Sunday, May 30, 2010

What We Have Lost: The Asperges

I'd like to continue today what was discussed in the previous posting.  God willing, I will make this a regular occurrence.  I would like to talk about the things that I believe Catholics have all but lost in today's modern society that are quite beneficial to the faithful.  In many cases, these rituals and traditions still exist, but they have fallen into disuse (such as the Introit, still on the books but rarely used in most parishes on Sundays.)  Today we will cover the Asperges, yet I would first like to deal with a potential objection.

Many will think that I am no doubt wasting time on these things.  If they are viewed as important at all, it is barely so in their eyes.  Within the context of the liturgy, these were viewed as empty symbolism, mere ritual.  Only in our modern eye, blind to everything but the most apparent before our eyes, would we think this way.  These rituals and symbols convey a far greater meaning to the soul, speaking to the soul in the language only understood by the soul fixated on God.  We have forgotten so many of the "little things" in Catholicism nowadays.  Yet if we expect to be holy and saints of great virtue, should we not "be responsible with little" first, as Our Lord says in the parable?   Let us now move onto the focus of today's issue.

Like the Introit, the Asperges is certainly of ancient patrimony.  We see the prayer in more or less its current form from the 10th century, yet there is good reason to think such a venerable tradition goes back even further.  We do know that as time went on, the Church decided to make the Asperges a frequent occurrence.  Before the reforms of the New Missal, this frequency was every Sunday at the principal Mass of the parish.

Before the Mass starts, the priest enters the sanctuary and intones Psalm 51 (or depending on your translation, Psalm 50).  In the Latin, the first two words are Asperges Me which the priest intones, hence the name Asperges.  The following Psalm is prayed by the congregation as the priest blesses the altar, the servers, and the faithful:

You will sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed.  You will wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy.  Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  (The Psalm is repeated)
In the Ordinary form, this prayer is optional, though stressed during Eastertide.  Psalm 51 is one of several Psalms that may be used, however it occurs during the penitential rite.

Those who favored removing the Asperges (or making it essentially irrelevant through disuse) will typically argue that this prayer, like many others, were "late" additions to the liturgy, and were a break with the ancient and more Scripturally-based liturgy that they were looking to restore.  As on so many other issues of contention, they miss the point.

While certainly a later development, it was a development that grew from the blessing of the water.  We know that Holy Water has a very ancient patrimony in the Church.  Many Churches back then did not have the fonts of water that we have in our churches nowadays.  One of the ways this powerful sacramental was given to the faithful was through this ritual.  In doing so, the Church re-connects anew each time with one of the oldest forms of worship available in salvation history.

Psalm 51 was one of those Psalms which were known as the Penitential Psalms.    These were prayed before the offering of the sacrifice of atonement by the Jewish people.  This Psalm itself comes from King David, after being confronted for his adultery and murder by the prophet Nathan.  Like David, we should recognize the multitude of our sins and our desire for repentance.  According to David, if this attitude is lacking, no sacrifice before God was acceptable. (Psalm 51:18.)  If we are to approach the altar of God as we do every Sunday, should we not likewise show this spirit of repentance?

Notice also the confidence of King David.  Upon this action by God of cleansing, he will be made whiter than snow.  God's grace will completely cleanse him of all stain of sin.  Being cleansed, he will then teach the ungodly of the ways of the Lord. (Verse 15.)  

In the Old Testament, sprinkling denoted sanctification.  The people were set apart by being sprinkled by the blood of the covenant.  When a sacrifice was sprinkled with water, incense and various other measures, it was consecrated for offering to God.  In our sprinkling, we declare ourselves ready for service in Our Lord's name.

Yet today, we have received a gift far greater than David could even imagine!  The water, blessed by God in baptism, fully cleanses us from all sin.  In reception of the Eucharist, our sins are not simply covered up, obscured and hidden, like the Protestants teach.  Not only are we consecrated to be holy, the Sacraments make us holy.  When we say these words during our sprinkling, we say them also in the anticipation of that blessed moment of reception of the Holy Sacrament during communion, and all the sacraments we receive.  Following the sprinkling, the priest returns to the altar and prays the following with the congregation, alternating each verse based off of various Psalms, and then adds a special prayer of his own:

Priest. Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy.
Congregation. And grant us Thy salvation.
Priest. O Lord, hear my prayer.
Congregation. And let my cry come before Thee.
Priest. The Lord be with you.
Congregation. And with thy spirit. 

Priest.  Let us pray. - Hear us, O holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, and vouchsafe to send Thy holy Angel from heaven, to guard, cherish, protect, visit and defend all that are assembled in this place: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

In this special prayer at the end, we are reminded of the danger we are in.  Above all else, the Devil despises the sacrifice of the Mass.  While he is powerless to stop it, he will do everything he can to weaken its effect.  He will attempt to stir in the hearts of the faithful a sense of irreverence or boredom.  He will attempt to implant within the priest and those doing service a spirit of innovation and pride, leading to liturgical abuses, robbing the faithful of an orderly and reverent liturgy that they have by rights as members of Christ's body.  With this in mind, we implore heaven for protection.  We know that angels protect the faithful.  Our Catholic tradition tells us that every Church has an angel appointed by God.  We beseech this angel to defend not only the well-being of those present in and out of Mass, but we implore the angel to protect the integrity of the liturgy.  In today's age of liturgical abuse being almost the norm in many Churches, should we not pray this more often?

