Thursday 30 January 2014

Dangers for Liberals and Traditionalists in our Spiritual Warfare

Pope Francis once ascribed a certain pelagianism to those who seek doctrinal and disciplinary safety with a desire to recover the past. Apart from the fact that the comment can be read as saying there is no doctrinal truth (relativism) and the past is not our foundation (rupture) it seemed to take a very unpastoral aim at the traditional Catholic. (Can anyone update me and let me know if he has also spoken of the dangers inherent in liberalism?)

We can admit that the danger of pelagianism exists in traditional Catholicism simply because the traditional Catholic, by taking the battle with sin and error seriously, may try so hard that he lives a life devoid of joy. In looking for clear truth and safe living in accord with the truth he may, for example, give up all TV instead of only those programmes which induce him to sin; he may give up all music that is not Christian; he may end friendships with those not living a Christian life rather than enjoying them as best he can while remaining a sign of God calling his friends to holiness. In short, he may see sin around every corner and become scrupulous in the attempt to avoid it. Traditionalists do better when they remember that “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt.5v48) does not mean “be a perfect reflection of God”, but “be perfectly human” (which does not mean ‘sinful’ since sin makes us less than human). All of us ought to enjoy life in all that is not sin, thereby enjoying all God has given us as a taste of the joys of heaven and witnessing to the joy of the Gospel.

On the other hand, progressive or liberal catholics are less likely to fall into an exaggerated battle with sin simply because they are liberal about what actually constitutes sin; they have lost the sense of sin, the mantra of “God loves you as you are” rarely being followed by “but He calls you on to holiness”. Liberals thus walk in greater spiritual danger than the traditional Catholic for they give free reign to Satan by advocating (or at least seeking to accommodate) grave sins such as artificial contraception, same-sex activity, irregular unions, euthanasia etc., for the sake of compassion and freedom. This is dangerous not only for the liberal who thus espouses himself to sin, but for society (which applauds him); for the Church (which is weakened by sin) and for the world (which is thereby derailed from God’s law). The spiritual danger faced by liberals is quite simply this: they espouse themselves to the culture of death and its instigator, the father of lies. Liberals need to remember and respond to Our Lord’s first public call: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt3v2).

While we all have everyday weaknesses to overcome (e.g. pride, laziness, impatience, gossiping, indiscretion, greed) the added danger of traditionalism is that it can make us dreadfully demanding of self and others, while the danger of  liberalism is that it allows folk to wallow in that destruction which is called sin. The traditionalist must avoid breaking the crushed reed (Matt.12v20) certainly, but the danger for liberals is far greater; they are spiritually blind to the wiles of the devil and the pit into which he seeks to lead us. If tradionalists must avoid breaking the crushed reed, liberals need to remember that by accommodating ‘alternative lifestyles and choice’ they walk a broad road, and as Our Lord warned us, it is the broad road that leads to perdition (Matt.7v13).

Post Script.

What is needed is that all of us to foster unity. For liberals this means a faithful adherence to the Church’s doctrinal tradition; for traditionalists a faithful adherence to her spiritual wisdom, and for all of us a faithful adherence to sound pastoral care in the light of doctrine and spiritual wisdom. Not to be forgotten is the need for all of us to foster charity in dealing one with another, that the love of God may be made manifest. 

Saturday 25 January 2014

Thoughts on why folk may be disappointed and pleased that the SSPX failed to sign an agreement with Rome...

Many people were disappointed that the SSPX failed to sign an agreement with Rome last year because it meant the Church remains divided and suggested Tradition has little or no place in the hearts of some who currently lead the Church –which is worrying since Tradition is the transmission of Divine Revelation which cannot be abandoned. The failure to sign an agreement is worrying also in that it can lead the SSPX to become hardened in their position, maybe even to becoming a separate ecclesial structure as happened with the Old Catholics after Vatican I.

On the other hand many were pleased that the SSPX did not sign an agreement since it leaves the Society as a thorn in the side of all those who downplay Tradition. The failure to sign also serves to remind us that if the Church did not change her Doctrine at Vatican II (and as She cannot have done) there is no reason why the TLM cannot be celebrated or pre-Conciliar catechisms used*, since these must be as consistent with Vatican II as they are with Vatican I, Trent, et al. To claim the TLM and pre-conciliar Catechisms are not compatible with Vatican II is to claim the Council abandoned the Faith as it has been handed on, in which case we would have to abandon the Council (Vatican II may have developed our doctrine, but development is consistent expansion, not contradiction.)

Given that the SSPX denies no revealed Truth and recognises the legitimacy of the post-Vatican II Popes, the Society could be given canonical recognition today. We may wonder what prevents this. Is it that Rome cannot permit the SSPX to see ambiguities in Vatican II texts? Cardinal Kasper has publicly admitted that such ambiguities exist. Is it that the Society sees the Council as having brought about a rupture of the Church from her past? Popes John-Paul II and Benedict XVI both acknowledged that the Church has suffered from a rupture since the Council.

I suspect (though I may be wrong) that at least to some degree the SSPX expected to have certain texts repudiated, while Rome simply expected to have rehashed Vatican II formulas deferentially accepted. If the SSPX and Rome could have demonstrated together how Vatican II ambiguities can (and must) be read in continuity with Tradition, with Rome issuing an authoritative document detailing that continuity, then all division might have come to an end. Such a document could ensure that Traditionalists assent to the fact that our doctrine remains intact, and that liberals read Vatican II in line with Tradition and not as a new beginning.

