats the necessity for Christian virtues.

The scatter-gun approach of the OF Lectionary has meant that scripture is not memorised, as it was by previous generations. Most people's memories do not retain texts over a three year period (six if the cycle is interrupted by a transferred Holyday), and memories are confused by similar texts, for example stories that appear in all the Gospels, like the feeding stories, especially when the writers have different doctrinal reasons for presenting them.

Perhaps one of our big problems as a Church is that Catholic doctrine seems so very complex and that it is not understood by most regular Mass attenders, I think this is the result of the imprecision of the Pauline Lectionary, and that in fact more scripture in the Liturgy often means less scripture in the heart.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A New Image of God

In last Sundays readings Jesus says to his disciples: "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division". It is the type of reading that the compilers of the Lectionary normally move to the Wednesday of the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, or there abouts.

A useful tool for any spiritual director or regular confessor is to get the directee or penitent to examine his image of God. Images of God change through history, iconography changes, they are important in that they affect the way in which we relate to God and understand His relationship to us and to the world. The image of the young smooth faced shepherd, says something different from the mighty Pantocrator, Christ the Priest reigning from the Tree produces a different spirituality and sentiments to the bloody Christ suffering in agony on the Cross; Christ the Judge "with limbes white and woundes rede who comes the Judge the quicke and dede" again produces a different understanding to the image of the tender Sacred Heart.

Images are important.

The problem is we tend to make of God in our own preconceived image of other things, often they are socio-political and from our own experience, thus the child of a brutal harsh distant father often tends see God in those terms, and will have difficulty in relating to God as Father or to Jesus, until they have learnt to change their image 'fatherhood'. I always tell dads at baptism how important they are in being an icon for their children of God.

The lectionary for Extraordinary Form seems to present Christ in a more vivid way than the Ordinary Form Lectionary. It was organic, hammered out over the centuries, although the Sundays are basically those in use at the time of Gregory the Great. The readings for feasts reflect the imagery, theology and spirituality of the time they were introduced. What was used at the time of Pope Gregory in the sixth century had undergone a long process of redaction going back presumably to the early Church. The old Lectionary by the time St Thomas wrote the Office and selected the Lections for the Feast of Corpus Christ had undergone a slow development and of course the old Lectionary itself had formed the theology and spirituality of St Thomas himself. The Church's theology until the 20th Century was built on her Liturgy and the scriptures presented there and most especially in the Lectionary of the Missal

I can't help thinking of Abp Annibale Bugnini writing the Missal of Paul VI and composing the present Lectionary through a haze of whatever was smoked in 60s. Maybe I am being unfair and he didn't smoke anything but the Pauline Lectionary has a decided 60s feel to it. The image of God, of Jesus is not organic, it has the feel of one particular period in history, to me it is decidedly Beatnik to early Hippie. If it hadn't been compiled after two World Wars and the Holocaust it would probably have been quite different, if Bugnini or Paul VI had been different types of men the image of God presented to us would be quite different. Because fundamentally it is their image of God, it is not the image that St Thomas Becket, St Francis, St John of the Cross, St John Vianney, or Padre Pio met every day at the altar.

The OF Lectionary presents us with a new theology; the ancient Lectionary formed the theology of the Church, it was an unchanging 'given'. What Bugnini produced was very much the product of the Council and 20th century theology. It comes from the same school that applied the scalpel to excise the cursing psalm, that separated that bit about eating and drinking one's own condemnation from the Epistle for Corpus Christi and so many other bits and pieces that they were uncomfortable with, that simply did not reflect the theological fashion of the time.

Yes, we now have a lot more scripture but it is carefully selected, carefully edited and from a very particular time in Church history and produced by very strange men indeed, some of whom were quite unsaintly, who had their own image of God they wanted to impose on the Church.

In a sense the new Lectionary gives a new image of God, in that it has change the Church fundamentally because it has changed the face of God.

I know I have written about this before, but the image of God we worship and that Church believes in is of absolute importance.
Ben too has done a lot of work on a comparison of the two Lectionaries.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Irrational Islam

The religious internet has been alive with pictures of burning churches, of nuns being paraded through the streets as prisoners of war, with abduction and murder of bishops and priests, the abduction and forced conversion and forced marriage of young girls, the abduction and murder of young boys, the killing of so many and the flight of even more from their ancient homelands, the question raised is: Why?
Again we see in Syria mass murder, the use of chemical weapons, torture, mass rape, again: Why?

