Showing posts with label liturgy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liturgy. Show all posts

Monday, 16 March 2015

At the Closing of the Council: Organic Developments the Concilium Should Have Implemented

The most important aim of the early Liturgical Movement was not the reform of the Liturgy to suit the people, but of the people to suit the Liturgy. This would mean, as St Paul exhorts the Romans, to "not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind," (Romans 12:2) and is therefore not a task to be treated lightly. As the Liturgical Movement grew and evolved, only then did the aims shift towards a more substantial reform of the liturgy itself.

I contend, together with Dom Reid in his book The Organic Development of the Liturgy which I have been reading, that the ideology that had captured the mind of prominent liturgists in the lead up to the Second Vatican Council and that held vogue during the Concilium which produced the Missal of Pope VI, now the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, was an unhealthy mix of antiquarianism and twisted pastoral concern. What I consider to have happened is this: a new rite of Mass was produced to suit the perceived needs of contemporary society by piecing together forms which were considered ancient enough, usually from the Patristic era, both Eastern and Western. The artificial collage of liturgical elements produced is a break from the received liturgical Tradition, and in my opinion has been liturgically disastrous since its introduction.

I will not try and defend here the fundamental premise that the only suitable reforms and developments of the Liturgy are those which follow organically from the objective liturgical Tradition, but I will briefly enunciate what that means. As Cardinal Ratzinger noted in his review of Reid's work:

"Between [...] the radical reformers and their radical opponents, the voices of those people who regard the Liturgy as something living, and thus as growing and renewing itself both in its reception and in its finished form, are often lost. These latter, however, basing this on the same argument, insist that growth is not possible unless the Liturgy's identity is preserved, and further emphasize that proper development is only possible if careful attention is paid to the inner structural logic of this "organism": Just as a gardener cares for a living plant as it develops, with due attention to the power of growth and life within the plant, and the rules it obeys, so the Church ought to give reverent care to the Liturgy through the ages, distinguishing actions that are helpful and healing from those that are violent and destructive."

So an organic development is one which is in line with the Liturgy's identity, authentically preserving its character, which will sometimes mean altering the Liturgy but never in an overly dramatic way. Any complete overhaul of the Liturgy cannot be considered organic and is consequently to be rejected. Whether one thinks it is the best change since Christ first changed the bread into his own Body at the Last Supper or a catastrophic change, the Missal of Paul VI is undeniably not an organic development.

I think an interesting question to consider is what would count as organic development in light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Liturgy. The Dogmatic Constitution on Sacred Liturgy produced by the Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, certainly gave mandate to make some reforms to the Liturgy. What would reforms true to the nature of the Liturgy have been? Taking the Mass as it stood in 1962, I consider the following modest proposals to cover the requisite bases:

1. Reform of the Church's liturgical calendar such that the temporal or seasonal calendar has marked pre-eminence over the sanctoral (saints) calendar. This would not mean a complete overhaul of the liturgical calendar, but mainly a reform of the rubrics which specify how the two calendars would interact.

2. The participation of the faithful in the responses normally said only by the altar servers during the fore-Mass and Mass. I think an abbreviation of the prayers at the foot of the altar by having only one Confiteor said by the celebrant, altar servers and faithful is appropriate, although it is more important that the congregation have a Confiteor than that there only be one. This is in part a development covered by the emergence of the Missa dialogata.

3. Removing the need of the priest to repeat the sections of the Mass sung or said by the faithful, particularly the Ordinary (Kyrie, Credo, Gloria, Agnus Dei...) and readings, if done by a lector.

4. The Propers of a Mass should have the option of being prayed in the vernacular, particularly at a Missa lecta. These are the Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, Offertory, Secrets, Communion verse and Postcommunion. This restores them to them to their intended place, particularly consonant with the fact that all these (except the Secret, which can remain in Latin) are said aloud precisely so that they are intelligible to the faithful. The introduction of the vernacular for these is an authentic development of liturgical Tradition as it is a reform that restores these parts to their original intelligibility. The problem of adapting the vernacular to chant means that it is likely that a Missa cantata or Missa solemnis will retain the chanted Latin propers, but the option should remain of making some adaptation as is required.

5. The fore-Mass (Liturgy of the Word, Mass of the Catachumens) should be celebrated from the chair, as in pontifical Masses. This is a return to the fore-Mass's original place, which had been changed because of how the low Mass was developed for private Masses.