Since we are now 50 years on from Vatican II, any hope the Society had that Rome would repudiate the Council has gone, especially since it has been accepted by five successive Popes and the by all the world’s bishops over that 50-year period. The only hope now is to have Rome present the Council in a hermeneutic of continuity with Tradition and abandon any activities inconsistent with that Tradition. Such a goal is possible; repudiation of the Council is not. Nor however, is continual marginalising of the SSPX: they retain valid Orders, hold to all dogmatic truths and recognise the legitimacy of the post-Vatican II Popes. Their “sin” is simply that they do not accept the rupture that occurred with Vatican II. The question is, do we accept that rupture? Have we become desensitised to ambiguity and its offspring -error? Vatican II can be read in continuity with Tradition; we must insist that it is. We are blessed with eternal, objective Truth -Jesus Christ- and a doctrine which is always and everywhere valid for man’s salvation. As such our dialogue with others must be a presentation of that Truth; we cannot afford to diminish it by implying there are truths outside the Church that we do not possess: we possess “the fullness of grace and truth”, said Vatican II; not a portion of it.
*Use of the TLM and “Penny” / “Baltimore” Catechisms cannot harm our relationship with other faith communities since Vatican II affirmed the Catholic Church as the one True Faith, stating that other faiths “derive their efficacy [to save] from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church”; which it described as “the one Body of Christ on earth” into which “all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God”. Dignitatis Humanae simply sought to establish good relationships with those of other faiths from respect for them as persons of good will, with Religious do with immunity from coercion in civil society”, which “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ”. Yes we seek dialogue today, but dialogue should be cordial discourse in which non-Catholics speak honestly about all they believe and why, with Catholics doing the same. Truth will win out; it cannot if we simply talk about that upon which we agree and ignore the rest. Truth that is not acknowledged is truth that is hidden –the desire and goal of the father of lies.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Those loyal to Vatican al

Those who celebrate the TLM and speak up for Tradition are frequently accused of being disloyal to Vatican II. The accusers are surely sincere in their belief, but they are decidedly wrong; many people who consider themselves Traditional -myself included- converted and were instructed in Catholic Doctrine as it was understood post-Vatican II; we entered seminaries forming priests in the same post-Vatican II doctrine. How then (or why?) would we be seen as disloyal -or worse, subversive? There are probably three reasons for this. First, we are not afraid of the Church’s liturgical patrimony (the Traditional Form of Holy Mass) but rather honour and revere it; second, we question any reading of Vatican II which puts it into discontinuity with our doctrinal, pastoral and liturgical past; and third, because we read the Council in continuity with the Church’s past –the only legitimate way to read any Council- and interpret ambiguities in the text according to the Tradition we have received.

What is disturbing is not that Traditional folk can be described as disloyal, but the platform from which our detractors make their accusations, because it is a platform which insists that there is a spirit of Vatican II that exists outside of the Council’s texts. The implication of this is clear: that the Council Fathers said one thing but meant another. I for one am not prepared to ascribe such a duplicitous spirit to them, and I am disturbed that purveyors of the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” -even if they are genuine in their efforts to give new life to the Church- can do so.

I am, however, prepared to say that a minority of the Bishops or their theological advisors acted in a duplicitous manner (Edward Shillebeekx is said to have acknowledged this in De Bauzuin, No. 16, 1965). In any case the ambiguities must be admitted; there is no other way of accounting for the divisions that erupted in the Church after the Council. Indeed, if there were no ambiguities in the texts liberals could not claim loyalty to the Council and yet propose that which is contrary to the received Tradition.

Liberals are content to ignore the Tradition so as to promote the ambiguities, but I cannot. I cannot, for example, read Unitatis Redintegratio saying Catholic means of salvation exist outside the Church and can give access to salvation to non-Catholics, without also recalling that the document also states that such means “belong by right to the Catholic Church”; that non-Catholic communities “derive their efficacy [to save] from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church”, and that Our Lord “established one Body of Christ on earth [headed by Peter] to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.” There is no reneging on the missionary impetus of the Church there. Nor can I read Dignitatis Humanae without noting that religious freedom, while deemed necessary to fulfil ones duty toward God, “has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society” and thus “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ”; that in fact “all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.” There is no spiritual right to follow error there; rather a call to seek the truth.

The ambiguities of the Conciliar texts are to be regretted in that they permit the Council to be read in discontinuity with our past by those who seek a new doctrinal, pastoral and liturgical beginning, thus providing for conflict and division within the Church. As Cardinal Kasper stated (L'Osservatore Romano, April 12, 2013):

“In many places (the Council) had to find compromise formulas in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open[ing] the door to a selective reception in either direction.” (emphasis added. GD)

The texts of the documents having been described as ambiguous so many times by so many voices, good Bishop Schneider proposed we formulate a kind of Syllabus of Errors regarding the teaching of the Council. I would support that call, and if it came to fruition, be more than happy to see him delegated by the Holy See to draw up such a Syllabus. We might also establish an oath to be attached to the Creed for recitation by those taking up a public role in the Church such as teacher, theologian, Priest, Bishop etc. (Hmm, that idea does not seem has a rather familiar ring...)