As Sandro Magister points out for an answer we can go back to the 2006 Regensburg speech of Benedict XVI, we can state with the Pope Emeritus and the Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." 

Both Christian and Islamic fundamentalism are dangerous, as is secular fundamentalism, it always leads to inhumanity. The Emperor continues,  ""God is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…"

For Catholics revelation is about Faith and Reason; Reason, which comes from God and is God's gift to mankind is part of man's very nature. Faith without Reason is dehumanising, even Christianity when reduced to mere Fideistic Positivism, the mere following of rules, rather than its emphasis on worshipping God "in Spirit and Truth", in Jesus as being the Incarnate Logos or forgetting Paul's insistence that the Law brings death and the Spirit brings Life, can be dangerous indeed.

The problem with Islam is that the best man can hope for is to become abdullah, a slave of God, a slave of a God who commands and instructs, but who is actually as far removed from man as a man is from a microbe, whilst Catholicism insists that man can hope for 'divinisation', we can hope "to see God face to face", to become Sons. We believe that Grace transforms base fallen nature that distorts man's rational nature, it enthuses our very nature and transforms us. Islam does indeed believe in 'One God' but it is God who is distant. It is certainly a God who is merciful and who expects his creatures to be merciful if they are to expect mercy but the Christian God transforms. The difference is Grace. The difference is the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity.

Human reason transforms, Islam in the Spanish pre-reconquest Convivencia, when Islam, Christianity and Judaism dwelt more or less happily together was an age in which Islamic scholarship embraced, preserved and eventually passed on to men like Aquinas the philosophy of the ancient Greeks. It is not by accident that Christianity rediscovers Aristotle and Plato in dialogue with a rational Islam. Today's problem is that contemporary Islam has lost its sense of the rational. Nostrae Aetate urges us to dialogue, Benedict's Regensburg speech was a model for blunt, frank and courageous dialogue, it is more necessary now than it was 50 years ago.

Catholicism unlike than secularism, which can only confront, can engage in dialogue with Islam but it strikes me that in the West especially but elsewhere too amongst Moslems there is a great hunger for a faith which is rational. In my 'dialogue' with Islam - talking with local shopkeepers and cafe owners and students - the more Islam identifies itself as irrational and bloodthirsty, the more tentative enquiries I find are made about Christianity. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Poorer Church, a non-Pelagian Church, a re-Orientated Church

The Pope talks about a poorer Church, so did his predecessor. It is very simplistic and I am of that generation that would see a poorer Church in terms of "The Shoes of the Fisherman" but that is a bit superficial, probably adolescent and actually in terms of the Roman Church would merely mean the Pope transferring a mass of 'treasures' and buildings from its care to the care of the Italian State, according to the Lateran treaty most of what the Church cares for actually belongs to "humanity".

A poorer Church could mean bishops and other clergy driving older cars, going to a cheaper tailor, drinking beer rather than wine, having a more working class rather than middle class lifestyle. I can't imagine that will convince anyone. Although I must say I am shocked to hear bishops talking about trips to Sandringham for the weekend or about dinner parties with the great and the good, the powerful and the political, I am not sure whether that in itself constitutes a 'rich' Church. I suppose actually it shows an orientation towards wealth and power rather than a healthy disdain for such things. I was certainly shocked by the appearance that the Catholic Education Service under Oona Stannard seemed to be enthral to the Labour Government and various other Catholic organisations involvement with government departments. Some of the discomfort I feel comes from my own inverted snobbery but more it comes from a sense that there is something wrong with the Church so orientated.

Rather than discreet chats in the corridors of power with Minister and Civil Servants I would be much happier if our Bishops looked more to the struggling Catholic masses and St Laurence-like called them to demonstrate in the courtyards of the powerful, whilst at the same seeing a responsibility to teach those masses clearly the Catholic faith, but maybe their Lordships understand that the Church orientated to towards such masses is likely to prove disappointing. There is nothing worst than marching towards the barricades and finding no-one is following.

