Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Divine Liturgy on EWTN

EWTN is broadcasting a Divine Liturgy from the eparchy of Lebanon this morning at 9 AM (ET).  I look forward to watching it while I work!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Apparent anachronism in Exodus 16

What follows is from an email I wrote a year ago while taking part in the Great Adventure Bible Timeline study.  Someone brought up the mention of the ark of the covenant in Exodus 16, several chapters before it is created.  I sought to investigate the matter and resolve the apparent anachronism.

In my reading [of Exodus 16] I had failed to catch the apparent anachronism of Aaron placing the jar of manna "before the testimony" (RSV) or "in front of the commandments" (NAB).

The issue might be one of punctuation. The RSV and the NAB and the KJV render verses 33 and 34 of Exodus 16 as two distinct sentences.
RSV: [33] And Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept throughout your generations." [34] As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony, to be kept.

NAB: [33] Moses then told Aaron, "Take an urn and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD in safekeeping for your descendants." [34] So Aaron placed it in front of the commandments for safekeeping, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

KJV: [33] And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations. [34] As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.
However, the Douay-Rheims (a 1609 English translation of the Latin Vulgate) has a slightly different structure. Here, the beginning of verse 34 is the conclusion of the sentence in verse 33 (note the comma at the end of verse 33):
DR: [32] And Moses said: This is the word, which the Lord hath commanded: Fill a gomor of it, and let it be kept unto generations to come hereafter, that they may know the bread, wherewith I fed you in the wilderness, when you were brought forth out of the land of Egypt. [33] And Moses said to Aaron: Take a vessel, and put manna into it, as much as a gomor can hold: and lay it up before the Lord to keep unto your generations, [34] As the Lord commanded Moses. And Aaron put it in the tabernacle to be kept.
Whatever the punctuation should be, the "issue" can be resolved with the following explanation:

Re-read chapter 16. Note that verses 1-30 deal with events which are happening during the first week when the manna appeared. Now note the tone of verses 31-35. I would propose that these later verses are describing an event that took place later (at or after Sinai, since they expect the existence of the covenant), but they are not at all insinuating that these events actually happened before Sinai at all. I will support my proposal with Scriptural evidence:

In Exodus 16:31, the Hebrew phrase bayith Yisra'el is used for the first time. It literally means "the house of Israel". The phrase ben Yisra'el ("sons/children/people of Israel") is used plenty in chapter 16 (verses 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 12, 15, 17, and 35). But here for the first time bayith Yisra'el appears in Scripture, in verse 31. Why is the phrase "House of Israel" used this time instead of "sons/children/people of Israel"?

I think we can come to the answer by looking for the next time "House of Israel" is used in Scripture. "House of Israel" appeared first in Exodus 16:31, speaking of them calling the substance "manna". The next time that "House of Israel" appears in Exodus 40:38, the very last verse of the very last chapter of Exodus: "For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel." By Exodus 40, the covenant has been made; the tabernacle and the ark and other elements of worship have been constructed. It is here that the context of Exodus 16:31-35 makes sense. Certainly the Israelites, when they first encountered the stuff, said "man na", but Exodus 16:31 is saying that "manna" is what it was "officially" called by the house of Israel, meaning those who were in covenant with God through Moses. My point is that "House of Israel" is a "covenant name"; it describes the Israelites in their covenant with God. As such, Exodus 16:31 is referring to something at or after the time of Sinai.

The language of Exodus 16:33-34 makes it clear that there was now "the presence of the LORD" and the tablets of the covenant. Exodus 16:35 is even more helpful: it is clearly written after the forty years had ended: "the people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land".

So if Exodus 16:35 was written to describe an event that took place much later than Exodus 16:1-30, I would argue that Exodus 16:31-34 are describing a later event as well. They are not "placing" the later event earlier in history than it happened, but they are describing the later event in the context of the rest of the chapter about the manna, and using contextual clues (such as the phrase "House of Israel") to indicate that. To further the point, Exodus 16 is the only place where "manna" is mentioned in the whole book of Exodus, and only in those last verses is the word "manna" (in English) used. It makes sense to have included the "future" of the manna in the same part of the story where it was introduced, especially since it simply never gets mentioned again.

Monday, December 28, 2009

All washed up

For the second time in less than a month, there was water in the (unfinished, thank God!) basement of our new home.  About the same amount of water both times.  Both after significant rainfalls.  No sump-pump, very uneven concrete floor, very shallow French drains, and some suspicious cracks and stains on the floor.

At least it's easy to clean up with the wet-dry vac that my wife bought the first time this happened, but still, this is a problem which needs solving.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas - Today's Collect

Being familiar with the Roman Missal in both Latin and English, as well as in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms, often provides me with a little bonus when I pay close attention to the prayers of the Mass.

The Collect (commonly referred to as the "opening prayer") of the Mass of Christmas during the day sounded familiar to me.  The English translation I heard had to do with God wonderfully creating man and then even more wonderfully restoring him in Christ, and asking that as Jesus shared our weakness, so too we might share His glory.  While the translation could have been better (and is elsewhere during the Mass!) it caused me to recollect another prayer.  But first, the Latin text of the Collect:
Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem
et mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti,
da, quaesumus, nobis eius divinitatis esse consortes,
qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps.
This is very similar to the prayer over the water and wine during the Offertory in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, some of which (the bolded part) is retained in the Ordinary Form:
Deus, qui humánæ substántiæ dignitátem
mirabíliter condidísti et mirabílius reformásti:
da nobis, per hujus aquæ et vini mystérium,
ejus divinitátis esse consórtes,
qui humanitátis nostræ fíeri dignátus est párticeps,
Jesus Christus, Fílius tuus, Dóminus noster:
Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti Deus:
per ómnia sæcula sæculórum. Amen.
The prayer is about how God wonderfully created man and even more wonderfully restored him (in Christ), and how the mingling of the water in the wine represents Christ sharing our humanity as a pledge that we will share His divinity.  St. Peter wrote about that!  The latter half of this Collect was translated better (not having to do with "weakness" and "glory" but, accurately, with "humanity" and "divinity") during the Offertory:  "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

As for the mingling of water and wine, the inimitable Fr. Z offers this commentary:

The Christmas Collect was adapted for the preparation of the chalice by the priest during every Mass. Before the priest raises the chalice upwards in offering, he mingles with the wine a very small quantity of water, just drops. The mingling of water and wine underscores three things.

First, it reveals how the Divine Son humbly accepted human nature.

Second, it shows how we will be transformed by Him in the life to come. Indeed, we who are baptized into Christ and who receive the Eucharist are already being transformed, like drops of water in His wine. In the mingling of the water and wine, the water loses itself, becoming what the wine is (though in God’s transforming embrace we do not "lose" ourselves, but rather find ourselves more perfectly!). "O admirabile commercium! O marvelous exchange!" as the Church sings at Vespers and Lauds on Christmas Octave. As Fathers of the Church expressed it the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we might become the sons of God. This "holy exchange" is the heart of Holy Mass. Bread and wine are given to us by God and we, in turn, collect them, work them, give them back to God who transforms them through the power of the Holy Spirit into the Real Presence of Christ (Body, Blood, soul and divinity). In turn the species of the Eucharist transform us, making us also into acceptable offerings to God. In this marvelous exchange earthly and temporal things mysteriously, sacramentally, become vehicles of the eternal.