Monday 20 January 2014

Labels of Liberal, Conservative and Traditional; Laity, Prelates and Popes (updated)

On more than one occasion in seminary I was described by fellow seminarians as “ultramontane”. I received the label as willingly then as I do today -and just as easily as I accept being labelled a sinner, since I can say hand on heart with St Paul that “I do not do the good which I will, but the evil which I hate.” (Rom.7:15). I also accept the label Traditionalist, but not the label of Conservative or Liberal (no one would apply the latter to me anyway, I suspect), and while I regret the fact that we engage in the use of labels today, the reality is that we do have Catholics in our pews whose beliefs are diametrically opposed and clergy in our sanctuaries whose teachings are diametrically opposed. They are not usually opposed to one another in their underlying charity and mutual respect (though heated words can stray from charity), but in their understanding and values as Liberal, Conservative and Traditional Catholics. That said, what follows is simply my opinion.

A Liberal is one who seeks to change Church teaching or pastoral practice in order to accommodate the changing values of the world, such as artificial contraception, cohabitation and homosexual pairings. In reality they exchange the teaching of Christ for the theories of Rogers, Freud, Marx etc. Such a person has fallen into moral heresy, abandoning Gospel morality as taught for 2000 years under the guidance the Holy Spirit.

A Conservative is one who is loyal to Rome no matter what. Be they laity or prelates, they are blind ultramontanes; those who change their teaching and pastoral practice because Rome has said so –and without asking whether Rome was entitled to make the change. This form of ultramontanism is most dangerous because it appears loyal, but it is erroneous in that it is loyal only to the Pope of the day and not to the whole history of papal and Conciliar teaching.

A Traditionalist is one who is loyal to the Pope of the day as long as that Pope’s teaching is consistent with that of previous Popes and Councils. There can never be a ‘good Pope’ who changes doctrine or allows doctrine to be sidestepped for pastoral concerns, since doctrinal change is renunciation of previous teaching and a pastoral sidestep creates a lex vivendi which gives impetus to a change in the lex credendi. A Pope who changes doctrine or sidesteps it in practice cannot be a safe, good or loyal Pope, because his task is simply to defend and promote the Deposit of Faith. He may develop it in application to new situations, but he cannot distort it or discard it in order to accommodate new situations.

Doctrinal change and/or pastoral sidestepping are what liberals expect of Pope Francis, and at the end of the day I cannot see him obliging them. Certainly some of his off-the-cuff remarks have given a hope to liberals and in that sense they are to be regretted, but unless he has the arrogance of assuming that for two thousand years the Church has been wrong; that he alone has correctly perceived the mind and will of God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13:8) and in whom “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas.1:17), Francis simply cannot oblige liberal desires.

Moreover, it is only 23 years since the Bishops worldwide and their theological experts were consulted for the production of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (in a process overseen and presided over by one of the Experts at the Council, Joseph Ratzinger); a Catechism promulgated to provide a sure norm of faith in the light of Vatican II by a bishop of the Council (Karol Wojtila: Pope John Paul II). If these two participants at Vatican II –and two of the greatest thinkers of our time- did not know what the Council was saying, who did? Is Francis really expected to abandon such authentic teaching?

In expecting him to so oblige, liberals actually ascribe to Francis a devilish arrogance; one that does the work of the father of lies by abandoning long-held teaching and practice. It is understandable that non-Catholics expect Francis to change Church teaching since they have no concept of a Sacred Deposit guarded by a Magisterium; they live in a world of change and democracy, both of which are inconsistent with the practice of Catholicism (God does not change and the Church is not a democracy), but Catholics of any description should know better. Liberals who expect Francis to make such changes thus do him no favours. Rather, they typify those who “will not endure sound doctrine but having itching ears, heap to themselves teachers in accordance with their own lusts.” (2 Tim.4:3).
*Ultramontane: one who places maximum importance on the authority of the Pope. This label is often applied erroneously, since the sound Catholic is always ultramontane: one who gives maximum importance to the authority of the Pope without diminishing the importance of other factors (Councils etc) though these are always subjugated to the supreme authority of the Pope as affirmed by Vatican II.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

A Story of First Holy Communions

We used to have wonderful First Holy Communion days. In my mum’s time, when Mass was celebrated in a mysterious language and with solemnity, whole classes of 25 children received their First Holy Communion, and about 95% of them were at Mass the following Sunday and beyond. Then came the 1970’s, when we were able to join in the responses and sing jolly hymns. Whole classes still received their First Holy Communion, and half of them were at Mass the following Sunday and beyond. Then came the 1990’s; whole classes still received their First Holy Communion, but only three or four were at Mass the following Sunday and beyond. To make the children feel special and valuable we were doing little and interpretative ‘dances’ or mimes on the Sanctuary after Communion (to enthusiastic applause); we were standing around the altar with Father for the Eucharistic Prayer, and deemed holy and special enough to receive the Lord in our hand while standing before Him. What a contrast to the level of practice in the days when Mass was celebrated in a mystical language; when we knelt before Lord to honour Him, and were overawed by the fact that He was coming into our mouths and our hearts through the consecrated hands of his priest.

We were pleased when a former Bishop of our Diocese moved preparation for Holy Communion out of the schools and into the parishes. When a new priest arrived we took the opportunity to set up a programme by which parents asked for an Application Form for First Communion after Sunday Mass. (In this Form, while providing as a small section on core aspects of the Faith, we gained the family and child details, and discovery of who was going to bring the child to Mass on Sundays, teach them to pray and live the Christian life). The children met with us weekly to work through a Preparation Book, during which time we taught them to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling, explaining that reception on the hand is allowed by permission from Rome but isn’t the rule; that they may receive Our Lord that way afterwards though we recommend the practice of the centuries.