Father Simon Henry has an interesting post in which he points out, as we of a particular stripe tend to point out, the wholesale failure of much that has taken place over the the last few decades of motivating 'the once Catholic masses'. He is right, everything seems to be going down the pan. I was talking to school governor who just appointed a new head teacher, of the five applicants, they appointed the only one who was practising and they were not entirely happy with her but the panel thought that if they re-advertised they might get no practising Catholic applicants. We are getting to a stage where we will soon have to admit that we do not simply have a vocations crisis with priestly vocations, but with every other area of Catholic life has a shortage of vocations. An impoverished Church, rather than a poorer one is actually what we are going to get, like it or not, but perhaps a poorer Church though is actually about our acknowledgement of our poverty and weakness and that left to ourselves, without God, we are doomed!

Reading through Fr Simon's catalogue it seems as if what he is suggesting is that a great deal of what is wrong stems from an almost Pelagian attitude that has been part of our catechesis and our celebration of the sacraments for the last fifty years. In brief, our catechesis, like our sacramental celebrations have been person centred rather than God centred. We have emphasised human skill, human ingenuity, the human nature of worship, the human-centredness of catechesis and avoiding anything to do with God. Ratzinger spoke of the 'closed circle' not just of contemporary worship but of contemporary Church life, similarly of "the community celebrating itself", of "self reverentialisam". We can see much of that in modern funeral liturgies, 'A Mass to celebrate the Life of ...." "A Memorial Mass for ...." and indeed the life of an individual is celebrated and the 'Eternal Memorial established by Christ for the Redemption of the Living and the Dead' is merely architectural background, with or without Christ, the dead will attain his or her reward, there is nothing more Pelagian than that. Ratzinger's answer was 're-orientation'. It is the dependency on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ which is lacking.

When Ratzinger spoke of 're-orientation' it was certainly about liturgical re-orientation but that was only a symbol. From the late 1950s he had spoken about a 'smaller, poorer Church', for him a poor Church was one which placed God at the centre, that hungered for and begged from God. When we speak about 'poverty' in the Church what we are actually speaking about is a Church that recognises its poverty and powerlessness but more importantly its absolute dependence upon God. It knows that without God it is merely a gang of thieves and brigands destined for damnation.

The problems with the Vatican Bank, the 'Gay Lobby', the 'Masonic Lobby' isn't merely deviant naughtiness on the part of a few sinful individuals but a metaphysical dysfunction that can only be remedied by a radical metanoia, a re-orientation of the Church as whole, a literal turning towards Christ in every aspect of its life. With a 'closed circle' or a "the community celebrating itself" a move as Pope Francis says 'to the peripheries' is a movement outside of that circle or that community to that which is beyond, in such circles or communities it is God himself who is at 'the peripheries'.

A poorer Church therefore is one that recognises its need for re-orientation because centred on itself it is heading to ruin. For Benedict the symbolic re-orientation of worship was of absolute significance because it was about the Church looking beyond itself towards God as true believers rather than looking inwards to itself as a congregation of self sufficient Pelagians.

Yes, I am saying the post-Concilliar Church is essentially Pelagian.

Dublin diocese is an unhappy place

Without trying to re-hash controversy about it again, apart from the riding rough shod over the rubrics regarding the gender of the owners of the feet the Pope washed last Holy Thursday. I was disappointed that the feet the Pope washed were not the feet of priests, it is not in the rubrics, but it has been the custom of the Roman Pontiff to wash the feet of priests who are from his diocese. It is an important sign for the world's bishops and clergy.

A good bishop's first responsibility must be to his clergy, before he is the Father of anyone else he is the Father in God of his co-workers, his priests, the promise of fealty made by the priest to his bishop at ordination places the both in unique position in the modern world, it is not one of the managed and manager, and certainly not one of employer and employed which increasingly it tends to become today, the model is actually that of God the Father, the loving Father of his sons, to them he is supposed to be the good Shepherd. Above all he is supposed to strengthen them, first of all because he loves them and secondly so that through them he might serve the flock of Christ.

I occasionally get emails from clergy in the Dublin diocese, it is difficult to tell from this distance whether they are typical or exceptional. No where in Ireland does the Church seem to have lost the faith more quickly, no where do the clergy seem to have been more bruised and battered by the fall out of the child abuse crisis than in Dublin. From across the water for a long time Archbishop Martin seemed to be the only effective Irish Bishop, the only one to address the terrible history presented in the media of the Irish Church, it seems almost as if all his efforts and energies have been spent on this issue.

