And now for something completely different

Over at the admirable blog That the Bones You have Crushed may Thrill, I was intrigued to see mention made of Pharrell Williams’ pleasing song Happy. It is a song I only recently discovered. So it was a happy surprise for me to read there that,

… you hear this song quite a lot in Brighton from car stereos and the like. It always makes me think of B[enedict]XVI. I do quite like that Mr Williams’s song subscribes to the Catholic vision of  ‘the truth’ rather than the societal trend to promote subjective and competing notions based on ‘my truth’. The truth, of course, if not embraced, can be a cause for unhappiness…

The song never fails to life my spirits. So it was an even greater, and pleasant, surprise to find that this song is the subject of the world’s first 24-hour music video! What a clever concept it is. If you go to the site (it can take a while to load initially – be patient. If it stalls, press F5) you will find that you can match the time of day to the video. It is a remarkable feat. It is a series of seemingly ordinary people (and occasionally the singer) dancing here, there and everywhere to the song. It breathes a joyful spirit, and is good clean entertainment (unless there is something hidden at 3am!). Go have a look, and you can check in there when you need a pick-me-up.

happy

 

Missing the real point: the debate on Communion for remarried divorcees

Most Catholics will be aware of the recent, vigorous debate that has emerged the last few months on the subject of whether remarried divorcees should be admitted to Holy Communion. The debate was given impetus by the desire of German bishops to change the immemorial teaching of the Church. Following the explicit and unequivocal teaching of Christ, the Church does not recognize the possibility of divorce. Spouses can separate without any canonical consequence. Any civil divorce has only civil effect, and does not affect the sacramental bond which endures. The problem comes if a civilly-divorced spouse re-marries. It would have to be a civil wedding, naturally. In the eyes of the Church, with the original marriage bond intact, that spouse is now officially and publicly committing adultery. Adultery is a grave sin that precludes one from receiving Holy Communion.

As any sensible pastor, like our own Bishop Philip Egan, will tell you, this canonical consequence is not an act of retribution but is, in fact, medicinal. On the one hand, it reminds the erring spouse that Eucharist is the highest of gifts, and that it is a gift that can be lost by our own actions. On the other hand, scripture and Church teaching are consistent in holding that receiving the Eucharist when in a state of grave sin will have no good effect on the soul of the grave and un-absolved sinner, but in fact will only harm the sinner, as s/he will be bringing judgment down upon them. Eucharist received by grave sinners who remain un-absolved is poison to their souls, not balm. So to deny them Communion is an act of charity.

The counter argument usually rests on the purpose of the Eucharist in the lives of Christians. As medicine, it is precisely the grave sinner who needs it, the argument maintains. What is more, some divorces come about due to situations of irreconcilable difference, or even abuse. The Church already allows separation on these grounds, but cannot permit divorce because she has no power to grant a divorce. She may determine that the marriage itself was not validly contracted, and so annul what had been thought a marriage. But a valid marriage endures till death.

However, there is an underlying point in this debate that is, by and large, not being addressed, and if it were it might take the sting out of the question. The point is this: that for the vast majority of Catholics (and even non-Catholics, God help us) the reception of Communion is just another part of the ritual, an instance of their “active participation”, and indeed, a habit. St Pius X may have been right to remind the Church that receiving Holy Communion is saving food to our souls, and so we should receive it more than once a year. But frequent Communion has, in the modern Church, become regular Communion, habitual Communion, and for many, unthinking Communion. Which raises the question: how many Catholics receiving Communion every Sunday are actually free from grave sin? This question is all the more moot given the decline in recourse to the sacrament of Confession. Have Catholics really become so holy on such a widespread scale? Or are many regularly receiving the Eucharist unworthily, and not just profaning the Sacrament but poisoning their souls? Are our parishes in fact largely administering poison to a disturbing number of those who present themselves for Communion?

Those in grave sin have no right to receive Communion at all. None. At. All. Thus, remarried divorcees have no right to receive Communion, and in fact have the right to be denied Communion for their own spiritual well-being. Reception of Holy Communion must not be reduced to a mere act of belonging the local group, of exterior participation and inclusion stripped of its supernatural reality and purpose. It is primarily a spiritual event, with spiritual consequences, and eternal ones at that. It is not a sacrament of social inclusion.

Our Sunday obligation is not to receive Holy Communion. Our obligation is to attend Mass every Sunday. Have many Catholics lost sight of this fact?

