Friday, May 20, 2011

The Return of Friday Abstinence

As many are aware, the Bishops of England and Wales have re-instituted abstaining from meat on Fridays.  Many are also celebrating this.  My intent here is not so much to focus on that particular decision (love it!) but to relate a story.

During a homily several years ago, a local retired priest talked about the changes after Vatican II.  In his mind, all of those traditions before the council such as abstaining from meat on Fridays were a great thing.  Yet he thought it was terrible the Church has laws for such.  In his mind, the spirit of Vatican II was to renew the Church so people would no longer need to be told to fast, they would fast out of the willingness of their heart, and he encouraged us to do the same.

I remember reacting to the homily the same way I react to a Christopher West talk:  Equal parts inspiration and revulsion, normally at the same moment.  Such a view is utterly Pelagian.  The Pelagian heresey (in a nutshell) denied original sin and its effects.  Whether it be through discipline or just intellectual belief, man could eventually re-order his life without divine grace.  He was strong enough to do it on his own, he needed no outside force to conform him.

The Scriptures tell a far different story.  Even a just man like St. Paul proclaims for the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do.  This is called concupisence.    As a result of original sin, there exists not only a tendency towards sin, but a tendency towards laziness.  We know we should do something.  Yet advancing in virtue is such hard work!  Why not just stay where we are?

In a world unaffected by original sin, there would be no need for any law, civil or religious.  Though James Madison wasn't Catholic, he was absolutely right when he stated that if men were angels, government would be unneccessary.  This applies just as much in the ecclesial realm.  There are indeed some who choose to do something simply out of a desire to do right.  Yet very rarely wil they make that choice consistently throughout their entire life.

As one who has gone now 7 years abstaining from meat on Friday, at times it can be harder than you think.  You do have to re-align your eating choices.  You may have to change where you go out to eat.  If a friend cooks for you, they may have to take that into consideration.  That involves a lot of work.  I might not be bound by a Church law to abstain from meat, though you are required to give up something. 

These kind of laws server ultimately as guides.  They remind people of penance, and our neccessity to perform penance. They encourage a cultural identity and unity amongst Catholics in a common goal.  Without such "laws", chaos reigns.

One could consider it a "law" that when you pray the Hail Mary, you say the words of the prayer as people understand them.  Can you imagine people gathering together in prayer for the Hail Mary and just making up the words as they go along?  Would anyone be able to pray in such a setting?  Yet the Hail Mary imposes on us certain words and phrases, which contain certain teachings.  In reciting them, we call them to our mind, and reflect upon those teachings.  Likewise with a "law" of fasting and abstinence:  eventually, we should be pondering why the Church is having us to do this, reading her justifications for it.  Through that act, we begin to ponder how this is related to our own holiness and the Gospel.

In public worship, we have rubrics that are followed in the liturgy.  Knowing what the liturgy contains, we are able to dive deeper into contemplating said worship and entering into it.  You can't enter into something you don't know about, at least not without great struggle.

This was the so called "Spirit of the Council" in a nutshell.  That it had nothing to do with the actual documents is for the moment irrelevant.  Thanks to an inflated sense of self-worth, far too many in positions of authority felt that everyone was good and holy enough to do the right thing on their own.  Their faithful were better than St. Paul.  We saw how that worked out.

I welcome reality beginning to reassert itself in the Church.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Praise and Worship Music: A Letter to Kevin Symonds


The following is a letter I wrote to my old friend Kevin Symonds about his article at Catholic Lane.  Mr. Symonds has been an old friend and colleague.  Indeed, he is the first of my writing colleagues.  We began work together back when I was a fresh 17 year old convert.  I think his article is certainly worth reading, as he makes some neccessary points about why some music is unsuitable for Mass. 


Allow me to offer a slightly different yet I would argue complimentary view towards your latest column on rock music. For the purposes of argument, you divided between the “sacred” and the “profane.” This is a fine distinction, and a necessary one.

But as you can guess, I think the distinction needs to be made further. As much as I might not like it, a lot of your praise and worship is “sacred” music. It is, in a certain sense, “set apart” from the world and does its best to glorify God. It can easily join the wide patrimony of worship music that has Biblical precedent.

Some of the Psalms were solemnly prayed. Others were sung in a way that could be said to be the predecessor of chanting. Still others were played with a very loud and vibrant atmosphere. Trumpets, flutes, percussion, you name it, they utilized it. So when charismatics and others say that the Church needs to have a wider exposure to music outside of just Gregorian Chant/polyphony, they have a point.