 Fr Eamonn Whelan has published his own reflections on the relationship of Dublin's clergy with their Archbishop, who rather than offering healing and paternal care seems to be bullying and domineering and damaging further those who have traumatised by the faults of their confreres. What what I hear and from what Fr Eamonn reports Dublin is an unhappy place.

Charity begins at home!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Trouble with the Poor

The trouble with the poor is that they are messy.

There is a secluded area between the church and our hall, a passage, occasionally we find someone has got a few cardboard boxes together and has slept there and if it has been raining leaves a sodden blanket, cardboard there to be cleaned up, often it also smells of urine and there is often excrement there and sometimes a used needle or two.
There is a man who comes into the church, especially during the trad Mass and during the silence of the Canon will pray aloud, "Jesus, I want you to bless Fr Ray and ...., and God, can you persuade the good people here to give to the poor, I am poor", unchecked he will take his cap off and have a collection. It makes a mess of our prayers, it stops some coming to Mass here.

If they are not doing that they are ringing the door bell at every hour of the day and night, and they tell lies. They tell you their Gran is dying in Southampton and they need the train fare, you give it to them and if you don't find them drunk in the street they are back the next day and the other Gran is dying in Hastings this time.

After delivering the poor, the treasure of the Roman Church, to Valerian's palace Laurence was grilled to death. What I don't believe is, the legend tells us, Laurence said to his executioners when he had been on the griddle sometime, "turn me over, I am done on this side". I don't believe it but there is an important message in these words, even in our pain and suffering we can grow complacent, 'the poor' challenge our complacency. They interrupt our comfort, our prayer, our routine bringing the mess of their lives into our lives.

There is an interesting discussion on sin on Cranmer's blog, sin indeed is a metaphysical reality, the Protestant argument was against the pre-reformation Catholic Pelagian practice of salvation through works, the Catholic conter-reformation argument was against Protestant belief that once you were saved you were saved. Catholic's believe the great danger in Protestantism is complacency, having received 'the blessed assurance' of Salvation one can relax. The Catholic doctrine is that complacency about salvation is dangerous, hence the counter-reformation and biblical teaching of 'faith fruitful in good works', no 'assurance' can guarantee salvation, it is God's free gift, unknown to us until judgement day.
The sin of the Pharisees, of the rich man in the story of Dives and Lazarus is complacence. The rich man didn't even notice the mess that Lazarus created at his front door, he didn't respond to it, he needed someone to bring him out of his complacency.

My big difficulty with confession at the moment is that I have grown complacent in my lifestyle, I don't want it changed, the message of the Gospels seem to be let the poor into it to mess it up a little.

Bits of Beauty

I was a little amused at Mass this evening we had two seminarians, one a member of the Society of St Peter, ascetic looking, prayerful before, during and after Mass, assisted in choro, someone said it was beautiful to watch him on the sanctuary. I think it is beautiful to watch devout young men at prayer, and especially those who want to offer God their lives.
At the back of the Church there was another seminarian, this one was a former Anglican, who is married with children. Tonight he had his small daughter with him, a nice one year old who cooed contentedly during Mass. I heard her occasionally but didn't see her until after Mass, when her dad brought her into the house, it was beautiful to see her father with her, his love for her and her trust in him. It would have been beautiful to watch him praying and nursing his daughter.
They were externally quite dissimilar, internally both illuminated by the same desire for God.
The beauty of the Church is primarily seen its people where we glimpse something of the beauty of God, at the top of this is Michael Voris video on beauty, he is talking the Church's rich heritage of artistic beauty, what an earlier age without condemnation would have described as 'artificial beauty' or the 'beauty of artifice'.
I feel so fortunate as priest being surrounded by so much which is truly beautiful, the other night I had dinner with a couple who were so obviously deeply in love who together were trying cope with the tragic death of their son. That too was beautiful. As was the way our sacristan had prepared and laid out my vestments for vigil of Saint Laurence.
It is too easy to make distinctions between natural beauty and artificial beauty both emanate from God.
I watched this film after Mass, there are some interesting Concilliar themes from 1944, again there are moments of tear jerking beauty in it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Thoughts between Sixtus and Laurence

I am not sure why Archbishop Pozzo went back to Ecclesia Dei but I think it is significant that his successor as Almoner to the Holy Father Msgr. Konrad Krajewski has a reputation for going around Vatican City collecting left over food, even from the Pope's own table, to redistribute to Rome's hungry. Apparently beggars taunt stingy ecclesiastics by asking, 'What would Pope Francis say?'