Or perhaps individuals judge for themselves and decide that they can receive despite Church teaching? Perhaps they would call this an act of conscience. While we cannot read people’s consciences, we can safely say that anyone who makes a judgment against Church teaching does so without any objective authority. It is the same for priests who unilaterally decide to offer Communion to those who are impeded by means of publicly-known grave sin or who are non-Catholics. In this case, those priests are exercising an authority they do not have. This makes them dangerous men indeed from a spiritual point of view.

So the question of Communion for remarried divorcees needs to be re-focused. The burning question really is: how many who present themselves for Communion are actually in communion with Christ and His Church and not impeded by grave sin? Another question presents itself in consequence: how many see Communion merely as an act of exterior participation rather than an essentially spiritual act with effects not only for now but for eternity?

If you are in a state of grave sin, Holy Communion is not your remedy. Confession and penance: that is your remedy. Only then will Holy Communion do you any good. Only then will Holy Communion not bring you spiritual woe. What we need now is not a campaign for frequent Communion, but one for frequent Confession. Dare we say it: Holy Communion can be dangerous – it is not for the unready.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

(1 Corinthians 11:23-30 ESV)

 

 

A sane voice

Reading this piece on Corpus Christi Watershed on the possibility of bad liturgy, in the sense of its manner of celebration, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite of the Mass, I was struck by its sanity and reasonableness. What is more, its author, layman Andrew Motyka, articulated superbly my position at this point in time, a position in which I feel confident I do not stand alone:

As someone who grew up with the Ordinary Form, it is my preference. It is what I’ve always known and am most comfortable praying. However, I am grateful for whatever liturgy Holy Mother Church gives me, and I do not resent the EF in any way. Two forms, one liturgy. My greatest preference would be to celebrate the Ordinary Form with a priest who loves the Extraordinary. I believe this to truly be the “mutual enrichment” of which Pope Benedict spoke, and I hope that that enrichment carries into the future to the benefit of both forms.

To be honest, I am finding it very difficult to continue with my abortive attempts to learn the EF of the Mass. Not just practical difficulties are involved, but conceptual and psychological ones. It is still too alien to me. Not that I have any animus towards it, and in fact I cheered as loudly as any when Pope Benedict XVI liberated the old Mass in 2007. After all, just because I have not learned to love it does not mean I think others should be deprived of it. It is a liturgy of the most ancient pedigree, and the vast majority of the saints of the Western Church would have worshipped in and through that Mass. It needs no new apologia; the saints are its apologists.

That said, this concept of mutual enrichment is one that really does engage me psychologically. Perhaps that is partly why I am keen on the Mass forms that appeared in the wake of the Council and before 1970; in them it is possible to discern the old Mass being reformed in light of the express will of the Council. The Missal published in 1965 is a case in point. (Of course, the closer to 1970 we got the more was the Mass tinkered with, or rather, substantially reconstructed.) I can happily strive to be that priest who celebrates the Ordinary Form but loves the Extraordinary. That, for this priest at least, is a more compelling reason to learn the intricacies of the ancient Mass.

We can be sure the heavenly liturgy will not be subject to such debate and contention. With Christ as the unveiled, unmediated celebrant, how it could it be anything other than perfect.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

 

Mystified

My rule of late has been to steer clear of papal matters of late (except for matters of popes emeriti). However, gobsmacked was I in reading this from Pope Francis the other day:

We’re afraid of being close to Jesus because this gives us joy. And this is why there are so many ‘funeral’ (mournful) Christians, isn’t it? Those whose lives seem to be a perpetual funeral. They prefer sadness to joy. They move about better in the shadows, not in the light of joy, like those animals who only come out at night, not in the light of day, who can’t see anything. Like bats. And with a little sense of humour we can say that there are Christian bats who prefer the shadows to the light of the presence of the Lord.

Quite seriously one asks: what on earth is he talking about? Who are these people of whom he speaks? Bats?! I must be missing something, or lacking in proper formation. He’s lost me.

Pope Francis eschews bats and prefers doves.

Pope Francis eschews bats and prefers doves.

 

One can hardly be surprised if he elicits less than flattering commentary.

 

Fascinating Appointments

Recent episcopal appointments by Pope Francis are proving fascinating.

In England, recently Bishop Malcolm McMahon O.P. has been promoted to Liverpool; Fr Robert Byrne Cong.Orat. has been appointed auxiliary bishop in Birmingham; and today it was announced that Fr Alan Williams S.M. has been appointed Bishop of Brentwood. In Australia this past Saturday Fr Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E. has been appointed bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes, a vast and relatively empty diocese in outback Australia that has been vacant for 5 years.