Yet it is a point that is easily countered, and I think here is where we reach the crux of the matter. The issue isn’t really with “sacred versus profane” but “sacred versus liturgical.” Let us return to our examples from the Psalms. Some Psalms were of great jubilation. Yet others were of an equally great contrition. Foremost of the latter were the so called “Penitential Psalms.” While the classification was a later invention, we do know for a fact that certain Psalms were prayed only during certain settings. The sacrifice for sin had different Psalms than other sacrifices.

We should view that as instructive to our current controversy. One of the reasons (other than those you mention in your article) the Church has chosen such music like Gregorian chant is its inherent simplicity. One need not be a musical genius to do plainchant. Yet we have also had certain times during out liturgical history where music crept in that was beautiful, but not suitable for Mass. You do not hear Mozart’s Requiem when you go to a Requiem Mass, because Requiem was made for the orchestral hall, not the parish. Yet sometimes, people tried bringing this kind of music into the everyday life of the Mass. As a result, the Sacrifice of the Altar was obscured by everything else that was going on. As then Cardinal Ratzinger stated about this phenomena:

During the nineteenth century, the century of self-emancipating subjectivity, this led in many places to the obscuring of the sacred by the operatic. The dangers that had forced the Council of Trent to intervene were back again. In similar fashion, Pope Pius X tried to remove the operatic element from the liturgy and declared Gregorian chant and the great polyphony of the age of the Catholic Reformation (of which Palestrina was the outstanding representative) to be the standard for liturgical music. A clear distinction was made between liturgical music and religious music in general, just as visual art in the liturgy has to conform to different standards from those employed in religious art in general. (Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 148)
It is for these reasons I have always wanted to push greater exposure to praise and worship music, provided it stays outside of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet in order to do that, we need to ask ourselves a question: what is the point of liturgical music?

You touched on this a bit in your article. Yet I think most importantly, we must emphasize that true liturgical music draws attention to the altar and what is going on. The role of liturgical music is ultimately that of a supporting role, not a role of primacy. Does a loud and raucous “praise and worship” style of music do this? Or is the attention not on the artists themselves?

Have you ever noticed, from a musical standpoint (or vocal one), how “difficult” modern music can be? What is simpler to sing? Plainchant or Marty Haugen music? If you look at it structurally, it is the former. The simplicity of Gregorian Chant allows people to sing, but with a purpose of still focusing on the altar. Their music is a piece of the sacrifice, but not the sacrifice itself.

So I think you’ve hit on a fascinating question. Yet in order for you to give it the best answer, I think you need to go back even further than I had suggested. Before we can ask ourselves “what is the point of liturgical music”, we must ask ourselves, what is the point of worship? I think the answer would surprise and enlighten your audience.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let us Boast

"Just Remember:  The Holy Spirit is Still in Control?"

Let me be honest and say what I'm sure some are thinking:  I hate when people say that!  It ranks right up there with "At least you still have your health!"  When I say I hate it, I do not deny the statement is true.  I hate it because the person saying it is saying something utterly meaningless.

When I look at a liturgy full of abuses, I do not see the Holy Spirit at work and in control.  When I see a men in respected Catholic circles treating the liturgy is one gigantic rock concert, I am not confident of the Holy Spirit's control.  If this devastated vineyard is the best the Holy Spirit can do, why are we Catholic again?

Then I remember my sense of the Scriptures and Church History.  I remember why the Holy Spirit is in control of the Church.  Most importantly, I remember that still voice "Kevin, in order to be happy you must boast..... in the Lord."

Somehow we took the statement "let he who boasts, boast in the Lord" as "we should never boast period."  When St. Paul used to write to various churches, he would boast of the fidelity he has encountered amongst other Christians, as a way of trying to make his audience even more faithful.  The Psalmist states that his soul will boast to the LORD, and the humble will hear and be glad.

When we boast in the Lord, we boast that He is not a "god that sleepeth", as Elijah said in mocking the priests of Baal.  Our God is an active one, who will not only defend Himself, but defend those who place their trust in Him.