Then preparation was moved back to the schools, with parish involvement reduced to one meeting a month with a monthly liturgy attached to Sunday Mass.  Last year was the first time this took place, and though a several parents took application Forms, none were returned and no children brought for preparation. When parishioners began asking the date of First Holy Communions, Father placed a notice in the Bulletin saying we had no applicants. It was then the school told us we did indeed have First Communicants, but that they had chosen to go to another parish. Though we were saddened not to have been informed by the other parish and receive no enquiries as to the baptism of the children, we naturally congratulated the children in the Bulletin on the weekend of their First Holy Communion. One of them comes to Mass regularly; we hope the others are going elsewhere.

What is the point of this post? To lament the failure in First Communion Preparation; the huge drop in practice since the introduction of child-centred liturgy; and the loss both in the mystery of the Mass and the ritual honour given to the Lord. How can we expect the children to value Mass as the Mystery of Faith and Heaven on earth if we remove the mystery? How can we expect the children to honour the sovereignty of God if we stand before Him as equals, receiving Him as we might receive a gold coin? Indeed we want children to know they are loved and valued by God; to rejoice that He wants to be intimately united to them in Holy Communion. Perhaps to present the Mystery of the Mass with some use of the sacred language, and to declare the superior dignity of the Lord by receiving Him kneeling will help the children to gain that experience of being love by God and rejoice at the desire of the all-holy God to be united to them. We cannot deny that today’s methods and liturgies are failing them, since practice falls year after year. 

Monday 13 January 2014

What The Synod On The Family Is called To Do

I want to take up something I said in response to David’s comment on the previous post; that is, that the Synod participants must defend the natural law and not merely the terminology we use to give it expression.

During the run-up to the Government introducing same-sex “marriage” there were prelates who, probably to avoid being seen as judgemental and homophobic, and in order to present as giving compassion and legal protection to all, seemed happy to subscribe to the legal recognition of same-sex pairings as long as the Government did not call them marriage. Yet same-sex pairings, sexual acts closed to life by artificial contraception, cohabitation and serial ‘marriage’ are all contrary to the natural law, and our prelates must be clear in defending this.

It seems to me that if the Synod is going to be successful and bring the Gospel to bear on today’s subjective, relativistic world, then it must, as well as showing understanding of human difficulties, unreservedly teach that any sexual activity outside of marriage (marriage being the exclusive, life-long union of one man and one woman wherein sexual activity is open to new life) is contrary to the law of God and to the good of society. It is too easy to be hoodwinked by the social gurus of today and malformed by the non-judgemental culture to the point where one without meaning to, betrays the Gospel.

The Synod must find ways of helping Bishops around the world to proclaim the Truth and to operate according to it within their Diocese. Certainly we must find a language that the world is able to understand, and provide for those in improper situations to recognise God’s love for them and respond to that love so that these situations be left behind. The Synod thus has a very tough task. It’s participants are under huge psychological and social pressure from the ideologies of the world to adapt (discard) the teaching of the Gospel in the name of inclusion and human rights; as such the participants desperately need our prayers and sacrifices so that they may work with the wisdom that sits by God’s throne (Wis.9v4) and confound the ideologies of the world, remaining faithful to the Gospel and compassionate in its proclamation.

Let us pray that the Synod finds the right words to defend and promote the natural law, and avoid the trap of simply defending the terminology we use to give expression to the natural law. The terminology and the reality must be defended and promoted. With our prayers and the assistance of the Holy Ghost, the Synod can be successful; it can bring the Church to turn an important corner back to orthodoxy and orthopraxis where it has been lost to relativism, and show understanding and support of those whose lives have not panned out as they planed.

Most Holy Trinity, from whom our families take their origin and meaning,
bless and guide the up-coming synod on the family.
Open minds and hearts to the place of marriage and family
in Your plan for our salvation.
Help Your holy Church and the world in which She lives
to rediscover the unique place, the profound wonder 
and the great sanctity of marriage,
and to find grace-filled solutions to the breakdown of marriages and family life.
May Your Truth and the wonder of marriage, upheld by the holy synod,
provide a map of life for us in the Apostolic Exhortation it generates.
Seeking the intercession and Our Blessed Lady and of St Joseph, 
of St Peter and St Paul,
of St Michael the Archangel and of all the angels and saints,
we make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday 10 January 2014

Synod on the Family: The Church and Marriage

Marriage questions are a major difficulty in today’s pastoral work, since today’s society takes marriage to mean anything but what was intended by the Good Lord. Thus, any kind of romantic association is open to being labelled ‘marriage’. The nearest we get to true marriage is where you make a life-long vow to as many folk of the opposite gender as you want, but in serial fashion. Though we hear about boundaries in most areas of life, society and its gurus (therapy theorists and sociologists?) seem unable to recognise boundaries in terms of family constitution: anything is OK as long as those who call themselves family are happy, the male/female union being seen as a ‘social construct’, ignoring the biological and psychological reality of the male/female union.