As is clearly evident, this is a perfect prayer before Mass.  Nothing better sets our disposition.  For those who have such authority, (be they priests, parish council members, organists) I request you do whatever you can to make sure this is said in your Church.  The evil one does not stop in his attempts to destroy the Sacred Liturgy, even if we pretend he has.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Restore the Introit

In the controversies surrounding the liturgical reform, a curious thing is noted when one delves deeply into the debates. Many of the criticisms of the “ordinary” form of Mass (called by both critics and adherents as the Novus Ordo) are nowhere mandated by the Church. Instead, the criticisms are many times based upon the liberties that many took from the texts. One of these liberties was the suppression de facto if not de jure of one of the most venerable traditions of the Roman Rite, the chanting of the Introit.

The introit is one of those distinctly Roman traditions. The Introit is simply the singing of certain verses from the Scriptures (or in the case of Feasts surrounding the Blessed Virgin, Christian poets amongst others) that serve as an introduction to the Mass. Predominantly, they are taken from the Psalms. In one form or another, the tradition goes back to at least the early 5th century. It is highly probable that the practice is even more ancient. When the lover of the liturgy Pope St. Pius X proposed reforms, the Introit was one of his central reforms. In the eyes of many, the Introit fell into disuse following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Like many others, I was quite surprised to learn that for those attending the ordinary form, the Introit is still part of the Propers. Yet like many other occurrences, there are allowances for “other suitable” replacements. In practice, whenever this phrase has appeared throughout the missals, traditional customs and piety were abolished within the parish. This is a shame, and something we Catholics should rightly lament. If one wants a restoration of reverence and piety to our parishes, a great place to start would be the restoration of the Introit.

Why would this matter? First and foremost, it gives the faithful a theme to remember throughout each Mass. The rest of the propers at Mass are intimately connected to the Introit. From the moment that Mass begins when the Introit is used, we are given a key point to remember throughout the Mass. For Trinity Sunday, the Introit talks about the blessed and undivided unity of the Trinity. The Propers, including the other Scriptural readings, continue to develop this concept of the Trinity.

The Second Vatican Council called for a greater inclusion of Scripture into the liturgy. As a result, an extra reading was added to the Propers. Being faithful to this command, a restoration of the Introit in the parish life would be yet more exposure to the Sacred Scriptures. Most importantly, they allow us Catholics a chance to reconnect with the Pslams. All too often, the Old Testament is treated as something of boredom or pointlessness for the Catholic today. The Psalms are a remedy of this. Throughout all the Psalms, we read and sing a beautiful account of God’s majesty and power. We learn through the Psalms not only that God is to be worshipped, but why He is to be worshipped with concrete examples. We tie ourselves to the great tradition of the people of God, even in the Old Covenant. Even the “Responsorial Psalm” in the modern Rite is all too often abused. Either the same one every week is used, or something new entirely is sang in its place. The Psalms are the true “worship” music of the Christian People.

There are those who believe the Introit stifles the “creativity” of the music director, and of the congregation as a whole. So be it. We have seen what “creativity” has given us. If one must choose between the beautiful poetry of the Psalms, and some insipid hymn such as “City of God” or “Gather us In”, I choose the Psalms. Furthermore, we are not at the Mass to be “creative.” Rather, we come to acknowledge that it is God who creates. Through our participation in the Mass, we unite ourselves to that timeless sacrifice of the Cross that is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Introit gives us this mood. At this proclamation, all of the eyes of the faithful are focused on that timeless event.

Let us labor to assist in this restoration. Speak to those who are musical directors at your parish. Musical directors, consider going to the books and implementing them into the Mass. Priests, start insist on them being said every Sunday for the congregation’s benefit and your own. If one wishes to truly restore anything, we must start from the beginning. We can find no better start than the Introit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Case Against Sola Scriptura Part II: Misunderstandings on Sacred Tradition

            In the previous segment, I outlined the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura as best as I could, and raised some initial objections to the position. Faced with these objections, the Protestant offers a wide variety of responses. Some of these demonstrate a lack of familiarity and understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about the Scriptures.

            Some of this, while regrettable, is understandable. There are those Catholics who, while meaning well, they do not prepare sufficiently when it comes to the Catholic faith. Going forth speaking, they introduce misunderstandings and confusions about what the Catholic Church teaches. I will do my best to avoid this pitfall. My defenses will be based upon what the Popes and Councils of the Church have taught us.