Third, the mixing of those few (human) drops into the (divine) wine in the chalice (an image of sacrifice and oblation) reveals how lay people must unite their prayers and sacrifices to what the priest offers at the altar: "Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the almighty Father." There is a distinction made regarding the way in which the priest and the people offer their sacrifices. The people offer good and acceptable sacrifice to God from their "baptismal priesthood", as members of Christ, who is High Priest. But the priest makes a very different kind of sacrifice, as alter Christus… another Christ. So, the people at Mass must unite their good offerings to those of the priest. The mingling of the water and wine is a good moment to make a conscious effort to do precisely that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Word Study: Being "sent" in the Gospels

I should read the Gospels and pay close attention to every occurrence of the word "sent" (or any variation thereof).  The word "sent" (or "send", "sends", "sending") appears in the RSV of Matthew 33 times, in Mark 24 times, in Luke 44 times, and in John 61 times.  I would expect that it is in John's Gospel that it is used the most times in reference to Jesus being sent by the Father, and the disciples being sent by Jesus.

This is being filed away for later study!

Fr. Corapi and Bp. Nickless: identity and mission

I was listening to EWTN radio this morning in the car as I drove to work, and Fr. Corapi was speaking about the nature and mission of the family:  the nature is holiness, and the mission is to sanctify.  Nature and mission, or, identity and mission.  It struck a cord with what I had re-read and blogged about last night from Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter.  Fr. Corapi even went on to quote the Latin adage nemo dat quod non habet ("one cannot give what one does not have") which Bp. Nickless himself quotes later in his letter.

It seems that yesterday was a good day to write about that part of the letter, since Fr. Corapi spoke about the very same thing this morning.  He has also reminded me that those two concepts (identity and mission) apply to all areas of life.

He also talked about consecration and profanation, which I'll use next month as I begin to teach 6th graders about Moses and the Exodus.  (It took us September through December to finish Genesis, and now I only have from January through May to finish Salvation History.  That'll take some creative condensing on my part!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Pastoral Magisterium: Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter (part 4)

(I apologize for the delay between the last post and this one.  Things got busy at work, and then at home – my wife and I bought our first house and are finally fully moved into it.  After Christmas and the New Year, I'll get back to regular posting.  In the meantime...)

This is part four of a ten-part series on the recent pastoral letter of Bishop R. Walker Nickless for the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.  I will be providing the full text of this letter (slightly edited for formatting) with emphasis and commentary.

Remember that Bishop Nickless is fundamentally focusing on two aspects of the Church:  her inward identity and her outward mission.  Concerning her inward identity, utmost importance must be given to the pursuit of holiness, of the divine life.  Concerning her outward mission, utmost importance must be given to engaging the world by sharing the Catholic faith and serving as a herald or minister of Christ's call to holiness to each and every human being.

With that in mind, let us turn our attention to Section III, The Current Context:
There was a great excitement immediately after the Council: excitement for innovation, change, freedom, renewed dynamism. There was a great desire to implement the Council immediately, with the best of intentions. In doing so, the Church after the Council achieved many things. The Council’s aggiornamento brought about a great breath of fresh air, a new freedom and excitement about being Catholic.  However, this era of change and freedom took place during a most tumultuous time. The 1960’s and 1970’s brought about a wholesale change within our culture and society, so that it seemed that everything was “up for grabs.” The Church seemed to be going the same way as society, suggesting that nothing was certain or solid. If the Church could change some things, it could change anything and everything. Sometimes we set out to convert the world, but were instead converted by it. We have sometimes lost sight of who we are and what we believe, and therefore have little to offer the world that so desperately needs the Gospel. A pendulum effect began in the Church and has not yet stopped swinging. In the effort to correct exaggerations or one-sidedness in various areas, the reform often times swung to the exact opposite pole.
It can be argued that the Second Vatican Council could not have happened at a worse time.  Just as the world is undergoing multiple revolutions — sexual, political, racial, etc. — the Catholic Church convenes a Council seeking to update her methods of reaching modern man.  The door was opened for change, and it appears that some used that open door to usher in change of anything and everything!  There was a widespread loss of identity (manifested in a drop in the number of priests and consecrated religious, not to mention lay faithful leaving the Church) leading to confusion as to our mission as the Church (misguided attempts at ecumenism, "kumbaya" liturgies, focusing on the body and neglecting the soul).  The pendulum swung so wildly to the left that some who sought to compensate went too far right.
This pendulum swing can be seen in the areas of liturgy, popular piety, family life, catechesis, ecumenism, morals, and political involvement, to name just a few. It seems to me that in many areas of the Church’s life the “hermeneutic of discontinuity” has triumphed. It has manifested itself in a sort of dualism, an either/or mentality and insistence in various areas of the Church’s life: either fidelity to doctrine or social justice work, either Latin or English, either our personal conscience or the authority of the Church, either chant or contemporary music, either tradition or progress, either liturgy or popular piety, either conservative or liberal, either Mass or Adoration, either the Magisterium or theologians, either ecumenism or evangelization, either rubrics or personalization, either the Baltimore Catechism or “experience”; and the list goes on and on! We have always been a “both/and” people: intrinsically traditional and conservative in what pertains to the faith, and creative in pastoral ministry and engaging the world.
The last sentence of this paragraph is addresses yet another false dichotomy, that the Church cannot look both inwardly (identity) and outwardly (mission).  It is presumed that if she tends to herself, she will neglect the poor, the hungry, the marginalized; but if she concentrates on ministering to others, she'll overlook the flaws of her own members.  To this, Bishop Nickless clearly says no:  the Church can and does look inward and outward.  It would seem that the lens between those two gazes is none other than Christ Himself:  it is Christ by Whom we know ourselves as Catholics and as the Church, and it is Christ who impels us to go out to the whole world and make disciples.
My brothers and sisters, let me say this clearly: The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” is a false interpretation and implementation of the Council and the Catholic Faith. It emphasizes the “engagement with the world” to the exclusion of the deposit of faith. This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world. The Church that seeks simply what works or is “useful” in the end becomes useless.
Remember, this section is about the "current context" of the implementation (and interpretation) of the Second Vatican Council.  His Excellency makes it clear that the wrong interpretation is one which emphasizes discontinuity with and rupture from the past.  It fails to retain the "both/and" approach regarding identity and mission and instead discards the identity (the Catholic faith) in favor of engaging the world at any cost, at the world's terms.  If we forget who we are, what we believe, and how we are called to live, our message to the world can be as changing and ephemeral as the current trends and fads:  in other words, the world itself can dictate our message!  While it is reasonable that the present condition of the world should influence our approach and emphasis, it is irresponsible and unfaithful to let the world dictate what we will and will not say.

Regarding "usefulness" leading to uselessness, Cardinal Ratzinger had the following to say:  "A Church which only makes use of 'utility' music has fallen for what is, in fact, useless." (Feast of Faith, p. 126)  This quote will be used again in the next section of the letter.
Our urgent need at this time is to reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith. We must have a distinctive identity and culture as Catholics, if we would effectively communicate the Gospel to the people of this day and Diocese. This is our mission. Notice that this mission is two-fold, like the Second Vatican Council’s purpose. It is toward ourselves within the Church (ad intra), and it is to the world (ad extra). The first is primary and necessary for the second; the second flows from the first. This is why we have not been as successful as we should be in bringing the world to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ to the world. We cannot give what we do not have; we cannot fulfill our mission to evangelize, if we ourselves are not evangelized.
The repeated theme of these first three sections has been this healthy tension between the inward gaze and the outward gaze.  Here the two gazes are necessarily prioritized, and the Bishop notes their urgency:  the members of the diocese of Sioux City (and truly all Catholics, but especially American Catholics) must rediscover their identity and culture as Catholics (and this will certainly come with growing — and fasting — pains) in order to be to the world who God is calling us to be.  The axiom about not being able to give what one does not have will be brought up again later in this letter.