Surely common sense tells us that if we want our offspring to grow up stable and secure they need the stable and secure environment of a stable, secure relationship between mother and father? Serial partnerships and serial ‘marriages’ are unstable environments, and chaos has ensued since the introduction of easy divorces -though the problem may actually be ‘easy marriages’; marriages entered too quickly and for the wrong reasons, or mistaking of romantic excitement for love.

In that many marriages today are probably entered without full understanding of -and agreement with- the essential qualities of marriage, it is possible that many marriages are celebrated invalidly. One couple told me that they were marrying for life then one of them, when signing the prenuptial form, admitted that if it didn’t work out s/he would be getting a divorce; another couple said “Oh yes, we want children, but only two; definitely no more than that.” Folk have a natural right to marry but I am in a quandary about providing the marriage ceremony for those who express such sentiments. One can defer the ceremony and arrange further instruction, but when they return saying they understand and agree you cannot be sure they do. And you will be justified in your impression when they have expressed full-hearted agreement with the need for Mass and the sacraments but are never seen again after the wedding. Then comes the Baptism of the children; “We will bring them up in the practice of the Faith” often means “by sending them to a Catholic school, but not by practicing it ourselves”.

The up-coming Synod is vitally important; while Synods and the Apostolic Exhortations which follow them do not carry the weight of infallibility they do carry authority, and we rely on their direction. I pray then, that the up-coming Synod on The Family does something to help priests promulgate the Gospel in a pastoral yet faithful manner, without manufacturing false paths that ditch the Gospel so as to accommodate same-sex pairings, serial spouses and cohabitees. If the Synod seeks such paths it will be a damaging synod; one which gives folk the impression that they can knowingly live contrary to the Lord’s Gospel and yet remain pleasing to the Lord. It is a negligent physician who simply prescribes for symptom control and not the eradication of the disease; it will please the patient, but it won’t save his life. Pastors need to recognise that by seeking ways of accommodating what the Church has always considered sin we put souls into the path of spiritual death.

Sadness at the situation of folk who have fallen into choices contrary to the Church’s constant teaching -and the desire to support them- is understandable, but to react by seeking ways of by-passing perennial teaching is not a Gospel-lead reaction. In that our prelates have been formed in the 1960’s-1980’s when Vatican II was promoted by as “all change” and person-centred counselling replaced spiritual direction, we must hope and pray that solid prelates have a sound influence over the Synod so that it is indeed a Gospel-led event. This can only come about if we seek the intervention of heaven now. If we fail, and the Synod Fathers try to accommodate the new morality of the world so as to be ‘merciful’ (but in fact become harmful to souls by accommodating worldly ideas rather than upholding Gospel values) it might pressure or facilitate Francis saying that such new ‘morality’ can be tolerated since the episcopate believes it necessary. We can never be sure in any age that there is a conviction in the Episcopal college that its duty is to protect, defend and declare the Deposit of Faith, not discard it. For many folk the only deposit is “do not judge” -which they wrongly apply to circumstances/choices, rather than to persons.We need ways of educating the person in the pew and the child in the school; of confronting society and of holding out the hand of pastoral care to those in non-Gospel situations. It is certainly a tall order.

We must then seek the intercession of Our Lady and St Joseph that the Synod will bring to the mind and soul of the entire Church and of society a renewed appreciation of marriage and family life in God’s plan, and a new appreciation of the dangerous reality of sin, that the Synod will direct pastors to care for families in ways that accord with the Gospel of the Lord. 

Monday 6 January 2014

A Disturbing Image of Pope Francis and the Church

An earlier post on Francis brought in some comments which might charitably be termed “less than charitable”, though the post simply re-iterated what Pope Francis had criticised in himself. In this post I am sharing a comment on Francis by an Italian journalist. If commentators cannot make charitable and helpful comments but can only remain at the level of personal attack, perhaps they might take time to pray and ask God to grant them the virtues they see in Francis, that they might demonstrate the so-called ‘Francis-effect’ to be a positive one. At present the “Francis effect” appears to be a destructive force; clerical supporters of Francis [appearing so far] to be oppressive of Catholics (the FI) who are simply faithful to the Tradition we have received; and lay supporters producing venomous blog comments in Francis’ defence. Neither his clerical or lay supporters are exemplifying the virtues they praise in him; nor are they demonstrating a positive “Francis-effect”. In this, they are seriously failing the Pope. And so to the post...

Earlier today I posted about Pastoral sensitivity. Having returned from visiting the housebound and posted comments, I have read an article on Rorate Caeli which has greatly disturbed me, bringing me to have concerns for the Church and for Pope Francis.  The article brings me to consider that Francis is losing the respect of serious journalists who have so far been very positive about him. Socci’s words should make us –and Francis- shudder, since the Roman Curia under Francis seems to be paving the way for Francis and the Church to be seen as anything but pastoral. Speaking of the current situation with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FI), Socci says,

“...the founder, Father Stefano Manelli, has been forced into isolation (his friars cannot write to him, nor telephone him, nor go and visit him, not speak with him in any way); all of the friars who had roles of responsibility were exiled to remote places, sometimes abroad; the lay movements linked to the Congregation have been put into hibernation; the seminary has been closed and ordinations for deacons and priests suspended.

“The commissioner was unable to take hold of the magazines published by the Order because they belong to lay people, so he forbade the religious of the Congregation to collaborate with them. In substance, an iron fist was used.

