Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Death & Resurrection of Confession

Bishop Cunningham has asked every parish in the Diocese to make Confession available on the Wednesday evenings of Lent during a one hour Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It was a most worthwhile event last week, with some of those who never attend our Sunday Rosary & Benediction spending some time in the Presence of the Lord. In one easy move, the importance of Confession and Eucharistic Adoration was proclaimed. But it has left me with a question: if all the parishes are having Exposition and Confessions during the six weeks of Lent, will we need any Reconciliation Services before Easter?  In fact, I wonder if we should provide them at all since they tend to diminish the sense of personal sin and the need for regular, individual Confession; people simply wait for Lent and Advent to confess. This, with the omission the topics of sin, Confession and the Four Last Things from our preaching, gives the impression that sin is rare and that ‘the pit’ does not exist, leaving the folk and the failing preacher all the more likely to fall into the pit. Have we forgotten that while Holy Mother Church is holy as a community because she indwelt by the Holy Ghost, that she is sinful in her individual members?

Further, too many folk have gained the impression that Confession once or twice a year is enough to keep them holy. I wonder about this, since progression in personal holiness cannot be obtained by fulfilment of the minimum and doing everything as a community. Without denying the reality of the Church as one body, the over-emphasis on community has, I think, damaged us spiritually. It can be remedied by restoring individual Confession to its rightful place.

Celebration of Mass has also fallen prey to an over-emphasis on community, being celebrated with gimmicks such as comedic homilies, drama, dance and the signing of ‘Happy Birthday’. I truly believe we need a return to Mass celebrated versus Deum from the Offertory onwards, and to solid catechesis on the Mass as our thanksgiving, propitiation and supplication of Almighty God, rather than celebration of the giftedness of the community. Additionally, there needs to be a reawakening of the intimate connection between the Eucharist and Confession, for while the Eucharist makes present the Sacrifice by which grace comes into the world, Confession applies that grace to our soul, making us worthy to receive the Eucharist.

All in all, I cannot help but hope there are no Reconciliation Services in Lent this year and that they tail off in the future, because the only way to restore the sense of sin and take seriously the call to holiness is for the individual to practice regular, well-prepared, personal Confession, thereby ensuring frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion.

Sunday 17 February 2013

God alone can judge me

“God alone can judge me” is apparently becoming popular as a tattoo. Although it is just a fashion thing, it neatly captures the attitude of today’s secularist society and is might well be adopted by secularist forces to disarm Catholics in their criticism of today’s alternative or aberrant lifestyle choices, such as homosexual activity (today's hot topic), co-habitation, contraception, abortion and euthanasia.

Sporting this tattoo does not mean the wearer is
following an alternative lifestyle; it can be a simple
statement of adherence to Gospel values; or a
statement that the wearer trusts themselves to a
‘higher power’, or an important reminder to us all
not to judge other people.

The tattoo is in fact, accurate: God alone judges persons. Yet it omits to add “and God has revealed the criteria by which I will be judged”. Remembering that God is the self-existing life-force of the universe from which all created life springs, acts which are uncooperative with His design for the transmission of created life (such as IVF and surrogacy) as well as acts which exclude the transmission of life (such as homosexual acts and artificial contraception) and acts which directly attack created life (such as abortion, euthanasia, violence) are intrinsically incongruent with God. Persons who knowingly, freely and deliberately engage in such acts thus put themselves in danger of forming their character in a way which is incongruent with God and Heaven. But it is for God to judge people, not others, and this is neatly summed up in the tattoo. 

It is not that God will send souls who have formed themslves into incongruence with Him to Hell. Indeed, “God wills that all men be saved” (1 Tim.2v4), but if one deliberately, knowingly and freely forms one’s character in a way that is incongruent with God and Heaven, His judgement can only ratify that incongruence. The Church points this out to souls for their eternal good; to give them reason for disavowing disordered, harmful instincts. I do then, wish the mass media would stop portraying the Catholic Church as judging and oppressing people: the Church does not judge people but acts, for the good of people.  Indeed, we recognise that homosexual persons; those who contracept and those who abort etc, can be loving and kindly in their personality, and that they can contribute greatly in their professional life to the good of society. It is simply that we want to save their souls for Heaven by advising them against acting-out disordered thinking and passions.