So with this in mind, allow me to recount a story.  I know a rather liberal parish near me.  So liberal are they, it becomes a shock when they actually follow the rubrics.  One time I assisted at Mass there, and we came to the final procession.  The priest and two servers looked towards the tabernacle, and nodded their heads .0000000005% of a degree.  That was their reverencing Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  No genuflection, not even a deep bow.  Heck, not even a slight bow!  When one sees things like this, it can be tough to remember that "The Holy Spirit is in control."

Then I saw another server, a young boy, probably only eight years old, or even younger.  He lowered his head, and then dropped to one knee and stayed there, then slowly pulled himself back up.  People were confused.  Yet he did what he was supposed to do.  Other times I see young altar servers going to say a prayer before the Blessed Sacrament after Mass before leaving.  I realize these are our future priests.  I hear the voice of God saying "remember those 7,000 who wouldn't bow the knee to the Baals in the form of a banal man centered religion?  You are lookin' at em."  At that point do I realize the Holy Spirit is in control.

When I see seminaries doing everything they can to make sure their future priests know nothing of the Extraordinary Form (directly contrary to the Pope's wishes), I find it tough to remember the Holy Spirit is in control.  Then I notice seminarians are learning the Extraordinary Form anyway through a variety of sources.  This immeasurable treasure of the Church will not be destroyed by man's ineptitude.  At that point do I realize the Holy Spirit is in control.

When I see the churches closing around me, I find it tough to remember the Holy Spirit is in control.  Then I realize those churches that are flourishing are those which emphasize Catholic identity, and they are full of young people.  These young people are in the process of having quite large families.  If even one-third of them persist in the faith and pass it down to their children and grandchildren, the liberals are screwed.  I remember that in times of total apostasy, Israel was pulled back from the brink by one man named Elijah.  He restored the Church of his day by himself against several thousand priests.  At that point do I realize the Holy Spirit is in control.

Even when I see Benedict XVI, a pope whom I love, my first thought is not "the Holy Spirit is in control."  Benedict is but one man, whom soon in the span of history (though not too soon!) will return to the Earth.  What one man does, another can easily undo.  Yet I look at the man he has made Cardinals like Cardinal Ranjith.  I look at men like Cardinal Llovera, who runs the Congregation for Divine Worship.  These men are "young" (in Church-speak) Cardinals whose influence on the future Church will last decades.  When I see the long term layout like that, at that point do I realize the Holy Spirit is in control.

Any deity can make a perfect world through sheer force of will.  Only God can tell those unleashing havoc that their time is numbered, for soon they will be replaced.  Why?

Because the Holy Spirit truly is in control.

Universae Ecclesiae and the Seminary

In paragraph 21, the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae says the following:

Ordinaries are asked to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to Seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

If there is one letdown for traditionalists in the document, it is right here.  The simple truth is that for far too many seminarians, to be a traditionalist is to be one in secret.  Some seminaries people to local Extraordinary Form Masses to see if any seminarians are going to them.  While those seminarians aren't retaliated against officially, they will be monitored more closely, talked to more frequently, and extra pressure will be placed to get them away from that Mass.  Of course, it also goes without saying that the seminary will supply no training whatsoever for these future priests on learning that Mass.

Now if Fr. Z's exegesis of the Latin is to be believed (and being Fr. Z, it is), the vernacular translation of this paragraph is just downright awful.

Yet here is my question for everyone to ponder:  Do you want these same liberal seminaries who have done their best to smother the Extraordinary Form out of existence to instruct people on how to say that Mass?  The only real solution of this is to trust the power of demography to replace all these people who are setting themselves up in opposition to the Holy Father's wishes.  Yet what can be done short-term?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Universae Ecclesiae and You

Today the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei released the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae.  (Fr. Z has the text here  In layman's terms, it is an instruction about how Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificium should be understood and applied.  What follows will be a few brief thoughts on it.

1.)  Not much really changes with this document in my neck of the woods where the Extraordinary Form is concerned.  I know of two churches by me that offer the EF more than once a week, and another that offers the EF at least once a month if not more, all within 35 miles of my apartment.  For those who aren't spoiled rotten like this humble journalist, hopefully things will get better.

2.)  The document reminds people that the motu proprio wasn't made just to placate a bunch of nostalgic curmudgeons.  The Pope wanted to liberalize the Extraordinary Form because he felt it would be a great grace for the faithful, all the faithful.  There have been some who were under the mistaken idea that since they didn't have an "SSPX problem", they didn't need to worry.  The Instruction says otherwise.

