Monday 17 December 2012

Problems with Children's Liturgy

 Father and I have recently had conversations about the Children’s Liturgy. With Father’s agreement, I thought I would write a post about what was shared in those conversations by ourselves and others.

Children’s liturgy is prized by some people and disliked by others. Certainly the intention in devising such a liturgy was good; it sought to help children hear the word at a level and in a format which would help them to grasp the message, but such Liturgies are not without problems.

The most obvious problem is that by taking the children out of Mass we divide the community, yet the idea that we can segregate part of the community is surely erroneous -I wonder how many would be happy if it was being promoted that since the feminine mode of learning is different that women should hear the word apart from the rest of the community? Separating the children from the rest of the community is just as inappropriate as segregating women.

A second problem is that while we promote parents as the principle educators of their children, we yet remove their children from them at Mass for what is, in fact, a parallel liturgy. Parents are thereby disenfranchised and given the subliminal message that catechesis of their children is the responsibility of others. Certainly the example of life that parents give is of critical importance, but the faith is lived and taught by deed and by word, and parents need to be primary in both fields.

Related to this is a third problem in that the children receive no example from their parents on how to conduct themselves in Church. This is especially true when the children return to Mass full of procured energy, since parents then spend much of their time trying to keep their young children settled, often resorting to giving them toys –or worse, food- to keep them still and quiet.

A fourth problem is that Children’s Liturgy can degenerate into a ‘performance' when the children spend time learning a song or sketch to perform, since these inevitably draw applause and turn the congregation from adoration of God to praise of the children. School Masses are often paradigms of this performance-style worship with participation deteriorating into mere activity, with situations where a class of 20 each “do their bit”: one introduces the Mass; there is one child for each stanza of the psalm; one for the Gospel Alleluia; four bringing up the gifts; a dozen or so offering ‘Bidding Prayers’ and others doing a final reflection, all to ensure that “everyone has something to do”. This is problematic because Children’s Liturgy is supposed to prepare children for integration into regular liturgy, yet performing sketches and involving as many as possible means children find the regular celebration alien to them; describing it as “boring”, i.e., not entertaining.

Father noted a fifth problem occurs when the altar is misused as a display board with children coming back into Church with a ‘Freeze’ to attach to the front of the altar with bluetack (perhaps it is this that led to the phenomena of sacristan ladies sellotaping the cloth to the altar?). Father said he has asked teachers, catechists and sacristy ladies in all his appointments if they would treat their dining table at home in the same way, and always received a rather cold reply of “that’s different Father”. He has always replied “I entirely agree: a table is just a table; the altar is sacred.”

Some will defend children’s liturgy, but others might add to this list of concerns. Indeed, as with Youth Masses, Children’s Liturgies have not kept the younger generations of the last forty years faithful to Mass and the Sacraments.

Do we employ a Children’s Liturgy in our parish? We do, and we too used to colour pictures, but we stopped doing so when the children said they “miss the Colouring Club” at Christmas and Easter when it does not take place. One or two of the catechists said they focused on this because some children were very young, that is, under five, so we also reserved participation in Children’s Liturgy for children aged 5-10.

Further, our format aims at imaging the Liturgy of the Word. We begin with the Sign of the Cross and Greeting in the Church before the children leave; once in their own room they examine their conscience, say the Kyrie and Glory be, listen to the Gospel and a short reflection, complete a simple word-search based on the reflection, and recite a simplified Creed and Common Prayer. We make all of this available as an entire page in our weekly Bulletin so that children who no longer come to Mass may be inspired at home. What we do may not satisfy all, but as Father says, “We are talking about the Liturgy of the Word in which God speaks to man, and not about a colouring club or a crèche.”

Monday 10 December 2012

Nurse Saldanha and the Duchess of Cambridge

The death of Nurse Jacintha Saldanha after having put through a hoax ‘phone call in which enquiries were made about the health of the Duchess of Cambridge, is disturbing. I hope Jacintha’s colleague who actually divulged the information is getting any necessary support from her employers.

While there must be a sense of sadness in all of us that a dedicated nurse could feel so guilt-ridden over such an incident that she (it appears) has ended her own life, I wonder if the incident does not indicate a need for Buckingham Palace and UK hospitals to overhaul their respective protocols? While not seeking to lecture the Palace, I wonder if the Royal Aides have considered initiating a password system for use in its contact with hospitals in order to protect the Royal Family from having their privacy broken? I also wonder if hospitals could initiate a policy of not giving out information on the telephone about any patient unless it is the hospital making the call to the relative on a given contact number. Indeed, it might be asked by those who are not supporters of the Monarchy that if Jacintha has indeed taken her own life, and has done so because her action involved the Royal Family, if the incident indicates the Royal Family are seen as having a greater right to privacy than anyone else -so much so that it made Jacintha’s action seem so much more serious to her and was worthy of national and international reporting?  

Finally, it might be seen as unfair that Mel Greig and Michael Christian –whose intention was surely devoid of any malice- should carry any burden for the unforeseen outcome of their prank. Let us hope that their employers continue to give them the support they need until such time as their own emotional stress is resolved or healthily processed and managed by them.

Truly, it seems to me that blaming anyone is out of place in this incident; it is surely a learning curve for us all. In the end, errors and mistakes are surely to be responded to by learning; deliberate action alone should carry the negative connotation of ‘blame’. 

Friday 23 November 2012

Failures With The Vernacular

We are often told that we understand Mass better when it is in the vernacular. I certainly believe it can help, and I support its use in accord with Sacrosanctum Concilium 54 (hence I have vernacular readings at our EF Mass) but I suggest we do not understand the Mass better simply because it is offered in the vernacular. Indeed, I think it is possible to say that use of the vernacular can have its problems, namely, superficiality, automatic pilot and lack of understanding. Some examples are necessary...

