Saturday, 22 November 2014

Why I Prefer The Traditional Form of Mass

Today I am going to outline what it is that I prefer about the Traditional Form of Mass. I do not attempt to speak from a scholarly point of view in this post since I am not a liturgist; nor do I intend to deal with the altar-facing orientation, the use of Latin, Gregorian Chant or reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, since the New Form of Mass remains officially celebrated altar-facing, in Latin, with Gregorian Chant having pride of place in terms of music and the norm for reception being on the tongue. Indeed, complaints about ad-orientem, Latin, Chant and reception of Holy Communion on the tongue are contrary to the decrees of Vatican II and the Missal of the New Form of the liturgy. Here goes for a few brief thoughts then...

The Prayers at the foot of the altar are, for me, an important overture to the celebration of Mass. They allow the celebrant to acknowledge his sinfulness before he steps into the Holy of Holies; the sanctuary. When celebrating the New Form of Mass we enter into the Holy of Holies as if by right, not by grace; without so much as a by-your-leave. I find this presumptuous.

The genuflections are more frequent; they occur before and after each time the celebrant touches the Sacred Victim (Host, from the Latin ‘Hostia’, meaning Victim). In the New Form they are reduced to two: after having placed the Victim back on the altar, and once before the consuming of the Sacred Victim.

The Signs of the Cross over the bread and wine before the consecration are reminders of how blessed is the act in which we engage (the Self-Sacrifice of the Risen Victim; the Lamb standing as though slain cf. Rev.5v6). After the Consecration the signs of the cross identify the Sacred Victim and remind us of the Cross on which He died.

Kissing of the altar before each occasion when the celebrant turns from it to face the people and call them to prayer, reminds us that the altar is the symbol of Christ the Cornerstone and Rock of Ages. These kisses are frequent, and their duplication not excessive: frequent exchange of kisses between husband and wife both demonstrates and builds love.

The silent Canon is non-negotiable. The silence of this moment wreaks of solemnity and awe, recalling the injunction of the prophet Habakkuk: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before him” (2v20).

Singing while the priest recites texts is a symphony before God, not a duplication. It is akin to a quartet where three of the four provide the echo and backing to the soloist and the text sung by him. While four-part harmonies by the quartet may sound very grand and display the unity of the quartet, the use of a soloist retains the unity of the performance, adds variation and displays both distinction and diversity within their unity.

The One-Year Cycle is common sense. The current three-year cycle, intended to cover more of Christ’s teaching, has the anomaly of celebrating three times in the course of that teaching the Lord’s Birth, Passion and Resurrection. Can the Lord’s teaching not be well covered in one year? Are duplications of it by use of each synoptic Gospel really necessary? I think not. Far better to hold to the natural one-year cycle -which the whole secular world (and indeed the Church in its calendar) follows in day to day life.

Richer use of Scripture. A question I ask myself is: “Why, when we were told that we needed more scripture, were the psalms at the foot of the altar and the Lavabo, and the text on burning coals from Isaiah, all cut down to paltry one-liner antiphons?” The use of the Old Testament in the readings is indeed sparse in the Traditional Form, but occurs at major moments in the retelling of Salvation History so as to demonstrate the link between the Old and New Testaments. What we have in the New Form is so many readings and at such length that on asking congregants what the readings were about after Mass they often cannot remember: they have been given so much they have missed even the essential elements of the texts. The use of scripture in the Traditional Form is succinct, and more likely to be accessed by its hearers.

The Traditional Calendar allows one to commemorate more than one saint at a time, whereas reducing this to one saint per day in the New Form means many saints are left uncelebrated because there aren’t enough days in the year to accommodate them all. Yes there are many missed from the Traditional Form too, but more are included. Why make the best the enemy of the good?

All in all then, I see the Traditional Form as far richer and more useful and practical. Those who prefer the New Form of Mass may celebrate in the stripped and minimalist Rite if they wish; I will hold to the promotion of the fullness of the Sacrificial meal with all its trimmings. If each Mass is indeed the full Christ event (a Christmas Day and an Easter Day) shouldn’t we want all the Christmas and Easter trimmings?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Diocesan Pastoral Letter, and a Deanery Reorganisation of Masses

Last weekend we read out a Diocesan pastoral letter at all Masses and distributed leaflets outlining future plans for the development of the Diocese. The leaflet makes interesting and indeed, amusing reading in that it speaks of a diocese “founded on an immensely rich Christian heritage that has thrived and flourished over hundreds of years despite the many difficulties it has faced”. Directly beneath these words are two graphs showing the decline in Diocesan priests (from 360 in 1972 to 150 in 2013) and of Mass attendance (from 100,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 2014).