3.)  The "stable group" asking for the Extraordinary Form is not clarified by what it must be, but that it need not be certain things.  It need not be people from the home parish.  It need not be a sizable congregation.  It need not be, etc etc.  Furthermore, what constitutes a "qualified" priest is given.  In short, do you have a remedial understanding of Latin that gives you the ability to pronounce the Mass and understand what is being said?  Have you celebrated it before?  Congratulations, you are qualified!

4.)  For awhile, people have been under the mistaken understanding Bishops could still prohibit priests in good standing from celebrating the Extraordinary Form.  The Instruction says otherwise.  Any decision regarding these manners is made by the Commission Ecclesia Dei.  To the extent a Bishop has a role, they should help facilitate the decisions from the Commission.  This gives a nice reminder that while a Bishop has considerable local autonomy, he does not have such autonomy over the liturgy.  If Rome has said that priests are free to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, and that it should be made as available to the faithful as possible, then Roma locuta est. 

5.)  Now onto the things I find interesting.  First, the Motu Proprio constitutes an "important expression of the Magesterium of the Roman Pontiff."  There are those who falsely believed that what Benedict was doing was simply disciplinary.  This really isn't so.  If we remember, the point of the Motu Proprio was to emphasize that:

What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful
The Council of Trent makes perfectly clear that when dealing with liturgical manners, doctrine is so intertwined, the issue of infallibility is certainly at play.  While the Motu Proprio was far from an infallible statement, in matters regarding the liturgy, this is clearly more than just a simple prudential statement.

6.)  Ironically enough, the Instruction puts to rest what used to be a "hot topic" amongst traditionalists:  the status of the Extraordinary Form.  Was it suppressed?  The Instruction says no.  It states:
The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificium was accompanied by a letter from the Holy Father to Bishops, with the same date as the Motu Proprio (7 July 2007). This letter gave further explanations regarding the appropriateness and the need for the Motu Proprio; it was a matter of overcoming a lacuna by providing new norms for the use of the Roman Liturgy of 1962. Such norms were needed particularly on account of the fact that, when the new Missal had been introduced under Pope Paul VI, it had not seemed necessary to issue guidelines regulating the use of the 1962 Liturgy.
I argued precisely this almost 7 years ago against a certain traditionalist back when I ran the weblog Restore the Church.  It was this position that was part of me "selling out" and "moderating" my beliefs.  Simply put, Paul VI didn't abolish the Extraordinary Form.  Quite frankly, it is an open question if a Pope has the authority to abolish as forbidden something with over a millenia of usage in the liturgical tradition of the Church. (Being the principal form of worship in the Roman Rite to boot.)  Paul VI and those behind the Ordinary Form could not conceive that people would be less than thrilled with the final product, and of all the abuses that crept in.   Since this situation happened, the church had to address how the aspirations of these faithful Catholics should be met.

7.)  After having received the approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will have the task of looking after future editions of liturgical texts pertaining to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite. 

While the first instinct of the traditionalist is going to be a little leery of this statement, this really shouldn't be a surprise.  The Extraordinary Form is not meant to be a "dead" liturgy.  There have been saints since the 1962 calendar was put into place, and there could be other small reforms such as the additions of prefaces, etc.  If this happens, let us just hope those in authority learned their lesson about organic reform this time.

8.)  In paragraph 28, we are told that if there was something which is on the liturgical books that conflicts with the books in 1962, we can't use those practices in our celebration of the Extraordinary Form.  Not shocking at all.  Most of us don't want thousands of "eucharistic ministers", altar girls, Evita style cantors from the lectionary, etc, at our Mass.  The Instruction simply makes sure we won't.

There are a few other things I left out (such as permission for the vernacular to be used during the readings at Low Mass), so go read the document for yourselves.  In a future post, I'd like to focus on the issue of seminaries, and what to do from here on out.  As always, Fr. Z gets it basically right.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why the Incarnation Matters: The Point of Worship

I am sure we have all heard this a million times. Perhaps we have even said it to ourselves. “I am just not getting enough out of Mass.” The fallen away Catholic says this, and goes to look for a Protestant Church that “gives” them something. The abomination of desolation parish liturgical councils engage in elaborate planning to maximize what people “get” out of Mass.

Whenever this happens, we need to tell them in a not so polite manner “you are doing it wrong.” I would daresay that when we approach Mass like this, we are betraying not just the faith, but the very person of Our Lord Himself. Not only are we betraying Him, we are saying that His Incarnation is pointless.