            As mentioned in my first work, the Catholic responds to the Protestant teaching by referencing St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which tells us to “stand fast to the traditions you have received from us, whether by word of mouth or letter.” The Protestant will typically counter as Evangelical Protestant James R. White does. In a completely fictional dialogue, Dr. White engages his critics:(“I” being Dr. White, Paul being the fictional rejecter of Sola Scriptura):

            I would normally say Dr. White is shadow-boxing, landing great rhetorical flourishes on a straw man. Yet a lot of stock apologetics tracts give precisely these kind of arguments. While one can still fault someone who should know better (As Dr. White always pains to point out, he seeks only the top Catholic apologists to engage), one must still fault individual Catholics who makes claims which clearly are not that of the Church.

Let me guess what you have heard,” I said to the couple. “This passage is normally cited in the context of insisting that there is more to God’s revelation than ‘just’ Scripture. In fact, it is normally used to prove that this is a command that we Protestants are refusing to obey.”

“Yes, that’s exactly how it has been presented to us.”

Paul looked nervously at his open Bible.

“Indeed, and it is a command. The errant assumption, however, is that this passage is talking about written ‘tradition,’ that being Scripture, and then some kind of ‘oral tradition,’ that being...well, we normally are not told exactly what that is, but it sounds vague enough to cover whatever Rome has in mind.” A general chuckle went around the room. “But just a few observations show us just how far off base this use of the passage is. First, the implicit assumption in the Roman use of this verse is that the substance of this ‘oral tradition’ differs from that in the written tradition. However, upon what basis are we to make this assumption? (Sola Scriptura in Dialogue),

            For starters, there is no implicit assumption that the oral need differ from the written in substance. The Catholic Church has never stated such. In the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council states the following:

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

            Simply put, there is nothing in the formal teachings of the Church which state that what is contained within Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture differ from each other. The Protestant apologist then asks “well that is if you hold to the material sufficiency view of Scripture. What about the partim-partim view, before Vatican II?” Such a view has a misunderstanding of what the Church has taught. There were those who believed that in divine revelation, it was revealed part in Scripture, part in Tradition. The Council of Trent says nothing of this. Indeed, what they say is in essence what Vatican II said. According to Trent, Jesus Christ:

First promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament--seeing that one God is the author of both --as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. (Council of Trent, 4th Session)

            One can talk about the manner in which the Gospel is given, through word or epistle. What we do know is what the Popes and Councils have taught us. Pope Leo XIII made this clear in his papal encyclical Providentimus Deus when he stated:

Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the all-perfect Being, or of the works which display His Glory and His love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible.

           In short, this is a clever objection by the Protestant. It is also a very clever straw man. Whether or not individuals make these bad arguments, regrettable as they are, is besides the point. The Church nowhere treats the concept of Sacred Tradition as some juridical chapter and verse concept. While it is up to the individual Catholic to become informed about the Faith, the Protestant should know where to look for our teachings. As we see, one of the primary rhetorical flourishes against the Catholic case is just that, a rhetorical flourish. One more will be examined, before we Catholics can return to the offensive and go after the false doctrine of sola scriptura.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Propers for Trinity Sunday

             This Sunday in both forms of Mass we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or as it is popularly called, Trinity Sunday.  We honor the God who is three in one, One God, three distinct persons in perfect unity.  This perfect unity is our ultimate goal as Christians, to be intimately united with God.  By revealing to us the Trinity, God gives us a beautiful testament of his love, and the unity that we should strive for.  The Holy Trinity is also the very center of our faith, for as St. Athanasius the Great tells us:
Light, radiance and grace are in the Trinity and from the Trinity.  It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.
                At the conclusion of every prayer in the Mass, the Church proclaims “We ask this through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.  Therefore it is fitting that we offer in the Introit:
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. We will give glory to Him, because He has shown mercy to us. Ps. 8:2. O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is Your name over all the earth!
                Our worship of the Holy Trinity is not simply an empty worship.  We are not as the pagans are, who simply recited the long names of their gods, with no disposition required, and no blessings or benefits apparent.  The collect reminds us of this fact when it says:
Almighty and ever-living God, to You we owe the grace of our true faith, which enables us to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and to adore the blessed Unity through the power of Your majesty. Grant that by holding fast to that faith we may always be guarded against all afflictions. Through our Lord . . .
                Let us ponder on this meaning.  Through God’s great mercy, He has revealed to us the fullness of the Trinity, one God, three Persons, in a unity that goes beyond all human comprehension, but we accept it as no less true.  Why does He do this?  We will see the fullness of this meaning in the Gospel, but I would like to consider something else briefly.  As the Collect notes, He does this for our benefit.  We must always remember the Holy Trinity when faced with troubles.  When we realize this, we realize that in our corner, we have the Creator of the Universe.  We also have the Son of God, who saved us from our sins.  Finally, we have the Paraclete, who confirms our faith and gives us the grace won by Christ’s passion on the cross.  If we would just always remember this fact, we would not sin.  Of course, we do sin, so we lack in the remembrance of this fact.  Yet in the mystery of the Holy Trinity lies victory over the world, and it is something that we would be wise to consider.
                After reading the Epistle (Romans 11:33-36) we come to the next area I would like to focus on, the Gradual psalm and the Alleluia:
GRADUAL Dan. 3:55-56
Blessed are You, O Lord, who behold the depths and are enthroned upon the Cherubim.
V. Blessed are You, O Lord, in the firmament of heaven, and worthy of praise forever.