(1) Superficiality. At Mass last weekend I noted that week by week we request one another to “pray for me to the Lord our God”, and asked how many times we have lived this out by offering –in charity- a prayer that our neighbour be forgiven. A number of parishioners told me they had “never thought about it” and consequently, never really prayed for the forgiveness of our family, friends and parishioners. This is but one example of how we can recite the texts of the Mass by rote rather than consciously and actively.

(2) Automatic Pilot. We have probably all, at times, heard congregations displace the “Amen” into the middle of a Preface when the phrase “Through Christ Our Lord” is used. We have probably heard a displaced “Amen” when the phrase “forever and ever” occurs during a reading too. This is indicative of being on automatic pilot, and worrisome because it suggests there can be little awareness even of which point one is at in the Mass.

None of the above are the result of the new translation; the same problems were present with the former translation too.

(3) Lack of understanding. Occasionally, when I am haughtily confronted with “people understand the Mass better in English” I ask, “Can you tell me the significance of the change in the consecration from ‘for all’ to ‘for many’; or the significance of the change from ‘everlasting covenant’ to ‘eternal covenant’; or the significance of the change from ‘fountain’ to ‘fount’ in Eucharistic Prayer II? Can you tell me to whom the Kyrie is addressed, and to what purpose?” It is surprising how many people cannot answer the first three questions and give an erroneous answer to the fourth and fifth. One can legitimately conclude then that understanding is not necessarily gained by using the vernacular; that what is gained is but ease of response and word recognition. Conscious, active participation is far more than reciting by rote, and understanding far deeper than word recognition.

In case you are waiting for answers: the change to “for many” follows scripture and liturgical tradition, and articulates that while we are all redeemed, not all will be saved; the change to “fount” from “fountain” has a profound significance because a fount is a source, a fountain is not. The change from “everlasting” to “eternal” is also profound: “everlasting” indicates salvation going on into the future; “eternal” indicates it reaches backwards to Adam as well as into the future. As for the Kyrie, this is addressed to Christ alone, and its purpose is to praise Him for His work of Redemption. It is not only surprising but perhaps disturbing when clergy address the Kyrie to Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, at the same time, turn it from giving expression to Christ’s Redemptive work as in the Missal to expressions of our sorrow: “You came to call sinners” becoming “Father, for the times we have... Lord Jesus, for the times we have...Holy Spirit, for the times we have...”. How many have misunderstood the Kyrie this way and consequently both wrongly addressed it and altered its purpose?

So, while I agree that the vernacular can be helpful and give it my support in line with Sacrosanctum Concilium, I don’t think we can pretend it does not permit problems: it can become a pathway to automatic pilot rather than active (attentive) participation, and a route to misunderstanding. This is of course a danger in both the OF and the EF, and I think that minimisation of this danger requires catechesis on how to pray the Mass rather than pray at Mass. That said, making automatic, unthinking responses in the vernacular is perhaps less conducive to spiritual growth than is meditating on the Rosary during an EF Mass, which produced many a holy soul.

All in all, I simply wonder if we have taken too much for granted; that we presumed use of the vernacular was all that was needed to facilitate understanding of and participation in the Mass. Evidently it is not, as is demonstrated by the failure to live–out the Confiteor, the displaced “Amen”, the non-differentiation between everlasting and eternal etc, and the misunderstanding and misuse of the Kyrie. 

Monday 19 November 2012

Latin, Ad Orientem and Problem Priests

For the last seven years I have celebrated the Ordinary Form ad orientem, and at our Vigil Mass made use of simple Latin Mass parts for the Ordinary (we have had the Usus Antiquior on Sundays since 2007). Some parishioners, though a small minority, seem to have continued difficulty with the Latin and ad orientem celebration because “they make us the odd ones out; no one else is doing them”. No matter how often the Council documents or rubrics of the Missal are shown and explained in homilies, Bulletins or Hand-outs, the old myths about Vatican II having “gotten rid of Latin” and “turned the priest round to face the people” still retain a hold. What can be done to establish the hermeneutic of continuity in liturgy? As a priest friend said recently, “Change has to come from the top; Bishops, Vicar Generals and Deans should use Latin and the ad orientem posture, otherwise the people will see their parish clergy as an oddity or worse, as “a problem priest”.  

Though I do not suggest that Bishops, VGs, Cathedral Administrators or Deans habitually use the norms of Latin and ad orientem worship, much less that they impose them on parishes during visitations, I would like them to demonstrate these norms for Christmas, Easter, Solemnities and Ordinations. Surely six or seven occasions a year is not too much to hope for in order that we may give the Council, the Missal of Paul VI and the hermeneutic of continuity full backing and liturgical expression? It would certainly give those priests who employ the norms formal support and mitigate against complaints; it will also give those who are afraid of ‘singularising’ themselves -including priests who consider themselves ‘Traditional’- the courage to employ them. There is of course a natural fear of offending the people (and losing revenue or numbers -we often judge ourselves or get judged by the amount of people we retain at Sunday Mass) but if the norms were occasionally employed by senior clergy and confirmed to those who protest their use, parishioners would be far less likely to leave their parish to worship elsewhere or to complain about their priest (some of which can be spurious, ‘displaced’ complaints arising from the complainants subconscious antagonism).