Yesterday was the commemoration of the martyrdom of St Sixtus II and his companions  and Saturday is the feast of St Laurence the deacon, Pope Sixtus' 'Almoner' who would have been martyred with his Pope and four other Deacons, except he was sent to collect 'the treasure of the Church of Rome'. During the days between the two feasts he gathered all the poor, the widows, the orphans, the sick together, all who the Church cared for and brought them to the Emperor, crying out, "Behold the treasure of the Church of Rome, O Emperor". Consequently the Emperor not best pleased had him slowly barbecued to death.

There is a sub-story to these last few days of Laurence's life, which is that he sent to his native Valencia the Holy Grail, which still exist today, and apparently is a 1st century Palestinian chalice. It was never returned to Rome and was used by Pope Benedict on his visit to Spain. One can imagine Laurence quite frenetically trying to organise things before his death, safeguarding the sacred, trying to send some people away from Rome, organising continuing care for the poor during the sede vacante brought about by Sixtus' martyrdom, and presumably knowing he wouldn't be around to see the new Pope, who from the moment of his election would be a marked man and would probably also perish in Valerian's persecution. For Laurence, I suspect as prepared for his end must have thought it was more or less the end of the Roman Church.

It is interesting that Sixtus' companions were actually deacons and not presbyters. Following my last post someone asked what should we do with a Church crisis. The obvious answer is, "Do whatever he tells you".

The Church has a real credibility problem, if people do not believe in her teaching, then they will not believe in her, if they do not believe her they will not believe in Christ and are lost. The deacons of Rome where essentially the Church's administrators, assisting the Pope in the Liturgy but also involved in preparing the sacrifice, the care of sacred things and the discipline of the Church, in the Roman Rite, unlike many of the Eastern Rites they were the ones who proclaimed the Gospel. It is worth remembering St Francis was a deacon, not a priest. I suspect what we should do is what Pope Francis seems to be doing and what Francis and Laurence did and what I hope the Pope intends Msgr. Krajewski to do: to gather the poor and to serve them.

There are two very obvious things Jesus tells us to do, one very much ad intra "Do this in remembrance of me" speaking of the Eucharist to the Apostles but to the disciples it is ad extra. he says feed, clothe, visit. It is not just that we should do charitable things, it is about a movement away from self, it fits in with the Great Commandment: loving God and our neighbour in place of ourselves. Replacing self love with altruistic love for God expressed through our neighbour. That is the Gospel.

In the 20th Century the State took away from the Church much of those carefully built up social care organisations built up over the centuries, it was these that gave us credibility both to ourselves and to the world.
After the Second Vatican Council the Church became obsessed by itself, it became Churchy, obsessed by talk of internal structures; the roles of laity, clergy, religious, forever talking about the minutiae of theology; talking about the liturgy rather than praying it, talking about scripture rather than living it, debating morality rather than actually being moral. The nadir in England was the Intelligence Squared debate 'Is the Catholic Church a force for good?' The overwhelming response was, "No, it is not", it was not even considered good, that was hardly surprising. Scandals and inaction, the failure to do much that touches the lives of ordinary men and women have allowed the Church, our Bishops and Clergy to become the butt of humour rather than the 'Light of the Nations', for the media except as a source of negative news the Church has nothing to offer.

Christians need to reach out to the poor  to learn to love, the Church needs to reach out to the poor in order to be the Church. The poor give the Church the dignity of meaning, otherwise we are just a pious club, a talking shop, if we do not give food for starving bodies we have nothing to give to starving souls. We must have need to show love tangibly, the Word needs to be made flesh.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

From Grandma's knee to the Specialist

Just continuing cogitating on the nature of Catholicism...