6. The more extensive use and preaching of Scripture, which would mean a slight amplification of the fore-Mass, but more importantly a re-structuring of the reading cycle, which I am unsure of how to do in an organic manner, given the venerable antiquity of the Roman lectionary.

7. Some rites lost in history could be returned in a reverent manner, including the Prayer of the Faithful and the Offertory procession.

8. Though I am weary of touching an artifact so old and venerable as the Roman canon, I am inclined to agree with Fr Brian Harrison when he said:

"I would suggest two changes to emphasise the role of the Holy Spirit at those key moments of the Eucharistic Prayer, the epiclesis, or invocation of the Spirit over the gifts, and the doxology. First, the words Spiritus Sancti virtute (“by the power of the Holy Spirit”) could well be inserted into the epiclesis prayer which begins Quam oblationem after the word quaesumus; and secondly, the entire doxology (which begins, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit”) could be given greater emphasis by saying or singing it aloud, as in the new rite, while elevating the chalice and paten, as an invitation for the people to respond with the final “Amen.” The contrast between this moment and the preceding silence of the rest of the Canon would provide a beautiful and dramatic consummation to the majesty of the Eucharistic Prayer." (Address to the St. Thomas Aquinas Society Eucharistic Conference, Colorado Springs, March 26, 1995)

9. Restoring the Ite, missa est to its place at the end of the Mass, and the abolition of the Leonine prayers in public Masses as well as the Last Gospel being either brought before the Ite or returned to private recitation by the priest.

If we are to include what I consider to be duplicated or excessive sections, I would mention the sentence added at the end of the Munda cor meum (the prayer before the proclamation of the Gospel) as one that could be removed as a repetition of what has just been prayed for, or the irrelevant later verses of the Lavabo psalm (Ps. 25) during the Offertory, which goes for longer than is required anyway. It may be possible to re-introduce some of the prefaces which were suppressed in history. But these would be relatively minor changes to the prayers of the Mass.


It is clear that some of these changes were made with the introduction of the Missal of Paul VI. Yet, whilst I have listed a number of changes, what this might cloud is how much would remain the same: almost everything. Using a one of the common booklet of the 1962 missal for usage of the faithful in this reformed Mass would be fairly straightforward. Latin has been retained for almost everything except the changing parts of the Mass. The Canon is still silent. Mass is ad orientum. The prayers are the same.

Not only do I consider these changes essentially the sum of what Sacrosanctum Concilium called for, I consider that these reforms would be all that was required to bridge the gap between priest and congregation which had so much been decried. The task would then continue to be what it has always been: for the entire People of God to be elevated and transformed in conformity to the Divine Liturgy, and ultimately, to God himself.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What is a good liturgy?

Among my friends, it is customary to talk at great length about liturgy, good and bad. The Second Vatican Council did, after all refer to the Divine Liturgy of the Mass as the "source and summit" of the Christian life, that is, the beginning from which the Christian life flows, and that to which it is aimed and finds its true end. Consequently, we are highly concerned that the liturgy is done correctly. Our conversations often begin with some story of a terrible abuse of the liturgy, and progress from there to a thorough discussion of all things liturgical.

There are certain clear points on what constitutes an abuse. First of all, an abuse occurs when there is a breakdown of obedience to the due authority, which in the case of the Mass, is the rubrics that govern its proper use. Therefore, if one is unsure whether something is an abuse (I will restrict myself for the moment to the Ordinary form of the Roman rite, also known as Novus Ordo) then one can check the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), or the Roman Missal itself.