If the Diocese flourished so well during the Viking Invasions and Reformation Persecutions but has dwindled in the last fifty years, we need to ask “what have we been doing that precipitated this?”. After all, we came through the Viking raids and Reformation in flourishing manner; why have we not overcome the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies of the1960’s? Probably because the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies tap into our concupiscence; we are all too keen on self-satisfaction and aggrandisement.

We are given slogans such as ‘a vibrant Church’ but this is obviously untrue: the only thing that has shown itself full to be full of energy is the progression of disintegration. This is not unique to our Diocese and Catholic leaders throughout the Western world need to wake up to the reality of the situation. Some have in fact woken up and are attempting to address the bad liturgy, bad catechises and failure to promote the priesthood that has gone on since the 1960’s, but these are rare men and too often dismissed and isolated by their confrères.

To point to increased lay involvement in diocesan structures, in liturgy and in pastoral care is not to indicate a flourishing Church, but to indicate a Church wherein the folk have been removed from their vocation as the leaven in the world to make up for the falling number of priests. This fall actually resulted from priests handing over so many of their tasks to their people in the mistaken idea that Vatican II’s call to ‘lay mission’ meant ‘lay ministry’, that they diminished the role of the priest (and gave the laity the impression that their vocation as the leaven in society -to which they are called by Christ- was of lesser value than then the cultic and governing role of the priest). Unless we re-affirm the role of the priest and promote the God-given call of the laity as the leaven in society, we will see no flourishing except that of increasing disintegration.   

Deanery Reorganisation of Masses...
Linked to the fall in the number of priests active in the Diocese, our Deanery recently worked out a plan wherein every one of our 10 parishes will have one Sunday Mass, since all Masses will be celebrated at a time which allows these Masses to continue should the Deanery only have 3 priests active over a particular weekend (or indeed, long term). The following is proposed for printing in our parish bulletin this coming weekend:

From the First Sunday in Advent (next Sunday) every parish in the Deanery will go to one Mass per parish. This ensures that even if only three priests are active, every parish can retain its Sunday Mass. For some to lose their favourite Mass time is annoying, but we should fit our lives around Mass, not fit Mass around our lives.
Our parish is blest in that, since we alone provide the Old Form of Mass, we will retain two Masses each weekend. I know many would prefer a New Form of Mass on a Sunday morning and would move the Traditional Mass, but we cannot demand that others are pushed out and marginalised to suit us. Further, none of us can claim the right to say that the Form of Mass that was good enough for the saints for 1500 years; good enough for the martyrs to die for, and good enough for our parents, is beneath us. Such haughtiness is not good, especially when it is directed towards the belittling of what the Church regarded as her greatest treasure -and which still has FULL EQUALITY IN CHURCH LAW with the New Form of Mass -and indeed, it has a certain priority in terms of Custom (on which some church laws are based). Let us rejoice that we have options other folk in the deanery do not.

Attitudes hostile to the TLM are not limited to this parish; it seems it is quite widespread, and to arise from a detestation for and fear of the past (a past wherein the Church flourished). Is it not time to regain our humility before God, and our gratefulness that we have any Mass –and priests- at all?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Playing CD’s in The Liturgy

The purpose of the renewed liturgy was, we are told, to ensure participation by the people. This often disappears at funerals and weddings when hymns are omitted in favour of CD's.

People ask for CD’s to be played at weddings so they “can have our special song” or at funerals because “it’s the one mum wanted played”. Whether mum wanted it or not, recorded music in the liturgy is a no-no, and for two good reasons:
Playing CD’s is out of keeping with the nature of the liturgy as the living worship of God
Playing of CD’s is out of synch with active participation, being a ‘listening moment’.