I remember preparing some children for first Holy Communion when I was first ordained, the eldest was twelve the youngest barely seven, they were wily and bright but hardly educated, they could read only a little, they were an Irish traveller family, most of the preparation was done by their Grandmother who was illiterate who used to drill them in the catechism sitting by a paraffin stove in her caravan, dispensing sweets to those who got answer right. Obviously they didn't understand much of what they repeated but they knew the words and formulas, and they knew the prayers. They knew the old prayers, like the Confiteor with the saints, prayers to Our Lady, lots of them and their favourite the prayer to St Michael. I admit even after 1st Confession and Communion they weren't that good at attending Mass, presumably in part because of the traveller lifestyle. When they did attend, even with my expert catechesis, they didn't seem to understand the Mass, they either fidgeted throughout especially during the readings. Their grandmother tried to encourage them to say 'the beads', as her grandmother had taught her, ' it was easier for the children with Latin Mass', she used to say. For everyone from their community the liturgy but especially the liturgy of the Word simply passed over them like a silken veil, they were bored stiff. As far as morality was concerned, it was adapted to their needs, Grandma assured me 'we don't steal from one another, Father, and it would be shameful if one of the girls married and wasn't a virgin'.

St Vincent of Lerins in the 5th cent said,
"catholic is that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all" 
my traveller family could certainly sign up to that they believed, they were fortunate Grandma  passed on what she received. She had the confidence to pass it on, in the same way as her ancestors had past it on to her. Fr Richard Aladics has done a series on the rise and fall of Corpus Christi Catechetical Institute which rose in 1965 and finally fell in 1975, his posts on it end here. CCCI was a great and destructive experiment in catechesis which still has its perverse effects today in the English speaking world. One of its chief consequences was to make catechesis something belonging to specialists rather than grandma sitting by the fire with her brood, and what can be said of catechesis can be said of worship and morality too.

It would be difficult for us today to suggest the words of St Vincent actually defined Catholicism today. The faith of the ordinary Catholic, NOT in the pew on a Sunday, the product of our Catholic school system, somewhere between 90-97% of those who we might regard as Catholic, is certainly not the faith presented in the Catechism of the Church. It is our habit to inflate figures, apparently the estimated figures for attendance at WYD, 3 million, would suggest 7 people per square meter on the beach with the Pope, which is unbelievable. In what sense should we regard as Catholic those 1.4 billion estimated as being the number of Catholics in the world? Perhaps statistics should not be taken too seriously especially when used by men of the Church.

St Vincent's word seem to suggest that 'the faith' is something from below, passed on by grandmothers around the fire, rather than something which comes above, from the Catechism, from Rome, from specialists. There is certainly an important role in oversight of the faith from above, correcting error in calling to obedience but somehow there is a need to find ways in which the faith can be given back to the people.

There was a story sometime ago of an Orthodox priest in Russia who 'married'  a homosexual couple, the local men gathered and razed the church to the ground. If such a thing happened in Europe the response would be indifference. The majority of Catholics would either go along the priest, with a 'father knows best' attitude or would probably feel the Church is behind the times and needs to catch up. Whatever the motivation, the Catholic attitude is that what we believe is changeable. The reaction to Pope Francis' election was that everything could change along with the Pope, it is the one thing that unites Traditional and Conservative Catholics with Liberals and Progressives. This is a worrying state. The Papal oath abandoned by Paul VI not to change anything, along with the outward signs that Benedict tried to restore, gave some stability to the Papacy, the unchanging Liturgy, the sense that Liturgy was a given gave stability to the Church.

The community liturgyAt the heart of St Vincent's words is the notion of continuation, a timelessness and universality, 'always, everywhere and by all'. The understanding of Catholic merely as 'universal' is a foreshortening, it is the timelessness of it that is important. In many ways the dismantling of the ancient liturgy following VII undermined the sense of 'always'. If the worship after 1968 could be changed, so could the content of 'the faith' and if the changes were enforced from above, from Rome then surely this is also the source of 'the faith', Again, if the liturgy could vary so widely from Mass at the High Altar of Brompton Oratory, with traditional vestments and music and in Latin to Father X sitting on a bean bag wearing just a stole making it up as he went along, why could 'the faith' not also be variable. Despite its intention VII taught, subliminally at least, especially through the liturgy, that Catholicism was what Ratzinger would define as 'Relativistic', most importantly of all by Father quite literally turning his back on that which was held holy by past generations, if not smashing it with a sledgehammer.