Bishop-elect Alan WIlliams S.M.

Bishop-elect Alan WIlliams S.M.

In Australia especially, but also in England and Wales to a lesser degree, Religious bishops have not been common in the last century or so. In England the exception has been the tradition of having a Benedictine or two among the local hierarchy. Not unreasonably, nor surprisingly, episcopal appointments tend to be made from the ranks of the diocesan clergy. But for these two conferences Pope Francis seems willing to appoint Religious (or quasi-Religious in the case of Oratorians) to vacancies, and not necessarily from headlining congregations. Fr Williams, a Marist Father, and Fr Macbeth-Green, a Pauline Father, represent congregations that are not normally vescovabili in their respective countries.

Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E.

Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E.

More insightful commentators than I might be able to read the message here, if there is one. It may be merely that Pope Francis is not going to be tied to the prevailing pool of candidates and is being far more zealous for merit. It could also be that, give his strictures against careerism in the ranks of the clergy, he is looking in typically non-careerist pastures for new shepherds.

Sydney is vacant; will the Dominican Bishop Fisher be appointed there? In northern Sydney, Broken Bay, a wealthy but dispirited diocese with a drought of vocations, may well land a Religious bishop, and perhaps from a less predictable order or congregation.

Also interesting, if possibly inconsequential, is that Bishops-elect Williams S.M. and Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E. are both currently rectors of Marian shrines. Just saying…

Our Lady of Walsingham

Our Lady of Walsingham

Ratzinger 1966 – An Unexpected Prophet

It is pretty much a commonplace today that at the time of the Council Fr Josef Ratzinger was to be counted among the conciliar young turks, channeling the Rhine into the Tiber, a progressive, if not so radical as his colleague Küng. In the wake of the student unrest and riots of 1968, the narrative continues, Ratzinger changed, seeing the dangers of radical progressivism and turned back to safer waters. His growing conservatism combined with his conciliar pedigree and obvious theological gifts led him first to be elected Archbishop of Munich and then appointed to head the Holy Office, God’s rottweiler as he was labeled by his detractors.

There is little doubt that 1968 seems to have been something of a watershed year for Ratzinger. So it was something of a surprise to come across the text of a lecture Ratzinger gave at Bamberg’s Katholikentag in 1966. Here is a conflicted Ratzinger. The Council is barely a year over, and the student unrest of 1968 is still to come. Yet Ratzinger already senses danger, and senses too that the implementation of the Council’s decrees is more and more losing touch with the Council itself.

Though it was printed in English in The Furrow of January 1967 as “Catholicism After the Council”, the German focus of Ratzinger’s paper may have caused anglophone students to put it to one side as being of more local-historical interest. Yet anyone who reads it would be struck by its prophetic nature, and the challenges he poses both to traditionalists and progressives alike. Maybe this too has made it inconvenient for most.

Fr Josef Ratzinger in 1966

Fr Josef Ratzinger in 1966

Since I am unsure of its copyright status, the paper will not be reproduced or made available in full here. Still it is such a remarkable piece of Ratzinger, accessible to non-theologians, and with abiding relevance as we come to 50 years since the Council, that it seems reasonable to examine it to some degree. His talk will be dealt with in three parts. Herewith, the first.

INTRODUCTION

Ratzinger begins by defining his terms, focusing on the term ‘Catholicism’. He notes that at this period Catholicism had been reduced by many to yet another -ism, an ideology that blends “the ideal and the real in the life and society of our time… [while also] blurring the boundaries between them” (p.3). In this reorientation of the concept of Catholicism he finds that the Church “has yielded to the insistence of our age on arranging everything according to ideologies” (ibid.). As a result Catholicism has become no less constrained and constricted by worldliness than it was in the mediæval period, and is in fact “a continuation in a slightly altered form of the fusion, much criticised nowadays, between Church and society in the imperium Christianum of the Middle Ages”.

That Ratzinger starts his paper in this way suggests not only that he has discerned in the contemporary Church a turn to the world that is at the same time becoming an accommodation to it. In light of what will follow, he seems to be warning the post-conciliar Church that its new engagement with the world risks not so much its influencing the world but the world influencing it.

Even so soon after the Council, this new trajectory in the life of the Church was having unintended effects.