Unfortunately a number of parishes engage in the playing of CD’s, and as such, rather than sung prayer in ‘Help Lord the souls that thou has made’ we end up with “I did it My Way” (when we should be doping it God’s way); or see an exaltation of the deceased as ‘The Wind beneath My Wings’ (when it is the Holy Spirit who raises us on eagles wings); or we provide a jolly send-off to ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’ (though we cannot be sure if the deceased is off to eternal peace or perdition).  The most recent request I had was for Eva Cassidy’s version of “Fields of Gold”, which, while gentle and meditative in mood, includes some very sensual, impure lyrics:

So she took her love for to gaze awhile upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down among the fields of gold
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth, among the fields of gold

I allow CD’s willingly before and after a Service at a Crematorium, but I have never allowed them in funeral or wedding Masses in Church because of the reasons given above. I usually receive acceptance of my position when I give the explanation, “we don’t sing pop songs in Church just as we don’t sing hymns in the club afterwards”.  The logic of this is inescapable to folk, who on the whole accept it. I have had one or two take angry exceptions taken, and always because “The Catholic Church in the next village plays CD’s”.  Really? Do they care nothing for participation?
Do they not understand the nature of all liturgy as a living act of worship?
Do they understand that by allowing DC’s of Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace” they admit the principle which allows for “My Way” to be played?
Do they understand that every time play the CD’s they do so to please the people (and thereby prove that the New Form of Mass is geared towards people-pleasing rather than worship of God)?
Not only that, but those who illicitly play CD’s unjustly place their faithful brother priests in a situation of disabuse by the angry and hurt –though the “CD’ers” are probably those who go on about social justice.
Finally, on a civil law note, one has to ask if they have a Public Broadcasting License, which I suspect they don’t.

Why is it so hard for priests to simply omit CD’s in Church? Because they don’t want to get into conflict with folk at a sensitive time; they find it easier to make a worship event a people-pleasing event. Living worship and active participation are suddenly –and conveniently- forgotten. 

NB. Beware, Modernisers, if you are going to speak of ‘active listening’ or ‘active remembering’ as a reason for allowing CD’s, because ‘active listening’ is the very thing you have decried for years in the Extraordinary Form where you have labelled it “the people not saying anything”. You can’t have it both ways. Get rid of the CD’s, and get back to worship of God and intercession for the dead. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Recent Conversation...The Saints; the Extraordinary Form and Lay Leadership

A recent conversation with one of the high-profile priests of this Diocese set me thinking. Having confided to him that my self-image is rather low even though I seek daily to be more charitable, humble, industrious and challenging, he asked what spiritual reading I was doing. I told him I was reading ‘The Way of Divine Love’ and had just finished ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’. He smiled and said, ‘You don’t have much confidence in what’s going on today do you?’ My response was ‘No. I don’t’. (I silently wondered, ‘why put aside the wisdom of the saints for the musings of today’s gurus..?)I have never understood why Modernisers who promote new ways are seen as the open and intellectual folk, while those who hold to tradition are seen as closed and less than intellectual. Do the Modernisers, I wonder, choose to see a practitioner of alternative medicine when they are ill, or do they continue to trust themselves to a traditional physician? If they really believe new is best, what is stopping them giving up on traditional medicine?

To be honest, I wonder how anyone can have confidence in ‘today’. I wonder why, as Mass attendance continues to fall and why, we have been closing so many organs of the Church (schools, convents, seminaries and parishes) that those of the modernising ilk insist the Church is healthier now than she has ever been. Basic physiology tells you that when organs of the body are shutting down, death is imminent. There is great naivety in the modernising folk who seem to have only one goal in mind: get the laity in charge of parishes and devolve doctrinal authority so as to change our doctrine to fit the anti-life mentality of today (as the recent Synod all but attempted to do).

The conversation with my brother priest then turned to our parish celebration of the Extraordinary Form: “Don’t you a lot of think people come to it simply to fulfil their obligation, but don’t like it?’.  Well, yes, I do. Some have told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t like the use of Latin; others that they don’t know what to do in the silences. In the former case they mistake word recognition for understanding and responses for conscious participation (if they understood the Mass and the Eucharist they would not be talking during Mass, and if they were consciously participating they would not be parrot-fashion saying ’Amen’ in the middle of a reading where the words ‘forever and ever’ are used). In that they don’t know how to handle the silence they are demonstrating that they don’t know how to pray or even rest in the presence of God; they need the pantomime dialogue of the Novus Ordo to keep them ‘engaged’.