This on its own would uncover, at least where I live, such a large amount of liturgical abuse that it would fuel our conversations for months. For instance, the GIRM requires that the main place be given to Gregorian chant in the Mass, although this does not exclude other forms of sacred music, of which it names polyphony. I can count on one hand the number of parishes I have heard Gregorian chant or polyphony in the Mass. The same paragraph (41) says that the faithful precisely because they come from diverse cultures should be able to sing at least some of the Ordinary of the Mass, especially the Profession of Faith (the Creed) and the Lord's prayer (Our Father). The noise levels in most parishes go against the rules for sacred silence given in paragraph 45, which extend to before the celebration of Mass begins. Moving away from the sounds side, the GIRM also specifies that the sign of peace, whatever the Conference of Bishops actually decides it should be - the ACBC has it that the most common form is a handshake, although for those belonging to different cultures are not barred from expressing it in their way - needs to be in a sober manner, and only to those who are nearest. Or take an instance of an abuse from a priest: the priest is to wear an alb, stole and chasuble (119) and the chasuble covers the stole (337). There is also an alarming tendency to miss certain prayers, such as the Munda cor meum, which most would not notice since it is a prayer said quietly. Most parishes also have an excessive abundance of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, which are not required and are meant to be used only when the parish is enormous. Plus, EMHC are only meant to be included after those with Holy Orders have become too occupied and the ministers of the altar (in particular, instituted acolytes, or failing that, altar servers) have become over-burdened. Usually what happens in my experience is that someone else is brought up when the altar server is left not doing much. Or consider the building itself: the GIRM mandates that church buildings express the hierarchical structure of the People of God, which means that the ordained have a place distinct from the laity (294). Altars should be fixed and immovable, indeed, made of stone (298, 301). Tabernacles should be in a truly noble, prominent, conspicuous place (314). Sacred vessels (like the chalice and paten) should be made of precious metal (328).

I hope this brief sampling of abuses is a sufficient to get my point across that liturgical abuses happen and are common. Still, another question arises if one pushes deeper: certainly it is the case that obedience to the due authority is proper, but one may still ask why these norms are the way they are. What principles underlie them?

The first principles of liturgy are obvious enough: the liturgy needs to incorporate certain elements that it has had from apostolic times, including reading from the Scriptures (indeed, one way of looking at the canon of Scripture is as the texts which are appropriate for use in the liturgy) and the Sacrifice of the Mass. This latter part will mean that there is a a consecration of the Eucharistic species, and consequently, an institution narrative. The way in which these are done is consequently to be done appropriately. This means that one of the operative words underlying our response and conduct to the Mass is reverence, as the Scriptures themselves frequently demand reverence in the face of an encounter with God.

Reverence is sorely missing in most parishes these days. Reverence, just to be clear, is a combination of respect, awe, and fear. As common instances of lack of reverence the Holy Scriptures are often mostly ignored by the congregation and the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is mostly disregarded, indeed, the manner in which even the priest celebrates the Mass is conducive to this lack of reverence.

Other words which ought to appear in discussions of proper liturgy include mystery, sacred otherness, awe, beauty and penitence. The otherness, the holiness of God leads to mystery, awe, beauty, whilst our iniquity makes us penitent, particularly in light of the reality of the Cross and sacrifice of Calvary made present in the Mass, a reality which has only ever occurred on account of our sins.

There is, however, a quite distinct angle in addition to these which many of my friends take: they assume that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the so-called Latin Mass, although strictly speaking both forms are the Latin Mass) is in principle normative (or close to), and that the Ordinary Form of the Mass should hence be as close to it as possible. Heck, an unusually large number of my liturgically minded friends (compared a random sample) would prefer abrogating the OF Mass and the sole use of the EF. Their basic argument is that the OF is so different that it constitutes a break from tradition and is so significantly inferior to the EF. Some use arguments such as "the Traditional Latin Mass/Tridentine Mass/EF/Vetus Ordo is the Mass of the saints/martyrs/majority of the Church." This is different to saying that it is more reverent or mysterious or so forth, although they also make arguments along those lines. In short, for some, the EF is better because it is more traditional, sine plus.

This year, one of my main interests is to learn about and evaluate the principles that regard the liturgy, particularly the Mass. I intend to do this in three phases: learn how the liturgy developed, learn what the Magisterium considers to be the most important principles in guiding the celebration of the liturgy, and then making comparative study between the OF and EF. By the end of it, I should have a well-informed grasp of the liturgy, and be able to make similarly informed judgements of what directions the reform of the liturgy should take today, particularly by being able to evaluate arguments offered on all sides of the debate.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Intercessory Prayer is Either Power or Poverty

When you are in the world of Christianity, you hear it often: please pray for this or that, for this situation or that person, for me or for someone else. You also, when you are a bit into the game, start remembering that praying for others is not something to be done only on request, but that it forms a core part of any Christian's prayer life. The causes are endless, but some strike us as requiring our attention more than others, and we pray for these things most keenly.

I fall into a trap when it comes to this sort of prayer. Something will catch my eye as being a matter of concern to bring to God, and I will instinctively think of praying for the situation. For instance, I might see a homeless person on the street, or see a car crash that looks nasty, or a build up of armed police officers that signal a dangerous situation. Whatever the case may be, one jumps into prayer mode.