Our mission in the world is more than just humanitarian aid, more than just social justice.  To reduce the Gospel, the good news, to a mere temporal release for captives and liberty for the oppressed, we are forgetting that Jesus came to earth ultimately to save us from our sins, which have not only temporal ramifications but eternal ones as well.  To evangelize without paying attention to the spiritual end of man is not the true Gospel.
With all this in mind, how do we, the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, reclaim and strengthen our faith, identity and culture as Catholics so as to engage more effectively in our mission?
The first end (identity) is ordered towards the second end (mission).  I cannot make it any more clear than Bishop Nickless has, and I have a feeling the reason he repeats this so many times is because he wants to avoid any Catholic soul under his care from forgetting one or the other.  While the Church has cloistered communities in her membership, that is not the calling of every Catholic.  The Church is a city on a hill which cannot be hidden; she is a light to be set on a lampstand, not covered by a basket.  For her members to seek the divine life, a life of holiness, and sequester themselves away from other sinners who are just as in need of the same saving knowledge of Christ is a terrible failure to obey our Lord's great commission.

The next post will deal with the first of the five priorities for the diocese of Sioux City:  to renew an authentic Eucharistic spirituality.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pray for us, Venerable Popes!

It's official.  Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII have been declared "venerable", meaning that it has been shown that they lived lives of heroic virtue.

Venerable Pope Pius XII, pray for us!
Venerable Pope John II, pray for us!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Excellent Scripture resource from

Side-by-side Greek, English, and Latin texts of the Bible.  Very useful, very well presented, and just cool.

Check it out!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

St. Francis Xavier

I owe St. Francis Xavier an apology.  Today is his feast day and I plum forgot.  I chose the name Xavier for my Confirmation name, and to be honest, while I've learned a bit about him since then, I haven't really gotten to the point where I have a particular devotion to him, and forgetting about his feast day hasn't helped.

Pray for his intercession in my life, if you would.  Thank you.

Also, prayers for my younger brother Jonathan on his 24th birthday would also be appreciated.

Reason #12,943 why we need the new English translation of the Roman Missal

Fr. Z presents the current translation of today's Post-Communion prayer:
may our communion
teach us to love heaven.
May its promise and hope guide our way on earth.
Here's the Latin:
Prosint nobis, quaesumus, Domine, frequentata mysteria,
quibus nos, inter praetereuntia ambulantes,
iam nunc instituis amare caelestia et inhaerere mansuris.

He quips, "When the English is shorter than the Latin, friends, you know there’s trouble."  He then provides these two far more content-rich and accurate translations, showing us what the prayer really says:
We beg You, O Lord, may they be profitable for us,
these oft celebrated sacramental mysteries,
by which You established that we,
walking amidst the things that are passing away,
would now in this very moment love heavenly things
and cleave to the things that will endure.

May these mysteries we so often celebrate
redound to our benefit, O Lord, we entreat You,
since by them You instruct us,
as we journey in the midst of this world which is passing away,
to love the things of heaven and cling to what endures.
Read the whole post!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Pastoral Magisterium: Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter (part 3)

This is part three of a ten-part series on the recent pastoral letter of Bishop R. Walker Nickless for the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.  I will be providing the full text of this letter (slightly edited for formatting) with emphasis and commentary.

In this post, we will look at Section II, The Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization:
As is well known, Blessed Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council to be the moment of renewal for the Church in the modern world. The world had changed a great deal since the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the so-called Enlightenment, and the secular revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Church now found herself beset on all sides by a world that could no longer understand her, and from within by an unfortunate tendency to isolation, fearing engagement with the rapidly changing world.

In opening the Council, Blessed John stated that the “greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council” was twofold: “that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be [both] guarded and taught more efficaciously.” (Pope John XXIII, Oct 11, 1962) Later in the speech, he elaborated on this: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.” (Ibid.) The teachings of the Church, our identity and culture as Catholics, must be loved and guarded, yet brought forth and taught in a way understandable to the modern world.
The opening speech of Bl. Pope John XXIII is perhaps not as widely read as it should be.  It provides the clear context for the Council's goals, work, and documents.  The Council was not called to change teaching but to safeguard that teaching and present it more effectively to the world.  As Bishop Nickless wrote in the preceding paragraph, the Church's inward gaze was becoming insufficient in the face of a rapidly progressing world:  the Church needed to look with loving, motherly concern to the world and engage the world.

But in the midst of this outward gaze (to present the doctrine), perhaps the necessary inward reflection (to safeguard the doctrine) was weakened or passed over.  Bishop Nickless will address the state of catechesis and knowledge of the faith later in his letter.
Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul the Great constantly preached the same thing in calling for a “New Evangelization” of the faithful, our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, and all those who do not know Jesus Christ or the Church. This New Evangelization was to be “new not in content but in ardor, methods, and expression.” (Address to the Assembly of CELAM (March 9, 1983), III; cf. Ecclesia in America 6)
The "new evangelization" is a direct response (in theory, at least) to the safeguarding of the Church's doctrine and the need to present that doctrine, unaltered in substance and meaning, to the modern world.  To allay fears, this does not mean we can no longer speak of transubstantiation, but rather that we must explain this doctrine in a way that can be grasped by faith and reason.  We cannot change what it means, or introduce words which do not mean the same thing, as some tried in the 1960's with transignification and transfinalization (cf. Mysterium Fidei 11).

Not only non-Christians, but Catholics and other Christians must be evangelized again today, with great zeal and fervor.  This is not because God has changed, for "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8), but because we are changing and losing sight of Who God is and what He calls us to.
It is readily apparent from his teaching and ministry that for Pope John Paul the Great, the New Evangelization was the true fruit of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the Council was the beginning and blueprint for evangelization in the modern world. He explicitly stated this as his particular mission at the time of his election, and he lived it to the end. (e.g. Inaugural Address of Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1978)  He spent his entire pontificate interpreting and implementing the Council’s documents according to the light of the Holy Spirit, given in virtue of his office, amid the changing circumstances of the Church and the world.
You will find in the rest of this document that Bishop Nickless is firmly grounding himself and this letter in the recent papal magisterium of the Church:  Bl. John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
We now find ourselves forty-four years since the close of the Council. Many questions still need to be asked and answered. Have we understood the Council within the context of the entire history of the Church? Have we understood the documents well? Have we truly appropriated and implemented them? Is the current state of the Church what the Council intended? What went right? What went wrong? Where is the promised “New Pentecost”?
These are very important questions to ask, and none of them can be tossed aside as frivolous or academic.  Asking these questions and seeking their answers are necessary for the Church's continued vitality and mission.  Without asking them, we move forward without direction or reflection.  Without answering them within the Church's tradition, we risk scrapping the first 1900 years of the Church and starting over with a blank slate, which would have destructive results for the Church and the whole world.

Pope Benedict XVI reflected on these important questions in an address to the Roman Curia in December, 2005:
The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult? Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject – Church – which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council.

Pope Benedict asks similar questions and begins by pointing out that there are two approaches to the Council, one which inevitably leads to the wrong answers, and one which leads to the right answers.  If the Council is perceived to be a split from tradition, from the past, from our heritage, we will reap only confusion, discord, and obstacles to holiness and the mission of Church.  If, on the other hand, we recognize the sense of continuity and reform, we will be better equipped to determine how well we have met the goals of the Council, what is left to be implemented, and what has been poorly or wrongly implemented.