In my opinion, non-use of Latin and the ad orientem posture by senior clergy has several negative effects: it perpetuates a certain loathing for these norms among the people; it places junior clergy who do employ them in an unjust isolation, and encourages dissonance between parish clergy and those people who take any opportunity to complain about their ‘difficult’ priest to Deans, VG’s and Bishops. Seeking to avoid offending  the people is understandable, but by failing to confirm that Latin and ad orientem are in fact the norms, people are being affirmed in their error and resentment while junior clergy are unjustly pressurised to ‘fit in’ with the majority who habitually utilise options rather than norms.

I utilise the norms as a matter of conscience, really. After prayerful study I sincerely believe that we need to do all we can to hold onto our Catholic identity; an identity which has been badly eroded over the years (“we are all the same now Father”) an identity which is closely associated with Latin and ad-orientem worship.

Latin is not only a required element in the liturgy (as decreed by Vatican II), but it has been all-but sacralised by its use over the centuries. It also gives a sense of transcendence (otherworldliness) to the liturgy; demonstrates unity in that everywhere one goes the Ordinary (Confiteor, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei) are recited una voce, and it facilitates a universal participation which is excluded by the vernacular when at Mass in foreign lands. Meanwhile, ad orientem clearly expresses the nature of the Church as a pilgrim people journeying towards God whilst awaiting His return in glory; having the priest face the people images a community closed in on itself. Certainly having the altar between priest and people can be presented as imaging the people gathered around the throne of God, but it is not perceived that way –moreover, this is a flawed image since we are indeed a pilgrim people who have not yet reached the throne of God. On the other hand, ad orientem is always perceived as being less about the community and its affirmation (which is why it is disliked?) than it is about God and worship.

We do, I think, need a renewed catechesis of people and clergy to secure the expression of liturgical continuity, with a clear rebuke of derogatory language such as “the priest having his back to the people” –a statement which betrays a secular, rather earth-bound understanding of the liturgy.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Life with Fewer Priests and More Lay Collaborators

Prior to Vatican Council II there existed, we are told, a ‘ghetto mentality’ in the Catholic Church. This ‘ghetto mentality’ might, it seems to me, be relabelled a strong sense of community identity and adhesion. The Jewish people still retain this; we have disavowed it as wrong. It is perhaps time this canard of a ghetto mentality be exposed for what it is.

It is by no means the only canard about the pre-Vatican II Church. We are also told that the laity were passive in the liturgy and the Church. Yet one need only think of the choirs, the organists, the servers and the sacristans of pre-Vatican II days to appreciate the role played by laity in the liturgy; one need only think of the charitable work done by the SVP, the door-to-door and street evangelisation undertaken by the Legion of Mary, the youth club work, the work done by the Women’s League, the repairs done by the men of the parish, the support given to the missions, the neighbourhood projects and the work of Catholic schools to realise that the laity were very active in Church life before the Council. Yet the canard about laity being passive continues as a catalyst for a new kind of lay activity called ‘collaboration’.

Personally, I rely heavily upon the people of the parish for their collaboration in care of the housebound, the provision of catechesis, administration, accounting, Health & Safety, minor repairs, pastoral planning, financial advice etc., and I venture to say that without such collaboration a parish might well cease to function. But it is not without its problems.  It can, for example, increase the weight on the priest’s shoulders if he has to chase folk up in their tasks or if the Pastoral Council simply determines tasks for him to undertake. The number of meetings he needs to attend also proliferates.

It has, if we are honest, actually created a two-tier laity: those who are ministers (on the sanctuary) or managers (on committees), and those who are not. Lay-empowerment has thus become an empowerment of the few at the expense of the many, created by our pursuance of a collaboration that focuses on committees and liturgy.

More worryingly, modern collaboration has a tendency to devalue the authentic lay vocation as the leaven in the world (cf. Vatican II’s Apostolicam Actuositatem) be that the world of education, health-care, business, politics, the media etc., and devalued long-established lay associations such as the Legion of Mary and the SVP; these are now seen by many folk as second best because they are not ‘power-sharing’; they are ‘pious associations’, not committees. We might even say we have swapped piety for power.

It has also, I suggest, eroded priestly identity: priests are now formed (we were told in seminary in the late eighties/early nineties) as co-ordinators of the laity. By this our vocation as men consecrated to be sacrificing priests who teach, sanctify and govern in the person of Christ as fellow workers with the order of Bishops (cf. Vatican II’s Presbyterorum Ordinis) is depreciated in the eyes of the people and, perhaps, even of the Bishops and priests.

Parishes must indeed have some input by the people since they have a duty to ensure their community is holy and operates in a healthy manner -for which reason it is not right for priests to undertake all the administration, catechesis and pastoral care on his own. But ‘Lay-led Communities’ are, I think, problematic, since they promote that which lacks the integrity of the Body of Christ as both Head and Members. As Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds us, “There can be no substitute for the ministerial priesthood. For if a priest is lacking in a community, then the community lacks the exercise and sacramental function of Christ the Head and Shepherd, which belongs to the essence of its very life” (cf. RS #146). As a result of promoting lay-led parishes, it is unsurprising that seminaries are closing –after all, why spend one’s life as a celibate facilitator (priest) when one can be married and a community (lay) ‘leader’?  

Of particular concern in non-mission territories are lay-led Services of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion. These services imply that the community is more important than the Eucharistic Action we call Holy Mass, yet the community springs from that Action as the source and summit of all that we are, so it is essential to be celebrate that Action rather than limit ourselves to hearing the word and receiving Holy Communion. Indeed, correct terminology seems all-but unknown even to the clergy who, when discussing these things, speak of Services of the Word with Holy Communion as “Eucharistic Services” or “Communion Services”, and of Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion as “Communion Ministers” or worse, as “Eucharistic Ministers” (neither of which averts to their being legitimate only in extraordinary circumstances), though use of such titles is expressly forbidden by Redemptionis Sacramentum #156. We should not forget that “Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of fuller participation of the laity but it rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional” (RS #151). That these ministers are used every Sunday and even at weekday Mass is a clear sign that this role is misunderstood and being used in a manner inconsistent with its ancillary and extempore character. I suspect Bishops are simply not being well informed on these matters, rather than unwilling to limit how these ministries are used, but it leaves informed and loyal priests to uphold the norms exposed to bitterness from the people, who complain to their Bishop that their priest is “not collaborative”.