Alleluia, alleluia! V. Dan. 3:52
Blessed are You, O Lord the God of our fathers, and worthy of praise forever. Alleluia! 
                In such a simple statement much is contained.  We must remember that in Judaism, there is no concept of a Trinity.  While the evidence is there in the Old Testament (the thrice chant of Holy, God using the plural when saying man will be made in our image), this was not something revealed to the Jews.  In the fullness of time, God reveals himself fully.  We are not shown a “new” god, but rather the fullness of the identity of the Lord of Hosts.  All of the great heroes and patriarchs did not have this revealed to them.  Yet us lowly sinners have been given a grace they were not given, to know the fullness of the Trinity.  This is expounded upon in the lovely Gospel passage of what has been called “The Great Commission” where Our Lord says:
All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world
                While this might not seem special to our modern eyes, the Apostles would’ve understood something truly earth-shattering occurred in these words.  When Christ commands them to baptize, He asks them to do so in God’s name.  Revealing names was an event in their culture of supreme importance.  It suggested an intimate bond and partnership between those whose names were revealed.  When God speaks to Moses, He mentions that He knows Moses by name, therefore “I will have mercy upon whom I have mercy.”  God revealed His name to Moses, and the ministry of Moses entered a new phase.  Even in the pagan cultures, the sharing of a name had deep significance.  When the ancient Romans married, they followed a simply ceremony.  For a man named Gaius, his wife would say “Whereas you are Gaius, I am Gaia.”  No matter her name before, she became intimately tied to the name of her spouse.  Likewise, we Catholics became at this moment irrevocably tied to the Trinity.  We no longer knew him as simply “god” but rather as a person, three persons even!
                Most importantly, we were revealed God’s name in terms of a family.  We ourselves are called to that family in unity.  This was another “break” from Judaism and the Old Covenant.  While God was always portrayed as a judge, and as the husband of Israel, we do not really see the significance of Father.  God’s holiness as judge is now put alongside the love He has for His Children.  In times of distress, the family can always turn to the eldest brother, just as we always turn to Christ.  We are able to do so by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which we celebrated last weekend.  This indwelling calls us to our true family.  Knowing this fact, we can confidently proclaim in the Offertory:
Blessed be God the Father, and the only-begotten Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, because He has shown mercy to us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Case Against Sola Scriptura, Part I