And, of course, we must remember that the spirit of the Council is not "trapped" in its letter, waiting to burst free and progress wildly beyond the intentions of the Council Fathers.
Notice, first, Pope Benedict’s honest acknowledgment that the implementation of the Council has been difficult and is not complete. Notice also his clear-sighted grasp of how two rival interpretations have led to different “camps” within the Church. This division has weakened our identity and mission.
In drawing attention to the division which is a produce of these two hermeneutics, Bishop Nickless returns to the two gazes of the Church:  inward (identity) and outward (mission).  When the Church is divided, there are perceived to be two identities and two missions (at least); such lack of unity cannot be an effective witness of faith to each other nor to the world.
It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the Council. This interpretation sees the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church almost as two different churches. It sees the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past.
The Bishop states decisively that this interpretation of rupture cannot be recognized as the true approach to the Council, despite popular opinion.  This was not the interpretation used at previous Councils, and it is not the one to use now.  Separating the Church now from the Church then is a dangerous proposition which would lead to a Church without roots, without a trajectory to maintain.
There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council. We must stop speaking of the “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as “pre” and “post” Vatican II. Instead, we must evaluate them according to their intrinsic value and pastoral effectiveness in this day and age.
I hear in these words a faint echo of Pope Benedict's words in the letter which accompanied Summorum Pontificum:  "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."
Therefore, we must heed the Holy Father’s point that one interpretation, the “hermeneutic of reform,” is valid, and has borne and is bearing fruit. This hermeneutic of reform, as described above, takes seriously and keeps together the two poles of (1) identity (the ancient deposit of faith and life) and (2) engagement with the world (teaching it more efficaciously).
Yet again the Bishop mentions the inward concern ("identity") and the outward concern ("engagement with the world") in relation to the proper hermeneutics of interpreting and implementing the Council.  Remember, as we progress through this document, these constant themes:  inward concern ("identity", "pursuit of holiness") and outward concern ("mission", "engagement", "fidelity to [our] mission").
Lastly, the Holy Father, going into greater detail later in the address, explains that the “spirit of Vatican II” must be found only in the letter of the documents themselves. The so-called “spirit” of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work.
Those are bold and blunt words from a bishop!  Praise be to God that he has the courage to write them to the members of his flock, let alone think or say them.

The next post will deal with the current context of the implementation of Council.

Article: "Bringing Back Latin" (Homiletic & Pastoral Review)

Dr. Mark J. Clark has written an article in the December 2009 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review (HPR) entitled "Bringing Back Latin."  Here is an excerpt from the beginning:
When [the Council Fathers] ultimately decided to endorse the use of the vernacular in the Mass it doubtless never occurred to them that the facility in Latin that they took for granted—Latin, after all, was an integral part of their own intellectual patrimony and would remain the official language of the Church—would largely disappear within half a century.

Yet disappear it did, and quickly. How and why merits our attention, as does the question of what can be done to revivify the tradition of living Latin within the Church. For if living Latin dies, the consequences for the Church are grave. What is significant about the fact that the Fathers of the Council spoke readily in Latin is that they thought in Latin, which gave them easy access to the length and breadth of the Catholic tradition. The Church’s treasury of writings spanning the centuries is like a large chest in the attic, to which Latin is the key.
I suggest you read the whole thing.

Here is the prayer mentioned at the end and my attempt at rendering of it into English:
Actiones nostras, quaesumus, Domine,
aspirando praeveni, et adjuvando prosequere,
ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat,
et per te coepta finiatur.

Precede our actions, we beseech You, Lord,
with Your inspiration, and accompany them with Your aid,
that our every prayer and work may always begin in You,
and through You find completion.
[H/T: Ignatius Insight Scoop]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Pastoral Magisterium: Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter (part 2)

This is part two of a ten-part series on the recent pastoral letter of Bishop R. Walker Nickless for the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.  I will be providing the full text of this letter (slightly edited for formatting) with emphasis and commentary.

In this post, we will look at Section I, Introduction:
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever! It has now been almost four joyful years of being your bishop. It has been a time of learning and growth for me as a priest, called beyond my desires and talents, not without God's grace making up for all that is lacking in me, to be the shepherd for the flock in northwest Iowa.
One might wonder why it has taken Bishop Nickless four years to produce his first pastoral letter, but His Excellence will provide the explanation himself in a moment.  Suffice to say, he realizes that the episcopacy, while being the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, is not itself a plateau of spiritual growth.  Rather, he has continued to learn and grow during his years as their bishop.  He also makes it clear that he is their bishop by God's grace, not by his own merits or talents.
As shepherd, I am called to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), the truth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, inseparable from His Church, "at the same time holy and always in need of renewal and reformation." (Lumen Gentium 8)
Bishop Nickless derived the title of his letter from an English translation of Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.  The Latin text reads "Ecclesia [...] sancta simul et semper purificanda."  He refers to St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, whence he drew his episcopal motto ("Speak the Truth in Love") found on his coat of arms, and in doing so also calls to mind Pope Benedict's recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate in which the Pontiff links "charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate." (CV 2)

In order to do this, I have traveled to meet the priests and people of the diocese, always listening, asking questions, studying and, of course, praying about the current state of the Church. Now I offer my understanding of the state and direction of the Church, both universal and particular, at this juncture in her history. I propose this pastoral plan — a vision, so to speak — for the future of our diocese, and some practical guidance for achieving our goals.
Over the preceding years, Bishop Nickless was learning about his diocese so that he would be able to address his flock with knowledge, rather than in mere generalities.  The result of his study and discernment is this pastoral letter, with which he shares his understanding as their pastor, designed to plot a course for the future of the diocese and keep them on track.
My understanding begins with these personal reflections. I studied and was ordained a deacon and priest during the exciting, almost intoxicating, time of the Second Vatican Council. I am thoroughly a product of that momentous time, the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in centuries. It has formed the context and culture of my entire ministerial life.
No one can accuse Bishop Nickless of being some "traditionalist" who wants to "turn back time" to before Vatican II.  He makes it clear here that this most recent Council is a particularly cherished part of his spiritual heritage, having formed him into the pastor he is today.
Like Pope John Paul the Great, I have no other desire for my ministry than seeing the hopes and reforms of the Second Vatican Council fully implemented and brought to fruition. (e.g. Christifideles Laici 2) Like Pope Benedict XVI, I know that, while we have worked hard, there is still much work to do. (Homily of 8 December 2005)
He clearly aligns himself with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, especially as manifested in the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
My understanding of this work has grown and deepened over the past forty years. So it must be for all of us. The Church is always in need of renewal because it is made up of us, imperfect human beings. This is the deepest reason: as individuals and as a Church, we are always called to grow, change, deepen, repent, convert, improve, and learn from our successes and failures in the pursuit of holiness and fidelity to Jesus Christ and the mission He has given us. Moreover, we need to do this in the midst of an ever changing world, culture and society.
He brings up holiness again (from the preface), linking it with faith, with fidelity to Christ and His mission, the same mission now entrusted to the Church as a whole and to each of her members.
I have experienced this as a priest and now, through the biggest change of all for me, as a bishop. Despite my own unworthiness, I have been blessed abundantly by the Lord Jesus Christ in his call to me, in the graces of my episcopal ordination, and in your support and cooperation. I am happy and blessed to be your bishop. Having been called by God and the Church, I want to do my part to fulfill His mission among you. Thus, we need serious reflection and evaluation of the current state and direction, challenges and opportunities, for faith and ministry in our Lord Jesus Christ in our Diocese.
Closing the introduction, he explains the need for this pastoral letter:  "serious reflection and evaluation."  This letter is part of his contribution to the mission of Christ carried out in the diocese.  In order for the diocese to carry out Christ's mission, they must know who they are, what the mission is, and how they are (or are not) succeeding in fulfilling it already.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Pastoral Magisterium: Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter (part 1)

This is the first of a ten-part series on the recent pastoral letter of Bishop R. Walker Nickless for the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa. His letter, entitled Ecclesia Semper Reformanda can be viewed online as a single HTML page, or downloaded as a PDF or as a Word document (formatted to "folio" paper size to be printed as a booklet on 8.5" x 11" paper).