Perhaps to help re-dignify the authentic lay and priestly vocations –and restore the Mass to its central importance- we really do need to amalgamate parishes. No one likes to see churches closed, but the benefits are that local areas with one centre of worship thus retain the authenticity of the local community as head and members and, let’s not pretend otherwise, gain much needed revenue from the sale of property. Costs are, after all, constantly going up, and the number of laity contributing to finances is constantly going down. Hopefully, as the Culture of Death destroys modern society and the Culture of Life grows in the Church, we will be brought to a future where we can rebuild both the Church and society.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Considering Youth Ministry

It always disappoints me to hear the youth described as the Church of tomorrow when they are the Church of today as well as tomorrow. Sadly, despite all the work that goes into ministering to the youth, we seem unable to stem the tide of lapsation, which seems to be a problem across the denominations. I recently came across the Mars Hill Church website where I found the following:

“DOES THIS CHURCH HAVE A YOUTH MINISTRY?” I hear this question all the time... What’s really being asked is “Does this church gather all its teenagers on Wednesday nights, have monthly lock-ins, go on summer mission trips to Mexico, and have attractional, flashy, and really expensive winter and summer retreats?” The answer is a gentle, but emphatic, “no.” Not anymore. Why? Statistically, it isn’t working [and] Discipleship as seen in Scripture is minimal.
The term “working” might be a little nebulous, but youth pastors know those stats. We know that somewhere between 60–80% of teens who are active in churches stop going altogether in their twenties. Yet many churches still cling to this model created decades ago, hoping they will be the exception.
These ministries eat up huge chunks of the budget, their pastors are under immense pressure, and at times, their satisfaction in Jesus varies with the number of teenagers that show up on a given Wednesday night. I know because I’ve been there.

The core of the difficulty is that attractions of the world are powerful and distracting many young people from the Lord, especially those youth whose judgements are subjective and informed by relativism. The above quote indicates that another reason we are not holding on to the youth is the way we minister to them.

Speaking of the Catholic situation, literally thousands of youngsters have been ministered to by youth ministry teams and schools, led by dedicated folk who give generously of their time and energy, but these thousands are not coming to Mass and are not taking up a Catholic lifestyle. The majority will enjoy the drama, music and recreation in the immediate; a few may ask to be involved in the ministry team or engage in school-based faith activities, but the vast majority make no lifestyle change. We must then, ask where the vast majority of those thousands are, and what direction we need to take to bring youth to the Eucharist and a solid Catholic lifestyle. As a friend of mine recently remarked, “The success of a programme or mission is not whether it was enjoyed and made an immediate impact -more often than not a merely emotional impact- but whether it brings young people to the Mass and to sound Catholic practice” -a very perceptive remark. Remarkably, a youth minister once told a meeting I was at that “attending Mass is not the criteria to use to judge whether a young person is practicing or has found Christ” -a very strange remark given that Christ is fully and substantially Present only in the Eucharist, which is thus “the fount and apex of the entire Christian life” according to Lumen Gentium #11 of Vatican II.

Who can pretend to have the answer to the loss of young people from the Lord’s House and His Sacred, Sacrificial Banquet we call Holy Mass? Certainly not me, but I would like to suggest five elements that could be usefully included in youth ministry, especially youth camps. Since I see these elements as parts of a whole, I am not enumerating them in any order of importance.

First, prayer experiences with extemporary prayer and scripture texts. Why? Because this could help them to develop personal prayer lives; to move from ‘saying prayers’ to prayer.

Second, we could utilise paraliturgies with their drama, mime, pop-style music etc.. Why? because these can engage and speak to the youth, and have the ability to show practical application of Church teaching to life situations.

Third, we should ensure solemn celebrations of Mass as called for by Vatican II, that is, with retention of Latin (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36) and prime place given to chant (ibid, #116). Why? because the sacred nature of Holy Mass be both displayed and experienced: Mass is unique even among the Sacraments, and needs to be celebrated, understood and experienced as unique, rather than as a setting for drama and dance -sanctuaries are elevated to show we are journeying to heaven, not to act as a stage. Solemn celebrations of Holy Mass, when not conflated with elements from paraliturgies, will widen the liturgical and spiritual experience of the youth, helping them to experience the transcendent nature of the liturgy and the Majestic ‘otherness’ of God.

Fourth, we must make provision for solid catechesis based on the Catechism. Why? Because the Faith is not simply experiential; it is based on revealed Truth. Sadly, the current educational method, i.e., “The Church says (...) Do you agree? Give your reasons” does not facilitate respect for the Revealed Faith: it surrenders it to subjectivism and fuels relativism.

Fifth, we would do well to include spiritual conferences based on the writings of the great masters of the spiritual life, such as Therese of Lisieux; Francis de Sales etc. Why? Because Most of today’s popular writers, popular speakers (and bloggers!) will be forgotten in fifty years time; the spiritual masters will not.