This prayer for others is known as intercessory prayer, and Jesus speaks quite frequently of its importance, for your friends, "your enemies and...those who persecute you" (cf. Mt. 5:44). In light of this, I decided to pray also for anyone who annoyed or perturbed me, in part because of this directive but also because praying for someone else has a profoundly humanising effect. One does not pray for objects, one prays for persons.

I have found that, instead of humanising others like I intended, what often happened is that I perceived myself to be exerting a certain power over others, and hence making objects of them once more. Not that prayer is an exertion of power per se, and it is important to clarify our theology of prayer to make this evident within a framework in which prayer is still efficacious, but that was none the less my experience: insofar as I consider prayer to be effective, praying for others was twisted into self-exaltation, as I elevate myself into a position where I bless others. In other words, if I pray for someone who is doing something wrong, I prayed from a status of exalted moral virtue, or if I pray for a poor person, I prayed from an exaltation of spiritual wealth. In short, my prayer was an expression of self-exaltation and and exercise of power over others, a power that I had because I was praying for them.

This attitude is, I think, highly problematic. It colours not only my interactions with the persons I pray for, but even my perceptions of the more distant situations I pray for. Like giving money to some poor person - which can also be an expression of dominance, a clarification that "I am richer and you are poorer" - praying for someone in this way is just a matter of self-righteous pride and contrary to the beatitude "blessed are the poor in spirit." The poor in spirit cannot dish out these blessings upon others like some people babble words of prayer: "I pray for this, and this, and that, and..ah yes, that one, and him, and those people, and definitely her....hmmm...and that too. Amen." because they have no blessing to give.

What then is the right way to experience intercessory prayer? I think that if intercessory prayer is to be genuine and avoid this pitfall of self-exaltation, it must begin with poverty of spirit. The first step is to recognise that we cannot bless others, that our prayers are simply petitions, we ask God for this or that. Being keenly aware of this fact is the right step towards avoiding the spiritual pride that can come with praying for others, since we become conscious that we are doing nothing for the situation or person other than presenting it to God.

Yet there is a more important step than this mere recognition of fact. I contend that intercessory prayer is a prayer made from the poverty of the other being prayed for. In this petitionary prayer, we enter into the other's needs, not insofar as they affect us, but from within their otherness. I think on this point we can learn from the experience of parents: a good mother, for instance, will not see their own needs, wants, desires and sufferings and those of her children to be particularly separate. If I were to break my arm, I have no doubt that my dad would feel the pain just as much as I would, if not more. Similarly, Jesus makes this link between his hungry brothers and himself in that famous line in the Gospel according to St Matthew when he says "as you did to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." For a mother, the needs of her children are her own. For Jesus, the hunger of his brothers and sisters is his own. When we pray for another, their needs should be our own.

Hence, I have learnt, and am slowly learning, to shift intercessory prayer from a mode of power to a mode of poverty. For as I pray for the poor man, I do not pray as someone foreign to him, but I go to his side and pray for him as if for myself. I make his poverty mine and plead to God for him.

This is the essence of the Incarnation, is it not? The Son does not intercede to God first at his right hand, instead he takes on our flesh and so represents us before the Father. Indeed, Jesus takes on our poverty until death, even death on a cross. It is written that "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," meaning nothing other than that Jesus, as High Priest, first inherits our poverty before God as human creatures before he intercedes for us. Jesus prays as we should pray: from the position of the one being prayed for, from the poverty of the poor man.

If I can make a practical aside for the celebration of the Mass, which as the highest prayer of the Church certainly includes intercessory prayer, the posture of "I stand, not as myself, but for them for whom I pray" is best displayed in Ad Orientum celebration of Mass. The priest acts in the person of Christ as he intercedes to God the Father in the name of Jesus, bringing to God our petitions as our head (for Christ is the head of his Body, the Church), and so it makes most sense to pray in the same direction as the people. A lawyer interceding for the defendant will not speak to the judge facing the defendant, but will look with the defendant towards the judge as the case is pleaded. Likewise, our representative Jesus Christ, in the person of the priest, looks towards God and offers to him our petitions.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Not a Traditionalist, Just Catholic

I have been to an Extraordinary Form (Latin) Mass this week. I can sing the Kyrie in Greek and the other main Mass parts in Latin, like the Gloria, the Sanctus, Angus Dei. I prefer the Mass celebrated Ad Orientum. I receive the Eucharist kneeling. In short, I have what some would consider "traditionalist cred", but I am not a traditionalist. I am just Catholic.