I will be providing the full text of this letter (slightly edited for formatting) with emphasis and commentary.
  1. Preface
  2. I. Introduction
  3. II. The Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization
  4. III. The Current Context
  5. IV. Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Sioux City:  1. Renew Eucharistic Spirituality
  6. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  2. Strengthen Catechesis
  7. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  3. Foster Faithful Families
  8. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  4. Foster Vocations
  9. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  5. Embrace Missionary Character
  10. V. Conclusion
Ecclesia Semper Reformanda
(The Church is Always in Need of Renewal)

A Pastoral Letter on the Future of the Church
in the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa
To the Priests, Deacons,
Consecrated persons and all the Lay Faithful
of the Diocese of Sioux City
15 October 2009
Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus
Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings of peace and joy to you and all your families. By God's providence we are privileged to live in northwest Iowa and practice our faith in the Diocese of Sioux City. I am honored to serve you as your Bishop.
Note how His Excellence makes it clear that his vocation to the episcopate is one of service.  The triple office of a bishop – to teach, to govern, and to sanctify – are works of love, of charity.  To be an ordained minister of the Church is to be a servant of the People of God.  Pope St. Gregory the Great described his office as "servant of the servants of God."
I take great joy in sharing with you my first pastoral letter for our Diocese. It is my hope that this document be a source of instruction and direction for all of us: priests, deacons, consecrated persons, and faithful laity. The points shared in this pastoral letter are basic to the celebration and faithful living of our Catholic faith. They are the foundation of all that we are called to do for the Lord in our Diocese and beyond.
This is his first pastoral letter after about four years as their bishop.  We'll see why it took that long in the next section.  He makes it clear, though, that this letter, while pastoral, is an instruction to his diocese; it is not a mere observation or opinion, this is his instruction to his flock.  Bishop Nickless says the letter pertains to foundational elements of living and celebrating the Catholic faith, to the basics of being Catholic.
As I publish this pastoral letter, I do so on the Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus. On this day, the Church prays: "O God, you raised up Saint Teresa by your Spirit so that she could manifest to the Church the way to perfection. Nourish us with the food of her heavenly teaching and fire us with a desire for holiness." May Saint Teresa be an inspiration to all of us in our desire to grow in holiness.

This is the Year for Priests promulgated by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. I express to each of the priests in our Diocese my profound gratitude for their faithful witness of holiness and dedication to you, the People of God and to me, their Bishop. Priests are co-workers with the Bishop in the mission given to us by Christ. Please pray for us.

May all of us, united in love, continue to grow in the same holiness of Saint Teresa and Saint John Vianney as we continue to live our faith in hope and love.
The constant theme here is holiness, not only of priests, but of all Catholics.  This holiness is attained through a unity in love, in charity.  Faith, hope, and love (the three theological virtues) are succinctly brought together here:  by living and celebrating their Catholic faith daily (as individuals, a family, a parish, and a diocese) with the same hope and true love, the faithful of the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, will grow in holiness.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Amazing Advent homily by Anglican priest on the Church being "one"

And with that, we encounter the truth that may feel inconvenient for us as Anglicans that full communion with the Pope, and the Oneness, the Unity, the fullness of the Church are inextricably and by God’s Will bound up together. And we Anglicans – in common with Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, URCs, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians – do not have that full communion with the Pope, and so by this ancient understanding of the Church are separated from the Oneness, the Unity, the fullness of the Church.
Read the whole thing by Rev. Giles Pinnock ("a Catholic-minded Anglican").  It's the first of four homilies he will be giving during Advent on "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" from the Nicene Creed.

Pray for unity, and pray for Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Catholic Church and Closed Communion

(11/26 edit: I left out perhaps the most obvious meaning of "Communion", which I have now included below.)

The Catholic Church, unlike many other Christian communities, has a discipline known as "closed communion." This means that (other than very exceptional cases), only members of the Catholic Church may partake of Holy Communion (that is, receive the Holy Eucharist).  Some non-Catholics are very confused by this policy. They see it as exclusive: "Why aren't all invited to the table or the Lord? Did Jesus exclude anyone?" They see it as divisive between Christians: "We allow non-[XYZ]'s to receive the Lord's Supper, so why don't Catholics?" Some are deeply hurt by not being able to receive Communion.

To explain this discipline, we must describe accurately what the Eucharist is and what Holy Communion means to the Church.

Regardless of what a person thinks the Eucharist is, no matter what a person thinks he is eating when he receives Holy Communion in a Catholic church, he is receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior. He is not receiving bread or wine, nor a "symbol". If this blessed gift is received unworthily, he adds sin (unworthy reception) to sin (which made his reception unworthy in the first place). Furthermore, this is not just a "meal" or "banquet." This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb under the veil of a sacrament; this is the consumption of a sacrificial offering.

This Marriage Supper, this mystical wedding banquet, is for those who are "wedded" to Christ in His Church.  In other words, receiving Holy Communion means that you are in communion with Christ and His Church.  That naturally excludes those who are not Christian at all, the unbaptized.  Just as St. Paul wrote that the "fathers" of Israel "all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink" (1 Cor 10:2-4), so those who are baptized into Christ receive a supernatural food and drink.  It was only the Israelites (those of the older covenant) who partook of that supernatural food and drink; likewise, it is only the Church (those of the new covenant, not just one nation) who partake of this supernatural food and drink.

It also excludes those who are Christians but are separated (or "estranged," you could say) from the Bride of Christ, which is the Catholic Church, whether by mortal sin or by not holding the Catholic faith.  Faith is a matter of fidelity to God; the Church is faithful to her spouse, Christ, and so her members too must be faithful, believing that Catholic faith.

Catholic doctrine is that the Eucharist is a true sacrifice offered to God. (Numerically, it is the same sacrifice as that of Christ on the cross, with only the manner of the offering being different: the Eucharist is unbloody. Likewise, the Body which is received in the sacrament is numerically identical to that which was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and died on Calvary.)  Let me repeat: the Eucharist is a sacrifice; receiving Holy Communion is partaking in a sacrificial meal. As St. Paul asked, "Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?" (1 Cor 9:13) "Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?" (1 Cor 10:18)  You are partaking in a sacrificial offering at an altar.

If, as some Protestants believe, the Mass is a satanic and pagan corruption of true worship of God, and the Eucharist is a satanic and pagan sacrifice, then the Eucharist would be being offered "to demons and not to God" (1 Cor 10:20), and anyone who receives Holy Communion at Mass is partaking of the "table of demons." (1 Cor 10:21)  What did St. Paul say about that? "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." (1 Cor 10:21)

Regardless of whether the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist is true (and of course, I believe that it is), Catholics believe they are offering a sacrifice to God and are then partaking of that offering. If they are right, and you want to receive it too, why aren't you Catholic?! And if they are wrong, and it is a pagan offering and a fellowship with demons, why would you want to receive it?!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Support these Catholic Speakers!

Matthew Warner of Fallible Blogma has finally assembled the link list of bloggers who wrote about 100+ Catholic speakers.  Check out the list here!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fr. John Corapi comes to New Jersey in 2010

Breaking news from WFJS 1260 AM, New Jersey's only Catholic radio station:

Fr. John Corapi will be making only five public speaking appearances in 2010, God-willing, and one of those appearances will be in New Jersey!  Fr. Corapi will be at Prudential Center in Newark for an all-day conference on Saturday, October 30, 2010.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part III)

The Unique Contribution of the Bread and Wine

← Part II: Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine

While the faithful are called to unite their spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine on the altar, this contribution is the duty of the faithful and does not make up the matter of the Eucharist, which is strictly bread and wine.  There is no Eucharist without these elements, prefigured by Melchizedek and chosen by Christ.  We offer ourselves spiritually, whereas we offer the bread and wine physically.  The bread and wine are a necessary component of the Mass, and they provide a unique contribution.  Quoting from Pope John Paul II's letter Dominicae Cenae once more:
All who participate with faith in the Eucharist become aware that it is a "sacrifice," that is to say, a "consecrated Offering." For the bread and wine presented at the altar and accompanied by the devotion and the spiritual sacrifices of the participants are finally consecrated, so as to become truly, really and substantially Christ's own body that is given up and His blood that is shed. Thus, by virtue of the consecration, the species of bread and wine re-present in a sacramental, unbloody manner the bloody propitiatory sacrifice offered by Him on the cross to His Father for the salvation of the world. Indeed, He alone, giving Himself as a propitiatory Victim in an act of supreme surrender and immolation, has reconciled humanity with the Father, solely through His sacrifice, "having cancelled the bond which stood against us."