                If there is one thing that could properly be called the rallying cry of Protestants today, it is the concept of sola scriptura, the Bible alone.  Facets of justification such as imputed righteousness and irresistible grace really don’t make for great talking points.  Yet “I’m for the Bible Alone!” you’ve got yourself something flashy to go with.
                To the eyes of the Protestant, they believe any plain reading of the Scriptures will mandate Sola Scriptura.    They charge the Catholic Church with a most serious charge:  adding to the word of God the precepts of men.  If true, then we Catholics are in trouble.  While some will attempt to mince words for the sake of unity, if we Catholics are wrong about this, the consequences are dire.
                Thankfully, we are not wrong.  I uphold the position that it is clear to any unbiased (and I pray even the biased) that a thorough reading of the Scriptures holds absolutely no concept of sola scriptura.  Quite the contrary, the biblical evidence teaches that the Catholic position, when properly understood, allows only for the Catholic understanding on this matter. 
                Before we continue, we would do well to define our terms.  When I state the phrase sola scriptura, I will be working off the definition provided to us by the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of the great Protestant statements of Christian belief.  Even those who would not follow a Reformed background can agree with their teachings on the Scriptures when they state:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased….
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly…
The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
                For those who have never read this document, there exists a striking amount of material (here at least) where Catholics can nod in assent.  Many times false interpretations are given on both sides.  Yet we can clearly see what is being said here.
                First and foremost, the concept of Sola Scriptura is for Christians today.  During Apostolic times and the times of the Prophets, they admit of other rules of faith.  Yet since the close of the Apostolic Age (traditionally understood to be the death of the Apostle John), they assert that it is the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone which are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Christian conscience.
                A popular misconception in Catholic circles is that Protestants have little if any respect for the concept of tradition.  The Protestant will counter simply by pointing to the popular Protestant credos  They will point out scholars of history such as Phillip Schaff, the eminent Church historian.  They will point in “mainstream” Churches the celebration of many great Christian heroes in their liturgies.  They will simply state that while these are beneficial and lovely, they do not uphold them as infallible, instead they hold only the Scriptures to be the infallible rule of faith for the Church. throughout history.
                As we begin our analysis of their claims, I would like to point out a few prominent errors that the Protestant makes.  Far from being secondary, these flawed concepts permeate their entire understanding of the doctrine.  Strip away these false understandings, and the doctrine is left in serious trouble.
                The first error I would like to talk about is what I call anachronistic interpretation.  This is when the Protestant approaches the Sacred Texts with his own ideas firmly established, and then reads into the Bible what he wants to see.  Being firmly convinced of sola scriptura, he seeks for passages to prove his case.  After a bit of misinterpretation, he smiles proudly as he believes he has demonstrated the truth of Sola Scriptura.
                By their own words they can be undone.  Remember the Westminster Confession states the teaching of sola scriptura with a qualifier:  those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.   One could simply not have sola scriptura during the times when the Scriptures were still being written.  The “Council of Jerusalem” in Acts 15 clearly proves this wrong.  The decisions made by the Apostles were binding throughout the entire Church.  What they said, everyone was forced to follow.  The Apostles also existed as the infallible judge as to what the Scriptures said.  Let us follow the inconsistency:
1.)     The Scriptures teach that the Bible Alone is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Christian Church outside of Apostolic times
2.)    The Apostles and those during times of revelation did not practice Sola Scriptura, nor did they explicitly teach it, as doing so would’ve contradicted their actions.
3.)    The only evidence the Protestant will admit is the testimony of men who either did not follow Sola Scriptura, or were hypocrites, doing the opposite of their teaching
4.)    The only logical conclusion is that the Bible presents no explicit evidence for Sola Scriptura
                Make no mistake; this argument is a fatal flaw.  There is no explicit evidence in Scripture which states that after the death of the Apostles, the rule of faith for the Christian will change.  The Holy Scriptures contain that which, as St. John’s epilogue tells us, is written for our salvation and instruction.  Would not logic dictate that such an important change be recorded?
                They will then attempt to make their case implicitly, and then they run into fatal error number two.  We shall call this the “Scripture is good syndrome.”  Whenever the Protestant sees a text extolling the efficacy of the Scriptures, they automatically assume that this in and of itself is sufficient for proving sola scriptura.
                This is logically absurd.  I am a Detroit Tigers fan for professional baseball.  I will swear up and down that the Tigers are the best team in the league.  They are able to do almost every facet of the game. If one wished to learn how to hit a baseball, they could do no better than watching Ordonez hit to the opposite field, or Miguel Cabrera’s lighting fast swing.  Yet does this mean that the Tigers alone can do these things?  Certainly not, considering they have not won a championship in 26 years!
                The same could be said with the Scriptures.   Though they are extolled, this is never done to the exclusion of other things.  Alongside the Scriptures, the apostolic witness is provided on par with Scripture as a rule of faith (1 Thess 2:14-15, 2 Thess 2:!5 amongst other places) as is the testimony and judgment of the Church, whom all must agree with (Matthew 18, Acts 15, etc.)  Yet the Catholic would never proclaim that you rely only on the Apostle’s oral statements or state that the authority of the Church is allowed to contradict the Scriptures.
                Having lost two of their pillars, the Protestant then typically engages in a host of misrepresentations of what the Catholic Church teaches.  However, we must sympathize with them.  Many well-meaning individuals have given a clearly false notion of what Sacred Tradition is.  Yet, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Church to this day proclaims the truth.  In my next piece I will focus on these instances.

The Case for Catholicism

In a different series from the one mentioned below, I will be returning to familiar waters so to speak.

When I first converted, I jumped right into the waters of apologetics. I admittedly became bored with the discipline. I reasoned, and still do, that there are only so many ways to analyze Protestantism.

Yet with starting this new project at Common Sense Catholicism I feel I will have an opportunity to strike out in new angles.  So while this series will still contain the boilerplate (and let's hope not so boilerplate!) defenses of the faith and criticisms of Protestantism, I will also attempt to strike out into some newer aspects.  I will be taking the position that when you boil it down, only Catholicism can be viewed as a religion worthy of the Gospel.  At heart, Protestantism doesn't make sense in many areas.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Propers for Pentecost Sunday (Extraordinary Form)