Some might say that a traditionalist is defined by practicing some traditional devotions. Some might say a traditionalist is someone who thinks Humanae vitae is correct in its essential teaching. Or in other words, one could label traditionalists by what they do or what they think. This is, in my opinion, the wrong way to go about defining what a traditionalist is. I put to you that a traditionalist is someone who considers that the argument "it has always been done this way in the Church, therefore we should continue to do it this way, unless it is actually necessary to change" is, prima facie, valid.[1]

That might sound rather technical, but I think it encompasses the sort of person that is clearly and self-professedly a traditionalist, without reaching too far. The problem with the practice definition is that many practices labelled "traditional" are still relevant and edifying today, and so for instance, even non-traditionalists can benefit enormously from praying the Rosary. The problem with the what-they-think definition is that it is ignoring the fact that in many cases these are infallible teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Or in other words, if the subtle and implicit definition of traditionalism is orthodoxy, then not being a traditionalist is synonymous with putting oneself outside of communion with the Church. In other words, this latter definition would make non-traditionalists not really Catholic.[2] I think this is clearly an excessive and simply untenable position, because it seems obvious that not all Catholics have to be traditionalists.

The definition I gave is true to experience, I think, or at the very least my own experience and that of my friends. Traditionalists will often argue by pointing to what is sometimes known as small 't' tradition as an authority in itself, whereas non-traditionalists are open to the small 't' tradition but do not feel particularly bound to it. Though he meant it slightly differently, when Chesterton said that tradition was democracy of the dead, one could more poetically say that the traditionalists would rather consider it to be the aristocracy of the dead.

I am not a traditionalist, therefore, because I do not consider the argument structure to be prima facie valid. I am perfectly content to change things other than out of real necessity, and I will give two examples pertaining to the liturgy: first, one difference quickly noted by anyone who has experienced both between the Vetus Ordo (Latin Mass) and the Novus Ordo is that the Vetus Ordo is very quiet, because the priest says most of the prayers quietly at the altar. I think the Novus Ordo, though perhaps tending in modern practice to lend itself to being "noisy", is an improvement in this regard. Similarly the use of the vernacular language is, in my opinion, an improvement over the sole use of Latin.

In other words, it can be said that I am a child of the Second Vatican Council. If one reads the documents concerning, for instance, the liturgy, one sees a spirit not of needless throwing out of ancient traditions, but of permission for the competent ecclesiastical authority to alter the liturgy in light of the development of society and culture. Its Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says:

"In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it." (Paragraph 21, emphasis mine)

Too often, however, I am mistaken for a traditionalist because I am fully a child of the Second Vatican Council, which says in the very next paragraph:

"1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority." (Subsections of Paragraph 22, emphasis mine)

In other words, because I think that things ought to be done properly, the mistake is made that I am a traditionalist or have traditionalist leanings. Indeed, all the things I opened with which give me "traditionalist cred" are really ones that give me "Catholic cred": that I can sing the parts of the Mass in Latin is what the council called for, that I have prayed the Vetus Ordo as well as the Novus Ordo, that receive Holy Communion kneeling, that I strongly prefer Ad Orientum celebration of the liturgy.

If Pope Francis can do it, I think it is safe.
The first two are simply what the council called for. Receiving kneeling and on the tongue is not just traditional, though it has been done like so in the West for quite some time now; receiving Communion in the hand had its resurgence in the West under the shadiest of circumstances: an indult given because the practice was already illicitly widespread, and the fruit of the practice since its introduction last century has not been good. And Ad Orientum liturgies are simply what are assumed in the rubrics, and make the most sense of the prayers and movements of the priest at the altar. For example: to whom does one elevate the Host at the consecration? The movement, when the liturgy is celebrated Versus Populum, looks like the Host is being offered to the congregation, maybe for inspection. The sacrificial nature of the Mass, and the oblation of the Sacred Species to God is made most clear when the Mass is celebrated Ad Orientum.

Therefore, I think it is quite fair to say that I am not a traditionalist in the proper sense of the term.