To this sacrifice, which is renewed in a sacramental form on the altar, the offerings of bread and wine, united with the devotion of the faithful, nevertheless bring their unique contribution, since by means of the consecration by the priest they become sacred species. This is made clear by the way in which the priest acts during the Eucharistic Prayer, especially at the consecration, and when the celebration of the holy Sacrifice and participation in it are accompanied by awareness that "the Teacher is here and is calling for you."
During the Offertory, the priest asks God to be pleased with the offering of bread and wine, which are natural and imperfect (although they are the best we have to offer).  God accepts them as fitting matter for the Eucharist and changes their substance in the Eucharistic Prayer:  they become supernatural and perfect.

Because of what the bread and wine will become (once consecrated) the union of our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine during the Offertory is a sign of our participation in Christ and His sacrifice.  The bread and wine already have a physical likeness to Christ's sacrifice, since they are the same elements He used, and the same elements that were offered centuries before Him by Melchizedek.  When we join our spiritual sacrifices to them in the Offertory, each of us gives them (to our own degree) a spiritual likeness to Christ's sacrifice.  In the Eucharistic Prayer, this likeness is perfected as they receive a substantial likeness to Christ's sacrifice.

What began as our gift to God, bread and wine, becomes His gift back to us, the Eucharist.  But this gift to us is not meant simply for our nourishment, as the Eucharistic Prayer makes clear immediately following the consecration:  the Body and Blood of our Lord, under the species (appearances) of bread and wine, are then offered back to God as the perfect sacrifice.  Only after this offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass do we partake in the sacred banquet of Holy Communion.

The final part of this essay revisits the idea of joining our sacrifices to the offering at the altar, now that the offering is no longer bread and wine, but the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.

Retreat this weekend

It's been a while since I went on a retreat.  This weekend, I'm chaperoning a high school retreat in the Poconos.  No internet at all for a good 48 hours.  Silence can be golden.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part II)

Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine

← Part I: The Function of the Baptismal Priesthood at Mass

An external act that represents an internal reality is an empty show unless that internal reality is truly present. Imagine a man giving his wife a bouquet of roses, a gesture that is generally recognized as a display of love, without actually caring about her at all. The roses are real, the wife's reaction is real, but there is something missing: the intention. This analogy is apropos for the Offertory of the Mass, when bread and wine are brought to the priest. This external act, often carried out by members of the congregation, is not a mere functional procedure; it is representative of so much more.

The bread and wine were once, in the earlier days of the Church, the product of the community. They were presented along with other donations and material offerings. With the passage of time, the bread and wine were "regularized," and the offerings tended more and more towards monetary donations. Our monetary support finances the bread and wine, so they are still the "product of the community." But these physical offerings are not the only thing the faithful present to the priest at this time. Now, as then, the bread and wine also represent all that we have to offer to God. This is how Pope John Paul II explained the significance of this rite in his 1980 letter to Bishops on the Eucharist, Dominicae Cenae:
Although all those who participate in the Eucharist do not confect the sacrifice as [the priest] does, they offer with him, by virtue of the common priesthood, their own spiritual sacrifices represented by the bread and wine from the moment of their presentation at the altar. For this liturgical action, which takes a solemn form in almost all liturgies, has a "spiritual value and meaning." The bread and wine become in a sense a symbol of all that the eucharistic assembly brings, on its own part, as an offering to God and offers spiritually.
The only sacrifice that is truly acceptable to God the Father is the Eucharist, which is the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  But God looks on what we offer with fatherly affection.  The bread and wine presented to Him by the priest is deemed acceptable as the means by which He will give us the Eucharist; the bread and wine are gifts from God to begin with.  Because the bread and wine represent our spiritual sacrifices, these too are regarded with a similar love:  God knows what He will make of the bread and wine, and He knows what He will make of our meager sacrifices.

The bread and wine are blessed during the Offertory prayers; they are set aside to be consecrated in the Eucharistic Prayer, when they will be transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ.  But in that brief time between the Offertory and Consecration, the bread and wine are sacramentals because of the prayer of the priest over them.  A sacramental, such as the bread or wine to be used in the Eucharistic Prayer, or a paten or chalice, is dedicated for a particular use when blessed.  This is not the same as the change that takes place in a sacrament (such as the Eucharist), where bread and wine change ontologically (that is, in their substance, their reality).  A sacrament involves a change of being, while a sacramental involves a change of purpose.

By uniting our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine in the Offertory, we "appropriate" those sacramentals, much in the same way we "appropriate" Holy Water (another sacramental) by being blessed with it, or we "appropriate" a blessing over a meal by praying it.  We join our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine (which represent, physically, those very sacrifices), imbuing them with a greater spiritual significance for each of us and for the Church as a whole.

In presenting the bread and wine (with our spiritual intentions) to God, we are like the good stewards in the parable of the talents: "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more." (Matt. 25:20) The first five talents are the "good works ... prepared [by God] beforehand" for which we were "created in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:10; cf. 2 Cor. 9:8), whereas the second five talents are the "fruit[s] in every good work" that we carry out. (Col. 1:10; cf. John 15:1-8; Rom. 7:4)  As the Offertory prayers state (in the Latin and the accurate English translation), "through [God's] goodness we have received the bread we offer [Him]." The bread and wine we offer to God are the "five talents more", the fruit of investing the "five talents" which God gave us (seed and water and sunlight).

When we join our devotion to the bread and wine, we should be mindful of what will happen to the bread and wine:  it will be changed in substance to become the Eucharist.  The significance of our spiritual sacrifices bound up with the bread and wine will be made clear in the next two parts of this essay.

Support a Catholic Speaker: Jeff Cavins

I first heard about Jeff Cavins a year and a half ago when my parish decided to use the Great Adventure Bible Timeline study, which brings you through the story of the Bible (14 books' worth) chronologically in 24 weeks.  Those of us who wanted to be facilitators for the Bible study attended a Called to Lead conference held at our diocesan center in July of 2008, sponsored by Ascension Press who publishes the Great Adventure series.  Jeff (along with a host of other excellent Catholic speakers, such as Dr. Tim Gray and Dr. Ted Sri) was there presenting the Timeline and its related studies to my diocese (as well as other dioceses in the NY-NJ-PA are).

Jeff began developing the Great Adventure Bible Timeline back in 1984 as a way of helping Christians see "the big picture" in the Bible, the story of covenants between God and man, the story of a promised Savior:  salvation history.  He was not a Catholic at that time, but his quest to understand Scripture better led him to the conclusion that the Church which Jesus founded is none other than the Catholic Church.

Jeff has been busy as a Catholic.  A friend of Mother Angelica, he filled in for her on her live EWTN shows from time to time, produced and hosted Life on the Rock for six years, and taped a thirteen-part series with Dr. Scott Hahn entitled Our Father's Plan (which serves as a good overview of the Bible Timeline).  In addition to being a husband and father, he gives talks at conferences all across the country throughout the year.  He writes for Catholic Scripture Study International and has authored several books, including My Life on the Rock (his autobiography) and I'm Not Being Fed! (on the Eucharist).

If Scripture stumps you, if the Bible bores you, if the Word worries you... give Jeff Cavins and the Great Adventure Bible Timeline a chance.  You'll receive a wonderful Scriptural foundation that you can build upon for the rest of your life.

Support Jeff Cavins' Scripture ministry by visiting Ascension Press.