I respectfully suggest that we cannot expect young people to value the Mass and its uniqueness when it is practically a paraliturgy with a homily and Holy Communion all-but tacked on; nor can we expect them to adhere to Revelation when their education is one of “What do you think?” We sincerely aimed at building happy, mature Christians by such liturgies and educational methods, but what we have produced is Catholics who subject Revealed Faith to relativist assessment, expect Mass to be akin to entertainment, and who lapse without informed and considered thought. No matter how much youth ministry is enjoyed in the immediate, it is the after-effects that count. 

Thursday 1 November 2012

The Liverpool Care Pathway and End of Life Issues

I have hesitated to comment on the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) since I am not medically qualified and because, as readers will know from a previous post, end of life issues are a rather emotive topic for our family at present. On the other hand, it is because of family circumstances that I take an interest in the LCP, so here goes...

Five concerns with the LCP have been identified by senior doctors. These are concerns I share but, since I am not a Doctor, I comment upon them with some hesitancy. Before doing so, I feel obliged to point out that there seem to be some common-sense benefits to use of the LCP: its aim of involving the family in end of life discussions; the withdrawal of oral medication (or medication that no longer benefits the patient), the cessation of vital signs recording (temperature, pulse, blood pressure) and making positional changes only to keep the patient comfortable rather than in a regimented fashion, can all contribute to the patients comfort and eliminate unnecessary distress. These however, are practices that were followed by all good Nurses and Doctors well before the LCP was (unnecessarily?) produced, and do not lessen the problems it seems to contain.

1. People have been put on the LCP without the knowledge or consent of their families.
Families ought to be consulted about the care being given to loved ones who are in the final stages of life, since families are involved from day one in caring for one another, and this ought not to be removed from the family as the end of life approaches. My own concern has always been that families are unaware of the effects of care given by Doctors and Nurses, and take their advice on board without questioning it simply because ‘Doctor knows best’. How many families are aware that sedation and increased analgesia can render the receiving of oral fluids difficult, and that if fluids are not then given by intravenous or subcutaneous routes, dehydration may result? How many will know that some analgesics depress breathing, which can cause pneumonia to set in? Thus, even when families are consulted they may still, unknowingly, agree to a comfortable hastening of death. Another possible problem is that some may knowingly consent to a pathway that hastens death because “we wouldn’t let a dog suffer that way”.

2. It is cruel to deny fluids to sentient beings.
Not only is this cruel, but if continued for some time it brings about dehydration, which causes death. I realise that the LCP is meant for use in the final hours where clinical dehydration is not likely, but I have seen terminally ill people, once they have been given ‘extra painkillers and anxiety relief’, quickly fall into a state of reduced responsiveness and then, for some days before they die, receive no fluids, only mouth care.

3. Doctors cannot accurately predict that someone will die within hours or days.
No one can say how long a patient will live or when someone will die. Indeed, an accurate prediction (“I think by the day after tomorrow”) would leave me wondering if the prediction was based on how much sedation and analgesia my loved one was being given, or how dehydrated they were.

4. When doctors withdraw all treatment and nourishment, believing their patients have only days left, the prediction becomes self-fulfilling. This is particularly worrying. Withdrawal of fluids and nutrition simply cannot be justified (fluids and nutrition are a basic human right and not ‘treatment’; we do not ‘treat’ our children when we sit them down for dinner). The withdrawal of fluids and nutrition is particularly disturbing if analgesia and sedatives are increased at the same time, since sedation may well have the effect of preventing a patient from expressing any distress caused by thirst or hunger. I see no circumstances when fluids become an unnecessary burden on the patient. Thirst, on the other hand, is an unnecessary burden.

5. When well over 100,000 are dying on the LCP each year, the suspicion inevitably arises that the pathway is being used to hasten death and free up beds.
I have to say that having spent many hours in care situations and had discussions with Doctors, I doubt very much that the LCP is being consciously used to free up beds.

I close by saying that, since I am not medically trained, my concerns may not be completely justified, but as one whose mother is likely to reach end of life care in the near future I have a right to express concerns which arise from what I have observed over several years and which are not, I think, without some justification.

Monday 29 October 2012

Christ our King

In our Extraordinary Form Mass yesterday morning we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. This is a Kingship that goes unrecognised by some governments and even by some Catholics. We seem happy to sing ‘Hail Redeemer, King Divine’ or the more contemporary ‘Majesty’, but I wonder how well this is translated into everyday life. Andrew spoke in the previous post about catholics with a small ‘c’; Catholics who have consciously rejected the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion, cohabitation, pre-marital sex  –in short, anything that is contrary to the secular culture in which we live and which secular ‘wisdom’ proposes as ‘good’.

Yet what is good is determined by God alone, and is summed up for us in the Ten Commandments which form the basis of the moral law. I suspect that too many folk view the Commandments as a set of rules God devised to test us, rather than –as I see them- a reflection of God’s nature by which He seeks to keep our character conformed to His. As individuals and as a society we ought to seek that conformity. Governments may well have the responsibility of making prudential judgements on practical matters such as how much tax is to be collected and by what methods; how education is to be organised; how healthcare is to be arranged, but they do not have the authority to decide the moral law. Unfortunately this seems to be how they are perceived today, both by governments themselves and by much of the public; both seem to equate making something legal with making something right and good. Abortion, contraception, same-gender unions etc, may all be granted legal status by a government, but are not thereby made good; they remain contrary to the law of God. Governments and individuals who reject God’s laws in these areas overstep their authority on the fallaciousness of today’s relativism: “Nothing is always right or wrong; true or false; what is true for you may not be true for me”.