“No-one can believe that the Pontiff of tenderness wanted or authorized such a thing. The contradiction between his teaching (“love and kindness, not beatings) and the concrete practice, which brings to mind the ghosts of the Inquisition, would be too great.


“There are those who sustain that this is a sort of oblique vendetta against Benedict XVI for the “Motu Proprio” which liberalized the Traditional Mass. It provoked strong reactions and opposition in the Curia and among bishops.

“Whereas the “Franciscans of the Immaculate” faithfully carried out the “Motu proprio” because they wanted to be in communion with the Pope. Is this then their wrongdoing?

“I believe that their destruction will damage the present Pope greatly. As it annihilates a precious charisma for the Church and it will bring grist to the mill of the “Lefebvrians” who have attacked Bergoglio publically. Now the “Lefebvrians” can say: “See, in Francis’ Church there is room for everyone, except for Catholics.”

“Having always defended the Pontiff from these attacks, I hope that by being informed of the facts, he will bring an end to this incredible persecution as soon as possible and re-establish truth and justice.”

Reading what Socci says I hope and pray that pastoral sensitivity (and redress?) will surface in regard to the FI, whose treatment by Roman authorities is beginning to give off a very unpleasant odour in the press. Of course we do not yet know what infractions of the FI necessitated the “iron fist” response, and we may yet find the measures taken have been fair (though reports suggest this is highly unlikely), but the infractions would have to be very major indeed to warrant what many see as an extreme and harsh response by Rome that falls little short of attack. Not only does any disorder in the FI or in Fr Volpi’s handling of the situation have to be cleared away, but the air must be cleaned too -by full disclosure of what went wrong in the FI, and why Fr Volpi was allowed to take the heavy actions he took. Wherever justice is found to lie, penance will have to be done by one side or the other eventually. Either way, if Francis’ personal reputation is to be saved from the damage Socci fears, such full disclosure is all-but a must, and not only to ensure the good name of the Pope but the well-being of the Church.

Rorate's original source here.

Pastsoral Sensitivity is Endangering Souls

There are many difficulties facing families and individuals today, with many impacts upon children. Many rank and file clergy and laity, including our schools via the National Curriculum, have become politically correct and ‘pastorally sensitive’ But what does it mean to be pastorally sensitive? Certainly we don’t want to tell children of single-parent, cohabiting, re-married divorcees and homosexual households are condemned, but we need to find a pastorally sensitive way of helping children to value and promote family life as given by the Gospel and which we have a duty to proclaim.

‘Pastoral sensitivity’ is rightly a primary consideration in all areas of Church life and from all levels of the Church’s structure; without it there is only hardness of heart, which does not reflect the charity of God. However, what we have today seems to be a wicked distortion of true pastoral sensitivity, for even to say the Gospel prohibits acts such as contraception, cohabitation, IVF, homosexual activity etc, makes one liable to being labelled unpastoral. But such a label is based on an erroneous understanding of the Lord’s exhortation, “Do not judge” (Lk.6:37).

It seems to me that on the basis of “Do not judge” some Catholics refuse to censure the immoral acts the Church has always censured; refusing to censure contraception, cohabitation, homosexual activity etc. But they thereby betray souls by leaving them in the grip of evil practices (evil being absence of a good that ought to be present).

Our Lord’s exhortation that we not judge certainly refuses us permission to judge persons, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned...” (Lk 6:37) and St Paul underlines this: “who are you to give a verdict on your neighbour?' (Rom 14:4). But refusal of permission to judge persons does not remove from us the responsibility of judging actions and situations: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (Jn. 7:24) or as St Paul puts it, “Test all things... Abstain from every form of evil” (1.Thess. 5:21-22)

It is disturbing to see Catholics -from the highest ranking prelates to the most humble of the laity- misreading “Do not judge” to the point where they give support to immoral acts which endanger souls. The support they give (either actively by promoting them or passively by refusing to condemn them) is to side with the father of lies who has used the philosophies of this world to blind them to the Truth (Christ). It seems that with many folk the Gospel is lost under the theories of such men as Freud, Jung, Rogers, Kinsey etc. Those clergy who adhere to such theories are not hard to equate with “rivals of Christ who came out of our own number but had never really belonged” (1.Jn. 2; 19); “who will not listen to sound doctrine but will follow their own desires and collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear.” (1.Tim.4:2). The world may justify immoral activities under the guise of “equality and justice for all”, but deluded Catholics are following the world by refusing to condemn under the title of “Do not judge”. Now the Church is by her nature at odds with the world: “If the world hates you, remember it hated me before you...My choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn.15:18,19), so to be in agreement with the world is to disagree with Christ, and Catholics who refuse to fight against the world are being deceived into working for the devil, the prince of this world: “Now is the judgement of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (Jn.12v31). The devil’s (unwitting?) disciples are well-accepted by the world since “what they say is from the world, the world listens to them” (1 Jn.4:5).

Let us be clear: there is everything wrong with denouncing persons, but there is nothing wrong and everything right in the denunciation of acts. How then, do we make a pastorally sensitive response to those who are using contraception, who have had an abortion, co-habit or are actively homosexual? It is necessary to distinguish pastoral sensitivity from pastoral sentimentality: pastoral sentimentality is a feelings-centred approach which refuses to apply the Church’s teaching if it is going to bring emotional or social pain to the person or persons involved; pastoral sensitivity applies the Church’s teaching in a caring, understanding yet formative way so that the person or persons come to understand why the Church cannot approve of their actions but know they are valued as persons, for which reason we should be encouraging them to continue in the life of prayer, charity, and reception of the sacraments so as to be sustained in the struggle -and even the pain- of living the moral life. With children in schools it is a case of teaching what is true but letting them know that the Church realises it isn't always easy to live by the Gospel; that some people feel unable to live by it, and that the Church always tells such people to continue praying, living charitably and to coming to Mass so as to obtain God’s grace for change, since we know that God is merciful, never gives up on any of us, and can always heal our hearts.