Let me start off by admitting quite frankly that there prevails amongst us today a certain air of dissatisfaction, an atmosphere of depression and even of disappointment, such as often follows on festive moments of great joy and exaltation… The world seemed to stop in its tracks to give the Council a joyful welcome and to listen to it with an astonished and respectful attention but now it seems to have simply gone off about its own affairs again, and after all the clamour and the shouting the Church remains the Church and the faith has become, if anything, more burthensome (sic) than ever because more exposed and defenceless. (p.4)

But a year after the Council closed Ratzinger discerns that the Council might not have been concluded in the same spirit it was begun, and that the motives of many of its more vigorous proponents might not be without subtle self-interest:

It could be that the applause of 1962 reflected a secret longing for that something higher and eternal… now about to become nearer and more easily grasped…; or it could be that many people were hoping that the Church was about to come to terms with the world and thereby give them carte blanche to continue in their own worldly ways. (ibid.)

To simplify things rather crudely, and to read between the lines, it is as if Ratzinger identified with the former tendency, a spirit in which the Council was convoked, and has found that the latter tendency has replaced it by the end of the Council. He intuits that the implementation of the conciliar decrees will be far more important than the Council itself.

It seems that as early as 1966 the implementation of the Council was already proving problematic from Ratzinger’s perspective. “However that may be, the Council has left yet another trail of disagreement and divided opinions in its wake to add to the many other differences of opinion among the faithful” (pp.4-5). So among the faithful there was already a conflict of opinion on many issues, and far from reconciling them the Council has caused the situation to worsen. Ratzinger then goes on to sketch in broad strokes the outlines of the two major camps at loggerheads:

For some the Council has done much too little, it got bogged down at the very start and bequeathed to us nothing but a series of clever compromises… For others again the Council was a scandal, a delivering up of the Church to the evil spirit of our time, which has turned its back on God with its mad preoccupation with the world and with material things. They are aghast to see the undermining of all that they held most sacred and turn away from a reform which seems only to offer a cheapened watered-down Christianity where they expected stiffer demands in regard to faith, hope and love. (p.5)

This summary sketch of the two opposing poles of post-conciliar opinion serves as well today as it did for Ratzinger in 1966. It is the latter opinion that Ratzinger seems more interested in, and to some degree more sympathetic towards. Those who view with alarm the post-conciliar reforms, as enacted, “compare this reform… with the reforms of past times, as for instance with that reform which is linked with the name of the great St Teresa.” (ibid.) Ratzinger is applying here what he later, as Pope Benedict XVI, would call the hermeneutic of continuity, which is the interpretation of developments in Church teaching and practice in the light of previous teaching and practice, since they should all share one organic and discernible unity.

St Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila

As a reference point in this hermeneutic he choose the 16th century reforms of St Teresa of Avila. He describes things in forthright terms, unsettling for monks and religious:

Before her conversion the convent in which she lived was a perfectly modern place in which the old-fashioned idea of the enclosure with its petty annoying restrictions had given way to more generous ‘modern’ ideas… the gloomy asceticism of the old rule had been replaced by a more ‘reasonable’ manner of life more suited to the tastes of people of the new era which was just then beginning… [and offering] an open-minded attitude to the world. (ibid.)

Dare it be said, but this could be a description of many monasteries of today, declining as they are, forces for reform though they were. Ratzinger is casting doubt upon the validity of two predominant yardsticks of reform in his day as well as our own: modernity and the ‘world’, following the example of St Teresa.

But one day she was touched to the quick by the Presence of Christ and her soul came face to face with the inexorable truth of the Gospel message, untrammeled by all the petty phrases of excuse and extenuation which had been used to obscure it, and then she realised that all that had gone before had been an unpardonable flight from the great mission to which she had been called and a shirking of the conversion of heart which was being asked of her, whereupon she rose up and was ‘converted’. And what that meant was that she rejected the aggiornamento and created a reform which had nothing of concession in it but was a challenge to all… (ibid.)

Even allowing that he might be using some rhetorical flourish in his description of St Teresa’s situation, it is remarkable that he uses the totemic conciliar word, aggiornamento. Until recently, in anglophone Catholicism especially, it has been a de facto dogma that aggiornamento, or updating, was both necessary and wonderful. It is effectively the conciliar motto for the progressive element. That Ratzinger, a progressive himself, so early is casting a shadow of doubt on the principle gives one pause for thought. For him, as for St Teresa, the demands and challenges of the Gospel cannot be updated, only diluted and discarded. Any ecclesial reform that weakens the Gospel call in such a way is no reform, but deformation.