That word ‘disordered’ has offended many in relation to homosexual and contraceptive activity, but as has been pointed out by others, if homosexual acts and contraceptive acts are normal, that must mean heterosexual sex and sex which is open to life are abnormal. That is nonsense, because sex is by nature reproductive. With this in mind, the claim that homosexuality is ‘natural’ to someone is false. It may indeed be something the person perceives as embedded in their character, but in that it is not something natural to the human animal it is disordered, and ought not to be affirmed and ‘fed’ by anyone, be they sociologists, psychologists or Governments. Souls should be helped to seek after their higher instincts, not fall prey to their disordered impulses -they are worth more than that.

So while it is true to say “God alone can judge me”, we do have to keep in mind that He has made known the criteria by which He will judge: it is found written in the biological nature of man; in the scriptures and the teaching of His Church which speaks with His voice (“He who hears you, hears Me”, Luke 10v6). We ignore His criteria at our peril. The sooner Governments around the world return to adhering to what is written in nature and scripture the better -for their own salvation and the salvation of those they claim to be liberating.

It is useful to remind ourselves here that it is just as perilous to ignore God’s other criteria too: we must keep the Sabbath holy (attend Sunday Mass and avoid servile works); we must refuse to kill (by refusing to support violence, abortion, euthanasia); we must stay clear of stealing (which includes oppression of the poor by Governments failing to provide adequate housing, health care and education; employers failing to provide workers with a just wage) and avoid false witness (detraction, calumny, gossip and insult).

In speaking of insult I want to add what I advise many a person: if you are in a situation of gossip, try at least to say “Well, I can’t criticise because I have my own faults”. Better still, note a good quality you have seen in the person who is the object of the gossip. If you are in a discussion about life-style choices, listen to the argument of your opponent, then have your say without getting into criticising persons. Acts we may and must criticise, but without judging the person or making disparaging remarks about them –we must, after all,  do the truth in charity (Eph.4v15). 

Friday 15 February 2013

Lent; New Life & Pope Benedict

As we begin Lent we need to ensure we understand the season. Yes it’s a time for self-denial, but it’s more than simply giving things up as a six week period of penance: it is a time to ‘repent’; a time to change our ways; a time to be re-made in Christ. Our liturgical commemoration of His Passion, Death and Resurrection will be a merely ritualistic, external commemoration if it isn’t made real in our own lives; if we don’t die to self and rise from our sins to new life in Him. To die to self can indeed include giving up TV or chocolate, but it should also be about seeking -through prayer, penance and charity to others- an eradication of our sinful habits and attitudes by putting into place their opposite, virtuous habits under the grace and Lordship of Christ.

Thus, if laziness is our sin we need to spend lent building the habit of industriousness and diligence; if lack of prayer is our sin then we need to discipline ourselves to a set time of each day to bring to God our praise, our apologies for sin; our hopes and our needs; if gossip is our sin, we need to build the virtue of affirming the good in those who are the object of gossip (or at the very least, build the habit of holding our tongue while admitting that “I cannot criticise because I have my own faults”). Lent will be successful for us only if we end it as a new person, remade by the grace of God and our cooperation with that grace.

We will be celebrating Easter this year under a new Pope following the resignation of Pope Benedict on grounds of age and ill-health. Be aware that a Pope resigning or retiring is envisaged by the Church in Canon 332 §2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and that this is not the first time a Pope has resigned: Benedict IX resigned in 1045; Pope Celestine V resigned in 1294 after only a few months in office, and Pope Gregory resigned in 1425. 