Truly, I cannot believe it is the Holy Ghost who inspires Modernisers with confidence in their strategies and to push for ‘more of the same’ when we can all see the Church dying away in front of our eyes. Only the enemy could encourage us to think of closures and falling Mass attendances as good; only the enemy could have us scorn and disparage a form of Mass sanctioned by the Popes, loved by the saints, and defended by our martyrs. Only the enemy could have us turn from the wisdom of the saints to the musings of today’s gurus. When it has become a sign of wisdom and intellectual acuity to deride what the Church always treasured and abandon her liturgical and spiritual heritage, something very evil is happening in the Church that is simply not being recognised by the great and powerful.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Hallowed Eve & All Saints Celebration

For the last nine years, rather than celebrate Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, the Holy Family Guild and our parish have come together for an ‘All saints Celebration Day’ where great fun is had by all.

3 pm: ‘Parade of Saints’ In Church. Children –and occasionally adults- dress up as a favoured saint and one by one, present themselves to the gathering with a reading about the saint they represent. Here are some of this year’s saints (faces deliberately distorted for safeguarding reasons).

4. pm: Benediction with the Most Blessed Sacrament.

4.30 pm ‘Help Lord, the souls that Thou hast made’ during procession to the miniature grotto for Prayers for the Holy Souls. Here is a picture of a few of us gathered at the grotto.

5. pm: Bonfire, Fireworks and BBQ in the parish garden.

A great day is had by all, and not a nod to the glorification of evil anywhere.

I know many see Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night as harmless fun but they provoke questions for me, for while Halloween may not glamorise evil, it certainly minimises its dangers by making the occult seem harmless fun. And the occult is anything but harmless. I also wonder why we encourage the children to dress up as witches and goblins -we wouldn’t encourage the kids to dress up as Ian Brady, Myra Hindley, Nannie Doss or John W. Gacy, so why, if we have the sense to stop them dressing up as figures of human evil, do we allow them dress up as the very legions of hell? 

As for Guy Fawkes Night, why is it that we celebrate and mimic the burning of a Catholic as a Traitor? To me, we have fallen into a secular mindset when we celebrate these festivals. We need to recover All Saints as a Major Feast, and to Celebrate Bonfire Night as a reminder that while Christ alone is light of the world, He sets others on fire with His Love.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Why Was The Synod Called?

Some good folk have wondered why the recent Extra-ordinary Synod was ever called, given that we already have Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, Casti Connubi, Humanae Vitae, and especially Familiaris Consortio and the Catechism. It is a good question.

For many, the assumption is that the Synod cannot have been called to look at streamlining the Annulment process, because a Commission to look into this was established before the Synod began. Nor can it have been called to seek ways to support families, because this does not seem to have played any real part in discussions as indicated by the Interim and Final Reports of the Synod. What is left is the possibility, denied by the proponents of change, that it was called in order to overturn previous teaching so that those living in occasions of sin (‘irregular unions’) could be admitted to Holy Communion.

The so-called basis for readmission to Holy Communion is mercy, yet mercy can only enter where repentance and amendment of life are present, and if persons remain in occasions of sin, where is the repentance and amendment?  Only the intellectually dim or the unfaithful could suggest that a period of penance which does not include amendment of life makes sense.  Hope for eternal salvation however, has to be held out to those who struggle to do the right thing in the wrong circumstances; in wrong situations from which they cannot extricate themselves. And while the living of a chaste life is possible but difficult, it does make readmission to the sacraments possible, as already stated by John Paul II in his closing address to the 1980 Synod:

...the fathers of the Synod, again affirming the indissolubility of marriage and the Church’s practice of not admitting to Eucharistic communion those who have been divorced and—against her rule—again attempted marriage, urge pastors and the whole Christian community to help such brothers and sisters. They do not regard them as separated from the Church, since by virtue of their baptism they can and must share in the life of the Church by praying, hearing the word, being present at the community’s celebration of the Eucharist, and promoting charity and justice. Although it must not be denied that such people can in suitable circumstances be admitted to the sacrament of penance and then to Eucharistic communion, when with a sincere heart they open themselves to a way of life that is not in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage—namely, when such a man and woman, who cannot fulfill the obligation of separation, take on the duty of living in total abstinence, that is, abstaining from acts that are proper only to married couples—and when there is no scandal.
Nonetheless, the lack of sacramental reconciliation with God should not deter them from perseverance in prayer, in penance and in the exercise of charity, in order that they may eventually receive the grace of conversion and salvation. 