There is an intrinsic contradiction in such relativism since it claims that “it’s true that nothing is true”. As such, relativism provides no foundation upon which to build a civilised society since it allows for everyone to determine one’s own morality, thereby removing from society any authority to promote right or prohibit wrongdoing. Even a democracy where the majority vote holds sway cannot be claimed as the arbiter of right and wrong, justice or injustice, for majority opinion can change and revert back again; it is unstable and as such, quite unable to be utilised as a means of determining right from wrong.

Politicians, courts and individuals who seek to make or hold contraception, abortion, same-gender unions, cohabitation etc legal, would do well to remember that there is a law-maker above us all, and to whom we must one day give an account. He who placed the laws of physics in creation also placed a moral law in the heart of man -both are ignored at our peril. The celebration of Christ the King should remind us all that we do not reign supreme; God does, and that those who exercise authority in the world -or in the Church- do so under Him. Their responsibility is certainly great, but it is just as certainly limited.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Catholic or Not?

All Christians are joined by Baptism to the Catholic Church, but not all who call themselves Catholics are Catholics, since not all of them accept and practice the Catholic Faith in its entirety.
The truth is that Christ established one Church which He founded on Peter, the rock (Matt.16:18); and it is to this Church alone that He gave the Sacraments. Baptism is one of those Sacraments and as such, all who are Baptised are baptised into the Church governed by Peter and his successors, there being one ontological change associated with baptism; one grace which fills us, and one Church into which we are incorporated, either formally as Catholics or informally as Protestants. The rite for the reception of a convert testifies to this in that it brings separated brethren into full communion; as long as the person was validly baptised with water and the Trinitarian formula no ‘second Baptism’ is given; they are recognised as having been in some, though imperfect, communion with Christ’s Catholic Church.  
This doesn’t mean we should be unconcerned about those not in full communion with Peter, for they are –though unaware of it– deprived of the fullness of grace and Truth which is found only in the Catholic Church (the Seven Sacraments, the infallible Magisterium, Sacred Tradition, a complete Bible, the spiritual writings of the saints).  Indeed we should long for those outside full communion to come home and be fully nourished, and should work for their return home. To borrow an analogy from a friend of mine, ‘which of us sitting down to beef and potatoes beside a poor man with tomatoes on toast wouldn’t offer to share our meal with him?  We wouldn’t dream of saying, “Well, I don’t feel too bad because at least you’ve got something to eat”’.
The point is that as baptised people we are in one of three states: we are either sincere Protestants who repudiate the authority of the Catholic Church per se; Catholics who trust the Church and submit to her teaching in both will and intellect, or catholics with a small ‘c’ who reject the Church’s authority and are therefore informally Protestant. It is not good enough for such catholics to say, “I consider myself Catholic but I respectfully disagree with the Church on some issues. I don’t believe contraception is intrinsically evil...that the Pope is infallible” etc. Such persons are protesting against the Church and her teaching, which is to protest against Christ, cf. Lk.10:16; they are rejecting two thousand years of teaching guided by the Holy Spirit (Jn.14:25-27). It is God with whom they have their disagreement, not an earthly institution.
Sadly this rejection is too often the case today.  How many of us know people who are nominally catholic, yet reject articles of the Faith or concrete moral teaching that they haven’t fully studied or understood, or which conflict with their lifestyle choices and personal desires? I find it disappointing to note how many Catholics I know who, when challenged on the Faith, say “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask a priest” or worse, “I’m not sure I believe it myself”, and yet have no hesitation in dogmatically declaring on their own authority that the Church is wrong on contraception, abortion, same-gender marriage etc –despite two thousand years of Church teaching on these issues under the formal guidance of the Holy Spirit. Any call to come home during the new evangelisation then, is and must be addressed first of all to catholics with a small ‘c’, and only then to our separated brethren.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Vatican II and the Synod on the New Evangelisation

It has been recalled on Rorate that the day after his election, in his Urbi et Orbi radio message, Pope John-Paul II said there were things which were “implicit” in the texts of Vatican II:  “those things which lie hidden in it or—as is usually said—are ‘implicit’ may become explicit in the light of the experiments made since then and the demands of changing circumstances.” This is an incredible statement, allowing for, as it does, an unending life for Vatican II. It also allows for a particular slant to be given to the words of Cardinal Daneels that Vatican II is actually the ‘Vatican III’ some have called for:

Occasionally here and there, the idea is put forward about the desirability or even the need for a Vatican III ... is not the full realisation of Vatican II the real Vatican III for right now?
Lecture, 18 October 2012, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark.

Is the Cardinal seeking to read “the implicit” in Vatican II, or is he seeking a full and faithful implementation of Vatican II in line with Tradition? I hope it is the latter. After all, if Vatican II can become Vatican III, it can also become Vatican IV, Vatican V, Vatican VI and so on until the world ends, so that no other Council is ever necessary. It is absurd that such a non-stop Council exist. I am of the opinion that it is now, more than ever that we need to return to the actual texts of Vatican II (and, if there are any, to the ‘implicit meanings’) and read them and only in the light of Tradition. Why? Because the texts must surely express the mind of the Fathers, and that mind must be in line with what the Church has always believed, otherwise the Faith has been ditched in order to create a new religion. I thus hope and pray then that the Synod for the New Evangelisation and the Holy Father require a faithful reading of the text itself.

But what about the words of John-Paul? Is this a Pope saying that there are indeed hidden messages in the text of a Council? Even if he is, we do well to remember that what is implicit in the texts must be consonant with what is explicit, otherwise the texts are in contradiction to themselves and thereby stripped of all value, for it is the devil that speaks with forked tongue, not the Holy Ghost. If Vatican II and the current Synod are to be a success, it will be necessary for the Synod and the Holy Father to require a totally faithful reading of the actual texts of Vatican II.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Joy or Hope for the Easter People during the Year of Faith?