Yes, I just said that. To all of you who are devising the latest way to make your liturgy creative, you deny the importance of the Incarnation. To those who feel that Mass is primarily about what they get out of it, we need to send you to a re-education facility.

The first lesson of that facility will be a question. Why did the Incarnation occur? We could say “so the Son of God could become man.” That is true, but that simply describes what occurred, not why it did. We could say “so He could die on the cross for our sins.” This again is true, but merely a description of events, not why they were necessary. In order to get to the truth, one must venture to the Psalms, as interpreted by the writer of the Hebrews:

For when he came into the world he said: Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, but a body thou hast fitted me. Then I said, behold I come. In the head of the book it is written of me, that I should do your will.
This was the reason for the Incarnation. First and foremost, the Incarnation was an act of worship to the Father. Christ became man so He could offer Himself on the Cross to glorify the Father.

Furthermore, the Incarnation allowed true worship to take place. The law had plenty of sacrifices and oblations to offer. Yet the New Covenant had to be something better. Christ shows what that “better” is. He offers Himself, holding absolutely nothing back. Not only did He not do this for His own sake, He expects us to do likewise. He demands of us that we take up our own cross and follow Him.

As an aside, this is one of the most powerful reasons for celebrating Mass ad orientam. The priest stands in the person of Christ, and with the authority of Christ in offering the sacrifice. The priest leads to the altar, we follow him.  Let that sink in. We follow Christ in taking our own crosses to Mass.

Those own crosses are no doubt our sins. As such, we can never offer ourselves perfectly to the Father. There is always something within us holding us back, fallen humans that we are. Yet at the Mass, that perfect offering is offered. We “add” our own sufferings and flawed offering of ourselves alongside Jesus, asking Him to cleanse it through His blood. Not because we are “adding to the finished work of Christ.” Such is impossible. Yet we should still desire to do the will of the Lord, and the will of the Lord is that we hold nothing back of ourselves.

With this in mind, we can ask the question: Did Christ “get” anything out of the Incarnation? Did He feel “fed” by the Church of His day? The “food” He received was the food of blows to the face. He “got” betrayed by a member of His inner circle. The man He stated was a rock solid foundation upon which His Church would be built denied Him. The very people He tried to save ended up having Him executed.

Was the Incarnation then a failure? Was there something lacking from Calvary? On the contrary, this made the worship offered to the Father all the more efficacious. Anyone can say “Blessed be the Lord” in times of greatness. Yet to truly do the will of the Father is to say “Blessed be the Lord” in every moment, and to follow that up with your actions.

Perhaps that is why our worship is so abysmal today. In so many Churches, we demand these abominations pastoral committees be tailored around us. We suddenly think that everything should revolve around us. Even the supreme act of worship to the Father should be centered on us!

Yet what of the idea that worship is also a source of great instruction to the faithful? Do we not “get” something out of that? Here we come to the idea so thoroughly Western and so thoroughly wrong. This idea holds that only that which is in intellectual abstractions can be called “knowledge.” This has absolutely no basis in the Gospel.

Through reflection on our sins, do we not “learn” our unworthiness before God? In uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ, do we not “learn” that Christ’s sacrifice must purify our very unworthy offering to the Father of ourselves? Do we not “learn” the requirement of humility when we passively receive Holy Communion, as opposed to the grasping by force of the tree by Adam? I would say these things offer greater instruction than a thousand excellent homilies, or better yet, a thousand things we could “do” to make people “understand” Mass more.  Before you complain about what you "get" out of Mass, perhaps you should question what you put into it.

Bishop who Creates Ordination Crisis Removed

Over at Fr. Z's realm, he "rants" about the Vatican removing a Bishop from his diocese in Australia.  In short, Bishop Morris of the Diocese of Toowoomba (my new favorite name for a diocese!) published opinions to the faithful that called for the ordaining of women and for recogizing Protestant "orders."

To any faithful Catholic surfing the web, Fr. Z is required reading.  Me, I like to get my fix in doses of every few days, and just scroll through the page.  This rant of his is no exception.  He rightly points out that the Vatican took this action because there really was no other choice.  Elsewhere on his blog, he makes a point I'd like to expand on.