[1] I am using the term validity here in a quasi-technical sense. If you have some training in logic, think of this as a inductive version of validity. That is not entirely accurate either, because inductive validity occurs, broadly speaking, when the premise being true adds likelihood to the conclusion being true, and I do consider that one can contently stick to the custom as a rule of thumb - however, this way of thinking about it will do. Another way might be to say that a traditionalist is someone who holds that what has customarily been done should, ceteris paribus, be continued. In my opinion, this definition is still too rough.

[2] This is slightly complicated by the fact that one can be Catholic by baptism but not by faith. Whether that makes the person part of the Body of Christ or not, I am not sure, though I would think not. I will not be using the definition of Catholic that bases itself on baptism, but rather, the one that basis itself on faith.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Catholic Feels

How does it feel to be a Catholic? Certainly different.

It is difficult to count all the ways it differs from being both an atheist and a Protestant, because many things are different, either in shade or in nature. Since I can contrast Protestantism with Catholicism better, that is the comparison I will make.

The transition was weird. I have had all sorts of people say I am no longer Christian. I have betrayed the glorious Reformation. I went over to the Mary-worshippers and ritualizers, the works-righteousness bunch, the ‘church’ that had tried to hide the Bible from everyone, and to good measure, because if they had not, someone would have read the epistle to the Romans or Galatians, and we would not be in such a mess. That was what I was meant to feel.

The initial reaction I actually had once I was in was that I was in some sort of cult. My dad calls it “la secta,” or “the sect” in English. Except it is a strange cult, because it is enormous in size and has a very long history. Nonetheless, we have really esoteric claims. We claim that a guy who had his hands laid on by another man, who in turn has been playing laying-on-of-hands tag all the way back to Jesus and the apostles, can now change what looks like an unleavened disc of bread into the flesh of a man who was born about 2,000 years ago, which we are all meant to eat. Ditto with the wine, except that is blood – but get this, it all looks the same. Sounds like the claim a cult would make.

Of course, there is nothing inherently ridiculous with that claim, other than it being less than common-sense. That’s OK, I study both physics and philosophy, which at any university seem to be the two faculties with the least common-sense beliefs around. Whenever one wishes to express something that sounds peculiar, yet nonetheless sound intellectual, one has the option of beginning sentences with “According to quantum mechanics…” and “You could argue philosophically that…” So weird is OK. The only thing that is a pressing concern is whether or not it is true – which I do.

The feeling of a cult did not last for very long – the Church is too big, too ancient, boasts too many intellectuals, to be dismissed as cultic nonsense. That gave way to a feeling of awe, that there are so many people, dead and alive, in this global communion. The size of the Church on the inside is staggering! It is like the TARDIS – overwhelmingly bigger inside.  Such brilliant people, too: from my hero St Francis of Assisi, to the brilliant St Augustine of Hippo, great scientists like Mendel and Le Maître, great philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas and René Descartes, great missionaries like St Francis Xavier, and I even felt in deeper communion with St Paul of Tarsus – which, of course, I was, and still am.

It is clear, I am now also in deeper communion with some of the most infamous Catholic sinners – we are all sinners, but the ones famous for their sin – like the chief inquisitor, the bad popes and the not-so-great people in the categories I just mentioned.

Worse, so many of the bad Catholics are not figures in the past, they are figures in the present. One of the things that is considered really uncool in an Evangelical Protestant-style church is nominalism, and there is stacks of them in the Catholic Church.  As I wrote in my post “The Road to Rome,” these people were a massive stumbling block. Or, probably far worse than the nominal ones, the unfaithful Catholics who reject everything it means to be Catholic – so much irreverence, ignorance, blatant disregard for Church teaching. If even Catholics did not believe this stuff, how was an outsider meant to? If someone from outside was not meant to believe this stuff, then why be Catholic at all?

The staggering beauty of being in communion with the greatest Christians that have walked the earth, contrasted with the “honeymoon over” reality that great saints are few and far between has now led to more mellow concoction: the Church does not just have the people radically transformed by the love of Christ, it has the ones that have “faith” because it is part of their family culture, or for some other reason that is similarly confusing to me. Put simply, it is full of a lot of people, and this is something that one has to live with.

I doubt it ever gets easier to live with it – read Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium), and quite soon one can see that one of the most pressing concerns that the Pope sees are Christians who are unchanged by the Gospel, in particular, who have “Lent without Easter,” who seem unchanged by the joy the Gospel brings. No, he says, the Gospel brings joy, and the Gospel brings the desire to spread to others the good news, or in other words, evangelization stems from the joy of being Christian.