Shifting our gaze back to the present day, we see how right and how prescient was his concern. That within the Church, among her pastors and teachers, can be found those who explicitly contradict magisterial and biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage, the sacredness of human life, the priestly office, et al., can be traced precisely to the influence of the two sources for the call to change that Ratzinger warns against, namely modernity and the world. These people seek “carte blanche to continue in their worldly ways”. They seek, indeed, for the Church to accommodate and to validate their pursuit of self as their highest good, and their consequent avoidance of the Cross. In place of Christian freedom, they want liberty without responsibility. In place of the demands of love, they want only the approbation of lust and the avoidance of its consequences.

So, back to Raztinger. He acknowledges the question as to whether “the Council has not, in fact, taken the opposite direction to Saint Teresa, going away from true conversion of heart and moving in the direction of a conversion to worldliness on the part of the Church.” (p.6) It is a question that some would see answered clearly enough in the reaction to Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, who was recently condemned by parents of a Catholic school for explaining the Church’s teaching on sexuality in clear and measured terms, and the meagre support offered her by the local diocese.

This is a disenchanted Ratzinger we are reading, a man grappling to comprehend that his conciliar hopes not matching post-conciliar reality. It is 1966, just four years after the Council opened, and barely a year after it closed, and he sees it increasingly becoming a tool for secularisation, reducing Catholicism to one -ism among many. In engaging with the world, it risks being swamped by the world.

His next focus is liturgical reform, examined in the next post.

The Odour of Desperation

Most of the anglophone Church has settled into the use of the revised English missal. Priests are getting to grips with sentences more than a few words long and containing some commas and subordinate clauses, and are doing what we always should have been doing (though sadly some didn’t), namely reading ahead and preparing those parts we have to say. This development has allowed many more people to relax with the new missal, as the mis-readings die off in light of clerical comfort and familiarity with the new, more accurate texts. No doubt most can see that, notwithstanding a few areas that could be improved, this missal is vastly superior to the previous paraphrased one, and brings the verbal content and meaning of our liturgical texts into closer and more obvious unity with the rest of the Church.

However, some people will not give up. Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, they will never accept the revised missal. So they change the texts to suit their own understanding of liturgy, manifesting at the very least sheer disobedience, and perhaps even an attempt at a type of social engineering. As they get more desperate that they cause is not prospering, they resort to subterfuge to foster the appearance that it is prospering.

The latest instance is the reporting of yet another survey of priests and their opinion of the revised missal. Leaving aside the whole issue of church governance by opinion poll, a little light delving into the reporting of the survey reveals that the dissenters’ emperor has no clothes. The worst offender is the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), which headlines its article “Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy”. Oh my goodness! How ominous. Patrick Archbold has done what many readers will not do, and read all the way to the end of the article and taken note of what is passed over in silence.

The NCR reporting is alarmist in the impression it gives, though observant readers will see what is going on. An example:

 … 75 percent of respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.” Forty-seven percent answered “strongly agree” to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “the new translation urgently needs to be revised.” 33 percent answered “strongly agree” on that statement.

Now someone who is not reading carefully will not take in the full significance of the word respondent. In light of the misleading headline, they might have the immediate impression that pretty much 75% of US clergy are of the opinion that the missal’s language is “awkward and distracting”, to take one example.

But Pat has read through and discovered the most salient fact of all: 6000 parishes were surveyed, only 539 responded. That is a response rate of less than 9%! So the 75% who do not like the linguistic register of the missal represent only 6.7% of the 6000 actually surveyed. “Wide rejection”?

However Pat seems to have missed one further point. Only 444 of the 539 respondents were actually “US clergy”; the other 75 were “lay leaders”. So it is not even 9% of clergy that is the real survey pool; it is actually only 7.4%. Alas, there is no breakdown on how many clergy responded negatively as distinct form the “lay leaders”, who are likely to have been predominately negative. So, allowing the dissenters their best case scenario, the highest possible percentage for clergy dissatisfaction they can claim on the basis of their survey is 7.4%.

Somehow a 7.4% negative response rate equates to “wide rejection”.

The active opponents of the revised missal may be very loud but they are very few in number. They shout loudly and often, to make one think they are many. They are not many, but their sly fudging of their own statistics reveals that they are increasingly desperate.

The Pray Tell blog, which is partly responsible for the survey, did not even bother to include reference to the dismal response rate to the survey, and thus the tiny portion of clergy it represents, and posted an even more misleading headline. Desperate indeed.

cara