Learn about other Catholic speakers at Fallible Blogma!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part I)

The Function of the Baptismal Priesthood at Mass

There are two ways that Christ's priesthood is exercised in the Church. One is the ministerial priesthood, whereby men are ordained as priests to offer the Eucharist, the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. The other is the common priesthood, whereby every baptized Christian is called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God, ultimately offering Him their very selves.

The line between these two priesthoods, which "differ from one another in essence and not only in degree" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10), has been blurred or even erased in the minds of some Catholics today. Some denigrate the ministerial priesthood (or elevate the baptismal priesthood) to equate the two priesthoods, treating the ministerial priest as a mere representative of the congregation, instead of as the representative of Christ.  This is utterly opposed by Church teaching, as the documents of Vatican II make clear.

There is a serious lack of understanding concerning the baptismal priesthood and what it truly entails, especially in the context of the Mass. What must be understood is that the baptismal priesthood is an exercise of the apostolate of the laity, just as the ministerial priesthood is an exercise of the apostolate of the ordained. Of course, one must know, then, what the apostolate of the laity is!  It just so happens that there is a Vatican II document specifically about that, Apostolicam Actuositatem. In addition to that document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, summarizes the lay apostolate in Part IV (paragraphs 30-38):
[T]he laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Lumen Gentium 31)
The word apostolate can be understood as "mission."  What is the "mission" of the laity?  We are called to live outside the walls of churches and monasteries and convents. We are called to bring the sanctifying presence of Christ into the world: that is why Mass ends with a dismissal, a missio, a mission. In our capacity as baptismal priests, we are called to make of the world (and our lives in it) an offering, a spiritual sacrifice to God, joined to the ministerial priest's sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Some people think (because they were taught so) that Vatican II opened the door to myriad liturgical activities performed by the laity; that's how they interpret the call to "active participation" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).  That is simply not the case.  In all the Council documents, there is but one sentence which speaks directly to the carrying out of liturgical functions by the laity:  "Finally, the hierarchy entrusts to the laity certain functions which are more closely connected with pastoral duties, such as the teaching of Christian doctrine, certain liturgical actions, and the care of souls." (Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem 24)  While the extraordinary assistance of some laymen at Mass is appreciated in times of necessity, the exercise of the baptismal priesthood at Mass is not rooted in "a visible liturgical rite" (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei 93) but rather in the spiritual union of their own sacrifices with the bread and wine presented to the priest, culminating in the union of themselves to the Eucharist offered to the Father.

Part II of this essay will examine the uniting of spiritual sacrifices with the bread and wine in the Offertory.

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass

I will soon be presenting a rough essay in four parts.  I recently had a wonderful conversation with a fellow Catholic on the exercising of the baptismal priesthood at Mass:  the joining of our spiritual sacrifices with the bread and wine (at the Offertory) and then with the Eucharist (after the Consecration).  There have been some minor epiphanies on both sides, and I will be presenting the substance of the conversation as a series of four posts:

Here's an outline of the parts of this series:
  1. The Function of the Baptismal Priesthood in the Mass
  2. Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine
  3. The Unique Contribution of the Bread and Wine
  4. Spiritual Sacrifices United to the Eucharist

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cardinal Cañizares on Liturgical Formation

This is an excerpt from an interview that took between Catalunya Cristiana and the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, while the Cardinal was attending a conference in Barcelona, Spain.
How can the sense of the liturgy be recovered?

At present we work in a very quiet manner on an entire range of issues having to do with educative projects. This is the prime necessity there is: a good and genuine liturgical formation. The subject of liturgical formation is critical because there really is no sufficient education [at the moment]. People believe that the liturgy is a matter of forms and external realities, and what we really need is to restore a sense of worship, i.e. the sense of God as God. This sense of God can only be recovered with the liturgy. Therefore the Pope has the greatest interest in emphasizing the priority of the liturgy in the life of the Church. When one lives the spirit of the liturgy, one enters into the spirit of worship, one enters into the acknowledgment of God, one enters into communion with Him, and this is what transforms man and turns him into a new man. The liturgy always looks towards God, not the community; it is not the community that makes the liturgy, but it is God who makes it. It is He who comes to meet us and offers us to participate in his life, his mercy and his forgiveness ... When one truly lives the liturgy and God is truly at the centre of it, everything changes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

USCCB emails every parish about Health Care & Abortion

For more details, click here.

From: Tom Grenchik, Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities
To: Diocesan Pro-Life Directors & State Catholic Conference Director

Re: URGENT: Nationwide USCCB Bulletin Insert on Health Care Reform

Attached [see below], please find an Urgent Memorandum highlighting USCCB plans and requests for diocesan and parish based activation on health care reform.

The President of the Conference and the Chairmen of the three major USCCB committees engaged in health care reform have written all the bishops and asked that the attached USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert (PDF) on health care reform be printed or hand-stuffed in every parish bulletin and/or distributed in pews or at church entrances as soon as possible.

Congressional votes may take place as soon as early November. If your Arch/bishop is not in agreement with disseminating the bulletin insert, you will be hearing from his office immediately. You may wish to check with his office ASAP to see how you may be of assistance in distributing the Bulletin Insert, far and wide.

Tomorrow, the USCCB will be e-mailing these same materials to a large number of parishes across the country, already on a USCCB contact list. The parish list is incomplete, so we will still have to rely on diocesan e-mail systems to reach EVERY parish. Thank you for your great help with this.

Also included are suggested Pulpit Announcements and a Prayer Petition. (MS Word)

There is also a copy of a newly-released ad for the Catholic press (PDF), which may be printed as flyers for the vestibule or copied on the flip-side of the Bulletin Insert. The flyer/ad directs readers to where they may send their pre-written e-mails to Congress through NCHLA’s Grassroots Action Center. If you wish to sponsor the ad in your local Catholic paper and need a different size, please contact Deirdre McQuade at

Please encourage parishioners to pray for this effort as well. More information can be found at

Thank you for your urgent actions and prayers on behalf of this nationwide effort!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Church and Priestly Celibacy

God-willing, a great number of Anglicans will soon be entering into communion with the Catholic Church.  They will no longer be Anglicans, but Catholics.  This is not a "merger" or "union" of "churches", but rather the entrance of non-Catholic Christians into the Catholic Church en masse.

Some of these Anglicans are considered ordained ministers in the Anglican Communion.  While the Catholic Church does not recognize Anglican orders as valid, this does not mean that she will not discern whether those men who became Anglican deacons, priests, and bishops heard (and responded as best they knew how) a call from God to the vocation of ordained ministry.  Some of the Anglican clergy will indeed be ordained (not "re-ordained" or "conditionally ordained") as clergy of the Catholic Church.  Some of these men have wives and families.  Under the "pastoral provision", there is permission for married clergy of the Anglican communion (for example) to be received into the Catholic Church and ordained as priests; married men may not be bishops though, a discipline respected by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  This means that married Anglican bishops will not receive episcopal ordination in the Catholic Church.

"But I thought priests couldn't marry!" you say.  And you are right:  priests cannot marry.  But that does not mean that married men cannot become priests.  This is the case in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church (as well as the Orthodox Churches), but the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church has preferred a discipline of priestly celibacy:  only unmarried men are ordained to the priesthood.  In rare cases (such as under the "pastoral provision") are married men allowed to receive priestly ordination.

The next question, obviously, is "Why does the Latin Rite have this discipline?"  And that is answered for us by the Church herself.  First of all, I suggest you read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the matter, since it is a distillation of everything else that follows:
All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.