'The faith' post VII, was not the faith of the previous generations, it was in a state of flux. The movement of the Blessed Sacrament in some diocese from the centre of the apse to a side chapel or a tabernacle in the corner of the sanctuary and rubrics restricting the genuflections of the priest, said what we believed yesterday about the Real Presence is not what we believe today, similarly the change in funeral rites from sombre black, the Dies Irae, intercession for the dead to Mass in thanksgiving for the life of the dead person brought in a serious undermining of one of Catholicism most important certainties about death and judgement, again it said what we believed yesterday, we do not believe today.

The wholesale rubbishing of the pre-Concilliar 'the faith' by those charged with implementing the post-Concilliar teaching did little to boost the confidence of those who had received the faith at grandmothers' knees. This certainly served to place the 'the faith' in the hands the specialist, especially as their main point was to underline and explain all that was new in contradistinction to what had been passed on. Even amongst the clergy and religious those things that had often attracted them to the priesthood or religious life were often considered evil and simply swept away.

The curriculum in seminaries and houses of formation were often aimed at rooting out that which was passed on, hence scripture was more about teaching the untrustworthiness of scripture, moral theology became how to get around traditional Catholic morality, liturgy became a justification for ditching past practices, theology rather than deepening faith tended to undermine it, theology tended to emphasise rupture and to be based not on the liturgy but non-Christian philosophical notions, Rahner supplanted Aquinas. An apparently new theology with apparently new set of doctrines alienated many clergy. The great boom in vocations in the fifties ended with a whimper in the sixties, and I suspect left many clergy traumatised, trying to explain something which they didn't understand or necessarily belief in, to people who didn't understand or want what was now offered.

Just as numbers of seminarians dropped, so there was the great exeunt from the clergy over Humanae Vitae, whether this was directly to do with birth-control or simply a reason to leave for clergy who had lost faith in the Church will be up to historians to judge. The significant change was that the clergy were left offering a faith which was received from somewhere else, the Council Fathers, which was not what they received from their parents, to give to a people who had similarly received a different tradition.

The situation has changed drastically since the heady days immediately following the Council but survey after survey reports Catholic disagree with the hierarchy, and some of the hierarchy seem to disagree with Rome on everything from celibacy to sexual morality, the Real Presence to scriptural inspiration. It is not they people believe but do not have the moral strength or insight to understand what they believe, as the pages of the Tablet reveal week by week there is a vast gulf between 'the institutional Church' and the 'the Church of the people'.

In Orthodoxy St Victor's description of 'catholic' might well stand but in the West does 'Catholic' really mean, 'that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all'? If so it should be the faith passed on by an Irish traveller grandmother sitting by the fire with her grandchildren.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Morphing Church

Watch this RR video entitled, "Wide Range of Music played during WYD in Brazil", well it might be a wide range but none of it strikes me as being 'Catholic', if we understand 'Catholic' music in the terms defined by the Missal and the VII documents, it all sounds incredibly Protestant or at least Charismatic.
A friend of mine who works in an area where there is a strong and active Orthodox presence spoke to me recently of Catholics who were converting to Orthodoxy because the Church was morphing into something quite 'un-Catholic'.
I can't help thinking that one of the reasons why the Church is loosing members very quickly in Brazil and South America and actually slightly more slowly in Europe, is because of a loss of 'Catholic identity'. Great damage was done when the 'Church' started teaching and something different that held and passed on by men and women in the pew.
I put up a post on the impact of St Ignatius of Loyola a few days ago trying briefly to show how the counter-Reformation Church differed in some ways quite radically from the pre-Reformation Church.
Is the same thing happening now but to a much greater extent?
The question we need to ask is what exactly is 'Catholicism'. Is it just a series of credal statements, is it a culture, is it certain moral way of understanding man's relationship with God, is it a particular way of worshipping God? In the past we could simply define being a Catholic as being in Communion with the Successor of St Peter but the last Papacy with its tortuous negotiations with the SSPX, its insistence that they were not in schism and its finding Catholicism within Anglicanism seems to have back-peddled that somewhat.
If the Church is morphing, is it from God?