            For this Sunday we celebrate Pentecost Sunday.  Many refer to this day as the true “birthday” of the Church.  It was in this moment that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in the upper room, giving them the power to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  Through this day we conclude our Easter season. 
            Like the Apostles, we spent our time with the Risen Lord with exceeding joy.  Yet our life is not all about joy.  As members of Christ’s Kingdom and His Church, there is much work to be done.  Our Risen Lord commanded the faithful to “preach the Gospel to all nations” and that this would be made possible by his sending of the Paraclete “to guide us into all truth.”  When he ascended into heaven, we began our time of deep prayer and preparation for this mission.  As the Apostles went to the upper room in prayer, so we spent our time in deep reflection upon the power of the Holy Ghost.  As the Blessed Mother stayed by the Apostles side the entire time with them in prayer, so she stands with us, praying that we may use this most wonderful gift!
            We begin our celebration of the Mass with a prayer of confidence during the chanting of the Introit, which proclaims:
The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world, alleluia! And that which contains all things has knowledge of His voice, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Ps. 67:2. Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee before Him.
It is here that the Pslamist acts as a herald of God.  He pronounces to the world God’s coming victory in the battle over the powers of darkness.  As we shall see in our epistle reading, the Apostles take up the call “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered” in their first proclamation of the Gospel.  Many people have a concept of the Holy Spirit as simply the force which causes miracles, speaking in tongues, and various other grandiose manifestations.  This sells the Spirit short.  Rather, the purpose of the Spirit’s indwelling within the Church is something far greater.  He is that which gives us courage and sanctification, in any way that is required.  Whether it be through the tongues of fire and judgment, or the stillness of silent affirmation, we are emboldened by the voice of the Spirit that we hear if we know the Father.  This line of thought is continued within the Collect (Opening Prayer) which states:
O God, who this day instructed the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that through the same Holy Spirit we may always be truly wise and rejoice in His consolation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.
            We see here that the roles of the Spirit are many.  First and foremost, He offers us instruction.    It is through the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, that we know the truth of the Gospel.  Like the Apostles, we hear many things from our Lord on our own account that is hard to understand.   Is this not manifested by all the divisions within Christianity?  Just as the Apostles could not figure out the fullness of truth on their own, so Christians throughout history on their own accord have erred. 
            The Holy Spirit changes this.  Upon His descent, the Apostles finally understood everything that Christ had taught them.  As a result, they were far more effective witnesses in the Gospel.  Likewise today, when the Catholic Church heeds the voice of the Spirit, we are able to pronounce the Gospel without contradiction.  That Spirit is only found within the fullness of the Catholic Church.  Knowing this, we are able to experience great joy, and have a source of great courage.  The reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us an example to imitate and follow:
When the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: "Behold, are not all these that speak Galilean? And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."
            If one wishes to build a truly universal kingdom on earth, you inevitably run into a problem, that problem being the language barrier.  Ever since the foolishness of Nimrod and his Tower, the languages of nations have been confused.  Temporal Kings got around this fact by imposing their language upon the conquered.  For example, Latin and especially Greek was the primary language of the area the Apostles were.  Though Hebrew was spoken, one would need to speak Greek when dealing with those from around the world.
            The Kingdom of God is no different, and yet completely different.  They, like the Kings of yore, provide a unifying language.  The difference is that this language is the language of the Spirit.  Though the Apostles spoke their native tongues, the entire gathering from the four corners of the earth heard everything as if in their own language.  Christ told us this would happen.  Did he not say “When the Son of Man is lifted up, I will draw everyone unto myself?”  Here we see the first representation and fulfillment of that promise.  The diverse nations, representing the entire world, are drawn to The Church and her spouse.  This was foretold by the prophet Ezekiel, who proclaimed of the New Covenant:
 For I will take you from among the Gentiles, and will gather you together out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.  And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols.  And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them.  And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.  And I will save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for corn, and will multiply it, and will lay no famine upon you.  And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that you bear no more the reproach of famine among the nations.  And you shall remember your wicked ways, and your doings that were not good: and your iniquities and your wicked deeds shall displease you.
            As we know, Our Lord stated that the Holy Spirit would convict the world.  With the illumination of the Spirit, we recognize our sins.  We flee from those sins, fleeing from the Kingdom of this world, and instead turn to the Kingdom of God, where it is the Holy Spirit that ensures that great unity He symbolizes in the uniting of languages.  This message is confirmed in the Gospel (John 14:23-31) and in the Secret (Prayer over the Gifts) in which the priest prays:
Bless our offering, O Lord, and cleanse our hearts by the light of the Holy Spirit. Through our Lord . . .
            We conclude this Mass with the Postcommunion, in which the priest beseeches:
May the coming of the Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts, and, as a heavenly dew, water them to bring forth good fruit. Through our Lord
            The final prayer of the Mass gives us something to take into the world.  Mere forgivness of sin and atonement is not enough.  All the world’s religions have a ritual of attonement.  Christianity is set apart by the fact that the Spirit not just restores us to communion through the forgivness of sins, but rather renews our hearts.  Just as the water of baptism brings forth good fruit for the child making him a servant of heaven, so does the Holy Spirit’s continued work within the soul by the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist) give us holiness anew.  The Divine Gardener destroys the devastated vineyard of our hearts, and in her place creates a beautiful composition of grace and truth.  Let us always be encouraged  by the Spirit.  For as we sing during this Mass:
Unto all your faithful just,
Who in you confide and trust,
Deign the sevenfold gift to send.
Grant us virtue's blest increase,
Grant a death of hope and peace,
Grant the joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia!
            Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the Earth!

New Series: Reflections on the Propers

One of the greatest ways in which Holy Mother Church speaks to the faithful is through the Sacred Liturgy.  The prayers she uses are meant for not only our salvation, but our instruction.  We know from a reading of history that the early Church defended the doctrine's of the faith through referencing the liturgy.  If we wish to truly understand our faith, we should make ourselves as familiar with the liturgy as possible.

It is with this in mind I begin this ongoing series here at Common Sense Catholicism.  For every Sunday, I will take what are called the "Propers" of the Mass and provide commentary and my own personal insight/reflection upon them.  The Propers are those prayers of the Mass which change every week, as opposed to the "ordinary" prayers, which stay the same every week.  (The Creed, the Gloria, the Eucharistic Prayer/Canon, etc.)