In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry. (CCC 1579-1580)
With that out of the way, let us look at some recent Church documents which address the issue of a celibacy in the priesthood.  Let us use Vatican II's documents as our starting point, since many people suspect that Vatican II somehow changed the Church's view of priestly celibacy.  Three documents mention clerical celibacy specifically.  First, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:
Likewise, the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the Gospel by Our Lord to His disciples. An eminent position among these is held by virginity or the celibate state. This is a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls, whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart. This perfect continency, out of desire for the kingdom of heaven, has always been held in particular honor in the Church. The reason for this was and is that perfect continency for the love of God is an incentive to charity, and is certainly a particular source of spiritual fecundity in the world. (Lumen Gentium 42)
Second, the Decree on Priestly Training:
Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to the holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this state with great care. For renouncing thereby the companionship of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 19:12), they embrace the Lord with an undivided love altogether befitting the new covenant, bear witness to the resurrection of the world to come (cf. Luke 20:36), and obtain a most suitable aid for the continual exercise of that perfect charity whereby they can become all things to all men in their priestly ministry. Let them deeply realize how gratefully that state ought to be received, not, indeed, only as commanded by ecclesiastical law, but as a precious gift of God for which they should humbly pray. Through the inspiration and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit let them freely and generously hasten to respond to this gift.

Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul.

They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity especially in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both divine and human, let them learn to integrate their renunciation of marriage in such a way that they may suffer in their lives and work not only no harm from celibacy but rather acquire a deeper mastery of soul and body and a fuller maturity, and more perfectly receive the blessedness spoken of in the Gospel. (Optatam Totius 10)
And third, the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests:
Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ the Lord and through the course of time as well as in our own days freely accepted and observed in a praiseworthy manner by many of the faithful, is held by the Church to be of great value in a special manner for the priestly life. It is at the same time a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and a special source of spiritual fecundity in the world. Indeed, it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches where, besides those who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there are also married priests of highest merit. ...

Indeed, celibacy has a many-faceted suitability for the priesthood. For the whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through his Spirit in the world and which has its origin "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God" (Jn 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ. In this way they profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them-namely, to commit themselves faithfully to one man and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse. They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives.

For these reasons, based on the mystery of Christ and his mission, celibacy, which first was recommended to priests, later in the Latin Church was imposed upon all who were to be promoted to sacred orders. ... Insofar as perfect continence is thought by many men to be impossible in our times, to that extent priests should all the more humbly and steadfastly pray with the Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never denied those who seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids available. They should especially seek, lest they omit them, the ascetical norms which have been proved by the experience of the Church and which are scarcely less necessary in the contemporary world. This holy synod asks not only priests but all the faithful that they might receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their hearts and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift upon his Church. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 16)

Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical in 1954 on the matter of consecrated virginity, in which he re-states the "doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state" because of the opinions of some in his day who "exalt marriage as to rank it ahead of virginity and thus depreciate chastity consecrated to God and clerical celibacy." (Sacra Virginitas 32, 8)

Fifty years ago (before Vatican II), Bl. Pope John XXIII wrote about St. John Vianney – recently brought to mind again by Pope Benedict XVI in this Year for Priests – and his model of chastity:
The ascetic way of life, by which priestly chastity is preserved, does not enclose the priest's soul within the sterile confines of his own interests, but rather it makes him more eager and ready to relieve the needs of his brethren. St. John Mary Vianney has this pertinent comment to make in this regard: "A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love—God." What great benefits are conferred on human society by men like this who are free of the cares of the world and totally dedicated to the divine ministry so that they can employ their lives, thoughts, powers in the interest of their brethren! How valuable to the Church are priests who are anxious to preserve perfect chastity!  (Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia 25)

Shortly after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical expressly on priestly celibacy.  First, he acknowledges that questions had been arising in his day about the discipline's purpose. (1-4)  Next he addresses the objections to this ancient discipline. (5-16)  Then he provides reasons for clerical celibacy (17-59), including an analysis of celibacy in the life of the Church (35-49) and a defense of celibacy as a human value which is not opposed to nature, but which is rather an effect of grace perfecting nature. (50-59)  Then the formation of priests with respect to celibacy is considered (60-99), addressing the priestly life (73-82), defections and dispensations from the law of celibacy (83-90), the fatherly role of the Bishop (91-95), and the role of the faithful. (96-97)

There is far too much material from his encyclical to cover in this post, but it is an excellent resource for the question of celibacy since it provides arguments against the discipline and then presents the Church's answers to those arguments. (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus)

Pope John Paul II, in a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, wrote about priestly celibacy in these words:

Referring to the evangelical counsels, the [Second Vatican] Council states that "preeminent among these counsels is that precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father (cf. Mt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7) in order more easily to devote themselves to God alone with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34) in virginity or celibacy. This perfect continence for love of the kingdom of heaven has always been held in high esteem by the Church as a sign and stimulus of love, and as a singular source of spiritual fertility in the world." (Lumen Gentium 42) In virginity and celibacy, chastity retains its original meaning, that is, of human sexuality lived as a genuine sign of and precious service to the love of communion and gift of self to others. This meaning is fully found in virginity which makes evident, even in the renunciation of marriage, the "nuptial meaning" of the body through a communion and a personal gift to Jesus Christ and his Church which prefigures and anticipates the perfect and final communion and self-giving of the world to come: "In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life."

In this light one can more easily understand and appreciate the reasons behind the centuries-old choice which the Western Church has made and maintained - despite all the difficulties and objections raised down the centuries - of conferring the order of presbyter only on men who have given proof that they have been called by God to the gift of chastity in absolute and perpetual celibacy.

The synod fathers clearly and forcefully expressed their thought on this matter in an important proposal which deserves to be quoted here in full: "While in no way interfering with the discipline of the Oriental churches, the synod, in the conviction that perfect chastity in priestly celibacy is a charism, reminds priests that celibacy is a priceless gift of God for the Church and has a prophetic value for the world today. This synod strongly reaffirms what the Latin Church and some Oriental rites require that is, that the priesthood be conferred only on those men who have received from God the gift of the vocation to celibate chastity (without prejudice to the tradition of some Oriental churches and particular cases of married clergy who convert to Catholicism, which are admitted as exceptions in Pope Paul VI's encyclical on priestly celibacy, no. 42). The synod does not wish to leave any doubts in the mind of anyone regarding the Church's firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin rite. The synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the kingdom which is not of this world - a sign of God's love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God's people, with the result that celibacy is seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood."

It is especially important that the priest understand the theological motivation of the Church's law on celibacy. Inasmuch as it is a law, it expresses the Church's will, even before the will of the subject expressed by his readiness. But the will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church. The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self in and with Christ to his Church and expresses the priest's service to the Church in and with the Lord.

For an adequate priestly spiritual life, celibacy ought not to be considered and lived as an isolated or purely negative element, but as one aspect of the positive, specific and characteristic approach to being a priest. Leaving father and mother, the priest follows Jesus the good shepherd in an apostolic communion, in the service of the People of God. Celibacy, then, is to be welcomed and continually renewed with a free and loving decision as a priceless gift from God, as an "incentive to pastoral charity " as a singular sharing in God's fatherhood and in the fruitfulness of the Church, and as a witness to the world of the eschatological kingdom. ... (Pastores Dabo Vobis 29)

And more recently, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about priestly celibacy in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist; he echoes Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, as well as the Second Vatican Council:
The Synod Fathers wished to emphasize that the ministerial priesthood, through ordination, calls for complete configuration to Christ. While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure, and is also confirmed by the Eastern practice of choosing Bishops only from the ranks of the celibate. These Churches also greatly esteem the decision of many priests to embrace celibacy. This choice on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ's own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride. In continuity with the great ecclesial tradition, with the Second Vatican Council and with my predecessors in the papacy, I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God, and I therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition. Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself. (Sacramentum Caritatis 24)
I hope these excerpts have helped you understand why the Catholic Church values celibacy in her priests.  I urge you to read Sacra Virginitas and Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.