The thing is this: Church teaching is the transmission of Divine Revelation which comes to us from the unchanging God via Scripture and Tradition, and we are to hand it on undiminished and uncorrupted to the next generation. A useful scripture reference to this is from Hebrews 13:

“Marriage should be honoured by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” (Heb.13v4-9).

It is not that good folk think we are dealing with a Pope who is heretical, but simply that they see something very wrong here, for while Modernisers may claim that the desire of the Synod was simply to change practice rather than doctrine, practice flows from Doctrine, so to change practice is to change doctrine implicitly. But this allows for an implicit change to be made explicit in years to come, claiming it is based on practice. This dangerous scenario would avoid Francis or any future Pope being called a heretic, since Francis will only have changed practice, not teaching, and a future Pope would simply be drawing doctrine from established practice. The plan of the Modernisers may be much more long-term than many think. It may be that they intended nothing more than the sowing of new seeds, but these seeds are tares; tares that faithful Bishops must ensure are never sown.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

John Paul II and Francis

By now we have all read Francis address at the end of the recent Extraordinary Synod, so I thought it would be useful to repeat the Final Address given by John Paul II to the Synod on the family in 1980 so readers could compare and contrast the two Addresses and decide for themselves which address gives the impression of arising from faithfully Catholic Synod. 

The link to the Address by John Paul II is here

The link to the Address by Francis is here.

The Address of John Paul II is, for ease of access, reproduced from the above link (with thanks to to 'Catholic Household'):