Falda Dependency

The Orthodox would see a bishop con-celebrating Mass with his clergy as a sign that the bishop can do nothing without his his clergy, and therefore with his Church, it is an important sign that he is in communion with them as much as they are in communion with him. In many ways it is sign that he can do nothing apart from his clergy and the local Church. Con-celebration in the East is an important ecclesiological sign about the dependence of a bishop.

Cardinal Cañizares Llovera has often said that Con-celebration is not part of our Western tradition and that document on the liturgy in long gestation by the CDW which was supposed to be issued in July but is unlikely to appear at all now, was rumoured to clarify the use and theology of Con-celebration, which appeared after VII without any explanation or much understanding of precisely what was happening. We introduced an oriental practice and imposed it on our occidental Eucharistic theology.

In the West the same theology of the dependence of the bishop was actually signified by other rituals. the bishop could only celebrate Mass as a bishop when surrounded by his minister, sacred and otherwise. Pontifical Mass needed the sign of assistant ministers to take place.

One of the particular aspects of the Pontifical Liturgy was that the Pope literally could do nothing without help. The ancient Papal vestments signified this dependence. The sedia gestatoria used both by the Roman Pontiff, might well have ended by being a sign of medieval power rather than dependence but many other vestments such as the falda the long skirt like vestment that extended below the hem of the alb or the papal mantella, the long cope, meant that the Pope could not even walk without assistance. They were a sign to both Pontiff and the world that nothing the Pope did was done on his own. Far from being signs of the Church Triumphant they were actually signs that the Pope's actions were restricted and absolutely dependant on those around him.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Not a Renaissance Prince?

My understanding of the feudal world is that it was highly litigious, partly because its basis was about mutual obligation and it was reasonably static, everyone knew their rights and when they were violated they went to court. Medieval court records, at least in England show that even the lowest in society could insist on their rights even over the local Lord or other magnate, even the king. It is not surprising, as the very nature of feudalism was based on the idea of a society with God, the Lawgiver, at its very top. When it worked it was good, when it didn't work the sword ruled.

Renaissance society I always think was different. I read The Prince at an early age. It was fast moving, renaissance princes seem to have been answerable to no-one, not the Church, not God and certainly not to their inferiors, one can't quite imagine a Medici or a Tudor doing public penance like Henry II after Becket's murder.
The Renaissance was a lawless time, the princes will was law, princes were feared, the parvenu was not rooted in society, he was here today and gone tomorrow. It is no wonder Pope Francis keeps saying, 'I am not Renaissance Prince'.

One thing that does worry me about the the present Papacy is that on the one hand the Bishop of Rome is calling for transparency, especially with regard to the IOR, the Vatican Bank, and yet on the other hand seems to act as if he is unconstrained by Law or custom, just like a Renaissance Prince.
Setting as a priority the clearing out of any hint of waywardness in the IOR is certainly important and it is good place to start, It is important the Church can be trusted, especially with money but transparency has to be attached to everything in the Church not just its finances.

I admit I was quite shaken by Francis' disregard for liturgical Law and washing the feet of women despite what the rubrics plainly say. The recent negation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate's right under the rules set out by Summorum Pontificum, which gave every Latin Rite priest the ability to choose which form of the Roman Rite he wished to use, seems not only worrying but also high handed and most probably illegal, that is worrying too. Even the decision to Canonise the Blessed John XXIII without the necessary divine sign of a further miracle, and today it is reported that the Pontiff is seriously considering the Canonisation of Pius XII. These things might be good or possibly necessary or pastorally fitting or whatever you might describe them as but what is worrying is that they cut across the proper and due process of Law. There is a very serious danger of the Church being seen as a Renaissance Principality, Papa vult is not the basis of the Church's law. If the Pope wishes for transparency he cannot act like a Renaissance Prince, he too has to be subject to the Law, bending his personal desire to it, not bending the Law to his desire.

If the Church's Law is disregarded then the Church simply becomes an institution based on it earthly leader's whim. The most important role of the Pontiff or any ruler is to ensure the law is as clear as possible and immediately obvious to everyone. The Church must be 'a just society' because God is Just. If the Pope acts without due regard to the Law why can't anyone, the answer is obvious, if we do not obey the Law we become not a just society but a band of robbers. Bringing in confusion, muddying the waters, does no good whatever and in the long term destroys the Church's credibility, especially in a time when, as His Holiness tells us some pretty dramatic reforms are likely to take place.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...