It does leave a danger of course: it may mean a future Pope will be pressured into resigning by his opposition, and all Popes have had their opponents. We need now to pray for Pope Benedict; for the Cardinals who will elect his successor; for whoever is elected, and for the whole Church. I admit I am disappointed Pope Benedict will no longer hold the Petrine Office, but he has given his reasons -and may have reasons of which we are, as yet, unaware. In any case, who are we to judge? Surely if a Parish Priest or a Bishop can retire on grounds of ill-health or advanced age, why not a Pope? 

Monday 11 February 2013

Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

It is with sadness that I hear the news of the Pope resigning from the See of Peter to which God called him, partly because it may set a precedent for future Popes to resign under wrongful pressure. Yet I trust that The Holy Father has taken this decision for the good of the Church and that the Lord will lead us through this situation to a great and unexpected good. Let us pray for this holy man, and for the Church in this unprecedented situation (Pope Gregory XII resigned only to end the Great Western Schism).

We must hope that the strides Pope John Paul II made in clarifying doctrine via the Catechism (adroitly aided by the then Cardinal Ratzinger) and the strides Pope Benedict XVI made in liturgical renewal, will be solidified his successor.

We ask the intercession of Mary, Mother of God and of The Church;
of Saints Peter and Paul,
and the grace of Almighty God.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Liturgical Renewal – is it possible?

We are told a new handbook on how to celebrate Holy Mass will be published this summer. While Redemptionis Sacramentum was dead on arrival, I suspect the proposed handbook will be still-born. The only thing that can resuscitate our liturgy is clear positive legislation backed up by action.

We have spent fifty years ‘advising and encouraging’ clergy at all levels -from Cardinals down to associate pastors and deacons- to follow liturgical norms, but we have had very little success with such exhortations. Why? I think because if we were to follow even the norms that are in place now for the Missanormativa of Paul VI, we would have a very different kind of liturgy than we currently have in most parishes. Some questions we can ask ourselves about the liturgy in our own parish to see if we are following norms or not are the following. All of these questions should be responded to with a ‘Yes’ if we are following norms; a negative response means we are not following the norms (according to the General Instruction and Redemptionis Sacramentum).

Do we ever use Latin for the Ordinary of the Mass? (cf. RS #112; GIRM #41)
Do we retain use of the Communion Plate? (cf. RS #93)
Do we use Extraordinary Ministers only in exceptional circumstances? (cf. RS #151)
Does the celebrant stay within the sanctuary at the Sign of Peace? (cf. RS #72)
Do we omit the chalice if the greater proportion of the congregation does not receive from it? (cf. RS #102)
Do we allow/encourage Communion kneeling and on the tongue? (cf. RS #92)
Do we keep the Church and adjoining rooms quiet before and after Mass? (cf. GIRM #45)
Do we omit hymn singing to have an organ voluntary at the end of Mass? (cf. Celebrating the Mass, Bishops Conference of England & Wales, #225)

These may seem paltry things to some, but if they are so paltry, why refuse to follow them? It takes so little to put them into place, other than a sense of humility and obedience.

My personal reasons for taking liturgical norms seriously are two-fold. My first reason, in all honesty, is that I am not able to successfully subordinate my self-will to the will of God in all situations (i.e., I still sin), making liturgy the one area of my life where by the following norms I can subordinate myself with a measurable amount of success. Second (and this is a requirement of justice) because the people have a right to the liturgy with which the Church seeks to provide them. Justice is, after all, more widely applicable than just to issues of social poverty and/or oppression.

I return to a long-stated opinion here: if the Novus Ordo were celebrated exactly in accord with the Missal as provided by Pope Paul VI in 1970 in accord with liturgical continuity and the actual decrees of Vatican II, ie., altar-facing (rubric 133) with Latin (Sacrosactum concilium of Vatican II #54,116) and Communion on the tongue while kneeling (1970 GIRM 247) we would see significantly less hostility to the Church’s ancient form of Mass.