On some weeks I will be covering the "extraordinary form" of the Mass.  This was the Mass celebrated by Catholics of the Roman Rite before the liturgical reforms of the 1960's.  This style of celebration was placed by Pope Benedict XVI on equal footing with the "ordinary" Mass that most Catholics attend (sometimes called the Novus Ordo) in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificium.  This is also the Mass I attend every Sunday, and I hope the beauty of her prayers will draw more people to seek out the rich treasures of our Church in the Sacred Liturgy.  As always, comments, questions, insight is welcome.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Leadership from a Catholic Perspective, Part II

In the previous piece on this topic, we reflected upon Christ’s call for all leaders to act as servants. We considered why adopting this mentality was important. I also attempted to demonstrate why I feel that not only are the words of Christ true in teaching, they are true in practice. Leaders who act as servants make better leaders. I would like to continue talking about this concept today, specifically on the benefits of a spirit of obedience.

A spirit of obedience is essential to the nature of a servant. By this I do not mean simply doing what one is told when commanded to by a superior. This is obedience in practice, but a mentality of obedience goes far deeper. One could say this mentality of obedience was practiced perfectly by the last person one might expect it to be in the Scriptures: by a pagan:

And when he had entered into Capharnaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 and saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, and is grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus said to him: I will come and heal him. 8 And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goes, and to another Come, and he comes, and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. 10 And Jesus hearing this, marvelled; and said to them that followed him: Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.

We repeat a version of these words every Sunday at Mass. Yet the first part of the statement is not necessarily what is important. He states something most peculiar about his lot in life, and Christ is marveled by his response. Why is this so?

We first note that the centurion states “I am also a man subject to authority.” He recognizes that no matter how important he may appear, ultimately he is subject to someone higher. This limits what he can and can not do. There are those today who boast of their supposed “independence”, failing to realize that this chain described by the centurion always exists in one’s life. Knowing one’s limits as a human person is the first step of any concept of obedience.

Such a mentality also allows you to devote more focus to those things that are within your limits. This centurion was not developing battle plans for extensive campaigns throughout the region. That was the job of others. His job was to lead the group given to him. He devotes himself entirely to things within his sphere. For we Christians, there are things beyond our control, and they are pointless to try and become involved in. Instead, let us focus on those things within, and focus on them entirely.

The next portion of this statement from the centurion describes his authority. When he says something, it is accomplished. His men do not discuss in a committee. When an order from their legitimate superior is given, they complied. The centurion likewise subjects himself to this order by placing himself under the authority of superiors. When his superiors commanded something, he knew they would be accomplished, by himself and his men. He understands Christ clearly to be his superior, and capable of healing. If Christ would but command it, it would be done. There’s no reason for Christ to trouble himself beyond this. The centurion understands Christ’s power!

Likewise, we Christians of today are called to adopt this mentality. When someone who is of legitimate authority asks of something that is not sinful, we are called to comply. Whether it is our boss, spouse, political representatives, etc, we are called to comply. Even, and especially if we do not like them, this gives us all the more reason to be obedient.

If we understand this concept being obedient, we must comprehend all the more the warning for those who give command. The centurion knew well that a bad plan or command on his part could very well lead not only to the loss of his own life, but the life of all those he was responsible for. Likewise, when a wife offers subjection to her husband, he is charged with a most sacred obligation. Abusing such authority will bring judgment upon him, and danger to she who should be most valuable to him. This is why authority is never to be exercised wantonly.

Let us pray that we may always have the faith of the centurion in accepting God’s will.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Leadership from a Catholic Perspective

"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as the Church is subject to Christ."

One wonders if St. Paul really thought about what he was saying when he uttered these words in his letter to the Church of Ephesus. He spends only a few passing sentences on this teaching throughout his epistle. While some might remember his teachings on grace in the second chapter, people will normally remember Ephesians 5 when they think of St. Paul. The more modern mind uses this statement as an example of St. Paul's archaic and derogatory understanding of women. The traditional norm of "head of the household" and the male being a "leader" is derided as counter-productive, insulting, and misogynist. If there is ever a myth that needs debunking, it is this.

Yet I find the path people take in answering this objection lacking. Indeed, at times I followed this angle. We will typically talk about the nature of Christian leadership by citing such passages as the one in Luke's Gospel, where we hear the following:

And he said to them: The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that have power over them are called beneficent. But you not so: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger: and he that is the leader, as he that serves. For which is greater, he that sits at table or he that serves? Is not he that sits at table? But I am in the midst of you, as he that serves.

If we leave the argument here, we are doing a disservice. This passage does much to describe the nature of service, and service is an essential element of authentic leadership. Yet we are presented with a far more interesting question if we ponder this further: Why should we be as a servant? How does this build effective leadership?

These words would have been rather foreign to the Apostles. As Christ rightly points out, in their world, the ruler is Dominus, Lord. He exists above the peasantry. Indeed, to approach him at the wrong time warranted death in many areas, no matter the request. (Esther, 4:11) Even in the Roman world, Caesar could never be seen negotiating with a foreign power on an equal level. He always had to be positioned above the other. The very person of Caesar was sacrosanct and (in theory at least) could not be maligned as tribune of the plebians. For Christ to say this is wrong is to fly in the face of all conventional wisdom.