Sunday 5 January 2014

The Epiphany

We were discussing the significance of today’s Solemnity at our coffee morning this morning while celebrating the fact that this is the day when the God-man was revealed to us, the gentile nations...

We noted that in many places this is the day when Christmas gifts are exchanged, recalling not only the gifts of the Magi, but the greater gift of the Incarnate Son of God bringing us the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins.

We agreed that although we hear it every year, it is true that the Magi’s gifts are teaching aids for us, symbolising as they do Christ’s Person and His Mission: the gold symbolising His Kingship; the frankincense His Divinity, and the myrrh His death. We realised though, that we are not called to give any of these to God today, though the parish needs our gifts of gold (money) so that we can pay for our heating, lighting, Insurance, Council Tax, building repairs, office supplies -and our pastor’s allowance!) What God seeks from us is our hearts; our lives given over to Him in loving obedience.

Father Dickson had reminded us this evening that at every Mass we attend we get an ‘epiphany moment’; primarily in the Consecration when God reveals His Presence to us by His words and actions in the person of His priest. There is also, however, the Offertory Procession; that movement in the Mass when we hand over our lives to God with the gifts of bread and wine. It seems to us that this procession was not returned to the Rite of Mass simply to get the congregation actively doing something; rather, but to symbolise our self-offering. After all, none of the actions we perform at Mass are empty ritual; they all have a meaning, and it would a sad loss to miss out on the liturgical opportunity to offer our lives at the Offertory.

We were clear that we should be full of thanksgiving to God for His Incarnation; for His self-revelation to the gentiles and for His saving Mission, offering ourselves to Him who gave Himself for us, that we might find in Him eternal life, light, happiness and peace. 

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Christmas and The Liturgy

All parishes will have taken their Christmas liturgy seriously and prepared it well. It struck me that of all the parishes I have been in over the years, that Christmas and Easter Liturgies are always well planned and practiced but that this is not the same for the week-to-week Sunday liturgies where, generally speaking (readings and Proper being excepted) only what is being sung is changed.

Liturgy, we were told, should be “Incarnational” since it is God coming down to earth to be intimately united to men. On the basis of “Incarnational liturgy” I know several priests who distribute Holy Communion from outside the sanctuary. This is not given in the rubrics and, since it is illicit for the celebrant to leave the sanctuary during the sign of peace (Redemptionis Sacramentum#72) should probably be regarded as illicit -especially since the General Instruction (#295) states that “the sanctuary is the place....where the priest, deacon and other ministers exercise their offices”. Yet “Incarnational liturgy” still seems to rule. Huge outdoor Masses have created a problem here (as they have for concelebrating priests who are often so far away from the altar that to say “This [here] is my Body” makes little sense; the best they can say is “That [over there] is My Body”).

I suggest that the idea of “Incarnational liturgy” predisposes to liturgical error, since while the Incarnation is God’s initiative it was not the final end (goal) of God. Rather the Incarnation -though beyond comprehension and of supreme wonder- has as its goal the raising of man up to God and to heaven. Liturgy must reflect this transcendent goal, and not take the Incarnation as its stopping point. As Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us, the Church is “present in this world and yet not at home in it” (SC#2); that in Her liturgy the Church’s members “take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where...we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army” (SC#8). The question is how to achieve the sense of transcendence in the liturgy.

A solid ars celebrandi reverence and care in speech, movement and ritual acts- is one part of the answer. But we must look to Sacrosantcum Concilium too, for it is not by use of hymns (which are music added to the Liturgy of the Mass) that this can be achieved; rather, it is by singing the Mass texts themselves: the Introit; Gloria, Kyrie, Credo, Offertorium, Sanctus, Mysterium Fidei, Pater Noster, Angnus Dei and Communion antiphon, as well as the dialogues (such as the Preface). Vatican II had something to say about this, as did the Congregation for Divine Worship very soon after the Council in Musicam Sacram (1967).

The Council decreed that, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song [read music?] united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” (SC#112) -note that the tradition of the Church to which the Council is referring can only be Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony, its only musical heritage. Indeed, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC#116). The Council thus stated that this “treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs...” (SC#114). The import of this is that the people should be able to sing the chant, supported by but not replaced by, a choir.

Is anything said in Sacrosanctum Concilium on hymns? Yes, but in the context of the Divine Office, not the Mass. Certainly “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes” (SC#30) but Musicam Sacram clarifies this text in the following words (emphasis added):

#28. “The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n.3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation. These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.

#29. The following belong to the first degree:
(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.
(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.
(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

#30. The following belong to the second degree:
(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
(b) the Creed;
(c) the prayer of the faithful.