Essentially, that is what Christianity is about: the urgent and breaking news, good news, that God has decisively acted in history, he has fulfilled the promises he had made to the particular nation of Israel, and in Jesus, God is reconciling the world to himself, redeeming it and transforming it by his love. Christ has died for us, therefore we have died also, and live in Christ, who God has raised from the dead. This message precludes apathy and nominalism, it excludes anything but that powerful phrase that recurs in the New Testament: Kyrios Christos! Christ is Lord! Nobody else is: not Caesar, though he dominates the known world, not Satan, though he is prince of this world with so much evil – no, Christ is Lord.

Hence, as always, I am practically scandalized by the “Sunday Catholics” or the so-called “CAPE Catholics” – only Catholic on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Either one believes the Gospel every day of the week, or none of them – there is no real middle ground.

I suspect I will spend much of my life in veritable angst over my brothers and sisters “in the faith” that do not have the faith in reality. Let me be absolutely clear: there are many saints in the Church, hundreds of people I have met, and many millions that I have not, on that journey of faith, being sanctified daily – I am honoured to be in fellowship with many of them in this Archdiocese of Brisbane. This post is titled “Catholic Feels”, however, and the scandal caused by casual Catholics too often blocks the noise of the growing forest of holiness. Like I said, these are my feelings, not my thoughts. My feelings never get much airtime anyway.

As much as the communion-with-the-great-saints aspect is dulled by the communion-with-the-great-sinners side of matters, the Catholic tradition continues to overwhelm me. If one simply believes in sola Scriptura, then basically a good knowledge of the Bible is a good knowledge of Christian theology in its entirety. Not so in the Church – thousands of years of very intelligent, Spirit-led and Spirit-filled people, arguing over theological matters, many of which the Church had to use her apostolic authority to settle, either by the papal Magisterium or conciliar decree – everything is richer, deeper, far more profound than I could previously conceive of. One area of theology might be as far away from another as mathematical physics is to zoology in the natural sciences, and all areas of theology are untameable.[1]

Deeper theology I might have expected, but I never would have guessed I would love the liturgy. I had previously thought that even repeated prayers were basically ritualistic (a word which I used to mean that outward signs are done with no inward involvement), and hence talk of vestments, all those funny-sounding names, missals, incense, the sitting-standing-kneeling movements and the centrality of the Eucharist in the Mass was way off my radar.

Relatively early on, my discomfort with the different rites disappeared. I would now claim quite the opposite, that the Catholic (or Sacramental more generally) view of rituals is the only one that makes sense: it is not being ritualistic to place a high importance on Baptism if it is a Sacrament, or in other words, if it is regenerative, a means of grace. But it makes little sense to be baptized at all if one thinks it does nothing – other than the fact that Jesus connects making disciples with baptizing, and the Apostles in general place a high value on it. This latter perspective constitutes ritualism, because on the Catholic view a Sacrament involves an inward grace – but on a non-sacramental view of Baptism (or the same goes for Holy Communion), it really is only an outward sign.

All these problems with the liturgy that I had were feelings – the Church has had them since the beginning: many of the vestments come slightly later (but not all of them), the funny-sounding-names are only odd because they were not English, incense is almost undeniably apostolic in origin, and nobody who was not heretical for more prominent reasons ever denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The complaints I had with the liturgy, I think, come more from a postmodern culture than any incoherence with Christianity. Christianity has always been liturgical.

One final word: whilst it is true that I had moved a year or so before from atheist to theist and then to Protestant Christian, I can still quite clearly perceive the differences between the more common strands of atheism and the Church, since it is quite hard to miss if one is serious about being Catholic. There is a fluidity of beliefs and anti-authoritarianism that is built into Protestantism from its beginning – and some would say this is an advantage – so the easiest Christian target is obviously the Catholics.

As a Catholic in a very secular environment, then, how do I feel? A range of feelings occur to me: there is defensiveness at times, as interesting-yet-offensive points are brought to me and I find myself expected to defend the Church. Arrogant at times, as very ignorant and simple minded arguments are brought to me, and the fallacies or misinformation only produces a sense that I must be more intelligent than other people. Mostly, though, I am OK to just let it slide. It is no longer my fault if, once I attempt to calmly respond to queries, the same points are made against me without any thought. There are the nice secularists, of course, who are lovely to talk to. Again, though, this was about my feelings.