The quote from St Augustine, “We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song” inspires us to be a people with a mission to spread the joy of The Faith. There is nothing wrong with this in principle; we ought not to be people who give way to sadness and despair even in the midst of great tragedy. But I wonder if there is not a problem in the way the phrase is sometimes handled.  It seems to me that a focus on joy (as commonly understood) rather than hope, produces problems, particularly since the word ‘Alleluia’ does not mean ‘joyful’ but ‘Praise God’; which is to say, at all times and in all circumstances trust and thank God.

The first problem is that it by-passes the fact that we preach an incarnate Christ who for our salvation “accepted death, even death on a cross” (Phil.2v8); it does not fully take account of the fact that “we preach a Crucified Christ; a scandal to the Jews and a folly to the gentiles” (1.Cor.1v23). In the second place, it all but by-passes the need to participate in the Cross by uniting our sufferings to those of Christ Crucified; to “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col.1v24). And, one might add, for the sake of the world.

Taking ‘Alleluia’ at its scripture meaning of ‘Praise God’, then whether we are experiencing the joys of life (an anticipation of the joy of heaven?) or the sorrows of life (sharing in the Cross which leads us to heaven) we should be able to say fiat voluntas tua: “Thy will be done” and thereby sing ‘Alleluia’ (give praise to God). Sadly, the Easter ‘Alleluia’, is, I think, sometimes mishandled. Inside the liturgy it produces a lex orandi by which we are treated to nice, jolly celebrations of the giftedness of the community; outside the liturgy, it seems to require an emotional rejoicing with a joyful exterior like some sort of Glee Club, which is not what the biblical word commands. Such a joyful disposition is certainly out of place at the bedside of a dying loved one, especially when the loved one is a child. In such circumstances the presentation of a Saviour who stands some miles down the road saying “cheer up! All will be well when you get here!” can be an irritation rather than a consolation. I remember during my time in secular employment (in the late 70’s and early 80’s) and among non-Christian family friends of that time, that Christians with a joyful disposition were dismissed as “not living in the real world but having their head in the clouds with angels playing harps” –presumably because they had devoured the opiate of the people, as Freud termed religion.

I wonder then if what is needed is not so much a disposition of joy but of hope. The world in which we live is indeed filled with the Light of Easter, but light casts shadows, and the shadow from which the Light of Easter cannot be separated in this world is the shadow of the Cross; a Cross which is our hope, but not necessarily our joy: Our Lady did not stand at the foot of the Cross with St John rejoicing and singing joy-filled psalms (which is how some want the Cross to be commemorated at Mass, making the Sacrifice secondary to the fact that it is being pleaded by the Risen Christ Who, never the less, stands in heaven as the Lamb slain cf. Rev.5v6).

When people are suffering through illness, harmful relationships, armed conflict, poverty, natural disaster et al, they ask “Where is God in all of this?” To say “He is waiting for you down the road” does not really speak of God’s incarnate love for us. It rather presents Him as distant; uninvolved, and I would not be surprised if presenting Him this way I was rebuked for dismissing the person’s suffering. To say “He is on the Cross with you and holds out hope to you” is, in my experience, less likely to irritate those who suffer. Explaining that situations in this world (as well as bodies at the end of the world) can experience resurrection, provides hope -and a joy which might include but which goes beyond the mere emotion of joy. I therefore expect I will be focusing in this Year of Faith in providing a catechesis that brings hope. “We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering brings patience; patience brings endurance, and endurance brings hope. And this hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom.5v3-5).

Monday 15 October 2012

God's Pharmacy

I was sent this in an email by a cousin of mine and I thought it was worth sharing...

God’s Pharmacy
It's been said that God first separated the salt water from the fresh, made dry land, planted a garden, made animals and fish....all before making a human. He made and provided what we need even before we were born. These are best and more powerful when eaten raw. We're such slow learners. God left us a great clue as to what foods help what part of our body! This is God's Pharmacy! Amazing!

1. A sliced Carrot resembles the human eye including the pupil, iris, and radiating lines. Science indicates that carrots help protect the vision, especially night vision.

2. A Tomato has up to four chambers and is commonly red. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and helps prevent heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer and more. Tomato juice can also reduce the tendency toward blood clotting.

3. Grapes hang in a cluster that resembles the shape of the heart. The stronger the color of the grape is, the higher the concentration of phytonutrients. Grapes prevent heart disease and reduce platelet clumping and harmful blood clots. 

4. Walnuts resemble the brain, mimicking the wrinkles and folds of the neocortex. Research suggests that walnuts may reduce the risk or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.  The high concentration of omega-3 fats in walnuts promotes healthy brain function.

5. Kidney Beans, true to their name are kidney shaped. They provide nutrients that are helpful to the human kidneys. Kidney beans contain molybdenum, which helps sulfite oxidase to form and is responsible for detoxifying sulfites. Animal research has shown that chronic renal failure has been associated with oxidative stress Sulfite-mediated oxidative stress in kidney cells.

6. Celery has a bone like appearance and is rich in silicon and Vitamin K, needed for healthy joints and bones.

7. Avocados were used by the Aztecs as a sex stimulant and the Aztec name for avocado was ahuacatl, meaning "testicle". An extract of avocado impedes the growth of both androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells.

8. Figs have a rich history and often been referred to as a sexual food, this is partly symbolic due to the appearance of the fruit. Figs are loaded with seeds and when halved, many note a resemblance to female genitalia. The Hindu name for fig is anjeer and research has shown that anjeer is helpful for sexual weakness. Figs have also been mentioned as a source helpful for male fertility and sperm motility. 