Many of the Bishops' defenders (in such "catholic" publications as Natholic Catholic Reporter and the like) bewail the fact that Rome is cracking down on innovative ways to solve the shortages in Catholic priests.  Like Fr. Z and others, I believe these people have lost any credibility on the issue.  It was their liberalism that caused the crisis

The Progressive "vision" of the Church has looked to "modernize" Christianity, making it not too different from the modern world.  They presented people with a choice:  the modern world, with all of its "fun", or Christianity, which believed as the modern world did, but every now and then had such things as obligations to go to "worship services", have a vague sense of guilt, and belong to an "institution."  If there's one thing the modern world hates, it is "institutions."

They present Jesus Christ as just an interesting historical figure, if he even exists!  In this sense there is nothing that special about Christianity.  Just like other religions, with a few changes.

Not surprisingly, people haven't responded too enthusiastically to such a Church.  The seminaries emptied, followed by the emptying of the individual churches once they received a liturgy that was bland.  A sunday ballgame was far more "entertaining" that people "got something" out of.  Faced with such a crisis, they conclude that the identity of Catholicism has not been watered down enough.

Those like Bishop Morris essentially want us to become Unitarians.  Who cares if the man is a Protestant who denies the Eucharist, papal infallability, or even the Trinity!  He has a "ministry" the Church should recognize, and invite him to excercise that "ministry" alongside them.  I will be willing to grant their "ministry" the moment they grant the fact that those like Bishop Morris have a direct line of succession to the Apostles themselves and during every Mass offer up the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to the Father as a true and propitiatory sacrifice for sin.

If this were the case, a natural question would have to be posed to the Protestant "minister."  Why aren't you doing this?  If this thing called the Mass is truly a propriation for our sins and we truly receive Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, why are you denying your flock something this vital?  Are your clever words or business models for evangelization really something better than the Body and Blood of Our Lord?

All throughout Christianity those who are looking to relativize are becoming irrelevant.  Even amongst our seperated brethren the Protestants, the mainstream denominations are a shell of their former selves.  Why?  Because there is no reason to even bother going to Church.  They try to make you feel good.  Football provides more entertainment than their worship services ever could.  Engaging in fornication or adultery makes you feel better in the short term than they ever could.  Even worse, for today's generation doing nothing beats all of the above.  Why even bother getting out of bed?  And we should emulate these men?

Only when being a Christian means something do people follow.  The Pentecostal movement might be a false version of Christianity in my eyes, but they offer something.  It isn't just about the rock concert atmosphere.  They offer the belief that the Holy Spirit is not only real, but actively involved in the lives of the faithful.  (What we disagree about is the way they claim the Spirit works, we agree on the active part.)  Other flourshing Evangelical Churches hold that the solas of the Reformation actually mean something, and change every aspect of their existence.  In Catholicism, traditionalist seminaries run out of room they get so many applicants.  Those dioceses that offer Catholicism as something substantially different and greater than the world have little trouble finding priests.

Yet ultimately this message requires the faithful, from Bishop to pew-sitter, do something of substance.  It requires them to amend their lives and live as new creations.  It requires them to tell the world that there is something we have which you could never in your greatest days hope to posesss.  In short, we need a Catholicism that is not arrogant but still has a bit of swagger.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Catholic Exchange Reverts to Form

During the debate surrounding the views of Christopher West which occurred in 2009, the popular website Catholic Exchange became “ground-zero” for a lot of the public debate. Your humble journalist played no small part in this occurring. Along with “dcs” and others, we turned this into a veritable populist revolt. Through our challenging, several people rose up to defend Christopher West from the criticism’s leveled by the likes of Dr. David Schindler, Dawn Eden, and others.

In their defenses of Christopher West, they promoted:

That was just the main articles. The comment boxes lamented the fact that I didn’t think about the sexual act during Mass, amongst other whoppers that are sadly no longer available since CE redesigned their website. These views confirmed our point. Amongst far too many commentators in the “TOB” commentariat, there were some views that were truly absurd.

Another problem they exhibited in spades was assuming the worst of intentions of their adversaries. According to Dr. Janet Smith, Dawn Eden’s thesis was some plan hatched to make her a quick buck and steal thunder from Dr. Smith’s lead role in the TOB Congress. According to another commentator (name being withheld out of a sense of decency that they never thought of showing), critics of Mr. West engaged in a deliberately deceptive campaign to con Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand, exploiting her illness and sickness, into joining the debate against Mr. West. Christopher West compares himself to Jesus Christ, and his critics are “Pharisees” and members of the religious right.