We have just heard the apostle St. Paul giving thanks to God for the Church at Corinth “that in every way it was enriched in Christ Jesus, with all speech and all knowledge” (cf. I Cor 1:5). We too feel impelled at this moment first and foremost to give thanks to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, before we bring this Synod of Bishops to an end.
We came together to celebrate it, whether as members or as assistants, in the mystery of that supreme unity which belongs to the most Holy Trinity. It is to the Holy Trinity therefore that we express our thanks that we have completed the Synod, which is an outstanding sign of vigor and of great importance for the life of the Church. For the Synod of Bishops—to use the words of the council, in accordance with whose wishes the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI instituted it “acting for the whole Catholic episcopate, is a sign that all the bishops in hierarchical communion share in the cares of the universal Church” (Christus Dominus, 5).
We give thanks together for these four weeks during which we have been working. This period of time, even before the issuing of the final statements (that is, the message and the propositions) has borne fruit in us, because truth and love seem to have matured in us by a gradual process as the days and weeks have passed. It is right to mention this process, and briefly to describe how it became clear. It thus becomes plain how honestly and sincerely were manifested in it both liberty and a responsible sense of duty regarding the theme that we were discussing.
We wish today to give thanks first to him “who sees in secret” (Mt 6:4) and works as a “hidden God,” because he has directed our thoughts, our hearts and our consciences and enabled us to press on with our work in fraternal peace and spiritual joy. Indeed, such was our joy that we hardly felt the burden of work or exhaustion. And yet, how tiring it in fact was! But you did not spare yourselves in the work.
We must also express thanks among ourselves. First of all, this must be said: we must all attribute that process by which, in a way that gradually matured, we “did the truth in charity,” to the urgent prayers which the whole Church as it were standing around as has been pouring out at this time. This prayer was for the Synod and for families: for the Synod, in that it was concerned with families, and for families, because of the tasks they have to perform in the Church and in the world of today. The Synod benefited from these prayers in a quite extraordinary way. Continual and abundant prayer was made to God, especially on 12 October, when couples, representing the families of the entire world, came together to St Peter’s basilica to celebrate the sacred rites and to pray with us. If we must thank one another, we must also thank so many unknown benefactors who, throughout the world, helped us with their prayers and offered their suffering to God for this Synod.
Now we come to the time for thanking one another by name, and in this we include everybody who has helped in the celebration of this Synod: there are the presidents, the secretary general, the relator general, the members themselves, the special secretary and his assistants, the auditores and auditrices, the people appointed to help the media, the departments of the Roman Curia and especially the Consilium for the Family, and others, from the ushers to the technical assistants, typists and so on.
We are all grateful that we have been able to complete this Synod. It was an outstanding manifestation of the collegial care for the Church of the bishops of the whole world. We are grateful that we have been able to see the family as it really is in the Church and in the world of today, considering the many different situations in which it finds itself; the traditions drawn from various cultures which influence it; the aspects of civilized life that shape and affect it; and other mailers of this sort.
We are grateful that we have been able again, with the obedience of faith, to look at God’s eternal plan for the family manifested in the mystery of creation, and strengthened with the blood of the Redeemer, the Spouse of the Church. And finally we are grateful that we have been able to define, according to the eternal design regarding life and love, the tasks of the family in the Church and world of today.
The fruit which this Synod of 1980 brings forth here and now is contained in the propositions, accepted by the assembly, of which the first is entitled: “On knowing the will of God in the pilgrimage of the people of God. On the sense of faith.” This rich treasury of propositions, 43 in number, we now receive as a singularly precious fruit of the works of the Synod. At the same time we express our joy that the assembly itself, publishing its message, has spoken to the whole Church. The General Secretariat, with the help of the organizations of the Apostolic See, will take care that this message is sent to all whom it concerns, and the episcopal conferences will help in this.
The deliberations of this Synod of 1980 and the contents of the propositions certainly enable us to see the Christian and apostolic tasks of the family in the world of today, and in a special way to draw them from the total teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Thus, we make effective progress along the road which must enable this Synod to put its doctrinal and pastoral plans into effect.
With regard to this, this year’s Synod is closely connected with the previous synods and is a continuation of the synods celebrated in 1971 and especially in 1974 and 1977, which have helped to put the Second Vatican Council into practical effect and must continue to do so. These synods help the Church in a fitting way to be as she must in the conditions of our age, and so to present herself.
Within the work of this Synod must be considered of the greatest usefulness the careful examination of doctrinal and pastoral questions that especially needed such examination, and, in consequence, a sure and clear judgment of these questions.
In the wealth of interventions, relations and conclusions of this Synod, which greatly arouse our admiration there are two cardinal points—namely, fidelity to the plan of God for the family, and a pastoral way of acting which is full of merciful love and of the reverence that is owed to men, and embraces all of them, in what concerns their “being” and “living.” In all this there are some parts which have especially occupied the minds of the Synod fathers, for they realized that they were expressing the expectations and hopes of many couples and families.
It is right to mention these questions among the work of the Synod, and to recognize the very useful examination that has carefully been made of them: that is, the doctrinal and pastoral examination of questions which, although they were not the only ones to be treated in the Synod’s discussions, nonetheless had a special place there, in that they were discussed in an especially open and free way. This means that importance must be attached to the opinions that the Synod clearly and powerfully expressed on these questions, while still retaining that Christian view, in which the family is regarded as a gift of divine love.