9. Oranges, Grapefruits and other Citrus fruits have been compared to the appearance of female mammary glands. These fruits contain nutrients that are helpful in the fight against breast cancer. 

10. Sliced Onions resemble skin cells and contain quercetin. Studies have shown when treated with a combination of quercetin and ultrasound at 20 kHz for 1-minute duration, skin and prostate cancers show a 90% mortality within 48 hours with no visible mortality of normal cells. 

11. Sweet Potatoes resemble the pancreas and have a low glycemic index count, which is beneficial for diabetics. 

12. Olives resemble ovaries and may help reduce hot flashes in women going through menopause. Research indicates that Olive Oil may reduce ovarian cancer by 30%. 

Thursday 11 October 2012

Vatican II and the Year of Faith

Today we begin celebrating the Year of Faith and the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope asks that we renew our faith in light of that Council and the Catechism which followed it, but I wonder if we don’t first need to promote a correct understanding of the Council before we can renew ourselves in its light because, sad to say, it remains a source of division.

Surely we are happy to support Vatican II when read in the light of all the other Councils (the hermeneutic of continuity) since, being of the One True God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13v8), it cannot contradict previous dogmatic teaching, only develop it; it can introduce new pastoral disciplines but not demand we unquestioningly accept those disciplines which are, after all, prudential judgments, not dogma.

Most sincere Catholics are likely wearied by folks on the extremes of the Vatican II debate; wearied by those who claim to support Vatican II yet will not live by its teachings and disciplines where those teachings and disciplines have a pre-1962 history, and wearied by those who reject it as inconsistent with pre-1962 teaching (if it were, would Archbishop Lefebvre have added his signature to its documents?).

What about a cursory, personal inventory of where we stand in regard to Vatican II; one understandable by the average Joe and the Prelate? I wonder if we could agree that:

That the Bishops rule the Church in union with the Pope: The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church.

That the Pope remains superior to the Bishops both individually and collectively: The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church.

These are not contradictory positions: one subjugates Episcopal Authority, which the Pope has in common with every other Bishop, to Papal Authority, which the Pope alone possesses.

That laity are properly called to act in the world, yet can voice an opinion on Church matters and undertake ecclesial tasks: An individual layman, who must take on the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation led by the Gospel and the mind of the Church… is, by reason of knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which he may enjoy, permitted and sometimes obliged to express his opinion on things which pertain to the good of the Church.

That the ecclesial tasks undertaken by the laity are supervised by the clergy: Whether laity offer themselves spontaneously or are invited to act and cooperate directly with the hierarchy, they do so under the higher direction of the hierarchy itself (AA20 and 24).  

These are not necessarily contradictory statements either, but a recognition that while the laity can engage in ecclesial-centered tasks, they do so under the direction of the hierarchy since the authentic (proper) role of the laity is the renewing of the secular world with the light of the Gospel.

That the ordained teach and rule the people of God, and that they alone can confect the Eucharist: the ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people.

That the faithful, who exercise their priesthood by reception of the sacraments, unite their self-offering to the Sacrifice offered by the ordained: The faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity (the exercise of the royal priesthood)

These statements are not contradictory. Since the priesthood of the ordained and of the laity differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the exercise of their priesthoods differ.

That non-Catholics can be saved: Some, even many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, yet...

That it is only the Catholic Church which saves: Non-Catholic communities suffer from defects, and although the Spirit of God has not refrained from using them as a means of salvation [they] derive their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

These are not contradictory statements but situate the effectiveness of non-Catholic religions in the context of the Catholic Church as the sole means of salvation established by Christ.

that the human person has a right to religious freedom; that this freedom means all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or social groups and any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his beliefs.

That all remain obliged to seek the Truth of the Catholic Church:  Religious freedom, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.

These determine that while man has a right to religious liberty he still has the duty to seek the Truth and the One True Church of Christ which subsists [originates and permanently exists] in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.

That we are to follow our conscience: It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law; he is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore, he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience nor prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.

That conscience must be formed in light of the Church’s authoritative teaching: It can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgements about acts to be performed or already committed; and that this ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a person takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin. Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and teaching, lack of conversion and charity can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

That the Pope’s teachings do not require ‘reception’ by the Church for validity: The Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, he confirms his brethren in their faith. His definitions are, of themselves and not from the consent of the Church, justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgement. Religious submission of intellect and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, and the judgments made by him sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.

That use of the vernacular is acceptable and useful: A suitable place may be allotted to the mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer”, but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of the Council’s Constitution.

That Latin is to remain in use even by the laity: Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. Wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of [the Council’s Constitution] should be observed. Gregorian chant, as specially suited to the Roman liturgy, and all other things being equal [one to another], should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

That the Missal, as promulgated in 1969 by His Holiness Pope Paul VI in order to give concrete expression to the liturgical decrees of the Council retains both the altar-facing position for the priest from the offertory onwards and the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, and therefore that these ought to be promoted in faithfulness to the Council, to the Missal, and to the memory and manifest intention of Pope Paul VI.

From the General Instruction:
Note No. 115 where the priest faces the people; No. 116 where he faces the altar, and No. 117 where Communion is obviously received on the tongue.

From the Rubrics of the Order of Mass
Note No. 133 where the priest faces the people and No. 134 where he turns back to facing the altar:

Have some of us wrong-footed ourselves in our walk with the Council?  It is my hope that the Year of Faith will help the whole Church to rediscover Vatican II in its continuity with Tradition. It was my hope the discussions between the SSPX and Rome would produce unity and a clarification of Vatican II's disputed and more difficult texts. Sadly that was not to be at the time.