To such hyperbole and wild accusations can be added the name of Mrs. Erin Manning. When commenting on the use of NFP, she originally had a “caricature” of what she calls the “Theology of the Bawdy.” In her caricature, those who were for a far more limited practicing of Natural Family Planning essentially treated their wives as mere baby making machines and vehicles of pleasure. She swears this was originally just a caricature until reading a study, upon which she declared:

It struck me that the sort of man Deacon Kandra’s commenter describes, and the man who insists that it’s much, much easier for his wife to give birth to a dozen children than for him to have to suffer through periodic abstinence, are brothers in a way. Both are believers in the Theology of the Bawdy; that is, both think that sex within marriage is an absolute right, and that no considerations of his wife’s health and ability to care for their children on the one hand, or his wife’s immortal soul on the other, are good enough reasons for him to lay aside his own physical desires and subordinate his recurring need for sexual intimacy to a higher good. In a way, each is ready to objectify his wife instead of seeing her as a total person; the one wishes to exclude her fertility by means of a chemical or other artificial attack against it, while the other, deep down, thinks of her sufferings during pregnancy or her desperate need for space between baby number six and baby number seven as mere trivialities exaggerated by the female tendency to make a fuss about trifles.

This is a classic tactic of their school of thought. It was demonstrated when Christopher West viewed an equivalence between Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and “Puritans” who disagreed with him on one side, and John Paul II (in reality Christopher West) on the other. In this case, the hedonist who practices contraception is little different than the man who believes that children are a blessing from God, and we should be open to that blessing as much as possible, even if taken to excess.

Such is nonsense on stilts. The “Puritan” more often than not has his heart in the right place in opposing debauchery, yet lacking a solid formation; he ends up denying human nature. Likewise those who view NFP as “wrong” or are too dismissive of it have their hearts in the right place. They realize children are a blessing from God, and we should be open to that. Yet they must also remember that such gifts are to be exercised responsibly.

If there are genuine health reasons, genuine financial reasons, then yes, NFP should be practiced. Natural Family Planning can also be used in the positive way of helping to cause conception. By the understanding of fertility cycles and all that jazz, one knows precisely when the marital act has the greatest chance of leading to new life.

For the life of me, I do not know anyone who behaves as Mrs. Manning states. As a traditionalist, I am quite certain I have dealt with people who oppose NFP more than she has. Yet never once have those people (who are in error) behaved and acted as she thinks.

What is even more regrettable is that she could have gone with a positive message instead. She could have pointed out that yes; NFP requires periodic abstinence amongst those who follow it. Far from being a problem, this can be a moment for an immense grace for couples.

In today’s culture, men are taught not to deny their “ambitions” or “urges.” Blessed John Paul’s Theology of the Body teaches us that sometimes, we must do precisely this, even when we are lawfully entitled to such. “All things are lawful, but not all are expedient.”

Yet even outside of NFP, one should still have that mentality in their marriage. The condition and desires of the spouse should be put above your own, and most importantly, the condition of husband and wife as an inseperable unit of society should be considered above all else.

Just as there are those who have a skewed view of NFP on one side, there literally are those who view it “Catholic Contraception.” Any NFP class worth its salt recognizes this plain undeniable fact. And part of the purpose of those classes (and overall education on the Catholic view towards contraception) is to drive out the contraceptive mindset even from those who don’t realize they have it.

The beauty of the Churches true teachings can be given without looking to demonize those who disagree with you, even if they are mistaken.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beyond Eden

Central to the Mass, and indeed our entire existence as Christians, is on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross at Calvary. When a Protestant hears of the Mass as a sacrifice, they think of it the same way as the sacrifices of the Old Covenant: they are rote, mechanical, and simply “solve” the problem of man’s sins, yet things stay fundamentally the same.

Unfortunately, many Catholics present it precisely this way, which is completely anathema to the true understanding of Catholics. In the crowd of Christopher West and friends, there is talk that Christ’s sacrifice allows us to “reclaim Eden.”  The sacrifice of Christ in this view simply resets the balance. While our sin once barred us from Eden, now we can re-enter it through the merit of Christ’s sacrifice.