So the Synod—when speaking of the pastoral care of those who after divorce have entered on a new union—rightly praised those couples who in spite of great difficulties witness in their life to the indissolubility of marriage. In their life the Synod recognizes that good news of faithfulness to love which has its power and its foundation in Christ. Furthermore, the fathers of the Synod, again affirming the indissolubility of marriage and the Church’s practice of not admitting to Eucharistic communion those who have been divorced and—against her rule—again attempted marriage, urge pastors and the whole Christian community to help such brothers and sisters. They do not regard them as separated from the Church, since by virtue of their baptism they can and must share in the life of the Church by praying, hearing the word, being present at the community’s celebration of the Eucharist, and promoting charity and justice. Although it must not be denied that such people can in suitable circumstances be admitted to the sacrament of penance and then to Eucharistic communion, when with a sincere heart they open themselves to a way of life that is not in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage—namely, when such a man and woman, who cannot fulfill the obligation of separation, take on the duty of living in total abstinence, that is, abstaining from acts that are proper only to married couples—and when there is no scandal.
Nonetheless, the lack of sacramental reconciliation with God should not deter them from perseverance in prayer, in penance and in the exercise of charity, in order that they may eventually receive the grace of conversion and salvation. Meanwhile the Church, praying for them and strengthening them in faith and hope, must show herself a merciful mother towards them.
The fathers of the Synod were close in mind and spirit to the great difficulties that many couples feel in their conscience about the moral laws concerning the transmission of life and the protection of human life. Knowing that every divine precept carries with it promise and grace, they openly confirmed the validity and the sure truth of the prophetic message, full of deep meaning for the conditions of today, which is contained in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The Synod has encouraged theologians to join forces with the hierarchical magisterium so that the biblical basis and the “personalistic” reasons (as they are called) for this doctrine may be ever more clearly made known, so that the entire teaching of the Church may become accessible to all men of good will, and may be every day more clearly understood.
Thinking of those who have pastoral care of married couples and families, the synod fathers rejected any split or “dichotomy” between instruction (which is necessary for any progress in fulfilling the design of God) and doctrine (taught by the Church with all its consequences and which includes the command to live according to that doctrine). It is not a matter of keeping the law as a mere “ideal” to be obeyed in the future. It is a question of the command of Christ the Lord that difficulties should constantly be overcome. In fact, the “law of gradualness,” as it is called, is not possible unless a person sincerely obeys the divine law and seeks those benefits that are protected and promoted by that law. For “the law of gradualness” (or gradual progress) cannot be the same as “gradualness of the law” as if there were various grades or forms of commandment for different men and circumstances in the divine law.
All couples are called to holiness in marriage according to the divine plan; and the dignity of this vocation becomes effective when a person is able to respond to the command of God with a serene mind, trusting in divine grace and his own will.
So it is not enough for couples—if they are not both of the same religious persuasion—to accommodate themselves passively and easily to their circumstances, but they should strive with patience and good will to come to a common intention to be faithful to the duties of Christian marriage.
The Synod fathers have acquired a deeper knowledge and awareness of the riches that are to be found in the cultural forms of different peoples and of the good things that every cultural form has to offer, the more fully the unsearchable mystery of Christ is understood. They have also recognized that—even within the confines of marriage and the home—there is a great field for theological and pastoral study, so that the adaptation of the gospel message to the character of each people may be better fostered and so that it may be learnt how the customs, special characteristics, the sense of life and the unique spirit of each human culture may be combined with the data of the divine revelation (Ad Gentes, 22).
This research—if carried on according to the principle of communion of the universal Church and with the encouragement of local bishops, who should be united among themselves and with the See of Peter “which presides over the whole assembly of charity” (LG 13) —will bring forth its fruits for families.
The Synod spoke timely and persuasive words with reverence and gratitude about woman, about her dignity and vocation as a daughter of God, as wife and mother. Reproving whatever harms her human dignity, the Synod stressed the dignity of motherhood. It therefore rightly said that human society should be so constituted that women are not obliged to work outside the home at a job or profession, but that the family should be able to live properly even when the mother devotes herself entirely to the family.
If we have mentioned these important questions and the replies that the Synod gave to them, we do not wish to value any less the other matters that the Synod dealt with, for, as has been shown in many interventions in these useful and fruitful weeks, these are questions worthy of being treated in the teaching and pastoral ministry of the Church with great reverence and love, full of mercy, towards men and women, our brothers and sisters, who fly to the Church for words of faith and hope. May pastors, taking their example from the Synod, address themselves to these problems, as they truly are in married and family life, with care and a firm will, that we may all “do the truth in charity.”
Now we wish to add something as the fruit of the labors that we have been carrying out for more than four weeks: that is, that nobody can “do charity” except in the truth. This principle can be applied to the life of every family no less than the life and work of pastors who truly mean to serve families.
So the principal fruit of this session of the Synod is that the tasks of Christian family, of which charity is as it were the heart, should only be full according to the whole truth. All in the Church who wish to help in the fulfilment of these tasks—be they lay people, clerics, or religious of either sex—can or this in the truth. For it is truth that sets free; it is truth that brings order: it is truth which opens the way to holiness and justice.
We have seen what the love of Christ is, what that charity is that is offered all who make up a family in the Church and in the world: not only to husband wives, but also to boys and girls and young people, and also to widow orphans, to grandparents, and to all who in any way share in family life. For these the Church of Christ wishes to be and wishes to remain both a witness gate to that fullness of life of which St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians in the words that we heard at the beginning: for we have been made rich in all things in Jesus with all speech and all knowledge (I Cor 1:5).
John Paul II