Yet why is his way better? Why is a mentality of service superior to the mentality of being served? A simple understanding of human nature, and of other examples during the time could give us an example.

When one thinks of "service" in the ancient world, one thought of the military. Yet the most effective of ancient military leaders were never those who lorded their authority above their soldiers. Let us consider Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. The former built a unstoppable army that eventually turned Rome into a true empire. The latter conquered most of the known world. Both achieved this through the special relationship they had with their men whom they led. Alexander was known for his almost suicidal bravery in battle, leading charges and rallying his men by example. Caesar, despite his incredible wealth and connections, lived a life of relative austerity amongst his soldiers, eating the same food, sleeping in the same areas, and fighting alongside them in every battle. Both were known to take incredible care of their soldiers, frequently doing random acts of kindness. As a result, they built a loyalty between general and soldier that rarely existed, and allowed them to do great things.

They served by leading alongside their brethren. They were not leading from a distance. They would not submit their men to any situation they themselves would not also go through. This frequently inspires confidence in those being led. They see someone so invested in that cause, that they are willing to place themselves in danger to accomplish it. Far from relying on everyone else, they are willing to contribute to see that it is done. Common sense dictates that people will be more willing to work with someone when said person demonstrates they have a stake in that success.

The second reason is that a leader is made great by the greatness of others. While fortune and circumstance allow flashes of genius, one person cannot do everything. Think of a captain of a sports team. He is never chosen solely on "being the best." Championship teams are not made through pure athletic ability alone. Captains of championship teams must have others shine, and bring them towards the moment where they do what needs to be done for the benefit of all. When they do, not only is success achieved, but honor is given to that captain for leading individuals towards realizing their potential. For the triumphant leader, it is truly an honor to lead such skilled and talented individuals.

How does this apply to the cited passage from St. Paul? Let us consider first the example of Our Lord. He died for our salvation, but why? Some will answer love. Yet why does Christ love? I would say one reason is that He is supremely aware of the great virtue men are capable of when spurred by grace. When we present ourselves to the world, we are ultimately presenting Christ. We are the people that Christ is leading, calling us to walk with him. When we display great faith, hope, and charity, we ultimately bring glory to our Master, who has given us the resources to accomplish these things. Indeed, without these resources and His guidance in using them, such heroic striving towards virtue is impossible.

When He ascended to Heaven, He did not leave his Church alone. Instead he said, in the words of the great hymn Alleluia Sing to Jesus:

Though the cloud from sight received him

When the forty days were o'er
Shall our hearts forget his promise
I am with you evermore?

Christ is truly a Lord who does not leave or forsake his flock. Rather, He remains to this day alongside us. He sends the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. He calls on us to suffer with patience and endurance because he himself suffered and endured. He calls us to love because He has loved. As the writer of the Hebrews so eloquently states:

For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: I will declare your name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise you. And again: I will put my trust in him. And again: Behold I and my children, whom God has given me. Therefore because the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner has been partaker of the same: that, through death, he might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil: And might deliver them, who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to servitude. For nowhere does he take hold of the angels: but of the seed of Abraham he takes hold. Wherefore, it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God, that he might be a propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that wherein he himself has suffered and been tempted he is able to succour them also that are tempted.

When we think of the husband as head of the household and a man as a leader, we must think of these principles. Far from one serving behind him or under him, he serves alongside his spouse. Far from waiting in front for her to catch up; he serves alongside her, as they help each other towards their journey. He demonstrates his commitment to his spouse by making her causes his own.

When he chooses to become head of the household, he does it as a testament to his wife’s great virtue and prowess. When she is renowned as something great, he wishes to always be identified with that greatness in love and virtue. He recognizes that even with his considerable talents, he cannot do much without her. As a result, he is always wanting everyone around him to know of the great contributions she has given him.

This is why we men lead.

A Return To Common Sense

Why are you Catholic? Whenever I run into someone new who finds out about my faith, this inevitably comes up. I always state that the reason is "common sense." This might seem a cop-out. I intend to prove otherwise with this blog.

Why is Catholicism ultimately a common-sense faith? Because only Catholicism truly has the appreciation of human nature and of man's purpose. The other religions, faiths, and worldviews, from one side or the other, portray a false view of who man is, and what he is supposed to be. As a result, they devise these highly complex philosophies about man and his responsibility. These abstract thoughts seldom make any real sense when one sits down to discover them.

Whether it be the teachings on faith, culture, doctrine, Catholicism approaches things with an easy understanding. Common-sense need not mean "simple." Indeed, the message of Catholicism, when properly understood, is one of the most challenging ever issued to mankind. Yet since she has an intimate understanding of human nature, her sentiments truly are "common-sense."

That is what we will talk about. Whenever a topic is mentioned, I will do my best to provide the truths of Catholicism in an accessible manner. All too often the opposite occurs, whether it be from the world, or those who mean well but are out of their league in presenting the Gospel. Even on seemingly complex and controversial statements regarding Church moral teaching, the Church operates from a keen understanding of the human person. Failure to understand the human person leaves us with a religion of dogmas, rather than the center being a person, Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

With that, common sense will return to this small portion of the blogosphere.