[1] This position is a caricature of the mainstream Protestant view, first because it is almost impossible to say anything too general about Protestants, and second because sola Scriptura has more nuance if you ask some people. Still, if anything sola Scriptura means that the only solid special revelation is numerically identical with the Bible (with perhaps some early conciliar creeds), and any development is what one called a “hermeneutical phenomenon”, something that people missed before but it was there all along. There’s a place for that, but it is not so clear to me that it accounts for all developments.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Concerning Anger (Matthew 5:21-26)

The Mathean antitheses form the backbone of Jesus as New Moses in the sermon on the mount. The original Moses on Mt Sinai gave the Law which was to essentially be the legislation of the nation of Israel. It dealt a great deal with outward righteousness because Israel was meant to be an example to all the nations.

Now, Jesus says that our righteousness must surpass that if we are ever to enter the kingdom of heaven. What will that involve? It is very simple really: what previously applied to actions, now applies also to the heart. Without more delay, the words of Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. (vv. 21-22)

Jesus reiterates that killing is unlawful, but that's not enough. The new righteousness goes beyond that to say that whoever is angry with his brother sins also ("shall be liable to judgement"). Let me side track for a moment to give a very important comment: "brother" corresponds always in the gospel according to St Matthew, as far as I can tell, to fellow members of the Church, fellow Christians. This is perhaps unfortunate for those who want to use the very strong words of Jesus in chapter 25 to be about general social justice, and I count myself among them (though this is hardly the only text that makes this point), but it does lead to an interesting issue: if this is the case, then St Matthew is portraying Jesus as somewhat anachronistic, saying things that do not yet make sense. Very well, since Jesus is aware of what will happen after his resurrection, and knows that he will found the Church, it is not in the slightest unreasonable to suggest that Jesus can speak beforehand what will soon be in effect. The interesting part is that the idea that "all this stuff is essentially pre-cross and corresponds to the Old Testament" also has to be denied, because that is an appeal to the timing of his words, and yet we have just granted that Jesus speaks of post-cross events in talking of the Church. Even chapter 25 itself will make this point, whether you think brother is Christian or not, but I think it should be outlined first here.

Back to the passage, Jesus speaks about degree of consequences: liability to judgement of some sort for anger at a brother, liability to a council for insulting him, and liability to the fires of hell for saying, "You fool!" What does this hierarchy imply if not that some sins are worse than others, and hence carry larger consequences than others? We should therefore treat the hierarchy properly.

It is interesting to note that hell and council judgement have a very similar antecedent: I have heard that saying "you fool" was far worse then than it is now, and that seems to fit this, so due to lack of knowledge, I will have to defer to others.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  (vv. 23-25)

There's an issue that Jesus addresses here in the first antithesis, and that is, what if we do anger or insult our brother? What then? The Mosaic Law had very specific guidelines for what to do in cases of each sin. He does not propose another sacrifice of a lamb or turtle dove - the sacrifice he requires is much greater. We are to swallow any pride and go reconcile ourselves to our brother, and then come and give our offering. The offering we give nowadays could be understood sort of symbolically as the living sacrifice that we offer to God, as seen in Romans 12, but more concretely it refers to the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Eucharist we offer up Christ, and I think Jesus instructs us to reconcile ourselves to our brethren before thence. Beyond that though, in partaking directly of the Eucharist, we participate most prominently in the offering, and in doing so in such a state (more generally and commonly known as "state of mortal sin") we run the risk of what Jesus says next:
Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. (v. 25)

So what consequences could come? In a word, judgement. That judgement will be just, for Jesus says that ever last penny shall be paid - there is no longer any leeway once the matter is taken to the judge and the guard. Far better then to settle the matter quickly with one's brother before things escalate out of proportion.

I mentioned the liturgy once, let me do it once again, because it is one of the most beautifully rich things the Church offers. Here Jesus calls for reconciliation before the offering, and this is what is represented in the liturgy with the penitential rite, the offering of the sign of peace and the Our Father. First, we confess our sins to God "and to you my brothers and sisters." This is the first step in reconciliation. Later, we offer each other the sign of peace, which is both a real desire for peace with the other, but also a sort of peace treaty, in that we extend the invitation for reconciliation. Later still we pray the Our Father, which I will comment on soon, but it suffices to remind that one of the lines is "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" - either we are asking to be set as the standard for forgiveness, or we are actually acknowledging the fact of the matter which is that we have already forgiven those who sin against us. Then comes the Eucharist.