31. The following belong to the third degree:
(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;
(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;
(d) the song at the Offertory;
(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

Note that the second or third degrees cannot be used either in part or wholly unless those of the first degree are sung. This means that unless the parish sings the dialogues between priest and people, as well as the Opening Prayer and Pater Noster, nothing else should be sung. In most parishes a sung Mass in the Ordinary Form generally means the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus with hymns at the Entrance, Offertory, Communion and (incongruently since no song is envisaged here) the Recessional, yet none of these are of the First Degree. Indeed hymns are only added as a kind of occasional measure as clarified by Musicam Sacram: “some other song can also, on occasions, be sung at the beginning, at the Offertory, at the Communion and at the end of Mass.” (MS#36). Thus the so-called ‘sung Mass’ in most parishes is out of synch with the decrees of the Council.

In conclusion, to make Mass more of an experience of the transcendent (other-worldliness) we need to undertake the restoration of Gregorian Chant and Latin so as to be faithful to the Council and its decrees that the Church’s “use of the Latin language be preserved in the Latin rites”; that traditional chant as a “treasure of inestimable value” be “preserved and fostered”, with “Gregorian chant having pride of place” and “the people able to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them”.

I also look for the return of the versus apsidem orientation (to show the Mass is offered to God rather than performed for the people); the reception of Communion kneeling (to stand is to express an equality which does not exist) and on the tongue (to end the taking of the consecrated into un-consecrated hands) and the silent Canon so as to provide sacred silence rather than a pause, thereby synchronising the celebration of Mass with the words of scripture: “God is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him” cf. Hab.2v20. Nothing on earth brings God into His holy temple as does the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Mary, The Holy Virgin Mother of God

This is the greatest feast of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, for from this privilege of giving flesh to God on earth flows all her gifts and privileges. And they are indeed gifts: no member of the human race has a right to any grace or privilege from God. Heaven was closed to all of humanity by Adam and Eve, but by the Will of God Our Lady has been saved by the eternal grace of her Son –and  in a unique manner, for while we are pulled out of the pit by the forgiveness of sins, she was saved from falling into the pit by the Immaculate Conception. Both are acts of salvation, but to be saved by being held back from the pit of sin is a far greater mercy than being pulled out from the pit. Thus Mary can say with greater thanksgiving than we, “My soul rejoices in God my Saviour!

Truly, the Blessed Virgin was conceived Immaculate (Hail Full of grace, Lk.1v28) thus the Mother of God-made-man was never in the grasp of the enemy. Truly Our Lady is Assumed into Heaven, which is fitting because the flesh from which the God-man took His Flesh should not see corruption but should share the glory of His Risen Body. Truly Our Lady is Mediatrix of all Graces because through her and in her the source and author of grace came into the world, and saved the world. Truly Our Lady is Mother of the Church since it is the Body of Christ on earth, and as she nurtured Christ the Head she also nurtures His Mystical Body (“Son, they have no wine” Jn.2v3) until it enters the glory of its Head. Truly Our Lady is Co-redemptrix in that it was by her consent that God became man; by her obedience the knot tied by the disobedience of Eve was untied. Indeed, God defines The Virgin Mary from the very beginning as the one with whom the devil has his enmity: “I will make enemies of you and the woman” (Gen.3v15).

How unique is the Most Blessed Virgin! Though she does not equal Christ she is called by Divine Grace to cooperate with Him and to mirror Him: Christ is the source and author of Grace, Mary is filled with grace and Mediatrix of grace; Christ Ascends into Heaven by His own power and by Divine Right, Mary is Assumed into heaven by Christ’s power and gift; Christ is Sole Redeemer and Mediator, Mary is His co-operator by God’s Will and by her consent. In her privileges we see wondrous examples of God’s generosity toward man, and in her we see the perfect model of Discipleship.

At the Annunciation she is the model of perfect trust in God, love for God and obedience toward God, for having been told that she, a virgin who “does not know man”, is to be overshadowed like the Ark of the Covenant and conceive a child who is Son of God, she makes the perfect response: “Be it done unto me according to thy word”. At the Visitation she is the model of perfect humility as she recognises all the mighty things done in her, yet gives the glory to God: “My Soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has done great things for Me. From this day forward, all generations will call me Blessed” (Lk.1v48). She is the model of perfect trust and courage in that she goes through life with the knowledge that she and her child will suffer greatly, “He is a sign that is to be rejected, and a sword shall pierce your own heart also” (Lk.2v34-35), completing His journey with Him at the foot of His Cross. She is the model of prayer in that she ponders all things in her heart, and is with the Apostles in prayer on the day of Pentecost. Perfect faith, love, trust, obedience, humility, charity, confidence and courage –what is not to be learned from the Blessed Virgin Mother, Our Lady? Intercessor for those without the new wine of the Kingdom –what is not to be gained by taking her into one’s spiritual warfare?

Not to make a place for Our Lady in one’s spiritual life is to leave it all but barren, for there would be no Christ on earth had she not consented to give Him birth. From her alone came forth He who was to be Sovereign King and Saviour of the world. Mary’s Motherhood of her Son’s Mystical Body makes her an essential part of God’s plan for our Salvation. He had no need to give to her this place of co-operator in the Redemption of the world; He could have saved us in any way He desired. But since He has given her this role it is not for us to ignore it but to accept it (“Thy will be done”); it is for us to devote ourselves to her who is devoted to Him; to her whose only desire is to bring to the feet of her Son those souls for whom He died (“Do whatever He tells you” Jn.2v5); souls for whom He not only died, but rose again and ascended into heaven, where He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit; God forever and ever.