This is ambiguous at best. Luckily, those of us attending the Extraordinary Form have a prayer to reflect upon. During the Offertory, water is mixed with wine in the chalice, and the priest says:

O God, who in creating human nature, didst wonderfully dignify it, and hast still more wonderfully restored it, grant that, by the Mystery of this water and wine, we may become partakers of His divine nature, who deigned to become partaker of our human nature, Jesus Christ our Lord, Thy Son, who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: world without end. Amen.
When speaking on this gorgeous prayer, Cardinal Ottaviani said the following:

The "Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti et mirabilius reformasti" was a reference to man's former condition of innocence and to his present one of being ransomed by the Blood of Christ: a recapitulation of the whole economy of the Sacrifice, from Adam to the present moment.
In this one paragraph, the entirety of the teaching of Christ’s sacrifice is mentioned. God is mentioned as the creator of man and woman, and that this creation was a good thing, nay, a wonderful thing! By the point it must be “restored”, we learn that man lost what he was given. Our faith tells us this happened in Eden. Yet the curious phrase is “et mirabilius reformasti.” In English, it could roughly be understood as “more wonderfully restored.”

Calvary was not simply pressing the reset button on the human race. Sacred Scripture teaches us that upon Christ’s death on the cross, the gates of Abraham’s bosom were opened, and souls (tradition stating the first being Adam) flocked to heaven as fast as they could. When Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, he showed us our true home, and the ultimate truth about Eden: there is nothing to reclaim. Christ offers something far greater than Eden could ever offer.

What is that he offers? The prayer makes it clear. The water mixed with wine is rich on so many levels. It calls to mine the mixing of two natures, just as Christ had a union of a human and divine nature. It recalls the blood and water which flowed from His side on Calvary, and that blood and water cleansed the Roman Centurion. (Whom tradition identifies simply as Longinus.) That water and wine will come soon to truly be the Blood of Christ, “the chalice of the New Covenant in My Blood.” Through the cleansing of Christ’s blood, we become “partakers of the Divine Nature.” We become united to God, sharing in His nature as a result of that Blood.

Eden was but a symbol of that which was to come, just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament were mere shadows of the true and ultimate Sacrifice of Christ. Like the Old Testament sacrifices, Eden had some efficacy. The paradise and providing of every physical need ultimately pointed toward the one who provided that need, the Father. The sacrifices in an imperfect way cleansed sin, but not necessarily the guilt of such sin. Furthermore, since the sacrifice died, for new sins you had to constantly offer a different animal. Though Christ died, He demonstrates His power over even death in the Resurrection. He is present always before the Father, and need not be killed again to offer Himself. He offers himself once in time, and that one offering extends outside of time. Through this one offering we are provided something Adam never had.

Indeed, we are provided by grace the very thing Adam and Eve attempted to grasp by force. As we remember from the beginning, they ate of the tree to become like God. They attempted to grasp something beyond themselves by force. Jesus Christ, who “though being equal with God did not consider that equality something to be grasped” gave us the example of resignation to God’s will and faith in the Father’s promise. When we are faithful unto the end, He gives that to us. A true irony in this entire situation is that all Adam had to do was ask and be patient, and it would have been provided.

Creation itself speaks of the consummation of this gift. St. John tells us (1 John 2) that “the old world passeth away.” If the old world passes away, something new is being prepared. When this age is consummated, a new heaven and new earth exist. Both are as far beyond the former as can be imagined, and then some. With that in mind, why on earth would we want to “reclaim Eden?” Why would we want to have what we had in Eden? We would sooner wish to go back to the Sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Yet the writer to the Hebrews makes one thing emphatically clear: one cannot return to the Old Covenant because there is nothing to return to. Likewise, Eden is in the past. Even now, we have something greater. Even the slightest experience with Christ and His sanctifying grace surpasses all the splendor of Eden, which had only that grace which existed in the created nature. To return to Eden would be to turn our back on the greater gift Christ gives us. Further still, once this age is completed, there will be something yet greater still. That is what we should direct our eyes to with anticipation. The liturgy draws our eyes towards this and gives us that path, as will be made clear.

All of this we know to be true, because we know the liturgy. Even in the Ordinary form, the totality of this symbolism exists. (If not the explicit formulation by words.) Those amongst the company of West and friends speak with great fervor about refusing to limit the power of Calvary. We should agree with them, and point out, using the liturgy, the incredible power of Christ’s sacrifice. On this “Mercy” Sunday, may we reach the destination this prayer of the Mass speaks of.